Their first bit of weirdness occurs just before dawn four days later.
Zelda’s been awake for a few hours (as per routine), stoking the fire back to life and unpacking breakfast accoutrements when Draga tenses suddenly. He’s on the other side of the campfire, scanning the trees when his lazy crouch takes on a sudden predatory purposefulness. His eyes widen, his breathing going soft. To her horror – he’s looking over her shoulder at Link’s sleeping cot. Frightened, Zelda spins to look for whatever danger he’s surely spotted – Yiga, Bokokin, something else?! – but… no, Link is dozing peacefully. He’s curled up on his cot, head pillowed on his arm, face serene as sunshine, cheekbones hazarded charmingly by small blonde flyaways.
There are, however, three Koroks crowded by his head.
Now, Koroks are gentle little things: Small bi-pedal creatures, doll-like and doll-sized, with bodies like flexible wood and strange little leaf-masks affixed to their faces. They’re all twittering, a soft rattling sound, like seeds in an empty husk but… musical and fae. They appear to be engrossed in the activity of piling leaves and flowers on Link’s head for their amusement which, in context, is adorable… but from Draga’s perspective is a bunch of fucking devilry and a likely motive for decapitation.
Zelda just barely lunges across the camp to latch onto his elbow.
“No!” she whisper-screams, yanking at his enormous bicep. “No! They’re harmless!”
“What?” Draga hisses.
He raises his arm, standing so her feet leave the ground. She hangs gamely on.
“They’re forest spirits!” She swings a foot ineffectively at Draga’s giant flank. “Link is friends with them! Don’t!”
Draga looks appalled. The Koroks, oblivious to their mortal shenanigans, are twittering and tapping Link gently with sap-soft twigs and flower stems, unaware of the awkward aborted murder wrestling match by the campfire. Link stirs slowly, blinking and humming in a lazy, comfortably way as he opens his eyes. He rolls over and registers the trio of weird little leaf-faces peering down at him. This must be familiar territory for him because he chuckles and rubs his face with one hand, brushing flower petals and leaves from his hair. There’s baby’s breath braided into part of his ponytail. The Koroks twee in delight, hopping from foot to nubby foot.
“Mornin’,” he mumbles, picking flowers from his bangs.
“Hello, Mr. Hero!” one of them enthuses. “We saw you and Ms. Princess and Mr. Scary passing through. You have flowers in your hair now! You look silly!”
“I look great,” he yawns, stretching like a cat and sitting up.
It’s about then he catches sight of his travel partners in the middle of an angry swing-dance and frowns at Zelda who still has two arms around Draga’s elbow and a boot braced against Draga’s thigh.
Link says nothing, just kind of looks at them and the look says, “…?”
“What the devil are those things?!” Draga snaps, pointing at the Koroks.
Link stares. “You can see them?”
Draga looks annoyed and swings Zelda back to the ground. “Of course we see them. Explain them.”
“They’re forest spirits,” he says slowly, surprise writ in every word. Link helps one of the Koroks climb over his knee, letting them roll into his lap with a tiny ‘oof’ of effort. “The Koroks are children of the forest gods, keepers of green things, family to the Deku Tree.” He clears his throat a little, unused to the prolonged use but hands too occupied for sign. “They’re everywhere, but most people can’t see them…”
A second Korok has invited itself to Link’s lap so there are two of them on his knee now while the third wanders around his sleeping cot. Zelda catches herself exchanging a quick look with Draga – eyebrows up, intrigued, but… wanting for more information. The air has a soft musicality now, a floral scent. There are small mouths of color blooming in the grass where Link’s sitting, tiny coiled ferns unwinding green fronds beneath his palm. Everything the Koroks touch slowly buds and sprouts in their presence. Link seems… strangely at-home in the soft riot of greenery.
The third Korok toddles toward Zelda with a daisy in hand. Zelda kneels to take it. She knows Koroks by sight but… never had the occasion to speak with one directly.
“Thank you, little one. Are you Link’s friend?”
“Yes,” beams the Korok. He or she has a high, child’s voice. Hollow somehow, fluting. “We’ve been helping Mr. Hero. We made a leaf bed hotel and a mushroom mart and, uh, a gen-er-al store.” They seem particularly proud of that last bit. “We asked him to live with us forever now that’s he’s done saving the world.” They whistle sadly. “But he said ‘no’ and the Deku Tree said ‘no’.” They brighten up. “So, will you live in the forest with us, Ms. Princess? It’ll be so fun! We promise!”
Link has a sharp warning look on his face.
Zelda maintains her warm tone. “I’m afraid not. Link and I are very busy.”
“Aw, okay.” The Korok leans to look at Draga. “What about Mr. Scary? He’s big, but he’s very pretty like you, Ms. Princess. Do you think he would like to live in the forest with us?”
“What,” Draga says dangerously
“I don’t think so,” Zelda cuts in. “He’s helping us and he lives in the desert so I don’t think that would work.”
“Awww, but he can see us! Can’t any of you play with us?”
“No.” Link picks one of the Koroks up and sets them on their feet, tone slightly admonishing. “Ask Hestu. Go home.”
The trio seems to take that as their cue to go. The first two simply turn and dash into the trees, popping out of existence with a whisper of grass and a whorl of petals. The third one takes special care to tuck a small blue flower in Link’s hand and pat his elbow fondly before waddling toward the trees. They stop a moment to wave.
“See you later Mr. Hero! Ms. Princess! Mr. Scary!”
Link waves back. Zelda waves back. Draga glares. Zelda swats him in the arm so he kind of… vaguely raises a hand.
And then they’re all gone.
Link stands up, swiping leaves off his shirt. “Sorry.” He clears his throat and finger-combs his hair a little. “I didn’t know you could… see them.”
Draga folds his arms and kind of roams nearer, inspecting the newly bloomed plants and some of the vines in Link’s hair which appear to still be actively blooming even without the presence of the forest fae. He eyes the tree line, then with a pragmatic mien reaches over and tugs a difficult twine of fern from Link’s bangs. The smaller swordsman scowls and rubs his scalp. Zelda joins them and promptly hooks a finger under Link’s chin, turning his face toward her so she can look him over. He lets her do it, blinking curiously.
“Fairy lights,” she murmurs.
Link tugs his chin away. “Huh?”
“In your eyes. Did you know you get them after looking at fairies and spirits?” She watches the faint glow, there in his retinas like the shine from the eyes of an animal. Makes the familiar geography of his face… alien but not unknowable. She shrugs. “It’s not harmful, just… some people can take it as a curse if you come back into a village before it wears off. Others view it as good luck to meet the little people.”
Draga tilts his head. “You two see spirits so easily?”
Zelda glances at Link who seems hushed.
“Yes, though I admit, Link is quicker to it than I.” She lifts her chin a little. “It’s only recently I’ve managed the sight.”
“In my culture,” says Draga, “those who see spirits are more inclined to madness. It’s one several signs that portent possession or spiritual corruption.” Then he seems to realize what he just said to them and clears his throat. “Ah, but that is in my culture and we do not have the sorts of… little flower spirits that gift daisies and such.” He’s still holding the bit of fern he pulled from Link’s hair, looking at it with a kind of muted thoughtfulness. “The spirits of the desert are angrier by far.”
Zelda frowns. “Draga, you’ve never seen spirits before?”
“No. This is… a new development for me.”
Zelda can tell, though he hides it fairly well, that the notion troubles him somewhat. “Hmm, well, that’s not too unusual,” she says, adopting a high, almost pedantic tone. She gestures, like she’s conducting a tiny classroom, earning herself a confused stare from Draga. “You see, Koroks hide themselves all over the realm. Old tales say if you could find one, they would gift you things – seeds, mushrooms, that kind of thing. Unlike skull-children who are tricksters by nature, Koroks tend to be helpful but you have to find them to get their aid. So, because of your connection to the arcane, I’m sure you would have seen Hylian forest spirits before, except they were hiding. Therefore, it’s nothing strange. No need to take it as… uh, a sign or anything. Very common in this realm, actually.”
If Draga is comforted by this notion, he doesn’t show it. He just asks, “Why did they call you, ‘Princess’?”
She almost freezes. Almost.
“One of Link’s jokes,” she says, recruiting him to her lie by instinct. She can feel him side-eye her immediately. “They call him ‘hero’ because he helps people. That’s all. Forest spirits are funny that way and, really, its best if they don’t get too familiar with your real name.”
“Interesting,” Draga says.
“There are other kinds of spirits,” Link cuts in, surprising her.
Draga and Zelda look at him.
Link smiles. There’s something wolfish in it, fanged and friendly. He’s looking at Draga like he knows it’s for him when he says, “I could show you dragons sometime.”
She catches Link and Draga squaring off a few days later.
Finding the Lynel is taking longer than expected, so it’s not entirely unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it’s not stupid.
She walks into the clearing just in time to stop them from launching at one another. Link, who moved quicker, skids to a stop and, no joke, tries to hide the blade that seals evil behind his back. Zelda just gives Link a look. It’s her ‘stop-showing-off-you-have-a-magic-sword-you-cheater’ look and he sheathes the divine blade and stands there, arms crossed in an attitude of minding his own business. Draga does not put away what appears to be a Goron-smithed broadsword the size of Link’s entire body – more a machete than a scimitar, squared off with a sharp cross section rather than pointed. He’s got it braced against his shoulder, unapologetic.
“Just sparring,” he insists in his careful Hylian.
“Right,” Zelda says, “the night before we reach the Lynel den. Beat the snot out of each other later.”
Link looks sidelong at Draga.
“I saw that. Don’t even think about it. I’m not healing you if you get clobbered. Either of you.”
Draga shrugs. “Fine. Later.” He looks at Link. “And I am not scared of your tricks.”
Link grins, sees Zelda glaring, and stops grinning.
“Reckless,” she says.
Draga heads back toward camp, calling over his shoulder: “You will both tell me what forged that blade one day.”
Zelda glares at Link more intensely, waiting until Draga is out of earshot, then swats his arm. “Why are you so brazen with that? You draw too much attention.”
“You said we’re not hiding,” Link says, surprising her somewhat. If he’s talking, then he was likely previously warmed to it. He shrugs, “So what if Draga knows?”
“He thinks I’m some road witch, Link. It’s not the same thing.”
“I think more people should know who you are.”
“I know what you think, but it will just cause trouble.”
He sighs. “But you saved them.”
“You saved them.”
He looks away, uncomfortable.
“See, you don’t like it either, when I lay it all at your feet.” And when he doesn’t answer, Zelda regrets her tone a little. “I only mean… neither of us did it on our own. I don’t feel it’s fair to ask people for their loyalty based on a mess we couldn’t prevent one hundred years ago.”
“No one thinks like that,” he murmurs.
“When they talk about a myth they don’t, but a real person? Asking for allegiance? Asking for… I don’t know, taxes and governmental reform? They will change their tone. I can’t do that, Link. Please stop asking me to. You of all people.”
His expression loses its edges. She knew it would.
“Does he pray at every alter?”
It’s raining. The summer heat makes a swelter out of the downpour, turning the road into a muddy soup. Zelda glances at Draga who, seated astride his massive horse and cloaked in his large rain-wicking black cloak, looks precisely like a mountain god of some kind. He’s got his hood up, so she can’t see his face, just the soft neutral set of his mouth, head turned toward the side of the road. Link is on the side of road, kneeling by a trio of round wind-worn forest shrines. They are very old. Carved like short, benevolent toads with shallow bowls at their feet filled with small tokens – food, ribbon, flowers, sticks of doused incense. Link’s placed a whole apple at the feet of the third empty shine and presently has one hand on the statue’s smooth stone forehead. His head is bowed. Rain drips from the edge of his hood.
Zelda sighs and tugs her horse around a little bit. “Yes, mostly.”
Draga eyes her. “You don’t?”
“Those are shrines to the forest and mountain gods,” she says, as if that explains it.
“It’s not praying exactly. More like bartering for luck. A good habit for travelers and the like, but… fae are capricious. I don’t much bother with it.”
Draga’s looking at her now so she can see him frowning.
She laughs. “What?”
“That sounded a little judgmental.”
She stops laughing. “What? I… that’s not how I meant it.”
“You said these are shrines to mountain and forest gods.” Draga arches a brow, clearly gauging her response. “If Link is offering to them, then he must believe…”
Zelda cuts him off. “It’s not about belief, Draga. I believe. My own power is… divinely sourced. We spoke to Koroks just days ago. Trust me, I believe, so I have no criticisms of Link.” She sighs, a little too hard, shaking her head. “I just don’t do that as much anymore. I prayed plenty when I was younger.”
Draga’s frown turns to curiosity. “Ah, you reject the gods then.”
She turns a bit red, furtively glancing in Link’s direction, but he’s still engaged in the small road-side ritual.
“I do not reject them I just… I don’t have as casual a rapport with the spirits as Link does.” A beat of inadequate silence follows. “It’s just easier for him,” she blurts. “That’s all.”
Draga nods. “Ah. I see.”
“Please don’t mention it. I’m just… it’s silly.”
“Don’t mind me, little sister. All of my gods are gods of war.” Draga swaps to Gerudo, gently kicking his horse into a trot. “None of my prayers are kind.”
Then he’s gone, already moved past her before she can respond. The rain’s letting up though and Link’s on his feet, heading back to join them. Zelda can hear Draga singing to himself in the distance – deep, lazy notes that boom and carry back to her as he rides on. Link mounts up next to her, intrigued and looks at her through the rain, clearly asking her to translate.
“It’s an old language,” Zelda says. “The song appeals to Din – the tri-goddess aspect of war, earth, and regeneration. She who honors great works and holds all graves in her palm. Din of fire and change. Mother of all treasure.” She glances at Link. “It’s a prayer for power in the face of your enemies.”
He shrugs. “Lynels are pretty tough.”
Zelda looks at him. “Link, can I ask you what you think of him?” She jerks her chin. “Draga, I mean. Do you… do you feel comfortable with him?”
Link gives her surprised look. “Yes.” He signs quickly, ‘Did he say something to you?’
“No! No, nothing like that! I like him. I… I do actually.” She exhales. “It’s nice, having another person with us. I just wanted to make sure you felt the same. I know I kind of invited him along without discussing it. That’s my fault. I just… get excited and he’s traveling on Pilgrimage and his area of study is ancient ruins and the Gerudo culture is even more ancient than the Sheikah technology we ourselves are investigating. It just seemed to make sense and since he'll need to return home in the next six months it just…”
She’s babbling. Great. Link knows all this. He’s giving her that look.
She sighs. “You know, you can tell me at any time if I’m making you uncomfortable. We’re partners now.”
Link gives her a lopsided smile. ‘I know.’
“I’m just… making sure. We don’t have a lot of practice at this.”
Link frowns, then signs, ‘Practice? At what?’
“At this.” She gestures to the plains of grass around them, the overcast skies, the muddy road. “We don’t have a destiny anymore.” She pulls her hood down so he can see her eyes. “I’ve never been without a destiny, you know. And I suppose for all my… my training, all my prayer, all my study… I never imagined just this: just a road and anywhere in the world to go in it.” She inhales, then exhales but the exhalation is relief. “There were times that I thought I would be fighting forever. For a thousand years. For ten thousand years.” She can feel Link’s worry without seeing it. “I’m just… I don’t know what to do with all this…”
“Are you happy?”
She looks up, surprised.
Link’s just looking at her with one of those earnest neutral faces he does.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you happy?” he repeats.
“Didn’t I say that?”
He shakes his head.
“I’m happy,” she says. Then, because it didn’t sound right, “I am very happy.”
Link tilts his head, then signs, ‘Me too.’
The rain stops a few minutes later and Draga circles back to admonish their slowness, but Zelda keeps thinking about Link’s hand forming the simple reciprocation sign, me too. She is happy. He is happy. Me too. She’s gripping the reins too tightly. She is happy. She is free. Time is linear. She can see the ruins of a house overgrown with moss and wisteria by the side of the road – the is roof collapsed in, the walls knocked down, stones flung across the field in such a way that she knows this house was not simply abandoned but obliterated. Her nails dig into her palms.
She is happy.
Now, Link’s sarcasm aside, Lynels are pretty tough.
Not tough enough to actually warrant the intercession of the gods. (At least, in Zelda’s opinion.) But when the sword ignites in Link’s grip, it's clear to Zelda that they are dealing with something else entirely. Even at the distance she can smell the rot, putrid and chemical. The Lynel wasn’t hard to find once they caught its trail but now, wounded, it’s begun to seize from the inside, twitching and spasming like something is clawing out from the musculature. She thinks she knows what’s coming. Link, seeing the blade’s new tell-tale shine, must know as well.
Besides her, Draga flinches forward. His hand goes to the long sword in the grass beside him but Zelda seizes his arm at the elbow, yanking him back down with her. They are hunkered in the tree line on the hill above the clearing. Draga looks sharply at her.
“There is something wrong with that Lynel,” he snaps, starting to stand again.
Once more, Zelda yanks him down. “Do not get in Link’s way.”
“Did you not hear me?”
“I heard you. Trust him. Trust me.”
And that’s when the Lynel charges. It roars and fire erupts from its lion-head jaws. It screams blue flame in a cyclone of silver heat as it bears down, forcing Link into a full body dive-roll, just barely missing the spine-crushing gallop of hooves and the sweep of terrible flame. He does not miss its attempt to cleave him in half with a sword, however.
The strike only glances, but the shield on his arm shrieks and buckles, hooking on the blade and throwing Link into a rag-doll roll.
He comes up immediately, glares at the twisted metal, then hurls it off his arm and takes the blade in a reckless a two-fisted grip. Blood runs from a small gash in his arm, dripping in the grass. Zelda can’t explain how, but there’s an awareness of the wound in her own blood, making her entire body ache. Her teeth hurt. Her palms burn. She stays where she is, watching, waiting. Draga is cursing softly, through his teeth, but he holds position.
The Lynel’s coming back around, it’s breath expended, but the blade in its monstrous grip swallows the light around it. She can feel ancient deaths in the metal. The beast charges Link, mad with corruption. The grass dies where it runs.
“Don’t let it touch you,” she whispers.
Link closes his eyes.
The long grass ripples and time itself… bends. Zelda feels it ebb, like a tide moving in time to Link’s breathing and the sword becomes a burning edge of molecular blue in his hand. He opens his eyes. Then the world snaps forward. Link snaps forward. The blade finds the bloody home a dozen times in the chimera’s ribs and two of its thick equine legs end suddenly in spraying stumps. Link skids to a stop ten meters beyond the beast, swinging through the final blow that throws blood into the trees and buffets the canopy. The monster, mortally mauled behind him, staggers blind.
“Thank goodness,” Zelda whispers at the exact moment Draga hisses, “Yes!”
Link swings his sword down, once, whipping off the last of the blood, then turns to watch the Lynel fall.
It hits the ground dead. On impact, it splits open along the seam Link put in its belly, meat putrefying instantly, liquifying off the bones. The ground steams where it touches, then begins to eat through the dirt like acid. It shouldn’t do that. Link covers his nose and mouth with one hand and backs away. As he does, the beast’s entire skull torques suddenly on a spine twisting like a cobra to face him. Its jaw dislocates and in final retching burst it vomits a wide-spray of calamitous oil, a geyser of it so wide that Link’s fast-twitch flinch isn’t enough to get clear – a ribbon of liquid douses his off-arm from shoulder to wrist.
Zelda feels the scream before Link manages it.
He drops the sword and hits his knees holding the infected limb away from his body as the oil eats through his shirt, then the mail beneath, and finally into the minor protection wards Zelda put directly into his skin. By the sound of it – the wards are not holding.
Zelda’s already sprinting down the hill, hands golden and glowing.
“Draga! Don’t breathe it in!” she shouts, launching herself from the tree line, over a log, directly into the fumes. She races through the poison, her skin shelled in sunlight and the miasma catches fire like a chemical reaction. The world becomes flame. “I’ll clear it! Help Link!”
She finds the corpse in the inferno. It’s burning a hole into the ground and that hole wells full of black ooze, bio-organic, like rotten blood. It has a pulse. Sinews in the liquid taking on an internal glow and, within the fleshy pond, a single slitted yellow eye blinks open, swivels, then fixes directly on her. Zelda does not hesitate. She plunges her hand directly into the organ and rips it from the wound like a weed by the root and when it writhes in her fist she puts fire through its core. She atomizes it and ignites the rest.
When she’s done, there’s nothing but a scorched pit. In her fist – a crushed husk, hissing as it dies.
“Just… stop,” she whispers. She crushes it. “Just…”
Draga’s shout snaps her out of it. She pivots and sees it: the second silver Lynel – Had it always been there? Waiting? Had she missed it? A monster the size of shed, holding a two-handed broadsword? – bearing down on her with a stallion’s gallop. The flesh is peeling from its skull, blighted fumes pouring from its jaws and glowing in its throat. It’s thirty meters away. Twenty. She raises one hand. Ten meters. Gold gathers in her palm…
Something hits her from the side.
It’s over before she can fully register, an arm around her waist, the controlled impact and suddenly she’s rolling in the grass, Draga kneeling over her like a roof over a house. Then he’s gone. For a breathless second, she can’t process what’s happening. She rolls on her stomach, turning and there through the smoke: Draga stepping through the fumes, one arm over his nose and mouth, one hand gripping the massive blade on his shoulder. The Lynel, lungs heaving with oil and flame, is retching poison and circling.
“Draga! Draga, no!”
The Lynel charges. Draga breaks into a run, winding up the sword. The Lynel raises its blade –
Draga’s broadsword slams home in the monster’s belly – faster than she can see and with more force than she can conceive – cleaves through muscle and bone, blows through the spine to send an eruption of blood and viscera into the clearing. The lower half of the monster runs on for about three steps, then falls. The top half folds into the grass. Draga turns, the dull edge of the blade dripping black into the grass. She thinks, for a moment, his eyes glow in the dark -- lit internally like a coal in a dark hearth. Zelda levers up on one arm. Her heart is in her throat. He steps toward her. Why is that familiar?
“Zelda,” he says, “are you injured?”
“I’m fine. I –”
Something darts out of the long grass, past Draga, lunges up and – “Link?!” – slams the divine blade half to the hilt in the ground. Draga jerks back, stunned, as Link reels back from his target: a thrashing writhe of limbs in the grass. His left arm’s black, tacky, rigored into a right-angle and shaking. Draga drops his sword and catches Link at the waist when he starts to fall. Zelda stands up in time to see what it was Link killed – the second lynel’s autonomous upper torso, still switching, claws raking the earth with killing intent as the ribcage dissolves. It had been, she suspects, crawling toward Draga for a final blow.
“Good eye,” Draga says softly.
Link manages to grimace a smile, then just grimaces as his knees go out.
Link’s curled in the grass, fighting not to clutch the poisonous arm. She can hear him growling in agony, panting. He’s fumbling for a fairy tonic in his belt. Draga is already pouring an entire water canteen over his blistered arm to no effect, washing rusted armor flakes off in chunks. He grabs the bottle from Link’s hip, uncorks it with his teeth and dumps it on his arm, partially pinning him chest-down as he does it. Understandable. The liquid steams on contact and Link howls.
“Sorry, little brother.” Draga speaks through his teeth, holding the smaller swordsman down while he finishes. Link just shoves his forehead into the grass, choking, his other hand clawing the dirt until his fingers pull up mud. Again, Draga says, “I’m sorry.” Then, “Zelda, can you purify this? It’s blight. If we don’t…”
“I know.” Zelda hits her knees next to Link. “We’ve seen this stuff before. Link? Can you hear me?”
He moans and nods. She catches a glimpse of his eyes behind his hair.
“Okay. I’m going to do it. Ready?”
He makes a noise that might be ‘no’ but she can’t wait. She grabs his arm at the shoulder just above the infection and at the wrist just below, then then drags her hands down his arm from both directions, gripping tight so her fists meet in the middle of his elbow. Link doesn’t scream – somehow it’s worse, because his entire throat and face works like he is screaming but the sound isn’t coming up. Her palms sizzle like a hot pan, cauterizing every inch of skin. Draga, kneeling over him, just watches Zelda’s hands – the light off her fingers taking all the shadows from his face.
She finishes and wipes her hands off on her trousers.
“Stupid,” she murmurs. She kneels and takes Link’s face in her hands, wiping dirt and grass from his sweaty forehead. “Link? Hey. Are you alright?”
“Ow,” he says, not opening his eyes.
She exhales loudly and pats his cheek. “You’re okay.”
He opens his eyes and reiterates, “Ow,” with some offense.
“I know for a fact you used to do this stuff solo. It’s much better with a partner, yes?”
Link sits up, rubbing his newly healed arm, still pink with regeneration. “Thanks,” he says, first to her, then to Draga who’s looking at the two of them like he’s just realizes they’re insane. Link clears his throat. “She’s right. It’s not that bad.”
“Your entire arm could have rotted to the marrow and fallen off,” Draga says tonelessly.
Link nervously flexes his hand. “But it didn’t.”
Draga looks at Zelda. “Blighted monsters don’t concern you?”
“Well it concerns us, but we have the tools to deal with it.” And when Draga keeps giving her this terribly irritated look, she adds, “Honestly, we’ve had much worse. And blighted creatures are much rarer as the last of Calamity’s hold wanes in this world. As I said before, we specialize in this kind of work. It’s really not that impressive, you know, I just –”
Draga literally puts his hand over her mouth.
“I believe you." He drops his hand. "Stop explaining.” He looks at Link. “Can you walk?”
Link nods, pushing himself to his feet and rotating his shoulder like it’s just stiff rather thans touched by Malice. He sighs, then signs something in Zelda’s general direction about needing another shirt. Zelda, warily, gauges Draga’s reaction. The huge Gerudo can’t seem to decide if he’s more angry with them than impressed and seems to be taking Link’s lackadaisical approach to almost dying as a personal offense.
“You’re both mad,” he says.
Link heaves the biggest most unconcerned shrug that is physically possible and grabs the divine blade from the grass. While he sheathes it, Draga moves so he’s standing over him, glaring down from his mountainous height. Link just hooks his thumbs in his belt and leans back to maintain eye contact. Standing like this, there is a certain dynamic opposition – Link small and pale where Draga is massive and dark. Zelda feels something, an unidentifiable jolt of de-ja-vu.
“That blade,” Draga says, “cut through the corruption like nothing. Split the darkness apart.” He leans down slightly. “If you were less of an incorrigible fool, I would accuse you of being the Hylian Champion.”
“There is nothing in the history books,” says Link, “to suggest he wasn’t a fool.”
Which is the longest sentence he’s said in a while and of course it would be a self-deprecating insinuation to him being a 100-year-old legend. Zelda drops her face into one hand and drags it all the way down. Draga’s glaring at the both of them now. It’s possible Link’s chattiness is directly tied to a post-regenerative high, but he seems pretty pleased with himself so she doubts it. Draga looks at the sword, then at her, then back at Link. He starts to open his mouth.
Zelda holds up two hands. “Wait. Draga…”
“You’re them. You’re the Princess. The one that fought Calamity one hundred years ago and that’s the sword that seals the darkness.”
“That’s absurd,” Zelda starts to say.
“Eh,” Link says, wobbling his hand to indicate only moderate absurdity.
Zelda hits him in the shoulder.
Draga is not distracted. “Link does not seem to have a problem admitting it. Why do you?”
“It just… look, you don’t quite understand. It’s complicated.”
“Your circumstances are complicated. Your identity is not. Are you Zelda Bosphoramus or not?”
She maintains a panic for a half second then gives it up. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Excellent. And him? He’s the same chosen knight or he’s a successor who’s found the sword?”
“Same guy,” Link says, shrugging again.
“That’s…” Draga sighs and palms the back of his neck in one giant hand. “Never mind. Tell me your story when we’re back at camp. No.” He points at Zelda, silencing the beginning of another explanation. He waits, making sure she’s done, then, “Now... we’re going to eat and congratulate ourselves on this victory. I am going to drink. Then you can tell me your impossible story, you tiny, mad, Hylians.”
Zelda feels something unwind in her chest. Like a breath she’s been holding.
“I suppose…” she says, glancing at Link, “it would be nice to tell someone. The whole story. Just this once.”
Link always wakes up last and the next morning is no different.
Zelda and Draga stoke the fire quietly while he dozes, eating fruit and bread from their provisions and eyeing each other. Sunlight bleeds through the canopy, riddling the ground in yellow patchwork and Zelda watches the colors move across the roots and thin grass beneath the boughs. The silence holds, among other things, the entirety of the one-hundred-year campaign against the Calamity, the failed assault before that, the assembly of the Champions, her role as goddess-blood princess and Link the soul-bound hero. A history summarized to its most basic painful components and laid out in order.
“I can heat some water,” Zelda says, breaking the silence finally. “If you would like some tea, I mean, or… whatever you prefer…”
“Thank you, but don’t trouble yourself.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“I would rather we just… sit for a moment.”
Presently, she cannot imagine a worse option. She eats a bite of apple, staring into the fire, as if it will offer up a topic of conversation that isn’t blurting at him, again, the very essential need for his secrecy and silence on this topic while Link is unconscious and unable to level looks of disappointment at her. Draga’s not looking at her. He’s pondering the canopy, eyes visibly working through some private process while she sits here, sweating, a knot in her belly that she can’t quite explain.
“Did you know,” says Draga suddenly, “that any child born to a Gerudo woman will always be Gerudo, no matter the ethnicity of their father?”
Draga is still looking at the canopy.
“I… I did know that, actually. Gerudo blood is stronger than any other. Closer to the goddess than any other or so they say.”
“Except maybe you,” says Draga, looking at her.
When she looks away, he goes on. “They say Din carved the first Gerudo from the red earth, seven of them in her likeness.” Draga pulls a piece of bread from the day-old loaf in his hands. The soft brown inside splits warm and steaming as though fresh from an oven and he goes on. “When the goddess saw the good she had done, she carved an eighth heroine and to this sister she gifted magic. She made her most like a god – taking many forms, possessing power and sight.”
Zelda sneezes and rubs her nose on her sleeve to relieve the sudden itchiness. Draga tosses her the rest of the warm loaf, which cools quickly in her palm.
“I confess,” Zelda says, “I have never heard of the Eighth Heroine.”
“Because she was hated by her sisters,” Draga says. He’s looking into the fire now, the glow of it putting warm light into his skin. “She was forgotten. Erased from history. Her children live on in every Gerudo child born with magic in their blood but the cost lives in every daughter who dies in fear, having never mastered it.” He continues to look into the fire when he says, "I lost two sisters to that fear. Their deaths... are why I'm out here."
"Why are you telling me?" Zelda murmurs.
Draga looks up at her. “You and your knight… you know that being closer to the gods is dangerous. Hylia’s Gift… it’s not really a gift.”
Zelda closes her eyes. “If it was a real gift it would not cost us so much."
“I am still… I am so angry,” she says. “Even now, a century later, I blame the Goddess for not answering my call, for not… just giving me the strength I needed when I needed it in time to save the people I loved.” She shakes her head. “Why did we have to lose so much? Why did we have to give one-hundred years just to survive what we could have defeated?” She’s crushing the bread in her fist, speaking softly, but through locked jaw. “Link says the people would love me if I revealed myself. I do not believe that.”
Draga leans forward a little, his eyes on her, and says, in Gerudo, “I wasn’t there one-hundred years ago, so I don’t much care for details but know this: You are a warrior, little sister. You more than any. The girl who fought for one-hundred years and if the world knew what you did, they should be grateful to follow you into anything.” He leans back and switches to Hylian. “Be it peace or war, I say that you have earned that if you want it.”
Zelda rubs her eyes. “You sound like Link.”
“I happen to agree with Link.”
“Heh, do you want to know something strange?”
He snorts, pulling a small knife from his pocket. “What about you two isn’t strange?” He picks up an apple and begins to cut wedges from it. “But tell me. What is strange?”
“Link trusts you,” Zelda says. “He trusted you. Instantly even, and that’s strange. He seems trusting, but he’s not. If he gives you his back, it’s only because he’s confident he can kill you if you try to betray him.”
Draga’s eyebrows arch significantly.
“But this is different!” She pauses. “It sounds silly, but he gave you a horse.”
“And that’s significant.”
“For Link? Yes. And it’s probably apparent to you, but I don’t trust people with my secrets but you… it’s… like you knew them anyway so it was no effort to tell you. So tell me this, Draga: How many people of your home tribe know you by your new name?”
Draga looks up from the apple he’s cutting. She does not flinch from his stare – cool and green and fathoms deep. Eventually, he says, “I have a cousin, very young but close to me. She is the only one who knows that I will return under a new name to declare my practice. I don’t know why I told you that I have the gift. I’ve never told anyone outside my family.” He shakes his head, once. "I thought I was being... sentimental. But now, knowing what you are, it could be something else."
“Then we agree, there is something odd about our meeting,” Zelda says. “We acknowledge it together?”
“Yes. It’s strange. Agreed.”
There’s a beat, the two of them staring at one another across the fire, the dappled sunlight shifting lazily across their shoulders.
“I’m going to pack up,” Zelda says, standing up a little too quickly.
Draga eyes her, like he might not let her change tack so easily. Then, after a moment, says, “Does Link always oversleep or…?”