This wasn’t the first time Rhondson had set off on a husband hunt.
It was late summer, almost a year after the ghost of the Great Calamity vanished from the castle. Most of Hyrule was still green, but the first touches of red and gold had already begun to appear on the trees of Akkala. It was chilly when Rhondson left Tarrey Town, but the morning fog had lifted and the sky was crystal clear.
Rhondson had always enjoyed mornings. Most people woke up early in the desert and took a nap during the worst heat of the afternoon so that they could stay up late into the evening. Rhondson kept the same schedule in Tarrey Town, a practice that Hudson found inexplicably upsetting. He complained, almost every day now, that she never went to bed with him. He insisted that a man and his wife should fall asleep together. Rhondson explained that she enjoyed sewing by lamplight at night, when the world is quiet and even the plainest thread shines like gold, but he refused to understand.
Hudson had recently grown restless. Perhaps it was because of the tension in their relationship, or perhaps it was only the change of season, but he left Tarrey Town one afternoon and never returned. Ashai’s classes hadn’t prepared Rhondson for this. They’d talked so much about how to catch a man, but never about how to keep him. She wondered if other vai had the same problem. All of the romances she read when she was younger ended with a “happily ever after,” but what was supposed to happen the next day? And the day after that?
All things considered, Rhondson was content with her life in Tarrey Town. Her feelings about the settlement had been ambiguous at first. The location was out-of-the-way, to say the least, but the town received more visitors than she’d expected. The son of the two Sheikah researchers who lived in an old lighthouse up on the northern cliffs made his living as a traveling merchant of fine clothing, and he saw to it that Rhondson always had work. Tarrey Town was unique in its appeal as a marketplace for goods from all over Hyrule, and Hudson’s brightly painted modular houses had become something of a tourist attraction. He’d been flooded with orders for summer rental homes, and a satellite community had sprung up on the other side of the bridge to satisfy the demand.
Hudson managed to keep himself busy, but he seemed to harbor doubts about establishing Tarrey Town on such a small island. To make matters worse, many of the people who’d come to town for the summer were starting to drift away as the days became shorter. Perhaps they were worried about Akkala’s infamous autumn thunderstorms. Rhondson happened to enjoy the heavy rains, whose gale winds and lightning crashes reminded her of the sandstorms back home, but she understood how the violent weather and sudden drop in temperature might put off people who weren’t accustomed to the climate. She’d camped at more than a few oasis waystations during her travels, and she knew it was perfectly natural for the population of a place like Tarrey Town to wax and wane with the season.
Rhondson tried to explain to Hudson how it was normal for people to come and go. Many of the town residents were nomadic by nature, she said, and they had no excuse not to indulge their wanderlust now that it was safe to travel. Hudson adamantly refused to listen. He insisted that a man’s home was his castle. But why not have two castles, Rhondson objected. And people would come back next summer, she reasoned. They’d had to hire new workers to perform upkeep on the vacation homes during the winter, after all, so it wasn’t as though the population was shrinking. If he was feeling ambitious, she added with a wink, they might be able to add their own contribution to the town’s population.
“I’m just not sure how long this town will last,” Hudson replied, ending the conversation with a sigh.
His admission put Rhondson ill at ease, and she couldn’t help recalling Hudson’s anxiety when she realized that he hadn’t come home during the night. “Sometimes you have to treat voe like children,” Ashai had once explained. “There will be times when they take action without thinking about how it will affect you, but it’s likely that their behavior comes from simple thoughtlessness, not spite.” Rhondson didn’t know about that. She’d met enough silly and immature vai in her life to understand that voe didn’t have a monopoly on being pigheaded. Still, if Hudson had gone out and gotten himself lost, purposefully or otherwise, she might as well go find him.
Rhondson set out from Tarrey Town and walked due south, pacing herself as she made her way up the gentle slope of the hills leading to Upland Zorana. Once the mountains began in earnest, she turned west at the road leading to the old stone quarry and kept going until she could see the waterfalls at the source of Lake Akkala.
She’d crossed the Sokkala Bridges when she first came to Tarrey Town instead of taking the longer road to the north, and she was just as impressed by them now as she was then. The log bridges were simple structures, really, not much more than planks laid over support pillars embedded in the banks of the rivulets flowing from the waterfall basin, but they were sturdy and well-constructed. A traveler could cross them with ease, secure enough in their footing to look up and appreciate the rainbows that danced in the misty spray of the waterfalls.
Not every bridge needed to be the Bridge of Hylia, Rhondson thought. Perhaps it was better if most bridges weren’t, in fact. The Bridge of Hylia was a magnificent piece of work, to be sure, but it seemed as though it was already in a state of disrepair even before the Great Calamity. Judging from the conversations between Hudson and his former boss Bolson, no living stonemason had any idea how to repair its gargantuan supports. Meanwhile, more modest structures like the Sokkala Bridges could be maintained whenever the need arose. In their own way, the Sokkala Bridges were just as important at the Bridge of Hylia, even if they never became monuments.
As she crossed the final bridge, Rhondson could see the hazy outline of Akkala Citadel rising in the west. Its massive size was impressive, but she couldn’t imagine it being particularly beneficial to anyone. Truth be told, the ruins weren’t much more than a glorified pile of old stone bricks that could almost certainly be put to better use elsewhere. Speaking of which, Rhondson was starting to get an inkling of where Hudson might have gotten himself off to. “A man’s home is his castle,” he liked to say, and how intriguing it must have been to have an actual castle so close to home, especially if its materials could be repurposed.
Rhondson headed north when the road forked and made her way across the old high bridge over the river, carefully navigating the deep fissures in the stone. Once she was safely on the other side, she began climbing the winding path up the mountain.
The leaves of the trees on the upper slopes of the hill had already turned a bold shade of crimson, and the weathered steel of the Sheikah Tower gleamed in the sun. Rumor had it that the citadel used to be patrolled by Guardians, but nothing confronted Rhondson save for a few moss-covered remnants of ceramic casing. Parts of the road had been washed away in a landslide, probably after the Malice swamp dried up, but the majority of the paving stones were still intact.
Rhondson entered the gatehouse at the foot of the outer wall surrounding the citadel. The inside was littered with rubble from a century-old battle, and the remains of more recent Bokoblin campfires were scattered across the floor. A partially overturned Guardian occupied a corner of the room, its segmented legs folded neatly underneath its casing like the paws of a sleeping cat. When she first set out from the desert, Rhondson had been terrified of encountering a Guardian, but she’d grown fond of the broken bits and pieces of their chassis that had been left beside Hyrule’s roads to remind travelers to remain vigilant. Their round faces and decoratively textured bodies were actually a bit cute, like oversized toys.
Rhondson passed through the gatehouse and entered a small courtyard. The walls of the citadel rose on every side of the open space, but the gaps between turrets were wide enough for the sun to shine through and warm the paving stones. One side of the courtyard was dominated by a large alcove that was probably used to shelter horses. The bare soil under the dilapidated wooden awning was covered in pale green scrub bush and dotted with bright yellow wildflowers.
A covered walkway ran along the opposite wall, connecting the gatehouse to the larger body of the citadel. As Rhondson followed the shaded path, she imagined how heavily the snowfall would accumulate at this altitude. She didn’t envy the soldiers tasked with shoveling duty. She glanced at the enormous wooden door that marked the entrance to the main hall, but its iron fittings were orange with rust. Thankfully, the smaller door at the end of the walkway was barely hanging by its hinges, and Rhondson had no trouble pushing it open.
She called Hudson’s name into the shadows of the citadel. Aside from the echo of her own voice, there was no answer. It probably wasn’t safe to go inside, but she had already come so far. Rhondson figured that she may as well make sure that Hudson wasn’t here before she left.
The interior of the fortress wasn’t nearly as impressive as its silhouette. The entryway was much smaller than she expected, and the floor was made of packed earth. As Rhondson’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, she could see that the wooden beams of the ceiling were exposed. They were dark with ash. The smoke had probably come from the tall braziers secured to the pillars set into the stone walls.
Rhondson walked across the hall, glancing around her with interest. A few piles of old leaves moldered just inside the open service door, but the room was remarkably clean. The tapestries displayed in the bays between pillars still retained some of their color, and wooden weapons racks still clung to the stone walls next to the main gate. Rhondson realized that the earth floor must absorb the humidity of summer and the chill of winter, keeping the wood and cloth relatively preserved. The layer of ash coating the wooden beams of the ceiling probably helped protect them from the elements as well.
Large passageways ringed with shallow arches connected the central hall to the east and west wings, but Rhondson was more interested in a spiral staircase carved into the back wall. Although she had to bend her head to enter, the stairs bore her weight. Each step dipped slightly toward the middle from centuries of use. As she climbed to the next floor, Rhondson was amused by the thought of walking in the footsteps of people who had lived so long ago.
The room above was much smaller than the citadel’s entrance, but its ceiling was almost as high. The walls were constructed of the same unpainted white limestone as the fortress exterior. Their rough surfaces were irregularly broken by small rectangular windows positioned slightly above eye level. Some of the glass panes were missing, allowing a cool breeze to enter the bright and sun-warmed space, but the floorboards were level and seemed solid enough
Rhondson began to make her way from room to room. Her first thought was that the haphazard layout was due to poor planning, but she gradually realized that different parts of the Akkala Citadel must have been built at different times, more than likely after various battles. Very few furnishings remained in the deserted fortress, but the architecture differed so drastically between rooms that it was clear she was walking through different periods of history. Rhondson was amazed by the evolution of the windows, which became larger and more ornate as she walked. She imagined that this was what Hyrule Castle must look like, an amalgamation of architectural styles that had grown and transformed along with the kingdom itself.
Rhondson enjoyed her stroll through the ruins, but Hudson was nowhere to be found. The sun was already low in the sky, so she made her way outside and began her descent. From her vantage point at the top of the path, she could see a flat patch of land at the base of the hill. The soldiers stationed here must have used it as a parade ground for exercise and training. It would be as good a place as any to make camp.
Dusk had begun to gather by the time she arrived on the field, and the shadows lay long across the tall grass. Rhondson didn’t see the Hinox immediately, but she could smell it. The odor wasn’t unpleasant, but it was unmistakable. As soon as she realized that she wasn’t alone, Rhondson turned to leave. Most Hinoxes tended to ignore the travelers that wandered into their vicinity, but she didn’t want to take any chances.
Without warning, the Hinox bellowed. Its scream sent startled birds up from the nearby trees in a rush of beating wings and angry squawking. Rhondson prepared herself to make a run for her life, but she was stopped in her tracks by a voice she would recognize anywhere.
“Don’t cry, you big baby. It only stings at first. You’ll feel better in two shakes of a blupee’s tail.”
Rhondson shook her head with amusement as she walked across the field toward the source of the voice. The Hinox pouted at her, giant tears spilling from its eye.
The broad-shouldered man crouching beside the Hinox jerked his head up. “Rhondson? What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. I came looking for you. Is this where you’ve been this whole time?”
“I meant to come back last night,” Hudson replied, averting his eyes. “But this oaf hurt his foot while helping me clear away the rubble on the path up the mountain, and I couldn’t just leave him like this. The wound would have suppurated, and he’s all alone out here.”
Rhondson gave the Hinox a closer look and saw that it – he – had a deep gash on his heel. Hudson was cleaning it with a balled-up wad of fabric. If she wasn’t mistaken, it was the first workshirt she’d sewn for him. She’d made it just as they were starting to get to know one another, before she knew his measurements, and it fit him poorly. She asked him to throw it away and bury it with the compost months ago, but he’d apparently kept it. Hudson was surprisingly sentimental for a man who insisted on utility over decoration. It was one of the things she liked about him.
Rhondson smiled as she shrugged her pack onto the ground and dug out a jar of safflina salve. As Hudson helped her dress the Hinox’s wound, he explained that he had indeed come here to assess the state of the stonework. He assumed the citadel would be in ruins, but the structure was still sound. It would be a shame to dismantle it. With a few minor renovations, it would be almost as good as new. Still, making it more habitable would mean reducing its efficacy as a fortress.
“But what does that matter?” Rhondson asked. “Who’s going to attack it?”
“There are monsters roaming about, and…”
“Does this ‘monster’ look like he’s going to attack anyone?”
The Hinox had fallen asleep as they talked and was snoring lightly.
“He’s not a monster,” Hudson replied with a frown.
“Exactly. It seems to me that you’re already thinking about hiring him to work for you.”
“I’m not… Well, I guess I am. Having a Hinox around would be useful, especially if I decide to fix up this place, but we’d have to knock down some of the interior walls to make more room for him.”
Rhondson winced as she remembered all the times she’d banged her forehead on Hylian doorways. Now that she thought about it, there was no reason for those doors to be so low in the first place, especially not when her husband could so easily make them more accommodating. “Weren’t you planning to knock down the walls anyway?” she pointed out. “You could use the materials to repair the bridge.”
“But it’s disrespectful not to honor the past,” Hudson objected. “Shouldn’t the history of the Akkala Citadel be preserved?”
“It’s in ruins.” Rhondson put a hand on his shoulder. “One day you’ll have to come with me to visit my family. Everything in Gerudo Town is built on top of history. Nothing gets done if you worry about preserving the past as it once was. Living things change, and that includes old castles like this.”
“Maybe it includes towns too,” Hudson replied. “I guess it won’t be so bad if Tarrey Town grows. We could have a sister city maybe, right here on this hill. It would be a convenient waystation for travelers.” He thought for a moment. “And a good place for Hinoxes, too. It’s built on their scale, at least, and they’re all over Akkala. It’s a shame they always have to sleep in the open. Besides, Mason looks like he could use a friend. He’ll be lonely without me.”
Mason? Rhondson grinned at the name her husband had assigned to the Hinox. “Are you going to bring him home, then?” she asked.
“Home is wherever you are, Rhondson. We’ll go wherever you like. I missed you.”
“I missed you too, but we can spend a night or two away from Tarrey Town. I’d like to go back to the citadel tomorrow morning. I don’t think anyone has been inside this place for at least a hundred years.”
The sun had finally set, and stars were beginning to shine in the deepening indigo of the twilight sky. Rhondson smiled as she pictured the castle on the hill once again filled with lights. There was a certain charm to speculating on what the past might have been like, but the future held much more potential for imagination.