The Battle of Erenrue Fields
The royal mounted divisions went out the front gate of the city and kicked their horses into a canter. Above, the black night sky was fading into a deeper blue; in the east, there was a pale glow of lighter blue and green behind the mountains. The wind was chilly on Link's face, but it held the promise of a warmer day to come.
Out of the darkness, a black mass appeared on the grassy plain. They were nearly on top of it before Link was able to discern the Erenrue army.
As soon as the Erenrue foot soldiers saw the king and the mounted knights, they let out a cheer that echoed across the wide stretch of plain.
The king rode with his right hand up, saluting his men as he rode past.
Half of the mounted men stopped in the rear of the main body of troops. The other half—including the king, Prince Zeyde, and Link and Zelda—rode to the front.
The king pulled his horse to a stop. "What news?" he called out.
An unarmored man on a light horse rode up and threw a salute. "Your Majesty, I have just returned from reconnoitering the enemy's lines."
"They are arrayed in a single, square block, all on foot; no cavalry. It looks as if eighty or ninety percent of the army is archers. But, if I'm judging correctly in the darkness, there is at least one division of Shi-Ha mercenaries in the front row, two—probably three—ranks deep."
"HA!" the king shouted in triumph. "So, he thinks to use our old enemy against us. Well, we'll show him we know a thing or two about fighting the men of Shi-Ha!"
The generals around him laughed. The tension that had permeated everything all morning—hanging like a pall over the enterprise—broke. Nagadii was an unknown element; he might prove quite dangerous. Even the army of Hyrule, with their hundreds of bowmen, was somewhat frightening just because of their strangeness. But troops from Shi-Ha…. The men of Erenrue knew quite well how to put their eastern foes to flight.
From their standpoint, things suddenly became much easier.
However, Link grew more worried; this was not what he had planned for. "Your Majesty, do we have to worry about them breaking our charge?" he asked. "I said that Hyrule would not have the ability to repel cavalry, but what about these mercenaries?"
"They've tried to break us before. And they've not yet succeeded."
There was laughter from the other men.
"But we'll be going in with far fewer horses than you're accustomed to," Link argued.
"True, but you must account for their morale. What's the likelihood they'll stick firm to their pikes when they know that every previous formation has been mowed down like wheat under a scythe?"
Link glanced back over his shoulder. "Your Highness, if we were riding towards the line, do you think you could hit a few men directly in front of us?"
"Well, I don't know about directly in front—since you're directly in front of me—but when I'm in range, I should be able to hit the people more or less in front of us."
Link looked at the king. "If she can take out just a few, that will make a hole in their line."
"And we will ride right through," Ranis said with a smile.
The king turned to face the men. "Those of you in my division: we're going to go in in the same wedge formation that the main army will assume. Like an arrow, we will pierce through the chink in their armor that Princess Zelda will create for us. Understood?"
There were nods and a general clamor of approval.
"Very well, then—generals, to your divisions. May the gods smile on us all."
The six generals broke out of the press of men and horses and rode to their own divisions. They must have then addressed their troops because shouts of one kind or another—here a "yes," there an emphatic "no," plus the occasional burst of laughter or a cheer—came from the various ranks on either side of the king's division.
Zeyde stepped his horse up to his father's side. "I really should lead from the front, you know," Zeyde said.
"Someday," the king promised. "But it will not be today. It will not be today!"
He laughed and offered his hand to Zeyde. The prince clasped it firmly, then leaned in, giving his father a one-armed hug.
"Cover my ass," the king instructed, as Zeyde pulled away and took up his reins again.
Zeyde laughed. "Just like I do every other day of the week."
He moved over to Link and Zelda. "Be safe—both of you," Zeyde said, looking at them seriously. Then he leaned in and kissed Zelda on the cheek. "I do hope we can return you to your throne," he told her quietly. "I think you will make a wonderful queen."
She smiled at him. "Thank you."
He shook Link's hand, then kicked his horse into a trot and rode for the back of the lines. The men gave him an appreciative cheer as he passed. Hardly anyone could be found in the entire kingdom who had an ill word to say about their prince.
The king nudged his horse out in front of his division. "Alright, form up," he commanded. "Link and Zelda with me at the front; the rest of you by rank."
There was a lot of jostling and some discussion—even mild argument—about who went where, but the king sorted it out quickly enough and got everyone into the wedge shape that he wanted.
The standard bearer—whose banner carried the royal arms of Erenrue—was placed in the center of the formation, as he was simultaneously the most vulnerable and the most important person in the ranks. Because he had to carry the standard with one hand, he had a harder time defending himself. But the banner itself not only identified the division—something very necessary for Zeyde to know if he needed to command others to reinforce them—it also served as a form of communication on the battlefield. The way it was waved could signal victory, a request for reinforcements, or retreat.
The king turned to address his division. "Do I need to give you men a pep talk, or do you already know you're the best of the best?"
"We're the best of the best!" came the reply.
"Good. I'm not one for motivational speeches."
"You are the most skilled, the most fierce, and the most experienced warriors in all of Erenrue. Do I need to tell you how to do your job?"
"I never ask any man to go where I won't go, but, by the gods, you better follow me. Will you follow me?"
"Good. That's all I expect."
He pointed to Link and Zelda. "One last thing, in case you were confused about what do with our Hyrulian allies: although Princess Zelda is the monarch of a foreign kingdom, she is also my granddaughter. I expect you to guard and defend her the same as any other member of the royal family. And because Sir Link knows more about the weaknesses and capabilities of the Hyrulian army than any of us, if he sees a need to change tactics and he gives you a command, you are to follow it the same as if he was your general. He is to only be overruled by me, Zeyde, or my regular generals.
"Yes, sire," came the reply.
The king made some signal with his hand and from all around the army came the beat of drums.
Link looked around, seeing boys and young men lined up along the edges of the army and behind it, beating a dark tempo.
"The war-drums of Erenrue," he muttered to himself. He had heard great tales of the Erenrue drums which played before the commencement of battle, but he had never thought he would hear them for himself. They were legendary.
"That ought to make those Shi-Ha mercenaries tremble," the king said, retaking his position beside Link and Zelda. "They know the ass-whipping is coming."
He laughed joyously. It was clear he was a man born and bred for war; it was his greatest talent. And like a person with a talent in any art, he was happiest when he was able to apply it.
The drums steadily grew louder and faster as the sky began to lighten. Slowly, the lines of the Hyrulian army became visible. They were drawn up about 200 yards away.
Priests walked through the ranks, offering blessings on everyone. They dipped a sprig of mountain laurel—the sacred flower of Erenrue—in holy water, then used it to flick water on the troops as they moved past.
The drumbeats grew louder and more intense.
"At what point do we go in?" Link asked the king, leaning closer so he could be heard.
"When the drums stop," he replied.
"Won't that be a bit obvious?"
"Were you expecting to catch the other side by surprise?" Ranis retorted. "It's not like they won't see us coming."
Link had to admit he had a point.
The beat of the drums seemed to sink into Link's body, making him feel, at first, restless. But the longer they played and the faster they got, the more he felt like he needed to do something, until he felt an overwhelming desire to do something violent—be that hit a drum or hit someone over the head with his sword.
When it came to making war, the Erenruites certainly knew what they were doing.
The drums were nearing their crescendo when, in the dim early-morning light, the middle of the Hyrulian line began to move and ripple.
"Get ready," Link shouted to the king over the noise of the drums. "They're preparing to loose the first volley. We should go in after the first round."
The king held up his right hand, warning the men behind him to make ready.
But no arrows came. Instead, several people—dressed as civilians—were pushed out in front of the Hyrulian army.
The king lowered his hand as the drums stopped mid-beat and everyone stared across the field in worry and confusion.
"What is the meaning of this?" the king asked.
"Oh, dear gods," Link said breathlessly. "Gods, please, no."
"Link, what is it?" Zelda asked anxiously, leaning close to him.
"It's… it's my family," he said, trembling.
"Surely not," Zelda said, horrified.
But Link had no doubt. Although they were too far away to see their faces, there was no mistaking the short, heavyset figure of Uncle Alfon. There were three women, also—two blonde, one with dark hair—plus one dark-haired boy. They all appeared to be wearing the clothes of Kakariko Village.
A voice—magically amplified—came across the field. "Greetings, King Ranis of Erenrue."
There was a moment of stunned silence.
Then Link breathed out, between gritted teeth, "Nagadii."
"I have come here to retake the traitor Link, who is wanted for many heinous crimes in our kingdom—not the least of which is bewitching our princess and forcing her to attack and kill her own father," Nagadii declared.
"I never attacked my father!" Zelda said indignantly.
"But I believe that I have the power to lift his dark spell," Nagadii continued. "I only pray that you and yours have not been taken in by his lies. …Given that I see your army arrayed before me, I am afraid that is not the case. But if you will lay down your arms, I will give you what aid I can.
"This is very dark magic, Your Majesty," Nagadii warned in his smooth voice. "In Hyrule, Link put it around that he was educated and trained in the military arts at a school in the East, but I have it from my Shi-Ha allies that such a school is notorious for its education in only one thing: black magic.
"If Link will come to me unarmed and without any trickery, I will grant mercy to these traitors who harbored him and helped him escape justice. I have no doubt that they knew the truth about him all along, but three of them are barely more than children, and I am not without compassion for them; they have never known anything other than lies and trickery. One cannot blame them for their upbringing.
"Indeed, I think perhaps even Link's family was fooled by that greatest trickster of all, Ryu. It is no secret that he was demoted because the king suspected he had a hand in Link's dark education—although it couldn't be proven at the time. But Ryu has already been executed for his part in this plot, which resulted in the death of our king and has threatened the very existence of our kingdom and even our relationship with our long-time ally, Erenrue."
Link's pain and desperation turned to anger as Nagadii spoke lie after lie. He became so enraged that it felt like his blood was boiling. Oh, to be able to meet the liar in single combat! He would unleash such a fury on him, it would make Zelda's temper look like a mild annoyance.
King Ranis obviously felt the same. "Enough of these lies!" he shouted to everyone around him. "He insults my intelligence. If Link was a wizard, he would not dupe me, and this wizard shall not play me the fool either!"
There was a chorus of angry shouts behind him.
"No man needs an entire army to capture one outlaw," the king said. "Nagadii has come here to take my kingdom, as he took Zelda's. And I will not stand for it! Better to die free than live as another man's slave.
"Drums!" he ordered.
A moment later, the drums began again, picking up their rhythm where they left off. Nagadii had his answer.
Link's family was pushed forward, then forced to kneel.
"One last opportunity," Nagadii said, his voice louder than even the drums. "Will Link not turn himself over in exchange for his family? If he will not, then I think you have your proof of his character."
The drums continued to beat.
"Liiiiiink!" came Uncle Alfon's deep voice across the empty divide, unmistakable even over the pulse of the drums.
He slowly lifted his hand to his forehead, then raised it high in the air. A moment later, everyone else in the family did the same thing.
Link knew what they were telling him: they did not want to be ransomed. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for him and his mission. Nagadii had to be defeated at all costs.
Link was crying as he ripped off his helmet. He unsheathed his sword and stood up in the stirrups, returning their salute with his sword held high. He would avenge their deaths. That was the only promise he could make them.
One of the soldiers pushed Alfon's head forward, then stood behind him and raised his sword, ready to strike.
Link sat down in saddle again, crying so hard, he couldn't see what was happening. He didn't want to see it.
In his grief, he never noticed what Zelda was doing behind him, although all the other men—and even the king—turned to look at her in astonishment.
She laid back against the horse's rump and drew her bow, aiming it at the sky. With a fervent prayer, she loosed her arrow, sending it shooting just over Link's head and across the field.
The drums suddenly stopped as everyone on the Erenrue side watched in fascination as the arrow arced through the air and began its rapid descent towards the Hyrulian line.
The only person who didn't seem to be aware of it was the executioner who was preparing to land his blow on the back of Alfon's neck. He never saw it coming, but he surely felt its impact as it struck him deeply where his neck joined his collarbone.
There was a moment of stunned silence on both sides as they watched the man stagger sideways, then fall.
King Ranis broke the silence with a primal scream of triumph and defiance, his sword lifted high. Everyone in his division, then every man in the army picked up the cry and suddenly they were moving forward—the cavalry galloping ahead with the men running behind.
Link shoved his helmet back on his head and kicked his horse forward, his vision red with rage. He would personally guarantee anyone who tried to harm his family would meet with a swift, messy end.
Behind him, Zelda leaned out and began shooting the men in the front ranks of the Hyrulian line. Her aim was clearly not steady, because instead of picking them off in line, her arrows hit men randomly—sometimes two or three ranks deep. But it was enough to throw them into confusion.
Link's family was gathered up and pushed back through the ranks, to keep them from being rescued. But this only served to further weaken the center of the front line; they had no time to set themselves and their pikes to repel the cavalry charge.
The archers managed to get off a volley of arrows, but the cavalry division was moving so fast, the arrows fell behind them, amongst the heavily-armored foot soldiers. A few fell—despite Link's warning that they should wear visors on their helmets, most did not have their faces covered—but the vast majority of the army continued their charge uninterrupted.
Link and the king plowed into the weakest part of the line, their heavy horses knocking down men and trampling them underfoot—causing greater damage than either Link or the king could do alone.
The rest of the division was on their heels and they widened the gap in the front lines further and passed by the Shi-Ha mercenaries, plunging deep into the poorly-armored bowmen behind them.
Link was slashing with his sword on both sides and Zelda was firing her bow with a frightful rapidity, taking out standard bearers and anyone who dared to issue an order or try to rally the Hyrulian troops.
Nagadii and Link's family were nowhere to be seen.
The Hyrulian archers dropped their bows and switched to their side swords, but it was clear that they were unsure what to do and they offered little resistance to Link. In fact, on several occasions, he found himself in the center of a little clearing; no one dared come close to his lethal blade.
"Would you fight against your Princess?" Link shouted at them. "Do you dare bear arms against your rightful monarch?"
There was a little pocket of silence around them, then many of the archers began to drop their swords and kneel.
Like a stone thrown into a pond, the effect rippled out and more and more archers began dropping their weapons and kneeling in surrender. Anyone who was left on his feet, looking around in confusion, or who tried to force the men to rise, was shot by Zelda.
The surrender spread like a wildfire; no man wanted to be caught standing against his monarch—especially when his monarch was exacting a total revenge.
There were shouts of joy among the cavalry division and general congratulations. The foot soldiers following behind them had hit all across the front line and were engaged with the mercenaries who were still struggling against their age-old foes.
"To their rear!" the king shouted, pointing his sword at the back of the Shi-Ha lines. The cavalry turned and hit them from behind, catching them "between the hammer and the anvil"—a favorite tactic of King Ranis.
Link and Zelda stayed where they were. "We have our kingdom back," he said with breathless relief.
And then, from the Hyrulian rear—where everything was confusion and some men were trying to surrender and others were running over their comrades in their haste to flee the battlefield all together—there came an awful chorus of high-pitched screams. Men who were on their feet suddenly turned and began running back towards the battle. Men who were on their knees half-rose in confusion, then soon began to run, too.
"Look to our front!" Link shouted, wheeling his horse around to face the cavalry, who had their backs to the main force of the Hyrulian army, which they had accepted as subdued. "Look to our front!"
The king and several others paused in their fight against the Shi-Ha mercenaries and turned to look. A dark cloud rose from the rear of the Hyrulian army and shot high into the air. It hung there for a moment, then it swooped down and sped over the battlefield, covering it with an unnatural darkness.
"DEMONS!" Link shouted as the demon-birds swarmed over them.
The demons did not distinguish between friend or foe; they attacked Hyrulian soldier, Shi-Ha mercenary, and the army of Erenrue in equal measure.
Suddenly, men who had been fighting each other were trying to fend off attacks by the demons. Sometimes, in the confusion, they even turned to helping one another—their deep-seated animosity forgotten in the attack. When it came to a choice between a man and a creature of darkness, no one had to stop to question which side they should be on.
But as men were attacked by the birds, they began a horrible transformation. They collapsed to the ground and writhed in pain, then their armor began to burst off their bodies as they swelled up and changed shape to that of an inhuman dog-like beast nearly as large as a pony.
These unfortunate souls then turned on their companions and leapt upon them, taking down two, three, and sometimes even four men at a time.
And just when it seemed that it could get no worse, a large volley of arrows arced overhead. It seemed Nagadii had found the motivation he needed to make his archers attack.
"Arrows!" Link shouted. "Get down!"
A moment later the air was filled with the sound of whistling arrows as they rained down like a deadly hail. Those who weren't struck by the arrows were distracted by them and the demons took full advantage of their inattention. Although the demons were struck more often than the armored combatants, they showed no fear whatsoever; they continued their relentless attack on every human they could find.
Link struck at the demon-birds relentlessly while Zelda shot as many as she could. Link wasn't worried too much about the demons, since neither he nor Zelda could be turned, and there was little harm the birds could do since they were both wearing full armor. It was the arrows that concerned him, since they had no shields and no real means of defense. They were well within range of the bows now, and an arrow fired from one of the heavy Hyrulian bows would penetrate most armor, at least to some degree. And since Nagadii didn't seem concerned about hitting his mercenaries or demons, they were all sitting ducks.
And then, from the midst of a great melee of men and demons, came one of the huge, dog-like creatures, bounding towards Link and Zelda on their right side. Zelda shot it, but it didn't even slow down, and before Link could turn the horse or switch his sword to his right hand, it leapt up and struck them. Its weight and momentum knocked both them and the horse to the ground.
Luckily, Link and Zelda were thrown clear of the falling horse, so while they made rather painful landings on the ground, they were at least saved from being crushed under the horse.
The demon savagely ripped open the belly of the horse, turning its whinnies of panic into deep, screaming-groans that made Link's skin crawl.
He stumbled to his feet—his helmet lost in the fall—and he grabbed a stunned Zelda by the arm and pulled her up, too. "Start moving back," he told her in a low voice. "Slowly."
They began walking backwards, sometimes stumbling over bodies of men and horses and demons on the ground, but they managed to stay on their feet and stay defensive in case the demon-dog decided it was through with the horse and needed to eat on them instead.
Another hail of arrows came flying through the air. Link grabbed Zelda by the back of the helmet and forced her head down. "Protect your face!" he said, covering his own unarmored head with his arm. The arrows began to whiz by them, thudding into the ground and the bodies lying there.
Somehow, they managed to escape the hail, and Link decided to take the opportunity, between rounds, to retreat further out of range.
A moment later, they were surrounded by a wall of soldiers wearing blue. "Protect the Princess!" a general on horseback shouted. "And find the king, damn you! Gods! Where is our standard? The king's standard has fallen!"
Link looked around. There was a little knot of men holding steady around him and Zelda, but the rest of the field was in disarray.
Some of the archers had run back to their own lines, hoping that siding with Nagadii would save them from the scourge of the demons. Others were running off the battlefield entirely—in many cases, still being pursued by demons.
The Shi-Ha and Erenrue lines both had collapsed into an indistinguishable jumble of men from both sides and demons. Some were fighting the demons, some were trying to flee, some were already down from either an arrow or a bite, but were trying valiantly to crawl away.
"Get down!" one of the soldiers shouted at Link and Zelda.
Link grabbed Zelda and pulled her down, crouching behind the soldiers. A moment later, arrows began to thud home and two of the men standing in front of them fell—one dead instantly from an arrow through the throat, the other screaming from an arrow in the thigh. Two more men took their place as if nothing had happened.
"I see the king!" Link said, catching a glimpse of the king through the legs of the men surrounding him. The king was lying on his back a little distance away; he was half-buried under a pile of bodies, and he had lost his helmet, but he still had a sword in his hand and was fighting as fiercely as ever.
"Stay here!" Link ordered Zelda, before pushing his way through the guard and running doubled-over, trying to dodge yet another volley of arrows. A couple of men followed him.
They found the king surrounded by his noblemen—all dead or dying. The king himself was gravely wounded and unable to stand.
Link and the other two men stepped in and beat down the remaining bird-demons, then, while one man shoved aside bodies to make room, Link and the other soldier grabbed the king under the arms and hurriedly dragged him across the field to where the remnant of their army remained on their feet.
"Ah, gods!" the king exclaimed in pain when they laid him down on the ground. It looked as if he had taken a pike to his side—and a few other blows besides; his armor was mangled and there was copious amounts of blood over what remained of his surcoat and armor. What could be seen of his body beneath the metal looked like so much raw meat.
Zelda tried to remove his armor, but he waved her away. "Don't. It's mortal."
"Your Majesty, what can we do for you?" one of the soldiers kneeling at his side asked.
"Find the standard. Signal the retreat."
There was a moment's pause. In all their long history, the Erenrue army had never retreated from a battle. They liked to joke that the only reason why the standard bearers practiced the horn-call at all was so that the men could learn the sound of the enemy's defeat.
"Do it!" the king barked.
"I'll go," Link said, before dashing out again.
The arrows continued to fall in a never-ending rain. Men screamed and fell and died all around, but no one seemed ready to leave. The idea of retreat seemed to be so impossible for them to comprehend, it made more sense to stand there and die.
"Get Zeyde and Zelda and Link back to the city," the king commanded, his voice growing weaker. "Barricade yourselves in and… do what you can. Get… get Zelda and Link… out. Mountains…."
His body relaxed and he closed his eyes. The he breathed out and did not breathe in again.
Zelda watched him expire with a shocked numbness. How could her grandfather—the Lion of Erenrue—be dead, when such a short time before, Link had declared the battle won and their kingdom saved?
There was a sound of a distant horn. Slowly she looked up. Amidst the fleeing and fighting men, she could see Link some fifty yards away, holding aloft the king's standard and waving it from side to side twice, then back and forth twice: the signal for retreat.
And somewhere farther back in their lines, someone saw him and began blowing a horn, signaling to all the men to retreat.
Then, before Zelda's little band of protectors could move her out, they were bombarded by a swarm of thirty or more demon-birds, which seemed to come out of nowhere.
The men screamed and lashed out, knocking the birds out of the sky. Zelda drew her sword and began hacking at them, too, but a moment later, the man standing in front of her cried out and staggered backwards into her, causing her to drop her sword.
She started to bend down to grab it again, when she saw the face of the wounded man. There were three long gashes down his forehead and across his nose, but that's not what startled her; it was that she recognized him. And it caused her blood to run cold.
She caught him as he started to sink to the ground, and she knelt with him, holding him in her arms, as she stared in horror at the gashes on his face.
"Oh, Nicoli, no," she moaned.
Maybe it wasn't enough to turn him. Maybe it only worked if a person was bitten. Surely claws alone weren't enough to turn someone.
"Z-Zelda," he gasped. "It… it got me… clawed me."
"So fast. Didn't… didn't see it."
"Shh, it's alright, Nicoli. You did good. You took down so many by yourself."
Tears began to well up in her eyes. "I didn't even know it was you standing in front of me. I thought you must be a man. You are a man."
There was the faintest trace of a smile on his lips. "Proved myself?"
"I told you, you had nothing to prove. This only highlights everything that is good and noble about you."
The smile lingered for a moment, then his face began to contort in pain.
"It burns," he moaned. "My face is burning."
"Just hang on," Zelda begged, tears rolling down her face. "Hang on and we'll get you back to the city and bandaged up."
"It burns." His voice—so weak a moment before—became louder and more insistent. "It burns! I'm burning! Oh, gods, I'm on fire! My insides are on fire!"
Zelda clutched him tighter to her, sobbing and rocking him. "I'm sorry, Nicoli. I'm so sorry. I'll make it better. I'll find a way to make it better."
"I'm burning! I'm burning!" he repeated. Then his words were lost in screams.
"Princess, let go of him!" someone commanded.
But Zelda ignored him, holding Nicoli tighter. If she didn't let go of him, nothing bad would happen to him. She could keep him safe.
"Princess!" the voice insisted.
She didn't let go, even as Nicoli's screams deepened and began to sound more animal-like and his body convulsed in her arms.
Then someone shoved Nicoli away from her and grabbed her by the shoulder, throwing her back.
She landed on her backside and sat there, watching in disbelief as the man raised his sword high, then plunged it down into the contorted face that Zelda no longer recognized.
She couldn't make a sound. She couldn't move. She paid no attention to the men around her who were falling and not being replaced, exposing her. All she could see was the back of the soldier as he, in slow-motion, sank to his knees beside Nicoli's half-transformed body. He slowly removed his helmet and dropped it on the ground beside him. It was only then that Zelda realized who the man was: Duke Reginald, Nicoli's father.
He collapsed onto the ground, as if all the energy had drained from his body, and he could do no more than sit there and stare at what remained of his only child.
Zelda likewise sat immobile—too numbed to do anything. Or to care.
Then Link was beside her, grabbing her by the arm and hauling her to her feet. "We have to go!" he shouted.
All around them, the Erenrue line was collapsing as men fought a little, retreated, then fought a little more. Those who made it far enough behind the lines, turned and ran for the city.
Link bent down and grabbed her sword and bow, thrusting them into her useless hands. "Take these," he said. "We need them."
The general who had first ordered his men to protect them, rode up beside them. It was Duke Clark, the king's nephew.
"Sir Link, take my horse!" he said, throwing his leg over the front of the saddle and dropping to the ground. "Take it," he said again, holding the reins out to Link. "Get her out of here. We'll try to buy you a little time."
Link dragged the battle-shocked Zelda to the horse and picked her up, throwing her into the saddle. He stepped back for just a moment, to give himself room to jump up behind her, when an arrow shot between him and the horse and struck the duke directly in the left eye.
He made a strangled, gasping sort of noise, and half-raised his hand to his face, before he fell backwards.
Zelda screamed. Even Link was momentarily stunned and unable to move.
Then the duke weakly raised his hand a little, trying to give Link the reins.
Link snapped out of his shock. "Gods bless you," he told the duke, before snatching the reins from him.
"Take these!" he commanded Zelda, thrusting them into her hands. She managed to regain enough sense to sheathe her sword and throw her bow across her back, then she took a firm grip on the reins.
Link grabbed onto the back of the saddle, and through sheer adrenaline strength, he pulled himself up onto the horse behind Zelda.
He was no more seated, however, than something struck him in the back, knocking him forward into Zelda.
He looked down and was shocked to see the bloody-red tip of a bodkin-point arrow protruding from his left shoulder where his arm harness and body armor didn't quite meet.
It took him a moment to comprehend that he had actually been shot, and that the arrow had gone all the way through his shoulder.
And then the pain hit all at once and daggers shot down through his arm, burning in a flash of white-hot fire. It was so intense, he couldn't breathe, much less make a sound.
He didn't notice that he was leaning to one side until Zelda put her arm back, catching him before he fell off the horse.
"Link!" she screamed as soon as she saw the arrow embedded in his shoulder.
Another arrow shot past them, missing Zelda's unprotected face by mere inches.
Link mustered the strength to put his right arm around her waist. "Go," he said through gritted teeth. "Go!"
Zelda turned around and kicked the horse into a gallop. But they only made it about a hundred yards before an arrow struck the horse in the side of the neck, just below its armor.
The horse stumbled, then fell to its knees, pitching Zelda and Link off over its head.
Link hit the ground and rolled several times before coming to a stop on his back. He barely managed to roll over onto his right side before vomiting in pain. The arrow shaft in his back had broken off, driving the point almost all the way through his shoulder in the front.
"Oh, gods! Oh, gods!" he screamed in agony, rocking back and forth. Surely having his entire arm cut off couldn't hurt any worse.
Zelda was at his side a moment later. "Link, are you alright?"
"Do I look alright?!" he demanded, nearly screaming at her.
"I mean, can you get up?" Her eyes darted back to the line, where the last of the Erenrue defenders were falling. There was now no one left between Nagadii's army and the retreating Erenrue soldiers. He who was slowest would die first.
"I… guess," Link replied through gritted teeth. Zelda tried to help him sit up, but when she touched his left arm, it made him scream again as all his nerve endings caught on fire.
"Don't touch me!" he yelled.
Zelda jerked away and watched helplessly as he struggled to push himself upright with his one good arm, panting and groaning with pain.
Zelda transformed and lay down next to him. He grabbed a fistful of her mane and somehow managed to drape his body over her back.
She carefully rose to her feet and gave Link a moment to get himself seated. Then she took off.
Link rode hunched over, unable to sit up straight. The shock was rapidly wearing off, and with it the initial numbness. He had only thought he hurt when the pain first set in. Now it felt a hundred times worse—not the least of which was because the jarring thud of the Princess's galloping hooves seemed to make the arrow vibrate inside his shoulder. It felt like it was going to saw his arm in two from the inside.
He held on for as long as he could, but after a couple of minutes, he could stand no more. "Stop! Stop!" he yelled.
She skidded to a stop. He fell off, landing on his wounded left side. He must have blacked out, because the next thing he knew, he was on his back and Zelda was lightly smacking his face.
"Oh, Link, wake up! Wake up!" she begged.
He moaned a little.
"Link, can you hear me?" she asked desperately. "You've got to get back on. We have to get out of here. They're coming."
Their flight had bought them several minutes, but no more. Nagadii had somehow managed to regain control of his Shi-Ha mercenaries, and they had regrouped and were actively hunting down the fleeing Erenruites. They were exacting a terrible revenge for all the times the Erenrue army had forced them to ignobly flee the battlefield.
And it appeared that the mercenaries had not missed seeing Zelda and Link trying to make their escape; a large detachment—nearly half of the remaining men—were running their way.
"I… I can't," Link panted. "It hurts too much."
"Princess, go," he pleaded. "Find a way out of the city tonight. Travel east, as we planned. Get the Master Sword and do as Master Garamond said. You're the only one left who can defeat the demons."
"That is not an option!" she said fiercely, even as tears began to run down her dirty and blood-splattered face. "I will not leave you behind!"
"Please, Your Highness… if you have any love for me at all, leave me here and save yourself."
"You promised me: no ransom. You promised me that you would leave me behind."
"I promised I wouldn't trade my kingdom for you. This is not the same thing!"
"You're trading me for your own life. It is the same thing."
"It is not!" she argued hotly. "I can give up my life, whereas I can't give up my kingdom."
"Zelda, for the love of all the gods, quit arguing with me and leave!" he said, practically yelling. "Now is not the time to be stubborn!"
"I wouldn't have to be if you'd just try!" she shouted back. "Don't lay down and die on me!"
"I'm going to die just to spite you!" he threw back.
She knew he wasn't going to die; he still had too much fight left in him. But what he didn't have was hope. Or a plan.
Zelda glanced up and saw the mercenaries rapidly gaining on them. They only had a minute or two left.
Zelda racked her brain, trying to come up with a solution to their problem. She couldn't believe that the situation was hopeless. No matter how many times things had seemed hopeless before, Link had found a way to save them. Now it was up to her to save him when he had no hope.
For some reason, her memory flickered back to when she was shipwrecked. She had given up and was prepared to die, but he had somehow found her and pulled her back from the brink.
"Link… how exactly did you get to me after we were shipwrecked?" she asked, feeling like she was close to an answer.
"Tell me how you did it!" she demanded, raising her voice. Didn't he see that the answer to their problem was in that magic?
"I teleported to you."
The glimmer of hope in her started to rise.
"How does it work?"
"The other person must think of you—must want you to be there," he replied. "And you must want to be with them. Then, it just happens. …But it only works with Hylians," he added.
Zelda already knew who she needed to contact—the only other Hylian she had ever bonded with—the woman who had warned them that they would need her help.
Kara? she asked tentatively.
Yes, my child? Kara didn't seem at all surprised to hear Zelda's voice.
The battle is lost and Link is badly hurt; I can't get him off the field. We're going to be overrun any moment. Can you help us?
I don't know what I can do from here.
We can teleport to you, but you have to want us both to be there. You have to concentrate on bringing us to you.
I can do that.
Zelda lay across Link, wrapping her arms around him. The soldiers were so close, she could feel the thud of their feet vibrating through the ground.
"Link, we're going to go to Kara," she told him. "She will help us teleport there."
They both closed their eyes and imagined the old woman with all their might, wanting desperately to be with her inside the safety of the city.