“Perhaps the Spring truly doesn’t exist.”
Link knew that tone, the tone that twisted her face with frustration. He eyed the back of her head from a few paces behind. She examined the Shiekah slate like her gaze would split it in two and a fairy would pop out. Zelda only grew more frustrated with the snowquill gloves impeding her ability to work the screen efficiently.
Timing’s about right, Link thought, watching colors push their way through the thick haze of Hebra skies. Night was approaching. A cold chill managed to snake its fingers under his thick collar and scratch up the back of his neck. They needed to stop anyway.
Before she could spiral down into dejection, he began busying himself with setting up camp: Firewood, a large tent, roasted pepper skewers re-heated on the fire. The sheer rock beside them should temper the worst of the winds, and trees provided enough cover that distant monsters wouldn’t get too curious.
He made one last sweep of the area to ensure safety, and when he returned, he found Zelda leaned back against a tree, frowning harder at the slate. “The other three are to the East—Akkala, Faron, and Lanayru. They all line up to this exact area…”
She’d taken off her gloves to better work the slate. Her fingers looked stiff and she didn’t seem to realize that she was shivering. Her desperation at this last-ditch attempt to access her powers was clearly getting the better of her.
She startled at his hand on her shoulder then relaxed to see Link offering her a flameblade to hold. His eyes were concerned first and warm second.
Smiling gratefully, Zelda accepted the weapon. It was so warm it hurt until her hand adjusted, then she switched to the other. “Thanks, Link.”
He knew better than to try and pry her off of the subject of her focus. Link just stoked the fire and turned the chilis in hopes of luring her over instead.
Their companionship had become amicable ever since he saved her in the Gerudo Desert. However, that didn’t mean the air was light. Their recent journey to Mount Lanayru had left her with that look in her eye. He knew she felt like a failure. That intense resilience so core to her personality was faltering. And he was powerless to help.
“What is that wonderful smell?” Zelda crunched snow on her way into the clearing. The slate was mercifully locked in its holster. Link beamed in triumph that his lure had worked, and he extended a skewer of chilis and mushrooms with ground rock salt for flavor.
She gratefully sat and accepted the skewer, and seemed to force herself to enjoy the warmth, the food, the rest, the company. Link knew she needed to let out the tension in her shoulders, and he’d allow her in her own time.
“Your official title is the Hero of Hyrule. However, I have half a mind to strip you of that title.” Link looked up, mouth full, eyes startled. Then she finished, “You’d be much better suited to being named the Hero of the Castle Kitchens.”
At his visible relief, she allowed herself to laugh. It left the dredges of a smile lingering on her face.
She watched the fire, listened to a snow owl’s call. It was all on her to protect this. She knew it so, so fully. “I wonder… if I was stripped of my title, who would I be?” Link tipped his head curiously, finishing his second skewer. “As in, without being Princess Zelda, what use could I be?”
He watched her for a moment, unsure of how to answer. He got the sense she wasn’t being rhetorical. When her gaze broke and she seemed to give up on him responding, he broke the silence. “We’re more than just our titles.”
Zelda’s dim smile brightened just a fraction. “That’s true.” She placed her finished skewer beside her and leaned on her crossed arms. “The Spring of Unity is said to be in an area of warmth, but all of my calculations and topographical studies indicate that the only place that may be possible is in the Hebra region. This spring is my last chance to be able to harness my sealing powers. We’ve been circling this area for days… If we don’t fin--- Link.” She cocked her head at him digging through his never-ending, korok-enchanted pack. It’s unlike him not to listen. “What are you doing?”
Cowed, Link grinned back sheepishly. He slowly pulled out a wrapped package and peeled it back. It was a nutcake.
He had a twig in his other hand. He set it to the flame, then stuck the makeshift candle into the cake.
“We didn’t celebrate your birthday.”
She blinked at his bashful expression to the cake then back again. “You’re just trying to distract me from my sad thoughts, aren’t you?” she accused with a spreading grin. He nodded emphatically and she couldn’t help laughing. “Well, it’s not working, but thank you anyway.”
Hebra seemed just the slightest bit warmer that night.
They finished the cake in comfortable silence. Wolf songs competed with the howls of Hebra wind pulling at the trees in tandem. The heat of the fire and her own body had melted some of the snow around her, soaking the seat of her pants. Even cozied up by the fire, Zelda felt the chill settling in and decided she’d had enough.
“I’m heading off to bed for the night,” she informed him, lighting a torch to keep at her bedside. He didn’t say anything but nodded. The knight, in his own knightly way, began cleaning up their meal and setting up his bedroll next to the fire. Zelda lingered at the entrance to the tent, watching him.
Even blocked by the rocky outcrop, the wind was still tugging something fierce at the fire and Link’s hair. It was making his work more difficult. Flurries of snow stung his eyes and he winced. He fed the starving fire.
A pang of sympathy hit her. He not only had to carry the weight of his own title, but he had to deal with her on top of it. It seems unnecessarily cruel to leave him out here. He turned, catching her staring, and cocked his head back at her.
“Why don’t you come inside for the night?” She has to speak up to be heard over the growing winds.
Link froze. Somehow, his already chill-reddened face flushed a deeper shade. Zelda clearly found the expression endearing and cleared her throat. Sensing he misunderstood, she purposefully spoke with more poise, more clarity, “Bring in your bedroll. It is freezing out here, and you’ll be much happier inside.”
He seemed to sense her offer was perfectly innocent, but still faltered in coming up with an answer. The longer he took, the more devious and cunning her eyes cut back at him. She was amused! That’s certainly not helping. Any answer he’d started got jumbled in his throat. “I—Princess, that’s not…”
Could he be executed for that?
She broke out into a grin, eyes tossing back some of that playful firelight back at him. “Relax, Link.” She held up her hands in a gesture of good-will. “I think given the circumstances, sheltering together is not considered scandalous.”
He still looked suspicious, but she could tell he was considering her offer. The fire careened as a stray gust of wind clawed through the campsite. Zelda visibly shivered. Link wore a face like he was sizing up an enemy. She wasn’t sure how she felt to be the subject of that stare.
Then, to her surprise, he pulled the flameblade from the ring of bare dirt and approached.
Before she even had the chance to be intimidated, he turned his back to her and assumed the wide stance of a guarding soldier, resting hands atop his sword. “Get some rest, Princess.”
She stared at the back of his head. I vastly underestimated how stubborn he can be.
With a sigh, she acquiesced and went inside.
Zelda awoke earlier than usual, cold in her bed. The torch was barely clinging to life.
When she’d changed into her snowquill clothes (mercifully dry now) and opened the tent flap, she found Link sitting in the snow, face resting heavily on his flameblade. His eyes fluttered at her noise and opened blearily.
“You’re stubborn,” Zelda remarked, dryly.
“You’re awake,” he answered, equally obvious.
They packed up camp and set out once again. Zelda always loved the morning time. Fresh opportunities, singing birds, the bubble of hope she desperately tended to throughout the day to keep from bursting. Link seemed to pick up on her good mood, jovially offering her a spicy elixir. She accepted even though she didn’t feel she needed it at that moment. Warmed, she began prattling on about the rarity of insects native to the Hebra region. She held the camera at the ready in case one showed itself.
Link half-listened, half scanned for dangers, finding none. Snow crunched under their boots.
“It’s strange… I can’t find anything in the Hyrule Compendium regarding the Spring of Unity. You’re sure that—What was her name? The Great Fairy outside Kakariko?”
Link stumbled, realizing she’d asked him a question. “… Cotera?”
“Yes! Cotera. You’re sure that she’d said somewhere with warm water?”
Link nodded, certain. “She said they draw their power from the Springs. But her favorite was the one with the hot water flowing.”
Zelda’s face scrunched up, as if trying to work out a riddle. She thought out loud about the logistics of Great Fairies accessing Spring water when they seem trapped in their own pools. Link shrugged unhelpfully.
“In any case… if there’s hot water-- and there obviously isn’t any out here on the surface—it must be some sort of underground source. Somewhere protected.” She put her chin in her hand. “Perhaps we’ve been searching in all the wrong ways. We should be looking for an opening into the mountain, not a spring on top of it.”
This realization incensed her. Just like that, she was enthralled in the work of analyzing the slate once again for clues. Link didn’t catch much of what she was saying since it was mostly said to herself.
They were approaching the Shada Naw Shrine, making their way across the narrow stretch of traversable mountainside. Steep cliffs flanked their sides; Death Mountain and Hyrule Castle watched their journey, as indifferent as ever.
“That would mean… we probably should be scouting lower on the mountain.” Zelda sounded exhausted all of a sudden. She wiggled her boots like her feet were killing her already.
Link indulged her in a half-smile. “Going down is easier than going up.”
She glared at him childishly, then turned her attention back to the slate. “Wait a minute. My calculations aren’t wrong. It has to be in this area.”
Link realized when she did. It’s under them.
Ecstatic, Zelda zoomed in even further on the slate. She was so excited that even Link forgot himself, sidling up to her shoulder to watch. She was scanning for something… There.
They stared down over the edge. Vertigo played tricks on Zelda’s mind and she desperately clutched onto a nearby treebranch for purchase. Oh, that’s a far fall.
Link at least had the decency to try and hide the fact that he was laughing at her, but he lacked in competency. The Princess glowered at him in a very un-Princess like way. “How in Hylia are we to get down there?”
Link reached into his enchanted pouch, producing his paraglider. “I think I have an idea.”
Zelda crossed her arms. “Great. Well, climb back up here when you’re done praying to the Goddess on my behalf.”
This earned her a pleading look from Link. Come on, Zelda, be rational. Thinking over her options, Zelda saw exactly no traversable way in or out of the gully below. She didn’t have Link’s knack for rock-climbing. But they’d established that this was the only logical entrance point into the mountain. The snow-covered rocks opened in a scar at the bottom that promised cave entrance.
“Will that even support two people?” She sniffed suspiciously at the paraglider.
Link shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”
“That is exceptionally reckless,” Zelda balked, “The King will have you executed for such negligence.”
Link grinned back, knowing an empty threat when he heard one. “Won’t be much of me to execute if I’m wrong.” He watched her, letting the mirth simmer between them until it faded away. Ultimately, it was her call, and he waited for her to make it.
She worried her lip then finally spoke. “Okay. How do we do this?” She was doing a fantastic job covering up how nervous she was.
By way of an answer, he turned his back to her and crouched down, gesturing for her to climb on. Zelda hesitated, eyeing her unlikely steed. “That is a very un-Princess like idea.”
Link rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “I need my hands free.”
“I’m bigger than you.”
The knight shot her a look over his shoulder. “Doubt it. It’ll be fine, Princess.” His confidence in his abilities was the little push she needed.
She climbed onto his back, trying to situate herself. Link took her weight as if it were no more than his normal gear. It was definitely different—She hadn’t received so much as a hug since… wow, for a very long time. Now, being completely pressed to someone else, she felt decidedly very un-Princess like. And warm.
Link swayed to get his balance, aware of the heat growing between them. He suddenly thought that there was something very wrong happening to him. He hadn’t noticed that his palms were sweating until his mitt slipped off. She crossed her legs in front of his hips to catch herself, which certainly didn’t help matters.
She squirmed uncomfortably. Link diligently thought about King Roam Bosphoramus. “Wait,” she breathed in his ear. He nearly chucked her over the ledge in a panic.
She slid off him to stand. Relief and cold air flooded him.
“The uh—The flameblade,” she began, voice a little higher than she meant.
Right. No wonder he was sweating. Without looking at her, he shed the strap with the blade from his shoulder and collected his fallen glove. “You wear it.”
He heard her comply then place her hands on his shoulders. Big, hairy, salt-and-peppered hands of King Roam. Yep, that’s what they were. He lifted the not-King and made sure she was ready before running forward to the lip of the cliff.
The sails crackled as they caught the wind.
Zelda’s legs nearly squeezed the breath out of him. Maybe he shouldn’t have taught her the basics of horsemanship. Her thighs were strong enough to make black spots at the edge of his vision. Her face was tucked into his hair in terror. Even with the parasail safely deployed, cracking in the wind, Zelda didn’t lift her head until well into the descent.
This was amusing enough to Link that he nearly lost focus. “Hey, you’re good,” he yells over the wind.
She couldn’t help laughing, little bubbles of adrenaline-fueled joy making her jittery at every nerve. She could see the hard-edged canyon separating Greater Hyrule from the other land masses to the North. The world suddenly felt so much bigger than her and her little worries.
He strained to listen to the sound of her laughter over the popping sail. It was something so rarely heard, it seemed wasteful not to be able to hear it fully. She finally relaxed, just enough for him to not be in pain.
He prayed to Hylia he would be able to keep this memory.
He should have been paying more attention.
Out of the snow burst an Ice Lizalfos, alerting multiple others from their disguises. A jet of freeze-dried air shot directly at them, and Link barely managed to swerve the sail. The reptiles squawked at them, bouncing around joyously. Zelda’s shriek in his ear would definitely leave it ringing later.
“Link!” she cried.
Focus overtook him. The world slowed down. They were Ice Lizalfos, and he had his bow in hand, fire arrows at the ready before he’d even had the thought to do so. They were freefalling, and Zelda’s additional weight made him miscalculate the first shot. He adjusted the second, sending a lizard up in a poof of mist and malice.
Another jet was headed their way, and Link skillfully dodged it by opening up the sail. Zelda nearly lost her grip from the change in forces.
A fire arrow was his answer to the jet. The Lizalfos went up in a poof. None of the others mourned it.
They hadn’t had a chance. Link dispatched two more in the same fashion, using the islands of flat rock to corral them.
He scanned shrewdly, looking for more. Everything was white, all white below them. They were known to camouflage themselves. They only had enough space between them and the rocks below for one more shot.
Link wouldn’t get to take it.
They cried out as they were side-blinded by a blast of cold air. Even with their elixirs and their snowquills, the cold shot straight into their veins. Their muscles seized, and Link lost grip on one side of the paraglider. The new wind sent them spiraling and careening out of control.
Zelda hung on for dear life but was thrown from Link’s back. She shrieked, grasping wildly for him, and watched him grow small in the distance.
Then she felt something sting against her back.