Chapter 41 - Lingering Doubt
They had spent the better part of the day going over the meticulous plans that Kafei and his crew had devised. Sprawled out over the nearest stump was a scroll of parchment with which a crude map was drawn out on its surface. Kafei was leaning over it, studying it intently with the bangs of his violet hair hanging down. He looked up to see Link coming over to investigate what he was up to, he smiled as he motioned for Link to come see the operational plan.
“I’m overjoyed to see fellow Freedom Fighters in these dark times.” Kafei began happily, “This is something remarkable that Toby has provided us.”
He gestured to the drawing laid out on the wood. Link glossed over it. It appeared to be a highly detailed map of a walled town. “Is this something you took or was it made by Toby?” Link prodded.
Out of nowhere, the excitable youngster bounded from beyond the central tree and skipped over to the two of them. “It was me! Aren’t you amazed at my awesome drawing skills?!” He asked animatedly.
Kafei laughed at the boy’s antics, “Indeed. This little bugger snuck his way into the town all by himself without us knowing one night! He evaded the Nevachrean guards and mapped the entire place out on this parchment! He is my favorite spy!”
“Ha! I’m your only spy!” Toby rebuked, sticking a tongue out at Kafei.
Kafei ruffled his hair lovingly, “All the more reason for me to be protective! Go on, get!” He said, feigning anger at the elated boy. “Link and I have to talk about some adult stuff now!”
Toby cackled as he dashed off; Link shook his head at the amount of energy the little boy had. “So you said Freedom Fighters? Aren’t you the Bomber Gang?” Link quizzically asked.
Kafei raised a finger in correction, “No longer. We are the Freedom Fighters of Hyrule. Our goal is to take back the land that was desecrated and to protect those Hylians still left that are innocent. This village here,” he indicated the map, “is but one of many Nevachrean strongholds that must be stamped out.”
Link wanted to be sure of the overall plan, “Are there any women and children in that town?”
Kafei paused briefly before responding, “Not that I have seen. Only the horsemen we encountered last night go in and out of those gates. I do not know what their purpose is for being here, but it seems they are assaulting caravans filled with goods and taking it for themselves. We need to put a stop to it.” He nodded his head in firm conviction.
“So what’s the plan then?” Link offered; eager to be done with this mission so he could rescue Malon from the clutches of these evil men.
Kafei’s face lit up with enthusiasm as he dove into the tactical scenario, “Well, my boys will assault the front gates from a distance so that they can launch their arrows into the compound without exposing themselves greatly. Utilizing them as a distraction, you, me, Zander and Merin can vault over the backside of the town here.” He pointed to a rather odd looking corner section of the village. “There are some prepositioned bales of hay we put there a few moons ago. We can utilize those to hike ourselves over the pike wall. Our goal is to make it around the perimeter of the village to the main gates, take out the guards there and open it up for my crew to surge in and all of us bring the entire town to its knees.”
Link glanced over to see Kafei’s eyes burn with intensity, “So we bring the men to justice and then what? We are going to save Malon too, yes?” He wanted to be sure to voice where his overall motives lay.
The look evaporated as Kafei turned to beam at Link, “Of course. We will save your bonny lass from their evil clutches!” He laughed jovially.
Link couldn’t help but chuckle at his good nature, despite talking about these serious matters. “So how long have you known these boys?” Link inquired.
Kafei sniffed before looking off in the direction of several of the youth, most of which were playing some form of cards. “Honestly? I’ve known them since they were born. I knew their mothers and fathers. Our town was a tight knit group where everyone knew everybody.”
“Those communities are the best.” Link mused, reminiscing his time with the Kokiri.
“I agree.” Kafei nodded in agreement. “There was no crime, no strife, just pure love for one another. We lived off the land and tended the cattle and sheep. Our major export from our town was furs and robust cheeses from our cows.” He snickered as he recalled the competition, “Well, that was before Lon Lon Ranch was set up closer to Hyrule Castle. The majority of our product lost its value since then. Not that I was bitter about it,” Kafei corrected upon seeing a look from Link, “it was just business. I understand that. What about you? You mentioned you grew up with the Kokiri.”
Link beamed at being asked to talk about his former kinsfolk, “Yes, I was left in the care of the Kokiri by my mother. She died of the wounds inflicted upon her by the previous war with Nevachrea.” Kafei cursed an oath as he impressed a hand on Link’s shoulder in comfort. “It’s okay. I grew up happy there, granted I was ridiculed to no end by the other Kokiri for not having a fairy.” Link smirked.
Kafei cocked his head interested at this twist, Link continued, “Every Kokiri is born and a fairy soon comes to them, they are then forever soul mates. Companions unto death if need be, except that Kokiri never grow old and thus never die by natural causes. One day when I was nine cycles old, a fairy came to me. Her name was Navi. Outside of Saria, one of the few Kokiri who never teased me, she was my best friend. The one person I could talk to and share my deepest thoughts and feelings.”
“What happened to Navi?” Kafei asked, concerned as Link’s countenance fell upon speaking her name.
“That’s the thing. I don’t know!” A small, glistening tear formulated at the corner of his eye. “One day, she just left me without saying a word. I was ten cycles old. I’ve tried looking for her since, but have been unable to find her.”
“That’s tough man.” Kafei consoled weakly. “So where are the Kokiri now?”
Link looked away roughly, “Dead. All but Saria, the one Kokiri I managed to save.”
A distorted look of rage crossed Kafei’s face as he heard this appalling news, “It was those despicable swine, wasn’t it?!” At Link’s confirmation, Kafei stormed off a few paces, violently kicking an idle rock. “Why can’t they leave well enough alone?!” He yelled, causing some of the boys to look up from their game nervously.
He waved them down to assure he wasn’t mad at them. They resumed their playful game as if nothing had happened. Kafei surged back to Link, “I do apologize for my outburst. Sometimes I can get quite heated at the injustices I see in this world. It appears we’ve both lost people dear to our hearts in this war.” He brought Link around to face him, holding each shoulder firmly in hand. “That makes us brothers in arms, ok? We won’t stop until we take back Hyrule for the ones we love!”
They brought their heads together, sharing this moment of camaraderie. At length they parted smiling, each feeling a lot better. “I have to organize a few things in my pack and figure out what I’m going to need to bring with me.” Link explained.
Kafei nodded as he watched Link ascend into the treetops through the pulley system, “Don’t forget, we leave at dusk!” Kafei shouted at him.
Kafei shook his head in relief. Things were finally starting to come together for their plan. With extra manpower at their backs, the impending raid looked like it would actually be feasible. Sighing, he walked over to the three boys and sat down on the vacant stump before asking what the game was.
Zelda had left the sleeping Merin up top in the canopy. She was still resting from her injured arm. She claimed it would be fully healed by evening and that she would be able to contribute. Zelda was skeptical about her assertion but let the matter drop. As she descended to the forest floor, a light fluttering resounded in her chest. She was not fully used to the intricate system the youth had in place here. She still got dizzy from the heights at which they slept.
Not meaning to snoop, Zelda was curious about what else they had here at the camp. She began to wander over to the makeshift stable. It was a clever design of firm branches curved in an arc, each shaft pitched into the ground by tied off stakes. As covering for the horses, the boys had placed multitudes of fern fronds, foliage branches and other materials to keep out the elements. It was also placed ingeniously between several trees so that if you weren’t looking for it, it would effectively blend in with the environment.
She stepped into the enclosure feeling the drastic change in temperature past the threshold. The six stallions were generating a lot of heat. There was no worry of them getting cold during the night. Zelda ran her hands across their luxurious fur as she threaded through them, she reached the back of the structure feeling quite at peace.
Zelda noticed an odd stack of branches and fronds heaped in an awkward mound in the far corner. Curiosity got the best of her. She paced over to the pile and knelt to the ground to get a closer look. Lifting up some of the greenery, she was surprised to see multitudes of clothes, swords, bows, boots and other personal items. Was this their stash of plunder they retrieved from the Nevachreans?
“What are you doing here?” A harsh voice rang out behind her.
“Don’t scare me like that!” Zelda yipped. She exhaled unevenly as Clarence came stomping up to her, his arms crossed in defiance at her gender.
“You’re not supposed to be in here with the horses. Get out!” The rude boy shouted.
“Excuse me? You need to have some more manners!” Zelda started, standing up to her full height, her long since forgotten royal instincts kicking in. She was about to launch into a tirade against this disrespectful brat.
“I don’t need to have nothing! You aren’t my mom!” Clarence spat.
“That’s enough!” A voice boomed from the entrance of the enclosure. Kafei stormed in before roughly grabbing the irritated boy by the scruff of his collar. “What did I tell you about being nice to ladies?!” With a quick shove outside, the boy stamped off scowling.
“Is he always like this?” Zelda asked flummoxed.
Kafei’s attention lingered on the irate boy a few moments more before turning to Zelda, “I’m afraid not darling.” Zelda checked her expression at the pet name, “I don’t know what’s gotten into Clarence. Granted, there haven’t been any girls here since we first escaped from Ordon; so I didn’t really know he was capable of being so rude. I do apologize for him.”
Zelda smirked, “You apologize way too much for things that aren’t your fault. You are not their parent. They are responsible for their own actions now.”
He laughed at her allegation, “I think you may be right, but sometimes I feel like one to them. That I have to protect them, ya know?”
“Understood.” Zelda settled; she looked over at the heaping mound of valuables. “So what is all this?”
Kafei glanced over at the pile, “Oh that? Those are things we’ve claimed back from those barbarians. Some I recognize as belonging to folks who used to live with us in our village. One day, I hope to return all this stuff back to their rightful owners, if not to someone more deserving than brutes.” Shaking off the thoughts swirling in his head, he extended an elbow to Zelda, “Shall we head out? I think it’s about feeding time again.”
Trembling faintly at the prospect of nourishing the disgusting Cyn’Taak, she gracefully accepted his outstretched limb. “So tell me about Anju.” Kafei gave her a look of surprise at the sudden broach of topic. “Tell me how she was and how you two met.”
Slowly making their way over to the far side of the grove, Kafei began slowly. “My father was the mayor of the small village of Ordona. We were a major exporter of furs and cheese.”
“Cheese?” Zelda asked dubiously. “Was it the smelly kind?”
He laughed, “As a matter of fact, it was!”
“Oh, I loved that kind. We would so rarely get it. Most others I knew didn’t care much for it, but the taste was absolutely delectable!” Zelda’s mind relished the thought of eating that wonderful cheese again.
“At least we are on some common ground there.” Kafei chuckled. “Well, one day I was tasked to deliver furs to one of our biggest clients in Kakariko Village. After my delivery, I decided to explore the place. I had never been there and I was highly interested in what it was all about. It was then that I saw her. She was sneezing her brains out trying to handle these chickens.”
“Chickens?” Zelda giggled.
“Yes! Chickens! She couldn’t handle holding them. She would always call them her little ‘Cuccos.’ I walked over asking why she was forcing herself to do something she was allergic to.” Kafei explained, his face lightening up at the recollection. “She told me that was her family trade. She didn’t know how to do anything else!”
“So was it the big, honking sneezes?” Zelda grinned.
Kafei guffawed heartily, “Yes! The big, honking ones!” He made a gesture of a huge spew coming out of his mouth, throwing his whole body into the motion. They both laughed at the ridiculousness of it.
Presently they came to the sleeping infant. It had its scorpion tail wrapped around its body for warmth. A low gurgle issued from its nose with every breath it took. Kafei picked up a pouch of blood hanging from hooks he had pounded into the tree earlier that day. He had drained the remainder of the deer and separated it into individual meals for the creature. He was surprisingly thoughtful for the beast.
Transferring the blood into the bowl they had used earlier, he continued his story. “Every chance I got, I would come up to Kakariko to visit Anju on my deliveries. We would spend afternoons overlooking the town by the windmill. It was there on that rise where dragon lilies grew.”
The Cyn’Taak brayed worriedly as Kafei gently shook it awake, he guided it to the bowl again before dipping its snout into the blood. Satisfied as it began drinking, he resumed. “It was discovered that the scent of dragon lilies dispelled her allergic reaction when handling her chickens. So one day, I decided to make a small bouquet of flowers fashioned into a pin she could wear on her blouse.” He tapped the left side of his chest. “That way, whenever she could feel her sneezes coming, she just had to sniff her pin. It also helped remind her of me.” Kafei smiled warmly.
“That was very sweet of you.” Zelda said admiringly.
A slight red flushed to his cheeks, “It was nothing. Anyone would have done that for the one they love.”
“Not everyone.” Zelda beamed knowingly.
Kafei’s expression wilted, “We were due to be married the next orbit. It never happened.” Zelda placed a calming hand on his back. He bobbed his head trying to forget the hurt. Quickly changing subjects he indicated the Cyn’Taak. “So are you really planning on keeping him?”
“It’s actually a her.” Zelda corrected.
He cocked an eyebrow at her firm stance on the matter, “How do you know that?” He smirked.
Her eyes popped as she realized what he was implying, she dared not dignify that with a worthwhile response. “I don’t know.” She said flatly.
Kafei laughed, slightly spooking the feeding infant, it cried once before resuming its sordid meal. “I’m sorry, that was rather bold of me to insinuate. Have you come up with any names for it?” He pressed ahead as he saw the quizzical look, “If you plan on keeping her, then you have to name it, right?”
Her mind piqued at the thought, she turned to the slurping beast and stared long and hard at it. So many options and names to choose from, but what would ultimately fit something so outside of her realm of experience? After a good deal of thought, the perfect name slotted right into place; for some odd reason if fit the Cyn’Taak so well, she couldn’t really explain why.
“Xavier.” She spoke with a calm whisper.
“Really?” Kafei looked genuinely surprised. “Why that?”
“It was the middle name of my grandmother.” Zelda said, slowly peeling back the layers of her memory.
Putting a hand to his hips as he turned to her, Kafei asked with obvious interest, “What do you remember about her?”
“Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.” She narrowed her eyes trying to recall.
“Is that all you remember about her?” Kafei pressed.
“Just images really, feelings. She was very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me this?” Zelda probed.
Kafei looked down with remorse, “I have no memory of my grandmother, nor of my mother. She died in childbirth. I was the cause of her death.” He gritted his teeth mercilessly.
Zelda’s heart broke to see him in such misery. Kafei had a wonderfully joyous exterior, but deep inside was a lot of pain and hurt. She wondered if there was any way to truly heal his fractured soul. “That was not your fault. Being born isn’t your fault. Your parents wanted you.”
“I realize that.” Kafei shrugged; trying hard to ignore his emotions. He looked up at the reddening sky through the canopy. “It is almost time. I suggest you get ready for the evening. Wake up Merin. We leave within the hour.” Giving her one last smile, he jogged over to the nearest rope and ascended into the treetops.
“May the Goddesses watch over your heart Kafei.” Zelda intoned softly. She slowly walked back to the central tree, deep in thought.