The sky growled with displeasure, the lightning making the dark clouds flare with momentary brightness, as Link slowly stepped out of the tavern in Kakariko Village. He had sought refuge and warmth from the relentless wind and pounding rain there, and at the first sign of the storm's strength having faded for a period of time, he had ventured out. Now as he walked the cobblestone paths that would lead out of the village and to the dirt paths that would take him home, the biting, bitter wind suddenly began to scream with renewed brutality. He was drenched with icy rain, and he swore softly under his breath with the shock of the cold. His hand tightened on the prey he had managed to slay in the Lost Woods, that of a rabbit. He carried his bow and arrows on his back. Gritting his teeth, he began to trudge against the angry wind that kept trying to force him back. The rain came down on him in freezing sheets, and he closed his eyes.
Moments later, the gale subsided suddenly, making his walk easier for the time being. He breathed heavily, his breath coming from his nose and mouth in the form of vapor. He was frozen to the bone, and as he stood still to catch his breath, his body trembled under the saturated, ice cold tunic that clung to him like a second skin. Peering up through the rain to the pitch clouds that produced it, he thought that such a bitter storm at this time of year was generally unheard of. Even as he looked up at them, the lightning flared again behind a few of the ebony colored clouds, allowing him to catch a glimpse of their churning outlines. The wind began to whisper threats to him, and he began to walk again before it once again waxed strong and tempestuous.
The cobblestone path broke off abruptly to a dirt road as he approached the outskirts of the village. The rain had turned the dirt to mud, making his boots stick as he began to tread upon it. His numb hands nearly dropped the rabbit's still body, and his frozen hand mechanically tightened around the animal's hind feet. It was pitch black, but he didn't dare remove his lantern from his supplies for light, for fear that it would slip from his unfeeling hands. His soaked hair hung in front of his eyes, stringy and wet from the large raindrops, and it dripped in his eyes, blurring his vision and making wet paths down the sides of his face. With a growl of annoyance, he tossed his head, flinging it back and out of his way. His cap would have fallen to the saturated earth had not his free hand come to still it. His body shook in involuntary spasms from the damp air around him, and the ruthless wind howled once again, causing him to become even more frozen. He began to move a bit more quickly to warm himself. Not only were his hands numb now, but his entire body as well. If he stayed out in this storm much longer, he would surely catch his death. That is, if Anna doesn't kill me for being late, he thought wryly. His attention was diverted from the slippery path he walked upon, and he nearly lost his footing. Stumbling, he cursed softly and regained his balance.
With each step, he got farther from the village and closer to home, where a warm fire awaited him, and his speed increased once again. Not only would he be going home to a fire, he would also have to put up with Anna's wrath. The thought of her conjured an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, and it grew greater with every step he took. The coldness on the inside of his body grew along with it until it equaled the chill on the outside. Concentrating on the path in front of him did nothing to ease his fear; something was clearly wrong at their cottage. He broke into a brisk walk, almost running now, but he dared not to actually run in such horrible weather.
He was at the midway point between the village and his cottage. A stitch suddenly came to his side, taking his breath away momentarily. He cursed the cold and the pain in his side as he regained his breath and continued on, going as quickly as the weather permitted. Adding the weather to the list of things he cursed that evening, Link could feel sharp impatience well up inside of him to mingle with his feeling of angst. The wind cried out, at the same time mocking him, and the rain once again came down in bitterly cold sheets. The trees and bushes that flanked the path he traveled moved with the gale in a swaying dance, and the lightning and thunder added their anger to the wind's wrathful cries. His quarry slipped unheeded from his hands; after a moment he noted its abscence and went on, deciding to ignore it for the time being. He would go back for it later; if it was gone by then it mattered not to him. More important things troubled his mind at present. Water that had overflowed from the ground beneath his feet splashed up, coming into contact with his boots and skin. Renewed wetness and cold came to the skin that was touched, making him draw in a sharp breath. The pain in his side had diminished until that moment; with the intake of that breath it lanced his side again, making him lessen his pace. After a moment, when it had once again subsided, he broke into a full run, not caring about how precarious the path before him would be. Mud rose from around him to fleck his boots, his legs, and the lower half of his tunic, but he continued on. His feelings were even more keen, and ignoring them was no longer an option. He had experienced such feelings before, when his enemies had attacked, and on another night similar to this one, the first night he'd met Princess Zelda. That night seemed centuries ago to him; so much had passed since then.
Forcing thought aside, breathing hard, he watched his breath come alive as clouds of steam that hit him in the face as he ran through them, going forth as fast as he could. There were scant yards to cover before he reached his cottage; already he could see it on the crest just beyond the trees. His side once again made its pain known, and his lungs, filled with icy air, ached as well. His throat was raw from breathing so hard and quickly. He paused for an instant, out of breath, but he did not stop for long. His legs, mud flecked and frozen, began to move again, taking him ever closer.
Upon reaching the front door, he saw no fire light in the cottage's inside, no warmth flooded out from under the door to warm his legs. All was silent and dark inside the cottage. The wind suddenly died, as though holding its breath, and the rain seemed to become almost gentle. His hand, pale and trembling with cold, reached out and touched the doorknob. Apprehension shot through him, making him hesitate. It shouldn't be so cold and dark inside the cottage, certainly not on a night like this, he thought. He had momentarily forgotten the chill; it now made itself known. His fingers tightened on the knob and the door opened into the darkness beyond. Slowly, he started inside. The inside of his home was nearly as cold as the outside, and he knew the fire had been absent for awhile now.
His eyes had not yet adjusted to the dim interior, and he found himself squinting into it, hoping to find Anna, who had not made her presence known yet. "Anna?" he said, rather quietly, not knowing why he lowered his voice. He could not see in the darkness, and he walked in further, closing the door as he went. The wetness that ran from his body left a trail as he walked, and his boots squelched with every move. Where was Anna? Dread began to fill him, choking his air and making his heart rise into his throat.
It was at this moment that the lightning outside flared up, lifting the veil of darkness momentarily. Turning his gaze to the floor, he caught a figure laying upon it, unmoving. He felt his throat begin to close. Stumbling forward, he slowly knelt beside Anna's limp form. His hands fumbled for the lantern he had with him, and removing it, he opened its glass door and lit it. Weak light rose within it, stabbing at the darkness and keeping it at bay. Link stared down at Anna, searching her face for any sign of life. Gently, he moved his fingers to the side of her neck, hoping to feel a pulse there. He had to press into her neck before he finally found it. The life he found there felt like a small, helpless butterfly held in cupped hands, and he knew it would not be long before she was lost to him eternally.
With much tenderness and speed, Link slid an arm under her head and knees, lifting her off the ground. Her head rested over the crook of his elbow, her legs hanging down over his other arm. He moved as quickly as he could to the door, shifting her so that he could open it. The black sky growled ominously, and the wind whispered softly, making the tree leaves sway and murmur. The rain lashed him once again with a whip's fury, but he didn't notice as he began once again into the storm, going as fast as he could in the direction of the castle. There was one final hope left to him. If Impa could find what was wrong with her, there was a chance he could save his sister's life.
The path that led to the castle was muddy, slippery and dangerous, but he moved with no caution this time. He couldn't afford to. The castle was in sight now, the lights in the windows sending a comforting glow into the bleak night. He ran from the path up the cobblestone walkway to the castle's front doors, forcing them open. Light flooded his vision and the surprised voices of the startled soldiers greeted his ears. He could hear one of them calling for Impa, his voice distant as he ran down one of the castle hallways.
Moments later, Impa herself arrived with the soldier at her side, her skirts gathered in her hand as she ran. She stopped abruptly as she saw Link, with Anna still in his arms. Both were soaking wet, and were a sight to behold. "Link, by the mercy of Farore, what happened?" the nursemaid cried, rushing up to him.
"Anna, she...I don't know, I found her like this," he replied, surprised that his mouth was able to form the words. Impa nodded briskly. "Lay her on the floor for a moment," she instructed, now the voice of authority. Link gently lay Anna on the castle's elaborate carpeting, watching as the nursemaid did as he had done, pressing two fingers to the girl's neck. He knelt in wait as she glanced up at him, her eyes filled with worry in spite of her commanding tone. "She's bad off, Link. I'm not sure what illness afflicts her, but it's very serious." He felt his blood freeze and his heart plummet. He didn't ask if she was going to be all right or not; he did not wish to hear an answer.
"Impa? What's going on?" Both Impa and Link glanced up as Princess Zelda came from one of the hallways, her eyes and voice both filled with question. Impa's words didn't have to answer the question, as the princess saw the answer with her own eyes. "Link, wh-what happened?" she asked, going to his side and peering searchingly into his eyes. In reply, he shook his head. "I wasn't home when it happened....She's really sick...." Zelda looked down at Anna, concern written upon her lovely face. "Impa," she began softly, looking pleadingly at her nursemaid. The princess's question hung wordlessly on her lips, and the older woman knew what it was going to be. "I honestly don't know, Zelda," she said softly, brushing a bit of stray, wet hair from Anna's face. Slowly, Impa rose from the floor. "I'll be back in a minute, I have to get a room ready. There, I'll be able to tend to her better." As Impa dissapeared down a hallway to do just that, Zelda turned to Link. "You just found her like this?" Link nodded. The princess said no more, turning to look once again at Anna. Link said nothing, too busy contemplating what the future could have in store. What he could not put to words became dark, horrible thoughts. Death, sorrow, loss...
His reverie was interrupted by Impa's return. "It's ready," she said, and lead the way down one of the hallways, dimly lit by the soft glow of torches that lined the walls, encased in glass. Zelda quickly followed. Link lifted Anna off the floor and went in pursuit. Impa led them up a narrow, dark staircase at the end of the hall up to another that was filled with rooms. Pushing one of the doors open, Impa motioned for them to follow her in.
Upon entering the room, Link could smell herbs and see candles burning, filling the room with waves of flickering, golden light. White lacy curtains, seemingly made of gossamer, were drawn across a single window, blocking the angry black night from view. The four poster bed was large, its handmade blankets of rich colors and patterns. "Lay her there, I have to get some more medicine," Impa instructed, and Link did so, in spite of the fact she was still soaking wet. Impa hurried out past them, down the staircase to the dim halls beyond.
Zelda shook her head, disturbed by her thoughts. They were as dark as Link's had been, and the possibility of them becoming reality at the moment was too unsettling for her. "Link," she said softly, turning to face him, "I-I don't know what to say or do. I feel so helpless." Link nodded. He, too, felt as though there was nothing he could do. He prayed Impa knew what she was doing.
Impa rushed back into the room, brushing past them and going to the bedside. Carefully, she sat a few glass bottles filled with strange fluids and powders down on the bedside table, then lay a blanket and a nightgown she'd been carrying as well. Once again, her fingers found Anna's pulse, then moved to one of the bottles, uncorking it and mixing its contents with the powder from another. Putting this concoction into a wooden bowl, she slowly lifted Anna's head from the pillow and put it to her lips. After the mixture was gone from the bowl, Impa lowered her head to the pillow again, then looked up at Link and Zelda, who were still standing uncertainly near the bed.
"Out you two," she said, smiling a bit to show she wasn't being harsh. "I have to get her into some dry clothes." Link and Zelda slowly walked out into the hall, Zelda drawing the door shut behind them. As they waited, Zelda murmured, "I had a bad feeling about why she was acting strangely, Link, and this had to be the reason why." Link pondered the princess's words. They seemed true enough. "Yeah, maybe," he replied. A thoughtful silence passed between them both as the moments passed. Presently, the door creaked open once again, and Impa's face appeared. "You can come in now," she said quietly, and held the door open for them as they went in again.
Anna lay under the blankets, clothed now in the white nightgown Impa had provided. Her expression had not changed from the one of a serene dreamer; to all appearances she could have been asleep. Impa shook her head as she took the blanket from a nearby chair and handed it to Link. "Here, lad, you're wet and probably a bit chilled," she said kindly, and Link took the blanket from her hand. Thanking her, he put it around his shoulders and watched as she sat in her chair near the headboard, busying herself with mixing more medication.
Zelda had pulled a chair close to the bed, settling herself in it with an expression filled with sad worry. Link felt a strange, dreadful sorrow creep into his being as well just by seeing her. He refused to let his thoughts worry him as hers had done to her. He took a chair and situated it near hers. She smiled faintly at him and turned her attention to what Impa was doing. The rain pounded against the window and the wind howled. The vibration of the growling thunder ran through their bodies.
A stretch of time passed in silence. All attention was turned to Anna, who had become no better in spite of the medicine Impa was administering with regularity. At times, she seemed so still that Link leaned in close to see if the blankets were still rising and falling in rhythm with her shallow breathing. The candles were burning low now, the melted wax running like tears down their sides before they assumed the color of the candle and ceased to drip, frozen. The wicks sent black smoke wavering into the air, making the glow flicker.
Somewhere down the hallway a clock struck the hour, its chimes filling Link's mind and keeping him awake. He had nearly fallen asleep in spite of himself, and he leaned forward in his chair, resting his head in his hands. Zelda was already asleep, her chin resting on her chest. Impa hadn't stirred, but was still wide awake, watching intently for any changes in Anna. The storm still snarled outside, battering the castle with strong wind.
Suddenly, Impa sat bolt upright in her chair, startling Link. His sudden movement shocked the princess awake. "What is it, Impa?" she asked sleepily, but Impa did not answer. She threw the covers back, her hands resting gently on the young girl's chest to monitor her breathing. "She's getting very weak," Impa said, scarcely above a whisper. Zelda's eyes widened in disbelief, and Link felt his heart sink to even lower depths. Impa shook her head as her hands moved frantically to her herbs. After the mixture was prepared, Impa tipped Anna's head up and poured it into her mouth. "This is my strongest remedy," she said, "and if this doesn't work..." The sentence was left unfinished. It didn't need to be.
Anna shuddered violently upon the bed, her eyes closing themselves tightly. She began to gasp for air. Link half rose from his chair, and Zelda stood and moved quickly to the bedside. "Impa, what's happening? What's wrong?" she cried frantically. Impa was staring silently at the young girl, her eyes filled with incredulity. Suddenly, Anna shivered, her breathing stopped, and her body became still. A horrible silence filled the room. Life's shimmering light had departed, the passing was complete. Link felt his world stop and begin to darken. He was too upset to speak, too shocked to move. It was Impa who rose from her chair near the headboard, her eyes filled with sadness. "Link, I did all I could," she said softly, looking into the young man's eyes. Tears filled the old woman's eyes, and, wiping them away, turned her gaze away from him. Zelda stood still as a statue. "No, Anna, why...." Link could hear her whisper. He was thinking the same thing. Nothing could save her now. No Triforce to bring her back as it had last time. Nothing anyone could do. Nothing...
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