Chapter 14 - Switching Gears
Link arose from the small pond near Kakariko Village sputtering and sopping wet. His clothes had been stained a filthy color of red, but that didn’t matter now. That was twice that Link had encountered that horrific army and twice he barely escaped with his life. With gritted teeth he realized that he had to leave someone behind again. He crawled forward a few feet and wretched the contents of his stomach before slumping to the ground in exhaustion. He had lost his horse and all the supplies. Without a further thought, he started crying.
Link was not sure if he had gone mad or if the world had, he just wanted the deaths of his friends to stop. His ears pricked up at a rustling behind him. With the finesse gained from the years of his adventures, he swooped up onto one knee and looked around for the source of the sound. Seeing nothing, he drew his sword out of a scabbard that wasn’t there. He suddenly realized that his sword must have washed away while swimming through that tunnel. He cursed his luck. Without sword, or shield or any supplies he was practically defenseless.
Link heard the rustling again but it sounded more like a splash, his ears perked up even more as he tried to scan the gloomy environs. The sky had started to brighten with the coming dawn, yet it was still dark as pitch near the water pool and the overhanging tree line. He eyed the shadows closely and thought he saw the shape of a person in the water until he blinked. It was gone. He shivered with an unknown dread but shook it off and sprung to his feet.
Link glanced around to orient himself with his surroundings, it was clear he was on the high ridge overlooking Kakariko. Off to his right was the windmill, the inn’s rooftop directly beneath him. Directly ahead towering off in the distance was the imposing Death Mountain. Even at this early hour, the village was alit with action. People were running to and fro setting up the trebuchets and ballistae at strategic points across the village. Wooden blockades were placed at the entrances to the town as civilian soldiers manned their stations. There seemed to be both boys and girls his age suited up for battle. What had this world come to?
With a sidelong glimpse, he assessed the steep cliff face and decided it best to scale down it rather than making the leap onto the rooftop. The last thing he needed was an injured leg from a nasty fall. The first beams of sunlight flitted across his body as his feet finally touched down on the slats of the rooftop. He walked over to the edge and peered over to see who was below and was surprisingly relieved to find Impa standing there watching the proceedings of the village.
“You can come down any time Link.” She offered without even looking up at him.
With a kick to the nearby hay bale she positioned it so he would have a soft landing pad to fall on. With a shake of his head admiring her natural awareness, he leapt off the roof. He hit the hay and rolled off to the ground. After waiting until he finished dusting himself off, she glanced over in his direction. She noticed he had lost everything except a few pouches on his belt, a boomerang and a single bomb.
“You seem to have gone through hell.” She noted appraising his stained clothes.
“At least I came back!” Link shot back, this drew a smirk from Impa. Flippant as always; probably why she liked him so much. He didn’t beat around the bush.
“So,” Link gestured to all the contraptions being wheeled into place, “what is all this for? Isn’t this a bit…lacking?”
“It is all we have.” Impa stated flatly, arms crossing. “The ballistae,” she indicated the huge crossbow-like contraptions “are aimed at the likely entry point to the village that they will take. A single shaft can skewer a dozen men in a row.
Impa began heading down the path to inspect the other machines of war, Link simply followed her. She pointed off to her side at a trebuchet perched on a high hill of the village, “The other Sheikah have calibrated each one of those to hurl boulders across the ridge and onto the open plain at the foot of the hill. More of like a fire and forget device but we are certain that there will be deaths with this weapon.”
Link marveled at how quickly the carpenters and local craftsman built these machines and the manpower it took to place them in key positions around the town. The pair came up to the spiked wooden barricades blocking the entrance to town and gazed up at the sign framing the town gate. How long had that symbol of welcome been here to invite travelers to Kakariko? How much longer would it stand?
Impa spoke before the question sprang to Link’s mind, “We have very few soldiers left and those are manning the ballistae and trebuchets for these children haven’t the strength to operate them.”
Link regarded the diminutive soldiers guarding the barricades; one looked in his direction with fear in her face. Goddesses, these were all kids!
Impa placed a hand on his shoulder, “Necessity brought us to this point, do not worry we have trained them up well these past few days.” She pointed up towards the bluffs surrounding the village, “My Sheikah taught them. The remainder of my clan is on the rooftops with bows and the rest are guarding the upper passes to the town and will kill on sight any man who attempts to enter by means other than the one we have prepared for them.”
Link had to admire Impa’s tactical prowess, she was doing a lot with very little to secure this place. They turned from the frightened child soldiers and strode back up the path to the central square of the village. He hadn’t seen hide or hair of his other friends. Were they all still inside the inn safe and secure? He wanted to ask but Impa interrupted his thoughts.
“Well, you were successful with retrieving the sapphire?” she tailored the statement to sound like a question.
With a stagger, Link quickly filtered through his pockets and pouches and quickly drew out the Zora Sapphire from one of them. A sigh of relief came over him. At least something went right for once. Impa simply nodded her head in appreciation. She knew he was capable of accomplishing the task. To prevent losing it, he quickly dropped it back into its pouch and refastened the drawstring.
With a start she reminded him, “Then we haven’t the time to waste. You need to immediately proceed up the mountain and reclaim the Goron Ruby from the Gorons. Follow me. We need to resupply you for the journey.”
“Can I see Saria, Malon and-?” Link’s inquiry was cut off with a shake of her head.
“I’m sorry Link,” Impa’s voice softened with regret, “there simply is no time. The army is almost upon us and should be here within the hour. The sooner we set you off on your way, the better.”
Link swallowed a knot in his throat as he nodded in agreement. He had longed to see their faces one more time before it all came crashing down. Link blankly went through the motions as he selected a new sword, shield and other supplies that would assist his travels. The store keeper merely waved a hand at payment, “It wouldn’t have mattered anyway today.” he said.
Impa gave one last quick nod to Link as she went back down the path to belt out more orders for their defense. Not feeling altogether brave, Link checked his equipment one last time. He shifted his scabbard uncomfortably. He was not used to having a sword dangle from his hip. It felt awkward and threw him off balance. Readjusting his pouches, he set off up the hill towards Death Mountain.
Impa glanced back one last time to see the courageous boy scaling the mountain path and smiled inwardly. With a heavy sigh, she turned to the task at hand as silence descended upon the town. Minutes passed. A bird chirp or a random cricket trilling was the only sound to be heard in the deathly quiet plaza. Waiting for the end to come became unbearable for some. Several cries and gasps came from the children as the glooming pall hovering over the town suffocated their senses.
Impa’s countenance softened, she was preparing to offer words of strength and comfort when a quick flash from the cliffs above directed her attention. The Sheikah along the bluffs had spotted the first regiment of men scaling the mountain pass. A further signal indicated they were within range. With a yell Impa raised a hand to notify the trebuchets; all men stood at the ready awaiting her signal.
The children heard them first, the war cries of men and clinking of solid armor. A great multitude of boots pounding the ground, making the earth beneath them tremble. Several of the young soldiers whimpered, another was ashamed as he stood in a pool of his own urine. The first wave of soldiers rounded the bend as the defenders witnessed death coming for them. A cry of malice went up amongst the battle-hardened men as they surged ahead towards the flimsy barricades.
With a spiteful yell Impa sliced her head down through the air, “FIRE!”
Two ballistae let loose their immense arrows into the massive throng; skewering groups of men to the rock walls. Rocks were hurtling through the air above them as they cleared the cliffs and fell onto the unsuspecting troops at the base of the pass. Blood spurted from the open wounds of those punctured by arrows fired from Sheikah archers mounted on the rooftops. Several of the men were already reloading the ballistae as the trebuchets continued to rotate on their hinges.
The first wave continued undaunted and slammed into the barricades with the fury of a tsunami; several men got trampled by those that came after them, pierced through by the spikes jutting out from the columns of wood. Several of the children fought valiantly, few even managed to kill an enemy or two before being cut down themselves. The Sheikah surrounding the high peaks encircling the village were engaged in a pitched battle with several assassins who were just as well trained in the shadow arts.
A jolt of surprise coursed through Impa as the unthinkable happened. Slowly over the rise of rock she saw the boulders they had catapulted over the bluffs slowly float into the air. Strapped to each stone was a mass of crushed, deformed, and bloodied bodies of the troops they had slain with it. After a moment’s hesitation, the boulders surged down into the town as the defenders scattered screaming insanely. One landed in the plaza as two others took out the upper trebuchets.
Cries of terror emerged from the din as people started noticing the corpses attached to the boulders slide off and begin to move, the few men the children did cut down were getting back onto their feet and advancing. Impa closed her eyes for she knew it was over the moment the villagers laid eyes on what they were up against. All hope for an organized defense was shattered as people fled for their lives, some couldn’t get away in time as they were stabbed in the back by the coming horde.
Impa let loose a curt whistle as the nearby Sheikah converged on her position. With several flicks of her hands she directed each to their pre-assigned duties. Within seconds they were gone, they melded into the shadows as Impa dashed up to the inn. She hoped they had bought Zelda and Talon enough time to prepare.
She skidded to a stop at the door as Zelda was exiting the building with a satchel carried around her chest. Talon was close behind with a weakened Saria cradled in his arms. It seems they had bought them enough time for their escape. Impa saw that Malon was missing.
“Where is your daughter?” She shot at him.
Talon looked distressed but brushed off the severity of her question, “She said she was only gonna be a min’. Said she had ta get somethin’ from her room.” At this, a few moments of silence descended upon the small group. Zelda idly watched the glow from the emerald around Saria’s neck gently illuminate her sickly features.
It was Talon who broke the silence first, “So we are just gonna leave these folks ta their deaths?”
Impa regarded his question, wondering if it was an accusation, “We’ve no choice. This venture was doomed to failure from the start. Our goal as Sheikah is to see to it that Princess Zelda is safe.” She stared at Talon directly in the eyes to make sure there was no misunderstanding, “Everything else is secondary to that primary goal.”
Zelda looked confusedly from Talon to Impa, “What are you saying Impa?”
“She’s sayin’,” Talon spat with mustache bristling, “That none of these villager’s lives are worth more than dirt. What about Malon n’ me? What about Saria? Aren’t we just as important as any of them?”
Impa silenced him with an undercurrent of menace in her tone, “We do not have time for this discussion. We need Saria for the Emerald she carries. A Kokiri must willingly part with it for it to be of any use to us. You and your daughter are welcome to come if you wish or,” she gestured to the chaos erupting behind her, “you can join them in death. You decide.”
“I don’t understand…” Zelda began anxiously.
“There will be a time to explain all this, but right now is not that time.” Impa uttered.
With a snap of her fingers, several Sheikah leapt down from the air and formed a circle around their small group. A Sheikah lifted Zelda onto her back and dashed in the direction of the windmill. Zelda wrapped her arms tightly around the Sheikah’s broad shoulders. She was astonished to realize that a man was carrying her! She had never given much thought to the fact that there would be male Sheikah. She had only ever interacted with Impa and other females.
The rest of the group followed suit with Talon bringing up the rear. Puffing at the exertion, he managed to keep up decently with the rest of the Sheikah who were quickly outpacing him. Out of the corner of his eye a soldier was screaming a war cry, charging with a spear aimed directly at his heart. He began to call for help when a Sheikah hurled in from his left and smacked the assailant’s legs out from underneath him. Before he even had a chance to fall to the ground, another Sheikah soared from above with a three pronged weapon of unknown origin slicing the man completely in half. Both chunks hit the ground with a squelch before the man knew what had happened.
Leaving the cursing man behind, they stopped presently at the windmill and Impa ushered them all inside. One of the other Sheikah opened a panel in brick wall of the interior and depressed a knob within the recess. A section of brick withdrew into the wall and then swung wide revealing an underground passage lit by spitting torches. Impa sent Zelda and the other Sheikah on ahead. Zelda gave one last glance back at Talon and Saria before taking the hand of the woman next to her and running down the passage.
“Now hold a minute!” Talon fumed, “My daughter, Malon, is still out there! We must go back fer her!”
Impa glanced in the direction of another Sheikah who promptly divested Talon’s arms of Saria and proceeded to carry her gently into the secret path. Talon stammered at this insult to his abilities to properly take care of Saria. He walked straight up to Impa and waggled a finger in her face; she remained stoic and impassive at his fury.
“Look ‘ere lady! We ‘re gonna go back fer my daughter! She is defenseless out there!” He raged in her face.
Without skipping a beat, Impa rebutted, “Then go find her. My objective is clear and neither you nor your daughter fit into our plans.”
The sound of the battle raging outside was getting louder, the screams of the women were unbearable. Goddesses, did they simply rape them on the battlefield where they stood? What kind of animals were these men?
“They are getting closer Talon.” Impa said flatly. “Make your choice.”
With that she spun around and began lighting a bomb at the entryway to the passage, she gave one last impassive look at Talon then rushed down into the tunnel after her brethren and their precious charge.
Talon bit his nails as he stood there undecided of what to do. Malon had not meant to delay that long in the inn. Just what in blazes did that girl have to get from her room? He took one step to the door, intent on going after his daughter when he leaped back as a body thudded against it from the other side. A blood-curdling scream was cut short as a sword sliced through the door just feet away from his belly. With a loud shuck, the sword was drawn out of the body and door; a burbling sound was heard as whoever it was slid down the side.
Without a second thought, Talon was rushing down the passageway with tears flowing from his eyes. The bomb exploded behind him caving in the windmill so that none could follow. Talon said a quick prayer to the Goddesses to keep his daughter safe. Wherever she was…Malon was on her own.