The Hylian Link
Link was happy—happier than he could ever remember being. He hummed a merry tune to himself as he walked back to the barracks on the far side of the castle. But, before long, he switched to a romantic tune, hearing the lyrics in his mind as he hummed.
Six years before, Master Ryu had brought him to the castle. Link's mouth had been open in awe as he rode behind Master Ryu through the bustling streets of Castle Town; it was larger and busier than anything he had ever seen before. But his astonishment only grew as the huge castle at the heart of the town loomed above them. The next thing he knew, they were riding through a gate, past soldiers with spears.
Master Ryu had dismounted, then helped eleven-year-old Link off the horse. And while Link was looking around, thinking that nothing could be more spectacular, he saw her: Zelda.
She was dressed in white—her silverly-blonde hair almost indistinguishable from her dress. There was a small gaggle of people with her: maids and a couple of guards. She had a large kite in her hand and she was running across the courtyard, occasionally hopping, trying to get the kite into the air.
Link stared at her for a long time. When she stopped and tucked a wind-blown strand of hair behind one ear, he noticed she had pointed ears like his, and he felt an instant connection with her. They had something in common. There was something special about both of them.
When a guard stepped up to help her with the kite, Link finally tore his gaze from her and looked up at Master Ryu. The older man was looking at him very carefully, as if judging his reaction.
"Is she a fairy?" Link asked innocently. He knew fairies were supposed to be the most beautiful creatures on earth, and he knew he had seen no one as beautiful as the girl with the silvery-blonde hair.
Ryu smiled faintly. "No, Link, she is not a fairy. She is the Princess Zelda."
Link turned back to watch her. The guard—looking completely ridiculous—ran around the courtyard, trying to get up enough speed to throw the kite up and get it clear of the castle walls, so the wind could take it. Zelda—watching the man—clasped her hands tightly in anticipation.
"Mark her well," Ryu told Link in a low voice. "She is your destiny."
Link looked back at him. "What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean that the two of you are meant for one another."
"Really?" Link asked, his heart rising with hope.
"Yes. You are a descendant of the Knights of Hyrule. She is a member of the royal family. If there was nothing else written in your stars, it would be your destiny to protect her. Defending the royal family and Hyrule is what the Knights do.
"But you and she are meant to be together—meant to marry. And one day you shall. But you are not worthy of her yet. Only a Knight of Hyrule could ever be worthy of marrying a princess, and you are far from being a knight."
Link turned on him, his fists clenched in eagerness. "What must I do to become a knight?"
"You must work hard. Even though you will not have any more formal education, you must read and study on your own; I will provide you with books that are appropriate. And you must learn to dance and play an instrument. You must be as educated and cultured and civilized as any courtier in the palace, else she will think you laughable.
"And you must learn from the other men here—the other soldiers. You must practice your swordplay and shooting daily. You must learn to be brave and be willing to put your life at risk for her safety.
"Finally, you must learn to serve. That will be your first chore here—as a page. You must learn to be humble, to serve your betters, to give and ask nothing in return.
"Once you have learned all those things then, and only then, may you be worthy of Princess Zelda."
Although Ryu's list was long and daunting, Link didn't have a moment's hesitation in agreeing to do everything he said. And he had worked hard. He had fetched and toted and delivered messages and trinkets and food from one end of the castle to the other. When he had a moment's rest—sitting in a corridor, waiting to be called—he would read whatever book Master Ryu had given him. In the evenings, when the other boys gathered to play, Link would find a quiet corner of a corridor or the courtyard and he would study. And every time he finished a book, Master Ryu would quiz him on it and challenge him so that he learned to think critically and form an opinion and defend it.
When he was fourteen, he was initiated into the guards' training program, where he did fetching and toting mainly for the guards, although he also learned about armor—how to put it on and repair it—and all the different weapons. At fifteen, he began training in earnest, where it was quickly discovered that he was already a finer swordsman than most of the much older guards. Link had studied swordplay from a very young age, and he had spent his years in the castle practicing regularly and studying moves from some of Master Ryu's books. But he did learn how to drill, and how to march, and how to fight in a unit. He also gained strength and agility through regular practice with weights and on an obstacle course.
And now, at last, at the age of seventeen (going on eighteen), Master Ryu had pulled him aside for a special assignment: guarding the truant princess. He didn't have to be told that this was his opportunity to prove himself. If he could take care of her and prove to her that he was not a lowly commoner, but someone of refinement and intelligence, then perhaps she would come to love him. His love for her was already sealed—and had been, since that day in the courtyard when he was just eleven years old.
The scrape of leather on the stone sidewalk of the arcade brought him out of his reminiscing. He became quiet and turned to see who was coming up behind him.
A moment later, a figure in long, heavy robes began to materialize from the gloom. When he stepped into the light of a wall-torch, Link relaxed, seeing that it was Master Ryu.
"I should have expected you," Link said with a smile.
"I should have expected I couldn't catch you by surprise." Ryu gestured to a nearby door. "I would like a word."
Link dutifully followed Ryu through the door and up a rather narrow set of steps to the third floor. Ryu walked to the end of the corridor, then entered a tower, climbing another set of stairs. At the top was a landing and a door. He unlocked it, going inside.
Link was familiar with Master Ryu's tower room. A bed and wardrobe were crammed to one side of the room; the rest of it was overflowing with cases of books and tables full of parchment papers. There were orbs and brass and gold instruments of strange design hanging from the ceiling and sitting atop bookcases. There was even an entire chest full of nothing but maps.
A narrow staircase led up the side of the wall to the top, where a trapdoor opened onto the roof. Master Ryu could be found there many nights, studying the stars with his strange instruments and charting them on sheets of parchment.
But sixteen years earlier, Master Ryu had had a great suite of rooms on the second floor of the main part of the castle—near the royal family. He had not always been relegated to a cramped, far-away tower in a forgotten portion of the building. He had not always been the princess's tutor.
Link knew that Master Ryu had once been the Grand Vizier, but he had fallen out of favor with the king over Link.
The king never believed the story that Link's parents told the soldiers who came to call minutes after Ryu left their house that wet, blustery night. Mars and Tatiana had done their best to convince the soldiers that Link had escaped their sight and had fallen off the cliff and into the ocean—and Tatiana's tears over having to give Link up were quite real—but the king found that all too convenient a death. It didn't help that Ryu had disappeared for nearly a month.
When Ryu reappeared, he told the king that a comet had appeared in the sky, and it had thrown off all the start charts he had made. He had gone to the mountains in the east, where the air was more rarefied and many more stars could be seen. There, he had seen that Link's death had changed everything, and he had spent nearly a month re-working Zelda's star charts completely.
The king never believed him or trusted him again. He continued to hold the title of Grand Vizier for a time, but the king stopped confiding in him or asking his opinion. And, increasingly, the king did things himself or delegated someone else to do them—things Ryu had once done for His Majesty.
A few years later, when a young magician began turning heads with his magical power and ability to play politics, it was only a matter of time before the king decided he need a new Grand Vizier, and Ryu was offered the post as tutor to the Princess.
The king had smiled benevolently as he offered Ryu the job, touting it as the most prestigious of positions, since he would be responsible for shaping the princess's education and influencing her decision-making for years to come.
A lesser man than Ryu might have been insulted by the demotion—from being the second most powerful man in the kingdom to being the tutor of a five-year-old—but Ryu merely shrugged and accepted. This shocked everyone—including the king, who thought, for sure, that he would resign in protest—but Ryu had plans that involved the princess, and they were actually better served when he was her tutor, rather than the Grand Vizier. Besides, he knew the best way he could serve the kingdom was to ensure that Link and Zelda got together. If that happened, then the coming apocalypse might very well be avoided.
So he had educated Zelda and guided her future, even while he secretly guided Link's. And, when he perceived that the time was right, he had put them together.
Ryu lowered himself into an arm chair by the fire. He wasn't young anymore—in fact, he was older than almost any other man alive—and his joints ached, especially at night.
He gestured to Link to sit in the chair opposite him.
"What happened tonight?" Ryu asked.
"The Princess climbed out of her window, as I expected she would."
"That's very dangerous; she might fall."
"She's tougher than you think," Link retorted. Ryu noticed his self-confident attitude. He wasn't sure yet if it was an asset or a liability. If Link knew his strengths and limitations—as well as those of the Princess's—then he would be a very great man indeed. If, however, he was arrogant to the point of foolishness, his life, and that of the Princess's, would be in grave danger.
"And once she was out of her room, then what?" Ryu prompted.
"Then we went out."
"Out where?" he asked.
"Outside the city," Link said. Although he had a strong suspicion that Master Ryu had set him up with Zelda and actually wanted him to go with her, he was loathe to reveal too many details. He felt a sense of loyalty to the princess, and he wanted to keep as many of her secrets as he could.
"You went out onto the plains?" Ryu asked, perking a brow.
"There are many wild animals out there. You should be very careful."
"I'm tougher than I look," Link said with a wry smile.
"Be careful, Link," Ryu chastised. "Pride goes before a fall. And you need to make doubly sure that you don't cause the Princess to fall with you."
"Of course not," Link said, sounding slightly offended. "I would never do anything to put the Princess in danger."
"And yet you encouraged her to climb out of a three-story window? And you took her out onto the plains alone?" Ryu pressed.
"If she had fallen, I would have caught her—even if it broke me in the process. And if something tried to attack her, I would have killed it."
He looked at Ryu. "I don't think you understand how much it means to her to be free—free of responsibility and other people's expectations."
"Oh, I think I have some idea of her need for it. After all, I've been her tutor since she was five," Ryu pointed out.
"Yes, but there's still a difference between who she is when she's here, versus who she is when she's outside. When she's outside, she's… she is who she truly is. She is not what other people want her to be, but who she wants to be."
Ryu was impressed; he felt Link understood Zelda quite well—maybe even better than he did himself. It was good that he felt so bonded with her.
"If she wants to be out," Link continued, "then I will do whatever is necessary to make sure she gets out. It makes her so happy, and I would not deny her that for anything."
"Very well," Ryu said. "I will defer to your judgment on this for the time being. I am satisfied that you will keep her safe."
"On my life," Link swore fervently.
Ryu waved him away. "Go to sleep. Just because you've been up half the night doesn't mean you're excused from your work tomorrow. No one can know about you and Zelda."
"I understand," Link said, rising.
He was just opening the door to leave, when he suddenly remembered what had happened that night.
"Master Ryu?" he asked, turning to the old man.
Link shut the door and crossed back to him. "Something strange happened tonight and I wanted to ask you about it."
Ryu sat up a little straighter in his chair. "Strange? What happened?"
"At one point, I offered my hand to the Princess—to help her up—but when she touched it, I felt as if I was somewhere else—somewhere warm and quiet and full of golden light. I was just floating there. And then, suddenly, I was back in my body. Zelda had the same experience at the same instant.
"And not only that, but we both had a mark in our hands that glowed." He showed him the back of his left hand. "A Triforce glowed gold beneath the skin of our hands for several minutes, then eventually faded. It's not reappeared."
Master Ryu relaxed back into his chair. "I can explain part of what happened."
"Yes?" Link asked eagerly.
"All Hylians have the ability to speak telepathically, but only after they've had contact in the flesh."
Ryu removed his glove and held up his hand. "If you want to learn, I can show you how."
Slowly, Link reached out and put the palm of his hand against Ryu's.
In a flash, he was floating, disembodied, in the golden light once again. Expecting it this time, though, he spent his few brief seconds appreciating the untroubled feeling that bathed him like warm bath water.
Then, with a jolt, he was back in his body, looking at Master Ryu.
"Now our minds are linked," Ryu said, withdrawing his hand.
Link looked at his hand, but there was no mark glowing in it. "But what about the Triforce?"
"That I don't understand—at least not fully."
"What part do you understand?" Link asked.
"You and Zelda both share a special destiny. The gods have something in store for both of you. It's possible that you were both marked with that symbol by the gods as… a sort of identification—to show that you were chosen by the gods. Or there may be some other meaning behind it; I'm not sure. But I think it is because of your shared destiny."
Link studied his hand, but saw nothing. "If Zelda and I each have the mark…" he said slowly.
"Yes?" Ryu asked when he didn't finish.
"Does that mean there's a third person who also has a mark? A we two parts of a three-part whole?"
Ryu was thunderstruck; the thought had never occurred to him, although he could see Link's reasoning immediately. Because their land was blessed by three goddesses—each in control of one element of the Triforce—then it would seem reasonable that their three-fold mark would appear more than just two times.
"I don't know," Ryu said, his mind racing with possibilities. "I will have to think about it and consult the stars."