Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old by LadyNorbert
Chapter Two: In War With Time
I am in the forest again. It is not the forest I know, the one in which I sleep and run and bathe in the waters of the spirit spring. It is another forest, completely unfamiliar to my mortal eyes, and yet intimately known by my heart. Sunlight filters through heavy tree cover, casting patches of brightness on a shadowy leaf-strewn land.
She is waiting for me.
I know her by sight, by sound, by scent. We have met here before, many times. Sometimes we laugh together, though at what I am never entirely certain; I only know that her laughter is musical. Her voice is musical, too, though I have heard that less frequently. Often we do not speak, and when we do, it is with a strange formality. Not stiff, not unfriendly, but chivalric. A knight and his lady, as of old.
I have felt the silky caress of her gloved hand in mine. More than that contact is forbidden, though I long to sweep her into my arms and feel her heart beating in time with my own. I have never seen her in my life, and yet I know -- I live for her.
Of late I see her often. As children, we met only rarely, and played together in these woods. The older I grow, the older she grows, and the more frequently we meet. Without ever putting voice to it, we both know that this is how it must be. This is how it has always been.
"The day is coming," she tells me, "when we will meet again."
"For the first time."
"Only the first time in this time." Always cryptic, my lady. "The darkness will come again, and we will be as one in our battle."
"Must it be so?" I know the answer, but it does not stop me from asking the question.
"Until the great work is finished at last, it must." She looks at me with her velvety dark eyes. "My soul grows weary of the fight, Link...I want it to be done. I cannot bear the thought of another lifetime without you."
"You had that dream again, didn't you?"
Ilia's voice was not accusatory, merely concerned. I never understood how, but she could always tell; there must have been something in my face that gave me away. She watched me as I worked a snarl from Epona's tail.
"She's so real, Il," I said, trying not to look at her. Sometimes I worried that talking about the dream would hurt her feelings. It was generally assumed by most of the village elders -- not least her father, Mayor Bo -- that Ilia and I would marry one day. How much stock she put in this assumption, I really didn't know, but if she was considering it at all then it might be painful for her to hear me talk about the woman in my dreams.
"I know. You always seem so..." She hesitated, apparently searching for the right way to say it. "You're sad when you've been dreaming about her. And yet you're not sad at all. It's like you miss her, even though you don't know her..."
"...and yet I do know her," I finished. We'd gone round that before. "I don't even know her name. But I know her anyway." I tightened the straps on Epona's saddle and climbed up, then offered Ilia a hand. "Come on. I've got to get to the pasture; I'll give you a ride home."
Later, when the goats were stabled and the sun was making its way toward the horizon, I joined Rusl at the spirit spring and we went through another swordfighting lesson. Next to Ilia, Rusl was my closest friend; his son Colin was like a little brother to me. I couldn't talk to him about the dreams, but in most other respects he was a great confidante, and he in turn confided in me as well. He told me, as we sat resting on the spring's shoreline after our thrust and parry session, that he had a special commission. The royal family itself had had him -- our Rusl, our blacksmith -- prepare a sword and shield to their specifications. The weapons were nearly finished, and he was well pleased with the result.
There was a minor complication. Rusl's wife Uli was heavy with child, and Hyrule Castle was a lengthy journey from Ordon Village. Rusl was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her for so long when her time was so close. "I hate to ask, Link," he said, "but would you deliver them for me?" Of course I would, and I said as much.
There was a strange sighing among the trees, then, as though the world had held its breath until I gave my promise to go.
"Link...Link, help me..."
I awake with a start. The feminine voice is still ringing in my mind. "I am in the dungeon of Hyrule Castle..." I look around, wildly, but see nothing unusual save the figure of my uncle. In the low light of a guttering candle, I can see the gleam of his armor as he dresses himself as if for battle. Uncle, like all our family, is a descendant of the Hylian Knights, whose job was to defend the royal family. He orders me to remain in the house, then leaves.
I do not know how long I wait. Instantly, it seems, I am in the sewers beneath the castle, and my cry of anguish ricochets off of the walls as I spot my uncle. He lies on the stone walkway, nearing death. With his final breaths, he admonishes me for following, then tells me to take up his sword and shield and make my way to save her. "Zelda...is your..."
The fates take him before he can complete the sentence, but I know already what he meant. "Zelda is my destiny," I finish for him.
Now I am in the castle dungeon, though how I got here is anyone's guess. She is there, waiting for me. I open her cell and extend a hand to her. It is, and it is not, the same lady who meets me in the forest glade. She looks different, and yet her eyes...I would know her eyes anywhere. We make our way back to the sewers, hands tightly gripped, picking our way through a forgotten passage to a remote sanctuary where she will be safe from the master of evil.
Except she is not. I do not know how much time has passed, only that it has; a trio of colored pendants hang from my neck, and on my feet are strange blue boots that make me feel as if I can run forever. My hand is wrapped tightly around the hilt of a sword, but I am more concerned with the voice that once again calls to me. She is in danger, and I must return to the sanctuary with all haste to save her. Will I make it in time? The ground stretches out ahead of me for ages; I run and run and seem to get nowhere.
At last I fling open the sanctuary doors. I am too late -- the sage lies dying, just as my uncle did, and she is gone. I cradle the elderly man in my arms, only half-listening as he imparts some final words to me. It is all I can do to keep from crying out...
I sat up and looked around wildly. Sunlight was streaming through the windows of the house. Blood pulsed in my ears; icy sweat trickled down my bare back. The name was still fresh on my lips; I had all but screamed it, and woken myself in terror.
The princess? Had I been dreaming of the princess? That, I thought, was a new level of absurdity. I was forest-born, a peasant; even if the dreams had any basis in reality, and all this time I'd been pining for the princess, what chance in the world would I have of ever getting her to look in my direction?
If my mother still lived, she might have encouraged me. My father, on the other hand, would have advised me to get my head out of these dreams and back into the real world. I had a home in Ordon Village, and a life, and it was almost certain that I was being groomed to one day replace Mayor Bo as village chief. And there was Ilia, and she was real -- not like this fantasy princess.
I heard the shouts of the children outside, and opened the window to look down at them. Beth and Malo and Talo were there, badgering me to get up. They kept arguing amongst themselves about a slingshot being sold in Beth's parents' store. Colin was down there, too, but he stood apart from them as he usually did. I dearly loved that fair-haired boy, and it always troubled me to see how the others behaved toward him.
I was distracted as I walked through the village, still ruminating on my dreams. I set my hawk on a monkey who had stolen Uli's cradle, and cut down bee larva for Hanch, Beth's father. But it all felt false, somehow. Why, I wondered, was I more alive in my dreams? Why were they more colorful, more vibrant, more real to me than the things I did when I was awake? After a bit of fishing (and losing my catch to Sera's cat), I bought the slingshot and went home to amuse the children by practicing with it. At least no one seemed to be aware of my detachment.
"There's one of the monkeys!" Talo yelled suddenly. Before I could call out that they mustn't go into the forest alone, he, his brother, and Beth were chasing the beast. Colin and I exchanged uneasy glances, and I knew I had to go after them. I overtook Malo and Beth without much difficulty; they had grown winded, or fearful, and stopped short of the bridge. But Talo, foolish and headstrong, had continued to run. I crossed the bridge and found the path leading to the forest temple, wild and overgrown.
Suddenly I froze.
"Help me! Won't someone please help me?"
I can hear the cries of what sounds like an elderly woman, and the hideous laughter of her inhuman attackers. I carry nothing but my wooden sword and shield, the ones with which I have practiced swordcraft, but I cannot ignore someone in need. I crash through the underbrush, slashing branches out of my way, and fling myself at the first Moblin I see. Soon the glade is cleared and the old woman is crouched on the ground, panting for breath and gasping her thanks. I give her a drink from my water skin.
"Who are you?" she asks. I tell her my name, and she nods. "You must help me," she implores, and begins her tale. Her name is Impa; she is the devoted nursemaid of the fair Princess Zelda. A monstrous being, a dark wizard, possesses a magic artifact called the Triforce of Power, and has abducted the princess in order to steal her Triforce of Wisdom; if he can claim them both, he will conquer the land. To prevent this, the Triforce of Wisdom has been fragmented and hidden in dungeons throughout the kingdom. A hero must reassemble the pieces and make his way to the villain's concealed lair, there to challenge him and save the princess.
Moments later -- or so it seems -- I stand before the entrance to one of the dungeons. The forest here is wild and unfamiliar, teeming with creatures of evil. A stone demon rises from the ground, and through its gaping maw I see the stairs which I must descend as I make my way to collect one of the fragments. Vines encrust the demon's eyes, obscuring them, and overhead the upper branches of the trees huddle together to block out the sun. The air is eerie and quiet, like the calm before the storm.
I gave my head a violent shake as the image shattered. Zelda again -- and now the Triforce too. Of course I knew of the Triforce, if only from the legends my mother taught me in my boyhood, but that I would have any greater connection to it was hard to imagine. More to the point, were my dreams now not content with disturbing my rest? Must they now assault me by daylight too?
Clutching my slingshot, I made my way up the rocky path to the temple, my soft-shod feet making no sound. I could hear the wails of the monkey interspersed with those of Malo as I drew closer; a pair of purple-skinned creatures had locked them in a small wooden cage. Providence it was that I'd purchased a weapon with which to dispatch the beasts, and soon I broke open the cage to free Malo and his companion. He thanked me effusively, staring up at me with a kind of awe.
At the edge of the bridge we met Rusl, who had been summoned by Colin when I didn't return, and he and I sent Malo running home to his parents. "Well done, Link," Rusl said quietly. There was something in his expression which I could not quite read. Then it seemed to clear, and he added almost as an afterthought, "Oh, the sword and shield are ready to be taken to the castle -- you can be off tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe you'll even get to see Princess Zelda while you're there!"
I just smiled weakly. I knew I wouldn't have to wait that long.
"You are not happy to see me?"
"I am always happy to see you, my lady." And I am.
She knows this, but she seems doubtful nonetheless. "You appear troubled, Link."
I sigh, and make my way to one of the broken bits of stone ruin that dot the landscape in this part of the forest. Sitting down upon it, I knit my fingers and regard them thoughtfully before I look back at her. "I know who and what you are. And I know who and what I am. But I am having visions...you are there and so am I, and we are ourselves and yet we are not."
"I have them too, Link." She seats herself beside me. "They are not visions. They are memories."
"I know. But what am I remembering? There hardly seems enough time in one lifetime for all of these memories..." I trail off as the meaning becomes obvious.
She smiles, seeing my comprehension dawn. "Many lifetimes. Always together and forever apart."
"Do I forget them, then, when my life begins anew? Do I forget you?"
"In your mind, a little. Never in your heart. There, we are as one."
"Do you forget them?"
"No. Not in the way that you do. Mine is the blessing of wisdom, and I carry the knowledge from one life to the next. Yours is the gift of courage; yours is the mighty heart that beats and bleeds for us both."
My next words come unbidden, as though issued by the heart of which she speaks so glowingly. "I miss you, my lady."