Chapter 1: Child of a Dry World
The young man sat on the highest rail of the worn wood fence, looking out upon the pasture and paddocks, the big red barn, the stable and the hills beyond. The most distant mountains were azure, evidence that they were largely devoid of trees. The hills that rose up in front of them were covered in little scraggly bushes and dry, thorny trees too sparsely spaced to be mistaken for a forest. Cattle of many colors – dun, rust, black and white, mooed and moaned in the shade created by awnings of wood and aluminum. They were accompanied by large blue goats with arching horns that joined at their tops. Tails flicked and ears twitched lazily, chasing away big horseflies.
Locust-song rose on the wind, an incessant buzzing, gentle and loud at the same time. It joined the drone of the old swamp cooler on the side of the main ranch house, which was within Link’s range of hearing. The heat settled over everything like a thick wool blanket and he scratched the back of his sweaty neck. Even having his hair in a ponytail didn’t help much, but he didn’t mind the heat, really. He was used to it, concerning himself instead with the thick-haired goats under his charge. Gobs of blue and gray hair lay all over the paddock from their seasonal shedding.
The sun would be setting soon and he was grateful for the angle of its light, letting his wide-brimmed hat cast a deep shade over his eyes. Link was almost never seen without that hat. It was a strange color – a deep green that looked black in most indoor light. He wore a vest that matched it most of the time, and he liked that because of its pockets. He pulled a harmonica out of one of them and began to play. He felt the heat and the sunlight, the moaning of the livestock and the drone of the locusts thrum through him, into his body, his heart and through his very breath. He played an old song that he’d known since he was a child, a favorite song, an ageless song, a song that spoke of everything that lived in the desert.
This ranch was a little patch of green and life in a largely barren land. In among the houses of the area’s residents were tall trees with broad leaves that shimmered in the sun and the west pasture was filled with grass. The beasts were allowed to be in that pasture for only a limited time during the day, to avoid them overgrazing the area. Grass like that was in precious short supply. The cattle and goats were mostly grain-fed, and were penned up in their dusty paddocks. At the moment, the horses were making use of the grass. It was true grass, too, not the prickly weeds of the desert, short-lived after the winter rains.
This land was precious. Link remembered when he was younger, that the green and the trees extended further, covering hills that were now dry. He’d heard tales that the entire world was in this situation, though the farthest place he’d ever been from the ranch was
. He’d pick up a newspaper for his Uncle Russ whenever he went into town, and they listened to the radio at night. There was always news of the desertification becoming worse in one area or another, or, alternately, of some new oasis being found and fought over bitterly. Nabooru Town
Old Lady Gwen, who lived in the house by the little orange grove, claimed she used to be a priestess of Nayru. Link grew up on her stories of the way the world used to be. According to her, Hyrule was once filled with green – rich fields and vast forests. She described the “forest” as being like the little groves around Ordona Ranch, only that they covered the mountains and the entire area of the desert around the ranch that Link liked to explore. For his part, Link found the desert full of life – rugged life, ingenious life that managed to defy adversity. There were little desert rats, and the keese that flitted about by night, and the tall cacti that people called the “tall guardians” or “goddess fingers.” Lady Gwen contended, however, that Hyrule was not meant to be a desert. According to her, the land was under a curse, or perhaps even a judgment of the goddesses.
Link watched the children of the ranch as he played his song. Off beyond the north paddock, where Lady Gwen’s orange grove was, they appeared to be setting up little structures made of stones. Colin stuck a long, white cuckoo feather beside his. Fairy houses… Link took the harmonica away from his lips for a moment. He remembered making those. Colin really was too old for it, he thought. A child of ten should face the fact that no fairy was going to come to him. Link had been captivated by Gwen’s stories and the books she’d given him when he was a child. Some of them had to do with the children of the forest and their fairy companions. Link had wanted his own fairy friend so badly. Superstition had it that they lived wherever there were lots of trees or wells of water. Whenever he was finished with his chores, Link used to go to the groves around the ranch and to the ranch’s wells and perform all the little rituals that were supposed to summon fairies.
None had ever come to him, and seeing that he was almost eighteen, he figured none ever would. Creatures like fairies didn’t exist. Aside from some of the wild creatures of the desert that people commonly called “monsters” – creatures that were always malevolent toward humans and had some clear distinctions from mere animals, Link didn’t believe in magic. He believed in the goddesses well enough, which seemed to be an increasingly rare thing in modern times, but he did not believe in the magic that old Gwen liked to talk about. For one thing, he’d never seen any of it in practice. For all of Lady Gwen’s bragging about being a priestess of Nayru, she’d never demonstrated any magical abilities. She’d always said she’d served the old
as a storyteller and record keeper. Lanayru Temple
For his part, most of Link’s prayers were to Farore. He wasn’t entirely sure why – maybe it’s simply that he felt he needed courage in his life as a rancher. It was often dangerous work – he’d been run over by horses and cattle, and had suffered a broken bone more than once – his ankle one time, his right arm another. The broken arm had happened two years ago and what he’d hated most about it was missing work for months, having to burden others with picking up for him while he healed. He remembered Uncle Russ scolding him for horseback riding with his arm in a sling. No matter how careful one was, nor how well one knew the animals, working here was something that potentially put one’s life at risk every day.
Link had certainly needed courage to live without his parents. He’d never really known them, yet he’d missed the very concept of having a mother and father, like his friend Fado, or Cousin Malon. Uncle Russ told him much about them – how his mother was kind and pretty, how his father was the best rider he’d ever seen and a crack shot with both pistol and rifle. Russ had said his father was good with a sword, too, even though the sword was an archaic weapon and swordsmanship largely a lost art.
Link was actually a Link Jr., his father having been Link Ordona Sr. Russ didn’t talk about his parents’ deaths much. He’d only said that it had happened when Link was still a toddler, one and a half, and that guns had been involved. They’d both died bravely defending the ranch for his future. Russ would say nothing more of it after that, whether the murderers had gotten away, if his parents had been avenged – none of Link’s questions had been answered on such matters. What he did know was that their passing was reason Russ gave for never teaching him how to use a gun.
“Your mother’s wish for you was to be gentle,” Russ had told him. “And revenge benefits no one. There is nothing you or I can do to bring them back. The best you can be, my dear boy, is a man of peace.”
Lady Gwen often told him that he had an important destiny. He’d grown up on her stories about heroes and that book Russ had given him about their family line. Everything was so exaggerated in those tales. Link was sure that his and Russ’ ancestors had done some very good things for the world, and he was sure that somewhere along the line, their bloodline had connections to the Royal Family – but then again, most families could claim that, if they went back far enough. The Ordona line was a proud one filled with scholars, musicians and military men, as well as humble, common farmers. The tales of great knights who’d battled ancient evils and saved the world were taken as fairy tales. Link’s favorite childhood bedtime story was the one about the parallel universe, the time traveling boy, and the falling moon. It was ridiculous to take it as truth, of course.
As far as he was concerned, Link had no finer destiny than running this ranch, taking care of his friends, and the family that he had left. This was one of the last green areas in the world – something to be cared for and defended. Perhaps, one day, they could stave off the shrinking and make it grow. To bring the green back to the land and to defend that which was precious – Link could think of nothing more heroic to do with his life than that. He supposed he’d meet a nice girl in
and start a family one day. Many girls gave him glances when he rode in to get supplies and do business, but he was painfully shy. He didn’t rush himself. Life was good as it was right now. Nabooru Town
The wind was beginning to pick up. Link could feel a drop in the temperature. The clouds to the north were a deep blue. The air carried a scent of rain. The young man knew what this meant. He jumped down off the fence railing and ran to the paddock where the horses were. Others on the ranch sensed what he did.
“Blue norther!” Russ called out. “Get everything inside, quick!”
Link looked briefly to the horizon. They might already be too late. He saw the brown line that was galloping over the mountains and growing larger. The wind always came first, and with it, dust. Scouring grit and flying objects were always a danger to both beasts and men, and the dust got everywhere, blowing in through the cracks in the wood of the houses and barns. It always came in a wave that could be seen from a distance, but would overtake the observer in an instant. When Link was a child, he used to pretend that the world was ending – for that is what felt like. It still felt like that.
He ran around the paddock, chasing panicking horses with lead ropes. His cousin Malon joined him and, together, they got the horses into the stable. Link was quick to help Russ, Fado and Billy Jack round the goats and cattle up into the barn and one of the out-buildings. He was the last to run inside after his uncle and cousin just as the wind hit.
“Close,” Russ commented as Link dusted himself off. The wind howled outside like a merciless beast and grit scoured the glass of the windows, which rattled. “Link, take your hat off, you’re in the house.”
Link reluctantly removed his hat and hung it on the doorside hook. Uncle Russ was big on old fashioned manners. Link didn’t like parting with his hat and didn’t see much use in the tradition of one removing one’s hat when coming indoors, but it kept Russ happy. The wide-brimmed hat was something he was so used to – like an old friend- and he often forgot about it, as though it were an essential part of him.
The rain began, leaving muddy streaks on the windows as it blew sideways, as fierce as daggers. The electric lights flickered.
“Oh, I hope the power doesn’t go out before I get dinner made!” Malon moaned.
“Cold cuts,” Russ said. “We’ll just have sandwiches; get the cold cuts out of the fridge. We’ll probably lose power. You two get the oil lamps and candles.”
“Right,” Malon said, going upstairs to fetch a lamp from her bedroom.
The power, indeed, was knocked out by the wind. Russ said that he’d call the power company in Nabooru to get it fixed in the morning. Lighting flashed through the windows and the thunder cracked. The three sat at the kitchen table of their little ranch house, eating cold food and talking in the light of a red glass oil lamp.
Link stared up at one of the walls, at a case mounted there. There were two pistols in it, both of a simple, but powerful variety – the same model, in fact, but they looked slightly different to one another. One gun was plain, while the other was engraved with elegant leafy patterns. The engraved one had the old Hylian characters for “L” and “O” on it. That had been his father’s gun. The plain gun belonged to Uncle Russ, though Link had never seen the man touch it. Beneath the gun case hung an old sword, tarnished dark with age. It was Link Sr.’s old fencing sword, though it was too broad to be a standard fencing model. It looked like a battle sword from the days of knights. The base of the blade was engraved with ancient letters in a message none of them could read, supposedly a blessing-seal from “the days when people believed in magic,” Russ had told Link.
He, Russ, Malon and Lady Gwen were the only “full-blood” Hylians in this ranch-village. There were one or two in Nabooru, but people of pure Hylian decent were rare, especially in this part of the country. Some people said Hylians were special, connected to tales of ancient people with mystical powers – sages and priests. All it meant to Link was that he had funny looking ears. As far as he was concerned, he wasn’t any different than anyone else; he was just a person who suffered a genetic anomaly that gave him horse-ears. Some people made fun of his ears, while a few of Nabooru’s young women told him, to his embarrassment, that they found them sexy. Link’s were longer than most, slightly longer than Russ’ and Malon’s, even a centimeter or two longer than Gwen’s at the tips. The old woman had measured them once, for reasons that Link did not know – she claimed that his ear-length was connected to his “destiny” and “specialness.” The royalty he sometimes saw on the black and white television at Fado’s house had ears at least as long, if not longer than his.
And it made him feel less weird, but only slightly.
“Stop starin’ at them guns,” Russ said. “Link, I need you to ride into
tomorrow. I got a call this afternoon from the postmaster. That equipment I ordered is in and I need you to pick it up.” Nabooru Town
“All right,” Link said, taking a drink of milk.
“I’ll curry up Rhiannon for you,” Malon said.
That evening, Link lay on his bed in his upstairs bedroom, in the dark. The thunder crashed and flashes of lightning lit everything in a creepy pallor. He listened to the rain pelting the windows and the sides of the house. No matter how much fell, it would not quench the thirsty earth. There had never been enough rain to bring green to the sands for long. Weeds would spring up after the winter rains only to dry up and catch fire from dry lightning and people’s careless campfires. Rains during other times of the year – such as this summer rain, were sporadic and never enough to bring lasting life. The thunder rolled off and Link drifted off into an exhausted sleep.
He’d gotten up, dressed, and ready to go before the sun rose. He watched wild, freetailed kesse flit about in the peach-pink light of pre-dawn as he met Malon in the stable. She had his favorite mare brushed down and saddled. She yawned as she set him off. Link had raised the young horse up from a newborn filly, born here on the ranch. She was a very pretty horse with a balanced build, her body color light and her mane and tail dark. She wasn’t buckskin, more like “reverse-palomino” with a lot of red in the mane and tail. She was a Hylian Mustang, a tough breed with a good balance between strength and speed. She would not be able to outpace a Gerudian (the fabled “mother-breed” of all modern horses) and she wouldn’t be able to carry a Goron like a Goron Rock Drafter, but she was more than up to the challenge of ranch work.
Link had quite a dilemma in choosing her name. He’d read stories about horse-goddesses and legendary steeds. He narrowed it down to “Epona” and “Rhiannon” and had chosen “Rhiannon” on a whim. He rode her slowly across the desert and up the old hill trail that lead into town. It was a lonely ride that took hours. By the time it was high noon, he knew he was only a little more than halfway there. Ordona Ranch had not made enough money in the last year for any of the families to afford a jeep. By horse, it was a full day’s ride, and he didn’t plan on staying in town. Link would just get himself some coffee and spend the night riding home after his visit to the post office.
He had not expected to meet an old woman on the trail. She sat on the side of the road, dressed in a brown cloak. Link halted Rhiannon beside her.
“Do you need any help?” he asked, surprised to find anyone out on this lonely trail, at , in the summer, let alone an elderly person who did not look at all healthy.
The woman drew the cloak back from her face. The wrap looked uncomfortably warm. “Chill desert night,” she said, “in that rain… I guess I forgot to take it off.”
Link was absolutely puzzled. Perhaps she was addled in the head. It was a sad condition that happened to many people as they grew older. The young man’s heart was filled with pity. The woman’s face was etched in deep wrinkles, crow’s feet and a deep brow-furrow for care, laugh lines for joy. Her eyes had a certain clarity to them and her hair was quite unusual. Green hair was not unknown to him, but it wasn’t very common and he’d not seen a shade so bright, yet somehow, something about the roots of it told him that it was natural. It was speckled with strands of white.
“Are you headed to town?” Link asked cautiously, “I can take you there. My mare can carry two, easily.”
“No thanks, mah boy,” the woman answered. “All I need is a little snack. Have you any food to spare for an old woman?”
“Uh… sure,” Link answered. He dismounted and drew some crusty bread and hard cheese from one of his saddlebags. It was to be his lunch, but he didn’t mind. He was carrying enough paper rupees in the wallet in his jeans pocket to buy something in town if he grew hungry enough.
“Bless you,” the woman said. “Sit down. Share it with me.”
“There’s only enough for one. Go… Go ahead, you take it.”
“Nonsense. There is plenty.”
Link sat down on the road across from the woman. He decided that maybe what she really wanted wasn’t food, but companionship. She had lonely eyes.
“You have a good heart,” she said, handing him a piece of cheese on a slice of bread, “and you’re smart. You know that you should always help an old person.”
Link blinked. Before them and between them lay a grand feast. It was even grander than last year’s Day of Thanks at Ordona Ranch. There was a beef roast and glazed fowl, an enormous pig’s head, a tray of tacos, rows of buttered corn, pumpkins, and some vegetables he’d never seen before. It laid spread out upon beautiful cloths of many colors with triangle designs in gold stitching.
“Go ahead, eat!” the woman said, “I told you there was enough.”
“How is this possible?” Link asked. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I? I got dazed by the sun. I’m collapsed in the desert, dying of heat stroke and this is all a dream, right?”
The woman slowly shook her head. For a moment, Link thought she looked younger, like a little girl with bright green hair and a bright smile, with lush trees and leaves behind her, and with something glowing hovering beside her In an instant, the vision was gone and the old woman remained.
“Eat and gain strength,” the woman encouraged. Link, for reasons unknown to him, reached for the strange, steaming, spiderlike thing he saw on a plate before him before taking anything else. He assumed it was an animal, but he had never seen anything remotely like it before. He snapped off one of its legs and put it in his mouth. It was hard and tough to chew.
“Like this,” The woman instructed. She snapped a leg off the creature and cracked it open. “The meat’s in here. That’s a crab.”
Link followed her lead and ate. “It’s good. Why haven’t I seen anything like this before?”
“It is because they come from the ocean,” the woman said.
“I thought the ocean was all dried up.”
After eating his fill, still convinced that he was dreaming, Link got up to resume his journey to Nabooru. The remains of the feast inexplicably disappeared.
“What is your name?” Link asked the woman.
She paused for a few moments before answering. “I am…” she said, “I am Sarah Willow. It is not my true name, but it is close enough. And yours, young man?”
“My name is Link,” Link answered, “Link Ordona…Jr.”
“Link…. Significant of connection. A fine, strong name. A brave name. A name I’ve known. Fare thee well, Link Ordona.”
Link mounted Rhiannon. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride into town?” he called.
She was already walking away, down the trail. Link turned around and began to follow her, but she had vanished. He shook his head and continued his minor mission. He’d heard stories about spirits and old hermits that lived in the desert. It was said that they had magical powers, but Link didn’t believe in all that. It was silly to believe in such superstitions these days. Those that did became prey to the swindling rainmakers and snake oil salesmen. Link still believed in the Goddesses, but he knew to be wary of the Goddess Preachers and their traveling shows. What he saw must have been from the heat, he concluded. He was pretty tired. Still, as he rode, he felt very full.
It was near dusk when he made it into Nabooru. He took some milk at the Golden Coyote bar. He requested a beer, but the proprietor knew who he was and that he was underage. He met (and did his best to avoid) the usual flock of local female admirers. He jumped when Betty snuck up behind him and stroked his right ear. She apparently hadn’t been listening to her daddy about manners.
Intent on his task, he made it to the post office, signed for Uncle Russ’ package, and loaded it onto his hitched mare. He was about to mount up and head home when he heard a commotion in a side street.
“Comin’ with us, pretty girl, whether you like it or not!”
“No! Stop, please! I can’t!”
“The bounty on you will make us richer than kings!”
“Hey, boss, maybe we should have a little pleasure first? Pretty little thing!”
Link ran down the side street. He stopped when he saw a gun pointed at his chest. Three men were surrounding a rather petite young woman with short black hair. All of the men were large, rough, and mildly drunk-looking. One of them held the young woman tightly by the wrist. Her cheek was bruised and she had the beginnings of a black eye.
“What are you doing?” Link demanded, knowing that it was possibly a suicidal thing to say, being unarmed with a gun pointed at him.
“Whatever we want, boy!” the gunman said. “You’d best run on home to your daddy, unless you wanna get shot.”
“What cause do the three of you have to be harassing this girl?” Link asked. “You’re all armed, and she doesn’t look like a threat to you. I think you’re going to do terrible things to her, and I can’t let that happen.”
To Link’s sudden surprise, the girl cried out to him. “Don’t call the cops!” she yelped. “Help me, but don’t call the police!”
The way Link figured it was too late to call the police, anyway. The deputies in
weren’t exactly good. He knew he’d never depend on them to save his life. The town was such a sleepy place. Only the sheriff himself carried a firearm, the rest of the force being armed only with clubs. Most of the time, they could be found drunk at the Golden Coyote. In any case, if he called for help, by the time they got here, both he and the girl would probably be dead, or worse, so Link decided upon his move. Nabooru Town
Quick as wink he ducked, slid in the dirt, and gave the man with the gun trained on him an uppercut to the jaw. He grabbed the man’s wrist, twisted it until he heard a crack, and kicked the dropped gun away. The other men fired at him and the girl got loose and ran. Link ducked again, and for reasons he was unsure of, picked up the first thug’s gun as he chased the girl. Together, they ran out into the main street.
“Hurry!” Link said. “On my horse!”
The young man made haste to untie Rhiannon and to help the girl onto the saddle. “Hang on tight!” he commanded. “We can lose those guys in the desert!”
Link kicked his horse hard. He would apologize to the poor beast later. The stars were out by the time Link decided they were not being followed.
“You aren’t hurt, are you?” He asked the young woman who was seated behind him and hanging onto his stomach for dear life.
“N-no,” she managed.
“Are you?” she asked gently.
“No.” he assured. “Confused, weirded-out…. Yeah, but not hurt. I’m fine.”
He wondered, briefly, if the gun he’d hastily stuck in his belt had any ammunition left in it. It was an idle thought, perhaps born of the fear that they could be ambushed by those men at any second.
“That was very brave back there,” the girl said.
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand,” Link answered, “It’s rapists. Takin’ a woman’s honor like that…”
“You’re shivering. And no…. I…. well, I really don’t know. I don’t know if they wanted that of me.”
“Then why were they after you? And you didn’t want me to get the police…. They’re worthless in Nabooru, anyway, but… You definitely aren’t one of the local girls.”
“I can’t go back!” the girl cried. “Please… you have to hide me. People… dangerous people are searching for me.”
“Alright,” Link said hesitantly. “I have to wonder what you did to piss people off, but something tells me I should trust you. You don’t seem like the criminal type, I guess. What’s your name, by the way? Mine is Link.”
“Link….” The girl whispered, almost in awe.”
“Yeah? I know, it’s a funny name.”
“No, it’s just….”
“Nevermind. My name is…. My name is Zelda.”
“Oh!” Link said, “Like the Royal Family’s youngest princess! How cute! I suppose a lot of people named their daughters Zelda the year she was born.”
“You can…. Stay with me and my uncle. We live in the old
, though it’s just a ranch now, my family ranch.” Ordona Province
“I’d like that, if you can?”
“You’ll have to work, though. Everyone on the ranch works, even the kids. We’ll find something for you to do. You can stay until the heat’s off, or…whatever. As long as you like. We can always use another ranch hand.”
“Yeah. I’d like that very much….Link.”
Link rode on into the night, toward the horizon that would lead him home. Zelda fell asleep against him.
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