Zelda sat on Link's bed, watching as he paced around the room, limping—he wouldn't let anyone even look at his foot—and shouting obscenities and blasphemies that would curl the hair of even a seasoned sailor. Zelda hadn't known there were so many different ways to denigrate a man's mother and call his paternity into question.
Link had taken off his armor a piece at a time and thrown it violently across the room. Every time he did that, it made Zelda jump, but she never tried to leave or tell him to calm down. She knew a thing or two about tempers—having inherited a legendary one from her father—and she knew the best thing to do was let Link get everything out of his system.
It was as if every hint of anger or annoyance that he had ever felt in his entire life had been saved up in a bottle. It had been filled long ago, but he kept cramming more grievances down into it, unwilling to let them show. But the broken Master Sword took the cork off the bottle unexpectedly, and everything came exploding forth in a geyser of rage.
It was some time before he could even form semi-coherent sentences that were not made primarily of profanities.
"What the hell was it all for?" he demanded, looking at Zelda. "That fucking maze of…." He drifted off into another round of cursing.
"Everything we've suffered," he said: "all the pain; all the agony; all the near-death misses…. For what purpose? Nothing! We're no closer to fixing the problem than we were three months ago."
He bent down and picked up a vambrace that was lying in the floor and he threw it hard against the wall again.
"Your family," he continued—"all dead. My family—gods only know where they are. Maybe—probably—dead as well. They defied Nagadii with the hope that they were dying for something bigger than themselves—for the hope that I would save Hyrule.
"And your family…. I keep thinking about Prince Zeyde dying right in front of us—dying so that we could get out and get the Master Sword and save Erenrue.
"What did they die for?" he demanded. "For a rusty piece of shit; a fake; someone's idea of a joke. If there ever was a real Master Sword, only the gods know where it is."
He commenced cursing again, offering up a few choice blasphemies against the gods.
"If they had made up their minds to abandon us," he said, still speaking of the gods, "why didn't they just do so in the first place? Why all of this star chart, Hero-of-Legend, great destiny bullshit? Why not just let us live our lives normally for as long as possible, then die with everyone else? Why make us suffer—suffer for the sake of lies?"
He slumped down on the bed next to Zelda, his anger, at last, all spent. "My whole life has been a lie," he moaned. Then he burst into tears every bit as violent as his rage a moment before.
Zelda put her arm around him and pulled him to her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and clung to her, sobbing like a man whose soul had been crushed beyond repair.
Zelda remained silent as his tears wet her shoulder and spread out across her shirt. She didn't have any words of comfort for him; when she thought about the situation, she had no more answers than he. They supposedly needed the Master Sword to kill demons. The Master Sword was supposedly in the monastery. Regardless if the sword Link found was a fake or the real thing, there would be no demon-slaying—no world saving. He was right: everything they had done and had suffered—and everything that everyone had suffered on their behalf—it was all in vain.
"We have each other," she offered, once his racking sobs had moderated somewhat. "I didn't have you before, and now I do. If nothing else comes from this endeavor—even if we are fated to fail—I will always be grateful that I have you."
He looked up at her, his eyes red from crying and his fair face mottled with red splotches. "You don't have me," he said hoarsely. "And I don't have you. I had hoped that someday…. But that day will never come. We will never return to Hyrule triumphant. You will never be queen. We have no more than a few months left to live. Even if you threw away what remains of your nobility and married me, we would have no time together; we would be living under the constant shadow of death.
"There will never be an 'us'. That, too, was a lie."
Zelda sat there, too shocked to speak or even move. Link pulled away from her and lay down on the bed, his back to her, shaking with silent sobs. He seemed to want to be alone.
Somehow, Zelda managed to get to her feet and quietly leave the room, shutting the door behind her. Dazed—as if she had been hit on the head—she wandered through the building aimlessly.
She could somehow deal with the fact that their mission had failed. Really, if she thought about it long enough, she might admit there was still a kernel of hope inside her. They had seemed so close to ruin before, only to find a way to stay on course; she still had faith that somehow, something would happen that would right the ship this time, as well.
But Link giving up on his love for her was something that rocked her to her very core. That was something she thought she could count on forever—like the sky being blue and the earth being beneath her feet. But now, he was ready to turn his back on it.
He didn't even sound like himself. The Link she had known before might have eventually accepted the hopelessness of the situation, but he would have clung to his love for her. He would have suggested marriage so they could live out their remaining days with each other, then die together.
He would have never implied that would be a waste of time or energy.
Without paying any attention to where she was going, her feet carried her outside, and she walked along the porch, thinking and feeling more troubled than she had the moment the broken sword had hit the floor.
"I hear steps that I do not know."
She stopped suddenly and glanced up, a little startled to see someone nearby. Ahead of her, there was an old man—stooped with age, with a white beard down to his belly—sitting on a bench next to the wall. When he turned his face towards her, she could see that his eyes were milky-white.
"If they are steps I do not know," he explained, "then you must be one of our two visitors. They are light steps, so I would guess that they belong to a woman, but I know Link; he wouldn't walk with a heavy step; he would never bring that much attention to his movements
"But," he continued, "since it sounds like Link is in the middle of… a personal issue," he said delicately, "I would guess that I am hearing the footsteps of Princess Zelda. Am I correct?"
"Yes, you are," she said, impressed.
He gestured to her. "Would you sit with me a little while, Your Highness?"
"Sure." She went to the bench and sat beside the old man. There was something about him that seemed kind and grandfatherly, and she liked him immediately.
"I'm Artos," he introduced.
"It's nice to meet you. I haven't seen you around here before."
"I keep to myself, mostly," he replied. "I feel like I already have one foot in the Other World, and I like to spend my days in prayer and meditation, reflecting on what has been and what is to come. Most people do so when they get old and their time nears," he explained.
He held out his hands; they were gnarled with age—the joints swollen with arthritis and the fingers thin and meatless. "May I 'see' your face?" he asked.
"Um… alright," Zelda said, unsure of what he meant.
He reached up and lightly touched her, running his fingers over the contours of her face.
"Ah, you do seem to be as beautiful as I had heard," he said. Then his hands went up to her ears. "And you are a Hylian."
He removed his hands. "I have only known two other Hylians in all my long life—Link being one of them.
"I was the abbot here when Ryu brought Link. He was just a baby—barely a year old. While our Order has been known to take in orphans, we had not had a baby here in living memory. I was reluctant to try to care for such a small child—simply because I didn't know anything about them—but when Ryu showed me Link's star chart and explained the situation, I knew I must do everything I could to help."
"I wish you could help now," Zelda said mournfully.
"Well, maybe I can—in a very small, inconsequential way."
Zelda perked up, listening to him attentively.
"The other Hylian I know was a student here some years before Link—oh, probably twenty or more years before Link. His name was Hols. His father sent him here for an education—and he was a decent student—but what really excited him was smithing.
"The Knights of Hyrule were not only soldiers. For the most part, Hyrule has always been a peaceful kingdom; we have always preferred to solve problems diplomatically, and practically none of our royal family has had ambitions to expand the kingdom.
"So, the Knights weren't needed very often. While they spent time training, most of their time was spent in regular employment. Most of them owned land, but some served as advisors or clerks in the royal household, and a select group of them were blacksmiths. They weren't common blacksmiths making horseshoes and saw blades; they made swords and armor for the other knights and, sometimes, the royal armory.
"They were the best of the best—especially with sword-making. Their secrets were closely guarded and they never spoke about any of their techniques to anyone who was not a Knight, and even then, they didn't divulge everything. It was primarily a secret handed down from father to son, to the point that the smiths were an elite class, even among the rest of the Knights.
"They wrote down some of their secrets over time and carefully guarded the books, but after the Imprisoning War, when most of the Knights were wiped out, the survivors hurriedly wrote down everything, afraid that the secrets would die with them.
"We have their books here in our library, and anytime I missed young Hols, I would go there and find him with his nose in a book, studying.
"After he left here, he became an apprentice to a blacksmith—against his father's wishes—and eventually he went into business for himself. He is now the swordmith to the government of Shi-Ha; he makes weapons and armor for their generals.
"No one else here has ever had an interest in those old books on swords and metalworking; I'm sure he knows more about their contents than any man living."
Zelda waited for a minute, but he didn't continue. "I'm sorry, but how does that help us?" she asked.
"Those books also contain lore about the Master Sword," Artos explained. "And Hols is an expert on metalworking and sword-making in general. If anyone can tell you if the sword Link found is the real Master Sword or not, it would be Hols. And if it's not the real sword—as we were always told—then maybe he can give you a clue as to where to find it."
Zelda felt hope rising in her again; it felt warm and bright. "Where can we find him?"
"He is in Olchi, the Floating City. If you start early in the morning, you can be there by nightfall."
Zelda knocked softly on the bedroom door and cracked it a little. "Link?" she asked quietly, unsure what mood she would find him in.
"Yes?" he asked. His voice had a hollow ring that pained Zelda; apparently he wasn't feeling much better for getting out all of his anger and disappointment.
She slipped into the room. The sun had set while she talked to Artos, and it was dark in the room; Link hadn't bothered to light the candles. He was just lying on his back on the bed, staring mindlessly at the ceiling.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and told him everything that Artos had told her.
"Another wild goose chase," he said emotionlessly.
"We've been near defeat before, only to find help in an unlikely spot," she pointed out. "Maybe this is the clue we need to keep going."
He didn't respond.
Zelda began to feel fear; what if Link never recovered his hope? If he gave up, did she have any chance of completing their quest by herself?
"Well, I'm going to leave in the morning to go see this Hols and see what he thinks," she declared. "You can go with me or stay here—whatever suits you."
She crossed the room and sat down on her bed, taking off her boots. She really hoped that she wouldn't have to go alone, but she no longer knew what Link was thinking or what he would do. If he really had decided loving her was pointless, would he stop caring about what happened to her?
She pulled the covers back and got into her bed; it was the first time since their first night there that she had slept in it, but she was determined not to force her presence on Link or beg him to show some measure of love for her again. She loved him, but she had her dignity.
After a moment, Link spoke in the darkness. "I suppose I'll go with you. But I don't have any hope, and you shouldn't get your hopes up, either."
It was nothing like a rousing vote of support, but it was better than nothing. She just hoped they would learn something that would restore his hope.