Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Music when Soft Voices Die (To --)"
Zelda's story, at the end of it all, begins in an open field.
After the fell Calamity Ganon has been banished from her most beloved land, she drifts serenely back to the castle as if still within in a particularly remarkable dream. Though she does not look over her shoulder, she knows that Link signals for his steed to stay behind and follows in her wake. His measured footsteps sink into the grass in a way that nearly makes it breathe, as though his presence has awakened an ancient life stirring beneath the earth.
The both of them are weary, and their clothes are caked with dirt and blood, and every few steps Link will let out a restrained noise of pain, but still Zelda continues on, one sore foot in front of the other. Her balance wobbles periodically, as though she has been at sea for too long and her body no longer remembers the sensation of existing upon something solid and constant.
The one time she stumbles, Link’s hand is at her back, easing her back to herself.
It occurs to her that perhaps she should say something, but the perfect phrase eludes her, and so she does not speak at all—she only turns her head, and lays her hand on his, and after holding his gaze for a moment too long, nods her gratitude, and keeps walking.
When she comes to a halt at the edge of the moat, hearing the water stir below, her neck caressed by the late afternoon breeze, she exhales through her nose until all of the breath in her is spent. Link lingers for a moment, wary of it still, before coming to stand two steps behind her, a respectable distance away.
Zelda does not look at him, instead letting her eyes wander over the remains of the fallen castle, only rubble and old moss now, purged of the Malice that had so long corrupted it. The setting sun dapples its crumbling bartizens and parapets, snarled in ivy and smoothed by decades of rain, and for a moment she cannot remember where her room had been, or where her father’s throne had stood.
She had been so many things within these vast stone walls, child and scholar and martyr—and, in due course, the venerated goddess' light made manifest, suspended in a bardo for a century, guided by voices she had not recognized but had still implicitly, mournfully known.
She had once chased her mother through a courtyard in which white roses grew, and had tried to pick one, and had pricked her finger; and her mother had said, That has always been our nature, little bird, to love the things we cannot touch.
Zelda has never been superstitious. Logic before fancy, always. She does not imagine for even a moment that her mother's spirit may still wander here, running its fingers along the stones and thinking, always thinking. Any ghosts that may have once resided in this place would be gone now anyway, driven to eternity at last by her battle with Ganon. Nevertheless, a chill runs up her arms and halts at her neck, and when she tips her head back, until her eyes fall on the tallest tower, she swears she can see something, or hear something, or feel something—something like forgiveness.
"Link," she murmurs, without thinking, and in an instant he is beside her, the Master Sword thudding once against his back. She turns to meet his eye, searching, unmoored. "I—I feel certain I'm about to cry and I'd rather you not see it."
Link's jaw tenses minutely, but his blue, blue gaze stays on her despite her words, heavy with understanding. Her shoulders feel borne upon with the weight of it, of all the things he does not say.
She wishes more than anything that she could collapse into his arms in good conscience, but it hardly feels fair, when there is still so much of him left behind in the Shrine of Resurrection, when so much had been evident in the silence before his answer to her single question: Do you really remember me? And so she stays where she is, though a part of her feels sure she will topple.
She wills the tears to come, for they ought to, oughtn't they?—Father, Urbosa, Mipha, Daruk, Revali, her people, her kingdom, gone, with only ruins and relics and myths to memorialize them—but they do not.
She had wailed and wept in Link's arms once, such a very long time ago. This is not the same. There is no rain, and no Great Calamity; no grief, no failure. There is only the memory of them, now.
Something in the nuances of Link's expression, still so very clear to her in the most bittersweet way, reveal an instinct that he is struggling to surmount: to reach out and lay a hand on her bare arm and pull her towards him, as though they are the oldest and dearest of friends, as though it can ever be that simple. To comfort him—and, in truth, her own heart, caught between anguish and an incandescent hope—she turns fully away from the castle, toward the green expanse of Hyrule Field, and breaks eye contact, curling her fingers.
“I'm not ready,” she whispers. “Not for this place. Not yet. I've spent so long within those walls, I—I fear I've forgotten the way they looked before they fell.”
She fists the dirtied fabric of her dress in both hands, looking down at the grass, at the scattered wildflowers, some of which are of species she does not recognize. She yearns for her old notebooks, for the ease of the long afternoons spent cataloguing flora in the wilderness, far from her father's shame and her mother's ghost.
“A century has passed.” Her voice, in spite of the wringing pain in her heart, is steady. “You have fulfilled your duty. Ganon is purged from this world. The spirit within the sword has gone silent—it is at peace.”
She cannot bring herself to look at him, for she knows that if she did, she would not be able to continue.
“Link, I… I absolve you of your station. Champion of Hyrule. Captain of the Imperial Guard. Last of the most proud and honorable Order of Royal Knights. I release you. Your life is yours, now. Fate imprisons you no longer, and—" Here, she breaks, despite her efforts. "And nor do I."
She doesn't really expect an answer, but the absence of one in the seconds after she finishes speaking cuts at her all the same.
Then, she hears a thump, and a trembling exhale, and she turns slowly to find Link genuflecting before her, head bowed in deference. It is the pose all royal knights were obliged to take before members of the royal family, and it is the one he had taken when she had declared him Hyrule's Champion with a dull bitterness in her throat. A silent oath of fealty.
A rush of wind tousles his hair and gathers at her back, catching in the folds of her gown. She almost lets it carry her straight to him.
"Oh, you fool," she murmurs, breath hitching, but she beams down at him, one hand darting to cover her trembling mouth. "Get up, Link, for pity's sake."
After a moment, one clearly intended to prove to her just how serious he is, he complies, rising back to his feet and regarding her with a resolute expression. Stubborn, more like. But after a moment, sensing her joy, he offers a hesitant smile, too.
And oh, what sight it is. She nearly flings her arms around him right then and there, that her heart may be closer to his, if only for a moment.
"You're certain?" she asks him, her knight, after a century, and she wipes subtly at her prickling eyes, though no tears have fallen. "Truly? After all this? After everything?"
He tells her that he has never felt more certain of anything, that even though his mind is still burdened by questions, and may be forever, there is no part of it that feels a hint of doubt as to this. He will follow her to the ends of the world they know, and further still. Yes, after all this. After everything. Always.
The wind rushes in from the distant sea, and fills the space between them, and for a passing instant, it carries to Zelda the essence of things long past, the voices of her dear friends and all those who came before, who sought the tranquility of this moment: the knowledge of a world free from Ganon. Like the flower that had always brought her such peace, they will survive in the wild for generations to come, long after she is gone.
It all feels a bit silly, truth be told. Sentimental, and hardly empirical. But conviction often exceeds reason. This she had realized wholly, unconditionally, in the suspended instant between pushing Link aside and raising her hand against the Guardian’s scope, when every atom of her, every thunderous throb of her unyielding mortal heart, had commanded fate itself not to take him. Not from her. Not then. Not yet.
Now she reaches out that same hand, smooth and sun-worn (with no trace of the holy symbol that had burned from it at her power’s awakening), to Link, spurred by the breeze, and smiles. He takes it in his without straying his eyes from her face, and she can feel calluses in places they had not been before. When he boosts her onto his horse's back, there is a moment that she feels as though she will be vaulted into the infinite sky, where both of them began, untold lifetimes ago, unremarkable and innocent.
Along the quiet road to Kakariko Village, lulled by the wind’s breath over the hills and the crickets conversing with the settling twilight, she is borne into an enveloping, untroubled sleep from which she will not wake for a fortnight, cradled between the horse’s neck and Link’s chest, where his brave heart still beats beneath the Champion’s tunic, as immutable as the earth, as time itself.
(“What a blessing it is,” Impa says, her brittle voice trembling with affection, as Link gently lays Zelda out upon the attic bed of her home, “that she should be granted peaceful rest at last. Won’t you try to get some as well, Link?”
Link politely evades her suggestion, instead sitting down at the foot of the bed with his hands in his lap and his eyes on the steady rise and fall of Zelda’s chest, and Impa does not press him. The years have taught her better.
However, when Paya ascends the stair by veil of night to fetch a candle, her eyes fall upon a scene she dares not disturb: Link, asleep on the floor beside the bed, one arm outstretched; and the princess, curled on her side, her hand dangling off the edge of the mattress so that her fingers are nearly brushing his. The rhythm of their breathing is unified, so seamlessly that they hardly seem separate. Paya does not find the candle, and five days later, in the middle of a pouring thunderstorm, Zelda is the first to stir.
“Wake up, Link,” she whispers, selfishly, fingers ghosting breathlike over his cheek, and he does.)
Zelda can remember three things about her mother.
First, that she had been the most marvelous dancer. Second, that sometimes she would let out a quiet, private laugh at nothing, and would not reveal what had prompted it even when pressed. Third, that of all the timeworn voices that guided her from the spirit realm, the Princess of Time’s was her favorite.
When her mother died, Zelda had been gripped by a profound and consuming fear that, as time carried on its thoughtless march unbothered, she would begin to forget the nuances of her existence. And, eventually, this was so, each flickering out more quietly and imperceptibly than the last: she can no longer recall the words her mother once used to describe a thunderstorm, nor the shadows that would settle on her face as she read a tome by candlelight, nor whether it had been sadness or nostalgia uncurling in her eyes while she hummed a lullaby, nor what the two of them had been doing on the autumn day when they left the castle and did not return until long after dusk.
It does not take long for her to understand that, though she cannot hold it all within the annals of her memory, she can choose what she preserves. Watching her mother’s casket (laden with mountain wildflowers and fir boughs) be borne on knights’ shoulders to a funeral pyre, she cannot bear to think on it, but as she grows older, and wiser, and more lonely, above all other facets, she chooses these: the dance, and the laugh, and the ghost.
She will meditate on them each day, to commit their impressions to her mind until they are as indelible as the bas-reliefs that line the castle walls and immortalize the stories of heroines far grander than she.
When she had turned thirteen, burdened by her inability to awaken her power, her father had sent her to the priory at the edge of the Great Plateau, within sight of the Temple of Time. It had been adjacent to the Eastern Abbey and in the yard was an apple tree that the nuns would reprimand her repeatedly for climbing.
The first time the nuns had sent her to pray to the goddess in solitude, in a thicket in the Forest of Spirits, she had done so eagerly and with a giddy heart, for she had always been certain that her mother’s spirit would come to her without delay, and that they would be together again at last, and that she would never again be alone.
She had knelt in the sacred grove for hours, hands clasped at her chest, but the only sound she had heard had been the stirring of a river beyond the huddled, whispering trees and the distant, mournful hooting of an owl. Bathed in the nacreous light of the waxing moon, worn by hunger and cold and the devastating weight of her own inadequacy, she had collapsed forward into the grass and wept like a child, begging for mercy, for an answer. The nuns had sent her home only a month’s time after that, confessing to the king that there was little they could do for a girl forsaken by the goddess. Patience, they had murmured, in weary, bewildered tones; patience. Wise and benevolent Hylia’s will was a mysterious one, and inner peace would only come with the acceptance of not knowing.
It had been in King Rhoam’s nature to eschew patience—-a virtue that, to him, was the enemy of fulfillment, and indeed of happiness itself; after all, it had been patience that had robbed him of so many days with his late wife and had kept him from asking her to stay behind from her surveys and expeditions, and it would certainly be patience that would impede his daughter’s holy power—something whose impediment could lead their world to eternal ruin.
“Diviners and scholars alike have presaged that Calamity Ganon will return within our lifetimes,” he had told the goddess’ clerics, who had bowed their somber heads and whispered holy prayers, as if to exorcise the echo of evil’s name from the air. “Patience could be what dooms us. How I wish we could afford patience. But we cannot.” More quietly, with eyes downcast and his broad face shadowed by despair, he had said, “I cannot.”
And none had known how to assuage him—Zelda least of all. The ride on horseback along the road back to Hyrule Castle had been heavy with silence, and her father had ridden several paces ahead of her, flanked by guards. She had stroked her dear white steed’s warm neck with one hand, tightening her grip on the reins in the other, and swallowed the compunction curdling in her mouth.
“I’m sorry, Father,” she had whispered to the ground, worrying her lower lip to keep the shame and grief in her throat from swelling into tears. “I shall keep trying.”
And oh, what a trenchant and singular curse it had been then and would always be, the vow to keep trying. She had tried until she froze, until she fainted, until she screamed in despondency, until she cried herself sore. And still her mother’s voice had not reached her. Hylia’s wisdom had not blessed her.
It had not been until Calamity Ganon swallowed her whole, and she had used this mistake to seal them both away, that at last the first whisper had grazed her soul like errant fingers, and from the moment she heard it, all others became clear as well, and spoke to her in a soothing, noble chorus: You have done so well, Hylia’s heart. Daughter of daughters. Rest now, and wait, and watch over the Chosen Hero’s slumber. Until you see him again—and you will, for the forests and the mountains and the canyons and the valleys all foretell it, in their proud, forgotten language—we will not leave your side.
And that had not been so bad, really. The past, to Zelda, has always been welcome company.
“Well, of the two of us, you’re the expert,” Zelda briskly declares, facing Link with her hands on her hips and a bulging satchel on her back, “so I ask you humbly: where shall we go first?”
It is just past dawn on the first day of their peregrinations, for Zelda had come to the conclusion the moment she woke in Kakariko Village that there would be no sense at all in claiming the throne to a kingdom estranged from her for a hundred years, and Link is staring at her with a hybrid of unconditional admiration and absolute bewilderment.
Much of the Hyrule she remembers is gone. In certain places, enough of it remains—in empty wells and crumbling balustrades and tattered, sun-bleached flags on crooked posts—that the absence of the whole fills Zelda with an aching, belated grief. She had scanned the map on Link’s Sheikah Slate frantically the night before, senseless sorrow turning to stuttering tears with each fort and temple and village now labeled ruins, ruins, ruins. After only a few moments she had lost the strength to look.
“It’s all right,” she had rasped after her tears were spent and Link had gently taken the Slate from her hands. When she had looked up at him, she had been smiling. He had not smiled back, only sighed, softly and helplessly, an apology. “It’s all right. We will rebuild.”
The we had come so naturally. Part of her feels selfish. But Link has yet to express any discomfort or resentment. In the moment, he had nodded at her, once, and she had known in an instant that he would follow her into anything. The guilt and love and gratitude rushing through her had gone, as ever, unspoken.
As to where they will go, Link has an accurate map and a wealth of suggestions, and Zelda weighs them each with equal consideration. At last, with a pang in her heart that might take the shape of Urbosa if she lets it, she decides on the Gerudo Desert.
They reach Kara Kara Bazaar by nightfall, beneath a swath of glimmering stars. The crescent moon reflects upon the still waters of the pond, and lanterns glow a warm and muted red, and all around there is the smell of patchouli. Link suggests resting at the inn, but Zelda’s inclination is to sleep outside nearby.
“I’ve been indoors quite enough to last a lifetime, I think,” she tells him, crooking an eyebrow, and he concedes with a nod and an oblique, affectionate smile that wrings at something in her chest.
They lay out their sleeping items so that they will be facing each other, head to head. Zelda lies beneath the blanket that Impa had given them and gazes at the canvas overhead, wistfully thinking of the tales she would hear as a child in which the spirits of those long gone made their homes amongst the celestial map, and gazed upon the land from their astral abodes, and laughed at the affairs of mortals.
As Link settles in behind her, she links her hands at her stomach and shifts, absorbing the sight, and says, only half-aware, “I find it a great comfort that there will always be stars.”
It sounds silly the moment she says it, but Link does not laugh. Instead, he makes a soft noise of agreement, craning his head back on the pillow to survey the heavens.
(Zelda remembers a time she had caught him reading one of her books, a dusty volume on astronomy, enthralled by a page on celestial navigation; she had made herself known almost regretfully, but it had been too early in their acquaintance for him to comfortably share his impressions with her, and so he had set the tome back on her desk with eyes downcast and given an apology in a voice hoarse from neglect. “That’s not necessary,” she had begun to say, but he had already marched out of the room to guard her door, and she had been, once again, alone with her ageless burden, aching more than anything for his company without truly knowing why.)
“We have lost so much,” she continues, eyelids sinking. “And so many. But… the stars haven’t changed a bit.” She tilts her head slightly, and the crown of it brushes his and stays there. “And neither have you.”
Link huffs out a breath that she recognizes as a humble laugh, but it seems only half-complete, as though he doubts her.
He says that he is glad to hear it, for in truth, he might not have known any better.
His voice is different than it used to be; it occupies the air so openly, unburdened by restraint, and Zelda can’t help wondering if this is how he sounded before the sword chose him in that bygone, ephemeral lifetime they both shared. He tells her, after a silence uncurls between them, that he often feels disconnected from the self he sees in his memories, like some sort of imposter—that it had troubled him, for a time, how very sad and weary he looked when no one was watching.
Zelda breathes out through her nose thoughtfully, eyes wandering back to the stars. Just above them is her favorite constellation, a huntress drawing back a bow to pierce the heavens. She would look at it long ago and feel she could do anything.
He asks her what she remembers.
“About you?” she asks, and he nods. It is muted by the sand.
She considers the question. There is so much she remembers about Link that it seems a daunting task to decide on where to begin. He exists outside of specific stories in her mind, comprised instead of incommunicable impressions; warm, idle days; the singular silence after a first snow; baked apples and wildberries; honesty and compassion and bravery and sacrifice.
But perhaps he has had enough of stories.
After a time, she says, “I remember you as kind.”
She feels him tense at that, startled, and can’t help but grin privately to herself, biting her lip.
“It took me far too long to see it,” she goes on. “Everyone told me that you were brave, and gifted with a sword, and strong beyond compare—but few of them spoke of your kindness. Or your appetite. Or how quickly you always fell asleep in a patch of good sunshine… honestly, at times it was a bit much…”
Link makes a wounded, embarrassed sound, covering his face with both hands, and Zelda laughs freely now, shaking merrily. Oh, how wonderful it feels to laugh with him again. It bursts out of her in excess.
“I’m sorry,” she manages, laying a hand on her stomach when it begins to ache. “I don’t know what’s come over me; I—”
Link shakes his head and tells her not to stop. Her heart trips giddily over itself at the note of wonder in his tone—but she carries on, overcome by memories of the silliest kind. Eventually, spent, she sighs fondly and reaches over her head to reassuringly (she hopes) stroke his shoulder, absentmindedly brushing aside some of his hair.
"I can't imagine what it must be like," she murmurs, almost sadly. "You with so few memories, and me with all too many. But I am going to swear something to you, Link, and I hope with all my heart that you'll believe me."
Link is quiet for a moment, but then he nods, humming his assent. Zelda lets her hand come to rest on his sleeve, and the angle is a little awkward, but she keeps it there, where his body warms it.
“Whoever you were then, you still are,” she says, “and whoever you are now, you have always been.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a shooting star; its trajectory carries it to the northeast, somewhere near the Great Plateau. Where it lands, there is a pillar of flickering, ethereal light, a patch of earth now made extraordinary.
She withdraws her hand, laying it atop the other, which fans out over her chest. Her heart beats beneath it, never daunted.
“And who you are is Link,” she says to him and to the vast, wild land that is now theirs to live in as they choose, “and I’m quite glad of that, personally.”
An errant wind stirs the sands, and something rare and indescribable, a marriage of hope and contentment, stirs within her, too.
When Link thanks her, it is almost as though he is thanking her for something larger and more meaningful; and she has never been thanked like that, as though she has changed something.
After a breakfast of hydromelon and palm fruit, they make their way along the rest of the winding, empty path to Gerudo Town. A few yards from the gate, Link steps behind a stone and reemerges in a diaphanous Gerudo vai disguise that he explains, in a conspiratorial whisper, is his only way of entering the city proper, and that though Riju and her guard Buliara were aware of his true identity, no other Gerudo were. Only his eyes are visible over the delicate veil covering his face, and Zelda cannot help but notice how pointedly they avoid a bespectacled young man reclining under an awning near the entrance who gives Link an utterly besotted look as the two of them pass the guards.
“Well, it certainly took you two long enough,” Lady Riju says the moment they cross the threshold of the palace.
Zelda likes her already.
After they’ve filled her in on their plans, Riju sets her chin in one hand and muses, “Traveling the world, you say?” She is young, but carries a power and resolve that exceed her years. Buliara is tall and terrifying and wonderful. “Well, I think that’s a fine idea. You can count the Gerudo among your allies in the years ahead, Princess, for whatever you need, whenever you need it.”
Her lips quirk up with sentiment. “I’m still learning, but… I think that’s certainly what Lady Urbosa would have wanted.”
Zelda can’t explain why, but Riju’s approval makes her heart swell with gratitude. They remain in Gerudo Town for three days, and Zelda sees Urbosa in every part of it, and feels her absence most at sunset, when all the world is nearly ignited, and it feels like a grief that will never leave her, at first. But still the Gerudo children tell stories of her, in hushed, admiring voices, and reenact her adventures beneath the arid desert sun so that they might make her watchful spirit proud, and perhaps that is enough.
Zelda’s inescapable guilt at having been absent for Hyrule’s destruction by the Calamity—the Age of Burning Fields, Link tells her they had called it, and she feels sick—and her floundering sorrow for having missed its recovery gather between her ribs without mercy and grip them until she nearly feels physical pain, despite her efforts. But only for a time.
The odyssey on which she sets out with Link by her side instead of two steps behind it are not the stuff of song or legend; they are not fraught with peril, nor, indeed, even bound by forethought. They wander, and talk, and learn how to live again, or perhaps for the very first time. She does not hear many voices anymore. They had done their part when it was needed, and now they will leave her be.
She entrusts herself to Link’s familiarity with the landscape, and she does not regret it for a moment. They travel to the Hebra Mountains next, making camp by huddling in caves secluded from the howling blizzards, and he teaches her to shield surf down the Kopeeki Drifts—though she spends a good portion of the lessons fallen on her rear in the snow, by the end of it she feels as though she is soaring, arms spread, stance firm, releasing a free-spirited, breathless laugh into the wind that chaps and flushes her face.
When they arrive in Rito Village, they are greeted by a minstrel named Kass, who chats with Link as though they are old friends. He has a brood of darling daughters who teach Zelda to make salmon meunière and insist on putting on a concert for them, in honor of their victory, and the trilling notes fill the cold night air like delicate bells, and Revali reigns still in sudden gales and thick, grand clouds.
Stables are plentiful now, and Link ropes Zelda into trying her hand at an obstacle course he was never able to complete. The gentle but swift descendant of her beloved white steed carries her effortlessly through the track with nearly fifteen seconds to spare. She uses the winnings from her victory to purchase a new journal from a traveling merchant that they pass on the path to the Lost Woods, and quickly begins scribbling in notes and sketches, committing each new plant to pages, writing notes by campfire light on the new dialects she hears and how they might have evolved from the languages she once spoke so confidently.
They take shelter from a crackling thunderstorm in Bronas Forest beneath a canopy of tremendous leaves, and swim in the Faron Sea until the sun begins to sink sleepily toward the horizon. Though the ancient Sheikah shrines have gone dormant again in the aftermath of Ganon’s defeat, Link still ignites Zelda’s imagination with the details of the ones he had entered, which number nearly one hundred and twenty, and he seems to delight in her insistence that he spare no detail.
They trek along the Tanagar Canyon Course until they reach the Forgotten Temple, and she lets her hands drift along the ancient stone walls, and feels her breath catch in her throat when she and Link behold Hylia’s first likeness, towering beyond them. They hike the uphill path to Zora's Domain and when Zelda sees the Zora children playing in the river, she feels as though Mipha is right beside her, leaning her head on her shoulder. Mipha's brother Sidon has grown into quite the dashing prince, but his smile is still the same, and Zelda finds more comfort in that than she can say. There is a statue of Mipha at the center of the square; when the tears come to Zelda's eyes as she talks fondly to it, they fall quietly and without fanfare.
They choke down Fireproof Elixirs and go to Goron City, where Zelda has the pleasure of meeting Daruk's descendant Yunobo, and where she feels a great swell of affection in her heart when she lays eyes on the likeness of Daruk that has been carved into a crag overlooking the settlement. The Gorons are as boisterous and welcoming as ever, already regaling her with the tale of how Link and Yunobo took on Rudania, and it is on this visit that Zelda smiles the most.
Each night they fall asleep side by side, under the stars or in the darkness of a cave or in separate beds in a warm stable, and each morning she wakes before him. The latter habit fills her with a strange nostalgia she can’t explain.
They reach Hateno Village on a chilly, misty morning, and Zelda is astonished to discover that Link owns a house there, of all things. He tells her, a bit bashfully, that it had been a costly undertaking, but that the idea of the old structure being knocked into rubble had gripped him with a profound, ferocious sadness, and that it had taken him longer than he would have liked to understand why.
It’s a simple, cozy abode, warmly lit by candles and the light from outside, and he has prized weapons mounted on the walls, Mipha’s delicate Lightscale Trident and Daruk’s magnificent Boulder Breaker and an ostentatious Ancient Bladesaw that sends her eyebrows shooting almost to her hairline. A small collection of books, mostly old stories and abridged history texts, are huddled on a shelf. There is a small kitchen area, with a rustic wood-burning stove and oven, and along the wall over it he has hung herbs and spices for drying. Bundles of firewood are gathered in a nook under the staircase.
Upstairs is the sleeping area, which features a quaint rug and a square window and a double bed with cotton sheets, and a long wooden bookcase upon which several framed photographs have been arranged.
He tells her that this place will always be here for her, that it is as much her home now as it is his. She only half-hears him, for it is at that moment that her eyes fall upon a photo laid upon his bedside table, and she recognizes it in an instant—it is the one Purah had taken after the Champions’ Ceremony, on that sunny day that had seemed at the time to hold so little consequence.
Revali, Daruk, Mipha, and Urbosa are captured in it exactly as Zelda remembers them—Daruk, merry and enormous, crowding them all together at the last second and grinning toothily; Revali, indignant at everything and nothing, caught in a rare moment of unguarded clumsiness; Mipha, wide-eyed and innocent, stumbling in front of Link with an expression of pure shock on her face; Urbosa, unbothered by their antics, her angular features relaxed into a fond and knowing smile; and Link, whose eyes were on her, and who looked nothing like the faultless, inscrutable knight she had once believed him to be, but instead a boy, embarrassed and unsure, watching her for reactions.
“You found this?” she whispers, heat prickling unbidden in her eyes, as she traces each of their figures with rueful fingers. “Link—how?”
Even when she hears the story, she can hardly bring herself to care. What matters is that it is here, now, in her hands, as real as it had been then. When she crawls into bed that night, after a moment, she softly invites Link to join her, unable to bear banishing him to the floor any longer. She wakes curled against him, and listens to the sparrows in the apple tree outside until he comes to.
They press on.
She holds audience with the Great Deku Tree, and feels so contented and so at peace gazing upon his branches that she almost does not want to leave. Link steps away to visit with Hestu, so that Zelda and the Great Deku Tree can share a moment in solitude, and the Great Deku Tree says to her, deep and pensive:
“The words you had intended to give him, Princess… did they reach him?”
Zelda glances over her shoulder, fearful that Link had overheard, but there are no signs to indicate this. He is talking animatedly with Hestu, gesticulating away, and Hestu responds periodically with an enthusiastic shake of his maracas.
She turns back to the Great Deku Tree, eyes wandering to the space in the stone pedestal at her feet where she had placed the sword—an ancient act to the rest of the world, but still so immediate to her, enough that her palms tingle briefly with the memory of it.
She has so much to catch up to.
She hears Link laugh at something Hestu says, and suddenly it does not feel so out of reach.
“No,” she confesses, unable to help the shy smile that pulls the line of her lips into a rare shape. “But there isn’t any hurry, is there? At last, we have time.”
The Great Deku Tree hums pensively, long and rumbling, and says, “So you do.”
The voice of the goddess herself had come to Zelda only once in the castle, clement and gentle and immeasurable, as ancient and undying as the sky.
Calamity Ganon's foremost will is to triumph by tearing you out of this world, Her Grace Hylia had said. You must remember what binds you to it. You must hold it in your heart with all of your strength for as long as you are sealed in this place.
And so Zelda had. She had thought of the trees in autumn, and the rushing of a stream in the forest, and the sound of the tide tumbling in from the sea since time immemorial. She had thought of the timeless but all-too-frail power of history, and how it had lived still in the monuments she had so yearned to understand, and how it would live on long after her. She had thought of her people, marvelous and brave, stronger than anything, composing lullabies as naturally as forging swords, devoted to their rituals even after their meaning had been lost to time and apathy.
She had thought of her friends: the resplendent fragments of sunlight glinting off of Mipha’s silhouette just before she dove off of a waterfall without fear; Urbosa’s free, deep laugh, and how it had silenced storms until they were hers alone to wield; Daruk’s massive hand upon her shoulder, rumbling with the quiet strength of Eldin’s red, red earth; Revali’s effortless pride, and how it had fallen away like a feather in the breeze to give way for his unexpected moments of compassion. All of this, worth protecting. Worth remembering. Worth everything.
She had thought of Link; splendid, brave, impossible Link; Link, kneeling at her feet; Link, half-illuminated in the last glow of a sunrise in Deep Akkala long ago; Link, dying in her sore, trembling arms. Link, the Chosen Hero of myth. Link, Hyrule’s Champion. Link, whom she loved.
It had been a quiet realization, nearly imperceptible, and like all things, it had come to her too late. Calamity Ganon had laughed cruelly at her for it, for her tragedy, for her grief.
She had not risen to it. Think of what binds you, what binds you. What you cannot lose.
Into the infinite darkness, she had whispered, “Hope.”