Chapter 40 - The Bomber Gang
The morning dew rested heavily on their shared bedroll. Link looked over to see Zelda sleeping next to him, cuddled up to keep warm during the night. He had no idea how long he had been awake. The tree canopy surrounded them, sheltering the group from hostile eyes. He rolled over onto his stomach and leaned over the edge of the platform, it was suspended above the ground in the massive tree branches. It was quite an ingenious setup.
They had rumbled into the tree line in the early hours of the morning, the sky had not even begun to brighten with the coming sun. Kafei adroitly leapt off the horse before chivalrously offering his services to help Merin down to the spongy floor. The man was amazingly friendly and offered to take the baby Cyn’Taak off Zelda’s hands as he directed Jim and one other child to help catch her as she slipped off her mare. Link declined the help and hopped down himself.
Kafei handed the twitching Cyn’Taak infant to the nearest child who looked particularly revolted just holding the creature. He walked directly up to Link before clasping his arm in a warm embrace before bringing him in for a full hug. Link stood rigid at the unexpected brotherly affection he was receiving. “Glad to have other people who aren’t afraid to stand up to those Nevachrean brutes!” He beamed warmly as he stood back admiring Link.
“No…no problem.” Link stuttered as he tried to reorient himself with the unfolding situation.
“Whoa!” Kafei jumped back as Link’s horse vanished into black vapor, leaving nothing but four rotten hoof prints imprinted on the ground. “Is that normal with your horse?” He asked, slightly unnerved at the sight of a disappearing stallion.
Link scratched the back of his head, not quite sure what to say. “I’m not really sure what is going on. You see, it’s not even mine.” He finished sheepishly.
Kafei clapped a hand on Link’s back with veneration, “Stole it then? That’s okay, we don’t judge here! All is fair in the war against these bastards, right?” He laughed heartily at his assertion. Link was a bit unsure about that viewpoint.
Merin interjected herself into the conversation, “Is there somewhere we can rest for the night? We are exhausted.”
Kafei dashingly took her good arm and kneeled low kissing her hand reverently, “How rude of me not to extend decent hospitality to honored guests! Please, let me show you our home!”
Kafei gently led Merin through the five children who were busy guiding their horses into a makeshift stable made up of nothing but branches, leaves and natural foliage. Each young boy looked up smiling at them. Link and Zelda grinned back as they followed Kafei through a small opening between two oaks which had grown rather close together.
Stepping over the entwined roots, their eyes opened as they saw the most extraordinary sight. It was a grove surrounded by tightly knit trees forming a protective barrier around a central tree that stood at its center. An intricate system of pulleys and winches scaled the grand majesty of the massive oak in the center. Looking above their heads, there was a small network of wooden platforms complete with custom shelters where these boys went to sleep every night.
“You did all this?” Zelda asked amazed.
Kafei nodded before bringing Merin to the nearest hoist, “It took several cycles to complete this, but it is our home. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished. Please put your foot though this loop Merin.” He guided her toes through the ring tied at the base of the rope resting on the grass. He slipped his foot alongside hers. “Hold onto my waist with your good arm.”
She obligingly slipped one hand around his back. With a signal to Jim who unlocked one of the rotating handles situated on the ground, they began rising in the air. Merin yelped slightly as they lifted off the earth and began floating up towards the platforms in the canopy. She gripped his body tightly as he chuckled at her alarm. She gave him a dirty look. It melted the instant she saw the sincere warmth in his eyes.
Kafei smoothly set her down on the wooden planks as they reached the top. He looked back down the dizzying heights at the rest of the group. “Jim, help the others up will ya? Thanks!”
In time they all were standing around in a circle beside the massive trunk at the top of the elevated platform. Resting his hand casually on the pommel of his sword, Link complimented Kafei, “This place is amazing. I simply can’t believe you’ve been living here under the nose of the Cyn’Taak and the Nevachreans.”
Resting his fists onto his hips, Kafei took a deep, satisfying breath before replying, “Well, it wasn’t easy. This grove was an extremely lucky find.” He gestured around them to the circle of trunks protecting the copse. “They are so tightly compacted together the Cyn’Taak can’t fit through between them and we are so high up and secluded most of those dumb swine from Nevachrea can’t even find us!”
All five of the children had removed their face scarfs. Zelda observed that all of them were young boys roughly around the age of ten cycles. Their eyes belied their physical form however, it was evident they had seen many horrors in their short life spans and it had changed them for the worse. What awful things were these kids forced to do just to survive in this mad world? One of the boys walked quietly over to Kafei and tugged on his leggings urgently.
Kafei looked down at the child with fond, fraternal love, “Yes, I hear you Ashley. You are right, it is time for bed.” He looked up to Link before gesturing him to follow with a crooked finger, “We have an empty spot just for you two if you’d like.”
Link and Zelda shared a brief glance. Did they really make it seem obvious they were together? Link shrugged before following Kafei. They strolled across thin, unsecured planks that connected the more solid platforms against the surrounding trees. Link examined the layout and deduced it to be more of a hub and spoke design similar to a wheel found on a wagon. He was curious as to why the scrawnier, connecting boards weren’t nailed down like the rest of the canopy structure. Zelda swooned slightly at traversing such a narrow walkway, one small mistake and she would be plummeting to her death.
“I know it isn’t much, but I hope you find things to your satisfaction nevertheless.” Kafei presented their sleeping space with a flourish. Zelda placed a hand to her lips to hide her smile, the space was quite quaint. It was nothing but the boards underfoot and a small conglomeration of greenery; twisted and curled into a small half-dome like shelter. Link promptly set his pack down. He unfurled the bedroll out, measuring to ensure it would fit fully under the foliage.
Satisfied with the result, he looked up at Kafei. “Thank you so much for taking us in. I can’t express how much I appreciate you for saving us back there.”
Kafei swung his palm down in jolly dismissal of the compliment, “Think nothing of it! I’m just happy to save more innocents from those barbarians.” He turned to Merin before offering his elbow. She looked utterly flabbergasted. She had no idea what he was expecting her to do. Seeing her confusion, he clarified, “You place your arm through mine and I will guide you to your sleeping quarters.”
“Oh…right.” Merin fumbled with the gesture. She was utterly lost in this new feeling of being catered to, of being treated like a real lady. As Kafei cordially led her back to the central spire of the homestead, she glanced behind to look at Link and Zelda. Her expression was one of terror. She was out of her element and had absolutely no idea how to act around this caring gentleman. The two of them laughed as they waved her on to enjoy the preferential treatment.
Kafei steered her across to another spoke. She stopped brusquely at seeing the multitude of fabrics, blankets and even a pillow already situated on the platform. Gingerly massaging her elbow she looked at him with uncertainty, “Is there someone already sleeping here?”
He looked up from fluffing the coverings to see her concern at having to take someone else’s sleeping spot. “Oh, this is my bed. You are free to sleep here.”
“You don’t mind…sleeping with me?” She asked hesitantly. For some abnormal reason, she felt her natural instinct to jump the handsome youth oddly inappropriate.
Kafei laughed gaily at her suggestion, “No darling!” His surprising use of endearment brought a flush to her cheeks, “That would be horribly forward of me. I will bunk with one of the boys tonight. Don’t worry about it.”
Merin gripped one of her arms as she glanced off; suddenly shy about the whole situation but not sure why she should be. “I don’t mind…honest.”
“You are funny.” Kafei said, brushing off her clear invitation.
Somewhat miffed at the rejection, she disregarded her initial response and let him cross the thin plank back to the hub, whistling as he meandered over to one of the other children’s bedspreads. Merin didn’t know exactly what had come over her. The youth’s calm, charming demeanor had completely won her over, nullifying her rational sense. She carefully slipped under the blankets, making sure her sprained elbow was in a position it wouldn’t hurt during the night. The last thing she remembered before passing out was the scent of dragon lilies.
Link felt something prick his back, jolting him out of his reverie. His eyes opened in alarm. He twirled over screaming at the infant Cyn’Taak who had perched itself on his spine. The repugnant thing went flying off before hitting the wood in a barrel roll. A small yelp emerged from the surprised creature. Zelda looked over to see Link breathing heavily as he stared at the infant Cyn’Taak, its cries of hunger breaking the early morning calm.
“Where did that thing come from?!” Link exclaimed nervously.
Both Link and Zelda jerked their heads back to look behind them as Jim walked up to explain, “I thought it was your pet. Kind of odd to have one of those things around, but hey, who am I to judge? So I put it at the back of the covering for you while you slept.”
Zelda’s mouth dropped open, “You did what?”
“I could have been killed!” Link yelled, getting angrier by the second at what Jim did.
The boy threw his hands up in the air in surrender, “Hey, hey, hey! Don’t get upset. Those things aren’t truly dangerous until they reach a few orbits of age. Right now that thing probably has not a single drop of venom in its body!”
Link’s breathing began to calm down from his near hyperventilation. So that was why nothing bad happened when he felt the prick of the creature’s tail. That made things a lot easier in handling the infant Cyn’Taak knowing that they didn’t have to be so careful with its sharp barb. It still might hurt if it struck someone, but at least the venom was not there to harm your innards.
Link perceived that it was agonizingly hungry. Its pitiful gurgles made Zelda’s heart melt. “Is there anything we can do for the poor thing?” Zelda inquired of Kafei who had come over due to the commotion.
Link swiveled his head in her direction, “What? You want to feed this thing?”
Zelda sat up straight as she gave him a stern look, “Well, of course! We stole it from its mother and got her killed, so now we are responsible for it!”
Link was about to contest that course of action when Kafei intervened, “I know just the thing to satisfy the little tyke! Both of you. Come follow me.” After a brief pause, “And bring that thing with you too.”
Presently they all made it safely back to the ground utilizing the intricate pulley and weight system the children had devised. The smell of roasting sausage and other delicious scents was wafting through the air. They practically followed their noses to the crackling campfire over which was placed a resourceful metal grill held up by stakes. On top of the metal were several slabs of meat sizzling alongside a frying pan with several cracked eggs cooking.
Merin was already down by the fire enjoying her breakfast as she laughed and joked with several of the boys. She looked up as they approached and waved, “These boys are hilarious Zander! They have some of the funniest jokes!”
Zelda smiled at the woman, it seemed her arm had recovered well during the night. She turned her head to Kafei, “You boys are really creative. It truly is incredible what you did here with very little.” She complimented.
Kafei accepted her praise graciously, “Thank you Zander.” catching on to her name quickly from Merin. “Please sit down wherever you like by the fire. One of my boys will serve you.”
He assisted her down on the nearby stump they utilized as a stool. The young boy, she recalled his name being Ashley, came over shyly before handing her a plate with steaming breakfast. “Thank you.” Zelda said. The boy merely blushed, smiled and ran back to the fire to grab Link his food.
Link regarded Kafei as he confidently sauntered over to a corpse. At first glance it looked to be a freshly caught deer. It appeared he had been hunting early this morning. They had already carved chunks of flesh off its flank, it was probably what they were eating.
Clasping a bowl in one hand, Kafei quickly brought out a dagger with the other and sliced the neck of the carcass. Quickly placing the bowl under the flowing blood gushing out of its neck, he captured a good amount into it.
Zelda was slightly intimidated when he placed the bloody bowl in front of her. She looked up into his eyes, “What do you want me to do?”
Kafei grinned at her convivially, “You wanted to feed this thing, right? I’ll show you how.”
Link swiftly swallowed a piece of deliciously spiced meat before speaking, “You’ve done this sort of thing before?”
Kafei turned his eyes onto Link, “Not personally no, but I know what those creatures need to survive.”
Guiding Zelda by the hand, he brought her over to the squirming Cyn’Taak child; its tail was flipping around frantically. Its eyes had not fully lost its milky film. It was still unable to see and was wailing for someone to feed it. Kafei instructed her to set the bowl down for the hysterical creature, together they helped guide the blind infant towards the bowl. Kafei had to physically place the snout into the blood before it sensed that there was actually food there. Within seconds it was greedily lapping up the frothy liquid with sickening slurps.
Zelda shivered slightly at how disgusting they were, even as babies. Deciding to leave the child alone to its meal, she walked back to her stump wondering why she felt the urge to take responsibility for that thing. Kafei swept past her and snatched up a plate Ashley offered him. After a quick thanks, he moved over to an opposing stump before sitting down comfortably.
“I must apologize for not introducing everyone here early this morning. It was late and we all needed our rest. Now that we’ve gotten comfy here, how about we go around the circle?” Kafei suggested, gesturing towards the group indicating they needed to start first.
Link began initially, “To tell you the truth, I grew up in the Lost Woods northeast of here among the Kokiri. I left of my own volition and found my place among the Hylians of Kakariko Village.” He omitted a lot of information, cautious in revealing too much to people he barely knew.
Zelda followed his lead by providing as little as possible, “I was born in Hyrule’s capital but moved into Kakariko Village where I met Link.” Link shot an askance look as he realized she was lying heavily, an expression that was not lost on Kafei.
Merin chimed in, happily enjoying their company, “I’m from the desert to the west. I’m a Gerudo and I am escorting these two.” She indicated Link and Zelda before she shoveled down another spoonful of egg.
Kafei placed a palm across his chest, “I’m Kafei as you probably know by now. I am the leader of this small band you see here. We grew up together in a small town located in the Ordon province. We’re not related at all, but we’re like family now. We used to call ourselves the Bomber Gang! Since I was the oldest of the group, I was naturally the leader.” He gestured to the boy nearest him, “And this is my second in command, as it were.” He smiled warmly.
The boy waved his hand vigorously. He had placed over his head a red bandana which covered his brown, tangled mass of hair, “I’m Jim! I help take care of this place and make sure all the horses are well fed and taken care of.”
The kid next to him attempted a weak wave before speaking, nervously running his hand through his blond hair, “My name is Ivan. I help Kafei with hunting down the food. I also know how to brush down the horses.” He sniffed noisily through his rather pug-like nose.
The next one in line smiled at all of them before hopping off his stump and shaking hands with each of them. Zelda had to laugh at his excitable manner. “My name is Toby! Glad to meet all of ya! I’m the cook of the group. I make very fine foods! Do you know how to cook?” He looked at each of them eagerly in turn, his expression faded as he realized that he was the only one who had the talent. He scurried back to his seating arrangement with a sigh.
The fourth boy was slightly off-putting. He jerked his head to glare at Kafei, “Why do we have to let girls stay here?”
Kafei shot him a look, “You stop that right now Clarence! These are our guests! Besides, with them here, we can finally attempt the operation we have been planning for orbits! Do you just want to throw away their help?”
Link began to interject, “Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. We’d have to first figure out-”
Kafei held up a hand to stop him from speaking further, he turned back to Clarence, “Girls or not, we should treat them nicely. Yes?”
Clarence crossed his arms furiously as he pouted, puffing the red bangs away from his eyes, “Whatever.”
Kafei threw his arms up in frustration, “Again, I am sorry for Clarence. He is the mechanical genius here.” He indicated the pulley and winch systems. “He helped create those and maintains them daily. Without him, we wouldn’t have any place to call home.”
Zelda indicated the final brown-haired boy on the end who was sitting amazingly quiet and still. “What about you, what was your name again?” She smiled warmly at him. He simply blushed and looked away without saying a word.
“That is Ashley, he is mute.” Kafei explained. Upon seeing the pitying look on her face he proceeded to clarify, “Oh, not like that. He was very talkative when he was younger.”
“Did something happen?” Link probed. He knew a perfectly healthy child like Ashley wouldn’t just stop speaking for no reason.
Kafei looked down undecided on how best to explain, at length he retold the story, “As I said earlier, we were all born in a small village in the Ordon province. The Nevachrean army invaded our home seven cycles ago. We didn’t stand a chance. I was out hunting with Ivan at the time when we spotted smoke back at the town. We managed to get back in time to rescue Jim, Toby and Clarence. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to Ashley in time.” Zelda gasped as she imagined the worst.
Kafei continued, “The soldiers knocked him down. He played dead so they wouldn’t harm him further. We were watching from the tree line. We saw he was awake the entire time the slaughter was happening. His own parents were murdered in front of him.” Merin inhaled suddenly at the brutality of it. “Mistaking him for a dead corpse, they dragged him to the pile they had built in the center of the town. They packed down the dead villagers on top of Ashley as they set fire to them and every building in the village.”
“I went in quickly to drag him out of there and escape with the gang. Ever since then he has not spoken a single word.” Kafei finished with a ragged breath.
Link nodded in understanding, “I don’t blame him. We’ve all lost loved ones in this war.”
“Indeed.” An unnatural look of anger flashed across Kafei’s face at the remembrance of his beloved. “For orbits we searched for a way to make it to Kakariko Village. I had a fiancée there, her name was Anju. By the time we reached the town, it had been devastated. All of its men, women and children were slaughtered.” Seemingly lost in his own thoughts, Link looked on concerned as Kafei’s breathing became labored. “And then I saw her, sprawled out behind the chicken coop, sliced up and bloody. They had raped her, mutilated her, and then killed her. And for what?! Their own selfish desires?”
Several tears began streaming down his face. Angry at his outburst, he wiped them away viciously. “I’m sorry. It is sometimes hard to remember the past.” He brought out a dragon lily from within the folds of his lavender tunic. He twirled it around, marveling at its simple beauty. “Now all I have of her are the memories we shared.”
They all ate the rest of their breakfast in silence.