Part A: Sleeping With Your Eyes Open
It was almost midnight and the only sound she could hear was the ubiquitous breeze animating the foliage outside their window. She laid there complacently feeling the insidious lull of sleep begin to tug at her consciousness. Yet she felt no need nor want for sleep. Life was too short to squander the best of it away.
Her husband lay motionless beside her, his arm draped limply around her bare shoulder. It was less an act of compassion than an instinctual need to keep her close. His general posture and movements were always planned around her. It was as if his mind not only needed to calculate his needs but hers too. They moved in tandem, as a single entity. His breathing had slowed down enough for one to assume that he had fallen asleep, but she knew he was still as awake as her. He was probably still waiting for her to freak out.
Their sheets lay crumpled and abused on the ground at the foot of their bed where she had kicked them off earlier that night. She rarely ever found the need to sleep with them on anymore. Although the added warmth she felt tonight was credited to Link's inhuman body temperature the absence of his clothes allowed her to feel. She didn't miss the cold. She couldn't miss what she didn't remember.
She shuffled her weight slightly so she could rest her head on her husband's chest. He stirred and then relaxed into her new position.
"Link?" She kept her voice a whisper.
He sighed tranquilly, his response taking longer than it usually did when he was fully alert. "Mmm…" He kept his eyes closed.
Zelda traced her fingers down his chest slowly, savouring the feel of his fiery skin on her fingertips and appointing each infinitesimal detail to her memory (…the varying temperatures of the different regions of his body, the tautness of his skin and muscles, the convoluted pathways of the visible veins along the soft side of his arms, his scars she could now count like a perverse tally system- 8, the intricate vine inked sinuously around his back and thigh too gentle to belong to any other soldier…). It was funny how easily she could distract herself with him. Together they had become such a self-absorbed entity lately that she wasn't even sure what month it was. It took a lot of self control for her to just stay focussed enough to remember what she was trying to say.
"Link, I need to ask you something important." Her voice became strained as she attempted to remain deftly blasé. But then again she had never been good at faking nonchalance. She let her fingers continue to ghost past his navel following a fine trail of fair hair south. She wasn't quite sure if her actions were helping her focus or not.
"Ask away." His voice was still husky so his response sounded more like a grunt. He moved slightly against her, an unconscious reaction.
She placed her hands flat against his chest in what she hoped would come over as a sort of soothing caress. She hesitated. Finding a way to phrase her words so they sounded offhand and unimportant seemed almost impossible for her to do in this situation.
"Um," she muttered by way of reluctant preamble. "Well, I was just wondering if… you know… if maybe we- I mean if I…" She could feel the hysteria raising the pitch of her voice, this vague annoying vibration tickling the back of her throat.
She felt Link's body become rigid and even more noticeably inert underneath her, sensing her discomfort. She knew what he was probably thinking. Or more precisely what he was expecting. But he was wrong… well, sort of.
"What's wrong Zelda?" His response was cautious, slow and almost tentative.
"No nothing's wrong," she quickly reassured, her stomach muscles tightening, her body's natural response to awkward situations. "It's just, I was thinking that well… I know you told me that it was impossible but what if maybe we are being too… careless in how we…" Her voice tapered off at the end and became almost inaudible. She paused, waiting for right word to come to her, or maybe for the blush to recede from her cheeks. She had never been good at nonchalance especially when it came to topics like this, serious topics. It was like asking her to hold her breath for an hour, the first few minutes were tolerable but after that her mind and body's natural response took over.
She drew tight circles with her index finger over his stomach, pressing harder than her gentle nature usually condoned. It was an act of nervousness she never could quite get rid of, like biting her nails or pacing a room. Force in the face of adversity.
All it had taken was a matter of seconds for her inherent ability to distract herself to completely abandon her in her moment of need. Conversations like these lacking mutual acceptance always made her feel uneasy.
"Zelda, what are you trying to ask me?" His words were distinctly anxious but at the same time clear and direct, cutting to the chase. "Should I be worried?"
His eyes widened sagely as he interpreted her non-response. His hand moved across to her face, drawing her chin gently up so her eyes engaged his. It was a cajoling technique he employed whenever she eluded him. His cerulean eyes looked almost black in the tenebrous light within the small room. His hair was a mess and if he wasn't looking at her so seriously right now she probably would have laughed at his childish appearance. And then there was the ambivalence of the situation. There was always the ambivalence left to derail her sense of mental corporality and stability.
She lowered her gaze. It was like being stared down by a hypnotist. "No of course there's nothing to worry about, I mean, well, I hope not… I'm not sure, I just guess-"
"Zelda just tell me."
Even with the darkness of the room there to throw shadow onto her naked form she now felt more revealed than if it were broad daylight. She reached down to retrieve the sheet from the foot of the bed then wrapped it around herself with brusque neglect. She glanced back at her husband only to receive his unaltered anticipation.
Best to not procrastinate. Either she told him herself or she let her eyes divulge her secrets for her. She inhaled half a breath (or more precisely gasped it in) and let her thoughts run out of her mouth before she could prudently change her mind and stay silent.
"I know you believe I can't but what if I do fall pregnant?"
As soon as the words left her mouth she felt an instant pang of regret. She had opened a can of worms she should have left alone. She felt him stir almost convulsively beneath her and she could sense the conscious restraint he held to stop his hand- which had just previously rested limply against her shoulder- from reflexively clenching tightly at her words. She cleared her throat and continued before he could get a word in edgewise, her words running together almost incoherently. "I just think that right now we are both so young, we're barely even able to take care of ourselves. What happens if what you say is wrong? I mean you can't know for sure. We can't risk it, not now anyway. I just think maybe we should be more prudent when-"
"We've talked about this Zelda," he words were sharp, severing her resolution like a knife. This response- so pitch black, flat and emotionless- was so uncharacteristic it took Zelda a few seconds to realise that what she heard was indeed what came from his mouth and not some aberrant misconception. She stole a glance at his face. He was no longer looking at her but instead staring off to the side, his eyes aloof and unreadable.
"Link I didn't mean to upset you, I just thought-"
"It is impossible and nothing will ever be able to change that," he said with cavalier force. His words sounded almost bitter and resentful. If she knew her qualms would have had such a negative affect on him she never would have even brought the subject up. His reaction just took her so off guard. He was nowhere near as affected when he first told her about this. At absolute most he had sounded apologetic towards her but that was all.
She shuffled her body further up on the mattress and placed one hand tentatively around his, testing the walls he so suddenly seemed to have built up around her. She was so unused to his standoffish behaviour that his reaction came across a hundred times worse to her than objectively it should have. His fingers twitched slightly, not predicting her contact, but then slowly softened again. A frustrated sigh broke his silence but he continued to keep his gaze obstinately diverted. He wouldn't even look at her.
"Link," she whispered, hoping her voice would efficaciously bring him back to her, but he just laid there beside her, inert and impenetrable. It was unlike him to remain so unreceptive to her pleas. It frightened her. "Link look at me," she begged, "tell me what is wrong, please." She moved her hand to his face, trying to claim his undivided attention. Her fingers traced along his warm cheek and tense jaw line. He rolled his head reluctantly back to engage her. His eyes were now glued to hers but still they remained vacant and distant, it was as if he wasn't even looking at her but instead staring straight through her. She was nothing but a spectre, an image with no substance. Not even an image but something which is left behind after everything else has been taken away.
She remembered the morning she woke up at the lake beside her consummated husband. She had related the sensations she had felt contorting sinuously through her body to having a hang-over; a beautiful, painless, euphoric hang-over. After a night of gluttonous intoxication and reckless abandonment there was no other way to describe it. But unfortunately, just like a true hang-over, so too did her ineffable daze subside. And when it did, in a moment of self uncertainty- she had asked him. She was so distressed that within her own mind she thought she would break down. What would she do if she had fallen pregnant? It wasn't that she didn't want to carry Link's child- that was as far from the truth as anyone could have possibly guessed, in fact her first imprudent thought was that of ebullience. She couldn't have imagined anything more perfect in her life, to hold within her fragile frame Link's child. To have him grow within her. To share something so special was more than just a divine gift it was a devout honour.
But as her mind sobered up from this revelation it promptly dawned on her how selfish her thoughts were. How could she ever think that bringing a child into this unforgiving world would be something blessed; to introduce an innocent being to a life of hardship, misery, injustice and corruption. She would never wish her life on anyone. It was hard enough watching the woe her husband had to endure just to be with her, but at least he was a willing participant in her tragic, constricted world; he knew what he was getting into when he kissed her, when he swore his unconditional love to her. He knew he was signing away whatever chance he had of living a normal, complacent life. He consented but an unborn child could not.
What was worse was the subsequent thought of keeping the pregnancy a secret. It sickened her to her innermost core the notion of Ash finding out. The problem with hiding a secret so blatant and infallible is that the truth will inevitably manifest.
All this occurred to her in the second it took her husband to carry her across the threshold of their adopted derelict cottage. He had kissed the crown of her head before realising she was almost in tears. Her voice shaking, she had asked him what he would do if she were to find out that their wedding night had proved the catalyst to an irrevocable nine month countdown, a ticking time bomb which would expose their relationship and could potentially end at least one of their lives.
Before her husband had spoken a single word to her he sat silently down on the edge of the damp, decomposing porch steps and pulled her stricken form onto his lap. He remained speechless until her ragged, uncontrolled breaths subdued, gazing gently into her eyes, perhaps weighing up his response, maybe trying to predict hers. She remembered his expression that eternal split-second before he spoke. He looked so distant, so jaded. Yet there was something else there behind the obvious, an elusive unidentifiable something written there on his face she knew he didn't want her to see. But a split-second was all it took for him to catch himself and rearrange his features; his favourite evasive façade finding its place back easily on his face.
When he finally answered her she wasn't sure whether she was relieved or shattered. Either way she considered his response whatever positive she had once seen on both sides of the coin (on one side an unalterable pregnancy and on the other just an auspicious mistake) were now overshadowed by its greater counterpart.
Link promised her she was not pregnant.
He said he knew beyond even a whisper of a doubt that she wasn't. Then in the very same breath he went on to divulge that she never would be, not to him anyway.
At first she didn't believe him. She laughed. You can't possibly know that for sure, she had challenged him defiantly. He remained unfazed, his expression unaltered, waiting for her incredulity to pass.
I know was all he said, his words ringing with such finality that her pending arguments fell unspoken and useless around her feet, like a sword shattering into a thousand tiny pieces. She sat there silently as he explained to her the reasoning behind his adamant claim. He was different, she knew that, but she never quite realised to what extent that difference affected his human side. His gift (she remembered the way he spoke the word distastefully, resentfully; she could almost see the quotation marks flanking the word) from the goddesses gave him a mild equivalent of the powers the Kikori possessed, but in turn it also took from him some of his mortality. Unlike the Kikori, he aged, weakened and would eventually die for he was born a human and obtained an affinity for the forest elements through teachings passed down to him. But part of him did hold the magic of his people, and therefore he did adopt certain qualities of the Kikori. The most tragic being the human qualities which had been taken away from him. One of which being his ability to father a child, for the Kikori could not reproduce. When you could live forever and were immune to most human diseases really there was no need to.
As the seconds ticked by, the veil before her eyes began to slip letting her finally see what he was trying so hard to tell her. Her mind tended to lag when Link said seemingly impossible things to her. He had remained silent letting the princess absorb his words. Zelda could only stare down at her clasped hands, trying to distract herself from her incredulity and, strangely enough, a mild bout of anger- anger at her husband for keeping this a secret from her. She repeated the most blatant conclusion she could come up with over and over in her head.
They would never have a child.
And yet she still couldn't shake the thought rattling stubbornly around in the back of her mind refusing to let her accept his words as true. Intuition, she thought.
"But you are still human Link," she insisted, "isn't that enough?" Her desperate clinging to undesired hopes had worried her. It was completely leftfield. She shouldn't have been feeling this… What was it? Regret maybe. No, not regret. Disappointment, she had finally concluded.
He shook his head. "No." He said it with such conviction in his words but refused to elaborate. "I'm sorry."
She had paused, trying to make sense out of her sudden revelation again proved harder than she thought. Link must have taken her silence for acceptance because the next thing she remembered was his arm around her waist helping her to her feet. She was too tired to remonstrate so she had let him lead her over to his horse. He gently kissed her forehead. "Don't worry," he whispered, "we will figure everything out later."
And that was how they left the issue; hanging and abandoned. Then the events of the very next day had left her with little doubt that she would ever need to worry over the matter again.
Zelda felt her attention slip back to the present situation at hand. It had waited so patiently for her to catch up from her little reverie that she felt almost selfish to wish it all away again. If it were probable she would have revoked time back five or so minutes with the sheer power of her will and never had brought the subject up. But that was the cruel irony of hindsight; it always came too late for it to be of any help. Instead it rang in her mind like her own personal 'I-told-you-so' reminder.
She suddenly realised that Link was now looking at her, really looking at her. Although his eyes were softer this time which told her that at least she was forgiven.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, a moody, tortured expression manifested quickly on his face. "I… I didn't mean to…" He paused for a long moment in which he seemed to be trying to come to terms with something. Finally he shook his head and then laughed bitterly. It sounded all wrong coming from him. He sounded conflicted. Jaded.
"It doesn't matter. Just forget I asked." She hoped it didn't come out sounding too pleading.
Link shook his head again but this time in response to what she said. "No, you know I can't do that…" He sighed, frustrated, and pressed his eyes shut in resignation. She had seen this response from him a million times before. Wanting to be able to control something so desperately and knowing that no matter what he did his attempts were in vain; he had a problem with allowing fate to intercede his life, he just could not handle such impotence. "Believe me, if I could change this curse I would. You have no idea how much I wish…" Again he trailed off, biting back his response.
Zelda could not believe how hard he was finding talking to her to be. But even more incredulous to her was this concealed, deeply forlorn want of his to be able to give her something more; something so normal to most people that he found the need to repent for his deficiency as if it were some sort of vicious sin. In that moment she realised his anger was not directed at her but in fact himself.
She sat in utter silence for what seemed like an eternity hearing nothing but her own heartbeat and uneven breaths. This time she had known what would be tumbling out of her mouth well before she made the decision to say it, she also knew there was only a slim chance she wouldn't regret it, but still she let her honest thoughts run free.
"There is always that chance Link that you are wrong. How could you possibly be so certain about something left so ambiguous? You are unique. What makes you so certain you are right?"
She could feel the frustration radiating from her husband like a second heat to be received by her senses. It just made it worse his motionless, expressionless response. "What makes you so certain you are right?"
Zelda shook her head adamantly as if trying to physically dispel his echo of her own words she thought of as absolutely ludicrous and enigmatic. "What happened to not believing in fate?" Her tone was soft. "Fate does not exist, remember."
Link diverted his eyes and spoke through clenched teeth. "Why are you so stubbornly refusing to believe me Zelda? Don't you honestly believe that if it were possible it would have already happened by now?" He glanced back at her through the darkness as if to challenge her precarious beliefs.
"Well, I mean… the probability of us conceiving after only two nights is quite slim. Don't you think that is testing chance just a little?"
"Two nights?" Link moved his body almost reflexively closer to her as if to emphasise the importance of his question. "Zelda if I was basing my knowledge on those two nights of intimacy I would be playing you a fool." There was a certain wistful ignorance to the tone of his voice and to the choice of his words.
"What do you mean?"
Link stared at her for the briefest of moments before catching her off guard. He took her face within his hands. His fingers felt suddenly so soft and surreal. "What about before? You do remember, I know you do. What about every single time we made love in our previous life? Nothing happened then. Nothing ever did. Surely if I can't convince you of the truth then our past experiences must."
He caught her there.
She shook her head minutely, as if the action would somehow force the realisation from her mind- causing his hands to slip from her face. She stood up and moved over to the open window, trailing the sheet behind her like a makeshift train on a wedding dress.
The moonlight was beautiful. It shone down on the village and in through the window like an omnipresent force, illuminating vague shapes within the diaphanous darkness and manifesting opalescent silhouettes around her. It fell down around her shoulders and back like ethereal rain, dripping incorporeal light from her limbs only to disappear into the darkness around her ankles. She looked like a ghost, so pale in the moonlight. She lent forward out onto the windowsill- her hands gripping tightly the wooden frame- and breathed in the sweet, clean midnight air.
He was so quiet behind her that she didn't realise his presence until she heard his hushed voice so close to her ear. "Come back to bed Zelda," he took hold softly of her hand and tried to lead her back, "I'm sorry for upsetting you."
She didn't move straight away but instead remained staring pensively out of the window. "You know, it doesn't matter to me Link." Her jaw clenched involuntarily. "Not now, not latter. It's a very small price to pay and I would pay it ten times over without a moment's hesitation. You know that."
Link let go of her hand. "You shouldn't have to though," he said morosely.
"I made my choice back many months ago." She turned her head to face him. He looked hesitant. "I have made it twice now, twice in one lifetime. I don't need anything more than what I already have."
He glanced away to try and hide his incomprehensibly bitter frown, a visible sign of his inward confliction. It didn't get past her though. This time it was Zelda who took his hand and led him back to their bed; she could feel him trudging behind her reluctantly, his new mood taking swift possession of his body, controlling him like a marionette. She let go of the sheet and let it fall from her torso and pool around her feet. She laid down on the soft mattress and pulled her husband down after her. He wasn't the most docile of creatures at the moment but she refused to let his far from complacent mood rub off on her. He pressed his face into the crook of her neck as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him and breathed her in. He relaxed slightly, softening against her skin. She was his palliation. She could feel his flaxen hair tickle her jaw.
For lack of a more appropriate thought she let her only lingering one escape her lips like a kiss, like a promise. "I have a good feeling about tomorrow." She gave her words time to rest in the air around her, like dust settling after a stir in the atmosphere or the ringing to fade after an echo. She wanted her words to affect him efficaciously. She wanted him to believe the truth that the fire in their life would continue to burn bright; fuelled by their inherent love she felt that fire would ignite into a conflagration and burn away all that opposed them. So far they had already faced more than one lifetime's worth of bad luck, and through some divine miracle they too had overcome it. She wouldn't let anything less than death stand in their way, not now after she knew what they were both capable of. Separately they were weak but together they had proved that even time bowed to their whims.
"I hope so," her husband breathed forlornly, trust inset deeply within his words.
She smiled. The issues they had raised in that night paled in comparison to the potential they could overcome, the issues seemed trivial. And she knew she would have the rest of her already fulfilled life to prove this to her sceptical husband. Just one day at a time…
… In the months to come she would remember that night as truly her last. She believed her life ceased to exist after she closed her eyes, unknowingly and irrevocably closing the door behind her and blinking out all the light that filled her life once and for all. In the twilight of her happiness what more could she do but drift by in blissful ignorance, inadvertently letting those precious, irretrievable seconds tick down and away, discarded. If she had known what the next day would bring with it she wouldn't have waisted the night with unimportant sleep.
She would have run.
Little did Link know that if fate indeed did not exist then bad luck was always there to finish the story…
Part B: Running With Your Eyes Closed
The first thing she felt when she opened her eyes was nothing. No feelings, no emotions, no thoughts.
The second thing was realisation; the memory of last night- what she had asked of Link and how he had relinquished his better judgement to give it to her, their formidable discussion and the profound effect it had had on him, and of course her reluctance to believe what should have been a closed case of information.
The third was alarm; the keen of a distant scream pulled her suddenly into awareness as the foreboding sound pulsed painfully through her ears.
Instinct kicked her into gear as she reached across the ruffled sheets, her fingers searching for comfort, hoping blindly that the sound of distress she heard was nothing more than the horrifying ending to a dream she didn't remember having. Expecting to make contact with Link's smooth, warm skin she was unnerved when she touched nothing but cloth. She desperately hoped these first two pieces of knowledge to register within her groggy mind did not correlate.
She opened her eyes wearily, one at a time as if preparing herself to wince from some unwelcomed sight. She blinked a few times trying to dispel the light attacking her deprived retinas before glancing around the lifeless room. It appeared the exact same as it did last night minus one obvious discrepancy.
She waited in strangled patience but nothing bar silence answered her call.
Beguiling herself with false confidence and trying her hardest to ignore her growing anxiety she quietly extricated herself from her sheets- her uncertainty quickly giving way to caution. Her every action was guarded and weary, a defensive way of moving she had unintentionally picked up along the rocky pathway of her life. She had learnt to prepare herself for the worst. She was half way to the doorway before she realised she was still naked. With only the few seconds she had allowed herself to reprioritise she quickly groped around on the ground in an unfocused attempt to gather up some clothes.
With not a thought in the world for her appearance she hastily pulled on a long pair of shorts and a blouse- the first outfit she could put her hands on- and quickly sighted out the room for her shoes. She had to remind herself why she needed them. It would be very imprudent to attempt the woodland floor barefoot. After a moment of fruitless searching she was about to give up and disregard her need for shoes but then spotted the toe protruding from under the bed. She collapsed onto her knees and grabbed her shoes. She didn't even bother to lace them up; instead she clambered to her feet and hurried out of the room as fast as her body would allow.
It was only early. The star-spangled sky of last night was replaced with a lucid morning shine, a white light which pierced through the leafy canopy above her. It unnerved her that this was the first sight which met her eyes, something so vague and unimportant. She needed confirmation. She needed to see everybody with her own eyes. She needed to observe their calm, complacent mannerisms and actions as they talked and joked around their morning meal. She needed to receive their confusion as they took in her distressed appearance. She needed to feel her embarrassment as it coloured her cheeks for jumping to the most irrational conclusion possible. She needed her husband. She knew that only then she would be able to let go of this terrible, breath-inhibiting fear she held onto. But as she made her way through into the clearing- stumbling over unearthed roots and branches in her blind panic- and observed the open, emptiness around her she knew it was only going to get worse.
She just stood there, unable to move and waiting for her mind to fill in the gaps. Where was everyone? She glanced around, fruitlessly searching for any sign of life. Not completely aware of her regained mobility she began to search the area. For lack of any remaining rationality stupid kindred explanations began to flood her mind. Maybe they were all hiding, like in some elaborate game. She quickly moved about in search of these missing Kikori, her eyes naturally leading her towards overturned logs, burrows in the uneven ground or even the low hanging branches which could easily support the weight of an infantile frame intent on eluding the seeker.
The huts were abandoned, the store was empty and the Deku Tree unvisited. There was no sign of any recent hikes out into the Lost Woods but she wasn't stupid enough (or yet desperate enough) to venture out into them to make sure.
If she had any sort of contingency plan she probably would have given up fruitlessly searching but even that eluded her. She tried to stop and think about her situation objectively but she just couldn't find the nerves to pretend to have faith in that idea.
Something suddenly caught her attention out of the corner of her eyes, the only thing within her sight which provided some contrast between the trees, grass and wooden paraphernalia around her. She hurried forward to pick it up. Although she only had to move half the distance before she realised what it was. Zelda picked up the small crocheted bag with shaking fingers while her memory quickly filled in the gaps. She ran her index finger over the intricate embroidery on the front. With out even a shadow of a doubt she knew this belonged to Saria. But why had it been abandoned in the grass? Zelda didn't even want to consider the possible answer to that so she let her question hang in her mind, suspended without any hope of a mental response. Blissful ignorance. Blissful ignorance…
She could feel her panic begin to set in, slow and treacherous, catching her from behind. Realistically, after everything else she should have seen this coming.
She stood there amongst the verdant grass and dancing trees, waiting. For what, she thought. For a sign of life, maybe? Something. Anything to relieve the silence. Fuelled by adrenalin her heartbeat increased its pace, a steady procession of thuds reverberating through her chest as if it were a hollow cavity. She could feel it within her throat; she could barely swallow let alone even breathe. She could feel it begin to pulse through her ears. The sound was almost deafening her from the inside. Thud… thud… THUD…!
Her senses were kicking into gear now that her mind was out of drive. She felt like she was living within her own bad dream. If only all she needed to do was wake up…
And then without any warning there it was again- that scream- piercing the silence like a knife. Although this time it was more of a yell, the sound almost indistinguishable from such a distance. But alas, she knew it was one and the same.
Her heart spluttered and then stopped, paused dead-beat before again restarting. It didn't take long before it had again taken off galloping. She felt the bag slip from her fingers; she didn't even try to catch it. She continued to pause, waiting for the sound to sink in and register within her mind, waiting for everything to make sense. Waiting to catch an understanding of something she knew she would only grasp once it was already too late.
She cocked her head to the right, her eyes searching the area for the source of the sound. If her geographical skills served her correctly there should be nothing but a wasteland of overgrown trees for miles in that direction, the few staggering trees closest to her lining the periphery of the woods were nothing compared to what else was out there. She also knew that Saria and she had initially entered the forest from the east, but now she faced the woods from the west. Logic told her that there shouldn't have been anything for miles in that direction. Logic also told her that if there was nothing there then there should also be no simple reason to head out into the wasteland. Then why were there people out there?
Unfortunately, like always her reason bowed down to instinct.
She began to walk forward vigilantly despite her every nerve telling her to just turn back. She was expecting some sort of ominous sign or distraction to jump out and warn her off. That would have been good. That would have told her she was heading in the right direction.
As she approached the threshold between the safe, green, grassy meadow and the menacing, foreboding woods she felt an eerie coolness descend upon her- her warning, maybe. The shadows which were cast down around her seemed to have their own texture; it was like walking through a mist of darkness. It was unsettling to know that even the sun avoided them. The trees seemed to leer down at her like great immortal soldiers keeping guard, scaring possible intruders into turning the other way. Unfortunately for Zelda it was not the trees' unwelcoming appearance which fazed her (that she could have easily dealt with) it was the uncertainty of what lay beyond what her eyes could see.
Dry leaf litter crunched under her shoes as she stepped forward, continuing to inch her way toward the great unknown but preparing herself the whole time to turn back and just wait it all out. Surely they would all emerge again unscathed. Right?
Yeah, right, as if her luck was ever that good. She was sure she probably had a greater chance of awaiting her next birthday before she saw any sign of her friends emerging from the demonic labyrinth before her.
She pushed aside a few errant branches intent on keeping her out and stepped forward into the tenebrism. With the threshold now behind her the words 'of no return' suddenly flashed through her mind. A little late for that now she thought.
It was so dark. All it had taken was one step for her world to lose its colour and for the forest canopy to close in over her, permanently blocking out the sun. All she could see with her very limited vision were unvarying masses of silhouettes, a vague distortion of the trees that they were. Swallowing hesitantly she forced herself forward.
It was a slow, awkward procession of steps but she soon found her footing and was able to navigate the darkness a lot better than she thought she was capable of. Once she had gotten past the initial nerves she even began to feel a little less scared. If something was going to jump out of nowhere and attack her she guessed it would have already done it by now.
There were fallen branches everywhere. Each step proved to be a challenge. A lapse in concentration even for a second could result in a twisted ankle or worse, and then she would never be able to make her way out of the forest.
A thought suddenly occurred to her- what if the cry she heard was not that of one of her friends? What if this was all a ruse, a trick employed to lure her into unknown territory and leave her vulnerable and easy prey for some malevolent fiend out there. It wouldn't be the first time a trickster had beguiled her, using her weaknesses against her. But again the thought came too late for it to be of any useful warning. She would have to rely on blind faith. She pushed the thought to the back burner, there would be time for her to mull over all her indiscretions later, like when she was dead.
She took it for granted the idea that she was heading in a straight line. She wasn't sure her mind would be able to cope with the realisation that she had in fact circled around and was now walking on the heals of her own footsteps. It was better to cajole herself into a false sense of confidence than to consider that possible reality.
With her next movement she found herself having to negotiate what appeared to be an overturned tree trunk. Thankfully it was only narrow so she didn't have to worry about trying to master tree climbing in the dark, learning to hike in the dark was more than enough of a hobby to keep her preoccupied for one lifetime. However, instead of stepping down gracefully like she planned she managed to lose her footing and stumble- the ground being further down than she calculated. Failing miserably in her attempt to stay upright she ended up falling into an ungraceful pile on the forest floor. She could feel the prickling of new wounds along her arms and hands where she had braced herself but she couldn't tell if they were cuts or just scratches. If nothing else she was at least glad that the darkness hid that uncertain truth from her.
She groaned and tried to pull herself off the ground. Her limbs ached. Her wounds must have been worse than she had hoped for. Tenaciously she got to her feet, stumbled a few steps and then collapsed again, her equilibrium choosing the worst possible time to fail her. She could feel her panic begin to once again eat through her conscious restraint. This was not what she needed right now. Tears began to brim in her eyes. Her lungs felt like they were being bound and constricted, it was almost painful to breathe. It was probably a good thing she was too stricken to feel the full force of this ache, her panic seemed to numb everything else.
And then without any warning she heard voices; muffled, toneless voices reaching out to her from a distance. She held her breath and closed her eyes, trying to focus all her concentration on her hearing.
She pulled herself to her feet- slowly this time; her hand reaching out to steady herself against the bough of the closest tree. A mild musky breeze winded sinuously through the trees causing wisps of her hair to animate around her. Then the air became stagnant once more.
The voices started up again. This time they were louder, more irate. Zelda stumbled forward; her sudden need to find where it came from outweighed her fear and uncertainty. She tripped a few times but then quickly broke into a sprint. Vague shadows whizzed past her on all sides, the trees becoming smudged together into one continual dark blur on an equally indistinct background of black.
The more she ran the more audible and distinct the voices became. It wasn't long before she recognised them. She ran forwards; she ran towards them. A small fracture of light pierced through the trees in the distance- a hairline of colour in a vapid world- illuminating her path just enough that she could safely navigate her way around the trees. It seemed to pull her towards it, guiding her; mesmerising her like it does a moth, calling her to her death.
The closer she approached it, the more copious the light and thinner the trees became. She slowed her pace to a brisk walk. Her heart felt like it was trying to break free of her chest. She could feel her pulse reverberate through every inch of her body. No longer were the voices just a varying quality of noise, she was now close enough to hear clear words and sentences formed. They came to her as jagged, abrasive yells. Yet one voice stood out above all the rest, a voice she hadn't heard in quite some time.
A sudden wave of nausea washed over and through her, leaving her momentarily disoriented. This whole time she had been expecting something… different, something which fit the pictures in her head, the voice of logic and direction which spoke to her in her moment of uncertainty. It was that same voice which reassured her when someone was trustworthy or subtly told her to run when they weren't. Most referred to it as instinct. So what happens when your instinct fails you and the picture is turned upside-down? Zelda was left dumbfounded. She definitely wasn't expecting this.
She stepped forward and through the forest opening, leaving the darkness a step behind her.
The scene which met her awaiting eyes was everything she hadn't expected. It took a moment for everything to just register within her befuddled mind. She wasn't sure why but seeing everyone unscathed before her almost reduced her to laughter, her hysteria tickling her throat. That was until that important corner of her brain reserved for the calibration of senses caught up with her and she realised the sight before her was as far from reassuring as it could get.
The clearing in the forest had an amphitheatre-esque quality to it. The trees oddly retreated around a circular meadow of flowing grass, moving to the rhythm of some nonexistent breeze. Within the centre of all this a melee was unfolding. It was the only way to describe it. There were Kikori everywhere, their faces adorned with looks of bewilderment, incredulity and some with even dread, an expression she had never witnessed on them before. Link was about as hard to spot as the sun on a cloudless day, standing well over two feet taller that the rest of those around him. He stood at the front of the crowd, seemingly torn between anger and shock.
If this wasn't enough to faze her then the immediate realisation that the majority of the village was up in arms along side him definitely finished the job. Amongst the din of disorder virtually everything was yelled but nothing audibly understood. Following their collective line of sight Zelda quickly came to see what the reason was behind the cacophony- or more precisely, who.
Standing atop an overturned tree trunk, arms crossed shield-like in front of his body, was Mido. His eyes were narrowed and his stance defensive. The crowd of Kikori circled around him as if to form a human barrier, hindering any possible escape. Suddenly, his eyes flashed across to her and for a moment she thought she saw fear cross his face. His defences faltered, but before she had enough time to even try to explain this sight to her lagging mind his expression reverted to one of deliberate aloofness, forcing onto himself the demeanour of a stone wall.
She moved swiftly toward her husband, pushing her way through the crowd and eliciting looks of shock and distress at her unexpected appearance before them. "Link?" Her voice carried across the crowd with ease now that the commotion began to reside. "Link what is happening?"
With his back to her Link froze. He didn't turn to her.
She could see the effect of her outcry ricochet throughout the assembly of people. Silence spread like wildfire and those who weren't already staring wide-eyed and wearily at her quickly caught on.
From his perch atop the safety of his tree trunk Mido let out a low, distasteful hiss. It was the sound of utter revulsion. His eyes captured hers in a foul embrace. In the corner of her eyes she saw a flicker of movement as Link's hand twitched back towards the blade sheathed deftly between the small of his back and the waistband of his dirt and grass-stained pants. Mido appeared to notice the small movement and quietly sunk back onto his haunches, his eyes narrowed like a wild animal preparing for a fight.
What scared Zelda the most was not the fact that she appeared to have stumbled onto some unknown public brawl between her husband and a highly volatile Kikori, or even the barely concealed looks of dread she received from those submissively standing around her, but the fact that she knew Link could not hide the dour expression he had firmly set onto his face for long enough to turn towards her.
She began to move towards him but a hand caught her from behind and pulled her back, the familiar burn of inhuman skin leaving its mark on her senses. "You shouldn't be here princess, this is not for your eyes." It was Saria. Within the din of confusion she was glad to find her friend here to guide her towards some sense of order, but her complacency was short-lived when her words of warning registered within her baffled mind. Behind the calming façade she wore as an expression Zelda saw the severity of her true intentions break through. "You must come with me back to the village instantly," she commanded, already beginning to tow the princess behind her as she retreated away from her peers and towards the woodland maze from where she had just previously emerged.
"Wait! Why are we leaving? What is happening Saria?" She glanced frantically over her shoulder. "Link!" Zelda's protest fell on deaf ears as Saria continued to hurry her away from the scene, the Kikori's inhuman strength the only thing keeping Zelda in motion.
Saria's only attempt at reassurance was to keep her tone passive and formal, revealing nothing to the confused princess. "Everything will be explained in due time but for now we need to get you away from here."
A wry laugh crept across the silent meadow, stealing its way towards her with icy malevolence and crawling up her spine with razor-like claws. Its echo hung in the air for longer than it should have, causing the air around her to become infected with its contempt. "You are ignorant if you think running will do her any good." His words rose up like a second attack on her. Saria stoped mid-stride and turned to face the cornered Mido, her eyes ablaze with ire. "The Goddesses have no mercy for the wicked. It is you who will see the futility of running from the avengers."
Zelda saw the corners of his lips turn up into the faintest of smiles. "You're wrong," he spoke with the confidence of a madman. "I will be rewarded for purging our land of the filthy and unworthy. I will be praised for returning the order to our sacred village, in this life and the next!" At his bold exclamation Zelda saw her husband wrench the blade from his pants and lunge forward in one swift and uncalculated movement.
Zelda screamed and stumbled back in shock, her hands flying up to cover her face from the terrifying vision of what was playing out before her. She heard the sound of a struggle and many unruly cries but she was too afraid to look. Nothing seemed real at this moment; everything was happening too fast and none of it made any sense to her. What had happened to the tranquil society she had come to call her home? The familiar and none-too-distant din of disorder circled around her like an ever-present nightmare just waiting to claim her once she fell asleep. This wasn't supposed to be happening to her, not again.
Scorching hands clasped around her waist from above. She noticed with muted disbelief that she had collapsed onto her knees, the realisation bringing with it the pain. Saria heaved her back onto her legs in one swift movement. Her actions were uncharacteristically rough.
"Link that is enough!" Saria's voice cut through the clearing like a knife, a voice of order. Link was seething, his arms straining against the vice-like hold several Kikori had on him, holding him back from tearing Mido to shreads. Link had dropped the knife and it now lay at his feet innocuously, not a drop of blood tainting its smooth bronze surface. Its sharp tip pointed like a clock hand towards the base of the tree-trunk where the disgraced blond Kikori had fallen. He now stood hunched over and gasping for breath. Clutching his stomach pathetically he managed to keep his eyes locked on his volatile attacker.
"There is no time for this nonsense. We must make arrangements. The sun has risen and not even the mist of early morning will reside to obscure the pathways. The only course of action we have left is to act fast." Zelda could feel the grip on her arm tighten as Saria spoke. "We must leave now!"
Leave? Zelda's mind spun with miscomprehension. Why did they have to leave? The forest was safe and secure. She didn't dare leave its impenetrable confines. Once they left the protected area of the woods they would be exposed to her imminent capture. It would only be a matter of time before someone recognised her and a matter of seconds before she was caught. Saria would never suggest exposing her to this level of vulnerability. She of all people understood the importance of what both her and her husband had risked their lives to attain. Protection. For the first time that morning Link managed to look at her. He was breathing deeply, distressed beyond comprehension.
With her fear rising with every passing second, she turned wearily towards the circled boy with the maniacal grin still obstinately fixed to his infantile face. She blanched as she was finally able to join the dots together.
"Saria?" Zelda's voice quivered. "What has he done?"