Nightmares and Resolutions
Link and Zelda slept in the next day. By the time they awoke, everything they needed to trek across the desert was ready and waiting for them. Lia had even woven baskets that could be converted from backpacks to panniers that Zelda could wear in horse form.
They ate a late breakfast, said their goodbyes once again, then teleported to Kara.
Kara had made a little campsite for herself near the ditch that more or less separated the desert from the greener plains of Shi-Ha. She was standing beside it when they arrived.
"What do you think you're doing—coming out here alone?" Link said, lighting into her immediately.
"I wasn't aware that I needed anyone's permission to go anywhere, young man," she retorted, putting particular emphasis on the term "young man."
"This is dangerous," he said, not letting up.
"Much less so for me than for you. Nagadii's men were everywhere."
"And what would have happened if they had caught you?"
"Why should they care about an old woman? And besides," she hurried to say before he could argue with her, "I bonded with Hols. If I had gotten into any trouble, he could have taken me out in the blink of an eye."
"Provided you were conscious," Link pointed out. "It doesn't work if you're not awake. Or alive."
"I think I've earned the right to do what I want with my life," she said tartly.
"But I don't want the loss of your life on my head!" Link retorted. "Gods know I have enough to answer for as it is."
"But I'm not dead, so what are you arguing about?"
Link looked frustrated; he couldn't come up with a reply.
"And that argument cuts both ways, you know," Kara continued. "If you died trying to save the world, don't you think we would all bear some guilt for that—especially if we didn't lift a finger to help you?"
"But I'm not dead, either."
"Then we're even."
Link pursed his lips, looking a little confused and angry. "I'm not sure when I lost control of this argument," he admitted.
Kara patted his arm. "Just so long as you know you lost."
Link shook his head, chuckling a little despite himself.
"Let's say that I appreciate your sentiment," Kara said, trying to make peace. "I know you're only speaking out of concern for me. But I didn't get to be so old by being stupid, you know. I can take care of myself."
"Well, that's probably true," Link conceded.
"And now that I've done what I set out to do, I will go back to the mountain. I miss having a bed; my old bones don't like sleeping on the ground anymore—not that they ever particularly enjoyed it."
Link bent down and hugged her. "Thank you," he whispered.
She patted him on the back. "You're a good boy—always looking after everyone. But sometimes you need to let others look out for you, too."
He smiled down at her. "Yes, ma'am."
Kara turned to Zelda. "And how about you, Your Highness? Are you well?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Let me see that wrist of yours," she said, holding out her hands.
Zelda gave Kara her hand and the older woman began to pinch and prod and flex her wrist. But when Zelda didn't show any adverse reactions to the exam, she nodded, as if satisfied. "That seems completely healed."
"Yes, it hasn't bothered me at all—like it never happened."
"I wonder if it is scarred on the inside, though? That can cause problems when you get older. And I've noticed the fairy leaves you with outward scars," she said, looking at Link's face rather pointedly.
"Sometimes," Link said. "And sometimes she takes them away. We definitely don't have all the scars we've earned."
"I wonder why?" Kara asked.
Link shrugged. "I don't know. She said something once about us needing our scars, but when I asked her not to leave Zelda's face scarred up, she took away her scars and mine, too—at least the fresh ones. So I'm not sure what her determination is."
Zelda looked at him. "When did you ask her to heal my scars?"
"After that first demon we fought—the one in the mountain. He clawed up your face and I was worried how that might look when you return to Hyrule."
"What about your face, though? She left the scars that Tarsus gave you."
He shrugged. "People have different standards for men and women. A scar mars a woman's beauty, but it enhances manliness in men."
"I didn't say it made sense," Link said defensively.
"Well, she must have her reasons," Kara said. "Fairies know more than we do; they're closer to the gods."
Kara said goodbye, then went back to Hols, leaving Link and Zelda alone at the little campsite.
Link looked at the lean-to tent that Kara had pitched. "I've been thinking…" he said quietly.
"Yes?" Zelda prompted when he didn't continue. She could already tell by his face and the tone of his voice that he was about to say something she probably wouldn't like.
"I've been thinking that… maybe you should stay here while I cross the desert."
Definitely something she didn't like.
He held up his hand to stop her objections. "I don't mean stay here while I fight the demon—only while I'm crossing the desert and lava fields. Once I get to the demon's location, I can teleport you to me."
"I can travel faster than you can and, unlike you, I'm not in any danger from things on the ground," he argued. "Remember the scorpion?"
Zelda couldn't help herself; she shuddered at the memory of fighting off the huge scorpion by herself. She had managed to kill it, but she had gotten a nasty cut on her arm for her trouble.
It would be easy to acquiesce and stay camped out next to the desert, in relative safety, but she still didn't like the idea of Link going off by himself. If he got hurt, she could bring him out of the desert—or he could go back to the fairy himself—but what if he was too hurt to teleport?
And what if he didn't teleport her over when he got ready to go into the demon's lair? Some danger there might make him change his mind and he'd end up trying to face it alone. But considering how bad the demons were getting, what was coming up wouldn't be something he could handle on his own.
"But what about food and water?" Zelda asked. "You can't carry anything in with you."
"I can live off cactus."
"What about shelter? You can't fly twenty-four hours a day. You'll need to rest sometime and you'll fry to a crisp if you lie out in the sun."
"I will probably fly during the day and rest in the evenings when it's cool. It's cooler high up in the air—even during the day—so it's not nearly as bad as traveling in human form."
Zelda frowned again. He had obviously given his plan some thought because he had a ready answer for every problem. But that didn't reassure Zelda; in fact, she felt even more uneasy about letting him go off alone, although she couldn't find a logical reason for it.
"You're worried about me crossing the desert, but if this place is swarming with Nagadii's men, I'm probably in more danger here," she pointed out. "If I encounter a demon or something in the desert, it will probably be alone; Nagadii's men are more likely to travel in packs."
There, let him try to get around that, she thought triumphantly. And as soon as she saw the frown on his face, she knew that she had won.
"I've thought about that," he admitted. "And it does worry me."
"So I'll go with you, like I did the last time." She set about cheerfully dismantling Kara's lean-to. They already had one in their packs, but another one might come in handy.
Link stepped up to help, but he didn't say anything; Zelda could tell that he was unhappy with the situation, but there was nothing he could do about it. Either choice came with its own risks.
"Besides," Zelda offered, hoping to make him feel better, "I'm a better fighter now than I was the first time we crossed the desert, plus I have the Light Arrows. So, if anything, you should be less concerned than last time."
"I'm always concerned," he said a bit tartly. Zelda got the impression that there was something else weighing on his mind, but she decided not to push him. She had come to the realization that, while it took a lot of time, eventually Link would grow so worried or upset about something, he would open up. Pressing him before he was ready to talk would likely shut him down instead.
Zelda transformed into her horse form, Link loaded the packs onto her back, then he transformed as well and took to the sky, heading south. Below, Zelda galloped across the thinning grass and onto the desert sands.
They traveled for an hour or so before Zelda called a halt because of the heat. They pitched their tent and used Kara's tent as a ground cover. Then they lay down and rested. Neither of them really slept—it was too hot for that and, since they had slept in, they really didn't need the sleep—but the heat and boredom caused them to pass in and out of wakefulness until the late afternoon.
"Are you ready to go?" Link asked, as the sun began to descend towards the horizon. Zelda thought he sounded anxious. Was he just eager to finish the demon so they could move on to liberating Erenrue?
"Yeah, we can go," she said, pushing herself up. Before she could say anything else, he was on his feet and taking down the lean-to.
"You're in a hurry."
He just shrugged a little.
Now she knew something was bothering him.
They quickly fell into the same monotonous routine they had the first time they crossed the desert: travel all night, sleep as much as possible during the heat of the day, and take advantage of any cactus for additional hydration and nutrition.
They reached the lava fields early on the fourth night.
"I seem to remember that it's hard to cross this in the dark," Zelda said, looking over the pitch-black field of hardened black lava, riddled with holes and fissures—some quiet deep.
"And it's even hotter than the sand during the day," Link said.
Link looked out across the lava to the active volcano dimly glowing orange on the horizon. "I've been thinking…" he said slowly, his voice sounding a million miles away.
"Are you going to finally tell me what's been on your mind?"
He looked at her with confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Something's clearly been eating at you; you hardly talk."
He frowned, then looked away again. "I hardly sleep," he reluctantly admitted.
"The heat?" she asked, even as she knew that wasn't the answer. His issues had begun before they got into the desert, and she slept decently, if only because sheer exhaustion made her sleep through the uncomfortable heat; surely he would be just as tired.
He shook his head. "No… dreams. Nightmares," he corrected.
"What kind of nightmares?" she asked curiously.
He rubbed his face with his hand. "Ones where I kill you."
She frowned. "That's just because of what happened in the Lost Woods. But they'll go away when the memory's not so fresh."
"Maybe," he said, sounding completely unconvinced.
"Nobody has nightmares all the time," she argued.
"Not normally, no."
She frowned. "What are you saying?"
He looked at her and she was shocked to see the naked fear in his eyes. "Despite everything that's happened to us—all the death, all the horror, all the near-misses—I rarely have disturbing dreams.
"But, suddenly, I'm having them every night—sometimes multiple times a night. I'll go to sleep, have a nightmare, wake up and spend half an hour or more calming down, then I'll go back to sleep and dream the same damn thing again.
"Maybe it's something the last demon did to me, or maybe it's something else."
"I can't remember if it was Master Ryu or Master Gardamon who said it, but one of them made the comment that demons can attack people through their dreams, giving them nightmares."
He looked up at the sky, as if seeking answers. "I'm beginning to wonder if they're trying to attack me through my dreams—weaken me with a lack of sleep. I mean… where do demons go when we kill them? Do they cease to exist completely, or do they go back to their realm where they can get their revenge—at least when I'm asleep?"
Zelda was horrified. "Surely not. Surely they're dead for good."
"Maybe. But even so, they're not the only demons in existence; their brethren in the Dark World might have decided to lend a hand—especially now when we're so near the end. They might be getting more desperate."
"What are we going to do?"
He shrugged. "There's nothing we can do, as far as I'm aware. I can't fight demons in another realm and I can't stop myself from having nightmares."
"I'm so sorry," she said. And she was sorry; she knew he had to be suffering. But just as alarming was the idea that the demons might attack her the same way. Maybe the last demon had indeed done something to Link that made it easier for others to give him nightmares. Or maybe the experience just weighed so heavily on his mind that they were able to use it as ammunition against him. That would leave her safe from a similar attack—right up to the point that something equally horrific happened to her. What if the next demon made her think she was killing Link? Would that be enough to give her unending nightmares, too?
Link sighed. "There's nothing we can do about it, except try to hurry up. I think if we can defeat all of the demons here and close the rift, the ones on the other side will lose some of their power and things will go back to normal."
"Which, brings us to what I started to mention ten minutes ago."
"Why don't you camp out here and let me fly over the lava field, then teleport you across? You can't cross this as a horse and you're much more vulnerable as a human. And I'm not sure if even your Light Arrows would work against those giant scorpions."
Ugh. Did he have to bring those up again? That was nightmare fodder for sure.
"How long do you think it will take you to get across?" she asked.
He looked out at the volcano again. "I think I can cross in a night—maybe a little more. It would take two or three days to walk across—in the heat of day."
While Zelda still didn't like the idea of him going off by himself—especially now that she knew he was sleep-deprived—she was slightly mollified by the idea that he would only be gone one night.
Besides, she really didn't want to have to fight another scorpion if she could avoid it.
"Alright," she relented. "I'll stay here if you promise to teleport me across as soon as you find the entrance to the demon's lair."
"I promise on my sword," he swore.
She smiled a little. "Which one?"
"I had the Master Sword in mind, but if you want me to swear on both of them, I will."
"I think I'd rather you just promised to me. Your swords won't be heartbroken if you lie; I will."
"That's what you think. If I dishonor myself, the Master Sword may cease to acknowledge me as its master."
"How would it know if you did?" she asked, curious.
"How does it know anything?" he said with a shrug. "But it clearly knows the difference between me and you, and it refuses to serve anyone but us. It would know if I broke an oath I swore on it."
"Well, it doesn't matter; a promise from you is good enough for me."
Link helped Zelda pitch the lean-to a little ways from the lava field—they didn't want to attract anything that might live near the edge—then, with a kiss, he bid her good bye and took to the skies. Zelda tried to watch him for as long as she could, but his shadow quickly disappeared in the moonless sky.
With a sigh, she sat down to wait for him. It didn't take long for her to become very bored. And lonely.
She lay down on her back and looked up at the night sky, watching the stars as they incrementally rotated around the sky.
The end of their quest was within sight, but instead of feeling a sense of excitement or urgency, she felt apprehension.
She had changed radically since she had been forced to flee from Hyrule. She was no longer the protected princess who was rarely allowed outside the castle walls and had never left Hyrule at all. She had now covered the entire world—including such dangerous, infrequently traveled places as the Great Southern Desert, the Lost Woods, and the Northern Mountain range between Erenrue and Shi-Ha. She had even gone far out onto the Endless Sea; only Link (and, technically, his father) had gone farther.
She had fought in a battle and in skirmishes innumerable. She had killed demons and animals and even people. She could skin and gut and cook just about anything; she no longer felt queasy around blood. She could build a fire and bandage a wound and carry heavy loads for a long distance. And she could even spend long periods of time living—and eating—as a horse.
And, although it wasn't anything to be particularly proud about, she could go long periods of time without bathing and wear one set of clothes for weeks.
She was no longer a princess of Hyrule. While there were a few historical princesses and queens—namely the other Zeldas who came before her—who had lived through hard times and had even been forced into combat, none of them had ever faced what she had.
Hyrule, thanks to its peaceful nature and abundant natural resources, typically pampered its royals—and princesses especially. They were expected to be diplomatic and graceful, well-educated and refined.
Zelda didn't particularly feel any of those things anymore. She felt battle-hardened and tough.
She felt like she ought to be her grandfather's successor.
It would make more sense for her to take over Erenrue than Hyrule. Erenrue women were known for being strong—they had to be; widowhood wasn't uncommon among them. Like Link's mother, the women of Erenrue learned to run their own businesses while raising their children But when it came to turning their sons over to military service, they did it without hesitation. They were every bit as fierce as the men.
They would probably welcome an experienced warrior—who had the scars to prove it—as their monarch. Hyrule would probably prefer Rayliss who was fashionable and a bit empty-headed. She would give them the sweet, peaceful, and glamorous queen that they were accustomed to. And if she wasn't the brightest candle in the chandelier, what did it matter? Zelda's father, Marcus, hadn't been an intellectual, either, but he knew enough to get by with the help of his advisors. Rayliss was much the same; she understood the trappings of state.
How would Hyrule react when Zelda came back wearing men's clothing and shooting her enemies herself? For that matter, had word gotten back to Hyrule that she had ridden into battle against them? What would they say when they found out that she had elevated a commoner to be her right-hand man? How long would it take for people to figure out that Link was more to her than just an advisor or guard?
Would she be too much for Hyrule?
She thought longingly of Erenrue again. Her grandfather and Uncle Zeyde had recognized greatness in Link, and that was enough for them. What he was born didn't matter.
Well, that might not entirely be true; Zelda knew that they had been impressed by Link's lineage from—and desire to be—a Knight of Hyrule. That his family had slipped into irrelevancy over the centuries didn't matter; Link had the lineage and, more importantly, he had the spirit that the Knights embodied. That was good enough for them.
Would it be good enough for Hyrule, though?
Everything boiled down to whether she and Link would be accepted and welcomed as they were. And if not, then what? Would she be willing to put the royal mask on and go back to being emotionless?
What was it that Link had said?—she had grown up as a bird in a cage, but inside, she was wild—a free spirit, yearning to be free of all the constraints.
Would she willingly go back into that cage?
She promised herself at that moment that she would never go back to being the puppet that other people made dance. As Link had pointed out, she was free to make her own choices now. If she was destined to be the greatest queen Hyrule had ever known, then it would be on her terms. And if they didn't like it… well, maybe Rayliss would be willing to trade kingdoms with her. Or maybe she and Link would just move to some quiet, remote place, and live together, relying on no one but each other—just as they were doing now.
She hadn't even realized she had fallen asleep until Link's voice calling to her startled her awake.
"What?" she asked, looking around. She had obviously slept through the night; the sun was almost completely over the horizon and the day was rapidly warming.
Zelda? Link asked again nervously.
I'm here, she replied, rubbing her eyes. Sorry, I was asleep.
That's alright. But I'm across the lava and I think I've found the entrance to the demon's lair, so when you're ready, pack up and I'll bring you across.
Zelda was already on her feet, hurriedly stuffing stuff into a basket; she didn't want to give him time to change his mind. I'm on it.
A couple of minutes later, everything was back in the pack—albeit rather messily. Ready, she said, as she hitched the pack onto her back.
Come to me.
She closed her eyes and willed herself to go to him.