Across the Desolate Plain
One benefit to Zelda getting worked up into a panic attack was that her fever finally broke. She fell into a deep, dreamless sleep that lasted the rest of the night and all through the next day. Link woke her up a few times to give her something to eat and drink, but she quickly fell asleep again.
It wasn't until late in the morning on the following day that she finally woke up, feeling rather refreshed.
She looked over the foot of the bed and saw Link squatting in front of the fire doing something. She thought she must be imagining things again, because it looked like there were fish dangling above the fireplace. Only they weren't whole fish; they had been halved lengthwise.
"What are you doing?" she asked, puzzled.
He glanced up. "Oh, good morning." He put down what he was working on and came to her side.
"How are you today?"
"I actually think I feel good."
"Do you want to get up?"
He pulled back the covers and stood by while she pushed herself upright. She was still a little weak, but that was probably from not moving much over the past week. Other than that, though, she felt fine—no dizziness.
Link offered his hands and she took them, letting him slowly pull her to her feet. She was cautious, but it proved unnecessary; her legs were capable of supporting her.
"Good?" Link asked.
She nodded. "I think I'll be alright."
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I've lost track of the days, but I think today makes eight days since we got caught in the storm."
"You aren't serious?" she asked in disbelief.
"Yes." He began ticking days off on his fingers."I don't know how long I was in the water, but I think I washed ashore sometime the following day. Then I spent a day in the bed. Then it was two days—almost two days—before I found you. So you were in the water nearly four days. And then you were hallucinating one day, yelling at me the next, and sleeping the third. So, yeah, this should be day eight."
Zelda shook her head in disbelief. An entire week gone. Counting the week they were at sea, it had been two weeks since they left Link's family. Add in a few days that they were on the run, and it was going on three weeks since her world had come crashing down.
"I wonder what's happening in Castle Town?" she asked aloud.
"Nagadii is getting rid of heirs—as I expected he would. He's also building an army."
"What?" she asked, alarmed."Who told you that?"
Zelda gasped. "You found him?!"
Link waved her over to the fire. She took a seat on the bench at the table and he went back to what he was doing: poking holes in the tails of fish, threading them with strands of rope, and hanging them up in the chimney, above the fire.
"What are you doing?" Zelda asked again.
"I'm smoking fish. It will keep without spoiling and, by the looks of this area, food is going to be scarce. I thought it might be best to take everything we need in case we can't get more."
"I don't even know where we are."
Link finished preparing a fish and hung it from a nail that had been hammered into the chimney for just such a purpose. Then he wiped his hands on his pants and pulled out the map he had taken from Gardamon's house, showing it to Zelda.
"We're right here," he said, pointing to the map.
Zelda studied the map, frowning. "Are… are we still in Hyrule?"
"No. In fact, the forest just to the south of us should be the northernmost border of your kingdom. We're in the narrow strip of land between the forest and the mountains, and that's actually part of Erenrue."
He traced the tip of his finger along the plain until he came to the capital city of Erenrue, Pallis, which sat at the heart of the mountain kingdom.
"Master Gardamon suggested we go to Erenrue and get help from your family. He thought it would take us about two weeks to get there. That's why I'm trying to smoke as much fish as I can; we'll need a lot to feed us for two weeks."
"So how did you find him?" Zelda asked, looking up at Link. "Where was he?"
Link spent the next hour recounting what had happened to him since they had been torn apart at sea: his father finding him on the beach, the magical house, his connection to Gardamon….
"You can talk to him even though he's dead?" Zelda interrupted, incredulous.
"What about my father?" she asked eagerly. "Can I talk to him?"
That led to a more difficult conversation about the fact Master Ryu and Zelda's father both were in the Dark World.
"What?!" she asked, aghast.
Link sadly shook his head. "There's nothing we can do about it… at least not at the moment. Maybe… maybe we'll find some spell or something later that can help them, but right now we can't."
Zelda put her hand over her mouth, trying to hold back her tears. Even if she and her father hadn't seen eye-to-eye when it came to Link, and he had his flaws, like any person, he was still her father and she loved him and hated the thought of him being someplace dark, frightened and in pain. Thinking about Master Ryu in the same situation was just as bad.
Link continued his story, repeating everything Gardamon had told him—including the part about Nagadii's plans to build an army to match that of Erenrue's. Then he told her how he had teleported to the rocky beach to find her floating in the water, more dead than alive.
It was a lot to take in; Zelda sat in silence for several minutes after he finished. He seemed to know she needed some time, so he quietly finished hanging up the fish.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, breaking the silence.
He used a stick to rake some coals out of the fire and onto the hearth, then he put the flat rock he was using as a cutting board on top.
"What are you doing?" Zelda askedcuriously.
"This is a poor man's frying pan. The coals will heat up the stone, then I'll be able to cook on it. It's slow, but it works."
Zelda gazed into the fire. The flames were blue and green from the salt water that had soaked into the driftwood and wreckage.
"You know," she said absentmindedly, "I thought I had been dreaming that the fire was blue."
Link chuckled. "No, it's blue. The saltwater makes it do that."
"I also dreamed that you were trying to poison me."
Link looked up at her. "Did you?"
"Yes. But it wouldn't stay down, so it never worked."
Link laughed. "I'm afraid only half of that was a dream."
"Were you really trying to poison me?" she asked in disbelief.
"Certainly not. I was trying to give you water, but it made you sick. My father warned me that when people almost-drown, they swallow a lot of seawater and all the salt in it acts like a poison.
"I wasn't trying to poison you; rather, I was trying to make you sick so you wouldn't be poisoned."
Zelda wished she hadn't said anything; she preferred to think that she had hallucinated the entire thing. She was rather embarrassed to think about poor Link having to deal with her while she was throwing up. And to think that she later accused him of being a pervert!
That still made her face burn with shame.
"What's wrong?" Link asked, looking at her. Her embarrassment must have shown on her face.
"Nothing," she hurried to say. Then she tried to change the subject. "When are we leaving?"
Link looked at the fish slowly smoking over the fire. "I think we have enough food to last us two weeks. It will need to smoke all day, but it should be done by morning."
"Good," Zelda said, suddenly eager to move out. "Let's leave in the morning."
Zelda was awakened the next morning by a scuffling sound. She jerked up, alarmed, but then saw it was only Link. He appeared to be packing the smoked fish into a canvas sack.
He looked up. "Did I startle you?"
Zelda rubbed her face, trying to wake up. "No, it's alright. I need to be up."
Yawning, she pushed back the covers and sat up on the side of the bed. It took a minute for her to fully orient herself and blink the sleep out of her eyes.
She reached down for her boots, which were beside the bed, and slowly pulled them on. She felt like she was moving half-speed.
"You would think, as much as I've slept, that I wouldn't be sleepy," she complained. She had taken a nap the previous afternoon, then had slept like a log all night.
"You went without food and water for nearly four days and then had a very high fever for another two. It takes some time to recover after that."
"Yes, I suppose."
"We can stay another day or two," he offered. "It's not as if we have a strict schedule to keep. No one is going to look for us in such an isolated place. We're as safe here as we'll ever be."
Zelda shook her head. "No, I want to move on. By the time we get to Pallis, Nagadii will have been in control for over a month. How many demons will have escaped? How many people will he have imprisoned or killed? How much bigger will his army be? The longer we wait, the worse it will be."
"I agree. If you're sure you're up to it, we'll leave. But it would be worse, overall, if we were to get out on the plain, exposed, and you have a relapse. I would rather you convalesce here, where's it's warm and relatively safe and we have a source of food."
"No, I'm up for it."
"Good," he said.
Link finished packing the fish and then they sat down to have a light breakfast of cooked fish and the last of the bread and root vegetables.
They drank their fill of water from the waterskin, then Link looked around the cabin one last time. He looked at the bed for a minute, then finally pulled off the sheet and moth-eaten wool blanket.
"I hate to take these," he told Zelda, as he folded them, "because some other poor lost soul may come ashore and need this shelter for his survival, but we're in a pretty tough situation ourselves. It's colder here than at home; we may have desperate need of these pitiful covers."
"We're likely to need them before someone else," she agreed.
As they had discussed the day before, Zelda was going to take horse form and Link was going to ride. They thought they would make better time that way, and should they cross paths with anyone, they would hopefully go unnoticed since spies would be looking for a boy and girl together.
Outside the hut, Link walked to a nearby stream and refilled the waterskin. He took one last look around to make sure there was nothing else of use that they needed to take, then Zelda transformed and he put the folded blankets across her back and hopped on. He held their food bag in front of him—not wanting to tie it across his back and possibly encumber his sword and shield.
"Let's go," he said.
Zelda walked a little ways, then, once she was limbered up, she broke into a run. It felt like forever since she had been on a run. The wind blew cold against her face, but it smelled fresh and clean. The sound of her hoofbeats on the firm plain was all that could be heard. Overhead, the sky was still sullen and overcast—as it had been every day since they had arrived.
It felt like she and Link were alone in the world.
She ran for as long as she could, then she walked for a while. She alternated between running and walking until Link patted her on the shoulder. "Why don't we stop for lunch?" he asked.
She nodded her head in agreement and stopped next to a small stream. It looked like it flowed directly from the mountain. Link had said the day before that he really wasn't worried about water, since all the snow on the mountains had to go somewhere. Zelda was glad he was confident of that; since being lost at sea, she felt a bit paranoid about not having enough food or water.
They sat down in the grass and each of them gnawed at a smoked fish filet. They drank water directly from the stream using the cup that Link had gotten from his father. The water was icy cold.
"This place scares me," Zelda said, looking around as Link repacked their bag.
"Why is that?" he asked.
"It's too… empty. I haven't seen anything alive since we started—no birds, no little animals—not even any bugs on the ground."
Link looked around with a frown. "You're right. I had thought it looked barren, but it hadn't occurred to me that there aren't even any birds."
"It's not natural."
He sighed. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it, except try to hurry to Pallis." He smiled a little, picking up the bag. "At the very least, look at the bright side: no animals means no wolves."
Zelda supposed he was right, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that there was something sinister quietly lurking over the desolate plain.