Posted on June 12 2020 by Bryan King
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The midday sun was doing its best to filter in through every leaf within the western forest of Hyrule. Birds were being quite vocal in their appreciation of its warmth, and the ground below was drying slowly but surely from the previous night’s rainfall, a light breeze carrying its scent throughout the surrounding area. All was as it should be in the forest, and save for the sound of a smith’s tool’s being put to work within its center, there was a prevalent sense of tranquility.
It is here, in the workshop of a blacksmith, smoke billowing from its chimney, the fires within making steel and ore pliable, that we find a boy — a boy in the thralls of his 17th year, sandy-haired and working feverishly. Scattered around him are various schematics and tools of his trade, a mess to any outsider, but to this boy – Link – everything was as it should be.
Beads of sweat had accumulated on his temples and had begun to drip down his nose, a manifestation of the stress he was enduring to craft an article worthy of his pride. In the house adjacent to the workshop, cabinets were adorned with various photographs depicting him in his more youthful days, joined by an older man, the two of them in the midst of various activities, fishing being the one most represented. Smiles adorning their faces as one such image was of Link, who couldn’t be more than seven years old at the time, holding a sizable Hylian Carp above his head; a species indigenous to the streams around Zora River in the easternmost parts of Hyrule. The boy appeared to be straining himself to hold it aloft, half-joking, half-earnest, but those with a keen eye could see quite plainly that the older gentleman had one hand slightly raised should it be needed to avoid a mishap stemming from Link’s uncertainty regarding his strength.
These were indeed happier times. As it were now however, Link was very much alone. The man in these photographs was his late Grandfather Audwin, who had taken the lad in shortly after he was born. It was an act of necessity, as Link’s parents had perished shortly after his birth, the victims of a robbery orchestrated by bandits claiming to be in league with the devious Yiga Clan located in the deserts to the far south. These claims were found to be unsubstantiated however, as the two culprits were discovered to be acting alone and were nothing but petty criminals, as evidenced by a half-hearted forgery of the Yiga Clan seal that they carried. Its design belied the genuine article that the clan was known for, and any panic that had arisen within the populace regarding a subsequent attack were quickly stifled. The men were executed within several days, with none to mourn them.
Despite the unfortunate considerations surrounding him, Link had a very happy childhood, and had grown to adore his grandfather, believing the sun to rise and set within him. He had no qualms about apprenticing under him to become a blacksmith, and found the work to be very fulfilling. He found a great satisfaction in the melding and shaping of ore and steel, their malleable nature interesting him to no end. In no time, he began to create works of his own, a wooden sword being the progenitor for his future endeavors. As a child, Audwin bade Link to carve for him a weapon, explaining that the world was a dangerous place, and as long as he had a sword at his side, he would never be alone. Years later, Link would realize that this exercise was to simply instill within Link an appreciation for the dedication and commitment that it takes to create something. If he didn’t possess the passion to make a simple sword from wood, how could he be expected to pump the bellows or pour molten steel into molds? Satisfied with the crude, but effective example Link had given him, he accepted him fully as his apprentice.
Audwin provided Link with stories of his exploits over his formative years, cautionary tales as he thought of them. The old man, knowing that his expiration was far sooner than that of his grandson felt it was his duty to pass on what he himself had learned throughout the span of his own existence. Link, ever attentive, would heed Audwin’s tales and commit them to memory, always eager to hear more. Of course stories were not the only means that Audwin had at his disposal to prepare Link for a world that would surely test him on a whim. Having a background as a soldier within the royal army, Audwin had gained a bit of prestige in his tenure, eventually befitted with the title of “master-at-arms”, and would use his skillset to train recruits in ways to better protect themselves and the royal family. It was here that Audwin had first met King Rubeus, who was but a child at the time, and as Audwin had so delicately put it to Link after one of his visits, “He used to be an ornery lil’ snot. But now lookit ‘im. King ‘n all! I never doubted that he’d grow up right as rain. Same as I got no doubts about you, me boy,” he said as he tousled a young Link’s hair. Audwin’s teachings had afforded Link with a generous amount of skill wielding a sword and shield, with no shortage of nicks and bruises that had accumulated along the way. Using blunted training blades, Audwin had shown Link various attacks and stances that he could use in order to protect himself. Coupled with the bow skills that he had honed over the years as their primary hunter, and he had grown into something quite formidable indeed.
However, as much as it pained him to do so, Audwin had become acutely aware of the fact that he would be leaving Link soon. A growing sickness had begun to well within him, and recognizing the symptoms as belonging to a disease deemed incurable, he decided to focus his efforts instead on enjoying the little time he had left with his grandson, who by this time had grown into a fine young man. Under the guise of letting Link “run the shop” as it were, he began to become less and less involved in the day-to-day forging as his body slowed. Days became weeks and there was no longer any denying the state that he was in, as he found himself unable to get out of bed. Link, ever attentive, saw to his grandfather’s every need up to the last moment. A deprivation of sleep had robbed Link of a last goodbye with Audwin, as both men succumbed to slumber of different natures.
Audwin is now buried on a hill north of the cottage. His final resting place is adorned with an elaborate tombstone, one final, parting gift from his friend Rubeus. The King extended an invitation upon Audwin’s death to have Link live with he, the Queen Minerva, and their daughter the Princess Zelda within the castles’s walls. He had after so many years felt a kinship with Link, and considered him a son. Link politely declined, citing that while he enjoyed the sights and sounds of the castle and the surrounding town on their trips, he’d only ever truly feel home within the tree; within the cottage that he and his grandfather shared. Rubeus, eyes still glazed from grief gave a slight nod and told him that should he ever need anything, he need only ask.
And so, for the last two years, Link has lived in self-imposed solitude, quietly coming to grips with his place within the world. The ideal that he was alone didn’t hold much weight to him after a time. The tools, the steel, the very cottage itself was as much a part of him as it was Audwin. There would always be something of the old man remaining here. He took comfort in that.
The blade he had been working on glowed a fierce orange, its heat emanating, filling the room, the open doors and windows doing little to ventilate and disperse the warmth. Link placed the blade within a cooling pool, a piercing hiss of steam erupted from its surface as he submerged it deeper. As though it were entering a deep sleep, the blade dimmed until it was reduced to a dark grey. He took this time to wipe his face a bit, looking down at the once white handkerchief and seeing soot smeared across it. Stepping outside whilst wiping his hands, he took a moment to look around. It had been the first time he’d really gazed at the forest today. The King had requested a sword of pure Hylian steel and Link had assured him that he would have it delivered today. The blade was to be a prize, bestowed upon the winner of the annual jousting tournament. Link, had witnessed several of these tournaments, and shared the crowd’s excitement during the proceedings. Having spent a fair amount of time on their horse, Epona, over the years, he considered himself at the very least an above-average rider.
Thoughts of the steed prompted him to begin walking behind the cottage to the stable that they had constructed years ago, when Audwin brought Epona home as a foal. It was his belief that every boy should learn how to ride and care for a horse, as you’d find no creature more loyal. As he turned the corner, he could see her head protruding from her enclosure looking in his direction.
“Morning,” Link said to Epona. He continued walking in her direction and as he drew closer he couldn’t help notice that she appeared distressed and pulled her head away from him. Puzzled, Link stopped, looked around, but saw no threat or peculiarity that would cause her to behave like this. He then noticed what had to be the cause of her unease. Lifting his right arm and placing his nose closer to its underside, he was hit with a strong, noxious odor. “Yeah, I guess I am a bit ripe, aren’t I?” he said as he began walking backward. “Can’t really expect his majesty to welcome me when I’m smelling like this.” Epona gave a snort, further assurance that his first priority needed to be making himself presentable.
Judging from the sun’s location, he estimated that it was roughly mid-morning, plenty of time for a bath. He spent the better part of an hour filling the cistern within the cottage with water before entering the chilly pool with a half-used bar of soap. He took a bit of extra time to scrub in areas that sweat had accumulated in an effort to prevent any embarrassing moments while he was in the King’s court. After stepping out and drying himself off, he proceeded to go through his wardrobe in search of an ensemble that would be the most appropriate. He settled on an old favorite of his: beige pants, a brown undershirt that stopped just past his elbows, and a green, sleeveless tunic that cinched at the waist with a brown leather belt. He sat down on his bed, pulled a less-worn pair of calf-high brown leather boots from under his bed, and proceeded to put them on.
Returning to the workshop, Link pulled the now cooled blade from the pool. On a table behind him rested a leather-wrapped hilt, its crossguard and pommel polished to a mirror sheen. Link proceeded to administer the finishing touches to the sword, affixing it to the base. Holding it vertically, both hands before him, he gave it a slight upward bounce to feel its weight. Satisfied, he picked up a nearby whetstone and oil and proceeded to begin polishing the blade. He laid it out across a table that caught daylight through a window and looked upon it. He was genuinely quite proud of what he had made and was eager to see the look on the face of the winner. Placing it inside a leather scabbard that he had set aside, he placed the sword upon his back, a belt strapped across his chest keeping it in place.
After locking the cottage and workshop up, Link returned to Epona’s stable.
“Better?” he asked the equine, her face showing no visible signs of disgust. “I’ll assume that’s a yes.” He opened the gate to her stall and began to lead her out gently, admiring the radiant, burnt sienna coloring of her hair before putting on the bridle and saddle that was hanging against the wall. Hoisting himself up onto her back, he gave a gentle kick with his heels to her midsection, spurring her into movement.
They had been riding for the better part of an hour after leaving the forest, the plains of Hyrule sprawled before them. Link knew that this was a thrill for Epona, as it couldn’t be much fun or healthy for a horse to be cooped up as she was. He did his best to provide her with as many opportunities as he could to allow her to stretch her legs. Maybe it would do him some good to get out of the forest more himself.
Link began to feel an eagerness come over him. It was familiar, as it usually set in when he began to approach Hyrule Castle Town. The bustle of activity was always exciting at first, and he began to posit how he would speak to Zelda during his visit. He had always appreciated her beauty, a trait she had taken on from her mother, Minerva, but he was now at the age when exchanges with pretty girls made him feel clammy. He wondered if she may have felt the same way about him…
Something out of the corner of his eye caught brought him out of his reverie. The walls of Hyrule Castle Town began coming into focus on the horizon as they normally did, but plumes of smoke were billowing high above them. An eerie silence pervaded the air around them.
“I don’t think that’s for any sort of festival, Epona…” Link murmured before kicking her slightly, bringing her into a full gallop. As they neared the city, he could see that the drawbridge was lowered. Upon coming within range, he leapt down from Epona and jogged closer to the gate. There were no screams to be heard from within the walls, which struck him as peculiar given how thick the smoke was in the air. There surely would have been a panic given the circumstances. As he approached the gate, he noticed what appeared to be a stone statue standing several yards from the entrance. Why would the King have requisitioned a statue to be placed in the middle of the grass like that? He approached the statue, a contorted and maligned thing, its design appearing to mimick that of one of the royal guards. He circled around the front and was taken aback at the look of absolute horror splayed across its face. This was no statue. This was a man, frozen in stone.
Bryan King is an editor for Zelda Dungeon. He loves writing about everyone’s favorite green-clad elfin boy, and thinks Zelda II doesn’t get the love it so rightly deserves.