Race to the Crossroads
Link was in a sand pit up to his waist. He struggled to move through it, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't get anywhere; he was stuck.
Then, from behind a dune, came a shriek. "Liiiiiiiiiiiiink!"
"Princess!" he cried out, redoubling his efforts. He tried to walk through the sand; he tried to jump out of it; he tried to grab the edge of the pit, looking for something solid he could use to pull himself out. But he continued to go nowhere.
Zelda screamed again—a horrible, drawn-out scream—that was suddenly choked off.
But try as he might, he accomplished nothing. Finally, exhausted, and with an ominous silence hanging in the air around him, he stopped struggling.
Slowly, he began to sink down until the sand was at his armpits.
He was useless. He had not done the two tasks that the gods had assigned him: keep Princess Zelda safe and save the world.
The sand was up to his neck.
He might as well die. He was completely and totally useless.
And then, he was standing in Gardamon's house. There was a fire in the hearth and instead of a wizened old mummy, the chair by the fire was occupied by a very alive-looking Gardamon. He looked at Link with bright blue eyes.
"Link, Nagadii has left Erenrue and is marching on Shi-Ha."
"So, he will conquer them, too," Link said with resignation. "I'm really not surprised; why should he stop? If Erenrue couldn't defeat him, no one can."
Link shook his head. "I can't. The Master Sword is broken. Without it, I can't kill demons."
"I believe that Hols is right: you should take it to the Lost Woods. There is an old temple there; there may be some clue as to how to restore it."
Link looked at him skeptically.
"Link, some tests aren't of courage or prowess or intelligence; some tests of are of determination."
"Who has been more determined than me?" Link demanded. "Who has sacrificed more? Who has pushed himself harder?"
"No one. But then, you are not just anyone. You are the Chosen Hero. And for you, more is demanded."
"I don't have anything left to give."
"You have more than you think. But you must conquer your own inner demons first. You have always longed to prove your worth—to be worthy of your princess. But now, you must know your worth. You have always been a lone warrior, but now you must rely on others to help you. You must master your emotions—not by pushing them down and ignoring them, but by feeling, then letting go.
"You still haven't realized that your hopelessness is an emotion. You have buried your fear of failure for so long, that—like your rage—it has come to the surface all at once and now it is the master of you.
"Princess Zelda is right that you need to allow yourself to feel in small amounts so that your emotions don't overwhelm and paralyze you."
Link frowned, but said nothing. He really didn't feel like talking about his feelings—at least not now, and not with Gardamon.
Gardamon rose from his chair and went to the table. On it was spread a large map of the world.
He tapped Pallis on the map, then his finger traced a road that skirted the base of the Great Northern Mountains and headed into Shi-Ha.
"Nagadii is taking the Mountain Road into Shi-Ha."
He tapped the location of Olchi, then traced the road leading up from it. Some distance above the Valley of the Clerics—and the Westeastern Monastery—the road split, and one branch led due west until it came to the Lost Woods, which was situated nearly in the center of the map. The road skirted around the woods to the south, then continued westward to Hyrule.
Gardamon tapped the crossroads. "With all of the gorges and mountains in the northern part of Shi-Ha, there is no way to travel, except by road. You must reach this point before Nagadii's army does. If you don't, you will be trapped."
"Is that really the only way in and out of Shi-Ha?"
"No, there is another road." He pointed to the capital city of Ninting, in the western portion of Shi-Ha; a road led out of it westward, towards Hyrule, and connected up with the other western road south of the Lost Woods.
"It is much more heavily traveled than the Mountain Road," Gardamon warned. "And I believe that Nagadii already has spies in Shi-Ha; I think you and Zelda are being looked for. If that is the case, it would be hard for you to pass undetected through the capital and down that road. Not to mention, it is much farther out of your way; it will add days—if not weeks—to your trip."
Link sighed. "Then we'll take the Mountain Road."
"You must leave at once if you are to make it in time," Gardamon said urgently. "Nagadii's army marches faster than any other. Fear of his demons drives men's feet."
Link opened his eyes, and, for a moment, he wasn't sure if he had segued into another dream or if he was awake. But when he looked around, he recognized their bedroom in Hols' house. It was still dark outside, but there was a warmth in the air that announced the coming of dawn.
He scrambled out of bed and hurried over to the other side of the room, where Zelda slept.
"Your Highness, wake up," he whispered urgently while shaking her.
She jerked awake and even in the dim light, he could see panic in her eyes. "What? What's happening? Is someone here?"
"No, but we need to leave. Now."
"Because Nagadii is marching on Shi-Ha and we have to get out before he gets here."
She sat bolt-upright. "How long until he gets here?" she asked anxiously.
"Days, yet. But we have to get out on the same road he's marching down, so we need to leave before he blocks our way."
"I don't understand."
"Get up and dressed and I'll show you. I'm going to wake Hols."
Link hurried to the other end of the house and knocked softly on the door.
"Wha…?" came a sleepy voice from the other side of the door.
"Hols, it's Link. You need to get up. Now."
There was a moment's pause, then the sound of scrambling. A moment later, a shirtless Hols jerked open the bedroom door. "What's wrong?"
"Nagadii is invading Shi-Ha."
All the color drained from Hols' face.
Link gestured to him. "Come to the table. Bring some light. I want to show you something."
A few minutes later, Zelda, Hols, and Lia were gathered around the dining room table, huddling fearfully in the light of a single oil lamp.
Link spread out his map—the one he had taken ages ago from the very map table in Gardamon's house that he dreamed about.
He repeated everything Gardamon had told him, showing them Nagadii's route of ingress—and how he and Zelda had to take the same route out.
"We have to get to this crossroads before Nagadii," Link said, pointing out where the Upper Western Road split off from the Northern Road.
"Do you still have access to a horse?" Hols asked.
He nodded a little. "If you ride hard, then you should be able to make it."
"What about you?" Link asked, looking at him and his wife. "If anyone reports seeing us with you, your life with be forfeit."
Lia gasped, but quickly covered her mouth with her hand.
Hols looked at his wife, then looked back at Link. "Do you have more than one horse?"
He looked undecided. "I suppose we could go further into the interior—try to survive in the woods. I was trained in such when I was at the monastery, but it's not easy in the best of circumstances, much less with a family."
Link stared at the map for a minute. Then he tapped the monastery. "I fear the brothers are going to be in danger, as well. Nagadii, no doubt, knows I was raised there; he will go there first to look for us."
He looked at Hols. "If you could get there, you could warn them to flee."
"Yes, but to where?"
Link traced his finger up the last peak in the Great Northern Mountain range. "There is a trail up the mountain that actually goes all the way across to Erenrue. But not far from the top, there are caves full of tigers—white tigers—who walk and talk like humans. They are good, and I think they will help you and the brothers. Lord Long Fang, in particular, watches the stars and seems to know things before they happen; it might even be that he anticipates your coming."
Hols stared at him. "We have heard tales of tigers in the mountains, but never that they're good."
Lia stared at him, as if she could smell the tiniest hint of untruth. "What scarred your face?"
Unconsciously, Link's hand flew to his left cheek; he forgot that he had a visible reminder of Tarsus's "welcome" on his face.
"One of the tigers rebelled while Lord Long Fang was absent," he admitted. "He toyed with me and Zelda as a demonstration of his power. But, when Long Fang returned, he defeated him, and later had him killed."
Lia recoiled in horror.
"Listen," Link argued, "Long Fang owes us a debt because of what Tarsus did to us. You can call in that debt on our behalf. There is no way he will refuse you. No matter what else, Long Fang is honorable; he will make good on his promise to us."
Hols glanced at his wife. They looked at each other in silence for a moment—almost as if they were communicating telepathically—then then she made a little gesture with her hands, as if to indicate the decision was his.
Hols turned back to Link. "We will try to make it to the monastery and warn them, then we will go into the mountains and stay with the tigers."
Link nodded. "I think that's a wise decision. Now, how quickly can you get supplies together?"
Link and Zelda left while it was still dark; Link didn't want to risk being seen.
"I can't believe I agreed to this," Zelda fussed, as they walked down the boardwalk, away from the city. "If you ever tell another living soul…" she threatened.
"What? We rode into the courtyard of the monastery and you transformed in front of everyone."
"Carrying a rider—particularly you—has some dignity to it," she argued. "But being hitched to a cart like some old mule—some broken-down, sway-backed nag…."
Link's laughter interrupted her.
"What?" she demanded irritably.
"I didn't know horses could be so snooty."
She frowned severely at him. "I'm always human on the inside, you know."
"Yes, I know."
She continued to look unhappy.
"Look," he said, growing more serious, "you can't carry all three of them, much less supplies for all of us. If they don't leave, they may face torture on our account. They may even be forced to tell Nagadii where we're going and for what purpose. I think the mountains are the safest place for them, plus they'll warn the monastery—other people that may suffer because they helped us."
"I know," Zelda said petulantly.
He knew she really wasn't upset over the plan; she wanted to help Hols and his family to repay the debt she and Link owed them. It was just early in the morning, she was short on sleep, and since she had no control over the dangerous situation Nagadii had put them in, she complained about the one thing she did control.
I wonder if that's how normal people deal with stress? Link wondered to himself. Complain the entire time they're forced to do something, but do it nonetheless? Maybe that's what Zelda meant by blowing off a little steam.
They went down the road until the city disappeared from sight, then Link took off the old pack—the one that contained their usual supplies—and they sat down to wait for Hols and his family.
Hols had wanted to warn the mayor of Olchi that Nagadii was coming. Olchi had one advantage that other cities didn't: it could move. Hols thought they might try floating it farther out to sea; if Nagadii didn't know where they were, he couldn't conquer it or turn its inhabitants into demons.
Link thought it was only fair to warn everyone, but he didn't want to be around when it happened, because if the city did get taken, the fewer people who knew—or suspected—that he and Zelda had been in the city, the better. So he and Zelda had left early while Hols got some supplies together and talked to the mayor.
They waited for not quite an hour, when at last Hols came up the road. He was pulling a small, two-wheeled cart behind him that could be pulled either by a horse or a person. His wife was walking beside him, but his son was riding on the seat, looking as if he was having a great adventure.
"Faster, Daddy! Yah!" Toru exclaimed.
Zelda shot Link a dirty look. "If he thinks he's going to drive me…" she hissed.
Link held up his hand. "I'll take care of it."
Hols stopped the cart in front of Link and Zelda. "Toru, hop off."
Toru frowned, but Lia lifted him from the seat and set him down whether he liked it or not. With a heavy sign, Hols put the shafts of the cart on the ground.
"Is the person with the horse still not here?" Hols asked, looking around.
Link stood up, "Yes, about that…. There's something we must confess."
Hols looked confused—and a bit worried. "Is there no horse available?"
"No, there is. It's just Her Highness," he said, gesturing to Zelda.
Hols looked even more confused. "But… she can't pull this cart all the way to the monastery; it's too taxing."
Link looked at Zelda. She stood up, and a moment later, she transformed into a horse.
Lia gave a little scream of fright and even Hols stepped back in fear.
"Her Highness can take the form of a horse," Link explained. "It was she who carried me into the desert—and across most of the rest of the world."
Hols looked at Link in wide-eyed amazement. "Can you do that, too?"
"No. My form is that of an eagle."
If possible, Hols' eyes became wider. "You can fly?"
"Yes. I flew ahead of the Princess in the desert and we avoided a lot of trouble that way."
"We believe this to be a Hylian trait," Link added, "but, so far, we haven't met anyone else who can do it. But it does seem to be dependent on knowing what animal to turn into. The Princess and I both discovered our forms when we just happened to want to do something similar to our animal forms."
"So… I may be able to do it, too?"
"Possibly—if you find out what it is you can turn into. Once you know, though, it's easy to transform; all you have to do is want to be an animal. And when you want to be human again, you will become human again."
"And… can you understand things when you're an animal?" He glanced at Zelda.
"Yes," Link replied. "You are still a person, just inside the body of an animal. Her Highness and I can communicate telepathically when either of us is in our animal form, as well. We haven't tried teleporting, but I think that would work as well, since all it requires is conscious intent."
"Amazing," Hols said again.
Link and Hols harnessed Zelda to the cart and helped Lia and Toru get in the back. Link put their old pack in the back of the cart, too, then he pulled Hols aside.
"Her Highness is… a little touchy about pulling a cart," he whispered, "but she's doing it because we owe you so much and there's no other way to get your family out quickly enough. She would appreciate it if you never mentioned it. I mean, she will be queen one day; it's not exactly befitting her dignity…."
"Oh, I understand," Hols said. "Not a word."
"And don't try to drive or direct her," Link warned. "She knows what she's doing. If you need to stop or something, just tell her; she can hear you and understand. If you need to talk to me, do it telepathically."
Hols looked at him curiously. "Where are you going to be?"
"I'm going to fly and scout out the land ahead of us."
"I wish I could contribute," Hols said with longing. "If I could be a horse, I could carry my family out myself."
"If you can turn into something, it'll be what is most needed," Link said. "Maybe you just haven't been put in need. …Hopefully, you never will be."
They returned to the cart and Hols—using a spoke of the wheel as a step-stool—climbed onto the seat.
"Alright, let's go," Link said. He transformed into a bird—to Toru's great delight—and ran until he was able to get off the ground. He circled the cart a few times, then headed down the road. Zelda started off at a walk, but once she was warmed up, she kicked it up into a full-out gallop that left Hols and the others clinging to the cart in fear of their lives.
They had a long way to go and a short time to get there.