"How bad is it?" Kara asked. "Are you both hurt?"
Link opened his eyes and saw that he was lying on the floor in Kara's house. She was helping Zelda to her feet.
"I'm fine," Zelda replied. "It's Link who's hurt. Badly."
Kara knelt down beside him—surprisingly agile for her advanced age. She frowned as she looked at the arrow in his shoulder.
"It went all the way through," Zelda said anxiously.
"That's good," Kara replied. "That will make it easier for me to pull out. If it hadn't gone all the way through, I would have had to push it through myself, and that's much more painful than it going in fast."
Link groaned at the mere thought.
"I can fix this," Kara said with confidence. "Let's get him into bed."
She and Zelda tried to pick Link up. He screamed as the arrow grated against bone and pain streaked down the entire left side of his body like lightning, setting him on fire.
He blacked out before they could get him off the floor.
Sometime later, Link woke to a dim light shining near his head. Zelda was sitting beside him, looking anxious.
"Oh, Link, I was hoping you wouldn't wake up," she whispered.
"Why not?" he whispered, his throat raw from screaming in pain.
"Because we don't have the arrow out of you yet. Kara went to find something she could use to pull it out."
A cold sweat broke out all over Link's body and he began to tremble. He tried to raise his right hand to his face, but was stopped by something around his wrist. He looked down and saw that a strip of cloth had been tied around it. He reflexively jerked his feet, as if to get up, but found them tied down as well.
"Why am I tied up?" he asked, his voice rising in panic.
"Kara said we had to keep you from moving when she… when she pulls it out," Zelda said in a horrified whisper.
Tears began to roll out of Link's eyes. "Oh, gods," he said breathlessly, "I can't do this. I can't do this."
"You have to. We have to get it out."
He cried more. "I can't. Oh, gods, I can't bear it. Please don't. Please…."
Zelda began to cry, too. "Oh, Link, don't… shh…." She held his face in her hands and kissed him. "Shh… don't cry. It'll be alright. You'll be alright," she said between kisses.
Her tears dripped warm onto his face, mingling with his, and for a moment, he forgot everything but her. She had never kissed him before; he had always been the one to initiate it.
He knew then, without a doubt, that he did not love in vain. She did truly love him in return.
Kara came in a few minutes later, interrupting them. She was carrying a pair of what looked like blacksmith's tongs in her hands.
As soon as Link saw her, panic began to rise in him again.
"He woke up," Zelda said anxiously, turning to Kara. "Can we drug him so he won't feel anything?"
"I'm afraid not, Your Highness; there's no time."
"What do you mean?" Link asked anxiously.
"There are demons in the city. Even if the Hyrulian army doesn't breech the gate, everyone inside will soon be demons anyway. We are locked inside with our own death. I only hope that the Prince will quickly realize that and offer our surrender and save who we can."
Link and Zelda stared at her in open-mouthed horror. How could the great kingdom of Erenrue have fallen so quickly?
"But we have to patch you up, best we can, and get you out," Kara said with calm practicality. "The two of you are the only hope we have now. You must get the Master Sword and clear away this demon-scourge and free Erenrue."
She climbed onto the narrow bed and stood above Link, her feet braced on the bed's side rails.
"Princess, lie across him and hold him down," Kara commanded. "Those ties might not hold someone with his strength."
Zelda kissed Link one last time, apologetically, then put a stick in his mouth for him to bite down on. Then she draped herself across his body, her weight pinning him to the bed.
Kara gripped the shaft of the arrow with the tongs, causing Link to give a muffled cry as she wiggled it in his arm. "Alright, young man, on the count of three. One… two…."
Before Link could tense up, she gave a hard jerk, ripping the arrowhead and what remained of the shaft out of his shoulder. He screamed—every muscle in his body rising up and straining against the ties and Zelda's weight.
And then he was sinking back into blackness.
Link awoke a second time to find someone gently wiping his forehead with a cool, wet cloth. The pain in his shoulder was still a throbbing burn, but at least it was more or less localized to his wound; the toes on his left foot were no longer curling in pain.
Zelda looked at him anxiously. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I'd be better off dead," he croaked. But he managed to give her a weak smile, to show he wasn't serious. At least not entirely.
"Don't joke about that," she said, frowning at him. "I nearly lost you."
She leaned in so close, he could see the unshed tears in her gray eyes. "I don't ever want to lose you," she whispered.
Then, before he could say anything, she was softly kissing him. As her lips lingered, and her warm tears once again fell onto his face, she grew more passionate, showing him just how much she had worried about him.
"Alright, I'm quite glad I didn't die," he said breathlessly when she, at last, pulled away. He could feel his rapid heartbeat throbbing in his left shoulder, but he didn't care; at that moment, he'd trade a lifetime of aching for another kiss like that.
She smiled a little.
He tried to move his right arm and found he was no longer tied up. He reached up and touched her face, gently wiping away the last of her tears with his thumb. "Thank you," he whispered.
"For saving me."
"It's only fair after you've saved my life so many times."
"It's my job to protect you."
"And what's my job? What do I owe you?"
"You don't owe me anything, Your Highness."
"But I must. Even if you are my knight and are oath-bound to take care of me, I must have something to give you in return."
"Your presence is enough for me."
"Really, Link, I'm being serious."
"So am I."
She looked at him dubiously.
"Your Highness, you don't have enough gold in your kingdom to pay me to endure what I just went through, so there's no use in trying to give me something in return.
"I am here—and willing to suffer—because my soul is bound to yours. I am both compelled to serve you because of it, and made utterly whole and contented in doing so.
"If you want to give me something that is valuable and means something to me, then give me a place in your life. I don't care if I'm to be your knight, or your advisor, or just the boy who entertains you with songs and stories. Just don't send me away."
"I could never send you away," she whispered. "You… you are a light in my life. I like talking to you and doing things with you—even arguing with you. You make my life so much more… full."
He smiled. "Then we understand one another perfectly."
A moment later, they were interrupted by a hard, rapid knock on the door. Zelda jumped, her eyes widening in fear.
"Where's your sword?" Link whispered. During one of his unconscious periods, she had stripped out of all of her armor and was wearing only her padded gambeson, canvas pants, and boots.
She started to rise to get it, but Kara hurried into the room a moment later, carrying a large pack; she was bent under the weight of it.
"Don't worry," Kara said, dumping the pack in the floor beside the bed. "The enemy doesn't knock."
Link relaxed again; he hadn't thought about it that way, but she was right.
Kara hurried to open the door, but didn't look at all surprised when Prince Zeyde strode in. He was helmetless, with his black hair a bit disheveled, and his surcoat was rent in a few places, but he otherwise looked unhurt.
"I got your message," he said to Kara, before noticing Link and Zelda nearby.
"Thank all the gods you're safe," he said, hurrying over to them. He clasped Zelda in a tight embrace. "I sent Clark in to find you and Father, but I lost track of him when the retreat was signaled. The demons were on us, and there were so few left in my division, I couldn't send anyone else in to help get you out. I've been looking for all of you since."
"Duke Clark died trying to get us out," Link said gravely. "And… and the king is gone as well. He told us to signal the retreat and that was the last order he gave."
"Actually, he told the men to get us and you back to the city and defend it," Zelda corrected.
Tears welled up in Zeyde's eyes. "It is as I feared. I knew Father would never order a retreat while he had life left in him."
He sighed heavily and looked away, as if embarrassed for them to see the tears running down his face. "We can't hold the city," he said sadly. "There are demons everywhere; I would have been here sooner, but we've had to fight our way here, up every level. I'm going to have to surrender if we're to save anyone. Otherwise, we'll all be demons by tomorrow morning."
There was a heavy silence as his words sank in. It was as Kara had thought, but it was still hard to hear it coming from the person who would actually make the decision.
Zeyde jerked off a gauntlet and quickly wiped the tears from his face, then he turned back to Link and Zelda, a firm resolve on his face. "We need to get both of you out of here before I surrender. Link, can you walk?"
"I'll have to," he replied, throwing back the covers.
Zeyde and Kara both went to the side of the bed and, together, pulled Link into an upright position. He groaned as his wound pulsed with pain and he felt warm blood gush out front and back.
"Where are we going to go?" Zelda asked anxiously.
"There's a door into the mountains," Zeyde replied. "From there, you can walk all the way to Shi-Ha."
"Hold him there, Your Highness," Kara said, before hurrying to the other side of the room. She returned a moment later with a couple of canvas strips. She tied one around Link's body and upper arm, pinning it to his side. He had been stripped of his armor, too, but unlike Zelda, he was still wearing his maile shirt over his gambeson.
"You can't move this arm before it heals up," Kara warned him. "You might bleed to death."
"I'm bleeding now," he said. "I can feel it."
She put her hand down the front of his shirt, then the back, checking. "Your bandages are still in place," she said. "As long as they're in place, you should be alright, although you'll continue to bleed for awhile.
She glanced at Zelda. "I put fresh bandages in the pack, Your Highness. You'll have to change them out for him until he stops bleeding. Then, after that, the wound will probably seep pus for a time. Just keep changing out the bandages until it scabs over good and hard and it quits weeping."
Zelda looked faintly disgusted by the description, but she resolutely nodded.
Kara tied the second piece of canvas across Link's chest, then put his left wrist in the makeshift canvas sling.
"I also put pain medicine in the pack," Kara continued. "You need to steep it in hot water until it turns bright green—like the color of spring grass. But I recommend you only use it at night because it will make you sleep. It will give you strange dreams, too, but other than that, you shouldn't have any problems with it."
"There are many caves in the mountains," Zeyde told them. "You shouldn't have trouble finding a place to shelter. But the snow will be deep and rotten at this time of year, so it will be a very hard climb. And it's still early enough in the spring that the weather might turn cold again and blow up a blizzard. If you feel the temperature dropping suddenly, find shelter immediately; you will freeze to death if you get caught outside."
"I've packed you food and some firewood; both are nearly impossible to come by in the mountains, so if you find either, take advantage of it," Kara instructed. "There's barely enough here to get you to Shi-Ha if you make good time, so be conservative."
"It is an arduous journey in the best of times," Zeyde said, looking at both of them seriously. "With Link's wound… you will need to be extra careful."
Everyone could hear what he had carefully avoided saying: with Link's wound, it would be a miracle if the trip didn't kill him.
"I'm sorry we can't do more for you," Zeyde added. "I wouldn't send you that way if there was any other way out. Actually," he corrected, "I wouldn't send you out in your condition at all. But you will surely die if you stay. This is the only hope you have—it's all I can give you; Erenrue has exhausted her supply."
Kara and Zeyde lifted Link to his feet. He swayed drunkenly and his vision darkened. The next thing he knew, his face was pressed against Zeyde's hard breastplate.
"He'll never make it," Kara said—although Link couldn't tell if she was whispering or if his hearing was as weak as the rest of him.
"Is that prophesy or just old-fashioned speculation?" Zeyde asked, sounding slightly annoyed.
"It's realism backed up by years of taking care of badly-injured people," she retorted. "Is there nowhere we can hide them, even for a few days? The longer he is able to rest, the better his chances."
"I don't dare—not with a wizard powerful enough to summon demons. Summon demons!" he repeated in disbelief. "Gods!—if he can do that, is there anything beyond his ability?"
Link pulled away from Zeyde, managing to stand on his own two feet without help. "I can make it," he said, even as he doubted his own words. But Prince Zeyde was right: it was their only chance, so they had to take it.
Zeyde clapped Link on the shoulder, then turned to Zelda and helped her hoist the pack onto her back. Link frowned, because he could see how heavy the pack was; it would severely hamper her movement, and, at the moment, she was the only one of them who had a reasonable chance of defending them. Link had only the use of his right hand, and he wasn't very good with it at all.
But he couldn't very well carry the pack himself—not in his current condition—and they couldn't go without the food, medicine, and supplies, so he bit his tongue.
"Don't worry," Kara said, whispering in his ear, as if she could read his mind, "it will grow lighter soon enough. And before your trip is over, you will wish it was heavy again."
Link shuddered a little. He was afraid she would prove right.
Zeyde wedged Zelda's bow between her back and the pack, then he managed to lash her quiver to the outside of the pack. It was more that she was carrying her bow and arrows because she would want them in the future, rather than having them easily accessible in the event they were needed. She would have to rely on her sword for quick defense.
Zeyde rummaged around in the pile of armor in the floor and pulled out Link and Zelda's swords.
"You need to burn these," he told Kara, grabbing up Link and Zelda's surcoats as well. "And these," he added, ripping the colored plumes from Zelda's helmet. "You do not want to be found with these."
"I'll take care of it," Kara said, taking them from him.
"You need to hide the armor as well. It's not nearly as obvious, but someone with a keen eye might notice that it's not common-made."
"Wait, shouldn't we take it with us?" Zelda asked. "I mean, it would be helpful if there are demons in the mountains."
"There's no way you can make it all the way to Shi-Ha wearing all of that," Zeyde replied. "It will be hard enough to walk in the snow with the weight you have—not to mention that metal conducts cold; it would be colder for you to wear it than not."
Zelda watched sadly as Kara carried out their beautiful suits of armor. Link felt the same sort of sadness; they were leaving Erenrue with little more than they had when they entered it, and they were leaving nothing but death and misery in their wake.
While Kara was secreting away their armor, Zeyde buckled Link and Zelda's swords on them, then took up the hooded, fur-lined cloaks that Kara had laid out, and fastened them onto each in turn. Then he gave them furry mittens.
Kara came out of the back room. "Can you think of anything else they need?" Zeyde asked her.
"Strength and more than a small amount of favor from the gods."
Zeyde actually smiled. "I think they have both in plenty."
"Oh, one other thing," she said, suddenly remembering.
She retrieved a tall walking staff from one corner of the room and handed it to Link. "I think you will find a need for this."
"Thank you… for everything you have done for us," Link said.
"I told you that you would be going to the East—but not the way you had planned."
"And you also told us that we would need you—and we did."
She smiled a little. "I know; that's why I had everything ready for you in advance; I knew you would come back." She grinned, showing her toothless gums. "You will not question me now, eh?"
Link managed a faint smile. "No, ma'am."
She hurried to open the front door for them. Standing outside were six anxious-looking guards.
"Your Highness, we need to go," one of them told Zeyde fearfully. "The screams are getting louder and coming this way; I'm afraid we might have trouble getting to the Eastern door."
"We're ready now," Zeyde replied. He turned to Kara. "Thank you for your help."
She reached out and touched his arm. "Be careful," she said. Then she suddenly jerked upright, getting a faraway look in her eyes.
Zeyde recoiled from her as Rayliss had. "What in the name of the gods…?" he muttered, looking at her nervously.
"She's getting a vision," Zelda said.
A moment later, Kara's body relaxed and she came back into the present. But Link could clearly see tears welling up in her eyes.
"What did you see?" Zeyde asked anxiously. "Was it about Link and Zelda?"
"Yes and no," she replied evasively.
"What do you mean? Did you see something happening to them? Do we need to change our plan?"
"Your Highness, by the time I see the future, it is already set in stone; there is nothing you can do to alter it. So don't worry about it."
Zeyde sighed a little. "Well, I suppose you're right. Besides, I don't have any other plan."
He thanked her again and walked out. Link and Zelda followed, but then Link glanced back at Kara; she looked at him with unshed tears in her eyes.
"What was it?" he whispered to her.
She just shook her head. "May the gods be with you—for they are no longer with us," she said sadly. Then she shut the door.
Link didn't think he could feel any worse than he did about the enterprise, but Kara's ominous blessing made his insides go cold.
Link immediately made use of Kara's walking stick as they quickly wended their way through the darkened, deserted streets of Pallis. He leaned on it for support as waves of dizziness and weakness in his knees came and went. Luckily, they didn't have to climb any stairs.
They rounded one corner and came face-to-face with a small flock of the demon-birds. Zeyde and his troops, however, dispatched them quickly and resumed their course. Link was grateful that, for once, not everything was on him and Zelda to do; it was a shame that wasn't going to last more than a few minutes.
Soon they reached a non-descript wooden door set in the wall that separated the city from the mountain itself.
"This is it," Prince Zedye said. He stepped forward and, pulling out a key which hung from a long chain under his armor, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. On the other side was a narrow pass that wended between two vertical walls of stone.
"There is only one path through the mountains," he told them, "so you don't have to worry about getting lost. But there are places where it comes dangerously close to a sharp drop-off, and sometimes the snow sticks so well to itself that it actually hangs out over the precipice, fooling you into thinking there's ground there. When you're in doubt, use your walking stick to probe the snow and make sure you're where you think you are."
He looked at them sadly. "I am sorry we can't do more. You came to us for help, but we couldn't even help ourselves. Now we're just another mess you have to clean up—another burden for you to bear."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Zelda said firmly. "If anything, I'm sorry we brought our problems upon you all. But we will never forget that you tried to help us in our darkest hour, and one day we will return to lift Erenrue out of her darkness."
"We promise you that," Link agreed. "We will not abandon your kingdom."
Zeyde smiled a little, looking close to tears, then he offered Link his hand. Link clasped it and Zeyde gently pulled him in, clapping him on the back in a one-armed hug. "It's been a pleasure getting to know you."
"And me, you, Your Highness."
Zeyde turned and gave Zelda a hug.
"Come with us," Zelda whispered, holding onto him tightly. "I'm afraid Nagadii will kill you if you stay."
"I can't," he said, shaking his head sadly. "I must surrender to Nagadii to spare what's left of my people. Besides, I could never leave my wife and children behind to suffer in my place."
He handed the door key to Zelda. "Once you go through the door, it will lock behind you," he explained. "Father, Sir Elgon, and I are the only people with a key, and this door was made by our greatest wizard many generations ago; there's no forcing your way through it, or cutting it up, or burning it down—at least, no normal person can do so. I can't speak to what Nagadii can or can't do, so I would suggest you get as far away as possible, just in case he figures out how to circumvent its magic."
A moment later, their goodbyes were interrupted by the clatter of soldiers coming around the corner at the end of the street.
There was a moment of surprised silence, then the Hyrulian soldiers whipped out arrows and raised their bows.
Link grabbed Zelda and pushed her down, covering her body with his. A second later, the arrows found their targets.
Some men went down screaming; others fell silent, dead from arrows to the face or throat.
Link glanced back just in time to see Prince Zeyde lurch as he was struck. His eyes went wide in surprise, but he made no sound.
"Your Highness!" Link shouted, letting go of Zelda and catching Zeyde as he staggered forward.
Zelda screamed as soon as she saw her uncle. "NO!"
He opened his mouth to speak, but blood dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. Link knew immediately that he was wounded in a lung. It was mortal.
"G-go," Zeyde managed to whisper. A second later, three more arrows struck him from behind, causing him to jerk. He would have fallen if Link hadn't been holding him up.
"Go," he whispered again, trying to wave them off.
Link looked at him sadly, then shoved Zelda towards the door, even as more arrows came whizzing past them.
He dove through the door after Zelda, and the last sight they saw, before he kicked the door closed with his foot, was Prince Zeyde collapsing face-first on the ground with half a dozen arrows sticking out of his back.