Epilogue: Ashes Upon the Wind
The large desert in Hyrule's southwest corner was no longer called Gerudo desert. In fact, most Hylian's probably did not even remember that name, or the people after whom it had been named. Nothing ever truly changed here; it was still as inhospitable as two thousand years ago, only populated by few beasts and fewer bandits.
Zelda thought it was beautiful.
That was not a very reasonable way of looking at the desert, she knew. Anybody who lived here – or had lived here, she reminded herself – would certainly not share that opinion, concepts like beauty utterly meaningless in a life shaped by relentless heat, wind and thirst. Perhaps she thought so because the land was utterly unscarred, for the earthquakes sent by the cruel, late Goddesses had only been targeted at populated areas. There were no fissures or rivers of molten lava here, merely the sand, and more sand, and the occasional rock outcropping or ruined structure bearing witness to its former inhabitants.
She and Link had travelled for several hours, on foot, for the survivors in the Lake Hylia camp had few horses to spare. Of course she could have asked for them, and would not have been denied – she was, after all, the princess, and queen in all but name. But she did not want to put any additional burdens on her people, and so Link and her had embarked on this journey alone, pulling a bier covered with blankets behind them. The denizens of the camp had asked questions, of course, but Zelda had put them off for later. They had urged her to take an escort with her, but she insisted that Link alone would suffice, to Yura's ill-concealed dismay. And so they had departed from the camp at noon, entering the nearby desert and walking until the afternoon, with only a few short breaks. They had met neither man nor beast nor monster during their journey, and spent most of it in silence, each of them revisiting the events of the previous day in their minds. Zelda did not like leaving the camp at a time like this, when messengers from all over the country were arriving, bearing news from other survivors. But she felt she had to do this, and would rather do it fast than postponing it again and again.
"I think we've come far enough," she told Link as they reached the apex of yet another dune that would not be there tomorrow. "And it's not like we'll be leaving any traces behind for anyone to find."
Link nodded in silent agreement and stopped, wiping the sweat off his face. Then he pulled back the blankets on the bier they had been pulling behind them on ropes, revealing the body of Ganondorf, his eyes closed, his hands folded over the black-and-red sword fastened to his torso. His body looked as ravaged as the day before, when Zelda and Link had spirited it away from heaven through the portal Farore had used to bring them there after Zelda had re-opened it, covering it in blankets so the camp's inhabitants would not recognize it. His skin was blistered from the burns he had inflicted on himself and his neck was bruised from Din's attempt to choke him. In comparison, the wound below his heart where the poisoned dagger had entered was almost unnoticeable.
Zelda sighed, trying not to waste too many thoughts on what might have been. In the end, it was probably for the best that he had died, she pondered, slightly unsettled by her own thoughts. After all, what could he have done, without a people, without a cause? And could she have allowed him to simply go his own way, not apprehend him and have him stand trial? At least like this, Ganon could slowly fade away from Hyrule's collective memory, until he was nothing more than an old wives' tale, recounted only to scare young children.
There would be no pyre, for the desert yielded no wood. They stepped away from the bier, and Zelda conjured up a small fireball between her palms. Instead of throwing it, she simply let it sink down, until it connected with Ganondorf's dried husk and quickly set it ablaze. As the flames slowly consumed it, the fierce desert winds already began carrying the ashes away. The black-and-red sword did not catch fire or melt, nor was it in any way harmed by the flames. It had been forged by the Master Smith, and was like a sibling to the Master Sword, but she simply did not know what to do with it, nor anyone strong enough to wield it – except for Link, perhaps, but he already had the Master Sword. The rebuilding of Hyrule would require many tools, but greatswords were not among them, so she simply decided to leave it lying in the flames, and Link did not object. If it would not perish along with its owner, surely the sands would engulf it, never to be found again. She wondered for a moment whether the sword had a name. But that, too, did not matter anymore.
A slow, melancholic tune suddenly reached her ears. She looked up, and saw that Link was playing the ocarina – not just any ocarina, either, but the Ocarina of Time. She had not thought of the instrument ever since the night Hyrule Field had erupted in lava and fire, having more pressing matters to attend to, but she was happy to see it safe.
"You had it all the time, Link?" she asked. Link did not answer, absorbed in his playing, and he did not need to. Of course he had carried it with him, keeping it safe in his... well, wherever it was that he stored all his items.
Zelda closed her eyes, listening to the song that she now recognized as the Requiem of Spirit – what better tune to play at a funeral? The crackling of the fire and the howling of the wind intertwined with the melody, creating a sad, yet somehow comforting soundscape, and for a while, she forgot all about the suffering that lay behind them, and the hardships yet to come.
Perhaps half an hour passed until the flames had done their work and burnt out, leaving no traces of the man once called Ganondorf, his ashes scattered by the wind. Only the sword remained, parts of it already covered with sand, soon to be lost forever. Link's song had come to an end, and he was simply staring off into the distance.
Zelda sighed again, trying to find a sense of closure. She had to think of the future, not the past. Then again, yesterday's events would determine part of that future, for the people in the camp had demanded to know where the two of them had been, and what they had done, and would press her twice as hard upon their return.
"But we can't tell them what happened," she contemplated. "At least not now. The people are praying to the gods to lend them their strength in this dark time – how could I tell them that these gods are dead, and worse, that they were responsible for all their suffering? There's no way I can do that. Although," she smiled bitterly, "they probably wouldn't believe it, anyway."
Link said nothing, silently agreeing with her. He put the Ocarina of Time away, fastened his bootlaces and tried to brush the sand out of his clothes, which turned out to be a rather futile endeavour. He was ready to go back, and since there was nothing keeping them out here any longer, Zelda nodded, and the two set out into the east. It was already late in the afternoon, and she hoped they would reach the lake before the onset of the cold desert night.
She would not tell anybody of what had transpired yesterday, not for a long time, Zelda repeated her decision in her mind. But that did not mean the events would go undocumented. Early in the morning, before their departure into the desert, a messenger had arrived at the camp, reporting that the Royal Library had not been affected by earthquakes or other catastrophes – the first and so far only good news of this day. Zelda planned to soon add a new volume to the countless dusty tomes preserved in the library, describing in greatest possible detail the fateful events of the previous day. She would have it locked away under her royal seal, only to be opened a century or more into the future, when Hyrule would hopefully be experiencing a more peaceful age and be ready to learn about its past. In this book she would tell the truth, as best as she could, about the fate of the Triforce, and the mysterious Master Smith, and the fall of the gods; about heroes and villains – and the one man who, in his final days, had been neither.
She – and the whole world – owed him that much.