Chapter 38

Zelda, of the Harkinian Royal Family, watched her people from high up in her castle, her healthy hand laid flat on the window. The noonday sun bathed the land with a sharp, yellow glow and she watched the bustle of the distant market town, men, women and children trading, talking and laughing, generally excited, on this, the first day of summer. She breathed in deeply, sharing in their simple contentment. So long as they were happy, she would also be relatively happy. She would never be complete though, never. Just a glance down at her other arm reminded her of that, but also the dull throb in her heart.

"Your Highness," Mina's voice called from behind her. "They're waiting."

The Queen pulled herself away from the view, striding across the room to join her smiling, round-faced Advisor. Leaving the room, they made their way down the hallway, Zelda nodding at those that passed, as they whispered a hurried 'Your Majesty'. The sunlight was bright and should have been uplifting, but Zelda could only feel her heart stir slightly in response to it.

It had been a tumultuous six months since she had returned from the Sacred Realm. There had been much rebuilding to do, many wounds that needed to be healed. The Gorons, the Zora, and the Hylians all had to co-operate, reconstructing broken houses and comforting those that had lost loved ones or more. Zelda had to send stream after stream of Royal Messengers, all of whom would visit all the towns and villages of Hyrule, explaining what had truly happened and how their King had betrayed the people. She did not know how many of her citizens believed it, but there were no murmurs of discontent.

It did not help that all the nations that Cyle had had a treaty with broke free from their previous agreements, leaving Hyrule somewhat alone. Zelda had been glad for the assistance of Toriya and the Morolak Kingdom, whose army had stayed a while in Hyrule to hunt down the remaining members of Redstar Murden's traitorous troops. The Freelander Emirate had kept themselves aloof, wanting to stay neutral. She had sent a scroll to them, detailing her condolences over what had happened and how sorry she was at news of the death of the King, the Viceroy and the Prince. She received no response.

Other things bothered her too. Deep under the Castle and the Temple of Time they had discovered hidden dungeons, rusted chains empty, dark bloody stains clinging to the floor. They had found only one captive though, a thin, old man, hanging dead from a wall. Zelda had thought his face was familiar, but could not place why.

Immediately after returning to Hyrule she had sent out an expedition to the Island of the Gate. There, they had found Chitz the Imp, lonely and a little angry. The expedition had found no trace of the Gate itself, only a pile of rubble. Searching through the debris they had recovered a broken bauble, a glittering representation of Lon Lon Ranch carved expertly out of some sort of green jewel. Zelda had thought it was a thing of beauty and kept it beside her bed in her chambers.

She could not exactly remember how they had escaped from the Realm. Link had mumbled something about some sort of portal they had found, but when she pressed him for further for information he would only change the subject, a haunted look crossing his features.

She sighed, her eyes catching sight of the newly planted garden outside, a bright, multi-coloured strip of land that she had dedicated to Fran, Tessa, Tyron, Darunia, Nabooru and Chizan. In one corner, hidden away unless someone knew what they were looking for, was a single, solitary rare black rose. It was her only reminder of her first husband.

And now, she had no husband at all. As she had feared, the Hylian aristocracy, hiding themselves away in all the turmoil, had not recognised her marriage to a 'commoner' and had demanded she reconsider. She felt her anger flare just thinking about it. After all the things Link had done for them, this was how they showed their gratitude. With Cyle's propaganda creating whirlpools of resentment amongst the people, she had needed the aristocracy to cement her position and validate her position as Queen. And so, with a heart cracked in two, she had had no choice but to let Link go yet again. If she had not, then the aristocracy, being vindictive in nature, would have made her reign insecure. That may have led to civil war or worse.

She could no longer sense him in her mind. The connection was still there, but everytime she prodded it, it would shrivel away and hide behind a wall. Her heart ached with such a fury that tears came to her eyes, unbidden.

Zelda and Mina entered the conference room, seeing Toriya and Ruto already seated at the table there. Off to one side stood a courtier, a representative of the aristocracy.

The Queen smiled as her two friends rose to greet her. "Toriya, Ruto," she said, turning to each one. "You're both looking well."

"As are you, Your Highness," the Morolak Duchess replied. Like Zelda she also only had one hand. For some reason, the Queen felt more of a bond between them because of it.

"How are things in the Zora's Domain?" Zelda asked, turning to the other woman.

Ruto smiled with a sigh. "As well as things can be expected. There was a lot of damage done to the water from the burning liquid that was poured into it. Still, Mayro's been working all hours of the night and day to swim underneath and open all the old ducts that lead to the sea. Hopefully, the waters can mix and dilute."

Zelda nodded, slightly saddened. So much destruction had occurred.

"So," Toriya said, a mischievous tilt to her voice. "We've been summoned here for a specific reason I gather."

Rolling her eyes, Zelda let out a breath. "Yes," she said sourly, glancing at the courtier. "I'm supposed to choose a suitor soon. I need your advice."

Toriya tapped her fingers on the table. "We have some nice young Dukes over in the Kingdom," she said. "It would be easy to arrange something and would strengthen relations between ourselves and Hyrule."

"Nice Morolak men?" Ruto said with a glint in her eye. "No such thing. If Skulljack and Redstar are any example."

The Duchess chuckled, conceding defeat.

"What about a Zora?" Ruto asked, grinning. "It would be unique."

Zelda opened her mouth to speak, when the door to the chamber opened. They turned, seeing a Royal Messenger march across the room towards the courtier. The representative of the aristocracy bent down a little as the Messenger whispered something in his ear. The three women waited, curious.

Straightening up again, the courtier cleared his throat. "It appears," he said, "that someone has just arrived wishing to ask for the Queen's hand."

Zelda looked over at her two friends with a frown and they shrugged back at her, equally confused. "Who?"

"I am told that it is the Prince of the Freelanders."

Zelda spun out of her chair, her mind whirling, as the others followed her out. She increased her steps as she tried to think things through. She did not know who ruled the Freelanders now, and she was not aware of any other members of their royalty that were still alive and in a position to ascend to the Throne. But, of course, just because she was not aware of them did not mean they did not exist. Still. There was an ember of hope in her heart. She had turned away from Chizan, that day in the Sacred Realm. Was she even certain that he had died there? Or had the magic in that place somehow kept him alive? She smiled at that, wondering how the Prince would feel at being saved from death by magic.

She entered the Great Hall, where, at the far end, she saw a trio of figures. One was hidden from her view, but the other two were clearly Freelander men.

"Your Highness," one of them said, stepping forward with a bow. "It honours us to see the Queen of Heroic Deeds still healthy."

She nodded, not speaking. Curiosity was making her edgy.

The other man looked at her. "The Freelander Emirate desires a union with Hyrule to heal old wounds and establish a mutual exchange of knowledge and trade."

Zelda arched an eyebrow at this. Were they willing to forget the war so quickly and easily?

"To achieve this," the Freelander continued. "Our Prince and ruler, one of many Heroic Deeds, wishes to ask for your hand in marriage."

Zelda looked up as the two men parted, revealing the third. She stumbled back in shock as Link's tattooed grinned back on her, Chitz the Imp perched on his shoulder and waving.

"But…" she said, a smile coming to her face. "How?"

"Only one with laden with Heroic Deeds could possibly rule the Freelanders," Link said, stepping forward.

"Haha," Chitz said. "After all this time and he becomes a Freelander!" The Imp shook his head with mock exaggeration. "Where did I go wrong? Haha. I'm such a bad mentor."

The courtier coughed politely. "We require a formal proposal."

"Of course," said Link. He bent down on one knee, still smiling, and held out his hand. Zelda grinned down at him, their connection reopening and the pain in her heart melting away under a wave of pure joy.

"Zelda Harkinian, Queen of Hyrule," he said. "On behalf of the Freelander Emirate I would like to ask: will you marry me?"

Again. His voice was in her head and she had to bite down on her lip to keep from laughing.

"Prince Link of the Freelander Emirate," she said, taking his hand. "On behalf of the Kingdom of Hyrule, I gladly accept your proposal."

Chitz hopped off of Link's shoulder as he stood and took the Queen into his arms. His arms curled around her and her heart thudded. Finally, the day did seem bright, as did the next day and the next month and the rest of her life. Gently lifting her chin with his hand, he leaned down and they kissed, husband and wife once more, as all those around them smiled with genuine happiness.

*

Zayna leaned back in the chair, fanning herself with a scroll, as the air in the small hut swelled with heat. Her eyes looked around at the stains on the walls and floor, still not sure exactly what they were, even after all this time. She decided she did not want to know. Link had lived here on his own for five summers. He clearly had not taken good care of the place.

The front door opened, letting in sand caught on the breeze, and an old man entered, a sack of supplies on his back.

"Lorfor," she said. "You don't have to bring me all this. I can collect it myself."

"I know," he said, wiping his brow and catching the water pouch she threw at him. "I just need to feel useful."

She could understand that. At the moment, though, she felt more than content to be completely independent, not seeking anything or anyone and, more importantly, not being sought out for anything or by anyone. After all these summers thinking that she was the most important thing in the world and having Cyle and Vance snapping at her heels, it was gratifying to have absolutely nothing to do at all. She smiled; knowing that the laziness could not last long, but determined to enjoy it while it lasted.

"How are things?" she asked.

"All's well," Lorfor said, sitting down at a table and taking a sip of water. "Lon Lon is back to normal. I had to fight to get the Town Council to let me take control of Fran's assets." His took on a tone of sadness. "Not that there was much that he owned."

"Are you going to sell his house and business?"

"No," he said, scratching the back of his head. "Not entirely. I'll sell the business and use the money to construct some sort of Marcaster memorial where his house now stands."

She nodded, not replying. She was not sure how the rest of the townsfolk would react to that, but she did not have the heart to ask.

"What about you?" he asked. "What's your next move?"

Zayna sucked on her teeth as she pondered an answer. Her sword was resting by her side and she picked it up now, tracing the length of the blade with her eyes. "I think I should put what Link taught me to good use." He looked over at Lorfor with a smile. "Some good old fashioned adventuring. See where it leads me."

A sound from outside the door caught their attention. Their eyes flicked at each other. Cautiously they made their way across to the front, Zayna gripping her sword tightly. There was a scratching and, abruptly, a small parchment slid under the door. Curious, Zayna picked it up, no longer feeling apprehensive.

As she read the words, written with an elegant and exaggerated grace, she laughed. "About time," she said.

Lorfor gave her an inquisitive look and she handed the paper over to him. He brought it close to his face, squinting. "My, my," he said, a slow smile spreading across his face. "The wedding of Prince Link and Queen Zelda." He looked up. "Prince Link?"

Zayna shrugged, her heart feeling light. She looked forward to seeing her friends once more. "Knowing him, he probably challenged some dignitary to a duel and wagered the other man's title on the outcome."

She opened the door, letting the scorching desert heat burn her face. In the distance she could just make out the tavern where she had first met the Hero of Time. She sighed. It seemed such a long time ago. Her time for rest was clearly over. It did not bother her too much. Feeling the stir of excitement, she grinned.

Sheathing her sword, Zayna looked over at the older man. "Come, Lorfor," she said. "I think it's time to go back to the Castle. And from there," she added with a smile, "move on to some adventure and excitement."

Zayna winked and Lorfor laughed, turning back to prepare their belongings so that they would be ready to leave.

*

Fran Marcaster looked up slowly from the cracked and yellow scroll in front of him. Finally, after months and months of painstaking reading, he had discovered where he was. Or, more precisely, when he was.

The Eye to the Ages had sent him five hundred summers into the future.

Five hundred summers!

A shiver ran up his spine as the realisation sank in. Slowly, he stood up, the sound of his scraping chair echoing around the Great Library of the Castle. His eyes took in the piles of scrolls all around him, filling the room like large dusty mountains. Something puzzled him. In his studies he had learned that the world had been a far different place a thousand summers ago, with people living in tents and using rocks as weapons. Between that point and the time when he had originally lived, they had progressed immensely. And yet, between that time to the time he was in now, there did not seem to be very little advancement. There were minor changes, of course. The powder that lit lanterns replacing the oil that he had used in his time. A large enough quantity of it was explosive too, and was used in various weapons. The language had changed very little, except for minor variations in accent. Fran was grateful for that, people could still understand them even if they found his accent strange.

He did not understand why things had stayed relatively the same. He had read about various Cataclysms that had occurred in the world between his time and this, and he wondered if they had had a more damaging effect than scholars believed.

Fran shook the thoughts away. There was no point in pondering questions that no one else had answered in the previous five hundred summers. His eyes fell on a scroll, tucked away on a shelf by itself. He felt sick just looking at it. He had read it only once and it had made him weep for so long that he thought he would go blind.

'The Tale of the Key' the words along the edge read.

Tessa.

Tears came to his eyes just by thinking about it, and the familiar hole opened in his heart once more, threatening to swallow him with grief. He shook his head slowly, leaving the Library and entering the garden outside. Warm sunlight fell on his face, but his heart still felt cold.

That particular scroll had puzzled him too. Though it mentioned Cyle, Chizan, Chalance Vance and Zayna, there was nothing about Link and Zelda there. A 'heroic one' and his one-handed wife were the central players in the story, but they were unnamed and Fran was confused as to their identity, especially the woman with one hand.

Lost in thoughts, Fran had not realised that he had wandered too close to the large, drab area beyond the gardens where the King's troops trained. He stroked his beard, his muscles aching from age. Fran felt that he would welcome death when it came. There was nothing for him in this life, in this world where he was an outsider and everyone he knew had passed away long ago. If anything, death would release him from the anguish he suffered ever since finding out Tessa's true purpose and fate.

The sound of grunts and the rip of arrows made him look up. The troops, irregulars judging by their dark tunics, danced to their deadly tune, training in the hot sun. Fran felt unmoved, sick of seeing death and destruction. It was, he mused sadly, the one constant throughout history.

One of the young men whirled, parrying an attack. The momentum was too much for him though and he slipped back. Fran's eyes widened as he saw the man stumble towards him. He tried to move, but he was too old and slow. They collided with one another and fell in a tangled heap.

Fran felt a flash of annoyance and he hissed. "Lad," he barked. "Try and keep yourself focused, will you?"

The boy looked up at him and Fran flinched, shocked. He had to blink to make sure he was not seeing things, and he leaned closer, peering.

The young man looked a little uncomfortable, doubt creasing his still-unmarred features. "What is it?" he said. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

Fran opened his mouth to speak, but his throat tightened, his mind spinning. Finally, he pushed the words out. "What's your name, laddie?"

The youngster eyed him cautiously. "Why do you ask?"

"Just curious." Fran's heart caught in his throat. Part of him dreaded the answer and what it would entail.

After a moment's thought, the boy nodded, probably deciding that Fran was a harmless old man. "Link," he said. "My name is Link."

Fran's shaking head sank slowly into his hands. "Oh, by all that is holy," he gasped. "Not another one!"

***

A/N: Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd CUT!

How's that for my debut fanfic?

Three months, one overheated laptop and an endless supply of Diet Coke later, we've finally reached the end, thank God!

Thank you times a million for all your reviews. You don't know how much they helped. I could try and act all cool and say that they didn't affect me, but I'd be lying. ;) Sometimes I would be sick of the story and would wish it a slow death, but I'd get a really nice review and that would just spur me on to write more. No joke!

Anyway, final thoughts from everyone, please? :)

Thanks a million for reading!

Split