Link threw open the doors to the grand ballroom at Hyrule castle, his eyes blazing. There was a banquet taking place in celebration of a recent announcement and a room full of nobles looked at him, at first curious and then disapproving. Link saw Zelda sitting beside her father at the head table, looking beautiful in a dress of creamy silk with her hair done up. She looked at him and bit her lip; Link knew she felt the same way he did about the issue, but was afraid to challenge her father. Link, however, had no restraints when it came to voicing his opinion, even if it meant he'd be thrown out afterward.
He walked up to the king, back straight and fists clenched, ignoring the glares that surrounded him. When he reached the head table he pounded on it, forcing the king to acknowledge him.
King Harkinian was getting on in years, but still held his proud, regal air. He had black hair and hard, chiseled features, and was still considered quite handsome by many court women. He looked down at Link and was silent for a moment.
Link met the king's gaze and matched the intensity, and for an instant all was silent as the two stared each other down. Warrior and King, each radiating their own power, each with such determination that those watching could almost feel the strength of their stare.
Finally Link broke the silence. "Your Highness," he growled with forced respect, never moving his eyes from the king, "I have heard word that you intend to attack the Gerudo."
The king held the stare and responded. "Yes, that is true. I made the formal announcement yesterday, and we are celebrating it now." He smiled slightly, condescendingly. "Are you upset that you weren't invited?"
"But you can't," Link insisted, ignoring the jibe, "you just... can't!"
The Hylian king looked annoyed. "I do not think you have any place telling me what I can and can't do, Boy."
Link ran a hand through his hair and tried to think.
It had been about six months since the fall of Ganondorf and Hyrule had recovered almost completely from the ugly years. The king had come out of hiding and the castle was rebuilt, and Link had thought that peace was finally back. The news of impending war had thrown him into a wild rage-all that he had worked for, suffered for, was to be ruined. Even worse, the Gerudo had done nothing to provoke an attack; it wasn't right to invade their land. Link supposed he should have come up with a better plan, thought things out first so he wouldn't lose face in front of so many people, so his arguments wouldn't seem so stupid; but anger made him act without thought, it always had.
"But how can you do this?" Link asked with frustration, "what reason have we to attack them?"
"What reason!" the king repeated, "they were responsible for the seven years of destruction and oppression Hyrule just experienced! They must be punished, and the spoils from the war will help rebuild our country. They are still weak from the loss of their leader, and now is the perfect time to take our revenge!"
"But Hyrule doesn't need revenge," Link yelled, "she needs peace! And the Gerudo weren't responsible, Ganondorf was! The Gerudo were simply following orders, it isn't their fault they had a bad leader!"
"They are heartless thieves," the king said sharply, "any who pass too near their land can tell you the same."
"I have been inside their fortress," Link said, inspiring a few gasps from the people around him. He had just fallen another notch in their eyes, he knew, but he didn't care right then. He'd deal with his unpopularity later. "The Gerudo are people as surely as you and I, flawed yes, but not heartless! Who here can claim that they never made a mistake? And one of the sages that helped to defeat Ganondorf was a Gerudo!"
"Do not raise you voice at me," the king bellowed, "you may have defeated the Evil King, but I am the current ruler and you had best show your respect! As for that Gerudo sage, she shall be spared the racial cleansing and allowed to live here afterward."
"Racial cleansing!" Link shouted, ignoring the guards who were now fingering their swords, "this is sick! You plan to kill off every single one of them, destroy the entire race?!"
"And rid the world of their threat," the king said in a dangerous tone. "It should have been done long ago, in fact, but they were never at such a vulnerable stage before. Generations to come will thank us for cleaning out the trash from our desert."
"It's their desert," Link snarled, "and they have as much right to it as we have to our land here. I will not stand to watch you destroy an innocent people!"
"You will have little say in the matter," the king said, "in fact, I will be expecting you to take part in this holy war and help us defeat the enemy."
Link's eyes widened. "You want me to go out there and kill people that I have no argument with? Some that I'm even friends with!?"
"I want you to follow the orders you are given," the king said coldly, "like any subject I call on. You think you are better than everyone because of the service you have done us? You think you have the right to come in and interrupt our festivities simply because you disapprove?!"
"I..." Link clenched his fists even harder until his nailed drew blood. Stupid, stupid, he scolded himself, he hadn't thought up any arguments, just let his hormonal fury take over. Now he would get the verbal beating of his life, and make no impact at all on anyone's opinion. Why did he have to be such a hothead?
The king smiled again as he realized Link was without retort. "What reason could you have to care so much that you would risk such humiliation?" he asked in a mocking tone. "But then, you are young yet, easily swayed by smoldering eyes and tempting offers. The Gerudo are not as conservative as our women here, perhaps you find pleasures in their valley that you don't want to lose?"
There were several laughs heard in the crowd. Link felt his face get hot and his vision go blurry with embarrassment.
"I-I have never taken part in such a thing," Link defended in a shaky voice. He hadn't, but the mere thought of it made him go red in a very incriminating way. "I wouldn't."
"Of course," the King said in a patronizing voice, "the great Hero of Time is above such things."
Link's eyes fell upon Zelda, who looked quite uncomfortable. Why did she of all people have to be here to listen to this? His shame doubled with the thought of what she must think...
"Not even the immoral desert women could tempt the great hero," the king went on.
But Link found his determination return as his friends were insulted. "They are not immoral," he said, "they have a strict code of honor just like any Hylian knight. Perhaps if you weren't so ethnocentric you' be aware of that."
The king's face darkened as Link regained his composure.
"You, all of you," he waved his arm out the include the whole room of people, "know nothing of those who live outside your own little way of life. The Gerudo are different, but that doesn't make them evil, or immoral. You're so ignorant!"
"Enough!" the king bellowed, "I order you to hold you tongue!"
"What's the matter," Link asked, now smirking himself, "can't think of anything to say? Because you have nothing to say! You know this is all true!"
"You will fight in this war like any other peasant soldier, and you will do so without question!" the king roared. "And if you don't I will have you hanged for treason against Hyrule!"
Link's eyes narrowed in defiance. "Oh I'll fight alright," he said quietly. "It's my duty to defend the innocent and stand up for what's right."
"Good," said the king, who seemed relieved.
"I'll fight," Link went on, "but it won't be for the Hylians." And with that, Link turned and stalked out of the room.
The king and everyone else in the room stood speechless. Even the guards at the doors let him pass, all too shocked to do anything else.
Link walked angrily through the hallways; navigating the twisting maze of a castle subconsciously while his mind reeled.
What had he done?! He had just denounced his home country and promised to commit treason! How could he ever fight against Hyrule? In a million years he could never work up the strength to betray the land he so loved.
"Link," called out a voice behind him, "Link, wait!"
Link stopped and turned to see princess Zelda running after him as best as she could in her finery.
Link began walking again, faster now in attempt to escape her.
"I really don't want to talk with you now," he said, turning his face away.
"Please," she called again, then there was the sound of shoes being thrown to the ground and she dashed to catch up with him. "Link, are you angry with me?" she asked, sounding a bit hurt, "for not standing up to Daddy? For letting this happen?"
He sighed. "No, Princess," he said gently, "I could never be mad at you."
"Then why are you doing this?" she asked.
"Because I am," he said flatly.
"Link," she said again, "please! You can't fight against Hyrule; it's your home country! You'd be fighting against friends, against the Kokiri and the Gorons and the Zoras, against Lon Lon Ranch and Kakariko..." she pulled him to face her. "Against me."
Link bit his lip and looked down, he couldn't meet her eyes. "I know, I know, I hate the idea, it'll kill me to betray everything I know and love... but I can't just let the king attack the Gerudo when they haven't done anything..."
"Then stay here and try to convince him not to," Zelda insisted. "There are other, less drastic ways to go about this, you don't have to leave."
"I've tried talking to him," Link said, "and you saw how well that went, after ten seconds he was accusing me of... well, you heard..."
"Is that what's bothering you?" she asked, sounding relieved. "Oh, Link, you know nobody really believed what he said, at least I know I didn't-"
"That's not it," Link interrupted, "I just mean that I can't argue. I'm just not good at it. If I tried again, I'd only get myself in more trouble."
"Worse trouble that treason?" Zelda asked, "what could be worse!"
"Oh, I don't know," Link moaned, covering his face with a hand, "I just know that it won't do any good. I can't fight against the Gerudo when they haven't done anything, I'll tell you right now. No matter what, I won't do that."
"I'm not asking you to," Zelda said, "just to think this out more. You made this decision so suddenly..."
"That's how I make all my decisions," Link joked, "When I was ten I got up one morning and said to myself, 'I think I'll be a hero now,' and that worked out pretty well."
"Link, be serious!" Zelda scolded, "this isn't a laughing matter!"
"Sorry," he said, "just trying to lighten the mood."
Zelda sighed. "You've made your mind up already, haven't you?"
Link looked down the hall, avoiding her eyes. "Yes," he said softly. "You could come with me," he said nervously, "you know this is wrong too."
Her throat tightened. "I know..." she murmured. "And maybe I should leave. I've thought about it. But... I can't. Even if Hyrule is wrong. She's my country, and if the princess won't be loyal, who will? I can't betray Hyrule, even if she's on the road to Hell I have to stand by her."
She looked down, and Link caught the glimmer of a tear as it fell from her face to the floor. "I'll-miss you," she whispered.
Link felt his own eyes getting damp. He tilted her face up to his and wiped away the wetness from her cheeks. "Hey, I'll be back," he said, trying to smile for her. "I'll always come back, I promise."
She caught his hand as it lingered on her face and looked into his eyes. "But how can you?" she asked in a wavy voice. "Once you've committed treason, you can't return or you'll be hanged."
"Just trust me," me said. "I remember when I woke up in the Temple of Time after the seven years I was trapped and I found out you were missing. I knew in here," he tapped his chest, "that you were okay, somewhere. I just knew. And I know now that this isn't goodbye forever. I don't know how, but I can feel it."
Zelda gave a melancholy smile and blinked back more tears. "Then I'll have to trust your feelings. And pray."
They looked into each other's eyes for a moment and began to lean closer. Link moved his arms around in an embrace, gently pulling her towards him. She shut her eyes and tilted her head a back a bit to meet him...
"Hey you!" came and angry voice from down the hall.
Link and Zelda both jumped apart and looked at the man coming towards them.
"As of now, you're a wanted man," he yelled, "by order of the king! You have twenty four hours to get your filthy, traitorous hide out of this country before you're hanged for you crime!"
Link raised his head and shouted back. "Don't worry, the next time you see me I'll be defending the Gerudo from your slaughtering king!"
He looked at his princess on last time and touched her hair, then left her and stormed out of the castle.
Link raced Epona to Gerudo Valley. Not because he was afraid of being caught on Hylian soil after his 24 hours were up-he'd just like to see those soldiers try and capture him-but because he wanted to get to Gerudo Valley before he had a chance to rethink his actions too much and start doubting them. As he rode, he tried to keep his mind on the injustice of the impending war instead of the look on Zelda's face when he left her. As long as anger burned in his blood he'd be fine, but if started to think about her then he might lose his resolve.
He reached the borders just before his 24 hours were passed, and Link smirked as he thought of waiting until his time was up just so he could defy the king in one more little way. He looked down the road beyond, thinking of Gerudo Valley. He had not been there since he'd defeated Ganondorf, but he knew he'd be welcome, especially now. Then he looked over his should at the castle still looming on the distant horizon. He felt his heart twist inside him as he though of Zelda inside. He was leaving her, abandoning her for the sake of some obscure ideal.
He thought back to the days Zelda and he right after Ganondorf's defeat. They had become close friends quickly, and soon Link had found himself in love with her. He'd thought it useless then, that Zelda would never love him back, but they way she'd looked at him in that hallway made him wonder. Would there be hope for something if he went back?
Perhaps even more painful was leaving the land itself. Madly as he loved his princess, he loved Hyrule just as much. The land, the people, the culture; it was a part of his soul. He was betraying everything now, everything from the great castle towers to the birds in the sky. Could he live with that?
Link doubted it. And yet, as he thought of going back, he knew he couldn't. There was no love or loyalty that could ever come before the duty to do the right thing. Not because he was a hero, but because he was a man, a person, a child of the Goddesses. Anyone who believed in virtue had the same duty, to do what he or she thought was right.
Sometimes difficult choices had to be made, and sometimes they were all too easy. He had known, the moment that the attack had been announced; that he would have to betray everything. He wanted to deny it and say that it had been hard to decide. That his love for the land and its princess were making the choice hard, but he knew that the choice had never really been his to make. It had been decided the moment he was born with the need to do right. The choice had been terribly, painfully, horribly simple.
So Link took a deep breath and urged Epona over the invisible, oh-so important line and continued into Gerudo Valley and whatever fate he had waiting for him.
When Link first entered the Desert City he caught sight of one of the guards and waved. "Hey, over there!" he called out, trying to get her attention.
She turned and saw him. Link waved again and so did she. He smiled, and nudged Epona into a trot, when guards suddenly surrounded him, all pointing their spears at him.
"Hey! Wait a minute," he said, realizing that the guard's 'wave' had been her motioning to the others to capture him. "But I'm on your side!"
They ignored his protests and forced him to dismount, then he was dragged unceremoniously through the dust and dropped into a rather familiar dungeon.
"Not this again," he grumbled to himself. "I'm Link!" he shouted to the guards, wherever they were, "remember? I came here before and escaped prison, defeated your guards, and you made me a member!" he took out the card they'd given him, though there was no one to show it to. "Listen to me! I have to speak with Nabooru, the Hylians are going to attack you soon, the king wants to 'cleanse the races' or something, and I need to warn her!" He sagged against a wall. "Come on, I swear it's true! Just let me see her and she'll recognize me!"
Finally a guard in purple peered into the cell and called down to him, "why should we believe you, Hylian? Your men have been coming here and making trouble for months! Do you think we're so stupid as to take you to our leader?"
"What do you mean 'making trouble'?" Link asked, surprised.
"Ha!" she laughed, "like you don't know! Dirty Hylians, kidnapping our sisters! Well we'll take their revenge out of your hide!"
Link sighed. Why did everyone seem to want revenge these days? "I haven't done anything, just take me to Nabooru and she'll tell you!"
"Why should I?" the guard asked, "why should she care about you?"
"I already told you," he said, "the Hylians are going to attack! I need to warn her!"
"A likely story," the woman spat.
"It's true," Link yelled.
"Then why would you come here to warn us?" she asked, "did you turn traitor in hopes of some reward here?"
Link shook his head. "Because it's wrong," he yelled, "because you haven't done anything and I disagree with my king. Please, even if you don't believe me, just think of what would happen if this were true! The Gerudo are still recovering from the loss of their leader, an attack you're unprepared for would devastate you! And the Hylians outnumber you, you have to get ready for them!"
She seemed to be thinking it over. "It ...would be a disaster," she admitted. "But how do I know you're telling the truth?"
"You don't," Link admitted, "but is it a chance you're willing to take, to save the lives of your entire race? The king wants to wipe out every Gerudo alive!"
"Well..." she hesitated, "if you're lying and get me in trouble, I'll rip your liver out and feed it to you!"
Link grinned. "Don't worry, I'm not."
She disappeared and then a minute later a door in the floor near Link opened and she looked up at him. "Well, come on," she snapped, "I'll take you to Nabooru. You'd just better not make a fool of me..."
Link grinned. "I'll make a hero of you. Let's go."
"Give me your hands," she said distrustfully. When Link did so, she clamped iron manacles around his wrists and yanked on chains attached to them.
"What the-" Link protested, "but I thought you believed me!"
"I said I'd take the chance," she said, "not that I was stupid. I'm let going to risk you escaping." She tugged hard and grinned. "Now, come on, Prisoner."
Link shrugged. At least he was going to see Nabooru. He followed the Gerudo through the fortress, trying to memorize the twisting passages they took in case he needed to get away fast. The way things were going, he might need to escape.
Finally they reached a large double door, guarded by several Gerudo women in red. From what Link had gathered of their social structure, the red garb meant these were elite guards, answering directly to Nabooru herself. They stopped the Gerudo who was leading Link and demanded in sharp voices, "Where are you going with that man? The exalted Nabooru is far too busy right now to bother with scum like him."
Link's guard smirked. "You're probably right," she agreed, giving Link's chains a cruel tug so he stumbled. "But he says he knows something about the Hylians attacking."
The Gerudo in red looked at each other. "And you actually believed him?" one asked in amusement. "Are you really so stupid? Or just blinded by deep blue eyes?"
Link's guard stiffened. "I don't know what I think, but I do know that if he is telling the truth then we are all in alot of trouble. I think we should let Nabooru decide."
The guards stepped a few feet away and seemed to talk it over. Finally they returned and one spoke. "We'll let you in, but you had better keep him restrained. If he tries anything, you'll both be facing the ax."
Link's guard gulped. She hit his arm and growled, "You had just better not have lied to me, or I swear..."
Link gave a teasing grin. "Don't worry, I won't get you in trouble."
The red guards opened the large doors and led Link and his guard into a large chamber. It had a red carpet and draperies decorating the walls and ceiling. Several women sat around the room on silk pillows, discussing things Link couldn't quite hear. The air was thick with the smell of incense and there was an exotic tune being played by a few women near the front, seated around a large throne that appeared to be made of solid gold, carve intricately with patterns of snakes and scimitars. On the throne sat a Nabooru, wearing a good deal more decoration than the last time Link had seen her. She was talking to one of her women when they reached her. She glanced up, looking irritated by the intrusion, when she saw Link and smiled.
"Kid," she said, "it's been a while. I see you've made friends with my guards."
Link looked at his chains and smiled. "They aren't a very trusting sort, I'm afraid. But then, I suppose that's best."
Nabooru chuckled. "You, take those thing off of him. I trust the kid more than I trust my own mother, you needn't worry."
Link's guard bowed her head to hide a blush and fumbled to undo the locks on Link's manacles. Once they were off, Link rubbed his wrists.
"It gets a bit uncomfortable after a while," he admitted.
"Now leave us," Nabooru commanded her guards, "get back to your jobs."
The guards nodded and left, looking rather meek.
Nabooru turned her attention back to Link. "So what bring you here, Link? Couldn't stand to be away from me, huh?" she joked.
Link grinned. "My heart has been empty without sight of your perfect face," he said, "I knew I could not go another day without you, my beautiful, exotic queen."
Nabooru laughed. "A-ha, I knew it! No one can resist me for very long. Now, when should the wedding be held?"
Link laughed too. It was fun to joke around with Nabooru, she was so much less formal than the people at the castle. "I think June would be lovely, but first I have news to tell you."
"Ah," Nabooru said, her face growing a bit more serious. "Good or bad?"
"Bad," Link said, "very bad, I'm afraid."
Nabooru sighed. "Well, Lover-boy, better get it over with. I'm tough, I can take it."
Link took a breath. "The king of Hyrule plans to attack Gerudo Valley soon. He announced it two days ago. He probably didn't think anyone would come here, so he hasn't bothered to be very secretive about it."
Nabooru sat back, taking in this information. "This is indeed bad news," she said, "very much so." She pounded her fist against the arm of her throne. "Why would he attack, the Gerudo have done nothing to provoke it!"
Link shook his head. "That's what I said. But he blames you for what Ganondorf did; he won't listen to reason. He's blinded by his hate. He plans to 'clear out the trash' from the deserts. I couldn't get him to see things clearly."
Nabooru rubbed the bridge of the nose. "Hate can do ugly things to the mind. He plans to kill everyone?"
Link swallowed, then nodded. "I'm afraid that is his wish. 'Racial cleansing' he called it. Though he did say he'd spare you because of your role in banishing Ganondorf."
Nabooru sneered. "How very generous of him. Do you know anything else? Anything that could help us?"
Link blushed. "Well, no, I kind of stormed out and didn't get the chance to hear anything specific."
Nabooru laughed in spite of herself. "Same hot-tempered kid. Well, you've already done so much for us, I thank you." She paused. "The king can't be happy that you've come to tell us this, how could you have come here?"
"I left," Link said, "he told me I had I to fight, and I said if I did it wouldn't be for them. And then I left."
"You betrayed your home country to warn us?" Nabooru asked in astonishment.
Link shrugged. "I had to. What he was going to do was wrong, I couldn't stand by and watch it happen-let alone take part in it..."
"You have guts, Kid," she said, "I admire you. But you really shouldn't have. You've just given up everything for us, you know you'll never be able to go back now."
Link sighed. "I'll worry about that later. For now, I just want to do whatever I can to make sure the Gerudo make it through this. I want to help in any way I can."
Nabooru nodded. "Well, if that's what you want. I won't stop you, we'll need as much help as we can get."
"So what's our first move?" Link asked.
"Well," Nabooru thought, "we'll want to prepare as best as we can. And send scouts to watch the Hylians and warn us once they make their move. If we can stop them before they get to our fortress, we'll have a better chance of keeping them out. I suppose you'll want to fight."
Link nodded. "It is what I do best."
She sighed. "I don't think it'll be good for you, Kid," she said.
"I'll worry about what's good for me," Link said.
"Fine, fine," Nabooru said, "you're not really a kid anymore, I'll let you do what you think is best. For now, you can stay here in the fortress. I can get you a room if you want, or you can stay with me..."
Link smirked. "But I don't think that would be proper until after the wedding," he said with mock-horror. "What would people say?"
"I'm the queen," she said, puffing her chest out, "they'll say what I tell them to. And I'm serious; you might want to stick close to me while you're new here. They're good girls I've got, but they would love to torture you while you're still unsure of the place."
"I can take it," Link insisted, "I stood up to Ganondorf, I think I can handle a few Gerudo."
"Well, it's your funeral," Nabooru said. "Now you have broken my heart, be gone!"
"What about my room?" Link asked.
"You're so tough, you can ask one of my girls for a place yourself." She smiled wickedly. "Now get out of my sight, I have more important things to worry about that some kid's housing problems."
"Maybe I should have secured a place to stay before I gave you other things to think about..." Link grumbled as he turned to leave.
"No," Nabooru called, "you should have gotten a place before you turned me down, women can be very vindictive, you know."
"Well," Link answered, "I sure know it now! I'll be seeing you, but right now I have my own problems to worry about."
"That you do, Kid," she laughed as she motioned for her advisors to return.
Link opened the doors to leave when he heard a thump and saw his guard fall back, looking surprised.
Link closed the doors behind him and crossed his arms. With a grin, he asked her, "listening in on us, were you?"
She picked her self up, embarrassed, and mumbled apologies that didn't quite make sense through her mask.
"Oh, it's okay," Link said, still grinning in amusement. "I didn't get your name, by the way."
She straightened herself out and said with a bit more clarity, "I'm Kimoori."
"Glad to meet you," Link said, shaking her hand. She looked a bit confused by the act, but didn't resist. "My name is-"
"Link," she finished," I heard.
"What else did you hear?" he asked.
A hint of blush peeked out above her mask and she looked guilty. "Well, I heard that you sacrificed a lot to come and warn us," she said, "and that you need a place to stay?"
"That I do," Link said, looking suddenly hopeful. "I don't suppose you could help me with that?"
"Are you and the Queen really... lovers?" she asked.
"Huh?" Link said in surprise. "Oh, you mean because of... me and Nabooru?" He laughed a bit. "No, no, we just like to tease each other. We're just friends."
"Are you sure?" she asked, "because if you and her highness are... well then I really shouldn't..."
"Shouldn't what?" Link asked.
"Offer to let you stay with me?" she asked, sounding as though she were trying to not sound hopeful.
Link smiled. "Offers from two beautiful women in one day, what a lucky guy I am! But I'd really prefer my own place, if you don't mind."
She seemed a bit disappointed, but hid it well. "Oh, of course. I can help you with that, too."
"Well then," Link said, offering her his arm like he would to a fine lady, "shall we go?"
She looked at him, confused, then nodded and walked on. Link shrugged and followed her.
"How dare he!" the Hylian king roared, knocking all the things off his desk with a sweeping arm "how DARE he!"
The advisor winced, knowing the king would not hit him, but a bit frightened anyhow. "I-I don't know sire," he stuttered, "but that's what I was told..."
Zelda sat in the corner, watching the scene with a mixture of amusement and anger. "You did tell him to leave, didn't you?" she pointed out softly. "He said he would leave, you shouldn't b surprised."
The king looked at his daughter, his eyes furious. "But that he actually did it!" He pounded the desk. "I thought he was bluffing, that he would come crawling back! That little worm, that worthless wretch, that piece of filth..."
"Link means what he says, Daddy," Zelda said. Her voice was quiet and controlled, but held just as much anger as her father's did. "And he never comes crawling back. You should have known he meant it when I he said he'd leave."
"You hold your tongue, you insolent girl," the king snapped. "He has just betrayed us all, you included. We now have lost our chance of a surprise attack, because if that dirty, traitorous, bastard!"
Zelda stood up. "Link may have betrayed us," she said, her voice seething with fury, "but I will not listen to you insult him. It is because of him that we are even alive to discuss this." And before the king could reply, she walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
The king turned to the advisor, ignoring the princess. "He will pay for turning on us, mark my words. Prepare the armies, we will attack sooner than I had planned."
Link looked up from his guard duty as he heard his name being called. He had been in Gerudo valley for about two weeks now, and was adjusting quite well. He had abandoned the heavy tunic he once wore for the lighter material of the Gerudo that didn't become so dreadfully hot in the sun. He had also taken to wearing masks like most guards, it kept the sand from blowing into his nose and mouth. He had gotten quite a tan as well, and now looked nearly as coppery as any native to the valley. Indeed, most people back home would hardly recognize him were it not for the Master Sword he still carried.
"Link," came the same voice, "Naboobu wants to speak with you, she says it's important!"
Link nodded and gave the signal for someone else to take his post. He jogged up to the woman who had called him and asked, "Do you know what it's about?"
She shook her head. "You'll have to go find out for yourself."
"Okay then," he said, "I'll go now I guess."
He knew his way around the fortress now, and didn't need an escort, so she nodded and left him.
He made his way through the hallways and rooms until he reached the same doors that he'd gone through to see Nabooru last time. He smiled to himself, glad that this time he wasn't chained.
The guards let him through, and even bowed a bit to him. He entered into the same room as last time, but the scene was now very much different. There was no music, and everyone was gathered around the throne, waiting. They turned when they heard him come in, looking nervous. Link pulled down his mask and they sighed with relief.
"It's about time he got here," said one woman, "now can you tell us what's going on?"
Nabooru, who sat on her throne looking worried, waited for Link to join them and then began.
"You all know about the Hylians' plan to attack us," she said, "so I won't bother you by explaining that. I have sent out several spies since then, to watch the Hylians and keep us informed as to their movements."
She paused and looked at one Gerudo who stood near her.
"As of yet, only one had returned and I fear the worst for the rest," she said sorrowfully, "but we must concentrate on the news she has brought us." She took a deep breath. "The Hylians have organized their armies and are on their way here," she said. "At their current speed, they should reach us in under a week."
Everyone gasped, including Link. "But that can't be right," he said, "when I left the king seemed to be planning months away, it's only been two weeks!"
Nabooru put up a hand to silence him. "Look Kid," she said, "I know you mean well, but you admit you don't really know anything for certain. Maybe he was trying to fool you, or maybe he just had a change of plans. All I know is that my girls don't lie, and that we have very little time to prepare for an attack."
Link bit his lip and nodded.
"We want to cut them off before they get here," she said, "keep them as far away from our fortress as possible. Maybe we can stop this thing before it starts. And we might just be able to surprise them into a quick surrender. We'll be outnumbered, I'll tell you right now. Our odds aren't pretty. But we have no other choice."
Everyone nodded grimly; no one said anything.
"Link?" Nabooru said.
He looked up. "Yes?"
"Kid," she said, softly, "you are unique here. You do have a choice."
Link looked at her, taking in what she said.
"You're not one of us," she went on, "not really. You can go back, if you want, you don't have to stand with us. You don't have to fall with us. If you want to go back home, I won't stop you. It's not too late yet, not for you."
Link looked down. "I know," he said, "and I have to admit I've thought about it."
The other Gerudo looked a bit angry, though none of them said anything.
"But I can't," he said, "I can't leave you here in your hour of need. I don't know how much I can do, but I won't go."
Nabooru studied him. "You're giving up any chance of being welcomed back into Hyrule, if you fight with us. It will be too late then."
"If you fight with us, you'll be fighting against men you know, against land you once defended. That'd be an unpleasant job for anyone."
She sighed. "I didn't think I'd be able to make you change your mind. But I had hoped."
"Sorry, Nabooru," he said, smiling a bit, "but you're stuck with me."
"And I have to admit I'm glad," she said, ruffling his hair a bit. "Now, on to business. We need to get our own army ready."
The Gerudo army that left the valley to meet the Hylians was a poorly organized one at best. Many of the Gerudo soldiers had little training, and the leaders were still uncertain about the details of the battle they were going into. There weren't enough horses to accommodate even the officers, and the supplies wouldn't likely last more than a week. Nabooru despaired in having to send out such a poor response to the coming attack, but it was either that or let the Hylians into the valley. Their only hope was a miracle.
Link stood outside his tent the night before the battle, looking at the stars. The Hylian camp was just visible on the horizon, and he wondered what the soldiers knew about the war they were walking into. Few men joined a cause they knew was wrong, Link thought. Those men were doing what they thought was right, they weren't to blame. And yet, they were the ones that he and the rest of the Gerudo would be slaughtering the next day. It was ironic; the men who made the poor decisions rarely were the ones to pay for them.
Link shook his head; this kind of thinking would only make it harder. Instead he admired the land around him. They had camped in Hyrule field, a few miles from the entrance to Gerudo valley. If the battle was lost, they Hylians would still have some way to go before they could reach the fortress, and there would be time for at least one more battle to hold them off.
Hopefully, by then the Gerudo would be better organized, Link thought. The battle tomorrow was really just an attempt to slow the Hylians' progress, victory was beyond hoping for. Still, he would fight with everything he had to keep the attackers back, even if it was a lost cause.
Link wondered, maybe he was just a sucker for lost causes. One lone, untried youth against Ganondorf and all his minions, that had been pretty hopeless looking. But he had one, Link realized suddenly, in spite of the odds. Maybe tomorrow was no different. Maybe he would get lucky again. He could only hope. He shut his eyes and mouthed a silent prayer.
The sun rose the next day into a cloudless sky. Everything was silent as the two armies prepared for battle, no birds sang.
Link fell into formation with the Gerudo and began the march toward the Hylians, trying to keep his mind clear of questions. It was far past being too late for doubts now, he just had to do his best to keep his head on. Literally.
The battle began in slow motion, as the heavily armored Hylian knights charged forward. To the Gerudo's credit, Link saw the first death to be the leading knight. Then time took on its normal speed and Link lost track of casualties.
The Hylians were all mounted, giving them the advantage, but Link wasn't put off. He'd fought things ten times the size of a man on a horse. The master sword sliced through armor like a knife through butter. Link took care not to injure the horses; he also didn't like the idea of killing animals. Knight after knight fell to the singing sword and Link managed to keep his mind numb.
Finally the Gerudos began to retreat. Slowly at first, staggering back as the Hylians pushed down with raw force, then more rapidly as their defeat became more evident. Though for every Gerudo slain at least four Hylians were dead, the Hylians had far more men to lose. At last the order was heard to retreat and the remaining Gerudo ran for their lives. Link was about to turn with them when his arm was pulled back by one of the Hylians.
"Go on, run!" snarled the man holding, "go back with your cowardly desert women, you traitor! Killing your own countrymen is a crime not even death can fully punish! But we'll kill you soon, and all your women with you!"
Link shrugged out of the man's grasp and slashed his head off with anger, then turned and ran to catch up with his comrades.
Zelda jumped as her father slammed his fist against his desk.
"Those little wretches," he roared as he heard the news, "those desert scum!"
"What's the matter Daddy?" she asked, genuinely confused. "We won the battle, they retreated."
"Yes, but they escaped!" the king yelled, "and our casualties were painfully high, and what's more, when we tried to follow them they must have retraced back and looted the battlefield! Now they have our horses, our weapons... Then they disappeared!"
"Too bad," Zelda smirked, "I guess they knew what they were doing after all."
The king looked at her with rage in his eyes. "You find this funny?"
She looked innocent. "No, I just can't help think that Link must be a valuable addition to their army. He knows how we store our supplies and organize our camps, and would have cut the time it took to loot them in half."
"Valuable is right," the king snapped, "he must have killed hundreds men out there from the reports I've been getting."
"What?" Zelda asked, no longer smiling.
"That's right," the king growled, "he's a ruthless death machine, the men say they've never seen anything like him. He doesn't even blink as he goes from killing one man to the next."
"But, Link wouldn't...."
"He betrayed us, Zelda," the king snapped, "and in a war you either kill the soldiers on one side or on the other."
"I know that," she said, seeming upset, "but to fight so heartlessly against his own people..."
"What did you expect?"
"I don't know," she said, "I expected him to defend himself and him, but not to take such a passion in killing us." She looked down. "I guess I didn't think about it."
Link winced as a Gerudo healer rubbed disinfectant into a gash on his chest.
"That stings, can't you be more careful?" he snapped at her, pushing her hand away.
She tossed the cloth she'd been using at him with frustration. "You are the squirmiest little beast I've ever had to treat, how can you be so jumpy when you don't even flinch while fighting?"
Link brought his arms over his chest to defend the wound. "I'm not paying attention then, I don't feel it. But I do feel this, and I don't like it. I never had anyone tend my wounds before and I did fine."
She narrowed her eyes. "You ended up with a back that looks like a tic-tac-toe board, and you were lucky not to get worse than scars. Nabooru doesn't want to take any chances, and frankly neither do I." She made an attempt to grab his arm to hold him down, but with no luck.
Link gave her a gentle kick in the stomach with his bare foot to keep her away. "I don't care about scars if it saves me extra pain," he said, "and my back isn't that bad."
"You can't see it," the Gerudo smirked. "And this isn't just to keep from getting scars, it to keep from getting infected and dying. Now stop being childish and let me heal it!"
They struggled for a minute until Link fell of the cot he was on and laded hard on the ground. He moaned at the new bruises that he could feel forming, but finally let her do her job.
He was in a foul mood to begin with, and the healer was really just an innocent bystander who was bothering him at a bad time. He knew she didn't deserve this treatment, but he was too grumpy to care.
The battle had been a bigger success than they had expected. A few dozen Gerudo had run together when the retreat was called, so the Hylians would follow them, while the rest ran in different directions and then came back to loot the bodies. They had come out of the fight with over a hundred horses among other things.
But Link couldn't help thinking of all the men lying on the ground, and that he had killed some of them. Guilt was running wild through his mind, this time a hundred-fold worse than ever before. He had never killed a person before, only monsters. Monsters didn't scream when he ran them through, they didn't bleed, they didn't look at him with agony in their faces, and when they died they burned away, they didn't leave bodies behind to haunt him.
It was no comfort that the Gerudo seemed to regard him as a bit of a hero for his ruthlessness. Everyone he met seemed to tell him how wonderful he had been, praising him for his killing. It made him feel even worse.
Link watched the healer stomp out, at least she didn't treat him like a hero, Link thought. But then, she must have dozens more patients to see to before she got to rest.
Link climbed back onto his cot in the make shift tent he had been given and lay down. He should sleep, he supposed, there would be another battle soon enough. This time reinforcements would come to join them, their odds were far better and they expected to win. Link shut his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
He snapped his eyes open again, trying to shake the image out of his mind. He just needed to clear his head. After a moment he relaxed and shut his eyes once more.
Link rubbed his head. He just needed to get his mind on something else. Horses, he thought. Running wild over the Hylian plains, pounding hooves against the dirt... he shut his eyes.
Horses screaming as their riders fell dead.
Link sat up and sighed. It would be a long night.
Link sat up awake the morning before the second battle. It had been a few days since the last one and the guilt had not softened up on his mind. He had slept some, after purposely working himself to exhaustion, but it was a restless sleep full of nightmares. And yet, Link was still managing to function well, if not quite at his peak. The battle that day would be no more difficult than the last, though he could only imagine the state his mind would be in if he fought against the Hylians much more.
He sighed and watched the sun as it rose from behind the cliffs in the distance, turning the sky and gentle pink. The world was silent; nobody else was awake yet. Link set to sharpening his sword. It was a pointless task; the master sword was invincible and couldn't be worn dull by battle or sharp from his rubbing, it was what it was. But the motions comforted him somewhat, and with the turmoil in his heart he needed as much comfort as he could be given.
Hours passed and soon the Gerudo awoke as well, joining him in battle preparation.
Finally the troops were called together and Link assembled with his squad. This time many of the Gerudo were mounted on the stolen horses, but Link had refused to take one when he was offered. To ride the horse of a man he had killed made him feel sick to his stomach. Then they began the march to meet the Hylians.
The battle began much as it had before, though this time Link didn't take as much notice. He moved into the fighting with a bit more experience than before, his mind again numb for the time being as he chopped the Hylian men down.
The Hylians at first seemed to have the upper hand as they fought the already battle worn Gerudo army, but then near the middle of the battle the second troop of Gerudo soldiers came from the west and surprised the Hylians into a quick defeat.
The Hylians ran for their lives, retreating back in attempt to escape before they were surrounded and captured. The Gerudo followed.
For almost two weeks the Hylians ran, closely followed by the Gerudo, until they army was finally caught and forced to surrender.
The Gerudo army celebrated that very night, laughing, singing and feasting around a bonfire of the Hylians' armor and war supplies.
Link celebrated with them, though for different reasons. The Hylians had put all their strength into the one army, not thinking that the Gerudo would be able to defeat them. Now with that army defeated, the war would be over and peace would return, both to the land and to his mind.
It was late, near the end of the celebration, that Nabooru appeared, riding into the camp escorted by a few guards. She had been forced to stay within the safety of her fortress, but with the Hylians defeated she could safely come out to greet her soldiers.
The celebration quieted as she dismounted and got up on one of the tables to make an announcement.
"My girls," she said, "you have done extremely well. Gerudo Valley is safe!"
Cheers erupted and Nabooru waited. When all was quiet again, she continued. "But we need to make sure it stays that way, so I ask you to prepare for one more fight." She took a breath. "We need to go to the castle to show the Hylian king that we will not take such abuse, we need to make sure that the Hylians never pose a threat again!"
The Gerudo cheered, but Link did not join them.
"What?" he yelled out over the people, pushing his way through the crowd to confront Nabooru. "But you can't!"
Nabooru looked down at him, a bit annoyed. "Kid, I think we need to talk, away from all these eyes."
Link clamped his jaw tightly and helped her down, then the two of them left the other Gerudo to continue their party.
Link took her into his tent and sat down on his cot. "You've won," he said once they were settled, "you can go home now and be safe. There doesn't have to be any more killing."
Nabooru gave him a pitying look. "Poor Kid," she said, shaking her head. "You just don't understand these things."
"Then explain them to me," Link snapped.
"The Hylians are beaten for now," Nabooru said, "but they haven't changed their tune. They don't like us any more now than they did before. In a few years they'll recover from the defeat and be back with a vengeance. I can't let that happen."
"They won't come back," Link said, "I promise! Just don't attack the castle, please!"
"And how will you keep them from attacking?" Nabooru asked. "You couldn't keep this war from happening, why do you think the next one will be different?"
"The Hylians are down, they're beaten, you can't attack them like this," Link said, not able to answer her question.
"The best time to attack is when the enemy's weak," she said, "it isn't a pretty thing but it's the truth."
"You're no better than the Hylians were," Link accused, "you want to wipe them out for what they did to you!"
"I have my girls to think of," Nabooru said, "I have to make sure that the Hylians can never do this again."
"But... but..." Link found himself again without any argument. "Please!"
Nabooru smiled and patted his shoulder. "I don't expect you to follow us in this," she said, "you have served us well and I thank you for that."
Link rested his head in his hands and sighed miserably.
"Get some sleep," she told him, "I don't expect that we'll be on the same side when you wake up."
When Link awoke the next day around noon, he found that the Gerudo had left without him. The horses were all gone as well; all that was left was his tent.
Link swore under his breath, realizing that the Gerudo were on their way to the castle and he was already half a day behind. With no horse, he'd never catch up to them.
He gathered up a few things he'd need and began walking, leaving the tent still standing. He had to get to the castle as soon as he could, and his only idea right then was to get a horse from Lon lon ranch and hope he could catch up after.
He walked all day, non-stop, not even resting to eat. When night fell he was forced to take refuge in a tree to keep from being attacked by the stachild, but got no sleep. His mind was too busy worrying about the people at the castle. About Zelda.
The moment the sun rose and the stachild returned to their graves, Link jumped down from his perch and continued on his way. He reached the ranch by the afternoon and quickly began searching for Malon.
He found her feeding the horses in the stable, singing to herself. When she saw him, she didn't greet him with a smile or a 'hello', but with a high pitched scream.
"You!" she yelled, her voice high and panicky, "you're the traitor! Well, if you're here to kill me then go ahead and try!" She picked up a pitchfork and held it in shaky hands, aiming the points at Link.
Link sighed and tried to walk up to her, but she made a stab at him and he jumped back.
"Malon, I'm not here to kill you," he said, annoyed, "I need a horse!"
"A horse," she said, laughing nervously, "as if I would ever give one of my horses to you! Now stay back..."
Link, growing tired of the whole thing, made a quick grab for the pitchfork and pulled it away from the frightened ranch girl. Malon screamed again and tried to run, but Link grabbed her arm and held fast. She struggled, but soon Link managed to pin her angry arms behind her back and had her trapped.
"I won't hurt you," he yelled, "I just need a horse!"
"I-I'll never h-help you," she said through sobs.
"I don't have time for this," he said, feeling guilty over making her cry but just a bit to rushed to care right then. "The Gerudo are going to attack the castle and I have to get there first!"
"Wh-why, so you c-can help them?" Malon accused.
"No!" Link snapped, "to stop them! Or try, at least."
"B-but you're on their side," she cried, "don't t-try to trick m-me!"
"I switched back," Link said, "when they won and still wanted to attack the castle. Please, every minute that passes is a minute I could have been using to get there, there isn't any time!"
"I'll n-never help you!" she said, and though she was shaking like a leaf in December, Link could tell she meant it. She was braver than she seemed.
Briefly, Link admired the courage she must have had to stand up to him when he had her at such a disadvantage, but the extremity of the situation didn't give him time to admire her for long.
"Fine," he said, hoisting her over a shoulder, "if you won't help me then I'll just have to take a horse."
Malon screamed and beat his back with her fists, but Link ignored her. He took her into the house, tossed her on her bed, then left and locked the door. She ran to it and pounded, yelling for him to let her out, but Link again ignored her.
He stomped back into the stable and picked the nearest horse, mounted up, then raced out of the ranch. He hoped that somebody came soon to let Malon out, she had meant well. Too bad he'd had to be so rough, he thought, she would have made a good friend. But it was too late for regrets, and Link kicked the horse into a gallop as he saw the castle just on the horizon.
On horseback, Link reached the castle by nightfall, but found he was too late. The Gerudo were already there, and had penetrated the outer defenses. There was the smell of smoke, and soon Link saw flames beginning to leap at the walls. Bodies lay everywhere, dead and dying. But Link was more than used to that by now, he had only one goal in mind. He had to find Zelda and get her out of there.
He ran through blood-spattered hallways, occasionally catching a glimpse of a Hylian soldier fighting with a Gerudo. But he ran past them, his mind focused on Zelda.
He was on his way up a staircase when he stumbled over one body that caught his attention. The man coughed and Link saw that it was the king, or at least what was left of him. His legs were gone and he was bleeding to death.
"Your highness?" Link asked.
"Link?" came the muted reply, "is that you?"
Link knelt down beside the man. "Yes, it's me. I'm so sorry, about all of this."
The king shook his head weakly. "Don't be, you did nothing wrong. I was the real traitor, so wrapped up in revenge that I just couldn't see the truth..."
"Link, I just hope you know that I did mean well... I thought that I was doing the right thing."
"You don't need to justify yourself to me," Link said.
"But I do," the King answered, "you were the only one who understood. And you are the only one who will ever be able to hear me say this..."
Link bit his lip and waited.
"I was wrong. You were right. Remember that I could, at least, see things clearly in my last moments. Remember me as I am now, please."
"I will," Link said.
"And might I ask you a favor," the king asked.
"Anything," Link said.
"I'm dying now, slowly. Please, would you finish the job and put me out of my misery?"
Link swallowed. "You want me to kill you?"
"The Gerudo killed me," the king said, "I want you to speed things up."
"I... I don't think I can," Link said.
"Please, it is my last request."
Link shut his eyes and took out his sword.
The king shut his eyes as well, and Link slid the blade through the man's chest as gently as he could.
"I'm sorry," Link whispered as he put the sword back in its hilt.
He then turned and raced up the rest of the stairs to find Zelda.
At last he came to the door to her chamber and found it locked.
"I sure hope that's a good sign," he muttered to himself, and backed away to get some distance. He took a charge at the door and slammed into it, knocking it off its hinges, then stepped into Zelda's room.
He looked around, eyes darting from one object to another in search of his princess.
"If you're here to kill me," came a familiar voice, "then go ahead and try. But you may find me a bit more difficult than my father was."
"Zelda, it's me!" Link panted when he saw her, sitting at a window watching the fight below. "It's Link!"
"I know," she said coldly.
Link was startled. "But I'd never hurt you, you know that."
"I used to think so," she said, not moving her face from the window, "but then I didn't think you could kill so many Hylians either. I guess I was wrong."
"Zelda, that was war," Link defended, "it's I kill them or they kill me."
"Not from what I hear," she snapped, "you went far beyond the call of duty in those battles!"
"What are you talking about?" Link asked, "are you mad at me for fighting? You weren't when I left."
She sighed and bowed her head. "Yes. I don't know. No, I suppose not really."
"I'm mad at the world," she said, putting a hand to the glass, "for letting things like thing happen. For making people so fallible."
"I guess the world just isn't perfect," Link said, shutting the door behind him just in case any Gerudo happened to walk by, thinking to finish the royal family off.
"It's more than that," she murmured. "I could accept Ganondorf's evil, that there are monsters and demons to fight. But I didn't understand before, that even good people can make horrible mistakes. That the villains can win, the heroes can die, and that sometimes the only difference between them is the way people remember them."
She turned to him, her eyes glistening. "I thought that the good people were good and the bad people were bad. I didn't know that even my father could be so fatally flawed."
Link didn't quite understand what she was talking about, but it didn't matter right then. "Look," he said, "you can ponder this all later, we have to get out of here."
She shook her head. "No, I want to stay."
"You don't understand," Link said, "the castle is on fire! You have to get out now, before you're killed!"
She looked back out the window. "I know that. I know that we have lost, and now I have to accept it."
"Right, so come on and accept it once we're outside," Link urged, "there isn't much time left."
"I won't go," Zelda said flatly.
"Princess," Link warned, "if you don't come, I'll pick you up and carry you out. I could, you know."
"Yes, you could," she admitted. "Very easily I suppose. But I won't go of my own will, and I beg you not to force me."
"Why do you want to die?!" Link asked with exasperation.
"Do you think I was wrong to stay?" she asked.
"What?" Link wondered, "don't change the subject!"
"I'm not," she said. "I want to know. Do you think I was wrong?"
Link sighed. "I don't know, I guess not."
"I'm not sure," she said. "I think I may have been wrong."
"...so you're punishing yourself?" Link asked, trying to make sense of her.
"No," she shook her head. "But I made my choice, right or wrong, and now I have to follow it through. I chose to stand by my land when she was wrong, and now I'll stand by her as she dies."
"Going down with the ship?" Link asked, frustrated.
"In a way, I suppose." She looked at him. "Are you going to make me leave?"
Link rubbed the bridge of his nose and sat dawn next to her. "I... I don't know. Do you think I was wrong to leave?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe you were. But I don't think it's my place to decide; I guess that's a thing that's meant to be left between a person and their Goddesses."
"I suppose it is."
"So will you make me leave?"
Link sighed again. "No. I think you're wrong to stay here, but I think it would be more wrong of you to leave if you didn't believe in it."
She smiled, though it did not reach her eyes. "Thank you."
"But I won't leave you here," he added.
"I'm staying with you," he said.
"But Link," she argued, "you said yourself that I'll die, so will you."
"Link, you've given up so much for me already, you lost your childhood so you could fight Ganondorf... I don't want to take your life as well."
"You won't be. You're right that I gave up alot. Maybe it was for you. Maybe it was for Hyrule. I don't know. I gave my life to causes, and it wasn't really by choice. But this is my choice now. My life belonged to others, but my death will be my own."
She said nothing, but leaned forward and kissed him softly. No more words were spoken that night; there was little else to say. As the flames rose higher and higher, they held each other close and greeted their fate together, all regrets drifting away with the smoke.
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