Chapter VI: Sins Past
Link looked for his sword immediately, but it was lying by Ashei, along with his bow and quiver.
The thin man, by way of contrast, didn't even blink. The big goblin smiled through broken brown teeth, only adding to the sense of surreality.
"I am glad to see you're awake! The wolf riders have moved further north, back into the mountains, they will not be following us.”
"Alright you two, keep it down." The thin man leaned back, arms behind his head. "Between those two imbeciles, you, and that bloody boar of yours, that summons took everything I had. Good night." He closed his eyes.
Bulbin chuckled, like distant thunder, and sat down by Link's side. "Please don't mind Heraji, his manner is brusque at times."
Link nodded, appraising the mountainous goblin with suspicion. Once upon a time they had fought each other in the war of Twilight, many times. Bulbin’s raiders had attacked Ordon and carried off several villagers, Ilia among them. He was ultimately responsible for drawing Link into the conflict.
That conflict was long past both of them, supposedly. But there was no way to know if the goblin had truly buried the hatchet, or if he still harbored feelings of vengeance.
Bulbin cleared his throat several times, licked his lips and fidgeted, scratching between his horns. The silence became burdensome.
"I need your help." Bulbin ventured at last.
"My… help." Link said.
Bulbin nodded his enormous head. "These wolf-riders have been coming down the mountain passes on the north-east for the past two months, gradually moving farther and farther into my tribes' territory. We are being pushed out into the plains once more."
"Why does that concern me?"
“Because the only place we can go is the land of your people," Bulbin replied. "I do not wish to fight you or the people of the bright city. I have come to seek their aid, and yours.”
Link looked at his onetime nemesis, a dark look in the depths of his blue eyes.
Ilia had suffered, if not at his hands, then as a direct result of his actions. The filthy violation of innocence and purity…
Nothing had seemed amiss the first few weeks after they had returned to Ordon; they had married only a few days before. Then the nightmares had come.
Vile, dark dreams of terror and pawing hands… Driving Ilia to wakefulness with a scream in her throat and tears in her eyes, her thin shoulders shaking with chills.
And the worst part was, if he tried to reach out to her, she pulled away from him, unseeing eyes mistaking him for the terrors that haunted her.
Link looked at Bulbin, his expression indecipherable.
“My wife still suffers nightmares because of your kind. What happened to her was… unforgivable.”
Bulbin flinched as if struck; eyes unable to bear Link’s gaze, they fell to his feet, inspecting his toes.
“Those were deserters… I had no control over them,” was his mumbled reply.
Link fixed Bulbin with a long, cold look, then glanced towards Ashei. Her thin chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, her eyes were closed; to all appearances she seemed peacefully asleep.
His eyes softened, minutely, but still they held a cold edge that made Bulbin flinch once more when his gaze returned to the goblin.
“I’ll take you to Zelda. I owe you that much, for Ashei’s sake, if nothing else.” He stood, clenching his teeth against the pain. Bulbin looked at Link, their gazes nearly level now. Off to the side Heraji opened an eye, studying Link curiously.
“But that is all.”
- Sins -
Link dozed after that. He was aware, indistinctly, that the other two periodically left camp, but they didn’t disturb him and allowed him his rest.
The sun was falling towards the mountains when he awoke. He felt rested, and more importantly, healed somewhat. Bulbin was tending the fire and Heraji rifled through his pack by the base of a great tree.
“Bulbin and I already scouted the area; your train got away safely, as far as I could tell,” Heraji said without looking up.
The magician found what he was looking for, a small leather pouch; he took it out and poured the contents into his hand. To Link it seemed that he held some kind of powder made from crushed leaves. The magician poured the dust into a bowl at his feet that already held a range of other powders; adding water, he began to stir the contents. His gaze went to Link momentarily. “Well?”
Link stood, wincing only slightly; a shadow of approval flitted across Heraji’s eyes, almost lost in the cloth shrouding his face. He was a quick healer.
“My leg is healing.”
Heraji’s eyes glimmered in the cloth. He looked Link over once and turned back to mixing with a noncommittal grunt.
Link walked over to the magician, studying the array of apothecary instruments laid out. He could smell herbs and magic, pungent and strong and clean. The scent was heartening and left him feeling slightly lightheaded.
“What’s in this?”
“Yarrow, wild aloe, snow lilies.” His voice had a definite edge of annoyance. “It stimulates healing and prevents infection.”
“You tended our injuries,” Link observed.
“Yes, and a chore it was.” Heraji definitely wanted to be left alone now. Link couldn’t remember meeting anyone with such a short temper.
Link stood and turned but he had one question left.
“Are you a healer-mage then?”
Heraji got very still. At first Link was worried it had been the last straw. But there was less tension in the man’s posture suddenly; his shoulders slumped and his gaze fell, his expression hidden.
“No, I’m not a healer. I just know basic medicine... Healing is not my strength.” He sounded almost… wistful.
There followed a long silence. Heraji was lost in his own thoughts.
Link turned to go.
“I’m a war-mage,” Heraji said suddenly. Link glanced back but he had returned to mixing his medicine.
- Sins -
Link gratefully accepted a bowl of soup from Bulbin, refraining from asking what it contained; right now he didn’t care and probably didn’t want to know. Heraji wordlessly accepted a bowl as well, taking his food a short distance away and eating with his back to the others, so that no one saw his face when he pulled away the scarf to eat.
Link watched this curiously.
“He always does that…” Bulbin rumbled; Link imagined he fancied it a whisper, quiet and subtle. But nothing about Bulbin was quiet, nor subtle. Heraji gave no sign of hearing, however. “I have never seen his face.”
Link glanced at the big goblin quizzically, he shrugged. “You looked curious.”
Link nodded, he had been. But before Bulbin could elaborate, another voice broke into their conversation.
“Where am I?” Her voice was thin and tired, but still recognizable.
Link’s gaze snapped to Ashei. She was awake, still pale but very much alive and looking about alertly.
He walked over to her, not as quickly as he might have with his leg injury.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Like I’ve got a headache and haven’t slept in three days. How did we escape those wolf-riding things?” Ashei tried to sit up and found her arm immobilized in a sling, “Ah-“
She launched into a string of curses aimed at the wolves and their keepers. This was cut short when she caught sight of Bulbin hunched by the fire. Bulbin gave a shaky wave and Ashei flinched; Link almost grinned.
“All right, fill me in.” Ashei said, shaken. Link could hear it on her voice.
He related what had happened, to the best of his knowledge, since the fight on the plain.
Link had just finished when a presence loomed over them, Heraji himself, masked face and tattered clothing rather ominous in the shadows of the fading day. In his hand he held the potion he had been mixing earlier.
“She requires clean bandages.”
Heraji lifted the cloak covering Ashei- his, Link rightly guessed -Link turned away to preserve Ashei’s modesty while Heraji proceeded with the antiseptic attitude of a trained surgeon. Link watched the other man’s face out of the corner of his eye as he cut away dirty bandages with a dagger, cleaned the wound, and applied a fresh linen bandage over the poultice.
All movements were swift and efficient. Link wondered momentarily where Heraji had been taught.
“Getting an eyeful?” Ashei asked sourly. Link guessed she wasn’t used to someone else treating her injuries. But there was no helping it, with her arm broken that duty fell to Heraji, who glanced up hotly at her snide comment, the emotion quickly hooded. He made no reply.
Having finished bandaging her leg, and gave her arm a brief once-over, running his hand over the cast on her arm. Link could smell the magic from where he stood.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, you’ll need to take it easy for a few days.” Heraji said. “The break was a bad one, but I’ve stimulated your healing, you likely won’t need to wear it more than a week.”
Without another word he covered her lower body with the cloak once more and stood. “Feed her,” he said, that last order directed at Bulbin and Link.
He then walked to where he had been sitting on the edge of camp and took up his position once more.
Link took the offered bowl from Bulbin and brought it to Ashei. “Weird guy…” she commented before taking a long swig. Link followed her example, drinking the last remnants of his now-cooled soup.
“You have no idea how disconcerting it is to wake up and find yourself naked from the waist down.”
Link almost choked.
- Sins -
Bulbin took a bowl from his pack, a massive thing that looked like an old war-helmet (and perhaps it was), and brought his dinner over.
“We will head towards the bright city tomorrow, if the female can travel.” Bulbin said.
Link glanced at Ashei. Heraji watched them both silently, eyes hooded.
“Don’t worry about me, yeah.” Ashei said, “I’ll be able to ride.”
“I won’t be coming with you. ” Heraji said, “I owed Bulbin for saving my life, and I paid that debt by helping him find you and keep you alive. I have business of my own I put on hold; I’m not waiting any longer.” There was a challenge in the statement directed at the goblin.
Link glanced at Bulbin; the goblin nodded reluctantly. So this, too, was expected. Link wondered what kind of business it was, but knew better than to ask Heraji.
Ashei, however, was not so subtle. “Why, you afraid we’ll run into those wolf-things? You know something we don’t?”
Tact never was her forte.
Heraji’s gaze snapped to Ashei, and this time his anger did not dissipate so readily. For an instant Link worried he might strike her. If Ashei sensed the same danger, she did not show it, matching his gaze with her own direct stare.
“I am no ally of theirs and certainly not a traitor,” Heraji growled, “and you’d best watch your tongue, girl, or I might consider leaving you without one.”
“And as for fearing them… I’ve killed worse.”
Without another word he turned and strode from the camp. The rest of the night passed uneventfully; Link was not surprised to find Heraji either slept well away from the others, or else simply did not sleep, as he never returned to the company of the small circle of firelight, even as the chill of night deepened.
Link lay awake a long time, staring up into the night sky. Somehow he couldn’t shake off the feeling he was being watched.
- Sins -
The next day they continued together as far as the north pass; the road that lead towards Hyrule castle wasn’t held against them, which was fortunate. Link had worried that the wolves might have tried to cut them off.
“This is where we part ways.” Heraji said. His tone suggested that he prayed never to lay eyes on their filthy guts again, but he bowed politely before stepping from the road without waiting for a reply. His cloak bled into the shadows, a flurry of red under the leaves. In minutes he was lost in the trees.
Link watched him go, in some ways returning Heraji’s sentiments. Then he wheeled Epona about and trotted off down the road, Bulbin following close behind. They continued on in silence for about a mile before Link broke the silence.
“How did you meet Heraji?”
Bulbin started from his own thoughts. “Hm? Meet him?” the big goblin rumbled. “It’s not much of a story in the telling. I was traveling in the West Desert, beyond the boundaries of Hylia. I was trapped in a sudden sandstorm and was seeking shelter myself when I saw him off in the distance.”
“He was half-buried; it was his cloak that saved him, I could see it when I could see nothing else in the storm. I took him with me and found shelter in a cave. He was half-smothered and when he recovered he was feverish. I thought he would die several times, but he lived.”
Bulbin smiled with a mouth of broken teeth, “He said he owed me for saving his life and traveled with me until now. I know very little else.”
Link nodded slowly, thinking.
“He is not a bad sort.” Bulbin said. “He’s just... difficult to understand at times.”
Link looked up. “He knows magic…”
“Yes.” Bulbin chuckled.
“How does he know magic?” Link persisted.
Bulbin shrugged, “I don’t ask him and he doesn’t say… Perhaps the Lady will know.”
Link nodded; he would need to ask Zelda about it, one question among many.
- Sins -
Heraji pushed through bracken and thistles, keeping a steady, even pace despite the uneven terrain. The road might have been easier but he wanted to be alone to think.
Nishi gazed up at him from her perch on the low stone wall running the boundary of the little plot of rocky ground on which their house stood. The breeze, warm and dry, not yet bearing the furnace’s heat that would come with mid-day, tossed their hair. He tested the air; there wouldn’t be a sandstorm today.
He always knew.
“Why can’t I come with you?”
“Silly, you know why,” he answered, running a hand through her hair, ruffling it fondly.
“But I want to see the city too!”
“Master Djinvaati won’t put you up, and I don’t have anywhere to keep you.”
Her face had screwed up all tight and angry. “It’s no fair, why do you get to learn magic? All I get to do is stay here and watch Mrs. Nanny and the chickens.”
“That’s because you’re only seven.”
“Well… you’re only thirteen!”
He sighed, knowing how useless it all was.
“Nishi, I promise I’ll bring you next time, just not yet, please.”
Her face had lit up, eyes sparkling. “You mean it?”
“I swear it.”
Heraji stopped, just stopped, and turned his face towards the sky. He let his gaze wander and sat down on a rock, looking out over the valley. There were flowers and trees; she deserved a gentler land, like this, not the barren wastes. He looked suddenly very tired. Worn… old.
The fiery rage burning in his heart abated for a time, leaving him empty. So long ago, yet so near and painful.
It was the last time he’d seen his sister alive.
At least… the last time worth remembrance.
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