The sound came again. Closer this time. Hyaa. Hy-H-Hy-Hyaaaa. Little footsteps piddled and paddled back and forth. A chicken announced its surprise at being suddenly and violently wrested from its perch with a cry of terror, cut short by a high pitched grunt and the all-too-familiar wet thud of fowl striking wall.
“It’s happening again.” he muttered. He wasn’t sad or scared, just ashamed at his own powerlessness. Ilsa turned from the fire and regarded him, her pursed lips pulled so tightly over her teeth that minuscule ovoid depressions formed in the skin over the gaps where individual teeth had succumbed to malnutrition, neglect or violence. At one time, when they were younger, Ilsa would have scolded him for his inaction, her bitter tongue fortifying him into the man she had believed him to be. But she hadn’t said a word off-script since Saria left.
The doorknob creaked open and Name sat bolt upright, holding his fork and knife parallel to his torso and staring straight ahead. Ilsa turned back to the stove and began stirring the pot with precise, counter-clockwise strokes. There was nothing in it but water. There hadn’t been in a long time.
“Hi, LINK!” he exclaimed happily, turning down to face the little green clad boy tugging on his shirt. “I hear you’re starting a big adventure!”
He couldn’t even hear himself speak these words. He knew that he had said what it was necessary to say, but he would have sworn on his life that his lips had never moved and that nothing more than a raspy croak had left his throat.
“I always wanted to go on an adventure! I was quite a specimen in my day, let me tell you. Now I can’t even get my dinner on time!” Ilsa winced.
The boy ran away without acknowledging his spiel and barrelled headfirst around the table, hacking and slashing with his little blade as if trying to knock something of value or use out of the humble furnishings. He soon tired of the enterprise and ran to Ilsa, petulantly demanding an audience by poking her in the hip with his stubby fingers.
She turned to face down at him. “Hi, LINK! Dinner is almost ready.” Her lips didn’t move. No sound even closely resembling what he thought he remembered her voice to be disturbed the room, but the message was clear to all and the boy turned, seemingly satisfied.
Name slumped as the door finally shut behind the boy, his back hunched in defeat as he heard the footsteps recede into the distance. Ilsa stared into the pot, she had stopped stirring but clutched the spoon so tightly that the skin over her knuckles appeared translucent with the strain.
“He didn’t have a shield. The guards will never let him up Death Mountain without a shield.” Ilsa remained still. “I was at the market today and shields were up to 80 rupees. That bastard must have known there was another quest afoot.” He spoke softly, just loud enough to be heard over the crackle of the fire and the throbbing din outside. One never knew who was listening.
It hadn’t always been like this. As of late the days had grown so similar in their monotony that even the pain—both deep in his stomach and nestled safe from all methods of hope of respite between his eyes and the back of his skull—was now less physical agony than agonizing routine. He had formed no memories in the past few years, the pain was constant and encroached further upon him so slowly that no day bore any significant difference from the last. The routine choked off all interlopers and left him isolated with happy memories of times long gone, sharpening them into gnawing reminders of his wasted potential.
Born into a nomadic tribe deep in the Gerudo desert, he left home and crossed through the forest around the age of 16 when he heard tell of construction work somewhere in the kingdom of Hyrule. Despite his few years he sported a mustache which rivaled that of most men and a portly belly which belied his lively step, qualities which quickly ingratiated him with men many years his senior. Settling in Kakariko village, he found work as a quality control specialist with a small contractor commissioned by the royal family to develop the village into a hub for the booming trade with the Goron people of Death Mountain. One would have been hard pressed to feel any sympathy had he complained about that job, all he had to do was run back and forth atop recently constructed walls and rows of pillars checking for structural deficiencies and ensuring that all projects met the minimum HyDOT safety specs. Not to mention this was before the free market deregulation at the beginning of the first Zelda regime and the workers still had a pretty good union, so once he got through probation and could pick up some overtime he found himself pretty flush.
Hyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. A drawn out battle cry snatched Name from his reveries before terminating abruptly with a sickening thump. Looking out the window he could barely make out a little green figure slowly standing up from the base of the old watch tower and limping tentatively towards his house. He and Ilsa assumed their positions just as the door was kicked open and a half-crazed Link stumbled in.
The child was covered in blood from head to toe. His left arm swayed uselessly from the fleshy mass where the humerus had been disengaged from the shoulder, and the oddly bent fingers of his right hand barely kept their grasp on the hilt of his sword. His eyes swollen shut, he staggered blindly through the house swinging his sword indiscriminately into the muddy wall and the rough wooden furniture. He did this for several minutes, falling constantly, before he found his way to the pantry and his sword connected with one of Ilsa’s clay storage jars. He pounced towards the sound of the crash and rooted through the shards, feeling each bottle carefully with his few good fingers before finally settling on a small cubic bottle with a thin neck.
Link ripped the cork out with his teeth and took a generous pull of laudanum. The soothing tincture traveled quickly through the boy’s short limbs and he fell almost immediately back to the floor with a contented sigh. Nothing moved in the house for several minutes, save the occasional twitch or gurgling murmur from the child. He eventually stirred; his eyelids fluttered delicately against the swollen flesh of his face and he groaned deeply as he started to roll back and forth like a flipped turtle. He was soon able to throw his right arm up over his chest, and slowly inched it towards his dislocated left shoulder. Grasping his arm near the joint, he probed the swollen flesh with his few good fingers until he had a tight grip around the top of the bone. The boy paused briefly. Suddenly, he drew in a sharp raspy breath, threw his body to the left and jammed the bone in his right hand upwards. Tears cut winding creeks across his grubby face and his mouth jerked into a grotesque smile. He cut loose with a terrifying, inhuman scream—Hrrrnnggggg. It was not the sound of a child. The high-pitched scrape of the joint reconnecting took on an almost wet timbre in its journey through the bruised muscle and flesh of the boy’s arm. The whole effect was unbearable; Ilsa stooped over the pot as if cramped and retched violently into the churning water.
The return to stillness in the house was as sudden and unsettling as the scene which had just been played out. The boy fell limp again, splayed on the floor with his chest rising and falling quickly with deep, labored breaths. Ilsa regained her composure and returned to stirring the now slightly brackish water. Name hadn’t moved throughout the whole ordeal. He had seen this so many times before; it wreaked havoc on his already fragile psyche but no longer had any physical effect on him.
Link tentatively raised himself to a sitting position. Calmer now, he tested his left arm and wiggled his legs with a rapt intensity that would have seemed playful if not for his glazed eyes and dilated pupils. Content with the state of his major limbs, he turned his attention to the wrecked digits on his right hand, regarding them with the bemused indifference of a cat grooming itself as he carefully grabbed each in turn and guided the bone shards back to their proper alignment. Grabbing a roll of canvas from beneath the table he sat beside, he ripped off long, thin strips with his teeth and roughly bandaged each finger, securing them with thin slivers of wood that his previous hacking had left littered on the floor. Making sure to grab the almost drained bottle of laudanum, he felt around for the leg of the table and used it to hoist himself back up. As soon as he was upright he made a dash for the door, slamming it behind him with so much force that the empty plates rattled on the table and another clay pot fell from a shelf, adding to the chaotic mess on the floor.
Name had no idea how long it had been since the first quest. There were no holidays any more, no harvests and no celebrations. Seasons didn’t seem to change; the heat of summer and the cold of winter both stung the skin and burned the eyes, so what was the point of noticing their coming and going? The only proof that remained of the passage of time was its inexorable effect on the body, the way its tendrils invaded every cell and passage of the body, growing around them in tight spirals and tightening gradually, choking the body of life and substance and squeezing the soul out drip by drip until all that remains is consciousness free of matter, of time, of agency. When he thought of it like this, death didn’t really seem much different from what he knew as life. For as long as he could remember every train of thought led without fail to death, and he could never conceive of his death as anything more than a incorporeal continuation of his bare life. There aren’t words for how this made him feel.
He remembered Ilsa’s reaction to the first quest. Back then her skin had been smooth and unblemished and her paper thin body almost perfectly geometric, all straight lines and right angles. In the good times she had grown fat and healthy off what he had provided, cutting a comforting matronly figure with her thick hips and a ruddy, puffy face. The excited chatter that had accompanied the first Link’s arrival in their village had sent her running from Saria’s crib to the window, and he had never forgotten the way she looked as she turned back to him and motioned him to the window with a face full of energy and hope, the pale diffusion of the fall sunlight through the thick, textured glass of the window playing favorably upon her cherubic features.