The Talons were given all the time they needed to grieve by the side of their daughter’s memorial until they felt it was time to leave. The memorial no doubt was originally for the real Zelda, re-purposed for this very inevitability. The fact that such a memorial had already been created sent Link’s skin to crawl a little the more he thought about it. Maybe it wasn’t her idea but someone else’s to have it made in advance, just to be prepared. It still didn’t feel right.
“She was the second one.” Roslin said.
“I’m sorry?” Link asked as he snapped out of his moment of deeper thought.
“Ilia,” Roslin answered, realizing she needed to provide more context, “She was the second girl who gave her life to keep my identity a secret. I don’t want there to be a third. I’m tired of other people dying in my name.”
Link nodded, looking to gaze over the stone figure, approaching it once both he and Roslin were alone, “I’m tired of it too.”
“The Zora?” the woman inquired, moving to stand on the other side of Ilia’s empty marble coffin.
“They didn’t even hesitate,” Link said, “It was like all those legends from so long ago were part of their training. They believed every word of them.”
“Welcome to my world, Lieutenant,” Roslin said, keeping her eyes on the stone visage of the Potentate, “Only you have the luxury of needing to prove yourself when the time comes. Some of us have it thrust on us immediately.”
The young man looked down at the face he had come to know as Zelda, mystified by the fact that it wasn’t quite the face of the woman across from him.
“How many are there?” Link asked, “Girls like Ilia, meant to pass as you?”
The lady sighed, looking off into space, “Including the two I’ve lost, six. Six maidens called into service by their kingdom. The highest calling imaginable; to take the place of your monarch and pass as her in the public eye.”
“Body doubles seem like a pretty wise precaution if you ask me.” Link said.
Roslin shook her head as a brief look of mild disgust crossed her face, “It still feels just as wrong now as it did back when I put the plan into motion. I felt like I was signing their death certificates the moment I selected them. It was just a matter of when each of them would be taken.”
“So you knew this was going to happen, this… Reclamation of the cult of Ganondorf… for how long?” Link asked.
He didn’t sound upset, merely curious. He had a rare opportunity to peer into the mind of the ruler of Hyrule.
“More than fifty years we’ve been aware of the movement, but it wasn’t until the massacres of the outlying territories,” Roslin said and paused, looking directly at the Lieutenant, “The fires and killings that left you and so many others orphaned… that we began to consider them a serious threat. Does that upset you?”
Link shook his head, “No, not really. I’m just trying to understand all of this. It’s a lot to take in.”
“I’m sure it is, so maybe I should start from the beginning.” Roslin said then opened her mouth to continue but the Lieutenant lifted a hand to politely stop her.
“No, no… I think a better place to start would be for you to tell me what you want me to call you. I wouldn’t feel right calling you Roslin anymore.” Link said.
The Potentate nodded, conceding his point. It was a simple but important matter and her Lieutenant had cut straight to it, without guile, without malice.
“I suppose that’s not a bad idea. You can call me Roslin around the others, or First Minister if you like. I don’t plan on dropping the disguise at the moment. In private… I suppose you could call me Terentia. Or Zelda. Whichever you prefer,” she said before narrowing her eyes and glaring lightly at him, “But if you call me ‘your grace’ or ‘your highness’ or any of that garbage again, I’ll make your reproductive organs my personal property and keep them in a little glass jar on my desk, do I make myself clear!?”
Link swallowed hard, tugging at the collar of his uniform. He didn’t question whether or not it was a hollow threat.
“Understood, ma’am.” he squeaked out.
“Good,” Zelda said as she relaxed quickly, letting a soft sigh escape her before she began anew, “I was born only six months before the massacres. When the outer territories burned, it left my parents terrified of what was to come. When I was five, they explained to me what they feared and what they intended to do about it. I was told I would go and live with their bodyguard among the Sheikah, to be raised as his daughter if anyone was to ask, and return to take my place in ten years. I still saw them rather frequently, communicated with them on an almost daily basis, but I lived as if I was one of my subjects. My foster father had another daughter, one he and his wife had. She was to be my sister, and later… she became my personal bodyguard.”
“Impa… Impa is your sister?” Link asked, taken aback by the revelation.
It seemed silly for that to be the thing that left him breathless in spite of all he had been made aware of in the last hour.
Zelda nodded, “As near as makes no difference. I consider her family. If it weren’t for the issue of blood relation, she would be next in line to rule. That and… well… I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want the job.”
Link listened quietly, unsure just how many more world-shifting moments of clarity there would be. It seemed like a wise idea to not speak up until there was an opportunity to do so, or to ask another question.
“So, you’ve known all your life pretty much that you were going to be in power when it all finally came to a head?” he asked.
Again the lady nodded, “That’s right. I’ve been planning for this eventuality as best I could. I didn’t see Yates coming. I should have. I should have listened to my gut when I first met him. They say your first instinct is often times the correct reaction. I just… I knew there was something about him that I didn’t like. He was too polite, too proper. He stood out from the other nobles because of that. Everyone else from the noble houses… they were slimy and trying too hard to ingratiate themselves to me. Yates didn’t. He simply offered his services and stood back. That should have been the red flag, and I ignored it.”
Link frowned softly seeing her falling back into the habit of kicking herself, “So… what are we going to do about him?”
Zelda brought her gaze back up to his, the earnestness in her face rivaled by no other moment he had witness before, “I’m going to kill him. Personally if I have to. No one slaughters and enslaves my people and lives.”
It was a different side of the Potentate than he ever expected to see. She was hungry for revenge. She had been wounded personally and wanted to revisit that pain on her tormentor. It was deeply unsettling.
“Doesn’t sound much like justice talking.” Link said softly.
The lady caught herself just before she snapped at the Lieutenant. She almost let fly with ‘screw justice’ and even before the words could claw up her throat, they left a bad taste in her mouth. She sighed, relaxing visibly.
“Of course you’re right. I’m the leader of a nation. I have to be better than that,” she said and fell silent for a moment, composing herself as a thought swirled around in her mind, bubbling to the surface, “It’s a damn good thing I’ve got you around. You’ve been something of a moral compass on more than one occasion. I guess that’s why you’re the hero.”
Link shook his head and turned away, looking across the sizable platform with its empty pedestal in the center. Somehow, it felt like a very personal metaphor to him; something–someone–he valued was not where they should be.
“I’m no hero. Colin was. If I hadn’t met him, I’d probably be a thug roaming the streets causing trouble… or in jail. Maybe even dead. He made me a better person, and… and I feel like… I’m just living in his shadow.” the Lieutenant said, speaking with a tone that suggested it was his turn to kick himself.
A hand found its way to the young man’s shoulder.
“You would make an excellent Sheikah,” Zelda said, “Come with me. There’s something very nearby I think you really need to see.”
Link looked back at the woman, still trying to reconcile what he should call her. She moved past him as she walked around the raised stone platform, headed for the opposite side of the chamber. There was another archway with a similar room beyond, more monuments and memorials to those who had fallen. These appeared different than the previous group.
As they walked through, the Lieutenant glanced back and forth, trying to place the faces of stone. After a moment, he shifted to looking at the names and his breath was taken away again. He knew each and every one one of these families.
“I want to apologize for not being able to return Colin’s remains so that you and your people could have a proper ceremony,” Zelda said, “But I have a very good reason for not doing so. This is our version of the ‘hall of the honored dead’. Every member of the hero’s line has been laid to rest here–up to a point. About five hundred years ago or so we lost track of your family. We call it the Great Divide, when everyone really started going their separate ways.”
She walked past countless stone sarcophagi. The Lieutenant was only barely listening, startled by just how complete the ‘collection’ was. They were all here, every name from every legend, not just the heroes themselves, but their families as well. There was a strong resemblance between each of the ‘hero’ faces, a resemblance he began to slowly realize they shared not just with each other, but with him. Was this what she intended to show him? Proof that he was in fact of the line of the hero?
“How is it that you’ve got them all here?” Link asked.
“We don’t actually have the physical remains of them all. We started assembling this place too late to make it the true final resting place of all within the line of the hero. Especially after the Great Divide,” Zelda said, “But of the ones we knew of, they’re all here; sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters… and brothers.”
Eventually, they came to one figure in particular that had only recently been moved into its appropriate position. Beneath it read the owner’s name, the years he lived, and the words ‘Touched by the Goddesses, he enriched all our lives’.
“This… this is…” Link could barely choke out.
“Lieutenant, I present the final resting place of your brother, Sir Colin, Knight of Hyrule. The first member of the hero’s line to be brought here since the Great Divide.”
Link was stunned to silence. He looked down upon the carved figure, finding his brother’s features perfectly recreated. He was in a uniform identical to the one Link currently wore. His arms were positioned so that his hands rest atop the pommel of a sword running from his chest down to his feet. It was as if someone had taken him and turned him to stone.
“He’s been here the whole time? I mean… after he died?” the Lieutenant asked.
“Well, there was a bit of a delay, naturally. We knew of you before we laid him to rest though. It just didn’t feel right to not include him.” Zelda said.
The startled young man nodded, recognizing the quote they had taken from his statement at the public memorial service. He lifted a hand to rest it on the carved figure’s shoulder, feeling suddenly like he could at last have a chance to properly say goodbye.
“Thank you for this.” he said.
“You deserved to know,” the lady said and paused, looking down at the image of the fallen soldier frozen in stone, “Do you need a moment to yourself?”
Link shook his head, removing his hand and backing away, “No… not right now. I’ll have time later. There’s still a job that needs doing. Colin would understand that.”
“Then let’s go get to it.” Zelda said before she turned and headed back out to the central chamber, the Lieutenant following her quietly.
The walk out of the ‘hall of the honored dead’ was made in complete silence, right up until a question reached the forefront of Link’s mind.
“There’s one thing that’s still kind of bothering me. How is it Ilia looked more like ‘Zelda’ than you, if you’re actually Zelda?” he asked.
It was a reasonable thing to ask, and it was asked with no malice, only curiosity. The woman offered a very matter-of-fact answer.
“We picked six girls that looked as close to me as we could manage; height, build, hair color, eye color, facial structure, everything. It wasn’t quite enough so… we made the necessary changes surgically. Over the course of about three weeks, I went from being the only one that looked like me to having six twin sisters, right down to the finest detail, even the voice. I took away their identities and gave them mine,” she said as her regrets came through rather audibly in her voice, “From there, it was a matter of making me look less like myself. That was actually pretty easy. They all have a specific makeup job to ‘finish’ the look. The same one I had when I was filling the role myself. When I took up the ‘Terentia Roslin, First Minister of Hyrule’ mantel, I just stopped wearing makeup almost completely. The glasses were a little touch that seemed to work well with the costume. You’d be surprised how few people even bothered to comment on how much I looked like the Potentate. Not to mention how few people are aware of the royal family’s real name. It’s kind of amazing how few people understand the concept of a regnal name.”
“I’ll say. You fooled me. Didn’t even notice the similarities until you said something.” Link said.
“Impa helped me perfect the character. I’d gotten so deep into being the real me I had a hard time being ‘Roslin’. Now… I don’t think I can go back. I’ve been playing this game for ten years. ‘Zelda’ has been nothing but a puppet, just there to keep up appearances. I’ve been running the country just like ‘she’ should be but in a very different, very hands-on way. I rather like that approach.” Zelda said, sounding as though she had no problem whatsoever referring to herself in the third person.
She had come to think of the Potentate as a role rather than a person, just as she had the notion of being First Minister. There was just a series of masks that needed to be worn, either by her or someone else. It made it very easy to compartmentalize all the different identities like that.
Zelda came to stop in the round chamber with the raised platform in the center where they had stood only moments earlier. She gazed across the smooth slab, studying the six emblems carved into it carefully as she spoke. The slab reminded her of a different time in the kingdom, one she had only read about.
“You’ve been running everything? Not just the military?” Link asked with muted incredulity, amazed as she nodded back, “You managed to run everything… while being that deeply involved… no wonder you don’t like repeating yourself. Real type A personality.”
“It’s exhausting,” Zelda replied with a frustrated exhale, “But it’s kind of exhilarating too. And when you’ve got people you can trust helping you out, it’s a little less overwhelming. I honestly don’t know if I could go back to the original style of rule.”
Link frowned softly, not out of disapproval but sympathizing with her, “You don’t want to stop being ‘Roslin’… but… then the other four have to keep up the appearance of being Zelda?”
The woman closed her eyes and turned away in disgust, “I know! It’s cowardly! Hiding out in this… ‘character’ I’ve made up so I can do what I want and not have to put up with the royal garbage… it’s like that stupid Prince and the Pauper story. I always hated it. Reminded me too much of my own life.”
“But in the story, everything turned out just fine in the end… what’s to hate?” Link asked.
Zelda turned back to face him, “Because the Prince goes back to being a Prince–King actually–and I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be some figure up on a pedestal no one can reach, a huge damn target for anyone who wants me. Hard to dodge when you’re up there. Down here, on the field, I can juke, I can sidestep–and most importantly–I can respond. As hard as I need to. I can be what the kingdom needs me to be. Not some… stupid princess!”
She spat the word out as if it were coated in venom. She turned away again, her arms wrapped around herself.
Link stepped forward, resting a hand on her shoulder, “What does the kingdom need you to be right now?”
“A warrior. It needs me to fight back with everything I’ve got, to take the castle back, to knock Yates off his throne before he becomes what he intends to, if he hasn’t already. It needs someone who is going to push back when the going gets rough,” Zelda sighed, pausing for a quiet moment as she looked back over the platform in front of them, “Do you know what this place is?”
It seemed odd of her, to jump subjects so quickly. Link didn’t want to stop her if she had a point to make.
“It’s the Temple of Time isn’t it?” he asked.
Zelda nodded, “That’s right. This was the gateway to the Chamber of the Sages, a place where the Zelda of that time stood and opened the door to the void of the sacred realm. She trapped Ganondorf there. It was a different time. She took a greater hands-on approach than other members of the royal family. She even became a Sheikah to hide herself while your ancestor was sealed away. I always found that story fascinating. She was a strong figure. She was someone I wanted to be like.”
Silence followed as Link let that last comment breathe for a moment.
After a lengthy pause, he finally spoke, “So?”
Zelda turned to look at him, a little hurt that he was taking what seemed to be such a dismissive attitude to her bearing her soul.
“So!?” she asked sharply.
“So, what’s to stop you?” Link replied.
It was his turn to be matter-of-fact, making the woman blink a few times as his revelation began to dawn on her. The hurt from a moment ago began to fade and she began to see the point he was aiming for.
“What’s stopping me?” she asked, not really looking for the Lieutenant to answer but rather she was echoing him.
“You’re the Potentate,” Link said, “The ruler of all of Hyrule. What you say goes. You’re supposed to be Zelda, but you don’t want to stop being Roslin. What’s to stop you from being Zelda Terentia Roslin?”
“I never really thought that could work.” she answered.
“It has been working,” Link said with a frown, “For ten years, you’ve been doing exactly what the kingdom needs. You’ve been what the kingdom needs. And I think this is exactly what this nation needs right now to pull it back together. Everyone knows you as Roslin; the hard-ass, no nonsense First Minister who gets everything done and makes the tough calls. Everyone I know has never had anything bad to say about you other than the fact that you can be gruff. They admit that you are the best thing to happen to the kingdom in the last seventy-five years. When they see that the person they’ve put their trust in for all these years is actually the very Potentate they’ve all sworn loyalty to… Yates will have a riot on his hands the likes of which he’s never seen before. They’ll tear the palace gates down with their bare hands if they have to. You said it yourself that as Roslin, you can be exactly what the kingdom needs… and the kingdom needs Potentate Zelda Terentia Roslin.”
The lady remained quiet for a moment, rolling the idea around in her thoughts, especially liking one particular aspect of it.
“It would certainly stick in Yates’ craw knowing he had me right where he wanted me and didn’t stick a knife in me when he had the chance.” Zelda said.
“That’s one way to look at it.” Link replied.
“I’ll need to change names. There’s going to be a lot of confusion if I don’t go back to what I was called before,” she said.
Link furrowed his brow softly, “What is your legal name?”
Zelda turned and looked back at him blankly, “You been saying it this whole time, Zelda Terentia Roslin.”
“So the six girls replacing you, they all use-“
“The regnal name, Zelda Seres Hyrule,” she answered, cutting him off, “Seres is an old traditional name. I dropped my first name for obvious reasons. Guess that’s going to end.”
“If you prefer going by Roslin, I’ll still use that instead.” Link said.
Roslin looked him in the eye, given pause by his words. It struck her deep in her soul.
“You’ll probably think it’s ridiculous to say this but… thank you. That’s actually a greater kindness than you might imagine,” the lady said and paused to consider the entire notion further, hesitant to push forward with the idea just yet, “I honestly don’t know how to play this one out. Ten years I’ve been doing this job and only now do I get stumped by the politics of it.”
“The politics of it?” Link asked incredulously, taken aback slightly.
He knew this was the lens she saw everything through so it might be hard to try a different perspective.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Zelda replied harshly, reminding him of who he was speaking to, “When you’re in a position like mine, everything you do, say, wear, even the voids between those decisions is taken as entirely political.”
“There’s nothing to politic on this!” Link cried, not backing down this time, though he did restrain himself a little after the outburst, “All that matters is if you have the strength to do it.”
A slight smile tugged on the corner of the lady’s mouth, “Or the courage…”
Link offered a similar smirk, “Well you damn sure already have the wisdom.”
That seemed to trigger something in Zelda’s mind. She lifted a hand, a single finger extended as if to tell him to hold on.
“I’m going to need something. Come on, you’re going to need something too.” she said.
Zelda had vanished and Roslin was back in place of her. The hard-nosed woman walked briskly and with a purpose. Link followed, more than just a little pleased that she had gotten her fire rekindled.