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Disclaimer: Zelda property of Nintendo
There is a story told in these lands, handed down from generation to generation, century after century. You know it well.
There is always a boy, garbed in green. He dons his clothes and wields a sword flashing with the light of evil's bane. His existence is unpredictable; sometimes no hero arises for centuries, sometimes one follows the next neatly like cards laid down by the Goddesses' hands.
There is always a great evil, swathed in darkness. The names flicker in and out of knowledge—Ganondorf, Vaati, Agahnim flash by whisper-quick over the millennia, but the greedy gleam in their eyes is always the same.
And oh—there is always a princess.
They play a game that lasts millennia, these three—hero, villain, princess—fighting, waking, questing, conquering, falling, rescuing, dying, triumphing, fading into obscurity until the next set of players, clothed slightly differently, perhaps on a new stage, come to reenact their parts.
You know the tale. This is the story told from time immemorial in the fair land of Hyrule. There is just one detail the tellers always neglect: the boy, the villain, are forever changing, metamorphosing, flowing along the tide of time to fight the ancient battle.
But the princess is always the same.
She can no longer recall, with any clarity, the first time she remembered. She can picture neither the face she wore nor his. The details slip smoothly from her grasp the moment she lays fingertips on them; almost, but not quite there. His eyes in this earliest memory are blue—but aren't they always?—and the lines of his face are fuzzy in the half-gloom, as if the angles of so many jawlines, the curves of so many cheekbones, the planes of so many noses, have all have collapsed atop one another until the true contours are blurred beyond recognition.
She does recall his confusion, the way his blue eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in uneasy disbelief. He shifted his gaze from her face to the damp floor, and the stilted pause was answer enough even before the words:
"I don't remember, Princess."
The cell had been dark, and she still centuries away from the time when claustrophobic prisons would cease to bother her. So she didn't press the subject, simply raised her hand to let him pull her up into freedom. Never, over the years that follow, does she see that spark of recognition kindle into being, so she lets the past be past and sinks into the sweetness of this second life with him. A blessing.
The third time. Her hair had been browner, his clothes and boots more suited to the fashion of the age, but some things hadn't changed: his eyes, his kindness, his inability to remember, her inability to forget. She accepts without question, but no longer does she think it a blessing. Dread, small and unproven, but leaden with the weight of inevitable truth, lodges itself in her heart.
It doesn't stop her from loving him. It does prepare her for the fourth time, and the fifth, and every time after.
Link. She ponders the name; even in the too-familiar tales she soon grows sick of hearing, they call him only "the hero". Yet with unerring precision, each green-capped, blue-eyed boy is a Link.
Sometimes he is a farmer's son, sometimes a knight's. He lives in a town on occasion, but usually grows up in obscurity on some farm or woods away from the bustle of city life. His parents are always dead. The color and length of his hair, the clothes on his back, the sword he wields, the horse he rides, the companions he meets, the enemies he fights, are all ever-changing.
Sometimes they are childhood friends, sometimes she meets him only when she is a ruler in her own right. She always loves him; on rare occasion he loves another. The names of these girls—Malon, Marin, Midna—burn their ways into her mind, scald her heart, wounds unhealed by the centuries. He is usually her lover, occasionally just her friend, but never her king. There are some rules that cannot be broken, some responsibilities that cannot be ignored—if she has learned anything at all, it is this.
Once, and only once, she breaks this pattern. Once, and only once, she whispers to him, quiet and close in the dark of the night, as if that is enough to seal the secret from the Goddesses: he will rule by her side, wear a crown, and be her king. He jolts awake in shocked protest, but she seals his stumbling refusal away with a kiss.
The next week he is dead. Shot through by too many arrows to count. A freak ambush, the palace guard tells her with eyes averted from his queen's immobile face. She had never prepared herself for this sight, Link bloodied and limp and cold with the flush of youth still lingering in his cheeks and hair. Hyrule mourns with her, and Hyrule mourns for her, for the princess and her hero are the worst-kept secret in the realm. So they are all surprised when she marries.
All but her. Zelda moves through the proceedings with the effortlessness of long expertise, not needing, not wanting to think. She glances through proposals, gauges the current political situation, and a month after his body is laid in the ground and his sword returned to its pedestal, she weds a proper noble who brings his wealth to her treasury and his military to her country. He also brings his noble blood to the bedroom to join with hers, and in due time she gives birth to a son who will ensure that the blood of Hylian nobility will flow untainted through the veins of many a ruler to come.
Once, and only once, Zelda defies the Goddesses in this. She requires no second lesson.
Three things Zelda clings to, generation after generation, age after age, time after time. His name: Link. His courage: however far the distance, deep the dungeon, powerful the enchantment, he finds her. And his eyes.
Zelda is never born to the knowledge of her previous lives. She has blessed years of ignorance, normal childhoods unmarred but by occasional dreams: dark shadows and green clothes and shining light all awash in the heavy warmth of nostalgia…and then she wakes, the sunshine clears the fog from her head, and the dreams melt away as they should.
But in every life, there comes a defining moment in which she turns her head to greet a stranger, looks into those blue eyes for the first and hundredth time, and remembers. Dream solidifies into fact; the accumulated knowledge of countless lives comes flooding back with a force that always rocks her to her core.
Each time, she wants to tell him, wants to pour this burden of knowledge into him so that it becomes a shared blessing and not a curse. Yet each time she stares into those eyes reminds her of the first, when a hand reached out to her from the dark of a cell and she blurted out a hasty barrage of too-weighted questions that shook his solid world off-balance. Each time he looks at her with a mixture of awe, fear, courage, and no spark of recognition. He is only a boy, after all. Each time, he is only an unsuspecting boy who has stepped out of the confines of his small, safe life and into the midst of a danger greater than anyone should have to face alone. For Hyrule. For her.
So she always pauses—one beat, two. Dignified, he tells her later, is how she looks the first time they meet, gazes locked and breaths in silent unison; sometimes it is haughty or regal or confident or unreadable or evenbeautiful. But never confused, never scared, never on the brink of tears as a deluge of words threatens to break through, as she takes that precious moment of silence to rally herself, tumbling through elation, despair, frustration, to finally end up in the sobering embrace of a resignation that feels like a familiar friend.
So, for the first and hundredth time, she bites her tongue and says, simply,
"I am Princess Zelda."
Her people call her wise; Zelda knows better. Wisdom is not weight, and what she is is ancient, bogged down with the years that drag from her shoulders and root her mind to the past. No, if she were truly as wise as they say, then she would be able to sidestep this trap.
She doesn't. She can't. For how many long years she has watched the cyclic patterns of human existence rise, fall, loop, again and again with the cool, practiced gaze of one raised above it all? And for how many has she observed herself in that same way as she becomes yet another permutation of human fallibility, hopelessly entangled in an endless circle of desire, doubt, despair from which she cannot seem to find the exit? Rebirth. Replay. Repeat. She feels herself suffocating. She wants to breathe.
So she becomes Sheik. For once in her many lifetimes, Zelda does not wait meekly in her guarded citadel for Link to come to her; she goes to him. For seven years she fills her lungs with air sweeter than any she call recall, tainted even as it is with Ganondorf's evil. She disguises herself, fights, trains, spies, spins her unwieldy magic into simple notes plucked from lyre strings, learns to cook, hunt, treat wounds, climb trees, rediscovers both the terror and the thrill of sweat and blood and adrenaline, and feels the dust of eons falling from her body. Seven years' contentment, the first time in ages, lingers for a lifetime.
When next she opens her eyes, her kingdom is sunk beneath the sea.
It's a cruel trick, this twist in the fabric of her fate that the Goddesses weave. She does not awaken to herself the first time she sees him in the guise of Tetra; memory does not return until handed to her, embedded within a fragment of the Triforce. Even then the thoughts flow slowly into her, and she moves with the dreamy confusion of an awakening sleepwalker. Her mind struggles sluggishly to filter the words thrown about and her mouth to form answers, and before she fully comprehends, Link has dashed off to leave her alone with her thoughts in the empty chamber.
Memory and knowledge fill her, a heavy, viscous mix that drags Zelda to the ground. Her fingers meet stone, and she feels the truth with an unshakable certainty: Hyrule is no more. The earth beneath her no longer sings softly into her bones in the familiar voice of her land; she slides until her cheek touches the unresponsive ground and sobs, hot tears sinking into dead earth. She cries for Hyrule. For green fields and vast lakes and the mountains that have seen almost as much as she has, who have lent constancy and something like companionship to her prolonged life. For Goron and Zora and Kokori and Gerudo and her own pointy-eared kin. For being able to walk through arid desert and ancient forest and proud palace alike and feeling, with a rightness deep in her heart, that she is home.
For the frightening, inescapable knowledge that it is all her fault. For all these and more she cries until her tears are no longer enough. She whispers her question into the cold, unresponsive stone: "Why? What did I do wrong?"
She expects no reply, this thousandth time she pleads with the Goddesses for explanation. Perhaps it is for this reason that they choose to answer.
Din speaks. Her voice is the crackling roar of forest fire devouring leaf and branch and tree in its path, inexorably, violently beautiful: "Because it was time. Because you were restless. Because destruction follows creation and creation destruction and Hyrule's time was up."
Zelda closes her eyes and asks softly, ever so softly, the question she fears: "Then it was my fault?"
Din's flaming voice is unhesitant. "Yes."
"And no," Farore chimes in, a gentle breath of cool wind that strokes Zelda's hot cheeks. "You challenged your fate, but your actions only set off a chain of events already destined to happen. Hyrule has been, and will be, recreated too many times to count."
"But…" Zelda breathes, hardly daring to hope, "but this has never happened before…"
Farore laughs. "You think yourself ageless, yet you have no idea how young you are. Your Hyrule was not the only, although it was an extraordinarily beautiful one. So mourn it, and mourn it properly, but do not despair. Have courage; things will right themselves in the end."
Zelda has questions, so many questions. But her chest loosens just a little at this, something settles within her, and her eyes begin to close as if of their own volition. She tries to fight sleep, but—who can oppose the will of the Goddesses, after all? One last voice speaks low into her ear before she drifts off, a sound that warms her soul as Din's her body, as familiar as the rumble of Hyrule itself—
"Take heart, daughter," Nayru tells her. "You will come to love this Hyrule in its own way. And I have a gift for you..."
Zelda's gift isn't the new and shining land they find, impossibly pristine in the barren northern seas; it isn't the last straggling members of the ancient line of Hylian knights who join their company with tears in their eyes as they kneel before their princess; it isn't even the salt-sweet taste of Link's lips and way the ocean waves rock their bodies closer in a gentle tangle of limbs. It's as vast as the Great Sea itself, as small as the scarves she loves to wear, one color for every day. It's as complex as the taste of the gumbo cobbled together out of whatever they find when food has almost run out, as simple as the little three-note pirate tune Niko hums while swabbing the decks—da-da-dum, just like that.
Her freedom is something Zelda can't sum up, and it exists in the minute decisions as much as in the monumental ones. It makes her seven-year stint as Sheik seem like child's play in comparison. She thrives on being Tetra, lets the role sink into her until she wears the pirate captain's brash voice and cocky smile as naturally as a crown, until she realizes that perhaps this loud-mouthed liveliness is no act at all. There is no room in this time of hurried discovery and reconstruction to spare for royal etiquette and gilded prison-palaces, no rules and few boundaries.
Still, Zelda is nothing if not realistic. There will come a time in which she will once again adopt the robes and jewels of state, the responsibilities and restrictions of princess. She will relinquish the ability to be at Link's side, the freedom to set sail on a whim. All the more reason, then, to enjoy this gift that has come at such great cost. Zelda does not waste it. She savors the taste of a freedom but fleeting, stores each detail away in her long memory against the endless ages to come.
In her next life. In her hundredth—thousandth?—reiteration, Zelda cultivates distance. She exchanges perfunctory words with Link about his role and duty to Hyrule's safety, dispatches him to his age-old tasks as hero, and keeps herself aloof. And yet, and yet—the way she catches him sometimes, his blue eyes trailing her for just the barest fraction of a second when he should be watching a training practice or reading a report—she feels her resolve melt just a little. And she knows, that despite her best efforts, she will betray herself once more, if not in this life, then the next. She is ensnared in a trap of her own choosing, in a cycle that repeats over and over because even that is better than letting him go.
There is a tale they tell in these lands, handed down from generation to generation, century after century. The hero. The villain. The princess. Inextricably linked, locked together in their endless battle. Zelda has heard it told more often than anyone in the land. Sometimes it made her laugh. Sometimes it made her cry. Sometimes it made her clench her fists with the effort of not throwing out the hapless bard until she had to leave to quell her tremors. Now, when she hears the familiar tale begin, she simply lets the cadence of the words slip over her. She closes her eyes, smiles a smile rarely seen by her subjects, and breathes in acrid woodsmoke, tangy salt air, a remembered fragrance of freedom that provides escape even within these confines. She listens not to the story being told, but the one left unsaid in the pauses: a young princess's secret to slipping over palace walls unseen, the exact color blue eyes turn in the velvet darkness of twilight, the elation of a first perfectly-plucked melody coming to life under sore fingertips, the tireless ocean symphony of crashing waves and crying gulls, the reverberation of a Goddess's voice speaking to her soul. She examines each carefully, one by one, and tucks them back into safekeeping. These are the stories that Zelda keeps for herself, the details that have faded from all memories but hers.
All the rest is legend.
EDIT: Wow. My first experience with blatant, and I mean BLATANT plagiarism—we're talking word-for-word here. It was spotted by an anonymous reader of mine to whom I am eternally grateful. Thank you! And I guess...if anyone one else sees something, please let me know?
Thanks for taking the time to read! Please review if you enjoyed--it's my only way of knowing that someone out there has read it, andespeciallyif you have any advice/criticism
I had this brilliant idea one night. An epic idea. It came out differently than I had anticipated, especially the ending (the original intent was something sappy and romantically Zelda-Link-centric, but I realized Zelda's too strong of a female character to cop out in that way). Still a bit dissatisfied, but happy with the overall effect. :0
Mmmmm…first Zelda fic, so 'scuze me if I didn't get some details right. I haven't played ALL the games, so I probably messed some things up here and there, especially timeline-wise.
Oh and if you're curious...there's a random Zelda sketch I doodled at approximately the same time... look me up on DeviantArt under bishig0pwoik :3
EDIT: Wow. My first experience with blatant, and I mean BLATANT plagiarism—we're talking word-for-word here. It was spotted by an anonymous reader of mine to whom I ameternallygrateful. Thank you! And I guess...if anyone one else sees something, please let me know?