It was a great, fluffy dragon. He squinted, holding his hand above his head so that the shadow fell across his eyes, but the cloud above definitely looked like some kind of dragon, wings of white extended out across a body of cottony bulges. There were endless stories passed down through the ages of great heroes fighting vicious dragons, but as the cloud drifted by, Link couldn’t understand them. Fighting, heroics, nobility won through the scourge of battle - it was all abstract to him. It was no more real than the words in the books that he had read growing up. They held his attention in momentary bursts, yet disappeared into nothingness again when he closed the cover. Dragons and combat were as intangible as the clouds above, and just as prone to fade with the lazy summer air.
The sky was an endless blue expanse before him, the wind wild as it brushed against the sapphire heights. He could smell the green hints of blooming trees and swaying grass as it was carried on the breeze, breathing life into the pleasant air. The strand of straw that he dangled between his lips tasted like baked sunlight, and the sound of crickets thrumming in the nearby bushes filled his ears. He resented the fact that amidst all of that, even when granted a rare day off from training while his father was out of town, even when given a blissful day of nothing to do and nowhere to be, the world still found a way to fill his head with a skill he had no wish to learn. He sighed, spitting the straw to the side and letting his hand fall back down in the grass so that the sunlight made his eyes fill with greenish-red splotches that danced on the back of his eyelids.
His father had handed him a sword when he had been barely old enough to walk, and started teaching him what to do with it with the same relish as he had when he taught him how to read. At first it had seemed like frivolity, a fun thing to do when there was little else to occupy their time, but when he had turned seventeen his father had announced it was time for him to begin training in earnest. It had been unexpected, and confusing, but Link had a love for his father that meant he would do a great deal to make him smile. So, he had stumbled out of bed before the sun each day to follow him out to the yard, getting blisters on his hands and bruises along his ribs, sweat leaking from every poor until dirt caught on the moisture and crusted over every inch of him.
He hated it. Well, perhaps hate was a strong word, but he had to swallow a groan of misery each day the cuckoos crowed him out of bed. He had no desire to learn how to fight; no desire to pick up a blade and understand how to deal death. He had no desire to wear armor that clanked with every movement and weighed down his shoulders until he felt as though his spine would snap in two. He had no desire for the rigid schedule of his training, or the ever-increasing aches in his muscles as he was pushed to new heights whenever he started to adjust.
He knew that his lack of motivation showed in his progress, as well, which was a continual source of dissatisfaction to his father that Link wished he knew how to erase. He could see the disappointment swimming in his gaze every time Link flubbed a swing or fell on his face rather than counter. His father wanted more of him, but Link didn’t know how to give it. His heart just wasn’t in it. There were always a million different things he could think of that he would rather be doing, with his one roadblock between them being his father and his boisterous enthusiasm. It had been on his lips to say as much half a dozen times, but he would always shy away from it when he came close. Once it was out there, once he admitted that he didn’t want to be a knight, or a warrior, then he wouldn’t be able to take it back. And if he couldn’t take it back, then he would have to live with the sorrow that he knew it would instill in his father’s chest.
A spout of water slapped into his face and halted his trailing thoughts, the small torrent freezing compared to his sun-warmed skin. He coughed as a good portion of it worked its way into his nose and throat, making them burn as the smell of the pond invaded his senses. He sat up and sputtered while his shirt absorbed the run-off as it dribbled from his face and hair. He heard a subdued giggle from somewhere in front of him, and he reached up to wipe his eyes so that he could see clearly. There was a small dock that extended into the middle of Zelkoa pond, and there were a pair of amber eyes peering at him just over the edge of the aged wood. Dragonflies zipped above her head, the red scales of her scalp gleaming like rubies, and she giggled again when he narrowed his eyes at her.
“You looked so serious, I couldn’t help it.” the Zora placed her hands on the floor of the dock, pulling herself out of the water so that he could see her full face, an apologetic smile spread across her lips. “Besides, it’s quite hot today. I’ve likely saved you from a sunburn.”
He rolled his eyes. “I haven’t gotten a sunburn since I was seven, but hello to you too, Mipha.” He rolled off the cushy patch of grass that he had been laying in, standing and walking to the edge of the dock to look down at her, hands on his hips. “How did you even get in the pond?” He leaned forward, extending his hand out to her, and she took it and let him lift her up out of the water and onto the creaking wood.
“I walked, of course.”
“Of course.” He laughed, shaking his head.
“Della’s little girl - I forget her name - told me that you weren’t training today, so I thought I might find you here.”
He ran his fingers through his damp hair, pulling it loose from the binding so he could shake out the extra moisture. “Yeah, my father went on some errand in central Hyrule and won’t be back for a few days.”
“I see. Bit of a vacation? I never thought I’d see the day Vallus would let you take a break.”
Link snorted. “No kidding.” He looked back at her, quirking an eyebrow upward. “Speaking of fathers, does yours know where you are today? I thought he said Hateno was too far to travel for daily visits anymore.”
The tops of her cheeks turned a darker shade of red than the rest of her, which made him grin. “Oh, um, well, he of course knows I was going out. I may have neglected the part about coming here first, but that is not…a lie…as such…and it’s hardly a daily visit since I’ve not been out here for three days.” she chewed on her lip, distraught over her dishonesty, even if it was the smallest lie that Link could imagine telling.
He tried not to, but he couldn’t stop the laughter, reaching out to pat her head when she pouted. “Relax, Mipha. I’m sure he would have been fine with it if you had told him.”
“Hm. Perhaps.” She glanced up at the sky, watching the dragon-cloud that didn’t look as much like a dragon anymore drift further away towards one of the distant mountains.
“So, what brings you out, anyways?”
“Oh, right! I’m going fishing today. One of the shops in town is low on staminoka bass and is asking people to help out if they have any spare time, and I thought that it was a lovely day, so you might like to join me. If you’re not too busy, that is. I would understand if you had something else to do, of course, it’s just that I thought if you were free -”
“Sounds good!” he interrupted her endless sentence, knowing that if he didn’t cut it off when he had the chance she would ramble on nervously until she dissolved into anxious panic. He could never understand what triggered these moments of self-doubt and discomfort in her, but he often found that a smile and a kind word could make them dissipate easily enough. “Let me go change into something dry and we can head out.”
Her smile was radiant as she nodded in response, trailing after him as he worked his way to the path leading back to the village. It occurred to him as they went that this was the kind of life that he wanted. He wanted languid days beneath the sun, fishing trips with his best friend to help out the people in their villages. He wanted a small house on a hill, maybe a garden full of vegetables. He wanted to build all that as far away from a sword as he could possibly make it.
If only he could find a way to tell that to his father.
His bones ached as he made his way up the massive stone steps, creaking like they were bowstrings, ill-tended to and apt to snap. He had kept himself in peak physical condition even after he had retired, but no man could outrun the march of time. The grave called to him, whispering its coming arrival with every new throb or cramp that greeted him in the morning. He had years yet, but that didn’t stop the realization that it was looming before him from sinking into his stomach like cold iron. He was old, and no amount of strength could keep that fact from hurting the young man still trapped somewhere in his jaded mind.
The wind whistled through the gaps in his armor, the late afternoon sun glinting off the mirrored surface. He had stayed awake long into the night polishing it, ensuring it was in immaculate condition for his meeting today while he mulled over what it was he wanted to say. Sparks shot out of the edges of his boots as he clanged against the stonework, lifting himself up the last few steps and onto the battlements of the castle. Rhoam was there waiting for him, a regal sight as he stood with impeccable posture, massive hands clamped behind his back. He looked as much a king as he always had, though Vallus had long ago stopped teasing him for being royalty. The joke had been far less funny after Rhoam’s father had died and he had ascended to the throne. The King’s silver hair and ample beard stirred in the wind as it buffeted the walls of the castle they stood upon, and he watched as his old friend breathed in and out, deeply and slowly.
Vallus took up position next to the him, resting his hands on the bricks before them, mortared together ages ago to create the centerpiece of the kingdom. He gazed out at the view, with all of Hyrule spread before their silent gazes, a gleaming empire of peace and prosperity. There were a handful of clouds dotting the horizon, but otherwise the sun was uninhibited as it cascaded through the clear blue above their heads. Vallus wondered if Rhoam saw the shadows hiding behind the light as much as he did. Did he fear the oncoming storm? Did he fret about it as often, or as deeply?
“You look old.” Rhoam’s voice startled him out of his reverie, and he frowned as he turned to glare at him. Rhoam wasn’t looking at him yet, his eyes still on the wide-open world that he ruled, but Vallus thought he detected the faintest hint of sarcasm in the words.
“You got fat.” The quip rolled out of Vallus’ lips before he rightly knew what he was saying, but he decided before the sound had faded that he would stand by it. If the King of Hyrule had forgotten how to take a joke, Vallus would be happy to remind him.
The king rumbled out a laugh that started like drums and ended like thunder. “I have no recourse to argue with that fact. How are you, my friend?” Rhoam finally turned to look at him, his eyes crinkling at the edges as he smiled.
“Old, apparently.” Vallus snorted. “I have seen worse days, though, and Lilly would have smacked me ‘round the back of the head for complaining.”
Rhoam chuckled. “She was the only person who could ever smack any sense into you.” His eyes grew unfocused, and Vallus knew that he was wandering the halls of their memories, recalling times when their loves had been alive, and they had been happy. “I am sorry that I could not attend the funeral.”
“You have apologized enough, I bear no grudges for it. Kings don’t attend the funerals of common-folk.”
“The wife of the greatest knight ever to have served me is by no means common.”
Vallus took a moment to let her memory wash over him. Her hair, spun of gold and glimmer, moving as though it had been filled with magic. Her eyes, the deepest color of blue that he had ever seen, brighter than any star and a thousand times more expressive. She had been the rarest thing to him, more precious than the whole world, right up until the moment she had delivered their sweet son. He swallowed, willing the grief to roll back down to manageable levels before he lost his composure. “No, you are correct. She had never been common.” He sighed, his breath shaking as it passed by his lips. “She was always convinced that you resented her for stealing me away, you know.”
“Ha! I lauded her for taking you off my hands. Amalia was like to arrange your marriage for you if you hadn’t settled down when you did. She kept insisting I would never have a good head about my shoulders with your influence ‘inciting the wild hairs’ ‘neath my crown.” The king laughed, and Vallus joined, but the mirth died quickly as the terrible pangs of loss intruded on their hearts once more. “I don’t know if I ever told you, but it broke our hearts when Liluth passed.”
“Mine too.” He cleared his throat, blinking rapidly in the hopes that the burning sensation would leave his eyes. “I was crushed to hear of Amalia’s death, as well.”
“I am crushed anew each day that I must rise and face this kingdom without her by my side.” He spoke fervently, and Vallus had no doubts that he meant the full gravity of the words he spoke. Rhoam had been tempestuous and foolhardy in his youth, rushing out on grand adventures and dragging Vallus along with him. It had seemed he had little care for his own hide until he had found Amalia. She had given him a reason to want to live, a reason to want to be the good man Vallus had known him to be when he wasn’t keen on burning through the days with excitement. Vallus had been aware that his friend had been lost from the minute he laid eyes on Amalia, though when he had seen how happy Rhoam was with her he had never been able to bring himself to be disappointed. Then, a year later, Liluth had walked into his life, and his chapter as a knight had come to an end. He had retired, settled down in a town that had barely started to grow from the mountainside, and given up his suit of armor for a good plow horse. He had married Liluth as quickly as she had allowed, and together they had prepared to raise a family.
Fate had other plans, however, and he didn’t think he could bring himself to forgive it for such.
“How fare’s Zelda?”
Rhoam’s brows came together above his nose in a glower that would have quelled a lesser man. “Stubborn. She grows frustrated easily, and does not apply herself to the tasks set before her unless they glow with that cursed Sheikah technology.”
“Isn’t that ‘cursed technology’ being heralded as Hyrule’s greatest protection? Our saving grace? Those great beasts your tearing out of the mountainsides are being called ‘divine’.”
Rhoam snorted. “I like that. ‘Divine Beasts’. That has a good ring to it.”
Vallus knew that he was trying to change the subject, but he felt compelled to plunge deeper into it regardless. “You should give her a break. There’s nothing wrong with her taking an interest in something that will save her kingdom.”
“You know as well as I do that the only thing that will save our kingdom is her ability to wield her inherited powers.” Rhoam scowled at the ground, and though his expression was filled with irritation, Vallus could still see the fear.
“She’s just turned sixteen, you can’t lay that on her shoulders.”
“Oh? And I should hide it from her instead?” the question was pointed enough that Vallus recognized it as a jab against his own parenting, but he let it slide away, refusing to rise to the bait.
“Perhaps better than crushing her spirit.”
It was a step too far, and Vallus could tell because Rhoam’s eyes clouded over, dark with anger. “You dare?” his words were a low growl, brushed away by the wind before they could roam beyond the confines of their conversation. “You are an old and valued friend, dear Vallus, but do not forget to whom you speak. I will not have any man stand here and question the choices I made with my wife in the raising of our daughter.”
Vallus sighed, sagging as he exhaled so that he felt like someone had pulled out all his spirit. “Rhoam, I meant no disrespect. I just…you know how I feel.”
Rhoam looked out across the kingdom before them, his eyes scanning over every hill and tree, as though taking stock of each thing at stake. “I have had extensive research done. We knew the base of it from the moment Amalia heard the goddess, but I wanted to know more. I tasked the best scholars in the world with the research, all under the guise of readiness.” He cleared his throat, the sound as heavy as the words he spoke. “In all the tales and all the legends, they always defeat the great evil, and their story ends. There is never a mention of a happily ever after. No one recorded whether the princess of myth lives on afterward. If she leads the kingdom, if she was just or kind. If she falls in love, or weds, or has children. No one mentions if she was ever able to smile again. I know not what will be in store for them, only that they must prevail, or all is lost. How else am I to react, but to prepare her to survive as best I can? If she lives, I can hope that there is another chapter beyond the end of the story. I can hope that she finds sunlight after sealing the darkness. It is the only way I know to be a father when my daughter is so much greater than I could have ever dreamed.”
“I know, old friend. I know it well. I have mulled over the same questions, time and time again. I have not the strength for it, as you do. How can I? How can a father tell his son what lay in wait for him? How can we, as parents, cope with the fact that their destinies require their intense suffering? I only want to grant him happiness, so how can I live with the fact that it may not have been possible from the moment he was born?”
“If you ever find the answer, I beg of you to share it.”
They lapsed into silence, both leaning on the comforting presence of the other. At the height of their days they had been strong, and proud. They had given their hearts to exceptional women, and it had seemed the world had granted them the greatest gifts. They had been fools, thinking that they had deserved such things. Fate had not only taken his wife, but it had damned his son in the same turn. Vallus would fight to spare him, if only he had an inkling as to how. He would happily turn his blade against any foe, strike down any villain that would dare lay hands upon his son, but there was no hope for it. He had not the power, and the enemies were invisible and as yet unannounced. As it stood, all he could do was teach him, and he was failing at even that.
“He is not ready.” Vallus broke the silence with his disparate news, letting it hang in the air for a heartbeat before plunging forward with the true purpose of his visit. “I have tried to train him, but he is a carefree boy. He has a good and noble spirit, but he does not take to battle like I would have thought. He would rather avoid violence, it would seem. I don’t think I have the heart to change that in him.”
Rhoam clasped his hands behind his back again, his gaze lifting to the sky as he considered the revelation. “The hour draws near. I can feel it. A chill on the wind that should not be, a shadow in the night shades darker than it ought to be. We are running out of time, my friend.” He sighed, breath heavy and morose. “Though my methods have fared no better. In truth, Zelda has been the most astute and studios pupil that anyone could ask for, dedicated far beyond the reason that should be afforded to her age, yet still her mother’s power eludes her. I know not what else to do to bring about her awakening.”
“I have a notion.” Vallus chuckled, though it rang hollow as the sound bounced around his clattering armor. “I wish to send Link to train with your knights. To have you put him through his paces, and instill in him the discipline that will build him into the man that he needs to become.”
Rhoam raised an eyebrow, his lips quirking to the side. “Did you not just call me an overbearing brute for treating my daughter with the very same attitude you request for your son?”
Vallus laughed, feeling the strain of their burdens ease just slightly as he did. “I am nothing if not a fool, my king. My opinion has always been worthless, more so since Lilly passed.”
“That I can relate to.” Rhoam inhaled slowly, the wind whipping his beard to and fro. “You hope that throwing them together will awaken their sense of purpose.” It was a statement, and not a question, though Vallus knew the king well enough to recognize that in truth it was a bit of both.
“Aye. Or, at the very least, get them acquainted before the time comes. Keeping them apart has not served them, so it is long past time that we tried something new.”
“Very well. It would need to be done at some point, I presume, so there is no time like the present. Send him to me immediately, I believe I have just the tasks to assign to him.”
Vallus nodded, and he could sense that their meeting was over without the customary goodbyes generally said amongst friends. Rhoam and Vallus never said farewell. It had started as a joke when Vallus had been his appointed knight, both of them knowing they would see the other more often than they saw anyone else, so it was ludicrous to say goodbye each time they parted ways. Eventually it had become a custom that neither was willing to breach. Farewells felt like an end, and neither of them were ever capable of admitting that an end had come. In this way, they would never have to admit how many days in their lives had passed, and that the era of their youth had found its sunset years ago.
He turned, heading back towards the long steps and away from the king, but he paused at the top, unable to make his legs move. He turned back, tilting his face halfway so that he could see Rhoam out of the corner of his eye. “In those stories, the princess always gets saved. Do you think…does the hero of legend ever get to meet his old age? Do you think this story, this happily ever after that you wish for, do you think Link will find his as well?”
“I wish for it as dearly as I do for hers…but all I have are wishes and hopes, and for that I am sorry.”
Vallus left then, their powerlessness making the tips of his ears burn as the sun dipped below the horizon. It was as story as old as the dirt beneath their towns and cities, a story told over and over so many times that no one had bothered to count. The great calamity known as Ganon would rise, intent on destroying the world, and a wise princess and brave warrior would foil his plans. If Rhoam was right, if Liluth had been right in her last moments, then it had happened so many times that it was all but common, though it didn’t feel that way.
He remembered reading the account of the war ten thousand years ago and thinking that it had sounded exciting. He had been jealous of a hero with a magic sword, capable of saving the world like no other could. He had remembered that story again when Liluth had told him that their son was that hero reborn, the next Link in the cycle that would churn Hyrule into the darkness and back out once more. He had held his son, small and squalling, big blue eyes full of wonder at the world, and he could no longer see the excitement, or the valor. Now he could only feel fear; all-consuming, breathtaking fear that the boy he had raised from a baby would be swallowed by that story and never seen again.
Yet there was no helping it. Liluth had known from the moment he was born, in that way that she had always known things no normal person had a right to. Their plans, their dreams, their precious family had been tossed into the ever-spinning hands of the clock, a time of need for Hyrule dashing their hopes as the insignificant things they were. They had planned on naming him Henry, but she had held him with shaking hands and announced that their child’s name was Link, as had been so many Links before him. Vallus knew the name didn’t matter, though he had argued against it, argued against the losing battle of accepting his son’s fate. Naming him something different would not have changed the life that was destined to find him. It was who he was: the hero of legend that would save the princess and fight the darkness.
His only wish in this world was that Link would remember to save himself, as well.