On the Road Again
Zelda met with Hols early the next morning. She wanted to leave immediately, but he cautioned her to wait a day.
"I'll need at least a day to get some supplies together for you," he said. "The Southern Lands are a vast desert, with a volcano at its heart; there is nothing to eat and no water to be had. You will need to carry in everything you need."
"Kara—a woman in Erenrue—gave us supplies so we could cross the mountains," Zelda said. "She had some sort of little cake made up—I forget what Link called it, but he said it was dried meat and, I think, fat… or maybe fruit?"
"Pemmican," Hols said. "Yes, that would be your best bet for food since it doesn't spoil, doesn't need cooking, and is fairly lightweight."
He shook his head. "Still, I don't know how you're going to carry everything; the water alone will be a heavy burden."
He looked at Zelda. "At least let me go with you," he pleaded. "I can carry a lot more than you, but I'll not drink or eat much more than you—which means between us, we can carry more supplies. With more supplies, we can travel farther."
"There's no need," Link interrupted, walking into the room. "I'm going with her."
Hols and Zelda looked up at him in surprise. "You're going?" Hols asked.
"If Her Highness thought jumping off a cliff was a good idea, and I couldn't talk her out of it—gods help me—I'd jump with her."
Zelda gave Hols a secret smile. Link had made her sweat it out all night, but in the end, she had called his bluff; his sense of duty was stronger than his despair. Even if he had no hope for himself or the world, he would still give up his life to keep Zelda alive, even just for one minute longer.
Hols sighed with relief. "I feel a bit better now." He looked at Zelda. "No offense to your abilities, Your Highness, but even I wouldn't go there alone; it is so treacherous, you need someone to watch your back and help you out."
They spent the rest of the day planning, and Hols and Lia organized their supplies. Luckily, Hols still had the map that the astronomers had made—plus a compass—so they knew, roughly, the line they needed to travel; the question was just how far.
"It's said that there are three ways to die in the Southern Lands," Hols said over dinner that evening. "First, is a lack of water. There is no water to be found there, although there are supposedly some plants there that you can get water out of somehow."
Link nodded. "I know about those."
"Oh, then you probably know all the dangers there, too."
"Yes, but I want to hear what you have to say; you might know something I don't."
"Alright. Well, the second thing is some sort of sandy pit that will trap you and suck you down." He glanced at Zelda. "That's why I said it was better to go with at least one other person; if you get stuck in the pit, someone can pull you out."
Link looked at Zelda. "Do we still have rope in our pack?"
"I think so. I think it's at the bottom."
"I'll make sure you have plenty," Hols said. "You don't want to run short."
"Agreed," Link said.
"Oh, the other thing about the pits: don't struggle; you'll just sink faster. Just wait for the other person to throw you the rope and pull you out."
Link and Zelda nodded.
"Finally, there are the animals. There are both snakes and scorpions."
Link made a face at the mention of the word "snakes."
"I don't know if any of the snakes are venomous," Hols continued, "but the scorpions are. Now, whether the venom will kill you or not, I don't know.
"Also, I've heard that there are vultures in the desert. Normally, a vulture won't attack the living, but these are supposedly pretty aggressive, so they may attack you—especially if you are lying down and look helpless or close to death.
"During the day, it's very hot in the desert, but at night it's cold. I suggest that you travel at night; that will help keep you warm. When it starts getting hot, just after dawn, sleep. I will pack a little shelter for you that you can use to shade yourselves.
"I don't know how far you will have to go, but near the center of the desert is a volcano. It's said that all the land around it for miles is hardened lava. You won't have to worry about the sand pits there, but you do have to watch out for cracks in the lava beds that can be pretty deep. At the very least, you could step in one and break an ankle or a leg; at worst, you might fall in one so deep, you will be killed.
"And it's also said that the volcano—if it's particularly active—will sometimes spew rocks into the air. Some are just pebbles, but some are large enough that, if they drop on you, they will kill you."
He paused and looked up, searching his brain for any other tidbit of information he could pass along.
"I think that's everything," he finally concluded.
"That sounds like four ways to die," Zelda said.
"Well, few people ever make it as far as the lava fields," Hols said. "So I suppose that's why they only count three."
"I'm surprised anyone ever wanted to make it that far."
"Some people just want to see what's beyond, I suppose."
Link held up his hand. "I don't know if you know this, Hols, but Hylians have special abilities. If we touch, we will be bonded together. I will be able to speak to you telepathically and you can speak to me. Also, we can teleport to one another; if I will myself to travel to you, and, at the same time, you will me to come to you, then you can teleport me from anywhere to where you are—and vice versa."
Hols looked on with wide-eyed fascination.
"If you will bond with me and Zelda, then we can contact you and ask you questions. If we run out of supplies, then one of us can come back here to you and get more. And if, by some miracle, we do find this star that you're looking for, you could teleport us back here and save us the time and effort of walking out of the desert."
"That sounds brilliant," Hols said, his voice full of awe. "But I'm afraid I might mess it up."
"I seriously doubt that," Link said. "Zelda and I figured it out without any trouble, and we've had an elderly woman teleport us—that's how we escaped the slaughter on the battlefield at Erenrue."
"Then, yes, I will certainly do whatever I can to help," Hols said eagerly.
Link touched Hols' hand, palm to palm, and felt a familiar pull into the peaceful golden world. He heard Hols gasp in surprise.
It's alright, Link told him. It will be over in—
Before he could complete his sentence, he was back in Hols' house, looking at him. He smiled a little. "I was about to say it usually doesn't last long."
"Where were we?" Hols asked in astonishment. "Did we actually leave?"
"No, it's in only in your mind," Zelda said. "You and Link were here all the time."
"So… it's not a real place? It's like… a hallucination?"
"You know, I'm not entirely sure," Link admitted. "I almost think…."
"What?" Hols asked when he didn't continue.
"I think it might be the Sacred Realm… or some part of it," he offered. "I can't say why I think that… I just do."
Hols nodded a little. "I understand; I do a lot of things by feeling. Abbot Artos used to tell me that Hylians were descended from Hylia herself and that we were closer to the gods as a result. He said my intuition might stem from some sort of ancient godly knowledge—or else, I was subconsciously able to hear the gods' voices, guiding me."
"I wish I could hear them," Link said sadly. "It would make it easier to know what to do—or if it's worth our time to continue to do what we're doing."
Zelda didn't say anything, but she thought they had been guided by the gods all along. Every time something seemed hopeless, an opportunity to advance presented itself. They could never see the road in front of them more than a step or two in advance, but the road seemed to continue on nonetheless.
Link and Zelda got up early the next morning—before the sun had even risen—and ate a hearty breakfast.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Zelda told Lia. "One day I hope to be able to repay it."
"Just do what you need to do," Lia replied. "The rest will sort itself out."
Zelda hoped Link was listening to that wise advice.
Hols put all of their supplies into a wheelbarrow and led them out of the city. Link had told him the previous day that they had access to horse transportation on the mainland, so Hols had packed their supplies accordingly.
"You're not going to want to take the horse into the desert," Hols warned, as they walked through the quiet alleys between the houses. But even at that early hour, there were lights on in many of the houses as people got ready for a day of work.
"You won't be able to carry food or water enough for a horse," Hols continued.
"Understood," Link said. Zelda wondered if he had no intention of her transforming once they got to the desert, or if he wasn't worried about it, since she would eat and drink in her human form. She didn't bother asking him, though; she knew she would find out soon enough.
They crossed the pier and the boardwalk, then Hols pushed the wheelbarrow up the incline to the top of the little bluff that overlooked the beach.
"Where are you going to meet your person with the horse?" Hols asked, looking around.
"Over there will be fine," Link said, pointing to a spot on the road just far enough away that Olchi couldn't be seen.
"Do you want me to wait with you?" Hols asked.
"No, we'll be fine." Link held out his hand, and Hols shook it. "Thank you for your help," Link said.
"I'll be here if you need me," Hols promised. "Just call on me."
"Thank you. Hopefully, we'll see you in a couple of weeks."
Hols smiled at them, then headed back home.
Link watched his retreating form. "The gods should save the world, just because there are people like Hols in it," he said quietly.
"Maybe they will yet," Zelda said hopefully.
"We'll see," he replied, before turning back to the task at hand.
Hols had managed to get a set of pannier baskets ("Waterproof and with lids!" Hols had bragged. "Because you never know about the weather around here this time of year") and they were filled with all of their supplies. There was food and rope, a small shelter, the cloaks Kara had given them, and Tarsus's hide, but most of the room was taken up by waterskins. They were empty at the moment, to save on weight, but Link and Zelda would have to fill all of them before they entered into the Southern Lands.
"Let's go," Link said with a certain amount of resignation. But even if he wasn't enthusiastic, Zelda would take it; it was better than trying to make the journey alone.
She transformed into a horse, and Link put the baskets—conjoined by a woven strap—on either side of her back. Then he hopped on in front of the baskets. He took Hols' map out of the leather pouch on his belt and consulted it. "Alright, it looks like we need to head down this road a little way, then, when we come to a big plain on the other side of this bamboo forest, we're going to turn southwest."
Zelda set out at a walk. In less than half an hour, the air became noticeably still, and the humidity increased until Zelda could feel sweat trickling down her legs. And instead of the day getting lighter, it grew darker. When Link and Zelda glanced behind them, they could see clouds boiling over the eastern horizon, overtaking the newly-risen sun and quickly catching up to them.
"I think Hols was prophetic," Link said, breaking a long silence. "We're going to get rain."
Is it going to be a bad one, like you talked about? I mean, do we need to take shelter?
He looked around. "I don't think so. For one thing, there's nowhere to shelter. And two, we're a long way from the mesas now; I don't think we have to worry about mudslides or flash flooding around here. But we are going to get very wet," he warned, before making sure the basket lids were firmly buckled in place.
Link was as prophetic as Hols. Ten minutes later, the skies opened up and—just as Link promised—water poured down as from a waterfall. Zelda had never seen it rain so hard. The road disappeared ten feet in front of her, lost in a white sheet of rain. She kept her head down to try to keep the water out of her eyes, but she found that the rain drops hit the road so hard, they bounced up and splashed on her face.
Although the road was sandy—so it didn't turn to mud—the rain began to gouge potholes into it, which quickly turned into overflowing puddles. After stepping into a particularly deep one and stumbling so hard, Link nearly fell off, she moved to the side of the road where it was grassy and less treacherous.
Shortly afterwards, they came to the grassy plain and Link made a guess which direction was southwest, and they continued on. The rain continued, too.
They didn't bother to stop for lunch since their food would have gotten soaked before they could eat it. Zelda just plodded along and she and Link both tried to keep the rain out of their eyes.
Finally, just as the weak daylight was beginning to fade, they came within sight of a forest of huge cypress trees.
"I think we might be able to get out of the rain a little," Link said, having to shout over the noise. The rain had not let up all day.
Zelda picked up the pace, almost trotting towards the promise of… if not dryness, then at least the exchange of the deluge for a drizzle.
Under the boughs of an ancient, spreading cypress tree, they found something close to relief. Water was still dripping through the branches, but it was a relatively light rain. They could, at least, pitch their shelter and dry out overnight; in the downpour outside the tree, though, their little tent would have been beaten into uselessness.
Link hopped off Zelda's back and pulled the pannier baskets off her. She took advantage of the freedom to shake some of the excess water off herself—just as Link turned around to say something to her.
"Thanks," he said sarcastically, as he wiped the water from his face.
She returned to her human form. "What? It's not like you weren't soaked anyways."
He shrugged and started to turn to the baskets, but then he did a double-take.
"What?" Zelda asked, as he stared at her.
He suddenly looked a little embarrassed. "Nothing," he said, as he opened a basket and began to pull out the small shelter.
Zelda sighed. "Link, you've been telling me what's on your mind lately—everything that's on your mind. Why are you suddenly clamming up?"
He continued to unpack the basket. "I was just suddenly reminded how beautiful you are," he mumbled.
Zelda looked down at herself. She wasn't sure why he suddenly thought about her beauty. She was so soaked, her clothes—which were none too attractive dry—were plastered to her body. Her hair was equally wet, and she knew it had to be straggling down her back. She didn't know what was beautiful about looking like a half-drowned rat in men's clothes.
"That's not nothing," she argued. "Women like to hear that sort of thing, you know… especially when they're not sure if they're loved or not," she added in a low voice.
Link stopped what he was doing and turned to look at her. "What makes you think that you're not loved?"
She looked at him in disbelief. "You're the one who said there was no 'us'—that there would never be an 'us'."
"I meant only that we will not have the opportunity to be together in this lifetime. And while that wounds me beyond words, it has absolutely no bearing on my love for you."
"So… you still feel the same?"
Zelda sighed, feeling relief; she hadn't realized how much her doubt had been burdening her until it was gone.
Link looked at her, almost sadly, then pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. "Even if I had to live the rest of my very long life without you," he whispered in her ear—"even if there was nothing at all in it for me—no reward, no repayment—I would still go to my grave loving you."
Zelda sighed again, sliding her arms around his waist and holding onto him tightly. This was the Link she remembered.
She just hoped he would stay.