The Apprentice
by Queenie Z

Though he'd agreed to carry the bundle of extra sheathed blades from the armory to the courtyard, the young boy found himself struggling to do so. His freckled face twisting into a strained, painful expression, he wobbled slowly down the halls of the castle, though he remained determined to finish the job he had set out to do. That is, until a rich laugh from the man he was following suddenly rang down the hallway.

"You know you don't have to carry all of them at once, Russell," chuckled the old captain, who approached his apprentice and began taking the majority of the small swords from him.

Russell frowned pathetically. "B-But Captain Link," he said, "I-I can do it myself…"

Link placed the bundle under his right arm and ruffled the little boy's blond hair with his left. "There's no need to take on every job all by yourself," he said with a grin, "and there's no shame in asking for help."

"But…" Russell sulked, his gaze falling towards the remaining two scabbards in his arms.

Tilting his head quixotically, Link frowned. "But…? Is something wrong, Russell?"

The boy looked back up. "I've gotta do the grown-up work by myself," he said, "or else the others are gonna keep teasing me."

"Teasing you?" Link placed his free hand on his hip. "How so?"

"Th-They say that I'm too little to be your apprentice," he said, growing more upset as he spoke, "and that you only let me stay here 'cause I'm an orphan! They say you just feel sorry for me!" He pouted indignantly. "That's why I've gotta show them I'm not just a weak little kid."

Link's expression softened, and he knelt down to Russell's level. "You're not weak," he said, "you're the strongest little guy I know. You went through a lot when you lost your parents, and you're serious about becoming a guard." He smiled, creating wrinkles under his old, green eyes. "That's why I let you train with me."

Russell blinked. "Really? …You don't think I'm too little?"

"I was only a little older than you when I started my own sword training," the captain replied with a wink. "And, between you and me, I ended up as Captain because of it. They say that all the best start out young!"

"So if I keep training," said Russell, his face brightening at his mentor's encouragement, "I'm gonna be the best one day?"

"There's no doubt in my mind." Link stood, placing his hand behind his apprentice's head and leading him towards the courtyard, still carrying the swords under his opposite arm. "And, who knows? Maybe one day, you'll be the one teaching others the way of the sword."

The boy nodded, grinning up at the older man. "Right! Don't worry, Captain Link, I'm gonna train really hard and be the best! I won't let you down!"

"Now that's the spirit!" laughed Link. As he moved his hand to rub the boy's head once more, he caught a glimpse of the sacred mark that had been burned onto it some years before, a symbol of the promises the gods and spirits had made to him. And though this spirited lad would not be the one to shoulder the burden of New Hyrule's fate, he knew that the ways of the sword and the values of courage and self-sacrifice could not be afforded to die along with the Hero of Winds.

Captain Russell crossed his arms, staring down the boy who claimed to be a new recruit with an incredulous expression on his face. Was this child, who looked far too young to even be eligible to enlist, really trying to pass himself off as a rookie? He had to fight back the urge to smirk as he continued questioning him.

"So," he began, "let me get this straight. You need a sword so you can leave through the back of the castle? Are you serious?"

The boy in the rookie's uniform that looked slightly too big for him gulped nervously and nodded. "Y-Yes, sir, I am."

Russell finally allowed himself to smirk. "Heh, some swordsman you are, running around with no sword…" He put his hands on his hips and leaned in closer. "You know, there's something fishy about this… are you really a new recruit?"

The so-called "recruit" inhaled sharply, looking just as guilty as the captain figured he'd be. "Um, um, I…" He suddenly furrowed his brow, looking the older man straight in the eye as seriously as he could muster. "…Of course I am! I-I just need a sword, okay!? It's really important…!"

"All right," said the captain, still not buying his story, "what's your name, then, son?"

"Link," said the boy, "it's Link."

At that, Russell found himself taken aback. A wave of nostalgia enveloped him as he recalled the memories of the years he'd spent as a young apprentice. Captain Link, founder of the New Hyrulian Royal Guard, a true leader to his men and a hero to all, a man who possessed unsurpassed skill in swordplay and endless courage… it was thanks to the tutelage of that extraordinary man that Russell could rise above the challenge and become Captain himself. Now standing before him was his dead mentor's spitting image and namesake, and the determination and bravery behind his young, brown eyes was unmistakable. It was no mere coincidence that this boy had arrived; indeed, it was the will of the gods and the Spirits of Good that they would meet.

Russell began to chuckle to himself, strangely pleased by this strange and wonderful turn of events. "Don't worry, son, your eyes tell the whole story." He turned, and taking a spare blade from the storage bin beside him. "All right, take this one!"

He tossed it to Link, who caught it with a surprised yelp. The boy took the sword's grip and slid it out of his scabbard slightly, staring at it in slight disbelief. "…Really? I can have it?"

The older man nodded. "But just because you have a sword," he said, "that doesn't make you a swordsman!" He reached for the sword at his hip and drew it. "Let me see if you're truly worthy of handling a weapon like that…!"

Link beamed brightly and nodded in return. Then, with a determined look rivaling that of his namesake, he drew his own blade.