The sun slowly crept its way across the sky as Nabooru and Ashai exited the Great Hall, heading towards the archery range. Nabooru scanned the horizon for clouds, noting with satisfaction the vast expanse of uninterrupted blue. If not for the stiff wind, Nabooru could have convinced herself that it was a lovely spring day. She pulled up her hood and reached into her cloak’s inner pocket, retrieving a matching pair of amethyst fingerless gloves. The adults exiting the Great Hall continued their excitable chatter, cheeks flushed and lips emboldened by their bitter morning tinctures.
At the rate Ashai was talking, Nabooru’s cousin could have fit right in. Ashai’s quick and determined pace left Nabooru scrambling to keep up.
“Were you surprised? I bet you were so surprised. I mean, it’s been at least 100 years since anyone younger than 15 got to take the test! Aren’t you nervous? Goddess bless us, I would be so, so, so, so, SO nerv—”
“Yes, Ashai,” Nabooru interrupted with a chuckle. “I am nervous and excited, and all of those things. I’m worried I might fail and you’ll leave me behind.” Her gaze returned to the cloudless winter sky. She spoke again, her voice striking like steel against stone. “But I have to pass the exam. No matter what.”
Ashai’s pace slowed, as she turned to study Nabooru’s features. A heavy pause hung in the space between them. One moment, two moments, three moments, four moments passed before Ashai ran her hand through her short bob. She spoke softly. “If you pass, you still plan on leaving to look for your mom, don’t you.”
It wasn’t a question.
“Immediately,” Nabooru responded. She kept her gaze forward, refusing to look back at her cousin’s doe-eyed and worry filled expression.
“But the search was called off last week! What if she’s dea—”
“She is NOT dead,” Nabooru spat. “There’s no way she’s dead, and I WILL find her. No matter what it takes.”
“It’s dangerous though. What if one of the other tribes captures you, or worse, what if she’s captured by one of them? You can’t break her out alone!”
The confidence spread from the pit of Nabooru’s stomach to the crown of her head. She strode forward again with the determination of a queen.
“That’s a thief’s job, Ashai— to steal what’s precious. And there is nothing in this world more precious to me than Mama.”
The icy silence that settled over the girls was further punctuated by the gale blowing down the archery range. Without the sturdy defense of Gerudo Valley’s mud-brick abodes, the wind pulled sharp and fierce across the girls’ cheeks. In spite of the cloudless sky, the promise of snow kissed them as it moved past. Normally unaffected by the chill, Ashai was forced to hunker deeper into her emerald cloak.
The archery range made use of a pass that serpentined between two steep mesas directly behind the township. Timber beams had been erected on top of the flatland, topped with crimson banners that danced violently. Various sized targets created from painted hay and burlap lined both sides of the pass, blocked off by fencing to keep archers from getting too close. A large, garnet colored yurt was erected at the mouth of the range, used to store equipment for both horse and rider when not needed. Bows and quivers leaned precariously against the outside. Horses of various shades with brightly colored saddles were tied up nearby, muzzles pointed into the wind. Their whines of discomfort eerily caught up in the shrieks of winter.
Up ahead, Nabooru spotted three other girls huddled by the kiva just outside the tent. All the confidence she had moments before drained away in an instant. Nabooru’s shoulders slumped and she tugged on the hood, allowing it to cover a portion of her vision. From this distance, Nabooru could feel the fox-like grin curling around the full lips of the tallest girl. Prisha’s ankle length hair and saffron coat whipped furiously behind her as she stood tall, hands on her hips. Her almond shaped, ice blue eyes pierced Nabooru. If not for her awful personality, Nabooru mused, Prisha could be mistaken for a goddess.
The smaller girls, with their matching pigtails, were too focused on the kiva’s heat to care about much else. As the first twins to be born since Lady Kotake and Lady Koume, Niali and Kiali were heavily doted on. Everything about them matched, from their hairstyle to which fingers they chose to adorn with multiple rings. The circlets of gold and precious stones that bejeweled their pigtails reflected the sun to a dazzling effect. As if both girls were graced with an abundance of mana pouring from their crown.
As Ashai and Nabooru reached the kiva, Prisha’s smirk grew into a predatory grin. “Aww, what’s this?” Prisha’s voice trilled, ending in a violent cackle that didn’t match her features. “Here I thought the little wolf would be elated to be embarrassed by the older girls during the trials. But here she is, all cowering and shivering. Like a pup without its mom.”
“Knock it off, Prisha,” Ashai snapped. “The only person she’s going to embarrass is you.”
“Doubtful,” stated Niali.
“Highly doubtful,” Kiali chimed in. Their heads shook ‘no’ with the same rhythm.
Ashai reflexively took a fighting stance. “And what do YOU know, you spoiled little SNOT-NOSED—”
“Now, now, Ashai,” Prisha tutted. “Is that any way to speak to the next great witches of the valley?” The twins nodded in approval.
Prisha looked at Ashai with a tone of pity. “I just can’t understand why you’re always so quick to defend the cub of a traitor.” Prisha drew out the last word, filling it with as much venom as possible. Nabooru glared at Prisha from under the sanctuary of her hood. Prisha’s smile grew, her next venomous arrow notched in the bow when a voice boomed from the tent.
“Bold talk from one who failed the last trial,” Deltani stated, as she exited from the yurt, unamused. Behind her, a wisp of a woman slipped out. In spite of the wind, not a single hair spilled out from the high bun on her head. Clearly uninterested in the conversation, this new arrival cleaned a small pair of spectacles before returning them to their rightful perch. Her white coat was almost too blinding against the sun.
Deltani continued, enraged by Prisha’s behavior. “I’m starting to believe you really are the daughter of Hyrule’s king. You’re both filled with the same hot air.” Delani towered over Prisha. “All words. No bite. Unwilling to do the work, but willing to pick on the smallest just to make yourself feel good.”
Nabooru delighted in watching Prisha’s composure melt. “Now,” Deltani growled, “If her royal majesty is done with her hen-pecking, we have some business to attend to.” Prisha nodded and squeaked out an apology.
“This,” Deltani spoke while gesturing to the woman on her left, “is Lady Sukardra. Her name should be rightfully familiar as she’s involved with the research and acquisition of ancient relics and texts. As you know, she just returned with her research team last night from a successful dig.” The twin’s eyes glimmered with excitement, no doubt thinking they were worthy enough to wield Din’s Fire.
Deltani continued. “Despite being gone the past few moons, she’s still agreed to assist with your upcoming trials. So be sure to show her the proper generosity and respect, and learn all you can from her.” She looked sidelong towards Lady Sukardra. “Is there anything you would like to add?”
Something sinister flowed across Sukardra’s face. Her deep amber eyes held the gravity of a tomb. “All who fail, get to become my new, little, experiments.”
The remainder of the day was dedicated to explaining the course of the trials. For five weeks, the girls would train intensively in key areas–archery, swordplay, magic, espionage, and thieving. They were also encouraged to pick at least one extracurricular subject from an approved list in order to round out their skills. Most of the extracurricular skills revolved around a profession each woman could use to support herself once leaving the valley. Several professions, such as jewelry making and inscription, were in high demand since the Great War had ended. Still, even in times of peace, there was always a need for a talented hunter or bodyguard.
At the conclusion of week five, finals exams would begin. The girls would be graded based on how well they performed on written exams, performance reviews from the profession trainers, and a mock heist in the desert. As Deltani explained, the majority of points came from the heist since this event accurately depicted how well each girl could perform under pressure.
Of course, the prize at the end of the trial was the Thief’s Jewels. Each girl who passed would be gifted her first set, a beautifully crafted circlet denoting her rank and ability to leave the fortress at will. Upon graduation, the girls were free to leave but were highly encouraged to continue training in their chosen profession or shadow master thieves during heists.
By the time they were dismissed, the sun was on the verge of dropping below the horizon. What little heat the valley saw was long gone. Clouds thick with snow crept along the western sky, promising a night of storms. Ashai and Nabooru hurried along the path, carrying the assortment of books and weaponry needed for the trials with them. Their breath came in large white puffs. Deltani had stayed behind to secure the yurt and horses before the winter storm could disperse it all.
“I’m sorry,” Ashai spoke between puffs of cold air.
“What for?” Nabooru quizzically glanced over at her cousin.
“Fighting this morning. And being unable to make Prisha eat dirt with that pretty, little mouth of hers.”
Nabooru laughed heartily, thinking of how shocked Prisha would look. Ashai, grinning, continued. “I get it, you know. About your mom”
“Oh? How so?” To Nabooru, this was the first time her cousin even hinted at understanding. Before them, the Great Hall loomed in the impending darkness. A beacon of warmth and all good things.
“Yeah, honestly. If it had been my mom, I’d be doing all I could to find her too.” The girls looked at one another and smiled. “Now, enough of this sad stuff,” Ashai barked, taking a stance similar to her mother’s. “How about we get some dinner and hit the baths?”
“Deal,” Nabooru beamed. “But you one me one of those cinnamon and saffron buns your mom makes, or I’ll never forgive you.” The girls giggled as they entered the Great Hall, ready for a warm meal and respite.
Freshly bathed, Nabooru wrapped an extra blanket around her shoulders as she headed back to her room. She hoped that there was still enough time in the evening to get a headstart reading her new books before sleep claimed her. During their bath, Nabooru and Ashai discussed which professions sounded most interesting. Unsurprisingly, Ashai was set on being a boyer and fletcher. Nabooru’s cousin wanted to open her own archery range outside of the valley and earn her living by teaching all races how to properly shoot.
For Nabooru, the question of professions was more complicated. Various vocations seemed interesting enough, but she hadn’t given much thought to what she would do after she found her mother. She had always assumed they would go on heists together, becoming the greatest mother-daughter thief duo the world had ever seen. Still, Nabooru knew the inherent wisdom of back-up plans.
She thought back to the book she had been reading just this morning—The Goddess’ Treasure to the Tribes. The tome, written by Lady Sukardra herself, outlined all the treasures found inside the Spirit Temple and nearby cave tombs. Everything from precious gems, broken tablets written in Sheikah cuneiform, to impossibly large suits of armor. What if, Nabooru thought, I studied these relics further? Plundering objects of great power and magic, keeping them away from Lord Ganondorf sounded like the perfect profession to her.
Contemplating her new career goals, Nabooru didn’t notice the glow emanating from the reliquary as she walked passed. The door should have been shut and guarded. All she heard was the muttering.
“Horrible things, yes, yes, truly horrible things.”
Nabooru paused, peering into the reliquary. She pulled the blanket tighter around herself. Once again, the obsidian box pulsated with a blood red glow. The all-seeing eye, symbol of the Sheikah, darted about, seeking. The frail body of an old woman sat on the ground in front of the pillar holding the ominous coffer aloft. Her hair, white from centuries of life, reflected the blood red light.
Nabooru cautiously entered the room, keeping one hand on the door frame. “Grandma Yai, is that you?” Slowly, the old crone turned to her, reaching towards Nabooru with one bony, ring-covered hand. Tears of fear filled the old woman’s eyes.
“We’ve forgotten the old bond, the old ways. The Shadow Folk know our sins. The heartbeat quickens.” The crone rose and shuffled to the young girl, shaking in the doorway. The coffer’s roving eye locked on to Nabooru.
“One hundred moons, my sweet girl. One hundred moons until sister bears arms against sister. One hundred moons until the dead rise.“
Grandma Yai reached out, tucking a piece of stray hair behind Nabooru’s ear. “Only one hundred moons until you suffer your poor mother’s fate.”
Artwork created by Warningyou.