Rescue and Reunion
Link slowly became aware of the fact that something was rubbing his face against sand—back and forth, back and forth. Eventually it became rather painful.
He was also pretty sure he wasn't breathing.
He tried to lift his head and take a deep breath, but apparently he didn't lift his head up as high as he thought, because he ended up snorting up a great quantity of sand, which scoured his nose and the back of his throat—which were already quite raw from the salt water.
He was seized with a violent coughing and hacking that shook his painfully-sore body all over.
He struggled to push himself up—wanting to get away from the sand before he sucked up any more of it—but he found himself tangled in ropes and weighted down by something that wouldn't move.
He tried to reach down to get the knife out of his boot, but the rope stopped him.
He checked his back and found that his sword was still in its scabbard. He had some trouble drawing it, but he eventually managed to free it. Freeing himself, however, was more of a chore. Using a large sword to cut something as small as a rope—especially when weak and half-tied down—was awkward and he risked cutting himself more often than the rope.
But after several minutes, he finally felt the last part of him—his left leg—come free of the weight. He used the sword to push himself to his feet and he took a look around.
He had been tied to the wheel, which was lying half-buried in the sand barely above the water-line. There were broken parts of the ship—boards and rope and canvas sail—strewn along the beach and still floating in the water.
The one thing he didn't see was Zelda.
"Princess?" he croaked, his raw voice barely audible even to him. He cleared his throat—which was quite painful—and tried calling out again.
He began to limp along the shore, looking amongst the debris for Zelda. He walked for nearly a half hour before he ran out of wreckage, but there was no sign of Zelda.
He sat down, panting heavily from exertion. A cold fear gripped his heart, but he kept telling himself not to panic. The gods had surely answered his prayer and had saved them so they could continue their mission. Zelda had to be there somewhere. Perhaps he had just walked the wrong way and she was lying in the opposite direction.
He had to rest a long time, but eventually he felt that his legs could carry him, so he pushed himself to his feet again and started his laborious walk back down the beach.
He followed his footsteps back to the ship's wheel where he had started, then continued past it. Before long, he had to use his sword as a cane—his back bent and his gait shuffling like an old man. He was barely able to continue to walk—his body rebelling after such a harrowing ordeal—but he pressed ahead on nothing but sheer willpower.
It took him a while to realize that he had run out of wreckage. When he lifted his head, he saw that the shoreline in front of him was empty but for some random strands of seaweed. He turned around and saw nothing but the occasional board and piece of rigging.
Zelda was nowhere to be found.
His heart sank, giving up, and his body followed. He fell to his knees, then collapsed face-forward onto the sand.
He had been wrong: the gods had not spared Zelda.
He began to cry. "Why not me?" he wailed hoarsely. "Why didn't you take me instead?"
He felt like crawling back into the ocean and drowning himself. That was infinitely preferable to living in a world without Zelda. His family could just think they were both lost at sea, heroically dying in their attempt to save the world. They need never feel the shame of knowing that he had failed in the one, simple task he had been given: keeping Zelda alive.
Unfortunately, he didn't have the strength to move. So he decided to just lie there until he died. Let the gulls have me, he thought bitterly. Maybe I'll be more useful to them than I was to the gods.
He must have blacked out again, because it seemed that quite some time passed before he felt himself being gently lifted up and turned over.
He struggled to open his eyes. Through a crack in his lashes, he saw a blurry face with a black beard and bushy hair.
"Link? Son?" the man asked in a deep voice. "Can you hear me?"
"Uncle Alfon?" Link croaked. "Princess… the Princess… where…?" Then, despite his best efforts, and to his great annoyance, he was sucked back into unconsciousness before he could find out if Alfon had found Princess Zelda.
Link woke when someone raised his head and poured water into his mouth. Actually, most of the water ran down his chin and onto his shirt; the remainder seemed to go into his lungs.
He sputtered and coughed and took in great gasps of air that made his raw lungs burn.
When he finally quieted down, the cup of water pressed to his lips again.
"Drink. You're dehydrated."
He didn't have to be told twice; he was dying of thirst.
He gulped the water down, making a bigger mess, but got most of it down his throat.
"Please," Link croaked.
The man laid him back on the pillow, then got up to get more water. Link struggled to open his eyes. Everything was dim and hazy at first, but he could see the man on the other side of the one-room cottage.
"Uncle Alfon?" Link asked, even as his lethargic brain realized that the man couldn't be his uncle. He was too thin.
The man came back to the bed and raised Link up again, helping him drink. Things were definitely going better; Link managed to drink all of the water without spilling.
Then the man sat down beside the bed and looked at Link with a great longing in his face. "No, Link, I'm not Alfon."
"How do you know my name?"
The man looked at him levelly with bright blue eyes behind his wild black hair. "Because I'm your father."
Link stared at him, his brain unable to comprehend what had just been said—as if the man had spoken a foreign language.
"When I went down to the beach this morning," the man explained, "I saw wreckage. I went up and down the beach, looking for survivors. Imagine my surprise when I saw someone face-down in the sand with a shield on his back like the one in our family book and a sword in his hand that I spent countless hours looking at when I was growing up.
"When I picked you up, I realized immediately who you were. Even if it weren't for your ears, I could recognize you just because you look like your mother."
Link's bottom lip began to tremble. "Father?"
He didn't dare to believe it was true. His father was dead—lost at sea when Link had been just five years old.
"Yes, it's me." Mars ran his hand over his bushy beard. "I know I look different—I don't have scissors, so I can't keep my hair and beard trimmed like I once did—but I am your father. I promise."
Tears began to roll out of Link's eyes and he reached out with weak arms. Mars leaned over the bed, embracing his son for the first time in thirteen years.
"Shh, it's alright," Mars said comfortingly, rubbing Link's back as he cried. "You're alright. I'll take care of you."
It took Link several minutes to stop crying. He wasn't even sure why he was crying; he had never cried from sheer happiness before.
When he finally stopped, Mars sat down again, looking at him earnestly. "Tell me everything that's happened since I've been gone. Are you a fisherman now? Why did you have our sword and shield? What happened to Vizier Ryu? Did he get you an education like he said he would?"
"Wait," Link said, interrupting the interrogation. "First… Princess Zelda. Have you seen her?" Link didn't have any hope—there wasn't any place for her to hide in the little cottage—but maybe… just maybe… she had fared better than him and was up and about somewhere outside.
"Princess Zelda?" Mars asked with surprise. "No, I've never seen her. Why should I have? I haven't been to Castle Town since you were born."
Even though Link had tried not to get his hopes up, his heart sank noticeably anyways. "She was with me," he said despondently. "We were separated in the storm."
"Oh," Mars said, his face softening. "No, I'm afraid I haven't seen her, son. There was no one on the beach but you."
Tears welled up in Link's eyes again—tears of sadness.
"Don't lose hope," Mars hurried to say. "She may yet come floating in. I will check the beach regularly for you."
"How did you come to be on the same ship as the Princess?" Mars asked, clearly too curious to share in Link's despair.
"We were on a quest to find Gardamon. Master Ryu told me that he sailed west years ago, meaning to find the end of the Endless Ocean, and he was never seen again."
"Well, this is the end of the Endless Ocean. At least, I think it is. It's certainly the westernmost land I found."
Link was shocked. "Is it really?"
"Have you met Gardamon? Or seen evidence of him? He was old when Master Ryu was a boy, so he's probably dead, but maybe he left behind books. He was supposed to be a great scholar."
"There's evidence that a number of people have been shipwrecked here over the years, although I'm the only person that's alive. There are some ruined old houses farther up the beach. I decided to fix this one up, though, because… here, what are you doing?" he interrupted himself, looking at Link in shock.
Link was trying to sit up. "Show me," he demanded. "Show me the other houses."
Instead, Mars pushed him back down onto the bed. "Link, you can't go anywhere. You can't even walk, son."
Link frowned at him, unhappy.
"I will take you there as soon as you're well," Mars promised. "Those old houses have been there for years and years; they'll still be there in a few days."
"Yes, I suppose," Link said, relaxing back against the bed. He didn't want to admit it, but his small amount of exertion had exhausted him. His father was right; he needed to wait until he was recovered.
"Tell me," Mars said, getting back to his questions, "is Tatiana well? What of Meghan and Alons?"
"They are all well." Link had to smile. "Mother has done quite well by herself. She is up to two ships—well, actually, only one now that I've wrecked the smaller of the two. But she still has the large one and one of your old boats. She has a crew of about a dozen fishermen working for her."
Mars sat back, looking impressed. "That many?"
"And the children?"
Link laughed. "They're not really children any longer. Meghan is nearly sixteen and Alons is thirteen. He looks like you, you know."
Mars smiled. "Does he now?" he asked proudly.
"Yes. Meghan looks more like Mother and me."
"That's good. A girl who took after me and Alfon would be rather ugly, I'm afraid."
"So, are they still at home? Or did Vizier Ryu take them away, too?"
"No, they're at home. …At least I hope they are," he added with a frown.
Mars frowned, too. "What do you mean?"
Link took a deep breath, then began filling his father in on the last thirteen years—his education and training, his service at the castle, his secret rendezvous with Zelda outside of the castle, Nagadii's scheme, Master Ryu's death, their escape to his mother's house, the coming of the guards, and their attempt to cross the Endless Ocean.
Link had to stop several times to drink water and rest his voice.
At the end, Mars sat in his chair looking like stone—too shocked by all the news to really comprehend it.
"Now you see why I have to find the Princess and Garamond—or whatever's left of his books and things," Link said.
Mars slowly nodded. "I will give you all the help I can."