Posted on August 17 2018 by Adam Barham
Chapter Nineteen: Zelda’s Lullaby
Ho-boy, Link thought, staring into Zelda’s face as she focused in on him. He gripped her hands a little tighter, fairly certain that just this once, he could get away with a visible breach in protocol. He could almost feel her terror envelop him: around them, he knew their audience certainly understood that the mood had suddenly and very harshly shifted, like a rope jerking back.
“Your Highness,” he said, low and even, calm, just stay calm, “Zelda, please…”
She said nothing, staring at him, wide-eyed. Their gemstone color glittered brightly beneath the pale blue lighting of Zora’s Domain. Had she even heard him?
“Please,” he repeated, jiggling her hands between them to make sure she was conscious, “stay calm.”
And then, her face shifted. “You…you want me to…” Suddenly, emerald turned to fire, and her normally dazzling face twisted before his eyes. He dropped her hands. “You want me to stay calm?!” She cursed at him – the Rito gasped off to the side, and though Link had heard her swear before, he had never been on the receiving end of her rage. “The Evil of Ages, the Demon King, the man who has rendered all of Hyrule to darkness countless times before, roams these lands, and you have the audacity to demand I stay calm?!” She threw up her hands at him; suddenly, she seemed to have grown three times her size. For such a small girl, she could hold quite a presence, and he stumbled back in shock, nearly slipping on the wet stone floor. “I will not stand calmly back and wait for him to take my land once more, is that perfectly clear, Knight?!”
Link’s mouth opened and closed several times, wanting to bring her back down, but he hardly knew where to begin. Where’s Impa? I bet she could calm you. But the princess’s advisor was nowhere in sight. Instead, she was escorted by another knight, Rylan, standing off to the side, watching the scene unfold. He glanced at her, silently asking for help. Rylan shrugged. Thanks…
What did one do when royal emotions ran out of control? How had Impa learned to curb Zelda’s? All he felt he could do in that moment was…
…Give in. He had to give in, and go with her to find Deya and this Ganondorf Dragmire, whoever he may be. The man had helped them in Ordon, had escorted Link, unconscious and wounded, back to the castle. There had been ample opportunity for him to…do what, exactly? If Hyrule’s history was accurate, Link should have already been dead. The man would have skewered Link like a chunk of meat with his own sword. But he had been delivered, unharmed – er, not further harmed – and with his sword unbloodied.
Hopefully, the ride and the time between now and Link and Zelda’s arrival would serve to help her see reason. Maybe? He gulped.
“Yes, Your Highness,” he finally sighed, hanging his head.
“Then you are to escort me to these ruins, and I will cut the head off this snake before it bites.”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Link knew he was defeated, but he had confidence he’d think of something. He had to, before she ripped apart another living person.
Or worse: told him to.
“Good. Then we ride.”
She went to take a step, but before she could move far, Rylan struck out and grabbed her hand. Link instinctively went for his sword before he even registered what had happened, but Zelda seemed completely unperturbed. She glanced over her shoulder at the Sheikah as though they were old friends.
“I should come with you.”
Zelda smiled gently; it was difficult to equate her right then with the angry woman she had been but a moment before. They hardly even looked the same. Link could not help but stare at Rylan, wondering what sort of magic she held. Perhaps it was in the blood? Sheikah were, after all, the sworn protectors of the Royal Family.
Yeah, ok, Link. That’s not a ridiculous thought at all.
“No, Rylan,” the Princess shook her head, “you must find Impa and the others and return to Castle Town immediately. I fear that, should I fail, Hyrule will need all the warriors it can muster, beginning at the castle.”
“Is this something we should fear, Your Highness?” Queen Lorisu spoke up. She met Link’s eyes, and he bowed his head – not before he noticed the fear in her elegant face. Zelda certainly got her point across. Link once again found himself considering that maybe Zelda was wrong, and bringing about a storm that need not be summoned. He hoped the Zora Matriarch would have enough sense and experience about her not to do the same, but the look in her eyes told him maybe not.
Zelda glanced at Queen Lorisu and nodded. “Prepare your troops. If you do not hear from me in a week’s time, assume trouble and protect your people.”
“And should I return to Rito Village with the same message, Your Highness?” the silver Rito cocked his head. Zelda nodded to him. He bowed and hurried off.
Link growled to himself. Great. Just great. He needed to think of something real quick. She was ready for a war that hadn’t even begun.
She turned back to face him, and he jumped. But no further words came at him: she simply stalked past with the unspoken order for him to follow. He obliged in mildly annoyed silence, keeping up all the way to the cliffside, where the horses had been temporarily housed.
And suddenly, outside the Domain and away from prying eyes, she stopped. He noticed a moment too late and collided with her.
She spun on her heel, and next thing he knew, she was pressed against him, yet another sudden shift in demeanor, clinging to his tunic as the cloth slowly dampened beneath her face. He froze, completely taken aback.
What…? “What are you doing?” I cannot keep up with this.
“Everything, everything,” she sobbed, shuddering, “it’s all going so wrong! Attacks across the land, the fall of Ordon, and now…how are we going to overcome this?!”
Link tried not to noticeably sigh, but he felt his muscles relax and raised one hand to awkwardly pat her back. “Hey,” he reassured, “we don’t know who this man is. We don’t even know yet if he is a threat.”
“But Ganondorf Dragmire is-”
“I know, I know.” He lifted her chin with a finger. “He was evil, in the past. Maybe this man isn’t even him. Maybe the past will not repeat itself.”
“And what if it does, Link?! Your Triforce appeared. Mine has always been with me! It’s all happening just the same.”
He gave her an encouraging smile and pulled her from him. “Did I not swear my sword to you?”
She sniffed, wiped her eyes, and nodded.
“And did I not swear to protect you?”
“Then trust me to fill this oath. Your love of this land is my own. I will fight for Hyrule just as I will you. But, right now, I need you to take a step back, ok? We will go, we will speak with this man, and if he shows any sign whatsoever of being a threat, then I, myself, will kill him.”
She sniffed again and buried her face right back into his chest. This time, he didn’t hesitate to return the hug.
“As your knight, or as your friend?”
“Can’t it be both?”
He chuckled. “I promise.”
If Zelda was perfectly honest with herself, she had thought all the thoughts she could really muster, and once more found herself thinking in circles. From the sudden realization that Ganondorf Dragmire, Gerudo King and Bane of Hyrule, had been reborn, and all that meant, through embarrassment over very loudly and publicly losing her nerve in front of the Zora Queen and the Rito messenger, to the feeling of Link’s comfort, she traveled through her memories on a path worn smooth with the days. If only there had been a faster way to get to Gerudo Desert and the ruins Deya had spoken of in his letter; at least, then, she could have done what needed doing without all this time in her own head between.
Alas, there was but one reasonable way on horseback, and it was days long and arduous. And who knew what lie at the end of their journey? Without a specific location on her map, all she had were Deya’s route descriptions and depictions of his surroundings outside the ruins. If she was wrong, then they could find themselves lost in the desert, while the Demon King grew stronger and more powerful.
They had already passed through Kara Kara Bazaar at sunset, so at least that much was a known. Link had stopped and asked for a general idea of which way the ruins might be, but no one really seemed to know an exact location either. Not many people ventured out that way, apparently. So now would be the time for a wrong direction, and Zelda had grown weary.
“Do you want to stop?”
She blinked at Link, her eyes struggling to focus on his face in the darkness. The night chilled her, and she shivered beneath her heavy cloak.
“You are falling asleep on your horse. Do you need to stop?”
“We can’t lose direction, Link,” she shook her head, though the action was more meant to force herself awake. “If we lose direction, we lose time. Besides, I think we’re getting close.”
In the distance, the mountains of Gerudo Wasteland could be seen by the sky they blocked, their peaks gently illuminated by a pale, cold moon. Link seemed to consider them for a moment.
Suddenly, he nudged his mare to cut off her own. Nightshade whined and snorted, but came to a stop. Epona jiggled her head and made a grunt all her own.
“What are you doing?” Zelda asked, though it came out punctuated by a yawn, and not at all demanding of an answer. She watched as Link dismounted, then stepped up to Nightshade and took hold of the saddle behind Zelda’s rear. “What – “
“You’re going to fall off your damned horse, Zelda. Scoot forward a bit.”
“I’m fine,” she protested, while her mind screamed liar.
“No, you’re not. Scoot forward.”
She went to argue again, not at all processing that he was giving her orders, but stopped herself short. There were times when she needed to learn to just listen; Impa had told her that all her life. This…this was one of those times. Her body shook from exhaustion, her eyelids felt like bricks that could not be kept up, and her head ached dully from thinking herself into too many ongoing loops. She just did not have the will to put up a fight right then.
She scooted forward on the saddle, gathering the tail of her cloak and releasing her feet from the stirrups, and Link mounted up behind her, taking the reins. She leaned back into him, allowing him to take control and guide the two horses to carry on.
“Go to sleep,” he told her. There was no hint of affection in his voice; it felt more akin to an adult telling a fussy child she was late for bedtime. Zelda almost considered telling him no, before thinking better of it and trying to relax.
“Aren’t you tired?”
He made a soft hmm sound in his throat. “I’ll be fine. This is my job, after all.”
“To be a pillow? I don’t remember that part of the oath.”
This time he chuckled. “I did say I’d be a shoulder, if you needed it. And, right now, you need it.”
She adjusted so she could see his face. “I’m sorry I cursed at you.”
“I know,” he said, keeping his eyes on the horizon. He patted her upper arm. “You’re scared. I would be lying if I said I was perfectly comfortable with this whole revelation. But we will talk to the man and see who he is and what he wants when we get there.” He glanced down and smiled. His face looked radiant in the moonlight, calm and assured. “Please sleep? I’m not much for words, so I’m going to need you to do the talking.”
She laughed. “I don’t think I am much for words either.”
“Eh, leave out the swearing, and you do a decent job.”
Zelda reached up and playfully planted her palm against his cheek, pushing it away. He grinned. “Just one swear word if it gets bad?”
“Are you sure you’re descended from Hylia? I always imagined her to be graceful and elegant.”
“I will elegantly push you off this saddle.”
He winked and wrapped one arm around her middle in a hug. Before Zora’s Domain, they had never really touched like this. Talked, certainly, bore their burdens to each other in private conversation as he stood by her side in her daily duties, but never embraced. Zelda could not deny that she had hoped for it, eventually, yet this was exactly what Impa had warned her of doing where prying eyes could catch a glimpse and fuel the fires of their Rumor Mill. But there was no one anywhere near them in the desert, and she relished the freedom to finally, finally make genuine human contact with him. Between Link and Rylan, she had finally begun to feel like she could be seen as more than a crown, and she clung to every moment.
Her eyes drooped, and no matter how hard she fought, her defenses kept crumbling, until she relented, raised her white flag, and drifted to sleep.
Featured Image by MuddyMink