The Price of Courage
by on November 18, 2018

Fado runs up to Link’s house, perhaps to ask the young man for help herding the goats, just as he did at the very beginning of Twilight Princess.

But his calls go unanswered. He appears to have no idea what is transpiring nearby.

On the outskirts of their quiet, secluded village, Ilia stares out into the trail that runs through Ordon Woods. Further off, Link rides through the Faron Province atop Epona. He is no longer wearing his Ordonion garb. He is dressed in the clothing of the hero. He has both the Master Sword and the Hylian Shield in his possession as he heads deeper into Hyrule’s wilds.

“The audience cannot determine, exactly, the purpose behind Link’s journey, but one thing is evident in this closing scene―his way of life is no longer what it was…”

The audience cannot determine, exactly, the purpose behind Link’s journey, but one thing is evident in this closing scene―his way of life is no longer what it was when Twilight Princess began. The adventure that saw him save both Hyrule and the Twilight Realm from catastrophe has forever changed who he is as a person. Whether he departs on a mission to somehow reunite with Midna, yearns to roam free across the kingdom, or a combination of both, that closing scene shows that the Ordona Province is much too small to contain this newly crowned hero.

Not even Ilia, the cherished friend who Link pursued across the kingdom to rescue, can tether him to his home, any longer. The quest to save his loved ones and the world they inhabit left such a lasting impact on him that he can no longer be content with the comfortable confines of Ordon Village and its folk. His true home is the journey, wherever it may take him in the world. Link setting off on a new adventure is perhaps the actualization of a statement made at the story’s very beginning―

“And far bigger than Hyrule is the rest of the world the gods created. You should look upon it all with your own eyes.” – Rusl

Twilight Princess’s conclusion is a familiar one for the legendary hero, where at the end of all events, Link feels more at home in the vast wilds than to be rooted in any one, single place, no matter how peaceful that dwelling may be. In The Wind Waker, a very young manifestation of Link judges that he cannot remain on Outset Island for the rest of his days. Like The Hero of Twilight, the Hero of Winds’ perspective is radically changed by the many momentous experiences of his journey. Where his adventure began with the goal of reuniting with his younger sister, Aryll, her safe return is only one of many tasks he must accomplish to fulfill his fated duty. Link regained his sister, but he also lost a dear friend in The King of Red Lions, none other than Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule.

When calm returns to the Great Sea, Link’s mission is still far from complete. A carefree life with family and friends on Outset Island cannot overcome the promise of a new kingdom, of a new world to be explored and made as great as what Hyrule was in an ancient time. The adventure that would eventually be known as Phantom Hourglass depicts what was in store for Link, Tetra, and the pirates as they set sail in the closing moments of The Wind Waker.

“Ah, but child… That land will not be Hyrule. It will be YOUR land!” – Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule

We did not witness it at the end of Ocarina of Time, but we eventually learned that, at least in one timeline, the Link of that era went off in a search for his friend and once constant companion, Navi. Even though peace was ensured to reign in Hyrule for many years thanks to his efforts, even though friends like Saria, Malon, and Princess Zelda were in his life, Link clearly felt that something much too great was missing for him to know happiness. He set off on a very uncertain quest to reunite with the Fairy, a quest that one day led to the incredible events found in Majora’s Mask. One way or another, his duty as a hero kept him from enjoying a quiet, ordinary life that his efforts granted the other inhabitants of Hyrule.

People who believe that Link sees no character development throughout the games are looking in the wrong places. While Link’s personality and inner thoughts are largely ambiguous, audiences witness a drastic lifestyle change for the young man in many of his adventures. His transformation from that of a common, unremarkable civilian to a legendary hero is one that goes much deeper than just his reputation, as proven by the ambitions he often chooses to pursue, and the duties he feels tied to, even when a life without danger or worry is readily available to him.

What defines Link’s transformation the most is not what he gains in the process of becoming a hero, but what he loses in that process. The Legend of Zelda has taught us that loss comes in many forms. For Link, it is often the loss of normalcy―that inability to return to a simple existence following his triumph over nightmarish evil, and his assumption of incomparable power. In other cases, he is provided a taste of everyday joy, only to see it pulled away, in the end.

Sometimes, perhaps his new life of adventuring is not merely the acceptance of his newfound responsibility, but a desperate attempt to reclaim what he briefly, passionately, knew. More than one tale in the vast lore of The Legend of Zelda sees Link say goodbye to a companion who he formed a deep bond with over the course of their quest. Navi, The King of Red Lions, Midna, Fi ―in these characters, and others, Link gained friendship and mentors that he did not previously know. A mission to protect their world brought them together, and, often, it was the same reason why they were eventually separated. Link’s Awakening presents that very irony, where Marin and everyone else who Link meets on Koholint Island is ultimately revealed to be illusory constructs, destined to offer only fleeting companionship.

The most recent Legend of Zelda adventure, Breath of the Wild, saw Link’s profession nearly cost him his life. Even when narrowly avoiding death, he is subject to enormous tragedy, as his fellow Champions meet with untimely demises. So, too, does his homeland perish, in one sense. Upon awakening from his hundred-year slumber, Link finds the Hyrule that he grew up in to be a distant memory. The geography may be the same, but there is little left of its soul that Link can recognize.

For Princess Zelda, that devastation must be even more sobering, despite her’s and Link’s eventual victory over Calamity Ganon. Zelda experiences the same loss that Link does in Breath of the Wild, and then further tragedy. Not only do the epochal events claim her father’s life, but they also scar the land that her royal bloodline ties her to. In the aftermath of Calamity Ganon’s defeat, Zelda must assume dominion over a broken kingdom that is hers, alone, to govern and mend. After losing family and friends, and single-handedly repressing Calamity Ganon for a century, her work is only beginning as the sovereign of Hyrule.

With most iterations of Zelda, her greatest duty becomes even more extraordinary than her royal upbringing already was. If everyday life for her as princess ever was one of the utmost security and luxury, it rarely is at the conclusion of the story she is featured in. Whether it is a new, or simply additional, responsibility, Zelda has commonly taken up a spiritual obligation that is necessary to maintain peace. The young woman featured in such adventures like A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Skyward Sword becomes a divine figure whose life could never be routine, again.

The ascension to greater purpose almost always dictates that something is lost or given up, no matter if the being in question is a lead individual within the legend, or merely a supporting one. Characters like Ocarina of Time’s awakened Sages (Saria, Darunia, Ruto, Impa, Nabooru), Medli, Makar, Prince Ralis, and certainly many more all bid farewell to something or someone precious as they undertake a new, more influential role in their world.

“The price of courage is always steep, but, as seen in the wake of the hero’s triumphs, it is always worth being paid.”

Even without sweeping impact on their surroundings, the many faces of Majora’s Mask contribute to a narrative where loss is the very foundation. At its most overt, Majora’s Mask threatens total annihilation with the Moon gradually plummeting toward Termina, but the losses that strike the deepest in that tale are those that are very personal―the smaller tragedies that affect only a few, maybe even just a single life. The demises of the Deku Butler’s son, Darmani, Mikau, the struggle for Cremia and Romani in running the family business without their father, the temporary, but heartbreaking interruption of Anju’s and Kafei’s wedding―these are the hardships that demonstrate how seemingly unimportant persons can be ensnared by a cosmic event no different from a mighty hero.

Simply knowing someone involved in the missions being carried out may test a character’s resolve. For every home that Link, or Zelda, departs, there is another person, often more, who must accept their absence. Saria, Aryll, Link’s grandmother, Ilia, and Groose are but a few who at some point had to go on with their lives while someone very dear to them was elsewhere seeing to an important task. Very much like the families and friends of real-life humanitarian workers, firefighters, law enforcement, or military servicemen and servicewomen, Link’s and Zelda’s loved ones have often needed to bear courage as Link and Zelda carry out their duties.

The immortal struggle against evil in The Legend of Zelda mythology demands strong wills from those involved, no matter if the being is on the far edges of the conflict, or in the heart of what threatens all life. The price of courage is always steep, but, as seen in the wake of the hero’s triumphs, it is always worth being paid.

Jeffrey Pawlak
Jeffrey Pawlak is a high fantasy author and pop culture journalist who has been a member of the Zelda Universe community for more than 15 years.