The Garden of Farore: Chapter Eighteen
LINK had managed to cadge a plateful of leftovers from the cook. He sat at the great kitchen table, stuffing his face and occasionally pausing to talk cheerfully, waving a chicken leg in the air as accompaniment to his story. "...and then they surrounded me, eight of them at least! No, more like ten! And so I drew my sword and faced them down..."
"You're a boastful liar, lad," Miriel, a plump, middle-aged Hylian with graying auburn hair and twinkling dark eyes, answered. She was kneading dough, her sleeves rolled up past the elbows to bare her round, flour-covered arms as she worked. She was fond of Link, had been so ever since the young warrior had first arrived in Hyrule City. Miriel was a spinster who devoted all her time to working for the Royal Family, and Link was the closest she had ever had to a son. In turn, he made the most of having a second mother in his home away from home at the Royal castle--Calatia was a long long way from Hyrule Town.
"I'm boastful, but not a liar!" Link exclaimed. "I was surrounded by the evil monsters--their little yellow eyes gleaming! The size of saucers! But when they started to spit rocks at me--bam!" He flung the chicken leg around in a sweeping slash. "I whacked them right back at them!"
"Calm down, boy," the cook admonished, "or you're going to-"
Link leaped up on the table to demonstrate a particularly vicious attack, swiping at imaginary Octoroks with the sorry-looking chicken leg, and his booted foot knocked his cup onto the floor. The pewter mug crumpled and spilled its contents across the floor with a clang. A pungent aroma of apple cider filled the kitchen. "Oops," Link said embarrassedly as he sat down again.
"-knock something over," Miriel finished, pointedly shifting her feet around the puddle. "Get a cloth now, you ridiculous boy, and mop that up!"
"Sorry, milady," Link said shamefaced, and took a napkin from a pile beside the range.
"Not those, they're clean," the cook ordered. "Honestly, Link!"
"Sorry, milady!" Link yelped, dropping the cloth. He dug another out from a separate pile and knelt on the cool stone floor to mop up the spillage. Some had gone underneath the heavy table, and he lay full-length on the floor to reach it.
Zelda chose this moment to enter the kitchen. She stifled a yelp of laughter when she saw Link's legs and bottom sticking out from underneath the table, the only part of him visible from the doorway. "Oh, Link," she called sweetly. "When you've finished washing the floor, we'd like to talk to you!"
Link jerked under the table. There was a thud and then an angry curse, and the table wobbled. An instant later he withdrew, holding a dirty rag in one hand and rubbing the back of his head with the other. "Zel?" he said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Hoping to introduce you to our friend," the Princess answered with a smile. "You're certainly not making a good first impression, by the way."
Blushing deeply, Link stood up and dusted himself down. His front was peppered with crumbs and apple peelings, and there was a wet patch on his tunic where he had lain in the spilt apple cider. Zelda put her hand over her mouth to squash another giggle which threatened to emerge. "This is Dark Link," she said, standing aside and indicating the shadow who stood in the doorway, gazing at Link. "He has agreed to help us on the Quest!"
"Er... well met," Link said selfconsciously. Dark Link stared at him with softly glowing red eyes, saying nothing. His expression was inscrutable.
Miriel turned round and let out a little gasp of surprise. "Well!" she said, letting the one word carry all her curiosity about the visitor. "He's one of your friends, is he, Princess?"
"Yes," Zelda answered firmly. "He's a friend."
The cook stared at the shadow as if he was some strange new phenomenon, such as the sky turning green or fish swimming in air. He looked back coldly and after a moment she pulled her gaze away. "Do you both want anything to eat?" she asked Zelda. "You've missed supper, milady, but I can rustle up something or other. This young ruffian" -she laid her hand on Link's shoulder- "had a big supper, but still he comes sniffing and snooping around here for more!" Link's blush had been fading, but now it returned with a vengeance.
Zelda laughed. "Oh, Link! Yes, Miriel, we would like something to eat if you can spare it." The cook began clattering pans and setting out a trayful of food, and Zelda laid her hand lightly on Dark Link's shoulder and guided him towards the table. "You," she ordered, pulling out a chair, "sit. And you, Link. And please get rid of that chicken leg."
Link looked at the object in his hand with a faint disgust. After being used as a sword, dropped on the floor and dragged about under the table, its remains could only by the wildest stretch of the imagination be classed as food. He threw it in the direction of the kitchen trash bin--it plopped neatly into the heavy wooden barrel with a soft splat. "Done, Princess," he said cheerfully and sat down. "What's cooking, milady?"
"You can't still be hungry," Miriel scolded. "You'll eat us all out of house and home!"
Link grinned. "Well, I could manage just a little more..."
Shaking her head wryly, the Princess refrained from glancing at Dark Link to see his reaction; she had already realised that he did not like being stared at. Instead of focusing attention on him, she propped her chin on her folded hands and looked at Link. "So... the Quest? Any ideas?"
The young warrior wavered. "Er... perhaps we should talk about that later, eh?" he suggested with a conciliatory smile. His meaning was plain--not in front of that!
Dark Link's eyes glowed coldly crimson. "You need not fear me yet," he said quietly, and Link drew back a little despite himself. "I will hear you both out," the shadow finished. "For now, that is all." He hissed slightly as he spoke the "S" sound, and the sibilance thus afforded to his voice made him seem doubly sinister.
"It is all we ask of you," Zelda agreed. "Tell him, Link."
She narrowed her eyes. "Link. Tell him."
Looking uncomfortable, the young warrior let out an almost inaudible sigh before nodding slowly. "All right. Everything?" Her irritated look was the only response he got--that and the emotionless, empty-eyed face of Dark Link. Link suppressed a shiver beneath that blank red gaze, and wondered why in the name of Farore Zelda could so easily trust this strange creature. He summoned up a smile for the Princess's benefit, and took in a breath to prepare himself.
"We are on a quest to restore order to Hyrule. We believe that we can only be free of Ganon once we resurrect the Knights of Hyrule, and to do this we are looking for certain artifacts which are supposed to hold the power of the Knighthood. With those we can call the Triforce back to Hyrule and destroy Ganon once and for all." Having summarized the Quest in as few words as possible, the green-eyed warrior sat back and waited for a reaction.
He got it. "You are going to kill Ganon?" Dark Link said incredulously. "And you want me of all people to help you do this thing? Why in the name of Din should I help you?"
"No reason, really," Zelda said promptly. "But you are going to do it anyway, aren't you?"
The shadow turned towards her. "Why?" he said quietly, sounding more curious than anything else.
"You just are," the Princess said, shrugging. "I know you are. It is destiny. When we freed you from the mirror" -a faint shudder went through Dark Link at the mention of that magical prison- "I knew it then. I felt it. Chwedl a gynydda fel caseg eira..."
He snorted. "That old saying."
"You know it then?" Link asked in surprise.
Dark Link's eyes flashed in the light as he looked round at the young Hero. "I am familiar with the ancient tongue. As you should know."
"Enough!" Zelda said. "We are not here to bicker. Dark Link, you said you would hear us out. You have heard. Now what will you do?"
"I will think about it," Dark Link hissed, standing up noiselessly. His crimson eyes gleamed beneath shining black bangs. "For now, no more than that."
"I don't like him, Zelda. He spooks me out. Those eyes! How does he see? What is he?"
"Be patient. It is all very new to him. He must be given time!"
"What if he decides to use our information against us? It is not wise to tell him so much so soon!"
"O-oh, whenever someone says that I know something bad is about to happen..."
"Oh, Link, don't be silly. Give him a chance. It will be hard enough persuading Sofia, and I do not need you to make things more difficult still!"
"...I'll behave, you know that. But I cannot think that someone can change so soon. He has no real reason to help us, does he? We have all admitted that. Even he."
"He has more reason than you think. Perhaps he feels grateful because we let him loose. Perhaps he is lonely."
"We will see."
They went to bed late that night.
The moon was well past its peak by the time the Princess and the Hero had finished their discussion to more or less mutual satisfaction. Link was adamant that Dark could not yet be trusted with the full details of the Quest or the search for the other Legendary Knights, but he agreed with Zelda that the help of the shadow would be more than welcome. One who had fought the Hero of Time would doubtless be invaluable if the Quest led them into places like the Spirit Temple!
Zelda took it upon herself to tell Sofia of the latest member of the Knighthood-to-be, and she prepared in full knowledge that the Gerudo girl would not like the news. It was well known to Zelda that Sofia's people deeply distrusted magic--how could they not, after the damage wrought upon their race and their sacred place by the Sorceress Sisters Twinrova? The young Princess remembered the dark pit she had entered with Sofia and Link: the tainted sowander that had been the Spirit Temple, most sacred place of the Gerudo people. With that background behind her, what could Sofia make of the enchanted shadow-creature that she would now have to accept as a companion?
The Princess rose early the next day. Outside the window of her lofty turret, the sky was a pale blanket of rose criss-crossed with sunlit streaks of cloud, and the air had the mellow crispness of a pure autumn day. As she looked down at the mist lying thin upon the streets of the town, Zelda felt a momentary wish to saddle her white mare and just... ride. She sighed deeply. Responsibility was a heavy burden!
Wincing and shivering as her feet touched the frigid stone floor, Zelda hopped to her armoire and, taking sanctuary on the sheepskin rug laid there, opened its carved maple doors and pondered on her clothes of the day. She owned well over twenty dresses, each uniquely adorned with silk and ribbon, but of course these would not do. Her eye lingered wistfully on the marvelously inadequate Gerudo costume she had brought back with her from the desert... but Zelda wondered what her father would make of it if she walked in on him with a bare midriff! Smiling, the Princess shook her head; the garnets and gold thread would have to stay unseen for now. She lifted out a pair of plain dark blue trousers and a plain white chemise - perfectly good riding gear she had yet to wear out.
Link was not yet abroad--or so it seemed, from the closed door of his room and the stony silence from within. He was probably sleeping off the effects of too much food the previous evening. Zelda was sure she had never seen anyone who could put away as much as Link--well, perhaps some of the coarser Gerudo! She lingered for a moment outside his door, wondering whether she should knock lightly and alert him to the fact of the day's beginning; then the Princess shook her head slightly and slipped away through the thickly carpeted corridors. Her feet, lightly shod for indoors, made little sound on the thick pile. The castle guards she passed snapped to as they recognised her, but Zelda paid them little heed; accustomed as she was by now to their unobtrusive vigilance.
Sofia's room was at one end of the long East passage; Link's at the other. By the time Zelda reached the room where the red-haired woman was staying, she felt quite out of breath. Stopping a moment to regain her poise and cool off, the Princess leaned against the wall by Sofia's door. She was startled when the portal suddenly opened, and a familiar face looked out. "Hello?" Sofia said doubtfully, then smiled. "Zelda! Where were you all yesterday?"
"Oh-! You startled me!" Zelda laughed then. "My apologies! I didn't mean to get you out of bed!"
"Don't worry." The red-haired woman smiled. "I was awake. What brings you here? Come in, please--the fire's fed, and it is nicer than talking in the corridor." Zelda allowed her friend to take her arm and gently pull her into the room. Already Sofia had been at work here; the old four-poster bed had been newly covered by a richly colored coverlet, one of those woven fabrics that they had brought back from the desert, and a young fire crackled in the grate. Although rather smaller than Zelda's, and certainly by no means as expensively furnished, Sofia's room had been well provided for. There was an air of her about it.
"Now," the Gerudo woman said, sitting down on the edge of the bed--she looked somewhat odd there, as if she would rather be seated on the floor; but the castle's stone flags were far too cold for that this morning--"what have you come for?" With a smile, she added, "I presume this is not wholly a social call."
"No," Zelda agreed, taking a seat on the nearby chair. "Well... not entirely. I did want to talk to you for talking's sake. But I have some news of real importance as well. Something we found yesterday."
"Did you find one of them?" Sofia asked eagerly, leaning forward.
"No. But we think we have found someone who will be of help. Perhaps even the someone referred to in the clue."
"About the--the hero's shadow?" Sofia asked with a frown. "Did you solve the riddle, then? Does it bring us closer to finding one of the artifacts?"
Zelda leaned close to speak into her friend's ear. She hated having to be so secret even in her own home, but she had to admit that the Royal Castle was hardly the safest of places in which to be speaking of great things. As a child she had explored the ins and outs of her father's house, and she knew of many hidden places from which one could overhear conversations not meant for idle ears. "We think we may have found the Shadow Knight," she murmured.
The other woman's amber eyes widened slightly. "What do you mean?" she asked back, keeping her own tone as low as she could. "In the cellar?"
"In a mirror. That prophecy comes true in strange ways." Zelda sighed deeply. "Sofia--everything points towards his being the Shadow Knight, but I do not know how you will take it when you meet him. Certainly I am not so naive as to think we can trust him straight off."
"Well!" said Sofia, running a hand through her unbound hair. "I do not understand half of what you say this morning, Zelda... I suppose you had better introduce me to this mysterious friend of yours."
"I suppose I must," Zelda said, and rose. "Sofia--"
"Yes?" The other woman looked up at her with an expression of mild curiosity.
"Promise me you won't make up your mind instantly, one way or the other. Give him a chance."
"If I must," Sofia answered. Her face betrayed her confusion and anxiety at these strange words. Zelda wished she could sit her down and tell her the whole story: spill out all her thoughts; but she herself was uneasy on several accounts. It would be better if Sofia could simply meet Dark Link face to face; then she might understand that--something--which had drawn the Princess to ask him for help in the first place. It was something that Zelda could not put her finger on; something similar to that which she had felt when she first met Sofia, a feeling that a key lay just out of reach.
She tried to tell Sofia a little more as they walked along the wide passage, their footsteps loud in the early morning silence. Zelda spoke as best she could of the mirror and how Dark Link had come out of it, leaving out what she and Link knew of his creation and his bloody past. The Gerudo woman was unimpressed by the tale. "You should not have trusted so soon," she said simply, after hearing the Princess out. "One way or the other, I am already feeling uneasy about this. Do you know nothing at all about this creature?"
"We know enough," Zelda said reluctantly. "We do have to be wary, Sofia--I am not so foolish as to think we can just take him in. But--"
"But?" Sofia stopped walking and spun around to face her friend. "No buts! You let this unnatural creature of yours free, which was a mistake in itself, although not a wilful one. But to just tell him the whole story--explain about the Amulets, and the Quest, and what we mean to do-!" There was real anger in the red-haired woman's eyes which made Zelda step back quickly, suddenly afraid that Sofia might even attack her. "By the Goddess, Zelda, what if he decides to go after them himself?" the other woman said furiously. "We already have one apparent enemy, and we've barely started!"
"I know," Zelda said in a small voice. "But we did let him go. If we hadn't told him he would have found out anyway. At least if he is with us we can keep an eye on him."
Sofia paused in the middle of her tirade. "That is true," she said thoughtfully, but the deep frown did not leave her face.
"Sofia..." Zelda was almost pleading. "Give him a chance. Please. He is from the Age of Legends; he might remember where the Forest Temple used to lie. If he does, he might even be able to lead us straight to the first Amulet."
The Gerudo woman was silent and angry for a long moment, and Zelda's heart sank. But finally Sofia made an attempt to smile. "Listen to me, Zelda, and I'll tell you something. Before we left the desert for Hyrule, my brother told me something which frightened me very much. He said that I--that we should trust nobody on this quest, not even each other, because the matter was so great. I think that maybe he was too hasty; after all, you and I and Link have come through a great adventure together. If there is anyone in the world that I trust, apart from my brother, it is the two of you. For your sakes I will hold my tongue when you show me your magical friend. But I will watch him carefully, and I think you should be very wary of letting him have too much freedom, too soon."
"Thank you," Zelda sighed. It was a conditional acceptance, but it was an acceptance nonetheless: Dark Link would be on the team. As long as he could prove himself trustworthy! "He will stay unarmed for now," she said, remembering her discussion with Link last night. "Link and I decided on that before anything else. He doesn't get a weapon until we know we can trust him with one."
"Very wise," Sofia said dryly. "Hardly enough, but very wise."
"Up here," Zelda said, gesturing to the staircase that wound upwards from the end of the passageway. The turret room, isolated as it was, seemed to be the best choice. There was only one way to and from the high chambers at the top of each of the four towers of North Castle, and so entry was necessarily restricted; a single guard at the bottom of the long spiraling ascent would be enough. The restrictedness of the chamber was useful in another way; the King did not yet know about his newest guest.
Both of them were tired once they had ascended the winding staircase, but Zelda felt some eagerness to confront Dark Link again and so she shook off her breathlessness. She flicked back her golden hair and rapped lightly on the plain wooden door in front of her. The two girls waited for a long moment, and there was no reply from within.
Zelda glanced at Sofia, and then closed her fingers around the doorhandle. She turned it slowly, and pushed the door open enough that she could poke her head around it and look. The Princess let out a slight gasp of surprise, and Sofia shoved her aside.
The round room was undisturbed; the bed had not been slept in.
"You don't think... he might have..." Zelda pressed a hand to her mouth, feeling a cold dread sweep through her like a tide. After all they had said about him... she could not suppress the awful thought that the strange shadow had left to find the Amulets himself. She felt like crying.
Sofia's face was grim; she had taken in the scene and understood it at once. "We had better find Link," she said. "Your friend may not have gone far."
"Are you talking about me?" came a soft, sibilant voice from behind them on the stair. Both girls screamed and whirled. He was standing there, soundless and graceful as ever, his crimson eyes sparkling with a strange kind of amusement at their discomfiture. His ebon hair cascaded over his face in artful tangles.
Sofia muttered something darkly in her mother tongue.
"Goddess," Zelda breathed, pressing a hand to her racing heart. "Did you have to sneak up on us like that?"
Dark Link scowled. "I hardly sneaked," he hissed softly. "You are less observant than Biggoron, and that is saying something." He turned sharply on his heel, beckoning for them to follow him. Without looking back, the shadow started down the stair, seeming unafraid of turning his back on them. "I have seen much of your castle, Princess," he said, as they followed, "and I must confess myself unimpressed. Things have obviously changed little in a few hundred years."
"I apologise for my ancestors' building, then," Zelda said, annoyed.
He did not react to her irritated tone. "Well... I have decided to stay around. For the time being. You will certainly need my help before you can locate the Forest Temple--if indeed it still stands after so long. As for the Forest Medallion... that I cannot promise you."
Zelda stopped dead. How had he known? They had said nothing to him of the Amulets!
Motes of dust shimmered like gold in the semi-darkness of the stables. The long, low, wooden building with its scent of hay housed all the fourteen horses belonging to the Royal family, plus some few extras belonging to privileged members of the household; the roan gelding in the end stall was the chief treasurer's. Tack was stored in a spacious building built onto the back of the stables, and accessible via a door at the far end.
It had been a difficult morning for Zelda. The breakfast-time meeting with her father had been strained: she had not felt ready to tell him about the adventure in the cellar, although it was likely that the King would hear of his newest house-guest soon enough. For the moment, all Harkinian knew was that they were going to explore the part of the forest that was just south-west of Zora's River. Her guilt weighed her down. Please, Nayru, she thought as she followed the others in, let it be okay. Let him be true to us...
Link looked along the row of equine heads, swiftly spotting the graceful red that he had ridden to the desert. He went quickly to the stall and held his hand out, allowing the horse to nuzzle its velvety muzzle into his palm. The engraved bronze nameplate on the stall door read "Bolt". The young warrior laughed as the horse licked his fingers; Prowl perched upon his shoulder. His companions busied themselves about their own affairs as he made friends with his mount.
"Choose any one of the horses," Zelda said to Dark Link. "The exception is that silver stallion there, next to my mare. He is my father's own." With narrowed eyes, the shadow walked silently down the aisle, glancing at each horse he passed. Most of them shied away or snorted nervously. He halted before a tall black with a white blaze; he liked the strong lines of the animal's profile and the proud look in its eye.
Sofia was already in her horse's stall. She saddled the animal efficiently, working with brisk, practiced movements that demonstrated her authority. The Gerudo woman had a few saddlebags full of food, but the only equipment she carried herself was her gleaming scimitar, which hung as always at her waist. Loosing the door catch, she took hold of the bridle and led her animal from the stall; it followed willingly. "Shall we go?" she said over her shoulder.
They made a noticeable group as they rode out into the morning, hooves drumming on the compacted gravel of the castle roads. Link was dressed in his favoured Kokiri green and brown, the serpentine dagger bouncing on his hip and his rosewood bow slung over his back by the cord. Prowl sat in front of him, her claws buried in the leather saddle pommel--she had objected to the saddlebag this time. Zelda rode beside him with her golden hair unbound, wearing the functional yet fashionable riding gear she had chosen; it was easier than riding side-saddle in a dress at any rate. Sofia was a little behind them, her eyes always on the cloaked figure atop the black horse. She felt extremely unhappy about the shadow's presence, but she was able to see that it was the only answer. Zelda was right--if they let him out of their sight it might well be worse than had they let him stay. The Gerudo woman was not taken in, however; Dark Link would stay with them only as long as it suited him. Her fingers tingled for the touch of her scimitar hilt.
The four riders drew up outside the opened White Dragon gate, the guardian of the Royal Family. Its gemstone eyes glittered ruby fire in the sunlight; light glittered off its scales as if they themselves were made of silver flames. Sofia's fingers found the hilt of her weapon as Dark Link urged his horse through, following the princess and the Hero - if the gate's guardian should wake! She almost hoped it would. But the shadow passed beneath the dragon's coils with no ill reaction, and the Gerudo woman exhaled. Flicking the reins, she followed the others, anxious not to be left behind. Dark Link turned his head slightly and glanced back at her; she saw only the glow of his crimson eyes beneath the cloak. She was sure he was smiling.
Busy as it was, the town passed them by soon enough. They rode through the streets at a light trot, and the horses were eager to go faster. The scent of the hills lay over everything this morning, dampened only slightly by the shreds of mist which still clung to the streets. Traders sold autumn apples and the pick of the harvest; winter was approaching.
The company drew up just outside the gates of the town, horses snorting and scraping hooves on the wood of the drawbridge. Zelda stood in the stirrups, looking out over the green field that surrounded the town. The Celcarden mountains were blue and faded, but still very visible in the clear air. Death Mountain rose like a great ghost in the east. It was colder than it had been - or perhaps that was just her feeling after the desert trek. "Well..." she said. "Which way?"
Dark Link flicked the reins without a word, turning his horse towards the far-off greenness of the forests to the south. After a moment's uneasy hesitation, the others followed him, one by one.
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