AN: This is a response to a thirty theme challenge: related stories about Zelda during the seven years that Link slept. They will not be posted in chronological order.
Zelda bit down a shiver and stopped herself from pulling her cloak more tightly about her shoulders. Sheikah don't shiver, Impa said. Sheikah never show weakness, Impa said. She had to embrace the cold into her being, overcome it her Hylian frailties. Once she did that, she would be a shadow and the wind would pass through her without touching her skin or bones.
Impa's words rolled through her head with the howl of wind, but she still felt cold. More than that, she still wished for warmth. A pivotal step to becoming a true Sheikah (one that Zelda knew in her heart would hold her back from ever truly completing her training) was acceptance of all things.
Some things Zelda simply would not accept.
The wind from the Zora domain once felt warm, like sunshine on her face, smelling of damp rock. Just a month ago she'd felt that warm breath of summer. But now it was replaced by this: a dry, bitter wind that scraped against every inch of exposed skin. In the wind she imagined she could hear cries, moans, pleading against an icy suffering.
In the face of all the tragedies she'd witnessed, how did Impa expect her not to long for how things were? How could Impa expect her to cast away her heart when her people were suffering?
Acceptance was not an option. It never really had been.
She'd usually slip into the water and swim unseen past the small patrols of moblins. But this was too difficult now that a thin layer of ice crackled across the surface of the river, breaking and shifting in the current. Snow fell in loose, fat flakes, making hand holds treacherous as she climbed up the walls of the gorge and waited for the patrols to pass below or as she clung to the bank of the river, her feet braced just above the icy water, her numb fingers the only visible part of her as they passed above.
The ice and snow was unseasonable. The river only froze like this in short bursts in the dead of winter when snow covered the rest of Hyrule as well. It made no sense for this to happen in June. It made no sense for the Zora to suddenly cut all contact. Zelda could see Impa's concern building these past few days as the silence stretched into something they could almost grab onto and shake in frustration (not that Sheikah did that.) Today, Zelda could no longer bare the silence and set out to get answers. Something awful must have happened. Some terrible magic lay thick like a mist over the water. She could almost see it if she focused hard enough, but such investigations were difficult given how she hung from a the steep edge of an embankment and her fingers were starting to slip and her boots were getting wet.
It did not escape her attention that the current did not run as strongly as it once did. Like there was less water than usual. She couldn't fathom what could cause that.
It took far longer than usual to reach the Zora's domain, and longer than she would have liked given that Impa would shortly discover her absence.
All such worries were wiped from her mind when she reached the Zora's domain. The domain was a solid mass of ice, every pool, every wall, every floor. The cave felt wide in the brightness reflected off the ice, and it felt close with all the walls a solid, opaque foot thicker than she remembered The two sensations warred within her, a sense of vertigo creeping up her spine aided by a shimmer that kept everything just out of focus. It was quiet as a tomb-only the creak of settling ice sheets and the echo of the wind. The cavern swallowed up all sound and only let it echo in its belly far away. It was so cold she thought her lungs had frozen, she thought she had died of cold and stillness and shock.
She'd known something was wrong. But not this. Never this.
Where were all the Zora? Where were they hiding or where were their bodies? Her mind raced with scenarios of where they could have fled: the Lost Woods, the Zora's Fountain. Maybe they'd barricaded some of the tunnels. Her mind raced with horrible images of their forms frozen and set like statues around the throne room, of their slaughtered bodies stacked in a pile, of snow drifts splattered with dark blood. Maybe-improbably-they'd made it to Lake Hylia before the ice set, before the whole of the domain was sealed in glittering ice. She hadn't been there recently and if they were in hiding then intelligence wouldn't have reached her yet.
And what of the water? How long until the lake levels lowered? How long until people and crops died of thirst? Who in their right mind would sever their own source of drinking water?
She slipped across the ice to begin her search, trying to hold onto her dignity as Sheikah didn't throw their windmilling arms out and Sheikah didn't slip and fall on their asses. Or maybe Impa would phrase that lesson differently. Maybe Zelda was spending too much time spying on the carpenters and picking up new vocabulary words.
She looked down to check her footing and caught sight of the ice beneath her feet, a patch free from the fine layer of frost and snow that covered the rest of the chamber. Blinking, she came to a halt with as little skidding as she could manage. She'd thought she was cold before, but now her blood froze with dread.
She'd seen something beneath the ice.
She swallowed and fortified herself-Sheikah do not show fear-then she lowered herself to one knee and brushed the snow aside.
Maybe she was more Sheikah than she thought, as years of training snapped into place and she successfully held back a gasp and a scream, a prayer and a curse.