Chapter Twenty-Eight! See, that absence wasn't so long. I hope you all enjoy it :)
Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Bridge
Damita's only goal on the road to Lake Hylia was to remain focused. This was an important mission—an extremely important one, and for her to allow it to end in another disaster would surely mean death for her...and the rebellion's failure. As a Rebel leader, she was not about to let their efforts, which had gone on for decades, crumble to ash in her fingers. And all because of the memories and the useless emotions that were keeping her from thinking straight. Nabooru was clearly fed up with her as well. The entire camp was. More than once, the idea of Link and the sight of him had kept her from doing her job and supporting the common goal: dethrone the Royal Family.
"Nabooru." Damita finally broke the silence as she and the Gerudo rode the hogs to the edge of the desert, where they would dive into Lake Hylia.
Nabooru turned to look at her, narrowing her eyes incredulously. Damita could not make eye contact and stared down at the thick neck of the animal beneath her.
"Damita, it's okay. We all have our moments...our weaknesses."
"Mine is becoming too much of a burden. Not just on me, but on everybody."
Nabooru laughed heartily and nodded, in an evident attempt to lighten the mood. Nabooru was not one to easily hold a grudge...though it was always a possibility.
"I was just thinking last night about it, actually," she said. "And I have to admit I was worried about you."
"But you see, I'm not anymore. You and I are very similar, Damita, in a lot of ways. Simply based on experience, I have no doubt that you'll overcome this," she offered. "Trust me."
"But Nabooru, you and I are different in a lot of ways, too," Damita argued. "In so many ways."
"We're both strong," she murmured, "especially in the face of men who try to mess with our hearts."
Damita paused and chewed over Nabooru's words. This woman had inspired her, and her advice meant the world to her. Perhaps she was right, and Damita would be able to finally leap over this obstacle. Different memories were now mixing with the ones already implanted her brain. She saw herself entering the camp, finding Nabooru and Telma to be her only friends, watching as the master began to take a liking to her...spending nights in the desert listening to the stories, creating everlasting friendships, being able to fight for what she truly believed in. Those memories now accompanied the scarring ones brimming with Link's beautiful, smiling face. She tried to let the new ones overcome the old ones.
"Nabooru, can do you me a favor?"
"I think it might help me if you told me what happened..." she said. She suddenly found herself having trouble asking the question that had been on her mind for so long. "...What happened between you and Ganondorf."
The pause that followed was the kind that made Damita wish she could immediately take back her words. But they were out there, and Nabooru should have known they were coming sooner or later. Knowing that Nabooru, one of her role modes, had gone through something extremely similar, Damita needed all of the help she could get. They had plenty of time before reaching Lake Hylia, anyway.
"It's a long story—"
"We have time."
Nabooru studied Damita's expression for a couple of moments, and then her face finally broke into a light smile.
"All right, since you're so determined. And who knows, it might actually help."
"Start from the very beginning." Damita could barely contain her excitement. And she could see that this was what Nabooru needed...and what she had been needing for a while.
"It started when we were children, and Ganondorf realized he was going to be the Rebel leader one day. When everything suddenly became too real."
"How much longer until we reach the entrance of Lake Hylia?" Zelda asked.
"We'll be there by evening."
"Why couldn't we have just talked to the Gorons first? Kakariko Village is at the base of Death Mountain, correct?"
"Correct. But it would be easier to stop there on our way back."
His reasoning still made no sense to Zelda, but she accepted it and was silent. They had said nothing to each other about the ordeal that had occurred at the inn, but questions were still racing through Zelda's mind. She steeled herself; she would keep her lips closed about it until they were inside of their tent. Then she would take the opportunity to ask him all of her questions about those Rebels and perhaps explain the dream she had had. So Zelda thought about the journey ahead and attempted to feel excited about the reunion with her friend, Laruto. Happiness was a difficulty at that point.
"Won't we have to go through Castle Town to get to Lake Hylia?"
"No. We can't risk anybody recognizing you. It would be chaos."
"I know a shortcut. But..." He cast an anxious glance at her. "You're going to have to trust me."
"Very well." She couldn't look into his eyes for more than a few moments and nervously looked down at the neck of her horse. The thoughts in her brain were now tangled beyond reparation and she was forced to sit through her own nonsense and babbling. Unrealistic scenarios, conspiracies, questions, theories, all were running through her head at once. The darkness made everything even more difficult, but Zelda could see the sun peeking up over the horizon.
"Are we going to stop and rest?"
"...Are you tired?" His voice was as cold as the night breeze.
Link looked over at her incredulously as she played with the tangled mane of her horse. She could feel her shoulders slouching, her eyelids drooping, and the coherency of her thoughts beginning to fade. They had been riding for hours after their escape.
"Will there be more of them, Link?"
"Yes. And stopping during the day isn't safe."
"So we keep going."
Instead of responding, Zelda pressed her lips together and stared straight ahead. Link was the leader—if he wanted to keep going, then they were to keep going. She ran through that idea over and over again, trying to make herself believe it, but she could not hold back the urge to tell him that she was tired. She wanted to stop, make a fire, and sleep. And she wanted the chance to ask him questions in an atmosphere in which he could not avoid them. Finally, the words slipped out, and the question came rushing.
"How did they find us?"
"We weren't cautious enough."
"What do you—?"
"And the Rebel leader knows our plan."
"They saw me at the bar. And they recognized me, and they were looking for you," he said. He sounded ashamed, acknowledging the fact that he had actually made a mistake. Zelda quickly understood what he was saying.
"But they would not have been there or known that I was there unless..."
"Unless they had been ordered and trained."
Link looked at her, and she saw genuine fear in his eyes.
"Ganondorf knows. And for the first time...he is one step ahead."
They rode on for the entire day without stopping, but they pushed their horses at a walk. Zelda tried to make conversation with Link, simply to keep herself from falling asleep at that point, but he seemed closed-off. He was deep in thought, already planning their encounter with the Zoras and how they were to gain their trust. Zelda herself was not worried; she could remember the days of her childhood when, during a meeting between Laruto's mother and Zelda's father, the two of them would play in the lake or run around in Hyrule Castle. They would laugh, imagine, and nurture their friendship. Now, they were political allies as well, and Zelda fully trusted that Laruto would honor their alliance...as well as their strong friendship. And she was positive that no matter what they were to encounter at Lake Hylia, Laruto would remain loyal. Zelda simply didn't realize that Link was not worried about convincing the Zoras, or even the Gorons—he was worried about something completely different.
The road to Lake Hylia through Castle Town was dangerous, but Link knew of a bridge that led to it, a bridge that was a good distance away from the castle village. Zelda had never seen or heard of the bridge, but she figured that Link knew the geography of Hyrule much better than she did. He had travelled it countless times, no doubt. So she followed him without many questions about the destination, and he continuously assured her that they would reach the bridge before nightfall—he had obviously noticed how exhausted the princess was. She pinched herself to stay awake, and counted the trees and the travelers that they passed. There were others on the road, embarking on journeys of various types. Some were merchants, some adventurers, some scholars, and some were simple civilians returning to family. None of them batted an eyelash at the odd pair making its way toward the bridge.
"We have to stop here," Link suddenly said.
"I don't see a bridge anywhere."
"Exactly. We have to leave our horses here, and we have to be careful. If Ganondorf is as ahead as I think he is, he'll have Rebels waiting for us there. We have to walk from here. Take your bow, and I'll take my sword, but that's it," he explained. Zelda stared at him, dumbfounded.
"What about all of our supplies? Won't it get stolen?"
"Honestly, it has never happened to me before," he shrugged as he dismounted, "but it's a risk we have to take at this point."
He held his hand out without even a mere hint of a smile, and Zelda placed her hand in it and let him help her off of her horse. She strapped her bow and quiver to her back and began tying Flare's reins around the nearest tree.
"Princess, you can't do that."
"Because. If people do show up wanting to steal...the horses won't be able to run."
"You would let them run?" Zelda was becoming more and more confused by the moment. Link sighed and stroked Epona's neck.
"Don't worry. They'll be fine. And Epona and I always find each other."
His blue eyes suddenly started sparkling as the mare nuzzled his cheek, and he ran his fingers through her silky red coat. Zelda smiled. She could sense the depth of the relationship, and she wasn't so worried anymore. She trusted them.
"Very well then. Lead the way to your bridge."
After about forty-five minutes of walking along a path, Link led her off of it, through a field covered in flowers and weeds and different trees. It seemed to Zelda that nobody had walked through this field in years, but she stayed silent. She had promised herself that she would trust Link. He trusted her enough to bring her along with him, so the least she could do was follow him. Finally, when Link pointed it out to her, Zelda saw the arches of a stone bridge in the distance. As they came closer, she could see how narrow it was, and the archway at the entrance was practically in ruins.
"Link, are you sure—?"
He interrupted her by suddenly placing his hand over her mouth and jumping behind the nearest tree, shushing her. Zelda squirmed a bit, attempted to pull his fingers from her lips, but eventually succumbed and leaned back against the tree. Her heart was still beating more quickly than was safe when he lifted his hand.
"What was that for?" she said.
"SHH! Please, whisper..."
"Why? What in Nayru's name is going on?"
"Look over at the bridge, Princess."
Link was leaning back against the tree, peeking around the trunk and staring at the bridge. Zelda guessed that he hadn't realized that his hands were still protectively holding her around the waist. She decided not to say anything about it. So, frightened but curious, she followed his gaze to the bridge. What she saw slowed the rapid beating of her heart to a full stop. She couldn't even swallow.
Link was right.
There were three soldiers walking along the bridge, but they were not wearing the uniforms of the Royal Castle Guard. They were hardly wearing uniforms at all. On the other side of the bridge, stationed at the top of the decorative pillars, were four archers.
"I told you," he sighed in exasperation, "Ganondorf is ready. He knew he would come this way."
"How could I have been so stupid? If I had realized, I would've been able to plan everything out."
"We still have time," Zelda reassured. She felt his grip tightening around her, and could physically sense his anxiety. He was not happy, and that made her nervous. "Once we reach Lake Hylia, you can plan as much as you want. But right now, we have to worry about this." She realized that she sounded much calmer than she felt.
"Link, look." She noticed something that almost made her choke on her own words. "The archers...look at their arrows."
"They're fire arrows."
"One shot from a fire arrow and you're dead," he agreed. He turned back around and leaned his head against the trunk of the tree. "We can't afford to let them see us. I could easily take out the guards, but if the archers notice—which they will—we're dead."
"What if...we killed the archers first?"
Link looked at her as if she had suggested that they commit suicide. Zelda knew that it wasn't because her idea was bad, but because he had been thinking the same thing. And he hadn't thought that Zelda was clever enough. She tried not to act insulted.
"If we can shoot them from afar, then you can go in and kill the guards."
"You're right," he agreed, slowly. She ignored the fact that the words had trouble slipping from his lips. "Okay, give me your bow."
"It's better if I do it. I've been an archer longer. I'm faster, and if we miss, then we're done for."
Zelda stared at him with her most icy glare. He furrowed his brow, and she felt his grip loosen. Finally, she grinned, and handed him her bow.
"You're right. We only have one shot for each archer."
Link stared at her with a confused expression as she looked around, and finally, her eyes fell on the perfect target. There was an apple tree at just the perfect distance.
"Link. Stand up and shoot that apple."
"No. That one. All the way over there. It's about the same distance as the archers, right? And about as small as the space we have if we want to shoot them straight in the heart."
Link's expression became one of obscured exasperation as he realized that what Zelda was saying was true. Without a word, he stood up and (still without realizing the position he had been in) unwrapped his arms from around Zelda's waist. He nocked an arrow, as expertly as she would expect, and pulled back the string. Then, he aimed and let the arrow fly.
"There," Zelda sighed. "Now we're dead. Satisfied?" She made sure that her expression was as smug as possible when he looked down at her. Finally, she could pay him back for all of the similar looks that she had given him. And now she could prove that she was not a burden.
"Here, give me the bow, and let me show you," she said as she stood up. She took the exact same spot that Link had been in, and went through the motions that had now become completely natural for her. She nocked the arrow, pulled it back, and aimed. She closed her left eye, made sure that the apple was the center of her vision, and pulled the arrow back just the right amount. Then, she released and watched with the sweet taste of satisfaction as it stabbed the apple and sent it to the ground. She had hit it perfectly. Then, just for safe measure, she shot the apple right next to it as well, with just as good of a result. The look on Link's face was more than enough to satisfy the princess. She had proven herself. Now, he was forced to listen to her.
"Now, I'm going to shoot the archers," she explained, "and then once they've fallen, you go in and kill the guards."
"Right, but Zelda," he interrupted. She couldn't remember him ever having called her Zelda in that tone of voice. Everything about him had become a bit softer, and it threw her off.
"Will you be able to kill them?"
"Link, I just showed you that my skills with a bow are perfect! Do you need more proof?" She couldn't hold back that anger.
"No, that's not what I mean," he said. The worried expression made her heart sink as she started to understand. "I mean...will you be able to take someone's life?"
Zelda didn't know how to respond.