Quest for the Master Sword
The next morning, Link and Zelda awoke early—before the morning bell. Silently, they pulled on their boots—taking care to lace them tight—and reattached their sword scabbards to their belts.
They debated over who should wear the maile shirt Link had worn out of Erenrue. Zelda had put it on when she went to fight the bat-demons, and since it was difficult for Link to put on again because of his shoulder, she had worn it when they came out of the mountains. When they arrived at the monastery, she had discarded it and it had lain half-forgotten in their room. Now, however, there was a need for it again.
"You wear it," Link said. "Your hide is more precious than mine."
"Don't start that again," she fussed.
"But it's true."
"You should wear it because you're the one who is going to be fighting up close," she argued. "I'm going to use my bow and arrows, so I can stand behind you and shoot anything that's flying or at a distance, and you can do the close-up work."
Link frowned, but he couldn't turn down Zelda's offer to stand behind him and engage any enemies from a distance; that was even better than wearing the maile shirt.
So, in the end, he put it on over his tunic.
Zelda strapped her quiver across her back and slipped her head and arm through her bow, positioning it so the string lay across her chest.
"I wish I still had my shield," Link said a bit mournfully, buckling on his sword belt. "I feel kind of naked without it."
"Is there not one you can borrow?"
"You know, I hadn't thought about that," he admitted. "I'm sure there is."
"Ask at breakfast."
By the time Zelda had her hair braided, the first bell of morning was ringing.
They went to breakfast early. The few boys who were already there turned to look—not just at Zelda, but at Link, too. Their eyes widened when they saw both of them dressed for combat.
The abbot looked a little surprised when he came to the table and found them sitting there, waiting.
"Are you… going to practice your archery today, Your Highness?" he asked Zelda. She had put on a good show the day before that thrilled all the boys.
Zelda looked confused. "I wouldn't call it practice, exactly."
It was the abbot's turn to look confused. "What do you call it?"
"Fighting?" she offered.
It took him a minute, but realization finally dawned on his face. "Did you mean to go with Link into the catacombs?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, but you can't; you will have to wait outside."
Zelda looked outraged. "Why?"
"Only the Hero destined to wield the sword may go. He must prove himself worthy of it."
"Who made that rule?" Link asked.
"I don't know. But it is written down, so obviously whoever put the sword there thought it was important."
Link looked at Zelda, then sighed. "I guess I'll have to go in alone."
Zelda didn't look happy, but she didn't say anything. The monks were the keepers of the Master Sword, so she and Link would have to play by their rules.
Neither Zelda nor Link ate very much breakfast. When everyone at the table was done, they rose and escorted Link and Zelda out of the building. The boys tried to follow them, but one of the brothers shooed them away.
They crossed the courtyard to the chapel dedicated to the Goddess Hylia. The altar, at the far end, was on a raised platform, accessible by half a dozen stairs that ran across its front. In the middle of the stairs, though, a place had been carved out. There were a couple of stairs that led down to a door set under the altar. Everyone stopped in front of the altar.
Zelda nudged Link. "Ask about a shield," she whispered.
"Oh, yeah," he said, remembering; his mind had been so focused on the upcoming trial, he had forgotten to ask.
He looked at the abbot. "I left my shield in Erenrue. Do you have one that I can borrow?"
"Actually, we have armor for you."
Two brothers brought over pieces of armor and began to arm him. It wasn't a full plate-armor suit, like his Erenrue harness; instead, it was a few strategic pieces of hardened leather. There were vambraces—not unlike the ones Zelda had given him, which had also been left behind in Erenrue—shin guards, a breastplate, spaulders that covered half of his upper arm, and fingerless gloves. There was also a shield—one painted with the national arms of Hyrule.
"You'll need this," one of the brothers said, offering him a small lantern. Link hooked it onto the back of his belt, where it would be out of the way, but easy to access.
When Link was ready, the abbot stepped down to the door and unlocked it with a key he wore around his neck. Then he handed it to Link. "You will need this for the door inside the crypt and there might be other doors; I don' t know."
Link paused at the top of the steps, aware of dozens of eyes on him. He suddenly felt an enormous weight on his shoulders. Everything—everything—hinged on him getting the Master Sword. The entire world and every person living in it needed him to succeed. There was no room for failure.
Which only made Zelda's absence all the more striking. He hadn't realized, until that moment, how much he really had been relying on Zelda throughout their quest. Even when he was doing the lion's share of the work, he had always known, in the back of his mind, that he could count on her help. She had proven her ability to lead their quest and care for him while they were crossing the mountains; she had even fought demons by herself to get medicine to save his life.
Now, he would be on his own. There would be no one to watch his back; no one to take care of him if he got hurt; no one to provide encouragement or moral support; no one to take over should he fail.
He had never felt more alone.
Zelda stepped up beside him. She must have seen the anxiety written on his face, because she took her hand in his and squeezed.
I'll be here if you need me, she said telepathically. If something happens—if you're badly hurt or trapped—call to me and I'll teleport you out.
Suddenly the weight upon him broke and melted away. He wouldn't be completely alone; if he needed reassurance, Zelda's voice would be in his mind. And if he got into serious trouble, she could get him out of it. He wasn't without help, after all.
He wanted to kiss her, but didn't dare do it with so many people watching. So, instead, he lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. Their eyes met for a long moment.
Thank you, he said.
He slowly let go of her hand, then he went down the stairs through the door into the dark catacombs.
Immediately inside the door was a large crypt full of tombs. The walls were lined with niches where coffins and—in some places—bare bones were stacked. It was very similar to the crypt under the Sanctuary in Castle Town. The fact that it looked familiar made Link feel a little better—or, at least, that's what he told himself. He tried not to dwell on the fact that passing through the graves of the dead was a rather ominous beginning to his journey.
Opposite the entrance was another door—the only other door in the crypt. Link tried the key the abbot had given him and, although he met with some resistance—as if the lock had rusted up—he finally managed to get it unlocked.
He had to tug hard on the door; it had rusted on its hinges, too. The air that greeted him smelled stale and old.
He looked inside and saw a narrow passage that sloped down. He couldn't see any more than that, because it was pitch black inside. There was only a dim amount of light in the crypt—coming from the open door behind him—and obviously none at all in the catacombs.
Link unhooked the lantern from his belt and set it on the floor. He used his flint and steel to light it, then he cautiously held it up, looking down the passageway again. For as far as the light shone, there was nothing to be seen but the downward passage.
Link felt as if he was walking into a trap. "Goddesses protect me," he whispered, then he slowly began to walk down the passage.
He steadily descended until he felt that he must be quite far under the earth. Just when he was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to reach the end, he noticed a dim light shining up ahead. He had to stop himself from running towards it. Instead, he pulled out his sword and proceeded with caution.
The passageway suddenly leveled off and opened onto a small stone platform. When Link stepped onto it, his eyes went wide.
He was in a huge natural cavern—the platform some ten or twelve feet above the floor. There were torches—obviously a magical fire that burned forever—high up on the walls, and they cast a dim light over the thing that amazed and horrified Link the most: a huge labyrinth.
"They weren't kidding when they said it was a maze," Link said to himself, looking over the scene in disbelief.
At the far end of the room—at least a hundred yards away—there was some sort of elevated platform and many torches illuminating it; it was more brightly lit than the rest of the cavern, so it seemed obvious that was his destination.
He took a moment to think about what he knew about mazes. He had been told that if he ever got lost in a cave, he should put his hand on the wall while he walked. Even if he had to walk the entire perimeter of the cavern, eventually he would come back to the entrance.
He thought that advice would work well here, too. Guessing which way to go and taking turns at random would probably just lead him to going in circles or taking the same wrong turn multiple times.
He also remembered an old story about a hero who went into a maze and he rolled a string out behind him so that he wouldn't get lost on the return journey.
Link considered what he had on him that could act as a marker, but couldn't come up with anything. He briefly though about going back up and asking the abbot for something, but he was afraid that coming back out so soon after going in might look bad—as if he was cowardly. Besides, the hike back up the passageway would be exhausting; he wanted to tackle the maze—and whatever booby traps might be in it—while he was still fresh.
Finally, he hit on an idea. His maile shirt was made from butted—not riveted—links. He was able to pull individual links apart far enough that he could unweave them from the rest. He could drop those along the way, like bread crumbs.
He was about to start down the stairs when another idea struck him like a bolt of lightning.
"Dumbass," he chided himself. "Fly across."
While he took Zelda's ability to transform into a horse for granted, he was still unaccustomed to having an animal form of his own, and he usually forgot that he could turn into a bird and fly, when necessary.
But now his heart lifted at the thought that he could just fly across the maze, pick the Master Sword up in his claws and fly back.
He laughed to think about how easy it would be. And maybe that's what the original monks who built the maze had intended: the maze was there to discourage normal people, but when the Hero came for the Sword, he would be able to easily get it.
Link unfastened his sword belt and reconfigured it so that his scabbard lay across his back. He resheathed his sword and hooked his shield onto the back. Now his hands were free, but he would still have his weapons with him in case there was something waiting for him on the platform on the other side.
He picked up the lantern and blew it out—no need to waste the oil—then he transformed into an eagle and launched himself off the platform.
He had barely flown a few feet when, just as he was going to cross over the first wall of the maze, he crashed into an invisible barrier. He hit it so hard, he was unable to recover before he fell to the ground.
He transformed back into a human as he was lying on the stone floor, and groaned in pain. It was a few minutes before he sat up and rubbed his nose, which felt like it had taken the brunt of the impact. He checked his hand three times to see if there was blood on it; he couldn't believe that his nose could hurt so much without bleeding or being broken.
After a while, he got up and dusted himself off. He looked up, but he could see nothing above the walls; there was no indication there was a barrier above them. It must have been placed there, though, to keep people from climbing up the walls and sneaking a peak at the maze's layout, or running along the tops of the walls as a shortcut.
So much for the idea of taking his own shortcut.
With a sigh, he climbed back up the stairs to the platform to get his lantern. Then he walked back down and entered the maze through the only entrance.
As soon as he entered, he was confronted with a choice of directions: left, right, or straight ahead. He thought straight ahead was too obvious a choice and sure to contain traps. Besides, he had decided to walk around the walls.
He turned to the passage to the left and stopped to drop a link from his maile shirt. Then he put his left hand on the wall and began to walk. After a distance of about 20 yards, the passage made a hard right.
Link dropped another link, then proceeded forward with caution. The torches were so high up on the walls and so widely-spaced, the light down in the maze was dim, like a perpetual twilight. He considered lighting his lantern, but he didn't want to encumber his hands if he didn't have to. Besides, the oil wouldn't last forever; he wanted to save it in case he really needed it.
After a few dozen feet, he came to an opening on his left. Following his rule of lefts, he dropped a maile link, then went through the opening.
It had two passageways: one to the left and one to the right. The passage to the left, however, was so dark, he couldn't see more than a few feet down it. He looked up and noticed that it had a roof over the walls. It had been made dark on purpose. That heightened his worry.
He dropped another link just to be on the safe side—if he ran into a dead end and had to double back, he wanted to be sure he knew where he came in—then he lit his lantern and proceeded slowly down the passage.
It made a sharp right, and he was about to make the turn, when he glanced down and noticed there was nothing but blackness.
He pulled up short and held his lantern down close to the floor. Only there was no floor at all; there was only a pit that had no visible bottom.
That's why this passage is dark, he thought to himself. If I hadn't had my lantern—if I had been feeling my way down it, blind—I would have fallen in.
He visualized turning the corner in what had nearly been a literal dead end, then he turned around, put his left hand on the wall that had once been to his right, and he returned to where he had dropped his last link. He continued forward, taking what had been the right-hand passage when he entered through the opening.
And so it went for hours. He began to wish he had packed himself some food.
There were plenty of dead ends. Sometimes he would get off on a branch of the maze that had numerous smaller dead ends, and it wasn't until he had explored all of those that he discovered that the entire branch was one giant dead end.
He thanked all the gods multiple times that he had been smart enough to leave himself a trail because, when he had to double-back, that always showed him where he had been. Otherwise, he might have gotten turned around and confused as to which wall he was supposed to have his hand on. Because, although the rule for being lost in a cave was to put your hand to the wall and never take it off, he didn't have that luxury because there were numerous traps.
He learned to be suspicious of anything that was out of the ordinary. If there was a tile in the floor or a decoration on a wall, he stood as far away from it as possible and poked it with his sword. Darts or spears would suddenly shoot through the walls or spikes would come up through the floor, or else the tile would crumble like a dry leaf, revealing another bottomless pit.
He came across one tile that he wasn't able to spring with his sword, although he was certain it was rigged somehow. He couldn't go around it, and it was too wide to jump over; there was nothing he could do but wait until he had figured out its trick.
It wasn't until he sat down to take a break that he realized there was a pile of stones stacked against the wall. Nothing in the maze was there by coincidence, so he picked up a stone and threw it onto the tile. It landed with a thud, but nothing happened. He really didn't have anything better to do, so he continued to throw stones at the tile.
Then, suddenly, when the eighth stone hit it, it sprang up into the air, launching stones in all directions and scaring the daylights out of Link.
"So, that was your trick," he said, after his heart had calmed down a little. He was glad he had sat down and toyed with it for a while; he would have hated to have gone flying through the air, only to smack into another invisible wall somewhere.
He pushed himself to his feet with a sigh and looked at the tile hovering on top of its spring ten feet or so in the air above his head. "I don't know who built this place," he muttered, "but they're out to kill me."
Only slightly less awful than the traps were the creatures that prowled through the maze. Link was sitting with his back against a wall, taking a break, when something moved in the corner of his eye. He looked up to see a huge spider—as big as his head—crawling on the wall, making a beeline for him.
Link practically teleported to the other side of the corridor. "Mother of all the gods!" he gasped. A moment later, he was fumbling to pull out his sword, and the next moment, he was running the spider through as it turned around on the wall, as if trying to figure out where its prey had gone.
It made a little clicking noise when he stabbed it. When he pulled his sword out, it dropped to the floor and its legs curled inwards, twitching. Then it disappeared in a puff of black smoke. Obviously it had been made from magic, but that didn't mean it wasn't as dangerous as a real spider—if a real spider could ever grow to such hellish proportions.
There were a total of three kinds of monstrous creatures in the maze: the oversized-spiders, rats as large as small dogs, and snakes. Luckily, the snakes were normal-size, but they were the worst of all to fight because they were close to the ground; it made it hard to swing or stab at them—especially as he didn't like to strike his sword against the stone floors and walls; that would blunt the edge and tip very quickly. Worse, the stress on the old sword might break it altogether.
The snakes also had the nasty habit of coming at him from different sides, all at the same time. In a turn down one dead-end, he quickly found himself surrounded by more snakes than he could deal with.
While he was turned, trying to kill one, another one struck his foot, sinking its fangs through his soft leather boot and into the top of his foot.
"Damnit!" Link shouted, jerking his foot up and shaking it, trying to get the snake off of it. The snake's tail whipped a couple of its fellows across the face, driving them back, but it didn't let go of Link's foot. In fact, its fangs just seemed to wiggle in deeper.
Finally he put his foot down and sliced the snake's head off. The other snakes were pressing in on him, so he had to return to fighting them. It wasn't until the last one was defeated that he was finally able to grab the severed head and pull its fangs out of his foot. As soon as it was out of his foot, it disintegrated into black smoke, like all the rest of the monsters.
"Oh, now you vanish," Link said sourly.
His foot was throbbing and it quickly began to swell—to the point he had to take off his boot to relieve the pressure.
He tucked his boot down into his belt and took a look at his foot. It was swollen to nearly twice its normal size. Two puncture wounds in the top oozed blood. The skin around them was blue and white, while the rest of his foot was an angry shade of red.
He debated calling on Zelda to get him out of the maze. What if the snake had been venomous? How long did he have until it started to affect him? More importantly, how much time would an antidote need to work?
At the same time, he was loathe to leave the maze, because that would mean starting all over again. He had left his trail of maile links, so he wouldn't have to re-find the correct route, but it was still a long walk and who knew if the monsters and traps might regenerate after a time? They were all magical, so one could never be certain.
He finally decided that he would wait a little while and see what happened. If he began to feel sick or incapacitated in any way, he would leave. Just to be on the safe side, though, he warned Zelda.
I just got bitten by a snake. Would you make sure Guy or someone has an antidote or medicine or something available in case it was venomous?
Do you want me to bring you out? she asked anxiously.
Not just yet. I don't want to lose everything I've gained.
Are you sure? Maybe you shouldn't risk it.
Trust me; I do not want to go through this again, if I can help it.
Is it very bad? You've been down there nearly five hours.
It's not pleasant, was all he would say. Have some medicine ready for me, in case I need it. But, otherwise, I'm going to stay here.
Be careful. Don't wait until the last minute. You don't want to pass out; I can't teleport you if you're not conscious, you know.
I know. Believe me, I won't wait; this worries me more than it does you.
I don't know about that.
I do. I can see my foot where it bit me and you can't. Trust me; I'm more worried.
Link, just come back, she pleaded.
No, not right now.
Shh, I have to go. I have to concentrate on what's around this next bend.
Link was actually still a little ways from the next turn—and hobbling slowly on his sore, swollen foot—but he knew Zelda wouldn't stop begging him to come back if he didn't fudge the truth a little. And if he let her beg, he was afraid she might just talk him into leaving.
But, it seemed that the snakes—or at least the snake that bit him—wasn't venomous. Painful and annoying, to be sure, but not venomous.
Quite by accident, when he had worked his way over to one side of the maze, he noticed that the snakes didn't follow him when he retreated. He studied the situation for a while, but the only difference that he could come up with was that it was brighter close to the side of the cave where the torches were mounted. He tested his theory with his lantern and found he could drive the snakes back with the light from the lantern.
After that, he kept the lantern lit constantly, ready to thrust it out into the face of an advancing snake.
By the time he had been in the maze for six hours, he was starving and tired and his foot was killing him. His mind began to concentrate on his suffering, not on his surroundings, and he began to get careless. That was why he walked, obliviously, past a series of holes in the walls that suddenly shot a bevy of little darts at him.
He threw his right arm up, just barely managing to block his face; several darts stuck in his leather vambrace instead. Several more hit his body armor. But one managed to hit him in the tender underside of his upper arm, just past where the sleeve of his maile shirt ended.
"Ah, gods!" he said, hopping in pain down the corridor, out of the way of the dart holes.
He reached up for the dart. It wasn't deep enough to cause any major damage—not like a regular arrow—but it hurt all the same.
"Damnit!" he cursed, as he ripped it out, leaving a burning, bleeding hole in his arm. He pulled the rest of them out of his armor, throwing them viciously to the ground, as if he could punish them for the pain that had been inflicted on him.
He was careful to crawl under the dart holes, in case there were more still in there, waiting to be fired.
And then, after more than six hours in the maze, he turned a corner and suddenly saw brightly-lit steps that led up to an altar.
He looked around cautiously, sure there was one more trap waiting for him, but as he inched forward, nothing happened.
Slowly, he climbed the steps—all the time looking around and above him, sure something was going to drop on his head or come zooming in. He occasionally even stopped to poke the stairs with his sword to make sure they weren't spring-loaded.
Finally, he reached the top of the platform. There was a lone table standing on it, and on the table, sparkling in the torchlight, was a golden box inlaid with jewels.
He forgot his caution and, in awe, he stepped forward. He held his breath as he reached out and opened the lid.
Zelda hadn't heard from Link for more than an hour, and she was way past being worried for him. What if he had been suddenly overcome by venom and had blacked out before he could call for help? What if he had become confused and couldn't remember that he was supposed to call to her?
She debated asking him if he was alright, but she was terrified of interrupting him if he was in the middle of something. What if she caused him to get hurt because he was distracted?
So, against her inclination, she stayed quiet. But it was an agonizing wait.
And then, like a ghost, Link emerged from the crypt. She was so surprised by his sudden appearance, it took her brain a moment to realize that he was really there. She hadn't expected him to walk out; she thought he would just have her teleport him out.
He was moving slowly, hobbling on one shoeless, swollen foot. There was blood on the right sleeve of his shirt, nicks and tears in his tunic in places, and his hair was disheveled; he looked like he had just come out of a hard fight. In his arms he carried a long, beautiful box. Zelda wondered if the box was why he had not asked her to teleport him out; maybe he was afraid it wouldn't come with him.
She stood up and started to take a step towards him, but something made her stop.
As Link limped up the stairs, he didn't glance her way—didn't acknowledge her presence at all. Instead, he was looking at the abbot. No, "glaring" was a more apt description.
Zelda was suddenly shocked to realize that Link's face was contorted in a burning, murderous rage that was so frightening, she actually took a step back. She had never, ever been afraid of Link—or of anything else while he was around—but she was afraid of him now. He looked as if he was going to kill someone.
The monks seemed oblivious to his silent rage, and they all hurried forward to see him.
"Did you get it?"
"What was it like?"
"You were gone so long."
"Can I see it?"
Link said nothing, limping slowly past them to the abbot. The abbot, like Zelda, looked a little frightened; he knew something was wrong.
"What is it?" he whispered.
Link held the box up high, for everyone to see, then he turned it over.
The lid flapped open and a sword fell out. Everyone watched it as it fell—seemingly in slow motion—and clattered to the floor.
The rusty old sword was broken in two.