The moon shone through the high windows of Telma's tavern, adding its pale glow to the lamplight. Four figures were seated around a table, throwing deep shadows into the corners of the barroom.
Link and Midna were concluding a long retelling of their quest. Princess Zelda had listened raptly to the tale, pen scarcely pausing as she recorded every detail.
Once the final moments of Ganondorf's defeat were drying on parchment, Zelda stowed her pen in its case and gathered the volumes spread across the table.
"I am afraid words cannot fully express my gratitude, nor how much Hyrule is indebted to you," she said softly. "If there is anything you desire, I will do all I can to make it yours."
Link considered the potential of such an open offer. Anything in the world? But even before all this he had not longed for anything except adventure, and now he found he wanted nothing more than the shadowy princess beside him.
It was Midna who spoke first. "All I could ask for is a new era for my people. One of peaceful coexistence between the realms, and an end to the animosity inherited from our ancestors."
"That is my wish as well," Zelda replied. "I believe aiding one another in recovering from this crisis would be an ideal way to open communications between our peoples. Would you agree?"
"Yes, absolutely." Midna could not keep the excitement from her voice. "As soon as you are ready to initiate plans, I am more than willing."
A rebuttal crossed Zelda's face. "What of the Twili?" she asked. "Are you certain they will be cordial to cooperation?"
Midna's tone darkened ever so slightly. "There will be those who are not supportive, at first. But I know that would be true even in a time of total peace. There must be a first step or no change will ever come."
"My thoughts exactly," Zelda answered almost sadly. "I am sure the case will be the same among the people of Light. But Hyrule is a place of many cultures, and I have every confidence peace will triumph."
She turned to Link. "How are you feeling, Hero?"
He flexed his arm in its sling. "Very well, thank you. Almost as if nothing ever happened."
Though no healers had attended him, Link's injuries had mended at an astounding rate. It was the first time Midna had thought about this, but considering the events of their adventure she realized he had consistently recovered from physical harm faster than she.
"It is the gift of the goddesses," supplied Zelda.
"The Triforce," Midna mused. "The blessing of the Light dwellers." She winked at Link.
"A blessing that can become a curse," Zelda added.
"Does the Triforce of Power always create abominations like Ganondorf?"
"Not always, if legends are considered credible truths. However, it has been said that the bearers of Power attracted the attention of the uncouth, and often fell victim to betrayal and murder."
"Why would the goddesses grant so much power to someone like Ganondorf?" Link wondered.
"Bearers are born with their gifts," Zelda explained, "and it is my firm belief that no one is born evil. But it is true that power in general can corrupt. No doubt Ganondorf discovered early in life his ability to influence and control others, and to bend magic to his will without the need for careful study. Unless one were raised to be pure of heart and mind, it is plain to see how such talents could lead one down dark paths."
"It's clear then how easy it was for Ganondorf to control Zant," said Midna. "Ganondorf possessed everything Zant wished he himself had."
"What will become of the Triforce of Power?" Link asked.
"It will choose another bearer," answered Zelda. "Perhaps it will not appear again for a century, or several. The ways of the goddesses are mysterious."
"And if the new bearer is corrupt as Ganondorf?"
"It has seemed to me that all of Creation seeks balance," Zelda explained. "If there is a great evil in the land a great good emerges to counter it."
"And so much good will come from this in the end," Midna added. She laughed wryly. "In a twisted way I suppose Ganondorf was the best thing to happen to the Twili in generations."
Zelda smiled and said, "I believe that credit goes to you, Midna."
Midna was silent for a beat. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I cannot say I agree, but thank you." She looked up at the moon through the window and thought of the many nights spent with Link under its gaze. The voices of her people called to her as well. "I must return," she worried aloud. "Order must be restored. I'll not allow another Zant to take advantage of the chaos."
"You really must rest first," Telma interjected, speaking for the first time since they had begun their tale. "And you, too." She pointed a motherly finger at Link. "The last few months have left me drained. I can't imagine the strain the two of you have been under."
"Indeed," Princess Zelda agreed. "A night of true peace will clear all our minds. Affairs will watch over themselves for a few more hours."
Midna began to protest but Telma shushed her. "Dear, you're starting to sound like him." She gestured to Link. "It won't do you or your people a bit of good to return exhausted and immediately take on rebuilding a kingdom. I'd be honored to have the three of you stay here if you've nowhere else to go."
The thought of a real bed tempted Midna. She noticed Link trying to suppress yawns as well.
"I suppose," she consented, "if it isn't any trouble for you."
"None at all," replied Telma. "I've got plenty of empty beds; all of them, as a matter of fact."
"Thank you," said Zelda. "Your hospitality is greatly appreciated, and will not be forgotten."
"It's the least I can do for the heroes of Hyrule," Telma said with her warm smile. She led them upstairs and showed them to their rooms.
Midna was charmed. The spaces were simple: just a bed and nightstand, a chair, and a small writing desk in each room. The mattresses, however, looked lusciously overstuffed and everything was immaculately clean. She doubted better housekeeping could be found in her own palace.
She walked slowly to the bed and turned down the quilt. The outer wool was rough as expected, but underneath the fabric was downy soft. It all looked and smelled as though it had been freshly washed.
Telma poked her head back in the doorway. "Is there anything else you need, honey?"
"I don't know what it could be," Midna said. "This is all more than I ever would have requested."
"It's my pleasure," Telma replied. "Goodnight, then, Princess."
The innkeeper disappeared back into the hallway, shutting the door behind her and leaving Midna with a rare moment of solitude. After months of constant company she found her own uninterrupted thoughts to be quite loud, and did not know what to do to occupy herself. Though tired, the thought of sleep suddenly bored her. Link was probably snoring already and she did not want to keep him from his rest, but they had not yet had a real chance to talk.
After a moment's deliberation she crossed the room. If he's sleeping, I'll let him be. Quietly she opened the door, and started in surprise. Link stood in the hall, his hand raised partway.
"Oh! Er… good evening." He shifted awkwardly.
Midna laughed. "Suddenly so formal?"
"I was about to knock…"
"So I noticed." She stepped back from the door, inviting him in. "I was on my way to see if you'd managed to stay awake."
"Of course I have! We haven't had even a moment to relax together."
"Be careful," she said slyly. "We're starting to think alike."
"That isn't so bad," he said, settling into the chair. "Maybe I'll pick up a bit of magic."
"Yes, but I may start throwing myself into terribly dangerous situations without a second thought for my own welfare," she teased. "I see you've already declared yourself healed."
He stretched the arm previously bound in the sling. "I was fine hours ago. It was just a matter of waiting for Telma to go to bed."
"Oh? Has the great Hero finally met his match?"
His eyes widened. "You try arguing with her. See what happens."
Midna laughed. "I'll take your word for it." She sat on the bed. It felt like resting on clouds. "She may be intimidating sometimes, but her beds are like heaven. This is the most welcoming and comfortable little inn I've ever visited. I think it's the absence of formality."
"You don't seem like one who enjoys ceremony."
"Not at all. Especially not in daily life. I suppose it is one of those irritating facets of being a princess."
Link shook his head. "Princess. I'm still getting used to that. I never expected even to meet the ruler of my own land. Not only have I done that, I spent months with you never knowing who you really were."
"I am good at keeping secrets. Most of us are. Maybe it comes with the shadows."
"It didn't help that you were cursed. If I had seen you as you are now, there would have been no denying it. I mean, look at you. You could be no one but a princess."
Midna felt her cheeks grow hot. "Well. Thank you." She could not keep the smile from her lips.
"Just talking to you, though, I never would have guessed."
"I know I do not fit the mould of my role very well. I never wanted to." She smirked reflectively. "Some are put off by that."
"Certainly not me. I've never known anyone quite like you. I don't think there are any others like you to know."
A pang of emptiness struck Midna. What I would do to be someone else, just for a few more days. The part of her that was solely her people's ruler longed to return and fulfill her duty. But the part that was her – Midna the young woman, the individual, the self that a life of indoctrination, courtly training and even the deepest of magic could not eliminate – knew where her heart truly lay.
How long will I be able to bury that before it destroys me?
She shook herself mentally. "Sorry?"
"I said, I'll miss you when you're gone."
"I'll miss you as well," she replied softly. "I've grown terribly fond of your world."
His eyes reflected uncommon depth. "Tell me honestly," he asked, "will we see each other after tonight?"
"Of course," she answered immediately. "You think I could simply forget you?"
"You have a kingdom to rule."
"I do not want to lose you from my life," she said. "Nothing and no one could ever replace you in my heart."
His face remained solemn and Midna worried she had said too much, that with each passing moment parting would be more painful for both of them.
"I know I am selfish to say it," he began, "but I wish you were staying. Or, that we were leaving together."
She could think of nothing to say, and he continued before she could collect herself.
"I've only known you for a short time, but of that time every moment has been spent with you. Now it feels to me as if I've never been without you, as if there was no time before you." His words were hurried and his expression tormented. "And I cannot imagine any time after you, so I must tell you now while I still have the chance. I am in love with you, Midna, and I do not know what I will do after tomorrow."
"And I love you," she blurted loudly.
Sharp surprise painted his face.
Slower, she continued. "I love you, too. I have for quite some time." She tried to keep her voice even despite her pounding heart, and despite the dutiful part of her that raged in disbelief as she placed her own heart over the good of the Twili.
Link stammered. "I… never knew."
"I told you, I am good at hiding my feelings, even from myself." She rose from the bed and approached him in the low candlelight. "But now I have no more secrets. And it feels so wonderful."
Standing to meet her, he let his hands slide around her waist. Her skin was smooth and warm and as she pressed close to him a humming energy seemed to emanate from her to fill them both.
"I don't know what I will do without you," he said again.
"You will never be without me," she breathed, and kissed him fiercely.
Treachery! screamed a voice somewhere in her mind. You are forbidden!
This only quickened the pulse of her heart, only made her breath shallower. Forbidden, maybe. So I challenge any to try and stop me.
She deepened their embrace, losing herself, and shrugged to let her cloak shimmer to the floor. A rush; then they landed on the bed, never parting, trying their hardest to dissolve into one another and into a moment of pure love. Eyes squeezed shut, Midna felt herself uncovered, but she did not care. She welcomed the rush of passion finally allowed existence, and surrendered to it now. A feeling unlike any other built within her, love and sadness and fear all at once. It grew and grew until finally everything was released in an outpouring of emotion and magic that set the shadows swirling around them. His arms locked around her and they lay without moving, without speaking, letting hearts and breath slow.
In the silence, when thought returned to her, Midna realized she was no longer divided. There was no more voice of duty obligating her to choose between Link and her people. The solution was so clear she could not believe it had escaped her before. She smiled and nuzzled his neck.
He made a contented sound and her fingers passed gently through his hair.
After a pause he wondered, "What will become of us now?"
She raised her head to look at him. "I promised you would never be without me. Earlier, were you sincere? You really would go with me to Twilight?"
"Yes, of course!" he answered immediately. "I would follow you anywhere."
"I would not ask you to leave your home."
"You ask nothing of me," he assured her, stroking her cheek. "I have never felt truly at home anywhere. The strongest sense of belonging I've ever experienced came when I was with you – no matter where we were. Where you are, there is my home."
"In that case," she finished, "we will be leaving tomorrow." She rested her head back on his chest and sighed in blissful relief. "And there will be no parting."
He kissed her hair. "Are you sure the Twili will receive us well?"
"It is as I told Zelda before. There will be those who insist on finding fault. So it is with any such momentous event. As a whole, though, my people – our people – are compassionate and reasonable. For even with all my personal love for you aside, there is no better way to seal the alliance of realms than with a royal union."
Link's head filled with thoughts of marriage to Midna. How easy it was, how effortless to love her, to be with her. Only hours ago he had been in turmoil at the thought of that love going unfulfilled. Now it seemed they had simultaneously, and without the need for great ceremony, arrived at the conclusion that they would spend their lives together. Only one worry troubled him.
"I am far from a prince."
"You are the Hero of Light and Shadow," she countered. "Your deeds have been foretold by seers for generations, and it is your courage that saved both realms from destruction. No one will dare call you unworthy."
An edge of nervous fear crept into his voice. "Wouldn't that make me king?"
"By title, yes," she laughed. "But relax. I will handle the politics."
Great fame and high rank were not satisfactions Link sought in life, and he would be first to admit he was not qualified to be king of anything. But he trusted Midna. He would view it all as a new adventure with her, and as long as it meant they could be together he would face it as fearlessly as the others.
They spoke quietly for a while longer, weariness slowly surrounding them. At last Midna rose and extinguished the guttering candle. In the darkness her eyes and hair and the patterns on her skin cast a spellbinding aura around her. She shed her sarong and glided under the quilts with him.
The moon was gone from the sky when at last they fell asleep.
Though she woke early, Midna felt blessedly refreshed. Soft sunlight shone through the window and sounds of civilization floated distantly to her ears. Castle Town was coming alive, waking to a new morning delivered from destruction.
Link was nowhere near conscious, so Midna slid gently off of him and out of bed. She stretched, the cool air sending a chill over her skin. This morning was beautiful and serene; it was hard to believe less than a day earlier they had been fighting for their lives. It seemed a world away now.
Midna dressed, ignoring the wrinkles in her sarong. With all that's happened, she thought, I can be excused one day of disheveled appearance. Not bothering either with her headdress, she soundlessly left the room and ventured downstairs.
Telma bustled here and there, attending to her already spotless barroom. She looked up as Midna descended the stairs.
"Good morning, Princess. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes indeed, thank you," Midna replied. "I don't remember ever having such a lovely night."
Telma had a mischievous expression.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, dear," Telma said with a wink. "Nothing at all."
Midna's face burned and she was glad for the distraction of a knock at the door.
"That must be Princess Zelda returning," Telma explained, putting aside her mop.
Indeed it was Zelda, peacefully beautiful even in a traveling cloak. She greeted Midna with no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.
"How are things, Princess?" Telma asked.
"On the whole, well," Zelda answered. "The castle will not be fully restored for quite some time, and the hearts of those whose loved ones perished, even longer. But the first steps are being taken. All is far from lost."
"That is the most we can ask for so soon, I suppose," Telma said. "Would you – if it's not too much trouble, of course – please let me know when word arrives from Kakariko?"
"Thank you, Princess." There was an uncharacteristic twinge of anxiety in Telma's voice as she excused herself and disappeared upstairs.
"When do you plan to return to Twilight?" Zelda asked.
"As soon as possible." It was Midna's turn to sound anxious. "I have been absent far too long already."
Zelda nodded. "I would certainly accompany you to the Mirror, but without the aid of your magic it would be several days' journey back. I would not wish to be gone from Castle Town so long."
"I understand. It's all right. I would not ask you to leave your people on my account." She paused. "Princess… about Link. He…"
"…has decided to go with you?"
Midna was slightly shocked at Zelda's clairvoyance. "Yes."
"I am glad to hear it," said the Princess of Light. "Parted from you, his happiness would quickly fade. He loves you deeply."
"I know," Midna said fondly. "As I love him."
"Love is the most sacred gift one can give, and I am very happy for you both. I have no doubt the two of you will bring only prosperity to the Twili, and being a new age of peace between our realms."
The two embraced, Midna feeling flattered beyond what she deserved.
"You were correct in your prediction last night. Though the circumstances were terrible, much good will come about in the end as a result of all this," Zelda continued. "You are a good friend, Midna. Ours is a bond I will treasure forever."
"As will I," Midna replied, touched. "You are always welcome in my home."
"I have been looking forward to seeing it," Zelda replied, and smiled. "Though if you wish to return within the week, it may be time to rouse your sleeping knight."
Midna laughed as they climbed the stairs together. "That may take a miracle beyond either of our powers."
The sun was nearly high by the time all arrangements were at last in place. Word of Link's wellbeing would be sent to Ordon Village along with his promise to visit at the first opportunity. Such chances were not to be sparse if Midna and Zelda's plans for the reunion of realms came to fruition. In five days, they agreed, Zelda and her cabinet would be in the Mirror Chamber at dusk to receive Midna and her councilors, opening the first officiated contact between Light and Shadow since the ages of legend.
To Midna those five short days seemed to be an eternity stretching before her. Never one to admit it, she was fearful of what state she would find her home in, whether her people would be welcoming or hostile. She gained confidence, though, from the strength of the magical inheritance within her. She was still ordained by the Spirits as the true ruler of the Twili, and none could deny or challenge that.
In a small valley in Hyrule Field, away from the many curious eyes of Castle Town, the four gathered a few paces from Telma's carriage. Link and Midna stood close together; the moment had finally come.
"Farewell, then," Zelda said with a serene wave, "Until we meet again."
"Until then," Midna replied. "Farewell." A keen sadness filled her, though she knew this was by no means a final goodbye. She took Link's hand, saw the Mirror Chamber in her mind, and in a rush their fertile surroundings disappeared, replaced by parched and ancient stones.
The Arbiter's Grounds were solemn and silent as always. A hawk wheeled high overhead in the desert heat and sun. Midna's skin prickled, precisely why they had agreed upon dusk as an appropriate meeting time.
They approached the Mirror silently and the portal opened immediately for its mistress. One last string of troubling thoughts haunted Midna, and she decided to voice them before making the journey.
"Listen," she said, taking Link's hands. "I do not know for certain what we will encounter at the palace, nor what challenges we will face in the coming weeks. So I must say this now while we still have a moment of peace.
"Because of our political position, there may be those who attempt to sabotage or manipulate one of us through the other. Be deaf to subversion; know I will never betray you. When you can trust no one else, you may trust me.
"To this end, you will eventually see sides of me I would rather not show you. When circumstances are bleak I will be at times overwhelmed, cold, and malicious. Though I would prefer it were not so, I know I will say bitter words to you when you do not deserve them. It is the way I am, and I will not always be able to suppress it. Ignore me. I know when I behave this way, and I promise I will come to you afterward apologetic.
"Our relationship will see its strenuous days, but we are bound together now, and I would have it no other way. I love you, and always will even in the midst of the greatest storm. Whatever may try to come between us, do not abandon me, and do not let me leave you."
"I shall be ever by your side," he promised. "This I swear."
She kissed him then, sudden joy rushing through her. One last sweet moment before facing the world.
When their lips parted, Midna looked around her once more. She thought she could barely discern the silhouettes of the Sages, keeping their lonely vigil atop the spires.
"One quest is scarcely ended before the next has begun. Are you ready?"
His eyes flashed. "Always."
"Then let us go," she said. "Our kingdom awaits."
Fingers entwined, they stepped through the swirl of runes into a new life together, into a future fantastic and aglow with eternal Twilight.