7. Drowning

Zelda poured over the map of Hyrule spread over the kitchen table. She'd strategically placed dried beans and pebbles and pumpkin seeds, representing various forces across the kingdom. It was safer than marking on the map. She could brush it all away with a sweep of her hand and her plans (no matter how preliminary or hypothetical) would never be known to Ganondorf.

"What are you doing?"

Zelda didn't look up from the position of the Zora's army, trying to find a way to use them to block Ganondorf's supply path from the desert. Convincing them to do so would be another matter, but if she could put them to good use with a good plan, they'd be more inclined to fight. "I'm planning."

"I see that," Impa said, crossing her arms over her chest and popping out a hip as she looked down at the map. "Planning for what?"

"For a siege on Castle Town."

Impa rolled her eyes. Zelda knew without looking up, but she didn't care.

"We can't fight a war in the condition we're in now. Our best strategy is to lie low and wait for the hero. You know this."

"I know you believe it."

"Don't get fresh."

The main problem with laying siege to Castle Town was that there was no guarantee that Ganondorf would stay in his castle and slowly starve to death. In fact, he definitely wouldn't. He'd come out to face the combined army of Hyrule, and when he did so, he would be invincible. But it was always a tempting move. It would lure the Gerudo out of the desert to come to the city's aid, and there was an opportunity there for some kind of ambush, for the Zora to attack from the South, for the Gorons to sweep into the abandoned fortress.

"It leaves Kakariko too undefended," Impa noted. "And the Zora's domain."

"What if we evacuated up the mountain?" The mountain was defensible. The path bottle necked and could be held indefinitely.

And then they would be trapped up the mountain to starve.

Impa didn't even bother commenting on that one.

"If we lie here and wait, they're going to weaken us so much that we won't be able to give the hero any assistance when he does bother to show up."

"Watch your tone," Impa snapped. "He's not in the sacred realm because he can't be bothered to aid us. The goddesses keep him there because the time is not yet right."

"Then when will be the right time? People are dying now. If we wait, more will die. If we wait, there won't be anything left for him to save."

Impa's stony face did not change, but the rage radiated off of her in waves. Zelda was past caring about the blasphemy of questioning the goddesses. They'd already damned her. What more could they do to torment her?

But Impa was another matter. She could do plenty to make Zelda's life miserable.

She held her guardian's eyes, staring into the abyss. She'd crossed a line and swift retaliation would descend on her at any moment to put her back in her place. No use cowering now No use begging forgiveness. She was in the right and she'd face Impa's wrath with her head high.

Impa snatched the map from the table, sending pumpkin seeds and pebbles flying as she rolled it up with quick, deft flicks. "Bed," she snapped. "Prayers."

Zelda rose smoothly and vanished into her room. She perched on the creaking window seat to offer her halfhearted prayers to the goddesses. The flickering lights from town obscured all but the brightest stars, and a chill crept in around the edges of the window, sinking into the wood of the bench below her.

She prayed not for forgiveness for her transgressions, for her mistakes, for her wavering faith. Instead, she prayed for the goddesses to see the plight of her people and (finally) come to their aid.

"We can't wait for someone to save us."

Her ears rang with a change of pressure, more a breath of cold through the window than a sound. In the tingle, she imagined a response. She imagined a smile in their voices. Then don't wait.

She lay awake in bed, eyes open and focused on the ceiling, picturing the map of Hyrule in her mind. She whispered at the rafters, her voice dry and wispy in the silence. "We have no chance of liberating Castle Town if the Gerudo can reinforce from the desert."

Yes.

"We have no hope of defeating the Gerudo in open battle. And no way to take the fortress."

Yes.

"What we really need to do, instead, is cut them off. Keep them in the desert. Keep them out of Hyrule. Separate Ganondorf from his army."

Yes?

She blinked with sudden clarity, like all the lights in Kakariko going out so she could see the stars.

"I have a plan."

The voices didn't respond.


Zelda adjusted her position under the bridge, shifting her feet for a better perch on the support beam. She shook out one arm, then the other, willing them to stop aching. Who knew running fuse wire over her head in silence for two hours in the dark could be so draining? She twisted another foot of wire into place, wedging it between two planks on the bridge above her.

Above her was a shuffle, somewhere off in the distance, something approaching the bridge. She stilled and listened, holding her breath, a bit of wire still pinched between her fingers.

The canyon stretched down into blackness below her. The distant, muffled rush of water and the echo of the canyon made it hard to pinpoint the direction of the sound. She couldn't tell how far away it was, or if it was an animal or a monster or a person or a raiding party. She couldn't tell which side of the ravine it came from.

She listened, straining her ears, staring into the dark at the Hyrule side of the bridge. At any moment a lithe figure would duck under the bridge, glare at her with red eyes (which in her imagination would glow in the dark,) and then give her a heated, whispered lecture about how what she was doing was stupid before dragging her home and making her run ten miles tomorrow.

She let the minutes pass, and when nothing else happened, she allowed herself to half relax and carry on with her wiring. Probably a rabbit. Or one of the octorocks down in the water.

Ten more feet down the bridge and she pulled another bomb from the pouch at her waist, tucked under her tunic. Buying the bombs without word getting back to Impa was a challenge, but in doing so, she'd learned to maneuver through the black market, such a skill was well worth the effort. She had to balance on the support beam without use of her hands as she connected the bomb, which required complete control of her body to stay balanced and complete concentration on the bomb's delicate workings so she didn't explode.

Exhausting. But, like most things, worth it.

Half way to where she planned on placing the final bomb, she heard the noise again. This time louder. This time longer as it echoed through the canyon.

Laughter.

Impa didn't laugh.

She realized that was a stupid first thought and reminded herself that her guardian was not the most frightening thing out there.

She secured the coil of wire at her hip to a support beam, then eased her way to the side of the bridge, taking a centering breath and blending further into the shadows before poking her head around the side to look around.

Not far from the gorge on the desert side was the distinct, bright flutter of a campfire. And silhouetted against the fire, she could make out at least three forms.

Gerudo.

She slipped back under the bridge, her muscles clenching in on themselves enough to prevent her from ducking so quickly that anyone would notice the movement.

In her head, she swore in a way that she knew she probably shouldn't. Okay. Okay. Not a huge problem. She was almost done, and they were far enough away that they would never hear her preparations. Even if they walked over the bridge, they wouldn't know she was there. She needed to just keep moving and be extra cautious as she came out from under the bridge. She'd just have to make sure she was far enough away that they couldn't hit her with an arrow before she detonated the bombs.

Just a little bit more.

The bombs sparked as she pulled the detonators out, hissing and spitting a flower of sparks as they counted down to explode. She stoppered them, stalling the explosion with her fuse line before they could go off in her face, before they could flare, hot and bright in her hands, before the sizzle of fireworks and the billow of smoke could draw any attention. One bomb wedged in the support beams of the bridge, then a slow, quiet shuffle as she let out the wire and slipped down the bridge, then another hiss and another silencing twist of her wrist and another bomb found its place.

It was slow going now. Her movements turned painfully cautious, and after every creek of the settling bridge, every tap of the wire against the timber in the wind, she would pause, listening with every fiber of her being. Her arms and back stayed so tense that a headache developed behind her temples. Even though the darkness gave her no trouble before, now, with an audience, she felt her eyes strain.

There had to be some sort of exercise about performing under pressure. She wouldn't ask Impa about it, or Impa would know what she'd done, but she could surely find it in one of the Sheikah's books.

She had the last bomb in her hands, the finish line so near that she could almost grab it. The detonator in one hand and the cool, spherical form of the bomb in the other.

And there was a noise.

She froze.

Someone from the camp had approached the bridge. A scout perhaps. Maybe a patrol. Their boots scuffed on the dirt road, unconcerned with alerting anyone to their presence.

Zelda became a shadow. Part of the darkness. So ethereal, so focused on silence that her frozen muscles didn't even burn.

A tune twitched at her ears. A bouncing, unhurried song hummed by the Gerudo. Then the timber creaked as someone stepped onto the bridge.

Just stay still. Just stay still. Just stay—

"Hey!"

The approaching Gerudo turned towards a shout back at the camp. "What?" The voice was loud and sudden.

Zelda nearly sighed with relief. But then the bomb in her hand spluttered once, then flared to life.

Her eyes went wide and in her hurry to pop out the faulty detonator and twist the fuse into place, she nearly dropped the fuse. Stupid thing!

"Someone's here!" The Gerudo on the bridge. She'd swung around at the noise, and was charging towards the sparks.

Stupid, stupid thing.

A final twist and the bomb stopped spitting, one shove and she crammed it against the nearest support beam. The Gerudo was three feet away. More were charging forward. Zelda dropped the bomb bag and the fuse line and dove, the cold air catching at her clothes, biting her face and hands.

Shouts and screams and Zelda twisted in the air, drawing her bow and nocking an arrow. The flash of a face above her, the sight of the last bomb speeding further and further away as she fell. With the hiss of a prayer, her arrow burst into flames, and in the second before she hit the water, she let it fly.

The river struck her like a wall, beating the air from her lungs with one hit, bruising every bone in her body on impact. Water rushed into her nose and mouth, sweeping her away, sweeping her under. Her bow had snapped in her hands. Bubbles and roaring and spluttering as she fought to find the surface.

Then the bridge above her exploded, a rolling fireball of yellow and orange, the sight blurred through the water, the sound only adding to the roar of the river.

As the river pulled her deeper, rushing her out towards Lake Hylia in a wave of debris and charred, splinted timber, as the blackness pulled at the edges of her consciousness, Zelda smiled.

Good.