Two Halves of the Same Whole
Zelda and Hols were standing anxiously beside the fairy's pool. As soon as Link surfaced, they rushed forward and hauled him out onto the floor.
"Link, are you alright?" Hols asked anxiously.
"Good as new," he said confidently, wiping the water from his face.
"Amazing," Hols said, as he looked him over. "You do look a hundred times better."
"More importantly, I feel a hundred times better."
They walked out of the fairy's cave much more leisurely than they went in it. Link and Zelda were recounting what had happened to them since Zelda had last been there with her broken wrist, and Link nearly missed noticing the change.
"Wasn't this all blocked up before?" he said, stopping to look at the entrance to the fairy's cave. The mouth of the cave was open and access was unimpeded.
Hols smiled a little, looking proud. "Yes. Some of Anne-Marie's people and I dug it out. We thought it you might need access to it quickly."
"I did today."
The sun was setting, casting an orange light and deep shadows on the trail. The wind was growing cooler, as if the season was already changing. And, given the altitude, it probably was.
"You know," Hols said as Link and Zelda finished telling their tale, "I used to envy both of you your adventures, but now I don't think I do. I don't like the sound of what you went through at all—and I especially don't like seeing you come here broken and bleeding."
"And you haven't even seen all of our wounds," Link said. "We've been to two other fairies since we left here originally."
When they entered the cave, they were greeted by Abbot Winfield, Lia, Anne-Marie, and a dozen or more other people. Even some of the tigers were loitering at the end of the hallway, poorly feigning disinterest.
"Link, are you alright?" Anne-Marie asked anxiously. "Hols said you were badly hurt."
"I was, but I'm fine now," he said dismissively. "How is everything here?"
"We're fine. Still no word from Lord Long Fang or Growder, though."
Link glanced at Zelda, who looked horror-struck. "I forgot to tell her when I was here!"
"Tell me what?" Anne-Marie asked anxiously, looking between the two of them.
"One of the other fairies showed us what is happening in Hyrule," Link said. "My family, the royal family of Erenrue, some of Zelda's personal attendants, and Lord Long Fang and Growder are all being held in the dungeon beneath Hyrule Castle."
Anne-Marie wailed and covered her face with her paws.
Link reached up and patted her on the shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll free them."
It took Anne-Marie a moment to calm down enough to speak. "He must have known."
"Lord Long Fang. He said he had to go and beat Nagadii's forces back. Growder didn't want him to go, but he insisted on being right there in the front lines. He must have known he would be captured; he sees so much of the future. But why would he go, knowing he would be imprisoned?"
"Maybe that was the only way to save your people. Or Growder," Zelda offered.
"Or maybe he intends to help us," Link suggested.
"Help you? How can he help you if he's locked up?" Anne-Marie asked.
"We have to retake the castle," Link explained. "That's where the rift is. If we don't close it up, the demons will continue to come out. And now we know that everyone who is most loyal to us is being held in that castle. If we can free them and arm them, then we might stand a chance against Nagadii's guards."
"But how will we get to them?" Zelda asked. "We'd have to fight our way down to the lowest levels just to free them, then fight our way back up."
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "But I think Anne-Marie's right: Long Fang didn't allow himself to be captured for no reason. He has a plan."
At least Link hoped that was true. At any rate, it seemed to reassure Anne-Marie and make her feel better, so that was all that mattered.
They had dinner with the monks and students from the abbey, along with Hols and his family, and Anne-Marie. Link noticed that there was nothing but meat and a pittance of some sort of wild plant. Apparently the monastery's reserves of vegetables and bread were gone.
"I worry that this winter will be lean," the abbot said, as they finished dinner. "We don't want to be a burden on Anne-Marie's generosity, or cause any deprivation to her people because of our presence, but there's little we can do to help ourselves at this point. Even if we could return to our home immediately, there would be no food stores and it's too late in the year to grow or gather more."
"Have you considered returning to Hyrule?" Link asked. "I mean, after we defeat Nagadii."
The abbot looked surprised. "No. We have lived for centuries in Shi-Ha."
"But your order is from Hyrule originally," he pointed out. "And you still acknowledge the Hyrulian royal family as your sovereign lords."
"Well… yes…" the abbot said hesitantly.
"So, why not return?"
"We moved to Shi-Ha for a reason: to protect the sacred knowledge of the Knights of Hyrule."
"Well, at the moment, it doesn't look like Shi-Ha is any safer than Hyrule."
The abbot didn't have a counter-argument to that.
"We will certainly try to help you as much as we can, once Hyrule has been freed," Zelda said; "after all, we owe you a great debt. But it would be much easier for us to help you in Hyrule, rather than try to ship you supplies all the way here."
"Not only that," Link added, "but after everything that's happened, I think Hyrule will need your wisdom. You could be instrumental in rebuilding our country."
The abbot looked a bit confused, as if he had never considered that possibility before.
"Think about it," Zelda said. "Nothing can be done until Link and I defeat Nagadii, so there's time for you to consider it."
"Although not too much more time," Link said confidently. "We only have two more demons—with the last one being in Pallis. Once Erenrue is freed, we will move on Hyrule."
"Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you!" Hols said suddenly. "Kara left to help you with the next one."
Link looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"From what we've been able to learn, Nagadii left a lot of men here—apparently to hunt for both of you. We knew, from looking at your map earlier, that you would eventually need to go into the desert—and you'd have to traverse the length of Shi-Ha to get there. Kara volunteered to go down to the border of the desert and wait for you. When you're ready, you can teleport to her and not only avoid Nagadii's men, but also shave several days off your journey."
Link leapt to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over. "She did what?"
Hols spread his hands. "It was her idea. We tried to talk her out of it…."
"She's too old to travel that far—especially by herself," Link insisted. "There's no reason why Princess Zelda and I can't travel through Shi-Ha disguised as animals."
"Except for the fact that they know to look for us as animals," Zelda pointed out. "Remember the men who caught me near the Lost Woods?"
"Still, it's one thing for us to risk ourselves…."
"She has a right to contribute if she wishes," Lia said, speaking up for the first time. "And I think you underestimate her; she is not frail, despite her age."
"Well, there's nothing you can do about it now," Hols said. "She's already there. She and I bonded, so if something happened to her, I could bring her back. But she's fine."
"We should go right now so that you can bring her back," Link declared.
Anne-Marie shook her head. "You need to stay the night. We need some time to get supplies ready for you."
"Yes, you'll need water and food—just like before," Hols pointed out.
"She's fine," Hols assured him again. "I check on her several times a day."
Link wasn't happy, but he had to agree there wasn't much he could do about it; he couldn't deny that they would need food and water to cross the desert. And if Kara felt compelled to help, he had no right to stop her—even if it worried him.
After dinner, Anne-Marie showed Link and Zelda to a room. As Link stripped down to his underclothes, he couldn't help but wonder at the fact that not only did it seem natural to him to share a bed with Zelda now, but apparently it seemed natural to everyone as well. Anne-Marie hadn't even bothered to offer them separate rooms.
Of course, the tigers saw Link and Zelda's relationship through the lens of their own culture—referring to them as mates—but even the monks didn't look askance anymore.
It didn't occur to Link that perhaps part of the reason for that was because he and Zelda spoke as one united entity. Zelda spoke of what she and Link would do once Hyrule was restored; Link took up her arguments, speaking on her behalf.
To others, they acted as equals. As mates.
Zelda sat on the side of the bed in her undershirt and shorts, trying to get her circlet off. Her hair had once been neatly wrapped around it and braided, but now more of her hair was out of the braid than in it, and it was a tangled mess.
"Here, let me," Link said, going over to her when he saw her getting frustrated.
She sighed wearily, but let him sit down beside her and work on getting the circlet loose. She stoically made no sound, even though Link knew he had to have pulled her hair badly several times.
Finally, with one last tug that made Zelda wince, the circlet came free.
"There you go," Link said, handing it to her.
"Thank you." She set it on the bedside table, then picked up a brush. "I wouldn't have ever let it get that bad, but I didn't have a way to fix it."
"Of course," Link said sympathetically. Then he took the hairbrush from her hands and began to brush her hair.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"You still have some bad knots back here; I think I better get them out for you, since I can at least see what I'm doing."
She nodded a little bit and let him continue.
As Link gently brushed the tangles out of Zelda's hair, he began to find himself fascinated by it. Her hair was baby-fine and perfectly straight. Once it was brushed smooth, it glistened like silver in the candlelight.
"You have such pretty hair," he said softly.
"Thank you." Then she sighed wistfully and closed her eyes. "That feels nice."
Link continued to brush her hair, even though it was now tangle-free. He liked feeling its slippery softness run through his fingers.
Link began to have a strange feeling of being out of time. The room was silent but for the sound of their breath; it was impossible to tell that there were people and tigers just down the hallway. And the candelabra's three candles provided the only light in the room. The flames threw orange light upon the wall, but around the edges, shadows danced.
It was all very surreal.
And then Link had a feeling of déjà vu; sometime before—some night, by candlelight—he had brushed Zelda's hair with the same feeling of worship.
He knew he had never actually touched her hair, but the feeling didn't dissipate. Perhaps in a past life he had brushed her hair. But with what intent?
He was so caught up in the feeling, he acted automatically—as if reliving the past. He swept Zelda's hair back with his hand, then he leaned in and gently kissed the spot where her neck and shoulder joined.
She made a little sigh of contentment and, emboldened, he kissed up the side of her neck to her ear.
"Oh, Link," she whispered breathlessly.
She turned to look at him, her gray eyes sparkling in the candlelight. He could see they were laden with the same longing he felt.
He took her face in his hands and pulled her in for a kiss. He only meant to kiss her once—at least he thought he only meant to kiss her once—but he couldn't seem to pull away. Instead, he grew more passionate—and so did she.
He wasn't sure if she leaned back, or if he pushed her, but a minute later, he was lying on top of her on the bed while they kissed. Her hands slipped under the hem of his shirt and caused him to shiver as she lightly ran her fingers along his bare skin and up his spine.
He wanted her more than anything—an all-consuming want that drove him wild. If the gods came down at that moment and offered him one night with Zelda in exchange for his life, he would have given it without hesitation.
It was so powerful a desire, he couldn't even describe it, but it was more than just physical. In fact, physical intimacy was, at best, only a small portion of what he wanted; at worst, it was nothing more than a poor imitation.
What he really wanted was to possess her, and yet he also wanted to be possessed by her. He wanted to carry some part of her inside him, but at the same time, he wanted give her all of himself—most especially who he was inside—the real him.
He didn't know that what he felt—what eluded words—was from a part of his past that he couldn't remember. His soul was a piece of hers and it longed to go back to its origin; it wanted to be reunited with hers.
And then, just as suddenly as he had been overcome by passion, he was sucker-punched in the gut by reason.
Oh, dear gods, what was he doing?!
He scrambled to get off Zelda, stumbling to his feet and backing away from the bed.
She looked up at him in confusion. "What's wrong?"
He put his hand out, as if to ward her off. It was trembling. "We…. No. We can't do this. I can't do this," he corrected. He had, after all, started it.
He covered his face with his hands. He felt immense shame for what he had done—and would have done, if he hadn't stopped when he did. And yet, he still wanted her. Despite the shame—despite knowing it was wrong—he had to struggle to hold himself back.
He felt as if he was at war with two very different sides of himself: the self-sacrificing knight who was loyal to his monarch above all else, and the very human (or, rather, Hylian) Link who was desperately in love with Zelda.
"This is why I didn't want to start calling you by your name," he mumbled from behind his hands.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Zelda demanded.
He looked up at her. "Because you have ceased to be my monarch. I don't see you that way at all anymore."
"But that's what I want."
"But don't you see the problems it causes?" he said, pleading with her to understand. "We can't… I can't do things like this. Whether I call you by your title or not, you are a princess and you will be the queen of Hyrule. And I can't do things like this with you."
"What if I wasn't a princess?"
"It doesn't matter," he said hotly. "It doesn't matter what we would do if we were other people. You are a princess and I am your knight. And this can't happen."
He turned and snatched his tunic up. "I'm going out for a little while. I'll be back," he said, before leaving the room without looking back.
He pulled on his tunic as he walked down the corridor, his mind—and emotions—in a whirl. He was angry at himself for letting things go too far. What if he hadn't had a sudden moment of clarity? Would he have stopped?
He wasn't used to being ruled by his emotions and, frankly, it scared him. For a moment, he had been completely out of control and that frightened him as much—or more—than any enemy he had to fight. If he couldn't trust himself, who could he trust?
He threw open the door to the outside and sat down nearby, his back against the stony peak. Then he sighed heavily, as if he could breathe out his anger and frustration.
The night air was quite cool—especially as he didn't have on pants or shoes—and that seemed to helped soothe the burning heat inside him.
He wouldn't admit it to Zelda, but he had had the same thought as her: what if she hadn't been a princess? What if she had just been a girl from Kakariko Village, and instead of being the Hero of Legend, he had grown up with his family as a normal boy, destined to be nothing more than a fisherman like his father?
He knew exactly what he would have done: when he came of age, he would have asked Zelda to marry him. They could have built a house near his mother's and he could have taken over the family business and helped raise his siblings—especially his younger brother, who so desperately wanted a man to look up to. And maybe he and Zelda could have some children of their own and they could all be one big happy family, far removed from fear and death and any thoughts about the ending of the world.
He screwed up his face to keep back the sudden threat of tears, but they leaked out anyways. As he covered his face and cried into his hands, he couldn't even say why he was crying. He was frustrated by the situation, scared of himself and what he was capable of doing, lonely for his family, and, perhaps most of all, he wept for the future he couldn't have with Zelda.
There were two Zeldas standing in front of him. From the darkness came a voice, "Choose."
Link shook his head.
"Choose, or both of them will die."
Suddenly, both of them fell to their knees, screaming in pain caused by an unseen hand.
He was certain that the one on the left was the real Zelda, so he quickly pulled out his sword and stabbed the one on the right.
Her blood hit him in the face—hot and sticky—as she shrieked. But he instantly knew there was a problem when the Zelda to the left began to laugh.
She stood up, looking at him with a wicked smile. "Fool," she spat. Then she disappeared.
Link felt as if he was falling; there was nothing under his feet and his heart was in the back of his throat.
He dropped to his knees and cradled Zelda his arms. "Oh, gods. Oh, gods. What have I done?"
"Link…" Zelda whispered, stretching a blood-stained hand towards him. He grasped it tightly in his own.
"It hurts," she whimpered.
"I know. I'm… I'm so sorry," he choked, his tears falling onto her face.
"I… I don't want to die."
He couldn't do anything but cry. When the light went out of her eyes and she fell limp in his arms, he began sobbing uncontrollably.
"How sad; you chose incorrectly," the demon mocked.
Link looked up at the darkness. "Kill me."
Link jumped to his feet. "Kill me!" he screamed. "That's what you wanted all along—both of us dead. So kill me."
"You don't understand the true nature of demons at all, do you? We don't exist just to kill people; we exist to cause suffering.
"And while the prospect of death causes the greatest amount of suffering in most people, it doesn't in you. ...At least not in this instance."
"I don't understand."
"For you, death will be a release—something that will free you from your guilty conscience—something that may even reunite you with your princess. For you, living without her—and with the knowledge that you killed her with your own hands—is a fate worse than death.
"Which is why you will live here until you die of old age—which, for Hylians, is a very, very long time."
He began to cackle.
The horror of what he said sank in and Link felt a rising tide of panic swell up inside him. He turned to grab his sword—determined to kill himself, if need be—but it was gone. The only thing lying on the floor was Zelda's lifeless body.
"There's no way out," the demon chortled. "You will stay here until you go mad—and then beyond that. You will be here for hundreds of years."
He laughed even louder; the echoing room was filled with his triumphant laughter.
Link began to scream, but even he wasn't able to drown out the sound of laughing.
Link awoke to find a dark figure leaning over and shaking him. He instinctively pushed away the person with one hand, while his other hand went for his sword. But a second later, he realized he had no sword.
"Link, calm down. It's me."
It took him a moment to recognize Zelda's voice. Her face was hidden in a shadow, but he could see the starlight glinting off her silvery-blonde hair.
He breathed a shaky sigh of relief. "You're alright."
"Of course I'm alright."
He wiped a trembling hand across his face. It was wet. Apparently he had been crying in his sleep.
"I dreamed you were dead—that I killed you," he said. He still felt panicked, although his fear was beginning to drain away as his brain began to sort reality from nightmare.
"It was just a dream," Zelda said soothingly. "I'm alright."
"Where am I?" he asked, glancing around. It didn't look like the plain around the Lost Woods at all.
"We're with Anne-Marie's people, remember? You said you were going out for a little while and would be back, but that must have been hours ago. I fell asleep waiting on you to come back, but when I woke up and you still weren't back, I came looking for you."
"I'm sorry. I must have fallen asleep out here. I didn't mean to."
She stood up and offered him her hands. "Let's go inside. It's cold out here."
Link took her hands and let her pull him up. He was stiff from the cold and lying on the hard ground.
He tried to rub some feeling into his numbed legs as he followed her to the door. "Yeah… it's strange to be cold suddenly after being hot for so long."
"When I'm hot, I wish I was cold, but when I'm cold, I wish I was hot," Zelda said.
"That's the way it is for everyone, I think."
They walked down the empty hallways towards their room—Link moving slowly as circulation reluctantly returned to his limbs. Everything was quiet and still; it must have been the middle of the night.
"If you want, I can find another room," Zelda said quietly.
"I don't want," he replied firmly. Then he stopped and turned to her. "I'm sorry about earlier. I shouldn't have run out on you. But… I didn't know what else to do." He tried to smile, but it was rather pained. "You know I don't do well with emotions."
"I'm sorry I made you have feelings."
"…Do I detect a note of sarcasm?"
"From me?" she said with false innocence.
He smiled more genuinely. "Definitely sarcasm."
"It's not wrong to have feelings, you know," she said becoming serious again.
He sighed. "I know. But, it's like… I feel too much. I don't know what to do. It makes me feel like… like I'm coming apart—like I'm two different people and I don't know which one to be."
"What do you mean?"
"I love you… and desire you," he reluctantly admitted, "in ways that I shouldn't. I am your knight and you are my queen. And, even more than that, I'm a commoner; it wasn't that long ago that I was working as a guard at the palace—employed—albeit unknowingly—by your father.
"But sometimes I forget who I am—and who you are. When it's just you and me and we're living in the wilds—more animals than people, as you've pointed out—I can forget who we are, where we're from, and what we have to go back to. Then it's just me and you—just Link and Zelda.
"But then there's the part of me who does remember who he is—and who you are. And when that part of me looks back on what I've done… I feel ashamed."
"Link, you've done nothing for which you should feel ashamed."
"I have not behaved as a knight. Knights don't sully their queen's reputation; they don't act improperly; they don't lose control of themselves."
But as soon as he said those words, he was reminded of what the fairy had told him: that he had unrealistic expectations of himself, and that all men—even knights—had their flaws.
Was he falling back to his old perfectionist habits? Was his flaw fated to be loving the one woman he was not worthy to have? And if so, how was he supposed to embrace that? To act on it would be ruinous for the one person he most wanted to protect.
Zelda took his hands in hers. "Link, I hate to break this to you, but I have a lot of knights in my family tree—and some of them weren't even landed nobility. You can't tell me that all of those low-ranking men were chosen to be the next king because they were a good political connection."
She let her words sink in for a moment before continuing. "You wouldn't be the first royal guard to fall in love with a princess of Hyrule. And even if we cause a scandal, it won't be the first of those, either."
He looked down. "Two wrongs don't make a right."
"And you're never going to be perfect, so why do you beat yourself up over it?"
"I don't have to be perfect, but I do have to be able to look myself in the mirror."
She sighed and leaned back against the wall. "Alright. Tell me what I can do to help you be the person you want to be." She held up a finger. "So long as you don't quash your real side completely. I need the real you now—just as I will probably need the knightly you when we get back to Hyrule. And I think you need to be both people, too. You need to be proud of yourself, but you need to be free to love without feeling guilty about it. You need to marry the two sides of yourself together. And I'll help you with that, if I can. Just tell me what I can do to help."
He felt tears well up in his eyes. He had never loved her more than he did at that moment. It was beyond a youth's infatuation, beyond devotion, beyond a destiny; he simply loved her for who she was and for what she was to him.
He hugged her tightly. "I love you," he whispered.
"You've held me together through all of this," she whispered back, "it's only fair I keep you together, too."
He didn't know what they were going to do when they got back to Hyrule; he only knew that somehow they would have to make things work out in their favor. But then, they were in the process of saving the world; if they could accomplish that, surely they could find a way to save their hearts as well.