Link and Zelda were shown to a small room with two narrow beds against either wall. A table—set up to be used as a desk—was between them. Other than a stool and a three-branch candelabra, there was nothing else in the room.
Zelda looked around. The white walls made it seem light, even though the only window was long and narrow and set so high up on the wall, she would have to stand up on the stool to see out of it.
"This will do," Link told the monk who led them to the room.
"Very good, sir. I will bring you fresh clothes in a moment. Do you need wash water?"
The monk nodded, then left the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Link set their pack on the desk, then he flopped down on the bed and stretched out with a sigh.
"Why did you insist on a private room?" Zelda asked, sitting down on the bed opposite him.
"Because everyone here stays in a dormitory—the students in one and the monks in another. This guest room and the abbot's room are the only private rooms. I wanted to make sure he put us in here instead of the dormitory. For one thing, I didn't think you would want to stay in a room full of strange men. And secondly, I didn't want you to stay in a room full of strange men."
She smiled a little. "Jealous?"
"Should I be?" he retorted, turning to look at her with a smile. "Actually, I just didn't want to be in an open room with a bunch of other people; there are too many variables; too many things to have to worry about. With so many people, I can't tell who is friend and who is foe. Here, there is only me and you; anyone who comes through that door is an enemy until I determine otherwise."
"Didn't these men train you to fight? Wouldn't someone be crazy to attack this place when everyone here can fight?"
"Erenrue didn't slow Nagadii down, and it had more fighters than any other kingdom," Link pointed out.
Zelda frowned, realizing he was right.
The monk returned a moment later carrying a wash basin full of water. Another monk followed behind him carrying what looked to be two folded sets of clothes.
"Thank you," Link said, hopping to his feet and taking the wash basin from the monk. He set it on the desk, then took the clothes from the other monk.
"Is there anything else you need?" the monk asked.
"No, not at the moment, thank you."
"Very well. The bell will ring for dinner in a couple of hours." He started to leave, then suddenly turned back. "Oh, and Abbot Winfield said that Brother Guy would work on your shoulder tomorrow morning, after breakfast."
Link painted on a smile. "Great," he said with obvious sarcasm.
The monk looked confused, as if he wasn't sure how to take Link's reaction. But when Link didn't say anything else, he shrugged a little and left.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Link took stock of the clothes. There were two identical tunics made from a heavy, reddish-brown linen. They had long sleeves and fell to mid-thigh, with two slits on either side that came up to the hip. There was no decoration on either.
Along with the tunics were two pairs of beige-colored canvas pants.
"These look to be the same size," Link said, comparing all the pieces of clothing.
"We're close to the same size," Zelda pointed out.
Link sighed. "That's my father's side of the family for you: short—every one of them."
He handed her a set of clothes. "Do you want to wash up and change first?"
He headed for the door. "Is there anything else you need?"
She thought about it a moment, then rubbed the linen shirt between her fingers. It was fairly coarse and heavy. "I need a strip of soft linen to wear under this shirt, if you can find some."
He looked at her in confusion. "Why?"
She felt her face warm. "Because this shirt is rough."
Her face got warmer. "So… it's rough on parts I'd rather it not be rough on."
He continued to look confused for a moment, then realization dawned on him. "Ah. Um, how much do you need?"
"Enough to go around me two or three times."
"I'll see what I can find."
While he was gone, Zelda stripped out of her clothes and rinsed off. She wasn't very dirty—she had just bathed in the hot spring the night before—but it felt good to wipe off and put on clean clothes anyways.
I could get used to bathing every day again, she thought to herself. She remembered with envy Rayliss's sunken marble tub. It was even nicer than the golden one that she had at home. But either would have been good, so long as she had access to them regularly.
But she knew that bathing would soon become a rare luxury again. And while she planned on enjoying being clean while she could, she didn't worry about what would happen when opportunities to bathe became few and far between; she just accepted that it was the price she had to pay for the job she had to do. And that was the biggest change that had happened to her in the few months she had been away from home: living on the edge of existence—being so near to life and death—had put many things into perspective.
She was just finishing up when there was a knock on the door.
"Your Highness, I have some linen for you," came Link's voice through the door. "See if this is what you want."
The door opened a tiny crack and he stuck his hand through, waggling a long piece of fabric.
She held the tunic to her chest and walked over, taking the fabric from him.
"Yes, this will do," she said.
"Good." He pulled the door shut.
Zelda chuckled. It seemed silly for either of them to worry about preserving their modesty when they had both seen each other completely naked, but Zelda couldn't bring herself to willfully parade around in the buff. That would be like admitting there were no boundaries between them, and once that happened, other things were bound to follow—things neither Link nor Zelda wanted to follow… not at the moment, at any rate.
She wrapped the linen around her chest a few times and tucked the end in. With her breasts bound, she put on the tunic and found it comfortable enough to wear. It was rather loose, though, so she unfastened her sword from the belt—she didn't think she needed to carry it around all the time at the monastery, despite Link's constant worry about being attacked—and she buckled the belt around her waist, cinching in the tunic.
She opened the door and found Link leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. "Your turn," she said.
He pushed away from the wall. "Why do I have the feeling you look better in that outfit than I will?" he said with a grin as he passed her.
Zelda blushed a little.
When they went to the refectory that evening for dinner, Zelda's presence caused quite a stir. The monks tried to maintain their dignity and not obviously look her way—although their darting eyes betrayed their curiosity—but the boys felt no such compunctions; they openly turned to stare at her.
Part of it was her long, silvery-blonde hair; it seemed to shimmer with its own light against the dark-colored tunic. Almost all of the boys in the room had black hair, and many of them had the yellowy-tan skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes peculiar to people of Shi-Ha. With the exception of one or two monks, no one was fair-skinned or had light hair or eyes. And no doubt Link and Zelda's ears marked them as particularly foreign.
But the real reason why they stared was because Zelda was so obviously a girl—a creature very rarely seen in or around the monastery. Despite the fact that the boys were all dressed in pants and tunics similar in style to what she was wearing, Zelda still seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, her and Link's matching outfits only further emphasized her difference. As Link had predicted, Zelda looked better than he did in the clothes. The belt that she wore to take in the loose tunic highlighted her curves. And despite binding her breasts, it was clear that she was far from flat-chested.
Abbot Winfield gestured for them to join him at the head of the table where he sat with the other monks.
"Have you found everything to your liking so far, Your Highness?" he asked, once she and Link were seated. Link had put her at the end of the table, next to the abbot and he sat between her and the next monk—as if he was afraid for any of the other men to get too close to her.
"Yes, thank you for your hospitality," she replied.
"It is yours for as long as you need it."
"Hopefully we will not be here too long. Once we have the Master Sword, we need to find all of the demons and kill them, then seal up the rift in Hyrule permanently."
"You make it sound simple."
She sighed. "It won't be. As Link said, nothing is simple for us."
"I think it is very admirable that you have chosen to take on this quest, too."
Zelda was a little surprised. "Of course I have to do this," she said. "It is my kingdom that I'm fighting for. All of that burden shouldn't be on Link, no matter what destiny the gods gave him."
She smiled ruefully. "Besides, where else would I go? I have been exiled from Hyrule, and now Erenrue, too. I must stay on the run to avoid Nagadii; I might as well go with Link and try to help him as much as I can."
Her smile became more genuine. "Besides, I don't think he'd let me out of his sight."
Something was chasing her. She was dodging and trying to hide behind trees, but it always felt like there was a hand just behind her, trying to snatch her.
Zelda jerked awake and found herself lying on her side, staring at a blank wall. Wherever she was, it was completely dark. And she was alone.
"Link!" she called out, looking around frantically.
"I'm here," came a calm—albeit sleepy—voice from the other side of the room. "What's wrong?"
Zelda sat up in bed a little and made out a shape in the bed not ten feet away from her. It was then that everything came flooding back and she knew where she was.
"I had a dream," she said, her panic beginning to ebb. "When I woke up, I didn't know where I was."
"Do you know now?"
She tried to lie down and go to sleep again, but her mind was still too fearful; while the danger had passed, she still felt like it was too near to relax.
After a few minutes of fitful tossing, she got up and went to Link's bed, pulling back the covers. Without being asked, he scooted over—putting his back against the wall—and made room for her to get in beside him.
He sighed as she snuggled up to him and he put his arm around her. "What would Master Ryu say if he could see us?" he whispered.
"I don't know," she admitted.
"We must be careful none of the brothers walk in and see us. It would be a terrible scandal. I would certainly be thrown out on my head, and maybe you as well. I don't know that your rank would save you in the face of such a frightful sin."
"We're not doing anything wrong."
"I know. But you know it's all about appearances." He suddenly chuckled. "I still can't believe your grandfather not only let me live after he caught us together, but he actually made arrangements so we could continue to share a bed."
"He liked you, you know."
"I honestly don't know why."
"I think… I think he saw something of himself in you. He certainly praised your loyalty. He said that it was worth more to me than all the money in my kingdom, and that I should trust you above all my other advisors."
"I should certainly hope that I've earned your trust by now."
She looked at him. "Do you trust me? Do you trust me to take care of you—now and when I am queen?"
He smiled softly, then gently leaned in and kissed her forehead. "I trust you with my life."
Luckily it was a bell—not a person—who woke them up the following morning.
"Gods, I dread today," Link said, as he slowly pulled on his tunic.
"I dread it for you," Zelda said.
He sighed heavily, then began to put on his boots. "But it has to be done," he said wearily. "I don't dare take on whatever booby traps they have laid out in the catacombs without my sword arm fully functional."
They went to breakfast—Zelda barely drawing less attention than she had the day before—and ate in silence—both of them worrying about what was to come.
After breakfast, they were directed to the infirmary on the opposite side of the building. Zelda and Link both balked at the door when they saw a couple of monks laying out equipment around a tall table: heavy wooden cudgels, a ball, and what looked like some sort of leather restraints. There was a rope dangling ominously above the table, too.
It looked like a torture room.
Before they could turn around and flee, one of the monks glanced up and saw them. "I'm Guy," he said. Then he gestured for Link to come forward. "Come, let's see what's wrong with you."
With obvious reluctance, Link slowly crossed the room. At Guy's command, he took off his belt and tunic, then hopped up onto the table.
Guy examined Link's shoulder scar, front and back. "Hmm, this looked nasty," he said with clinical detachment. "Did it go all the way through, or did they have to push it through to get it out?"
"No, it went most of the way through on its own."
"That's really better. It's faster that way."
He continued to look. "Which side was hit?"
"Hell of a shot to get it all the way through. There are boneless places in the shoulder, but it's still thick and tough."
"Not tough enough," Link said sourly.
Brother Guy began to press on the scar, probing deep into the muscle. Link winced and occasionally grunted with pain.
"I can feel the scar tissue down in there," Guy said, poking harder. "It's a nice hard knot."
Finally he stood back and looked at Link. "Normally, I'd work with someone for a month to six weeks, but I understand from the Abbot that you're in a bit of a hurry."
Link grimaced. "We don't have anything like that kind of time. The longer we wait, the more demons will be released into the world—not to mention the more likely Nagadii is to track us down here."
"Tell me what kind of time frame you're looking at. Mind you, this is going to hurt. That's why it's normally done very gradually; it spreads out the pain."
Link considered it for a moment. "Could you get it working in a week?"
It was Guy's turn to grimace. "That's an awfully short amount of time. I don't know if you'll be able to stand it."
"How much worse could it be than getting shot in the first place?"
"I don't know," Guy said, still sounding skeptical. "I guess you'll find out."
He turned to look at Zelda. "I think you better leave, Your Highness."
"Why?" she asked in surprise. It never occurred to her not to stay with Link.
"This is going to be ugly."
"It can't be any uglier than watching Kara pull the arrow out of him."
"I think you better wait outside," Link said, siding with Guy.
Zelda was even more surprised. But when Link nodded to her to go, she reluctantly left, shutting the door behind her. She felt a little hurt at being dismissed. Why—after she had taken care of him for weeks—did Link suddenly not want her around? Even if she couldn't help Guy—and she certainly didn't want to do that; she didn't want to do anything to cause Link pain—she could at least be moral support.
She sat down in the hallway, determined to wait until Link was finished. Maybe, once they were in private, he would explain himself. It was possible that he didn't want Guy distracted by her presence… or maybe he felt that it was better to humor the man who was about to torture him.
That must be it, Zelda concluded. He's being considerate of Guy. After all, they don't seem terribly comfortable around women.
But she soon came to a different conclusion.
At first, she could hear Link's occasional whimper of pain through the closed door, but that was quickly replaced by yelps. Soon he was cursing loudly—to the point that people walking past the hallway would look down it, half-curious, half-scandalized.
But his curses soon turned into long, drawn-out screams that sent cold chills down Zelda's spine.
She drew her knees up to her chest and hid her face against them, crying; she couldn't stand to hear him in so much pain, but she was afraid to leave. What if he called for her?
His screams continued in a fairly steady rhythm: a scream for five seconds, a thirty second pause, then another five-second scream.
No one came down the hall to check on her or the noise. In fact, people stopped passing by altogether, as if Link's pain might be catching.
It seemed to last forever, but, eventually, the screaming stopped and didn't start again. After a few minutes, the door opened.
Zelda hastily wiped away her tears with her sleeve and got to her feet. Guy was standing in the doorway holding Link up.
He looked as bad as he had when his wound was still open and bleeding. His head was hanging and it was clear from his bent knees that he couldn't stand without assistance. He was still shirtless, which only emphasized how incredibly pale he was; he was almost as white as he had been when he was on his deathbed.
"Do you want to help him to bed?" Guy offered.
Zelda hurried to take Guy's place, putting her arm around Link's waist and holding him tightly against her side. He weakly put his right arm around her shoulders. She could feel his skin was covered in a cold sweat and he was trembling.
"I gave him something for the pain," Guy said. "It'll knock him out pretty quickly, so he needs to go straight to bed."
"Where did you think I was going to go?" Link asked in a weak, hoarse voice. "To fighter practice?"
Guy smiled a little.
Zelda struggled to help Link to their room. She had to carry most of his weight; he was barely able to shuffle his feet, much less stand on them.
"Did they move the room?" he asked in desperation, lifting his head wearily to look around.
"No, we're here," Zelda said, pushing the door open with one hand.
She helped him to bed and he sank onto it gratefully. He threw his right arm across his face, shielding his eyes from the light, and didn't move again.
"Remind me not to eat breakfast tomorrow," he groaned.
"It won't stay down. And that just makes it worse."
He sighed heavily. "I don't know if I can go through with that again," he admitted quietly.
"You're trying to do something in one week that normally takes four to six," Zelda pointed out. "Couldn't you at least do it over two weeks? Or three?"
"We don't have the time."
"Everything's going to be for naught if we can't keep you alive and whole. If we have to take more time to allow you to heal, then we have to take more time. You wouldn't let me do something this crazy," she added.
He smiled a little. "No," he admitted.
"Then why are you allowing yourself to do it?"
His smile vanished. "Because I feel something—something invisible—driving me on. I don't dare stop moving forward, because it's like… like something behind me will catch up. I feel panic setting in when I'm not doing something—when I'm not on the move. It will get us."
Zelda repressed a shudder; she remembered the nightmare that had woken her up the night before. "What will get us?" she asked him.
"I don't know. Nagadii. A demon. Evil." He put his arm down and looked at her. Zelda was shocked to see fear in his eyes. "Evil will get us," he said with certainty. "Evil is following us, nipping at our heels. We're one mistake away—one hesitation away—from falling to it. And once we fall, we will never get up again."
Zelda couldn't repress a second shudder; she felt as if Link had spoken a prophecy. And yet, once he had voiced it, she couldn't deny that she had felt something similar—not just in her dreams, but when she was awake, too.
She quit arguing with him then and there about his rehabilitation schedule.