“It’s too much.”
The quiet words went ignored, but Link felt the weight of them. “Navi, I- I don’t think I can do this.”
The forest temple was unlike anything he had previously dealt with. It was not the first time he had battled or killed, nor the first time he had been injured. Yet before, everything was lighter and smaller. It was only his adventure, with few consequences should he fail.
But the forest temple was a maze of confusing hallways, twisting and turning till he exited standing on walls. Poes flitted through walls laughing while he struggled to open doors and jumped at every noise. How many times had he done something stupid? Slipped on a puddle he had already noted, fell off a ledge while climbing vines, dropped a key between the cracks of the stone courtyard? Worse, the temple was dark and lit only by torches. Link could not count the hours that past and soon enough found the sword too heavy due to lack of rest.
And what a grand adventure it all was when no one recognized him. The Kokori, innocent in their ways, ignored him for he was nothing but a stranger to them. Cowering behind closed doors as he hunted down the monsters attacking them, and the only reward a murmur about how familiar he was. Not a single one recognized him.
Link came to a stop at the edge of the forest.
Navi continued to fly on, and Link watched her go. He could call out to her, let her know he wasn’t continuing but the will left him and she’d notice soon enough.
Instead, Link sat where he stood, uncaring of the root beneath him, and brought his knees to his chest. Curled up, he faced the hardest truth. Saria was gone.
Not dead, just out of his reach.
Everything he had done since awakening was in worry for her. Traveling across the plains, he had even gone slightly out of his way to the ranch to see if he could buy a horse for faster travel. Rather than the kind, childish face of Malon he had been hoping for, he was confronted with another mess.
Malon, rightful owner reduced to nothing but a stableboy, begging him to run off with Epona. She had been so desperate to save her favorite horse there was no asking to help her, her father, or their ranch. Even when Link had offered to stay and help, Malon stood firm. Not even the gloom of the Forest Temple could erase her words, “If I have a choice to make, it shall always be Epona. I understand my position, I can work harder to relieve pressure, and I know that a better future is coming. Epona, she has none of that. She’s a creature meant for the wind and open road, the freedom of running till lost and grazing her way back. To keep her locked in a barn, or even this enclosure, is cruel beyond words. Please Link, promise me you’ll give her everything she deserves.”
So he had done as asked and challenged Ingo to a race, despite the steep price. Overconfident in his ability to win, Ingo would rather greedily rake in money race after race with no horse lost. It was the overconfidence Link played too, the overconfidence which allowed Link to pull ahead and win. And it was the overconfidence which caused Ingo’s anger to burn all the brighter and lock them in.
It took only a single look from Malon before Link guided Epona to jump the wall, but it was the worry for Saria that made Link lean forward and encourage Epona to run.
And it hadn’t mattered. He had been too late. He had arrived in the Kokori village to hear their horror of her disappearance. Had fought for weeks within the Forest Temple only to learn her status as Forest Sage. When he had finally climbed from the depths of the Temple, the sense of accomplishment had been torn away by her small figure whispering goodbye.
Silent tears rolled down his cheeks by the time Navi finally caught on and returned, “Link! Come on, we have to save Hyrule!” She darted around his still form, tugging on his ear and then his finger.
A wave from his hand caused her to fly back out of the way, giving him space, but she persisted. “Link, we have to go. Why are you sitting here?” She paused, hovering in the space before his face, a single hand going out to touch his cheek and her voice softened, “Why are you crying?”
“I don’t think I can do it Navi.” The words released something within, and Link felt the child he had outgrown in his sleep, “I don’t know how to use the sword properly and I can’t help anyone. I ran away from Malon’s troubles and could only chase the monsters around in the temple. No one recognizes me and Saria- Saria left me. Even after I cleared a temple for her she still had to leave and we’ll never talk to each other again.”
In the silence after his words, all Link could feel was the itchiness of his eyes. Navi hovered in front of him as he hid behind his arms, trying to catch his breath and stop the tears.
“You’re the Hero, Link. No one else can do what you can,” Navi finally said, looking down at the man she was charged to help. “You’re the one who pulled the Master Sword. The Goddesses chose you to save the realm.”
“What if I put the sword back?” Link asked, the words softened and distorted as he spoke into his arms. Navi darted over and pulled at his bangs until he rose his head, revealing a feverish gleam in his eyes. “What if I returned the sword and let the Goddesses pick someone new?”
“Link,” Navi said, hesitant, “that’s not how it works.”
“You don’t know that. When’s the last time a hero was called? Maybe they did it all the time in the old days.” With his words came a restless energy. Where before he had collapsed due to exhaustion, now Link found his feet and started forward, hands tapping against his legs.
“I don’t think it will work,” Navi muttered angrily as she followed in his wake, “but if we’re going to try, you should see if the song really summons Epona. Especially after she’s been left alone for so long.”
Link ignored the criticism but pulled out his ocarina. Epona’s song was soothing, and he focused on it rather than on the fact Saria would never play a song with him again. The simple tune was caught by an unnatural breeze, with trees swaying against the wind as it traveled.
Before Link or Navi could begin to doubt, the sound of neighing and the thud of hoof beats came from the west, the cliffs. Turning, Link found a grin as Epona ran up and nuzzled him. “I suppose you weren’t recaptured,” He murmured as his fingers caught in her mane. Link easily pulled himself onto Epona’s bare back and reached for Navi, who quickly flew to his hat, ignoring his hand.
Directing Epona to the castle, he allowed her free reign. As Malon promised, Epona was a horse of the road and wind, and easily fell into a gallop which tore across the land. In his state, Link took no notice of passing time. Ignoring hunger he allowed Epona to run and walk at her own pace. He daze was broken when Epona came to a stop at the broken drawbridge of the castle.
With faint memories of creeping monsters and a paralyzing scream, Link dismounted and watched Epona run off.
He would miss her.
Crossing the bridge, Link’s hand went to his sword then passed it for the Kokori sword, now nothing more than a knife in his hand. The grip felt strange but he ignored it, hoping he wouldn’t be faced with monsters to use it against. He stepped softly and was patient, peeking around corners and crouching below windows.
At last, the air took on a strange quality. It lacked the dirtiness of the town but was heavier, as if something powerful was watching from out of sight. Rather than add to his stressful state, it helped to calm him. He ducked around a building corner and walked directly into the courtyard of the City Temple.
The Temple was similar to the Forest Temple in the way of age. The building was older than any in town and while the walls were a little worn from wind and rain, it radiated strength and power. The courtyard was deserted, yet clean. No trash had gathered in the corners nor did any animal leave droppings.
The giant doors of the temple opened easily and his footsteps echoed. Link did not pause or slow down, his arrival here only spurring him on. He passed quickly through the front worship room and only slowed upon reaching the doorway to the room where he had first found the master sword.
Navi came out of his hat, “Are you sure you want to do this Link?”
It was not Link who answered.
At the soft, genderless voice Link froze, hand on the hilt of the Master Sword. He knew who the voice belonged too, for all of hearing it only twice. The man was one of the few trying to change things, trying to help Link. It was someone Link had drawn strength from when at his weakest.
“Is there something you want Sheik?” Link asked, trying and failing to keep the tremble from his voice.
“What are you doing Link?” Sheik asked again, closer.
Navi remained silent, her disapproval clear enough. Link shook his head slightly, refusing to turn around, “I can’t handle it, I- I think the Goddesses chose wrongly. I’m not the hero everyone needs so I’m returning the Master Sword.”
There was a small scuffing sound and then a hand on his shoulder, “There is only one capable of wielding the Master Sword.”
Link knocked the hand off his shoulder and drew the Master Sword, he looked at it. Then laughed. “Only one? Someone placed the sword here Sheik.”
Sheik persisted, “You saved and cleansed the Forest Temple, not something easily done-“
But it was too late. Link was already taking the last step and as the sword slid back into stone, he disappeared.
A few minutes later
Across Hyrule, a young man came to a stop along the cliffs overlooking Lake Hylia. He wore a battered, brown cloak thrown open in the warm breeze and a patched green hat which trailed down his back. His tunic was newer than the hat, but matched in color. Across his back, over his cloak, he wore a shield and bow tucked into its quiver. Around his shoulders floated a small fairy.
“So, we’re finally back.” Navi’s voice had matured during their travels, deepening and gaining almost an echo. When it had first started happening, she had been embarrassed than proud as Link remarked how similar it was to the Great Fairies.
Link laughed, “Yes, yes we are. Do you think the Goddesses have given the Master Sword to another?”
“Link!” Navi gasped, “They would never- I can’t believe you’d say- Link!”
“No, I suppose they wouldn’t have.” Rather than spoken with the hurt and trouble of his younger self, Link spoke with humor. He knew the Goddesses were on his side, as they had proved countless times in the past seven years.
Looking to the sky, Link’s eyes were drawn to the dark clouds gathering to the northeast. “Then perhaps it is time for me to retrieve it.”