Chapter One

That fool of a great fairy Parisa did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the great fairy touched my nose with a long, shining finger. "My gift is obedience. Zelda will always be obedient. Now stop crying child."

I stopped.

Father was away on a trading expedition as usual, but my nurse, Impa, was there. She and Mother were horrified, but no matter how they explained it to Parisa, they couldn't make her understand the terrible thing she'd done to me. I could picture the argument: Impa's normally olive skin was red, her usually sleek white hair in disarray, her cool demeanor forgotten; Mother still and intense, her brown curls damp from labor, the laughter gone from her eyes.

I couldn't imagine Parisa. I didn't know what she looked like.

She wouldn't undo the curse.

My first awareness of it came on my fifth birthday. I seem to remember that day perfectly, perhaps because Impa told the tale so often.

"For your birthday," she'd start, "I baked a beautiful cake. Six layers."

Myra, our head maid, had sewn a special gown for me. "Blue as midnight with a white sash. You were small for your age even then, and you looked like a china doll, with a white ribbon in your chestnut hair and your cheeks red from excitement."

In the middle of the table was a vase filled with flowers that Roy, our manservant, had picked.

We all sat around the table. (Father was away again.) I was thrilled. I had watched Impa bake the cake and Myra sew the gown and Roy pick the flowers.

Impa cut the cake. When she handed me my piece, she said without thinking, "Eat."

The first bite was delicious. I finished the slice happily. When it was gone, Impa cut another. That one was harder. What it was gone, no one gave me more, but I knew I had to keep eating. I moved my fork into the cake itself.

"Zelda, what are you doing?" Mother said.

"Typical child," Impa smiled. "It's her birthday, Lady. Let her have as much as she wants." She put another slice on my plate.

I felt sick and frightened. Why couldn't I stop eating?

Swallowing was a struggle. Each bite weighed on my tongue and felt like a sticky mass of glue as I fought to get it down. I started crying while I ate.

Mother realized first. "Stop eating, Zelda," she commanded.

I stopped.

Anyone could control me with an order. It had to be a direct command, such as "Put on a shawl," or "You must go to bed now." A wish or a request had no effect. I was free to ignore "I wish you would put on a shawl," or "Why don't you go to bed now?" But against an order I was powerless.

If someone told me to hop on one foot for a day and a half, I'd have to do it. And hopping on one foot wasn't the worst order I could be given. If you commanded me to cut off my own head, I'd have to do it.

I was in danger at every moment.

As I grew older, I learned to delay my obedience, but each moment cost me dear—in breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, and other complaints. I could never hold out for long. Even a few minutes were a desperate struggle.

I had a special power granted to me from the Goddesses, but I did not know what it was, or how it worked. Nayru was my patroness goddess, and Mother asked her to take the curse away. She said that the darker pigment on the back of my right hand—my funny birthmark—showed me that I had been blessed by the Goddess. In my mind I thought and cursed by a great fairy. Nayru told Mother that Parisa was the only one who could remove it. However, she also said it might be broken someday without Parisa's help.

But I didn't know how. I didn't even know what my Goddess-given blessing was.

Instead of making me docile, Parisa's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.

Mother rarely insisted I do anything. Father knew nothing of the curse and saw me too infrequently to issue many commands. But Impa was bossy, giving orders almost as often as she drew breath. Kind orders or for-your-own-good orders. "Bundle up, Zelda." Or "Hold this bowl while I beat the eggs, love."

I disliked these commands, harmless as they were. I'd hold the bowl, but move my feet so she would have to follow me around the kitchen. She'd call me minx and try to hem me in with more specific instructions, which I would find new ways to evade. Often, it was a long business to get anything done between us, with Mother laughing and egging each of us on by turn.

We'd end happily—with me finally choosing to do what Impa wanted, or with Impa changing her order to a request.

When Impa would absentmindedly give me an order I knew she didn't mean, I'd say, "Do I have to?" and she'd reconsider.

When I was eight, I had a friend, Ilia, the daughter of one of the servants. One day she and I were in the kitchen, watching Impa make marchpane. When Impa sent me to the pantry for more almonds, I returned with only two. She ordered me back with more exact instructions, which I followed exactly, while still managing to frustrate her true wishes.

Later, when Ilia and I retreated to the garden to devour the candy, she asked why I hadn't done what Impa wanted straight off.

"I hate when she's bossy," I answered.

Ilia said smugly, "I always obey my elders."

"That's because you don't have to."

"I do have to, or Father will slap me," her father, Bo, was the horsemaster, and was reputed for being strong and sometimes even harsh.

"It's not the same as for me. I'm under a spell." I enjoyed the importance of the words. Spells were rare. Lucinda was the only fairy rash enough to cast them on people.

"Like Sleeping Beauty?"

"Except I won't have to sleep for a hundred years."

"What's your spell?"

I told her.

"If anybody gives you an order, you have to obey? Including me?"

I nodded.

"Can I try it?"

"No." I hadn't anticipated this. I changed the subject. "I'll race you to the gate."

"Alright, but I command you to lose the race."

"Then I don't want to race."

"I command you to race, and I command you to lose."

We raced. I lost.

We picked berries. I had to give Ilia the sweetest, ripest ones. We played princesses and Gerudo kings. She was Princess Ilia, and I had to be Ganondorf.

An hour after my admission, I punched her. She screamed, and blood poured from her nose.

Our friendship ended that day. Mother found Bo a new situation far from our town of Kakariko.

After punishing me for using my fist, Mother issued one of her infrequent commands: never to tell anyone about my curse. But I wouldn't have anyway. I had learned caution.

When I was almost fifteen, Mother and I caught cold. Impa dosed us with her curing soup, made with carrots, leeks, celery, and hair from a great fairy's head. It was delicious, but we both hated to see those long silver hairs floating around the vegetables.

Since Father was away from Kakariko, we drank the soup sitting up in Mother's bed. If he had been home, I wouldn't have been in her room at all. He didn't like me to be anywhere near him, getting underfoot, as he said.

I sipped my soup with the hairs in it because Impa had said to, even though I grimaced at the soup and at Impa's retreating back.

"I'll wait for mine to cool," Mother said. Then, after Impa left, she took the hairs out while she ate and put them back in the empty bowl when she was done.

The nest day I was well and Mother was much worse, too sick to drink or eat anything. She said there was a knife in her throat and a battering ram at her head. To make her feel better, I put cool cloths on her forehead and told her stories. They were only old, familiar tales about the fairies that I changed here and there, but sometimes I made Mother laugh. Except the laugh would turn into a cough.

Before Impa sent me off for the night, Mother kissed me. "Good night. I love you, princess."

They were her last words to me. As I left the room, I heard her last words to Impa. "I'm not very sick. Don't send for Sir Harkinian."

Sir Harkinian was Father.

The next morning, she was awake, but dreaming. With wide-open eyes, she chattered to invisible courtiers and plucked nervously at her gold necklace with the sapphire, emerald and ruby Triforce pendant. To Impa and me, there in the room with her, she said nothing.

Roy, the manservant, got the physician, who hurried me away from Mother's side.

Our hallway was empty. I followed it to the spiral staircase and walked down, remembering the times Mother and I had slid down the banister.

We didn't do it when people were around. "We have to be dignified," she would whisper then, stepping down the stairs in an especially stately way. And I would follow, mimicking her and fighting my natural clumsiness, pleased to be part of her game.

But when we were alone, we preferred to slide and yell all the way down. And run back up for another ride, and a third, and a fourth.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I pulled our heavy front door open and slipped out into bright sunshine.

It was a long walk across Hyrule Field to the ruins of the Temple of Time, but I wanted to make a wish, and I wanted to make it in the place where it would have the best chance of being granted.

The temple had crumbled and fallen into disrepair after the Hero of Time had replaced the Master Sword in the Pedestal of Time. One part of the Temple was still intact, but I didn't go there. It's gardens were overgrown, and Myra swore that the Pedestal of Time still had power.

I went straight to the Pedestal and the glorious Master Sword. At times like this, I felt the power of Nayru with me, and I fancied that my birthmark would glow a golden color.

At the Pedestal I thought hard. For wishes you need trading material.

"If Mother gets well quick, I'll be good, not just obedient. I'll try harder not to be clumsy and I wouldn't tease Impa so much."

I didn't bargain for Mother's life, because I didn't believe she was in danger of dying.