Ildrin gazed down at the tiny bundle held firmly in King Daltus’ arms with a tight-lipped smile. The baby wasn’t squirming or putting up any fuss, eyes closed off to the world around them. And as happy as Ildrin felt concerning the birth of the new princess, she knew her joy was a result of her own baby boy left safely behind at her estate not far beyond the city walls. As much as she trusted her midwife and faithful servant Lanna, she hadn’t wanted to leave him. But Cedric told her it would be disrespectful to not join him at the princess’ private viewing, especially when her presence was requested by the Queen. So Ildrin let Lanna tighten a stiff corset around her torso and drape a gown of pale lavender over her body. Purple was, after all, the Queen’s favorite color.
So as Ildrin stood to Cedric’s left, watching the proud King cradle his newborn daughter in his large, thick arms, she thought of her own boy, and how it felt to hold him against her breast. She knew how the King felt, but also knew how Queen Petra felt as she stood rigidly behind her husband, gazing intently at her baby girl. She could not hold her child at this moment, just as Ildrin could not hold hers.
Cedric stepped up to the King and bent to one knee, ducking his head in a respectful bow.
“Cedric,” said King Daltus, a warm smile curling beneath his thick brown mustache. “How wonderful of you to join us.”
Cedric stood and turned his eyes to the princess. “She’s lovely, sire.”
The King muttered his thanks, and Ildrin took the time to step up and lift her dress’s hem in a bow. It was customary for the wives of invitees to move second to their husbands. Ildrin often wondered how the traditions that put women second to men came about, considering the significance placed upon a female heir to the throne. But she’d never spoken to anyone of her thoughts, not even Lanna. She dipped her head toward the Queen.
“Lady Ildrin,” said the tall woman, straight brown hair tucked behind delicately pointed ears. She was wearing a gown of purple and silver, and a thin gold tiara rested lightly atop her forehead. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course, my queen,” said Ildrin. “From one mother to another, I give you my most sincere congratulations.”
“Ah, yes,” King Daltus said, turning to Cedric again. “You have recently become a father yourself, haven’t you?”
“That is correct, sire,” Cedric said, his own green eyes shining with an indescribable amount of joy and pride. “A healthy boy.”
“Wonderful,” said Daltus. “It must be quite a prosperous season.”
“Hopefully it will last,” said Petra. Ildrin cast a long glance at her, blue eyes widened slightly beneath her golden-yellow eyebrows. The Queen’s tone was hopeful, but with a hint of somberness that made Ildrin’s heartbeat quicken. It was no secret, however, that the Royal Family had plenty on their minds despite the wonderful news of a female heir. It was a difficult time for everyone who stood there beneath the high ceiling of the castle’s parlor. The heavy pall of tension hung over their heads, dragged relentlessly at the smiles on their faces. It was one of the main reasons why Ildrin did not want to leave her son back in the manor while they spent the evening in the castle. And as Petra said her words, Ildrin knew in that moment that despite all gallant appearances and joy-filled conversations, the regal Queen was just as frightened as she was.
“Let’s not have that kind of talk, dear,” King Daltus said, looking down at his daughter with warm blue eyes. Every direct descendant of the first members of the Royal Family had vivid blue eyes, no matter what other features they displayed. They contrasted the pale brown of Petra’s, who once belonged to a house of nobility in the distant city of Farheln. She was Hylian, though, and that was the only true requirement for becoming queen of the Royal Family.
As it stood, the terms “king” and “queen” were not all too accurate. The kingdom expanded a few hours’ walk in each direction: Kakariko Village to the north, Lon Lon Ranch to the southeast across the river, and Lake Hylia to the west. There was more to the land—much more. But upon sending scouts past the familiar landmarks, the Hylians found that the rest of the land was inhabited by a whole array of species, several of them humanoid. One race resembled the Hylians completely, save for their rounded ears. They called their homeland by many different names, depending on the species and tribe. And centuries later, King Daltus planned on unifying the country under one banner: the Kingdom of Hyrule under his command.
Someone shouted loudly outside the parlor entryway. The people inside turned their heads in unison to see a Hylian guard stumble in, armor clanking noisily with every fumbling step. “Your Highness!” he called, voice muffled from behind the shielded helmet atop his head.
King Daltus passed the princess delicately over to her mother, who took her with an apprehensive smile. “What is the meaning of this?” he said, tone not angry but not pleased either.
“Forgive me, sire,” said the guard, breath coming in short gasps from his climb up the hill to the castle. “Rebels, in Castle Town.”
Rebels, Ildrin thought. That’s what anyone fighting for unification called them. Ildrin herself was born and raised in Castle Town, but in the lower-class district of Falden which was inhabited mostly by round-ears with the occasional Goron or Zora family. Most of the Hylians of Castle Town lived in the much more beautified districts, without starving children in the streets.
“Rebels?” Daltus said in contemplation. After a moment, he turned to the many well-dressed Hylian men around him. “You have a duty to your king, and to your city. Cedric.” He turned to Ildrin’s husband. “I trust as a blacksmith you have apt ability with a sword.”
“Certainly, Your Highness,” Cedric said.
“We cannot let the rebels reach the castle,” Daltus continued. Ildrin noticed a hint of primal, fatherly determination in his eyes as he stepped forward. “They must have planned for my daughter’s viewing. They cannot get to her.”
Ildrin turned to Cedric. “You must fight?” she said quietly.
“I cannot leave now,” he said. “But you have to return home. Make sure our boy is safe.” Ildrin nodded, brow furrowed slightly. Cedric brushed a yellow lock of hair behind her pointed ear and kissed her forehead. “Ride safely.”
Ildrin regarded him solemnly. She wanted to tell him to fight safely, to not do anything foolishly “honorable.” He had a son to think about now. But she only watched him as he followed the other men out of the castle parlor.
“I suppose the official announcement has been cancelled,” Queen Petra said as she looked anxiously at her husband. Daltus simply gave her an apologetic look before striding out of the room, following his men.
Ildrin walked over to Petra slowly and gazed down at the princess. “She needs no announcement,” she said with a comforting smile to the Queen. “Her name is already known to all in the land, whether their ears are sharp or round.”
“It’s true, Your Grace,” another woman said, stepping up. “Even those who worship a false pantheon know the significance of your daughter’s birth.”
Petra looked down at her tiny child, whose large blue eyes had peeked open from the commotion. She smiled warmly, eyes crinkling at the edges. “My little Zelda,” she whispered.
Ildrin rode out of the castle grounds alone, leaving Cedric’s horse behind for him to make it back later. Moving swiftly, she skirted the edges of Castle Town as surreptitiously as possible; it wasn’t as difficult as she’d imagine, since nearly all of the fighting must have been occurring in the lower-class districts of the city. It was easy enough to guide her steed through the back alleys of the market and across the drawbridge without being detected. It would have made more tactical sense to ride through Castle Town and exit through the west gate, but she couldn’t risk encountering the rebels. She had to make it home to her son.
She reached the estate quickly enough and dismounted just inside the gate so one of the servants could take the horse to the stables. Ildrin walked briskly to the front doors, waiting anxiously as Ranji, the doorman, opened it.
“Lady Ildrin,” the short man said, black hair emphasizing his slightly darkened skin. He was by no means purely Hylian. “You’re back so soon.” He looked behind her. “And without Lord Cedric.”
“Fighting has broken out in the city,” Ildrin said, breathing heavily. “Where is Lanna?”
“Upstairs with the baby,” said the doorman. He closed the door as Ildrin hurried inside. She couldn’t quite place it, but worry settled deeply in her throat. She strode across the wide foyer and climbed the open staircase to the open second floor. She turned to the right and entered the nursery in a flustered daze.
“My lady!” Lanna gasped, holding the baby to her chest instinctively.
Ildrin walked over and took the baby into her arms. She stared down at his pale face, mushy with newborn fat. He seemed to be sleeping soundly, nostrils flaring gently with each breath.
Ildrin smiled, releasing a relieved sigh. “I’m sorry, Lanna,” she said, still looking at her son. “The announcement was cancelled. Some Dinborn rebels attacked Castle Town.”
Lanna, an image of messy dark brown hair and hyperbolic exaggeration, held both hands to her open mouth with wide eyes. “No!”
Ildrin seemed infinitely calmer now that her son was in her arms. “Cedric went with to fend them off,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“And what about the princess?” Lanna said.
“She is with the Queen,” said Ildrin. “She is quite a beautiful child.”
Lanna let a smile perk her expression. “So you saw her! Oh, how blessed you are. Hopefully the fighting won’t reach the castle. Or here, for that matter. With Lord Cedric gone, we don’t stand a chance.”
“As I said, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
It was a white lie, Ildrin knew. She sensed she was living in one of the darkest times of the Royal Family’s history. Of course, being of higher class after marrying Cedric, she didn’t have to worry about the same consequences of war that those in her home district of Falden did. But with her son in her arms, she saw a brighter future past all this fighting. It was only in that moment however that she realized there wasn’t much hope in staying where she was. Castle Town was the center of all conflict now, and if she wanted her child to prosper, she’d have to leave.
“My lady,” Lanna said. “Would you like me to make some dinner?”
“That would be lovely,” Ildrin said. “Thank you.”
The young round-eared girl nodded and stepped out of the room. Ildrin took a seat on the padded chair beside her son’s cradle, head swimming with new thoughts of the young Hylian princess. Her name had been determined for her long before King Daltus was even born, let alone Ildrin herself. Every female heir received the name Zelda, just as much as they received their bright blue eyes. The legends told that the first Zelda was the mortal reincarnation of their goddess, their heavenly mother Hylia, who sacrificed her own immortality for the salvation of her people. Although she’d never admit it out loud, Ildrin thought it was a little far-fetched. Anyone claiming to be the reincarnation of a god was probably looking for power. But her Hylian ancestors followed Zelda faithfully, leading to the establishment of a Royal Family.
The tradition followed that every female heir was to be named Zelda in her honor, with the belief and hope that she would be another incarnation of the mortal goddess. It had been tradition for nearly five centuries now, after the first ordained Queen of the Hylian people. It was another aspect of the Hylian faith that Ildrin didn’t seem to put much weight on, since there had been many Royal Family princesses that did not seem to bear the wisdom associated with the namesake. But something about the circumstances caused something to glimmer in Ildrin’s heart. Especially as she gazed down at her little boy, a thin veil of blond hair coating his soft head. For another legend accompanied that of the princess, the legend of the Hero of Time. It said that the two would return to the world at its darkest hour. And if Ildrin believed anything, it was that the land was certainly in need of a hero.
“Lady Ildrin,” Lanna said from the doorway. Ildrin hadn’t noticed her return. “Your dinner is ready.”
“So quickly?” Ildrin said.
“We had everything prepared to be cooked for when you and Lord Cedric returned,” said the servant warmly. “It didn’t take too long.”
Ildrin stood from her chair, placed her son into the cradle beside it, and stepped into the corridor where Lanna was waiting patiently. “Thank you, Lanna,” she said. “Please look over my son while I’m dining.”
“Of course, Lady Ildrin,” Lanna said, bowing and stepping into the nursery. But she turned suddenly before closing the door. “My lady, if you don’t mind me asking…” Ildrin paused and turned to her maid. “Have you chosen a name for the boy?”
Ildrin smiled lightly. “I shouldn’t make a decision without my husband’s input, but I do have an idea.”
Lanna nodded with a wide smile. “I do look forward to hearing his name spoken out loud for the first time. Forgive my prying, my lady.”
“It’s no trouble,” Ildrin replied. “As soon as I speak with Cedric on the matter, I’ll let you know promptly.”
“Thank you very much, my lady. I appreciate it.” Lanna bowed her head one last time and closed the door behind her.
Upon entering the dining hall, Ildrin was surprised to see a young man waiting by her seat at the table. He looked terrified, cheeks red from the wind and a look of pure fright in his glassy eyes. “Am I to understand that my doorman has let you in to see me at my own dining table?”
“Yes, Lady Ildrin,” the messenger said. “Terribly sorry for intruding. Lord Ganondorf…sends his condolences.”
Ildrin did not sit down. The name was terribly familiar. “Lord Ganondorf?”
“He is the leader of the Gerudo people,” the messenger said shakily. “He was in town for the princess’s announcement tonight.”
“Yes, of course,” Ildrin said. “What condolences, exactly?”
The messenger bowed his head deeply. “That is my message, my lady. The fighting has reached the castle, and it is slowly making its way toward your estate and the surrounding districts of Castle Town. Lord Cedric tried to battle off many of the rebels, but sadly, his attempts failed.” He paused, giving Ildrin a chance to contemplate the news. He looked conflicted, as if he did not want to utter his next words. “Lord Ganondorf fought off and killed the man who murdered your husband, and had me send the news.”
Ildrin stood there for a minute, eyes never leaving the messenger’s fraught expression but thoughts never leaving her late husband and newborn son. Her jaw had set, and her brow furrowed, but she never let any other emotion aside from what looked like slight distaste reveal itself on her face. After another moment, she cleared her throat. “Thank you. I would have you help yourself to a meal in the kitchen before you leave, but you may find it more appropriate to join your family as soon as possible.”
The young man bowed his head, looking relieved. “Of course, Lady Ildrin. Thank you.” He departed to follow Ranji down the corridor.
Ildrin then collapsed into the seat before a covered dinner plate. She rested her face in her open palm, eyes still wide, feeling the raw ache of sadness clawing at her ribcage. Just as she started thinking about hope and prosperity for Hyrule, one of the most important people in her life vanished.
But she had to clear her head. The messenger mentioned that the battle was gradually making its way toward her estate, an estate that now belonged to a helpless infant who at the moment was sleeping soundly in the nursery, unaware that his father was now a part of another realm.
Without another moment’s hesitation, Ildrin stumbled out of the dining hall and up the stairs to her son’s room. She opened the door to see Lanna placing the child back in his cradle.
“My lady,” Lanna said. “Are you finished your meal already?”
“Cedric is dead,” Ildrin breathed, surprised at the shakiness in her voice. Lanna’’s lips parted in silent shock. “A messenger came from the castle. Lanna, we must gather up the servants and leave this place.”
“Are we in danger?” Lanna asked.
“Yes,” Ildrin said, rushing toward her baby. “The fighting is making its way toward the manor and we must get away immediately. Inform the others of our escape and I’ll see to my child.” Lanna nodded, eyes widened with incredulity, and disappeared out of the room.
Ildrin gathered the slumbering child in her arms, gazing down at his smooth face. “My dear boy,” she whispered, feeling the sting of tears at her eyes. But before she could mourn her child’s future any longer, there was a loud noise from downstairs. Ildrin heard raucous shouting outside, another bang from downstairs. The rebels were here, and they were attempting to break down the door.
Quickly, Ildrin wound her child in multiple layers of cloth and placed him back inside his cradle. She rushed to her own wardrobe and searched frantically for a riding cloak. Once she found the dark navy garment, she swung it around her shoulders, collected her baby, and hurried downstairs.
“Lanna, Ranji, do you have the others?” Ildrin said.
“They are gathering their things, my lady,” Lanna said, looking as if she would burst into tears at any moment.
“Good,” Ildrin said under her breath. The souls she had to account for were already enough. She rushed toward Lanna, holding her baby to her chest. “Lanna, I need you to listen to me.” The maidservant held her breath, nodding vigorously. “You and Ranji must take the others away from Castle Town. Set up camp in the Field if you must. But please promise me that you will leave this house, and Castle Town, behind you.”
Lanna blinked, frozen by the immense task set before her. “What about you?”
“I have to take my son far from the reaches of this place,” Ildrin said. “He is not safe here, and I cannot bring him up in the wilderness. We need to find a new home.”
Lanna’s eyes brimmed. “Lady Ildrin, it’s a madhouse out there!” she said. “I can’t let you travel alone.”
“You needn’t worry about me, Lanna,” Ildrin said. “I will take my horse and we will flee this place. Promise me you will leave with the others!”
Lanna clamped her mouth shut for a moment, face set in an expression of frustration and terror. “I promise,” she finally said.
Ildrin kissed the maid’s forehead and turned on her heel. She made her way for the stables to find the horse she’d ridden to the castle hours before. Ildrin saddled and bridled the creature before a loud creaking sound came from her right. She turned swiftly, clutching her now awakened and wailing son to her torso.
“A lady!” came a hiss from above.
“And a fine one too.” Many cackling men stalked into the stable, clutching swords and shields and wearing makeshift tabards of deep red. For a horrifying moment Ildrin thought it was due to the blood of those they’d killed. She backed away from them as another man with bow and arrow jumped down from a hole in the stable roof, landing just behind the new mother. They snickered to themselves, planning something terrible in their small, grungy heads. Ildrin thought of the child held tightly to her breast and was filled with a new determination. Resolute on getting her son out of the town, she swiftly mounted the horse and pulled the reins taught. The horse bucked and whined, kicking its front hooves out from underneath it. The men dodged the shoed hooves, crying out in frustration. With skilled practice, Ildrin tugged on the reins and sent the steed galloping out of the stable. She had just barely made it around a bale of hay when a sharp pain erupted from her left lung, spreading through her entire torso. One of the men had shot an arrow in her direction, piercing through her back.
Gritting her teeth, Ildrin rode on, down the path that led east. They galloped as the baby started letting out a fierce caterwaul of discomfort. Ildrin tried to keep her torso as still as possible, a difficult task atop a galloping horse. She barely had enough consciousness to notice the cracking thunder above her head and the spitting rain from the clouds. The drops masked the tears that fell from Ildrin’s face as she spared glances down at her squirming, crying baby. But she gritted her teeth and rode on, all the way across Hyrule Field until night began to settle in the province.
For fear of the strange men following her, Ildrin directed her horse deep into the woods. She paid no attention to the howling wolfos in the distance, or the strange, glowing yellow lights that peered at her from the darkness between the trees. They could not harm her if she was quick enough. On and on they rode, until her horse’s strength wore down as well as her own. As they slowed to a stop, the weakened mother lost grip on the reins and saddle and tumbled to the ground; thankfully, she thought, she still had enough in her to protect her son from suffering any damage.
The baby lay in his bundle, crying, and now soaking wet. Ildrin lay beside him, watching his every move with a motherly intensity. Rain drops filtered through the thick forest canopy, splattering against her cheek, but she couldn’t feel it. She felt numb.
Suddenly a gentle light consumed the darkness. Ildrin would have looked up to see its source, but her eyes would not leave the boy.
“You are Hylian, from the city.”
Ildrin closed her eyes. The voice was calm and peaceful, and she feared it was a product of the delusions of the dead. Reason told her that no one stood before her except for the silent, hidden spirits of the trees.
“Yes,” she said shakily.
“I am Maia,” came the same voice, a voice Ildrin determined to be from one of the enormous trees surrounding her. “I watch over and protect the Kokiri Forest. I will not harm you.”
“Please,” Ildrin croaked, placing a hand over her son’s wet bundle, “whoever you are. If you watch over this forest, then watch over my son, Link.”
The voice made no response for several fearful moments. Ildrin felt sobs wrack her body. Her eyes fluttered as a numb darkness spread through her mind.
“Yes,” Maia finally said, “I will watch over the Hero of Time reborn.” Ildrin’s eyes closed, and she faded into a wakeless sleep.