Chapter 65 - Standing Watch
She applied the final patches of dirt to the makeshift grave before sitting back on her shins staring down at what used to be her friend. Sheikahs were not prone to crying, but Impa could not help but shed a tear for her unfortunate friend. She had spent many long cycles living amongst the Gerudo in secret, but she always revealed herself to Link and his friends. She had grown to appreciate and admire the man, Talon. His steadfast determination and loyalty to his family and friends had won her respect.
Merin looked on beside her as she numbly scratched an itch on her elbow, her mind was still reeling over the betrayal of Ganondorf nearly a moon ago. If it weren’t for the quick actions of Impa, they would have both been dead by his hands. It was clear that Ganondorf had been plotting this turn of events for many orbits, if not longer. Impa revealed to Merin her suspicions about the switch up with Nabooru, she couldn’t exactly place why it was important that the Gerudo elder go with Link but that it was no coincidence that she did.
Ganondorf had tracked them for several hours along the forest paths before Impa found a secluded game trail which led them right into a thicket which accommodated them a perfect spot for hiding. Utilizing all her innate abilities to cover them in a fortified stealth haze, they were able to conceal both themselves and the two horses within the underbrush. Ganondorf and Apolloni were within inches of their position but were unable to detect their presence.
“Their trail ends here.” Ganondorf growled as he jerked Appa to and fro seeking the next clue which would unveil where his quarry went.
Apolloni sniffed with disdain, “Does it really matter if they are dead or not? Our objective is-”
Ganondorf backhanded her off the stallion with a sweep of his hand. The surge of energy propelled Apolloni through the air and slammed her into the rough turf. Struggling to regain her breath, she looked up at him incredulously at his outburst. He merely continued surveying the environs without acknowledging her with a look. “Of course it matters if they live! They are quite skilled and adept at staying alive and will most undoubtedly get back to Link and warn him.” He rumbled, “Furthermore, the Sheikah has something of value that I wish to have in my possession.”
Apolloni regained her composure and got back to her feet, “You mean the ocarina?” She personally couldn’t believe such a trivial musical instrument could hold such powerful sway over her king’s ambitions.
Ganondorf roughly lent a hand before pulling her back onto Appa with a jerk. He nodded in reply, “Link will most likely retrieve the three sacred stones for me while I maintain control of the ocarina as leverage. With the Sheikah having gone to ground, we’ve lost that opportunity.” He swore loudly. “No matter, we ride north. We still have much to do! All we can do is trust that the sisters will keep their end of the bargain.”
Apolloni huffed, “Like they would honestly do that if it didn’t benefit them personally.”
He stifled a deep laugh kicking the flanks of his steed before guiding it out onto the open plains, heading northwards towards the mountain pass leading up, over and into the Lost Woods. It was several long hours before Impa declared it safe to finally discharge the haze and take stock of what they had lost. Talon was lying dead at her feet. She had left his injured horse, Tellah, to die a miserable demise at the edge of the forest. There was no way she was going to drag both a dead man and a panicking horse in its death throes through the woods.
The singular blast had ripped a clear hole through Talon’s chest. It had burned through skin, muscle and bone leaving a gaping orifice that you could stick an arm through. The blood had congealed feebly around the edges of the wound but the majority had spilled out onto the ground, soaking it with its essence. Taking the only talisman redeemable on the man, she yanked off the simple necklace around his throat and stashed it in a side pocket of her armor. She then began the long, arduous task of preparing a burial mound for her friend.
“So all this was for the ocarina?” Merin stated flatly, her hand rising to absently pet Tellah as the horse nibbled on the nearby foliage.
Still kneeling by the grave, Impa took out the blue instrument and held it up to the filtered rays of moonlight wafting through the tree canopy. “Not specifically for the ocarina, but rather what it can open up.” Impa clarified further. She turned it over in her hands before continuing, “Playing a special song known only to members of the Royal Family and by having in one’s possession the three sacred stones freely given by its bearers can one open up the way to the Master Sword. It is said the sword is the gateway which leads to the Triforce.”
Merin opened her eyes wide with shock. This knowledge was quite foreign to her. Her thoughts churned with the notion of being deceived. How much had Ganondorf and the elders concealed from her and the others? Were Lorva and Aveil’s deaths in vain? Were they sent on some foolish errand which ultimately served some higher purpose that they were not privy to? How much of her life as a Gerudo spent in service of their king was a lie? What was the truth behind their culture and traditions? Experiencing the betrayal of Ganondorf and her elders, combined with the fact they were at odds with Kotake and Koume, the spiritual guides of their people, she didn’t know what to think anymore.
Unknowing of the turmoil raging inside Merin, Impa pressed onward with her explanation. “The Sheikah are an ancient tribe that has descended down through the years with a singular purpose, to assist in the protection of the Triforce. To support the Royal Family in caretaking the sacred relics and to…” she paused briefly before supplementing her original thought, “protect those who are important.” She smiled with a serene sadness.
Merin looked around morosely at their last remaining saddlebag which had been sheared clean through with one of Ganondorf’s magick bolts, most of their possessions and provisions had emptied out across the grasslands in their mad dash to safety. “So what do we do now? Most of our supplies are either gone or ruined and we are now down to one horse.” Merin pointed out obtusely.
Impa sighed before standing up, “Nothing but to keep going. Our mission has not changed, just the way we are to go about it.” She ignored the confused look on Merin’s face as she walked over to Tellah and sliced off the straps of the saddlebag, allowing it to slide to the ground. “We still intend to help Link by setting up his arrival for when he returns with the Goron Ruby; that has not changed. Now we simply go about it in another way since Ganondorf has forced our hand.”
“I don’t quite understand.” Merin stated. She wasn’t prepared for these situations; she was better served in a role where she knew what to do.
“I’ll explain on the way.” Impa smiled leaping onto Tellah’s saddle. Situating herself firmly onto the restless horse, she reached down a hand to assist Merin up, “We travel light and we travel fast. If you are willing to help me and do honor to your people, I would sure appreciate it.”
Malon woke with a start when a sudden burden was swiftly plopped onto her sleeping form. Roused her from her slumber by the splayed form of Giana spread over her body, she groaned inwardly at her little sister’s inability to sleep. The little tyke was lying on her back looking up through the canopy of weeping willows at the stars above with a goofy grin on her face. Winter was her favorite time of year and there was an especially nice dusting of snow on the ground around them that had fallen during the night.
“What do you want Giana? Go back to sleep.” Malon ordered crossly. The moon was clearly still high in the sky and it was nowhere near time to wake up.
Giana draped an arm across her forehead in mock anguish, “I just can’t!” She whined. “The sky’s awake! So I’m awake! So we have to play!” She kicked out her feet and arms at this last declaration.
Malon grumbled as she roughly pushed off her sister to the ground beside her sleeping roll. She was quite cranky when her sleep was interrupted early. “Go play by yourself.” Malon ordered.
Giana’s eyes popped open with a brilliant idea. Undeterred by her older sister’s grouchiness, she proceeded to hop back onto her and whisper closely into her ear, “Do you want to build a snowman?”
Thrashing wildly at this obtrusive invader to her sleep, Malon glared at Giana. “Build a what? What are you talking about?” She sat up suddenly to give the little girl a stern talking to.
It was then Malon noticed that there was a thin layer of snow covering the ground around them and could see flecks of it intertwining with Giana’s hair. It was completely obvious the girl had rolled around in it previously that morning. She scooped up a handful of it beside her bedroll. It was wet but there simply wasn’t enough to build anything quite like a snowman, let alone any sizeable mound.
She looked around them and marveled in awe at the drastic change that had overcome the Negev Marshlands seemingly overnight. There was a caked layer of white on the branches of the trees surrounding them and a thin sheet of ice covered the surface of the murky water; this was quite the drastic transformation from the first time Link and the others traversed this area. She could still remember the sweltering heat and unbearable flies that swarmed them as they stumbled through the bog. She much rather preferred the winter version of this area personally.
They had narrowly escaped Glaun’rung from the evil Gerudo witches, only by the assistance of the Zoras were they able to flee safely. Malon was still undecided on her feelings about the Zoras but she appreciated their help during that hectic encounter. Kotake and Koume had religiously tracked them across the plains and through various woodland patches. The conjured steed Ingo provided them had given out several moons ago. They moved on foot between the cover of trees only during the veil of night, they dared not leave concealment during the day or they would have been hunted down easily and killed.
It had been almost a week since their escape and the witches finally gave up on their quarry. After burning down several forests and freezing a few others, they seemingly lost interest and headed westward. Malon surmised they were returning to the desert colossus. For what reason, she was not sure. After discussing it with Ashley and getting no response other than a curt nod, she decided it best to follow the sisters back to the Gerudo and learn what they were plotting. She felt useless otherwise and only by discovering and possibly foiling any additional plans the crones had would they be able to help Link in some way.
Looking back down on her sister, she couldn’t help but smile. The previous winter living with the Gerudo in the fortress had been the only cycle where even a light flurry of snow was experienced. It was gone the next day, but it made an indelible impression on Giana. Living in the desert, they never received any snow and so it was quite the oddity to see it that cycle. After explaining it to her what happened, the girl was extremely excited to see it once more. Giana could hardly contain her excitement at the phenomenon that was around her, this was far more than anything she had ever seen in her entire life.
“Build a snowman!” Giana chirped happily grabbing some fistfuls of snow and throwing it into the air.
Malon sighed at her sister’s naivety, “We can’t build one in this silly.” She held up a small condensed clump of it, “There simply isn’t enough of it to make anything worthwhile.”
The girl’s countenance deflated at Malon’s logic, “Ok…”
Malon ran a hand through her sister’s tangled mass of hair. She really should find a comb one of these days and straighten that drastic mess. “It’s okay. I promise that when there is enough snow on the ground, we’ll build one together. Okay?” She smiled at Giana warmly.
“Really? You mean it?!” The girl beamed. Malon nodded, much to the delighted squeal of Giana.
“Ssshh!” Malon warned, putting a finger to her lips. “There are dangerous Cyn’Taak living around here. We do not want to attract them with loud sounds.”
The girl cocked her head dubiously, “Why are they so dangerous? Xavier is pretty nice.” She was completely unaware of the lethality of those creatures, her only experience with them being Xavier. Xavier had taken a liking to any small child-like persons, playing with them and protecting them diligently. Saria and Giana being the two charges it felt personally responsible for.
Malon’s shoulders sagged at trying to explain yet again how dangerous they were, “Giana, the Cyn’Taak are deadly. Their tails have horrible venom that will kill you. Most of them don’t even speak as well as Xavier does. Link and Zelda picked Xavier up when she was just a baby; we are all she knows. Of course she would be nice and harmless to us.”
“But why?” Giana pressed, her maddening questions boring a hole in Malon’s patience.
Malon was about to demand sleep from the tyke when Ashley paced up beside them, bow casually in hand and quiver strapped to his back with a fresh set of poisoned arrows. She did not bother to ask where he had acquired more but assumed he had hunted a Cyn’Taak recently for its potent venom. She recounted the times each night he would sit by during his night watch and whittle away new arrows. The boy was amazingly resourceful and self-sufficient. She appraised him with a scrutinizing eye, admiring how his brown hair fell across his brow in curling locks. He would be quite the handsome man when he grew older, a pity he didn’t speak.
“Is it my turn at watch?” Malon asked, knowing full well the inevitable answer.
Ashley nodded before setting aside his weapons and sitting beside Giana with a smile, he ruffled the little girl’s hair before lying down. He opened up his bedroll to offer a place to sleep and keep warm. It certainly had gotten colder over the course of the previous week. Giana usually slept with whoever was not guarding over them each night, thus she happily accepted the invitation and leaped into the bag. Ashley looked up at Malon who was already stretching from her rough sleep on the ground. They shared a knowing look that Giana would be safe with him while Malon stood watch for the remaining portion of the night.
“Good night, you two.” Malon waved as she picked up her spear and walked over to the nearby stump to sit.
During their exodus from Glaun’rung, she had paused midway through one night to locate a suitable branch to carve into a commendable spear. It did not have all the nice trappings like a nice metal point nor a leather-bound handle. She simply didn’t have access to the expert craftswomen and the necessary materials to make a professional weapon. In the end, it did not matter. It was of sufficient length and it ended in a sharp tip that could penetrate flesh. That was all she cared about.
She had attempted to learn the ways of the scimitar and sword from Link, but she couldn’t quite manage to get skilled at those weapons. She felt far more comfortable wielding spears. Reminiscing about her cycles at the Gerudo fortress, she smiled at all their sparring matches together. She even recalled the first time Link gave her a sword fighting lesson back in Kakariko village. She blushed in remembrance at what they almost did unknowingly shortly thereafter.
Sitting on the stump calmly, she placed a hand over her belly. Now she was pregnant with his child. What an odd thought. It seemed like ages ago, but lying in her bedroll with mental images of his naked body brought back feelings of yearning. Quickly glancing back to see the sleeping forms of Ashley and Giana, all tucked together cozily in one sleeping bag, she ruminated on a specific course of action and if she might get caught doing it.
Throwing caution to the wind, Malon hiked up her skirt and spread her legs wide as she maneuvered her hand between them and began rubbing her outer folds. She licked her lips in concentration while pressing a finger in deeper into her womanhood. Gasping slightly at the expanding nature of her opening, she allowed several fingers to slip into her moist tunnel. They were nowhere near the size that Link was, but she had to be content with what she had to work with.
Malon was oblivious to the sounds of the night for several minutes as she began rocking her hips in tune with the quick pulses of her hand, when a sudden crack of ice jolted Malon out of her trance. Swiftly withdrawing her slick fingers, she gripped the spear next to her and stood up; cursing softly at the ironically apt interruption to her pleasure.
She stepped towards the water’s edge and looking out across its frozen expanse. She could tell that the layer of ice across its surface was not yet thick enough to step on. It was still early winter and it was hardly cold enough to freeze anything deeper than an inch off the top layer of water. Straining her ears to hear anything that might clue her into the location and nature of the sound, she looked out into the darkness, hoping inwardly that it was not a Cyn’Taak.
Another crack made her jump as the sound reverberated through the water and out across the bog; it had come from her right! She leaped over the stump and looked out across the water which stretched further beyond where she could just barely see the trees on the other side. She supposed this was more like a lake than the more common marsh tributaries they had been fording the day previously.
A cry caught in her throat as she witnessed a hand break through the surface of the water several meters away from the mossy shore. Grasping her weapon with white knuckled ferocity, she riveted her attention on the unknown intruder breaking their way through the ice layer. The dark figure stood up from the marsh, rivulets streaming down the sleek body as it stumbled its way towards the waterline.
It slumped over onto the ground as if exhausted. Malon looked down at the prone figure, her spear tip pointed directly at its head. The unusual shape of the head was what captured her attention, it was anvil shaped, almost like a fish. She noted that there were fins alongside the outer parts of the arms and calves. The figure, breathing heavily from exertion, looked up at Malon with tired eyes.
Malon’s face contorted with rage as she recognized the Zora princess, “You!”