Posted on May 04 2018 by Adam Barham
Chapter Four: Let the Games Begin
“You’re going to be ok, right?” Kaden asked, standing on tiptoes to see over the stands.
Link smiled and gave a thumbs up. “One way or another.”
“Do you want my pendant? It might help…”
Link chuckled. “I’m not scared. I’m just nervous. You know I’ve been preparing for this day. Besides,” he raised his hand over his mouth, “I think the others need it more than I do.” He subtly motioned to the other knight prospects, some shaking in their boots while others stood with confidence.
“What about this then?” Kaden held up his small wooden bow.
Link laughed before speaking in a tender tone, smiling as he did so. “No, but in the event that someone just so happens to try and sneak up on my back outside of the ceremony, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll need it. Until then, keep a close eye on it, alright?”
Kaden smiled and nodded. Link turned around to see the other knights starting to line up in the center of the arena. As he started to line up with them, Kaden yelled “Good luck, big brother!” Link responded with another thumbs up.
Link looked around him, counting ten guards on his left and nine guards on his right. Twenty of us in total. This will be interesting. He looked over at the stands where Princess Zelda sat. As she stood up, the whispers among the prospects grew silent before her words rang out through the arena. “Let the games begin!”
Link took a moment to breathe, reflecting on the competition to that point. Tests of skill with various weapons: short swords, broadswords, target practice with a bow and arrow. Really, tests any guard of Ordon should have been able to do in his or her sleep. No real competition to speak of, simply individual demonstrations. He had thought it would have been easy, yet he had watched as several of his friends in arms were eliminated, one by one, to courteous applause and a couple of crowd “oohs” and “aahs.” Some eliminations had even surprised him – he hoped it could all be blamed on nerves.
Once the princess had eaten her lunch, though, the real challenges were set to begin. He would face his fellow guards in combat, each choosing their strength and focus. His friends. Those he had stood beside for years. Were he not so incredibly nervous, he might have tried to snack with everyone else. Yet his stomach churned. This wasn’t what he expected.
It didn’t help that every time he glanced up to the risers and saw the princess, she seemed absolutely bored. Or, maybe tired? That, he would not have blamed her for after last night. Her eyes floated around, never truly staying anywhere for too long – and never on him, now that he thought about it – but he could almost tell she did not know what to make of the whole ordeal. Occasionally, her advisor, whose name he thought he could remember if he tried, would lean down and whisper to her. They’d converse, she’d straighten and seemingly gather her thoughts, and declare the next elimination.
Impa. That was her advisor’s name. She seems to be the one calling the shots.
Link groaned. That made the next competition even more nerve-racking. Sheikah were renown warriors, and Lady Impa looked like she had seen her fair share of battle.
Still, though, it had to be done. He was favored, and he had worked so hard to get to this point. He could not let anyone down.
He stood and took another lap around the arena, finally landing near a small water station and picking up a canteen. He chugged. Lowering it, he saw Rusl heading toward him. The elder guard had been chosen to officiate the duels that the remaining eight would be having as a final test of each of their skills.
Rusl clapped a hand on Link’s shoulder. “Hey, friend; I wanted to take a minute to give you a brief pep talk before your match.” Grinning, he continued, “I may be in charge of these duels, but I’m still rooting for you!”
Link smiled and wiped his face. “Thanks, Rusl. You’ve been a big help this far.”
Rusl smiled. “Glad I can be. But listen now: You’ve been doing well so far today. Keep it up, and you should continue to be in the running for knighthood. The duels are going to be featuring a variety of wooden weapons so that each of the contenders can choose from to properly display the skills that they’re best at. They have everything over there, from a bundle of wooden knives to a faux ball and chain.” Link gave him a look of disbelief. “Yeah, I’m not kidding. Whatever you feel that you’ll be best at, you choose.”
Rusl pulled Link a bit closer and lowered his voice. “Oh, and I don’t mean to add pressure, but the Princess has been watching you closely all day.”
Link drew back a bit and tried to peek around to where Princess Zelda sat, but he couldn’t see her from his position. He looked back at Rusl. “Are you sure? Whenever I glanced at her, she seemed to be looking around at everyone but me.”
Rusl nooded. “You were in the heat of the action. I was able to watch more. I think you’ve made a good impression on her.”
Link shook his head in a mix of doubt and wonder. “Maybe. But I can’t back down now.” He made a fist. “I’ve come this far, and I know that you and everyone else is counting on me to go all the way, eventually to Hyrule Castle.” Looking back up, he finished, saying, “I’ll just have to try even harder to do my best.”
Rusl grinned. “That’s the spirit. Good luck, Link.”
Despite the wide range of wooden weapons provided, Link found himself drawn to the sword and shield. He appreciated the balance between striking power and mobility, while also providing room for defense. Taking them from the rack, he tested the sword with a couple swings. A little weighted toward the blade than what I’m used to but this will work. He sheathed the sword and slung the shield on his back before stepping to the edge of the arena.
It wasn’t long before his opponent stepped to the opposite edge. He was heavyset, with more armor and a large wooden claymore on his back, shaped almost like the claymores used by the Knights. Heavy hitter. Has armor to counter his slow attacks. Take advantage of all openings left after an attack. Don’t get hit and do not overcommit to your attacks. Taking a deep breath, Link looked at his opponent confidently. He already had a plan and was ready for the match.
Rusl stepped into the middle of the arena, looking at both Link and his opponent. “This goes without saying, but I want a nice clean match.” He raised his hand in the air, before bringing it down sharply. “Fight!”
Both Link and his opponent rushed each other at once, his opponent spinning around to his left, using his momentum to draw his claymore and swing at Link. Link turned to run toward his opponent’s right side, before falling into a slide. He pivoted, ending almost in a kneeling position as he drew his sword and shield. His opponent used what was left of his momentum to shakily pivot around to face Link before holding his claymore in front of him, backing up.
He overcommitted to that hit. And I’m too close for him to get in another. Standing up, Link rushed his opponent again, watching as he raised his claymore before bringing it down in an overhead swing. Anticipating this, Link rolled to his right, dodging the blade before it hit. As opposed to simply standing up again, Link used his own momentum to end the roll with a jump, attacking with an overhead swing of his own. His opponent, not having time to bring up his weapon to block, moved out of the way just in time to avoid taking a solid hit to the head. However, in retaliation came a pivot to the right to bring the claymore around and aimed squarely for Link’s chest.
Link, realizing that he also just overcommitted to an attack of his own, brought up his shield to block the swing. He tensed up as the claymore collided with his shield, feeling the sheer power behind it. He was knocked back, almost losing his footing. Taking advantage of the situation, his opponent followed up with another pivot to regain momentum, bringing the claymore down to the ground before swinging it upward. Link just barely managed to avoid the second hit, choosing to back up instead and reassess his strategy. He adjusted into a defensive stance, raising his shield up and keeping his sword ready.
His opponent started swinging again, this time using a series of chained hits to try and knock Link down. Watching each swing, Link used both his shield and sword as a guide to keep the claymore from landing any serious hits, reading his opponent as he did so. He glanced over to Princess Zelda’s stand, noticing Lady Impa whispering to the her, both with eyes on him. He couldn’t disappoint them now. He saw his opening.
His opponent’s attacks grew stronger with each hit, but, at the same time, more reckless. As his opponent prepared for another overhead swing, Link rushed in, ready to bash his shield against his foe. In response, though, his foe moved back from the impact, he moved his claymore swing to the side and shoved Link back with his shoulder with a powerful force. Not anticipating this, Link stumbled back. Using his momentum again, his foe swung at Link’s feet. Link couldn’t react fast enough. He found himself falling onto his back, with another overhead swing coming his way.
He got up quickly, but didn’t have time to dodge, move, or turn this around without an opening. His shield was knocked away by the previous hit, laying several feet away, and he only had his sword left to defend himself. Instinctively, he raised it up to block the attacks, with one hand on the hilt and the other arm set against the flat end in a brace, well aware that one good hit would break the weapon. Once again, his opponent kept swinging harder and harder, with each hit further hurting his arm. His legs were giving out and his arms felt as though they could break any second now. But he wasn’t going to give up. He was too stubborn for that. His opponent then missed a swing, turning to land one final hit. Too exhausted, Link once again raised his sword to block the attack, bracing for the impact. It collided.
Link went flying several feet, rolling and sliding on the ground as he did so. Once he skidded to a halt, he looked between his foe, Princess Zelda’s stand, and over to where Kaden was watching him. He clenched his fist and wiped a little bit of blood from his mouth. I can’t afford to give up now.. Not with Kaden watching. Against his pain, he slowly stood up, brought his sword into a defensive stance, barely focused but still determined. However, before either him or his opponent could move, a familiar noble voice rang out through the arena. “Halt! I have made my decision.”
Link panted, hands on his knees. The shield lay on the ground well away from him, but his sword remained grasped tightly in his fingers. His knuckles were white with the strain, and he loosened his grip as he struggled to catch his breath. There could be no denying he had lost that match. And no doubt existed in his mind that Lady Impa had seen, which meant the princess knew, and was now descending into the arena to declare his opponent victor and knight. Silently, he shook his head in disappointment.
Everyone’s lining up again. I suppose I should do the same.
He painfully made his way to the line of the last eight contenders, still fighting to catch his breath.
I am going to be so sore tomorrow.
The princess and her advisor made their way to stand before the group, directly in front of him. She raised her eyes and met his own. Hmm…they’re green, his thoughts stupidly told him. I hadn’t noticed that. He had seen them several times up close last night, but the light of the fire had washed out the color. Vivid green, and almost childishly bright. He grinned and waved, hoping she’d not notice he was completely sapped of energy and instead remember asking about his presence in the games.
She tilted her head with a small smile of her own and unclasped her hands to subtly return the greeting. And then she waited, and waited, and Lady Impa waited, staring at him like an angry bird of prey sizing up her next meal. The arena had gone completely and totally silent.
“Link,” his last competitor whispered from the ground next to him, “kneel, man.”
“What?” he whispered back, slow on the draw.
“That’s the princess. Kneel.”
Link glanced down to see all his comrades in arms knelt, heads bowed. His breath caught in his chest as he practically dropped to his knees. Something akin to “Please forgive me!” passed from his lips, but there was no telling how coherent the words were. Part of him wanted to just sink into the dirt. This had very quickly not become his best day. He thought he could hear the princess chuckle and her advisor scoff, but he felt too embarrassed to even look.
“You have all fought valiantly today,” she began, breaking the awkward mood, “and have proven yourselves to be soldiers of immense skill and bravery. It is clear to me why you are now before me, and I will rest easy knowing Ordon is so well protected.
“However, I seek only four of you to return to the castle. Three will take their oaths to serve the king as Knights of the Royal Guard, and one will take an oath to me as my own knight. My decision has been made.”
Were it possible, Link’s stomach would have turned itself inside out. He listened with bated breath, knowing what was next to come. He did not want to hear it.
The distinct sound of an unsheathed sword echoed around an arena still as the grave. Link’s crowning moment had begun, inevitably without him.
“Darius, Garen, and Rylan, step forward.”
Link heard shifting as his last opponent stood. He inwardly sighed. The other two, a shorter man with a broadsword and a small young woman with a face of steel and two knives strapped to her ankles stepped forward with him. He recognized both, having taken several guard shifts with them. They were not surprising choices at all.
“Your demonstrations in trial and combat have earned you places amongst my father’s sworn. You will come back to the castle with me and take your oaths as members of the Royal Guard. Step to the side, please.”
The crowd erupted in cheers, showering the arena with flowers and praise. The princess allowed the celebration to continue for a short period, smiling, then silenced them once more with a raised hand.
“Link?” Princess Zelda’s voice called his name, delicate tones the sweetest sound he would ever hear. He almost didn’t want to believe he’d heard it, somewhat convinced his mind played a cruel joke. He stared through her to the wall behind, worried that if he looked away, the illusion would be shattered.
Finally, he chanced focusing back on her face. Sure enough, she looked at him, wearing that same small smile from before. In her hand, she held a gleaming ceremonial rapier. “Come, kneel before me.”
His legs had become rubber, and he almost feared face-planting in front of her. The mental image horrified him. But they remained true, and he knelt at her feet, head bowed.
Is this…is this really happening? He felt sick and sweaty.
Somewhere above him, she spoke again, hushed and playful, almost as though she meant the words for no one else. “You had to have seen this coming…”
“Not at all,” he mumbled in return. The rapier lay over his shoulder and down his back.
She opened her mouth to speak once more, but before a word came out, the guards’ trumpets began to sound around Ordon. A young guard came running onto the field, panting as he reached them.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Princess Zelda.
The guard managed to catch his breath before replying, “I’m sorry, Your Highness. I don’t mean to interrupt, but – too many of them!” He looked up, directly into her eyes. “We’re under attack!”
Featured image by MuddyMink (Sarah Tudor).