This is a repost of an edited fic. It includes a new scene that hopefully gives the story a little more feeling, as well as smaller edits. My apologies go out to anyone who already reviewed and/or put this story on their favorites for the first draft being erased from the system. Hopefully, the added scene will make up for any inconvenience.
Some of this was based upon my own childhood memories of growing up in the country in a family that occasionally raised its own food. People with a particular sensitivity regarding animals may want to turn back from reading. Delicious steak does not grow on trees, hence the "T" rating.
A Twilight Princess-era story of life sustained through sacrifice.
In Ordon, livestock is valuable and only killed for a special event, or for the survival of the village. Link barely survived the winter of the epidemic. Others were not so lucky. He earned the sign outside his house then. The words of a friend would stay with him; "Be strong, little wolf cub."
Slaughtering the Goat
An LoZ: Twilight Princess Fan Fiction by Shadsie
Epona's hooves thu-thumped over the loamy earth. The forest smelled thick of green and rain, and Link knew that he was finally nearing his home. Home... it was a concept had almost lost its meaning to him during all those weeks in the field, in dark passages, and ascending that blizzard-cloaked mountain. His bones would ache whenever he thought of all the times he'd been encased in ice by the creatures he had to fight there. How many times had he almost died... far away from home?
Link felt lonely even though he was coming home to his dearest friends - to the people he considered his family. He wished someone was coming with him. She had been the one who was with him all of those times he'd nearly died, providing him comfort and encouragement – often with heavy doses of sarcasm and condescension, as was her way. She'd outright saved him more than once and he had returned the favor. Midna had been as close to him as anyone in the village, perhaps even more so, yet where she had gone to, he could not follow. He tried not to think about it. She would want him to be happy, right? She had her kingdom to run, and if their worlds were not meant to mix… there honestly wasn't anything he could do about it, or, at the least, he hadn't figured out a way to do anything about it yet.
He'd saved two worlds. His battles were done. The only thing he could do right now was to go to the place he'd started out from, forever changed and forever keeping his secrets. After fighting evil through mines, prisons, temples and the halls of palaces, Link was glad to be getting back to someplace humble – a world of mills, pumpkin patches, dust and goats.
The young man sighed deeply. He was sure that Fado and Bo would slaughter a goat to celebrate his homecoming. For a moment, he imagined the scent of meat, roasted over an open-pit fire with garlic and herbs. For the next moment, he imagined a goat's face, staring up at him with sparkling brown eyes. He tried to shake the latter thought from his head.
It was the way of Ordon Village.
The livestock were valuable, and were only harvested for meat for very important reasons. To Ordon, goats represented wealth. Goats in the field were as good as rupees in the pocket. The village subsisted on milk and cheese, and sold the same to the traders that came in from Hyrule proper. It was not good to kill the village's profits; therefore, a goat was only sacrificed in the case of dire need, or to celebrate something special. For the kids to come home, for him to come home- for the ominous clouds of Twilight to be dispelled from Hyrule – those were special things. Funny, he was the Hero, the one who fulfilled the archetypal role of legend, but when he thought about what would probably happen at his homecoming, he didn't feel really worthy of it.
Whomever the poor victim was to be, it wouldn't be the first goat that was slaughtered for his benefit.
As he rode, he thought about the first time he'd seen the butchering of a goat. It was a big event in the entire village. Ordon was celebrating the coming of two new people into the community. They'd come from Castle Town to seek a quiet rural life. Link was very young then. He didn't remember the old man so much, but he remembered Nico. Nico was a much older boy, about ten years old when he was five. He and Ilia looked up to him. Nico and his father were the only other people in Ordon Village to have long, pointed ears like Link and his parents did. Link remembered that it made him feel less weird. Nico was the leader in all of their games, and Link always bothered him to teach him how to draw.
Soon after coming to the village, a goat was taken from the field for a celebration dinner for Nico and his father. Bo and Rusl wouldn't let any of the children watch the killing, but Link remembered watching Rusl skin the shaggy animal, and watching as the carcass was hoisted up on hook on a tall metal butcher-pole on the grounds of Ordon Ranch. He wasn't scared one bit. Ilia wasn't, either. They just watched in awe as Bo and Rusl went to work with their long knives and as Uli and Sera took the heart, the liver, and other internal bits in trays to take to Uli's place to make into sausage. Nico told Link later that watching something like that would make most children in Castle Town cry. Though neither Link nor Ilia had ever watched one of the goats get butchered before, they'd been told that this was where food came from, so they didn't really think much of it. Perhaps they were unafraid of the blood merely because they'd been so young.
What Link remembered was being fascinated by the whole process, but not in a particularly morbid way – he'd thought at the time that he was "helping." Rusl had told him that he was a good strong boy and that he was really helping out when he handed him tools.
This was just the way of children in the country, Link supposed. He remembered some years later, helping Rusl slaughter cuccoos. It was only two or three years ago and he had taken a more active role in the process, catching the doomed birds for Rusl out in their pen for him, since he was the only one quick enough to catch them. Beth, Talo and Colin had been watching. When Rusl had taken a young hen up to a flat-topped stump and had cleanly taken her head off with a hatchet, the body of the bird ran around the yard, running into rocks and into the side of the house. Talo watched, passionless, while Colin yelped in fear and cried. Beth asked Rusl if the chicken was in any pain.
"Oh, she doesn't feel anything," Rusl assured, "Her head is gone, that's just her nerves firing. She doesn't feel anything anymore and she'll stop in a few minutes."
Then Beth started laughing, finding the headless cuccoo running around suddenly hilarious. Talo started laughing, as well. Colin sniffed and went inside. When the bird had finally stopped, Link retrieved the carcass and laid it aside on the grass, and proceeded to catch the next cuccoo for Rusl. He did not know, then, if he should be disturbed by Beth and Talo's laughter, but he really wasn't – this kind of thing was a simple fact of life. Fried cuccoo did not materialize by magic, though there probably were some in Hyrule proper who claimed that it could. He'd had a talk with Colin later that day.
A small shiver went up Link's spine upon remembering that day. As a wolf, he'd talked to the village poultry. They were not smart creatures by any stretch of the imagination, but they had their own simple pleasures. He remembered being immensely surprised that they had not run from him. They always ran from him as a human, and a wolf was, supposedly, an even more ferocious predator than a human being. Somehow, those birds had trusted him. As a wolf, he'd refrained from eating them. Would he, as a man, be called upon to violate their trust someday?
He never did ask the cuccoos if they ever thought about death. They probably did not. He never got the chance to speak with the goats when he'd been in wolf-form. When he'd tried, they'd merely chased him and butted him mercilessly – he could not get a word in. He knew he'd thought upon his own mortality when he'd been a wolf, but that was only because it was so constantly close to him all the time - and he assumed that it was the human part of his mind that thought about such things. He had very much felt the drive of instinct and the present when he'd been an animal.
Link came upon his house. Leaves flitted down from the forest trees and everything, save the gentle wind, was quiet. He dismounted, but did not bother to un-tack Epona. He just wanted to check things around his house before riding on into the village. He stood for a moment, letting a feeling of peace wash over him. Everything smelled of dust and sunlight. It was a feeling he had not been caught away in for a long time.
He regarded the sign on the pole outside his house, with its frame of goat horns. Every house in the village had those goat horn signs, but they had to be "earned," in a way. The horns were taken from old goats that had died, and from the few that were slaughtered. The feeling of peace was swept away in an instant, replaced by a cold feeling of loneliness and sorrow. He wondered what would have happened had things been different? Would his mother have fussed over him, going off to play hero? Would his father be proud of him? Would Nico be proud of him? He knew Midna was, though she'd never let on about it.
All of these were... gone.
Link had earned those goat horns.
The winter of his seventh year of life had been an especially harsh one for Ordon.
"Mama, I don't feel good," young Link said sniffling into the sleeve of his nightshirt. He'd climbed the ladder from his bed downstairs to the fireplace, where his mother was sitting in its warm, orange glow, cloaked in a blanket.
"Come here, honey," his mother said, reaching out her gentle hands. They were pale, with long fingers. Her eyes were almost sunken into her face, with bags around the edges. Her skin was very pale. She hadn't been feeling well, either, not for a week. She felt his cheeks and his forehead. "Aw, Link," she said, "not you, too."
She held him close, by the fire. "Where's Papa?" he asked, his voice small and weak. "I'm hungry."
"He's going to see the mayor about food, darling. We've gone through the last of the stores, but we might convince him to let us have a goat."
"For the sick people, honey."
"Will meat make you strong again, Mama?"
"Maybe. Almost everyone in the village is sick. Thank the Goddesses that Uli and the baby haven't caught this. I was hoping you'd stay healthy, too."
"Why are you crying, Mama?"
"Because you're sick."
"But you're sick, too." Link nuzzled against his mother's chest, burying his face in the blanket. His head was pounding and his throat was sore. He felt like he wanted to go back to bed and go to sleep, but like he was too tired to even sleep. He was hot and cold at the same time. He'd been helping his father take care of his mother, but it was difficult without much food. It was even more difficult when everything they tried to give her – from a bit of bread to cuccoo-broth – was thrown up not half-an-hour later. Now, there wasn't even the cuccoo-broth. The last of the cuccoos in the village had been found frozen to death the day before yesterday. The village wouldn't get new chicks in from Kakariko until spring. They wouldn't be able to get anything in until spring.
An early frost had killed most of the pumpkins, and the wheat had been nearly wiped out by a blight. The last of the winter stores had been running thin. All of the trails outside of the village had been blocked by snow and ice. The main bridge into Faron Province had been taken out by nasty storm. Ordon Village was used to being ice-locked over the winter. The Ordonians prided themselves on being a self-sufficient people, but it seemed that the one time they really needed help from the other provinces, and from Hyrule itself, they could not get it.
Link heard his mother singing. It was more like humming, actually. He was so awash in heat, and chill and pain that he had not realized how long she'd been doing this. He felt her voice thrumming through her chest, into him. He relaxed just a little. It was a beautiful song.
"What are you singing?"
"Oh, I'm humming," his mother corrected, "and it's a very, very old song. It's been passed down through my family – and your father's family, too. My own mother said it was a sacred song – the Song of Time."
"Song of Time?"
"Yeah." Link's mother stroked his hair.
"It's kind of like that lullaby you used to sing me."
A gust of cold air assaulted the boy through the opened front door. Boots were scraped against the door frame before the door slammed shut.
"Valerian!" Link's mother exclaimed. "Something terrible has happened!"
"Martha, you should be in bed. And why are you up, little man?"
Link replied with a fit of coughing.
"Oh, no," Valerian sighed.
"He's got the illness," Martha said sadly.
"Bo and Rusl are still healthy," Link's father announced, "We can thank Farore for that. They're going up to the ranch to take one of the goats this afternoon. We'll have some meat. In the meantime, you two should go back to bed."
"But I wanna help Mama!"
"You can help her by getting back in bed."
Link sniffled and wandered back up to the ladder leading to his makeshift "bedroom" on the upper floor of the family's odd little hollow-tree house. He felt terrible, but at least he was still strong enough to wander around and to climb the ladder up and down. He heard his parents murmuring below.
"Stuff like this is always harder on the young'uns than on the adults... and it's bad, Martha. You know Mr. Mallory died last week, and Missus Bo the week before that. Mallory's boy, Nico's got it, too. Jaggle, Pergie, Hanch... A miracle that Uli and little Colin are all right. Only a matter of time before little Talo gets it."
"Please don't talk like we're doomed, Valerian. I'm fighting it. I'm fighting. And Link's a strong boy."
"I don't know, Martha, between the food shortage and this epidemic... I think that Din's withheld her favor from us and has become the Goddess of Death."
No one knew why Link liked high places. He didn't know, either. Maybe it was because he liked looking down at everything, feeling tall when he wasn't. Maybe it was because he loved the hawks and admired how they flew. Maybe it was just because he liked to do somersaults off the platform his bed was on. His mother never liked him to do that, but his father said that little boys should have some adventure in their lives. He'd never hurt himself.
He wasn't looking anywhere but the ceiling now. Days went by and he felt worse and worse. He'd tried to get out of bed this morning, but he couldn't get his body to obey his intention. He felt hot, like he was lying out by Ordona Spring in high summer – then he felt cold, like the snowfall that he could hear outside his sealed window was burying him. It was nightfall now and he couldn't sleep. Link could barely breathe. He coughed, gagged, and dry heaved whenever he tried to move. His entire body hurt. He wondered if he was going to die. He squinted his eyes shut against the pain.
He felt his father's thick fingers brush his forehead. He heard mumbling above him - his father's voice and Rusl's. Both voices sounded strained and very sad. Was Papa crying?
"Are you sure we should move him to Bo's? The chill in the air outside could kill him."
"Everyone who's sick is there. You should stay there, as well, that cough of yours isn't good news. Besides... I don't think either of you should be... you know. We'll take care of it."
"But she's my wife, Rusl! If anyone's going to bury her, it should be me!"
"You aren't digging anything out in that cold. Wrap yourself up. Go to Bo's. You need to take care of your son right now."
Link opened his eyes. The people kneeling above him were blurry. "Mama?" he asked with a cracked voice.
"I'm sorry, Link," his father said, his voice soft and gentle, but breaking at the edges. "Mama is... she's gone, Linky, she's gone."
Through fever and agony, the news did not register with the boy. It would hit him later, when he began to recover.
Much, much later in his life, he would find himself trying to break the news of a death to another ailing mother's son, in an inn room in Kakariko. Prince Ralis would never know how much Link sympathized with him.
Link did not remember much of his days at the mayor's house. He did remember most of the members of the village being there, either ill or caring for the ill. Ilia had not fallen sick. With her small hands, she did her best to help her father look after everyone. She brought cups of medicinal potions over to Link and watched to make sure he drank them, like her father told her to do. Everyone who was sick was fed broth made from boiled goat, and, when they could keep it down, pieces of well-cooked meat. It was thought that the protein and minerals in the flesh would give them the strength they needed to recover. The healthy ate meat as well, to try to keep themselves strong. This winter, because of the dwindling supplies of the customary foods, it was necessary.
His own father grew sick and weak, just like him. Link kept asking where his mother was, and the man would just shake his head. If she was gone, where had she gone to? She should be here, humming him a lullaby, telling him that everything was going to be alright. She should be here, with him and Papa! Everyone tried to tell the boy the truth, but he would not accept it. Even Nico told him that she was dead. This couldn't be! She was Mama! She was supposed to always be there for him.
The night that Nico died was surreal. He did not go quietly. The older boy thrashed in the makeshift bed of shaggy goatskin and woolen blankets that he had on the floor. Link remembered his heart pierced with fear as Nico gave him the most intense stare he'd ever known in his young life. He'd face stares and glares of deeper intensity later. Bo and Rusl tried to calm Nico as he sat bolt upright and reached a shaking hand toward Link.
"Gonna save us," the boy choked out. "Link... gonna save us. Gonna save the world, keep Hyrule from slipping into darkness. Twilight comin' Ga... Gan... Take care of Link, he's important. Be strong, little wolf cub."
Nico fell back into his bed. Link watched, shaking, after the episode as Nico's breathing ceased. He did not know at the time what to make of what Nico had said – whether it was delirium, or, as he'd decided later, a message from the gods- a vision of the future told through the pain of a dying young man. At the time, Link only cried.
Auntie Beatrice - the mayor's wife, his mother, Nico... everyone was dying. Link was convinced that the world was ending. His world was. His father died three days after Nico did. Link was well enough then to walk to his bedside and to hold his hand. He promised to be strong for him, though he'd said it with a voice that had been dulled through physical pain and through grief. Papa said that Mama was proud of him, that they'd watch over him from beyond. Link, for his part, laid his small head on his father's chest and wanted more than anything, to go with him.
Another goat was slaughtered for the sake of healing and for the sake of staving off starvation. By the time that spring came to Ordon, the rest of the ill recovered in full, including Link. Five fresh graves were dug in the forest, in a secret place where the spirit, Ordona, could watch over them. Rusl took Link into his home and treated him like a son alongside his own baby Colin.
It was a long time before Link accepted that the world had not ended. It had gone on, with the bright sunlight and warmth of spring, and later, summer, without those five people in it. His parents had been his world, but village life had gone on without them with barely a whisper. The woods and the seasons themselves hadn't noticed their absence. Nico and his father had been merely newcomers that had gone just as quickly as they had arrived. The mayor grieved for his wife, but carried on with the business of supervising the village. He'd been very quick to negotiate trade to rebuild the food supplies.
Link and Ilia talked together often, for they had a shared sorrow. She had lost her mother, and Link being a child like she was, and having lost both his parents, could relate to her. They each felt that they were the only people in the world who understood each other. It was a long time before they actually played together like they used to. For many months, they'd just walk and talk together.
The entire village was awash in sorrow. A place like Ordon Village wasn't one where even a single human loss wasn't mourned by all who remained, and for a long time. For five people to be lost over one winter broke every heart. People asked Rusl every day; "How's Link?" "How's Link doing?" overwhelmed with concern for the fresh orphan.
Link learned during this time that the world was largely indifferent to death. It was something that happened and the world moved on. As new life was born, lives were taken away – the cruel divine symmetry of the universe. If a cuccoo was slaughtered, the rest of flock remained. If a goat was slaughtered, the rest of the herd contentedly munched the grass. People he'd loved were gone. He had to live on. He had to be strong, like Nico had said to be. Ordon Village, however, had not been indifferent, and without those people that had survived that winter who were concerned for his strength, he would not have survived. It was thanks to them that he learned to smile again.
Link was fifteen when he'd decided to move out of Rusl and Uli's place. Colin didn't want him to go, but he assured the boy that he'd still see him every day. He'd felt that he was strong enough on his own, and he insisted that he did not want to impose upon them any further.
"You're still young," he'd told the couple, "and you just have Colin. I'm sure you guys are going to have or are going to want to have more kids sooner or later, and I'm just taking up space!"
"You aren't 'taking up space," Rusl had insisted, "You're our boy just as much as Colin is. I don't want you forgetting that."
"I need to face that house again, Rusl," Link had then told him with a solemn face. "The yard has space for my mare. I don't like keeping Epona at the ranch all the time. It's a long walk. It's my house... or it was. It really should be again. It's only proper."
Link had then done what he, even later, considered to be the bravest thing he'd ever done in his life. He approached his childhood home, that odd, hollow tree where his parents had lived and where his mother had died.
The tree loomed up before him like a tower in some legend where some evil waited to be conquered. No, Link decided, no evil lived there, just memories and perhaps the specter of death. The young man sighed as he ascended the ladder – surprised at how strong it still was. It was sturdy and the wood of it had failed to rot, even after eight years of not being treated in any way. A tinge of pride - mixed with sorrow - struck Link's heart. His father had built the ladder. Even the strongest hands were not invincible.
The door gave a loud, splintery creak as Link opened it. He sneezed from the dust. It hung on the air like gossamer, the motes sparkling in the strong light from the windows. Aside from the fine layer of dust that coated everything, the interior of the house looked like it had been sealed in time. Nothing had changed. Everything was nostalgic. There were even some old toys on a red braided rug in the corner, little cast-metal knights and horses, standing guard against a small wooden wolf that was painted gray and black. They looked to be set up in some sort of game, complete with a pair of ivory dice that lay between them. It was some game that Link had never finished – he'd probably been playing it even as he'd coughed and sneezed, before he had become too sick to leave his bed and it had been completely forgotten the day his father had taken him to Bo's. Link picked up the little wooden wolf and put it in his pocket. He did not know why he was drawn to it.
Link stepped cautiously through the circular layout of the house. There was a small table. His mother's jewelry, coated in dust, lay haphazardly strewn upon it. The gemstones were of common varieties, semi-precious, and there were many pieces that were made of glass. The metal was nothing special, either, merely gold and silver plated. Link's parents could never afford anything particularly fancy. He blew the dust off the necklace with the green glass gems and remembered how his mother had looked wearing it. In his young world, he'd thought she looked prettier than any princess and lovelier than any queen.
Upon the table was a glass bottle filled with an amber-colored liquid – his father's cologne. He popped the crusted-over cork and sniffed it. Link had forgotten what his father had smelled like, and the memory came flooding back. He'd been forgetting what he'd looked like, lately, and his mother, as well. He knew many things about them – his father's strong hands, his mother's gentle smile, but, no matter how hard he tried to hold onto them, bits and pieces of them slipped way. What was the color of his mother's eyes again? That little scar on his father's cheek – was it the right cheek or the left again?
Link slammed his fist down on the table. He gritted his teeth and fought back tears. He was alone – the children of the village weren't here to see him cry. He didn't have to be strong for Colin, but this wasn't the time. He had to clean this place up, to make a home for himself. He climbed up to where his own bed still lay. It was as dusty as everything else, but it was plain. The blankets and pillows he used to sleep in were taken from it during his last night here, to keep him warm and comfortable. He found the oddly-shaped stick that Nico had given him... Nico had been teaching him an outdoor game involving hitting a leather ball with a wooden stick. Link took it downstairs with him. He remembered the game. Perhaps he could teach it to the kids.
He did not know where to start first with the cleanup. Maybe he could just sit for a little while, basking in memories. He glanced over at his parents' old bed. He felt his heart clench. The blankets and pillows remained. A vision came to his mind's eye of his mother laying in it, pale, her long, thin arm draped over the side, her voice groaning "Link, please go back to bed, I'll be alright, honey."
Link felt his teeth grind together. She'd died here, in this bed. Before he knew it, the teenager was bringing Nico's stick down onto the bed, over and over, breaking the headboard, breaking the footboard, splintering and demolishing the old wood. Link snarled and threw the blankets off. He kept hitting and hitting the bed until he fell to his knees, dropped his weapon, and wept into his hands.
It wouldn't bring her back, or him back, or any of them back. None of this was fair. One winter had taken everything. He had his family now, Rusl, Uli, Colin – and he could ask for no better, but he wanted them back, to smell their scent, to see the colors in their eyes – to tell them that he's tried to make them proud of him. Link had learned one of life's hardest truths much too young – that justice was little more than an illusion, yet he wanted so badly to believe in justice.
That evening, Link took the remains of the shattered bed and built a bonfire in his yard. He felt strangely released, like something deep within him had been appeased. He found this same release in giving away some of his parent's old belongings. He spent many afternoons, when he was done with his work, teaching Colin Nico's game. He kept a few items for himself, but he thought Uli looked prettier than any princess in that green glass necklace.
Link stared at the sign reading simply "Link's House." The goat horns were dull and cracked. Rusl had made him that sign. Most of the signs the village were framed with the horns of goats that had been killed for celebration dinners to welcome them into the village or to celebrate some great event in their lives. It was different with this sign. Rusl had saved the horns from the two goats that had been slaughtered for the village's survival during the winter of the epidemic. The horns framing Link's sign had been from one of those goats.
This was a goat that had died on his behalf, to give him and the other villagers strength. This goat had not saved everyone, but she had saved him.
He'd decided he'd been standing here long enough. He mounted Epona. He spurred her on down the path into Ordon Village. It was time for him to go home.