Link is silent, numb, as the healer waves her hands awkwardly and babbles on, a constant stream of apologies filling the palpable silence. He can only process a little of the information she’s reciting to them.
Calamity Ganon. Malice. Aftermath. Lingering effects.
Zelda sits calmly, her eyes straight ahead. “Thank you for your assistance,” she politely tells the healer, before she stands and walks towards the door.
The healer looks stricken as Zelda sweeps out of the room, but Link wastes no time in following her hurriedly until she stops at the balcony overlooking the gatehouse.
The sun shines, bestowing its radiant warmth upon the fields of Hyrule. The sun shines, and it shouldn’t. Not on a day like this.
He glances at the princess. She doesn’t look at him, and instead drinks in the sight of her beloved kingdom, like a drowning man clutching at straws in a tossing sea. He clears his throat and tries to say something, anything, but finds that there is a heavy rope constricting any words he has and tightening about his heart.
“Don’t. Please.” There isn’t a crack in her voice as a gaping fissure, as she turns to him with misery etched across her face. He wishes desperately he could take this sudden weight from her shoulders and hurl it far, far away, so that it would never hurt her again. “If there is truly nothing we can do, then… then I am prepared to accept it.”
“You’re not giving up already, are you?” There is a hint of quiet frustration in his voice.
Zelda is perhaps more collected as she replies. “No, Link. This is the Malice – there is no known cure. Believe me, if there was, I would fight this monstrosity. I would fight with everything I have. And I still will,” she adds, touching his arm. “I won’t let it take me so easily. But I don’t know how long I will be able to hold out, if there is nothing that can help me.
“If what the healer says is true, then I don’t have much time. I’ll need time, before… before I…”
“Stop.” Link says. He draws her close to him, feeling her familiar warmth, and rests his head atop hers. “I won’t let this monster take you. I’ll scour the lands, scour Hell itself, if it means that I can find something to destroy it. We’ll get through it, like we always have. “
He feels her smile against his chest, and the sensation brings a tenderness that shoots to the ends of his fingers. “There is no reason to give up so easily,” she agrees, lifting her head to gaze into his eyes. Hers are a shimmering green, brimming with life even in the face of darkness.
He’ll be damned if he lets Ganon steal that light for the second time.
Not much changes in the immediate days that follow. Zelda governs Hyrule with the assistance of her Council, settling disputes as they come and negotiating numerous trade deals, while Link supports her not only as her appointed knight but also as the new Commander of the Royal Guard. In spite of their duties, they manage to find time to spend with one another. Some days they are able to spend long hours riding together, like the field surveys they used to perform before the Calamity struck.
However, there is now a dark shadow hanging over them; its presence a constant reminder of the healer’s grim words.
Link takes to researching Zelda’s ailment with whatever free time he gets. He piles thick volumes from the castle library into his arms and hauls them to his chambers. It’s an arduous trip, but he is resolute. Regardless of what the healers have said, he will not let Zelda succumb to the sickness. He isn’t willing to give up so quickly.
Afterwards, long into the quiet hours of the night, Zelda comes to visit his room, perhaps for a game of chess, when she notices what he is doing. He senses her before he sees her in the mirror. She watches him with an unreadable expression, her arms crossed. Link turns back to his reading, and scratches some notes into his book. There is no time to waste.
Then, Zelda pulls up a chair, the harsh screeching reverberating along the stony walls. She shuffles until she is close enough to read the book herself, and picks up the quill.
It’s on the sixth day when it begins.
Zelda pulls Link away from his books, insisting that he at least needs ‘a little time off, otherwise he’ll pass out from exhaustion’. A pretty platter is set out for them in the courtyard: jam sandwiches cut into neat triangles, slices of her favourite fruitcake and two cups of hot black tea. She spills some when she reaches for a slice of cake and blushes scarlet as Link tries to stifle his chuckles. Zelda glares good-naturedly, and swats his arm. For a moment, he almost forgets.
Then, as soon as she turns back to mop up the spill, she begins to cough; violent, hacking sounds that rattle and make her shoulders shudder with pain. Link is immediately on his feet, and realises with horror that there are specks of red on her glove.
Zelda tries to assure him that it’s fine, it’s okay, but he pulls her to her feet nonetheless and rushes her urgently to the infirmary.
When the healers frown unhappily and only press a vial of clear liquid into Zelda’s palm, murmuring that it’ll help with the cough but can’t curb the spreading infection, the rope tugs, hard. He barely restrains himself from screaming.
Link begins to search the plains of Hyrule, like he said he would, for any possible cure. It seems a daunting task at first, but he finds it easier when he breaks down the sections in his map and searches one area at a time. Besides, no task is daunting when it’s for Zelda.
Scouring the entire landscape does prove to be difficult, though. He starts by inspecting the varieties of wildlife dotted throughout the land, and carefully picks the ones that are already registered in the Sheikah Slate. After experimenting with those, he has enough elixirs to heal the entire army. When Zelda takes them, they are useless.
Link starts again, this time with plants that have no identification in the Sheikah Slate. It seems a little dangerous, working on unknown species, but he figures that if he tries them himself they shouldn’t be much of a risk. Link is fully aware of dwindling time as he works, fervently stirring and and wiping the sweat off of his brow, day after day. Six months, Zelda had said. Six months was barely enough to hunt down the herbs in Hyrule Field, let alone the other regions as well. He continues, though. He has to try.
When he returns to the castle, a messenger informs him that Zelda is poorly, and is resting in her quarters.The messenger seems to think that it’s only a common cold. Link knows better.
The rope tightens a little more.
He knocks lightly on her door, until a soft “Enter!” echoes from within. Zelda is propped up on numerous cushions, with a novel opened and upside down between her fingers. She smiles when she notices who it is. He crosses the room to sit in the chair facing her, and immediately takes her hand.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, swallowing down the lump lodged in his throat.
“I’m all right. I have a little bit of a sore throat, but nothing more. This feels like any normal sickness, actually.” She gazes at him with a familiar hint of affection, yet he feels undeserving of her love.
“It isn’t, though.” Link pointedly stares at the floor, as Zelda’s expression switches from serene to solemn.
“I was wondering,” - now his voice is definitely strained - “if I could visit the four nations. They may have their own medicines there that we don’t have here, which would surely work.”
Zelda holds his gaze for what seems like an eternity, and he is almost afraid that she will somehow forbid him from going. She relents in the end.
“All right,” she sighs. “I’ll continue my research here, then. But,” here she pauses, and he notices that fierce light in her eyes that he adores, and it is enchanting and beautiful, “promise me that you’ll stay safe.”
He lets out a little laugh for the first time in ages. It seems that they have both grown overly protective in the last month. “Of course,” he promises. “I’ll always come back to you.”
Link stands. “I had better get going, then. I’ll see you soon. Take care, hmm?”
He leans down only to brush a few stray hairs from her forehead when she suddenly loops her arms around his neck and presses a soft kiss to his temple.
“I love you,” she breathes, and a warmth spreads through his body like a wildfire through the forest. He smiles, and strokes her cheeks tenderly.
“I love you too. I always will.”
She kisses him once more, before finally letting him go.
With every visit he makes, his hopes dwindle, like the wick of a burning candle.
At Zora’s Domain, he is greeted enthusiastically by Sidon, who directs him to the royal Zora healers. They specialise in pathogenic diseases, but are at a loss to the symptoms Link describes to them. In Gerudo Town, Riju consults the elderly herbalists who sit away from the hustle and bustle of town. Yunobo brings him rock samples from the crevices of Death Mountain himself, and Teba offers to fly him over Tabantha to see if he’s missed anything there.
Although his friends support him endlessly, he ultimately finds nothing. The Hero of Hyrule, he thinks bitterly. What a fitting name for one who cannot even beat an illness. Who cannot protect his loved one. A man who keeps failing, over and over again.
Link returns to the castle, heavy hearted, and doesn’t stop to greet the gatekeepers as he usually does.
Zelda is up again when he finds her, and rises from the table the minute she realises he has returned. There is a glimmer of hope in her expression, and Link hates himself for being the one to snuff it out. He can barely bring himself to hug her back when her arms envelope him in a loving embrace, and he stiffens. He doesn’t deserve her love.
“What happened?” she asks.
Link steps back, and drops his head. Feelings of shame well up within him, and he knows that his silence is more than enough for her to fill in the gaps.
“Oh, Link… It’s okay.” she soothes. He doesn’t deserve her love; not at all. “In truth, I wasn’t able to find anything either. I believe you did the best you could.”
“But it’s not… I could’ve done more! I could’ve… I could’ve searched for longer, or researched more - I should’ve done something more than what I did, but I didn’t and now I’ve failed you…!”
His voice finally cracks, and he dimly registers the feeling of something wet and hot trickling down his cheeks. He wraps his arms around his body, which suddenly seems too small to be shaking and heaving.
Zelda is there again, as she always has been, and gently holds his face in her hands. They sink to the floor together, the coldness sweeping through their legs as she holds him and strokes his hair tenderly.
“You did all you could. Please, Link… don’t blame yourself. You haven’t failed me. You never will. Please…”
He clings to her shoulders as she whispers sweet, sad endearments into his ear, and finally allows himself to let go.
The days pass quickly.
Link hardly ever leaves her side now. He blatantly refuses to do so, and hands over leadership of the army to Lieutenant Reynard for the time being. He tries not to dwell on the time when he’ll have to return to the post.
Zelda holds up pretty well for the first three months. She doesn’t give up as like had promised, and Link admires her strength for the umpteenth time. She continues to lead Hyrule with a firm, yet peaceful hand. It’s an era of prosperity that the kingdom hasn’t seen for decades, and its denizens welcome it.
However, things begin to spiral downward. It first starts at a council meeting when Zelda abruptly coughs in the middle of her interjection. The councillors pause and look at her worriedly, and Lady Rina asks if she needs water. Zelda waves them off and insists that it’s nothing, before dissolving into another coughing fit. After accepting a glass of water, the coughing stops and she seems to be fine.
The next time it strikes, they are walking together in the gardens. Zelda points out and chatters on about the varieties of flowers waving lazily in the soil, while Link is content to simply listen to her voice, before she… no. He forcefully removes any treacherous thoughts from his mind. He wants her to enjoy herself while she’s with him, not to be brought down by his moping.
“Link, what’s the name of that one?” Zelda draws him out of his thoughts, and he cranes his neck to look at what she’s pointing to.
It’s a blue nightshade, and she definitely knows what it is. She was the one who told him all those years ago, in that flower field.
“A blue nightshade.” he reminds her anyway.
“Strange…” she mutters. “I somehow forgot it. But how could I? I remember it as clear as day now, but just a moment ago my mind went blank.” She looks at him with uncertainty in her eyes.
With a sinking feeling, Link realises what is beginning to happen.
A week later, they are in Hyrule Field again. The sun dips below the horizon, and Zelda rests her head on Link’s lap as he absently plays with her hair.
“This reminds me of the time we rode our horses together to Safula Hill.” he says, smiling a little.
Zelda looks up at him and begins to smile too, before her brows furrow with confusion. She sits up suddenly and turns to face him. Link senses the shift in atmosphere, and looks at her concernedly.
“Link,” she begins, an edge of fear creeping into her tone, “I don’t remember that. I can’t remember any of it. I know it’s there, but I can’t reach it.”
She puts her head in her hands, and the rope tightens viciously. Mockingly, even.
Link is given time to ponder about the situation at night. A thunderstorm flashes and rages outside, attacking the windows with merciless rain and blowing icy winds through the trees. Zelda sleeps in his arms, her breaths softly tickling his neck every time she exhales. He takes the time to observe her form in the moonlight; she is ethereal, beautiful, gorgeous - he doesn’t think there’s a wide enough variety of words in the world to describe her. Zelda is also loving, kind and tenacious, serious yet playful, and lifts him when he can’t do so himself. Link breathes in her soothing scent, as the rain outside slowly reduces to a soft pattering on the glass.
What would a life without her be like?he wonders.
His chest twists painfully. He draws her closer into his arms and silently prays to the Goddess, all the while suppressing the telltale wetness behind his eyes.
Zelda is forced to tell her council when she collapses in the middle of another meeting.
All Link thinks about as he picks up her limp form is how sick she’s becoming, and how she could barely keep her eyes open prior to collapsing. His thoughts are cluttered and panicked, and he is barely aware of the court’s shouts behind him. He’s never sprinted as fast he does in his life.
Zelda comes to in the evening, with a distraught Link pacing outside her chambers. He nearly breaks the door when he slams it open as soon as the healers call him in his desperation to see her. Zelda doesn’t remember passing out, nor why she assembled court in the first place.
When the council hears her explanation three days later, they are silent. It isn’t the reaction that Link expects. That is, until one man stands and proclaims that they will not let her die, and will do anything to prevent it.
One by one, each councillor stands and offers their support, whether in confident words or meaningful silence. They are more united than they have ever been before, with not one argument breaking out amongst the clamour and everyone settling on a firm conclusion. It is a bittersweet hope. Link looks at Zelda, and finds her shining with gratitude, yet still with the same resigned look in her eyes.
One day, she doesn’t wake up.
Link groggily opens his eyes, blinking away the darkness. He turns to her for a customary good-morning kiss, only to find that her breathing isn’t soothing him as it usually does.
His panicked shouts echo down the stone corridors, alerting the entire castle in an instant. Link can only stand back and watch as a flurry of healers swarm to Zelda; his heart pounds in his ears like the drums of a war chant, his nails dig into his palms as a scimitar would and all he can think is no no no not now not her please Hyrule needs her he needs her-
He feels powerless as he watches the healers furiously try to resuscitate her. As the Hero of Hyrule, he should be able to help, especially when it’s the most precious person to him in the world lying on that bed, but all he does is watch, the rope tightening ever harder and choking his words until he can’t breathe himself.
He is informed that she does not have much time left.
The healers nod at him tiredly as they leave the room. Link thanks them for the time they have managed to bargain for the two of them. If his voice sounds hollow, they don’t say anything.
Zelda is weak, and weakening still, when he sits down in the same chair facing her bed. Her breaths come in quick, shallow gasps, and the hair framing her face is drenched with sweat. He reaches out to lean the backs of his fingers against her forehead. It’s searingly hot.
Zelda stirs in her stupor, and Link quickly focuses on her face. She opens her eyes, and looks around dazedly before finally settling on him. She smiles; Link desperately wants to hold on to that smile. He swore to protect it, and he’s failing.
Her voice is weak, painfully weak. He wants nothing more than to take on her agony himself, but he’s powerless. The Hero of Hyrule; powerless to save the love of his life.
His voice is hoarse from disuse, and the sound of it brings him back to a century ago, when he was only her sworn protector. He didn’t talk, and kept his emotions bottled. She was the only one to even try and talk to him - after the Yiga encounter, she coaxed him out of his shell. Zelda listened to him and comforted him, when others didn’t.
“I have one request.” Her voice is clearer now.
He swallows. “Anything.“
She smiles again, and in that moment Link thinks that she is still as beautiful as she was when he first met her, all those years ago.
“Will you stay with me?“
He doesn’t hesitate. “I’ll never leave you.“
Zelda lifts the bedsheets a little so he can climb in with her. He gathers her in his arms as he always does, and finds that there is a single tear trickling down her cheek. Link gently wipes it away with his thumb, as the rope threatens to destroy him entirely.
Zelda’s eyes begin to close. Before they do, she takes one final breath.
“I’ll always love you.“
“I’ll always love you too. I’ll never stop loving you.” he manages.
No more words are uttered. Link holds Zelda until he can’t feel her warmth anymore. He greets the morning alone.
The Kingdom of Hyrule mourns the loss of its princess deeply, with people from the far reaches of the land paying their respects at the castle. Sorrow lingers in the air, apparent to all who set foot in the castle. It hits them hard, but as with all things, it is soon forgotten in the pages of time.
The stories tell of the Princess and her appointed knight in their quest to vanquish Calamity Ganon. They tell of the Hero’s slumber and his resurrection, and of how he and the Princess worked together to vanquish Ganon from the world. They tell of how the two become closer and eventually fall in love, before the Princess’ life is cruelly snatched away.
They don’t tell of how the Hero spends his days after her death. How he continues leading the military until he is aged enough to need a walking stick, and how he spends the remainder of his days in Hateno Village. They don’t tell of how he gets up every morning without fail and visits the Princess’ grave. Sometimes he brings with him a single Silent Princess, and lays it beside the headstone, where the inscriptions are still as good as new - as if tended to every day.
The sun still doesn’t quite warm him enough, even after all these years.