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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.”

“Of course.”

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.

Nothing.

“Link,” she says at regular tones.

Snores.

“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.

“Hush!”

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.”

Link hesitated.

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.

“What?”

“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.”

Link shudders.

“You too?”

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.”

He nods.

“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.”

“Of course!”

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.

 

Chapter Text

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.”

“Okaaaay.”

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.

“Okay.”

 

 


 

 

“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.

“So?”

“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…”

“ZELDA!”

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.

“Wha-!”

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.

“Zelda!”

“I’m here!”

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?”

Zelda blinks.

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."

Draga waits.

“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…?”

“Yes. Always.”

Chapter Text

“You weren’t kidding,” Draga says, under his breath, through the corner of his mouth, to Zelda alone.

She doesn’t react, just kind of smiles. Link is already off his horse and jogging toward the town square where no less than six people are already waiting to greet him. There’s a large mustachioed man who slaps him on the back. Behind him: a Gerudo woman who puts a hand on Link’s shoulder, for just a moment, and nods. There’s a bright green Rito who catches Link’s arm and tries to drag him toward a storefront, enthusing about something. He is confounded, however, by a Goron who busts through the crowd and literally picks Link up in a bearhug. Screams of protest go up immediately from the assembled villagers, who pry a gasping Link from the embrace.

“He helped build the town?” Draga mutters.

“Hmm, my understanding,” says Zelda slowly, “is that he helped fund it and find likely residents.”

“Is that a Zora?” Draga says, squinting.

“I said Link grew up with them, did I not? He calmed all four Divine Beasts – he has friends in every corner of this kingdom.”

Draga shakes his head. “Seeing it is different.”

Zelda dismounts and goes about tying the lead at a horse-post by the bridge. Tarrey Town is improbably located on a high butte in the middle of a lake in the Akkala Region, accessible only across a long, natural stone arch bridging the main road to the lovely circle of homes and businesses overlooking the sunken ring of the lake. Draga ties his stallion – Arbiter, no longer nameless after the last month – at his own post across the street. They make their way toward the crowd where Link is digging things out of his pack, frowning at the names on the packages, then passing them out. He perks up at their approach, dropping his bag into the Rito-man’s arms with a ‘just one sec’ gesture.

“This is only because you brought seedcake,” the Rito says, hefting the bag.

Link gives him an exaggerated thumbs-up which earns him a groan and the Rito promptly puts the bag down, steps lightly on it, claws closing in the straps, then rather unnecessarily takes off straight up, eliciting more screams of offense from his fellow villagers now buffeted by the backdraft. The mustached man and the Gerudo woman (who appear to be a couple) are the first to approach, ignoring the commotion and waiting for Link to enthusiastically introduce them. He’s a bit flushed from the Goron crushing, but determinedly chipper nonetheless.

“Hudson and Rhondson,” he says, gesturing to the man and woman in turn. “This is Zelda and Draga.”

“Charmed,” Hudson says and nothing else, though he does sound and look genuinely charmed.

Rhondson sighs, speaking in a warm alto. “Hudson is the city engineer and mayor. He welcomes you formally to Tarrey Town. He’s also my husband, so if I give the impression I’m going to toss him in the lake, know that it’s from a place of boundless love and respect.” She says all this with the driest and flattest possible tone humanly possible.

Draga clears his throat to cover up a laugh.

Rhondson notices and the corner of her mouth twitches up. “Vasaaq, veti’neri. Amara’Rhondson, Que con’vaq no?”

Draga nods in a way that’s somewhat formal. “Vasaaq, veniri.” He seems a little wary, but Rhondson’s eyes are warm, listening intently. “Mer’Draga. Shalay vatii.” And then in Hylian he says, “It’s good to cross your path, sister.”

She nods back, genuinely smiling now. “And yours.” She looks sharply at Link. “Though it may be to your misfortune to cross paths with this one; he’s completely insane and not in good proper way, just insane. I watched him hang-glide from the cliffs here to the beachhead across the lake because someone,” here she glares over at a well-to-do looking man in a pink and gold robe, “convinced him the Guardians down there were a threat to be wiped out. He did it for twenty rupees.”

“Hey,” Link starts to protest. “It wasn’t –”

“That sounds like him,” Zelda says.

“I believe you,” Draga agrees.

Link rolls his eyes, then notices that the Zora from before is standing just outside the ring of people, waiting.

Zelda catches Link’s eye and nods so he can slip out of the group to speak with him – a bent tribesman, red scales dulled with age, fins drooped by the centuries. Zelda laughs at something Rhondson says, but manages to watch them sidelong, catch the old Zora very gently taking Link’s arm in hand. He’s saying something. Link lowers his head, but the elder Zora keeps speaking until Link’s shoulders tense. And then Zelda knows. Without hearing a word, she knows the Zora knows everything, absolutely everything, and is thanking him for the full and terrible totality of it – for Calamity, for Mipha, for her standing here, for the whole awful history.

Link looks away and so does Zelda.

“This town is quite diverse,” Zelda says, brightly as she can. “It reminds me of Castle Town. I mean the stories they used to tell – how so many merchants and traders from all corners of the realm would come there together. A city of a hundred languages.”

Here Hudson strokes his mustache. “Well…” he says, then doesn’t go on.

“Yes, dear?” Rhondson presses. “Finish your thought?”

“Reckon Bolson and Co got a plan about that.”

“Oh?”

“There’s people you know, who want to rebuild it. Talk outta Lanayru that Calamity is gone.” He shrugs. “Might be I chat with Link about it. He’s crazy. He won’t be scared to scout build sights in Guardian turf.”

Draga looks sidelong at her.

“You won’t have to hire us,” Zelda says, “Link and I came from that way recently and I can tell you firsthand about the state of Hyrule Castle.” Zelda notes that a small quiet begins to fall. She pretends not to notice. “I can tell you with certainty that the castle is clear and all Ganon’s corrupted technologies lie dead in the country, truly.” There is a rapt silence, every person the village now listening. “If you and your people want to remake Castle Town, then Hylia’s blessings would be surely upon you. The Calamity is gone.”

Murmurs run through the crowd then, excited but wary. One hundred years of hope held tight. An old woman hobbles forward, her husband beside her. She peers up at Zelda.

“My name is Monari. Did you say your name is Zelda?”

“Yes.”

“Like the lost Princess?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a priestess of Hylia?”

“Something like that, yes. There are no temples left.”

“Was it Link?” Monari asks. Her voice quickens and creaks a little with excitement. “People said… they said that he set off for Hyrule Castle, like so many others before. So was it him?”

Zelda glances at Link. He is listening with an anxious kind of body language. He hesitates, then makes a single back and forth gesture with one hand, shaking his head gently. He mouths, “C’mon…” and this time she can’t get around it.

Zelda sighs. “It was Link and I. Together.”

Monari’s face crinkles with warmth. She reaches out two hands, palsied with age and soft when she takes Zelda’s fingers into hers. Her dark eyes are bright, wonderfully clear for her age.

She says, “I never thought I would see the day. But here it is. Well done, my girl.” She smiles as the gathered people begin to laugh suddenly, begin to hug, begin to celebrate with a volume and abandon that Zelda hadn’t readied herself for. And she’s not ready, again, for the tears when Monari says repeats, gripping her fingers proudly, “Well done, Zelda.

 


 

 

“They still aren’t aware you’re the same princess and knight of legend.”

Draga says this quietly, two fingers against his temple, thumb against his jaw, elbow braced again his knee. He’s sitting cross legged on the cobblestones facing her and his eyes in the firelight catch like the ocean in summer.  

It’s three in the morning and most of the town’s settled down from the impromptu celebration which involved three bonfires, a pot luck buffet, singing, dancing in the square, far too much drinking, and at one point Fyson the Rito did a serious of impressive aerial stunts with a fruit pie that ended with the fruit pie hitting Greyson the Goron at terminal velocity. After that, it was mostly chaos and riotous drinking until none but a few drunken stragglers remain.

It was, in all, a good night.

There is a statue of Hylia in the center of town – carved stone, a shrine like in many settlements. The feet are covered now in flowers wreathes, fruit, and gifts. Zelda is sitting at the foot of the alter, nursing a cup of wine and Link’s asleep with his head on her shoulder. He’s heavy enough that it’s starting to be uncomfortable, but she can’t bring herself to possibly disturb him so she sits with a wreath on her head, hands smelling like lavender and incense, her fingers orange with crushed petals and prayer oils. A dozen-dozen hymnals given in joy through the night. It’s intoxicating as the honey wine and lessens the sting of personal hypocrisy just enough.

“They didn’t ask,” Zelda says, reaching up to gently run her fingers across Link’s temple, moving his hair behind his ear.

Draga shakes his head. “You are strange. Does accepting thanks under your true name so bother you?”

“My true name will bring strife to this country.”

“Maybe.”

“It will. I prefer to tell people the danger is gone as we travel. Leave people the… simplicity of victory.”

She lifts the wine cup, a little unsteadily. Her words are coming sticky from her tongue. She has to count them out as she speaks. Draga’s completely sober of course, despite having had a bottle or two to himself. Link’s asleep mostly because, as usual, he ate too much so he’s sleeping it off in a digestive coma. He smells like smoke and whatever it was Rhondson kept burning in the fire – some mineral to make the air heady and sweet. Zelda needlessly tucks Link’s hair behind his ear again; there’s a green feather in his hair – a token from Fyson. Zelda feels warm everywhere. Her face, her hands, her insides.

“I’m drunk,” she announces, a little proudly.

“Yes,” Draga says, amused. He picks up another wine bottle near his knee and offers it.

She waves him away. “Oh no. I’ve had more than enough… ceremonial wine. Thank you.” She finishes off her glass, then sets it down. “Do you think, you can… help me carry Link to bed without waking him?”

“I think he might punch me if he wakes up carried by unknown persons.”

“You’re probably right.”

She starts to touch his shoulder.

“But don’t…” Draga holds up a hand. “Don’t wake him yet. It’s fine for a moment longer.”

She sits quietly, hands in her lap instead.

“Zelda, do you and Link ever plan to face what you’ve accomplished in its entirety?”

“Why? Why not let it be legend? Let the ancient heroes rest all together?”

“Well, the Zora for one,” Draga says dryly. “I spoke with Kapson a little. He’s five-hundred and some years of age and he remembers Link as a child. He remembers you as you were the Commander of the Champions, your visitation to Zora’s Domain, your training with Mipha. All of Zora’s Domain knows you two as the very same heroes of old.” He lets that hang for a moment. “The Zora trade routes are opening again, so rumors are spreading.”

“Even if some people believe, no one will demand anything of us if we demand nothing of them.”

Draga nods. “I’m glad to hear that. You’ve earned some peace.”

Zelda laughs a little. “Well, I can’t just sit around collecting… what are these…? Ornamental bouquets and the like. I have a duty to help my people so it’s unlikely I will be taking luxurious… luxurious… um… holidays. Yes.” She swats her knee in victory, pointing. “That. I won’t be doing that.”

Draga tilts his head. “Why not?”

“It wouldn’t be right, Draga. It wouldn’t be… appropriate.”

“After one-hundred years of battle,” he says slowly, “a sabbatical is not appropriate?”

Zelda frowns at him. “Yes, Draga. It would not be right for me to just do nothing.”

He’s eyeing her. “Hmm, you should probably lie down.”

Zelda waves a hand. “I’m fine. Don’t fret about me.” She tries to brush her hair out of her face, gets orange flower dye on her nose. “Oh, this silly… goodness, I’m quite tipsy aren’t I? How embarrassing. I’m glad Link isn’t awake to see it.” She checks to make sure Link actually is not awake to see it. “Yes. Glad he’s not awake. Some priestess of Hylia I am, getting drunk and giggly after a few thanksgiving rituals. Back in my day, proper priestesses could out drink the average soldier. True fact. Maids of mirth and spring, they were called. Sisterhood of the Field. Girls of the Green.” She hiccups. “Oh goodness.”

Draga chuckles. “They sound like the war-maids of the Highlands, though, war-maids handled far more than liquor in their celebrations.” He leans back, arms braced behind him as he recollects. “I remember… seeing a battle troop when I was a child. I thought they were the Eight Heroines.”

Zelda peers curiously. “Not the Seven?”

Draga shakes his head. “No. I grew up in the Highlands before I was sent into the deep desert. The Eighth Heroine is honored in the Gerudo Highlands, so I knew her. All my family honored the lost sister in those days.”

“And now?”

Draga shrugs. “I honor her.”

“Does your family not believe anymore?”

Draga looks at her, almost surprised. “None of them are left, Zelda.”

“Oh. Oh, I’m…” She fumbles. “I’m sorry, Draga. I didn’t…”

“No, that’s my fault. I thought I told you…”

“No. I didn’t know.”

“Ah, I told Link and neglected to tell you.” He waves a hand, rolling over so he’s lying on his back, stretched out on the stones beneath the night sky. He’s so big his boots are disturbing a few of the doused lanterns lining the opposite walkway, his head cushioned by a carpet of flowers around the shrine. “It was a long time ago,” he says. “You shouldn’t feel badly mentioning it. We are all three of us the last in our lines.” He’s looking at her now, at Link too. “People like us – we should stick together while we can.”

Zelda feels her pulse rabbit, warmth flooding her face. “Yes, I… that would be good. I know Link would appreciate it.”

“And you?”

“Of course.”

He continues to look at her, then abruptly swaps to his native language. “Have you told Link how you feel – that there’s some suggestion of pre-determination in the three of us meeting?”

“I wouldn’t go as far as that,” she rejoins, carefully.

“I might,” he says. His tone is not… serious but not light. “I dream sometimes, not in prophecy, but when there are forces at work in the world near me. I am aware of them. I am aware of you two in that way – like candles at the edge of a table and I am never unaware of it.” He looks at Link, who’s still asleep against her shoulder. “I still find it strange you haven’t shared this with him. It’s not as though he’s unaware of it in an unrefined manner. He knows instinctively what we know intellectually about the rules of arcana. He senses connection.”

Zelda’s heart jumps again, but not in the nice way it did before.

Draga keeps speaking, without production or judgement. “I’m simply saying, things might be clearer more quickly if you just told him as much.”

“I will,” she murmurs. She loops an arm up behind Link’s back, laying a hand against his shoulder in such a way that she can pull him a little closer. She feels him turn his head a little against her neck, his breath against her collarbone. She sighs. “I just… I would like him to be free of such a thing for a little while longer.”

“Free of what?” he says in Hylian now.

“Pre-determination. Destiny. Just… meddling.”

Draga arches a brow. “Meddling?”

“Yes, meddling. The goddess or her acolytes.”

Draga rolls onto his side, propping his chin on his fist. “It’s not necessarily the gods. When was the last time either of you crossed paths with anyone inclined to magic?”

“Not… recently.”

“Then be at ease. Power attracts power; tell him that. Read nothing divine into it.” He shrugs. “I don’t.”  

“Draga, your magic…” She shakes her head a little. “You don’t have to tell me why this is, but when I look at your power through the lens of my own ability…I don’t know its shape. I feel it working. I see it sometimes, but it’s… at such a depth within you. I see its effects, like wind in the trees, a course of water turned aside, some small or great change made with… such terrible exactness. It seems so strange…”

“No, it’s just not Hylian,” he says simply. “The Gift runs in my bloodline, much like yours. It’s taken years of focus to find absolute control. And in having such, I have reached the limits of my strength.” His tone takes on a slightly bitter edge. “If I were to expand my power, I would need to call on greater forces than myself and I am not willing to do it.” He looks at her. “I’m stupid that way.”

She doesn’t mean to laugh. It just happens.  

He gives her a half smile. “You and Link should come with me when I return to Gerudo Town. It would be honored if you were there as witness.” He shrugs. “And if Link is a friend of Riju and the Gerudo then… honestly, it may help my case before her council.”

“I see,” Zelda cajoles. “Using us for our connections. I see how it is.”

He snorts. “I mean, what else are you good for?”

“How dare you. Cooking! We are good for that.”

“Link is good at cooking. Not you.”

“Fighting!”

“Eh, I can fight well enough without you two and your… dramatics.”

“Lively conversation.”

“Link is mostly mute and when he’s not, he enjoys puns.”

“We’re both… very attractive,” she sputters, not exactly sure why she went for that one. It just seemed… there.

Draga eyes her. He really looks at her. He’s just kind of lounging there, like a mountain lion might do were it a solid, seven-and-a-half-foot person in boots and good traveling gear. She is, of course, red-faced and swaying, trying to glare back while her arm goes numb because Link’s been leaning on it. Draga kind of… looks her up and down with just his eyes. Then he casts the same lazy inspection over Link – still dead asleep, arms folded across his stomach, one leg drawn up, his face pressed against her bare shoulder where her sleeve slid down. She’s not sure why she hadn’t noticed until Draga looked directly at it – the spot where Link’s jaw is resting against her shoulder, skin to skin. She’s not sure why that, of all things, would be worthy of hyper-focus and yet…

Draga gives a dismissive shrug. “Eh.”

Zelda uses such force to hurl a flower wreath at him, she wakes Link in an alarmed flail.

Draga just laughs.

 


 

They find trouble in the Eldin Foothills.

“Link! Wait! There’s too many –!”

Too late. Link and Epona are racing full speed down the hill, charging with speed and power that seems impossible for the stocky mare. Zelda curses as her own steed, Maru, canters backwards from the scent of blood and Moblins. Arbiter, however, is unshaken. The massive stallion charges down the hill after Link, Draga urging the beast to a terrifying speed that gains ground even on Epona’s seasoned pace. There’s a storm on the edge of the horizon, cresting the Eldin mountain range. A flash of lightning over Death Mountain illuminates in bone white the sight that set Link off:

The ruined merchant caravan in flames. Corpses stacked on the roadside. Rage make her knight blind to the army in front of him – bristling with halberds, twenty, no, thirty Bokoblin deep. Five mounted archers. Two Moblins rising up from their feeding – jaws dark with blood and vague, predatory intelligence. Link doesn’t see that though, Zelda knows. He’s seeing the next hundred moves in killing them all.

Draga’s not blind though and he doesn’t seem to have one-hundred moves in mind.

He drags Arbiter into Epona’s wake, lifts one fist over his head. Zelda feels the world flex. He clenches it.

The ground explodes under two of the mounted archers. They scream, flung fifty feet up, the horses shrieking and bucking even as they fall into the company and crush five more. Link fires off an explosive round into the heart of the raider cluster and blows three to screaming hunks of meat. Then he swings right with Epona and Draga swings left with Arbiter, flanking around the edge of the group and by then the Gerudo has the hooked claymore in hand. He’s rising in his saddle, the blade rising up with him. He runs down the remaining mounted archers in seconds. He doesn’t duck their arrows. The bolts glance off him like they’ve struck steel and before they realize their mistake – the power protecting him – Draga cleaves them both in half. One swing.

Then he bears down on the rest of the mob.

Link, in the same time, puts three arrows in three skulls before Epona tramples through two Bokoblin. She whips around into a tight galloping half-circle, confusing the white-backed Moblin at the center of the group. Towering tall as a house, the beast thrashes its jackal head and roars. Link’s already round its back, then the front – arrow nocked to the string, he puts two bolts in its throat. When it bucks back, blood spraying from the wound, he puts two self-igniting rounds in its ribs then kicks Epona into a figure-eight as the beast burns from the inside out.

He loops around the second, larger Moblin at the head of the group.

This one, wielding a sword and a shield the size of a door, sees him coming.

Link isn’t bothered. He fires off two shots, the shafts ricocheting off the shield, keeps Epona at full gallop, her hooves cutting up the turf with the speed of the maneuver. She dives down suddenly and in the same moment, Link steps one foot from the stirrup and onto the cantle. Epona then rears in the same instant Link’s other foot finds the swell and the force launches him up, over the top of Moblin’s shield. Link puts one shaft through the beast’s right eye and drops. He hits the ground rolling and comes up with the blade in hand, shield hooked to his arm as the Moblin rears, roaring but not dead.  

Three foot-soldiers charge him.

Link twists as a pike strikes for his ribs but catches the edge of the shield. Too close. Link spins, once, against the length of the weapon and his blade finds the lancer’s throat. He steps again, pivots, hacks down a wounded blue-hide, then slams his sword through a white-hide Bokoblin’s gut. He ignores the death-flails, talons catching the side of his head. He just rears back and slams the edge of his shield into the monster’s snout, crushing its face and smashing it into the mud. He’s breathing hard now, turns his attention back to the Moblin as it goes rabid, foaming at the mouth, maddened by the bolt in its brain.

Link starts forward at a run.

But Draga – having finished off the rest of the mob in the interim – gallops in behind the giant and brings his sword down on its neck as he passes. Link skids to a stop as the head rolls to his feet. Draga circles with Arbiter, blood running the length of the blade, the only sign he’s been in battle at all.

“You alright?”

Link ignores the question. He sheathes the sword, slinging his shield over his shoulder as he races through the wreckage.

“Link,” Draga calls, “Link!”

Zelda knows exactly where he’s going.

She’s already there in fact – pulling bodies off the top of the heap, checking each one as she does for some sign of life. She’s not sure when her arms became strong enough for the task of dragging a dead man from a funeral pyre, when she got the strength to carry a girl her own age (not her age, the age she once was) and lay her body down in the grass. When she looks up, Link’s too close. He catches her around the waist and pulls her away, hooks an arm around her chest and drags her. He has to throw her in the grass up the hill to hold her back, grab her arms when she pushes him.

“They’re gone!” he shouts. He’s bleeding from a wound she can’t see in his hairline. “Zelda! Stop!”

She hits him. “You stop!” She slaps him. Like any of it was his fault. “No!”

He’s pinning her, arms around her, mostly with his weight. He’s not a very big person, so she’s not sure how he can weight this much. She kicks until she can’t, until she’s raw from shouting, and his blood is soaked through her shirt. Then just lies there, staring at the thunderhead rolling over Hyrule Field knowing that it will takes hours to ride back to a settlement, days for word to reach the next of kin, and after one-hundred years, time is rushing away from her.

“Damn,” she whispers.

Link pulls back just enough so he’s looking her in the face.

Draga is climbing the hill behind them, but stops to wait. Watching.

“I’m okay.” She reaches up and with two fingers pushes his hair back so she can see where the blood’s running from, careful to avoid the glow of heat across his cheekbone. “That’ll scar,” she says, “unless I heal it. Help me up.”

Link takes her hands and pulls her to her feet.

 

 


 

 

Three days later, they have a nightmare.

This time, Zelda jerks awake, lathed cold with sweat and shaking. The moon is silver in the sky above. She lies there, breathing too fast and biting back the scream that sits in her like a nesting animal. She smells chemicals – sulfuric and mercury in her throat. Not real. Not real. She swallows and rolls over to find Link still sleeping, but fitful. He’s tossing his head a little, hair stuck to his sweat-sticky skin, lips parted with fast shallow breathing that occasionally breaks on a low, anxious moan.

She rolls out of her sleeping cot.

“Link.”

She starts to touch his shoulder.

Don’t.”

She stops.

Draga is sitting up, looking at her from across their small camp. “Don’t touch him.”

She blinks and sits back on her heels as the other man gets up and moves quickly to Link’s side, kneeling so he can lean over him. He quickly yanks something unseen from Link’s hand opposite her. She realizes, far too slowly, that it was the hilt of the sacred sword. He was holding it in his sleep. Draga assigns no drama to this, just puts it aside, grips Link by the biceps and give him a solid shake. Link wrenches once, violently, in the other man’s grasp but Draga is braced for it and just leans back slightly.

“Link?” he says calmly.

Link, laying, panting in the grass but awake now, just nods. Draga lets go, stands up, and moves away from him.

Zelda shifts forward then. “You okay?”

 For a moment, Link just lies there, staring up at her. A weird emotion crosses into his eyes. He starts signing, slowly, “Did you see Draga?”

He takes care to spell Draga’s name instead of pointing physically at the man, who is crouched nearby, tossing new logs on the fire and pretending not to listen to their one-sided conversation.

Zelda tilts her head, then shakes it slowly. “In the dream…? No? What do you mean?”

He shakes his head ‘never mind’ then stands up.

‘Going on a walk,’ he signs. He takes the divine blade, slinging it over his shoulder and, when he notices the looks she and Draga are giving him, he clears his throat and says, “I’m fine.”

“He’s not fine,” Draga says once Link is out of earshot.

“I know,” Zelda says. “But I’m not sure what to do about it.”

Draga grunts and moves to stand up, stretching slightly. “That’s because you’re both green.”

Zelda draws up, offended, but… relieved at his tone: conversational. Unconcerned. “You are at the end of your Pilgrimage. You’re… no more than twenty-three. I am over one-hundred years old; you can’t call me ‘green’.”

“You can’t order a drink at a bar.”

Zelda mutters under her breath, then says, “So what’s your adult opinion on our situation?”

Draga shrugs. It’s like a mountain being indifferent.  “Does he drink?”

“Excuse me?”

“He didn’t drink at Tarrey Town. I get the feeling Link would be a talkative drunk.”

“You’re ridiculous,” she snaps, flopping back into her cot and glaring at the canopy. “I don’t very well imagine Link would appreciate you… you scheming about getting him drunk.” Her words don’t have any teeth and they both know it. She sighs. “I actually have never seen him drunk. For all I know, he would be talkative.” A beat. “Well, I guess there was that one time with the frog…” She regrets saying that immediately when Draga’s eyebrows go up. “Not that I’m condoning your terrible methods! Only pointing out that for all our familiarity there is still… a lot I don’t know about him and he about me.”

“So, I take it you two aren’t sleeping together?”

Zelda jack-knifes into a sitting position. “Excuse me?!”

“No.” Draga scratches his chin. “I thought not.”

“That is an extremely personal question.”

“Is it?” He wrinkles his nose. “I guess we’re more pragmatic about that kind of thing in Gerudo culture and since you’ve both confessed to being hundred-year-old figures of legend… questions about your personal life seem fair game to me.”

“We’re friends! I’ve said that before!”

“Right, but friends can still sleep together.”

Zelda feels her face getting red. “We don’t.”

Draga chuckles. “So you don’t think Link is attractive?”

“Oh please, every man woman and Zora in the kingdom fawns over him. Leave me out of it.” A beat. “Why are we even talking about this? We were talking about… about battle recovery. I’m sure this was brought on by the fight is all.”

Draga tilts head. “Back on mission, little sister. You’re very one-track minded, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“I just might mind it,” she grits.

“I’m talking about whether you sleep together, because I was curious if you two have interests outside of this endless gauntlet of service and battle you’ve dedicated yourselves to.” Draga’s tone is not teasing now. “I am asking, if you’ve really removed yourselves from fighting long enough to heal.” Draga points into the tree line. “Link sleeps like a soldier, has nightmares like a one. You can’t seem to sleep at all. You both carry your wounds well, but you don’t have to.”

“I am not wounded,” Zelda whispers.

“You don’t fight for one-hundred years and walk away unwounded, Zelda.”

“I am fine! Link… Link is the one who –” Died. “The one who had to fight. If anyone needs help it would be him, not me.”

“I wager if I asked him about you, he would say the exact same thing.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Of course I don’t,” Draga says calmly. “How could anyone? You two are displaced in time and goddess-chosen. I’ve known you just long enough to learn the latter and had I another hundred years, I don’t know if I could ever advise you how to carry such experience.” He sighs, some of the tension leaving his stance and he drops one hand to his hip. “But… were you both simply… warriors in my command: I would tell you to lay down your arms and rest –”

“I can’t!”

Zelda kicks off her blankets and comes to her feet.

“I was a commander! We failed so the fault is mine. I failed my entire kingdom and the least I can to is just…” She stares into her empty palms and drops them as fists. “The least I can do is help them now.” She’s mortified. Her entire face is hot. She jams the heels of her hands against her eyes, like she can shove the tears away, drag them across her temples like war paint. She throws her arms down. “Don’t you dare tell me to stop! I can’t do that. I don’t get to lay down anything because I’m Zelda Bosphoramus and that is my… my duty!”

Draga’s expression is neutral, listening. She can’t glean anything from it. 

“I appreciate what you’re saying and… I’m sorry yelled.” Zelda gets her breathing under control, pushes her hair behind her ears. “I just can’t agree with you there. I do agree… that Link deserves time to stop, but I just don’t know how to tell him that and make him understand that I can do this alone for a while. That’s the real problem. Alright? I just keep… dragging him into this and he shouldn’t have to.”

Draga’s not looking at her. He’s looking past her.

Dread takes root in her tongue.

It takes her a full two seconds to get the courage, then she looks over her shoulder where (of course) Link is standing at the edge of the camp, one hand against the trunk of an oak tree, just… looking at her. And she can’t read the look on his face – one of those blank canvas stares meant to be projected into, the kind he developed over years of pressure and politics, onto which any person could imagine their best version of him and keep the faith. It makes her want to hit him when she sees it. Then that makes her hate herself, because she’s the reason he’s looking at her like that.

“Link?” she says. She turns to face him. “I wasn’t calling you a problem. That’s not what I –”

He makes an abortive hand-gesture so she stops talking. When he’s sure he has her attention he raises his hands and she knows what he’s going to say before he begins the gentle palm-tilted sweep: ‘Not your fault –”

Zelda covers her face so she can’t see. No. That’s not fair. She forces herself to lower her hands. “I was in command. The fault will always be with me, Link. The Champions, Hyrule’s army, you – all those deaths… it’s all my responsibility. It’s fine. I’ve always known –”

Link shakes his head.

“Yes, it is.”

He just shakes his head again.

“Stop saying that!” She wipes the tears running tracks down her face. “How can you say that?”

Link moves forward to put a hand on her shoulder, tries says something, but his voice doesn’t come through. He breathes out angrily. Then with his hands, he signs, ‘Because I say it to myself.’ He dips his head a little, mirroring her a little, making certain she’s looking at him, that she sees him. ‘It is not your fault.”

Zelda becomes aware of her nails digging into her palms only when Link takes her fists in his palms. He just keeps looking at her, until her fingers unwind and, eventually, fold into his. He holds her hands tightly, until her bones ache, until the calm fixed-point blue of his stare draws down the rage behind her teeth. She’s breathing hard. Simultaneously, she can’t breathe. Something visibly buckles in Link’s calm. He drops her hands, grabs her head between his hands and – He’s never done that before. Touched her that suddenly, without forewarning, in a quiet moment. She can’t remember the last time Link ever – he drops his forehead against hers.

“Stop,” he says. His breath against her face warms the bridge of her nose. “Stop thinking.”

She bursts out laughing

Or crying.

Both.

She’s not sure. She doesn’t care. She’s too tired. Zelda just sobs and drops her forehead against his shoulder, lets Link loop his arms around her and just… hold her there for a moment. He lays his cheek against the top of her head and his shirt smells like cotton and grass and the pressure on her ribs and shoulders will never be enough. The quick, brotherly kiss in her hair will never be enough. If she put her lips on his, put her mouth on every inch of skin, her hands on every part of him, it would never be enough to explain this phantom pain – like she was supposed to be him. Like they were supposed to be something else, together. There’s not a word for that.

So…

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”

She can feel, even though she cannot see, that Draga left some time ago. She knows, but can’t explain how she knows, that he won’t come back until the morning. When he comes back after dawn, he’ll find them sleeping like dead things under a pile of blankets, Zelda’s head against Link’s chest where the constant steady rhythm reassures her the world did not end. It’s the longest she’s had slept in months.

Chapter Text

They cross a trio of traveling merchants on their way toward Hebra.

There’s an outbreak of fever among the Rito, something Teba wrote Link about, something… strange. A sleeping disease that comes quickly and then smothers the afflicted incrementally, relentlessly, to death over the course of a few weeks. Link sent the message back that they’re coming to help. Fruit purchases would seem secondary, but Teba’s boy, Tulin, likes Lurelin star fruit and Link has a notion of spoiling the kid. So he picks out a dozen, sorting non-bruised specimens from a large saddle-strapped basket.

Zelda watches Link’s process while trying very hard to appear that she’s not watching him because then he might become self-aware of the faces he’s making when he carefully thumbs the skin of an unsatisfactory fruit and puts it back. He kind of wrinkles his nose, looks apologetic, and tried another.

Draga, who is not hiding that he’s watching, says, “Teba is the warrior who fought with Link to subdue Vah Medoh. Correct?”

“Correct.”

“Not the one with the accordion.”

“No, that’s Kass.”

“Kass is the traveling musician?”

“Hence the accordion.”

“Do the Rito know about Link?”

“No. They think he’s a great-great-grandchild of the Champion and Link doesn’t, you know, argue with them.”

“You’re both unbelievable.”

The other two merchants – a spice-trader, and fish-merchant respectively – are eyeing them a little. The larger one, the fishmonger, sits forward on his horse a little bit, squinting as though he just can’t quite get a proper look at the three of them. Zelda isn’t sure, but the fishmonger might be day-drinking if the slack-muscled blinking is any indicator. The spice-trader looks nervous. Like a woman waiting to jump in to break up a fight, like she just knows something is going to go wrong in the next few moments. She’s certain.

And then fishmonger says, “Oi, you’re that fuckin’ guy,” and the spice trader literally starts appealing to the gods.

It takes Link a second to realize he’s being spoken to. He frowns, in the middle of counting out payment, and doesn’t answer.

“Link right?”

Link ignores him.

“Yeah, thought so. Jessie, you shouldn’t sell to ‘im.” The fishmonger hiccups, cheerful in his bearing of bad news. “He’s a demon, ya know. Traded his fuckin’ soul to the Mountain Lord for power.” Another hiccup. “People saw ‘im. Riding the beast of Satori Peak across Hyrule Field. No lie.”

Zelda and Draga exchange a look. It’s not… a surprised look.

Link’s ignoring the man, calmly ties the fruit-bag to Epona’s saddle to evenly distribute the weight. He selects one of the starfruit, however, and careful sinks his teeth into it. That way, it stays in place while he mounts up. Once seated, facing his abuser, Link doesn’t make any move to eat the fruit, just sits there with it in his mouth, staring. The star-fruit is just the right size to make him look a little like a dog with a ball. Fishmonger, too busy expounding on his story, doesn’t notice.

He’s wagging a finger now. “It’s people like you… you are the reason…”

Link reaches up and slowly takes a bite of fruit.

“You are the reason that… this kingdom is going to the dogs. You. People like you.”

Link proceeds to slowly eat the fruit while maintaining the polite, emotionless expression of a person trapped in line with the town’s fanatical but harmless whackjob. Occasionally, he gives a sympathetic nod. Yes. He is a monster/demon/changeling/whatever. A were-creature. A whatcha-ma-call-it. The other merchants look ashamed. Maybe they look a little afraid, but that’s mostly because Draga looks really aggravated mounted up on his giant war horse looking Lynel-sized and murderous in his dark traveling gear and glaring. Eventually, they route the drunk man away, hushing him loudly as they go.

Link wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and waves cheerfully.

“You rode a god?” Draga demands when they’re alone.

Link looks abashed and goes back to eating his fruit, discretely kicking Epona into a trot.

“You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.”

Draga follows him, sounding a little desperate.

“Link, are you joking?”

Link rides away faster.

“Link!”

Zelda watches them zig-zag up the road like an absurd cat and dog, racing away too quickly for Maru to bother catching up. They’ll circle back after Draga finishes yelling. Knowing that, Zelda takes a moment to enjoy the quiet as the distance grows. Soon, she can’t hear anything but Maru’s hooves on the road. She closes her eyes then, gathering her hair at the back of her neck and turning her face into the sun. For a moment, it’s just that feeling – sunshine on her face and the rhythm of Maru walking down the road. She smiles at little. She smiles a lot. She’s not sure what to do with it – the excess of happiness in that moment so she lets it just breathe.

She feels a tug, just a little, like a thread twined around something somewhere behind her breastbone and running down her right wrist.

When she opens her eyes, Link and Draga have stopped to circle back.

But the sun and the happiness are easy to focus on and she’s looking forward to making fun of them when they get back to her. The point is, she does not think anything of the tug.  Nothing at all. 

 

 


 

 

Serenne Stable is populated primarily by trappers, traveling merchants, Leviathan researchers, and Rito flying in from the north-west part of Hebra. The main room’s crowded. Loud with guests both coming and going. Link is at the front desk smiling at the innkeeper in that way that will probably get them a discount. Zelda would tell him to knock it off, but there’s something kind of fascinating about watching strangers get charmed by a man she sees so often she has no unbiased perspective of him. She and Draga claim a table near the back of the common room and start dumping gear on the floor, glad to be off the road for a moment.

“I can never tell,” Draga says, taking a seat, “which Rito are male or female.”

Which might be a strange break into conversation, except one of the Rito, a red-feathered hunter by the looks of them, is pulling Link aside to speak with him near the front door.

 “Can’t help you there,” Zelda says, sitting down across from Draga. “There isn’t much in the way of sexual dimorphism in their race, at least not now. I think in different ethnicities of Rito, there are definite phenotypical signs, but so many of them have inter-married now that’s hardly a reliable checklist to refer to.” A beat of quiet goes on too long as Zelda catches the look Draga’s giving her. “Uh, that is to say… I don’t… I don’t know either.” She coughs. “That one might be male through. He’s kind of… tall?” As though there were not tall female Rito. She bows her head. “I don’t know.”

Draga’s leaning back in his seat, which is putting some real strain on the carpentry.

He’s watching Link, who’s got his hands on his hips, listening to the Rito. The hunter is making a comment, Zelda thinks, about the feather token braided in his hair because they kind of touch it with the edge of one enormous wing, lifting it from where it hangs against his chin. Which means, when they move it, they touch Link’s face. Both Zelda and Draga kind of… tilt their heads concurrently. Link doesn’t seem bothered. Perhaps he knows the hunter. He’s not smiling but doing that calm neutral stare that says, without a single word, I’m listening. You have my attention. The Rito laughs, then kind of bends down to say something, softly enough that Link has to turn his head and let them put the long, wicked curve of their beak near his ear.

“I think,” Draga says, rocking back on the legs of his chair and openly trying to get a better angle. “I think that Rito is preening his hair…”

Zelda snorts.

“Link’s not giving a damn thing away, but I think that’s what’s happening there.”

“Is he getting red?”

“A little.”

“That’s probably what’s happening then.”

“Is that flirting?”

“For Rito? I mean… well, it’s a little more than flirting, I think.”

Link takes a seat at their table a few minutes later. He’s just a little pink, but otherwise calm. He puts a single brass room-key on the table between them – meaning he’s sprung for a party suite and soft beds. Zelda is, very briefly, distracted by the imminent possibility of a bath and extremely soft sheets. Link presently goes about the task of unpacking things from his bag, putting his bow on the table, beginning his routine for weapon repairs with a kind of singular focus. He does not look up at either of them while he does this, though it’s obvious he can feel their expectant gazes against the top of his head. He digs a bag of roasted almonds from his pack and starts eating them. Studiously, even professionally ignoring them.

“Do you know that Rito?” Zelda asks conversationally.

He nods once, curtly.

“Who is… she? He?”

Link eats a handful of almonds and says, through the lot, “He.”

“What did he ask you about?”

Link, swallowing audibly, points at the feather in his hair.

“What about it?”

“It can mean things,” he says ambiguously.

Zelda laughs. “Like what?”

Draga grins, folding his arms. “Did Fyson give you an admiration plume?”

Link stiffens.

Zelda gasps in delight, hands coming together against her lips. “Oh! Oh, did he? Is that what they look like now?” She flaps a hand at Draga when he frowns at her. “No, see, one-hundred years ago a Rito would give a feather on a necklace or something more formal. Is it less formal now? Do they just put it, like, in their head feathers now or…? Oh. That’s sweet. Does it still mean what it used to mean? Because back then it was like this… well, it was kind of a declaration you were interested in them, but it could be just for great admiration or…”

Link rather pointedly flips his cloak’s hood up and pulls it down low over his eyes.

Draga sits forward, boots flat on the floor, still grinning. “Did that Rito come on to you because you have it?”

Link’s turning red now. He just sits there for a moment, turning redder, then, “Maybe.”

“But you turned him down?”

Link yanks his hood off so he can give Draga the full effect of his glare. Draga is entirely unaffected. He’s got his chin propped in his palm now, kind of smiling in self-satisfaction. Zelda has both hands clasped under her chin. Link, seeing this, tosses both hands up and gives them a very clear sign with one finger and starts to go back to weapon repairs. Or, at least, he starts to. But Draga sits forward and reaches over to hook two fingers around the offending braid, lifting it so he can look at it more closely.

Link side-eyes him, but doesn’t move away.

Draga studies the detail work. “You don’t mind it when Rito men give you their attention?”

Link arches a brow. Then, after a moment, with careful enunciation: “No,” he says, “I don’t.”

“Hmm. Discount rooms. Admiration plumes. Zora armor.” He flips the braid with a teasing grin. “Do you get marriage proposals everywhere you go?”

Link stops blushing. Instead, all the blood backs out of his face and he tries, unsuccessfully, to smile.

Zelda’s hands just drop, however, and all traceries of previous delight evaporates.

Draga, sensing he’s made a mistake, immediately sits back. “Sorry. I meant nothing by that.”

Link gives up on the defensive smile and the void left in his expression doesn’t seem to fill. He starts signing.  

‘Do you know Zora wedding traditions?’

Zelda translates.

Draga shakes his head. “I don’t.”

’Zora don’t make armor for their betrothed. They usually hand-craft jewelry.’ Link waits for Zelda to finish translating. ‘Zora royalty are expected to lead soldiers in battle, physically, to be on the field. So, Zora princesses craft armor with lightscale for their intended.’ Here Link touches a spot just below his throat, near the dip of his collarbone. ‘Lightscale is here, on a Zora. Only the females. Thin as paper, harder than diamond. A Zora princess can spare the one over her heart and the scale that grows back will be twice as tough, every time.”

“Doesn’t that leave the princess vulnerable for a time?” Draga asks softly.

Link laughs. Once.

“Yes,” he says.

That’s the point, he does not say. That she bares her heart for her people. That she might risk death for them.

Link’s looking very hard at the table in front of him, at his hands resting there among the tools and weapons he’d started to work on. No one says anything for a while. Zelda can’t even remember Link unpacking Mipha’s tunic – feather light scale-mail, so strong it can turn aside any blade, and so obviously a treasure he doesn’t dare wear it openly lest it draw attention. She does know, sometimes, discretely, he wears it under his tunic in place of regular mail. She catches him, sometimes, touching the filigree in the sleeves beneath his shirt, like one counts off beads on a rosary.

Maybe that’s how Draga saw it – caught Link in a thoughtless moment remembering the dead.

He waits until Link’s shoulders relax a little before speaking again, quietly.

“Did you ever get to see the Lightscale Festival?” Draga looks at Link. Gets no response so he elaborates. “The Zora hold the Lightscale Festival every year when the rains come. All Zora come back to the Domain. On the festival day, they send down the river, with their prayers, hand-crafted lanterns made from the shells of ocean creatures. Everyone knows this, because all the rivers in Hyrule carry tens of thousands of lanterns to every corner of the kingdom… and every one of them has her name written inside.” Draga leans forward a little. “I lived in a land where no rivers reach and even I know Princess Mipha was a wonder.”

Link has his eyes closed. His hands are fists on the table top.

“I’m sorry, my friend. I… didn’t make the connection.”

Link tries to say something but can’t get the sound to touch his tongue. His hands don’t move from the table where Zelda can see he’s clenching them so tightly the bones of his knuckles are pushing white beneath the skin. His palms will bleed where his nails dig in. Link finally signs something, but he doesn’t… do it properly. He just slowly spells out the words so he doesn’t need to raise his hands much. Like moving too much will disturb an old wound, like he can go still enough to avoid it.

Zelda translates for him.

“Mipha and I… grew up together.”

“I knew you grew up with the Zora,” Draga murmurs. “I just didn’t assume who specifically.”

The silence goes on long enough (Link struggling visibly to say anything for long enough) that Zelda swallows the terrible heat in her own throat. She moves on reflex, her hand moving to touch Link’s hand, then stops, unsure. But she can’t take it back now, so she lays her fingers carefully over his hand.

“Do you remember,” she asks, “that time Revali and Urbosa were fighting about how to position the Divine Beasts? They fought about it for three days straight.” She swallows, pressing on into his silence. “They just… couldn’t stop fighting. About everything. I thought they were going to kill each other before the Calamity even came. Honestly, it was very disheartening. I…” Zelda doesn’t know how to finish that sentence. She tries a new one. “Do you know that they stopped fighting because of you and Mipha?”

Link finally looks up. Gods, has he always been this blank with grief? Has it always been this obvious? When he’s holding still, no longer moving, was it always this clear? How did she miss it? She grabs his hand with two of hers, holding tight.

“That day you two were sparring and… Anyone could see it – that you’d trained together for years. That you trusted each other. Mipha was the fastest, the deadliest with her Beast but the quickest to… to be gentle when it was right. She was so much… better at everything and I loved her too. Have I ever said that?” She swallows, hard. She’s not allowed to cry this time. “Mipha brought everyone together. Everyone. And I… I am so sorry for…”

Link’s calm buckles.

He grabs her hand too tightly, crushing her fingers in his, but she ignores it. The bone-bruising pressure is a relief, an echo far, far away. Because the pain has snapped to the forefront of Link’s entire being and, for a second, it’s there on his face – twisted up and ugly, a knife wound, a fucking certainty. All the stillness and silence and calm scraped away to the raw face of it – the fact of it: That he is alive and Mipha is dead twice over, her body consigned for 100 years now to the tomb Vah Ruta. Her shade departed. No burial rites in the face of the final battle. Nothing left at all.

Zelda is, she knows, a whole century too late for condolences.

But Draga has no concept of that. He doesn’t live in their distorted timeframe. He just moves forward and places a hand against Link’s shoulder and says:

“I’m sorry she’s gone, Link.”

And it’s so normal of him. Like their just people. Like they’re anyone else.

She thinks, perhaps, they don’t know how to do that anymore.

When the first spasm of weeping hits Link, it’s not actually at the table but in the stairwell as they move their things to their room for the night. He hits the wall like his right knee gave out suddenly and Draga grabs the back of his tunic. He says nothing, just waits. Link recovers. Physically, literally bites it back, keeps hauling his things up the steps and into the hall. Zelda waits. Draga waits. The second spasm hits Link in the door to the suite. Again, he swallows it back. Makes it two steps into the room. The third spasm floors him.

Draga, seemingly prepared for this, lets Zelda pull Link onto the nearest bed while he goes about unpacking food from a rucksack. He ignores Link’s hyperventilating, his shaking, the way he doesn’t seem aware of the tears running from his closed eyes, or how he keeps grinding his teeth instead of sobbing. Draga just kneels in front of him to push things into his hands: A napkin with a piece of gummy cake and canteen of something that smells like honey and turpentine. Link opens his eyes long enough to shake his head, trying to refuse it, but the bigger man just presses both insistently into his lap.

Link hisses, frustrated.

“Just eat it and drink,” Draga says.  “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to after that. Okay?

Link barely manages it, but he does manage. It’s hard to cry and eat at the same time. Maybe that’s the point. Whatever is in the canteen sends him into a fit of coughing, but by the time he finishes, the hyperventilation is slowing and the uncontrollable shaking smoothing out. Draga takes the empty napkin and the canteen and sits forward enough to – with an inquiring slowness – reach a hand toward Link. When he nods, Draga carefully uses two fingers to turn his face into the lamp light, watching his pupils react to the brightness. Satisfied, he turns the touch into a soft tap against the hero’s chin.

“You’re okay,” he assures them both. “Try to sleep.”

“What was that?” Zelda asks, a little suspiciously.

“Possibly the last Akkala honey-wine in the kingdom, but it seemed like the occasion.” He shrugs. “It’s, uh, strong.” A beat. “In a couple of ways.”

Which is about when Link collapses back on the mattress, body slack, and lies there breathing slowly, like every bone in his body just stopped supporting his weight. Zelda scoots back so she can peer down at him. Draga just stays where he is, kneeling, waiting. Link’s gaze is pale and unfocused, roving the ceiling for a while as the full effect of the drink unfurls warm fingers through his body. He inhales, but it’s shaky. Every breath has a rattle. He wipes his face with one hand.

“You can miss things retroactively,” he says.

That probably shouldn’t break Zelda’s heart. It does though.

Later, lying in bed, Zelda runs her fingers through Link’s hair, not sure if that’s soothing, not sure how to touch him at all. He feels like a river interrupted. He shivers in her arms and its dangerous. Like she could break a circuit inside him and all that terrible agony would jump off his skin and hit her blood like lightning. She holds him anyway. Fully clothed, waiting for the sun to rise, waiting for light to move across the walls, for Link to catch his stuttering breath, for Draga to move from where he’s sitting with his back against the bed, arms folded, also wide-awake and waiting.

“Thank you,” she says much later. After Link’s breathing slows and deepens.

Draga turns his head. “No trouble,” he says in Gerudo.

“I never knew how to talk about her.”

“There is no right way to speak about the dead and no right way to comfort the living. Just make your best guess.”

“She was everything to him.”

“You’re probably right.”

A beat.

“Akkala honey-wine is worth its weight in gold, you know.”

Draga stands up, slowly, stretching when he gets to his feet. “Don’t tell Link. He’ll just feel guilty for not enjoying it.”

“Thank you, though, Draga. Really.”

He turns around to look at her. She can’t move because Link’s sleeping on her arm, his head against her shoulder, one arm around her ribs. They didn’t undress, so they still smell like the road. When she moves her head, she can smell campfire smoke in Link’s hair, the sour aroma of salt and sweat. Their legs are tangled, one of her knees crooked slightly between his legs, his right boot heel hooked behind hers. Draga tilts his head and, for a moment, she can’t read the way he’s looking at them – curled together like cats in a blanket.

Then, very carefully, he moves one hand toward hers, where she’s idly running her fingers through Link’s hair. She stops so Draga can, gently, tuck a section of wheat-gold hair behind the other man’s ear and, for a moment, lay his hand against the top of his head. Then she can read his expression – this formless kind of regret. A mirroring grief that wasn’t there before but she knows instinctively. Zelda isn’t sure what to say or where that’s coming from, what wound or rivaling loss… so she just lays her hand over Draga’s. She threads her fingers through his from the top so her fingernails scrape just slightly at Link’s scalp and they both feel him sigh, deeply, in his sleep.

Draga catches her eyes then, just for a second.

In that second, Zelda becomes aware, suddenly, of her palm pressed against Draga’s knuckles. Of all the bones in her hand, of all the bones in Draga’s hand, of Link’s breath against her collarbone – all three things common as sunlight and boring as bread in any other context but this moment suddenly. Link turns his head a little against her shoulder. She ignores it. She smiles, loops her fingers more firmly though Draga’s and holds his hand tightly – converting the moment into something more recognizable to her.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Draga gives her a half-smile. “I just wanted a horse, you asshole.”

She has to physically choke back the laugh to keep from waking Link.

 

 


 

 

“There’s a wolf following us.”

“Just one?” Link says, not looking.

“Yes,” Draga says slowly, clearly registering Link’s non-concern. “But it’s… big.”

Link cranes his neck to look over his shoulder, twisting in his saddle to see. Zelda looks too and sure enough, there’s a wolf on the road behind them. For a moment, she doesn’t get what Draga means when he says it’s big for a wolf since the average wolf is nearly twice size of a grown man on all fours. But then she realizes that the perspective is tricking her eyes. She thought it was nearer than it is. The wolf is quite a distance back but it just happens to be the size of a pony. It’s loping easily along the edge of the old forest path.

Draga pulls Arbiter’s reins, turning his horse around in the road. The wolf stops. They wait a while. The wolf doesn’t move. Cautiously, they set out again down the road and, in step with them, the wolf breaks into a trot. Like a Hylian Retriever headed for the farm. Draga stops again, this time reaching for his bow.

But Link says, unexpectedly, “Don’t.”

Zelda looks at him. “Link?”

“We’re downwind from it.”

“So?”

“The horses aren’t spooking,” Draga says warily.

Link stares up the road at the wolf, face… interested but blank. Eyes fixed on it in a way she’s not sure she understands. For a moment, she thinks the light in his eyes is animal green, back-lit by fairy luminance, but she can’t be sure. He pulls Epona around to face the beast. The wolf cants its massive head at him. Now that she’s really looking at it, the beast’s fur seems matted. Like it’s got its hackles up or… No. Not that. It’s just… almost maned, like a lion alone the back of his neck and spine. Storm gray, cream under belly and jaws. She can’t quite make it out, but she thinks there’s a marking on its forehead – like a sigil whorled there in ink. Its eyes though – bright almost phosphorescent blue in the dark mask of fur.

“What is it, Link?”

“A god maybe,” he says.

“Of what?” Draga murmurs.

“The forest.” Link hasn’t taken his eyes off it. “Or wolves.”

Draga surreptitiously glances at Zelda. He’s palmed the massive recurve bow from his back, his other hand resting on the quiver at his hip. They’ve traveled together long enough that Zelda knows Gerudo gods don’t walk the roads of their sacred lands in physical forms and, to him, there’s some question in his mind what is divine and what is demonic in this kingdom. She can feel that tang in the air that suggests he’s idly pulling some sorcery to bear – close to his skin, like heat off a stone. Link doesn’t seem to notice – or if he does, he doesn’t care – because he dismounts. Epona seems equally indifferent, lipping his shoulder fondly as he moves toward the wolf.

“Link,” Draga says through his teeth.

When he’s ignored, he looks at Zelda.

“I don’t… think it’s dangerous,” she says. She glances at Draga. “What are you feeling?”

He lowers his voice and in Gerudo, says, “Like it ripped my throat out in a past life.

Before she can react to that, Link kneels in the middle of the road, one forearm braced against his knee, opposite fist set against the dirt. She can’t hear it, but she’s pretty sure he’s speaking – words low and unfamiliar. The giant wolf tilts its head back and forth, like its listening to whatever he’s saying and, for a moment, Zelda could believe it: a rogue of god wolves hearing a traveler’s prayer on the road, the forest bending inward with every divine lupine breath…

But then the giant wolf kind of bounces on its forelegs. Then it bounds forward in a single terrifying lunge, so fast Link jerks back but not fast enough and – the beast knocks him down and drags a giant tongue from his chin to forehead. Then it barks, panting, and bounds off into the trees, vanishing into the underbrush.

Link sits there, kind of stunned, blinking.

Draga lowers his bow and the air around him seems to cool.

“Mad,” he says, turning his horse around.

Link scrubs his face and turns to look at Zelda. He seems genuinely perplexed.

“You should stop being strange in front of Draga,” Zelda says, ignoring his confusion. “He’ll catch on if you don’t rein it in.”

Link just grins at her. 

 

 


 

 

Maybe Link wasn’t taking the fight seriously. Maybe it’s been a while since he fought a person and not a monster.

Either way, he seems genuinely surprised to find himself flat on his back all the air knocked out of him. For a moment, he just kind of lies there, eagle-spread, looking puzzled. Draga looms overhead. He’s holding that claymore-sized scimitar one-handed. He seems vaguely unimpressed. Link nurses the region just below his sternum where – after blocking a blow like a cannonball – Draga swatted his defense aside and put a back-handed pommel in his gut. He grimaces, struggling to sit up, and Zelda can’t remember the last time she saw anything short of a Lynel put Link in the dirt.

“Focus or I’m going to hurt you,” Draga says.

“I’m not healing either of you,” Zelda shouts from her seat very far away. The horses are penned around the log she’s sitting on, grazing boredly around her. She raises her voice. “This is going to end badly!”

“Don’t worry,” Draga calls. “We’ll be back to Lynel hunting or dragon chasing or army killing or whatever terrible thing you’ve found for us to do.”

“Healing sick Rito children you mean? That?”

Link sits up, warily.

Draga smirks at him. “You best just use whatever magic you have, Hero. I plan to do some cheating of my own.” A beat. “I didn’t hit you that hard.”

Link climbs back to his feet, wrinkling his nose at his opponent.

“Forgot how to lose?” Draga asks, squaring up casually. “Or does that sword do all the work?”

Link hefts his sword a little and rolls his shoulder. He eyes Draga sidelong as he a takes up defensive stance across from him. They’re not using shields which Zelda thinks might be more to Draga’s advantage than Link’s – the man with double his reach, height, and body weight. But then again, Link’s never up to size against any opponent. It also rarely makes a difference against Link’s inhuman precognition and speed. And, more to the point, Link has that blade in hand and there’s nothing in the universe that stops him, truly, when it’s awake.

“Ready?” Draga says, the scimitar up, angled slightly between them.

Link exhales, then nods.

It’s instant. Draga darts across the space between them so fast Link only just manages the footwork to block. Zelda’s palms itch. She rubs them together as Draga slams Link’s sword aside in a series of deadly rapid swings, each one hitting with such force that the third blow throws Link staggering. Draga’s fast despite his size. He’s immediately in Link’s guard for the follow through, slashing at his open flank. Link has to dive-roll to the right, scramble back then somersault away from a two-handed downswing.

Draga’s sword slams into the ground like a pickaxe. Link lands cat-like then lunges. Draga’s wide open, fully committed to his previous swing and – Wrong. Draga pivots, raking the ground with his free hand and flings gravel directly into Link’s face. He flinches. Draga puts a boot in his chest and hits Link so hard he skids in the dirt for three meters before rolling back on his feet. He looks shocked. He coughs, grips his ribs with one hand, blade up with the other.

Draga inspects a long tear in his shirt, a shallow cut in his light mail from his hip to his shoulder – a defensive swing, struck before he could kick Link out of range. Draga eyes him, clearly deciding on another attack. But Link’s giving him a look: confused, almost hurt, blue-eyed and just on the edge of anger. He wipes the dirt from his face, pointedly.

“This isn’t tournament rules,” Draga says, a little exasperated. “Cheat back, hero.”

Link tilts his head. There’s something a little… predatory about how he does that. He rotates the sword in his hand a little… then grips the hilt, hard, like he hadn’t had a proper hold before and Zelda feels the change, a focus running from the blade to his palm to his boots and rooting him in some previously untapped current in the earth. Grounding him. The hair rises along her arms and she sits forward, frowning. Link squares up again. Draga does too, slowly. He can smell the change the same as she can but she can tell it interests him. She can feel that… shapeless density Draga has coming to bear somehow. Like extra gravity, like the world pulls in more tightly around him and he brings his blade to bear.

Zelda shivers. Digs her nails into the mossy wood beneath her.

“Ready?”

Link nods.

Zelda catches the spilt-second grit in the dirt when they both leap forward, where their boots push off the earth – then the deafening explosion when Draga’s sword connects with the divine blade and explodes. Not snaps. Explodes. Like a black-powder charge detonating between them. Draga hits the ground on his back, snarling, armor smoking. The tang of metal and defensive magic – thick, almost sickly sweet, and likely the only reason Draga’s head is still attached. The remains of the scimitar rain down in brittle pieces, the hilt landing somewhere in the woods.

Zelda’s on her feet immediately. “Draga!”

Link lands in a crouch. She’s never seen that expression before – that razor-thin edge of grief and shock where she can see him replaying the thousand alternate universes where his friend is dead by his hand.

He throws the Master Sword down and dashes forward. Zelda is already on her knees beside Draga who’s levered himself up into a sitting position, grimacing as he inspects his sword arm. There’s blood. A lot of blood. The entire limb shakes either from the pain or struck tendon. There’s a gash in his palm and his fingers, like the hilt of his own sword turned against him and cleaved through his glove into his hand. Bone glints in the red pulse of blood and Link stares at the wound, speechless. He tries to say something, but the syllables stick so violently they almost manifest a stutter.

Draga shakes his head. “No. I goaded you into it. It’s not your fault.”

“You’re an idiot,” Zelda snaps at him, heat gathering in her palms. She does not look away from her work, one hand holding his wrist, the other cupping the back of his knuckles. Her fingers start to glow internally. “He broke your wrist and most of the bones in your hand and you’re lucky that’s all it did. You knew what the blade was. Why on earth did you try this?”

He shrugs. “Wanted to see what the Lynel felt like.”

“The Lynel felt dead, Draga.”

“Well, I don’t. So, all’s well, princess.”

“Do not ‘princess’ me while I’m gluing your arm back together.”

He nods, almost thoughtful. “Can I tell you two something?”

Link makes an exasperated noise of assent.

“What?” she grouses, eyes fixated on the knitting skin beneath her fingers.

“I think, if I’d managed my focus a little better… I’d have had that exchange.”

Zelda looks at him. She’s not sure what his face is telling her when she studies him for any sign he’s joking, that he’s serious about defending against the blade that seals evil when Link’s holding it with any real intention. He seems calm, polite. She doesn’t think he’s unrealistic about things and that concerns her – his sincerity that he can beat Link. That he’d like to. She feels a shiver climb her spine, a cold crawl in her body. What? For gods’ sake it’s just Draga. Link’s hovering anxiously behind her, watching her undo the damage – the familiar recapturing of stray blood and the atomic stitching of muscle and skin. She erases any sign that there was a fight between them.

“There,” Draga says, showing Link. “No harm done and nothing a couple fairy tonics couldn’t undo, even if Zelda didn’t loan us her expertise.”

She feels Link start to smile without looking, a quiet glow of relief.

“You’re not immortal,” she says. “Being brave or reckless doesn’t make you immortal.”

Draga, flexing his hand, looks sharply at her. Link too, because he recognizes the words and the tone. Zelda looks over her shoulder at him, glaring.

“You know better,” she says.

“Zelda…” Link starts to say, but she’s already on her feet and walking off.

“Don’t fight again!” she says, loudly.

She can’t explain her panic, the cold rise of hair and gooseflesh, the heat behind her eyes, her mouth bone dry. She can feel them staring after her, confused. Good. They will think she’s just mad at them for injuring themselves, upset generally at their recklessness, their bloody-mindedness – the usual sensible reasons for being mad and not this… instinctive terror. A terrible de-ja-vu. It’s in the roots of her teeth, in her palms, the marrow of her bones. She stays away from camp until her hands stop shaking.

When she comes back, Link and Draga are seated cross-legged facing one another in the grass.

Link is signing, ‘I love pie.’

Which seems odd until Draga awkwardly mirrors Link’s hand-motions and says, “That seems lengthy for a hello.”

Link maintains his cool. “No. It means ‘hello’.”

Draga signs, ‘I love pie.’

Link smiles.

“Like that?” Draga says, suspicious.

“Yes.”

And suddenly, Zelda is less anxious than she was before.

Chapter Text

Like in most villages, Link’s arrival at the Rito Village main bridge gets a disproportionate amount of attention. As they board their horses at the village Stable, half a dozen Rito drop out of the sky and into the yard beyond the fence.

By the time Zelda and Draga finish talking to the stable hand, Link’s surrounded by a small flock of the massive bird-like tribespeople, three of whom greet the shorter Hylian with a warm mo’a – gently butting their foreheads against his and turning their faces aside to briefly press along the side of his head. It’s a strictly Rito welcome. Not usually shared with non-Rito on the basis that non-Rito often find the bird-like race welcoming and polite but ultimately somewhat stand-offish after a certain degree of familiarity. ‘Stand-offish’ generally meaning that they liked you well enough to test your friendship a little, as was customary. But the average Hylian doesn’t know they should be excited about a bit of Rito ribbing and take the new cold-shoulder as a hint to get lost.

Link, having dealt with Revali (who did not actually want to be friends at all), doesn’t let ribbing of any kind deter him. Generally. 

Link slings his pack to the ground as a massive white-feathered Rito makes a smooth but high-speed landing directly in front of him, straightening up to tower over the Hylian hero, head tilted with a positively predatory lean. He’s a warrior for sure – broad-shouldered frame roped with avian muscle, a massive bow clipped to his back. Brutal, eagle-like features make his expression difficult to read. Of the assembled Rito, he appears the most likely to embody the warrior reputation of his people – that he may slit a man’s throat on the raptorial hook of his beak and hurl them hundreds of feet to their squalling death. But presently, he just looks… worried? No. He looks impatient.  

“Teba?” Link says, tone a sure sign he’s noticed. “What’s wrong?”

“Is this your priestess?” he says, wasting breath on not a single pleasantry. His voice, rough, shockingly deep, matches Draga’s for pitch and intensity. “You vouch for her skills?”

Link, startled by this, nods.

“Good. Apologies, but we need you immediately.” The giant Rito gets down on one kneel, facing her. “Get on,” he says, indicating his back.

“I –” She looks at Link for guidance and gets an urgent nod. “Okay of course.” She rushes to loop two arms around Teba’s neck, careful to sit high so she can rest her armpits over the top of his shoulders, weight against his chest and not his throat. “I’m okay. You can go fast. I’ve done this before.”

He takes her at her word and launches skyward.

The air screams, her stomach drops, but Zelda keeps her head tucked against Teba’s neck, feeling the impossible power in the musculature of his upper back and chest, freezing mountain air tearing her hair into a tangle. She peeks over his shoulder just in time to see a large wooden platform rising to meet them and she realizes, blankly, that it’s Revali’s Landing. Built like the rest of the village into the side of the impossible white spire of porous stone that marks the Rito stronghold – she knows it better than any part of the Village even a century later.

Teba drops into the center of it and lets her down. He leads her quickly to a private residence one landing up where a pink-feathered Rito in white physician’s garb is waiting at the door. Strange that there even is a door – most Rito homes are open air platforms left exposed in the day so their residents and come and go by sky as needed. The open walls have been enclosed in thick canvas and cloth tenting, creating an enclosed winter dome. She can smell incense and medicinal herb from the interior.

“You’re a healer?” the Rito woman demands, in a voice that would be musically sweet if she wasn’t deathly serious.

Zelda is ushered her into the tent, but Teba stays outside. Quarantine possibly? Zelda rolls her sleeves up as she enters.

“Yes. I read Teba’s letters. I’m ready to start.”

“Good. I am Saki. Head physician. Teba is my husband.”

Zelda nods. “Thank you for the letters. Where’s the –?” She stops cold, almost stumbling. “The patient?” she finishes.

There’s a Rito male lying on a reed mat near heated stone hearth. He’s lying on his back, visibly in pain, both his wings curled to his chest, pressing into his sternum. He’s breathing in short, wet, asthmatic gasps that rack the Rito’s whole body. There are patches of molting feathers along his shoulders and back. The floor is dark with them. Before the illness, he was probably blue-black and cream-colored in plumage, a beautiful mohawk-ish head crest and a dozen warrior braids. Now, he looks dusty and grey.

He looks, with some exceptions, almost exactly like Revali.

“What is it?” Saki demands, edgy. “Link told you what’s happening?”

“Yes, I… what’s his name?”

“Mishi. The illness started in the house of his father and mother, then spread through the rest of the family and –” She stops. “He’s dying. This is the last stage. I’m only asking you to… try.” Then, with un-Rito-ish desperation, she says, “Please.”

Zelda goes to Mishi’s bed side and very gently draws his hands away from his chest so she can see. He can’t speak by now. He looks at her. He’s less eagle-like than Teba in facial structure. More like a raven. His eyes are neon-green and afraid. She tries to smile as she, carefully, places two hands palm down over his heaving ribs. The feathers beneath her fingers are soft, more downy fluff than the plumage lining his shoulders and arms. Rito hearts beat faster than human ones, but his feels like a humming bird snared behind a hollow-boned cage.

“Hey, Mishi? I need you to stay with me,” she says as her palms begin to glow, begin to infuse a warm light into the dense muscle beneath her fingers. “Breathe, okay? Try to breathe big, deep breaths for me.”

He nods and, with great effort, tries to keep breathing. Instead, he coughs until he gags, then struggles twice over to breathe. She cups his throat, very gently with two hands then slowly moves them down, spreading them across the band of his clavicles, then over his chest, over his lungs, then down to below his ribcage where the Rito’s waist begins to come in. Then she does it again – dousing for the damage that’s killing him. Feeling it under her fingers as pressure and cold. Sweat runs down her cheek.

“You’re fine,” she says warmly. She can feel something burning away under the radiant gold that she’s flooding into the dark, afflicted interior of Mishi’s chest. “Stay with me.”

Her head is swimming a little from exertion – focusing entirely on the indefinable sensation of organic systems finding their right configurations by her hand. It’s a blind shot, the magic of healing. Done by instinct and repetition, like braiding her hair. Or drawing a bow.

“You’re pale,” Saki says.

“I’m fine.”

She hears heavy footfalls outside, voices. A triangle of light opens across the wall as someone draws the curtain back and a very large person enters the room. 

“What are you doing?” Draga says.

She doesn’t look up from Mishi. “Healing. Where’s Link?”

“Outside. You’re using too much energy.”

“Go away. Send Link in here.”

“Why? Because he won’t tell you to stop?”

And he’s right, so she just redoubles her efforts. Light flares between her fingers, a heat rushing from her hands, lifting her hair from her shoulders. Draga immediately moves to kneel beside her, one fist set against the floor so he can lean near her without touching her.

“You need to stop,” he says.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snaps. Gold is gathering in her arms like candle flame. Her teeth ache from gritting them. Her head pounds. There’s a pain gathering in her lower back and mounting her spine. “I can do this. This is nothing compared to what I’ve done before.”

“This is nothing like what you’ve done before.”

Saki looks sharply at her.

“It’s taking longer than it should,” Zelda explains, glaring at Draga. “That’s all. I can do this.” Her arms are starting to shake. The golden shine beneath her fingers flickers. “Goddess. Where is it?” She stacks both hands over Mishi’s laboring heart. “Draga, just trust me. I can get this.”

“You need to stop or it’s going to kill you.”

Saki, hearing this, shakes her head and starts to push Zelda away. “Okay. I’m sorry, but I won’t allow that.”

“No! Just wait,” Zelda cries. “Please, I can save him.”

Saki glances at Draga, then back to Zelda. “Priestess, the champion descendent vouched for your skill and cited your healing work in Hebra and Akkala as proof of your ability. I trust his judgement as far as your skills collude it, but this cannot continue. I thank you for your efforts as they are.”

 “I didn’t say we’re letting the boy die,” Draga says somewhat drily. He pulls a piece of white chalk from his belt and starts surreptitiously marking the floor in sigils Zelda doesn’t recognize, then stares hard at them. Zelda smells copper – like warm metal or blood. He looks at her. “Zelda, I think your power’s being drawn off. You won’t be able to heal him entirely, but you can stave off the killing blow. Pick something very specific to heal, then stop.”

Mishi sits up a little, making it easier for her to lay hands along the curve of his windpipe, then against his chest again. He’s breathing slowly now, evenly. By the time she’s finished, he’s dozed off into what Saki informs them is his first unlabored sleep in three days. Draga grunts, frowning at the marks on the floor. Then he sits forward, presses his palm down over them and Zelda watches a quick, dull flash of red snake across the lettering and fade. The markings smoke slightly, burned into the wood. He wipes his palm off on his trousers.

“Saki, Mishi is the last in his familial line. If he dies, that ends it, correct?”

Saki tenses. “How do you know that?”

“That’s not important. What else can you tell me?” Draga presses. “Was there’s anything special about Mishi’s family? Were they a political target? Did they have enemies.”

Saki looks shocked. “No. No, if anything the opposite.”

“Why the opposite?”

“They… they were from the same clan as the Rito Champion, Revali.” Saki does not notice the look on Zelda’s face or if she does, she does not give a sign. “But why does that matter? This is an illness. It began in their family and spread as the healthy family members came to help.”

“This isn’t a disease,” Draga says, calmly. “It’s a curse. I suspect one tied to his family in some way. I’m afraid if Mishi dies, it’s going to jump to the next group of tribesman that meet its… criteria.” He glances at their patient who sleeps on, surrounded by people, yet somehow completely unprotected. “I’m going to need time and Zelda will need to recover. First, we must break the curse. Then we can save your tribesman, but I would recommend you limit all Rito contact with him until I determine the vector of transmission.”

“But if what you say is true,” Saki murmurs, “then there is a murderer to blame for this?”

There’s a pause, because there’s a very Rito flash of… intention in Saki’s eyes. Like an archer seeking a target.

“Possibly,” Draga says. “Generational curses are indistinguishable, generally, from a pre-meditated hex. It could be one person in the family encountered a cursed object or entity and it spread from there down the line. I can try to find out and if there is a party to blame. Does this meet with your approval?” When he receives a nod from Saki, he turns his attention back to Zelda. “I will need you strong. Go get Link and get some rest. I’ll call you back when I have something for you to fight.” Then in Gerudo, “Is that acceptable, Princess?”

That annoys her, but she thinks he’s trying to make her angry at this point.

She stands up. “I can do that. Thank you, Draga.”

His expression loses a touch of its edge. “I’ll fix this,” he says.

Zelda manages a very brittle smile. “I think we got here too late for that.”

 


 

“Draga’s mad at me,” Zelda says.

Link sits forward, scowling, and signs, ‘I am also mad at you.’

“Right.”

She spends two more days sitting with Mishi to stave off the effects of the curse. Draga spends that same time stomping around the Rito Village, disappearing for hours to walk about the foothills around the lake, scaring off large animals and writing things in a small grungy notepad. Link goes with him sometimes. He stays with her other times. When asked what Draga is doing, Link’s not sure because 90% of what Draga does looks like “scribbling in the dirt” and “squinting really hard at nothing then cursing”. He says Draga is doing ‘spellwork’ to trace the source of the curse.

He kind of fumbles over a slang sign for ‘spellwork’ that’s dangerously close to ‘magical bullshit’.

They’re sitting together on Revali’s Landing, side-by-side with their legs hanging over the edge. Link is not actually mad at her, despite his insistence because he’s far too worried to make room for being mad as well.

Link signs. ‘Don’t worry so much. Draga will get it.’

Zelda sighs. “I didn’t even notice it could be a curse.”

‘Were you ever trained for that? Detecting curses? Who curses people? That sounds fake.’

“You literally fought an incarnation of ancient evil and fight magically tainted monsters all the time. You have several semi-cursed objects in your travel pack that are so magically afflicted that Draga hit you in the face once because he thought one of your masks was taking root in your skull.”

“Psh,” he says in that tone that is largely responsible for 90% of Draga’s anxiety. Then he signs, ‘Were you trained?’

“Well, no, but… I don’t know. I thought it would be natural to feel and dispel such things.” She sighs. “I am… resigned to the notion that my power is waning but I thought more highly of my abilities.”

‘Draga said it was subtle. It’s why he’s so annoyed with it.’

“Your point?”

‘It’s easy to miss.’

“All my training as a girl was so… academic. The powers passed from my mother and grandmother were divinely sourced. Not something one could learn from practical wizardry so, while I have some training, none of it was… none of it was anything I could practice. Nothing I learned were things I could take with me in any useful fashion and I find that so… frustrating.”

Link says nothing to that.

“I’m a little embarrassed, if I’m honest. Aren’t I supposed to be good at this?”

Link snorts.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Relax,” he says out loud.

“I can’t just relax,” she says, offended.

“Not with that face,” he says.

Excuse me?”

He smiles at her.

“If you’re trying to improve my mood, you’re doing a poor job of it.” She stares out over the massive glacial basin that makes up Rito Lake, to the mountain range beyond. “If Draga is right, then someone killed Revali’s family while we were... elsewhere. I can’t stand it. I honestly… I can’t.”

Link’s not smiling anymore.

“It’s just absurd,” she says, aware that she’s starting to babble, to become frantic. “Because there’s nothing to gain from it. I mean… of all the Champions... Revali is gone. Revali’s abilities were singular. That was the… the whole point with him, you see, that he was the first of his family to do what he did. There was nothing he inherited. Nothing special in his bloodline. He did everything he did on his own so attacking his family is unwarranted and…” She shakes out her hands. She was clenching them, you see. “That’s stupid, Link,” she says angrily, choking a little. “That’s stupid. Why would someone do that to them?”

“Maybe no one did,” Link says gently. “I could be an accident.”

“That’s worse though! Don’t you understand? That’s worse!”

Link says nothing to that.

“They’re gone.” She covers her mouth with her hands. “They died while I was doing other things.”

Link says nothing.

The sun’s starting to fall in earnest now, a warm blush of orange receding from the clouds over the mountains. She can see her breath in the air and she thinks of sitting here, one hundred years ago while Revali filled the silence with assurances that, hey, most people are idiot nay-sayers and morons. Whiners and charlatans worthy of nothing but her contempt and fuck them anyways. They could go to hell. What did they know?

Zelda bends a little at the waist, leaning forward over the edge until the vertigo rushes her. Her hair slides forward over her shoulders and hangs, framing the fall to the icy waters below and –

“Did you know he was shot down?” she gasps.

Link, who instinctively looped an arm around her waist moments before, says nothing.

“They say he… he faced the Windblight on top of Medoh and he was… they all saw him fall.”

Link says nothing.

“He would have hated that.”

Link, still, says nothing.

“You know, we were friends?” she says though it hurts to do so. “He would fly to meet me at the castle and, sometimes, he would sneak me out to do field surveys when I should have been praying. He… he thought praying for salvation was stupid. He liked that I was trying to find practical ways to fight back. He said it was ‘very Rito’ of me.” She laughs, but it stings. “Goddess, it’s been one hundred years. Why do I keep thinking I’m going to see them again? Why does it feel like I still have time? And then I remember and its…”

Link has his arms around her ribs, somewhere between a hug and cautionary hold to keep her from rolling off the landing. He commits to a hug then, pulling her against him and kind of collaring her arms between her chest and his. He always hugs her way too tightly, but for whatever reason she prefers that – the feeling of being contained somehow. Like she could scream for days and it would be okay to do so. Link would just absorb it, like lightning coursing to ground.

They watch the sun set over Revali’s Landing.

 


 

 

Draga is looking up at her. He’s seated by a light source of some kind, a fire maybe or a hearth with the remains of a fire, something dim enough she can’t see his face in full detail but even in the dark she knows his features – the dark dramatic line of his jaw and brow, that he’s thinking about something, a hundred miles away. And yet, when he looks up at her he’s unfamiliar. His eyes – green in the dark, but there’s something beyond the surface, like live coals in deep water. The sands shift under her feet. She can see her own breath in the desert cold. Draga tilts his head and asks her what she is doing. He asks her very calmly.

He asks her because she’s fitting an arrow to the string of a bow. The bow is gold. Her hands are also gold, dripping with gold, a warm oily honey of gold soaking her arms from the elbow down. The shaft is platinum. The arrowhead has dull internal luminance.

“What are you doing?” he says again.

She draws the line back, smearing gold across her cheek.

“What are you –?”

 


 

She wakes up.

There’s a thin, watery line of sunrise visible through the slits between the rug walls of their room. For a moment, she can’t recall the strange octagon shape of the apartment, the feather bed and heavy quilt around her, the elaborate patterns in the tenting walls. The soft creak of wood brings her slowly back. They’re at the Rito Village inn – a sturdy wooden structure built (like the rest of the village) into the side of the impossible central spire that marks the Rito stronghold. The rooms are dozens of nest-style wooden platforms enclosed by retractable cloth walls and warmed by depressed stone hearths at the center of the floor.

She can hear the faint sound of birds outside.

She lies there, shocked by her calm. Horrified by Link who sleeps on undisturbed beside her. Horrified by the sham of his safety in her bed – one they share by habit now despite what that might suggest. For a while, she lies there, hopeful that Link’s sleeping façade will break apart and he’ll wake too. He’ll ask her if she saw Draga like he did once before and she will not be alone with it.

But Link lies dead asleep with his arm under his head, his bangs in his eyes, pale lashes laid against his cheekbones. Even in the dim dawn light he looks peaceful. Not like a man having a divinely shared nightmare. Not like someone she can blame for infecting her with some viral strain of violence. She hates the small hopeful part of herself eager to pin the problem on Link and rolls away from him, throwing the covers back so she can creep across the cool wooden floor and make use of the water basin and clean washcloth laid out by the door.

She dresses quickly, shakily. Picks up her water canteen from where she left it just outside the door to chill in the mountain air. She rinses her mouth out, puts on her boots and that’s when she hears a faint knock against the door frame from outside. She answers slowly, peering out into the cold dawn morning. It’s Draga. He’s over-dressed in Snowquill gear and a scarf. The cold in this region irritates everything in him that can be irritated, but it’s 4am and he shouldn’t be awake much less knocking at their door and for a moment a tiny frisson of dread curls around her heart and –

“Mishi is in danger,” he says.

She blinks. “What?”

“The curse,” he says impatiently pulling his scarf down. His nose is a red from the cold. She can see his breath. “I know it’s structure now, but it’s accelerating. I can break it, but I need you. Both of you.”

Link’s awake and dressed in seconds. They follow Draga up the multi-tiered spirals of steps and landings that comprise the Rito Village, rushing to keep pace with him as he only uses every other step to climb. The wood groans every time he pushes off, none of this village being built for someone his size and density.

“What’s going on?” Zelda demands.

“The spell is designed to resist magical defense,” he says, skipping two stairs and forcing the smaller Hylians to race up the steps after him. “Ancient sorcery. Something changed when you began to treat Mishi with magic and when I stripped out the obfuscation from the spell, it triggered some kind of failsafe.” He sounds frustrated. “We need to break it now, before it can get its teeth into Mishi. I have a… a way to do it.”

They reach the small quarantined platform that makes up Mishi’s apartment. The moment they enter… Zelda knows something is wrong. Mishi’s lying, seemingly asleep, surrounded by a series of wire and paper lanterns. Draga’s plastered paper protection wards on every wall. But there’s… something in the room. Like the air pressure inside his home is twice what it shoulder be. The air’s harder to breathe and tastes… chemical and sour. Like fermentation and machine oil. She knows that smell. She knows it in her nightmares and Zelda moves to kneel on the far side of Mishi’s bed, laying a hand over the Rito’s temple and forehead.

“He’s cold,” she says. “He’s breathing but he’s cold.”

She tries to heal, yelps when it rebounds against her palm. Frantic, she spreads her hands and tries to push a purification but, again, nothing happens.

“I can’t… I can’t heal him. What –?”

Draga shakes his head. “He’s not sick, the curse is drawing off his life. We need to break it to heal him.”

“How?” Link demands.

“I can do it,” Draga says.

Then he hesitates.

“Draga!” Zelda cries. Mishi’s breath is visible now. He’s shivering, violently. “Draga, he’s dying.”

“I can do this,” Draga whispers.

He sounds afraid. She’s never heard that before, not from Draga and it shocks her how profoundly she’d cemented him in her mind – a fixed point, unshakable as the fucking sun. Hearing him now, it puts a fine surgical line through the image she’d constructed of him. He looks at her and his eyes are undeniably lit by some internal flame – like fairy lights but darker and older and that fire of it sets something in her heart racing. He starts to say something but the words catch on his lips and that surgical seam splits into a wound, pulling it open and suddenly she can see past her assumptions: He’s not just afraid, he’s terrified.

“I can do it, but I need you ground me.”

“What?”

“You and Link. I need you to shield me.” He’s pushing his sleeves up to his elbows, kneeling now so he’s on both knees beside Mishi’s bed and there’s something… threatening in that: Draga on his knees. He looks at her, tone low, urgent. “We don’t have time. You source your power from Hylia so I need you to hide what I’m doing in that power. Do you understand?” And when Zelda stares, frozen, he raises his voice. “Zelda, do you understand me or not? I can’t do this unless you –!”

Link moves to stand beside him.

 Draga stops. They both stop. The whole room (the whole world) seems to stop.

Link’s got the sacred blade out. (When did he draw it? Did she see it? Why?) He’s calm. He stares down at Draga and his eyes aren’t human for a moment. They’re composed of the same ancient metal as the blade, lit from the inside by the cold silver flame that sets the air around him moving. His breath is visible in the air, his hair and clothes disturbed by a wind localized to him alone and… Zelda can feel it. Her skin warming, her palms heating like a skillet to flame. She can taste whatever Link’s drawing on – bitter sweet, like licking the residue of sap from summer-hot skin. It makes her want to move… to yell… to set her teeth in something and bite down. She –

Link drives the blade point first into the floor next to Mishi’s bed.

Before their very eyes, thin sap-green branches start to thread up from the old floorboards, infused with borrowed vitality. Link goes down on one knee before the sword, reversing his hold on the hilt so he can grip it like a mountaineer grips a cliff-face, not a weapon but a handhold. Then he lays his opposite hand against Mishi’s chest.

The Hero looks at them both.

Move,” he says.

Draga does not hesitate.

He pulls a blade from his belt and cuts his right palm open.

Blood splatters the floor. He closes his bleeding hand over a bone and ruby pendant at his neck. He rips it from the cord and holds it in his fist against his heart. His other hand he lays palm down on Mish’s chest, covering Link’s hand, but Link doesn’t even flinch, not at the blood, the violence of it, or the sick lurch in the air when Draga begins to speak. He casts in a language Zelda can’t understand – too old to fathom, in a voice that seems less like one man speaking and more like a dozen, three dozen, a hundred voices speaking at once – and the shadows gather in the corners of the room. Shadows deepen, lengthen, darken and suddenly the only light in the room is the silver from the sword, gauzy ribbons of radiance thrown around them on an erratic wind.

Draga sees the shadows, but keeps going.

He keeps speaking until he’s shouting and Zelda realizes the voices aren’t him. He’s trying to speak louder than the shadows in the room which are beginning to slither toward him, sending forth rhizoids of darkness across the flowering floor, probing the edges of the light, seeking a path to the source. The room stinks now – of blood, of rot, of flowers and fresh sap, of iron, and the forge. Draga is bellowing now, as loud as he can but the shadows are buzzing, are loud, a deafening cacophony rising like an infinite field of cicadas around them.

Zelda knows without knowing that if Draga loses his voice in the riot, the shadows will penetrate Link’s barrier wall and have every drop of blood from the caster. She knows without knowing, that every voice in the shadow has a name, and every single one of them knows Draga by his. They are clawing, frantic, cannibalistic and mad trying to get past Link to reach him. Link they know, but they can’t look at because (there is a Wolf composed of woven moonlight stalking through the valley of shadow) he’s impervious to them.

But she…

She is their Enemy.

Zelda moves now. She grabs the hilt of the sacred blade, her hand closing around Link’s, her other hand grabbing Draga’s bloody wrist where the pendants has begun to burn him now. She can smell the sick acrid scent of his palm. She can feel Link struggling to breathe. She closes the circuit of three, Mishi at the center, and the shadows begin to scream.

She opens her eyes. She thinks they’re filled with light.

“I can see you,” she says to the legion.

The screaming stops.

Gold runs from her palms like water, translucent and infused with sunlight, running down her arms and dripping from her elbows. Her skin’s begun to shine internally, golden light sparking along the tracery system of her veins then shining from within. Her palm on Draga’s skin steams, a gold mist rising from the place where their hands meet, like an ocean finding a lava-flow. Her fingers around Link’s are electric, rain infused with lightning.

“I can see you,” Zelda says again, louder, and the shadows flinch back from her voice. “I can see you, damn you, get out!”

in whose name, says the darkest corner of the room.

The shadows are burning away before her light, but the in the corner of the room, directly behind Draga, the darkness seems to pull inward, deepening infinitely into the wall, like a mouth opening behind him and Zelda can feel Draga feeling it – that there is something behind him. It’s nothing. It’s just a dark corner in a room. It’s a black hole. It eats every ounce of light that sears from her skin. She rises to her feet, gripping hold of Link and Draga more tightly. There is something in the darkness and she can almost see it.

in whose name, says the thing in the darkness.

Draga is still speaking, but when the thing speaks he falters. He starts to look.

“Don’t look at it!” Zelda shouts, pulling on his hand. “Look at me! Don’t look at it!”

in whose name, says the shadow behind Draga.

And Zelda can see now that the shadow is Draga’s shadow, cast against the wall but impossibly large.

in whose name, it says again, closer now.

Draga’s hair moves like something is breathing on him, some terrible maw inches from the back of his neck. But Draga keeps casting. A line of blood opens along Draga’s right cheek. But Draga keeps casting. The voice from the shadow shakes the room.

IN WHAT NAME DO YOU ACT

Zelda’s right hand ignites. The sword ignites. Link moves. Time twitches infinitesimally and he’s there, then gone, a silver after-image snapping into follow-through and the Hero’s put the Master Sword through the oak beam in the corner. But there’s no shadow there any longer. The blade’s dark again where it rests in the solid wood block, buckled and splintered outward now as though struck by a blow far greater than Link’s one-armed killing-strike. (If there were, in fact, a greater blow possible.) Link breathes hard, slowly, through his teeth, and Zelda can see a line of sweat run from his hairline to his jaw.

Then he wrenches the blade free and stares at the mundane wreckage he’s made of the wall.

“Zelda?”

“It’s gone.”

He turns, afraid. “Mishi?”

“He’ll be fine,” Draga says.

He’s wrapping his palm calmly in a clean strip of bandage. Mishi – still unconscious, still identical to her eyes as the fallen Champion a century past – lays quietly, breathing the slow, deep, even breaths of slumber. There’s nothing dark in the room, just the usual shade where the lantern light can’t reach and, in the face of true darkness, every shadow seems bright as day.

Zelda covers her face, pushing her hair from her eyes. “Thank the Goddess,” she says.

Then, she looks at Draga.

Link is also looking at Draga.

He finishes wrapping his other hand. Then he sighs, running a hand through his hair, disturbing only a few of the gold clasps there. “I guess we should talk,” he says.

 


 

They congregate in Draga’s room. He’s so big, the Rito gave him their only entirely wooden cabin – a sun-facing room, the balcony open to the dawn. There’s nothing but the mountain range stretched out beyond the basin, a long, jagged line against the horizon and beyond that – the faint shimmer of light from the highlands beyond. It occurs to Zelda, that he’s very near his homeland now. That it’s, perhaps, three or four days ride into the valley that feeds into Gerudo country and suddenly he seems strange – less the traveler on the road, more a desert creature drawing back relentlessly to the habitat that produced him.

That said, it does nothing to stop the three of them from sitting down, cross-legged in a circle near enough that their knees are touching while Draga tries to figure out the vocabulary in Hylian for what he did.

Zelda knows what he did. Link probably… has some notion, his intuition being a match for any academic knowledge. The Master Sword is laying in his lap. The naked metal, she knows, is comforting to him. His hand lays on the cross guard, bare fingers worrying the details in the hilt. Zelda has a hand on his knee because Link is her totem in times of uncertainty. Draga has his elbows braced against his knees, one hand set against his chin, fingers curled over his mouth. Thinking.

Eventually, Zelda makes the first move.

“Draga, that was unfathomably dangerous.”

“That is ironic coming from you.”

“I overstrained myself using my magic inefficiently. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you made a minor pact with a demon to break that curse.”

“With a spirit, Princess, not necessarily a demon, though several were present in an opportunistic capacity.” There’s a short beat of horrified silence from his Hylian audience. His eyes narrow. “I’ve been on the road since I was fifteen. I like to think I am fairly dangerous myself, Zelda.” He lowers his voice slightly, tone softening. “That does not mean I did what I did lightly.”

“You opened a door –” Zelda begins.

He cuts her off. “The door was left open decades ago. It wasn’t I that left it so or did you think I didn’t see what stands on the other side?” He looks away, staring at the floor between them. “What you saw… the shadow on the wall, Princess, was just that, a shadow. I knew the demon wouldn’t dare show its face in the presence of Hylia’s acolytes.”

Link, eyes never leaving Draga’s, speaks up. “The demon?” he says.

Draga says nothing for a while.

“Curses are difficult. I needed something more.”

Which is an evasion.

“The shadow we saw,” says Link, startling the other two. “It wasn’t there because you summoned it. It was there because it’s always there. You used blood magic, but that wasn’t dangerous. What was dangerous was that… thing in the corner because it’s waiting for you to slip up.” Link’s hand on the Master Sword curls into a fist and she wonders if the blade is speaking to him. “You’re cursed. That’s why you know so much about it, because you’re cursed. There’s a demon in your shadow.”

Draga, finally, looks Link in the eyes. He seems tired. “That was a lot of words and yet… succinctly put.”

Zelda leans forward. “Draga, are you in danger?”

He laughs, broad shoulders shaking with the effort. “I am always in danger, Princess. That’s the point.” He sighs. “But presently? No. The curse is dormant except in the very specific circumstances that Link described. It’s a family curse. So, I’m used to it.”

Zelda feels her eyes start to sting. “What?”

“Generational curses,” Draga says, almost conversational in tone. “They’re indistinguishable from a pre-meditated hex. My entire family for generations has carried the curse. We have no recollection now of where it came from or who crossed some demon in their actions, but it’s always been there on the edge of our lives. My mothers and my sisters and my ancestors before them were all ward-workers and war-maids of Din’s acolyte for a reason: to defend themselves.”

He shakes his head.

“So now you know. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but, like I said, it’s dormant unless I try to barter for power beyond my own.”

“But you directly summoned a spirit to break the curse on Mishi.” Zelda waits, but he doesn’t answer and she feels this… heat rising behind her throat, behind her teeth. “Why would you do that?” And when Draga looks away, she sits forward. “Look at me, why would you do exactly what that thing has been waiting for you to do? I saw your face. I know it terrifies you. Why would you put yourself in its way?”

“I needed the power,” he murmurs.

“You can’t do that.”

He looks at her. “Why not?”

“This was our task, our responsibility. Link and I. You shouldn’t have risked yourself just because I wasn’t strong enough to –”

“Zelda,” Draga says, “believe it or not, perhaps I didn’t do it just for you and Link.” Draga’s staring at her, unreadable. “Perhaps watching an entire family die in the throes of abomination is more than I can tolerate and perhaps that was the entire reason I left Gerudo Town in the first place: To learn how to protect people from exactly this kind of thing.” He shakes his head slowly. “I understand that, for a time, the world largely revolved around you and your hero, but this was not about you.”

Zelda blinks, stunned.

“I… that’s not what I meant!”

“I know. You never mean it,” he murmurs in a tone that she can’t interpret any other way than affectionately sarcastic, which is really just a nice way of being condescending.

She wants to hit him so much her fist curls in anticipation.

He notices, pale green eyes flicking idly to her half-cocked arm. “Are you going to punch me, Princess?”

“No,” Zelda says. “You’re just… trying to make me mad to distract me.”

“So you’re not going to hit me?”

I am,” Link says, which the only warning either of them get before Link lunges.

He punches Draga right in the face. So hard, it knocks the bigger man backwards onto the floor. This, apparently, was not one of the scenarios that Draga had anticipated because he ends up sprawled out, swearing over the sound of Link yelling, “Not about us, huh!?”

Link tackles the larger man with momentum that shouldn’t apply to someone his size, hitting Draga at his waist as he rises. He hits him the way a cannon hits a building, knocking the Gerudo back down with a crash. Then he’s on top of the other man and just swinging with everything he has. Draga tolerates that for exactly zero seconds and literally, again, throws Link off. But Link’s hitting his stride now so he comes out of the throw with one of those infuriating little… flip things that he does, landing on his feet like an absurd cat. Which makes Draga really mad.

And then they’re just brawling.

“Stop that!” Zelda shrieks. “Are you kidding me?!”

Link kicks Draga in the chest. Draga grabs his leg with one massive hand and throws him into the four-poster bed, smashing it. Link doesn’t even stop. He’s up and charging Draga immediately, body checking him so hard he crashes into the wall. Zelda, panicked, thinks they are doing the Rito Village a lot of property damage in a very short amount of time. Link and Draga are both yelling at each other now. Nothing intelligible, just angry fighting noises as they crash around the room, destroying things.

“We are half a mile up in the air!” she screams, jumping out of the way as Draga bull-rushes into the wall spine first because Link is trying to choke him from behind. “If you go through a wall you will fall to your death!”

Link’s still clinging gamely on, arm hooked around Draga’s throat from behind. Draga ducks forward, hard, throwing Link over his shoulder where he slams flat on the ground, air going out of him. Then Draga just sits on Link’s chest which, when you’re Draga’s size, is an effective end to most fights.

“I will light you both on fire!” Zelda screams, not sure if she’s serious.

“Are you done?!” Draga’s yelling at the man beneath him.

Link hisses. Literally.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Bite me!” Link snarls.

“What in the name of the gods is wrong with you?”

“Are you with us or not?” he snarls.

What?”

“Are you with us or not?” Link repeats, through his teeth, shoving at Draga’s knee so he can sit up. He’s sweaty, hair sticking to his forehead, face red. “Well?!”

“Of course, I am, you infuriating madman!” Draga pantomimes like he’s going to choke the Hero of Hyrule right here on the floor. “I didn’t dodge a demon because it was the right thing to do, you dense son of a bitch! I did it because it would have killed you both to watch Revali die again like it kills you just to speak their fucking names. Are you happy now?”

Link flops back on the floor, exhaling. “Yeah.”

Draga, disgusted, stands up and marches out of the room. “I can’t even look at you.”

Link makes no move to follow him.  He just lies there breathing hard, arms spread on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Zelda, very primly, kneels next to him so she can stare down at her duly appointed knight, who has bits of shredded feather pillow in his hair and a bloody nose.

“Really?” she says.

“He’s with us,” Link informs her.

It’s infuriating that, somehow, that was exactly the question she wanted to ask.

Chapter Text

They depart the Rito Village – albeit with some apologies for the structural damage to several rooms – and some notion of heading south toward Tabantha where, as Link promised, there was the possibility of dragons. They’re almost a mile along when a shadow cuts a swift but massive path across the road before them. They look up just in time to catch the sudden, high-speed intercession of a mostly recovered Mishi. He lands with a massive backdraft directly in front of Zelda’s horse, hitting the ground hard enough to kick up dust and mini cyclones. Luckily Maru is long accustomed to bizarre happenings and barely nickers even when a giant bird person appears from the sky. She just stops and snorts, offended.

“Wait!” Mishi says. He’s breathless, frazzled. “I didn’t want to miss you!”

Zelda, thrilled, dismounts to meet him in the road. “Mishi! You’re looking much better!”

The color in his plumage is brilliantly dark and glossy now, his eyes bright, feathers ruffled with emotion. Standing directly in front of her, he’s about half a head taller than her, wearing Rito archery gear, a breast-plate engraved with his clan crest, and a massive long bow clipped to his spine. Above them, the sun’s begun to track across the morning sky and – for a moment – Zelda feels herself pulled by anachronism. She’s been on this road before. Stood like this before. Facing a man like this before wearing armor like that before.

Zelda can feel Link behind her, waiting.

 She roots herself in the present. Mishi, not Revali, touches her forearms lightly, cupping them in the massive curl of his wings

“I couldn’t let you leave without thanking you.”

“No thanks necessary. Just… stay away from the eastern wind temple. There’s old magic there and that’s probably what..” She swallows. “I’m very glad you’re doing better, you know. We were worried.”

“Thanks,” he says. He reaches up and un-snaps a cord from his neck – a feather and stone pendent, a white arrow-head affixed with thin blue-black plumes. He carefully places it in her palm. “Carry that with you, priestess. On my family’s behalf. If you ever need help, you’ll have it from me and all my clan. You and your allies.”

Then, quite before she can do anything except stammer, Mishi puts both wings over her shoulders – warm, dark, and heavy.

“I won’t forget it, Zelda.”

He, gently, bumps his forehead against hers. Then he steps back… and takes off, straight up, launching skyward with such force the gale he leaves in his wake kicks up a spiral of wind – tearing her hair up into a weightless whirl as Zelda stands, laughing, shielding her eyes from the sun to watch Mishi rocket through the atmosphere. He cuts a sharp arc toward the mountains, tearing away on an unstoppable trajectory beyond the foothills and into the highlands. She presses her fingers, curled around the totem, to the smile on her lips and for a moment she lives in that rising heat, like warm waters on a tide, rising within her.

Then she ties it around her neck and mounts up again.

Link signs, ‘He’s fast.’

“Just like Revali,” she agrees. Then she blinks, hard, beset suddenly by a heat of tears. She clears her throat. “Draga’s upset with us.” She nods to the shrinking silhouette in the distance, largish and moving at a fast canter. “He hasn’t done that since the mask incident. He didn’t even want to talk about looking for dragons in Tabantha and that—” she makes a face – “is probably a bad.”

Link signs, ‘You think it’s because I punched him?’

She shoots him a look. “Don’t be smart. Why did you do that, anyway?”

He shrugs.

“Do you ever think about what you do?”

He shrugs again, more deeply.

Zelda shakes her head. “I think, before, you tried much harder to hide that kind of thing from me.”

He wrinkles his nose. “Not really. I wasn’t this reckless before.”

She blinks.

Link’s still watching the road. Zelda studies his face, but his expression is neutral and unconcerned. He pats Epona fondly and fishes for something in his shoulder satchel. She waits. Oh. He’s eating a snack. That… that was it. He just said that and now he’s back to riding. Zelda tries to look less worried while her former knight escort chews on a bit of dried apricot and hums to himself, content to set a steady pace beneath the cold morning sun. He’s wearing his hood up, lazy, letting Epona pick her own path down the road while he guides mindlessly with his knees. Zelda slowly looks away so she can frown privately at the back of Maru’s ears.

Eventually, Link takes not of her silence. She hears a short whistle. When she looks up, Link’s arching a brow at her like he’s been trying to get her attention for some time now. The sun’s moved in the sky. Draga is still pacing about a quarter mile ahead of them, so he’s still mad.

Link’s face asks before his hands. ‘What’s wrong?’

“What did you mean when you say you aren’t as reckless as you were one-hundred years ago?”

He gives her a funny look.

‘I meant what I said,’ he signs.

“Yes, but…” She stops.

It’s a clear day, but the Hebra cold leaves breath visible. There’s a thin layer of snow on the foothills not far above them. Link’s still staring at her, cheeks red, brow drawn down, half a question on his lips that never quite becomes. Then, slowly, a dawning blankness moves into his face and sets fine lines of dread across the interior of Zelda’s lungs.

Then Link just faces forward again and says nothing.

Epona tosses her head a little so he leans forward to run his hand across her neck and Zelda makes a detailed study of Link’s hand as he smooths it over Epona’s downy hide. At some point, Link let a stable girl to braid her mane into a loose series of rows and knots that allowed her to thread several bouquets worth of mountain flowers into it – trapper bells, apple bloom, and violets mixed with wisteria. They’ll wither by the end of the day, Zelda knows. He’ll have to comb and pick the dead plants from Epona’s mane and she thinks of him one-hundred years ago – his old war horse, tacked for battle, meticulously groomed and saddled.

“Is that… silent princess?” she asks eventually, pointing at a flower behind Epona’s ear.

Link glances at her. He’s lowered his chin a little, so the lip of his hood shades his eyes. She has to watch his mouth to read anything from the way he nods instead of speaking. Zelda, carefully, leans from Maru’s saddle so she can lift the flower from Epona’s mane. Zelda sits back properly again. She spins the blossom between her fingers then, on a whim, she slides the stem behind her ear, arranging it into a fetching angle at her temple.

“There. How’s that look?” she demands, swiveling at the hips to face Link.

He gives her a very small smile and thumbs up.

“Useless. I’ll ask Draga.”

‘He’s still mad,’ Link signs looking a little offended. She can see his eyes now.

“I didn’t punch him. You did. And he got the best of you in that fight, by the way, I hope you don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“What? No, he didn’t.”

“Bye,” Zelda says, kicking Epona into a canter.

“Hey!”

They race to catch up with Draga and she loses the flower before they even get there.

 

 


 

 

“Link, do you want to go back to Zora’s Domain?”

He glances at her.

The fire crackles, the scent of roasting fish rising warm from the small travel-sized skillet, the oils popping softly. They’re seated in the shade by a small creek near the road. Link is halfway through the motion pinching herb into the pan and he squints at her instead of giving it the attention it needs; he’s finicky about how things are salted or flavored. Damn. She should have waited until after lunch to ask that question. Ruining a meal with personal questions. She intended to ruin the afternoon generally with personal questions, but ruining food as well… that was just unnecessary.

“Sorry. Never mind.”

Link finishes sprinkling herb and dusts his hands on his pants. Then he turns to crouch facing her. Oh no. He’s giving her his full attention. Which isn’t to suggest he doesn’t usually, but rather that she wishes he wasn’t doing that right now because her question in retrospect seems presumptuous. Link folds his hands between his knees, his elbows on his thighs. Oh, Goddess. He’s giving her his full undivided attention. Link’s full undivided attention, among other things, has brought down giants.

Presently, it’s just making her deeply anxious.

“I only ask because… we’ve only been back the one time. Now that the shrines aren’t working, it takes so long to travel and I just wonder if you wanted to make some time to go there and…” She gives a helpless shrug. “Visit?”

Link thinks about it. Then signs, ‘Do you want to go there?’

“Well, it’s comforting you know.”

Link eyes her steadily then signs, ‘I’m fine.’

“I know Bazz and Gaddison have asked you to come around. Are you afraid they’re going to group hug you to death?”

“Terrified,” he says calmly.

“But, Link, all joking aside. Do we need go back?”

Link gives her a look.

Draga, who is no longer actively avoiding their physical presence, looks up from where he’s seated nearby – back against a log, reading a book. It’s much warmer now that they’ve dropped elevation but he’s still wearing full Snowquill gear and a scarf. This does nothing to detract from the vague sense of dangerous he exudes when he eyes them over the coils of said scarf.

“Zora’s Domain is on the other side of Hyrule. You know that, right? We could not be farther away, presently.”

Zelda glares back at him. “Yes. I know. I am aware.”

“Just checking.”

“I’m sorry, but don’t pick a fight with me just because you’re grumpy.”

“I’m not. I’m saying Zora’s Domain is far away.”

“Bravo. Geography. You know I was the Princess of this land once, right? I might know where things are located.”

Link, visibly uncomfortable, laughs nervously. “Can we not?”

Draga shuts his book. “Why do we need to go to Zora’s Domain?”

“Maybe that’s personal,” Zelda says, folding her arms. She lifts her chin slightly. “Maybe it’s none of your business.”

Draga looks at Link. “Why do we need to go to Zora’s Domain?”

The Hero of Hyrule, Hylia’s chosen hand, embodiment of the Light, glances quickly toward the creek like he’s wishing it were much deeper and he could throw himself into it to avoid this conversation. But he can’t and Draga’s sitting forward now, draping one arm over his knee, his book dangling between his fingers as he narrows his eyes. Draga’s right cheekbone is still bruised. He didn’t let Zelda heal him and seems to have used just enough first aid to close the cut there, but nothing else. Link still has a split lip and scraped knuckles.

“We don’t,” Link says.

“Zelda is making a face. I don’t believe you,” Draga counters.

Link glares at Zelda who wasn’t aware she was making any face whatsoever and tries to stop having a face immediately.

“I’m fine,” Link says.

“Why,” Draga drawls, “did you assume I thought there was something wrong with you?”

Link tenses.

Draga just stares, calmly, waiting.

“I’m sorry I hit you earlier.”

“Thanks, but that is not what I’m talking about right now or why I’m asking.”

Link signs, ‘It’s no problem.’

Draga signs, carefully, ‘L-I-A-R.’

“Leave it alone,” Zelda starts to say.

Draga interrupts. “But since you brought it up – why did you attack me? You’re crazy, but that was rude. You’re not usually rude.”

“I’m not crazy,” Link says calmly.

Draga rolls his eyes. “You’re reckless but you’re not rude. So why did you do that?”

Link’s mouth thins. Then, “I don’t know. Just felt right.”

Hitting me felt right?”

Link shrugs.

“Are you sure you’re not crazy?” Draga sighs, a little dramatically, seemingly ready to abandon this line of questioning.

Then Link repeats, quietly, “I’m not crazy.”

And then there’s a long silence.

Draga, who was clearly not trying to dig at a nerve, seems mildly unsure what to do upon realizing he’s found one. Zelda, who was not aware that was a nerve to dig at, blinks. Link, who seems to realize what he’s just done, freezes. Luckily that’s when the fish he left in the skillet starts smoking and then bursts, somewhat improbably, into flames. Small miracles. Draga points. Zelda yelps. Link, noticing the sudden flames, grabs the handle on reflex and promptly burns his hand. He hisses, then tries again with a towel whereupon he just flings the whole pan into the creek where it ricochets off a rock and disappears into the shallows on the opposite bank.

Zelda stares.

Draga, dumbfounded, says, “You lost your pan.”

Damn it,” Link says.

He inspects his burned hand. There’s a bright red band bisecting the centre of his palm.

“Here,” Zelda says, standing up. “Let me see.”

“Don’t,” Link snaps.

Zelda stops exactly where she is, boots rooted suddenly to the ground. Draga doesn’t say a word but Zelda can feel him… settling on her peripheral. Link flexes his hand a few times, furling and unfurling his fingers as the burn darkens, flushing with heat. She’s pretty sure it’s going to blister. She’s certain it must hurt. He looks over his shoulder at them and Zelda isn’t sure how to describe the specific notion that Link’s eyes get bluer somehow, intensify with his temper, even though that cannot be true. When he looks like that… huh, she thinks of the Wolf on the road.

“So there’s a demon in your shadow,” Link says, looking at Draga.

Draga, who was nowhere near that topic of conversation, stares then slowly allows the violent change of subject. “Yes, we established this. Are you getting that pan or…?”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course, it bothers me, but you get used to it.”

Link turns around. “Do you want us to try and get rid of it?”

Draga laughs, then seems to realize Link is serious. “That’s a notion, but no. You can’t break the tie with this demon. It’s too ancient even for you two. I admit, there is a wildness to you both that defies the laws of convention so nothing is impossible, but unless you exhibit some control over what you do I can’t imagine you breaking a curse this powerful.” Draga tilts his head. “No offense, Link, you’re strong. What power you possess, it tends to wipe out what stands before it, but you act in instinct. Do you even know how you did what you did back in the Rito Village?”

Link says nothing.

Zelda cuts in, “I could try though. The entirety of my inherited magic is fashioned for sealing malicious power.”

“And you used most of it against the Calamity,” says Draga evenly. “And what practical application has there been from your study of sorcery at the Hyrulian high court? Any at all? Or do you, like Link, draw on some unspecified knowledge at the time of necessity?”

“That may be true,” she says, ignoring the sting of that – the implication that years of prayer and study have amounted to nothing so much as book knowledge, “but how can a single dark spirit be more dangerous than the Calamity Ganon?”

“I don’t believe it is more dangerous, just more subtle. Zelda, your power is a hammer.”

“And that won’t work because…?”

“You cannot kill what you cannot reach. The demon isn’t… here. It’s on the other side of the veil. The demon tribe does not exist on this plane until they choose to do so and they needn’t present themselves in our world to do harm.” Draga gestures to his bruised cheekbone, the place where the monster laid a gash open during the fight. “Again, what you saw was a shadow on a wall. The real beast is… bigger.” He hesitates, like even talking about it sets him on edge. “But this is all beside the point: I have protections afforded me by my family. So long as I do not engage in pact magics, I am safe.”

“You’re sure?” Link says.

“After two decades of living with it? Reasonably.”

Zelda frowns, moving to take a seat on the log he’s leaning against. “Your basing this off the fact it… simply hasn’t tried anything historically?”

“No,” Draga says quietly, “I’m basing it off the fact my sisters worked very powerful magic to protect me before they died. Generations of my family have fought endlessly to break the curse and they’ve come the closest to doing it – to limiting its scope. It would dishonor their efforts to expose others needlessly to the danger now. So… I thank you, but pick a different battle. This one is mine.”

“So fight all the battles that aren’t close to us?” Link demands.

Draga looks at him. “Why are you so eager for a fight?”

“I’m not.”

“You’re being rude again. Are you going to fight me now?”

“Of course not.”

Draga narrows his eyes. “Okay, what you actually angry about? Because it’s not my curse. You’ve been in a mood since we left the Village this morning and you were fine before then so what is it? Because I think I’ve humored you long enough about something that is, actually, deeply personal so either respect my wishes not to be your next battleground or tell me what’s actually wrong.” He folds his arms. “If you can do that, maybe I’ll consider letting you help. Your choice.”

And Link, rather precisely caught, looks away.

After a while, Draga sets his book aside and moves somewhat laboriously into a crouch.

“If you’re not going to get that skillet, then I’ll do it. You’ll just be irritated about it later –”

“I don’t remember things,” Link says, cutting him off.

Draga stops. He processes that, then calmly, “I thought you said you’d recovered most of your memories.”

“Some,” Link murmurs. “Not most.”

“And that bothers you?” Draga asks.

He doesn’t quite smile. "You get used to it."

If Draga resents his words being echoed, he doesn’t give sign. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. Is it the first Zelda’s heard of it?”

And Link looks at her. She’s fighting back the knot in her throat because he looks so tired in that moment.

“I knew,” Zelda cries, hands clenching tight in her lap. “I thought it was… Link how bad is it? You never talk about it! You remember so much. We talk about the past all the time. I… I sensed that you’d remembered our time together. What do you mean you don’t remember things? What’s missing? Was I wrong?” She stops when Link folds his arms and looks away, a slight visible pain moving across his face, then sliding back into unreadable calm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He doesn't answer.

“We can go back to Zora’s Domain,” Zelda says, desperately now. She stands up, hands clasped tight, pressed against her stomach. She feels nauseous. Dizzy. “They remember you from before I knew you. You said before that they helped you get things back. You have so many friends there. They would certainly help you. Please, you don’t have to… pretend everything is fine. We can stop. We can go back. Just talk to me.”

“I don’t think it will help.”

“Why?”

He shrugs.

“Link, no. Tell me why.”

“I always…” He tries to go on, but his next words stick and die. He says nothing for a moment, as though he’s not certain about continuing at all, but Draga is waiting and Zelda is waiting, trembling with the silence, so he signs, ‘I always assumed I’d lose my mind. So, it’s not a priority.’

Zelda says nothing.

Then, “What?”

Draga, who is probably catching only a handful of Link’s sign, looks sharply at her.

“You’re not going to lose your mind!” Zelda cries.

What?” Draga echoes.

Link’s completely emotionless as he, wordless, lays it out in gesture and sign. ‘I already did once. It’s not unreasonable to think it’s likely.’

 “Why would you say that?” Her voice is starting to crack. “What do you mean…?”

‘I don’t know. I have a feeling. My instincts tend to be good. That’s all.’

“How long have you felt this way?”

’Since the sword chose me. Draga is right: I have no control over the power inside me. It's going to eat me alive.’

Zelda covers her mouth with one hand, shaking.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t know how.’

“I don’t understand what he’s saying,” Draga says tensely.

“Link…” Zelda hesitates to see if he wants to speak for himself but he gives her a small permissive nod. “He's saying he has no control. That... the magic itself is going to drive him insane and...” She looks desperately at her once knight and partner, who calmly waits for her to translate the massiveness of his admission into plain words. “…because he lost his memories once already, it's accelerated the timeline. He thinks he will lose his mind and that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. That's why he's pushing about the curse, because he thinks it's going to get worse.” Tears are brimming in her eyes. “Link is that right?”

He drops his gaze.

He nods.

And Zelda, barren of any other instinct in that moment, shakes her head. Slowly at first, then hard, until her hair is in her eyes and her heart in her throat and she can’t – she can’t

She dashes across the short distance, hitting Link in the chest, palms first. She hears him grunt softly with the impact. Her hands close on his tunic. She can feel the scale mail beneath it – a token of his childhood friend, hand-crafted to fit him. His eyes are wide. She can see every organic fractal of blue in his irises and the faint scar at the top of his forehead where his hairline starts. He got it from a riding accident when he was ten. His ears are pierced because Zora give jewelry so casually as a gift.

His hands close over hers. She can pick out a myriad of pale scars on his fingers – a history of learned violence she was never witness to. She doesn’t know the stories in the callouses. She doesn’t know the topography of his lost history, mapped out in implication only and gone now in the wake of the Calamity. Her fists ball up in his shirt and she pulls at him so she can drop her forehead against her fists and breathe.

 “You could have told me,” she chokes. “I wanted…. I wanted to know that.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, aloud but so softly it could be lost in the breeze. “It was easier to pretend.”

She draws back, lifting her eyes. “How could that be easier?”

He doesn’t answer for a moment, just turns from her, so her hands slide from his breastbone to his shoulder. When he continues not to answer, she moves behind him and (after a hesitation, intense, all encompassing, white hot) loops her arms around him, tucking her arms around his ribs, her hands lacing over his chest. She lies her cheek against that back of his neck. His hair tickles a little. He smells like the floral bar soap from the inn. Her heart is slamming in her chest – rabbit-quick and afraid.

“You can tell me.” She swears it to him, but still the silence stretches. “Please. Please, just tell me…”

“You didn’t know me well enough to tell the difference.”

Zelda nods, just once, then presses her face against the slope of his neck, feels his hand close over her inter-locked fingers. Squeezing tight. Like an apology or to keep her from pulling away in the aftermath. She’s not sure. She’s not sure about anything. She's not sure he could have hurt her more if he drew his blade across her arm – letting blood from her veins like venom from a bite. His hand tightens until the bones in her fingers ache and she, acting on impulse, mouths ‘it’s okay’ against the nape of neck until his hand relaxes.

“Link,” Draga says, when it's clear Zelda can't go on, “do you want my opinion?”

He waits for Link to nod.

“In Gerudo teachings, magic use of any kind always carries some measure of madness. An attitude of risk. The greatest danger to any sorcerer is the possibility of losing themselves to the powers within them – The Thousand Voices. The Sea of Lives. To lose yourself to any of these is to fall to abomination and possession. It’s what killed my family and what stands in my shadow... so when you tell me you’re afraid to lose yourself, know that I hear you, but also know that I have some notion of the signs.”

He lets that settle for a moment.

“When you say you’re going to lose your mind, do you mean you’re going to lose yourself to the Sea or that your memory loss has made you a different man?”

“Both,” Link says quietly.

“One may not have anything to do with the other, you know.”

“I dream about drowning in twilight and a moon that falls time and again, infinitely.” Link’s hand tightens on Zelda’s again, his shoulders set. “I dream about falling so far from above the clouds that I can barely see the earth. In the dream, I’m another person. When I wake up, I feel that I don’t have enough of myself left to keep them out. One has to do with the other.” He shivers. “I’m… afraid of losing my mind again. It’s like dying…”

“Look at me,” Draga says. “Link. Look at me. You embody the soul of the hero, yes, so you have many lives lined behind you. Maybe they tell you how to move. How to fight. How to employ magic you’ve never learned or a tactic you’ve never tried. Maybe, in moments of battle or fear, you see a window into a section of their lives, but I don’t believe they will consume you.”

Link's looking at the creek, not Draga.

Link says, “Why not?”

“Because those lives are yours, in some degree. They’re behind you. Like memories. You’re troubled because you’re beginning to see memories that are not your own when your own memory has been so dramatically reduced. You were wounded in battle, Link. You lost parts of yourself. I won’t say that I know whether you will ever get those pieces back, but even so the man you are now… he’s far too stubborn to fall to the men that came before him.” 

“None of them lost to the Calamity,” Link murmurs.

“None of them had to come back from losing.”

“I can’t control it.”

“Such is wild magic. It’s not for you to control, but it’s intent is not your destruction. You can stand in the eye of the storm and direct its trajectory, Link, simply trust that you’re unmovable.” And when Link does not look at him, Draga moves forward and with two hands takes his head into his palms, fingers curling around the back of his neck, thumbs hooked behind the line of his jaw and when Link doesn't pull away, he guides his eyes up. “Listen to me," he says. "You are not insane. Even if every hero before you was utterly mad, you are not and you will not be."

Link exhales. "Why not?"

"You have Zelda. You have me.” He searches Link’s eyes, shakes his head. “I do not see the signs in you. So, you won't be lost."

Link doesn’t move. Doesn’t relax.

“Do you believe me, Link?”

Zelda can smell copper, taste it, like a coin on her tongue.

Link exhales, slowly. “I believe you.”

“Good. Then we should get back on the road.” Draga lets Link go and moves to pick is book up from the grass where he left it. “There are dragons at Tabantha Bridge. Or was that not true?”

Link turns in Zelda’s arms. Before she can react, he cups her face in his hands and presses his mouth to the plane of her right cheek. He says something, soundless, against her skin. ‘Thank you’ perhaps or… or something else. She freezes. Her entire face flushes, but as fast as he does it, he stops. He steps away, moving past her toward the creek where he starts to wade across the shallow water, hunting for the skillet. Zelda can’t explain why her lips, not her cheek, seems to ache from contact (or lack thereof) and the shiver that runs down her body ends somewhere in her stomach.

Draga turns around, slinging a satchel over his shoulder. “Gerudo country isn’t far from here. We have time to slow down before we head that way.”

Zelda rubs her cheek. “Yes, right. Of course.”

Link’s plucking the lost pan from the water.

Draga’s looking at her. “Are you alright?”

“Hmm? Oh. Yes. I’m okay.” She pulls her hair back. “Uh, thank you again, Draga. I… I appreciate it. I think Link needed to hear that.”

“You two need to talk more,” he says quietly. “I mean what I said – he’s safe but much of that has to do with you. Isolation is the fastest way for the Sea to take a soul beyond the shore.” He moves toward the clearing where the horses are penning beyond the trees. “I may not always be here. You need to be sentinel.”

Zelda hops the log by their rest site, chasing him down.

“Draga.” She catches his arm, pulling him around to face her. “If you leave Link and I, who will be your sentinel?”

He says nothing, just peers down at her, eyes unfathomable and green. He’s so tall he casts a shadow over her. She waits.

“I’ve been alone since I was fifteen, Zelda. I’ve had seven years to work out how to protect myself by myself. You needn’t worry about me.” He smiles a little. “But I appreciate it.”

She lets him pull away to check the tack on his horse.

“Okay,” she says to herself.

Behind her, Link is putting out the fire and packing up. Draga is patting Arbiter. She stands there, aware of them both, and silently over and over she hears Draga saying, ‘I may not always be here. I may not always be here. I may not…’

 


 

They board their horses at Tabantha Bridge Stable a full day later.

It’s a quiet and somewhat isolated outpost perched almost directly on the cliff besides its namesake – narrow arch of wood planking and rope that tenuously spans the dizzying plunge of Tanagar Canyon. So deep is the fissure in some sections of the country, the bottom vanishes into a deeper, darker layer of cloud and mist that seems it could very well be the migratory path of draconic beasts. Tabantha Bridge is the only permanent bridge linking the plains of Hyrule Ridge to the snowy region of Hebra and therefore, an essential waypoint for merchants and travelers of all variety.

They take day packs and hike out to the far edge of the canyon at the foot of Mount Rhoam, far from the bridge itself, and set up a comfortable spot for themselves on a wide jut of stone overlooking the canyon course. Zelda lays down several blankets within minute Draga has produced alcohol from a deceptively small flask that tingles when Zelda takes draft from it. She suspects, somewhat, that it’s enchanted in the way Link’s travel satchel is enchanted and carries far more than its dimensions should allow.

So, getting increasingly more drunk, they watch the color leech from the sky.

Turns out Link isn’t a talkative drunk.

After quite a few long draughts from the flask, however, Link does discard all sense of personal space. So he’s presently trying to climb on Draga’s back and Zelda – eating a small bag of candied fruit – makes absolutely no move to help. Link keeps saying something about ‘higher ground’ as he clambers their giant friend the way he might climb a rock face. Draga doesn’t seem amused. He pries at the smaller man with little success, Link clinging, tenacious as a limpet. He gives it up until Link is literally sitting on his left shoulder, squinting across the plains with the attitude of a mountaineer surveying the country.

Draga sighs and loops a hand over Link’s knee to keep him from tipping. He eyes the impetuous Hero of Hyrule with a long, calculated stare that is surely counting down to the moment he flings Link into the dirt. But he makes no move to do so. His hand on Link’s thigh is so large that his fingers very nearly encircle his leg just above his knee.

“I could throw you like a shotput,” Draga reminds him.

Link says, loudly, “Don’t be a drag, Draga.”

The Gerudo gives him this look like Link’s immediate future as a human bolo is forthcoming.

“Are you certain the dragon comes this way?”

 “Yes,” he says.

“When?”

“Very late at night. Or very early in the morning.”

Draga promptly torques to the left and flings Link to the ground next to Zelda. Zelda, still eating candied fruit, moves the bag out of the way so it doesn’t get crushed when Link rolls onto his back and lies there, a little red-faced, on the blanket. Draga takes a seat at the far edge of the blanket, the small campfire to the side casting relief on the three of them, the full moon laying silver highlight across the grassy slope up Mount Rhoam. Link points at the moon and signs.

‘I keep thinking it’ll turn red.’

Draga looks up, stunned. “The blood moons have stopped now that Calamity is gone.”

Zelda tilts her head. “Yes. You didn’t know that?”

Draga runs a hand through his hair, the wind ruffling some of the shorter bits. “I did, I just now realized that’s directly attributable to you two.”

Zelda does a little half bow/wave combo. Link gives a thumbs up.

“I take it back.” Draga lies back on the ground, lacing his fingers behind his head. “It’s not that impressive.”

“We probably should not be drinking if we’re trying to spot a dragon,” Zelda points out. “I’m already sleepy.”

‘They aren’t dangerous,’ Link signs.

“Wake me if dragons show up,” says Draga, closing his eyes and with a soldier’s immediacy, falls asleep.

Zelda prods the sole of his boot with her toe and gets no response. Link laughs, but silently, shoulders shaking a little. Zelda sits up so she can crawl over and peer down at Draga who, yes, appears to have completely dropped to sleep in the span of one moment and the next. She satisfies herself that it’s so by mock lunging and waving her hands inches from his face. Nothing. She sits back on her heels, examining their friend’s sleeping face. In consciousness, Draga’s neutral expressions are somewhat severe, lending him a default mien of someone vaguely irritated, just on the verge of a scowl. In sleep, the edges smooth away; you might notice his eyelashes are a little long, or that his hair curls where it get loose from the braids and clasps. Zelda has to resist a small, familiar impulse to smooth his hair flat where it’s sticking up.

She catches Link in the corner of her eye, signing.

‘I think we can break the curse.’

Zelda, glancing warily at Draga, signs back, ‘We should respect his wishes.’

Link sighs and flops back down, running his hands over his face. He signs, from his back, ‘We could fight it.’

Zelda moves to kneel beside him, leaning over her fallen knight so she can sign down at him. ‘I don’t know how to fight it.’

Link tilts his head. He’s so much smoother with his hand signals. ‘I think you did pretty well.’

She gives up on sign. “I didn’t know what I was doing. It was just… in the moment.”

Link grins. ‘You shouted down a demon.’

“I did not.”

He shrugs, makes a lazy one-handed gesture that translates, thereabouts: ‘I liked it.’

Link’s still grinning. His smiles linger longer, stick more easily when he’s tacky with liquor and slower to rein in the translation of emotions to body language, like drink gums up the gears that tell him to be stone before the eyes of others. A breeze rising from the valley ruffles Link’s bangs slightly. He’s a little more slack than usual, a warm fluidity born of drunkness and, she thinks, happiness. He’s been lighter since their talk at the creek. Quicker to smile and take to a joke. The firelight’s putting little strands of gold into his hair. He smiles up at her.

Zelda is not sure how it happens, or what part of her mind goes into automatic movement but the impulse – always there, vaguely, unformed and unexamined – comes to the forefront of her brain and asserts control. She places one hand on the blanket by Link’s head, bracing herself so he’s beneath her, looking up at her. He watches her, curiously, and begins to mouth a word. Lips parting on something, a question maybe or –

She kisses him.

Her lips find his just as his voice finds his throat. The vibrato comes across his teeth, settles in the bones of her face and it’s so unexpected she jerks back immediately, as if shocked. Link stares at her, half braced on his elbows in the attitude of rising, eyes wide in the dark, his lips still parted on whatever he was going to say before she put her tongue in his mouth and caught his voice against the back of his teeth. He can’t seem to get it back – rendered all again mute by her.

“I’m sorry!” Zelda covers her mouth with her hands. Horror possesses every fiber in her body and knots them up. “I didn’t – I’m sorry! I’m drunk! I didn’t mean that!”

Link sits up very slowly, expression… odd. His lower lip is a little swollen. She shakes her head, whispering.

“I don’t know why I did that.”

He keeps staring at her.

“That wasn’t fair. Oh. That was stupid. I don’t… I guess…. I thought it was funny what you said. Shouting at demons. Oh… that’s not very funny actually.” Panic. She’s panicking. Link’s all blue-eyed and pale and just staring at her and she’s losing her mind right in front of me so of course she rejoins, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It seemed like a good idea! Oh. Why do I keep letting Draga give me alcohol?! Just because I stole his wine that one time and suddenly it’s, like, a challenge of some variety I honestly… I don’t…”

Link is still staring. Zelda gives up entirely and covers her face with two hands, peeking between her fingers, because that will somehow make this less horrible.

Voice muffled, she whispers, “I didn’t ruin things, did I?”

Link stares. Then, “What?”  

“You know… by doing that. Did I… ruin everything?”

Link again, says, “What?”

“Did I break it?”

“It?”

“Us.”

“What?”

They might both be a little too drunk for this.

“You know!” Zelda flaps a hand. “With the kiss.”

Link stares.

Then he promptly bursts into laughter.

Which, given how appalled she is, seems almost offensive – him amused in the face of her utter mortification and crisis. Link falls over on his side and lies there gasping, hair in his eyes, just lost in laughter. It occurs to Zelda that she’s never seem him laugh like that – that he’s very, very different when he’s breathless and smiling and loud even in a passing moment and in this passing moment, Zelda’s heart seems to constrict in her chest. Suddenly, she’s very glad she decided to kiss him if for no other reason than this.

Eventually, Link stops laughing.

Zelda lies down on the blanket facing him, smoothing her hair in annoyance.

Link signs, carefully, ‘You can’t break us.’

“Can’t I?” she whispers.

He looks at her. Then says, calmly, “No.”

And she doesn’t know what to say, so she says, “I might sleep this off and miss the dragon.”

Link shakes his head. He signs, ‘It’s a dragon.’

“Technically, it’s a spirit.”

‘You’d going to miss seeing a DRAGON.’

She shrugs, closing her eyes. “We have time.”

Chapter Text

She is walking across a desert.

Her hands are soaked with gold. They run with it – like rainwater from an unseen storm – from her palms and from her feet. She leaves a winding line of damp, luminous footprints along the thin spine of the dune. In one hand is a bow. Platinum and mathematically curved. In the other hand – four arrows. Gold as well, hollow, and fletched with silver. She climbs a hill slowly. She knows with no context that she is going to the Arbiter’s Grounds to find the execution circle – the abandoned ruin at the foot of the desert colossus and then, having thought that, she is there.

She stands at the top of sandstone steps under a granite arc facing the colosseum circle – pale curves of stone built over and over atop one another so the diameter of the arena stands three stories tall. Rotted banners waves from the battlements. The floor is grainy, wind worn, and hot beneath her bare feet. A pool of silvery light gathers and evaporates on the stone where she stands, dripping, her clothes wet, her lips running with rain, her hair caught up in slow eddies behind her.

There are two people standing in the ruined arena.

Link is there. He’s wearing armor she’s never seen – a green tunic and chain mail. She can see his breath in the desert night; it glows gold, as though he is exhaling from some kiln burning steady within, the endless smoke rolling over his tongue and dissipating into the dark. In his hand – the blade, burning silver. It shivers the air around them with every breath it breathes in sync to the soul of the Hero. He doesn’t look at her when she mounts the steps. He only has eyes for the man on the other side of the arena.

The other man in the arena is Draga.

She’s never seen the armor he’s wearing. It fits too close – black metal and old Gerudo script tooled in leather. He’s crouching, massive and dark, across from Link. There’s a claymore smithed of black steel in his hand, resting point down against the sand-eaten stone. The ground beneath Draga’s boots is glowing, pulsing a slow gold vibrato through the earth, like the heartbeat of some great animal and when Zelda descends the first stair he looks up at her.

She can’t see his face. It’s dominated entirely by the steady hell-red burn of light in the sockets of his skull.

When she sees the glow – it cleaves through her like a butcher’s blade, laying her heart open and she begins to weep immediately, tears running gold from her eyes and cooling against the skin like a mask. She’s standing over him suddenly, looking down into a familiar face made black with shadow. The sacred bow lies shining on the ground. She cups her friend’s jaw in her hands and tries, with her thumbs, to wipe the darkness away – like you wipe dirt from a boy’s cheek.

She wipes gold where the shadows are, smearing it like oil, leaving it like gold-leaf against his cheek.

She bends down. She can smell his breath – iron oxide and alkali earth.

She kisses him, gold over flowing from her lips, melting down his jaw and filling his mouth, his throat, his lungs. She is drowning him but he doesn’t move – still as a statute and warm as a hearth stone as she –

 


 

She wakes up.

The moon overhead hangs heavy and bright – caught up in the warming sky. Constellations spark like pin pricks of bright fire in her mind and for a reeling moment she can’t recall if these were the stars in that desert or if there were stars at all in that old ruin or if she ever looked at the sky. She groans, rubbing hands over her face, feeling her belly pitch and yaw with the aftermath of Draga’s flask. Her mouth tastes sticky and sour. There’s a residue of sweat on her face and her hands feel cold, like they’ve run through glacial streams. She can hear voices talking in the distance. One voice speaking low, coming into focus as she begins to listen and hear…

“What do you mean you ‘rode him’?”

There’s a murmur.

 “Link,” Draga says, “I know you don’t speak out loud very often so I say this with the gentlest of criticism, but you cannot just say the crown prince of the Zora –who is over a century old and known in the land for slaying mountainous sea creatures – let you ride him. That sounds very…” He struggles. “…offensive? Is that offensive to Zora? It sounds offensive, to say nothing of somewhat suggestive…”

Zelda rolls over to squint toward the edge of the canyon where Link and Draga are seated at the edge of the cliff, bodies framed by the faint edges of dawn beginning to spread along the horizon. Just enough light that Zelda can make out the open-mouthed look of mortification on Link’s face – all blue-eyed, blond, and offended. Draga shrugs, facing forward, one long leg hanging off the cliff, the other drawn up so he can drape an arm over his knee.

“You said it. I’m just telling you…”

Link hisses something.

“I know you well enough to assume as much, but most people know you as a madman so it would not take much for them to make very different assumptions. That one fellow thought you sold your soul to a mountain lord. God knows what he might think if he heard a Zora Prince let you mount him…”

Link immediately swings around and kicks Draga in the ribs. Hard.

“He’s Mipha’s brother!” Link says, horrified, loud enough that Zelda can hear.

Draga, lying on his side, drawls, “I apologize. That was rude.”

Link settles a little.

Draga props his chin in his hand, lounging. “You also share a bed with the crown queen of Hyrule so there’s that too.”

Link kicks Draga again, repeatedly.

“What?” Draga is laughing over the thump of Link’s boot knocking into his thigh, hip, and lower ribs. “A misguided bard could have a field day with it. This is what happens when you don’t come forward and tell your own story.”

Eventually the furious kicking lets up (mostly because Draga catches his boot in one massive hand) and they both sits straight again. There’s a sociable quiet and Zelda hunkers down against the blanket, pressing herself flat to the rumpled wool, afraid to disturb that quiet lest she derail its pleasant trajectory. The wind rising from the canyon makes a riot and a mess of Link and Draga’s hair respectively and, side by side, the difference in their size seems exaggerated – Link no more than a shadow beside a monolith – and its only then, in the contrast, that the residual anxiety crawls forward again.

Zelda squeezes her eyes shut and it’s there: The desert. The shadow. Gold dripping like honey and nightshade. She opens her eyes. Draga is shoving Link with a companionable brutality. Link elbows his arm away. Her heart races in her breast – quickened by unfathomable instinct. Like she needs to stand up. Move. Go to them, immediately and… and what? Warn them of what? The dread crawling through her belly like a trapped salamander? Her premonition of a desert and symbolic dangers? She lies, paralyzed and afflicted, by her own promise to Link only months before: I swear it. I would tell you if we were in danger.

Draga says, “When is your dragon coming?”

Link shrugs.

“Is it true they’re wardens to the Goddess Springs?”

Link nods.

“What are dragons like? In case none come.”

“Indifferent.”

That seems to surprise Draga who glances at Link.

“Like a storm is indifferent,” Link goes on calmly.

Draga says nothing to that for a moment. Then, “Which dragon are we waiting for?”

“Dinraal. Lord of fire.”

“Hmm.”

Draga sits forward, setting his elbows against his knees and looking out into the void beyond, boots braced against the cliff face while the wind gets pieces of his bangs loose. Zelda has this theory he cut his hair too short, too fast, and after years of classic Gerudo coiffures (based entirely in volume and length and elaborate restraint) was at a loss for how to style it. And so, he makes due wrangling it into half braids and gold clips. She hasn’t told him lately that it suits him. She should do that.

Zelda can hear his smile, even if she can’t see it.

“I would be disappointed to not see Dinraal.” He laughs. “For all that I’ve traveled… there is much I’ve not bothered to see.”

Link cocks his head.

“My circumstance was too urgent for that, you understand. I had to… acquire power quickly. This journey back to my home country – winding, unfocused, lackadaisical as it is – it’s the longest stretch of time I’ve spent actually seeing this land. Doing what it is our pilgrimage is supposed to be.”

Link fidgets. Then, after a moment, he asks, “Will they bar us from entering because we’re voe?”

“They won’t bar me. I’m returning from pilgrimage and I’m of the People.” He shrugs. “As for you, any voe can ask for a circumstantial pardon if you’re there on business. You just need someone to vouch for you and –” He stops. He looks at Link. “Are you saying Riju hasn’t already given you a pardon?”

“A what?”

“A pardon. You can come as a voe into Gerudo Town if you have one. It just means the Gerudo who sponsored you must be with you. In this case, I would be your sponsor, but I assumed you had pardon already.”

“I didn’t have that.”

“So how did you get into the city?”

A pause.

Link must answer quietly because all Zelda hears is Draga’s loud, belligerent rejoinder.

“You did what?”

Link squirms physically, hot with embarrassment.  

Draga stares Link dead in the eyes, a soul-crushing judgement. “Gerudo Town is a trade post, not a central stronghold. The vai-to-vai commercial traditions date back eons, yes, but they aren’t life-or-death. It’s a trade practice to protect our merchants.”

Link signs, ‘Really?’ with one hand.

Draga growls. “I understand going under cover as a vai once to meet with Riju, provided the guards didn’t believe your admittedly ridiculous story, but after that you could have claimed sanctuary and gone as voe with escort. Either Riju assumed you identified both ways or knew you didn’t and thought it was hilarious. She is thirteen so…”

Link thinks about it. “Oh,” he says after a long while, softly.

Draga looks disgusted. “You idiot.”

 “Oh,” Link says, covering his face.

Draga sighs, relenting a little. “This does not… improve upon your actions, precisely, but the actual writ of the law is that you must act in accordance with Gerudo norms while within the city. This interpretation is… very subjective, intentionally, so we may bar whoever we like from the city provided they are disruptive or disrespectful. Even if a guard suspected you might be a Hylian male in form, when dressed as a vai, you are vai.”

Link’s less embarrassed now. “I didn’t know that.”

“Almost no one outside of Gerudo culture does. That’s the point, but that does not apply to you, Hero.” He calls him ‘hero’ like you call someone ‘idiot’. “When we get there, you should ask Riju for a formal pardon outside merchant law.” A beat. “Unless, you do feel as a vai…?”

Link looks up, blinking. Draga’s squinting at him and it’s then he must realize the Gerudo is legitimately asking. “Oh! No, I’m… I’m voe.”

“All the time?” Draga says, like that’s surprising.

Link kind of stares for a moment, then gives it some thought. He nods.

Draga shrugs. “Blessed for you that it’s so easily known.” A pause. “You know Draga is not my birth name, do you not?”

Link gives no sign this surprises him.

“Not every Gerudo comes home with a new name, but I am. It is… uncommon. As is my trade. When I stand before Chief Makeela Riju and her council, it will mean something if you and Zelda are there for it as witness. It will… assure people.”

“Why that name?”

“I don’t know. It felt correct.”

“Mer Draga,” Link says, using his Gerudo surname. He nods, as if he likes the sound of it.

Draga smiles. “It’s reversed in Hylian, is it not? Surname and given name?”

Link’s smiling. He begins to say –

And that’s when, all at once, something erupts from the canyon directly below them. A geyser of molten red exploding from a gap in dimensions and the displacement of otherworldly air knocks Link and Draga flat to the ground.  Zelda, in her instant of panic, thinks of Death Mountain: That a dormant vein from the core of the great volcano has come awake in the canyon. But even as she thinks it, the volcanic eruption snakes like a great, red-black ribbon in the sky overhead and resolves, finally, as something else entirely. A hovering twist of magma suspended in the atmosphere.

And then, slowly, the dragon’s head – horned in flaming iron, maned like a lion, muzzle the color of ash on cherry red metal – rises from the loops of its body and stares down at them.

Its eyes are gemstone and older than comprehension. The sight alone garrotes the functions of Zelda’s lungs. But the dragon isn’t even looking at her. It’s staring directly down at Link and Draga.

Link’s already up on one knee, blade in hand, his fist snagged in the collar of Draga’s tunic. Frozen with the potential energy of flight but illuminated in the furnace glow of the dragon… he doesn’t even breathe. Draga lies stunned, just… staring as the dragon-god Dinraal (fire wyrm, guardian of the sacred flame, beast that eats the falling stars) twists upward suddenly, breaches the low-hanging clouds… and begins to dive.

By then, all three of them are sprinting away.

They run toward the long open flatlands leading back toward the road, stumbling in the dark over unseen divots in the grass, breathing fast and ragged. They say nothing to each other. Running close to one another. Link’s crushing her hand in his. The moon illuminates the way before them, illuminates Link’s shoulders, angled back, the blue-gold scabbard strapped to his spine, the blade in his hand and – Too familiar. Too familiar. She’s been here before.

 “We can’t outrun it.” Draga’s voice is unnervingly calm. “Link? I can route her. I can hold her, but I need your sword.”

 “You think we can kill Dinraal?” Link sounds stunned. When he looks over his shoulder, Zelda feels a momentary spike of fear – the unrecognizable rage in his face. “You’re that arrogant?”

 “I know you believe it’s a servant of your Goddess –”

No.”

“–but your blade might get through.”

“I can’t!”

To which Draga says, “Well, I can.”

Then the air sucks inward, pulls impossibly – like gravity gone amiss – then snaps back in the empty space where Draga once stood. Zelda shouldn’t be surprised. If the Yiga can manage it, then of course Draga can pull it off. She and Link stop running immediately. Panic taking them both.

“There.” Link points.

She follows his arm and, standing at the peak of Mount Rhoam and facing the beast in Tanagar Canyon, is Draga.

The air shimmers. A smell like hot metal rising from the earth. There’s a rumble in the veins of stone beneath their boots. Draga coils two loose fists at his sides. The air around his fingers smears with heat. There’s a fist in her belly – Draga. He’s pulling paths of power like roots from the earth – their ends grafted somehow in the wellspring of his soul and conducted there by sheer force of will.

“Draga! No!”

She’s sprinting up the mountain road.

Don’t!”

She feels it before it happens.

With terrible, almost unimaginable, force… Draga drives both hands together and Zelda watches in horror and awe as three enormous stone pillars erupt up from the ground, slamming against a section of Dinraal’s flank, its jaw, and belly. Like ribs bursting from the chest of the planet, they push and push outward – bones from a horrific wound ensnaring the great beast. Dinraal scores the earth with its claws, scarring the stone. The impact knocks scales like cooled magna from its body. Link is beside her. He’s screaming something.

He’s yelling at Draga to stop.

The blade in his hand is awake – burning like a sheet of involuntary starlight.

Zelda is not sure what evil has whet its edge.  

Dinraal rolls, shoved onto its side by the sudden obstacles, a half-mile of sinuous lower body sliding off the cliff into the canyon even as its back legs claw for traction – like Draga is shoving an enormous cat from the desk. The entire stone shelf where it writhes begins to crumble then fall into the canyon but the dragon doesn’t seem frantic. It claws the ground two forearms, digging in, then grabs hold of the stone columns. It nudges one with a strangely doggish nose, cat-like curious. Then it takes hold of the pillar blocking its shoulder, like a person might grip a loaf of bread…. then it rips the stone apart. Shatters it.

Zelda feels the break. Physical and spiritual. Feels every line of power sever itself at the wrist from Draga’s soul. He staggers, doubles over –

By the time he recovers, Dinraal is on top of him.  

It’s impossible. The speed. Interdimensional. Snapshots of motion. (It moves like Link moves.) In an instant Dinraal tears a path up and around the mountain top, coils around the summit like a field snake around a rabbit until its great body lies looped in a barrier. It breathes like a furnace. The air around it is on fire. The mountain is shaking, vibrating in the bones of the earth and Zelda can’t hear anything over the roar of the wind. She can’t even hear Link, who is yelling.

All she sees is Draga, standing there looking up at god-beast. He doesn’t move a single step back as the dragon rises over him like a cobra before the strike. Blotting out the moon until the only light left is the hell-red glow breathing beneath its scales. And Draga doesn’t move. Not even when the beast opens its jaws, great mouth yawning volcanic and indifferent and –

Zelda panics.  

She closes one fist and a golden curve of light flashes there, solidifies, becomes the second sacred weapon in her hand. From nothing she fashions three silver arrows and in that instant (she learned this before the Twilight came, she knows this, how to kill the darkest of men with nothing but a bolt and bow) she looses a blazing shot.

The arrow disintegrates inches from the dragon’s face.

It stops. It looks at her.

The Bow of Light evaporates in her hand.

Then she knows – sees clear as a premonition – that if Link draws his blade against the beast that the sacred sword will not just dim and dull. It will turn its impossible edge back on it holder. So, when Link starts to move, time shifting around him like wind along an angled plane, Zelda grabs his arm and wrenches him back into the present, holding him there.

“You can’t!”

What?!”

Link’s eyes in the dark – panicked and blue, the wind ripping at his clothes and hair. She lets him go but he stares at her. 

Why?”

Link is shouting. But she’s looking at the sky.  

“Goddess.” She doesn’t know if she’s cursing or praying. “Why? Why is this –?”

And then the back of her right hand ignites gold.

It hurts – like lightning coursing through her bones. Zelda screams and grabs her wrist, falling to her knees, panting, choking back her voice because this pain is familiar, infinite, indifferent. She focuses through it, lives inside the river of shrieking nerves. Red on red on white – the holy nail driven through her palm – and she forces herself up on one knee, then to her feet. It hurts so much. Why does it hurt so much? She can barely stand it. Draga. She can save him. Just like before, just like Link. That’s why. Isn’t it?

Isn’t that why?

The world is glowing, is blurring, is hyper-focused in segments. The sky, the ground, her fingers, a sword gleaming on the roadside. She blinks and it takes an eternity. She focuses. Sees… Link. He’s on the ground too. He’s on his hands and knees. He’s got one arm curled in the dirt, his forehead pressed against it, his other hand flat against the stones in front of him. For a second she thinks he’s praying or hiding his eyes or…

It takes her a moment to realize he’s screaming. His right hand, like hers, is lit up from the inside – a three-sided section of sunlight burning in his palm and it’s the agony that has him on his knees, not faith.

She can’t focus on him. She has to… save Draga. She has to…

Zelda can’t see anything now. Everything is burning light and blinding. She’s staggering through the maelstrom. Her blood is boiling. She’s dying. Surely. She screams and looks at the sky and to her wonder and agony there are dragons – green and silver, indifferent and immortal, distantly circling like sea serpents swimming in atmosphere. She can’t fathom what’s happening to her. To Link. To all of them. She can’t feel her skin. She can’t move or speak. Link isn’t moving anymore, just lying on the ground while the divine power bleeds across his body like fire, possessing every inch like its possessing immolating her. She staggers forward, toward the mountain, toward Link. She’s burning. Like a thing on an alter.

And in the distance -- Draga’s there, standing in the coils of the dragon. He’s clutching his right arm. There’s gold light eating the world. 

She loses consciousness.

 


 

“Zelda.”

Someone says her name.

“Zelda, please. Please, wake up.”

Someone is cupping her head in their hands, their fingers sunk into the braids at the back of her skull. Someone is leaning their body against hers, sitting over her, holding her. She feels their thumbs run against her temples, pushing hair or dirt or blood from her eyes and that someone presses their forehead against hers. They are breathing so close to her, she can taste their words on her tongue. She can feel them shaking, hear the shudder in their breath. Someone is praying over her without speaking, their lips almost and sometimes catching against her nose and mouth as they speak.

Someone kisses her, desperately, like you kiss the dying and says, “You can’t.”

She opens her eyes.

Link is kneeling over her. He’s staring at her in a way… she doesn’t have a word for that look.

“I’m here,” she says.

He yanks her into a hug.

“Ow,” she says.

Link doesn’t say anything; his face is pressed into the curve where her neck meets her shoulder. He’s holding her so tightly his arms shake a little with the effort. She swallows, uncertainly raises her hands to smooth them across his back then up behind his head. His hair’s singed. Her nails tangle a little in it. She says it’s okay a dozen times. She says it half a dozen times more before he lets go. He tries to say something, but his voice is gone again so she just tugs his forehead against hers until he calms down.

“Link, where is Draga?”

He doesn’t have to speak – his blank, terrified face mirrors hers. 

Link pulls back and pulls her to her feet. She fists her hair back from her face and turns an unsteady circle. The mountain is empty – the stones scorched at the head of the hill, great loops of black wherever the great beast laid its body. And yet, there’s fresh lichen growing, mountain flora and grass pushing up through the ash, flowers blooming before her eyes. Death and resurrection. She starts to walk up the hill, toward the top. She starts to jog, then to run, stumbling as she clambers the uneven stones. Link races past her, bounding up the path like a mountain cat, then turns to help her up a steep rock.

Wordlessly, they run for the top of the hill. Link’s hand in hers.

When they reach the head of Mount Rhoam, they stop.

Zelda is the first to move. Link’s gone rigid. She steps around him. She knows how to do this. She’s done this already. Muscle memory guides her to her knees (just like before) where she lays one hand on Draga’s shoulder and one on his hip. This time, she’s not crying. She’s not capable of it. She tugs him gently. He’s so much heavier than Link was, but he’s the same – the same lifeless momentum, head rolling to the side, his arms slack. She pulls him onto his back. He’s not burned. The rest of the mountain is scorched, but he looks perfect – like the day she met him at Highland Stable.

“Draga,” she says softly.

She starts to touch his face, hesitates, hand hovering, before she lays it against his forehead.

“Draga, please.” She shakes her head. “I can’t do this again. So wake up.”

She feels Link standing behind her – the intensity of his fear shivering off his skin, electric and conductive. She lays her head against Draga’s chest, but she can’t hear anything through his armor. She places a hand against his throat, searching for a sign, a breath, anything. She tries again, leans down, cupping Draga’s head, her thumbs hooked behind the hinge of his jawline and staring into his seemingly sleeping features. Peaceful and eerie.

Her kingdom if he would just scowl at her.

“Come back,” she says steadily.

Her palms glow gold, but the light won’t diffuse into the skin like it would if she were healing a person and not… not an object.

“No,” she says. “Draga. You have to come back, stupid idiot. Who tries to fight a dragon?” Her eyes are dry but stinging. “Who does that? You can’t run around trying to do whatever foolish thing Link does, that’s just a bad idea. Okay? So, wake up.” She feels Link kneeing beside her. She shakes her head and drops her forehead, gently, against Draga’s and begs, “Please, come back. Come back. Come back…”

She kisses Draga. Once, carefully, turning her head just a little – like you kiss someone for the first time because you’re not sure how you will fit, if your noses will accidentally bump or how the other person might like it. She kisses him like Link kissed her, as though that were the thing to break the curse. And it’s only in that horrible nightmarish instant that she realizes some part of her had vaguely hoped to do such a thing under much better circumstance.

Link puts a hand on her shoulder.

When she turns her face up to look at him, he’s blank-faced and calm. He lets go of her shoulder and carefully takes Draga’s hand between his palms and just… sits there until she reaches along his arm and lays her hand on top of theirs. Insanity feels like a fever, you know. Zelda knows it. Malarial. Contagious. Shimmering and unreal. She hasn’t known that disease in one-hundred years kneeling in a muddy field, but she feels it now, sitting here with Link, letting reality settle into them like cancer eating into the marrow.

Then…

“Link,” Zelda whispers. “Your hand.”

He looks at it.

He’s wearing thin swordsmen’s gloves, fingerless soft leather, but there’s… light. Soft and gold, superimposed against the back of his hand. Link stares. She knows he’s seen the like of it before and when Zelda bring her right hand up, fingers spread, it’s there on her too. A small dull triangle of light, like a tattoo, but humming with warm luminance. Like there is a tiny lamp just under her skin. They look at each other – conflicting emotions – confusion, grief, warring for majority because it’s too familiar. It’s just like before. It’s happening again and Zelda can feel Link seeing it on her face –

Link shakes his head, losing his blank calm to rage, to despair, to disgust

“Link, wait. Don’t –” Don’t what? Hate what’s killing us? Why not? “Open your hands.”

Because there is light bleeding between his fingers. Link forgets the fleeting blasphemous hatred she saw (just a shadow of it) that began in him. He opens his hands from around Draga’s palm and there’s more light – from Link’s hand, from her hand, almost too bright to look at now, but there is a blinding, mathematically perfect triangle shining also from the back of Draga’s hand. Shimmering gold in the dark of his skin, pulsing like a heartbeat.

And that’s when Draga groans and opens his eyes.

The two heroes of Hyrule, the destined souls who struck down Calamity – stare, stricken, illuminated in light.

Draga grimaces. His eyes are old jade set against the rest of his face. When he starts to sit up, the light dims in their fingers and fades.

“What happened?” He notices how tightly both Link and Zelda are gripping his palm, almost entirely encasing his hand in theirs. He frowns at them. “What?”

 

 


 

 

To make a fortifying pumpkin stew you need a few things: A Kakariko pumpkin (one will do, they’re small for a gourd), fresh milk (fresher the better), Tabantha wheat flour, goat butter, carrots, onions, leeks, salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, and a bit of Goron curry powder if you like a little kick. Link has all of these things in his travel pack. Which would seem odd if it wasn’t preposterously enchanted. At one point, Zelda caught Link up to his shoulder fishing around inside what is essentially a shoulder satchel only to eventually pull an entire breast plate of armor from the depths. So his casually producing the ingredients for comfort food is less impressive and they’re all used to it by now.

Draga watches Link sauté the onions, leeks, and carrots then transfer the sizzling contents into a pot of bubbling pumpkin and spice.

The communal cookpot and fire is free. Courtesy of there being virtually no other customers in the whole stable and the fact Link’s cooking at 4am in the morning out of pure nervous reflex. Draga and Zelda are sitting side-by-side observing his practiced culinary hand in silence, the crackle of the fire and the pop of cooking food filling the void where they should be talking about what happened. Instead, they enjoy the smell of home cooking, despite being far from any home at all.

They watch Link prep and cook in wordless inertia.

They all, Zelda knows, look like hell but none of them have made a move toward getting a bath or changing clothes or anything that might require them to separate even briefly for reasons of privacy. They just huddle together by the fire.

Eventually, the soup’s ready.

“Are we going to talk about it?” Zelda says after staring into her bowl and not eating it for five minutes.

“I see no point,” rejoins Draga, who’s on his second bowl, his appetite apparently unafflicted by his near-death experience, “since we don’t know what it means.”

Link doesn’t say anything. He also hasn’t eaten anything.

He hasn’t said a word, aloud, since the mountain.

Zelda glares at Draga. “Not talking about it will not make it go away, as you’ve well reminded me time and again.”

“Maybe,” Draga snaps, “I’m tired because we almost died on some godsforsaken mountain because your holy Goddess let a bunch of mad dragons chase us down like field mice. Perhaps that’s my hesitation, Princess.” Then, after a moment. “That was uncalled for. Apologies.”

Another silence.

Link’s sitting cross-legged, back to the fire, staring intently at a section of grass a few feet in front of him. His hands are resting on his knees, curled lightly into fists and at this angle, his bangs eclipse his eyes. The pumpkin soup is sitting in the grass beside him, untouched. It smells phenomenal. Like home. Zelda toys with her spoon, then carefully eats a single mouthful from her own bowl.

“This is good,” she says.

Link nods.

“You remember the first time you made it for me?”

He says, “Mhmm.”

“After the Yiga attack, I was… so shaken up it took two bowls to calm my nerves. It’s been one of my… one of my favorite meals ever since. I didn’t know you were carrying the ingredients with you all this time. When, uh, did you get a chance a pick them up?”

He doesn’t move to answer for a moment.

Then he signs, ‘I ordered some of it delivered.’

“That’s a lot of trouble.”

‘Yes.’

“I appreciate it.”

Draga drops his bowl and spoon in the grass beside him.

Enough. You want to talk about it? Fine.” He stands up to face them, animated with his anger. “What do you want to talk about?”

Link looks up and breaks his silence, finally. “I think you should go to Gerudo Town without us.”

Which, apparently, wasn’t what Draga thought either of them were going to say. Zelda, in fact, wasn’t expecting him to say that. But now, hearing it, she agrees. Draga stares at Link, a micro-flash of confusion and hurt that catalyzes immediately into anger. He tilts his head, hands tight at his sides.

“Why?”

Link never breaks eye contact. He stares calmly at Draga. Then just shrugs. Draga’s glare deepens.

“Yesterday, you were desperate to break my curse. Now you want me gone?”

“Yes.”

“You’re a bad liar.”

Link glares.

“It’s not the dragon that scared you, is it?” Draga calmly rolls his right sleeve up, inspects the back of his hand. “Was it this?” He touches a faint, triangular scar. Like a burn. Perfect and three sided just below his middle knuckle. “We all have one now. Does it mean something to you? Have you seen it in a past life, Link?”

“Yes,” he says.

“On the hand of your enemies?”

He tenses, but for a second he breaks eye contact.  

“Is that it?” Draga moves to crouch directly in front of Link, face-to-face. “You think I’m your enemy?”

Link’s jaw is clenching.

“Do you think you’re mine? You want to be? You’ve thought of killing me?”

“I have,” Zelda says quietly.

A deafening silence follows. Draga, who was likely just being dramatic to get a rise from Link, seems a little horrified to get an answer. Both of her friends stare at her, sitting there, with a bowl of soup in her lap and her knees drawn together, fingers curled carefully around the smooth clay bottom. She thumbs the lip of her bowl.

“I have nightmares, Draga. Not always, but sometimes, I dream about fighting you. About…” She trails off, watches their faces until she’s sure she’s conveyed the violence of it. “And sometimes when I look at you and Link, I feel like I’ve seen you together before but I don’t know where or in what context. I feel like we’re… moving along a pre-determined path. Which wasn’t a problem before because you and I noticed it and we all decided we didn’t care if there was something strange about our meeting but now…”

She uses one hand to quickly wipe her face.

“That dragon came for you. I’m afraid of where we’re going. More afraid of that than the possibility that it could be good. I fear we’re destined to… I don’t know. But I don’t like it. I think you should get away from us before we…” She wipes her eyes again. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to say this to you but I keep having visions where you’re dying and I don’t know what it means! Maybe it’s the demon. Maybe we’re too close and if we fight it, we’ll kill you. I just don’t know…”

“Then don’t fight it,” Draga says quietly.

“I’m scared though! I’m scared something is going to happen!”

“Why?” Draga says. “You’re the girl who killed Calamity. How can you be afraid? You see one vision and run?”

“Not just one –!” Link bites his tongue. Holds it.

Draga stares. “Oh?”

Link says nothing.

“You’ve thought about fighting me before?”

Link says nothing.

Draga leans forward. “I ask you again, do you want to kill me?”

“No.”

“Then stop fretting about figments from past lives,” Draga snaps. His face is very close to Link’s. “I’m sick of telling you this. Do you know how to be anything to others but the role Hylia gave you? The Hero to everyone you meet? Zelda at least has the spine to hate it and defy it. You let it take everything from you up. Everything, Even own goddamn voice. Like the Goddess owns you. You act like it.”

Link stares, eyes wide, expression empty as a bell jar.

“I’ve seen myself,” he says, “fighting someone with that mark on their hand…”

Draga shoves him with one hand, forcing him to catch himself with one hand in the grass.  

“You’re not going to kill me, you moron! Your sainted Goddess herself could come down and tell you to take up your sword but you don’t have to. That’s the point, Link, you can tell the gods to fuck off. So even if there is some divine plan between the three of us, it doesn’t matter. We can say ‘no’. We can walk away. How is it that you two don’t understand something so fundamental about the roles you play – that they hinge on your willingness? You never had to fight.”

His expression softens a little.

“Which is why is matters that you decided to. That’s why you two are so impressive to me. Do you understand?”

Link is getting angry. “You’re my friend, Draga. I don’t want to–”

“Is that what I am?’ Draga angles his head. “Your friend?”

Link never breaks eye contact.  “I don’t –”

Draga doesn’t move fast, but he didn’t have much distance to cover.

He just leans forward – rather like he’s done it a hundred times before in this or another life – and hooks a finger under Link’s chin and kisses him. Calmly. Easily. Like it’s the most obvious thing the world. So obvious it’s almost unromantic were it not for the small uncharacteristic spot of hesitation in the curl of Draga’s fingers. His touch along Link’s jaw. How he tilts the other man’s head just slightly so he can fit their mouths together without any awkwardness in angle and having done that, he does nothing else. He initiates no further – like he’s asking a question in an entirely new language. Hoping for an answer.

Link’s shock freezes him for a heartbeat.

He – Goddess above – he looks at her, his mouth caught against Draga’s, parted on the last word he’d been trying to get out and there’s something about that. There’s something about her knight errant holding still, his shaky breath against Draga’s mouth, how blue his stare looking at her through his touch-tangled hair, how he won’t move a fucking muscle even though she can see it in every line of his body that he wants to but he keeps staring at her. Like he’s waiting until she, herself, makes a move but she doesn’t know what. Something races down her body. Link is still looking at her. She feels hot. Aching. Why is he looking at her?

She…

She nods, once, terrified but hypnotized.  

Link closes his eyes and his hands go immediately to back of Draga’s neck and pull him down.

Draga’s hands close reflexively on Link’s shoulders, fingers digging into his biceps, thumbs pressing into the curve of his collarbone. Link doesn’t let go. He’s half the other man’s size and, yet, he’s indestructible in Draga’s grasp. Unmovable. He slides his hands up into the shorter hair at the back of Draga’s neck, fingers threading up into the thicker braids and gold beading. He’s kissing Draga now. Breathing raggedly and rapidly between instances of urgency, his mouth guiding Draga’s to open against his and allow him for just a second. He pushes his tongue into Draga’s mouth. Once. Twice. Again. Link bares pale teeth and catches them just once against Draga’s lower lip and the Gerudo makes this… sound in his throat.

Link groans, frustrated, and jerks back.

“Fuck you,” he says, so close to Draga it’s like a second kiss when he says, “That’s not fucking fair.”

He pushes away and gets up, walking out of the light of the campfire. Zelda can hear him swearing like a soldier as he goes down the hill.

Zelda stands to go after him. Stops because Draga is just sitting there, staring after him, with his hair messed up where Link has his fists closed in it.

“I don’t know what to do,” she admits.

“Why are you looking at me?” Draga says, laughing. “I don’t know.”

“Shit,” Zelda says. She starts to go down the hill again. Stops. She darts back to Draga and, ignoring his bemused expression, plants a kind of angry kiss on his forehead and hisses, “He’s right. This doesn’t change anything. We need to talk about this. You… cheater.”

Then she runs down the hill after Link.

Chapter Text

She catches up with Link at Tabantha Bridge.

It’s a little surprising he’d come out here, given the events of last night, but she finds him sitting cross-legged at the halfway point of the bridge, arms draped over one of the lower barrier ropes, chin resting on his forearms. Before and below him: Tanagar Canyon, empty now of dragons but hazy with morning mist. And as the sun begins to rise, she gets the impression this is where Link once came to watch Dinraal pass. She longs for a world where she might stand here on this bridge and never cross it. Where she could stand invisible and watch his silhouette, framed there, looking away until the sun burns the mist away.

But that time is over and the Calamity is dead, so she crosses the bridge and takes a seat next to him. He glances at her. Eyes tracking her sidelong and neutrally as she dusts off her pant legs and watches the horizon. Eventually, he stops watching her and turns his pale gaze to the sky as well.

“Did I do that wrong?” Zelda says quietly, after a while. “With Draga I mean.”

Link immediately looks back at her, eyes a little wide. Then the look softens and he shakes his head. A bit of a smile touches his mouth and that brush of reassurance… she feels a tension unwind like a wire in her breast, threaded through her jaw and her shoulders. She nods and sits forward. Her feet dangle over the edge of the old wood planks.

“Thank goodness. I wasn’t sure.”

Link turns forward again, the lower half of his face hidden behind his folded arms.

“Can you talk to me?”

He raises a hand, signs one-handed, ‘More or less.’

“It’s okay. I’m not in a rush to talk about it really. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t really like discussing the things that are most important. It’s much, much easier to talk about pumpkin soup, or the next destination to which we’re headed and why the Divine Beasts might wake again. That sort of thing.” She folds her hands in her lap. “That sort of thing is very easy to talk about. I like talking about that.” She thumbs a bit of fabric on her knee. “I think it’s my fault we’ve been together so long and still are strangers in some ways.”

Link looks at her without raising his chin from his arms, expression… almost blank.

“I don’t know you very well, do I?”

He doesn’t react exactly. His gaze flickers, just for a second.

“It’s strange isn’t it? I feel like I’m supposed to know you.” She folds and refold her hands in her lap. “Then at the same time I feel like I’m guessing about absolute everything, but that can’t be right. We killed Calamity together. Surely, our bond must be innate. Of course, we know each other. We’d know each other across time and space. I would recognize you through eternity. In every dimension and reality, I would know your face and find you.” She smirks, a little bitter. “Because that’s how this Chosen One horseshit works right?”

Link doesn’t laugh, but he smiles and kind of breathes out a bit too fast.

She smiles too, but only for a moment.

“But that’s not how it works, is it?”

They look out over the canyon again, where the sun is beginning to rise in the east.

“I don’t know what’s going on with you. Draga had to bait you before you admitted that you think, and have thought for years, that you’re going crazy? You’ll fight gods and demons with me but you won’t tell me when something scares you? Even if it could kill you? Is that where we are after all this time?” Her nails are digging into her knee. “It makes me feel like we haven’t moved an inch since I met you, like a century was nothing. Everything up until now was for… I hate that feeling.”

Link says nothing. His eyes are averted.

Zelda swallows.

 “Link tell me right now: Are you here because you want to be or because you feel obligated to be?”

He looks at her. Eyes wide.

“I need to know.”

He signs, ‘I want to be.’

“Why?”

He stares. Confused.

“Why do you want to be here? Because it’s your duty? Because I’m the only one left? Because you’re trapped by the facts of our history. What is it?” And when he doesn’t speak or sign, she adds, “You know I love you, right?”

Link stops. He’s not being expressive right now. But even so, what he’s feeling must be powerful because she detects it – there and gone – a look of fear. Not wonder or relief. Just… fear.

It’s like a knife wound, of course, but she presses on. Calmly. Like she hadn’t seen that exact thing in her nightmares.

“Don’t misunderstand. I’m not demanding anything of you.”

Link’s face is unreadable again. She wrings her hands in her lap, maintains her even speaking.

“Please, honestly, that’s the last thing I want to do, but you should know. And I know it’s not fair to do that and I… I haven’t said it because what kind of person, princess or not, thinks that about someone who can’t…?” Who can’t say no to you, selfish girl. About a subordinate. Why not order him to stay? You know he would… “About someone pledged to her by others? Someone bound to you by circumstance and… terrible things shared? That’s no basis for anything. You don’t owe me anything. I want to be very clear about that: You don’t owe me. I would hate that.”

 Zelda doesn’t know she’s supposed to go on. She closes her eyes.

“So, now that I’ve been selfish, tell me what you think. Please. Tell me ‘no’. Tell me you don’t feel that way and I’ll know and we can just go on. Or you could walk away, you know, if you wanted. Go live in your house at Hateno. Go put the sword back in its pedestal. Throw it into the sea. Whatever is enough.” Her voice hitches, just a little. “I don’t want you play a role for me anymore I just want you to do what you want. I don’t want to be the reason you’re out here. I want to see you – oh.”

Link’s hands cup her head, fingers dug into her scalp where her braids are starting to come undone. His mouth against hers is warm but insistent, a little clumsy with the urgency that drove him to interrupt her. He smells a little like camp smoke and a little like dragon fire and the pepper powder he cut into the soup. Hearth stone, battle, and heat. He draws her in a little further, gently, tilting his head so they fit more easily. His thumb smooths a warm path from her jaw to her ear and he breathes in, slowly, against her mouth. Then he pulls back just enough so he can look her in the eyes.

She’s surprised to find, he still looks terrified.

“I’m in love with you,” he says.

So softly she almost doesn’t hear it.

She can’t bring her words over a whisper. “You are?”

He nods.

“For how long?”

“Since you burned breakfast.”

She almost cries hearing that.

“Really?”

He nods and she kisses him.

“I’ve loved you for a hundred years,” she says, pulse rabbiting in her breast. “I love you so much. Do you really love me too?”

He laughs. “Yeah.”

She hooks two hands beneath his jaw and feels him smiling against her lips. So she kisses him harder, then again, even harder than before – enamored with her freedom to do so. Until her lips ache from kissing him, feel bruised from the effort but she doesn’t care at all because, if she could drink the way he tastes, she’d swallow a sea. But here, sitting on a bridge in Tabantha, she has to catch her breath. So they sit for a moment, so close she can feel him breathing. She can feel a shiver in his shoulders and a tremor on his tongue, transmitting electric when she, in a thoughtless instinct, brushes his lips with the pad of her thumb.

Link looks up at her.

He’s breathless. Not with violence (Has she ever seen him breathless in any other context?), eyes unfocused and dark and if she does not stop him right now then he’ll do whatever she wants and she can’t explain the twofold fear and longing that arouses in her. So, she carefully frames his face with both hands and dips her forehead against his.

She breathes slowly until he does too.

“Should we tell Draga to leave?”

He doesn’t pull away from her. He doesn’t even tense at the question, content to sit here breathing with her and knowing.

She shivers. “We’re so dangerous, Link. I didn’t want to think it, but we are. Can we let him stay?”

She opens her eyes, finds him looking at her.

“Do you want him to go?” she asks.

He hesitates. Then shakes his head.

“Are you okay with what he did?”

He turns a little red, then, signs, ‘Sort of.’

“Sort of?” Zelda says, worried.

‘I hate it when people try to touch me when I’m arguing with them.’

She blinks. “I didn’t know that.”

Link shrugs and signs ‘You never try to touch me when I’m mad.’ He grins. It’s not a nice grin exactly. ‘I’m pretty angry with him, actually.’

Zelda laughs. “Are you going to fight him when we get back?”

‘Maybe.’ He eyes her, then aloud, he says, “Do you want him to go?”

“No,” she says. “But I’m scared of why. I’m scared… all the time. Like I’m scared of you, Link, the way I think about you. It feels like a trick sometimes. Like it’s just a spell and I’m acting out the pieces of it.” She swallows. “It feels like that with Draga sometimes. I’m terrified I’ll wake up and the spell will be broken and it was never real at all.”

“I think it’s real,” Link murmurs.  

“That doesn’t bother you? The possibility all of this is some… pre-determined alignment? The gods, or – or –”

“No.” He’s utterly flat. “And it doesn’t bother Draga either.”

“How do you know that?”

“I asked him, Zelda.”

“Oh.” She studies the way his eyebrows tick up. “What else have you asked him about?”

He tilts his head. “You make him nervous, you know.”

She scoffs. “What?”

“Draga. You make him nervous. He asked me not to tell you, but I’m cross with him, so I will.”

“Why wouldn’t he tell me that?” Zelda demands, annoyed.

“Because he likes you, stupid.”

“Oh.”

Link’s giving her the flattest look she’s ever seen before going on. “He can sense how powerful you are, all the time, and it actually drives him crazy, but he never says so because, I think, he knows it would make you self-conscious. Draga doesn’t care what we are. He doesn’t care about danger. He doesn’t care about magic or destiny. He’s been fighting a losing battle since he was a kid so the odds don’t faze him, Zelda. If we let him, I think he’ll stay with us forever.”

A shiver runs across her body when he says that – a formless excitement and dread.

“What do you think of that?”

“I –” He hesitates. “Is this too quick?”

“Draga nearly died last night fighting dragons for us, I think we need to figure this out.”

“Not that.” He touches her cheek, gently. “This. And Draga.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what he wants. What do you want?”

Link turns a little red and looks away. “I… I don’t know.” 

 The longer Link talks, the more apparent his accent becomes – that rare cross of Lanayrian hit sideways by grammar learned in reverse – and Zelda thinks, quietly, that same inflection might be dead now one-hundred years later – linguistic drift making his voice an anachronism. A piece of history so minute it’s barely there but she gets to hear it and the notion, for some reason, fills her with a warm affection. Not precisely for him in this moment, but for the idea of him growing up reckless and a little strange somewhere in the mountains around Zora’s Domain.

Zelda leans forward and kisses him.

She says, “We don’t have to decide anything right now.”

Link closes his eyes, turning his face against the palm of her hand so her fingers slide into his hair. Part of her, still in awe that she can do this now, warms again. Joy is strange and incandescent, behind her cheeks and in her fingers, glowing in her belly and breast. She can’t stop looking at his eyes, at his mouth. Like she’s never seen them before somehow, not properly. He lets her kiss him again, carefully, easing her lips open against, his tongue warm and bitter in her mouth as his breathing quickens and a faint, shaky breath catches in the back of his throat.

She pulls away and he looks drunk, looking at her. He says something, but his voice isn’t behind it.

“What?”

Please…”

An immediate clench of heat knots slick in her belly. Her breath hitches.

“Please what?”

He leans forward, one hand sliding up along her ribs, just below her breast. “Can I touch you?”

Zelda shivers. “Where?”

His hand slides down her ribs, her belly, lower, his fingers pressing a slow line of pressure against her skin through her clothes until she’s leaning back a little, easing her knees apart, until his hand is between her legs and his mouth against her ear when he says, “Here?”

And drags the pad of his index finger up from beneath her body, along the aching seam of her, pressing a slow circle until her hips flinch a little and her breath catches high in her throat. He cups her neck in his other hand and she leans back a little, so she can see when he removes the hand between her legs, brings his knuckles to his mouth, and uses his teeth to pull the worn leather glove from his hand. His eyes never leave hers as he does it.

Before he’s even finished she’s saying, “Yes.”

Link uses one hand to pull her belt open and unfasten the clasp on her pants. She lets him. She slides her legs apart, drawing one knee up a little, her other leg still hanging off the edge of the bridge. She lies back, hands running restless along the wood over her head, into her hair as Link slide his hand down the front of her pants.

Like he’s done this a hundred times. A thousand times, moving blind on muscle memory alone and something about that – the notion that he’s looking at her like a battlefield, like there are a hundred moves in mind – it makes her ache. His fingers slide south, exploratory, slow. Finding her where she’s hot, where she’s wet, where she whimpers when he touches her. Zelda breathes fast, shaky, a little anxious. Link goes slow. A single finger easing her open, touching her where she parts at the pressure, sliding slowly in. He minds her small breathy noises, how her walls tighten and clench at the penetration and she moans a little and says, “Keep going.”

Link doesn’t try for more. Just rocks into her, lazily, to the knuckle, then out. Over and over, until her body is rolling into the slow friction, hips canting forward against his hand, the first notch of his knuckle at the top of his palm where it slides against her clit. And when she does that, suddenly, his fingers – wet now with her own arousal – press a slow circle around that aching notch in her. She jerks, gasping, hips bucking up and a bloom of sensation spreads warm, painful lines of pleasure through her belly, coiling in her guts like a hand closing inside her.

She says, “Like that. Right there. Oh, goddess, harder…”

And he does it.

She tilts her hips up. Her hand finds his neck. “Don’t stop.”

He doesn’t.

And Zelda is panting, shaky, saying, “Like that, just like that, Link… I… oh.” She runs her hand along the back of his head, closes her fist in his hair. “Oh.” She sighs. She loses her voice, her body curling as the orgasm runs its path from her clit to the top of her spine, slaving every nerve briefly, mindlessly, to the pleasure and her toes go numb. Her nails dig into her knight’s scalp until she’s shivery and glowing, and smiling breathless, her mouth against his ear. “Well done.”

She feels Link shiver when she says it.

“Do it again?”

 


 

The sun is visible over the horizon by the time they get back.

The stable owners wave as they come in. The ranch hands are cooking breakfast. Soft, morning chatter rising in the little establishment. Link stops at the water pump outside to wash his hands, but then the two would-be-heroes of Hyrule just go straight upstairs. Link keeps paying for the two-bed suites at every stable they sleep at. Zelda knows it’s expensive but she also knows Link’s been too long on the road doing impossible things to mind. A week ago, she caught him remove a ruby the size of a fist from his travel pack.

Killing talus on Death Mountain, he’d informed her, is extremely lucrative.  

The room smells faintly of smoke and burnt leather when they open the door. Draga’s travel gear is on the floor against the wall where it’s clear he started scrubbing dragon ash from the light armor, gave it up as a bad job, and left it. Draga is asleep. He’s lying belly-down on the bed at the far side of room, one arm hanging off the mattress, face buried in the crook of his opposite elbow. As usual, he has to sleep diagonally on it because it’s not long enough for a Gerudo to sleep in normally, much less one of his size. He didn’t finish undressing so it looks rather like he just fell into bed and didn’t get up.

When Zelda closes the door behind them they find three large glass bottles on the table near the door. Link picks one up, snorts. Hands it to her. It takes her a minute to realize he bottled all the soup they left behind in their sudden departure. Zelda uncorks one and the smell is mouthwatering and still just a little warm. A slight tingle in her palm suggests there’s a small enchantment in the glass, insulating it.

“That’s a good idea,” she says, sipping the bottled soup. “We could give up on heroics and sell bottled soup, you know.”

Link isn’t listening through.

He’s looking at the Master Sword, laying on their bed.

He left it with Zelda when he ran off and Zelda in turn left it with Draga. She’s not sure what he’s thinking, why there’s a faint edge in his expression. Then he moves to crouch by Draga’s bed. He does so casually, but without a single sound which suggest to Zelda he’s moving with some intention. He kneels and carefully take’s Draga’s hand, the one hanging off the bed, and turns it over to examine his bare palm, carefully unfurling his fingers so he can see.

“I didn’t know it had teeth,” Draga murmurs.

Link, not surprised that Draga is awake apparently, says, “I should have warned you.”

Draga’s hand is blistered, badly. Dark red wounds raised along his fingers and the creases of his palm. And not just blistered but… blackened along the capillaries and veins. The wound feels hot to Zelda, aching with sorcery. It takes Zelda a moment to realize what happened. Draga must have grabbed the sword by the hilt. Perhaps to pull it from the scabbard and look at it, or test its weight, or just to move it from where Link abandoned it by the cookfire. Link examines the injury with a practiced eye, not saying anything for a while. Draga watches him, waiting.

“It’s bound to me,” Link murmurs.

“Aggressively so,” Draga says, a little quieter than usual.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Link clarifies. “That it burned you, I mean. It did the same to me when I found it again.”

“I thought it was bound to you.”

“I wasn’t myself.”

Draga turns his hand over. “And this? What does this mean?”

Link runs two careful fingertips across the strange three-sided mark, just dark enough to stand out in Draga’s skin and even with his face half-tucked behind the crook of his arm, Zelda can tell he’s had enough time alone to think to think up some fears. His pale green stare is carefully neutral, trained on the mark burned into him by nothing less than some form of dragon fire, and she has a sense that his heart is racing, that his calm is manufactured, that he’s much closer now – Link holding his hand in a quiet room – to panic than he was fighting a demi-god the night before.

Link looks up at Draga, meeting his gaze. “It’s the mark of the ancient gods for the heart of the world. It has many meanings but I don’t know what it means for us.”

Draga’s face in unreadable when he rejoins, “I feel different.”

“How so?”

“It’s hard to explain. It’s like the borders that define me are much farther away now. Does that make sense?”

“I’m not sure.”

Draga breathes out, slowly. “This mark. You’ve seen it in your past lives.”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“On my own hand. On Zelda’s hand. On the hand of a third person.”

“Your enemies.”

Link’s expression is serene, utterly matter of fact. He says, “My enemy is dead.”

Then he takes Draga’s wrist carefully in his hand because his palm is too burned to touch. Burned by the Master Sword. Branded by dragons. Afflicted in all sides by unfathomable things and Zelda thinks, perhaps, the persistent and relentless cycle of strange events is finally catching up to him. It may say something about Draga’s indominable and peculiar nature that nothing – not dragons, not ancient weaponry, not monsters, demons, or battle – frightened him like losing the limits of himself in a moment of solitude.

Zelda moves forward. “Let me see that,” she says, kneeling so she can see his hand. His palm smells like mint and fairy tonic. He must have tried to heal it, but the wounds seem impervious to medicinal affects. She sucks air between her teeth. “Does it hurt?”

“No.” He flexes his fingers to demonstrate. “It feels dead.”

Gingerly, Zelda touches the middle of Draga’s palm with her fingers, leaving a ripple of cool gold light like water droplets diffusing into the surface of a pond. She goes slowly. Running two fingers tipped in light from his wrist to the end of his middle and index fingers. She does this once, then twice, sets a pace. Red skin smooths where the gold radiates out, dead flesh laying back down, blood-flow returning to blistered layers and gradually the black necrosis left by the blade begins to recede. Eventually, there’s no sign of the burn. Just warm skin, slightly hot to the touch, and slick still with the now pointless healing ointment.

“How’s that?” she murmurs.

Draga flexes his hand, furling and unfurling long fingers. “Good. A bit raw.”

“Sensitive?” she asks.

“Yes. But thank you. I –”

Zelda cups the knuckles of his hand in hers and bends down to kiss his palm. She feels Draga freeze, hears him draw then hold a breath. Her lips leave a warm luminous moue in the creases of his hand when she breaks contact. Her lips taste like mint, tingle a little with fairy dust. Link’s still holding Draga’s wrist, not with any pressure, but his fingers around the Gerudo’s arm could be iron by the way he stills. So Zelda uses her fingers, guides his hand open so she can kiss the base of his thumb, his fingertips, her lips counting out the bend of his knuckles. And when she looks up, finally, his skin pressed with fading gold marks, Draga seems to finally let go the breath he first held.

He says, “What are you doing?”

Zelda leans up and fits her hand to the back of his neck.

When she pulls away, her tongue tastes like mint and the strange slightly bitter flavor of another person’s mouth. Draga stares, lips faintly wet with tonic and smelling of peppermint and something about that make her smile.

At least at first. A yawn follows shortly after. Draga blinks.

“I’m really tired,” she admits, climbing onto the mattress, kicking her boots off as she clambers over his legs.

Draga watches her do this, confused, while Link gets up and crosses the room. He closes the windows, pulling off his gloves, then unbuckles his belt, drawing it off and coiling it around his knuckles. Zelda picks clips from her hair, pulling elastic from her braids and unraveling them with her fingers as Link puts his things on the table, then pragmatically pushes the empty bed across the room. He stops when it’s flush against the bed they’re occupying. Then he grabs the Master Sword by the scabbard and slings it over the bed post, hanging by the baldric.

Draga eyes him warily, then Zelda, who is shaking her hair out, kinked with the braiding.

“What’s happening?” he says, finally.

“We’re going to sleep,” she says.

“What?”

Link takes a seat on the edge of the mattress. He pulls his tunic over his head, kicks his boots off and rolls over, grabbing a pillow.

“Move,” Zelda says, pushing Draga’s shoulder. “You’re too tall. We have to sleep across.”

He stares at her for a moment longer, then slowly rolls over to lay across the middle of both beds, Link on one side, Zelda on the other. Both have claimed a pillow each while he was distracted. Link gestures, indicating he’ll give his to Draga but Draga, baffled still, shakes his head. Link shrugs. He tucks his arm under it and promptly lies down and gets comfortable. He sleeps on his stomach when there’s a bed, but usually kicks over onto his back in the night so Zelda doesn’t envy Draga the thrashing.

“No. What is happening?” Draga demands after laying on his back, staring at the ceiling for about twenty seconds.

“Sleeping, if you’ll be quiet,” Zelda murmurs.

“Don’t be obtuse.”

“We don’t feel like making any decisions right now.”

Draga gestures at the ceiling. “You can’t just –”

Link punches Draga in the shoulder without opening his eyes.

Zelda says, “Shh.”

Draga fumes silently. It’s about two minutes of this, just as Draga’s starting to settle, that Link sits up suddenly. Like he just remembered something. He levers himself up on one arm so he can lean over and stare directly down into Draga’s frowning face.

“Don’t,” he says, “try to kiss me when I’m angry. I hate that.”

Draga blinks, eyes a little wide. “I… won’t.”

“I’m serious,” Link says quietly.

“I swear it then.”

“Good.” Then the Hero of Hyrule bends down and kisses him, easily. Casually. Like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Then he pulls back, wipes the peppermint from his mouth with the back of his hand. He lies back down. “Night,” he says.

Zelda hears Draga say, softly, “Oh…”

She just smiles and closes her eyes.

 


 

 

She’s standing on a beach.

The tide rushes in over her feet, then pulls out, sucking the sand from around her heels before rolling back in, foaming gently around her ankles. The smell of the sea is like home as she lifts her arms and runs her fingers through her hair, shaking rain water from pale gold layers. Drops of shimmering light fall into the waves, floating, suspended like oil in water, before dissolving like dye. The waves keep rolling in, faster, impossibly so, until the water is around her knees, then her thighs, and the sea around her shimmers from contact with her. Her skin bleeding light into the waves.

She hears someone speaking behind her.

She turns.

Draga is standing on the beach.

The beach, she realizes, lies at the edge of a vast desert. Draga faces this desert, his back to her, and in the barren expanses beyond the shore she can see rolling dunes interrupted by broken spires. The skeletons of ancient cities. Vast monoliths, crumbling like sand castles in the distance as the desert rolls like the sea – uncovering the wreckage of what she knows to be mass graves, ten thousand-year-old battlefields fused by heat and pressure into a twisted foundation of steel and rotted iron. Then the sands roll in again. A tidal wave, ten stories tall. It slides over the horrific cenotaph, filling it in until the sands lay flat beneath the sickle moon.

Draga is speaking with what looks like a shrine statue.

It’s hard to say because it’s wreathed in shadow. Darkness so thick, she can only just make out the shape of the thing beneath the smoking blackness – a golem carved in stone. It stands a head and shoulders taller than Draga who stands a familiar figure to her. She knows his clothes. Leathers, Highland linen, the dark travel cloak she met him in. The outfit she always imagines when she’s thinking of Draga as a concept in passing – in her mind, he will always be like that day in Highland Stable: looking sidelong at her, his hood half-way down, a little surprised with her.

The tide is drawing her from the shore.

Zelda fights it, wading back toward the shallows. She tries to call out, but her voice is lost on the hot, stinking wind that blows from the desert. Draga can’t hear her and continues to speak to the statue. Or maybe he’s praying? No. He’s not. He’s rebuking it. Cursing dark shrine with the same reverence that someone would pay tithe at the foot of the Goddess. Zelda can see from the path in the sand behind the statue: that it was not always here on her beach. It walked here from the desert. It’s footprints smoking obsidian and glassy behind it.

The water is at her waist. She’s no longer making progress to the shore.

She has to reach the shore.

She’s saying Draga’s name, but it feels strange on her lips. The wrong shape.

Draga seems to hear her because he turns, looks over his shoulder toward her, and even from this great distance she has a sense of his face – surprised, looking at her, like the moment when she greeted him in his mother tongue on the side of the corral. He recognizes her. Starts to move toward her and when he does the waters recede from her breast, the pull of the tide losing its power and she knows. She knows it will be okay. She smiles. It will be –

The golem moves.

It snaps forward. There. Then suddenly directly at Draga’s back. It grabs him by his right arm. Draga staggers, surprised, yanked around by the reversed momentum. And then he’s facing the beast with its fist closed around elbow, a hand so massive it nearly engulfs his whole forearm. Slowly, the golem’s head turns to look down at him. Eyes burning within the darkness. Draga withstands its ancient gaze for just a second before he draws his sword and brings it down on the golem’s skull with a mighty one-handed swing.

The sword shatters instantly.

When Draga slams the broken stump of metal into its belly, the steel turns aside. Only then does he start thrashing. He bucks and throws his body back, but the thing is stone again. Black granite around his arm. He pries at it, pulling and twisting. He can’t get out of it. He can’t come to her. He can’t –

The golem moves again.

It jerks back two meters, like a chess piece sliding back two squares on a board, taking Draga with it. Indifferent to the way he panics, digging his heels in and wrenching like a trapped animal in a snare until she’s sure he’s dislocated his right arm, that his elbow is broken in the three places, that he’s still fighting despite that. He’d cut off his arm from the elbow down if that would get him loose. He slams his boot over and over into the pillar of shadow that composes the golem’s body but it doesn’t relent.

He keeps looking, panicked, past the golem.

To the desert.

To the dunes which are now yawning wide again behind them, a heat-rippled valley opening in the sands to that road paved in bone and melted armor, bristling with the spears and banners of dead civilizations – Gerudo, Sheikah, Twilit, and older. Much older. Primordial corpses twisted toward a dark core. Draga sees it and moans. A low primal noise of fear. Of denial. Ragged with terror. He tries to pull free again, but the golem drags him another agonizing step forward, inch by relentless inch, until Draga is slamming his fist bloody against the grip on his arm, until he’s broken every bone in his hand. And still… the golem pulls him toward the desert. 

Draga’s looking at her now.

The bow is in her hands.

She has a clear shot. She draws the string to her cheek and looses the –

 


 

Zelda wrenches awake.

Her body is pressed against the twin headboards, her skin laved in sea water – no, stop, it’s over – in sweat. She sobs, once, panting, panicked, into her clenched fists and for a moment lives childishly in her head saying over and over: It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. So effectively does she do this that she briefly misses it: That someone is moving beside her. She rolls over, rubbing her face, vaguely occupied with the notion she’s disturbed her bedmates.

It takes her a moment to register what she’s looking at.

Link is still asleep, rolled over to the far side of the beds.

But Draga is having a nightmare. Not violently. Quietly. His spine curls up but falls back – like something is pinning his body down. Like he’d be thrashing if he could get free, but instead lies panting, eyes closed, head thrown back, arms digging into the mattress beneath him. In Gerudo, he’s saying something, but she can’t make it out – half done conjugations broken by hyperventilation. He can’t seem to come out of it. He… Zelda stops. There’s blood on the bedsheets. Draga’s right cheek is split, high along the zygomatic arch beneath his eyes.

(Exactly where the demon split it open that night in the Rito Village.)

When Draga groans and twists onto his side, she loops an arm around his flank, lays her other hand against the side of his head and says, “Wake up. Draga.” She keeps her voice warm and calm. “Hey. Wake up, okay?”

He opens his eyes.

Zelda feels him register her hands on him. Feels him tense instinctively but stop. He lies there, breathing hard. He says nothing to her. Draga gets up, swinging long legs to the floor, disturbing Link in his haste to stand up and go to the windows, throwing them open in rapid succession. He puts daylight into the room. Like something is going to be in there with them, sitting in the corners where the shadows are too deep to see through. He’s hot with magic. Immediate. Defensive and dirty with the smell of iron. It burns in his skin so thick her eyes water.

Link, who woke groggy, rouses fast at Draga’s magic – a smell linked irrevocably now to a fight. He grabs the Master Sword from the bed post and pulls the steel half way from the scabbard.

The blade is burning silver.

Link watches, expressionless, eyes reflecting the light, as the glow fades from the metal. Once it’s dark, he sheathes it and looks at Draga.

“Was it here?”

Draga doesn’t say anything. He keeps his back to the window, to the sunshine coming through it, laying warm yellow light over his back and shoulders. Making him impervious, surely, to the approach of shadowy things, crawling on their bellies through black deserts. Surely. He uses his sleeve to staunch the flow of blood from his bleeding cheek. Casual. Like the wound signifies nothing at all. Like he’s done this before.

“This happens after a bad fight sometimes.”

Link sets the sword aside. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be fine. I had to reset my old wards. I just missed a few so it… tried me.”

His hands are shaking. Zelda knows Link sees it, but he’s pretending not to. She catches his eye, briefly, as he stands up and crosses the room, stretching a little and rotating his wrist in one hand. Draga watches his approach with a wary, feigned disinterest. Like their morning might go on as normal. Like you can recover the day from such a thing. Link pats himself in front of Draga and stares unabashedly up at him, like he’s searching his face for something past the scowl. 

Eventually, he says, “Dinraal changed something, didn’t she?”

Draga says nothing for a moment, then, “How can you possibly know that?”

Link shrugs.

“Yes, but I’ll be fine. I’ll adapt.”

“Adapt to what?” Zelda says warily. And when no one answers, she repeats, “Adapt to what, Draga?”

He hisses in frustration. “Remember when I told you that I had long since reached the limits of my power?”

“Yes.”

“Since the dragon came… I’ve lost those limits. They’re gone. There’s just... an eternal void where those boundaries once were. Like building your house on a plot of land, then waking up in a labyrinth.” He shakes his head, a tense, barely controlled movement. “I was not prepared for that. It’s like guarding a house, Zelda. If I know the layout, then I see when something is trying to break in. If the house is too big, I cannot guard all the doors and things get in.” He never looks away from her. There’s sun on his neck, putting threads of bright copper in his hair, warm tones in the dark of his skin. He says, “There is at least one in me that is always left open.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Draga looks away.

Zelda feels Link’s tense, feels her own heart stutter in her chest and without thinking or even means to ensure it, she says, “You’re safe with us though.” She crosses the space between them, reaching up to touch his arm. “Draga, listen to me. I think you’re Goddess-touched. The way you described your magic just now…… is how I’ve felt since my power awakened one-hundred years ago… like an ocean had opened up within me. Too big to comprehend, but a part of me.”

“This isn’t part of me,” Draga murmurs.

“No, but you can learn to handle it. I know you can. Just… don’t let scare you.” She squeezes his arm gently. “I can help.”

He pulls away. “Stop trying to do that.”

“What?”

“Stop trying to protect me. You can’t.”

She stops, bewildered, a little hurt. “We did once before.”

“I was only in danger because I put myself there. For you.”

“Then let us do the same.”

The look he gives her is colder than any he’s ever offered before. “I was fine protecting myself until I met you two.”

Which is, of course, a terrible thing to say. Something you say either when you mean it or you want to hurt someone for the sake of driving them off and Zelda cannot say with any confidence that she knows which way Draga might feel in this moment. He looks more afraid than she can remember him ever being. She’s not sure what he’s like when he’s afraid with no enemy to fight. Nothing physical to react against. She gives him a full five seconds to really listen to what he just said to her before she asks, softly, genuinely:

“Do you really believe that?”

She sees the regret cross Draga’s face before he can hide it. A strain of desperation.

He starts to say something. To tell her that is exactly what he believes. That none of this would have happened if they’d just gone their separate ways. That they’re all too dangerous for one another. That he made a mistake.  

But Link's too close and he's fast. He moves – that dangerous speed, never there until the killing blow – closing the space between then and hooking two hands in Draga’s collar. Then, with more force than would seem possible, he holds him there. Yanking him back. Draga grabs his shoulders and pushes him, but Link is (as always) infinitely more solid than he looks. He just braces his weight back, stubbornly, glaring at the bigger swordsman, yanking a little to maintain their present distance. He refuses to let go.

"Don't," Draga says quietly. 

Zelda can smell copper, taste it, like a coin on her tongue. Defensive and warm.

“Don’t what?” Link says.

“I don’t want your heroics.”

Link maintains his neutral tone. “You fought a dragon for us.”

“I don’t care.”

 “Bullshit,” Link says, fingers tightening, lines in his wrists visible from the force of it.

"If you don’t let go of me, Hero, I’m going to –”

Zelda interrupts him by reaching up and hooking her fingers into the front of Draga’s shirt and in tandem with Link – with more force than would seem possible or even necessary – she yanks the larger man down to her. And in the same moment, Zelda moves to fit her mouth against the split in Draga’s cheekbone. Gold in her lips. Light on her tongue. It diffuses gently into the wound and it’s gone when she withdraws. She draws her fingers gently across the new skin, leaving her hand pressed against his cheek. He’s looking at her – a terrible look – hopeful and horrified.

“Let us protect you,” she says.

Draga shivers and conductive static rushes across her palm.

“Let us protect you,” Zelda says again. She moves her hand across his cheek, smoothing her thumb alone the high curve of his cheekbone – a gesture she’s never shared with him, but natural as if she’s done it a hundred times. “Please. If you want. If you’re with us…?”

He breathes out, shakily. She sees it before he says it.

“This feels like…”

“We’re not a fucking spell,” Zelda whispers, cutting her teeth on the words. She slides her hand back beyond his temple into his hair – red as rust between her fingers, sticking up where it’s too short.  “We’re not a shadow on a wall. We’re the ones who killed the Calamity. What do you want, Draga?”

He starts to say, “I want –” but she pulls him down to her.

He shivers again when she does it, the vibration on her tongue.

“Stay with us,” she says. “Stay with us, okay?”

He’s shaking and that’s remarkable, like reaching her fingers into the roots of the world and causing mountain ranges to tremble and the thought puts an indescribable knot of desperation in her. A mad notion that translates ineffectively to yet another kiss, a series of kisses, each one a poor translation for the desire in her – not to just be with him, but be part of him, to inhabit the same space as him simultaneously, impossibly – and Draga seems to bend. Like metal drawn into an impossible magnetism, breaking under every touch.

“I can’t rely on you,” he says raggedly.

“Yes, you can.”

His breath is shallow, mouth drawn as if in pain. “You can’t say that, Zelda. You won’t always be here.”

“We’ll be here as long as you need us.”

“I don’t want you to stay with me “– he struggles to admit it “—just because you think I’m in danger.”

And Zelda laughs. But her eyes sting as she does it.

“You’re confused. You’ll always be in danger with us, Draga.” She bites her lip, shakes her head, fingers running a restless path through his hair. “I’m so sorry. If I was acting because out of nobility, I would tell you to run from us. To go back to the road and never look back because I think you’re strong enough to bear your curse without us. I do. I know it. But I’m selfish and I’m so tired of losing things and I want you. I want you to stay.” She laughs again, shrugging, helpless. “Maybe we’ll get you killed. Maybe we can protect you. I don’t know, Draga, I really don’t know but I know things feel right when you’re with us. I know that it… hurts when I think about walking away and if you feel the same then –”

He lays his fingers over her mouth.

His eyes study hers, so near she can make out every detail in their composition.

“Stop explaining,” he says gently.

He looks at Link.

Link doesn’t say anything.

He loops a hand around the nape of Draga’s neck and pulls him down too. Until he’s not pulling Draga in anymore. The second time around, they fit together more easily despite Zelda caught between them (or maybe, because of Zelda caught between them). Nothing changes. Dragons don’t pull the sky open. No golden violence befalls them. Nothing moves in the shadows. They’re just standing there, the three of them in a band of sunshine coming through the window. Skin warming in the light. Listening closely, finally, to the strange racing in their blood and the machinery of their hearts.

After a while, Draga says, “I’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

“I can do that.”

Zelda – presently in a meditative state, fingers looping rhythmically through her hair, twin hair clips between her teeth – blinks up at Draga. The sun is high in the boughs of the trees, thin beams of yellow laying down mottled light on the grass by the road. They’d stopped briefly along the road east from Tabantha Stable to eat and re-organize their things a bit – Link having gotten distracted during the morning and made a haphazard job of a few saddle bags. Draga, who is responsible for most of the distracting, kneels beside her, slinging his rucksack to the ground. He nods to her hands halfway through the beginnings of a single golden braid.

“Oh, no I’ve got it,” she says, smiling. “It’s just a braid.”

“Is that what you call it?”

Excuse me?”

“Hylian isn’t my first language, but I think you understood me.”

Link, tacking the horses by the road, snorts audibly. Zelda glares at him but try as she might – his smile lopsided and newly familiar – she can’t maintain her glare. So, she glares at Draga. He looks impatient, like she should just smack him or let do it already. So, she hands him her clips and hair band and turns so she’s facing away from him. He immediately draws a finger through the braid she’s managed thus far and unravels the lot.

“Not up to your standard?” she chimes.

“No.”

For that, she does smack him.

“If I had a mirror…” Zelda mutters.

“It would still look like a Hylian did the job,” Draga says calmly, around the clips between his teeth.

“You are trying to pick a fight? Or are you just missing having enough hair to do anything with?”

Draga, already parting her front-right region of hair into workable sections, says, “Rude.”

“You’re rude. Don’t make fun of my hair.”

Draga ignores her. Focused on the task at hand. He moves carefully along the side of her head, starting with three parts and twining them deftly down, adding consecutive segments of hair as he goes (very quickly she must admit) around the back of her head. She fiddles with a wrinkle in her pant leg.

“So you’re sure about this? You don’t mind? I mean, I know we discussed this at length over the last few days and… and I know we all agreed it’s the most logical course of action and I know you said that you don’t mind, but I feel like you should know that at any time you may change your mind and we can find some other method. I could refocus my efforts on lost Sheikah knowledge. There may be vast magi-tech archives yet untapped in the shrines. Or the Beasts even. You saw Medoh at the Rito Village. We could go back there if you –”

“Hold this,” he says, taking her hand and pinching her fingers around the middle of a finished braid. Then he starts on the other half of her hair and… Zelda’s isn’t quite sure what he’s doing exactly. She can feel that he’s leaving some sections loose, then gathering them up again later with a sequential foresight that she does not really apply to hair styles.

“So?”

“I said that I’m fine with it.”

“But it’s forbidden for you… right?”

“No, I said only elders were permitted on the mountain.” Draga removes a clip from between his teeth and applies it to a part of her hair. “For generations, my family has guarded the Statue of the Eighth Heroine and preserved it from everyone. Foreigners and Gerudo alike. This mandate was passed down to my tribe, supposedly, by Nabooru herself. It is the oldest undisturbed archive of written Gerudo history dating back to the Naboorian Age. It will pre-date the Twilit Calamity and the Bandit Age.” She can feel him shake his head. “I don’t believe we will find a better place to begin our search.”

“You’re sure you’re okay with it?”

“Zelda, there are no elders left in my tribe, so it would fall to me anyway.” He finishes off another braid. “Besides, you’re the maiden-form Goddess. Who else could be worthier to tread sacred ground?” A beat. “Also, Link already paraglided down the mountain and took pictures of the exterior. So, it’s hardly that unbroachable.”

From the road, Link calls, “I said I’m sorry!”

“You’re a godless heathen.”

“I’m the Goddess’s chosen Hero?”

“A regular sort of heathen then.”

“I didn’t know!”

Draga coils the finished ropes of Zelda’s hair in a neat whorl at the top right-hand side of head, giving the mirrored spiraled braids an asymmetric weight. Draga pins the coils in place with practiced engineering and Zelda touches the finished work, admiring the complicated craftsmanship, fingers picking out the soft track and curve of her braids like a road coiling inward. She turns.

“Thank you, Draga.”

He’s still kneeling there, one arm braced against his knee. Even though she’s seated on a stump, he’s taller than her while kneeling, looking down into her face with an expression just short of worried.

“It could have nothing about the Goddess Mark. It may be a waste of time.”

“That would be fine. I like history for the sake of it.”

“You’re certain Hyrule Castle is of no use?”

Zelda nods. “Yes. Even before the Calamity, most records were lost in the fall of the Magi-Technical Golden Age.” Zelda gestures helplessly. “Our oldest texts only barely describe the events of the Twilit Calamity and before that, there are anecdotal accounts of an ancient hero who moved through Time itself. No record of his actions exist because, it’s said, he existed in a non-linear state. Stopping Ganon before his rise and after.”

Link says nothing. Reacts not at all to the descriptions of his previous lives.

“Prior to that, there’s only… myth and fairytale. So there is nothing in those catacombs worth returning for. Not if our aim is to know more about why the Goddess Mark has appeared now. Why it’s expanded its touch to you.”

“What do you know of it?”

“Theology and historical theory. We know the Goddess Mark is tied to Hylia and the creation myth of Hyrule – the Golden Goddesses who left the world in the hands of Hylia. But that’s it. Scholars of the age have only said that the Mark symbolizes the godhead, three in one – Din, Farore, and Nayru. The heart of the world. The balance that maintains existence. It appears in most Hyrulian symbolism. Hardly compelling factual account. Not like Naboorian hieroglyphs.” She sighs, almost romantically. “Such a record would be so… unromantic in its chronicle of the past. Vital. I have to admit, I’m selfishly curious to know what’s on that mountain for my own sake.”

Draga gives her a crooked smile. “Well, thank the hero Nabooru. It was she who mandated a record of Gerudo history be made written.”

“Why did she do that?”

“Hard to say. Nabooru was an ancient figure to my people, I have a theory. When the Great Chieftains brought the Gerudo out from the Sea of Sand and laid us at the shores of Hyrule… that was the moment our oral traditions began to die. Such things do not survive when you must change to survive a new world. She knew it then and committed great efforts to laying down physical records of our history. This is how we know we were different before we found Hyrule.”

Zelda smiles. “Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad your people did find Hyrule. We would be poorer for it had they not come.”

“Yes, I guess history would look very different.”

Link catches the tail end of the conversation then, walking up to tap her shoulder.

He signs, ‘We should go. I want to be past the Scab Lands before nightfall.’

“Okay,” she says.

And she kisses him on the cheek. She does it carefully, catches his chin with two fingers so he doesn’t move and fits her lips against the warm plane oh his cheekbone. There. Proud of herself – and feeling very giddy – she stands up and heads toward the road. She isn’t aware that anything extraordinary has transpired until Draga says, “For fuck’s sake,” and kicks her knight escort in the ankle to break him out of the trance. She smiles all the way back to the road.

 


 

 

When they reach the Scab Lands, there are three Gerudo on the road

Two of them, carrying twin travel packs and matching jackets, are dressed for the road heading north into Tabantha, bundled prolifically in an excess of scarves. One of them is capped in an adorable wool-knit hat, a grandmotherly kind with a pom-pom stuck to the top. This would seem a bit much, if Zelda hadn’t seen Draga stuff himself into excessive layers back in the Rito Village and his subsequent almost primal hate for the snow. He is, in fact, still wearing a scarf presently.

The two girls are talking to a third Gerudo woman on horseback. Her violently red hair is pulled back in a heavy tail – from it, hundreds of sparkling beads catch the light when she turns her head. She’s wearing a veil. Blue fabric pinned at her temples by elaborate gold clasps. The scimitar at her hip is sheathed in a mother of pearl scabbard. Zelda notes that, upon seeing them, Draga sits up a little straighter and nudges Arbiter into a faster trot.

“Greetings!” says the girl in the cap as they draw near. Her accent is very strong. She waves while her companion – a little older, sharing enough of her bone structure and contempt to be a sister – rolls her eyes and gently pushes her arm down.

“Good evening,” says the older girl in carefully done Hylian. Then in Gerudo, to Draga, “That’s quite a horse. I’ve never seen one more beautiful.”

Draga also in Gerudo, says, “Now you’ve done it. It’ll all go to his head now.”

Arbiter, as if on cue, tosses his massive head and nickers, stomping a hoof in the dirt and blowing air at the nearest girl who startles, almost losing her cap. The older girl laughs loudly. Draga smiles a little – just a suggestion of it but so specifically gentle Zelda finds herself studying the shape of it. Cataloging it. Hoping to commit it to memory so she can identify it again in the future – like the flight patterns of birds or the phenotypes of a rare plant species.

“Are you two headed north?” he asks.

“Yeah. Meeting a family friend. He says he has work for us,” says pom-pom girl.

“That’s good,” Draga says. “Lots of young Gerudo leave town without a single part of a plan. You’re doing better than I did.”

“Didn’t plan well for the cold though,” says the older girl. “I’m not looking forward to freezing my tits off on some gods forsaken snowfield.”

“I am!” enthuses pom-pom. “There will be snow. I’ve never seen snow.”

“Say that again when you run into a snow rhino,” says Draga, amused.

The older girl stares in horror. “What the fuck is a snow rhino? Don’t say there are snow rhinos.”

“There are snow rhinos. They’re ornery. I’ve seen them.”

Zelda notes that Draga leans harder on the male-conjugation than he does when speaking Gerudo with her. The older girl gives no sign she notices – possibly because she is distracted by the snow rhino and the fact earmuffs will not protect her from getting gored by one. The younger Gerudo girl though… as the conversation goes on, visibly frowns and Zelda can tell she’s trying to figure out Draga’s understandable but slightly canted take on her own language. It occurs to Zelda that the occasion for personal male modifiers in Gerudo might be uncommon enough that not everyone might have bothered to learn them.

About sixty seconds into the conversation, the younger girl confirms Zelda’s suspicions by blurting, “Oh! You’re a voe!”

Delighted. Like she just figured out a difficult riddle. Draga and her sister, bent over a map and reviewing their likely path north for safety and friendly rest stops, stare blankly at her. Draga, still in his saddle, glances at the older girl who balls a hand over her face in humiliation. This signals to the younger girl that she’s made an error and she wilts.

“Oh, uh, I mean…” She switches to her mother tongue. “Sorry. That’s rude right?”

“Yes, Rima. That’s rude,” says her sister, exasperated. “Goddess, you’re embarrassing.”

“But both the blonde ones are women, right, Taz?”

“No, you idiot. The short one is a man.”

“Really?” She stares openly at Link who tilts his head. “Are you sure?”

“You need to get better at this, I can’t tell you who is man and woman every time.” She looks directly at Draga. “I am so sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Draga says, visibly trying not to laugh.

“Are you two on Pilgrimage?” Zelda says in Gerudo.

“Oh! Your accent is so pretty!” Rima exclaims, clutching her hands to her chin. “You know Gerudo? That’s so amazing. No one knows our language! I’m so bad in Hylian. I say the wrong things.”

“You say the wrong things in every language,” Taz snaps.

Zelda makes introductions and accepts compliments on her hair and, through the corner of her eye, watches Draga dismount and start going through his saddle bag. He pulls out a small wood box she’s never seen and what looks like a snowquill doublet and overcoat with a couple ridiculous hats. The hats are also snowquill, but twice as thick as normal with ear flaps that make her immediately regret not seeing him wear it. Draga inspects these items with a calm appraisal, then turns and holds them out to the older girl.

“You two should take these,” he says.

Rima bounces a little at her sister’s shoulder, peering as she takes the coats and opens the little wood box. “Oh. Pretty. What are they?”

“Are these warming stones?” says Taz, her eyes big.

Draga nods.

She looks up. “We can’t take these.”

“Sure, you can.”

“These are too valuable!”

“They aren’t worth a thing.”

“You’re lying!”

Draga looks mock hurt. “I’m sorry. We just met and you’re calling me a liar?”

Taz loses some of her cool worldliness to alarmed sputtering but Rima is already pulling on the snowquill doublet, and then the overcoat, patting it with warm brown hands and smoothing the thick material down. She admires its fit (a bit too large honestly, even with the doublet beneath) and spins around so the longer part flaps out around her. She can’t quite lower her arms to her sides on account of the layers.

“So warm!” she says, beaming from the gap in her scarf and hat.

“It’s standard gear, but high quality,” Draga says. “Don’t let anyone try to trade you for it. The doublet and warming stone should be enough to keep even Tabantha cold out. Don’t go without full gear once you hit the snowfield. The temperatures there are deadly if you’re not ready. Besides, I’ll hardly have use for it back in the desert.”

Link signs, onehanded to Zelda, ‘That gear is worth near its weight in gold.’

Zelda blinks, then signs, ‘What?’

‘Rito can only make so many snowquill pieces a year since they use molting feathers. And warming stones are usually ruby. That equipment is no joke.’

The girl with earmuffs is already pulling the warming stone from the box – an adjustable leather wrist-cuff into which a single small red stone is filigreed in with silver wire. The stone has to be flush to skin to transfer its effect, Zelda knows. Draga tells her so and shows her how to tie the bracer to ensure it can’t come off. Then he says earmuffs are inadequate against Tabantha cold and places the ridiculous hat on her head. Rima squeals in delight. Taz tolerates this new development like she knew it was coming.

Draga pulls the flaps of the hat down around her ears and frowns down at it with a kind of judicious pragmatism and vague fraternal concern that makes Zelda aware, suddenly, of herself and the fact she’s sitting on her horse watching her giant friend vaguely mother people on the road. Makes her aware of Link kind of grinning besides her and as Draga finishes tying the stupid hat on his fellow Gerudo, Zelda acknowledges her desire (familiar and strange simultaneously) to put her hand on one of them. Not in any way specifically, just to be in contact.

The woman on horseback, who up until now has said nothing, waits until the sisters have departed with elaborate promises of returning the favor one day that Draga clearly appreciates, but expects nothing of. The woman’s horse is shockingly beautiful, golden in color, perfectly groomed, and stands at disciplined attention until she, gently, taps her heels into the beast’s flanks. The sun catches on the painted kohl and red that lines her eyes. She smells faintly of jasmine and when she smiles, Zelda can see it in the way her eyes crinkle and she says…

“You can’t buy the love of the People, you know.”

Zelda, stunned, just stares.

Draga, however, seems unmoved, He sneers, actually, his lips curling back like a dog bares its teeth. “I wouldn’t pay shit for your affection.”

She smiles. Her voice is almost gentle, musical, even in Hylian. “Come now, isn’t it a difficult life to choose?”

“You don’t choose,” he says.

“Of course, you do,” she says, almost gently, almost affectionately. “I’ll show you if you like. It’s easy. Here tell me: What is your real name?”

Draga’s expression changes then – a scorching burn of rage like a flash-fire on clay, baking in a color. He gets darker, if possible, with the intensity, the totality, of his anger in that single moment but even through that heat, Zelda catches it – an undercurrent. A brief but violent glow of hurt. Then he speaks through his teeth.

“You should ride on.”

She’s still smiling behind the veil.

The woman kicks her horse forward a little, so the beautiful gold animal circles to his left. “But don’t you want wisdom from a sister?” she asks, continuing to circle when Draga holds his ground. “I gave it to those girls, I’ll give it you. As if you were like them. The courtesy due your mothers at the least. Here’s my wisdom: Stay out here. Don’t go back. You’ll do much better where they don’t know shit about the People.” Here, she looks directly at Zelda. “Riju isn’t a little girl on the road with no jacket. She knows a shorthair heretic when she sees one.”

“Excuse me?” Zelda says in Hylian.

And the beautiful woman switches to Hylian just to clarify, “If you want to fuck a Gerudo, you should fuck a real one, girl.”

Link puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles.

He splits the air with that whistle, cracks it open with that sound. A piercing almost painful zipline of air, high and aggravating – cut with an impossible vibrato and quite without warning the beautiful woman’s horse throws its head, issues an equine scream, and bolts. The woman, clearly not expecting that, shrieks and flails forward, snatching the reins and hanging on as the mare gallops full speed, breakneck fast down the road. By the time she recovers she and her horse are a quarter mile away.

Link drops his hand. Zelda stares. Draga glares. Link just shrugs.

“How’d you do that?” Draga says, patting Arbiter on the nose. The massive stallion acts rather like it didn’t hear a thing.

Link nudges Epona off the road. “We’re behind schedule. We should go.”

Zelda looks at Draga. “Are you alright?”

He mounts up. “Of course.”

“Why would she say something like that?”

Draga looks at her. His expression so neutral it makes a momentary statue of him. “Link’s right. We should try to gain ground before it gets much darker. This area isn’t safe at night.”

Zelda thinks about the flight pattern of birds, the mating habits of poisonous frogs, the sexual dimorphism between the male and female of a certain species of lizard, and the precise balance of the smile that touched Draga’s mouth when he tied that stupid hat on Taz’s head. She nods and follows her companions off the beaten path and they head into the wilds at the foot of the mountain range beyond, toward the uneven ridges that mark Draga’s homeland.

 


 

 

“That’s too much salt.”

“You said add more salt.”

“Not that much.”

“I can’t un-salt something, Link.”

There’s a silence.

“No. I’m not taking cooking critique where you spell things for me in Sign.”

“Add a little more of everything.”

“How about you give better instructions and we won’t have this problem?”

“How about you don’t dump too much salt in my salmon risotto and we won’t have this problem?”

“Never mind. Go back to not speaking.”

Zelda looks up from the bow in her lap – recurve composite, Gerudo make, one of Link’s spares dug from the vast and confusing depths of his enchanted travel pack. It feels warm and familiar in her hands. The wood curved like the dip of a hipbone. She watches her compatriots. Link is hovering and peering over his shoulder with a kind of bland anxiety that’s specific to food. Draga is glaring at him for it. She goes back to what she was doing because she explicitly warned Draga not to try and help Link cook. He gets weird about it. So, this his bed to lie in.

She smooths her fingers up and down the shape of the bow, fitting her fingers to the leather grip at the center, feeling again and again a vague sensation of reflex. Of want. It’s one of the lightest in Link’s arsenal at a thirty-five-pound draw – just enough pull to down an opponent if she puts some intention to it. The bowstring lays coiled in her lap, tacky, wrapped in wax paper.

“Could you back up?” Draga says.

Link does not do that.

“I need you to back up.”

Link kind of makes a face and Draga picks up the entire plate of spare ingredients from the grass and shoves it into his arms. “That’s it. I’m done You are like…” He says something in Gerudo that Zelda thinks is slang, but translates like ‘a jackal in heat’ or something to that effect. “I hate fish anyway.”

Link looks offended.

Draga leaves him there looking offended and comes to join Zelda. “You going to string that?”

“I’m trying to remember how.”

“I can show you.”

“No. I’m trying to remember.”

He frowns, then realizes. “Oh.” He crouches down in front of her, inspecting the weapon in her hands with a thoughtful reconsideration. “What is that like? Trying to remember something that didn’t happen in this life?”

“Like I’m remembering something I did in a dream,” Zelda says, carefully unspooling the bowstring from the wax paper. “I can ignore it if I want. What I remember in a dream does not confuse me. I am never uncertain about what I have done and what has been done by my predecessors.” She hooks the top of the string into the notch at the bottom of the bow. “Often, it’s not memory at all. Just a feeling. Indistinct.” She stops here to stand up, bracing the bottom of the bow against the ground just outside her right boot with the curve hooked up hugging the back of her left thigh, set diagonally between her legs. “It’s nothing specific. Just…”

Draga waits. “Want a hint?”

“No… I know this. I…” She grips the top curve of the bow and pushes it down like a lever forward, the body of bow bending against her leg. This gives her just enough time to hook the string into the top notch. She releases the tension and the line goes taut. “Ha!” She steps her leg out of the freshly strung bow and presents it to Draga. “It’s like muscle memory!”

Draga tilts his head. “Well, if it’s muscle memory, Princess, maybe we should try some target practice.”

She falters a moment. “Oh… well I could try.”

Draga fetches his own quiver from their equipment, taking long enough that she begins to regret her decision. She fully regrets it by the time he hands her the first arrow. He waits. Clearly not intending to help her figure it out whatsoever.

Nervous now, Zelda readjusts her grip on the bow in her left hand, awkwardly sliding her hand down the arrow from the middle of its length to the feather-fletched end. The feel of it sends a vague blush of familiarity through her. She closes her eyes. She imagines… fitting the bolt to the string, drawing it back. A compound movement, pushing the bow away and drawing the line back, high at first, then lining up. Mathematical. Precise. Her line of sight focuses and – she opens her eyes.

Draga is peering down at her, waiting and curious.

She shoves the arrow back at him, a sick well suddenly in the back of her throat.

“Never mind. I don’t want to practice this.”

Draga blinks a little owlishly. “Why not?”

“I just don’t want to. The draw weight is too heavy for me anyway.”

“How would you know unless you tried?” Draga says, his brow rising slightly.

“I… I just would rather not.”

He takes the arrow.

“Is this because you said you thought about killing me?” And when Zelda goes ramrod stiff, petrified, he scratches his chin and says, “Your dream-mind notwithstanding, if you think you can kill me, it’s going to take more than an arrow, Princess.”

She sputters, horrified. “I would never –!”

“Then there’s no reason not to learn this,” Draga interrupts.

He offers her the arrow again. When she does not immediately take it back and, instead, stands there frozen, he says, quietly, “It would be useful if you learned this.” A beat. “Relearn it.” Another beat. “Whichever it is. I barely follow you two when you talk about these things.”

“Draga…”

He steps forward and with an old archer’s ease, he fits three fingers beneath her left elbow and lifts her bow arm to a proper height. He nocks the arrow to the string for her, his fingers momentarily fitting hers to the line.

“Just draw,” he says.

Eventually, after a long moment, she draws.                                                                                                   

It’s like taking a breath.

“Hm,” he says.

“What’s ‘hm’?”

“You have a long pull.” He moves out of her line of sight, behind her. “You draw all the way past your ear.”

“This feels right. Is that bad?” she asks, maintaining her stance, aiming indistinctly at the trees.

“Not necessarily,” he says. She can feel the shrug. “Your footwork is good. How does it feel?”

“Familiar.”

“It should.” His mouth is suddenly very close to her ear. “I saw you shoot at that dragon.”

A shiver runs down her spine and coils in Zelda’s stomach. A murmur enters her heart, but before she can react, he loops his quiver belt around her hips, drawing it tight. He’s kneeling behind her to do this, his hands occasionally bracing against her hip as he fits it. He’s not gentle exactly, tugging at the strap with a utilitarian strength she might expect if he were tacking Arbiter for the road. It forces her to brace. She looks over her shoulder to glare at him, but when she turns her head, he looks calmly up at her from where he’s kneeling. The fire light illuminates one side of his face, painting a gold heat into the high plane of his cheekbone and –

She immediately faces forward again, suddenly very aware of his hands against her hip.

He finishes adjusting the quiver and stands up.

“There’s a knot in that oak. Think you can hit it?”

She squints down the shaft, the bowstring digging into her fingers as she holds the tension and… she relaxes. She lowers the bow with the arrow still nocked to the string and turns at the hips to look up at Draga.

“Why did that woman speak to you like that on the road today?”

Draga blinks. “This is an obvious delaying tactic.”

“It’s an honest question.”

Draga thinks about it. “When you were learning Gerudo, you were taught the importance of gendered conjugation in our language, yes? That our pronouns delineate Gerudo as its own gender category. Then non-Gerudo women and men.” When he gets a small nod from her, he goes on. “Naboorian dialects are the only Gerudo dialects that allow for Gerudo-specific male modifiers at all and that dialect is not widely spoken. So, in effect, my own language does not properly allow for my existence.”

Zelda’s brows lift in surprise. “The dialect you speak… it’s an offshoot?”

“A slight variant. But yes. My family spoke it, but not many outside the Highlands do.”

She hesitates, then admits, “I honestly thought that Gerudo-specific conjugation was gender indifferent until I met you.”

He shrugs. “Our most common conjugation structures evolved without distinction. Hardly unnatural, but it’s also why that woman said what she said. If I have used any modifiers other than Naboorian – then she wouldn’t, perhaps, have spoken up.” He pauses a moment, thinking. “I have had more fights with Gerudo over my dialect than any other moral disagreement.”

“Why?”

“It’s very hard for the narrow-minded to ignore me when I speak Naboorian Gerudo.” He smiles a little, but it’s a brittle baring of teeth. “It’s subtle. Outside of my own dialect, if I wanted to specifically delineate myself as a man… I would have to linguistically separate myself from being a Gerudo.”

Zelda shakes her head. “Why don’t I know this?”

“You’re Hylian,” he says, shrugging. “Also, you were fighting Calamity Ganon so I hardly fault you for not being finely aware of the societal riffs among my people. Now, are you going to shoot that bow or do you want a grammar lesson?”

“Well…”

Draga waits.

“Oh, very well. I will try.”

Draga smiles.

Zelda turns back to her target. After a moment’s consideration, she draws a second arrow, hooking the feathered end into the loop of her pinkie finger while she sets the first arrow to the line – both shots held ready now in her right hand. She breathes. She thinks – not of the desert. No. Not the desert. Something else. Like… like standing in a long yard. She imagines her hair shorn short for battle, her fingers callused and scarred. Zelda draws. Aims. Releases the shot. Flips the next bolt over her knuckles and sets it to the line. Pulls. Fires.

When she lowers the bow, two arrows stand quivering from the mouth of the hollow, clustered at the head.

“Huh,” says Draga.

“That’s a Sheikah’s draw,” says Link.

Zelda blinks, her heart-pounding elation -- alien and effervescent, like she’s stealing it from another world entirely – subverted by the frank certainty the statement. Link is no longer cooking by the fire. He’s standing with Draga, watching, arms folded. The campsite smells of salmon risotto. Link’s hair catches bits of gold in the fire light, Draga beside him lit in copper. She blinks again at the peculiar mirror they make of one another, both peering at her with identical looks of intrigue.

Link points. “The way you bring it up, pull past your ear, and sight. The reload method. It’s Sheikah.” He shrugs, then signs, ‘I don’t know how to shoot like that. It’s one of the most challenging styles I know of.’

“Oh…” Zelda looks uncertainly to Draga, who just shrugs, then back to Link. “Really?”

He nods and she feels a strange dissociation, staring at her own fingers.

She shakes it off. “Okay, so I use a Sheikah draw? Is that bad? What style do you use, Link?”

Draga interrupts immediately, at volume, “Link shoots with his wrist out and some bizarre pinch and draw I’ve never seen and it’s appalling. Do not do what he does or ask for his advice.”

Link shrugs. “It a Zora draw.”

“It’s what?”

“I trained with Zora when I was younger,” he says blandly. “They shoot that way to keep their fins out of the line. I didn’t know that when I was a child.”

Draga stares. “So you shoot weird because you’re too lazy to retrain yourself?”

Link shrugs again.

“You’re unbelievable.”

Link says, “Dinner’s ready,” and walks back to the fire. Rather like nothing of great surprise occurred, leaving Zelda and Draga to stare after him.

Zelda shoulders the bow for a moment. “Draga… thank you for telling me all that.”

“You both deserve to know before I take you into it.”

“Can I ask one more thing?”

“Of course.”

“Why did she ask for your ‘real name’?”

He looks at her, a little surprised, then says, “Only demons have many names.”

Zelda blinks. “What?”

“Do you not say that in Hylian?”

She shakes her head.

“Oh.” He ponders this, rubbing his neck like there’s a knot there, his other arm folded across his stomach. “I’m not sure how to say it in Hylian, Names have power in the desert. Saying I have the wrong name...”

Zelda lays a hand on his arm, drawing his hand down. He looks at her.  

“You know that we prefer you as you are, right?”

He stares at her. A strange expression. Like he hadn’t seen her properly or the dark made odd shadows in her face. “Thank you, Zelda.”

“Always.”

 


 

 

Zelda wakes to Link’s hand on her arm.

It’s still dark. She can hear crickets in the forest. Even the embers of their fire are dark.

Link’s face is just barely discernable in the moonlight, the blanket having fallen off his shoulder when he rolled over to wake her. He says nothing, but she knows what’s wrong. She crawls carefully over her knight, bare feet sinking into gap between their sleeping pads, fingers bracing against the mess of bedding. She can feel dew on the fur Link pulls over the top, strictly to keep the dampness off the wool.

Draga, lying next to Link, is breathing too fast. Keeps jerking involuntarily. Half-formed words escaping him in quiet suppressed bursts, like someone has a hand on his throat. He’s on his side, spine curled slightly forward, arms drawn close to his chest, like he’s cold… or like he’s trying to clutch his throat in his sleep and can’t. Zelda lays a hand over his brow and a faint gold light wells gently in her fingers. Link’s eyes – suddenly visible, blue, holding the glow in a way that defies what she knows about illumination – meet hers.

Eventually, the tension leaves Draga’s limbs. His hands unclench and the faint, pained tension in his features smooths away to unconscious neutrality. For another minute she sits there, her hand against his head and Link’s chin against her shoulder. She listens to them breathing until, vaguely, she realizes they’re breathing together and Link’s fallen asleep against her. They won’t mention it in the morning.

 


 

 

A reminder: Link doesn’t look dangerous until he is.

Lake Alumeni lies shining at the foot of the Gerudo Highlands. An icy wellspring of water wreathed by a copse of apple and evergreen trees, knotted with heather and long grass. The grass gives way to a sandy slope of shore before the lake’s edge and it’s there, under the dying sunlight, Link does as Draga asked of him. Namely: be very dangerous for a while.

He’s crouched, waiting, sword in hand.

He says, calmly, ““You won’t beat me without magic.”

Draga, knotting anther bandage around his forearm, snarls, “I know, you tiny bastard.”

Link doesn’t smile.

The lackadaisical courtesy of previous sparring sessions has gone, replaced with mercenary indifference – the blank, blue-eyed battle stare that is precursor, Zelda knows, to terrible violence. That’s the face he wears now. Apathetic as physics when he puts an impossible bend in the universe and uses it to smash his friend to the ground. Repeatedly. Viciously. Trying to draw out an response. Even the blunt edge of the sparring sword does the job – laying a ragged road of bruises and shallow cuts down Draga’s arms. Leaving him panting, laved in sweat and sticky with blood. IT’s been hours.

The air stinks with like live current. Link’s breath like the air before a lightning strike. There’s a storm in his eyes when he’s like this. Zelda almost forgot.

“Ready?” he says.

Draga thinks about it. Then nods.

Link hits him instantly. The blade sings with the blow and Draga lunges back. He swings a massive blow at Link’s flank, but he just pivots, ducks the side slash, and smashes his elbow into Draga’s back as he goes past. Draga hits the ground rolling and comes up instantly. Draga attacks. Fast. He’s still so fast, even now, but Link is always that much faster. He deflects the blow, pivots, and comes up slashing, sword ringing when it slams into Draga’s. It puts a terrible vibrato into the metal, driving the bigger man back but Link does not stop. Doesn’t slow an iota.

He presses the exchange with a merciless speed, the entire time saying, “No,” and “C’mon!” and “I’m going to kill you, if you don’t get this!”

(Zelda tells herself he doesn’t mean that. It’s a tactic. It’s just talk.) But he doesn’t stop.

Draga’s breathing hard. He tries to catch his balance. Link keeps coming. Link gets past his guard, strikes a glancing blow to his head. Draga keeps his feet, but only just and Link lays open another bleeding line against wrist, his thigh, his hip – Draga flinches and that’s when the lake shore shivers. Draga is already swinging when it happens. He brings the blade down and the impact is Lynel-like, buckling Links arm and spinning him around.

This time, the metal does not howl. It eats the impact and the air around him becomes heat-smeared, mirage-like. When he steps forward, small pebbles on the ground begin to shiver and jump as if caught in the gravity of a localized star. The surfaces of the lake ripples, a barometric shiver in the air displacing the mirror shine.

But Draga’s thrown his sword down.

He stands there, stock still, his hands clenched in front of him. Eyes closed. Breathing too fast.

Link, seeing this, steps back and lowers his blade.

“Control it,” Link says loudly. “Focus!”

“What the hell… do you think… I’m doing?”

His eyes take on a shine – glowing internally, red – usually a controlled burn, steady as the embers in a blacksmith’s forge. Now, she can see the erratic pulse of it, like someone is inexpertly pumping bellows into the forge, throwing sparks and heating the interior too fast, too much. He shakes his head. He breathes too fast.

Zelda steps in.

She’s got her hands around Draga’s wrists, then around the back of his neck. It’s like grabbing a burning skillet from a flame. She can feel the heat hissing against the thin golden shell that paints her skin, like heat crackling in water. She pulls his forehead down to hers and pushes that golden light through her palms into the muscles in the back of his neck where it travels like water down a wall, dousing his skin where it touches.

He's gasping. “I can’t breathe…”

“You can breathe. Breathe when I breathe.”

Draga’s breath is hot against her face, but it’s cooling. She feels the resistance start to give, like trying to dam water with your hands then letting it go. He lets her pour out light, running over his skin, into his skin and evaporating on contact. And in the same breath she can feel the… depth he was talking about, like a house that’s bigger on the inside, the vast space into which she is pouring herself with no hope of filling. The void that dragons opened inside him. But even so, Draga’s skin feels human again. When he breathes, there’s gold in it.

She pushes, carefully, another dose of sunlight against his skin and he twitches, shivering.

“It’s like a ocean moving around you,” she murmurs. “Like a river. You can direct part of the flow, but you can’t control it. Do you feel it?” She breathes slowly, speaks calmly. “You have to let go or you’ll drown. Every time.”

“It’s like you have your hand in my chest,” he says, surprising her.

“I won’t hurt you.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“It’s okay. You’re not losing control.”

“That’s not what I meant, either.”

She blinks. “Oh.”

Zelda doesn’t recognize the way he’s looking at her. But at the same time, she knows it exactly. There’s gold on her tongue when she kisses him. There it is again – that dirty copper taste, like swallowing a coin. Like warming a spoon with her mouth. Her fingers close in his hair, her nails dragging on his scalp and when she finally pulls away, the air is calm around them. No longer boiling where they touch. Nevertheless, she feels hot. Her fingers against his neck pulsing, her heartbeat in her hands and in her stomach and she feels dizzy, like her head is filled with vapor.

She pulls away.

Draga shivers. “Thank you.” He looks at Link. “Both of you.”

Link joins them. The alien battle blank edge resolved into a kind of wry concern. He wipes sweat from his face with his sleeve, managing a small smile and a shrug that says, without sign or sound, ‘Whatever it takes.’

“Honestly,” Draga says again. “This would be much harder on my own. I’m glad I’m not this time.”

“Of course,” Zelda says emphatically. “I said you could rely on us and I mean it. I do. We’re going to figure this out together. We’re going to figure out the nature of this new magic. We’re going to go with you back to the Gerudo. We’re going to move forward.” She smiles. She doesn’t’ know why – overwhelmed suddenly by an excess of happiness. Or hope. She hadn’t been aware she lacked that before. “I have every confidence. I really do.”

Link taps her shoulder.

“Hmm?”

He cups her jaw and draws her into a kiss, tilting her head and his tongue is salt and milk in her mouth. Her heart races. A dizzy delight rising in her throat and she giggles a little. For some reason, Link seems to like that, and the way he’s kissing her becomes a little feral, his fingers knotting in her hair, his teeth just barely catching against her lip and rather without meaning too, a small moan rises in her throat. High and broken and Link immediately pulls back. Red in the face.

“Sorry,” he says, stepping back.

“What for?” says Draga, arms folded, looking a little disappointed.

Link blushes harder. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“Why not?” Zelda says, a little punch drunk.

Draga laughs. “You’re allowed, you know.”

Link hesitates. Then, rather like he’s repeating a question, he moves toward them again. He looks between them. She can tell he’s trying to figure out the best tactical execution here. Draga just rolls his eyes, bends down, and lays a hand against Link’s jaw.

“For someone who clearly knows what they’re doing,” he says, “you embarrass easy.”

Link gets redder. “Got to hell,” he says, but in the wrong tone of voice.

Draga smiles.

Zelda notices the back of his left hand is brushing her bare wrist.

“Maybe later,” he says.

Chapter Text

When Zelda wakes up, the sun is coming through holes in the roof, illuminating the otherwise dark interior of what was once a cottage. The stone work has held up, but the wooden panels rotted out, leaving only the support beams choked with creeping plants and hanging vines. The floor is packed earth carpeted in moss. Wildflowers grow riotous in the corners. Perhaps, she thinks, the flowers weren’t there last night but this is just what happens when Link stays in one place for too long – an involuntary resurgence of the wild.

He’s asleep presently.

Lying on his side, facing her, his head resting on her arm – Zelda should be used to this. To seeing Link unaware in the mornings. She should be bored of how he pulls near to her, annoyed by the fact her arm is numb or that his hair is damp and he obviously didn’t dry it out properly before getting back in bed. (He woke early to bathe in the lake.) She should not care that his skin smells a little like mint bar soap. She should not catalogue the small involuntary way his lips part when he breathes. His features smoothed by sleep should be familiar (one hundred years familiar). It should not be so impossibly hard to resist touching him.

Zelda flexes her fingers experimentally, pins and needles roving down the limb. Link’s breathing evenly against her shoulder. Laying like this, her fingers can just barely reach the empty section of bedding where Draga laid last night. It’s empty now. Cool with the absence of its right occupant. She wiggles her fingers. Feels a stab of numbness.

She is loath to move, but does, slowly sliding her arm from under Link’s head and rolling onto her stomach.

When she does, she finds Link awake and looking up at her.

“Hello,” she says.

He mouths something that might be a ‘morning’ but it’s too early for speech.

She pushes his hair gently from his brow. “Where’s Draga?”

Link doesn’t raise his head, but he signs, one handed, ‘Scouting. Mountain.’

“Will that take a while?”

Link nods, closes his eyes.

Zelda is struck – though not for the first time, nor the last – by the impression Link looks… not odd exactly. Rather, in moments, in passing, from certain angles between one breath and the next, he looks out of place. Like she’s seen his face in another context -- on ancient coins or the carvings of lost civilizations. He’s anachronistic. A fixed point.

Led by impulse, she traces his features with one finger.

Link, for his part, lets her do it. His eyelids twitch a little, like he’s very consciously keeping them closed. Zelda monitors this with a small corner of her brain, while the rest of her attention follows her fingers on his skin. Like a blind woman reads braille, Zelda runs her fingertips over Link’s mouth, resting there to catch the heat off his breath. Then she draws her thumb with some modicum of pressure – like touch-testing a tea mug – against his lower lip. He opens his eyes and looks up at her.

For a moment, neither of them move or say a word.

Link just studies the way Zelda looks at him.

Then – gently, with the ease of long practice, iterated in a history she still has no notion of – Link takes her thumb between his teeth and closes his mouth around it. She stops breathing. Her thumbprint is hot against his tongue, a coiled press of heat in his mouth. Then he licks an obscene path from her thumb to her forefinger and she just –

Zelda loses track of things then.

She’s aware in broken instances -- her fingers tangled in his hair. His weight on top of her. That she’s kissing him, mouth-to-mouth and clumsy, her lips prickling with pressure. She closes her fists at the back of his skull. When she does, Link makes this low animal sound in his throat. She pulls his hair and he moans , eyelids fluttering for a second. Intoxicated by this, Zelda pushes Link’s head down against her throat and he kisses her there. She guides him lower, guides his mouth against her body and he kisses her wherever she takes him – a slow path from her breast to her belly.

He only moves on his own when his mouth finds the waistband of her panties and he uses his teeth, then his right hand, to draw it down her leg.

The sight of him – her unreadable knight escort, bowed, eyes closed, his face between her legs – is manifest every sweat-sticky fantasy Zelda’s ever known. Formless teenage notions long before it was okay to think such a thing about him. Ignored and pushed down until now where it asserts itself as a compound rush of want and guilt. It’s so intense she almost stops him, but before she can speak, he looks up at her. In no fantasy of hers did she imagine that expression – arresting her where she lies.

He smiles just a little. It makes her entire heart hurt. Then he lowers his head and kisses her, gently, at the soft V of her legs. She very much forgets to feel guilty then. Link touches her, fingertips first, exploring, pushing gently but insistently in. When he has her writhing, he draws his tongue against her labia and circles her clit. Then he does it again.

Zelda moans.

When his tongue slides into her, she’s shaking. When he licks her open, she’s arching her hips to meet him. Rising and falling slowly. She cries out but the sound melts into a moan, her body pulsing in time to the rhythm Link laves into her. She’s breathless. The orgasm is in her toes and her fingertips, sparking blue behind her teeth. Zelda comes when Link is knuckle-deep inside her, two fingers coaxing her to obscenity. He closes his mouth over her clit and swirls his tongue over and over in agonizing little circles until she’s gasping, toes curling, spine bent, riding out her climax against Link’s mouth until the lightning recedes from her blood. Then she’s slack beneath him. Her heartbeat throbbing in every nerve.

Her fist aches where it’s closed against the back of Link’s head. Retroactively, she realizes she must have been yanking discourteously hard for the last ten seconds or so.

“Oh, my goodness!” She lets go. “I’m sorry . Did I hurt you?”

Link sits up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He still doesn’t say a word. He just shakes his head. His eyes search her face – looking for direction she thinks. So, Zelda sits up and pulls her shirt off entirely. He doesn’t move. Just… looks at her like he’d be fine just sitting there and getting to look. So, she slides her fingers into his hair with two hands and closes them tight. Tugs, gently, until he draws a shaky breath and she rolls sideways, pulling him down on top of her.

He’s still fully clothed.

He’s got one knee between her legs and his mouth pressed along her jaw. She draws one knee up, setting her heel into his lower back, making sure he feels her do it. She is fairly certain where things are supposed to go next. Link’s breathing fast and unsteady. He turns into her touch, time and again. She pushes his tunic up so she can hook her fingers into the waistband of his pants but when she does it, his breathing hitches too hard.

She stops and lies back, smoothing her hands against his hips beneath the tunic.

He looks at her. His hair’s in his eyes.

“We don’t have to,” she whispers.

Link keeps watching her.

“We have all the time in the world now, you know.”

When she says that, Link leans down and kisses along her jaw to her ear. His voice comes, finally, a little rough, a little hot against her skin when he says, “I feel crazy when I look at you.” And when she shivers, he buries his face against her neck and says, “I don’t know what to do.” She can hear his smile. “You make me nervous.”

She laughs. “You don’t seem like you’re nervous. You seem like you know exactly what you’re doing.”

“I’m shaking,” he whispers.

His eyes are closed against her neck. She can feel his heart racing where his chest is flush to hers. He’s not wrong, now that she’s paying attention. There’s a tremble in Link’s shoulders, in his hands. Like pre-battle nerves. She hadn’t noticed when he was moving and… being distracting but now – laying on top of her, his weight braced against his hands and knees – she can see the shiver in the lines of his body. So profound it’s almost in his breathing, on his tongue.

She slides one hand into his hair, holding the back of his head. “Why are you nervous?” she murmurs. “It’s just us.”

He mumbles something against her collarbone.

“What?”

“That’s why I’m nervous.”

She laughs. “Well, what do you like to do? If it wasn’t me?”

She can feel him blushing without even seeing it. He raises a hand to cover his eyes. “Not helping…”

“You’re embarrassed?”

He nods.

“You know you don’t have to be, right?”

He peeks at her through his fingers.

“I would be… curious to know what you like. I, ah, am not very, you know… experienced, but I’d like to…” She clears her throat. “Be warned, I might not know enough Sign for this kind of conversation.”

Link laughs and that’s the same moment that Draga – back from his scouting mission and having heard conversational voices from the cottage – steps through the open doorway with a pack over his shoulder. Zelda is too surprised to react. She just sits there totally naked with her former knight escort lying on top of her. Draga blinks at them, a little surprised. Not the appropriate amount of surprised. Just a little surprised. Like you’re surprised to find a stack of laundry not the way you left it. Then, he shoulders his pack, rolls his eyes, and walks right back out the door.

“Sorry,” he calls, waving over his shoulder.

Link, dumbfounded, looks to her.

“Wait. Draga!” Zelda flails, grabbing her tunic. She yanks it over her head and dashes out the door, tugging her hair out of the collar. It’s inside out. Wonderful. It’s long enough it covers… most of her thighs. Whatever. It will have to do. She scrambles down the overgrown garden path, chasing Draga toward the lake. “ Wait . Hold on.”

Draga’s halfway to the beach, down the path from what was once a fence now rotted to a series of posts stuck up from a choke of wildflowers. He, unlike Link, looks a little out of place in the untamed greenery. He turns to watch her race barefoot out of the cottage to stand in the grass in front of him, panting a little, her hair going every which direction. He waits. Which is unfortunate because she ran out the door in such a hurry, she hadn’t fully formulated what she was going to say to him and now she’s not wearing any underwear and standing in wet grass and it’s terribly undignified. Draga, sensing she might be at a loss, glances very particularly down at her toes sunk in the moss and then levels a look at her, eyebrows arched.

“Yes?” he says.

“Um,” she says, the picture of trained diplomacy and royal upbringing. “Sorry.”

He gives her an owlish look of genuine confusion. “For what?”

“For… that.”

He blinks at her. Birds chirp in the canopy.

“Well,” he says slowly, still looking a little puzzled, “you might warn me next time so I don’t walk in, but otherwise you have nothing to apologize for.” He tilts his head. “Unless you think you do?”

“Oh, um…” She should honestly be better at this. Except that’s not true because you don’t practice for a division of need in twin directions and how to articulate that. She blows air between her lips. “I don’t know. We never talked about this kind of thing so, given that I didn’t set any ground rules – which is entirely my fault – I’m asking if I have something to apologize for. I… I suppose. Yes. I’m asking.”

Draga sets on hand on his hip and gives her a lopsided look to match his smirk. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Don’t make fun. I’m new at this.”

She feels Link walking down the path behind her, moving to stand near the gate to the garden, listening. Draga glances at him, then at her.

“I thought I made it clear I don’t have any expectations.” He slings his pack to the ground, leaving it there to face them properly, arms folded over his chest. “You don’t have to tell me everything. I’m not unclear on this; you two have been partners a long time. You deserve to have this – whatever it is – without complications.” He shrugs. “If you would like to complicate things, that’s your choice. I do not care either way.” He pauses when, in review, that sounds a little harsh in Hylian and swaps to Gerudo. “I mean that I value our relationship, I just mean you’re not obligated to include me in everything. You’re not committed to me. I don’t harbor resentments on that front.”

Zelda processes this.

“Well, just so you know, I think we feel fairly committed to you.” She glances at Link to confirm and gets a nod. “Yes. So, we are comfortable complicating things.”

Draga frowns. “Do not rush into this.”

“I’m one hundred years late to everything,” Zelda says blandly. “I physically cannot possibly rush anything I do.”

Draga looks a little appalled. “You know what I mean.”

“I do. I’m pointing out that I don’t feel that I’m rushing into anything.” And when he looks skeptical, she says, “Okay, admittedly if we’re talking strictly physical things—” Draga’s brows arch a bit— “then I will need to go slow because I do not know what I’m doing, but in all other matters I feel very confident.” She tries to not be aware of the fact she’s wearing an inside out tunic and has terrific bedhead. “I meant what I said back in Tabantha, you know. I still do.”

Draga shakes his head. “I know you do. I’m just saying that you’re under no obligation.”

“Have I ever told you… what it was like fighting Ganon for one-hundred years?”

The neutral green of his eyes disappears. “No,” he says. His eyes are very wide. He looks over her shoulder to Link then back at her. “You’ve never told me that. Why does that apply to what we’re talking about right now? Not that I do not want to hear about it, but…”

“Yes, it relates. I promise.”

She’s suddenly happy for her bare feet in the grass, the feeling of the morning air on her skin in new and intimate places. She feels Link move to stand at her side and after a moment he takes her hand in his, threading his fingers through hers. It’s unreal how such a simple thing makes her heart swell. She smiles at him. His eyes seem bluer than the sky in that moment.

“I haven’t really told him either,” she explains, looking back to Draga.

“You don’t have to tell either of us,” Draga says quietly.

“I think I need to tell you.”

He and Link exchange a look. “Then tell us. We’re listening.”

She begins.

“It wasn’t linear exactly. It’s not like I was aware for one-hundred years straight in that castle, in that… room. That’s not how it worked. There was magic. So much of it I was barely myself sometimes.” Zelda tightens her grip on Link’s hand. “I slept when I made Ganon sleep. I woke whenever he woke. I was not aware of the time between unless I…” She shivers. “There’s part of me that was aware of time you see, but I just keep that part separate. I couldn’t stand it if I remembered. What I remember is it was like waking from a nightmare over and over except it was the nightmare you were waking up to.”

Draga’s looking at her in a way she’s not sure she knows. Link’s hand in hers is tight.

“I fought for so long. So many times, I woke and I… it was like smothering someone.” She’s breathing too fast. “The binding magic I mean, it was like holding someone’s head underwater over and over. I would wake up and kill him again and it was so…” Violent. Intimate. Necessary. ( But , says part of her, didn’t it feel good to put the bastard down ?) She swallows. “I don’t know if I could do that again.”

There’s a quiet.

In the silence Draga says, “Him?”

She blinks.

His eyes seem iridescent. She’s not sure how. The color of someone’s eyes is not usually so notable. He inclines his head. “You said ‘him’. The Calamity… was a person? I don’t understand.”

Link’s looking at her too.

She wipes her eyes.

“Once. Maybe. Eons ago. Human and something else. You can’t seal a human soul for ten thousand years. A conscious being. It rots like a carcass. Goes insane. Becomes . That’s what happened to him and what I started to think it would happen to me.” She tries to smile, but her mouth won’t do as she asks. “I fought him so many times I’ve lost count. I woke, I fought. I woke, I fought. Over and over. I never remembered the sleep so it was like… like a hundred battles in an unbroken string. Like fighting a war but never sleeping. As a whole… it wasn’t that long really. But it was relentless. After a while, I stopped feeling anything.”

Draga is closer now, close enough to touch. “That’s a very human reaction to an impossible thing, Zelda.”

“I’m not always human though.”

His expression crinkles. “Don’t say that.”

“Sorry. I just… I didn’t feel human when I was fighting Calamity. I didn’t feel human again until Link woke up.” She laughs, but it’s a cracked sound. “You two make me feel human again and you should know that because I just don’t feel about things like I used to. I just don’t give a shit about too fast. Or proper or right. There is no ‘too fast’ for me and it scares me because I know other people don’t think like that. And you’re not obligated to think like that, but you should know it’s how I feel. I just love being awake, finally. Does that make sense?” She scrubs her face with her hand. “Am I making any sense? I can’t –”

Link catches her chin in his fingers. When she turns, he kisses her. Her tears wet his tongue, but he just keeps kissing her until her shaking recedes and her breathing slows, until she’s grounded. He pulls back then and Draga touches her cheek so she looks at him. He’s bent a little at the waist so he’s closer to eye-level with her, his face close enough that she feels the pull to kiss him too, but she holds still.

“You make sense,” he says. He lowers his hand. “Thank you for telling us.”

“I didn’t mean to start crying. Goodness. I’m always crying.”

“Zelda, of all people, you owe no apologies to anyone.” Draga holds her gaze. “You defy explanation. The fact you still think you owe anyone any explanations…” He shrugs. “The both of you are better people than me in that way.”

“You’re a good person,” she says, a little defensive on his behalf.

He gives her a lopsided smile. “I’m better when I’m around you two and I’m not fishing for reassurances. You deserve to be happy.”

Link looks at Draga.

“So do you,” he says, out loud, quietly.

Draga reaches for his travel pack. “I’ll try to remember that,” he says, grabbing the strap. “Are we going to hike out of here or –?”

Zelda catches the front of his tunic so she can kiss him. He holds still for her while she does it. When she pulls back, he gives her a carefully calm sort of look. Business-like. He picks up the pack like she hadn’t done anything.

“Okay. Are we getting a late start then?”

Link grabs him by the collar and pulls him down, mouth to mouth, grinning. Zelda yanks the pack from his hands and Draga laughs – muffled – when she grabs him at the waist and starts pulling him back up the path toward the cottage, but pulling with comic over-enthusiasm so he threatens to over balance. He fights to keep his feet, saying loudly, “We really need to get on the road,” and “I appreciate this, but if we leave any later we’re not going to reach the shrine until sun down,” and finally, “We really, really don’t have time for this.”

Which is when Link hooks a leg behind Draga’s heel and torques hard to the right, yanking the taller man over with a “ Goddammit , Link!” and all three of them end up sprawled in a patch of wild flowers. Zelda, who was not expecting that, spits her hair and a bit of heather out of her mouth and glares at her knight escort who doesn’t look even a little sorry. Draga’s laughing, lying on his back with one hand over his face. Link uses the opportunity to climb on top of Draga, swinging one leg over his hips to take a seat on top of him. Zelda uses the opportunity to grab his wrists and pin them in the moss over his head.

He rolls his eyes.

“You’ve got me,” Draga says sarcastically. “We’re on a timetable.”

“No, we’re not,” she says, bending down to press her nose against his, scrunching up her face.

He scowls for dramatic effect. She just kisses him a bunch, all over his face, until he makes a sound of disgust.

“We have –” she keeps kissing him – “all the time –” she does it some more – “in the world.” She threads her fingers into his, leaning her weight against his palms and bending down over him so her hair falls over her shoulders, framing his face. She leans down to kiss his mouth, feels him go a little slack under her. “But I’m always in a rush.”

She hears the sound, unmistakably, of Link pulling Draga’s belt open and the Gerudo draws a breath through his teeth.

“Are you serious?” he demands, annoyed.

Link shrugs. “I can make it quick,” he says in a tone that sends a zip of heat down Zelda’s spine.

Draga looks unimpressed. “That’s what you think.”

Zelda leans down to speak in Draga’s ear, “Do you want us to stop? For real?”

He thinks about it. Then, “No, but I’m serious about not wanting to hike in the dark.”

Link and Zelda exchange a look. Link shrugs.

“Fine,” Zelda says brightly. “Like I said: All the time in the world.”

“Great.”

There’s a beat.

“Are you going to let me up?”

Zelda leans back, tilting her head like she’s admiring the view. “In a moment.”

He glares. “You’re making us late.”

“Mmhmm.”

Draga mutters, “Fucking Hylians…”

 


 

 

Climbing a mountain is not the hardest thing Zelda’s ever done, but it certainly won’t be easy. The pale stone cliffs of the Gerudo Highlands stand as monstrous vertical walls jutting upwardly over the steep incline of the foothills and disappearing into the clouds. There is a narrow path, barely more than a mountain goat’s migration route, that is known to both Link and Draga. Leading from Lake Alumeni, along the cliffs at base of the highlands, to an ancient lava flow known now as Hamaar’s Descent. This is how they will reach the Statue of the Eighth Heroine.

“Properly this time,” Draga says, side-eyeing Link, as they prepare to go.

Link, who at this point is no longer sorry for paragliding into an ancient temple, shrugs.

“See,” Draga says, tugging his rucksack shut, “he’s not actually sorry he did it.”

Link signs, ‘I have climbed into hundreds of ancient shrines and temples. It was literally my job.’

Draga does not even bother trying to read his sign. “Whatever he just said, I’ll bet it wasn’t an apology.”

Link makes a face and they set off for the mountain.

They leave Epona and Arbiter to fend for themselves at Lake Alumeni, penning them under four large apple trees and shaking down said apple trees for fruit. Arbiter, it’s known, will do as he pleases but seems content to wait for Draga in whatever situation the Gerudo man leaves him. Link admits that the same horse would, in his own travels, often run off in the middle of the night then return days later.

“Arbiter comes from a wild lineage,” Draga says, navigating a windy switchback. “I told you before that my people came from the Deep Desert. Before there were sand seals, they bred giant horses specifically for traveling through the wastes. They were the best for the task, but wild in temperament. They would reject all riders except the largest and strongest in a tribe. So, take it as a compliment he let you ride him at all.”

“How do you… know all this?” Zelda pants a little, following close behind the larger man.

“I read about them when I was younger,” he says, turning to give her a hand up into a narrow chute of stone, pushing her gently up the steep incline. “It’s odd what survives in recorded history. I can read five volumes of ancient animal husbandry, but we’re still not entirely clear what the hierarchy of chieftains has been in the transition from the Deep Desert to Hyrule. There are gaps in the line of succession. There is much, in my opinion, that has been purposely omitted, particularly around the arrival of the Gerudo in this country and it frustrates me.”

Zelda laughs, pulling herself up over a bit of a ledge. “Draga, if you hadn’t told us your intention to be swordhand to your people, I would assume you wanted to be a historian.”

“Swordhand isn’t the right word,” he says, grunting as he pulls Link up onto the ledge with them. “It doesn’t quite translate in Hylian, my declaration.”

“What’s an approximation?”

Link and Draga dust themselves off while he thinks about it.

“I’m not sure. It’s like a knight and a witch I suppose. Urbosa was, technically, of this profession if she hadn’t been chieftain.”

She frowns. “What’s the word?”

Ko’tame .”

“I don’t know it.”

“It’s a very specific role,” Draga says, moving past her. “Not common either. Urbosa’s duty as Chief supersedes being ko’tame.” He surveys the wide ledge snaking along the foot of the cliff. “Hmm, there are coyotes up the way. Keep a look out. I expect they’ll run when they see us, but it’s hard to say.”

Link slings his bow from the strap on his back, stringing it deftly.

Zelda tilts her head. “Do the Gerudo keep much record of magic-use in their culture?”

Draga shrugs. “Some do. The tribes from the Highlands keep close record because ko’tame are more common among us. Like a fishing village keeps record of good and poor fishing seasons and practices, but would not keep close, say, methods of blacksmithing. Most Gerudo culture does without serious magic. The most common magicians are stone workers – those who can draw out the nature of certain gems. Link has a few such pieces. The craft is very specific to old Gerudo magic.”

“I didn’t know that,” Link says.

“Why would you?” he says, a little bluntly. “The Gerudo hardly recollect it: that stone speaks to the People. History is not a priority to them.” He shakes his head. “When the Yiga started to kill my clan in Karusa Valley, capitalizing on an opportunity as we weakened, they told us to abandon the Naboorian ruins. Our temples and archives. They said the ancient fortress was not worth fighting for even though those are the very walls from which we took all our recorded history.”

“You grew up there?”

“For a time. But we had to leave it to Kohga and his mad clan because the rest of the tribes didn’t care.”

Link shivers.

Draga glances at him. “What?”

“Link killed Kohga,” Zelda says. “Did you know that?”

Draga frowns. “I heard he was dead. I didn’t know it was Link who did it.” He studies the smaller man, picking his way along the trail behind them. “Who in Hyrule haven’t you killed?”

Link looks stricken.

Realizing that he misjudged the severity of that phrase in Hylian, he amends, “I apologize. That came out wrong. Kohga was a monster. I don’t care who killed the fanatic.”

“He killed himself anyway,” Link says under his breath.

“Then he got off easy,” Draga says. “If he were still alive and his clan occupying that fortress, I would have gone there myself.”

“To drive them off?” Zelda says.

“No. To wipe them out. Every single one of them.” And when that earns him a pair of surprised looks, he frowns. “You don’t have context here. They killed members of my tribe when they besieged the fortress and they put their filthy fucking banners in all our shrines. There is a temple to the Eight Heroines there where I studied as a child and they filled with their symbols for abomination. I have no pity for them. They’re just like the beasts the Calamity set upon the land.”

“They are people ,” Zelda points. “I don’t disagree that they forfeit their lives when they sided with the Calamity. But they aren’t beasts.”

“They are to me,” Draga says calmly. “They are worse than beasts. They chose a demon and abandoned their humanity. They tried to kill you. To kill Link. To kill my people and end this world. Someone like that?” He shakes his head. “I kill them. That’s it.”

Zelda studies the back of his head. “You would have really killed them all?”

“I didn’t learn how to fight to then hesitate in defending what I care about.” He glances over his shoulder at her. “If they appeared, right now, and tried to kill Link before your eyes, don’t tell me you wouldn’t incinerate them.”

“I probably would,” she admits evenly, “I’m just saying, they’re still people even if I’m deciding to kill them.”

“Being a monster and being a person are not mutually exclusive things,” Draga says under his breath.

“Very true,” she says. “Which is why I would not lose too much sleep over it.”

He looks at her again. “Surprisingly cold-blooded.”

“I say that, but I would probably cry,” she says. “I cry very easily. Not while things are happenings of course, but later when I think it over. So temporarily cold-blooded. Maybe. I’ve never needed to kill anyone with magic or otherwise and I would like to think that I never will have to do that, so for now I’ll simply say that I have no idea how I’d really behave in that situation.”

“I laughed when Kohga killed himself,” Link says.

She and Draga both stare. Link shrugs, readjusting his shoulder strap.

He says under his breath, “It was funny at the time…”

 


 

 

They take a break.

For twenty minutes, they lay on a warm flat of stone and stare at the sky. Link lies between them as Zelda argues with Draga about the historical non-value of the Hylian record archives as they stand while Draga vehemently argues the opposite. He’s chops his hands through the air, angrily framing his points while she flails her arms pointing out the holes in his neatly boxed up ideas. Link, bored, watches them wordlessly until they’re basically shouting at each other. They sit up to do it properly.

“In a land like Hyrule,” Draga snaps, “I just don’t understand how you can be this careless with history.”

Zelda tosses her hands. “I’m not being careless. I’m saying I read most of those records and they were twaddle. We lost everything important already.”

“So just give up? That’s better.”

Zelda tosses up her hands. “This kind of thing really bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t it bother you?” he says, looking sharply at her. “You of all people know about repeating history.”

“Yes,” she says a little quietly. “I do know about that. I just didn’t realize it upset you this much.”

For a time, he doesn’t answer. Then:

“The Gerudo come from an ancient line of thieves and bandits.” He shakes his head. “You need to understand: We weren’t always a refugee race and we certainly are not one now. But we don’t even remember what brought us here, what disaster broke us or why we even came back to Hyrule in the first place. It’s not clear – in some texts, we came back because we sought the ‘heart of the world’. In others… we were just starving. But no matter why we came, the fact is my people have lost all account of it and I think there’s something there. Something important.”

“What makes you think that?” Zelda says.

“I don’t know. A feeling I’ve always had. I trust my instincts.”

Zelda smiles. “As I said, you sound like a historian.”

Draga snorts. “Maybe in another life.”

“Still think you’re wrong.”

“You are infuriating –!”

Link signs , interrupting, ‘You’re both pretty attractive when you’re yelling.’

Zelda, who caught most of his comment, sputters.

“What?” Draga says. “What did he say?”

“I’m not translating,” Zelda huffs.

“You’re hot,” Link says, ditching Sign.

Zelda immediately blushes red. Not because of what he said exactly but rather the fact it is the first time Link’s said anything like that out loud. He yawns, stretching like sun-warm cat, and lies back again. Draga glares. Zelda gets the impression that, were they not on the road to a site of extreme cultural and historical import for his people, Draga would be a little more receptive to the multiple advances.

As it stands he stops looking disdainful and with the same lazy disinterest, he rolls over, swinging one leg over Link’s so his knee is between the other man’s thighs, not touching him but Draga levers himself up on one arm so he’s looking down at Link from a sudden and somewhat suggestive position on top of him. It’s suddenly very apparent how much bigger Draga is. Link stares. Draga’s expression is still bored. He leans down, puts his mouth by Link’s ear, still not touching him but close enough Zelda can see his breath disturb Link’s hair when he speaks.

In Gerudo he says, “ Every time you talk, I imagine what you’ll sound like screaming.”

In Gerudo, ‘screaming’ can conjugate to very specific meanings. He means a very particular kind of scream. And Zelda, who knows that, covers her mouth to stifle a noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh.

Draga rolls over and lies back again. “Anyway, Zelda, you’re wrong.”

“I am not!”

Link, red in the face, doesn’t seem like he’s going to interrupt them again.

 


 

 

They reach the foot of Hamaar’s Descent by sunset. From here, looking up, Zelda cannot see the statue. Just a long climb to an unseen trailhead. The ancient lava flow is a ripple of stone descending like steps to the ridge where they stand, walled on either side by high vertical cliffs, like the flow cut a fissure into the mountains. The air is colder here. Nearer to the snowy climes at the top of the mountain. There is a peripheral hum – a pressure along the sides of her eyes. Her hands feel scratchy when she looks up. Her heart’s racing.

“There’s old magic here,” Draga warns her. “That’s what you’re feeling.”

She nods.

They make the climb in silence.

Draga doesn’t look back at them while he leads their climb. They follow him until the sun is gone and Draga has to strike a spark into a torch from Link’s pack, the flame throwing shadows against the canyon walls. Eventually, the ground levels out and Zelda finds herself at the literal foot of a massive stone figure, ten stories tall and ancient – a carved Gerudo woman in robes, her hands extended before her and resting on the missing pommel of some great sword.

Draga stops at the top of the incline, torch in hand, and Zelda feels him tense.

“What is it?”

Eventually, Draga says, “My sisters were the last ones to come here.”

Zelda and Link stay where they are while Draga moves toward the foot of the statue. There are massive oval disks carved on the top of the statue’s feet, smooth and blank when he approaches. Zelda smells the familiar metal scent of magic and Draga runs a hand over the first tablet, like he’s wiping sand from the surface, and when his fingers pass over the stone, lines begin to push up like veins in an arm, snaking words into the rock and in that way, line by line, he starts to read. He is quiet long enough that Zelda supposes he’s immediately lost himself in translating what’s there.

“Draga, can you read it?”

He doesn’t answer.

“Draga, can you read it?” she repeats.

He still doesn’t answer.

Draga .”

“My name is here,” he says softly.

Zelda stares. “What?”

“My name is written here.” He sounds baffled.

“I don’t understand. Your family put your name here…?”

“No. My tribe died before I took this name. This record is over ten-thousand years old. My chosen name was written here.”

Zelda feels a prickle down her spine. “I don’t understand.” Zelda’s heart is racing. She can’t say why, where this panic is coming from, real as the fear before a fight. “What does it say?”

Draga doesn’t respond.

Her nails are biting her palms. Link’s restless suddenly at her side. He keeps looking around, like he hears something, but she can’t care about that because her entire being is knotted up, the fine musculature in her heart and in her fingers clenching. She doesn’t know why though. She can’t figure out why. Like the panic in a premonition, this feels like deja vu, her soul recollecting some terrible pain and anticipating it again.

“I don’t understand this,” Draga is saying. “This isn’t a full historical account. It’s a single record of the Chief who led Nabooru and the First People out of the desert. These are Nabooru’s own words.” And then, after a while, he whispers, “This can’t be right…”

And Link draws the Master Sword.

When he does – the blade burns silver in his hand.

Holy light lies now across the clearing, across Draga’s back. In the sudden illumination, Zelda can see what it is that Link was reacting to. There is a shadow. There. On the wall opposite Draga. But this shadow, unlike every other shadow cast against the stone, does not move when the light flickers. It’s opaque. Fixed. The shade – vaguely human in shape, grotesquely bulked, and impossibly tall – is so dark eats the light and smokes like a fire pit around the edges. Like the darkness is toxic and burning. Then, as Zelda looks on, fixed there by her horror, something writhes in the shadow and two red slits roll open. Two eyes roll open, inflamed and burning, draconic and unblinking, and fix on Draga.

Then…

The shadow steps forward.

Out of the wall, through the door (because, after all, it was always open) and it grabs Draga’s arm.

The effect is immediate. The entire mountain heaves. A tectonic uproar screams through the core of the earth the air sours , rots, turns chemical on Zelda’s tongue and the canyon goes black around them. All the light in the entire world goes out except the blazing star-shine burning in Link’s sword. It’s the only source of light to show them the scene: Black flames, oily and toxic, are burning from the demon’s flesh. It’s a pillar of smoke and ember. The hand is so huge it circles Draga’s entire forearm and when he – too shocked, too paralyzed by the impossible totality of every nightmare coming true – fails to move, it uses its other hand to touch his face. This opens same wound along his cheek that it put there in the Rito Village and his blood runs down his jaw and drips in the sand. The air stinks like copper and corpses.

It says, “You know your nature now.”

And vanishes.

Draga wrenches back from the stone alter and falls, a ragged cry caught in his throat. His shadow is thin and empty again. The crushing darkness is gone and in the aftermath, Draga just lies there, panting, shaking so hard she can see it where she’s standing. Link’s faster than her, so he beats her to Draga’s side, grabbing his shoulder to steady him. The sword in his other hand has begun to dim, the light receding as the evil withdraws but Draga just keeps shaking, breathing too hard, too fast. Even when Zelda kneels beside him, a halo of golden light in her skin, and touches him – he just keeps shaking, body racked with adrenaline.

“Draga. You’re okay. It’s gone. We’re with you.”

He whispers, “Calamity started with us.”

Zelda shakes her head. “No, listen to me: demons lie. Right? You told me that. You can’t –”

“It started with us.” Draga’s face is blank. “The Demon King was born Gerudo. The People were dying in the desert as he tried to lead them from the wastes. The demons came to him. The abomination began in him. The lord of monsters came to him in the desert and offered him the heart of the world.” Draga’s voice is steady, like he’s reciting and Zelda realizes he’s reading back the text on the tablet. His expression is blank, but in the dim light Zelda can see his cheeks are wet. If he knows he’s crying, he gives no sign. “He took it.” His voice buckles then. “He traded us for the Tri-Force. Every generation down the line.”

He makes a sound, almost a sob, but like the kind you make when someone wrenches a dagger from a wound, like he’s bleeding out. Like he’s wounded.

“Gods… I picked this name.”

“Draga. Please, this is a trick.” She gathers his face in her hands, shaking her head. “It’s just trying to trick you.”

“No, it’s what’s written. This was his name.”

“What are you talking about?” Link says, afraid.

“The man that became Calamity. His name was Drag’mire. That’s… my name, just older.” He turns his head away, pulling from her hands, and there’s blood and salt on her fingers. “You don’t understand. You don’t see how it works. I see it. I can see it now – the structure of the curse, it’s so fucking obvious now.” He’s breathing so fast, so ragged. “Zelda, I can’t…”

“Calm down,” Zelda whispers, horrified by his helplessness, afraid to her core. “Please, just tell me what’s wrong.”

“I’m next,” he says.

“What?”

“I’m the next Calamity,” he says.

He looks at her when she says nothing.

“That’s why we were drawn together. You’re supposed to kill me.”

And Zelda, too startled to stop herself, says, “He gave up on reincarnation… he… he gave up… I didn’t… This… can’t be what he meant.”

Link drops his sword. He shakes his head and stands up, backing away.

“No,” he says, totally calm. “That’s not it.”

Draga breathes out, shakily, and looks at him. “You know it is.”

“No,” Link says. His face is bedrock. “You’re wrong.”

“You can feel it.”

“Fuck this,” Link says, startling them. He starts to sign, “Fuck this. Fuck that thing. Fuck this endless bullshit.” He steps forward, puts his boot on the hilt of the sacred sword and kicks it away, spinning into the sand where it lies shining and perfect in the moonlight. He moves forward, kneeling close so he can fit his hands along Draga’s jaw and look him in the eyes. He fights to keep his voice, “It’s not happening. We’re done. Zelda and I, we’re done with all of that. It’s over. No incarnation has ever had to do it twice.”

“It killed my whole family,” Draga says, “just so I’d be alone when it came.”

Link pulls Draga forward, kisses him, a little frantically, a little too deeply. He swallows, afraid, and pulls back. He says, “You’re not alone. You’re with us.” Like that’s enough to protect them. “Do you believe me?”

He obviously does not.

But Draga says, “I believe you.”

And it’s that lie that sustains them until the sunrise.

Chapter Text

“Draga, what are you doing?”

It’s morning. Or rather, it’s about to be morning, as the sun is still far from rising and the night’s darkness holds position over the world. Zelda stands barefoot in the grass. The damp blades cling cold and wet on her skin, rainwater running over her shoulders because it hasn’t stopped raining since they came down off the mountain. The water is soaking through her tunic, is soaking through her hair, making wet ropes of it around her head as she stands there.

Draga kneels by the shore some distance from the lake cottage, far enough away that by all accounts Zelda did not hear him so much as feel him doing what he’s doing – like someone holding a candle near the back of her neck until she woke, frightened, to find him missing. He doesn’t look at her.

He says, “Go back to sleep, Zelda.”

Steam rises from Draga’s skin. In one hand he has a knife. It glows cherry-red, warmed by the fingers that hold it, hissing in the rain. With it, he is cutting and cauterizing thick deliberate lines along his forearms. There are symbols and she thinks she knows them from feel, if not sight – protections against evil, against influence, against darkness, against roving things in the night. He looks up at her. For a moment he doesn’t speak, just kneeling there in the sand with his hand resting against the top of his thigh, blood running from his arms, his skin saturated with magic to the point Zelda can feel it like a hum around him. She moves toward him, stops by his side, then bends at the waist to look him in the eyes. Rain drips from her chin.

She says, “Do want me to help?”

He studies her eyes in the darkness. “I thought you’d disapprove…”

She swallows, hard, but she manages to say, “I won’t stop you, Draga, if you think it’s necessary.”

Because the shadows deepen, now, when Draga stays near them. Because she sees that the wound across his right cheekbone has opened again and begun to bleed. His eyes have a glow in the darkness and she knows, beyond doubt, that she is seeing the furnace lit within him and it seems, now, closer and hotter than ever before. Something kindled in him that laid as embers until a dragon breathed Din’s Fire into his lung. The air smells like burnt skin, like iron and earth and rain. Draga’s skin is holds heat like some terrible engine.

“You’re bleeding,” she says.

Draga wipes at it, but only succeeds in smearing blood across his cheek.

“Here,” she says, raising two fingers.

“I’m okay,” he says.

“Please?”

He looks at her when she says that, a little confused by her tone. Eventually, he nods and lets her use the light to wipe the wound away, her thumb sliding along the split and leaving smooth skin behind. That leaves her standing there with her hand against his cheek, his blood in her palm and she hates how frequent this is becoming: Blood in her hands. Her heart racked by fear too tight to stand. She tries to smile.

“Now you’re perfect,” she says.

Draga doesn’t allow her this moment.

He says, “This is a Gerudo matter now. We need to go to Riju.”

“I disagree.” She drops her hand, feels her palm ache. “If anything, it’s a matter now exclusively between the three of us. To be settled between us.”

“I think, for eons past, that has been a case. If you are satisfied with that solution, then by all means, let us keep it between us three.”

Zelda grits her teeth. “Don’t say that...”

“Then take me home,” Draga growls. “Riju will listen and even now Gerudo Town is built on foundations of protection. They can forget, but the stone does not and Riju’s mother knew our ways. She was ko’tame .”

“Will they help?”

“Riju can help. It is the responsibility of the People to finish unfinished business.”

“What if they don’t? What if they just… do what people do when they are afraid?”

He looks at her. “Then they would be the first people to end the cycle before it begins, Zelda. That would not be the worst outcome.”

And for a moment Zelda is struck by an image – not a memory, but very much like one – of herself on the throne of Hyrule, glowing and fine, the sunlight filling the great interior of the hall, her court assembled around her. Before her: a man that looks very much like Draga. He’s on his knees. In her vision, Link draws the blade at her behest and before the eyes of all of the kingdom she… She shakes it off. She blinks rainwater from her eyes and Draga’s eyes are the same here as they are in her mind – familiar eyes dark with unfamiliar depth.

“You trust Riju?”

“I do. Link does.”

“Then we’ll go.”

Draga touches her cheek. His skin feels too hot.

He says, “Thank you, Zelda.”

They pack up together and leave Lake Alumeni behind.

 


 

 

The rain won’t seem to stop.

The thunderheads build and build in the sky until the world is dark and split by lightning. Mud boils in the road until the path is so much soup that they are slogging through beneath a lightning-shredded sky. Even so, they push on, wordlessly, relentlessly, for hours proceeding in the direction they’ve decided, powered by the unspoken agreement that the cannot let weather slow them down. If weather can slow them down, then what chance do the stand against the thing on the mountain? (The thing on the mountain which is not really confined to the mountain, but they cannot consider that.) And so, they keep going until the lightless skies are so dark it’s like a second night has fallen and Draga says, quietly, that he thinks they should stop and make camp.

Zelda tries not to consider that, maybe, he says that because he can see things in the shadows.

Eventually, they find a small traveler’s waystation beside the road – horse posts and a single rickety roof set on stilts. They tie up the horses. They hang up their wet cloaks from the low rafters. Link produces dry kindling from his bottomless pack and in moments they have a fire. Then sit together under the roof to wait out the weather

Link paces before he comes in.

Zelda hasn’t asked him what he’s doing exactly; he started circling their small campsite about five minutes ago, walking a series of slow careful laps with a deliberateness that makes her feel there’s a purpose behind it, like there is a purpose in a wolf circling – he’s following one of those rawer instincts she has no notion of.

Eventually, he stops circling and moves to take a seat on Draga’s left, crouching by the fire with his arms draped over his knees. Zelda has the notion that the air around their rest area is… lighter. If Draga notices, he doesn’t mention it. He just stares into the fire. The posts of the hutch have seals pasted to the wood. Draga also made and burned a witch’s ward in the fire and in the smoke, Zelda can feel an invisible bite, one that ghosts over her human skin, seeking darker adversary.

For a while no one says anything. The rain comes down even harder

Zelda breaks the silence.

“Nothing’s changed.”

Draga looks at her.

The firelight caught in his eyes plays tricks on her, eliciting impressions of magic, of embers burning low in the back of his gaze like coals to be kindled with a breath. Then he blinks and the light is just light, reflecting in his stare. Link pulls his wet hair out of its tie and drags his fingers through it and Zelda can’t explain why his nonchalance makes this so much easier. Draga’s sitting with his knees bent up slightly in front of him, leaning back against their stacked travel bags. It’s been a while since he’s said anything so she carefully lays a hand along his inner elbow.

“Nothing’s changed. We’re going to protect you.”

He closes his eyes, manages a crooked smile.

“I believe you may be… overly optimistic.”

Zelda takes sarcasm as a good sign, but then again, Draga’s always had a remarkably chipper attitude toward being generationally cursed. She squeezes his arm a little and he doesn’t pull away or tense. She leans against his shoulder and he still does not tense. Eventually, she takes his right hand so she can run a thumb over the mark in his skin, the one that’s on her and Link. On all of them.

“What did you call it?” she says.

“The Triforce.” Then in Gerudo: “ The heart of the world.”

She nods. “I’ve never heard that word.” She run her thumb again over the mark. “But I know that it’s right.”

Draga says, “You and Link have carried your portion of it for a hundred years now. It seems the last piece was freed during your last battle and, now, has found its way to you.”

He flexes his hand and the dark triangle on his hand pulses once, gently, gold and Zelda feels a tug in her. Like a fishing line drawn from her heart through the palm of her hand and her mark also glows – a call and response. She shivers. Link, still crouched nearby, inspects the back of his hand and she can see the faint light dimming across his knuckles. He’s unreadable. Unflappable. Neither alarmed nor thrilled by the sudden enacting of magic on his person. But then again, he’s held many powers now that were not his. Perhaps, horribly, he’s just used to it.

“I knew there was a notion of pre-determination in our meeting, but I thought it was just magic of the regular sort. Power connecting to power.” Draga sounds both bitter and amused about it. “It did not occur to me that you two had additional destinies you might need to fulfill much less destinies having to do with me. We met over a horse, after all.”

“No one is doing anything destiny related,” Zelda mutters. “We’re done with that.”

“Many, many real physical and present facts and realities would suggest otherwise, princess.”

“Don’t call me ‘princess.’”

“My not calling you ‘princess’ will not make you any less the princess of Hyrule as your optimism will not make me any less cursed.”

“It’s not optimism I’m relying on,” Zelda says. “It’s magic. The great big bunch of it I still have left over that I intend to use to keep you safe until we can figure this out. Thank you very much. You’d do well not to underestimate me.”

Draga’s expression, finally, gives a little. “Zelda…”

“What?”

“I appreciate what you’re doing… but this is no small affliction undone with study and the correct application of power. This is a curse with one breaking.” He turns his head. “And Link’s got it in a scabbard on his back.”

Link continues to finger-comb his hair and look unflapped.

Draga eyes him. “Don’t mistake me, I’m not asking you to…” a really ugly ominous pause there “…to do anything premature. I’m saying you should face the possibility –”

“Nah,” Link says, tying his hair back.

“Link…”

He shakes his head and sits down properly, cross-legged, removing his wet boots and leaving them to dry by the fire. His cloak he hung with the rest of their wet travel things near the front of the hutch which hang now as a makeshift curtain, keeping in some of the warmth from the fire. The rain is coming down even harder now. Link rummages in his pack and Zelda watches Draga physically getting more annoyed by the minute with the other man’s determined dispassion about the whole thing. If there is anything Link does better than anyone, it’s behaving unruffled in the face of awful things. A skill that is wonderful for the Hero of Hyrule while the end of the world bares down on him, but less wonderful for friends who are decidedly more than friends and it’s coming across as disrespectful

“Will you take this seriously?” Draga murmurs.

“I am,” Link says.

“Then act like it.”

Link doesn’t answer.

Draga stands up, glaring down at Link, shoulders set as a broad shelf of tension and anger.

“The Calamity Ganon was a gestalt being – part demon and part human. Perhaps you have slain the human part once and for all, but the demon lives on.” Draga’s jaw is tight, outlined in the firelight. “I didn’t fight for all these years to give up now that I know the truth of it and if that means, in the end, I come to the end of my strength and must rely on you to...” He stops. “Do you understand?”

Link unstraps the sacred blade from his back.

“I do,” Link says.

He lays it aside in its sheath.

Then he turns. Link, as always, moves too fast to stop when he wants to. Link’s suddenly directly in front of Draga. He side-steps and from a better footing shoves the larger man, hands hitting Draga at the waist and well below his center of gravity. Draga – who rather reasonably was not expecting that – topples back into the pile of saddlebag where he ends up half seated, legs caught in an obtuse angle to brace. Before he can reorient enough to be angry, Link’s hands find Draga’s hips and pin him where he is.

Then neither of them move.

Draga’s anger still catches up to him. Link has rules about anger, so he just stands there, with his hands against the Gerudo’s waist and his face far too close, his hair in his eyes. Link waits until rage gives way to something, some non-verbal language he can read and –

Link closes the space between them.

His mouth catches Draga’s and Draga lets him do it – lets her knight lick his mouth open and kiss him, push a terrible urgency into him, relentless and rougher than Zelda ever imagined he could be. Teeth and tongue and roving intention. Shoving against the other man, holding him in place even though Draga’s not trying to move. Link’s standing between Draga’s boots, one knee shoved against his inner thigh so he can lean against the Gerudo, body-to-body. His mouth finds Draga’s throat and he pushes forward. He rocks once, hard, into the V of Draga’s hips and that’s enough to break the trance.

Draga shoves Link off him. “That doesn’t help,” he snaps.

Link takes the rebuff more gracefully than seems conceivable. He appears to think it over, then says, reasonably, “It might.”

Draga glares. He maintains the glare. Link maintains his calm. Like he’s waiting for Draga to weigh in further on the matter.  

“Can you honestly not take this seriously?”

“I am serious,” Link says, completely deadpan.

“It’s very easy to hate you sometimes,” says Draga matter-of-factly, like you comment on the weather.

Link nods. “Apparently, we’ve hated each other for thousands of years, so that’s natural.”

Draga stares at him.

Zelda, appalled, also stares at him.

Link, reincarnated Hero of the Goddess, says nothing, but his mien of determined indifference is spoiled somewhat when, again, the scar along Draga’s cheekbone pulls open and fresh blood runs down his face, dripping from his jaw. He doesn’t appear to notice it’s happening until he sees Link’s eyes widen. Then he seems to register the blood. He frowns and wipes at it with the back of his hand, the bright red vanishing against the color of his skin. There is, actually, more blood than he seems to know what to do with but for whatever reason, the absurdity of bleeding from an unhealable wound while arguing with Chosen Light of Hyrule about his responsibility to maybe murder him (not kiss him), seems to hit Draga all at once.

He starts laughing.

Link and Zelda glances worriedly at one another.

Draga calms down a little and takes a seat on top of the pile of saddle bags, bracing his elbows against his knees and sighing. For a moment, it’s quiet. Draga stares into the fire, his hands folded between his knees. The orange light from the flame is a burnished glow in the high plane of his cheekbones.

“This was not supposed to be my life,” he tells them after a while. “This. All this – standing on a road with you two arguing about…” He trails off, staring into the middle distance with a kind of commemorative longing. “I’ve always had very clear notions about what my life was going to be. Brutal but something worthwhile , if not long-lasting.” He closes his eyes. “Not… this.”

Link is standing near enough to touch him. So he does. He reaches one hand out, two fingers gently set against Draga’s jaw, turning his face so their eyes meet.

“We all had a story before,” Link says. “We all had… lives before the Triforce. Plans and people…” His voice hitches. “… people we loved before.” He seems to struggle to keep speaking so he says, “I’m sorry, Draga.”

Draga studies his face. “What did you lose when the sword chose you?”

Link stares, blank, then says, “Everything?” like it was obviously so.

Like they should both know that.

“But,” he says, “I’m still here.”

Draga moves his right hand, curls it around the back of Link’s neck, pulls him forward. Kisses him, once, deep enough to feel desperate, then abruptly lets him go and pulls away. Link watches him stand up and leave and Zelda registers how he almost rises to follow him… then does not. Draga disappears into the rain outside and neither of them pursue. Instead, Link looks to her like she’ll have an explanation, but she doesn’t. Because from the moment he said ‘everything’ there’s been a hole put between her ribs. She stares at him. She doesn’t say anything, but he stands up and moves to kneel in front of her.

He signs , ‘When the sword chose me, I did not anticipate a future. So, I severed my ties to the life I had before.’

Hylian Sign is so lovely. It makes a poetry out of agony.

Link hesitates, then goes on, hands moving faster now, like he needs to get it out. ‘Mipha was the only one who refused to let me go. She did not let me become a weapon in my entirety, even when I was very much allowing myself to be such.’ He shakes his head, inhaling, his Sign getting more urgent. ‘ She NEVER gave up on me –’

Zelda reaches up to take his hands in hers, stopping his words. When he stares, she draws his hands together between her palms and bends her head, carefully, to kiss his fingers, then his knuckles, then the palms of his scarred hands – rough with callouses and old injuries. Then she takes one of her hand, loops it around the nape of her knight’s neck and draws his forehead against hers, presses her other hand against his heart so he can feel it as more than words on her tongue.

“We will not leave Draga to a terrible fate.” Zelda feels it – gold in her veins, light in her throat when she swears, “We’ll stop this.”

Link gathers her head in his hands, her hair tangling in loops between his fingers.

“Thank you,” he says.

“This rain won’t let up,” she says. “We should try to sleep. Can you make sure Draga finds his way back?”

Link nods, presses his mouth to hers, holding there for a moment like someone getting a breath, then he pulls away. Zelda watches him go, acutely aware of her palms and her lips – the aching fade of body heat leaving her skin – and in the wake of his touch she thinks, There are fates worse than death… Then shakes the thought away like debris caught in her hair. She shivers. Outside, there’s a flash following by a deafening crack of thunder, indicating that the storm is directly upon them.

A very long night lies ahead.

 


 

 

Zelda is standing in a valley of sand.

The ground beneath her feet is a fused road of corroded armor and bone. She can feet a terrible pulse in the metal, terminating through the cenotaph into the bones of her feet. Like a sound travels through water. The walls of the valley are slithering, like there are an innumerable number of snakes traveling beneath the sand and she can hear the soft hiss and rattle of scaled bodies sliding together. She keeps walking anyway, toward the black metal monolith at the end of the road.

Her skin feels wet. Salt on her lips. Like she’s walked out of the sea.

Her footstep evaporate behind her, burning away on the grave-metal street.

She is looking for Draga again. She knows this without linear context. The structure at the end of the road, like the road itself, is built of fused metal melted by an inconceivable heat. A tower. Like the one in Hyrule castle, where she study was built. She has a vague notion that it’s the same structure, the exact same, but a mirror image of her own. The door is rotten, smells less like decaying wood than a putrefying corpse. When she takes the handle in her hand, it’s warm. Like living bone.

Zelda pulls the door open.

The interior air rushes out and she covers her mouth at the stench of sulfur and rot. The inside of the tower is not a room like she thought, but a long lightless tunnel. The walls are organic mass from which pieces of bone, armor, and weaponry glint. Like the throat of some great animal. The light from her skin penetrates the dark, but only by two or three meters in front of her. She cannot see the end of the dark maw. She senses that it goes for miles though, that there is a black heart in the core of the iron fortress and it’s there, if anywhere, she’s going to find her friend. Her hand is against the side of the doorway, shining and gold.

She can feel the metal eating at the light and she hesitates.

You don’t have to go after him, says a voice.

She glances over her shoulder. There is a Sheikah warrior on the road behind her. He’s her height. His face is covered but Zelda knows the scars on his fingers like she knows them on her own. She knows what is to walk in his skin and bones until they are more real to her than the one she was born with. The Sheikah in the road speaks again.

He’s trying to disrupt the cycle. He will draw you in, the both of you, and in the final moments when you cannot strike the blow… he’ll take power.

I don’t believe that , Zelda says.

You are the wise one. The brave one has already gone in after him. It will fall to you, not him.

I made a promise.

You’re not a little boy from a forest. You’re a queen and commander. It falls to you. It always does.

Zelda faces forward. You are not my other half.

The road is empty again behind her.

Zelda enters the monolith and –

 


 

 

For the second time in as many days, Zelda wakes up to an act of violence.

This time, it’s not a candle flame alerting her to some distant discomfort, however. This time, something heavy hits her across the ribs and knocks her to the ground, her head striking earth hard enough to send a sick jag through her brain and through her bones. She rolls away from the source of the impact, light swarming into her fingers, but when she pivots she finds no attacker.

What she does find is Link fighting with Draga.

He’s fighting with Draga, because Draga is having a nightmare so powerful, it’s making him thrash in his sleep like there’s something on top of him, like he’s trying to throw some great beast off his chest. Zelda stares, stunned, stepping back another pace when Draga wrenches his body so hard he falls sideways, twisting, and puts his entire arm into the campfire embers. Link snaps forward, seizing his forearms, and pinning the other man’s wrists to the ground to stop him from doing it again. But Draga doesn’t wake.

Draga cries out and his bones burn, go cherry red inside him and in seconds Draga’s skin is like iron in a forge. The air goes hot, stinks like metal and Link grits his teeth as his palms blister . He maintains contact for a split second longer. Then, with a cry he wrenches his hands from Draga’s wrists, rears back and punches the other man across the face.

Draga wakes, the skin across his cheekbone split open.

Link, straddling his chest, one bloody fist crooked up, stares down at him. His eyes are so blue they seem luminous in the dark.

“Just a nightmare,” Link says softly.

It’s meant to be a comfort.

“It’s not just a nightmare,” Draga says through his teeth.

Draga pulls something from his wrist, one of the dozen leather cuffs. The one he pulls free starts to smoke and blacken before their eyes, warding script dissolving and shriveling with the leather. A burning that has nothing to do with the fire. Draga swears and throws the charm aside. Link climbs back to his feet for a moment, giving Draga his space. He hides his hands behind his back, but Zelda can from this angle what Draga can’t – that blood drips from his fingers and his hands shake, twitching uncontrollably. Parts of his palm are black. Zelda starts to move toward him but Link, his expression empty of the agony, just jerks his chin ‘ no’ .

In Gerudo Draga is saying , “I see its face. When I close my eyes, I see its eyes staring back…”

Zelda moves to kneel at his side instead. “Your arm…”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re burned and you’re bleeding.”

“I’m fine ,” Draga says, frustrated. He’s rubbing his right arm, from the elbow down, ignoring the charcoal and ash. He shivers. “I don’t understand. How could it even… you’re both right here, next to me, how could it even bear to be near you? With that?” He points the sword. “With you.” He gestures to Zelda. “How can it already be so close to me?”

Zelda lays a hand against his shoulder. “We’ll start keeping watch. Until this is over, we’ll keep watch.”

Draga looks at her. “You can’t be there every second of my life, Zelda.”

She looks back at him, calm. “Then it’s a good thing, I just mean tonight.

“I can feel it,” Draga says. “At the edge of me, always, like I’m holding a door shut and it’s there on the other side.” His jaw tightens. “Waiting for me to let go…”

Zelda grabs his chin between her thumb and forefinger, glaring into his startled green eyes. “Then do not let go,” she hisses. “Don’t you dare . Do not let it in. I faced this demon for one-hundred years’ time, I won’t lose now on a roadside in my own kingdom. Your whole life you’ve fought. Nothing’s changed except now you have allies who’ve means to defend you. We know its name. We know its purpose. So, we fight. Do you understand me?”

Draga stares at her. “I won’t let it in,” he says quietly.

“Good. I will keep watch. You should try to sleep, Draga.”

He shakes his head.

“I’ll keep watch.” She drops her hand from his chin to his shoulder. “Come here. I promise.”

Draga lies back against the pile of the bags behind them. He lets her loop an arm behind his neck and over his shoulder so her hand rests over his heart. The other she lays over his forehead, drawing his head to rest against her collarbone. Her fingers tangle slightly in his hair when she runs them through it, nails catching in the braiding and gold cuffs and she will ignore the notion that, now, it seems familiar – like she’s known someone who looked like him before in a context she can’t stand to recollect.

“You remember what I said… the night after the dragon?”

“That defiance of the gods is our birthright?” Zelda says. “That, in all things, we choose ?”

Draga’s hand tightens over hers. “I choose my humanity. Do you understand?”

A shot of adrenaline heats her skin. “You’re going to be fine,” she says softly.

“You’ll take care of it, won’t you?”

She looks up at Link. His eyes are unreadable in the dim firelight. He’s still hiding his arms behind his back.

“Get some sleep,” she says. “Tomorrow, we’re going home.”

 


 

 

It’s raining in the Gerudo Valley. Lightning strikes in land where there is never rains. It’s made the canyon a slurry of red mud and rocks. Shale and loose sand wash off the cliffs and fill the bottom of the gorge until the dirty waters are knee-deep, emptying from the crags of the Highland Plains into this single fissure. The rain makes a river of their road but, again, they keep pushing toward the desert. Eventually, they stop to transfer their saddle bags to Arbiter who, among the horses, remains in determinedly high spirits despites the rain.

“We should put Maru and Epona up at the Gerudo Stable,” says Zelda. “They’re skittish with this weather.”

“They’re skittish because they sense something is wrong,” Draga corrects her immediately. He doesn’t look at he when he speaks, just stand there, patting Arbiter on the nose while Link transfers the last of the equipment. In Gerudo, Zelda hears him say, “ Arbiter still knows me…”

Link’s finishing up, knotting the last of the straps to Arbiter’s flank when he stops. His head comes up sharply, like he heard something.

“Shit,” he says aloud.

And then Zelda feels it.

It’s been so long, she’d almost forgotten what a Yiga attack feels like.

It’s a twinge at first in the corner of her awareness – a familiar yank, like a pop in the universe as the teleportation pulls a space open in reality. Zelda’s on guard immediately. Magic flares kinetic along her skin and for a blinding instant she’s shelled in sunlight – but Link’s already there and three arrows ricochet off his shield and skip off stone. The sword’s in his hand by the time three Yiga – materializing in acrid puffs of smoke — land on the path before them. One archer and two blade masters who would, against any other opponent, be enormous.

But Draga always seems much bigger when he’s using magic.

And he’s already standing between the assassins and her knight.

Zelda smells hot copper off him, tangible as smoke. His hair is fraying in in the back, rising at the nape of his neck like the hackles of a dog.  There is something… massive in the way he moves forward, something predatory in his weight, like he’s supposed to be two stories tall and Zelda feels a cold crawl across the road of her spine. Draga ignores Link who hisses at him to fall back. Draga is not armed. Zelda can hear the rain start to hiss as it hits Draga’s skin, see steam rising off his soaking shoulders.

“You know,” he says, one hand coiling at his side, “today is just… a bad day for this.”

The archer fires a killing shot.

It glances off Draga’s chest, directly over his heart, like he’s bedrock and clatters on the ground by his boot. He glances at it, then levels a look at the three assassins.

“You have one chance, because my friend says you’re human, to walk away.”

The Yiga say nothing.

“Leave,” Draga says.

The archer tilts their head.

“Are you the last of the bloodline Mer?”

What ?”

“We have a message,” says the archer, their head still tilted, as if their skull is not attached properly to their spine. “Your sisters died for nothing, in defense of nothing. We have burned the last of your sacred sites. The cycle starts anew with the death of the goddess-chosen –”

Draga raises one hand.

Zelda jerks forward. “Draga, don’t –!”

He closes it.

Effortless. Zelda feels how effortless it is. In the instant between one breath and the next, the earth splits open beneath the Yiga. It disappears, turning the bedrock into a black vertical shaft and they drop, two plummeting with a scream of surprise into the vortex of water and mud that the sudden void creates, the third slamming a blade into the ground to catch themselves. They claw through the torrential downpour, fingers grabbing the lip of the stone to pull themselves up and –

The shaft slams shut.

Link makes a sound in his throat. The displaced water rushes back in, obscuring the grave site. Briefly, there is a gush of red, darkening the mud. But the rain draws it away immediately and then there is nothing to mark the brutality. Muck roils around Draga’s boots and he exhales. His breath clouds like the steam from a machine and he shakes off the residual sorcery shivering still in his skin. The rain evaporates now as it touches him. The air feels hotter for his being there.

“Draga,” Zelda says softly.

Draga doesn’t turn around or move. Zelda, imperceptibly, feels Link’s grip tighten on the Master Sword.

“Draga, are you okay?” Zelda says, raising her voice.

Draga is staring at his palm and when he furls his fingers, a shiver terminates from his boots across the surface of the muddy water and Zelda feels it in her blood when it hits her, passing through her, leaving her cold. Epona and Maru bolt , taking off into the canyon at full gallop and Link doesn’t even try to call them back. Because there’s something dark in the water at Draga’s feet now. Like oil, darkness is spreading into the mud from his boots, like he’s the poisonous well-spring. He doesn’t notice. He’s staring at his palm like he’s never seen it before and Zelda can see every single one of the tooled leather wards shriveling on his wrist.

Then the sword in Link’s hand begins to glow blue.

“Draga!” Zelda pushes past Link, raising her voice. “DRAGA! WAKE UP!”

He snaps out of it. Draga turns to look at her.

And then, with no warning, there’s something standing behind him.

There is no looking at it directly. Zelda is looking directly at it, but cannot behold its shape – just the horrible screaming impression of it, fragmented and shivering, grating a hole in the universe that her senses refuse to process but she knows – through the chaos, through senses that are not mortal – that it’s standing, hunched, staring down at Draga with lidless burning eyes. She can taste old blood, smell ash and oil. Her skin aches as the light seems to bleed out of the air around them.

“Draga,” Zelda says softly. She raises a golden hand. “Draga, don’t look. Just –”

“I gave you your name,” says the demon.

Its voice is a blow. Or rather, it’s not a voice at all, but a feeling like being flayed and with syllables alone it splits something open inside Zelda. She screams, grabbing her breastbone, feels it like bleeding, like she’s hemorrhaging heat into her chest. Link grabs her. She closes a fist in his tunic, feels scale mail beneath his shirt… and the pain evaporates. A breath of grace on her fingers. All the relief she needs. Zelda pulls open the well within her and lets the power rush in. Her mouth is full of sea water and suddenly its words are diffused to a bearable dilution.

She can understand it.

It’s leaning over Draga’s shoulder now, mouth against his ear, fingers curling toward his bleeding face but fear and instinct keep Draga from moving. He stares straight forward at Link and Zelda. She can hear him breathing shallowly, like his heartbeat is in her ears. The demon draws so near, its breath is hot against Draga’s face.

“Take possession of this world...”

Zelda puts a Light Arrow straight through the demon’s throat. Link snaps out of time. And Draga’s fist ignites, a black-hole of fire collapsing then expanding in his palm. Then he pivots and rams it into the demon’s chest. He throws his entire weight behind it, shoving the molten spell through its ribcage until it eats a sulfuric hole through the shadows. The demon shudders. Draga lunges back and Link – his fist full of steel and starlight – snaps back into reality directly between Draga and the beast.

With massive one-handed blow he drives the sacred blade point-first into the demon’s shoulder. The sword goes up in flames. Link goes up in flames, a lattice of silver light sparking at the back of his right hand and racing like a set fuse up his arm, around his body like living wire, super-heating until the air around him riots at the atomic level. Infused with light and lightning. The demon snarls and in its distraction, Link grabs the blade two-handed at the hilt, pivots and rips the sword up through the monster’s clavicle. The blade tears free, throwing a spray of black oil and rot into the water.

The demon staggers back, wounded, and Link takes a hostile stance – the sword up between them, facing the mass of shadow. The darkness can’t seem to reach him. A nimbus of color and moving air swirling endlessly inches from the Hero’s skin. There are flames now in the darkness, red and orange and hellishly hot. Link doesn’t wait. He throws his arm back, blade cocked in his fist, shouts, pivots into a spinning swing and in the follow-through an arc of burning light bursts from the blade and slams into the demon. It burns a scar in the universe and the abomination shakes off the blow.

It stares at Link finally, instead of Draga.

It says, “Hello again, sky-child.”

Link immediately flash-steps left, vanishes, and reappears mid-lunge, driving the blade point-first through monster’s forearm, raised to block the blow. Link hits the ground and snarls . The demon waits. Link sets his feet. He wrenches the blade deeper, two-fisted on the grip, eliciting a gush of sour black rot, pooling in the water around his boots. He just keeps pushing. Light like lightning laces his hands, electrifies the air around him, sets a gale rushing through the canyon and the demon…

It says, “The first Divine Beast was a wolf. All others were fashioned in his name.”

When Link blinks, confused, it flickers. It snaps back into place, but when it does it’s not the demon. It’s a woman, tall, inhumanly beautiful, her skin mottled with shadow, tattooed in arcane blue light. She smiles with eyes the color of sunset. Zelda’s heart pulls like a magnet pulls north and Link, in lock step with her, freezes. Recognition rigors his hand for just and instant. Long enough for the woman – the Twili Queen, Heir to the Dusk – to brush soft gray fingers against Link’s face. She smiles. Sad and familiar.  

She says, “I miss the beast.”

And something black sparks off her fingertips against Link’s skin.

Link screams, head snapping to the side and he staggers, wrenching the blade free. The sword falls to the ground where it clatters, parting the water to lie burning on the canyon floor. Link hits the ground on his knees. He presses his hands against his face, gasping, fingers digging into his hairline. Black light races across his skin, peeling the color away from him in flakes until he falls to all fours as a shadow. His spine bows outwards, the cage of his ribs swelling, a riot of bone restructuring in to a horrific cracking noise. Link is screaming. Screaming like he’s dying, like someone is pulling him apart. She knows this sound, she knows this

Zelda looses another shot at the demon. It knocks the bolt away with a giant hand, the shaft exploding into shards of light and shredding the glamour like rice-paper. The spell breaks and the shadows fracture from Link’s skin, fracturing like black porcelain and disintegrating. Draga catches him as he falls and Zelda fires again, advancing on her adversary, but the demon knocks the arrow from its course.

“The little Goddess dreams your death, Draga.”

Zelda screams and fires again – three bolts from one string and the demon begins to fade.

“When they put you to the sword, I will be waiting.”

Zelda fires yet another shot, but the bolt rips through empty air and bursts against the canyon wall. Lightning strikes overhead and for moment illuminates the stone in bone-white. Thunder rolls through the canyon, but there’s nothing but rain now. No shadows. Just her standing in the rain, armed with sacred weapons, no enemy to fight. She feels it like an ancient rage – so familiar it’s part of her and when the scream rises in her throat, her voice shakes the whole gorge.

“Coward!” The Light Bow evaporates in her hands. The arrows atomize in her fist. “FACE ME!”

Zelda .”

She stops. Her hands unfurl at her sides. She turns.

Draga is kneeling in the water. The Master Sword is dark now, almost invisible submerged in mud. Link is unconscious in his arms. Draga’s hand cradles the back of his neck, fingers tangled in the longer part of his hair, his other arm looped around the smaller man’s waist because Link is not moving. His eyes are closed. The rain plasters his bangs to his pale forehead. His sword hand lies nerveless in the water at his side, his legs slack, covered in mud, one knee bent up against Draga’s flank. Draga looks up at her.

“Zelda.” His voice sounds raw. “I think it really hurt him…”

She’s on her knees with him immediately, her hands framing Link’s face in gold.

“Link.” She touches his chest, her palm pressed to his sternum. “Breathe, right now .”

He inhales, but like one of his lungs are collapsed. Zelda presses two hands against his ribs, soaking the inside of his chest in magic, pushing gold into his body where it maps out the compound fractures across marrow and bone, the heat of internal bleeding, the dark traceries of black magic eating its way into deeper parts of him. She leans down, cups his head and presses her mouth to his, parts his lips with her tongue and lets honey-warm magic run from her mouth to his. She does this until she feels him breathing normally again and his lips stop tasting like copper. She exhales. Her breath carries gold in the vapor.

She looks up at Draga.  

“We need to get him off the road,” she whispers. “That was a very old curse.” Zelda swallows. “It afflicted him once in an old life so it had… especially strong teeth the second time. I think he dropped his… his guard. Can you please carry him? We have to get to Gerudo Town. We need to –”

“This was my fault.”

Zelda immediately covers Draga’s mouth with her hand. Hard. Her fingers dig into his skin. “Don’t do that!”

Draga’s eyes are so green. Her fingers have a glow.

She swallows and the gold fades from her hand. “That’s what it wants you to do,” she says softly.

When he just stares at her, she tries again, softer.

“It will send you the things you hate most, in a form that you can take vengeance on. In this way, it can feed on the darkness. Do you understand?”

She feels him bite his lip, his mouth thinning against her fingers.

He nods.

She lowers her hand and Draga hooks his arm under Link’s knees and stands up with him. Link’s head falls against Draga’s chest and Draga stares down at him and the expression he wears… she knows it now. She can imagine the circumstances of it now in another context. Zelda digs in the mud until her fingers find the hilt of the sacred blade. She grips it. It feels warm in her palm. She stands up and the rain immediately washes the muck from the shining metal. Draga watches her stand there, the blade that seals the darkness dripping water in her hand.

It pulses, then fades. Pulses, then fades.

“It’s me,” Draga says finally. “It’s reacting to me now, isn’t it?”

Zelda lowers her hand. “No. It’s reacting to what follows you. Do not conflate the two.”

Draga’s eyes are on the blade.

“This isn’t your fault.”

Zelda steps forward, Link’s sword in her fist. She draws near enough that the sword hangs near Draga’s leg when she reaches up to him with her empty hand. She touches Draga’s cheek. She says again, through her teeth, in his native tongue, “This is not your fault.” And when he does not answer she says again, like a spell spoken, “This is not your fault. This is not your fault. Tell me you can do this because I need you to defy the gods with me now.” Her hand slides to back of his neck, grips tight so he cannot look away. “ Can you do it?”

“I can do it,” he says.

“Then get Arbiter and follow me.”