Prologue: Chapter Seven
FOOD, when it arrived, looked to be enough for six people, let alone three. Sofia entered bearing a wide tray laden with assorted edibles, and a sloshing water skin was looped over her shoulder. With care the red-haired woman knelt upon the sandy floor, flicking her long ponytail over her shoulder with a toss of her head, and set down the heavy tray.
"Ooh," Link said in appreciation.
Sofia flung down the skin and began to illustrate the contents of their meal. "Corn bread, goat's cheese, this meat is freshly cooked beef ribs, and we also have a little chicken although that is less easy to come by. Two peeled eggs, assorted fruit and nuts, and this is sherbet, a traditional sweet among these people." She smiled and pulled the full skin forward. "Oh, and they have procured wine from somewhere."
"Wine!" said Zelda in surprise. "I did not know that your people drank it!"
"You thought we survived on water?" Sofia smiled. "Well, I suppose we do survive on water at that, but we can brew alcoholic drinks also. I am afraid that it will not be quite what you are used to--it comes not from grapes but from crushed loganberries. A little sweet for your tastes, perhaps, but it does get you drunk the same way." With a smile, Sofia gestured at the full tray. "Well... go ahead."
They set to with a will.
A surprisingly short time later, the tray was almost empty. It had been the first real meal any of them had had for over two days, and the simple home-cooked food was both nourishing and extremely good. Zelda shocked herself by eating almost a third of the meat and bread herself, although Link demanded and got the lion's share. Sofia ate comparably sparingly, helping herself to the cheese and fruit but refusing any meat, although even her portion of the meal would have been seen as excessive by Hylian standards.
"I could learn to enjoy this life," Link said thoughtfully.
Sofia shook her head. "You are not always guaranteed a supply of food living in the western realms, Link. These people come upon hard times just like you do... and if the rains do not come then their animals will die and leave them without all but that which they can hunt or gather." She set aside her cup and leaned forward, meeting the Princess's eyes with her own. "Tell me about the Legendary Knights."
"What would you like to know?" Zelda countered.
"Anything you see fit to tell me," Sofia answered. "I know little yet, save that they fought against Ganon and had magical amulets to help them!"
The Princess frowned in thought. "We know very little ourselves, Sofia. The Knighthood is shrouded in secrecy. In the Book of Mudora there are warnings against trying to bring together all six Knights, though why I do not know. All I have found is a footnote which speaks of corruption.
"From the beginning the Knighthood was a secret affair--founded, it is said, by the Hero of Time, who knew in his enlightened wisdom that Ganon would return to Hyrule in three hundred years. He prepared for the return of Ganon by hand-choosing four great warriors of the races of Hyrule. With the addition of himself, it made up five. Legends do tell of a sixth Knight, one to wield the Power of Darkness, but whoever he or she was he was lost. I think it likely that the sixth Knight was a Sheikah priestess, just as the Sage of Shadow was."
Sofia sighed. "Well, I am little wiser than I was before I asked!"
"You know everything we do," Zelda answered with a wry smile. "There is nothing more in the books I have access to--had access to," she amended. "I am not in my father's house now."
"Obviously," the red-haired woman said with a wry look.
Link stifled a yawn.
"Tired?" Sofia suggested.
The young warrior nodded slowly. "I do not like being weak... I am not tired enough to sleep."
"Yes you are," the red-haired woman said sternly. "It was only yesterday that you were bitten, and recovery sometimes takes up to a week. With the amount of venom you ingested, I would be very surprised if you recovered in a day." Sofia sat beside the pallet and shook out the coverlet. "Rest for a while longer, Link--we will come for you when you are needed."
It seemed that Link would balk at the prospect of further enforced rest, but he capitulated after a moment, going over to the pallet and lying down carefully on his back. He could not hide a wince as he did so.
"Come, Zelda," Sofia murmured, taking the Princess gently by the arm. "Let us leave him to sleep a while longer--I will take you to speak with Siman."
"I'm not tired!" Link called after them as they left the tent. Sofia smiled and shook her head slowly in a gesture of amused despair.
The sun had continued quite a way upon its journey through the sky. Now it was not so unbearably hot, although there still was a deal of heat shimmering over the sandy ground and in front of the far off mountains. Now the little camp was populated by people, short-eared and long-limbed with skins the smooth brown of chocolate--people who had frozen in the act of whatever they were doing to turn and look at the golden-haired spirit in their midst. The slender Hylian princess felt rather uncomfortable under their awed stares, although she had been stared at before when with her father on royal walkabouts. Mastering herself she smiled at the little gathering.
Sofia laid a hand on Zelda's shoulder then, and said to the assembly, "Heo naman Zelda." There were slow nods and murmurs of approval, and then some of the tribesmen resumed their work. The children, seemingly frozen to the spot, did not.
"What did you say?" Zelda asked.
The red-haired woman smiled. "I merely told them your name. It was not a name like theirs--that is what they wanted. They want to see you as a being from another world."
"I think I am," Zelda said in soft wonder. "This place is nothing like Hyrule."
Sofia nodded. "From what you have said, your world is very different. But if we keep up the mystery, they may well wish to escort us back to Gaelaidh, or at least help us to within sight, and that is a good thing." She halted in front of the largest tent, woven of a black and red pattern of scorpions and strange geometric shapes, and waited. "Siman's tent," she explained in an undertone.
"What are those for?" Zelda asked, indicating what appeared to be long ox horns atop the construction.
"An honour to their gods," the other woman answered quietly. "They follow an older religion than any of us." A word was barked from within, and Sofia pulled back the flap. "You first, Zelda," she murmured. Zelda stepped forward into the cool darkness of the tent.
Link sighed and rested his hand behind his head. Now that he was lying down he did not even feel sleepy any more. Restless, he shifted and rolled onto his side, then looked at his right arm which lay on the pallet before him. The skin was cloudy with bruises. A frown of concentration spread across the young warrior's face--his fingers curled into a loose fist then relaxed again. He bent his wrist and then his elbow--the muscles were sluggish to respond, but finally did as he pleased. His arm was still numb.
He closed his eyes and then sent the impulse to his fingers to close. He could not tell whether they obeyed him. He opened his eyes and saw that his fingers had closed, but now relaxed as he took his mind off the action of closing. He sighed.
Sitting up again he yawned and pushed the bedcovers away. It was far too hot to think of covering up, anyway. Even in the light Gerudo garments he could feel the heat and sweat upon his skin. It struck him then that this bed was where the Princess had slept earlier. Feeling suddenly uncomfortable in his relaxed position, he sat up shaking back his long red-brown hair and swung his legs onto the floor.
There was a rustle near the doorway. Link turned his head and saw one of the nomad children staring at him in wide-eyed awe. He guessed it was a boy, although it was not easy to tell as both boys and girls dressed alike and had more or less the same hair. He raised his good hand and waved at the child, and then said, "Hello." The little boy looked at him without any understanding. He made a move to get up, and the dark little face vanished from the doorway, the tent flap swinging back into position.
Link stood and made for the door. There was a scattering of sudden footsteps as he ducked out into the late afternoon sunlight. The little boy stood ten or eleven paces away, holding Link's own rosewood bow in one small fist and a white swan-feathered arrow in the other. "Hey, that's mine!" Link exclaimed and took a few steps toward the boy. The child's muscles tensed as he prepared to turn tail and flee. Link shook his head and smiled. "I won't hurt you!" He supposed he must look rather intimidating, the strange warrior from a far land.
The little boy gazed at him for a long moment, then turned away and clumsily fitted the arrow to the string. He tried to draw it back, but the short bow was too strong for him and he managed only a couple of inches draw. The arrow slipped slightly from his small fingers and he fumbled in trying to get it back where it had been without losing his draw.
Unable to resist a smile, Link strode over to the child while he was thus occupied. "No, no," he said, taking the bow from the astonished boy, "you're doing it wrong. Look, do it like this." He demonstrated, bending his knee a little and fitting the nock of the arrow to the string. Holding the bow horizontally at arms' length, he drew--his numb right arm felt strange and unfamiliar, as if it was not a part of him, but it held--and sighted along the length of the arrow. Relaxing his hold upon the bow, he placed it and the arrow back into the boy's hands, and turning pointed at a palm tree only ten paces away. "See if you can hit that," he suggested, kneeling beside the boy.
Although his words were not those which the tribespeople understood, the meaning of his gesture was clear. The boy bent his knee as Link had done, then hefted the bow and nocked the arrow onto the string. Link watched, and then reached out and corrected the boy's stance. Startled the little boy looked up into the green eyes of the warrior, then he smiled shyly.
"Go on," Link said, indicating the tree once more. "Sight first." He placed his hand under the arrow and lifted its iron nose up a little. The boy squinted along the arrow's shaft as he drew back, his thin arms trembling with the strain. "Now," Link ordered, and the boy released the arrow with a loud twang. The swan-feathered shaft, crafted in faraway Hyrule, flew through the air with a hiss and eagerly buried itself in a target. But it was not the target Link had hoped for! With a ripping sound the arrow bit through the wall of a nearby tent some four paces from the intended tree, and there was a hollow thud of it hitting something hard within. A blistering stream of Gerudo invective poured out of the tent flap, followed swiftly by a furious old woman, brandishing a wooden pot with the arrow buried in its flank.
"Oh dear," Link lamented, trying not to laugh. "Very sorry, milady!" He trotted up and made appeasing gestures, indicating that he would like the arrow back. Seemingly not pausing for breath in her torrent of fearsome-sounding curses, the old woman yanked out the arrow and flung it down at his feet before turning and flouncing back inside.
Picking up the arrow, Link inspected it for damage and found none. He turned back to his young pupil and found that there was a group of six assorted youngsters all watching and waiting excitedly. "What?" he asked. "You all want to learn?" Well, he thought, looking at their hopeful faces, it could do little harm to show them the basics. Although it might be wise to take them away from anything breakable first.
It took Zelda's eyes a few moments to adjust, for the black tent of Siman let in little sunlight. Unlike the others, this tent was more or less rectangular so that the length of the room stretched out before her. A fire burned in the center of the room and illuminated the creature squatting upon the mat at the far end. With his dark skin adorned with blue paint and designs and his head shorn of hair, he was barely recognisable as the same species as Sofia. He wore the same white trousers and leather vest as the rest of the males Zelda had seen, but was additionally garbed with a great number of brass anklets and decorative chains.
"This is Siman, overlord of the Simani," Sofia murmured, standing beside the Princess. The alarming figure upon the grass mat stood up slowly and majestically, jingling with ankle-rings, and spoke in a deep inflected tongue. "He says," Sofia explained, leaning close, "that he is honored by the presence of the Lady from the East."
"Tell him that I am honored also by his hospitality," Zelda replied, falling back on court etiquette.
Sofia conferred with the painted man and then turned back to the Princess, her amber eyes gleaming golden in the firelight. "Siman asks you and your consort to join his people in their evening meal tonight. His words, not mine, Zelda!" -as she began to object. "They will have a special feast to celebrate your presence among them." The red-haired woman smiled then. "He also asks that you tell him what it is like to live beyond the stars. He believes you are a spirit too."
"That could be a dangerous misunderstanding," Zelda sighed. "Tell him it is like this land but greener."
Sofia nodded and relayed to Siman the Princess's words. "He asks if you are great among your people," she reported.
The Princess frowned, alarm bells beginning to ring. "Sofia, are these people honorable?" she asked.
"Of course," the red-haired woman replied a little stiffly. "You do not need to fear from them."
Zelda nodded. "Very well. Tell him that I am the daughter of the King of Hyrule."
"I'll tell him you are the daughter of the King of the land beyond the mountains," Sofia corrected. "We do not know the word "Hyrule"." She spoke with the chieftain once again, and then he stepped off his mat and gestured to a tray which had been placed before the fire, speaking once more in the Gerudo tongue. "He asks if you will partake of a delicacy they have collected for you," Sofia explained. "Please try it if you possibly can--it will greatly please them, and the preparation of the dish takes a long time. It is a great mark of respect that they offer it to you."
The Princess stared at the objects on the tray, which appeared to be some kind of round white balls specked with seeds or tiny pieces of bark, steeped in honey. "What are they?" she asked cautiously.
"Mīn geomor," Sofia answered. "Fire ants baked in flour and sesame oil."
"Sofia, I can't," Zelda whispered frantically.
The red-haired woman shook her head slowly. "It really would please him, Zelda. And you may even like them if you try them."
"We do not eat insects!" Zelda complained. "The very idea makes me feel sick!"
"Well, if you will not, you will not," Sofia said quietly. "Tell him that."
Zelda looked at Siman. The tribal leader seemed expectant. With a sigh, she reached down and picked up one of the little dumplings. "I'll try," she told Sofia. The other woman smiled. Closing her eyes Zelda bit into the dumpling, tasting flour and a strong sesame essence. Something inside was crunchy, like large poppy seeds, and there was a faintly sharp and lemony taste upon her tongue. She chewed and swallowed, then smiled weakly at Sofia and Siman.
Siman chuckled deeply, then reached down and took a dumpling himself. The tribal leader chewed the food with gusto, smacking his lips. He swallowed most of his in one gulp while Zelda nibbled on the peculiar hors d'oeuvre. She felt herself recovering some of her poise and confidence already, and the "mīn geomor" was actually palatable, as long as she didn't think too hard about the crunchiness between her teeth. It would make an interesting thing to tell the others back home, she thought--she wondered what Fellica would think of the idea of ant cakes. Maybe she should ask for the recipe so she could find out...
Siman rattled off a long stream of convoluted syllables that came out half-clogged by food. Sofia listened intently and then turned to Zelda once more. "He thanks you for accepting his hospitality and hopes that you will put in a good word for his people. He also wishes to know where you are heading, and whether you will consent to accept a few small gifts from his clan."
Zelda nodded. "Well, I imagine that we are heading back to Gaelaidh, and then Link and myself will be thinking of ways to return to Hyrule--I have to make peace with my own father, Sofia! ...What gifts? Should we accept them? You know more than I about these people."
"They will be offended if you do not accept them," Sofia told her. "Hospitality is a matter of tribal pride among the nomadic peoples. I don't know what they will give you, but I imagine that it will be substantial!"
Frowning, the Princess shook back her golden hair--a habit she had when under stress. "Well, I do not like to accept charity," she began, "but if it is expected we should do as he wishes us to."
"Good," Sofia nodded, and relayed the information to the chief. Smiling widely and revealing a set of excellent teeth, Siman stood up straight with a jangle of jewellery and took Zelda's hand in his own. She felt slightly alarmed as her small fingers were swallowed up by the human chieftain's great fist, but he clasped her hand with every indication of the utmost friendliness, ceremonially shaking her arm up and down before releasing her.
"We are dismissed," Sofia informed the Princess. "He looks forward to meeting you again tonight."
The green-eyed warrior was surrounded by six avid young pupils as he sat cross-legged on the ground, stripping the severed branch of a young mahogany tree with a short bone-handled knife he had borrowed. Link was showing the village children how to construct a small bow strong enough to kill rodents and low-flying birds--something he had done many a time during his childhood back home. He spoke as he worked, although he was aware that none of them could understand a word he said.
"...and then you have to test the branch to make sure there's no rot in it. See, bend it like this, gently from side to side. If it's weak it will break. Then, round off the bow arms like this so that there's a thin place just before the end. You have to make a niche there and that will be the place where the bowstring goes."
Deft little hands copied his movement on anything that came to hand--palm bark, pieces of stick or the hems of trousers. Link picked up the coil of string that lay ready beside him and knotted the end into a loop. This he slipped over one haft of the pliant young branch, stretched tight and tied around the other end, cutting the leftover neatly with his knife. He hefted the little bow and then picked up one of the small darts he had carved beforehand. There were no suitable feathers to hand to wing the arrow, and in any case fletching was a skill that took many years to acquire. If the feathers were laid poorly strange effects could be observed, from dramatic midair spinning to the arrow curving in its flight, and even swooping straight up into the air to return swiftly and hit the shooter.
"It's ready," he said, and held the bow out to them. Eagerly the children grasped for it and after a slight scuffle one of the larger ones emerged victorious. With a whoop of joy the child snatched the bow and dart and raced off between the tents, followed by its companions who shouted at its heels in hope of regaining the toy.
"You seem to be popular," Zelda said with a smile. He turned to see the Princess and the red-haired Gerudo standing and watching him. Feeling slightly self-conscious Link stood and brushed the bark and wood shavings off his clothes.
"Well met, Princess," he said formally.
Sofia raised an eyebrow. "Didn't I tell you to go to bed?"
Link thought for a moment. "Yes," he admitted. "Why?"
Smiling, she shook her head. "Why indeed. Why aren't you there?"
"I could not sleep," he said stiffly. "And then one of them had my bow, so I showed him how to use it and then they all wanted a go, and one thing led to another..."
The red-haired woman watched the children as they sorted out between themselves who should have possession of the bow and arrow. The lucky recipient of the toy drew and aimed at an unlucky kangaroo mouse which hopped about on the stones at the edge of the camp, searching for seeds with its long sensitive snout. "It looks as if you have started a new craze, Link," Sofia said laughing. "Their parents will be furious with them if they damage anything."
Link shrugged. "I do not think that they will be stupid enough to aim at each other, and that older lad seems to know what he is doing. Besides, you never know, it might be useful to them." He smiled, his heart in the land of his parents. "I remember spending many happy days aiming at trees and bluejays with a bow just like that one."
"It will soon be sundown," Sofia said, looking at the sky which was now the deep afternoon blue of the tropical sea. "We should help our guests prepare the evening meal, if we can." She snapped her fingers suddenly, and withdrew a long dagger from her belt. "Here, Link, the Goddess wanted you to have this in replacement for your sword."
Link accepted the serpentine dagger with care, holding it up to make the sunlight play along the smooth tapering blade and glint upon the singly wrought emerald scales of the hilt. "It is a beautiful blade," he said in amazement. Lifting the dagger he swung it several times cutting air, and then slipped the weapon through his own belt. "I am thankful to the Goddess," he said quietly, "for this is far superior to my old sword!"
"Was it your grandfather's sword?" Zelda asked.
He shook his head. "My grandfather had a weapon that could shoot magical bolts--I don't know where it was stored, or what happened to it when he died. I bought my old blade from a traveling merchant. It was the best I could afford at the time." Link smiled wistfully. "It was nothing magical, nothing special, just a sword, but I will miss it anyway!"
"It met as good an end as it could," Sofia comforted him. "Look, Link! There is a job for you--Che is fetching wood for the fire." She pointed to where a young dark-skinned man with a bronze torc carried logs to the site of last night's blaze.
Link mock-scowled and trotted over to offer his services as a wood-carrier. He grinned at the human man and then picked up a heavy chunk of palm wood. The other young man looked startled and then grinned back, flashing his perfect white teeth. They bared teeth at each other for a few moments, then Che slapped the elven warrior on the shoulder and bent to pick up his own load. The two young men set to work side by side, already the best of friends, without a single word being exchanged between them.
"We should lend our own hands soon," Sofia said to Zelda, "but first, I would like to teach you a little of my language. It would be good if you could learn some before we returned to Gaelaidh, for my father will be more inclined to listen to you."
"All right," Zelda answered. "Teach me."
Sofia nodded. "Repeat after me. Me žin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel."
"Meh thin mod-sef..." Zelda tried, stuttering.
"No, no. Me žin. Don't say "th"," Sofia corrected her. "There is no "th" in our language! It is more of a-" She made a soft lisping noise through her teeth.
Zelda took a deep breath. "Meh thin..." She dissolved into giggles. "Oh, I cannot say it!"
"Try again," the red-haired woman suggested. "It took me a long time to learn your double L, but I got it more or less right in the end!"
"You mean like "Gan bwyll y mae mynd ymhell,"?" Zelda questioned.
"Gan bwy..." Sofia swore. "I could have sworn I had it perfect."
They laughed together as they wandered through the camp, trying to make the sounds of each other's language, so different in their ears. Still spitting out nonsense syllables, they accepted the invitation of a tribeswoman to sit and shell hard fruit in preparation for some kind of stew. Sofia listened to and translated the instructions for Zelda, roaring with laughter when the Princess tried to repeat the difficult phrases and got it hopelessly wrong. When the elderly tribeswoman joined in in the Simani dialect, peeling tubers at the same time as trying to repeat Zelda's words, they ended up speaking in three different languages and understanding little of any of them. The promised dinner threatened to dissipate in gales of laughter until someone else stuck their head out of a tentflap and spat threatening phrases at them. Sofia informed Zelda that the essential meaning of the invective was "Keep the noise down".
"I warn you, Sofia," Zelda began, "and tell her too: I have never in my life attempted to cook anything before."
Sofia grinned, and relayed the information to the old woman, who hooted derisively and then reached out to grasp Zelda's hand and squeeze it to show that no harm was intended. The Princess smiled despite herself. "Can you ask her what her name is?"
"Asira," Sofia informed the Princess after exchanging another stream of words. "She also says that she is four score and nine years old and has never seen anyone with hair like spun gold before." The old woman reached out again and took a strand of Zelda's long hair between her horny fingers, rubbing it gently.
"Eighty-nine?" Zelda said in amazement. The old woman presented every sign of advanced age, yet in Hylian terms she was in the prime of life. Here was firsthand evidence of the difference between the Gerudo and Hylian span of life. "Tell her that..."
"Must I always be your translator?" Sofia said with a smile.
"I think that until I can say three of your words without stuttering, you will have to," Zelda sighed.
They were soon finished with the task, and the old woman scooped the fruits of their labor into a wicker basket and carried it off somewhere. Sofia and Zelda remained sitting together upon the mat, no longer speaking but each lost in their own thoughts.
Zelda looked at her hands. When she had started out upon the journey that had led her and Link to the western realms, she had had well-cared for hands as any lady of the Royal House must. Now, they filled her with horror. Her nails were splitting and roughened by the abrasive effects of sand, and her soft palms had hardened to the reins and to constant use. She had nicked herself several times with the knife while removing the tough husks from the small green fruit, and the small cuts added to the general effect. Her hands looked like those of a hard-working peasant nowadays.
Ah well, she thought. She was well aware that there were changes all over her. Link perhaps had not changed quite as much... no, save for the obvious, like the spectacular tan from the desert trek, he was hardly scruffier than he had been when she first set eyes on him. Adversity ran off the young warrior like water off a duck's back... or was it merely that he had never looked tidy, and so the wilderness could do little to him?
She yawned. "Oh... I am too tired, Sofia."
"I must admit, I am exhausted myself," the other woman admitted. "I will have trouble staying awake for supper."
"It smells like it is almost ready," Zelda said, sniffing. Indeed, a scent of roasting meat and spices was floating on the air, and she could hear the crackling of a great fire. "Will I be expected to eat any more... delicacies?" she asked cautiously.
"I know not whether there will be any more," Sofia said, and smiled. "Mīn geomor are a rare dish, Princess, usually reserved for very special occasions. I suppose there may be mīn gedufan or ferh-wearde, but... ah, it depends whether you mean delicacies or ants," she finished with a grin.
"I think I meant ants," Zelda laughed. She lay back upon the sandy ground, her hands behind her head, and looked up at the deepening sky. A warm pink glow reached out from the western horizon, and above her head the cloudless heavens were the color of deep water shot through with violets. She closed her tired eyes and relaxed against the hard surface beneath her, feeling the warmth from the ground replacing the loss of warmth in the cooling evening air. Her sharp ears caught the sound of people laughing, people talking, people gathering around the fire, and the soft scratching of a desert mouse as it searched for food...
"Zelda, wake up." She was being shaken. She opened her eyes and was startled to see that the sky had deepened to blue-black velvet, and the first stars were beginning to appear in the darkening night, their light pale as they gathered their strength.
Sofia shook her again and she pushed the other woman away. "I'm awake."
"Dinner," the red-haired woman informed her, and got to her feet. "Ouch--stiff." Zelda winced in sympathy as she heard Sofia's knees crack. Stretching her arms and legs, Sofia shook her long ponytail over her shoulder and looked down at the recumbent Princess. "Well, shall we go?"
"All right," Zelda yawned, rolling over. "I cannot believe that I just fell asleep on the ground."
"Well, you did," Sofia smiled. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Strangely after such a large lunch, I am." Zelda blinked twice and then stood up, stretching as Sofia had done.
They passed between the tents and came upon the cooking fire which had burned all afternoon. Now everyone seemed to be there, eighteen to twenty adults and children sitting in the circular space at the center of the camp. Link, sitting with the young nomad Che, saw them and waved. "Over here!" He already had a full plateful of food, Zelda noticed with a smile. Che was talking animatedly to Link in his own tongue, and every few moments Link interrupted him in Hylian. It was obvious that neither of them had any idea what the other was talking about, but they seemed to be getting on very well.
Zelda made her way through the crowd and found a space next to Link to sit down in. She was promptly handed a clay dish laden with a hunk of roasted beef, vegetables in some kind of spicy sauce and a lump of something white and not immediately identifiable. "Thank you," she said absentmindedly, and turned to Link.
"This is great fun!" Link said enthusiastically, waving his hands in the air. "I could stay here forever!"
"I hope not," Zelda answered seriously. "We have to head back to Gaelaidh soon. You look a lot better, though."
He made a fist with his right hand. "It's still numb, though..." Che said something to him and Link answered cheerfully, "Is that right?" Turning back to Zelda he said, "He showed me the whole place after I finished with the wood, Princess. Did you know they've-"
"Wait a minute," interrupted Zelda, scowling. "I thought you had promised me you wouldn't call me that any more!"
"Did I?" Link said in surprise. Then he laughed, held up his left hand, and crossed the first two fingers.
"Why, you--!" The princess seethed.
The evening drew on, and the feasting slowed as everyone, even the most ardent of eaters, had their fill. The roasted carcass of the young cow that had been slaughtered was picked almost clean, and the children were asleep upon the ground. Link saw that his little bow and arrow had not strayed from the hand of the oldest boy since he had given the toy to them, and he smiled.
There was a weight upon his good shoulder, a pressure that had been there for some time but which he had not noticed. Che laughed and said something in his own tongue, pointing, and Link looked down to see Zelda asleep against his shoulder. Her blonde hair had come loose from its tie and flowed around her sweet face like molten gold. The murmur of conversation had lulled the Princess to sleep. Sofia was nowhere to be seen.
Link smiled, and then yawned--the day had taken its toll upon him also. "Well, Che," he said cheerfully, "it seems that it is time to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow, maybe?" The other young man laughed again, murmuring soft words as he touched Zelda's golden hair. "Fare well," Link said yawning, and he stood and lifted the sleeping Princess to carry her out of the dissolving circle.
He took the Princess to the tent where she had slept that morning, and gently laid her fully clothed upon the pallet. Kneeling beside her Link touched her cheek gently with the back of his forefinger, and then he slipped out of the tent flap, letting it fall behind him. Perhaps another time he would have woken her, but tonight he wished only to let her sleep, and to rest himself. Tomorrow, he knew, they would be heading back to Gaelaidh, and maybe that evening they would be in Hyrule once more--the adventure in the Western Desert was almost at an end.
Of course, he was wrong.
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