Only the Hero Remainsby paxnirvana
Author's Note: My take on what happens between the end of "Ocarina of Time" and the start of "Majora's Mask". Hey, it's not much, but it gets it out of my head, okay?
Just how does the hammer feel after you put it back in the toolbox?
Disclaimer: All of it's Nintendo's. They make the big bucks, not me.
He approached the Princess slowly, through the peaceful garden. Knowing too much. The power of the Triforce of Courage no longer pulsed within him, but he remembered its presence too well. She was peeking through the window into her father's hall, her back to him, just as she had been the very first time he had seen her.
"Princess Zelda," the Hero of Time called softly. "What do you see?"
She whirled about with the little gasp he had come to know so well on the perilous descent from Ganon's Tower, her hand rising to cover her mouth, her deep purple eyes wide in surprise.
"Oh, green clothes, green hat. . . but you have no fairy. . . are you from the forest?" she asked. Though he had expected it, her words stung. He still felt naked without Navi circling his head. The courageous fairy was gone. She had left him to protect and serve the Deku Tree Sprout growing now at the foot of the Great Deku Tree. He took a step toward the Princess. Too old for his child form, too young for his adult form, he was torn. He knew already the power and strength that awaited him, and the peace and happiness, perhaps, that she had denied him by returning him here.
"I once lived in the forest, Princess," he said sadly, for the lost friend of his first youth. Saria. Lost to him now forever. The Princess's expression fell.
"Oh, then you aren't the one I dreamed about. . . " she said, turning away, her hands clenched before her. She cast a worried look toward the window again.
"I am the one," he said calmly. She looked toward him again, her expressive eyes clouded.
"But I saw a fairy. . . " she began.
"Her tasks were complete, Princess," he interrupted, taking a step toward her. He looked up at her, the so very young, so very beautiful and so very innocent princess, who, in her ignorance would unwittingly destroy the world she loved while attempting to protect it. Only after its destruction, and the Triforce of Wisdom passed into her possession, would she understand the true nature of her error. And suffer greatly for it.
"I don't understand," she said, a small frown clouding her beautiful brow. She was golden and lovely and remote. He longed for her with a need beyond his physical years. But his Zelda was lost to him, forever out of reach across the eddies of Time. The three sacred stones had vanished from the altar of the Temple of Time. There was no way back for him, for no door could be opened that might allow evil a chance to escape. Yet it fell to him; the final task that would make the seal complete. He climbed the last two steps toward her and held out his hand. "I have come for the Ocarina of Time, Princess Zelda."
"What?" she cried, shocked. "How do you know about that? It's a Royal Family secret!"
"I am Link, the Hero of Time," he said wearily. "You once told me about it yourself. You threw it to me as you fled Hyrule Castle Town with the Sheikah Impa, pursued by Ganondorf himself." She made as if to look over her shoulder, but broke off to say eagerly, her face bright with hope, "Impa? Do you have news of her? I could not find her this morning."
"You will not see her again, Princess," he said with heavy certainty. "She has awakened as a Sage and now helps to hold closed the Sacred Realm against the evil sealed within."
"Then all those dreams, what I saw - " She raised her hand to her throat in horror. "It happened somehow, didn't it? The deaths. The loss. The battle against the evil one. . . " She looked at him with new understanding, seeing a shadow of, in the child, the man he had once become.
She turned her back to him then and cried; great wrenching, gasping sobs that seemed near to tearing her small frame apart, despite the arms wrapped tightly around her body. He did not take the short step toward her to offer her comfort. She would not welcome it. And he knew she was strong, despite her fragile appearance. The sobs gradually faded into deep breaths as she mastered herself.
"Why do you want the Ocarina of Time?" she asked, her voice weak and shaky. She took another deep breath and drew herself up, the strength he had known existed within her manifesting itself at last.
"It is part of the final seal to the Sacred Realm, Princess," he said. "As am I. The Master Sword must remain as lock, and as I am the only key that can remove it, I too must leave. Before I do, I will seal the Temple of Time again."
She stared at him for a long time, her lip caught in her teeth, tears starting in her eyes again. Her dreams had become clear to her. Her own folly as well. Yet he said nothing against her. She dashed them impatiently away, then she shook her head and sighed. "My dreams have been telling me this and many other strange and terrible things," the Princess said. "Even without the fairy, you have the light of the one I saw so many times." She reached into her kirtle and pulled out the familiar gleaming blue Ocarina. "I will trust you, Link." For a moment longer she held it tight in both hands, pressing it to her heart before she extended it toward him. As she had so long - or never - before.
"Take it with my blessings," she said. "May it protect you and guide you wherever your wanderings take you."
"Thank you, Princess," he said, dropping to one knee to accept the magical Ocarina from her outstretched hands. Their fingers brushed for the barest of instants and he felt the familiar surge of destiny. The lingering ache where the Triforce of Courage had rested in his hand intensified painfully, then pulsed into silence. She snatched her own hand back, cradling it in the other and staring at him in astonishment.
"There was your confirmation, Princess," he said. "The Triforce cannot deceive. Fare well, Princess Zelda."
He raised the Ocarina of Time to his lips and quickly played the Prelude of Light. Power surged from the sacred instrument. The familiar rush of magic surrounded him, carrying him away in a swirl of glittering golden light, taking him away from the Princess, the Castle and his last hope.
The Temple of Time was cold. He shivered as he appeared on the stone symbol in the center of the lofty hall. Before him loomed the doors that led out into sunlight and laughter and the bustling life of Hyrule Castle Town. He turned his back on that welcoming door and walked slowly toward the altar. In the great circular room beyond, the Master Sword called to him from it's resting place in stone in the center of the high pedestal. It was made for him, it entreated him silently. His hand alone could wield it; it was his right to take it up again to defend the realm against evil. He shook himself, tearing his gaze reluctantly away from it. He knew he could not answer its siren call.
Looking down at the altar instead of the Sword, he grimaced at the three empty spaces where once great emblems of power had rested. The Three Sacred Stones had returned to their keepers. But he had been warned that this alone was not enough to ensure the Evil One did not break free. The Master Sword must remain, the Stones must be far away and the Hero of Time must not be tempted to draw the sword again.
He lifted the Ocarina and played the Song of Time. In a rippling wave of magical blue fire, a weighty portal appeared over the archway, sealing the Master Sword away from the world again. Nothing save the utter destruction of the Temple itself would expose the Sword again. The last key rested against his lips.
He turned away, his heart heavy. All that he had earned, all that he had fought for, all that he truly loved lay on the far side of that portal. He was just a young child again and none remained in this world who remembered the friendships forged, the battles won, the sacred places reclaimed. All was peaceful here. Only by this final sacrifice would it remain so.
Walking slowly back to the great seal of the Triforce, he lifted the Ocarina of Time to his lips and played the Minuet of Forest a final time.
Appearing on the identical stone symbol in the center of the far distant meadow, he dropped to his knees, the Ocarina falling onto the symbol with a hollow clatter. He held still for an instant, listening in vain for a certain laugh, an echo of music, the rustle of an enemy. There was nothing. He cried out into the silence before burying his face in his small hands.
He was alone.
Link wandered in the Lost Forest for several days, visiting all the old familiar places, but memories of days past spent content with Saria tormented him. As well as memories of the enemies he had fought. He found himself growing more and more disheartened with each empty clearing, each harmless scrub he encountered. The doorway to Goron City tempted him, the spring that led to Zora's Fountain enticed him. But he would not pass through either. The eyes of Darunia's son and King Zora would pierce him for their strange losses. He grew melancholy, at a loss without his quest to shape his actions.
Until one day when he sat in the center of a sunny clearing filled with dancing butterflies. Some impulse seized him and he played Saria's Song again. Weakly, across the gulf of time and power, he felt her response and like a gentle breeze, it spread healing on his heart. Resolute and calm, he passed through Kokiri Village, taking leave of all his friends. His old rival Mido accepted his leave-taking in silence, strange awareness behind his hostile eyes.
He knew he couldn't leave Hyrule forever without saying goodbye to Malon. Link left the Deku Tree's forest behind without another look. His short legs pumping steadily, tirelessly, he ran across the pea-hat infested Field toward Lon Lon Ranch. He arrived in the early evening, as Malon and Talon were rounding up the horses for the night. As usual, Malon was doing most of the work, lulling the horses into happy obedience with her bright songs and clear voice. Talon leaned sleepily against the pasture gate, watching his daughter with his usual wary amazement. Link marveled again that such a loyal, hard-working soul could come from any union with the lazy, irresponsible Talon. Malon's mother must have been a truly extraordinary woman.
Malon smiled and laughed when he came up beside her.
"Fairy boy!" she said brightly. "Things seem much better around here now, I can't say just why, but they do."
He smiled back at her, relieved that she would be spared the suffering he had seen. Tears would now be rare strangers to those mischievous eyes. He pulled out the Ocarina and played the song she had taught him. As expected, the young Epona cantered up, whinnying happily.
He reached out and scratched the little horse in a way he had learned through many days companionship that she liked. Epona snorted contentedly and rubbed her face against his shoulder, nearly bowling him over. He laughed at her antics, Malon soon joining in. They both began to stroke the horse, their words light and teasing as they fussed over the little red mare. Epona basked in the attention.
"I have come to say goodbye, Malon," he admitted finally. "I must leave Hyrule." Malon looked at him over Epona's back, her eyes dimmed by sorrow.
"I knew that, somehow, Fairy Boy," she said, soberly, stroking Epona.
"I'll miss you, Malon," he said into the silence. "You've always been a good friend." She looked at him curiously for a moment, remembering only the way he had helped her in the Town, but at last smiled her sunburst smile in return. He felt some of the ache in his heart ease. Someday she would find a dedicated, hard-working young man to marry and help her to make the ranch the place she had always dreamed of; a place that raised the finest horses in all the realms.
There would be no evil king to disrupt her life now.
"I can't just let you go alone," she said. "Please, take Epona with you. She's fond of you already and I couldn't bear to see her pine for you."
"I would be honored, Malon," he said, staggered by the magnitude of her gift. Epona turned and looked at him, butting him with her head as if to say, "You'd better be honored!"
Malon smiled at him again, her blue eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "If your travels bring you back someday, remember that you are always welcome here, Link," she said.
He mounted Epona, saluted Malon and the drowsing Talon, and rode out of the ranch.
Knowing Hyrule Field well, he rode Epona toward the east. There were places south of Kokiri Forest where few ever went. Surely he could find a way through the forest to some place he might make his own. Some place where he could be free of destiny.
He rode slowly across the vast field as evening turned into night, enjoying the warm summer air. They reached the forest's boundary by early morning. He slid off Epona's back near a tiny stream, and finding a soft grassy dell nearby, curled up in it for a few hours sleep.
When he finally woke it was nearly evening again. He realized then how little sleep he had bothered with during his long quest. He was still very tired. He took the opportunity to eat - stripping early berries from a nearby bush - and to wash himself in the tiny stream. Then he summoned Epona again with the notes of the Ocarina. Mounting her, he rode her slowly into the forest, pausing at the edge to look back once at Hyrule Field. Looming in the far distance was the cloud-haloed head of Death Mountain, at its feet, the Castle.
Then he clucked to Epona, and together they passed into the forest's shadows and out of the land of Hyrule. . .
. . .but awaiting them somewhere in the dimness of the forest ahead were two wayward fairies and a strange figure wearing an ominous mask. . .
It begins. . .