Disclaimer and Notes: The Legend of Zelda and associated characters, locations, et al do not belong to me as intellectual property. I am seeking no profit from this. I have my own properties I'd like to make money from (and see fan fiction of, perhaps) someday.
This story is particularly dark and gruesome. It is meant to be shocking and not for the squeamish. TP set, based on the idea of "What really happens to dangerous animals in areas where there are children and livestock?"
A Twilight Princess Fan Fiction by Shadsie
Rusl felt accomplished. His shot had been quick and clean. He hardly believed that the creature was still around these woods. Most of the monsters had disappeared from the land after Hyrule Castle had been freed. Link took care of strays in the woods around the village on his self-imposed morning patrols – when he was around, anyway. The young Hero took frequent trips to Castle Town, to Kakariko Village and to parts unknown. For the time being, he'd been staying in the village, which made Rusl wonder all the more how this big guy had gotten past him.
The man dragged the large wolf carcass to the edge of the creek that ran through Ordon Village, his arrow still in its chest. It trailed blood upon the dirt and grass. It certainly looked like the same beast that had terrorized the village the night the children had been taken. If the animal had been a resident, his killing of it was all the better. Certainly, it would threaten the children or livestock someday. He'd spotted the beast awfully close to Ordon Ranch. It was the kid-birthing season up at the ranch – a critical time to the village's economy. The newborn kids would be easy pickings for a large predator.
Rusl set the wolf down beside the gently flowing waters, which he would need for cleaning up. He crouched low beside it, touching it and examining it. He ripped the arrow from its chest. He was proud. He'd caught the animal off-guard and had made a perfect shot to the heart. A gout of dark blood came up and spilled over fur and grass as the arrowhead slid out of the flesh. The beast probably did not know what had hit it. That was the way to hunt in Rusl's philosophy – to be as quick and humane as possible, whatever the quarry. It was how he'd taught Link to hunt and it was how he would have taught Colin if the boy had shown any interest.
"What are you doing, dad?" Colin asked, walking down toward the creek. "Oh…" he said, seeing the blood trail and the dead wolf.
"Now, Colin," Rusl said gently, "I know that you don't like this sort of thing, but it had to be done. A big wolf like this is a threat to the village, even to you. Maybe it's now safe for you to walk in the woods again."
"I could have fought him off!" Colin protested. "I've got my sword and a shield and Link's been teachin' me stuff!"
Rusl laughed softly. "All the same, I feel better that there's not the risk of you getting hurt."
Various people from the village came to look down at Rusl and his kill. "It's the monster from Kakariko!" Talo shouted. "You got him!"
"From Kakariko?" Rusl asked, unsheathing his hunting knife, "No, this guy definitely had a territory around here. Wolves don't usually have territories that span that big."
"It looks just like him!" Talo protested. "I saw him from the lookout post and yelled at everybody to get inside!"
Colin contemplated the animal before looking up at his father. "It does look like a wolf we saw there," he confessed. "I hope it's not the same one. The one we saw didn't try to hurt anybody, he just ran through town. I thought he was a guardian spirit."
"Guardian spirit, ha!" Talo shouted, "He was a monster! A monster! If you stayed outside, he woulda ate you up!"
Fado came tromping over. "Rusl, bud, have you seen Link? He shoulda been up at the ranch by now. Got one of our girls in labor, ready ta burst!"
"He hasn't gotten back from his patrol yet," Colin answered. "He should be somewhere in the woods, but I don't know where."
"Jus' great!" Fado groused before rushing back up the trail to the ranch.
Rusl looked over his shoulder. "I'm about to do some skinning. Do you kids really want to stick around?"
"Yeah!" Talo exclaimed.
"No you don't!" said Beth. "I don't wanna watch that and you'll bother Mr. Rusl."
"I'll stay," Colin said softly.
"Are you sure?" Rusl asked.
"You're my dad and I should be around to help."
Rusl smiled. This was an excellent opportunity to teach his son a few things about the natural world. He stroked the wolf's side gently. "He's got a good, shiny pelt," he began. "It's a sign of health. And," he said, prying the wolf's lips back from its mouth, "these nice, white, strong teeth are also a sign of health in a wild animal."
"Uh huh," Colin said, nodding. "Fado says a shiny coat on a goat is good. The wolf… he's so pretty. Did you have to kill him? This is sad."
"I think I did have to kill him, Colin," Rusl replied, "He was very close to the houses and if he didn't take a snap at one of you kids, he would have gone after the goats. I feel bad about it, though. He's magnificent."
"How do you know it's a he?"
"See here, right on his undercarriage, by the back legs here? He's got the same stuff you've got, doesn't he?"
Colin let out a small, silent laugh.
Rusl continued, even as he began cutting into the animal's skin. "The skin on his chest is as tough as chain mail… strange. This guy's strong, probably the alpha male of his pack, if he's got one…"
"Yes. Alpha means leader. The strongest wolves lead their pack, but wolf packs are really led by the alpha female – a girl wolf. The alpha males are the mates. He's the only wolf I've seen around here, though, which might mean he's a loner, but lone wolves usually aren't healthy. This one's at his prime."
Colin flinched as Rusl began peeling back the wolf's hide. He'd skinned up from the left paw and part of the chest, pulling back the fur and peeling the stretchy skin away from fat, muscle and fluids.
"I hope he's not a guardian spirit…" Colin said slowly.
"I don't think I could have killed him if he was," Rusl responded.
"What are you going to do with the hide?" Colin asked.
"Well," Rusl said, continuing his work, "since Link's been out and about everywhere, his camping blanket's been getting pretty shabby. I figure he could use a soft pelt to keep him warm on cold nights. It won't be a full blanket, but there's enough skin here to make for a nice wrap to wear over his tunic. We'll have to treat it of course."
Rusl paused to wash his hands and knife in the cold flow of the creek. He ran his thumb along its flat sides to dislodge tiny bits of meat and fat, and then shook it free of water in the open air. He went back to his grisly work, surprised that Colin was watching the procedure so calmly. Only months ago, he'd never be out here watching this, willing to learn. It was nothing sort of amazing how much of his timidity had fled. It had been the ordeal, Link, and the boy's own pride at having saved Beth that had shown him the value of courage - not that skinning a dead animal was a brave act, but a child watching something that had to do with death and facing the reality thereof took a small measure of boldness.
"We'll have to wash the blood out of the fur when I'm done, too, so it doesn't get all matted and sticky. Link wouldn't want a smelly pelt."
"Are you going to keep the head on?" Colin asked. "Renado the Shaman had some fox pelts in his house and they had the faces on."
"I could," Rusl said, "but probably not. Skinning out the face like that is hard. I think it will make a nicer cloak if I just skin up to the nape of the neck. Wait, what is this?"
Rusl parted back the fur on the wolf's neck, having seen something strange there. Colin peered at it, too. "It looks like a stone," the boy said.
"Yes, that is very strange," Rusl said, digging the tip of his skinning knife into the skin at the nape of the wolf's neck, where the stone appeared to be lodged. He grunted and pried. The orange and black object came free, along with a leather cord it was attached to, which the two had not seen before. The man and his son flinched back as a strange blackness formed all around the wolf's body. Fragments of black swirled in the air and the wolf seemed to shift and change.
When this episode was over, what lay before them was not the body of a wolf. Colin screamed so loudly it echoed throughout the village. Rusl felt his heart almost stop. This didn't make any sense. It made no sense!
Link lay upon the grass on his side, eyes closed, lips closed, limp and covered in blood. His tunic and chain mail were cut down the middle and lay in a heap over him and behind him. The skin was flayed from his left arm and chest and tossed behind his body in a similar fashion. Rusl could hear footsteps behind him, the people of the village coming to see what Colin was screaming about. He felt his throat tighten. He felt like his lungs were devoid of air. This was a nightmare, right? The slippery feel of blood on his hands told him that this was real.
He did not notice it right away, but he was screaming, too. He felt like he was on the verge of blacking out but did not, and he wanted to black out more than anything. He wanted to drag his eyes away but they kept going back to young muscles, tight, strong and glistening with blood in the midmorning sun. His hands shook. He could still feel his right hand gripping the hilt of his hunting knife.
"Link! Wake up! Wake up, please! Link!"
Colin was shouting into the dead young man's ear and shaking his bloody, skinned-out shoulder. The voices of other villagers were shouting and crying. Rusl thought he felt huge hands clasp his shoulders, Bo's hands.
It had been a quick, clean and precise shot, right through the heart. The poor creature probably had not known what hit him.
This wasn't real, it couldn't be! Tales of werewolves were just fairy tales meant to frighten children and keep them out of the woods at night. What was it that Colin said about a sacred guardian… a guardian spirit? Link… not Link! Rusl's head was pounding. His vision blurred. Someone, anyone tell him that he had not just killed the Goddesses' Chosen Hero… Someone tell him that he had not just killed his adopted son and proceeded to SKIN him…
Rusl felt himself drop the knife. Hot tears ran down his face and stained his bloody shirt. Among the shouts and gasps, he wished he could have blacked out, if just to have a few moments of blessed oblivion. The darkness never came.
"How in the world do we break the news to Queen Zelda?"
"And what do we do with our Rusl? I'm not sure this exactly qualifies as murder… more like a mistake."
"It at least qualifies as manslaughter, don't you think?"
"L-Link…. He w-was…. Link was an idiot! Why didn't he tell us he had this power? If…if only he... the clod wouldn't be dead right now!"
Rusl sat alone in his house, having been confined there while the town met to figure out what was to be done in the light of the tragedy. His wife, baby girl and Colin were with the rest of the villagers. Link's ravaged body had been wrapped up in a large bed sheet and taken to Mayor Bo's house for the time being. Rusl was being forcibly detained in his own home, but he took the confinement willingly. He could hear the townspeople gathered outside his locked door, discussing the situation and discussing his fate.
Uli kept pleading for mercy. Fado complained that he'd never get the workload at the ranch taken care of without his ranch hand. Ilia fluctuated between weeping painfully and cursing Link for dying. Sera was wondering how the queen would take the news of the Hero's loss. Haunch was calling for some measure of punishment to be dealt out to Rusl. Jaggle and Pergie sided with Haunch. Bo was trying to make sense of it all and attempted to keep order.
No one, Rusl noted, from what he could gather from the sounds beyond the walls, called for an execution. If anyone did call for a hanging or a beheading, Rusl decided that he would go quietly and without complaint. What else was to be done to a man who'd brutally murdered someone he'd considered as a son? Furthermore, what was to be done with the man who'd killed the land's sacred Hero?
Why'd Link have to be off-guard like that? Rusl replayed the event in his mind over and over again. He'd seen the wolf, sniffing at something on the ground, ears darting back and forth. Rusl had kept his breathing steady, using various tricks of the hunting trade. He drew his bow and knocked back the arrow silently. He pulled back just as silently. He squinted, making sure his aim was right, and let fly. He recalled the wolf letting loose a yelp, but that was it – an easy, clean kill.
He also replayed in his mind the time he had saved Link from an arrow aptly aimed. The barrier on the royal palace had been broken and the resistance group that he was a part of had stormed the yard. They saw Link up on the battlements, beset by a multitude of monsters. A flaming arrow had sailed for the lad and Rusl had called a hawk to fetch it away from him before it made impact.
He'd saved the young man from one arrow only to fell him with another.
Why was Link a wolf in the first place? The villagers suspected it had something to do with the stone on the leather cord. No one dared to touch it. It was deemed to be something very special and magical, perhaps even dark in nature. If it was a power Link had gained on his quest, why hadn't the lad used it more wisely? He knew Ordon. He knew how a little livestock-breeding, farming community dealt with large, dangerous, predatory animals. He should have done his werewolf thing deeper into the forest. Nay, he should have told everyone about it if he was going to be running around like that at all. Rusl knew that he certainly would have understood – if only Link had told him!
Rusl was seated with his hands on his knees. Every muscle in his body was tense and his hands were shaking. They had not stopped shaking. He'd let out a sob every now and again, and then regain his composure so he could listen to the conversations outside. Something caught the corner of his eye, a flicker of firelight, perhaps. He looked over to the family's couch and spared an idle memory for how Link had a favorite spot on it, near the fire so he could scribble in his sketchbook by the firelight. It was that way every night when he was young, until he hit age fourteen and insisted on reclaiming his family's old home to live in, alone. Every time Link visited and had stayed into the night, he'd sit there as he had growing up, with a sketchbook and a charcoal stick or graphite pencil.
He was sitting there right now.
Rusl blinked. He was hallucinating, he was sure of it – gone mad with stress and grief.
Link flickered in the firelight, transparent, translucent, more solid where the shadows fell. He looked at Rusl and smiled.
"Well, it seems I've got a Poe," Rusl said. "Fitting, I suppose. And to take on that shape to torment me until the day I die… I can appreciate how appropriate it is."
Link shook his head gently and gave the man an even bigger, tight-lipped smile.
"And you're not going to say anything. Quiet, just like him."
Rusl let his tears flow again. He buried his face in his hands. He felt something strangely warm on his shoulder. He looked up to see the specter crouched close to him, with his hand upon him, smiling and gazing at him with sad eyes.
"Link, is that really you?"
The ghost nodded.
Rusl quickly looked down and away. "I don't blame you…If you want to haunt me. I.. I'm so sorry, Link!"
"I didn't feel a thing… the force of impact, maybe, but… no pain…" the ghost's voice was a gentle whisper, warm and kind.
Rusl ventured to look up at his face again. "But…. I murdered you. I also tried to sk-sk-skii-skin you… You aren't angry?"
"I didn't want to die this young," Link said, "I really wanted to live longer, but I accepted that I would probably die young the day the spirit of Faron told me I was to be the Hero. I'm not angry. You made an honest mistake."
"Mistake…" Rusl mouthed.
"Yes," Link said, patting the weeping man's shoulder, "It was just a mistake. If anything, it was my fault for sniffing around so close to the village, or for not telling you."
"Why didn't you tell us, Link?"
"I didn't want anyone to think I was a monster."
"You? We could never think that of you, Link…"
"The crystal that enabled me to change into a wolf… It's a dark power. Give it to Zelda, if you can. She'll know what to do with it. Don't touch it."
"What were you doing with such a dark power in the first place?"
"It… has to do with my quest. It was something I needed. I found it useful to be a wild beast while out on patrol for danger outside the village, to smell things, sense things… I loved the feel of fur on my back and my paws on the earth… I'm going to miss that…"
"I'm sorry, Link."
"Don't think of me as murdered, Rusl. Just… don't think that. You didn't know and you were just trying to protect the village. I don't bear you any ill feelings."
Rusl smiled. "Link…. If you want to haunt me, go ahead. I will not be afraid."
"I need to see Colin now," Link replied. "Whenever you take a walk in the woods, I'll walk with you. Like old times. Just think of me."
The entire population of Ordon Village got together in a caravan and made the hard journey to Castle Town, the remains of Link in tow. His skin stitched up, he was given a grand funeral and buried in the full dress uniform of a royal knight. He was given a place in the royal cemetery on the palace grounds.
Mayor Bo gave Queen Zelda the mysterious stone, which they both touched only by the cord. She told them nothing about it and merely sighed upon taking it into her care.
Rusl felt the sting of a bullwhip on the palaces' training grounds. The populace of Castle Town, as well as the villagers of Ordon watched. Even his old friends, Telma, Auru, Ashei and Shad stood by as Zelda's warden did his work. Queen Zelda had officially ruled Link's death to be an accident, but there were many that called for some sort of retribution for their Hero. Rusl insisted upon taking a punishment, both to appease those who wanted to see him bleed and as a personal penance. He did not cry out and only whispered "I'm sorry, Link" between strokes and grinding his teeth.
After the sentence had been carried out, Uli and Telma were the first to rush to him, to clean the cuts on his bare back and to bandage them. Telma recommended some mind-healers she knew – for him, for Colin, and for everyone else from Ordon, if they felt they needed it. Rusl and Colin definitely did, and would continue to seek their council for many years to come.
It was quite a long time before Rusl returned to Ordon Village with his family. He spent much time in the healers' council and even more time at Telma's bar and beside Link's grave. He eventually returned to a strange mixture of coldness and acceptance. No one would forget what he had done, although they all considered it merely a mistake. All the same, he could never look Mayor Bo, Ilia, or Fado in the eye again. It did not matter that Bo hugged him upon his return, and assured him that he'd always have a place in Ordon. His shame kept his eyes to the ground. He'd make trips back and forth to Castle Town to seek council and did his best to heal the wounds of the village and his own. He continued to do blacksmith work in the village and continued to serve as the town's guardian. The town continued on in a surreal peace. Everyone regarded him with strange looks whenever they spoke with him – on one hand seeing him as "just Rusl," a generally good man who did his best to help others, yet on the other hand seeing him as the man who'd killed their most famous resident.
Rusl never knew for certain if the time he'd seen Link's ghost in his house was a true event. While he kept open the possibility that he had, in fact, had a conversation with the young man's spirit, he thought that it could have just as well have been a dream or a hallucination conjured up by his grief-roasted heart. Nightmares were an ongoing event in is life. There was not a single morning he did not awaken next to his wife in a cold sweat with the feel and the smell of imaginary blood on his hands.
Colin was sure he saw a "guardian spirit" wolf around the village at night. According to him, its fur was a combination of dark and light. As she grew, Colin would take his little sister for walks at night so she could see it. Like him, she could see the specter. He told her with confidence that it was Link and he told her about him. The animal was spectral and they most often caught sight of it outside of Link's empty house or by Ordon Spring, howling at the moon. Some of the adults in the village wondered if this "guardian spirit" was merely an actual wolf, but the children were unafraid of it. Epona (which had been entrusted to Ilia after her master's death) was never ill at ease. The goats at the ranch were likewise at ease and prosperous. Spirit and memory or flesh and bone, the creature was left alone. No one in Ordon wanted to hunt wolves again, ever.
Rusl often walked alone in the forest in the morning or at sunset. Sometimes, quite often, in fact, he would turn around; sure that he'd heard the rustle of footsteps in the fallen leaves behind him. There were times when the light, filtering in through the trees, painted an image next to him – a specter of light in the shape of a young man. It would last only a moment before it was gone. On days after a rain storm, when the ground was soft, Rusl would look down to the ground after one of these strange episodes. Every time, they were there next to him – paw prints left by a wolf.