The Skull Kid
Link and his fairy woke early the next day for their trek back to Kokiri Woods since he had not found a horse to ride, to his disappointment. As he got closer to the woods, his disposition only became bleaker.
"We are nearly there," Navi told him when she saw his expression, thinking he was grumpy about the walk.
"Yeah," Link responded and he stopped.
Navi's expression immediately changed to concern. "Is something wrong?"
Link shook his head in hesitance. "I'm starting to think this wasn't such a good idea after all. Everyone thinks I killed the Great Deku Tree. Mido had me banished. What are they going to do to me if I come back?"
"You've handled their prejudice before and never been much bothered by it. What's so different now?"
Link answered in a small voice, "I'd never been banished before."
Navi was taken aback by this and for a moment didn't know how to respond. Then at last she spoke, "What about your friend, Saria? She asked you to return. In fact, you promised her that you would return. Are you going to break that promise? Because of the others? You, who faced a monstrous parasite, are going to let them scare you away from Saria?"
Link knew that his fairy was right. He made a promise to Saria. He couldn't let the other Kokiri scare him away from his best friend. Not even Mido.
He squared his shoulders, resting his left hand on the hilt of his sword. It felt comforting and gave him courage. He took a deep breath and then said, "All right. Let's go."
Soon, they reached the trees where they were sheltered from the bright rays of the morning sun. The air became dramatically cooler and moister with the sweet smell of pine and earth, and they were surrounded by the comforting sounds of leaves whispering in the breeze and birds chirping in the boughs.
With Navi leading the way, she and her Kokiri soon reached the gorge where the bridge crossed. Though Link was resolute, he couldn't help but feel nervous as he passed this marker that brought him closer to the village, his boots thunking on the wood. With each step, he was slowly enveloped in memories, some of them bad but also some of them good. Each tree he passed brought him closer to his old home where he had grown up.
And yet at the same time, he sensed that he was a stranger trespassing - that he was encroaching in a place where he didn't belong. But he forged on behind his fairy. She didn't slow down, so neither would he. He knew that they were supposed to stick together in any situation, and it was this knowledge that gave him the courage to continue on.
At last, they reached the village. Link hadn't quite known what to expect upon arriving, so he was surprised to see the community looking glum and lethargic - wandering aimlessly around the glade or simply sitting in the grass, plucking it half-heartedly. When they noticed him, he half expected them to swarm him in an angry mob and force him back out again, but they merely dropped their gaze and continued about their business.
Navi gazed about the village with concern etched on her face. "The Kokiri… the fairies… they all look so… so depressed."
An expression of regret crossed the young boy's face. "I wish there was something I could do to help them… I wish the Great Deku Tree was still alive."
His fairy spoke in a soft voice, "Me too, Link." After a moment, she spoke again, her voice stronger, "But we will honor his memory by fulfilling his wish, and that is to stop the man in black armor, Ganondorf, from achieving his wicked designs."
"Do you really think we can do it?" Link asked her.
She turned her gaze to him, but for a moment she didn't speak. When she did, her voice came out resolutely, "Yes. The Great Deku Tree believed it, the Princess believes it, that Shiekah woman, Impa, believes it, and I've no doubt that your friend, Saria, believes it. So yes, I know we can do it."
"Saria!" Link exclaimed, casting his gaze around the village. Though everyone was in despair, Link couldn't imagine anything keeping Saria down for long. "Where is she?"
Navi visually searched the village as well for Link's green-haired friend. "She doesn't appear to be here."
Link ran forward. "Maybe she's at her house. Let's check there."
But when they entered, they were surprised to find not Saria but Mido brooding at her table, with his fairy perched on his shoulder, apparently trying to cheer him up. The moment Link's shadow filled the doorway, he leaped to his feet, tossing his fairy into the air - who squealed in surprise - and faced him.
"What are you doing back here?" he demanded.
Link answered defiantly, "I made a promise to Saria."
To his surprise, Mido only grunted and sat back down. He turned to his hands. Then he murmured, "Yeah, well, she's gone and disappeared into the Lost Woods, as usual."
"The Lost Woods?"
Mido turned to him. "That's right, Mr. No Fairy. You haven't a chance of finding her now. No one's ever found her when she's gone into the woods."
Navi spoke, "Are you certain that's where Saria is? Those woods are especially dangerous! Who knows what sort of monsters lurk in there!"
"Saria goes in there all the time and she's always come back safe and sound," Link told her. He felt a little embarrassed that Navi would reprimand him in front of Mido and his fairy.
"Thinking of going in after her?" sneered Mido's fairy.
Mido barked out, "Ha! Like that'll ever happen. Two steps in there and you'll come right back here."
Link clenched his fists determinedly. "Not this time. This time, I've got Navi to help me. I'm going to be the first to find Saria's secret spot."
"Harrumph!" Mido replied, clearly not believing a word of it. His fairy sneered, "Don't let the big, bad Wolfos get you!" She snickered.
Link turned his back on them. He waved to his fairy, "Come on, Navi. Let's go find Saria."
Navi groaned into her hand, "Into the Lost Woods? Could Saria really be in there? Perhaps coming back to see her wasn't such an excellent idea after all."
But it had been her idea. She had hoped that seeing his friend before starting his adventure would bolster him. She hadn't known they would have to risk their lives for it!
But Link was already heading toward the Lost Woods, climbing up an old, frayed rope that hung behind Saria's house. She had no choice but to sigh and follow after him, praying that they didn't meet any monsters along the way.
Everyone knew about Saria's secret spot. Everyone knew that when Saria wasn't around, she was most likely in the Lost Woods. There was even a way to tell, by getting close to the woods and listening for music. It was the same music she sometimes played when it was getting dark, and then all the fairies would come out and start dancing, lighting up the village in soft colors of blue, purple, green, and yellow, and all the Kokiri would start dancing and laughing and falling over each other from getting so dizzy.
Many of the Kokiri had tried to find Saria's secret spot but none of them made it very far …before they turned back. Some of the more daring and determined ones, like Mido, had tried to use Saria's song to guide them through the woods, but eventually they all wound up back at the entrance. Even Link had tried but he had been no more successful than the rest of them. And it made him feel terrible. Terrible because Saria wanted so much for him to find her secret spot.
"Then it could be our secret spot," she had once told him in a conspiratorial whisper before giggling. "And I could show you all the amazing things there."
"Why don't you just show me where it is?" Link had asked her.
"Because then it wouldn't be as special," she had answered. "My secret spot has to be discovered, but not just by anyone. I want it to be discovered by you… because you're special."
"Couldn't you just give me a hint?" Link had pleaded, trying not to let his frustration show. "I've tried and tried but every time I just wind up back in Kokiri Village."
"Please, just give him a break," Anai had drawled in exasperation. "He's breaking my heart here."
Saria had ignored her and said to Link instead, "But it will be all worth it. Just don't give up. You're smart. I know you can do it."
But he never had. For three years he had tried only to find himself back in the village where all the Kokiri had gathered to laugh at his failed attempt, which had only made him feel worse about it. But despite that, he had kept trying. He kept trying.
That is what he told Navi as they made their way into the woods. She was looking rather alarmed by this tale until she burst out, "You mean to say that you've never actually found your way through these woods before? And yet you expect it to be different now?"
"I didn't have a fairy before," Link pointed out to her.
"How does that change things?" Navi cried.
Link opened his mouth to answer, but what came out instead was a yelp of surprise when a voice above him spoke, "Link, good to see you again!"
"Ah, hello," Link replied, glancing up at the owl perched on the bough of a tree. He noticed that his sword was in his hand and he sheepishly put it back in its sheath. "You… kind of startled me a bit."
The owl spoke softly with the tip of his wing to his beak, "Shhh… listen…" He brought his wing to his ear and twisted his head as though looking for something. Link strained his ears. Then he felt his heart fluttering with excitement, for he could hear it faintly… Saria's song.
"Through these woods," whispered the owl, "is a hidden glade that few ever find. It is a sacred place where good spirits gather, the Sacred Forest Meadow."
Navi gasped in recognition. "The Sacred Forest Meadow? In the Lost Woods?"
The owl nodded solemnly, "You have heard of it?"
Navi spoke hesitantly, "The Great Deku Tree's mentioned it. I don't remember him saying it was in the Lost Woods though."
"That is because it isn't," said the owl, cocking his head. "The Lost Woods is a place of confusion and trickery. But the Sacred Forest Meadow is no such a thing. Rather, it is a place of clarity and peace."
"Then that must be Saria's secret spot!" Link exclaimed excitedly. He looked eagerly up at the owl, "How do we get there?"
"Shh…" the owl said again. "This tune…" He closed his eyes as though allowing the music to wash over him. After a moment, he turned to Link, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "It will be your guide through here."
"So you're not going to show us the way?" Link asked in disappointment.
The owl laughed. "Don't worry. A boy with your remarkable courage will find his way just fine." He thrust his head down toward Link and gave him an encouraging nod. "Just keep your ears and heart open! Hoot hoot!" He flapped his wings and was soon gone, leaving Link and Navi in the silence of the Lost Woods.
"What a help he is," Link said dryly.
"You cannot expect everyone to do everything for you," his fairy told him sternly. "It is up to you to carry out your destiny."
"But can't I get a little help every once in a while?" Link complained.
"You got help. The owl told you to follow the song that's playing. Now all you have to do is trust your ears and see where it goes."
But Link knew it wasn't as simple as that. Three years of trying had taught him that it was not as simple as just following the music. The music tended to shift around the woods; when Link moved toward it, he would find it suddenly behind him. Doubling back, he would then find it off to his right. Turning there only caused it to jump behind him again. And it sometimes changed in volume, first becoming loud and sounding very close and then he'd enter a glen and find the music sounding very far away. And it was no different now.
"Are you sure that's the direction the music is coming from?" Navi asked him for the umpteenth time.
"No," Link snapped. "What about you? Aren't fairies supposed to have good hearing?"
His fairy's voice became frosty, "There is no need to take that tone with me. I am only trying to help."
Link grimaced. "I'm sorry. I just want to find Saria's secret spot already. Everybody tells me I can do it, but I'm not doing it and it's making me…" He clenched his fist.
Navi heaved a sigh. "I understand your frustration. But we've faced these sort of challenges before and we've triumphed. I'm sure we can do it again. Just have faith and patience and we will find our way eventually."
But as the day wore on, they didn't seem to be getting any closer. Link was certain that they were walking in circles, for he had seen the same fallen tree at least a dozen times already. His frustration was building inside him to the point where he thought he would explode soon. But just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, he saw something that made his blood freeze.
To his right, a ragged gray tail slipped out of sight into the shadows of the trees. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead as he peered into the gloom but he didn't see anything else. But then he heard a slight sound behind him that made him spin around. He just caught sight of the ground twisting under the paw of something before it was gone.
Link tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. His voice came out hoarsely as he tried to call out, "Navi…"
She was talking in a low voice to herself, "I feel that we're not making any progress. We're following the music, but it seems these woods are actively confounding us at every step! We're wasting precious time! Perhaps we need to do more than to simply follow the music. If Saria really is in the Sacred Forest Grove, maybe I can feel for the grove's essence."
A snap of a twig caused Link to jump and he said more urgently, "Navi!"
"Quiet, Link! I'm thinking of a plan!" his fairy snapped. "You ask for my help but then impede me when I try!" Then she saw the expression on his face and immediately about-faced. "What's wrong?"
"I think something's stalking us!" Link answered in a hoarse whisper. "I keep seeing something disappearing into the trees."
"Wolfos," Navi gasped. She groaned into her hands, "I knew this was a dangerous place! I could feel the malice the moment we entered!"
Prompted by his instincts, Link drew his blade. The ring it made when he did comforted him a little. He hoped that it would make the Wolfos hesitate.
"Wolfos tend to hunt in packs," Navi informed him, her voice tense, which was not reassuring Link in the least. "We need to find safety and quickly."
"Like where?" Link asked, spinning around with his sword pointed in front of him.
"I don't know." Navi looked around desperately. "I'm trying to sense the Sacred Forest Grove, but… I can't focus!"
Link could see that his fairy was scared. And that scared him. Since the beginning, Navi had always had a plan and a backup plan. She had been scared before, but never had been without advice. Now, she was clearly out of ideas while they faced a pack of Wolfos hiding in the trees and waiting to jump out and pounce on them at any moment.
He called out in desperation, "Help us! Mr. Owl! Saria! Somebody! Help us!"
Almost immediately, something happened. Link had only half expected a response to his plea, and what he expected if something did happen was to see the Wolfos jump out and pounce on him or the owl to swoop down and carry him away. What he didn't expect was a peculiar whooping noise coming from what looked like a stick somersaulting through the air before it struck him squarely on the head.
"Ow!" Link clapped his left hand to his head, forgetting that he was holding the Kokiri Sword and consequently giving himself an even more painful rap.
Navi whipped to Link with a look of surprise on her face that was almost alarm. Then she turned to the stick that had fallen to the ground. "What was -"
She was interrupted by a shrill shriek that chilled the blood in both of them. A flock of birds flapped into the air and the underbrush was suddenly alive with rustling and the sounds of large paws beating a hasty retreat. After a moment, Link realized that the Wolfos had run away though he wasn't relieved by it. If anything, he was filled with even more dread as he wondered what could have scared off the beasts.
"Link!" Navi screamed. He reacted by raising his shield over his head, for he saw what she was screaming about.
Above them, in the trees, something was moving fast, leaping from branch to branch. Link had barely a glimpse of long, skinny limbs because it was moving so fast. He kept his shield up and raised his sword too as the creature leaped overhead to a branch behind Link. He spun around to keep it in front of him, by which time it had leaped to the ground and was now loping toward him.
"Stay back!" Link yelled in an attempt to startle it.
And startle it he did. It skidded to a stop and then backpedaled with a strange cry until it toppled backwards. Then it waved its arms frantically in the air and cried in a high-pitched squawk, "Please! Don't hurt me!"
Keeping his shield and sword up, Link glanced up at his fairy, who had her eyes on the creature. The expression she had unnerved him. It was an expression of astonishment.
He asked her, "What is it?"
She stammered, "I-I could be wrong. I thought they were a myth, but I think we're looking at an actual Skull Kid!"
"A Skull Kid?" Link said, now astonished himself. He had heard about them. They were mysterious imps that supposedly liked to pull tricks on unsuspecting victims. Strange things happened in the village all the time and it was always blamed on the Skull Kids. Link himself had once woken up to find his toes completely covered in tree sap, which took forever to wash off. Of course, everyone told him that he had been pranked by a Skull Kid though he had strongly suspected that Mido was the real culprit. Now the tiniest thread of doubt wormed its way into his thoughts and he wondered, could this really be a Skull Kid?
More importantly, "Is it dangerous?" After all, it had scared off the Wolfos.
Navi shook her head. "Based on the tales, Skull Kids are nothing more than pranksters though nobody is certain where they actually come from. There are some who claim that Skull Kids are Kokiri who have strayed from the safety of the village." She said this in a supercilious tone as though admonishing a child.
Which irked Link a bit, so he responded, "Saria's been leaving the village for years and she's never turned into a Skull Kid."
"That is the claim," Navi answered indifferently though Link was sure he heard a hint of chagrin in her voice. He turned to the Skull Kid and then yelped in surprise when he discovered that the odd creature had crept up fairly close to him. The Skull Kid leaped back with a yelp and then ducked under his hands and whimpered, "Please! I-I just want my flute back."
Link blinked. "Your flute?"
"Right there." The Skull Kid hesitantly pointed a finger down at Link's feet while keeping his other arm protectively over his head.
And that's when Link discovered that the stick that had struck him on the head was actually a roughly hewn wooden flute. He picked it up and studied it, feeling all the hard angles. He felt around the holes, noticing that they varied in size, some so large that his finger dipped through and touched the inside of the flute.
Navi drifted close to study it as well. "Not the finest craftsmanship, is it?"
Link didn't answer. He looked up to see the Skull Kid watching him, and for the first time, he got a really good look at him.
The Skull Kid wore an orange tunic and a floppy orange hat with a broad rim and a tail that splayed. Most of his face was hidden in the shadow of his hat, but what Link could see were two glowing orange eyes and a blunt beak. It was hard to read his expression, but his nervous movements assured Link that, at least, he was just as wary of Link as Link was of him.
Link waved the flute at the Skull Kid accusingly. "Why did you throw this at me?"
The Skull Kid flinched, raising his arms defensively. "I didn't mean to. I was just trying to play the song, but I can't get it right, so I got mad and threw it. I wasn't trying to hit you, honest!"
Navi drifted forward. "You say you were trying to play a song?"
The Skull Kid abruptly sprang into excitement, startling Link. "Yeah! You know, the song that's always playing in these woods?" He waved at the trees.
They fell silent for a moment and listened to Saria's lively song echoing faintly through the woods. Then the Skull Kid hopped excitedly. "Doesn't it sound cool! I want to play it, but I just can't get it right! But I'm going to keep trying until I do get it right!" He smacked a fist into his palm.
An idea germinated in Navi's mind. Now she said to Link, "Do you think he would be our friend if we helped him?"
Link turned to her and asked, "Why would we want him as our friend?"
"Think! If we did him a favor then he might return the favor by showing us where Saria is. After all, he's a creature of the forest. Surely he'd know his way around."
Link's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh, I get it! Navi, you're a genius!"
"And that," said his fairy with satisfaction, "is why the Great Deku Tree told you to listen to me."
"Right," Link agreed. Then he turned to the strange imp, waved the flute in the air to get his attention, and yelled, "Hey, you, Skull Kid!" just as it occurred to him that he might actually have a different name. Thrown off a little by his faux pas, he stumbled over his next words, which came out as, "How would you like us… to give… a little favor… to you?" Knowing that his guide was probably groaning into her hands, he focused his stare on the Skull Kid, working hard not to blush.
The Skull Kid sprang like a grasshopper into the air and did a backflip before landing on the ground. His voice came out enthusiastically, "You mean you'll help me learn how to play this song?"
It wasn't what Link was thinking of, but he said, "Uh, yeah. Sure, I'll help you learn." He scratched the back of his neck with the Skull Kid's flute still in his hand.
The Skull Kid performed another grasshopper leap into the air with another backflip. Link was impressed by the feat. But then he was startled when the little imp dashed forward, took the flute from his hand, and then leaped back. His speed was quite alarming.
"Come on!" cried the Skull Kid excitedly as he brought his flute to his beak. "Let's play!"
So, after Link pulled out his own instrument, he and the Skull Kid attempted to imitate the song. The song was lively and quick though it wasn't until Link tried to follow along that he learned just how lively and quick. It was like trying to catch a dancing monkey that bounced up and down and spun round and around. Fortunately, Navi was there to hum the notes and helpfully slow it down so that he could experiment. The Skull Kid tried to follow along too, but he wasn't a very patient student and would frequently get frustrated and throw down his flute. But with constant coaching from the Link, though it strained his patience, eventually the strange imp began to improve. Soon they were good enough that they attempted to match the song's tempo. They both stumbled a few times - the Skull Kid screeching with vexation and beating his flute against the trees - but it wasn't too long before they were keeping up with the music. The forest soon rang with the song - the three instruments blending in harmony.
A red haze descended on the forest as Link and the Skull Kid practiced the song. Eventually, the young Kokiri ran out of breath and he dropped the ocarina from his lips and hunched over his knees. Practicing the song had tired him out. However, by his excited laugh, the Skull Kid had not tired at all.
"That was great!" he cried, flipping backwards in the air again. "Now I can play this song! Thank you for helping me learn it!"
"Now - now - will you - h-help me?" Link panted. Navi shook her head sympathetically and then drifted toward the Skull Kid.
"Skull Kid, if you don't mind, will you help us find Saria?"
The Skull Kid who had turned and was about to hop away turned back and cocked his head quizzically at the fairy. "Who?"
"The girl playing this song," she answered.
"Oh!" The Skull Kid performed another high backflip. "You must want to go to the Sacred Forest Meadow!"
Navi brightened. "Yes! Yes, precisely! Yes, can you please take us there?" She beamed at Link who returned it a little groggily.
"Well, you did help me learn this song. So now I'll help you!" The strange imp hopped up and down and beckoned to Link with a wave of his long arm "Follow me!" And, with a giggle, he leaped into the trees and began flying through the branches.
"Come on, Link!" Navi cried, shooting off after the Skull Kid. Link's heart pounded with excitement as he hurried behind.