Warm Hearths, Warmer Hearts
by Queenie Z
It was a sight the young queen was more than familiar with; children gathering just outside the castle gates to play in the aftermath of Hyrule's first snow of the year. From the frosted window of her chambers, Zelda smiled as she watched distant images of young boys and girls prancing about in the white stuff, tossing snowballs at one another, and doubtlessly irritating the guards who were keeping watch that day. It made her heart glad to see those children enjoying themselves in ways she herself had not often gotten the chance to experience; it was improper for young princesses to frolic about in the filthy slush, after all.
She sighed quietly and returned to her book, its pages illuminated by the crackling flames of a nearby hearth. When she had her own children, she thought, she would never fill their heads with such silly notions of royal propriety.
A knock on her door interrupted her a moment later, however, and with a frown Zelda stood to answer it, setting her book to the side. When she opened it, one of her handmaidens was there to greet her with a curtsey and a bow of her head.
"Your Majesty," said the servant, "some men from the barracks are here to see you. They say it's urgent."
"Urgent?" Zelda looked nervously to her side, pondering over how urgent the matter could be if it required her presence. She looked back at her handmaiden and nodded. "...Very well, bring me to them."
With another bow of her head, the young woman led her queen across the hall and down one of the marble staircases. There at the bottom were two young knight trainees, one with pale skin that was flushed red from the cold and one with a darker complexion and worried eyes.
"M-My queen," said the latter nervously with a small bow, "our superior sent us to ask if Lieutenant Link was here."
Zelda inhaled sharply at the sound of her friend's name. "What? ...Is he missing?"
The fair-skinned rookie nodded. "No one's seen him since noon, Your Highness. His subordinates have been busy combing the barracks, and one of the sergeants said he might have come to see you..."
The queen's frown deepened. Whoever made that suggestion to these boys was not too far off - whatever time Link wasn't spending working he usually spent at the castle, in lieu of a real home and family to return to. So to think that he would have wandered away somewhere without telling even her, the closest friend he had...
"I'm... I'm afraid he hasn't been here," said Zelda. She shook her head, her brow furrowing anxiously. "I apologize for the trouble he's caused; this isn't like him at all."
"It's not a problem," said the first rookie, his worried expression softening slightly. "The lieutenant is a good man, and everyone just wants to make sure he returns safely."
"Yes," Zelda said, lifting her head and looking sternly at the young men, "the most important part is that he's found." She turned, storming back up the stairs and calling to her servant as she went. "Bring these boys something hot to drink; I'll be back before nightfall."
The handmaiden and the trainees all stared incredulously at their queen. "B-But, Your Highness," said the pale boy, "it's freezing outside, and the snow is - "
The door to Zelda's chambers slammed shut. Once inside, she pulled the curtains closed, then began changing into her winter travelling clothes.
Drawing the hood of her cloak forward to cover her ears, Zelda looked around the snowy and overcast fields just south of Castle Town. Her white horse snorted in discomfort as it trudged through the good three or four inches of snow, and its rider reached down to pat its neck in encouragement.
"Just a little longer," she urged the horse, "he has to be around here somewhere." Though she had no proof that was true, her sixth sense had led her this way, and that sense had rarely been wrong. She lifted her head again, turning towards the east, looking for perhaps a set of footprints, or -
She was startled by the echo of a loud and strikingly familiar sneeze. She turned her head once more to her right, and in the distance she saw the silhouette of a man, hunched over and rubbing furiously at what she assumed was his face. Though his back was facing towards her, she could see enough of his bright yellow hair to know exactly who it was. Zelda sighed as she clutched her chest in relief, then rode over with a scowl.
At the sound of hooves crunching snow, Link spun around, his hand still in the act of wiping at his nose. "Zelda!" he exclaimed in surprise, "What are you - "
"You'd better have a good reason to be out here, Link," she said angrily. "Your men are worried sick about you - I was worried sick about you!"
The young lieutenant stared at her for a moment, then sulked, his expression rivaling that of a small child caught in a lie. "...I know," he said, "I should have told someone I was leaving. I was going to come back before dark, but..."
Zelda let out an irritated huff. "What in the name of the goddesses are you even doing out here? Trying to catch your death of cold?"
"N-No, not at all, I was..." He sighed. "...I was just trying to find someplace quiet. The barracks are so noisy - sometimes, I just can't gather my thoughts there."
"And what kind of thoughts are those, exactly?"
Link went silent at that. Then, he smiled sadly and looked down towards the snow beneath him.
"...It used to snow in the forest, too," he finally began. "The kids there would have snowball fights, and my friend Saria would always team up with me. Nobody stood a chance when we started throwing those snowballs around." He shut his eyes and chuckled slightly. "It was us against the world, and it was always a lot of fun."
The queen allowed her glare to soften. It seemed that, as the years went by, as Link got older and settled more into his life as a Hylian, he would speak of his time as a Kokiri with a little more melancholy. She stayed silent, allowing him to continue with his thoughts.
"I don't regret where I am now," he said, "it's just... everything was so much simpler back then. In those days, I wasn't the Hero of Time. I was just a child; a child who didn't have to constantly wonder whether what he'd been through was real..." he hung his head, his expression causing him to suddenly look far older than twenty-six, "...or if he was simply going mad."
"Link - "
"I know, I know," he interrupted, "just because no one else remembers doesn't mean it didn't actually happen, and our Triforces are proof of that." He lifted his head and flashed Zelda a labored grin. "You've told me that enough times that I've got it memorized. ...It's just hard to get over sometimes, you know?"
"What you experienced as the Hero of Time," said Zelda, "was something no one else could even dream of experiencing. It's stayed with you, and it may always stay with you." She shifted forward in her saddle, then offered Link her hand with a smile. "I know you came out here to be alone, Link... but perhaps being alone is the last thing you need right now."
Glancing at her hand, he thought for a brief moment. Then, he smiled back up at his friend, taking her hand and using it to steady himself as he climbed upon the white horse to situate himself comfortably behind her.
With a contented sigh, Link happily snuggled into the warm fleece blanket Zelda had given him. He'd already discarded his winter cloak, his gloves, and his boots, all of which were lying bunched up by Zelda's personal fireplace. He stretched his legs out, warming his bare feet by the flame one of the servants had earlier rekindled, and he felt as though he was just about to fall asleep before his queen's voice caught his attention.
"The tea is ready," she said, setting down a tray with a steaming teapot and two cups, one of which she began preparing. "I think you'll like it."
Link took the cup that was offered to him graciously. "Thanks." He blew into the teacup, then took a sip, his eyes widening slightly in pleasant surprise at the taste. "Kakariko peach blossom," he said in realization before turning back to Zelda. "You can still get it this time of year?"
"You can get your hands on a lot of things when you're queen!" laughed Zelda.
"I guess so!" He took another sip, then smirked. "And I suppose this makes me the only person in Hyrule to have tea in Her Majesty's chambers, doesn't it?"
His joke made Zelda laugh even more as she poured a cup for herself. "Well, aren't you the lucky man, then?"
He nodded. "Indeed I am!" However, his levity soon gave way to sincerity as he smiled warmly at Zelda. "...I really am lucky to have met you, Zelda. I never would have made it this far without you."
Taken aback slightly, Zelda shut her eyes and shook her head. "That was all your hard work," she said, "I had nothing to do with it."
"You had everything to do with it." Link tilted his head. "You believed my crazy stories about travelling through time, you helped me find a life here in Hyrule when I couldn't return to the forest, and you gave me the chance to keep helping people as a knight. If it weren't for you... I don't know where I'd be right now."
Zelda swallowed, becoming slightly embarrassed by his adulations. "You're too kind, Link."
"Even now," he continued, reaching up and placing a hand on her arm, "you always seem to lift me up when I feel my lowest; just like today." He gave it a small, affectionate squeeze. "...I've done nothing to deserve such a wonderful friend."
Though the glow in her cheeks became brighter with each word he spoke, the queen still managed to find a smile. "...Thank you," she muttered. Then, eager to change the subject before Link somehow found a way to fluster her even further, she reached over to top off his cup. "You know, Captain Oswald is nearing retirement age, and they're thinking of promoting you to take his stead."
At this, Link nearly spat out his tea. "W-What!?" he asked, flabbergasted, "Are you serious!?"
Zelda giggled at his reaction. "Yes, I'm serious! Your precociousness with a blade hasn't gone unnoticed, and neither has your kind and noble nature."
The young knight began to furiously shake his head. "N-No way," he said, "I'm no leader - you can't possibly be thinking about putting me in charge of a whole squad...!"
"The other captains seem to think differently," said Zelda, sipping her tea with a knowing glint in her eyes, "especially after their queen put in a good word for you."
"Zelda!" Link hung his head and groaned in embarrassment. "At least tell me I won't have to wear that gaudy armor with the horns."
She frowned at him slightly. "It's not gaudy; the captains' suit a symbol of utmost courage and valor." Then, her lips curled into a wry grin. "Besides, I think you'll end up looking quite dashing in it."
Now it was Link's turn to blush. He looked away awkwardly for a moment; then, he began to laugh, his shoulders shaking as he did so. "Haha... you really think I would, huh?" He looked back at her, the gratitude he felt in spite of his bashfulness shining in his blue eyes. "Well, if you say so, Zelda, then I guess I can't argue."
With a nod of her head, Zelda placed a hand to his bangs and rustled them affectionately. Though he had expressed his thankfulness in words many times, that single look was all she needed to know that she could still bring her friend the joy he so richly deserved after his many hardships; and that thought warmed her on this cold winter day far more than even the flames of her hearth.