The Lost Woods
Link and Zelda pushed themselves hard, and just before lunch, they arrived at the mouth of the Valley of the Clerics and the crossroads that led to the monastery.
Link dropped to the ground and Hols and his family got out of the cart. Together, Link and Hols unharnessed Zelda from the cart. She quickly retook her human form.
The two men pulled the bags of food and waterskins out the cart and began sorting through them. Hols tried to press most of the food on Link and Zelda; Link tried to refuse.
"Even if I could carry all of that," Link argued, "we don't need it. We have Princess Zelda's bow; we can hunt pretty easily. And I know enough about the plants around here to feed us."
"You don't have time to waste hunting," Hols pointed out. "Besides, I know the plants around here, too, you know."
"Yes, but you have three mouths to feed."
"But we're only going to the monastery; that's just an hour or two from here."
"Yes, but you're going to have to go into the mountains after that. I can't tell you how to find the tigers' cave; they didn't follow trails that I could see. So, it may be days before they find you. And there's nothing to eat up there."
They finally settled on a compromise: enough food to last Link and Zelda three days—two to get to the crossroads and one more to give them enough time to get out of sight of it—and the rest for Hols and his family.
Link pulled Tarsus's pelt out of the pack before putting the food in. He handed the tiger skin to Hols.
"Take this with you," Link instructed. "This will be proof to Lord Long Fang that you know us. Tell him that Zelda and I wish to call in our favor: he is to house and protect you and your family until we free Shi-Ha and you're able to return home. And, I don't know if our credit with him extends that far, but we would also ask him to take in the monks and students from the monastery, if possible."
"If he wants payment for that," Zelda said, "then I will pay their bill once I am on my throne. I promise."
Link held out his hand. "Thank you for everything you've done for us."
Hols grasped it firmly. "Thank you both for helping us escape and giving us a safe place to go."
"It's the least we could do."
"Oh, I have something for you," Hols said, as if suddenly remembering.
He turned to the cart and pulled out a long, leather-wrapped packaged. Link watched, curious, as Hols unwrapped it, revealing a long scabbard.
"I had this made for the Master Sword," Hols said, presenting it to Link. "There wasn't time to make it nice—as the scabbard for the Master Sword should be—but it will at least allow you to carry it properly."
He cast a sideways glance to Link's pack; the Master Sword was ingloriously sticking out of the top of the pack, as if it was just one more burden to be carried.
"Thank you," Link said, taking the scabbard from him. But then he hesitated, unsure of what to do. He hadn't thought about it before, but if they ever got the Master Sword working again, he would need to use it as his primary weapon, since it would cut down anything—demon or not.
That meant that his sword—his ancestral sword—wasn't needed. But he had no intention of leaving it behind.
He glanced at Zelda. "May I have your sword?"
She looked a little surprised, but nodded. "Sure. It's really yours, anyways," she reminded him, as she unbuckled her sword belt.
Link took off his belt, too, then offered his to Zelda in exchange. "Take my sword," he said.
She looked even more surprised, but took it without question. Then Link turned to Hols and offered him the jewel-studded sword that Zelda had been wearing.
"We don't have need of this right now, but you may need it. Would you keep it for us until we can come back for it?"
"This was given to me by King Ranis and Prince Zeyde the night before Erenrue fell," Link said sadly. "They dubbed me a knight of Erenrue with this sword. I gave it to Her Highness to wear for her protection… and now I give it to you for yours."
Hols solemnly took the sword from Link. "I will see that nothing happens to it," he swore.
"See that nothing happens to you," Zelda corrected. Link nodded in agreement.
Hols smiled a little. "I may make my living as a blacksmith, Your Highness, but I too trained in swordsmanship at the Westeastern Monastery; I know how to hold my own."
Everyone hugged goodbye, then Link strapped on his new scabbard and put the Master Sword into it. Then he hoisted the pack onto his back and Zelda transformed into a horse again. Hols gave Link a leg-up.
"Thank you," Link said, looking down at him.
"Be careful," Hols said, looking worried.
"The same goes for you."
Hols nodded, then stepped back. Link raised his hand in parting, then Zelda kicked up a canter and they quickly rode out of sight.
Link was genuinely surprised: they made it to the crossroads without incident and without Nagadii's army anywhere in sight. For once, things were going right from the beginning instead of being salvaged at the last minute by the skin of their teeth.
That was partly due to the fact that they kept up a grueling pace, so they made it there in less than two days. The third day after they left Hols found them well out of sight of the crossroads, taking a break.
Zelda had her bow in hand, stalking through the high grass near the road. When she flushed a covey of quail, she brought down three in rapid-fire succession.
Link waded through the grass, laughing. "Shall I be your dog and retrieve your birds for you?"
Zelda chuckled. "If you know where they fell, that would be helpful; I wasn't paying attention to anything but the next shot."
"And what fine shots they were," Link praised. "I couldn't have made but two—and maybe only one."
Link found two of the birds and Zelda found the third. "You know," he said, as they walked back to the road, side by side, "for someone who had never killed anything less than a year ago, you have turned into a fearsome hunter."
"I wouldn't say I'm fearsome," she contradicted.
"Three birds out of a small flock is pretty fearsome to me," Link argued. "Besides, it's really not how many you take down—or even the size of your quarry; it's a matter of your mindset. And you shot without hesitation."
"I don't think about it anymore," she admitted. "In a way, it's sad, but I don't look at animals or even people the same way anymore; I look at them the same as I would a bull's-eye on a target."
Link nodded, understanding. "But it's not sad," he corrected. "When it's a matter of survival, it's a necessity."
"Still, I'll be glad to go back to shooting just for fun."
"As will I. I don't like killing any more than you do."
"You know what I really don't like?" she said, making a face.
"Skinning and gutting things. It's just nasty; it puts me off my food."
Link laughed. "Well, since you brought down lunch—and dinner—I guess it's only fair if I clean it."
"I'll cook," she offered, "I just hate touching the squishy bits… and getting blood all over my hands. It's sticky."
Link laughed louder. "I would be remiss in my chivalric duty if I made you touch the squishy bits." He picked up her hand and kissed it. "And it would be downright criminal if these fair hands were made sticky."
"Now you're just mocking me," she said. She tried to pull her hand away, but he held to it tightly.
"Never," he swore.
She had to think for a moment. "That time on the ship—with the fish."
"I did not mock you. I just smiled a little. And that was months ago. Are you still sore about that?"
"Maybe," she said with a sniff. "Women don't forget easily."
"Or at all, apparently."
They stepped back onto the road, then Zelda halted. She shielded her eyes with her hand and looked to the north. "What's that?" she said, squinting as she peered into the distance. "It… almost looks like a fog. Maybe haze from the heat?" Summer seemed to have come all at once; it had only rained one night since the typhoon and all of the days were warm to the point of being uncomfortable.
Link squinted, too, studying the fog on the northern horizon. "It's dust," he pronounced after a minute.
Zelda turned to look at him. "Dust?"
"From an army marching down the road."
Zelda's face paled.
He tugged on her hand. "Let's go; we can wait to eat this evening. Gods only know how far Nagadii can see. I don't want to make it easy for him."
Link slit the throats of the quail and tied them together by the feet so they would hang heads-down and the blood would drain out. He fished the last of the bread out of the pack, then tied the birds to the bottom of the pack and hoisted it onto his shoulders.
He and Zelda shared the bread between them as they walked down the road; the quail would have to wait a few more hours.
They traveled for three more days—thankfully without incident—before, at last, a dark mass appeared on the western horizon: The Lost Woods.
Just before they got to the woods, the road veered sharply to the left, detouring around the forest to the south. But there was a faint dirt trail that led from the road straight to the woods.
Zelda took Link to the edge of the forest. The path that ran through it was too narrow, and the trees above it too low, to admit a horse.
Link hopped off and Zelda transformed and took a long look around. The trees were huge—very old—and had very low branches that came out at strange angles and intertwined with one another until they made a nearly impenetrable wall.
But it was hard to tell what the woods looked like farther in because a strange fog hung over everything, making the forest gray and eerie. The trail disappeared into the mists only a short way ahead of them.
"Whatever you do," Link warned, "don't get off the trail. They don't call it 'the Lost Woods' for nothing."
"I don't think that will be a problem," Zelda said, looking at the tangle of tress. "You'd have to go to a lot of effort to pass through those trees."
"Yes, but it may not be like that farther in. If it was easy to stay on the trail, people wouldn't be afraid to come here."
Cautiously, with weapons in-hand, they walked into the woods.
A short distance in, the outside world faded away behind a curtain of gray, and an odd, muffled quietness descended on them.
"It's like a cocoon in here," Zelda said in a low voice—although she wasn't sure who or what she feared would overhear her.
"It's like night after a new-fallen snow—quiet and still," Link contradicted.
Still like a tomb, Zelda thought to herself, but she didn't say anything.
Suddenly, birds chirped overhead, causing Zelda to jump. The sound was ordinary enough, but in the eerie silence, it seemed loud and ominous.
But Link didn't seemed phased at all. "It's alright," he said soothingly. "I don't think there's anything in here that will hurt us." As if to prove his words, he sheathed his sword.
"What makes you think that?" Zelda demanded. She wasn't sure if she had ever been in a scarier place. There could be anything lurking in the dim light; they could be within a few feet of a demon and never know it until it was too late.
"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "Just a feeling."
"I think I'll keep my bow out, just the same," Zelda said, remaining unconvinced.
They walked for a little while—there was no way to measure time in the strange wilderness; they might have traveled for hours or maybe just a few minutes—and after a time, the trail split into three. There was no directional sign of any kind, and each trail looked identical as far as could be seen.
"Hmm," Link said thoughtfully, considering the diverging paths, "I think maybe we've just discovered why people get lost in here."
"How will we figure out which way to go?"
He pointed to the right-hand trail. "That looks like a good way to go."
She looked at him in disbelief. "That's your plan? Pick a trail that just looks good?"
"Do you have a better idea?"
Zelda didn't reply. No, she didn't have a better idea, and, come to think of it, Link had managed to work his way through the giant labyrinth under the monastery; she supposed he had earned the right to employ even an unconventional method to the maze.
Ever so often, the path diverged again—sometimes splitting into two, sometimes into three. Worse, other paths occasionally crossed it.
Zelda grew more and more worried. She stopped being concerned about finding the center of the woods and more about finding their way out again. Link seemingly picked trails at random—sometimes the right, sometimes the left, sometimes the center.
"How do we know we're not going in circles?" Zelda asked aloud as they came upon another intersection—which looked suspiciously like the last intersection they had come to.
"Because I know where to go," Link said. "I've been here before."
She stopped in her tracks and looked at him in surprise. "What?! Why haven't you said so before?"
"Because I didn't know before."
"…You've lost me."
He looked at her. There was a light in his eyes—a light that had been missing for weeks. "Everything looks familiar—feels familiar," he explained. "I know I've never been here in this lifetime, so I must have been here in the past—maybe many times."
Suddenly everything clicked into place. "You were the Hero in the past," she said.
"Apparently so. I can't think of any other reason why I would know this forest so well."
They continued their journey. Sometimes Link would have to stop and—as if consulting a mental map—he would consider the choice of paths before them. But, more often than not, he never slowed down, choosing without a second's hesitation.
And then, suddenly, the path emptied out into a long, rectangular field of green grass. There were a few large, hewn stones lying randomly on the ground.
As soon as Link and Zelda stepped onto the field, the tops of the trees surrounding the strange clearing began to blow and it sounded everything in the world like voices whispering in the breeze.
Zelda took Link's hand in hers, glancing nervously around. "I feel like we're being watched," she said quietly, hardly moving her lips.
"I feel… something," Link replied, not bothering to keep his voice down. Before Zelda could ask him what he felt, he began to stride confidently across the field and Zelda had to trot to keep up with him; he was practically dragging her.
They walked most of the length of field when a small dais appeared out of the mist. The platform was non-descript, but there was a small rock—barely larger than a brick—in the middle of it, and in the middle of it was a narrow slit.
Link pulled the Master Sword from his scabbard. The whispers in the trees grew louder. Suddenly, Zelda felt something different. Yes, they were being watched—she still wasn't sure by whom or what—but it was not out of malice. Whatever surrounded them was eager to see what was about to happen next.
"I hope this works," Zelda said, knowing they wouldn't be the only people disappointed if it didn't work.
"It will work," Link said with absolute confidence.
Zelda glanced at his face; he was as confident as she was doubtful. There was something about that place that had restored him.
Without another word, Link plunged the Master Sword downward, into the slot in the stone.
There was a sudden flash of light, then they were flying backwards. Or, to be more precise, the dais where they were standing stayed in place; it was the world around them was what was flying backwards.
Zelda gave a little shriek of alarm and Link put his arms around her. She could feel him breathing heavily as he clung to her; he was as scared as she was.
Before their eyes, a gray blur began to rise up from the ground on either side of the field, steadily overtaking the green blur of the trees. And then, suddenly, the light was almost completely snuffed out and, the next instant, the world stopped moving.
Link and Zelda both glanced around in stunned wonder. Instead of being in a clearing in the middle of the woods, they were now in a large building, carved entirely from a grayish-white stone. Sunlight—without a hint of fog—streamed through large windows set high in the walls and made patterns on the long, empty floor.
"Where are we?" Zelda whispered.
"I think… I think it's a temple."
They looked around, but there was nothing to be seen in that large space but a door at the far end.
"Hols said something about the place where the Master Sword rested being in its own time," Link said slowly, as if he was working the puzzle out in his head. "I think… I think maybe we've gone back in time—back to when there was an actual temple here."
Zelda was shocked. "What?! How will we get back? What will happen if we don't go back?"
"I don't know. But I think it will take care of itself," he said. "We were meant to be here, so we must trust that we will go back to our correct time when it's necessary."
"How far back in time do you think we've gone?"
"Hundreds of years, at least—maybe thousands. I didn't even know there had been a temple here until Hols mentioned it. That means that it not only disintegrated—almost without a trace—but even the knowledge of its existence has been almost completely lost; that takes a lot of time."
Zelda looked around again, wondering what it looked like outside. Could it be that the trees of the Lost Woods weren't even outside the temple at all? And what of Hyrule? What did it look like?
Then, another more disturbing thought came into her mind: she and Link had lived before—many times. What if they were sharing a time with their previous selves? Could they meet their previous incarnations? And if they and their incarnations were in the same place at the same time, what happened to their souls? There was only one soul that moved through time to inhabit a body; surely both she and her pre-incarnation could not possess the same soul at the same time.
What if she and Link had left their souls behind? Maybe their bodies had traveled back in time without their souls, which could only move forward in time.
It was enough to give a philosopher a headache.
"Link, I want to go back," Zelda whispered, clinging to his arm. "We shouldn't be here."
But Link didn't seem to hear her. "Look at the Master Sword!" he said in awe.
She glanced down and saw that the sword seemed to be glowing with a white light.
"It's fixed," she said with relief.
"I think so," he said, reaching for it. As soon as he pulled it from the pedestal, the walls of the temple started rushing past them—going forward this time.
Before their eyes, the ceiling of the temple disappeared—bathing them in bright, yellow sunlight—and the walls around them began to rapidly deteriorate—replaced with the green blur that indicated the trees.
And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped and they were standing in the clearing where they had started their journey. The only difference was that the mist was gone from the woods and the sun was shining down on them merrily. The voices were gone, too—replaced by birds happily singing, as if they were rejoicing at the return of the sun.
"I need to sit down," Link said in a shaky voice. "I feel dizzy."
"Me, too," Zelda agreed.
They sat down together on the dais and rested. They were both breathing heavily, as if they had been running.
Link stared at the Master Sword in his hands for several minutes. Although it was harder to see in the sunlight, it was still softly glowing.
"Does it feel different?" Zelda asked, looking at the sword.
"Yes," he said, a touch of awe in his voice. "I can feel something… almost a vibration. It's like holding something that's alive. It is alive."
"I guess it worked, then."
"Yes. This feels right.
"It's funny," he continued, "but now that it's fixed, I know what was wrong with it before. I mean… it's hard to explain… but I think I knew all along that something was wrong."
"What do you mean?" Zelda asked in confusion. "It was obviously broken."
"No, I mean…." He struggled to find the right words. "I mean, it's like when I came in here—I knew this place; I knew I had been here before.
"Now that I look back to the moment when I first picked up the hilt of the broken sword, I think, deep down, I knew the sword—I knew it was the Master Sword. And yet, I also knew it was broken—not just visibly, but… I suppose you could say spiritually. It's like… like going home, after being away for a long time, only to find everything's changed and you no longer recognize the place. It makes you angry that it's changed without you—that you got left behind, forgotten.
"I think when I first touched this sword, I knew it as mine—from a previous life—and yet, it was no longer the sword I remembered; it was a mere ghost of itself—broken and bereft of everything that made it special. It was no longer what I remembered—and thought—it should be. Someone—or something—destroyed my sword while I was gone, and all I had left were pieces."
He looked up at the sky. "I didn't think about it like that then, but now—now that I know what it feels like to hold the real thing in my hand—I know that's what I was feeling; it was just all in my subconscious and I didn't know how to articulate it."
He reached out, putting his hand behind Zelda's head, and, pulling her close, he softly kissed her on the forehead. "Thank you for keeping the faith," he whispered, resting his forehead against hers and looking into her eyes. "That we succeeded in this is because of you."
"You've always had hope and courage when I haven't had any; it's only fair that I return the favor," she replied.
He smiled and pulled away. "Now I see why this quest needed both of us: because we need each other."