Chapter XXII - Conviction
I fell to my death. The wind from the chasm drowned me in its howl.
Zelda's eyes widened as I descended, her face white with disbelief.
The black mask slipped from my face, flying into the grey clouds above.
"As you wish."
Even if she could not remember me… just a glance upon her face, uttering I loved her once more was worth all those years of tortuous waiting. Despite my regrets, I could die in peace.
I called her name.
…And the sun appeared, encompassing Zelda in its wake, as if it shed its light only for her.
Then a whisper of my name…
Her cries pierced through me and I watched in horror as Zelda followed after me, and my willful submission turned to urgent desperation.
She reached for my hand, and I hers, and suddenly a strange gust of wind slowed me for a moment. I grasped her hand, feeling whole once again and pulled her to me, saying nothing; her foolish decision stunned me to silence. My anger and grief were overwhelming; I had journeyed the seas and distant lands, strengthened every part of myself, in order to return to her.
Yet she would perish still after all I had done.
Zelda clung to me, whispering unfamiliar words in ancient Hylian, but I knew in her weakened state no amount of magic would save us. The wind whistled in my ears as we fell head first into the ravine and I held her against me, awaiting death to take us.
But then we slowed.
She repeated the incantation once more, her voice breaking and fearful as we slowed further. The ground was nearly upon us and I held my breath, drawing Zelda closer.
Suddenly I felt something wrap about us, much akin to tendrils of silk… and we stopped mere feet from the ground. Just as I exhaled, the protective force released us and we fell against the earth, tumbling down the rest of the incline. I continued to hold Zelda tightly, trying to shield her from the sharp rocks. But my efforts were in vain; I heard a sickening scrape, and her body slackened.
A ghost of a whisper sounded in my ear as her consciousness faded and I cursed inwardly. The ground evened not moments later and we collapsed onto the bank of a river, Zelda rolling out of my arms. I lay there upon the wet earth, feeling the cold water run across my arm and leg as I caught my breath, wanting nothing more than to give into my exhaustion. By some miracle, we had survived the fall; my body ached, begging me never to move again, but a glance to Zelda's tangled limbs, my heart stopped and I feared the worst. If her life ended now… I would not be able to endure.
I was nothing without her.
Ignoring my pain, I unsteadily made my way to Zelda and pulled her out of the water. I ripped off my gloves to move her hair and listen for her breath. It was faint. I sighed in relief, noticing the subtle rise and fall of her chest, then gently tipped her face to me; she did not stir.
Past memories flashed in my mind and I recalled the time I slayed the beast to save her life; how after the poison took over, I held her so close, and how desperately I pleaded with her to wake from her haunting nightmares.
It seemed a lifetime ago, and now it felt like a dream to finally be at her side once again; the only dream I had known during my years at sea.
"Zelda," I called, "open your eyes." Again she did not stir. "Do not make this all for naught." I bowed my head to hers and traced her jaw, feeling her slight yet steady pulse beneath my fingertips. I brushed against a wetness behind her ear and looked up, finding blood beginning to trickle down her neck from a wound hidden by her hair. I whipped the blood away with my thumb, hoping the injury was slight, yet alarm rose steadily within me; her stillness was just as frightening as her deafening screams at the hooded man's hands.
Just as I moved to retrieve dressings from my belt pocket, Zelda's brows knotted together and a small moan escaped her lips.
I smoothed her face. "Please," I begged, "wake up."
Finally her eyes fluttered opened and I breathed her name.
Zelda searched my eyes as though she knew not who I was. "…Link…?" Her voice was weak with disbelief. Slowly she lifted a trembling hand to my face, flinching when it rested upon my cheek… as if I would disappear by her touch.
She pressed her fingers to my skin and softly gasped, her eyes widening. "You're alive…?"
Throat tightening, I could only smile weakly. I had waited so long to return to her. There was much I wanted, needed, to say—but could not.
Her lips trembled as tears sprung from her eyes, and she pulled herself to me with unexpected strength. Her body began to shudder and I simply held her, murmuring her name as I stroked her hair, trying to console her. I felt her muffled cries against my shoulder and I closed my eyes, attempting to keep the influence of her emotions from my own. I kissed her head, swallowing the tension in my throat.
Never again would I let us be parted.
Time became infinite while we took comfort in one another's arms. Slowly, I pulled away, wanting to gaze upon Zelda without reserve… to find myself in the violets of her eyes. I could feel my heart pounding furiously as I took her face into my hands.
And then Zelda looked upon me, her eyes wet, brows knotted in disbelief, her breath shallow… she caused my eyes to burn.
She whispered my name and I could no longer keep myself from her.
I pressed my lips longingly to hers, tasting her bittersweet tears, conveying all the words I could not speak.
She whimpered softly and placed her hands against mine, returning my kiss with reserved ardency.
Then suddenly, a pain I had not felt in four years returned. My hand burned with such intensity, I broke away. At that same moment, Zelda withdrew, clutching the back of her right hand, staring at me in confusion… in realization. The burning quickly dulled to an irritating tingle and I disregarded it, refusing to let it separate me from her touch.
"Tell me you are not an illusion," she wept, her eyes telling of fragility.
I shook my head and took her into my arms once again.
"Are you truly…?"
"I'm alive, Zelda."
Tears slipped down her face as she hesitantly pressed her hands against my chest, feeling the quickening of my heart. "All these years… you were…" Her voice died away and I kissed her tenderly.
"Forgive me," I pleaded against her mouth. "Had there been a way, sooner…"
"How can this be?" she whispered, her voice breaking. "You… you were dead."
"Death cannot keep me from you," I said gently. Her eyes widened in the slightest, stilled in remembrance. I sighed, resting my forehead against hers. "I swore I would return." Zelda continued to weep softly as I recalled my bitterness upon returning to Hyrule, the very night of the Celebration of Peace. I journeyed to the castle grounds, readying myself to face the life I had been torn from, and when I looked upon Zelda for the first time in four years, I nearly forgot myself. However, seeing her on the arm of Ganondorf… I feared I was too late. After I learned of their engagement, I sorrowed that I could never reveal myself to her and when her eyes met mine for that one moment during the night, I fell into further despair for I knew I would never be rid of my love for her.
I was angry the trials I had been through were all for naught, yet I was dismayed she seemed to have forgotten me completely. We had sworn ourselves to one another, yet now… Zelda was Ganondorf's, perhaps lost to me forever.
For this reason alone, I had not planned to reveal myself during our escape from the hooded man. I wanted to rescue her and nothing more… by my love and duty as her Guardian.
But then disguised as Raven, when I spoke of myself, she was nearly undone. I was consumed with guilt at the sight of her grief and her words…
"I died that day!"
Yet hope was born in me once again; she had not rid herself of me entirely. I tried to learn the truth as Raven, letting my anger get the best of me, and I regretted being so harsh with her; I had to know if she loved me still.
I took a deep breath, trying to suppress the conflict within me. "Truly you believed me dead?"
Zelda's eyes fell from mine and she and turned away, taking my hand from her face as if unworthy of my touch. She nodded her head in shame as she pressed a hand against her heart, attempting to silence her crying.
I whispered her name, but she would not face me. "Why do you turn from me?"
"…For so long… I have kept everything locked away," she lamented, inhaling sharply. "And now that you are here…I dare not believe it."
I took her hand and placed it at my heart. "Do you not remember my words in the gardens so long ago?"
"By this you shall know…"
Her breath stilled.
"…I will always come for you."
She clutched my tunic. "Always, you had been at my side; I knew not how to be without you. Though I felt my heart beating, blood coursing though my veins… I was not alive. The only way to endure was to rid myself of you entirely." She bowed her head and continued with an uneven sigh. "You did all you could to return to me yet I… I did all I could to forget you. Link… I—"
"Zelda," I interrupted, lifting her face back to me. I knew now her love for me had not waned. "Do not further relive your suffering for my sake," I said. "I am just as guilty for doubting; I believed you had cast your feelings for me aside. I meant not to reveal myself to you… that is why I wore a mask and spoke with such cruelty." Her face changed subtly, and I knew she had been hurt by this knowledge. "I'm sorry to have caused you such grief," I said sincerely.
Her violet eyes welled with tears once again. "I am disgraced by my weakness," she whispered as her hands moved hesitantly to my face, tracing the small scar above my brow and another upon my cheek. "Please forgive me."
I brushed her tears away, and spoke the words to compensate for my ineloquence. "As you wish."
A laugh—a quiet sob—fell from her lips and she smiled ever so slightly, the heaviness in my heart dispelling.
Her hands grazed my neck, burying her fingers in my hair, and I pulled her to me, reveling in the warmth of her body, the scent of her skin. I closed my eyes, fighting back my overwhelming feelings of relief, and held tightly to her. With her beside me, the burdens I carried, and the ones before us mattered not.
Zelda and I were together once again.
I leaned into her, wanting to feel her lips upon mine once more…
…When suddenly the thunderous roll of galloping horses sounded from above the cliff, time returning with each echo.
I was shaken violently back to reality, all too aware of my uncertainty about the next course of action.
Zelda stiffened in my arms, looking to me with worried eyes as if only now aware of our circumstance. "Prince Ganondorf," she whispered gravely, holding me loosely.
I sighed inwardly; my time simply to be with her had ended so quickly. I looked to the cliff side, seeing no one, but the pursuing company was unmistakably riding towards us. I looked about for any means of cover or escape; the walls of the ravine were too steep; it would take nearly half a day to climb back up and there were no trees or brush to hide ourselves. I looked to the river, seeing only small reeds and dying flowers growing on the bank. Its course flowed southward along the ravine floor, the direction we had already been heading; following the river was now the only way that would lead us to safety.
I turned back to Zelda, holding her at arm's length. "I will not force you to come with me further, but I ask… will you follow me still?"
Her eyes clouded as her brows lifted. "Never again do I wish to be parted from you." Emotion flickered across her face but she swallowed it back, taking an uneven breath. "But Prince Ganondorf is merciless; if he finds us he will surely attempt to…"
Kill me. My heart grew heavy once again at the influence Ganondorf held over her and I stood, carefully helping Zelda up as well. "I will not let him have you."
Looking deeply into my eyes, she took me into her arms. "I know not how to undo what has been done… is there hope for redemption?" she asked urgently. "You're alive… and so now am I, but my actions have caused great misfortune."
"Zelda…of what do you speak?"
"Duty commands me to go to Prince Ganondorf, for I fear Hyrule shall be plunged into war." I felt her words whisper of a deeper meaning, something she withheld…
"Sakon has framed Calatia for my capture… and my death. I must not let Prince Ganondorf attack them for my sake," she answered with a shake of her head.
"It cannot yet be proved you are dead; an attack would be unwarranted," I reasoned. What must I say to convince her to remain with me? I knew her fears could come to pass, that she had a duty to fulfill, but I did not believe Sakon and the hooded man had acted alone. I did not know—until I laid eyes upon the hooded man—that Zelda had been captured for a purpose deeper than ransom. Ganondorf's actions had roused my suspicions; he was only a day behind me, and I had followed nearly every footstep of the captors since they left Hyrule; how had he caught up so quickly; how did he know where to search for Zelda?
She must not return with him.
"It is too perilous," I continued. "I do not trust him."
Her eyes widened slightly. "Untrustworthy Prince Ganondorf may be, but he is forbidden on Calatian soil. If I do not speak with Calatia's king—"
"No," I interrupted, my voice filled with more severity than intended. "Your life is more important than his."
"How did he find us so quickly?" I interrupted. Had she not considered Ganondorf as the one who ordered her death? Given the rumors I had heard of him in my years of captivity, I did not put it beneath him. "It's as though he knew where to find you."
Zelda bit her lip and looked to the ravine's edge, apprehension drawn on her face as if in deep thought. "… I do not know," she answered, her voice quiet, filled with doubt. "He is relentless; he will not cease until I am found." She then bowed her head defeatedly. "What is to be done?" she whispered to herself.
"We can elude him," I said with determination. If we were caught, I knew no mercy would be shown upon me. My taking of Zelda would prove to have more repercussions than I expected. I had not planned for any of this…
After I had seen her at the Celebration of Peace, I continued to watch her from afar as I contemplated if I should ever reveal myself to her. Then everything went awry when I heard the royal carriage had been attacked on the way to Haladin. I was in the market of Castleton square when the king and his injured soldiers returned that evening… along with the torn banner of Calatia. Zelda was not among them, and fearing the worst, I instantly set off to find her. As the Dread Pirate Raven, I was familiar with all the neighboring kingdom's banners, and knew where to begin my search. As I came to the Crossroads in Hyrule Field, I noticed a set of hoof prints and wheel tracks leading to the northwest. I still had doubts, but a voice, like the whisper of the wind, prompted me to follow. Fortunately, my ship and crew were anchored off the shores of Sunset Bay in the northwest.
Upon reaching the city, I asked about and by the sightings of witnesses, I found the caravan some distance away from the rest of the bay. Realizing they had set off across the Great Sea, I rushed to the hidden cove where my ship and crew waited. As the Dread Pirate Raven, I exaggerated a story to motivate the crew and pursue after the captor's boat. I knew not which direction to sail and again, the wind spoke to me, guiding me to the southwest. Sometime later, I spotted the boat by telescope and convinced my crew to let me go alone by sailboat, and that they were to meet me in Calatia's southern capital, in the cliff city of Orihm. If I did not meet them in three days' time from then, they were to return to Sunset Bay and await further instructions.
Thus began my pursuit.
The galloping echoes began to sound louder, and I hurriedly reached for Zelda's hand, turning her back to me. "The path before us will not be easy, but I did not cross the world to lose you now, Zelda. I am your Guardian still; trust me."
She looked into my eyes, and paused for a moment, inhaling deeply as she clutched my hand. "Then we must go to Orihm together, before it is too late."
I nodded once, admiring her resolve and relieved she would not be parted from me. "The hooded man hunts us still," I reminded her. "We cannot travel openly, however if we avoid the roads, there may be a chance." I was familiar enough with the costal region of Calatia; the jagged crags and hidden coves were a pirate's ally and the coastal towns were easy prey. "We will continue southward; Orihm lies near the coast.
Her lips parted, granting me a timid smile. "As you wish."
I nearly grinned, unable to resist kissing her once more before we began to run alongside the river. Just as we rounded the bend of the ravine, I turned to see Ganondorf watching us from atop the cliff side.
Ganondorf and his men could not ride the steep cliff down to us and would have to seek a different route and therefore could not track us. I felt some comfort at this knowledge and as soon as I felt we were a safe distance away and out of sight, I slowed us to a walk. Though I wished to press forward quickly, I knew we would not have the strength to carry on much further if we did so.
I stopped suddenly; I had been too concerned with our escape to inquire of Zelda's injury. I turned to her, startling her as I lifted her hair from her neck. A small trail of blood ran down behind her shoulder and had soaked into her dress, deepening the red color, but fortunately, it was dry.
"Are you alright?" I asked. "You wounded your head as we fell."
She put a hand to her head and flinched. "I had not taken notice," she replied.
I looked her over, seeing the many rips and dirt smudges about her dress and knew she was suppressing her exhaustion just as I was. "You must be weary," I said lowly. "I am sorry. As your Guardian, I am ashamed to have let you suffered so much."
She took my hand from her shoulder, shaking her head. "You have suffered more than I have; are you not hurt?"
"Nothing so serious." My bruises from the fall lingered but it was better to ignore the aches and hunger I felt; I would gladly endure them to ensure Zelda's safety.
"I have magic left in me still," she said slowly. "Allow me to heal you. You have endangered yourself enough for my sake." It was nearly a plea.
"No, save your strength." I was unsure how long our journey to Orihm would be, and did not want her strength wasted on me. I started us forward again, but Zelda continued her attempt to sway me.
"Please Link, grant me this request, as we fell I felt—"
"I meant it when I said I did not want you to use magic—"
"The control of my magic has returned… though I do not understand how; perhaps it is the will of the Goddesses…"
"…Their will?" I asked, unable to mask the venom in my voice. "Their will should have been to save you before you were nearly tortured to death." A flash of anger coursed through me, reminding me of the bitterness I had acquired as Dread Pirate Raven's prisoner. I wanted nothing to do with the Goddesses anymore. Despite my sincere pleadings, they had done nothing to aid me in my captivity. Any faith in them was wasted, for prayers fell upon deaf ears; I had survived by my own strength.
But had you heeded Zelda's warning, stayed at her side…
Zelda furrowed her brows. "Your disdain… was not a ruse?"
…She would have not needed saving.
I shook my head and tried to soften my voice. "It doesn't matter."
"… I ceased to believe in the Goddesses after your death," Zelda began quietly, timidly. "I could not forgive them for taking you… only after I had realized what you were to me." She paused, taking a deep breath. "Then, in my despair… they spoke to me… telling me I must live for the sake of others. I did all I could to ignore their heeding, but after all that has happened…" I could hear the conflict and self-disgust in her voice and I pursed my lips, trying to fight the resentment I felt at her blind faith in the Goddesses.
"Still am I beset by their voices; I've been so foolish… my willful ignorance has brought the threat of war."
I raised a brow; her guilt was astounding. "You cannot think this was your fault? Sakon is to blame for all this, he and his conspirators!"
"A great darkness has fallen upon Hyrule. I cannot let a war begin with Calatia. Such little peace remains and the Goddesses have spared me—"
"Our lives are not ruled by destiny, Zelda," I said fervently.
She fell silent for a moment, thinking upon my words. "Perhaps… but I believe now I was not only spared for Hyrule's sake… but for you."
My heart stilled and my hand burned; it felt as if something carved a line into my skin.
"It was their intervention that saved me from the hooded man… and… your voice…"
Why did this strange pain manifest now after so many years, beginning with Zelda's touch at the Scarlet Crag? The carving sensation then died away, leaving my hand to prickle uncomfortably; I did my best to ignore it; trivial pain did not matter now. "… You knew it was me?" I asked, my voice slightly strained.
Zelda nodded her head. "Deep within me I felt it was you, but I did not know. Even in dreams… nay, visions you were shown to me but… I would not acknowledge it."
"The Goddesses knew you would come for me… even though I did not." I then felt her slowly put her arms around me from behind, pulling me to a halt. "Part of me still believes I will awaken any moment… or that the hooded man has truly killed me and I'm finally with you again."
"I am no illusion," I said softly, "nor are you dead." I turned to embrace her.
She sighed harshly, hesitantly returning such affection.
I lowered my head to hers. "Shall I convince you?"
Zelda said nothing; her lips caught upon mine and I nearly laughed at her sudden fervor. I pressed her closer, claiming her at every kiss.
My conviction grew; I could not allow Zelda become Ganondorf's princess bride; he could not touch nor hold her so intimately.
…I would do everything in my power to prevent it.
Zelda pulled away, burying her face against my neck. "Link…" She began in a low voice. "…Cast my disbelief aside; how is it that you live…?"
"It is a grand tale indeed," I answered. "But now is not the time." Impulsively, I swept Zelda into my arms and continued forward. Her breath hitched in surprise, yet she clung to me, resting her head upon my shoulder after a moment; she was a welcome weight in my arms.
"I must know," she implored.
I did not wish to tell her what happened in a situation such as this; it would only evoke heavy hearted feelings within us both. And I had yet to determine what I would and would not speak of. I was laden with regret and shame at things I was required to do as a pirate, but Zelda would be spared of that knowledge.
She then said softly, "I have not heard your voice for too long…"
I nearly rolled my eyes at how easily I was still swayed by her. "How troublesome, it remains hard to deny you," I jested, trying to cheer her.
She grimaced, whispering a sincere entreaty. I sighed, shaking my head. If it would ease her mind… for now then, I would only tell the necessary of what she asked; perhaps it would prove a helpful distraction to the peril we were in. "Very well, where to begin?"
I cleared my throat and began to re-account that day four years ago. "The Gerudo held a tight resistance against us, fighting viciously, but were defeated the end. Crescent Harbor was reclaimed within the morning with some lives lost... I can't be sure of how many." Blurred memories of the battle flashed across the forefront of my mind, and I recalled the blank eyes of the young solider slumped dead against an alley wall… the first encounter with death I had as a knight; the beginning of many more to come. I had seen much carnage in my years as a prisoner and had developed an indifference to it; a wall of defense. But still… there were things I wished to forget… but never would. "Our guard was down whilst we gathered the Gerudo and that is where our folly lay."
"…The pirates…" Zelda whispered.
I nodded my head. "They had conspired with the Gerudo and attacked without warning. Captain Kurion was captured during the chaos and I went after him."
"I heard his account briefly; he convinced all that Pirate Raven would kill you in his stead, but I—" She fell silent for a moment, furrowing her brows. "I did not believe him; I was prepared to search the Great Sea for you," she laughed nervously, her face shading. "Until… I saw E-Epona."
I smiled sadly; my horse coupled with the knowledge of Raven's merciless reputation and my failure to keep my promise… I began to understand why all hope had been lost.
"I was really quite foolish and impetuous," she said, barely above a whisper.
I shook my head. "You speak of my faults." Zelda scoffed softly as I continued. "I rushed onto Raven's ship to rescue the captain and fought nearly the entire crew. The pirates weighed anchor before we could escape, so I forced him to jump into the sea."
"Yet you stayed…"
Remembering why I had, I did not know if I should tell Zelda I nearly lost her ocarina.
Admitting it would add to her remorse, but I did not wish to deceive her; too long had I done so in our youth; I would not return to old behaviors. "…The ocarina you entrusted me with," I began, "fell from my pocket, and Raven took it, taunting me to remain and fight." I then spoke very quickly. "The night before the reclamation of the harbor, we camped in Hyrule Field. I wandered off alone with the ocarina, but a beast suddenly attacked and I forgot to return it to Epona's satchel."
"I was certain I could defeat the pirates to get it back... but..."
"I should not have forced you to accept it—"
"No, I am to blame." I did not lie; my prideful decision had cost me my freedom. "After I was overtaken by the pirates, Raven was intrigued by my resolve, saying he would kill me upon the morrow. I fell into blackness, and when I awakened, Raven came to me, asking why he should suffer me live. I spoke of you and he spared me for another day… and another. For four years he threatened to kill me at the dawn of the next day. Meanwhile I was taught many of things about neighboring countries, of their trade goods and combat. I was still a prisoner, but soon the pirates came to see me as one of them."
"One of them?" She repeated. "Why did you come to me as Pirate Raven then?"
I could feel her eyes upon me and slowly I looked to her, taking a deep breath. "Because I am him."
Her brows furrowed in confusion. "…You?"
I nodded my head. "Naught two months ago, my captor revealed he was not the Dread Pirate Raven. He was called Linebeck and his predecessor was not Raven either. The real Dread Pirate Raven retired twenty-five years ago and was living as a lord in Labrynna. Linebeck convinced me to take his stead, continuing tradition by passing the name on. It's the name that's key—" My words died suddenly as tears welled in Zelda's eyes.
"You have been free… for a mere two months…?" She asked sorrowfully.
I stopped and held her closer. "I came as quickly as I could, but when I learnt of your engagement, I thought you were lost to me forever…"
She looked away from me as if she were a chastised child, blinking her tears back. "Your guilt is needless, that was not my implication… it is I who… " Forcing her way out of my arms, she continued, "…I've been lamenting your death, and felt I would die from heartache, but you…" She closed her eyes, sighing unevenly. "You were alone in foreign company for so long, forced to live in such extremes… if I in your position…" she shook her head. "Such suffering you have endured. Only now do I see what you have risked; forgive my ignorance."
I clenched my jaw, trying to suppress the flash of anger I felt at her words and at myself; I should not have spoke of my captivity. What must I do to ease these burdens she carried?
"Enough, Zelda; do not apologize anymore."
She simpered. "How can you pardon my faithlessness so easily? I vowed myself to you, yet suffered myself to become promised to another!"
"There is nothing to forgive. I came for you… that is all that matters."
"… I do not deserve such loyalty," she spoke, her eyes full of unrest. "Why did you come for me—"
I pulled her to me, silencing her with a feverish, impatient kiss. She struggled half-heartedly, breathing my name in objection against my lips.
"Because I love you, amidst the darkness, I was able to endure because of you!"
Her wet eyes widened, her chin quivering.
"Will you not understand this?"
She buried her head in her hands and drew against me, saying nothing. I rested my head atop hers and held her loosely. The silence quieted the conflict within us… the burdens of guilt that continued to linger…
We remained so for some time until Zelda slowly raised her head. "…More than anything," she began quietly. "I wish to be with you, Link… to be yours, but can you truly risk so much? If somehow I convince Calatia's king of Sakon's deceit… what becomes of us then? I cannot be rid of Prince Ganondorf; his power is already deeply rooted in the castle."
"Worry not, we will find a way. I will not leave you again," I promised. "All I must do is appoint another as Raven in my stead and I can return to Hyrule as your Guardian."
"…Is it so simple?" She whispered, looking back up to me… a glimmer of hope behind her eyes.
I smirked. "You forget, Zelda, I am a pirate king who will do whatever he desires… even against your will."
Her eyes softened at my jest, her mouth curving up. "Impudence indeed," she murmured after a moment. "Your life as a pirate has taken your reserve and loosened your tongue."
I grinned beside her cheek, glancing against her jaw. "I daresay I learned from the most brazen tongue of all."
A smile then broke forth upon Zelda's face and she laughed, clear and true, something I had yearned to hear. I laughed alongside her, relieved the tension between us had abated some.
"I will keep my promise," I said sincerely, "but know… as a knight of Hyrule and a royal guardian… I am always yours, My Lady." I took her hand, gracing her skin with a chaste kiss.
She smiled fully, her indigo eyes shining brightly even beneath the darkened sky; I was blinded by her sudden radiance. "I have longed to hear you speak those words," she breathed. "Tell me once more."
"As you wish."
Casting my restraint to the side, I claimed her lips fervently, reveling every moment. Her touch set my skin aflame and my hands entwined themselves in her golden hair. I clutched her body to my own, suddenly desiring to deepen our kiss. I felt her heart quicken against my chest and her arms moved about my waist until her hands rested upon my shoulders… and upon a bruise. The dull pain caused me to flinch and carefully I pulled away, feeling my pulse slow steadily. I murmured an apology and Zelda met my eyes with a shaded face and I could not help but chuckle. Now was not the time to forget myself; I must get us to safety before the day's end.
"Come, we must hurry." I took her hand and led her forward once more. Did she understand now that I lived for her?
No more words of regret or apology were spoken as we followed the river. I told her of the many sights to behold in neighboring countries, of my adventures and the peculiar peoples I had met. She was curious of every detail but when I tried to inquire of her life at the castle, she evaded my questions, not wishing to speak of discouraging matters any longer.
"There will be much to attend to upon our return… but we will face it all together."
The sun began to wane in the west and as we journeyed, I felt my weariness begin to take a toll. We stopped often to drink from the river in attempt to quiet our hunger, but still it remained as an irritating distraction. Not a while later, the river's course began to shift. The once calm babble was now rushing loudly ahead, prompting us to hurry on. At each bend we rounded, I expected to see a glimpse of the coast or of a valley, but each turn led to another and I found my disappointment starting to discourage me. Then an hour passed and finally, we rounded a bend to find a sudden drop ahead.
The river became a waterfall, leading down into a valley below. I could see the glimmer of the sea to the east… and the smoke of Orihm to the west with a large castle built into the cliff side. I sighed in relief and turned to Zelda with a smile. "We are nearly… there…" My words died on my tongue, feeling a sudden coldness began to swirl about us. I looked to Zelda knowingly and she halted mid-step, her eyes widening.
"He is near." She looked about fearfully and I whipped around, expecting to see the hooded man at any moment. But I saw nothing. We listened intently, hearing only our own breath and the crash of the falls ahead.
Just then I felt my sword begin to quiver at my side. Releasing Zelda's hand, I reached for it, but suddenly it flew from its scabbard by an unseen force. I faltered, watching as it was manipulated before me. I moved in front of Zelda, commanding her to get down.
My sword then flew towards my chest, aiming for my heart. I hardly had time to move and it impaled my right shoulder, pushing itself until it tore out the other side. Zelda screamed for me as I sunk to my knees, gritting my teeth to keep from moaning in pain. I could feel blood running freely down my arm and chest as I reached for the hilt in attempt to pull the steel from my flesh, but it twisted of its own accord, moving torturously slow.
I couldn't breathe.
Zelda crawled to my side and reached for the hilt, but as she touched it, a red spark singed her hands and she was thrown back. Once again, the sword began to shudder, glowing a strange dark color, and suddenly forced me back against the earth, digging itself further into my shoulder as it rooted into the ground beneath me. I couldn't stop my cries of pain as the wound grew by the sword's width.
Zelda faintly called for me as I gasped audibly, unable to move.
Then a dark figure loomed over me. "This time, you will not escape." I could see the bottom half of his face, a mouth twisted in a smirk… outlined by a mustache and beard, flecked with grey; this was not the shadow we had seen the night before.
The hooded man; it was truly him. Anger shuddered through me and I tried to withdraw the sword once again, cursing through my teeth.
The hooded man laughed. "You will watch her die as punishment for interference."
There was no time to call out a warning; hooded man vanished and reappeared behind Zelda, taking her by the throat and pulling her arms behind her; she could not call upon her magic. Zelda's eyes widened, gasping for breath as she pulled against his gloved hands in vain.
The hooded man turned her towards him, lifting her into the air by the neck. Her struggles ceased, her hands falling limp to her side, her eyes closing. "Now we shall end this." He withdrew a dagger from his cloak and sliced down Zelda's arm. Blood dripped from her fingertips and the sight of it, I was consumed by a rage I had never felt before, wanting only to kill the hooded man for all he had done.
He covered his free hand with her blood and placed it at her heart, beginning to mutter a strange tongue under his breath. The air grew colder as a purple light began to encompass him and I struggled harder to escape; such danger… such evil I felt, it seized my heart in fear. The light then slithered around the hooded man, forming at Zelda's chest.
I tried to shout in objection as I coughed blood, but no words would form.
Her finger twitched and the hooded man laughed victoriously and began to bellow the words of his evil spell.
I fought in vain, hopelessness drowning me just as my blood was; it could not end here, I had fought so hard to return to her, to save her…
Then a voice inside my head called my name with such clarity, the pain of my wound ceased instantly.
"Arise, Wielder of Courage."
The voice pierced my heart, leaving me breathless and immovable.
And my left hand burned. A bright green light shot from the markings, enveloping me entirely and a searing pain coursed through every muscle and bone.
But as quickly as the pain came, a wave of strength flooded within me, and my body began to move of its own accord, pulling the sword from my shoulder.
The searing continued, but it was nothing to my ferocity.
I was suddenly on my feet and I lunged towards the hooded man, readying to run him through.
His eyes widened as I neared and he held a hand out, attempting to stop me. Black darts flew from his fingertips and they cut through me, singeing my clothing. I felt nothing and aimed for the arm that held Zelda. The hooded man barred his teeth, moving her in my path in hopes I would kill her myself.
But the new-found strength had heightened my senses, and I rolled to the ground, missing Zelda by inches and sliced up the hooded man's leg and back. He cried out as his black cloak ripped open, revealing a belt etched with black serpents.
…The Calatian crest…
I leapt between him and Zelda, raising the hilt of my sword to his elbow. He screamed as a sickening crack echoed dully from his bones. His arm now twisted unnaturally, he released Zelda and she crumpled to the ground. I moved in front of her, the hooded man backing away with a limp, clutching his arm. I could feel his eyes staring murderously at me beneath his hood as he let out a weak laugh. "Your bravery is wasted… Triforce Wielder." Saying nothing, I glared, confused by his words. He then raised his undamaged arm towards me, his hand clawed in wrath, and I drew my sword back, ready to charge him once more. I stepped forward and the hooded man stilled, but not from fear of my attack.
A blinding light, greater than the sun, flew past me towards the hooded man. He tried to block it, but the light forced him back, melting the sleeves on his black cloak as he was crushed against a boulder.
The light died and he then fell to his knees, moaning in pain.
I turned away from him, finding Zelda sinking to the ground behind me as peculiar blue light died around her. As I rushed to her side, the sudden surge of strength that had possessed me disappeared, and I nearly collapsed to the ground, the pain of my wound returning ten-fold, accompanied by waves of sickness.
Zelda reached for me, shuffling to her knees. "He is stronger," she said hoarsely. "My magic is all but spent."
I struggled for breath, clutching my shoulder as I looked about, seeing no means of escape; behind us stood the hooded man; before us the waterfall. Just then the hooded man struggled to his feet, his weak laughter filling my head, deafening my clouding senses as he summoned a mass of dark red light.…
"Your powers shall be mine!"
Zelda's eyes widened and she grabbed my arm, somehow helping me to my feet.
The dark magic shook everything around us, the wind howling as it swirled about, loose foliage whipping through the air, waves in the river crashing over the rocks; then he released his attack.
And the black hood fell from his head…
Zelda plunged into the river, pulling me alongside her, and as my body submerged, the red light passed over us, mere inches away, and exploded into the wall of the ravine.
Boulders rained down after us as we were carried over the waterfall… the image of a man I met in my past life branded into my lids.
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