The elderly woman smiled, eyes crinkling as the little princess approached her. Zelda, not much older than ten, hurried up to Impa's bedside as the Sheikah woman turned her way. "What is it, my dear? Is something the matter?"
Zelda stared up at her guardian with big blue eyes—eyes that were quickly filling with tears. Her voice warbled as she finally found the courage to speak. "No… It's… I'm just—I'm gonna miss you."
Zelda's tearful expression caught the old woman off guard, but Impa responded quickly. Her wrinkled hands shook as they came to rest on the sides of the princess's face, but her expression was kind, and Zelda put her hands over the top of Impa's. "I'll always be in your heart, Zelda," she said softly. "You needn't worry. I won't leave you on your own." Impa pulled away to cough, her chest heaving with the heaviness of her coughs. Once she was finished, she managed a smile once more and pressed a soft kiss to the top of Zelda's hair. "If I could stay with you, I would."
"But you can't," Zelda said. Her big blue eyes were so sad that Impa felt her heart break to leave this little one alone, but she knew she couldn't outmatch death. Zelda looked down, bottom lip trembling as she spoke. "Do… do you really want m-me to go back to the castle…?"
Impa nodded, giving the girl a light squeeze of a hug. "I want you to try, darling. I can't promise that they'll accept you, but—"
"But I have to try anyways." The little princess sighed, looking more lost and forlorn than Impa had ever seen her—even more so than the night they had fled the castle together. Though it had been years and years ago, Impa remembered it well; the sight of the princess, scared, confused, and worried, was one that had stuck with her. But goddesses bless her, she had tried to be brave then, and she was trying even harder now. "I understand, Impa. I'll do my best."
"That's all I can ask for, little one," Impa said softly, her aged hands shaking as she combed them through Zelda's hair. "Have faith."
Sheik dropped onto the rooftop of Kakariko Village, grateful that this house had been abandoned for decades so she didn't have to muffle her fall. And because it was abandoned, she knew she could seek refuge within it, if just for the night.
After successfully swiping valuable jewels from a wealthy but lesser-known noble just hours ago, Sheik knew she couldn't linger. Though it was her crimes that had spurred her to leave, her hatred for Castle Town had driven her to leave nearly as much as the giveaway jewels she'd stolen. At least Kakariko was close; she could rest here for the night before moving on.
Still, as she dropped into the abandoned house on the far side of the village, she couldn't help but feel a bit homesick.
Once, she might have felt homesick for this very village, but in the years that had passed since leaving this place, she'd come to consider the far-off provinces in Lanayru her home. While she lacked an actual house, there were plenty of taverns that had served the same purpose. Sheik visited frequently enough that they may as well have been secondary homes.
It was hard to feel that she lacked a house, anyways, since she'd been living a nomadic lifestyle for so long.
After all, she had the sky above Lanayru, and the earth beneath her feet, and her well-worn Sheikah warrior ensemble. They were with her wherever she went, and they were home enough for her.
Still, as she settled onto the creaking wood floor of the abandoned home, Sheik couldn't help but long for something. Maybe because she'd been away from Lanayru province for weeks now, or maybe because the home she had grown up in was just a few minutes' walk to the other side of the village. Either way, her heart ached for something she couldn't quite place, and she had to restrain herself from getting up and investigating her childhood home.
After all, it would be too risky to check it out—especially not tonight. There was a chance that someone else was living there, now, and Sheik knew that they wouldn't be happy to have a thief as a visitor.
So she sighed and laid down on that creaky, hardwood floor, and slept till dawn.
When morning came, it came with the voices of soldiers. And Sheik, trained since she was small to hide and stay under cover, quickly found a space in the rafters where she could stay hidden. But from this vantage point, the voices were all the more prominent, and Sheik couldn't help but listen in on them as she waited for them to leave.
"Sir, there's no sign of the thief."
There was a heavy sigh, and Sheik waited with baited breath, hoping against hope that they were somehow talking about someone else. After all, if they were looking here, then they already knew of her crimes, which she'd been hoping they hadn't found out about yet. She'd been careful, sure, but the best way to avoid being caught for a crime was for no one to even realize one had been committed.
"Those jewels were worth a fortune," one soldier said, and Sheik guessed from the authoritative tone that it was a higher rank than the one who had spoken first. "I doubt the thief would stay here for long. He must have fled the scene."
Sheik took note immediately. They assumed, as usual, that the thief was a man. Well, that was just fine with her—she was happy to let them go on with that assumption. Once they got a closer look at her, it was hard to mistake her as anything other than a woman, and she could use that as an advantage if they ever found her.
No one had seen her steal anything, anyways—so the soldiers were flying blind regardless. But still, it didn't hurt to play into what they weren't expecting.
"Well," the higher-up soldier continued. "It seems we won't be finding the thief anywhere around here. Tomorrow morning, we make for Lanayru. Our orders are to continue onward to the desert."
"Gather the troops. Tell them to get rations from throughout the village. After today, we'll be heading to the west."
The troops departed shortly afterwards, and Sheik waited for the footsteps to be some distance away before she finally moved from her hiding place. Knowing that they were looking for her, now, meant that she had to tread carefully. Either she had to stick around for the next day or so until the troops left, or she could leave while they were in the chaotic process of gathering supplies for their trip.
The last thing she wanted was to stick around this abandoned old house, so she was quick to slip up into the rafters of the house, and out the chimney.
The sky outside was light, but still dark enough to cloak one faux-Sheikah as she slipped away into the horizon. Maybe later she could steal a horse and be on her way, but for now, she had to play it safe till she got to Lanayru. It was bad luck that she was headed the same way as the soldiers, but the only pawn store she trusted was in Solen, and the goddesses only knew she couldn't sell it any closer than that considering it came from Kakariko.
No, Sheik would just have to make it to Solen and pray that no one had heard of the missing jewels from Castle Town. Till then, she could only hope.
It was a hard three days' journey to Solen, even when she'd managed to steal a horse, but she couldn't get away from Kakariko fast enough. Though the army was on foot, Sheik wanted as big of a head start as she could get. They'd said they were no longer looking first and foremost for the thief, but that didn't mean they wouldn't hesitate to catch her and turn her in if they saw her.
She needed to pawn the jewels, and fast.
So when she finally arrived in Solen—tired, sore, and starving—her first stop was to her favorite pawn shop. This was the only one in town that had a firm 'no questions asked' policy—and because Sheik had traveled so fast and so far, there would be no reason to change that policy now. There would be no news about a theft all the way over in Kakariko—not yet, anyways.
Sheik took advantage of that head start while she could, and she hadn't been in Solen longer than an hour before she'd left the jewels at the shop and walked out of the store with several orange and purple rupees. She might have asked for gold rupees for the ease of carrying, years ago, but few people had change for gold rupees, and even when they did, people got suspicious when a nomad was carrying so many large rupees all at once. She knew better than to draw suspicion if she could help it.
So she pocketed her winnings and headed outside. Later today, she'd have to head out to the next city, lest the shop owner rat her out as the one who'd turned in the jewels, but for now, she had enough time to rest, to eat, and most importantly, to bathe before she headed out again.
Perhaps if she'd never insisted on such a head start, and never decided to pawn the goods just as soon as she entered Solen, Sheik might never have met the boy in the alleyway.
Sheik made her way through the streets of Solen, searching for a cheap inn or tavern to stay at. Anything with a bath and a hot meal would do—she just needed to get clean, get rested, and eat before hurrying back onto the road. By the time she woke, it would likely be dark, and she'd be able to make her move with the cover of night.
She was counting on it, really.
But as she passed by alleyway after alleyway in pursuit of an inn, she couldn't help but hear the sound of flesh hitting concrete some streets down. It was a quiet time of the afternoon, but whoever it was, they weren't trying to be quiet about their fight.
As Sheik got closer, she soon discovered why.
Royal Guards stood guard around the alleyway, but even as two blocked the path, she could just barely see three more behind them, as well as their victim.
Sheik couldn't see their victim well enough to tell their age, their appearance—or even their gender, though the groans of pain certainly sounded masculine. She could tell enough from the scene, though, that they were hitting him, and hard. His head seemed to be the primary target, but she saw a particularly forceful kick go to the man's stomach.
That much force to someone's diaphragm could permanently ruin their ability to breathe, Sheik realized, anger setting in. She didn't even want to think about what might happen to this man if they kicked him there again.
Still, she watched in silence, wondering whether or not to get involved. Though she knew how to fight, she tended to avoid brawls, if just to avoid drawing attention to herself. But could she really just stand by as Royal Guards surrounded this man and brutalized him?
If they continued much longer, she had no doubt that they'd end up killing him.
Logically, Sheik knew she should pass the scene by.
It was risky enough to be here in the town she'd pawned her stolen jewels—especially knowing that the Hyrulean Army might be just a day behind her.
To cause trouble with the Royal Guards might well be suicide. If they found the money on her, and if they found out where she'd gotten it, she'd be sentenced to jail or worse. Sheik had been an outlaw for years, and the cause of more than a dozen high-value heists, and dozens of smaller-value ones. It was possible they'd be able to trace her back to those, too.
But these were Royal Guards.
Three of them, beating a man senseless.
Sheik hated Royal Guards enough as it was—but to see their brutality, their unwavering loyalty to a crown that didn't care about its citizens, their willingness to perform acts of cruelty without even questioning it—
Sheik allowed her impulses, her anger, to get the best of her. She vaulted the building beside the alley in seconds.
It was with practiced grace that she dropped down onto the ground below, separating the guards with a flying kick from the man they had been beating.
The element of surprise was the only thing separating her from failure, so Sheik capitalized on it as much as she could. Her knives were her primary weapons, but for this, she decided to use blunt force before she resorted to weaponry. Weaponry killed, after all, and the last thing she wanted was the murder of a Royal Guard on her list of crimes, no matter how much they angered her.
But goddesses, it made her angry to see them ganging up on one single man.
Once all the guards had fled the scene—possibly for more backup—Sheik was quick to pull the man's arm over her shoulders. He was shorter than her, though just as thick with muscle. It wasn't easy to carry him, but Sheik knew she had to act fast, so she hurried on down the road.
If her knowledge of Solen was correct, she could find an inn just past this street. It wasn't the one she wanted to stay at, but then, it might be better to buy a separate room for herself.
If the guards caught either of them, it would be bad enough, but it would be even worse if she was caught with him. Then neither of them would have a chance to escape.
So she hurried into the building, slapping more than ample payment for a single room. The innkeep didn't question her hurry—or either of their appearances—and instead just directed them to a spare room up in the topmost floor.
Fortunately, she didn't linger past that. The innkeep was quick to hurry back to the front desk, and Sheik couldn't be happier to be alone.
She kicked shut the door behind her, then dropped the man on the bed.
Though she tried to be gentle, she was more than a little winded from having to carry him through the streets and up a flight of steps. After all, the man wasn't light by any means—if anything, his build reminded him of her own.
Sheik glanced at the window, half tempted to leave already. But with a minute to spare and with how beat-up the man appeared, she decided to let curiosity overtake her, just this once.
It was hard to tell with all the blood, but the man she'd saved seemed to be fair-skinned and light-haired, though tanned and dirty. He was likely a rogue, Sheik decided—maybe even a thief like her. His musculature made him look like a fighter, which explained why he'd lasted as long as he had. In a five on one fight—and with no weapons on him—Sheik supposed he'd done well not to have been killed.
The closer she examined him, the more she found that she sympathized with him. After all, most outlaws had similar stories. Pushed into a life on the run, probably had no family to speak of. Had he stolen something, she wondered, or had he hurt someone? Had the guards been trying to arrest him?
Royal Guards rarely attacked people without reason, after all. Their brutality was a rare sight, so for five of them to have gone on hurting him even after he was knocked out…
Sheik wondered for the first time if she was harboring a fugitive.
But despite that, Sheik didn't regret her choice.
Royal Guards left a bad taste in her mouth. In her eyes, their aggression was usually unwarranted, and though it was clear this man had put up a fight before she'd arrived, by the time she'd gotten there, they'd been hurting him for no reason at all. He'd already passed out by the time Sheik saved him—if she hadn't intervened, who knew what might have become of him.
Even now, he was unconscious on the bed, bleeding—though nothing was so deep that she was worried for his life. It was his head and torso injuries she was most worried about. Concussions were dangerous, and she knew they'd been targeting his head and chest most. Between the damage to his head and diaphragm, Sheik wasn't completely sure if he'd live to see tomorrow morning.
But she'd done her work. At least now he had a chance.
Sheik started to head to the window—and goddesses damn it, had the innkeep purposefully led her to the topmost floor?—wondering about the best way down. But before she could drop out and make her getaway, the man on the bed started to stir.
Frozen in place, Sheik watched as he sat up, hissing in pain as he managed an upright position.
He hadn't noticed her, not yet, but Sheik watched as he slowly oriented himself. She watched the confusion on his face grow, watched his brows furrow as he looked around the unfamiliar room. It was no surprise—he'd been unconscious while she'd moved him—and even if he hadn't been, she'd brought him here too quickly for him to have adjusted already.
But within seconds, he seemed to remember the guards. His first reaction was to stand—but Sheik was too quick for him.
"Stay in bed," she said, keeping her voice a few octaves deeper than normal. "You're injured."
The man startled—seeming to only then realize he wasn't the only one in the room—and was on his feet in an instant. He was too beaten up for his legs to hold him, though, and Sheik watched as he was forced to support himself on the nightstand lest he crumple to the ground.
In a flash, Sheik was by his side, helping him back onto his feet and then right back into bed. It was clear that this man wouldn't be able to leave any time soon—but Sheik needed to go. If she didn't find an inn of her own in the next hour, she'd have to just leave on horseback, forgoing what little rest she might have gotten today. And she'd rather not set out while sleep-deprived.
So she stood over him, eyes unflinching as he stared up at her in bleary confusion.
"Stay in bed," she repeated. "Or I'll have saved you for nothing. Understood?"
Finally the man nodded, though he still seemed a mite confused. Sheik gave a quick nod of approval, then pulled out a roll of bandages from an outer pocket.
"Use these when you're well enough. You're bleeding now, but nothing is deep enough to kill you, unless they get infected. Ask the innkeep for some ice for that bruising, though. I'm sure she'll come up here eventually to check on you."
Without another word, Sheik made for the window again. It felt wrong, somehow, to leave this man here when she'd gone through such effort to save him, but she was in too much of a rush—too risky of a situation—to linger any longer than she already had.
Ignoring the man's strangled "Wait!" Sheik dropped onto the roof of the next inn over. It was risky—far, far too risky—to be jumping the rooftops at this time of day, especially when there were people searching for her, but three stories was too far for her to safely jump. And the last thing she wanted was to leave through the door after such a suspicious entrance.
It didn't strike her till she'd made her way back to the ground and started towards a different inn, though, that she didn't even know the man's name.
Of course he didn't know hers, either, and Sheik didn't really need his name, as she had no plans of seeking him out later. It was probably better this way anyways. For all Sheik knew, she'd saved a murderer, not just a petty criminal. Though she didn't regret her decision—even murderers deserved a fair trial—she decided that the less she knew about this man, the better.
So she pulled her cowl up, set down ample rupees for a day's stay at an inn half across town, and took care of what she'd come to do.
Late that night, she'd set out south, in the direction of Ordon Province, and stay at one of the smaller towns along the way. Ecchar, maybe. It was large enough that a masked, androgynous figure wouldn't be too out of place, and far enough from Castle Town and Lanayru that she would be safe from the Royal Guards after her.
Sheik bathed far faster than she would have preferred, but once she was clean, she didn't have enough energy to seek out food. Instead, she fell face-first onto her bed and fell into a deep sleep.
She didn't wake till it was long since dark outside.
The road to Ecchar was long, and tiring, and there wasn't much to see with the moon and stars being her only light in the dark. With such a tedious road ahead, Sheik had plenty of time to think. And, with so much time on her hands, she couldn't help but wonder just who that boy was.
Though she wasn't going to stick around to investigate, she was curious. The guards had scattered so quickly, and they'd given no pursuit when she'd grabbed the man and run. It was downright strange that they hadn't followed them, even if they had been startled.
Why had the soldiers hurt him in the first place? And why so excessively?
And more importantly, why had they been so willing to let her defend him and run off with him?
A bad feeling grew in the pit of her stomach as she journeyed towards Ecchar. But as bad of an idea as it might have been, what was done was done. And for what it was worth, Sheik didn't regret it.
The Royal Guards could stand to be knocked down a few pegs, anyways.
After what the Royal Family had done to her, Sheik had no patience for people who would serve them so blindly.
Edited 3/17/2016 – fixed some of the grammar and made this less of a pain to read.
Thanks for reading! Please follow and review! This will hopefully be updated fairly often, as it's a tentative NaNoRiMo project, but hey, reviews keep me motivated. Happy reading!