To Forge the Master
"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." William Shedd
He swallowed the lump in his throat as he looked up at the palace. The palace of Hyrule was one of those places; the kind that you always look at from far away, imagining grand and wonderful things happening there. A place that was always just beyond your fingertips, and if you tried just a little bit harder, it would welcome you with open arms. It kept you going, just knowing it would be there.
He had always dreamed of seeing the palace up close. With its clean, white stone walls, brightly colored flags, and rich gardens; it called to him, smiling at him in its own way. Beauty and power stacked carefully together in perfect harmony. But that was not the best part. No, the best part was the princess Zelda.
He had seen her only once before, but it was many years ago. People and dignitaries from the many races of Hyrule had converged on Castle Town for the festival held every spring. The festival was to honor the Goddesses and pray for a good year. It also helped promote goodwill among the races – who varied as drastically in form as culture.
He had come to Castle Town with his mother to help sell their calves, kids, foals, and cuccos from the year before. A lead rope clutched in one hand and a cage of coccus in the other, he hurried to keep pace with the older woman as she moved through the crowd, leading several cows. Theirs was a small farm, scraping by on the milk and livestock they could sell at market.
They had barely tied up the animals and settled in when the trumpets sounded. And there she stood, tall and proud at her father's side. All of ten years old, yet she already commanded the authority of a woman twice her age. With golden hair and eyes so blue they must have been gifts from Nayru herself, she was breathtaking – or as breathtaking as a ten year-old-boy could think a girl could be.
The king and princess descended into the crowd, which parted to let them through; he shook hands with excited citizens and she curtsied every so often. They greeted the dignitaries – each in the way their culture dictated – in the center of town, and the crowd cheered. Drums, flutes, harps, and other instruments struck up a tune and the festival began. The crowd shifted, merchants hawking their wears, vendors selling roast meats and corn, people singing and dancing in the streets, and the young princess disappeared from sight.
Disappointed, he turned to check on the ties for the horses. A young mare nibbled at his straw-colored hair and he smiled. Just a year old, she was his favorite. But his mother said they could not afford to keep her. His heart ached already.
"Excuse me," A soft voice brushed against his ear, so soft, in fact, he almost did not hear it over the fanfare. When he turned, he found himself staring into twin seas of blue. Surprised, he stepped back. The girl giggled, her blond hair bobbing with the action. He swallowed, hard. Princess Zelda stood only a step away from him. "Hi." She smiled and gave a small curtsy.
"Um... hi." He returned her curtsy with an awkward bow. "Can I, uh, help you?"
"Father said I could buy myself a horse for my birthday. May I buy one of yours?" She looked down the line of yearlings
"Sure, I mean, yes, Your Highness," he replied. The princess giggled again. "Which one do you like?" She took her time looking over each of the horses, petting their noses as she went. Finally, she took her purse out of a pocket in her dress. "I want that one." She pointed to a beautiful dapple-grey stallion on his right. Nodding, he untied the rope keeping it to the hitch and led it around, while the young princess went to pay his mother.
That had been the last year they attended the festival together. Not long after, his mother became terribly sick. A soothsayer told his father of a mushroom, that only grew in Kokiri forest, which could cure any aliment. Despite the warnings and stories, his father left in hopes of finding the miracle cure. He never returned.
To make matters worse, his sacrifice was in vain. A few weeks later, his mother was back on her feet, though she was very sickly thereafter. But the damage had been done, they could not run the farm on their own. By the end of the year, his mother remarried to Halon Lon, owner of the Lon Lon ranch. Another year passed and they were blessed with his new baby sister, Raylon – Ray for short. But the strain of childbirth was too much for his mother's weakened body, and she passed away only a month later.
Life after that was different. His stepfather and sister were kind, but could not replace the family he lost. Still, he did not have many complaints. The Lon family did well, though not as well as some, and it was a far cry from the small farm he had grown up on. His plate was always full, his clothes always without patches, and his bed always had enough blankets. In addition, he was allowed to pick one horse, cow, goat, or cucco to keep for himself every year. Last year his stepfather had helped him raise a barn to keep his own livestock in.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, he returned to the matter at hand. He reined in his horse at the front gate. A gruff-looking guard stood behind the iron bars, glaring up at him.
"State your business," The guard grunted.
"I received a summons from the princess." He reached into his pouch and pulled out the scroll that had been delivered the day before. The red wax seal, pressed with the Royal Crest, was broken. The guard snatched it from his hand and unrolled it. With a disdainful grunt he rolled it back up and thrust it into the younger man's hand, before opening the gate.
Nodding to the guard, he rode through the gate, flinching when it slammed shut behind him. He passed a dozen more guards between the gate and the castle, and each one insisted on checking his summons. Some even double- or triple-checked it.
The whole affair struck him as odd. The castle had always been a very open place, with the gates open during the days and only a token guard at night. But then, what did he know about palace security.
After having his summons checked again at the palace door, he was whisked inside and up to the throne room. He was barely able to brush the travel dust from his clothes and snatch his hat from his head before he was all but forced to bow at the princess' feet.
The room, despite being full of people, was silent. His own breathing seemed to echo around him and he was sure all of Hyrule could hear his heart pounding against his ribs.
"You are the boy from Lon Lon ranch?" The princess' voice floated over him and he swallowed thickly.
"I am Your Highness."
"Rise," her voice was soft, but the command was clear. He got to his feet as quickly and gracefully as he could manage. Then he saw her, Princess Zelda. Time had made her older, but she still had the same golden blonde hair and those unbelievable blue eyes. If she recognized him in return, she showed no sign. "Leave us." There was a great clamor as the room emptied of everyone but the princess and himself. Zelda moved to look out the window. "What is your name?"
Taken aback by the unexpected question, he hesitated. "Uh, Link, Your Highness."
"Link," she repeated, rolling the name around in her mouth. Then she turned and gave him a soft smile. "You have come a long way, Link. You must be hungry." Before he could respond, she clapped her hands and a guard stuck his head in the door. "Bring us lunch." The door closed and she looked back at him. "We have much to talk about. Come, sit."
They had just gotten seated at a small table near the window – he could only assume it had been placed there earlier for this purpose – when the doors opened again and several people entered. One set out bowls of steaming soup, bread, fruit, and wedges of cheese; while another poured them glasses of wine.
Link swallowed as he looked at the many foods on the fine china. The Lons had nice things, but not this nice. Even though he was wearing his best clothes, he still felt tragically underdressed.
"Now," the princess began as the people left them alone again, "we can talk." She took a roll and offered the basket to him. "Tell me, Link, what do you do at your ranch?"
"Thank you, Your Highness," he said, taking a roll for himself and returning the basket to the table.
"Please, call me Zelda. I fear formalities will only become cumbersome before we are through."
"Yes, Your... I mean, Zelda." He blushed slightly, feeling very awkward calling the Princess of Hyrule by name. She smiled and gave a small laugh, waving for him to continue. "Yes, well, mostly I tend the animals at the ranch. We raise horses, cuccos, goats, and cows."
"Do you travel much?" Zelda asked, sipping a bit of soup delicately from her spoon.
"No, not really. My sister and I take milk, cheese, and eggs to market. The yearlings we don't keep are sold at the yearly festival, but I usually stay home while Ray and Papa Lon go." He picked up a wedge of cheese and took a bite. It was wonderful, almost melting in his mouth. His delight must have shown on his face because the princess giggled again.
"Papa Lon? Is he not your father?"
Link shook his head. "No, Your, I mean, no, ma'am. He's my stepfather, and Raylon is my half sister."
"I see." She tore a small bite out of her bread and placed it gracefully into her mouth. It seemed she would inquire further, but hesitated. The next few minutes passed in silence as they both ate, and digested their conversation. Link wondering what his family situation had to do with anything and fought the urge to ask, so as not to seem too presumptuous. Finally, Zelda placed her food aside and folded her hands in her lap. Her face was set as if she had come to some sort of final decision. "Have you ever used a sword?"
"What?" he asked, startled by the question. "No, I mean, never."
Zelda sighed. "I see."
"Forgive me, Your Highness, but what is this all about?" He placed his spoon down on the table and tried to look more confident than he felt. "I hardly think you summoned me here just to hear about my life."
"No." She smiled softly and shook her head. "I did not. And, I ask you to forgive me. I made some assumptions that have been proven false."
"I don't understand." He frowned.
Zelda sighed as she stood and folded her hands on the windowsill. "I don't know if you have noticed, but Hyrule is changing. Things are not as peaceful as they once were. There have been a number of attacks on the edge of the kingdom; all the races have reported losses. Stalkids, Moblin, and Bokolin are more numerous than they have ever been and they are becoming more bold."
"What's this have to do with me?" Link asked, shifting his weight uneasily.
"High Priest Rauru has spoken with the Goddesses. They have told him that Hyrule is heading towards dark times; wars on a scale we cannot imagine. The races will turn on each other, a dark lord will come to possess great power, and eventually the very kingdom will fall beneath the waves." She looked out over the land, her face drawn in an effort not to cry. After a long pause, she drew a shaky breath and continued. "But there is hope yet. The Goddesses said they have chosen a child of great courage who can save Hyrule."
"And you think that child is me," Link said, unable to keep the incredulous tone from his voice. Zelda gave him a kind smile.
"I do not know. Only Rauru will know for sure." Zelda answered, a shy smile on her lips. "You are only one of several possible choices. The Gerudo, Zora, Goron, and all the other races have sent their bravest young men. Many of the most prominent families in Hyrule have sent their sons as well."
"Then why me? Papa Lon didn't send me, I was summoned!" Link protested.
"You were." Zelda nodded, finally turning away from the window to look at him fully. "Because I nominated you." Link's mouth opened to protest, but found nothing he could say would be appropriate, and shut it again. Zelda let out a small uncomfortable laugh, blushing a little. "Let us just say for now, that all people regardless of status, have their secrets." She smiled at him. "But for the time being, you are a guest of the castle. Make yourself at home, your room will be in the north wing."
Before he could ask another question, she clapped her hands and the doors swung open again. A full-figured woman quickly bustled him off, pushing and pulling him along much faster than her size seemed to allow. He was swept up a spiraling set of stairs, finally stopping outside a pair of double doors twice his height. The woman opened one and gestured for him to lead. Confused, he stepped in.
The room was massive, easily several times the size of his room back home. A four-poster bed stood in the middle, draped in gold and green, with a soft green comforter. On the right was a sitting area with plush chairs and a small table, all facing towards a pair of glass doors leading to the balcony. On the left was a writing desk – neatly stacked with all the items of the trade – a wardrobe, and a door. Everything was decorated in greens and tans. The woman who had led him here quickly vanished through the door.
He shrugged, and walked over to the bed. After a long day in the saddle, it was the most inviting sight he had seen in a long time. Closing his eyes, he let his body relax and gravity take over.
"Huphuphup!" The woman's voice startled him just as he began to fall. He pin wheeled his arms and managed to regain his balance. The woman glared at him, her grey-red hair falling into her aged eyes. Feeling like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he gave her a chagrined smile. She snorted and pointed back to the door. Ducking his head, he hurried to obey the unspoken command.
Oh, yes, champion of courage chosen by the Goddesses. Right. He could not even stand up to one servant lady.
It turned out the door led to a bathroom. The floor and walls were made of cut stone that had been polished smooth. The room was largely undecorated, except for a couple of small windows high on the wall to let in light and a small wooden table stacked with fluffy towels. The only furniture in the room was a large tube filled with steaming water.
Making sure the door was completely closed, he stripped out of his clothes and slipped into the water, sinking all the way to his chin. He sighed. This was much better than washing up in the cold stream that flowed passed their farm from the mountains. Tired muscles began to unknot, and the thin layer of dirt and grim began to melt.
He closed his eyes and just let his body relax in the hot water. His mind drifted over what the princess had said. Now that he thought about it, the nights back home had been getting rougher. The animals were restless, starting at the slightest noise. Recently, they had found several goats slaughtered just beyond the barn. At the time, it looked like they had smashed their way out in a spooked panic and run across a rogue wolf. But in hindsight, the hole in the wood was too large, and the animals still left had acted strange for weeks afterwards.
He sank lower and blew some bubbles. It was becoming more and more clear that something was going on. That still did not explain why he was here.
The water was beginning to cool, so he dunked his head and scrubbed the dirt and dust from his hair and face. Feeling cleaner, but more confused than when he got in, Link pulled himself from the water. Grabbing a towel from the small table, he patted himself dry.
He looked down at the clothes he had left on the floor. He had only brought one other set of clothes with him, but they were for a formal occasion. Still, it seemed a shame to put his travel clothes back on after such a nice bath. Deciding he'd split the difference and try to shake the dirt out of them, he wrapped the towel around his waist, grabbed his clothes, and stepped back into the room.
He moved to the balcony and pushed open the double french doors. Warm summer air swept over him, swaying his wet hair. He took a deep breath and sighed. From this height, he could see most of Hyrule. To the east, mountains rose up to meet the sky, the tallest of which was Death Mountain; to the west, the land dipped away as it ran towards the sea of sand and out of sight.
The wind shifted and he could almost smell the sweet hay and cool water from the Lon Lon ranch, but it was only wishful thinking. Even if he squinted, he could only just discern the outline of farms against the horizon. He had only been away a few days, and already he was homesick.
Muttering to himself about being stupid, he beat as much dirt as he could from his clothes, before donning the brown tunic and tan pants. It was a dull ensemble, but its colors were perfect for stable working.
Finally, clean and dressed, he returned to the bed and flopped down. The soft mattress quickly engulfed him. His muscles ached as the tension and wariness seeped out of them. He closed his eyes and stretched, turning over to lie on his stomach. Minutes later, he was asleep.
Link swallowed hard as he looked up at the building. It was several stories tall, made with dark bricks and white stone relief, giving it an eerie air of times long passed. The windows were made of stained glass, that managed to look gloomy despite their bright, cheery depictions.
Around him stood about a dozen other boys about his age, representatives from every race. The Gorons, Zora, and Rito had each sent two young men. The Gerudo had sent their King, Savas, since he was the only male they had to offer. Besides himself, there were three other Hyrulians, all dressed in their finest clothes. Subconsciously, Link brushed wrinkles from his own dress tunic.
The last person in the group was a boy dressed in a blue tunic, with matching blue pants, and a pair of strange soleless black boots that looked more like stockings. Ruffled black hair hung over bright green eyes, and a white scarf covered the lower half of his face. White, stiff leather armor covered his shoulders and torso. Alert eyes watched everything with a critical stare.
"May I have everyone's attention, please?" Zelda's voice floated over them. All heads turned to see the princess step out of the huge cathedral, her hair and skirt blowing gently in the wind. "Priest Rauru has asked that you each enter the temple separately. It seems only fair that this be done by age. Oldest first, please."
There was a great shuffle as they arranged themselves as asked. Link found himself standing between a Zora with particularly bright blue fins, and a Hyrulian dressed in fine red silk. The Hyrulian glared with beady eyes down his overly long nose, and sneered. Link took a deep breath and looked away. There was no use getting into a fight.
When everyone had settled again, Zelda motioned to the oldest, the boy dressed in blue, and he climbed the steps to the temple. An uneasy silence followed, as they waited for something to happen. It was only a few minutes, though it felt like hours, before the boy appeared in the doorway again. Everyone leaned forward eagerly, but he merely shook his head and stepped aside.
"Of course," the Hyrulian boy behind Link said airily. "Imagine, a person like that, Hero of Hyrule. It's laughable. He might as well be... a farm boy." Several other boys laughed, and the Zora looked over his shoulder with a frown. Link bit the inside of his cheek, focusing on just getting through this so he could go home.
Next came Savas, then a Hyrulian boy in green, followed by both Gorons, a Rito, and the Zora with the bright blue fins. Each entrance was followed by a baited silence and each exit by a rise in anticipation as the number of possible Heroes dwindled.
Finally, it was Link's turn. He swallowed hard.
"Hurry up, little farm boy," the boy behind him hissed in his ear. "Hyrule waits for her Hero, and you're in my way."
Link choked down his retort and climbed the steps with far more confidence than he felt.
The first thing he noticed about the temple was the sound. All around him, he could hear beautiful, clear voices singing, yet there was no choir he could see. In fact, there was very little he expected to see in a temple of any kind. Besides the red carpet and the alter, the room was completely empty. The high windows cast bright light onto the marble black and white floor.
The only other person in the room was an older man, with receding white hair and a thick beard. He wore heavy orange and red robes that hid all but his head, and only then because his hood had been pushed back. He smiled down from behind the altar with kind blue eyes. Still, Link felt as if the man could see through him, down into his very soul.
"What is your name, my son?"
"Link, sir," he replied awkwardly, not sure how he should address a high priest.
Rauru gave a small laugh. "You may call me by name. Come." He turned around and raised his arms. The large slab of stone Link had assumed to be part of the altar, shook and shifted, grinding to the left. Beyond, a large room came into view.
Like the rest of the temple, it had a black and white checkered floor and high windows that let in shafts of light, but little else. The only item in the room was a large raised area with a pedestal in the center. Stabbed into the pedestal, was the most worn-out sword Link had ever seen. The blade was rusty, its edge dull, and its hilt tattered.
"That," Rauru spoke over the invisible singers with practiced ease, "is the sword gifted by the Goddesses to slay any evil. If you are the Hero of Hyrule, you will be able to pull it from the stone."
Link looked up at the priest and back at the sword. It seemed hard to believe that a sword in such poor shape could slay any evil, but who was he to question the wisdom of the Goddesses. With a deep breath, and a reminder that he could go home as soon as this was over, he stepped up to the sword, took hold of its hilt, and pulled.
In that moment, several things happened at once. The ground seemed to fall away from his feet, a surge of icy warmth crept into his hands and up his arms, and the world filled with an extraordinary blue light.