The Forest Fairy
As Link's adrenaline quickly dropped, his pain came back on with a vengeance, and he lay on his back, moaning.
Zelda scooted up beside him, looking down with concern. "What can I do to help you?"
"Nothing," he said, through gritted teeth.
"You'll have to go to the fairy."
He nodded a little. He knew he needed it, but he didn't want to leave Zelda until they had made it out of the forest. It was far too dangerous to traverse it alone.
Then, to their surprise, everything around them began to ripple, like a landscape painting that had been splashed with water—the colors running and blurring together.
"Wha—?" Zelda said, looking around. A moment later, the dark, sinister woods that had surrounded them were gone. They were now lying in the middle of an old wagon road—disused for so long, grass had grown up lush and green all over it. Around them was a forest, but the trees were more widely spaced and sunlight filtered between their softly swaying branches. Hidden in the leaves, birds chirped happily.
It looked like a normal forest.
"Where are we?" Zelda asked, looking around.
Link struggled to sit up again, looking up and down the road. "If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that we're on an old road between Hyrule and western Erenrue."
"Why would someone put a road here, though? There's nothing in western Erenrue."
"When we were staying at the palace, I heard someone mention that they had once tried to establish a fishing village on the coast; that house we stayed in was all that remained of it. But maybe it lasted longer than I thought; maybe someone thought it might be useful to cut a road through here to connect it to Hyrule. The town of Mynar is closer than Pallis; it would make more sense to get supplies from here than from Pallis.
"I suppose so."
Come to me.
Link sat up a little straighter, looking around. "Did you hear that?" he asked Zelda. He wasn't sure if the voice was in his head or not.
"I was about to ask you the same thing," she said, looking around, too.
You are hurt. I can help.
Link glanced at Zelda. "Sounds kind of like the Great Fairy."
"Is she watching us?"
The trees on either side of the road began to sway unnaturally, as if they were trying to point the way down the road.
Link and Zelda looked at one another, silently debating what to do. Finally, Link nodded.
Zelda got up first, then helped Link to his feet. He cried out in pain, gritting his teeth.
"I'm sorry," she said.
He was hurting too much to brush aside her apology.
Slowly, he limped down the road, Zelda having to help him stay on his feet. Every step he took—no matter how lightly—seemed to vibrate up through his body, threatening to shatter all of his bones.
Come, the voice continued to encourage. A sweet, cool breeze rushed over them a moment later, causing both of them to sigh. Link hadn't even noticed how hot and sweaty he was until the wind cooled his damp body.
It seemed to take ages, but at last they came to a trail that branched off the main road. It was so faint—covered in green moss—that it was barely visible. But all the trees were blowing that direction, so it was obviously where they needed to go.
The ground was spongy under their feet, which made Link feel a little better as he walked. In fact… was it just him, or was he already feeling a little better? He took a deep breath of the cool, clean air, and it seemed to ease his pain.
They topped a little rise in the ground and looked down; in a small, natural basin, was a crystal-clear pool. Water seemed to be bubbling up from within in—probably from a natural spring.
Over the water floated a green and blue and yellow mist.
Come, let me help you.
Link didn't have to be told twice. He walked a little bit faster as they went down to edge of the water.
"Help me out of this stuff," he told Zelda.
She took off his sword scabbard and belt. He moaned in pain as she pulled his tunic, maile shirt, and undershirt off.
He doubled-over, panting and feeling sick to his stomach.
"W-wait… wait a minute," he gasped, clutching at his left side, where the pain seemed to be the worst.
Zelda looked at him, horrified. "Oh, Link, you're bruised all over."
When he caught his breath, he looked down. His fair skin was mottled red and green and blue. It was bad enough already; it would look exceptionally ugly tomorrow when the bruising really set in.
Come in and let me heal you, the fairy said.
"Get me out of the rest of it," Link said weakly, wanting desperately to get into the spring and ease his pain.
Zelda unlaced his boots and he—balanced against her shoulder—kicked them off. Then she untied the drawstring in his pants and helped him step of them.
"Take that off, too," he said, indicating the wool bandage they had tied over the bear's scratches. Zelda hurried to untie the knot and unwind the bandage, then he dropped his underwear—past the point of caring about things like modesty—and stepped out of it and into the pool. The water was cool and refreshing on his bare feet. With a sigh, he threw himself in completely.
He sighed as he was completely engulfed by the cool healing waters. Cuts and scrapes—instead of burning when exposed to the water—immediately vanished. The internal injuries and bruising took a little longer, but every time he drew a breath—although how he was breathing underwater, he didn't know—the pain in his ribs eased a little more, until, at last, all of the aches and pain went away.
He sighed again, feeling content.
He had a strong desire to stay in that peaceful pool until it erased even the wounds in his heart and scars on his psyche, but before he knew it, his feet were touching bottom, and he suddenly had a strong need to breathe air.
He broke the surface and stumbled out of the pool, coughing a little and trying to wipe the water from his eyes.
"Are you alright?" Zelda asked, wrapping her cloak around him.
He nodded, then slicked his hair back, away from his face so it wouldn't be dripping directly into his eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine. Much better."
"Thank you," came a sweet voice from behind them.
They both turned around and looked up. Hovering over the pool was a Great Fairy. But this one looked younger than the one in the mountains. If she could be measured in human age, she looked to be about fifteen years old. She had green hair and a round face with large eyes almost exactly the same shade of green as her hair. Like the other fairy, her hair concealed her bare chest, and she wore nothing but a skirt made of leaves.
"Thank you for saving my forest," she said again. "It has been under a curse for some time."
"I… I thought the major demons were a fairly new occurrence," Link said.
"Nagadii did not come by his magic overnight. He has been experimenting inside this forest for quite some time. Few people ever venture very far into its borders, and no one uses the road anymore, so he was able to practice his black magic for quite some time."
Zelda looked at Link. "That explains a lot. Nagadii was always disappearing to 'gather ingredients' for his potions and whatnot."
"Before he learned to call demons, he studied calling animals of prey," the fairy continued. "And he experimented with them, breeding larger, more dangerous versions. That is where the huge bears and wolves attacking Hyrule have been coming from."
"Will they go away, now that we've lifted the curse?" Zelda asked.
The fairy shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not. You have destroyed the demons and the lair they created, but the animals—altered as they are—are of this world. They will remain in this world unless they are hunted down and killed."
"Sounds like something we should do," Link said to Zelda.
She nodded. "After we deal with the demons." Then she added, "We can get other people's help with the wolves and bears. I know a lot of nobles who like to hunt."
"Nagadii draws some of his power from the demons who are in the world," the fairy continued. "By now, he will have noticed that some of his power is ebbing; he will suspect that you are hunting down the demons. You must be extra careful to avoid him."
"Can he replace the big demons? I mean, will he be bringing them here as fast as we're taking them out?" Link asked.
The fairy shook her head. "No, he cannot control the large ones; they come here of their own free will. Even some of the small ones are wild and beyond his control; they come directly out of the rift. But although he can't control them, they still feed his power; taking them out will weaken him—and make it harder for him to call up the ones who do answer to his command."
"Do you know of anything that's happening in Hyrule?" Zelda asked.
The fairy hesitated. "Hyrule is my dwelling place; I know it better than most."
"What of the people?" Link asked. "Do you know anything about my family? Our friends?"
She frowned, still hesitating. Then she held her hand out over the pool. The little spring bubbling up in the middle grew stronger—churning upwards, like a fountain—and the water turned black. And then, just as suddenly as it began, the fountain died down and the water calmed and they were looking at the surface of a dark mirror.
They both immediately recognized the streets of Castle Town, although they were nearly deserted. It looked like four out of every five shops had their windows shuttered and their doors shut, even though it was the middle of the day.
Soldiers prowled up and down the streets, constantly looking around, as if searching for something out of place.
In another scene, some unknown bureaucrat—flanked by four soldiers—was holding up an elderly man for tax money.
"You just collected taxes last week," the old man complained.
"That was that week; this is this week."
"Taxes are only due once a year from common folk like me; once a month from businesses. No one ever pays taxes on a weekly basis," the old man said with authority.
One of the soldiers shoved him into the wall, making him cry out in pain. "New leader, new law."
A middle-aged woman came hurrying out of the house, clutching her purse. "Father, don't!" She opened her purse up and began shaking out coins. "Here, here," she said, hurriedly counting. "Here's your money for this week." She dropped most of the coins in the bureaucrat's hand, as if she was disgusted to touch him.
The man pocketed the money, then marked a name off his list. "I thank you, and your kingdom thanks you."
He flashed her an unbelievably sickening, greasy smile, then moved on to the next house.
Then the image wavered, changing. There were stone walls—some of them covered with moss, looking rather damp. And then there were faces—pale and thin and fearful.
Link gasped as he recognized a family huddled together in a damp, undersized cell. "Mother!"
His mother, brother, sister, uncle, and cousin were all sitting on dirty straw, looking despondent.
Zelda grasped his hand, squeezing it tightly. "They're alive," she said with relief.
"But for how long?" Link asked darkly, feeling rage building up inside him.
The image shifted again, and they saw, instead, two white tigers pacing in a tiny cell.
"Growder and Long Fang!" Link said, immediately recognizing the graying stripes belonging to the old tiger.
"We need to tell Anne-Marie they're not hurt… but they're also not coming back anytime soon," Zelda said sadly.
The image shifted again and it was Zelda's turn to gasp. "That's Horace!" she said, pointing at the pool. "And Vera—she was my nurse from the time I was born."
She looked at Link. "Why are they in the dungeon?"
"Probably because they're close to you," Link said. "They might make good hostages to use against you. That, and they're probably no fans of Nagadii. If anyone would support you over him, I'm sure it would be them."
Then the image changed again, and Zelda and Link both gasped. "Rayliss!" Zelda exclaimed.
"And Sir Elgon," Link said, pointing to the man sitting on the stone floor beside the princess. His arm was around her, comforting her, but neither of them looked very comforted. In fact, they looked more despondent than anyone.
In another cell, Zelda recognized Rayliss's younger brothers, Philippe and Castor, huddling by themselves. They looked too young to be left alone—much less locked in a dark cell deep beneath Hyrule Castle.
"So, Nagadii has all the heirs of Erenrue," Link growled. "That will work to keep what's left of the nobility in check."
The vision in the pool faded into black. After a minute, the clear color of the water returned and the spring once again began to bubble up.
"Where's my Aunt Austina?" Zelda asked. "I didn't see her."
"Last I knew, she was still in Erenrue, serving as its regent queen. But she is a puppet only; there is a demon there who wields true control. If Princess Austina or the people of the city try to resist him, her life will be forfeit."
The fairy spread her hands. "But it has been some time since I last had word of her. My sister dwells in Erenrue, but she has likewise come under the spell of a demon and I can no longer contact her. Anything may have happened since then."
"All the more reason for us to hurry," Link said grimly.
"Let me give you something to help you first," the fairy said.
She held her hand out over the water again and it began to bubble and froth. Then, something began to emerge.
Link went to the edge of the pool—still clutching Zelda's cloak around his naked body—and he watched as something shiny and metal began to emerge. He reached over and grabbed it by the top and pulled it out.
It was a large metal shield, but it was as light—or lighter—than wood. Link laid it on the ground and marveled at it.
"It's so shiny," Zelda said, standing beside him. The shield's face was a highly-polished blue-black, so smooth they could easily see themselves in the surface.
"That is known as the Mirror Shield," the fairy explained. "The Chosen Hero carried it once, long ago, and I have kept it ever since.
"It will not only shield you from blows, but it will deflect anything that is thrown at it—fire, ice, and even magic."
Link reached down and slipped his bare arm through the straps, lifting it up and testing its weight. It really was no heavier than the smaller wooden sword that his uncle had made for him.
He wanted it hug it to him, like a treasure. "I have really needed this," he said. "I've been hell on shields lately."
The fairy laughed; it was a tinkling sounds, like wind chimes. "You will not break that shield, Hero. It was made especially for you."
Link turned back to her. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me; I didn't make it."
"Then thank you for giving it to me."
"I didn't even do that. It's yours; I was just keeping it for you." She smiled shyly and Link was suddenly struck by the idea that she might fancy him a bit. He didn't quite know how he felt about that—especially as she had just seen him naked.
The fairy—still wearing her shy smile—began to fade back into a mist of swirling colors. "Take the road north," she said, as her voice faded away, too. "You will be safe until you reach the borders of the forest."
Zelda glanced at Link. No healing waters or gifts for me, huh?
He felt his face warm; he knew that she suspected the fairy's interest, too.
He hurriedly put on his clothes—keeping his back to the fairy's pool; he was pretty sure she could see just as well when she was a mist as when she had a form. Zelda stood a little ways off, her back to him, giving him some privacy.
At least, that's what he hoped she was doing. He hoped that she wasn't in a jealous huff.
When he was dressed again, he beckoned Zelda over. He bent down by the pool and scooped some water up in his hands, then he washed her face with it. The scratches and cuts she had gotten from the birds disappeared as if they were no more than marks of dirt.
"There, that's better," Link said, checking her face.
"Thank you," Zelda said, drying her face on her cloak.
He smiled at her, and she returned it.
He hoped the fairy got the hint that he was taken. She was beautiful and exotic and naked and all, but there was only one person he could ever love in this lifetime, and she was standing beside him—stained and battle-hardened and utterly loyal. He could not find her like anywhere else in the world.
"Ready?" he asked, offering Zelda his hand.
"As ready as I ever am to tackle giant, cruel, rampaging demons," she quipped, putting her hand in his.
They climbed out of the basin and headed down the mossy trail for the main road.