Another Branch in the Stream of Time
AUTHOR's NOTE: I hope you enjoy my take on what might have happened to OoT Link after Majora's Mask. I understand that my interpretation of what happened to Ganondorf after Link went back to his ten-year-old life might be a little different, but hopefully it is interesting. This is my first LoZ story, so please let me know how I'm doing. I take reviews seriously and am open to re-editing!
Link felt an uncomfortable twisting in his gut as he led Epona through the dense woods that separated Hyrule from Termina. He had thought long and hard before returning to the place of his birth and he wasn't about to start doubting his decision now, but it was still an intimidating prospect. He was now 17, the same age he'd been when he'd defeated Ganondorf. Although Hyrule should seem familiar—he'd lived in the same time and place before, after all—Link knew that without an evil overlord oppressing the people, any number of things could be different. Would the people he had known be the same? Probably not. The world he had belonged to was gone forever. That was why he had left in the first place.
Link finally managed to reach the Lost Woods, and smiled at the thought that he was perhaps the first person ever to feel less lost upon arriving in the Lost Woods. The Lost Woods was a good place to start becoming reacquainted with his homeland. Even when Ganondorf had been in power, the forest hadn't changed much. These woods had always been unfriendly to outsiders, and even the passage of time was an unwelcome visitor.
Soon Link came across the distinctive brown boulder that marked the entrance to the Sacred Forest Meadow. On a whim, he tied Epona loosely to a nearby tree and passed through the dark entrance. He wandered through the twisted passages leading to the temple entrance almost in a daze, no stray thoughts passing through his mind. Eventually, he reached his only semi-consciously determined destination: a large pentagonal stone slab underneath an ancient, bent-over tree.
Link placed a hand absentmindedly on the trunk of the tree, lost in memories of a past that had been wiped from existence.
Seven years ago, or rather right around now, down a different branch of the river of Time, Sheik had met him here outside of the Forest Temple. Sheik—or rather, Zelda—had taught him the Minuet of the Forest and talked to him about childhood memories. Even at that early meeting, Link had felt a strong connection to Sheik. She was the first person he saw after he awoke seven years older, and she seemed to be the only person who knew what had happened to him and why.
Link missed Zelda. Throughout his quest to defeat Ganondorf, he had grown to care for her, as both Sheik and Zelda. But that was not why he was coming back to Hyrule. The Zelda that Link had cared for did not exist. The Zelda from this time had had different life experiences, different friends, and different circumstances from the Zelda he had known, and there was no way to get the old Zelda back. Link had learned to accept this. He also knew that whether or not Zelda had changed was irrelevant, because a commoner like him would have no chance of spending time with royalty like her. Maybe as the Hero of Time, he would have been granted an exception, but nobody in this time knew what he had done. Link had found that out the hard way.
As soon as Link arrived back in the Temple of Time with his ten-year-old body, he went straight to see Zelda. He shimmied through the same water sluice, snuck past the same guards, and found Zelda waiting in the same palace courtyard. As soon as he saw her, Link's normally stoic face broke into a smile. Her eyebrows raised in surprise as he ran towards her, telling her breathlessly, "Princess Zelda, Ganondorf!" He stopped and huffed for a moment, hands on his knees, "We have to stop him, but don't try to open the Sacred Realm!"
Zelda's eyebrows raised even higher, and she said, "I'm sorry, who are you? How did you get in here? …I've never heard of anyone named Ganondorf…" She trailed off in confusion.
Her reaction caught Link off guard. The first time he'd come to the castle, he had had no reason to believe Zelda would know who he was or why he was there, and yet she had still known him. This time was apparently different.
"Ganondorf? He's the leader of the Gerudo. He… We… You don't know who I am?" Link finished weakly.
Zelda shook her head, "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about. There are no men amongst the Gerudo, and I've never seen you before. Are you, perhaps, from the Kokiri? You must have travelled a long way."
Link was about to protest more, although it seemed clear Zelda was not going to recognize him, when he saw a long shadow pass in front of him. He turned and saw Impa standing behind him, her tall form significantly more imposing as a short ten-year-old.
"It's impressive that you made it this far, kid, but you really should be leaving. The princess has a soft heart, but the king is much less forgiving of trespassers on the palace grounds."
Link just gaped at the older woman, shocked to find more evidence that circumstances in this version of the past were different than those of his previous pasts.
Impa seemed to be waiting for him to reply, but quickly grew impatient with his silence.
"Come on, there will be trouble if the guards catch you. I'll lead you out of the palace."
Link could do nothing but dumbly follow her, looking backwards for one last glance at Zelda.
Impa deposited Link right outside the gate to Castle Town, and Link could do nothing but sit there for a long minute. He felt like his life had been swept out from underneath him.
After several months of traveling around Hyrule looking up people he'd met during his travels, Link determined that, as far as he could tell, nothing had changed in Hyrule except the major fact that Ganondorf appeared to have never existed. Apparently when they had sealed Ganondorf in the Sacred Realm, he had somehow also been sealed there retroactively in the past that Zelda sent Link to. People Link had met before he went to the castle to talk to Zelda still remembered him, but without Ganondorf, Zelda had had no visions of their struggle against him, and therefore had no reason to know that Link even existed.
Soon afterwards, Link decided to leave Hyrule.
Several weeks after Link's detour to the Sacred Forest Meadow, he arrived in Castle Town. He had some vague idea of becoming a ranch hand at Lon Lon Ranch or perhaps a delivery boy of some kind. If he couldn't find a job he liked, he also thought he could just wander throughout Hyrule, selling things he'd found and living off the land.
Link was surprised by how many people in Castle Town seemed to remember him. He hadn't been around for very long before he'd left for Termina, but he supposed it made sense people would remember a young kid with a sword and shield dressed entirely in green. He also noticed that some of the girls he'd seen in the main courtyard were older and more mature, and they seemed to notice him too. He wasn't quite sure what he made of that.
Eventually, Link settled in a small rented room in Kakariko Village. He mostly wandered around Hyrule, collecting odds and ends he knew people would want, and then selling them. He charged fair (some would say too low) prices and soon gained a reputation as the person to go to when you needed a problem solved. It was a simple life, but Link enjoyed it.
One day, Link was approached by Miro, the brother of one of the carpenters perpetually building in Kakariko. Link knew that Miro lived in Castle Town, but he didn't know exactly what he did. Truth be told, he didn't know Miro very well, but he welcomed any visitors.
"Link, I have a job you might be interested in. There's this girl—errr, young lady—a relative of my boss. She's a scholar, and she's studying something about Hyrule's history…. Or maybe it was geography? Anyway, I'm not actually that clear on what she's studying, but she wants to travel around Hyrule and is looking for a guide. My brother Jiro said you might be up for it."
Link thought about it, asking some more details about pay, how long the job would last, and where the young lady was intending to go. He hadn't really done this kind of long-term gig before, but he was open to mixing up his routine a little.
"Sure, I'll do it. Where and when should I meet her?"
Little did he know the havoc in his life this decision would wreak.