One Month Later
Zelda looked around the castle foyer, trying to keep an eye on her guests and listen to a noble's new idea at the same time. Elegantly-dressed people filled the room from wall to wall, conversing with one another and enjoying the food laid out on the side. Wooden tables and chairs had been set up for comfort and dining. There were at least a few hundred people gathered together here, and that wasn't counting the individual get-togethers all over Hyrule.
One month had passed since the Constellation had been eradicated. The world still bore its scars, but they were slowly healing. The crater in Castle Town's front lawn had been promptly filled up by eager Gorons, but it didn't look the same and probably wouldn't for a long time to come. All of the dead had been buried, and the Constellation were courteous enough to dissolve spontaneously after the King had gone down, leaving the monster grave count at a minimum.
Hyrule as a country was whole once again, evidenced by the gathering tonight. It wasn't a celebration, per se; the circumstances were still too grim for something like that. Many people had lost family members over the past couple of months, and while their victory was certainly to be treasured, there were some who would take offense at what they perceived to be celebrating the deaths of their loved ones.
Rather, tonight was a social gathering where the Hylian citizens who had returned from overseas could receive a full report in one sitting, direct from the princess herself - meaning Zelda. It was an opportunity to rejoice if they so desired, but with so much confusion regarding Hyrule's future, the event was more to set things straight. It had taken a full two and a half weeks to get everybody back home, which didn't leave a whole lot of room for explanation.
Zelda sighed and turned her full attention back to the noble. She'd gotten the gist of his one-sided conversation: extend proper thanks to Gorons and other allies, hopefully receive more benefits in return. Zelda had already visited both the Gorons and Zoras (the latter of whom couldn't participate in the Hylian-Constellation war) and sent heartfelt letters of thanks to the rulers of Labrynna and Holodrum. All four had promised aid in the near future, but so far only the Gorons and Zoras were available.
"We could certainly use all the help we can get," the noble finished, "wouldn't you say?"
Zelda smiled. "Of course. After recent events, it will take more than sheer willpower to get ourselves back on our feet."
"I'm glad you agree." With a short bow, the noble excused himself and headed off to another conversation.
Zelda brushed out a crease in her dress. She'd really pulled out all the stops with her outfit tonight. A slim light blue dress hung down to the floor around her, emblazoned with a gray upside-down pentagon bearing the red and gold Hylian crest. The area around her collar was colored white and wrapped around by a golden necklace sporting the Triforce in the center. A silver tiara and shoulder-length white leather gloves completed the look.
Kain and Byron pushed their way through the crowd to her a moment later, Byron holding a breadstick in one hand. While Kain appeared right at home in his black dress tunic and gray pants, Byron, who wore the same, did not.
Kain glanced out a window. "You have roughly an hour before your address. How are you holding up?"
Zelda nodded once. "Fine. Merely entertaining guests. You?"
"Speaking of guests," Byron said through a mouthful of food, "we're supposed to have someone special pay us a visit before the address, with a fancy set of clothes and everything." He swallowed and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Kain half-closed his eyes as if he wanted to hit Byron. "Byron, that's your dress uniform. If you're going to clean your face, do it with a napkin."
"Well, perhaps you need an introduction to a special cleaning agent that gets the job done with regularity. It's called water."
"That's not the point."
"At any rate," Zelda interrupted, "who is this special guest?"
Byron dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. "You'll see pretty soon."
Zelda raised her eyebrows. "Is this going to be a pleasant surprise or an unpleasant one?"
"Pleasant," Byron assured her. "Well, mostly. I'm not really sure if you'll be happy to see him here." She raised her eyebrows higher. Byron laughed.
Kain became solemn. "I wonder how long it's going to take to get everything back to normal. I can hardly relax at night. The world feels different now."
Zelda rested her hand against a nearby column supporting a terrace. "These events will never be forgotten by the current generation. I suspect it'll take several years for any sense of normalcy to return. So much of our lives have been violated. In the physical realm of things, at least a few months will pass before our supplies are back up to where they were, and there are less workers in circulation. I wish this problem would go away when I wake up tomorrow, but...somebody has to lead."
Byron popped the rest of his breadstick into his mouth. "The blessings and curses of being born into royalty. As my grandmother used to say, 'life's unfair to everyone, so you've got to make a path for yourself by force.' That was right before she threw her back out trying to push a carriage out of the mud, of course."
Kain crossed his arms. "Everybody has problems to deal with. Ours just affect more people, so we'll have to be more careful. And you haven't failed us yet, princess. The citizens are back, trade routes are being reestablished, and supplies are going back up. The issue's smaller than it was just a week ago."
Zelda slowly began walking across the foyer. "That's how I keep myself going. One day, all of this will be over, and I'll look back on this and be glad I pulled through."
Kain looked past her and lifted his chin. "Ah. Our guest approaches."
She turned to Kain, then refocused her attention where his gaze went. After a moment of searching, her eyes fell on a person descending a long staircase on the wall to her left. Byron's prediction was correct: she was happy to see him, but not here. The figure slowly made his way down the stairs, trying not to bump into anyone.
"I suppose he couldn't resist tonight," Zelda sighed.
"We couldn't dissuade him," Kain added. "We all know what he should be doing logically, but I can't blame him. Besides, after spending so long in a bed, I'd feel the need to get up and socialize, too."
The person reached the bottom of the stairs, paused to catch his breath, and continued toward Zelda. As much as Byron looked out of place in his new outfit, this man was even more so. His light red dress tunic stood out with a tail that draped to the back of his knees, which were covered by loose brown pants. For once, his unkempt dirty blond hair was parted into semi-fashionable form.
"Believe it or not," Byron interjected, "I set his outfit up."
Zelda blinked at him. "You did?"
"Well hey, I didn't want to be the only country rube suffering from wearing stuffy noble's clothes. Somebody's gotta join me."
The man came closer, flinching with each step. He was obviously in a fair bit of pain from forcing his body to do so much. Zelda bowed her head to him in greeting. "Good evening, Link."
Link smiled in response. "It feels good to be back up and moving again."
"Well, don't take it too far. You're still recovering from your battle with the Constellation King. If you do too much, you may harm yourself irreparably."
"I'm willing to take the risk." Link made his way to a chair as fast as his tired body would allow, rearranged it so it was facing them, and sat in it. Zelda and her bodyguards occupied the other chairs, causing Link to turn his chair back around. "I wasn't going to miss tonight. I was out for three weeks. I want to know what happened then."
"The expected," Zelda answered. "Our denizens are back from the allied nations as a result of diplomacy, and Castle Town is slowly being rebuilt. ...Very slowly." She sagged in her chair somewhat. "The city suffered a lot of damage. It may take years to restore it to its former glory."
"Is there any way I can help?" Link asked. Zelda recognized the familiar look of pain in his eyes.
She laid her hands on the table. "Link, don't even worry about working for now. You're recovering slowly as well. And even then..."
Her mind wandered to the conversation she'd had with Link when he'd woken up around a week ago. Link's greatest asset and greatest curse had been overturned by an event that was also a blessing and a curse. It was difficult to even think about.
The current age of the Hero had ended.
Link shifted his body. His mind felt hazy, his eyes refused to open, and his motionless carcass felt like it had turned to stone from a lack of movement. His mind struggled to pick up the scattered pieces of his memories. What happened to him?
The last thing he remembered was fighting a giant beast...the Constellation King. He'd been using some form powered by the Triforce to defeat it. Now he remembered - he'd killed the King, destroyed the Constellatia lair, and escaped with Zelda to Hyrule Castle. Then he'd deactivated his Courage Fire, and everything had gone black.
Something gently nudged him, restoring some of his senses. He was wrapped in warmth...bedsheets. A voice pervaded his consciousness. Link strained his ears. It sounded like a distant echo.
"Link," the voice repeated, louder this time.
Link gradually forced his eyes open. What little of the world he could see was a blur. He waited a few seconds for the distortion to disappear, but his eyes could barely focus. Just how long had he been out to result in this sluggishness?
"Link, you're awake," the feminine voice said. It was clear as normal. Then again, Link barely recalled what "normal" was. He felt like he was being re-born into the world.
The room stopped swimming in front of him, allowing him to concentrate. He was lying on his back, staring at a smooth stone ceiling. Sunlight lit the room through several windows. The birds chirping outside and the quiet wind were welcome sounds to Link's currently reclusive ears. The sky through the windows was a deep blue. What a way to wake up.
"Link, can you hear me?" the voice prodded from his right.
Link turned his head, bringing on a wave of dizziness. A pale, slender woman in a beautiful dress sat on a wooden stool next to his bed. Zelda, the one stuck with the nationwide mess while he slept. He almost felt guilty.
The room he was in looked familiar. Red carpet, posh furniture...this was his temporary castle room. He mumbled something inaudible to show he was alive.
Zelda smiled and bent over, laugh lines crinkling at the corners of her eyes. Link tried to smile back, but his face wouldn't respond. Smiles supposedly used fewer muscles than frowning, but that was still one muscle too many at the moment.
"I've missed you, Link," she whispered.
Link licked his lips. His throat was incredibly parched. "I missed me, too. What's going on?"
"You've been bedridden for three weeks," Zelda explained. She eased her smile, but the laugh lines remained. "Nurses and mages have been constantly supplying you with whatever life force they can muster, but most of us thought you wouldn't survive. It's taken nearly a month, but I'm glad we were all proven wrong. I came here as soon as I heard you were stirring."
He was too dead to be surprised at his three-week coma. "Z'here some water?"
"Water? Yes." Zelda reached for a pitcher on a table beside her and began pouring a glass. This was the most animated Link had ever seen her. She cradled her arm behind his head and softly lifted him up, holding the glass to his lips. He'd never been more grateful for water in his life.
She let him back down when he'd had his fill. With his overbearing thirst quenched, his hunger took the spotlight. With how empty he felt, he wondered if he even had a stomach anymore. "Thanks. That's good stuff." He tilted his head toward her again. "Where are Kain and Byron? Aren't they usually with you?"
Zelda nodded. "Things have been busy lately, Link. I really don't have the time to even sit and speak with you. I've left Kain and Byron to tend to immediate affairs, but I can't stay here for very long. Even so, I wanted to make time."
Link attempted to sit up straighter, but the room spun too quickly. "What about the Constellation? Are they...?"
"They're all gone," Zelda answered. "It was just as you said. After you killed the King, all Constellation and Constellatia-related beings vaporized on the spot. The magic powering them was severed, turning them into lifeless creations taking up valuable space in the world. There is no trace of them left."
Link sighed and managed a smile. "So it's all gone. No more Constellation. We've won." He stared out the window and let the breeze blow on his face. "All the fighting is over. At least until the next catastrophe comes along." He turned back to Zelda. "That reminds me...did you ever find out what the Constellation King meant? What he said right before he died?"
Zelda crossed her legs. "I've been thinking about that ever since that day. He said the 'age of darkness' wasn't over, that our kind was forever enslaved to the 'curse of hatred.' That doesn't exactly sound very encouraging, does it?"
"Sounds like he knew something we don't."
"Indeed. I get the feeling this was just another chapter in something ancient. An old prophecy, perhaps. I have no knowledge of any existing records on the subject. We do, of course, have the basic history of Hyrule, which is marred by wars and other such issues. The past year has just explored two components of this prophecy."
Link closed his eyes. "In other words, some generations down the line, this will happen again. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. Is there."
Zelda exhaled. "I don't know. It's worth looking into, but this is far bigger than the events we've just experienced. We're just the leaves on a branch connected to a tall tree." She looked at Link gravely. "At any rate, your role in this 'period of darkness' is over. As such, I get the impression no more wars like this one will happen during our lifetimes. It's one of my hunches."
Link narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
The princess rubbed her knee uneasily but held her eye contact with him. "Link...your Courage Fire during your battle with the King allowed you to pull off victory and save Hyrule, but it's come at a cost. Overuse of the Triforce of Courage's power has permanently sapped your life force and limited its reach, much like any organ of the body can become constricted with damage."
"So what are you saying?" Link muttered.
Zelda cautiously inhaled before continuing. "Your life force has been forever shortened. It almost disappeared several times during your sleep. As a result, you will never be able to fight with a weapon again. Ongoing manual labor won't be easy, and your body will never again be able to withstand the stress of an adventure." Zelda tipped her head in apology. "This war has forced you into retirement from being a hero. I'm sorry, Link."
The loudest sound Link could hear was the birds chirping. He thought about what Zelda had said. Link, savior of the world and adventurer of renown, could no longer wield a sword to defend himself or save those he loved. Was that cause for relief or sadness? No more fighting monsters in a page of history he'd never wanted to be a part of. No more saving Colin from King Bulblin or protecting Ilia from the flaming arrows of said king's minions. No more staggering onward, wondering when the next town or merchant to ease his fatigue would come over the horizon. No more experiencing the joy of an adventure.
It was all over. Just like that. Good or bad.
"Am I supposed to be sorry, too?" Link thought aloud.
Zelda massaged her gloved hands together. "You can make of that what you may. I don't believe you will ever have to partake of a disaster such as this again, but you also cannot take up arms when it's important." She glanced to the side of the room. "Perhaps I've said too much."
"No, that's okay. The truth should always be told, even when it hurts." He slid his hand out from underneath the covers of his bed and laid it on top of Zelda's hands. "Thank you for taking care of me for so long. You're not so bad for a princess, you know?"
Zelda smiled again. "Thank you as well, Link. I'm sure you're going to hear this a lot, but I want to thank you on behalf of the kingdom of Hyrule. Actually, it would be more proper to thank you on behalf of the entire world."
Link withdrew his hand. "And to the world, I say...you're welcome."
Zelda stood up. "I have to go, Link. Unfortunately, the paper on my desk will not write itself. Don't push yourself too hard."
"Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. Not for awhile."
Link leaned back in his chair. "I've accepted my future. This is just my role to fill for now. Adventuring may not be ahead of me, but I've left some good ones behind me. I'm not going to mope over it."
"That's a good viewpoint," Kain nodded.
"If you're interested," Zelda continued, "I can get you involved in simple procedures - signing papers and the like. Climbing Death Mountain to speak to the Goron patriarch is out of the question, however."
A couple of people in the crowd caught Zelda's attention. Her eyes brightened. "Furthermore, you have two special guests of your own, Link. I figured you'd want to see some familiar faces from home after a two-month absence."
Link furrowed his brow and followed Zelda's gaze. His eyes settled on two people he hadn't seen in ages but thought about constantly. The first person was a bald man with a large belly. A thin white mustache set above rustic dress clothes gave him a receptive appearance. His gray tunic over a white undershirt and dark red pants (complete with a patch to cover a tear) looked extremely awkward for someone typically garbed in farm dress.
The young woman next to him had short-ish blonde hair tied into a ponytail and bright green eyes. Unlike the large man, she didn't look entirely out of place in her red dress, which was obviously better preserved than the man's pants.
Link bolted upright, fighting off a surge of dizziness. "Bo! Ilia!"
They looked in Link's direction as one. Bo instantly brightened up. "Well, if it's not the man himself! Been waitin' to see you, lad!"
They made their way across the crowd, Bo finding a bit of trouble with his size. Ilia reached them first, saw Zelda, and stopped. "Oh...are you...Princess Zelda?" She bowed hastily. "It's an honor to meet you."
Zelda tipped her head in response. "Likewise. Link has told me a lot about you and your father."
Bo arrived somewhat out of breath. "Dang place is more packed than Fado's barn during feedin' time...oh, Princess Zelda? It's nice to meet you. I've gotta say, you've done a bang-up job with this country after both scares we've had this year. Not every ruler can pull off what you've done, and most of them are twice your age."
The princess grinned at the compliment. "I've had a lot of on-the-job experience. Everyone involved in the decision-making progress is responsible for the welfare of Hyrule. Even this gathering is due mostly to them."
Link turned in his chair to face Bo and Ilia. "So when did you get back? How was it in another country?"
Ilia brushed her hair back. "Strange, and not very encouraging, either. Nobody was sure if we'd even be able to return to Hyrule." She tilted her head. "That reminds me - are you still taking medicine for your leg?"
"Nope. It's cured. I have a few other physical limitations now, of course..."
"I'll bet," Bo murmured, rubbing the back of his head. "I've been meaning to speak to you, lad. I haven't seen you in so long. Been worried sick, most of the time. Got a minute?"
Link pushed his chair out and stood up unsteadily. When he found his footing, he accompanied Bo, walking away from the table. He heard Zelda start a conversation with a nervous Ilia, who took Link's former seat. Bo put his arm around Link's shoulders, partially to support him.
They stopped at the edge of the room, where they had a fair bit of privacy. Bo patted Link on the shoulder. "So how've you been feeling? Looks like you've sustained an injury or two."
"It's more the injuries you can't see that affect me," Link explained. Bo raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry, I'm not talking about emotional or mental injuries. But physically, I won't ever be the same. I'll never have the same level of energy or strength. That's what this war has done to me, but it was well worth the price."
Bo grunted. "I'm not 100% sure what you been doing, but I heard you saved the world. Again. Quite a job description, eh?" He took his arm back and turned to face Link. "Well, we'll have plenty of time to talk about it when you get back to Ordon. I want you to know we're all proud of you, lad. People in Ordon Village are having their own celebration, and they all want to see you as soon as possible."
Link watched the forms of Ilia, Zelda, and the bodyguards talking. "I can't wait to go back. This journey's taken a big toll on me. I want to walk in the woods, I want to pet the goats...I want things to go back to the way they used to be."
"And they will!" Bo assured him. "With any luck, we won't get any more of these danged disasters. What's next, flooding Hyrule? Not that that would happen." He pulled on his tunic collar. "There was something else I was wantin' to talk to you about, and recent affairs have put it on my mind all the more. Ilia's a woman now, you know?" He glanced at Ilia across the foyer. "She's not the adorable little girl she used to be...although she's still adorable. She's reached the age where she's started looking for a man."
Link felt his face go hot but tried not to show any expression. He and Ilia were childhood friends, going back as far as he could remember. These days, though, he couldn't deny he felt something a little more than friendship whenever he looked at her, and he couldn't help wondering if she thought the same thing.
"Well," Bo continued, "let's just say I give you my blessing, huh? You're a good man, and I know you'll be good to her. What better husband to have than a hero?" He rubbed his head again. "But I'm gettin' ahead of myself. What else was I going to say? Oh yeah, you're still the first candidate for being the next mayor. I ain't gonna be around forever, but I know you'll do one heck of a job seeing over Ordon Village when I'm gone. I've never so much as made a goofy face at an octorok."
"Thanks, Bo." Link scratched his hair, unsure of what else to say. He was saved by the call of a man behind him.
"Well, well," the man's voice lauded, "look who's up and about so soon. Nice to see you're recovering."
Link turned around and saw an old, white-haired man in a blue robe walking toward him. He searched his memory, trying to find where he'd seen him from. "Umar?"
The old man laughed. "And you remember me. Looks like my advice at the start of your journey came in handy."
Bo bobbed his head. "I'm gonna go check on Ilia. And I'm serious about the blessing thing. Don't ever doubt that."
The mayor's rotund form strode off. Umar scratched the end of his nose. "I'd love to hear all about your adventure, but now may not be the right time or place. I'll settle for a summary for now."
The whole thing started around seven or eight weeks ago. The details were a little vague. "I was paralyzed in the leg by an infant Constellatia, which started the process. In Castle Town, you invited me into your house and told me nearly everything I needed to know about the Constellation. If not for that advice, we'd all be dead by now. The history books should record your wisdom in addition to everything else that happened."
"Oh, I'm not one for the history books," said Umar, "but do continue."
"I went to Death Mountain, found Dargal's Crater, somehow passed all the tests, and got the Moon Sword. From what Princess Zelda told me, the Moon Sword has lost its power since all the Constellation are gone, so now it's just an ordinary blade serving as a piece of art somewhere in this castle. The same thing's happened to the Compass."
"I'll have to see them myself sometime," Umar pondered.
"I arrived back at Hyrule Castle in time to defend the princess from the Constellatia attack, then went straight to the Gerudo Desert. As I was on the last of my supplies, I found the entrance to Robber's Coffin, where I passed even more creepy tests and got the Constellation Compass. It was there that I cured my paralyzed leg with Great Fairy's Tears and killed the Constellation Queen. When I left, the remaining spirit of the Queen attacked me, but I used my Courage Fire - a special form - to survive. Later, I halted the war with the Constellation at Castle Town, spent the next five days resting, and killed the King in his lair. Then I fell into a three-week coma which I only pulled out of recently."
Umar rubbed his chin. "Very interesting. To think that you would save Hyrule not once, but twice... Labrynna and Holodrum are independent nations, but not so powerful as Hyrule. I don't think they would have survived an invasion from either the Constellation or that villain Ganondorf. You really are something, kid."
"I'm only what other people have made me." Link turned to the front doors and felt a longing inside of him. There was something else he wanted to do before calling it a day. He hadn't experienced it in a full month. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to go outside, just to enjoy what it has to offer."
"One of those simple pleasures. I'll leave you to it, then."
As Umar departed, Link pulled himself across the room, squeezing past the conversing visitors. He reached the front doors, muscles aching from the effort, and stepped outside.
The sun had already set, and a cool wind blew across the darkness. Several bonfires had been lit around the courtyard, bathing sections of it in orange light. Soldiers out of uniform strode about tending the fires and talking to their comrades. Link found a spot against the wall of the castle and leaned against it, crossing his arms.
There was something refreshing about relaxing outdoors on a fair-weathered night. Link closed his eyes and breathed in as the wind blew. Being cooped up indoors for a conscious week felt claustrophobic after awhile. It was good to just get out every now and then.
Link had no idea what the curse of hatred was, but was there any sense in resisting fate? His role had ended, and as the princess's hunch claimed, the current period of darkness had ended as well. Perhaps the best thing to do now was to enjoy the freedom he had fought hard to earn.
Solar, the vengeful sorceror of the stars, had been onto something hundreds of years ago. With his power, he could have done something right to end the pain and sorrow he'd felt. What he had lacked was hope. Ultimately, he had come to realize a glimmer of hope and had helped Link achieve victory through it. It was amazing how many people were collectively responsible for Hyrule's salvation, even when they'd intended to destroy it from the beginning.
"Enjoying yourself?" Zelda's voice prompted.
Link opened his eyes. The princess had silently made her way right next to him. She crossed her arms in a ladylike fashion and stared into his eyes. Link returned her gaze. "Yeah, I'm taking in the atmosphere. Being born in an isolated forest village makes you an outdoors kind of guy."
"I would desire the outdoors too if I'd been kept in bed for nearly four weeks. Then again, I always was a little rambunctious for a princess." She sighed. "I give my address in thirty minutes. I've never given a speech like this before, an address with so much of pain and relief. It's an odd thing."
Link stared into the sky. It was covered with little balls of light, like somebody had spilled salt on a black floor. He smirked. "You know what's also a little odd? How there are so many stars visible on the day we're mourning the destruction they've caused. They are beautiful, though."
"Hmm. Yes." She examined the stars with him. "Things are not always what they seem, and there's more than one perspective to every tale. But for now...let's enjoy the view."
Author's Note: And that concludes Infestation and Medicine. Link's fight against the Constellation draws to a close in this touching scene. I hoped you have enjoyed reading it. I've enjoyed writing it.
On a side note, I have also launched a blog related to fanfic reading and writing. For updates on novels of similar scope (and grander), you may consider giving it a look. More information can be found in my profile.
Thank you for reading!