Tears Chapter Thirty
THE relationship between Link and Dark worsened even as evening drew on, and even Dardo, the grizzled captain of the King's Guard, remarked upon it when he passed the Princess in the courtyard. "Who started it, milady?" he asked curiously. "Young Link looks as if he's practising for a scowling competition! And the dark one--I merely bid him good morrow, and if looks could kill..." He shivered theatrically and then pulled one end of his long graying mustache, regarding the Princess with an inquisitive look.
Zelda sighed. "I don't know what is going on between them," she owned, rubbing the bridge of her nose with her free hand. She could feel a headache coming on. "Link has been acting strangely for days, and Dark just gets more distant every time I speak to him."
The weather-browned skin around the old captain's eyes wrinkled cheerfully as he smiled at her, his brown eyes twinkling. "Well, milady. Maybe it'll sort out in time. But if I were you I'd try and get to the bottom of their quarrel before that young hot-head decides to try and take a chunk out of the dark one with his big new sword." Dardo shook his head wistfully. "I'd not give Link much chance if he did try it on. Not against that one."
"Do you have any suggestions?" Zelda asked hopefully.
The old soldier shook his graying head. "Nay, milady. Were they in my command, now, I'd have 'em both whipped and then send 'em to clean out the stables together. Mutual hardship has a way of making the heart grow closer." He winked. "Works every time... unfortunately, I don't suppose you could get away with it with those two."
"I don't suppose you could," Zelda agreed, trying and failing to imagine Dark putting up with any form of military discipline.
Dardo harrumphed and fingered his ceremonial sword belt, hitching it up a little. "Well, your Highness, I'll bid you good day. And if you like, I'll watch Link's back for him."
"I don't think Dark will be the aggressor, if they do end up fighting," Zelda told him seriously. "It is Link that I am worried about. Dark has a good deal more sense than that."
Dardo continued on his way, leaving the Princess more disturbed than ever. What he had said was true--Link could be hot-headed at times, and now more than ever with his temper as frayed as it was. She was sure that, if Link attacked Dark, Dark would overcome the Hero--the question was, would he do it without killing Link? Despite her confidence in Dark's abilities and his potential as a Knight, the Princess was unsure still of the shadow's moral standards. Would he kill if threatened? She thought he probably would.
That evening there was to be a banquet in the great hall of North Castle. It was October 31st: the time of the last harvest, and the start of the great week of celebration that was a yearly fixture in the Hyrulian calendar. Traditionally the occasion was a time to honour those who were gone and to welcome the coming of winter--an inauspicious day for weddings, but a good excuse for a party. As dusk drew in over the white walls, a holiday spirit was in the air all across the city. If it was Samhain now, Yule was not that far away...
In contrast to the street parties and revelry elsewhere in Hyrule Town, the Castle event would be a restrained and decorous affair. Lords and nobles from across the country would gather here tonight in the presence of their king. For Harkinian it was politics: a chance to meet with his barons, while at the same time tactfully reminding them who was in charge. Of course Zelda, as the Crown Princess, would be required to attend, and she had dutifully spent the afternoon getting ready.
What none of the others had expected was that they too would be called to the King's table. There was just enough time to throw on some smarter clothes and run combs through unruly hair before heading downstairs--not without some misgivings.
Link, Zelda, Sofia and Dark arrived outside the doors to the banquet hall at almost the same time. Zelda and Sofia, indeed, had come down together--Sofia was used only to wearing practical garments and had no idea how to put on or wear an evening gown, so Zelda had walked her through it and done her hair for her. The red-haired human woman looked exotically beautiful in a soft dark green gown spattered with little glass stones, and she wore heavy golden chains on her wrists and neck where they smoldered against her darkly tanned skin. Zelda herself had chosen a simple pearly gown and silver jewellery. Next to the highly dressed ladies, Link found himself positively anticlimactic in his best tunic and boots, with his hair for once combed and tied back. "Princess," he greeted with mock gravity, inclining his head and putting a hand over his heart. "Sofia."
"Hello, Link," Zelda said softly. He had not, she noticed, taken the dark sword with him and her heart lightened a little--she had hardly seen him without it in the few days since he had bought it. She smiled and patted her golden hair, which was tied back in a half-ponytail and threaded through with tiny silver links. "What do you think?"
"Stunning," Link said enthusiastically, then grinned at Sofia. "Especially you."
"Oh, you..!" Zelda pouted.
Sofia scowled unbecomingly. "This feels strange to me," she said crossly, picking at the long skirts of her gown. "This is Hylian wear?"
"Only for evenings, or special occasions," Zelda corrected. "I certainly would not wear this sort of thing every day!"
"It might be difficult to ride a horse or swing a sword," the other woman agreed with a crooked smile."Where's-?" Dark Link appeared noiselessly at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh."
"Well met," Link said awkwardly. A moment later he strode forward and grasped the shadow's hand. "Dark..." He hesitated, and then plunged on. "Look... I'm sorry about acting so off lately. I just... haven't been feeling myself, I suppose. Can we be friends again?"
"As you wish," Dark answered. His strange eyes seemed to linger for a moment at the Hero's belt--but that could have been imagination, it was never easy to tell where he was looking. Delicately he drew back his hand.
"All friends again, then," Zelda said happily, feeling a wave of pure relief wash over her at the sight of Link seemingly back to normal. "Come on, my father will be getting cross if we stand out here much longer! We're probably the last ones to arrive as it is!" Warmth, golden firelight and the sound of many voices drifted through the vast wooden doors that stood open before them.
A liveried herald announced them one by one as they passed through. "Her Royal Highness Princess Zelda of Hyrule; Link of Calatia, Hero of Hyrule; Princess Sofia Dragmire, daughter of King Thorkelin of the Gerudo; and Dark Link!"
Conversation, which had died down as they entered, came to an abrupt stop at the mention of the shadow, and he shifted uncomfortably under the sudden concentration of uneasy stares as nearly all the room turned to look. The occasion was saved by the King, who rose with his arms held out. "Zelda, my dear! You look lovely!" King Harkinian exclaimed. "Come--come and sit down!" He gestured to four vacant seats at the top of the long table. People turned away and resumed their discussions, though a little quieter than before... but the atmosphere of the room had changed, and Dark sensed the sudden attention turned his way as he walked up to take his place beside the Hero.
"Why am I here?" he muttered.
"Don't be silly," Zelda whispered back, overhearing. "And don't complain. My father is showing the whole of Hyrule that you're a member of this household! It's for your benefit!"
"There is no point to this affair," he said sourly. "I will not eat the food, and I cannot think that I was invited to make conversation. Am I the evening's entertainment, to be shown thus?"
"Just try to enjoy yourself," the Princess told him. "It's only for a couple of hours!"
To Dark, the great hall was a dreamlike place of shadow and dazzling light, spotted with candle-flames, clouded with wisps of haze from the many fires. Tapestries splashed smouldering colour across the massive stone walls. The buzz of voices blurred into a single sound like the hum of a bees' nest in summer, heady and distantly threatening. Someone pulled a chair out for him; he sat. A dish of food was placed before him and the thick, rich scent made him blink and shiver.
And remember, many years ago... a gathering in the hall of a different king.
It might have been pleasant, in a different world: the torches blazed bright in their wall niches, scarlet and gold, sending coils of thick bitter-smelling smoke to cloud the air. But no amount of fire could take the chill from the damp stone, nor lift the oppressive cloak of shadow from distant corners. It smelled of iron and old earth.
The long table was of black unpolished rock, hewn from the substance of the place so that it seemed almost to grow out of the floor. There were no chairs, but two figures stood, cloaked in darkness, poring over a jumble of ancient tattered papers that lay scattered there.
Seated on the cold granite steps beside the throne, he pricked his ears and watched...
"I grow impatient."
A taloned paw touched the top of his head; chill claws slid through his hair. It was an absently affectionate gesture: a pat to a favoured hound. He turned his head and looked up towards the massive shadowed profile of his Master, tusked and flap-eared against the faint flicker of the torches. This end of the great room was poorly lit.
"As does my faithful shadow." The voice, a deep gravelly bass, hummed with power, resonating in the very walls. "The seal weakens, and we have the blood. How much longer?"
"It iss difficult, my lord." A faint hiss accompanied the speech of the nearest other: the distant buzzing of flies, or the wings of some other small creatures. Its outline shifted and flowed in the torchlight, seeming to form rather than move. Something black that might have been a hand reached out and touched a curled, yellowing scrap of vellum, smoothing it out over the rough table top. "It seems there iss a correct time as well as place..."
A heavy goblet spun the length of the room, shedding spatters of dark liquid across the piled papers. The black creature flinched.
"Do not try me, Gomez. I made you, and I can unmake you just as easily. Everything that was required, we have got--now how much longer?"
Now the second figure raised his head. Although deeply shadowed by the overhanging cowl of a cloak, this one had a shape that was more solid, more human. Long hair, straight and glittering white, straggled down from beneath the low hood. "Your Majesty, we can do nothing until the summer. All sources agree. It must be on the anniversary of that year when the Door was first opened by yourself."
"I can wait a little longer. Are we prepared?"
"We are, Majesty. Our strength is too great to be counted. We will wipe them out as the sea sweeps clean the sand."
Ganon threw back his head and laughed, the harsh barking jarring through the fetid air. "Oh, how I have dreamed of this! You, Agahnim, shall be my regent in this world while we are gone. To war, to war!" He rose, a massive tower of muscle and bone--eight feet, ten feet tall--did the torchlight play tricks? "Enough! This audience is ended. I would look upon this army of mine. Come, my son--you shall ride with me."
Obediently, Dark Link rose and padded after his Master...
The great hall was hot, thick with the scent of woodsmoke, food and wine. His head was starting to hurt. Quietly he pushed his untouched plate away, thinking of the Imprisoning War, nearly a millennium ago, and of another brown-haired Hero with familiar features. The colors might change over time, or the cut of the hair, but those sharp, clever faces never altered--nor did the spark in their almond-shaped eyes.
Link, next to him, was laughing at some jest of the King's. The young Hero held his cup carelessly, leaning on the table in what, for anyone else, would have been bad manners. Somehow with Link it just passed as being part of his personality. He loved life too much to be constrained. Dark was torn between hating and envying the boy.
And yet... there was a shadow there that had not been before. Something old lay behind those green eyes, dulling their sparkle: a secret jealously guarded.
I could leave, he thought: leave tonight, when the townsfolk are drunk with wine. It would be easy enough, for I am stronger now and the land is not so changed. I will find a gate to the Underworld and pass within. Leave these children to whatever fate they choose. After all, He has been vanquished already for this generation; Hyrule is in no danger--
It was in that moment, with that treacherous half-formed thought, that he knew the truth. He had changed too much to go back to those old ways. Or was it change? No, no, come away from that!
The tablecloth was purest white linen. A little way away someone had spilt wine, and the stain bothered him, brilliant crimson in the candle-light. Blood on the snow. Was that a memory?
Pull yourself together!
He drew a long shaky breath, searching for the calm he had once had. Tonight... it must be tonight. There may never be another chance.
"Not hungry, sir Knight?"
The speaker was a young man seated on his left. Dressed extravagantly in a brilliant blue and scarlet tunic, his fair hair cut short, he could barely have been out of his teens. Coldly Dark looked him up and down, expecting him to turn away hurriedly, but the mischievous smile simply widened. The man held out his hand.
"Name's Harper. As you've probably guessed, I'm a bard. And you look like someone with a few stories to tell. Care to share any?"
"No. Not particularly."
Irritated by the boy's boldness, Dark made no move to return the courtesy, and after a little while, Harper drew back his hand and reached for a wine bottle instead. "Fair enough," he said. "Maybe another time, then."
Taking that as the end of the conversation, Dark looked away. On his other side, Link was well away in one of his war stories; Harkinian listened indulgently, leaning back in his tall chair.
"So you're the great Dark Link of whom legends speak."
He sighed, and very deliberately turned back. "Why are you talking to me?"
Harper shrugged, wine-cup in one hand. "Well, we're at the same table, and it's a free country. Comparatively speaking. Anyway, you can't blame me for being interested, can you? I've never met a mythological figure before."
"What do you want?"
"What everyone wants--courage, wisdom and power. Or more practically, a few coins in my pocket and a warm place to sleep... that's always welcome. What about you?"
"Please stop talking."
Harper just laughed. "Might as well ask the sky to stop being blue, my friend. That's what I do." He drank, and set the cup down with a thump. "Anyway, I'm to sing later--I trust I can count on your presence as a fellow seeker of truth?"
I am not your friend. There was a teasing look in Harper's eyes now, and Dark could not be quite sure whether he was, very gently, being made fun of. "I think not," he said coldly.
"Shame. Well, if you change your mind..." With that, Harper turned away and gave his attention to a conversation further down the table. Left to himself once more, Dark sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The heat and smoke were getting to him now; his head was pounding. He wanted to be outside in the cool quiet of the night.
Suddenly he was conscious that someone was watching him closely. He lifted his head and stared into Sofia's golden eyes. She was sitting directly opposite him, and there was a look of naked suspicion on her face. Annoyed now, he glared right back--but she refused to look away. They sat, locked together, mutually hostile, until it began to feel as if the air between them would ignite.
Link nudged him. Dark flinched and glanced round, his concentration irretrieveably broken. Unknowing or uncaring as to what he had interrupted, the young Hero gave him a sunny smile. "You all right? You've not eaten much."
Dark came close then to getting angry. It was only with difficulty that he fought back the tide. He took a long breath, and his fingers gripped the edge of the chair until they shook with pain. Slowly and deliberately he forced himself to relax, to sit back into the chair, to loosen taut muscles. "Actually I have eaten nothing. Does that surprise you?"
"Oh, cheer up," Link said laughing. "It's only for a few hours--try and relax! You look like someone stamped on your toes." In a moment, a flash of real concern crossed his face. "Are you all right?"
The irony was unavoidable. "I am well enough," Dark answered shortly, nearly adding, Look to yourself. He twisted his hands together in his lap, wishing himself elsewhere. In a little while he glanced up at Sofia again, but she was looking away now.
As if on cue, a soft discord of tuning strings came drifting from the empty end of the great hall. The royal musicians had set up quietly while all the King's guests were occupied at the table, and now it seemed to the diners as if they had materialised out of thin air. There was a scraping of chairs as the younger and more sprightly guests got up to dance. Dark turned and watched Link as the young warrior stood up smoothly. Affecting a deep bow, he offered his arm to the golden-haired Princess, and with a smile she slipped her hand into his.
Someone laid a hand on his shoulder. The shadow jerked, twisted in his seat and looked up into Harper's grey eyes.
"That's my cue," the bard said, grinning. "See you around, Dark Link." He turned and strode off across the tiled floor, towards the corner where the musicians were gathered. The other three pulled their chairs aside for him as he settled an enamelled lute on his lap.
It took a few moments for Dark to gather his thoughts. He shifted in his chair and glanced back along the length of the table--half abandoned now. But at least one person had not left her seat. Sofia gave him a chilly little smile as she toyed with her empty cup.
Does she suspect something? But then, she is always suspicious...
Very deliberately, he pushed his chair back, bowed to her, and walked away towards the musicians at the back of the hall. A few people were already loitering there, preferring to listen rather than dance, and a scatter of chairs had been set out for that purpose. He chose an unobtrusive corner and leaned against the cool stone wall as if to listen like the rest. The dumbstruck look on Sofia's face made it all worthwhile.
The gentle hum of conversation had all but died away. Into the ensuing silence Harper played three sharp chords, demanding attention, and then went straight into an energetic rondeau. Swiftly the room became a whirl of dancing couples; the table was hidden from his view.
In truth he would have liked to linger. The young bard was a skilled player, his voice melodious if not strong--and Dark had heard very little music in his long life. But there was the problem of the sword. The sword... this was the first time that Link had laid it aside, and if Dark knew anything about it, it would be the last. He sighed. Only now did he have a chance of getting hold of the thing, and much as it infuriated him, he had to do it while the young warrior was distracted by the merrymaking. If he slipped out now, while half the guests still sat and the other half moved on the dance floor, it was possible that nobody would notice his absence until he was well on his way. Not only that, but it was night--the one time when he could move across the face of the earth without pain. Such an opportunity would almost certainly not come again.
His cloak still lay across the back of his chair, and getting it would draw Sofia's attention: never mind, there would be one in Link's room. He glanced back one more time towards the light and laughter of the hall, then slid through the wide open door with the speed of a shadow. Liveried servants, yawning in the warmth, did not notice his passing. Without a breath he faded into the shadow form and flitted noiselessly through wide corridors to reach the stair that led to Link's room. He had been in this castle before, a long time ago, and remembered every twist and turn from the old days. It was not long before he was standing before the strong oak door of the young Hero's bedchamber.
He tried the door--locked. Of course, it would be. Link wanted to protect the sword, even though it was irrational that anyone would want to harm it within the castle. The key would be somewhere on his person. But locked doors rarely posed an obstacle to Dark. He unbuckled his belt, removed the old copper clasp that fastened it, and examined the pin--a long metallic point, perfect. Kneeling by the lock, he inserted the pin into the lock and rocked it back and forth in a carefully controlled sequence of movements. There was a soft click from within the lock. He stood up, threading his belt back through the loops of his tunic, and then gently turned the doorknob. The door swung inward without a sound.
Silently the shadow passed into Link's room--all was in blackness, but the night was his friend and he saw just as well in perfect dark as others did in the day. He went straight for the tall carved armoire that stood beside the bed, pulled open the door and ran his hands over the plain wooden bottom. His fingers encountered a ridge and he dug his fingernails into it, pulling up and backwards. With a grating noise the false bottom slid back and in the space beneath were revealed the young warrior's most valued personal possessions: a small leather bag, presumably full of money, a heavy golden locket, a trinket or two and the dark sword. The black and oily blade hummed with soft energy in its recess, sending out its siren song to any who would listen.
Dark reached in and closed his fingers around the hilt of the dark sword. His fingertips tingled at the well-remembered touch, and the sword sang to him in its old seductive voice.
"Long time no see," he murmured, lifting the cold blade out of its secret recess.
Link held Zelda close as they moved slowly around the dance floor, weaving in and out of the other dancers to a sweet slow melody of traditional Hyrule. The Princess's head rested on his chest, her golden hair flowing over her shoulders and down her back. Stars glittered in her locks where tiny silver chains had been threaded through. She looked like an angel come to roost in his arms for the night. Truly, he thought in bliss, life could never get any better than this.
Of the Knight-aspirants, Sofia was brooding at the table, and Zelda was accounted for. Poor Dark must have gone to ground in some corner somewhere, trying to avoid all the unwelcome attention; he so hated being stared at. Link glanced around the gaily attired dancers, seeking idly to find Dark Link's familiar face among all the unknown nobles. He frowned as he realised he couldn't see the shadow anywhere. "Zelda?" he whispered. "Did you see Dark leave at all?"
The Princess sighed and tightened her grip around him. "Oh, never mind Dark!" she said, slightly exasperated. "Let's just enjoy the evening, you and me!"
Link shook his head slightly. "No, Zel--I'd like to know where he's got to. D'you suppose he sneaked off while we've been up here?"
"Well, I had to twist his arm in the first place," Zelda answered wryly. "Link, do forget about it. I'm sure Dark's fine wherever he's got to."
A slow cold suspicion crept across the young warrior's thoughts and darkened his eyes. Not the sword--Dark couldn't have, not after what had passed between them in the tower room. Link's expression grew grim as he mechanically followed the pattern of the dance. Then, distantly, he felt something in the air, and knew. It was Dark! He'd taken it!
All his anger came flooding back in a heartbeat. Link shoved Zelda roughly away, stepped back bumping into another couple and knocking them off balance, and then headed toward the door at a trot. Zelda stumbled and almost fell, but her warrior training paid off. The Princess regained her footing and stared at Link's retreating back for an uncomprehending moment. Then with a lurch she too understood, and she raced after him. In another moment Sofia was heading for the door as well.
The King witnessed their hasty retreat, as did most of the dancers. A murmur started up that was not quelled by the continuing music. Had the Princess and the Hero fallen out?
Zelda caught up to Link at the foot of the great staircase, and snatched at his sleeve. "What in Nayru's name are you doing?" she snapped angrily. "Link, talk to me!"
"He's got my sword," Link snarled. "I'm going to kill him when I catch up with him."
"Not that stupid sword again!" Zelda shook him slightly, hanging on to his shoulder as he fought to be free. "Link, what's gotten into you? Ever since you got the sword you've been acting like a different person!"
His green eyes glittered like chips of ice as he turned to look at her. "Zelda, let go of me," Link said in freezing tones.
"No! I won't!" The Princess hung on doggedly, wishing she had the courage to slap him. "Nayru's Love, Link! What is wrong with you?"
"Hey! Hey--wait!" Sofia ran up, clumsily hanging onto the folds of her gown. "What is it?" she asked, staring from one to the other. "What's wrong?"
"You can either help me hunt him down, or you can get lost and let me get on with it," Link growled. "So Dark wants the sword, does he?" he murmured, speaking more to himself than to Zelda. "Well, I'll give it to him all right. I'll give it to him right through his gut!"
Zelda's face drained of color. "What are you saying?" she breathed in shock. "You can't be serious!"
"I've never been more serious," Link answered coldly. "Now, either let me go or come with me!"
"We'll come," the Princess said quickly. Now most cruelly and without warning, the moment she had been dreading had arrived. At least if she and Sofia were there, they might be able to stop Link killing Dark--or Dark killing Link.
Link shook free of her and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Zelda kicked off her heeled shoes and followed, hitching her dress up in one hand so that she would not step on the hem and fall.
"What's going on?" Sofia huffed as they pounded along a corridor together.
Zelda just shook her head; she had no breath with which to answer.
The stables were unlit and cool, and the rich scents of horse and hay swirled around him as he walked swiftly up the aisle. After the hot hall with its brilliance and bustle, the solitude was comforting. Many of the animals whickered uneasily, but the black horse he had ridden before seemed prepared to tolerate him, and it was this stall towards which he hurried. Speed was of the essence now--he had to assume that the others had noticed his absence.
He was ready for a long journey; Link's room had furnished him with various useful items, and he now bore the sword lashed into a strong leather baldric. In case daylight caught him far from shelter, he also carried a thick woollen cloak bundled under his arm, though he hoped he would not have to wear it.
The horse kicked out at him as he saddled it. He cursed its ancestors for seven generations and held it until it quieted down, then led it out into the aisle, wincing at the ring of iron-shod hooves on stone. The door, at least, swung open without a sound.
Outside under the moon, Dark swung himself into the saddle and then sat for a moment, glancing up at the great dark shape of the castle against the stars. The silhouette of those ancient familiar towers filled him with a strange regret.
But it was near midnight already, and he had a long way to go. He turned the horse and headed down the town road at a smart trot.
"It's gone," Link snarled, standing in the middle of his empty room. "I knew it!" Zelda's eyes grew round in surprise as she beheld the open armoire, its false bottom flung unceremoniously on the floor. The door swung free. Clearly someone had searched it in a hurry, without even attempting to conceal his handiwork. Link snatched up his serpentine dagger and jabbed it viciously into the ornate scabbard that hung from his belt.
"He really did take the sword," Zelda murmured in shock. She had never believed that Dark could be a thief--it just seemed out of character.
Sofia shook her head slowly, disbelieving. "I only took my eyes off him for a moment--I swear it! He was listening to the music... I thought..." For a moment she looked puzzled. "There's something strange about all this. I know what I've said about Dark before, but... this doesn't make sense."
They stood all three and stared at the rifled closet. It spoke for itself.
"What are you going to do?" Zelda asked softly.
Link's face was cold as he answered, "He's heading to Death Mountain. I suppose he thinks he'll lose us in the Underworld."
Sofia folded her arms, looking sceptical. "And how do you know that?"
"I know," he said grimly. "He doesn't want me to have it."
It was on the tip of Zelda's tongue to answer: but I don't want you to have it either! But she knew that that would just make things worse--perhaps Link would turn his fury on her then. This cruel, vindictive man was not the Link she knew. Curse that sword! It had done something to him.
Link flung open the lid of the chest that held his equipment, and snatched up his rosewood bow and a bundle of ten powerful ironheaded arrows. Slinging the weapon over his shoulder by its string, he turned and headed for the door. The girls followed him as fast as they could as he sprinted down the corridor--Zelda running barefoot, and wishing earnestly that she had a pair of sensible shoes to wear if they were going on a ride.
Guiltily, she hoped that it would all be over before they could catch up.
This page is hosted by North Castle and created by Dark Link © 1999-2006. All rights reserved.