Black ink clung fiercely to the razor edge of the fluttering quill pen, staining the metal and soaking the paper when at last it fell. Careful strokes lined the careful outlines of the newest legal proposition that chanced to surpass all expectations and make it to the desk of the Queen herself, who sat scrutinizing the document verbatim, frowning at the overly twisted and ambiguous phrases that happened to stand out amongst the others. A universal truth of politicians was that they never could speak in lucid language, for then their forked tongues would be revealed and their secret let out. The Queen hated them all the more for it.
Sighing gently at the stack of papers littering her ostentatiously large desk, Zelda, Queen of Hyrule placed her quill in the ink pot, pondering the changes needed to made. It had been nearly a year to the day since Ganon, the Evil King, had been defeated and although much of the kingdom had been restored to its original prosperity, there was still much work to be done, many papers to be signed, many sleepless nights for the Queen and her Council.
This last thought made the crowned queen smirk slightly, as she pictured her Council worrying about the slightest details of the economic and social states of the kingdom. As if they would be worried about anything that did not directly relate to themselves or the castle or the queen. They were a good Council, a new Council, but they still had much to learn about sovereignty and rule. Especially that the people mattered more than they did.
Zelda, satisfied with her renditions of the new bill, put the quill down and rubbed her amethyst eyes tiredly. She glanced about the room in concern, trying to remember what she had planned next for schedule, eyeing the rich wooden furniture and tall fireplace that crackled lively in the cold morning. Each day, the queen coordinated her own daily time table and agenda, and ensured that each task was met with full attention. It was her attention to detail, in fact, that made Zelda a fair and beloved queen. At least, she hoped.
But no, the people must be happy: her daily addresses from the townsmen gave her no reason to believe anything was inherently wrong with the new system of government and trade she enacted only 4 months ago. It had taken all her strength as a ruler and all her cunning as a woman to guarantee that Hyrule did not fall into such despair as recently endured, nor that her people suffered long for her mistake. The mistake she had made and the one that was only repaired by the courage and might of the Chosen Hero.
Link. His name flowed freely in her mind, instantly alleviating the small frown and heavy heart she carried with her everyday. She owed him so much for what he had done to save Hyrule, for all that he had sacrificed, and yet she could not stand to be around him for the guilt he brought her and the humorless pierce of his eyes.
She knew that he greatly missed Midna, the Twilight Princess, but what could be done to change that? Zelda was no sage, but she knew that the man had fallen deeply for the 'other princess' as Zelda referred to her, and although the Princess of Hyrule preferred to empathized with the Hero and his dilemma, his own pain and sorrow caused her a great deal more. But she had to be strong and emotionally absent, lest she tremor and cause a passionate landslide to cover all aspects of her life: royal, professional, and religious. (Oh, what as the other? Ah, yes, personal. That she did not have) A queen does not show emotion, especially to herself.
Zelda stood, gathering an assortment of paperwork to take with her to the next meeting. She had a council with her people, in which everyone citizen of Hyrule was permitted to have an audience so that she might hear their grievances and grumbles and praise. Of the first two she'd been receiving a lot, and of the second less and less as each day stretched the nation away from the turmoil of Ganon's tyranny and toward the normal, peaceful (albeit boring) life of Hyrule.
As her long dress swept the cold stone floors of the castle, Zelda allowed her mind to linger on her Hero, Link, and all that he had accomplished in the last two years. After gallivanting around the entire stretches of Hyrule and defeating hordes of enemies, monsters, and betrayals and unearthing centuries old dungeons, fortresses, and mines, he had finally destroyed the Evil King and returned Hyrule to its customary, twilight-free state. The sun actually shined more than ever one Hyrule, both figuratively and literally—the days seem to last longer and the twilight of the night seemed to hurry on by, afraid to cross the dwellings of the light people for longer than necessary. And Link had done it all, riding and fighting, solving and helping, while Zelda had been locked up in her room, grieving for her people and trying to figure a way out of the mess she'd created.
And now Link continued to show his support for the Queen and his land by caring for and aiding the people of Hyrule. He fed the starving souls of the streets with bread and water, housed the orphan children whose parents were lost to the flames of warfare. He taught the ways of the sword to the castle guard and anyone willing to learn, always maintaining the utmost patience and understanding. He donated to every charity that Zelda knew of, working with her commissioners to plan and restore the bridges, roadways, and infrastructure of the kingdom, opening up trade facilities as he did so. He was even a liaison between the Gorons, Zoras, villagers and castle, diplomatically assuring every race that all would soon be reconditioned and refined and never failing to make good his promises for every individual to whom he swore.
But Zelda had seen him from a far, and knew the difficult and demanding social work was beginning to take its toll on the traditionally strong and powerful hero. Zelda had seen him ride for days on end to ensure that a treaty or contract was delivered to its addressee on time; she'd seen him fight monster after monster for hours on end, finally defeating the last of them to clear up roadways and forests so that the common man could once again enjoy them. Zelda had witnessed first hand his skill with a sword, with a bow, and his brute strength that often opened up passages and paths that the new monarch instantly utilized in rejuvenating her country.
But Link often found in difficult to stay awake in her Council meetings; he also had a hard time conversing with the families of fallen patriots or those who lost children during the war. Every time he failed to accomplish something (which happened very seldom, but which actually did occur), he was immensely hard on himself and took to riding into Hyrule Field and not returning for days at a time. This also happened during the night; Link, it seemed, preferred to be alone in the hours of twilight, and Zelda thought she had a shrewd idea on why this was.
He was leaving soon, Zelda thought, and if the sudden pain in her chest was any indication of emotion, the queen brushed it away without a second thought. Link had promised to stay until the last of the restoration had been completed; a date which Zelda knew grew quite near. The queen pushed that thought out of her mind, however. She did not want to dwell on that which would surely break her heart, not when it was inevitable and she had her people to attend to.
Zelda proceeded down the spiral stairwell from her office and entered the main throne room, the very same that Ganon had destroyed in his various forms and the very same in which Zelda herself had been possessed and tortured. But they had rebuilt, as was necessary, and with Link's suggestions for fortification and Zelda's requirements for austerity the large room continued to demonstrate its intimidating nature, but with more homely comforts to keep both the Queen and her visitors at ease.
She waited as the guards bowed low before her, announcing her arrival to the entire room. Zelda smiled and waved regally, her tiredness hidden behind a façade of assurance and poise and composure. She could not let them understand the depth of her fatigue and worry, because she did not want to trouble her people with the goings-on of the castle, when they were more preoccupied with their own troubles. A queen does not show any emotion, especially when in the presence of her people.
Zelda handed her paperwork to one of her advisors, requesting that he review her notes and rewrite the law to be presented before the Council one last time for approval. The man nodded sharply and hurried to obey her command, and Zelda turned curtly on her heel, her bright golden hair swingy freely to all comers. She heard many men intake their breath sharply at the sight, and she almost broke her serious emotional restraint and frowned. Almost.
Taking her seat, Zelda surveyed the crowd that had gathered to hear her judgment on the various issues that their families, neighbors, and friends meant to declare. The crowd looked more swollen than usual, and Zelda wondered why there were so many people assembled when the line to speak to her seemed so very short. Through the smoked glass of the side wall she could discern perhaps 12 shadows of individuals lingering to speak to her. If there were only a few matters to discuss, why so many people?
Turning her attention to the matter at hand, Zelda immediately forgot her observation and focused on the first citizen to be announced and welcomed to the front of the throne. It was a man, no older than thirty and five years, who trembled slightly at the intimidating sight the queen made. But as he approached the throne, the man seemed to lighten slightly as he detected a small but kindly smile on the queen's face, encouraging him to step forward. He stumbled as he did so and knelt before her majesty.
"M-my q-queen…" The man stuttered, glancing anxiously about him before Zelda's penetrating eyes stole his gaze. "My queen, I beg of you funds to help…help my daughter. Thieves broke into my home this last fortnight and they…they came across my youngest daughter while I was away. I-I was w-working late hours, majesty, to get 'nough money to rebuild our home. 'T-twas destroyed, you see, when the Evil King fled…" He swallowed and clasped his hands together before continuing. "The thieves tried to do away with my daughter, you see, but s-she fought with all 'er m-might and they only managed to…to…to b-burn her, your grace…"
The man gestured to the left side of the crowd, where another man stood waiting with a young girl, no more than 11 years old, with her face and scalp burned deeply. Many people gasped when they finally took notice of the poor girl, and Zelda felt her heart break inside. The girl seemed ready to cry as she walked slowly, steadily, to her father's side, but she bore a strong face and ignored the whispers of pity that rushed through the room.
The man took his daughter's hand as she stood in front of him, sheltered by his body from the stares of anyone but the queen herself. Zelda looked down at the girl kindly and then again at her father when the man began to speak.
"My daughter doesn't deserve this fate, your majesty. Not her. She's a brave 'un, and a kind 'un, and a smarter lass I know none. But I can't afford to even… to even take her to the doctor, your grace. The thieves made away with all my savings. They took…they took it all. I just don't have the money." Silent tears welled up in his eyes as he looked at the queen straight on. "Please…please help her."
Zelda leaned forward slightly in her chair and looked again at the child. Although the left side of her face had signs of scarring, it was her scalp that bore the brunt of the burns: her hair had been singed to her skin and from the looks of it, she would never again grow out her own hair.
Zelda stood from her throne and beckoned the girl forward. Cautiously, the girl looked to her father who nodded, choking on his own tears. When she approached Zelda, the queen bent over to address the child face to face.
"Hello, my dear. What is your name?"
The child answered innocently. "Carrington." Zelda could see that although victim of a horrendous crime, the girl still exuded goodness and sweetness.
"That's a pretty name. Did your father give you that name?" The girl nodded vigorously and then giggled. Zelda chuckled as well. "Why do you laugh?"
The girl glanced over her shoulder at her father, to make sure he couldn't hear her, and then leaned in conspiringly toward Zelda. "He didn't know that it's a boy's name!" She giggled again, and Zelda couldn't help but smile widely.
"Well, I think that if you're a girl and you have that name, then it must be a girl's name too." The girl contemplated this carefully before nodding slowly.
Zelda smiled at the girl, but her smile wavered when she realized that the few strands that clung to the girls scalp were curled, yellow locks. She reached out lovingly to stroke the child's head, and the girl seemed unafraid to let the stranger do so.
"Tell me, Carrington, do you remember who did this to you? Did you see them?"
Carrington's smile absconded quickly. "No, ma'am. I didn't see. It was dark and they…they were black."
Zelda's eyes narrowed, concerned. "Black? What do you mean?"
The girl's own eyes seemed to widen in fear of the memory. "They were covered in swirls and darkness. Monsters."
Zelda gaped slightly at the news, and swallowed. How could the monsters, left-overs of the twilight's envelopment of the land and Ganon's rule, still be at large?
Zelda took the child's hands in her own and looked directly into the little girl's eyes. The child shook slightly with tears, but did not look nor turn away. "Carrington…I promise we'll make you better." She hugged the child to her softly.
"Thank you, ma'am. My daddy says you're the smartest, strongest lady there is. And I-I wish I was more like y-you."
Zelda smiled and faced the girl. "You are, Carrington. You are very strong, much stronger than me." And at this she gestured for the girl to return to her father.
The man who had ushered the girl to the center of the room spoke at once when the queen had arisen. "Your Highness, please. This man is my wife's brother. This girl, my niece. Even should the girl visit the healer, her hair will never grow again." He looked sadly at the girl, who stood in front of her father unashamed but cheerless. "But, Your Grace, I can fashion the girl a wig so real that the goddess themselves would be wanting. If only there was someone," he turned to address the crowd, away from the queen, "someone who would be so generous as to cut but a foot from her own hair and donate it so that this girl could bee saved from the shame that the thieves' viciousness and cruelty wrought." He gestured slightly as he saw many eyes averted to the floor, unwilling to look him in the eye. "Someone…please…" His hand faltered.
"I will do it," the queen said, turning the entire crowd's attention to herself. "I will cut the locks from my own head so that this girl can be whole once again." She saw the child looking wonderingly at her, and Zelda gave the girl a small wink. She turned to address one of her advisors. "Garyson, please see to it that the guards hunt down the remaining monsters and destroy them. I do not want those things in my kingdom. And please escort Carrington and her father and uncle to Elden's chambers, and he can afford them the funds to take the girl to the healers. Make sure they are not required to repay the loan. And then contact Dayton and inform him that I shall need a haircut." The advisor nodded as his pen flew to write down every word issued, and then stepped forward to the family kindly.
The father, beside himself with happiness, approached the queen daringly and kissed her gloved hands. "Oh, may the goddesses smile upon you always, your Grace! May you be blessed in your years and in your health! I shall follow you faithfully until the sun stops smiling upon this good earth! Thank you, thank you!" Zelda smiled gently at the man as he scurried away with his daughter and brother-in-law. Somehow, there seemed to be a lighter step in their walk. But Zelda could only hold that same smile on her face. A queen does not show emotion, even in the face of hope.
The rest of the proceedings went about smoothly and without trouble. A dispute over property divisions which Zelda sorted out without problem; the orphanage director with the happy news that he could also now accommodate the poor, due to the increased and generous donations of an anonymous individual (though Zelda knew right away who had donated the money and blushed in spite of herself).
The line dwindled down to three, and then to two, and Zelda was glad that the small number of tribulations were minor and peace easily restored. This must surely be a message, Zelda thought, that things are going to be well from now on.
Soon, the last person was waiting in the adjoining chamber and Zelda smiled around the room. The people seemed very, very happy at everything that had happened today, and this in turn filled Zelda with contentment. But surely there would be less people now that there remained only one individual to speak?
Unless, of course, that individual happened to be the Chosen Hero.
Zelda gasped slightly when she heard his name called and the crowd seemed to cry out in delight when he emerged from the side door. He stepped before Zelda and bowed so low that the tip of his hat nearly touched the ground. He arose quickly, as though the formality were only that, and smiled when he espied the queen's shocked look.
Zelda's mind reeled at his appearance, but not only to ponder the how and why of his audience, but also the man himself. It must have been weeks, Zelda realized, that she had seen and looked at him properly. With the two both so busy handling their different tasks, it might have been even longer.
Link was dressed in a rich green fabric that closely resembled that of the Hero's garb, with tall brown boots that looked as though they had been polished before his arrival. His Hero's hat sat strikingly upon his yellow locks, locks that Zelda often mistook for gold, so deep and rich was their color and sheen. His pale blue eyes shone sharply beneath heavy eyebrows and his expression bore that of serious scholar ready to announce his findings to the world.
Zelda tried to smile and found her face frozen in a look of shock and embarrassment. She shook her head slightly to recover and then spoke to the Hero so that the crowd stopped buzzing with rumors of romance.
"Why, Link, it is good to see you again. When last did we meet to discuss your many restoration projects? A fortnight?"
Link shook his head slightly, his eyes never leaving Zelda's. "No, milady, it has been more than month. I come bearing news, news that will bring joy to your heart."
Surprised at this truth, Zelda couldn't help but smile at Link's absence of decorum—he never had mastered the art of stateliness, nor, Zelda believed, did he want to. Zelda wished suddenly that she had never learned it either.
"And what news is that, brave hero, that is to be so wonderful to me and my people?" She smirked as she said this, a lifted eyebrow playfully teasing him.
Link looked at her curiously, and then around at the entire room, where every single person seemed rapt in attention at his address to the queen. They examined the two closely, as parents trying to discern some attachment in a daughter and a suitor. This is what they had been waiting two hours to see. Link chuckled lightly and then shook his head at the sight. He turned back to Zelda to see that she had never taken her eyes away from him. He smirked gaily, that warm and welcome smirk that had become his trademark, and Zelda already missed it.
"The news that the restoration projects are complete. Hyrule is once again whole."
At this, the crowd let out a wondrous cry of joy and immediately conversation began at the miracle of the goddesses, the strength of the queen and her council, the courage and strength of the Hero, the sightlines of the Hero, and whether or not he intended to marry…
It was good that the crowd roared in victory at the moment of Link's news, because the queen herself had let out a cry of despair. It was not meant to be a sad occasion, but suddenly it had become one: although Zelda was very grateful that the kingdom had been restored in such a short amount of time, she cried without reservation on the inside at the loss of her Hero (dare she admit, her love?) that would no doubt occur immediately following the end of the session. She had to stall for more time with him, to drink in the sight of him, to smell the earth and musk of him, to feel his strength and courage and to make them her own.
Link waited patiently for the crowd to subside, and Zelda could only look at him, his arms, his chest, his hair—anywhere but his eyes, which knowingly probe for her own. At last their eyes met and the crowd, as though waiting for this to occur, instantaneously quieted. Zelda stood and approached Link, slowly stepping toward him and full of trepidation when he did not step away.
"Well, Hero, you have done your task well. The kingdom owes you more than can be paid or returned, so I entreat ye to take instead my warmest wishes and deepest gratitude. Without your strength and courage, this kingdom would surely still be under the tyranny of the Evil King. We owe you all our lives and our fondest regards."
Link tilted his head slightly, pondering her words as though unexpected. His eyes narrowed, but not in an unfriendly-like manner. He seemed perplexed at her words; as though gratuity and appreciation were neither necessary nor relevant. What exactly did he want?
Zelda's smile faltered and Link hastily continued, stopping her own uneasiness before it could truly manifest. "Nay, milady, such wishes are not necessary. I did it for Hyrule and her crowned queen. It was my pleasure to serve you in this task." Zelda cocked her head to one side, and opened her mouth to answer that it was her pleasure to help him, but he cut her off gently. "And please, milady, it was truly my honor."
Link could always read Zelda's mind, but he had always found it difficult to read her emotions. So the queen merely looked surprised at the hero until he was forced to get at what it was he wanted, before she gave away too much.
"I came here today to ask if there was anything else you would have me do, milady. What other duty would you have me fulfill?"
His eyes seem to pierce her to her soul, and Zelda nearly cried out in torment. I would have you stay! I would have you never leave Hyrule again for my heart cannot bear to be away from you!
But a queen does not show emotion, even to the love of her life.
Link smiled uncertainly at her and she looked away, her heavy eyelashes fluttering close. Hand over her heart, Zelda was forced to make the most unimaginable decision of her life: to send away her love and let him be with another, finally happy; or force him to stay and aid her in her frivolous manners of court and country, a place he surely did not want to be.
The crowd hushed and suddenly Zelda wished she were anywhere in the world except in the middle of the throne room with half the kingdom staring avidly at her and her Hero. She wished she was not wearing rich blue robes of silk, her hair adorned with a crown of jewels and diamonds, her hands gloved and covered. She wished she could be laughing in a spring meadow with thick grass heavy with dew, the sun's warmth creeping up her length to announce its presence, and Link at her side, laughing with her in the early morning light. Morning—just as the twilight had faded, just when she could finally claim him for her own.
It seemed like days, weeks, perhaps months before Link broke her trance by pushing a stray strand of hair from her face and back over her shoulder. Whispers broke out in the crowd and Zelda was forced to open her eyes and declare her decision, her chest heavy with sorrow and her head reeling in future desolation.
Link smiled, encouraging her to continue, and Zelda fixed that same smile, the one she wore everyday and especially night, on her face before she continued. Upon seeing it, Link's own seem to face until the corners of his mouth turned downward in a frown.
"You have more strength than any man who walks this earth. Link, Chosen Hero, you have completed your part, and now the kingdom must thrive on its own. I thank you for your dedication to this land, and permit you to spend the rest of your days how you wish." She finally looked up at his face, directly into his eyes, as though daring him—please!—to challenge her. "I release you from your duty. You are free to go."
Zelda turned on her heel as she said it and slowly walked the short distance to her throne, years passing in the meantime. She looked at the great chair, dark rich wood embossed by mounds of glittering jewels and gems fit for any royalty, and disgust filled her stomach until she nearly became sick. She looked up to the ceiling of the room and tried to clear her head and eyes from the tears that were threatening to pour from them. Once she had declared herself victor to her emotions, she sat down and faced the room.
She had not expected Link to still be standing there, pondering her as though unable to discern what she truly was: woman or stone statue?
She fixed that smile again and looked just over his shoulder, so that anyone but Link would think she looked straight at him. But how could she? Not now, and probably never again. For it was just as well; a queen does not show emotion, especially through her eyes.
Link continued to stand there until Zelda surmised that perhaps he had not heard her. She repeated her announcement again, and again, until she almost laughed at herself. What was she doing?
Slowly, daringly, Link stepped forward and stood just before her, closer than she would have normally permitted any other. But Link was not any other, he was simply Link: brave, handsome, kind, gentle, and completely and perfectly wonderful.
When he was near enough to her so that she was sure only she could her him, he spoke at last. "I am free to do what I wish, truly?"
Zelda nodded, but kept her distance. She wanted so badly to overcome her emotions and felt as though she had, surely. Link had always been physically strong, must stronger than any other man. But it was she who was the strongest emotionally and mentally: while others grew wary and cried, Zelda never let her emotions show and always kept them in check. Except when Link was around. Especially when Link was around.
Link cleared his voice, and his hand involuntarily twitched: he meant to reach out and touch her, but the time and the presence of more than a two hundred people reminded him to keep his place. Instead, he spoke to her although she did not look at him. "I've seen the sacrifices you've made for your people, milady. You do not have to make them alone." Questioningly, Zelda shook her head, unable to understand what he meant, and was on the verge of asking him to speak plainly. But he quickly stepped back and the queen could hear the emotion in his voice when he spoke, addressing both her and the entire crowd.
"If I am free to go, then I must also understand that I am free to stay."
Zelda finally looked at her Hero in wonder and astonishment. She must have heard him wrong. She looked, searching into his eyes for the answer, and found them all.
Love. That was what shone in his eyes; that was what pleaded with her to acknowledge. Complete and unabashed love. And how she loved him all the more for it.
Zelda smiled now, a true and wonderful smile that the crowd would later say had lit the entire room with its warmth and glow. But Zelda could only focus on Link, and Link could only focus on the queen, and together they laughed a merry and hearty laugh that seemed crazy to those who have never been in love.
"Of course you may stay, Link. You are free to go wherever you like."
Link smiled widely and nodded at his queen. "Thank you, milady. I wish to stay at the castle. I wish to serve you for the remainder of my days."
And days later, Zelda would recall with obscurity that it had indeed been Link who had smiled first, that it had been Link who had nearly cried, that it had been Link to show his true feelings. Because a queen does not show emotion—except in times of true and unadulterated happiness.