Disclaimer: I don't own Legend of Zelda. I don't own the song Tarnished Silver, either—Heather Dale can claim credit for that. I just got the idea for a story about one while listening to the other.
Sleep, my tarnished silver,
Let me dull you once again,
And let our battle end.
Sleep, my starless winter,
Let me warm you once before I go,
And I'll pretend to know and understand.
Sleep, my fine seater,
Let me have your weakened pride to hold,
And join my barren soil.
Sleep, my endless river,
Let your torrent rest against my shore,
And leave me what was washed away before…
Tarnished Silver, Heather Dale
It's spring when he first visits her, green and glowing, the year still young and bashful in her own loveliness. Zelda's eyes are bright with the dreams of childhood; her cheeks still smooth and girlishly plump. She sits on polished marble steps and squints at the sky through lowered lashes, eyes screwed up against the glare. Birdsong teases through the silence, mingling with the splash of water, and the Princess laughs at her own delight. The sun is bright and the air is sweet and flowers grow in her garden; what else could there be?
He is already older than she, and wiser, and his dreams are those of steel and glory. When he first strides through the archway, unafraid, having somehow passed all her father's most able guards, she is shocked and wary and almost eager, though she cannot for the life of her say why. Fire blazes in his eyes and she can see an inch of mirror-bright blade where his sword hangs sheathed at his left hip. It should look foolish, a boy barely older than she carrying a weapon, but he bears it like an adult and somehow he looks like an adult to her as he strides unbidden through the inner confines of Hyrule Castle with no fear for his own safety.
Who are you? She asks, and her voice is more curious than frightened.
He smiles, not a child's smile, I am Link.
Hello, Link. I am Zelda.
No other introductions seem necessary, and again she feels that strange eagerness, coupled with something she could almost call recognition, though she has never met this boy, has never even seen him before. Perhaps it is the same for him, she thinks, for he talks to her as an old friend would, and more than that, as an equal, not with the reverence befitting someone of her rank. Still, the way he holds himself, head high, eyes blazing with that light she cannot name, seems more befitting of royalty than a girl in a pink-and-white veil who makes chains out of flowers and imitates the birdsong when she thinks she is alone.
They spend their days as children do; playing, talking, and no one questions the Princess when she tells them that the mysterious boy who can defeat any member of the Royal Guard with a swing of his sword is her new playfellow. On the surface, it looks like any other friendship. Zelda never thinks to tell her father that their games of war and mayhem are a little more graphic than she is used to. It never crosses her mind to recount to her nursemaids the stories he tells, of blood and monsters and curses that turn the land black with poison. She watches Link, eyes wide, nodding in admiration; only in the blackness of the night does she wake, shaking and drenched in icy perspiration, yearning for the warmth of the spring she has somehow left behind.
What troubles you, child? The King asks her, when she stumbles down to breakfast with shadows under her eyes yet again and almost falls asleep over the kippers. She glances up at him, but Link is beckoning through the window and he promised to tell her about the ReDead's today. The Princess excuses herself and hurries outside, leaving a trace of scent in her wake. The King sniffs; musk and something sharper flood his nose. He tries to remember if his daughter has ever worn perfume before.
Zelda's face is older now, and her eyes hold untold mysteries. She creeps away from her nursery to walk in the moonlight and laughs at her nurse's stories of pretty princesses and knights on ivory steeds. She knows other tales, she says, and smiles, a slow, secret smile so different from the old dimpled one. The old nursemaid is flustered and ushers her outside; the sunlight will do her good, she says. Zelda complies, but her eyes are on the shadows that line the archway entrance to her private garden, waiting, expecting. The sun is bright and the air is sweet and flowers grow in the rich dark earth, but Zelda has other cares now.
Link often vanishes, and Zelda can never quite convince him to tell her where he goes. Sometimes he is away for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months at a time. One such absence lasts almost two years; she is white and silent and the cooks cannot tempt her to eat but a mouthful at table. The King sends for physicians and they prod and poke her, muttering darkly as she lies abed late into the day and spends hours at her window, gazing at the horizon until her eyes are sore and bright with unshed tears. One old woman, a healer from a nearby village, comes bearing potions and balls of light in crystal jars. She feels Zelda's forehead and wrists and looks into her eyes, then puts the jars away again.
Nothing medicines can do for you, dearie, she says, and laughs, No treatment for sickness of the heart!
The King has her thrown from the castle.
It's summer when Zelda's cure finally arrives home. Bloodstained, boots coated with dust from foreign roads, he bursts through her door and light explodes in Zelda's eyes. He is taller than she remembers, and broader in the shoulder, but his hair is still corn-gold, his eyes still bright and blue and burning. Zelda half-falls from the bed and he catches her in his arms, tight, so tight.
He laughs softly, Did you miss me?
Where did you go? She asks, nestling close.
Beautiful places, he answers, and pulls back to look at her properly, Not as beautiful as you.
Strength floods back into her with his presence; the days are long and hot and filled with sunshine and they are loath to waste them. A borrowed gown, a scarf to cover her distinctive hair, and they are out of the town and galloping across the open fields. They ride for hours on end, bent low, urging their mounts on, more alive than she has ever been before. She has never even left the castle, never been outside save in her garden, the sheer size of the world astounds her. He laughs at her incredulity and leads her into the mountains, where they look down from the highest peaks and see Hyrule spread out before them like a patchwork quilt. He traces a finger through the air, pointing out Hyrule Castle and the surrounding towns, but Zelda's eyes are on his face. Later, in the privacy of her rooms, she wonders what is happening to her, that a kingdom lies at her feet and she gazes at a man instead.
Once, as a cool breeze blows over Hylia Lake and they are reflected in the still waters, he kisses her. His mouth is warm and strange and intoxicating and sends liquid fire rushing through her body. Her knees are weak and her breath comes heavy, mingling sweetly and easily with his own. He pulls back from her panting, like the winner of a race or, now she thinks on it, like a knight who vanquishes his foe and relishes the victory of battle. He grins fiercely, wolfishly; she matches his smile and kisses him again. Her lips are red and swollen that night, and the whispers start, in the shadows and back streets, that Princess Zelda and her lover go riding in the summer sunshine to the far corners of Hyrule, and what there doings are there is anyone's guess.
They're gossiping about us, she tells him one evening, as they slip back up the road to the castle grounds.
Let them gossip, he retorts, and gives her one of his burning looks. She would have blushed at such a look once. Now she returns it, every inch a woman. They kiss hungrily in the shadow of an elm tree, not caring who sees them.
The King is old, but his ears are keen and he summons his daughter and Knight of Knights to the throne-room with a grim face and eyes as sharp as flint in his weathered face, You are a woman grown, he tells the Princess, And a woman may sully her name as she wishes, but you are also a Princess, and a Princess has a duty to her kingdom. No Lord, no foreign Prince, will want a maid with less than a pristine reputation for his castle and his bed, and Hyrule needs such alliances.
The mutiny on Zelda's face is plain; the King changes tack: If not your reputation, daughter, think of mine. What sort of father will people think me to let such goings-on remain unchecked? The hall is silent, the sunlight dimmed by dusty windows. Zelda's shoulders tremble and she runs from the hall. Link's face is in shadow. He and the King lock eyes. Then he nods once and leaves, closing the door behind him.
That night Zelda's door is locked, and her windows shuttered tight against the night. An hour before dawn the door opens and a figure with an unsheathed sword slips from her room into the shadows of the passageway. He gathers two packed saddlebags, saddles a red mare and rides away from Hyrule Castle Town. He does not look back. When Zelda appears at breakfast her hair is styled and her dress that of a noble of highest rank. Her jewels are gleaming, her gloves spotless and her smile as brittle as the first dry leaf that drifts in through the open window.
The whispers are that Zelda turned away her illicit lover, for the good of the kingdom and for love of her father. The whispers are that she denied him access to her room and her bed and he rode away in a terrible rage, swearing vengeance on her and her father and all of Hyrule. The Princess marries a Duke of good family and in time receives her father's crown, ruling Hyrule with her consort by her side. She is beautiful and kind, and if her eyes are a little empty and her smile a little forced, well, it cannot be easy ruling a country, after all. She bears three sons and a daughter to her husband; good, strong children who will stand Hyrule in good stead for the future. And in time the whispers are forgotten, save perhaps by Queen Zelda herself.
The years pass, and the first threads of silver mar Zelda's bright hair. Her eyes are lined, but still clear blue, and her skin as white as cream. And one day, as the Queen gazes over the castle battlements, a figure appears on the horizon. His horse is different; sand-coloured, with a rusty mane, and the cloak is well-patched, but the rider is unmistakable. No one else can achieve that easy grace, moving as one with the animal he rides. No one else brings a lump to her throat and makes her heart beat painfully against her ribs.
That evening he is presented before the Court, a returning champion to be honoured in his homeland. She speaks words of welcome and hears them as if from very far away. His hair is only lightly etched with grey; he looks lean and fit and younger than she, the woman who once looked up to him as a playmate of endless stories; as a lover infinitely more experienced than her. She cannot bring herself to look at him and feels the gaze of her husband boring into her back. Most likely he too has heard the rumours of Princess Zelda and her Hero of Time. Link meets the accusing looks unflinchingly and none can hold his eyes for more than a second. Not even the Queen. Especially not the Queen.
He sleeps in the barracks with the other knights and spends his days in the training-grounds. There is little cause for a soldier and a Queen to meet, after all and it seems he has little desire to invent one. The weeks go on and Zelda entertains ambassadors and signs treaties and teaches her daughter the rudiments of fine embroidery. She finds one of her old gowns in a dusty wardrobe and nearly rips the seams trying to squeeze herself into it. Word filters up through the palace that Link beat every knight in the Castle at swordplay and archery to boot, and Zelda has to hide a smile. She expects nothing less.
She is strolling through the castle grounds when he comes to her at last; silent as ever on the fallen leaves. Age has not dulled him at all, she thinks despairingly, as an arm encircles her and a cold blade is pressed against her throat. She cannot dance out of his grasp as she once did, in summer meadows when her hair smelled of honey and fire sparkled in her blood.
You know, that could be described as treason, she informs him, voice light and relaxed as ever.
She feels him shrug; he releases her, sheathing his sword, Never swore allegiance to you, though, did I, Your Majesty?
You are a citizen of Hyrule.
His smile is crooked and resigned; maybe time has done something for him after all, Can't argue with that.
Why did you come back? She asks him suddenly, determined at last to know the answer, Why did you return, to be so unhappy here?
Sharp as ever, Majesty, his eyes catch hers, still on fire, The truth is I can't seem to stay away.
He slips into her life after that as easily as her youngest son slips in and out of the Kitchens. Nothing suspicious; long games of chess; walks in the garden in full view of the Guards. He attends her Council meetings and she wonders where he ever found the patience foe debate. Her husband is mistrustful and angry, but he has nothing to condemn. Link has not even kissed the Queen's hand, as etiquette would demand. Zelda is both glad and sorry for this, depending on her mood. Even the town gossips have nothing to pick up on, save that the Most High Duke spends his nights in his own rooms and never kisses his wife in public.
Link stays longer than even Zelda expects. He is offered the post of Captain of the Royal Guard, declines, and then runs rings around the potential new recruits before selecting five or six that 'might do'. They are taken on without a second thought. At last recognises the telltale restless pacing she remembers from younger days, coupled with a tendency to ride alone for hours on end, not returning until well past sunset. It is a brisk autumn day when she finally follows him to the stables and watches him saddle his horse—Epona's foal, apparently.
You're leaving, it's a statement, not a question.
Yes, he doesn't look at her.
I'll miss you, the words are out before she can stop them. Silence hangs heavy in the air.
He leads his horse to the stable doors, pauses, turns and takes her face in one hand. Still beautiful, he comments softly, and his fingers graze her cheek before he steps away again.
Will I see you again?
Once, he answers, and kicks his horse to a gallop, raising one hand as he thunders away from her, and she feels the threads that connect them, fine as spider-silk, wrench at her heart as he rides away. The castle is cold and dark and nothing of autumn's mellow sunshine remains for Zelda as she passes through the hallways, silent as a ghost, to stare out from the windows once more.
There are those who say that Link ruined Zelda; blackened her purity and broke her heart, drugging her on the poison of his love before withdrawing it and leaving her raw-eyed and empty, begging for another sip. Others, kinder souls, call it a tragic romance and tell firelit tales of the star-crossed lovers, destined to catastrophe from the moment they met. For a Hero cannot be tied down with the politics of a kingdom, and a Princess cannot roam the land in search of darkness, burning it clean with the fire in her soul. So Link is both villain and hero; Zelda both victim and tragic protagonist. The stories continue to be told, even as the Queen's figure becomes bent with age and her beautiful eyes grow weak. And one night in late winter, with the frost thick on the ground, a new figure joins the circle and listens as they recount the old legends.
What do you think, grandfather? The young storyteller asks the stranger, when the tale at last draws to a close and the listeners murmur their approval, Is it the Hero's fault that the old Queen lies dying? Did he steal her heart and her innocence and her joy in life?
The old man is hooded and cloaked, his face in shadow save for the glitter of his eyes. He gazes into the fire and takes a long time to reply. When he does, the listeners have to crane forward to hear him, so low is his voice.
Perhaps he did, the old man tells them, Perhaps she stole his, too, once upon a time.
His eyes are so bright in the firelight and his words so poignant that the surrounding crowd shiver, glancing at each other, wondering who this old man is to speak so. They turn back to ask him, but he is already gone, gone without a sound into the blackness of the shadows that not even the sharpest gaze can penetrate.
That night, a shadow walks the grounds of Hyrule Castle. It passes by the stables, slips under an old elm, glides through a garden long left untended and halts beneath a window that emits a flickering orange glow. Weathered hands grip an ancient trellis and the shadow scales the wall, pulling itself over the ledge into a room where an old, old woman lies propped up on a mound of pillows. Her pale blue eyes are dim and her fine grey hair shines dully on the pillows, like tarnished silver, and her dry old lips stretch into a smile as the shadow lowers its hood, and the last embers of a dying fire light his way into her arms.
A/N: So…what did everyone think? This is a bit different from the usual—I've read a lot of angsty Zelda fics, and in every one I read, it seems to be Zelda who corrupts Link. You know the story; poor little boy sent on a Quest to save Hyrule in which he loses his innocence and becomes a ruthless killer…bla bla bla. I just decided to do something a bit different. For anyone who didn't realise, this is set after the end of OoT, so everything is back to normal, and although Zelda doesn't remember anything that happened in the other time, Link does. The way I look at it, because Ganondorf was sealed away, he doesn't exit in Hyrule anymore and neither do the Sages (except Zelda, because she didn't have to go to the Sacred Realm). So…this was a really long Authors Note…anyway, feedback is appreciated!