Demitri leaned forward and gently caressed his mounts neck reassuringly. The mare’s body trembled on nervously, but her fidgeting slowly ceased. Her ears remained alert, and her head swayed side to side, her eyes scanning the ring of woodlands surrounding the tiny clearing in which they stood.
“We are here to meet an old friend, Epona. It’s okay.”
“I don’t blame her for being uneasy. There is something about this place – even I don’t like it.”
The clearing was sparse, filled meagerly with low brush and weedy grasses. The dense wood all around was dark in the moonlight. Heavy shadows passed over most of the open space, a dim expanse of cool night that led to pitch blackness in all directions. In the center stood the party of two – Demitri atop his caramel horse, Link taking the moment to groom his own dark brown steed.
The night was nearly silent, save for the soft hoot of an owl in the distance. The air stood still, lying like a blanket of invisible ice over the land. An overall sense of evil permeated the forestry around them.
After a moment’s pause, Link broke the silence. “Tell me, Demitri,” he began hesitantly, “is it true? Is she really… Is she really one of …?”
“You will know soon enough.” His voice was low, and his tone was solemn.
“You sound as if she were dead.” The dark irony of the statement came upon Link without mercy. “I guess she is, to some degree…”
“She was born one of them, a Reaper. That is what she told me. Her parents were expecting her when they were turned, ages ago, before the fall of the First. The curse that claimed her mother and father changed her as well, all while she slept in her mother’s womb. She was born, however, in the likeness of a human-child; the Horde marked her for death.
“But, her parents wished for her to live, and there was one other who shared that desire – a vampire I believe. He was the one that saved her. He stole her away from the bellies of the Reaper Horde and placed her in the care of humans. She was enslaved as a child by the Baron Drako, just as I was. I was placed in the fields; she was chosen to live in the house.”
The two fell silent as Demitri finished his story. Memories of their past together along with Ruto, Korin, and Zelda – how they all met, their adventures in the wilderness of Knotwood Valley, their enlistment with the Exile resistance – flooded their minds. The quiet around them penetrated deep into their souls, and disturbed the horses.
“Whoa, calm down, lady…” Demitri whispered to Epona again, wrestling momentarily regain control of the reigns. Link busily looked to his own mount.
Neither of the men noticed the dark figure approaching them from the blackness. Its movement was swift and purposeful. With each closing step, the mounts grew more agitated and uneasy. Yet, the animals ultimately gave way to their masters and calmed, finally – just as the figure reached the party.
The two, somewhat shocked, looked intently at the third, who paused to address the horses between which the figure stood.
Lifting a gentle gloved hand up to each animal, the newcomer spoke quietly, “Hush now. I mean you no harm.” The tenseness in the horses dissipated at this croon, leaving the men glancing at each other in near disbelief. Turning to the men, the quiet voice of the mysterious robed women returned. “I mean no harm to you either.”
“I can hardly believe this. I never thought I’d hear this voice again.” Link stepped forward, timidly removing his hand from the hilt at his side. “Please, let me see your face.”
The figure turned to Demitri, as if seeking guidance or approval.
“It’s fine. There’s nothing Ruto or I can say that would make him believe, and you know this. Show him, as you have shown us.”
“Very well,” she said as she returned her eyes to the man standing in front of her. She took a moment to gather her courage then pulled back her black hood. “I am the one you know as Zelda, though, the woman you once knew by that name is no more.”
He studied her face in the weak moonlight. Before him was the face of a friend he believed long dead and lost to god of souls. She was indeed Zelda. The only apparent changes after five long years were her very pale, distinctly pinkish complexion, her deep purple hair, and the lack of pupils in her otherwise beautiful eyes. Link was nearly speechless. He was entirely convinced.
“No,” he whispered, “you will always be the Zelda I remember.”
“At least on the outside,” chimed Demitri. The solemn mood lifted slightly in the little clearing. “So, in the letter you left with Ruto, you asked us here for something more important than a reunion. You need a favor, one I’m willing to give. Just what do you need from us?”
“I need the Exiles to be ready at arms,” she stated a bit matter of factly. “And,” she turned to directly address Demitri, “I need an escort.”