Final chapter! Thank you everyone for following along with this story! I hope this last chapter lives up to your expectations!
A New World
"Just another mile or so and then you can rest, your highness. I know of a suitably sized glade near the river so our horses can drink. Unless your highness wishes to stop now…. Your highness? Your highness?"
Zelda blinked out of her trance like state looking out over the landscape and regarded the captain of her guard. He was respectfully waiting for an answer now that he had her attention.
Zelda tilted her head then resumed admiring the spread of greenery before her. "Very well. Once we reach the river."
There was only one river that travelled this far south of Hyrule and it was the very same river that had embraced her so intimately in its cold suffocating depths. Five weeks ago she may had died in those waters.
The captain straightened and sent a short nod her way. "I shall inform the head of the procession then."
He kicked his mount and sent her trotting to the head of their substantially large party. A total of fifty men accompanied her on her sojourn to Ordon. It was time she repaid her debts to the small village, and to properly thank Uli and her family for all that they had done for her. Not to mention apologize. Theft was certainly not the most depraved thing she could think of when it came to desperation, however even so it amazed her the lengths she'd gone to out of self-preservation. Twenty years later and she'd still be feeling the guilt.
Zelda watched the backs of her guards then scrutinized the others in formation surrounding her in a protective circle, a difficult task in the enclosing forest. She found it still difficult to believe that all of them, every single one of these men, had been former rebels. Her father's soldiers, secretly defying his law and working against him for months. What had her even more bewildered was the fact that Shad, one of the king's personal advisors, had been part of it too. He had been the one to strategize all their plots and to let the rebels into the castle.
Shad rode with them, feet ahead of her, ramrod straight in the saddle, expression stern and calculating, as if he saw the world as a measure of problems he had to solve. Zelda didn't know what to think of his deception, his treason, only that she couldn't fault him for it because she had been prepared to do the same.
He had survived. By some act of divine will, her father had survived, but his life expectancy had been whittled down to a quarter of what it had been previously.
Once his injuries had been sufficiently healed and he'd been classified as physically stable, he'd been sent to their shore home at Lake Hylia where he was to live out the rest of his life, watched day and night and forbidden from leaving the property.
Zelda had gone to visit him once so far and during the visit her father had been strapped to the bed. Shad had wanted to take no chances that he might go after her again, and Zelda had allowed it to pass only because of the look in her father's eyes when she saw him. There had been a mix of fury, repulsion, guilt and fear. He'd refused to speak a word to her, no matter how she tried to engage him in conversation. Despite how he'd very nearly succeeded in killing her, she wanted the rest of his life to be pleasant and not stained by sins of the past.
She was heartbroken to think that her only living kin might now despise her. She could no longer believe his prior claims of love. Fatherly affection had left his emotional boundaries the moment he'd wielded that knife against her.
As for herself…
She had been beyond fortunate that she hadn't been stripped of her title as well. For two days after the coup the rebels argued. Many wanted to dissolve the sovereignty and form a democracy. Somehow, though, they had settled on passing down the crown to her. She was to be named queen in a month.
Zelda was no longer as opposed to the decision as she might have been before everything had transpired. Her father had left the country in a state of disaster, and like the dutiful child she was, she would use her station to atone for his sins, and also to redeem herself, for her inaction and naivety.
Already she had scheduled lessons from Shad and the other advisors to learn about the finer aspects of politics. Her life had transitioned from an opulent existence to one so busy she barely had time for anything leisurely. However, she'd managed to slot this little trip to Ordon into her schedule anyways.
She wasn't… as fond of the Ordonians as she had been initially. Except for Uli, who she could not prevent from forever holding in high esteem. As for the rest… ever since their reaction to the wolf, thinking of them, their cruel remarks, and the clear repulsion on their faces, sent cold shivers down her spine. Nevertheless, she would face them in person. Even the foolish Sera. Erasing the woman's ridiculous presumptions about her would be more than satisfying.
In short order they arrived at the riverbank and everyone began dismounting but for two scouts that had been sent on ahead. Zelda didn't hesitate to slide off her horse without assistance, and stretch her cramped legs. Riding side saddle had never been more uncomfortable than when it was done for hours on end. Shad had actually insisted she take the carriage, but if she were to truly atone and get to know the people she couldn't hide herself away behind velvet curtains and block her vision of the world. She wanted exposure, to see Hyrule with clear eyes and for Hyrule to see her.
"Is there anything you require, your highness? Drink? Sustenance?" the captain came up and inquired of her.
Zelda shook her head, holding loosely onto the reigns of her horse as she patted its nose. "No thank you. Perhaps later, when we arrive."
The captain looked unsure, but nodded. "Of course. Orien is only three hours away. Will my lady be able to wait that long?"
"Orien?" Her ears flicked up as she frowned at the captain. "I had thought we would head straight on to Ordon? Stopping at Orien would require a detour."
"Orien is the last village we will encounter before Ordon," said the captain, taken aback. "Wouldn't your highness rather rest at an inn instead of the wilderness?"
Rest at an inn? She had travelled for days across Hyrule, slept in whatever form of shelter she and her wolf could find. Visiting towns and spending the night with a roof over her head had been a rarity. Sleeping in a tent outdoors would be a comfort compared to that.
"I would rather we not delay," she replied evenly. "We head straight on."
The captain looked like he wanted vehemently to object, but wisely held his tongue. He gave her a reverent bow and strode off.
One of the soldiers offered to take care of her mount for her and Zelda gladly handed over the reigns and moved to a more secluded area less crowded by her guards. While the men rested and ate, she lingered at the edge of the camp, gazing into the forest and fancying she could see something grey ambling toward her.
She leaned against a tree and sighed, pressing her fingers to her brows to massage away her tiredness. She was letting her imagination consume her again.
Her wolf… Link, hadn't been seen since he'd disappeared after the fight in the throne room. Was it because he'd revealed himself? That she now knew that he and the wolf were one and the same? Or was is shame that had sent him away? He'd looked so unshakable after beating her father, but perhaps inwardly he'd feared her reaction and had run off so that he wouldn't have to face her.
But she didn't think any less of him! How could she when he'd constantly saved her life. And to defend her against her own father, the King of Hyrule and most powerful man she knew, had been the ultimate show of devotion.
She just wished she could tell him all this in person. No one knew where he was. Not even the heads of the resistance.
She hugged herself and leaned against the trunk of an elm tree. She looked blankly down at her bandaged hand where her father had stabbed her before her ears flickered at the sound of someone approaching. Leaves crunched as Shad walked up to her, giving her a small smile of comfort.
It turned out that he'd known Link even longer than the other resistance members and had been fully aware of his wolf transformations. She'd heard that he'd been searching these past few weeks for any sign of Link, but nothing was turning up.
Zelda herself wasn't inclined to waste the effort. If Link wanted to vanish, then let him. If he wanted to be gone from her life, then that was his choice to make. She wouldn't stop him. But, she'd keep her eyes open for whenever he might decide to return, and hope that that was a day not long in coming.
Shad fixed his glasses and took a place beside her, following her eyes out into the forest. "There is an air of forlornness about you. The guards are mystified by it."
"You know very well the reason for that," she answered curtly, wishing to burrow into the trunk of the tree she leaned upon if only to escape her men's scrutiny.
"Link," Shad sighed and went on, "has made an impact on many people, it seems."
"If you mean that he's aided two princesses achieve their queenships, then yes, I suppose he has."
She wasn't in the mood for this. Talking about Link, even mentioning him, was causing her to ache deeper than anything physical. She thought her blunt tone had been enough of a hint for Shad to back off, but it appeared that his judgement seemed to be a little skewed at the moment.
The scholar gave a small chuckle. "You know, it is funny that for months the others and I have tried to convince Link to take on his Hylian form. Helpful as he was as a wolf, he had far more potential as a man. It is difficult to guess what a person is saying when all he can give you are nods and growls."
Zelda turned sharply to him. "You mean all this time Link's been living as a wolf?"
Shad shrugged and gave a wry smile. "Ever since he left Ordon. Except for a few very rare instances he refused to take Hylian form. And never for anything frivolous."
Her breath pitched. Frivolous like those evenings sitting at the inn's common room and conversing quietly to each other? What had been so special about her that he would become Hylian simply to talk to her when he wouldn't even transform for his friends?
And Goddesses, what had he thought of her all this time? Accompanying her by day as a wolf, her guide and protector, while following and interacting with her at night as the man he was.
How she hated being deceived. Had it been amusing to him? Pretending to be two different beings while playing with her? Would he have kept his secret if he hadn't been forced to transform in the end to deliver his surprise attack on her father?
But the bigger question was would she have felt betrayed as she did now had he just showed her what he was voluntarily?
The feeling of betrayal now though stemmed from the fact that he'd left. Without word or indication, he'd gone. And it broke her heart imagining never being able to see him again.
Shad's eyes seemed to spark, or it might have been the sun glinting off his spectacles, Zelda would never be sure. But in that instance something appeared to dance in his irises as he released the next bit of information.
"He came to us, the resistance, recently though, as a man. Shocked the living daylights out of Ashei. He spoke of a woman he'd met, lost in the woods. He told us of how this woman was the princess and that she'd promised to help in our efforts to bring down the king."
He was trying to comfort her. In his own way. It was no secret, the deep affection she held for Link. He had seen right through her when she'd wept for him minutes after the rebels had burst into the throne room. Shad had been the only one to see that it was not the cry of a frightened child anguished at the betrayal of her father, but of a woman who felt lonely and abandoned at the desertion of the man of her affections.
Zelda bit her bottom lip and mentally scorned herself. "But I did nothing. I failed to reason with him. And if it hadn't been for Link my father would have become far more powerful."
It had horrified her that her father had carried the Triforce of Power, for however short a time it was. An elderly man from the resistance, Auru, had managed to take it back, however. The king's weakened state had aided in that, but when he'd gone to return it to the Sacred Realm, had discovered that the other two pieces of the Triforce were missing. The guards had sworn that none but the king had even encroached the area, but also that they had seen two bright streaks zoom out like flashes of lightning not long after the king's visit.
It was something to fret over and ponder about later. Currently her attention was drawn to her kingdom, which was going through a complete overture.
That's right. Her kingdom deserved her attention. Pining for Link could wait.
"I would object vehemently, your highness," said Shad, in a chiding manner. "That you made the attempt made all the difference. It was your saving grace in the eyes of the rebels. If you hadn't you'd have never been considered for queenship, and then where would Hyrule be without a Harkinian on the throne? The rebels were set on establishing a democracy," he tutted as if the very notion was absurd. "The Goddesses would have thrown a fit."
An uninhibited smile found its way upon her lips, only to swiftly fade. All her life spent in leisure and it was this single belated act that granted her the people's favor.
Zelda jolted at the sudden call that sang throughout the trees. The strident lament of a wolf. More voices followed and any hope she had felt for that split second abruptly dissolved into wisps of disappointment.
Her shoulders shuddered and fell and she tugged her thick cloak closer together, snuggling her chin just under the collar.
"He's waiting for you."
As if her heart wasn't tearing at the seams fast enough, Shad simply had to wound her further with hopeful falsities.
"How would you know?" she said harshly with perhaps a bit of annoyance edged in. "You've admitted yourself you haven't seen him since he left the castle."
There was humor glinting behind Shad's spectacles when he spoke. "No… But if my lady were to look over to the left, between an elder tree and that small rise, she might find something that would appeal to her attention."
Truly the man was a dear and had been an irreplaceable pillar of support for her these trying few weeks, but she was fast tiring of this flippancy in regard to the delicate state of her emotions. It was bizarre. Shad never acted like this. What did he have to profit from by giving her false –
Time stopped and the world stilled. Frozen like the sheen of ice on a winter-besotted pond.
Zelda blinked to clear her eyes but her vision remained unchanged. She was still seeing the limber elder tree, the moss encrusted rise that stood right beside it, and the wolf that stood in the gap between them. A wolf with strange markings on its brow.
A delighted cry fought to escape her lips but came out only as a strangled gasp. Involuntarily her boot treaded a step forward, pausing as she stared at the wolf.
The wolf flicked its ears and turned away, ambling off into the distance.
It took all her strength of will not to hurdle after him. She glanced back at Shad whose expression had become neutral as he sent her a pointed look.
Adjusting his cravat, Shad lofted his chin in the air and threw over his shoulder, "I'll see to the men. We're expecting to depart in twenty minutes."
She caught the hidden amusement in his eyes before shoving aside any distracting thoughts of duty and propriety that pegged her firmly back in camp. Instead she let her spontaneity fly free and ran.
It was in these woods that they'd first met. She'd been running at the time as well. Running away from danger, in fear, desperate, with undulating waves of resolve. This time she ran to him, excited, firm and purposeful.
Nothing could match the pace of her heart with every step she drew nearer.
She spotted him through the trees a ways ahead of her. He had hastened into a sprint, tail flailing behind him as he weaved through the woodland.
Her breaths came in pants as it became hard to keep up with him. Her small bipedal form was no match for his strong canine limbs.
She began to panic when she lost sight of him.
"Link!" she called urgently. "Link, I know it's you. Wait!"
He didn't stop. She glimpsed flashes of his wolf body bounding through the foliage, but never slowing.
Her ankle caught on a snag of wood and she tripped. Zelda staggered to a leaning tree and fell against it to catch her breath.
Tears of frustration escaped their ducts and she closed her eyes to the flow.
"You stupid incorrigible mutt." Her eyes burned as she fell to her knees, rubbing them with the backs of her hands.
There was a shift in the air and then large fingers encompassed hers.
"Always with the fanciful wording. Your royalty is showing through."
A gentle tug coaxed her hands away from her eyes and with blurred vision she saw a brownish-gold mop of scraggly hair and the distinct contours of a face.
A wry laugh escaped her throat as she blinked to clear her eyes. "And you, always messy and unkempt. I thought I taught you better."
Her breath sharpened when she took him in with clarity.
She promptly let out a squeal and threw her arms over her face.
"W-what is it?" Link said in a panic.
Zelda stuttered and flushed with warmth, blood rushing to her head as she replied as coherently as possible for the situation. "Link! You're indecent!"
There was a brief stretch of silence before a low rumbling filled the air between them and his hands were back on hers.
"I believe we're a little past that, don't you think? You've already seen me like this."
"It's not the same!" she shrieked.
"Besides the point."
She waved a hand at him, keeping her eyes shut tight. She unfastened the clasp at the front of her cloak and quickly shrugged it off, thrusting it out to him. "Put this on."
"You're kidding me."
"It's not the same!" she repeated, flustered and thoroughly embarrassed. "You were protecting me. It didn't matter at the time. And I'm soon to be queen! I can't see you like this."
Trapped in the unyielding world of the nobility again. She'd chosen to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of her country and so certain behaviors had to be set aside and boundaries maintained.
There was a sigh from his direction and the shift of movement sounded as if he were standing up.
"There's no need for that. Keep your cloak. I can summon my own wardrobe."
Her outstretched arm fell as her mind whirled with dizzying thoughts. "You can do that? But at the castle you were…" Her face was consumed by a blush, red and hot against the chill of the wind.
"It takes a lot of concentration to conjure clothing," he replied. "Give me a moment."
Zelda waited and only when he took her wrists and lift her up did she ply her hands away from her face. He was as ruggedly handsome as he'd ever been. His poise emitted a look of wildness to it, along with the complacency of a calm demeanor. He was tame, but at the same time, feral. If one could imagine such a thing.
"You ran away." Was the first thing she thought to say, staring into his deep blue irises, swirling with emotions that were battling in confliction with one another.
He seemed to be debating his response before he cast his eyes to the side and admitted, "Yes. I did."
"Why?" she demanded, stepping closer, near enough to feel the heat of his body against her skin. "You didn't come back. Why?"
"I'm here now."
"You don't want to be. I can see it in your stance," she said sadly. "You're waiting for a chance to leave again. Are you that adverse to being around me?"
"No!" he shot out, hands holding hers tighter, then collected himself. "No, it's not that."
He frowned, dropping their hands but not letting go. "You're right. It's not the same. You were just a girl when I met you. You were injured," he briefly made contact with the spot on her shoulder where the arrow had pierced her. "Freezing, and half drowned, lost in the woods. And you were the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. You were clearly disadvantaged, and I could never leave anyone helpless. I couldn't leave you to die, so I took care of you. I bandaged your wound, kept you warm, and brought you to my old village then went to find Uli. She and Rusl were the only ones there who knew about my wolf side, although Rusl's never fully trusted me ever since I decided to become feral."
Zelda watched his features scrunch as she listened attentively. It was fascinating hearing his side of the events and she became engrossed in the monologue.
Link shook his head, ears flicking. "In Ordon you were safe, and that was that. I never stopped to think of why you'd appeared in the forest, and I determined that it was none of my business. But I was soon to find that you were just prone to trouble." He said this with a tinge of amusement.
Zelda moved a fraction closer to him. "An unusual association."
"Somehow I doubt that," he mused softly. "I did drop by every once in a while to see how you were faring. And I admit to some amusement whenever I saw Uli trying to teach you something. You were horrible at everything you did."
"Well I'm glad you found humor in my failures," she huffed in feigned annoyance.
He grinned, but too soon it was stymied. "I smelled the smoke that day the bandits came. I…" He growled as if the very memory angered him. "I was furious. They had attacked the village, and although it is not my home anymore, it is where I grew up. The people I cared about were there and in danger. And then there was you. I had brought you to Ordon to be safe, so you'd be able to make it back home, but they ruined all that. By threatening your life it felt like I'd failed you. I just felt, after all I'd done while helping Midna… I had hurt so many, I had learned to kill and become a destroyer, but this one chance I had to actually save a life and do some good…"
He released a trembling breath. "I was touched when you stood up for me. Undeserving as it was. I had thought you'd be frightened. Even Rusl was wary of me, and Uli was being cautious. But you understood. A complete stranger understood and defended me. I became… intrigued, I suppose. A meek noblewoman who couldn't even darn a shirt took the side of a wolf. If it were anyone else I'd have deduced that you were either naïve or dense. But ever since I've met you there had always been a glow of wisdom in your eyes."
Zelda ducked her head timidly. His compliment made her feel warm and fuzzy inside. "And then you began to follow me everywhere, as man and wolf. To watch over me…?"
He stared intensely at her. "I was determined to get you home safe and to do that you needed monitoring. You were being hunted for reasons unknown at the time. I honestly didn't realize what I was getting myself into until you revealed exactly who you were."
She nodded deep in thought. "So you stalked me."
He cringed and shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry if my behavior came across that way…"
"I wondered why we ran into each other as often as we did," she muttered demurely. A knife dug itself in her heart and she looked away. "So it was obligation that made you assist me."
Silence descended between them and the atmosphere became heavy.
Zelda tore her hands away and pivoted on her heel, stumbling a few steps before the pressing lump in her throat forced her to pause.
A deep sigh escaped Link. "I came to see you today so I could say goodbye."
She turned so fast her hair whipped against her face, eyes widened to saucer like proportions. "What? Why?"
His smile was forced and fake and everything that a smile from him should never be. "Courtesy. We won't ever be seeing each other again after this. You'll be queen and I'll be gone."
"What?" she asked, voice quavering.
"I'm leaving Hyrule. I… There's just…" He growled when he couldn't get the words out and Zelda felt her heart beating faster.
"You – You can't leave!"
"Zelda," he said smoothly then coughed, "Your highness-"
"No! It's Zelda," she stated adamantly. She wouldn't have him calling her anything but her true name.
The thought of him leaving, of going to a new land and starting a new life there, a family of his own, was too much to bear.
"You can't leave."
He gave a sour chuckle. "You want someone – something – like me staying in Hyrule? You saw what I did to those men. What I did to your father. I was cursed into a wolf while helping Queen Midna reclaim her throne. Her powers cured me and made it so that I can change back and forth at will. But do you know why I'd initially turned into a wolf when I was cursed? Because it reflected my inner being. I have a harsh sense of justice, sometimes even cruel. I take punishment into my own hands and kill without mercy."
"But only when it is deserved," she defended.
He rounded on her, baring his teeth. "And who's to say it is deserved? I have no right to declare myself judge, jury and executor. But it is an aspect that I cannot curtail. You don't need someone like me darkening your queendom."
"But if you were king it would be well within your right," she said quietly, hopefully.
His jaw dropped so quickly that in any other circumstance she would have found it humorous. He stammered as his tongue fought to form comprehensible syllables.
"I – I don't understand."
She took a bold step toward him. "Then you are either naïve or completely dense. Or is it that you are afraid. But then I see courage in your eyes so that mustn't be so."
"I might…" She took another step to him and she could see his throat bobbing as he swallowed. "Have fallen in love with you."
Whatever stupor had fallen over him faded away as he quickly got a hold of himself. "There's a word for women who fall in love with their saviors. What you're feeling is awe. It's not genuine affection."
"Is it not?" she pressed, suddenly bold in her desperation not to lose him. "I loved my wolf as a pet. He was a companion to me. He cared when he didn't have to. And when he became the man he cared even more. I held no fondness for him at first, but then he and I kept on bumping into each other and I was able to witness more of his kindness. He cared for the people, and he cared for me, the daughter of the man he was trying to bring to justice. He was even sympathetic enough to grant me a chance to save that man, even though it was clear that he despised him." She whispered, "Maybe you saving me indeed has endeared you more deeply to me, but it was your kindness that won my heart. Your kindness and your earnestness." She raised a hand before he could interrupt, "The only way you deceived me was by not revealing that you were my wolf. Everything else was simply you."
She was melting under his piercing gaze, his swirling blue orbs deep and profound.
"If you decide to still leave, I will not stop you," she said softly, biting her bottom lip to keep it from trembling. "I would not bind you. I would see you happy without me forcing you into anything. Go and live somewhere your past won't haunt you. Just…be loved, start a family, and don't be lonely…"
Her eyes were blurring again. Damn these tears. They appeared right when she didn't want them to and impeded her sight. How was she to memorize the image of the man before her if she couldn't even see him?
A calloused hand cupped her chin and all of a sudden her traitorous tears were being wiped away.
"Didn't you know," he said, caressing her face. "Wolves mate for life."
She smiled, heart pounding as she pressed her face into his palm, her hand sliding over his, tears pouring down faster.
"Even if I were to leave, I couldn't choose anyone else. My heart would have always been right here with you," he said.
A lump caught in her throat as she gazed up at him. "Are you sure? I wouldn't want to rob you of your freedom."
"You give me a choice, my lady," he replied. "I am free."
"But you wouldn't be able to roam as you please. You'd be stuck in Hyrule most of the time and no longer have the chance to explore other lands."
"Wolves are naturally territorial and stay within their regions anyways," he answered easily, shrugging with a smile. "I shall simply have to make the entirety of Hyrule my territory. Before I mostly only occupied Ordon. This would be an expansion in a way."
"Hyrule won't be the same," she said. "The system is changing. A lot of work will need to be done to institute these changes smoothly."
He took her hand and gently placed a kiss on her gloved knuckles. "I would create a new world with you."
Her entire being warmed and she gazed ardently at him. "Link."
"Are you done now? For someone who was fighting for me five minutes ago you seem awfully intent on getting rid of me?" he quipped with a sly grin.
"I just want to be certain-"
He wove an arm around her waist and swiftly pulled her to him, her lithe body flush against his. "Be certain of this."
Then he dipped his head and kissed her.
Thank you everyone for reading, and a huge thanks to those who've left a review, faved or followed! I hope you all enjoyed.
I'll be focusing more on my other stories now that this one is complete, so feel free to peruse them at your leisure.