It took me three tries to get up the cliff. When I finally dragged myself over the edge, my breath was ragged and my arms ached. Using the side of the broken bride for support, I got to my feet and hopped onwards.
Two things happened at once as I turned the corner. First, an immense fortress came into view. Second, a shadow flew over my head and a girl about my age landed on her feet in the sand. She drew two knives, each as long as my forearm, and took a fighting stance. "Halt, intruder!" she shouted. Her voice was very loud, and I'm sure she wanted to sound impressive, but all she managed was strident.
I drew my sword and pointed it at her. "I'm not in the mood to fight you."
She swallowed and tried to look at the tip of my sword. Her front teeth, too big for her mouth, showed over her lower lip. Then, with the ease of lots of practice, she backstepped and knocked my sword aside. I tried to stab her in the shoulder, forgetting about my ankle in my haste. My leg buckled under my weight, and I fell facefirst in the sand.
The girl bent over and pressed the tip of one of her knives to the back of my neck. "You win," I said through clenched teeth.
Her reaction surprised me. The knife was gone, and there were two dull thumps as she dropped both weapons in the sand. "Are you okay?" she asked. "I didn't mean to hurt you!"
"You didn't," I whimpered. The pain coursing through me was distracting me. "My ankle...was already hurt."
"I shouldn't have fought you," she said. "I should have noticed." She bent down and lifted me onto her shoulders. I didn't have the strength to speak, but I was impressed. She looked like a slight girl, but she was strong.
"Oof," she said. "You're...heavy!" She struggled through the sand.
"You don't have to carry me," I said quickly. "I can--"
"Of course I have to carry you," she said impatiently. "You're injured. You can hardly walk, and it's only fair I make sure your foot heals. I shouldn't have fought you, so I owe you."
"You don't..." I protested weakly, but she ignored me.
Another, smaller girl in torn white clothes ran up. "What are you doing?" she demanded of the girl carrying me. "Who's he?" Her voice was insistent and at least as loud as the first girl's.
"I fought him and didn't realize he was injured, Avie," said the first girl.
Avie frowned. "What are you doing with him?"
"I'm getting him to the healer. What else?"
Avie put her hands on her hips and glared at me. "Watch your step," she yelled, "cuz' I'm watching you!" With that, she ran off.
"Sorry about that," said the girl. "Avie's my best friend, and she's alright, but she can be bossy when she wants to be."
"It's alright," I said.
"She thinks Hylians are lower than dirt," added the girl thoughtfully.
"I'm not Hylain. Hylians think I'm lower than dirt."
"Oh," she said, and fell silent while she considered this. "Does that mean you're lower than lower than dirt?"
"To your friend, maybe," I said, laughing.
"Her name's Avie. Aviel, actually, but everyone calls her Avie."
The girl carried me inside and flung me down on some cushions. I couldn't quite bite back a whimper of pain.
"Now, let me see," she said, and grabbed my boot.
"Ow! Get off! That hurts!"
She ignored me and yanked my boot off. Her long scarlet ponytail had flopped over her shoulder and was blocking my line of sight, but she gasped. "Oh! No wonder you can't walk!" She sat back, and I saw what alarmed her so much.
My ankle was swollen to about twice its proper size. It was red and bleeding. But the worst part was the sharp shard of white that stuck out of my foot. Even I knew that it was bone. I felt sick at the sight of my foot ripped up from the inside. I turned my face away.
"Hey! Somebody! High Lady Jer—Namora! Anyone! Some random lower-than-lower-than-dirt kid is hurt real bad!" I had to laugh at the girl, who continued shouting. "Somebody! Anyone! I need some—ummmmmmm..." Her voice trailed off, and she said in a small and squeaky one, "I kind of meant, anyone but you, uh, sir, Majesty, highness..."
I turned my head to see a boy, older than the girl, but with the same scarlet hair. He stood head and shoulders over her, though perhaps it was partly because she had shrunk back in a sudden and very surprising show of timidity. His shoulders were broad and he was dressed in fancy armor and a gray-blue cape. "Who is this?" he asked. His accent was heavier than the girl's.
"Ah—I, um, found—that is--" said the girl nervously. "He's...er..."
The boy rolled his eyes. "Sandbrain." He walked over to me and saw my foot. "Ooh. No wonder you took him in here. I'll get someone to help."
He whirled and took of running. The girl stared after him, looking dazed.
"I hope he'll get someone to come fast. My foot is killing me," I told her.
She fixed me with a cool gaze. "Of course he'll get someone to come fast. He's going to be our king someday."
"Oh," I said. "Who's your king now?"
She rolled her eyes. "Sandbrain! We don't have a king 'til he's strong enough to lift the dragon blade. I've tried to lift it, and it's heavy! Right now his mother's our High Lady."
Just then, the boy who was going to be king ran in. "She's...coming," he panted.
"Oh," said the girl quietly. "That's...good..."
The boy shook his head violently. "Nen! She's not here because she's bringing the Guard! She's going to have him executed!"