Posted on May 18 2018 by Kat Vadam
Chapter Six: Caravan of the Lost
“So, will you truly say nothing, then?”
Zelda’s current horse, pulled from a barn just outside Ordon, tossed her head. Zelda patted her onyx mane soothingly. “Now, now. Nearly there.” The horse snorted, then calmed once more.
The villagers had told her that the mare was not used to riders. She was relatively young still, with a wild temperament. A few had even tried to talk Zelda out of taking her, insisting she might be safer riding another horse, but Zelda disregarded them all. After a few minutes of gentle words, promises of bareback, and a couple of apple slices, the mare had seemed to trust her well enough. Zelda smiled and leaned forward with a sugar cube offering, which the horse happily slurped up and carried on walking.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Impa walked alongside her, and behind, what remained of her Royal Guard detachment and the survivors of the destruction of Ordon followed. Homes burnt, many dead, and nothing left, Zelda now found herself riding point to the caravan of all who remained. Their village had been razed to the ground, and now they fled as refugees. Zelda hardly knew where they would go, but she swore to herself that she’d find them all new homes. It’s my fault you’re all homeless to begin with.
Her breath shuddered from her body, and yet another tear slipped from her eyes. She sniffed, then fought to compose herself. These people needed her strong. She had failed them all, cost them everything; now they trusted her to guide them to Castle Town. She could not falter. Now was not the time.
“Just tell me one thing,” Impa continued, tones sharp with anger. “I saw you in the arena. Something happened. You left for a moment as the battle began, until I snapped you out of it. If you insist on ignoring me, I think you at least owe the rest of these people the truth. Did you know that was going to happen?”
Zelda’s thoughts wandered back to the arena, and that assailant in dark plate armor. How she had just given up and resigned herself to fear. Now, all she could feel within herself was guilt and hate. She hated herself. You gave up, her mind taunted for the hundredth time. You do not deserve to be here leading. You deserve nothing. She thought of Link, and saw him once more fight for her, through his utter exhaustion, until he collapsed on the ground. She had gone to him when the battle was over, convinced of the worst. But he was alive, somehow, and for that, at least, she could be relieved. She knew that if he had died…she would have followed. His death would have been too much, knowing he had thrown everything to the wind for her protection twice, and both times, all she did was cower. The thought made her stomach turn, and she had to close her eyes to make it go away.
He’ll be fine, she reminded herself. He’s with our best healers at the castle.
And I gave up.
She growled to herself. Keep strong. They need you strong. She had stayed behind for another day to help the survivors gather themselves, their senses, and what remained of their lives, but Link had needed immediate help. Like Marianna. Yet another name to add to the list of casualties, a list longer than that of survivors.
I never should have gone to Ordon.
She had never known guilt quite like this before. Like claws ripping through her from the inside, a constant pain that would not go away. Her fingers gripped the mare’s reigns until her knuckles locked. Her composure slipped a little further as her mind spiraled down, down, down…
Where are you now, Hylia?
She forced herself to picture the aftermath, running through it to assure herself Link was fine. The attack had been ended by a mysterious man with a beautiful bow and arrows that exploded. She had never seen such things before, not in the armies or the Royal Guard, but they had stopped the dark-armored figure with equal fire, saving not only Link’s life, but her own and those who remained. And when the chaos had subsided, he vowed to get Link back to the castle for help. He swore an oath to it; she could not help but trust him. Really, she had no other choice. Still, part of her worried. He had hidden behind a cloak the entire time, hardly speaking. When Link’s little brother demanded to go along, she had settled on sending two of her own guards and Link’s mentor Rusl as well.
“Your Highness!” From behind her, a voice rang loud and strong, pulling her from her thoughts. Zelda turned around and saw a disturbance near the front of the refugees. A couple knights grabbed the arms of a woman and shoved her away from the royal escort. She stumbled, cried out in pain as one splinted leg hit the ground, and fell back. From her hands, she dropped a bundle of wildflowers that looked like they had been picked from the side of the road and bound with a pale blue ribbon.
Zelda tugged the mare’s reigns to guide her toward the scene.
“Stay back!” one knight ordered of the fallen woman. He was met with glares from surrounding Ordonians as they lifted her from the ground. She was a thin, delicate thing, with a brown plait down her back and bright, rosy cheeks. She looked like a swift wind could have carried her away.
Zelda drew up to them and ordered the knight to stand down. He bowed and honored her request. She slipped from the mare’s back and handed him the reigns before approaching the woman. Near her hip, a small boy with similar features and identical eyes clung, clearly trying to hold her up, even though he could hardly bear her weight.
The woman bowed her head. “Forgive me,” she murmured.
Zelda smiled, bent down, and picked up the bundle of flowers. Nightshade, she recognized, and a couple of Silent Princesses. She offered it back to the woman. “They’re beautiful.”
“I thought you might like the color,” the woman said, still with head bowed. “I owe you so much more, but…”
A pang in her heart nearly stopped Zelda in her tracks; she gulped and shook her head. “None of you owe me anything.”
“But…you saved my son and me from that monster…” The woman seemed desperate; the child at her hip blinked up admiringly. He grinned and imitated the magic shots he had seen with a small foosh! sound.
A monster you never would have faced if I had not been there. Zelda inwardly sighed, reminding herself again not to falter. She glanced painfully at the bouquet, then back at the woman.
“How is your leg?”
“Fine, Your Highness,” the woman assured. “It will heal.”
“This walk must be difficult. Here,” Zelda motioned for the knight to return the reigns. “Let me help you two up.” The woman positively stared, mouth hung open in shock. “I insist.”
“But, what will you do?” the woman stuttered.
“The goddesses saw fit that I should be able to walk. So, I shall.” She smiled and offered her hand to the woman to help her mount. After she had seen to her and her son’s comfort atop the mare, she offered another sugar cube and some words of encouragement, then gently guided the group back to the front of the convoy.
When she came up next to Impa, the Sheikah opened her mouth to speak, but Zelda cut her off.
“Hylia is not always clear to me. Sometimes she speaks, sometimes she just shows me. From there, it is up to me to decipher. No, I did not know what would happen in Ordon, not until it happened, because I failed to understand her visions in time. Do you not think I will live with that guilt for the rest of my life? So please, I beg you, Impa, just let me have my silence, so I can give them what’s left of my strength.”
Deya picked up his bag and readied to continue walking as the princess escorted the woman and her son to the front of the line. He thought he recognized the woman, but her name remained hidden just on the tip of his tongue. He had gone through everyone around him and did his best to think of all their names, because, for many, that’s all they had left. Their names, the clothes on their backs, and nothing more. A sense of nervousness had settled over them all like a smothering blanket as Castle Town drew nearer and nearer. No one knew what was next. He suspected not even Princess Zelda.
She’d think of something. She’d have to. He needed her to, because he couldn’t. The last time he tried to fix a problem ended in the worst mistake of his life. The image of his master impaled by that creature, that monster, would haunt him until it slowly drove him insane. He had tried to be useful and failed. He had tried to protect and ended up costing life. His grip on his bag tightened as he fought back more tears. If he had just turned to leave with the blacksmith instead of attempting to fight…
Everything felt so hopeless.
His feet ached. His head ached. Splattered blood across his clothing reflected behind his eyelids every time he closed them. He tried to focus on something, anything other than the smithy, but his mind would not let him, like a persistent nightmare. He dreaded the moment he would find himself alone and have to face the memory. At least here, as he walked with all who remained of Ordon, he could somewhat distract himself by watching them and doing his best to remember their names.
Lily. That’s it. She had come into the smithy and asked us fix her late husband’s ax.
That ax was gone now.
He recited everyone’s names to himself once more. Somewhere nearby, a little girl’s voice whispered, asking how much farther they had to go.
“Almost there,” a male, presumably her father, assured. “Look.”
Deya looked up. On the horizon, radiant under the reds and violets and golds of the setting sun, he could make out the towers of the castle standing tall and watchful over its people. At the base of the castle he saw the tell-tale flickers of thousands of candlelit homes, as though welcoming this caravan of the lost. Did those within know what had happened? Would they be just as welcoming?
He would soon find out. They all would.
Featured Image by MaskedGolem.