Disclaimer and Notes: The Legend of Zelda and its characters belong to Nintendo.
On a night during the last weekend of June (2011), I got into a situation where I risked my life to save the life of another – yet it was a situation that, the more I think about it, I wonder "how many people would have done what I did" and "how many people would just condemn me as stupid?" (I should mention that the life I helped to save was the life of a horse… I possibly saved some human lives when ignorant drivers are considered, but, yeah, I risked myself for something "stupider" than me). I fully believe that I did the right thing and would do it again, but I still don't know if what I did was "brave" or "dumb." The full story is on my blog for those who want gruesome details (see my profile for a link to it or PM me if you want it). Thinking about it, I wanted to write a story dealing with the nature of courage.
Link looked like Hell. He held a cool wet cloth to his bruised eye and scraped forehead. The residual smell of ham on the hoof emanated from his clothes and a tall mug of cool milk rested before him on the table. Telma's Bar was gently lit, so his eyes did not hurt as much as they had in the daylight. Evening had fallen like a woolen cloak.
"Telma has a cot in the back," Shad said. The scholar sat across from the young warrior, full of concern. "You should probably lay down, old boy. You look like you've been put through the ringer."
Link shook his head gently, though it hurt. "N-no… it's okay. I'll be alright."
"Are you sure? Members of the Group take care of each other. Remember that."
"Stupid…" Link muttered.
"Stupid," Link repeated softly. "All the stuff I go through – pretty stupid, huh? The couple I saved from the bulbins today just thanked me and went on their way… I think they were too scared to do anything else. Then all the other stuff…always going into danger to get stuff for other people…all these other situations that other folks just walk or run away from..."
"You're brave, Link, that is all," Shad assured him.
"I just don't know where brave ends and stupid begins sometimes."
"You have wonderful skills. I certainly could not do the things that you do. In fact, I must confess that I'm a little afraid of you sometimes."
"Afraid? You don't need to be afraid of me, Shad."
"What I mean is that you are strong... and skilled with weapons. I felt quite chagrined with myself after I'd heard of your exploits from Telma and even more after witnessing some of your skills in action. I called you a play-actor, a kid in a costume before. I feared you'd have my head!"
"I am… more of an intelligence-contributor to the Group, not a fighter. I carry a dagger for self-defense, but I'm just not sure what I'd do if confronted with a strong bulbin."
Link suddenly reached for Shad's book of research notes on the table and grabbed the dagger out of it. He turned it around and pressed it to his side, gently gracing a place between his ribs with its tip. "If you have trouble with a bulbin, thrust him right here. You'll hit the heart. It will kill him quickly. He won't suffer and, more importantly, won't have a chance to strike you down. They're quick, so you have to be quicker."
Link handed Shad back his weapon, who took its hilt with a slight shiver. Link had this… efficiency… that Shad was unaccustomed to. No, it actually reminded him of Ashei's manner. Perhaps it was the way of the warrior spirit to have a mind like steel.
"I think the Goddesses were right in choosing a farmer to be the Hero." Shad commented.
"What do you mean?"
"You are humble," Shad stated, watching Link take his wet cloth back up. It was covered in light, pinkish stains. "You were raised down in Ordon, correct?"
"Yeah. I was orphaned when I was quite young and raised by Rusl and Uli – but children pretty much belong to the whole village, really. Everyone here calls the place a backwater, but they don't know the people there. It's a good place."
"And it breeds good people," Shad added. "You weren't really raised to think you were something special, correct?"
Link looked up, confused by the question. "Um… I guess. We're all a part of the village. We all help each other out. I'm good with animals so they put me in the goat-field to take care of the livestock."
"You learned to be a part of the whole rather than the whole of the part," Shad mused. "You'll risk your life for others because you put those lives above your own."
"I care about my own life," Link countered, "it's just… something clicks on in my brain, I guess. I just have to do the right thing."
"I know many whose brains are never triggered in such a way," Shad continued. "Many of the people I work with are of the aristocracy and, how you might say, so learned as to have lost their wisdom. I've known many people in the educated circles who were born to the wealth much of that education requires and I've also known a few who've obtained it on their own and have become blinded by their pride. They do not place the well-being of others above their own, in fact, I've known many men, some even your age, who are quite convinced that their lives are more important any anyone else's. They'd not only flee danger rather than take a risk on trying to save anyone or anything they deem 'less intelligent' than themselves, they might throw someone in front of that danger without a second thought."
"Someone like me?" Link asked.
"Well, you are up to the task, but even if you were not, yes."
"So, is it bravery or stupidity? What I do?"
"The truly wise admire courage," Shad said with a warm smile, "perhaps because wisdom caries some courage in its own measure."
"And what of your pompous aristocrats and know-nothing-know-it-alls?" Link asked.
"You've met people at Chudley's store," Shad replied. "They'll honor you and cheer your name – when you win. In fact, if you are truly the Hero of legend some of us are sure you are, when the terrors that have come upon Hyrule have ended and everyone knows your name… oh, am I making you uncomfortable?"
Link was wincing slightly. He swiped his forehead, set his cloth down and took a sip of his milk. "It's okay… I'm just not used to the idea of lots of people knowing my name. If I'm following in my ancestor's footsteps, fine, but I'm not sure how I'd handle fame. I can see myself riding off to new lands… or going back to ranch work or something. I don't want to be special, at least not if it's serving no purpose."
"You're already the subject of whispers in the city, old boy. I'm sorry. Lots of people are talking about the 'guy in green,' not to mention those giggling girls at the attraction-tent."
"Don't remind me!"
"In any case, if you prove the victor, you will be loved… from afar. Everyone will be eager to claim you, especially as the course of history winds on. People who revere one Goddess over the others, for example. I've known men who revere Din who claim that the Hero of Time truly served her, rather than having his dominant alignment with Farore."
"That doesn't make any sense. I thought that the Hero of Time's connections with the Goddess of Courage were common knowledge."
"It is, but it doesn't stop the petty from trying to dismiss it for their own agendas. They'll do the same to you, I'm sure."
"What if I lose? What if I just… wind up dead in a field somewhere or am bested by the one behind all of this?"
Shad's answer was straightforward and cold; "Then, to them, you will merely be stupid. You will have only been stupid."
"Cruel. How do you know… for sure?"
"I cannot say anything for sure, but, Link… I may be a bit… socially awkward, but I have become adept at observing human nature. I like to think that my dominant alignment is with Nayru. You… and the Group as well… all of you carry such a different spirit than the people I am accustomed to keeping company with. You've seen a bit of that poor nature in me, I am afraid…"
"When you thought I was a yokel playing dress-up."
"I like you. You're honest - though, Shad? You do seem pretty harsh… regarding people, I mean… your colleagues."
At this, Shad held his head with one hand, elbow on the table. "They make fun of me!" he moped. "They made fun of my father, too. I call myself the Dream-Chaser, but people in my circles use that as an insult. Our research together, which I have vowed to continue, has turned up compelling evidence for the existence of the Sky Beings, but it is all dismissed out of hand just because of people's agendas and dogmas! I am told by some people that I'm trying to re-write scripture and by others that I need to grow up and stop chasing faerie tales."
"Scripture? Faerie tales?"
"The Book of Mudora," Shad elaborated, "some people think my father's findings are heresy."
"What about fairies? I find them all the time. They never tell me any tales."
"Faerie tales – it's a different kind of thing, slang for a fictional narrative. I don't know where that term comes from – either from an old saying that fairies never give anyone a straight answer, or from a brief time in our history when people thought fairies to be extinct."
"Hmm. Still doesn't make sense to me, but for what it's worth, Shad, according to me, you are anything but stupid."
"And even if your courage seems a little stupid to you sometimes," Shad replied, "you need not worry about it. Sometimes, putting honor before reason is the smartest thing a man can do."
"I'll show you a little secret," Link whispered. "I've encountered some very interesting things in my travels, including some things that are sure to be very interesting to you. I am… bound, so I cannot tell you everything right away, but I will if I can, when the time comes. Hold out your hands and close your eyes."
"Link. What are we, twelve?"
"Just do it, Shad."
Shad obeyed. He heard the squeak of a chair as Link apparently got up. The scholar opened his eyes to find something amazing resting in his open palms. It sparkled and shimmered in the lamplight of the tavern. He felt his heart tremor. He would have cried out, but speech had left his tongue. Link had given him a feather – a brilliant golden feather that glimmered with a strange, ancient magic. Shad's eyes immediately darted to the birdlike figure on the cover of his book of notes, then back to this anything-but-ordinary feather.
"Link!" he managed, "Is this thing what I think it is… Link?"
Link ignored him as he walked through the main door of Telma's out into the gloom of the city. The young man's shadow cast behind him shivered in what Shad could have sworn was laughter.