Prologue: Chapter Ten

MORNING dawned over the desert in its usual riot of reds and golds--color bled back into the bleached landscape with all the suddenness of a rainstorm. Gaelaidh stood beneath the early sun like a garden, full of incredible colors--reds, blues, greens, gold and black and silver. And to the north was the dark bulk of the Stan-steall, ancient fortress of the Gerudo kind, immortal and impregnable beneath the desert sun. No light penetrated into the fortress, for it was entirely without windows and the labyrinth inside was lit only by the smoky flames of torches.

Sofia had spent a restless night sharing Galdenor's tent; worried as she was for the safety of her friends she had felt that she needed her brother's company. But she could not sleep for thinking about Link and Zelda in their uncomfortable cell, bound and helpless with only rotting straw for a bed. Before sunrise she had risen and, quietly so as not to disturb her brother, dressed and left the tent. Her tied red hair streamed out behind her like a fiery banner as she rode through the ever-changing streets and out onto the sand-covered hills that surrounded Gaelaidh. Dismounting beside a small oasis she let her horse drink, and sat down to watch the sun rise over the sand.

Last night, after she had seen Link and Zelda, Galdenor had taken her back to his dwelling where they had talked for an age, going over different possibilities and ways to ensure that her friends were freed. At the end of their discussion neither she nor her brother were much enlightened, especially when it came to the King's position in the affair. Thorkelin, Sofia knew, was a good man and yet he hated Link's kind with a passion--a passion shared by many of the Gerudo people. And his attitude would not be helped by the death of Nabun and the others in the canyon party--Nabun had been a close advisor to the King, and a trusted friend.

"Goddess," the red-haired woman muttered angrily, her amber eyes flashing. "We didn't beat the cobra just so that the quest could be ruined by my father's stiff neck!" She clenched her fists in determination--somehow, she would change Thorkelin's mind! Rising with a suddenness that made her knees pop, she began to pace up and down the sand, a stubborn frown drawing lines upon her face. There had to be a way she could help her friends. For a moment she toyed with the idea of sending word to Hyrule to enlist the help of Zelda's own father--Kings understood one another after all--but Sofia realized that that option would be more likely to cause all-out war between the Hylians and the Gerudo, and that she could not risk.

Alternatively, she could tell Thorkelin everything. This seemed to be the best choice right now, as she knew her father valued honesty above all. But he would not be at all pleased about the Spirit Temple part of the journey, and there was little Sofia could say in answer to that. After all, she had taken two unbelievers to the sacred place, risking the all too real wrath of the Goddess. Her only defense was that she had done what she had because she needed to find out whether Link and Zelda had been truthful about their purpose in the Western realm.

There was a soft scrape of feet and she turned to see her brother's powerful frame. Galdenor stood a few feet away, holding the reins of his horse in one big fist; she had been so engrossed in her problems that she had not heard him approach. "Sofi?" he asked kindly. "Are you all right?"

"No," she admitted with a sigh. "It's just going round and round in my head. Daddy's going to be mad whatever I say!"

Galdenor shrugged. "Just tell him the truth. It's the only thing you can do now. Then their fate is in the hands of the Goddess."

Sofia shook her head angrily. "I don't like that plan--it's too risky!"

"What else are you going to do?" he asked practically. "Bust them out of the Stan-steall?"

"I thought about that," she admitted.

"Well, don't think about it." He let go of his horse's reins and came forward to lay his big hands gently on her shoulders. "There's nothing we can do," he said with finality. "You have to tell Father as much as you can--you have to speak out for them. Lay it all bare. The only way out of this is the honest way. You know that."

"I do," Sofia sighed after a long moment. "I was thinking about it before you came here. But he probably won't even let me speak."

Galdenor looked toward the bright sun, shining amber-golden in the early morning sky. "We should get back," he said matter-of-factly. "Father wanted to get the case over and done with early. The prisoners may already be on their way from the Stan-steall."

"But it's only just morning!" Sofia said. "He told me that they'd be judged at midday!"

"Did he?" Galdenor said in surprise.

They stared at each other for a moment.

"I can't believe it," Sofia said.

Her brother touched her shoulder. "Forget about it," he said gently. "Come on. We'd better go."

 

 

"What do you mean you can't find them?"

King Harkinian paced up and down the red-carpeted hall that served as an audience room. Hyrule's ruler was a tall, white-haired man with the bright blue eyes that seemed to characterize those of royal blood; tall and noble, he wore a sword by his side despite his obvious age. The King's face was creased into lines of worry as he whirled and paced the other way, feet making little sound upon the thick red mat.

"They can't have just disappeared!"

The messenger shifted anxiously from foot to foot, his unease plain in his face. Self-consciously he smoothed down his dark blue tunic adorned with a golden Triforce; the livery of the Royal House. It was never pleasant to be the bearer of bad news.

"Tell me again what happened," King Harkinian murmured, sinking down into his golden chair and placing a hand over his eyes as if to block out the fact of his lost daughter.

"We... we rode through the Gerudo Valley pass, sire," the messenger began hesitantly, "following the tracks. Their horses were running loose down in the canyon; they went on on foot. Kaleth ordered that we go on over the rockfall to see if they were on the other side. We climbed over the fall and were attacked by Gerudo. Tristan and Lysander were lost ere we fought them off, and Alun is maimed." He looked down at his feet, then up again to meet the King's eyes. "I'm sorry, Sire," he said hopelessly.

"I won't give up," King Harkinian said finally, rising from his chair. His voice becoming impassioned, the King slammed a fist into his palm. "Those Gerudo scum had better not have hurt my daughter, or I swear by Din I'll wipe their filthy hides off the face of the earth!" His shoulders straightened and he strode towards the door. "Ready my horse!"

 

 

Link stumbled on a hidden stone and was jerked upright again by the rope around his neck. He winced at the rough handling but said nothing; neither he nor Zelda would give their captors that satisfaction.

They had come for the two prisoners after an interminable time, and it was only when the open doorway of their prison became visible that the young warrior knew it was sunrise. The Gerudo had bound both he and the Princess with their hands behind their backs and now led them along on the ends of leashes--like dogs, Link thought with a flash of anger. For a mad moment, as he stared at the back of the man who led him, he wished for a weapon, but killing his captors would only make things worse. He needed the goodwill of the Gerudo if he was going to make it back through the desert to Hyrule.

"Zel?" he called in a whisper, his eyes on the Gerudo. "Are you all right?"

"So it's "Zel" now, is it?" the Princess hissed back, a little of her usual spark remaining in the sassy comment.

"I'm serious," Link breathed softly.

She glanced at him and mouthed, "I'm fine." Her face was very pale, save for the grime which coated it, and there were dark circles around her tired eyes. The young warrior bit his lip at the Princess's appearance--a night trying to sleep on the cold stone floor of a prison cell would take it out of even the toughest Hylian, let alone a Princess used to luxury. He felt admiration for Zelda's courage in facing the dire situation; many a man would have folded by now.

He raised his head and looked forward, down into the valley below. They were heading down the side of one of the sandy hills that surrounded Gaelaidh, and the tent city spread out beneath him like a marvelous tapestry of colors. At any other time he would have been glad to see it, but now he was only afraid that it would be his last resting place. Lowering his head again the young warrior sighed.

There was a sharp tug on the rope which pulled him off his feet. He fell full length with a cry, sending up a puff of sand. Two of the Gerudo laughed roughly, and the one who had been leading him leaned over and tweaked his ear, commenting rudely in the Gerudo tongue. Furiously he leaped to his feet again, shaking them off, and resisted any further attempt to be led. "Do your people have no respect for anyone?" he shouted angrily.

Although they could not have understood his words, the Gerudo understood the tone of the young warrior's voice. Dark glances were exchanged before there came another, gentler tug, the message of which was clear. Swallowing his rage Link capitulated with their desires, but was slightly heartened to see their guards now slightly more subdued. It gave him new courage to see that they could, after all, be swayed.

The sun was still only just above the dunetops by the time they reached the floor of the basin and stood once more on the white sandy streets of Gaelaidh. A curious, muttering crowd lined the streets as the guards led their two unusual prisoners through the wide bright main roads, twisting and turning as they made their way through the city. Link was momentarily afraid that the assembled throngs might try to throw things--he had seen angry crowds before in Calatia, and it was a frightening sight--but his heart was eased when he saw that there was merely a bright interest in the crowds of watching eyes. He resented being turned into a sideshow for the amusement of the desert people, but it was infinitely better than being attacked by a mob. Once he thought he saw Sofia in the melee, but it was an older woman that he picked out.

"Where are we going?" Link asked out loud, but none of the Gerudo answered. In a moment his question was answered, as the escorts turned a corner into a wide and whitely sanded square which had been cleared of people and dwellings. A raised platform had been set up in the center of the square, and behind it stood a great tent larger than any of the others. The designs woven into the fabric of this dwelling were familiar; the same tight hieroglyphs had been engraved upon the walls of the Spirit Temple, though not in this profusion of colors. There was a throne, of sorts, that had been placed upon the raised dais, and upon this sat a man who was obviously of some influence among the Gerudo people. Beside him stood two women dressed in sumptuous silks, their red hair bound tightly into braids, and richly dressed Gerudos both male and female lined the edges of the rough square. Gazing spellbound at the human lord, Link saw that he wore a heavy golden circlet set with jewels of many kinds, and he realized that this must be none other than the King himself...

A hard blow to the small of his back threw the young warrior to the ground, and he heard Zelda scream in fright. Beginning to rise, Link froze in his place when he felt the cold tip of a blade prick his back. With an effort of will he held himself still, lifting only his head to look into the eyes of the King of the Desert. "Me ■in mod-sefa licao leng swa wel?" he tried, with an ingratiating smile. A ripple of laughter ran round the edges of the open place.

Majestically the King rose, sweeping his blue cloak behind him as he stood. "Know you where you are, Ălf?" King Thorkelin demanded in heavily accented Hylian. Zelda began to say something but was silenced as the King glared in her direction and snapped, "Be still!" The King's eyes turned back to the young warrior.

"Gaelaidh?" Link suggested. More laughter.

King Thorkelin stepped gracefully down from the raised platform, and paced back and forth upon the sand. "This place is the Wţc Rihtwţsnes, in your tongue the Place of Judgement. Have you anything to say before judgement is passed?"

"What are we accused of?" Link demanded, attempting to inch out from beneath the blade at his back. A renewed pressure told him that moving was not a wise course of action.

The King's brows drew together. "Since you ask, I will tell you," he said coldly. "You and your woman come like thieves in the night to my land which is forbidden to your kin. You have abducted my daughter and forced her to take you to our most sacred place, which you defile with your presence, and while you divert our sight by kidnapping my daughter, your warriors come through the pass and murder my scouts in the most cowardly way. The penalty for such crimes is death." Sofia, listening in the crowd, suppressed a gasp; the King knew everything, it seemed! Who was it who had whispered to her father, put such a damning spin on the truth of things?

"But we didn't do it!" the young warrior cried. "You have it all wrong! She offered to show us the way!"

"And I am not his woman!" Zelda snarled.

The King laid a hand upon the pommel of the scimitar that hung by his side. "You lie," he responded quietly. "You bewitched my daughter so that she would show you the Temple of the Goddess."

Link sensed the tide of opinion beginning to turn against him and Zelda. It seemed that the assembled Gerudo nobles were to act as jury, with the King as prosecutor and judge... not a particularly auspicious combination. Desperately he called out, "Ask Sofia what really happened! I am no magician, surely you can see that! The truth of the affair does not matter to you; you merely intend to see us killed!" There were gasps at his words, and a suspicious murmuring arose among the watchers.

"Insolent dog!" the King spat. "How dare you address me like that?"

Link winced as the tip of his escort's blade poked his back. "Normally, sir, I'd be more polite to a King," he snapped back, "but we both have received nothing but ill-treatment at the hands of your people, and I grow tired of being pulled around and thrown into dark holes!" Warming to his theme, the young warrior shifted on the sand so that he could look more directly into Thorkelin's face. "This is a travesty of justice," he said firmly. "If you wish to try us for these imagined crimes, at least allow the chief witness to speak her part."

"My daughter is unwell," Thorkelin growled. "She is resting."

"No, father, I'm not," came a familiar voice. There was a universal intake of breath, and Link felt the tip of the guard's scimitar leave his back. Quick as a cat the young warrior rolled away from the blade and leaped to his feet, turning to face the Gerudos who had held him prisoner. He shook the loosened rope free from his neck. Drawing their blades as one, the guards prepared to rush him. But a red-haired form flashed between him and the weapons leveled against him. "You must stop this," Sofia ordered angrily, turning to face her father. "These people are not criminals."

"What is the meaning of this?" Thorkelin raged. "I told you-!"

"To stay in my tent until midday when the judgement would take place," Sofia said flatly. "I know. But you wanted to get this done without me, didn't you, father?"

"I knew you would stand up for them," the King growled. "You have been bewitched, Sofia, and your word counts for nothing in this court. Stand aside!"

"She is not bewitched," Galdenor announced, pushing his way through the throng to stand beside his sister. She took his hand and held it tight. "Father, you must listen to us," the prince ordered--his Hylian was, like Sofia's, perfect, and Link suppressed a smile at the small deception. Sofia had been cautious to the last.

"You also, Galdenor?" Thorkelin said weakly, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I also," he agreed, slicking back his red hair. "As Crown Prince, I have a right to be heard. And let it be known that I support Link and Zelda!" Excited talking broke out throughout the plaza as the assembled people discussed how the new disclosure should affect their decision.

For the first time, another person spoke up. He was an elderly man, his skin burnt to leather by the wind, and he stood at the foot of the raised dais, close to the King's seat. "Perhaps Prince Galdenor is also bewitched," he croaked cunningly. "Should we trust his word? The fairy folk are tricky creatures. Who here does not remember the old stories? Tales to entertain the young, we thought--but behold, two of them stand before us now!" An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd.

"That is true," Thorkelin said slowly. "Then let us examine the facts of this case." A dark scowl spread across his craggy features. "I have intended to be fair to these creatures, even despite their race. Though there are those who would wish to see justice swiftly meted, I have wanted to hear and judge impartially. But I cannot be blind to the danger that these two may pose to us. Therefore it is in my people's best interests to--"

"Wait!" Galdenor cried. "There is an easy way to tell whether we are speaking the truth! Summon Mewla, father!"

The silence that fell was abrupt and total. Link glanced uneasily at Zelda, who stood between two of the guards. She met his eyes and shrugged faintly, saying, I have no idea. The tension that had arisen at the mention of Mewla was almost palpable in the air, and the color had drained from the King's face. He stood like a statue, only his eyes darting from one face to the next. "Mewla," he said finally, real fear in his voice. "Galdenor, my son... go back to your tent."

"No, father," Galdenor said quietly. "They have been accused of witchcraft--and worse, I have been accused of weakness in my mind. I cannot and will not let that pass. Mewla can tell us all if it is really so. Unless you think they can bewitch her, too?"

"Who is Mewla?" Link asked, frowning.

"Quiet," the King snapped, glaring at the young warrior. Then, "Galdenor, if Mewla is summoned and finds that these are witches, you know what must happen."

"Yes, father," Galdenor said grimly. "I know. But she will not find that so."

"She will demand payment," Thorkelin insisted.

The prince shrugged. "Give her a horse. She cannot complain--a life is a life, after all."

There was a long silence, and some of the watchers murmured uneasily. Then, finally, the King's shoulders slumped. "Very well, my son," he said in a soft voice. "Since you insist on this insanity, we will call Mewla to the Place of Judgement."

"Who is Mewla?" Link insisted. But already people were fleeing the square, clearing a wide pathway. Faintly he heard voices throughout Gaelaidh, calling what sounded like warnings in the Gerudo tongue. In the Place of Judgement, none spoke. The young warrior glanced at the Princess, and tried another telepathic sending: This doesn't sound good.

Zelda flicked her ears up and looked round at him; her eyes were worried. What is Mewla? she asked. Link shook his head helplessly.

"How do you two do that?" Sofia murmured.

Link jerked in surprise--he had not expected her to speak. "What?" he asked, confused.

"You spoke to each other, didn't you?" the red-haired woman muttered. "But I heard nothing." She turned to face him. "Link, are your people really witches?" she asked quietly, solemnly.

"Not us two," he said with complete confidence. "Although I can't vouch for everyone in Hyrule. Who is Mewla?"

"My great-grandfather captured her one night as she lay sleeping," Sofia murmured, glancing at the Gerudo people who still ringed the square. She pitched her voice low enough that she would not be overheard by the watchers. "She was a youngling then. He subdued her, and forced her sometimes to do his bidding, but she will never be tamed. She has great power which is only barely held at bay by the little we can do to hold her. My father keeps her caged only because we cannot kill her and it would be too dangerous to let her go."

"Will we have to fight her?" Link wished desperately that his hands were free.

Sofia shook her head. "No... if we loosed her, we would never recapture her, and she would take her revenge upon us all. My father intends to use Mewla to find out if you are truly capable of casting enchantments upon your enemies. She will look into your spirit, and she will know."

The young warrior nodded his understanding, and then closed his eyes to relay the message across to Zelda, who stared at him in sudden fear. Sofia frowned as she saw another unspoken conversation pass between her two friends, and determined to find out the secret if she could.

But then the eerie silence was broken by a cry that had not sounded over Hyrule for over a thousand years--a reptilian scream, which died into a bubbling, threatening hiss. The head of Mewla rose above the emptied tents behind the King's platform, and a moment later the rest of her came into view around the corner, surrounded by people striving to control her with a hundred ropes and strong chains wrapped around her body and through the iron collar around her sinuous neck.

"Nayru's Love!" Zelda screamed in terror. "A dragon!"

Mewla was magnificent. A small specimen she was, perhaps, but no less fantastical for that. She measured at least forty feet in length, fully two thirds of which was tail and a twisting, serpentine neck. Her ebon scales, so black that they shimmered oily rainbows in the sunlight, were harder than the strongest of swords and fitted together so closely that they were as a second skin to cover her own soft one. Like the scales, her claws were of deepest night, so polished that they shone like steel. Her great pale eyes glowed blue with inner flame. Mewla screamed again, lifting her head high in a struggle to free herself from the bonds which held her down; her slender snout gaped to reveal long needle-like white teeth in a bright blood-red mouth.

The handlers dragged the dragon into the empty square by sheer force, she resisting every step with abortive jerks of her head and lashes of her long tail. Wings she had as well, but they had been lashed tightly to her sides with thick iron bands. Still, Link could not doubt that the dragon could do terrible damage with just her claws and her teeth, and he was greatly thankful that she was under control...

...just.

One of the ropes through the collar snapped and Mewla screeched again, throwing her head from side to side in a bid to break the rest of her bonds. Before such a thing could happen, King Thorkelin leaped forward to stand right before the dragon, alone and unprotected upon the sand. "Hear me!" he roared.

"Free me," Mewla hissed back, the Hylian words coming strangely from her fanged mouth. Her humped back rippled with power as she prepared for another spasm.

"I have a command for you!" the King shouted. "Stand down, worm!"

The baleful eyes of Mewla met those of the King, and for a long moment a battle of wills raged between the human and the dragon. Then, abruptly Mewla gave in. The long neck straightened down upon the sand, as did the sinuous tail. The dragon abased herself before Thorkelin, tongue lolling from her jaws as if she were a playful dog. "O Master," she fawned, "what may I, your humble slave, do to serve you?"

Thorkelin turned, sweeping his arm out in a grand gesture. "These two," he announced, "have been brought here to be judged. They are accused of witchery. Look into their souls and see what is hidden there." His eyes settled on his son and daughter who stood defiantly by their friends. "Move away, both of you," he ordered, his voice cold. Sullenly, Sofia backed away, guided by Galdenor's hand on her shoulder.

All attention in the square returned to the beast of glittering darkness.

"What will you give me?" Mewla purred, her long tail rippling. The handlers kept their chains tightened in case the dragon gave a sudden lurch--they knew that her show of submission was just that, a show.

"If they are guilty, their lives belong to you," Thorkelin answered. "If not, you shall feast on a blood mare of the Royal House."

"I want a stallion!" Mewla snapped. "Mares are no fun!"

The King scowled. "By the Goddess, will you demand even this?" he said angrily. "You know that a good stallion is worth his weight in gold!"

"And if you will not pay me in gold, as was the tribute of old," Mewla answered, "you will pay me what I ask." All trace of her servility had vanished in an instant as she haggled with the King.

"Very well," Thorkelin said grimly. "You shall have it. Now do as I ask."

Mewla raised her head again, and, whether the handlers would or no, she crawled forward upon the sand, scraping her belly upon the ground. Her glittering eyes fixated themselves upon Link, and she swayed her long head from side to side slowly, gazing at him with one eye then the other, then both together. "What is your name, Great Warrior?" the dragon purred.

Link felt the bright blue of her eyes swallow him as he answered. He tried to look away but he could not--she held him with her gaze. Dreamily he felt his awareness of the world sinking away from him, submerging in the eyes which now appeared as great gemlike pools that swelled and flowed towards him. Some part of him answered the dragon's sly questions, he knew, but most of him was rapt in the pleasure of those wondrous, magical eyes.

"Hylians must be very suggestible," Galdenor muttered to Sofia. The elven warrior had gone under the magical hypnosis in under three seconds--many humans might have held out for as long as a minute before Mewla overpowered their will.

"Do you think he will be all right?" Sofia whispered back anxiously. "I've never seen anyone go down so fast. What if Mewla doesn't release him?"

"She'll have to," he answered. "She agreed to the offer that was made her, and her word is her bond."

"What's Daddy doing?" Sofia frowned.

Thorkelin stepped forward once again. "Well, dragon?" he said coldly. "What do you see?"

"Very interesting," Mewla purred, still gazing into Link's eyes. The young warrior stood as a statue, looking up at the dragon with no expression upon his face--his mind was elsewhere now. Zelda looked on, her ears laid back in fear as she awaited her own turn. "Truly a fascinating story," Mewla elaborated, flicking her tail in an affected, catlike manner.

"Then share it with us," Thorkelin ordered. "Reveal the truth! Is he a witch?"

The dragon snorted. "Hardly," she breathed.

"What else?" Thorkelin insisted loudly.

Mewla's lips drew back from her teeth in a reptilian grin. "He is sorry for me," she purred. "He thinks you should let me go."

"Nice try," Galdenor muttered. Raising his voice, the prince called out, "Father! If they're not witches, then we are speaking the truth! Let them go!"

"Ask the elf why he came through the pass," Thorkelin ordered, ignoring his son's comments. "We'll have it all out of him here and now."

"Well?" Mewla purred, addressing Link once again. "You heard the nice man."

Link did not blink as he spoke slowly; his voice, dreamy and flat, had a strange artificial quality about it. "We seek information about the Knights of Hyrule," he answered.

"Why?" asked Mewla.

There was no hesitation in his reply. "We wish to recreate the Knighthood by finding the six Amulets of Legend, in order to obtain the Triforce and break Ganon's power in the Dark World." Zelda winced helplessly as the young warrior spilled the most secret details of their quest.

"Is he lying?" Thorkelin questioned, frowning. "I find this hard to believe."

"Impossible!" the dragon hissed in fury. "You dare doubt me, king? Nobody has ever lied to me, and nobody ever will!"

"He's telling the truth!" Galdenor shouted. "Mewla says so! What more proof do you need?"

Thorkelin nodded slowly. "As impossible as it sounds, it seems that their story is true," the King said reluctantly. Unnoticed by most, the old man who had spoken against Galdenor--Kauto--scowled in anger and slammed his fist into his other palm. "Therefore," Thorkelin went on, "the charges of witchcraft and abduction may be dropped."

"Let them go, then!" Sofia cried.

"Not yet," the King countered, pacing back to stand before the ensorcelled warrior. "There is still one charge against them--the murder of the scouts in the valley pass."

"It was nothing to do with us!" Zelda spoke up. "We were already far from the pass when this mysterious attack happened, and Sofia will vouch for that."

"You might not have been there in person, but your cursed hunters were," Thorkelin insisted. "Five of my people are dead because of that treachery. Men with wives and young children. Who will support their families now? Someone must pay for their deaths!"

"But not these two," Sofia said angrily. "We can unravel this last mystery later, father, but for now, for the Goddess's sake release them. We have all three been through terrible things in the desert, and to be treated like this when we finally reach home is an affront on human hospitality."

"Very well," Thorkelin answered with a heavy sigh. "Galdenor, these two are in your charge. I do not expect you to disappear over the horizon with them, is that understood?" The prince grinned in amusement, and Sofia stomped on his toe.

 

 

Link groaned. There was a throbbing pain behind his forehead, much like the pain he had had after Milo's coming-of-age, when he had overindulged in strong wine. The young warrior put a hand over his aching eyes and hoped that he hadn't thrown up over anyone important this time around.

"Link, how are you feeling now?" Zelda asked softly, brushing the dark red hair from his forehead.

"I'll be down in a minute, mother," he mumbled. She raised an eyebrow in puzzlement.

"It is the dragonspell," Sofia explained. "His head is confused."

They were in the cool shade of Galdenor's own tent. With Mewla now subdued and returned to her great tent behind the King's dwelling, normal life was returning to Gaelaidh and already there was a bustle of people and horses outside the flap. The young warrior lay senseless upon Galdenor's pallet as Sofia removed the bonds from Zelda's sore wrists and found a leather bottle full of clear, cool water to pass round.

"Listen, Sofia... Galdenor," Zelda began, "I want to thank you both for standing up for us back there, and for everything else you did. I was really afraid we were done for--"

"It is no problem," Galdenor said. "I also must thank you, for opening my eyes. Our two peoples must pull together now; too much is at stake."

Zelda nodded. "Well, if I can get along with Sofia, then I see no reason why my father cannot get along with your father," she said with a light laugh. "We will have to convince them both to listen to each other."

"Where am I?" Link asked plaintively, sitting up with a hand upon his head.

"Link, you're all right!" Zelda exclaimed, and enveloped him in a warm hug. Still confused, he returned the embrace with a puzzled glance at Sofia. After a moment, Zelda relinquished her grasp of the young warrior and turned back to the two humans. "We should get back to Hyrule soon," she suggested. "Sofia..?"

The red-haired woman nodded. "Ah, I know. That question again." With a sideways smile, she shrugged her shoulders. "I will miss my brother, but..." She left the sentence unfinished, laughter in her eyes.

"You're coming with us?" Link exclaimed joyfully.

"As soon as we sort out this last problem," Sofia agreed. "We have to find out who killed the scouts, and why."

"Something's going on out there," Galdenor said with a frown, cupping his ear with one big hand. Indeed, there did seem to be an increased commotion outside the darkness of the tent--people were shouting something over and over again.

"What is it?" Zelda asked.

Sofia shook her head, indicating confusion. "It sounds like they're saying 'the Ălfan king, the Ălfan king," over and over again," she said, frowning.

"The elven king?" Link repeated. Zelda stared at him, and understanding dawned upon them both together. They charged for the door flap of the tent.

"Link? Zelda?" Sofia stared at the swinging flap. "Galdenor, quickly!" she ordered, leaping to her feet.

 

 

King Harkinian reined in his horse as the Gerudo people milled around his company. The Royal Guards, resplendent in their silvered armor, closed in to protect their silver-haired ruler, alarmed at the fascination of the masses. "Where is your leader?" the King shouted again and again in Hylian, but only awed stares greeted his request.

Suddenly, the people parted like water to allow a slender, blonde Gerudo girl to rush through. Her hair, the color of spun gold, bobbed behind her in a high ponytail as she ran and leaped up into the startled King's arms. "Daddy!" she screamed, throwing her arms around him.

King Harkinian caught her automatically, and then did a double-take that would, under other circumstances, have been funny. "Zelda?" he gasped.

 

 






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