Command your people: climb the mountains
Let their peaks become the shore
Then evil shall be vanquished
But Hyrule shall be no more.
-Ten years after the events of Ocarina of Time (Adult Timeline)...-
-Castle Town, Hyrule Field-
I stand on the stairs outside the shining castle, looking out at the crowds gathered in the courtyard for the last time. Mothers in their best dresses hold the hands of young children. Fathers carry bags with clothes and a few precious personal belongings, but no one has much. They've all been told to travel light.
Link stands not far away, looking solemn and sad, striking in his royal guard's uniform of gold silk and blue velvet. Aryll clings to his hand, but she's looking at me with tear-filled eyes. She knows. I can't meet her frightened gaze, so I look at Colin instead. He's sleeping, but even in dreams, even sheltered in his father's arms, his face is troubled.
I look up at Link, then, the pillar of strength who has stood by my side for more than five years, both the immovable object and the unstoppable force, the wonderful, terrible king of Hyrule. I meet his eyes, as blue as the sky and as soft as wax and as cold as steel, and I want to cry.
So this is how it feels to lose the last thing you have, the only thing left for you to hold onto.
He holds my gaze for a second, then looks away and begins to speak, his voice steady even though when he looked at me, I could see tears in his eyes, too. "People of Hyrule, today we leave our home to travel to the mountains. Danger is coming to Hyrule, and everyone must leave the valley if any of us are to survive."
"What about the Queen?" one brave man calls out.
Silence falls over my citizens, but then a whisper begins somewhere in the mass, and it swells, growing into a murmur of worry and uncertainty. Fear and sorrow battle in my heart. What will they have when they leave, with no queen and no home?
I wait for Link to answer, but he turns to me and waits in turn. He can't help me now, and we both know it. I swallow before speaking. "My people, I..." I have to stop because my voice is shaking too hard. I compose myself and try again. "My people, I wish this didn't have to be, but I cannot follow you. I belong here, in my castle, in my city, in my kingdom. I belong in my home. Hyrule is my place, and I must stay here...until the end."
"Today is our last day here, in Castle Town, in Hyrule itself," Link says. His voice is quiet but strong and clear, and everyone can hear him, because the murmur has died away, and not one person makes a sound. I may be the more eloquent ruler, but when he speaks, people listen. Maybe it's his voice—it has an air of confidence about it, even when times are dark, even now, when everything is about to change forever. People want to hear his voice.
I need to hear it. I need to hear him saying it's alright.
"Everything is going to change, Hyrule," he says, reading my mind in the way he does. "Everything will be different, but don't despair. These are dark times for Hyrule, but even under the shadow of sorrow, there must be some light to reach for. There must be some hope left to us. Rally around our banner and keep our songs and stories alive, and nothing can destroy Hyrule. Not in a thousand years. I promise you that."
He's speaking to the crowd, but he's saying it for me. He's saying it for Aryll, and for Colin, even though he doesn't understand yet. He will. I know he will. He'll live to the day where he understands.
Maybe he'll hear the stories about his mother, the Queen, and how brave she was, how wise, how compassionate. Or maybe he'll be lucky enough to never know about the life he never had, in a city that was beautiful before it was darkened by sorrow and despair, and the mother he never met, the wise, brave Queen that I wish I could be now. At least he's too young to remember the frightened, tormented queen who bid her people farewell as they left.
I hope he's happy, whatever happens to him. I can't imagine he won't be. He'll have a kind, brave father and a caring, fiercely loyal sister to look after him. I can't even bring myself to regret that he won't have a mother.
They need me more here. This world needs me more here, where I belong: in the center of Hyrule, my kingdom, watching and waiting and praying to the Goddesses for their safe journey as my world comes to an end.
"So join together, my people," Link is saying. "Go now, towards the mountains, and climb to the highest peaks." He pauses, and then, even more softly, says, "For Queen, for Crown, for Kingdom."
"For Queen! For Crown! For Kingdom!" echoes the crowd, and they turn away, many tearful, all afraid, and march out of the still-shining gates, yet undimmed by the hopelessness that has claimed Castle Town, away from Hyrule and towards their uncertain future.
For Queen, for Crown, for Kingdom.
Soon, there will be no Queen, and there will be no Crown. There won't even be a Kingdom.
The emptiness of the future rises up to engulf me, and I lower my head so no one can see the tears that I can't hold back any longer.
From the silence, I know when everyone is gone. I look up to see Link waiting for me. I duck my head again right away. I don't want anyone to know I'm crying, but him least of all. Well, perhaps third-least, after Aryll and Colin.
"Zelda," he says softly, and stands next to me.
"You should hurry," I whisper, because I can't speak louder and keep my voice steady.
He leans down to put Colin in Aryll's arms, and at once she sits down on the stairs.
"She's going to be as clever as you when she's older," he tells me.
I nod, but I don't look up at him.
His hand pushes the loose strands of my hair aside to caress my chin and lift my face to look at him. He smiles, lovingly, sadly, wistful even though we haven't parted yet. His other hand comes up and his fingers brush my tears away.
"I don't want you to leave," I say, and my voice is choked, shaking.
"I know," he says, and that's all he needs to say.
I look away, unwilling to face the inevitable truth. Instead, I take Colin from Aryll and cradle him tightly against my chest. Gently, I kiss his forehead, and then hand him over to Link. I scoop up Aryll, and she puts her arms around my neck and buries her small face in my shoulder. I lay my cheek against the top of her head and breathe in the smell of her hair, and now I don't care if anyone knows I'm not as strong as I would like. Tears run down my face and into her golden curls.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, and I don't quite know why I'm apologizing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh, Aryll, I wish..."
But I have no words to end with.
Finally, I set her down. Link passes Colin to her again, and speaks to her in a low voice. She nods once, twice, and turns away, walking slowly, carefully towards the gates with all the grace and perfection of a queen on her wedding day. She could be just as beautiful. She will be. Some day.
Link and I watch each other, both of us bursting with words we can't bring ourselves to say.
One of them is goodbye.
I step towards him, and he steps towards me, and then we're standing inches apart and he has his hands on my waist, and mine are on his shoulders. He lowers his head, and I lift mine, and he presses his lips to mine.
For a few minutes, we don't move, both of us afraid, both of us breaking inside and unwilling to break away.
I'm the one who finally pulls us apart, and for just a second, I meet his eyes, and we understand.
"I love you," he whispered in my ear, and then he turns and walks away, to lead our people—his people—to a world above the valley, a world that will, somehow, become their home.
I can't turn away. I watch until he's gone, my mouth full of the bittersweet taste of our last kiss.
Then I look up at the distant sky and wait for the rain to fall.