AUTHOR'S NOTE: After a long wait, here's a second chapter! I really liked how the first chapter ended up, so I didn't want to write another chapter unless I felt like it fit well in terms of theme, pacing, and quality. Eventually, I came up with this! Hopefully it is an adequate followup to the first chapter. Please let me know what you think!
Zelda woke from her bed at the Lakeside Stable all at once, eager to be out and about. Before the Calamity, she had tended to sleep in, savoring those lazy moments of semi-consciousness just before truly waking. After having been shut away for 100 years, though, she greeted each morning anxious to face the day. Every moment she was alive and out in the world was precious.
Link and Zelda were on their way to Lurelin Village, and they intended to reach the seaside town by nightfall. Zelda was genuinely excited to get there-she had never been to the village herself. During her father's reign, it had been a small and relatively unimportant settlement on the outskirts of the kingdom. King Rhoam's influence there had been comparatively loose, and so Zelda was unsure of how the village would react to her reappearance, if they reacted at all. Still, they were a solid, stable community, and she believed gaining their allegiance would be very beneficial to the kingdom. With Hyrule in its current state, frankly any semblance of civilization was a seed of prosperity that needed to be nurtured.
She put on her travelling dress, tucking her nightclothes into her pack, and pulled on her sturdy walking boots. As she pulled aside the curtain around her bed, she was surprised to find Link's curtain open and his bed empty. For as hard working as Link was, he very much enjoyed his sleep, and Zelda found herself having to shake him awake in the morning more often than not.
She looked to the two beds past Link's, and saw that Mina and Mils were still asleep. They were a new addition to the crew that Zelda was still getting used to. Ostensibly, Link had hired the two treasures hunters to serve as Zelda's guard, but Zelda internally thought of them as chaperones. Since Link and Zelda had started their… relationship, Zelda had thought it inappropriate that they travel together unaccompanied. She knew that the kingdom had pretty much fallen apart, and she knew that she was probably the only one who cared about etiquette, but if she expected other people to treat her like their Princess, she needed to behave like their Princess. Beyond that, she had always thought that rules surrounding propriety were about integrity, not just social norms. She wanted to do the right thing, even if nobody else cared.
She hadn't really had to explain all of this to Link. He'd agreed with her readily-and she even thought that he seemed relieved at the prospect of having other people around. Zelda couldn't help but notice that Link, while he certainly cared for her and was enjoying their developing relationship, felt a certain degree of nervousness around her. Zelda also had to admit that she shared this nervousness. Being around other people eased the tension.
Mina and Mils served other purposes, as well. Things were slowly starting to come together for Zelda. A few brave pioneers had moved to the ruins of Castle Town and started to rebuild it, and the leaders of the Gorons, Rito, Zora, and Gerudo had all sworn fealty to her, albeit each with their own stipulations and limitations. Zelda was getting recognized as the Princess on a regular basis, and that meant that appearances mattered. Travelling with a larger retinue reinforced her legitimacy, and Link intended for Mina and Mils to eventually become the first members of her royal guard. So while Zelda thought that Link by himself was plenty of protection for her, the treasure-hunting siblings travelled with them as well.
"Mina," Zelda said, and Mina woke with a start, pulling her curtain to the side.
"Yes, Your Majesty?" she said, and Zelda was impressed that she could produce fully enunciated words in her groggy state.
"Do you know where Link is?"
Mina, whose eyes had still been closed throughout their conversation, dragged her eyelids open and looked at Link's empty bed with uncomprehending eyes.
"No, I don't know where he went. He didn't say anything about going anywhere either," she said, eyes sluggishly scanning her surroundings.
It looked like it still might be a little while before either Mils or Mina would be awake enough to help her, so Zelda got out of bed to go find the Hero herself. She didn't have to look far, as she practically ran into Link coming into the stable from outside.
"Oh, I'm so sorry Link!" she said as she reached for his shoulders to steady him, then she froze.
He wasn't wearing his Champion's tunic like he usually did. No, he was wearing a dark blue, tight, water-slick outfit with an intricate texture that shimmered in the dim light of the stable. Although she'd never seen a Hylian wearing one before, she recognized it immediately: it was Zora armor. She'd read about it before, and she knew the legend of the Zora King whose armor made from his wife's scales had protected him from Lizalfos in battle-this armor was meant to be given to one's intended, and Zelda knew the only Zora who would have made such an outfit for Link.
"Oh, you're up," said Link in surprise, as if she hadn't been waking up early every day since they'd defeated Ganon.
"I was just going out for a swim," he said in an unconvincingly casual tone.
"You went out… for a swim?" said Zelda, trying but failing to process the situation and formulate an appropriate response.
Link shrugged sheepishly.
"Yeah, it's such a refreshing way to start your day…"
It was clear Link was hiding something from her, but in that moment Zelda could care less about the mystery-of-why-Link-woke-up-early. All she could think about was Mipha, for surely only Mipha could have given Link a gift like this. Why did Link have special, engagement armor from Mipha? Had they really been engaged? Did Mipha love Link? Did Link love her back? Why hadn't Link told Zelda about this?
Link took her speechlessness as anger, which perhaps it was, and gave up on whatever prevarication he was attempting.
"Ok, I wasn't just swimming… I wanted to take out this camp of bokoblins and lizalfos up ahead before we got moving today. I know you don't like me to do that by myself, but I swear everything was fine…"
Zelda blinked at him dumbly. He was talking more than usual, almost babbling. Why was he talking about bokoblins and lizalfos? What did that have to do with anything? Link trailed off, sensing her distress but clearly at a loss as to its source. Usually he was the silent one and he didn't know how to respond to Zelda's reticence.
"Why did you need to swim to take down a camp?" asked Zelda finally.
"Oh, well the armor makes it so I can swim up waterfalls. It's much easier to reach their camp that way."
"Oh. That's… interesting. Where did you get it?"
Link seemed relieved that Zelda wasn't yelling at him, so he answered easily, "Mipha left it for me."
Zelda felt her heart freeze. She had been right, Mipha had made Link the armor. That meant that Mipha had been in love with Link, had wanted to marry Link. Zelda could feel her emotions starting to ooze out of her, and she didn't want anyone around to see that. She wasn't sure what she'd find herself saying, but she felt certain it would somehow end up humiliating her and damaging their relationship, so she decided to escape.
"Ok. I'll be gathering some mushrooms nearby. Let's meet up in an hour to get going," she said, giving herself plenty of time to regroup.
Link gave her a puzzled look, but knew not to question her. He nodded, then headed towards where Mina and Mils had already fallen back asleep to get them up and moving.
Outside, Zelda picked mushrooms and sorted through her mixed-up emotions. Had Mipha and Link had a special relationship? She remembered that they had always been close, and King Dorephan had mentioned something about Mipha's feelings for Link when they'd visited the Zora's Domain… Zelda thought back to that distant time, back when all her friends had still been alive, trying to remember.
When Mipha had been chosen as the Zora Champion several years before the Calamity, King Dorephan had started sen ding his daughter to Hyrule Castle for combat training with the Royal Guard on a fairly regular basis. While she had trained with the Zora Royal Guard as well, King Dorephan had wanted her to be as prepared as possible, and Zelda's father had considered it a good opportunity to strengthen diplomatic relations. Zelda was under the impression that that was how Mipha had first met Link. Link had been fairly young when Mipha had first started coming to Hyrule Castle, only eleven or twelve, so he had known her for a good amount of his formative years. Zelda knew they had been friends, but it had never occurred to her that there might be something more there. Mipha was so sweet and kind to everyone, and Zelda herself had been pretty distracted at the time with her duties. Still…
Suddenly, Zelda felt frustrated with herself and her useless speculation. Did this even matter? Why was Zelda letting herself obsess over this? All of this had happened so long ago, she shouldn't let it bother her. If it was important, Link would have mentioned it. Zelda told herself firmly that she needed to trust him and not bring up unnecessary potential conflict or painful remembrance. She was the Princess, she'd soon be the Queen. She had defeated Ganon. Silly things like this should not have the power to unsettle her. She should be beyond all of this.
Fully determined to let this whole incident go, Zelda returned to the stable with an arm full of Iron Shrooms. Somehow, the variety of mushroom that grew near the stables felt depressingly appropriate to her current circumstances.
Several weeks later, Zelda and her companions returned to Castle Town in high spirits. Negotiations with the people at Lurelin Village had gone well-surprisingly well. Zelda had thought that the villagers might feel threatened by an unknown person arriving and stating a claim to some kind of authority over them, but she had tread carefully, and they had been uniformly welcoming and trusting. They knew Link, and appreciated the service he had done for them, and that had bought Zelda significant credibility. On top of that, Zelda had explained her plans for clearing the roads of monsters in order to make traveling safer and encourage trade. They agreed that a more secure, more organized Hyrule would be better for everyone, and were willing to enter into negotiations to determine the terms of their relationship with the reemerging royal family.
All in all, it had been quite a success. Zelda had also been further delighted to learn that Yunobo and the other gorons that had come to Castle Town with him had made significant progress in clearing Hyrule Castle of rocks and cave-ins. Yunobo, accompanied by Impa, excitedly showed her and Link the newly-opened passages, eventually leading her to the biggest surprise of all: her room.
Yunobo opened the door from the inside hallway into her private chambers, and Zelda let out a small gasp. Impa walked up behind Zelda and placed a withered hand on her arm.
"We know it doesn't make sense to live here quite yet, but we wanted you to have a piece of home back," she said, voice kindly.
Zelda didn't know how to respond. Her room was just as it had been before: a large, four-poster bed that perfectly mimicked her old one was set at the end of the room, and the old marble fireplace was lit with real flames. Her heavy desk had been restored and sat in the corner along with the tall-backed chair she had spent so many hours in, writing meticulous notes for her research. It looked as though someone had even collected her more well-preserved notes and framed them for her viewing pleasure. Luxurious soft red armchairs, the likes of which Zelda had not thought existed any more in Hyrule, sat in the center of the room, and several long, tall bookshelves lined the walls. It was utterly perfect.
"Thank you so much…" Zelda said, her voice cracking with emotion. "It's just like I remember."
She wandered over to her desk, looking at the framed notes and noticing her diary for the first time, set shut on the hard wooden surface. She heard shuffling behind her.
"We'll leave you here for now. Just be back in Castle Town for the feast," Zelda heard Impa's voice from behind her.
Zelda turned the pages of her diary absentmindedly, thinking back to what she had been feeling when she'd written them and marvelling at how far away those memories felt. She was soon so lost in her thoughts that she nearly jumped in surprise when she heard someone take a step behind her.
"-Sorry," said Link, "I thought I'd stay behind. Is that OK?"
Zelda turned and smiled at him reassuringly.
"Of course, I was just surprised."
Zelda walked the room with him, pointing out little details she hadn't initially noticed and recounting associated memories. Link, as always, was an excellent listener.
Eventually, Zelda seated herself in one of the red chairs and motioned for Link to do the same. She was glad he'd stayed-they did not often get a chance to be alone together. It still made her a little nervous, but she wanted to get over that. It was funny, they'd been alone together constantly before Calamity Ganon had attacked, and for many more months after he'd been defeated, and she'd never felt a hint of nerves. But now that she knew how he felt… She wasn't really sure how to behave.
She sat in the chair, mentally casting about for something to say, when Link surprised her by speaking first.
"I've never been in here before. Or rather, I never went in here before Calamity Ganon attacked. I'd always wait right outside the door."
"Yes, I remember," said Zelda with a soft smile, pleased that he could remember and pleased that he felt comfortable telling her about it. "I'm sorry, it must have been tremendously boring."
Link shook his head.
Zelda waited for him to elaborate, but he seemed content to leave it at that.
"Not really? How could it not be boring? What would you do to amuse yourself?"
"Well, I had plenty to think about. And then sometimes… Sometimes I could hear you inside. Sometimes you'd be singing, other times you'd be praying. But if it was loud enough that I could hear you, you were usually shouting. About some equation or book or diagram-always something about your research."
Zelda's face reddened and she pursed her lips tightly, but Link only grinned in response. Then, his face fell.
"...And then sometimes you'd be crying. And I would wish there was something I could do about it."
Zelda reached out across the distance between them and took his hand in hers, her heart full of affection.
"You did do something about it."
They smiled dumbly at each other for several long moments, then Zelda looked out the window at the orange-lit sky.
"It will be dark soon, and it takes a while to reach Castle Town. We should probably head back now," she said, and Link nodded in agreement.
They stood, and Zelda walked past Link towards the door, the nervous feeling she often got around him returning and hastening her steps. She wasn't quick enough, though, and Link managed to snag her hand before she reached the door.
"Wait a second," he said, and, accepting defeat, she let herself be pulled towards him.
Link brought one arm around her waist, then brought his other hand up to her cheek, running his thumb along it gently. He pulled her in for a slow, tender kiss, then moved back so he could look into her eyes.
"I love you."
Zelda had already known that, but hearing it for the first time felt amazing. Zelda had studied magic, and she knew that words spoken aloud had special power.
"I love you too," she returned, and she didn't think she'd ever smiled so brightly before.
That night at dinner, all of the new inhabitants of Castle Town gathered to celebrate Zelda's return. They didn't have much, but pulling together these kinds of meager feasts was important for building Zelda's rapport with her subjects. They had a special guest that night that would make the feast feel genuinely novel: the Rito bard Kass.
Zelda was particularly excited to hear the Rito sing, as she'd heard he'd been trained by the Sheikah man who had been the court poet during King Rhoam's reign. Zelda remembered the poet, a young man named Axes who'd been a truly remarkable musician. Perhaps hearing Kass sing tonight would be the first of many signs of Hyrule's return to its former glory.
The feast was held at the fountain in front of the gate to Hyrule Castle. Although most of the inhabitants of the newly-resettled Castle Town lived on the eastern side of the city, where there were more in-tact walls to build new structures against, the beautiful fountain had become an official meeting place for the townsfolk. Karson from the Bolson Construction Company had even repaired the damage to the fountain, and it now flowed with crystal-clear water.
Zelda took her seat at the long table at the head of the fountain, and Link sat next to her. Although neither Link nor Zelda were particularly public in their displays of affection, most people either knew or guessed at their relationship. Regardless, nobody disputed Link's place at her right hand, either as her appointed knight or as her romantic companion.
Kass started his set with a rousing rendition of what Zelda recognized to be the Song of Storms. The piece was so evocative that Zelda found herself checking the sky for rain multiple times during the performance, and the entire audience was riveted. She had even heard that in the past, the song had truly been used to call the rain, and Zelda didn't doubt it. Kass followed that song up with another that Zelda thought was called Epona's Song. As she listened to the lazily peaceful tune, Zelda wondered who the eponymous Epona had been. She must have been beautiful, in a simple, honest sort of way.
"Now for my third piece, I'll be playing a song my master wrote himself. Listen well to the tale of the hero who slept a hundred years, and the Princess who awaited his return to save the kingdom."
Zelda looked towards Link, eyebrow raised, and he blushed.
"Kass, I don't think everyone needs to hear that-" Link started to say, but he was soon drowned out by Kass's powerful baritone.
An ancient hero, a Calamity appears,
Now resurrected after 10,000 years.
Her appointed knight gives his life,
Shields her figure, and pays the price
The princess's love for her fallen knight awakens her power
And within the castle the Calamity is forced to cower.
But the knight survives! In the Shrine of Resurrection he sleeps,
Until from his healing dream he leaps!
For fierce and deadly trials await
To regain his strength. Fulfill his fate.
To become a hero once again!
To wrest the princess from evil's den.
The hero, the princess-hand in hand-
Must bring the light back to this land.
The last notes of the song were carried away on the night air, and Zelda felt like the eyes of every person in the kingdom were on her.
The audience clapped their hearty approval, but all Zelda could feel was embarrassment. If anyone had been unclear as to Link and Zelda's relationship, they certainly weren't any more. The line the princess's love for her fallen knight awakens her power rose unbidden to Zelda's mind, and she felt herself blush from the apples of her cheeks to the tips of her ears. She couldn't bring herself to look at either Link or the assembled townsfolk, so she looked down at her plate with intense focus.
Impa noticed Zelda's embarrassment and cleared her throat.
"Let's have another song, shall we? Perhaps one that isn't about the Princess."
Kass nodded obligingly and struck up his accordion once again.
"This song, then, is about the Zora Princess Mipha, much beloved by her people."
Princess of the Zora, elegance unsurpassed
To the sorrow of her people, her life flew far too fast
Blessed by the goddesses, with the power to heal
Her power's source her love, true and real
She fought with courage and bravery, till the bitter end
Her sole regret her lover's wounds, her failure to mend
Still her power lives on, among us today
She still heals those she loves, protecting without delay
Zelda looked straight ahead this time, sorrow and some other nameless emotion replacing embarrassment. She looked to her side, and the moisture condensing in Link's eyes only increased the unnamed emotion. Zelda wasn't sure what it was, but it reeked of bitterness and unhappiness, and she tried to push it away. She turned to Link, trying to sincerely desire to comfort him.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, rubbing the moisture from his eyes before it had a chance to turn to anything more revealing. "I was just remembering."
Zelda nodded and turned back to her food. Kass had returned to playing old folk songs, the kind that everyone knew and loved, and Zelda spent the rest of the meal lost in her thoughts, paying no attention to the merry tunes. All her thoughts seemed to circle back to one question: what exactly was Link remembering?
Several nights later found the motley royal entourage on the road to the Zora's Domain from Kakariko Village. They left the village from the northeast, but they'd exited the path through the West Gate before even reaching the Lanayru Promenade. There had once been a road through these green hills, Zelda remembered, but only the rough impressions of that trail remained. Zelda was a little nervous to be off-roading, but Link assured her that this route would be much faster than going all the way back to Hyrule Field, and Zelda had given way to his expertise.
They stopped for the night not long after passing through the gate, setting up camp under the shelter of a strange tunnel through a rock. It was damp, and Zelda hardly thought it an ideal camping spot, but Link thought it might rain in the night. Damp cover was better than no cover, after all.
Link left the crew to make dinner while he scouted around to ensure that the area was secure. Tonight was Mils' turn to make dinner, which meant that Zelda didn't have too much to look forward to in terms of sustenance. Mina and Zelda had helped prep the food and laid out their sleeping mats, but now all that was left to do was wait for Mils to finish their meat and hope it turned out alright. She was staring into the fire, almost hypnotized by the dancing flames, when a voice broke through her trance.
Zelda looked up, and saw that Link had returned. She still felt a little thrill every time he called her by her first name.
"I want to show you something."
Mils and Mina shared a significant look, and Zelda blushed. Link never seemed to notice Mina and Mils' eyes on them, but Zelda had been conditioned to be vigilant about her public image. She carefully avoided eye contact with her guards and followed Link out of the tunnel.
Zelda and Link walked through the rolling green hills outside their camp, and Link reached back a hand to hold Zelda's. They walked in silence until they reached a single tree by a tall rock, and Link stopped. Zelda's breath caught in her throat-from the tree they could see more verdant green hills, dotted with deer, and a pool of snowmelt fed by a waterfall. In the distance, Mt. Lanayru's dramatic peak soared over the scenery, and the setting sun cast a golden glow over the whole scene.
"It's so beautiful," she said, awestruck. It was the only thing to say.
Link turned to her with a smile, then sat on the grass, pulling her down beside him.
"Want to watch with me?" he asked.
As the sun set, Zelda felt completely at peace. It was times like these that she truly appreciated the steady, quiet strength that Link carried with him. His presence was uniformly calming and comforting, and while she sometimes wished he'd be more communicative with his thoughts and feelings, his actions always spoke volumes. Concerns about… other people, about who Link may or may not have loved in the past melted away. How had she ever worried if he truly cared for her?
She leaned her head against his shoulder, and her reached an arm around her.
"Thank you for sharing this with me, Link."
Link simply smiled in response, and pulled her a little closer to him.
Zelda took a deep breath as she prepared herself to knock on the door, trying to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She was outside of Link's house in Hateno Village, and she'd arrived just in time for dinner.
They'd reached the Village the day before, and Zelda had spent most of her time since then going over Purah's ancient tech research with her in her laboratory. It had been fun-Zelda was passionate about her studies and Robbie and Purah were the only people with whom she could have an informed discussion. She was ready for a change of pace, though, and so when Link had suggested they eat dinner at his house, she'd jumped at the chance. She'd only recently discovered that Link had purchased a home in Hateno Village, and she was eager to see the place. She had invited Purah along as well, and simply assumed that Mina and Mils would tag along, but Purah quickly disabused her of that notion.
"No, don't be silly! Milsy and Minny will eat here with me. I am always stuck spending time with you, Zellie, and I want a break!"
Purah hadn't been so crass as to outright say she was trying to give Link and Zelda time alone together, but that explanation certainly made more sense than her spoken one. Zelda appreciated Purah's attempt at subtlety.
Steeling herself, although for what she did not know, Zelda finally rapped on Link's front door firmly three times, and Link opened the door up almost immediately.
"Come on in," he said, ushering her inside. Zelda stepped over the threshold and her nose was greeted by the most delicious aroma she had ever smelled.
"What did you make? It smells amazing!"
Link chuckled bashfully, and she could tell he was pleased. Zelda had learned by now how much he enjoyed being complimented on his cooking.
"It's nothing, just some seared steak seasoned with Hyrule Herb. With a truffle glaze and mushroom rice. And some sauteed greens."
Zelda rolled her eyes at his false modesty, then walked over to the hearth and breathed the heavenly scents in deeply.
Link laughed again as he set plates out on the table. Zelda took the opportunity to look around the house. It was… cute. Cuter than she'd thought it would be. Bright, cheery flowers filled a simple vase on the table, and adorable flour and sugar jars lined a shelf above Link's kitchen implements. Zelda wandered over to a bookshelf by the door, running her hands over the old titles. Death of a Mask Salesman, The Twilight Wars, Darunia and the Dodongo… did Link pick these books himself? She looked up the stairs to where she assumed Link slept and saw a desk on which she could just barely make out several other books and an inkwell. What letters had he written, she wondered. She wanted to go upstairs and take a closer look, but it didn't really feel appropriate to invade his personal space like that.
Looking around, Zelda couldn't help but imagine living here with Link one day, having their own farm, eventually raising a family… It was nice to daydream about, but Zelda knew that even if she and Link did one day marry, this was not the kind of life they would live. Zelda had a responsibility to her people, and she had never been one to run away from her responsibility, no matter how painful it was. Still, she was enjoying seeing Link in this environment. She felt as though she was getting a rare look into his inner self.
Zelda headed back to the table, where Link was gingerly setting the piping hot skillet down, and turned her attention to the rest of the house. Now this was more along the lines of what she had expected: weapon racks. She started to chuckle to herself at the hyper-masculinity of decorating your interior space with shields and bows and halberds, but then her eyes fell on the weapon placed in the center of the wall. It was Mipha's weapon, the Lightscale Trident. She stopped in her tracks and stared at it silently. Link didn't seem to notice.
"Um, the food's ready," he said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder from behind.
She ignored the gesture. Mipha's trident was here, in Link's home. This was his private place, the only place that was truly his own. He didn't have a single trinket or memento from Zelda here, but Mipha's trident sat front and center in his living room, in the middle of all of the weapon racks as if in a place of honor. She was quiet for a long moment, and Link hesitantly removed his hand from her shoulder.
"Zelda? Are you OK?"
Zelda shook herself from her reverie, and turned back to Link.
"I'm fine. Let's eat!" she said, forcing a tight smile.
Zelda fully intended to move on and have a nice dinner. She fancied herself above romantic insecurity and immature jealousy. She was Princess Zelda-she had already lived for over 100 years and she had saved her kingdom. She was past these kinds of things.
As soon as she seated herself, however, she looked across the table, and somehow Link's bemused expression made her unreasonably resentful. Why couldn't he just understand? If he loved her, shouldn't he be able to figure it out? She felt silly, almost embarrassed for the way she felt, but at the same time she felt entirely justified. If only he could just guess what was wrong she wouldn't have to behave like such an over-emotional idiot trying to explain it to him. All at once, she found herself too angry to hold in her thoughts.
"Link. Why do you have that armor?"
Link blinked back at her slowly. His stupid expression just exasperated her even more. How could he be so thick sometimes?
"The Zora Armor. The one Mipha gave you. The one she made for you."
"…I have it because she made it for me…" Link replied in confusion.
"I mean why did she make it for you in the first place?"
Link looked to the side, comprehension beginning to dawn on his face. Unfortunately, comprehension did not go along with explanation. His expression grew more somber, but he did not speak up with some sort of explanatory context, and Zelda was forced to elaborate.
"I know what that kind of armor means, Link. You were engaged?"
"No!" Link responded forcefully, the first time he'd said anything with conviction in this entire conversation. "No, we were not engaged."
"But then why would she make it for you if you didn't have an understanding?" Zelda asked, feeling hot tears welling in her eyes.
"I… uh… I…" Link fumbled with his words. He looked to be at a total loss as to what to say, and Zelda suddenly felt quite ashamed of herself.
"I'm sorry… Look, it doesn't matter. It's not like I can expect you to have never cared about anyone else before, right? And… and… she's gone now and it's so insensitive of me to even bring this up…" Zelda buried her face in her hands, feeling incredibly guilty that she would allow petty jealousy over a dead woman to bring her to hurt someone she cared for.
Link finally found his voice.
"Zelda… I… Has this been bothering you for a while?"
Zelda nodded through her tears.
"I just… I worry that I can't compete with her. She was so kind and lovely to everyone. And.. I know it sounds terrible, but every day is an opportunity for me to disappoint you, to do something mean or stupid, but she's gone now, so her memory is already fixed. Fixed as this perfect, loving being. I can't fight memories… I can't compete with a ghost."
Link stood from the table, moving over to Zelda's side where she now shed hot tears openly. She had thought she was done with feeling inferior, with feeling impotent. The fact that something so ridiculous as jealousy was making her feel this way again was mortifying. Link gently pulled her up from her seat and turned her towards him, placing one hand on each of her shoulders.
"You don't have to. I… miss Mipha dearly. She was a good friend. But.. it wasn't like that."
Zelda looked up at him, his face blurry through her tears.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Link said, then he sighed heavily. "At least I didn't think it was like that. We were good friends, and I liked spending time with her, but I didn't really think about her romantically. I was very focused at the time... On my duty, on becoming a knight."
Zelda looked up at him expectantly as he let the story pause there. She wanted him to continue, but she knew how hard it was for him to explain things like this. She was the one who had caused all of this, this terribly melodramatic scene. She needed to be patient now. She also realized, with a start, that it was possible Link didn't even remember what kind of relationship he'd had with Mipha. Many of his memories had come back in the past year, but Zelda knew there were still a lot of blanks. It was only then that it dawned on her how truly unfair to him she was being. Despite all of this, she still desperately wanted to know the truth. Eventually, Link continued.
"One day she told me about the Zora Armor, a special armor that could help you swim up waterfalls. I think she told me the rest of the story too, about the Zora King and his wife… But I was only twelve at the time, and I didn't really focus on the romantic stuff . I just thought that armor that could help you swim up a waterfall was amazing. So I asked her if she could make me some," Link shrugged, looking down to avoid Zelda's gaze. "I should have realized what I was asking… Mipha had looked so pleased. She'd blushed and stuttered, and told me she would make it for me one day. I... I really should have realized, but I'm just so dense about these kinds of things."
Zelda felt numb for a moment, her mind still processing his words, then she surprised herself with a short bark of laughter.
"...What's funny?" asked Link, confused and perhaps a little hurt.
Zelda cut off the laugh, and looked up at Link with regretful features.
"I, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh… It's just… It just occured to me that you and Mipha are very similar. You are both reserved, both kind-hearted, and you both value actions over words. Unfortunately, I think you also both tend to miss important things because of it."
Link considered her words for a moment, then he looked back at Zelda with a sad smile.
"I suppose you're right." He paused again, looking thoughtful. "Zelda, I… I never loved Mipha, but I think it's important… Even if I had loved somebody before, that wouldn't change how I feel about you. You… you should have more faith in me. I told you I love you. I don't say much, but I always make sure to mean what I say."
Zelda wiped the tears from her eyes, relief filling her until she heard Link's gentle rebuke. Link had never, ever been critical of her, so even this moderate correction still felt like a punch to the gut.
"I know. I am sorry. I knew I shouldn't feel this way, which is why I didn't say anything earlier," Zelda said, turned from him so his hands no longer rested on her shoulders. She covered her face, embarrassed. Link wouldn't accept that, however. He reached for her arm and pulled her back to him, this time fully embracing her.
"You can tell me these kinds of things, you know," he spoke softly into her ear. "We can talk them over. I know I'm not always great about that, but I can be better." Link paused, and Zelda thought that she could feel him smile against her ear. "If I have learned anything from receiving this armor from Mipha, it's that sometimes staying silent can cause problems."
"OK," said Zelda, and she reached her arms around him as well and held on tightly. They stood there holding each other for a long moment.
"Well," said Zelda as she gently pulled away, trying to lighten the mood while still sniffling a little, "Now that my embarrassing outburst is over, we should eat. The food really does smell exquisite."
Link agreed heartily and they quickly dispatched their dinner, chatting lightly about things of little consequence. Zelda was grateful for the time to compose herself.
After dinner, Link led Zelda to the roof of his house, giving her a boost onto the shingled surface and climbing up after her. They sat right on the ridge of the house, leaning into each other and taking in the view of the entire Necluda Valley.
"It really is so beautiful here. I can see why you bought this house."
"Yeah. It was… nice to go somewhere peaceful, every once in awhile."
"...Link?" Zelda said, voice small.
"I know it doesn't matter… and it wouldn't change how I feel about you, but… Have you ever loved anyone else before?"
Zelda held her breath as she waited for his response, preparing herself to accept whatever he said. She knew now that she needed to explain how she was feeling to him more, but that didn't mean she wouldn't have to work to suppress her more unreasonable or uncharitable reactions.
"Hm. I don't know…" Link said, taking the time to think it over seriously. "I don't think so. I mean, I've met some women that I thought were beautiful, or kind, or talented, but it wasn't the same. For as long as I've known you, and maybe even longer, it was always you."
Link's words made Zelda feel lighter than air, and she was glad she was there next to her to anchor her to the roof. Still, a small kernel of doubt remained. She worried that her emotional outburst from earlier might make him wary of saying things that might upset her.
"You know, you don't have to say that, just to please me. I really will understand."
Link turned to her, expression serious. He scooted closer to her still, looking into her eyes without a hint of a wavering. Zelda began to feel light again, and she could read his answer in his eyes before he even opened his mouth.
"I know. But it's the truth."
Having been sufficiently convinced, Zelda was done feeling sorry for herself; she was over being insecure. Link loved her, and she was determined to let herself enjoy it. She placed both hands on his chest and leaned forward, covering the distance between them and initiating a passionate kiss, discarding her normal reserve. Link fell back a little, throwing a hand to the shingles behind him to steady himself, but returned the kiss with equal enthusiasm.
Zelda knew that her insecurities would likely return on occasion. Self-doubt and fear of failure would always be a part of her. But she no longer worried that her issues would cripple her relationships. Zelda felt Link's arms tighten around her, and she felt safe, secure, and loved. Zelda knew in that moment that everything was going to be alright.