The crumpled form of the woman was in the corner. Her hands were clasped tightly against her face as the whole of her shook as her cheeks moistened with falling tears.
Mvon got closer. She wobbled quite a bit, considering her belly was even larger. But, all the same, she crouched down and gently touched Elia's cheek, discovering it to be wet and wiping it herself.
"Aden…Aden tried to rape me," was all Elia could say. "I believed in him so much…" She was shaking her head back and forth, still in disbelief at what had happened the night before. "What happened to him?"
"Aden? That nice Goron man?" Mvon was no so apt to believe either, it seemed. "He…really did?"
"What happened? Aden… Something evil must have made him to this, right? Right?" She was pleading now, trying to comprehend what had happened to her friend. "I trusted him. I could have gotten Link killed, too…"
"What's wrong with trusting people?" Mvon wondered gently, maneuvering herself down to the tent floor so she could meet Elia's brown eyes.
Elia stared right at Mvon, seeing how sagely she looked. "Oh, Mvon," she rasped. "You don't think he's evil, do you?"
Mvon thought a moment and replied, "I don't know, Elia. From what I saw of Aden, he was such a nice man, and he cared for you more than anything. But, you know… Love can make people do unreasonable, completely irrational things…"
Elia nodded, wiping some of her tears away. She hugged her friend tightly. "Thank you, thank you."
"Well, you know," Mvon said when their embrace was done, standing up with a bit of difficulty, "I think Link is really wondering what happened to you. So let's go out where everyone is waiting, Elia."
Elia followed her companion to the main circle. She saw Nylan, Wonara, Xua, Baxt, Bward…and Link, sitting in the corner looking discouraged. All sitting about the fire, which was just starting up as evening spread across the land.
Elia sat on a piece of rock right next to Link. He reached out and wrapped his hand over hers, squeezing reassuringly. Elia flashed him a big smile and immediately took his arm and placed it around her shoulders so she could snuggle up against his side.
Link looked up and said, "We're going…back to Hyrule, then?"
"What?" Elia asked.
Nylan did not seem to notice Elia's ignorance of the situation, and answered the man, "Yes… I believe it is necessary."
"I can't possibly go all the way to Hyrule," Mvon said, looking down at herself quite pointedly. "Where will I go?"
"None of us can stay here any longer," Xua said, the cold glow of his eyes bright and fierce. "We have dawdled too long as it is."
"Oh, stop talking like that, Xua. It's unnerving," scolded Wonara, comforting Mvon with a warm gaze.
Xua merely kept his own eyes on the flames. "It's true. We are all in danger here."
"We are leaving, Xua. Have you been ignoring us this whole time?"
"But where will I go?" worried Mvon quietly to her cousin, who had joined her.
"I mentioned my sister earlier, right? Why can't you stay with her? I think she is still in Pwyre," Elia suggested from the other side of the fire, even though she still was not quite sure what everyone was talking about.
"Yes, we can stop there first on our way to Hyrule," Nylan agreed with a nod. Perhaps you can stay there too," he told his wife.
Wonara wore a rather indignant look. "Be separated from you? Again?"
Nylan practically cowered. "Well… We shall see how it goes."
"This is…Pwyre, then?" Link asked as they passed under an arch and stepped into the great, bustling city. His hand shot up and he felt his pendant, something he often did nowadays. Perhaps it was solely for reassurance; perhaps it actually helped his mind in some way. Either way, it made him more certain of himself.
"It is. Now let's get to the inn," Mvon groaned. She was tired, sweaty, and irritable.
Everyone was too scared of her recent temper that they soon obeyed, hurrying to the inn and registering, dropping off their things, and heading their separate ways.
"We must all hold constant vigilance," Nylan had warned in a sinister tone before the group split up. "Enjoy yourselves, but do not forget we could all be in danger."
"Where do you want to go?" Elia asked Link sweetly when Nylan had left.
Link was scanning the square with his eyes a bit wide. "Elia, is it really safe for all of us to just wander around such a place? With all of these people?"
Elia squeezed his hand tightly. "I know Nylan wouldn't take us here if he thought there was too much danger."
"But he said something about 'constant vigilance', didn't he? Maybe we should just head back to the inn…"
Elia made a face. After the long trip, she was looking forward to wandering the streets of Pwyre with Link, holding his hand, maybe stopping at a café… And now he was too frightened to? "All right. If you are that worried, Link, then head back to the inn. But I am going to go eat a nice lunch somewhere. I'm hungry." She turned around and began walking in a random direction.
"Wait, Elia!" he called after her.
She stopped in her tracks.
Link caught up and began to follow close at her side when she walked again. "I definitely can't let you go off all alone," he mumbled, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Where do you want to eat?"
Elia smiled secretly to herself. A day with Link after all. "Somewhere out of the way," she told him, picturing a quaint little place where they could watch the daylight dwindle away, clasping hands and sitting close together. It wasn't too much to ask after all her trauma, was it?
They roamed the cobblestones streets for a long time, passing bars and noisy restaurants alike. Nothing really appealed to Elia, until they reached the end of town and a small shop that was labeled, "Tavern" in black letters on a tiny wooden sign that swung back and forth, creaking in the breeze.
"There," the woman announced, halting a few yards from it on the sleepy street.
Link peered at it, approached it, and took a peek through the slightly sooty windows. "Here?"
Elia nodded happily. Link sighed and took her arm, leading her inside. A happy girl with blond hair eagerly escorted them to a table near the corner and collected their orders.
When everything was settled and both Link and Elia were sipping ale and awaiting their lunches, they began to talk.
"Hey, Link," Elia started in.
He seemed quite taken by his drink, not looking up.
She nudged his foot with her own under the table. "Link."
"Huh?" He blinked, looking up. "Oh, sorry."
"You are so distracted," observed Elia quietly. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," he told her with a confident smile. "I was just…thinking."
"About what?" she asked instantly.
The man paused, lifting the mug with both hands and tipping it around to make the liquid swish about. "Oh, I don't know. I guess I'm kind of…apprehensive."
"That's obvious." Elia turned more thoughtful. "About what?"
Link sighed, finally placing his ale down on the stained wood table. "About going to Hyrule. I know I'm going back, but… It'll be like going there for the first time for me."
"Will it? Maybe it won't be foreign at all."
He looked at her remorsefully, cringing at the sparkling hope that practically shot from her big brown eyes. The man sighed again.
"Did…did I do something wrong, Link?"
He turned his head and pointed his strong jaw towards the window, which was in bad need of cleaning. It didn't matter. He couldn't look at her again right now. He didn't want that look to crush him again. "Elia…I…"
"Oh, Link, I—" She caught herself. "I'm sorry. I will stop interrupting." Elia turned her own eyes down at her hands, which she began to wring out.
"Elia, you know I'm not really him, don't you?"
"Not really who, Link?" she asked, fearing the answer.
"Not really him!"
His yell brought about silence, which he broke quickly with speedy mumbling to explain. "I'm sorry, all right? You hope and hope that I am Link, your love and this Hero of Time. It is true that I do feel strongly for you, Elia, but… Even if I am him—no, was him—what does that mean now?"
I don't know, I don't know, Elia thought in her mind, staring straight down so he couldn't see her trembling face. Her hands grew red spots with each pinch. This self-afflicted pain was easier to concentrate on than that the cascaded into her heart.
"What happens if I never get all of my memories back, Elia? I'll never be the Hero of Time again! But, because I already remember some things, there's no way I can be anyone else either. I'll be a…shadow of Link forever." He moistened his lips with his tongue, still gazing through the dirt at an image he himself only saw.
"Link…come now. Don't think this way. Please. I mean…we get closer every day. And…if you decide you want to be someone else and give up on being the Hero of Time, then you can. You can do whatever you want, Link."
"Can I?" he asked wistfully, his voice light but eerily distant. His fingers clasped his talisman, and he squeezed so tightly that the color ran from each digit. "With all that I am, I wish that I could be the Hero of Time again. But he is just a legend to me now, can't you understand? Hyrule is just a place on a map, not my home and, certainly, not a place I rescued from evil. Its people are mere names to me, without faces or memories attached."
Elia bit back tears. "L—Have… Have I pressured you into wanting to be him again?"
"I want to be him for you again, Elia. I know you love him, and it hurts so much. You put up with me, pretend I'm him, try to act as normally as you can… But… What happens, Elia, if I am never him again?"
No, no! her mind screamed. All along I've been acting that way to push those thoughts away! Don't bring it up now! You… You mustn't!
"Elia, what if I go back to Hyrule and don't recognize any of it? I wonder sometimes if I could have been Link at all. I… I am not unlike that…that Goron." There was still some anger directed at Aden in the man's heart. "I pity him for feeling he lived in my shadow, always. But now I can empathize with him more than he will ever know…"
Someone coughed, and soon their steaming lunches appeared before Link and Elia.
Link thanked the waitress. When she was gone, he spoke. "The Gods must hate us to play such games with our lives," he muttered.
"No," Elia told him firmly. It was the first time she had said anything in a while. Now she could not stop. "Every single day for five years all I could think about was you coming back to me." She held up her hand to show the ring, which seemed, ironically, a bit tarnished today. "I didn't care about anything else. I saved up money for the family we would have one day. I planted the garden each spring so it would be as beautiful as could be when you came back. I fixed up the house. Nothing mattered. Everything was going to be perfect…as soon as you got back." She held her hands up to her face, doing a terrible job at hiding her emotion. In a muffled voice, she exclaimed, "It's all my fault for putting too much pressure on you!"
Link did not say anything. He was not surprised at her words. He'd imagined that Elia might devote herself so much. "Elia, I hope I get my memories back. It is all I want."
Elia looked up then. He had just said 'my memories.' He had admitted he was Link. "W-We will get them back, Link," she promised.
Again she had the overly hopeful expression. "How?" Link asked quietly.
"All we have to do is find Zelda, and—"
"You'll never find Zelda," scoffed a voice that Elia thought she recognized.
There, sitting in the corner both with her little back turned to them, was a child with green hair.
This child stood up suddenly and walked around, taking a seat right next to Elia. "Hello, Link," she said to the man.
"You…" Link gazed intently at her. "Who are you?"
With blue eyes brimming with hurt she gazed up at the man. "You don't even remember your best friend, Link?"
Elia's head shot to the side. "It's you and the other Sages that caused him to lose his memory in the first place!"
Saria sat with her back very straight, and folded her small hands in her lap. "Not true. Queen Zelda did it." She became interested in straightening the folds in the small green shirt she wore and swinging her booted feet against the table legs.
"I…I…" Link's eyes, meanwhile, had never left the child diagonal from him. "Deku… Fairies… Saria!" He closed his eyes and held his hands to his head.
"Link!" Saria cried out, reaching over the food for him, even though she could not reach him. "Link, are you all right?" She was not one of the tough Sages in that moment. She was a child, a friend, with concern written all over her small, pale face. "Link?"
The man was scared, frightened. Then his head jerked up in a split second, and his voice came out like a robot, "I can see it. My tree house. I came out. Everyone laughed at me. Saria… Saria came. She said she'd play with me. Everyone left me alone. I was…happy." His eyes melted in some way, regaining life. He shook out his head, his hair getting messier.
"You're remembering me?" Saria wondered. "Really, Link?" She cracked some sort of smile.
Link grabbed at his pendant nervously. He was breathing hard, like he had just sprinted across a field. "I've never seen anything so clearly in my head before," he mumbled. "Or felt it."
"That's so great, Link!" Elia told him happily. "See? I told you that you would get your memories back!"
Saria scoffed, "Oh, it's not as simple as that." She leaned her head back just a little, chuckling softly to herself. "Zelda won't permit it. And neither will I."
"But I thought you were happy for him." Elia was in disbelief. What a transformation in only a few seconds! She was a good friend, and now she is the evil servant of Zelda again!
Saria said, "It doesn't matter, girl. Everything will be taken care of shortly."
"What does that mean?" Link was alarmed.
"It doesn't matter," Saria said again. "It won't change anything." She sighed. "Besides, they won't even tell me anything."
She was the sad little girl again?
"If it doesn't matter," Elia began hotly, "then what is the problem with satisfying our curiosity?"
"I can't tell you anything. I have nothing to tell." Saria smiled bitterly. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't."
"And you sound like you want to," Link observed softly, leaning his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands.
Elia peered at him. What? How could he read the girl like that?
"What do you expect me to say?"
Link pondered the question for a moment, a million thoughts running through his head. He was weighing possibilities. What would Saria want to hear? What would be something her old friend Link would say?
Saria reached over quite casually and snatched a roll from Elia's plate. She began to devour it hungrily.
Elia opened her mouth to protest, but Link jerked his eyes toward her. She said nothing, merely watching the girl with strange interest. What is she? Friend or foe? I wish I could read people better…
Saria finished the small piece of bread and went for Elia's portion of meat, stuffing it into her mouth and downing it with the last of the woman's ale.
"Would you like us to buy you a lunch?" Link asked.
Saria looked up with a high little "Hmm?" But she shook her head. "No. I was only a little hungry."
Elia mumbled under her breath, "I think I might need another lunch," seeing as more than half of hers was currently being digested by Saria's stomach. Link gave the woman another harsh look, so she decided to keep her mouth shut from now on.
Meanwhile, Saria was staring straight ahead. Her face was contorted to display confusion, thoughtfulness, remorse, and a thousand other emotions. She spoke in a low voice. "They're all in a power struggle," she mumbled. "It's been bad for years, but lately it's just been getting worse and worse. Everyone wants to be the most respected by Zelda. They all want to be second to her."
Both Elia and Link were silent. That was until Link spoke, "Are you talking about the Sages?"
Saria seemed to ignore his comment, still staring at the empty seat across from her, stilling thinking. Her eyes were sullen, her lips barely moving. She was even shaking slightly, Elia noticed. "They all want to impress Zelda. No one gets along anymore. They don't notice me. They just make me do all their dirty work as they carry out their little schemes."
"Saria?" Link asked when she was quiet for a few moments.
"Link, come take a walk with me. Just for a minute," Saria added. "I need to talk with you alone."
Link nodded, and soon disappeared with her out the door, leaving Elia to worry as she ate the remains of her meal. She was worried for Link, and was more than relieved when the man returned in less than five minutes.
"What happened?" Elia said, leaning forward eagerly.
Link shrugged after he sat down in the booth, plunking down so hard it was as if he weighed a thousand pounds. His eyes glazed over distantly, he told her, "We walked to the corner. She hugged me and she said goodbye…"
"Anything else?" the woman had to know.
"Yeah. 'I'm sorry.'" He let down his shoulders in defeat, but Elia knew his mind must have been racing still, as much as her own was.
"She seemed like a scared little girl," Elia said quietly.
"She's just as old as me. It's…strange."
"Hmm? What is?"
Link ran one hand through his tousled locks, sighing. "It must be weird to be a Kokiri. I mean…you are still a child, but you have as much experience as an adult. I wonder what it would be like."
Elia recognized the irony almost instantly. She had heard that Link originally grew up as a Kokiri until he was called to fulfill his destiny. Did he realize now what he was saying?
Holding up his mug, he said, "But I don't think I would like to be one at the same time." He finished his ale and gathered up the dirty plates and mugs. "Let's go, Elia. I don't want to be out too late."
Elia obliged him, sliding out of the booth and dusting her skirt off. She adjusted her hair, which she still loathed. It was so terribly short and uneven, even though Wonara and Mvon had worked for hours to make it as nice as could be.
Link dropped a few di next to their plates. They were off with a final call of 'thank you' to the waitress.
The town square was bustling in the middle of the afternoon. All sorts of folks were pawing through displays of fabrics, silver, and other crafts constructed by artisans from all around Diola.
As the pair waited for a large carriage to pass, Elia looked up at the huge clock tower that stood at the far end of the plaza, like some sort of monument. It was big, made of gray stone, and it loomed over everything, casting a shadow over some of the town as the sun began to descend from its noon height.
She was about to look away, but something caught her eye. Her head jerked up. That shimmer was light bouncing off of a sword.
"Link!" Elia exclaimed, her voice muffled by the crowd. Link was already stepping out into an open area. He could not hear her, nor see whatever demon dared to spring from the clock tower with a sword on its back and a fierce magic spell of orange fire bursting from its hands.
"Link!" cried someone else as she flew on short legs and leapt into the air to protect the hero.
"Link!" Elia screamed again as the area in front of her erupted with light.