Tears Chapter Twenty-Eight
IN HIS round turret room within the gray stone walls of North Castle, Dark Link sat away from the bars of golden sunlight spilling through the arrowslit windows, and pondered upon the nature of irony.
In all his long life, in the countless centuries that had passed since the end of the Age of Legends, he had never been his own master. Ever since his ancient awakening at the hands of Ganondorf Dragmire, the shadow's one driving aim had been to hunt down and kill the descendants of his namesake: Link, the Hero of Time, who over a thousand years ago had conquered and shamed him in the Water Temple. How he had cursed that day! Because of that, he had pursued Link--his Link--as long as he lived, but when the first Hero had gone to his long rest, Dark Link found himself literally a shadow of his former self. A bodiless thing of black will alone, he retreated to the eternal night beneath the Shadow Temple, where surrounded by lesser shadows he was able to draw on the darkness and recreate a form that pleased him. In the heady days when he had been young, he had wished only to destroy the Hero and his descendants as his dark Master had desired, but in the endless years of flitting shapeless through the earth's darkness, he had developed awareness and ambition of his own.
It was, in truth, only a matter of time before he regained the strength to step out into the light of day, but the time it took was long, for he had lost much of his old vitality. As he grew in understanding, he learned that the power he had once possessed was not a thing of his own, but something that he had gained from his reflection, Link. And Dark Link's own nature was a constant source of bitterness to him--he was no real living Hylian but a mere shade, a trick of the light. What shadow could survive without a shape to cast it?
Perhaps one that had a will of its own. In time he found that he could bear certain levels of light, experimenting with the pallid glow of underground fungi or with stray sunbeams lost in the subterranean caverns of the Shadow Temple. He waited and brooded and built up his power, drawing on the seemingly inexhaustible reserves of darkness within the earth. With only the drip of water on stone to be his companion, Dark Link walked alone down the ages, while generations fought and died beneath the sun outside his dark, forbidden realm. He was patient--he had time. He could wait.
And at last, when he had nearly forgotten the world above, the shadow heard once more a voice that he had thought was forever gone: his Master's call.
Finally he believed himself strong once more, and so dared to venture out into the world again, cloaked in the darkness upon which he had fed. The sun's searing light damaged and weakened him almost beyond his ability to bear it, and the face of his world had changed beyond recognition, but the whispering voice was an irresistible lure. He found others like himself: monsters, phantoms, leftovers from an older time. Their numbers swelled.
Three hundred years had passed since the fall of the Evil King. The seals upon the Sacred Realm were all but gone. It was high summer and all Hyrule lay parched and dry, sweltering in the grip of a month-long drought, when Ganon returned. The dark armies swept through fields and cities and left only smoking ruins in their wake--and Dark Link fought at his Master's side.
But then Link himself, the direct descendant of Dark Link's old nemesis, returned to Hyrule with that same Sword that had bested the shadow once before. Ganon fell, and the creatures of night fled or faded like mist in the morning sun.
All save one. Dark Link was merely sent back to the underworld realm, not truly destroyed, and in the fullness of time he made his way back to the upper world. But now the new Hero of Hyrule was a mature man, and ready for him, and so aided by the Princess of that time he wrought a magical mirror in which to imprison Dark Link... for all time, or so they thought. Nobody had counted on the one trigger that could release the shadow once more--yet another descendant of the Hero of Time, stepping in front of the mirror and seeing himself in the glass, touching the silvered screen!
Dark Link smiled slightly at that memory. Thus he had found himself once again in Hyrule, released from the prison where he had spent nearly three hundred years of torment. Yet so crippled from his long confinement that he could not flee from his unwilling rescuers, and so they knowing what he was took pity on him, and took him in. By rights he should have left them as soon as he regained the strength: returned to his Temple and built up his powers once again. Something unforeseen had stopped him doing that. Dark Link found himself, to his lasting astonishment, feeling indebted to his rescuers for releasing him. After all, he had been so weak that they could have destroyed his physical body once again, sending his spirit back to the Underworld for another hundred years or more. They had not tried to kill him, had even tried to help him, and so, puzzled, intrigued, he had stayed. And so in the ultimate twist of fate Dark Link found himself fighting on the side of his most hated enemy's descendants, trying to regain the Triforce for the forces of light and perhaps even to face his own Master in combat. Dark Link--a Legendary Knight! It did not bear thinking about, yet it was a fact. For better and for worse, he was part of the story. Without him, there could be no Shadow Knight. Without Dark Link, the final seal on the Sacred Realm must remain forever unbroken and the Triforce forever unclaimed.
Whose side am I on, truly?
It was a question he asked himself a hundred times a day, and he still did not know the answer.
He glanced to his right, away from the hateful window, and his eyes were caught in the full-length mirror that stood in the corner of his room. Unwilling to break his link to the past, Dark Link had adopted his old shape in this new Hyrule--the Hero and he did not even look very much alike any more. They had the same sharp features and sculpted cheekbones, but Link's long tangle of red-brown hair was nothing like Dark Link's shining bangs, and Dark Link's face was leaner and more chiseled. He shook his hair out of his face and looked himself straight in the ruby-colored eye. Nowadays he was not sure exactly who the person in the mirror represented, so great were the changes through which he had lived.
Dark Link's ear twitched. A sound came to him on the wings of the morning breeze, a soft rich golden chime. The bells were ringing out from the tower in the Temple of Time, crying the hour to those who cared to listen. The shadow counted six... seven... eight chimes before the bells were stilled, and he realised that he should have been up half an hour ago. He stood quickly and made his way to the spacious closet in his room, where he had a small selection of stored garments. Dark Link picked out a soft midnight-blue tunic to cover his light gray shirt, and pulled on a pair of Hylian-style leather boots. The clothes were of excellent quality, and they were his. He liked that.
There was a light rap on his door. He turned, taking up his belt and buckling it on as he did. "Enter--it is open."
Link poked his head round the door. "You're awake!"
"What of it?" Dark Link answered.
The other frowned for a moment in puzzlement, then he laughed. "Sorry! I meant, I thought you might have overslept."
Dark finished with the belt and looked up. "I do not sleep. You know this. And I dislike the daytime in any case. Why are you here?"
"Aren't we friendly today," Link said with a smile. "Sofia and Zelda have gone out riding together, and they've left me to take care of business. I am going into town to return the painting we borrowed, and possibly run a few errands while I'm down there. If you want to come with me--I can wait."
"Why should I want to come?"
"Well, I don't know," Link answered, rather put out. "I just thought I should offer. If you aren't keen, you aren't keen; there is no need to get in a huff about it."
Dark Link did not nod, but his level stare was a kind of apology. "I will come," he said, and that was all.
Link led the way down the twisting stone staircase, and Dark Link followed at his heels. The light provided by the torches in the wall brackets he could bear with little real discomfort, so strong was he now. Yet true sunlight was ever a bane to him. As they reached the bottom of the worn stair they passed another of the castle's tall windows, and Dark Link winced and raised the hood of his cloak as the golden band passed over his face. Already he wanted to go back to his tower room, crawl under the bedcovers and wait out the day, but he had given his word.
"I have to pay a visit to Curan and give back his painting," Link said to him as they walked. "After that, well... we will probably just wander around. I have yet to really explore the city myself. With a bit of luck we might find somewhere with some decent weapons for sale, and then we can get you something. The blades that are made nowadays would not cut butter!" Dark Link remained silent, but in truth he had to agree with Link's assessment of the craftsmen of the modern day. In his own time he had seen beautiful weapons made with consummate skill. But such was the dwindling of the Hylian race since his long-ago creation that he did not think Link could have the physical strength to wield something like the lost Megaton Hammer.
They passed from the stairs into a wide red-carpeted hall, hung with pictures of kings past and present. Blades from the pages of history hung upon metal hooks on the walls where paintings did not predominate. Dark Link felt a sudden frustration that the weapons, some of which he recognised, should sit idle as some king's wall decorations, but after so long without care he knew that the once magnificent blades would be brittle or rusted through.
"What was the fate of the Master Sword?" he asked abruptly.
"That sword?" Link answered, surprised by the question. "I thought it was just a legend."
Dark Link sighed. "Most legends have some truth at their core--even that of the old man who leaves presents for the children at Yuletide," he added before Link could disagree. "I saw the Master Sword myself, and fought against one who held it."
Link thought for a moment, then he shook his head. "There is nothing written, as far as I am aware. It disappears from history several hundred years before the present time. Ask Zelda; see if she knows more than I."
At last they reached the end of the long picture-gallery. Link's footfalls clattered loud upon the cool marble floor now that there was no carpet to cushion the sounds; Dark Link made almost no sound, flitting through the thicket of sunbeams that speared down from the high windows. Link turned left and led his companion through less glamorous servants' quarters where finally they reached the arched stone gateway to the stables. A winding gravel path led from here down to the main gate, through carefully kept castle grounds. The sun was pale and chilly in a brilliant blue sky.
A hot summer's day... the soldiers in their bright helms pacing up and down... rich scent of roses fills the air as the boy flits across a wide lawn, invisible in forest green...
Dark Link narrowed his eyes against the sun's glare, and raised a hand to adjust the hood of the dark blue cloak.
Summer was over now. The linden trees were beginning to look decidedly ragged, and drifts of brown and gold leaves littered the grass, damp with dew. It was a melancholy time of year for some, but Link had always liked it.
He enjoyed the walk down into the town, too - the gentle exercise helped to loosen his muscles which were necessarily stiffened by several days of inactivity. He was greatly pleased by everything that had happened, knowing that the recovery of the first Amulet and the discovery of the Shadow Knight was a great step upon their way to restoring the Knighthood. Sofia might not trust the shadow any further than she could throw him, but Link, in his own heart, understood more than he got given credit for. For his part, he was more than willing to extend his hand in friendship. But that was all he could do: Dark would have to do the rest.
Hyrule City was as busy and cheerful as ever: all was noise and bustle in the bright sunlight. The Hero and his shadow made their way into the jam-packed Silver Square, struggling past throngs of shoppers, street hawkers and a stray goat. In the dubious shadow of an overhanging balcony, a clear spot offered itself for a few moments, and they paused.
"I had forgotten it was market day," Link said, somewhat dismayed. "We'll never get to the Street of Armourers at this rate - perhaps we'd do better to head for the house. It was somewhere near the gates, that much I remember. It was coming down so hard that I just banged on the first door I could find."
Dark said nothing. He had come on a whim, and now in truth he was beginning to wish that he had stayed in the cool quiet of the tower room. It was not his old pain that bothered him, but the people. Eyes were on him constantly, staring; it seemed to him that every head in the passing crowds turned for a moment towards him. He did not belong here.
A hand, warm and living, gripped his arm and tugged for a moment. He followed silently as the red-haired boy trotted along a series of alleyways with head up and ears pricked with excited interest. The young Hero puzzled him - more so than did the gentle Princess. Although Zelda was unfailingly kind, he sensed the nervousness that underlay her manner towards him. Link was not like that.
The back streets were close and shadowed. Hyrule Town had not grown according to any sort of plan, and the result was a maze-like shambles where washing lines and overhanging second storeys cut off any sight of the sky. Link never faltered; in a few short minutes, daylight gleamed at the end of an alley, and then they were stepping out into another wide cobbled street, only a few yards from the white walls. There were fewer people here. A bored guardsman gave them an incurious glance and then turned his head away.
"Ah." Link sounded pleased. "Just along here and we should reach the gate. I've been down this road before..." He chattered on lightly as they walked, passing private houses and an occasional small shop. Dark stayed silent, bemused by the easy flow of words and listening mostly to the sound of his companion's voice.
The city had changed. City? It had been a town once, a peaceful little white-walled market town. What had happened to that Hyrule? Even the speech was altered.
A thousand years.
He struggled with the concept. Too much time.
I am old... I do not understand this world.
The horses' hooves pounded rhythmically on the green earth, chilled by a frosty night. Before the gates of Hyrule Town was a long expanse of rough pasture, part of the old Lon Lon lands which now belonged to the Crown. In practice it was considered common land, and Harkinian turned a blind eye to the sheep and cows that grazed the scrubby hillsides. The common made an excellent place to ride; the grazers kept the grass short, and the ground was smooth and reliable.
Zelda leaned low over the white palfrey's neck. Wind ran frosty fingers through her loose golden hair, streaming it out behind her; she blinked water out of her stinging eyes.
She had always loved riding. When she was younger, it had been a way to escape the confines of the castle walls, within which she sometimes felt like a caged bird. Even now, as she enjoyed a degree of freedom unmatched by any other princess of her ancient family, she could let the rhythm of the horse lift her out of herself, and stop being Zelda in order to just be.
Suddenly in a swirl of sound another horse passed her, running flat out over the cropped grass. Sofia sat forward in the saddle, crouched like a racer with her stirrups shortened in the Gerudo fashion. Her red ponytail flew out like a banner, a declaration of war; she glanced back for a moment, grinning in victory.
"Oh?" Zelda said aloud, though her voice was lost in the great roar of wind and hooves and harsh breath. With her heels she nudged the white horse's ribs, and the palfrey, straining, began to close the distance that had opened up between them. The lone tree they had chosen drew swiftly closer. Now the white horse's nose was level with the gray's haunch. Sofia glanced back again and her look of triumph changed swiftly to one of alarm; she urged her own horse to go faster.
The tree blew past in a flurry of wind and sound, and Sofia was ahead, undeniably by a nose. Zelda reined in lightly, letting her horse slow naturally to a canter and then a trot, and her friend did the same. They stopped at the edge of a long low rolling slope that overlooked a shallow woody valley; pale autumn sunlight gleamed off water amongst the trees below. The horses snorted and shook their heads so that the bridles jingled loudly in the stillness.
"You win," Zelda said, laughing.
"It was close, though. You ride well."
"So do you."
For a little while there was silence between the two young women: each was rapt in her own thoughts. A thin blue curl of smoke twisted up into the cool bright air from somewhere down in the valley. Charcoal-burners, Zelda guessed, and suddenly felt a wash of love for this peaceful little kingdom.
Lost in a reverie, she flinched, startled, when Sofia spoke again.
"We have to talk about this sometime, you know."
"About what?" Zelda glanced towards her friend, seeing the other woman's eyes hard and cool, her face set in unfamiliar lines. "Oh," she said.
"This is why you asked me to come with you, isn't it? Are you afraid that I'll make trouble? I'm not going to stir things up, Zelda, but I don't like him. I don't trust him. I don't know what he's thinking or why he's staying with us or even when he might or might not be nearby, and frankly, that scares me."
Zelda bit her lip. "All right," she said at last. "I did want to talk to you about this, but you have it wrong. I wanted to ask your advice."
"My advice? Can't you guess it? Get rid of him. Ditch him. I don't care how, but get him out of our lives. He's dangerous."
"It's not as simple as that. There's something... I don't know what. Something strange." She shifted in the saddle, then, on a whim, swung her leg over and slid down. The horse dropped its head to nose at the turf. Zelda walked a few paces and then just stood, looking across the gentle green landscape to the distant whiteness of the town. After a little while Sofia dismounted and joined her.
"Do you remember?" Zelda said. "Three days ago, in the great hall."
It had been the first time that Dark Link and Harkinian met face to face, and the warmth of a late summer afternoon still clung to the stones of the ancient building. Soldiers in the frosty silver armour of the Royal Guard lined the hall - it was supposed to be a friendly, informal occasion, but the grim expressions on the faces of the King's retinue told a different story. And did anybody notice that, although sunlight was streaming in through the tall windows, that slim dark figure cast no shadow as he knelt before the throne?
Dark's soft voice carried surprisingly well as he repeated the ancient oath, and Zelda listened as she stood to one side with her friends. Close your eyes and that gentle, almost lilting tone could have belonged to some innocent young Hylian, new to the ranks of the guard, swearing to be faithful beyond death to the Kings and Queens of Hyrule. But the shadow's whole body had tensed when Harkinian rose with drawn sword.
"Yes." Sofia shrugged. "I saw it. For a moment I was convinced he'd go for your father. I think everybody else was, too." It was true. A cold electric shock had gone round the room in that moment - hands went to sword hilts, stances shifted. "It just proves my point, Zelda," the Gerudo woman went on now. "How can we trust him? We don't know what he'll do."
"But don't you see?" Zelda said. "There's another way to look at that. I think he probably could have killed my father, if he'd wanted to. But he didn't."
"If that's all it takes to make you trust people, I hope we never get talking to Ganon," Sofia said darkly. "I wonder what will happen when real temptation comes his way?"
Curan's house looked different under a clear sky. A cheerful, relatively new building of white stone and thatch, it stood at the entrance of a mews only a stone's throw from the great south gate of the city. It looked neat and welcoming: the white bricks were clean, and well tended flowerpots decorated the ground-floor windowsills. Link ducked under a washing line and rapped lightly on the painted wooden door. Silent and shrouded, Dark followed him.
In a few moments there was an answering call from within. Though the words were impossible to make out, the tone was irritable. A latch clicked, and the door swung open to a bright white-painted hallway, and the figure of a woman with dripping, sudsy hands.
"Hope we haven't interrupted your laundry-day, milady," Link said, grinning. "This is Dark, a friend of mine. We've come to return something of yours, and to thank you once again for the loan of it."
"Oh!" Calonna looked startled for a moment and then smiled. "I'm sorry... I thought it was... well, never mind. My husband's not at home, I'm afraid, but... Would you like to come in?"
Link considered matters. He was fond of the young couple, although he barely knew them, and he had hoped to get some advice on the question of weapons - not being familiar with the city and its merchants, or knowing who was trustworthy. He had hoped too to say hello to Bethan and the baby again. But something was not right here today; Calonna seemed nervous and on edge. Perhaps she was just eager to get back to whatever she had been doing before the interruption. In that moment his mind was made up, and he swung the bag off his shoulder and knelt to look through it. "We've only a moment or two, milady," he said politely, lifting out the wrapped painting. "I could give you this here - or would you like me to put it down somewhere for you?" he added, glancing at her wet hands.
"That's all right." The woman wiped her hands on her apron and gently took the small parcel from him. She unwrapped it with care... then, suddenly conscious of what might be considered rudeness, she looked up and gave them both a worried smile. "I'm very sorry to brush you off like this, but you know how it is - there's wet clothes everywhere at the moment and we've nowhere to sit down."
Link laughed. "Please, don't worry about it. We ought to be pushing on anyway." Suddenly remembering something, he fished in a pocket and brought out a red gem. "Oh - the Princess wondered if you'd accept this as a small token of our thanks."
Calonna glanced at the ten-rupee piece, and her expression startled him - for a moment she looked alarmed and even guilty. But as swiftly as a change in the wind, the look was gone. She shook her head earnestly. "No, please, there's no need. Keep your money. We're just glad that we could help you out in a small way."
"It was more than a small way, believe me," Link said earnestly. He hesitated for a moment more, then slipped the money back into his pocket and picked up his discarded satchel - empty now. "Well, I think we'll bid you good day..."
"Is there anything else we can do?" Calonna seemed anxious to please them now.
He shot a sideways glance at Dark, who had made no sound through the whole of the conversation, and saw the shadow's eyes bright beneath the low hood of the cloak. He couldn't tell what Dark was thinking. "Maybe one thing," Link said after a moment, turning back to Calonna. "We're new to the city, milady, and we'd hoped to find a weapon or two fairly fast... can you suggest any names? Preferably someone reasonably honest, who won't try to pass off brass as gold!"
She laughed at that. "Rare, in this town... Well, if you want to stop by my husband's forge... he mostly makes tools to order, but he might know some names I don't. Otherwise..." She hesitated. "Actually there's a place not far from here - just down the old Magpie Lane, that's off Castle Street. They're new, and looking to get a reputation for fair dealing. You might like to try there first."
"Thanks," Link said. "We will." Calonna smiled at him again, distractedly, and gently closed the door in his face.
He stood there silently for a moment, a frown now crossing his face. "That was strange," he remarked at last.
"What?" came a soft voice.
It was almost the first time Dark had spoken without being pestered into it. Link felt absurdly proud. He gave the shadow an encouraging smile, then glanced back at the house again. "Oh, I don't know... she just seemed odd. Something was on her mind. I hope everything's all right."
The living room was damp and hot with steam, and the big copper on the hearth was about to boil over and put the fire out. Calonna dropped the painting on a table and grabbed for a cloth.
In the crib by the window, the baby was starting to fret. Calonna was tired; she ignored it. After hauling the heavy copper off the heat, she sat down heavily on a rickety wooden chair, and looked at the damp clothes strung about the room. All old; all patched. And the cold daylight coming through the window revealed the stained old plaster peeling off the walls, the threadbare rug. Upstairs a little girl hummed tunelessly, engrossed in some game.
And my daughter another burden on this house, for who will marry her when she is blind, and cannot work?
Calonna's gaze went once more to the small cloth bag lying on the table - deceptively small, yet bulging. The drawstring top was open and glassy rainbows gleamed within. A few of the gems had spilled across the tabletop: purple, silver, gold. It would pay the rent on the house for a year.
It was all right, wasn't it? Surely it was all right. Just to tell them about the new shop... what harm could there be in that?
The baby started to scream. Wearily the woman pushed herself off the chair and went to the window. She rocked the crib with her foot for a while but the child did not quieten, and eventually she bent to pick it up. Even as she soothed her infant, her eyes lingered on the little bag.
But how could they have known that the Hero would come here today?
The place Calonna had suggested was hidden in a run-down backstreet of the city where every other building seemed boarded up and forgotten. Its bare terracotta-colored brickwork, now smeared with dirt, matched the buildings to each side of it, but there was an expensive awning and a mahogany hanging sign with letters printed across the front in glittering gold leaf. The aura of success around it did not match the deserted buildings on all sides.
Link paused, frowning, with one hand on the door latch. "It's strange... I swear I have been down here before, recently, and yet I don't remember this place at all! But it looks as though it has always been here."
"The city is great," his shadow answered softly. "Easy enough to overlook one small shop."
"Maybe..." He glanced up at the sign again: Sepultura's Antiques - Curios Bought & Sold. Beneath the elegantly curving letters, an image was etched into the wood of a sword crossed against a pike - a universal sign of those who sold weapons. "Still... antiques? Surely it will just be full of... of tables and things," he finished lamely, unsure as to what exactly might be considered antique. "Unless..."
"Unless what?" Dark Link said irritably, his attention fixed on the golden letters.
"Goron weapons." Link's eyes suddenly gleamed with excitement. "You asked about the Master Sword. Well, what about a real Goron blade? There aren't many left in the world, but if this Sepultura is a true collector, she must have at least one. For a price, of course," he added a little ruefully; he had a few hundred rupees with him, which was no small sum for an ordinary sword, but the ancient Goron smiths were the stuff of legend nowadays. Still, even the chance to see such a thing was a lure to the young Hero, and he reached out again for the latch.
"Sepultura..." Dark Link was scowling now. "I mislike the name. There is something... Something old here."
"What's the matter?" Link tried to conceal his impatience. "Do you want to stay out here? In the sun?" The shadow lifted his head at that and the empty eyes flared suddenly red - with anger or what other emotion, Link could not tell. Feeling slightly contrite, he added, "Come on... come in with me. We've come this far - it would be a shame to turn back empty-handed now!" He swung the door wide open, revealing a deeply shadowed entrance; silver motes of dust flashed in and out of the winter sunlight. Inside the shop, a silver bell tinkled faintly.
Dark sighed and came forward. Smiling, Link held the door open for him.
Inside the shop was dark and musty, lit only by two lamps set upon the deserted counter. All around there were items of ancient furniture and other things from ages past. Dark Link's gaze traveled across a motley assortment of objects that hung upon the wall, identifying a battered Hylian shield such as the Knights used to hold, a clumsy morning star of Moblin make and a curved Gerudo dagger, among other less famous objects. Link trailed his fingers across the dusty top of a harpsichord that could have dated back to the Middle Kingdom.
The gloom and the shroud-like dust covers over the larger items gave everything the air of a funeral wake. The bell above the door might have rung as they entered, but there was still no sign of life around the counter.
"Perhaps we have merely made a mistake," Dark said. "There is nobody here."
"The lamps are burning, so someone must have been here recently," Link pointed out.
Just then there came a voice from the back of the shop. "Be with you in a moment, dears!" It was a woman's voice, elderly and warm. Link shifted from foot to foot and then lifted the lid of the harpsichord, touching several of the keys gently. They made foggy twanging noises and puffs of dust issued from beneath the closed lid. There was a sound of shifting boxes from the darkness at the back of the shop, and then the owner of the voice appeared bearing a covered lantern. She set it down upon the counter and stood beside it, smiling at them. "What can I do for you, my dears?"
She was elderly perhaps, but it was difficult to judge exactly - she was somewhere on that long and gentle road of Hylian middle age, when the bright glory of youth is over but the decay of old age has yet to take strong hold. Her white hair frizzed up and out in orderly disarray, and her bright eyes gleamed in the poor light afforded by her lamps. She was garbed in a simple dress of deep midnight blue with a girdle of gold thread, her feet clad in motherly slippers of faded scarlet. She smiled good-naturedly at Link, and silently Dark Link faded into the shadows.
"We're looking for weapons," Link said to the old woman, liking her at once. "Something in good condition, perhaps Goron make."
"Goron blades are expensive, my dear," the woman explained gently. "Since the ones who wrought them are but a memory, the weapons that are left to us are highly valued."
"We can pay," he said firmly, hoping it was true. "Do you have anything that might be suitable? It's not just to look pretty on a wall."
"I might," the woman said with a kindly smile. She lifted her head suddenly and looked into the darkness of her shop, right at Dark Link. "Such a pretty one you are, love, to be creeping in the shadows! Why hide yourself among friends? Come out now and let's talk civilised." Dark Link jerked in surprise, having known himself invisible to mortal eyes in the shadow-form. Reluctantly he stepped out into the soft glow of the lamps. "There now," the old woman smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. "So it's two we're looking for, is it?"
"Not unless you have two good blades at a good price," Link said.
"Let's have a look-see," she said laughing. Taking up her lantern she stepped back a few paces, and gestured with her free arm. "Most of what I have you can see around you."
"What I have seen so far is worthless," Dark Link said coldly. Link shot him a look, rather annoyed at his rudeness. It had been hard enough to get him to come in at all, and the young Hero could not understand why his companion was being so difficult all of a sudden.
The woman's eyes widened a little. "Ah, you know your wares then! I may have something for you. Wait." She disappeared into the back of her shop again and they heard renewed shifting sounds.
Link sighed. "All right," he said. "What is it?"
"What is what?"
"What's wrong? Are you tired? Do you want to go back?"
"Do not patronise me, boy," the shadow hissed softly.
"I was trying to be nice, actually," he said, refusing to be provoked. "But look - what is wrong? And don't say nothing. She seems like a nice enough old lady to me."
Silence, for a long moment. Link thought that that would be the end of it, but then Dark spoke again. "She knew I was here." he said softly. "Never before have I been detected when I did not wish to be."
"It's her own familiar shop, and perhaps she just has sharp eyes." Link did his best not to smile.
The shadow scowled. "Look, then!" Without a breath he faded into the background, becoming as a shape cut out of darkness itself. His glittering eyes remained visible for a moment longer and then winked out. All was as it had been, and by the light of the lamps Link saw only the wide flanks of ancient armoires and tatty period furniture. "Can you see me?" Dark's voice demanded from somewhere in the gloom. "Then where am I? Speak!"
Link frowned, narrowing his eyes to see more clearly. "No," he had to admit, "I cannot see you, nor tell just where you are in this place! But please, Dark, stop worrying about it! It is likely that she merely has better senses than most, knew someone was here and made a guess."
"She looked right at me," Dark Link muttered, reappearing.
The woman reappeared now from the back of the shop, and they fell silent, although Dark watched her now with a sour, suspicious look. She bore in her arms a single long object wrapped in oiled leather, eight or nine inches wide and around three feet long. "You might be interested in something like this?" she suggested, laying her burden on the dusty counter. It clunked dully on the wood. "I came by it many years ago, but I've never shown it around--waiting for the right customers, I suppose."
Link came forward. "Well, let us see it, whatever it is!" he said.
With care and love the woman began to unwrap the object, lifting the thick folds of dusty cloth away gently, one by one. Dark Link tensed suddenly.
The last shroud of wrapping fell away from the object, and a sword was revealed. Link let out a long sigh of admiration at the sight of the dark blade lying dormant and hungry upon the antiques counter. It was wrought of some dark oily metal, or it was heavily tarnished--one or the other. The hand guard was swept forward in stylised wings and a round jewel of polished jet finished off the handle of the blade, which was long enough for two hands.
Even without touching it he could tell that it was a sword fit for a Hero. The balance would be perfect, the edge razor-keen.
"Dark," he said softly. "It's perfect for you... come on, try it out."
"No." The shadow's voice was harsh. "Leave it. We will go now."
"Why?" Astonished, he glanced round. "How can you not want it? Look - it might have been made for you! Just try it! Pick it up!"
"I don't want it!" Dark backed away and knocked over a chair.
"Oh, be like that then," Link said, feeling suddenly fed up. He'd done his best all morning to be friendly, and had received scant rewards for his effort. But this sword... it was too good a thing to waste. He couldn't walk away from it now, or he would always wonder. Almost of their own accord, his hands reached out.
"It's beautiful," he exclaimed, lifting the weapon up. As if responding to his words, the blade seemed to gleam with an oily sheen as some of the darkness, tarnish, whatever it was, faded like fog on a windowpane. Link passed the dark sword through the air several times, quickly, and its blade cut air as if it had only just been sharpened by a master craftsman.
Urgently Dark laid his hand upon Link's shoulder. "Do not buy it!" he said urgently. "Give it back to her and let us leave this place!"
"What are you saying?" Link asked in amazement. "This sword is the best I have ever laid hands on! We have got to have it!" He turned to the woman. "How much are you asking? Any price is not great enough."
The antiques dealer was no longer smiling - her eyes were fixed on Dark. "Three hundred rupees," she said flatly, returning her attention to Link, "and it's a bargain price at that, for I've turned down kings who wanted it."
It was almost all he had. But he had it. "It's a deal," Link said, fumbling with his free hand at his waist to untie the strings of his purse. Before Dark could say anything else to spoil the moment, he scattered a handful of red and purple gems across the counter.
"I think that will do," the woman said, not bothering to count the money. "Now, can I interest you in anything else..?"
"One is more than enough," Dark said coldly. "We must leave. Now." He gripped the young Hero's upper arm and towed him, protesting, to the door.
"You know, I have had just about enough of this," Link said as the door swung closed behind them. "What in Farore's name has got into you all of a sudden? You were really rude to her in there. And what's wrong with the sword? It's flawless, even I can tell that!" He held the weapon up in the winter sunlight, and the blade glistened like jet.
"Throw it away," the shadow hissed. "Do it now."
Link met the crimson gaze without blinking. "Are you going to tell me why?" Silence. "Then I choose to keep it," he said, finally, "even if you don't want it. But I don't know when another deal like this will come along for you. You'll have to ask the King for a plain soldier's sword and make do with that." Dark said nothing, merely looked at him, and at last Link sighed, feeling suddenly very weary. "Let's go back," he said.
Dark pulled the hood of his cloak down over his eyes, shading his face as much as he could. Before he followed the Hero, he glanced back at the store one more time to see if he could fathom the mystery he sensed behind it. All was as it had been.
"I know that name," he muttered.
If either of them had looked back a final time, they would have been greatly surprised. Like a river-mist in morning sun, the strange shop with the new awning and glittering gilt sign faded into nothing. All that remained was a blank wall, the side or back of some warehouse, with small boarded windows high up on its stained flank.
And a woman, standing in the middle of the street, watching after them. She was slender and very tall, with long black hair that was streaked with twists of pure white, and shimmering crimson-red eyes. The long clinging dress she wore was deep, rich blue, augmented by a glittering golden girdle at her waist. Her black velvet slippers were adorned with tiny silver stars. A small yellow light hovered beside her head, bobbing up and down.
A cruel smile slipped snake-like across her beautiful face, her red eyes blazing. "I thank you, Link!" she whispered softly. More to herself, she spoke under her breath, unheeding of any observers that might be within range. "While you get to know your purchase, I will wait. Only when you are lost to it will you understand its true nature!"
Her laughter rang out over the empty streets, and had anything been there to hear it, fear would have come with that sound.
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