Rusl sat on the earthen ledge outside his house, enjoying the morning air. Uli was inside, at rest, and Colin was already up, playing with the other village children. Link would be along soon, after his morning work at the ranch, to pick up the gift for the Royal Family. Rusl hoped that the lad would find his way to the palace without trouble. It was quite a journey through the forest and over the field into
– which, itself, was something he feared the poor kid would be overwhelmed by. He’d stand out like a sore thumb in his country clothes among the denizens of the capitol in their finery, but the trusted Link to keep his manners and the boy really needed to see the world outside their little village and forest. Castle Town
The swordsman lifted his head upon seeing his son wandering up the trail, sniffling and rubbing his eyes.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Rusl asked gently, bidding the child to sit beside him.
“Talo,” he said with a sniff, “Talo pushed me down again, an’ Beth an’ Malo laughed, an’ they called me a wuss because I told you about the monkeys, and they won’t let me go to the spring…”
“Slow down there, easy, easy…” Rusl put his hands on Colin’s little shoulders. “You didn’t get scraped up again, did you?”
“You did the right thing telling us about the monkeys.”
“But Talo and Malo’s dad scolded them bad and they don’t wanna play with me anymore.”
“They’ll be sore for a while, but they’ll forget about it. I saw the forest – there’s something wrong with it right now and you kids can’t be running off like that. Their dad may have scolded them, but maybe they’ll think twice about running off now. They could have gotten hurt.”
“But Link saved Talo,” Colin countered, “He made sure none of us got hurt.”
“Link isn’t always going to be around to look after you kids…”
Colin’s eyes widened and he gasped in resolute horror. “Is there something wrong with him? He’s not sick, is he? I don’t want him to die!”
Rusl sighed. “No,” he laughed, “Link is okay. What I mean, Colin, is that Link is growing up. He might not stay in our village. He’s a bright lad. He may decide to get a scholar’s education in
or to go off to see the world. I know Bo’s expecting him to take over as mayor someday, and it’s what Link says he wants, but he might change his mind. Even if he does become the leader of Ordon, he will not have the time to play anymore, or to go running after you kids all the time.” Castle Town
“Then who will protect us?”
“Colin,” Rusl said with a deep sigh, “You’re a smart boy and you’ve got a good heart, but there are things you still lack. What I want for you is to be strong.”
“But, dad, I’m really little…”
“I don’t mean strong like… lifting things, Colin, I mean strong, in here.” Rusl balled one of his hands into a fist and rested it on his chest, over his heart. “Like… Like Link. Do you remember the time he thought that Mayor Bo was being unfair to Fado and he told him so?”
“Link stood up to him because he thought it was right. And do you remember that time that one escaped goat charged him and ran him over?”
“Yeah, he had that cracked rib and it hurt him to move very much, so he stayed with us for a while.”
“And when he was healed, he went right back to work. Don’t you think he was scared to go back to work right after that?”
“Link’s not afraid of anything!”
“It may seem like that, Colin, but Link gets scared sometimes, too, and I do – everyone does. He was scared to go back to work. He told me that, but he did it anyway because the village needed him to. I think he was scared yesterday, too, when he went to rescue Talo. He told me about fighting the monsters in the woods – he hasn’t seen anything like those except in books. He could have gotten hurt, but he did the right thing, anyway, even though he was scared. That’s what courage is, Colin. Do you understand?”
“I don’t know,” Colin replied. “I’m still really little.”
“Go on, lad. It’s a fine morning, enjoy the fresh air.”
After patting him on the shoulder, Rusl turned his attention to the trail leading up to the ranch, where he saw dust and a silhouette of a person leading a horse. Colin wandered off, probably to the yard in front of Link’s house, which served as the children’s playground most of the time – regardless of what Link felt about the situation.
The young man had never openly objected to the “pack” hanging out there and he often joined in or actively lead their games (he was growing up, but was still a boy at heart). Still, Rusl imagined that the racket they made very early in the morning on his days off woke him from much-needed sleep. Malo and Talo, little hellions that they were, often tore up the grass there and had several times absconded with the head of his sparring dummy.
Then again, Link never said much at all.
The lad was a quiet sort, and had been so, in Rusl’s recollection, ever since his parents had died. He did have a voice – one that carried very well, actually – it’s just that it was seldom used. Link tended only to speak when something was important, and even then, he sometimes could say everything he needed to with his eyes. Before his parents died, when he was very small, Link had been a little chatterbox. For a full year after the tragedy, the boy was withdrawn. Even after he’d begun to open up a little, he remained quiet and deliberate. He listened much more than he spoke – a quality that Rusl thought more people could stand to have.
The figure coming down the road became clearer. To his surprise, it was Ilia leading Epona by the reins. As they walked past Rusl, he stood up and ventured a question.
“Hey, what are you doing? Where’s Link? He’s supposed to be ready to deliver the town gift.”
“Epona is hurt,” Ilia replied sternly, “Link was careless with her and I’m taking her to the spring. He’s not getting her back until he’s prepared a proper apology!”
As she walked off toward the spring, Rusl groaned. If Link was held up much longer, he’d miss the appointed time and Rusl knew better than most in Ordon that ceremony was of utmost importance in
, especially in regards to the royals. Tardiness would be an insult to Princess Zelda and, though she was an understanding head of state, there was the potential that Hyrule proper could withdraw their help from Castle Town over such an insult. Ilia probably didn’t know the details of what had happened yesterday and Rusl assumed that she probably thought the horse had been hurt jumping fences again, rather than in Link dealing with something serious. He wondered if that girl would make a distinction. Ordon Province
Before he could follow and talk to Ilia, a familiar young man came sprinting down the road.
“Ah, Link!” Rusl said in greeting, “Going to see if you can talk to Ilia?”
Link stopped and nodded an affirmative.
“Good luck, I’ll get the tribute ready.”
Link gave him another half-nod and continued on his way.
It was not fifteen minutes after that when the beasts came crashing through the village, sending it into a state of chaos. Whether they’d come out of the forest, the surrounding hills, or straight out of the ether, Rusl could not tell. Jaggle and Pergie screamed and dashed inside their home. Hanch was atop one of the village’s flat-topped stone spires – he’d been calling down a hawk and trying to use it to fetch things for him all morning – he cowered and grasped the dirt and grass there as the earth shook. The hooves of enormous boars tore the earth and muddied the stream. Atop them were goblins of a rare type – creatures that Rusl had seen once in an old bestiary but could not remember the formal species name of. Then there was that one – a goblin much bigger than any Rusl had known about riding the biggest swine the man had ever seen. Both were well-armored. They whooped and hollered, and the smaller goblins fired arrows everywhere. Rusl narrowly dodged one and ran inside to fetch his sword.
“What on earth is going on?” Uli asked as he dashed through the door and grabbed his sword off the wall.
“Monsters!” Rusl gasped, “Stay inside and stay away from the windows!”
“Colin!” the young mother yelped.
“Don’t worry; I’m going to get him. If I can fetch Bo, Fado and Link, we can chase these things off.”
As Rusl dashed back outside, he heard screaming – specifically, he heard the screams of Talo, Malo and Beth. He saw Fado coming down the road and Bo huffing and puffing from the end of the village, but there was no time to wait for them. He drew his sword, slapped the scabbard over his back and went running toward Link’s house. It was not wise for most people to run with sharp objects, but Rusl was well-trained, a master of the swordsman’s art, and knew how to carry his weapon in such a way as to eliminate risk if he’d tripped. There was no other way to run over a battlefield.
A battlefield is what
resembled. The earth was torn and churned into chunks. The trail was conspicuous. Link’s yard was a wreck. The muddy trail led right to Ordon Spring. Rusl’s heart sank. Ilia was supposed to be there, Link was headed there and that meant Colin would be right along behind. The man could feel his pulse racing, his heart thrumming against his ribcage and his sweat-slicked skin grow cold. He did not hear the children – not even their frightened cries. Ordon Village
The gate to the spring was shattered and its waters were vacant. “Oh, Farore, no…” Rusl gasped. He walked around in the soft sand and read the signs there. Boar hooves. Horse hooves. Wet footprints left by human feet in sandals, leading away from the spring. Those footprints were Link’s size – Link! He must have chased after those monsters! Rusl dashed out of the spring, tracing Link’s trail. He heard Bo shouting behind him.
“What’s going on? Ilia!”
Rusl didn’t shout back. His mind was focused, he was on the trail. The boar sign seemed to stop right near the spring, so why did Link go this way? There was something very strange up ahead in the distance – the forest could be dark, but it was never this dark – not in the middle of the day, anyway. In among the trees there was a dense… blackness… Rusl couldn’t have described it any differently.
Where were they? Where were the beasts that had taken the children… his son - his sons? He caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye shuffling about in the forest. It was one of those goblins! He charged after it with the ferocity of a wild animal running down its prey.
“Where is my boy?” he demanded.
The creature raised the club it carried and caught Rusl in the side. The man grunted, wheeled around, and brought his sword down upon the creature’s skull. It died gracelessly and left Rusl rubbing at his injury.
“Rusl! You alright?” Fado asked, coming up behind him.
“Did you see anything?” Bo demanded, fear evident in his voice, “Did you see Ilia? The other children?”
“No,” Rusl said with a heavy sigh, sheathing his sword. “It’s as though they vanished. I just killed one of the little beasts, but the main trail ran cold down at the spring. I followed Link’s trail here.”
“Link’s trail?” Fado inquired, “First the tots! Don’t tell me they done got m’ ranch hand, too!”
“It looks like they probably did,” Rusl sighed sadly, shaking his head and looking down. “We heard the children scream and I saw no blood on the trail. Those creatures, for whatever purpose, captured our kids alive. It is clear Link chased after them. Link…. I know the boy – he would have fought. He might be d-”
“Don’t say it!” Fado exclaimed, “Its bad luck to say things like that!”
“What do you make of them, Rusl?” Bo asked. “What were those things? Might they be slave traders?”
“I don’t know,” Rusl replied, “They’re monsters of some manner, I can tell you that. If there’s a way to alert my friends in
, they might be able to help…” He looked up nervously at the bizarre darkness that had descended over the once familiar woods. Castle Town
“Do you know what those slaver bands do to girls Ilia’s age?” Bo asked.
“No worse than what they do to little boys Colin’s age,” Rusl answered. “You two go back to the village, try to keep everybody calm. I am going to search.”
“And if you find those monsters, what will you do then?” Bo said. “That big one looked stronger than all of Ordon’s men put together! Even me!”
“I have a sword. I will fight.”
“May Farore be with you,” Bo invoked. “May she be with us all.”
“Din speed, bud,” Fado said with a short nod.
The two men headed back toward the village while Rusl shifted through the woods, careful on his path, checking for sign. He looked for tracks, boar droppings, snapped twigs – anything that would indicate where the criminals might have gone or any indication that one or more of the children might have escaped their grasp.
He saw something in among the fallen leaves on the forest floor that made his heart race and approached it cautiously. He found that it was merely a trick of the light and his own aggrieved imagination. For a moment he could have sworn that a twisted tree root was a hand. Rusl expected and feared that, upon approaching it, that he’d see Link’s very dead body splayed out there on the ground. He sighed in immense relief.
Slave traders (if that’s what these beasts were), liked the young and the strong, but typically did not like resistance. Link, if taken, would have fought to free the other children. As evidenced by the trail he’d left, it did not appear that he’d been taken, but had chased after the creatures, just like Rusl was doing now. Rusl had the small hope that he’d meet up with him somewhere in these woods, but that hope faded with each passing hour, just like the hope that he’d catch up to the kids. Link was a strong young man and was becoming quite skilled in fighting techniques, but he had much to learn. As Rusl saw it, the likely outcome of Link engaging that big goblin in a fight was either him becoming dead or very severely injured.
He imagined Link, wounded, draped over the back of that big armored boar, trying to give words of comfort to Ilia and Colin, and to Talo, Malo and Beth if they were listening. Rusl hoped that whatever the situation, that Colin was being brave. The boy was such a timid thing and Rusl hated the thought of him crying and shivering, bound in rough ropes. He went absolutely livid when he thought of other things that could be happening or could potentially happen to his child – rough goblin hands holding him down, being sold to some fat, wealthy pervert… Bo was concerned over Ilia facing such a fate, her being a pretty young girl nearly of marriageable age, but what Bo forgot and Rusl knew was that not everyone involved in the underground trades was interested in young slaves for purely physical labor, or in lovers of a proper age…
His anger burned hot when he saw the beast he’d been looking for. The big, green, bulbous blob came shambling through the forest carrying a giant battleaxe, flanked by smaller goblins, the boars nowhere to be seen. The children, likewise, were absent. The big goblin walked slowly and deliberately, the horns atop his head gleaming in the sun. He smiled a dirty smile, with nasty, yellow, cracked teeth.
“Where are they?” Rusl roared, “Give us back our children! Give me back my son!”
With that, he charged, sword drawn, heedless of the consequences. Many of the small goblins fell with squeaks and screeches. The flat of the axe blade came down hard on him and sent him careening to the ground. He rolled as blows landed beside him. The axe’s butt end walloped him in the head. He felt his arm crack. He felt the sharp axe blade sliver the skin on his middle. He picked up his sword and tried to fight with his uninjured arm. The goblins screeched all around him and the big one laughed. It was a deep, guttural, bestial yet condescending laugh.
And Rusl thought; “This is how Link died.”
His vision was a blur and his body was a robe of agony. He barely noticed that he was limping back toward the village. His sword was back in its sheath. How did it get there? Was it instinct that was driving him, or was it just that the laughter had stopped? Had he defeated them all? No, but they were gone now. He knew that he was not “running away.” The sunlight was fading. He’d been searching and fighting those creatures for that long?
“Hey, hey, hold up there! You don’t look so hot, bud.”
Hands behind him? The tightness of bandages being wound around his ribs, his head... Fado’s voice.
“No sigh of the tots, eh?”
Rusl shook his pounding head. “The beasts… Gone…. Don’t know where they went. I can walk on my own, Fado, thank you.”
By the time Rusl hobbled back into the village, word had spread. The swordsman caught a glimpse of Mayor Bo and Jaggle talking outside Jaggle’s house. Uli stood outside his own house, her face a mask of fear and concern. Uli… he’d failed her, but at least he was coming home to her and their other little one. He just had to let her know that he was alright – even though he wasn’t – and that he was going to go search some more. He couldn’t get caught in a fight again, but there was always the possibility – however remote – that the children might have escaped and were hiding in the woods somewhere.
He felt like he was being watched.
“Oh, darling…” Uli began, reaching up to cautiously touch his bruised face. Her eyes were full of tears.
“I’m going to make another search,” Rusl replied.
“In your condition? I… I don’t want to lose you, too.”
“I’m going to bring our son back, whatever it takes.”
“People have seen another beast in the village,” Uli said, “It’s different than the others. Aaah! There it is!”
Rusl quickly turned around, shielding his wife with one swift motion. He was looking at a large, dark-furred wolf. Wolves were rare around here and were usually a sign of bad luck. No village that depended upon livestock welcomed wolves. This one appeared to be very unnatural, which meant it could be a werewolf or a wolfos. It appeared to have something astride its back, as well – something that shifted in the shadows, like something that was supposed to be invisible or wasn’t supposed to be there at all, but was there, nonetheless.
The beast stared at him and he was surprised that it did not growl or make any other kind of aggressive move. Still, he wasn’t going to let it get a snap at his remaining family. He drew his sword, swung at it, and made contact. The wolf yelped and fell to its side. It gathered itself up and stood, staring at him once again.
“Go on! Get!” Rusl shouted. “Foul beast!”
What was this wolf doing? It was acting as though it wanted….to speak to him? Its eyes were like the eyes of no animal he’d ever seen before. They were sharp and cunning but also….pleading? And blue. Rusl had seen dark blue eyes on some dogs, but never on an adult wild animal before. There was something familiar about them, too, but he couldn’t place his finger on it.
Instead, he placed the flat of his sword to the wolf again. Once again, it yelped and those strange eyes it had held a look of… betrayal? It ran off into the night, leaving a few spats of blood upon the ground.
A few days passed in
to no good news and no news at all. All the adults noticed the disturbing silence of the area. They’d grown so accustomed to the shouts of the children – each person his or her own children and those of their neighbors – that their home felt like a graveyard. Though the sun shone brightly, Ordon felt like it was devoid of light. Sera took solace in the company of her cat while she mourned Beth and missed the little Talo and Malo pestering her for a new slingshot. Bo had met with a passing postman to send a letter Rusl had written to some woman she knew in Ordon Village he’d said he thought could help with their crisis. There had been no word yet whether or not it had been successfully delivered. Fado toiled at the ranch alone, sorely missing the help and the company of his ranch hand. The tribute that was to be given to the Royal Family (though it was far too late now) had mysteriously gone missing. Castle Town
Rusl rested under the care of his wife. He’d managed to be cognizant enough to write a letter to his friend, Telma, but he’d spent much of the past few days drifting in and out of consciousness. Uli knew the arts of healing and did her best to keep her husband out of pain. She knew that he would not die, but that it would take him a while to be out of pain and to recover his strength.
Rusl dozed when a knock came upon the door.
“Who is there?” Uli cautiously asked.
Rusl almost bolted up, but pain and general tiredness kept him down. He heard the door open and the sound of booted feet clop upon the floor. He squinted and blinked, but didn’t move. He heard Uli stand up.
“Oh, Link, is it really you?” she gasped, hugging the boy, touching his face. “You’re alive and you’ve come back to us! Where are the other children? Colin?”
Link looked down, making no reply.
“I see…” she said. “Oh, Rusl he… he isn’t well, but he’ll be alright. Don’t worry about him. We need you to find the other children.”
“A lot has happened,” Link began, “I can’t explain it all. I just wanted to at least let you know that I’m alive, if nothing else.”
“Those new clothes for one… where did you get them?”
“It is so good to see your smiling face.”
As they talked, Rusl got a good long look at Link. So that’s where the special Ordon Sword had gone to. He’d picked up the tribute after all. His clothes were definitely different and very fitting to him. A certain strength and pride seem to emanate from the boy – but he was still a boy.
Rusl had seen clothing like that before, in the illustrations of history books and in some of the art treasures of Hyrule he’d been lucky enough to see. They were a study in art, history and religion, all at the same time. From his recollection of conversations with Link’s father when the man had been alive, his family was of one of the family lines of the man who’d made history in that getup. Was he looking at the Hero of Time reborn? Or another, chosen by the gods to carry on the role of the savior?
“You can… keep the sword and shield,” Rusl said just as the young man was about to leave. “You have need of them…”
Rusl knew that Link had no costumes like that. The lad knew a bit about his family’s history and would never be so disrespectful as to pretend at being his illustrious possible ancestor, running about in a silly costume. Those clothes were special, Rusl could tell. There was something very magical about them that he could feel. They had to have been bestowed upon him by someone…somewhere.
If it was the truth, and the times called for the Hero again, Link would have many hardships to face. Rusl got a long look at his face… his eyes…
… they looked a bit like the eyes of the wolf he’d chased off a few nights ago.
Rusl shook that thought from his head. It was a weird thought - that the eyes of a monster looked like his boy’s eyes. Link’s face had the haunted look of a survivor on it. He looked like he’d been through many things recently – everyone in Ordon had, but the aura he put off was different. He looked like he hadn’t had any rest and like he felt overwhelmed.
Already, they were entrusting him and him only, with the task of finding and returning the children.
Rusl knew that the boy would do the right thing, no matter what pains he would face and that he would do what he felt was right, even in situations that gave him much cause for fear. Rusl knew because Link was brave and that’s what courage is.
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