For most people, their crossroads in life is the bridge from childhood to adulthood.
For some, it's a little different…

The Legend of Zelda
Coming of Age

Link squinted against the noon sun as he urged Epona forward. She neighed picking up her speed as she did. Link tightened his hold on the reigns, trying to judge how far he was from the castle's walls. He had been summoned by Princess Zelda, and though he lived in the castle most of the time, he knew he should not keep her waiting.

Epona galloped through a section of the bustling town within the castles walls en route to the castle itself. Cuccos scattered at the sound of approaching hooves not wanting to be trampled underneath the horse's muscular frame.

"Link!"

"Hey, it's Link!"

"How've ya' been, Link?"

The greetings were warm and familiar. Link was famous across the land, though not necessarily because of his adventure through time.

Ever since the defeat of the evil Ganodorf, Link had grown restless for adventure. He was always out, hunting for a battle with a monster, thirsting for action. However, with no evil rising to take hold of the land, adventures were few and far between.

Link knew he should be happy with the peace, but still he felt useless unless he was doing something. He decided good deeds were almost as rewarding as heroics; if anyone ever needed a hand, Link was willing to lend it. Day or night, tired or ill, Link always helped out no matter what.

Link pulled back on Epona's reigns sharply, pulling her to an abrupt stop. A soldier was standing in his way, blocking the road Link usually took to the castle, and looking bored and half asleep. "What's the problem, sir?" Link asked, adjusting his position on the saddle.

"One of the cliffs ahead had a landslide. The road's blocked off until we get enough men to clean it out. You'll have to take the long way to get to the castle," the soldier said.

Link hopped down from the saddle and rubbed his hands together. "Well, I'm here for you. Let's get to it." He started to push his way past the solider, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

For a moment, the soldier didn't know what to think. Then he laughed. "I'm sorry, Link m'boy, but you're just not big enough for this kind of work. Maybe when you're older…"

Link's face got red as anger built up inside him. They can't see past this kid body. I'm still seventeen on the inside, and I've been through more hardships in my one lifetime than most would see in ten. I'm stronger than any soldier, and I sure work a lot harder. Why do they always treat me like I'm a child? I hate this.

Knowing it was better to not argue, Link climbed back on his horse and turned to take the long way to the castle. It went through the town's back roads and through a small stretch of land used mostly for recreation and agriculture. The scenery was always beautiful-one of the most scenic spots in all of Hyrule-and Link wondered why he didn't come this way more often. The smooth green grace, the bubbling creek, the birds singing from the blossoming branches of cherry trees, it all made him feel more relaxed.

As Epona trotted along the dusty path, a splashing caught Link's ear. In one quick, skilled motion, he was off of his horse, sword and shield raised for battle, ready for his aquatic attacker.

He laughed when he saw the source of his concern. Down the hill in the small creek, was a group of boys splashing and playing in the water. There were four of them, each about ten or eleven years old. Link was thankful that they hadn't seen him. Feeling like a fool, he climbed back in the saddle, but before heading on to the castle, he stopped a moment to watch their play. They laughed and splashed, occasionally stopping long enough to throw mud at each other, which stuck to their pale chest until they were submerged by a friend's hand on their head.

It made him think of how he and Saria used to play in the stream that ran through Kokiri village when they were little. Deep down, Link wished he could join them, but he dismissed the feeling as nostalgia. After all, if he wanted people to treat him like an adult, acting like a kid wasn't the way to do it. He started on his way, not noticing that one of the boys was pulling himself out onto the bank.

"Hey! Hey you! The kid on the horse!" the boy called, water dripping over his pale, thin body as he wiped mud off of his chest.

Link wasn't surprised that the kid was addressing him. If adults couldn't see past his exterior, why should a child? "Yeah?" he called back.

From the bank, the kid yelled, "You wanna join us?"

Yes, I do, a voice within him said. Link ignored.

Not able to suppress a chuckle, Link said, "No, that's okay."

As he left them, one of the boys stopped splashing his friend long enough to say, "What a weird kid…"

Please, go back… the voice said from within, before being silenced.

It didn't take Link long to reach the castle. One of the castle's attendants was standing outside, and he greeted Link. "Master Link, Princess Zelda is awaiting your arrival in the Palace Garden. I'll put your horse in the stable. Hurry up; don't keep her waiting any longer than you have."

Link found himself running through the halls of the castle until he reached the garden. Stepping through the stone archway, he saw Zelda sitting on the grass, her blue eyes watching sadly as she picked at a yellow daisy. "Your Highness…" Link began slowly, not sure what else to do.

"Oh! Link, I didn't hear you come up," she said, sounding startled. As she stood, Link noticed she was still clutching the daisy. She caught his gaze, and blushing, tossed it aside. "I'm glad you finally arrived. I have something I want to talk to you about."

What could this be?

"What is it, your highness?" Link asked.

"Oh, Link. How many times have I told you to stop being so formal? Call me Zelda."

"What is it, prin…er..Zelda?"

"Well, it's about your recent activities-or 'adventures' as you put it- since putting down Ganondorf."

Link felt his heart sink. Her tone didn't sound good at all. Have I been a disappointment? "Look, I can explain! There's just nothing that needs doing or no one who needs saving! All the monsters are quietly hibernating, and with no evil looming overhead, they rarely attack people. There's just not a lot for me to do in order to make a difference."

"Link, I'm not talking about your lack of heroics. I'm talking about your overabundance of heroics."

What does that mean? He didn't like where this was going anymore than he had before.

She continued, walking towards him, her golden hair gleaming in the midday sun. "Link, you have made a difference. Whenever somebody is in need, they turn to you, and without a question, you help them. You go too far out of your way to serve your country. You're running yourself ragged; you barely sleep. Link, I'm afraid you don't have time to just…well…be a kid."

"Kid? You think I'm a kid too? I thought you were the only one who understood that underneath this puny body beats the heart of a full grown man." Link said defensively, his voice rising with hurt and anger. "I thought you understood."

"Link, I do understand; hear me out. I know that from manipulating time you retained the spirit of a man, but I also know that you're supposed to be a boy. No matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, you're not in a seventeen year old's body anymore. You're eleven, Link, a boy, and it's time you let the child in you- that's supposed to have his time- have it. Your time will come-sooner than you think-so why not let the child have his time now? You don't have to give up your childhood for this land; I do. To have the freedom you have, I'd give just about anything, but I have responsibilities. To see you squander it makes me so…I don't know…frustrated, I suppose. I'm not saying that you should stop helping people; I'm saying that you need to let the kid in you have his time. Do you understand?"

Link was quiet for a moment, taking it all in. He knew she was right. In fact, he had known it all along. Ever since pulling the Master Sword from the Pedestal of Time, he had been two people: a seventeen-year-old and a ten-year-old. The seventeen-year-old mentality was stronger and wiser, and it quietly subdued the boy inside of him until he was trained to remain silent. Still, there were those rare instances when the child would start to come out, but the adult would knock him back down to his place. Now, though, with Zelda's words weakening his elder and giving him strength, the kid was starting his fight to the surface.

Finally, Link spoke. "I understand."

"Good. Think about what I said. Go out and have some fun today; be a kid. You're dismissed."

She watched him turn to leave, their eyes meeting for a brief instant before he went off. Secretly she wished that it were her who was going out to reclaim childhood.

"Be a kid. Be a kid." The words went over and over in his head. The younger Link drew from them, using them as his source for going on. The older side scoffed at them, but he intended to let his youth carry out Zelda's wish, if only to prove that he was, indeed, not meant for such foolishness. As he led Epona out of the stalls, Link wondered how he should go about doing it. It had been a year since the Deku Tree summoned him, making it about a year since his older side took over. Because of this, the younger Link felt uneasy being in control of the body and unsure of what to do. He then remembered the kids at the creek. "Well, it's worth a shot… Come on, Epona, let's go."

It took a couple of minutes to reach the creek. His heart sank when he saw the boys were no longer playing in the water's cool grasp. After climbing off Epona and kicking a rock, he sat down on the grass against a tree, trying to figure out what he should do.

"Hey! Hey you! The kid with the horse!"

Link turned in the direction of the voice. It was the same kid who yelled at him earlier. "What?" he yelled back.

"Wanna join our game? We need a fifth guy!"

"Okay!" Link shouted, standing up. He hurriedly made his way to where the game was being set up. The three other kids were each standing in a pattern that formed a triangle.

"You know how to play bat-ball, right?" the one who had invited him asked.

Link hesitated, trying to hide his excitement. I love that game. We played it in Kokiri Village all the time, but it's been so long since then. I'm sure the rules will come back to me. "Uhh…sure. Of course I do," he said.

"Good. Let's see what you can do. You can bat first, okay?"

Link tried to think. What do 'normal' kids say? How do they talk? "Okay, sure," Link replied, unsure if that was the correct response.

Link, this is stupid. They're just a bunch of kids. Why do you care about what they think of you?

It didn't help to calm his nerves any as Link gripped the bat. His palms were sweating, and he felt jittery all over. His tunic stuck to his back, as perspiration began accumulating. He had trouble just holding onto the bat, and he muttered a little wish that he didn't look stupid in front of them.

The kid who asked him over rolled the ball in his hand as he took a spot a few yards from Link. "You ready?" he asked.

"Sure." Link found he had to force the word out.

"Okay, here goes." The kid pulled back and let the ball fly. It came at Link fast and quick, and it seemed to curve ever so slightly to the left. Link waited and watched the ball hurtling towards him, pulling the bat back, bracing himself for just the right moment.

Crack!

The bat connected and the ball went sailing upwards into the sky as the stunned kids below squinted upwards-losing sight of the ball as it dropped below the treetops.

"Wow."

"That's amazing."

The pitcher shook off his amazement. "How'd you do that?"

How did I do that? I could never hit like that…uh-oh. I forgot to take off the Goron Bracelet! I'm such an idiot! Well, I can't tell them the truth; I want to fit in, right? "Uhh…I practice… A lot."

"You must, seeing as how you hit like that!" The kid grinned, pulling a spare ball out of the bag he had sitting next to him. "My name's Jim. What's yours?"

"Link."

"Oh… Well, that's Noah, William, and that's Marty," Jim said, pointing to each of his friends. As they were pointed out, they gave a little nod, wondering what they should think of this new guy. "Can you pitch?" Jim asked.

Let's see…Noah…William…Mar-…did he just ask me something? Itch? Pitch? Did he ask if I pitch? "Pitch? Yeah…I pitch. Of course I pitch." A small shiver trembled its way down Link's spine, threatening to travel his whole body if he didn't tense all of his muscles to stop it.

"Great! Give it a shot. Noah, you're up batting." Jim tossed Link the ball as they switched positions.

Gripping the ball tightly, Link could feel his palms sweating again. Don't screw up… Please, don't screw up… He pushed his hair back as Noah picked up the bat.

Why does it matter to you so much what they think about you? You're a national hero, for crying out loud! What do you care about how these children see you? It's just a stupid game.

For the first time, the boy who had long been overshadowed by the man spoke up for himself. Because.

Link's heartbeat quickened slightly as Noah nodded to him, signaling for Link to pitch the ball. He pulled back his arm, perspiration falling over his face. Please don't let me look stupid. I'm I doing this right? Why do I feel like I'm forgetting something? Let's see, ball, arm… Without thinking any further, he let the ball fly.

"Oh sh-"

CRACK

"Ahhhhhh! Owww! Ahh! Ahhh!"

Link's eyes grew wide as bit down on his lower lip. Oh no. I was careless. Oh, man, I forgot about the stupid bracelet again. Oh man oh man… This isn't good, not good at all.

Ha. Serves you right. You're still a child; you can't even handle this, how are you going to make it through life?

"Are you okay?" Link asked, rushing to Noah, who was in a heap, crying, on the ground.

"Get away from me! No I'm not okay! Get away!" Noah's words were muffled by tears but were enough to make Link feel guilty all over.

"How are you hur-?"

"I said leave me alone!"

Jim rushed up and kneeled beside Noah. "Here, let me see." Link stood back, shuddering almost as much as Noah, as Jim moved his arm. Noah howled as soon as Jim touched it. "I think it's broken…" Jim said.

Oh man, Jim's right. It is broken. I broke his arm

I tried to tell you; we're not a kid.

Shut up! Help me think! A potion…a doctor… But the doctor's not in today, and I'm out of potion…

We're out of potion.

I'm out of potion, and I'm crazy. What am I going to do? I have to get help. Oh man, I've really screwed up…

Link looked up and around, desperately trying to think of something to help Noah, who's arm looked more like it was made of cotton instead of bone. Thankfully, luck intervened. "Dr. Guottle!" Link shouted seeing the man in the middle of the dirt path several yards away.

The doctor looked surprised as he turned in the boys' direction. "Yes?"

Link ran full speed until he met him. "Link, what's wrong?"

Panting, sweating, and shaking all over, Link stuttered over his words. "We need help," he said pointing in Noah's direction.

Not long after…

Link was sitting on stump, watching his feet dangle off the side, when the doctor came and sat down beside him. "How is he?" Link asked slowly.

"He'll be fine; he just won't be up to any trouble for a while, that's all. I'm going to take him back to the hospital so I can get some good medicine in him, and a decent splint on that arm." The doctor paused, expecting Link to say something. When he didn't, the doctor saw that he needed to. "You know, Link, they told me what happened."

Still, Link said nothing.

"I know it was an accident, that you didn't mean to hurt him. It's great that you want to be one of the gang and all, but you have to remember that you are different. Most adults can't do the things you can. You're special, and you have to be careful. Try to remember that next time."

There probably won't be a next time.

Good.

Doctor Gouttle stood, motioning for Noah to follow him. Noah obeyed, and as he passed, Link caught the brunt of a stare that cut through him like a knife. "I'm sorry," Link said quietly, turning his head downwards.

The apology fell on deaf ears, and Noah walked off without saying a word.

The other kids followed too, deciding to head home for the day. William and Marty didn't even look at him, but Link overheard bits of their conversation.

"What a jerk."

"What a weirdo."

As Jim walked by, he said nothing as well, but he gave Link a cold, sad look. "I didn't mean to," Link said softly, looking down again. Anything to have to avoid the accusation those eyes held. Jim kept his silence, and walked off.

That didn't go well at all. I hope Noah's all right. I'm such an idiot! Why didn't I remember to take off the stupid bracelet?

Because.

Shut up! You were no help out there! I thought you cared about people too.

I do, but you were in control. It was your decision, not mine. You're on your own for the next six years…unless of course you want to quit while you're ahead…

Seeing he was getting no sympathy from his older half, the younger conscience decided that he was just out of practice, having been bottled up for the better part of a year. He just needed a bit to get back into the swing of things and time to adapt to having weapons and magic to work around too.

Link had spent the afternoon moping, riding Epona around Hyrule's fields aimlessly. Squawking of birds roused him from his self-pity. Cool, moist air hit him, at last refreshing him and telling him he was at Lake Hylia. Link looked around at the tall green grass, and the calm surface of the lake. The calmness made him feel better.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two kids, a boy and a girl both about his age, fishing at the edge of the lake. They were sitting side by side with a grimy looking bucket behind them, and they laughed every once in a while. Link remembered how he and Saria used to sit in the tree at their 'usual spot' and talk for hours on hours.

Link hastily brushed the memory aside and decided to give it another go.

Okay, take a deep breath. Calm down. Relax, just relax. Be yourself.

'Hi, gang! My name's Link! I run around saving time as we know it. What do you guys like to do?' 'We eat bugs, and other thangs that crawls on da grownd. Hay, look at dis one! Hyuk!'

Shut up! You're not helping at all!

I'm sorry. I must be forgetting the bang up job you did last time.

Shut up! Just, shut up!

Link tried forcing a smile when they saw him walking up. "Hey," he said. Good, that's it. Just stay calm.

"Uhh..hey…" the boy said, in a monotone voice. He didn't even look up at Link but continued to fish instead.

"Hi!" the girl chirped. "What's your name there, stranger?"

"Link," he said, giving a little nod. There, that's it. Uh-oh. Too much silence. Say something. Say something! Link stuttered, "Uhh..yourself?"

"My name's Mari. This is my twin brother. His name's Tari."

"Uhh…hey…" Tari said, continuing to fish, and still disinterested in Link.

"You want to fish too, Link?" Mari asked. "You can use my pole, if ya want."

Oh, yeah! Who's the man?

Me.

Why don't you go whittle yourself a cane, grandpa?

Okay. Anything sounds better than having to make serious conversation with Little Miss Muffet here. Come on, let's go.

No no no. I didn't mean for us to actually make a cane. That was just my way of saying shu-

She's been waiting for an answer for quite a while, don't you think?

"Thanks! I'd love to," Link said hurriedly. He let out a nervous chuckle as he felt his face turning red. His back felt sticky as new sweat covered the perspiration from earlier. Link bit his lower lip as he sat down trying not to sit too stiff or too laid back.

Mari giggled as Link sat down between her and her brother. "So, do you like to fish?" Mari asked in her sweet accent, trying to squeeze closer to Link. Is she moving closer to me? Link turned his head to see, but he was met by a pair of big green eyes staring right into his.

Oh, great. It's not bad enough I have to listen to children's conversations, but I have to watch one go through puberty as well.

Link smiled, shyly. "Yeah." Yeah? Just 'yeah'? Think of something else! Uhh..umm…uhh…cast! Cast! For the love of all that is holy, cast!

I'd get you a sedative, but you know, that whole split personality thing…

Link tightened his grip on the rod, and in a fluid motion, he let the line sail. It flew through the air and landed gently, breaking the smooth glassy surface of the water. The lure bobbed up and down on. Link gave the rod a little jerk, making the lure jump. He did it again, and the lure again jumped at his command. A third time, and Link's muscles tensed as the rod was almost pulled from his hands.

"I got one!" Link exclaimed, struggling to his feet.

"Yea!" Mari said, jumping to her feet. "Reel it in! Reel it in!"

"Wow. Looks like you got a big one," said Tari, his voice still void of excitement.

Tari was right. The fish was big and strong, and it took every muscle in Link's body to keep from falling in the lake.

Both of them, boy and fish, struggled and fought against each other, neither wanting to fail. Link was fighting for his pride, his self-confidence, and acceptance; the fish was fighting for its life and dinner.

"I almost…have it…" Link muttered between clenched teeth. The sweat on his hands made it hard for him to hold onto the rod. His heels dug a hole deep in the muddy shore as he fought for his footing. Please don't let the rod break…

Break! Break! Break!

The fish's head was just below the surface of the water. If he had his slingshot, Link was positive he could have hit it. He was so close, and he had to bring it in. Summoning all of his strength, Link gave the rod a final, last ditch, desperate yank. He put so much force into it that when the fish came out of the water, it took to the air, flying up and over his head.

Clang! The fish landed right on the bucket behind the three youths. From it spilled fish-six or seven at least-and they flopped and skipped, sliding down the slope towards the water.

"Our fish!" Tari shouted, diving for one of them. Mud hit him in the face as his hands wrapped around air. The fish had jumped out of reach, slapping him with its tail in the process. Link watched the chaos and the fish as they slid back into the water.

With all of the chaos going on, Link forgot all about his fish, which had detached itself from the line and was flopping on the ground. It was almost as big as he was and held every intent of going back home, no matter what or who stood in its way.

"Agh!"

"Aieee!"

Splash!

Oh man…

Ha ha!

Link watched as his fish sank into the water, taking his pride, confidence, and acceptance with it. He rubbed his back where the fish struck him; sure he'd have a bruise, as he looked at Mari, sitting in the lake, covered with muck. "Are you okay?" he asked. Oh man, I pushed her into the water… But it was an accident; maybe she'll understand.

"Do I look like I'm okay? I'm wet! And covered with mud!" she yelled, furiously as she spat mud from between her teeth.

Hmm… Guess today's not your day for empathy, young'n.

"I'm sorry, but the fish…it knocked me forward, and well, you were in the way…"

"I don't care! I'm wet! And Mom told me if I ruined another dress she'd wring my neck!"

"There goes dinner," Tari said sadly, staring off into the cold blueness of the lake. "Dad's gonna kill me for all that bait we wasted."

"I hope you're happy!" Mari shouted. "Because of you, we're not getting any supper and we're gonna get it deep when we get home!"

"All afternoon…wasted…" Tari's monotone voice was full of disbelief.

"I'm sorry. I can help you catch more! Please, let me help!" Link added quickly.

"I think you've helped enough," Mari said angrily.

I wasn't meant to be happy. I was only put here to help people; not to be human.

Well, yes, you weren't meant to be happy. Me, I was meant to suffer as an adult in a kid's body for six or so years, then I could be happy. But you, you weren't supposed to be around. You were supposed to just fade away quietly; not seen and not heard, the way more kids should be.

I guess you're right.

…… …Hmmm… Now you're making me feel bad.

Good, at least we can agree on being miserable for the next six years. Then I'll die out and you'll have what you want.

… … … For once, the older side had nothing to say.

It was getting dark, and Epona neighed her uneasiness. She was tired and hungry, and she was worried about her partner. It had been almost an hour since the last time he stirred. "What's wrong, Epona?" Link asked, stroking her mane. "You tired, girl?" Link looked around. He hadn't realized it was so dark out. The castle was on the other side of the field; he'd never make it before the gate closed. Kokiri Forest wasn't too far away, and he knew he was always welcomed in his village.

Without dwelling on it anymore, Link pointed Epona in the direction of the forest.

As Epona clipped-clopped her way into the village, Link was met by the familiar smells and sights he had come to cherish. Most of the Kokiri had turned in for the evening, and Link was left feeling alone more than ever as he sat on the banks of the stream, watching Epona lap up a healthy drink and delving into his self-pity.

He sat with his arms hugging his legs, squeezing them tightly against his chest. He buried his face in his knees, and sniffled, trying his hardest to keep his feelings in.

Oh, come on. Don't cry. Please, don't cry.

Why? Are you afraid it will take away from your precious 'man-hood'? I never wanted this. It just happened. I never decided to be a hero. Sure, I like helping people and all, but…I never chose to. It was just forced on me without anyone asking me what I thought about it…

"Hey, Link. Long time no see." Link didn't have to turn around. He knew that voice inside and out. It was Saria.

"Yeah," he said, not looking up. Saria's fairy lit the night air around him, a small beacon shining light onto the darkness of being different-and therefore, alone- his entire life.

She rested a cool, soft hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?" Her voice sounded quiet, and her concern was evident.

"Nothing. Which seems to be what I am."

"Whatever. You're only a legend."

He pulled his pained face up long enough to look at her. "Don't you see? That's all I am. A legend. A hero. I'm not human. I'm a machine. A cold machine put here just in order to make people's lives a little less miserable."

"Oh, Link," she said, sitting down with her arm around him. The words were soft and gentle, trying their best to be comforting. "Don't say that. I've known you my whole life. You're as genuine a human as they come."

"Then why…why can't I be a normal kid?"

"Link," she said, the corners of her mouth upturned just a little, "you're not a normal kid."

"Oh yeah, I forgot. Normal kids don't save the whole world."

"No, not because of that. Well, yeah, most kids don't save the world, or have the title 'Hero of Time', but I'm talking about something else. Link, in the time I've known you, you've shown me that you're the most honest, caring, sincere, nicest guy there is. I can't imagine anyone being a better person or friend than you are. If you weren't chosen by fate, you would still be those things, and I would still be your best friend because of them."

Link took in the words she said, his face filling with the blank expression of one realizing their own idiocy. I've been so stupid… It's been here all along…

"Thanks, Saria," Link said, as he hugged his friend. A smile lit up across his face.

She returned the embrace. "Aww…You're welcome.

"So, are we just going to sit here on the ground, gushing in this sappy hug all night, or what?"

Link laughed as he helped her to her feet. "Well, I had the pity party. What do you want to do?"

She had a mischievous grin on her face.

Uh-oh

"Well," she said, the grin still there, "you kind of need a bath." She put her hands against Link's chest and pushed him playfully. It knocked his balance just beyond recovery, and he went tumbling backwards, right into the stream.

Saria laughed as he stood up, water rolling down his body. "You look like drowned rat!" she teased between laughter.

"Oh, really?" Now Link had her mischievous grin.

"Hey! Woah! Don't!" she protested as he wrapped his strong arms around her. He picked her up and placed her in a sitting position in the water. She laughed and splashed him in the face.

Link returned the favor as their laughter filled the night air around them.

You're not going to complain about this 'childish behavior'?

What's to complain about? This is the most fun I've had in a long time.