The Shield Bracelets
"Hey, wake up! Are you going to sleep all morning? We're burning daylight."
Zelda slowly opened her eyes. "This from the man who slept all day yesterday?" she croaked.
He grinned. "That was yesterday. This is today." He finished stuffing the last of the supplies into their pack basket. He had been up since just before dawn searching the castle for food and anything else he thought they might need. Now that he was well-rested and feeling like his old self again, he was eager to go. He felt his old drive more than ever now that they were so close to being done.
He held out his hand to Zelda. "Come on. Let's go home."
That got her up and moving. She was dressed and ready to go within minutes.
"Where did you get that sword?" he asked curiously, as he watched her exchange the empty scabbard on her belt for a white one containing a bejeweled sword.
"From Hols. You left it with him. Do you remember?"
It took him a moment, but he finally remembered. "That's the one your grandfather gave me."
"I had forgotten about it."
"I had, too. Luckily Hols remembered. I might need it before everything's said and done."
Link frowned. He didn't like thinking that way—and didn't like that Zelda had to think that way—but it was probably true. He tried to protect her as much as he could, but the time for keeping her completely out of harm's way was long past. If she didn't fight with him, they would both surely die.
He picked up the empty scabbard she had tossed on the bedside table and sighed.
"Don't get all depressed about your sword," Zelda fussed. "Hols said he would repair it as soon as he can return home. He said it would be easy to fix—much easier than fixing the Master Sword."
Link put the scabbard down; it wasn't any use without a sword and they couldn't afford to carry around useless things. "Well, I suppose that's true," he allowed. "And the Master Sword certainly has performed flawlessly."
They headed down the hallway and ran into Kara and Austina near the foyer. Austina, like Link, was looking a hundred times better. She was still very thin and pale, but there was a hint of color on her cheeks and her gray eyes were clear and bright.
"How are you feeling?" Zelda asked her.
"Oh, so much better," she said with real feeling. "Thank you. Thank you so very much for everything you have done for us."
"We still have one left promise to keep," Link said.
She nodded. "I know you will return my children to me," she said confidently. "The gods fight with you, so I have no fear for you or them."
She hugged and kissed them both. "Let me know if you need anything."
"I will bring you back here, if needed," Kara offered. "And Hols told me that he would stay with the tigers until you no longer need the fairy."
Zelda smiled, looking close to tears. "Thank you. I don't know what we would have done without our friends and family helping us along the way. At our darkest hour, someone always appeared to help."
"The gods have a tendency to work that way," Kara said sagely. "They always provide when you need the most."
They started to leave when Link suddenly remembered something. "Oh, Your Highness," he said, turning back to Austina. He reached into his pouch and pulled out two gem-studded, golden bracelets. "I was about to forget… I found these when I went back into the hall to get my sword. I daresay the demon stole them from you."
He offered the bracelets to Austina, but she didn't immediately take them. Instead, she looked at them with a puzzled expression, examining them quite closely without touching him.
"They're not mine," she said after a minute.
"Maybe they belong to Rayliss," Zelda offered.
Austina shook her head. "No." Then she actually took a step back, as if afraid of them. "No, we would never own anything with opals on it. I don't know where those came from, but they don't belong to anyone here."
Link looked more closely at the bracelets. He hadn't paid attention before—being more concerned with his pain, exhaustion, and broken sword—but they did indeed have opals—as well as diamonds—set around their circumference.
"The Soul Scepter has opals on it," Zelda whispered to him.
He glanced at her. "Do you think this is what the demon left behind—like the other things we've found?"
Austina waved her hands. "Take them. If they're important, then you will need them. If not… take them anyway."
"If they're not magical, they're still worth a lot of money. You might need them—" Link started to say, but Austina shook her head again.
"No, thank you. Opals are bad luck. They'd create more problems than they could ever be worth."
Link couldn't help himself. "So… what you're saying is that we should take the bad luck onto ourselves?" he teased.
"If I thought you could have bad luck, I would tell you to fling them away where they couldn't be found," she replied. "But I don't think you can have bad luck, and if they prove to be magical, then you will probably find a good use for them. But I've had quite enough of magic for a while."
Link couldn't blame her for that. So he put the bracelets back into his pouch—knowing their purpose would be revealed in good time—then he and Zelda said their goodbyes and headed out of the castle.
As they passed by, they saw that a few servants had trickled back in and were trying to set the palace to rights again. Link felt hopeful; even though Erenrue—and Pallis, in particular—had suffered mightily, it was possible to pick up the pieces and start again. He knew that, no matter what they found at home, they would be able to do the same.
When they got to the gate, there was one elderly man who was guarding it. He opened the gate for them with a smile, then threw a smart salute as they passed.
When they walked out, they found the narrow city streets lined with people.
Everywhere, people were calling to them, cheering, and waving. Many reached out to touch them as they passed, saying words of thanks or giving them blessings.
Someone pressed a sprig of green mountain laurel into Link's hand; Zelda already had a bouquet of it.
She looked at him with surprise and a bit of shock; he knew his face must have mirrored hers. It hadn't occurred to him the entire time they were fighting that people might one day thank him for what he had done. He knew it was his destiny to fight Nagadii, so he expected it of himself and just assumed everyone else expected it of him, too.
Their entire route through the city was lined with people. Link winced to see how many of the people—including women and even small children—were wounded or scarred. Few of the scars looked to be very old. But despite the tortures that they all had endured, they were nothing but happy today, grinning from ear to ear.
They passed out of the city, and when they turned to look back, they saw people clustered in the gate entrance and lining the walls and towers, still waving goodbye.
"Well, we know we'll always be welcome in Erenrue," Link said.
"Their customs are different—and some of them I wasn't too sure I liked, at first—but I have to admit I've grown very fond of them," Zelda said.
"I'm rather glad our kingdom is not predisposed to war because I wouldn't want to live like this all the time, but I have to admit, it has made them a very tough and prideful people, and without that, I don't know that they would have survived," Link said. "And I don't know if we would have survived without them and that indomitable fighting spirit."
They were quiet for some time, as they walked away from the city. Despite their earlier eagerness to be on their way to Hyrule, they were walking at a moderate pace, enjoying the sunny day and pleasant fall temperature. But perhaps subconsciously, they were just not in a hurry to leave Erenrue behind.
"You know," Zelda said, breaking their silence after a while, "I don't think I mind their fighting culture so much anymore—now that I've actually fought."
Link looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"Before, I didn't like how they seemed to reveal in war—like it was… their national pastime. I hated the idea of war on principle. But, unlike them, I had never seen real war."
"And… seeing real war made you like it?" Link asked in disbelief.
"No. I could never like seeing people being killed. But, at the same time, having lived through a real war and all the fights we've had since then, I'm not afraid of it like I once was. I can't imagine that I'd ever start a war—and never over something trivial or greedy—but I would damn sure finish one. There are some things that are just worth fighting for."
"Well, let's hope that no one tries to start one with us; I think I've had enough of fighting to last me a lifetime."
She smiled a little. "Remember you said that when you're bored out of your mind and have nothing to do except deal with papers and bureaucrats."
Link grimaced. "When you put it that way…."
After about an hour of walking, Zelda transformed into a horse. Let's get going, she said. I want to go home and sleep in my own bed again. And take a bath, she added.
"Mind if I ride for a little while?"
Link hopped onto her back and she set off at a gallop, her hooves pounding across the compacted soil.
As much as he loved the feeling of flying, there was something just as exhilarating about riding. Zelda couldn't move as fast as he could fly, but there was more of an element of danger to it; the ground was speeding past them and a wrong move or a stumble could send him spilling off to meet the earth. There was also the fact that riding involved a partnership; flying was a solitary experience.
Zelda seemed to enjoy having a run, too; she stretched her neck out and ran at top speed for as long as she could. It was easy, for a moment, to forget their worries and to feel happy and carefree as they were the year before.
Then, late in the afternoon, their peaceful ride came to an abrupt halt. Literally.
One moment Link was indulging himself with thoughts of his—and Zelda's—future, and the next moment, he was nearly thrown over her head. Only at the last minute did he manage to put his arms around her neck and hang on.
The wind shifted. I smell something.
No sooner had she thought the words than an arrow came zooming by, narrowly missing Link's back; if he hadn't been bent over, hanging on for dear life, it would have hit him.
He jumped to the ground, just as another arrow came in. It grazed Zelda under the neck and she reared in pain—and just missed getting hit in the same place a second time.
A moment later, she was back in human form, clutching her bleeding throat. Link grabbed her and jerked her down, so they were hidden in the waist-high grass.
How bad is it? he asked.
I don't know. Look.
She removed her hand and he briefly glanced at the cut. It's not too deep, he said with relief.
She pulled off her bow and readied an arrow. Did you see where they were coming from?
There are at least two different shooters in two different places, he said, indicating the direction from which the arrows had been fired. But, he continued, I didn't actually see them; they must have been hidden in the grass.
A moment later, they heard the sounds of grass rustling.
"Did you get them?" one voice—a little ways off—hissed.
"I got the horse."
"What about the boy?"
"I don't know."
"My shot missed," a third voice whispered, "but I think the horse fell on top of him."
"Be careful, though. It may be a trap."
Well, they're not completely stupid, at least, Link said.
Do you have any ideas? Zelda asked.
He considered the situation for a moment, running possibilities through his head. Yes, he finally replied. I'll fly up and create a diversion; you shoot them when they show themselves.
What happens if they shoot you first?
I suggest you move fast to avoid that possibility, he replied with a grin.
Link… she started to fuss.
He held up his hand, cutting her off. The sound of movement in the grass was getting closer. If they didn't do something soon, the men would find them anyways.
No time to argue. Just do it.
He transformed into a bird. Think you could give me a boost without slowing yourself down too much?
I guess, she said reluctantly, shifting her bow to her right hand. He hopped onto her left arm, where her leather archer's bracer afforded her some protection from his sharp claws.
Ready when you are, he told her.
She got into a crouch, ready to spring up, then she pulled her arm back and flung it upwards, tossing Link into the air.
He screeched as he spread his wings and climbed high into the sky. As he expected, the hunters stood and looked up, watching him. They didn't notice Zelda pop out of the grass until the first of their number was hit.
One of the men got off a shot at Link, but he was high enough that he had time to dodge it. When he looked back down, Zelda had taken out another man, but there were still two more.
One returned fire, causing Zelda to duck under the grass. The second man, armed with a sword, quickly bore down on her position while she had her head down.
Swordsman approaching to your left, Link said, as he wheeled.
Is the archer still out there?
Yes. But I'll take care of him for you. Switch to your sword; the guy coming for you will be too close for you to shoot in a minute.
Link came at the archer from behind; the man was so busy watching for his chance to get Zelda, he never saw Link coming.
Link went in with both his feet extended and hit the man hard in the back of the head with his claws. The man screamed and began to spin around, trying to shake Link loose, but Link just dug in and began pecking at his eyes.
He screamed even louder and tried beating Link with his fist and the bow gripped in his hand. His hits weren't very hard, but it didn't take a lot to bruise when Link was so small.
Link finally was forced to break off his attack—but not before he grabbed the man's bow and stripped it out of his hand as he flew away.
He turned around quickly, coming back at him. The man reached for his short sword, but before he had a chance to draw it, Link transformed mid-air and, as he dropped back to earth, he struck the man hard across the face with his own bow. The man dropped like a stone and didn't move.
Link immediately turned his attention to Zelda—just in time to see her rise up and skewer the man who was charging her.
Satisfied she had everything in control on her end, he turned back to his own opponent and quickly delivered a mortal strike to the prone man's throat.
Zelda came over a few minutes later, breathing heavily and still gripping her bloody sword. Her face and tunic were splattered with blood—some of it hers, some not.
"This sword came in handy after all," she announced.
"So I noticed."
She let out a deep breath, as if trying to release the anger and tension that remained within her. "That certainly ruined an otherwise pleasant day."
"We knew this would come," he pointed out.
"I know. I just… wish it didn't have to."
She sighed again. "So now what do we do? Do you think we ought to try traveling at night? Maybe we'll be harder to see then."
"I think we should start by sitting down and coming up with a plan, since we didn't really have one to start with."
"Isn't traveling at night coming up with a plan?"
"That's coming up with a time of attack, but not an approach."
He looked out over the endless, softly rolling plains. The wind rustled through the dry, dying grass; it was cool and promised a cooler night to come.
"There are probably a lot more of these patrols between us and Hyrule," he said, thinking aloud. "Nagadii surely knows that we've retaken Pallis by now, and he must also know that he's our next target. So, if I was him, I would put out a lot of patrols between Hyrule and Erenrue—and not just on the roads, but everywhere. I'd have skirmishers—multiple lines of them, one right after the other—spread out like a net to catch us."
"So… how are we supposed to get in?"
"We don't take the most direct route."
He looked up at the sky while he sorted through possibilities in his mind.
"I can think of two options," he said after a minute. "One, we go back in the way we came—which is to say by way of the ocean."
He saw Zelda shudder a little; he knew she had no fond memories of their last encounter with the Endless Ocean.
"But we don't have a boat," she objected.
"No, but we can travel down the coastline; it's a straight shot from Erenrue to Hyrule that way. We can cut back to the east at any time. There are several roads, of varying quality and use, that run between the ocean and Kakariko and between Kakariko and the Great Plain. And, for the most part, the woods are not so dense that we can't blaze our own trail and avoid roads and paths all together."
"What's the second option?"
"We could go in via the Northern Road—that one that we were on after we fought the Beast Demon—where the fairy lives."
"You're worried about us being caught, but you want us to walk in by road?"
"An abandoned road," he pointed out. "I don't know if anyone's used that road in the past decade—not since Erenrue's attempt to establish a fishing village on their coast failed. With nothing in that corridor between Pallis and the sea, that road effectively goes nowhere. And, frankly, a lot of people have forgotten it even existed. I don't think Nagadii will have it guarded."
"Except… didn't the fairy tell us he had gone to that area a lot?" Zelda asked. "Wasn't he experimenting on animals there when he first started? If he knows it exists, he wouldn't have forgotten about it."
"But if he's going to concentrate his manpower somewhere, it's going to be in the direction we're most likely to come from—which is this way. He will waste few troops—if any—guarding an abandoned road far from where we are right now. …That, and he may rely on his animals to help guard it."
"So, what you're saying is that we would be trading human enemies for animal ones?"
"Quite possibly, yes."
"That doesn't seem like a good trade. Frankly, I'd rather deal with people."
"But people are cunning. They can make booby traps. They can band together and work as a team. Animals are limited in what they can do. They can only come at us with brute force."
"Yes, and if you'll remember, you were nearly crushed under a bear. I've never worried about a person doing that to me. So you can't discount their brute force."
"So I will endeavor not to let a bear fall on me. And even if one does, that's still easier to deal with than some sort of man-made trap."
She didn't look convinced.
"We don't have to go by the road," he offered. "It will take longer, and we'll be more exposed and pass closer to habitation, but we can go by way of the coast."
"Hmm, I wonder which way you think we should go?" she said sarcastically. Then she smiled at him.
"You ought to know I'll try and pick the least dangerous route for your sake."
She sighed with mock weariness. "Well, since I can't argue with that, I guess we'll take the road."
"We'll keep the other option as a back-up; if we see something we don't like on the road, we can always retreat and go around."
Zelda started off walking to the east, keeping her human form because she would be somewhat harder to spot in the tall grass. Link took to the sky—flying very high up and well out of arrow range—and searched for any other dangers lurking on the plain.
After nearly half an hour, he dropped back down beside Zelda. "There's no one close, but several miles to the southwest there is another group of four men moving this direction. Several miles beyond that, I saw smoke from a fire that isn't near any habitation that I'm aware of. So that's probably another group—maybe guarding the road.
"I think you're right that we should go back to moving at night," he added. "Even if we pass fairly close to another patrol, they will have trouble seeing us in the dark."
It was less than two hours until sundown, so they stopped to eat and rest. Zelda laid down and took a nap, but Link stayed awake; even though he had not seen anyone around for miles, he was still paranoid. He didn't want to get caught sleeping. Besides, after sleeping for almost twenty-four hours, he was still feeling rather refreshed. It would take a lot of sleep deprivation to make him feel as bad as he had when the demon was giving him nightmares.
While he was waiting for the time to pass, he pulled out the golden bracelets he had found and examined them. They were ornate and quite heavy. They were obviously well-made pieces and very valuable. But what Zelda had noticed piqued his curiosity about them: they were set with opals like the Soul Scepter.
He had learned in school that opals were frequently used to enhance magic spells because they could store energy—and, in a more sinister application, the souls of the living and the dead. The Soul Scepter didn't contain the souls of the dead, but it did seem to use that connection between opals and the world of the spirits to draw them into the world of the living. But, unlike dark magic, the Soul Scepter didn't control the spirits; it allowed them to make the transition between the worlds, but it didn't require them to do it.
Did the bracelets have a similar purpose? But if so, why? Why would they do the same thing as the Soul Scepter? It would be more useful to be able to wear the bracelets than hold the scepter, but Link doubted the ancients—or the gods—would have created two very different things that did the same thing. That didn't seem to be the way they worked. All of Link and Zelda's other weapons and tools were unique.
He put one bracelet on, but nothing happened. He waved his arm around and even held up the Master Sword—wondering if the two things would interact in some way—but nothing happened.
He put the second bracelet on next to the first and as soon as they touched, they emitted a golden halo of light that enveloped one half of his body. He was a little surprised at first, but he quickly began tinkering with the arrangement to see what else he could get.
When he held his arm across his body, the field moved with it, but it was a little small; it didn't quite cover all of him.
He tried taking one bracelet off. The field immediately disappeared. So obviously he had to be wearing both of them before they would work.
He put the bracelet on his right wrist so he had one on either arm. When he brought the two bracelets into contact then, they created a field big enough to cover his entire body.
As soon as the sun had set, Link woke Zelda. "Look at these bracelets," he said, before showing her what they did.
She propped herself up on her elbow, looking at him curiously. "What's the purpose of the light?"
Link pulled the bracelets apart and the field went away again. "If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it's some sort of shield."
That made her sit up. "A full body shield?"
Then she frowned. "But… you can't fight with both of your hands together like that."
"I tried both bracelets on the same arm to start with, but that only produced half a shield."
"Well, that's not any worse than your actual shield—and, actually, these cover more of your exposed body."
"True," he said, but he felt like he was still missing something. Again, why would there be a device that could do the same things as one they already had?
"It also helps if you need a break," Zelda pointed out. "You can sit in your little bubble and rest without worrying about being attacked. …And maybe you could even move past something dangerous—like a bear—without having to even engage it."
He nodded, beginning to see the benefits of them. If there was one thing they needed, it was a break from being constantly attacked. "Since I already have a shield," he said, why don't you wear them? That way you can protect yourself."
"But, Link, I can't shoot and hold my arms together at the same time. And, let's face it: my archery comes in very handy. I'd rather things died far away from us than up in our faces."
Link was already taking off a bracelet. "Yes, but—" He suddenly stopped, mid-sentence, as another idea came to him.
"What?" she asked.
He put the bracelet from his left wrist on her left wrist. "Try this," he said, taking her left hand in his right. When the bracelets on their arms touched again, the golden field sprang back into existence—this time, surrounding both of them.
He looked all around, checking for gaps, but saw none; they were covered front and back, on both sides, and over their heads. There wasn't a lot of room to spare in any direction—the field sat mere inches away from them—but it was enough.
He smiled at her. "This works."
"I still can't shoot—not with just one hand."
"But you can wield a sword," he pointed out. "Your right hand is free. And so is my left, so I can have my sword, too."
"Can we strike at something outside the field?"
Link pulled out the Master Sword and stuck it outside the field. He had no trouble swinging and cutting off the fuzzy tops on the grass.
"That would be a 'yes,'" he concluded.
"Are you quite sure this will keep other things out?"
"I'm not positive, no, but I am fairly confident. Besides, can you think of anything else it could be?"
"It could be some sort of healing magic."
He looked at her. "Nope. You still have your cut."
She frowned, but couldn't come up with another option.
He let go of her hand. "We'll be careful until we're entirely sure what these can and can't do. But I do intend to try them out at the first opportunity."
She looked at the bracelet on her arm with a frown. "It's a shame they don't make us invisible. That's what we really need right now."
"I'll take what we can get—anything to avoid getting shot at again."