Prologue: Chapter Fourteen
IT WAS a subdued party that assembled at first light. The desert sun, not yet fully over the horizon, had already tinged the cloudless sky golden and a faint hot breeze from the east stirred hair and ruffled loose garments. The armor of the Hylian troops glinted with sunlight and seemed to flicker as if a fire burned in the heart of the bright silver.
Sofia gave her brother a strong hug before mounting her own gray horse. The shaggy desert animal seemed somehow awkward in comparison to the tall clean-limbed Hylian horses... much like the Gerudo seemed strange and odd when compared to the elegant Hylians. She sighed and looked wistfully to her brother, who smiled bravely. They were going to miss each other a lot. "Good luck," Galdenor mouthed, stepping back as one of the Hylian troops led his horse between them to take his place in the company.
Link appeared out of the tent where he had slept, looking rumpled and sleepy-eyed. Once more he was dressed in Hylian style, wearing a tough white linen tunic over hose and a light shirt; the heraldric garments he had borrowed from one of the soldiers were slightly too big, but he chose to wear them instead of the Gerudo gear since they were returning home. He was sure that he had overworked his damaged shoulder in the fight last night, and it twinged and made him wince as he mounted the spare horse Harkinian had found for him. Two of the Royal guards had been killed in the battle against the Stalfos, and sad to say they were the reason that Link and Zelda could ride. Two long bundles lay on a low wagon drawn by packhorses. The young warrior touched the hilt of the serpentine dagger by his side and loosened it slightly in his belt; he hoped that he would not have to use it in the canyon pass but he did not intend to be caught unawares. The fine blade shifted in his belt to catch the sunlight and a shiver of fire ran up and down its copper-coloured edge.
The Gerudo had been very kind to all of them after the attack; there was a common enemy now which must be fought together. The irony was that, unwittingly, Link and Zelda had brought the attack on the humankind by staying in Gaelaidh; it weighed heavily on Link's heart that they had not left earlier. If they had, the Stalfos might never have come to the city. People had died last night, innocent people who had had nothing to do with two foreigners in their land, and in his heart the young warrior blamed himself for every death. Clenching his fists in the darkness of the tent, he had vowed to find out who had sent the skeletal warriors and to track the culprit down... somehow.
Sofia glanced across and caught his eye; she smiled as if to comfort him. She was smartly dressed in the traditional Gerudo garb: white silk trousers, cropped sleeveless top and hair tied into a high ponytail with a fine silken sash.
Zelda guided her horse through the assembly with a gentle hand. The Hylian Princess took her place beside Link without saying a word; there was little need for words between them. They felt comfortable together after spending long days on the road in each other's company. Link turned slightly and grinned at her, and she smiled back, her eyes sparkling in the dawn light. King Harkinian, behind them on his aged white stallion, felt a sadness as he saw his beautiful child so suddenly maturing before him. One of the soldiers sensed his liege's mood and turned towards the King with concern in his eyes. Covering up his momentary lapse, the King nodded briefly at the soldier and rode quickly to the head of the company.
Thorkelin had come to see them off, as had many of the Gerudo. Gravely the bearded man lifted a callused hand to the little company in a gesture of farewell; he was richly turned out in black leather armor and a long blue cloak, as a gesture of honour to new friends and allies.
"Hæl abiett!" cried Galdenor, waving to them as the King's company began to move out. "Good fortune, Link and Zelda! Write back, sister!" Laughing, Link turned in the saddle to wave good-bye to the tall prince. Galdenor stood beside Thorkelin in the dawning day, father and son the image of a young, strong race. In Galdenor, it could be seen what Ganondorf might have become...
"What is happening to me?" Link muttered crossly. Such strange thoughts he was having recently! These matters of Amulets and quests were too high for a simple fisherman's son such as he... all of a sudden the young warrior was afflicted with a spasm of homesickness that made yesterday's seem a mere eyeblink. He sighed heavily and thought of Lake Lomere.
"Link, are you unwell?" Sofia asked, concerned. Her amber eyes were worried as she gazed at him, her hands slack on the neck of her horse.
"Well enough," he said softly. "Never mind me."
The journey through the desert was an easy one, almost as if now that their task was done the Goddess cared only to hasten their departure. The sun shone with reduced radiance through the haze of sand that cloaked the upper airs, and a soft cool breeze blew constantly from the east, bringing with it a soft scent of the green fields and forests of home. Ahead the dark flanks of the mountains grew steadily in their sight, soft in the golden mists. Link yawned and adjusted the strap of the leather satchel he wore over his shoulder; Prowl was asleep in the bag. All around him were the sounds of other people now; the jingle of a harness, the thudding of hooves on sand. He did not like traveling with such a large group.
"Those are the Shadowed Mountains, young Hero," said a voice quite close to him. Link shook himself out of the reverie and glanced left to meet the gaze of the King. Harkinian's eyes were the same shade of blue as Zelda's and at the moment they held a warm glitter.
"Sire?" he answered, surprised that the King should bother to talk with him.
Harkinian nodded, gazing towards the ancient peaks. "They have been called that ever since the Age of Legend," the King elaborated softly. "There are two great mountain ranges in Hyrule, the granite Celcardens in the East of Hyrule where Death Mountain stands alone, and the black marble Shadows in the West. Hylians rarely traveled in the Shadows, even in times of old when the passage was clear, and we have never explored them or mapped their extent. There are legends--ancient stories of Hyrule--that tell of dark creatures in these mountains."
"Do you mean like dragons?" Link asked.
The King looked astonished. "Why, what do you know of dragons?" he demanded, paying close attention to the green-eyed warrior for perhaps the first time since they had met.
"We met one!" Link explained, gesturing earnestly back to Gaelaidh. "King Thorkelin had one imprisoned, sire! You did not see her?"
"That cannot be," Harkinian insisted, his white brows drawing together. "The dragons have slept for countless years. Gleeok was the last of them."
"I assure you, my lord, there was a dragon," Link insisted defensively, meeting the King's eyes. "A black one, the like of which I never heard tell. She was called Mewla; she had great dark wings and a body that was more like a lizard's than a serpent's. The Gerudo kept her bound." He warmed to his theme. "Sire, she was magnificent!" he exclaimed. "Horrible, but beautiful at the same time. She... I know not what happened when..." Suddenly confused by a shifting haze of memories, Link faltered to a stop, unable to suppress a strange shudder.
The King looked intently at the young warrior, his blue eyes for a moment hard and cold. "You do speak the truth," he said finally. "You have seen a dragon--you have that air about you. Did you look into its eyes?"
"I did," Link owned. "Gods! I hope I never shall again."
But Harkinian, once more, was not listening. "A winged drake," he murmured quietly. "And after so many centuries of peace..."
"Sire, will you tell me about dragons?" Link asked. He loved to hear stories, and if one could be solicited from the Hylian monarch he would certainly not stint Harkinian of a willing ear.
Indeed, the King was not unwilling to share his thoughts. "Dragons used to roam these lands, young Hero," he began, "but the last of them disappeared many years ago. It was said that they were made of dreams and belonged to the Age of Legends, and when those times drew to an end with the birth of the Hero of Time, the dragons fell into a deep sleep in their mountain lairs, never to rise again. Beneath Death Mountain Ganon resurrected the greatest of the wingless serpents, Volvagia Darkflight, to slay the Hero of Time, but he fought and defeated the dragon with the great hammer of the Gorons..."
"But why did Ganondorf choose a wingless wyrm?" Link asked, interrupting shamelessly. "Surely if he had chosen a creature like Mewla he would have had more chance of winning."
The King nodded. "That is true, young Hero. But even Ganon's powers were limited then, and it is probable that he could not command the winged drakes. They were said to be the greatest and most terrible." Harkinian sighed heavily. "This sighting of a winged wyrm, even a young one held captive, is a bad omen," he remarked softly. "Hyrule may need your services once again, young Hero."
Link smiled. "Do not concern yourself, my lord. I have faith in this quest! Once we have found the Amulets of Legend, not even a horde of dragons will stand against us."
"I like your confidence," Harkinian said. "But do not fool yourself that it will be that easy. With complacency comes defeat."
"Yes, sire," Link answered. He did not fully agree with what the King was trying to say, but he understood that the advice was given in a spirit of kindness and was determined to look grateful.
"What did you two talk about?" Sofia asked curiously when the company paused to rest. The spot they had chosen, in the shade of a great wind-etched stone, was similar to the one at which Link and Zelda had stopped with their Gerudo escort on the outward journey. The red-haired woman sat herself down on the stony ground beside her two friends, already at ease among the Hylians who were so different from her.
"Mm?" Link asked, distracted. He was feeding Prowl and she, half-starved from a whole three hours without food, kept play-biting his fingers. "Oh, you mean the King and I?" That sounded good, and he mouthed it again to himself, smiling. "The King and I... the King and I."
"Link!" Sofia snapped, reaching the end of her tether.
"What?" He blinked. "Oh, sorry, Sofia! I was dreaming."
"I can tell," she remarked. "What did you talk about with Harkinian?"
Link shrugged. "Dragons," he said.
"Dragons?" Sofia frowned. Zelda ignored both of them, refreshing herself from a water bottle passed to her from one of the faithful soldiers.
"Dragons," Link re-iterated. "Apparently there used to be a lot of dragons in these mountains, but they all disappeared except for Volvagia, who got killed by the Hero of Time. But then I told him about Mewla and he got a little upset." He frowned. "There was something about dragons waking up and my services being needed. I did not understand much of what he said."
"Perhaps you should pay more attention," Sofia remarked acidly.
"Well, excuse me!" Link huffed. Then, "Ow!" Prowl had sunk her over-eager teeth into the ball of his thumb. He flapped his injured hand in the air to take the sting away, and then examined the four neat punctures welling blood. "Thank you so much," he snapped at the unconcerned kitten. She rolled on her back and purred at him.
Sofia looked concerned. "Did she bite deeply?" she asked, already rummaging through her satchel for a leather flask of water and clean bandages. "It might get infected." Taking his hand in hers she gently bathed the injury with cool water from the flask and then tied a strip of white cloth around the wounds, working fast and competently. "Better?" she said smiling.
Link flexed his hand. "Thank you, Sofia," he said. Turning to the kit he waved the bandage in front of her nose to demonstrate the effects of her clumsiness. "See that, Prowl?" he mock-scolded her. "I shall be crippled for life!" The kit made another lazy snap at his hand and he whisked it away with more practiced swiftness.
"'Once bitten, twice shy'," quoted Sofia with a laugh.
"Anything in the Book of Mudora about dragons, my Princess?" Link asked, turning to Zelda as he scooped the kitten into his lap. His eyes were mischievous as he waited for her response. Deliberately she ignored his teasing, shaking her golden hair back and tilting her face into the sun that shone so brightly. Link, seeing the tactic would not work this time, smiled appealingly. "Come on, Zelda, tell!"
"That's better," she remarked, and reached into her pack to draw out the Book. She tossed it at him and it hit him in the chest with a thud. Link fell backwards onto the sand. "Look through it yourself," Zelda told him mildly, and found a wooden comb with which to tidy her hair.
Sofia plucked the ancient tome from the fallen warrior's arms, and opened it. The ancient Hylian script, darkly gleaming as if still wet, appeared cabbalistic and mysterious to eyes unfamiliar with it. The red-haired woman stared at the words in fascination, her eyes wide. "What does this all say?" she asked Link. "Is it some kind of magic book?"
He shrugged lightly. "Not as such. It tells things that have happened in the past and will happen in the future, but it never lets all its secrets go. Things are never in the same place twice."
"Can you read it?" she questioned, awe-struck.
"Unfortunately, not very well," Link answered with a laugh. "I can spell out a few words here and there, but I never learned much of the old tongues. Zelda knows them all back to front, although I know not what use it will be to speak Zora nowadays."
"The Zoras died out, did they?" Sofia asked softly.
"We think so," Zelda answered, getting up. "Nobody has ever seen one. Look, everyone is ready to move. Take the Book with you, Link, I am tired of carrying it. It keeps poking me in the leg."
"Well, excuse me, Princess," Link muttered, rather put out by her terse order. He hefted the heavy volume and stuffed it without ceremony into a saddlebag.
It had been a short stop, long enough to refresh parched mouths from waterskins and to rest the feet of the horses from the hot sand, but too short for any real rest to have taken place. The King was eager to return to Hyrule Town.
The company plodded on through the ever-drifting sands. Ahead, the sand-haze began to clear and the mountains appeared in stronger, darker detail, growing greater with each step until they towered above the little group. It was good to enter the pass and get beneath the shade of the mountains' bulk, but Link found himself glancing uneasily at the great stony slopes surrounding them and thinking how suitable the place would be for an ambush. So many times so far he had thought himself safe, and then some new danger had reared its head to force him to fight; he did not intend to let his guard down until they trod once more upon the green ground of Hyrule. But, though there was certainly an odd and frightening atmosphere within the mountain pass, no creature struck against the company and they finally rounded the bend which brought them within sight of the rockfall that separated Hyrule from the West.
The Hyrulian stonemasons had been hard at work upon the blockage. A great hole had been dug into the flank of the rockslide, and now a beaten path wound up its sloping sides and through the dip newly created in the middle. Makeshift cottages had been constructed from stones quarried from the fall, and even now there were people at work clearing the pass, balancing on earthen dams and wooden scaffolds as they chiseled busily at the tough stone. "They must have been working in shifts to have got this far in a few days," Link murmured to Zelda as they rode up to the gap. Work stopped and the labourers turned to cheer as the party trotted swiftly over the path; the King raised a hand majestically to acknowledge his subjects. For some, it would be the first and only time they saw their golden princess, and they cried her name joyfully.
"What news, my lord?" cried someone daringly, and an expectant silence fell.
The King lifted his head and looked around the quarry site, his proud eyes searching for the speaker. "Peace!" Harkinian announced, his voice echoing between the canyon walls.
The walls of the valley pass were almost sheer. From the lofty height of a clifftop ledge, the party making its way along the winding road looked no larger than a collection of toy soldiers. Sunlight glinted off silver helms and the brightly polished breastplates of a company of Hylian knights. One tiny figure stood out in particular: an older white-haired man, riding at the head of the well-ordered column. The road was clear and the air still, and Harkinian's guard was down.
It would have been a perfect vantage point. If only the figures were within bowshot!
The shrouded form, wrapped tight in sand-coloured rags, knelt on the very edge of oblivion as he watched the soldiers pass beneath. It was a much reduced company that this one led back: a mere handful of bulky muffled figures, who crouched or leaned against the cliffs to take shelter in the meager shade.
There was much to consider.
Failure was not an unexpected outcome. It was more important to test the strength of our foes, to evaluate the dangers posed.
The leader of the group was well aware of what had occurred in Gaelaidh, when the dragon Mewla had been summoned; he had been there in the crowd, unseen and unnoticed, while his underlings slogged towards the city across the desert sands. That night he stood in the shadow of the king's tent and watched the battle move towards its inevitable conclusion. He had seen Hylians and Gerudos fighting--unthinkable!--as a team, and stranger than that he had seen the golden-haired girl, Zelda's heir, take up a weapon of her own. She could fight, then.
This was something new. Never before had they taken the initiative.
At least we know what is planned, he thought, leaning back; the stiff, tightly wound fabrics creaked in protest at the movement. There, we still have the advantage.
"Cap'n!" A sepulchral rumble of a voice. His hooded head turned. Two of the lesser ones knelt beside an open leather sack, their flaring gazes fixed upon him. "It's herself, cap'n, wants to speak to you," one of them said, lifting out the mirror.
He crouched with the others in the inadequate shade of an overhang, perched like some great carrion bird on a ledge less than a foot wide. The day's heat lay over everything like a stifling blanket as he took the mirror and tilted it out of the sunlight. In the glass, mists swirled and sparkled and swiftly cleared to show a very different place: a dark underground chamber, lit by flickering torchlight. She was a a silhouette hunched over the mirror's view, cloaked in shadow like a hunting cat. A golden spark hovered at her shoulder.
He paused before replying. "I judged the risk to be acceptable, Lady, given the circumstances. We learned much--"
"And they have learned much of us! Fool! I should have known you creatures would mess up a simple little task like that, if there was anything of importance in it. Next time I shall take care to resurrect something intelligent."
"As you wish," he said gruffly. "But first, your ladyship, know this. This Hero is not like the others. He does not fight alone. The girl... Zelda's heir..."
"Do not make excuses, Maximus. You failed. I don't care how many of them there were--you could still have at least killed the boy. There was only one of him."
In the background, someone muttered, "'E's the Hero, there only needs to be one of 'im..."
"What was that?" The voice from the mirror lashed out sharp and deadly. Nobody answered. There was a long pause, and finally a sigh. "Very well. Return with due speed. I want you here, Max--we will begin our own search for these amulets, at once. They must not have them." The mirror's image began to fade. Before the swirling mists occluded all, the watchers caught a last glimpse of her turning to the hovering spark. Far in the distance, the dark honeyed voice echoed like a whisper in a graveyard: "Summon Poe..."
"Home at last!" Link exclaimed, his green eyes sparkling with joy as he gazed at the rolling downs that stretched out toward the horizon. A silvery river wended its way from the distant darkness of the forest, through green hills and patchwork meadows. The western desert had been almost devoid of color, possessing only the warm golds of the sand and the deep earthy tones of the heavy stone, and in contrast the blue and green of Hyrule seemed as a rainbow. It overwhelmed the eye. Sofia, who had never before seen so much green life in one place, halted her horse to stare wonderstruck.
"Not far now," one of the soldiers agreed, slowing his horse to keep pace with the two teenagers. "The city is maybe half a day's ride, maybe a little less. We'll make it by nightfall if we push on."
"Ooh, food," the young warrior sighed rapturously. A ripple of laughter passed through the company at that comment and Zelda rolled her eyes dramatically, though she refrained from making a comment. Link yawned, unmindful of the attention he had drawn. "By Farore, I am tired," he sighed, releasing the reins to rub sleepily at his eyes.
"Rooms and hot water await at the castle," King Harkinian remarked over his shoulder. "We are all of us weary."
Sofia rode her horse through the ranks until she was again level with Link, and touching his shoulder gently she breathed, "A word with you." Momentarily surprised, Link nodded his assent and dropped back with her until they could speak without being overheard. "Do you have any clues about where the Amulets are?" she asked quietly, looking earnestly into his eyes. "We should begin our search as soon as possible, if those monsters were truly sent to Gaelaidh to find them."
Link's eyes widened. "So soon?" he remarked, raising an eyebrow quizzically. "I hoped that we could rest for a while before we went on another long adventure. The last seven days have been tougher than any of the adventures I had on my own." He held back a smirk as he finished, "I wonder if that was something to do with Zelda's coming along!"
"I heard that!" Zelda snapped.
He stuck his tongue out at her. "Well, 'tis your own fault for listening, my Princess!"
"I say, that's my daughter you're speaking to," the King called back mildly. Sofia burst into unrestrained laughter as Link gave a groan of utter despair.
Zelda slowed her own horse and came to ride beside them; her hair which had been tied neatly in a ponytail was coming loose from the constant jogging of the ride and now wisps of fine gold curled around her face. Her blue eyes glowed in the deep afternoon light, a light that in quality seemed to match her shining hair. Link felt his heart swell as he looked at her. "Well met, Princess," he said softly, teasing again, but there was a softness in his voice that had not been there before.
"I will ignore that as befits my station and dignity," Zelda remarked coolly. "What are you two whispering about? You've neglected me all day."
"Not intentionally, I assure you," Sofia answered earnestly. "I was asking Link whether either of you knew where to start looking for the Amulets of Legend. It seems very important that we find them quickly, or at least find some of them."
"Those Stalfos," the Princess muttered, thinking out loud. "It means something..."
"Oh, does it matter what it means?" Link groaned. "Let us just get home! I want to sleep!"
"You want to eat," Zelda contradicted. "As soon as we get back to the castle you are going to find the kitchens and start pestering the cooks for scraps."
Link looked injured. "Why, my Princess, you slander me!" he protested. "I would not do such a thing!" The look of innocence upon his face was so fake that both the girls laughed. Link frowned for a moment, but the corner of his mouth tugged up into a crooked smile at being found out.
Zelda cleared her throat quietly. "Sofia, I believe I have an answer to your question," she said softly. "About the searching. As yet we have little idea where the Amulets might be; I thought they might be hidden within the ancient elemental Temples, but since the Goddess of the Sand said not, we must look for another solution. All we can do at the moment is ask around and analyse the legends of the Amulets. Doubtless there will be some clue within the Book of Mudora if we look hard enough."
"Correction: if you look hard enough!" Link interjected with a laugh. "Sofia cannot read the Book and I can barely spell out a full sentence." He yawned again suddenly and remarked sleepily, "By Farore, I shall sleep for a week after this."
"It was fun, though," Sofia said suddenly, and smiled.
Here endeth Prologue...
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