Chapter 8: Songdog
Frigid. Aching into your bones, freezing you to your soul bitter. This is what the members of Sam’s caravan felt in the mountains. The
was choked with ice and snow in thick blankets. There was ice, then snow, frozen over the top with ice, and now more snow was falling in a blizzard. Stone Dagger Pass
They’d come upon an eerie sight; broken wagons frozen to the ground, abandoned by some earlier party. Daggers of ice dripped down from their beds and off the tops of their wheels.
There used to be some graves visible, marked with simple wooden markers. They were buried under a desert of white now.
Against Link’s wishes, Colin had told Ilia what had happened to him. He was sure this must be the site of the ill-fated Rising-Dawn party’s camp. He was sure he heard the howls of distressed spirits on the wind as he huddled with Ilia beneath a blanket, a blob among many waiting out the storm. Conditions had been terrible for days. The party had already lost two to hypothermia – Kau and Maru, the Zora couple. They could not be buried, so their bodies had been placed in haphazard coffins built from one of the supply wagons. The party was using the rest of the wagon for firewood.
They would have used one of the abandoned wagons, but the supplies were low enough to consolidate goods (they still had food, just not much of it) and the abandoned wagons were frozen over too hard to make dismantling them possible. Also, everyone felt too eerie about it, as if it would be like desecrating a tomb.
Rock, the Goron and his horse were likewise in bad shape. The man obsessively covered and bandaged any small scratch on his skin and on the skin of his animal. If water seeped into even the smallest wound and froze, the resulting fractures to the stone-like parts of their bodies would be disastrous.
“W-we’re going to die out here, aren’t we?” Ilia chattered.
“There’s hope,” said Colin. “I think the blizzard might be letting up. Just stay close.”
“L-Link,” Ilia whispered.
“I’d… I’d rather be huddled up close to Link. You’re… kind of like a little brother, but he… There, I said it – even though the jerk abandoned us.”
“If he didn’t, he’d probably die, too. He warned us.”
“Do you suppose he’s going to come for us? It doesn’t seem right for him to… up and leave knowing we were headed into danger.”
“I don’t know, Ilia. He was pretty… shaken. Maybe he thought it best not to watch us die – or resort to what the one party resorted to, but no, I think he had something in mind. He could be summoning a rescue party of some sort for us, even now.”
“With this weather, he could have died along the way,” Ilia groused. “One can’t expect a Hero to ride in and save the day every time. He’s mortal, too.”
Something appeared over a snow bank between the shadows of fir trees. Howling echoed in the air.
“Wolfos!” Ilia exclaimed, on the alert. The party’s surviving horses whinnied in fright.
The something among the snows became closer – a pale gray shadow in the haze of falling white. Pointed ears were visible among a shaggy coat. Colin and Ilia could make out what it was.
“It’s a wolf!” Colin said. “It’s not an ice-wolfos, it’s a normal wolf.”
“This is still bad,” Ilia said. “Should get your sword.”
“No… he looks familiar…somehow.”
The wolf let out a gruff sound, not quite a bark, not quite a growl. He jerked his head sharply in what might be a “follow me” motion in a human. Colin and Ilia were left puzzled, but stayed wrapped and huddled where they were. Men were going to their wagons to fetch weapons.
“He looks like the guardian spirit wolf I used to see in Kakariko, when we were younger,” Colin continued. “Do you remember, Ilia? There was that wolf that ran through the village sometimes, back during the Twilight War. Talo thought it was an evil monster, but it never hurt anyone and would just run around, sniffing for stuff in the shadows, then it would vanish.”
Ilia sat up sharply and stared. “It’s Link,” she said.
“The eyes. Look at that wolf’s eyes, Colin. I don’t know how to explain it. I thought they were just stories to mess with the heads of children… I’d know those eyes anywhere.”
“You might be delirious from the cold.”
The wolf barked again. Colin did, indeed, notice the beast’s eyes.
“Whoever it is, it wants us to follow it.”
“I’m going,” Ilia proclaimed, standing up and letting Colin have the blanket. “I’m getting my horse and following. You and Sam and the rest can follow me if you want or stay behind, but I am following that wolf.”
It was then that Colin sprang up and ran through the small encampment shouting “Hey! Everyone!”
The party, all half-frozen and hopeless, was willing to trust anything at that point. Goddesses, light sprits, or the ghost of the Hero of Time himself could have shown up and they would have followed them or him without question.
The wagons rolled through a wide passage that wasn’t covered too deeply, or iced too precariously, following the trail of a lone dark-furred wolf. They followed the beast until the snows ceased and until they were down the slope of the other side of the mountains, rained upon by leaves falling from brown, red and golden trees. The wolf had led the party from winter back into autumn and down safely to the other side of the Stone Dagger Pass.
Then it ran off and disappeared.
Sam was getting his bearings and helping caravan members get theirs and to treat frostbite and other small injuries when Link came strolling out of the woods, clad in his full Hero’s regalia, twirling his sword in one hand.
Before Sam could pick his jaw up and ask the younger man where he had been and how he had gotten there, Ilia tackled him in a hug.
“Ilia… hey, it’s alright!” Link laughed.
“Thank you…you…you jerk!” was all she managed to say.
“Shad and Ashei are taking care of Epona for me,” he said, answering an anticipated question before it was asked. “I’ll send for her when the seasons are better suited to travel.”
“By Ganondorf’s beard!” Sam exclaimed, “You WALKED through the Pass?”
Ilia knowingly shook her head. It was apparent that the trail boss had not realized what she had realized.
“I don’t think you’d believe my story if I told you. Let’s just say I have my ways. I am a very good wilderness traveler, after all.”
“Indeed. Survive through that, come out the other side walkin’ ta meet us when we barely came out wagons and all. You’re a mysterious man, Link.”
Mr. Flake greeted him. “I am afraid that our fortunate meeting is sullied by a bit of sorrow.”
“Hmm?” Link asked.
“Two of our members died,” Sam said matter-of-factly. “I suppose we’re at ground soft enough to bury them now. I don’t know that they have any family to inform. We managed to slapdash a couple of coffins for ‘em, put ‘em in one of the empty supply wagons. Died of hypothermia… got sleepy no matter how much we all tried to keep them awake and next we know, they were frozen up stiff as boards.”
“Who died?” Link asked.
“Kau and Maru - the Zora pair. At least they went together, husband and wife, not separated.”
“May I see them?” Link asked.
“Why would you want to?” Sam asked.
“I think it is too late to speak to their spirits,” Flake sighed.
“Just let me see them, okay?”
Sam shrugged and pointed to one of the smaller wagons. Everyone was aghast as they watched Link hop up in it and quickly drag out both caskets to the ground and take the lid off one.
“What is he doing?” Mrs. Taylor gasped.
Link ran his hands over the ice that enrobed Maru – the Zora female. He stroked her face, ran his hand along her shoulder and rubbed at one of her hands, half-frozen in clear ice. He then drew a lantern from his belt pouch, lit it with a match and tossed flaming oil over the unfortunate woman.
Two of the party men grabbed him. “Just what are you doing? Why are you desecrating a body like this?”
“Let me go!” Link demanded. He held up his right hand, covered in slime. “She’s not dead! Her skin is sliming, it means she’s not dead!”
“What are you talking about?” Dinah demanded.
“Don’t any of you know anything about Zoras?” Link groused. There were many shaking heads.
“A little,” Colin volunteered. “I helped take care of King Ralis back in Kakariko during the time of the Twilight.”
“It’s okay, Colin,” Link sighed, “You wouldn’t know, would you? You and Ilia didn’t take care of the prince for hypothermia – he was dehydrated. Two entirely different things. I suppose none of you have had much contact with Zoras. Let me explain. Do any of you remember the story of what happened to the Zora’s Domain during the Twilight War?”
“Why, yes,” Mr. Taylor answered, “The Queen was executed by the beasts and the Domain froze up.”
“I was there,” Link sighed, “Not when the Queen was killed, I was too late to prevent that, but when the whole area was frozen. The Zora people were all frozen up inside their own waters. Solid…”
“… Like our dear Zora couple!” Mr. Flake exclaimed.
“Exactly,” Link replied. “Zoras have… a compound in their blood that allows them to freeze solid for a certain amount of time. It puts them in a state of suspended animation. It’s deathlike, but not death. Deep inside, the heart and the brain remain soft and viable. Zoras are vulnerable to cold, but have this survival mechanism. When their environment gets too cold for them, they start going into a hibernative state. They sleep so freezing will be painless. If they aren’t frozen for too long, they can be brought back. So, I want everyone to help me! Lay these coffins out in the sun, get some fires gong to warm them! When they start to come around, I want someone to get the big pot so we can warm up enough hot water to give them both a good swabbing-down!”
Link went back to rubbing Maru’s liberated hand and to casting fire in the air over her with his lantern. “We need to bring them up slowly,” he continued. “Too quick will be very painful for them.”
The ice dripped and fell in sheets off parts of the Zora-woman’s body. Colin helped Ilia pour heated water over her husband, Kau. Maru blinked her eyes open to find Link stroking her cheek and her head-fins. “Easy,” he said.
“What? What happened?” she asked. “We were in the Pass… cold… Kau? Kau?”
“Here,” the male Zora gasped when he heard her voice. “Next to you, I think.”
“You froze up,” Link explained, “both of you. You had a natural reaction to the extreme cold. It saved your lives.”
“What is this?” Maru asked, her free hand finding the wooden edges of her casket.
“We thought you were dead,” Ilia answered. “We’re sorry. We didn’t know you could freeze up like you did.”
“We would have buried you if the Hero hadn’t come along and started thawing you out,” said Colin.
Maru looked up at Link and smiled beatifically as he rubbed life back into her thawing legs. “Thank you,” she said weakly.
The deadfall-fueled campfire popped and cracked that night. Everyone had shared a meager meal and people cuddled into blankets for warmth. Link and Ilia were wrapped in one together. The two of them were apart from everyone else.
“I know you were the wolf that guided us,” she whispered. “You and it had the same eyes, but I don’t know how that can be. Does the Goddesses’ Chosen Hero also become a guardian spirit of some fashion?”
“I don’t know if I can explain it,” Link answered. “It all began during the Twilight Crisis – when I took up the Hero’s call. It’s sort of a dark power. I use a dark power.”
“A dark power?” Ilia gasped.
“It’s okay. I seem to be able to control it. At first, it could only be cleaved from me by the light of the Master Sword and then, I realized, I had that kind of light within me – the things for which the Master Sword chose me to be its master. The thing that turns me into a wolf is a crystallized shadow that I keep carefully wrapped in a secret place among my storage. If I uncover and touch it, it becomes a part of me and turns me into a wolf. I can will it out of me using all the power of my inner ‘light’ when I want to be in my original form again. I rarely use it, but there are times when I find it useful. I’ve been told that I become a wolf instead of something else because it reflects aspects of my soul – my wilder inner being or something like that.”
Ilia cuddled closer to him, shivering into him. “Does the wolf part of you ever… take over?”
“In some ways yes, but never completely. I always have enough of a human mind to realize who I am. My world is opened up to a world of senses that I don’t have normally. Everything smells different. Humans smell scents all blended together. A wolf’s nose picks out a multitude of individual scents, layered over the top of one another and all kinds of scents, too. Did you know that snow had a smell? I didn’t, either. Even Poes have a reek to them – sharp, dusty and sour, like dry bones. Manure actually smells…good… to a canine. I won’t tell you what living human skin smells like to a wolf, but I will tell you that I could smell the living blood beneath it. I also get certain urges as a wolf. I crave raw meat. I feel urges to hunt and to roll in things. I don’t mind putting my tongue to certain parts of my body…”
“Alright, alright,” Link laughed. “All I can tell you is that it’s weird being another species. I’m always myself, though, the same inner soul.”
“That’s good to know. A wolf that will never hurt any of us. A good wolf.”
“The wild ones are not bad – I’m talking about normal wolves, not wolfos. They mostly just want to be free, left alone to hunt and to raise their pups away from humans. The ones that take to picking off livestock usually only do so because they’re in dire need because someone’s edged them out of their territory or they’ve found out that livestock are easy pickings. If you had a litter of pups to feed, what would you rather do? Risk yourself against a wild boar or pick off an inattentive Ordon goat?”
“A lot of people who settle out here have problems with the wildlife like that. Most don’t know how to manage their animals.”
“You were always a good rancher.”
Sam walked up to the pair. He smiled playfully. “A couple of lovebirds, eh?”
“Sam!” Ilia shot, her face red.
“We just wanted to keep warm,” Link offered. “Join us. We’ll have a blanket-party.”
“Link!” Ilia yelped. Both he and Sam laughed.
“I just had a question on my mind,” Sam said, “About how you got down the mountain without us. I suppose you used a different route, but why didn’t you come for us?”
“You fired me right before you left, remember?” Link replied, “We fought and you said I could go do unholy stuff with a winged-blue bear and then you headed off.”
“Yeah, about that,” Sam said nervously, “You’re re-hired, obviously, but… with you being a big damn Hero and all, why didn’t you come with us? It seems you were expecting us to make it. You met us with perfect timing. We were trapped up there, though, lost the path.”
“Then how did you get down the mountain?”
“It was the darndest thing, really,” Sam confessed. “We followed this wolf. It acted like it was smart – had human smarts - and led us the whole way. Maybe we’d all gone crazy.”
Link put the blanket over Ilia’s shoulders and stood up. He looked up to the mountains against the clear night sky. He raised his head and let loose a perfect wolf’s howl.
The howl was answered by the chorus of a wild pack.
Everyone in the caravan snapped to attention.
Link smiled a gentle smile.
“That wolf was… working for you? It was one of yours?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
Another howl sounded in the air, smaller and with a higher pitch.
“What was that, now?” Sam asked.
“By the sound of it,” Link answered, “I’d say that one was a coyote.”
The trail winds ever onward…
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