Between the Candle's Light

by Megan O'Shea

     The traveler's frustration grew.

The fruit of every day's toil amounted to nothing save dust. For each of his questions answered with rasped words and veiled riddles, there were an additional score whose resolutions came in the form of bruising blows and the red rending of tender skin.

Nightfall ushered him, as it did increasingly often, to another tavern where rupees spoke louder than conscience. He'd grown accustomed to them, the choking smoke, the shift of eyes away from watery ale mugs to judge him for a moment before going back to clandestine affairs. He'd long since learned through the months that monsters weren't all twisted creatures with tusks and dark magic. There was one small piece of solace to be found in it all, however.

No one would know who he was.

More often than not, he took his stale bread away from the other patrons in the most remote corner he could ferret out, keeping his eyes down and his words brief when the bar maid came back to pay distracted mind to him. The sum of every day's mistakes were hashed over, mental missives made, and when the meal was reduced to the last burned discarded crust he would rise to aching feet to ask the publican for a bed.

It was never granted with a smile. A hand would be thrust out, grimy fingers waiting for cut glass, and once received a finger would stab in the direction of some derelict back room or staircase. Grunts passed for a 'good night' or a 'sleep well'. He'd grown used to that as well, and the way the backdrop for the conclusion of each day changed from one grey setting to another.

Through it all, his disappointment remained the same.

So too did my mission.

Of his loneliness, he was well aware. It was a constant companion, the same as his sword, his cloak, his boots.

I was another story.

He never knew I followed him. He couldn't see me. Yet I knew that I was in his periphery in a dim fashion; at times that brown head would turn and those blue eyes would narrow, searching seeming air for what couldn't be viewed.

If I'm forthright, I'll admit that those first few occasions unnerved me. His gaze found mine, transfixing like cold nails, radiating with strength I knew was goddess-granted. The only thing that held me to my course was the master's assurance that the shielding charm held.

Over time, I grew more bold. A few steps closer to where he retired each evening, then through his bedroom door to stand over his pallet. At last, fingers brushed warm bedclothes, teasing the edges. But, in spite of myself, I never pulled them away from his body, and while he sometimes stirred, he never woke.

Tonight I was at his heels to dog his shadow. The inn he'd chosen was a little less decrepit than the previous one. More lanterns were hung along the walls and before the front door, the fire within them making my time of things precarious.

I could never follow him during the daylight hours, when that eye of Din was present above our heads. Fire was its cousin. Centuries of mutual loathing stood between us, and while it lingered above the Hyrulian mountains, I was confined to my sanctuary in the void reserved for those who tarried between the quick and the dead.

But so long as I remained close to him, the light's sway over me was lessened and for right then, I was safe. My master knew the conditions of his charms well.

I suppressed a fresh turn of irritation at their limitations and suddenly sidestepped to press myself to the wall. The seeker had stumbled with a soft swear, catching himself against the stairwell. A shining drop of precious blood dripped from the bound hand clutching the banister to grace the silvered steps, burnished with a soft touch of torchlight. Fingers loosened. The injured hand was clutched by its sound partner for a heartbeat. Really, he should have gone to a healer to stave off infection, but of all his past hurts I'd cataloged, this was by far the least significant.

What jarred me was the smell. A fast whiff of metallic beauty, followed by the throb of my own hand as if in sympathy. I had to smile.

We were getting closer, he and I.

'If the Thunderbird succeeds, I'll grant you a reward.' It was the closest the master would come to favoring me with a promise. The memory of our last meeting lived in my mind for a moment. It took all of my self-control not to succumb to an act of private celebration. I knew this was a taste of that oath and I pathetically thirsted for more like a dehydrated man would water.

He made it to the top landing where he turned down a narrow corridor to head for the chamber at the end of it. When he closed its door with more force than was necessary, I felt the rippling backlash of his ire. He was beginning to think all around him was futile. While his facade towards others was stoic, the small, private displays of temper were becoming more frequent.

I edged away from the lone torch burning to show the way to the sleeping quarters, then suppressed a shiver as I passed through the door's solid oak.

Another goddess-damned candle stood beside, probably lit by a thoughtful chamber maid so a guest wouldn't need to go to the trouble. The looks of the wick said it hadn't been left alone long. Damn. I wanted to get closer tonight and my quarry was in the habit of allowing the abominations to burn as he pored over his terrain maps until he was too fatigued to see them clearly. Often enough, such weariness wouldn't descend on him until the sun was making its beastly ascent.

Seething, I stood in the corner by the door as he made use of the wash stand, first bathing his face to sluice off the road's dust. Then his sweaty tunic was cast aside across the back of the apartment's solitary wooden chair.

Proper baths were taken in rivers when opportunities presented themselves, but this was the next best compromise. Octorocks had ambushed him that afternoon, making thoughts of bathing an unnecessary distraction when placed against the need to survive.

Rivulets of water ran down over sunburned skin marred with scars. Muscle and sinew twitched in surprise at the water's cold. If I still had the luxury of a pulse, it would have quickened then. I could smell the dirt and perspiration more than I had been able to the blood. It was almost as if it belonged to me.

The place where my heart once lay felt warm.

He made fast work of his ablutions, then stretched out on the bed with a soft sigh. I waited for him to reach for the map scrolls that had come off with his tunic, but a stroke of fortune was to be mine--instead he pulled his taper closer and blew it out.

I continued to wait. He went still and gradually, painstakingly, his breathing slowed.

The moon was kinder than its daytime mate and did nothing to impede me as I walked towards the bed. The floorboards had creaked when he trod on them, but didn't do the same for me.

Up close, he was beautiful in a classic sense, all flesh flushed hot with blood that spilled under abuse. Eyebrows that were just thick enough to be considered masculine arched over flickering eyelids filled with a myriad of tiny veins. Lips parted to take air into lungs, fuel working organs. He was no patchwork of necromancy.

I loathed him for it.

I loved him, too.

Loved that he preserved this functioning vessel for me by his desire to remain alive, to rescue a woman that had never lain eyes on him and never knew of his birth. He was a stubborn sort with a heart in the right place for the taking.

He reminded me of the way I had been, years ago. And why shouldn't he, when we were blood kin?

My hand reached out against my mind's better council to brush the hair away from his cheek. It had turned silver with the moon's favor. Small points of light moved under my fingertips.

Those eyes flew open. A hot hand came within a thread of passing through me, but I backed away just in time to damn my own stupidity. I held back a swear and watched as he sat up, chest heaving. He searched for me again, that hand pressed to his face. His wide eyes found me, but his gaze passed through.

It lingered on my place longer than ever before.

A third stipulation of the master's and my agreement had been made clear. The more aware I was of him, the more aware he had to be of me as well. I was fast in retreating to my corner, where I closed my eyes. Profanity sliced like tiny knives through my mind, needing to go unvoiced.

His breath rasped for far longer than I imagined could be healthy, and a pang of his condition bled over into me. Bruised ribs, hunger, a fatigue that went beyond what sleep could cure.

He was weak. Weaker than I would have dared imagine.

'Damn you and your cleverness, Ganondorf.' And damn me too for agreeing to his schemes. But I was a beggar without the indulgence of choice. The wheels in my head churned with new thoughts.

That fragile body on the bed could be destroyed before the promise could come to fruition.

For the rest of the night, I didn't dare approach him again, and when dawn's first hints made the sky look like a milky tapestry, I beat a hasty departure.

I had work to do, and my master couldn't be aware of the half of it.

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