The Quest Begins
Link couldn't be sure if he ever went to sleep. Although his presence had eased Zelda's worries, her presence only increased his; he was desperate to do whatever it took to keep her safe. His mind raced with plans and scenarios for sneaking out or fighting their way out of the monastery until he couldn't come up with any other possible alternatives. And then he had begun praying to all the gods in the heavens, the goddesses of Hyrule—who were supposed to be especially partial to Hylians—and even to the spirit of Zelda's mother to keep them safe in her tomb for a little while longer.
It was during these prayers that he might have actually drifted off into sleep, but his mind didn't rest; it continued to plan and worry and pray in an endless circle.
Zelda began to stir, and it brought him out of his stupor. He found himself lying on his back with her head resting comfortably in the hollow of his shoulder. He was struck by how right it felt to hold her—as if there was no gulf of class separating them—as if they had known each other all their lives—but as soon as he was aware of it, he was struck by a pang of longing and regret. They were a long way from safety and even further away from restoring Zelda to her rightful place as heir to the throne of Hyrule.
There would be no more evenings of talking and sharing everything about themselves; no nights sitting in the old oak tree, watching the moon rise over the plain; no cold winters spent huddled under blankets, sipping hot tea and laughing quietly as they battled their wits and chess pieces.
Link didn't know what lay ahead of them or how long it would take to put things right, but he knew it was going to be a long road, full of pain and deprivations. Master Ryu had warned him of such.
He had to quickly blink back the tears that stung his eyes. He couldn't believe that Master Ryu was gone. Link had only been five years old when his father had been lost at sea; Master Ryu had been his father figure instead—especially after Link was brought to the castle at age eleven. That was when his relationship with Master Ryu had really developed and he had been taught much more than simple swordplay and basic lessons.
If he had stopped to think about it, he might have realized that Ryu's attention to him and Zelda was more than a mere attempt to thwart a tragic fate. In his way, Ryu had cared deeply for both of his young wards, and he had worked all their lives to make them worthy of each other. It was no accident that Zelda had been allowed to take up archery and study swordplay. Likewise, Link had not been introduced to the flute and philosophical works casually. Although the gods had fated them to be together, it was Ryu who made sure they would enjoy their joint destiny.
Link felt Zelda awaken. But her wiggling increased rather than decreased.
"Link," she whispered, "I need to get out."
"I'd like to wait longer, if we can," he whispered in return. "I want to wait as long as possible, because they're likely to be that much farther away."
She was quiet for a moment, then spoke again. "I can't wait any longer."
Link didn't have to be told why she needed to get out of the crypt; his own bladder was feeling rather uncomfortably full.
"Alright," he whispered. "Crawl to the other end and wait for me to check that it's clear."
Zelda did as he said. Link listened carefully, his ear pressed as close to the crack between the tomb and the lid as he could get. But he heard nothing.
He pressed up on the lid and slowly pushed a corner of the lid away. He grimaced as the stone made a scraping noise which sounded very loud after being in the silent vault for hours.
He cautiously stuck his head out of the opening, but he didn't see anyone. The door to the crypt was standing open and the pale blue light of morning filtered in. He strained his ears, but he didn't hear anything, either.
He slid the tomb lid back a little more—but no more than necessary—and pushed himself out.
Stay there, he told Zelda. He slipped silently to the crypt door and peeped carefully around the corner, but the Sanctuary was empty. Sun was streaming through the windows; it was later than he had thought.
He returned to the tomb. It's clear. You can come out, he told Zelda.
She crawled to the opening and he lifted her out. Despite the noise it caused, Link slid the tomb lid back into place. Then he dropped to his knees and kissed the stone, silently thanking the queen for her protection.
He rose to his feet again. Where can we go now? he asked Zelda. It's daytime, so it will be extra hard for us to hide.
Zelda thought about it for a minute. There's a door at the back of the Sanctuary that opens out close to the abbot's house. Maybe he can hide us in there for the day and we can leave tonight.
That's a good idea, Link replied. We will need whatever supplies he can give us, at the very least.
Although he didn't like it, he let Zelda take the lead as they slipped silently through the Sanctuary. Behind the altar was a narrow corridor with a few storage rooms off of it. The hallway ended at a door.
Let me, Link said. Better someone take off my head than yours.
Zelda frowned, but stepped aside. Link opened the door cautiously and looked outside, but he didn't see anyone in the narrow yard that separated the Sanctuary from the abbot's solitary dwelling.
Let's go, Link told Zelda.
They ran across the grass in the bright, midday sun. Link had never felt more exposed in his life. He had not been without a sword since he had been about six years old. In the East, where he grew up, the land was still wild and stepping foot outside the monastery walls was always dangerous. No one—down to the school children—went outside without at least one weapon.
Link felt as if he was back in those dark woods where one could feel the eyes constantly watching, constantly hunting. He and the Princess were prey animals surrounded by packs of vicious predators.
Link scratched at the abbot's door, but heard no response. He didn't want to risk knocking, nor did he want to stand outside, exposed, any longer than necessary, so he took it upon himself to open the door and let himself in, uninvited.
He and Zelda slipped in and he closed the door behind them. "Abbot?" Zelda called out in a loud whisper, but no one responded. A quick search of the three-room building found that they were alone.
"Do you think they took him?" she asked Link anxiously.
"Yes," he replied bluntly. He didn't see any use in sugar-coating the situation; they were in a lot of trouble, and anyone caught helping them was likewise going to be in trouble.
Zelda wrung her hands nervously, but didn't say anything. What could she say?
"Hopefully they've already searched the house, so they won't think to look here again for us," Link said, glancing around. "We should wait until nightfall, then get out and head west, to my family."
"What about supplies?"
"I don't think the abbot will begrudge us taking what we need while he's away."
They spent nearly an hour quietly combing through the house, trying to decide on what to pack. There was a lot that they needed, but Link insisted that they keep their foraging bag as light as possible.
"The heavier this is, the slower I'll move," Link warned. "And the harder it will be for me to fight."
"I can carry it," Zelda offered. "Or we can try to find another bag and split it up."
Link just shook his head.
"Do you not think I'm up to it?" she asked, her voice getting a little heated.
"I'm sure you're up to it," he said soothingly. "But I don't want anything to hinder you. I want you free to fight, hide, or transform."
"So why are you going to bear all of the burden?"
"Because I'm not the heir to the throne of Hyrule, Your Highness. It's more important that you live than me."
She frowned at him again.
"My duty is to keep you alive, even at the cost of my life," Link explained. "Your duty is to live to protect and serve your people. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride to do what's right, not what we want to do."
"I'm going to remind you of that one day when what you want conflicts with what we should do," she retorted.
He chuckled. "I'm sure I'll deserve it when the time comes."
They finally had the bag packed with the food, medicinal herbs, and tools they agreed would be most useful. Link found a long knife among the abbot's kitchen things, and he immediately requisitioned it, slipping it down the top of his boot. It wasn't a sword, but it was better than nothing. He felt slightly less vulnerable.
He also found a tall, stout walking stick that he could use as a weapon if pressed. It would be impractical to carry on their journey, but he might need it to get out of the monastery, so he put it next to the bag, ready for when they made their escape.
Link let Zelda take a nap on the abbot's bed while he stayed awake and listened for trouble. But the monastery was eerily quiet, as if it was deserted.
Zelda woke up a little after midday, and they had a hearty lunch. "Food will be hard to come by after this," Link warned. "We better eat as much as we can."
After lunch he lay down while Zelda kept the watch. He thought he wouldn't be able to sleep because he still had so much on his mind, but his weariness caught up with him and he quickly fell into a deep sleep.
The next thing he knew, Zelda was shaking him awake. "Link," she whispered, "I hear voices outside."
Link sat bolt upright on the bed. He could tell from the window that the sky had turned a deep rosy shade; the sun had set and nightfall was near.
"I know there here somewhere," a distant voice said. "We know they came into the crypt and the abbot let them out. We've had all the doors in and out covered, so they couldn't have gotten out past us. That means they're hiding here somewhere."
Link and Zelda both carefully peeped out the high window that faced the back of the Sanctuary and the monks' vegetable garden. A monk was kneeling in the dirt in front of a stern-looking guard.
"That's Nagadii's personal guard," Zelda whispered. "He picked out the soldiers that he wanted to serve him; they're not the same as the palace guard."
"I know," Link replied grimly. "They kept apart from us. And when they didn't, they were bullies."
"I don't know where they could be," the monk replied to the guard. "I haven't seen anyone here except soldiers."
"Where could two people hide?"
"I don't know. Maybe… there's a wine cellar under the kitchen. And… there's a well. Could they hide in the well?"
"Maybe. Search it," the guard commanded two soldiers who were standing nearby. They saluted him, then hurried off at a brisk pace.
"If they're not there, you're going to have trouble," the guard growled at the monk.
"I honestly don't know where they could be," he pleaded. "There aren't many places around here to hide; we don't have much. Only the abbot has his own house; the rest of us stay in a dormitory. We would have seen anyone in there."
"Has the abbot's house been searched?" the guard asked.
"Sir, yes sir!" a soldier said, throwing a smart salute.
"Well, search it again. Make sure there aren't any trap doors in the floor or ceiling or behind cabinets."
"Oh, shit," Link said, ducking beneath the window. "We have to get out of here. Now."
"Where are we going to go?" Zelda asked, her voice high and anxious.
Link glanced around. "Out the window," he said, pointing to the window on the back wall of the main room.
Link paused long enough to quietly bolt the front door while Zelda reached up to unlock the window and push it open.
Link grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up. She scrambled through the window, then dropped out of sight on the other side.
Link bent down to pick up their supply bag and walking stick—intending to shove them both out the window—when he was stopped by the sound of the door rattling.
"The door is locked," the guard complained.
"Break it open," came the irritated reply.
There was no time for the stuff. Link stepped up onto a chair, then made a jump for the window. It took all his strength to pull himself up into the windowsill.
He looked down and saw Zelda gesturing for him to hurry and jump. He leapt lightly to his feet, then reached up as far as he could to gently push the window shut. He only hoped their bag of supplies didn't raise any suspicions. What a waste!
A moment later, there was a clunk and bang as the lock was broken off and the door flew open.
Link looked around, anxious to find a place to hide, but there was none. He knew better than to try to get out a door in the wall; there were guards there.
He noticed a large beech tree in one corner, and it dawned on him that they could climb up it and, when the coast was clear, go over the wall.
This way, he told Zelda, before jogging towards the tree. He helped her get on the lowest branch, then followed her up until they were as high as the wall. The tree was still denuded—its leaves were just small buds—and they could see most of the compound in the dwindling daylight.
We'll be seen up here, Zelda warned.
Link didn't think anyone would think to look up for them, but if anyone did look their way by accident, it wouldn't be hard to miss them.
The other option was to get over the wall. But there was still enough daylight left that any guards standing at the doors would surely see them fleeing. If Zelda transformed, they would be able to outrun them, but what if they had arrows? Link didn't want to take the chance of her getting hit.
But at the same time, if they stayed and were noticed, they would be hauled down and executed, so that was hardly any better.
I wish Master Ryu could consult the stars for us and tell us what we should do, Link said to Zelda, confessing his fear of making the wrong decision.
From what I gather—not that he and you told me about it, she added rather sharply—some sort of disaster has been foretold and we're supposed to fix it.
Well, if we're destined to fix it, then it shouldn't matter what we decide: we'll survive and fix things regardless, right?
Link contemplated her argument. I don't know, he slowly admitted. I suppose there's still a chance something might happen and we don't fix things. Master Ryu never told me that we would necessarily be successful—and maybe that's why he was working so hard to avoid the problem in the first place.
The thing about destinies, Link continued, is that you get in trouble when you try to go against them.
But if we try to fix what went wrong, then we will be following our destiny, right? Zelda asked.
Yes, I think so.
Then it shouldn't matter what we decide to do. As long as we're actively working to fulfill our destinies, the gods should look after us. They're the ones that put this burden on us in the first place.
Link still felt there was a flaw somewhere in her logic, but he couldn't find it. And, more importantly, he couldn't figure out anything else to do, so he decided to go with her plan. Besides, it felt better to think that they were being guided by some unseen force rather than they were at the mercy of chance.
Alright, Link conceded. What do you think we should do?
I think we should get out of here. I feel like game birds in this tree, just waiting for someone to shoot us out of it.
Link had to agree that he felt the same way. Alright, let's get over the wall. But you will need to transform as soon as we're on the ground, because we need to get a head start. We're sure to be spotted and followed.
Zelda nodded her agreement.
They carefully climbed from branch to branch until they were just a few feet above the narrow perimeter wall. Zelda dropped down onto it, followed by Link. So far, their presence was still unnoticed, but from their vantage point, they could see a couple of guards standing at doorways in the wall about a hundred and fifty feet away on either side.
They both looked over the wall. It was close to fifteen feet to the ground. Link knew he could make the jump, but he wasn't confident that Zelda could do it without getting hurt. And they couldn't afford for her to end up with a turned ankle.
He briefly contemplated jumping first, then catching her, but he was afraid that would cost too much of their precious time. If the guards saw him—and they almost certainly would—they would be on their way over while he was still trying to catch the Princess. Their lead time would be cut by at least half.
No, they both needed to jump at the same time.
Then Link remembered his ability to transform into a bird. He could take her down just as he had at the castle.
I'm going to fly you down, he told her. You need to transform and start running as soon as you hit the ground.
Understood, she replied with grim firmness.
Link worried that he might not be able to transform on command, but as soon as he wanted to be a bird, he was a bird.
He flew up and carefully gathered the material of Zelda's cloak and shirt into his talons. But before he could pick her up, he heard someone nearby shouting.
"Look at that big bird up there!"
"Wait… is that the Princess?"
They couldn't waste any more time. Link spread his wings and threw his weight forward, pulling Zelda off the wall. Startled, she gave a little cry, but it didn't matter; they had already been spotted.
"That's her! Get her!"
Link glided towards the ground, trying to go as far as he could. When it looked like she was just a few feet above the ground, he called out to her, Now!
He released her from his talons and she transformed, hitting the ground running on four legs instead of two.
As soon as Link was satisfied that she was safe and well on her way to escaping, he wheeled around with a piercing screech. There were guards running from all corners of the monastery, shouting, "They can turn into animals! That's them!"
Link dove at them, causing them to scatter. But unlike the soldiers in the castle, these had bows and arrows, and as soon as they recovered their senses, they began shooting at him.
Link quickly found himself in the middle of a rain of arrows and he decided to beat a hasty retreat.
He tried to get higher, so he would be out of their range, but one arrow still managed to clip his wing with a sharp sting like a knife cut. He cried out in surprise and pain, but still managed to climb higher, getting to safety. He turned and began to follow Zelda's course; luckily he had diverted the guards for long enough that she was well out of their range.
But not for long. From his high vantage point, Link could see that troops were jumping on horses and galloping in pursuit. Link doubted Zelda's ability to run for as long as a real horse; he already felt a weariness in his wings that he doubted a real eagle experienced. Neither he nor she was accustomed to their animal forms, so they did not have the stamina that real animals had.
Link turned his course towards Zelda and he tucked his wings in, diving with considerable speed so that he could catch up to her.
At the last minute, right before he collided with her, he pulled up and, instead, dropped onto her back in human form.
"They're following us on horseback," Link called out to her over the sound of the wind whistling in his ears. "We have to beat them to the Western Forest and lose them there."
Zelda tossed her head a little in reply. Link knew she was already giving it everything she had; they could only hope that she would last longer than the soldiers' horses.
Link kept glancing anxiously behind him. They had a good lead, but it did seem to be slipping over time. However, it was also growing darker and there was no moon in the sky. If Link was beginning to have trouble seeing them, then the same had to be true of them.
Zelda's pace gradually slowed until she had to give up and start walking. Link hopped off to give her back a rest.
"Ow," he said, as a pain shot through his right arm.
What's wrong? Zelda asked anxiously.
Link put his hand on his arm. He could feel blood soaking though his shirt, but it had already started to dry. The cut was painful when he moved and pulled it open, but he didn't think it was too bad. He still had mobility in his arm.
"I got hit," he told Zelda in a quiet voice, "but it's not too bad."
Are you sure?
He looked back again. He thought he could still see dark shapes in the distance, but after a few minutes, he determined they weren't getting closer. Either he was seeing things in the dark, or the soldiers had to drop down to a walk, too.
"Change back," Link told Zelda.
She did as he said. It was easy to see how weary she was when she was in human form; her shoulders slumped and it looked like it was everything she could do to stay on her feet.
"I think it's easier to walk on four legs than two," Zelda said after a minute.
"Yes, but you're harder to see when you're smaller," he said, checking behind him again. He still wasn't certain if he was seeing the dark shapes of troops, or if his eyes and nervous mind were playing tricks on him. "A large, golden horse is much easier to see from a distance than a girl in a dark cloak."
"That makes sense," Zelda admitted.
They continued their slow walk across the plain. The Hylian Plain was massive; on foot, it took the better part of a day to cross it. They only had to go halfway across it, and they had been traveling much faster than usual. Link reckoned they should be in the woods by midnight. That would hopefully give them time to find a hiding place to hole up for the day.
Eventually, they came to a line where the prairie fire had died down—probably because the wind had shifted—and the scorched earth gave way to the usual hip-high grass.
"It's a shame we can't turn into gophers," Link said. "Then we could run through the grass and no one would see us."
"Run? Why wouldn't we just burrow into the ground? Maybe make a few extra holes for them to trip on…."
Link quietly chuckled. "I have to admit, Princess, you are better at animal-strategy than me."
"Well, I've been turning into a horse since I was twelve; I have more practice."
After a while, Zelda said that she thought she could run some more, so she changed and Link got on her back again. But they both agreed to keep the pace to a trot, though, to conserve energy.
The moon was beginning to rise in the east by the time they at last reached the Western Forest. Link could see in the moonlight that there were definitely troops still following them, but they had drifted off course in the dark, so Link and Zelda still had a decent head start. Still, Link was glad they had reached the concealment of the forest. The moonlight made it too easy to see them out in the open. The soldiers only had to get so close before they would be able to use their bows and arrows.
"Where are we going now?" Zelda asked. She was so weary, she had to lean against a tree.
"We need to find a place to hide for the day. Then, tomorrow night, we'll head for my mother's house."
Zelda just nodded, and when Link took the lead, she followed him silently. Link was physically and emotionally exhausted; he knew Zelda had to feel even worse. He hoped to find a place to hide soon so they could both get some rest.
He walked more or less in a southwesterly direction, since that was ultimately where they needed to go anyways. But as he walked, his eyes were scanning the ground, searching. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he would know it when he found it.
The air was warming and the birds were starting to come alive in the trees above them—which meant that dawn wasn't far behind—and Link was becoming very nervous, when, at last, he thought he saw something promising.
There were vines and shrubs covering a small hillock, but Link's sharp eyes could see a dark depression at the base of the mound that might be what he had been searching for.
"Wait here," he told Zelda. With her looking on curiously, he knelt down and pushed away some trailing vines to reveal a hole. He looked in, but didn't see anything. He listened, too, but didn't hear anything.
The hole was quite small, but part of Link's training had involved crawling into dark spaces, so he didn't hesitate to get on his belly and, using his elbows, crawl into the hole. His arm wound began to burn again and he thought he felt something warm and sticky running down his skin, but he ignored it.
"Link, be careful," Zelda whispered worriedly.
Link had no intention of going in too far—he wanted Zelda to be able to pull him out if she had to—but he was in luck; after a few feet, the tunnel widened into a small den that was large enough to accommodate two people. There was even a narrow shaft in the ceiling—no bigger around that Link's wrist—that went all the way up and allowed in a little fresh air.
"It's okay," Link called to Zelda. "There's a place in here where we can be safe. Come on in."
He could see her peeking in at the far end of the tunnel. "You do know I don't like small places, don't you?" she said in a loud whisper.
"No, I didn't. But it's okay; it's bigger inside."
She grimaced, but lay down and scooted herself into the tunnel.
"Link, this is horrible."
"Just a little ways more," he encouraged. "No one will find us in here; if they even see it, they'll think it's too small."
"It is too small."
"For them, but not for us."
Zelda continued to grumble—Link let her, knowing it was keeping her mind off her fear—and as soon as he could, he reached forward and took her by the arms and pulled her into the little den.
"Is this it?" she asked.
"I thought you said it was bigger! I can't even sit up."
"We don't need to sit up; we need to sleep."
"I don't know if I can do this."
Link stretched out—his head at one end of the den and his feet at the tunnel—and he pulled Zelda close, holding her.
"Just lie still," he said soothingly. "You'll be asleep in a few minutes."
She was quiet for a few minutes, but Link knew she wasn't going to sleep; her body didn't relax.
"How do you do it?" she asked him after a time.
"Keep going. No matter what happens—no matter how impossible things seem—you keep going. Even when you're tired, or hungry, or have to crawl into tiny little holes, you keep going forward. You always have a plan."
"I wish I had a bigger plan," he contradicted. "I don't know what we'll do once we reach my family; I just know we can't stay there long. I'm only hoping they can help us."
"But where does your hope come from? I mean… I don't even know why I'm bothering to run, really. I don't deserve to be queen. I don't want to be queen—"
"Highness," Link said, interrupting her, "a usurper has killed your father and has taken over Hyrule. If nothing else, you should want your rightful throne so that you can protect your people from him.
"What gives me hope? What motivates me to push myself one step more when it seems that the whole world is against us? You. I hope that I can restore you to your throne and, together, we can right the wrongs that Nagdii has committed.
"Did Master Ryu tell you nothing at all about your future?" he asked, his voice softening.
"Only that I would be one of the greatest rulers that Hyrule has ever had," she said, still sounding unsure.
"I believe you will be," he assured her. "And every day we must take a step in that direction. As long as we keep our eye on our destination—on our destinies—then we will always find the strength to move forward."
She was quiet for a while, and Link thought she had fallen asleep; her body had finally relaxed. He was nearly asleep, too, when she surprised him by speaking.
"You're wiser than any of the men I've ever known," she said.
"Not more than Master Ryu," he mumbled sleepily.
"Well, maybe not," she conceded, "but you're still better than the rest."
She was quiet for another moment and he started to fall asleep again. "Will you stay with me always, Link?" she asked, jarring him awake again. "If I do become queen, will you be on my council?"
"Yes, if that's what you want."
"I want that."
"Do you know what I want, Your Highness?"
"I want you to go to sleep."
"I can't. I have too much on my mind."
"Think of the ocean."
"I don't know what it looks like. How can I think of it?"
"Then think of running across the Plain as a horse. It's a dark summer night. There is no moon, but thousands upon thousands of stars. You can run as fast and as far as you want. You don't have to worry about anything, because this is before me and before any problems. You are alone and free."
She became quiet and he was almost asleep again when she whispered, "But I don't want to be alone anymore."
"Princess, it's just a thought—an imagining," he said, started to feel irritated; he desperately wanted to sleep. "You're not really alone—as my presence here would indicate."
"But I don't want to even imagine being alone."
In the dark, he reached for her face and, taking her by the chin a bit roughly, he turned her to him and kissed her hard.
"There," he said, pulling away. "Think about that for a while."
He settled back down with a bit of a huff, and whether because she was really thinking about it, or because she was still just too stunned to say anything, she stayed quiet long enough for him to go to sleep.