Learning the Ropes
By the time supper was ready, all the details had been worked out. Tatiana was going to give Link the smaller of her two ships. It was large enough to handle the deep sea, but small enough Link could manage it on his own. Uncle Alfon was going to get weapons for them and stock the boat with food and other supplies.
The ship wasn't fully outfitted for such a long journey, though, so Tatiana put a crew of her fisherman on readying it for the voyage. Link planned to go out with the crew of the larger boat daily so that he could brush up on his sailing skills.
He felt moderately better by the time he climbed into the loft to go to bed. The journey ahead of them was still fraught with danger, but at least he would have the tools he needed to face it.
He lay down beside the bed on the blankets he had arranged there the night before. But Zelda would have none of that.
She pulled the covers back beside her. "Do we have to go through this again?" she whispered.
Link hesitated. "Master Ryu fussed at me last night for sharing a bed with you."
"He didn't say thing about it to me," she argued. "Besides, you're to do as I say, not as he says."
"You're becoming quite demanding, you know," Link said, even as he crawled into bed beside her.
"I don't like being alone," she confessed. "It scares me."
He put his arm around her waist, pulling her close. "Then I shall stay with you so you feel safe."
There was a long lull in the conversation; Link thought she had gone to sleep. He was starting to drift off, too, when she spoke. "Link?" she whispered.
"You've been making all these plans for you to sail across the sea. What am I going to do?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "It's not called the 'Endless Ocean' for nothing; no one has ever sailed across it and lived to tell the tale.
"I would hate to put your life in such peril on what will probably turn out to be a fool's errand anyways. Even Master Ryu was not confident that I would find this Gardamon or, at least, the answer to our problem. There is so little hope of this endeavor succeeding that it might as well be impossible.
"I can only hope that because the gods have tasked me with saving the world from this peril that they will grant me a miracle."
They were quiet again for some time before Zelda spoke. "I want to go with you."
"It's very dangerous."
"So is staying behind."
"I know," he said sadly. "I have been trying to think of someplace where you could go and be safe, but there is none. You can't stay here with my family because they'll look for you here. Even if you travel to your family in Erenrue, that is a very long and difficult journey under normal circumstances. But now wild animals are attacking people more frequently and we know there are demons escaping into the world. I would not want you to make that trip alone."
"So I need to come with you."
"I suppose," he said with an unhappy sigh. "I just wish I could think of a safer alternative."
"You are not the only one with a destiny from the gods, you know," she argued. "If you're counting on them to protect you, then I can do the same."
Link was woken by a sudden flash of light across his face. He jerked upright, alarmed.
"Link, what is it?" Zelda mumbled, sitting up beside him.
That's when he noticed his mother on the ladder to the loft, looking over the top. There was a lantern in her hand and that was what had caused the light to flash in his eyes.
"I'm… I'm sorry," she stuttered, looking stunned by the sight in front of her. "Forgive me for waking you, Your Highness. It's just… Link wanted to go out with the men, and the tide will be turning in about an hour."
"I'll be down in a moment, Mother," he said.
She nodded and quickly disappeared.
Link leaned closer to Zelda and whispered, "What were you saying about no one in my family would notice?"
Link sat on the floor and pulled on his tunic, belt, and boots. Zelda watched him.
"Can I go with you?" she asked at last.
"Why would you want to when you can sleep in and spend the day with Mother and Meghan?"
"Well… if I'm going to go with you across the ocean, don't you think I should learn a few things, too? So I can help you?"
Link couldn't argue with that and he agreed that she could go if she wanted to.
"Hurry, though," he warned. "As they like to say, 'tide and time wait for no man'—not even a princess," he added with a smile.
Link hurried down the ladder and found his mother was busy making breakfast. Link could remember when she used to get up with his father and make breakfast for him before he left to catch the outgoing tide.
He sat down at the table. "Princess Zelda wants to go with us," he said in a loud whisper, not wanting to wake Meghan and Alons. "Do you have enough breakfast for her, too?"
"Yes," Tatiana replied, quickly added a little more to the pot heating over the fire.
She glanced up at the loft, then sat down beside Link, looking at him seriously. "What is going on between the two of you?"
Link found he couldn't meet his mother's worried eyes. "It's not what you think."
"What else am I supposed to think?"
"She… is afraid to sleep alone," he whispered. "She has seen her tutor and her father both murdered—and she feels guilty about her father's death, although I am quite sure she played no part in it; that was all Nagadii. Add to that the fact that we've been chased out of Hyrule all the way here by people who want to kill us, and, well, you can see why she might be in a bit of shock."
He looked down at the table. "I'm not sure about myself, either, to be honest. I haven't grieved for Master Ryu. I haven't really stopped to think about what all we have suffered and what all is yet to come. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. But, at some point, I am going to have to pay."
Tatiana leaned in, hugging her son. "You are a child shouldering a man's burdens," she whispered. "I would not have wished this on you for anything."
He rested his head against his mother's shoulder. "It is hard," he admitted, "but I don't regret it. As I was telling Meghan, I was made for this time. I feel… I feel like I have a purpose. That keeps me going."
Tatiana kissed him on the cheek. "I'm very proud of you."
He smiled at her. "Thank you."
She got up and resumed making breakfast. A few minutes later, Zelda joined Link at the table, yawning.
"Good morning, Your Highness," Tatiana said quietly.
"Is it morning?" Zelda asked, looking out the window. It was still quite dark outside.
"It's a little before dawn."
"Doesn't that still make it night?" she asked with a smile.
"Welcome to the life of a fisherman," Link said. "You go out when the tide tells you to go out—morning, noon, or night."
"Is it not at the same time every day?" Zelda asked.
Link was surprised she had to ask. "No. Didn't Master Ryu teach you astronomy?"
"Yes. What does that have to do with it?"
"You know that the moon rises and sets at different times every day as it goes through its phases, right?"
"Well, the moon is what controls the tides. When it circles the earth and is coming towards where we are now, it pulls the water with it, causing a high tide. When it moves away from us, it pulls the water in the opposite direction. As it circles the world, it is constantly pulling the water one way or the other."
"Why does the water follow it?"
"I don't know; it just does."
They ate their breakfast in silence, both still too sleepy to talk much. They were almost through when there was a knock at the door.
Link was immediately on his feet his hand clenched tightly around his table knife. But his mother put a calming hand on his shoulder. "That's just one of the men coming to fetch you."
Still, Link didn't let go of the knife until his mother had opened the door and identified the man.
"Lars, I want you to meet my son, Link," Tatiana said gesturing to Link.
Link stepped forward, offering the man his hand. "It's nice to meet you."
Lars gripped his hand tightly, giving it a brief shake, and nodded to him. Lars looked like he had been born on the ocean; he had a tan, leathery face that the sunlight reflecting on the water had left in a permanent squint. His hair was bleached out from the sun and salt water until it was hard to tell if it was blond or had already turned gray. His hand was tough and calloused, like any proper sailor's.
"It's time to go," Lars said.
"Just let me get your lunch together," Tatiana said, hurrying to her worktable, quickly stuffing food into a canvas satchel.
"Come down when you're ready," Lars said, before he went out the door.
"Don't mind Lars," Tatiana said, as she continued to pack. "It's not that he's rude, he's just a man of few words. Too much time at sea, I suppose. But you couldn't find a finer seaman. He'll teach you what you need to know."
Tatiana handed Link the satchel, loaded down with food. "Good gods, Mother, what all is in this?" he said, as he struggled to slip the satchel's strap over his head.
"It's enough for everyone, so don't hog it," she said, giving him a kiss goodbye. She smiled reassuringly at Zelda. "Be careful."
Link took a lantern from his mother and led the way down the steps to the beach. The sky had lightened to a dark gray and he could just see the two ships riding off the coast. The waves were breaking high on the beach, but Link could tell they already sounded different; the tide was starting to go out.
Link's mother had once laughed at him when he said the tides sounded different—the waves on the incoming tide sounded louder and stronger to him than the outgoing ones—but his father had later told him, privately, that every able seaman could tell the difference; Link's discernment only proved that he was destined to be a great sailor.
Link and Zelda crossed the sand to the row boat. There was a crew of five already on board; Lars was standing beside the boat, waiting.
Link started to help Zelda into the boat, but Lars put out his hand, stopping them. "What's this? She's not going with us?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, she is," Link replied.
"Bad luck for women to be on board," Lars said, shaking his head.
"She's going with me on my journey and wants to learn how to sail," Link said firmly. "And it's safer for both of us if she learns, so she's coming with me." He put Zelda into the boat.
"We'll not catch anything," Lars said, still shaking his head sadly.
"That's Mother's concern, not yours. Your first job is to teach us. You can go back to fishing once we're gone."
Lars just continued to shake his head, but he didn't argue anymore. Instead, he put his shoulder against the boat and began to push it down into the water. Link got on the other side and helped push until the boat was floating free in the shallows. They pivoted the prow around until it faced the ship, then they both climbed into the boat.
"You're wet," Zelda said, looking at Link. His pants were soaked to the knee.
"I know. That's a surprising side effect of being around water," he said with a teasing smile.
She gave him a disapproving look, but couldn't maintain it; she ended up smiling and shaking her head at him.
Two of the men began to row them out to the larger ship. Link was still feeling half awake and not paying much attention when Zelda noticed something behind them. "There's a light there," she said, pointing.
Link turned around and saw a figure half-illuminated in the light of a lantern. The person raised her hand to her forehead, as if shading her eyes from the sun, then raised her arm up high in a salute.
Link stood up in the boat—steadying himself against Zelda's shoulder—and mimicked the salute.
The figure waved her hand back and forth for a moment, and Link did likewise.
"Who is that up there?" Zelda asked.
"Mother," he replied, before sitting down again. "That's a customary farewell for people who are going to sea. It's a promise that they will look for your return, but also an acknowledgment that you may be saying goodbye forever. With the sea, you never know."
"She always sends us off," an elderly man in the front of the boat said, watching the exchange. "Miss Tatiana is a fine lady."
They were silent as they rowed the rest of the way to the ship. The elderly man tied them up alongside, then the men began scrambling up the rope ladder on the side.
"Your turn," Link told Zelda when they were the last two people in the boat.
She made a face, but said nothing as she gamely tackled the rope ladder. She was wearing Meghan's dress again and, just as with the ladder to the loft, she had trouble climbing up because of the long hem.
The elderly sailor took pity on her and leaned down, offering his hand. Between him pulling and Link pushing from behind, they finally landed the princess on the deck.
"Well, we have our first catch of the day," the old man said with a smile, as he put Zelda on her feet. "And a prettier fish I have never laid eyes on before."
"It'll be our last fish," Lars said glumly.
"Pay him no mind, missy," the old man whispered to her. "Lars is serious about his fishing; he don't like to fail. Now, me, I'm just happy to wake up every morning. Every day is a good day, no matter what."
Link climbed on board and a couple of men set about securing the row boat to the side of the ship, while the rest made ready to weigh anchor.
"I wish I had thought to wear my old clothes," Zelda fussed, as she and Link stood out of the way. "A dress is useless."
"Well… if you will permit me?" he asked, kneeling beside her.
She looked confused, but nodded for him to continue.
He took one corner of her underdress, lifted it up, and tied it off around her belt. Then he did the same to the other side. That left her legs bare to just above the knee.
Link stood up. "That's the way the village women wear their dresses when they have to work. It keeps them from getting wet and keeps them out of the way."
"It'll work," Zelda said, nodding her approval. Then she smiled, looking embarrassed, and whispered to Link. "What would people say if they could see me like this?"
Everyone had agreed the day before that no one outside the family was to know of Zelda's true identity. She was merely Penelope, a friend who had come visiting with Link.
"I think we better keep this between us," he replied in a low voice. "It's not terribly befitting a future queen… even if it is practical."
Lars barked out the occasional order, but for the most part, the men knew their jobs, and before long, they were headed out to sea.
"Come, look at this," Link said, leading Zelda to the eastern rail.
"What?" she asked, not seeing anything but dark water under a slightly less-dark sky.
Link pointed. "The sun will rise over there. There is nothing more beautiful than a sunrise at sea—unless it's a sunset."
They stood together at the rail for a long time as the sky gradually lightened and the gray gave way to warm hues of pink and orange and yellow. Then, finally, the glowing-orange edge of the sun appeared to rise from the shimmering golden water.
"It's so beautiful," Zelda whispered in awe. It was everything Link had promised it would be, and more.
They watched for a little longer—until the sun was fully above the horizon—before Lars complained. "Did you come here to learn to sail, Master Link, or is this a honeymoon cruise?"
Link smiled at Zelda, then went to help with the sails and the nets.
Zelda was unsure what to do—and knowing that Lars didn't approve of her being there anyways—she just tried to stay out of everyone's way. She found the working of the sails fascinating, though, and she marveled at how they went up and down and swung around on the booms to catch the prevailing wind from any angle.
About mid-morning, when everything seemed to be running smoothly, the elderly sailor—his name was Greens, although Zelda hadn't determined if that was his first name, family name, or a nickname—pulled out a big piece of canvas and sat down on the deck with it.
He noticed Zelda watching him curiously, and he motioned for her to come join him.
"Let me show you how to stitch up canvas," he said, as she sat down beside him. He threw the sail across her lap—it was much heavier than she expected—and showed her the tear in the material.
"I assume you already know how to sew," he said more than asked.
Zelda had never had to sew anything before in her life, although she had learned needlepoint. Embroidery was thought to be a virtuous way for a royal lady to spend her free time… not that any of them seemed to have much free time.
Zelda assumed embroidery was a type of sewing—close enough to count, anyways—so she nodded.
"Good. Now, the only difference between sewing a tear in clothing and a tear in a sail is that the sail is tough."
He pulled out a piece of leather with a small loop set in a larger loop. He put his hand through the larger loop and his thumb through the smaller one, so that the widest part of the leather ran across the palm of his hand. It looked as if there was a short, warped thimble sewn to the center of the leather.
"If you're sewing more than a couple of layers of canvas, you can't pull a needle through it," Greens explained. "You have to push it through," he mimed, using the palm of his hand.
He pulled out a large cone of heavy thread and a pair of large shears. He cut a length of thread, then pulled out a square dish of something yellowish.
"You need to wax your thread," he demonstrated, pushing the thread into the dish of wax, then pulling it through. "This makes it easier to sew."
He continued with his lesson, showing her how to whip-stitch the edges of the tear back together. He let her try a little bit towards the end. She found it was tough to pull the needle through the canvas, but not impossible. By the time she finished, she found her stitches weren't any messier than Greens'.
"There's a good job of it, miss," Greens praised, as he took the needle and thread back from her. He knotted off the thread and cut it with his shears.
"Now," he said, as he pulled out a scrap piece of canvas, "we have to put a patch over this tear, or it will tear out again."
She watched as he used the thimble set in his demi-glove—which he called a "sailpalm"—to push the needle up through both layers of canvas. Slowly, he made a zigzag stitch around the edge of the patch.
"Do you want to try?" he said, offering the needle to her.
She nodded. But they quickly discovered that her hand was too small to wear the sailpalm.
"Ah, miss, you can't do it without this here tool; this needle will ruin your hand for sure. But you watch ol' Greens do it."
Greens was nearly done when Link came over, bending down to look at their progress.
"I've just been showing the miss here how to sew up a sail," Greens told Link.
"A very useful skill."
"Well, I hate to cut the lesson short, but Captain Lars wants the deck cleared; we're ready to pull the net."
Greens chuckled. "Somehow, I don't think those were his exact words."
"Well, more or less," Link said with a smile. He offered Zelda his hand.
She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet. Then he bent down and helped Greens fold up the sail.
"Your… Penelope," Link said, catching himself, "you should move out of the way." He gestured for her to step aside.
She moved back to the rail and watched as a few men at the stern turned the large winch which pulled up the trawling net. Link and a few others used long poles with hooks to grab the net and swivel it around on its boom until it was over the deck. It was full of fish still wriggling and trying to jump, and saltwater poured from it.
Then someone pulled a rope and the net opened up, dumping all of the fish onto the deck.
In a moment, Zelda was awash in a wet, slimy, slithering mass of fish.
There was a pause—where she was in disbelief that she was knee-deep in live fish—then…
All of the men burst into laughter. Link was trying valiantly not to laugh as he waded through the squirming mass, but he couldn't keep a wide smile off his face.
He picked up Zelda and carried her through the fish to the rear of the ship, where the deck was clear.
"Maybe I picked a bad place for you to stand," he admitted.
"Maybe?" she said, her voice breaking up an octave. "Maybe?"
"I'm sorry," he said, even as he continued to smile, not looking the least bit repentant.
"You did that on purpose," she accused.
"I'm afraid that would require knowledge of how these nets work and fish movement on a boat that's listing ever so slightly to starboard—knowledge I don't possess. At least, I didn't possess it a few minutes ago."
She sat at the stern in a huff while the men worked to get the fish down in the hold and put the trawling net back in the water. Then the ship was turned around and they started home.
Once the deck was washed clean, they sat down to a late lunch and spread out the feast that Tatiana had prepared for them. There was oyster stew—good, even if it wasn't hot—and little fried shrimp that could be eaten by the handful, and fried fish patties, and bread, and candied oranges and lemons for dessert.
Zelda sat beside Link while they ate, but she didn't say a word to him.
"I think someone's mad at you," Greens said to Link in a conspiratorial whisper that everyone on board could nonetheless hear.
"I said I was sorry," Link replied. "And I rescued her from the fish. A man can't do more than that."
Zelda only frowned at him.
He sighed despondently, then reached for another piece of bread.
"Ow!" he said, suddenly grabbing his wounded right arm and jerking it back.
Zelda was instantly attentive. "Link, are you alright?" she asked worriedly. "Did you hurt yourself?"
Link merely grinned at Greens. "See, she's not too mad at me."
It took a moment for the realization that Link had tricked her to sink in, but when it did, Zelda showed him what she truly looked like when she was mad.
She slapped him hard on the arm—right on his stitches.
"OW!" Link cried out in earnest, rolling on the deck, cradling his arm, alternately crying and laughing. The other men howled with laughter.
"Serves you right!" she declared hotly. "I hope your entire arm falls off!"
"I told you women were bad luck," Lars said.