LOVE IN A TIME OF CALAMITY
Part 3: Letting Go
Chapter 29: "Shared Grief"
A/N: So just a heads up, this will be the last chapter for a while. There are 5 chapters left in Part 3, and I've still got a lot of work to do on them before I'm ready to publish. I'll try and update on Twitter and Tumblr when I have some idea when the next chapter(s) will be out (also, I have added a link at the top of my Tumblr page for non-tumblr users that will filter only my fic update posts). For now, I hope you all enjoy!
The resonant slither of paint-slicked ox hair bristles against fine-weave canvas filled the small wooden house atop the cliff edge overlooking Kakariko village. He was almost there, so close to perfection. He could feel it in his bones—in the depths of his soul. Their expressions: their sorrow, the silent longing in each their eyes; so very nearly corporeal—so very nearly real.
When his fingers began to lock up from the strain some hours ago, he had briefly debated a break; but the taunting high of a completed work urged him to carry on, despite. But as he'd continued, it became more than just a desire to successfully finish a project fueling him; for this project, this painting—it was special. It was more.
And so, though his right hand was wrapped around his paintbrush at the precise angle and with the exact force he'd held it in for the past hour, and though the hand which gripped his paint pallet was as stiff as a dead man's, he carried on. He wouldn't set his brushes down for anything short of the completion of his vision—and if anyone were to try and stop him they would have to forcibly pull the brushes from his cold, aching fingers. Which, actually, he may very well need to seek out Paya later to have her bend his nearly numb fingers for him so he could set his equipment down and stretch once he was done… Ah, but no! Those thoughts were irrelevant now. He could consider such things once he was done.
More highlights. The Princess' hair needed just a few more streaks of—yes, that was it! And more shadows—he had captured the ethereal glow of her golden locks in the setting sun, but it still lacked body. Contrast! More highlights—more shadows… With a stiff but urgent jerk of his arm he dabbed his brush into the flattened lump of taupe paint with the utmost delicacy, leaning closer into the canvas. There—just there, a little blending; no—the fine-tip brush…
With barely a glance, he reached for said brush, fingers creaking at the effort required to prise them open and release his current paint-coated one into the muddy water jar. As the old brush fell against the glass with a faint tinkle, he pulled out a new finer-tipped detail brush from between a flat and a fan, dipping it delicately into the lighter shades of paint at one corner of his pallet before tracing gentle lines through her hair. Ah, that was it. Yes—yes!
After another hour of scrutinizing work he finally leaned back on his stool, satisfied. Done—it was done. His eyes burned, he could barely move his fingers, his lumbar ached, his stomach growled from lack of sustenance, and the sun was beginning to rise; but it was done—and it was a MASTERPIECE.
He rarely painted people. He knew how, of course—it wasn't out of fear for the subject matter. People had simply never stirred him the way architecture or landscapes often did. But this: these subjects, this couple… This was the muse that would get his work finally seen. What he had found—what he had captured, here, with his brushes and paints; everyone throughout the kingdom was experiencing and yearning to express and share this… feeling. More than anything, what his quick sketches had captured during the funeral was this one ephemeral truth. The pages of his sketchbook were full of people communing and sharing and grieving together, over a shared loss—lacking the same words and struggling in the same ways. And he, whether by stroke of luck, divine providence, or merely accumulated skill and experience, had just created a work of art that expressed that very thing.
He grinned broadly as he eyed the painting, feeling for the first time in Goddess knew how many hours his bodily needs call out to him. Oh, how his stomach ached! Had he eaten anything that evening? Well, if he couldn't remember, chances weren't very good, he supposed. And Goddess how could muscles even get so stiff! Oh, and his hands… his hands! He carefully flexed his fingers, feeling the stiffness oh so slowly bleed out of the joints.
A yawn suddenly overtook him and he stretched with it, mouth open wide and eyes squeezed tightly—a welcome relief to the dry, itchy orbs. Rubbing his face with paint-stained hands, he glanced to the sliver of pale blue light peeking beneath faintly glowing curtains. The sun was beginning to rise.
But oh, how he was tired! When had he gotten so tired? It had really snuck up on him… With immense effort, he rose from his stool, knees and lumbar groaning in protest as he did so. He glanced briefly at the ladder up to his sleeping loft, eying it with disdain. Such effort… Turning his gaze to his first floor studio, he weighed his options. His coat lay in a heap on the wood floor just beyond his painting tarps… Feeling his muscles whine in protest at the mere thought of climbing the ladder and eyelids heavy with overuse and exhaustion, he hobbled over to the white lump of fabric, falling to his knees with a dull thud. Gathering the material into a pile, he collapsed on top of it. Growling stomach be damned… food could wait till morning. Or, technically, afternoon. Whenever he woke up.
With a weary yet satisfied smile, he drifted quickly into dreams of fireworks and blue paper lanterns, and a mournful Princess gazing so vulnerably at the man he felt sure, now—whether even she yet realized or not, she had fallen deeply in love with.
Paya carefully balanced the plate of steaming mushroom rice balls on one hand, grasping the cool, sweating bottle of Lon-Lon milk in the other as she descended the steps of her family home. She nodded politely to Cato and Steen guarding the entrance at the base of the stairs, each of whom offered her a friendly smile as she stepped into Kakariko village square. Though the day was warm, a cool breeze blowing in off the Lanayru Bay made for comfortably mild weather. The leaves of the ancient oaks dotting the village rustled with each gust, and the chatter of the villagers mingled with the low, steady churning of Lantern Falls. The square was busy with the comings and goings of Kakariko's residents—it seemed everyone was out enjoying the lovely day; everyone, that was, except for one noticeably absent individual, whose cottage she was making her way towards for an unannounced visit.
As she walked up the road past Claree's shop, she deftly navigated Koko and Cottla's raucous game of tag. The older girl waved between pants, with a cheerfully puffed "Hi Paya!" as she hurried past, a hot-footed Cottla proving just out of reach. Paya smiled at the girls, offering a friendly nod as the two rocketed past—just like they always did during breaks between their lessons.
Paya continued on. The girls were barely out of sight before Olkin's pumpkin patch came into view along the rise in the road, and she spotted the older man digging around in the dirt on his hands and knees—just as he always did on sunny afternoons such as these. He looked up from his weeding as she neared, waving dirt-stained fingers in her direction.
"Afternoon, Miss Paya!" he shouted cheerfully; then, noticing the plate: "You headed up to see that old bat again?"
Paya smiled politely, feeling nervousness tickle her gut and exasperation grip her heart. She never was able to make it up to his house unmolested.
"Y-yes. I made some extra, and I haven't s-seen him in a few days so I thought he might appreciate a hot m-meal."
Olkin leaned one arm on his propped up knee, tilting his head at her in amusement. "You really are too good to that man. I hope he's grateful—I don't know what he'd do without you looking after him."
Paya nodded shyly. "Master P-Pikango is quite kind to me. And I enjoy s-seeing his w-work."
Olkin snorted. "Well, I'm glad somebody does." Then, with a smile and wave of his hand: "I won't keep you. If he hasn't been into town, Goddess knows how long its been since that recluse has eaten a proper meal. It was good to see you."
Paya once more nodded her head, feeling relieved the conversation was over. "Y-you as well. Good afternoon, M-master Olkin."
Olkin wasted no time turning his attention back to his patch, and with a quick turn of her heel Paya continued up the incline. It was a blessedly uninterrupted journey up the hill once she rounded the bend in the road. She paused briefly near the shrine at the top of the incline to catch her breath, taking a sweeping glance at the small, rural village bounded by cliffs she had spent her whole life living in. It always seemed so small when looked at from above.
She released a soft sigh as the wind gently tussled her hair. Though the day was beautiful and the village peaceful—a rarity since the Calamity—as she often did, she felt restless. Kakariko had always felt too small; stifling and limiting and wearily provincial. Her happiest days here were those in which she traveled the short distance to Camp Sheik or Hyrule Academy for her routine inspections. But always, the time away was too brief—the breath of life beyond these stifling cliffs never enough.
For unlike many of the Sheikah who happily went about their lives in this small village, Paya did not find joy the simple, idyllic life of Kakariko.
Though it came as a surprise to her grandmother the first time she had dared share her heart—such a yearning was rather unexpected of one so quiet and shy after all, she didn't want to live out the rest of her life trapped in her ancestral home the way her grandmother had—and the way many of the villagers did and would. She had, perhaps, inherited her Mother and Aunt's adventurous spirits (if not their bold personalities). She yearned for something more—something bigger, grander, but above all different. The world was so vast and varied; how could she possibly be satisfied only ever knowing this one small slice of it?
Feeling her breathing steady out after a minute, she turned her eyes from the village and continued up the path, taking the barely-there footpath towards the cliff edge. Pikango's small cottage loomed just over the next rise, and it wasn't long before she found herself walking through his small, unkempt yard to his front door. The window was covered by the curtain, and judging by the silence emanating from within, it seemed as if no one was home.
But Paya knew better. With a smile, she used the bottle of milk in her hand to knock lightly on the wooden door.
She waited patiently for several moments before her excitement got the better of her and she knocked again—a little louder and more insistently. After several moments more, shuffling footsteps could be heard beyond the door, and soon it was opening inward to reveal the haggard face of Pikango, squinting into the light.
"Whatdyou—oh… Paya? Paya!" He blinked muzzily at her, his disgruntled expression quickly melting into amiability. "Come in, come in!"
Pikango threw the door open wide, stifling a yawn as he ushered her inside. Paya crossed the threshold, heading into the center of the small room. She heard the familiar scrape of his wooden crate as he pushed it with his foot from its place along the wall, across the floor to rest beside her.
"Have a seat, have a seat! What brings you by?"
As Paya finally took in the wholeness of his appearance, she struggled not to laugh. He was always like this after an all-nighter. Given that he still looked half-asleep, she guessed she'd probably woken him up; which might also explain the odd lump of fabric pooled at the edge of his painting tarps, and why he hadn't immediately noticed what she was carrying. However it didn't take much longer for him to do just that. As he turned to look at her properly, rubbing his eyes to ward off the last vestiges of sleep, his gaze immediately tracked to the plate in her hand—and its contents. With a broad smile, she gestured to it.
"I brought you something to eat. I haven't seen you around town for a few days and thought you might be getting hungry up here."
Pikango's eyes bulged as he eagerly relieved her of her burdens, then plopped himself wearily onto the crate he'd set out for her with a thump.
"Paya, you are an absolute Goddess-send," he said with no small amount of gratitude, before eagerly lifting a rice ball to his face and shoving nearly all of it in his mouth. Paya let out a soft laugh.
"Have you been working on a new project?" She inquired eagerly, knowing full well he more than likely was; he only ever secluded himself like this when he was in the middle of a new painting, and the exhaustion on his face only added to her certainty. She'd seen him go days without sleep if his muse was enrapturing enough. Without lifting his head from the plate Pikango nodded, pointing with one rice-covered finger to the easel at the back of the room.
Paya turned, eying the back of a large canvas resting on the wooden slats with interest. It was larger than anything she'd seen him paint before—at least as wide as both her arms. She walked quietly towards it, Pikango too absorbed in his food to pay any further attention. As she rounded the easel, careful not to disturb his tarps, the painting itself became visible—and her breath caught in her throat.
It was a scene from the funeral. Though she had not herself gone, word had spread quickly about the affair. Paya gazed in awe at the scene depicted before her. The Princess and the Hero each stood before the railing of the banner-laden podium, holding a blue paper lantern each and gazing deeply into the other's eyes.
She had only met the Hero once, several years ago before he had pulled the Master Sword. She had thought then how handsome he was; his sideburns always managed to make her shiver with a strange sort of excitement. But he was still a boy, then. Here… here, he was a young man—and a breathtakingly handsome one at that, all angular jaw and fierce blue eyes. And the Princess… she had met the Princess several times over the years on her visits to the village, and her beauty and grace were well known throughout the land. But in this painting, she looked… she looked almost like a goddess, even despite her black mourning gown.
Light from the lanterns cast both their faces in a blue glow, contrasted beautifully with the golden light of the setting sun and the warm glow of the white lanterns rising in the air behind them—set against a darkening sky; yet despite the dazzling display of light and color Pikango had captured, what stood out most was the expressions painted upon both their faces. Link's piercing blue eyes were, somehow, so very soft as they gazed mournfully at the Princess; and likewise her regal posture gave way to quiet sorrow, as did her bright, green eyes—glassy with unshed tears as she returned his expression. Yet despite the pain so clear upon her face, somehow she still held the poise and wisdom her line was so well known for—as though it was one final burden she could not let go of.
Here were two people who shared a deep pain—and a deep understanding; a care for the other that held an ancient strength and conviction words could do little to describe. It almost seemed like, perhaps… there was something… but no, she must simply be reading into it. And yet, the more she looked…
"Weeeell… What do you think?"
Paya started, whirling on her heel to find Pikango standing just behind her, gazing thoughtfully at his work over her shoulder as he took a swig of milk.
"Master Pikango…" she breathed, "This is…" She turned back to face the painting, feeling her heart constrict and a lump form in her throat as the totality of what was depicted settled within her heart. "This—this is undoubtedly your finest work."
Beside her, Pikango beamed. "You really think so?"
Paya turned and smiled broadly, nodding with certainty. "Absolutely. In fact…" She paused, turning back to the painting once more, forefinger pressing thoughtfully against her chin. "The Kakariko cultural festival is in a few days. You should display this."
Pikango choked beside her, before she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder, whirling her to face him. "You really think so?" he asked, eyes wide, "The villagers have never been fond of my paintings, and I—"
"I'm sure," Paya responded with certainty. "I know the villagers'… artistic appreciation is lacking… Master Cado Just hung another cuckoo portrait in his house, after all; but I truly believe that this will change their minds. And besides, there will be lots of visitors as well—this could be a big opportunity for you!"
Pikango eyed her critically before, slowly, a smile began to curve up the corners of his lips. "Okay…" he said, lowering his hands, a light growing in his eyes. Then, with more conviction: "Yeah—okay… I'll do it!"
The sun was beginning to set as Paya approached the foot of the stairs to her family home. Lost in thoughts of Pikango's newest work—no, his masterpiece—she almost didn't notice the young man running down the road, calling her name.
"Miss Paya—Miss Paya!"
With a start Paya turned as the out-of-breath messenger caught up to her. She offered the man a polite smile and bow as he came to a gasping halt before her. Without preamble, he rifled in his satchel and produced a scroll—one which bore the seal of the royal council stamped in red wax: a missive from her mother, no doubt.
"I have—I have—" he panted, "A letter for you! And for Mistress Nana!" He pulled another, unadorned letter from his satchel and handed that to her as well. "Both are urgent, so please see to it that you both read them immediately!"
Paya nodded respectfully, offering a small bow. "I will, thank you."
The messenger saluted before turning and running back through town—back to his horse, and Paya watched absently as he disappeared around the bend in the road. Turning to ascend the steps, she tucked her grandmother's letter into her sash and flipped over her own scroll with curiosity, lifting the wax seal and unrolling the parchment. It was unusual for her to receive an urgent letter from the council. As the liaison between the Sheikah tribe and castle, much of her correspondence merely consisted of providing updates on Camp Sheik—the secret Sheikah warrior training facility nestled high in the Dueling Peaks, and the progress of Sheikah students at Hyrule Academy. There was little of urgency to discuss… what could this be about?
Please forgive me for my dreadfully overdue correspondence; between finalizing funeral arrangements and the Princess' first official visits to the Zora and Rito, I haven't had a moment to spare. I hope all is well in Kakariko, and I look forward to your next report on the progress of our graduating warriors and researchers.
I am sure you are curious, as you always are, so I will share without delay the goings on here at the castle. Recovery efforts are going slowly, but well, and the Princess has high hopes for the reconstruction of Castletown. Portions of the southern wall have already been rebuilt, and construction on certain city buildings is due to begin next week upon the Princess' return. The council continues to be difficult, as they always are, but so far seem willing to be civil enough as not to make the Princess' work any more difficult than it already is. However, I cannot seem to rid myself of Lord Coren's incessant complaining as to the Princess' choice of General. I fear it shall plague me for months to come."
Paya chuckled softly to herself. Lord Coren, as well as Lord Penn, were frequent subjects of complaint in her mother's letters.
"Despite the difficulties she faces, the Princess is adjusting quickly to her role as Regent. As I knew she would be, she is proving a just and wise leader; practice and experience are all that she lacks (and perhaps some willingness to delegate responsibilities—but that is just between you and I). Actually, that is in large part the subject of urgency in this letter. I have a proposition I would like you to consider:
The Princess has a very full plate at the castle, and I fear for her overworking herself. She can be so stubborn at times (also just between you and I), and often ignores her limits. I know she wishes to be the best ruler she can for her people, but there is only so much she can do alone. The council, while not openly hostile, is neither very generous with their assistance, despite their pledges to be proactive after the Calamity's defeat (such is the transience of resolve instilled by fear for one's life, I suppose). The Princess needs someone she can trust—and who I can trust—to assist her in her day-to-day duties and dealings; I would like that someone to be you. Though I know at times you doubt yourself, I have seen your abilities: you are smart, strong, loyal, and capable. I have complete faith that you can not only perform admirably as the Princess' administrative assistant, but that you are the best person for this role.
Please give this offer some consideration, and send a response as soon as you are able. While I do not wish to rush such a large decision, I will need enough time to find a suitable replacement should you decline."
She felt her legs go weak, hand reaching for the door to support herself. There was another paragraph which followed—simple pleasantries, inquiring after the village and the like, but Paya barely registered it. Instead she stared at the letter—at the request—in shock for several silent moments.
She, Paya Umbra, assistant to the Princess of Hyrule?! That was… preposterous! She had never even been outside of the Necluda province! She was merely the liaison between the Sheikah tribe and the royal council—a relatively small position which held only modest responsibilities: sending monthly updates to the royal council on the progress of new Sheikah warrior trainees and Sheikah students at the academy, and ensuring Camp Sheik had what it needed to run efficiently and produce the best possible warriors. That was it! She had little practical understanding of castle politics or what the Princess or council even did day-to-day; how could she possibly hope to fill such a role?!
And yet… despite her shock and the initial wave of anxiety, she could feel excitement bubble up within her just as strongly. This was the opportunity she had always wanted—a path out of her daily monotony and onto something bigger—something grander. Her mother believed she could do it, and her mother was an extremely intelligent and wise woman… Maybe… maybe she was up to the challenge, after all?
Her… assistant to the Princess of Hyrule! Her heart beat a little faster at the thought. What would life be like at the castle? What kinds of things might she get to see and do every day? Would she get to travel? Maybe even meet a Goron, or a Zora! Were she to accept, she would be at the center of the very beating heart of Hyrule.
Were she to accept.
Could she do this? Could she handle a responsibility this large? Could she go from living in a small, rural village to living in the largest city in the Kingdom, overnight? Was she truly considering her mother's offer?
Feeling a chill breeze rustle her clothing, Paya looked up from the letter only to realize by the fading light how long she had been still. Glancing back down at the letter, she felt her heart skip a beat, resolve solidifying within her as she rolled it back up. Then, with a deep breath, she opened the doors.
As she walked inside she spotted her grandmother sitting upon the elder's cushion at the back of the room, reviewing a scroll. With quick strides she crossed the room, offering a quick bow.
"An urgent message came for you, Grandmother," she stated quickly, handing her the letter before making for the stairs.
With curious eyes Nanna eyed the letter, then Paya, as the young girl hurried away, squinting as she ascended the steps.
"What's got you in such a hurry, dear?"
Without stopping, Paya called down the stairway, a smile growing upon her face as she answered. "I have an urgent letter to write!"
As she rounded the corner, her feet departed the steps for the smooth wood of her bedroom floor. Paya made a beeline for her desk, kneeling upon the floor pillow and setting the scroll upon its glossy surface. She unrolled it—pinned the top and bottom with weights, then glanced over it once more. She reread the words once more, feeling her heart race. Though Paya felt torn between fainting and shouting, and though she felt absolutely no certainty about her decision—she had, in fact, made one. Pulling out her stationary and a pen, she began her reply.
Yes—I accept your offer. I feel obligated to state that I suspect myself wholly under-qualified, but if you feel I am the best candidate I will do all that I can to aid the Princess and live up to your expectations. Thank you for thinking of me, and thank you for giving me this chance."
Paya stared at the words as her ink slowly dried, feeling the decision settle firmly into place. A nervous flutter settled in her stomach along with the smile which grew upon her lips. This was it. Her life was about to entirely change. Though a strange sort of terror gripped her, a larger part of her felt ready for something so different—for such a large change. She'd been waiting her whole life for a moment like this; she just had to seize the opportunity when it finally came.
Glancing back down to her letter, she took a deep breath, slowly releasing her nervousness and allowing excitement to take its place. Then, she lifted her pen and began her next paragraph.
"With regards to the village, everyone is doing well. As I'm sure you're aware, the Kakariko cultural festival is only a few days away, and everyone is busy preparing. Oh, but that does remind me—I saw the most remarkable thing today. I went to visit Master Pikango, and his newest work was completed. It is a masterpiece, Mother—truly. I know I have expressed my admiration for his paintings before, but this one is different. He painted a scene from the funeral—of Master Link and the Princess. It is beautiful and sad and yet so full of hope. Truly, if you can spare the time, you should come down to see it during the cultural festival; he will be displaying it, then. I think it is something you would have quite an interest in…"
A/N: In case it wasn't already clear, just for clarity: in this AU Paya is Impa's daughter and Nanna is Paya's grandmother (Impa's mother). Impa is the Sheikah representative to and head of the Royal Council, and Nanna is the head of Kakariko and the Sheikah tribe. Also, it was kind of subtle, but the name of Pikango's painting is "Shared Grief". I've been working on review responses and should have those ready to post with my next update (whenever that ends up being). Thanks again for reading, and don't forget to let me know what you thought of this chapter!