Winter in Castle Town was always a big deal. Celebrations with families honoring the Longest Night and the coming Spring. Growing up, my father used to decorate our house in bright, colorful lights and my mother would burn pine in the hearth, and the whole house was always filled with the smells of hearty meals and the sounds of both of them laughing. Then, as I grew weary with my belly full, my mother would take my hand and lead me to bed, to end my night with a story.

And, without fail, she’d slip me one last cookie, made especially for me, always with a bright green “L” traced delicately in frosting on the top. She’d always wink and whisper, “Don’t tell your father.” I’d nod with assurance that I wouldn’t, and gobble it down like a hungry wolfos, then settle back in my blankets to sleep.

I treasured these times, because I barely saw my parents together any other time of the year – most of my father’s days were spent commanding royal guards, and his nights were spent in the barracks near castle grounds. But, without fail, as soon as the first snow fell and the skies grew dark earlier and earlier in the day, I would become excited. I knew he’d be home soon.

I never knew how much I’d miss those days, until that first one without him. There were no lights. There was no pine in the hearth. There was only the cold as my mother silently fought to hide her tears behind a weak smile. Our neighbors came in droves that year, bringing their own home cooked hearty meals and gifts and smiles, but each time, they’d leave before nightfall to return to their own celebrations, and my mother would slip a little farther into her sadness.

And then the Longest Night came. I remember she took me by the hand and led me to bed. I was much too old for her to do this anymore, but I didn’t stop her. I didn’t want to. I think we both needed a little bit of familiarity, a little bit of what once was, just to keep the sadness at bay. She laid the covers over me, tucked me in, and slipped me a small sugar cookie, wrapped carefully in a napkin.

“Don’t tell your father,” she whispered.

That was the last time I ever really celebrated the holiday. Even after joining the Royal Guard, I’d watch the castle being decked in lights and hear the songs of the servants, but I always went back to my barracks to spend the night alone.

What’s more now, that was over a hundred years ago. Times are different. People are different. There are no lights in Castle Town anymore, and only the remnants of hearths and homes.

Outside, I can hear the sounds of the princess as she laughs, catching snowflakes on her tongue like a child. She’s doing her best to bring a little cheer as dusk falls for the Longest Night. Many of those finding shelter in Outskirt Stable are doing the same, tacking lights to the tent and singing ancient songs. Hylian drifters just passing through with nowhere else to go, seeking a little warmth from the cold of the first real snow of the season.

They’ve even put lights up on a Guardian’s empty remains.

I cannot help but wonder how they can be so strong after all they’ve been through. How they can even find something worth celebrating, when it feels like everything else has been lost. But I hear them now, and all I hear is…joy.

It’s so strange to me, and makes me think back to those simple times of my childhood, with my mother and my father. Before the Calamity. Before they left this realm to be with the Goddess.

“Link?” I turn, and am met with the princess’s sparkling eyes. Her nose and cheeks, pink from the cold nipping at her skin, barely peek out over her scarf. I don’t need to see her mouth to know she’s grinning. “Will you join us?”

I rise from my bed, where I had just plopped after a day’s exploration without even removing my boots. For a moment, I blink at her. She removes her scarf, and I can see little crystals beneath her nose.

“I know the holiday is hard for you, but…” she shifts awkwardly, and I finally notice that she’s hiding something behind her back. She sees me glance at her tucked-away hands, and pulls them out in front of her. “…Here. I…I made this for you…”

I take her offering: a little bundle of cloth. I can tell immediately that whatever it contains is broken. I raise my eyebrows, but she just stares at me in earnest, awaiting my reaction to her gift.

So I pull away the cloth, and…

My breath catches. A little cookie, one side lightly crumbled, with a squished green “L” in frosting on top lay in my hand. My mother’s whisper echoes in my head, “Don’t tell your father.”

Those days of old may be gone for us all, but that doesn’t mean life has to stop. This may have been a cookie like the ones from my mother, but this time, it had been Zelda’s hand to craft it. Zelda’s love that went into it.

Most of all, it’s Zelda now to make me smile.

I know I won’t ever again forget all the good times of my past, but…I cannot dwell in them. I cannot long for them any more.

Maybe that’s why these Hylians celebrate. Maybe I should just join them.

I smile, take a small bite, and murmur back to my mother, one last time, “I won’t tell.”

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