Chapter 7: There’s No Party Like It…
Link flexed his arm, holding it supine and then turned the wrist and elbow back again. He was wearing loose clothing, gray-white night clothes and sitting with pillows behind his back within the glow of his lantern in the back of one of the wagons on the edge of the camp, a warm blanket over his outstretched legs. He was trying to ignore the sounds – mostly creaking – from the other wagon at the far edge of the camp.
Colin walked over to the wagon and hopped up into it, sitting down next to Link. “Got some stretch back into it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Link answered. “It’s pretty well healed. It could stand to loosen a little bit more. I need to keep exercising it. My strength’s back, though. It doesn’t hurt to pick anything up anymore at all.”
“It healed quick – for a break.”
“What can I say? Potions work wonders.”
Colin winced at an especially loud wooden groan coming from the other wagon as its bed jerked against its wheels. That wagon was a rather little wagon and relatively light in construction.
“What are Shad and Ashei doing in there?”
“Making love,” Link answered. “They’re lucky to get the privacy. Most of our couples would envy their position.”
“If Malo were here, he’d suggest they make some rupees turning their little wagon-at-the-far-end-of-camp into a love hotel.”
Link laughed, his breath a light steam in the crisp air. Autumn had come to the western lands. It painted the grasses in gold and all the trees in shades of fire. Unfortunately, it meant that time had run out for getting through the
, at least according to Link. The group was camped in the foothills of the mountains. Sam wished to proceed, fearing for their supplies and the sanity of the caravan members, all very weary of long travel. Link insisted that the pass was too dangerous right now, that they had missed their “window” and that it was best to make camp here for the duration of the winter. He knew how to make what they had serviceable for housing against the winter cold – which would be relatively light here. Stone Dagger Pass
Link said that he expected only a few light snows down on the plain, while the Pass would be choked with impassible ice and constant blizzards. He said that they could stretch their supplies and supplement them with the ripening fall fruits and game. If the vote was cast, they could even go back to their last outpost, a little Hylian military fort they’d left not long ago and restocked their medical supplies at.
Sam did not want to do that. He was uncomfortable with the wait and did not want to risk running out of food – no matter how good Link and some of the other party members were at hunting. He worried that they’d be prey for bulbins again, or even moblins, which roamed this area. In either case, the matter was to be decided in the morning.
“Are you worried about tomorrow?” Colin asked.
“A little,” Link answered. “I think everyone will see some sense. All they have to do is look up and see the snows down the mountains.”
“Everyone is pretty antsy. They want to claim their lands. They want to have decent lodgings in the budding town out there in the Valley. They just want the trip to be over. I… I think it’s rather a grand adventure, but most folks just want a place to settle.”
“You seem… beyond antsy, Link. Are you hiding something? You’re a little pale. Are you afraid of something?”
Link sighed heavily. “To be honest, yes.”
“There aren’t monsters in those mountains, are there?”
“If there were, you know I could handle them. No, no monsters, but there might be ghosts.”
“Ghosts? What do you mean?”
“As Wolf, I’ve not been a perfect guide, Colin. I ran into a situation just like this a few years back. I was with the Rising-Dawn party. That wasn’t a clever name; it was lead by a woman named Martina Rising and a man named Silvio Dawn. A large party, ten members stronger than this one. They insisted upon taking the pass in late Autumn, despite my warnings. Ice, snow, wagon wheels breaking, horses and oxen skidding and breaking legs, frigid, bitter cold – it was brutal. The blizzard conditions threatened to bury us all. Food ran low quickly – what with people eating extra to keep up the calories they were burning off.
I headed off the path to hunt when the avalanche happened. It wasn’t large and it didn’t sweep the entire party away, but it did cut me off from them. I tried everything to pass it. Epona nearly froze to death. Trapped where I was, I thought of eating her more than once.”
Colin gasped. Link loved his horse more than almost anything.
“I… managed to survive by doing… interesting things. Nothing immoral, just nothing I can tell you about. I followed the ways of the wild, you might say, ‘lived more animal than man.’ I could see all of Epona’s ribs by the time a path thawed enough so we could get through. She managed to find a little green vegetation. She’s… the toughest horse I’ve ever seen. By all logic, she really should be dead right now. When I searched for the Rising-Dawn party what I found….what I found…”
“Link, easy. Easy. What did you find?”
“Well, first, there was the field of bones – half-frozen in bloody ice. Remains of oxen, of horses, haphazardly butchered by some of the marks I saw on the leg bones. Wagons, lodged up, frozen into their wheel-trenches.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. I imagine many would have to eat their animals in an emergency.”
“It’s not that.” Link shot Colin a glare as serious as a heart-attack. “It was when I… saw… I came closer to the main group of wrecked wagons. Saw Missus Smitty’s arm hangin’ out one the back of one of ‘em, all half-frozen and purple without Missus Smitty attached to it. Could tell it was her’s by this bracelet she always wore. Saw Mr. Rising, Lady Dawn and a few of the other party members huddled around a pathetic campfire, fingers purple and black from frostbite. They were taking turns with a knife stripping little bits of meat off a half-cooked hunk of meat, looked like a boiled heart.”
“They did, by their own confession. Of the party, aside from me, only five lived. Some were killed by the avalanche. Some caught sick – easy to do when the cold suppresses the immune system. Some died by accidents. Whittled down to ten, the food supplies ran out. They began to starve. They continued to starve after they’d eaten the animals. As people dropped, survival instincts took over and the survivors treated the dead as ‘gifts’ to aid their survival. Old Silvio never lost faith that I would come back for them, but bemoaned my lateness. I was unable to save them… unable to save them from…from…that.”
“Did they become monsters?”
“No. The remaining five were just men – and women. Just people, and so remained. They didn’t… take any pleasure from their meals, is what I am saying. In fact, I doubt they will be able to take pleasure in a normal meal ever again. When we came out of the pass… I didn’t lead them to Serenity. I lead them beyond. They didn’t think they could live in the Valley with other settlers around them with what they’d done. They feared the story getting out. People would surely treat them as monsters, even though they just did what they had to do. Silvio, Martina and I went back to the Pass in summer to try to honorably bury what remained of the dead. I am only telling you this story because you are someone I trust. You are not to tell anyone.”
“Not even Ilia?”
“Not even Ilia. Maybe I will tell it to her someday. It’s just that I worry about the safety and good names of the five survivors… if their tale is known.”
“I… am filled with regret.”
“You couldn’t have done anything. There were circumstances beyond your control.”
“Even so, I’m determined not to let it happen again. This is why I’ve been in screaming matches with Sam over this. Stubborn mule.”
“I’m sure Shad and Ashei can back you up about the dangers of the Pass. They’ve been through it.”
“I brought something to show you.”
Colin drew a small, leather-bound book from the satchel he carried. He opened it up to show pages of drawings done in thick graphite pencil. He flipped through it casually. Link looked at the scenes of fields, mountains, a stream, various animals and plants and portraits of various people in the caravan. The boy turned to a picture of Epona’s face, drawn close in to show her eye. Then he turned to one of Link, shaggy-haired without his Hero’s hat.
“That’s what I wanted to show you,” he said. “I was wondering if you liked your portrait. I didn’t say anything - that’s you when you were distracted, watching Dinah dance the last time she preformed for us.”
Link was smiling. “You even got part of the sling there… heh! I would never have stayed so still if I knew I was being watched. You used to like drawing as a little kid but you’ve gotten… good!”
“I wanted to keep a visual journal of the journey,” Colin said. “I figured this kind of portrait was more ‘you’ than with the Hero’s Clothes and all. You only seem to like wearing them for the kids… and in battle.”
“Because that time of my life has passed,” Link said simply. “In Hyrule, a Hero is only needed for a time, to a specific purpose. I fulfilled that… and had my body scarred and my heart broken. The Master Sword is back in its resting place, awaiting another time when the evils in the land become too much for it to bear. It just doesn’t seem right for me to wear the Goddesses-gifted Clothes anymore – since I’m not wielding that sacred sword.”
“You’re still a Hero, Link.”
“Sometimes I don’t know.”
Colin turned to a page that depicted a young Gerudo woman.
“Neeru?” Link inquired.
“Do you like her?”
“She was making goo-eyes at me the whole time we were in Tantari. She was really friendly to me, and yes, I really got to like her a lot. I didn’t… do anything with her though.”
“Lemme guess, her father wouldn’t let you.”
“Gerudo have… their seasons and such. They really aren’t like us. They’re starting to raise Hylian-born sons within their culture, but they haven’t traditionally been friendly to men except the Gerudo-kings born to them. Their genes are very strange. They need men, but don’t necessarily want men. They’ll like you for a time, but generally want any man they take gone after they’ve … utilized him… I guess is a good word for it. If you decide to go with her, you need to be aware of that. Some Gerudo have longstanding husbands – they’ll do that if they think a particular person is worthy to father all of their daughters. Even so, they don’t want them around all the time, don’t want to keep house. Men with Gerudo wives like that tend to be travelers. They stop in every half-year or so, stay with their lady for a few weeks, then are off to their business and out of the way.”
“I could do that,” Colin replied. “I set out on this journey just because I wanted to see the new lands. Ilia wants to start a homestead and ranch for herself, but I just really wanted to see everything that was being reported about. I didn’t really know what I’d do once we reached our destination and I still don’t. I think I’d like being a traveling guide, like you. This journey and you… have already taught me some of what I need to know. Maybe you can train me further?”
“I think you already know all you need to.”
“You ain’t going up them mountains.”
“Link, I have to. I am not going to abandon my post. I didn’t think you would.”
Colin gave Link a disappointed look as he turned his horse to follow the wagons.
“Don’t you remember what I told you?”
“Even if I die… I’m going. You taught me that kind of courage.”
After the young man trotted off to meet the rest of the party, Link turned back to Shad and Ashei. They were in their wagon behind him.
“You aren’t going?” Ashei asked.
“You know what the pass is like,” Link answered. “Those fools.”
“This seems out of character for you,” Shad commented.
“Take care of my horse,” Link answered. “I am going, but I’m not going to take the same route.”
“What?” Ashei yelped, her eyes going wide.
“Don’t follow. You’ll only get trapped up in there, like they will be. Hyrule needs your research.”
“You’re going without your horse?” Shad asked.
“Yep. I don’t want her to die. If I die, at least she’ll live.”
“But you will die if you go up there alone, you idiot!” Ashei yelled.
“I’m a Hero, right? I can handle it. I… I know the kinds of trails through that pass that only the wolves know.”
With that, Link brought a small object out of his belt-pouch. It enlarged into a large, circular object, which he boarded. In a flash, he was off, the object spinning beneath his feet.
“Just what in Din’s Knickers was that?” Ashei asked.
“May the wisdom of Nayru guide him, and them all,” Shad said, his head bowed.
The trail winds ever onward…
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