A/N: Hello everyone. I'd like to apologize for the lateness of this chapter. I have spent the last several weeks in and out of the computer shop. It started with a virus, and ended with the complete wiping and reformatting of my hard drive. This has not only hindered my posting, but the writing of the chapter itself. Again, I apologize for keeping you all waiting, it was not my original plan.

To Forge the Master

Chapter 21

There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.

Schmendrick, The Last Unicorn

Link was surprised to find himself comfortable. His last memory had been one filled with blood, so he had expected to wake in pain. Whatever he was lying on was downy soft and cradled his body, and a weightless cover kept him warm. He was so comfortable he was tempted to not open his eyes, and instead roll over and go back to the wonderful blackness of sleep before the pain of reality could claim him.

"Are you going to sleep forever, my hero?"

Link's eyes snapped open and he found himself staring up into the smiling face of Farore. "Crap, am I dead again?"

The goddess laughed in her almost child-like musical tones. "No, just dreaming. You are very much alive."

"Well, that's a relief." Link sighed as he sat up. As he did he got his first good look at the dream world and raised an eyebrow. He was indeed lying on a bed, covered by a downy comforter, but the room was not one he recognized. It was an odd mix of many places. While the bed was clearly like the one from his room in the castle, the furniture looked more like it had been transplanted from Lon Lon Ranch. The floor was carpeted in fresh, fragrant grass. The gold and pearl balcony doors opened onto a white sand beach. "I think I hit my head too many times..."

Farore giggled as she stood from her cross-legged position on the bed. "Don't worry. Dreams are always a bit weird. Be glad yours are so pretty. Most people's are very dull and colorless." She walked across the room and stepped through the doors. "Ooooo, very nice!"

Curious, Link got up and followed. The minute he stepped through the doors he was hit with the smell of moist, salty air. A summer sun warmed his skin and a cooling breeze swept through his hair. Turning, he saw that the beach wrapped around a fair sized island. Lush grass and tall trees grew everywhere. Nightfire grazed peacefully under a tree that bore fruit of every kind. The only structure was a small, unassuming hut attached to the extravagant doors he had just passed through. "Yeah...I'm going to stick with the hitting my head theory."

"Do you like it?" Farore asked with a big smile.

"It is nice in a weird sort of way," Link offered with a shrug

"Good! Then it's yours." The goddess threw open her arms as if she were expecting applause for a magic trick at a carnival.

"What?"

"I've made it real. You can come here between battles to rest." She practically bounced with excitement. "Come on! Let's go see what else you created here." She grabbed his hand and began pulling him down the beach, but Link pulled up short.

"Wait, you mean the battle isn't over? I have to go back!" He began looking around and for the first time realized that there was no boat or any way off the island.

"The battle is over," Farore said softly, drawing his attention back to her, "but the war has only begun." She turned and continued down the beach at a more sedate pace.

Link followed, confused. "But I destroyed Ganon. Didn't I? I thought I did, but it got really blurry at the end..."

"No, you didn't. You ended his life. It's not the same thing," the goddess provided, stopping to pick up a golden seashell and hold it to her ear. Smiling she offered him the shell.

"I don't understand." Link sighed, accepting the shell and placing it to his ear. He was startled to hear hundreds of voices. He pulled the shell away in surprise, looking between it and Farore, who only giggled. When he placed it to his ear again he listened more carefully and was able to pick out Sheik's voice. Though it was faint and hard to make out, it sounded like he was speaking gently to a child. Deciding to save the shell, he placed it in his pouch.

Farore continued. "The witches Koume and Kotake completed their spell before you could kill him. He will be reborn again and again until the spell is broken. Even if you destroy one body, he will simply come back in a new form. Your best option will probably be to seal him if you can, though there is no telling how long a seal will last."

"Then how do I break the spell?" Link asked as they rounded the beach to find a series of large stepping stones leading to another, smaller island. Unlike the large island it was nothing but a hill of black sand rising out of the endless ocean. The black sand shone and sparkled in the sunlight, and scattered across it were more shells. Curious, Link began making his way over to them, with Farore following.

"We can't tell you," the goddess confessed.

Link stopped abruptly on one of the smaller stones and turned. "But you're goddesses! Aren't you supposed to be all knowing?"

Farore shook her head. "I didn't say we didn't know, I said we can't tell you. As was said before, free will is a double edged sword. History-changing decisions are always a variable until the moment they come to pass. And, the witches' magic is old; it comes from the darkness that existed from before we created Hyrule. Now, that power also resides in the creature Ganon. While we do have the power to simply erase them from the timeline as if they had never been, the consequences that would follow would cause Hyrule far more strife and suffering than allowing them to continue down this path."

Link frowned as she flashed out of existence then reappeared on the smaller island. The black sand made a musical sound as she walked across it. Link joined her, surprised when his boots disappeared and the soft sand worked its way between his toes. Reaching down, he picked up one of the shells and placed it against his ear. This time the voice he heard was clearly Zelda's, but her words where jumbled and fuzzy, as if from far away. "What are these?"

The goddess smiled. "Seashells, of course." Link gave her a dry look and she giggled. "They allow you to listen in on what is happening in Hyrule. The shells on this island are for important figures in Hyrule, you won't be able to understand them unless they speak to you directly. The ones on the big island are people who are important to you, and you can listen to them any time."

"Oh..." Link said, not sure how to respond as he let the shell drop back to the sand. He turned to look back at the big island and sighed. "My own private purgatory."

"It's not ideal," Farore agreed. "But it's not like we can send you on with the rest of the souls."

Link frowned at her. "I'm not going to like this answer, but what the hell: Why not?"

"Because you are no longer a normal soul, you have become bound to the Master Sword."

"I don't understand. Really, at this point don't I deserve a straight answer?"

The young goddess giggled. "All souls, no matter what they ultimately become – moblin, Hyrulian, Zora, or any other race – all start out the same. You, Sheik, Zelda, and even Ganon and Thorvald were all identical at your conception. It is the choices you make in life that make you who you are. You had courage before you were made a hero. You bore your step-grandfather's intolerance to keep peace in the house even when your stepfather would not stand up for you. Your willingness to sacrifice everything for your little sister, and later your willingness to take up a sword and save a world – these things made you who you are, not I or my sisters."

"Still, it seems lonely, living here by myself, waiting for Hyrule to need me again." Link groaned.

"Time passes differently here, you'll barely notice it," Farore assured him. When he did not seem appeased, she went on. "Perhaps I can have Sheik sent here after his death. You will have company and someone to look after things while you are away."

Link shifted his weight, listening to the sound of the singing sand under his feet. "That would be nice, but only if he agrees." Farore nodded and they made their way back to the big island. Nightfire approached and Link gently stroked his nose. "Sheik could have become the hero. No more yanking me around, I know Sheik has what it takes. He would have made a far better choice, so why choose me?"

"Sheik has his own destiny," the goddess answered. "He is the first of a new race. His children and followers will one day become known as the Sheikah; loyal guardians of Hyrule and the Royal family, and a great ally to you in the future."

Link was silent for a long time as they continued to tour the island. There was a clear stream that bubbled out of a cave filled with jewel-like stalactites, little crabs of purple and red that scurried across the beach, and trees that actually whispered in the wind – mostly telling fables and fairy tales.

"What about me? Will I ever have a normal life?"

"I cannot say Hyrule will never call on you again, but Ganon will not reappear during your current lifetime. Your life will be what you make of it from now on." She smiled coyly. "I bet you can ask that pretty milkmaid you've been making googly eyes for her hand. Oh I bet you will make the most beautiful babies!" Link's eyes widened and he sputtered incoherently. The goddess laughed in her musical voice. "I'm teasing you, you're too tense." She took his hand and led him back to the hut. "It's almost time for you to go back."

Link followed. Once inside he felt incredibly tired and was unable to keep his eyes open. He felt Farore directing him towards the bed, but did not really need it. As soon as his head hit the pillow he was asleep. And, don't worry. I'll heal your wounds. Farore's voice drifted through his mind before everything went black.

&&&

Link opened his eyes, then slammed them shut as harsh sunlight cascading in through his window seared across his sight. Shading his eyes, he opened them again, this time more slowly. Sitting up, he let the comforter slide down his chest. Most of his torso and arms were wrapped in gauze that was stained red-brown. Shifting, he could tell his legs were wrapped as well. A large bowl sat on the nightstand; the water was clear, but the rag hanging over the side was colored a faint pink. Even the sheets where he had been lying were marked. An empty chair stood next to the bed. The Master Sword leaned again the nightstand, but his shield was missing.

Putting his hand to his head, and feeling more bandages, he vaguely wondered how he had lived. Thinking hard, he could recall the Goddess Farore saying... something to him, but he could not remember what. His next thought was how good he felt. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he did not feel as if he had so much as a splinter.

Carefully, he began unwrapping his right arm, letting the gauze pool on the ruined comforter. Dried blood clung to his skin, some flaking away as he bent and flexed his arm, but there were no wounds or scars of any kind. The skin was as virgin as if he had never been in a battle. More confidently he removed the rest of the wrapping to find more of the same.

Leaving the used bandages where they lay, he moved to the washroom. The tub was filled with water – perhaps left to easily refill the bowl on the nightstand – that had long ago gone tepid, but Link climbed in anyway and began to wash. It did not take long for the water to turn red. Getting out, he dried off and made his way back to the main room, towel firmly around his hips.

His clothes were nowhere to be found, but he was quickly waylaid in his search when Sheik's voice caught his attention. Stopping, he listened and was surprised by the gentleness in his tone. "Link is...he was hurt very badly. It will probably be a long time before he can get out of bed again."

"I wanna see Big Brother!" screeched a child, the sound echoing down the hallway. Link smiled even as the volume and pitch made him flinch.

"I know you do," Sheik continued. "And I'm going to let you, but you have to promise not to jump on him or yell. He needs his rest." This was followed by the stamping of a small foot and a snort Link was very familiar with. Smiling to himself, he moved to the door, pushed it open, and stepped out into the hall.

"Ray, are you giving Uncle Sheik a hard time?"

Two pairs of eyes turned, both wide. Sheik was kneeling on the floor so he was eye level with the girl, his hands firmly but gently on her shoulders to keep her in hand. His green eyes stared in astonished disbelief, then darted to Link's bare, and clearly unmarred, chest. Ray, on the other hand, looked entirely delighted. She ripped herself away from Sheik, who was far too astonished to stop her, and launched herself into her brother's arms.

"He's being mean to me, Big Brother! Beat him up!"

Link chuckled, casting an amused glance at Sheik as the other man rose to his feet. "Is that so? And how has he been mean?"

"He wouldn't let me see you! Not for a long long long long long long time! He said you were sick. I told him it was okay because I took care of you when you were sick before. And then he said you were hurt. But you aren't sick or hurt! He was just being a big meanie!" She turned in his arms so she could stick out her tongue.

"It was two days..." Sheik huffed indignantly.

Link could not suppress his laughter and hugged his sister tightly. "I missed you too, Ray." He gently placed her on the floor and playfully tweaked her nose. "Uncle Sheik and I need to talk. What do you say you go make me one of your special dinners? Then you and I can have a picnic under the stars." The little girl let out a squeal of delight before darting down the hall. "She won't get lost, will she?"

Sheik shook his head. "We put you in the first bed we could find. The Throne room is just around the corner."

"Really?" Link asked as he looked back into the room to realize it was not the one he had been staying in. Blinking hard, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I guess I won't find any of my clothes here then."

"So we'll send someone for them." Sheik shrugged, following him into the room and pulling a cord hanging near the door. "In the meantime, you can explain how you are..." he made a sweeping gesture to indicate Link's torso, "whole, again."

"No idea," Link confessed as he picked up the bloodied bandages. "Last thing I remember was taking off my dented armor because it was crushing my lungs."

Sheik's jaw tightened behind his scarf. "Not sure I can fill in many blanks for you. All I saw was the end where you put that sword of yours through that monster's head."

Link made a non-communicative noise then fell silent for a long time, concentrating on rolling the bandages and placing them neatly aside. "You ordered the gates closed, didn't you?" There was no accusation or anger in the words, just a simple straightforward question. Still, Sheik tensed.

"Link...I..." Sheik fell silent and looked away. A soldier stuck his head in the door and Link requested his clothes. The soldier openly stared at him as he backed out of the room muttering to himself. Link managed to pick out the words "miracle" and "Goddesses." He also caught sight of the man grasping at the Triforce on a chain about his neck.

"Probably wise of you," Link said after the soldier's hurried footsteps faded. "If you'd left them open the moblin would have invaded the city."

"They obviously got in anyway," Sheik protested.

"But you didn't know they had siege weapons," Link replied. Sheik looked like he wanted to protest, but could not think of anything to say. The soldier returned with a fresh set of clothes for Link, bowing his way out of the room after Link had thanked him. "They aren't going to all start bowing to me like the Zora, are they?"

Sheik shrugged and gave Link the first unguarded smile since he woke up. "Possibly. But you did basically rise from the dead. We must have dumped half a dozen fairies on you, but all it did was stem the bleeding a little." His smile faded and he took a deep breath. "So, are we...good?"

Link pulled his tunic over his head and grinned. "Sure. But we need to hurry. I want to see the nobles' faces when they see me still kicking, and it won't take long for the rumor of my miracle recovery to get out."

Sheik laughed. Link finished dressing, grabbed his sword, and they left the room. The hallway was deserted. It was such a stark contrast to the constant activity of the previous days it startled Link. He was surprised to find the peace made him feel uncomfortable, even edgy, as if the stillness was a cloak for some unseen danger.

As they passed a window, what he saw gave him pause.

Several gaping holes in the city walls broke up the once smooth barrier. The field beyond was completely destroyed, leaving the ground burned and torn. Soldiers piled the moblin dead into hay carts to be taken away. A wisp of dark smoke coiled over the horizon and Link could detect a hint of burning pork.

Draftees and soldiers hurried about the city, tearing down the buildings that were beyond repair and moving rubble. But, like the castle, it all seemed strangely muted. From his vantage point he could see the square where the yearly festivals were held, but without the many vendors and patrons, it was like a ghost town. Even the fountain had been shut off and stood in silent reverence of the stillness.

"How long before people return?"

"Not sure." Sheik shrugged. "We need to get the debris cleared out first, then make sure all the remaining structures are stable. Depending on the damage, I'd say a month at least. Why?"

"If just doesn't seem like Castle Town without all the people," Link replied as he turned away from the window.

Sheik had been right when he said they were very close to the throne room. When the guards saw them coming, they quickly scrambled to open the doors. Inside, Zelda was standing with a group of soldiers around a table. Large scrolls were spread out before them, each with designs of various parts of Castle Town. Nobles spoke with each other in small groups, discussing who would contribute what.

As the guards announced them, all heads turned. Link swallowed. They looked at him as if he were some strange specter that had suddenly appeared in their midst. The Princess took several steps towards him, and Link made to give her his best bow.

"Please don't." Her soft voice echoed in the large, silent room. Link paused, still slightly bent at the waist and raised his eyes to her in question. Zelda smiled slightly, placed her hand over her heart, and bowed. Link found himself struck dumb with surprise. "Thank you. For all you have done for Hyrule and her people, I am forever in your debt. If you have any wish that is in my power to grant, it is yours."

"T-thank you," Link stuttered awkwardly. "And, you're welcome."

Zelda rose and smiled. "You never need lower your head to me, or anyone else, ever again."

The next few weeks passed more rapidly than Link expected. Sheik assigned him to head a team of soldiers guarding those taking away rubble. The work was quiet, with no major incidents, and gave Link time to reflect on the journey that had been the last few months of his life. He was not sure what he hoped to find – a moral, a lesson, a reason for it all, maybe some greater meaning to life itself – but he did not find it. And even another visit to the temple to ask the Goddesses brought him no further insights.

At the end of two weeks, people began returning to Castle Town. At first it was just a few of the residents coming to see what remained of their homes, but they were soon followed by vendors. Shop faces were quickly repaired and colorful tents popped up like spring flowers. The silence was chased away as the vendors began calling for attention and people bustled from shop to shop. By the end of the month only the buildings being rebuilt gave any hint that there had been a war. The draftees were released and the soldiers returned to their normal duties, while civilian workers took over the reconstruction.

"So, where to, Hero?" Sheik asked as the gates closed behind them. "I heard a rumor there is a place in the desert called the Cave of Ordeals."

"I think I've had enough ordeals for a while," Link laughed. "Personally, I'm going home for a while. I want a few weeks worth of sleep in my own bed." He let his head roll back and looked up at the sky as Faris lazily followed them from above. "Maybe do something mundane and repetitive like chopping wood or feeding animals. The festival is next month and Ray will be entering her first goat in the livestock show, so I'll help her with that."

Sheik frowned behind his scarf. "So you're hanging up your sword?"

Link shook his head without looking away from the sky. "No, but even heroes need a little downtime. Being the Hero of Hyrule is who I am, like it or not. This battle is over, but I think the war has only begun."

"Why do you say that?"

"Just call it Hero's Intuition," Link replied evenly as he turned Nightfire towards Lon Lon Ranch.

&&&

A scream pierced the hot, dry air.

"It's all right, Aysu. Be strong, sister. Just a little more. Now push!"

Aysu ground her teeth. Her long red hair was plastered to her dark skin with sweat. Panting she looked around the room. Several of her Gerudo sister were gathered in the room. These women had taken her in as a little girl when she fled the tyranny of her moblin captors. Here she had grown strong and learned to fight back.

Strange how she felt nostalgic at a moment like this.

Another contraction stole her thoughts, then the room was filled with a new voice. Aysu lay back, gasping for breath as she listened to the most wonderful sound she had ever heard. It took her several minutes to realize it was the only noise she heard.

Sitting up, she saw her sisters crowded around the child. Normally they would be passing the baby, each greeting their newest sister. But instead they were silent, almost as if they did not dare speak. Fear, something Aysu had not known in a log time, suddenly coiled in her chest. "Is she...what's wrong?"

Her sisters turned to look at her, something Aysu could not place shining in their eyes. The midwife smiled at her as she secured the soft blanket around the newborn. "His Majesty is fine. Just a bit hungry."

Aysu took the new king and carefully brought him to her breast. Her sisters nodded approvingly when he latched on with gusto.

The next few hours passed in a blur for Aysu. All of her sisters came to see the new king, soothsayers were sent for to determine his name, letters where written and sent to the other races of Hyrule, gifts were presented, and traditional robes were brought out. By the time night fell, Aysu was more tired than she could have ever imagined being.

Her eyes were just drifting shut when a sound made her come awake again. Looking around, she saw two women standing in her doorway. They wore dark cloaks lined with odd gold markings. Aysu had to squint to make them out in the darkness.

"It seems the time has finally come, Sister Koume."

"So it has, Sister Kotake."

Aysu's eyes widened and her throat closed. She opened her mouth to scream, but there was no sound. The flashes of red and blue light lasted only a few seconds, then everything was darkness.

Kotake smiled as she took the baby from his mother's limp grasp, raising him so she could look into the child's eyes. "Well, well, Master Ganon, this new form fits you very well. Perhaps he needs a new name to go with his new form. Don't you think, Sister Koume?"

"Indeed, Sister Kotake," Koume replied as she took the baby and cradled him in her arm. "From now on you shall be Ganondorf, and your name will be spoken in awe and fear for all the history on Hyrule." The witches cackled as they mounted their brooms and vanished into the night sky, their laughter and the young king's cry nothing more then an echo on the wind.

THE END