Chapter 30 - Setting Forth
“You know what I can offer.” It lulled in its enticing whispers, “All you have to do is just put me on. It is that simple.”
Angry at its constant rambling to strap the mask on, Link shoved it deep down in the rucksack before piling various fabrics and clothes on top of it. The less he had to see of that horrid mask, the better. He had thought it impossible to come back to his room that night many cycles ago to see those bloodshot eyes regarding him from atop his bed in the darkness.
To keep its constant murmurings out of his head and to keep it hidden, he kept it concealed under the pillows and furs of his bed, lacking any other reliable place to put the dreadful thing. Most nights he hardly dreamt at all. The few nights he did get some decent sleep it was nothing but the stuff of nightmares. The horrific beating of feathers filled his ears as a multi-winged creature descended from the sky to consume him whole. Some nights he woke up screaming, glistening with sweat. Zelda was concerned but decided not to push the issue of him recounting what he dreamt.
Impa came up beside Link, startling him slightly, “Is everything okay, Link?” She asked with some unease.
He simply shrugged his shoulders, “I guess.”
Impa had grown visibly older in the past seven cycles. It was clear in the wrinkles sprouting across her face. She was still fit and looked quite deadly despite her haggard appearance. Her close watch over their sleep had grown less frequent of late. They had gone multiple weeks at a time without seeing her at all. Her hair was no longer slicked back into a ponytail but had developed down her back and fell about her head in tangles. Link worried about her overall mental state. She mostly kept to herself and continued to take Zelda out on training every evening. He felt she was pushing herself too hard.
“You guess? You sound more annoyed than you are letting on Link.” Impa persisted.
Link exhaled as he tied the drawstrings to seal the pack shut, “I just don’t know why Ganondorf thinks this plan will work. Why, all of a sudden, does he think this could actually work?”
Just the previous day, Ganondorf had called to meeting all the elders. He invited Link, Talon, Malon, Saria and Zelda to the assembly. Ganondorf demanded that they attempt the collection of the remaining spiritual stones beginning with the Goron Ruby to the east. Link argued that it was foolish to think they could easily acquire the Zora Sapphire deep in the enemies’ clutches. Irritated, Ganondorf explained that they were entrenched in planning that campaign and would ultimately have a solution by the time he returned with the ruby.
Pacified but not entirely satisfied with the answer, Link had no choice but to agree to the mission. Ganondorf ordered that Talon and Malon were to stay there at the fortress, for they were now family to their society. Saria w as not to leave his side. She was not allowed to accompany Link on this journey. He offered a contingent of Gerudo guards led by his favored elder, Apolloni. She leered at him as Link sat disgusted by this decision. Zander offered his services and was waved off as being acceptable to join. Ganondorf didn’t really care one way or another for the boy.
Impa placed a motherly hand on the youth, she was so proud of the man he had grown into. She knew he would never consider her his true mother, but she was flattered to be his honorary aunt. “To tell you the truth Link, I believe it is to get you out of his hair.” She spoke softly.
“But why?” Link asked, slinging the pack behind him, looping his arms though the straps.
“I do not know. I believe there is more here than meets the eye. I will be staying behind to investigate further.” She confirmed.
Link turned to her, eyes pleading, “Can’t you come with us Impa? What about Zelda?”
She pressed a hand to her forehead as she attempted to stall a headache from encroaching in full force, “I’m afraid I cannot Link. I am confident Zelda can handle herself now. I’ve taught her as much as I can. She will be able to assist you better than I could at this juncture.” She sighed.
He stood awkwardly at the pregnant pause between them. He didn’t feel comfortable telling Impa what had transpired between him and Zelda several moons ago. He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about Zelda accompanying him on this mission. She had already packed earlier that morning and was already waiting for him in the inner courtyard of the compound. With one final glance around the room to ensure he didn’t forget anything, he adjusted his belt and sword scabbard. Link gave one last look at Impa before embracing her in a big hug.
“I’ll miss you Impa. Please be safe here.” Link said, shutting his eyes so tight that it hurt.
Impa wrapped her arms around him. Tears of joy began to form at the thought of her brave, young nephew going out on his own, now fully a man. “I will miss you too Link. You go on ahead, I will stay here and await your return.”
At length, they parted and Link headed for the door. He turned to give one last look at Impa but saw nothing but an empty room. He let out a breath despondently before setting forth down the hallway towards the midafternoon sun. Covering his eyes as the blinding sand pierced his irises with the refracted light from the sun. He noticed a huge gathering at the entrance to the desert.
His friends had gathered off to the left side of the portcullis, Ganondorf and the regiment of Gerudo was standing off to the right. All eyes were on him as he uneasily walked down the incline to the base of the grand gate leading to the expansive sands beyond. He moved over to his friends to say goodbye to each of them in turn. Ganondorf should have enough patience to allow him that comfort.
“Well, my boy! You’ve sure grown into a fine young man! I shall pray fer ya safe return Link!” Talon guffawed as he clapped Link on the back; Link rubbed his shoulder softly at the painful smacks.
The last seven cycles had done Talon some good. He had worked out every day with Nabooru. It was a herculean effort on his part but you couldn’t even tell he had been obese. His swelling arms were practically overflowing out of his tight clothes. He had made a point to have the seamstresses make him larger clothes. Nabooru put a quick stop to that, she liked her bulging man just as he was, tight fitting clothes and all. He was not thin by any means, but Talon had filled out his physique akin to that of a body builder.
“Thanks Talon.” Link smiled warmly at the big man. What a proud father he was of two precious daughters. Link continued, “I hope your time comes again that you can be allowed to have another beautiful child. May you be blessed by the Goddesses and be fruitful.”
At this, Link bowed slightly as Talon flushed in front of Nabooru who was standing next to him, Giana in her arms. “Aren’t you the charmer?” She spoke alluringly. “I will certainly miss seeing your delectable face around here Link. However Ganondorf’s rules are law and we must obey.” She paused, her gaze flicking over to Ganondorf briefly, before continuing, “Despite this, I sincerely hope you make it back safely.”
She went to say more but a flash of pain crossed her face as she brought a hand up to her forehead; gently massaging her ruby. Giana looked up at her mom in confusion, “Are you okay mommy?”
Nabooru grimaced as she reassured her daughter, “Yes little one.” She set Giana down on her feet as she walked over to Ganondorf irritated.
“Link! You’ll come back to play with me right?” Giana happily shouted as she rushed into his arms.
Link picked up the petite girl and wrapped her in his loveable hug, planting lovely kisses all over her cheeks, “Of course! How could I stay away from such a pretty face like yours?”
Giana cackled with glee as she tried to evade his affections, “You’re so silly Link!”
“Not as silly as you are, little princess!” With a growl he pretended to bite her neck and eat her up, she squealed in delight as she squirmed in his arms. “Mmm…so delicious! I think I’ll just eat you up right now!”
“Ahhh…Sis, help!” Giana cried out jovially, her laughter carrying on the wind.
Malon strode up to the two of them, “I don’t think I can lil sis,” she began, arms crossed, “You look quite delicious to me too, I just might ask him to save me a piece.”
Link took one quick glance at Malon with what looked like an evil grin before commencing the attack, “Well, it’s decided then! Onto the main course!” Giana’s body went convulsive as his fingers tickled her every which way. After a time, Malon knew it was time to put an end to the festivities and ordered them to settle down, even Talon asked why she was being a poor sport, he was relishing the show.
Giana finally resettled back into Link’s arms as she gave him a serious look, “Please promise you’ll come back. I don’t want you to die.”
Link’s heart broke at her words, he faked a smile as he comforted Giana by poking her on the nose, “For you, your faithful knight will come back to serve his little princess once again!”
Giana giggled as he finally set her down, one of the Gerudo led the bouncing girl back into the fortress for bath time. Link looked on blissfully before finally facing Malon. He didn’t even get a chance to say a word as she hurtled into his arms. Their bodies intertwined as they embraced warmly. He could feel her body heaving with the sobs being dealt into his chest. She had been furious when she was commanded not to join Link on this journey. She refused to be consoled for hours. It wasn’t until Giana came out to cheer her big sister up did she finally come around.
They parted from the hug but did not release their arms from around their bodies. They looked at each other speaking what did not need to be said out loud. They were being separated for a reason. Neither of them had any idea when they could be together again, that thought tore them apart from the inside. Link was at a loss for words, for he had none to express how much he loved her at this very moment.
She nodded, understanding the look in his eyes. She raggedly spoke, “Just come back to me alive, Link.” With that she let him go and walked over to stand behind her father Talon, leaning into his comforting presence, overcome with grief to say more.
Saria stepped up to him, one foot in front of the other, hands clasped behind her back, the pure image of an angel. “I really wish I could be with you on this trip. Now that I’m no longer bound to the forest, I just want to travel and see the world!”
Link smiled at her enthusiasm, “I hear you Saria. I wish my best friend could come with me too. It’ll be boring without you and Sora there to keep me company.”
Saria flushed at his compliment, “You know Sora isn’t around anymore.”
Link ran a hand through her delicate green hair, “She is in here, and I’m sure you’d let me know everything she has to say to me. Right?”
Saria laughed, “Right! Just be safe out there for me Link.” After a pause, “That’s from Sora too.”
Link bent over to pick Saria up and hug her deeply in his arms. Saria pressed into his body and enjoyed the comfortable warmth. Link let go only to find that Saria was still stuck to him, her wings beating softly to keep her aloft now that he was no longer supporting her.
“Um…Saria? Can I go now?” Link queried.
Without even opening her eyes, Saria hushed him, “Just a few minutes more Link. I want to remember this moment.”
Rolling his eyes he clasped his arms around her back so she could rest her appendages. They finally parted as Saria walked over to stand with his other friends. Link finally turned to Zelda who was also wearing a white traveling tunic made of lightweight fabric that could breathe in the wind. She also carried a rucksack like his, most likely filled with extra clothes and provisions for the journey. They smiled briefly before walking together over to Ganondorf.
“Are you about done with your valedictions?” Ganondorf huffed. Without waiting for a response, he swept a hand over to Apolloni, “This will be your guide to the southern marshes. Apolloni, one of my best warriors, will ensure your safety. With her are three of the highest trained women we have outside of the elder council, Aveil, Lorva, and Merin.”
Link looked at the company he would be traveling with. Outside of Apolloni and her unique brunette hair, the other three looked interchangeable. All three carrying the distinctive traits of the Gerudo but none being singled out in any specific fashion, the four of them were dressed in violet robes and travel sandals. Each woman had a pack of her own filled with supplies. One woman even had two large bundles strapped to the top of hers, it was explained that they were tents one could set up while on the road.
Link nodded at them in greeting, the three women practically swooned at his attention. Apolloni simply sneered at his friendly advance, it was clear that she was not happy with this situation. She must not have volunteered for the job, indicated by Ganondorf’s dismissal of her.
“Nice to meet you all officially.” Link began cordially.
“Save the introductions for later.” Ganondorf interjected, “You can have plenty of time to get to know them later.” Link blushed as the three women smiled and winked their eyes in his direction. Ignoring them entirely, Ganondorf pressed, “I can only open a part of the barrier for a few minutes. All of you must go through immediately before it closes again. Do you understand?”
Confirmed with a nod, Ganondorf ordered the portcullis opened, grinding gears and years of sand fell off the metal bars as the spiked gate rose slowly into the air. He paced up to the shimmering wall of malice and raised his hands in the air. Crackling energy sparked from his fingertips as he slowly pressed his arms into the barrier. A cry of agony rent the air as his entire body pulsated with dark forces, he almost staggered with the sheer effort of opening a portal large enough for one person to fit through.
Panting for air, Ganondorf screamed, “Go now!”
Apolloni led the procession as the three Gerudo women followed her out of the aura. They reveled in the rays of the sun as it beat firmly onto their skin. No longer having to suffer through filtered light as it passed through the barrier, they enjoyed it thoroughly. Zelda passed through next with Link leading up the rear.
A sudden shout twirled his attention around, “Stop her! Malon! What are ya doing?!”
Unacknowledged by anyone in attendance, she had picked up a pack she had hid the night before and was running full tilt towards the open barrier. Ganondorf risked a glimpse behind as he saw her running for the opening. To prevent her escape he began to slowly pull his hands back from the aura. Malon squawked as she saw the portal slowly closing. One of the guards made a grab for her pack as she hurled past but grabbed only air. With a final slide across the sand, Malon surged through as the aura slammed down into the dirt mere inches from her head. She had made it! She was on the outside with Link!
Shrieks of horror and despair erupted from beyond the aura as Talon and Nabooru rushed up to it. Talon cried out to Malon through the barrier, “What do ya think ya doing?! Have Ganondorf open this back up!”
“I cannot.” Ganondorf grated, panting heavily on the ground exhausted. “It will be several moons before I am able to accomplish that again.”
Apolloni smacked Malon to the ground with a vengeance. She leaped on top of her incapacitated form and grabbed a fistful of hair. She jerked Malon’s face to her own before spitting on her cheek, “Why did you do that you worthless wench!? We can’t afford to carry your weight with us!”
Link sprinted to assist Malon when a raised hand from Apolloni spurred the other three women to draw their swords. He raised his hands in submission as the three women bared down on him with calm menace. “Do not interrupt Link, this girl knew what she was doing and now she is to pay the price of her insolence!” Apolloni spat.
“No she will not.” Ganondorf confirmed, able to hear everything from beyond the veil, “But there is someone who will.”
Ganondorf lumbered up off the ground and stalked over to Talon. He signaled several guards to bind him to a nearby post which seemed clearly marked for something unpleasant. There were old stains of blood, baked into the wood from the scorching sun. Nabooru surged up to Ganondorf to demand that he release her man.
Without looking he grabbed her by the neck and lifted her off the ground, legs kicking in fruitless fury. He spoke mercilessly, “I’ve tolerated your idiosyncrasies long enough Nabooru, it is time you learned the price one pays for disobeying their king’s laws.” With a casual flick of the wrist, he tossed her aside like a rag doll. She collapsed to the ground, coughing from his grip, struggling to breathe in precious air.
Apolloni observed what was going on and liked what she saw. she forcibly flipped Malon onto her stomach before roughly slamming back down onto her spine. Yanking her hair back with a fist, she forced Malon to watch the unfolding spectacle. Zelda attempted to intervene but was also blocked by one of the other three. Link and Zelda gazed on in dismay as they knew what was to come.
Talon was stripped to his waist as they tied him to the pole, his hairy back bare for all to see. Ganondorf raised one hand as a Gerudo emerged from the guard tower with a whip firmly in hand. “Twenty lashes to the father. May it serve as a lesson to both what happens when subordinates disobey me!”
Saria trilled as she flew through the air towards Ganondorf, trying to scream sense into his mangled brain, “Stop it! He did nothing wrong! Just let them go! What’s done is done.”
“Indeed.” Ganondorf agreed. He fought Saria as she attempted to grab his arm. He flung her off and sliced it down through the air. “Now!”
The crack reverberated around the brick walls as two women screamed in unison. Nabooru shrieked as she fought against her fellow Gerudo who were holding her back steadfastly, she was rolling on the ground in madness. Malon could do nothing but cry as she watched her father endure the public beating. Each resounding crack forced another shout from Talon as another glistening line of blood formed across his back. Saria was a sniffling heap of tears as the final lash hit home. Talon had sagged against the poll and was dangling from the ropes tied to his wrists, rubbed raw from the tension.
Saria’s indignant cry did little to bruise Ganondorf’s demeanor, “I thought you were better than that!” With a sniffle, she flew off towards the compound.
Ganondorf watched indifferently as the women dragged Nabooru back to her quarters, hysterically wailing the entire way. His eyes swept the scene before landing on Talon. He directed one of the guards to leave the beaten man where he was, “Let him rot for the night, cut him down in the morning. Let him be an example to the rest.” The woman saluted before dashing off.
Ganondorf strode up to the barrier, “Apolloni, Saria was right. What’s done is done. Take Malon with you. Whether she survives or not is up to you. I trust your judgment.” With a shared smirk between the two of them, he rotated around and confidently walked back to the fortress.
Apolloni released her hold as she let Malon up. She jeered, “I guess we have excess baggage now. Do try to keep up. I will not wait for you.”
Malon shot her a glare but did not chance a response. She gratefully accepted the hugs from Link and Zelda as they rushed towards her. They silently cried together at the fate of her father. A click of the tongue from Apolloni warranted a scathing look, she merely smiled back at Link, uninterested in his hurt feelings.
“Come along lover boy, time is wasting and we need to get going!” She signaled the other three women to follow as they trudged off through the sand.
Without speaking a word to each other, the three of them walked off hand in hand after the Gerudo warriors. Malon turned one last time to see her father still kneeling at the base of the pole. He had looked up briefly to see her go. She mouthed silently to him, “I love you daddy.”