The Legend of Zelda: Shadowsong
Book One – Forest
Chapter Ten: Hero
Link had meant to stop off at his house just long enough to change out of his ragged, cobweb-plastered sagecloak, but the energy boost from the potion Sage Fado had given him was rapidly wearing off. He collapsed exhaustedly onto his bed still fully clothed, intending only to rest his eyes for a bit, and fell almost instantly into a deep and dreamless sleep.
About two hours later he awoke to the sound of someone tapping politely on the door and rather groggily pulled himself out of bed, noting as he did so that his Pa had stopped by to tuck him in and stow the folded remains of his sagecloak neatly on a shelf above the fireplace. Still bleary-eyed, Link crossed the room and answered the door.
Minuet smiled at him meekly from the doorstep. She had changed into a clean white blouse with short, wide sleeves made from green fabric, and a stiff skirt of heavy brown wool that reached almost to her knees, embroidered around the edges with a floral pattern. "I thought you might have fallen asleep," she explained. "We were supposed to meet with Sage Fado a while ago. How's your head?"
"Fine," he answered, touching the still-tender spot at the back of his skull. "Sorry for holding things up. Let me put some clean clothes on and I'll be right out."
She nodded, and Link shut the door again.
He located a pair of simple beige trousers and one of his father's long green shirts, so oversized on him that it fell past his waist like a skirt and he had to use a belt to keep it from flapping around in the breeze. The Shepherd household consisted only of Link and his father. They seldom did any washing and, when in need of clean clothing, made do with what they had. His bow was still balanced against the end of the bed where he had left it, and he strapped the quiver to his back without a second thought. Now that the adventure was over he'd need to give it back to Fado.
In the late afternoon sunlight, Ordon Village was calm and quiet. Children played in the grass, running up a small hillock and laughing as they tumbled down it again, their voices muted by the surrounding forest. A woman walked along one of the meandering dirt paths between the houses, and the wreath of Ordon's Bells in her hair slipped slightly as she stooped to take her young son by the hand. On the far side of the clearing a few men lounged with their arms crossed over the gate that led to Ordon's small goat paddock. They were peaceful, unaware of what had just that morning taken place in the temple hidden deep in the woods.
As Link and Minuet walked side by side towards Fado's wide wooden porch, the boy couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if the two of them hadn't gone to the temple the night before. If his arrow hadn't pierced her blazing eye, Ghoma's possessed body might have remained trapped in the temple for all eternity, enraged and suffering, but still effectively sealed away.
Or perhaps she would have finally broken free and razed Ordon to the ground in her mad stampede toward greater Hyrule. For a moment Link pictured the village as a broken ruin. Splintered wood, broken beams, the scattered remains of stone foundations, smoldering ash from fallen thatch set ablaze by cooking fires. Bodies lying in the trampled grass, caustic spider venom dissolving them from within... He shook his head to clear the thought away, but his left hand tightened on the bow. Had he prevented something like that, or just prolonged it?
The wind caught lightly at his shirtsleeves, and the voice in his head offered no answer.
"Do you think you can save your sagecloak?" he asked Minuet, changing the subject on himself because there were things he would rather not think about.
Minuet gave a small laugh at that. "Mum's washing it right now, but I don't think all those spiderwebs will ever come out." She cast a quick glance over his apparel. "How about yours?"
"I showed it to Pa on the way to the house," Link replied with an offhanded smile, "And he says we may as well burn it and buy me a new one. There's not really much left to salvage."
"Oh, that's right. It was all ripped up, wasn't it?"
The boy nodded.
"It's strange, you know?" she murmured. "All this time, I thought sagecloaks had some kind of magic. That they protected us. And I guess they did, but it was only because the spirits saw us wearing them and knew that we were apprenticed to Sage Fado, not because of any magic." She looked a little disappointed. "It was just normal respect for what we were training to be. And if something really evil wanted to hurt us, it could, and a bunch of green fabric wasn't going to do anything to stop it."
Thinking back to when he had argued futilely with Gohma about how she wasn't allowed to hurt him because of his sagecloak, Link supposed he had always believed the same thing. He had believed in a lot of things, a few hours ago. Now he wasn't sure of any of them.
The Sage of Forest was seated in his usual rocker on the porch with his violin in his hands, obviously not troubled by his apprentices' tardiness. There were a few children gathered in a lopsided semicircle around him, but he shoed them away at Link and Minuet's approach.
"Lincoln, Minuet, have a seat," the old Sage said with a small smile as he gestured to the smooth wooden ground in front of him. The two of them sat obediently in cross-legged positions, and Link held out his bow to Fado.
"Sage Fado, I forgot to tell you before; I found this in the temple."
Fado nodded and told him, "Keep it for now. You can take it back next time you visit the temple." He sat back in his rocker. "Now then, we have a mysterious spirit among us. Tell me, how might we go about finding out its name?"
Link tried to think of some potion or ritual that would give him the name of a spirit, but it was Minuet who piped up hesitantly, "Um... Sage Fado, couldn't we just ask?"
Fado's eyes glinted approvingly. "Very good, Minuet. The simplest way to deal with spirits is to speak to them with polite respect. They are more often misunderstood than malevolent." He turned to Link. "Now then, Lincoln, if you would address the spirit in your head – with good manners, mind you – and tell us what it answers?"
It seemed almost too simple to Link, who had expected something more along the lines of smoking potions and magic symbols drawn in chalk on the ground, but he did as the Sage instructed, closing his eyes and reaching out with his spirit sense.
Spirit, are you there?
I am tired, it answered faintly. We will speak another time.
Please, my friends and I just want to know your name.
A long pause, and then: Very well. Memories are... fleeting. Distant. But I think someone once called me... Hero? It spoke slowly, as if unsure of its own words, but Link's mind abruptly thought back to the dramatic imagery carved across the walls of the forest temple. That stylized stone swordsman was the only hero he knew.
I remember that face, said the spirit, sharing in his memories. I wore it once.
You're the man carved into the temple? Link asked, slightly awed at the concept. He had idolized that ancient, nameless hero for as long as he could remember.
"He says he's the ghost of that swordsman from the temple," the boy said aloud, eyes still tightly shut, and he heard Minuet gasp beside him.
I am no ghost, the spirit stated sharply, and Link translated for the others as it spoke. I am not dead, but merely asleep. That is why I need your help. You must wake me up.
Its voice was growing tired and weak as it attempted to explain. I do not remember much... I know that long ago I held the Triforce of Courage.
Link had no idea what the Triforce of Courage was, but was loathe to interrupt, and so continued to translate faithfully without pausing to ask.
I tried to stop Irikokeht and failed, the spirit continued, and I fell into an endless sleep from which I could not awaken. In my dreams I strayed from my body. As I wandered I lost all that made me human; my memories and my name. But last night I could sense the Triforces drawing closer together, and because I was once so intimately connected to them, their growing magic helped me regain some of my sense of self. I think it must have done the same for Irikokeht, for he awoke at the same time and began trying to break free of his seal. When the Triforces at last met, he succeeded.
That is why I need your help, it finished quietly. I will not let you suffer for my failure. I ask only that you return me to my body so that I may awaken and defeat him. Irikokeht is my burden to bear.
"But why does it have to be me?" Link said aloud. "I mean, I want to help you, but I'm just an apprentice Sage. I can't see what good I'd be."
The spirit's voice was strained, and with its last words it faded away into nothingness and did not speak again. Ask the Sage... about the mark... on your left hand.
And for the first time since his trip to the forest temple, Link opened his eyes to stare down at the hands clasped in his lap, and saw the symbol emblazoned in faint gold against his skin. "Sage... Fado?" he murmured carefully, holding the hand in front of his face and turning it back and forth so that the golden mark shimmered as it caught the light. Minuet watched him with wide eyes.
The Sage of Forest let out a short hiss of breath and slowly pinched the bridge of his nose. "A live Cycle. Farore guide us. Farore guide us."
* * *
This is the part of the story, Zelda thought to herself, where my grandmother fled the castle and trained in secret to become a great warrior.
Curled up under the soft white blankets of her own canopied bed, hugging a care-worn stuffed toy to her chest (a little blue octorok, knitted for her by Impa when she was four), Zelda did not feel like a great warrior. She just felt confused and tired and scared.
It was the middle of the day but the curtains had been drawn, and her room was darkened save for the crack of warm yellowish light spilling in from beneath her bedroom door. There were voices murmuring just outside, and occasionally Zelda's pointed ears caught a snatch of soft conversation: worrisome words like "betrayal" and "exile." She wormed further down into the dark folds of the bedsheets and hid her face in her pillow. They were talking about her.
Back there, in the throne room, she had used magic. She hadn't meant to, hadn't even been in control of it when it happened, but when her right hand broke forth with brilliant, white-gold light, there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Maybe she had killed the Gerudo Chief, and the unseen voices just outside were discussing her punishment. Hidden beneath the blankets, Zelda bit her lip and wiped tears from her cheeks with the fuzzy blue fabric of her stuffed octorok. At least I won't have to marry him now, the princess tried to tell herself, but the thought did nothing to console her.
In the dim light, a faint golden glow faded gently in and out against Zelda's right hand, tracing the shape of three triangles. She recognized that shape, if only because it dominated much of the castle's décor. It was the Triforce, the symbol of the royal family and a representation of the three goddesses, Nayru, Farore, and Din. She knew that it was supposedly a very holy and powerful mark. She didn't know why it had burned itself into her hand, but she wished it would go away. Pretty though it was, life had been so much simpler without it.
There was a quiet creak as the door opened.
"Zelda," Impa's voice murmured. "Dearie, are you awake?"
"No," Zelda answered shortly, longing for comfort and knowing she deserved only scolding.
After a moment, Impa crossed the room and pulled the bedclothes away from Zelda's tear-streaked face, and the girl sat up and wiped her eyes with the back of her slightly glowing hand. Impa sat down on the bed beside her and wrapped a muscular arm around Zelda's frail, bony shoulders. "There now, it's alright. Let's have a look at that hand."
Zelda held her arm up rather limply, and her nursemaid took it carefully by the wrist and inspected the glowing Triforce on the back of her hand. Her thumb traced one of the lower triangles.
"Am I," Zelda said hoarsely, and had to swallow and start again, "Am I going to be sent into exile?"
The arm around her shoulders gave a comforting little squeeze. "No, dear. We're going to do what we can to keep you safe here in the castle."
The horrible thought arose that what Impa really meant was "we're going to keep the rest of Hyrule safe from you." Her hand and its terrible power that she couldn't control had to be locked away for the good of Hyrule, and Zelda felt her eyes prickle with tears again.
"I didn't mean to..." she whimpered.
"Didn't... oh." Impa's eyes filled with realization. "Oh, Zelda, you think you did all that magic yourself?"
Impa shook her head. "No. What happened in the throne room this morning was two like kinds of powerful magic coming together after decades of separation. The magic of two Triforces."
Zelda at last released her lower lip, relief washing over her despite understanding very little of what Impa had just said. She wasn't dangerous; she hadn't killed anyone. "You mean the mark on my hand?" she asked. "When you were talking before about powerful forces and dangerous secrets, is this what you meant?"
Impa sighed. "Yes. The mark on your hand is known as the Triforce of Wisdom, and is your birthright as a princess of Hyrule. It will grant you serenity in times of fear, knowledge when you face the unknown, and guidance when you have nowhere else to turn." The speech sounded rehearsed, as if the nursemaid had given it many times before. "But it will also lead you to be crafty when you should be honest, so be wary of its power and remember that it is a tool which you control. Do not let it control you."
Zelda nodded slowly, staring down in awe at the gently glowing mark still clasped in Impa's wide hand.
"There are three Triforces," Impa continued gravely. "And three triforces bearers, the Princess, the Hero, and the Thief. Every hundred years these three are reincarnated in what we call the Cycles, and when any two of the bearers meet, their Triforces will recognize each other and all three Triforces will awaken. This is what happened to you today, when your Triforce resonated with that of the Gerudo chief."
"I'm... reincarnated?" The princess was still letting all of this sink in. It felt as though she had been dropped directly into one of Impa's old stories, and the world around her felt strangely unreal. "I had a past life? I can't remember anything like that. Shouldn't I be able to remember being... someone else?"
"You do have all of those memories," her nursemaid explained. "Memories of more past lives than you could ever imagine, all locked away somewhere in your head. They're yours to access, if you ever need them. All you have to do is try."
Of course she had never tried before; she'd never known she could. Curiously, Zelda thought as far back as she could remember, and then, quite simply, thought back even farther...
"I remember tulips. And there was a boy with a green hat, and we were spying on someone through a window."
"Your grandmother's memory," Impa answered. "She was the Wisdom-bearer of the previous Cycle."
"I'm the Wisdom-bearer." Her voice was reverent. "This is just like a fairy tale. But it's real."
"Zelda, dear, just because something is like a story does not make it good. Stories are full of evil. The stories I told you about your grandmother happened during the last Cycle, and when the Triforces meet, history is forced to repeat itself. The Thief is destined to kidnap you and endeavor to become king, and the Hero is destined to kill him."
"Oh," Zelda said quietly.
Impa placed her palm over Zelda's hand. "You're safe, dear. From now on, you'll have guards with you wherever you go. The Thief won't be able to hurt you."
"And that Gerudo boy, Shirobi Rahad, he's the Thief? Does he know?"
"He has the Triforce of Power, yes. And I assume he knows parts of it, if not the whole. He knows he is the reincarnation of Ganondorf Dragmire, the last Power-bearer, because that aspect of the Cycles is an important part of Gerudo culture. I do not think he knows the rest."
Zelda couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the older boy. Even if he was going to kidnap her and try to take over her kingdom, it was because destiny was going to force him to, and he was going to pay for it with his life. All because she had ignored Impa's warnings and decided to play at spying. It seemed as though no one was going to punish her for that, but now more than ever the princess felt as though she deserved it. She bit her lip and looked away.
"Where is he now?"
"The entire embassy is still in their guest suite in the castle, under heavy guard. Now that the treaty has failed Hyrule is officially at war with the Gerudo, and your father believes that holding their chief alive and captive will work to our advantage." Impa looked vaguely displeased at this, but was quick to try and reassure Zelda that her father's actions were justified. "But Zelda, know that you are very important to him. He wouldn't do something like this unless he was sure you would be safe."
Zelda was silent for a long time. Her kingdom was at war.
"If anything does happen," Impa added, "And you have to flee the castle on your own, go to Kakariko Village. There's a woman named Adelaide who will take you in if you show her your Triforce, or any other proof that you're a member of the royal family. I'll meet up with you there as soon as I can."
A small, nervous smile crossed the princess's face, but it dissolved quickly. All too soon she would have to run away or be kidnapped. And her kingdom was at war. She felt very tired, all of a sudden, and so she leaned her head against Impa's shoulder and closed her eyes.
"I don't think I like being in a story."
Impa ran a soothing hand through Zelda's silky blonde hair. "Remember this, dear. In the countless times the Cycles have repeated, the Thief has never managed to win. The Hero stops him every time."
"If I'm the Princess, and Shirobi Rahad is the Thief, then who is the Hero?"
Although Zelda never saw it, Impa's face grew strangely worried at that, and her eyes traveled downward to look, not at the soft carpet that covered the floor of Zelda's room, but through it, as if by staring hard enough Impa could see down into the depths of the castle dungeon. A moment later she turned back to the dozing princess with an offhanded, "We'll know for sure when he comes to save you."
But for a brief second, it had seemed as though Impa wasn't sure there would be a Hero this Cycle. There were some wounds that even reincarnation could not heal.
Answers you already knew to questions you don't care about. Hooray for exposition! Ah well, I hope at least some of it was insightful. The whole reincarnation thing only really works if you allow that the Triforce is not always involved and the Theif is not always Ganon, but the Zelda timeline is so warped that I find it's best just to ignore the problem and think about kittens.
Anyhow, this was the final chapter of book one, so next time it's on to book two: Fire.