Impa had been striding back and forth in front of the altar when the great doors moaned abruptly in the silence. She froze immediately, ready for the inevitable fate of misfortune to creep menacingly around the oak panels, but instead she was greeted by the small woman whom she had nursed since childbirth.
Impa let go of the breath she had been holding and smiled deeply as Link appeared at the woman's side, diligently watching the doors. Zelda had undergone quite a change since she had last seen her. Her hair was beginning to regain its golden shine and her skin had lost a little of its tan. She truly looked like a rejected mass of races in her attire; she wasn't the princess that had grown up in the castle, and neither was she a Gerudo. She lay somewhere in between, and Impa could see how her time in the desert had strengthened her heart and spirit. But more noticeable was the emergence of a long dormant smile that flickered nervously on her lips. It came and went, caught in the precarious balance amid happiness and fear.
At once Zelda came rushing toward her guardian, embracing her with the fierce love of a daughter. Link glanced toward them, feeling a slight poignancy at his inability to touch and feel. For some time there had been a festering envy that tugged at his heart. He had never truly realised what a wondrous sensation it was to feel. To be numb to the world was worse than death. Everything was tantalisingly tempting, leering with life and screaming with a deafening seduction, waiting to be felt and caressed. But everything is immediately pulled away. It doesn't grant you access and you're left with an empty fake of reality.
Link turned his head away and drifted past the altar, into the Master Sword's Chamber. The women followed and they ascended up the steps together.
But each step made Zelda's feet heavier, her heart beat faster and her breath shorten. An encroaching fear of error struck every limb until she could barely keep herself upright. It made her weak and doubtful, despondent and cowardly. Looking down made the marble floor sprint upward and looking back made the pillars dance in a dizzy circle in front of her eyes. She shook the image out of her head and fixed her eyes forward. She was met by Link's steady and gentle gaze. His trusting smile restored her strength a little. Yet the sight of a dead body upon the pedestal was enough to drain it all away again.
The thought had never occurred to her. During all the instances when she had contemplated this mysterious ritual, not once had she factored in Link's body. Something inside her suddenly clutched at her throat, stealing her breath away. For a moment she froze, overcome by horror and shock. Her tremors kept her from screaming, but as she looked from the body to the spirit she could feel her stomach being tossed about inside her by some spectral hand.
The body was a cold mixture of grey and bruised yellow, blotchy and slightly bloated. It was clothed in Link's traditional green Kokiri clothes, but even they had somehow become dull and lifeless in the time they had suffered in the suffocating darkness. Something compelled her to come forward. This had been the same body she had held in her feeble arms the day of his death, but there seemed less life in him now. Her knees folded at their own will and Zelda sat there staring at Link's dirty, soulless face.
She remembered how his eyes used to flash in the light and how his golden skin seemed to glow in the darkness. Inside her there still lay the confounding paradox she had refused to tackle, and Zelda couldn't believe that things had come to this. She wasn't meant to be here, bent over her dead lover. They were supposed to be somewhere else, together, down a path that time and fate had neglected.
"Zelda, I want you to heal the wounds. That is all you need to do," said Impa.
Zelda vaguely nodded. Impa glanced at Link before adding, "And you must hurry. Time is in short supply."
Link watched Zelda and knelt beside her. He could see the sadness in her eyes and wanted so desperately to reach out and touch her. As he placed a hand on her shoulder, Zelda turned her head and their gazes met in an earnest appraisal. They both smiled feebly before Zelda closed her eyes in a small act of prayer. Keeping her eyes shut to distraction she began her task.
Link suddenly felt a light bounce in his chest, as if the air had been knocked out of his empty lungs. His hand was there immediately, trying to clutch the area under attack, but his hands found no solid flesh to grab hold of. Each beat of his dead heart brought another pounding with a nauseous sting. Slowly, before his very eyes, the world disintegrated into smaller and smaller pieces, slowly fading away under the dizzy power of darkness and agony. His eyes held on in vain to the last shred of his sight; the image of Zelda knelt over his body was soon lost in the encroaching void, her shining strawberry blond tresses curling over the shoulders of her jade cloak became nothing, her closed eyes and her moving lips became silent and still.
The suddenly a voice boomed in his ears from all around him and Link saw the faint glimmer of water dropping from above him. Everything began to glisten with the rippling speed of the waves and all was made clear in a blue flash of light.
Zelda's eyes sprung open with a small whimper. Before she had any time to either look or think, Impa forced her up onto her feet and pulled harshly on her arm, dragging her away. As soon as they were past the threshold the Doors of Time rumbled shut and the chamber was filled with a dazzlingly virgin light. The doors sealed it away and Zelda was allowed time to come alive.
But as Impa held her by the shoulders, Zelda felt an icy chill extend from her guardian's hands into her body. An eerie silence was left hanging in the air and she could feel Impa's eyes staring toward the Temple entrance.
"It was so polite of you to alert me to your presence."
The sarcastic voice struck her like thunder. It sent any kind of feeling left in her body to the deepest depths of her soul and yet called everything forward at the same time. She couldn't help but turn her eyes.
"I can see that you were so eager to complete the wedding ceremony that you came straight here, and you even brought a witness. How very kind of you."
The truth was so instant that Impa and Zelda didn't even register how horrific they felt. They were numbed by confusion. For mere seconds it kept reality at bay, but much to their dismay the truth settled disturbingly into perspective. Their safeguard crumbled away effortlessly with the silence. A few short strides were all that kept Ganondorf from claiming his prize, yet he stood there, smug and content, in the doorway enjoying their discomfort.
Impa clenched her fists in quiet fury and glared harshly toward the despicable creature. They were both being scrutinised under his relentless stare; nevertheless she slid her feet backward against the stone floor preparing for a spell.
But nothing went unnoticed by Ganondorf. From out of nowhere Zelda saw him extend his arm toward them. Impa was immediately caught in a net of purple lightning beside her. She screamed and fell to the floor, twitching and striving as the dark magic sapped at her strength.
"No, you won't be calling your sages this time," he growled.
Zelda stared in terror at her guardian's frail form. She wasn't moving or making any attempt to get back on her feet. Her body began to tremble, her spirit weakened by how easily Impa had fallen.
"Come, come my dear. We have so much to do in so little time - "
"I would die before I gave myself to you!" Zelda suddenly shouted, a little shocked by the volume of her own voice.
However he continued to grin at her, unfazed by the outburst. "Very well then. As you wish."
Zelda blinked and he was gone. Two pincer-like objects grabbed at her waist from behind. At once she smelt the odorous stench of a burning, rotting corpse. In a panic she yelled the words of Farore's Wind and Zelda freed herself from Ganondorf's clutches. They then stood at opposite ends of the Temple once more.
"Very good princess," he patronised. "I see you're going to be a bit more difficult to tame than last time."
Every word of his disgusted her, but he had reminded her of that day when she had let her guard down in this very temple. Ironically she was standing in almost exactly the same position. Enraged by her own incompetence Zelda charged headlong down toward her most loathsome enemy, Her hands burning with the power of Din's Fire.
She swiped at him, jabbed, parried, dodged, blazing in a golden glory of flame and heat. The spell's power increased, engulfing her in a shield of fire. Ganondorf had difficulty in keeping himself unharmed, for the fierce woman was a formidable force. Her attacks were quick and agile, hard and strong. There were no blind spots to manipulate, no time to catch her off guard.
But Zelda gradually began to feel the strain on her small body. Never had she exerted herself so strenuously, and she was quickly feeling the pain of such strength. For a moment she glanced upward at Ganondorf's face, instantly knowing it would be her downfall. His eyes grinned and widened gleefully as he beared his gruesome teeth. In one swift movement he caught her against him, one arm crushing her bare midriff to his waist while the other hand held her throat. Not knowing how it happened she struggled and writhed in his grip. His grimy fingernails trailed across her skin, and Zelda felt as if she were being violated beyond all measure.
"Dearest Zelda," he said mockingly, hissing in her ear, "you've put up a good fight and I'm impressed. You almost got away with your little plan, but I'm afraid that I've won, my dear. We've been through so much together, so grant me just one last thing before I kill you…"
His voice trailed off in the most sinister of ways and as much as Zelda fought against him, he held her fast. She could feel his chest against her back with the most unpleasant warmth creeping around her. His hand groped her stomach as he forced his face against hers and she cried out in disgust. His breath lingered in her cheeks, repulsing her to the very depths of her sanity.
When his teeth bit the lobe of her ear she was wild with fear, her breath short and her thoughts frantic. Not knowing where idleness would lead she screamed in terror, unconsciously summoning another Din's Fire that exploded from her body. Ganondorf yelled in seething fury as the flames burnt through him, but still he held her fast.
Suddenly she was thrust forward and the air in her lungs evaporated as his large fingers tightened around her neck. Her hands were bound behind her back, her wrists encircled by his other hand. Her skin burned where his charred fingers dwelled, and all around her was the smell of burnt flesh.
"No more games, princess. Now you shall perish!" His speech was different, slurred and forced through his teeth.
She was suddenly on the floor, her head driven into the stone, knees enclosed around her. Her head was lifted up and down, his hands smashing it against the cold, hard floor in a whirl of white, grey and brown. She could distinguish nothing. All she could feel was the vertiginous torture in her head and the warm blood rolling into her mouth. All sound was muffled by her cries and his grunts.
But for a moment the world stopped moving. Her head lay on the stones and from somewhere a faint rumbling thunder. Craning her eyes upward in a dizzy haze the faint shadows on the walls above her disappeared. The temple lit up in an uncommon, unearthly brightness, and the air was alive with the most melodious hum. Then it exploded above her head in the most dreadful twisted agony. It came again and again until the weight pressing down on her tumbled off to the side.
Pain finally entered her consciousness and she lay there, prostrate, shivering and weeping. Forgetting the control over her own body she tentatively lifted a heavy pair of hands to her face as she rolled and curled onto her side, regressing into the agony.
She didn't acknowledge what had happened until a soft but urgent voice called her name from behind.
"Zelda, are you all right? Speak to me, Zelda, please, say something!"
A battle-worn hand grazed her arm, gently shaking her awake. She flinched.
"Zelda, it's all right. You're safe now."
"Don't touch me," she seethed quietly.
"Get your filthy hands off me!" she screamed, still trying to curl away inside herself.
The hand disappeared in shock, and all sensation was lost as involuntary tears trickled slowly and jaggedly down her cheeks. Her body racked and twitched with sharp breaths, the world swimming before her. The short throbbing stabs were becoming long excruciating plunges into the depths of her mind and one last attack sent the princess spiralling into the darkness of her unconscious.
A dim sunlight dawned on the courtyard walls, the grey stones gleaming dully. Zelda stood under the archway, looking into the circular garden from underneath a veil of shadow. She began to walk forward and the entire garden came into view. None of the flowers were in bloom and the grass held a drear, dying yellow in its blades. Leaves scraped their sharp claws across the stone walkways, tumbling and tearing through the grass as the wind tossed them onto the soil.
Someone was sitting in the middle of the courtyard. She knew who it was and yet there was a strangeness that gripped the air about him. His eyes, usually so bright in the crisp morning, so warm in the late afternoon and so brilliant in the night sky, were glazed and blank, hidden slightly by his hair tumbling over his dejected face. He looked weak and humble as he knelt in penitence, silent and solitary in his musings.
Zelda called his name but the man didn't stir. He remained staring intently at the unmoving ground. Timidly she edged forward, her slippers crunching the dry grass underneath her feet. His head turned to look at her and Zelda stopped short. A burst of wind blew down into the garden from above and behind her and she realised that the man was not looking at her at all. His eyes were wandering to the sides of the garden, following the dark trail of the flowerbeds that lay withered and putrid in the rancid soil.
Small diamonds of rain began to plummet from the heavens, casting a dismal grey over all it touched. It mingled with Zelda's own tears as she cried out his name again in a desperate hope that he would respond. She waited for his head to turn, for a smile to appear on his lips. She waited for him to stand up and hold out his arms for her, to embrace and kiss her. She waited for all this, but he said nothing at all.
Instead he returned his gaze to where it had been before and brought up to his lips the ocarina she had given him so many years ago, playing her lullaby.
Through her tears she went to see what he was looking at as he played. So unlike himself, his eyes were open as his fingers moved mechanically over the holes, and the hollow, empty song grew louder as she approached. What she saw in front of her was a large grey slab of stone embedded into the ground, the grass leaning over its edges. Letters were embossed on the surface and the Hyrule Royal Family seal was carved in the centre.
The princess turned and ran, but a warm, rough hand grabbed her cold arm.
Zelda awoke to find herself in her own chamber, her hands trembling and her head faintly lurching to and fro inside the bandages wrapped tightly over her forehead. Daylight was streaming in from her window as she slowly registered her surroundings. Slowly she pushed away the bed covers and sat up, finding she was still dressed in her Gerudo uniform. A sigh escaped Zelda's lips, relieved that it had all been a dream.
Tentatively the princess slipped away from her bed, standing with the unsteady balance of a child. As she listened to the birdsong outside, there came another melody that didn't belong in the quiet morning. It was hollow yet perfectly harmonious, woody but soulful. It carried a sense of time and knowledge in its song, as if it had been flowing on the wings of the wind for all eternity.
Zelda had heard the song somewhere before, in a past that seemed so long ago. A different woman had been listening then, gazing upon the unknowing player from a corner he couldn't see. Then she realised that no one else could play the instrument like he could. No one other than he could make it sing so brilliantly.
An urgency began drumming in her veins and instantly she knew where she had to go. The thumping in her head became nothing more than a small beat as her heart carried her toward the courtyard. There was no where else it could be coming from.
Rushing past the bewildered servants and maids, she never once averted her eyes from the path in front of her. Hope drove her on in her weakness and before she could think about anything at all she was standing under the archway.
The ocarina stopped playing and he looked up from the steps that led to the throne room window. For a moment they both looked at each other in awe before bounding toward one another in the most clumsy and hurried embrace they had ever received. They clung together as though life depended on it, their tears mingling as their faces pressed against their lips. It was a wonderful thing to be able to touch, to feel, to smell and taste each other. Neither could find the words to express themselves, and so nothing was said. They only felt, their hands busy reminding themselves of the exact shape and form of the other, for so long had they been apart that their memories had faded with the turmoil of death.
They were there down that path where time should have taken them, to the place where they were together, and where they were meant to have lived their lives before the war ever began.
Impa watched them with a sly smile on her lips from the throne room window.
"Impa," the King said, refocusing her attention, "I believe you were about to give a report on the annulment of the Gerudo exile, were you not?"
"Yes, you highness. I apologise. As of yesterday the Gerudos are now completely free to leave their land. The exile has been lifted completely and from this day forth no race will ever be discriminated against again. I have been to the Gorons and Zoras and they too are in agreement with the annulment. A new bridge is being built as we speak, and the stone wall has been destroyed."
"Good. That's excellent news, Impa. And the Kokiri Forest is being dealt with too?"
"New trees are to be planted in place of the ones torn down, your highness."
The King smiled widely. "Peace has once again come to rest on Hyrule, Impa."
"But what is to be done about Ganondorf?"
The King's smile grew solemn. "He is to be executed under charge of treason, tyranny, murder and attempted murder. There is no other punishment for what he has done. If we do not rid ourselves of him now, the same may happen again. We have already made that mistake once, and I cannot afford to make the same one again."
"Does he not have a kingdom? If we execute him we will surely enter into combat with them."
"He is a citizen of our country and so he is under our judgement. But I have already sent messengers to his land, bringing the unfortunate news that he died in battle. They will request compensation on behalf of the damages he has wrought, and they will offer peace in return. Hopefully they will return in a few weeks with an answer."
They both sighed hoping it would come true. "And what shall be done about Link?" Impa said, casting a watchful eye back toward the lovers, now sitting side by side on the steps. "The whole country has mourned for his death. We cannot now say he is alive."
"You're right. But I cannot bear to upset Zelda anymore than I already have. What can we do?"
Impa stood thoughtfully for a moment, before a clever smile settled on her face. "Your highness, the public are expecting a marriage, are they not?"
The King grinned as he realised her plan. " Of course, and a marriage there shall be!"
She smiled and bowed to leave, looking one last time at the pair outside. Their heads were close together, mumbling sweet nothings through kisses without caring who was looking at them. This was how they were meant to be, together through thick and thin, forever and always. She left them to their lover's nonsense, pondering how she could tease the princess later at her lack of propriety.
AN:It's finally finished! I'd like to thank everyone who has waited so patiently for me to update all the way through this. Thank you to all my readers and reviewers. Without you guys this wouldn't be here! It's really interesting to see how this turned out, because before I had a far more dramatic ending. But I'm happy with how it's ended, and I've made sure it's just right (hence the more than average wait) :D
Hououza: Thanks for reveiwing! You know, when you summarise everything in your reviews its so nice to relive those moments again. I can't thank you enough for being so quick to review every time
Sheik's twin: Thank you so much. :D
harrypotterfan: Thanks again!
Corran Nackatori: It's interesting you've mentioned the time. I must admit I do try to make it all work, but sometimes writing a story over a long period of time does make me forget a few things. Next time I'll try and keep it simpler. And thanks for the compliment on the characterisation. One of my main aims was to make that much better, and it looks like I've succeeded. :D Thanks so much for reading!
Forlorn Rain: I had trouble ending the last chapter so I'm glad you liked it. Thanks so much for reviewing. It's been wodnerful reading your comments because they always make me feel good. :D I can always rely on you to cheer me up!
serenitythefaierikin: I hope you didn't suffer too long! XD I'm so sorry for taking so long. Hopefully it was worth the wait. Thanks so much for reading!
DJ-iZam: Thanks so much for reading all this in one go! I'm glad it kept you interested for so long. :D And those cookies were great. :D
Silver-WindScar: Would I ever write an unhappy ending? ;D You can always rely on me for a happy ending, after all, it's a fairytale! Thanks again for reviewing. :)