Another Piece of the Puzzle
A few seconds later, Link found himself standing in the common room in Hols' house. Before he knew what was happening, eager hands relieved him of his burden.
"Link, this is wonderful!" Hols declared triumphantly, examining the metallic ball like it was a great gem. "It's everything I expected it to be."
"You can repair the sword with it?"
"I think so. It has impurities in it, of course, so I will have to smelt it…." His voice trailed off and he wandered towards the stairs, still rolling the metal around in his hands, looking at it from every angle.
"How long will it take?" Link asked, as Hols started down the stairs—apparently forgetting Link and Zelda were even there.
Hols glanced up. "What? Oh, some days. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I've never worked with this stuff before, you know. It will take me a little while to figure out how best to use it."
Link nodded a little. He felt impatient, but there was nothing he could do about it. Hols was the only person in the world who might be able to repair the sword; he had to work on his own time. Besides, it was not a job to be done poorly.
Link and Zelda spent their days sleeping or idling around the house. Link didn't want to draw too much attention to their presence in the city, so they avoided going out during the daytime. Occasionally, Hols would ask for his help—he had to cart several wheelbarrows full of sea coal to the shore, where Hols had a smelting furnace—but, for the most part, they rarely saw Hols. Lia took him his meals more often than he came home to eat them, and he never seemed to sleep.
At night, though, Link and Zelda would leave the city for a little while and go farther down the shore, where they could be alone. Lia had given Zelda a short little dress that the women in Olchi wore to swim in, and she and Link would spend hours swimming in the ocean, enjoying the cool water after so many dry, hot days. When they grew tired, they would lie on the beach and look at the stars.
Link found it strange to have nothing to do but rest and wait. All his life, he had had one more goal to achieve; he never mastered one thing, but there was a new challenge ready for him to start. But it was more than even that; he had always been—more or less—the master of his own destiny. Yes, the gods had set a heavy burden on him, and yes, Master Ryu had encouraged his compliance with it in every way, but when it came right down to it, Link had been the one driving himself. He was accustomed to seeing his goal and working hard to achieve it. And while he sought others' wisdom and help, for the most part, he did everything alone.
So it felt strange to him that he should now completely turn over a major portion of the enterprise to someone else and just wait. He was a go-getter—a self-starter—an independent thinker—a young man driven by ambition—but here he was, now, sitting around and waiting on someone else.
Normally, he was highly impatient in such situations. But, at the moment, it wasn't bothering him… too much. Either he was starting to get the hang of letting go of things he couldn't control—as Zelda had advised—or the rigors of the quest were starting to wear him down to the point that he actually felt the need to rest.
Or maybe there was just something melodic about the sea that soothed him in a way nothing else could. From his youngest days, he had always associated the ocean with home and relaxation. It was a place where he could be loved and doted on—where he could sleep late and little was expected of him—where he could play and speak openly; it was the one place where he was free of his destiny; it was where he could be a child, not a hero-in-training.
The mindset of people who lived by the ocean was different than people who lived on land. On land, time was linear: spring progressed to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter. Then everyone grew a year older and time marched forward.
On the ocean, though, there was only today. Every day was a new day—a day when fortunes might rise or fall, when storms might come, or beautiful weather might prevail, when people might come home or never be seen again. Every day had to be taken on its own merits; every day, the cycle of life began again. It was a place constantly in the now.
So, maybe it was hard for him to worry too much about the future or time wasted; he was at the sea, and the sea ran on its own schedule. There could be no future plans; when something happened, it would happen with a startling suddenness.
"I like the ocean," Zelda said one night, as they lay on the beach, drying off. "I just don't think I ever want to get out of sight of land again."
"Understandable," Link replied.
"I like the people here, too—if Hols and Lia are representative of them. I think, when I'm queen, I would like to do more with Shi-Ha—maybe some sort of intellectual exchange—we could send our scholars here to learn from them and they could do the same."
"You have to be careful," Link warned. "Hyrule has always been closely aligned with Erenrue—and they are your immediate kin. You could cause all sorts of problems if you are overly-friendly with their long-time rival."
"But Rayliss will be on the throne—provided, dear gods, that nothing has happened to her. I don't think she is the sort who would be all that interested in carrying on the feud."
"Even if she's not, what will her nobles think? Remember, mercenaries from Shi-Ha fought on Nagadii's side just a couple of months ago."
"Yes, but for a while, we were all fighting against Nagadii's demons—Hyrule and Erenrue and Shi-Ha soldiers were all fighting together."
"That's only because everyone was more afraid of the demons than each other. Once Nagadii had control of the battle, the men of Shi-Ha turned on us again. Don't you remember that it was they who were running us down when we tried to flee?"
Zelda frowned, but couldn't dispute the facts. "Still," she said after a moment, "maybe after everything's said and done, we can have peace between all three countries. I mean, it seems silly to hang onto such old squabbles in light of what's happened."
"I'm not saying your sentiment is wrong," Link argued, "but I think you aren't fully considering the players involved. Shi-Ha has something to prove: that it can function well without a monarch. And, as we've seen first-hand, Erenrue's culture revolves around warfare.
"I think they both fight, not because they have to, but because they want to."
Zelda shook her head. "I don't understand that."
"That's because it's not our culture," he pointed out. "Hyrule has always loved peace. And we've always been prosperous and politically stable, so we have nothing to prove. We only go to war when there's no other choice. Even the Knights of Hyrule were not full-time soldiers; they spent most of their time as scholars, blacksmiths, or lords overseeing the administration of the various provinces.
"We've never glorified war."
"Why would anyone want to?" Zelda asked.
Link put his hands behind his head and stared up at the sky. "I guess because it gives every man a chance to feel like a hero."
She looked at him. "Do you feel better or more manly or something because you're the Chosen Hero?"
"I think it just makes me feel tired," he quipped with a smile. Then he grew more serious as he considered her question. "I've never had a choice," he said slowly. "For as long as I can remember, someone has been telling me that I have a great destiny to fulfill.
"But what about people who don't have that? What about men who are just born to be farmers? Or fishermen? What if you spend your entire life doing nothing but living?"
Zelda looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean? You're supposed to spend your life living."
"No, I mean… just living—just surviving. What if you make no difference? Leave no mark on the world? What if your presence is so insignificant that it doesn't matter one way or the other if you ever existed?
"I can see how that feeling might lead some men to try and do something grander. I mean, I would want to feel like I've made a positive impact on the world."
"But… war is a negative thing," Zelda argued. "Wouldn't you be making a negative impact on the world if you participate in it?"
"Well, I guess that depends on what side you're on and your justification for doing it."
"I think there are ways to make a positive impact on the world without resorting to killing."
"I agree. But at the same time, there will always be evil in the world. Some people must be prepared to fight when others come to take what is not theirs. If we all gave up the arts of war, who would be able to step forward in the defense of good when the time comes? Look at Hyrule; look at how easily Nagadii was able to conquer it—simply because we have no army and no men, outside the Castle Guard, who are trained to fight.
"At least Erenrue went down swinging. And had Nagadii started in Erenrue, he would have never succeeded in his coup; the nobles of Erenrue would have overwhelmed him before he had a chance to get entrenched.
"Apparently our own nobles were not up to the task."
Zelda frowned, but didn't reply.
"We need a standing army or to revive the Knights of Hyrule—something," Link pressed. "Not because we want to go to war, but because we want to be ready if it comes to us. We have to strike a balance between being too aggressive and too passive."
She pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. "Like you?" she asked.
"You've trained all of your life to be a warrior—a knight—but you don't go around picking fights. You're a knight so you can defend yourself, me, and Hyrule, but not so you can make war on someone else."
She rolled over and looked at him. "What if I ordered you to lead an army?"
"Why am I leading them?"
"I want to take over Shi-Ha."
"Are they threatening us?"
"No. I just think they would be better off if they were part of our kingdom."
He frowned. "I'd have a problem with that."
"Would you tell me 'no'?"
"I would certainly try to talk you out of your plan. I would point out that it's not honorable."
"But what if I insist?"
"Then you would make me choose between what is honorable and my duty to you."
"…I don't know," he said honestly. "But… I think I would not follow your orders."
She nodded, as if she was satisfied with his answer, then rolled onto her back again. "My grandfather said that about you."
"What did he say about me?"
"He told me that the only way I would ever lose your loyalty is if I did something wrong—if I deserved to lose it."
"That's a fair assessment," he agreed.
"I hope it never comes to that point."
"It won't. I trust you to do what's right." He smiled a little. "If I didn't, I would have never given you my loyalty."
"I thought you gave me your loyalty because you were destined to do so?"
"I gave you my loyalty, in the beginning, because you were my sovereign and it's my duty. But that's long ceased to be a reason—or, at least, the primary reason."
"Why are you loyal to me, then?"
"Because we have been through the fires of hell together. You have saved my life; I have saved yours. That is something that binds men together as strongly as blood. In fact, I've seen men who have been soldiers for a long time who are closer to the men whom they have served with than with their own families.
"There really aren't words to describe it, but… it's almost like a blood oath. When you shed your blood for another man, and he for you, it binds you together in an ancient, unwritten sort of magic.
"I could no sooner be disloyal to you than I could to my mother, who gave me life."
She was thoughtful for a long moment. "Is that another reason why men like to go to war? Because, if they survive, they have people who are like family to them?"
"Yes, I think that's a part of it, too. And, see, Erenrue goes to war so often, they're all intertwined like that. I think that's why so many people died trying to help us live: not because they owed you any loyalty as the granddaughter of the king, but because you rode into battle with them. When you volunteered to shed your blood with them, you became one of them."
"Hmm," she said. "I guess I can see why men would want that feeling—I mean, I like it. I like feeling like I belong—like I'm a contributing member of something bigger than myself. I don't ever want to be a monarch who sits around and waits for others to do things for me—who lives apart from everyone else."
She sighed a little. "I guess war isn't black or white."
"No, it never is."
Just over a week after they returned from the desert, Link and Zelda were sitting on cushions in the common room, talking and enjoying the fresh, tangy wind blowing through the open windows, when Hols came up the stairs. He had been gone for so long, they had almost forgotten he lived there.
He moved slowly, as if at a great state occasion, and in his hands—held like the sacred relic that it was—was the Master Sword, whole and shining in the light of the sun.
Link held his breath and stared at it as Hols came near. He didn't dare to hope that, at last, he had possession of the one item he needed to undo all of Nagadii's evil.
Hols stopped before Link and silently offered the sword to him.
Link looked it over from the tip of the blade to the pommel. It had been polished until it shined like new, and there was no obvious sign of the repair.
Curious—and more than a little awestruck—Link reached out and took the sword from Hols and held it up to the light, examining it quite closely. He knew where the break in the blade had been, but as close as he looked, he could see nothing to indicate that it had been pieced back together—no hairline crack, no discoloration between the original blade and the patch piece—nothing.
He turned the sword over and examined the other side, but it was just as flawless.
"Hols, I… I don't have words for this," Link said quietly. "It takes a lot of skill to repair a blade, but to do it without leaving any trace…. This is absolutely remarkable. I know of no blacksmith alive who is your equal; you must surely be ranked with the best in history."
He glanced up at Hols, thinking to see him smiling and perhaps looking a little embarrassed by the praise, but he was surprised to see, instead, that Hols' face was closed and guarded. He almost looked unhappy or disturbed by something.
"How does it feel in your hand?" Hols asked.
Link pushed himself to his feet and hefted the sword in his hand, feeling the weight, then he swung it around a few times. He tried it in his right hand, then gripped it with both. Unlike his sword, which was for a single hand only, the Master Sword had what was called a hand-a-half hilt; it was long enough for both hands close together, but still short enough that it could be used comfortably with just one. That meant that he could use it by itself in a stance that allowed him to block with it, or he could use it with a shield.
"It's longer than my sword," Link said, "so that will take a little getting used to, but this metal is obviously lighter than steel, because it's not heavier; in fact, it may be a touch lighter." He swung it around a few more times. "I'm surprised; that rock felt awfully heavy when I picked it up."
"That's because it had a lot of impurities in it," Hols said. "I had to get them out before I was left with the pure metal."
Link nodded. He held the out, at arm's length. "I like the balance," he declared. "I feel like I could hold it like this all day."
"Is that all?" Hols asked.
Link put his arm down, looking at him in confusion. "What do you mean? It's a wonderful sword; I don't know what else I can say about it."
"I mean… do you feel something when you hold it?"
Link glanced at Zelda, but she looked just as puzzled. "I don't know. What should I feel?" Link asked, looking back at Hols.
"I'm not sure, but you should feel something—like power, I guess. It's said that the Master Sword chooses its master; if anyone else tries to possess it, it will be no more than an ordinary sword. It will only reveal its true power to its master."
"It feels like an ordinary sword to me," Link replied. "A work of great craftsmanship, to be sure, but nothing magical."
He offered the sword to Zelda, but it displayed no special properties for her either.
"I was afraid of this," Hols said grimly. "It is not as it should be. It's still broken."
Link suddenly laughed. Shaking his head, he turned away from Hols and Zelda and gazed out the window at the sea.
It was all so absurd at that point, there was nothing he could do but laugh. If he didn't laugh, he was going to cry.
So much for having hope.
"What's wrong with it?" Zelda asked Hols, her voice pleading for him to make things better.
"As I said at the beginning, the Master Sword is a sacred object, and sacred objects must be treated in a special way in order for them to retain their holiness. The Master Sword rusted, I think, because it was removed from its holy place. I think it you were to take it back there, it would be restored."
"Where is its holy place?" Zelda asked anxiously.
"In the Lost Woods."
"Another quest, another maybe," Link said, sourness swelling up to replace his laughter.
"I was right about the star," Hols pointed out.
Link rounded on him. "You said getting the star would restore the Master Sword. But now you're saying it's not restored. It may look perfect, but it's still as useless as my own sword for killing demons. Nothing has been accomplished for all our time and effort!"
Hols flushed a little. "You're not the only person who has put time and effort into this, you know. I am as disappointed as you."
Link turned away with a noise of disgust.
"You're asking me questions that I don't have answers for," Hols argued. "I'm just a blacksmith, not a scholar of religious objects. I never promised you more than an educated guess based on my study and experience."
Link looked out the window again, then rubbed his face—as if he could rub away the swell of emotions within him. He felt rage boiling up in him again, and he struggled to keep it from bursting forth. He knew this wasn't Hols' fault, and he didn't want to take his anger out on the man who had tried so hard to help them. It really wasn't anyone's fault. But that only frustrated him more because he didn't have a place to direct his anger.
"Hols, we're very grateful for everything you've done," Zelda said soothingly. "I know little about swords—outside of their use—but if Link says you have no equal as a blacksmith, then I believe it."
"Thank you," Hols said grudgingly, still obviously not over Link's accusations.
"If you think we need to take the sword to the Lost Woods, then we will do so," she said simply.
Hols spread his hands helplessly. "When the sword resided there, it always worked correctly for the Hero when he went to claim it. That's what makes me think that it needs to go back there. If that doesn't work, then it's dead and nothing will bring it back."
"Either that, or I'm not the Hero," Link said, turning around.
"There is that possibility," Hols allowed. "But if you're not, you should leave the sword there on the off-chance that the Hero will come to claim it. Perhaps it will work for him."
Link sighed wearily. "I suppose we'll go," he agreed. "If it doesn't work, then I can walk away with a clean conscience, as Her Highness would say. If it does work, then we'll keep on with our mission, as planned. One way or the other, I'll have a resolution."