***Author's Note: Cover image by Lucy aka Nendil at DeviantArt and used with permission. You can see more of her wonderful art (including more Link/Zelda pictures) at deviantart.***
In the land of Hyrule, just west of the tiny village of Kakariko, on the coast of the Endless Ocean (which no man has ever crossed and lived to tell the tale), a fisherman by the name of Mars lived with his wife, Tatiana. The couple was poor—living in a one-room cottage constructed on cliff well above the often-times turbulent sea—but they were young, in love, and happy.
Mars was a fisherman. Every day, when the weather permitted, he left as the tide was going out and sailed his small boat far out into the ocean and cast his large nets to catch the big, deepwater fish. Theirs was a sparsely-populated part of Hyrule, so Mars had little competition on the ocean and, as a consequence, he came home every day with his boat so laden with fish that it was barely above the waterline.
While Mars was gone, his wife tended a small garden that they managed to scratch out of the poor, sandy soil, and she tended their lemon and orange trees (the winds off the ocean being warm enough to allow citrus fruits to be grown in a narrow band of land along a portion of the coast). When the tide was low, she walked down the wooden steps (all ninety-six of them!) to the beach below and spent her day at the tidal pools prying clams and mussels from the rocks. She also had a little scoop with a woven cup that she would use to scoop up shrimp. And after storms blew in great heaps of seaweed, she would collect it up by the basketful and store it in barrels full of saltwater brine. They usually ate the green stuff every day. When it was rinsed well in fresh water and boiled, it tasted almost the same as cabbage. What she gathered—along with the terrestrial vegetables from the garden and the occasional piece of fruit from their trees—made up the bulk of their diet. They saved almost all of the fish and citrus fruits for sale.
The couple also had some shallow pools in the sand well above the high tide mark, and the holes were lined with ceramic tile. Mars had a hand pump and a long metal hose that ran into the ocean. He would pump water into the shallow pools and then let the sun evaporate the water over the course of a week or two. Then Tatiana would carefully scoop up all the sea salt and store it in small barrels. It was also her job to cover the pools with heavy canvas tarps if it looked like it was going to rain.
When the incoming tide was close to its peak, Tatiana always went down to the beach (ninety-six stairs!) to wait for Mars to come home. When he got the boat as close to shore as he could, he would hop out in the shallows, kicking up more water than absolutely necessary and splashing Tatiana, who came out to help him pull in the boat. She would fuss, but laugh at the same time.
Together, they pulled the boat inland as far as they could, then they began unloading the fish. Tatiana carried them in shallow woven baskets because she didn't like to touch them more than necessary, but Mars would grab the bigger ones fearlessly by the tail and throw them over his back. He always laughed when Tatiana wrinkled her nose. Sometimes the fish were still alive when they took them out of the boat and they fought back. It was Tatiana's turn to laugh the day a large tuna clobbered Mars, causing him to fall in the shallows. The tuna ended up getting away.
The fish were loaded into a large, shallow box and Mars used a rope and pulley to pull it to the top of the cliff. Tatiana used a hook on a long pole to swing it over to the wagon parked at the edge of the cliff. The two sides of the box were controlled by two different ropes and when Tatiana called out to Mars on the beach below, he would let slack out of one rope and it would cause the box to tip and dump all the fish into the wagon. They usually had to haul the fish up in two shifts, but sometimes Mars caught so much, it took three trips.
But Mars's work day wasn't over yet. Day or night, he had to hook his ox, Bellum, to the cart and haul the load to Kakariko Village, which was a couple of miles inland. There, Mars's brother, Alfon, owned the family's fish-processing factory (and the only factory in Kakariko), the "Kakariko Seafood Brinery." Alfon, as the older brother, had inherited the factory when their father had suffered an unfortunate accident in a vat of extra-salty brine several years before. Alfon apprenticed his younger brother to an elderly fisherman who had no sons of his own, and the old man taught Mars everything he knew. When he died, Mars took over the old cottage and boat and took up his nets. Alfon agree to buy all of the fish and salt that he and Tatiana could bring in.
When the weather or the sea was too rough for sailing, Mars stayed home and mended his nets, made baskets for Tatiana, chopped up driftwood for the fire, and did whatever repairs or chores needed doing.
So, although Mars and Tatiana were poor, it was only because they were young and just getting started in life. Alfon and Mars both had plans to turn his fishing into a separate business every bit as large and lucrative as the family brinery. Mars was bringing home decent money, which his thrifty wife carefully saved in pots hidden in the cellar, and they intended to buy a larger boat so that Mars and a helper could bring in larger catches, while still allowing someone else to use the small boat to bring in smaller catches. He also planned to build some more shallow pools to make salt, which the brinery used by the barrel.
Then Tatiana became pregnant. The further along she got, the less she was able to help her husband and he had to hire a local boy to help him instead. But he didn't mind the dip in his profit margin; he was over the moon about the impending birth of his first child.
When the day of Tatiana's delivery came, the weather was awful. A cold winter wind was blowing in from the sea—threatening to break the trees—as a giant storm cloud came rolling over the ocean, turning the water black and causing it to boil with whitecaps. Mars had to bow his head and walk hunched over against the lashing wind and rain as he went to town to fetch the midwife. The two-mile trip there took three times as long as it normally did, and although the midwife had a horse to ride, it took them just as long to return to the seaside cottage because they were going directly into the teeth of the wind. Icy-cold rain stung exposed flesh like sparks of fire.
By the time they arrived back at the house, Tatiana had already given birth. She was lying in the bed, holding the baby—which was swaddled in the embroidered linen that she had so carefully made—and she was crying. But it only took Mars a moment to realize that she wasn't crying from happiness or from the pain of the birth. Something was wrong.
"Tatiana, what's wrong?" he asked, rushing to her side.
"Look," she whispered, pulling back the linen so he could see the baby.
The baby's face was smooth and creamy as ivory, with lips as pink as rosebuds and eyes as blue as a cloudless summer day. It was the prettiest baby Mars had ever seen.
And then he noticed the baby's ears. They were deformed. Instead of round little ears, the baby had long, pointed ears that stuck out a little.
"What happened?" Mars gasped, thinking some difficultly of labor had caused the deformity. Curse his slowness! If only he had gotten back with the midwife quicker….
"I don't know," Tatiana cried. "He was like this when he came out."
The midwife—a shriveled old woman who resembled a prune more than anything in the world—tsked at them between her teeth and leaned down to look at the baby. "Mm-hmm," she said thoughtfully as she pulled back the swaddling to get a look at all of him.
"There's nothing wrong with this baby," she finally declared with authority.
"But… but his ears!" Mars exclaimed.
The midwife carefully took the infant from Tatiana—her wizened old arms stronger than they looked. She studied the baby and he looked back at her with a strangely-attentive gaze for a newborn.
"He's a Hylian," the midwife explained. "He's supposed to have ears like that."
"A Hylian?" Mars asked, confused. "What do you mean? They died out centuries ago."
"They didn't die out," the midwife contradicted. "Many ages ago, humans moved into Hyrule and mixed with the Hylians. But there were more humans than Hylians, so human blood came to dominate. But there is no one in Hyrule who doesn't have the Hylian blood in them.
"It's possible that you and your wife have more than most people, and together you produced this child. Or maybe the gods decreed that he should be born. In any event, he is a Hylian."
Mars looked doubtful as the midwife handed the baby to him. "Have… have you ever seen this before?" he asked her. He knew he had certainly never seen anyone with pointed ears before.
"Once, when I was a little girl," she replied. "My grandmother was the village midwife before me. One night, she woke me up and told me to come with her. It must have been midnight or later because everything in the village was dark and quiet; I had never been out so late before.
"She took me to the house of the local blacksmith; his wife had just had a baby and my grandmother wanted me to see it. In the light of a candle, she unwrapped the little baby and showed me his ears.
"She told me, 'Merryl, this is a Hylian baby. See his ears? We all have Hylian blood within us, but it normally doesn't manifest itself. For some reason, though, it appeared in this baby.'"
"What happened to the baby?" Tatiana asked, curious.
"His parents had his stars read and they found out that he was destined to be a great scholar. They sent him to a monastery in Castle Town to study when he was still just a little boy, not older than five. By the time he was twenty-three, he was an astrologer in the king's court, and just a few years later, he was made the Grand Vizier."
"Grand Vizier Ryu?" Mars asked in shock.
"I had no idea!"
"So… he has ears like my baby?" Tatiana asked.
"He does indeed. But the cap he wears covers them, so few people have ever seen them."
She looked at the baby once more, then nodded. "Hylians aren't born without a good reason; he will have a special destiny. You should have his stars read."
Mars and Tatiana both winced. It was customary in Hyrule to have an astrologer read a child's stars while he or she was still an infant. The stars laid out a destiny for every person, and while it was certainly possible for someone to find their course on their own, it did make life easier if it was known in advance. Parents never had to wonder if they should send their children to school or teach them a trade. They never had to wonder what trade to teach them. They usually even knew who their child's best love-match would be, with the result that many children were betrothed while they were still young. Woe be it to the person who actively worked to defy their destiny. It could be done, but bad things resulted.
The only problem was that a good astrologer was horribly expensive and a bad astrologer could create havoc by outlining the child's life incorrectly, causing him or her to defy their destiny. And having a child whose destiny was clearly above the norm would require one of the best astrologers. The bigger the destiny, the more horrible it would be to get it wrong. It would probably be better to have no chart at all than a wrong one.
In the end, though, Mars and Tatiana's concern about the money was unnecessary. Mars's brother, Alfon, was in awe of the baby when he came to visit, and, without it even being suggested, he declared, on the spot, that he would pay to have the child's stars read by an astrologer in Castle Town. It would be his birth-present to his new nephew.
Mars and Tatiana sighed in relief that all their hard-earned savings would not have to be spent on a single astrologer, and they went back to being happy, proud parents.
The baby's identity as a Hylian and his expected great destiny overshadowed everything else at first. It wasn't until three days later that his parents discussed a name for him. They named him "Link," almost as an afterthought.