Hi! Me again with another update and a couple of announcements! First off I've started a p-a-t-r-e-o-n account! If you would like to pledge some support I would greatly appreciate it! It'll help motivate me to write more frequently by helping with my grocery bill. Hahaha!

Anyway with the p-a-t-r-e-o-n account I decided to change my pen name as well. I've been the Assassin of Shadows for a long time but I've recently started using the tag HylianHero as my ID for several other things. I feel like it better suits my personality and the fact that most of my favourite stuff is Zelda related.

A link to my p-a-t-r-e-o-n can be found on my profile page, though you'll have to do some editing to the copy paste because this site doesn't like web links and the word 'p-a-t-r-e-o-n ' gets deleted automatically from this site. If the link doesn't show just look up HylianHero on the p-a-t-r-e-o-n search bar. It'll show.

The rewards I've put up for pledges right now are flexible since this is the first time I've ever done this. I'd be happy to hear what types of rewards you would like to see if you don't like what I have right now. Regardless of if I get any pledges or not I will still continue to write but your support would be wonderfully appreciated and would go a long way to making updates much faster.

So yeah, that's my spiel for now!

Please enjoy:

Whom She Found

Chapter 26:

Of Ports and Pirates

xxx

"All right Florina, take a stance and show me what you can do."

The young pegasus knight gulped nervously and did as instructed, raising her practice sword in a neutral stance. Link nodded in approval as he eyed her form, seeing that it was decent enough. While timid and small of stature Florina was an official Pegasus Knight-in-training of Ilia. Which meant that even though the lance was the weapon of choice for the winged warriors Florina would have had at least basic knowledge of swordplay. That gave Link something to work with.

After scrutinizing the girl Link raised his own practice weapon and took a step forward. Florina immediately flinched and shifted her stance into a defensive posture, gripping her sword tightly with both hands. Link frowned slightly at this but continued forward and swung at her with a basic overhead slash. Florina took another step back while raising her own weapon to block. The crack of wood as the weapons collided echoed around them and the young woman buckled slightly under the force.

Not giving her any chance to think Link continued his assault and struck again, forcing Florina to back pedal steadily as she tried to fend off his blows. Link kept an even pace and rhythm to his offensive, probing her skills and abilities with analytical precision. She was doing surprisingly well all things considered. She was not the swordsman that Kent or even Sain were and she was a far cry from Lyn's level of skill, but she wasn't helpless either. He could even see traces of the two knights' styles in the way she carried herself indicating that she must have sparred with the two of them at some point. That made sense. As a vassal of Caelin and Lyn's personal lady-in-waiting, Kent would have made sure that Florina was looked after.

Link suddenly stepped back, ceasing his assault and startling Florina, to give the girl a breather and the chance to go on the offensive. He made a casual gesture with his sword to indicate as such and waited while the young Pegasus knight swallowed nervously before stepping forward. Link had to admit that the girl was surprisingly quick, her lithe frame making her rather nimble, and he smiled approvingly as he deflected her initial thrust. He suppressed a grin; trust a lance user to open with a thrust. It had good form too.

After that Florina continued with an assault of her own filled with several basic but fairly well executed slashes and more thrusts. Every once in a while Link would prod her assault with a counter to see how she responded but for the most part remained on the defensive. Unfortunately for her, Link's frown deepened with every passing moment of Florina's offensive. She must have seen it on his face because her attacks began to falter until Link was able to very easily disarm her and knock the poor girl to the ground.

"Ow!" Florina grunted in pain when her rump struck the dirt. She idly massaged the area where she landed while nervously looking up to where Link had bent to retrieve her fallen sword. He then walked over to her and gazed at her speculatively for a long moment, making the young woman incredibly nervous, before he reached down to help her stand.

"Not bad overall," He told her kindly. "You have pretty decent technique and good reflexes. There's definitely room for improvement but you did well skill-wise."

Florina couldn't help but flush at the praise. She had always been one of the lower ended cadets back at the academy, her shy personality making her too easily intimidated by the other girls. Hearing her skills praised by someone she respected was rather embarrassing to the meek young woman.

"Unfortunately your skill isn't what your problem is," Link's next comment instantly turned her embarrassment to shame. "You're weak Florina."

Seeing the completely shattered expression on her face from his words Link quickly amended. "Physically I mean. Your blows have no strength behind them at all and you buckle under the force of attacks."

Florina nodded slowly, still upset but noticeably more calm. She knew that she was weak, had known since her first day of training. She had even been giving a smaller lance to fight with than the others. One that was slimmer and lighter than the standard issue. Being mounted on a flying Pegasus, however, meant that her lack of strength wasn't as big a detriment as other types of fighters. A skilled rider made use of their mount's weight and momentum to power their attacks and, like arrows, a thrusting lance didn't need to be heavy to be lethal.

Regrettably this wouldn't help Florina learn to wield a sword. While mounted swordsmanship made use of the mount's power as well it also required significantly more upper body strength to be affective than lances; strength that could not be easily compensated with a two handed grip. The Goron Bracelet that Link had given her the year before had helped level the playing field for her greatly but Link had insisted that she not use it while they trained. To him such an item was meant to be a tool not a crutch.

"You're also too easily intimidated," Link continued. "You instinctively go on the defensive which isn't a bad thing if you can weather your opponent's assault and counter properly, but you're easily forced into a retreat allowing your enemy to dictate the flow of the battle. You missed several opportunities to strike back at me and you tried blocking my attacks head on rather than deflecting. Since you're not very strong those blows rattled you and further shook your confidence."

By this point Florina was close to tears. She knew she wasn't very strong compared to the others, but she still tried her best to be useful. The young woman had trained hard with Kent and the others during her year at Caelin and she had thought she had grown stronger because of it. Apparently it wasn't nearly enough and having her weaknesses presented to her by Link hurt a lot.

"But that's ok," Link suddenly smiled at her, hoping to reassure the poor girl. "All of those things can be fixed with a bit of effort. You've already taken the biggest step by asking for help. That shows your determination to improve." Seeing Florina perk up slightly he continued. "You're a lot braver and stronger than you think you are, Florina. I told you last year that you possess the greatest kind of courage and I meant it. Now I'm going to help you build it up so you can see it in yourself."

Florina looked at him nervously and forced a shy smile. "O-ok…What d-do we do now?"

"That's easy," Link chuckled and turned away. "Follow me."

He led the nervous girl back towards the company wagons and up to one in particular.

"Let's see here…" Link mused aloud as he rummaged around in the back. "I know I asked Merlinus to pick up more of this stuff back in Caelin…now where did he…ah-hah! Here we go." Triumphantly Link held up a pack almost identical to the one that he had forced Rebecca to wear while she ran. Florina blinked in surprise and then bit her lip, having seen the poor archer run with the weighted bag, as she realized what she was going to be doing.

"I…uh…" She tried to get out a protest but was unable to voice her growing concerns while she watched him load up the bag, picking it up every so often to judge its weight.

"This should be good for now," He finally declared and held out the pack to her. "Put this on."

Florina swallowed hard but did as she was told, reaching for the bag. She barely suppressed the gasp that threatened to escape her lips when she took it from him. It was heavy! Florina gave Link a disbelieving look but only received a mirthful grin and a 'carry-on' gesture. With a dejected groan and a grunt of effort Florina hoisted her new burden onto her back.

Link nodded in approval as he watched her shift to accommodate the new weight. "Good, now give me your arms."

Florina blinked again but slowly raised her hands to him. She watched in horror as he quickly tied a pair of wrist weights on her as well.

"There we go." Link grinned cheerfully. "You're all set!"

"B-but…" Florina stammered, trying desperately to give voice to her protests. Unfortunately Link waved her off before she could.

"I know it's rough but it's necessary. Besides you're not carrying as much weight as Rebecca is and she's close to your size. Oh! Speak of the devil!" Link grinned as he saw said girl walking by. "Rebecca! Come over here!"

The green haired archer blinked blearily at the call but came over when she saw Link waving at her. She inwardly cursed her luck that he had spotted her so soon. Every muscle in Rebecca's body ached and she felt utterly exhausted. She had stayed up far too late the night before using her hot-blooded emotions to drive her practice. By the time she had called it quits she had only been able to get a couple hours of sleep in before everyone rose for the day. To top it off she couldn't bring herself to wake one of the healers to give her body some magical relief before collapsing into sleep. As such she had woken with muscles so stiff and sore it almost made her cry to move. Her shoulders and back were especially bad but it was her hand that was the worst. Her fingers were a swollen mess of dark bruises that had seized up into a gnarled claw-like grip while she slept. Forcing her hand open HAD caused her to cry from the pain. It was that very pain that forced her broken body out of her tent to go in search of Serra or Priscilla to tend to her. Unfortunately for her, she had caught Link's attention before she could find either of the two healers.

Link frowned deeply at her as she walked up to them. Her gait was slow and stiff and she was cradling her hand which looked like an absolute mess. He could easily see that the girl was in a good deal amount of pain and if those bags under her eyes looked any heavier than she wouldn't need to go running with a pack. He gave her a long hard stare to show his disapproval and the poor girl couldn't help but flinch away despite her tiredness.

"You pushed yourself too hard last night," Link stated bluntly.

Rebecca flinched again and nodded. Link sighed and held out a hand to her. Rebecca didn't need to be told anything further. She reluctantly lifted her arm and placed her hand in his palm so he could inspect the damage. He said nothing as he examined the appendage, poking and prodding it in several places as well as gently trying to wiggle the fingers to gauge her reaction. Rebecca had to bite her lip in an attempt to fight the pain but she couldn't help the tears that sprung to her eyes or stop the occasional gasp from escaping her throat.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Link spoke. "Rebecca this is Florina," He bobbed his head in the lavender haired girl's direction. "She's a member of Lyndis's group and will be joining you in some of your training."

Rebecca gave the girl a tired look and tried to smile. "Hi Florina, it's nice to meet you. I wish I could say it was under…better circumstances."

"Ah! It-it's fine!" Florina shook her head quickly. "I am…p-pleased to meet you t-too."

If she had been less tired and sore Rebecca might have raised an eyebrow at the girl's nervous, stammering speech but she was too tired to give it much thought. She hissed in sudden pain as Link gave her hand one last poke before he released her and turned back to the wagon. He rummaged around before grabbing Rebecca's own, more worn, pack and removing some of the load. He set the pack on the ground at Rebecca's feet when he was done before uncapping a jar with a strange poultice inside. With an incredibly gentle touch he began to rub the ointment into Rebecca's hand, working the medicine into her skin and around all her fingers. At first his ministrations made Rebecca shut her eyes in pain but as the medicine began taking affect her whimpers slowly turned into sighs of relief.

Link continued for several minutes, slowly massaging more medicine into her hand and gradually stretching her fingers open. Already they could see results. Her fingers had lightened in color considerably and most of the swelling had gone down a sizeable degree. Best of all, in Rebecca's opinion, the poultice had a numbing effect that blocked the pain.

"You waited too long to see a healer," Link said at last and released her hand. "The swelling is too set in to remove immediately with magic. You'll have to let this ointment work until tomorrow morning before Serra or Priscilla can fix it fully. I will give you more of it later this afternoon and tonight." He recapped the jar and stowed it back in the wagon and then turned to gesture to the pack he had dropped at her feet.

"For now I want you to take Florina on a run. No don't give me that!" He barked harshly at her incredulous expression. "You did this to yourself and while I admire your determination and dedication, you need to realize that there is a point where training becomes detrimental. Besides that a run is the best way for you to loosen up your body. It'll make your treatment later easier as well." He sighed again before placing a hand on her shoulder. "I've lightened your pack a bit, it's about the same weight as her's now," he gestured to Florina. "and I'll let you run about half the distance today. Don't slack off more than that, but don't hurt yourself either."

"All right…" Rebecca nodded resignedly. "I'm sorry…"

"Don't be sorry," Link patted her head gently. "Be smarter."

Rebecca nodded again and then glanced down at her bad. "Can you…help me get this on?"

Link chuckled at her but shook his head. "I think not." He gestured to Florina who blinked in surprise at suddenly being addressed. She had remained quiet and unobtrusive during the entire time Link had been tending the other girl, feeling both sorry for her as well as…something else that she couldn't quite put her finger on while she watched them.

"You're training buddies now. You should work together to solve your problems."

With that he turned away to leave the two girls to their own devices. They watched him go in silence before they both turned to regard the other. They both looked at one another for a long moment before Rebecca chuckled dryly.

"Well then…Florina was it? Do you think you can help me get this on?"

Florina nodded quickly and moved to help her. After several seconds of struggle, both girls were sufficiently burdened. Rebecca groaned again as she felt the weight settle on her aching shoulders but she resolutely turned back to the other girl and gave her a wan smile.

"Well, follow me I guess."

With that both girls took off on a morning jog that they would later describe as absolute torture.

xxx

A couple days later found the company entering the port city of Badon, a fairly large coastal city within the rather small territory of Badon. Despite its size Badon was of key commercial importance to the Lycian League due to its connection to the ocean and the many coves that made for ideal shipping ports. The commercial traffic had allowed the capital city to grow disproportionately large compared to the territory's size and become home to all walks of life.

With the countless number of sailing vessels to be had within the city's ports one would think that finding a ship to take the company to Valor would have been a simple matter.

"You want a boat to the Dread Isle?! Are you mad?! Absolutely not! No way! There's not a single person in this city that will sail there!"

Unfortunately sailors by nature where a rather superstitious lot and chartering passage to a notorious island also referred to as 'the Dread Isle' was turning out to be rather difficult.

"But sir, please!" Eliwood sighed heavily, having heard similar responses all day now. "We really must get to the isle. We can pay for the trouble."

"Bah, what good is money if you're not alive to spend it?"

"Sir," Lyn added her own voice to the debate. "We are in a hurry and we've talked to many others, won't you please take us?"

"No can do, missy. I ain't going anywhere near that awful place."

"Well can you at least point us in the direction of someone who would?" Eliwood asked.

The man looked at him for a long moment before sighing. "You must be desperate for something if you want to go there so badly…" He sighed and rubbed a calloused hand over his face. "There may be a way…"

"What is it?" Eliwood latched onto his words immediately. "Please tell us."

"Pirates."

"Eh?" Lyn blinked, taken aback. "Pirates?"

"Uh-huh," the man nodded. "Utterly fearless most of them and will do just about anything for a price." He shrugged. "Who knows, maybe they'll take you on this fool's errand of yours."

"Pirates…" Hector growled through clenched teeth. "Looks like we might not have a choice."

Lyn immediately rounded on him, anger burning in her eyes. "You can't be serious! Hiring pirates?! Unbelievable!"

Hector shrugged. "You're considering it, right Eliwood?"

Eliwood was biting his lip as he looked out towards the ocean. "If it's the only way…what else can we do?"

"You too, Eliwood?" Lyn recoiled in disgust. "It's foolish to trust the goodwill of pirates!" she spat venomously before storming off. "I'm finding another way!"

"Why is she so angry?" Hector quirked an eyebrow at his friend.

Eliwood sighed. "I heard that Lyndis's family were all slain by bandits. I suppose that to her pirates are no different from them. Just lawbreakers and murderers."

"I see," Hector nodded. "My parents died of illness, but I can appreciate her feelings. Shall we abandon the pirate plan then?"

Eliwood couldn't help but smile at his friend. It was so like him to be willing to walk a more difficult path simply because the easiest solution made someone else upset. Eliwood, however, was a bit more pragmatic to the situation.

"We should at least meet the pirates, we can decide then." He turned back to the man who had given them the advice. "Where can we find them."

"There's an inn down the way," He gestured further into the city. "It's a known favourite of the local freebooters. Be careful though, they're reckless and unpredictable."

"Thank you," Eliwood nodded graciously to the man.

"Best of luck to ye."

The two friends watched the man go before Eliwood turned back to his friend. "Well shall we go see what these pirates have to say?"

xxx

"Ugh I can't believe those two!" Lyn shouted angrily. "To think that they are actually considering working with pirates! PIRATES! You can't trust men like that! Cutthroats, thieves and lowlifes, one and all! We'd be better of SWIMMING to Valor than to trust men like that!"

"Hnnn," Link made a noncommittal noise as he listened to her rant. She had re-joined the group in a huff and upon seeing him had immediately began a tirade of epic proportions against the types of men that Eliwood was thinking of hiring. Link waited patiently for her to finish, being the only one who seemed unintimidated by her anger, without agreeing or even saying anything at all. He simply waited for her to finish and catch her breath before voicing his own opinion.

"You're probably right," He shrugged when she had finally taken a breath.

"What do you mean 'probably?'" Lyn turned narrow eyes glare to him. "Don't tell me you think we should hire pirates as well!"

"I didn't say that," Link replied evenly, unfazed by her glare. "We probably shouldn't hire cutthroats to transport us anywhere."

Lyn's eyes narrowed even further sensing more. Taking this as permission to continue Link crossed his arms behind his head and glanced to the sky.

"But what if not all pirates are as bad as you say?"

Lyn recoiled like she'd been slapped. "I beg your pardon?! What do you mean 'not as bad as I say'?! They're pirates!"

"True," Link agreed. "But that doesn't mean they're evil men."

Lyn gaped at him in disbelief, unable to speak. Link lowered his arms and dropped his gaze back to her.

"What do you think of Matthew?"

"Huh?" Lyn blinked, surprised by the change of topic. "What do you mean? Matthew is a good man."

"Yet when you first met him he basically declared that he was a thief, right?"

"I…suppose…" Lyn nodded slowly. "But that's different!"

"How so? Pirates and brigands are just thieves that typically work in groups."

"But Matthew isn't like them! He's not a murderer!"

"And how do you know that all pirates are?"

"Because they destroy lives!"

Link paused as Lyn shouted again, however this time there were tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. He knew why Lyn was so against pirates and their like. It was one of the reasons they had met in the first place. Link still had no idea how he had ended up in this world, but the fact that Lyn had lost her family to bandits had directly led to her being in the right place to find him. Unfortunately that hatred had developed into a stigma that was even stronger than Araphen's hatred of Sacaeans.

"That may be true," Link agreed. "But that doesn't mean that there aren't pirates with honour." He gave her a small smile. "Do you remember the Gerudo thieves I told you about over a year ago?"

Lyn nodded slowly. "Yes, they were the all-female group right?"

"Yes," Link replied. "They lived in the desert on the far western side of my homeland. While it's not without its beauty, the desert is mostly a barren wasteland where crops do not grow. Not only that but the Gerudo themselves are not all female simply by choice. For some reason they only give birth to a single male child every hundred years. This child is then declared their king. Every other baby born to a Gerudo is a girl."

"With these facts in mind, how do you think that Gerudo sustain their livelihood?"

"They…steal?"

Link nodded. "They have developed their culture around raiding. They raid towns and caravans to steal the necessary things they need to survive."

"Why can't they just trade for the things they need?"

"They do that as well, Gerudo silk and other decorative ornaments are highly valued throughout the kingdom of Hyrule. Unfortunately the desert doesn't provide enough for them to easily compensate through trading, hence the raids."

"But why would people trade with them if they are raiders?"

"Because there is more to them than just being a group of vicious thieves," Link replied. "The raids aren't just about the material goods; as a warrior culture they consider the raids to be a good test of skill and ability. One of their rights of passage is to sneak off alone and steal something of value. The harder the mark the more prestige they gain upon their return. Yet because they are warriors they also follow a code of honour. They never take enough to ruin a town nor do they harm children or attack people that cannot defend themselves. There's no challenge in attacking a target that is so much weaker than you after all." Link chuckled lightly for a moment. "In fact the Gerudo's raids have become an almost necessary part of Hyrule's infrastructure by providing valuable experience for soldiers and guards in the military. The Gerudo actually have a working treaty with the Hyrule Royal Family that allows them to continue their lifestyle provided they are allowed to defend themselves and that they will rise to the defense of Hyrule if necessary."

Lyn's mouth dropped open in shock. "Are you serious? The Kingdom allows this?

"It is part of their way of life. They don't have any malicious intent behind their attacks. They even deter other bandit gangs from forming."

"Still…" Lyn hesitated, unsure of what to make of this new information.

"They also conduct ritual raids where they look for men to father their children."

"Wait what?!" Lyn balked.

Link chuckled. "Think about it. They live in a society that is biologically lacking in male companionship. They have to go out and find it for themselves. These men range from individuals who are kidnapped to men who offer themselves voluntarily. Whatever the case, these men are rarely ever allowed to be a part of the child's life beyond conception. The Gerudo see men, for the most part, as weak and inferior to them largely in part due to the very fact that boys are so rarely born to them. Therefore they don't believe they need men in their lives."

Lyn simply stood there with a dumbfounded expression.

"It is actually a rather common fantasy in the kingdom to be kidnapped by a Gerudo."

"Are you serious? Why in the name of Father Sky is that?!"

"Well, simply put, most of the Gerudo are considered to be rather exotic beauties. Generations of living in a warrior society where only the best survive has made them rather attractive to the general public."

Lyn looked rather disgusted by this explanation and was about to say so when Link quickly headed her off.

"It doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think. Since they travel throughout the kingdom as mercenary guards or entertainers, most Gerudo usually end up meeting with someone at a tavern or other some such place these days."

"I…see…"

"The point I'm trying to make, Lyn, is that just because they live as thieves doesn't mean they are bad people."

"And how do you know that for certain?" Lyn shot back. "Have you met these Gerudo?"

"Of course," Link nodded. "I was actually a prisoner of theirs at one point."

THAT information stopped Lyn cold.

"You were their prisoner?" She asked in shock.

Link laughed lightly and nodded. "Not for very long but it did happen. I had to go the Gerudo Valley at an earlier part of my travels and ended up meeting a master carpenter that had been sent there to repair a broken bridge across a canyon. His apprentices were all rather lazy loafers despite their ability and all deserted him to join up with the Gerudo. He asked if I could find them and bring them back. I was headed there anyway so I went and upon arriving at their fortress was immediately accosted and taken prisoner."

"Why didn't you fight back?"

"At the time I wasn't skilled enough to take them all on and even if I was, I wasn't there to fight them," Link replied. "They threw me in a cell by myself which I managed to escape from and proceeded to sneak around their fortress until I found the carpenter's apprentices. They had all been taken prisoner as well and I had to search most of the stronghold for them. I eventually freed them all and was confronted by the Gerudo-third-in-command upon doing so. Turns out she had been watching me the whole time and had been impressed by my performance sneaking around and fighting the guards in the prison cells. She declared me the first man she had ever met other than her king that wasn't worthless and made me an honourary member."

"She made you a member? Of a group of thieves?"

"Uh-huh," Link nodded. "I spent quite a bit of time there after that, learning more about and from them. Their training grounds are brutal and my time with them contributed greatly in making me the warrior I am today." He turned to smile at her. "So you can say I got to know them very well and they were some of the most honest and honourable people I have ever met."

"I can't believe you accepted becoming one of them…" Lyn shook her head incredulously.

Link laughed. "Well it was either that or imprisonment. I think I made the right choice."

"I guess…" Lyn agreed reluctantly before sighing. "I can see what you mean though…I suppose I should at least meet them before I judge them." She narrowed her eyes stubbornly. "Though I doubt my opinion will change."

Link chuckled again and patted her on the back. "I'm not trying to convince you that all pirates are good, because they're not. Most definitely not. I'm just saying that sometimes you have to keep an open mind about things."

"I see your point." Lyn stated simply. "I said I agree that we should meet with them. Doesn't mean I have to like it though."

"Can't ask for any more than that," Link grinned again.

xxx

Unbeknownst to them, Eliwood and Hector had already found the inn they were told that the pirates frequented. It was a large building that looked surprisingly clean and well maintained for one that attracted such men. The inside was alive with activity, raucous laughter echoed all throughout while loud music rang out from the corner in an attempt to be heard over the boisterous crowd.

There were burly men everywhere engaged in all manner of action. Some were eating messily, a few were playing cards, others laughing or cheering at the music, a large group had gathered around an arm wrestling competition, and all were drinking heavily.

"Looks like the right place…" Hector stated bluntly.

Eliwood nodded and they began making their way through the crowd. They eventually made it over to where a pretty red haired woman was cheerfully loading up a tray with more mugs of ale.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Eliwood approached her courteously.

"Why hello there handsome," The woman greeted cheerfully. "I don't believe I've seen you around these parts before. "Welcome to the Fair Winds Inn. What can I do for you?"

"Do you know where I can find the leader of these gentlemen?"

"Gentlemen?" The woman laughed. "That's an unusual word to describe pirates, milord."

"Well I…"

"Aww there's no need for that," The woman laughed again. "There's no shame in calling'em anything but what they are. They're quite proud of the fact actually."

"You seem quite cheerful to be serving pirates," Hector stated.

"Oh my boyfriend is a pirate," She replied with a wide grin. "And he's the best! All of these boys are good people despite what they do and they're my best customers."

"You're customers?" Eliwood raised an eyebrow.

"Ah I'm sorry," the woman giggled. "My name is Anna and I'm the proprietor of this establishment."

"You run this place?" Hector asked, clearly surprised.

"Yup," Anna nodded. "I took it over from my older sister who decided to go wandering several years ago."

"Uh…that's nice…" Eliwood replied hesitantly, not wanting to offend the woman.

"It's fun," Anna smiled. "You meet all sorts of people with such interesting stories!" Her smile widened further. "Anyway you're looking for the captain? He's over there." She gestured across the inn to where a large, bearded man sat in the corner with a few other pirates."

"Thank you," Eliwood nodded graciously.

"Anytime," Anna replied as she watched them go.

The two young lords made their way over to the captain's table, who watched them approach with calculating eyes.

"What do you whelps want?" The captain asked once they were close, cutting off any introduction the two might have made. "You're here to see me aren't ya?"

"You're the commander of the pirate armada?" Eliwood asked.

At his words the entire table burst into laughter.

"Gwah hah hah!" The captain roared and slapped the table hard enough to bounce the mugs of ale on top. "'Commander of the pirate armada' he says! I like the sound of that!"

His men roared along with him, their belly laughs filling the air over all the other noise.

"Are you lads that naïve?" The captain asked between laughs. "Or just dumb? Which is it?"

Hector grit his teeth in anger. "You insolent…"

"Peace Hector," Eliwood placed a hand on his shoulder and spoke to the captain again. "If I have insulted you, I apologize. How should I address you?"

The captain snorted and took another swig of his drink. "You don't frighten easily do you?" He lowered his drink and eyed Eliwood for a moment. "Well at least you're not stupid. This wouldn't be much of a conversation if you were as easily riled as your friend. Captain will do, whelp. I'm Fargus, captain of the Davros."

"Fargus…Master Fargus?" Eliwood mused. "Or should I call you Captain?"

"You're not one of my crew," Fargus waved his hand. "Call me Fargus. Now what do you want."

"We seek passage to Valor for a sizeable company," Eliwood replied at once.

"Valor, eh?" Fargus quirked an eye. "Interesting choice for a vacation. How much will you pay?"

"We don't know the current rates. How much do you want?"

Fargus snorted again. "One hundred thousand gold."

"What?!" Hector shouted. "A hundred thousand?!"

Fargus simply gave him a hard smirk. "Well, will you pay?"

Hector looked like he was about ready to launch himself at the man but Eliwood held him back. "We've no choice,"He nodded. "But we will need a little time. We'll get the gold and return as quickly as possible. Come Hector."

He turned and strode away purposefully, never once turning back.

"Wa-wait a moment!" Hector dashed after his friend. "Eliwood!"

Behind them Fargus smirked again and drained his mug.

xxx

"Eliwood! Hold on!"

Hector's shouts quickly caught the attention of Link and Lyn who were just walking towards the inn they two men had left. They had found out from a passerby that the local pirates had hung out here and were on their way to see if Eliwood and Hector had met up with them yet.

Apparently they had.

"What's going on?" Lyn asked.

"Ah, Lyn…" Eliwood looked at her uncomfortably. "We spoke with the pirate captain."

"I surmised as much," Lyn nodded. "What did he have to say?"

"They've agreed to take us…for a price," Eliwood replied. "One hundred thousand gold."

"A hundred thousand?!" Lyn balked. "Are you serious?!"

"Do you think they can be trusted?" Link asked unconcerned.

"I thinks so…" the redhead said. "The captain seemed a straightforward man and the inn's proprietor vouched for him."

"Good enough then," Link nodded.

"But where do expect us to get that much money?" Hector cut in. "As far as I know we don't have anywhere close to that amount."

"I'm don't know but I'm sure that we…"

Eliwood was cut off when Link suddenly produced a large sack and handed it to him.

"Take this and use it as a down payment if necessary. It'll show the Captain that you're serious about the journey. His fee might just be a test of resolve."

Eliwood blinked in surprise and opened the bag. Upon seeing the contents his jaw immediately dropped, prompting Lyn and Hector to lean in close and a look as well. They subsequently joined their fellow lord in his expression.

"Sir Link!" Eliwood gasped. "How much is in here?!"

Link shrugged. "About forty thousand or so I think."

"Forty thousand…? And you're just giving it to us?"

Link chuckled and waved it off. "I'm not exactly poor, Eliwood. I made quite a bit of money this past year. Besides, that's just a down payment. Like I said the Captain might just be testing you. If not then I'll just consider this an early loan."

He turned away. "See what he says about that. If he still wants the rest tell him I'll be back later with it."

"Wait! Link!" Lyn called after him. "Where are you going?"

The Hylian simply waved a hand over his shoulder as he walked.

"To get more gold."

The three young nobles watched him go with varying degrees of confused silence.

"That was…unexpected." Hector stated after a moment.

"Indeed,"Eliwood agreed. "Lyn did you know he had this much money?"

Lyn shook her head. "No. I mean he has paid for several things before but I never imagined he would so casually hand over that much gold." She laughed lightly. "The more I think I know him…"

"Here, here," Hector agreed.

"Well," Eliwood straightened up with a grin. "Shall we go see what the Captain has to say now?"

As if summoned by his words one of the pirates that had been with Fargus approached them.

"Ahoy! Landlubbers!" He called out.

"Huh? What do you want?" Hector asked.

"Got a message for ya from the Captain."

"A message?" Eliwood raised an eyebrow. "Is he going back on his deal? We have some money here if he needs some assurances."

"Fool!" The pirate scoffed. "The Captain isn't like that! If he tells you he'll do something then he's gonna do it! In fact he's got a different offer for ya."

"Oh? What's that?"

"All of my mates in this village are gonna attack you. If you can beat us and make it to the ship, the Captain will give you passage."

"Wha-? For free? No gold?" Eliwood asked, clearly surprised.

The pirate laughed. "The Captian be a tad off-kilter. He'd rather have a bit o'fun with ya than take yer gold."

"Uhh…that's unexpected."

The pirate shrugged. "We'll give ya an hour to gather your group together. After that it's all hands on deck!" He grinned. "And don'tcha worry about going easy on us either. This kind of risky fun is what being a pirate is all about! We ain't gonna hold any grudges if some o'us kick the bucket."

With that the pirate dashed off, leaving the three nobles to process this new information.

"Well that's different," Hector chuckled. "But it works out in our favour I think."

"Yes," Lyn nodded. "Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgement."

"Either way," Eliwood turned to leave. "We should probably go and tell everyone the plan and get ready."

"Right," Hector nodded. "Let's go!"

xxx

The battle preparations for the upcoming skirmish with the pirates led to a rather interesting development. Most of the local shops in the area began closing up and the townsfolk filtered out of the vicinity. There didn't appear to be any anger or even much haste concerning the matter from the locals. In fact most of them remained rather cheerful. Several passing comments about bets were overheard and some of them even stopped by to wish the group luck or give some advice. One man who had been rather taken with Priscilla had even given her a rather valuable magical staff because he couldn't bear the idea of seeing her get hurt in the fight.

But perhaps the most surprising thing of all was when a gentleman in scholarly robes approached them.

"Excuse me," He said to Eliwood, whom others had told him was the leader of the company. "I was speaking with an old sailor a few moments ago and he told me that you're planning to travel to Valor. Is that so?"

"Indeed it is," Eliwood nodded. "Unfortunatly it seems that in order to get there we have to impress the pirate captain."

"Really?" The man tilted his head contemplatively. " Is that what all this commotion is about?"

When Eliwood nodded the man smiled. "I see. If that is the case would you mind terribly if I joined you?"

"Join us?" Eliwood blinked. "Why? What is your name good sir?"

"Ah where are my manners?" the man chuckled. "My name is Canas and I am a scholar of sorts…I've been seeking passage to Valor for several days now but none will take me. When I heard that another group had found I way I was understandably excited. Forgive me; my request probably seems somewhat selfish."

"Not at all," Eliwood smiled. "It is a quite understandable. You should know though that we are not going to Valor on a scholarly pursuit. It will be quite dangerous."

"I surmised as much and that shouldn't be a problem," Canas replied. "You should know, I can help in combat. I've some skill with a form of elder magic… Some call it dark magic, a rather biased term, if I must be blunt. But at the very least, I can take care of myself, and perhaps others."

"Dark magic?" Eliwood asked in surprise.

"I prefer the term elder magic." Canas sniffed slightly. "Dark magic has such…evil connotations behind it. It is not the magic that is evil, rather the person who wields it. It just so happens that practitioners can be corrupted easily due to its power if they are not disciplined enough to handle it."

"I see…" Eliwood hesitated. "Well we have faced several dark, excuse me…elder magic users already and I suspect we will only run in to more. Having one on our side might give us some insight into how best to deal with them."

"I would be happy to assist in any way I can," Canas nodded with a smile.

"Very well then," Eliwood agreed. "Welcome to the group Canas. I am afraid however that introductions will have to wait until after this business with the pirates."

"Yes of course, I completely understand."

After that, preparations continued without much further interruption. Each of the lord's spoke with their people to explain the situation and what they planned on doing. Since they weren't truly enemies Eliwood wanted everyone to try their best to avoid taking lives. It wouldn't do to anger the captain by killing off all his men. However he also made it clear that this was a fight the pirates had chosen so if it came down to it they shouldn't hesitate to protect themselves.

Everyone seemed to accept this without any troubles but after looking around, Rebecca made a rather startling discovery.

"Where's Link?"

xxx

"Well laddie, you looking to earn a bit of fame and fortune?"

A brusque and burly man behind a counter eyed Link with a sceptical eye. It hadn't taken long for Link to find the arena in this town. Most large port cities had one due to the large amounts of traffic making pit fighters easy to find. People needed entertainment and there were few things more entertaining than watching someone else fight it out for wealth and glory. Arenas like this were the fastest and best way for an upcoming mercenary to make a name for themselves and since there was always a fight going on the opportunities were endless if you were willing to take the risks. There weren't many rules in the arena once you entered.

"Fortune yes," Link grinned. "Fame, not so much."

"Ha! Well that's a new one!" the man laughed. "Well since I've never seen you before that means you're new to this arena. So let me tell ya how things work."

"First off you need to pay the entry fee and register in this ledger. Minimum entry fee is fifty gold. After that you must wager a minimum two hundred and fifty gold and we'll offer you a match based on your ranking and basic fighting style. You can choose whether or not you want to take the fight but if you back out you lose your wager. Of course you can wager more if you want a higher challenge for a bigger payout but that's up to you."

"That seems…interesting," Link rubbed his chin. "What's stopping you from giving someone an impossible match up and just taking their money?"

"Business of course!" The man laughed. "We get way more money for having the fight take place than if we just cheated a random fighter out of his gold. If we did that we would lose all of our fighters right quick I'd wager. But this also insures that the fighters can't scalp us either by constantly backing out of their fights until we match them up with someone they think they're guaranteed to beat."

"I see, I guess that makes sense."

"It's how we've run things for years and it works."

"Fair enough."

"Once you've accepted the match then there's no turning back. Rules of the arena are simple: No outside help, no pre-fight sabotage, and no magical weapons or healing items. This is a test of skill and ability. Killing is fine but if your opponent is knocked out or surrenders then killing him will result in immediate disqualification and a ban from the arena."

"Is magic allowed?"

"If you don't declare it as your intended method of combat for that match then no, unless your opponent agrees."

"Seems reasonable," Link nodded. "Is there a larger payout for keeping your opponent alive?"

The man shrugged. "Depends. You can add a bonus wager on top of the initial fee if you want a guaranteed pay out. Other than that it depends on the bets of the crowd. The more people bet on you the bigger your cut will be if you win. Winning fights with death is a sure fire way to build a rep and become a crowd favourite and that can be big money." He rubbed his chin in thought. "Of course the same could be said about the reverse. Some crowds love a good bloodbath. Personally I prefer if fights end by knockout or surrender. Just means there's one less fighter I have to replace."

"Hmm, ok." Link nodded.

"So are you still interested?"

"Most definitely."

"All righty then," the Arena registrar grabbed a quill and thumbed open the large registration ledger. "That'll be fifty gold and I'll need your name and basic fighting style."

"Sword and shield mainly," Link replied. "But I can also use a bow and other weapons if needed."

"A well rounded man then," The official nodded appreciatively. "Ready for anything, I can respect that."

"As for my name, can I use an epithet instead?"

"Sure, it's a common enough occurrence. Beyond trying to hide your identity, which people can have many reasons for, a good name can lead to higher fame in some ways."

"Excellent," Link smiled. "Can I make a custom fight request?"

The man narrowed his eyes suddenly in irritation. "Didn't I just finish telling you that's not how things work around here?"

"Ah no, you misunderstand." Link waves his hands in a disarming gesture. "I need to make a lot of money really quick so I'd like to take on this biggest challenge I can."

"Is that so?" The man quirked an eyebrow, his interest peaked. "Can't say I'll agree, but what did you have in mind?"

Link grinned again and tossed a sack of gold onto the table.

"I'll wager ten thousand gold that I can beat every fighter you have without killing them. Back to back or as a group doesn't matter either."

The man's jaw dropped.

He stared at the money dumbly for a long moment before jerkily raising his gaze back to Link.

"That's…quite the wager…are you serious?"

"Absolutely. Feel free to take an hour or so to announce it and give people a chance to place their bets."

The man shook his head in disbelief. "Well…a group fight might not work out since we have people that use magic and bows in our roster as well. Plus they might fight over who gets the prize."

"If they are willing to match it then I'll wager another thousand gold for each person that is willing to do a group fight against me."

The man dropped his quill in shock.

"Boy I swear if you're joking about this…"

"I'm not," Link narrowed his eyes seriously. "I will take any and all challenges you can give me today. I told you, I need a lot of gold."

"How much more can someone who's willing to throw away ten thousand gold need?" the official asked incredulously.

"Over a hundred thousand," Link replied simply.

The man whistled. "That's a lot of coin…"

"Indeed," Link agreed. "Can you make this happen?"

The official sighed. "Perhaps…I'll have to talk with the higher ups to see but we might be able to make it work. I think you're throwing away more than you're money though." He rubbed a large hand over his face. "The hard part is going to be getting someone to take this challenge seriously. It's a little outrageous."

"Hmmm," Link stroked his chin in thought. "Would a name of…some repute help?"

"It could. Depending on if people have heard of you or not."

"Very well," the Hylian smiled and withdrew a yellow mask with a distinctly vulpine shape. "How about…the Green Wanderer?"

The official froze. THAT was a name he had most definitely heard.

How could he not?

There wasn't a soul in all of Lycia that hadn't heard of the mysterious green warrior who had fought in Caelin's civil war a year ago. Slowly he met Link's gaze.

"Y-you…are you…really…?"

Link gave a knowing smirk and shrugged.

"Well now, I guess you'll just have to find out."

The man swallowed hard before a grin began to tug at the corners of his mouth.

"I…I think we might be able to make this work after all."

xxx

Rebeccas was nervous.

No, scratch that. Rebeccas wasn't nervous. Nervous didn't even begin to describe what she was feeling at the moment.

Rebecca was full blown panicking.

The battle with the pirates was about to start and Link was nowhere to be seen. She didn't know what to make of that! Link had hardly ever left her side during the entire time she had been with the group and when he did it was always when she had a clear idea of what she was supposed to do and had other people with her. Never had she been fully left to her own devices like this! She wasn't ready!

She still couldn't use her bow properly so she had retrieved her old one even though it wasn't really suited for battle. She reasoned that pirates probably wouldn't wear a whole lot of armour so the power of her bow wouldn't really matter much. At least that's what she told herself as she drew the string back several times to reacquaint herself with the weight. Elimine's light it felt like a toy now. No wonder Link had insisted she get an upgrade! Frankly she was surprised he hadn't laughed at her when she had shown it to him. Compared to the one she had been practicing with her old bow felt like it would break in her hands.

The teenaged girl sighed in dismay and reluctantly armed herself with the battle quiver Link had given her with the new bow. It was a unique design compared to the standard military quiver which was little more than a portable arrow crate. Her battle quiver couldn't hold as many arrows as a regular one but it was designed to hold them even when turned upside down. This would prevent her from losing ammunition should Rebecca have to employ some of the acrobatics Link had been drilling into her.

"All right calm down Rebecca!" The young archer shouted to herself after she had slung the bow across her back. She slapped her cheeks a couple times in an attempt to get her nerves back under control. "This is what you've been training for all this time! You can do this! Just remember what Link taught you and you'll be fine!...Hopefully…"

The call to arms sounded behind her and Rebecca looked over to see everyone moving to take their positions.

"Guess it's showtime…"

"Are you all right?"

Rebecca jumped at the voice behind her and whipped around to see Florina staring at her with a concerned expression. Though they had only been training together for a few days the girls had become fast friends as well as moral supporters during their torturous practices. Rebecca had quickly learned about the other girl's natural reticence, though she was remarkably more calm and eloquent when speaking to other women, and was surprised to see that she wasn't nearly as nervous about the coming fight as she was.

"I…I'll be ok…I think…" Rebecca tried to give her a reassuring smile. "Just nervous I guess…"

"Because Link isn't here?"

Rebecca flushed slightly in embarrassment at having her thoughts read so easily but nodded.

"I can understand that," Florina smiled gently at her friend. "But he probably has a good reason."

"How can you be so calm about this? I would have thought you would be way worse off than me."

The Pegasus Knight shrugged and rubbed her arm absently. "It's…not that I'm not afraid…I always am. But…I've learned that sometimes you have to think beyond yourself... I think about how I'm helping my friends and that they need me. If I fail in my duties…bad things could happen and that thought gives me the strength to face my fears."

Rebecca just stared at Florina in shock. She never would have expected that kind of response from the shy girl but it made sense. And it made her feel better too. Her stunned expression soon turned into a smile.

"Thanks Florina, I needed that."

The Pegasus knight smiled back at her. "Let's both do our best to help."

"Right, let's go!"

xxx

A/N: I debated fitting the battle in this chapter but I wanted to get an update out soon so I could get my p-a-t-r-e-o-n going and this felt like a good place to end. I'll get to it next chapter. Gonna be working on my Fairy Tail fic next because I promised a few people that PM'ed me I would. I hope you all enjoyed this and I'll see you next time!