A Perfect Man
Zelda awoke the next morning feeling rather happy and content. It took her a moment to realize why: Link was lying behind her with his arm draped over her body. Despite being wet and sleeping on the ground once again, she had slept better than she had in days.
The rain had finally stopped and the sun was shining brightly on a warm morning; the birds called back and forth noisily. Link checked their position against the map and the compass and found they were barely off course—an amazing feat, considering neither of them had been able to see more than a few feet in front of them the previous day.
Over the course of the next few days, they passed through an ever-changing landscape: forests, plains, bamboo, hills, gorges, more mesas. Although it didn't rain on them again, the typhoon had inundated the land so thoroughly, every river, creek, and ditch was full to overflowing. Crossing rivers was sometimes tricky, but they never lacked for water.
They also never lacked for fresh food, which allowed them to save their precious stores of pemmican for the desert. Link kept Zelda's bow in-hand and shot at anything that tried to flee before them: birds, rabbits, ground squirrels. One day, on the banks of a river, he killed a rather large turtle and showed Zelda how to use the shell as an impromptu pot for soup. Occasionally, he went hunting in his eagle form and caught a fish or two.
He was also very familiar with the plants in that area—since that's what he had been trained to identify at the monastery. There were plenty of tender spring greens and roots, plus sweet flowers and spices for their meat, to the point that Zelda hardly felt deprived.
Link still talked very little, though. During the day, he would go long periods without saying anything at all, but in the evening, when they made camp and cooked dinner, he did make some conversation. Zelda knew he was trying for her sake, but it remained to be seen whether he was actually coming out of his depression, or if he was just putting on a mask to please her. And, in truth, he probably didn't even know himself; by his own admission, he had been trained all his life to bury his true feelings.
Still, it was better than the alternative, and Zelda still had hope that if they made progress, he would genuinely feel better.
They made good time, and on their fifth day out, they began to notice the landscape changing. The warm spring weather they had been enjoying for several weeks began to grow hotter and drier until it felt like the middle of summer. The trees and bamboo disappeared completely and the grass on the plain began to fade from jewel-green to nearly brown. It also became more sparse as the soil became more sandy.
When they came across a small creek—more a ditch than a true body of water—Link hopped off Zelda's back. "I think we better fill up the waterskins here," he said. "It doesn't look like we'll find anything else before we cross into the desert."
Zelda changed into her human form and, together, they slowly filled all the bags.
Link looked around. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was still hot. "I think we'll stay here for tonight—or, at least part of the night," he amended.
"What do you mean?"
"Hols said it would be best for us to travel at night in the desert. We'll be there in an hour or two—so close to sunset. We'll either have to press on without sleeping, or we'll have to wait all night and through tomorrow. If I'm going to stop, I'd rather do it here, where we have water. And if we can get some rest, we can make it most of the night. I don't want to go out there too fatigued, because it'll make us clumsy and slow."
Zelda agreed that was a sensible plan, so Link pitched their little shelter—it was more lean-to than a proper tent—and they lay down to rest.
Zelda wasn't aware of falling asleep until Link gently shook her awake. "Let's go," he said quietly.
She rubbed her eyes and rolled over to look out of the tent. The sun had slipped below the horizon and the sky in the west was a soft, glowing orange. The rest of the colors of the rainbow spread across the wide-open sky, fading to a deep purple in the east.
"The sunset here is almost as pretty as the one we saw when we went east across Erenrue," Zelda remarked.
Link was busy packing, but he stopped to turn around and appreciate the sky. "Many of the brothers have spent some time in the desert—or at least on its borders—for just such a reason: it is wild and beautiful and remote. Some come here seeking silence so they can commune with the gods; some come to be inspired in poetry and the arts."
He turned back to his packing. "One of the great abbots—after he returned from a retreat here—came to the conclusion that you need not go anywhere to seek the gods; they are found in every beautiful thing and in every kind action. They are constantly trying to reach us every day; we need not look any farther than our own backyards to find them."
Zelda considered his words for a moment. "If that's true," she said slowly, working through the philosophy in her mind, "then a beautiful sunset like this and kindness from people like Hols would indicate that the gods are still trying to speak to us—that they have not abandoned this world completely. Maybe it only seems so because not enough of us are listening to them."
That brought Link up short. She watched his face as he worked through her logic for himself, but after a moment, he frowned a little, looking perplexed; he could not come up with a counter-argument.
They ate some leftover rabbit meat, then drank deeply from the creek and topped off the waterskin. It took Link some time to load the baskets on Zelda's back because the waterskins made the baskets too heavy to lift all at once, as he had been doing. Instead, he had to put them on mostly empty, then add the water a few skins at a time in each basket.
When he, at last, hopped onto her back, she really noticed the extra weight; it was like carrying two more people Link's size.
"Don't worry," he said, when she casually mentioned it. "The load will get lighter every day."
The temperature was rather pleasant when they started out, but as the sky quickly darkened, it dropped steadily—to the point that around midnight, Link called a halt.
"I'm cold," he said. "I need to dig out a cloak. Do need to rest? Do you want something to eat?"
I wouldn't mind getting this load off my back for a little while, she admitted.
He hopped down and unloaded enough water that he was able to get the pannier baskets off her back. Then she transformed and sat down on the ground with a weary sigh.
"Is it too much weight for you?" he asked, looking at her with concern.
She shook her head a little. "I'll just have to rest a little more often. But, as you said, the load will get lighter as we go along."
"I can walk; that will take a good deal of weight off of you."
"But I walk faster than you can; if you walk, we'll be slowed down."
"If we have to rest more often, we'll be slowed down anyways," he pointed out, as he sat down beside her. "Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. I just don't want you to strain your back under the load; if you do, then we'll go nowhere fast."
She perked a brow. "I seem to recall I made a similar argument with you when we were crossing the Great Northern Mountains and you wouldn't stop to rest."
"Do as I say, not as I do."
"You're full of shit, you know that, right?"
He laughed. It startled Zelda, because it had seemed like forever since she had heard him laugh. It sounded so very genuine, she couldn't help but think that it really was.
"Now, Your Highness," he said, chastising her, even as he smiled, "that's no way for a princess to speak."
"Ah, I see—more of the disparity. You can curse and blaspheme enough to turn an old sailor's ears blue, but I cannot utter one profanity."
He looked embarrassed. "Yes… well… about that. I never apologized for speaking that way. I shouldn't have lost control of my temper like that."
"Link, you do know that emotions are normal, right? Gods know I have a temper and there are times when I unleash it. Sometimes—usually," she corrected, "I'm ashamed for having done it, but at the same time, I generally feel better for getting everything off my chest.
"You shouldn't keep everything in all the time. That's why you blew up as badly as you did. It was like… like all the anger you've ever had in your life came out at once."
He nodded a little. "Yeah, it did feel like that."
"If you have smaller tantrums more often, then you won't have to have a big, ugly one like that again," she said sagely.
He thought about it a moment, then shook his head. "That's not the way I was raised. And I'm not sure if it's even in my personality to do that. I always have to be in control."
"And what happens when you lose control? You scare children. And me."
He looked at her, pained. "Did I scare you?"
"To some degree, yes—more so for your sake, though. It's not like I thought you were going to throw something at me."
He looked horrified. "I would never, ever do something like that."
"I know. I trusted you. That's why I stayed."
He looked out into the dark, starry night; Zelda could tell he was terribly embarrassed. "I am very sorry that you saw—and heard—me like that. I said—and did—things that weren't appropriate for anyone to say and do—much less me, and much less in front of you."
"Link, have you not heard a word I've said?" she asked with a sigh. "I'm telling you that you need to let go more often, and you keep talking about holding it in more."
He looked down at his hands. "That's who I am, Princess. I must be perfect."
She was shocked. "Link, no one is perfect."
"I can't afford to be anything else. I can't afford to let you down—much less let anything happen to you. I can't afford to fail. If I fail, everyone in the world will die—you, my family, all the people in Erenrue that we promised to save, all the kind people who have helped us… everyone. Everything rests on me. Me."
His voice grew more and more high-pitched, his breath coming faster.
"There is no room for a mistake. There is no room for a sword that cannot be fixed—for demons that can't be killed—for a rift that can't be closed—for a Nagadii that can't be killed. You… the gods… Hyrule… Erenrue… Shi-Ha… everyone everywhere… they're watching me, waiting for me. Everything hinges on me. Nothing moves forward without me, and everyone dies if I fail. I can't fail. I have only once chance. I can't be less than perfect."
She moved over to him and wrapped her arms around him. He was trembling, close to hyperventilating.
"Don't you see I have to be perfect?" he demanded. "Everything depends on me. And sometimes I can't bear it." Tears began to stream out of his eyes. "What if my best isn't good enough? What if I have to chose between saving you and saving the world? What if the Master Sword can't be fixed? There's not a damn thing I can do about it if it can't. But it will be my fault."
"Link, it won't be your fault," she said soothingly.
"It will be!" he insisted vehemently. "This is my destiny. My burden. If some part of my quest fails, it will be because of me. It will be because I've not been good enough and the gods will have taken away their blessing; they will curse the enterprise and abandon us all to death."
"Link, you're being irrational," Zelda argued. "The gods would not give you a quest that you could not complete. They would not set you a task that's impossible. And since it's impossible for anyone to be perfect, they cannot expect it of you."
"That is what I feel," he said sadly.
"What you feel is your own insecurity—your own doubt," she said with firm conviction. "It's normal for everyone to feel that way. I feel it frequently… especially if I'm fighting against you with a sword," she added with a small smile. He didn't return it.
"Link, you have to let go of this idea that you need to be perfect," she pleaded. "Don't you see? It's eating you up inside. That's why you've been talking about giving up and walking away. You know, in your heart, that you can't be perfect—that you can't do everything you feel you should to—that you can't carry the weight of the entire world on your shoulders. You want to blame it on the gods and walk away with a clear conscience. But you can't, because deep down you know that it's your job to try—not try to be perfect, but to try your very best. If you walk away, you will have failed. If you try, though, I think you will find that the gods will help you on your way.
"You don't have to be a perfect man," she continued. "You just have to be the best man you can be. Let everything else go."
"I don't know how," he said mournfully. "I don't know how."
"Start with the fact that you're one of the best men I know—probably the best. So I think you have that part down; you just need to keep doing what you do naturally. The only hard part is ignoring the parts you can't control. Don't look too far ahead. Don't worry about things that haven't happened yet."
He sighed wearily, but didn't argue with her.
She gently kissed his temple and rested her head against his. "Link," she said softly, "many months ago, you gave me advice that I have always tried to follow. You told me to have hope in my destiny and to just keep moving forward, one step at a time. Now, you need to do the same thing. Trust that you will fulfill your destiny to save Hyrule and take just one step towards it."
He was quiet for a moment, then gave a bit of a sniff. "I suppose it would look bad if I didn't take my own advice," he admitted at last.
"Yes, it would."
"Besides, it sounds rather wise." Then he turned and smiled a little at her.