A piercing tendril of dawn air curved its way around a large, tan awning before slithering down the open window. Its intended target slumbered peacefully below, buried in a mound of blankets, rugs, and pillows of various patterns and sizes. She blended into her cocoon perfectly, and if not for the girl’s long, scarlet hair she would have been forever lost amongst the intricate geometric patterns. The room itself was quite small and barren. Still being too early for the morning sun, only the glowing embers from last night’s fire gave any hint of light. The faint glow shimmered on the mud brick walls, coming to rest eerily in the joyless eye sockets of the antelope skull perched above the door. A small wooden table and rocking chair was the room’s only other furnishings. The remnants of abandoned studies covered the table and spilled onto the dirt floor. A pair of long, radiant scimitars rested nearby, guarding the forgotten tomes.
If not for one toe poking out from her fortress of warmth, young Nabooru could have remained sleeping in peace for several hours longer. Instead, in a snap, the frigid air assaulted her and found purchase inside her sanctuary. She awoke with a small scream, instinctively pulling her foot under the covers and searching for her weapons. With a sigh and a groan, she rolled onto her back and stared out the window. Similar to ash left after a fire, the sky was colorless and offered little promise of warmth. To outsiders, Gerudo Valley was a paradise of abundant summer, but the women who called the valley home knew of the bitter cold of the night. It was even worse now, between the winter and spring sun. Nabooru wondered if she would once again find the valley floor dusted with snow.
Winters had been exceptionally cold in the two years since the Great War. Though she was only 14 now, she remembered the warmth of years before. The other women would often huddle in the Warrior’s Hall, whispering that the desert had been cursed by the King of Hyrule. That they were fated to freeze to death as punishment for Lord Ganondorf bending the knee to such a pompous and opulent man.
Nabooru shuddered thinking of Lord Ganondorf. Like the desert, he too had lost all warmth since surrendering to the King. He rarely returned from the castle. When he did, Lord Ganondorf would shut himself away in his chambers, refusing to speak to anyone other than his advisers. His hearty laugh and smile no longer echoed in the halls, and his skin had greyed to a sickly green undertone. The Twin Witches, Kotake and Koume, never left his side. Nabooru secretly prayed every morning that they would be trapped in Hyrule Castle forever.
Sitting up, careful to keep the blankets on her shoulders, Nabooru lifted a small, stuffed camel from under the covers. She looked down into the camel’s blue, embroidered eyes. “Hey, Vahris,” she whispered. “If they do come back, you remember the plan, right?” She lifted the camel’s head, making it nod in agreement. “Good,” she spoke with relief. “Once we get our Thief’s Jewels, we pack up and go find Mom. And if we never see this frigid valley again, at least we have each other.”
Satisfied with their secret bond, Nabooru gently placed Vahris down before extracting herself from the covers. Quickly, she shuffled over to the embers and slid her now frigid toes into a pair of embroidered slippers that she had left nearby. The little beads shimmered in the glow, revealing her mother’s moon-shaped crest. Her breath escaped in small, white puffs. While Nabooru worked on reigniting the flames, she counted the days since her mother had gone missing during a scouting trip. The aftershocks of war had resulted in numerous Gerudo tribes rebelling against Lord Ganondorf’s rule. These insurrections were typically quick but also brutally violent. Her mother had been sent to a small tribe of rebels who had made camp near the Temple of Spirit. That had been over 100 days ago.
As they often do, rumors had swirled about since her disappearance. Some said that she had died a glorious death, protecting Gerudo Fortress against the rebellion’s dark magic. Others whispered of treason, believing that Nabooru’s mother was now leading the rebels, or had run away to Hyrule Castle to be with Nabooru’s father. Yet, Nabooru’s personal favorite was the one where, seeing her mother’s strength, the Goddess of the Sand had chosen her mother to be the new guardian of the temple. Believing her mother’s very spirit had intertwined with the goddess gave Nabooru an incredible sense of peace. It also filled her with the quiet strength she needed to survive the near-daily bullying. If not for her aunt and cousin, there was no doubt in Nabooru’s mind that she would have been evicted from Gerudo Fortress by now.
The fire crackled back to life, illuminating the rest of the room with its heat. The woodsy and spicy scent of sage and pine filled the space. Grateful, Nabooru carefully moved a cast-iron pot of water over the flames. Waiting for the water to boil, she used the time to get dressed and ready for the day ahead. Her long hair was brushed through and tied up in a neat ponytail. Her evening garments were exchanged for a long purple cloak and attire more suited to the cold. By the time the pot had begun to steam, Nabooru had returned to the fire with two small bowls, some spiced bread, and a book retrieved from her table. In one bowl she added a pinch of herbs and cinnamon before carefully adding the water. The other was filled and set aside to wash her face once it had cooled a bit.
The sky outside had begun to turn pink. By her estimation, Nabooru had a couple of hours before meeting her cousin for training. Plenty of time to sneak in some extra studying. It was Nabooru’s fervent wish to take the final round of training soon. Typically reserved for girls in their 16th year, the final training course tested young girls on their knowledge, battle prowess, and thieving abilities. Upon completion, girls were awarded the crown of jewels every Gerudo woman proudly wore on her forehead. These jewels signified more than adulthood—they were also a Gerudo woman’s pass to enter and exit the desert at will for secret missions, mate-finding, or to steal the greatest riches they could find. To Nabooru, the Thief’s Jewels were her ticket to becoming the greatest thief in history.
The hours passed, the sky shed her pink for deep turquoise, and Nabooru’s tea had long since turned cold. Nabooru sat her book down, a tome dedicated to lost relics of the Golden Goddesses, and stretched. She could hear the rising chatter of women entering the Great Hall for breakfast. As if on cue, there was a loud knocking at her door. The excitable voice of her cousin came soon after.
“Nabooru! NA-BOO-RU! Wake up, wake up, wake UP!”
“I’m already up, Ashai,” Nabooru responded while using the last of her water to douse the flames. “You can come in, you know.”
With a bang, the door slammed open and through the opening bounded Ashai. Her golden skin was a few shades darker than Nabooru’s, and her short cropped hair rested against her jawline. A year older than Nabooru, Ashai strode with the confidence only found in a seasoned weapons master. While Nabooru was very thin and often needed to use a rope to keep her pants on, Ashai was muscular, a body built from handling battleaxes and wrangling horses. This morning, Ashai’s green eyes glimmered with a hint of mischief.
Nabooru paused in the middle of splashing her face with the now frigid water, studying Ashai. “You know something,” Nabooru carefully concluded.
Ashai grinned like a wolf in a cucco’s den. “Right you are, dear cousin! But I’m not telling you a THING until you agree to compete with me today!”
Nabooru groaned. She knew what kind of competition Ashai wanted, and that meant horseback archery. It’s not that Nabooru detested the sport, she just didn’t see the point in riding a beast prone to running too fast, being easily spooked, and throwing off their master. Camels were clearly the superior beast of burden. But, Nabooru was curious, and Ashai knew it.
After a long pause, where Nabooru calculated the risks, she relented. “Fine,” she sounded out slowly. “But you better tell me the news over breakfast.”
“I’ll do you one better,” Ashai beamed. “I’ll tell you something good during breakfast and once we put the horses away.”
Now Nabooru really was curious.
The Great Hall was livelier than usual and the room buzzed with energy. Two great kiva ovens provided ample warmth and space for cooking. Large, golden tapestries depicting the Gerudo’s history adorned the hall. Nabooru noticed that some of the tapestries had been moved to cover the windows in order to trap the heat.
Nabooru and Ashai served themselves from the large, bubbling cauldron. The warming scent of antelope stew with root vegetables and spices set off a rumble deep in Nabooru’s belly. Each long table already had hunks of bread and a bevy of beverages laid out on them. The colder the morning, the more the adults turned to hard alcohols to warm them. Aunt Deltani always warned Nabooru and Ashai about the dangers of overindulging in such beverages. As Deltani put it, dull swords and bad decisions always followed where too much drink was had.
As the girls sat down, the older women barely noticed their arrival. Far too gone into their drinks and whatever news had come in the night. Nabooru picked up an iron kettle, pouring it over a mug filled with chocolate and spiced with peppers traded from a nearby tribe. She poured a second one for her cousin while Ashai spread a thick pat of goat butter and honey over bread. Unless Nabooru started the conversation, she would never get anything out of Ashai.
“The adults are deeper in their drinks than usual this morning. It’s not even that cold,” Nabooru sighed.
“That’s because they’re celebrating,” Ashai articulated between chunks of bread. Nabooru raised an eyebrow and passed her cousin the mug of hot chocolate. Ashai took a too big, too hot gulp before continuing. “Lady Sukarda’s expedition returned last night and they found something really cool.” Ashai leaned down, bringing her voice to a whisper. “Mom said they found Din’s Fire.”
Nabooru gasped. According to her studies, Din’s Fire was a magical ruby lost eons before the Great War began. Capable of producing infernos on command, only chosen heroes could wield it safely. The Goron tribes on Death Mountain had long claimed that their sacred treasure, the Goron Ruby, had been crafted from a piece of Din’s Fire. She leaned in closer as Ashai continued.
“All the Elders were summoned as soon as Lady Sukarda returned last night. Lady Sukarda is convinced that it’s Din’s ruby, but the Elders aren’t so sure. They want to send word to Lord Ganondorf, asking for his return. If only a hero can wield it, they’re hoping it will respond to him. And, if that works, then the unruly tribes will have to acknowledge that he’s still in charge and step in line. Otherwise, it’s just a really big ruby with some runes on it.”
Nabooru’s blood ran cold. The last thing she wanted was for Lord Ganondorf to return. She stared into her mug. “What does your mother think?”
“Mom? Ah, you know her. She’s not convinced all this research and excavation is a good idea. The other tribes are already upset with us, and digging through their ruins and graveyards is bound to keep them agitated. Besides,” she said, her voice lowering further, “there’s still the issues of the Sheikah relic found two moons ago.”
Nabooru nodded. She had seen the obsidian box brought back from the Haunted Wastes. No one but the Elders knew what rested inside, but to Nabooru the energy around it felt dark and ominous. One night, returning late from her studies, she swore the eye carved into the side lit up and watched her.
Nabooru jumped in her seat and let out a small shriek as a large, worn hand clamped down on her shoulder. A hearty laugh echoed in her ears. She looked up into the broad face of her Aunt Deltani. Large, golden hoop earrings framed her face, matching the jewelry on her forehead, and holding her now graying garnet hair up in a bun. “So, Daughter,” Deltani began in a deep, commanding voice, “have you told your beloved cousin the good news?”
Ashai groaned. “Mom, if I tell her now she’ll never ride horses with me!” Deltani’s laugh crescendoed as Nabooru looked at both mother and daughter in confusion. Ashai slumped over her stew, face perched in a frown against the palm of her hand.”
Deltani turned Nabooru towards her. “The Elders decided last night that it’s time to begin the final lessons for girls to earn their Thief’s Jewels, and Ashai is going to participate.”
Nabooru couldn’t hide her disappointment. Ashai was a bit young for the examination but showed great promise. Once she passed and began her career as a thief, it would be at least two more years before Nabooru could join her. Two years of loneliness. Nabooru thought of packing her scant belongings and leaving as soon as possible.
“Now, now,” Deltani lifted Nabooru’s chin up. “Don’t be defeated so soon. You are going to participate as well.”
Nabooru’s stomach flipped as her emotions completely changed direction. “Ar—are you sure? I’m not too young?”
Deltani chucked. “Age has nothing to do with it! You have just as much talent, if not more than some of the older girls. The Elders are expecting great things from you.” Deltani dropped down, gathering her daughter and niece into a large hug. “I can’t believe my girls are growing up so quickly!” Nabooru laughed while Ashai sighed loudly.
“Now then,” Deltani stood up while mussing with Ashai’s hair. “Finish your breakfast and meet me at the archery range as soon as you do. Your training begins today!”
Artwork by Warningyou. You can view their gallery here.