Chapter 17: Premonition
Close to losing consciousness, Link reached the crest of the hill, halting to gulp air into his burning lungs. Aphelandra was in a state almost as bad state, lying on her back with her good hand pressed to her abdomen, her chest fluttering erratically. Noah, shoulders slumped with fatigue and a new gauntness in his weary face, attempted to encourage them onward, but his heart was not in the words.
“We’re close,” he said, feebly waving the orb in their faces. “I can feel it.”
“I recognize where we are,” the priestess interrupted, fingers brushing the hasty splint tied to her forearm with a strip of cloth. “And it’s another five miles. And we’re being followed, and we can’t outrun them, even if we were rested and hale.”
Link could not help glancing back the way they had come, searching for any hint of pursuit. He, too, had his own bandage slanting across his chest, just a strip of cloth torn from his ruined tunic and shirt, and dried blood covered his front. Somewhere back along that path, his cap lay, lost in the blind flight. “If I had my sword, I’d say you two go on ahead while I confront them. But in my state, unarmed, I won’t last a minute.”
“I wouldn’t let you face it alone,” Noah said with conviction. “I’d let Aphelandra take the orb and go on ahead.”
“Don’t you dare--leave me out--of any fighting,” she gasped, trying to sit upright. “We’re in this--together. I felt your--your fear.”
“And I felt yours,” Noah countered, but he crouched beside Link. “What do we do? We’re in no fit state to keep on, but we have to. I’d say we should find a place to rest for the night, but not with us hunted. Dragons, I’ll never hunt again, not for sport, at least. I know how the stag feels now.”
“We have to keep going,” Link said, rising unsteadily, pain exploding in his chest as he moved.
The day had dawned bright and fresh, lovely after the darkness of the caverns and a pleasant night of sleeping on the soft grass of that clearing. As they traveled at a leisurely pace, they took turns holding the orb and leading. They had even found a tree filled with ripe apples, which tasted delicious with the cool spring water nearby.
Lying beside the small pond, Noah had trailed his fingers through the water, sighing contentedly. “How close are Zelda and the others?” he inquired.
“Still far, but coming closer,” Link informed, tossing a fourth apple core to the ground and wiping the juices from his chin. “At the pace they’re traveling, they might catch up to us before we make the temple.”
“Oh, that would be nice,” Aphelandra said. “I do enjoy riding. I may not be any good, but I still love horses.”
Link smiled. “If you ever come to Hyrule, I’ll have to introduce you to a friend of mine. She’s in love with horses, too.” Hooking his thumbs behind his belt, he turned to the right and felt something slice against the tip of his left ear.
Whirling around, he stared at the heavy crossbow bolt buried in the tree. If he had not turned just when he had.... “Run!” he shouted, suiting his own words and sprinting forward. Only his quick reflexes saved him from dashing headlong into the Stalfos that stepped out from behind another tree, its huge notched sword raised. Link used his momentum to his advantage, dropping into a roll and springing upright in time to miss another monstrous blade slamming into the ground behind him.
Aphelandra screamed and darted past Link, but a woman in a faded black cloak stepped forward and seized her right arm. Recognizing those furious pink eyes with red pupils, he backed away, watching in horror as Kal halted long enough to slide her loaded crossbow into a holder attached to the side of her leg. She grabbed Aphelandra’s forearm in both hands and, with a loud snap, broke it. The priestess screamed in agony, but then Noah threw himself forward.
“Leave her alone!” he yelled, punching the albino woman in her masked face.
With an oath, she grabbed him and hurled him away with surprising strength. The Karradaini slammed into a Stalfos, crushing some of the ancient bones, and then he stood on wavering legs and pushed a stunned Aphelandra forward, crying, “Go!”
The sound rejuvenated Link. With a wordless snarl of warning, he sped after the other two, his own fear mingling with that pulsing from them. They plunged into the nearby woods, and then Link forced his way through the tangled undergrowth, ignoring the branches clawing at his face and snagging at his clothing, merely shielding his eyes with an upthrown arm. He followed the sounds of Aphelandra and Noah, and then he froze, noting the lack of noise behind.
“They’re not following!” he called, as loudly as he dared.
Ahead, the frantic snapping of twigs and branches stopped. Carefully, Link picked a way forward, trying to leave as little evidence of his passing as possible. He found the other two, huddled against a tree long dead to some sickness, the priestess’s face drawn with pain, Noah’s eyes wide.
“How did they find us?” he asked helplessly.
“I don’t know,” Link answered. “Aphelandra, let me see your arm.”
She clutched it to her front, obviously fighting back tears. “It--It’s fine,” she lied.
“No, it’s not.” Gently, he pried her good hand away, holding her damaged forearm gently. Feeling along it, he pursed his lips. “The pieces need to be realigned. At least there’s only one break, though, and a clean one at that.” He met her eyes. “This will hurt.”
Biting her lower lip, Aphelandra looked away. “Just do whatever you’re about to do.”
Taking a deep breath, Link snapped the two ends of bone back together, grinding his teeth as the pain flashed through him. Glancing around, he saw a slab of sturdy bark lying on the ground, and he picked it up. He laid it along the break, then said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Aphelandra asked, then murmured “Oh” as she watched him tear a strip from her ruined skirt.
Link wound the cloth about her arm, securing the makeshift splint in place. Tying it off, he ordered, “Try not to move it that much.”
“What are we to do?” Noah asked, both hands wrapped around the orb.
“Do? We have to try to outwit them. I say we come out of a part of the woods they don’t expect us to. They can’t have enough men to watch the whole perimeter. I just hope they don’t have Lizalfos, or Dinolfos. Those beasts can track better than hounds.”
Nodding, Noah glanced around. “Which way, then?”
Considering their options, Link moved a few steps away, eyes raking over the surrounding trees. He absently touched his hair and found his cap gone. Well, he could always make a new one. “I say we--”
A sword smashed diagonally into his chest. Stumbling back with a gurgling cry, he collapsed, his lungs working frantically within the crushed ribcage. Noah cried out, and Link watched, dazed with pain, as a Stalfos stepped forward with a haunting laugh, its notched blade crimson with his blood.
“We keep Dragonslayer alive,” a second Stalfos grunted, planting himself beside the other. His armor, though tattered and rusted, was finer than the first’s, with touches of gilding on its edges, and his steel buckler bore a crude ensignia upon its surface. “The others, though....”
Link felt the Triforce resonate within him, and the Golden Power set about mending the worst of the damage in order to preserve its bearer. Each breath sent lances of pain through him, however, and he doubted he would be able to move very far.
“The others are like frightened rabbits,” the first Stalfos scoffed. “Let them run to their burrows and cower in fear.”
The second Stalfos rounded on him, jabbing a finger against his sternum. “Kal placed me in charge,” he snarled.
“And I followed General Okbrand at the very beginning, when he betrayed everyone in the Lost War. I say we let them flee. They’re not worth the effort.”
“They could warn the princess. And it’s been awhile since we’ve been allowed fun.”
“What fun in slaying helpless rabbits? The creatures breed so fast, two less won’t make a difference.”
Link felt his ribs healing slowly, painfully, but blood ran hot down his chest. As the Stalfos directed all their energies to arguing whether or not to kill Noah and Aphelandra, he crawled over to them, growing weaker by the second.
“Go,” he breathed. “While they’re distracted. They have no orders concerning you.”
Noah stared at him, green eyes wide, then bounded to his feet, grabbing Link and Aphelandra and half-dragging them in his wake. Startled, the Stalfos watched them dash past dumbly before yelling and plunging after them. Link attempted to run, but his vision blacked out for a moment, and he nearly collapsed.
They ran blindly, their only objective putting distance between them and the Stalfos. After a few desperate moments, they halted, mainly because of Link’s worsening condition. By this time, his ribs were whole once more, but the blood fanning down his chest showed no sign of letting up.
“Here,” Noah said, easing him down. Carefully, he peeled the torn cloth of Link’s shirt away from the wound, and he winced. The Hyrulian glanced down at his blood-covered chest, at the deep gash marring his front. As he watched, Noah tore away his tunic and shirt, ripping long strips of cloth and binding them over the fearsome wound. “The best I can do.”
“You still have the orb?” Link asked. When the man nodded, he said, “Run straight for the temple. We can’t afford any delays.”
Aphelandra, her face scratched and bleeding and still bearing the print of Noah’s palm, bit her lip as she glanced back. “Those things are coming.”
Struggling to his feet, Link wavered for a moment. “Keep on. We have no choice.”
And on they ran, crashing through the trees, aware of the two Stalfos following. When they broke out of the woods, they sprinted toward the hill, seizing any advantage they could.
“They’re coming,” Noah said suddenly, shading his eyes to peer at the two figures emerging from the tangled trees. “They’re on the plain.”
“Then we hurry,” Link said wearily, helping Aphelandra up. “It’s all we can do.”
They hurried down the hill, losing their footing more than once and sliding down. Link felt the blood soaking into his bandage, and when his fingers brushed the cloth, they came away stained crimson. Noah, bounding ahead, suddenly cried out as he reached the bottom, attempting to evade the rider galloping forward. With a cry, Aphelandra tripped and crashed into Link, sending both of them tumbling down the hill, only halting when the ground leveled out. Struggling to free himself from the confusing tangle of limbs, Link stared at the gray horse, then the gaudy red saddle, then at the rider. Recognizing the splinter figure and beak-like nose, he cried, “Hend!”
The man reined his mount in, staring in shock. “Link?” he said uncertainly. “What are you--Why are you--”
“Hend, you have to help us,” he begged, standing. Agony exploded in his chest, and he pressed gauntleted hands to his bandage. “Please.”
Dismounting, the human stared at them, then shook his head. “I don’t want to know. First I try to fend off those Gerudo raiders and they laugh and tie me up and leave me there, to try to get free by myself, then I meet some nomadic tribe that takes me prisoner, and then I come here! This is madness!”
“Help him, man!” Noah shouted, shooting nervous glances back at the hill. “We’re being chased, and he’s bleeding to death!”
Hend chewed on his lip and scratched the side of his nose, a rather unattractive combination. Finally, he sighed and held out the reins. “Just take my horse.”
“Aphelandra, get on,” Link ordered, staring at the human gratefully. “Goddesses bless you, man. You had better flee, though. Otherwise, you might be killed.”
Without warning, Noah forced Link forward, practically lifting him into the saddle. Ignoring the Hylian’s protests, he set Aphelandra on the gray’s croup. He pressed the orb into Aphelandra’s hand, then said, “I’ll meet up with you later.”
“Noah, come with us!” the priestess cried.
Glancing at the crest of the hill, Link saw the two Stalfos appear, silhouetted against the orange sky. He met Noah’s adamant gaze, and he understood. “Noah, you can’t--”
“I’m not in the prophecy,” he said bluntly. “I’m not important. But you and Aphelandra are, you as the Hero of Time, she as the Sacred Flower.” He slapped the horse’s rump, and the gray dashed off. “Find those temples.”
Link grabbed the reins and tried to turn the horse, but he was too weak. Staring back, he watched the Stalfos charge downward toward Noah and Hend. The two men conversed quickly, then Hend passed his sword to Noah before they separated. The Stalfos split as well, chasing after each man, and Link screamed in frustration, barely aware of the cloaked figure pausing atop the hill just long enough to fit a heavy bolt into her crossbow and wind it back.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Aphelandra whispered, her uninjured arm wrapped around his waist, pressing the cool orb against his bare skin. “But he better come out alive.”
Link turned his head. “Alive?”
“Yes, alive,” she said. “He’s more important than he knows.” She swayed, her eyes glazing over for a moment. “Without him, the battle that will come in a few days will prove victorious for our enemies.”
Link wanted to ask her how she knew, but his vision chose that moment to darken. Only his desperate grasp on the horse’s mane kept him in the saddle.
Fear came from somewhere, but his mind was slipping. Suddenly, someone halted the gray’s mad dash, and then he did fall out of the saddle, landing on his shoulder hard enough to elicit a painful groan. Drawing air in raggedly, he rolled off his injured side, hands pressed to his front as he felt the blood seep through the soaked cloth and begin trickling down his front. Hands lifted him, peeled away at the bandage, and then a harsh voice said, “What do we do with him?”
“Do? We keep him. He is the Hero.”
Something on Link’s chest stung, while something else held his wounded shoulder stiff and unmoving. Weakly, he opened his eyes and stared at a predawn sky with a few stars yet glimmering defiantly through the curtain of night. He groaned softly, and then a woman knelt beside him, propping him up and placing a cup against his lips. Instinctively, he fought against drinking it, for fear it was drugged, but the woman forced the water into his mouth, forced him to swallow. He sighed, the liquid wetting his parched throat.
“There, that is better, no?” the woman said in familiar accents.
He stared at his caretaker and gaped in surprise. The red veil concealing the lower half of her dark face could not hide her prominent nose, and if the flame-hued hair bound in a ponytail did not name her, her yellow eyes set above tilted cheekbones screamed Gerudo. Her scarlet silk top, covering her breasts and not much else, matched her baggy breeches, which in turn matched the slippers concealing her feet, but there was muscle in those curves and calluses on the hands that held him upright.
“What are you doing here?” he croaked.
She smiled behind her veil. “Doing? Hero, we were told to come here. A Keshama of great worth had a prophetic dream from the hands of Din herself, ordering us to ride out. And here we are.”
“What’s a... Keshama?”
Laughing, the woman helped him sit completely upright. “A Keshama is a spirit bender. Not quite a mage, for no true mages naturally exist among the Gerudo, but possessing the ability to control the spirits that fill this world. None came, of course, as they crop their hair.”
Kyrani had used that same expression, but had claimed she would never crop her hair. Drawing air into his lungs, Link inquired, “What does that mean? Cropping hair, I mean.”
The Gerudo’s eyes widened. “You do not know? Why, to crop your hair is to pledge peaceful intentions. It means you deny being a warrior. I thought you knew; you wear your own hair longer than most Hylian men.”
Glancing around, Link stared at lines of Gerudian mounts, and then at the desert people walking around carrying scimitars and bows and spears. He attempted a count, but they shifted too often and looked too similar. “How many are you?”
“Around three thousand,” the woman answered. “We left enough at the fortress to be sure the Lizalfos do not break into Hyrule.”
Three thousand! Numbers like those, numbers the Partisans did not know about, could drastically alter the outcome of the rapidly approaching battle. Unless they are to join Avra. “Where are my companions?”
“You only had one,” the Gerudo said. “In a better state than you, yes, but she yet slumbers, I am told.”
He touched the stiff bandaging on his bare chest, searching for any sign of Noah. The man was no part of the unity between them. He sensed Aphelandra’s extreme exhaustion and the faint pain in her broken arm, but nothing from the man. Bowing his head, Link reached through the no’tzennok, but only gleaned a bare impression of Zelda, just enough to say she lived.
“Everyone is falling,” he murmured.
Tilting her head, the Gerudo stared at him thoughtfully. “Oh? Who says? Am I falling? Are you? Is the Lone Wolf, Nabooru? I think not.”
Glaring at her, he muttered, “You don’t understand.”
“Oh, I think I do. You and some others are trying to accomplish something, but you are failing. And, judging by the state you and that woman were in when we found you, you’re being hunted or fought for whatever you hope to accomplish.”
Link shivered. “That’s just uncanny.”
She grinned. “What, my deductive reasoning? Nothing less than any Gerudo should be able to do. So, do you mind telling me anything? That girl was thrashing in her sleep, mumbling about a coming battle.”
Scratching his jaw, Link shrugged. “Oh, it’s nothing. We’re just facing the Partisans and the massive forces they can call upon, that’s all. Stalfos, ReDeads, Dinolfos, Iron Knuckles, Lizalfos--”
“Lizalfos!” The Gerudo’s eyes blazed with fury. “Where is this battle to take place? Every Gerudo will pit herself against our natural enemy, no matter what strange allies we gain!”
“But what if I told you there was a Gerudo on the same side as the Lizalfos?” he said cautiously.
“I would call you a liar,” she replied dismissively. “Gerudo and Lizalfos are born enemies. They would never fight on the same side.”
“Then what about--” he began.
She cut him off with a raised hand, turning her head to watch a Gerudo lope into the camp with a long stride. Two women rose in the midst of the camped army, one with something copper and black hanging from her shoulder, the other with a banner attached to her spear, though she held the cloth tight against the long haft. The newcomer halted before them and spoke. Glancing at each other, the other Gerudo shook their heads.
The Gerudo beside Link rose smoothly, brows drawing together. The newcomer glanced in her direction briefly before nodding slightly. The other Gerudo nodded in return, then squatted beside him once more, wrists on her knees.
“I am going to find out what has happened,” she explained.
Not particularly caring about what the Gerudo had to say, Link hunted for a sign of yellow hair among the uniform flame of the desert people, but saw none. On the point of attempting to rise, the Gerudo loped over, waiting for the other to stand before saying, “The great battle draws us all.”
“Better to join the fight willingly,” she answered. “What did you scout out, Tarai?”
“A huge army,” she answered, “moving toward this place. Perhaps ten thousand strong or so. Lizalfos, Dinolfos, Iron Knuckles--Greater as well as Lesser Armored--humans, skeletons that walk, corpses that walk. A formidable force.”
The woman stroked her chin beneath her veil. “And commanders?”
“It seemed each different group was led by a separate leader,” Tarai said. “Though, I must have been mistaken, Anrja, for I thought I saw a Gerudo leading them all. Preposterous, of course, with Lizalfos in the army, but--”
“Avra!” Link shouted, bounding upright and nearly losing awareness at the sudden movement. “It’s Avra! Goddesses, the Partisans are moving! I need to warn the others!”
Anrja seized his uninjured shoulder, her eyes widening. “Avra? Where did you hear that cursed name?”
“She’s trying to free Ganondorf,” he explained frantically. “She and the rest of the Partisans. They’re after something I have--” His heart lurched, and he felt along his belt, sighing in relief as he found the pouch containing the Ocarina of Time. “They want something I have, and they’ll do anything to get it.”
The two Gerudo shared significant glances before facing him again. “I think you had best speak with Shessn and Coruvdo,” Anrja said finally. “If there is to be a fight, we must be ready.”
Tarai agreed, and suddenly Link found himself hustled off, toward the two women the scout had first spoken to. They turned as the three approached, seeming regal in their crimson silks sewn with golden thread and the golden bracelets and necklaces they wore, and the one with the banner said, “What is this? Why do you bring the wounded Hero before us?”
“Shessn, it is imperative that you speak with him,” Tarai insisted, releasing him. “He knows about the army, or at least what it wants. And he knows of Avra.”
Shessn bared her teeth, her nails plunging into the white fabric of the banner. The other one shifted a black leather strap running over her shoulder, saying, “He could have just heard that name, though I know not from where.”
Studying the object, Link recognized it as a horn worked to resemble Mother Tala, her body curved and jaws parted, her tail serving as the mouthpiece. Her wings were tight against her copper sides, her legs curled up against her black belly, but a green serpent with yellow eyes rested its hooded head upon her brow, avoiding the crested spines that began at the base of the dragon’s skull and continued down its back, its coils wrapped around the neck and traveling under and around the body before entwining with the metallic tail.
Noticing his gaze, the woman carrying the horn smiled. “You admire the Dragonhorn? Few outsiders have ever set eyes upon it.”
“It’s breathtaking,” he replied, noticing the tiny details, such as the individually carved scales and the creases in the wing membranes.
“Coruvdo, now is no time to show that off,” Shessn chided. “Where did you hear the name Avra?”
Link shrugged. “I first heard it mentioned by some of the other Partisans. They are twelve in number, followers of Ganondorf. There’s Avra the Gerudo, and a Dinolfos named Ra’noyl, a pair of Lizalfos named Lord Faska and Lady Iscilix, and Senna the Hylian necromancer. Asner, a Hylian assassin, and Hynor, another Hylian, though I am unsure about his motives, King Jarj of Annith, Kal--she’s an albino human--and Lonnu, another human. Oh, and General Okbrand, the Stalfos commander, and General Shinabi of the Iron Knuckles.”
Coruvdo shook her head. “Truly? Ah, I fear we Gerudo will fall if we have to face all that. The Iron Knuckles are the worst of that lot, though, the Greater Armored, anyway.”
“Aren’t all Iron Knuckles the same?” Link inquired.
Shessn guffawed loudly. “The same? Iron Knuckles have a distinct hierarchy, two major groups. The Lesser Armored are the inferior of the two, though all are respected in battle. Their armor is more cumbersome and can be pierced by certain weapons.”
“Why don’t they get new armor?”
Shaking her head, Coruvdo said, “You are so ignorant, Hero. Can you get a new skin? Can you get new muscles? No, what you are born with is what you have for your life. The armor of an Iron Knuckle is a part of it, as is its axe; it just has the ability to summon it whenever it wishes. Only its hands remain metal, hence the name. But there are certain Iron Knuckles who possess naturally stronger armor. There is very little that can pierce it, and they are able to sprint for hours, even while protected. Not that they do that very often.” Every Gerudo participating in the conversation scowled.
“What? Link asked, confused. “Why don’t they run very often?”
“Because of the crime they performed,” Shessn explained in a growl. “Once, there were four types of dragons--the Great Dragons, the ordinary winged dragons, the dragons of the Northlands, and the flightless dragons. Bigger than horses, the flightless dragons were faster as well, and fierce fighters. But the Iron Knuckles hunted them down and drove them into extinction. Yet they trapped the dragons’ spirits inside pendants made of their own bone, which the Greater Armored wear. They can summon the dragon’s spirit and ride it into battle.”
“The spirit is near mad with the rage it feels toward the one utilizing it,” Coruvdo continued. “But it cannot harm the one with its pendant, or anyone its rider does not wish it to. So it takes its wrath out on everything else in its path. Nothing can harm a dead spirit, but the spirit can harm others. The only way to destroy it is to free it, to break the pendant. And that is near impossible, since the bone is covered when the Iron Knuckle clothes itself in its armor.”
Comprehending the flow of words, Link glanced away. That is what we face? Zelda, hurry. Please. “Well, how is the army arranged?” he inquired, turning to Tarai.
She opened her mouth, but suddenly a commotion started up further in the camp. Spinning, Link gasped as determination lanced from Aphelandra. Eyes widening as he gleaned her intentions, he ran as fast as his burning chest allowed, crying, “Aphelandra! Wait! No!”
The priestess ignored him, ineptly swinging herself up onto the gray. Seizing the reins in one hand and gripping the orb awkwardly in the other, she shouted, “I have to do this, Link! Before the army comes! If I am to be the greatest priestess of all time, I must atone for my sin of removing what I had no right to remove. I need to do this.” She spurred the horse on, and it sprang forward, knocking a Gerudo over as it dashed out of the camp.
“Where is she going?” Coruvdo asked. “Should she be stopped?”
Link shook his head, feeling truly alone. “No. Let her go. I just hope she comes back.” Glancing at the obviously important women, he asked, “Where did you find me?”
“About three miles east of here,” Shessn replied. “There were two skeletons following you, but we smashed their skulls until the fires that served as eyes flickered out. We hurried away when we noticed a cloaked figure standing atop the hill, watching us.”
“Kal.” So much for a surprise force. But, I saw her. She probably meant to kill Aphelandra and take me prisoner. “Avra will know about you.”
“Let her come,” Shessn growled.
Surprised by the hatred in her voice, Link asked, “Why do you dislike her?”
“Dislike?” Coruvdo shook her head. “No, we hate and loathe her. She has been cast out of the Gerudo, disowned, just as her lover Ganondorf was. Her banishment came later, of course, for we thought she would abandon all ties to her lover after she bore her child, as is custom. But she did not. She passed her daughter off without so much as naming her, to follow Dragmire like a dog eager to please.” The woman spat. “That for Avra.”
Well, at least they won’t join her. “When do you think the army will get here?”
“At the rate I saw them move,” Tarai replied, “a week, or there abouts. We might be able to muster some arms from the locals, for it almost seemed like rebellion has struck this land.”
“Rebellion!” Link exclaimed. “When?”
“Only a few days past,” Anrja said. “I cloaked myself and visited a tavern, hoping to learn something. Apparently, the queen has fled with her son, calling for all Riders to rally to them. And garrisons have been emptying as well, though no one is sure why. They say Mother Tala has summoned them, and when I ask who this Mother Tala is, they point at emblems of Feraladrask. It is blasphemy!”
Coruvdo shook her head. “You are yet young, Anrja. Few know of Feraladrask, and there are many religions in the world. People want something to believe in, so they take a known entity and glorify her as a goddess. It would be no different than taking the Hero here and portraying him as a deity.”
Link felt hollow inside. Despite all of their best intentions, he and his companions had been too slow, in the end. It would come down to a battle between the armies of the Partisans and whatever the Karradaini could muster, in a struggle for something the Karradaini would have no notion of. The conflict might even escalate into a full-scale war, leaving Karradai in ruins and sweeping north, with death in its wake--a continuation of the Imprisoning War. Though the Gerudo continued talking, he turned and walked away, sitting when he reached the very edge of the camp, if camp it could be called, with no tents or blankets or cook fires.
“It’s my fault,” he breathed. “I should never have left Hyrule. I should never have left the forest. When I return north, I’ll go into the Lost Woods and never come out. If I turn into a Stalfos, as the myths go, well, so be it.”
“Giving up, Link? I never thought that was your style.”
Stunned, Link stared up into Noah’s grinning face, the Karradaini’s arm draped carelessly over the shoulder of a solemn-faced man with a lock of dark brown hair in front of his right ear falling to his shoulder, the rest clipped short. The man wore a coat of bronze wool, sparse black embroidery along the lapels, but he carried himself with a certain surety.
“I thought you were stupid and sacrificed yourself!” Link exclaimed, leaping up and instantly regretting it as pain flashed from his chest. “You had no right to send me off! No right!”
“Link, you were near collapsing,” Noah said flatly. “Maybe you think a blow that plunges deep into your breastbone is nothing, but I know that can be fatal, especially with blood soaking through your bandaging.”
Calming his anger, Link glanced at the other man, noting the worn sword at his hip, and asked, “Who’s he?”
“I am Dvarn,” he said simply.
“He’s a mercenary leader,” Noah explained, distinctly pleased with something if the strange emotions rolling from him were correct. “And a longtime friend. He agreed to lead his company against the army those Partisans are building.”
“How do you know about it?” Link asked.
“My scouts,” Dvarn answered.
Folding his arms, Link said, “Well, do you have mounts? Are you foot, or horse?”
The man met his gaze, a touch of surprise in his hazel eyes. Moving out from under Noah’s arm, he stepped forward. “What is one of the better ways to utilize light cavalry?”
Link snorted. “To harry a fleeing enemy, to nip at the flanks to make sure they go where you want them to. When do you use a full charge?”
“Only when enemy is less than you by a considerable margin, with poor defense, or if all your foot is dispersed and you are cornered. Or to draw attention away from some other attack. How do you counter a pincer movement?”
Settling comfortably into the talk of battle tactics, Link answered each question and replied with one of his own. Eventually, he and Dvarn simply delved into the scope of their knowledge, pooling strategies together. Finally, the mercenary said, “You have considerable knowledge of full-scale battles, Link. From what Noah told me, I thought you were simply a fool swordsman. Where did you learn the art of warfare?”
,” he answered, knowing neither man would understand. Ikana Kingdom
“They seem experienced there. Perhaps I should journey there.”
“Let’s focus on the upcoming battle,” Link said. “You should report yourself to Shessn and Coruvdo; they seem to be the leaders for the Gerudo. The Gerudo have scouts that will report the movement of the army, so we should be able to draw a decent battle plan.”
The man bowed. “I have heard of Gerudo. With them, we may yet win.”
As the mercenary strode away, Noah glanced around, “Where’s Aphelandra?”
“She left for the temples,” Link answered, “Where’s Hend?”
He grinned. “Ah, the man was frightened by what he’d gotten himself into and fled. The speed he was running, he should reach the northern border in a day.”
“I heard about the rebellion. Has your mother really fled?”
His grin vanished, eyes wide with shock. “What? The queen, abandon her post? Where did you hear this?”
“A Gerudo told me,” he explained. “She disguised herself and went to a tavern. Alanar and Jendrick have fled, summoning all other Riders to their side, and garrisons are being emptied across the land.”
“I don’t know about the garrisons,” Noah murmured thoughtfully. “Riders tend to disdain common soldiers, and my brother and mother are Riders to their toenails. But if the Riders are gathering.... Link, Riders are worth ten soldiers each, for they can strike and fly out of harm’s way too fast for any enemy to react. And most are good with a bow, too.”
Link nodded, then sighed. “But how do we get them to come here? We have a week before the battle.”
Appearing uncertain, Noah stuffed his hands into his pockets before pulling out his gloves embroidered with Talar birds. “I’ve resented these, worn them to spite Riders, to mock them. But they can come in handy, I guess.” He smiled weakly.
“That was a terrible pun.”
“I know.” Pulling them on slowly, he flexed his fingers. He clapped his palms together, lips moving soundlessly, and then a ray of golden light shot up from his hands, spreading out miles above and falling like rain. He brought his hands apart, and the little lights winked out. But a sense of expectancy hung in the air, mirroring the man’s mood. “There. Hopefully, they should come. I signaled so long they will know it is desperate, though they will probably upbraid me for it later.”
Staring at the sky, Link shook his head in wonder. Further off, he noticed clouds building, coming closer.
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