How could you compete with that?
You had originally expected arrogance, a haughtiness that would be justified by his accomplishments, but you were wrong.
He was surprisingly quiet, a contemplative man, whose eyes did more speaking for him than his mouth. This was not to say that he was shy, but he was modest in his achievements and rarely spoke about them, even when swarmed by the castle's soldiers and women, his admirers. He was not swayed by the masses, a steadfast warrior who vowed to help those who were in need. The attention would not seep into his head.
You first met him several years ago when he returned from one of his quests, this one as successful as any other.
Princess Zelda welcomed him as she always did, providing a huge banquet in his honor. Since you had recently taken up your post, she introduced you to him by name. He smiled and addressed you graciously, with far more respect than most would bestow upon a humble servant. You remembered the day well.
The princess did not linger after introductions; she then announced that the feast would begin, and they did with a burst of trumpeting music and wonderful smells as food was brought forward. If you had not known better, you would have thought she was in love with the hero. And why not? He was handsome and brave, while she was of royal blood, a wise and gentle ruler. Two such people belonged together, and even if he was not a descendent of kings, surely the people of Hyrule would bless this union.
However, while he was polite and friendly with her, he did not seem as interested in the princess as she was in him.
You could only make these observations because you were with the princess constantly, one of her most trusted servants, a shieldmaiden of Hyrule, and one of her personal escorts. You were the princess' last line of defense in case someone were to attempt to do her harm.
But with someone such as the hero, there was little need for you to do your job. You never voiced this opinion to him, of course, but you wondered if he knew.
Years passed, and you had never truly had a conversation with him, but he had been in your presence for much longer than he had been near most people. You sat through many banquets, councils, celebrations, and presentations, all in his honor. Other than your original introduction to him, you wondered if he ever noticed you.
Late one night, with the princess in her chambers fast asleep, and guards surrounding every entrance to the castle, you felt yourself relax as you wandered the streets of the city. Princess Zelda was to be commended for her work, and you were her loyal retainer, but these long hours would wear you down if you did not devote time for yourself.
The air was chilly, though comfortable, and you breathed deeply, relishing in the silence and peace. It was interesting that your occupation was created out of necessity, especially in times when people were violent and did not love their ruler. But this was obviously not the case now, and Hyrule was content with Princess Zelda and her reign. Still, as tranquil as it was, soldiers were necessary, and your task was of utmost importance. Your family had served this royal bloodline for centuries -- there did not seem to be any better destiny for you.
"I'm surprised to see you out here."
You turned around as calmly as you could, only to see the hero of Hyrule. Truthfully, he had surprised you; you had not even heard him walking up behind you. This just went to show how dull your senses had become. Princess Zelda was so safe within the city walls that you had unwillingly become complacent. You were disappointed in yourself.
"Why?" you asked. "Didn't think that a hardened guard like me would like midnight strolls?"
"It's not that," he replied well-naturedly. "You're just always by Princess Zelda's side, loyally watching her, protecting her. It's surprising to see you separated from her, is all."
You supposed that you could take that as a compliment. "It's nothing compared to what you do, O Hero of Hyrule."
He exhaled sharply as if he found your comment funny. "You don't have to call me that. Call me Link. 'Hero' seems like such a... pretentious name."
You chuckled. "Really? That's what the world calls you. I thought you'd be used to it by now."
"No, it still makes me a bit uncomfortable, to tell you the truth."
Rarely had you ever seen such genuine expression from a man, and you certainly had not expected it from the Hero of Hyrule. Nevertheless, you smiled at his response. "Even the greatest warriors have their hardships, I suppose."
"Don't we all? We're all mortal. We breathe the same air and watch the same stars. We all have our strengths and we have our distresses. Is that so hard to believe?"
You looked at him out of the corner of your eye. "You're a legend, Link. In the eyes of the Hylians, you don't have any weaknesses."
"Would it be so bad if I did?"
"No," you admitted. "It just makes you more human like the rest of us."
"Well, that's exactly what I want." He said this in a low voice, but his eyes reflected a sincere longing, and by the light of the moon, you saw in him what few others would ever have the chance to see. He was a hero who had accomplished much, had seen the world, and wished to be of service to others. However, he did not want the fame and glory that came with his achievements.
It was in that moment that you knew that there was more to this hero than most people realized, and not only because he was strong and brave.
"I'll remember that," you said, and you meant it. "I should probably be returning to the castle. I've been wandering about long enough."
Link nodded. "Of course. You'll need your rest so you can watch over the princess tomorrow."
"You say that like something bad is going to happen."
"It's always good to be careful. Hyrule's been quiet for far too long. We do what we can day to day, but you can never been too wary."
You could appreciate that comment. You bid him good night, and began the short trek back to the castle, where there was a warm bed waiting for you. Although you thought that your conversation with Link was a one-time thing, you had no idea how wrong you could be.
Over the next few weeks, you seemed to bump into him more and more often. As usual, he was Princess Zelda's guest, and there were no pressing dangers on the horizon, so he chose to stay in Hyrule for a longer period of time than he usually did. He would often humor you whenever the both of you had some spare time alone; he was a good conversationalist when he wasn't surrounded by hoards of people.
You learned that he was a warmhearted fellow, and he seemed to learn that you were more than just the princess' shieldmaiden and escort. He began to see you as a person, not just someone who followed royalty around. A friendship developed quickly.
One morning after the princess had breakfast in her chambers, you followed her out into the garden. It was a spacious place, blooming with spring's new flowers. Vibrant yellows and reds and pinks were sprinkled throughout the scene, and she admired them as you watched from a small ways away.
Although it was your sworn duty to protect her, she had made it quite clear to you that you did not need to keep too close when within the castle's protective walls. You understood why -- if she weren't allowed a bit of freedom, that would be much too suffocating. Instead, you sat on a stone bench that was near the edge of the garden as you watched Princess Zelda.
As several servants came up to her, asking about the flower arrangements for that night's dinner, you wondered why the princess was now so involved with presentations. Something had changed her since the hero had arrived -- it was as though she was looking to impress. You were reminded that they were the ideal couple with a fairy tale ending. What was more classic and expected than a beautiful princess who rode off into the sunset with the hero of the land?
Tonight was going to be a special occasion. The princess and her councilmen wanted to surprise the hero, to offer him a position, something more official, as a protector of Hyrule. He would be allowed to sit in on all conferences, a venerable member of the council. He would also be a leader among the military, someone to help train the soldiers and provide direction in times of war.
You wondered how Link would think of this. Of course, you hadn't said anything to him about it since it was meant to be a surprise.
Princess Zelda motioned you to come forward, and paced over as quickly as you could. "Yes, Your Highness?" you said.
"What do you think, _____?" she asked. "For tonight, do you think carnations would make a better arrangements? Or the daffodils?"
You gave her your suggestions, though you also added, "What's the occasion for your involvement? You never used to be so involved in dinner preparations before. You had always left that up to the servants."
She smiled, looking a little shy. "Well, with the hero here, I want to make sure that he feels welcome. We appreciate all that he's done for us. In keeping the darkness away, my people have had the opportunity to flourish. It's good to know that we are well-protected."
"I see," you replied. It was only natural that she would say something like that -- and she wasn't lying. Link had driven the demons away, leaving Hyrule's people to live in peace. They were happy and comfortable, able to pursue ambitions other than defending their home. He deserved the attention and praise. "I think that the hero will like whatever you choose." Link did not strike you as the persnickety type.
"Thank you for your input, _____," Princess Zelda said. "I know I can always count on you." She seemed a little dismayed, however, her eyes falling to the petals in her hand.
"What's wrong, Princess?" you asked. "I thought you were happy in making these arrangements."
"Oh, I am. I'm very happy that the hero is here and that he has been protecting my people... but he is so aloof sometimes. It's as if this sort of life doesn't suit him and that he belongs elsewhere. Don't tell me you don't notice -- there's often this distant look in his eyes, that slight feeling of being uncomfortable."
You did notice, you supposed. Link was not a man of popularity and large crowds. He did not enjoy being at the center of attention. He was ever only alive when you spoke with him alone. When he was at banquets, speeches, or crowded by Hyrule's women, he seemed a little less free.
She continued. "I worry about him sometimes. I wish him nothing but happiness, but I can't help but wonder if being tied to Hyrule is hurting him more than helping."
"We certainly need him more than he needs us," you affirmed.
"I asked him to stay," she said. "I wanted him to enjoy the fruits of Hyrule's labor because it is his efforts that has allowed the city to truly bloom. I want him to eventually be a part of legislation because the people respect him so much. He has honored my request to stay for the time being, but I'm afraid that my asking was more for my sake than his..." Her voice trailed off.
She really did love him, after all.
Part of you was sad for her. Princess Zelda, from the benevolent line of rulers that your family had served for centuries, the lady who made it her duty to serve her people, was heartbroken -- you could tell. You had grown up with Princess Zelda. Despite the mask that she put on for the councilmen and politicians, she was quite sensitive to the words and actions of the people.
On the other hand, you felt a twinge of excitement that Link did not find Princess Zelda to be the focal of his eyes. It was not entirely clear to you why. You thought that you were selfish to think this way, but you couldn't help it. In some way, it made you proud that you were able to have conversations with Link that seemed to make him come alive, that you could speak to him about things that weighed heavily on his heart.
You thought back to the first conversation you had in the city that one night -- he had confessed that he wanted nothing more than to be human.
Like everyone else.
He was a hero. He did what he could to protect the innocents, but that did not mean that he was happy doing so. He wanted to live his life as a person, an individual. Yet, he couldn't because of his duties and the expectations that people projected upon him. In a way, he was the one who made the ultimate sacrifice, dedicating his life to serve Hyrule and banish evil from the realm.
"Maybe you should talk with him, Your Highness," you suggested. "Maybe there's something else we can do for him in order to thank him for his service." It was a simple idea, but you figured that you shouldn't make assumptions about Link and what he thought was best.
"A grand idea," Princess Zelda said. "I will see how he reacts to the proposal tonight, and we'll go from there."
Your shift for today was over. There was about an hour before the banquet, and another guard let you off until dinner time when Link would be presented with his new promotion. You wondered if he would take it; perhaps it would just be to make Princess Zelda and the rest of the ruling class happy, but you didn't think it would suit him.
As you were pondering this, you paced around the hallways of the castle, only to be found by the very person to whom you had dedicated this moment of thought.
"Miss _____," he greeted, "I didn't think I'd see you here."
You laughed. "You always say that to me whenever you see me alone. I suppose you're so used to me being with the princess that I don't have much of an individual presence, huh?"
"That's not true," he said. "I've said this before -- I admire your dedication. That's all. I can't imagine being confined to a single person all day and doing what they ask of you. I'm sure the princess doesn't mind. She has great company, after all."
You felt the heat rising to your cheeks at this compliment. "You think so?"
"You're the most interesting person in this castle," he admitted. "Everyone else is about pomp and circumstance. Not that there's anything wrong with always talking about Hyrule and its future, but there has to be more to life than that."
"Well, you've seen it. You've been beyond the borders. You know there's more to life than that."
"Would you like to see it?" His question caught you off guard.
You looked at him with a curious expression. "I would love to... but I must stay here. I have a duty here to protect the princess. My family has been doing it for generations. I couldn't leave to explore the world."
"I'm sorry," he replied, "but you deserve happiness, too. You shouldn't feel bound to Hyrule because your family felt that way. You need to carve your own path."
"It's so easy to say, Link," you answered. "But I don't want to disappoint my family, and I certainly don't want to disappoint Princess Zelda. She's told me many times that she has come to depend on me. I don't think I could leave for such a selfish reason."
Link seemed to understand at that point, and his eyes diverted to the ground. "...I can relate," he said quietly. "There are many things that I would want to do, but the world is depending on me to keep the peace. The gods have decided my fate." He sighed.
You felt bad for him. "The world is a heavy burden; it's not fair that you have to carry it like that."
"But who else will take it?"
"If I had the choice, I would," you offered, almost shyly, "I know I'm not as good with a sword as you are, but that doesn't mean that I can't be of help. I could at least share the burden. I think I'd rather be out in the world, fighting monsters and exploring the land instead of being locked up in the castle anyway." It was a childish thing to say, you decided, but you simply had to let him know. "And you deserve happiness, too," you added. "Even if it's just a little bit. Maybe you just need to find it."
The expression on his face softened. "I appreciate the sentiment. I think going on an adventure with you would be a good experience... better than going alone anyway." He smiled at you.
"You really think so? You're not just saying that?"
"Of course not," he said as he let out a small chuckle. "I wouldn't lie about that."
Several councilmen, dressed in fine clothing, walked down the same hallway, dipping their heads toward the hero as they passed. They spoke words of greeting and friendly appreciation as they invited him to the banquet that was about to begin before heading off themselves.
"Well," Link said, "I suppose it's time for dinner, hm?"
"Sure," you replied. You knew that it would not be long before Princess Zelda and the councilmen would make their proposal, and you longed to see how Link would respond to it.
He motions you toward the dining hall, letting you walk ahead of him as any gentleman would, and you obliged.
The dinner lasted over an hour, with the servers bringing out plentiful platters of food, course after course. People chatted amicably with one another. You were allowed to sit with everyone else and eat -- you were a valued friend of Princess Zelda's, after all, and you were not actively on duty. Link sat at her right-hand side in the place of honor, while you were seated quite a bit farther down the banquet table.
You watched them from afar, taking note of their interactions. Link seemed to have all of the princess' attention, and you could tell that while he was being polite, he was not thoroughly interested in what she and the other politicians had to say.
Finally, at the end of dinner, Princess Zelda gathered everyone for a toast to the hero. It was then that she began her brief speech. "Hero of Hyrule," she said, "you have been a champion to everyone in this city and even in the lands beyond. It would do me and my retainers a great honor if you would join our council as an advisor and serve as a leader among our militia."
Link was quiet, he gaze focused upon the princess' face. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he spoke, "I must respectfully decline, Your Highness."
Echoes of disapproval rang throughout the guests. They must have thought that he was crazy to turn down such an offer. It would allow him even more influence among the people of Hyrule, not to mention the comforts of a luxurious life and wealth.
Princess Zelda's blue eyes were still, and she raised a hand to silence the hall. "I respect your decision, O Hero of Hyrule, but I must ask why this is your answer."
The edges of his lips turned into a small smile. "I have a friend, someone who's very dear to me, who said that I deserve and should search for happiness. I don't think that I will find it here."
Your heart fluttered at his words. He was referring to you, of course.
"Your friend would be right," the princess said, a look of bittersweet expression on her face. "Please find your happiness. Even if it is not in Hyrule, you are always welcome, O Hero. If there is anything we can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask."
It was then that Link turned to look at you, his eyes reflecting a genuine desire. "I do have one request."
"Let's hear it," Princess Zelda replied.
And you could not be more grateful for what came out of Link's mouth.
The next day, after a long afternoon of preparations and farewells, you were saddling up your horse. The stables smelled of clean hay and livestock, but you preferred this to the immaculate smell of the castle. As soon as you finished with your mare, you led her outside.
Link was already waiting outside with Epona, playing a sweet turn upon his beloved ocarina.
You waited patiently in the pasture for the song to end. "I'm all ready to go if you are," you said.
He turned to look at you. "I see. You're even more ready than I am. But I suppose you have the right to be excited for your first adventure."
"I'm counting on you to teach me everything that I need to know."
He came toward you, placing his hands on your shoulders in an affectionate gesture. "I'll be there every step of the way."
"Thanks," you said. "I can't say it enough -- thank you for taking me with you and for making that request to Princess Zelda. I don't think I would have had the courage to ask, and even if I did, my family may think that I was running away from my duties."
Link smiled as he released you. "Well, they won't think that any more. They'll see you as a heroine when you return, a companion and partner to the Hero of Hyrule."
"A partner? Already?" You felt honored.
"I don't doubt that you'll make a great partner... and an even better companion." He turned and mounted Epona in one swift movement. "Better get a move on, then, before it gets dark."
You climbed onto your horse and followed after Link.
The sun was setting in the west. You had never dreamed that you would be the one lucky enough to ride off with the Hero of Hyrule, cantering off into the distance as though it were your horizon to chase. But the gods deemed that you ought to be happy, and they had also given Link a gift, a chance at some happiness of his own.