The Cucco Conundrum
Link was getting thirsty, but he had made a point to never again drink from Kakariko’s well. He knew what was down there.
Chirping crickets stilled their night songs as Link shifted his position where he sat beside the windmill. Not for the first time, he fingered his Ocarina in consideration. He hated to dampen his lookout spot, but he really was parched. A little rain would have to do.
With a stretch and a groan he rose to his feet for the first time in hours and walked the short distance to the nearest sheltering eaves. Bringing the sacred instrument to his lips, he trilled a soft little waltz that set the sky aroil with swift black clouds. The wrack thickened and churned above him, veiling moon and stars and casting Kakariko Village into blackness. At the last note’s release, a sharp vein of lighting split the sky, thunder rang off the mountain and tumbled among the foothills, and the rain came down in sheets.
Navi the fairy, Link’s only companion apart from his horse, started at the commotion, flitting out from the little nest she kept under Link’s hat. By her light, Link watched the water sluice off the roof in a crystal curtain before him. He waited a moment for its slight brown shingle-dust tinge to wash away before holding an empty bottle beneath the torrent. This he filled and drained twice, gasping in relief and wiping his chin, before corking a third bottleful for later. After that there was nothing for it but to lean back and wait out the storm while the mud spackled his boots.
The trouble with the Song of Storms was that there was no accompanying tune to halt the downpour. Link never knew how long or how short the rain would be. Near the lake on a humid day it might not stop for an hour. Here at the foot of Death Mountain and its smoking caldera, however, Link hoped it would let up soon. He couldn’t keep a close eye on Anju’s cucco pen in this kind of weather.
Much earlier that afternoon, Link had ridden in from the desert, hot and bothered, low on provisions and in need of a decent meal. He had truly been looking forward to the quiet hospitality of the mountain village. After hitching his horse and ascending the rough-hewn stairway through the foothills, however, he had been disappointingly greeted with only a flurry of noise and feathers as Anju’s free-roaming cuccos rampaged through the avenues, scratching up dust, harassing the populace and generally pooping on every available surface.
And Anju, ironically allergic to their feathers, had had a devil of a time trying to round them all up again.
So Link had lent a hand. Anju was always ready to drop a fair amount of pocket change for this kind of favor. Still, it had taken the better part of an hour to track them all down, and Link had the sneaking suspicion that the cuccos were getting faster...
“I’m sorry about all the trouble, again,” Anju sighed, “I just can’t figure how they all keep getting out.”
Link only gave her a shrug and a reassuring little smile as he set the last cucco back in its pen.
“My father built that coop himself—you can see the latch, it’s good and solid, it’s just... I’ll have it fastened so tightly at night and then... some mornings...” The cucco keeper brought her hand to her temple, at a loss. “I’m sorry. Just listen to me.” She shook her head and smoothed her skirt. “I know I can hardly keep up with demand as it is, but I’d be out of eggs entirely if it weren’t for your help. Thank you, Link.”
Link gave a single nod as Anju took his hand and pressed a few rupees into his palm. She closed his fingers around them and gave a grateful squeeze before turning back toward her house, her patterned skirt hem aswirl.
Halfway to her door she stopped in her tracks. “Link...” she started, turning around again. Her eyes flicked shyly over the hilt of Link’s sword. “You’ve got experience in... doing away with vermin, haven’t you?”
One hundred rupees she had offered. A hundred rupees to catch whatever fox or cat or wolfos she suspected must have been cracking into her coop every other night and setting the cuccos loose. Link had taken a look at the strange scratch-marks surrounding the latch and believed she might be on to something. But what was more, those rupees would certainly have been useful; Link’s little run-in with the desert thieves had completely fleeced his pockets. He needed the money.
He just had to keep reminding himself of this as he stood shivering against the mortared wall, droplets misting his face. Navi had once again taken refuge under his hat, and the remaining darkness pressed in coldly upon him. Widening his eyes, he strained for any hint of light beyond the few yellowed windows of the village.
Thankfully, Link didn’t have to wait long before the silver shower began to thin out and the moon broke haltingly through the clouds. Already he was regaining sight of Anju’s cucco pen through the dimness. Nothing had changed.
With the storm resorted to casting down its last spitty drops, Link left the cover of the eaves and took a few sodden steps to check on the cuccos. The droppings encrusting their pen had slushed together into one rank atrocity in the downpour, but the coop was otherwise untouched. A few of the cuccos cracked their bright eyes at Link’s approach, quietly clucking between the wooden slats at the squelch of his boots. The latch was still secure.
After a glance up and down the empty avenue, Link again mounted the steps to his spot on the platform outside the windmill. This part of the hillside offered a good vantage point over most of the village. But as the tussock grass now glistened with frigid rain and mud, Link resigned himself to lean against the rail for a spell. It did feel good to stretch his legs at least.
By the moonlight, Link could see all the way to Grog’s tree near the village entrance. Poor Grog. The last Link had seen of him had been in the Lost Woods, and Fado said that anyone—everyone—who strayed too deeply into that forest became a stalfos, a hideous, skeletal creature bent only on violent harm. Link had dispatched many of them on his forays into the woods. Maybe he had already found Grog, and put him out of his misery. Or perhaps men-turned-stalfos were already dead, their remaining dust and bones simply possessed of the Demon King’s dark power.
Either way, there was nothing Link could have done to save him.
The world had become so twisted over the past seven years. It was often difficult to discern the line between the natural beasts of the wild land and Ganon’s demonic horde. Link looked to the cucco pen down the hill. Was it really only some mountain fox that kept breaking in? Or had some unholy fiend from below somehow sensed the warm flesh and crept up from...
Link looked down into the well below the platform. Its slick inner stones reflected the moonlight with an innocent glimmer. The things this town didn’t know.
He spat, shuddering out his dread, and removed his shield. He laid it face down on the grass before the windmill wall and had a seat on the wood, thumping his back against the stone with a sigh.
At the vibration, a subtle scratching sound jittered out of the stones above his head. In the next heartbeat that passed, even as Link was just considering that he knew that noise, Navi was out of his hat in a blur, pulsing a dangerous yellow. “Watch out, Link!” she warned in her tiny voice, flitting between her friend and the source of the noise.
Link rebounded from where he had just sat down, and leapt to his feet. Nearly slipping on the wet grass, he spun around, sword in hand, to see Navi’s fiery glow hovering some feet up the wall. Her fierce light shone hotly down on a sheeny golden carapace. It seemed a skulltula had crawled out of the earth to air itself out after the storm.
“Found you!” the fairy crowed.
Skulltulas were only a breed of spider, so named for the death’s head shape and markings of their carapaces. But they grew as large as housecats, and one bite could leave a welt the size of a melon. At least, that was the case with the regular ones. Big skulltulas were another story.
The spiders themselves were natural enough. But golden specimens such as this had been markedly touched by evil. They were twice as vicious and, as bearers of an eldritch curse, infinitely more harmful.
They were still only spiders, though. And this one wasn’t so far up the wall that Link couldn’t reach it with his sword. Guided by Navi’s light, he stood tall and knocked it down with the tip of the blade. Its legs flailed wildly, its scratching becoming more frenetic as it tumbled to the ground below, where Link cleaved it in two.
The severed halves still twitched and jittered as the golden skulltula’s cursed body consumed away in a dark flame. Scratch, scratch, scratch... The carcass continued to sigh and evaporate until only a glittering piece of carapace remained behind—the heart of the curse.
Scratch... scratch... scratch...
Bending down, Link carefully collected this token and tucked it away in a pouch. He and Navi were going to hunt this demonic species to extinction. Their numbers were limited. The fairy could feel it.
Link’s head shot up. He turned around.
Three cuccos were headed his way, running for their lives. Two more darted toward the graveyard. Link’s eyes shot to the pen. Cuccos poured out of the coop in a confused white mass, flapping over the pen wall and casting up a shower of feathers.
Navi only just managed to slip back underneath Link’s hat before he leapt over the rail. He hit the ground running, but it was only a few strides to the pen. The cuccos fluttered and jumped aside at his hot approach. He quickly scanned the area, but aside from the undone latch and open coop door, there were no signs of any predators. He had only looked away for a minute!
Small, white bodies fidgeted all around him, expanding, wandering; there was movement everywhere. Link swept his eyes across the little horde again and again, seeking for some kind of sign of what could have done this...
And he found it. There, a little way down the path, one white shape moved differently than the rest, slower, jerk by jerk along the ground. It was being dragged.
Unsheathing his sword once more, Link strode toward the shady cucco thief. Another step and he could see the cucco was already dead. And another and another, and he could make out the large puncture wounds on its neck.
Scratch, scratch, the cucco dragged over the tussocks. Link was mere feet away. Another step and he could see the skull, pale in the shadow of a house. A common skulltula. It released its prey and raised its forelegs in alarm, venom and blood on its fangs. Link raised his sword.
“Wait!” the skulltula shrieked, its voice the rattle of scratching dead reeds.
Link froze, his eyes wide. That skulltula talked.
“Stop! Please don’t!” It curled its creaking forelegs in a pathetic attempt to shield itself.
Link’s sword arm remained uncertainly in the air as he attempted to process this. Skulltulas couldn’t talk. Nor could Ganon’s power charm them into sentience. But no, he had seen this before. No skulltula in the world could speak except for... oh no...
“It’s me! It’s Taran!” The spider warily peeped through a crack between its legs, and now Link could see the faint gleam of the human eyes in the skull.
Link slowly stood back, breathing long and deep, and the sword went back into its scabbard. Taran. A curse bearer. One of six ill-fated souls Link knew to have been afflicted with the golden skulltulas’ devilry. One for whom he was hunting those accursed spiders. And a lifelong resident of Kakariko.
“You recognize me!” Taran chirped, scuttling forward, “Oh thank you! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you, I know how this must look...”
Four hairy, creaking spider legs tapped and touched and curled gratefully around Link’s left leg. Link knew Taran meant well, but he could hardly keep from stiffening at the creeping contact. It was unsettling to have three-inch fangs up against his shins, no matter how nice the kid they belonged to.
But it was beside the point. Behind him, a dozen cuccos still clucked and scratched and wandered further away from their pen. Link’s hands went to his hips as he stared down at the spider-child. This was not okay.
Taran caught Link’s gaze and shrank back, his every move accentuated by that scratch, scratch, scratch. He guiltily regarded the dead cucco lying limply on the grass between them. Its face had gone a fine shade of green. “I’m sorry it makes such a mess every time,” he said.
Link supposed he should have known all along, given Taran’s family’s condition, and the proximity of their house to Anju’s. No wonder the cuccos were getting harder to catch. All the slow ones were getting picked off.
“But we have to eat!” Taran reasoned, “And the cucco lady gets along just fine—she can always just hatch more birds—and people are gonna eat them anyway and—and—” He began to quail beneath Link’s steely gaze, the admonishing hands gesturing to all the cuccos now running loose.
Taran quivered in sudden anger. “Well I try to lock them up but I can’t shut the door because of these stupid—” he twitched his tiny claws before his face, “—do I look dexterous enough to button up that stupid latch? It’s so complicated!” His legs curled inward and he sank into the turf. “We’re doing the best we know how and it’s not like we like it and—well how would you feel if all you could do to live was suck on dead animals? Maybe if you’d help us break the curse a little faster—we can’t find all the pieces like this—we just—”
Taran’s words broke apart as he shivered on the ground, his young human eyes beginning to tear.
With a sorry little sigh, Link stooped down and, for lack of a shoulder, laid his hand on the cheek of the skull instead. Taran stilled his shuddering, his poor eyes only pleading out from the heart of that grotesque carapace. He just wanted to be human again.
In the fragile quiet, Link took the golden skulltula’s token from its pouch, and proffered it in an open palm.
At this Taran gasped in his reedy spider’s voice... and then the tears began in earnest. He took the precious token in his mandibles, the venomous fangs brushing over Link’s skin with a dexterity the swordsman forced himself to trust. “Thank you, Link,” Taran croaked, and then closed six legs around Link’s arm in a scratchy spider-hug.
When he didn’t let go after a moment, Link stood back up and lifted Taran with him. With the spider-child in one arm and the cucco in the other hand, he walked the last few steps through the moonlight back to the home of the cursed family.
The next morning, after helping to gather the stray cuccos once again, Link was sorry to explain to Anju that there were no foxes, no wolfos, no naughty village children. The latch was, in fact, simply unreliable before the restless beaks and talons of her superior breed of cucco. Yes, he knew her father was the best carpenter east of Castle Town. Yes, he was sure it was a brilliant latch design, far ahead of its time. But all the same, he just recommended she replace it with an older style. Preferably one that could latch upon just being pushed closed. The old designs really were the best designs.
Disappointed though she was, Anju was an honest woman, and she paid Link in full for his troubles. His purse jingling like music again, Link then set about restocking his quiver and supply pouch, and paying a serious visit to the bomb shop before returning to the desert. The Gerudo Thieves were not to be taken lightly, he knew. But neither was the wielder of the Master Sword. They would know it soon enough.
He paused by Grog’s tree on his way out, tightening his bandolier for the journey. Taran’s house stood nearby, its windows dingy as ever and curtained by cobwebs. The inside was so dark it was impossible to tell if there were anyone looking back out. Link gave a heartening little wave anyway, distantly hoping to lend Taran a little courage.
His business in Kakariko complete for the time being, Link set off toward the stone stairway to the plain, crunching through leaves and snapping through twigs—Grog’s tree had been slowly withering away, dropping bit by bit.
Grog. The memory of the forest was grim—that was one life Link hadn’t been able to save. One life lost to the Demon King.
Link cast a final reassuring smile over his shoulder for any eyes in the windows.
Piece by piece, no matter how long it took, he wasn’t about to lose six more.