A Long Sleep
A bright light shining in Zelda's eyes woke her up.
Groggy—and more than a little grumpy—she rubbed her eyes with her hands and tried to blink them into focus.
After a minute, she was able to make out Rayliss's ransacked room. The bright light came from the sun—low on the horizon—shining through the windows.
Zelda looked beside her and saw Link sprawled out on top of the covers, doing his best to take up as much space as possible on Rayliss's huge bed. He was breathing deeply and his face was still and untroubled.
Thank gods he can finally sleep, Zelda thought to herself.
She sat up and put on her boots. She and Link had been so emotionally and physically exhausted, they had just taken off their weapons, belts, and boots and collapsed into Rayliss's bed still dressed. She didn't think her cousin would mind if they stayed in her room.
Zelda smiled a little to herself as she got up. If anything, Rayliss would probably be titillated to know that Link and Zelda had slept together in her bed.
Then she frowned a little, remembering her cousin's interest in Link. Rayliss might be more interested to know that Link had been in her bed.
Zelda shuffled over the door onto the balcony, feeling sore and bruised. And now that she awake, her right arm thought it was high time to protest the cut she had received. It hurt deep into the muscle, and if she moved it much, the skin pulled apart and caused it to burn. If she wasn't going to go see the fairy, it would need to be stitched up.
Zelda stepped onto the balcony and looked out over the city, bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. It was still rather quiet, but there were sounds of life in it again. Pallis had lost a huge portion of its population; it would take several generations before it was fully recovered. Husbands would be few and far between.
Zelda wondered if the same would be true in Hyrule. Would she rule over a ghost town populated mostly by women, with the few remaining men very old or very young? Hyrule's army had not suffered nearly as badly as that of Erenrue, but who knew how many had been lost taking Shi-Ha? The people of Shi-Ha were fighters as well; it would be surprising if they hadn't made at least one stand against their allies-turned-foes.
The Soul Scepter was still lying on the balcony railing where she had left it that morning. She picked it up and took it back inside. She was half-tempted to call up Ranis and Zeyde and Nicoli again, just to talk to them; she still felt a profound loneliness, despite the fact that Link was near and she was a stone's throw away from hundreds of people.
She could see how the scepter could become dangerous; like a drug, people could become addicted to bringing back people who were gone. They might even stop living in the present in order to try to maintain the past. Maybe that's why the dead had the right to refuse to answer the summons; hopefully at least one side of the equation would have sense to leave well enough alone.
Instead, she closed all the curtains so that the light wouldn't wake Link, then she wandered down the hallway. She wasn't looking for anything or anyone in particular; she was just seeing who all remained.
Apparently no one. She didn't see another person anywhere in the castle.
She stopped at Austina's bedroom and knocked softly.
"Enter," came the reply. If Zelda hadn't had Hylian hearing, she wouldn't have heard her aunt's voice at all.
She pushed open the door and found the room dark. Austina was lying in bed with a wet cloth over her forehead. Zelda remembered what Rayliss had said about her mother's debilitating headaches.
Zelda walked over to the bed and saw Austina looking up at her. "How are you?" she whispered as quietly as possible.
"I'm alive," Austina said, managing a weak smile. "And I'm free of those horrible dreams." She reached out for Zelda's hand. Zelda was rather surprised by the strength of her grip. "It got to the point that I couldn't tell what was real anymore."
"I understand. Link was tormented by nightmares for weeks."
"Kara said that my children really are gone, though." Her voice was practically pleading with Zelda to tell her differently.
"They are," Zelda said reluctantly. "But the fairy in Hyrule showed us a… vision, I guess you would say, and we saw them. They're being held in the dungeon under the castle in Hyrule, but they are alive."
At least they were when Zelda last saw them—which was months before. But she didn't want to say that to Austina; she didn't need to worry any more than she already was.
"Was Sir Elgon with them? Did you see?"
Austina visibly relaxed. "Thank the gods. I just knew Nagadii would kill him." She looked up at Zelda. "He hid them. I don't know where he took them—I didn't want him to tell me, in case Nagadii tried to torture the information out of me—but he took Rayliss and Philippe and Castor somewhere and hid them. He wanted me to go, too, but I wouldn't. I wanted to wait for Zeyde to return, but I also hoped that if Nagadii could claim me as a prize, he would give up looking for the children after a time and be content with just me.
"When he came, he asked me about them, but I wouldn't tell him anything. That's when he called up that demon." She closed her eyes and shuddered.
"He made me see all sorts of things. He tormented my mind. But all I could say was that they were hidden; I didn't know where.
"But that didn't stop Nagadii for long. He pulled out his scrying stone and began to conjure such dark spells, it made my blood turn cold to hear them. He called on all sorts of demons and unholy things to aid him, and eventually he found them hiding in a dry well in an abandoned part of the castle.
"If it hadn't been for Nagadii's magic tricks, I don't think he would have ever found them. I didn't even know there was a well there, and I practically grew up here; Zeyde and I were never shy about exploring when we were children.
"Nagadii had them brought up and made me watch as he… he put my children in irons, like criminals." Tears began to well up in her eyes. "And then he told me that he was taking them as surety for my good behavior. If I and the rest of Erenrue behaved, then he would spare them. If not…."
She sniffed and looked away. "Nagadii's demon dictated everything; I was no more than a puppet on the throne. He toyed with us—ordered me to have people—innocent people—executed for nothing. I wouldn't do it—not even for my children and the continuation of the royal line—but my people…."
She covered her face with her hands.
"They told me to have it done," she wailed. "They offered… they offered to die to satisfy him—to keep him from killing Rayliss and the boys."
Tears began to run down Zelda's face.
It took Austina a couple of minutes to recover. "When he saw that the people were willing to nobly sacrifice themselves for me and my family, he quit," she said, wiping her face dry. "He wanted to see me anguished by my decision. He wanted me to hurt. He wanted to see me hurt other people. It wasn't amusing, though, when that didn't happen. So he switched to giving me nightmares and making me… making me do things…."
She pressed her lips together, then changed the subject slightly. "When Nagadii said he was taking the children away, Sir Elgon asked to be taken with them. I just knew, when Nagadii agreed, that he had plans to kill him. Of course, if Elgon had stayed here, I'm sure he would have been the first person they would have executed—and made me watch it.
"I can only think that they didn't think him much of a threat because of his bad leg, so he appeared to be more valuable than dangerous."
"That's what they think," Zelda retorted. "Sir Elgon may not be fast on his feet, but he's clever. He's always thinking one move ahead."
Austina nodded a little. "He is a wonderful man. I feel much better knowing that he's with my children. If there's a way to help them or free them, he will figure it out."
Kara interrupted them a minute later. "Are you feeling better, Your Highness?" she asked, as she came into the room carrying a tray.
Zelda wasn't sure who she was talking to. But Austina was the one who replied. "A little. My headache is starting to ease."
"That was quick," Kara said, bustling over to the bed. She set her tray on the bedside table and Zelda was suddenly assaulted by the smell of food. Her stomach flopped over and growled ominously. She had forgotten about eating, but her stomach remembered that it had been close to twenty-four hours since she last ate.
"You don't know what a relief it is for me to be free," Austina explained. "That's its own form of medicine."
Kara glanced at Zelda and immediately looked at her arm. "Are you going to get that taken care of, or do you want me to see to it?"
"No, I'll go to the fairy," Zelda replied. "It's deep enough that it probably needs stitches."
"You don't have time for those to heal."
Kara turned to Austina and helped her sit up in bed a little so that she could eat. Zelda's stomach gave a very audible growl as she caught a second whiff of Autina's meal.
"Someone's in the kitchen now," Kara told Zelda, obviously hearing her stomach rumble. "Do you want me to have something made for you and Link?"
"I would really love something to eat," Zelda said. "Link's still asleep, but I'm sure he'll want something when he wakes up, though."
"We will let him sleep as long as he can; I'm sure he needs it."
"I know he does."
Zelda contacted Hols and had him teleport her to the tigers' cave.
"How are things in Pallis?" Hols asked eagerly.
"Fine. Relatively speaking," she added. "They have suffered much, but the demons and mercenaries are gone, so they are free once again."
"What about the royal family? Your cousin?"
Zelda sighed. "Rayliss and her brothers are still in Hyrule—as far as we know. We did rescue Princess Austina, though, and she seems to be on the mend."
"Only one battle left," Hols said.
Zelda nodded. "I'm ready for it."
"I'm sure you are. I know you must want to go home. I do, and I haven't been away nearly as long as you and Link have—nor have I traveled as far or lived as rough."
Zelda thought of Rayliss's ransacked room and the decimated population of Pallis. "I wonder what I'm going home to?" she asked.
"I don't know, but it's better than the alternative," Hols said wisely.
He walked her up the path to the fairy's cave—even though he didn't need to. When she came back out, he was holding something.
He offered it to her. It turned out to be a bejeweled sword in a white scabbard.
"Wasn't this Link's?" she asked, pulling the blade out of the scabbard a little to look at it. She knew he had picked it up somewhere along the way, but she couldn't remember where or why.
"Link's or yours… I'm not sure," Hols replied. "You were wearing it before, I think, but when I fixed the Master Sword, Link took it and gave you his sword. Then he gave me this one and asked me to hold onto it until later."
Her memory clicked. "I remember now," she said, sliding the sword back into its sheath. "This is the sword that Ranis and Zeyde gave Link when they knighted him. He preferred to carry his old sword, so he gave it to me. When he got the Master Sword, he gave me his old sword—I think because he couldn't stand to leave it behind."
Hols held up a sword that was broken in half. "That would be this one, right?"
Zelda winced, looking at it. "Yeah, that's it."
"He brought it to me to fix, but I won't be able to do anything until I can go home again. But then I remembered he had left me this sword, and I thought you might need it, now that this one is out of commission."
"Yes, I probably will." She looked sadly at the stub of a sword in Hols' hands. "Will you be able to repair it?" she asked. "It's a family heirloom and I know Link treasures it. I feel so bad it was broken."
Hols laughed confidently. "Of course I can fix it! I fixed the Master Sword, didn't I? This will be a piece of cake compared to that. It's just regular old steel—nothing fancy."
It was completely dark by the time Zelda said her goodbyes to Hols and the others and returned to Pallis via Kara. When she checked in on Link, she found he was still asleep. In fact, it didn't look like he had moved at all.
She was starting to become concerned—he had been asleep for about fourteen hours at that point—but Kara assured her that it was best not to disturb him.
"I've seen wounded people sleep almost continuously for twenty-four hours," she said. "I'm not concerned. Gods know he's wounded on the inside."
Zelda had to agree with her there.
She ate some soup and bread and cheese for dinner. It was a poor fare compared to the lavish, multi-course meals that the castle had once produced, but there was only one woman cooking and the food supplies—like everything else—had been raided by Nagadii's men until there was practically nothing left.
Besides, compared to the nothing she had to eat all day—and even compared to the wild game and foraged greens they normally ate while they were on the road—it was practically a feast.
Once she was finally full, she went back to Rayliss's room. Link had rolled over on his side, but he didn't stir when she got into bed behind him. Despite sleeping all day, she still felt tired, and she quickly fell asleep, too.