Link stood and stared at Ganondorf, his heart thudding in his ears. Navi quivered in midair beside him. Ganondorf was smiling.
"So, now it comes down to this," the Black King remarked amiably. "Tell me, boy, are you happy to at last meet your destiny?"
It suddenly occurred to Link that he was no longer afraid. A calm as deep as Lake Hylia settled in his soul. All his life had led up to this one crucial moment. This was where he was supposed to be. This was what he was supposed to do.
The grin on Ganondorf's face broadened. His hand went to the hilt of his enormous black blade. "Then let's get this over with."
Link mentally took stock of the situation. He was in good shape for this fight, energized and prepared. "Navi, stay out of this," he ordered as he drew the Master Sword. "This is between him and me." And I don't want you getting hurt, he added silently.
Navi obediently retreated to a far corner of the room as Link faced off with his greatest opponent. This is it for me, goddesses, Link thought with grim good humor, gripping the Master Sword tightly in both hands. If I defeat him, and live, I intend to retire from being a swordsman. I'd like to die an old man asleep in bed—definitely not here!
Ganondorf shifted, matching Link's fighting stance—feet spread, knees bent, shoulders low. Link eyed the enormous slab of black metal that Ganondorf called a sword, then watched his foe's chest. In all but the best swordsmen, a movement of the muscles in the torso betrayed an attack. Link did not intend to go on the offensive until he'd gotten the measure of his enemy. Ganondorf was taller, heavier, stronger—but he was a man, Link reminded himself. Men could be beaten, and Link had beaten his kind before.
Unfortunately, Ganondorf was one of the best. Without warning he darted forward, faster than Link would have believed possible, swinging his great sword around in a horizontal arc. Sword met sword with a crashing din that Link felt in his teeth; both arms instantly went numb. He stumbled back, but Ganondorf wasn't through with him. On he came with quick jabs that forced Link to block again and again. The rapid blows drew shrieks from both swords and battered Link's body mercilessly; his arms shook with the effort of defending against Ganondorf's immense strength.
Ganondorf swung his sword about in a great arc meant to cleave Link in two, but he dropped and rolled clear, scrambling to his feet as the Black King pursued him with slow, deliberate steps. "How long do you think you can last?" Ganondorf asked softly. "Even your predecessor couldn't hold out for long. Do you know what I did to him when at last he fell?"
Link readjusted his shaky grip on his sword and tried to block out Ganondorf's words. He would only get sick if he continued to listen.
"His friends would think—hope—that I cut off his head first. But I didn't." Ganondorf smiled a bone-chilling smile. "The head came last, you see. He lasted quite some time, considering the blood loss from his severed limbs.
"And then do you know what I did? I put the pieces in a box, and I sent the box to her."
"She never saw it," Link snapped in spite of himself.
"No, unfortunately she missed my little surprise. But what about your Zelda, I wonder? How do you suppose she will like seeing your body, bloodied and broken—"
Link lunged at Ganondorf's middle; the black sword shifted and Link swiftly changed his direction of attack—metal screeched on metal and the Master Sword bit into Ganondorf's forearm, scoring a bloody line up to the elbow.
Link broke and skipped away out of range of a counterattack. "So you are a man," he taunted. "You can be hurt. And your blood is red, like everyone else's."
Ganondorf's eyes promised murder. He shifted his sword to his left hand, smiling. A chill prickled Link's spine—no one as angry as Ganondorf smiled.
"Come," the Black King whispered.
Link came. Now he was on the offensive, using every trick he knew to keep Ganondorf on his toes. He feinted, switching his sword from hand to hand to strike at an unprotected side—but Ganondorf was quick; his great sword kept up easily with Link's attacks.
He's toying with me, Link thought, infuriated. He switched his sword to his right hand and struck; the black sword crashed against his, throwing him off balance; Ganondorf's fist struck his stomach. The breath exploded from his body; Link fell to his knees, rolled away, and vomited what little he had eaten in the past day on the marble floor.
Ganondorf raised his sword with a cry of triumph, but Navi was suddenly there, glowing brighter than ever as she blinded the Black King. "Little fairy, you vex me," Ganondorf snarled. Link felt, rather than saw, the wave of black energy that shuddered through the air; Navi retreated with a cry of pain.
Link struggled to his feet, livid. "You—"
He lunged and slammed into a wall of dark power. The world turned upside down, his ears roared and he saw crimson—he was in agony, he felt as though a hand were twisting his innards—
Then fresh pain bit into his chest and the world righted itself; Link fell to his knees once more on the cold marble. The agony that had twisted his insides had fled, and even the cold pain in his chest was fading away. The edges of his vision were darkening, blurring, as though a veil had dropped over his eyes. He put a hand to his chest, felt the blood pouring steadily from the wound that had gone to his heart, and knew that he was dying.
"I'm disappointed," he heard Ganondorf say as though from very far away. "You didn't last nearly as long as I'd hoped…"
Everything faded away; he was drowning in peaceful darkness. If this was dying, he thought vaguely, it wasn't really so bad…
But something was changing. He felt liquid warmth pour into the core of his being and spread outward through his veins. His vision and hearing were returning, but not the pain. He felt Navi hovering by the side of his head and knew that the warmth and energy were radiating from her—she was healing him.
"Navi—" he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Link." Her voice faltered and broke. The energy she fed him cut off abruptly; he caught her as her wings gave out.
Her light was flickering like a firefly's; Link caught a glimpse of a tiny woman's body every time her light dimmed. "I'm not a scarlet fairy, you see," she whispered. "I can't heal naturally…so…I must give up my own life-force."
"Navi!" Link cried, cradling her small body in hands that shook. "Don't you die! Don't you dare die!"
"I'm sorry…I couldn't…help…"
Her light flickered and died. She was gone.
Gently Link placed her on the floor and rose, feeling very cold. His eyes met Ganondorf's. The Black King stood impassively, watching the scene unfold.
"The fairy gave her life in vain," he remarked. "Why don't you bare your throat now and end your sorrow?"
Coolness trickled down Link's spine. The Triforce of Courage flickered to life within him. He took up his sword once more and said quietly, "Come."
Ganondorf's lip curled. He strode forward, raising his sword over his head and bringing it down. Energy surged through Link's veins and into his sword as though it were an extension of his body. He felt an overwhelming sense of rightness; this was the moment. This was his time. He stepped forward, deflected the black sword with a sweep of his own and rammed his shoulder into his enemy's gut; Ganondorf staggered back and Link lunged, the Master Sword aimed at the Black King's heart.
Then Ganondorf, the castle around him, everything was gone. Link stood alone in endless blackness, the Master Sword quivering in his hand. He stared around him, trying to find something in the empty void. Was he dead after all?
The Master Sword shrieked; light exploded from the silver blade as a figure appeared before him, drenched in golden light.
Din, the Goddess of Power, spoke.
"YOU DARED." Pain exploded inside Link's skull; he fell to his knees, hands clasped over his ears in a futile attempt to block out the goddess's voice. It was like the screeching of birds and the baying of wild dogs, great and horrible, pounding his body like an enormous hammer. "IT WAS OVER FOR YOU, HE WAS SO CLOSE TO KILLING YOU, BUT YOU LIVED—HOW DARE YOU LIVE?!"
It was agony. The voice was killing him. He would never get out of this alive; he was going to die here in the terrible presence of the third goddess.
He felt, rather than heard, Zelda's voice—felt her hand gripping his, her fingers weaving through his, her presence beside him. He felt rather than saw her crouched beside him; she was glowing with the pure white light that was her Triforce of Wisdom.
The presence of the goddess was no longer unbearable. Link felt his own Triforce awaken once more in response to Zelda's and warmth surged through his body, banishing the pain of Din's voice. He saw Zelda smile beneath the white light.
"I'm with you."
In unison they focused the power given to them by the goddesses, forcing it on Din. The goddess-figure blazed red with her own Triforce. "MORTALS! I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY YOU!"
"Nor will you defeat them, sister," a new voice interjected. Link recognized Nayru's cold, forbidding tone, but didn't dare look away from Din. He and Zelda climbed to their feet, power combining through their intertwined hands. "The balance must continue."
"You know the laws, sister." That was Farore, warm and kind. "We goddesses may not interfere directly with any mortal vessel other than our own. You had your chance with the bearer of your Triforce."
"LAWS ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN, AS IS THE BALANCE!"
"Then you have made your choice. Link," Farore said, "you know what you must do."
Link tightened his grip on the Master Sword. "Don't let go of my hand," he warned Zelda.
"Never," she promised.
The two strode forward, power swirling around them. Din threw up a wall of fire, but the combined energies of Courage and Wisdom surged, breaking through it. The Triforce mark burned on Link's hands as he raised the Master Sword for one final blow.
Din turned to flee and struck a barrier that glowed silver with her sisters' combined power. She stumbled back with a shriek and Link struck, thrusting the Master Sword through the goddess's heart. Flames instantly enveloped her body and she disappeared in a blazing inferno, taking the Master Sword with her.
Link stepped back, gasping from the lingering heat of Din's fire. "Is she dead?"
"No," said Nayru. "No mortal can kill a goddess. You have incapacitated her for a time, but—as the cycle turns—so shall her power be restored."
"And what happened to the Master Sword?"
"See for yourself," Farore said gently, and the world dissolved around him. Abruptly he stood in the many-columned hall in Ganondorf's castle. His foe lay on the floor before him, the Master Sword thrust through his chest. Link gripped the sword's handle to pull it out. His stomach roiled at the gouts of dark blood, but he hadn't even the strength to vomit. He felt pounded all over, and at that moment wanted nothing more than to sink to the floor and join his enemy in rest.
Farore's warmth enveloped him and his surroundings dissolved once more; this time he materialized on his back in warm, sweet-smelling grass, the sky overhead a dazzling blue.
Link smiled drowsily. "It's a beautiful day," he murmured to no one in particular, and went to sleep.
* * *
Sometime shortly before dawn, something came from the direction of the castle—most agreed later that it was like a soundless explosion. It rocked through the battlefield and instantly the enemy soldiers, men and monsters alike, burst into flames and died in agony. It seemed that service to Ganondorf carried a lifetime warranty, and without him to sustain them, his soldiers could not go on. "That's convenient," was Valan's only remark on the matter.
The sun rose shortly afterwards in a clear sky over Hyrule Field and the castle, which in the dawn light was abruptly less menacing.
Ganondorf was clearly dead.
The survivors gathered at the crest of the hill, watching the castle for signs of life. "What do you suppose happened to Link?" Rowen wondered aloud. She had taken an arrow in the shoulder for the queen; her arm would remain in a sling for several weeks. "You don't think he…"
"No." Zelda smiled slowly, awakening from the stupor she'd gone into shortly before the fighting stopped. "He's alive. I know it."
Demon reared abruptly with a loud whinny. The gelding had been placed in the paddock with the other horses; now he broke into a gallop, leaping easily over the makeshift fence and thundering down the hill as the humans stared after him, open-mouthed. Zelda jumped to her feet and raced after him. The gelding skidded to a halt halfway down the long hill and nudged at something in the long grass.
When Link opened his eyes, his vision was filled with horse muzzle. He groaned and pushed Demon's muzzle away, wincing as he sat up. He felt as though he'd been pounded all over by hammers; his back was one giant ache. "I'm all right, boy," he murmured as Demon nudged him again, "no, really—"
"Don't look so worried, Demon, your master's all in one piece." Link shielded his eyes against the sun so he could look up into Zelda's face. She smiled tremulously at him and offered a hand. "Right?"
He grinned and put his hand in hers. "Wouldn't be much of a Destined if I wasn't."
Zelda laughed as she cried, hugging him tightly and briefly before pulling away to examine him carefully. "You look well enough," she offered, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "Look at me, I'm the one all in pieces—"
"Link!" Impa, Valan, and—to Link's surprise—Rowen, joined the reunion, all tired, haggard, and worn. Impa shook her head at him in wonder.
"You did it. I can't believe you actually did it."
"It wasn't easy," Link admitted. "Not at all. If it weren't for Navi—" His throat closed up. Zelda squeezed his hand, and the others nodded at him wearily. They all understood.
"So it's finally over," Valan said slowly, staring at the distant castle.
"Are you joking?" Zelda demanded. "It isn't anywhere near over. Ganondorf's reign has torn this land apart; now we have to put it back together."
Feeling dead on his feet, Link asked, "Do you mind if we start putting it back together tomorrow? I really need a good, long nap."
* * *
The price of their victory against Ganondorf's forces was high. The sneak attack on the camp the night Link had fought the Black King resulted in many more casualties, Navi and Blue included. Saria survived, just barely. She attended the funeral services for those lost in the war leaning against Darunia, looking as withered as any one of her plants that had burned the castle wall.
The first thing Zelda did after the services were over was say goodbye to the four sages from the past—Rauru, Nabooru, Ruto, and Darunia—and send them back to their time. By some miracle they'd all survived—though perhaps that too was a part of fate.
Zelda's army remained at their camp in Hyrule Field for several weeks. Once the soldiers had a chance to rest and recover, Zelda ordered squads to the castle in shifts, to sift through the ruin and clean out any lingering enemies. Once the castle was clear, the camp moved onto the site. Carpenters came from Kakariko and stonemasons from Death Mountain; others were seen walking the grounds with parchment in hand, sketching blueprints. It was clear to anyone with eyes that Zelda planned to build a new castle on the site of the old one—her castle.
Over the weeks, visitors trickled in from all corners of Hyrule. They were people who knew not only Zelda and Link's names, but the names of their close friends and allies and all the deeds they'd accomplished. Word of Ganondorf's death had spread astonishingly fast throughout Hyrule; his hold over the various regions and the people who inhabited them quickly collapsed. Now people came to see this woman with a claim to the Hylian throne, to speak with her and learn her intentions. Some stayed to make new homes and lives for themselves in the rebirth of the Hylian Kingdom.
Several weeks after Ganondorf's defeat, Zelda sat on a chunk of marble in a makeshift courtyard, formed by the ruin of the Temple of Time. She had found it a few days ago, upon searching for a place where she could seclude herself briefly from the constant stream of visitors, meetings with her friends and advisors, and lessons from Impa on the history of Hyrule and the Hylian Kingdom. She thought she was the only one who knew about it, until Ronin found her there.
"Well, Majesty, I'm off," he announced, adjusting the bulky pack on his shoulder as though for emphasis. In the weeks since the war, he'd put most of his effort into helping the carpenters who had already begun laying the new castle's foundation, and never spoke of Blue.
"You're leaving?" Zelda said unhappily. "But why? Why won't you make your home here with us?"
Ronin smiled gently. "It's in my name, Majesty. I'm a wanderer, no more. So it's time for me to wander again, I think." He bowed with a flourish in his old way. "Farewell to you and your kingdom, O Queen of the Hylians. I'm sure we'll meet again."
Zelda watched him as he walked away, biting her lip. "Ronin," she blurted, "Blue, she—"
Ronin turned back to look at her, his expression unreadable.
"She really loved you, a lot," Zelda whispered. "And…I'm sorry she had to die for my cause."
Ronin smiled. "I told you she loved the dragon form, didn't I? She was a big showoff. She would have wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Besides, she liked you. I'm sure it was worth it to her."
He gave a two-fingered salute, then turned again and left, with a friendly clap on the shoulder for Link, who had appeared in the courtyard.
Zelda smiled ruefully once Ronin had gone. "Guess it's not a secret courtyard anymore."
"I followed Ronin here," Link said, approaching. "I've been looking for you."
Zelda indicated the slab of marble on which she sat. "What for?"
Link took the offered seat beside her. "I wanted to thank you," he explained seriously. "I never got the chance. You saved my life back there, in that place with Din."
"Oh, Link, don't thank me for that, please," Zelda said, distressed. "You saved all of our lives. We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for you."
"But I never would have succeeded if you hadn't helped me," Link pressed. "Din would have killed me if our powers hadn't combined." He paused momentarily. "You feel it, don't you?"
Zelda nodded, knowing exactly what he was talking about. On that day when their Triforces had mingled and combined against the Goddess of Power, she'd felt Link's heart beating within her own breast. To this day, she always knew where he was, if he was in pain, if he was happy or sad or angry—and she suspected he knew these things of her. It was as though their spirits had mixed along with their Triforces, and it was both wonderful and terrible to know that she was closer than she had ever been, closer than she ever would be to anyone else in the world, to this man she still loved so desperately.
As though Link read her thoughts—and Zelda wouldn't be surprised if he had—he asked abruptly, "Is this it for us? Is it really over?"
"It has to be," Zelda whispered. "You know that."
Link grasped her shoulders and turned her to face him, searching her eyes with his own. "Does it really?" he asked softly. "Is there really no way we could make it work?"
She clenched trembling hands in her lap. She'd known this conversation was coming; that didn't make what she had to say any easier. Still, she owed it to Link, and she made herself look him in the eye as she replied.
"I understand now why my mother never married. It wasn't that she didn't love my father, or that she was pressured out of it or something like that. She had another love." Zelda swallowed. "It was this land. This kingdom. Her people, the Hylians, and all of Hyrule…she knew her duty to them, and she did it because she loved them all. It was a love that was greater than her love for my father.
"I finally understand that kind of love. Link, you mean more to me than I can say. But having fought this war—after all the sacrifices we've made to overthrow Ganondorf, I now realize something. I love Hyrule too, and its people. Everyone who fought for us, and died for us." She thought of Azura, Marek, Parcleus. Rowen's family. Blue. Countless others. "Everyone who is still alive, trying to make their way." She thought wistfully of her thieves, many of whom had left in the past few weeks, back to the way of life they knew. "All of them are a part of this land…and Hyrule means more to me than anything in this entire world. Anything." She stared down at her shaking hands. She didn't need to look into Link's eyes to know his pain. "That's what I've realized."
Link was silent for a long, long time. When at last he spoke, his voice was quite even. "That's it, then."
"Yes." Zelda stood up and brushed off her skirt. It was difficult to get used to wearing a dress, as Impa insisted she do whenever she wasn't doing anything strenuous. Averting her eyes, she added, "You saved us all, Link. I won't forget. Not ever."
She turned and walked away, away from the man she loved, and didn't look back to see if he was watching. She told herself she didn't want to know.
Copyright 2004 to C.L.F. No part of this document may be used in any way without the author's permission.
A (final) note from the Hime no Argh herself—
This is the third time I've written a final note for a final chapter of a long fanfic, and I feel really, really tired. Heh. Some of you may not like the way I ended this story, and I understand that. And I sympathize, I really do. I am a fan of unrequited romance, but happy endings are nice too.
In this case, though…I couldn't see it working it realistically. Link and Zelda will always be an unrequited couple to me. But I hope that you won't hate Zelda for officially breaking it off at the end. Maybe because I know where she's coming from; because it's hard to allow yourself to love, and put all of yourself into that love, when there is a great big world out there that you want to be part of. So…yeah. Not a lot more to say on that.
Anyway…gosh, where do I even begin with thanks? First I must thank my wonderful beta, whose enthusiastic comments are always inspiring. I totally forgot who and what influenced me throughout this project, argh. But lots of thanks to them, whoever/whatever they may be. And every last bit of my gratitude to you, the readers, who stuck with me through this rambling fanfic and reviewed along the way. I can't tell you how much I appreciated your feedback, it made it all worthwhile. And so much feedback! Whether TD deserved over 500 reviews or not, all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!
And thank you for reading this last chapter. I hope you enjoyed The Destined.