There’s only one bed in the house at Hateno and the first night there, he tries to give it to her.
It’s very normal of him. Like she’s a visitor. Like she’s just stopping by. Link shows her where she can hang her cloak (his cloak) and stow her shoes (by the door) and where the extra blankets are (in the closet). Zelda isn’t sure how to explain without embarrassing him that she already knows the layout – has ghosted these simple hallways, kept vigil on the blood moons. She knows this modest kitchen, knows the creak in the third step up. She knows the stains in whorls of the table top, which ones are wine and which are blood.
Link smells like clean cotton and grass, which seems strange.
She thought he’d smell of black powder, resins, metal – the hard scent of battle and the road. Strange that it doesn’t stick to him, or maybe he took a special effort to scrub it off before coming back into the house. His hair’s damp. He left his boots by the door. The window’s open and distant thunder almost hides the sound of his breathing. When she listens close, his breath sounds loud in her ears, a disharmonizing with the thump of his heart. If he was uncomfortable with her request to sleep next to him, it never reached his face.
Not that much does. Even at the end of things, a century past, she had trouble reading him when he didn’t try to be read.
Link sleeps for a full two days. On the third, he wakes in a panic. She must pry his fingers from the grip of a broadsword and, for ten minutes straight, convince him that the battle is over. He sleeps for another two days. She gardens, straightens up the house, sweeps, sits in the grass outside and rolls around in the wild flowers. Does laundry. Rolls in the grass again. Does more laundry. She borrows a pair of trousers and a shirt that (to her chagrin) are a little too small for her.
The man at the general store is curious about her.
“So, you came in with Link last week. That so?”
Zelda looks up from the grains in the basket, finger worrying the braid in a single head of wheat. “Oh, yes. I’m from… out of town.”
“Well that’s nice,” he says, thoughtfully stroking the brush of his moustache. “Good to see new faces. When he bought the Bolson house across the bridge, we were wondering if he intended to bring family out here.”
Zelda hesitates, not sure if that means she is family or just that the town, generally, assumed that was why Link might buy a house.
“Nice guy,” continues to shopkeep. “The shepherds on the hill pay him to keep Bobokin off the beaches and grazing lands. You also a swordhand or…?”
She’s flattered he might estimate her a co-worker of Link’s, but also not sure she should start lying without his consult. She says she’s a friend. Link is helping her with a survey she’s conducting. (That is true. They talked about that.) The shopkeeper nods.
“Ah, yeah, that makes sense. Would you do me a favor? Nothing big, I have something for Link.”
The man ducks behind the counter and stands up with a basket heavy with vegetables and grain. He looks at the basket, then back at her. “Sorry. This might be a bit big for you…”
Zelda loops two arms around the basket, the weave-work creaking as she hefts it up onto her hip. “No. It’s fine. Thank you.”
“You sure?” The shopkeeper appraises her biceps for the task. “Meant to send it along the week before last, but he didn’t come by.”
Zelda pauses. “He was… busy.”
Blood on the atrium floor, ozone and fire, the blue light banked silver in the blade. There’s a window in her head that she can look through and he’s still there in that tomb: armored in ancient metal, breathing magic like heat from a kiln, lightning behind his teeth. He’s also where she left him this morning: snoring gently with terrific bedhead and a quilt tangled in his legs.
This is where she finds him when she returns to the house. She leaves the basket on the table in the living area and pads back up the steps to the loft. She avoids the creak in the third stair. A warm square of sunshine is making its way lazily across the comforter onto Link’s lower back; it sets a glow to his cotton shirt, puts sections of gold in his hair. For a moment looking down at him, Zelda is overwhelmed by a paralyzing weight behind her breast bone, sudden and vicious, taking hold of her so tight the muscles in her throat clench and burn. Then the moment passes and she clears her throat.
“Link,” she whispers, hovering near the bed.
“Link,” she says at regular tones.
“Link,” she says rather loudly.
He wrinkles his nose and rolls over, taking the edge of the blankets with him and thus cocooning himself in quilts. It’s… probably the most childish thing she’s ever seen him do in their travels together and she stands there, nonplussed, for a moment.
“Well then,” she says, “I will… just make a proper breakfast without your input.”
It’s ten minutes later as she’s well into burning a trio of speckled eggs that Link – very much awake now – jumps the loft bannister to rush her and snag the smoking skillet from her hands. He gives her a look.
“I tried to wake you up,” she says.
He takes the billowing pan to the door and hucks the contents into the yard.
“I was going to fix it.”
He turns and shows her the charred bottom of the pan and gestures to it with his other hand.
“Okay. Perhaps not.”
Zelda stews over a small mug of tea (provided for her when Link became alarmed by her use of the kettle somehow) and acknowledges that food, of course, was the thing to break Hyrule’s light out of his post-battle catatonia. Obviously. Link scraps the burnt food off the cast iron and sets about making a real breakfast. The small house immediately smells of… burnt egg and aroma of grilling ham, eggs, onion, and mushrooms. The hot scent of spices from a handful of glass bottles. He drops a perfect omelet on a plate in front of her a few minutes later and, yes, there it is, gives her another look.
“I thought I had it,” she says.
He takes a seat, shaking his head.
“Oh. Hush,” she says, picking a mushroom from her plate and flicking it at him.
He eats the mushroom off the back of his knuckles where it landed and Zelda rejoices (silently) the tiny boring familiarity of it. Link dedicates the rest of his attention to eating breakfast.
“I sealed Ganon you know.”
Link looks her straight in the eyes, then rolls them.
She cleans the dishes. Link goes outside to wash up. When he’s done, she listens to the faint sound of her housemate changing clothes upstairs, glances up to catch him pulling his hair into a fresh knot at the back of his neck, studying the small ritual of muscle memory as he combs his fingers from his forehead and temples and pulls back a few times, gathering it where he can tie it. Link is, according to the housewives of Hantero, ‘So pretty you don’t even want to take him home. That kind of pretty.’ Zelda isn’t sure what that’s supposed to mean or why it sounded a little like an insult. He finishes with his hair, then notices her watching and tilts his head at her.
She waves his concern away. “It’s nothing.”
He leans against the banister, looking down at her, one brow arched.
“Honestly. It’s nothing. I’m glad you’re up, is all.”
His expression crinkles a little, apologetic.
“You know,” she says, giving her attention to the dishes, “for one hundred years I didn’t have to eat anything. Or sleep. Its… so strange sitting down to a meal now.” She says this directly to the dish she’s drying. “I didn’t realize I missed it. Can you miss things retroactively? I didn’t think you could, but now it’s as though… I remember all those times I didn’t have breakfast and it makes me sad. How silly!” She stacks the plates. “Ignore me. I’m just… I don’t know…it’s not as though time was linear for me when I was… I don’t know why I’m even talking about it.”
She senses Link’s coming down the stairs to stand near her elbow, like a shadow with weight. She looks over her shoulder.
“There should be a word for that look,” she says.
Link takes the plates from the counter puts them away in a cabinet.
She has no throne.
It goes without saying, but Zelda’s still not sure how to say it. Link saddles a horse for her at the Dueling Peaks Stable – a pure white mare so like her old horse that she momentarily believes her to be that every mount. But it’s a trick of the tableau. Somehow, against all odds, Link has recovered the purple and gold riding accoutrements of her house and a wild horse from Castle Town bloodlines. He outfits the horse for her, murmuring softly to it, and she doesn’t know how to tell him to re-tackle her mount in lesser gear. To take off the colors of Royalty. His gesture is too great. The gift too impossible to refuse.
He smiles, patting the mare’s velvety nose while she gingerly feeds it a sugar cube.
Link’s own steed, a mare as well, is a stocky animal with dark coloring and mottled hide. It snorts and stomps impatiently in her stall. There are chunks missing in the spotted coat of her hind quarters. A Bokokin branding. Link explains, later, that he prefers her for travel because she won’t spook at the scent of Bokokin and is already trained for bridle-less combat. Zelda knows, only because Link told her a century ago, when they were first mounting up for travel, that he only rides horses he can break to take guidance from his knees, not the bridal.
At the time, this had only annoyed her and so… “They don’t teach that in the Guard.”
Looking back, she can see now that was a symptom of mutism, not uncertainty, but his silence irked her back then, so she’d raised her voice a little. “Why don’t you ride a stallion? You’re a knight now. They’re bigger. Better for mounted combat. Do you mean to protect me or not?” And at another hesitation, she added, “Never mind. I don’t require an escort for this outing. You should report back to the Guard.”
And then she left him in the stable.
Zelda lies awake thinking of this conversation, one hundred years in the past and still clear as the day it happened. Link dozes by the embers of their fire and the soft nickering of his mare, Epona, keeps off the quiet. She shakes her head. Tries to throw off the memory, the condescension, the slights. Petty moments she knows Link has forgotten but she cannot, even in after the war’s been won. Later, she re-saddles her horse with a sizable saddle blanket and bags. This mostly hides the house colors. If Link notices, he doesn’t comment.
The first trouble arises in Hebra.
They’re settling in for the night at the stable in Tabintha where the locals report six killings this season – the dismembered parts of travelers found by search parties. Consumed by wildlife but killed by much worse. Lizalfos most likely. The arctic air hides their unique method of killing – a nitrogenous breath that freezes the flesh on contact, causing limbs to crack off and shatter. Too tough to be eaten by anything but the biggest mountain wolves.
“I’ve a cantrip for that,” Zelda is saying. “It will stop them even freezing your thermal wear.”
Link, doing an inventory of his combustible arrow-heads by lamp light, nods, chewing a stick of jerky while sorting through the small arsenal on the table. It’s a soothing, kind of meditative routine for him so she can tell he’s only partially listening to her. He hums a little while he does it.
“Give me your hand, I’ll put it on your sword arm.”
He stretches out his arm, absently, then whips it back when he feels her start to push his sleeve up. He gives her a suspicious eye.
“It’s not going to hurt, you big baby.”
He continues to eye her, a long blue glare.
“That was one time and it’s not my fault you didn’t listen when I told you it would sting.”
She’s about to really dig into why, honestly, it won’t even tickle this time when a largish sort of man in a heavy doublet and snow gear moves toward their table. Zelda, facing him, notes that three other men hang back but seem to be with him nonetheless, watching. Link, for his part, gives no sign that he hears the man other than to place one hand in his lap. His lap where his sword rests across his knees. He looks over his shoulder only when the man is close enough to be un-ignorable.
“Hello,” Zelda says.
The man ignores her, staring down at her companion. “You Link?” says the man.
“Yiga?” says Link. The jerky stick is still between his teeth so it’s not with any kind of… fear that he says that.
Zelda tenses, but the man just looks confused, the wind-red skin around his eyes crinkling.
“Never mind.” Link does not take his hand from his lap.
“You Link or not?”
Link shrugs. Its kinds of infuriating from an outside perspective.
Zelda pipes up. “Sorry, sir. But what business do you have?”
“None, unless one of you is Link.” His lip curls. “Now that I’m up close, I can’t rightly tell which of you is the woman.”
“Thanks,” says Link, ripping the jerky in half between his teeth and chewing. Zelda gives him a look of her own.
“Okay, smartass, I think you’re Link.”
He shrugs again. It makes her want to laugh. It should not. There is a large person with a threatening demeanor hovering over her partner and he appears to have a large ax strapped to his back. To her younger self, this would be cause for alarm, but to this new version of herself, this situation seems exactly as laughable to her as it must to Link who has the divine blade in his lap and no interest in tavern cock fighting. The man’s friends are beginning to make their way across the room now though. Zelda sighs.
“Sir, you’ve found your man. What is it you want?”
“You always speak for him, girl?”
“No. Just right now. What’s your business?”
“My employer needs to speak with him.”
“We’re here on a task of some importance,” Zelda explains, careful with her tone. “There’s been violence and death in the region. We’re here to remedy that. If there is some specific need your employer has of him, then relay it, and we can make our own way there when our tasks are at a close.” Zelda is on her feet now, hands on the table in front of her. Link, sitting still facing her, is looking up at her through his bangs. His eyebrows are up. Zelda ignores him. “So, sir, what is your business and how does it supersede the needs of the good people here?”
It’s only then the man seems to notice the rest of the room watching. The stable hands and inn keeps and small groups of local trappers and traders all eyeing the confrontation with the idle readiness of people with a stake in the outcome. There are swords now, staves, and casual weaponry suddenly visible, on table tops, by hand where they were previously packed away.
The man hesitates then, appraises her. Link, in his seat – Zelda watches his calm blue stare rove toward the man, a dangerous stillness in his stature. The man doesn’t notice.
“What’s your name, little miss?”
“Unless you tell me your business, I see no reason to tell you.”
The man points a finger. “You’re her.” He takes a step forward. “You the one calling herself Zelda, aren’t you?”
Link hits the man. Zelda doesn’t see him do it. He’s too fast. It’s just the follow through, the aftermath – a man twice Link’s size, flying staggering backward, clutching his gut and Link on his feet. The blade is out. The naked metal one hand, the sheath in the other. He doesn’t move to raise it, only stands there, feet apart, shoulders set, directly between her and the four men sent to find them. The blade doesn’t glow. No. It only does that in the presence of evil. But the light catches in the metal, give it a purposeful shine.
“Leave,” says Link.
He barely says it above a whisper, but into the dead silence it drops like a coin into a pan.
Zelda grabs his shoulder. He glances at her. He does not relax even slightly.
“Tell us who sent you,” she says to the men. “You might as well.”
The man holds up two hands. “No trouble, little miss,” he starts to say, but one of his man blurts, “I’d be careful using that name!”
“It’s my name,” she snaps, but the men are gone into the snow outside.
Later, she will tell Link she wishes he hadn’t done that and he will just shrug. This time, it’s infuriating.
They have a nightmare.
Zelda knows it’s ‘they’ not ‘she’ when the scream cuts out of her and, in the same instant, Link lunges up from his cot and buries a broadsword halfway through a tree. Epona, nearby, just looks up from a small bag of oats, snorts, and goes back to eating. The humans present stare at each other for a very long moment. Link is first to move. He wrenches the blade free, bracing one boot against the trunk and yanking. A sigh. He takes a seat, cross-legged next to her and plants the blade point down in the grass by her sleeping cot. He rubs two hands over his face. Then he just looks, tiredly, into her eyes with a question there.
“I dreamed that we lost,” she says. “I mean… that we lost again.”
He nods, then kind of absently presses his palm to his throat, cupping the crushable curve of his windpipe like a ghost pain still plagues him. Zelda, watching, feels a cold prickle run up her spine and down her arms, raising the fine hairs all the way down to her aching hands. She stops clenching her fists.
“Calamity killed you in front of me.”
Link stops touching his throat, hand hovering uncertainly for a moment before he drops it in his lap. She can see him working up to saying something. He always mouths a word once or twice before pushing his voice behind it.
“It’s okay,” she says quickly. “It wasn’t real.” She pulls her hair back from her face, re-doing the band “Maybe… maybe it was me. I had a nightmare and I, perhaps, shared it to you. That’s possible. I maintained a certain level of… awareness of you all through my time interned with the Calamity. Those paths are still open to some degree. I apologize –”
He makes a cutting motion, interrupting her. Then he raises two hands and, in terse but fluid hand motions, signs, ‘Maybe it was my nightmare.’
She blinks. If he’s signing, he must be shaken. He hasn’t done that in a while.
He shrugs and goes on, ‘I have nightmares. It was probably mine.’
“Oh… I… I suppose, but I don’t think…”
He shrugs again. She’s not sure how each shrug has a specific meaning but it does.
“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not prophetic, I would tell you if it was.”
“Link, we’re safe.”
He looks at her. The moonlight through the trees lays lines of silver across his forehead, misses his eyes.
“I swear it,” she says. This small panic rising… she doesn’t know it’s source but she continues, “I would tell you if we were in danger.”
His eyes widen and, after a moment, he says, “I know that.”
Link’s voice always startles her, even when Zelda has ample time to watch him work up to using it. It’s always both softer and deeper than she expects, usually rough with disuse, faintly kinked with an accent she’s only recently identified as a hybrid of eastern Lanaryian and, interestingly, the grammatical pacing in most Zora-learned Hylian. She’s not sure why, but hearing his voice now does damage to something inside her.
“You’ve done more than enough. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to fight anymore.” She shakes her head. “You know that, right?”
His expression smooths out, softens a little. He stands. Zelda watches him calmly pull the sword from the grass, wipe it on his trousers, then pick up the sheath from his sleeping cot and put it away. Then he comes back to her side, close enough to touch and he touches her shoulder, three fingertips pressed against the fabric for long enough that warmth bleeds through and sets gold lines to the roots of her. Fine wires of heat and regret.
Then, he says, very quietly, “I’m staying.”
She can’t say why that makes her want to hit him. Instead she says, “Thank you.”
When they reach Highland Stable, the inn keep says a Gerudo woman came looking for Link. Not Link specifically, but “the owner of the red and black stallion out back”. The innkeep also mentions, somewhat warily, that they will need to charge extra in boarding fee for an animal of his size and temperament and they would greatly appreciate it if Link would ‘settle him’ before taking off again. Link agrees, pays the fee, and heads back to the stalls.
Zelda, previously unaware of this animal, is stupefied by the size of the beast Link returns with, leading it to the large corral near the front of the inn with nothing but a hand on its massive flank. She can’t say what breed it is. The towering stallion stands a monolith stature beside Link, pure black save for the impossible red of its mane and tail. Broad as a Lynel. The middle of its back so high that Link must take a short running leap to mount. Once seated, the beast is comically too large for him.
The horse tolerates Link’s presence, snorting and stomping, massive hooves cutting deep furrows in the grass.
Zelda comes forward only when Link waves her the all clear. “What’s his name?”
Link just huffs and shrugs.
She lets the huge horse nose her palms. “No name? Are you thinking about turning him loose?”
“He’ll leave if he wants,” Link says, taking a handful of deep red mane.
He clicks his tongue, taps his heels and the great black monster trots out into the corral with the air of an animal that planned to do so all along. Zelda retreats to the fence, ducking outside of the ring so she can climb onto the first horizontal bar and lean against the top most support, watching Link take the giant horse through increasingly aggressive maneuvers around the yard. It’s not a fast animal. But its every move becomes a juggernauting force, unstoppable and uncaring. In motion, Link no longer seems too small for his mount.
“A beautiful animal,” someone murmurs.
Zelda jolts a little, startled because there is a very, very tall person in a traveling cloak and hood standing beside her. She didn’t hear them approach. From this angle, she can’t make out their face beneath the hood, only a sharp line of jaw, dark skin. The road-worn cloak and trousers are patterned in interlocking red and blue right angles along the hem. Gerudo Town make. Zelda re-assesses the person standing beside her – at least seven feet tall, biceps (very visible), broad shouldered, but leaned out by their height, large hands (rough with callouses), one forearm strapped with an archer’s guard. Zelda very carefully leans back a little, still searching…
There’s a scimitar-style sword on their hip.
“Sav’otta,” Zelda says.
The Gerudo standing next to her seems surprised. Then, in very deep Gerudo-tongue, says, “Do you speak the language?”
Zelda hesitates. “I’m a little rusty.”
“You are clear enough and well met, little sister. I am Draga.”
Zelda notes, puzzled, that Draga is using slight variant in conjugation she’s not heard before. “Nice to meet you. I am Zelda. I apologize if my Gerudo is antiquated. I’m out of practice.”
Draga nods, then reaches up and pulls the hood down. Zelda blinks. In the split second between the blink and the shock, Zelda knows it’s too late to hide her surprise. Annoyed with herself, Zelda says firmly, “I love your hair. I’ve thought about cutting it short like that, but I’m too set in my ways, big brother.”
Draga smiles at her.
Zelda realizes now what it was in Draga’s grammar that confused her – not linguistic drift, but male modifiers. She’d learned it, but never heard it used in conversation; before now, she had never met a Gerudo man. Draga’s hair, red as old copper, is short for a Gerudo, braided down against his scalp and clipped with intricate gold rings. Dark complexioned even for a Gerudo, high dramatic features. Now that the hood is off Zelda can see the start of very carefully shaved sideburns only just growing along the sharp line of his jaw, deep cheekbones, a heavy brow. He’s so tall and so broad in shoulder, that he reminds her a bit of Urbosa. His eyes are the same green.
In the distance, Link shouts something and the stallion rears up, then dives back down, hooves slamming into the ground so hard the impact vibrates in the earth. Then horse and rider bolt full speed around the edge of the corral, Link’s body ducked low along the beast’s spine.
“You can speak Hylian. I understand it fine. My accent is the trouble do you know the rider?”
“Yes, we’re friends and he’s the owner, actually.”
“Then I’d like to speak with him. I’d like to propose a sale, if possible.”
“I can flag him down.”
“I am in no rush.”
Across the corral, Link pulls the stallion out of its gallop and into a slowdown rotation. Afterward, he dismounts, patting the giant horse in a congratulatory manner and saying something to him. Zelda wonders what he says. He is always saying things, specifically just to horses. The black giant flicks its ears forward, then bends its head down to forcefully but affectionately push its gigantic head into Link’s chest, knocking him back a few steps.
“Link!” Zelda puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles, a high ribbon of sound. “Can you come here?”
Link leaves the horse to its own devices and jogs over. The giant horse trots close behind, like the biggest dog in existence and loiters intimidatingly behind him. There’s horse hair in Link’s clothes, his bangs are stuck to his forehead, mud splattered on his pants. He wipes his hands on his tunic, eyeing the stranger
“Link. This is Draga. He’s interested in the stallion.”
Link blinks. The giant horse noses the side of his head. He looks doll-sized beside it.
“Zelda, would you mind translating?” Draga says. “I want to be clear.”
Link, hesitating, taps her arm. When he has her attention, he signs, “I don’t speak Gerudo. Can you…?”
“I was just saying that. I can translate. Of course.”
Draga frowns. “He doesn’t speak?”
“He does, but it’s troublesome for him.” Then in Hylian. “You wanted to ask if the horse is for sale, right?”
Draga nods, looking at Link as he does so.
Link thinks about it, then says, aloud, “Maybe.” He signs, “I’d have to see him ride and how Asshole likes him. He’s a bastard.”
Zelda paraphrases. “Link wants to see you ride and determine how the horse likes you. It’s a very temperamental animal.”
“This is acceptable,” Draga says in warm but carefully enunciated Hylian. He unclasps his cloak from his neck. “I would prefer….” He gestures, says in Gerudo. “No point in wasting sunlight.” Then in Hylian. “Now?”
Link shrugs. “Okay.”
Draga braces one hand against the top of the corral fence and vaults it in a single slow but easy motion. The whole fence groans under the brief weight. He lands heavily, straightening to his improbable height and without the hood, Zelda can see his outfit isn’t Gerudo-made. The leather work – bracer, light armor, and gloves – are Rito despite tooling in Gerudo script. The tunic and under-shirt – Faron Highlands. A series of short blades strapped to his thigh glint Eldin-mined amber, a Goron-styled finish.
Zelda extrapolates from this the gear he left Gerudo town with no longer suits him and he’s been on the road a very long time.
The black stallion snorts at his approach. Draga seems unperturbed. He offers one giant hand for the beast’s inspection. The stallion snorts again, shaking it massive head back and forth. Link seems relaxed, but Zelda can tell he’s primed to jump back in if the monster horse goes berserk. Draga just huffs, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Hello, great king,” he murmurs. Draga’s tone is familiar. “Whoa, whoa.”
The horse eyes him.
“You know me,” he says, for some reason.
Zelda’s nose itches as he says this, her fingers too.
“Settle down. There you go.”
The giant horse picks a cautious path forward, like its navigating unsteady terrain. After another moment, it pushes its nose into Draga’s palm, lipping at his fingers like it does indeed know him. Draga runs his other hand along the beast’s jaw. His face is close enough to the stallion’s nose, that its nostrils flare a little. Zelda thinks he’s still speaking, but she can’t understand the words. Rather, she feels she almost knows the words. Like she’s just forgotten them and is left with just… impressions of what he says.
She thinks, however, he said something like, “You know your nature now.”
Draga climbs onto the stallion’s back and, once seated, looks at his audience. Then he very casually digs his heels slightly into the beast’s flanks and it trots a tight, easy circle in front of them. Then, just for good measure, he takes two handfuls of the beast’s mane and the horse rockets forward at a clip at least twice the speed Link had it moving. Link laughs out loud, startling Zelda who looks at him with wonder.
“This,” Draga says, bringing the horse back around at a trot, “is a Gerudo horse. Certainly.”
Zelda claps. “Astonishing!”
Link gestures in that animated way that means he’s probably mouthing words, illustrating his amazement.
Draga brings the horse to a stop facing them. “If this is satisfactory, should we discuss price?”
Zelda taps Link on the shoulder. “He wants to know if he passes and if you have a price, Link?”
Link shakes his head. “No sale. He’s yours.”
Draga blinks, frowning. “I think I misheard him.”
Zelda laughs. “I don’t think you did. Link, are you sure?”
Link signs in big hyperbolic sweeps, grinning. “It’s his horse. Obviously. Right? Looks like destiny, doesn’t it?”
“He says the horse is obviously yours, Draga. He can’t sell what is not his.”
“I cannot possibly accept,” Draga says. “He should name a fair price.” He looks directly at Link and, in much louder commanding Hylian, says, “You should give a price.” He looks at Zelda. “Does he understand what this horse is worth?”
Zelda smiles. “Yes. He knows what the horse is worth. He just doesn’t care. If you’re concerned about our financial well-being, you needn’t be. And honestly, if you take the horse then we no longer need to worry for his board and care. Knowing he’s found proper ownership is more than enough.” She glances at Link who’s giving her the thumbs up. “Yes. That’s right. He insists.”
“Your friend is mad.”
“Link, he says you’re mad.”
Link laughs. It’s infectious, sending jolts of warmth through her face.
Draga, exasperated, says, “If he will not allow me to pay him for the price of the horse, then will he allow me to buy the both of you a meal tonight?”
“Oh, he will certainly let you do that. I feel your wallet may regret it, however.”
Later, having watched Link eat an entire pot of stew, a loaf of bread, a bowl of fruit, and a whole mutton, Draga tells Zelda that he sees now where the tiny Hylian might get his impossible energy from. He says this despite the fact Link has folded his arms on their low table, laid his head down on them, and gone fast to sleep. Zelda is taking the opportunity to balance a small loaf of bread on the top of the Hero’s head, placing it painstakingly until she is certain of its stability. Then she reaches for a dinner roll.
“He is either impossibly productive or dead to the world,” Zelda assures Draga, carefully stacking the dinner roll on top of the loaf. “I catch up when he’s unconscious.”
Draga watches her finish her tower of baked goods, then says, “Forgive me, but how old are you, little sister?”
She’s practiced this one. “I’m eighteen now.” She folds her arms on the table top. “I’m not entirely certain about Link. He grew up around Zora and they don’t value annual celebrations of birth so he always forgets.”
His brows arch. “The Zora?” He enunciates it Hylian. “That is… unusual.” And in Gerudo: “You two are… business partners?”
“Yes, but we’re friends. We’ve worked together a long time.”
“What is the nature of your commerce together?”
“We protect each other. Link does most of the jobs to do with hunting and security and I’ve taken up as a healer. Between us, we can relieve all manner of suffering and people pay for that.” She hesitates, then adds in Gerudo. “Link has a wide-spread reputation and people all over this realm trust him implicitly to accomplish what others cannot. We are on our way to handle such a task in the next few days.” She shrugs, picks up cup and pours herself some water. “You’ve caught us in an interim period.”
Draga sits forward. He’s so large, that his doing so blots out a significant part of light from across the room. In Hylian, he asks, “Do you require additional hands in this endeavor?”
Zelda thinks his accent is really not that strong.
“Link and I should be fine. It’s quite straightforward. There’s a Lynel we’re bringing down east of here.”
Draga tilts his head. “You are Lynel-hunting?” He gestures between her and Link. “You two?
“Looks are deceptive, Draga.”
Link, still asleep on the table, mutters and shoves his face deeper into the crook of his elbow. This disturbs the dinner roll which slides off his head, bouncing on his shoulder. The bread loaf just wobbles, then settles. Draga, observing this, looks back at Zelda with some incredulity.
“A dozen Lynels he’s brought down.” Zelda sips her drink. “A dozen.”
“It doesn’t seem possible,” Draga says in blunt, skeptical Hylian.
“Link exists to defy expectations.”
Draga narrows his eyes slightly and Zelda is, again, struck by the likeness to Urbosa. “Then if I were simply curious how a Hylian the size of my arm brings down Lynels? Would that be reason enough that you might allow me to accompany you?”
Zelda frowns. “You don’t know us well, Draga. I feel I should be up-front about a few aspects of what we do. The jobs we take on are usually quite dangerous and even the missions that are not martial can be unusual. Our methods are somewhat unorthodox…”
“You have Hylia’s Gift,” Draga interrupts.
Zelda frowns. “Hylia’s Gift?”
He frowns back. “Do you not say that in Hylian?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Magic,” Draga says, in Gerudo this time and Zelda can see how that might translate literally, into Hylian. “You worry I will be offended or suspicious of it. I am not. My mothers were all versed in some aspect of spellcasting, rune-craft, or ward-work. It’s not unusual to me.” He jerks his head toward Link. “Even that one, I sense it. A breath of the wild.”
“Breath of the wild?”
Draga sighs. “Do you not say that in Hylian either?”
Zelda grins. “No.”
“Wild magic.” He ponders this. “In Gerudo teachings, magic draws on three elemental kinds – breath, blood, and bone. Your semblance is blood. His is breath. Breath is rawer stuff. Harder to harness, instinctive.” In Hylian he says, “Wilder.”
Zelda considers this. “In… Hylian teachings, the abilities gifted from the Goddess are of three elemental kinds, but we cite wind, water, and earth. All simply being… attitudes of magical practice all under the same divine source. Air is the most rare and volatile. I… supposed I did not categorize Link’s talents that way.”
Draga is tearing a piece of bread in half. He looks at her. “Why not?”
She frowns at her drink. “I don’t know. I guess… I always saw him differently than a… sorcerer.”
“I am surprised you did not see it. You both seem very alike.”
“We’re not related.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Draga uses the bread to wipe stew from the inside of the bowl. “I do not think there is a proper word for it. You seem both like parts of a larger thing.” He shrugs and eats the bread. “I do not know how to explain it. When I look at you with truth, that is how you seem.”
“Do you have Hylia’s Gift, Draga?”
“Yes.” He looks at her, picking an orange from the bowl. “Does that trouble you?”
She begins to say ‘no’, then pauses.
“Why are you trusting me?”
When he doesn’t answer, just peels the fruit in his hand, she elaborates.
“In Gerudo culture, magic is… there are rules about who can use it.” She keeps her tone soft. Concerned, not accusatory. She doesn’t specify in what way he is outside their parameters. She just stares up at him, this giant man who reminds her of Urbosa in ways she can’t quite quantify, who Link gifted a priceless horse for no reason than he felt it was natural. “Why are you so sure I am a friend? If the current Chief, Riju, heard word of it, she would be compelled to act.”
Draga studies her face for a moment. “Do you think Riju should act?”
Zelda lowers her voice. “No, I don’t… but I also just met you.”
Draga’s mouth pulls a little, almost a smile, then he goes back to peeling his orange. In Gerudo, he says, “You should not fret, little sister. The Gerudo are wary of magic, but Urbosa herself commanded thunder and much more besides. I am not outside Law if I return within the year and declare myself.” He levels a very calm look at Zelda. “Hylians don’t regulate that, do they?”
“Magic doesn’t regulate every well. But there were licenses you could obtain like any other business and penalties for practicing without proper credentials.” She pauses. “But that was one hundred years ago. It’s… died off somewhat.”
Draga concedes that with a tilt of his head. “And what kind of craft do you practice, Zelda?”
She thinks of rain.
Hot and impossibly heavy, the mud sucking her sandals under. She thinks of her fingers knotted in Link’s bloody tunic. The fucking sword in his hand. Glowing, but not bright enough to stop ancient machinery running them down, racing across the country to cleave their bones from their bodies. She thinks of her prayer – Goddess, take me instead. Leave the one of us worth anything alive. – and then how the Guardians, in that exact moment, found them.
She thinks of tithing. Alters burnt with fruit and grain. Her family, her kingdom, her champions, her own knight: The blood sacrifice Hylia required. She thinks how it hurt. How hot, how infinite, how indifferent the power that screamed through her skin and how none of it hurt as much as that moment when Link stopped breathing. Her nightmares look like this: The sword never speaks. She kneels there in that field until Calamity comes to crush her from existence.
“Healing and protection,” she says. Zelda reaches across the table for Draga’s wine.
“You’re not old enough for that,” he says conversationally.
“I am,” she says and drinks directly from the bottle.