The True Sword
Hols had a few mouthfuls of food, then he took the broken sword and hurried away. His wife—whom he had introduced as Lia—smiled a little as she watched his retreating form.
"You have given him a great challenge—perhaps the biggest in his life," she told Link and Zelda. "He will not rest or eat until he learns the truth or collapses."
Zelda was alarmed. "We didn't intend for him to go to such extremes; we don't want him to harm himself."
Lia brushed away their concern, like a wife who had long ago accepted her husband's quirks and had learned to deal with them. "He lives for this sort of thing," she said. "This will make him happier than any amount of money."
Zelda paled; she hadn't thought about money. So far, they had been relying on family, friends, and people who owed old favors; Hols, however, owed them nothing, and so probably expected some form of compensation—besides his happiness.
Zelda glanced at Link and saw he was thinking the same thing.
Link turned to Lia. "I'm afraid we don't have any money at the moment; we left Hyrule with nothing but the clothes on our backs. And the clothes on our backs now aren't even ours."
Lia waved his concern away again. "I think your quest is payment enough. If we can help you succeed, you can repay us by giving our son a future in this world."
Link nodded. "Thank you."
Hols didn't appear again for the rest of the day. Lia fed Link and Zelda supper and they talked a long time, exchanging information about their different cultures. Then Lia got up to prepare beds for them.
"Toru," she said, addressing her son, "get your bedding together for me and carry what you can into mine and Father's room; you'll sleep with us."
"We don't want to put anyone out," Zelda hurried to say. "We can sleep here in your common room."
"Oh, we have a guest room, but only one; one of you can have that and Toru can sleep in our room."
"Her Highness and I will share a room," Link said. "I don't like for us to be separated—not when there's such a high price on our heads."
"Well, if that's what you prefer…."
"Yes, please," Link said.
Lia quickly prepared two beds for them in the guest room. Zelda was surprised to see that the mattresses were put right on the floor—there was no bedstead. She supposed it did make it easier to add beds or move them out and use the room for some other purpose, but she still found it strange to sleep on a bed on the floor.
She found it even stranger to sleep alone. Once Lia left, Link got ready for bed and crawled into the bed closest to the door. He didn't invite Zelda over, nor act like he expected her to come to him.
Feeling increasingly hurt, she got into her own bed and rolled over, facing the wall, but it was a long time before she could get to sleep.
Some hours later, Zelda was startled out of a deep, dreamless sleep by a loud shout.
She jerked awake. There, in the doorway, stood a large man, wielding a dagger and shouting something.
She froze with fear. He's found us, she thought as she looked at Nagadii's assassin in the doorway.
Link rolled out of bed, grabbing his sword—which he kept right beside him—and somehow he managed to end up on his feet between the would-be assassin and Zelda, his sword held ready.
The man in the doorway held up his hands in a friendly gesture. "Peace!"
It took Zelda a moment to realize that the voice was familiar. It was no assassin; it was Hols.
A light appeared behind Hols—the "dagger" in his hand was only the broken stub of the sword—and Lia smacked him sharply on the shoulder, making him cringe.
"Hols, you idiot! What were you thinking, barging in like that and scaring them half to death?"
"I wasn't thinking," he said with a sheepish grin.
"That much is apparent," she fussed. "You're lucky they didn't kill you by accident, thinking you were here to kill them."
Hols looked even more embarrassed. "I didn't think about that."
"We would appreciate it if you did think about it in the future," Link said, bending down to get his sword belt. He sheathed his sword. "Her Highness is an excellent shot with a bow," he added. "Another moment, and she might have put an arrow through you."
"My apologies. I won't do it again," he vowed.
"So, why did you wake us up in the middle of the night?"
He suddenly grinned; it made him look much younger—like a boy. "I have solved the mystery of your sword. Come, and I'll explain."
Without a backward glance to see if they were following, he hurried down the hallway.
Lia was still standing in the doorway, holding a lamp. She smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry. When my husband is excited about something, he can't think of anything else; he throws his common sense out the window."
"It's alright," Link assured her. "We'll be with him in a moment."
She left them the lamp, then disappeared. It wasn't until she was gone that Link let out a deep breath.
Zelda also let out a shaky breath. "Gods! I thought someone was here to kill us," she whispered to Link.
"I thought the same thing," he admitted, bending down to pick up his tunic.
Zelda got out the bed. "How did you react so quickly?"
"Practice," he said, pulling on his tunic. As if he was still feeling paranoid, he buckled on his sword belt as well. "At the monastery, some of the younger monks used to run into the dormitory in the middle of the night yelling and making a lot of noise," he explained. "Anyone who didn't put up a fight or hide, they would carry off and make them do lines or exercises for the rest of the night. So I was conditioned from an early age to reach for a weapon the instant someone woke me up with a shout."
Zelda looked at her bow and arrows still propped up against the wall near her head. "I wouldn't have shot Hols," she admitted. "I was too scared to even think, much less grab for my bow."
"That's because we're in a house with friendly people and you let your guard down," Link said practically. "I don't think you would be so slow if we were camping out in the open. But," he added, "you mustn't let your guard down, even when we're being hosted by nice people; you can't let your guard down again until you are safe in your own bed in Hyrule once again."
They went into the common room and sat down at the table. Hols was there with the broken sword laid out in front of him.
"So, what have you found out?" Link asked.
Hols spread his hands, indicating the sword. "This is the Master Sword of legend," he said proudly.
Link and Zelda looked at each other, then looked at the rusty, broken sword. There was a noticeable moment of silence.
Then Link spoke. "And what makes you think that this rusty… thing is the Master Sword?"
Hols was clearly eager to tell them the details; he looked as excited as a boy showing off a new toy. "Well, for one thing, it matches all the descriptions I could find—down to its length."
He picked up the hilt portion and pointed to the decoration on the crosspiece. "This is exactly the same as an illustration I have. And everything's been properly made; it's not a quick, cheap reproduction, like you would expect with a fake.
Link glanced at Zelda again. She could see he was completely skeptical.
"Is it possible that the blade of the original sword was broken or removed and the hilt was just put on a regular blade?" Zelda conjectured.
"No, and I'll tell you why."
Hols pointed the end of the broken blade at them and pointed to the edge. "I examined the composition of the metal here at the break under a jeweler's magnifying glass. It's not steel."
There was another moment's silence.
"What is it?" Link asked, looking perplexed.
"I'm not sure it has a name. All I can tell you is that it is no metal found in this world. Which, is actually in keeping with one legend I found. Supposedly, the Goddess Hylia plucked a star from the heavens and made the sword from it—or, at least, made the sword's first incarnation from it. The origin and life of the Master Sword is all very speculative; it's hard to know what the truth is."
Link looked at Zelda again. The doubt in his eyes had been replaced by fear. Slowly, he crossed his arms on top of the table, then hid his face in them, in defeat.
"This is the worst news possible," he mumbled.
"Why?" Zelda asked. They had the Master Sword—which is what they had been searching for. If Hols would fix it for them, then they could continue their mission.
Link's head snapped up. "Because, it's broken," he said angrily. "If it was just a fake, then the real Master Sword would still be out there somewhere, waiting to be found. But with the real sword broken, the situation is hopeless; we can't kill demons with it like it is."
"Can't Hols fix it?" she asked, glancing at Hols.
Link snorted. "Fix something made with a metal that doesn't exist on earth?"
Zelda looked at Hols helplessly, hoping he would save them.
"I've been thinking about this," he offered. "There are only two possible solutions that I can come up with." He put down the hilt and picked up the blade, pointing to the end where it had broken off. "I can weld the broken pieces together—at least, I'm pretty sure I can do it—but this part here is thin and close to breaking off; I can't weld the other half to it like it is.
"Now, if this was a regular sword, and someone was determined to keep it—for sentimental reasons or something—then I would just grind off this thin part and weld the two halves back together.
"That sounds simple enough," Zelda said, trying to be encouraging.
"It's a bit of work, but nothing overly complicated," Hols agreed.
"If it was that simple, you'd already be working on it," Link pointed out, sounding as bitter as ever.
"Well, yes," Hols admitted. "The thing that worries me about doing that is that this sword is thirty-three inches from hilt to tip. Also, the width of the blade at the hilt is three inches. Three threes… I think that's significant; after all, three is a sacred number. I'm afraid if I cut it down and change its length, it will lose its magical properties."
"You said you had two ideas," Zelda hurried to say, fearful Link might throw his hands up and declare the situation completely hopeless.
"Well, the other option is to grind off the weak part—as I said—but then use a piece between it and the hilt portion and make up the difference. That way, the sword can retain its proper dimensions.
"The problem with that," he continued, "is that I can't patch this with regular steel. I don't think the two metals will bond because they probably heat at different temperatures; I can't weld them together if they're not the exact same temperature. That, and I think a common substance, like steel, would ruin the sacred quality of it. It's made of a heavenly metal for a reason."
"Which is a long detour to get right back to where we were, which is that this is hopeless," Link interjected.
Even Zelda found the last bit of her hope fading away. "If it's made from a star, and that's what we need to repair it, then Link's right: it's hopeless."
"Not entirely. Stars fall from the sky all the time: if you lie out all night, looking at the sky, you'll see a few; and sometimes there are a great many of them. Some are small and probably don't amount to anything, but one night some years ago, a large star fell from the sky; it was so bright, you could almost see to read by it standing outdoors.
"We had a few astronomers staying with us at the time, observing the stars over the ocean, and they calculated a trajectory for the star. They didn't know how far it might have gone, but they more or less knew the line it was following.
"Myself and a few others mounted an expedition to find the star. I hoped that it might contain a metal better than steel... like this," he said, tapping the Master Sword. "Others hoped that it might contain silver or gold or some sort of heavenly gems.
"We hiked for days, but we didn't find it before we reached the border of the Southern Lands. I was willing to press on, but the rest of the men refused to go into that place, and I didn't dare go it alone, so we turned back."
"If that star is still there, it might contain what I need to fix the sword."
"Might," Link said with a snort. "You think. You suppose. You guess. Are you seriously suggesting we go into the most dangerous region of the world on nothing more than a hunch that there might be a star, it might have what you need, and you might be able to fix the sword?"
Hols spread his hands. "Those are your two options: patch it together and hope I'm wrong about the need for the dimensions to stay the same, or get the star and let me patch it together with that."
Link just shook his head in disbelief.
"You said that the star-metal was better than steel," Zelda said. "If that's the case, then why did the Master Sword rust at all?"
"I have a theory about that, too. Historically, the Master Sword has always rested in a stone or something like that in the middle of the Lost Woods. Every time the Hero needs it, he goes there and gets it, and when he's defeated all the evil, he puts it back.
"From what I understand, where the Master Sword rests was once a temple, back in ancient times—a temple that may have belonged to Hylia herself, which is fitting. But more than that: it's said that the temple was outside of time; time passed at a different rate inside the temple than without.
"For some reason that I've yet to discover, the Master Sword was never returned to its resting place in the Lost Woods after it was used the last time. It seems that there was some worry that it might be stolen or used for evil purposes, so the Hylian monks took it, instead, and they constructed a dangerous labyrinth under their monastery to guard it. Over time, the knowledge of where it was located was lost to everyone but the monks—thus adding yet another layer of protection against would-be thieves."
"But I think that was the wrong thing to do. Sacred objects are funny: they don't remain sacred if they are left lying about like common objects. It's like… like the normal world drains away their magic. They must remain in a sacred location to retain their power.
"I think that might have been what happened to the Master Sword: it couldn't survive outside its stone. When put in an ordinary box inside a labyrinth, it became like an ordinary sword and eventually, after hundreds of years, it rusted in two.
"Either that, or its stone still rests in that long-lost temple of time and that makes it immune to the normal ravages of time and weather. I mean, do you know how old this sword is? Thousands of years old! A steel sword would have rusted into nothing ages and ages ago; that it's this intact is amazing. Something has been preserving it all these years—be it a sacred place, or a place out of time, or both—and when it was removed from that preservative, it aged like any other thing."
Link suddenly pushed himself to his feet. "Thank you for taking the time to look into this for us," he said briskly, then he headed back to the bedroom.
Zelda looked at Hols apologetically. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Link's normally not like this—in fact, I've never known him to be like this. He has suffered so much over the last few months, and when he found the sword broken, it just… broke him. He's not been the same since."
Hols nodded. "I can understand. I mean, when I finally decided this was the real Master Sword, even I shed a few tears to see it brought so low." He picked up the hilt again and looked at it. "I mean, this is the stuff of my dreams—the thing I have been studying most of my life. And now I have it in my hands, but it's broken and useless.
"I can only imagine what Link is feeling. I weep for a broken sword, but what must he feel for a world that is broken and cannot be repaired?"
Hols put the hilt back on the table. "I will go after the star for you," he declared. "And I will bring it back and repair the sword. It's the least I can do, considering the magnitude of what you and Link are going to do. I have a child; I have to make sure there's a world for him to inherit."
Zelda felt equal parts touched and guilty about Hols' offer. "You can't go," she argued. "If something happened to you, there would be no way to fix the sword. And if there is no star, or it's not what you think it is, then we'll need you to try to fix it as it is and hope that it works. And if we're not successful at all, then your family will need you to protect them from what's coming."
Zelda shook her head. "No, we'll go."
"Do you think he will?" Hols asked, looking down the hallway.
"I'll find a way to get him to go," Zelda vowed, rising from the table. "He's never disappointed me yet. His sense of honor and duty is stronger than any sense of hopelessness. …I think."
She walked into the bedroom and found Link had already blown out the lamp and lay down in bed again. He had his hands crossed behind his head and he was staring up at the ceiling; even in the dim light coming down the hallway from the common room, Zelda could see that he looked moody.
She closed the door behind her, then crossed the room and took a seat on her bed. She looked at him for a minute, giving him a chance to voice his thoughts or opinion on the matter. When he didn't speak, though, she initiated the conversation.
"Hols offered to go get the star for us."
"Good for him. About time we quit killing ourselves—and our families—for no purpose; let others share that burden."
Zelda frowned at him. "I told him not to go. He has a family."
"And we didn't?!" Link demanded. He turned to look at her, his eyes snapping in the moonlight that filtered through the open window. "Why should we be the only ones to lose our loved ones? Why are we the only ones to suffer?"
"Does it make things better for others to suffer, too?" she snapped back, getting aggravated with him. "Does that bring back my grandfather and uncle? Does that spare your family? No, that just adds to the misery in the world, and I think we have quite enough of that to go around."
"So your solution for correcting it is for us to suffer more? How many times do we have to be martyred for a cause that's hopeless? Face it: the gods have withdrawn their grace from this world. Why else would the Master Sword be allowed to rust? That should be proof that the gods have abandoned us."
"You don't mean that," Zelda said.
But even as he said it, Zelda heard—or, rather, felt—his doubt. His mind was saying one thing, but his heart believed something else. At the moment, his heart was so broken, it couldn't put up a fight, so the logical part of his brain was winning out, but that didn't mean that, deep down, he had really given up.
"Well, then, what do you propose we do?" Zelda demanded.
"I don't know. I just know it doesn't matter, one way or the other."
"Well, maybe not for you, but it matters to me!" she declared hotly. "I'm going after the star because that's the best hope we have at the moment. If I fail, then, I guess I'll just die a little bit sooner than I would otherwise. But I'm not going to sit around and wait for death to come to me; I'm going to fight against it for as long as I can.
"Funny to think I learned that from you, of all people."
She lay down and rolled over in a huff, her back to him. He didn't speak again, and it was nearly dawn before she slipped into a light, restless sleep.