The voices were the worst part. So full of pain, anguish, and desperation. He knew them. Or at least, he knew some of them. There was one in particular that practically ripped his heart out in its grief.
The rest of him felt pretty numb. He seemed to have a vague recollection of having been in pain not so long ago, but his level of conscious awareness had faded significantly over the last few… How long had it been? Minutes? Hours? Days? It didn’t really matter. There was a strange sense of peace accompanying the numbness. A sense of release. Whatever had happened, however long he had been here, and wherever he would go next, it was all in the Goddess’s plan, right?
Slowly, he forced his eyes open. It didn’t hurt, his eyelids just felt really heavy for some reason. After a moment, he was able to focus on the bright blue light hovering directly over him. He felt something drip on his face. Could it be rain? Maybe. Almost without thought, he reached upward, and was almost startled to feel his fingertips brush against something soft. Something gripped his hand, pressed it close to that softness. The blue disappeared for an instant, then returned, and in that moment, he felt two more droplets splatter his cheek.
Clarity filled him then, and he smiled faintly.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered, and was startled to hear how strained his own voice sounded as the world began to fade away. The wound must be closer to his lungs than he realized, but he couldn’t leave her quite yet. He had to finish.
“Don’t cry, Zelda. We’ll meet again.”
Pain, pain, and more pain.
Crying to protest the injustice of it all.
Screaming to declare the will to live.
Something warm and sweet.
“Linkle! Linkle, where are you?!”
Linkle’s head snapped up from the compass she’d been frowning at. Underneath her arm, the cuckoo that she was holding clucked curiously, cocking its head up towards her. “Illyia? That you?”
There came a crash and rustle of foliage, and a moment later, a blond head popped through the screen of greenery. “Linkle! Where have you been?! Your grandmother and I have been worried sick!!” her best friend declared, forcing the rest of her body through the bushes. “I swear, you could get lost in your own house!”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Linkle grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck. “One of the cuckoos managed to hop the fence, so I had to go after it. And then… you know.”
“What is that compass for if you’re never gonna learn how to use it?” Illyia sighed grumpily. “Anyway, come on; I’ll lead you home. Your Grandma has lunch prepared.”
“Thanks for coming to get me,” Linkle smiled cheerfully. “Sorry it probably interrupted your planning with Finch.”
“Don’t mention it,” Illyia sighed. “I mean, what are best friends for?”
“Heh. True. Any idea what’s for lunch?” her friend continued, practically skipping as they cleared the forest and the village came into sight.
“Soup, I think.”
The young woman stiffened, her braids whipping around as she turned sharply back towards the forest, listening intently, blue eyes searching urgently. The cuckoo in her arms clucked wildly as her grip involuntarily tightened, eyes bulging slightly.
That voice again…
“Linkle? You okay?”
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.”
“Nothing. But, um, just out of curiosity, did you… hear anything strange just now?”
“What? No, I didn’t hear a thing,” Illyia frowned back, her green eyes boring into her best friend. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Linkle laughed airily trying to seem nonchalant as she shifted her grip on the recaptured cuckoo. The little bird made an unimpressed noise in complaint, but otherwise didn’t try to escape.
“Yeah, sure,” Illyia’s frown deepened as they set off once more. “Are you still having those dreams?”
“Hm? Sometimes. I had one earlier this week. About a little black imp named Midna. She was obnoxious, but in a loveable way.”
“That sounds… interesting.”
“Oh it was. I turned into a wolf,” Linkle grinned, perking up. “It was really cool.”
Illyia blinked at her, then smiled, a weary sigh escaping her lips. “Your optimism never ceases to amaze me.”
“Why thank you, I amaze myself too!”
“Linkle! There you are, dear! I was afraid you’d gotten lost again!”
“Hi, Grandma! Sorry about that!”
“Thank you so much for finding her, Illyia, dear.”
“It’s not a big deal. Anyway, I’ll see you later, Linkle. Mom was hoping to fit the wedding gown today.”
“Sure! Catch you later. Say hi to Finch for me! Hey Grandma, I know this compass is a family heirloom and all, but are you sure it really works?”
“Ah Linkle, dear…”
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of hohummery. Not much happened in the life of a cuckoo farmer after all. Nothing except for weird dreams, apparently. One of being on a massive ship that was somehow alive, one of giant mechanical monsters, one of the moon crashing into the earth, one of being a child chasing a blue fairy and then transforming instantly into an adult, one where she had a horse, one where she flew on the back of a bird, one where she was a farmer, one where she was a train conductor, and in most she was usually a warrior, carrying a long sword across her back.
And in all of them she was inexplicably a boy.
That was the weirdest thing about them, really. Why a boy? Why couldn’t she do all that cool stuff and still be a girl?
She shook her head. It really didn’t make sense.
“Well if it isn’t Ms. Linkle.”
Linkle sighed wearily, then turned around with a rather forced smile. “Hello, Malvon. What brings you here?”
A tall young man with dirty blond hair and gray-blue eyes grinned at her, flanked by his two ever-present lackeys, Stieg and Chad, his hand resting casually on the hilt of his heirloom sword. “Not much, really. Just admiring the view.”
“Really? How strange. I’m afraid the view isn’t very good right here. I mean, our house is right at the lowest point of the valley, after all. You can’t see much besides grass and cuckoos over here,” Linkle replied, carefully keeping her face expressionless.
“That isn’t the view I meant, you know,” Malvon chuckled, moving invasively close to her. Linkle promptly stepped to the side, turning so that she was no longer trapped between the fence and his mass of muscle. At the same time, she angled her quarterstaff slightly, smiling cooly as she took a casual ready stance. Thank the Goddesses her dad taught her how to fight before he died. Not that he noticed what she was doing; he was too focused on her pretty face.
“Well I can’t imagine what else you would mean,” the blond girl replied, her smile tightening. “Hey, whatever happened with the Sages? Are they coming after all?”
“Ooh, taking an interest are you?” the boy grinned, trying to lean casually on the too-short-for-a-tall-guy-to-lean-casually-on fence.
Not really. It’s just that getting you to talk about yourself is the surest way to stop your advances on me. Just because we share a birthday and Illyia is already taken doesn’t make us soul mates, you know, Linkle thought, her teeth clenching behind her thinly-pressed lips. But she didn't voice the thought. She just continued to smile blankly, as though she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Yeah, the Priestess just told me that she got word in the post! The Sages will be here the day after tomorrow to declare me the Hero of Hyrule!”
“I thought it was just an assessment?”
“Well yeah, but there's no doubt that I'm the reincarnation of the Hero! It's only a matter of time before I'm declared the next Link!”
“Right. Of course. Well, I wish you luck. It would be quite the honor if the new Hero of Hyrule came from our little village, don’t you think Stieg?” Linkle called to Malvon’s red-headed friend.
“What?!” the boy yelped, tearing his eyes from his friend. “O-Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that would be awesome!”
“Of course it would,” Linkle smiled, this time with a sympathetic curl to her lips. “Anyway, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me work now. Can’t let the cuckoos escape, you know?”
“Sure, but first I wanted to ask… When I’m named the Hero of Hyrule in two days, would you like to celebrate with me?”
“Uh…” Linkle blinked at him, more than a little taken aback. “I… um… I'm not sure that would be appropriate, Malvon…”
“Aw come on, it won't be anything weird. Just… alone time between a guy and a girl.”
Linkle didn't even bother hiding her slightly disgusted alarm. Nothing weird, huh? She glanced towards his friends, noting Chad's surprise and Stieg's crestfallen expression. So she wasn't misinterpreting him. “I, uh, probably have plans with my grandmother…”
“Well, it's alright if you need time to absorb my invitation. I'll just expect your answer tomorrow,” he smiled, the gleam in his eyes assuring her of the answer he expected to receive.
“…Yeah. Sure,” Linkle muttered, averting her eyes with a grimace. “Bye, then.”
“Talk to you tomorrow, Linkle!” Malvon grinned back, leading his friends away.
“Not if I can help it,” she mumbled under her breath in a sing-song voice. It wasn't that Malvon was a bad guy, per se, he was just rather full of himself. Not to mention a bit of a clueless idiot. That and he seemed to think that a woman's only uses were as housekeepers, priestesses, and… cuckoo farmers.
Linkle sighed, a little bitterly. It wasn't that she minded the work. Honest work was honorable work, as her grandma always said. And anyway, it kept food on the table. She wished that she could do more, though. When her parents passed away two years ago, she'd tried applying for a better-paying job with the town militia - she was eighteen, after all, and her father had trained her to use a quarterstaff and his old crossbow from the time she was ten - but she had been turned away just because she was a girl. A girl that could beat any member of the current garrison as a markswoman, but still a girl.
It wasn't fair.
The blond girl froze, the short hairs at the nape of her neck prickling warningly. She carefully glanced around, but saw no one. Even Malvon and his friends had disappeared from view. “Who are you?” she said quietly, unwilling to pitch her voice any louder.
“Linkle. Come to me.”
“Well that's not creepy at all,” she frowned, straightening up and glancing around her. “Where is that even coming from?”
“Where is what coming from?”
“Gah!!” Linkle yelped, flinching and whirling towards a startled blond.
“Whoa Linkle, where's the fire?” she managed to smile, quirking an eyebrow at her.
“Illyia!! Who-? What-? H-How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to question my own sanity for being friends with you,” Illyia smirked. “So what's up?”
“Uh… nothing. Really. Just… lost in thought.”
“So you really can get lost anywhere can't you?”
Illyia giggled, then her expression softened. “So what are you thinking about?”
“Ah… Just… Malvon being weird. Again.”
“Oh boy. What'd he do this time?”
“Well… I think he asked me on a date?”
Her best friend actually shuddered at the thought. “Please don't tell me you said yes.”
“Ew, no, of course not! Still, I'm pretty sure he won't take 'no' for an answer.”
“Well you’re not wrong. Maybe I can spirit you away for the afternoon to help plan wedding details instead?”
“I'm not sure if you're a demon or a goddess, Illyia.”
“Easy there. You don’t want the Priestess coming after you for blasphemy,” her green-eyed friend smirked back. “Anyway, the sun is starting to set. Isn’t time to send the cuckoos back to their coop?”
“Right,” Linkle sighed, smiling wearily. “Lend a hand?”