Zelda woke as the rising sun came through the cabin window and fell on her face. Life was so routine, she didn't have to think as she got out of the hammock, washed up a little at the basin, and put on her clothes. The only variation was that she switched between outfits; one day she wore her shirt and pants and the other day she wore Meghan's dress (although perhaps she should really start to think of it as her dress, since it didn't seem likely that she was going to get the chance to return it to Meghan anytime in the near future).
Today was a dress day.
It had been a week since they left Link's mother's house. …At least Zelda thought it had been a week. It was becoming increasingly hard to keep track of the days. Not that it probably mattered what day it was.
She went upstairs to find Link setting out breakfast. Even without clocks or anyone to wake them up, they kept a pretty consistent schedule. The sun kept them on track.
"Good morning," Zelda said with a yawn, sitting down on the box that she thought of as hers.
"Good morning," Link said flatly, lacking his usual cheerfulness at seeing her.
The tone of his voice instantly caught Zelda's attention. "What's wrong?" she asked.
He glanced up. "There's no wind."
Zelda looked up, too, and that's when she noticed that the sails were all hanging limp. Not only that, but there was no splash of water against the hull and no rocking motion. They were dead in the water.
"What can we do?"
He laughed. "Nothing, Your Highness. I can't make the wind blow."
"There's nothing else to power the boat? No oars or something like that?"
He laughed again. "Even if we had oars, you and I together could not move this ship. It would probably take forty men to row a ship like this."
"So what do we do?"
"Wait for the wind to return."
After breakfast, Link lay down in his hammock with strict instructions to wake him up if the wind returned. But as hour after hour dragged on, there was no wind.
There was, however, heat. The temperature rose quickly—thanks in part to the still air—until it was unseasonably warm for a spring day. But it didn't stop warming. By the time noon rolled around, it felt like the hottest day of summer, and Zelda leaned listlessly against the wheel, too hot and groggy to do anything or think.
Link was tossing and turning in his hammock, and finally he got up.
"I'm burning up," he said irritably. He stripped off his vambraces, tunic, undershirt and boots, then got back in the hammock.
Zelda could feel sweat running down the back of her legs and her dress was damp under the armpits, but she was reluctant to take off a layer; walking around in one's underdress was like being seen in a nightgown.
But after a while, she was so miserable, she gave up and took off the heavy gray tunic and her boots, leaving her in nothing but the white linen underdress. After all, it wasn't like Link hadn't seen her in her nightgown before. Besides, he was asleep.
Zelda was lightly dozing against the wheel when Link woke up an hour or two later. If anything, it seemed even hotter than before.
"I can't sleep for sweating," he complained. "It feels like there are bugs crawling over me."
Zelda knew what he was talking about; as the sweat trickled down her body, she felt the same annoying tickle over her skin, as if something was crawling on her.
Link went down to the waist of the ship and threw a bucket overboard. He hauled it up full of seawater and immediately dumped it over his head.
"Ahhh," he said with relief.
Zelda just looked at him jealously. Wetting herself—and her white dress—with water was definitely not something she could do in front of Link.
He came back onto the quarterdeck and flopped into his hammock again. "Gods, this is miserable weather."
"Tell me about it."
"Has there not been any wind?"
"Hmm," he said with a frown.
It was too hot to talk, so they both did nothing but lie around and doze and generally feel miserable. Link refused to light the stove in the galley—"I'll end up cooked long before the food," he complained—so they just gnawed on some hardtack and dried fruit. It was so hot, neither of them was very hungry anyway.
Zelda hoped that night would bring more reasonable temperatures, but as the sun started to sink towards the horizon, it only heated them up worse. And then, on the distant western horizon, she noticed a cloud slowly spreading across the face of the sun.
At last, there would be some shade from the relentless beat of light.
The cloud continued to grow. Zelda couldn't tell if the cloud was dark, or if it just looked that way because the sun was starting to slip below the horizon and the sky was darkening.
And then the sails began to flap ever so slightly.
She held her breath, waiting. Slowly, over the course of a half hour, the sails started to come alive
"Link, I think we're getting a wind," she said, waking him.
He was on his feet in an instant. He came to her side and looked up. But rather than be happy—as she expected—he frowned.
"It's a head wind," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"It means it's blowing straight at us. We can't go forward when it's blowing against us. In fact, it will blow us backwards if I don't change the sail and put us on a different tack. We can turn northwest, so I'll need to move the sails to…."
Zelda realized, as his voice trailed off into muttering, that he was no longer talking to her; he was thinking aloud.
"It looks like we might get some rain," Zelda said hopefully. "Maybe it will cool down tonight."
Link was looking up at the sails, waving his hands around a little as he mentally calculated the best way to shift them to take advantage of the unfavorable wind, when Zelda's words brought him up short.
"What did you say?" he asked, looking a little startled.
Zelda pointed to the cloud in the west that was almost completely obscuring what remained of the sun. "It looks like rain," she repeated.
Link frowned even more as he looked at the sky.
"What's wrong now?" she asked, feeling disappointed; all her good news seemed to be coming up bad.
He didn't respond for a minute; he kept staring at the cloud in the west as if it was an opponent he was sizing up before a battle.
"I'm afraid we might be in for more than rain, Your Highness."
"What do you mean?"
"Very hot, still weather is often followed by a big storm. I think we better take up the sails completely."
"But… the wind's just beginning to blow. Can't we make up for lost time by keeping the sail down?"
"Yes, and if we had a full crew, I would do so. But it will take both of us some time to take up the sails; it's not something we can wait to do at the last minute. If the sails are down when the wind hits, it can blow us off course, tear up the sails, and even capsize us. It's safer if they're up."
Zelda couldn't argue with that, so she went down to the waist of the ship to help Link reef the sails. That was easier said than done, though. It took every ounce of strength that both of them possessed to pull up the big mainsail. Tying it off was even more of a challenge. The first time Zelda let go in order to tie up the end of the rope, the weight of the sail started to drag Link across the deck. Zelda had to scramble to grab hold of him to keep him from being lifted completely off his feet.
Before they tried again, Link tangled his left leg in some rope on the side of the ship. When Zelda let go of the tension the second time, the rope around Link's leg kept him from being dragged away until Zelda could get the end secured.
"That was fairly awful," Zelda said, resting against the side of the ship and panting from exertion.
"I agree," Link said, leaning against the rail beside her. "Now do you see why I said it would take us a long time to take up all of the sails?"
He sighed wearily. "But that was the hardest one; they should be easier after this."
Link was strong enough to pull up the topsail by himself, and Zelda didn't have any trouble tying it off. It took both of them, though, to pull up the single foresail. Still, it wasn't as heavy as the mainsail, so it wasn't as much of a struggle. But by the time they were done, Zelda's hands were raw and she could feel the beginning of at least a few blisters.
Link's work wasn't done, though. He had to climb up the rigging and lash all of the sails against their masts. It made Zelda dizzy just looking up at him perched precariously on a single rope—sometimes standing on only one foot—leaning over the mast and wrestling with the sail. So, instead, she looked west and watched the black cloud blot out the lavender sky. Link was right: it wasn't going to be just rain; it was going to be a storm.
The wind was blowing as strongly as it ever had during their trip and the boat was beginning to rock noticeably when Link finally climbed down.
"Ugh, that's done not a moment too soon," he said. "I've never been seasick before, but being about forty feet up, standing on nothing but a rope, and being tossed back and forth and up and down is enough to make anyone wish they hadn't eaten lunch."
"What do we do now?" Zelda asked.
"Ride it out."
Zelda changed into her shirt and pants—if she needed to help Link during the storm, she didn't want to be encumbered by a dress—and then joined him on the quarterdeck. He had dressed again and had taken down their sunshade and was folding up the canvas. She hurried to help him with it, then she stowed it down in the hold while he stayed at the wheel.
When Zelda came back up on deck, she noticed how cool the wind was and how hard it was blowing. Now she wished it was sunny and hot again. There was something ominous in the wind that scared her. She was suddenly quite aware of how alone they were, how tiny their ship was, and how big and deep and unforgiving the ocean was.
"We're going to be in for a bad night, I'm afraid," Link said grimly, lighting a lantern and hanging it on a post next to the wheel. The sky was covered up with the dark cloud; there were only a few stars to be seen behind them in the east.
Then the lightning began.
At first it lit up the distance, but it quickly grew closer.
"Um… does lightning strike the ocean like it does land?" Zelda asked nervously as forks of lightning flashed down—quick as a snake's tongue—and then withdrew, leaving only a white blindness that lasted for a few seconds.
"Yes, it does," Link replied. "Ships can be struck."
He looked at her. "Why don't you go below, Your Highness?"
"You might need help."
"I'll call you if I do. Or bang on the ceiling." He demonstrated by stamping his foot on the deck, sending an echoing sound through the rooms beneath them.
"Well… I suppose," she said, reluctant to leave him, but increasingly scared of the storm.
"It's alright," he reassured her. "Go below before it starts raining."
She didn't have to be told twice. Feeling no small amount of shame at leaving Link alone, she hurried to the cabin and got into her hammock.
It wasn't long before she learned firsthand why hammocks were a real necessity on a ship; it was true that she could not have stayed in a bed with the way the ship rolled and tossed. At first it went from side to side, then up and down.
The rain began suddenly and it came down in sheets, lashing against the window and the ceiling and the walls. A little water began to run into the room under the door.
The lightning became almost continuous and the thunder boomed like the roar of cannons until Zelda had to clamp her hands over her ears.
The ship began to pitch up and down even worse. It would start down and suddenly Zelda would feel weightless, but a moment later the bow of the ship would hit the bottom of the wave and start up again, and then Zelda would feel her body come crashing down into the hammock, as if there was a great weight on her.
She didn't know how long it went on, but she eventually became worried about Link. She couldn't hear anything over the pounding rain and near-continuous roll of thunder. She wondered if maybe he had called for her, but she couldn't hear it. Or worse—maybe he had been tossed overboard.
Eventually her worry for him overcame her fear, and she tried to get up. But the floor of the ship was heaving up and down so much, she wasn't able to get out of the hammock. She ended up rolling out of it and onto the table.
Walking to the door just a few steps away was an ordeal, and Zelda realized what Link had been talking about when he said the rocking was so bad it made him wish he hadn't eaten lunch. It had been a long time since lunch, but it still felt as if her stomach was in the back of her throat.
She lurched drunkenly to the door and managed to wrench it open. She was immediately hit in the face with stinging pellets of rain. It was as if the skies weren't just pouring out water, but flinging it maliciously every which way.
She was completely drenched in a matter of seconds.
She kept her hand against the wall and slowly inched her way over to the deck ladder. She didn't so much climb the rungs as crawl up them while pulling herself along by the rails.
"What are you doing here?" Link shouted over the storm, as she crawled onto the quarterdeck on her hands and knees.
"I came to make sure you're alright," she shouted back.
"I'm fine. Go back down."
"Come with me."
"Yes, you can. Don't worry about what direction we're going; we'll make up for it later."
The ship suddenly pitched forward, feeling as if it was sinking nose-first into a big hole. Zelda had to grab onto the deck railing to keep from rolling head-first back down the ladder.
A moment later, though, they hit bottom and swooped back up again—a giant wave breaking across the bow and swamping the forward two-thirds of the ship.
"I have to steer the ship," Link shouted, once they were on their way up again. "The waves are so high, they'll capsize us if they hit us in the side. The only way we can survive is to steer directly into them. They can't flip us over backwards."
As the ship fell down, and then sprang back up, like a rearing horse, Zelda doubted that was true. It certainly felt as if they were going to go over backwards.
"Princess… would you get my sword and shield?" Link asked after a minute.
What on earth did he need his sword and shield for in this raging storm? Did he plan on fighting the weather like it was some demon?
Then she realized he was probably using that as an excuse to get her to go back to the cabin—thinking once she was there, she might stay put.
She would get it for him, but she had no intention of staying below. She was terrified of the storm, yes, but she was equally terrified of leaving Link alone.
It seemed to take an hour to get back to the cabin; the deck sometimes seemed to disappear under her feet, and then it was rushing up again, as if it intended to hit her.
The inside of the cabin was dark, but for the lightning wildly lighting up the room in flashes of white, and she had to admit it was rather more peaceful. It wasn't wet and the noise from the rain and thunder—which had seemed so loud before—was noticeably muted compared to being outside.
She took Link's sword and shield down from where he had hung it on the wall—although how it had managed to stay up, she didn't know—and in the same torturous fashion as before, she went out and heaved herself along the ship and up onto the quarterdeck. She had to crawl the last few feet to Link because the pitching deck and waves crashing from all sides wouldn't let her walk upright.
Link helped her to stand, and she held onto the wheel while he strapped his sword and shield across his back.
"What do you want that for?" she asked, still having to shout, despite the fact that she was only a foot or two away from him.
"I want it with me," he replied evasively.
"Why?" she pressed.
He didn't reply. Instead, he took off his hat and tied it around her chest, just under the armpits.
"Listen to me," he said, as he picked up a length of rope. "I want you to go back to the cabin and stay there. Do not come out for any reason—not until the storm is over."
"Link, what are you doing?" she asked, as she watched him thread the rope through the spokes of the wheel and around his body.
"If the ship breaks up, find something to hang onto," he instructed. "Don't worry about me or trying to stay with what's left of the ship; just keep your head above water."
Suddenly a cold chill went through Zelda as she realized what was going on. He was lashing himself to the wheel so he wouldn't be washed overboard. And he was giving her his hat—the one thing guaranteed to float—in case she needed it.
"Link, take your hat," she said, trying to undo the knot.
"Leave it!" he said sharply. "Go below like I told you. Now."
Zelda was a little taken aback. He had never snapped at her before, and he had certainly never given her orders. A second later, lightning flashed and she could see real fear in his eyes—more than she had seen when the wolf attacked them; more than she had seen when Nagadii had ambushed them at the city gate; more than when they had been in hiding in the monastery. He was truly worried they were both going to die.
She nodded a little, then lurched her way to the ladder.
Link watched as Zelda's blonde head disappeared below the edge of the deck. He couldn't be sure if she made it back to the cabin, but he hoped to the gods that she had.
He tied the end of the rope off, securing himself to the wheel, and he gripped it tightly, struggling to keep it turned into the waves.
"Father," he prayed, "if you can hear me, help me. Help me keep us alive. Show me what to do."
He was suddenly struck by the fact that his father probably died in a similar storm; it was surely the only thing that would have taken down an experienced sailor like Mars. That didn't bode well for getting his prayer answered.
"Goddesses, protect us," he said, changing tack. "You gave us this quest. Please give us the means to survive it."
Despite his best efforts, though, the ship increasingly began to turn to the left. Or maybe the waves were shifting direction. In either case, every time the ship went down into a trough, it rode up the crest of the next wave less perpendicular to it. As the ship started to drift, it made less progress as it rose up, so instead of cutting across the top of the wave, it was only getting most of the way up before the top of the wave broke over it. And with every successive wave, it rose less high and was hit harder by the next crashing wave.
Link threw himself against the wheel, turning it with all of his might, laying the rudder to larboard. But the ship was beyond human control; it was completely at the mercy of the waves and it went where they tossed it.
And then, the next thing Link knew, they were sitting at the bottom of a trough at a dead standstill. Overheard, the lightning illuminated a massive wall of water that was far taller than the masts—more like a mountain than a wave.
"Save us," Link whispered, staring up at the towering water. A moment later, it crashed down on the ship and everything went black.