Chapter 1: Growing Pains
This was the first sign of civilization Link had seen ever since he woke up. It was...breathtaking. The gloom of the shadow between the Dueling Peaks mountain’s pass consumed him no longer, and he stepped into the light. It was a pale day, with a sheet of silver clouds blotting out the sun. Despite this, white light filtered through. Between two trees, Link spotted it.
A single, large tent-like structure towered in front of him. A horse’s head made of wood and brightly colored cloth was settled in the center of the tent’s roof. It was quite a bizarre sight for Link, but after traveling alone for days, it was a welcomed one. However, it wasn’t the tent or the giant horse head that surprised him the most, it was the four-legged creatures grazing nearby. He hastily decided he wanted to get one, even though he was only 70% sure they were horses.
Link quickly clambered down from the rocky ledge he was using to scout the field. It jutted out from beside the river. Its running black waters haunted him. He recalled when he was recently ambushed by a pair of ugly reptilian creatures that lived in the water, so he stayed far from the bank. Link’s lip curled up in disgust as his thoughts dwelled on the encounter. Almost instinctively, he reached for his sword. It was a lightweight blade that he stole from a Bokoblin encampment further down the river. He wasn’t used to always grabbing a weapon when he felt stressed…
Link sheathed the sword, forgetting about his worries as he approached the tent. People- actual people, were filtering in and out, talking with each other and caring for their animals. It was a pristine moment, like the chaos that plagued the countryside was currently subdued. This was a safe haven, and Link was grateful for it- did he smell food? Yes. He followed his nose like a dog searching for scraps. Somebody was standing by a cooking pot, carefully mixing in ingredients. His mouth began to water.
Link had survived for the past weeks by foraging and hunting for food like a neanderthal. He usually scoured the forests for fruits or mushrooms, unsure if any would kill him or not. He took his chances several times but was miraculously still alive. Though, sometimes he woke up at night with massive headaches and the nagging urge to vomit. Sometimes he did vomit- He noted that it seemed to become more frequent.
Regardless, some poor soul was preparing EDIBLE food, and Link was going to figure out how to procure some of that delectable cuisine. He sauntered up to the cooking pot, which was nestled between a few crates. Although it was still mid-afternoon, the heat of the flame was comforting. He sat down, feeling safe, but still incredibly hungry.
Link was not the only traveler resting by the fire. Aside from the cook, who was a Hylian woman, two children sat closeby counting a sack of apples. The other person was...well, he wasn’t sure. Link couldn’t see their face- or any part of their body underneath the cloak. It made him feel uneasy. No longer focused on the food, Link kept an eye on the veiled stranger. His brow furrowed ever so slightly as he watched them stand up and slip into the tent. How odd.
The woman who was cooking picked up a ladle and started stirring. She looked over at Link and gave him a nod of acknowledgment. “I see you’ve met the stable’s kook. Don’t let ‘em scare ya off.”
Link’s eyes darted up towards the woman. Currently, the boy was fiddling with the whetstone he usually had hanging on his belt. He thought she spoke to him in an almost joking manner.
“Hm?” He raised a golden brow. He also realized this would be his first conversation with a physical person. He didn’t count mysterious ghosts or voices from inside his head.
“Big cloak, hidden face. They’re harmless, don’t worry,” the woman replied
Link wasn’t sure he believed her. “Who are they?” he inquired.
“Not a clue, showed up less than a week ago. Not a soul’s seen them before.” With a shrug, the woman went back to focusing on the cooking pot.
“Hmm…” Link thought on this. He’d been keeping an eye on the tent. It was silent now since the twins had stopped counting. He suspected they were eavesdropping. Talk between travelers was probably more interesting than keeping track of apples, so he didn’t mind.
Two Hylian men soon approached. They bore a striking resemblance to each other- so much so, Link had to make a double-take. The children sitting nearby stood up excitedly and hurried over to one of the men.
“Dad,” one of them started, “we finished counting the apples for the horses!”
The man, who Link now understood to be their father, pat both children on the head. “Oh, did you? How many?”
“50!” The other exclaimed.
“No, it was 53!” The first one corrected. He was now clinging to his father’s leg.
“Well, yeah, but we always leave three out for the guests-”
“I was still right, though.”
The father lifted up both of his boys and set them by the sack of apples. “Children, children, why don’t you take the bag inside? I have a feeling it might rain tonight…”
The young pair of twins did what they were told, grabbing the bag together. Link thought it looked heavy, but the boys managed while working together. Despite their joint effort, they still argued over who was technically right.
“Dinner will be done soon, so come right back!” Their father called as soon as the boys vanished inside the tent. He set himself across from Link and next to the woman.
The sun was starting to sink, and it only slipped further down the horizon as the stable-goers gathered around the fire. Link had been informed that the man who ran the stable was named Tasseren. Tasseren carried most of the conversation. Link was listening, but he was never much for giving input. He usually just nodded along, pretending to understand what was being said.
One thing he did understand was that the stable doubled as an inn, and in order to to get any of the food being served, he’d have to pay for a night. A warm bed and a hot meal sounded like a refreshing change of pace compared to sitting by a fire and fending off wolves. He agreed to stay. Luck would have it that Link was carrying around a few Rupees. He had no idea what they were, but often found them in chests or being hoarded by Bokoblins. He had no issue parting with them since they were starting to clog up his bag. Good riddance.
Link was handed a bowl of food. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it smelled and tasted great. Unlike his cooking, he actually enjoyed eating it. This was much better than the dubious delicacies he whipped up from foraging. He cringed just thinking about it. The stable-goers sitting beside the flames exchanged small talk and cracked jokes while eating. Link didn’t understand half of it and decided not to join in. He was perfectly content with eating alone, or at least convinced himself he was.
Link’s ears twitched and his focus was drawn to his right, searching for a clattering noise close to the stable entrance. He first glanced at the horses, but they were resting. He had no idea horses (mostly) slept while standing up. He almost forgot what he was looking for while watching the animals doze, but a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eyes reminded him.
The “stable kook” was standing by the entrance. Now that it was dark, the space under the hood looked like a faceless void. His shoulders tensed and he narrowed his eyes to try and get a better look. The boy really wasn’t sure, but he was almost certain the cloaked stranger had their eyes on him. However, as soon as this thought crossed Link’s mind, they whipped around and slithered back inside, but not before setting an untouched bowl of food onto a nearby crate. Link felt his hand reflexively go to his sword’s hilt. The chatter by the fire was quickly silenced as the onlookers now had their eyes on Link, who had the blade unsheathed halfway.
It didn’t take long for Link to realize he’d drawn quite a large amount of attention on himself by grabbing his weapon. It also didn’t take a genius to realize drawing a sword in a place of peace would be...inappropriate. One of the stable-goers, a Hylian with black hair and a mustache, had stood up and pulled out a shield strapped to his back. Link distinctly heard him tell him to “put the damn thing down”. Tesseren’s brother was also giving him a wicked side-eye.
Successfully intimidated, Link’s hand let go of the hilt. He felt his face heat up with shame as he uttered a barely audible apology. Whispers drifted amongst the stable-goers as he stood up to leave. He could tell when he wasn’t welcome. Perhaps it was time to grab some shut-eye before his nerves got the better of him. Link mentally kicked himself over the stunt while walking inside.
He hadn’t gone inside before, but the sight cheered him up a bit. The light was warm and cozy, but dim enough for sleep. There were four-post beds lined up by the tent walls. They were draped in a cloth to block out some light and provide a bit of privacy. Two young Hylian men were sitting at the only table, having a hushed discussion and pointing at several maps. Link was too tired to want to interfere. He plopped himself onto the nearest unoccupied bed and sighed. To his dismay, Stable Kook was settled on the other bed to his immediate left.
Tired and a little irritated, Link grabbed the cloth bed-drapes (or whatever they were called, he wasn’t sure) and closed them. He was almost certain they were wool from the somewhat itchy texture. He rubbed his hands together to rid himself of the feeling. Now covered in darkness, Link collapsed on the mattress, realizing how absolutely exhausted he was. He grunted softly as he grabbed each foot and pulled off his shoes. They were a pair of short leather boots. He tossed them underneath the bed, along with his pack. However, the sword stayed with him.
Link exhaled loudly after he got situated. He tried to close his eyes, but a dull pain from his joints kept him awake. He chalked it up to climbing so much earlier that day, but deep down a part of him knew he was wrong. He rolled over to his side, grabbing the knit blanket and hugging the pillow. It was too puffy for Link to rest his head on comfortably. Perhaps if he was a bit taller, but there was nothing he could do about that other than be mildly annoyed.
It wasn’t long before his enclosed bed felt stuffy. Link threw off the woven blanket and pulled open a single curtain. He made sure it was the one on his right. He didn’t want Mister Cloaked McCreeper staring into his soul while he tried to sleep. Gross. He hugged the pillow tighter, imagining it to be someone who cared about him, and decided he wouldn’t open his eyes for any reason. He spent 20 rupees on this goddamn bed, so he was going to have a nice fulfilling rest- or else he’d kill something in the morning.