Yes, this is a full year later. I can't say how sorry I am, that I made you all wait this long. But this chapter is up, and hopefully the next chapter won't take quite so long.
I hope you enjoy this chapter, and that no one's totally forgotten the plot.
Happy reading, and if you've been frustrated waiting for secrets to come out, I hope you won't be disappointed with this chapter.
For all that Link hadn't argued Sheik's decision, he hadn't outright supported it, either. It wasn't until they'd been riding for a few hours that Link finally put his hand on her upper arm and asked what had likely been on his mind all afternoon.
"Sheik," he said, and Sheik clenched her jaw, unsure whether or not to ignore him. But he paid her silence no mind, pressing on after a few seconds of silence. "You… You know that the castle's been taken over, don't you?"
Sheik was quiet for a moment, staring flatly ahead. "Yes," she said, though it had (admittedly) been the last thing on her mind. "We'll find a way around that."
Link's hand gripped her arm a little tighter. "It's dangerous."
"And what do you call the last several weeks?" Sheik asked. "One of the first nights we spent as partners, we were robbed of our horse. Just after that, you almost died in Oxon, and I in Marr." She hardened her gaze. "And I don't think I need to remind you that we were practically on a suicide mission with Ashei and Shad."
"It's dangerous in a different way," Link said carefully. "Paz and the King sent me to find Zelda, remember?"
Sheik frowned, not that Link could see it. "I remember."
"And you remember how I said she could see the future, and that my fate was tied to Zelda's?"
"Her abilities are part of why we're going to Castle Town, yes," Sheik said, trying not to grit her teeth.
"She told me that the next time I went to Castle Town, I either would have found the King's Daughter, or that Zelda would be gone forever."
Sheik narrowed her eyes, forcing herself not to tense up. "And you trust her at her word?"
Though Link hesitated, she knew from his tone that he was being truthful. "I do." He shook his head, obviously trying to find the words to say what he felt. "She wants to find the princess as much as anyone," he said, voice slow and careful. "I don't think Paz would be happy if I returned without her."
"King's Daughter," Sheik corrected him. Realizing how callous she may sound, correcting him on terms when Zelda's fate hung in the balance, she hesitated a moment, thinking it over. "I think," she started carefully, "That there are many who need to come to terms with the possibility that Zelda…"
"Might be dead, or so far from Hyrule that she will never return," Link finished. "I know." He let out a sigh, shaking his head. "I've never been one for prophecies, though. I believe her, because I've never heard anyone else who has the talent she has for telling the future, and her knowledge of magic—but I don't know if I want to believe her. Not with this."
Sheik pursed her lips. Though she wanted to ask him what he meant, she knew her tone might be defensive if she wasn't careful. After all, she was Zelda—emphasis on was. Once, practically in another life, she might have been—
But then, she supposed that was the truth of the prophecy.
It didn't need to have an 'or'—it might as well have been an 'and.' The King's Daughter was returning to the Castle (however briefly), and Zelda was gone forever.
Zelda was a name she never wanted to hear again. There was no argument in her head about that—of all the things she could overthink till she was dizzy, this was not one of them. She was tired of that name being her identity, tired of being tied to that title, that castle, that family.
But she couldn't tell her partner that.
And, though she had her suspicions about him knowing the truth already, she couldn't risk telling him, just in case. No matter how much she was beginning to want to.
So she looked up and to the sky, considering her words carefully.
"The question is what you value most," Sheik said slowly. "Only finding Zelda? Or finding the inhabitants of Kakariko?"
"But if we wait and find Zelda first," Link said, "Then we might have a chance to save both."
"I don't want to say this, Link, but there are more people at risk than just Zelda. It's unfair to leave the rest of the world on hold just to find one person—one person who obviously doesn't want to be found." She gave him a long look, taking note of the guilt and sadness on his face. She could only guess at what he was feeling—did he think he'd failed, if he couldn't find her? Though making him upset was the last thing Sheik wanted, there was little else she could do right then. "We've made it our responsibility to Hyrule to save everyone who we can. We can hope and pray that Zelda is one of those people, but maybe it's for the best that we can't find her."
Link looked half stricken just by the suggestion. But after a moment, a different expression settled onto his face, and he shook his head. "For the best?" he asked. "Sheik, she must be out there somewhere. Otherwise the Triforce would have found a new owner by now! Did I not mention that last night?"
Sheik blinked at him. "…What?"
"The Triforce of Wisdom. If Zelda's dead, then it will have moved on to someone else. That's why we either need to find Zelda ourselves, or find proof that she's dead, or so far out of reach that the King's enemies will never find her." At Sheik's confusion, Link frowned. "She's not just important because she's royalty, Sheik."
"No, I know that," Sheik said quickly, already wondering if she could use this to her advantage. "But, you said that the Triforce… would have found another owner?"
"In the case of Zelda's death. Yes." Link furrowed his brows. "Why do you ask?"
She nearly said, 'Because I have it,' but the words died in her throat.
This was something she could use, for her charade. She could do something with it; twist it into a lie, explain away her powers and be more open about the things she could do.
It would be a useful thing to tell him. And, it was all the more reason to stop looking for Zelda—all the more reason to let Sheik get on with her life and stop being tied to a past that she no longer wished for. It was a way to solve all of her problems at once.
It wouldn't be a lie, but somehow, she was sure it would be worse than one. Because it was the truth—but she would be using it to deceive him even further.
And yet, the longer she waited, the more suspicious she may seem.
A little voice in the back of her head told her to speak, and Sheik let out a sigh before she finally managed it. "We can be on the lookout for the Triforce of Wisdom as well, then," she said. "I hope for Zelda's sake that we don't find it—but, if we do, we can take it as proof that she's dead, and move our efforts elsewhere."
Link looked somewhat mollified, nodding at her suggestion—though it didn't stop the hurt in his eyes at the thought of Zelda being dead. Or, at least, that was what Sheik hoped the hurt was for. "That's… that's what I was thinking, as well. Especially since that's what the man at the castle is looking for."
Sheik's heckles rose in an instant.
"The man at the castle?"
Though her insistence and interest on the new subject was sudden, to say the least, she was grateful for the opportunity to get away from a subject as dangerous as Zelda.
Even the opportunity to escape her least favorite topic wasn't enough to keep her from cringing at the thought of an invader to her once home. Even just for the sake of all of Hyrule, she felt an irrational swell of anger for this man.
"There's not a lot that's known." Link frowned a little, seeming hesitant to speak. He quirked his lips to the side, brows furrowing till a crease formed between them. "I've told you that he has the Triforce of Power, and that he's seeking the other Triforce Pieces. That means that I have to avoid him—and I have to make sure he doesn't find the Triforce of Wisdom."
Sheik pursed her lips. She supposed they hadn't had much of a chance to really compare what they knew; for her to get an inside look at the castle, now that she knew he'd been there for as long as he had, and knew a bit more about how and why he'd lived there.
"What else do you know about him?"
"That he's taken over the castle. Swayed the king to do his bidding," Link said. "I haven't had a real update since I left, but last I heard, the man at the castle was using the King's family as leverage over him."
"Leverage for what, exactly?"
Link pursed his lips. "Sending the troops into the desert, for one."
"The desert," she repeated. How could she have forgotten? One of the first signs that something was wrong in Hyrule. But a sign that she'd ignored for the better part of this journey. To be fair, she'd been rather distracted, with everything else going on around her. But faintly she remembered it, pulling at the back of her mind. The last real heist she pulled, the soldiers didn't bother trying to catch her because they were on their way to the desert. "You didn't think to discuss this with me before."
"You didn't think," she repeated, pursing her lips. "You didn't think to do it, or you didn't think it was important enough to share with me?"
Link's brows raised. "Back when I believed you were a servant of the King on the search for his daughter, I thought you already knew. It wasn't until just now that I realized you might not know."
"No, I did know," Sheik said. "I saw them, on my way to…"
She paused, considering telling him exactly what she'd been doing before she met him, but thought better of it.
"The point is, I saw them," she continued. "And I never got to the bottom of why they'd be going to the desert. Do you know why they're being sent there?"
"I have a few guesses." Link rubbed the back of his neck. "But nothing concrete. After all, the missing girls are all over Hyrule. If the soldiers are being sent to the desert, then isn't there a good chance that the soldiers are there so they can't interfere or stop any of the trafficking?"
"Yes," Sheik said, then hesitated, suddenly. "But I don't think that's all there is to it."
Link gave her a long look. "What else would there be?"
"The girls. There have to be more than them, or else we would have found them or bodies by now. Every place we go, there's only a few dozen at most, isn't there? Hyrule's population has far more women of that age than just who we've found."
"Well. No offense, but if the King's under the control of someone else, it's not like the soldiers are being sent to the desert because the missing girls are there. He's just a puppet now."
Sheik hummed as she mulled it over. "I think we need to do some investigating at the castle."
"Yeah. That we do." Link gently held her upper arm for a moment, seeming stuck on something. But after a weighty silence, he finally pressed a kiss against her shoulder and said, "You know I'll stick with you in there," he said softly. "But don't go looking for trouble, please. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's dangerous."
The worst of it was that she knew it was true. "Thank you," Sheik said. "But whether we like it or not, trouble seems to find us."
Link's hesitant laughter was somehow more reassuring than condemning. She held onto it as they continued to ride forward.
The pair of them rode for a while, as Hyrule proper stretched out in the distance. Sheik could see the castle even now, looming and dark, though she supposed the darkness had more to do with the rainclouds gathering overhead than with her own feelings.
She found herself holding Link's waist tighter.
"Do you have a plan in mind?" he asked. "Because if you don't, we can always stop for a few days, or… redirect our efforts to something else in the meanwhile."
Sheik pursed her lips. "I'm coming to find answers about Kakariko, and help the people that were lost there. It's possible they evacuated to the city."
And she knew that tone. Knew that they would have seen footprints leading back from Kakariko, if there had been even a reasonable number of escapees. She stayed silent, even as Link sighed.
"Sheik," he repeated, after a beat of silence. "This is dangerous. You know it's dangerous."
"You've said as much." Sheik let out a sigh through her nose. "Are you still worried about the prophecy?"
And that must have been it, because Link went absolutely silent.
A few drops of rain splashed onto their heads and onto the world around them. Sheik looked straight up at the sky, finding those dark clouds coming closer and closer still.
Far in the distance—right where they were headed—a sheet of rain came down. It would likely swell the Great Hyrule River to an overflow, and muddy the whole region. She couldn't bring herself to care. She rested her cheek to his shoulder, a soft sigh leaving her lips as she focused a protective spell around them. It'd take too much energy to leave it up for long, but she'd prefer to stay dry for now.
Link let out a hum as thanks, but didn't mention it directly. Just as he was silent on the prophecy, he seemed silent on everything else. Unwilling to start a new topic until this was wrought out.
Sheik hesitated only a moment more. Even as she said it, she regretted it, but she couldn't help wanting to know the answer. "…Would it be so bad, if the prophecy came true?"
Despite her soft tone, Link's entire body tensed. Lightning struck, miles and miles away, and Sheik felt her heart sink along with the land it must have struck.
"I don't know," he finally said, throat hoarse. "It's been my duty to find her, Sheik. I can't turn my back on her after so long. The thought of leaving her as she is…"
"You have no idea how she is."
Link gripped the reins tighter. "You sound so sure of that." And Sheik's heart skipped a beat, even as her chest was to his back. She wondered if he'd felt it; if he'd call her on it. But instead, he asked, "Why are you so sure she's better off alone?"
Sheik parted her lips, trying as hard as she could to say what Link needed to hear—what Sheik needed to say. But in the time it took for her throat to make even a sound, she could tell Link had given up hope of an answer.
The thunder rolled again a few minutes later, and it seemed to signal that her time was up.
"Forget it," Link said, swallowing down the need in his voice. "I was out of line asking."
He stopped the horse, then, seeming to want to wait out the storm. He stopped beside their mount, simply resting his hand against the dark flank.
Sheik dismounted as well, biting her lip as she watched him. It had been a while since she'd seen him this uncertain—this quiet and brooding, choosing to only touch the horse instead.
And she couldn't blame him.
For all that Sheik wanted to agree, to tell him that he was asking too much of her too quickly, that she just needed more time—she couldn't find it in her to agree. Because he wasn't out of line. He was perhaps the only person that had shown interest in either Sheik or Zelda in the last several years, but it wasn't a bad thing that he had. It wasn't a bad thing that he was concerned; that he was being a good person and trying to honor the commitment he'd made to the king, if that was truly all he was trying to say. So she couldn't tell him that he had stepped out of his place.
But she couldn't say anything else, either.
Instead, she placed a hand on his shoulder, and she hated that spark of hope that flickered in his eyes even now, as he slowly turned towards her. She shook her head, trying to say what she couldn't find the words for.
Link seemed to understand. And yet, though there was something like relief that danced around with that flicker of hope, he wasn't smiling. There was no immediate trust that she'd follow through—and why should there be, Sheik thought. She'd lied to him about her identity since they'd first met.
But she couldn't tell him, 'I am Zelda.'
They weren't true anymore. Maybe in the biological sense, sure—maybe even in the sense that the king still saw her as his daughter, no matter what Impa had led her to believe.
But in every portion of her soul, in every way that mattered, she wasn't Zelda.
Maybe she had the dedication of Zeldas of old—maybe she even had some of their strengths, some of their magic, some of their uses for the Triforce of Wisdom. But she wasn't proper, or regal, or interested in the legal matters that came with running a kingdom. Much as she cared about her people—much as she was there for them in the ways that actually mattered—she wasn't their princess. And even taking into account the roles of Zeldas of old—she wasn't a prophetess. She wasn't a final resort for Hyrule, or a vessel to keep the land safe until the Hero was ready to take on Hyrule. She wasn't a seal for the darkness.
She was Sheik.
She was everything that the Zelda from the Hero of Time's era had been, before she revealed her old form and immediately lost the freedom she had held for those seven years, the freedom she'd used to fight evil and help her people.
Sheik would not make the same mistake.
But she wouldn't lie to Link, either.
She moved her hand down to his upper arm, tightening around the soft green, rain-dampened cloth beneath her gloves, and the subtle strength just below it.
She could do this, for him. She would. She had to, if it was the only way to keep him.
So she took a breath, and looked deeper into his eyes.
"I was Zelda," she finally said, throat catching on the words. "She was who I used to be. I… shouldn't have lied to you for so long."
Link didn't say a word. He simply stared at her.
Sheik continued, a hint of desperation in her voice. "I don't know what you want me to say, Link. I was scared, and I didn't want you to take me to the Castle. I'm still scared you'll tell someone. But, I… —I should have told you sooner."
Link's forehead wrinkled, and his lips parted. But, to her surprise, there wasn't a note of surprise on his face at all. If anything, it was disappointment.
And for that, Sheik felt her heart lurch, because how could he look at her as if he was disappointed when she had told him the secret she'd held closest to her chest for a decade?
He hadn't found out and confronted her. She had told him. That had to count for something.
And yet, that look remained.
To add insult to her injured pride, he had the audacity to sound hurt when he said, "That wasn't… what I had hoped you'd say."
Sheik pulled her hand from his arm, dropping it to her side as both hands tightened into fists. Quick to anger as ever, she wanted to shout from the frustration of it. From the feeling of being led to make such a confession, only to have it be minimized, shortchanged by the man she'd finally trusted with everything.
And yet, she couldn't find the heat behind it.
To tell him, and have him treat it like it was nothing—to treat the secrets she'd kept like nothing—it felt as though he'd taken a part of her away.
The emptiness took even the light of anger in her eyes, and so she turned her eyes away from him. They tinted blue, the red pointless now that she'd already told him—even if that confession had evidently been pointless, as well.
Her throat tightened.
It was easier to feel anger than numbness, so she latched onto the feeling she'd felt for those few moments, letting her Sheikah gloves tighten around her knuckles. Let him be disappointed then, she thought. Let him feel whatever he needed to feel. But he would be getting no sympathy from Sheik.
Link seemed to realize what he'd done, though, and took a step towards her immediately. "Sheik, wait, that's not what I—"
"Do you realize what I told you?" Sheik's jaw clenched, if only from the force of putting on anger. And yet, she couldn't look at him "—What I risked by telling you?!"
Link's expression softened. "Of course I realize," he said, reaching out a hand to grasp her wrist. "But I—I wished you weren't still scared. That's why I feel like this." His expression turned pained, and he lifted her hand up to his chest.
She felt it beat steadily beneath her hand.
Sheik couldn't find anything to say.
But when she remained silent, Link bit the inside of his cheek, and hesitantly moved her hand off of his chest. "And… that's…. still not… It wasn't what I was asking you to tell me, Sheik. Why would I ask you to tell me something I already know?"
And, with that—that admission of guilt—Sheik froze.
Because she'd had an inkling for days, if not weeks. But to hear him say it, and to sound so blasé about it—Sheik felt like she might be sick. "For how long?" she managed. "How long, Link?"
There was a beat of silence, before Link turned away. He ran a hand through his hair, looking almost remorseful for saying anything. "A while," he finally said. "I was suspicious after you talked about knowing Zelda. It was just… too convenient. But after Ise…"
"You saw my eyes, when I was hurt." It was something she'd feared from the time it had happened, and onwards. If there was any time that he might have found out, it would have been then.
But Link only shook his head.
"No. Or at least, not just that. I… Uh, I saw the Triforce of Wisdom."
Sheik stared at the back of her left hand, feeling oddly betrayed, though she knew the symbol must have been what saved her life. Link took her hand in his, letting his thumb obscure the space that the light would shine from, even through her gloves.
"It saved you, I think. I don't know how," he said, before she could protest the contact. "You did your damndest to get yourself killed, but it was like… it sealed you. Like the stories of old. It kept you alive until I brought you somewhere you could be healed."
"And you didn't…" Sheik pursed her lips, voice faltering. "You didn't think to mention it?"
"I was a little caught up with realizing I'd almost gotten you killed. That my Triforce, that it had… that it had put you in danger." His jaw flexed. "Even though you had the Triforce of Wisdom… I was scared to death that the Triforce of Courage still had the power to take away your rationality."
Sheik felt a flare of anger, and nearly blamed it on the memory of his subterfuge. Nearly. But further down, she knew it had nothing to do with a fight that had now long been lain to rest.
That Link would hide the fact that he knew, …that was even less forgivable than any life-endangering truth he'd neglected to tell her. He should have told her. He should have let her know that there was no point in hiding anymore.
He should have told her that he loved her anyways, even after knowing.
Sheik's stomach flipped.
"We've talked about that," she said, forcing herself to stay calm. It wouldn't do to fight again; not after everything that was coming to light. She didn't think she could take it, if he abandoned her now. "Besides. It… It makes more sense that way, doesn't it?"
Link furrowed his brows at her.
"The Triforce of Wisdom… it's always been used to aid the Hero." And she almost sounded resentful; almost felt resentful. "It exists to serve the hero. Even if the Triforce of Courage has an effect on me, it's to keep you safe. And, if I'm the one bearing it… The princess's only usefulness is to guide the one who can defeat those that threaten the balance in the land." Seeing the lingering confusion in his eyes, Sheik breathed a sigh through her nose. "The Triforce of Wisdom only cares about me to an end that serves you. The hero. Even at the cost of my sense."
His expression didn't change—but Sheik became aware of just how puzzled he looked. Good, she thought. Let him think on that—let him believe this was why she was angry, and the only reason. It was easier to pin her anger on the idea that her destiny wasn't her own to control.
This way, it was easier to ignore her hurt at his reaction to her identity. The fact that he hadn't told her, and had let her go on feeling alone.
He should know by now just how much control meant to her, and how much he meant to her. Perhaps it'd be a good enough explanation that he wouldn't press.
Link took a step forward, then reached for her hand. Gently, and without asking—Sheik nearly bared her teeth at the intrusion—he peeled off her left glove, and then his own. He closed his eyes, and a moment later, his Triforce lit up—causing hers to light up, too, from the proximity and power it radiated.
"The heroes have always been at the princess's disposal, Sheik. Especially in lives where they knew each other before a great disaster." He took her left hand in his, then brought it to his lips. "It's why Farore had to be able to bring heroes of old back from the dead. The hero has always been the pawn. Past heroes… We've all been willing to die for you."
Sheik eyed him warily—she couldn't remember the last time she'd had this suspicious of a reaction to his affection. And yet, she didn't know how to go back to trusting him blindly.
It didn't seem to matter, though. Link kept talking.
"But past heroes didn't get to have you as a partner—with one exception, obviously. I'm lucky, Sheik. So lucky to have you with me. Because it's not—" He stopped short, choosing his words carefully. "What we're doing together, to save Hyrule? It's not about that anymore—not about roles and limitations and magic. Not for me, anyways. You can dwell on it if you want to, but that's not what I feel."
Sheik stared at him, at the words just under the surface. But instead of delving deeper, Link just gave her hand a soft squeeze.
"It's not about who's doing the sacrificing, or who's suffering more because of the evil in the land. Because you're not trapped in a castle somewhere, and I'm not all alone, trekking over Hyrule and hoping my quest doesn't kill me. Maybe that was the story for a lot of past Triforce holders—but it isn't us."
Sheik swallowed, heat rising to her face. Not even from embarrassment at hearing such a provocative speech—but from how much thought Link was putting into this. How much he was willing to say for her benefit. To put her insecurities at ease.
She didn't deserve this.
She didn't deserve him.
And yet, here he was.
She swallowed, and finally risked a look at him, deeper into his eyes. The rain kept falling around them, hitting her shield and bouncing off. Lightning and thunder flashed in the distance, but Sheik was undeterred.
She took a step forward, trying to show that she could compromise. That she could be here for him, too, and not just as a shield from the rain. She took a breath, then, "If it isn't us, then what are we?"
Link closed the distance between them. He took her left hand—the Triforce of Wisdom—in his right, then wrapped his other arm around her waist. "Exactly what Hyrule needs us to be," he said. Then, with an expression somewhere between bittersweet and admiration, he added, "And past that, whatever we want to be."
Sheik didn't resist. She wrapped her arms around his back, and pulled him into an embrace.
They stood like that for a while, and it took her a moment to even realize that her shield had come down in her distraction. Even then, she didn't try to put it back up. It wasn't a kiss, but she felt closer to him—more like herself—than she had in all the moments they'd been together.
It wasn't until the both of them were soaked that she finally pulled away. Sheik wrung the water from her long braid, something uncertain in her voice. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I appreciate you being here for me."
"Nowhere else I'd be."
Link went on his toes, and Sheik leaned down enough to meet him. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, then pulled away as Sheik gently cupped the warmth he'd left behind.
He still had not reacted the way she'd hoped, or feared, about her identity.
But he hadn't rejected her.
This was enough for now. Too much, almost, and all at once, and she wasn't sure if she could handle it.
But it was exactly what she needed. So she reached for his hand, then led him back to their shared mount. "Let's keep moving," she finally said. "We can make it to Castle Town by nightfall."
And, just as always, he followed.
The gates of Castle Town were bigger than Sheik remembered. She wondered if they had been replaced at some point, though perhaps they only looked so big in reflection. Because the last time she'd seen them, she was about a third of her current height, and young, and scared.
She still felt scared.
But when her pulse skipped a beat, Link took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. And the castle gates looked a fraction smaller; less impossible.
"We can still leave," he said, as if he hadn't offered a dozen times already. "There's still time."
"Not for the people of Kakariko. Or the Zora, or Gorons."
"But there is for us. For you."
Link met her gaze, but Sheik shook her head.
"Two people aren't enough to sacrifice Hyrule for."
She took a breath, then crossed the threshold, and into the city she'd abandoned, just as much as it had abandoned her. To enter this city as a stranger, when she'd once been its princess—she wasn't sure how to feel. For a moment, she thought she'd feel a swell of magic, and of either longing or loathing.
Instead, she felt almost disappointingly numb.
Link was the only presence around her that felt like it mattered; the people she passed were fleeting, and she found she couldn't focus on any of their faces. Or perhaps she didn't want to. The idea that she may have known some of these people may have been the ones that coddled her as a child, that had seemed to love her once upon a time… She didn't want to dwell on what had changed.
However, as they continued further into the city, Sheik felt increasingly claustrophobic. Not from the city itself, but from the swell of people going to and from in the streets.
Link seemed to share her concerns, because after they had to wait for a dense crowd to pass before filtering through the slightly sparser crowd, and still knocking shoulders with every fifth person, he pulled her into an alleyway.
"It wasn't half this crowded when I left," he said, lips setting into a deep frown. "I don't know how we're going to get into the castle when there's people everywhere."
Sheik let out a hum of agreement. The temptation to run away with him was a bit stronger, now; but one look at the castle and she remembered exactly why she was there. She swore she even saw a Sheikah—a real Sheikah—hiding in the doorway.
"No one's been going back to the cities whose curses we broke," she said. "Everything we've done, for nothing."
"Well, what have we been doing to let people know they can go home? Telling people to spread the word doesn't actually encourage people to go home. There's been little to no proof that their cities are actually safe to return to."
Sheik pursed her lips.
"Besides," Link added. "If a huge wall of flame went around my city, like with Oxon, I probably wouldn't want to go home either."
…He had a point. Not that she'd admit it. Instead, she just gave a distracted nod, and started plotting a course for how to best get into the castle. But no matter how she conceived of it, no matter how they might manage to sneak beneath the castle's tunnels, or no matter how they'd find a way up to the castle wall, that's where her plans ended.
"We could get someone to spread the word here, since so many refugees have relocated," she finally said, distracted. Then, abruptly, "Do you think I should change back into a Sheikah and get into the castle that way?"
Link stiffened immediately. "No."
Sheik eyed him. "Because Sheikahs have been trapped in the castle?"
He nodded. "That's why I was so surprised the first time I saw you, because I hadn't seen a Sheikah able to escape the castle after I got a letter from the King explaining the urgency of finding. Er. Of finding Zelda."
Sheik appreciated him not blabbing her biology to the whole of Castle Town. No matter how crowded and loud it was, the chances were too great that someone might hear them.
And they couldn't risk anyone knowing who she was or why she was here. Hence the disguise.
She smoothed faux brown hair back, still unable to adjust to looking like an ordinary Hylian. Though she'd never admit it, she looked more like the last bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom—dark hair, pale skin, and eyes like the sea. As keeping a different face was difficult for long stretches of time, she just hoped no one would recognize the similarities between herself and those murals—and the similarity to the King.
"Are there still servants?" she asked. "Still maintenance workers in the sewers under the castle?"
Link bit the inside of his cheek. "I'm not actually sure," he admitted. "It's been months since I left. And from the looks of it…"
"Right." Sheik sighed. "We'll find a way in. We're already too deep to back out now."
"Not exactly…" Link gently nudged her. "We could still…"
She strained hard to remember something, anything, that might give them an advantage. But her mind turned up blank.
"Let's keep walking," she said, frowning at the nagging feeling at the back of her mind. "If you see something you recognize, let me know. And I… I'll try to do the same."
Link frowned, holding her hand a little tighter. "You remember this place?"
"A bit. It looked bigger, when I was here last." She managed the tiniest of smiles. "I nearly got lost in all the skirts when I was little. I can't imagine kids coming through here now, with so many people…"
"They'll find their homes again soon."
"Not before we're through here," Sheik said. "I only left the castle grounds a few times, in all my childhood. He… never showed it, but I suppose he wasn't able to brag about his bastard daughter."
"Not now." She avoided eye-contact, knowing that it had been improper to even allude to her childhood here. There were too many eyes. Too many people who could eavesdrop. "Later, if you must. But not now."
Link didn't look happy, when she finally spared a glance at him. But he nodded. "Later," he confirmed. "One thing at a time, right?"
Sheik managed only a stiff upturn of her lips, and decided it was a smile. Then, she fell into silence, focusing on finding a path. Something, anything, that could show them the way.
But before she knew it, she felt more decisive in her turns, and found herself leading Link forward, with something like a destination in mind. She didn't know where she was going, but she knew that she had somewhere she needed to be, somewhere she remembered that could help her.
She kept sneaking glances at the back of her left hand. But it didn't shine.
Memories, she realized after the fifth turn, as they came onto an older, almost decrepit part of town. These were memories. She'd been here before.
And eventually, her path paid off. She stood in front of a store that didn't quite look right—bright colors had faded; the shop name had been long since removed—and felt a sense of longing, and familiarity. This. This was where she needed to go.
When it looked as though no one was watching them, she pulled Link inside and shut the door behind them. Now that she was inside, a quick look around told her that this was once a flower shop, but had been abandoned for years.
The inside felt even more familiar, and she knew that just beyond the abandoned store management quarters was something that could help them.
"Follow me." At Link's baffled look, Sheik smiled a bit more genuinely than before. "It's been nearly fifteen years, but I think I remember how to walk from here to the castle."
Link's expression turned from baffled to wary, but he didn't resist.
So Sheik led him into the back of the shop, then looked up at the wall for the symbol of the Sheikah eye she knew was waiting for her. The way her father taught her to look for, when she was scarce old enough to remember.
But the importance he'd stressed on her… She could never forget the stern way he spoke, that day.
It was so strange, compared to how he'd spoken to her every time before. The love and care she'd purged from her memories, because it was less painful to think that he'd never wanted her, than to think he'd cast her aside as soon as he remarried and had the prospect of a legitimate heir.
She put it aside even now, unable or unwilling to focus on the pain she felt at childhood memories come back to life.
And so, after fifteen years, she remembered only on how he'd guided her thumb to the center of the symbol; how he'd made her press into the stylized iris.
"Just like that, Zelda," the King had said. "Good girl. Now, you'll remember this, won't you? If you ever get lost in the city, you'll remember how to get back into the castle, without anyone in the city noticing you?"
"Azaela's Flowers," Zelda had repeated, more serious than usual, herself. "I can ask someone in town where the shop is and say I'm picking it up for my mommy."
"You don't need to give them a story, love. You just need to get here safely, without anyone noticing you. And then just follow the path inside the entrance."
Because, just as he said it, the doorway opened. It had been dusty even then, with the flower shop owner working just a few feet away, past the wall. And when it opened, it revealed a long path where she couldn't see the end to. It was dark, and it was full of strange imagery and torches, that her five-year-old mind hadn't been able to comprehend.
But her father had told her that it was safe, and so Zelda believed him.
She wasn't sure if she believed him, as Sheik.
But the doorway still worked, as she pressed the iris. It was still dusty, especially with no one working in the actual store. They likely wouldn't have long before someone noticed them inside, so Sheik led Link inside, then shut the hidden door behind them.
It sealed with a thud. Then, without further prompting, Sheikah torches lit up all through the pathway.
"I never actually took this path before," Sheik said with a frown. "So I don't know where it lets out. But… I think it may be our best option."
"I think we might not have a choice, either. I don't know if we can get out the way we came in."
Sheik turned around to look at the door, and found no evidence at how it opened from the way. "Yeah," she finally said. "Decision made, then."
And with that, Link took a few steps forward, leading the way and keeping a hand on his sword. Though Sheik wasn't sure how necessary it was before they faced any evidence of enemies… She supposed it was their best option.
Without any mention of it beforehand—as she didn't like the idea of asking Link permission to change her appearance—she reverted back to blonde hair, and faded Sheikah warrior's clothes.
Sheik wasn't about to enter the castle looking like Zelda, her old self or a previous life.
For good measure, she drew her weapon, too, and followed behind her partner down the steep stairs, then through the long trek to the castle.
The closest thing they got to an entrance was another closed wall.
Link waited, braced for a fight. But Sheikah closed her eyes and pressed her ear against the door, wondering where they would come out within the castle—because there was no doubt that they had arrived, with the trek they'd had.
She heard only running water.
"The kitchen, or the baths, are the only places I remember in the castle that had running water," she said with a frown, stepping back. "Do you recognize the sound of it?"
Link looked a bit put out to have to back down from a fighting pose. But he nonetheless tried, and rested his shorter ear against the door. "Running water," he said. "You never really visited the servants' quarters as a kid, did you?"
"That's not a bad thing! Really. You have some good guesses, but… I have a hunch we're further down in the castle. The trip back, we didn't go up as many stairs as we went down. Maybe not the bath hall, but the servants' chamber rooms and bathing quarters."
"And the servants' quarters are on the lowest floor," Sheik said, the truth dawning on her. "I see. Was this place relatively safe last time you were here?"
"All the guards like to stay further up in the castle, but even when I was there, there were a few guards that kept an eye on servants."
Sheik pursed her lips. "It wasn't like that when I was here."
"Yeah, well. It's been a while since then. And you lived here without the man pulling the King's strings. Who knows what it's like here now?"
To escape the reality that the castle was truly as different as she feared, Sheik focused all her attention at finding the hidden door switch.
-Which, really, didn't do much to avoid the inevitable, as she'd see it for herself soon enough. The crest of the royal family appeared on the inside of the door, and she gently traced her hand over it. When he fingertips brushed a tiny divot in the door, she realized it was shaped like a Triforce. She frowned, then pressed the one that matched the symbol on her hand—the lower left triangle.
Immediately, the torches behind them were extinguished, and the door lifted from the floor to the ceiling.
She and Link exchanged a glance, then Link took a step forward into the castle.
Sheik changed her form back to that of a Hylian peasant, and followed after him.
As it turned out, they were deep within the servants' quarters, and the sound of running water was a mixture of the sewer beneath them, and the baths being heated and warmed just beyond them. Before they could even exit the hole in the wall they'd come from, though, someone came into the room.
Sheik grabbed Link's hand, then encased them both in an invisible field.
She also instinctively kept her hand over his mouth, which she wasn't sure he appreciated, but it was too late to change their positions in the tiny space they shared.
The intruder turned out to be a castle servant. Her hair was silver, but it didn't quite match her youth. She wasn't stooped over or limping, but the weight of the day seemed to wear on her nonetheless. The stains on her uniform seemed to say the same.
He removed Sheik's hand from his mouth, then silently traced the Sheikah symbol into her palm. Sheik furrowed her brows, but it didn't take long to realize what he meant—and worse, that he was right.
The servant was a Sheikah.
At first glance, it wasn't such a terrible thought, but the Sheikah had been protection for the royal family for centuries, if not millennium. For any Sheikah to be reduced to a servant who would even step foot into the deepest levels of the castle… It was almost unimaginable.
Though, with how they had been missing, Sheik was grateful they were still alive, and not killed off for their connection to the Royal Family.
The servant turned the wheel in the heavy boiler room, presumably to adjust the water temperature nearby. After the work was done—and a test to the boiler proved that it was hot—she heaved a sigh and stepped back. Sheik and Link both held their breath, thinking that they had gotten away with their deception.
But before she walked away, the woman turned and looked directly at the pair's hiding place.
"You know as well as I that using Sheikah magic is forbidden in the castle," the woman said. "But I shant tell if you won't." Despite her words, she leaned against the doorway, blocking the only other entrance and exit to the tiny room. "But may I have the pleasure of knowing who is brave enough to keep up the practice when magic has been forbidden for months?"
Link and Sheik exchanged a glance.
But finally, Link nodded and put a hand on Sheik's arm. After a moment of lingering hesitation, Sheik lowered the barrier, and stepped forward with an appearance more-so resembling the woman's.
"I don't recognize you," the woman said. She frowned. "To my knowledge… not a single one of us managed to escape. Are you a halfbreed from the outside?"
"Yes," Sheik said. "I… wanted to come and see if my father still worked at the castle. I have been worried about him."
The woman tilted her head to the side, then her face dawned with recognition. Not for Sheik—and Sheik tried not to look as relieved as she felt—but for Link. "Sir Knight?"
Link stepped forward. "I apologize for the intrusion, Lady Amaya" he said, and knelt before her, pressing his wrist against his heart, hand clenched in a loose fist. "I've come a long way. I wanted to report to the King about the status of his daughter."
The woman, Lady Amaya, looked between them with something like suspicion. "Is she…?"
"I am Sheik," Sheik said, and realized for the first time just how odd the choice of name it was. "I apologize for the deception. We… do not, as of yet, know the status of the castle. Or who we could trust."
Amaya managed a wry smile. "I wish I could tell you. Some of us remain loyal to the crown, of course, but… others have bent their knee and given their strength to that… barbarian, from the desert."
Link and Sheik shared a long, troubled look. "The desert?"
Because this, this was information that could change everything they knew about the soldiers going into the desert. Was the King sending his forces to the desert to repel the invader's strength? …Or, was the invader seizing these forces for his own, and crafting his own army?
"Yes. There have been no settlements in it for a thousand years… but Lord Ganondorf insists it's his homeland. I forget how long you've been gone, Sir Link. He's made it common knowledge that he means to rebuild his homeland."
Sheik's teeth clicked from how quickly her mouth snapped shut.
Link took a note of it, and continued to direct the conversation. "What exactly do you know about his plans for this… rebuilding effort?"
"That it requires a great deal of resources, and that Lord Ganondorf will do anything it takes to get the King to give him whatever he needs for it."
Link frowned. "Is the Royal Family in danger?"
"Yes. But no Sheikah has gotten close enough to know the specifics, Sir Link." Amaya bowed her head, then pressed her wrist to her chest, hand loosely in a fist. "Forgive me. I must return to my post—I've been gone too long already. But if you want to get past the guards up ahead, continue through the servants' quarters. Ganondorf has insisted that the Sheikah join the ranks of the servants, and that all who aren't… necessary, stay out of sight."
Of course he would ask such a thing, Sheik thought. His and his people's conflict with the Sheikah aged back millennium. He'd never allow them to be honored the way they deserved.
"Thank you, Lady Amaya," Link said. "Be safe."
"You as well, Sir Link—and you as well, Sheik. Though I don't recommend using your magic anywhere near Lord Ganondorf. He is… perceptive, of such things."
With that, the woman exited the room, then started at a run back from where she came—presumably to make up for the time she had lost talking with them. Once she was gone, Sheik let her disguise drop.
"I don't know what to do," she said, running a hand back through her hair. "I wish we had asked where he would be, so we could avoid him. I don't know what face to put on to avoid being caught here."
"And I'll be recognizable, too. He may not know my face, but I'm sure someone would have described me to him."
Sheik sat against the musty, concrete floor. "We need a plan. Even at Ise, we had something, even if everything went wrong once we were inside. But I… I don't even know what we're doing. I know we wanted to find Paz, and find out what happened to Kakariko, if we could. But… beyond that…"
"It's not to late to turn back," Link said, looking at the door. Now that it was closed, he saw the Sheikah symbol on the outside. "…I trust Lady Amaya at her word, but I don't know how we're going to get anywhere if this place is as highly protected as she says."
Link sat down next to her, then, and reached for her hand. Sheik held it in return, absently pulling it to her lips to press a kiss to his gloved knuckles.
"We've figured this out so far."
Sheik breathed a sigh through her nose. "Yes," she said. "But… I… I think I'd been planning on storming the throne room and demanding an answer. Not all of this subterfuge."
Link raised a brow. "I didn't realize you were capable of that kind of… outburst."
"Quiet, you." Sheik let go of his hand, directing her gaze upwards. But just as she was trying to plan, her Triforce activated in the back of her hand. She had no sense of what it meant, and so she stared at it, furrowing her brows. It took a moment to get the sensation of a map. But when she did, she realized it was acting as a compass. "I suppose we'll just have to follow its course."
She took off her gloves and wrappings, just staring at the dim glow on the lower left triangle. And, just as she was starting to wonder if it would work or not, she got an image of Ganondorf in the throne room.
She also had an innate feeling that the library was two levels above them, on the far west half of the castle.
"But my father…" she said aloud, wanting a vision of him to also avoid. If she could keep away from him, then there would be no one here who might recognize her as easily as he would.
Yet, the Triforce gave her no notion of him.
Instead, she only felt drawn to the library again, with a pulling sensation guiding her to that space two floors above them.
Nothing more than that, nothing less. Only a sensation that she was supposed to be there. She wished, deeply, that it was as clear as it had been in Ise. But no matter how she searched, nothing worked.
"Apparently," Sheik said, biting her cheek to suppress the irritation she felt at the course being planned for her. "…We are to go to the library. Of all places, that is were we are to be."
"Well, we did want to gather information." Link pressed his ear to the wall, listening for anyone nearby, then gave a thumbs up for them to start moving.
Sheik sighed and started to move, her Triforce leading her in the general direction she needed to go. "Yes, but I was hoping to ask Paz."
"Well, you never know where she is," Link said. "Maybe there's someone there we should see—or is the library where Lord Ganondorf…?"
"He's in the throne room," Sheik said with a grimace. "I'm not surprised, if he's the one calling the shots. I don't know if he's just inside it, or if he's the one with the audacity to actually sit on the throne."
Link grimaced. "Wish I could give you an answer for sure. But considering all the things he's changed around here…"
"Right. Well." Sheik shook her head and continued on, using the brightness of the Triforce to point her in the right direction. "…We'll follow my Triforce for now," she said, and it was obvious just how much she didn't like the idea. "I'm not sure how well I'll be able to restrain myself from attacking guards, but. For now, we follow the Triforce."
Link followed behind her, and let go of her hand so they could walk in a single file. "We'll figure it out," he said. "My luck and your… wisdom should go pretty far."
"I'll pretend that wasn't a joke."
Following Amaya's advice and every hunch she had, Sheik managed to get them to the second floor. There were more guards here, as Sheikahs seemed busy walking to and fro, and guards were posted to keep them from stepping out of line or escaping.
Sheik pretended to be of their ranks in the spaces that they couldn't hide, and Link took advantage of her invisibility.
It took about an hour of sneaking around and going between hiding spots, and listening to Sheik's Triforce and its warnings.
In the end, they finally entered the library through the servants' entrance. But once they were inside, Sheik's Triforce went totally silent. Any warning they might have had turned off, and it wasn't clear if they were safe, or just wholly on their own.
So Sheik stepped forward quietly, knowing they were bound to be caught if they just lingered in the doorway. Link followed her, hand in hers as she decided whether or not to use invisibility on him. After a moment's indecision, she decided to leave him uncloaked, and they headed towards the rows upon rows of books.
However, as they went deeper into the library, Sheik realized that many of the bookcases further out were empty. Several were half-filled, with boxes nearby. She couldn't tell if the books were being removed from the shelves, or slowly being put back on them. But with Ganondorf in the castle, she had a feeling it was the former.
It boiled her blood to think of so much knowledge being taken out of the castle. But there was nothing she could do about it right that minute—so she bided her time.
She counted her blessings with the Three that the library was empty. For what purpose, she didn't know—but she wouldn't argue her good luck.
"Look for… for something that looks important," Sheik finally said, and let go of his hand to scour the books for herself. She doubted it was as free and unfiltered as Ise's library, but perhaps there may still be something useful here.
After a few minutes of searching, she found a section that seemed to be historical texts. Or at least, it had once. At the moment, all the texts were in boxes—including a book on the Gerudo, sitting near the top of the box.
Sheik picked it up, feeling grateful for such a rare find.
But as she held it, her Triforce felt stronger passing beside other books. She frowned, then watched as it lit up while passing over a book with a faded cover.
With a frown, she grabbed it and opened it, trying to decipher the old writing.
Though it was difficult to read from the old dialect and the faded text, she finally found a few words that made everything clear. It was a book about the magical properties of the Sheikah, with quite a bit of Sheikah history mixed in with it. Though she wasn't sure exactly why she was expected to read this when Impa had taught her so much about Sheikah history… she didn't argue. Instead, she just kept it with the book on the Gerudo she'd found, then kept searching.
Even as she started grabbing books that were useful, though, she felt frustrated beyond belief that her trip to the castle had ended up so lackluster. That she and Link had been led to the library, when she'd come here for answers on Kakariko.
But perhaps these were all the answers she and Link were strong enough to get. It was a depressing notion, but she knew in her heart that they weren't ready for any major confrontation with Ganondorf himself—especially after only just realizing he was the true enemy here.
She needed to know more about him. And more about herself and her own powers, evidently, if the Triforce-ordained book on Sheikah magic was to be believed.
She had wanted—even prayed for—the ability to do something.
So when she took a step backwards and backed straight into a solid body, her irritation manifested immediately.
"Link, I told you to search over there," she said, shoving idly at him with one hand, as the others cradled her finds. "I've found a few books here, but nothing on Kakariko. Go look until you find something."
"Is that why you're stealing from the Royal Library?"
Sheik turned in an instant, eyes wide as she stared at the taller, older Sheikah.
"I'm not a thief," Sheik said, before she could even think of saying anything else. "I—I was sent up here, by—"
For a moment, Sheik thought it was Link's way of saving her, and not incriminating Lady Amaya. But then, she turned to look at him, and he was too awestruck for it to have been a save. There was only one other explanation, and she watched as the recognition dawned on Paz's face—and Link's.
"Sir Link," Paz said, breathless. "I thought you'd never return."
"Lady Paz." Link dropped to one knee, wrist against his heart. "I—I haven't returned with Zelda. But this is Sheik."
The woman glanced between them. And slowly, a smile stretched across her face. "Yes, dear, I know exactly who she is," she said. Before Sheik had time to feel anxious about that statement, she turned and slowly started for the door, hobbling ever so slightly. "Come, come, I'll take us where we won't be overheard. Be a dear and bring those books along with, I've a feeling they'll be important."
Sheik stared at Link. And for a moment, she didn't want to trust this lady. But there wasn't much she could do, after being found out.
Link saw the worry in her eyes, and he shook his head with a smile, before grabbing her free hand. "Can't leave Paz waiting," he said. Then, quieter, "Come on, Sheik. Just… Trust me."
There wasn't much she could say to that. So Sheik took a breath, tried to drown out the white noise in her mind, and followed along with. She could only hope that Paz would have all the answers she hoped for.
Thank you for sticking around for so long!
If you liked this fic, or you didn't, please leave a review to let me know what you think! I read the reviews so frequently over the past year it's not even funny… I know a lot of you gave up on this being updated, but, well, here we are.