The Garden of Farore: Chapter Nineteen

OH, MY back," Link groaned as he stiffly dismounted. "I never realized how far away this Kokiri Forest really was..."

They had been riding most of the day, with only a perfunctory comfort stop at a small village which seemed to have no name. There they had taken lunch and watered the horses, although the surly inhabitants seemed to grudge them even the small luxury of using the local stream. Apparently strangers were not welcome in this area of the world, especially well-dressed strangers carrying bright swords.

As dusk came on, Link and Zelda began to look out for a good place to stop. The country they were traveling through was semi-wild; occasionally they would come across a deserted hut, half-covered with vegetation, or another of the ever-present standing stones, a monolith faded by weather and moss. The long grass bothered the horses, tangling around their legs, but so far there had been no sign of any monsters or other dangers. Eventually the little party picked their way through a ruin of ancient marble, finding their way into a partly secluded clearing. This place seemed to have once been a large dwelling of some kind, for there were still traces of a flagged floor, and several partly intact walls and pillars surrounded the circular space where they were. Time and trees had covered all; a climbing vine twisted in and out of the ruins, laying its small green leaves upon the ancient stone and here and there bursting into a profusion of late flowers. The ruin provided some slight protection from marauding creatures--monsters would have to make their way through the stones and rustling foliage without alerting the party before they could attack.

The sun was nearly gone. Amber light spilled through the dappling of trees that ringed the campsite, pooling in the center where there were no leaves to block its way. There was a sense of silent peace about this place, whatever it had once been. Perhaps it was the remnant of another temple, to a goddess so old that even her name was lost.

Dark Link lowered the hood of his cloak; his eyes glowed red like coals in his black face. He had ridden all day beneath that heavy cloak, hiding his face from the sun. Soundlessly the shadow slipped down from his horse, moving with the unconscious grace he always seemed to display. He alone carried no weapon. Ignoring the others, he began to see to his horse, loosening the saddle girth and removing the bridle with skilled precision.

"I saw some ducks down by the lake," Link said, breaking the silence. "I'll see if I can't get something for tonight - with your leave, Princess?" He smiled, mock-bowing to Zelda, who scowled. "Very well," the young warrior said cheerfully, unfazed. "See you later." Raising a hand in farewell, he stepped over the tangled plants that surrounded the clearing, and disappeared through the bushes; the rustle of his passing was audible as he made his way back across the wild terrain. His bow was already in his hand as he left.

Sofia sighed and, without commenting, stooped and began to pick up pieces of dried wood. There was plenty around. She would not have to go far from the clearing in her search - which was good, as she could hardly go into the forest alone and leave Zelda alone with Dark Link, but neither would she have been too happy about having him along as her escort. The Gerudo woman suppressed a longer sigh, of frustration. It was going to be difficult to organize things without putting the party in danger. She looked up quickly, checking that the shadow was doing nothing worthy of criticism, and then bent her mind to her task. It was easy enough to collect good tinder and soon she was satisfied with the pile. She crouched on the cool ground, crushing the ever-present flowering vines beneath her feet, and began to build the fire. The silence lay over everything like a blanket.

Zelda had the little picture in her hands once more. She turned it over and examined the inscription, searching for any further clues in the faded writing. Dark seemed to know where he was going, but she wished she had some more concrete route to their goal. She wanted to check that they were going the right way. The forest was beyond and all around them; this deserted outpost of civilization was on the very outskirts of the deep woods. South, the dark greenness rose out of the ground not a hundred yards away; soon the straggly bushes would turn into an impenetrable army of trees. The Princess sat down, surrounded by flowers, and held the picture up to her eyes to take advantage of the fading light.

"What is that?" Dark Link's blood-colored eyes were, apparently, directed toward her. Sofia looked up in slight anxiety as the shadow spoke; he had said nothing all day.

Zelda jerked in surprise. "Oh--this?" She held up the picture. "Link found it--it is our only real evidence of the Temple's existence. I was unable to wrest anything of use from the Book of Mudora."

"May I see?" He came over to her, and held out his hand. Slightly hesitant, Zelda smiled and gave him the painting--his manner was civil enough. Accepting it gravely he held it close, studying the brushwork.

"Careful," the Princess told him gently. "It is old, and we have to give it back later on. I--what are you doing?"

He was undoing the clips that kept the picture attached to its frame. His slender fingers worked dexterously, releasing the catches neatly and quickly. Before she could make a move to stop him, the frame came away from the painting. There was a rustle of parchment, and Dark Link laughed softly. "And you need me, do you?"

"What do you mean?" Zelda asked, frowning.

His ruby eyes met her cerulean ones. With a cold smile, the shadow unfolded and held up what had been trapped between the picture and the cardboard back--a ragged piece of creamy paper, its surfaces yellowed with age. The archaic map could be read distinctly even now, its ink faded yet still providing a strong contrast to the paler paper. "Did you children not know about this?" he asked softly. "Surely you would have looked in the most obvious place..."

"Give me that!" She snatched it from him, holding it up to the last of the light with trembling hands. "Nayru's Love! A map of the temple!"

"What?" Sofia dropped her tinder box.

Dark shook his head wryly. "Use your mind next time--you did not need me to find that for you. Obviously you have much to learn."

Goddess... Zelda bit her lip, knowing he was right. Once again they had been foolish. She should have thought to investigate the picture itself, rather than being blinded by the inscription on the back. This was the proof they had lacked--the key to the Forest Temple. She folded the paper up tightly once again and slowly slipped it into her chemise, feeling stupid.

Sofia finally succeeded in lighting a fire, and a moment later the last of the sun slipped behind the misty hills. A deep, rich blue settled into the sky above them, though the west still blazed with dying flame. It was slightly chilly now, and there was a faint breeze moving the air. Prowl, waking at the crackle from the fire, yawned and stretched herself, then stood up and trotted over to lie purring beside the warmth. The dark stripes on her sandy fur were beginning to fade as she grew. Dark Link stood leaning against a tree, his blank eyes shining brighter with the coming of the night.

It was only a few minutes more before they heard once again the rustling of the bushes. Link entered the clearing in good spirits, swinging a brace of wildfowl by the necks. There was a smear of blood on his cheek, and more dark stains on the birds where they had been hit by his arrows. He strode through the flowers and dropped the dead birds beside the fire, startling the sand kitten. "Well met!" he said cheerfully to nobody in particular, then brushed a tiny downy feather off his tunic.

"Oh, well done!" Zelda exclaimed, recovering some of her former good mood. "Did you find anything else?"

The young warrior loosed a bulging pouch which had hung from his belt. "Only a few wild tubers," he said, "but they're something. There are a lot of animals around here--I could have had ten more with no problem, but there's no way to preserve the meat out here. At least we can save our dry rations tonight."

Sofia drew a dagger from her belt. "I'll deal with these," she said, pulling the birds to her. "Who packed the cooking equipment?"

"That would be me," Link said sourly. He hefted a saddlebag with some difficulty, and emptied it out; there was a clatter as various pots and pans fell to the ground. "They were banging against my legs all the way--I shall be covered in bruises by the morning!"

"Oh, poor baby," the Gerudo woman smiled, and set to work on the birds. Zelda took one unbelieving look, and then as the hot-copper blood smell rose, she paled and turned away hurriedly.

 

The duck were young and tender, and were soon well cooked--both thoroughly and skillfully in the same sense, thanks to Sofia. The rich scent of food spread through the clearing like a song, driving Prowl to a frenzy long before it was ready. Link had the sand kitten in his lap to prevent her burning herself in the fire; he teased and distracted the kitten gently, ever-mindful of her sharp teeth and claws. Zelda privately decided she would stick to the vegetarian aspect of their improvised supper, despite the appetizing smell. It was one thing to eat meat sanitized by the palace cooks, and another to see it being prepared in all its gory detail. There were still feathers blowing about the clearing; some blew into the fire and that smell was not pleasant.

Dark Link would not join in their conversation, or even eat; he shook his head faintly whenever food or drink was offered. He sat apart from them, staring into the forest, until his outline began to fade in the gloom.

It was completely dark by the time they had finished with the meal; the night was cloudless and cold, and stars glittered crisply in the ebon sky. Sofia tossed the leftovers far into the bushes so that they would not draw predators--though there was little enough left over, thanks to Prowl. After wrapping the remainder of the good meat, the Gerudo loosed the band on her long red hair. "Well..." she said, glancing at Link and Zelda. "Who wants to take first watch?"

"I'll do it," the green-eyed warrior offered, running a hand through his untidy locks. "I'm not too tired yet. I'll wake you when the moon's full. Zel can go last." It was partly solicitude on his part; the morning watch was the least strenuous and he wanted Zelda to have it for now. She shot him a look but he was innocence itself.

"What about me?" came the soft voice. Dark Link was sitting with his back against a rock, his eyes glowing softly in the darkness. The rest of him was barely visible in the night.

Sofia's brows drew together. "No offense to you," she said tightly, "but I think we'll do the looking out for the time being. You can get some rest."

He shrugged faintly. "I do not sleep," he said. "Still, if that is what you wish..." He left the rest unsaid, settling back comfortably against a tree, obviously with no intention to close his eyes any time soon. Sofia scowled, and Zelda sighed, hoping that the Gerudo woman would not introduce disunity into the group. They needed to stick together, at least for the moment--they were in hostile country and needed to watch each other's backs.

"Good night, everyone, and fair dreams," she said warmly, attempting to lessen the feeling of tension that was back among them. Grabbing a blanket firmly, the Hylian Princess rolled over near the fire and tried to get comfortable on the hard stony floor. Despite its unyielding nature, she found that she could barely keep her eyes open, and it was with a sense of thankfulness that she dropped off to sleep. The last thing she saw was the silhouette of Link as he stood up to find a good place from whence to watch.

The young warrior suppressed a yawn as he took his place in the center of the clearing; despite what he had said to the others, he was somewhat tired after such a long day of traveling. He glanced up at the moon, judging as best he could when he should wake Sofia. He didn't want to doze off by mistake, especially after his experience of traveling Hyrule alone; most monsters tended to come out at night.

It was very still. Branches creaked now and again, and once a fox yowled weirdly in the deep woods, but these sounds were welcome and familiar. After a while Link grew bored and drowsy. To ward off sleepiness he glanced over at Dark, wondering idly how the shadow's eyes glowed. It did not seem like real light, that strange radiance from within; the red haze illuminated nothing. He wondered how Dark Link could see with those eyes that had no pupils...

"See something you don't like?" Dark Link hissed suddenly.

Link jumped, and then flushed, realizing that he had been staring. "Sorry," he said lamely. "I'm not used to you yet--give me some time."

"You intend to get used to me." A dry chuckle. "I am impressed."

He sighed and directed a glance at Sofia, making sure the Gerudo woman at least appeared to be asleep. "Listen--I know that she is hard on you. You've got to understand, she is only trying to be careful. We have one enemy already--someone sent a bunch of Stalfos after us last time."

"Oh, really?" There was slight interest in his voice. "Do you know who?"

"Not a clue." Link fingered the hilt of his dagger. "But I hate waiting around and knowing nothing... I would much rather have a full-on fight any day. At least I know where I am then. Do you know what I mean?"

There was silence for a long moment, and he thought that the shadow would not reply. Finally, though, Dark Link said, "I suppose I do."

Link smiled. "You know--I think you're not so bad really."

Dark Link did not answer. He turned his head away until Link could no longer see those glowing red orbs.

 

 

Pirrillip fluttered like a butterfly through the forests, its light bobbing up and down like a will o' the wisp. The yellow gleam could have been mistaken for that of a lantern, were any there to see it; as it was, only the forest creatures were present to witness the glittering creature as it flew hither and thither through the trees. It was very dark in the greenwood at this time of night; Pirrillip's glow reflected here and there off animal eyes.

It was nice to be away from her for a while, the golden light reflected. If it wasn't for the fear, Pirrillip would have liked to run away for good. But she would know; she would come. Lonely and afraid, the yellow light flitted miserably between tall trees, barely noticing its surroundings.

The forest was coming to an end; Pirrillip, intent on its own misfortunes, didn't see the trees growing smaller around it, but it did notice when it was suddenly out in the open air and fluttering towards a ruin atop a nearby rise; inside it, the light was shocked to see a fire burning faintly. Hesitantly Pirrillip flew closer. It was only a short distance away when it saw the horses, and then the people...

"Nayru's Love! It's them!"

Pirrillip hovered in place for a few moments, stricken with indecision. Part of the flying creature desperately wanted to fly into the ruins, to join up with them; they might be able to protect Pirrillip from her. But another part told it that that would never work. Either they would turn away and refuse to listen, or she would come for Pirrillip anyhow--nothing could stop her when she got angry. Though the decision tore at the heart of the little being, Pirrillip gave in, and turned away from the ruins with an aching soul. It had to find the temple; if they were here already, it had lost a lot of time. The glowing light sped away on gossamer wings, heading back towards the misty black flanks of the forests that were dark against the night sky. It zipped under the trees and was gone.

 

 

Zelda had been enjoying a pleasant dream, and she could have moaned when she was shaken out of it by Sofia's hand. Rubbing at her eyes, the princess sat up slowly, feeling exhausted in every limb. "Oh, no, it's not time already," she complained. Above, the sky was still dark; the pale moon hung low in the eastern horizon.

"Yes, yes," the Gerudo woman said with a smile. "It is your turn now, so wake up!"

The blankets were tangled around her legs, and a chill breeze swiftly took away the comfort of sleep now that she was sitting up. Forcing herself to wake more thoroughly, Zelda removed her bedcoverings and straightened her clothes. She could never get used to sleeping in day-time clothes; it was cursed uncomfortable. Yawning, she glanced at the embers of the fire which still glowed faintly, and then at her friend. "I just have to stay alert, do I?" she asked. "And if something comes-"

"Shout loud enough to wake everyone else," Sofia told her, laughing softly. "You might have to work to wake Link; he looks all in." The green-eyed warrior was rolled up in his own blanket on the other side of the fire, snoring softly. His face was peaceful in repose - as if he were lying in a soft bed in the castle instead of on a rocky floor in the middle of a leafy clearing. Prowl had tucked herself under his arm as if she were a teddy bear, and her tail twitched slowly in sleep.

Zelda shook her head, attempting to shake out the sleep. "Get some rest," she told the other woman, as she got to her feet. "I will keep a good eye out. When should I wake you?"

"When the sun is just about risen. We should have an early start if we are going to make it to the Temple." Sofia glanced at Dark Link as she spoke--not a turn of the head, just a flicker of the eyes. Her gesture, so oddly furtive on the Gerudo woman, filled Zelda with unease. She looked over at the shadow, seeing that he was sitting up just as he had been when she fell asleep. He did not appear to have moved at all; his eyes were open, fixed on some faraway point on the eastern hills. As she watched, he sighed slightly, seeming unaware of her scrutiny, and shifted his legs.

"Has he been awake all night?" Zelda whispered in as low a voice as she could.

The Gerudo nodded. "As far as I know," she murmured back, the air barely passing her lips. "He just watches. Keep a cursed good eye on him."

"I will do that," Zelda said quietly, touching her friend on the shoulder. "Don't worry. Go on."

"Good night, then," Sofia returned, and went over to where she had been sleeping. Her discarded blanket was rumpled and she shook it out before lying down and covering herself.

Zelda blinked back another yawn and moved over to sit by the fire, taking advantage of its warmth. It was very quiet--apart from the soft soughing of the wind in the trees, there was nothing to break the tranquility of the spot. She frowned, straining her ears to make out the faint bubbling of the stream they had passed earlier; it ran down by the foot of their little rise, feeding the lake nearby. The Princess thought she could even hear the whispering of the rushes by the stream as they swayed gently to and fro in the breeze. If there were monsters about, they were very quiet ones. She thought of Gibdos and shuddered.

Watching was boring. Zelda soon began to wonder if there was any other way of passing the time; as long as she remained sufficiently alert to warn the others of danger, she was sure she could occupy herself any way she wanted to. With regret, the Princess made sure it was too dark yet to study the map Dark Link had found; although it showed only the Temple's structure, not the way to it, she was sure that it would be useful. As the thought of the map returned, she slipped a hand into her clothing to check it was still there. The soft crackle of parchment reassured her.

She lifted her head and looked up at the stars. They were very bright tonight--like gems shot though with sunlight. Zelda smiled to herself, picking out the separate constellations from her learning. There was the Dolphin, arching through the black sea of the sky--there the Lion, the Sickle and the Hunter's Belt. She lay back against the crumbling wall and tipped her head back to bathe in the pure whiteness of the stars. Slowly, the pale moon slipped down the sky towards the empty darkness of the land; the first faint redness began to appear in the east as the sun, having traveled right beneath the world, resumed its upward journey once more.

"I suppose we enter the Kokiri Forest today," she said quietly. "Do you know anything about it, Dark?"

There was a silence. Finally, he answered, "I know what it was a thousand years ago--three hundred years ago. I know not what it is today. I will lead you as true as I can, but even this forest will change over time."

Zelda frowned. "Do you think it will be dangerous? Are we likely to meet monsters?"

He sighed softly. "The Sacred Forest Meadow used to be a haunt of Moblins. I know not if it still is."

"I suppose that is the best we will do." A faint smile crept across her face, banishing the scowl as sunlight banished shadow. "Thank you."

"Thank me later," Dark Link said coldly, drawing his hood up over his head.

She was silent after this, and turned her face to the east, grateful for the newly reborn light which began to glimmer there. In a long slow sea-change, the darkness that covered the view metamorphosed into a golden twilight, and great streaks of pink and orange flashed out from the eastern hills. The sun, when it did appear, came with rushing speed; first there was a line of bright whiteness atop the hill, and then suddenly a bead of shimmering, white-hot gold burst in the line between land and sky. Feeling strangely peaceful, Zelda watched the sky until the sun was over half visible above the dark hills, and then she stood up and stretched. It was time to wake the others. Today they would find the Forest Temple.

 

 

"Looks dark," Link observed, frowning and running a hand through his untidy reddish locks as he gazed into the green twilight beneath the trees.

They were standing more or less at the threshold of the forest, surrounded by rhododendrons as tall as a man. A short distance away the horses browsed and snorted lazily, switching their tails now and again as they bathed in the autumn sun. The grass was covered with glistening dew and spiderwebs, and here and there a fallen leaf lay softening, turning slowly from gold to brown.

Sofia raised an eyebrow. "There is more than enough light to see by, Link. It looks almost pleasant in there--very green. We should be fine unless we run into any monsters." With a lopsided smile she continued, "We should be fine even if we run into any monsters. We're all well-rested and strong."

Zelda nodded curtly, mounting her white horse. "Well, shall we go?" she asked impatiently, fingering the short bow at her side. The map was in her other hand, neatly folded. "Perhaps we can get to the Temple before midday."

"We can hope, anyway," Sofia said wryly, and took hold of the reins of her mount. "Let the dark one go first, since he is supposed to be our guide." There was a dangerous note in her voice as she said this last, and she gave a baleful stare to the unconcerned shadow. Zelda sighed but let it pass for now.

Under the trees it was strangely warm. The sound of the horses' hooves was muffled as they stepped through thick green-brown forest moss, dotted with tiny white flowers. A fallen tree played host to a riotous rainbow of different colored fungi, all entwined in more of the climbing vines that had grown in the ruined building on the hill. There was a winding path which led into the forest; it was just about wide enough for two to pass side by side, and it led down through hoary trees into the green darkness. Bluebells grew in clusters by the side of the way. The light was green and rich as it found its way down through the sky of leaves; here and there a beam of pure sunlight speared down through a gap in the forest canopy, falling to the ground in a shower of gold. There was little evidence of autumn here yet; the leaves were green and summery. The cries of birds could be heard above them, and occasionally the small, brightly colored creatures could be seen as they darted in and out of the leaves, wings buzzing. The forest had a sense of age, and of unspoiled beauty; there were few places like this left in the world.

Dark Link lowered his hood. He glanced back at the others with a flash of red, and then nudged his horse forward, walking the animal down the path into the forest. Zelda rode up beside him, curious to know which way they would be traveling. Link was slow to follow the others, gazing about him with fascination; Sofia whistled sharply and shook the young warrior out of his dreams.

"What a beautiful place," Zelda said softly, keeping pace with the shadow.

"Yes," he said after a moment. "It is beautiful." There was a strange look on his face as he tilted his head towards the trees. "I..." He sighed. "Link... the Hero of Time... grew up in these woods, with the children of the forest, the Kokiri."

"Are there still Kokiri living here?" Zelda asked. She recalled that Link's family name was Kokiri; the histories said that it had been Link First's name, but they had never said why.

He glanced at her. "No. The Kokiri vanished long ago. As did the faŽries, according to tradition."

"According to tradition?" she repeated, interested. "Why, do you know differently?"

A faint smile crossed his face. "Possibly," he said. "I find it hard to believe that there would be none left even here. I remember..." -a sigh- "... I remember walking through this place at night and coming across a deep forest clearing. There were hundreds and thousands of them there, like a swarm of fireflies."

The Princess looked thoughtful. "What an amazing time the Age of Legends must have been," she said softly. "I wish I could return there someday."

"What, and fight dragons?" Link said with a laugh, riding up to take part in the conversation. "It might have been fun then, Princess, but it certainly was dangerous if the stories are even half true."

She shrugged. "You have to take the bad with the good, yes. But be truthful--would you not sacrifice safety for one glimpse--even one!--of a real unicorn?"

"I would not," Dark Link said suddenly, surprising them both. The shadow looked straight ahead, concentrating on the road.

"Have you seen one then?" asked Zelda.

He shrugged, and did not answer.

 

 

The path wound down into a steep little dell; there was a small stream running through the bottom, glistening in the green light. They rode through it, splashing arcs of silver water into the air as they passed. On the other side the path was fainter, paved with grass instead of worn soil; it seemed that visitors to the woods did not usually go this far in. The trees became taller and more ancient, hanging heavy-browed over the path. There began to be noises in the undergrowth as wild animals heard them coming and ran.

"How do you know where you are going?" Link asked, frowning as he glanced from side to side. "I would be lost in here within moments."

Dark turned his head and gazed at the young warrior for a moment. "You must stay close," he said softly. "There is still some of the old magic left in this place." He laughed lightly. "I wouldn't want you getting lost, now, would I?" Zelda tried not to frown at that. She honestly did not like his tone. With an artful wave of his hand, the shadow continued, "Oh, this part of the forest is safe enough, I daresay. You will have little more than foxes to worry about. Once we reach the Sacred Forest Meadow, though--that is a different matter. Keep your eyes open, look behind as well as in front, and if we come to any springs, do not drink from them!"

Link turned in the saddle and looked back to make sure Sofia was still with them. She was, riding a few paces behind. The red-haired woman did not look pleased; she rode in silence with her head down and her amber eyes seeming fixed on her horse's ears. The young warrior sighed and turned his attention back to guiding his own horse; Dark Link's words had unsettled him greatly. He told himself that the shadow was exaggerating to frighten them.

After a while longer they began to descend again, trotting down a steady incline into what seemed like a natural valley. The path, which for some minutes had been only a beaten track through the rich grass, now petered out altogether; there were no longer any signs of civilisation within the forest, even to the extent of woodcutter's marks on the slowly decaying flanks of fallen trees. The trees that had fallen here had done so naturally, with the pressure of years. There was plenty of space between the trunks, yet all the same there was a feeling of enclosed spaces--likely it was something to do with the green darkness beneath the forest canopy. The leaves above their heads came so thick now that the only radiance was a strange soft of half-light, deeply emerald green and so dispersed that it seemed to come from nowhere. It was as if the forest itself was glowing. Every now and again they would ride into a slightly more open area, and from these rare glimpses of the sun Link found that, amazingly enough, Dark Link seemed to be guiding them more or less straight. He himself was so turned around by now that he had no idea where they were. The green-eyed warrior did not let himself consider the possibility that Dark Link was leading them astray for a purpose; they had no choice now but to trust in the shadow.

Yet, finally, they began to see once again the signs of habitation. As they neared the bottom of the valley, the land became wetter and more secluded, the patches of sunlight appearing a little more often. The air was thick with water and the horses' hooves sank into the loam with every step. They passed a tree, so ancient and rotted that it stood only by a miracle; a perfect oval opening had been made in its great bole, large enough for a child to step through with ease. Link dismounted and crouched to look inside, finding that the interior of the antiquated tree was something like a small room. Knobs of wood within could almost have passed for a table and tiny chairs. He ran his fingers over the edges of the hole, seeing that it seemed to have been carved that way; pieces of soft wood came away as he touched it.

"This is the true Kokiri Forest," Dark Link said quietly, reining in his horse. He gestured to the dark woods around them. "We have come to more or less the limits of my knowledge. Beyond here is the Sacred Forest Meadow which we must pass in order to enter the Forest Temple." He hesitated a moment, then slipped down from his own horse, landing silently on the soft forest floor. "It would be well to leave the animals here," he said. "They will not go with us through the meadow. They have done well to come this far."

Zelda shivered as she dismounted. "This place is strange," she murmured. "It has a history. ...Do we just turn the horses loose?" she added with some doubt in her voice.

"They will come to no harm here," Dark Link asured her softly.

Sofia scowled. "Why should we leave the horses? I do not like this idea." She did not say the rest--I do not want to be without a horse while he is with us--but it did not need to be said.

Dark Link's eyes glittered coldly as he turned his gaze onto the red-haired woman. "Bring your horse if you like," he hissed softly, "but see if it will follow you into the meadow. They have more sense than that." In fact, the horses were already uneasy; there was a tension running through them, lending practical strength to his words.

Reluctantly, Sofia got down and relinquished the horse's bridle. "Well," she said, "I suppose we go on foot from here. Lead us, then, if you will." Her left hand hung deceptively relaxed by her side; her fingertips brushed the hilt of her scimitar.

 

 






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