Getting up before dawn was becoming a precedent that Zelda didn't like setting. But Rayliss and the others were in a hurry to go home and she couldn't fault them for that. So, without complaint, she got up while it was still dark, threw on a cloak to guard against the chilly fall morning, and went down to see them off.
The old wagon that Braddock had found and the equally decrepit mule were in the middle of the courtyard, ready to go. Together, Link and Sir Elgon were loading a few boxes of supplies, a tent, and a barrel of water onto the back of the wagon. Most of the water and supplies were for Growder and Long Fang; they consumed several times more food and water than a single person.
"Did you give Sir Elgon his key?" Zelda asked Link.
"Yes, I have it" Sir Elgon replied. "Thank you."
"You know," she said, as she watched them work, "we have servants again; you don't have to do this sort of thing for yourselves."
Link just shrugged. "Why bother waking anyone up for this little bit?"
"Call me paranoid," Sir Elgon added, "but I prefer doing for myself as much as possible. That way, someone can't slip something by me."
Zelda smiled. "The two of you were cut from the same cloth."
A moment later, Rayliss, Philippe, and Castor came up. Rayliss was wearing the white dress that she had worn to Zelda's coronation and the blue cloak that Kara had given Zelda long ago when they first left Erenrue to start their quest.
"Will you come to my coronation?" Rayliss asked Zelda.
"Of course. Kara can transport me and Link at any time, then we can travel back at our leisure."
"She can also send us messages telepathically," Link added, coming to stand beside Zelda. "If you ever need anything from us, pass the word to Kara."
"And we will do the same," Zelda said. "We have to watch out for each other. You're all the family I have left."
Rayliss nodded, looking as if she had tears in her eyes, then she hugged Zelda tightly.
Once she had stepped back and composed herself again, Link took the Soul Scepter, which had been hanging from his belt, and he handed it to Zelda.
Zelda looked at her cousins. "Before you go, I promised your father that I would allow him to say goodbye to you, as well."
As Rayliss and her brothers watched with wide, astonished eyes, Zelda held the scepter aloft. "I call forth Prince Zeyde of Erenrue."
A white mist began to rise from the ground and slowly take form. A minute later, the ghost of Zeyde stood before them.
"F-Father?" Rayliss said with a trembling voice.
"Yes, it's me."
Castor ran towards his father, as if to give him a hug, but he passed right through him and ran into Zelda instead.
Zeyde looked at him with sorrow in his eyes. "I'm sorry I can't touch you."
Castor's face screwed up, then he covered his face as he began to sob.
Zeyde came over and knelt beside his youngest child. "I'm so sorry, son. So sorry…."
Zelda had to look away, dashing the tears from her own eyes. She knew this moment wouldn't be easy for anyone, which was part of the reason why she had put it off. But she had promised Zeyde that she would do it and she couldn't send her cousins away without fulfilling her promise; what if, gods forbid, something happened to them on the way home?
"Castor, listen to me," Zeyde softly cajoled. "And you, too, Philippe and Rayliss," he added. "I want to apologize to all of you for not returning from battle as I promised."
There was a moment of silence, then Rayliss spoke. "Father, that's hardly your fault."
He stood up and looked at her. "Perhaps not entirely, but… I had a choice at one point," he confessed. "I made it back into the city, and I could have returned to you, but instead I sought out Zelda and Link. I made sure that they got out of the city safely, and I was killed while doing so."
Rayliss and her brothers all turned to look at Zelda and Link, and Zelda was suddenly struck by the full weight of Zeyde's sacrifice for them. He had not only given up his life for them, but he had chosen to protect them before even his family.
"I saw that we were overrun and that nothing would save us," Zeyde continued, "save for the slim chance that Zelda and Link could escape and get the Master Sword. Only with that would they be able to drive out the demons and, hopefully, free Erenrue again one day.
"I chose to help them first because I thought they were our best hope. If I hadn't, Nagadii would have killed me anyway and they would have died as well and no one would have survived.
"But, in making that choice, I wasn't able to come back to you, as I promised. And for that, I'm sorry. But I hope you can understand one day why I made that choice: I valued your lives more than anything else—even the fleeting chance to hold you one last time."
There was a long silence. "W-will we ever see you again?" Rayliss asked at last.
"Yes, we will be together again when you cross over—but I pray that won't be for a very long time. I want to see you all grow up to marry and have your own children and live very long lives."
"Will you be able to see us?" Rayliss asked.
"Yes." He smiled a little. "I will always watch over you. Wherever you go—whatever you do—I will always be watching over you."
He turned to Sir Elgon, who was watching the scene with tears in his eyes. "Sir Elgon," Zeyde said, "thank you for taking care of my children—even at the risk of your own life. As Zelda said to Link, there is nothing which I can do to repay you for what you have done for me and my family."
Sir Elgon looked as if he couldn't speak for a moment. "It's been my honor, sire," he choked out.
"No, it has been mine," Zeyde said with a bow.
Sir Elgon put his hand over his mouth, as if trying to hold in his sobs. But tears still flowed freely down his face.
Zeyde turned back to his children. "Rayliss, I have every confidence that you will be a good queen. The only two things you need to remember are one, take care of the people. I don't think you'll have a problem with that, because you've always been thoughtful and generous. The second thing is be mindful of your money. That will be harder to do—partly because you're generous by nature, and partly because, well, I wasn't the best role model in that regard. I have a streak of vanity that you've inherited and you must be careful because the kingdom is no longer wealthy, as it was when your grandfather was on the throne. You must be careful not to be too lavish—especially while everyone else is in poverty. During these hard times, if the people see you working hard and doing without—as they are doing—they will love you all the more for it. Your mother is already doing that; follow her lead."
He looked at his sons. "You will be dukes now and as you grow older, the people will look to you for guidance. You must be honorable and set a good example. Model yourselves on Sir Elgon and your grandfather; do what you think they would do.""I think they could have no better model than you," Rayliss said quietly. "I know you are the only person I've ever aspired to be like.
It was Zeyde's turn to choke up, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I love you all," he whispered. "And I will love you every day for the rest of your lives. And when it's your time to cross over, I will be there to greet you."
He bent down to kiss Castor and Philippe and Rayliss each on the cheek—at least as much as he was able. Then he turned back to Zelda. "Send me back," he whispered.
She raised the scepter again and he turned one last time to wave farewell.
"Prince Zeyde, I send you back to the Light World from whence you came."
His image rapidly faded away, but for a minute they all stared at where he had been standing, as if they could still see and feel him there. Then, slowly, they all began to wipe their tears from their faces and regain their composure.
Sir Elgon helped Rayliss onto the front seat of the wagon, then he put Philippe and Castor into the back. A moment later, Kara appeared with Long Fang and Growder. Zelda noticed that Long Fang's limp seemed to be gone; she hoped it stayed that way for their long journey home.
Link stepped forward with a white cloak. "I think we can give you this back now," he said, before gently putting the tiger-fur cloak around Kara's shoulders. "We're done traveling."
She smiled. "Perhaps you should keep it as a reminder of your journey."
"Thank you, but we have enough reminders of that," Link said, touching his cheek which still bore the scars that Tarsus had given him. "Besides," he added, "we have a tiger skin all our own."
Long Fang laughed. "Did you keep it?"
"Yes. It's in front of Her Majesty's fireplace. I rather relish stepping on it every time I go into her room."
Long Fang laughed even louder. "Ah, Link, you and I understand one another. That's why I like you, I think."
Link patted him and Growder on the head. "Have a safe journey. Maybe we'll see you again one day."
"I would like that." Long Fang looked at Zelda, then bowed his head to her. "Your Majesty, I hope you know you can count us as allies."
"I could have no finer allies than you and yours, Lord Long Fang," she said, reaching out to touch him, too.
Sir Elgon put Kara on the seat next to Rayliss, then he went around the wagon and hopped up on the other side.
Link and Zelda raised their hands in farewell. "Safe travels," Link said.
"Gods be with you," Zelda added.
"We'll see you soon," Rayliss said, as she and the others waved in return. Then Sir Elgon slapped the reins on the mule's back. The wagon started with a lurch, then slowly made its way to the gate with the two tigers on either side of it, like an escort.
"I hope they'll be alright," Zelda said, as the guards shut the gate behind them.
"No one is going to mess with those two tigers," Link said. "They'll be fine."
They headed up the stairs to go back inside, but they met Alfon and Tatiana coming out the front door.
"Oh, Link, there you are," his mother said. "I went to your room, but you were already up and gone."
"You keep sailor's hours, son," Alfon said with a pleased grin.
"We were seeing off Princess Rayliss and the others," Link explained.
"Have they gone back home?" Alfon asked.
"It's time for us to be off home, too," Tatiana said. "We need to see what's left—if anything."
Zelda winced. "I'm sorry that you've lost so much."
Tatiana smiled and clasped Zelda's hands warmly in hers. "Oh, but Your Majesty, you have given us so much in return."
The day before, Zelda had split the County of Kakariko into two Viscounties and given Alfon and Tatiana one half each. They were now properly Viscount Alfon and Viscountess Tatiana, but unfortunately not much came with the titles. There was only one manor house, since the province had originally belonged to a single count; they would have to decide between them who got it, or else share. There was land with the manor, but that was hardly useful to either of them, since they weren't farmers and had no interest in farming; their business dealt strictly with the sea. They were entitled to their share of taxes—which was enough to sustain them, even if they never recovered their businesses—but at the moment everyone in the kingdom seemed to be impoverished, so Zelda had strongly urged all of her new nobles to hold off on collecting taxes, or at least offer to take service in lieu of money. Public works projects in Castle Town were being completed with just such a scheme.
"Don't worry about us," Alfon said in his booming voice, "we'll land on our feet. We always do."
Tatiana smiled. "But of course. The sea gives and the sea takes away; we're used to that. We know how to rebuild."
"I wish you would stay and join my Council," Zelda said. "We need that kind of knowledge."
"I think you're doing just fine, Your Majesty," Alfon said. "Besides, we don't know anything about running—or even rebuilding—a kingdom. That's a bit more difficult than rebuilding a fishing boat."
"I think the principal's the same."
Tatiana shook her head. "We wouldn't be of any use to you here—not like that. We're simple people—not made for telling lords and noble people what to do."
"We'll best serve you by getting your fishing up and running again," Alfon agreed. "Nothing like a little fish oil to grease the wheels of commerce," he said with a laugh.
Link hugged his uncle and his mother both. Then Tatiana surprised Zelda by hugging her as well.
Zelda imagined, just for a moment, that must be what it would have felt like to hug her own mother.
Tatiana smiled kindly at her. "Take care of yourself."
Tatiana glanced at Link. "And take care of him, too, Your Majesty. You know he won't look after himself."
Zelda smiled. "Yes, I know. But don't worry; I always take care of him."
"She does," Link agreed. "That I'm here at all is because of her."
They waved goodbye to one another, then Alfon and Tatiana walked down the stairs and headed for the gate.
"I hate we didn't have a couple of horses to spare for them," Zelda said to Link as they watched them cross the courtyard.
"That's alright," Link replied. "Mother's never cared for horses; she'd prefer to walk. Besides, it's not far—just a day's walk."
"You say that like it's nothing."
"After all the traveling we've done, it's not," he said.
She had to agree, he had a point.