“You weren’t kidding,” Draga says, under his breath, through the corner of his mouth, to Zelda alone.
She doesn’t react, just kind of smiles. Link is already off his horse and jogging toward the town square where no less than six people are already waiting to greet him. There’s a large mustachioed man who slaps him on the back. Behind him: a Gerudo woman who puts a hand on Link’s shoulder, for just a moment, and nods. There’s a bright green Rito who catches Link’s arm and tries to drag him toward a storefront, enthusing about something. He is confounded, however, by a Goron who busts through the crowd and literally picks Link up in a bearhug. Screams of protest go up immediately from the assembled villagers, who pry a gasping Link from the embrace.
“He helped build the town?” Draga mutters.
“Hmm, my understanding,” says Zelda slowly, “is that he helped fund it and find likely residents.”
“Is that a Zora?” Draga says, squinting.
“I said Link grew up with them, did I not? He calmed all four Divine Beasts – he has friends in every corner of this kingdom.”
Draga shakes his head. “Seeing it is different.”
Zelda dismounts and goes about tying the lead at a horse-post by the bridge. Tarrey Town is improbably located on a high butte in the middle of a lake in the Akkala Region, accessible only across a long, natural stone arch bridging the main road to the lovely circle of homes and businesses overlooking the sunken ring of the lake. Draga ties his stallion – Arbiter, no longer nameless after the last month – at his own post across the street. They make their way toward the crowd where Link is digging things out of his pack, frowning at the names on the packages, then passing them out. He perks up at their approach, dropping his bag into the Rito-man’s arms with a ‘just one sec’ gesture.
“This is only because you brought seedcake,” the Rito says, hefting the bag.
Link gives him an exaggerated thumbs-up which earns him a groan and the Rito promptly puts the bag down, steps lightly on it, claws closing in the straps, then rather unnecessarily takes off straight up, eliciting more screams of offense from his fellow villagers now buffeted by the backdraft. The mustached man and the Gerudo woman (who appear to be a couple) are the first to approach, ignoring the commotion and waiting for Link to enthusiastically introduce them. He’s a bit flushed from the Goron crushing, but determinedly chipper nonetheless.
“Hudson and Rhondson,” he says, gesturing to the man and woman in turn. “This is Zelda and Draga.”
“Charmed,” Hudson says and nothing else, though he does sound and look genuinely charmed.
Rhondson sighs, speaking in a warm alto. “Hudson is the city engineer and mayor. He welcomes you formally to Tarrey Town. He’s also my husband, so if I give the impression I’m going to toss him in the lake, know that it’s from a place of boundless love and respect.” She says all this with the driest and flattest possible tone humanly possible.
Draga clears his throat to cover up a laugh.
Rhondson notices and the corner of her mouth twitches up. “Vasaaq, veti’neri. Amara’Rhondson, Que con’vaq no?”
Draga nods in a way that’s somewhat formal. “Vasaaq, veniri.” He seems a little wary, but Rhondson’s eyes are warm, listening intently. “Mer’Draga. Shalay vatii.” And then in Hylian he says, “It’s good to cross your path, sister.”
She nods back, genuinely smiling now. “And yours.” She looks sharply at Link. “Though it may be to your misfortune to cross paths with this one; he’s completely insane and not in good proper way, just insane. I watched him hang-glide from the cliffs here to the beachhead across the lake because someone,” here she glares over at a well-to-do looking man in a pink and gold robe, “convinced him the Guardians down there were a threat to be wiped out. He did it for twenty rupees.”
“Hey,” Link starts to protest. “It wasn’t –”
“That sounds like him,” Zelda says.
“I believe you,” Draga agrees.
Link rolls his eyes, then notices that the Zora from before is standing just outside the ring of people, waiting.
Zelda catches Link’s eye and nods so he can slip out of the group to speak with him – a bent tribesman, red scales dulled with age, fins drooped by the centuries. Zelda laughs at something Rhondson says, but manages to watch them sidelong, catch the old Zora very gently taking Link’s arm in hand. He’s saying something. Link lowers his head, but the elder Zora keeps speaking until Link’s shoulders tense. And then Zelda knows. Without hearing a word, she knows the Zora knows everything, absolutely everything, and is thanking him for the full and terrible totality of it – for Calamity, for Mipha, for her standing here, for the whole awful history.
Link looks away and so does Zelda.
“This town is quite diverse,” Zelda says, brightly as she can. “It reminds me of Castle Town. I mean the stories they used to tell – how so many merchants and traders from all corners of the realm would come there together. A city of a hundred languages.”
Here Hudson strokes his mustache. “Well…” he says, then doesn’t go on.
“Yes, dear?” Rhondson presses. “Finish your thought?”
“Reckon Bolson and Co got a plan about that.”
“There’s people you know, who want to rebuild it. Talk outta Lanayru that Calamity is gone.” He shrugs. “Might be I chat with Link about it. He’s crazy. He won’t be scared to scout build sights in Guardian turf.”
Draga looks sidelong at her.
“You won’t have to hire us,” Zelda says, “Link and I came from that way recently and I can tell you firsthand about the state of Hyrule Castle.” Zelda notes that a small quiet begins to fall. She pretends not to notice. “I can tell you with certainty that the castle is clear and all Ganon’s corrupted technologies lie dead in the country, truly.” There is a rapt silence, every person the village now listening. “If you and your people want to remake Castle Town, then Hylia’s blessings would be surely upon you. The Calamity is gone.”
Murmurs run through the crowd then, excited but wary. One hundred years of hope held tight. An old woman hobbles forward, her husband beside her. She peers up at Zelda.
“My name is Monari. Did you say your name is Zelda?”
“Like the lost Princess?”
“Are you a priestess of Hylia?”
“Something like that, yes. There are no temples left.”
“Was it Link?” Monari asks. Her voice quickens and creaks a little with excitement. “People said… they said that he set off for Hyrule Castle, like so many others before. So was it him?”
Zelda glances at Link. He is listening with an anxious kind of body language. He hesitates, then makes a single back and forth gesture with one hand, shaking his head gently. He mouths, “C’mon…” and this time she can’t get around it.
Zelda sighs. “It was Link and I. Together.”
Monari’s face crinkles with warmth. She reaches out two hands, palsied with age and soft when she takes Zelda’s fingers into hers. Her dark eyes are bright, wonderfully clear for her age.
She says, “I never thought I would see the day. But here it is. Well done, my girl.” She smiles as the gathered people begin to laugh suddenly, begin to hug, begin to celebrate with a volume and abandon that Zelda hadn’t readied herself for. And she’s not ready, again, for the tears when Monari says repeats, gripping her fingers proudly, “Well done, Zelda.
“They still aren’t aware you’re the same princess and knight of legend.”
Draga says this quietly, two fingers against his temple, thumb against his jaw, elbow braced again his knee. He’s sitting cross legged on the cobblestones facing her and his eyes in the firelight catch like the ocean in summer.
It’s three in the morning and most of the town’s settled down from the impromptu celebration which involved three bonfires, a pot luck buffet, singing, dancing in the square, far too much drinking, and at one point Fyson the Rito did a serious of impressive aerial stunts with a fruit pie that ended with the fruit pie hitting Greyson the Goron at terminal velocity. After that, it was mostly chaos and riotous drinking until none but a few drunken stragglers remain.
It was, in all, a good night.
There is a statue of Hylia in the center of town – carved stone, a shrine like in many settlements. The feet are covered now in flowers wreathes, fruit, and gifts. Zelda is sitting at the foot of the alter, nursing a cup of wine and Link’s asleep with his head on her shoulder. He’s heavy enough that it’s starting to be uncomfortable, but she can’t bring herself to possibly disturb him so she sits with a wreath on her head, hands smelling like lavender and incense, her fingers orange with crushed petals and prayer oils. A dozen-dozen hymnals given in joy through the night. It’s intoxicating as the honey wine and lessens the sting of personal hypocrisy just enough.
“They didn’t ask,” Zelda says, reaching up to gently run her fingers across Link’s temple, moving his hair behind his ear.
Draga shakes his head. “You are strange. Does accepting thanks under your true name so bother you?”
“My true name will bring strife to this country.”
“It will. I prefer to tell people the danger is gone as we travel. Leave people the… simplicity of victory.”
She lifts the wine cup, a little unsteadily. Her words are coming sticky from her tongue. She has to count them out as she speaks. Draga’s completely sober of course, despite having had a bottle or two to himself. Link’s asleep mostly because, as usual, he ate too much so he’s sleeping it off in a digestive coma. He smells like smoke and whatever it was Rhondson kept burning in the fire – some mineral to make the air heady and sweet. Zelda needlessly tucks Link’s hair behind his ear again; there’s a green feather in his hair – a token from Fyson. Zelda feels warm everywhere. Her face, her hands, her insides.
“I’m drunk,” she announces, a little proudly.
“Yes,” Draga says, amused. He picks up another wine bottle near his knee and offers it.
She waves him away. “Oh no. I’ve had more than enough… ceremonial wine. Thank you.” She finishes off her glass, then sets it down. “Do you think, you can… help me carry Link to bed without waking him?”
“I think he might punch me if he wakes up carried by unknown persons.”
“You’re probably right.”
She starts to touch his shoulder.
“But don’t…” Draga holds up a hand. “Don’t wake him yet. It’s fine for a moment longer.”
She sits quietly, hands in her lap instead.
“Zelda, do you and Link ever plan to face what you’ve accomplished in its entirety?”
“Why? Why not let it be legend? Let the ancient heroes rest all together?”
“Well, the Zora for one,” Draga says dryly. “I spoke with Kapson a little. He’s five-hundred and some years of age and he remembers Link as a child. He remembers you as you were the Commander of the Champions, your visitation to Zora’s Domain, your training with Mipha. All of Zora’s Domain knows you two as the very same heroes of old.” He lets that hang for a moment. “The Zora trade routes are opening again, so rumors are spreading.”
“Even if some people believe, no one will demand anything of us if we demand nothing of them.”
Draga nods. “I’m glad to hear that. You’ve earned some peace.”
Zelda laughs a little. “Well, I can’t just sit around collecting… what are these…? Ornamental bouquets and the like. I have a duty to help my people so it’s unlikely I will be taking luxurious… luxurious… um… holidays. Yes.” She swats her knee in victory, pointing. “That. I won’t be doing that.”
Draga tilts his head. “Why not?”
“It wouldn’t be right, Draga. It wouldn’t be… appropriate.”
“After one-hundred years of battle,” he says slowly, “a sabbatical is not appropriate?”
Zelda frowns at him. “Yes, Draga. It would not be right for me to just do nothing.”
He’s eyeing her. “Hmm, you should probably lie down.”
Zelda waves a hand. “I’m fine. Don’t fret about me.” She tries to brush her hair out of her face, gets orange flower dye on her nose. “Oh, this silly… goodness, I’m quite tipsy aren’t I? How embarrassing. I’m glad Link isn’t awake to see it.” She checks to make sure Link actually is not awake to see it. “Yes. Glad he’s not awake. Some priestess of Hylia I am, getting drunk and giggly after a few thanksgiving rituals. Back in my day, proper priestesses could out drink the average soldier. True fact. Maids of mirth and spring, they were called. Sisterhood of the Field. Girls of the Green.” She hiccups. “Oh goodness.”
Draga chuckles. “They sound like the war-maids of the Highlands, though, war-maids handled far more than liquor in their celebrations.” He leans back, arms braced behind him as he recollects. “I remember… seeing a battle troop when I was a child. I thought they were the Eight Heroines.”
Zelda peers curiously. “Not the Seven?”
Draga shakes his head. “No. I grew up in the Highlands before I was sent into the deep desert. The Eighth Heroine is honored in the Gerudo Highlands, so I knew her. All my family honored the lost sister in those days.”
Draga shrugs. “I honor her.”
“Does your family not believe anymore?”
Draga looks at her, almost surprised. “None of them are left, Zelda.”
“Oh. Oh, I’m…” She fumbles. “I’m sorry, Draga. I didn’t…”
“No, that’s my fault. I thought I told you…”
“No. I didn’t know.”
“Ah, I told Link and neglected to tell you.” He waves a hand, rolling over so he’s lying on his back, stretched out on the stones beneath the night sky. He’s so big his boots are disturbing a few of the doused lanterns lining the opposite walkway, his head cushioned by a carpet of flowers around the shrine. “It was a long time ago,” he says. “You shouldn’t feel badly mentioning it. We are all three of us the last in our lines.” He’s looking at her now, at Link too. “People like us – we should stick together while we can.”
Zelda feels her pulse rabbit, warmth flooding her face. “Yes, I… that would be good. I know Link would appreciate it.”
He continues to look at her, then abruptly swaps to his native language. “Have you told Link how you feel – that there’s some suggestion of pre-determination in the three of us meeting?”
“I wouldn’t go as far as that,” she rejoins, carefully.
“I might,” he says. His tone is not… serious but not light. “I dream sometimes, not in prophecy, but when there are forces at work in the world near me. I am aware of them. I am aware of you two in that way – like candles at the edge of a table and I am never unaware of it.” He looks at Link, who’s still asleep against her shoulder. “I still find it strange you haven’t shared this with him. It’s not as though he’s unaware of it in an unrefined manner. He knows instinctively what we know intellectually about the rules of arcana. He senses connection.”
Zelda’s heart jumps again, but not in the nice way it did before.
Draga keeps speaking, without production or judgement. “I’m simply saying, things might be clearer more quickly if you just told him as much.”
“I will,” she murmurs. She loops an arm up behind Link’s back, laying a hand against his shoulder in such a way that she can pull him a little closer. She feels him turn his head a little against her neck, his breath against her collarbone. She sighs. “I just… I would like him to be free of such a thing for a little while longer.”
“Free of what?” he says in Hylian now.
“Pre-determination. Destiny. Just… meddling.”
Draga arches a brow. “Meddling?”
“Yes, meddling. The goddess or her acolytes.”
Draga rolls onto his side, propping his chin on his fist. “It’s not necessarily the gods. When was the last time either of you crossed paths with anyone inclined to magic?”
“Then be at ease. Power attracts power; tell him that. Read nothing divine into it.” He shrugs. “I don’t.”
“Draga, your magic…” She shakes her head a little. “You don’t have to tell me why this is, but when I look at your power through the lens of my own ability…I don’t know its shape. I feel it working. I see it sometimes, but it’s… at such a depth within you. I see its effects, like wind in the trees, a course of water turned aside, some small or great change made with… such terrible exactness. It seems so strange…”
“No, it’s just not Hylian,” he says simply. “The Gift runs in my bloodline, much like yours. It’s taken years of focus to find absolute control. And in having such, I have reached the limits of my strength.” His tone takes on a slightly bitter edge. “If I were to expand my power, I would need to call on greater forces than myself and I am not willing to do it.” He looks at her. “I’m stupid that way.”
She doesn’t mean to laugh. It just happens.
He gives her a half smile. “You and Link should come with me when I return to Gerudo Town. It would be honored if you were there as witness.” He shrugs. “And if Link is a friend of Riju and the Gerudo then… honestly, it may help my case before her council.”
“I see,” Zelda cajoles. “Using us for our connections. I see how it is.”
He snorts. “I mean, what else are you good for?”
“How dare you. Cooking! We are good for that.”
“Link is good at cooking. Not you.”
“Eh, I can fight well enough without you two and your… dramatics.”
“Link is mostly mute and when he’s not, he enjoys puns.”
“We’re both… very attractive,” she sputters, not exactly sure why she went for that one. It just seemed… there.
Draga eyes her. He really looks at her. He’s just kind of lounging there, like a mountain lion might do were it a solid, seven-and-a-half-foot person in boots and good traveling gear. She is, of course, red-faced and swaying, trying to glare back while her arm goes numb because Link’s been leaning on it. Draga kind of… looks her up and down with just his eyes. Then he casts the same lazy inspection over Link – still dead asleep, arms folded across his stomach, one leg drawn up, his face pressed against her bare shoulder where her sleeve slid down. She’s not sure why she hadn’t noticed until Draga looked directly at it – the spot where Link’s jaw is resting against her shoulder, skin to skin. She’s not sure why that, of all things, would be worthy of hyper-focus and yet…
Draga gives a dismissive shrug. “Eh.”
Zelda uses such force to hurl a flower wreath at him, she wakes Link in an alarmed flail.
Draga just laughs.
They find trouble in the Eldin Foothills.
“Link! Wait! There’s too many –!”
Too late. Link and Epona are racing full speed down the hill, charging with speed and power that seems impossible for the stocky mare. Zelda curses as her own steed, Maru, canters backwards from the scent of blood and Moblins. Arbiter, however, is unshaken. The massive stallion charges down the hill after Link, Draga urging the beast to a terrifying speed that gains ground even on Epona’s seasoned pace. There’s a storm on the edge of the horizon, cresting the Eldin mountain range. A flash of lightning over Death Mountain illuminates in bone white the sight that set Link off:
The ruined merchant caravan in flames. Corpses stacked on the roadside. Rage make her knight blind to the army in front of him – bristling with halberds, twenty, no, thirty Bokoblin deep. Five mounted archers. Two Moblins rising up from their feeding – jaws dark with blood and vague, predatory intelligence. Link doesn’t see that though, Zelda knows. He’s seeing the next hundred moves in killing them all.
Draga’s not blind though and he doesn’t seem to have one-hundred moves in mind.
He drags Arbiter into Epona’s wake, lifts one fist over his head. Zelda feels the world flex. He clenches it.
The ground explodes under two of the mounted archers. They scream, flung fifty feet up, the horses shrieking and bucking even as they fall into the company and crush five more. Link fires off an explosive round into the heart of the raider cluster and blows three to screaming hunks of meat. Then he swings right with Epona and Draga swings left with Arbiter, flanking around the edge of the group and by then the Gerudo has the hooked claymore in hand. He’s rising in his saddle, the blade rising up with him. He runs down the remaining mounted archers in seconds. He doesn’t duck their arrows. The bolts glance off him like they’ve struck steel and before they realize their mistake – the power protecting him – Draga cleaves them both in half. One swing.
Then he bears down on the rest of the mob.
Link, in the same time, puts three arrows in three skulls before Epona tramples through two Bokoblin. She whips around into a tight galloping half-circle, confusing the white-backed Moblin at the center of the group. Towering tall as a house, the beast thrashes its jackal head and roars. Link’s already round its back, then the front – arrow nocked to the string, he puts two bolts in its throat. When it bucks back, blood spraying from the wound, he puts two self-igniting rounds in its ribs then kicks Epona into a figure-eight as the beast burns from the inside out.
He loops around the second, larger Moblin at the head of the group.
This one, wielding a sword and a shield the size of a door, sees him coming.
Link isn’t bothered. He fires off two shots, the shafts ricocheting off the shield, keeps Epona at full gallop, her hooves cutting up the turf with the speed of the maneuver. She dives down suddenly and in the same moment, Link steps one foot from the stirrup and onto the cantle. Epona then rears in the same instant Link’s other foot finds the swell and the force launches him up, over the top of Moblin’s shield. Link puts one shaft through the beast’s right eye and drops. He hits the ground rolling and comes up with the blade in hand, shield hooked to his arm as the Moblin rears, roaring but not dead.
Three foot-soldiers charge him.
Link twists as a pike strikes for his ribs but catches the edge of the shield. Too close. Link spins, once, against the length of the weapon and his blade finds the lancer’s throat. He steps again, pivots, hacks down a wounded blue-hide, then slams his sword through a white-hide Bokoblin’s gut. He ignores the death-flails, talons catching the side of his head. He just rears back and slams the edge of his shield into the monster’s snout, crushing its face and smashing it into the mud. He’s breathing hard now, turns his attention back to the Moblin as it goes rabid, foaming at the mouth, maddened by the bolt in its brain.
Link starts forward at a run.
But Draga – having finished off the rest of the mob in the interim – gallops in behind the giant and brings his sword down on its neck as he passes. Link skids to a stop as the head rolls to his feet. Draga circles with Arbiter, blood running the length of the blade, the only sign he’s been in battle at all.
Link ignores the question. He sheathes the sword, slinging his shield over his shoulder as he races through the wreckage.
“Link,” Draga calls, “Link!”
Zelda knows exactly where he’s going.
She’s already there in fact – pulling bodies off the top of the heap, checking each one as she does for some sign of life. She’s not sure when her arms became strong enough for the task of dragging a dead man from a funeral pyre, when she got the strength to carry a girl her own age (not her age, the age she once was) and lay her body down in the grass. When she looks up, Link’s too close. He catches her around the waist and pulls her away, hooks an arm around her chest and drags her. He has to throw her in the grass up the hill to hold her back, grab her arms when she pushes him.
“They’re gone!” he shouts. He’s bleeding from a wound she can’t see in his hairline. “Zelda! Stop!”
She hits him. “You stop!” She slaps him. Like any of it was his fault. “No!”
He’s pinning her, arms around her, mostly with his weight. He’s not a very big person, so she’s not sure how he can weight this much. She kicks until she can’t, until she’s raw from shouting, and his blood is soaked through her shirt. Then just lies there, staring at the thunderhead rolling over Hyrule Field knowing that it will takes hours to ride back to a settlement, days for word to reach the next of kin, and after one-hundred years, time is rushing away from her.
“Damn,” she whispers.
Link pulls back just enough so he’s looking her in the face.
Draga is climbing the hill behind them, but stops to wait. Watching.
“I’m okay.” She reaches up and with two fingers pushes his hair back so she can see where the blood’s running from, careful to avoid the glow of heat across his cheekbone. “That’ll scar,” she says, “unless I heal it. Help me up.”
Link takes her hands and pulls her to her feet.
Three days later, they have a nightmare.
This time, Zelda jerks awake, lathed cold with sweat and shaking. The moon is silver in the sky above. She lies there, breathing too fast and biting back the scream that sits in her like a nesting animal. She smells chemicals – sulfuric and mercury in her throat. Not real. Not real. She swallows and rolls over to find Link still sleeping, but fitful. He’s tossing his head a little, hair stuck to his sweat-sticky skin, lips parted with fast shallow breathing that occasionally breaks on a low, anxious moan.
She rolls out of her sleeping cot.
She starts to touch his shoulder.
Draga is sitting up, looking at her from across their small camp. “Don’t touch him.”
She blinks and sits back on her heels as the other man gets up and moves quickly to Link’s side, kneeling so he can lean over him. He quickly yanks something unseen from Link’s hand opposite her. She realizes, far too slowly, that it was the hilt of the sacred sword. He was holding it in his sleep. Draga assigns no drama to this, just puts it aside, grips Link by the biceps and give him a solid shake. Link wrenches once, violently, in the other man’s grasp but Draga is braced for it and just leans back slightly.
“Link?” he says calmly.
Link, laying, panting in the grass but awake now, just nods. Draga lets go, stands up, and moves away from him.
Zelda shifts forward then. “You okay?”
For a moment, Link just lies there, staring up at her. A weird emotion crosses into his eyes. He starts signing, slowly, “Did you see Draga?”
He takes care to spell Draga’s name instead of pointing physically at the man, who is crouched nearby, tossing new logs on the fire and pretending not to listen to their one-sided conversation.
Zelda tilts her head, then shakes it slowly. “In the dream…? No? What do you mean?”
He shakes his head ‘never mind’ then stands up.
‘Going on a walk,’ he signs. He takes the divine blade, slinging it over his shoulder and, when he notices the looks she and Draga are giving him, he clears his throat and says, “I’m fine.”
“He’s not fine,” Draga says once Link is out of earshot.
“I know,” Zelda says. “But I’m not sure what to do about it.”
Draga grunts and moves to stand up, stretching slightly. “That’s because you’re both green.”
Zelda draws up, offended, but… relieved at his tone: conversational. Unconcerned. “You are at the end of your Pilgrimage. You’re… no more than twenty-three. I am over one-hundred years old; you can’t call me ‘green’.”
“You can’t order a drink at a bar.”
Zelda mutters under her breath, then says, “So what’s your adult opinion on our situation?”
Draga shrugs. It’s like a mountain being indifferent. “Does he drink?”
“He didn’t drink at Tarrey Town. I get the feeling Link would be a talkative drunk.”
“You’re ridiculous,” she snaps, flopping back into her cot and glaring at the canopy. “I don’t very well imagine Link would appreciate you… you scheming about getting him drunk.” Her words don’t have any teeth and they both know it. She sighs. “I actually have never seen him drunk. For all I know, he would be talkative.” A beat. “Well, I guess there was that one time with the frog…” She regrets saying that immediately when Draga’s eyebrows go up. “Not that I’m condoning your terrible methods! Only pointing out that for all our familiarity there is still… a lot I don’t know about him and he about me.”
“So, I take it you two aren’t sleeping together?”
Zelda jack-knifes into a sitting position. “Excuse me?!”
“No.” Draga scratches his chin. “I thought not.”
“That is an extremely personal question.”
“Is it?” He wrinkles his nose. “I guess we’re more pragmatic about that kind of thing in Gerudo culture and since you’ve both confessed to being hundred-year-old figures of legend… questions about your personal life seem fair game to me.”
“We’re friends! I’ve said that before!”
“Right, but friends can still sleep together.”
Zelda feels her face getting red. “We don’t.”
Draga chuckles. “So you don’t think Link is attractive?”
“Oh please, every man woman and Zora in the kingdom fawns over him. Leave me out of it.” A beat. “Why are we even talking about this? We were talking about… about battle recovery. I’m sure this was brought on by the fight is all.”
Draga tilts head. “Back on mission, little sister. You’re very one-track minded, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I just might mind it,” she grits.
“I’m talking about whether you sleep together, because I was curious if you two have interests outside of this endless gauntlet of service and battle you’ve dedicated yourselves to.” Draga’s tone is not teasing now. “I am asking, if you’ve really removed yourselves from fighting long enough to heal.” Draga points into the tree line. “Link sleeps like a soldier, has nightmares like a one. You can’t seem to sleep at all. You both carry your wounds well, but you don’t have to.”
“I am not wounded,” Zelda whispers.
“You don’t fight for one-hundred years and walk away unwounded, Zelda.”
“I am fine! Link… Link is the one who –” Died. “The one who had to fight. If anyone needs help it would be him, not me.”
“I wager if I asked him about you, he would say the exact same thing.”
“You don’t understand.”
“Of course I don’t,” Draga says calmly. “How could anyone? You two are displaced in time and goddess-chosen. I’ve known you just long enough to learn the latter and had I another hundred years, I don’t know if I could ever advise you how to carry such experience.” He sighs, some of the tension leaving his stance and he drops one hand to his hip. “But… were you both simply… warriors in my command: I would tell you to lay down your arms and rest –”
Zelda kicks off her blankets and comes to her feet.
“I was a commander! We failed so the fault is mine. I failed my entire kingdom and the least I can to is just…” She stares into her empty palms and drops them as fists. “The least I can do is help them now.” She’s mortified. Her entire face is hot. She jams the heels of her hands against her eyes, like she can shove the tears away, drag them across her temples like war paint. She throws her arms down. “Don’t you dare tell me to stop! I can’t do that. I don’t get to lay down anything because I’m Zelda Bosphoramus and that is my… my duty!”
Draga’s expression is neutral, listening. She can’t glean anything from it.
“I appreciate what you’re saying and… I’m sorry yelled.” Zelda gets her breathing under control, pushes her hair behind her ears. “I just can’t agree with you there. I do agree… that Link deserves time to stop, but I just don’t know how to tell him that and make him understand that I can do this alone for a while. That’s the real problem. Alright? I just keep… dragging him into this and he shouldn’t have to.”
Draga’s not looking at her. He’s looking past her.
Dread takes root in her tongue.
It takes her a full two seconds to get the courage, then she looks over her shoulder where (of course) Link is standing at the edge of the camp, one hand against the trunk of an oak tree, just… looking at her. And she can’t read the look on his face – one of those blank canvas stares meant to be projected into, the kind he developed over years of pressure and politics, onto which any person could imagine their best version of him and keep the faith. It makes her want to hit him when she sees it. Then that makes her hate herself, because she’s the reason he’s looking at her like that.
“Link?” she says. She turns to face him. “I wasn’t calling you a problem. That’s not what I –”
He makes an abortive hand-gesture so she stops talking. When he’s sure he has her attention he raises his hands and she knows what he’s going to say before he begins the gentle palm-tilted sweep: ‘Not your fault –”
Zelda covers her face so she can’t see. No. That’s not fair. She forces herself to lower her hands. “I was in command. The fault will always be with me, Link. The Champions, Hyrule’s army, you – all those deaths… it’s all my responsibility. It’s fine. I’ve always known –”
Link shakes his head.
“Yes, it is.”
He just shakes his head again.
“Stop saying that!” She wipes the tears running tracks down her face. “How can you say that?”
Link moves forward to put a hand on her shoulder, tries says something, but his voice doesn’t come through. He breathes out angrily. Then with his hands, he signs, ‘Because I say it to myself.’ He dips his head a little, mirroring her a little, making certain she’s looking at him, that she sees him. ‘It is not your fault.”
Zelda becomes aware of her nails digging into her palms only when Link takes her fists in his palms. He just keeps looking at her, until her fingers unwind and, eventually, fold into his. He holds her hands tightly, until her bones ache, until the calm fixed-point blue of his stare draws down the rage behind her teeth. She’s breathing hard. Simultaneously, she can’t breathe. Something visibly buckles in Link’s calm. He drops her hands, grabs her head between his hands and – He’s never done that before. Touched her that suddenly, without forewarning, in a quiet moment. She can’t remember the last time Link ever – he drops his forehead against hers.
“Stop,” he says. His breath against her face warms the bridge of her nose. “Stop thinking.”
She bursts out laughing
She’s not sure. She doesn’t care. She’s too tired. Zelda just sobs and drops her forehead against his shoulder, lets Link loop his arms around her and just… hold her there for a moment. He lays his cheek against the top of her head and his shirt smells like cotton and grass and the pressure on her ribs and shoulders will never be enough. The quick, brotherly kiss in her hair will never be enough. If she put her lips on his, put her mouth on every inch of skin, her hands on every part of him, it would never be enough to explain this phantom pain – like she was supposed to be him. Like they were supposed to be something else, together. There’s not a word for that.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”
She can feel, even though she cannot see, that Draga left some time ago. She knows, but can’t explain how she knows, that he won’t come back until the morning. When he comes back after dawn, he’ll find them sleeping like dead things under a pile of blankets, Zelda’s head against Link’s chest where the constant steady rhythm reassures her the world did not end. It’s the longest she’s had slept in months.