Author's Notes: I hate the ending, but this story was refusing to end any other way, so…
This is what the history books will say:
Queen Zelda VIII. Matriarchal sovereign during the attack of Zant (for full article, see 'Ganondorf'). Hindered by her youth, inexperience, and gender, Zelda VIII was unable to prevent the coup. In a noble effort to preserve her people, she accepted a life of captivity. While imprisoned, she worked to overthrow Zant through the long arm of the Link of Ordon (for full article, see 'Hero of Time') and the Twilight Princess, Midna of the Twili (for full article, see, 'Twilight Realm'). In the climactic final battle, Zelda VIII physically aided the Hero of Time through the use of Light Arrows (for full article, see 'Magical Weaponry'), summoned by her Goddess-given magic, and retook her throne. In the years following, she worked to restore her kingdom and married Link of Ordon despite his humble origins.
But that's a bit simplistic, don't you think?
It is a story forged from tragedy, true; but there were spots brighter than the boldest glittering star. Princess Zelda VIII--as the history books will call her--was born to her parents in June. She was largely ignored as a child; her parents were preoccupied with matters of state, and her nanny often had her hands full with Zelda's four older brothers.
And so, partially as a result of not being hugged enough and partially because she had a gift that the others did not, Zelda's rebellious streak grew strong and healthy in its pot of neglect. Her poor, uneducated nanny had no idea of the significance of the small triangular birthmark on Zelda's right hand; nor could she grasp the meaning of Zelda's uncanny ability to know things ahead of time, or to summon items simply by asking for them.
She believed it was witchcraft, and she feared it, and so Zelda learned to keep quiet and fend for herself.
She played little tricks on her brothers, harmless pranks that they could never explain and she pretended to be innocently unaware of. She died their hair in their sleep, or raised the pitch of their voices, or infected them with uncontrollable giggles. Perhaps it was merely to get attention from her absentee parents or even the nanny. It's difficult to accept that even the woman paid to love you cannot.
So she sought affection in other places, and even found it, too. She played with peasants rather than other princesses; she snuck into dances and schoolyards without being noticed. And she learned to love Hyrule, for all its flaws and its pettiness. She, more than any other, knew what it meant to live outside the castle walls.
And then all the fun came to a very abrupt end.
She was fourteen when the plague struck. Hundreds, dead in an instant. The nanny, her parents, her four brothers, even her horse; all succumbed. Yet Zelda was spared.
It was luck, yes, and happenstance, but mostly it was destiny.
And so it was that the mischievous, hardy, unprepared princess stumbled onto the throne. Her country was sick and dying, her High Council completely indifferent to her opinionss, and her spirit bucked against the new and unwelcome harness sovereignty had secured it with.
And you know, they say that magic is sensitive to mood. Now, I would never blame the Goddesses for what happened in Hyrule but, for whatever reason, the one time it truly mattered, Zelda's power of prophesy failed her.
She never saw Zant coming.
Zelda was not meant for dungeons.
To call her stir crazy would be to make light of the situation; but she had spent most of her life being ignored, and to suddenly hear footfalls behind every step she took, to feel eyes on her back no matter where she stood, ate away at her nerves until there was little left holding her together.
And there was something else, too. Something that tugged at her daily, gnawing and growing with every sunrise. She couldn't put her finger on it, not quite, and wouldn't fully understand until a shaggy-haired wolf dug his way into her cell.
But those dark, unbearable days locked away above and below stone, a change took hold of the young princess. With every passing minute the Triforce glowed stronger, brighter, hotter; soon she began to understand things in ways she had never been able to before. And though her mischievous, bedeviled spirit never completely abandoned her, slowly it mellowed, leaving in its place a calmer, wiser Zelda.
The Zelda she might have been from the start, with a little more love and a little less freedom. A Zelda much like all the others before her, soaked in wisdom and suspended in crystals of captivity.
She still used her magic to steal food from the kitchen, or soften her bed, or erase the ceiling on her cell so that she might gaze at the stars.
Daily Zant visited her, sneering through the bars. "Ganondorf said you were slippery," he taunted, a wicked smile twisting his lips. "I don't find it to be true."
"Would you care to come test that theory?" She challenged calmly, raising a cool eyebrow. "Come. Fight me."
Anything, her untamed heart cried, only please don't make me sit and watch as my people suffer.
That was the worst of it, you understand. Her wisdom allowed her the minute respite of knowing that she had done--was doing--what was best for Hyrule and all its people; but she ached at her own inactivity, watching those around her disappear into Twilight and unable to throttle anyone in their defense.
Zant only laughed, and swept away. She summoned a broom to trip him walking up the stairs, but his cry of surprised pain did little to ease her restlessness.
They will try to tell you that it was love at first sight, but that is merely legend. The heart does not always obey the head, it's true, but even a wild heart like Zelda's knew when to lie still.
She thought the wolf was unsettling, I'll grant you that, with his crisp blue eyes and unnatural stillness. Still--and I hate to say it--at first he was just a hero. She failed to adhere to the same idea of heroics as her predecessors. Zelda, you see, was not looking for a night to rescue her.
She was simply looking for a means to an end, and Link was it. He was her sword to reach where she could not, her hand to hold the hands she could not. Zelda knew that without a hero on the outside she would never overcome Zant, and though she struggled at first not to view him as a pawn in a greater game of chess, she failed.
Still, she was not totally cold-hearted. Zelda fretted for her hero, prayed for him, felt sorry that he had been torn from the simple life he loved. She used her magic to watch him on his journeys, watched his friendship with Midna grow, and for every blow he received the princess's skin bruised.
"I understand you have sent a hero to do your dirty work," Zant laughed, leaning casually against the opposite wall, well away from grabbing distance.
"I'm not completely incompetent, tyrant," she spat sarcastically.
He clucked his tongue. "No. You are but a woman, confined to the limits of your gender. Perhaps I should have foreseen this . . . the imprisoned damsel, awaiting her knight. I thought you had more moxie, your Majesty." He said it with such disdain that Zelda cringed. "Tell me, your Highness . . . all the others dreamed of their destruction. And yet. Not you. Why do you think that is?"
He laughed again and left her to herself, the sound of her own failures echoing in her ears.
The first time Zelda loved Link, she was not herself.
I mean that literally.
For you see, of all her sisters the Goddess Nayru best understands compassion. And although this Zelda was different than all her other Chosen had been, she was also just the same, for she had been kissed by the same lips and given the same lingering gifts.
So as the light pierced Midna's skin, as the air became thinner as the life was sucked out of it, Zelda made a decision. She begged the Goddess to give her the strength and courage she needed and then she closed her eyes.
And then she ripped her own soul from her body and slipped quietly inside of Midna's.
There isn't enough room in one little imp for two souls, so Zelda climbed even further inside, into the already existing soul, and settled in. She didn't know if she would ever be freed of this new body, so she figured she might as well get comfortable.
The first thing that she noticed was the warmth. Her own soul, though vibrant and colorful, was cool to the touch; but Midna's glowed red. It took Zelda a few days to understand.
It was love.
It was love, radiating through every poor of the excitable creature, and it burned hotter every time she looked at Link.
Midna loved, and so Zelda loved, and so she began to understand. It was the first time the princess had ever experienced love. She was not unkind, you understand, or uncaring; but she had never been given love, and so simply did not know how to give it. But Midna did; she had love in spades to give.
And so it was that the princess began to understand. And began to see in Link what Midna saw--his terrible jokes, his quiet nature, his goodness. She listened along with the imp as he explained how he came to be a goat herder in Ordon, ached with the same pain to hear him talk of Ilia, the beautiful girl who had forgotten about him but who he could not forget.
She noticed that he was more comfortable using his left hand and yet fought with his right. And it was Zelda, not Midna, who asked him why.
Link looked over at her, surprised, and then shrugged modestly. "I'm too good with my left," he explained to the ground, flushing red. "Every creature deserves a chance, Midna."
They had both been struck dumb by his words. The imp had recovered quicker, and teased him about his good heart, but Zelda stayed quiet.
By the time she regained her own body, both Midna and Link left the incident all but forgotten.
But it was all Zelda could think about when she looked at her hero.
The others had watched from their crystal prisons, perhaps lending the gift of magic, but Zelda was none of the others.
It was the moment she had been seeking, the chance to help her people, and Link was arguing with her about it.
"It is too dangerous, your Highness," he told her respectfully (he was always respectful). "I can't be responsible for the death of the only person with the ability to rule over Hyrule."
She would be flattered, later, when she thought back on his words. "I will fight with or without your permission, Hero." She readied her bow. He looked panicked.
"Zelda," he slipped, "Please. You could be hurt."
She softened, putting her hand on his arm. "Everyone deserves a chance, Link," she reminded him, quoting his own words. "Let me have mine."
He hesitated, and then reached out his hand.
When it was all over, the mirror shattered and her throne restored, Zelda wondered how anyone could find the strength to rebuild. She had certain new advantages, it was true; she had the respect of her High Council and the love of her people.
But much was lacking in life of the Queen-to-be, and she was only now aware of it. Her now strong wisdom allowed her to see that she had very little, by way of human connection, and especially after being partnered with Midna's very soul, she acutely felt its loss.
She had anticipated Link's departure for Ordon with something akin to dread; he was a puzzle, a maddening enigma, and she was determined to figure him out. But his impending departure set a deadline to that moment and she knew plainly that she was failing in her attempts to understand.
He was shy, and quiet, but firm in his beliefs. He told truly terrible jokes but never to her; to her he was always the picture of polite detachment, treating her not like the woman who had clung to his hand and fired arrows until her fingers bled, but like the monarch of his homeland. He treated her the way she was supposed to be treated, and she hated it.
She called him Link and he called her Highness; she teased him and he simply shrugged modestly.
Yet they came, somehow, to understand each other. Although he ever mentioned it, Zelda noticed him hiding a smile whenever she abused her Goddess-given powers to steal snacks from the kitchen, or played private pranks on the haughty Council members, such as giving them a sudden mustache or bunny ears. She had a sneaking suspicion that he let her win at board games or courtly events.
And she, in turn, learned to see him when he wasn't looking. For example, he thought no one knew that he often crept up to the highest balcony in the castle and stared up at the twilight-lit sky, thinking of Midna. He thought no one knew that it was he who kept stealing the napkins from the kitchen because he thought it was hilarious to watch the nobles try to puzzle through eating without them. He thought he was subtle in his discomfort wearing expensive tunics, but she saw him tugging at the hems.
So it was that, at last, without even realizing it, Zelda fell in love.
And it was then that he asked to leave.
Zelda blinked uncomprehendingly at her hero. "I beg your pardon?" She asked numbly.
"Highness," he murmured, "Restorations are almost complete. You don't…" he hesitated, "You don't need me anymore. Ordon does."
I do need you, she thought, I need you to steal napkins and make me laugh because I spent a year breathing the air in this castle and sometimes I'm not entirely sure that I'm not still in that cell and I'm not supposed to be scared anymore, but I am.
"Yes, because no one else could possibly herd the goats," she spat sarcastically, before covering her mouth in horror. "Oh," she breathed. "Link. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that, I'm just…"
He blinked at her, taken aback by her honesty, and then smiled that secretive smile of his. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "I'll miss you, Majesty."
"Oh, for the love of Nayru, Link, will you please call me Zelda?" He'd simply smiled at her again, and she could clearly read no on his lips. She sighed. "Well, I-- of course you can leave, Link. I would never dream of demanding you stay at the palace." She hesitated before blurting, "But you'll visit, won't you?"
Link chuckled. "Yes, Highness, if you'd like me to." Then he leaned in and whispered, "Good luck, Zelda."
Then he spun on his heel and left, leaving her teary eyed and smiling.
He didn't, though.
Visit, I mean.
A month passed, and then two, and then twelve, and Link stayed away. So Zelda, never one to sit and wait, who had been taught that if she wants anything she has to fight tooth and nail to get it, snuck out of her bedroom in the middle of the night, stole a horse from the stables, and rode disguised into Ordon.
It was midnight by the time she reached the village, but she knocked on his door anyway.
She had a speech planned. It was regal and queenly, but Zelda was seventeen, and she was hurt, and what came out was this:
"I know that I dragged you into a battle you didn't want and I'm sorry. And I could have understood if you never wanted to see me again but you should have told me that, rather than promising to visit and leaving me to wait and wonder why. I know I'm not Midna, and I know she loved you and helped you when I just sat in my cell and went crazy but every time--every time--you were cut or hit or thrown into a wall I felt it, too, I have scars and bruises to prove it, and when you thought even Midna was asleep and you were alone, you weren't. Because I was there, I was standing beside you even if you didn't know it and even if body was still locked up in that horrible, horrible castle." Her voice broke and she repeated softly, "I was there."
Link stood, blinking silently at her, and then he asked, "You have scars?" And his voice hitched, a little bit.
She shrugged off her cape and daringly rolled the sleeves of her sleeves as high as they would go. And there they were, the Queen's great secret, glistening in the faint moonlight, thin little whispers of a pain she had accepted without complaint, understanding that it was her punishment and her duty as the ruler of a country to bleed for her people and with her people.
Link reached out, somewhat dazed, and gently stroked his fingers against her skin. Then he looked at her. "I'm sorry," he murmured at last. "I didn't… I never meant to… make you think that I didn't want to see you. I did. I do."
He took a deep breath, looking hard at the ground as he spoke. "Majesty, I… I was angry, I don't deny that. But not at you." He looked at his hands. "I don't know why Midna destroyed the mirror. That's what's killing me, you know? I hate that she-- that after everything, I was just… a means to an end."
A flash of guilt nibbled in Zelda's chest and she took a deep breath. "Link, Midna didn't think of you as a means to an end. She-- she loved you." She took his chin between her thumb and forefinger and made him look at her. "I would know. The time I spent in Midna's soul was what taught me to see you as… as you, Link of Ordon, napkin stealer."
He looked up in surprise. "You knew that was me?" He asked. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Zelda smiled. "I knew it would make you stop." She winked playfully at him. "And I just loved seeing Cookie get so upset whenever she realized the napkins had--"
He cut her off by kissing her, quickly, cheeks burning red, and couldn't meet her eyes afterward.
Something like joy exploded in her chest as he said, very softly, "I have loved you for a very long time."
Zelda was quiet for a long moment until she smiled, glowingly, and said, "Oh, thank the Goddesses."
In retrospect, the High Council should have known something was up when Zelda didn't start screaming as soon as they suggested they marry.
"Absolutely not," they said.
"He's not of royal blood," they said.
"Let us choose you a nice prince," they said.
"The next person that tries to get me to marry anyone other than Link will be forcibly removed from this Council," she said.
And the books can take it from there.