The Princess and her champion sat along the precipice for a while, breathing in the fresh air in silence. Zelda’s head still rested on Link’s shoulder, and while her tears had finally dried upon her cheeks, she found she didn’t want to move. The cramp forming in her neck protested otherwise, though, and she slowly lifted her head, wincing at the slight stab of pain. The encrusted blood at her throat cracked and she itched at it, beginning to scrape away at it with her nails.
“Here, let me take care of that. We don’t want to reopen the wound.” Link stopped her, grabbing a cloth from his pack and uncorking the waterskin that hung from his hip. He dampened the cloth and knelt in front of her, carefully rubbing away at any blood. It was a shallow cut, but better to be safe than sorry. Plus, if anyone at the castle saw her with blood anywhere on her, they’d probably never let her out of their sight again. She suppressed a shudder at the thought and instead focused on a point just over Link’s shoulder.
“Can I ask you something?” Her voice was soft, and Link glanced up at her before continuing the task at hand.
“Of course, my Queen,” he replied.
Zelda snorted in an unlady-like fashion. “For the love of Hylia, please do not call me that. Especially when it’s just us around. And I’m not quite a queen yet.”
A small smirk lifted the left corner of Link’s mouth, and Zelda felt the sudden urge to roll her eyes at him.
Focus, Zelda. Now is not the time to let your emotions gain control.
“Did you ever grow bitter?” She asked hesitantly, afraid to meet his gaze. “About the burden I put on your shoulders, I mean.”
He was silent for a moment, and she began to think the worst, until he said, “The most prevalent thing I felt during that time was fear.”
She looked at him in surprise and saw his jaw set, though his expression was soft and contemplative.
“I was afraid I’d fail,” he continued. “There was a lot of pressure, especially knowing I was the only one that stood a chance. And then…to have lost my memories during so much of it…” His voice cracked for a moment, and his shoulders hunched forward slightly. “Well, it wasn’t easy. But I think the thing that scared me most was the possibility I’d never see you again. While I didn’t remember much about you for awhile, I knew you had always been important to me. I was afraid I’d never be reminded as to why.” His gaze slid up to hers and he set the bloody cloth down on the rock beside them before grabbing her hands gently in his, though she could see the slight shake of them.
“I know you’re afraid, Zelda. I know the nightmares still plague your dreams, and I see the haunted look in your eyes. I think you see it too. You may not see it, but I do. And that’s the hell of a fight you’re putting up to push through it all. I see you trying your hardest to not let all that fear get the best of you. I see you trying so hard to become a queen worthy of her people, a queen to be remembered.”
Tears formed in her eyes once again, and she fought the urge to pull her hands from his grip in order to wipe them away.
He smiled at her gently as he reached up and brushed her cheek. “I see you trying, Zelda. And I promise that for as long as I live, I will always be here to help you through it.”
Zelda rested her head in her hands and wept. Her shoulders heaved with her sobs, her whole body shaking with them. Just when she had thought she was finished with crying, Link had gone and peered into the very depths of her soul and said exactly what she hadn’t realized she needed to hear.
Even so, she was frustrated with herself for all the tears. She felt like a child again, out of control and like any little thing would set her off.
Once she stopped crying, Link helped her to her feet. “I promise I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he joked, a twinkle in his eyes.
Zelda laughed and used the heel of her palms to wipe her cheeks dry. “You better be careful what you say, or I really will make sure you’re stuck with me for as long as you live.”
She smiled at her champion, feeling the weight on her shoulders lessen. She realized that Link was right. She had been fighting through so much, and yet, had only thought about everything she was doing wrong, never giving herself the credit she deserved. And, maybe if he noticed it, other people might, too.
Maybe things were okay after all.
They slowly made their way back to their horses, the wind picking up as the shadows on the ground lengthened.
“Will you train me with a sword?” she asked, leaping onto a small boulder in her path. “That way I won’t be so helpless.”
Link barked out a laugh as he watched her. “Helpless? That was far from helpless, if you ask me.”
Zelda rolled her eyes at him. “Yeah, well, if I had been on the ground, I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
“Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We should focus on self-defense first. Plus, no offense, my Queen, but I’m not sure if you have the arm strength to hold a sword,” he teased, his eyes glinting mischievously.
“Excuse me?!” Zelda squawked in outrage. She reached down and grabbed a small stone and threw it at him, nailing him in the arm.
“Oh, was that supposed to hurt?” He asked, blinking at her innocently.
“You’re infuriating!” Zelda exclaimed, stomping over to her horse, hiding the smile that stretched at her mouth.
Link chuckled behind her.
She had felt so many different emotions today. From sadness, to despair, to hope and even joy. It had been so long since she had felt this way, and she couldn’t help but hope it never passed.
Zelda began training with the spare sword Link had with him. While the hilt didn’t quite fit into the palm of her hand, and the weapon was a bit heavy, it would do for now. As Link had explained a few moments before, training with a heavier weapon, while a bit more difficult, was good for conditioning, resulting in better endurance, as well as a possible added bonus of explosive speed when switching back to a normally weighted sword.
Link flexed his wrists, twisting the sword in a circle as if weighing the weapon, before lunging forward and knocking the sword from Zelda’s grasp. She yelped, shaking out her hand.
“I want you to try and recite the principles while attacking. So, what was the first one?”
Zelda frowned, biting her lip as she thought. “Physical conditioning?” Link nodded, kneeling down and picking up the discarded sword. He slowly began moving through a set of moves with her, his face calm as he swung his sword to meet with her block, parrying her blade and twisting it from her grip at the last minute.
“Mental aspects. So, calmness and awareness,” Zelda recited, rubbing at her wrist.
Link handed the sword back to her, and as Zelda reached for it, he whipped it towards her throat. He waited a moment, watching her wide eyes. “Deception,” she breathed, getting his point very clearly.
Link haphazardly swung his sword towards her, and the ringing of steel filled the air. As he swung for her left side, she moved to block it, but he pivoted to the right, knocking the flat of his sword into her.
“Lack of rhythm,” Zelda said, frowning.
Zelda watched him, determining the length of his sword and how close she would need to get in order to land a strike. “Timing and distance.”
This time, she went on the offensive, pushing him back as their swords clashed over and over again. He was careful, watching her each and every move, never underestimating her.
“Caution,” Zelda gasped, lunging forward and just barely nicking the edge of his tunic sleeve.
They practiced for a couple hours, mostly focusing on defensive techniques. While Zelda was tired of practicing the same move over and over again, she knew there was much to gain in doing so.
Her arms trembled and ached by the time Link finally deemed they had practiced enough, and while she was glad for it to be over, she also felt desperate to learn more. She didn’t want to feel helpless again.
“It takes time, Zelda. If we overdo it for our first practice, you’ll be far too sore for the next one,” he remonstrated, helping her mount up.
She huffed in frustration, worrying the reins between her hands. “I know.”
They arrived back at the castle late in the evening, and Zelda had climbed into bed and fallen asleep in seconds. They began their daily training routine early the next morning, going through various exercises first before beginning actual sword play. Some days, Zelda insisted on training twice a day, needing an outlet for her frustrations after any particularly grueling meetings she had taken part in. Not to mention, the ever-looming threat of the Yiga Clan retaliating was always there, in the back of her mind. Link simply nodded, never once complaining.
Each night she would fall into bed, weary to the bone as her entire body ached all over. Weeks and weeks of training and practicing and repetition until her arms were stiff and her shoulders weak. But, sometimes, those were the best nights, when her body and mind were too tired to dream up her insecurities and fear, or replay the memory of her father’s death.
Every morning, she would get up and do it all over again. Progress was slow, and many times she would end up tripping over her own feet, falling to the ground with an embarrassing thud. Link would always help her up, and the knights that sometimes gathered to watch them spar would clap or shout words of encouragement.
“This is stupid! I don’t feel like I’ve made any improvement.” Zelda said, scrunching up her face and fighting the urge to toss her sword into the dirt in frustration as Link helped her up from yet another tumble. Her pride was bruised, and she couldn’t help but feel discouraged. He had been teaching her to block with her sword, but no matter how many times they had practiced, her sword still either went flying or the momentum would propel her backwards, leaving an opening for Link to swing his sword at her unprotected side.
“One more time.” Link said simply.
Zelda gritted her teeth, annoyed that he was making her do it again. As he brought his sword slashing down towards her, she twisted her own blade up, blocking with the edge of her sword. Link’s sword glanced over the blade, effectively shoving her own off to the side as he lunged forward, using his momentum to knock her off balance.
“See?! I just can’t get it!” She exclaimed, clenching her fist as her grip tightened on the hilt of her sword.
“First, you’re blocking with the edge of the blade,” Link said calmly, pointing towards the blade. “When you do that, it not only lacks the surface area for a substantial block, it damages your weapon. When the edge of my sword meets yours, it just slides right off, which makes it easier to throw you off balance. You want to block with the flat of your blade.” She could see him studying her expression, and she knew he could probably see the anger underneath.
“Let’s go ahead and take a break for now.” He sheathed his sword, and Zelda did the same, a sigh escaping from her mouth. They walked slowly towards the sugar maple tree to the side of the training yard, and Zelda gingerly lowered herself to the grass, resting her back along the rough bark.
They were quiet for awhile, watching as the guards trained with each other, some using swords, while others used pikes or spears. Archers practiced at the right side, letting their arrows fly straight and true into the targets of hay.
“A little while ago, you asked me if I ever felt bitter, and I told you that what I mostly felt was fear.”
Zelda turned her head to look at him, watching as the slight breeze gently caressed his golden hair, lifting it off his face. There was a sense of gentleness around him, but also an air of confidence. He didn’t turn to meet her gaze, instead letting his blue eyes drift from soldier to soldier as he quietly spoke.
“But what I didn’t tell you is that fear is normal. Necessary, even. And when you don’t let it hold you back, that’s courage. You don’t always need to have some grand act — fighting monsters, saving lives, guiding a letter downstream to its intended recipient, what have you — to demonstrate courage and be a hero. Sometimes, heroism comes just by carrying on, despite the pain, cost, or risk. Sometimes, you just need to be a hero for yourself.”
Zelda leaned her head back against the tree, watching as the red and orange leaves swayed, sun piercing through their gaps, and his raw, honest words lingering on the breeze.
Featured image by MaskedGolem. Check out more of her work here!
Savannah Gault is an Original Content Editor at Zelda Dungeon. When she’s not busy writing, you can usually find her playing video games or blasting Twenty One Pilots on repeat. Follow her on Twitter.