He couldn’t really remember his father. Aryll had only been about a year old, making Link four. The arguments had been getting worse and so had the bruises on mother‘s body. Grandma had finally thrown him out on a dark humid night, told him to leave the island and not to come back. Link’s mother had wailed that he was all she lived for and that she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. Link despised her for her weakness.
Mother had cried solidly through the night and eventually, Grandma had lost her temper. She had told her to buck up, that she hadn’t lost anything and that the man was an idiot. If he couldn’t be a good husband or a decent father then he wasn’t good enough.
Link didn’t ask to visit him. He wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. It didn’t matter. He had his mother and he had grandma. That was all he needed. Aryll was none the wiser. She wasn’t even aware she had a father. And that suited her fine. It was difficult at first. Mother had to find a job and was often away, selling goods from a Shop Ship. When she did come home, she was tired and haggard and snappish. She didn’t play with them anymore and Link dreaded her return even before she’d left .
It must have been about the tenth time she went out to sea. There were storms right across the ocean from Outset to Dragon Roost. The postman didn’t come for six or seven days and when the next trading boat came from Windfall, he didn’t have enough for all the people on Outset. He had to make two trips to fill their larders.
Mother didn’t come back.
* * * *
The boat lurched. Link felt his heart jump into his throat and clamped his hand over his mouth. This was horrible. His insides churned and sloshed as the boat heaved over the livid sea. Lightning cracked the sky, shattering the clouds in a jagged rip. Link moved away from the porthole towards the chum bucket. He was going to be sick.
Apparently all first timers got ill. It didn’t help that the sick bucket was normally used for fish innards. Link groaned. Stop thinking about it. Fish. Ugh. Sick. Stop! The cabin rose again sharply and Link threw himself at the bucket.
Heaving and retching, he sat back against the wall and tried to breath. Behind him, the door opened and the pirate walked in. Link groaned. What fresh hell?
“Sick again? Poor thing, you should’ve come and got me.”
Tetra’s voice was soft and tender. Not at all like it was when she was up on deck. She sat down beside him and rubbed his back. Link was touched by the gesture.
“Niko was supposed to be looking after you,” she said.
“He’s…..ugh…..down in the hull... I think.”
Tetra frowned. Niko was so lazy, it was unbelievable. He was supposed to be looking out for Link. They’d been at sea a day and he’d left him alone to chuck up his guts already. This called for a reprimand. Another one.
“Maybe it’d be better if you came up on deck,” she said softly, her voice concerned and sympathetic. “You could get some air and it’s not half as unsteady up there.”
Link nodded, not trusting himself to open his mouth without vomiting. He got shakily to his feet and allowed Tetra to guide him up onto the deck.
The salty air hit him like a slap, but it was a welcome change from the dank stale air of the cabin. Tetra led him to the helm where Gonzo was cheerfully riding the waves. The rain drove against the huge man, soaking his hair and making his outline appear blurry, but he continued to swing the wheel in a leisurely way as if it where the most beautiful weather he’d ever seen. Gonzo glanced over and saw Link’s incredulous look. He winked.
“Good wind,” he rumbled. “We’ll be at the Forsaken Fortress in no time.”
Link’s stomach gave a nervous clench and a wave of nausea threatened. Taking deep breaths, Link closed his eyes and begged the dizziness to go away.
“Where the hell is Niko?” Tetra yelled over the roar of the wind.
A head peeped sheepishly round the door of the map room. Niko waved nervously.
“Get your lazy arse out here Niko!” Tetra fumed, her eyes turning to flints.
Niko jumped and scampered over. Snatching his cap off his head, he made and awkward bow. Tetra glared at him.
“Uhh… Te- I-I mean Captain! Um, what would… seem to be the uh.. Problem?”
Tetra whirled round to look at the swabbie.
“The problem? The problem? You were supposed to be keeping an eye on Link and where do I find you? Skirting duties in the bloody Maps room! Do you even know what a map is?”
Niko twisted his cap in his hands. His forehead was shiny with rain. Or was it sweat? Link couldn’t tell. Shivering against the wind, he moved over into the shelter of the steps. Out of the buffeting wind, he watched as Tetra lectured Niko, then finally gave him his punishment. He had to clean the gull droppings off the crow’s nest. Niko was terrified of heights.
* * * *
It was pitch black. The storm had died down. Link looked out across the dark expanse of ocean and his heart gave a determined thump. Not two miles away, floodlit and heavily guarded, was the Forsaken Fortress.
“We’ve got a problem.”
Link turned to see who had spoken. Tetra was leaning casually against the rail. All the torches on deck had been extinguished. The boat was completely invisible, cloaked in an inky black shroud.
“The search lights are being controlled by moblins. If we try to get any closer, they’re guaranteed to see us and we’ll all be killed. You’ll never save your sister this way.”
“I have to try,” Link insisted. “Otherwise, what was the point of me coming all the here?”
Tetra searched his face in amazement. Was he serious? Tetra seemed to contemplate this for a while. Link watched her anxiously. Time was running out.
“Okay,” she said finally. “I think… just.. Hang on a sec.”
Tetra strode across the deck and tapped Nudge on the shoulder. He turned round and she grabbed his collar, pulling him down level with her. She whispered something in his ear. He nodded, then nodded again and said something in dulcet tones. Tetra nodded and Link could just hear her say;
“Right, so it’s sorted, he goes in the catapult.”
Link ran over and spun Tetra around to face him.
“What did you say?”
Tetra had the decency to blush.
“Nothing- look it’s the only way you’re gonna rescue your sister so just…. Let us deal with it.”
“Yes but ho- HEY- GEDDOFF!”
Link cried out in surprise and tried to wriggle free as Nudge grabbed him and clamped his hands to his sides. Niko scuttled over and wrapped a length of rope around Link’s body so that he couldn’t move, then together, they manoeuvred him towards the catapult. Link shouted and struggled but the ropes were tied well in secure knots. Tetra watched it all in ill concealed amusement.
“Shush you baby or they’ll hear us. Look, Gonzo’s a brilliant aim, you’ll be fine.”
“Yeah right, like I’ll-”
“Right let’s get this over with,” Tetra interrupted.
“No!” Link cried. “Don’t I-”
Gonzo grinned and raised his sword above his head.
“Good luck, mate,” he said with a snort of laughter, then brought the sword down on the trip rope. With a loud twanging sound, the catapult sprang up and Link was launched into the air.
“Oh shit,” Tetra gasped. “He’s gonna hit the-”
There was a sickening crunch.
* * * *