A Matter of Honor
Even though Zelda thought Link had been dreaming about the fairy, he found one thing to be true: he and Zelda both had scars, as the Great Fairy had promised. His shoulder wound had turned into a scar that was a near-perfect circle the size of a large coin. It was completely white, as if it was several years old.
"How does your shoulder feel?" Zelda asked anxiously. She had put her gambeson back on and was sitting on the bed beside him.
Link tried to lift his arm, but didn't make it very far before he winced. "Like it doesn't work," he said, massaging the scar. "It feels all knotted up—like the broken pieces got glued back together in the wrong order. "
Zelda frowned. "I wonder why? I don't hurt where I got cut."
"I don't hurt, either—except when I move." He sighed. "I'm afraid my muscle is scarred on the inside—just like my skin is scarred on the outside. I've seen other people with the same problem; the muscle is hardened and doesn't want to stretch because of the scar tissue."
"What did they do to fix it?"
He made a face. "They forced it to stretch and become supple again." He waved his hand dismissively before she could ask any more questions; he didn't even want to think about it at the moment. "The brothers at the monastery will fix it for me," he said. "For now, I'll not move it and enjoy it not hurting for a change."
"Maybe if you went to the fairy's cave and got into her pool, that would fix it," Zelda suggested. "I felt so much better after I got in."
"I doubt it."
"Because she told me that I would have to keep my scars. I suppose that goes for the ones on the inside as well as the outside."
"But… why? I have scars as well; why would we have them if she was able to get rid of them?"
"She said we would need them." Zelda looked dubious. "We will have to trust she's right," he said. "We still have a long road to travel; who knows what we may need before we're through."
"That's true," Zelda allowed.
A moment later, there was a knock on the door.
"Enter," Link said.
Lord Long Fang walked in. Long Fang was carrying a rolled-up bundle under one arm and he looked especially grave.
"Ah, Hero, I see that you have made a full recovery." He sounded rather relieved.
"I'm alive," Link corrected. "My recovery is a little less than full."
"What still ails you?"
"I don't have full range of motion in my left arm. But the brothers at the monastery will be able to fix that," Link said dismissively, not wanting to go over the same subject again with a new audience. "The question is, will Princess Zelda and I be free to go there?"
"Free?" Long Fang said, looking perplexed. "Well, I suppose you are free to go there, if they will let you go there."
"I meant are we free to leave here?"
Long Fang looked even more confused. "Certainly."
"Well, the last thing I remember, we had both been convicted of murder and were set to be executed," Link pointed out. "Obviously you are not sadistic, like Tarsus, but I wasn't exactly sure where we stood…" he hinted.
Long Fang sighed. "Yes, about that…."
He pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down. "I have had a talk with Kara and I understand things now," he explained.
"Many, many years ago," he started, "when my grandfather was young and in his prime, he was caught in a rockslide and half-buried. Unfortunately, the same slide also blocked the path, which kept the rest of the streak from coming to his aid.
"He lay there, trapped, for more than a day, and had already given up hope of surviving, when a young woman—barely more than a girl—came up the path from Pallis. She was out gathering healing herbs, and as soon as she found my grandfather, she helped him. She gave him water and pain medicine, and then, little by little, she was able to move enough rock off of him that he was able to crawl free. Then she stayed with him two more days until the tribe was able to clear the path and carry him home.
"He swore a great oath, before all his people, that the young woman—Kara—was to always have the protection and friendship of the streak. If she ever petitioned them for something, and it was within their power to grant it, then it would be granted.
"Furthermore, he bound his descendants to his oath and declared that when he died, Kara was to be given his hide. In that way, even those who may never have seen her would recognize her when she came forward and presented his hide by way of proof.
"Kara gave you that hide so that you could use it to call in her favor, if you needed to, but it's my understanding that, in the haste to get you out of the city, she forgot to tell you the purpose of the cloak.
"Had Tarsus not been here—or had he not played for control of this streak when he did—then it would not have mattered anyway. I read the stars; I knew who you both are. I know what it is that you must do.
"It was I who dispatched a party to rescue you, and it was I who sent word to Growder and Anne-Marie to take care of you. If I had not been so far away, at my observation post—had I been here when you were brought in—I would not have been worried about the cloak. Curious, but not unduly worried. For one, I would doubt persons such as yourselves would murder anyone. And secondly, I know there is no one missing from our streak. You couldn't have murdered anyone and turned them into a cloak, because no one is unaccounted for.
"But Tarsus was looking for an excuse to turn this streak against me and seize control. It was easy for him to use the cloak to whip everyone into a frenzy and enrage them to the point that no one stopped to think, 'Who does the hide belong to?' If they had stopped to think, they would have come up with the answer: it couldn't belong to anyone in living memory."
Long Fang sighed again. "I am very sorry that you were caught in the middle of our politics. This is a shame from which I fear we can never recover."
He leaned forward and placed the bundle on the bed. It slowly unrolled itself across Link's lap, revealing a tiger skin. When Link reached out to touch it, he found it was warm and slightly damp.
"This is the only apology I can give you," Long Fang said. "That, and the promise that whatever you ask for, I will fulfill it. I swear that oath to you both. And like my grandfather's oath, it will pass down to my heirs—for as long as any of us rule this streak."
Link looked at Zelda, and her eyes mirrored his horror. They didn't have to be told who the hide had belonged to; it was pretty obvious that it was what remained of the would-be usurper, Tarsus.
"Um… I think the only thing we need is to be on our way," Link said. "We are on a quest for the Master Sword, and the sooner we get it, the better."
"Where is it located?"
"I have been told that the brothers at the Westeastern Monastery have it. That is where I was raised; I know the place and the brothers there quite well."
"That is not far—less than a day."
Long Fang stood up. "I will have you carried to the edge of our domain, and then you can travel the rest of the way yourselves."
"When do you wish to leave?"
"I don't even know what time of day it is."
"It is late afternoon."
"How long will it take to get to the edge of your domain?"
"We can have you there before nightfall."
"Then we'll leave now, if that can be arranged."
Zelda looked at Link. "Are you sure you should push yourself so soon?"
"I feel fine. In fact, I'm tired of lying around; I want to be up and moving."
"Give me a few minutes," Long Fang said, "and I will make everything ready."
Fifteen minutes later, Link and Zelda followed Lord Long Fang through the maze of hallways and to a door that led outside. The sun was shining brightly and the wind had a warmth to it, although the air around them was still a little cool. Already the snow was receding from the rocks and turning to slush.
Two tigers and Kara were standing there, waiting for them.
"Anne-Marie and Growder will carry you to the foot of the mountain," Long Fang said.
Link offered his hand. "Thank you for all your help."
Long Fang touched his paw to Link's hand. "I am ashamed of the way you were treated. I hope that someday, when your questing is done, that you may do us the honor of returning and we can extend our real hospitality to you both."
"Maybe we can."
Zelda offered her hand and he bowed over it. "Your Highness, I hope our two people may be allies."
"I think that can be arranged… once we regain control of my kingdom."
"I pray that it will be so."
Kara was holding the pack that Zelda had worn through the mountains. Link took it and, with some help from Zelda—and some pain in his shoulder—he managed to get it hoisted onto his back. Once he quit moving his arm, and the pack was settled into place, his shoulder stopped burning. The pack itself wasn't very heavy, but then, they didn't have far to go.
"I'm sorry I let you down," Kara said, looking at both of them sorrowfully. "I can't believe I forgot to tell you about the cloak."
"It's alright," Zelda said soothingly. "It probably wouldn't have mattered anyways; Tarsus wouldn't have believed us, even if we had known the truth about it."
"But he would not have had an excuse to hurt you if I had not given it to you in the first place."
"I don't think he needed much of an excuse," Link said. "If he hadn't had the cloak, he would have made up some other reason—our trespassing, or something like that."
"Well, I suppose that's true," she said reluctantly. Then she reached out and touched Link on his left arm. "See to your arm as soon as you can. It will need all its strength if it is to wield the Master Sword."
"I will. The brothers will fix it for me. I won't particularly like it, but they'll fix it."
Kara smiled at Princess Zelda. "Take care of yourself, Your Highness." She stepped in closer, whispering. "And take care of Link. He needs you, you know."
Zelda smiled a little. "Yes, I know. And I will."
Kara stepped back. "If either of you need me, you know where to find me. Just call to me and I'll bring you here and patch you back up again."
"Hopefully you will not have to see us again until we come back to liberate Erenrue," Link said.
"I will pray for that day," she said fervently.
Their goodbyes made, Link and Zelda hopped onto Anne-Marie and Growder, respectively. They waved farewell one last time, then the two tigers sped them down the trail and out of sight.
Growder and Anne-Marie carried them to a place where the trail widened and split off. They had descended far enough down the mountain that there was no longer any snow; where there were tenacious plants clinging to the sides of the rocky mountain, they were leafed-out in tiny, bright green leaves and pink and white flowers.
In front of them, to the south, there was a narrow valley that cleaved the last two peaks of the mountain chain nearly in two. They were still a hundred feet or so above the valley, and looking down into it, they could see the lush, green tops of a bamboo forest.
To the west, the valley widened out into an expanse of impenetrable-looking bamboo for as far as the eye could see. The sun had almost slipped behind the horizon, so the shadows across the forest were long and made it look dark.
Growder gestured to his left. "There is a hot spring at the end of the trail that we use for bathing."
"Oh, thank the gods," Link said, climbing off Anne-Marie's back. "I'm so nasty, I disgust myself."
"Have a soak and enjoy yourself," Growder encouraged. "You can stay the night here and finish your journey down in the morning. Nothing will disturb you here; nothing dares to enter our realm."
"That sounds like a good idea," Link agreed.
Zelda got off Growder, and he stood up, offering his paw to Link. "Take care of yourselves."
"We will. Thank you for all your help."
"I wish we could have done more."
Growder held his paw out to Zelda, and when she put her hand on it, he bowed over it. "M'lady, it was a pleasure to fight with you."
Zelda smiled; she seemed to have earned Growder's respect. "Thank you for helping me."
"We take pride in keeping our range free of danger—aside from natural dangers, which we have no control of. Those demons have been a source of great vexation for me. They're an affront to our people."
"Well, they will not go away until we get the Master Sword. But when we do, we will come back and kill them once and for all."
"Then we will look forward to your return," Anne-Marie said in her soft, sweet voice.
They made their final goodbyes, then Anne-Marie and Growder headed back up the mountain and disappeared.
"Let's see what we have to work with," Link said, sounding rather eager, as he turned off the trail and headed for the hot springs.
The trail passed through a wide place between two ridges—there was plenty of space for camping and even green grass on the ground—and then it disappeared around an outcropping of stone. When they rounded the corner, they found the trail dead-ended into a large, crystal-clear pool that had a faint mist rising from it.
Link squatted down and dipped his hand in the water. "Ah, that's going to feel good—like really hot bath water."
"Why don't you go first; I can make a fire while you wash up," Zelda offered. "I think I got pretty clean when I went in the pool at the fairy's cave."
He slipped off the pack and Zelda helped him get out of his gambeson—his stiff shoulder making it hard for him to shrug it off.
She could see why he was eager for a bath. His gambeson was stiff with dried blood that had soaked through the dozens of layers of quilted linen, and blood had dried on his skin like an orangish-brown paint. In the effort to save his life, no one had bothered with niceties like washing the blood off of him.
"I'm going to see if I can't soak some of this blood out," Link said, taking the gambeson from Zelda. "Then I'll hang it up to dry and maybe it will be wearable tomorrow."
"I doubt all those layers will be dry by tomorrow," she said.
"Well, I'd rather be damp than dirty," he said.
He turned around and caught a glimpse of his face in the still water. "I see I have Tarsus's scars as well," he said, turning his face to view them.
Zelda frowned. "Yes, I'm afraid so," she said unhappily. She didn't mind having scars on her back—she couldn't see them, and few other people would ever have the opportunity to see them, either—but she didn't like the fact that Link's face was marred by four thin, white lines that went across his left cheek from the outside corner of his eye down to his jaw. There was even one line that crossed his throat just under his chin.
He had been quite a handsome boy, but now his beauty was permanently marred. And he no longer looked like a boy; he had the makings of a grizzled old warrior, although he was not much past his eighteenth birthday.
Link made a few faces in the water—all of them grim or angry. "Hmm, they might actually come in handy," he said after a moment, touching his scarred cheek.
"Handy? How on earth would scars come in handy?" Zelda asked in disbelief.
He looked at her. "Because I don't look like someone to be trifled with. I look like someone who will fight—and put up with pain. Maybe that will give people pause before they try to mess with us. Given that we have almost exhausted our list of allies, we may need the ability to look threatening."
Zelda supposed that was one way of looking at the situation. But then, Link had always had a way of finding something good and hopeful in any situation—no matter how grim or seemingly impossible. Besides, the only alternative was to be bitter forever, and that would only be a waste of energy—energy neither of them had to spare at the moment.
Zelda picked up the pack and took it around the outcropping of stone, leaving Link to take his bath in private. She rummaged through the pack and took stock of their supplies. There were a couple of linen towels—apparently Kara had known about the hot springs being on the way—and plenty of firewood and a hunk of half-frozen meat. That was one thing about the tigers: they only ate meat. Zelda had never thought it possible, but she would have killed to have some vegetables and green things to eat.
She was trying to light the tinder when she heard a loud splash from the other side of the rocks. She waited a moment, listening, but didn't hear anything else.
She waited, but still didn't hear anything.
"Link?" she called out again, a bit louder.
She began to grow worried; what if he had fallen in and hurt himself?
"Link?" she called out again, taking a tentative step towards the path.
When he still didn't answer her, she hurried around the outcropping of rock.
She could see Link's naked body in the clear water; he appeared to be face-down, near the bottom of the pool.
"Link!" she cried, jumping down into the pool. But, before she could wade out to him, he suddenly darted up, breaking the surface.
"Ah! That feels good!" he said, throwing his head back and running his hands over his hair, squeezing the excess water out. He turned around a moment later and saw Zelda standing knee-deep in water, staring at him.
There was a moment of awkward silence. "You should have said you wanted to get in, too," Link said. "I would have left my pants on."
Zelda felt her face heating up. "I... um… heard a splash, and then you didn't answer me, and… I was afraid you had fallen in and hurt yourself."
"No, I just jumped in."
They were silent another moment, as Zelda stayed frozen in place.
"So, are you going to get in, or just stand there and stare at me?" he finally asked.
Zelda felt as if her face was on fire. She finally shook herself out of her shock and she hurried to get out of the water. "Sorry," she mumbled, before fleeing to the other side of the rock.
She sat down with her back to the rock and fanned her face, trying to cool down—and trying to tell herself that she was only hot because of the water.
She heard the occasional splash on the other side of the rock, then Link began to sing something cheerful in a low voice. The wet-slapping noises sounded as if he was trying to do his laundry.
She finally took off her soaking wet boots and got back on trying to start a fire. She just had it going good when Link returned. He was wearing his pants, but carrying his boots and dripping-wet gambeson.
"I feel so much better," he said, as he spread his gambeson out on a low bush near the fire.
"That's good," Zelda said, concentrating on feeding the fire—feeling too embarrassed to look at him at the moment. She hoped he wouldn't say anything about earlier.
She dared to glance up at him for a moment, while his back was turned, and she noticed there was still something on his back.
"I think you missed a spot," she said.
He tried to look over his shoulder. "Could you get it for me? I thought I was never going to scrub all that blood off; it was glued on."
Zelda fetched a towel and tried to wipe it away, but he was right: it was glued on.
She put more force into it, rubbing vigorously. Link had to put his hand out against the rock and brace himself so she didn't push him down.
"If you keep rubbing like that, you're going to bring up fresh blood," he said after a minute.
"Sorry. I think I have it," she said, stopping to look. The blood was indeed gone, but his skin—already pink from the hot water—had turned an angry red.
She rubbed the spot lightly with the palm of her hand, trying to soothe the rawness.
He closed his eyes and let out a rather contented-sounding sigh.
Slowly, she began running her hand over the rest of his back—across his shoulders, down his spine, and to his waist. He wasn't very big—he was barely taller than she was—but there was a hardness to his lean frame. His wiry muscles bespoke of someone who had lived a life of manual labor or, at the very least, constant training.
She slowly slid her hand around his waist. She could feel the muscles in his stomach contract under her hand as he inhaled sharply.
Then he stood up straighter and put his hand on top of hers. "Stop," he said firmly. He turned around and looked at her with an odd expression that she couldn't read.
"Um… if you want to clean up, I'll cook dinner," he offered after another long, awkward moment of silence.
"Alright," she said, suddenly glad for an excuse to get away.
While she had a soak in the pool, she tried to sort out her confused thoughts. Link had seemed to like it when she had touched him, so why had he so suddenly asked her to stop? Was he angry with her for carrying things too far? He hadn't seemed angry, but then… she wasn't exactly sure what he was feeling. It wasn't often that she looked at him and didn't know what he was thinking. As he had once promised, he wasn't too hard to understand; now was a rare exception.
Finally, she decided she had to face the music—whatever that might be—and she got out and dried herself off and dressed.
"I think the meat is ready," Link said when she reappeared.
"Good, I'm hungry," Zelda said, her stomach suddenly reminding her that she hadn't fed it all day.
She sat down beside Link and they ate in companionable silence, occasionally punctuated by musings about their future plans. Zelda was, for the most part, glad that Link seemed willing to ignore their earlier awkward moments and act like nothing had happened.
"Once we have the Master Sword," she said as she finished her supper, wiping the grease from her hands on her still-damp towel, "what do you think we should tackle first?"
"Hmm, I've been thinking about that," he said, leaning back against the rock wall. "I was kind of thinking that we might retrace our steps—from the monastery, back across the mountains, into Erenrue, then across to the sea. We know there are demons all along that route. Of course, there may be more elsewhere that we will have to get, so we may not make the same trip that we made here; we may have to deviate our course."
"How are we going to take out all of the demons in Erenrue? Do you remember how many of those birds there were on the battlefield?"
"Yeah, I don't know about that," Link said unhappily. "It looked like Nagadii had actual control over them—unlike these that we've encountered that are just running loose. It may be that they're not all in Erenrue; maybe he took them with him or sent them back to the Dark World."
"Even so, think about all those people who were changed into demons," Zelda pressed. "They're probably not under his control, since he didn't call them up. They've got to be in the city or on the plain somewhere."
"Yeah." He sighed. "I don't know what to do about Erenrue. I mean, even if we didn't owe it to them, we still have to take out all of the demons there anyways before we can close the rift in Hyrule. But there will be a lot of demons for us to take out—especially since there's only one Master Sword."
He sighed again. "I don't know. Maybe we should plan on dealing with it last—right before we go home—and maybe by then we'll have a plan or some help or more weapons or something."
He moved over to the pack and dug around in the bottom of it. He pulled out the tiger pelt that Long Fang had given them. "He really didn't want us to leave without this, did he?"
"No, it doesn't seem so."
"I was kind of hoping we might be able to accidentally 'forget' and leave it behind."
Zelda chuckled a little. "I was hoping the same thing."
"Oh, well," he said, then he spread the pelt out beside the fire. "To the victor goes the spoils, I suppose."
He pulled out the blue cloak that had been Zelda's and folded it up, making it into a pillow. Then he stretched out on the fur. "I suppose there is a dark part of me that's rather glad Tarsus ended up as my rug," he admitted. "I think about him poking me in my wound just for the hell of it, and I don't feel the least bit sorry that I lived and he didn't."
"I'm not sorry that you lived, but I still think carrying his skin around is creepy."
"You wear fur on your winter dresses," he pointed out.
"Yes, but I never knew any of the animals personally before they got sewn onto my dresses."
Despite her initial reluctance, though, Link managed to coax Zelda to lie down beside him. She had to admit, Tarsus did make a decent ground cover; it was more comfortable than lying on the bare ground.
She curled up beside Link, her head resting in the hollow of his shoulder, and he put his arm around her. It felt good to lie together companionably, watching the fire at their feet flicker and dance in the cool evening air. They didn't have to worry about food or staying warm, and Link wasn't in pain or weak from blood loss. It was certainly the most pleasant moment together they had had since they had left Pallis, and one of the best evenings camping out.
"You know," Link said, after some time had passed, "all my life, I have been trained to be without emotion. It's not that I don't feel; it's that I wasn't allowed to show it. I was never allowed to show true myself.
"Even though I have always loved my family and have been proud of them, I have had to remain silent about who they are and where I'm from. Even though I like talking, I was told to always guard my tongue; silence was the best policy. Even though I like people, I was encouraged to remain separate and not have any close friends.
"But I'm not one of the ancients' mechanical wonders; I do have feelings. I get angry sometimes. I feel pain. Sometimes I feel sad. And at other times, I feel love… and desire."
"Sometimes," he continued, "I feel too much."
Zelda knew what he was alluding to: the moment when she had touched him and he had made her stop.
"Is there such a thing as feeling too much?" Zelda asked. "I mean, I can understand feeling too much anger or too much sadness, but can a person ever feel too much love?"
"You can get so consumed with it, you see nothing else—can do nothing else. Not only that, but if you feel love too strongly, it can overwhelm your good sense."
Zelda laughed a little. "Something sounds wrong with having good sense while being in love."
"There's nothing wrong with being sensible," he argued. "Especially when you love someone as dangerous as a princess."
"I wasn't aware that princesses were dangerous."
"They are the most dangerous creature a man can love. He must never, ever lose control of himself—not even for a moment."
"Why not?" She turned her head to look at him. "Why can't you be your real self around a princess—at least every once in a while, in private?"
"Because that wouldn't be proper."
"Princesses have emotions, too, you know."
"But princesses rarely have real friends—because people rarely show their real selves."
"Yes, that does seem to be a bit of a conundrum."
"You could pretend I wasn't a princess sometimes," she offered.
"You could pretend you know who I really am."
"I'd rather know who you really are."
He chuckled. "Your Highness, you know who I am. In fact, you've seen me at my lowest point."
"I don't mean that. I mean… I'd like to see you when you're not being proper. You're worried about rules and things like that all the time—even though there's no one around to know or care."
"You're not talking about rules; you're talking about honor. And I always care about that—both mine and yours. I may show you my anger or pain sometimes, but there are some emotions that I can never show you—that I can never set free—because we both have our honor to uphold. And it doesn't matter if anyone else ever knows or not; I will know, and that's enough. I don't want to do anything that will cause me to feel shame—or bring shame upon you."
Zelda didn't press the matter any further. Besides, she pretty well had figured out what she wanted to know: Link had enjoyed it when she had touched him. That he had stopped her was because he felt something so strong, he was scared of losing control of it.
It was probably just as well that he had stopped her; she could see how easy it would be for her own emotions to get the better of her, too. And, despite the fact that she wanted a more normal relationship with Link, she, like he, was only willing to take it so far. She had a sense of honor, too.