The Calamity Begins
Ryu was in his room, studying Link and Zelda's star charts. Although Link had the chart Ryu's former apprentice did at the request of his family, and Zelda had a one-page, abbreviated version that Ryu had given her, neither of them had ever seen—or even knew about—the elaborate charts that Ryu had plotted for them in the days immediately following Zelda's birth, and which he kept adding to and tweaking as they grew older.
Calamity was looming on the horizon. In fact, it seemed imminent. There was no way to be precise about it, but Ryu was pretty sure that, in five years or less, the Great Catastrophe (as he thought of it) was going to happen. Link was eighteen and Zelda seventeen—old enough to marry and start a family. The question that kept him up day and night was how he was going to get that to happen.
He had managed to put the two of them together, and from what he gathered from Link—who had become (rather tellingly) taciturn about the situation—the two of them had become quite close. He knew Link had the requisite feelings on his side, and if Zelda didn't feel something in return yet, Ryu was confident that she soon would. Link and Zelda had spent too much time together in the past; their souls knew one another too well for them to remain emotionally distant.
That only left the matter of Zelda's father. Ryu didn't think the king would be any more agreeable to the idea of Link now than before. If Zelda loved Link, and was willing to fight for the right to marry him, then she could be a considerable foe. But she got her stubbornness from her father, who could just as easily dig in and refuse to yield. That would only lead to an explosion of some sort.
But the only alternative was for Link and Zelda to elope, and that didn't sound too promising, either. Ryu felt that would reflect rather badly on Zelda as the future queen. No one could have a lot of confidence in a monarch who went off and did things her own way without any consultation or respect for tradition. It made her look irresponsible.
Ryu sighed, feeling defeated. Not for the first time he wished that he had just kept his mouth shut all those years ago and not told the king anything about Zelda's future. Gods rest the late queen's soul, but she had been right about the situation.
Perhaps he had done all he could do; perhaps he had taken Link and Zelda as far as he could and he would just have to leave the rest up to them.
He had been telling himself that all winter, but it had not stopped him from consulting the stars and looking to see if there was anything else that might be done to help the situation.
He was so engaged when Link's thoughts interrupted his own.
Master Ryu, we're in trouble.
Ryu sat up straight, alarmed.
Have you been attacked again? If that was the case, he was really going to have to insist that Link keep Zelda inside.
No, it's worse than that.
Worse than being attacked by a wild animal?
Yes, we've been caught.
Oh, was all Ryu could say. He had so many things to worry about—like a juggler with half a dozen balls in the air at once—that he had never actually worried about Link and Zelda being discovered. The Princess had years of practice sneaking out, and Link was as able as a man with twice his experience; it had never occurred to Ryu that they might get caught by the typically-inept palace guards.
Well, I'm sure we can come up with some story to explain the situation, Ryu offered.
I don't think so, sir. I have a feeling we've been set-up. We were out on the plains when a fire sprang up. We had to run around to the west side of the city to escape it. And just inside the gate was a contingent of guards and Grand Vizier Nagadii. They were waiting on us; they knew where we would come.
Ryu felt a chill go through his body.
And I lost my cap in the fire, Link continued. I took it off for just a few minutes, then the fire came up and I forgot all about it.
Ryu gasped. The situation was going from bad to worse. If Link had just been an average soldier, caught sneaking out with the princess, she might have been able to convince everyone that she was the instigator and Link had merely been going along to keep her safe. Worse would have been if the king or anyone else suspected that was any sort of familiarity between the princess and him. But this… this was worst of all. Link's life was in danger if anyone figured out who he really was.
I think you should leave the castle, Link warned. It won't take them long to figure out who I am, and you will, of course, be blamed for my presence here.
I can't leave you defenseless.
I don't think there's anything you can do to help at this point.
The king could have you killed, Ryu replied bluntly.
I understand, Link replied with calm assurance. Ryu couldn't help but feel proud of him in that moment. He had never had children of his own, but Link had been like a surrogate son to him for many years. He was proud to see him grown to manhood full of courage and honor and a proper sense of duty.
There's no need for both of us to die, Link added. Get out while you can. We're almost back to the castle now.
Ryu hesitated. The thought of leaving Link to his fate—a fate he had been trying to help shape for seventeen years—made him cringe inside. He was no coward—he would have never defied the king if he had been—and he was old and had led a long and useful life; he would not hesitate to sacrifice his own life for Link's. But if Link was right, then the situation was doomed anyways, and it wouldn't help matters if they were both executed as traitors.
Perhaps by escaping he could help. The king's anger would surely be hottest against him, and if he offered to turn himself in, in exchange for Link, the king might just take him up on the offer.
He hurried to grab his cloak. He stuffed the remains of his half-forgotten supper into a traveling bag—food would probably be hard to come by for several days—and added a purse of coins. Everything else—a lifetime's worth of work—he left behind.
He pattered down the tower stairs and opened the door into the second-story hallway. He was shocked when he saw a group of armed guards waiting for him.
"Master Ryu, you are commanded to attend the Grand Vizier at once," a guard said briskly.
Link had been right; they had all been set up.
Link felt his heart fall to his feet when he carried Zelda into Nagadii's room and saw Master Ryu already there with a guard. Ryu's sorrowful expression told him everything: their game was up.
Nagadii walked to the head of the room, where a robed and hooded figure stood, silently watching the proceedings.
"It seems there has been a traitorous plot brewing here in the castle," Nagadii said with glee. "A common guard has been taking advantage of the Princess's innocence, with the full support—nay, encouragement—of her tutor."
"There may be things that I have done for which I have no defense," Link replied coolly, "but 'taking advantage of the Princess' has never been one of them."
"Do you not, even now, hold her in your arms like a lover?" Nagadii said mockingly. The cloaked figure beside him clenched his fists.
"I carry her only because she could not walk. We were nearly killed in the fire which, I believe, you set."
"Is she hurt?" the robed figured asked Nagadii anxiously.
"If she is, it is because of his carelessness in taking her out."
"I'm not hurt," Zelda said, speaking for the first time. She had recovered her breath on their march back to the castle, but she was so terrified of what was going to happen to them—especially Link—she didn't think she could have walked if she wanted to.
"That is good to hear," Nagadii said with complete insincerity.
"Put me down," she whispered to Link.
He carefully put her on her feet, but she found her knees were so weak from exertion and fear that she trembled with the effort of standing. Link kept his arm around her waist, supporting her against him. She hated herself for needing to rely on him at that moment—knowing that it only made him look worse—but she couldn't muster the strength necessary to stand; she had used it all up.
"Link did not take me out," Zelda said, her voice sounding more sure than her knees. "I have been going outside of the castle for years. When…" she hesitated to say Master Ryu, lest she get him in trouble for knowing about her escape but saying nothing. "When Link found out," she amended, "he tried to stop me. I threatened him to the point that he agreed to let me go, but only if he could go with me to protect me. That has been all that's happened."
She silently thanked her father for teaching her to lie at an early age.
"No, Your Highness, that is not all that's happened," Nagadii corrected. He put his hands behind his back and began to pace the floor, warming up to his subject as he went along.
"Many years ago," he continued, "when you were born, Master Ryu—who was Grand Vizier at the time—plotted your star chart. He discovered two things: one, that you and a certain boy had shared past lives and were destined to meet again in this lifetime; and two, that world-wide disasters always happen when the two of you come together.
"For whatever reason, he concluded that you and this boy needed to be brought together—perhaps in order to induce this calamity so that he could appear to be our kingdom's savior."
Nagadii shot Ryu a cruel, condescending smile.
"When His Majesty refused to take that risk," Nagadii continued, "and ordered that the boy be seized and sent into exile, Master Ryu went against his king's orders and took the boy and hid him. Now, all these years later, he has not only placed this boy in the castle, but has actively worked to bring him and you together."
Zelda glanced at Link, who was keeping a sharp eye on Nagadii. Did you know any of that? she asked him.
He hesitated. Yes, he finally replied. I have known since childhood that you were my destiny.
Zelda didn't know how to feel about the fact that Link had been withholding information from her. She hated being kept in the dark.
"Now do you see that you've been set-up, Your Highness?" Nagadii continued. "Master Ryu and this boy have been traitors all along—manipulating you in order to bring about this calamity so they can present themselves as some kind of heroes."
Zelda felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as she realized that Nagadii might be right. She pulled away from Link's arm, turning away so she wouldn't see the hurt on his face.
"I have never done anything but work to avoid the coming calamity," Ryu protested. "The stars show that it's almost upon us, but there's still time to avoid it, if you will just let Link and Princess Zelda be. Any attempt to interfere with their shared destinies—any attempt to keep them apart—will ruin us all!"
Nagadii pointed at him. "You lie! You are nothing but a traitor."
"Call me what you will. Do with me what you will. But know that you hold the fate of the world in your hands. We stand now at a crossroads. The fate of millions rests on your decision."
Nagadii sneered at him. "You've set all of this up, like a house of cards. Don't blame me when it falls."
He waved to a table set up in the middle of the room. "Place him there," he commanded the guards.
"What are you doing?" Link asked anxiously, watching the guards roughly drag Ryu to the table and lay him out on it. With magic, Nagadii conjured shackles at his wrists and feet.
"Ryu, you are hereby declared a traitor and are sentenced to death. You are to be sent directly to the Other World."
"What!?" Link shouted, lunging forward, his hand on his sword hilt. But he was immediately swarmed by several guards who held him immobile while one ripped off his sword belt, then struck him so hard across the face he saw stars. He was only vaguely aware of being released and falling to his hands and knees.
"You… you can't do that…" Link said thickly, speaking through a busted lip—his brain still foggy from the hit. "He… he's entitled to… entitled to a fair… trial. Only the king can order an… an execution."
The robbed figure, who had stood by silently while Nagadii played his part, pushed back his hood.
"I do order it," the king said coldly.
"Father!" Zelda gasped.
He ignored her. Instead, he looked at Nagadii and nodded.
Nagadii held his hands as if he was cradling a ball top and bottom, then he began to chant in some strange language. A blackness—it looked like smoke become solid—began to roil in his hands, crackling with blue sparks of electricity.
Zelda dashed past the guards, who were still surrounding Link, and she went to her father's side. "Mercy," she begged.
Whatever wrongs he may or may not have committed, Zelda loved the old man; he had been like a father to her. In fact, at that moment, she realized he had been more of a father to her than the king ever had. But just as she forgave her father his shortcomings, so she could forgive Master Ryu anything.
She slid to her knees in supplication before her father. "Mercy," she pleaded again, desperately.
The king resolutely refused to look at her, instead watching as Nagadii's ball of black magic grew larger.
Zelda clutched at her father's robe. "Please, Father, have mercy. Master Ryu has served you loyally for years—more years than anyone else. He has taken care of me and taught me all of my life. Please, spare him. Exile him, if you must, but spare him."
"I cannot," he replied gruffly. "He has actively worked to undermine my command for seventeen years. I cannot let that go unpunished."
Before Zelda could say anything else, Nagadii's voice grew louder and a sourceless wind began to blow around the room. He now held the smoky ball, crackling dangerously with blue lightning, over his head; it was bigger than he was.
Link tried valiantly to get up, but his guards beat him down again. He could do nothing but shout helplessly for Master Ryu, his voice all but drowned out by the raging wind.
And then Nagdii threw the ball of magic at the table. Master Ryu's eyes went wide, but he made no sound as the ball swallowed him up. It lingered on the table for a moment, then, with a flash of blinding white light, it blinked out of existence.
There was nothing on the table but empty manacles.
"Noooooooo!" Link screamed in the silence.
Reluctantly, the king raised his hand and gestured towards Link.
"Put him on the table," Nagdii told them.
"What!?" Zelda screeched, looking between the guards, Nagdii, and her father.
"Link of Kakariko Village," Nagadii said, as the guards dragged Link—kicking and fighting—to the table, "you are hereby found guilty of conspiring with Ryu to bring terrors down on this kingdom for your own gain. You are also found guilty of inappropriate conduct towards Her Royal Highness. Therefore, you are hereby sentenced to death and shall be sent directly to the Other World."
"NO!" Zelda shouted. She threw back her arms, shrugging off her cloak, and in an instant had an arrow strung to her bow and pointing directly at Nagadii.
Whatever else happened, she could not let Link be killed.
But she hesitated to loose her arrow when she had the chance. As Link had warned, it was hard to kill another living thing. And she didn't really want to kill Nagadii or anyone else; she just wanted to keep them from killing Link.
In the moment she hesitated, her father grabbed her and ripped the bow from her hands, flinging it across the room. He likewise tore the quiver of arrows from her and threw them in the opposite direction.
"You will have nothing more to do with this boy, do you hear me?!" the king thundered, holding her painfully by the arm while he unbuckled her sword belt. "I decide who you marry. Me! It is my will which will be obeyed around here—not Ryu's, not this boy's, and not yours!" He flung her sword at the guards on the other side of the room, who had to dodge out of the way.
Nagadii began chanting and conjuring another ball of magic.
Link strained against the shackles, sitting up as far as he could, and looked directly at the king. "It is not your will that will be obeyed here, Your Majesty, but the gods'," Link said calmly. "The gods have decreed that the Princess and I shall be together. We always have been and always will be. You may send me to the Other World, but I will come back—in this life or the next. I will always come for her."
The king looked back at him coldly. "There is no coming back from where you're about to go."
"We'll see about that."
Nagadii raised his arms above his head as the ball of magic began to grow even larger.
Link looked at Zelda as the spell-wind began to whip his hair around his face. I have loved you since the first time I saw you, Your Highness. I have loved you with a love that has always been and will always be.
Tears began to spill from Zelda's eyes. She knew then, without a doubt, that everything Nagadii had said was a lie. Link and Ryu had never used her or toyed with her affections in order to advance themselves; they weren't that kind of men. She could believe that whatever they were doing, they were doing for her benefit.
Don't… don't leave me, was all she could think to say.
We will meet again. I promise.
Nagadii's voice became louder as he chanted the last part of the spell.
Zelda couldn't stand it anymore. If they were going to kill Link, they were going to have to go through her.
She jerked her arm away from her father's grip and lunged towards Nagadii. He turned to see her barreling towards him—his eyes wide in surprise.
She tackled him low, around the legs, and fell with him to the floor.
She wasn't exactly sure what happened next, but a small explosion rocked the entire room, flashing a blinding light. Then there was a multitude of shouts and anguished cries.
Nagadii somehow jumped to his feet, jerking a still-stunned Zelda up by the wrist. "Look at that!" he hissed cruelly, turning her around.
Where her father had been standing a moment before, now there was nothing but a large gash in the floor. The edges of the hole crackled with blue sparks and a solid dark cloud churned inside it.
"The Princess has murdered the King!" Nagadii announced loudly. "She interfered with the execution of the King's justice and traitorously disobeyed his direct command. And look at the result! The King is dead!"
Zelda gasped, unable to believe her eyes. "No… no, it isn't true," she whimpered.
Nagadii shook her roughly. "It is true, Your Highness. You caused me to lose control of the spell before it was completed. Instead of sending this traitor to the Other World, your father went instead. And there is no bringing him back."
He flung Zelda against the table where Link lay. She crumpled helplessly in the floor, sobbing.
"As our King has been murdered by his own daughter," Nagadii said, speaking to the horrified palace guards, "I, as Grand Vizier, assume emergency control over this kingdom until such time as we can determine the rightful heir to the throne."
"And I hereby condemn Zelda, former Princess of Hyrule, to death for the murder of her father, the King."
There was a low murmur in the room, but no one openly objected. Even Zelda didn't object; she was too grief-stricken at that moment to care. In fact, she rather thought she deserved the punishment.
But Link cared.
"Don't you dare," he threatened, raising up to glare at Nagadii.
But Nagadii only laughed—a high, maniacal laugh. "You wanted to be together. Now you can be—in the Other World!" He began to chant, conjuring up yet another ball of magic.
Link strained at his shackles, unwilling to allow anyone to hurt Princess Zelda. But the iron bands were too much for him to break.
If only his hands and feet were small enough to slip out of them!
And then, suddenly, they were. Somehow, he was standing on the table, free of his bonds. Guards were shouting in alarm, and even Nagadii was staring at him, the ball of magic fizzling out.
Link didn't waste the opportunity. He launched himself at Nagadii, screaming out his anger. But it wasn't a human scream; it was the screech of an eagle. And when he came at Nagadii, it wasn't his hands that beat him about the face, but heavy brown wings.
Nagadii ducked, holding his arms above his head, trying to protect himself from the onslaught.
"Kill him! Kill him!" he shouted to the guards.
If Link hadn't already known about Zelda's ability to transform, he would have been too shocked to continue to fight. But he immediately realized the advantage of his shape, and he made full use of it.
He raked his claws down Nagadii's back, making him scream, then he launched himself at the guards. They clumsily swung their swords at him, but he was too quick for them. He swooped down and grabbed the horsehair plumes on top of their helmets and pulled on them. A few men were lifted from their feet before the chin strap broke and the helmet came off. Then Link was able to wheel around and swoop down, clawing heads and faces with his razor-sharp talons and pecking at them with his piercing beak.
It was total pandemonium. Still-armored men tried to protect their companions, while the helmet-less men began running out the door, unable to withstand Link's attack.
When there were only three men left, they gave up and ran out the door, too.
"Link, help me!" Zelda shouted.
He wheeled around and saw that the gash in the floor was rapidly widening. Zelda was trapped on the far side of the room; there was no way she could reach the door.
Link circled the room for a minute, his mind racing, trying to figure out what to do.
Break a window, he told her.
Zelda looked around for something she could use on the window. "Get my bow!" she shouted, pointing to it. It was teetering on the edge of the abyss.
Link swooped down, grabbing Zelda's bow. He glanced around, but both of their swords were already gone.
He dropped the bow into her hands and she thrust it into the window, breaking out the glass. She used her foot to kick a few last jagged shards away from the frame.
She stood in the window sill and looked down. There was no ivy that she could could use as a ladder.
"There's no way down!" she shouted.
Link landed gently on her shoulders, although he was a noticeable weight. He carefully gathered her cloak and shirt up in his talons. I'll take you down.
"Are you sure this will work?" she said nervously.
No, but you have less chance of dying this way than if you stay.
Zelda couldn't argue with that.
Jump out, he told her.
She hesitated, then closed her eyes tight and jumped out into nothingness.