Link opened his eyes, but he quickly shut them again to shield them from a blinding light. He was aware of a board-stiff feeling around his torso, and his side hurt terribly whenever he tried to move. A line of sweat dampened his hair, though his face was quite cool. When he eventually decided to fully view his surroundings, he found that the "bright light" was merely a candle glowing in the corner of the room.
He was in Rusl and Uli's house, from what he could discern. He was laid in bed, flat on his back, with the blankets pulled to his head. He was not alone, either; Rusl was sitting in the corner, his head resting on his hands, looking extremely tired. He looked up hastily, trying to keep himself awake, when he saw Link looking at him. He stood up, swaying slightly, and approached Link's bedside. He placed his hand gently on Link's forehead, and he sighed deeply.
"Your fever's broke," Rusl said softly. "Thank the goddesses. How are you feeling, Link?"
Link made an effort to sit up. He winced at the pain inflicted on his side as he did, and now he was curious why he felt stiff as a board. He looked down to see that his bare chest was tightly bound with medical wraps, and he could not bend very easily. "Not so well. What happened?" he asked hoarsely.
"You were practically torn to pieces," said Rusl. "Uli had to use her sewing needle to stitch you back up. You had a raging fever throughout the night, but that has gone. I'm no doctor, but I think you'll be just fine within a matter of days."
"I wish I could remember last night…" Link's head suddenly snapped up. "Oh no, I do remember! Is everyone all right? Ilia, the kids, and everybody?"
"Fine," Rusl assured him. "Everybody is just fine. Ilia and the kids are all at Bo's house, and Uli just went over to check on them. Somehow, I think the village will be safe for now."
Link exhaled, relieved. He felt sore and achy, and he wanted to lie down again. He paused when Rusl spoke again.
"Another thing, Link," he said. "We found out last night. We found out what has been killing off the goats."
Link froze, his eyes widening. He could not look at the other man but he chose a knot in the wood on the wall and stared at it without relent. He knows my secret…
"What…exactly tipped you off?" he asked fearfully.
Rusl then dropped something small onto Link's lap. It was a piece of paper, torn slightly at the ends. Link picked it up and recognized it as the one he scratched a message on the night before. In his scrambled, hurried claw markings, he had scratched out the words:LUPUS VELUT LUNA
He eyed the writing, and then looked up at Rusl, demanding an explanation.
Rusl clarified. "This was on the floor of your house. I walked over there at some point last night to ask for your help, but obviously, you weren't there. I was intrigued by the words, so I took it back to the house with me, intending to ask you about it later. As soon as I read those words to myself, however…"
He did not have to say anything more. Link's gaze dropped to the floor, since he had no response. All he did was try to think of a way to explain the situation. "Rusl, I…" he began. "I swear, I never meant to hurt anybody. I never wanted it to be this way. Somebody in this village could have been killed because of me."
"Maybe so," Rusl told him. "But the point is that everyone is alive and well."
"Yes, but…I was responsible for destroying some of the goat herds." Link did not hide the remorse in his voice.
Rusl looked at him curiously. "As a matter of fact, you're wrong. When I told you we found the killers, I was referring to the Stalhounds you fended off last night. We searched the pasture, and came to find all evidence pointing to them. The trails, the nearby dens, everything."
"…So, you mean I never did it? Those monsters were the killers the whole time?"
Rusl nodded. "Precisely. Also, I think they have been looting your private store of meat in your house. That is why you thought the food misplaced. You had nothing to do with it."
Link was speechless. He grasped the tiny piece of paper in his sweaty hand until it was nothing more than a crumpled ball. "I am still not redeemed of my actions," he murmured.
"I have but one question to ask you," said Rusl. His jaw was set. "Why did you not speak of this before?"
"I-" There was no easy answer to be had. "I know now that I should have. Especially since what happened could have been tragic."
"And yet you kept the secret to yourself, fully aware of its consequences." Rusl's voice was no longer kind. Though staying the same in volume, it descended an octave. "You would let this curse consume you until you were nothing more or less than a monster."
Link had to protest. "I wouldn't! It never would have come to that, I would make certain of it!"
"Certain? Bah! What exactly is certain in the world? When it comes to the raw relics; power, wisdom, and courage, who's to say that anything is for certain? Everyone's lives, hopes, and dreams mingle with the uncertainty, all dependent on the single, most desired outcome they strive for! Your, ability was something you were positive that could be controlled; yet here we are as such! You are very lucky, Link, and so is every member of the village, because the next few days would have seen you destroyed and us along with you!" Rusl's voice trailed off at the end of his statement. He stood up and walked aimlessly back and forth across the room, whispering something stifled to himself. He looked very much troubled. He now seemed to be unaware of Link's presence.
Neither one spoke for a long while. Link felt as though he was stewing in his own guilt, and he became more and more repentant as he reflected upon the events leading up to the present. He summoned up his courage and broke the silence. "Rusl, I am sorry. I know it must not mean much at the moment, but I truly am." He tried to make eye contact, but the older man averted his gaze.
When he received an answer, it was resolute. "Your actions, though careless and negligent, were without malice, and your apology is sincere. What has already taken place no longer matters. Trouble yourself no longer."
"But I must," Link pleaded. "The danger is not yet passed. I could still transform at any time."
Rusl nodded. "Which means we must decide on our future course of action. Tell me, is there any way to stop the transformations?"
"If there is, I will never know." Link collapsed back on his bed, heaving a sigh. "Destroying the gemstone would do nothing. It seems that I have only one option," he said miserably. "I must leave Ordon for good."
The wood from the floor creaked as Rusl stopped pacing and gave him a good long stare. "Don't make such a hasty decision," he told him sternly. "I understand how you must feel, but promise me that you won't rush into anything. Remember, you are no longer alone in your decisions. I will help you in any way that I can."
Overwhelmed, Link was silent. Finally he smiled weakly and nodded. "Thank you, Rusl."
There was a soft rapping at the door, followed by muffled voices from outside. Rusl suddenly grinned and kneeled by his table to pick up a few scattered items from off of the floor. "Well Link, I praise you for your skills in the art of espionage, but now your secret is the talk of the town."
Groaning pitifully, Link turned over and smothered his face with a pillow. "You not serious…" he moaned. "Does everybody know?"
"Just about." Rusl was almost amused. "The reception will be decided soon enough, but until then, I must not keep your fan club waiting."
"Huh?" Link lifted himself back up.
With a cruel jerk of his hand, Rusl turned the doorknob and opened the door. In a blinding flash, four excited children bounded inside, all jumping on Link simultaneously. Talo, Malo, Colin, and Beth all surrounded him and drowned him with questions.
"Hey, Link, you're okay! So you can really turn into a wolf?" said Talo, looking almost giddy. "That is so cool! Why didn't you tell us about it?"
"It is rather extraordinary," said Malo. His non-emotional countenance never failed him.
Beth was extremely interested. "How long have you been able to do that, Link? How did you first transform?"
Colin was merciful and said nothing. He merely smiled encouragingly. Strangely enough, the other children followed his example and relented with the interrogation. Talo said, "Oh and Link, about that one day in the woods… we're sorry, Malo and I. Right?" He looked severely at his younger brother, who inclined his head reluctantly. "We're sorry we disobeyed you. Are you still mad at us?"
Link studied them with amazement. A smile tugged at his lips and he replied, "Of course not."
"I think," Rusl interrupted the reunion. "…That Link could use some rest. If you please." He gestured to the door.
"Okay." Talo was disappointed, but he led his brother and Beth out the door, and Colin followed them without another word. Before the door was closed, however, Ilia poked her head though. Her tired face brightened when she saw Link. "Sorry, but, couldn't I say hello for one minute?"
"Sure, come in," said Rusl, letting go of the door. "I will leave you two alone." He quietly slipped out the door and into the afternoon sun.
Ilia closed the door behind her and sat down on the edge of Link's bed. She looked fondly at him and said, "I am so relieved to see you alive."
"I was about to tell you the same thing," Link responded. "Did I harm you at all last night, when I was…. when I was a wolf?"
Ilia shook her head. Her emerald green eyes held a dulled glow, as if she pondered something in secret in her mind. "No, but you did save my life, if you don't remember."
"I did?" It took Link several minutes of hard thinking before he came to the realization. "That's right, I did."
"I wanted to thank you," said Ilia.
"You're welcome. But, I'm afraid it did not mean much at the time. I mean, it was just my wolf instincts running amok. I could have killed you too, if given the chance."
"The point is that you didn't," Ilia told him firmly. "I don't know anything about the power that gives you this ability, but one thing that I know is this. You have something that others of your kind do not have; morality. And nothing, not even this shadow magic, will stand in the way of our friendship."
Link greatly appreciated Ilia's words. He extended his hand and she grasped it as tightly as she could. Both had nothing else to say for quite a long time.
1 DAY LATER
The door shifted back and forth, but it seemed too heavy to move. "Link, let me in," Rusl's muffled voice said from the other side. Link walked over to the door, limping slightly from his two-day old leg injury, and lifted the bolt free and pushed the door open. He immediately turned and sat down when Rusl walked inside.
"Why did you lock the door?" Rusl asked him curiously.
"Sorry," Link apologized. "I just, I don't know…"
Rusl cast him a sympathetic gaze. "Link, you don't have to lock yourself up," he said. "You shouldn't. It gets to you."
"I just can't risk transforming while I'm out there walking freely," Link protested. He absentmindedly plucked a splinter from the peeling wooden table. He glanced up at the other man. "Besides that, I'm not so sure if I want to face all the villagers. The kids were one thing, but I'm as sure as anything that the adults won't be so impressed."
Without causing pain to his injuries, Rusl tried pushing Link into a standing position. "Come with me, you need fresh air."
"No! Don't leave the door open like that!" Link resisted him and turned away. "I don't want to hurt anybody else."
"And you won't, I promise." Rusl strapped his sword's scabbard over his shoulder and held it up for Link to see. "If it's any solace to you, I'll walk with you. And if anything happens, I'll be ready for it."
Link stared at the sword for a long minute, until he finally agreed. "All right, I'll go… just please don't make me say hello to anyone."
"I won't force you, Link, but I cannot keep everyone else from coming to us."
Breathing in outside air helped Link more than he thought. Even though walking aggravated the pains in his side, he still felt better than he had in days. He and Rusl took it slowly along the creek side and past the waterwheel. The village itself seemed so bright and cheery in the warm summery afternoon; there was barely any evidence of the horrors that took place the night before last.
Link groaned when he saw Mayor Bo emerge from his house. The large man squinted at them briefly then shouted, "Hey, Link! You got a minute to talk?"
"Err, okay…" Link looked pleadingly at Rusl.
"It'll be fine," the older man assured him. "I'll wait out here for you."
Once inside the Mayor's house, Link could see indication of the children staying in the house. Things were not exactly spotless, though despite the messiness the room still retained some form of order. Bo faced him from across his dining table, his face showing a relatively pleasant expression. "First of all, Link," he said. "I wanted to thank you personally for savin' my daughter the other night. I know what it could've cost you…"
"She's my best friend," Link told him. "I'd never let anything happen to her."
Bo nodded. His face remained the same. "Also, I just wanted to say that…I was mighty shocked to find out about your, problem." He seemed to be struggling to stay tactful about the situation. "I just want you to know that I don't hold anything against you for that. Why, when I think back to that one night when we chased you out of Ordon…I just get the willies."
"Well, Mayor, I…" Link said hesitantly. "I was thinking about it, and maybe it would be in everyone's best interest if I left Ordon."
"Oh, say it isn't so! Now that can't be our only option. Why Link, you'd be missed, dearly missed. In fact, if I may embellish a bit, you're the backbone of this village! Without you, our goatherds wouldn't get proper care. And you're real good with the kids, too. They look up to you, every one of them. Listen, Link, I think I know who I can talk to about this, and I can guarantee you a solution to your problem."
"Really?" Link was interested. "Who?"
"Sera, over at Sera's Sundries. You know her, right?" Bo asked. Link nodded. "Well, I think she can help you out. I've talked to her a few times, and she thinks she has the answer. Just, stick around until then, okay?"
Around sunset that same day, Mayor Bo had contacted Rusl, asking him to bring Link over to Sera's house. He did not say why, but it sounded urgent. After a good hard fight, Link finally consented to leave the house and go, although he threw Rusl a displeased look whenever he could.
With Rusl walking next to him, Link entered Sera's house while hiding his growing apprehension. The large, beefy woman standing behind the counter gave a small wave. "Young Link! Come in, come in, we've been expecting you!"
The woman lowered herself behind the counter and was rummaging noisily through the cupboards. "I just have to reach inside here for it…ah, here we go!"
When Sera appeared once again, she held a clear glass bottle in her pudgy hand. The bottle was filled with what looked like a powder of some kind. It was yellow in color.
"What is that?" Link asked.
"This is something for you," replied Sera. "This is ground aconite. That's an herb, dear. It's a flower that grows near here in the woods, and it's also known as monkshood or wolfsbane. Y'see, I know a thing or two about botany, and I found out that these plants have magical properties. Take this here supply home, and with a tea infuser, like this," she held up a little spoon-like item, only it had a silver ball on the end filled with holes. "Pour a little supply into the tea infuser and close it, like this. Then just stir it into water or tea, and drink."
Link took the bottle in his hands, eying the bits of yellow ground petals inside. "What does it do?"
"It dulls your wolf instincts a bit," Sera told him. "It should keep your mind rational whenever you transform, dearie. Even when you're a wolf, you'll think just like you do as a person. Just take the aconite three times daily, once with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you should be safe twenty four hours a day!"
"This…this seriously works?" A smile crept over Link's features.
"Absolutely." Sera returned his smile warmly. "You can always come back here to the shop if you ever run out."
"I…thank you," Link said breathlessly. He glanced over his shoulder at Rusl.
The older man told him, "We all want you to stay, Link. If you take that herb every day, you don't have to lock yourself up. We want you, as a man and a wolf, to stay where you belong."
A week passed, and the little village of Ordon was slowly returning to normal. Once Link had mostly recovered from his injuries, he moved back to his own tree house, although once he got there he found that he had to alter his house a bit. Instead of his bed sitting at the top floor near the window, he moved it to the bottom floor where he could easily access it as a wolf. The door was a little harder to change, since it still did not hang straight, and there was no easy way to slip though while he was transformed. After some time, Link decided to remove the door entirely. There was a large rectangular gap in the wall that allowed the cold or warm air to drift inside the house, but Link did not consider this a hassle, even though he would have no privacy when the kids were outside.
During that same week, Link returned to his work at the ranch. On his first day back he noticed that the fence he and Fado labored to build before was ripped out completely, leaving a trail of refilled holes in the dirt. Fado also relayed to him the problems that were still to be had.
"Those Stalhounds still roam the outer pastures," Fado told him worriedly. "Our herds have reduced in numbers. Those varmints don't seem to have learned their lesson, huh?"
"I predicted that," said Link. "And I think I know how to fix it. Turn around for second."
Fado did, with some uncertainty. When he was fully turned around, Link uttered the spell in his mind….
The wolf barked once and bounded forward onto the reaches of the pasture. He panted as he loped across the grass, startling some of the goats nearby. He trotted further away toward the farthest boundary of the ranch and slowed to a stop. He lifted his head up and sniffed the air.
The scent was nearly a day old, but it was strong and clear. The Stalhounds had appeared at the ranch again. The wolf lowered his nose to the soil and followed the scent trail, lumbering back and forth at times until he came to rest between a tree and a boulder.
A Stalhound was walking a little ways off; it paced along the boundary calling its terrible high-pitched screech. The skeletal creature stopped in its tracks, and looked to the wolf's direction.
The wolf bared a long fang and growled fiercely. Leave.
The canine skeleton shook itself and scrambled away, intimidated by the wolf. He paused next to what looked like a burrow in the ground and disappeared.
Satisfied, the wolf turned and began to trot back to the goats, his tail held high. He then began to run flat out, yipping happily and darting right along the line of goats.
The animals all turned and galloped away from him, all clustering together and bleating at the intruder. The wolf was surrounding them by running back and forth, barking his message. Though the herd was large, he was able to keep them all together in a group.
He was slowly able to herd every individual goat into the barn, occasionally having to nip the heels of a straggler. When his task was finished, the wolf stood by the barn entrance, his chest heaving from the effort.
Fado jogged up to the wolf and said, "Wow, Link, that was somethin'! I suppose there's more than one way to herd goats, huh?" The wolf wagged his tail when he had caught his breath. "So y'all are fine, now? No bad symptoms, right?"
The wolf nodded his head, which was a rather odd thing to see an animal do, and he barked and bounded in a circle.
Fado chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes. I'm still a little uneasy about the wolf thing, Link, but I could get used to it. After all, y'all are needed now more than ever, with these monsters roamin' around the ranch. I think Epona'll appreciate the time off, though."
Sundown came rather early that evening. The wolf had taken a position atop a small hill to overlook the pasture. He decided that he would be most needed at nighttime, while the Stalhounds would roam in their biggest numbers. His ears pricked forward when he saw Ilia hiking toward him from the gate. The girl had to jog up the hill, and then she stopped in front of the wolf. "Hi, Link. You are Link, right?" The wolf wagged his tail in affirmative.
"Good." Ilia smiled. "May I sit with you?" She sat down cross-legged in the grass, sighing peacefully as she did. "I think it's wonderful how you're putting yourself to good use," she said. "Hopefully those beasts won't bother us for a while."
The wolf looked at her sideways, opening his mouth slightly to pant. Ilia giggled. "I have to admit, you're not so talkative this way," she remarked. "And yet…whenever I look at you now, I can still see you either way."
The wolf cocked his head.
"I mean," said Ilia. "When I see you as a wolf, I feel like I can still see you somewhere. It's your eyes, I think. They look exactly the same."
She raised her hand over the wolf's head and gave him a soft pat between the ears. "Still, it's funny to treat you like a dog," she said, grinning.
The wolf yawned widely and licked a claw, expressing his indifference. Ilia laughed again. Then the wolf stood on all fours suddenly, giving the girl a low whine.
"Why don't we head back to the village?" Ilia suggested. "I think the ranch is safe from predators, for now."
The girl and her wolf walked placidly back toward the gate to the corral, untroubled by the darkening sky. By the time each had made it safely home, night was upon them.
A/N: Well, thanks to the people reading and reviewing, and I'm glad you enjoyed this short tale of mine. Just a few things I want to say:
1- The part about the aconite herb is true; Aconitum(its full name) is a real plant, and in old folklore and legend it was known as monkshood or wolfsbane, and it was thought to be a plant that could keep the ferocities of the dreaded werewolf in check. Please note: ACONITE IS A POISONOUS PLANT TO TOUCH, SMELL, AND INGEST!
2- Since this interesting plant's nickname is wolfsbane, that was where the name of this story was derived from. :) Also to you Harry Potter fans out there, you may remember this same plant from the Prisoner of Azkaban. It's the same herb Professor Lupin took every month when he transformed into a werewolf.
I did my homework for this chapter to get my facts right. Anyway, this short story is now completed, so I bid you all a good day.