"Under attack?" Link echoed, his voice hushed with shock. "By Vandelians?"
"Hethe owldidn't say," Aiden replied. "Sir, what is the Kokiri? I've never heard of it..."
"It's an area deep within the Lost Woods," Link answered, "protected from the outside world by powerful magic."
"There isn't time for explanations, Lieutenant. I need you and the others to return to the baseimmediately."
"The base is under attack?" Aiden's voice rose with panic.
"I don't know, but we must prepare for the worst. Gather as many as you can and goZelda and I will teleport directly to the Kokiri."
"But won't you need assistance?"
"I'll come to you if we do. Now go, and remember to be discreet."
Aiden nodded. "Yes, Sir." Then, swallowing his lingering questions, he left.
Link turned to me. "Wait here," he said. "Have the Ocarina ready."
He left before I could respond, vanishing into the room across the hall. I moved toward the table, nervously slipping the satchel over my shoulder.
What is going on...?
The possibility of an attack on the Kokiri baffled me. As a secret tribe of Hyrule, they were protected by the enchanted Lost Woodsjust as Link had said. One could never simply wander into the Kokiri Forest. The Great Deku Tree, guardian of the forest and its inhabitants, maintained the powerful spells that made the Lost Woods a dangerous and endless labyrinth to anyone but the Kokiri.
Only two people had ever reached the heart of the Lost Woods unharmed. Link's mother had done so by the will of the gods, and Ganondorf by his own dark magic. He, too, had attacked the Kokiriand the Deku Tree itself.
Could Ashton possibly wield such power?
Link returned within moments, a sword strapped to his belt. In his hand he carried a bow and a large quiver of arrows, which he gave to me.
"I'll handle the direct combat," he said, his eyes meeting mine. "Will you cover me?"
I could see he was shaken by the incident, though he hid it well.
"Of course," I replied softly. Quickly I slung the weapons over my shoulder and fished into my satchel, pulling out the Ocarina of Time. "Here."
Link took it from my offered hand and opened his arms, letting me wrap my arms around his waist. I pressed my cheek to his chest, familiar with the routine from our days of courtship. Satisfied with my tight grip, Link lifted the Ocarina to his lipsjust above my headand played the light, cheerful notes of the "Minuet of the Forest." I closed my eyes, bracing myself as magical energy charged the air. Link lowered the instrument and clutched me to him just before we vanished.
The strange, swooping sensation I'd become so accustomed to passed, and within moments my feet touched solid ground. Slowly Link pulled away, his hand lingering on my arm as I steadied myself. Teleportation was not the gentlest method of travel.
We stood in a moonlit meadow, shrouded in secrecy by magic and old trees. Before us stretched a narrow stairway, trapped between two steep cliffs. Behind us loomed the ruined entrance to an enormous structure covered in vines and worn with agethe Forest Temple. It had once been a grand location used by our ancestors, but it had been long since been claimed by the Lost Woods. Only Saria, Sage of the Forest and a dear friend, visited its empty and somewhat eerie interior.
The Sacred Forest Meadow, the place to which we had teleported, stood quiet and still. A gentle breeze rustled the dark trees, whispering among their leaves. Everywhere fireflies drifted about, leaving faint trails of light.
My heart swelled with admiration. I had not seen the Lost Woods for months, and I realized then how much I missed walking its labyrinth with Link. Dangerous though it was, the Lost Woods held an ethereal sense of beautyby day and by night.
But we had no time to soak in our surroundings. Link handed me the Ocarina, I returned it to my satchel, and immediately we took off for the stairway, descending back into the Woods. Despite my many visits there, I could never navigate its twisted paths alone. The old magic protecting the Kokiri would surely ensnare me first. But Link had lived with the Kokiri from infancy to adolescence. The Lost Woods surrounded the place he had once called home, and he had spent years memorizing its winding maze. And, as an adopted child of the Deku Tree, Link remained immune to its dangerous enchantments.
Eventually we passed a small but deep pool, which served as a portal to Zora's River. A few twists and turns later we passed a tall stone archwayanother portal leading directly into Goron City.
Then finally Link and I emerged from the dense trees, stopping dead before a small fence marking the edge of a cliff. Below us opened a large clearing, surrounded by thick forest on all sides. In this clearing sat a dozen humble wooden homesall of them in flames. Through the clouds of smoke I spied skeletal figures skulking about. My heart leapt to my throat.
"Quick, play the Song of Storms," Link said, his voice low with anger. "I'm going in."
Then he leapt over the fence, landing in a crouch a few feet below. I pulled out the Ocarina, watching as he drew his sword and cautiously approached the enemy.
My eyes combed the village as I played the song, but found not a single Kokiri anywhere. I knew Link shared my prayer: Please let the Kokiri be safe elsewhere.
I finished the song and pulled my hood over my head, glancing up toward the black sky. Within seconds dark clouds had rolled in, veiling the full moon. A clap of thunder shook the heavens, and the rain began to fall. A few measly drops quickly grew into a heavy downpour, successfully dousing the fire.
Then I reached for my bow and nocked it, peering through the rain as I nervously searched for Link. I caught a glimpse just as he severed a stalfos in two and whipped around to slice another. I raised my bow, aiming for a stalfos coming a short distance behind him. Slowly I pulled, testing the bowstring's limit as I infused the arrow with magic...
Then I released, watching the arrow cut the darkness like a shooting star. It pierced my target and shattered the stalfos to pieces.
I nocked another, summoning my magic before letting it fly. Three more enemies fell to my blazing arrows, but after shooting a fifth my vision suddenly swerved. Exhaustion swept over me, and quickly I grasped the rail to steady myself.
I shook my head, willing the dizziness to pass. Then, taking a deep breath, I reached back into my quiver.
But the dizziness returned when I tried to use my magic, so reluctantly I stopped. Instead I aimed for a stalfos closer to Link and fired a regular, non-magical arrow. It struck true, and the stalfos stumbled before Link swung for the kill.
This alternative strategy proved effective enough. Soon the last stalfos had fallen, its bones vanishing with an unnatural burst of flame.
Link sheathed his sword as I descended the cliff, hurrying over to meet me. By then the rain had ceased, though we both still wore our hoods.
"I'm sorry I couldn't use more magic," I told him. "I've spent more energy than I thought."
He pulled back his hood and looked me over, his brow lined with worry. "Are you all right?"
I nodded, a little embarrassed. "You?"
"I'm fine. I just hope everyone's all right... We should see the Deku Tree first; I'm sure he can tell us more."
He took off in a run, and wordlessly I followed. We passed a pond with a small waterfall, then stopped before the passageway leading into the Deku Tree's private meadow. The entrance had been blocked by several thick and spike-ridden vines. Unfazed, Link simply touched the vines, and like snakes they slid aside to allow us entry.
We ran through the narrow passage, stopping only when we reached another clearing. There, standing tall and strong in the pale moonlight, rose the Great Deku Tree.
The current Deku Tree was not the original Link had known as a small child. That Tree had unfortunately died more than ten years ago, murdered by the curse Ganondorf had cast when he forced his way into the Kokiri Forest. Link had tried to save that Deku Tree, but sadly he had been too late.
I, too, had been unable to undo that tragic event. After Link defeated Ganondorf, I had taken the Ocarina of Time and reversed all the damage he'd done, wiping the Imprisoning War out of history entirely. But the gods had decided how much could be undone. The Ocarina's magic had returned time to the point when Link first drew the Master Sword, an event that occurred quite some time after the Deku Tree's death.
Link eventually returned home to find the Deku Tree had been reborn as a small but strong Deku Sprout. That sprout had already grown in to a young but impressively large tree.
"Link, Zelda, thank you for coming so quickly," he greeted us, relief filling his rumbling, melodic voice.
"Not soon enough to save the village, I'm afraid," Link replied. "Are the Kokiri safe?'
"Yes," the Tree assured him. "I sent them to the Forest Temple the moment I sensed danger. They are safe there."
"And the Resistance? Can you sense whether they've been attacked?" Anxiety colored Link's tone.
The Deku Tree paused, its full branches swaying in the breeze.
"...They are safe. The stalfos did not reach them."
Link sank to the ground with relief. "Thank the gods," he breathed.
"Where is the Resistance?" I asked him.
"At our base," he answered. "It's a large camp we've set up some distance west, at the edge of the Lost Woods. It's far enough away from the Kokiri but still within the Woods' protection. I've set up barriers and marked paths to protect the Resistance members from its enchantments. The Great Deku Tree also helps keep them safe. It's worked quite well so far."
"Sounds impressive," I murmured. "I'd like to see it."
"Well, there's no reason to go there just yet."
Link climbed to his feet and turned his attention to the Tree. "Great Deku Tree, was it Ashton who attacked the forest?"
The Tree gave a low murmur that resembled a string bass.
"No," he said. "I sensed a darker evil enter my Woods, someone who possessed a power too great for any Vandelian. I cast him out with my own magic, but I could not stop those monsters from attacking my children. So I sent Kaepora Gaebora to find you."
My eyes met Link's, and I knew he had reached the same conclusion.
"The necromancer," Link told the Deku Tree. "The man who captured me. This must be his doing."
"He must be after the Sacred Stone," I added. "That's the only reason he would come."
Just as Ganondorf did. The words hung in the air, unspoken but present.
"Hmm, this is troubling indeed," the Deku Tree rumbled. "If he seeks our Stone, then he seeks them all. Somehow he knows about the Sacred Realm."
"But there's nothing there," I said. "The Sacred Realm has been long corrupted. The Triforce no longer resides there."
"But Ganondorf does," Link murmured. "It doesn't matter what his intentions are. That door can never be opened."
"This man knows what he's doing," the Deku Tree spoke. "He knows Link holds the primary key to the Sacred Realm."
"He failed to acquire that, so now he's collecting the other keys," Link added.
"But why now?" I asked. "He's had plenty of time to steal the Stones."
"I don't know," Link murmured. "Maybe his timing is intentional, maybe it's not. Maybe there are holes in his plot. All we know is he's currently after the Stones, and we have to collect them before he does.
"Great Deku Tree," he then said. "Please lend me the Stone. I'll keep it safe elsewhere; that way he'll have no reason to harm the Kokiri."
"Of course," the Tree replied. "But I do not have the Stone. Saria took it when she and the others fled to the Temple."
Link nodded. "Zelda and I will go to them and bring them back to the village. Do you sense anymore danger?"
"Nothing that hasn't already dwelled in the Woods since my rebirth. The village is safe."
"All right," Link said. "We'll bring them back, and then I'll head for Zora's Domain. I have to warn Ruto."
"We have to warn Ruto," I corrected. "I'm coming with you."
He met my gaze, but I failed to read his guarded face.
"If you insist," he said simply.
"Then I bid you both a fond farewell," the Deku Tree spoke. "You have my utmost gratitude for coming to our aid."
"We live to serve, Great Deku Tree; you need only ask," Link said with a bow. I imitated the gesture.
The Deku gently shook its branches, causing his leaves to glimmer in the moonlight. "May the blessed Sisters spare you any harm or hindrance."
We thanked him, and I reached into my satchel for the Ocarina, offering it to Link. He took it, and once again I embraced him tightly. The Minuet of the Forest filled my ears, and I closed my eyes before the magic swept us back to the Sacred Forest Meadow.
Link and I had barely released each other before we heard young voices calling his name. I turned to find several Kokiri running toward us, their companion fairies trailing close behind.
He knelt down in time for a red-haired girl to throw her arms around his neck.
"The Deku Tree sent us away," she said in a trembling voice. "Saria said we had to flee "
"It's all right," Link soothed. "The village is safe now."
The other Kokiri gathered around us, all of them talking at once.
"What took you so long, Link?"
"What's happened to the village?"
"Link, we were so scared "
"Oh, stop it, all of you; is that any way to thank our rescuers?"
We looked up at the sound of Saria's voice, and I was alarmed to see two other Kokiri helping her down the ruined entrance of the Forest Temple. She used only one leg, keeping the other bent up away from the ground.
Despite having the body of a skinny twelve-year-old, Saria was far older and wiser than she appeared. Kokiri lived much longer than Hylians, but physically they never aged a day past twelve. Yet while some Kokiri gained more maturity than others, they all retained a childlike innocence.
Saria had been the one who took Link from his mother's arms the day she died in the Deku Tree's meadow, and she had remained his primary guardian ever since. She was the closest Link ever had to a mother, and she loved him dearlyas he did her.
Saria's fairy hovered close to her, illuminating her pretty face and her brilliant green hair. No other Kokiri shared such a unique hair color, but somehow it suited Saria perfectly.
Link rushed to her side and dropped to his knees, examining her bootless left foot. "Saria, what happened?"
She gave a pleasant though embarrassed laugh.
"Oh, I fell and hurt my ankle while we were running to the Temple. Clumsy of me, huh?"
Link breathed a light sigh, then pulled her into a hug.
"I'm glad you're okay," he told her.
She hugged him back tightly, burying her face against his shoulder. I smiled sadly, knowing how much Saria worried about him.
"Hey, what about our village?" a red-haired, freckled boy demanded, rudely interrupting their reunion. I recognized him immediately.
Mido, a gangly boy with a seemingly permanent scowl, had always been the self-proclaimed "Boss" of the Kokiri. As long as Link could remember, Mido had constantly bullied him for lacking a guardian fairy like the other Kokiri. But the real reason for Mido's hostility lay in his deep envy of Link's relationship with Saria. That hostility had lessened once Link grew up and left the forest, but somehow he couldn't will himself to become friends.
"Yeah, can we go back now?" another asked, tugging at my tunic. "I'm sleepy..."
My heart sank as my eyes met Link's. How could we tell them they had no beds to return to?
Saria noticed our exchange and looked up at Link, who breathed a heavy sigh.
"The village was attacked," he confirmed. "We cleared the enemies out, but they had already set fires before we arrived. I'm sorry."
Their stunned faces wrenched at my heart.
"Our homes are gone?" one boy asked, his voice trembling.
"No, we put the fires out," I assured him. "Your homes are still standing, but they are badly burned."
One of the Kokiri began to weep softly, and the twins moved to comfort her.
"Homes can be rebuilt, everyone," Saria reminded them. "Especially ones as simple as ours. Be grateful we weren't burned with them."
This offered them little comfort, but they fell silent. Saria sighed and reached into a satchel slung over her shoulder, pulling out a glittering emerald encased in a spiral of gold. The jewel shone with a magical glow, though I wondered if Saria, as the Sage of the Forest, gave it that effect.
"They came for this," she said softly, "didn't they?"
"Most likely," Link murmured. "I have to take it to protect you and the others."
She nodded, though her face looked sad. "I understand."
"But first," Link said, "let's get you all back to the village." He placed one arm around Saria's shoulders and the other under her knees, gently lifting her off the ground. She turned to me, a smile lighting her face.
"Zelda, it's so good to see you," she said, stretching a hand toward me. "It feels like forever since we last met "
I took her smaller hand and gently returned her smile. "I know; I'm so sorry I've been unable to visit sooner..."
"I've been so worried about you; Link won't tell me anything..."
She gave him a disapproving look, causing him to sigh.
"I tell you all you need to know," he muttered.
"I know I could trust you to tell me everything, Zelda," Saria said, turning back to me, "but I'm guessing you have other places to be."
"That's true, I'm afraid," I replied, glancing at Link. "We have to visit Ruto too."
"Catch me up on what you can, then," she urged. "We have a walk ahead of uswell, you do, at least," she added with a grin, winding her arms back around Link's neck.
He sighed. "Only because you're clumsy."
"I'm not clumsy," she objected as he carried her on ahead of everyone. "I had a clumsy moment. You had plenty of those growing up, mister."
I smiled, amazed by how easily she could slip into playful chatter, even after her village had been attacked. The others could not recover as well as their Sage. As caretakers of the forest, the Kokiri kept very few material attachments, but they took pride and comfort in their humble abodes. Losing them would certainly bring some sorrow.
Saria glanced at me over Link's shoulder, and I watched her eyes flick to my left hand before returning to my face. She raised her brow and then began whispering in Link's ear. I sighed quietly. I could guess what she wanted to know.
The rest of us followed in silencefor a while, that was. Eventually the Kokiri began quietly talking amongst themselves, their anxious faces illuminated in the glows of their guardian fairies. I remained silent, watching Link's cloaked back until the twins each grasped one of my hands. They managed small smiles for me, which I warmly returned.
Gradually we neared their village, navigating the twists and turns under Link's guidance. I recognized none of it, not until we passed the portals leading to Zora's River and Goron City.
Every now and then Saria asked questions about my life at the castle, and I did my best to answer. Discussing a world so drastically different from hers felt awkward; I could see why Link omitted some information in their conversations.
Finally we reached the village, and the twins released my hands as everyone rushed on ahead. Sadly I watched them scurry down the cliffs to investigate the charred remains of their homes.
Link sat Saria down on the grass so he could quick climb down the ledge. Then he reached for her, and she slid back into his arms. I, too, descended the ledge and followed them down to the village. Mido stood waiting nearby, his arms crossed as he impatiently tapped his foot against the ground.
"Just set me on that stump there," Saria quietly instructed Link. "You don't have to stay. You've done more than enough for us, and Ruto has to be warned."
Her tone held a mechanical sound; naturally she hated to say goodbye.
Link did as she suggested, and I knelt down to inspect her foot. Saria's fairy hovered closer, giving me some light.
"It looks like you've sprained it," I told her, trailing my finger along the swollen area. "Try to stay off it a few weeks so it can heal properly, all right? Use ice to ease the swelling, and keep this foot elevated as often as you can."
Saria nodded. "Thank you, Zelda."
Then she reached into her satchel, pulling out the Kokiri Emerald.
"Here," she said as she placed it in my hand. "I'm sure the Great Deku Tree has allowed you to take it."
I nodded and closed my fingers around the jewel. "We'll keep it safe."
She smiled weakly. "I know you will. Plus it gives you a reason to come back and see me."
"We don't need a reason," Link said gently, kneeling down beside me. "We're always happy to see you."
She sighed. "I hate saying goodbye so soon... but I know this Ashton is stirring up something terrible."
"I'll come see you again soon," Link soothed. "I'd like to see how everyone's doing. I'll help rebuild if need be."
Saria brightened. "That would be lovely. Will you come too, Zelda?"
"I wish I could," I said sadly. "But it may be a while before we see each other again."
She looked worried, and I gave her a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, I'll be all right."
"That's what Link always says."
"That's because it's true," he replied. "We can take care of ourselves, Saria."
She hesitated, then sighed. "I know," she said quietly.
I moved to give her a tight hug, which she returned.
"I'll miss you," I told her.
"I'll miss you too," she murmured. "And don't worry about your marriage business. You still have each other, and that's what matters."
I blushed, not daring to look at Link. He chose to ignore her comment and moved to embrace her. She clung to him, reluctant to let go.
"I'll see you soon then?" she murmured against his shoulder.
He stroked her cheek, offering her a partly forced smile. "Absolutely."
Then finally we left her to the care of her fellow Kokirito Mido in particular. With the Spiritual Stone safely tucked away in my satchel, Link and I headed back into the dark recesses of the Lost Woods.