The Garden of Farore: Chapter Twenty-Seven
WITHOUT being asked, Dark Link took the lead once more, treading silently upon bare feet, as they headed through the passage in the rock. They had a long way to go before they reached the edge of the Kokiri Forests, and he was concerned about conducting their journey at night. When last he had come here, the ancient woods had been full of tricks and traps for the unwary; their spirits liked few visitors, least of all creatures such as himself. He sighed a little, and glanced back towards the others. Had he been alone, he could have taken the shadow-form and flitted through the darkening forest with little danger to himself, but as it was he felt beholden towards them... at least for a little while longer. He was surprised at himself for staying with them this long--several times during their foray in the Temple, he had been tempted to leave them to it. But he was curious to see what they would do next.
Refreshed by the healing power of the Amulet, Sofia walked lightly at Link's side. She was still deeply mistrustful of Dark Link, but after the trials in the Temple she felt that she could suffer his presence for a while. She was in too good a mood to think of such things for long, however; her eyes came to rest often on the glittering object of power carried by the young warrior. Their first Amulet, and the first real success they had had. As yet, the power of the medallion would remain a mystery; when they finally returned to the civilised world, Sofia thought that they would have to spend time examining the ancient device. The secret of its function was lost in history.
Link had no such troubled thoughts. He walked easily, refreshed and revitalized, with the serpentine dagger bouncing at his hip. The Amulet felt light around his neck. He found himself looking around with a new interest; colors seemed sharper now, sensations more direct. The last hint of stiffness in his shoulder and the muscles injured by the cobra's bite, seemed well nigh gone; he flexed his fingers, smiling. Sensation was beginning to return.
Zelda's thoughts were much deeper, though no less pleasant. The Princess walked dreamily at the rear, holding her own discovery tight in her hand--the carved white arrow. The arrow's decorations were similar to those upon the Amulet itself, and Zelda had her suspicions now that both were from the same ancient root. The artifacts were linked to the legendary Hero of Time, Link First; his power still as great, despite the thousand years and more that separated him from their quest. A smile crept across her face as she thought back to the stories she had heard about that far-gone age; and especially the powers of the Princess Zelda First, ancestor of her own blood. The first Princess's magical abilities were more well documented than those of the first Hero; Zelda's ancestor had been a master of the arcane arts. Zelda smiled thoughtfully, deciding that no matter what happened, she too would learn to use such power. They would find the key.
And now--their skills were proven. They had defeated undead monsters and beat back the awful servant of their unnamed enemy. They had managed to work together and solve the puzzles of the Temple of the Forest, and had beaten their enemy to the first Amulet. And they had made a new friend. Things were looking good--now if only they could stay a step ahead of this mysterious foe! That was going to be the difficult part...
It was a simple matter now for the four to descend the dead tree at the end of the passageway, clambering and sliding down its ancient trunk to the wild garden below. The corpses of the Goriyas were gone, though there was a stain on the grass to mark the spot. It was almost funny now--that they had been scared of such small fry, after the horrors they had fought within the Temple! Link looked up at the sky in surprise as they quitted the tunnel; it had grown much darker now, and a dusky twilight covered the scene, the last warm splashes of red and gold starting to quit the heavens. "We shall have to stop here, or find light," he said out loud, holding out his hand to stop the others. "Any ideas?"
"We should go on," Dark told him, glancing round. "It is unwise to stay here for too long--and we shall have to navigate the Lost Woods sooner or later. If I am to be your eyes, I choose the night for that task."
Sofia grimaced. "You may be able to see in total darkness," she said, annoyed, "but we can't!"
"Then light torches," he said flatly, drawing the dagger that he still carried. Stooping he picked a dead branch from the grassy floor and used the dagger to strip the twigs from it. Once he had finished, he handed the makeshift brand to Link, who took it with some surprise. "Trust me on this," Dark hissed. "Fire will help to keep the forest sprites at bay. We may have little enough to fear, indeed, but the ones who used to live in the Lost Woods were given to playing tricks on the unwary."
Link shrugged, easygoing as ever, and fumbled in his pockets for his tinder-box. In a few moments he had the branch alight, and was lighting others from it for Zelda and Sofia to carry. The dry wood blazed up swiftly and burned with a steady flame; Link found a couple more likely-looking brands and tucked them under his arm, intending to make sure that there was dry wood available for when his torch burned out. In the firelight everything took on a different quality, older somehow and more tribal. Fire had been the first thing to mark the Hylians out from the primitive beasts with whom they shared their young world; fire, in the remote places, was still the mark of civilisation.
The fire glimmered faintly off the stone walls slippery with moisture, as they descended the stone steps into the ravine of the Sacred Forest Meadow. It was much darker here, and they were soon grateful for the friendly flames they carried. Water splashed under their feet like cascades of tiny diamonds, the fire lighting sparks in the heart of each droplet. In the darkness lit by the torches, the meadow seemed much larger and much more beautiful; flame gleamed off every leaf they passed and made it seem as if the forest were glowing with its own dusting of minute torches. They climbed one of the vines that sprawled up the rock face; rather than navigate the hopelessly overgrown maze, Dark suggested they go over the top. The exit was visible at the other end of the ravine; the trees clustered thick here now, turning the terrain into another type of natural maze.
They helped each other over the top of the Sacred Forest Meadow, and were forced to walk slowly despite their eagerness to be gone. At every step the foot sank deep into what was really only a thin covering of leaves and small branches. Great festoons of moss hung down from the enclosing treetops and brushed their upturned faces. The air was full of flying insects, great feather-winged moths and iridescent dragonflies and tiny gossamer-winged creatures that darted this way and that or hovered, gleaming in the torchlight, around their heads. With the cleansing of the Temple, it seemed that a measure of peace and tranquility had returned to this once hallowed place, and there was nothing to fear either amongst the dragonflies, or down below between the great twisted tree roots. It was not the same at the other end of the ravine; the edges began to narrow now, and they walked more carefully lest they lose a boot through one of the holes beginning to open up in the vegetation. Zelda descended the last slope with a sense of relief at having her feet once more on solid ground; the strain of walking on the treacherous surface had been beginning to tell.
They stood now in a natural clearing formed from rock; behind them was the helplessly overgrown mass of the Sacred Forest Meadow maze, a blank dark opening with roots twisting out of it. It seemed impossible that anybody had ever been able to walk through those vanished corridors. But there was beauty here now, and magic. The surrounding trees were bearded with moss that sparkled in the firelight until the forest seemed full of jewels. The rock floor was cracked and uneven, and covered with great flowerlike lichens. Ahead was darkness, where the trees grew together so closely that it was almost impossible to tell the separate plants apart. Only one way was open to them, and it was a dark tunnel formed by the openings in the boles.
"Is this the Lost Woods?" Link asked curiously, walking up beside Dark. The shadow simply nodded, gazing at the mysterious opening with an unreadable expression. Link sensed that their guide was reliving some ancient past of his own, associated with this place. Had not the Hero of Time come originally from these woods? Perhaps Dark was again having trouble with one of his borrowed memories...
Shaking off the mood, Dark Link glanced back towards his companions, the firelight sparking embers in his eyes. "I still know the way," he said softly. "We must stay together if we are to come through the Lost Woods; there is some ancient magic still at work here, and it will draw you off the path if you are not careful. I cannot stress the dangers enough--if we lose you here, you will never be found again."
"Why not?" Link asked, intrigued by the promise of a tale. Dark simply looked at him, letting his silence speak all that were needed. Link frowned suddenly, remembering the inscription that he had read inside the Forest Temple. Those who get lost in the woods won't keep their friendly face for long... what did it mean?
The shadowed boles of the trees, lightless, beckoned. The torches they held guttered, spat and burned brighter. There was no sunlight now; the only illumination came from the fires they had lit. Treading carefully through the knotted coils of the tree roots, they headed into the maze of the Lost Woods. It was a strange silent journey, navigating between the ancient trees; there were no young plants here, and no green below the canopy above their heads. All was the gray and brown of bark and soil, coated with silk-soft spiderwebs. There was a thick, heady scent in the air; it tasted of autumn. As they walked on it grew darker and darker, until even the firelight seemed to struggle. The ground was soft underfoot, slightly muddy and covered in a thick layer of loam and decaying leaves. Without being asked, the companions clustered closer together. Under the trees, Dark Link's words seemed very true--if they got separated from each other, the Lost Woods would claim them for good.
Zelda glanced back once, and had to suppress a cry of surprise when she saw bright yellow eyes looking straight back at her! The eyes winked out at once, though, and left her doubtful as to whether she had really seen it or not; whatever it was had been hidden behind some sort of mask. She glanced uneasily at Dark, who seemed oblivious to her concerns; he was looking intently ahead, making sure of their route.
They halted for a moment in a small circular clearing, to gather more wood for the torches which were in danger of burning themselves out. Loth to go far from the path, they were limited in what they could find at hand, but enough was available. Zelda saw Link staring into the darkness between the intertwined trunks of the trees, and knew that he was looking at the same thing she had seen. "Can you see them?" she asked softly, but she did not need his nod to know the answer.
"They are letting us pass," he answered, keeping his voice low. "They probably see the medallion, and know that we are on their side." It was oddly perceptive of him to think like that.
"I do not think that they, whoever they are, are much on anybody's side," Zelda replied, casting a nervous gaze at Dark who was standing a little away from them. The shadow's eyes were half-closed as he gazed out into the darkness, and she could not help but wonder what he saw there. "Thank Nayru he is with us--we would never have survived the Temple without him."
Link smiled, thoughtfully. "I think he could be a Knight, Zel, mad as it sounds... first, though, he will have to sort out his own priorities. I think that he doesn't yet know his own mind."
"Give him time," the Princess whispered, touching the green-eyed warrior on the shoulder.
Sofia had heard little of the whispered conversation; her attention was directed back the way they had come. She leaned against the bole of a tree, displaying apparent disinterest in her surroundings, but her gaze kept flicking sideways. There was a light--a bright dancing dandelion-yellow spark of light, back there on the trail. Whenever she looked straight at it, it disappeared, but when she tried to catch it out of the corner of her eye it was there every time, tantalizingly visible and yet impossible to bring into focus.
Hovering in midair along the trail, Pirrillip waited patiently for the small group to move on. She had ordered Pirrillip to track them; furious that Poe had failed, she was impatient to reclaim the Amulet. But at the same time she was afraid. She did not know that Pirrillip knew she was afraid, but Pirrillip was not stupid. Some things could not be hidden. It was that dark one, the one with eyes that glowed, that had upset its mistress. Pirrillip heaved a sigh and dipped down in midair. At that, the red-haired woman sharply turned her head, and with a quick squeak of alarm Pirrillip ducked back behind the tree. A few moments later it cautiously peeped out again, and saw that the woman's attention had turned away again. Pirrillip had a nasty feeling that the woman had seen, but there was nothing that could be done about that.
The four had relit their torches and seemed ready to move on. Pirrillip could not help but admire their courage in tackling the Lost Woods head-on, especially given the time of night and the phase of the moon. Although no light from above could penetrate the mysteries of the woods, Pirrillip knew well that a full moon sailed up there, a great white hunter's moon like a silver coin. On cloudless nights such as this, the power of the forest was at its greatest flow, and had it not been for her, Pirrillip might well have wandered from its purpose and gone searching. "I cannot be the last, it cannot be true," it sighed weakly. "She lies..."
They were walking away. Pirrillip's wings buzzed urgently, and with a flutter the light bobbed off down the trail, after the four mismatched companions. It would tail them to the edge of the forest. Greatly daring, Pirrillip flew closer than before, curious to get a closer look at the group. The red-haired Gerudo was sharp-eyed, maybe, but the least dangerous of the four, at least to Pirrillip's mind. The young man who wore the Forest Medallion had an aura about him; instinctively, it knew that he was the Hero; its kind was always drawn to those of that bloodline, no matter how distant the relation. Likewise with the girl with the golden hair, though Pirrillip's attention was focused more on the white arrow she carried, the power of which was like a siren song. Something else was bothering Pirrillip, though; the leading member of the little procession. From him the light sensed a curious, inexplicable mixture of powerful attraction and nameless dread.
Pirrillip halted suddenly, sensing the approach of its dark mistress. Nervously twitching its wings, the light landed on a nearby stump and waited. It was not long before the familiar tingle of magic became apparent in the air; Pirrillip waited, humbled. She came, wrapped in a cloak of midnight black. Only her jewel-like eyes gleamed like rubies from the confines of the hood. Pirrillip's meager light served only to cast deeper shadows upon her hidden face. "Well, slave," she murmured. "What do you think of our adversaries?"
She was in a good mood, Pirrillip sensed with relief. It had feared a temper tantrum when Poe had been vanquished. Flitting back into the air, the light hovered a few feet away from its mistress. "I watched them through the meadow and the woods, Great Lady. They are yet young--young and naive!"
"Young? Naive? Yes indeed... all but one." She laughed softly. "Ahh... Dark Link shows himself once more. It must be a strange chance that brings him to the side of this motley band."
"You know of him, Lady?" It was usually a bad idea to question her, but Pirrillip was genuinely curious--and it dared a little more than usual now as she was in such a good frame of mind. The gamble paid off.
A hidden smile spread across the face hidden by the cowl. "I know him well. He and I worked together once, a long time ago--under my lord and Master."
This was something new. Pirrillip shivered at a chill of ill-omen. "Your Master?" it repeated softly, fishing for more information. This was going too far, but Pirrillip could not help itself. And it sensed that something was about to be revealed, something that had long been puzzling it.
"Our Master," she clarified, her words swelling into a passion that was almost religious. "Yours too now, Pirrillip. The one to whom this cursed excuse for a kingdom rightfully belongs. The King of Blessed Night: Ganondorf Dragmire."
Ahh... So there it was. Pirrillip had suspected for a long time, but even so it was a shock to be so flatly informed. It was a blow to the heart of the light. I serve the Evil King now, it thought.
If it meant that she would be more lenient from now on, Pirrillip thought that it might be a fair trade.
The journey seemed to go on forever. The torches burned low, and were replenished yet again. They took twisting turns, seeming to change direction arbitrarily whenever a pathway was closed, or a passage unexpectedly revealed. Despite the seemingly random nature of Dark's decisions, Zelda sensed that they were following more or less a straight line--a good thing, because whenever she glanced down the claustrophobic passages they all seemed to lead off in different directions, curving in many instances back from whence they had come. The eyes did not leave them; whenever she looked into the outer darkness they were there, looking back at her. They were not the eyes of animals, either, though the light was reflected within them in a similar way. She sensed curiosity, and barely masked hostility, and knew that the flames they carried were the only thing keeping the invisible beings at bay.
At last the tightly packed trunks began to loosen and spread out. Leaves grew again, and twigs which gently trailed along their faces and got caught up in their hair. As the trees grew further apart, their intertwined branches grew out further and tangled in their way, causing a further obstruction. Finally, however, they began to see light ahead. They quickened their pace, eager as one to see the end of the spirit-haunted woods. After all that they had been through, it would seem strange to walk in a normal forest and hear the sounds of living creatures.
Without warning the trees fell back around them. With a wrench Zelda pushed through the last tight knot of treetrunks, following Dark Link, and found herself stumbling out into open woodland. She straightened up with a sigh of surprise, then ran her hands through her disheveled hair and brushed out leaves. Behind her Link and Sofia quitted the tangled maze of trunks with similar expressions of relief. They stood together in a woody glade that was lit by the weak gray light of dawn; at their backs was a monstrous, impenetrable thicket, a wall of smooth snaking gray-brown trunks. Zelda turned and saw to her shock that there was no visible pathway through. She took a step back towards the Lost Woods, wanting to search for the vanished way, but there was a soft, menacing vip! and a thud before her. The Princess cried out and jumped back in alarm as she saw the small dart trembling in the loam between her two feet.
Link was at her side in an instant, his serpentine dagger naked in his hand. "Zel! Are you all right?" he asked quickly, laying a hand protectively on her shoulder as he looked intently into the tree-wall before them. "Where are they?"
"Don't bother," Zelda gasped, when she was able to recover from the shock. "I am fine, and you would never find them anyway. Whoever they are, they are just protecting their home, and I think that we should leave them to it. As far as I am concerned, they are welcome to those woods!"
"I am sure they are very grateful," Dark said softly, half-laughing. The light in the east was growing stronger now, dappling through the trees, and he lifted the hood of his cloak back over his head. His bare feet were muddy beneath the hem. "Let us find the horses and be done with these woods," he remarked, returning to the task at hand. "We may be clear of the Lost Woods, but there are still dangers even out here in the Kokiri Forest, and I shall be happier when we are out in the open."
"Where are we, anyway?" Link asked curiously, looking around. They stood at the top of a steep grassy knoll starred here and there with small white flowers whose petals remained tight shut, waiting for the sun. Trees here were widely spaced, providing plenty of room for smaller plants and flowers to bloom. Below them at the bottom of the ridge stood some truly ancient forest giants, long dead now but still upright. Gnarled and hollowed, the great oak trees were barely half the height of the slender aspens and strong-limbed birch with which they shared the forest, but they were many times more massive. Their even spacing, and their rounded shapes, gave the momentary illusion of a village, though it was all too obvious that no tall Hylians could ever have lived in such houses.
Shielded by the hood of his cloak, Dark glanced about him once more. "The ancient village of the Kokiri children," he answered. "The childhood home of Link First." A soft breeze rippled past them, tugging at hair and the hems of loose clothing. Dark Link gazed down into the clearing, holding his cloak closed as the wind pulled at it; his expression was closed and cold. The moment passed, and after a few seconds he turned back towards them. "We should go," was all he said.
They slithered down the ridge, getting muddy in the process, and walked headlong into a world of sunlight. After the Lost Woods, the early morning sun in the forest seemed beautifully bright and golden. A short distance away, a bird twittered brightly; it was the first any of them had heard since they had first entered into the Sacred Forest Meadow. At the same time, Link and Zelda realized that they were both starving hungry. The four companions hurried through the pools of sunlight, thinking now only of the dried food that had been in their saddlebags; high and mighty things seemed much less important.
The horses were waiting for them in a nearby clearing; the four animals were all together and seemed quite unharmed by their days of wandering free. All the saddlebags were intact and their contents unrifled. The companions made a decent breakfast out of dried fruit and hard bread; they were hungry enough for anything to have tasted good, but they also managed to supplement it by wild-grown mushrooms and hazelnuts. Sated at last, they stretched out in varied positions on the soft forest floor, cushioned by the year's fall of leaves, and slept for a good long while. The sun was warm and resting was pleasant, and while the Kokiri Forest loam could not compare to a bed in North Castle, it was sufficient for tired limbs and aching heads.
Zelda woke in the early afternoon, opened her eyes and looked up lazily at a sun-dappled greenness of leaves. The soft sounds of the forest were all around them--the gentle rustling of wind in the leaves, the various calls of the birds. The Forest Temple seemed but a distant memory... but when she glanced to her right, she saw the medallion gleaming as bright a green as ever around Link's neck. He was still fast asleep, sprawled innocently on his front with his head pillowed on his left arm, the right stretched out on the soft grass. Sitting up, the Princess rubbed at her eyes and then looked about her. Sofia was still asleep; Link was beginning to stir.
The sound that had woken her had been something like that of a flute, though rough and off-key; she had incorporated it into a misty dream whilst still asleep. Now a moment later it came again, a swift trill of notes, followed by a scraping of metal on wood. Zelda looked about, missing Dark Link, and located him on an ancient treestump several yards away. He had put on a change of clothes from the saddlebags, but they had not brought boots; his feet were still bare, and streaked with mud. He was working at a wooden pipe, carving it with Sofia's dagger into a simple musical instrument. She moved slightly, and he glanced round at the rustle of leaves; when he saw that she was awake, he slipped the flute into the open satchel by his feet, and simply looked at her. It surprised her a little that he was still with them; even after all that had happened, Zelda had still half-expected to wake up and find him gone. For whatever reason, he had stayed, and she was glad of it. With a happy sigh she got to her feet and stretched.
"About time," Dark said softly, padding across and taking the rein of his horse. "I was beginning to grow impatient." With that, he mounted, and waited for them to rouse themselves. Still sleepy, Link and Sofia set themselves to rights and climbed into their own saddles. The horses were excited now, scenting the prospect of home in the air, and they lifted their heads like chargers, pawing at the ground. The way back was wide and clear. The horses broke into a canter as they left the village, hooves thudding on the soft ground and kicking up gouts of autumn leaves.
They were going home.
She paced thoughtfully, cloak billowing out behind her as she moved. A single twist of dark hair, vibrant with a pure white streak, had escaped the confines of her clothing and hung down against her hidden face. Behind her, on the dais, Pirrillip hovered. It was afraid of her when she was like this, but at the same time it knew that it was safe. Her ire was directed at another.
"It has a certain... poetic element," she murmured softly, turning in mid-stride to gaze at the thing upon the altar table. "In the spirit of the great general, Pirrillip, we shall divide and conquer..."
Here endeth The Garden of Farore...
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