Tetra was the first one to run and embrace her as she limped back into camp a bit after lunchtime, covered in blood and dragging the sword behind her. Beside her, Impa wasn't faring much better; the Sheikah had taken substantial damage during the battle, and she was hobbling along beside the Princess, thoroughly battered, clutching a broken wrist. The two had helped themselves to the few potions in the pockets of Zelda's skirt that hadn't broken; however, they hadn't helped as much as Zelda would have liked. She was annoyed that her frantic preparations from the night before had turned out to be so useless.
Tetra threw her arms around her sister, and Zelda hissed as Tetra's arm came into contact with a nasty welt.
"It's dead," Zelda said as Tetra's arms loosened. "It's over." A crowd was gathering around the two. The guards circled the sisters, forming an entourage as they hobbled back in towards the camp.
"Where did you go? What happened? We were worried sick! You vanished straight out of your tent— Julietta ran out screaming, and we had to get Ashei and Saria to team up with all of the other magic users in the camp to blast through your ward, and it took ages, and you were simply poof! Gone."
Tetra was babbling. Zelda looked at her sister only to see tears tracing tracks down her cheeks. "And it was the second time in as many days and Goddesses Zelda if you ever do anything like this ever again, I swear that I will personally track you down and drag you back by your hair."
"It wasn't my choice," Zelda said, even as Ashei and Saria staggered up, looking as weary as Zelda felt.
"Nice of you to come back, yeah?" Ashei asked.
"Yeah," responded Zelda.
"You look awful," Saria said with a cringe.
"You should see the other guy," Zelda responded. Her legs began to shake, and a guard stepped forward to assist her. Zelda waved him off. It would hurt less to walk than it would to have anyone pressing on the numerous lacerations that covered her skin— from what, she wasn't sure.
"So it's done, then?" Ashei asked. Zelda nodded once. The fourth princess smiled.
"What happened? What's going on? Why doesn't anyone tell me anything?" Tetra asked, frantic.
"I'll tell you about it later," Zelda responded as she saw the King approaching. "Though chances are you won't believe it anyway."
That night, Zelda played harp and performed a few cheap tricks— understandable, given her condition. Battling rogue sorcerers was no easy task, after all.
As if. After this, dealing with a rogue sorcerer would (for Zelda) be like exorcising a Poe: child's play.
The King of Beasts didn't come to the dance, and for this, Zelda was grateful. She would probably drown him with all the Water she could summon if he showed up. He'd steadily been supplying her with magic that she didn't want all day. She didn't need it now; when Malladus had been vanquished, the last of the Queen's spellwork had vanished, and a tremendous amount of natural power that belonged to the Kingdom was released. Zelda hadn't realized that Hyrule had so much raw magic to it, and that it was available to the Royals— she made a note to look it up when she got back to the palace.
She couldn't wait to get home.
Over the course of the day, Julietta had tried to approach Zelda several times. Each time, she pretended not to see the tearful Golden Princess. When Romio approached Zelda at the dance, though, it had taken all her restraint not to summon the sword that laid in her tent— she knew, somehow, that if she called it it would appear in her hand— and ram it straight through his stupid stomach.
"Zelda," Romio started, "I didn't want to do it. I…"
The fire in a candle near Zelda exploded, creating a small fireball, before vanishing in a poof of smoke.
"Don't speak to me," she hissed. "You could have caused the downfall of Hyrule, because you were greedy and foolish and afraid to make sacrifices— sacrifices that I had to make for you."
"Zelda," Romio tried again. Zelda zipped up his mouth with a single Word of Power.
"I forsake all vows of kinship with you," she said. "Stay away from me, or I'll tell everyone what exactly it was that you and Julietta did. I do not, and will not, forgive you. Now leave."
She made a spinning motion with her finger, and Romio turned around. A flick of her hand had him walking off, arms and legs moving in stilted, mechanical ways as he fought the enchantment. Zelda didn't take the spell off of him until she had calmed down enough to stop making Fires blow out and Water slosh in goblets— which took well over half an hour. She hoped that the walking spell had, in the meantime, carried stupid Romio straight off of a cliff.
The next day, the camp was quickly and efficiently packed up. Zelda managed to argue her way back onto her horse, a free-spirited mare named Thistle. She'd wrapped her new sword in a makeshift scabbard of cloth, then tied it to her saddle. The procession looked like a ruby ribbon winding through the forest with everyone in their red cloaks for the Carrus Din. Zelda rode beside Tetra, speaking in low tones from behind the scarlet hood of her cloak about what had happened. (Julietta and Romio stayed, thankfully, far away.) She left no detail out, unburdening herself completely to her sister. Every last sensation, from the feel of Link's lips on her skin to the way that the realm between realms smelled, was described to Tetra. It took her until well into the afternoon to complete the story, and by the time she was finished, Tetra's eyes were wide as saucers. Her hands were white on the reins.
"How could they?" she asked, glaring at Romio and Julietta's distant backs. "I'm glad you didn't kill Romio, Zel— I'll do it for you. Selfish," she spat. "They wrecked your future and could have ruined the country. Just you wait until I tell Ashei, she'll pummel him to a pulp."
"No. You can't tell anyone," Zelda emphasized. "I mean it, Tet. Nobody can know about any of this. Not Ashei, not Aveil, nobody."
"Why not?" asked Tetra in a flare of temper. "Don't you want people to know that you've saved the Kingdom?"
Zelda sighed, rubbing her forehead with a knuckle. "This isn't about me," she said. "Or even about Romio and Julietta. This is about magic. The people will panic if they find out that there was an evil force that killed people by sucking them dry for hundreds of years. Everyone is already terrified of strong magic users; it could easily blow up into a mass hysteria and lead to an inquisition or a war. The people want to feel like they're safe from magic, that the Academy has it all in hand. If word of this got out, it would undermine the strength of the Academy and the next thing you know, people would be accusing their village witches of nonsense like eating their young to become stronger."
"I think you're overreacting," said Tetra a little skeptically.
"Don't you remember," Zelda asked desperately, "after the battle that Link and I fought against the corrupted Beast King, how the people were afraid and angry, even though I had protected them? What do you think would happen if the people of the kingdom found out that I could rip apart demons? I would be mobbed and torn apart, and I wouldn't be able to defend myself— everyone who goes through the Academy takes a Vow to harm no innocents. People acting out of fear count as innocents. Please, Tet. You can't tell anyone."
"I promise I won't say a thing," Tetra grudgingly responded. Sheik shifted restlessly from his perch on Zelda's shoulder. Since regaining the last of his strength that morning, the Sheikah had not seemed particularly inclined to remain in Zelda's shadow, and she didn't want him to leave, either; though they hadn't discussed the battle, Zelda would feel more comfortable with Sheik physically present for a long while yet. She absently raised a hand to stroke the inky blackness of his feathers.
Impa was riding with the King, ostensibly to feed him a cock and bull story about what exactly had happened in the woods. Zelda hadn't spoken with her about what had happened either, but was in no rush to do so.
"Do you think he'll come after you?" Tetra asked as Zelda's eyes nervously scanned the tree line.
"One day, maybe," she responded. Tetra watched her sister's face for a moment before hedging another question.
"Do you want him to?"
Zelda sighed. "I don't know, Tet," she responded. "When he was… when he was split, I cared for him. Deeply. But now he's a stranger."
"Is he really, though?" Tetra asked philosophically. "He said it himself— you know who he is at his deepest level. Isn't the rest all… I don't know, trimmings?"
"I suppose we'll see one day," she said.
The two rode on in silence for a little while longer before Tetra spoke again.
"What sort of ramifications do you think this will have?" she asked.
"It's hard to say," Zelda responded, eyes scanning the tree line again. "But magic will come back to the Peak Province, and with it, magical creatures will come too. I think we'll be hearing more than a few reports at the palace about strange happenings in the woods."
Tetra studied Zelda's face for a long moment, then reached out and grabbed Zelda's hand, squeezing tight.
"Everything is going to be fine," Tetra said, giving Zelda the warm consolation she hadn't known she'd needed. "Don't worry. Focus on yourself for a little while. You've done far more than any of us could ever ask for you."
"I'm afraid," Zelda said, and she was surprised at how small her voice was, and how true the words were.
Zelda took a deep breath and nodded once.
And she squared her shoulders and set her spine, pulled her red cloak tighter around herself, and rode on towards Hyrule, never once looking back at the woods or the wolf behind her.
A/N: There you have it! I know that a lot of you are probably screaming at your screens right now because Zelda and Link don't get together in the end… but come on now. After everything he did, after all the ways he used her, Zelda would never just give in to him without a fight. Plus, that means that all the effort he'll have to expend making pretty to her could make for a hell of a story…
So, will there be a sequel? I don't know. Maybe. I enjoyed writing this story, and I really like the world that it's set it, and I wouldn't be averse to revisiting it someday.
If you feel like reviewing, please tell me what you liked and what you didn't like, what you think could have used more work, or what you would have liked to see instead of what I did. I'd like to come back to this story and revise it in a few months, but for now, I'm totally sick of looking at it.
If you want some more ZeLinky goodness in the meantime, please check out the stories of my good friend CrazygurlMadness. Her current work in progress, Fighting Gravity, is absolutely brilliant. Her other stories are excellent as well, and her oneshots are the perfect length for a quick dose of fluffy wonderfulness.
To get in touch with me, to find out about progress on upcoming projects, or to read my notes on the creation of Into the Woods, please check out my blog at cobwebcity dot blogspot dot com. I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it. The biggest motivation for me to actually post what I write is feedback, and knowing that it makes people happy. So if you want me to write more, please review! I can only grow as a writer if you help me to improve.
Until next time,
Uploaded on Saturday, February 4, 2012, at 1:40 PM Central time.