My eyelids were lead. Yet there was a nagging at the back of my mind, telling me it was important I open them. After a few false starts, I finally pried them open only to be completely confused by my surroundings.
I was in a cave of some kind, torches on the wall lending light to see. I was lying on a flat stone slab, raised in the middle of a pool of water. What surprised me the most, however, was the woman kneeling at the side of my feet, eyes closed and lips moving in a silent prayer. With hair as fine as spun gold, and features so delicate I feared they might break under the slightest touch, I thought she must be an angel.
My mouth moved to ask the question, but my throat was rusted over. All that came out was a scratchy, "Angel?"
Upon hearing my mangled voice, her eyes popped open, revealing shocking blue eyes, eyes that I instantly recognized. It was Zelda who knelt before me.
A look of pure relief graced her face as she saw me awake. Then she smiled and said, "No, it's just me."
On reflex I hurried to sit up to assure her she was so much better than an angel, but the attempt sent a shooting pain through my stomach.
"Gentle," Zelda said as she placed a hand on my shoulder to ease me back down. "You're still not fully healed."
The memory of the sword piercing my body flashed through my mind, and I winced, partly at the memory of pain and partly at my foolishness. "How am I not dead?"
"Because Sheik brought you here as fast as he was able. This is a fairy fountain, a place of healing and refuge. There are many scattered throughout Hyrule, but very few people are aware they exist and even fewer are granted entrance."
"Then why was I?"
Zelda reached out a hand and traced over the Triforce that marked my own. I struggled to suppress a shiver at her touch. "This symbol isn't just decorative. I could have told you that and more if you had shown it to me when we were children."
I averted my eyes guiltily. I wondered how differently things might have turned out if I had told her who I was. Maybe I wouldn't have had to wait seven years to see her again.
"I wanted to. I thought about it every time I visited you, but the Great Deku Tree make me promise not to show anyone. Even so, I planned on telling you that last night we were supposed to meet. The night everything changed."
Sorrow crossed her face for a moment. "I wish I could have been there."
"And the years after?" I couldn't stop myself from asking. When her father had realized how consistently a commoner was visiting his daughter, he rescinded my open invitation to the castle. I had been taking longer and longer trips away from Castletown anyway, so I figured that just meant I no longer had a reason to come back, but I snuck into the castle one last time to say goodbye. Zelda wasn't having any of that. She made me promise that at the very least, no matter what else happened, that I'd meet her at the top of the hill nearest Castletown at sunset every year on the anniversary of the day we met.
It was Zelda's turn to look away. "The first year I begged and fought and pleaded to keep my promise. Impa explicitly forbid it. She said it was too dangerous, that I could not go anywhere I might be expected. However, I put up such a fuss that she finally compromised with me."
My eyebrows shot up in surprise as I wondered what that compromise could be. She smiled at me with an expression that had always driven me crazy when we were children. It seemed to say, Why haven't you pieced together this simple thing I figured out ages ago?
"Did you ever consider it strange that Sheik found you the very next day? Does it not seem illogical that I would still expect you to faithfully be in that dangerous area after six previous years of never keeping my promise? Unless of course, I had seen you there, year after year."
I looked at her, dumbfounded. "You were there?"
"Every year but one in which circumstances beyond my control made it impossible. I had to keep hidden, but it was important to me to be there, even if I could only watch you from the shadows. Every time I saw you I was surprised; I always thought, this will be the year he gives up on me. But you never did."
I jerked my body up and grabbed her hand, ignoring the pain as I looked deep into her eyes. "Zelda, there is no power in Hyrule that could make me give up on you."
She stared at me with wide eyes looking completely taken aback. I suppose it was a weird declaration after seven years of separation, but I meant it. I had had some really great friends in my life, far better than I deserved, but Zelda was the best of them. During a time when I felt like I didn't belong anywhere, least of all in a castle with a princess, she made me feel at home. To her, I wasn't the weird Kokiri boy with strange clothes and a fairy, I was her friend, her equal. She had earned my total and permanent loyalty.
It took her a moment, but Zelda recovered from her shock and said with a smile, "Not even Sheik?"
A painful chuckle left my lips. "So you realize what you stuck me with."
Her smile grew. "He can be a bit abrasive."
I snorted at the understatement.
I was surprised to see her face turn solemn. "But you need to learn to trust him."
My eyes dropped down to my chest. I was ashamed enough of my complete misjudgment without her as witness. And what she thought meant so much to me that a reprimand from her seemed a worse consequence than the sword through my chest.
"Do you trust me?"
I looked up and could feel the eagerness shining through my eyes. "Yes."
"Then you should trust him. There is not a person on this earth I would trust more with my life than he. Sheik may not be friendly or personable or even a nice guy, but he will not lead you astray. You should take advice from him as if it came from my lips because he will never advise you to do something that would be against my wishes. His loyalty is absolute."
I wanted to ask how she knew that, how she could trust someone like him so completely, but I knew I had no right. If I had trusted his judgment, I wouldn't have come within inches of death.
"You're right," I conceded. "I'll try. It's just sometimes he makes me so..." I put out my hands to express what my words couldn't.
She smiled one of her small secretive smiles. "I never said you had to like him. But you do need to trust him. You will not be able to accomplish your great task without his help."
I looked down at my lap. I couldn't lie to her. "Zelda, I don't think I'm the right person to-"
My words were cut off as she placed both of her hands on mine. I had been too ashamed to look at her, but her touch caused my eyes to dart up, and I felt myself lost in her perfect, blue eyes, equally full of compassion and conviction.
"Link, I have known there was something special about you from the day we met. When you walked into my garden, I saw a courageous boy who loved adventure, who wanted nothing more than to help a little girl he had never met. You have always had such a big heart." Her right hand came to rest on my left breast as she spoke, and my breath hitched. "Do you have faith in me Link?"
My eyebrows slanted in confusion. "I already said—"
"Faith and trust are two different things."
I wasn't sure what difference she was talking about, but regardless there was only one possible answer. I leaned into her touch, which had the added effect of bringing our faces right in line, only inches away. I stared into her eyes with as much conviction as I could muster and said, "Zelda, I have complete and total faith in you."
Her eyes widened, though whether in surprise at our closeness, my words, or my tone, I wasn't sure. She got over her surprise quickly though, and brought herself even closer to me, hand still resting on my chest, our noses nearly touching. "Then lean on my faith for now. I believe you are the chosen hero who will lead our people to reclaim our kingdom from the tyrant, Ganondorf. I believe your potential is limited only by your own doubt. I believe in you Link. If you do not have faith in yourself, then borrow some of mine for now. Eventually you'll come to see what I do."
My heart was pounding so hard in my chest. How could she think that? She had known me well enough as a child to see my flaws. She had just witnessed the consequences of my failure. It was a miracle I didn't get myself and Sheik killed.
Yet there was no trace of deception in those clear blue eyes. She meant every word somehow, but they still didn't ring true to me. How was I supposed to overcome so many imperfections, so many fundamental character flaws? Maybe I couldn't, but her belief stirred an ache in me that I had pushed deep, deep down. I wanted to be the person she was describing. I wanted to believe it was possible.
"Can you do that?" she prodded after a minute of silence from my end.
I looked her in the eye and whispered, "Yes."
Her face broke out with a huge smile that made my heart feel like it was about to escape from my chest even as she pulled away to a normal distance, no longer touching me. When had she become so beautiful? It's not like she was unpleasant to look at as a child, but now she looked like a goddess had taken mortal form. If fulfilling the role the goddesses had placed upon me made her smile like that again, I would gladly do so.
"We're going to do this, Link, you and I. We will bring an end to this seven-year reign of terror." She looked so determined, hopeful, and happy that I couldn't help but get caught up in her excitement. It really did feel as if we could accomplish anything together.
"Does that mean you're going to join me and Sheik?" My voice came out so much more timid than I would have liked. I wanted far too badly for her to answer yes.
Zelda's eyes cast down and a shadow crossed her face. My heart broke before she even spoke. "I wish I could. My duty takes me elsewhere."
For something I should have expected, those words hurt way too much. But I didn't need Zelda to see that, so I changed the subject. "Speaking of Sheik, where is he? I'm surprised he's allowed us these five minutes alone."
She smiled, but it was smaller this time. "He doesn't like fairy fountains. There are magical protections here that don't allow for disguise of any kind. He doesn't like to bare his face."
I had a Sheik insult at the tip of my tongue, but then thought of how I had nearly gotten him killed and held back. "That explains his absence, but I don't understand how you're here."
Zelda looked down at the ground, uncomfortable, like I had brought up a bad memory. "I couldn't help myself. Sheik told me not to come, that there was nothing I could do. I knew he was right, but it didn't matter. I had to come."
"I'm glad you did." I leaned forward, thinking to grab her hand, but instead I clutched my stomach in pain as the movement aggravated my forgotten wound.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, gently pushing me to lie back down. I winced, but didn't fight it.
"Rest," Zelda said. "A few hours more, then you should be well enough to travel."
My eyes felt heavy, and I had to fight to get out a last question. "Will you be here when I wake?"
The last thing I saw was her smile as she said, "Just rest."
A/N: And Zelda finally makes an appearance. This wasn't a very plot heavy chapter, but it was a meeting Link desperately needed. And all he had to do to get it was get stabbed in the chest. I'd love to know your guys' thoughts on this version of Zelda, and if this meeting was what you wanted it to be. The next chapter brings back the time travel concept with Link needing to make a contact. Any guesses as to who that will be? Thanks for reading!