From One Demon to the Next
Link and Zelda looked around as they stepped out of the woods. The old wagon road came out next to the lone tree which had strayed out onto the plain.
"Why didn't we see this road before?" Zelda asked.
"The forest was already evil, remember?" He shaded his eyes with his hand, looking up at the sky, trying to tell what time it was. "The road must have already been taken over by those evil trees or whatever the hell it is that the demons make—an illusion of some sort."
"Speaking of demons," Zelda said, looking from side to side.
"Yeah, I've already been thinking about our little friend, the hyena."
"Do you think he went away when we lifted the curse? I mean, the fairy said the woods were safe, but I think he came out of the woods the last time."
"I think we should wait until night and see if he reappears; demons seem to prefer the dark."
Since it was still early in the afternoon, they had several hours to kill. They moved further back into the woods—just to be on the safe side—and made camp next to the road. Link built their first fire in days, while Zelda went hunting.
By the time she came back with a rabbit and a couple of squirrels, the little fire was burning steadily and Link had a pile of greens and a few handfuls of raspberries.
"Ooo, I love raspberries," Zelda said, eyeing them hungrily.
"I thought they would make a nice dessert," he said.
He took out his knife and began to skin and gut the animals. Zelda busied herself—more than necessary—with spreading out Link's cloak and bundling her cloak up as a pillow.
"I want to try something," Link said, as he spitted the animals whole and placed them around the fire.
"What?" Zelda asked.
"I want to see what this shield can do."
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him curiously.
He took up the shield and got into a defensive stance in the middle of the road. "Shoot at me."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"Shoot at me. Let's see how it deflects."
Zelda shook her head.
"Come on," he cajoled.
"I don't want to shoot at you. What if I miss?"
He laughed. "You?" he asked incredulously.
"Everyone slips up."
He held the shield up higher, so he could just barely see over it. "Come on…."
"You're not going to hit me," he insisted. "And I'd rather find out what this shield can—or can't—do when we're standing here safe—not when we're counting on it to save our lives."
With a frown and a show of great reluctance, Zelda picked up her bow and nocked an arrow to it. She closed her eyes as she started to draw back.
"Wait!" he called out, ducking his head completely behind the shield, just in case.
He peeped over the edge of the shield. She was staring at him wide-eyed, as skittish as a spooked horse.
"Don't close your eyes," he chastised.
"What?" she asked in confusion.
"You closed your eyes. Keep them open. Bad things really will happen if you're not looking at where you're aiming."
"Do you know how hard this is?" she complained. "Why don't I hold the shield and you shoot at me and let's see how easy it is for you."
Link didn't even like to think about it. "I'm not as good as you are," he said.
"You're good enough to hit a big shield from short range."
"Just… do it," he said, cutting her off before she could insist on switching places. "And keep your eyes open."
She sighed, but raised her bow again. Although she screwed her face up a little, she kept her eyes open.
The arrow hit the center of the shield with a loud plunk, then veered off to the left and disappeared down the road.
Link was surprised. "It didn't shatter on impact like it did when you were shooting at the rocks." He looked at her. "Shoot it again."
She shot the shield several more times, and every time the light arrows bounced off the shield, leaving no mark on it.
"I want to try something…" Link said, an idea forming in his mind. "Try to shoot in the exact center every time."
Zelda took aim again. Just when Link thought the arrow was going to impact, he pushed his shield a little to the left. The arrow veered off to the left. On the next shot, he jerked it to the right and the arrow went right. The third time, he pushed his shield forward.
The arrow flew back at Zelda, missing the top of her head by about a foot, and hitting the tree behind her.
"Gods!" she exclaimed, ducking and scrambling out of the way.
Link felt his blood go cold and his heart drop to his feet.
"Are you alright?" he asked, running over to her.
She nodded, looking behind her at the hole the arrow made in the tree.
"I'm sorry; I didn't think about it bouncing back towards you."
"I think that's enough practice," she said.
"I agree." He took off the shield and tossed it onto the ground next to the rest of their stuff. "But at least we know it will not only deflect things like arrows, but I can also control how they deflect."
"Yes, and you can kill the person shooting at you."
"Which is a good thing… so long as it's not you."
They stretched out, side by side, on Link's cloak and watched as the meat roasted. The smell made Link's mouth water.
"I'm ready to eat some real food—real people food," Zelda said.
He nodded in agreement. "Traveling as animals is much more convenient," he said, "but I must admit, I do miss eating cooked food and greens."
"I miss having a bath anytime I want one."
"What about a bed?"
"I definitely miss that, too. …Maybe as much as I miss having a bath."
Link lifted his arm, inviting Zelda closer. She scooted over, putting her head in the hollow of his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around her. "There is one benefit to sleeping outdoors," he said.
He grinned at her. "We can do this."
"We do this when we're in a bed, too," she pointed out.
His smile faltered. "Yes, but that won't last forever. We'll eventually go home, and then we'll have to act respectable."
"We are respectable. We haven't done anything in private that I would be ashamed to admit to."
"Really?" he asked doubtfully. "Would you willingly tell your nanny or Horace or your father's advisors that you and I have kissed and slept together and seen each other naked?"
She glanced away. "You make it sound so dirty, and it hasn't been."
"Of course it hasn't been, but people will immediately jump to that conclusion if they catch us together like this."
"So now people get to rule my private life, too?" Zelda said hotly.
"To some degree, yes. I mean, there are things we can get away with in private, but sharing a bed will not be one of them. You saw how quickly your grandfather caught us; do you think it will be any different in Hyrule?"
She sighed unhappily. "Maybe I shouldn't want to go back."
"We have to go back and rescue our family and friends."
"I didn't mean that," she said, waving the thought away. "Of course we will go back and free everyone. I mean after that."
"After that… when you're to become the greatest queen Hyrule has ever known?" he asked in disbelief. "Are you saying you shouldn't fulfill your destiny?"
She sighed heavily again, then buried her face against Link's chest, as if trying to make all the trouble go away. "I don't know," she mumbled. "I just don't know anymore."
He felt bad he had upset her. Why did he insist on bringing up a future that was so far away? Was it because he was trying to soften the blow—to warn her not to get too attached? Or was it because he doubted himself—doubted that he would ever be worthy of the happy future that he longed for? Was he holding onto their social disparity to try and shield himself from the pain of rejection that he felt was inevitable?
He stroked her hair. "Shh… don't worry about it. I'm sorry I brought it up."
She looked up at him. "It weighs on your mind, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess it does."
"Are you afraid I will stop loving you once I'm queen?"
He was a little taken aback. "I… didn't think about it that way."
"But is that the way you feel?"
He considered her question for a minute. "I don't think I doubt you," he finally said. Then he shook his head. "No, I don't doubt you. But, as you well know, you will not be free, either. Tradition, social custom, opinion—those are all things that will limit what you can do."
She looked at him seriously. "Do you think that I should allow other people to stop me from doing what's right?"
"No, but things aren't always black and white. On the one hand, there's what's right for me or for us, but on the other hand, there's what's right for the people and the kingdom, and those things may be mutually exclusive. Then it's not a matter between choosing between right and wrong, but between which thing is more right. And, I hate to say this, but generally the most correct thing to do is the one that benefits the largest number of people."
Zelda sighed again, but didn't argue with him.
Link felt even worse than before. No matter what, he kept coming to the most negative conclusion.
In part to take his mind off of it, he sat up and checked the meat. "I think these squirrels are done," he pronounced. "The rabbit's going to take a bit longer."
Zelda sat up, too, and they silently ate their squirrel-kabobs, along with some hardtack and the leafy greens. Adding in the raspberries for dessert, it felt like a feast.
"Let's save the rabbit for dinner," Zelda said, as she tossed the remains of the squirrel carcass into the fire. "I'm full for now."
Link nodded and cast his remains aside as well. Then he moved the rabbit away from the fire to cool.
They stretched out on the cloak again and took a nap. Zelda was still exhausted from their fight against the beast-demon, and despite Link's healing dip in the fairy's pool, he felt tired, too—although more so mentally than physically.
They slept for several hours. It was almost completely dark before Link jerked awake, feeling like he had overslept.
The fire had gone out and the light was so dim, it was hard to make out anything other than the trunks of the trees.
He gently shook Zelda awake. "Time to go," he said quietly. Even though the fairy had promised that her woods were safe, he didn't know for certain that was still true. Not only that, but they were near the edge, and if something was waiting just outside, it might be able to hear them. If it didn't come in to get them, it could certainly lie in wait and ambush them when they came out.
Link gave Zelda the Master Sword and she held it aloft—letting its soft blue-white glow illuminate their campsite—while he packed up their things.
"Do you want to eat now?" he asked, holding up the cooked rabbit.
She shook her head. "Save it for later."
He packed it away in his haversack and made one last check of their equipment to make sure they had everything.
"Alright, let's go," he said, hoisting his shield and taking the Master Sword from Zelda. She knocked an arrow to her bow, holding it in a low-ready position, and went with him.
They proceeded down the road cautiously—Link's eyes darting from side to side nervously. Although he had fought and killed many demons, the hyena was the first one he encountered and it was the one that scared him the most. He sometimes had nightmares about it leaping across the fire and tackling him.
It was dangerous because it didn't act like a normal animal; it did the unexpected.
Link could see the dark edge of the forest and the somewhat brighter plain beyond. He slowed down, moving at a slow creep, ready for something to jump out at them at any moment.
As soon as they came to the threshold of the woods, a low growl began emanating from the shadows under the lone tree. A moment later, red eyes began to glow in the darkness.
Before Link could come up with a plan of attack—before he could even move a muscle—Zelda raised her bow and sent a streak of white light at the eyes. The demon's full form was revealed in the light of the arrow less than a second before the arrow struck it in the ribs. The hyena emitted a high-pitched yelp, then collapsed and burst into black sparks and smoke, which quickly dissipated.
Link felt a little stunned. The thing that had worried him—waking and sleeping—for months was gone in a snap. It was no harder to kill than the birds or bats. Easier, really, since the flying demons were more mobile and harder to hit.
"Well, so much for worrying about that," Link said, sheathing his sword and hanging his shield off the back of his scabbard.
"What a difference having the right weapons makes," Zelda replied.
"That's the gods'-honest-truth," he agreed. Then he looked at her. "Ready for the next one?"
She slung her bow across her back, then nodded. "Let's go."
She transformed into a horse and took off across the plain at a gallop. Link also transformed and took off, flying high in the darkening sky, his eagle-eyes carefully watching for any trouble below.