Howdy! I'd suggest watching memory #11 Shelter from the Storm before reading!

Chapter Thirteen

A Shrine Long Forgotten

At Sir Link's reassurance, Princess Zelda tied the reins of her horse off to a particularly thin branch of an old and drooping tree. Naturally, she was curious about such peculiar specifications, but his explanation was reasonable enough. A weak branch was enough to fool a gullible horse into staying put, but should danger come for it during its master's absence, be that danger a venomous snake or starved wolf, it could stomp, pull, rear and fight till its bonds were broken and it could run to safety.

"These are hardy and well-trained beasts; a shameful thing to lose," he said in a mellow voice as he patted down the legs of his stoutly steed. "But given the choice between walking back to Hyrule on foot or returning to find such a fine horse dead to some danger it could not flee, I'd take the former."

His delivery, though meant to be reassuring, brought a chill down the Princess's spine. What a terrible image it was to see in her mind. True, she and her horse couldn't ever seem to get on equal terms with one another that beast was downright ornery when she sat in the saddle but she hardly could ever wish anything quite so horrible as that on the poor thing.

In that regard, she would rather walk on foot as well.

"Do you think they'll be bothered?" Zelda asked timidly. "… By wolves and the sort?" The notion didn't bode well for the jungle they were about to delve into themselves. Although the Princess was set on completing their mission, she would have been lying if she said she didn't feel a little wobbly and nervous about traversing the famous Faron labyrinth on foot with nothing but their wits and weapons to protect them.

Absentmindedly, Zelda thumbed the hilt of the dagger Link had given her, strapped across her hip. He had insisted she would only use it should dire situations arise.

"I can't make promises, naturally," Link answered in a tone she thought he tried to make comforting. "But I'm sure they'll be just fine." The young Hero surveyed the mess of vines and branches set before them, as if the forest had grown a wall of green to keep unsavory visitors out. Given the narrow squint of his eyes, Link seemed dissatisfied.

"We'll be hard pressed through all this. It's much denser than I remembered."

Little did the Princess know, that day would come to be one of the hardest hikes she had ever set upon. Between the entangled brush, branches, spiderwebs, loose stones, and worst of all, mud pits that made them sink to their ankles, Faron Forest had no intentions of granting easy passage. More than once Zelda stumbled forward onto her hands and knees, only to be caught up in some twisted trap set by spiders that made her sputter and jolt as she brushed the damned things off her.

"Watch out for the ones with yellow bellies," she warned Link. "They're particularly venomous to Hylians."

To that, the young Hero made a peculiar face, one she could almost peg as worrisome. With a touch of amusement, Zelda proposed the idea that maybe he was scared of spiders, but the jab hardly brought a rise out of him. Just as quick as the expression had come it was gone. Regardless though, she made mental note of it. Lynel and Hinox were nothing to sweat about, but spiders…

Well, for the time being, the results were inconclusive.

And so, on they pressed. Over brook and stone, under roots wider than a man's waist, through twisting gorges of ancient stone turned green with algae, Link and Zelda dove deeper. Not even the sunlight had an easy time getting through the crowded canopy above. Though it was not even midday yet, one could have sworn it were in the grips of a clouded twilight… the time it was said the realm of the spirits and the real world were at their closest, just on the verge of convening, like a long shadow cast by a lone candle in a dark room reaching out to touch the flame.

An abstract idea, Zelda pondered, but with it a certain eerie air of mysticism and silence.

Link seemed to sense the same feeling. His vivid blue eyes hardly blinked, and his footsteps had become circumspect and slow. Not that he ever voiced any real concern, but it was obvious the forest had an affect on him. The Princess made sure to stick close behind him, perhaps a step or two behind his.

And for an hour or more, the trudged on. At least, she thought it was an hour. It was hard to tell in the dark, but on they went regardless. It was then that they stumbled upon the first sign of good fortune… Well, maybe just fortune. Whether it was good or bad was still up to debate, but at the very least it was a sign that they were on the right track.

Before them stood the ruins of the Zonai.

Not much was know about those ruins, outside of unreliable oral record from neighboring locals. Many folk from Lurelin and Hateno claimed some sort of ancestry from the long gone Zonai people, but there hadn't exactly been scholarly research performed to determine any truths. The region was unforgiving to the unsuspecting and inexperienced, so very few ever braved it. Of anyone, the Sheikah knew the most about the ruins, but even their research fell short of any real explanation.

Still, Zelda was putting her faith in their word, and Link's guidance.

Somewhere, deep in those ruins, their lay a long-forgotten shrine dedicated to Hylia. Or more specifically, to the spirit of courage, of which Hylia was the patron deity, just as she was patron to the spirit of wisdom and strength; the old goddesses that formed the land they now called home.

"We're close," Link suddenly declared, a look of familiarity reaching his eyes. Had he not known where they were before? "The path follows the river, which snakes through the ruins, and at the end it opens up."

"How " Zelda's words were cut short when the ground under her foot gave way with a loud crack and she stumbled forward, nearly losing her balance. Luckily, she did not fall completely as she had before, and managed to flail her arms to stay upright. She turned then, to investigate what had given way, and was shocked to find a half-buried skull which had been long since picked dry of all flesh and cartilage.

Its shape was easily recognizable.

"Bokoblins," she sighed with worry. "You don't think there will be more, do you? Live ones?"

"It's possible," Link answered, kneeling beside the carcass as he prod the loose earth with a gloved hand, and uncovered the remainder of the skeleton. However, his fingers found something foreign then, and with a swift jerk he removed a long narrow shaft with an oddly barbed end. It was an arrow. A Hylian made one for that matter. "Although this Bokoblin was never moved by its comrades since it died. A good sign."

"How so?"

"Bokoblins never leave a carcass intact. There's always tools and weapons that can be made from bones. Especially from bones of one of their own." Standing, Link discarded the old arrow, and motioned for Zelda to follow his lead once more.

"That's horrible," Zelda muttered with disgust.

Link nodded. "But, since its carcass is intact, it means that either its comrades have all left, or they were truly weeded out to the last. And considering I recognize that arrow, there's hopeful evidence for the latter."

"So that was your arrow?" Link nodded. Of course, the Princess could only be so surprised by that. After all, this wasn't his first time exploring Faron, and Sir Link never struck her as a man to leave such dangerous monsters to their own devices. Still, they never could be too careful. Bokoblins were not their only worry.

Yet, it seemed today, Hylia was with them. For even as the dove into the thickest of what Faron had to offer, all that threatened their path were a few brightly painted spiders, and the odd fox or bird. Soon enough, the canopy above gave way to some small amount of sunlight, and further still it vanished entirely when they reached the end of the spiraling riverway Link had described, landing them at the border of a large meadow.

Dilapidated walls encircled the meadow, as did fallen towers and statues of great serpents, but most striking of all was the immense structure that sat just on the far side. Like a great roaring monster, the mountainside had been carved and lain with stone to resemble the open maw of a great dragon, and within its gaping mouth there was a clear spring, whose water was as pure and still as the prayer pools in Hyrule Castle. It was only fitting that an alter of Hylia stood watch over the pool, as a reminder of the sole purpose of its existence.

Zelda could not help but stare in awe.

Not a word passed between the Princess and her Knight. Creeping ever slowly forward, as if treading on sacred ground, they entered the maw of the dragon and began the ritual as Impa had suggested. Link left the pack strung over his shoulder on the ground nearby a sort of alcove cut into the dragon's mouth, where Zelda could take privacy to change into her prayer gown while he stood guard at the maw, the Master Sword gripped loosely in his hands, the point of its scabbard driven into soft earth.

And there he remained, unchanging as stone.

The air of the forest felt strange to Link, and not at all as he expected it. Where danger once bared its teeth without hesitation, Faron now was as if it were asleep. Docile and tame. And yet, that feeling brought no sense of security to the young Hero. In fact, quite the opposite was true. The hairs on the nape of his neck tingled and stood on edge, and in his chest stirred with the feeling one gets in the calm before a battle.

No, Faron could never be tamed, only appeased for a short while, like an offering to a god of calamity to stay its terrible wrath.

How fitting it was, that here in the heart of such a treacherous forest, lay the Spring of Courage. At least he thought it so. After all, his last visit had not gone so smoothly as this. Back then he was fighting tooth and nail through droves of all manner of nasty beasts, all the while a foolish merchant tugged at his pack strings like a petrified child, face white at death and knees knocking with every step. There was good reason no one came to Faron. At least, not this deep.

And yet, here they stood, not a Moblin or Lizalfos to speak of, the prime makings of a tell-tale ambush. Link felt rightfully anxious. It was one thing to hunt down monsters alone that he could do without much worry but it was another thing entire trying to protect the Princess of Hyrule while their backs were up against the wall, leagues away from the nearest sign of civilization. He would be hard pressed to keep her safe.

Regrettably though, there was nothing to be done about it now.

This pilgrimage was important, that he knew in his core. If it could awaken the Sealing Powers slumbering in the Princess than the risk was well worth it. Who could say with any certainty how long they had till Ganon's inevitable return? How could the Champions hope to face him without Zelda's help?

The name of the Calamity flared brightly in his mind, occupying all thought and vision, and making his fingers grow stiff around the pommel of his sword. Fear, anger, hatred, they all seemed to blend together in his heart.

The sensation only made him more acutely aware of the enigmatic presence waning within the Master Sword. How long had it been since he last heard the Sword speak to him, he wondered? Their climb up Death Mountain? Zora's Domain? Link could not remember precisely. Perhaps he had really only ever heard it call to him in his dreams, a figment of his imagination.

And yet, he could not deny what was trapped within the Blade that Seals the Darkness.

Silent as it was, the Master Sword seemed like a blooming bud in the back of his mind, a presence that only greatened in strength whenever he held its hilt. Some might have called it madness, but in days like these with signs and wonders of coming doom, Sir Link never could bring himself to discredit the feeling. If he was mad, then the world was madder still.

The Master Sword was a living thing. Or at least it was conscious.

'Alive' might have never been the correct word to use. It was as alive as a Spirit might live, outside of worldly reason and law. It made his head spin. And so, with a little focus and determination, he pressed such thoughts from his mind, and observed the situation at hand.

Zelda was waist deep in the prayer pool by then, the better part of an hour into her prayer. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead, even in the relative cool of the spring. The task seemed stressful as she hardly moved. The Princess's mouth muttered and moved mutely, and her eyes remained clamped shut till the sun reached its peak in the afternoon sky nearly an hour later.

To Link, there seemed no appreciable difference about the Princess other than she looked tired and creased with a stoic expression. No doubt she was disappointed, but the Hero expected Zelda hardly had given up yet.

"I suppose it would have been foolish to think visiting only one of three Springs would awaken the Power," she said with a decidedly even tone. He could still sense trace signs of dissatisfaction, but she put on a brave face about it. Link commended the Princess for her dedication to the task; how easy it was to grow disheartened in times such as these. "All that is left for us is to press on, yes?"

With a nod, Link sheathed his sword, and brought over Zelda's pack and a tightly bundled towel Impa provided her, before returning to the mouth of the Spring to give the Princess privacy. Before long, she reemerged in her normal attire, although she tied her hair in a loose tail to keep the still damp ends from soaking her back entirely.

Link thought and kept said thought to himself the style looked pretty on her.

"We'll be hard pressed to make it to Kolomo Garrison today," Link reported. "We might have to make camp."

"Not here, I hope?" Zelda asked, her eyes widening with worry. The expression bled away however, when Link shook his head. No, they would get out of this damned forest as quick as possible. The last thing he wanted would be to be fighting Moblins and Lizalfos in the dead of night in Faron.

And so they did just that.

At his urging, Zelda took lead on the trail back through the thick forest while he acted as the rearguard. The Princess, of course, was sharp of memory, and seemed to remember their original path in rather well, so he rarely had to correct their course. The dark of the forest did not surround them for long. Unfortunately, however, they had lost the benefit of the clear sky they had that morning. Cloud coverage above made it hard to tell what time it was when they reached their horses, but that was the least of his concerns. To the west, great storm clouds were rolling above, and its path was sure to clash with theirs.

"We'll just have to make it as far as we can and find cover."

Zelda had no arguments with that, so after a quick once over of the horses to make sure they hadn't been bit or injured, they saddled up and set a brisk pace through the ever-thinning canopy of trees, at last feeling as if they could breathe unrestrained. Why, even Link himself took a deep breath when they finally broke out into open fields, relieved far more than he had anticipated.

This caused the Princess to give him a peculiar look, one that seemed to dance on the edge of a smirk, but she made no comment.

At any rate, he was relived that they had made it out unscathed and unperturbed. Link was sure they would have had some kind of run in with monsters. The riding was easy after that, by comparison. Though the road that eventually emerged from the rolling hills to the west of Faron was rarely traveled by common folk, it did see good many merchants off down to the shoreline down south, towards the settlements of Lurelin and Arurelin, both notable fishing villages, the latter having a sizable port. In fact, they were the only reason that road existed, and furthermore, why the Bridge of Hylia existed.

Standing out like a monolith among green hills and rocky mounts, the Bridge of Hylia spanned what was unsurprisingly named Lake Hylia. From Link's understanding, that bridge had been built for the purpose of importing and exporting goods from the southern sea, and in recent years, troops and supplies in the Labryinna Wars across the ocean. Those who did not pass through Hateno Village in war time, like his own father did, had passed through here at Lake Hylia.

One glance at the Princess revealed that she mostly likely had similar thoughts. Well, excluding the part about his father of course.

"Strange to think," Zelda sighed, admiring the craftsmanship of the stone bridge before them. It was wide enough for nearly three wagons to ride side by side without being too crowded. "How much effort they went through to build this bridge, only for it to end at a measly dirt road. It seems a bit much, don't you think?"

Zelda waited for his reply, and was apparently amused by the small nod of his head.

"Though I suppose it serves its purpose well enough," she continued. "And maybe one day a large city will sit at this side of Lake Hylia. The Faron Region can't remain wild lands forever." There was a hint of optimism in her voice, or a sort of imaginative air for the future, a tone he rather enjoyed hearing from the too often solemn Princess. Sometimes when she spoke of the future it was overshadowed by the ever-looming knowledge of the storm they would have to weather before there was any hope of a real future.

Though his grips on the world were small yet, Ganon's return was assured as the sun rising.

Link pressed the thought from his mind… he did not have the energy to give to that musing. And so, with a small kick of his heels, he urged his horse forward once again, only to tarry for a moment until the Princess could get her mount to do the same. Three or four kicks of the heels eventually got the mare going, and together they set off across the bridge at an easy pace.

She had been giving an honest try at getting that beast to respond to her command, and she had improved considerably, but there was always such a tenseness to her that the mare did not respond well too.

A horse, by hook or by crook, had a mind of their own, and you couldn't 'force' them to do anything, short of lassoing and pulling them down by sheer strength. No, a horse had to be trained, and its rider even more so. They had to understand that its rider meant no harm, and that by following their 'commands' good things would come to them, often in the form of treats or a good rub down and kind treatment.

Well, perhaps that was an oversimplification of it, training a horse was a far more strenuous and complicated process than that, but that was the general idea. At any rate, it was hardly the horse that was untrained in this instance, but rather the rider. Zelda had a habit of yanking the reins one way or another, without using her legs to help instruct the horse where to go. Often times she gave contradicting commands, resulting in a fluster mare, and an impatient rider.

Yet, she insisted it was the horses own stubbornness.

Of the two, however, Link considered the Princess far more stubborn. Naturally, he kept that thought to himself. Zelda would have named him a hypocrite had he opened his mouth for that, she thought him to be as immovable as a boulder, or head strong as a mule. And well, perhaps she had a point there, but he had good reason to be. A man in his position had to be uncompromising. There was little room to bend, for fear of breaking, not matter how much a pretty lady could pout, tease, or flutter her eyelashes at him.

And still, the hills she had chosen to die on were nothing short of silly.

'I'll make you tell me what's going on in that head of yours,' she'd always say. Well, what if he preferred keeping that to himself, hmm? A man had a right to his own thoughts, especially if he felt his tongue betrayed him more often than aided. And concerning the Princess… well, his discipline be damned, she seemed more than capable of making him flap like a fool. In the spirit of stubbornness, Sir Link had met his equal, he decided.

Or, Hylia forbid, his better.

"Such vivid expressions, Sir Link," the Princess suddenly said. He tone was brimming with mirth, and no small helpings of feigned properness. Had he grown so unable of maintaining composure? "One might wonder what spins around in the mind of a Hero. What occupies you today?"

"The look of those clouds above aren't particularly reassuring," he deflected. "I worry if we'll reach some shelter before it hits." The crook of the Princess's eyebrow alerted him of her disbelief. She had become increasing capable of reading through his deceptions. Nowadays, for every half truth or deflection he offered, she found and equal share of the whole truth.

And yet, as of late, that idea didn't upset him as much as it once did. Oh, sure, he'd still fight to keep silent what he wanted to be kept silent, but her disarming ways were not always so unpleasant as all that. After all, she rarely used such vulnerability against him, and when she did it was almost always in harmless jest. Princess or no Princess, he suspected Zelda just enjoyed teasing men as much as the next young woman did, it didn't mean anything special.

"What a range of emotion for something as simple as a storm," Zelda tsk'd. "Are you sure that was all? You outwardly seemed relieved the moment we were out of the border of Faron Woods, so I suspect the feeling was ten-fold on the inside? And even moments ago your expression shifted every which way." She did not even try to hold back her grin now.

Yes, the Princess enjoyed teasing him…

Link kept quiet, offering little more than a shrug of the shoulders. There was no sense in arguing with Zelda, it would only encourage her; to think that she had gotten a rise out of him. Yes, best to keep quiet, he decided. Of course, she prodded him for more than that, but after a time she gave in and moved on to other things.

Zelda's mood noticeably dampened when they at last reached the other side of Lake Hylia, where in the far distance, Hyrule Castle loomed high and mighty amidst the surrounding landscape. From there, it seemed like a shadowy shape on the horizon, like a far off mountain would appear on a cloudy day; distant and grey, but still unmissable. The peak of the tallest tower had broken into the storm head above, vanishing among the wisps of swirling gray.

"The storm is almost upon us," Zelda remarked with an ominous tone, the cheeriness of before long gone. Link could not decide if she meant it literally or figuratively. Did it matter? As if on cue, the faint tittering and clinking of rain drops falling on pots and skillets strapped to saddlebags rang in Link's ear, and shortly after his neck felt wet splashes break on the skin. The storm had come.

What came next was a torrent of a downpour, drowning out the sound of horse hooves beating on the now soggy road, and the two Hylians broke off to the nearest cover: A lone and drooping tree not far from the path leading to the Bridge of Hylia.

With leaves thick and wide from the explosive growth of spring, the tree offered some protection from the rain, though that didn't help the fact that their clothes, saddles, and horses were drenched head to toe. Still, it was better than before. Here under the tree, they could huddle and wait in relative peace. Very little passed between Link and the Princess, the roar of rainfall would have drowned them out anyways, so they were left to sit and wait till the storm or at least the strongest wave of it passed.

Sir Link thought of the Master Sword on his back.

It would need a good oiling as soon as he could manage it, with all that rain that had poured down on his back. Water, he suspected, would damage even such a fine blade as that if he left it drowning in his scabbard, legendary blade or not. And even if it did not, and the Master Sword could not be tainted or rust like an ordinary sword, the practice of keeping a well oiled and dried blade was so engrained in the young Hylian it felt like a sin to think of mistreating it so.

And so, removing the scabbard from his back, he tipped the hilt to the earth, and drew the blade out.

A good wash of water poured out onto his already soaked boots, and he gave it a good shake to free the majority of the remaining drops. He didn't much care for the scabbard gifted to him by the Royal Family, it was far too decorative for his taste, and it did little in the ways of keeping moisture off the blade. Not that he didn't appreciate the gesture from the King, it was as immaculate a scabbard a man could expect or ever ask for, but it didn't suit him. At least, he didn't think so.

And again, there was that issue with the water.

The Princess watched him with curious eyes as he continued to flick water off the Master Sword, and shake out its scabbard, though she seemed to work out the reasoning in her head. And then, those solemn emerald eyes turned northward again, pools of light reflecting in her thoughtful gaze, staring beyond the falling rain to the horizon where Hyrule Castle stood. They were pretty eyes, he thought. A shame they were so often burdened with worry.

A few flicks of the Master Sword turned into swishes, and before long, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, Link found himself swing his blade in the careful and disciplined arcs of training forms. The change had come so naturally over him that he had hardly noticed. How odd, he thought, and yet it just felt right. Worries and anxieties behind, there was one thing he could say for certain… that blade felt right in his hands. It was light. Lighter than any blade he had ever held before, even that of rapiers and daggers. Purah seemed to think it weighed as much as a sack full of bricks, and it didn't seem to be just due to her diminutive size. No, to anyone else, the Master Sword was a blade too heavy and unwieldy as ever there was.

How such a thing was possible he couldn't say, but it felt right to him.

"I doubt this will let up anytime soon." It was the first thing Zelda had said in a while, posed as the beginning of an open conversation. The Princess often had those a sort of idle talk, if you will though he didn't mind. Even if he didn't have much to add to any given subject, it wasn't like he didn't enjoy hearing what she had to say. Zelda had taken to sitting on an upturned rock, her back up against the churning roots of their shelter tree snaked into the bumpy hillside.

She gave her musing a considerate pause, and then she surprised him with an unusual prompt.

"Your path seems to mirror that of your father." Link faltered in his form for a moment, the tip of his blade not quite pointing straight and true as it should given the form he practiced, but he forced himself to continue unhindered. What a peculiar thing to bring up in a time like this. What had gotten into her?

"You've dedicated yourself to becoming a Knight, as well," she continued with a breath. That was true, he supposed. Ever since he was a young boy, he had dreamed of becoming a Knight, though for most of his years that was simply an aspiration he believed to be out of his commoner grasp. The bastard of a Knight could never be a Knight himself, not by law. Especially if the arrangement of his birth remained a secret to most.

Gently, he wished no one knew about that, most of all the Princess, but honesty had been demanded of him ever since that day he drew the Sword. Exactly how much Zelda knew eluded Link, however. He assumed her father had told her everything, that was a given, but how much had Mipha told her? Or Lady Hamish, even? Why, he would not have been very surprised if his half brother hadn't spoken ill of him to the Princess.

Link thinned his lips. No. It was not fair to accuse the man of that without proof. Their differences aside, he admired Byron in a way, few men were as straightforward and honest as him. He had the fine makings of a Knight yet, though he had yet to be officially titled by the King.

No… in one way or another, that claim had fallen upon Link first. All because of the sword that now swung in his hands.

"Your commitment to the training necessary to fulfill your goal is really quite admirable," the Princess continued in a low voice. What had brought all this on, Link wondered? "I see now why you would be the Chosen One."

There was a sad glint in her eyes, Link noticed. Hylia, how could he not notice? Her eyes were as large and expressive as they came, greens so starkly set against the whites you could swear they'd glow at night. They did not linger on him long, and instead turned to the ground. What was bothering her?

"What if…" she said, to the empty air at her feet. "One day, you realized you just weren't meant to be a fighter. Yet the only thing people ever said is that you were born into a family of the Royal Guard, and so no matter what you thought you had to become a Knight."

Link gave her words pause. He was not so slow, he hoped, to detect the hypothetical nature of her question. After all, that was not at all how he had come to attain his rank. He had not earned it by legitimate claim, a family that upheld him and that duty by right, but by external forces turning the wheels of fate… Hylia guiding the world by her invisible hand. He was once a Ward, and later, a simple laborer, and only by the turnings of the world had he found himself here.

No, it was not himself the Princess spoke of.

"If that was the only thing you had ever been told… I wonder then, would you have chosen a different path?" Shoulders once held strong and dignified, now drooped and withered. What a change that had come over his Princess, he was surprised. It stirred something in his chest… something familiar… something he understood.

What would he have done, he wondered? Was denying his destiny even an option? He didn't know.