Zelda fanfiction! Yay! Specifically, this is Ocarina of Time through Zelda's perspective. I've made an effort to make it as canon to the series as possible, so I've done a considerable amount of research and theorising behind the scenes. I've been working on this story for over a year now and have a ton written, but not necessarily in order and not necessarily in this story -- I've got at least two other full-length stories planned to fit the rest of my ideas.
I've got nine chapters up on Fanfiction.net, but for the purposes of ZuNoWriMo I'm going to be swallowing my pride and posting my rough and unfinished progress as I work through October. I'm only counting linear additions to what I have already written toward the word count, so for the moment I'll be spending my time on post-able work instead of backtracking to add things.
I hope that you read and enjoy it! Any feedback whatsoever is much appreciated!
I balled my silk slippers in my hand and proceeded to add them to the mass that was my silk stockings. Finally barefoot and barelegged, I pulled my long skirt up to my knees and scooted further toward the little moat that circled the private courtyard. I held my heels just above the chill trickling water and watched their wavering reflection below. Spring. It was my favourite season. I think that whatever season a person is born in is bound to be their favourite. The Crown Princess of Hyrule happened to be born in the spring; and her birth happened to mark the death of her mother, too. It didn’t taint the season, to me. I could just imagine that she was in the gentle breezes and that her whispers were the patter of rain.
The Queen’s death provided an excellent excuse for the nursemaids:
“She’s a wild child,” Mima would say. “But she lost her mother, poor dear; she must be forgiven.” I was fine with this arrangement. It meant that I could occasionally stomp on a puddle of mud or run too quickly through the long halls and muss the carpets, and I had an excuse. I had never known my mother, so it was difficult to miss her. I had the endless parade of maids, chambermaids, nursemaids… and Impa.
Impa was a constant. She was my protector in a sense I never fully understood in my younger years, but also my teacher. She taught me history, law, languages, customs… and other, secret things. When I had first begun to see little bits of my dreams manifest in the waking world, it had been she who explained to me the art of prophetic visions and helped me to distinguish prophecy from regular nighttime whimsy. My father’s mother had had them too, she said. It was an heirloom of sorts among the women of the royal family.
While Impa supervised these areas of my education, other aspects were reserved for various instructors chosen for employ by my father. My dancing master, Pierset, was as tall and thin as a reed and flowed as gracefully around the dance floor. I had a Mistress of Ceremonies, who along with her staff endeavoured to ensure that I display only the perfect etiquette at all times. The rest were peripheral and dealt with me very little on a personal level, however hard I sometimes tried to engage them. I had never even met the man who balanced my household accounts.
My life was a progression of days, broken up by the odd event. I was old enough to be brought before my father to give a curtsy and receive a pat, but not old enough to attend festivals or official events. I was the light of my father’s world, but very rarely did he find time to spend with me alone. Even when it was just he and I, our entourages together formed a formidable party. Still, he found time to occasionally supervise my learning to ride and once and a while I was surprised during a lesson; my father would swoop in like a burst of golden light, tall and infinitely handsome, and lift me into his arms and out of the schoolroom to play in the flowers. King Antoneas II was famous for his good looks – golden hair and a trim beard, a strong jaw and sparkling brown eyes, and he was always fit from hunts and sporting – and his kindly nature, but also for his bravery and decisiveness in the face of adversity.
The Civil War of Hyrule concluded a year and a half before my birth. By the time I was old enough to notice, the kingdom was for the most part stable, and quite a bit of rebuilding had already been done. My father had managed, with the blessing of the Goddesses and the aid of his allies, to conquer and unite the land of Hyrule, which had hitherto been a struggling confederation of small kingdoms. Surprising everyone, he had allowed each respective kingdom to keep their land and their monarchs, their customs and languages; taxes imposed reflected only the upkeep of an armed force dedicated by region in case of attack. I had good reason to be proud of my father. Certain areas, however, remained in doubt. The desert to the west – the land of the Gerudo – had provided the fiercest and longest sustained threat to the union of Hyrule, and upsets still occurred there regularly, so it was there that reconciliation efforts were directed for most of my life.
I had never before, however, met their King; until my tenth birthday, that is. The dark-skinned Gerudo with their exotic golden eyes and flaming hair are made up entirely of women, save a male who is born every hundred years – this male is destined to become their King. Hylian blood is rampant among the tribe, despite the hostility borne by their women for our Hylian men; it is Hylian men who father these female children with rounded ears and red hair, though they are not allowed access to the Gerudo Desert unless they can prove their worth in battle. I had always been fascinated with the Gerudo, especially their worship of the Goddess of the Sands. Impa said that, essentially, this Goddess was Din; but the Gerudo would not acknowledge the name.
Ganondorf, King of the Gerudo, arrived with his embassy precisely the week of my birthday. Childishly, I was a little disappointed – it meant that I would have none of my father’s attention at all for at least a month. But the dark man with the evil eyes quickly captured my attention… and my concern.
Letting my feet finally fall into the water of the moat with a little ‘plop!’ I gasped at the cold. It was only because everyone was so busy with the Gerudo embassy that I was allowed these moments to myself. Impa was there somewhere, of course, watching from some unseen place. Perhaps I should regard this as my birthday present, I thought.
But the thought of the Gerudo King nagged at me. I’d had dark dreams of late, more frightening than anything I’d ever felt before. They were perfectly clear and crisp in my mind, more like memories than dreams: the dark clouds looming over the kingdom, an ill omen… feeling helpless, cold, a chill rain on my skin… indescribable fear and grief. Although Impa wasn’t one to show much emotion, I could tell that she was very concerned with this latest prophecy. We agreed on one thing: the dark clouds were manifestations of that man from the desert.
My father barely had time for me, but when I said that it was urgent, he made it; but I was dismissed with a heavy sigh when I told him the truth. I think that he needed to believe there was a chance with Ganondorf. While it brought me nothing but frustration, in retrospect I couldn’t fully understand his burden. He had experienced that horrors of war and was faced with the option of peace… and that was something that he was not going to throw blindly after a child’s nightmare. He told me that Ganondorf was a formidable man, and that I was just frightened of his appearance. It was certainly possible. I had never until then been formally introduced to the man, but I had seen him; I’d seen his towering figure, rough hands and dark armour, and the sharp menace of his gaze.
One comfort remained to me. In my dream, the dark clouds would suddenly be pierced by rays of beautiful light from the vast forest to the south. The light would solidify into a greenish shape, the figure of a child, holding a glittering green stone I recognised as the Spiritual Stone of Forest. Flittering around the child’s head would be the bright light of a fairy. Then I would sense Impa’s presence, and I would hear her whistling my lullaby, apparently to the other… and then I would wake.
My excursions to the library informed me that this figure could only possibly be one of the Kokiri, popularly believed to be nothing but myth; yet since no one returned from the depths of the enchanted woods, I could believe that such beings might go undocumented. When presented with my theory, Impa merely gave a noncommittal hum; with her, this can only mean that she is withholding information.
“Your Highness?” The voice called from behind a hedge. I recognised the voice of a younger member of my staff. She could easily be escaped or persuaded, and had thus often been of use; but I really meant her no ill will, and sometimes felt badly for the trouble I had caused her.
“I am here, Tess,” I called, and her head popped around the corner of the hedge to peer at me. Her expression was quickly overcome with horror, doubtless because of my state of undress. Although I was in play clothes, my station demanded that any outfit short of that for bathing or for sleep contain a certain amount of adornment. Although my hair was wrapped neatly beneath a cloth headpiece to keep it from becoming mussed, it was crowned with a medallion of gold; and though, against current fashion, I wore long sleeves close to my arms to ward off the pricks and catch of thorns, these sleeves were layered over with fine silk; and my dress, while loose, was belted with gold and gems. Practicality was supposedly balanced with the needs of my station, though in my opinion the outfit was neither flattering nor practical. It successfully defeated both purposes, play and presentation. Thus, I had no qualms in getting the thing dirty or in hitching my skirt up to the knees to do so.
“Where…” She spluttered, her freckled face burning. “W-where are your stockings?” Realising a little too late that she’d gotten ahead of herself, she curtsied and murmured, “Your Majesty.”
I giggled, tossing my balled up stockings and slippers at her bent form. It rolled over her back.
“Behind you!” I said, standing to prepare to run. She was no match for me – I knew these gardens like the back of my hand.
Although she was smiling (shyly), Tess fumbled after me with a desperate air. “Your Highness, please! We are to prepare you to meet the King from the desert!”
I halted in my tracks, struck by sudden fear and a thrill of… excitement, maybe. However the man worried and frightened me, he was also irresistibly fascinating. Tess gathered my discarded stockings and slippers and went to me, kneeling to replace them. I lifted one foot and then the other mechanically, my mind elsewhere. Why was I to be presented to the King now? This was highly unusual. Foreign dignitaries were not uncommon, but being personally presented at any time other than for a single minute during a feast or festival was unheard of.
“Princess?” Tess was staring at me, concerned, her hand held out to me. I placed my fingers upon her upraised palm as habit dictated, allowing her to lead me daintily from my playground and into the darkening quiet of the castle.
Several hours of bathing, dressing, hairdressing and waiting later, I stood before the entry to my father’s study. He had guests here, played cards, signed documents – obviously he was trying to make his guest feel more at ease and personally attended to. I shivered at the thought of that man spending so much time in my father’s personal spaces, which I had long regarded as impenetrable and sacred. The pages on either side of the door stared ahead and not at me, but I could feel their attention bristling. True, I was not often seen. I had my own household and staff, my own ladies and attendants, in another part of the castle – and young pageboys were very markedly absent from my world. I imagine they were more fascinated with me than I was with them. I was too occupied with the twisted knot in my stomach to give them much thought, and either way I was too young then to give more than a passing thought to the male species. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Impa, leaning against the wall in a distant shadow. She caught my eye and nodded. I nodded back, gathering my resolve.
The tap of the doorman’s staff precipitated the pages on our side opening the doors before us, and the herald announced me as I – followed by two of my ladies, one thirteen and the other eighteen, each chosen for their noble heritages and sweet dispositions to be my (often unwanted) companions – swept into the room. We curtsied before my father, who sat sprawled in a chair idly walking two fingers across his nearby globe. It was a globular map of the heavens, and one of my favourites. He straightened as we entered and with a flick of his hand, dismissed my ladies. They curtsied again and then backed from the room. The door was closed behind them. While still deep in my curtsy, I darted a quick look around beneath my lashes – and to my horror, found that aside from myself only a single page inhabited the room with the two Kings.
“Come here, my child,” laughed my father, and I felt my heart immediately lighten. I rose and looked into his face; he was regarding me with a half-smile and curiosity, as if trying to gauge my mood and encouraging me to be strong at the same time. I smiled back, going to him and offering my hand. He pressed my tiny hand between his two big ones and gave me an encouraging smile.
“My Zelda,” He whispered, and then faced the massive man who stood silhouetted by the window. I followed his gaze and gulped, my smile instantly fading. Ganondorf stood with his arms crossed, adorned as always in red cape and black armour. It seemed out of place – although the royal family wore certain pieces of armour as parts of our ceremonial garb, this man’s perpetual use of full armour was quite unusual. The Thief King was gazing at me rather intensely, a small smile of sardonic amusement on his face. He seemed to be peering at me with great interest. I felt my heart lodge in my throat. My father had to apply a surprising amount of pressure to my back to get me to take a step toward the stranger.
“Ganondorf,” my father said, jovial as always, “May I present the Crown Princess of Hyrule, the sun and moon of my world.”
Ganondorf seemed especially amused at this; but his eyes never left me. With an abruptness that made me give an involuntary jump he broke his stoic pose and knelt to one knee – though he was still taller than me even then. His face was close to mine. I offered my hand timidly, as was the custom, but found myself entirely incapable of summoning a smile. He cradled my fingers gently upon his, and my hand looked infinitesimal within his huge one.
“I have heard much of you, My Lady…” he said, his voice surprisingly smooth and pleasing. It made a tingle run up my spine. His eyes never leaving mine, he raised my hand to his lips and kissed the air above it.
“Though protestations of your beauty have been plenty…” He freed my fingers but shocked me (and my father too, I imagine) by then lifting his hand to stroke my hair. It was worn free aside from a golden gem-encrusted circlet and hung to the small of my back, in the style indicative of my maidenly virtue. When I was married, I would then wear it up. I gasped and shrunk from his hand, and Ganondorf’s deep laugh reverberated through the room. He smelled of sand, exotic fruit and rusted metal.
I turned my face away, embarrassed and unnerved, and caught sight of my father. He was tense, the lines of his smile a little too deep and his eyes hard. But he maintained a friendly stance.
“I think you’ve frightened the dear modest girl with such flattery, My Lord,” he said lightly, but I could tell that he was displeased by the exchange. He opened an arm to me, and I gladly slipped away from the desert man to stand beside him. I was trembling. The King placed a comforting hand on my elbow. The protective gesture could hardly be disguised. Ganondorf stood, that infernal smirk still upon his face and his eyes still glued to mine; when he finally managed to drag his eyes away from me, it seemed with great reluctance.
“You know, my dear, security has once again been increased on your behalf,” my father said, and I started. My warning had been heeded? But why discuss this in front of the very man my warning had concerned?
The King chuckled. “Yet another young gallant has been apprehended trying to sneak into the gardens – to catch a glimpse of you, the man claimed.”
My heart sank, though I smiled prettily. Such a thing was not an odd occurrence. At least once a year, a commoner tried to sneak into the castle (usually the gardens, famously my favourite haunt) to beg an audience with the princess. I felt it had become more of an attempt at making a joke than an actual compliment to myself or to my reputation as a beauty. It was a pity the King still regarding my grievous concerns as the idle nightmares of a little girl.
The two kings carried on an apparently friendly banter, discussing weather and sports and trade as far as I could tell, but I was concentrating far too hard on looking at anything but the man in black. I still caught his frequent glances, though, and they unnerved me. Apparently he was as fascinated with me as I was with him. I doubted he felt the same fear, however.
“What are your views on the matter, Princess?”
My attention snapped to the conversation with horror. What, precisely, was ‘the matter’? I’d missed that bit entirely. I forced myself to look up at Ganondorf. The man was far too pleased with himself.
“I must apologise, my lord. My mind has drifted elsewhere, and you must unfortunately repeat some of the conversation for my benefit.”
“So eloquent! She is a credit to you, Your Majesty.” As an afterthought, Ganondorf murmured, “We have so few women like the Hylians in the desert. These dainty creatures… so… breakable…”
My father looked brooding, but he allowed a small smile. “Indeed.”
I bit my tongue, waiting to be apprised of the topic.
“Your father and I were just discussing the issue of religious incongruity throughout the kingdom. He believes that free practice will bring less rebellion and an attitude of tolerance. I, however, think that we must acknowledge that religious difference has always brought division and strife. Would it not be better for Hyrule to unite under a single spiritual doctrine?”
I knit my brow, tongue-tied for a moment. I had certainly not been expecting this. Impa aside, I was very rarely propositioned for an opinion on such serious matters as law and religion.
My father’s laugh beside me made me grit my teeth. “I don’t think…”
Doing the unthinkable, I interrupted the king. “Surely, as the Gerudo worship the Goddess of the Sands, such a measure would be anything but beneficial to your people.”
The smirk on Ganondorf’s face was finally vanquished. “That may be so. However, it is but my duty as a loyal servant to suggest a successful path to my King. What I would do, you might say…” His eyes were too bright for such a dark colour. “…if I were in his place.”
I stiffened. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that one bit, however innocent his wording. But best to answer his question before my father interrupted, if only to prove to him that I could give one.
“Ahum,” I said noncommittally, in the manner of Impa, before moving on. To be honest, the thought of what he suggested was appalling. My heart sank at the thought of telling the Zora that as worshipping a deity other than the Goddesses was blasphemy, they may not make offerings to Lord Jabu-Jabu. To do so would essentially destroy the ancient fish. “I feel that as little as possible should be… imposed upon the people. And either way, to put on parchment that one believes something means nothing at all to the heart or mind. Can you honestly say that if the King made it law for you to practice the Hylian religion, you would in truth be anything but a disciple of the single Goddess?”
Ganondorf smiled, crossing his arms again. Maybe the sacrilegious cur believed in nothing at all.
I went on, not to be mistaken in my conviction. “Incongruity would exist as much as ever, except that a great amount of ire would then be directed at the throne and at religious Hylians in general. Such an imposition would cause far more disharmony than religious freedom, I think. No, I am sure.”
My father stared at me with incredulous pride, but Ganondorf merely allowed his smirk to return and let his gaze travel curiously over me… again. Finally, my father slapped the arm of his chair.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself! My daughter has grown into a very wise young woman, I can see.” He turned a positively radiant smile on me. I smiled back, but the shadow of Ganondorf still loomed darkly over my mood.
“Well met, Princess,” he said simply, apparently content with the result of whatever test he had just laid out for me.
“It is growing quite late in the day, my dear,” my father said, and I had to resist sagging in relief. “You should return to your ladies,” he said, and then added as I curtsied, “With my ever-present pride and love, of course.”
I gave him a hesitant smile as I rose from my second curtsy – one more and then I should back from the room, for it was formally forbidden for anyone to turn their back on the King – but couldn’t suppress my worry about leaving him practically alone with the obviously dangerous Gerudo King. He gave me a reassuring pat and then stood as I made my exit. As the doors were closed I heard my father say, “Care for a brisk afternoon ride, Ganondorf?”
Rejoining my ladies and retiring to my private rooms, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had been summoned to meet the dark King in such an extraordinary fashion. My father had a good reason for everything. Sensing my brooding mood, the six young ladies that made up my entourage kept to their books, games and stitching. They knew when it was unwise to disturb me.
Nearly a week had passed since our formal introduction, and I seemed to be catching sight of Ganondorf everywhere. I ran into him in the gardens, in the hallways, coming out of the schoolroom – far more than I had in the days before that strange meeting. I suspected he was arranging these fleeting moments, though we never spoke. I would curtsy and he would bow, sometimes going so far as to kneel as I passed even though his station very much removed him from that necessity. Then, without a word, I would move on… with the feeling of his eyes burning into my back.
I had to admit, I spied on him with equal fervour. My interest lay primarily with his negotiations with my father. I feared the King was being far too lenient with this dark stranger and his questionable embassy. As was to be expected, his entire entourage was made up of women. Most of them obscured the lower halves of their faces and yet their bellies were scandalously bare. Not a single one of them wore a dress, nor curtsied, nor sewed… and I had an ever-present feeling that they were poised on the edge of attack.
The male members of the staff, castle guard among them, seemed concerned with the women in only one aspect. This aspect (that at this time I hardly understood it) had them very much excited. I had overheard a chambermaid say that the soldiers could hardly be bothered to be on guard when Ganondorf brought nothing but a pack of females with him. Such a thing was terribly disconcerting. Even I who had not lived during the war knew that the Gerudo – every last one of them, barring one exception, a woman – had been a formidable force in the war. So why relax now? Spite? Pride? My discontent mounted every day. I vented much of it through spying.
I was peering in a very undignified way through a garden window – this was a courtyard that ran alongside the throne room, where I hoped to catch a glimpse of Ganondorf and assure myself of his continued complacency. I was in my play clothes (as yet unsullied, which was quite unusual for me), hair tucked firmly away. And no one, save a lurking Impa, to catch me in the act… or so I thought.
Someone cleared their throat behind me. I jumped and whirled around with a gasp.
“Who…?” poured out of my mouth in my guilty surprise, but I was stunned silent.
“Who are you?” I felt breathless. I couldn’t describe the feeling of déjà vu that poured over me in that moment, staring at the strange boy in green. He had no right to be there; it made no sense that he was. Yet… there he was. He wore very strange clothing: odd short trousers and a tunic, and a pointed hat. What really stuck in my mind, however, was that his entire outfit was green. Something clicked in my mind.
He was extraordinarily handsome, in the way that boys can be at that age; almost feminine. He had large blue eyes and high arching brows. His hair was a wild mess of gold, sticking out every which way – I spotted a tiny twig stuck in his bangs – and yet it shone in the sun. Despite all of his oddities, his expression was the most memorable of his features; it was so serious, unyielding… and yet curious, and perhaps a bit reverent. He was staring at and examining me with the same intensity I imagined I was gawking at him.
I swallowed my momentary panic in order to ask, rather uselessly, “How did you get past the guards?” What my father said earlier about the increased security came to mind. Indeed, I had spotted far more guards making their rounds lately. But if the quality of the watch is lacking, I suppose a small, nimble boy like this could have made his way through without much trouble. The soldiers had been overly preoccupied with the desert women, it seemed. But this was an entirely new situation for me. I’d never actually conversed with a commoner before, nor been alone (I was sure Impa was somewhere, but she didn’t count) with a boy.
I felt my nerves creeping up on me, especially as he continued to stare at me so intensely. A flicker of movement caught my eye and I finally broke our locked gazes in order to find the source… and I gasped.
“Oh! What’s… that?” The floating orb of light seemed to defy all of the light around it. A thin shape could just barely be made out moving darkly about in that bright and shining light, but the web-like wings sparkled in the sun as clear as day. “Is… that… a fairy?” I must sound like blathering idiot; but the thought barely occurred to me as my heart lodged in my throat.
It all made sense. A rush of excitement came over me, and I forgot myself.
“Then, are you… are you from the forest?” I didn’t give him time to answer, though he probably wouldn’t have. He seemed disinclined to form polite replies to my ridiculous questions. Either way, he nodded. It was something that, instinctively, I had already known. Perhaps it was the green of his clothing!
“Then… then… you wouldn’t happen to have… the Spiritual Stone of the Forest, would you?” Maybe he didn’t know what that was. “That… green and shining stone?” Good Goddesses, I was about to burst.
He stared at me in a moment of suspicion, it seemed. I schooled my features, biting my lower lip. Maybe this was going too fast. But then, he finally spoke.
“Yes,” he said, his voice hushed but pleasant.
But I laughed, unable to contain my joy. “Just as I thought!” Although a mere stretch of days, the time under which I had lived in a shadow of fear and worry had seemed endless. I had felt helpless, voiceless, without credibility – even I had begun to doubt the validity of my prophecy. My joy at seeing him was in no small part due to the lifting of that doubt. It is a wondrous thing to be able to have faith in ones self and ones convictions.
He lifted one blonde brow and said nothing, but there was a question in his gaze. Obviously he knew a certain amount, for here he was… I was certain he had been sent to me. But he couldn’t possibly know that his coming had been prophesised.
“I had a dream,” I began, trying not to be embarrassed, “In the dream, dark storm clouds were billowing over the land of Hyrule…” A shiver went up my spine. That feeling of dread and despair threatened to come upon me, wakened by the dream’s very memory, even in the bright warmth of the familiar garden. “But suddenly, a ray of light shot out of the forest, parted the clouds and lit up the ground… The light turned into a figure holding a green and shining stone, followed by a fairy.”
I lifted my chin, prepared for some scepticism, but he didn’t look surprised in the least. He averted his gaze suddenly. I let my voice soften.
“I knew this to be a prophecy… that someone would come from the forest.”
His eyes flickered back to me and he smirked briefly.
“What a coincidence,” he said, almost muttering. Despite the mockery, his smile seemed genuine. He was including me in the joke. I laughed, surprised at my own sudden light spiritedness.
“Yes,” I chuckled, “I thought you might be the one.”
We smiled at each other silently for a moment – he hesitantly, as if his lips didn’t know how – before I suddenly coughed, remembering my manners.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” I blushed, horrified at my own behaviour. “I got carried away with my story and didn’t even properly introduce myself!”
His serious demeanour returned once again. It was awkward having to introduce oneself… especially when my identity seemed fairly obvious. But there was no one here to do it for me, and I felt instinctively that we must be introduced to be able to speak properly. And… I wanted very, very badly to learn his name.
“I am Zelda, Princess of Hyrule.”
His expression remained solemn; if anything, more so than before. I would have to prompt him, I found, and did so as politely as I could manage. “…What is your name?”
“Link,” he said, clearer than he’d spoken before. His eyes trailed over my face and I wondered what he could be thinking. Link certainly did have a powerful presence. It seemed odd to me that a princess should feel so cowed by a common boy… but I did. And his name?
“Link… strange… it sounds somehow…” I rolled my lower lip between my teeth thoughtfully, and he stared. I abruptly stopped, purely out of instinct. I was constantly being reprimanded for that little habit, as it chapped my lips. “….familiar,” I concluded, still wondering why it did. He was probably named for some historical figure or another. He offered no suggestions, so I decided to move on. The threat of his discovery loomed over me darkly. There would be a heap of trouble if he were found here.
“Alright, Link. I am going to tell you the secret of the Sacred Realm, passed down through the Royal Family of Hyrule,” I said, surprised even as I said it. I had sworn upon learning a number of secret histories that only under the most dire of circumstances would I reveal them. Any of them. But this was dire, even if no one else saw it. Link, though a ray of hope, was a confirmation of a very dark prophecy. It needed to be stopped. Ganondorf must be stopped.
“Please,” I said, my expression hard. “Keep this a secret… from everyone.”
He nodded, and the way that he did it left no doubt in my mind. I straightened, glanced about (then felt silly) and progressed to the story. I would have to keep it brief. We probably didn’t have too long before someone came along.
“The legend goes like this…” He leaned in close, for I was whispering. “The three Goddesses hid the Triforce containing the power of the gods somewhere in Hyrule… the power to grant the wish of the one who holds the Triforce in his hands. If someone with a righteous heart makes a wish, it will lead Hyrule to a golden age of prosperity…” I thought of my father. “If someone with an evil mind has his wish granted, the world will be consumed by evil.” I thought of Ganondorf stroking my hair and shivered. Link knit his brows and lifted his hand to hover over my arm… and then quickly dropped it.
“That is what has been told,” I said, glancing over his shoulder. The movement of his fairy (who seemed not to wish to be addressed, though I gladly would have should an introduction be made) had worried me of discovery, but the garden was still blissfully empty.
“So, the ancient Sages built the Temple of Time to protect the Triforce from evil ones.”
Link seemed to be holding his breath. “So,” He said slowly, “The Temple of Time…”
“That’s right,” I confirmed, not wanting to take much more time. My heart raced at the risk. “The Temple of Time is the entrance through which you can enter the Sacred Realm from our world. But the entrance is sealed with a stone wall called the Door of Time. And, in order to open the door, it is said that you need to collect three Spiritual Stones. And another thing you need…” I hesitated. This was my best-kept, most precious secret. I made my hands into fists and pressed on. I trusted Link. I had to. “…is the treasure that the Royal Family keeps along with this Legend: the Ocarina of Time.”
I leaned forward, urgency in my voice, and laid my fingertips lightly on his arm. He jerked as if I’d electrocuted him.
“Did you understand well the story I just told you?” I asked, withdrawing my hand. My hand felt almost burned as well, and it tingled.
“Yes,” he said, very abruptly. His expression was all consternation, but he was still attentive. We stared at each other for several seconds and I felt my throat tightening. The distant sound of a herald’s call jolted me.
“I forgot to tell you,” I stuttered, moving aside from the window. I took a glance within and saw, from my side, the approach of Ganondorf down the aisle. His eyes were fixed firmly upon my father; I flinched at the well-concealed malice glittering within them.
“I was spying through this window just now,” I said, blushing as I looked back at him. Link narrowed his eyes and stepped forward, peering through. His lips were turned down in a frown. “The other element from my dream… the dark clouds… I believe that they symbolise that man in there.”
Link firmed his jaw and stepped further forward, laying one hand on a side of the window and peering in even as I leaned one hand on the other side and watched over his shoulder.
“Do you see the man with the evil eyes?” I asked breathlessly.
“Yes,” Link said, his voice tight. He stared at Ganondorf as if recognising an old enemy. “Who is he?”
“That is Ganondorf, the leader of the Gerudo. They hail from the desert far to the west. Though he swears allegience to my father, I am certain of his insincerity. The dark clouds that covered Hyrule in my dream… they must represent that man!”
Link’s expression was harsh. He seemed inclined to believe me. Suddenly he jerked back away from the window and into a… fighting stance? His hands were clenched tightly into fists. Seeming to catch himself, he straightened.
“What happened?” I asked, concerned. “Did he see you?”
Link nodded mutely, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes were still fixed upon the window, but when I turned and glanced through, Ganondorf was no longer within sight.
“Don’t worry. He doesn’t have any idea what we’re planning… yet!” I smiled. Link seemed surprised, but he flashed his hesitant smile in return. Perhaps Link didn’t know what we were planning, either, but he seemed willing enough.
“But haven’t you told the King… about…?” He seemed unsure of how to phrase his question, but I understood.
“Yes. I told my father about my dream. However, he did not believe it was a prophecy.”
Link looked down at his feet and kicked at the turf in a distracted manner, looking embarrassed. Was my father’s lack of faith in me so terrible? I bit back the urge to defend him, fighting a feeling of insufficiently. But I didn’t need to supply excuses. I turned away and knit my brows, crossing my arms over my chest in exactly the way I had been told not to do by my Manners Mistress.
“What Ganondorf is after must be nothing less than the Triforce of the Sacred Realm. He must have come to Hyrule to obtain it.”
“Is his land not a part of Hyrule?” Link asked. I turned and stared at him. Did he truly not know this? With the war so recently behind us, the parts and boundaries of the Kingdom were very much common knowledge – and often heatedly debated.
“It is a part of the Kingdom of Hyrule, along with many other domains once independent from Hyrulean rule. And yet this original land of our forefathers is still referred to as the land of Hyrule.”
Link nodded, unabashed at his lack of knowledge. The Kokiri were a mysterious and isolated race. Perhaps I was being unfair.
I leaned against the wall, staring out over the garden. Spring was in full swing. The flowers were blooming, the butterflies flitting from one to the other, the bees buzzing… the sun shone down upon Link and I with perfect harmony and gentleness. I felt its transience acutely.
“I… I am afraid. I have a feeling that man is going to destroy Hyrule. He has such terrifying power!” I shuddered again, the feeling of his hand on my hair replaying again and again in my mind. “But it’s fortunate that you have come. We must not let Ganondorf get the Triforce! I will protect the Ocarina of Time with all my power. He shall not have it. If you were to acquire the two other Spiritual Stones…” I turned to look at him. He looked anything but frightened or daunted. He looked… determined. As if the matter had already been settled long before I’d make the proposition. “We could get the Triforce before he does, and then defeat him.”
What was I asking of this boy? It had the sound of some sort of child’s game, though it was far from it. These were grave things hanging in the balance. The quest would involve much travel and quite a bit of diplomatic wheedling. I knew that the Princess of the Zoras had the Spiritual Stone of Water. The Goron’s Ruby could be found on Death Mountain, so it was probably in the care of Darunia. The Goron was my favourite dignitary – despite custom, I always received a big hug from Darunia, sworn brother to my father. He called me ‘little golden head’. I wished then, fervently, that I could go with Link. But I couldn’t. If I tried to so much as step outside my garden walls, a search party would be sent and Link would likely face dire consequences.
“One more thing,” I rummaged in the large pocket hidden across the front of my skirt and pulled out some parchment and a short stick of charcoal, usually reserved for snippets of poetry when out at play. It would have to do. I quickly penned a rather pathetic-sounding missive and folded the fancy parchment, handing it to Link. “Take this letter. I’m sure it will be helpful to you.”
He took it and unfolded it, reading through it quickly. Strange that the boy could read; were the Kokiri truly taught read Hylian? It was odd to think that this boy was not of my kind. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and so a part of me persisted in rejecting it.
I looked once more over his shoulder as he knit his brow, reading the letter again and heaving a sigh. Perhaps he too realised how little tools I was giving him to accomplish this seemingly impossible task, but it was all that I had to give. Would he refuse the quest? I doubted that very much. There was something about him that made me believe he’d already accomplished the impossible to get here and wouldn’t so much as think of stopping now. Impa stood at the entrance to the courtyard. She nodded at me. Had she heard the whole thing? I smiled. Of course she had.
Link suddenly knelt, bowing his head. “Princess,” He said softly, “I will not fail you.” I stared at his bowed head and felt worry swell up in my soul. I could be sending him straight into the mouth of hell with this fool’s errand. But… I had to.
“My attendant will guide you out of the castle. Do not be afraid to speak to her.”
Link didn’t look much set at ease by my words when he turned to look at Impa. She was a truly imposing figure and I didn’t blame him. He approached her slowly, cautiously, and bowed his head respectfully upon reaching her. They exchanged a few words, and then I saw Impa put her fingers to her lips… and the royal lullaby drifted across the garden, echoing from the walls. I smiled. It was the déjà vu again, except this time I knew exactly from where it came.
A month and a half had passed and not so much as a word of Link reached me. Summer was overtaking spring. Dread grew in my heart day by day, though I felt deep within it that he was alive. But was he successful? Was he hurt? Was he lost? I could have beaten my head upon the walls in agony with the worry that, at times, seemed ready to overtake me. Ganondorf continued to appear in unlikely places in order to cross my path. I increasingly felt that he was watching me, and was merely allowing me to catch him in order to fuel my unease. He had seen Link at the window and yet I heard nothing of it from either he or my father, so obviously he had kept the incident to himself. Why? If he was so determined to torture me, why not blow the whistle on my improper secret meeting with the young commoner? I was fast approaching an age at which such a scandal would be truly terrible.
I was pacing the halls, accompanied only by one of my ladies, Mindela, who was thirteen. It was a quiet day, as usual, and Mindela (who I preferred very much for her quiet, gentle nature) read through a little book as we walked. I glanced over. It was likely religious. Mindela was exceptionally devout. As we passed one room I heard my father’s voice and I halted, holding out my hand to stop and then direct my companion to the wall. We both pressed there by the doorway, listening. Mindela blushed, looking nervous. She obviously didn’t want to do anything as clandestine as eavesdropping on the King of Hyrule, but I was hardly in a position to take that fear into account. I had been listening around corners for several weeks now, hoping for news. It seemed that I was in luck. The Goron Ambassador’s voice answered my father’s, and I managed to make out his words.
“Your Highness,” The Goron started, his accent manifesting a groan-like quality to his words. Even so, his voice carried as most Goron voices did. “I assure you, this is no problem at all! The problem has been fixed – entirely fixed! Whether the boy that did it was sent by you or not, he accomplished a great feat in clearing Dodongo’s Cavern and he did it in the name of the Royal Family. Big Brother Darunia has accepted Link as his sworn brother and given him the Goron’s Ruby.”
My father was laughing. He said something, and I think it was, “How old is this boy again?” But the conversation was moving on. I couldn’t hear my father so well as I could hear the ambassador. I moved closer, and Mindela gave a whine of warning. “That isn’t the point. The point is that he is acting in my name and that I haven’t the slightest idea who he is. I must have him brought here,” my father said.
The ambassador cleared his throat. “Actually, my messenger says that as soon as he received our thanks he set off for the village of Kakariko, and from there was seen travelling along the Zora’s River.”
I could barely contain my giggle of joy, instead grabbing Mindela by the wrist and dragging her off at a run down the hall. We rushed passed confused servants and courtiers all the way to my rooms, where I burst in and immediately flung my arms out, spinning in a joyous circle. He was okay! And not only was he okay, he had the Goron’s Ruby! I wasn’t sure what the ambassador had meant about clearing Dodongo’s Cavern, but I was sure to find out.
And he was okay. He was alive. He was… safe. I collapsed onto the floor in a pool of my skirts, still grinning, amidst the curious stares of my ladies.
“My lady,” The voice intruded on my sleep. It was soft and feminine, and echoed in the stillness of my dream. Who was it speaking? One of the ladies? “There is fire below.”
Through the dark I could see that a fog had flooded the field, shot through with blue. It was the light of the moon that lit the swirling tendrils as they danced about me, draining from the world all colour and replacing it with watery shades. My very bones seemed brittle as ice. My flesh burned against the coldness around me. I could scarce see an arms length ahead of my face.
I soon became aware of dark shapes flittering by me through the fog – they were people, I was sure. I tried calling out but I found I had no voice. No one stopped to talk to me. Not one figure emerged from the darkness and showed a kindly face – all was black shadows.
“Zelda…” My name was whispered in my ear.
I whipped around to see Link. Was it Link? He seemed somehow different. I knew that it was a vast difference, but my mind failed to place anything. He lifted a hand and placed it against my cheek. Burn scars riddled his palm. I gasped, pulling away to examine his hand. I could only stare, appalled at the evidence of such agony.
“Lie to me,” he whispered, as if tormented. I started. His face was obscured by a shadow. I had no voice to answer him, but I wanted to. I wanted to ease his suffering.
A huge shadow loomed up suddenly behind him, a demon of great proportion with eyes of flame.
I woke suddenly, gasping for breath. My heart raced. This was a nightmare I had not had before. What did it mean? I could feel that it was prophetic. It had been too real… I had felt the cold of the air and the warmth of Link’s flesh. My cheek still tingled where his hand had been.
“Is something wrong, Princess?”
I jumped, but relaxed as I saw that it was only Impa. She had materialised out of the shadows and now sat upon the edge of my bed, staring at me with those red eyes of hers. I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them.
“I had another dream,” I said, closing my eyes against the image of the frightful demon.
“The prophecy from before?” She asked, her gaze attentive. I shook my head.
“No. A different one.”
“But it is a prophecy?”
“Yes. Without a doubt.” I swallowed hard, feeling my heart rate return to normal as the feeling of the dream receded. Impa continued to stare at me, obviously waiting for me to tell her about it. I glanced at her from under my lashes and shook my head. Something about this felt… private. She hesitated, but then I saw her nod and withdraw. My hand immediately shot out.
Impa stopped and after carefully observing my face nodded again, sitting back down. I turned around and curled up, pulling the blankets up around me tight. Impa might not stroke my hair or croon, but her presence was infinitely more comforting than any matronly nursemaid. She had been my constant shadow since birth, instructing and protecting me with unquestioning patience and humility. She had been a young woman when my father was born and had been the same to him. I did not know how long the Sheikah lived, but she did not have a single line on her face. Impa was ageless.
Impa put her fingers to her mouth and soon I was drifting back into dreamland upon the whistled notes of my lullaby.
The droning, echoing voices of the monks drifted over my bowed head. Despite my most stringent efforts, I found my mind wandering constantly to the whispers around me. The royal family and select members of the higher aristocracy took morning prayer in the Temple’s lower pew, and on a tier above the rest of the court were welcome to sit. Even higher, a vast balcony enclosing three sides allowed the public to stand and attend to the religious service (and catch sight of the glittering nobility.)
While a member of the gentry would not dare utter a word during the service for fear of censure, the common population had no such qualms; comfortable, no doubt, in their anonymity. It was their occasional utterances that echoed down to me, and out of the jumbled morass I extracted snippets:
“Duke of Eldin sent from court…”
“…about the folk from the desert…”
“… could they attack?”
“…dishonest, they say…”
“…King couldn’t be wrong…”
The Duke had denied Ganondorf hospitality and accused him of plotting treason, and thus my father had sent him from court in order to soften the insult to his guest. Yet the rumours that the exchange had set in motion could not be swept under the rug; servants in the Duke’s household had overheard a meeting in which it was reported that a caravan had been caught smuggling weapons into the city. Obviously the Gerudo embassy had arrived unarmed in a gesture of peace and trust. Now, it seemed, peace and trust were of lesser value than had been presented. Yet the rumours were unconfirmed, my father’s advisors argued, and not substantial enough to risk war upon.
To make matters worse, reports had come in that an entire family had been massacred in the fields transporting their crop to market and the nearby villagers swore that it had been Stalchildren who did the deed. According to the superstition, Stalchildren were the animated skeletal remains of the children that had been forced to fight and die in the war and they would rise at night in confusion and wrath when war came again to Hyrule. With such foreboding talk, the people could not be soothed so easily.
The thrum of gossip was drowned out as we recited prayers to the Goddesses, to the good spirits, and to the Aspect Guardians. As this was the Temple of Time, we named first the Four Giants.
I raised my eyes from my clasped hands to watch as the Light Sage in his golden mask chanted the closing prayer and concluded the service. Benches creaked as we stood to file out, the royal family proceeding first. Impa walked behind me, her sharp crimson gaze causing the poor to quail as I gave alms on the way out of the chapel. It was a duty traditionally reserved for the Queen, but under the circumstances I had been allowed to take it on.
Nearly an hour later, Impa and I wandered the great hall of the Temple undisturbed by others. The song of the monks echoed through the vast space and then drifted off, wavering. It put me in a reflective mood.
Time enough had passed since receiving word of Link’s success on Death Mountain for me to start to worry again, but not enough for the sheer panic that had seized me before.
That would take longer, now. I had discovered that the boy’s feats included defeating a number of monsters, navigating the fiery pits of Dodongo’s Cavern and vanquishing a giant dodongo: feats fit for the most accomplished warrior. It was nothing but sheer miracle that a child his age – our age – had managed such things, so I had no doubt that he would manage to accomplish anything he set his considerable determination upon.
I trailed my fingers over a relief in the marble wall: it depicted the Seven Sages. The three that represented the physical aspect of existence faced the Sage of Time, who held the Dominion Rod; my father was considered the Sage of Time as the rightful leader of Hyrule. Another two (of Shadow and Light respectively) faced the Sage of Spirit, who held the Lantern of Souls.
“We must take precautions,” whispered Impa beside me. “In the case that you are sent from the city before the boy returns.”
She was right. I began to tell her as much, but all thoughts fled with the echo of a great call.
I turned with a grin at my father’s booming voice. He strode toward me with long, strong strides, his tall frame putting the sparse men around him to shame. He picked me up under the armpits and swung me upward, the hem of my skirts billowing as he tossed me up in the air. I laughed gleefully as he caught me again and set me on my feet.
My father fondly smoothed my hair with his big hands, being careful that none of his ornate rings caught in the now slightly tangled strands.
“In consideration of you, Ganondorf has reassigned today for a tour of the city – and so, my dearest daughter, my only duty today is you.”
Despite my deep distrust of Ganondorf and his motives, I couldn’t help but be overjoyed at the rare hours of undivided attention that his decision had granted me. Was he attempting to endear himself to me? It wouldn’t work. But I saw no reason to forsake enjoyment of my father’s sparse moments of freedom from Kingly duty.
My father sighed and laid his forehead in his hand, but he still smiled at me. I grinned and shrugged a shoulder as he drew cards from the deck in the vain hope that he could trump my hand, but he still fell short. I smiled as I drew a handful of markers toward me, counting them under my breath.
“You’ve bankrupted the kingdom, my lady,” laughed the King, and I giggled. I had indeed been having some great luck. “I shall have to pluck the jewels from my crown to pay my debt.”
“You exaggerate, my lord,” I said, but I was still grinning toothily. Conversationally, I asked, “The golden gem that Ganondorf sports is surely as large as the four royal jewels in our crown… what does it signify?”
The King dealt a hand to both of us, laying aside the deck. He tipped his head contemplatively as he studied his cards. “That particular stone has never before been mined by a Goron; it exists only in the desert, where the Mountain people will not go. In the ancient tongue of that land it is called Algunesh Kalp. In Hylian, it is simply Heart of the Sun. Very rare… rumoured to have…” He trailed off as he drew three cards and laid them out. I sighed, glancing down at my own cards for a trump. “…magical properties,” he finished, smiling as I laid down my cards and conceded the hand to him.
“Magical properties?” I asked, taking my turn to deal the cards.
“Primarily involving longevity, I understand. A male is born to the Gerudo somewhere around once a century, so it is understandable that they have rituals to ensure a long life for their leaders.”
I nodded, rolling my bottom lip between my teeth as I rearranged my cards in my hand.
“Their Sand Goddess is essentially Din, Impa says,” I remarked, glancing up at him with a smile as we continued to play.
“Or so say the priests. I tend to agree rather with the scholars of the East College, who find that the figure comprises all three of the Holy Goddesses.”
I let my cards droop in my hand as I stared at him, trying to see it and failing. “How so?” I finally inquired, knitting my brow. My father grinned, reaching out to nudge my cards up so that they were no longer visible to him.
“According to their lore, the Goddess created the earth with her right hand and life with her left, so it could be said that she represents both Din and Farore. Attached to her being is a serpent that represents wisdom and justice; the shape and purpose are highly suggestive of Nayru and her Light Spirit, don’t you think?”
I tipped my head, sighing as I took the trick. He’d almost won back what he’d lost now. “Yes, it certainly is a convincing argument,” I said, thinking over the theory and finding myself in agreement. The symbolism and function of the respective parts were astoundingly similar; they just saw one figure, instead of three. “Except they clearly see the serpent as a Spirit Guardian, don’t they? Lanayru is a Guardian of the Light.”
“You’ve become quite the scholar yourself, I see,” he said, suddenly serious. He kept his eyes fixed on his cards, but I lifted mine to stare at him across the small table. The sun was sinking in the window behind him, falling into the west. It created a crown of rubies on his golden hair. But his expression was grim. “You conducted yourself quite admirably with the Gerudo King the other day.”
I nodded wordlessly and went back to staring blindly at my cards, hoping that the subject would change. No such luck.
“The Kingdom of Hyrule is vast,” began the King, laying aside his cards. He glanced over and with a wave dismissed the attendant and the footmen. As they bowed and exited, my apprehension grew. “Beyond the Kingdom itself, our monarchy is considered to preside as well over Byrna, Pacci and Somaria. You are old enough now to understand the gravity of this position; you have proven more wise than perhaps even I had anticipated, and I have no doubt that you do understand. But…”
He reached across the table and placed his hand over mine. “You are yet a girl; but one day you will be a woman, Zelda. It may well be that I shall remarry and have a son to inherit, but so it may be that I do not. We are not the Gerudo. Our women are honoured and nurtured, but they are not universally respected. Should you become Queen, you will need a husband that will command the respect and confidence of your people…”
“Why should I not command the respect and confidence of the people?” I burst out, my body tense. I felt near tears at this betrayal. Did he believe me unworthy or incapable? I was a woman, but I was a Daughter of Kings, possessor of the blood of the Harkinians. “Why should I not prove to them my worth through word and deed? Should I become Queen, they will see my worth.” Tears stung my eyes. Despite my vehemence, a stab of fear ran through me. What if they didn’t?
My father gave a long-suffering sigh. “Dear-heart,” he began gently, but he was interrupted by a knock at the door. As he stood and conversed with the messenger, I stared at the cards on the table and struggled not to weep. I’d been betrothed to the younger Prince of Labrynna since I was two years of age, but such betrothals were often made and broken as politics dictated. I had never expected that my father might not have faith in my ability to rule.
“My dear, we shall have to cut the game short. Shall we finish our conversation tomorrow?”
I nodded and managed a smile, desperately hiding my hurt. He was too preoccupied to notice, and strode from the room with attendants and advisors gathering in his wake.
At two in the morning, the Temple was empty. I had stayed up late with Impa so that I might avoid bed and then we had gone straight to the Temple, being careful not to be seen. Now, standing alone before the Door of Time, I blinked rapidly to dispel the cling of sleep from my eyes.
I withdrew my ocarina from my pocket and stared down at it, remembering Impa’s instructions. It seemed so silly, but I had faith in Impa. If anyone should know about magic and secret messages, it would be a Sheikah.
I held the shining instrument to my chest and called to mind Link’s face, and spoke in my mind as if he could hear me.
“Link… if you are hearing this, it means that I am already gone.”
Raising the mouthpiece to my lips, I drew a deep breath and began to play. All of my hope poured into the notes, devoid of fear or worry. The Song of Time… It was a song from the depths of my soul: beautiful, inscrutable, and undeniable. When I lowered the ocarina, the echoes in the empty hall nearly convinced me that an answering song was drifting down to me, across the river of Time itself.
Dusk. All was quiet in the castle. A light trickle of rain hit the window.
The message that I had attached to the ocarina gave me some comfort, but still no word had come of Link. My father had a sparse few messengers out looking for him; he wanted to meet this child hero. So far no one had even so much as glimpsed him.
I smiled down at my needlework, but gasped as I suddenly stabbed myself with my needle. I was terrible with needlepoint. I could never concentrate long enough on the task. I sucked on my injured finger, waving to my ladies to continue their own work when they continued to stare at me in concern.
I had been spending less and less time with them and more time avoiding everyone so that I could wait in the garden for Link. Nearly every day now I was in the same courtyard garden, passing the time with dreams and letters to the venturing hero in my head. Even now I was in my garden clothes, ever ready to return there once more.
Gloria, a seventeen-year-old and daughter of a Duke, was sitting upon the window seat engaged in a novel. Her voice broke the silence of the room.
“My lady,” She said, her voice full of concern. I lowered my embroidery hoop into my lap and looked up, preparing to avail her of the insignificance of a needle prick. But she wasn’t looking at me; rather, her worried stare was directed down into the courtyard. “There is fire below.”
A chill went through me. Most of my ladies stood then and rushed to the window to see for themselves, murmuring, but they parted when I approached. I stood beside Gloria and looked down.
Torches burned, carried by soldiers as they rushed beneath the window in obvious haste. Commands rang out into the gathering gloom. My stomach dropped. Today was the day that Ganondorf was supposed to be departing. I had hoped… for one brief, lovely moment, I had hoped that maybe the immediate danger had passed.
The soldiers fell back at an inrush of Gerudo warriors, and blood poured over the cobblestones in the wake of their battle.
My young companions flew into a panic. Tieri, who was my age, burst into tears. I felt calm, but ice ran through my veins. Every heartbeat seemed slow and immense in my ears.
“Your Highness,” Impa’s voice broke into the din suddenly. Animation returned to me and I grasped her hand, allowing her to lead me into my bedroom.
She quickly whistled the short tune of my lullaby and pressed the wall behind my headboard. It slid back and then away, letting fly a cloud of dust. She lifted me coughing and spluttering over the headboard and then followed into the dark passage, then pushed the wall shut behind us.
Again she gripped my hand. I couldn’t see a thing, but Impa never hesitated in her fast navigation of the dusty tunnel. There were many twists and turns. After only a few minutes I was aware of sounds on the other side of the walls. I heard shouts and commands… and then screams of agony. The clash of swords and falling bodies, something being smashed to bits… glass shattered. I could hardly believe the sheer horror of it. I thought of the soldiers. I thought of the servants. My ladies. My… my father.
Gradually the noise dimmed and then ceased entirely. We went down many stairs, me stumbling behind Impa blindly, and then eventually up a steep slope. Finally, Impa pushed a wall free and we emerged in the small guardroom by the outer gate.
The guard there glanced up at us in surprise, quickly entering a fighting stance and then halting. “Lady Impa!” He cried, and then his eyes fell upon me. He immediate dropped to his knee, bowing his head.
I let out a shout and covered my mouth, feeling my stomach churn. Another guard’s body was propped in the corner, obviously dragged there by his friend. He was missing his helmet. He was missing his head and most of his arm, for that matter.
The surviving guard stood quickly, indicating the ladder. “I shall go first,” he said quickly, and leapt nimbly to the wooden fixture. He climbed quickly for one in armour and I followed, saying a prayer under my breath for the deceased soldier. Impa followed me. Together we ran up the hill, followed by shouts. The female voices, I assumed, were Gerudo.
We came down the hill practically rolling and Impa quickly directed (in my case, dragged) us to what appeared to be a stable. We entered to find a strange man holding the reins of Lampos, my white stallion. He was fully saddled. I could hardly focus on this oddity in the presence of the grinning man holding his reins. He was oddity enough to overshadow all others. With red hair neatly smoothed back and bright purple robes, he stood out – but it was his enormous grin, so large his eyes squinted, that confused me. He bowed deeply before me as Impa lifted me onto Lampos’ back.
She mounted behind me and the soldier – I didn’t know his name – now held the reins. He was also clutching his side and his face was twisted into a look of bravely contained pain. He was quite young and handsome… seventeen at best. My heart ached at the sight.
Impa bowed her head deeply to the red-haired man, saying, “Daimu,” with an air of respect she reserved for very few people.
“Impa,” he returned, his eyes widening briefly – just enough for me to note, with immense surprise, that they were red – and then he chuckled. “Here we are – best make the best of things, yes?”
Impa managed a small smile. “Of course.”
Daimu turned to me. “I am the Happy Mask Salesman,” he said, as if the title were something more akin to ‘Renowned Mage of Something-or-Other’, “and it is my great pleasure to finally meet you, Princess Zelda.”
I could merely nod in return, too stunned and frightened to speak. I regained my voice as Impa took the reins from the soldier. I reached out my hand and laid it upon his armoured shoulder. He looked up at me with surprise and… reverence?
“What is your name?” I asked, finding myself nearly breathless.
“Hirrou, son of Glorst,” He said, and I saw blood on his teeth.
“Hirrou. It is of grave importance to me that I get a message to… to a boy, from the forest. He should be coming to the city soon. Tell him… tell him that I was waiting for him, and that I have something to give him – I will find a way. Once he gets it, he should go directly to the Temple of Time.”
Hirrou nodded, and then lifted his bloody gauntleted hand to his chest and made it into a tight fist. His face was full of pain, determination and admiration.
“My lady,” He ground out, “You are our hope and our joy. My life is made glorious for this single moment in your presence. Will you… will you bless me?”
My breath caught and tears stung my eyes. Impa stirred behind me, obviously eager to be off. I pressed my hand to Hirrou’s bloody forehead and drew a shaky breath.
“Hirrou son of Glorst, I call the blessings of the three Divine Ones upon your head and upon your house. You have conducted yourself with the bravery and honour of a true Knight of Hyrule. May fortune go with you.”
Hirrou seemed to sob and grin at the same time. As Daimu threw open the stable doors and Impa kicked Lampos into a gallop, I glanced back at Hirrou one final time. He had replaced his helmet with a look of pure determination and was no longer clutching the bloody mass that was his left side.
We galloped through Castle Town, leaping over crates and barrels, taking sharp turns that made my stomach flip. But Lampos was well trained. I looked behind us as I recognised another set of hoof beats rolling along the street. Close behind was Ganondorf, leaning forward as he urged his black steed after us. My heart leapt in terror. “Impa!” I cried, but my voice was lost in the rush.
People scattered, leaping out of the way of the speeding riders.
As we neared the drawbridge, Impa’s voice boomed (I could only assume magically) as if across a vast empty space: “Lower the drawbridge! The Princess passes!”
There was a great rush and the drawbridge began its gradual descent. I squeezed my eyes shut, unsure if it would make it. Just before Lampos’ hoofs hit the wood of the bridge it hit home with a loud metallic clang.
I saw a streak of green as Link jumped out of the way. My heart leapt at the sight of him, however brief. I leaned around Impa to see his stricken face.
Withdrawing from my skirt pocket my ocarina, I hurled it with all my might in his direction. Impa moved her shoulder quickly so that it could pass unhindered. I was fairly sure that the ocarina reached the moat. I could only turn back then and huddle against the horse’s neck with eyes squeezed shut against the rain… and pray.
I had fallen asleep by the time Lampos slowed. I was surprised upon waking – how long had I rested? Where were we? My groggy mind throbbed against the influx of fear and guilt. I couldn't remember my dreams, and for that I was almost grateful. The castle was under siege, my father in grave danger, and Link... How could I possibly have slept?
Impa slid from the horse without a sound. I was accustomed enough to her silent way of moving about that I avoided surprise when she placed her strong hands beneath my armpits and lifted me from the horse. Lampos snorted and pawed the ground, tossing his head. Impa's sharp eyes flickered to him briefly and the animal quieted, as if in reaction to some silent exchange between them.
"You are exhausted, Princess," She said in that blunt way of hers, barely raising her voice over the dribble of rain, doubtless having sensed my unease. She offered her hand and I laid my little white one upon it, letting her lead me to a great rock face on which the moon cast a whitish glow.
Impa put her fingers to her mouth and out poured the familiar melody of the royal lullaby, though the ringing notes sounded oddly haunting in the vast darkness that surrounded us. The notes fell off into oblivion and a moment of silence passed. Suddenly I became aware of a peculiar sense of movement to the play of moonlight on the cliff. The more I stared the clearer it became, very gradually forming bright white symbols glittering upon the rock; yet still I felt surprised when it glowed before me, as if its coming had been as quick and natural as to take me completely off guard. Impa held her palm up once more, waiting for me to offer my own.
Impa… always standing upon ceremony no matter the situation. I placed my hand delicately upon her hand and followed to the nucleus of the swirling, unfamiliar designs, unsure of what she meant to do. Lampos trotted after us obediently, but when Impa urged us toward the rock, we both hesitated. With her usual reserves of infinite patience, she went to the cliff in a few strong strides – and disappeared through it! Both the horse and I reacted strongly, but Impa was back out in a moment and, gently cradling my elbow with one hand and gripping Lampos' reins with the other, guided us insistently toward the wall. I squeezed my eyes shut as we passed through, but I felt nothing. When I opened them we were apparently on the other side, where there was no light at all. I stared into infinite blackness, startled.
"Impa," I whispered, balling my hand into a fist upon her well-worn palm.
"Yes, Princess." She did not bother to whisper as I had.
"If the rock there doesn't really exist, how can it block out the moonlight?"
With a little click a flame was lit, and my eyes were drawn to the light resting in Impa's palm. She seldom used magic around me, so I took the opportunity to observe as thoroughly as I could. However, the strange flame was quickly transferred to a little glass lamp hanging from Lampos' saddle.
"But it does exist," She said, dusting what must be ash from her palms and nodding for us to continue along the path – it was small and winding, riddled with flickering shadows upon archaic carvings in the walls. "It is as a veil of mist disguised as a wall of stone. A thing may be something other than what it seems, but that does not mean that it does not exist."
I remained silent, digesting her words as we made our winding way through the narrow passages, occasionally stopping to quiet the nervous whinnies of the horse or allow me some rest. I don't know how long we went on like that, but it must have been several hours. My legs ached and my feet stung with every heavy step, but I held in my instinct to complain. This was important; but even if it weren't, I felt embarrassed by the ease with which I tired out. Princess or no princess, I wasn't a sissy.
The tunnels often branched out, sometimes heading up and sometimes down, varying in their breadth. Chill, damp winds would sometimes gust from somewhere beyond my ability to detect, stirring my skirts and confusing me all the more in respect to our direction. Despite this, Impa never faltered. She obviously knew the place well. It was in a broad section of tunnel that she finally halted.
"By your leave, Your Majesty, we shall stop here to rest until dawn."
Although I knew that it must be very near dawn as it was, I couldn't disguise my sigh of absolute relief as I plopped down unceremoniously onto the hard floor.
"Very well," I said empirically, and Impa's hard expression lightened for a moment in amusement before she turned away, removing Lampos' saddle and blanket and beginning to lay them down on the ground.
I watched her quietly as she laid out a makeshift bed, reflecting on all that had been lost. All that may yet be lost. I bit my lower lip, rolling it between my teeth in worry; at least Link had the ocarina. Surely he would succeed in protecting the Triforce. But what would happen to the people of Castleton? To the courtiers? To father?
Everything I owned was gone, possibly forever. Every comfort, every security… I glanced up at Impa and steeled myself against the threat of childish tears. At least I wouldn't have lost every loved one. I held this firmly in my mind as I curled up on the makeshift bed, resting my head on the side of the saddle and trying to adjust my pampered body – I had never slept on anything short of a full feather mattress – to the hard lumpiness of the ground beneath the thin blanket. Impa sat against the wall, apparently unperturbed, staring off into space. I knew that she was waiting for my permission to turn out the lamp.
"Where are we going?" I asked, unable to hold the question in any longer.
Impa continued to stare ahead of her, as if into another world that only she could see.
Finally, she answered. "To the protection of my people."
I propped myself up, staring. This was important. Impa simply did not discuss her past or her origins. When I had learned that she was Sheikah, I had stopped asking lest I open old wounds (despite the fact that nothing seemed to disturb Impa.) I had thought she must be the last one left. Yet…
"The Sheikah. So they are not…?"
"No, Your Majesty, not entirely. We are few, but strong."
"So… why hide?"
"We do not hide; we are as we have always been. We are not seen because few have the will to seek us, and fewer the skill."
"Was that man… Daimu? Was he one of your people?"
Impa shook her head. "No. He is not of the Sheikah, though… very close. Very close indeed."
I decided that I could question her about that later. She may not show it, but she must be at least as exhausted as I.
"So the Sheikah have been here all the time. I suppose that many unexpected things may pass unnoticed simply by merit of being unexpected," I said, imagining more fierce figures like Impa wandering about Hyrule unseen… and shivering. But I was excited.
"That is true, Princess," Impa said with a small smile, holding her hand out over the lamp.
I watched her and then let out a long sigh, anticipating the silent, crowded silence and the worrisome thoughts that would creep in to fill it. Clenching my jaw, I lifted my eyes to her red ones and nodded. She snuffed the light.
We'd been travelling for hours when I started to notice the distant roar. I mistook it at first for the wind, but it was too constant and too deep. As we drew closer, the sound began to make me nervous.
Oddly, our noble white steed seemed to pick up his pace in anticipation. His many fine garnishments, appropriate for a procession but not for a desperate flee from the castle, had long been removed and wrapped within his saddle blanket, now a lump of rich things upon his back.
In most places the ceiling was too low for me to ride him, and before long I was walking on slippers of badly tattered silk. I removed them without a fuss, though perhaps with a bit of despair, and Impa said nothing. When I had finished, we recommenced our journey as imperturbable Sheikah and barefoot Princess.
The roaring grew louder and louder, and when eventually we came to a long section of tunnel down which tiny droplets of water slid in slow succession, I understood where we must be.
"We are beneath the Zora's River?" I asked, glad that I finally recognised our subterranean placement.
Impa nodded, now holding a flask to the wall in order to collect water from the rivulets. I wanted to press my face to it and remain for as long as I needed to catch several mouthfuls, but I refrained with the natural instinct of a girl who has had propriety drummed into her since birth.
"We are beneath a waterfall… far below it. And below us rest other great chambers."
I was astounded. "What are they?"
"We walk upon the Shadow Road. It winds beneath rivers and vast caves of ice, the traveller's path between the world of light and the temple of darkness."
"Temple… of Darkness?" I asked, unsure of whether I liked the sound of that. Surely she was referring to the Shadow Temple, the study of which had been excluded from my curriculum.
I remembered the argument. Apparently Impa had thought me ready to learn its history, yet my father had intervened. He had thought that I should wait until I was older. Of course, anything that my father deemed unsuitable for young girls was a matter of immense curiosity to me. The castle library had been my first stop, and Impa had willingly turned a blind eye. What I had learned had given me nightmares for weeks, but I had been careful not to mention it.
She surely knew that she was frightening me; but her demeanour had changed from before. She was now freer with her words and less careful and doting towards my person. Even as a part of me struggled against the slow slip of my authority, I preferred it. Impa had been as a mother to me, however odd a mother she made. I had always desired if not her affection (for the display of it seemed beyond her) then her equality. I may have been a Princess, but I was always, regardless, a little girl. I sought to be on equal ground with her as surely as she insisted on maintaining distance, standing upon ceremony, treating me as her superior but not her better. This sudden openness, allowing me to ask questions, to hear something that might frighten me… it gave me a chance to be something other than the default receptor of her loyalty.
Impa watched the emotions flicker across my face, seeming to judge my reaction. I hardened my expression. She needed to know that I was no baby. I could handle this… all of it. I had to. She nodded imperceptibly and then, replacing the flask's stopper, motioned that we should continue.
It wasn't long before we turned a corner, entering a beautiful chamber with a shining pool in the centre. Stalactites – which up until then I had never before seen or heard of – hung from the ceiling, lit up in flashes of white-blue lamplight reflected off of the water. The water was an aquamarine blue and perfectly clear. I could see to the bottom – perhaps five or six feet down – and partly into the entrance of what must be a tunnel. Light streamed from the tunnel in slowly dancing rays, like when sunlight hit dust.
Lampos went to the pool and immediately began to drink greedily. I was eager to do that same.
"Upon your will, Your Majesty, your dress must be removed for you to swim."
I gasped, turning to Impa with wide eyes. We were going to swim in that freezing water? I had often been permitted little excursions in the various ponds decorating the castle's many gardens, but only in the summer and with a thick wool blanket waiting for me.
Her gaze was steady and unyielding. I sighed, turning back to face the water. Perhaps I was looking at it the wrong way. The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me – to delve into that beautiful, glittering pool, which seemed so much a portal into a better, brighter world.
I made quick work of my filthy dress, for my jewels had already been unhooked and tucked into the pack on Lampos' back. I also pulled my headdress from my hair, letting the full length tumble down. It fell past my lower back, a wavy waterfall of platinum blonde that I was rightfully proud of.
Left in nothing but my white shift, I shivered, turning back to Impa. She had already removed her armour, leaving her in her strange skin-tight dark silk which seemed to always move with her. I heard father once call it obscene, but from the way that he said it I had known that he was joking – though father did have a very strict viewpoint on the role of women. Imagine a warrior like Impa being called a nanny! She was my teacher and protector, but she left the work of maids to the women employed for such.
I gasped as I submerged my feet into the freezing water, watching in fascination as my skin took on the white pallor of death and seemed to glow.
"What shall we do with Lampos?" I asked, slowly inching in further. If I jumped in quickly the whole process would be less painful. I took in a deep breath and let it out, preparing myself mentally.
"We shall be in the Domain of the Zoras only briefly; he will wait here," Impa replied, stroking the horse's velvety nose. She watched me idly from the corner of her eye, obviously waiting for me to go first.
"Do your people live among the Zoras?" I asked, but she declined to answer; a quick twist in the corner of her mouth told me that they did not. She inclined her head toward the pool and I dropped the subject, turning to the task at hand. I clasped my hands in front of me and gulped in a deep breath, diving toward the deep centre of the pool. I was hit with a shock wave of cold, but quickly became numb and could manage without too much discomfort.
I flexed my fingers to work out the stiff joints while watching the bubbles from my entry drift up around me, followed by glistening tendrils of my own hair. Impa's face rippled above me, and if I didn't know better, I would think that she was laughing to herself. I turned in the water, now almost enjoying myself, and began to swim down toward the tunnel.
My lungs were aching before I was able to even reach the opening and I had to turn around, fighting my way back to the surface. I gasped in a breath at the top and shook my head at Impa.
"I can't make it," I said despairingly, treading water with my numb limbs.
"You've determined that in only one try?" Impa crouched on her heels by the edge of the water and I saw that she'd removed most of her armour. The various pieces – breastplate, spaulders, vambraces, greaves and sabotons – sat in a neat little pile beside our saddlebag. I'd never seen her without full armour and was shocked by how little cloth she truly wore beneath the metal. She wore tightly tailored leggings of shiny dark blue silk that reached only halfway down her muscular thighs. A black leather gorget encircled her neck and extended down over her sternum in a diamond shape, engraved with the weeping eye symbol of the Sheikah. From the tail of this diamond hung a swath of black silk, which descended in a panel over her belly to cover her leggings to the joints of the hips, and then draped around her sides to connect at the back of the gorget. She still wore her leather fingerless gloves, but had removed her shoes. I was shocked to note that her ensemble displayed more skin than even my innermost layer of underthings; though now that they were wet, I supposed that that was no longer true.
I made a face at her and looked down into the water, locating the tunnel entrance with my eyes and gauging the distance. It looked so close from here, but I knew that size and distance through water could be deceiving. But what other choice did I have? Travel back through that big long tunnel, waste precious time, and risk being waylaid while travelling over land?
I took another deep breath and dove down, letting my breath out slowly through my nose to keep the water from entering it. I reached the tunnel this time but panicked at not being able to tell how far the tunnel went and returned to the surface. Impa's expression was clear of guile, but her closed fist was tapping impatiently against her knee as she knelt.
"Is the tunnel very long?" I asked, knowing that I was stalling. She slanted a long look at me that said that she knew all too well what I was doing. I sank back beneath the water in shame and resigned to give it another try, this time kicking off from the rock to propel myself downward. Though fearful, I forced myself into the tunnel and began to pull myself along through the short cylinder of rock. It really wasn't long at all.
I emerged from the other side into a burst of unexpected light and swam upward as fast as I could manage, nearly out of breath.
I emerged with a gasp, followed a moment after by Impa, who began to swim quite rapidly toward a nearby shore.
I tread the water, shivering but absolutely transfixed. The cavern was massive, rising up in a great dome over the veritable lake in which I swam. Around the rising dome wound and crisscrossed pathways of pale stone, lit by torches ornately carved into the walls. Into the far side of the lake poured a towering waterfall, dispersing its spray – full of rainbows – across several islands that rose from the water.
I yelped in surprise as I turned to follow Impa and came face to face with a Zora. The Zora were handsome, if not strange folk. With generally pale, bluish skin and well-defined features, they cut an impressive figure; but the aquatic appendages could be distracting to those not accustomed to seeing them.
The Zora gentleman smiled in embarrassment, his large black eyes shining, and offered his hands.
"Your Majesty," He said, his smooth voice like butter and honey, "A thousand apologies for startling you. I am Laru. Might I request the honour of assisting you to the shore?"
I smiled, trying to hide my blush at the fact that I was in nothing but a soaked, filthy shift and must look a mess. Kicking my feet to remain upright in the water, I offered my hands. Diplomacy was what I had been bred for, and the Zoras took it very seriously.
"I would be much obliged, good Sir."
The young Laru did indeed look honoured; in fact, downright speechless. He took my hands reverently and turned, gingerly placing them on his shoulders. I inched closer so that I could wrap my arms about his neck partially, not wanting to lose my grip, and he made a funny noise in the back of his throat. I had to struggle to contain my amusement.
With that he was off, gliding through the water with the ease of an arrow through the air. It took us a mere few seconds to reach the shore, where he turned and backed up slowly until my feet could touch the bottom. I stood then, pulling myself shivering and blue-lipped from the water to join a smiling Impa. I turned and executed a small curtsy in the elaborate Zora style for the benefit of Laru, who grinned and returned the gesture from the water.
Impa laid a hand upon my shoulder. "You shall have an audience with the King," She said quietly, and I nodded, sending a polite smile in the direction of the four noble-looking Zora that stood nearby. Little jewels, pierced into the skin, adorned the brows of Zora nobility; their colour was an indication of which line they belonged to, and their number signified their place in the highly complicated chain of power that defined the Court of the Zora. I knew somewhat of the Houses of the Zora nobility and recognised a woman among the group as a d'Aulis, one of the middling noble houses. The zoras that surrounded her bore studded gold upon their brow, marking them as servants to the crown.
They advanced upon my acknowledgement, each kneeling before me briefly before rising. I was introduced to Namua d'Aulis, who seemed happily aware of the attention we were garnering from the zoras around us. Her eyes glittered with pride as she announced that she would be my guide. It was purely luck, of course; she was simply the person of highest rank to be found in the area when we arrived.
"Summon a chair for Her Highness," said Namua, but Impa cleared her throat and the servants froze, staring at her in surprise.
"The Princess will not require a litter," she said. Namua and her servants turned to look at me, clearly deferring to my authority. I lifted an eyebrow at Impa, a little bit annoyed that she had spoken for me, but then sighed and nodded to the watchful zoras. My feet hurt, but I wouldn't challenge Impa in front of a crowd.
Namua curtsied deeply, her fins extending like opening wings in the zora way, and then stood to gesture us onward. "If you please, I will lead the way."
We began our ascent up the winding pathways of the Domain. I lifted my chin and walked with grace, ignoring the stares of the citizens. Although most Zoras did not wear clothing, I felt my cheeks burning at the thought of being nearly naked before them. I had to remember that it was not the lack of cloth that made me naked to them: it was lack of jewellery. I must have seemed entirely out of place to them, an unadorned Hylian with such a prestigious escort.
A long staircase and a great series of tunnels led us ever upward. Occasionally a wall would taper down and fall away on one side, revealing a steep descent into the vast pool that formed the city's centre. I gasped to see a zora dive from one such precipice and enter the water far below as gracefully as a needle through cloth. My guides smiled and shared glances, amused by my astonishment. I saw many more zora make such dives and blushed at my ignorance.
I was winded by the time we turned away from the winding paths leading up around the central cavern and into branching tunnels. These were not as wide as the others and possessed tall, thin entryways into the courtyards of lavish residences. I noted the gradual change in architecture as we travelled, making our way through older tunnels into the new. It was a good distraction from my aching feet. The whole city was carved out of the smooth grey stone and thus seemed to flow together seamlessly, ceiling to walls to floors. In older tunnels, the style was rigid and rectangular, utilizing panels and scrolls of inlaid gold and limestone for adornment. More recent architecture saw a shift toward organic shapes, making balconies and walls seem to melt, curve and swirl into each other like cave stone eroded by water. The hard stone looked claylike, so skilfully sculpted that it looked moulded instead. All throughout were aquatic motifs – the arch of a shell, the gaping mouth of a fish – that harkened back to the far-off ocean, from whence the Zora had come generations past. In their architecture, in fact in all of their poetry and songs, there existed an idyllic longing for the distant sea.
The entrance to the Royal Sector began with a long, perfectly straight tunnel. Cold water flowed swiftly over our ankles toward our destination, pulling us on. The sound of its progress bounced back at us a million times over until it was a deafening roar in our ears. Flames glowed in blue-green glass orbs suspended from the ceiling, casting light on our path every hundred steps or so. In the dark places in-between, armoured guards stood perfectly still; the bulging eyes of their strange helmets gleamed in the faint light and made me shiver. When we reached the end, our guide called out in Zoran: "Make way for Her Majesty, Crown Princess of Hyrule!"
A tiny light lit slowly above us, not by the light of flame but by some strange greenish luminescence; it was teardrop shaped and gave off a beautiful, sparkling light that grew to a surprising intensity for its small size. I gasped as the whole of the thing was revealed and sunk back in horror against Impa, who put her hands on my shoulders to keep me standing straight. The head of a giant fish with a gaping mouth and huge, milky eyes was lodged at the end of the tunnel as if stuck in a tube too small for it. Long, silver needle-sharp teeth arched out from its gums both top and bottom. It was the most horrific thing I'd ever seen up until that point, and I was terrified. It took me but a moment to realise that it was stone, carved from the very cavern walls as was common in the City of the Waterfolk; it hardly diminished my unease. It's eyes looked like two giant pearls, but I knew they couldn't really be; no pearl was that big. From an arching antennae attached to the monster's forehead hung the glowing teardrop of light, innocent and beautiful, like bait for the unwary.
The jaw of the beast began to open. No, perhaps 'open' is the wrong word – it's teeth began to retract. The long, curving blades of the monster's steel teeth began to slide into the gums from which they protruded with a high screech of metal against metal and an occasional clank. It was, I realised, no more than a highly elaborate portcullis. Behind the creature's open maw I could see the rounded steps of a staircase ascending. It took Impa's firm grip on my shoulders to force me into the mouth of the sculpted predator and onto those stairs.
If I had thought the city below a strange and beautiful sight, I now realised its relative squalor. I was no stranger to luxury; Hyrule Castle was awash in colour and finery, with high arching ceilings and windows of stained and painted glass. In its architecture and its art, my home was regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The opulence of the Zoran Royal Sector was of a different kind, perhaps not more rich but certainly stunning in a new, exotic way. We passed through rooms of shining white marble from the ceilings of which hung crystal stalactites studded with blue jewels. One hallway featured a mother-of-pearl mosaic all along one wall, depicting a scene from Zoran mythology. I had read the tale in my studies, but seeing the shining swirl of figure and form spoke to my imagination in a new way. It was a story about a prince from the sea who fell in love with a priestess of the lake and faced many trials travelling up the rivers to wed her, for the spirits of the river did not favour their union. In the end, the prince triumphed and the two wed, but their offspring were deformed monsters and were condemned to live always in the river rapids where they would pull unwary travellers to their death.
There was no door into the King's Chamber, merely a beautiful golden gate studded with red jewels that stood open to admit our party. Most of the room was awash in calf-deep water, fed on one side by a long thin waterfall that fell as clear and graceful as glass over the edge of a platform that curved from the corner to our right into the far left corner of the room. On this platform, straight ahead of us, was the throne. It was nothing but a large, rich tapestry laid out over the edge and a series of the same ornate golden gates behind. And I could see why a chair would have been impractical.
King Zora XVI was enormous. I had heard that he hardly ever moved from that spot, and if he did it took many men to assist him. I could believe it. His body was round and bulging, and his limbs looked shrunken and undeveloped in comparison. As with all royal zoras, he had no headtail. I thought that, overall, he looked more like a giant frog in finery than a zora. I would never have said it aloud.
Lady d'Aulis leaned close to announce us to the crier, who nodded with a quick curious glance at me and then straightened, shouting in the common tongue: "Her Royal Highness, Zelda Fionnaula Gloriana, Crown Princess of Hyrule, Grand Duchess of Byrna, Lady of the Blood of Harkinia." I was amazed that he managed to make himself heard over the murmurs of the courtiers and the roar that echoed from a tunnel that curved out from the left side of the room. I supposed that down that way, the water that flowed through this chamber would become the massive waterfall that I had seen tumbling into the central pool of the city.
The others fell back and Impa and I took this as our queue. Mustering every ounce of my ten-year-old royal dignity, I ascended the steps to a small platform facing the royal dais, but not equal with it. Fat as he was, I had to admit that the King's bearing was nonetheless regal and imposing. On his left side stood the much more diminutive Princess Ruto. The place to his right was empty; the queen had passed shortly after Ruto was born. In that, we were alike.
She and I had exchanged letters before, being of the same age and position among our people. The correspondence had been suggested; and once suggested, expected. However, we had never before met in person. Now as I avoided her amused stare, I knew that she was mocking me: a dishevelled, ousted Princess subject to the Zora's hospitality. I tried not to narrow my eyes. She always had been spoilt and uncouth.
"I welcome you respectfully, Princess Zelda," said King Zora, his voice much higher than I would have expected from a person his size.
I curtsied my deepest Zoran curtsy, glad for once of the endless drilling that I had received in the court etiquette of the free peoples.
"I thank you with a grateful heart," I replied, ignoring Ruto's unconcealed giggling.
Completely out of line, the Zora Princess piped up: "Princess Zelda! My friend! What a mess!"
A nervous hush fell on the crowd gathered in the chamber. I straightened, meeting Ruto's eyes. Despite the clear insult, I admired her bravery. I allowed myself to smile.
"A mess indeed, my friend! Unfortunately, I have not the skill at swimming boasted by the noble Zora."
It looked as if the courtiers gathered wanted to clap. They murmured among themselves, and it sounded approving. Ruto smirked, looking me up and down once more.
"You will excuse my dear Ruto, I hope," said the King, casting a nervous glance aside to his headstrong daughter. "On what business have you come, Royal Daughter?"
I opened my mouth to speak when behind me, Impa covertly touched my hand. I met her eye and nodded, unsure of what she was about. But I trusted her, whatever it was; Impa always knew what she was doing.
"With respect, Your Majesty, I would have my attendant, Impa, speak on my behalf."
King Zora looked at Impa and seemed to shudder. Her red eyes were brazen and cold. "Very well," he acquiesced.
Impa held a fist to her mouth, clearing her throat, before folding her arms in front of her. The Zoras shifted and mumbled.
"Her Majesty, the Princess Zelda, has this last night escaped imprisonment at the hands of the Desert King, Ganondorf."
A chorus of gasps broke out, followed by a swell of murmuring voices. King Zora lifted one thin arm and the voices were silenced.
Impa continued, "Hyrule Castle was infiltrated and attacked. We expect that the land of Hyrule will soon be under siege. I request a safe haven until my village of Kakariko can be assured secure enough to house Her Royal Highness."
I was confused. Why go to Kakariko? It was Impa's home and the most obvious hiding place. Impa would never make a decision so foolish! I had thought that we would stay under the protection of the Zora until my father sorted things out. There was more tittering, but King Zora seemed lost in thought. Suddenly Ruto stomped her foot, enraged.
"I knew it! That evil man poisoned Lord Jabu-Jabu! Trading, pah! If his holiness hadn't been rescued…" She huffed, letting her unspoken threat drift. No one responded.
I felt my stomach turn. If anyone had rescued Jabu-Jabu… it had to have been Link. Suddenly I understood Impa's reasons for coming here. We weren't going to Kakariko and we weren't waiting around for anything. We were here to find out if Link had acquired the Spiritual Stone of Water. The King was unimportant; it was Ruto we were here to see. The Goron ambassador had spoken of the incident with Dodongo's Cavern months ago, so we knew that Link had two stones. But the third?
Eventually the King stirred, turning his attention upon me.
"We will be honoured to provide a safe haven for the night, Your Majesty."
His meaning was clear: for the night. He didn't want to draw Ganondorf's eye upon himself, though he should know that if Hyrule were attacked, the Zoras could not remain neutral. If my father's forces fell then they, too, would feel the Thief King's tyranny.
However, he was obligated to oblige me, and he knew it. To turn away the Crown Princess from his doorstep would be inhospitable at best and treasonous at worst.
I curtsied again, pleased. One night was all we needed. We were led from the throne room and passed through several passages and rooms on the way to our appointed chambers.
Our guide gestured into a grand bedroom, obviously intended for Hylian guests of honour – the decoration was in the latest Hylian style, and the usual layer of water on the floor was markedly missing. Our guide, presumably a maid, curtsied deeply.
"Lady Impa, your rooms shall be prepared shortly."
Impa waved her hand dismissively. "Do not bother. I do not leave the Princess' side."
Obviously unsure of what to say, the Zora maiden rose, curtsied again, and then hurried from the room. I let out a sudden laugh, and Impa turned to me with a curious look on her face.
"Oh, the ridiculousness!" I said in response to her silent question, plucking at my stiff, dirty shift and knotted hair with an expression of helpless amusement and then pressing my palms to my eyes. I was laughing, but I felt a tightness in my throat that surely meant tears were forthcoming. Impa gave me a short pat on the back and then exited to the hall, likely to merely stand behind the door. Finally alone for the first time since fleeing my home, I allowed myself to sink into a chair and cry.
I sat on the edge of the bed, brushing out my long hair and watching Impa. She seemed deep in thought, staring off into the middle distance. A bath had been drawn up for me and I had luxuriated in it, never until now having understood what it meant to be consistently and disgustingly dirty. Playing in the mud had once been a luxury, but then I'd always have a bath and fussy maids waiting to clean me up afterward.
Now we were merely waiting. Impa, always direct, had wanted to send for Ruto immediately. I had declined this idea; I had some insight into not only Ruto's character but also what it was like to be the royal pet of the court. Little rebellions were often too good to pass up. Either way, sending for Ruto would earn only a curt refusal to see us born of pride and a feeling of superiority. But if I was her co-conspirator… that would be a different story entirely. But to turn a simple meeting into a rebellious act it needed to be late and secret… and I would spare no theatrics.
"The cloak, Impa?" I asked, holding out my hand. The Zora had supplied me with a sparse few clothes, a nightgown and some drawers blessedly among them. Impa, however, had a black riding cloak – this would do far more nicely for the effect I was trying to achieve than the blaring, frilly white of the old-fashioned nightgown.
Impa lifted an eyebrow at me and I balked. She was not a nursemaid; well, I'd always had one before, so we'd never had this problem. I guess I just wasn't used to doing things for myself yet. I gave her a sour look and stood, dropping the brush on the vanity and snatching up the cloak from the back of the chair. She went back to staring into the distance while I draped the far-too-large thing over myself and pulled up the hood.
I slipped out of the room without a word. I'd already gotten directions to Ruto's private chambers – Impa had scouted them out for me – and I'd spent the duration of my bath reciting them under my breath, over and over. Still, the thrill of being out late, in a strange place with a strange people, without the court to guide my movements, sneaking about in the dark… I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hopefully, so would Ruto. We were still young girls, after all. Only twice did I have to slip past anyone. The Zora spoke a strange and flowing language that rippled like a song heard from under the water. I knew enough to stumble through a basic conversation, but the rapid and highly accented way that these passing folk spoke eluded me. Still, it was beautiful. I pressed on.
Ruto's private chambers were high up in the domain at the eastern edge, near to the Zora's Fountain. She was, as firstborn royal daughter, the official attendant to the city's patron deity, Jabu-Jabu.
Pages stood alert outside of the rooms. I leaned around the corner, watching them. They did not speak to each other, rather standing silent and erect on either side of the ornamental door. My mind raced. What was I to do? I knew that if I presented myself I would be granted entry. However, if they knew and let me in, the knowledge of my suspicious secret visit would be all over the Domain by morning and my pretence of rebelliousness with Ruto would be ruined. I needed to get her attention somehow. I grit my teeth, bending ever so slowly to pick up an array of little wet pebbles that lay on the stone at my feet. Straightening, I peered again around the corner at the pages, the black cloak allowing me to blend into the darkness. Zoras had different eyes than Hylians, bigger and slightly rounder – to better see under water, I supposed. Outside of the water, it didn't work so well as ours.
After a moment's hesitation, I tossed a pebble against the door. One of the pages jumped, but his lack of movement from his position suggested that some protocol was keeping him from reacting. The other page seemed not to have noticed. I pelted another tap, and another, and another in quick succession. I didn't have to wait long. The doors were thrown open from the inside and a very annoyed Ruto emerged, lit from behind by the light of the chamber. I sank back quickly into the retreating shadows, but I needn't have bothered. The guards had quickly dropped to their knees and bowed their heads in the direction of their princess.
"I can't sleep with that infernal tapping!" She whispered fiercely, crossing her childlike arms.
I chose this as my moment. Moving forward quickly and raising my finger to my lips, I progressed as silently as I could until I was sure that the princess had seen me. Her head snapped up in my direction and an expression of surprise faded into one of curiosity. She seemed to mull over the situation before nodding. My answering smile was mischievous, mirroring her own. I slipped back into the dark, tugging at the too-long sleeves and hood to make sure that I was concealed.
"You two. Find the source of the noise; I heard it down that hallway. Return only when you are sure that I shall not be woken again."
The two rose at the command, bowed two times while backing away from her, and then turned out of sight down the hallway. I waited for a moment before rushing forward at Ruto's quiet urging. I entered what appeared to be her private parlour and she shut the door quickly behind us, giggling uncontrollably.
"I like you!" She exclaimed, turning to me with arms crossed as I pulled back the hood of the cloak. She looked me up and down with a smile, as if sceptical. "I had you pinned as a pushover. Well, I suppose even I can be wrong sometimes. But you better have a good explanation."
"There is a matter of urgency that concerns us both… and our people. If we leave it to the adults and their ridiculous ceremony our enemies are likely to spring upon us at supper," I said, keeping my voice more hushed than she had. I was apparently more concerned about discovery. Ruto laughed, still making no effort to be quiet.
"Yes, yes. That is always the case. So what really happened at the castle?" Despite her posture of nonchalance, curiosity and concern were clear on her face. I told her about Ganondorf's arrival, and also of my dreams – at these she gave me an expression of amused disbelief. When I arrived at the part about Link, however, her face was a picture of intense interest… and even, I thought, displeasure.
She seemed far less friendly toward me now, drawing herself up in a regal manner and looking at me down her nose. Several moments of silence passed between us before she spoke.
"I see," She said, wrinkling her nose. "You had bad dreams and so you thought it acceptable to send a mere boy on a probably fatal fool's errand for the stones, which aren't rightfully yours to send anyone after in the first place."
I had to fight to contain my temper, but knowing that to retaliate – or to remind her that though Princess of her people, her father swore fealty to mine – would mean that I would never find out what had transpired between she and Link. I too lifted my chin, refusing to back down even as I refused to return the insult.
"I did. And I was right about Ganondorf, wasn't I? He blocked and infected the Dodongo's Cavern, nearly starving the Gorons. Link was able to clear the Cavern and gain from Darunia the Goron's Ruby." I realised as I said it that I was outrageously proud of the boy. Not only my subject and vassal, I considered Link my friend. He'd done things I never could have imagined someone our age doing. I had a right to be proud.
I emerged from my private reverie just in time to catch Ruto's expression – she, too, looked proud. And smitten. I forced back the thought in favour of business.
"And now you suspect that he has poisoned Lord Jabu-Jabu, May His Scales Never Dry."
Ruto came out of her thoughts and stared at me as if she was surprised to see me still in her rooms. "Yes… yes. Ganondorf and a limited embassy came to the Domain; they were allowed entry for purposes of trade. Desert pottery, I think…?"
I smiled. Despite Ruto's stubbornness and pride, she took her position very seriously and possibly paid more attention to affairs of state than her own father. She was a bold and courageous leader, and I admired her for that… whatever our petty differences.
Ruto continued, "Lord Jabu-Jabu became agitated and squeamish after his departure. I was in the middle of performing the traditional ceremonial offering when suddenly he opens his mouth and sucks up the entire alter… myself included."
I gasped. How was she alive? Lord Jabu-Jabu… ate her? It seemed so absurd. Ruto smirked at my distress.
"I've been in and out of Lord Jabu-Jabu's belly since I was barely a tadler – that is, just about the time I got my legs. He was more than poisoned, though. There was a strange beast inside of him." She paused here, idly crossing to a chair and sitting down. Propping her elbow on the back, she rested her face against her fist and fixed me with a curious stare. I waited, too agitated to sit. So… had Link…?
Finally she saw fit to continue. "So you sent Link, huh? For my Sapphire?"
I looked up and saw that, despite her hard expression, her eyes contained some amount of hurt. I simply nodded. She looked away, seeming to mull that over.
"Well, I suppose that takes some of the romance out of it – but still…"
I waited once again for her to complete that thought, but that was one sentence I found myself unable to hang upon for long.
"Still what?" It sounded sharper than I'd intended.
Ruto turned a sly smile on me, and the triumph in her eyes made my stomach squirm. Why was I so worried? There were larger issues than whether or not something had happened between Link and Ruto, and furthermore we were merely children. Any possessiveness I now felt could be ascribed to simple childishness; and I was a Princess of Hyrule in a time of crisis. I couldn't afford to be girlish. I steeled myself for what she had to say, but she still managed to knock the wind out of me.
"He and I are engaged."
I knew that my face must have registered pure shock – and I dreaded to think what else – because Ruto promptly burst out laughing, holding to the back of her chair and kicking her legs gleefully over the side. I felt my face flush.
"I see. So he has the stone, then," I said, knowing the traditional role of the Sapphire among the Zora.
So Link had rescued Ruto… and she had awarded him with her Engagement Stone and with it promised her hand. It did sound incredibly romantic. And that… burned. But I couldn't let it, not now.
"Oh yes, he has the stone," said Ruto, apparently satisfied that her position had been asserted. "And I have his promise."
It certainly was shocking. I couldn't imagine the stoic, quiet Link being the romantic type… or the type to particularly enjoy Ruto's antics, for that matter. And the fact that King Zora XVI had agreed to the union was even more farfetched. Link was of common blood, yes, which would be a deal breaker even if he were a Zora.
"Does your father know?" I asked, and regretted it as soon as it left my mouth. I had found out what I needed to know. Link had the three Spiritual Stones and my ocarina, and would therefore be able to complete the task that I had given him. There was no need to dwell on this delicate issue of his apparent engagement to Ruto.
The princess' expression hardened, which said enough on its own.
"I don't need his permission," She said, and I wondered if she was right. I was well versed in the laws, customs and history of the free races of my father's kingdom, but that little detail was unknown to me. Hylian women could not respectfully marry without their father's permission (especially a princess), but it was legally possible to form a union without the consent of the maid's closest male relative. The lady would likely be steeped in shame and scandal, however. Was it the same for Zoras? I imagined so. But I also knew that if Ruto had decided to marry Link, she would gladly throw convention to the wind; and I also knew that if Link had given such a grave promise as marriage, he would keep it.
But why was I even worrying about this? Ruto was my age. It would be at least four more years before she even reached marrying age. And it isn't as if I myself could marry him myself… or wished to, for that matter! I pushed thoughts of their union aside and finally, finally, concentrated on the here and now.
"I offer my blessings and best hopes for your happiness," I said, replacing both my dignity and Impa's cloak upon my little shoulders.
"I wish to depart… as your friend and royal sister," I said, and quite sincerely. I didn't want to fight with her.
She softened, looking almost sorry – I suspected she now regretted having so bluntly sought to injure me earlier. She stood slowly and approached me, frowning. She hugged me quickly, taking me off guard.
"I really do wish you the best of luck," She said, and with that we parted ways. I hurried off down the hall, head swimming with all that I'd learned.
Impa and I had slipped out during the night after only a few hours of rest and rejoined Lampos in the cave. The horse had risen up and pranced excitedly upon seeing us. Somehow Impa had acquired feed and a carrot for him, but they needed to dry out before he could be gifted with them. We walked quickly, me shivering under Impa's cloak and the saddle blanket the whole way.
I didn't know what time it was or how long we'd been walking, but Impa finally decided that it was time for us to rest in a particularly wide section of tunnel with smooth walls. As we prepared our bedding I took time to examine the strange writing on the walls in the lamplight.
"We should conserve the wick," Impa said for the second time that day. I sighed, reluctantly killing the little flame. All was darkness once again.
As I settled against the saddle I wondered how long we'd walked. Despite the fact that I'd barely gotten any sleep, braved extreme cold and trudged miles without shoes all under considerable stress, I somehow felt less tired than I had previously.
My muscled ached and I was, admittedly, exhausted – but I didn't feel the same all-consuming pain in my feet or the nagging urge to whine. I reached down and felt my feet. They were rough and calloused.
"Impa," I said, rolling onto my side.
"Yes, Princess?" Her voice answered from the dark.
"If Daimu is not a Sheikah but is close, what is he?"
"That is a long story."
"We have a long night ahead of us."
"It is not night, Princess."
How did she know that?
Surprising me, Impa laughed. It was a strong and pleasing sound, one that I didn't hear often.
"He is an Umberling."
"What is that?"
"To understand his race, one must first understand the Sheikah – we were created simultaneously," She said, and I propped myself up on my elbow, listening attentively. That was strange. Created… simultaneously?
"You know the history of the Knights of Hyrule," She continued. "The tribe of chivalrous warriors that first brought order to this land, from among whom rose our first King, who with the aid of the sacred Triforce formed the Kingdom of Hyrule."
Though the battle for Hyrule began in his mother's time – and his mother was the very first royal Zelda of recorded history – Ekbrit I had been the one to consolidate and ultimately bring order to the land under the monarchy. I smiled slowly. I couldn't help but imagine Hyrule's first king in the image of my father. Impa continued her story.
"Far to the north, beyond the Gale Mountains, stretch the vast sands of Zunal. When that ancient civilization was still quite young, they had a queen named Agas. She harnessed a dark power, but in the end it possessed her and twisted her body and soul; she became a demoness. In her quest for more power, she created a magical mirror with strange abilities. Her reign of terror came to an end when she was slain by a hero from Ikana. He gave the mirror into the possession of the Knights, trusting in their goodness.
"While protecting it, they discovered that the could call forth a warrior's shadow into life and being, all of the darkness in his soul magnified. In their ignorance the Knights used this power of the mirror for their own means; a warrior would only be considered a true Knight when he – or she, for there were a few female Knights, despite what the books try to tell us – could successfully defeat his own darkness personified and send it back into the abyss. This continued for many, many years before the Gerudo managed to steal the artefact.
"What no one had guessed was that a piece of the demon queen's soul had gone into her dark magic and that she felt their actions. She waited many long years before deciding to enact her revenge. She fused together the Knights and their Shadows… what was born were the Sheikah. There were others who had gazed into the mirror since the Gerudo stole and probably sold it: some Zuna, a few Gerudo, and some rogue Hylians. The descendents of the fusion with individuals outside of the Order of the Knights are called Umberlings, even those who were Hylian; like the ancestors of Daimu. So you see… we are quite similar."
My eyelids were drooping and I could no longer keep them open, but images of knights and mirrors and demons drifted through my head.
"I see," I managed, but I was near sleep… despite my fascination.
"So how… there were Hylian Knights of Hyrule, and they didn't die out until the war…"
"Not all Knights had yet had the chance to look into the mirror. The Sheikah trained the remaining Hylian Knights but withdrew into darkness and seclusion. Umberlings, well… they would come to play a major role in the unfolding history of Hyrule."
"I… I see…" I said again, yawning. Impa sighed.
"Sleep well, Princess."
I was nearly blinded when, at long last, we encountered light.
The light filtering down through the narrow shafts was thin, but we had walked so long in complete darkness that my eyes burned. The light grew gradually, until finally we turned a bend and met with a bright portal carved at a slant in the ceiling.
I lifted my arm over my eyes as Impa pressed me forward, her hand lodged firmly upon my back. She bolstered me as I climbed clumsily from the dark tunnel, my hands grappling at the dry dirt and my eyes squeezed shut tight.
I stumbled as my feet hit the dry earth but two strong hands were suddenly upon my elbows, holding me upright as I sagged.
My eyes opened slowly and I blinked into the bright light of the sun, the stinging of my eyes slowly fading away.
I lifted them at long last to meet a pair of red ones. I was in the arms of a young man. He was tall and thin, with wiry muscles apparent beneath his strange clothing. His golden hair fell into his exotically shaped red eyes and was covered with a thin layer of dust, as was the rest of him. His hands on my lower arms felt calloused and rough. He had a strong, beautiful face. My eyes fell to his lips. They were pale and badly chapped, set into a firm line of calm indifference… exactly like Impa, I thought.
This boy had to be at least two years older than me. I blinked rapidly as I lifted my eyes to his once again and jerked slightly as he suddenly took my chin, firmly but gently, between his thumb and forefinger. He lifted his chin as he examined my face, particularly focusing on my eyes. He seemed to be looking for damage.
He released my chin and cradled my hands, lifting them to examine them as well. I looked down and saw that they were calloused, bruised and dirty. There was dirt and blood beneath my broken fingernails from the occasional steep climbs and a couple of slips within the tunnel. Funny. I hadn't felt my fingernails breaking.
The Sheikah boy lifted his face to someone behind me. Impa, I imagined.
"I imagine she is unaccustomed to such a state," He said. His voice was low and smooth but contained its fair share of roughness, perhaps in his cold tone; it reminded me of smooth, clear waters flowing over jagged rocks deep below.
"You would be correct," Impa said behind me.
I looked over the boy's shoulder and saw a small gathering of people standing about, observing us closely. All were tall and lithe, well muscled. Most wore the same skin-tight, silky material as Impa in dark shades of purple or blue – this was fashioned into leggings that ended just below their knees or at their ankles. Their lower arms and the middle of their feet were wrapped in long strips of white cloth. Some wore loose pants in a similar dark, silky material – these were in style like the pants of the Gerudo except thinner and shorter, ending just below the knees. Panels of decorated cloth in the Hylian style, all bearing the Sheikah symbol of the evil eye weeping, were draped front and back. Short caftan shirts seemed to be a staple, with all sleeves ending before the elbow. Their hair colour ranged from dark gold to white but all had the same exotic red eyes and tanned skin, and all were covered in the same film of pale dust. Their faces were smooth and pleasing but hard and cold as well.
"We cannot pamper her. She must learn to live without such luxuries," I heard Impa go on. My heart sank – did she really see me as so spoiled?
The boy's hands tightened on my lower arms reflexively and he lifted his chin once again, turning his intense gaze back to my face. I wanted to shrink away from his unnervingly direct scrutiny but his hands and his eyes held me frozen.
"You must suppress your instincts, Sheik," Impa warned in a dull monotone as he lifted one rough hand and let it skim lightly over the frayed material of my sleeve and up to my shoulder. I watched his face. He followed the movement of his own hand with his eyes as if puzzled by it, his brows drawn tightly together, and then made it into a fist, lightly nestling it into my neck beneath my ear. I tried to shrink away but his other hand was then buried in my hair, gripping it with gentle firmness and turning my head to the side. His hand upon my neck drifted over a tender spot at the base of my skull.
"She's been injured."
I mustered my strength and drove the base of my palm into his hard stomach. He released me abruptly, backing up with an expression of extreme surprise.
"Merely a scrape. If you please, refrain from discussing me as if I am not present in the future," I bit out, my heart (and my now sore fist) pounding. I cradled my aching hand near my middle. He was still staring at me as if I'd grown a second head. "And never again make the mistake of handling me like some… some livestock to be examined at your will… Sheik."
He let out a quick breath and then schooled his features back into impassivity.
"Your Highness," He returned, bowing.
I stood staring around at the rest of the Sheikah, counting heads. Including Impa, Sheik and the few children who had come to watch there were only ten of them. When Impa had said few… My heart ached at the thought of their looming extinction. They had been a limited race to begin with, I reminded myself. The Knights of Hyrule, while a group as opposed to a race, had been entirely wiped out. The Knights and their families – men, women, children – had been slaughtered during the war, the targets of a genocide that had also been directed at the powerful Sheikah. I had always wondered why they in particular had been targeted and who it was that had had the power to destroy them, but my questions had been withheld in a likely misguided sense of sympathy for Impa's feelings on the subject.
I felt Impa's hand press firmly on my shoulder and turned to look at her. She met my eyes and jerked her head in the direction of the rest of the Sheikah, who each bowed their heads as we passed. I noticed the boy, Sheik, watching me intently from a distance of several yards.
We journeyed through the silent crowd to a collection of tents set into the small valley between steep hills. The dirt here was dusty and dry, relentlessly packed down by the tread of many feet but still managing to rise into dust devils that raced about here and there with a vengeance, coating everything in its path. The Sheikah themselves were clearly no exception. Rough-hewn wooden furniture and a makeshift, square building toward the back of the camp told me that although the place looked like any old battle camp, the inhabitants had been here for a while.
Most thought that the Sheikah were extinct, and those that knew of Impa thought that she must surely be the last. When Impa had opened up the village of Kakariko, long the secluded home of her people, everyone thought that she offered them land long abandoned. Clearly they were wrong. I quailed at such a sacrifice, but I now understood the imperative. Impa had ordered the opening of the village – and the relocation of her own people – the very day that I had told her of my prophetic dream. Kakariko was to be a safe haven.
Impa led me to one of the tents, pulling aside a thick curtain embroidered with the weeping eye symbol of the Sheikah. I stepped through the opening into relative darkness and she let the curtain fall, sealing out the sunlight; but soon my eyes adjusted to the sparse light that filtered through the cracks and was able to see the sparse details and furnishings of the room. In the very centre of the rectangular tent was a small fire pit, over which hung a spit and a kettle. A There was an ornate tapestry in lieu of one of the walls and a rough wooden chair, but otherwise the only furnishings were woven straw mats laid haphazardly across the floor. The entry into another room was obscured by another thick curtain. Impa motioned for me to sit and I did so without argument, glad to be off my aching feet.
"You should get some rest," She said, crouching beside the fireplace and taking up the flint, although I knew that she could summon fire with a snap of her fingers.
The sun shone harshly upon the dry land of the valley, but the winds that swept through it could chill a person to the bones. I was grateful for the fire.
"We've had three days of hard travel and you are not accustomed to such hardship," She said, holding one of her hands to the warmth as the fire flickered to life.
I left the chair and went to my knees on the dusty rush mat beside her, thrusting both my hands forward to absorb the warmth. Impa withdrew her hand and watched me with a sullen expression.
"Come, I'll show you to your bed."
My dreams were ordinary, drifting from thought to thought seamlessly and with the careless sense of normalcy that accompanies light dreaming. A fracture split my dream like glass, and then another stemmed from it, and another. I was becoming aware of an intruder into my consciousness. Voices flooded into my head like water to a seaside cave.
Link was screaming my name. Everything was white and the light was blinding, pouring over the edges of the people present and blurring our lines. I reached out for Link and tried to pull him to me but he was insubstantial, hard to grasp. My arms looked like a smeared painting.
I suddenly became aware of an intense pain, ripping through my veins like lava and hardening so that my heart tugged desperately for oxygen, my lungs ached, my body rendered useless. Had this pain been there all along? It felt as if I'd been enduring it my whole life.
There were two others with us, and I felt the malice between the two crackle like lightning. Through my haze of pain I watched them, horror growing in my heart. The dark one turned to me, a haze of blackness in this white world, and his glowing golden eyes set upon me like those of the demon from my nightmare. The light fluctuated, pulsing as if alive. Then I felt another behind me, dragging me away, and everything ripped apart.
I woke gasping for air and covered in sweat. It seemed the whole Sheikah tribe was gathered around me, most watching grimly but some holding to Impa's arms as if in concern. Impa gripped my upper arms, her face a mask of sadness. Sweat lined her brow and she looked tired. She lifted my right hand and I winced, for it still felt as if I'd been badly burned. Silence fell as all eyes turned to the back of my hand, upon which a single triangle glowed gold. It looked as if the light had crept beneath my skin, a strange bioluminescent polygon buried between flesh and bone.
Another Sheikah suddenly pushed aside the curtain and entered, pressing through the crowd that had gathered. He looked like the oldest of them, the only one with any lines on his face; and these were slight. He addressed Impa. "You have succeeded. He is secure. But we have to hurry. Rauru can only shield his body for so long from his side."
Impa was quick to give orders. "Sahas shall lead a small party to retrieve him. You must leave at once."
The older man nodded and called four Sheikah to him from the group that had gathered around my bed. Sheik was among them.
"Not Sheik," Impa said quickly, "Nor Lena. They must stay."
No one questioned her. Instead, the older man who I assumed was Sahas and his two remaining warriors turned to leave. Before exiting, Sahas caught Impa gently by the arm.
"Your success. You do know what this means…" He murmured, his voice almost too low for me to hear. Impa seemed not to react. "How long have you known?" He asked, but she gave him only a fleeting apologetic look and gestured him on his way. He bowed his head and dropped the subject, whatever it was.
After Sahas and his small party trailed, slowly but surely, the rest; I was glad for it. I still felt frightened and a bit feverish, and the pain in my hand was excruciating. I wanted to be alone with Impa, to ask my questions.
"Link," I managed, and found that my mouth was exceedingly dry. "Is he dead?" Tears gathered in my eyes. At that moment I could imagine nothing worse. He had to be alive. His voice still rang through my head, my name called in desperate pain and horror.
Impa put a cool hand on my forehead, testing. I imagine she didn't like what she found, for the corners of her lips tugged into a slight frown. "No, Princess. He is not dead."
I managed to sleep fretfully after that, tossing and turning and cradling my hand. I remained in the clutches of a deep fever that night, barely aware of the shifts that were taken to tend to me. While I had no strength to fight him, Sheik tended to the knot at the base of my skull and gently combed the dried blood from my hair.
"You are one of us now," Impa said, just as Sheik and another Sheikah, a young female, entered. They said nothing, merely stood back and watched me.
My fever had broken midday and now, late in the afternoon, I had finally begun to feel somewhat like myself again. My hand still hurt, but the pain was nowhere near what it had been. It was my mind that was in torment.
No one would tell me what had become of Link. They had explained to me another legend that had until now been excluded from my education: that if the heart of the claimant is not balanced, the Triforce will split and its pieces will disperse to those chosen by destiny to wield them. I was obviously one of those people.
Link had received the Triforce of Courage. That, at least, was no surprise. But… I squeezed my eyes shut as I thought about it, guilt washing over me in waves underneath which I would surely drown. My plan had backfired. All of Link's effort, his bravery, exerted in pure trust of me, had only served to open the door to the Sacred Realm for Ganondorf himself. He had tried to claim the Triforce, but it had split. His hunger for power had earned him Power… but I knew that it would not be enough. Enough to conquer the kingdom? Regrettably, yes. But never enough to slake his thirst for more.
The female leaned close and whispered something in Sheik's ear and I turned away quickly, not liking being whispered about. But what Impa was saying was important. I just wished that it could be said in private.
"As such, you are also now the weakest among us," Impa went on, forcing my thoughts back to the issue at hand. "Ganondorf is bound to search for the Princess of Hyrule, rightful heir to the throne and holder of the Triforce of Wisdom. He will find what he seeks as long as there is a Princess to search for."
I stared at her, shocked. So it was to be this as well? My name, my birthright, my very identity? And become a Sheikah. I felt a stab of despair. How could I become a Sheikah? The people of this village were warriors, and... Sheik was right. I was pampered. Merely the journey here had seen me near collapse several times.
I firmed my jaw, staring at a place above Impa's head as I thought it over. The journey here had also made me stronger. Impa was right. My only other option was surrender. I thought of Hirrou's bloodied face, full of hope and fear; I thought of my father's laughter as we rode through the bright fields of Hyrule together; I thought of Link's determination in the face of so much impossibility; I thought of the Triforce of Wisdom choosing me, above all others. And I knew that I had to do this.
"I need a new name, then," I said, breaking the silence.
Sheik tensed and looked away and the unnamed female stared at Impa incredulously. Obviously neither of them had thought that I would accept. But as I looked up and met Impa's smile, I knew that she had known all along that I would. She glanced at the woman and then nodded toward me.
"Lena, meet your sister… Malina Penka."
I turned to look at Lena. I didn't think that her eyes could possibly get any wider. She looked… shocked. And enraged.
"This," She hissed, seeming to choke on her own words, "is why I have been summoned?"
Impa nodded, serene in the face of Lena's barely contained anger. Sheik 's face was as impassive as ever, but I noticed he had taken a step out of Lena's path.
"You will teach Penka our ways and the history of your family," Impa said, her tone allowing no room for argument. Lena's breathing was harsh and her hands were balled into fists, but she didn't challenge Impa. The atmosphere in the room was tense.
"And Sheik," Impa said, turning to the brooding boy in the corner. He looked up as if surprised to be addressed, though from what Lena said I gathered Impa had specifically asked them both to be there. "You shall instruct Penka in the use of weapons. When the time comes, I think that she should try out her old bow."
"No!" Whispered Lena hoarsely, her eyes filling with tears. I couldn't understand what was going on. Why was Lena so opposed to me playing her sister? Was I such a burden? Impa turned a fierce look upon her.
"Be strong, Lena. You cannot be selfish."
Lena turned her fierce gaze upon me and I held it, my teeth clenched. Finally she said, in a low voice, "You have made a brave choice, however foolish." Sheik looked like he was going to say something, but she spoke before he could. "I accept you as my sister, Penka, from this day forward. In the morning you will begin instruction. No one is going to go easy on you from here on out. Do you understand?"
I continued to hold her gaze. The idea frightened me. What in the world had I agreed to? What hardships awaited me come morning? But I lifted my chin and nodded. "Yes," I said. "…Sister."
Lena let out a quick breath and stared at me for several seconds more before she turned on her heel and, throwing the curtain aside violently, made her exit.
"Sheik," Impa said, wasting no time. The boy turned his attention back to her. "You understand what you must do?"
Sheik looked at me with no expression whatsoever, seeming to size me up. "Yes, Impa. I understand."
Impa nodded and looked me over. "Show Penka her tent. And make sure that she gets cleaned up."
I hesitated. This was it. For the first time I stood without being offered a hand and walked beside a man without taking his arm, and I knew that it was what was expected.
Sheik was blissfully silent, staring straight ahead as we walked; I had the distinct impression he was avoiding looking at me. I wondered if he was angry about the punch to the stomach earlier. We passed through rows of tents in silence, and the Sheikah around us seemed to give us no more than a second glance. I was no longer anything special, as far as they were concerned. I was amazed at how quickly they seemed to adapt to my new role. As the sun sank the village was lit up in red; the rock sparkled as if littered with gold dust. Sand and pebbles crunched beneath our feet.
The tents were unlike anything that I'd seen before. They were fairly large, utilizing a square framework of poles draped with thick canvas; but they were designed with a small flat expanse at parts of the roof, where a conical-shaped wire frame held open a circular hole through which smoke from fires could pass.
When we reached what I assumed was to be my new home Sheik stopped and merely gestured for me to enter. I hesitated, leaning my shoulder against one of the supporting poles instead and looking at him. He stared over the camp in silence, neither questioning me nor returning my gaze.
"Sheik seems a rather redundant name for a Sheikah," I said finally, and although my voice was quiet and respectful, I cursed internally at the inappropriateness of that comment as an opening remark.
"It is a hereditary name," He said. "All first sons of my family are named Sheik. When the Sheikah came to be, their leader was named Sheik; the tribe gains its name from him, and so do I."
"So that makes you…" I swallowed hard. I'd barely stepped onto their land and I'd already proved myself the instrument of the splitting of the Sacred Triangles, stolen the identity of one of their fallen and socked their prince in the stomach. How in the world was I going to get along now?
"Impa is our leader, I her successor. However, as she must instruct the Princess and I am not yet of age, Sahas acts as my regent."
"Impa is your… your mother?" The thought struck me hard. I couldn't imagine Impa actually having children; and either way, as she spent every moment of my life watching over me, she could not possibly have been present in his life.
Sheik smiled slightly, as if amused by the thought. "No. My aunt. My parents both died in battle."
I stared at his profile silently, decided upon saying nothing at all. If I were in his situation, I would have preferred it that way. Even though the lack of a mother figure provided a convenient excuse for occasional bad behaviour, I hated it when people expressed their sympathy for her death. For all intents and purposes it had been I who had killed her.
"Every eldest daughter of my family is named Zelda," I said, breaking the heavy silence. "King Ekbrit I had a son and also a daughter, who he named for his mother: Zelda. However, he doubted his son's capability. Ekbrit did not want to pass the Triforce on to his son without being sure, so he split the Triforce of Courage into many parts and scattered them throughout the land. He gave the Triforce of Wisdom to his daughter, who was renowned for her virtue. The King's plan was for the Prince to complete a quest for the Triforce of Courage and to be given the Triforce of Wisdom when he had proven his virtue to his sister. When he died his son lacked the bravery and skill to seek the pieces of the Triforce and tried to gain the information from the Princess by way of magic… but the sorcerer in his employ made a mistake, and the spell he set upon the Princess was so powerful that it put her into an immortal sleep and took his life. The Prince was so grief-stricken and ashamed that he declared that all Crown Princesses of Hyrule would be named Zelda thereafter, for his sister."
Sheik nodded silently, still staring out at the sunset. I flushed.
"You knew the whole story, didn't you?"
He nodded again, still silent and expressionless.
"It seems unfair that you should know so much about me and yet remain a complete mystery."
He finally turned to look at me, his brow knit slightly in confusion.
"Your people have made the ultimate sacrifice for Hyrule and for my family," I went on. "Your devotion to us is complete and unyielding. And yet so little is known of your people or of your legends; you are thought to be extinct. The Sheikah have not received the honour that they have earned."
Sheik sighed and turned away again, leaning against the pole on the other side of the door. "Long ago, the proudest warriors from among the Knights made a grievous error. And they paid the price, and all of their descendents after them. In our hearts lurks a dangerous shadow, ever-present and thirsting. We cannot concern ourselves with such things as glory or renown, nor power or wealth; too easily would we then succumb to the lust that torments us. To protect is our purpose, so that we may not be led to destruction. It is not a sacrifice… but a salvation."
My breath caught. I watched as he pushed away from the door, nodding to me without meeting my eyes. "And from now on, remember that that is not your family. This is." He indicated the house with a motion of his head. "Impa is right. There is much power in names. You must not again speak the one that you have discarded, Penka." He departed swiftly without so much as a backward glance or a 'sleep well.' I huffed. Penka.
I turned and took a deep breath, preparing for the worst, and then pushed aside the curtain and entered. As there was a flap open to the west, the last of the day's light poured in and illuminated the eastern wall: it was an ornate woven blanket, like the one I had seen before yet different.
Lena seemed to have calmed considerably. She was stooped over a small fire, handling a kettle. "Penka," She said, and I was shocked at how naturally she said it – without so much as a moment of hesitation. "Your change of clothes are there," She indicated a pile set on a chair in the corner.
I picked them up, looking around the place curiously. Aside from the tapestry that made up one wall, there was little to make it different from Impa's tent, and I imagined that all of the Sheikah homes were similarly unadorned. An flap on the far wall divided out one other room, smaller than this one; in it was a large, worn wooden chest, a clay pot of water and two straw beds. I entered this room and undressed, glad for the ties that allowed me to pull the flap closed for privacy.
I dressed slowly, as the clothing was new to me and I'd never before dressed on my own. The dresses that I wore in the castle had been too complicated to put on by oneself, so a lady's maid had been required. These were not built in such a way. The pile Lena had left me consisted of four long strips of white linen, a dark blue caftan shirt, and light, loose black pants of a silky material that closed with thin cuffs beneath my knees. Once I'd dressed, I still felt naked. I wore no underpinnings, no stays whatsoever, and the thin, loose material fluttered around my naked skin like it might drift off in the manner of a spider's web at any moment.
I jumped as Lena entered suddenly and brusquely began picking up my discarded clothing. I followed her quick strides into the other room and my eyes widened as I saw her toss the tattered material of my clothing into the fire.
"What are you—"
"They are the clothes of a dead girl," Said Lena, poking the burning mass with a stick. My heart leapt. I hugged my torso, feeling the cloth beneath my fingers as I watched the last remaining article from my former life curl, dance and turn black. The clothes of a dead girl. It took me several moments to realise that she meant Zelda.
I woke to someone's foot lodged in my side. Gingerly rubbing my sore ribs, I rolled over on my pallet to glare up at Lena through bleary eyes. My eyes flickered to the open doorway and back to hers, accusing. It wasn't even dawn yet. She seemed unperturbed by my obvious exhaustion.
"Up." She tossed more of the long strips of white linen the Sheikah commonly used in lieu of shoes and gloves onto the floor beside me. "Use those in addition to the others; and wrap them right, like I showed you. You'll be needing them."
I sighed and rolled to a sitting position, rubbing my eyes. I knew by Lena's tone that it would be very bad to keep her waiting, but my inner princess rankled at being treated with such blaring disrespect.
I met Lena outside the door, and together we began our trek through the camp and down a northeastward path along the mountain. The trails were like so many ravines with walls of rock rising up on either side, sometimes wide and round and sometimes narrow and jagged. Ages of water flow from rainfall on the higher peaks had carved out these wrinkles, making the rock seem sagely and wise. Now, that water was only a distant memory; the earth had been left hard and dry. The plants that grew here were hardy and rough. The trees hung to the sides of rock faces with great thick roots, attacking the hard earth in a battle that would last hundreds of years.
When we reached our destination, I was stunned. Civilization – or at least, remnants of it – surged up suddenly into the untouched, indomitable cliff face. The ravine in which we stood was fairly wide and curved slowly around like a great half-circle. On either side rose huge man-made walls over which ran long metal tracks, twisting here and breaking off there in some inconceivable grand design. I couldn't imagine their purpose; they didn't seem to be for decoration. They were also, clearly, extremely old. The metal was corroded and dark, and the walls themselves had been chipped and worn by wind and weather.
Lena stood silent for a moment and let me wander, taking it in. I finally turned to her and, pointing at the strange tracks, asked, "Who made these? What are they for?"
"In ancient times, an army from a great empire sought to take this little outcrop for themselves. Surrounded by three rivers and with steep, narrow passages up the mountain, it is and was a military treasure."
I waited, but she only scuffed her foot against the earth nonchalantly and appeared to ignore me. It was so hard to get Lena to converse. I scowled, but prompted her nonetheless. "And?"
She looked back at me as if she'd forgotten I was there, and then resumed with a bored sigh.
"These men of the empire were being hounded from the west, and they were losing. A stone fortress had once been built where our camp is now, left over from a time when this same empire had held dominion over the people of this region."
She was speaking of the ancient Pallavian Empire, of course. I couldn't tell if she was insinuating that I didn't know my land's history or not, but I had a feeling that she was – and quite pointedly. I didn't say anything, lest she stop telling the story.
"If they could hole up in this keep," she went on, "they would have the advantage over the larger rebel force at their heels. Only so many men can squeeze their way up these trails, and the empire knew that if they held this mountain it would be cake to cut them down as they trickled in.
The people who lived here, however, had lived under the tyranny of that empire longer than they cared to. Seeing the army turn toward them, they judged their aim and went to work. They worked industriously to dissemble stones and iron from the fortress and used them to create these walls and their tracks."
I stared up at the strange structures, confused. The walls ran along the natural outline of the mountain pass and did not block it off, only framed it. How could these have provided defense against an invading army?
"What good could this have done them?" I asked, indicating the wall before us and then folding my arms across my ribs.
"We don't know. There are tracks like this in many places in the far west, including the sacred places of the Desert, but as far as we know they were used to send messages quickly from one place to another. There were no survivors on the invading side, and the local populace kept their secrets close. No record was ever made of the battle that occurred here. No one knows."
The great monuments held my mind captive. What could be their purpose? They loomed in silent indifference to my curiosity, revealing nothing. There was a story here, but no one left to tell it.
A shove from behind sent me sprawling. I rolled onto my back, rubbing my scraped elbow, and glared at Lena.
"We will begin here," she said, checking that her wrist wraps were secure.
Before I could work up a complaint or pull myself up, she lunged at me. I gasped and rolled to the side, barely escaping a kick. I scrambled to my feet and held my hands out in front of me, my knees bent, trying to brace myself for another attack. She only laughed, walked toward me while I readied myself and then whacked my wrists away in one swift movement with her left forearm. The back of her right hand followed quickly after, taking me hard across my cheek and sending me to the ground again. The pain was jarring. I panted down into the dust, nursing my reddened cheek in my palm.
"You're pathetic," Lena derided above me. She aimed another kick.
Rage flared inside of me. I grabbed her foot and pushed upward, making her wobble. She quickly regained her balance, twisting her foot away and then taking a step back. She smiled.
"There. That, I can work with." She nudged my rump with her foot. "Now get up. We have a lot to cover."
The front of my shirt was drenched in blood by the time Lena finally declared us done. By the pink light of the fading sun she showed me how to rinse blood from cloth in a slow-running stream so that the fabric would not stain. I'd gotten a bloody nose before – from the heat, I remember someone saying – but the red, painful gush that Lena had knocked from me was something else entirely. Luckily my nose hadn't actually broken, so it wouldn't be crooked. Although quite attractive herself, Lena told me that such trivial vanity was unfit for a Sheikah. I still thought that she'd be upset if her nose ended up crooked – though I couldn't imagine a person who'd have the skill to give her one.
Lena had been telling the truth: she certainly didn't go easy on me. She showed me how to position myself, how to move my arms to block attacks and how to take them without losing my balance; but after that, all was fair game. She came at me without restraint and left no room for failure. I had the bruises to prove it. In the end, though, I turned out to be a fast learner. I had a lot of incentive.
As I'd stared at my battered image reflected back at me from the water, I'd thought about the coming walk through the village with dread. I'd imagined the battle-seasoned Sheikah turning to stare as I made my way to our tent: they would shake their heads at my scrapes and bruises and click their tongues in shame at the weakness of their monarch.
As we wove our way through the camp, I noted happily that not a single head turned my way. I suspected that, like Impa, they all had the ability to see much without appearing to be looking – but they weren't making a show of looking, and that was enough for me. I let myself sag and plod along behind Lena in exhaustion, my eyes fixed on my feet. Lena had given me thin sacks of sang that, when tied securely along to my calves and forearms, acted as constant weights.
"Lena!" Sheik came charging out of his tent as we passed it and froze at the sight of me. I met his eyes and made my best effort at straightening, though my whole body protested at the effort of merely standing completely upright. He looked me up and down and his lip seemed to curl up just slightly in a sneer. This was the reaction I'd been afraid of. I lifted my chin in defiance.
His eyes fell hotly on Lena, who stood cleaning some dirt and blood from beneath her fingernails with a bored expression. She finally looked up at him, at the cold intensity of his expression; the look was chilling me to my core, but she seemed completely unmoved.
"What?" She shrugged, giving me a cursory glance. "I didn't break any bones."
"I'm fine, really," I said sternly, but flinched as he turned fully toward me. I expected him to yell – what, I have no idea. But he remained just as silent as before. His red eyes blazing across my battered body were not so silent. Lena cleared her throat.
One eyebrow twitched up in her direction, followed by a murmured, "Rest well." With only that said, he turned and swept back into the tent he shared with Impa, pulling the door flap closed firmly behind him.
I was too tired to give Sheik and his strange behaviour any real thought. The journey back to our tent was a painful daze, and Lena wouldn't let me lie down until I'd eaten dinner. It was hardly a feast, but I was too eager to get to bed to complain. I shovelled the gruel down as fast as I could without inflaming the wound I'd bit into the inside of my cheek earlier and then stumbled into the dark bedroom, not bothering to undress. My first night, the small pallet on the floor had felt lumpy, hard and uncomfortable. Now, it felt like a cloud; sweet oblivion came as soon as I had the chance to notice.
Impa had insisted that my education continue in addition to the physical training I received from Lena. Which lessons I would receive depended on Impa's schedule, it seemed. She was often away with scouting parties or supervising the continued development of Kakariko. For days at a time I would have nothing but bruising, exhausting fighting exercises dawn to dusk and then suddenly Impa would return and I would rest my aching body in favour of my mind. Despite her use of the word 'continue', it seemed as if Impa had truly meant 'accelerate'. Over the three weeks that passed since the splitting of the Triforce, my head was pumped full of more geography, cultures, languages and history lessons than had been covered in three months' time before.
During one such lesson, I lay on Impa's bed letting a salve soak into my bruises while she lectured. Today's topic was Gorons, and after several hours of gruelling study and practice of their language (the grunting and groaning of the Goron tongue seemed ill suited and laughable when it came from my mouth) we were discussing coming of age rituals. I had laughed aloud at her description of young Gorons rolling down the mountainside with active bombflowers clutched to their bellies. The sun was already down, so I was anticipating being able to retire. When Impa began quizzing me, I sagged in relief. She always ended the day with a small test, to be sure that I had absorbed the lesson.
"Translate:" She said, leaning forward in her chair and placing an elbow on her knee. "Gor."
"Mountain," I said. That was easy.
"Of the mountain."
"That is correct. Dar."
"These words share a significance in Goron culture. What is it?"
"They are each common in names." My head throbbed. I couldn't tell if it was from information overload or being thrown several feet backwards into a wall by Lena the previous day.
"Which word, when present in a name, does not denote an earned status?"
"Good. Before the Great Exodus, where did the Gorons live?"
"On a cluster of volcanic islands west of the Horon Gulf."
"What surviving traits connect them to their former environment?"
"They can withstand extreme heat and can breathe underwater."
"What precipitated the Great Exodus?"
"A prophecy of a great flood…"
"But historians cannot be sure of the true cause, as accounts of the Exodus exist only in oral tradition."
"How can Goron females be distinguished from Goron males?"
Impa stood suddenly, leaning to gaze out the window. I hauled myself up painfully and watched her, sure that something important was about to happen. After only a moment she left the window and exited in a few long strides, leaving me without so much as a word of explanation. I stood on sore legs and followed her, stumbling out into the night to see the silhouettes of many Sheikah filtering over the plateau in a tight cluster.
I followed them into a small room on the first level of the village, tucked away into a corner. I had to push through them at first, but they soon parted for me and I entered just as the torch was lit. It was a tiny room. In the centre was a stone platform, obviously a crude sort of table. The torchlight glittered on Link's hair as Sahas laid his limp body on the cold stone.
My heart climbed into my throat as I stumbled forward, bracing my hands against the table's edge as I leaned over the fallen hero. On his left hand glowed the sign of the Triforce of Courage. I stared into his peaceful face with disbelief, every ounce of my being rejecting what seemed to be fact. His skin was riddled with thin white scars that hadn't been there when I'd last seen him. His hair was slightly longer and if possible more unkempt. His clothes were frayed, worn and in a few places singed.
Impa's voice broke through my wall of silent grief. Vaguely I realised that she was sending the others away, and that they were retreating quietly. If one of them had brushed me, I was sure I would have shattered.
"Penka," Impa said, coming to stand beside me. She watched my stricken face closely while I stared down at Link.
"He is not dead," She affirmed for the second time.
I let out a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding and slid to the floor, feeling far more drained than any amount of training or lessons had been able to achieve. Impa took in a deep breath and I tensed, recognising somehow that I was about to receive the bad news. I was right.
"Link freed the Master Sword from the Pedestal of Time," She said, and I managed a small, ironic smile. Of course. It made sense. I managed to stand and pull myself onto the platform, dangling my feet off the edge. I had prophesied his coming, this Kokiri from the mysterious southern woods; and though he had meant the world to me, I failed to see what he might potentially mean to the world. It hadn't occurred to me that this very age in which I lived might be the time of strife told of in legend. Link was the Hero of Time.
"Although the Sacred Sword recognised him as the Hero, it deemed him as yet unready. And so his soul was sealed in the Sacred Realm. He is… sleeping. Until he reaches an age at which he might wield the Sword effectively."
I glanced up sharply. Unready? Sealed away? Sleeping? I turned my eyes back to Link, finding myself unable to keep them away for too long. If I looked hard enough, I could see that his chest was rising and falling with shallow breaths. It took me several long moments before I could collect my thoughts sufficiently to form words.
"But… the Kokiri do not age," I said, all of my considerable cognitive power fleeing in the presence of my remounting sorrow.
Beside his head lay his fairy; her bluish light had dimmed just enough to be able to see her tiny form, though as she was no more than the length of my palm one had to squint to see any detail. She looked like a young woman, with the obvious exceptions: her size, of course, and the pale bluish colour of her skin and hair. Her ears were wide and soft looking like those of a mouse, except they were also long and pointed. Her eyes were closed, her lovely wings spread out beneath her.
"That is true," said Impa, "but Link is not a Kokiri."
I nodded, able to accept as much despite the evidence otherwise. The fairy, his coming from the woods, his possession of the Spiritual Stone of the Forest; they didn't add up to such a conclusion, but I had always felt that he was Hylian.
"He is named for a Hylian hero," I said offhandedly, still a bit addled. "I did find that rather odd."
After meeting Link I had done some research and discovered why his name sounded so familiar. An ancient legend told of a hero from that legendary time when Hylians still lived in a land in the clouds; he had saved Hyrule, then not under the rule of my family, from the dominion of evil. In some versions of the story, this Hero was given the name Link.
I very gently shifted the fairy's arms so that they lay along her sides instead of sprawled out above her head.
"Actually," Impa broke into my thoughts, "He is named for another, though that other was named after the Hero of which you speak."
I stared at her, uncomprehending. How did she know all of this? She seemed to understand my confusion, for she nodded and held up her hand in acquiescence.
"Do you remember the story that I told you, of the origin of our people? Of the Umberlings?"
I nodded, unsure of how this related to Link's history.
"Centuries would pass and greed for the Triforce would spread. The war of our time would eventually break out and would continue for eight long years. With the mastery of the Sheikah and the Knights behind the armies of Hyrule, it seemed that your father would have a victory. Yet after five years of war, a new power emerged: Luzmalans fused with their shadows, a new kind of Umberling, and they had mastered the great dark power that Agas had wielded. We called them the Dark Interlopers. At first their goal seemed to be the assassination of the royal family, but our combined efforts held them off. It was then that the genocide shifted to the protectors instead of the protected, for they judged us their greatest threat."
I shuddered, horrified. The great Sheikah and the Knights of Hyrule… eradicated in only three years?
"They slaughtered warriors and then sought out their families in an effort to end us. In the final year of the war, the bloodline of the Knights of Hyrule had been completely destroyed… save for one. Their Captain was survived by his wife and unborn child. A party of Sheikah warriors, myself included, provided a secret escort to smuggle her into the only region that war had failed to touch: the Sacred Forest. The child was born during the journey and was named Link, after his father."
I stared at her, incredulous, and then back down at Link's sleeping face. There was so much more to this boy than had at first appeared. The noble Knights of Hyrule, the source of the Kingdom's birth and prosperity, lived now only in memory… and in this boy.
"We were attacked before we could enter the forest," continued Impa, "his mother was injured but ran with her son into the woods. We sensed that the boy was alive long after we were sure that Link's wife had passed away. We were able to watch him grow by way of a gossip stone. Navigation of the forest is risky at best, even for us."
There was so much that I still didn't understand. "Gossip stone? And if Link is not a Kokiri, how did he survive the magic of the forest?"
"Gossip stones are carved rocks magically imbued with certain cognitive powers. We Sheikah use them to watch and to listen at all times, and also as portals on occasion; they have many functions. They are scattered throughout Hyrule and beyond it. You've seen them, of course, though you wouldn't know what you were looking at."
I knew what she was referring to immediately: the strange stones that bore the symbol of the Sheikah, seemingly no more than decoration but apparently far more complicated.
"As for your other question: the Great Deku Tree extended his protection to Link, sensing that he would play a major role in the destiny of Hyrule. Apparently he was right."
"So the Great Deku Tree truly exists," I murmured, bowing my head and rubbing my temples. Had I learned as much years ago, I probably would have been far more enthralled. In our religion, the world was understood as possessing nine Aspects of Creation: Forest, Fire, Water, Shadow, Light, Spirit, Time, Earth and Wind. Over these aspects presided each a Sage and either two or four Guardians. For example, there were always to be two Guardians of Wind, unfailingly represented as toads or frogs; and similarly, there would always be four sacred trees, like the Deku and Maku trees, to serve as the Guardians of Forest. Sometimes, certain peoples would worship the Guardians as gods themselves; this was the case with Lord Jabu-Jabu, one of the four Guardians of Water.
Usually, such a fact would have excited my curiosity and had me leaping for answers – but I was running out of the will to ask questions… all but one.
"How long must he sleep?" I asked quietly, lifting my head to fix tired eyes on Impa. Her expression softened minimally; I could only imagine the extent of the guilt and despair that she saw on my face.
"We are not sure," She replied, and I let my head fall again, turning to face the stone table on which Link lay. "Tomorrow you will learn the history of the Seven Sages and of the creation of the Hero," Impa said behind me, and then there was silence – I assumed that she'd gone, leaving me to my silent struggle with grief.
If he was the Hero of Time, was this truly my fault? Or was it destiny? How long would he have to sleep? How much of his life would be taken from him? Several years, obviously. And that… that was indisputably my own doing. Was my destiny, the entire purpose of Nayru's gift of visions, really to cause the tearing asunder of Hyrule and the Sacred Realm itself?
I don't know how long I stared at his peaceful face, or the line that had formed between his brows from all his frowning. This wasn't how it was supposed to end up. He should have been feasting in my father's hall by now, honoured and revered, perfectly safe and healthy.
"I'll fix this," I whispered passionately through a haze of tears, my hand drifting closer only to come to rest mere centimetres from his. "I'll fix all of it. I promise. Somehow… I'll make it right."
When I woke the next morning to the rooster's crow I found that I fallen asleep on the floor in the room that held the Hero. A woollen blanket had been draped over me sometime during the night. Though the sun was just barely rising, I had no doubt that I was already late for lessons. Blinking bleary eyes, I swept the blanket off and shivered against the cold air, pausing to drape the blanket over Link instead. I spared one quick glance at his face before exiting, making my way toward Impa's tent. It was situated in the direct centre of the makeshift village, though it was no larger and bore no more distinction than the others.
I paused in front of the curtained entrance, hesitating. The Sheikah didn't knock – in truth they had nothing to knock upon. I'd noted the Sheikah's complete disregard for privacy; the heavy curtains drawn over doors seemed to be purposed more toward keeping out wind and dust rather than prying eyes.
When I pushed through the curtain and glanced around, I was surprised to see not only Impa seated at the little table but Lena, too. Usually Lena's presence here meant that the day's training would be physical, but I was sure that Impa had said something about today being dedicated to religious lessons.
They'd obviously been conversing, but as I entered they fell silent. Lena scowled and leaned forward, grabbing onto my pants and using them to pull me toward her. She turned me with firm hands on my shoulders and began rapidly re-braiding my hair. I imagined it was a bit of a mess…
"Today you will seek out Sahas and begin your instruction with him," said Impa, gesturing when Lena had finished that I should sit. I did so, rolling my sore shoulders back, and knit my brow. So now I was to learn from Sahas? What else could I possibly stuff into my poor overworked brain? I said nothing, however, merely nodded wearily. I was also supposedly to start weapons training with Sheik when Lena deemed me ready. It seemed more than I could manage; but then again, so had what I'd accomplished so far.
Impa tapped a finger on a crisp map laid over the table. She slid the tip of one nail from the castle south, veered to the east before she could reach the Hylian River, and then cut across the Zora River toward Kakariko. She tapped a space a few miles east of the fledgling city.
"Here is where we entered the Shadow Road," she said, and then trailed her fingertip northward into a small outcrop of mountains in the cusp between the Byrnan, Eldin and Zora Rivers. She tapped the centre of these small mountains, a space between great peaks.
"This is Kakeruta, the sister of Kakariko and our new home. This peak to the east of us is Redroc's Bluff. Sahas awaits you there."
I nodded, glad to be offered the respite of a morning walk. The spring was slowly churning toward summer and all was in full bloom; I would be relieved to see it. After a period of silence, Lena nudged my back.
"Well, get on, then," she said, and I found myself stumbling back out of the tent into the first light of the morning sun. I turned back in confusion but found no sympathy in her gaze. Apparently, I was to find Sahas on my own. I had never, in my entire life, gone so far and so long by myself – but Impa knew that. Perhaps she thought that it was time to foster my sense of self-sufficiency.
I enjoyed the solitude of the walk immensely and took more time that I probably should have. I took time to bask in the morning call of birds, the hum of insects, the sway of grass. The sun was not up yet, but the sky was growing lighter as I walked. A steep incline led up onto a large, rounded plateau of bare rock. It was like the mountain was rearing its head, a bird lifting its beak as it prepared to take flight.
"Young Penka," a voice called, and I turned to see the old man himself standing several yards away, gazing out over the edge of the cliff. Strange, I thought, for his voice had sounded so very close by my ear.
I made my way to his side and watched in silence as the sunlight crept slowly over the land, falling upon tall trees that cast long needles of shadow. It was beautiful. The mountain provided an excellent vantage point over the great valley that formed the kingdom's centre, and far away I could see the dotted blanket of distant houses that I knew to be Kakariko. Kakariko Village was nestled in the arms of the massive Death Mountain range, surrounded on three sides; the only way in and out was by way of a narrow pass upward into the higher land on which the village rested. It was an extremely defensible position, as I'd come to see from my recent training with Impa. That was doubtless why she had found it necessary to make it available to refugees – even if there weren't any yet, it seemed inevitable that the people of the capitol would have to flee. Ganondorf possessed the Triforce of Power, and I knew where his greedy gaze would fall first.
Sahas rummaged in a bag at his belt and pulled free a colourful object, but hid it behind his back before I could see. The old man had a markedly light-hearted demeanour compared to the other members of the tribe.
"First thing's first," he began, and bowed slightly in greeting. "I am Sahasraksa, elder of the Sheikah, but you may call me Sahas. Everyone else does, so if you didn't, I'd say you'd look rather silly."
I giggled. Just as well, I thought. I doubted that I could remember to put all of those syllables together in the right order anyway.
"Penka," I introduced myself, imitating his stiff, shallow bow at the waist. He smiled at my mimic and then seemed to recall what he had been doing.
"Here," he said, holding out a painted wooden mask that resembled the face of a hawk. "Wear this and look to Kakariko."
I took the mask and, tentatively holding it to my eyes – it was too big for my child's face – gazed toward the village. When I jumped, holding the mask away from me in surprise, Sahas chuckled. Dark little lines formed at the corners of his ruby-red eyes. I gazed at him in surprise.
"It is magic, yes?" I asked, lifting the mask to look through once more. Now I took my time, smiling with glee as the very distant rooftops of Kakariko came within my sight, surprisingly detailed. The effect was very much like that of a telescope. I could even make out the tiny figures of carpenters on beams, labouring to build new homes.
My heart swelled with sudden unexpected pride. These were industrious people, hard-working and optimistic people: my people. And this land, beautiful and lush, was as much my mother as its King was my father. The feeling ripped through me, intense, bright, leaving me breathless.
Sahas watched me quietly, seeming to sense my awe. He spoke only after a long time, though when he did, his voice was calm and quiet. It seemed to blend in with the ambient morning noises around us.
"Yes, it is magic," said Sahas simply, taking the mask from me as I handed it to him and tucking it away into a little reddish-brown bag that looked far too small for it – surely a jabus bag. Rare and quite coveted, the bags were made from the elusive jabus fish (Lord Jabu-Jabu was a very old and very large specimen from among that breed); these fish had the natural ability to magically shrink whatever they swallowed in order to make more room. As such, bags made from their stomachs had the same effect.
With a nod of his head, Sahas indicated that I should follow him back toward the village. I deflated a little to think that I had travelled all that way for the benefit of only a few minutes to enjoy the view; but then I rethought. The love of my kingdom and its people ever so present in my heart had played second fiddle to my aching joints and pressing fears, these last few weeks. By taking the journey alone, I had built confidence. By standing at a distance and taking a look at the beauty before me, so very worth defending, I had gained determination and strength I was surprised I had. It had been worth it.
We walked together in silence, and I noticed that although the old man employed a thin wooden staff while walking, he seemed to have no difficulty outpacing me. I had to hurry to keep up with him.
My eyes drifted inevitably to the sleeping hero as we entered the small dark tent in which he rested, but Sahas pressed on, leading me through another doorway and into an even smaller room. Against the far wall was a crudely made wooden table on which rested a small reddish pouch, a bracelet of gold inscribed with the symbol of the Goron race, and the small sword and wooden shield that Link had been wearing when I'd met him months before. Beneath the table, leaning against the wall, was a familiar Hylian shield bearing Hyrule's crest.
The symbol was that of a great bird, now unfortunately extinct. According to legend, Hylians originally lived among the clouds. Instead of horses, their companions in travel, trade and battle were rocs. The symbol was also present in my family's crest, though ours incorporated the three triangles of the Triforce.
Sahas pulled up a wooden chair beside the door and sat, indicating that I should turn my attention to the left wall. Alongside it ran a low shelf; across it, shining and fierce, laid the Master Sword. I bit down on the inside of my cheek and stared, openly fascinated. It looked so new, even though I knew that it was ancient… and it seemed to crackle with an eager energy, though I could not detect any physical manifestation that might have given that impression.
"The Hero," began Sahas, and I turned to show that he had my full attention. "Chosen One of Farore…" He smiled slowly, his red eyes glittering in the strange, dim light cast from the stone walls. "Appropriately, he always seems to appear wearing green."
I laughed at the unexpected humour; it was definitely the first I'd heard from a Sheikah's lips, and I'd been here almost a month.
"The Hero of the Skies is also called the Chosen One of Farore," I said, still smiling. I settled myself onto the dust-covered floor and crossed my legs. I'd definitely been picking up some unladylike habits… but then, that wasn't entirely new.
"It is because they are one and the same," said Sahas, as calmly as if it were no great news. My eyes widened.
"So, wait – you mean to say that… that Link is the same Link from the legend? But Impa knew his mother. He can't possibly be that old!"
"But he is. Though his physical form has regenerated and his memory has regressed, the Hero is an immortal being who will live many lifetimes and fight many battles. Allow me to explain. Or rather… perhaps I should show you."
Sahas lifted his hand and swirled it in the air; after it trailed a puff of smoke that hadn't been there before. A few more flicks of his hand and a formidable cloud had been formed. I leaned back and watched with wide eyes as he snapped his fingers, and many coloured sparks lifted into the cloud, lighting and moulding it. I could swear that… just almost… I could see…
I gasped as the picture became clearer. I saw, shimmering on the smoke, a gathering of grim men in ceremonial robes. The scene clearly depicted a complicated ceremony of some sort, though it was dreadfully hard for me to discern the purpose. The lines of the symbol of the Triforce, one triangle within another, had been drawn in white sand upon the ground. Three of the men stood with arms outstretched, forming the corners of the outer triangle. Three men similarly stood upon the points of the inner triangle, but their purpose seemed different. Two faced each other, and facing them from another corner stood a man who held a large, ornate glass lantern. Between them, in the centre of the Triforce, was a low, round stone table that looked unnervingly familiar.
"You see the Ancient Sages of the Outer Order, the first of the six appointed by destiny to serve the Goddesses as guardians of their creation. Since then, as you know, their destined successors have been called to the duty whenever great evil comes to Hyrule. But the Sages anticipated that in times of crisis, their successors may need some extra help."
Although I couldn't hear anything, I saw the lips of the three moving in what appeared to be some sort of chant. The man holding the lantern seemed to be in some sort of a trance, for he occasionally nodded and swayed as if drunk.
"The three who stand in the points are the Sages of Forest, Fire, and Water. Now look to the three in the centre. The two that face one another are the Sages of Light and Shadow. Another faces them; he is the Sage of Spirit."
I squinted my eyes to get a better look at the lantern. How many times had I seen the relief on the walls of the Temple of Time, where the Sage of Spirit was depicting holding the Spirit Lamp? This lantern was far more colourful than its tiny marble counterpart, with purplish glass and swirling filigree in gold and silver. Its design was exotic and enchanting.
Another man entered my range of sight, adorned differently than the others. He wore chain mail beneath his fine linen shirt and a sword rested at his hip. A dark red cape was draped across his shoulders, and trailed after him like the blazing tail on a shooting star. When I read about him, I'd always imagined that King Ekbrit would look like my father: golden, handsome and smiling. He was most definitely not. He was younger than my father and had softer, less angular features; yet he seemed in many ways older. His hair was darker and more unkempt, and his blue eyes held a steely, world-wizened gleam that bespoke the instincts of a man who knew war intimately – but behind the cold determination and unyielding dignity I saw a deep, lingering sadness. He was the second Sage of Time; the first had been his mother, also named Zelda.
Behind him trailed two more men in robes, struggling to carry between them a large bundle. I assumed that these men were the Sages of Earth and Wind, which together with the Sage of Time made up the three Sages of the Inner Order. As they drew further into the ring of Sages, I saw that their bundle was not a bundle. It was a man.
They laid their charge upon the stone table, arranging him with what seemed to be reverence and even affection. Now able to see him clearly, I could tell that he was ill. He was perhaps forty-something years of age, and quite handsome. A few small pale scars riddled his cheeks, but I could see that the structure of his face was noble and fine. His hair was a dark blond and stuck to his forehead with sweat. He was tall, lean and muscular: clearly a warrior. Beneath the plain white linen shirt, the rise and fall of his chest was shallow and slow. He must have been very near death.
"That man is the Hero of the Skies, first wielder of the Master Sword. He has sustained a fatal wound and requested that he not be healed."
"Why?" I asked breathlessly, watching as the Hero's eyelashes fluttered in a haze of fever. Whatever wound he had must have become badly infected.
Sahas smiled sadly. "You see there the King; not a Prince, but a King."
I didn't get his meaning. King Ekbrit had been a brave and just ruler of great renown; I couldn't imagine that the Hero would have disapproved so much that he would no longer wish to serve. In fact, Ekbrit looked severely saddened by the Hero's state. Sahas merely shook his head with a sad smile, letting the odd comment hang.
"Why are they healing him, then?" I asked, watching as the King took up a position between the Sages of Light and Shadow while those of Earth and Wind stood across from him. They had formed another triangle within the centre of the Triforce. With slow solemnity, the King drew a knife from a sheath at his right hip.
"They are not." Sahas watched my face as the Sage of Time tipped the Hero's head back and positioned the dagger beneath his right eye. I covered my mouth and flinched as the dagger was pressed downward, but with a wave of his hand Sahas dispersed the smoke and the image with it.
"The rest is a little gruesome, so I will spare you. The ceremony that you have seen being performed is derived from very dark and powerful magic. The magic, as with so many things, works in threes. Legend has it that the first Sage of Shadow gave his Timeless Form and the Sage of Light gave his Bright Spirit. With these two sacrifices, the Ancient Sages gave a new life to their Link and created the Hero – a man who could live and die but who was blessed with extraordinary strength and courage – to be an immortal weapon, who would be reincarnated when the Sages would be in need of him."
I shook my head, picking at the end of my braid. Did that make Link… less than human? More than human? Or was he simply a human brought into the world for an express purpose… like me?
"How did you show me that, if it happened so long ago?" I asked, pushing away the subject of Link for now. Were they telling me these things to educate me, or to make me feel less that Link's predicament was my fault? As much as I could see the logic, my chest still felt hollow and ached when I thought of it. Without me, he still might have had a childhood.
"Strong thoughts or feelings can often be imprinted upon an object, particularly when powerful magic is present. The memory that was imprinted on the White Blade that split the Sages' souls from their bodies was strong enough to present a clear image. I once touched that legendary blade and saw the memory; I have replayed what I remember to you."
"But how?" I blurted, then bit down on my tongue. I didn't want to seem too eager. Nonetheless, Sahas smiled slowly; obviously he saw right through my sudden seriousness.
"Ah. I see. Magic, of course, as you well know – and I imagine that you are eager to learn. But first, pray tell me… what is Impa teaching you?"
I lifted my eyebrows at the question. Didn't he know? Were Impa's plans and motives also being withheld from the rest of the tribe? Anyway, she'd never told me not to speak of it; and I could see no reason why I shouldn't tell him now.
"History, geography, languages… as she always has," I said, then thoughtfully tapping a finger on my knee I added, "Although now she also teaches me tactics."
Sahas knit his brows and nodded with a thoughtful "Hmmm." His eyes skimmed over my face, seeming to search for something, before he asked casually, "And has she told you why your education in these things is so important?"
Education was always important. Yet had she given a specific reason? No. I shook my head, expecting Sahas to tell me; but he didn't, merely smiled and nodded as if his questions had meant nothing at all.
"Impa has asked me to instruct you in religious matters and in the use of magic, as well as natural botany," He said, idly stroking his short white beard. "Are you agreeable to this?"
Of course, I thought. What other option did I have? I had to trust Impa. Either way, the idea of learning to use magic was understandably thrilling. I nodded my assent.
Sahas nodded in answer and held out his hand. "Teaching you will be far different from teaching any other, I suspect," he said as I placed my right hand in his; he gripped it and leaned forward, squinting. The mark of the Triforce of Wisdom was like a pale scar on my hand, barely visible.
"And with that, we begin your first lesson: that this is only one of the sources of power hidden within you."
"Power is present inside of every living thing; it is the power to breathe, to think, to exist. All power is derived from the Goddesses and is of its own merit neither good nor evil; it is the heart of the being that serves as a filter, twisting the power within to either create or destroy. Magic, then, is in itself a sort of neutral life energy – do you understand?"
I watched Sahas intently, my mind going over and over the words he spoke, mulling and handling with careful concentration. Slowly, without my realizing it, I began to unwind the white linen wrap that guarded my feet. The first sentences out of his mouth had turned my existing concept of magic completely on its head; now I felt disoriented.
"So even insects have magic?" I asked, just to clarify. My teacher nodded.
"All living things contain life force – and magic is a part of that life force. However, not all beings contain the ability to bend it to their will or to draw it from other things, and those that do have varying talent and skill. Thus, it is most often transferred through receptacles… artefacts. Though they are living things, they are like algae; they are not created to think, but to contain and channel magic energy toward a predetermined purpose. Energy, channelled steadily from the Goddesses and through willing donators, can eventually create an awesome well of reserved power."
"Like the Triforce," I said quietly, rubbing my hand.
"We will get to that," Sahas said, holding up his hand. "The example that I wanted to give is one of the imphaka that the royal family possesses as a symbol of dominion over outlying countries – say for example Byrna. Long ago, talented mages used their energy to create it much as a blacksmith labours to create a horseshoe. They created it with inherent abilities and a certain degree of intelligence so that when it no longer had their energy, it could rely on that of the user to carry out its purpose. It has the ability to protect the user from harm, but only so long as he can maintain the energy needed to use it.
"The imphaka is like the Triforce in that it is an object containing magic, but it does not approach its power by a fraction. This is because the Triforce was created by the Goddesses themselves and therefore serves as a direct, unlimited channel from them to the holder."
"Wait," I said, holding up my hand to halt the bombardment of information, "Am I to believe that I have at my disposal a store of magical power so great that I could wipe out an army if I so wished?"
Sahas knit his brow, looking truly concerned. The frown made his features sharp, and I wanted to flinch away. He could be soft and grandfatherly one moment and fierce as a hawk the next.
"Hopefully," he said sternly, "You would not so wish it. An army is made up of many individuals, each not necessarily fighting against the cause of goodness and peace. To wipe out an army with such flippant will would be the act of a thoughtless child."
I raised my chin, my pride hurt. What was he suggesting? "I was merely clarifying; I never suggested that I would wish to do it. In fact, I would not. Rest assured."
"Either way," Sahas began again, speaking slowly, "You lack the knowledge and the skill to harness that energy. As you are now, you are like a swordfighter with a perfect blade and no arms."
"But you will teach me," I said, trying to soften my stance. I'd tensed with defensive indignation when he'd seemed to suggest that I would thoughtlessly exterminate thousands. The result could be called peace, but it would truly only be a silence: one filled with blood, resentment and shame.
Sahas seemed to study my face for a long moment and then relaxed as well, nodding solemnly. "I will teach you," he affirmed, "starting with the basics. Using magical objects with caution and discretion, first; magical objects are designed to draw on your own energy as you make use of them and so will guide the process on its own. And then… meditation. You shall not be able to draw out and shape any energy at all without the proper ability to concentrate."
Meditation? That sounded easy enough. And as for artefacts…
"What kind of magical objects?" I asked, smiling. My curiosity had been roused by the mask that morning; obviously that was what he had intended.
"There are countless magical objects of varying power and purpose scattered throughout the kingdom. Some occur naturally or are made from natural things, like a jabus bag; others are created, crafted to serve a specific purpose. The Goron's Bracelet, for example," he said, gesturing to the golden bracelet resting on the nearby shelf among Link's other possessions. "Increases the physical strength of the wearer. It has other magical properties as well, as most objects will; namely, it can expand or shrink to fit the wrist of the one who wears it."
"Who makes these things?"
"Magical items are exceptionally difficult to create, as they require absolute focus of attention and will while simultaneously sculpting a physical shell. Thus, only very skilled sorcerers will have any success. Many artefacts, you will find, have been made by the Sheikah in Kakariko."
"The gossip stones," I said, "will I learn to use those?"
"Yes, but only to watch. We have often used them as portals in the past, but we are sure that they are being monitored by Ganondorf's minions. We cannot be too careful in times like these."
"Ah, yes…" I said, my mood immediately sinking at the unexpected reminder of my current predicament.
"Hmm," Sahas said, observing my sinking spirits. "Perhaps we should start with meditation after all."
This time, I didn't sigh. I didn't squirm or frown or whine. I knew, by now, that it would do no good. It was a pattern that we'd established and repeated, over and over, at least fifty times now: I would recite the nine tiers of the Sacred Hierarchy of our religion, never considered an easy task, and he would direct me to start over again. My voice was growing hoarse. The scripture was ingrained in my brain by now, more so than it had ever been. In my head rang nothing but levels and names and numbers, bouncing around and formulating as they poured from my lips.
"The Three Goddesses: Din, Farore and Nayru.
"The Aspect Guardians: Earth, Two Turtles; Wind, Two Frogs; Forest, Four Trees; Water, Four Fish; Fire, Two Dragons; Shadow, Four Demons; Light, Four Spirits; Spirit, Two Snakes; and Time, Four Giants.
"Sages of the Outer Order: of Forest, Fire, Water, Light, Shadow and Spirit.
"Sages of the Inner Order: of Time, Earth and Wind.
"Oracles: of Din, Farore and Nayru.
"The Free Races,
"and the Undead."
Suddenly Sahas stretched one hand out over my head and with the other indicated the Jabus bag on the nearby shelf. "Retrieve that bag," he said quickly, before I'd even drawn a breath to begin again.
With my droning pattern (so fully the object of my concentration for the last two hours) suddenly removed, my mind wiped blank and all that remained was the impulse to follow the order. I directed my will to retrieve it but found in a confusing moment that I could not move a muscle; and yet I watched as, wavering and dragging, the bag flopped from the shelf and made its way jerkily across the dirt-covered floor to tap my bare foot.
Sahas let his hand fall back into his lap and relaxed back into his chair, watching as my body sagged in the absence of his magic and shock and amazement registered in turns across my face. I was too preoccupied with the idea that I'd moved something without touching it to care that, essentially, he'd just tricked me. He was a competent teacher… and I felt exhausted.
"You are still drawing on your own power, which is limited. That will be your natural instinct. You must learn to empty your mind of all but will; then you shall be able to do far more than move a bag a few feet."
I smiled wearily at him, beginning to take up and rewrap the linen strips I'd removed from my feet earlier. Tonight would be my turn to cook. Lena was hardly a top chef herself, but she was obviously doing her best at teaching me. While we worked around the house she would quiz me on 'our family'; and that was the worst bit, however simple, of all of this training. 'Who is your father?' she would ask, and I would have to swallow all of my sorrow and worry and answer that my father was Morik, even as I missed and longed for my real father. Denying him stung like a swarm of bees trapped in my ribcage.
"Where do you think you're going?" Sahas asked, and I halted near the door.
"Aren't we… done?" I asked, sagging. As exciting as the prospect of learning magic was, I had found that in fact it was exhausting work.
"Not by any stretch of the imagination," he laughed, gesturing for me to sit back down. I did so with a heavy sigh, which he ignored completely.
"Now, let us see if you can put the bag back…"
At dusk, I managed to make my way to Lena's tent with a gait that much suggested that I was dragging my own body behind me. She didn't turn to look at me as I entered, just gestured to the produce she'd gathered on the low table near the fire pit.
"It's your night," she said simply, "and I thought that a stew would be appropriate."
I groaned. Stews and cereals, cereals and gruel, every single night. If I'd known that the shadow guardians of the kingdom had so little to feed themselves, I'd have had a firm talk with my father. Well, I thought firmly, there will be time for that yet.
When we finally sat down to eat, Lena pointedly sniffed at my gooey creation and made a face. I narrowed my eyes but said nothing, enthusiastically digging into my own bowl and struggling as I did not to make a face myself.
When we were finished and I sat on the floor scouring the kettle, Lena did the unthinkable: conversed.
"How went your training with Sahas?"
I looked up at her, standing and staring out the door with a faraway gaze, in surprise. A lark gave a mournful cry somewhere out in the night. She gave me a sharp glance at the long silence and I quickly went back to work on the cleaning up.
"Well enough," I shrugged, "though for such a supposedly powerful entity, I have an outrageously difficult time so much as moving across the room magically."
"That's no surprise," she said, once again staring out the open doorway. "My talent never lay that way, but Sahas always said that learning magic was like…"
"Learning to dance with two left feet," Sheik finished for her as he entered, pulling the curtain firmly shut behind him. His eyes swept over me and then went to Lena. Something silent seemed to pass between them, and then Sheik jerked his head toward the door. Lena nodded, almost imperceptibly.
Feeling left out of the loop, I said quietly, "You're just in time to witness a miracle. Lena's decided to be chatty tonight," and laughed nervously. Sheik smiled at me, but it seemed distracted and unnatural. Forced. Lena was busy rewrapping her wrists, and she too looked distracted. I heard faint rustling outside, and the murmur of many voices. When a gust of wind caught the curtain on the door, Sheik held out his arm to block it; but I was able to catch a glimpse of movement beyond.
My smile disappeared. "The tribe is mobilizing," I said, my throat constricted. I turned to Lena, feeling somehow… betrayed. "You were trying to distract me," I added needlessly, my voice rising in volume.
I leapt up without hesitation and charged toward the door, but Sheik caught me in his arms. "Penka, stay inside!" He said, trying to hold onto me as I struggled against him.
Realising that there was no way that I would be able to overpower him, I straightened and glared into his eyes.
"Sir," I said darkly, my voice no longer that of a scared little girl. "Release me this instant." He stared wide-eyed into my eyes silently for several moments and I held his gaze, unwavering. "That's an order," I snapped, and he released his hold on my arms abruptly.
No one tried to stop me as I raced toward the cliff on which I'd stood just that morning with Sahas, now dark and treacherous in the failing light. I skid to a halt beside the edge and fell to my knees, staring down at the sight of Kakariko aflame. The budding city was like a hearth of glowing embers in the night.
"Come away from the edge." I jumped as Sheik gently gripped my elbow, trying to pull me away from the scene.
"Has the capitol already been taken?" I asked, hoping against hope.
"No," said Sheik, "the people still fight. Our allies in Labrynna march to join them as we speak."
"How did they take Kakariko? How could they possibly have gotten men up the pass?" The village had never fallen. It had stood for countless years, mysterious and invincible.
"They need only have snuck in one man. What has overtaken Kakariko is an ancient demon," said Sheik, still holding my elbow. "Resurrected by Ganondorf."
"Resurrected?" I asked, shaking his hand from my elbow. He only stepped closer, but this time he didn't touch me. I wasn't sure that I really wanted to know; but I had to keep him talking. I needed a voice of reason. I needed to feel something other than powerless.
"He was once one of our kind, a drummer, and lived in the village. He had a strange ability to always, unfailingly, see the truth… and it drove him insane. He was condemned and executed for murder. To remove the hands that committed the deed and the head that conceived of it: that is the way of our laws. But dark magic existed in him. He was sealed away, deep in the earth. Ganondorf has found him and unleashed his insane wrath upon Kakariko."
I don't know how long we stood in silence, gazing down at the wreckage that was the budding village of Kakariko.
"Sheik," I finally said, watching the fires of Kakariko flicker. "I should be down there helping them."
"Someday you will be strong enough," he said, his voice just as flat and cold as it always was despite the comforting words. "Someday the Hero of Time will awaken, and the fires of this war will cool."
I closed my eyes against tears, my eyes stinging from the smoke.
"Someday… I think that that is the saddest word in our language. There is so much longing and false promise in that word, whether you are waiting for something pleasant or unpleasant."
Sheik took my elbow again and tugged, but I refused to budge.
"Someday," I said sadly, turning at last to look at him with bloodshot eyes. "But people are dying today."
"Be still, Inta," I murmured, trying to cut straight across the girl's hair even as she turned her head this way and that.
"But I want to see!" the young Sheikah whined, still craning her neck to see out the window to the ceremonial gathering outside. I sighed, exasperated, and put a fist on my hip.
"If you aren't still, Inta, I might cut it all off!" I threatened, and she stilled. But not without one final quip.
"Well, hurry up, Penka, or we'll miss it."
I laughed and finished up, cutting a straight line through her long golden hair right at the line of her jaw. All of the women in the village now sported this same bob, myself included. It was a ritual for all of us to cut our hair together, every three years; I didn't know why. I supposed that it was a tradition to encourage a feeling of unity. My hair grew at an extraordinary rate, so I'd taken to braiding and wrapping it to keep it out of the way during combat. It wasn't just the women who had their rituals, of course. In fact, that was the source of poor Inta's agitation: Sheik was coming of age, and she was missing the ceremony.
At six years old, Inta was the youngest of us and therefore had to go last – I'd volunteered to stay and cut her hair so that Impa could begin with Sheik. Our three-year mid-summer ceremony happened to share a date with Sheik's birthday… and this was his sixteenth.
As soon as I was done, Inta was up and dragging me out the door. She and the other children – though she most of all, for she was only two when I came – treated me, for the most part, as one of them. As far back as they could remember I'd been present, and so they found it easier than adults to overlook my blue eyes and pale (in comparison) skin. But what I think mattered most was that they didn't know who I truly was. Maybe each of them knew that I was not truly a Sheikah, but they hadn't been told that I was the Princess; and so the careful, guarded reverence that the rest of the tribe seemed unable to shake was not present with them. I appreciated it.
The circle around Sheik and Impa widened as Inta and I nudged our way through. Ceremonies like this were always looked forward to because they involved a small feast afterward, but this one in particular was special because it was Sheik: his coming of age meant that, at least officially, he was our leader. Impa had commanded the tribe up until then purely upon respect; she was Sheik's father's sister, and it was through his mother that the line of power descended.
None of us imagined that Sheik's coming of age would make much difference. He and Impa were almost always in accord; the exception, of course, usually involved me.
We all watched as Impa knelt to heat a long steel needle over a small torch, stuck firmly into a hole that had been painstakingly carved out of the hard mountain soil. The children tittered, their eyes wide, as Impa lifted the red-hot needle to Sheik's ear and without a moment's hesitation pushed it through the lobe. Sheik took in a slow deep breath, but not a twitch marred his stoic expression. She pierced the other ear just as quickly and then, after holding a small scrap of cloth to each for a short period, slipped two small silver hoops into the holes.
I flinched, remembering how unpleasant getting my own ears pierced had been. It'd been done when I was younger than Inta; four, in fact. I was the only woman in the tribe with pierced ears, though all grown men sported them – it was, oddly enough, a direct opposite to Hylian culture.
It was a silent, concise little ceremony, devoid of pleasantries or fine speeches or toasts. We who were standing knelt to one knee and those who had been sitting rose to join us, and we bowed our heads. Impa bowed deeply. Sheik, imperiously cold as always, seemed entirely unaffected by the momentous display of respect. The actual ceremony completed, we all began an eager retreat to the collection of blankets on which rested covered pots of steaming food.
I found my family's blanket and plopped down beside Lena, folding my legs. Our contribution to the feast was to be cleaning up afterward, so our blanket was the only one devoid of food. Although it remained unsaid, I knew that this duty had been assigned – and created – for the sole purpose of keeping either Lena or I from presenting our barely palatable cooking.
Every Sheikah family possessed a thick woollen blanket woven with symbols and accounts of their members, lineage and lives. Usually these blankets formed one wall of the family tent, but on days like today they were taken down and laid out for sitting and eating in comfort. Our blanket had begun with Lady Malina of the Knights and her notable deeds – battles fought, beasts bested, important people slain – and descended likewise down through the generations, all the way down to Morik and his children: Lena and Penka. Lena had a few battles to her name, as well as honours as the best empty-hand fighter in the village. Penka had achieved only a note for her skilled marksmanship. The fact that under my ownership, the name of Penka continued to be associated with outstanding skill with the bow was a matter of pride to me. Aside from making sure that Lena took care of herself and didn't indulge in drink, it was my ongoing way of thanking Penka for the use of her identity.
Sheikah didn't marry and it was generally looked down upon for them to beget children with another member of the tribe. They chose mates of particular valour or strength of character from among Hylians and took only the children that were born Sheikah. A child was either a Sheikah or not and had an equal chance of being either. Apparently a child born of two Sheikah had just as much chance of being Sheikah but half the chance of being Hylian – the other quarter of the time, as I understood it, the child was an 'abomination.' When I'd asked Sahas what he meant by abomination, he hadn't wished to elaborate. Either way, it was for this reason that the various lines of Sheikah descent went centuries without much intermingling. There were originally sixteen lines of descent, but only seven now remained. Sheik was the very last of the line of Sheikah Lords. His coming of age meant much to the tribe.
Sheik came to sit beside me, and both Lena and I looked up at him in shock. In the four years that I'd been here, he'd remained invariably aloof. It wasn't uncommon for him, but I'd seen him joke and converse in comfort with others from time to time. With me, however, he was always stiff, formal and unemotional. I supposed he'd never forgotten our initial differences… or been able to forget exactly who I was. And no matter how I tried to be friendly, my defence was always to respond in kind.
"Penka," he addressed me, tossing a roll of bread and catching it as he often did with stones when he was particularly thoughtful or stressed. "Meet me in the field after you've finished cleaning."
I pursed my lips in distaste, nodding despite my disappointment. I'd assumed that the ceremony would warrant a holiday from weapons training, given that all of the other Sheikah youth were exempt. Apparently Sheik had decided not to give me any time off. He stared at me for several moments more as if waiting for me to voice an objection, but I ignored him to accept a piece of goose meat from Inta, who was proud to have helped cook for the first time.
Seeing that I was going to say no more to him, Sheik left our small group to sit beside Sahas and his two daughters. I watched him covertly, noting resentfully how he smiled and conversed with them, his hands moving in avid animation as he spoke.
"Why does he dislike me so much?" I asked Lena, holding the piece of meat daintily in my fingers and taking small bites. It was a habit I was never going to break.
She shrugged her shoulders, not bothering to hide a sly smile as she dug in. "Maybe because you gave him a sucker punch in lieu of an introduction," she suggested blandly, "or because you're a stuck-up little brat who doesn't know how to chew with more than two teeth."
I summoned a deku seed into my hand from my bag and tossed it at her, hitting her square in the temple. She dropped her plate, which luckily landed without spilling too much, and turned a violent glare on me.
I was wise enough to have been running as fast as I could before she realised where the seed had come from.
It was night by the time Lena and I had finished up. I rubbed my closed eyelids in weary resignation as I trudged along the downward path of the southeastern face of Death Mountain toward the wide field that lay at its base. I could have warped, but I didn't like using magic outside of necessity. The Sheikah used it as seldom as possible, and I tended to honour that tradition.
I followed the tremulous, gentle sound of harp strings being plucked to a large boulder on the side of a mountain stream. Sheik was perched atop it, staring stone-faced into the stars as he played upon the small golden harp he was so skilled with.
As I approached I knit my brow, staring up into his face. How could he play music filled with such passion and longing and still maintain that severe expression? He'd been a handsome boy, but adulthood had only made him more beautiful. He was still thin and lithe, but no longer could he be called skinny. His brown brows were constantly fixed together in a frown, his crimson eyes sharp and unyielding. They had an exotic tilt to them and were framed by thick, almost feminine lashes. Yet he had a very masculine jaw and relatively thin lips, ever pressed into a severe line. His golden hair still fell into his face, made stringy with sweat and dust and messy with constant activity. Yes, he'd grown into a fine man. But he didn't know how to let go of past injuries… and neither did I, apparently.
"You're at an advantage," I said abruptly, startling him. Only the Sheikah could sneak up on other Sheikah, and I'd become quite adept. Even so, I'd never have been able to surprise him if he'd been on his guard. Despite his surprise, he did not jump; merely crouched, tucking his harp away in one fluid motion and fixing his wary gaze on me. He relaxed only infinitesimally when he recognised me.
"How so?" He asked, jumping nimbly from the rock and approaching quietly. His steps made no sound whatsoever.
"The dark," I said, gesturing around us. The moon above was only a sliver and sent down very little light. A Sheikah could see just about as well as a cat, but my eyes were far more limited.
He looked about as if he hadn't noticed the fall of night and then nodded thoughtfully. "Then let's even the odds, shall we?" he said, fixing his eyes on me again. He untied the cloth belt he wore and detached his jabus bag and two sai, laying them on the ground as he wrapped and tied the strip of black linen around his eyes.
I crossed my arms, not satisfied. I wasn't entirely blind, after all. While he tied his I quickly followed suit, unwrapping my own belt and laying down my bag and blade to tie it around my eyes.
I heard him pick up his weapons and lifted mine, spinning it once in my hands. Two silent warriors fighting without sight… this would be interesting. I bowed, trusting that he would do the same, and went into a fighting stance. For several moments, the only sound was the crickets and night creatures. Then, below it, I heard the delicate, barely detectable fall of a foot and the slice of a blade coming from my right.
The night rang with the clash of metal, quick successive strokes as we danced across the clearing under the stars. Countless days we'd waltzed to the music of blades, countless frosty dawns and sweltering dusks. The Sheikah traditionally started learning combative arts at the age of eight, so Sheik had spent twice as long training as I had; but though I seemed always to be on the defensive, I could now hold my own against him. I would never be able to best his strength and we were matched in speed, but I was more tactically minded and could think quickly. Tricky, Lena called me. Neither of us were going to give any quarter.
We fought long and hard, dancing inward and out, striking and parrying and then parting to come together again. I had learned to let my mind sleep when my blade was in my hand. There was only me and him and the whirr of steel and air. There was no room for fear or second-guessing: only cutting, swiping, dodging, halting, slicing. I had gotten good. But he was better.
His sai caught my blade and he managed to twist it away. It was too quick to counter, the blade was out of my hands, and I suddenly felt the tiny prick of a weapon point against my throat. It held for a moment while we panted, realising only now that the dance had ended how much effort it had taken. Finally he dropped the point and we removed the blindfolds, collapsing to sit on the grass and gasp in the night.
I didn't like losing. It was more than pride. Every loss represented death, a sharp edge at my throat, the end of all our hopes. To lose in practice was an ill omen come the real thing.
I let out a long breath and flopped onto my back, staring up at the endless sea of stars above me. Sheik looked down at me, a silhouette defined by blocking out the light of stars. He was silent, so I turned to look at him. Even though I couldn't see the details of his face, I knew that he could see me quite well.
"Won't you play something? You play beautifully."
He didn't say anything, just continued to stare. I began to feel awkward. I had just been making an effort to be nice; would it be rejected? I felt my cheeks going red. Finally he turned away to retrieve his harp from his bag. He held it gingerly, as if unsure. He seemed almost… shy. It was a part of Sheik I'd never even imagined possible.
"Where did you get it?" I asked, trying to ease his tension. The harp was beautiful and entirely gold. It was far finer a thing than anything I'd seen any of the other Sheikah with. They seemed to prefer simple, handmade objects of sturdiness and utility.
He stroked the contours of the instrument affectionately. "It is very, very old. It belonged to the mother of Hyrule's first king."
"Zelda," I supplied, almost petulantly. Sheik's whole body tensed, and I saw his eyes glitter dangerously in the dark as he turned them on me.
"Yes," he ground out, clearly angry at my indiscretion. "Zelda."
I realised suddenly that I had never before heard him speak my name – my true name. Even now he was not referring to me, but it sent a tingle up my spine. I half wanted to ask him to say it again. He was right, though; saying it, alone as we were, even not in reference to myself, could be dangerous. There were ears everywhere.
He said nothing more, but after a moment's hesitation plucked one string. Then another. Like water breaking loose from a dam, the music flowed out with ever more strength. I let myself be carried away, staring up at the sea of stars above me; they seemed to tremble and dance in the flood of his song.
But it ended abruptly.
Sheik suddenly gripped my arm, frozen. I looked around warily; if he had detected a quiet approach, it was either one of our own or something to worry about. Most of the beasts that had flooded Hyrule after the Sacred Realm became dark were loud and careless. Those that weren't…
The call of a lark set us at ease, and soon Lena emerged silently from the brush. The look on her face repelled our relief swiftly; we remained as still and silent as statues as she crept towards us.
She settled low in the grass beside Sheik and I heard her whisper something at his ear, but I couldn't catch the words. I saw his red eyes flash like a cat's in the dark when he turned to me. His expression was grim. He leaned in to whisper to me, supposedly to relay the message. The crickets had stopped chirping, and no night birds raised a call. All was uncannily silent.
The stillness of the night was broken by a sudden rolling of the earth; all three of us clung to the ground as it tossed and rumbled in the worst earthquake I'd ever experienced. A sudden light burst over us, casting an army of shadows in sharp relief and draining the colour from our surroundings.
It happened all too fast. Comprehension was slow, the situation dreamlike. I saw Ganondorf coming toward us on his demon steed, and my heart seized in my chest. Yet his face was wrong – demonic, twisted, animal – and I doubted my own senses. But Lena and Sheik were shouting. No sound seemed to exist as I stared into his blazing eyes, as I helped the others repel sudden bursts of light from his staff. He mouthed something around a laugh, his horrible teeth: Zelda… Fires kindled in the grass. A blast knocked me back and I felt the power of it rip through me, tearing at my very insides; my head struck a rock, but I was still conscious. Just barely.
Lena was yelling something: 'the Nocturne!' I think it was. Sheik fell upon the ground over me, shielding my body, and I heard the notes of his harp in a haunting refrain – purple sparks erupted around us and I clung to him, desperate, even as he pulled my arms from him.
The world seemed to be slipping away. As my vision faded into purple and black, an image burned into my mind: Lena, leaping in front of me to block the beasts' way, and being thrown to the side. As she fell, limp as a doll, I could have sworn that half of her face had been entirely removed. Everything was silence, though I know that I was screaming. And then nothing but black.
Everything was blurry when I woke, but I could make out brown – I wasn't sure what was up and what was down for a moment, and I groaned, cradling my throbbing head.
"So you're up," a gravely voice said, and I immediately sprung from lying down to crouching on the bed, my world still spinning but my hands held up to incapacitate whoever it was before they had a chance to act.
"Hold it! I'm on your side, girl!" The old man said, and as my vision finally cleared and stabilised I saw that I was in the tiny hut of a horrendously ugly man – but something in his beady black eyes set me at ease. Gruff and ugly, yes, but it was significant that his eyes rested in concern upon my bandaged head rather than on my hands. Sometimes watching where a person's eyes fell was the best way to tell what they wanted, what they were hiding, where they were about to attack…
"Goddesses," he murmured to himself as I relaxed and settled on the edge of the bed, lightly probing my skull with my fingers. He'd bandaged me up. My eyes flickered to him as he stared, looking a quarter afraid and otherwise fascinated.
"I've never heard of a blue-eyed Sheikah before," he said, settling in a creaky old chair. He was bent over so far, it barely took any height off of him to be sitting.
I watched as the thoughts flickered across his malformed face; in the end, he just looked grim and decided. I knew that my identity was obvious. Here I was, a Sheikah in clothing and in reaction, but with fair features and ocean-blue eyes. I hated how easily he had discovered my secret when I had successfully remained hidden for so long. My only wonder was that he was so calm in the face of his long-missing monarch.
"You would do well to bend your attention in a more mundane direction," I advised coldly, accepting the small cup of water that he presented to me and taking a sip. A smile broke out on his face, twisting it into even stranger shapes – and yet it seemed to reverse his ugliness, against all odds.
"M'name is Dampé, the gravekeeper. And…"
"You are loyal to your king?" I suggested, subtly warning him. I hadn't been allowed to mingle with anyone but the Sheikah in four long years, but I'd been permitted to watch quite a bit. And I'd learned that dissenting words drifted unnaturally on the wind.
Dampé laughed. "Oh, yes. The Great King Ganondorf. I look forward to the day when I can serve him personally, myself."
I smiled. The services of a gravedigger, eagerly offered – the ironic proclamation of fealty was immensely amusing and lightened my opinion of the man.
My smile melted as I remembered my last moments in the field. What had happened to Lena? Where was I? I stood suddenly and charged to the door, opening it among mumbled protests that I needed my rest. What met my gaze was a rising hill littered with stone, countless graves both fresh and ancient, all culminating in the royal tomb. I was in Kakariko's graveyard.
"I found you near the royal tomb," Dampé whispered beside me, holding his big hands vainly above my head to shield me from the torrential rain. I paid it no mind, charging up the hill through the mud, my bare feet slipping only slightly over the wet, worn cobblestones.
I came to a slippery halt in front of the royal tomb. The large stone was merely a placeholder; the crypt was far below my feet. Here rested my ancestors, my mother and my grandmother, my older brother – the corpse of a child. And my father.
In my mind's eye was a golden day, sunlight streaming through the windows, big hands under my arms spinning me, spinning me, our laughter in the halls…
"He was executed publicly, but Ganondorf allowed his burial. There was much pomp and circumstance, everyone came. It was a beautiful day, the sun shone, and every head was bared."
I hadn't been able to go. Impa suspected that a burial had been allowed for just that reason: to draw me out. I would never forget the agony of that quiet night, so like every other, when I had lain awake far into the night grasping desperately at my last remaining shreds of hope.
I crouched and sunk the tips of my fingers into the mud, closing my eyes. The rain flowed over my face and dripped from the tip of my nose, lining my lips, but I was elsewhere on a clearer day: riding in the fields of memory with a father that I would never see again.
The loneliness of that moment was crushing. There was nothing ahead or behind. All was lost, and now that my life as Penka had been discovered, I could return no more to the Sheikah; I was on my own. I had laid the Princess to rest what seemed like such a long time ago, and now, after a protracted period of half-living, Penka was allowed to die as well.
So who was I now? Where did I go? Nowhere was safe, nothing was clear. I was stumbling about in the dark, a little girl in a world of monsters; strange, then, that I represented the last dying hope of a country. How feeble that hope seemed on the shoulders of a nameless orphan.
"Come inside, sweetpea," Dampé said softly behind me. It had been a long time since I'd encountered true, unrestrained tenderness; but I wasn't sure that I wanted to let go of my grief just yet.
The sound of wings startled me from my moment of selfish despair, and I cast a suspicious glance at the black creature as it struggled away through the rain. The gravekeeper was right. Best to stay inside and hope that I hadn't already been seen, lest someone else come as easily to the conclusion that had given Dampé no trouble at all.
Back in the tiny hut, I was promptly wrapped up in woollen blankets and subjected to a change of bandages and some warm milk while Dampé told amusingly flat jokes.
At one point he pulled a strange metal contraption from under a floorboard and told me the humorous story of its finding (while digging a grave), then proceeded to entertain me at length by using it's projectile hook to pull the chair hither and thither across the room. When he was settled at his rickety desk, looking about ready to fall asleep, I jabbed him in the shoulder with my finger. He woke with a start and grunted.
"You wouldn't happen to have a mirror, would you?" I asked, and he smiled solicitously as he rummaged in a messy drawer filled with ink, papers and pens. Obviously he could read and write, though how he had learned I couldn't hazard a guess.
He pulled out a tiny mirror at long last, holding it out to me. "Here y'are, sweetpea."
Taking the looking glass from him, I held it up to peer at myself.
A bolt of nervous shock went through me at first sight of my face; the Sheikah did not keep mirrors, and so it had been four years since I'd last seen myself in anything clearer than a disturbed reflection in the stream. The change was enormous. My skin was lightly tanned, my short hair messy and damp, my clothes the dark, frayed and dust-covered raiment of the Sheikah. And my face… it was fast becoming the face of a woman, I could see, rather than a girl. And my eyes were so much sharper, more suspicious, more filled with grief. I looked older in more ways than one.
Rousing myself from my reverie, I concentrated on my reflection and gathered my will around me like a garment. As I cast the glamour and my eyes shifted to a warm brown colour, the gravekeeper gasped and leaned forward to stare into my face. I darkened the colour of my hair only slightly. I looked so different already that there was hardly a need for a dramatic disguise.
When I was done I set down the mirror and, feeling badly for stealing Dampé's bed, announced my intention to sleep. The hunched man was quick to snuff the light and I heard the chair creaking as he tossed and arranged himself into some semblance of comfort. It wasn't long before his snores filled the little hut.
I will not impose on him any longer than necessary, I thought decisively. And then exhaustion overtook me.
I woke at sunset to the smell of eggs. When I opened my eyes, I started at the sight of a grinning Dampé staring down at me. He bristled, but his smile didn't fade. He edged the plate of boiled and halved eggs he held closer.
"Eh, didn't mean to startle ya. This face o' mine can be a scare sometimes, but, eh – breakfast! There's a lady in town what raises chickens and she has a good heart, feeds me whatever chance I give 'er," he prattled as I took the eggs and a bent pewter fork and began to eat ravenously.
I smiled in gratitude and reassurance that the food was good, and he beamed like a child that had just received a pat on the head. Then he started. "Oh! An' I forgot, but she also lent me some clothes, I said me niece was stayin' and your clothes was all washed up with mud, so…"
He laid out a neatly folded pile of clothing as if he was presenting me with diamonds and then sat in the chair. I tried not to feel awkward as I ate and he continued to watch me with an expression of innocent albeit avid interest on his disfigured face. When I finished up he took my dishes and, prattling a bit more, backed out of the hut in order to let me change.
With Dampé gone, I picked up the clothes gingerly and held each piece at arm's length. Ah, proper ladies' under-things. That would take some getting used to again. It was the simple dress of a commoner. The lender had been taller than me and a bit wider in the bust and hips, but the leather belt that had been provided ensured that the long brown skirt stayed put. I tucked the light pink short-sleeved blouse into the skirt and pulled on wool stockings and a well-worn pair of boots.
I felt more confined and covered by this clothing than I'd felt in years; at first, the feeling was discomfiting. But feeling instinctively that I now blended in, I exited the hut with glee. Dampé was up the hill conversing with a child carrying a stick and wearing a roughly hewn wooden mask fashioned, I supposed, to resemble the face of a redead. As I watched, the young man pulled up the mask and pouted at Dampé. He looked to be about ten or eleven years old.
I reached them in time to hear the resounding argument, delivered heatedly in a high little voice: "But I am brave enough. I'm the man of the house! A little dirt don't scare me!"
Dampé looked like he'd had this conversation a hundred times before, but was surprisingly patient. "Aahh, ya know I won't go against your mama. She's scarier than any ghosts – if she says yes, then you can take the tour. Otherwise, you stay home after dark and mind your mama! Maybe next year. Ah, eh…"
He gestured to me and grappled for a name. I hadn't given him one to call me by. I hadn't thought of one, anyway. Finally giving up, he said simply, "My niece! Child, meet young Will."
Will eyed me speculatively, then took my hand and put a quick, wet kiss on the back of it, dropping it immediately afterward. "Nice ta meet'cha," he said, and I couldn't restrain a laugh. He looked between Dampé and I in disbelief.
"Sum'in went wrong somewhere," he murmured to himself. Dampé didn't seem insulted.
"I got all the ugly so as my sister could get all the pretty, see? And there it is. Now it's still damp and too early for the likes of me, so you scurry on home."
Will cast a defiant glance at the both of us, but he still turned tail and made his way out of the graveyard, pulling down the mask and tapping his stick in front of him as he went.
"Now," said Dampé to me, "Les'see if ya can dig a proper hole."
Two weeks. I was starting to feel comfortable, and that, ironically, set me on edge. My own ministrations had all but healed my head wound, much to the amazement of Dampé, and my host had managed to supply me with sparse compensation for my help in the graveyard. It had only been a short time, but I suspected that Dampé believed that my stay would be far more protracted; he seemed to take a great deal of pride in it, in fact. But he could barely cram himself into that little hut, let alone himself and a growing young woman.
I wasn't sure how I would break the news to him, but with every passing minute my conviction to leave grew – I was starting to consider simply making a clean break and leaving while he slept, however guilty the thought made me.
"There you go again, off into that little world of yours, and me just prattling on to nobody…"
I turned my now brown eyes to Dampé with an apologetic look. Beyond the fact that I was working hard to compensate the demands my residence put on the gravekeeper, the constant use of a glamour had a slow but sure draining effect on my energy. I felt sapped, fidgety and nervous. And I had no idea what had become of Lena or Sheik. I still had no idea what it was – that Ganondorf-but-not-Ganondorf – that had attacked us. But did that matter? I had to keep moving forward.
"I'm sorry, Dampé," I said, but no more. I still hadn't given him a name or an explanation; I knew that he suspected my royal identity, but I had said nothing to either deny or confirm this. He was housing a mystery. He'd taken to just calling me 'sweetpea,' and I couldn't help but be touched by his sincere and unguarded affection. His generosity – and indeed his bravery, for offering me aid could cost him dearly – was astounding.
Seeing that he'd extract no more conversation from me, he waved a big hand dismissively and went off muttering. I went back to work filling the shallow dirt patches that had been set aside for Dampé's evening 'tour' with prizes and covering them up again.
"Excuse me, miss," an unfamiliar man's voice said behind me.
I turned around, wary. I'd listened to him approach and remained on guard, but many people came to the graveyard to mourn or to arrange burials; I hadn't met a truly hostile person yet. The man who had spoken was a young Hylian, obviously recruited into Ganondorf's service – his pristine guard's uniform bore the Gerudo crest. I was immediately tense.
"I am looking for a Mr. Dampé," he said, his smile charming. His eyes flickered over my face. I straightened, still stone-faced. I was half-sure that I should take him down right then and there, but half of me was bent on continuing with the ruse. The latter half won out.
"My uncle," I said, and began to gesture toward the hut – but the man's hand shot out, intending to grab onto me. I swung my forearm and knocked his hand away, then struck quickly at his chest, knocking him back. He fell quickly but grabbed onto the hem of my skirt, pulling me down to the ground. He was on me in a moment, a fistful of my hair in his hand – as he watched, the strands in his fingers began to shine gold. I never had been very talented at maintaining a glamour while fighting. He laughed triumphantly, even as I kneed him squarely in the stomach and he doubled in pain.
A hard thwack resounded as Dampé's shovel made contact with my attacker's shoulder, and the force threw the man off of me. I rolled and leapt to my feet, but I wasn't quick enough to keep Dampé from pushing the attack. The soldier, ruthless and young and likely frightened of the gravekeeper, drove his knife into my benefactor's belly and yanked.
Dampé went sprawling on the ground, his hands clutching at the fatal wound in his abdomen. I dove over him, soldier be damned, and added the force of my hands to his. I knew that I wouldn't be able to save him, but I was at least able to magically remove most of the pain. He blinked up at me blindly and managed a small smile. "I'm not important. Get yerself safe, sweetpea," he croaked, blood bubbling up in his mouth to spill out the side where it drooped. Then he went still, and I felt my heart blacken and sink within my chest.
"I'll be getting quite a sum for you," the soldier coughed, holding his midsection. He was obviously very drained, and his shoulder looked dislocated. Still he shot me a smile, all too pleased with himself; he apparently thought he had me. He grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me off of my fallen friend.
His expression fell in surprise when I spun toward him, hating my cumbersome skirt and clunky boots. But all that was in my mind was the blank face of generous, joking Dampé… he didn't have to die.
I screamed it when I backhanded him across the jaw, grabbed his hair and slammed his face into my knee. His nose broke in a burst of blood; it seemed only to enrage him. He swung his bloody dagger at me, catching only my sleeve as I leapt out of the way. I stumbled on my skirts and feel onto my back, and he leapt onto me in a fit of angry brutality. He clawed at my neck, taking a grip and squeezing. My training finally kicked in and without thinking, I reached up to take his youthful face in both of my hands. His bones gave a jarring snap when I twisted; he fell limp atop me, his head hanging at a strange angle over my shoulder.
I pushed his weight off of me and stood, shaking in horror and revulsion. I panted as I stared down at the two bodies that lay so close to my ancestors' graves, feeling wave after wave of fear and grief overcome me. I knew instinctively that I must run, for I did not know if the guard had shared his suspicions about Dampé's sudden acquisition of a niece, but I suspected he hadn't; he'd been too cocksure, too personally triumphant, and either way I was determined to conclude this terrible business.
I smoothed their clothing and their hair, wiped the blood from my attacker's face with the tenderness of a lover, and then went to work burying them as quickly as I possibly could. I placed Dampé at the far end of the graveyard under an overhang that would block the rain (he hated rain, he'd once told me,) even though the grave connected to a Sheikah tunnel that led to the windmill. I buried him with his favourite toy, the metal 'treasure' that he was so proud of.
The other I carried down into a tomb for nameless soldiers. He would be laid to rest beside the very men who had fought and died for my family. No matter what he had done to survive or to rise in a changed world, he was one of my people. I said the sacred rites with as much sympathy and passion as I would a soldier in my father's service. The young man had probably at one time been in that service, I thought. Too much death. The resounding snap of his neck rang in my head, and I wished I knew his name. What if he had a family?
I went into the hut and quickly scrubbed my bloody hands in the wash bin, feeling like I had to cry but unable to. Once clean I rifled through Dampé's diary, ripping out the two pages that mentioned me. I penned in, quickly, a cryptic little missive: 'Whoever reads this, please enter my grave. I will let you have my stretching, shrinking keepsake. I'm waiting for you.' I supposed that anyone who read as much and still went after it would value the object as much as Dampé had; and that, I thought, would be as much of a last will as I could offer to the unfortunate man. I took Dampé's store of food and coin with more than a little guilt, and then was off.
I cut through the village with casual ease, even as I questioned my own sense of calm. I felt ripped apart from all sides, filled with grief and rage and worry… yet I hadn't shed a single tear. Had the Sheikah trained me so well? Or was I like a bone, stronger for each time it was broken?
No one spared me more than a passing glance as I made my way through the streets. No one noticed the specks of blood on my shirt. I didn't worry that they would; I knew how to go unnoticed.
When I stepped out into the open and stared over the open fields of Hyrule, I felt a strange sense of strength in my absolute loss. A grim, fearless impulse to simply put one foot in front of the other overtook me. I slung my pack over my shoulder and faced the setting sun. And I started to walk.
Although the bridge to Kakariko would have provided my best option for shelter for the night, I had decided to press on; it was only an hour or so out from the village, and I had to take care under the possibility that I would be followed. As I passed over, however, I noted the fires springing up beneath – apparently I wasn't the only one who saw the potential for cover. My eyes met with haggard faces on the road, and there seemed to be a universal reluctance to make eye contact. I had the distinct impression as I went that everyone was pretending that I was not there and that they expected the same courtesy from me.
I travelled until a few hours before dawn, breaking often from the road in search of shelter – so much as a tree would have been acceptable, though all that I found were stumps – and when I didn't find any, I found myself in a difficult position. I was exhausted both mentally and physically and still hadn't decided on where to go when, trudging along with eyes barely open, I noticed a pale ball of light to the north. Curious, I crept closer, making sure to be completely silent as I approached. When I reached it, I found that the light came from a glass lamp suspended upon a stick stuck in the ground, slightly worn but beautifully ornate beneath the grime. A ghostly pale light came from its depths, seeming to surge up a long distance… it was like looking up at moonlight from under murky water.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" A voice said, and I immediately withdrew my concealed wakizashi, my tired eyes scanning the darkness.
"Who is there?" I asked, my voice entirely more confident than I felt. How would I be able to fight in this state, and in this horrible dress?
"No need to arch your back, kitten," laughed the voice, and a fire was suddenly kindled several yards away. Beside it with folded legs sat a frightening figure of a man, a crooked grin spread across his badly scarred face. While Dampé had been bent and disfigured, it had been a natural sort of ugliness; this man was anything but natural. His right eye was missing and the area of his face around it seemed to have twisted and folded around the wound. Yet somehow more frightening was the sight of his single remaining eye, which glinted red in the firelight. His grin was too wide for his face; I think that he had more than the normal number of teeth, and some of them were pointed.
"The lamp… it contains a soul. My soul, in fact. Come, come, sit down by the fire… I am not so nice as Dampé, but I have no cause to harm you."
I approached slowly and with a fair share of apprehension, fully aware that he had just read my thoughts. I closed off my mind swiftly, and his grin grew – he had sensed the severed connection, but said nothing. I sat on the other side of the low fire and held out my hands to warm them, observing my unlikely companion more closely as I did. He seemed entirely unperturbed by my scrutiny and merely stared with that one eye glinting.
He wore a dark cloak that did not fully hide his odd shape or the royal crest at his middle. This man was once a guard in Castle Town. To display the crest in these times was daring; it told me that he had little regard for the current authority and was probably very talented at evasion. His legs looked awkward, and upon closer inspection I discovered that it was because his left thigh looked shrivelled and slightly curved. Oddly, he wore no shoes. My eyes flickered over his frightening features once more and then slid quickly away to gaze at the strange wooden cages he had stacked up behind him.
I jumped as he suddenly lifted a wooden stick and laid a hard whack across the metal bars of one of the cages. He laughed at my reaction; it was a high thin sound, unnerving.
"Aah, so the lady cannot see my wards… well, few have the ability."
"The ability to what?" I asked, as he began drawing on the dirt in front of him with his stick.
"Why, the ability to see…" I looked down at his drawing. It was a single eye, staring straight forward. "The dead, that is." And he cackled again.
"Familiar, no?" He asked as I stared at the drawn symbol, and I had to admit that it was uncanny; his own single eye, glowing faintly red, was so very reminiscent of that ancient symbol.
"The evil eye," I affirmed, and this seemed to amuse him greatly.
"Evil, evil," he chuckled, swinging his stick with glee, "what a wonderfully deceiving concept is evil. It is evil to call something evil, do you know that?"
Obviously I was sitting with a mad man. The revelation wasn't particularly surprising. "If I can't see the dead, then how is it that I could see that light in your lamp? Aren't ghosts merely souls?" I asked, wishing he'd stop that terrible giggling.
"Because the soul was mine, and I wanted you to see it. I needed to tell you something."
"And what was that?"
He struck the cages again, seeming to lose the train of our conversation. "The symbol of the single eye, the mind's eye – the Fifth Element – has long been a herald of sorcery. Then the Interlopers took it as their own, and we who fought them called it… evil. The Sheikah wear the eye as it weeps…" His eye wandered over the fire and me and then back to his empty cages. I wondered what he saw in there.
"The symbol of the eye has sometimes been used in opposition to superstitious idea, to portray particularly advanced technology; like in the case of the Sky Beings. Their symbol is the single eye," I added, merely to keep him talking. The thought of being alone with this person enveloped in silence was unbearable. "I've studied ancient symbolism. Was that all that you wanted to tell me?"
He didn't answer, merely stared at me with a sudden intensity. He pulled up the hood of his cloak abruptly to cover his face in darkness. The glittering red light of his remaining eye seemed to emanate from the blackness beneath the hood. "The Eleven in their sand-coloured robes came with their sorcery and tore the king from his throne… they took my eye and gave me their curse, and they laughed at my fascination." His grimness seemed to dissipate, and an insane, ironic smile spread across his thin lips. "I now laugh myself, sometimes."
"The Eleven… you mean the Lords from Luzmala," I confirmed, knitting my brow. Luzmala was a mysterious land from the far west, cradled in the inhospitable wasteland between two mountain ranges and two deserts. To the east and west were Snowpeak and the Snowhead respectively, and to the north and south were the Great Desert of Zunal and the Gerudo Desert.
Legend named Luzmala as the gateway of the dead. Ganondorf had employed the Luzmalan warlords in the final taking of the capitol with the promise of land in Hyrule, but turned his armies to hunt down and execute their eleven leaders when the task was accomplished – he obviously saw the famed assassins as a threat to him, especially since he had no intention of partitioning off the land that he had won. The Luzmalans were steeped in dark sorcery, including animal and human sacrifice; I was unsure what he meant by 'their curse', however. Looking at his single glinting eye, I couldn't help but remember Sahas showing me that long-ago ritual, and the King's knifepoint at the Hero of the Skies' eye…
"They cannot die, not really. There is a ritual… their souls are shut away and all that is left is intent within a shell – but it is something remaining, you see? Something here and earthbound and without end. They cannot stand the concept of an end."
I folded my arms. He was speaking of poes, but I had no reason to believe that they were real. However, given all that I had seen thus far, I also had no reason to believe that they were not. I had studied a text from the Shadow Temple not too long ago that spoke of a dark ritual intended to entrap the soul of a dying person so that they might continue as a poe, but it was named as a curse against enemies and not as a weapon against death itself. Yet the use, I reflected, made sense. What did not was…
"So if you are a poe," I said slowly, full of scepticism, "then why do you have a face and limbs? Poes are supposed to be composed of nothing but shadow."
"Oh, my soul was trapped you see, but… I'm not dead! Merely dying; slowly, slowly my lantern gets brighter and brighter…" the concept seemed to bring him glee, and he swung his stick against the cages with particular fervour. "Soon I shall not be able to hunt them on my own, soon will need others," he muttered to himself, and I understood suddenly his wilting face and shrunken bones. He would become nothing but shadow, but until then the flesh still cleaved to him like living moss on a dead tree.
"I am truly sorry," I said quietly, feeling great sympathy well up inside of me for the terrible end that this man would meet, however insanely glad he seemed in thinking of it. The creature turned his eye on me and spread his wide toothy grin; it glimmered white in the dark chasm beneath his hood.
"I believe you are, kitten, oh yes… even though this is what I always wanted:" He cackled, obviously delighted at my sudden show of emotion. "A world full of strife. But you aren't listening, no, you've been sitting there like a dumb animal… haven't you heard what I've told you?"
I raised my brows, tense. "Your history, the Luzmalans, y-your eye…" I stammered in confusion, unsure. His unearthly grin only answered me.
"See? Very stupid, you are. I said… that is, what I needed to tell you… You're going the wrong way! You must be travelling north."
I was certain that he hadn't told me anything about going any direction at all, but I let the insults slide off my back with a simple scowl. "North? But that would take me to Castle Town."
It was common knowledge that Castle Town was a ruinous place and treacherous, populated only by the redead, corpses cursed into animation. And anyway, Ganondorf had seized the castle and converted it to his trophy fortress. His base of operations was still officially in the Gerudo desert, but the castle was sure to be guarded. "I don't think that that path would be wise. And how should I know that you don't mean to mislead me? I aim to restore balance to this world full of strife," I responded carefully.
He leaned forward and clasped his hands around the centre of his thin staff, an air of import falling over his bent stature. "I once swore fealty to a King, and I always make good on my promises." He sat back and laid another whack across the cages. I didn't jump this time, so used to the sudden interlude had I become. "Two years ago, my King offered me a charge:" he continued, "to guide you when the time was right to the Temple of Time."
I stared at him in heart-wrenching disbelief. My shock completely overshadowed the revelation that yet another person had guessed my identity (if he'd guessed at all.) My father had perished at the Final Siege, executed three summers ago… not two. What he claimed was impossible. And yet…
"I see," I said through a tight throat, my hands clenching against the memory of his strong shoulders and the safety and strength they'd represented.
"Oh, don't worry, kitten," the cloaked stranger said comfortingly, still as grave as I'd yet seen him. "He isn't the type to stick around too long. He is quite wholesome and remains of his own free will."
I stared silently off into the night for several moments, willing myself to calm. It took all of my Sheikah training to remain still and relaxed despite the raging of my heart. Yet a strange strength rose up out of the gloom. I faced my odd companion once more with an expression of resolute serenity.
"Either way, the way is difficult and well-watched," I said, "especially for one such as myself."
"Perhaps this will even the odds," he said slyly, and extracted a crimson bundle of shimmering cloth from the folds of his cloak. I started at the similarity to Sheik's words on the eve of my flight from the valley, but pushed away my sudden remorse and leaned forward to retrieve the gift. It was silky but heavy and the colour of blood. Upon unfolding it, I saw that it was a cloak.
"I mean no offence, but… how should—?" I cut off as I looked up from the cloak in my hands and across the glowing coals to see nothing and no one, not a disfigured man or empty cage in sight. I turned to look over my shoulder and saw the strange lantern light bobbing along the hills of its own accord, followed if I listened very hard by a haunting whistled refrain and an occasional cackle.
It was difficult to fall sleep that night, but at least I had a warm fire and a destination. I curled up tightly in the red cloak for added warmth and when I finally did succumb to my exhaustion, I slept like the dead… or nearly.
I woke in the early hours of the morning to voices in my little camp.
The first thing that I heard was: "Left nothing. Not a scrap. Travellers are gettin' to be such stingy folks these days, and they never was before." An answering grunt from a companion followed.
I opened my eyes and sat up quickly, watching the intruders through narrowed eyes. Two men were picking about the camp. One was huge, bald and shirtless; blue tattoos snaked around his naked torso. The other, apparently the speaker, was young and skinny with a shock of messy red hair. Both were dirty and dressed in naught but rags, but they had the look of fighting men and wore daggers strapped to their belts. They had their backs to me and were treading the area around the long-faded fire, kicking uselessly at the soil to search for goods and warm to themselves against the morning chill.
They seemed to be ignoring me completely. Why was that? They had to have seen me. I was a mere few feet away and covered in a robe coloured red. I raised myself up slowly onto my heels, clasping the cloak at my breastbone. I did not yet know why, but the manner in which it was given suggested that this was a gift of some import; and thus I would take care around obvious thieves.
I drew my blade silently and stood. Should I try to run now, while they had not yet noticed me? They would surely detect me and follow, though I was certain that I could outrun them. The downside would be that, more than likely, they would follow me – and I was not to suffer a tail. Better to confront and temporarily incapacitate, I decided.
"You will find no valuables here, good sirs," I said, and the men whirled about to stare at… no… through me with wide eyes. They continued to turn circles, as if searching for me when I was right in front of them. I watched them in confusion.
"Did ya hear that?" Whispered the bigger of the two, drawing his dagger with deliberate slowness. The other was already crouched and ready, his eyes searching warily.
"Aye, but there's no hidin' to be found on this bare hill."
I laughed suddenly, completely thrilled to discover that, though I did not expect it, I was invisible. It had to be the cloak, I thought. And that indeed might even the odds in sneaking through watched territory, as the ghost hunter had said. The thieves jumped and continued to search about, becoming increasingly confused and superstitious, but I was already setting off northward with a bounce in my step. A good few hours of deep sleep had done me good, and so had the discovery of my newfound and highly useful ability.
As I left their bickering behind and took note of the small but definite drain on my energy, I resolved to find a safe place to remove the cloak and have a little bit of breakfast.
The outer wall of the city was visible many miles away, for the land was mostly flat but sloped very slightly downward to the north. The closer I journeyed, the murkier my view seemed; it was as if a great oppressive pall had fallen over the very air around the place and refused to lift. When I finally arrived at the northern drawbridge, I found it smashed in two and lying mostly in the waters of the moat. The darkness was almost tangible, though it was broad daylight. A cloud stood over the city, ominous and unmoving.
I slid down one side of the drawbridge and trudged through the water to climb the other side, wetting my skirts and cloak all the way up to my thighs. Righting myself at the top, I found myself staring into a bleak image of broken civilization: my heart sank. I lifted the hood of the cloak over my head and shaded my eyes, then took a deep breath and pressed on.
It took effort to recognize my home. A foul wind swept relentlessly through the streets, tearing at my clothes and hair and filling my head with its howl. It was warm and smelt of burnt hair and rotted flesh. The air seemed dense and dark, difficult to see through – or maybe my eyes just weren't working properly? The evil magic filling the place, radiating from all that it had touched, singed the hair on my bare arms and stung my eyes. Not a single living creature scurried or rushed out of my path; there was only bones and ruin.
The corpses that I did encounter were like some of those in the Shadow Temple: shrivelled and shrunken, but with flesh intact. It was dark and dry, tightened and draped over mere bones. Some had singed, wild tufts of hair still attached to their skulls; but the worst was the crusty, sunken remains of eyeballs slumped in their sockets. Bared teeth were parted to let escape a silent and eternal scream. Impa had told me of the ones in the catacombs, "The expression was not their last; the jaw drops naturally in death, and that is how they rot." I couldn't be so sure with these ones, but I imagined that the reasons for their unearthly preservation were the same. It was the magic, dark and hungry, that did something to effect the process of decay.
By some inscrutable instinct, I chose to keep to the bystreets and away from the soot-covered walls. Draped in the red cloak, I knew that on the very unlikely possibility that I should chance upon some living thing I would be completely invisible to them; but I was still, and I think understandably, on edge.
Using the cloak was an ever-present drain on my energy and concentration, and after an hour of making my way through the city, my eyes seemed to have darkened nearly to the point of blindness. Every moment that passed felt more like a delirious nightmare. I had long decided to resist the urge to try to recognize my surroundings and simply endeavoured to keep travelling north, toward the dark spires of a castle I couldn't imagine as the place where I had spent my childhood, when I at last passed through an archway leading into the main square of the marketplace.
It had once been a beautiful and shining place. I hadn't been so intimately acquainted with the rest of the city as I was with this square, with its glittering fountain and bustling crowds. To see it so desecrated and empty took my breath away. I took one step into the square and froze. Barely visible mounds riddled the cobbles ahead. By now, I recognized the coloration and look of them through the gloom: they were corpses. What gave me pause was their position. All were upright, though crouched; their black sockets and slack jaws were the same as the others, but their necks were stiff and did not allow the weight of their head to loll about on their shoulders. Elbows rested on knees.
I went slowly, unable to breathe in my fear and in the stench of the things. My footsteps were drowned by the howling of the unnatural wind. The upright corpses did not move, but I watched them suspiciously. I made my way toward the Temple with as much care as I could muster, holding the edges of the cloak to myself to keep them from blowing against the creatures. I was almost across the square when the wind, almost in an act of sentient mischief, ripped the cloak from my hands. In my desperation to catch the flying fabric, my hand shot out after it – and into the skull of one of the crouched corpses.
In horrified astonishment, I watched my hand pass through the skull and then withdraw from it as if it were only air. Another effect of the cloak, I realized. But the thing – a redead, as I had suspected – rolled back its skull until the ridges of its half-collapsed trachea pressed through the leathery skin. Out of its open mouth came a low groan of what seemed like agony, and I realized that it had been making that sound all along. They all had. I had put it down solely to the wind, but now that I knew… a cold chill rolled up my spine.
The redead rolled its head back down and let out a long, piercing scream that rammed through my head like a sharp blade. I felt my muscles seize and my head, I could have sworn, was splitting open. But I saw the thing rise, its bones creaking and snapping beneath the drum-tight skin, until it stood hunched over me, the black gaping holes of its eyes and mouth mere inches from my face. I waited frozen in abject horror, unable to turn away from that face, unable to take a breath even when the paralysis faded. If I did, I feared that I would faint from the smell. Moments that seemed like hours passed, and I couldn't help but stare at the crusted, shrivelled remains of its tongue lying dead inside its blackened mouth. It seemed not to see me. At long last it shrunk down into a crouch again, and its head dropped in a position of what could certainly be interpreted as misery.
I prayed to the goddesses then that they were not aware, that they were merely empty shells, puppets dancing on the strings of dark magic – but as the agonized groans once again rose in my ears, I doubted it, and my heart swelled with pity.
I hurried up the steps and into the wasted gardens of the Temple of Time, away from the miserable moaning, and finally jerked open one of the massive doors, slipping inside and closing it firmly behind me.
The change was immediate and overwhelming. Less light filtered through the high windows than I remembered and no priests or worshippers wandered in peaceful quietude, but the feeling of serenity and sanctuary that had always pervaded this place remained. The howling wind and the moaning of the creatures outside was entirely gone, and only a great echoing silence remained – in it, I could almost hear the sonorous chanting of the monks echoing forth from the past.
Comfort, cool and refreshing, washed over me. I still dared not remove the cloak, but I felt it now as a lighter burden than before. I felt that my decision to come here had not been unwise; it was the place where all had gone wrong, and I felt that it would be the place where things might begin to be set right.
At the far end of the great hall stood the altar, over which hovered the three spiritual stones. As I drew closer I noticed a high ringing, harmonic and lovely but just barely detectable. The three spun in unison, hanging of their own accord in the air. The stones glittered brightly in their golden settings, undeniably beautiful. Beyond lay the Door of Time… open.
I made my way around the altar and ascended the steps, passing through the doorway with a shiver of reverence. A path of pale light fell from the windows high above, lighting the empty pedestal where the Master Sword once rested. I knelt to run my fingertips over the smooth marble, and the thin slit from which the blade had been pulled free.
The stone prickled beneath my fingertips, and I drew back in cautious surprise. After a careful examination, I laid my hand upon it again. Blue light burst before my eyes, spreading about me in a circle rapidly like ripples in a pond. Cautiously, I removed my hand and stood back, one hand shielding my eyes as the light intensified and the other gripping my blade. Suddenly, a painful force ripped through me – it felt like in a single second, my entire body had been completely disassembled and then forced back together.
When the light cleared, I was kneeling and panting with the still-present pain. I looked up and around, distracted from the unpleasantness by the sheer beauty of the place: the Temple of Light. I'd been here in a dream, once; but what I remembered of it didn't hold a candle to the real thing. I stood upon a white marble platform, bathed in rippling blue and white light like that cast off of water. Beams of pale light that seemed to descend from absolute blackness, their source indiscernible, lighted six smaller platforms jutting up around the larger centre. That same blackness lay all around us, untouched by the bright light that lit the platforms.
"I hope that your ascendance was not too unpleasant, Your Highness," came a voice from the behind me.
I turned with a small smile. "Might I suggest… stairs?"
After a fleeting expression of surprise, the elderly man in elaborate robes standing opposite me laughed. "I shall consider your suggestion," he said good-naturedly, a smile apparent beneath the bushy white moustache. I recognized his presence from my dream, years ago, when the Triforce had split.
"Rauru," I said fondly, though we'd never even met. I'd heard about him plenty.
"Princess Zelda," He said, and bowed deeply. I blanched. It was the first time I'd been addressed that way for many years, and the name seemed to ring in the air, echoing between us.
"I was directed here by peculiar circumstances, but not offered a reason – I suppose that my reason was to seek your counsel."
He smiled beneath his white beard. "Indeed."
With a wide sweep of his arm he indicated the room where we stood. "The Chamber of Sages in the Light Temple. We are in the Sacred Realm," he said, and I smiled. I had gathered as much.
My eyes trailed the circle of Sages' Seals around me, all empty save the one on which Rauru stood.
I had only once seen all of the Sages gathered, and that had been but a brief glance: all of them grim men in long robes bearing the crests of their respective temples. Each and every one wore a ceremonial mask made of shining silver; I had quailed before such faces.
"If you intend to discuss the prophecy," I said sadly, "Then I have some bad news."
Rauru's bushy brows lifted in question, and I turned away and sighed. "The Sages are dead. Ganondorf hunted them down one by one. The last perished the spring before last."
When I looked back, Rauru's face was a picture of grim sympathy, but there was none of the dejection that I had expected at such news. The prophecy stated that the Hero of Time would save Hyrule from evil with the help of the Sages; with the Sages dead, the prophecy had been all but averted.
"I am sorry to hear it," he said, and held up a hand to halt my words of consolation, "Yet they were Sages by mortal inheritance only, and thus not those spoken of in prophecy."
I remained silent, and Rauru lowered his hand. How could this be? The Sages were highly honoured religious figures and were looked to for spiritual guidance by thousands. Yet they were… false? I voiced as much.
"No, not false. They were true Sages, but not the ones that we now require. In times of peace," Rauru went on, "Sages carry powers through a bloodline and are confirmed by the King, who takes on the title of the Seventh Sage and with it dominion over the others. They are well chosen and act with a holy purpose, but it is not the purpose decreed by the Goddesses for our time; that task falls to those Divinely Chosen, as the prophecy states."
I looked around again, and then threw wide my arms in a helpless gesture. Rauru laughed.
"They must be awakened as Sages, called from this very chamber by their leader, the Seventh Sage."
"He is clearly no longer the monarch, so where exactly might the Seventh Sage be found?" I asked, folding my arms over my chest and squaring my shoulders. I anticipated a quest in this; but how should I go about finding this great spiritual leader? With the prophecy still a viable source of hope, my determination flared with new strength.
Rauru smiled and shook his head, then seemed to parry my question. "There are four artefacts bound to the Sages: they are called the tools of fate. Two are the Instruments of Earth and Wind, one is the Lantern of Souls, and the other is the Dominion Rod. You know of them?"
The Instruments of Earth and Wind I knew of; they were stringed instruments imbued with the souls of the first attendants of the Master Sword and with the facility to hone its power. I had met the young Zora who played upon a harp in the Earth Temple, which was far removed from civilization; the only beings to be found there were the Sage, a few attendants and Ordonian goats. The other resided in the Wind Temple and I knew very little of them. The Wind Temple was located in the northern tail of Snowpeak, in the mountain heights beyond the Starpoint River. I had never been there and likely never would, but the Sage of Earth had told me that the Sage of Wind was a Kokiri. I had never understood why they seemed to have, by all accounts, switched places; the home of the Kokiri was far nearer to the Earth Temple, yet its Sage was traditionally Zora; and vice versa.
The Dominion Rod was a thick, ornate sceptre belonging to the Sage of Time. When my father was attending a ceremony in his religious capacity he always held the Rod. According to legend, the Skyfolk had gifted it to the royal family as a tool to maintain diplomatic communication between land and sky. If there had ever been communication (or Sky Beings at all; many argued that it was pure legend and no history) then it had long been severed.
Sahas strongly believed that the Oocca, as the sky beings were called, truly existed. He had told me once that they had angered the Gods with their arrogance and been punished. They had boasted that they were above all other creatures, for their technology was far advanced; and they became irreverent of the Gods, feeling that they were above the spiritual. So the Goddesses changed their bodies so that they had wings instead of arms and hands, and the Oocca – without thumbs or hands at all – could no longer build their great technology, and were proven as dependent upon the gifts of the Goddesses as any other creature roaming earth or sky.
The Lantern of Souls I knew little about. Indeed, now that I thought about it, my ignorance on the subject was suspicious given how thoroughly the Sheikah had seen to my education in all other matters. Sahas had touched briefly on the subject, saying only that it was a magical artefact belonging to the Sage of Spirit. With a clever glint in his eye, he had concluded the lesson with the suggestion that I might ask Impa about it. When I had, she had merely stared and me and then grunted and changed the subject. I'd been too engrossed in my training to give much thought to the Sheikah and their secrets (which were ever numerous) but now I felt that I should have pressed the issue.
"Tell me about the Lantern of Souls," I said, unable to help feeling left out of the loop… again.
"Ah," said Rauru with a smile, "We get right to the point. Stand back."
I backed up until I was standing just before the symbol of the Sage of Water. Rauru lifted his hand in a loose fist and I saw that his fingers shielded a bright light, as if he was holding onto it. Then he cast his handful into the centre of the platform and there, above the symbol of the Triforce, spiked pinpoints of light that rose and fell and began to form shapes. Quickly they took on colour, and then I was staring at Link sprawled out upon a low, round stone platform that I had seen before.
I realized that the table was the same one on which the Sheikah kept Link's body. Sahas' daughters had been tasked with his care, and it was on that table that they would give him sponge baths and clip his hair and nails; recently they had had to learn how to shave his face. I had little to do with the process and for the most part I stayed away from the dark room in which he was kept. If I ever caught a glimpse inside, he was covered with a linen sheet as if one of the dead.
But the Link that lay on the table in front of me was not our Link; he belonged to a different time. He was many years older, his ears were shorter and a bit curved, and the lines of his face were slightly less angular and severe. I knew what I was looking at, for I'd seen it before. When Sahas had shown me, it had been like looking down through a window upon the happenings. The figures had been smoky and small. This looked real.
I had to drag my eyes away from the Other Link. I stood in the Temple of Time, in the room containing the Pedestal of Time. The Pedestal wasn't there however, and neither was the raised platform on which it usually rested. Since the original owner of the Master Sword had not yet perished, I supposed that the Pedestal had not yet been created. The point of it, after all, was to allow the sword to choose a new master.
The whole place had an unpolished look about it. The floor was rough stone rather than the polished marble of our time, and it was dirty. There were no stained glass panels in the windows. The moonlight battled the flickering light from torches that had been set around the perimeter of the room – orange overlapped with blue and shadows danced. Every face was grim.
The Sages of Forest, Fire and Water that formed the outer triangle drawn on the floor moved their lips in what was clearly a chant, their brows drawn together in concentration, but I heard nothing. I could still hear the trickle of water from the Chamber of Sages. I took a moment to look into each of their faces, stopping between Rauru and the Sage of Shadow. They stared through me, eyes locked on each other. They couldn't see me – but of course they couldn't; I wasn't really there. And they weren't really here, either.
Rauru looked exactly the same as he did now, right down to the robes. The other Sages were not what I had come to think of Sages to be. They were not all tall, white-haired Hylian men in flowing robes like Rauru. The Sage of Shadow was a tall, imposing-looking man with a hawk-like stare that reminded me all too much of Link. He looked like one of the Gerudo with his red hair and dark skin – but his eyes were not the Gerudo amber. They were a clear, piercing blue. He wore strange, thick armour that left most of his arms, legs and midsection completely exposed.
As I watched, the Shadow Sage's piercing blue eyes flickered to King Ekbrit standing at Other Link's head and then back to Rauru. I saw moisture gather in his eyes, but his expression did not change. The affection that these men had for their Hero was truly touching.
I looked toward the King just in time to see him draw his dagger. He gripped Other Link's face in one hand, holding him steady, while he positioned the point of the dagger at the edge of his right eye. I had had nightmares about this moment for years since Sahas told me of the ritual, imagining the way the eye would pop from its socket; but I didn't look away now.
His fingers parted the lids so that the eye was wide and pressed so that it pressed out, red veins showing around the edges. The Hero didn't seem to notice; his pupils didn't even dilate. He continued to breathe shallowly, locked in the nightmare of some fever dream. I prayed that it was a better place to be than reality. The point pressed down and pried the eye up, scooping around behind it in order to sever the muscles that held it there. Blood gushed up, filling the socket and overflowing to pool about the King's hand, staining his fingers and then forming a river down Other Link's face. The Sage of Wind, barely more than a child, reached over to hold a cloth against his cheek and caught the stream of blood before it could flow any farther.
I was shocked to find that the sight did not nauseate me. I used to feel faint at the sight of blood, even when I scraped my knee playing; but it seemed that after years of training and fighting with the Sheikah I'd developed a much stronger stomach. All that I felt was overwhelming sadness.
The King lifted the eye away from the Hero's face and the Sage of Earth was there with another cloth to staunch the endless fountain of blood. Ekbrit lifted the eye in his palm, holding it high above Other Link's chest. Across from him, the Sage of Spirit seemed to wake from a deep meditation. When he opened his eyes, I saw that they were pure white – no iris, no pupil to be seen. He carried the lantern forward, beginning to chant along with the others – or it could have been different words, I couldn't tell. There was a change in the room. A great wind swept up from nowhere, swirling about their feet. It tore at their clothing and buffeted them about, but they stayed firm. The Sage of Wind stumbled against its power but managed to steady himself with great difficulty.
Something was happening to Rauru and the Sage of Shadow. As I watched, the Sage of Shadow shrivelled: his skin cleaved to his bones until it began to peel away, drifting around like so many pieces of ash. Rauru hung where he stood like a puppet with most of its strings detached. The light of consciousness was draining from his eyes.
With his free hand, the King lifted the dagger once more and plunged it into Other Link's heart. The eye that was still intact flew open, gazing directly at me. His mouth formed a word as he screamed; it was impossible not to recognise it. The Sage of Shadow's bones burst into dust and formed for a moment the image of an owl in flight. Rauru's last string was cut and he fell to the floor in a heap; out of his corpse raised a glistening smoke that formed into a running wolf. From the wound in the Hero's chest shone a green light that looked suspiciously like a large rabbit, but the eye remained trained on me.
I stumbled backward, away, my eyes wide with horror as he called again and again: Zelda… Zelda…
The owl of ash and the shining golden wolf raced forward into the green light and the whole room shook, knocking most of the Sages from their feet. The Sage of Time stood strong, holding aloft the eye as all – wind, light, owl, wolf – converged upon it and it lifted from his hand. It came to rest atop the Lantern of Souls, glowing with magic.
Even that eye seemed trained upon me.
My foot went through the floor as if it were nothing. A hand shot out and grabbed onto my wrist, the vision of the ceremony dissipating. Rauru pulled me from the brink of the platform; I would have stepped right off if he hadn't stopped me. I steadied myself and looked down at his hand, for it was deathly cold; it looked like the hand of a corpse, dark and drawn. Rauru released my wrist with an apologetic smile and hid his hands once again in the sleeve of his robes.
"The rabbit, the owl," I queried breathlessly, "and the wolf?" I swallowed to wet my dry throat.
"They are merely representations of a person… their essence, you might say," said Rauru.
"The Blïndaté people of Snowpeak believe that every person has an animal totem." I said, shaking the vision of that horrible glowing eye from my consciousness. "I suppose they were right, then."
"Perhaps," he said, and then recoiled as I suddenly reached out and touched his face. He steadied, watching my face intently as I studied the effect. My hand felt his face, of course; but it was not the face that I saw. My hand appeared to pass beyond the flesh that I saw, beyond the hair, disappearing beneath its image; and what I felt was more cold skin and shrivelled musculature clinging to brittle bone.
"You manipulated the light to make me see that memory," I said softly. I cupped his gaunt cheek in my palm, my expression one of sympathy. "And you used that same magic to restore your appearance. You are… you are nothing but a corpse."
He smiled down at me sadly, tipping his cheek into my palm. "And a consciousness," he added, turning away from me to begin pacing.
"How can that be?" I asked. "You gave your life to create the Hero. You gave your soul."
Rauru nodded. "That I did – but a soul is not a consciousness, just as a body is not a soul. The memories and thoughts of a person do not make up their soul. A soul is something far more complicated, and quite different. A soul… a soul is more like a right to live. It is also a… a right to die."
The Sage of Light stopped his pacing and faced me once more, his shoulders hunched with a burden I couldn't hope to comprehend. "Kæpora and I sacrificed far more than our lives. He lost his body, his… vitality, but not his consciousness and not his soul. He was nothing but a wandering spirit for so very long, before a kindly fairy gave him another chance. I gave my soul and became nothing but a corpse with thought and the ghost of feeling. What happened to us was not natural death; we've been unable to die ever since, but we have also been unable to live."
"How terrible," I murmured, my chest tight with the compassion that I felt.
"It took me some time, but it is a fair price, truly – not just to counter what we were asking of the Goddesses, but what we were doing to Link. What we wanted was the assurance that the agents of evil could never ultimately prevail. We wanted to save lives. At first, one would think that we were sacrificing ourselves to give Link a gift – but had we merely died, we would never have understood the price that he had to pay as well. Immortality… it isn't as pleasant as so many think, especially when you must always live it in the heat of war."
I was silent for a long while, unable to push away the thought: I used him, too. And it was the reason for this whole mess. In loyalty to me, he had given up his childhood… he had given up life. I wished I could take it back. Oh, how I wished. "Why have you shown me this?" My voice broke.
"I have not meant to cause you pain, Your Highness. The Temple of Light remains the last stronghold against Ganondorf in the Sacred Realm; as well as the Chamber of Sages, it also contains the Hall of Prophecy. There is a prophecy which I believe concerns you and it may prove very important to our cause – if I am right, then it shall be very important for you to understand the true nature of the Hero."
"You aren't going to tell me what the prophecy says?" I asked, half-smiling. I'd spent enough time with the Sheikah to know when certain information was off-limits… for the time being.
Rauru shook his head, smiling apologetically. I nodded, reluctantly moving on to another topic.
"What happened to you… is that what happened to the creatures in Castle Town? The redeads?"
"Yes. Their souls were taken from them, just as mine was. I am, essentially, what you have called them: a redead."
"But they don't have voices – you do."
He lifted his eyebrows at me and smiled slyly, but then tilted his head as if hearing something. His brows drew down in sudden seriousness. "You've been here too long already. Do you know the Prelude of Light?"
"Of course," I said, unsure of how it was relevant. The Prelude of Light was a sacred hymn, one I often sang when attending Mass at the Temple.
"And of course you know the Nocturne of Shadow," he said, and I nodded. My time with the Sheikah had entailed time spent in meditation and prayer within the Shadow Temple. The Nocturne was, like the Prelude, a hymn. I began to get an inkling of what Rauru was trying to tell me. I remembered how Sheik had shielded me when we were attacked, and I had heard him play the Nocturne. Dampé had said that he'd found me near the royal tomb, which was quite close to the entrance to the Shadow Temple.
"Do the sacred hymns have a magical power with which I have hitherto been unfamiliar?"
"You are quite sharp, Your Majesty," Rauru said with a smile. "They do indeed. When played upon an instrument blessed by a Sage, they have the ability to magically and instantly transport the musician to the Temple of the hymn's respective Aspect."
"I have no instrument," I said, a memory of playing the Ocarina of Time in my favourite garden at the castle flashing through my mind.
"Even so, should the Hero awaken, he will have one. This knowledge may be of use to him. I know of a number of hymns, but I do not know the melodies well enough to teach them to you. If you can discover them, your knowledge may someday assist him." Rauru held up his sleeve-covered hand toward me. "Now hurry from this place; I fear that some of Ganondorf's agents may have the ability to sense when someone passes through the barrier between worlds."
I was enveloped once more in the blue light and felt myself falling, though I was still standing firmly. "Thank you," I shouted through the metallic-like ring that came with the rush of light. "And bless you!"
Rauru's image faded from my sight, and there was only a rush of blue. This time I was ready for the pain.
The Temple was still empty; I’d half expected a legion of guards waiting for me when the waterfall of blue light dissipated. Still, something was not quite right. I had no idea how long I’d been in the Sacred Realm, nor if Rauru’s suspicions about Ganondorf’s agents were true. I resolved to go carefully.
I took pains to keep my footsteps silent as I made my way through the great hall of the Temple, but it was difficult in the stiff boots and beneath cavernous stone arches that reflected back even the slightest bit of sound tenfold. The patter of light rain on the many high windows was magnified into drumbeats as it echoed through the halls. Midway through the hall I paused to remove my boots and woollen stockings, dusting them off cursorily and then shoving them into my jabus bag. I grabbed onto the back of my skirt and petticoats and pulled them forward through my legs, tucking them firmly into my waistband. Without shoes and the swish of skirts, my movement was far quieter and less inhibited.
I stopped at the massive doorway and closed my eyes, concentrating on extending my senses beyond the door. It was tricky, for the door and walls were exceptionally thick and dense. It didn’t take me long to sense the others, however; they were trying to be quiet, but there were enough of them to make it just about impossible.
Rauru had been right. Somehow Ganondorf, or at the very least one of his officers, had sensed that someone had passed into the Sacred Realm. A sizeable group of Dinolfos had been set around the Temple to ensure that whoever it was did not escape unchecked. The problem with that plan was that Dinolfos were not incredibly intelligent. If I’d been completely unprepared, I might have walked out into an inescapable trap. As it was, I lacked the strength to overcome as many beasts as now guarded my exits; however, what I did have was invisibility… and a flare for the theatrical.
I withdrew my mind back into myself and opened my eyes, pulling the magical cloak around me a bit tighter. I took a long, slow step backward, then another, lifting my hands straight in front of me and mentally gripping the two large rungs on either side of the door. I took a steadying breath and let it out, then another, gathering my strength. I didn’t know how long it would be before I could have the cloak off or how much effort I would have to exert in order to escape. If all went well, then I wouldn’t have much to worry about. If not, however… who knew how long I would have to sustain the considerable drain on my energy? My only option was to try. And to pray… that too.
Using my firm magical grip upon the rungs, I yanked hard, sending the doors flying open to slam against the walls with a mighty thud. A battle cry went up among the Dinolfos outside, but soon died out into angry grunts and sniffling. The armoured monsters stamped their feet anxiously and leaned forward and about, looking for some sign of an enemy.
I made my way forward silently, hesitating on the threshold. The Dinolfos seemed not to want to step over it; I now stood inches from them, close enough to see the yellowish plague on their long pointed teeth. Their warm breath stirred my hair. I could understand their reluctance to enter the Temple. The barrier between worlds was thin here, malleable; Rauru could probably sear their eyes from their skulls from his side, at the least. He might even have done such a thing before, causing the servants of Ganondorf to think twice before defiling the sanctity of the Temple of Time.
The rain was going to be a problem. It was only a light drizzle, but it had made the ground muddy enough to make visible footprints in. I recalled the way my hand had gone right through the redead; I had to depend on the cloak’s magic and the trampling of the horde to cover my tracks.
I closed my eyes and pretended that they weren’t there, taking one step and then another through the crowd. It was like pressing my way through globs of jelly. I didn’t want to open my eyes and see – what? I had no idea. The insides of a Dinolfos? Blackness? I knew that they were somewhat aware of me, for they jostled and snorted when I passed through them. When I felt the press of bodies dissipating I opened my eyes and looked back at what I had come through: the worst was over. I sighed in relief.
I began to hurry away down the steps from the Temple courtyard, eager to be far from that infected place. Running wasn’t such a good idea. I slipped on the wet stone of the stairs and my feet went out from under me. My elbow and hip got the worst of the impact, but the jarring fall had me immobilised for a moment. It was a good thing, too: a Dinolfos that I had just passed whipped around at the sound of my fall, dropping its jaw and letting loose a torrent of fire just above my head. Steam rose from my hair as the water evaporated in the heat.
I stayed down for only a moment after the fire stopped and then was up, limping as deftly as I could through the silent, uncaring company of redeads and then on through the city. I felt near collapse with exhaustion when I finally reached the drawbridge and I was sure that my hip was developing a massive bruise, but I’d gotten harder beatings from Lena; this was nothing.
The storm was worse than I expected. Fierce winds lashed at my back as I stumbled south through the Field, soaked and shivering. I had only the red cloak to protect me, but after only an hour of travel I packed it away again. Wearing it was too dangerous – with the added drain on my energy, I’d never be able to find shelter before giving in to my exhaustion.
As it was, I was soaked to the bone. I was glad that I’d removed the thick farm boots and woollen stockings lent to me in Kakariko and pulled up my skirts, for the mud sticking to them would have made movement that much harder. I hobbled through the torrential rain as quickly as I could manage, my toes numb enough now that I could barely feel the mud squishing through my toes.
Navigation was impossible. I knew only that by travelling south I might come upon a settlement, one of the farming villages that littered the Field. When I finally spotted a flicker of light in the darkness, my limbs found the renewed strength to press on even harder.
Hyrule Field was a vast valley with a soft, rounded incline that peaked somewhere near its centre. Along this ridge ran the remains of an ancient wall and an outcropping of tall, jagged rocks. Nestled among the stony teeth of the hilltop was Lon Lon Ranch, chief supplier of dairy and cattle to the area. Their customers had once included royalty.
Once I reached the outbuildings I traced the wet walls with my palm, half-leaning and half stumbling along. I heard the keen of a cow, just barely, through one of the walls and halted. A stable would do perfectly. It took me several minutes to locate the doors and pick the padlock with magic, and when I staggered out of the rain at long last I fell to my knees in weariness.
I sensed that it was nearly dawn now. I’d been travelling and bearing the brunt of powerful magic for nearly a full day and I hadn’t eaten since the morning last. I just barely managed to pull the barn door shut behind me and before I collapsed to the floor, comforted by the smell of hay and the warmth of the animal occupants.
Someone within rushed to my side, hands held out in concern. I instinctively, weakly, tried to pull away but stopped when I saw a kind face staring down at me through a curtain of red hair. Slumping against the door and letting her drape a warm blanket over me, I tried to murmur that I meant no trespass but she gently shushed me. She asked no questions, only helped me into an empty stall where I could lay in the loose hay. A curious horse lifted his head over the wall from the next stall to stare at us and gave a quiet, inquisitive whinny.
“Don’t worry,” She said. Her voice was like music. “We are always willing to give shelter to those who need it. That storm is awful.” She piled two more thick woollen blankets on me and felt my forehead. I wondered if I had a fever. “Sleep now, I shall watch over you. You are safe here.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, teetering on the edge of sleep. “I shall never forget your kindness.”
“It must be the fever… poor dear. I can’t imagine what she’s been through.”
“I’m worried. Should we call for the doctor?”
“No, no... who knows what kind of trouble she’s in. Have you ever seen a knife the likes of that one? She’ll be fine; just a little soup and rest.”
The voices became clearer as I struggled to listen, pulling myself up from the sluggish mire than had flooded my brain. I opened my eyes with difficulty and saw the blurred shape of two people. I recognised a bright blotch of red as the hair of the woman I’d seen in the stable the night before.
As my vision cleared, I saw that it was the redheaded young woman and another, older lady with darker and much shorter red hair. I was in a simple, quaint little room with a table and dresser and not much else. They sat in roughly hewn wooden chairs, bent over needlework. It wasn’t the fine embroidery of ladies, but the practical work of mending. The one with shorter hair glanced up and me and jumped, holding a hand over her heart.
“Oh,” said the younger one, “you’re awake!” She hastily put down her mending and came to the bedside, checking my head. I felt groggy and weak, but I pulled myself up nonetheless.
“Don’t push yourself, dear,” said the woman still seated. Her stitching dangled loosely over her lap, forgotten for the moment as she watched me with wide, curious eyes.
“I’m Malon,” said the one leaning over me, and then she gestured behind her. “That’s Anju. I sent for her when I saw her name stitched into your clothing – I thought that she might be a relative – but she explained to me about your mother and your uncle. You’ve been through quite an ordeal, and it’s left you with a touch of a cold. You’ve been sleeping like the dead for the better part of a day now.”
As Anju stood and announced that she would fetch something warm for me to eat, I tried to make sense of what Malon had said. My mind was still a bit fuzzy, but I managed to piece together the story as they understood it. Anju must have been the lady that had lent Dampé clothing for me to wear. He had told her that I was his niece and probably invented a story about my mother’s death to explain my sudden presence in his home. I knew that they didn’t see it so simply; how could they? Anju would have heard that Dampé and the young guard who attacked us had disappeared, and I would have been supposed among the missing until I’d turned up alone at Lon Lon Ranch in the dark of night. In changing my wet, muddy clothes for the clean linen nightgown I now wore they had discovered the Sheikah short sword at my belt. I doubted that either of them had tried on the cloak to discover its unique characteristic, though the richness of the fabric would doubtless have raised questions.
I'm loving this! Of course, I have to admit that I knew I would since I've nosed through forums you've written in before and read through quite a bit. I can't offer you any real advice besides to keep writing and I'll keep enjoying. Okay, maybe one, but its superficial. You need a more dramatic sounding name to be well read in these forums. Doran says that the things he receives the most reads on has had darkness in the title, but I don't really feel that that's what this story is about, nor that you should really cater to those readers anyway. :p
Your work is enjoyably detailed in interesting and ornate ways without turning into a, paid by the word, Dicken's novel. I have fantastic visual clarity while reading your work, so much so that I completely forgot to even look for weaknesses. If there were any, my eyes and thoughts did not stumble. Which is saying a lot (I mean it- have you read any free e-books lately?).
I wouldn't have dreamt of taking this story to the places you have taken it, and loved the concept from the beginning. I could not have done a dollop of work that was anything comparable.
When you publish your great and marvelous first published book, please tell me so that I can download it to my kindle.