This is bigger than you. This is bigger than anything and you need validation that this is right, that this is what you are meant to do. Second guessing is only human after all. You will go back home, just one more time, see your green eyed girl, feel courage returning to face your doubt, but she’s not there. She’s not in her home, in the tree covered village. She is in the secret place you two always go, in the woods where people who don’t know its ways get lost, stay lost, die lost, become the lostness that consumes the wood. But you don’t know where this place is in the woods, you only woke in the middle of your childhood and everything before your waking is dim and fuzzy. But the forest children tell you to listen for her. She is calling to you. In the woods you hear her song. The song she made for you, for her, for your friendship. It guides you through the maze, guides you past the bitter plant people, transformed and disfigured children of the lost. They want to beat you, but you follow her music, follow her to the Sacred spot of your friendship and she says she will teach you the song she wrote for the two of you because it could come in handy (everything people do seems to come in handy). She tells you that you can play the song when you get lonely to hear her voice in the wind, and she will talk to you till your heart settles. She knows what’s to come, she has a sense for feeling the future, but you can’t know this. So you learn, you remember, and even though you know she understands, you will leave her again.
On the way to the mountain, you remember the red haired girl. You want to make sure her father found her, that she wasn’t forgotten because you know what that’s like, and she will be grateful that you haven’t forgotten. The weird places people misplace their hearts—a chicken nest behind the wall of a milking tower, behind six cartons of milk. You have to crawl for this one, your knees bloodied and bruised, though your skin never scratches. You find this heart, know it’s hers, and you take it, and she will know you took it, let you take it, and one day you will take her horse too because every hero needs a noble steed, a gift she wants to give you, but won’t for a while, so in the meantime she will teach you the song her little horse likes so it will remember you and your kindness. She will grow up pretty, abused, and alone, but you will not be able to love her like you want to. There’s something about her frailty that draws you to her, but she is another means to an end, just another friend for you to protect when, if, you can. And you will realize later how your past acts of kindness will force another girl to realize she was just this, a means. They will all understand, but it will not make it any easier to watch them fall and break, and perhaps, one day, settle.
- Bottle #1: You find him heavy with sleep and snoring when you walk into the farm house, and he’s holding a couple of chickens and you think it’s no wonder you can sense the red haired girl’s loneliness. Her father is lazy and a sleeper, like someone who is drunk on tiredness and needs to constantly feed his days with hours upon hours of sleep, and you think one day he’ll fall asleep and when he wakes up, his ranch will be gone, but he offers to give you a gift IF you can find the special chickens he’s keeping close by and you think, sure why not, and you want to show him up, make him feel uncomfortable as if that will make things better for the red haired girl, and you of course will succeed in showing him up because you’re determined and you have right on your side. As a prize he will offer his daughter to you and you want to kill him right then and there, but then he laughs it off and gives you a bottle with some of their home grown milk inside it, which you take because you earned it. Then you’ll leave him, angry, know he’ll be snoring before the door even closes behind you.
So this is what a real village is. Trees broken and reformed unnaturally into an ideal image of home. It’s not like the market at the castle, stone against stone and mortar. It is not like the forest, trees used in their natural form, hollowed to provide warmth and cozy confines. Items of the earth used naturally. This is smaller and unfinished. Still aspiring to be something and it feels wrong. It feels pressured and socially pushed, the way the men complain and lollygag around town, lying about the tasks they are supposedly completing in a timely manner using new techniques beyond their time. A new feat of engineering this form of house making. But as they lope away from you, a thought occurs. Isn’t this what you’re doing? Not the lazy loping around in this world, but the forming of yourself into something you maybe don’t want to be, shouldn’t be? It feels as though you aren’t allowed to retain the essence of yourself in this quest, that there is an ideal hero that you must subscribe to or you will fail everyone. You feel again, that lack of choice in the matter. It’s a hard burden to carry, a pressure to bear. It is here that you want to run again. You want to ensure that a part of you still remains you, that boy in the forest, lover of sun and grass on the backs of legs and sweet tunes of lost children carried on the wind through the trees. You aren’t one to consign to anyone’s image of “hero.” You will only be the hero you can be, are meant to be. But the looming feeling of choicelessness in the matter alarms the center of your being.
- Adult Wallet: Not that you worry about money, but this is simply another gift for a good deed well ton. Ten golden spiders, and now the curse is no longer a mystery, and while the one changed human thanks you profusely, in between hoorays and joyous cries of gratitude he asks how you found them, what you’ve been doing, and you simply say you didn’t even know what they were, but they were menacing and you don’t like spiders, so your gut instinct was to kill that first golden anomaly and from there on have found them in places you weren’t expecting. Your honest answer seems too humble answer, so it will be ignored and he will continue to ask how and why, even after you are long gone because you have things to do and you do not have the time to help un-rattle a long transformed brain.
- Bottle #2: Of all the things a hero is asked to do: catch those chickens! Yes, you went running through this village to catch the chickens loosed from their pen, and you wonder to yourself as you hold the birds above your head to avoid the pecking and flapping wings, how silly this woman, who claims to be “allergic” (simple goose bumps, hardly that life threatening), is for being in a profession she can not even handle properly. But you’re not one to tell a person in need no, because you are a hero, and heroes help people no matter how small or pathetically menial the task may be.
You feel a darkness below your feet, an ancient secret with dark intentions, and the gravedigger, an unsightly funny man, tells you with a crooked smile that he never knows what lies beneath the holes he’s dug himself and the ones dug and filled long before him. After all, the ground is always shifting, swallowing old worlds, spitting out new ones, and the layers are too deep and complicated that it would take an afterlife to know the world and its past inside and out. That’s his dream, but not yours. Your dream is to just live in the moment, under sun and moon and rain and starless skies, though you wonder why the stars refuse to shine here and everyone around this world. The sky is cloudless and blue and dark with only the moon for light and stars, you don’t know what they are in this world, but you remember small lights and you know the word, so there should be some shouldn’t there? The afterlife seems too far away to even contemplate alongside the notion of stars, but as you walk, it saddens you to see what remains. Broken hearts, overworked bones, lost minds, betrayed souls. Fractured lives sifting farther into nothingness between the particles of dirt and rock, speared by a gravediggers unyielding shovel. Trinkets that only matter to the living–a stronger shield, a time altering melody–buried with the dead for sentimental reasons, now left functionless. Maybe that, a sense of uselessness and forgottenness, is a fate worse than death, but you’ll adjust because you’re adaptable, and you are still breathing and useful, and you are becoming a master of time, always the master of time, and space, and the masks you put on your face so that no one can see what you think and feel, wearing your mask of stone on that hard set jaw, and now you are becoming a master of music who can lull the sun to sleep with one note, bring out the moon before its time with another. But that is just something else that feels, how shall you put this, natural, as though you’ve always been musical and you wonder if your mother ever sang to you as a child and if her voice was beautiful. You only think of her every so often and they are fleeting moments, because whatever you’re doing in this graveyard of unhappiness and mourning at this very point in time is important and needs your complete attention. Your fate is always changing, growing, shrinking, but you are one who knows victory in the face of adversity, magic in the presence of unbelievers, and the meaning of green in the clothes you wear.
- Hylian Shield: The crest of the royal family, a soldier’s shield, one who died in the name of duty and honor and you thank the spirit of who this shield used to belong to because it would be rude if you simply just took it without giving proper thanks. And this shield is heavy, too heavy for you to lift properly in your young state and it doesn’t quite cover as much of your head as you would like, but it protects your back, which is the next best thing because there are bats dipped in flames who are always dive bombing their victims to stun, and reanimated carcasses brown as wood with paralyzing stares, both sucking blood and life’s soul to kill and you can crouch to block them, deflect those flesh seeking teeth, recalibrate, and strike. Heavy, but useful, and you are in need of something against the fire of the mountain you are heading towards and since the original owner is now long dead, it wouldn’t be doing anyone any good staying buried beneath the ground.
What gets you through the days and the nights? Do you think of her as you ascend mountains built on a lake of fire? Do you start to think about the after? Straddle that line between the life you have now and the life you hope for, and as time has told over and over, choices will have to be made because one cannot have both. That is a fool’s dream and besides, living in fantasy only distracts you from the goal at hand. Leaves room for failure and mistakes, but it is nice for now to think about when this is all done and you wonder if she thinks about the after too, thinks about the years you can spend getting to know each other, protecting and learning about the world from her, teaching her how to protect herself, watching sunsets along lakeshores or the tops of forest trees or over stone houses from a roof of the castle because, naturally, she’ll have to stay there and you will stay with her, if that is part of the after that is to come because that’s what romantic couples do. They stay together through it all and even if one person can’t leave, the other will give up everything because love is all that matters in a world where riches and fine clothes decay into nothing, and you’ve never been one to worry about riches, or love, because both seem to come to you at the end no matter how you go about finding the end. Though this might be a childish notion too as you climb towards fire and death, taking inventory of the offerings, carless droppings, gifts, prizes, rewards, and discovered chests of treasure you have come across already, your pockets clinking with each step and you hope that money won’t pull you apart, but enough now. These musings are distracting you from your task. Set your jaw, keep pushing on, because the princess is waiting for you to succeed, and the monsters are waiting for you to come and die.
(This section was previous published by Cartridge Lit. Magazine.)
- Goron’s Bracelet: The signature of the princess only got you so far, but now you are before an incredibly unhappy king whose people are starving and main cave of food is blocked and infested by monsters with scales and fiery breath and he can’t think about anything else right now. You think, okay, that’s a sign that this was all for nought and you should go back to the forest, send a note to the princess apologizing and wish her well. You were in fact, not the man for the job, and just as you think of the forest, the song of the wood comes to mind and you turn your back, pull out the ocarina she gave you, and play the tune as you leave, and your heart swells with excitement, but so does another heart, a hardened heart and you hear joyous cries and happy feet and because you brought a smile to his face (a hard thing to do in any case) he gives you the gift of strength to make your journey just a little easier because you have brought some ease in the volunteering to play exterminator to the beasts in the cave. You are a good boy he tells you, one who he admires and would gladly fight for, should you succeed and return alive or at least in one piece. Comforting realism from a man with skin as hard as stone. Very comforting.