Chapter 25 - The Message
All crossbows were aimed at his heart. The man looked on indifferently at the commotion he had caused. Slumped over the pommel of his horse of darkness was a nude form unrecognizable under its tangled mess of hair. He had made no move to retreat or proceed further into their deadly range. Instead he was waiting on someone who could actually make a decision. He skimmed the ramparts as he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. The young boy, Link, had surged to the edge and was looking down upon him.
Link’s rage bubbled to the surface as he saw Thanan sitting arrogantly on his horse, completely at ease with the stares of a hundred killers ready to fill him with arrows. He noticed a small body drooping in front of the man, one of his hands was casually placed on her back to keep her steady in the saddle. Link wanted so badly to slice that hand off and prevent him from touching another Kokiri again.
Nabooru managed to catch up with him at the top and gazed over to see the object of everyone’s interest. The man smiled back at her revealing the ghastly scars at the corners of his mouth, realizing she was one with enough authority to speak for the others. Urging his horse forward several paces, several of the women shifted uneasily as they awaited direction from Nabooru. The tension in the air was thick as the sun beat mercilessly on their heads.
“Finally, here is someone who can make a damn decision.” Thanan mocked.
Nabooru stepped in front of Link, brushing him to the side as she confronted the man from on high. Link sidled over down a few guards to get a better view. “What do you want with the Gerudo? Speak fast or your life is forfeit.” Nabooru commanded.
Thanan let out a laugh, “How I love threats, they sound so very hollow when spoken by someone who can’t deliver.”
Nabooru bristled; she was not used to being ridiculed so insouciantly like this. She raised one hand as several archers aimed down their sights in preparation for the shot.
Thanan rolled his eyes, “Oh please, spare me the bravado. Shall I show you just how useless this all is?”
He swept his hand through the air at them. With one swift movement, he summoned a rapier into his opposing hand and sliced off his arm at the elbow. Some Gerudo gasped in shock as his forearm fell onto the sand, blood spilling from the open wound over the unfortunate body in front of him. Nabooru narrowed her eyes as he casually stabbed the arm from the ground with his rapier and roughly placed it back onto his stump. Within minutes it had fully healed without so much as a mark outside of the dried blood around the initial cut.
The rapier vanished into a black mist as he spread his arms out wide with a flourish, “You see? It is useless to kill me; for I cannot die. So shall we get to business?” Thanan leered at Nabooru.
At a signal from Nabooru, all sentries lowered their crossbows. “What is it you want with us?” She demanded; her voice laced with venom.
“I’ve come to offer a truce between our peoples. I see that you are well supplied, armed and defended. We do not wish to fight you if we do not have to.” Nabooru scoffed, but Thanan pressed on, “If we can come to an agreement, we can live side by side in prosperity. As a good will token, we are returning one of the few Kokiri left alive. We do not wish to see any one race wiped from this good, green earth.” His voice was like silky poison.
Nabooru took one look at the tattered corpse he called a Kokiri and vilely laughed, “That’s rich! How can we expect you will treat us any different than that pitiful thing you have there? How do we know we can trust you?”
Thanan leaned over, resting his arms across the poor Kokiri’s head before remarking, “You don’t. But I assure you that if you do not agree to the truce, you will end up like this pathetic piece of flesh.”
Nabooru’s resolve stood firm, “No deal. Leave now or suffer consequences.”
Thanan sniggered, “Have it your way, my lady.” Emphasizing his last words to her, he grabbed the body in front by the hair. With a heave he threw it towards the closed gates. It hit the ground rolling before coming to a rest with arms and legs splayed at awkward angles. Some of the women were disgusted at his treatment of what appeared to be a little girl.
Thanan mockingly bowed in the saddle, “Consider this a gesture of good faith from me. Until the next time we meet, fare thee well!” With a smirk he wheeled the horse around before galloping down the path and leaping over the gorge.
Link surged down the brick steps and started banging on the barricaded doors demanding they be open. No one would listen to him and simply ignored his pleas for assistance. His hands started to ache from hitting the doors so hard. Nabooru calmly descended the steps and presently stood a pace away from Link, looking at his abject misery at not being able to reach his Kokiri friend.
“You need to learn the ways of our people and fast Link.” Nabooru intoned, “We simply just don’t open our doors for any visitor that comes to call. First we secure the area and make sure that man is gone and then make sure that what he left us isn’t a trap.”
Although Nabooru’s comments made perfect sense, it didn’t help rationalize the situation at hand; one of his friends was out there and possibly needed immediate medical attention! Link slammed his back into the door in frustration as he slid down to the sand. Sitting there with his knees up to his chest, he started crying. Nabooru merely looked on, allowing him to release his grief; it would do no good to coddle it or ease it away.
Zelda walked up to Link and knelt down beside him, holding his hand close to her heart, word had gotten around the fortress of the encounter at the gates. Link looked up at her and noticed her attire had changed, the Gerudo had make-shifted some clothes for a young boy. She wore loose ivory leggings that billowed out with the breeze. A plain leather belt separated the leggings from her white shirt which sported a huge v-neck down to her navel.
Link colored furiously at the amount of skin she was exposing. She seemed to notice his reaction and leaned in close to whisper, “They still think I’m a boy, this is what they chose for me to wear.”
Link nodded numbly, “I know Zel…Zander.” Zelda smiled at him when he called her by the new name, “Just not used to you wearing those types of clothes.”
She looked down on herself briefly, “To be honest, I’m not overly comfortable with it either, but Impa has a reason to deceive them. So let’s keep up the lie shall we?”
Nabooru regarded the two boys from a distance as they sat together whispering. Something was obviously going on between those two, she just couldn’t figure out what. Several minutes went by when a scout leapt down from above and relayed a message to Nabooru. With a gesture of her hands, the two guards began opening the gates. She quickly shooed Link and Zelda off to the side and assigned a woman to be beside them to ensure they didn’t escape.
Link tried to avert his eyes as best he could, but he could do nothing to quell his boiling anger at the sight before him. The Gerudo woman had returned from retrieving the body. She wasn’t holding a Kokiri, but a pitiful husk of flesh. The girl had no energy left to move, barely enough strength for even a little modesty. A small grimy rag was tied scantly around her waist for she lacked any other form of clothing, even that barely covered anything at all.
There were bruises, cuts and swollen blood pores spread all across her body. She had been badly tortured. What infuriated Link more was the sickening trails of blood that stained her inner thighs and covered her womanhood. From what he could tell, she had been cut up and her very dignity had been mutilated beyond recognition. Link turned away to wretch, it was too much.
Zelda gasped at the sight and turned to lean on Link as she sobbed bitterly. This was not the Kokiri girl they were expecting. It was a mere piece of meat. Cut up, eaten and spit out for the dogs to scavenge. Forcing herself to look again at the poor girl only intensified the waves of nausea that was creeping into her stomach. It was beyond anything she had even heard of, beyond any torture imaginable.
Nabooru was stunned into traumatized silence at the gruesome sight that was before her. The Gerudo women expressed sympathy and rage in their eyes, for they know how great one’s womanhood is and to have that mutilated is of the utmost disgrace to the Gerudo. As they turned the poor girl into a more fitting position in the guard’s arms, they noticed some writing carved into her back. The vile pigs felt it sensible to tell them her name in blood, Kiera.
Nabooru barked, “Who would do this abomination to this poor girl?! This is an outrage! No man or woman who did this should come away unscathed!”
Link cleaned the remainder of the bile from his mouth before standing back up to his full height on shaky legs, nausea still tempting to claim hold of him. “I think I know who did it.” Link offered.
Nabooru’s gaze swept down on Link like a hawk attacking its prey. She pounded up to him with wrath in her eyes as if she didn’t recognize him, so clouded was her emotions.
Link winced under that scrutiny but continued, “General Naar, the leader of the Nevachrean army. I believe he is the one who could have done this.”
Nabooru fumed, “Then by my honor, I shall avenge this poor girl. When I am through with Naar, he’ll be begging me to cut it off! That filthy cur!”
Zelda composed herself and tried very hard not to glance in the direction of the poor Kokiri husk, “I think this is a message.”
With seething anger in her voice at having things explained to her by a boy, Nabooru snapped, “What?!”
Link filled in for Zelda as it seemed she was about to be attacked, “If you knew how big this army was,” Nabooru’s head swiveled to Link, “then it is reasonable to assume all prisoners are kept near the center of it. There is no way she could have escaped on her own without some help. I was also a prisoner of that awful camp, they simply wouldn’t let any of them go without just cause. They would like to use them then lose them. I believe Naar did this on purpose to send us a message.”
Nabooru grilled Link angrily, “And what message would that be?”
Link merely shrugged. After a few seconds of silence, they all were startled when a deep voice bellowed out behind them.
“What is going on here? Close the gates now you idiots! Why are we all standing around here giving anyone a chance to slip in here unnoticed?” Ganondorf roared.
Within seconds the guards were manipulating the mechanisms that swung the gates closed. Ganondorf strode up to the group as they looked on uncertainly at what he would do next. His piercing gaze swept past Nabooru and Zelda, held briefly on Link before turning to the object of everyone’s concern. Ganondorf looked visibly shaken as he scrutinized the lifeless body in the woman’s arms. Never had he seen such brutality. He would never consider doing this to any of his people. Steeling his eyes he stepped forward to the woman and gestured to transfer the body into his arms.
“Who did this?” He demanded. Link marveled at how gentle he was being with the Kokiri; he had no idea that Ganondorf actually had compassion!
Nabooru stepped forward, “My lord, it has been reported that General Naar of the Nevachrean army has done this.”
Ganondorf was about to speak when a small movement guided his attention to the pitiable creature in his arms. The girl was still breathing! Eyes darting to the nearest guard, “You, get all of our healers and gather them together. Go! Quickly!”
Ganondorf looked up at the parapets before shouting, “Everyone take up battle positions around the fort and have a perimeter of 2 miles on all sides. No one goes in or out!” He swung his chin in Nabooru’s direction, “Take two of your best swordswomen and take all the apprentices to the upper archery range, they need the practice. Train them daily from now on!”
He finally looked over at Apolloni who had just walked up beside him beaming at his commanding form, “Go grab that excuse of a man that we brought and see if the coot has come up with the weapons we asked for. If he needs anything for his experiments, make sure he gets his hands on it! If these weapons are as good as he says, I do not want it falling into the hands of the enemy.”
The Gerudo scattered in all directions to carry out his orders. Ganondorf took one last look at Link and Zelda before turning back to the fortress with the Kokiri in his arms. They were left alone as the rest of the fortress was abuzz with activity. Unsure of how much a hindrance they would be to salvaging the poor girl, they walked off in silence. At length they wandered over to the stables at the far end of the compound. The sun was starting to set as they walked into the musky building. Several horses neighed at their entrance but it was not them they had come to see.
As they rounded one of the stalls, a cheerful whinny directed their attention to Epona. She had spotted Link and was overjoyed at seeing him once again! Next to her was Malon, calmly grooming her fur with an oak brush. She turned to the visitors and smiled at the two of them.
“Hey, you two.” She emitted warmly.
“Did you hear what happened?” Link asked.
Malon merely nodded. How could one not hear about the intruder at the front gates bringing along a Kokiri prisoner? She simply chose not to go with the others. It would serve no point in seeing something like that. Malon kind of knew what to expect based on what had almost happened to her at that horrid camp and she was not willing to see the end result of it, far better to stay here in the solace of the animals around her.
Realizing she wasn’t going to fully answer, he changed the subject, “Whatever happened to your horse you were going to raise?”
“You mean Harden?” She brightened, “He is over in the next stall! You want to see him?”
Link nodded. Excited she dumped the brush in Zelda’s hand as Epona nickered irritated that her brushing had stopped. Malon paid her no mind as she grabbed Link’s hand and began to lead him out of the stall.
“Excuse me?” Zelda broached.
“Hmm?” Malon turned around quizzically, clearly not seeing a problem.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Zelda asked, quite annoyed.
Malon had forgotten her manners! Of course Zelda never worked on a ranch, she wouldn’t know what to do with that. “Okay, you see, your hand goes through this loop and-”
Zelda jerked her hand back from Malon’s, “I know what it is and what to do with it! I’m just wondering why I’m stuck here with the horse. What if I wanted to see Harden too?”
Link remembered the conversation he had with Zelda at the castle almost a week ago. It seemed like ages to him. He could see the altercation turning south quick, he quickly butted in, “Um…maybe we can come back another time to see him, right?”
Malon looked slightly unnerved but recovered, “No, it’s okay. Let’s all go to see Harden.”
She grabbed the brush from Zelda and tossed it aside onto the hay as she led them both to the next stall. Epona whickered at the sight of her owner leaving her without so much as a hug, but she dared not get up due to the splints on her legs. As the three walked over, Link noticed the plain, white dress Malon was wearing as she led them. So they had redressed her too. The only one not fully dressed as a Gerudo yet was him! Lying down sleeping soundly was Harden. They quietly came up to him and sat next to him. He woke with a start as they placed several hands on him. He calmly fell back asleep as they began stroking his luxurious fur.
After a few moments Link stated, “I still think it’s a stupid name.”
Malon shoved him roughly as he fell backwards giggling, “You stop that! It is a perfectly fine name!”
Zelda chimed in trying to be a part of the conversation, “I agree with Malon, it is probably better than anything you could come up with.”
Malon glanced at Zelda in surprise before smiling, “I like her already!” She turned back to Link, “That’s right! I doubt you could come up with anything better!”
Link sat back up with a stupid grin on his face, “How about Appa?”
Both girls scrunched their noses at his awful suggestion, “Get real Link!” Malon laughed.
“What?” Link shrugged with his hands up, “I can make perfectly fine name suggestions! I named Epona didn’t I?”
“Nuh-uh, fairy boy!” Zelda looked a little hurt at Malon calling him that special name, “If you remember, I had named her that long before you claimed her as yours!” Malon laughed.
It was like watching two best friends fight, but not really mean it. She looked back and forth at the banter between the two of them. Zelda couldn’t compete with the history these two shared, she felt like a third wheel to the trio. She desperately wanted to be a firm part of Link’s life but things always got so awkward with Malon around. Why did she have to be friends with him?
It was unclear how long they had talked, but the last rays of sun were filtering into the stall as Impa quietly emerged from the shadows, practically scaring Malon half to death. “Does she do this often?” Malon exclaimed after she caught her breath.
It was Zelda’s turn to laugh, “I’m afraid so.”
Impa was not laughing, she had come to bring a message to the group. They all grew quiet as she spoke, “The doctors could do nothing for the Kokiri girl. She is dead.”
Zelda gasped as she placed a hand to her lips. Link’s eyes began to well with tears as Malon took solace in rubbing Harden. Was Saria really the last Kokiri remaining in the world? How would their race ever come back from this devastating blow? All three of them were lost in their thoughts at the gravity of Kiera’s death. The girl Link had known growing up but whom the other two barely even knew.
Impa gently placed a hand on Zelda’s shoulder, “It is time you retire to your room Zelda.”
Zelda torpidly dipped her head in concession at Impa’s advice. She stood up and turned to Link with a hopeful tone in her voice, “Are you coming Link?”
He moodily declined, “No thanks.” He picked himself up and walked over to Epona’s stall. “I think I’m going to sleep out here with my horse.”
Malon chimed in, “I think I’m going to stay out here and sleep next to Harden tonight too.”
Impa cleared her throat, “No Malon. You are coming with me back to your father.”
Malon stomped her foot as she crossed her arms, “What, Link can stay out here and I can’t?”
“That’s correct.” Impa confirmed coolly.
Impa motioned for her to follow. Malon stormed off after them pouting as the three made their way back to the fortress compound. Link was a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t have someone to talk to tonight but figured it was for the best. He stretched out beside Epona and leaned back against her belly. She reached around and nipped at his hair lovingly as he stroked her neck.
“At least I have you to keep me company, huh girl?” Link said as he scratched the underside of Epona’s chin. She neighed in pleasure.
After a few minutes of bonding they settled down to sleep. Link shifted to get more comfortable against Epona’s side before draping a nearby horse cover over him like a blanket. Within minutes he could sense a low rumble behind him, he grinned knowing she had fallen asleep already. He was left alone to his thoughts. It was several hours before he finally shut his eyes and slept.