The Cross on the Shield

By Shadsie

Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda belongs to Nintendo.

Forward and Forewarning: This story deals with religious themes. Having written an essay on religious imagery in the Legend of Zelda games for ZeldaDungeon dot net and having it received without poo-flinging, I thought I could go ahead and try to write out an idea I've had for a long time regarding the cross-imagery and other vaguely "Christian" trappings present in the first three games of the series (including an interesting official art piece of Link praying before a crucifix). Seeing as these first games are thought of by most timeline-theorists as occurring at the end of the chronology, I've long wondered how the mythology of the Goddesses might have ceded at least some ground to other beliefs. This story is not meant to preach or to disparage Christianity – this is merely an exercise in worldbuilding. And don't tell me I'm "getting it wrong" – the quirkiness of this story is deliberate.

Set in the era of "A Link to the Past" both because I need a fic for that era under my belt and because it felt like a good "transition period" for Hyrule.

"For us, the Devil is real," the temple-keeper said. "I think that is why the wars among our people ceased. Everyone that fought in the Great Sealing War had a common enemy."

Link sat on a chair cushioned in red velvet. He casually pushed a lock of strawberry-blond hair out of his face as he listened to the old bald priest drone on. This was a history lesson. Uncle had brought him here specifically for lessons. There was no better way for the boy to learn about his ancestors than straight from the people in charge of keeping history.

Link, for his part, would rather be chasing cuccoos and climbing trees. He had a scab on his knee from doing just that the day before yesterday.

He just had to ask about the cross on the shield.

The priest was happy to answer his question, but had gone on longer about it than the talkative owl in Link's childhood storybook legends. The shield on the wall had intrigued him, though. There were several shields on the wall in the portion of the sanctuary devoted to the memory of the Hylian Knights, all with different heralds, most with symbols pertaining to the Hyrule Royal Family. The heraldry on one shield was straightforward and simple – two bars intersecting one another. It was the same symbol commonly used to mark graves – not all graves, but some.

"It is a symbol of sacrifice," the priest had said. "It is not often used, but it is becoming more common for people in the Royal Service to take it up because a life in service to Hyrule is one of sacrifice."

"But why is it the same as that on graves?" Link had asked.

"Because it is also a symbol of death," was the answer received. The look on the boy's face betrayed great dissatisfaction and so the priest had launched into his stories. What Link got out of it all was something about hope for something beyond the grave (Link had been raised to believe that the souls of the dead – or at least the honorable dead - went to the keeping of the Goddesses), execution devices, and people from another country or another world.

"So, it was the Devil that brought everyone together?" Link asked, coming back to the present.

"Yes – our ancient timeless evil, the creature known as Ganon."

"But he's been gone from our world for a long time."

"Yes, though many think his re-emergence is only a matter of time. It is important for Hyrule to have strong young men ready for that – to defend our order and peace."

"I'm still not sure I understand how such an evil can affect a good."

"Well," the temple-keeper answered, "the people from elsewhere were very confused upon their arrival here. They knew not the ways of magic. They had many other kinds of science and art, but magic was something they were actively suspicious of. Most among them thought that practical magic – even protection spells and the lighting of fires by will was evil."

"That's strange," Link said, swinging his bare legs. "What funny people."

"It is not so funny when it comes to the violence, my son. You were taught about the creation of our world by the three Golden Goddesses. These people from another land did not honor our Goddesses."

"Were they like the skeptics?" Link inquired.

The teen had learned about a movement that was recently gaining some popularity. Though it appalled many in Hyrule, there were some people who did not believe in the Goddesses. It wasn't that they merely did not put their trust in the Holy Three; they did not believe they existed at all. Most held that nature and magic itself testified to their glory. The skeptics contended that power was inherent in nature and that to see too much order in it was merely a function of the human – or Hylian – mind. These people were a minority, but were gaining a voice in some of Hyrule's scholarly circles, particularly those individuals who could argue well.

"No, not like them," the priest said. "Their beliefs were – or are, in the case of the people who presently hold to them – in a single God and the need for sacrifice in order to obtain reconciliation with that God. Their mythology involved this God becoming a man and dying like a man – executed by men, in fact, which paid for all of humanity's wrong-doings. At least, that is their belief-system. They also believe that God is Spirit – so, in a sense, they also have a Holy Three."

"What does all this have to do with the shield? And the Devil?"

"I am getting to that, my son. The shield-heraldry, ah… that has to do with the execution. The Elseworlders hold that their God was executed by being pinned up to die slowly upon wooden beams in that shape – a cross, crucifixion."

Link shuddered. "I've heard of that… They say it was something that Ganon did to people who resisted him in ancient days."

"Sadly, he got the idea from the Elseworlders, and yes. A cruel, twisted thing, is it not? Yet the Elseworlders see it as the ultimate act of love by their God."

"Interesting, but they're still funny if they don't believe in magic."

"Oh, they believed in it – once they saw it in action. Unfortunately, most of them in the early days attributed it to demons. Wars were fought back then – between the Elseworlders trying to get people to renounce magic and those people in turn, trying to get them to forget their God in favor of the Goddesses. The Elseworlders never had the advantage. First of all, they were always small in number. Secondly, this was not their world and they knew it. Eventually, most of them began to see magic as neutral, as just a part of nature – like the skeptics do… another kind of science."

"And the rest?"

"In their mythology, there exists a being of ultimate evil – it is said he was once a being of light, once good, but fell. In the world they came from, he was seldom seen, if at all, and thought of more as power than substance, something behind the scenes. It was a person, but one so little witnessed that many stopped believing in him even if they kept to their faith in their God. In our world, at some point in times long past, the Elseworlders beheld Ganon. They saw their Devil in ours."

"So they fought in the Great Sealing War to protect the Triforce? But… I thought they didn't believe…"

"In a way, they do, my son. Remember how I spoke before of their God having three attributes. The Triforce actually became an important symbol for the Elseworlders in those days, as it always has been for us. In it, they saw a symbol for three elements, in harmony as one whole. Like the Devil, it is something we share. After the Sealing War, many of them… well, there is a minority that holds to the ways of the Elseworlders as they were when they first arrived… but most, these days, have come to see our Goddesses, as represented by the Holy Triforce, as a manifestation of their own single God-in-three."

"How do they do that? It would seem like there'd be a lot of trouble involved for them to do that."

"Not too much trouble. I think it helped that some of them were open to the idea of 'other forms for other worlds.' You see, a lot of them enjoyed some allegorical literature about their God as a talking lion – of all things."

Link got up and walked along the wall, looking up at the mounted shields.

"Some with the Elseworlder beliefs are among the King's soldiers today, and they are honorable men. As it is, I have studied both traditions myself. I actually serve as a priest for both ways – whatever a person needs of me. I rather think that we are on the same side… against the Devil, against Ganon."

Link wandered through a doorway and startled. Upon the wall of the little prayer-room he'd stumbled across was a rather large carving in wood of a man pinned-up like the legends said Ganon did to people as an example. The boy had startled because it was terrible to behold – the man's ribs showing, paint representative of blood running down him and what appeared to be a coronet of fierce thorns.

The priest came up beside him. "One of their sacred images," he said.

"Sacrifice, right?"

"Yes. And as I've said, many in the Royal Service have taken up the Elseworlder ways, at least in part, because they find themes of personal sacrifice favorable and honorable."

It was a dark and stormy night when Link heard the voice of the Princess Zelda in his mind begging him to save her from becoming an unwilling sacrifice. Link's life changed then – somewhere between listening to his uncle's dying gasps and fighting the many honorable men of the Royal Guard who'd had their minds stolen from them. The boy wounded them and left them to lay bleeding, hoping and praying to Farore that he'd not actually killed them. He knew that they were innocent criminals, but feared for his life as their swords danced for his neck.

He'd suffered many small wounds by the time he'd found the princess (Oh, Din, she was beautiful), and took her on a tour of the castle's sewers. The rats were one annoyance. He tried to ignore the lumps that shared the same water his legs were knee-deep in.

They made it to the sanctuary and to the keeping of the priest he'd met before when he was taking lessons. It was there that Link got the shock of his life – told that he was a part of some ancient prophecy, the new Hero, like the Heroes of ancient legend - and that he had to gain three symbols of virtue in order to obtain the sacred sword to rescue the land from darkness.

This was all overwhelming for the poor boy to say the least. And he knew that if he set forth on this journey, that he was going to be making great sacrifices.

Before leaving, he wandered into the little prayer room with the appalling wooden image. He bowed and made the mark of the Triforce over his heart – as he always had when making formal prayer to the Goddesses.

"Sir," he said shakily, "Maybe you can help me too. I think I'm going to need all the help I can get."


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