Back To The Forest
By Queenie Z
Captain Link's fever and delirium seem to be worsening with each passing day, despite the measures taken to isolate our men from the epidemic. It is unknown how he managed to contract it, and his agitation and refusal to be quarantined is particularly worrisome; he often expresses his wish to 'return home to the forest'. This is likely a symptom of the illness - the captain has never once mentioned having a hometown in the forest, not even when asked.
Link sighed and shut the old, yellowed diary, carefully returning it to his pouch. As he thought - the old physician's journal only contained the most bare bones of information on the ancestor who shared his name, and reading it over again wouldn't give him any new clues. He looked up into the canopy of the trees, thanking the Goddesses that it hadn't started snowing on him and that the density of the foliage in this area of Faron had kept the ground mostly clear of the white stuff.
The forests of Hyrule - the area now known as Faron Province - that was the only lead he had. Ever since Shad had done such an impressive job of creating a genealogy of his family, revealing the name and face of the phantom who had taught him so much during his quest, Link couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to this man, Captain Link of the Knights of Hyrule, than the castle records could show him. He had been lucky to even find that one diary mentioning the young captain coming down with fever; as Shad had said, the man had no birth records, no death records, and no record of any kin besides the existence of two sons, so if Link wanted to learn more about him, he would have to look in the only place the diary had alluded a connection to.
The young hero stood and stretched. He hadn't realized just how lonely the deep woods were; the last time he'd been here, he was with the Adventurer's Guild, and before that, Midna. This was his first foray into and around the Sacred Grove alone, and he had found it much harder to remember where he was going when he had no one else around to help him. He turned to the tree he had been resting on and pulled out a pocketknife, marking the trunk with his name. He carried a sword on his back for protection, as he always did, but this small blade would help him keep track of the places he had been and, hopefully, keep him from getting lost.
He put the knife away and continued forward, thoughts and theories running through his mind as he did. Why would his ancestor have never told anyone where he was from or who his family had been? It was almost as if he had kept all of that a secret from the people around him. And it probably wasn't out of malice, either - his colleagues had nothing but praise for the good captain, and even the Princess Zelda of his time considered him a close friend - so he must have had a good reason to hide it. Nevertheless, it bothered his descendent, for his search would have been far easier had the captain been more open.
Another thing that bothered Link was something he had failed to see in the service records he borrowed from the castle archives - not a single one of them mentioned anything about Captain Link's deeds as the Legendary Hero. He was positive he had been one - he said so himself when he passed on his skills! - so why did no one know what he had done? Link knew the kind of hardships his ancestor must have faced and thought of how impossible it would have been to hide that sort of adventure from everyone in Hyrule. Yes, the elder Link, the mystery hero, was an intriguing enigma, one that the present Link thought he owed it to his phantom teacher to unravel.
Caught up in his thoughts, Link failed to notice a rather large drop just ahead of him, and with no one else around to warn him, he fell right in. With a yell, he tumbled down the wall of rock and moss until he landed face first at the bottom of a small, dark valley. He hissed in pain, combing clods of dirt out of his hair and hat, then spotted something that caught his attention: a small clearing in the middle of the trees, littered with wild foliage and marked in the middle with... something that had been covered in leaves, moss, and vines. He approached the object and cleared it away, letting out a small gasp when he recognized what it was.
It was the Shade's - no, Captain Link's helmet.
Just as he was about to comprehend what he just found, Link heard a rustle coming from high up in the trees. He quickly turned and grabbed the hilt of his sword, his brave blue eyes scanning the clearing for signs of danger. Then, he heard a laugh - a familiar little giggle, playful yet the slightest bit menacing.
"Grown-ups are silly," said the childish voice. "When they die, they put each other in the ground. Isn't that right, Mister?"
Link drew his sword and glared at the little imp who had once given him such a hard time in these very woods. The Skull Kid sat perched on the branch of a tree, high above the young hero's head. He looked oddly at ease, but Link wasn't about to take any chances.
"I'm not here to play with your puppets again," he said sternly.
The Skull Kid laughed. "Hee hee! Who said I was going to call them out to play?" He stood, placing a hand on the tree's trunk. "I don't think my friend would want to watch us fight, anyway."
"The one you're standing on!"
Link looked towards his feet. The ground beneath them had been oddly raised... he sheathed his blade and crouched before the mound, quickly clearing away the leaves. This wasn't just a clearing - this was clearly someone's grave, and that helmet - his ancestor's helmet - was its marker.
He gaped at the realization, half amazed by his discovery and half horrified that he had found it in a place like this. "It can't be," he muttered. He looked back up to the Skull Kid, his eyes wide. "Whose grave is this!"
"I already told you," the imp said, slightly annoyed, "it's my friend's. He's the one who told me that grown-ups die and get put in the ground. So when he died, I put him in the ground."
"You... buried him yourself?"
The Skull Kid nodded. "Nobody else was gonna do it," he mused sadly. "And I didn't wanna see him turn into bones. It would have made me sad."
Link's face dropped, surprised by the tenderness the Skull Kid showed. He glanced again at the helmet. "Your friend was a knight," he said, "wasn't he?"
"Yeah!" The Skull Kid perked back up, "A cool a brave knight! How'd you know, Mister?"
"Because he's my ancestor," he replied with a smile, "and my namesake, I think."
"Hee hee hee! So you're named Link, too!" The imp hopped down from his treetop perch and walked over to the young hero, sniffing him curiously.
"Y-Yeah, but - "
"I knew it! You smell just like him!" He bounded in place like a giggly child, a far cry from the creepy monster Link had once perceived him to be. "I knew it the day I saw you! But you smelled more like a doggie back then." He tilted his head quizzically. "How come you don't smell like a doggie anymore, anyway?"
After watching him for a moment, Link chortled in spite of himself and responded. "It's because I haven't been able to turn into a wolf in a long time."
"That's too bad. You were a cute doggie, Other Link!"
The swordsman ignored that little compliment. "But, Skull Kid, if you knew I was related to him - to your friend - why did you attack me like that?"
"I wasn't trying to be bad!" cried the Skull Kid defensively, "I was just doing what Link told me to do!"
"He told you to go after me!"
"He made me promise!"
Link was baffled. He shifted his weight until he was sitting on his bottom. "Would you mind telling me about that, then?"
The Skull Kid paused, pondering what he should do. He glanced at Captain Link's grave. "...Do you think he'd get mad at me?"
Link shook his head. "I don't think he would."
"Okay," said the imp as he grabbed onto another tree branch and situated himself comfortably. "Well, one day, Link came to visit me, and..."
The Skull Kid giggled, teetering around with the heavy knight's helmet on his head. "Hee hee! This is a funny-looking hat you brought, Link!"
Link laughed brightly, his worn face breaking into a big grin. "That's not a hat, Skull Kid. It's a helmet! Every knight has one."
"But why's it gotta be so heavy?"
"If it wasn't heavy, it wouldn't protect our heads." The young captain pulled his helmet off of his friend. "If it weren't for this helmet, I'd have more scars than I already do."
"Uh-oh! That'd be bad!" The Skull Kid grinned cheekily, reaching for his hat and putting it back on his head. "So, Link, are we gonna play music again today? Are we? Are we?"
"We will, we will," assured the former hero, "I promise. But first, I need to ask you something."
"Huh?" The imp tilted his head. "What is it?"
Link hesitated, taking a quick glimpse at the back of his left hand, then spoke. "You remember when you said I could ask you for anything, in return for saving you in Termina? ...I think I'd like to ask you for that favor now."
The Skull Kid beamed, then giggled. "It took you this long to think of something?"
"It's because I'm an adult," replied Link, tapping his forehead with his finger, "and adults forget things a lot. I just forgot about your promise until now."
"You're silly!" He bounced up and down. "So, what do you want me to do? Huh? Huh?"
"I want you to guard the Master Sword for me."
"Eh? That shiny sword they put in the forest?" The Skull Kid looked disappointed. "That doesn't sound like fun."
"Come on, Skull Kid," said Link, "I know it sounds boring, but it's really important that it's kept safe."
"Because, one day," he looked at his hand again - he still couldn't understand exactly why his sacred mark had faded, but he had an inkling of an idea. He continued, "another hero is going to need to use it. You'll be around a lot longer than I will, so I'm going to need you to guard that sword until the next hero comes to get it."
The Skull Kid nodded. "Okay! Yeah, I can do that!" He put a hand on his chin. "But... how am I gonna know who to give it to? What if a bad guy comes to take it instead?"
"Bad guys shouldn't be able to take it, but if you're not sure he's good," he gave his friend a small wink, "I want you to scare him a little. You're good at that, right?"
Now this sounded like more fun! "Hee hee hee! That's right! I can scare anyone." He did a little joyful dance at the prospect of getting to play pranks again.
"And if he doesn't get scared," added Link, "if he doesn't back down - then he's the real hero, and you can show him the way to the Master Sword."
Link's face grew more stern, his experience aging his face far beyond his chronological age. "Skull Kid... you're the only one I can trust this to. You have to promise me you'll protect the sword and get it to the next hero no matter what. Can you keep that promise? For me?"
The Skull Kid couldn't comprehend just how important his promise would be - but he did know that it was incredibly important to his friend. He held out his pinky. "I promise, Link."
The older knight smiled warmly and wrapped his pinky around the imp's smaller one. "Thank you," he said, "you've been such a good friend to me all these years."
"You, too!" He reached around and pulled a small flute out of his belt. "So can we play now? Huh?"
"All right, all right," Link fished around for his ocarina in his pouch and took it out. "You start, Skull Kid."
Link listened intently to the imp's story of how he had promised to guard the Master Sword; how he had promised to lead the next chosen one to it. He almost couldn't believe it - his ancestor had been looking out for him even before his death! He had known that someone was going to inherit his title as the hero, and he had put everything in place to ensure that hero's - the present Link's success.
He lowered his head in reverence and astonishment. "I can't believe it," he said softly, "you guys... you guys did all that just to help me..."
The Skull Kid nodded and descended from his branch again. "Link really, really, really wanted the new hero to win. And I owed him for saving my life. So I waited a long time, and then you finally showed up!" He giggled. "I was really happy!"
Link smiled sadly. "Were you lonely while you waited all that time?"
"Uh-huh." He looked down at his feet. "I was very lonely. I didn't know people could die until I met him... and when I found him in the forest..." the imp choked on a sob. "...I-I thought he was sleeping...!"
The young hero balked - was the Skull Kid... crying? He really wasn't a monster after all - he was just a kid, a lonely kid who lost his best friend in the whole world. He rose to his feet and placed a gentle hand on his head.
"Don't cry," he said. "You kept your promise - I'm sure he's proud of you. He wouldn't want you to cry over him."
The Skull Kid wiped his shadowy face with a gloved hand. "You're... you're right! I won't cry. If Link's happy for me, then I'll be happy, too!"
"That's the spirit!" He glanced back at the grave. "I... kind of wish he wasn't here, though, where no one can find him. He was a hero - he deserves to be remembered and honored like one."
Staring at the grave for a moment, the Skull Kid suddenly got an idea. He waddled over to the helmet marking the grave and picked it up, handing it to Link. "I can't give him back," he said, "but you can have this if you wanna remember him."
Link placed his hands on the helmet. "Really? Are you sure I can have this?"
"Yeah!" He giggled. "Just as long as you promise to come back and play with me soon."
"Of course," said the swordsman with a chuckle. He took the aged helmet in his arms. "Thank you, Skull Kid. This really means a lot to me."
"It's nothing." The imp bounded into the treetops and disappeared. "...But you better keep your promise, Other Link! I'll be waiting!"
Link started as he heard the brush rustle to his left - a passage had opened, possibly a shortcut out of the woods left by the Skull Kid. His purpose completed here, he followed the path, intending to give the hero Link of ages past a proper memorial from the country he loved so much.