“Colin! Wait up!” Link cried.
He raced as fast as his little legs could carry him, trying ever so desperately to keep pace with the older, taller, faster boy. Unfortunately, the other boy had the advantage, though he didn’t press it to its fullest effect.
“Hurry kid!” Colin called back over his shoulder, “You don’t wanna miss getting picked just because you didn’t get to the lineup!”
They both charged down the stairs, passing the dormitory level, the kitchen, and the rec-room on their way to the gathering already started on the bottom floor. A couple stood waiting patiently. Perspective parents. This could be the day one of them got to go to a new home! Colin screeched to a halt as he reached the lineup. Link was soon to follow, more out of breath than the older boy. Colin glanced over at his younger friend and immediately turned to try and straighten him up. He flattened out Link’s shirt and tucking the tail into his pants. After that, he ran his fingers through the boy’s hair in lieu of a comb.
“Gosh you’re a mess! You’ll never get picked looking like that!” Colin hissed jokingly to the disheveled child.
“Stop it! Stop it! I can’t see them!” Link hissed back as he tried to wiggle one way or the other past the taller boy.
Colin relented, turning his attention to his own hair, trying to lay it down as best he could. Once he was satisfied it was all he could muster, he stood ramrod straight and puffed his chest out as if he were in a military formation.
“Remember what I told you. Just do what I say and you’ll be alright.” he whispered to his shorter friend.
Link nodded sharply, mimicking the older boy’s posture. They were only two among thirty, and among the last to arrive. The couple looking them over seemed to be discussing something, including Mr. Parsons as they worked to come to a conclusion. There had been several private interviews with many of the children. It left them all wondering if this couple was going to select more than one.
“There are so many to pick from. Where did they all come from?” asked the lady.
“You remember the fires in the southern forests? Well, they weren’t exactly unoccupied. Some folks like to live out there, get a real rustic feel. And it’s quite nice. Usually pretty safe too. But–well–not even the royal palace is safe from that kind of horror. It’s a testament to these boys’ parents that they’re still alive. And they all need a good home. No matter who you pick, or even if you don’t pick someone, please… if you know anyone who is thinking about starting a family, let them know about us.” Mr. Parsons said.
The woman nodded, her long earrings dangling away with every jostle of her head.
“We certainly will,” she said before she turned to her husband, looking into his eyes with an all too familiar look of hope the boys had all seen before, “I think I know which one.”
The lady leaned in to whisper and the handsome businessman nodded, smiling at her fondly. He returned the whisper in kind, then addressed Mr. Parsons for a brief moment. A few whispers began to spread among the boys as some decision was made.
The kindly older fellow who had been charged with caring for all the orphans in his facility didn’t like this style of presentation. He preferred decisions like this be made in private. It was less demoralizing and disheartening for the children.
“I think he’s perfect.” the lady said.
The couple crossed the void between them and the group of children, approaching Colin and Link. The two boys dared to let their eyes dart over now and again, watching their progress. Were they going to be picked? Would they only take one and not the other? What if they got separated? Neither of the two had considered that possibility until that exact moment.
Suddenly the prospect of being selected didn’t seem all that marvelous. It was a losing situation no matter which way it went, and it hit them both at the same time. The realization must have had some visible effect on the two of them. The soon-to-be parents drew closer until they turned, bringing their eyes to rest on a boy in blue about three down from Colin.
“Hi there. My name is Telma. This is my husband Renaldo,” the lady said, “Would you like to come sit down with us? We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
The boy–Grant was his name if Link could remember correctly–nodded brightly, practically leaping into the lady’s arms. The collective sigh from the rest of the group broke the couple’s hearts. Mr. Parsons frowned, seeing exactly the reaction he had hoped to avoid. Everyone who came through those doors looking to adopt always left wishing they could take them all and give them the homes they deserved, but rarely did anyone take more than one, and even more rarely did anyone take more than two.
It was over. The decision had been made. The final interview was little more than a formality. They would be taking Grant. He would likely never be seen at the orphanage again. Link and Colin slumped, relaxing their posture. They were disappointed, naturally.
“Well… we tried,” Colin said, “Maybe better luck next time?”
Link lifted his hands to rub at his eyes, fighting back tears. It was the sixth procession he had been part of and he was beginning to lose hope. Even with the notion of possibly being taken away from Colin, he still hated feeling passed over.
“No one’ll ever pick me. No one even wants me.” Link said quietly.
Colin frowned and gave the boy’s shoulder a light shake to try and get his attention.
“Hey! None of that! Ya can’t think like that! That’s exactly the sorta thing they don’t wanna see! Now c’mon, let’s go outside. If we hurry, we can beat the other kids to the better swords.” the older boy said, knowing it would improve his young friend’s mood instantly.
As expected, that snapped Link out of his sulky mood. Immediately Colin darted out towards the yard with the younger boy not far behind. Only a handful of the other kids had filtered out into the back after they realized they weren’t going to be adopted. Those who were still inside were likely to let themselves be entertained by all manner of electronic and virtual diversions. Most of those outside were engaged in one sport or another. It was just Link and Colin who had their sights set on the foam blades packed away in the plastic storage unit. The lid was lifted and they gazed over the stack of weapons, mesmerized by the pristine nature of the best few.
The older boy snatched one up and marveled at its magnificence. Link selected one for himself and swung it this way and that. He had seen adults on television do so, not realizing they were getting a feel for the weapon. He just copied it as if he knew what would feel right and what would not. When both boys were satisfied, they looked to one another, grinned, and darted off. They tore across the artificial grass with all manner of screams and cheers. While so many of their housemates were content to sit and let their minds be numbed by the dull dreck that ‘children’s programming’ had the nerve to call quality material, the two boys were out on their own adventures. They found themselves traipsing across the whole of Hyrule. They delved into dungeons and battled monsters, all to save the legendary Princess Zelda. And all without ever leaving the safety of the orphanage’s backyard.
When at last the princess was saved for the latest in a thousand times, the two flopped onto their backs, staring up at the sky. It was fairly comfortable. The designers had managed to replicate the feel of lush grass fairly accurately without the unpleasant staining the real thing provided. There they lounged, finding shapes in the clouds as they drifted by. As they let their imaginations wander, Link’s mind stayed close to home, eventually bringing him to ponder something he found he had mixed feelings about.
“Hey Colin?” the younger boy asked.
“Yeah Link?” the older boy replied.
The smaller of the two fidgeted, playing with the soft blade in his hand.
“If one of us gets picked… you think we’d both get to go together?” Link finally asked.
It wasn’t a terribly pleasant subject. Colin had been in the orphanage roughly the same length of time as Link, but he was older. He had begun to pick up on a few things when it came to hopeful parents looking to adopt. He still hadn’t considered the possibility of leaving Link behind, or being left behind himself.
“I dunno. Most of the folks who come here aren’t really looking to take two of us home.” Colin answered.
“So, if one of us got picked, we’d probably never see the other again, would we?” the younger boy asked, sounding quite dejected.
“Well, I dunno about never. Might be tough, but I bet we’d able ta keep in touch somehow. The network’s a real big place. Maybe whoever picks one of us would let us message the other.” the older lad said.
The conversation fell silent for a moment. Link continued to fidget, unsure if he should let his feelings continue to slip out. Eventually though, he couldn’t help it. He wanted to say something.
“I kinda hope we don’t get picked.” Link said.
It was understood that every boy wanted to have parents and a home, to be adopted, to be taken somewhere comfortable, a place where they belonged. Hearing the younger child say such a thing went against the grain of how everyone else thought. Colin rolled onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow, concerned.
“Whadaya mean you hope we don’t get picked!? Don’t you want a new mom and dad?” he asked.
Link recoiled a little, worried he’d said the wrong thing. It was only the truth.
“Not if it means I hafta lose the only real friend I’ve got. If one of us gets picked, the other gets left behind, and we’ll probably never see one another again,” Link said, then looked away feeling like he had been scolded, “If that’s what it means to be picked, then I say it’s both of us or neither.”
It was a remarkably mature mindset, but it still ran against the general understanding of the house. Colin sighed and moved to lay back on his back, staring up at the sky.
“I know whatcha mean, Link, but… if one of us gets picked, it’d be for the best.” he said.
Silence prevailed again before a shadow fell upon them. Both boys looked up to see Malcolm–the house bully–and his cronies glaring down at them.
“Gimmie back my sword!” the menacing boy shouted.
Colin frowned and shook his head in defiance.
“It’s not yours! We got there first and picked’em out fair and square! You can’t just call it yours because you like it!” he shouted back.
The older of the boys laying in the grass quickly stuffed the foam blade under him to keep the bully from being able to take it as easily. The result was Malcolm turning to eye Link’s sword. The smaller boy cowered away a bit, sitting up and trying to scoot back from the new threat.
“Alright, if you won’t give me that one then I’ll take his!” Malcolm shouted, stabbing a finger towards the fearful child.
He lunged forward, shooting a hand out to snatch Link’s weapon. What he got was a slap across the back of his palm, painless of course, but a surprise and an indignity none the less.
“No! I picked it out! You can have it tomorrow when you get to pick your sword before everyone else!” Link cried.
Malcolm, not deterred by this, growled and lunged forward again. He tried to grab at the foam toy only to find he was slapped atop his head, then on his back by the now upright Colin, prepared to defend. His focus shifted back to the older boy for a moment as he calculated. While he schemed, Link circled around and moved to stand next to his friend, both of them armed and ready to fend off the ‘monstrous horde’.
The bossy lad looked back and forth between his targets, coming to a conclusion he figured would be the easiest path to victory. As soon as he had his plan formed, he barked his orders at his cronies.
“You guys get Colin! I’ll take the baby!” Malcolm shouted.
A war cry rose up from the small group behind him. They all rushed forward obediently, hoping they might avoid becoming a target themselves. Malcolm himself lunged at Link. The older Colin swung his blade wildly, batting away advance after advance, holding his own quite well. His strikes caused no real harm, but they did stymie the mob’s progress. Link meanwhile was facing a very different problem. An ogre of a boy towered over him, teeth bared and fists curled tight, ready to inflict serious harm. The first swing was met with a solid hit from the sword he wanted so badly. Malcolm gawked at how easily he had been deflected, and it made him even angrier. Blow after blow, swing after swing, Link rebuffed the bully’s attacks.
“I want my sword!” Malcolm roared.
“It’s not yours!” Link shouted back.
“Yes it is!” Malcolm raised his voice to an infuriated scream.
The more Link defended and blocked, the more enraged Malcolm became, his voice rising even further to an unbearable screech. His screams drew the attention of the other boys outside. The prospect of a fight quickly attracted them from whatever they had been doing.
Colin continued to hold back the five other boys, none of which had thought to go select swords of their own before their boss got his. Every now and again, he glanced back over his shoulder to watch as Malcolm chased Link about, never able to get close enough to cause him harm.
“Watch out!” Colin cried.
It was all he could offer while so occupied. Hopefully he would be able to make some sort of move that would let him take up position alongside his friend. Unfortunately, the five bearing down on him rather thoroughly isolated him.
Link meanwhile maintained his distance, somehow preventing his aggressor from coming into range for a proper assault. As the situation the older ‘swordsman’ found himself in grew more difficult, the younger foolishly shifted his gaze over to see if his comrade was okay. In that instant, Malcolm took his opening and charged. The only thing that could have made him more frightening was if he were foaming at the mouth. He wasn’t far off at that. Link snapped his gaze back to the bully, gripped with fear. This was it! This was the end! He was frozen in place. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t move.
And then everything seemed to slow down. It was as if someone pushed a button in his mind and instinct took over. Gravity dragged on him as he leaned to one side, tucking as he fell out of the way. His legs left the ground only seconds before Malcolm would have made contact with him. As he rolled, Link spun, circling around so he might face the bully as he passed. When his feet made contact with the fake grass again, he kicked hard, springing up with all his might and swinging his sword with as much strength as he could muster.
A loud, satisfying, and entirely harmless slap sounded throughout the crowd. It caught the attention of most of the boys. Link’s blade had struck the bully on the back. What a terrific blow! His target no longer in his path, Malcolm was thrown off balance, not having expected to miss. He stumbled and finally tripped, landing face down in a mud puddle.
There he lay, motionless. The mob, attackers and onlookers alike, all fell silent for a moment. Whispers began to circulate.
“Woah! Did you see that!?”
“That kid just knocked him down with one hit!”
“How’d Link do that!?
“He sliced his back! Oh man! Is he okay!?”
Link stared in horror, his chest heaving. His fingers gripped the sword tightly. He was still afraid it might be taken from him. Had he actually hurt Malcolm? Movement answered him. The bully lifted his face from the mud and a long, loud wail of defeat filled the yard. He pulled himself from the ground, his face covered in the muck he had landed in, and raced inside, sobbing with all the melodrama he was known for. Everyone remained silent as he charged inside.
Once he was gone, a resounding cheer filled the air. The rest of the yard rushed in to congratulate the two ‘swordsmen’ on their victory. Malcolm’s cronies slipped out of sight, not wanting to be a part of whatever punishment might come of this. Colin was speechless, but only for a moment. He raced over to the younger boy and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him ever so gently.
“That was amazing! You won! You gotta show me how you did that!” he cried in amazement.
“I… I don’t know how it happened… it just… happened…” Link said, understandably mystified by what just happened.
“Well it was terrific! You beat Malcolm!” the older boy shouted and bounced on his feet excitedly.
He continued to congratulate his fellow ‘warrior’, oblivious to the presence of their caretaker at the back door.
“Colin! Link! Inside! Now!” Mr. Parsons’ voice boomed throughout the yard.
Immediately the revelry died and the onlookers scattered, leaving just the two victors feeling very small once again. The two boys shrank at the sight of their guardian glaring down at them. Without a word, they did as they were told, but not before returning the swords to their proper place.
Inside the caretaker’s office, Malcolm sat in the corner, cleaning his face with a rag, still sobbing away heartily. The term ‘crocodile tears’ could only scarcely begin to describe his suffering. The two boys who had bested him stood in front of the middle-aged man, staring down at the floor, arms at their sides. It wasn’t often that Mr. Parsons got this angry, but when it happened, no one fought back. His fury was always deserved.
“What do you two have to say for yourselves!? Fighting!? Over a couple of toy swords!? You should be ashamed of yourselves! You could have really hurt Malcolm!” the caretaker scolded harshly.
“Yeah!” Malcolm added.
The bully attempted to insert himself into the scolding of the other two, earning him a sharp, powerful glare from the caretaker. It silenced him and he shrank back away as he continued to clean his face. Mr. Parsons turned his attention back to the two in front of him.
“Well? What do you have to say?” the man asked.
The boys remained quiet, trying to figure out what to say. Before long, one got the jump on the other.
“It was my fault!” Link cried out, almost in tears, “I didn’t mean to hurt him! He was being mean and trying to take our swords from us! They aren’t his! We got to them first! I didn’t think I could make him fall down like that!”
Colin frowned, seeing what his friend was doing. He had to intervene.
“It’s not his fault, it’s mine!” he shouted in defiance of his friend’s admission, “I should have given Malcolm my sword! I didn’t give it up because I was being greedy! If I had, there wouldn’t have been a fight!”
“No! It’s not his fault! It’s mine! Don’t punish him because of what I did!” Link cried out in panic.
By now, the younger boy was crying, tears streaming down his cheeks. He was in agony. He couldn’t let his best friend take the blame when he had been the one everyone declared the victor.
“Settle down! Quiet! Both of you!” Mr. Parsons shouted over the both of them.
It quickly ended their contest, sighing gently. He turned to look at the bully sitting in the corner, wiping his face. The hateful little child still looked terrible, largely because he had learned how to make himself look as pathetic as possible.
It irritated both Colin and Link that he was so good at manipulating others like that. They both realized he was probably going to get out of this whole situation without any kind of punishment.
“Malcolm, go to the kitchen and ask Lisa to get you something cold to put on that bruise on your forehead. I need to have a word with these two in private.” Mr. Parsons said, half-growling the last few words.
The portly older boy climbed to his feet and walked a little more slowly than he should have to the door, glaring daggers at the two that had beaten him.
“I hope he punishes you guys real good!” the still muddy boy said angrily.
“Out!” snapped the caretaker.
Malcolm was out into the hallway in a flash. The door slid closed almost inaudibly behind him. The old man sighed and shook his head as he struggled to figure out how to deal with that boy, but he had two others to contend with first.
Priorities. Mr. Parsons was always good at sorting those out.
“So… you two got in a fight with the house bully over a couple of toy swords?” he asked.
There was no immediate answer. Instead, he just watched as Link and Colin looked to one another. He could easily tell they were worried they were in serious trouble now. Such a reaction wasn’t quite what he had wanted from them, at least not now that the source of the problem had been removed from the room.
He relaxed his posture and smiled, making their concern melt away. It was replaced briefly with confusion, then the older fellow spoke again.
“Well? You gonna tell me what happened or what!? I’m dyin’ ta know!” Mr. Parsons said, sounding like he was asking about the score of some important game.
The boys blinked and looked at one another again, horribly confused.
“You’re… not angry at us?” Colin asked.
“Angry at you? No! Gods no! I’ve been hoping one of you boys would finally stand up to Malcolm! I’ve been trying to figure that kid out for months. He just wants to cause trouble. I think he enjoys it. So he wanted your swords and you wouldn’t let him have them… c’mon! Tell me how it all went down!” the older man said with such enthusiasm.
He guided the boys to sit down on the sofa just across the room, genuinely thrilled to listen to their story. He just knew it would be a good one. Of all the children to stand up to Malcolm, Colin he had figured might do it, but Link he had been surprised by.
They began with what they had been doing earlier, the adventures to save the princess and why they raced out when they did to get the best swords in the box. It pleased him to no end hearing about their fantasies, reliving the myths and legends of old. They’d both gotten into the books about Hylian lore, the ones that he didn’t exactly keep out in the open for the children to read. Maybe there was hope for their generation yet. When they pressed on and began describing the epic battle against impossible odds and the ‘army of monsters’ the bully’s entourage represented, he began to howl with laughter. He enjoyed their flare for theatrics, more so when they began to re-enact the scenes far too dramatically.
Eventually, they finally reached the climax, Link’s amazing roll and back slice. Mr. Parsons seemed quite keen to get some of the finer details. When at last the story was over, the boys’ legal guardian was seated on the floor in front of them. Their tears had been dried and smiles were stretched across their faces. It was strange to think they had been called in to be punished and then have the tide turn so sharply.
“I must say, you two have a pretty vivid imagination. Quite the storytellers too! It does my soul good to see boys like you so interested in the old stories and swordplay.” Mr. Parsons said.
“Well, it’s a lot cooler than the video games everyone else plays. They’re either way too hard or just plain dumb. Outside when we’ve got our swords, we can do whatever we want, go anywhere.” Colin explained.
Link chimed in with a smirk.
“And save the princess!” he shouted happily, even lifting a balled up fist over his head, feeling like it was missing his sword.
Colin chuckled with a nod. Mr. Parsons grinned and stood, crossing his office to stand in front of a bookshelf. Carefully, he pulled one of the items from its grasp. It had been tucked away just right such that anyone who wasn’t looking carefully enough could easily miss it. He carried the book over to the boys and held it up for them to see.
“How would you like to learn how to use those swords the right way?” he asked.
The boys looked to one another, like they seemed to do frequently, their eyes widening at the thought. Colin turned to gaze back at their legal guardian in wonder.
“Really!? We could learn how to fight like the heroes in those old stories!?” the older boy asked in astonishment.
“That’s right. This book here is a good place to start. It’s got all sorts of information in it about the beginning steps to swordplay,” Mr. Parsons said then held it out for the boys to take but stopped just short, turning very serious quite suddenly, “But… before I give this to you, you have to promise me one thing. Promise me you won’t turn out like Malcolm. When you learn this, you’ll have a power many others won’t have. You know what it’s like to be bullied, how helpless you feel. Don’t turn into that. Use this knowledge, this strength only to protect yourselves and others. Not to try and control them.”
Something about it resonated with the kids. They nodded, their expressions turning just as serious as the man holding out the book. Link was the first to answer.
“We promise. We won’t ever be like Malcolm.” he said.
“Good, here you go.” Mr. Parsons said.
He handed over the book and the boys immediately opened it. The page they turned to suddenly came alive, projecting a holographic image above the tome. The figure it created took a stance, swung his blade, and repeated the action. Colin stared as his mind bubbled with excitement.
“Wow… look at that! He must be a real knight!” he said in an excited whisper.
Mr. Parsons laughed, shaking his head.
“No, there haven’t been any actual knights in a very long time. He’s just demonstrating one of the positions you two’ll need to learn. There’s a lot in there. Soak it all up. Come and see me again when you think you’ve learned everything it’s got to offer.”
The book was closed carefully, squashing the holographic man who didn’t seem to mind or even notice. They found it so strange to have a book covered in leather like some of the furniture they’d seen. Most had cardboard or paper covers, or even plastic. And those were just the books that were actual, literal books. So much of what was available to read came in the form of data pads. This was something truly special, reminiscent of the era the two boys loved to pretend to adventure through. It added a sense of grandeur to the tome and made it feel almost mystical. As they turned their attention back to the older fellow, Colin frowned, puzzled by the change in their situation.
“Why’d you act so mad if you were gonna give this to us anyway?” he asked.
“Oh I had to look mad so it would discourage the rest of the boys from fighting. I’m actually rather glad you took Malcolm down a peg or two. He just might think twice about coming after you two after today. Now off you go… and take good care of that book. It’s important!” Mr. Parsons said as he shooed the boys away.
The door slid open and the boys scurried off in gleeful excitement. They collected their swords again and rushed out into the yard, opening the book to the beginning where they could start learning almost immediately. The knights of the yard would soon be more powerful than any bully that might dare cross them!
The colors of the afternoon sky faded to the gentle darkness of evening, marked often by the passing of countless vehicles overhead. They were far enough above to be of no concern, but still easily audible. The boys had spent almost the entirety of the second half of the day studying from their new book. When the call for dinner was given, they put their swords away. They noticed as a small handful of the others gave them a wide berth. Their battle against Malcolm had become legend of the yard.
The meal was had and everyone prepared for bed. When all was at last quiet and dark in the dormitory, both Link and Colin found they couldn’t sleep. Their minds continued to swirl with the possibilities of adventures and daring feats of bravery. All imaginary of course. But there was more to their thoughts than just flights of fancy. There was a seriousness, an earnestness to what Mr. Parsons had told them, as well as what he had made them promise. It stuck to them like a tight-hugging sweater.
“Colin?” Link whispered, careful to try avoiding drawing attention from the other children.
“Yeah?” Colin whispered back.
“Remember what we were talkin’ about earlier? About getting picked and all?” Link asked.
“I remember. Why?” Colin replied.
“I don’t want to get picked. Ever. I wanna stay here.” the younger boy said.
Something had definitely changed in him, and for the first time since that conversation, Colin started to see what it was. They were on the cusp of something, some bigger realization. Their conversation with Mr. Parsons and his gift of the book had crystallized in their minds as more than just a kindness. It represented something more.
“Yeah. Kids get picked to have parents and a family,” Colin said, “We don’t have to be picked to have a family, right?”
Link nodded, rolling onto his side to peer over at the bed next to his.
“We could be like the knights in those old stories. You know? It’s like, they keep saying ‘brother’ even though they’re not really.” the younger child said.
It struck a chord with Colin. He smiled and turned over, propping himself up a bit.
“Yeah, we could. Tell you what Link. From this day forward, we’re brothers in arms.” he said.
The younger boy furrowed his brow oddly at his friend.
“What’s that?” Link asked.
“You know,” Colin tried to explain, “Brothers, but not really brothers, not related but still family. Understand?”
It took only a moment, but it began to dawn on Link. He nodded with a grin, shoving a hand out towards Colin.
“Yeah! Brothers! Two knights of the kingdom! Defending the innocent!” he whispered only as loudly as he dared.
Colin took the other boy’s hand and shook it firmly, grinning before loud hiss shushed them. They hunkered down in their beds, giggling quietly. Something about this arrangement simply felt right. They were learning how to fight properly with a blade and were sworn to brotherhood. It was as if they were lifting out part of their favorite stories and making it real. As the room settled again, Link peered out at the adjacent bed again.
“Hey Colin?” he asked.
“Yeah?” Colin replied.
“Goodnight, big brother.” Link said and smiled brightly.
Colin grinned powerfully and returned the sentiment.
“Goodnight, little brother.” he replied.
He closed his eyes and sighed. It was as though a weight had been lifted off his chest. His mind was still terribly active, conjuring all sorts of fantastic tales of epic quests and battles, but sleep suddenly found it far easier to grasp him. He drifted off just as Link did, the two of them eager to start their first full day as ‘knights in training’.