Despite the fact that Link's resolve had seemed to be wavering, when he got up the following day, he got dressed, walked to breakfast with Zelda—but didn't eat anything—and then he walked to the infirmary with a look of sad resignation, but without hesitation.
Zelda waited for him again—waited through the progression of pain that left him wordlessly screaming—and then she helped him stagger to bed. Exhausted, he fell asleep almost immediately.
With nothing else to do for a few hours, she wandered out onto the front porch. In the courtyard, the boys were practicing their swordsmanship with wooden swords. An older boy—he looked to be eighteen or nineteen—appeared to be in charge. He had them paired up so the partners were close in age and size, and they were arranged in two lines. The teacher slowly prowled up and down the lines with a critical eye. He stopped at almost every pair and proceeded to correct them—said correction always involving a sharp hit or poke from him to the offending party.
But, despite the fact that he appeared to be a very strict teacher, he also seemed to know a lot about swordplay. There were several times he did fancy tricks that Zelda had not seen before.
After a while, she wandered over to the group, and when the teacher came to the end of the line and saw her, she spoke to him.
"May I join?"
He sneered. "What for? A woman with a sword is as useless as teats on a bull."
Some of the other boys snickered.
Zelda felt her face flush. "For your information," she said acidly, "I fought in the last battle on the fields of Erenrue. And I have fought against numerous demons. No one who has fought with me has said I'm useless."
The teacher jerked a sword from the hands of the boy next to him and tossed it at her. She barely managed to catch it before it hit her in the face.
"Alright," he said with condescension, "let's see what you've got."
Before she could get set and indicate that she was ready, he rushed forward with his sword held high, ready for the slice.
She knew immediately what he was doing: he was going to try to overpower her with his size and strength. It wasn't a particularly original plan of attack; her instructors at the castle had always warned her that men would try to do that to her.
She quickly backpedaled, just missing the swing of his sword. Then, while he was still looking a little surprised that she wasn't where he thought she would be, she shifted forward and stabbed at him. His swing had left his chest wide open, and that's where she hit.
There was an audible gasp from the other boys as the teacher staggered back and put his hand on his chest, rubbing the spot where she had struck him.
When he looked up at her, his eyes flashed with anger at his humiliation. "Alright, so you can handle the easy stuff. Let's see what else you can do."
Again, before Zelda was ready, he came at her aggressively. He didn't rush in as close as the first time—he had learned that lesson—but he still took big steps forward and made big swings.
It was a style meant to intimidate his opponents—and it probably worked against his smaller, younger students—but it made him slower. Zelda was used to fighting against Link, who was very conservative with his motions and was, consequently, a couple of seconds faster with every move.
Zelda kept backing away, staying just out of his reach, while she analyzed his moves. After one particularly big swing, she again shifted her momentum forward and went on the offense. She fought him as if she was fighting Link and he was quickly forced to retreat out of the reach of her fast sword.
She smiled a little as she watched his frustration mounting as he parried her blows, took a step back, then parried again.
She went for her favorite high chop—although she aimed lower, at the shoulder, instead of his unprotected head—certain that she had him again. But he suddenly threw his hand out and caught the end of her sword. She was so surprised, he had no trouble jerking it out of her hands. A moment later, he thrust it forward, hitting her hard in the belly with the pommel. Then he flicked the end up and popped her under the chin.
The impact made her stagger back, then she became unbalanced and fell on her backside.
Everyone looked at her in silence. Then one of the boys nervously cleared his throat. "Um, Jas, are you… are you allowed to do that? I mean, with a real sword?"
"You can if you have hand protection," he said.
The boys nodded, looking impressed by his trick.
Jas threw Zelda's sword on the ground beside her. "I guess you can be taught," he said grudgingly. "As long as you know you'll never be better than a man."
Zelda picked up the sword and pushed herself to her feet. It was her turn to give him a look of anger. "We'll see about that," she vowed. Link had demonstrated that she fought better when she was angry, so she looked forward to round three.
Jas nudged the kid beside him. "Go get another sword," he told him. Then he looked at the other students. "Go back to your practice," he commanded. They hurried to oblige; it was clear none of them wanted to get on Jas's bad side.
Jas turned back to Zelda with a condescending smile. "Alright, let's go again."
When Link awoke in the late afternoon, he found himself alone in the room. Starving, he pushed himself to his feet and wandered out in search of food. He knew there wouldn't be anything in the refectory between mealtimes, so he looked for someone who might be able to make something for him.
Passing by a window, he caught a glimpse of something silvery moving in the courtyard. He stopped and looked out; Zelda was outside practicing swordplay with the other boys.
Link smiled, remembering that Zelda had once seemed envious of his education and had asked questions about his school. Now she was getting to experience it for herself.
He ignored his growling stomach and instead headed out onto the porch to watch her practice.
His smile was soon wiped off his face, though, as he watched her partner. The boy—really, he was a man; he was as large as a grown man, even if his face was still a bit boyish—was needlessly harsh with the other boys; it was clear he intimidated them. And despite his fancy tricks, it was also clear the boys weren't learning much—if anything—from him. He was more concerned with showing off his own talent than passing it on. In fact, most of them seemed to be behind in their skills. Certainly Link could pick out several boys who were noticeably less skilled than he was at the same age.
But the way the instructor treated Zelda was especially appalling; it was as if he saved the worst of his insults just for her. She was fighting quite well—well enough that he had to resort to using tricks and feints to best her. And while Zelda certainly needed to learn what to do when people fought dirty, he took it entirely too far—striking her or pushing her down much harder than was necessary to teach a lesson.
Link started to step off the porch and head that direction, when a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to see Abbot Winfield standing behind him. He was surprised; he had never heard the older man approach.
"Leave it be," the abbot said.
Link turned to face him, a little angry. "Why is that guy in charge of teaching everyone?" he demanded. "He is a poor teacher, even if he's decent with a sword. Surely you can see he's a bully."
"Yes, I see," the abbot said quietly.
"Then why are you letting him get away with it?" Link said, his voice rising.
"Because they must learn."
"They're not going to learn swordplay from him—not well, at least."
"That's not what they're supposed to learn."
Link looked at him, confused.
"They need to learn how to stand up for themselves," the abbot explained.
Link frowned and looked back at Zelda. She was standing alone at the end of the line, watching as the instructor worked with another pair of students. He was quick to jump in and show off—hitting one of the boys hard in the shoulder. The boy flinched and rubbed his arm, but didn't say anything. He didn't even make eye contact.
"Come," the abbot said, putting his hand on Link's shoulder again, making him turn around. "I had some lunch made for you. I daresay you're hungry."
Reluctantly, Link followed him back inside.
When Zelda returned to the room and found Link awake, she was apologetic and she was careful after that to be in the room when he woke up with lunch leftovers waiting on him. She never mentioned that she was practicing while he was asleep—and he took his lead from her and didn't mention it, either—but he knew she must be continuing, because one day she had a faint bluish bruise across her cheek.
He couldn't keep his eyes off her face while he ate. The bruise made his blood boil. He had never gone easy on her when they were practicing—unlike her tutors at the castle—but he had also never left a bruise on her—much less on the face. It would never even occur to him to strike at her head when she wasn't wearing armor.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "You look angry."
He looked down at his plate. "Nothing. Just… still hurting a little," he lied.
He made an effort after that to not stare at her, but he continued to dwell on it. He just couldn't fathom why she was allowing the arrogant young man to beat her. It wasn't a matter of her lacking self-confidence or being weak. She had insulted the King of Erenrue—even threatened to kill him—for gods' sakes; she was capable of working into a towering temper that would cow any man. She wasn't weak. She didn't lack self-confidence. So why would she tolerate a common boy treating her like dirt?
Although Link came out of the infirmary every day as pained and weak as ever, it was not for naught; every day that Guy pulled and pushed on his arm, it went up higher and had more range of motion than the day before.
On the eighth day of his rehabilitation, he finally made it through the session without screaming once—and he kept the yelping and cursing to a bare minimum.
"You've done remarkably well," Guy said, as he held Link's arm up over his head; it only burned a little bit.
He put Link's arm down. "I think that's all I need to do. You'll need to continue to do exercises regularly for a few more weeks, just to make sure it doesn't freeze up again, and to get rid of that last bit of pain, but other than that…" he smiled, "you're good to go."
"I have to admit," Guy said, "I never thought you'd make it. I thought for sure, after the first day, you'd quit—or at least tell me to slow down and take more time."
"Well, like I said, we don't have a lot of time to spare. And, as Her Highness likes to point out, I'm stubborn."
Guy chuckled. "Yes, I can see that. But sometimes it can be a good thing—it all depends on how you apply it."
"Do you need any pain medicine?" Guy's assistant asked.
"No, I think I'm alright," Link said, hopping off the table.
He managed to dress himself without any new pain in his shoulder—there was only a low, lingering burn—and he went to the door.
Zelda was sitting outside, and she jumped to her feet when he came out. "How are you?" she asked, looking at him anxiously. "Today sounded better than usual."
"I think I've finally turned a corner; my arm might actually work again."
"Good," she said with relief.
He let her help him to their room—he acted weaker than he was—and he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.
Zelda left him alone to sleep. Not long after she left, he got up again and went to the porch. He found a bench in the shadows against one wall, and he sat down on it to watch the morning's sword lesson.
The more he watched, the angrier he became—not just for Zelda's sake, but for all of the boys as well. It was everything he could do to stay in his seat and not interfere. He had to keep telling himself that the abbot didn't want him to meddle, and Zelda had never mentioned what she was doing, so it was obvious she didn't want him to know.
In a way, watching without doing or saying anything was as agonizing as his shoulder exercises.
He sat there, stewing, for more than an hour. The only conclusion he could come to for why Zelda put up with the abuse was because she didn't realize she was being taken advantage of. It was like when her harp teacher constantly criticized her and made her think she was doing poorly, when, in fact, she had already surpassed him in skill. He was her teacher, so naturally she trusted his assessment. It never occurred to her that she might be better than him.
Zelda's technique and fighting style was better than Jas's, but she was neither prepared to defend or to execute non-conventional attacks. She was still approaching the sparring as just that—sword-on-sword fighting. She was fighting by a set of rules. And while that was normal for a fighter practice, that was not the way Jas was operating; he was fighting as if they were in a no holds-barred fight to the death on the battlefield. There was a time and a place for that kind of practice—and Zelda definitely needed it—but it didn't look like Jas had warned her that was how they were fighting. She was still trying to be honorable, even though he wasn't.
It was shortly before noon when Jas—who had been bullying the other boys—came back to the end of the line to work with Zelda. She was looking tired, but when he took his place opposite her, she stood up straighter, obviously resolved to fight on.
They sparred for a minute—Zelda taking advantage of his big, slow movements to quickly get in and throw some short blows and jabs. Link was glad to see her taking the offense and being aggressive—something she seemed to have trouble doing when she fought against him.
She got up in Jas's face and they got their swords locked up. She was holding her own—despite the fact that he was a head taller than her and half again as heavy—when he suddenly brought his elbow down on her face.
She staggered back, holding her nose. There was blood on her hand.
Link wasn't conscious of rising to his feet; he just stood on the porch, breathless, watching the scene unfolding before his eyes.
And then the unforgiveable happened.
While Zelda was standing there, holding her bleeding nose—obviously disengaged from the fight—Jas swung and hit her, hard, on the sword hand.
She dropped her sword. A moment later, he stabbed her in the belly. She staggered back, then fell onto the ground.
"Just because you get hit doesn't mean you can stand there with your mouth open, catching flies," he scolded. "The fight wasn't over."
He moved to stand over her and he pointed the end of his sword at her throat. "You're dead—dead because you stopped fighting before the fight was over."
A moment later, it was his turn to get knocked to the ground as Link—running across the courtyard—shoved him away from Zelda.
Jas looked up at him, his eyes wide with surprise.
Link pointed his finger at him. "If you touch her again, I will break your sword hand into so many pieces, you will never use it again," he said coldly. "Do you understand me?"
The boy's shock quickly turned to anger. "Who do you think you are?" he demanded. "I'm the teacher here. I'm in charge."
Jas pushed himself to his feet. "Yeah? And who, exactly, do you think is going to take my place? You, small fry?"
Link turned around. Zelda was still on the ground, looking at him in shock. A trickle of blood was still flowing out of her nose.
He pulled her to her feet and put her hand on her nose. "Pinch it here and hold it until it stops bleeding," he told her. Then he leaned down and picked up her sword with his left hand and turned back to Jas.
"Yes, I'm going to take your place," he said. "Or, rather, put you in your place."
Jas barked with laughter. "You people from Hyrule really are arrogant. You think you're the best at everything."
"I don't need to be the best," Link said; "I just need to be better than you."
"Not likely." Jas assumed a fighting stance and Link did as well.
As he had with Zelda, Jas attacked quickly, trying to catch Link off guard. But Link had been studying his moves for more than an hour; he had seen everything Jas had, so nothing was a surprise. And, really, other than getting a jump on his opponents and appearing threatening, he didn't have much going for him. He was slow and not particularly coordinated and his actual swordwork was merely acceptable.
Link blocked everything Jas threw easily, and he kept stepping back, not allowing him to close and bring his elbows or body into the fight. Link appeared to be on the defensive, but in reality he was controlling the fight. He was letting Jas get all of his aggression out and use up all of his tricks, knowing that he would be exhausted shortly. Jas had been practicing for a couple of hours; Link was fresh and well-rested.
He watched Jas carefully, even while he backpedaled all around the courtyard, making Jas chase him. As soon as Jas began to swing more slowly, Link suddenly threw himself forward, launching himself into a furious onslaught, catching Jas completely off guard.
Link had been told, over and over again, to control his emotions in a fight; anger was just as ruinous as arrogance. And normally Link approached fighting with the same sort of clinical detachment that Brother Guy had when he was making people scream with pain; it was something that needed doing and there was nothing personal in it.
But as he fought Jas, he felt a cold-burning anger inside himself. He felt a desire not just to win, but to inflict pain on Jas, the way it had been inflicted on Zelda. The fight was personal. He was fighting for revenge. And it felt good.
In a matter of moments, Link managed to get inside Jas's guard and deliver a finger-breaking blow to Jas's sword hand.
He yelped and dropped his sword. Link jumped in close and elbowed him in the nose. Then, before he could even react, Link thrust the pommel of his sword into his belly.
Jas doubled over in pain. But Link wasn't through just yet. He hooked his sword behind Jas's right leg and jerked it out from under him, sending him tumbling to the ground.
Link pointed his sword at him mockingly. "Just because you got hurt doesn't mean the fight was over."
Jas stared up at him in complete disbelief.
"Remember what I said," Link said, poking the sword at him menacingly: "you touch Princess Zelda again, and I'll break your hand. And you'll be lucky if I don't do worse. I don't know why the brothers allow you to abuse the younger students, but you will not abuse her. Not while I'm around. Have I made myself clear?"
Jas didn't say anything, but he averted his eyes, unable to look at Link.
Link took that as sufficient answer and turned his attention back to Zelda. "How's the nose?" he asked her, gently pushing her hand aside. The blood on her face was drying and it looked like her nose had nearly stopped bleeding.
"It's alright," she said, her voice sounding strange and thick, as she tried to avoid breathing through her nose.
"Let's get it cleaned up," he said, putting his hand on her back, guiding her towards the main building.
Abbot Winfield was standing on the porch, looking at Link with disapproval. "I told you not to interfere," he said.
The cold anger inside him that had been dying down, suddenly flared up again. Link fought back an urge to yell at the abbot for letting Jas's abuses go on for so long. Yes, the students needed to learn to take care of themselves, but, in Link's opinion, there came a point when someone needed to step in anyway, because they were so beaten down they would never rise up. And Link felt that moment was well past.
Link threw the wooden sword at the abbot's feet. "My sword arm is healed," he said coldly. "With your permission, I will go after the Master Sword tomorrow. Gods willing, we'll be out of your hair in a day or two, and you won't have to worry about my interfering again."
Without waiting for a reply, he pushed Zelda inside the building.
Link had Zelda sit on his bed while he looked at her face. He gently felt the ridge of her nose, but everything seemed to be place.
"Thank goodness your nose isn't broken," he said with relief. "What would people in Hyrule say if I brought back their Princess with a nose as crooked as a boxer's?"
He turned to the wash basin on the table and poured fresh water into it. He wet a cloth and turned back to Zelda and gently wiped the blood from her face.
"Why did you do that?" she asked, looking at him with a strange expression on her face.
"Do what, exactly?"
"The abbot said he had told you not to interfere. So why did you?"
"Because that guy is a bully and he was bullying you and everyone else. And because he fights dirty. And because he hit you. …Mostly because he hit you," he corrected. "It's one thing to hit someone in a fair fight, but another to use excessive force, and even worse to hit someone after they're out of the fight. Yes, on the battlefield you can't stop just because you get hit. But this isn't a battlefield and that's not how people normally spar—and I've certainly not seen a fight continue, without pause, after someone begins to bleed. It's common courtesy to stop and see if they're alright and get them medical attention.
"He hit you repeatedly just because he could—because he wanted to look like he was some mighty warrior who can beat opponents to a pulp."
Zelda looked away. Link was suddenly struck by the feeling that she wasn't happy with him.
"Are you mad at me for interfering?" he asked.
"No," she said, not sounding very convincing.
He put his hand under her chin and made her look up at him. "Did I… hurt your feelings?" he guessed.
She glanced away. That's when he knew he had hit the nail on the head.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you or hurt your feelings. I didn't mean that at all," he said softly.
"I know," she said. Then she sighed wearily.
"Tell me what's wrong," he pleaded. "I know you've been sparring with him for days; I saw you doing it earlier in the week. And I've seen the bruises he's left on you. But why didn't you tell me you were practicing? Why have you been doing it while I was asleep, like it's something shameful you had to hide?"
She looked away. "Because I thought you might not approve."
"I don't mind if you practice with other people—in fact, I encourage it—but no, I don't approve of the way he has been treating you. Why did you put up with it?"
"Because he said I'd never be a man's equal, and I was out to prove him wrong."
"Well, you certainly don't want to be his equal; he's a jackass."
Zelda couldn't help it; she smiled.
Link turned her face back to him. "Your Highness, what do you have to prove? You're much better than me at archery. In fact, it was you alone who weakened the lines at the Battle of Erenrue; our entire battle strategy hinged on your abilities with a bow, and no one found you wanting. And when it comes to the sword, you can best me when you really try.
"Look around. Do you see anyone else on this quest? Have I asked anyone else to help? No, because you're all the help I need. You are my partner in this endeavor, and I trust you to take care of me, as I take care of you.
"Why on earth do you need the approval of a jerk? You don't need to take a beating from him to prove you're tough. If I treat you—much less openly declare—that you are my equal as a warrior, is that not good enough? Does my opinion not count for anything?"
Zelda looked equal parts pleased and a little ashamed. "Well… you are partial to me," she pointed out. "You might… overstate."
He laughed. "True, but I think my actions back my words in this case."
She looked at him seriously. "I don't feel that I'm your equal—not with a sword. I don't want to be the weak point that gets us killed when we start fighting demons."
"Your Highness, you are a good swordsman—or, I suppose that should be 'swordswoman'; I just have more experience than you do. I'm decent with a bow, but you have put in many more hours of practice, and it shows with your ability to make difficult shots. It's the same thing with the sword: you have the basics mastered, and you have a good style; I only have a slight advantage over you because I'm more practiced."
They were interrupted a moment later by a soft knock on the door. "Master Link?" a timid voice called from the other side of the door.
Curious, Link went to the door and opened it. In the hallway was a swarm of boys, all looking at him with something approaching adoration.
"Um, Master Link," said one boy, who appeared to have been designated their spokesperson, "we were wondering… um… could you… could you show us what you did to Jas?"
"That was the most awesome thing ever," one starry-eyed boy gushed. His words opened up a torrent of praise from the other boys.
"I want to learn!"
"Teach me, please!"
"Can you show me how you did that thing where you, like, blocked on one side, then swept your sword around and… I don't know how you did it, but can you show me again?"
"I can show you whatever you like," Link offered.
A couple of boys grabbed his hands and pulled him out of the room. "Let's go right now!"
"It's almost lunch," Link said with a laugh.
"You can show us a thing or two before lunch, can't you?" one boy pleaded.
They went into the courtyard. A boy quickly fetched a couple of swords and handed one to Link. Then he turned and offered the other one to Zelda. "You were really brave to fight against Jas," he said, looking up at her with admiration.
"Yeah, I would have turned around and run if I had to have him as my partner," another boy chimed in. "He scares me every time he comes near me."
"You were, like, the first person to ever hit him. It was awesome! Thinking about that made me happy all week."
Zelda smiled, looking pleased. She took up the proffered sword and the boys formed a loose circle around her and Link.
Link proceeded to explain what he knew about Jas's weaknesses and how he planned to exploit them before he even engaged in the fight. Then, in slow motion, he demonstrated with Zelda how he had allowed Jas to wear himself out, before switching to the attack.
The boys hung on his every word and watched with rapt attention until the lunch bell interrupted them.
"Will you come back out after lunch and show us some more?" one of the boys asked, looking between Link and Zelda with obvious hero-worship.
"Sure," Link said. "And if you ask real nice, Her Highness might demonstrate her archery; she's very good.
The boy turned to look up at Zelda. "Will you? Pleeeease?"
She smiled. "Yes, if you like."
As they headed for the main building—surrounded by the gaggle of boys—Link noticed the abbot standing on the porch, watching. He said nothing as Link passed, but, at the last moment, he gave him a nod.
Link felt that was as close to an acknowledgement that he had been right that he was going to get. But he would take it. He had been very, very close to being wrong.