I have to commend you on your follow-through. I did not expect to receive an update before you even arrived at your destination, but I'm glad for it. Your decision to improve skills frowned upon at home is laudable. I have never quite understood why Father frowned upon the practical use of your abilities. Perhaps he, like myself, is jealous that magic is only inherited by females of our line. Or maybe he is just overprotective.
You asked me about Link, but I must confess I do not know him well. We served in the same unit for a while, but he was quite the loner. I once wanted to ask him to teach me a specific sword technique I saw him use, but one of the other men stopped me. Apparently, he would have just told me to worry more about my fundamental techniques rather than wasting time on learning a complicated trick. I said that there was no way he would have the gall to say that to the crown prince, but they assured me he most certainly did. I can't assert for sure whether this was truth or just a reputation he had built, but I can say that he was mostly left alone.
Father has been on my case more than ever. I wish you were here. You were always the best intermediary. However, I suppose this is an excellent opportunity to learn how to manage my temper on my own. Enjoy your time away and write soon.
Whatever Link said to Impa must have worked because she didn't say another word about our healing practice. She naturally transitioned to other duties while Link hurt himself for my education. It was awkward at first. Link had so chivalrously jumped in to take Impa's place, but it seemed as if it hadn't occurred to him how intimate a process healing was. With Impa I had barely noticed, but being in such close physical proximity with Link, my hands traveling wherever he deigned to hurt himself - his forearms, his stomach, his back - everywhere defined with muscle that was impossible not to notice, was far more unnerving. But it wasn't just my heartbeat that sped up when my hands rested on his skin. With such close proximity I could feel his pulse, and it wasn't hard to notice the tension in his body when he forgot to force himself to relax.
I felt badly to be affecting him so, and I was too afraid to ask him why it was so uncomfortable. Was it because of her? Or was he just uncomfortable with physical contact in general? Those were questions I tried not to ponder when all my focus needed to be on repairing the damage he inflicted upon himself. Especially given the extent to which he hurt himself. I thought Impa was intense, but she, for instance, never smashed her hand into a tree so that I could practice healing broken bones. That specific injury took several attempts over a couple days for me to figure out. Link never once complained; he just wrapped his hand between sessions.
Sometimes we had an audience when I healed Link. Sir Rhys in particular seemed fascinated with the process. Not that I blamed him. The magic I possessed was a special brand, unique to the women descended from the mortal form of the goddess Hylia, i.e., the royal line. While there were a couple rare types of magic that could heal in a similar fashion, most healing in the kingdom was done through potions or poultices.
One day, however, Link insisted we separate ourselves from the other two. I followed him through the woods a stream, curious as to why he wanted privacy now. Even with our excruciatingly slow pace, we were only a day or two from Calinth. Was he going to try to give me some advice about the realities of being in a refugee zone? That sounded like him. If so, he was too late since Impa had given me a talk about the difficulties I could experience the night before.
At the edge of the stream he sat down without a word, reached down to his right pant leg and winced as he pulled it off. A hand flew to my mouth, covering a gasp as I got a look at his injury. I had become accustomed to cuts, bruises, and burns of varying severity, but none of that had prepared me for the current state of Link's calf. It was swollen to about twice its normal size with a three-inch wound that had scabbed over in several unnatural colors. He must have gashed himself several days ago and then the wound had become infected. It hurt me just to look at, yet I hadn't noticed even a slight limp when he walked. His pain tolerance continued to astonish me.
"What did you do?" I asked, horrified.
He shrugged. "It doesn't take a lot to infect a cut."
I threw my hands up in exasperation. "But why would you do that to yourself?"
His bright blue eyes narrowed in seriousness. "You want to heal people? From my experience in the medic tent on the battlefield, infection kills more than anything else. In triage mode, there's not always time to make sure all injuries get cleaned like they should. If you can figure out how to clear out an infection that's already settled in, you could make yourself invaluable and save a lot of lives."
My breathing became heavy and my face fell in panic. "But Link, what if I can't figure it out? You could lose your leg. How could you be so reckless?"
He shrugged again like he wasn't the least bit worried. "What's done is done. Now are you going to keep berating me, or are you going to help me?"
He was unbelievable. How could he act like I was the irrational one when he might have permanently damaged himself? I took a moment to throw up a prayer to the goddesses for their help before I knelt down to examine his leg. Perhaps if I had a true healer's training, I could have figured out what I needed to do relatively quickly. As it was, I had to examine the injury incredibly slowly through touch, sight, and reaching out with my mind as I accessed my magic to try to understand what was happening inside his leg. It was over an hour before I realized the pressure inside his leg needed to be relieved somehow. I borrowed his dagger and punctured the scabbed over skin. His hiss of pain turned into a sigh of relief as a putrid, viscous pus started oozing out the hole. The swelling in his leg immediately went down, not to normal levels, but still a considerable improvement. Another hour and a half passed as I tried to use my magic to clear out the rest of the infection from his leg, leaving us both exhausted. When I used my magic, I drew energy from myself as well as the injured party and normally I wouldn't have done so much at once, but I was terrified that not completely healing the wound could have serious consequences.
When I finished knitting the skin together, I collapsed to the ground, completely spent. Link laid down next to me, breathing heavily himself. We remained sprawled on the grass in silence for a while before I turned my head to look his way and said, "Don't you ever do something like that to me ever again."
He started laughing, and I couldn't help but join him. What a ridiculous situation this was. Yet even so, there was a small sense of pride resting inside my chest. Link had thrown me directly in the middle of a lake with no lifeboat to cling to, and I had managed to swim to safety. I had never quite felt accomplishment like that before.
Eventually he pushed himself off the ground and held out an arm to me, saying that we didn't want the other two to worry about us. I reluctantly agreed and took his hand, groaning at the soreness in my body.
We hadn't gotten very far before Link tensed and stopped me by using his hand as a barrier in front of me. His eyes were hyper focused, quickly darting around to find whatever danger he had sensed.
A sharp intake of breath to our right had me turning my head, but I didn't have a chance to finish before I was tackled to the ground by Link a second before a stream of fire rent through the air we had been occupying. I hit the ground hard, but I hardly noticed as my focus was drawn to the source of the flame.
My eyes widened as I saw an armored, greenish-gray, monstrosity that stood on four legs, its body close to the ground, with horns on its head and nose. Fear pierced my heart as the creature opened its giant mouth to the sky, letting out a booming roar that shook the ground. My body seized up, but suddenly, I was forced to my feet by Link, who was scrambling to get up himself. He yelled at me to run, and pushed me to get me started, before he turned back to the creature, drawing his sword and shield.
I made it a couple steps before falling, never really having regained my balance. As I tried to get up, I tripped again. When I looked back it became obvious why. My skirts had become entangled in a thorny bush when I first fell that pulled me back when I tried to run. I yanked at my skirts to try to free them, but if anything, that just made it worse. I looked up to try to find a solution, but as I did, I completely forgot my own plight.
Link was moving like nothing I've ever seen. The monster let out another burst of flame, and he leapt into the air, flipping over the blaze. He darted around, biding his time for the creature to run out of breath. The second the flame stopped, he darted forward, sword poised to strike. The monster swiped with its foreleg, which he dodged by moving in closer, and he brought his sword down, right at its neck. The sword never connected though, because with surprising quickness, his enemy's tail whipped around and slammed into his midsection, sending him several feet away as he rolled on the ground.
He got up quickly enough, but there was a certain slump to his shoulders, coupled with heavy breathing that gave away his physical state. He had not had time to recover from the exhaustive healing session. He probably only had a quarter of his normal strength, if that. And this certainly was not a monster to be up against in a weakened state.
I focused my attention back on my trapped skirts and worked as quickly as I could to disentangle myself. I had no idea how to help, but at least I could put myself in a situation where I potentially could.
When I finished, I saw the creature charging at Link with speed that seemed impossible given its size. He stood his ground, waiting until the last possible second to jump out of the way. As he did so, he managed to slash at a weak point between armor plates on its neck and shoulders. The beast roared in pain before turning and releasing another jet of fire. Link sidestepped it, but he seemed more concerned with getting closer to the monster than keeping away from the blaze, and the fabric of his shoulder lit up, but he hardly seemed to notice as he slid underneath its head, sword poised to impale him through his softer underside. However, once again the creature moved with incredible speed, and Link only managed a glancing hit, instead of the finishing blow he was trying for.
The two went back and forth like that a few more times, and I stood there, completely entranced. Link engaged in battle was truly something to behold, and this was him on his last dregs of energy. At full strength, this might not even have been much of a fight. As it was, each assault left the other narrowly escaping death, the margins getting smaller and smaller each time. It was fascinating, but something felt wrong, something more than the fact that I was just standing there watching Link come closer and closer to death.
That thought finally snapped me out of my frozen state, and I looked around for any way I could help. If I ran into the fray, I'd probably just get Link and myself killed. If I could just find some way to give Link an extra half second, if I could distract the beast without also distracting Link… But how? Throwing something immediately came to mind, but the creature was so big and heavily armored that I was afraid it wouldn't even feel anything light enough that I could throw. I wanted to use magic, but the only offensive spell I had mastered was fire, and the creature seemed immune to it. Besides that, my magic stores were basically depleted after that healing session.
Suddenly, my ocarina came to my mind, and I reached into my skirts to grab it. The ocarina carried its own magic, so maybe there was a song that could aid my protector. I was trying to flip through the songs in my mind as quickly as possible when I saw Link launch himself into the air in his most aggressive move yet. Somehow in that moment I knew that Link was gambling everything on that move; he was either about to slay the creature or die himself. Before even registering the thought, my ocarina was to my lips and I blew the highest note I possibly could. The monster, whose horn was in the perfect motion to pierce Link, moved its head in alarm at the shrill sound, and with that moment of distraction, Link's sword pierced through the beast's eye all the way to the hilt.
Just like that, the creature collapsed, shaking the ground as it hit. Link went down to one knee, his chest rapidly rising and falling before he looked over at me, clear surprise in his eyes that I had not run away as instructed. I wonder if he could see the horror reflected in my own.
We walked back in silence, my mind a whirl. He didn't seem to want to talk about what had just happened, and I was too confused to broach the topic. I should be grateful, right? After all, Link had saved my life, nearly giving up his own to do so. I should marvel at his skill and strength given how depleted he was, shouldn't I? Yet even so, there was a gross feeling in the pit of my stomach when I reviewed the fight in my mind. Something about his fighting style didn't sit right. But I was no scholar in battle tactics. How could I possibly judge him negatively for his heroic actions?
I received no clarity by the time we arrived back at camp. Impa saw us first, and by the look on her face, our appearance gave away the trouble we had faced. She forced red potions on both of us which seemed to take the edge off my exhaustion. She peppered us with questions which we answered with the barest responses. Dinner was ready, and after wolfing down the meal, Link excused himself to go pass out in his tent. I ate more slowly, half-listening to Impa's concerns about my torn dress and the danger I had been in, just enough to respond appropriately, while the rest of my mind focused on replaying the fight for the hundredth time.
When I finished, I excused myself as well, grateful that Impa and Sir Rhys offered to deal with the clean-up. I passed Link's tent on the way to my own, and the image of his shoulder aflame popped into my head. With a sigh of reluctance, I called out, "Link? Are you still awake?"
He grunted in affirmation.
"Can I look at your shoulder?"
"Tomorrow?" came his haggard reply.
I sighed. I didn't exactly want to spend any more energy tonight either. "We both know the recovery process will be far easier if I do it tonight."
He grunted, I could hear shuffling, and then he called out, "Come in, then."
I parted the cloth, feeling awkward about invading his personal space. Well, he shared the tent with Rhys, but I still felt like an intruder. He was sitting on the far edge, his shirt already removed. It wasn't fair that his chest was so well defined. It was very distracting at a time where I needed to focus.
I forced my eyes to his shoulder and winced in sympathetic pain. The red, angry skin was dotted with white blisters. Luckily, Link was crazy enough to have purposely injured himself similarly in the past for learning purposes, so even though I felt worn down, I was confident I could heal it.
This routine had become comfortable enough that no talking was necessary. I closed my eyes and took a breath before drawing on my magic, trying to clear my mind of everything, including the fact that I was in Link's private space, my hands grazing his bare shoulder. Slowly I could feel the blisters going down, then I focused on the depth of the burn. I had no plans to heal it perfectly tonight, but if I took care of the worst of it, I could finish tomorrow without leaving any scar.
I was nearly done when my mind began to wander back to Link's fight, and the uneasy feeling came back. Then suddenly, I knew why; it was his eyes, the look in his eyes.
At the realization, my hand squeezed down on his not-quite-healed shoulder, eliciting a hiss from Link.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he asked.
"What were you doing?"
He responded with a confused tone, but I didn't hear his words because my mind was processing, running through the fight again to confirm my new suspicion.
"Why would you fight like that?" I asked, my tone harsh.
His body tensed under my hand. "You mean when I was saving your life?" he asked tersely.
I ignored the barb, my mind still working it out. "The way you fought so recklessly, I thought it was because it was your only option, that you had to risk everything because if the fight had dragged on, you wouldn't have had the energy to continue. But that wasn't it, was it?"
Link nudged away from my hand and turned to face me. "So now you're some battle strategy expert?"
"I may know little about fighting, but I know the look that was in your eyes." My jaw clenched and I struggled not to spit my next words. "You wanted to die."
His eyes darted away. "No," he said, though there was no power in the word.
"Oh my gosh, how did I not see it before?" My voice was getting harder and louder. "Once again it all comes back to her. That's why you want to die, isn't it?"
"No." This time his voice was stronger and held far more conviction.
"Oh, come on! If you die, you can finally be with her again. You can't take your life because of the goddesses' rules, but if you happen to die in battle—"
"It doesn't matter!" he yelled. I took a step back, surprised at the sudden outburst. He ran a hand through his hair, seeming disheveled for the first time in our relationship. "Don't you see?" he asked, his yes boring into my own. "That world is gone. She's gone. Not dead, not waiting in the spirit realm, gone. I never get to see her again, here or when I return to the goddesses. What you saw in my eyes wasn't a death wish; it was ambivalence. I don't care if I live or die. I will find no relief in life or death."
Of all the responses I expected, that one didn't even register. His pain and despair were as raw as if he had lost my counterpoint yesterday, but his logic was sound. He had clearly spent a lot of time coming to that conclusion.
I wanted to express my sympathy and condolences, to apologize for my unwitting part in it all, but words failed me. Perhaps he could glean my feelings from my expression. However, as I thought more and more about my comparison to her, I felt my anger return, so instead of saying something comforting or apologetic, I said, "You should be glad."
His hung head snapped up, and his eyes met mine with fury. "Excuse me?"
I matched his gaze. "You should be glad she can't see you now. How ashamed she would be."
Link's fists balled up and he looked ready to hit me. "You dare speak for her?"
I looked him up and down, unimpressed. "This cannot possibly be the man she fell in love with. The woman you described could only be disappointed in who you've become. You've had seven years to lick your wounds, yet the conclusion you've come to is that it doesn't matter if you live or die? Are you serious? You talk all big about how suffering refines us, that pain is the true purifier, yet what have you done with all your suffering besides let it turn you into a sad, hopeless, shell of the man you were?"
"Careful," Link warned, a vein in his neck bulging.
I had no desire to be careful. "You sure are good at judging others for not reaching their potential, but that must not apply to you. With your skill and experience, you could teach your fellow soldiers things they couldn't learn from anyone else, yet the first time you sought any kind of position, it was in search of personal freedom instead of leadership.
"And while that's a waste, it's forgivable. You know what isn't? Forgetting whose mark you bear. You're still the goddesses' chosen hero, but you think it's fine if you gamble so carelessly with your life? What if evil strikes again? What if Ganondorf escapes his prison? You don't know the future. So what is it that makes you so cavalier with your life? You feel like you've already done your part? That by saving the kingdom you've relieved yourself of any future duty? I think we both know how your precious Zelda would feel about that."
I folded my arms across my chest in punctuation, refusing to back down one bit, no matter how he could attack me back. Judging from the murderous look in his eye coupled with his labored breathing, it wouldn't be pretty.
His knuckles were white, and his whole body trembled, but as it turned out, his retort was just two words:
I threw in one last look of disgust for good measure before gladly turning on my heel and marching out of his tent.
A/N: Oh, how the tables have turned. So whose side are you on? Do you agree with Zelda's conclusion? Do you think she was too harsh? A combination? Did you not even care because you couldn't make it past the monster fight sequence and just want to tell me how awful I am at writing action? (I hate writing it, but sometimes those scenes are necessary)
Whatever your opinion is, I'd love to know it, even if it's critical. Also feel free to hit me up with any questions you may have. That can help me know if I need to clear anything up as I write the next chapter. Speaking of which, next time will have Zelda struggling to find her place in Calinth. Thanks so much for reading. Have a great week!