Eyes averted and heads bowed as I walked past. I'd heard stories of how tawdry and raucous soldiers could be, but they were nothing but respectful when in my presence. The punishment for disgracing themselves in front of me must have been severe for them all to be so well behaved. As a unit, I held the men in high esteem for risking their lives for the welfare of Hyrule, but it was hard to think of them as individuals when they weren't allowed to behave that way in front of me. Only one of them stood out to me.
However, he didn't even need to avert his gaze when I glanced over at him. The second I walked into the hall, his eyes had fixed to a spot on the table in front of him. The others avoided eye contact as a sign of respect, but his eyes were always filled with anger, as if the sight of me offended him.
I would never admit this aloud, but it hurt, especially coming from him. We had met as children when he confirmed my every fear about the Gerudo diplomat who had been attempting to strike a deal with my father. Of course, my father had no reason to believe the eleven-year-old clad in green, but the boy refused to give up. I admired his resolve and strength and even the righteous fury that seemed to fuel him. I thought we might be friends. I thought wrong.
As soon as he proved the Gerudo's deceit, he left. He wanted no rewards, no titles, nothing but to get away it seemed. I always assumed he'd come back, but as the years passed, I began to believe I'd never see him again, that all that remained of him was a name. Link.
Then, unceremoniously, five years later he came back wanting to join the army. Unfortunately, I was past the age of going wherever and doing whatever I fancied. It would be improper for the unwed princess to visit a soldier alone. However, I made every excuse of which I could think to be in the same place as him. I wanted him to explain. That was before he pretended like I didn't exist, back when he used to stare me down with those intense blue eyes.
I wish I could have found a way to ask him why he left Hyrule and why he came back during those first few months. After that time, he refused to even look at me, causing me to wonder what possible offense I could have given him. I hadn't done anything to him. If either of us had reason to be mad at the other, it was me. Though he obviously didn't see it that way.
I shouldn't have cared about a lowly soldier's opinion of me, but I could not help it. It bothered me that every time I saw him in the last year, he looked like he'd rather be anywhere else. It bothered me that this boy I once thought could be my friend seemed to hate me now without cause. Well, no longer. I was the Princess of Hyrule. It was time Link learned what that meant. He would give me the reason for his actions. My curiosity would be satisfied.
My plan was nearly perfect. I asked my father for permission to travel to Zora's Domain to visit Princess Ruto. We had become friends when we were younger as we sought to escape from the dreariness of our fathers' work, but it had been over a year since our last encounter. My father had always tried to foster our friendship, so it took little persuasion on my part to get his consent even though I had never made a trip like this on my own before.
The harder part was getting the escort I wanted. My father wanted my entire guard to accompany me, but I quickly convinced him that would send the wrong message for a journey of friendship. We argued for more than a week over what my protection should be until I "accidentally" barged in a meeting with his generals.
My whole body shaking with frustration, I shouted, "How is this so hard? You want a fighter, someone you know can protect me. I want someone familiar with the Zoras, a man who understands their customs, who already has their respect. Is that really so impossible? There's no one in the royal guard or vast army who meets those qualifications? No one?"
At that point I looked around, and a blush came to my cheeks as if I just realized where I was having this personal conversation. I cast my eyes to the ground and cleared my throat before saying, "My apologies father. I do not know what came over me. Please forgive my intrusion."
With a nod, my father excused me, and he and his generals saw me rush out of the room. What they didn't see, was the smirk that graced my face as I left. As my father was about to learn, there was one person that met those qualifications. The reason I planned this trip from the start.
So I wasn't surprised when my father summoned me the next day with a solution to our problem. I was to be escorted by Impa (whom we had previously agreed upon) and a young soldier named Link who had lived with the Zoras for six months when he was younger. The way my father described him, I didn't think he realized this was the same boy who had saved us from the Gerudo all those years ago. Sometimes I wondered if he remembered that had happened at all.
Unfortunately, my plan didn't go perfectly. There was to be one more escort, a Hylian Knight named Sir Rhys. No amount of arguing from me could remove him, as he was there for Link's sake, instead of mine. If I wanted Link, I had to accept Rhys as well.
Still, I had gotten what I wanted most, and I could work around Rhys. He might be a knight, but even in the small amount of time we'd spent readying the horses, I could tell that Impa intimidated him. The Sheikah had that effect on many people. I'd already thought up several ways I could use that to my advantage.
Link, however, was not intimidated in the slightest. Instead, he was seething with visible anger at being forced on this journey. He would just have to get over it. Though I did take great delight in Rhys censuring him for not greeting me properly and making him bow and pledge himself to my service. Were that any other soldier, it would have made me uncomfortable, but it was nice seeing Link knocked down a peg.
Rhys declared we were ready to leave, and Link raced out in front of us, claiming he was scouting for any trouble. That was fine. He couldn't evade me forever. Instead, I could use this opportunity to hear Rhys' thoughts on Link.
Rhys shook his head as he watched Link go. "I don't know what we're going to do with that boy."
I smiled. Now I didn't even have to bring it up. "Is that why you're accompanying us?" I asked. "To keep him in line?"
"Actually, I'm to report on his behavior. He's up for a knighthood if you can believe it. But General Irat isn't sure whether to knight him or jail him for insubordination. He's hoping my report of this trip will make the decision clearer."
So it wasn't just with me. Maybe Link just had a problem with authority. "Insubordination?" I questioned. "What did he do to be at such extremes?"
Rhys chuckled. "The knighthood/imprisonment possibilities are the result of the same event. He was part of a battalion down south that went to help one of our allies deal with a conflict. Well, as they were marching, they came across a fearsome beast with giant tusks and long sharp claws. Reports on its size vary, of course, but most consistently I've heard it was taller than a dozen men.
"The commander ordered retreat so they could regroup, and his men were eager to follow. But one man refused."
Rhys nodded. "While every other man hurried away, Link ran toward the beast. I wish I could have been there. His commander was screaming at him to come back, but it was far too late. Link's focus is singular, and right then it was turned on defeating that creature. He shot arrows as he ran towards it, which just served to anger the beast. He dodged its charges and then grappled on top of it. The creature tried to shake him loose, but he drove a spear into its back and used it as an anchor to steady himself. It became hard to see him from there, and I've heard many conflicting stories about what he did up there, but all the soldiers agree on how he ended it.
"He managed to make his way on top of its head and drove his sword right between its eyes. He didn't get it quite deep enough though, and he slid down the creature's neck when it bucked its head back in pain. Unfazed, he sprinted back up its neck and, using all his strength, he flipped into the air and on his descent, he slammed his feet onto his sword's pommel, burying it the rest of the way into its head.
"The beast dropped to the ground, and Link jumped off and walked back to his comrades. They stood there in silence and awe. He walked up to his commander, who had also been shocked into speechlessness, and simply said, 'I'm gonna need a new sword.'"
Rhys laughed, but I was reeling. I had heard Link was an impressive fighter, but I had no idea he, or anyone really, could do something like that. Even if the beast had grown twice in size in the telling of the story, that was an incredible feat.
"So if his commander hadn't ordered him back, Link would have been knighted no question, but since he had to disobey an order to do what he did, he might be jailed?"
Rhys nodded. "It really is an unfortunate situation. General Irat can't be seen to reward insubordination, but the men who witnessed it want him to be commended, and they might riot if he's punished. So the general decided to put him on a probation of sorts. That way his consequence isn't directly tied to that heroic deed."
I nodded in understanding. Though I did wonder why Link was trying to become a knight at all. He had been offered titles far greater than that all those years ago, but he refused each one. Then again, my desires had changed in the last six years, so why shouldn't his?
Regardless, my resolve to learn why Link treated me the way he did hadn't weakened. If anything, this story made it stronger. He definitely wasn't an average soldier.
That night as we made camp, I asked Impa if she'd distract Sir Rhys for a while. Impa, loyal as ever, didn't even ask why, though she did cast a knowing look over towards Link. I didn't hear what excuse she made to Rhys, but when Rhys walked over to Link to explain their departure, Link didn't seem happy about it.
They walked away, leaving Link and me alone. He sat next to the fire, his body turned away from me.
"You can't ignore me anymore," I called over to him. "It seems fate's thrown us together."
He shook his head. "I wouldn't call it fate." I started at his voice. I hadn't imagined it to be so deep. He really wasn't a child anymore. "Given that you've arranged every moment of this trip."
I stopped a gasp at my lips. How could he know that? I had played this perfectly, never once mentioning Link. He was my father's decision as referred to by his generals. I was not connected to choosing him. Not in any way he could have known.
When I recovered, I scoffed back, as if the idea was silly. "I had nothing to do with-"
"Don't pretend," he said, cutting me off and turning his body toward me.
My anger rose at his impudence. "Do not act as if you know who I am," I commanded.
He looked into my eyes for the first time in over a year. "But I do."
The intensity in his eyes caused part of me to believe him, as absurd an idea as it was. He couldn't possibly know me. This was the first time we had spoken in years.
He looked over at the fire, granting me back my power of speech. "Then why do you work so hard to avoid me and then ignore me when you can't? What did I do to make you hate me?" My voice cracked a bit on that last question, and I hated myself for it.
His gaze didn't shift from the fire. "Nothing that I blame you for."
He ignored me.
I struggled not to let out a scream of frustration. Why couldn't he just be straight with me? I just wanted a simple answer. "Link, I will not cease until you've given me a satisfactory explanation. If that means bugging you every night we travel, I'll do it. If that means extending this trip, I'll do it. Even if it means requesting you as part of my official guard, I'll do it. So why don't you save us both a lot of time and frustration and tell me why."
His eyes closed and his head bowed in defeat. "Zel-Princess, I promise you'll be much happier if you drop this."
I wondered at the near name slip, but my attention soon focused on the fact that his resolve was dropping. "I need to know," I said.
He turned to me, and his eyes met mine in warning. "You won't like my answer."
"So be it."
He dropped his head again with a sigh. "You might as well make yourself comfortable. It's a long story."
I hurried to sit next to him, excited though a bit nervous to finally have my answer.
He ran a hand through his hair as he struggled to begin. "You remember my warning all those years ago?" he asked. "When I said I knew what would happen because I lived in a world where it did?"
"Well that was true. I did live in a world where Ganondorf ruled. But I wasn't actually around for most of it. When I touched the Master Sword, it deemed me not physically capable of defeating the King of Evil, so it locked me into a state of stasis for seven years. It's hard to describe what it felt like, but try to imagine yourself at eleven waking up one day in the body you have now."
I tried, but my mind couldn't quite wrap around the idea. Though I suppose that was the point.
"It was... disconcerting to say the least. Add on top of that the whole land plunging into darkness: Castletown destroyed, Zora's Domain trapped in ice, Death Mountain ready to erupt, and monsters roaming freely. But horrible as it all was, I had to deal with it. Little by little, it got better. I started getting used to my new body, and slowly I tried to fix Hyrule. There were a lot of roadblocks. I nearly died more than a dozen times, but I was lucky. Eventually I took on the King of Evil himself, and I won.
"I can't tell you how relieved I felt that it was all over. Hyrule could finally return to its former glory with the princess seizing her rightful place on the throne."
I held back so many questions as he spoke, but here I couldn't help myself. I wasn't next in line. That duty fell to my elder brother. "Don't you mean prince?"
He shook his head sadly. "The whole royal family perished during Ganondorf's takeover with the exception of Zelda." He looked at me for a second before his eyes darted back to the fire. It was strange, hearing him say my name as if he were talking of someone else. "She helped me, you know. I had a lot of help, but she did the most. I thought we could rebuild the kingdom together, but she had other plans. She wanted to send me back.
"That's not what I wanted, but as you can see, I lost that fight. With her ocarina, she sent me back in time to the point right before we met. If waking up suddenly an adult was bad, doing so as a child was so much worse. I had been one of the most revered people in all the land, and in an instant, I was reduced to a mere child. An orphaned eleven-year-old commands the respect of no one. Every relationship I had built in the throes of war was gone. I was a stranger to my friends. I became a man during those war-torn years, but I was trapped in the body of a child. Do you know what that feels like? Can you even imagine?"
My eyes met the ground. No, I couldn't, but it sounded horrible.
"So after making sure history didn't repeat itself, I left Hyrule. I couldn't stand the thought of starting all over. I traveled around for a while, only ever staying in a place if I was needed. It was all I could do; I was so filled with anger over what I had lost. After a few years, that anger cooled and I yearned for home. I lived in Zora's Domain then Death Mountain for around six months each to once again forge the relationships I had made in that alternate world.
"I turned sixteen near the end of that year and realized I was finally old enough to join Hyrule's army. I'm not a man of many talents, but I do have one thing I'm good at. I can fight, maybe better than anyone else in the world. And if I was living in Castletown, I thought maybe I could rekindle our friendship."
I looked up in surprise. Is that what he had wanted those first few months when he stared me down?
"I wanted to, I really did, but I couldn't because... because I…"
His face scrunched as he tried to find the words, but I decided to do him a kindness and say them for him. It seemed clear to me now why he acted the way he did. "Because you blame me for what she did, for sending you back."
He looked up at me, curiosity in his eyes. "That's not it."
His words surprised me. That had to be it. It made complete sense. He hated that she sent him back, and while I may not have done it, he couldn't help but see us as the same. I could respect that.
"Look," he said, running a hand through his hair again, "you're a great person." I raised an eyebrow, not sure at all where he was going with this. "You're kind and wise and diligent and resourceful and crazy smart. Honestly, there are probably few people in Hyrule that are your equal. I personally think you'd make a better monarch than your brother, nothing against him."
A warmth spread through my chest at each compliment. I wasn't sure why he was saying all these things, but it felt nice to hear, especially from him.
"I tell you all this because I want you to fully understand what I mean when I say that you're a mere shadow of her."
My eyebrows crinkled in confusion as my heart sunk to my stomach. Her? Did he mean me from that other reality? What was he saying? That I didn't compare to her?
His eyes shone as he started describing her. "She was the most amazing person I've ever met. They say that great men are forged in fire. Well she was forged in hell itself. That world was a nightmare, and she lost more than anyone: her kingdom, her home, her family, her identity. Yet she didn't become bitter or jaded, she just became stronger. She guided me through my whole journey, always one step ahead of me." He paused for a minute to take in a shaky breath. "I loved her."
My heart broke a bit at the pain in his voice.
"That's why I've ignored you. Because when I see you, my brain fools me for the tiniest second into thinking you're her, and then my heart breaks all over again. It hurts to look at you. My gut wrenches when I hear your voice."
I was wrong. It wasn't anger that filled his eyes when I entered the room; it was pain. Compassion stirred inside me, but my anger squelched it. What made her better than me? Weren't we basically the same?
"How do you know?" I asked.
He looked up in confusion.
"How do you know that she's better than me? This is the first real conversation we've ever had. Why do you presume to know me?"
He hesitated, but then saw it was best not to argue. "I watched you intently for three months. I never claimed a perfect knowledge, but what I saw was enough to convince me of your differences."
I hated that he thought I didn't measure up to this ideal version of myself. It made my blood boil. Spitefully, I said, "So what flaws did you see? What are all the ways that she's better than me?"
Link's face fell in regret. "I'm sorry. Let's forget this-"
"No," I interrupted forcefully. "Let's hear it. Give me the list that makes her superior." My instincts shouted that this was a mistake, but I was too full of rage to care.
Link was obviously very uncomfortable, but he saw from my expression that I wouldn't let this go and sighed in defeat. "The war taught her patience and humility. She spent almost all her time trying to help others. She had no interest in superficial or trivial things, and I never once heard her put someone else down to make herself feel better. In fact, she often did the opposite."
My cheeks flushed as I realized what he was probably talking about. It was a favorite past time of ladies of the court to criticize other's fashion decisions. I had never been one of the worst offenders, but on occasion, usually when my self-confidence was low, I had made the same disparaging remarks. He must have overheard me at one point.
I hid my embarrassment under my anger. I needed to lash back out at him, but I hadn't spent enough time with him to learn his specific flaws, so I decided to brush his criticism off instead. I stood and said, "I don't know why I'm listening to this. What do you know? You are beneath me."
"I wasn't," he said softly, staring into the fire. His implication couldn't have been clearer. She had never treated him that way. "Neither was anyone else." He whispered that last part longingly.
Shame swept over me, and I turned away from him quickly and hurried to my tent. Don't listen to him, I thought. He's a lowly soldier; you are the princess. Tears rushed to my eyes as I tried desperately to deny his words. You are the princess.
A/N: This was a weird idea that went a completely different direction than I expected, but parts of it intrigued me, so I wrote it down. It's not really what I'd consider a normal story for me since it's kind of tragic and really angsty, but I figured I'd share just in case anyone else liked it. I'm not expecting much of a response, but I'd be willing to continue it if there's interest. Thanks so much for reading, and I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer.