Broken Mirror: Chapter 48

NOW where's he gone?" Link said, looking round. The four of them had been chatting animatedly upon a hundred subjects, and he realised with a little embarrassment that he had entirely neglected Dark. There was no sign of the shadow anywhere.

"He's probably hiding," Zelda said. "I suppose we had better let him be. You know what it is like finding him when he doesn't want to be found."

"Honestly, I am surprised he came at all," Link said, sighing. "Oh well." He stabbed awkwardly at a mushroom on his plate; it spun out violently from beneath the fork, bounced off Galdenor's chest and fell to the ground, where Prowl pounced on it and chased it under the buffet table. The others burst out laughing. "Stupid cast," he said, and put the plate down on the edge of the table. "I want my wrist back!"

"Poor baby," the Princess teased. "Would you like me to cut your food up for you?"

"Oh Zel, you care," he said with exaggerated coyness, putting his head on one side. "I always knew you liked me..." Zelda picked another mushroom off his discarded plate and threw it at him.

"What happened, anyway?" Galdenor said.

Zelda grinned. "Long story. We were telling you about the second Amulet... Link, your turn."

"Talk later, eat now," Link said through a mouthful of something--possibly that mushroom.

"I'll tell you," Sofia sighed, taking her brother by the arm. She led him off a little way, under the colonnade. Galdenor's expression became stern when they had left the Princess and the Hero.

"We have to talk about this Dark Link character," he said in their own tongue.

"I know, Galdenor, I know. Look, it wasn't my choice to have him along in the first place. But they trust him, and I've got to admit that he's never betrayed that trust, even when he had ample chance. Zelda has absolute faith in him... and it seems to work both ways. He likes her. He does what she says. But only because it's her saying it." Sofia stared out to where Link and Zelda stood; she was teasing him, dancing out of the way as he made a mock-punch at her shoulder. She lowered her voice. "He saved our lives under Death Mountain, more than once. He helped us when there was nothing for him to gain from it--but when he looks at me, he's cold. What am I supposed to make of him? I just don't know any more!"

"Don't you ever turn your back on him," he said grimly. "If you find yourself forgetting what he is, just look into those eyes--if they are eyes. That creature isn't human."

"Technically none of them are," she said; "they're all Elves."

"And what about you, sister? Do you mind living with Elves? I wouldn't have thought Ălfan ways would suit you, but you seem quite at home. Do you understand those two? Do you understand the way they think? I'm appealing to you, because I don't," he said. "I'm here as the official representative of the entire human race, and I'm terrified of making some horrible mistake."

Sofia sighed. "No," she admitted quietly. "I don't think I really understand them. They're different in ways I can't even begin to imagine. What of the talking-without-words? Even that scares me a little. I love them dearly, but we've got different minds."

"Are you frightened of this shadow man?" he asked.

She looked at the floor. "I don't know," she murmured.

"You should be, little sister, because I met a killer tonight." Galdenor turned and looked past her, up the length of the shadowed colonnade, into a dark, cobwebbed spot between columns. "There he is," he said quietly. "He thinks he's invisible. But I see him. Right... there."

"I can't," Sofia said, frowning as she stared into the corner in question. She looked up at her brother for a moment. "You can really see him? Even when he's invisible?"

"He's never invisible. He's just very good at not being noticed. You know this hall, don't you? You know what the stones look like. It's all familiar to you, so you don't really think about it. Well, now forget what you know, and look."

She stared... and suddenly, Dark was there, solid and plain as day, where previously there had been nothing but an area of deep shadow. He was leaning with his arms folded, facing them in profile, unaware of their scrutiny as he gazed out into the lighted hall. Sofia blinked; her eyes watered as she tried to keep them focused. "I see him now," she said quietly. "I see how it's done. I always thought it was magic, but it's just a trick. He puts himself where we know he isn't going to be."

"You'll see him clear, then?" Galdenor said. "From now on?"

"I've got the trick now. I won't be taken in again."

He laid his big hand on her shoulder. "Good," he said softly.

 

 

The evening wore on. King Harkinian made a lengthy speech to welcome the visitors from the west, and Galdenor answered graciously in a few short, frank, honourable phrases. Servants worked hard at the buffet, clearing empty dishes and bringing new ones. Outside it grew full dark and the snow fell on, burying the town and castle grounds in a billowed coat of white. Gradually, almost without notice, the long tables disappeared, and the ballroom was left clear for dancing.

When the first strains of music floated down from the dais, there was a general movement towards the floor. Link bowed to Zelda and led her out with the others. Sofia had no dancing partner, and did not in any case know how to dance in the Hylian style; she sat on one of the chairs that had been set out around the edge of the room, beneath the colonnade, and watched. Around and around they all went, spinning around each other like so many music-box figures. She began to feel a little dizzy. Her brother was deep in conversation with a couple of Hylian lords. Bored, Sofia glanced around, looking for something else with which to occupy herself.

Where was Dark Link?

She frowned, and sent her gaze into the darker places, seeking for that feeling she had had before. Once, when she had been very small, her father had shown her a picture in a book. From one angle, it was a cloud racing over the sand; but look at it in another way and it was a horse, bending its head to drink from a pool beneath a standing stone. Picking out Dark Link had felt like that--seeing something that was two things at once. But now she knew what to look for, and after a minute she found him, in the shade of a pillar on the opposite side of the hall. He was looking right at her. For one startled moment their eyes met, and then Dark Link was gone; she had the impression of something flitting away to the right through patches of light and shadow. She got up and walked about a little, but she could not find him again.

A few minutes later he came right up to her, presenting himself visibly as he walked across the edge of the dance floor. She sensed that that was a kind of apology on his part; he had been watching her, and she had caught him at it.

"Dark," she said, acknowledging him.

"Sofia."

There was a long silence between them. They stared at each other, both awkward in this unaccustomed conversation.

"Your brother is a remarkable young man," Dark Link said neutrally.

"I suppose he is, in some ways," Sofia answered. She eyed him with suspicion, wondering what he was leading up to.

"He reminds me very much of another."

Her eyes narrowed. "If you are going to mention Ganondorf, Dark, I would strongly caution you not to."

"But I was," he said. "Why not? It is true. Ganondorf was a great man with great potential. In your brother I see that potential achieved."

"I suppose you intend that as a compliment," Sofia said. "On my brother's behalf I'll thank you for it; but I will also ask you not to mention Galdenor and Ganondorf in the same breath."

"As you wish," Dark said.

She sat. He remained standing. Sofia crossed her legs and stared out at the dancers for a few minutes. "Dark," she said at last, "what is it you want?"

"I?"

"Well, you must want something. Why are you here? Talking to me?" She glanced up at him and half-smiled. "You don't like me very much. I'm not too keen on you either as it happens. Why talk to me?"

"Who else is there?" he said. "Link and Zelda are dancing."

"Are you lonely, poor old shadow?" She laughed.

Dark looked at her for a long moment, then he came forward and sat beside her. "You saw me," he said quietly. "Just now. I watched. You sought for me, and then you saw me."

Sofia shrugged; there seemed to be little point denying it.

"How?" he said, and his eyes were suddenly fierce.

"You're not all that hard to find," Sofia answered. "Once I stopped believing you were invisible, all I had to do was look."

"Your brother taught you."

"Yes," she said. "He saw you straight off. He was never taken in." Dark looked at her for a long time, his eyes glowing soft in the semidarkness: they were in a gloomy space between the torches. His expression was closed, cold. Sofia sighed a little. "Don't worry," she said. "Go disappear if you want. I won't point at you and shriek 'there he is'!"

Dark's expression did not change, but Sofia had the impression that, somehow, she had scored a point. She sat back again and watched the dancers whirl across the polished floor. The five musicians were playing a lively fast-paced song now; she could not help tapping her foot lightly to it. She glanced up towards the dais and did not recognise most of the instruments.

Her brother was at the other end of the hall now, talking quietly with the King. His back was turned. She frowned a little, unconsciously; it was strange to see him here. Though Galdenor and Harkinian were of a similar stature, the Gerudo prince looked odd and out of place, his rough dark features contrasting against all the delicate-boned Hylian faces. Have I changed so much, she wondered, that my own brother is strange to me?

And how did he know to see..?

Very few were not dancing; the seats on both sides of the hall were nearly all empty. She glanced at Dark and was almost surprised to see him still sitting there--she had expected him to have slipped away while she was distracted. He sat upright, with his hands folded in his lap; his shining eyes were half closed.

"Are you tired?" she said softly.

The crimson lights flared up as he turned his head; he looked at her for a moment and then made his weary, ironic little smile. "Tired... I am always tired, Sofia. All the time. What of it?"

She did not reply. She had asked in jest; his response had surprised her, and she felt uncomfortable, even a little annoyed.

After a minute more he rose and nodded farewell, soundless as ever.

"Why don't you ask me to dance?" she said suddenly, mischievously, and had the pleasure of seeing him utterly thrown, his eyes wide with almost comical surprise.

"Dance?"

"You know--what they're doing." She grinned and folded her arms, leaning back in the chair. "It seems we're always the ones to be sitting down, watching the fun. Or are you going to be off on another moonlit horse-race?"

"I..." He blinked. "I do not know how to dance."

"Not to worry," she said comfortably. "Neither do I." He still stood, staring at her without speaking, and finally she sighed. "All right, Dark, it was a joke. Go on, go wherever you were going. Just give me a few minutes warning if you're going to drag us all off somewhere again; I'd like to change into something more suitable for riding this time."

"Will you dance, Sofia?"

"I--what?" It was her turn to be startled.

He stood quite still, his expression calm and--apparently--sincere. "Will you dance?"

"You mean with you? You're actually asking--?" She sputtered for a moment, unable to find any appropriate words, and then saw the little half-smile come out. "Oh, you rotten... fine. Challenge accepted." He held out his hand with grave old-world courtesy and she took it as she got to her feet. "Come on then, let's make idiots of ourselves. If Link and Zelda can get away with it, I suppose we can too."

 

 

The musicians had reached the end of the current set, and there was a moment of genial confusion on the dance floor as partnerships were exchanged or reformed. They walked out together into the brighter light and found a space to stand. Sofia looked around nervously; suddenly she felt very visible.

"Dark--I have absolutely no idea how to do this."

"I... think we just do what the others do," he said with some hesitation. "I have watched, earlier. But would you rather not..?"

"Having second thoughts?" she challenged. Even so she was tempted... She breathed in. "No, let's give it a try, since we're out here now. We have nothing to lose except our dignity," she added with a wry smile.

There came a ripple of strings as the musicians adjusted various instruments; this was a signal to the dancers to ready themselves. The buzz of laughing voices died down slowly.

They looked at each other, helplessly. "I think we have to..." she began, feeling hot color rise into her cheeks.

"Yes." He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes and then glanced towards the colonnade as if he would escape that way--but another couple had already moved into the space, and the way off the dance floor was blocked.

"This was a really, really stupid idea," Sofia said.

"Yes."

"All right... give me your... no, wait..." There was a hurried and complex adjustment of limbs between them, which ended with Sofia's hand upon his shoulder and his resting lightly at her waist. They joined their free hands together. She realised she was trembling, and tried to stop it.

"Are you frightened?" he said softly.

She looked into his strange eyes and swallowed. "Terrified."

"So am I," he murmured.

They stared at each other for what felt like a very long time. Sofia struggled against the rising tide, but it overwhelmed her; she smirked, snorted, and then burst out laughing. "This is absolutely insane," she managed to gasp out at last.

"It was your idea!"

"Yes, but I never thought you'd be mad enough to take me up on it!" They were getting some curious stares from the surrounding couples. She looked back at him and realised that he was trying not to smile too, now. That gave her the giggles again--she had never seen Dark with such a peculiar look on his face. "We're going to die out here," she said.

"We could still--" he began.

But then the music started, and they had to move or become an obstruction. Sofia shuffled and hop-stepped awkwardly across the floor, trying to move in time with him and failing miserably.

"Dark, I don't think you're supposed to keep looking over your shoulder..."

"But I can't see..."

They swung round without warning, and she stumbled against someone who gave her a filthy look before whirling away into the throng. She blinked tears of laughter out of her eyes. "Oh Goddess... Look out!" Another couple spun past; they managed to angle out of the way, and then found themselves in a space that was momentarily clear.

"Are you hurt?" Dark asked, slightly breathless now.

"I think I'm getting the hang of this!" she said brightly, and then dissolved into laughter again.

It was actually true. What had seemed like magic from outside, the movement of a flock of birds or shoal of fish, actually did have rules. They were swept up into the pattern again, fumbled their way around it as best as possible, and managed to complete a circuit of the floor without banging into anyone else.

Round and round they went, part of a larger pattern that swelled and ebbed like a tide. The music thrilled; on the dais the musicians were red-faced and sweating. For one moment she caught sight of Link and Zelda; the Hero turned his head and saw them just as the pattern changed, and Sofia was left with just the image of his astounded look. We're never going to live this down...

"Ouch," she said.

"I kicked you?"

"Yes."

"Sorry."

They were slowing down now; the harp wound down in a long arpeggio. Delicately, imperceptibly, the spinning world came to a halt and they were standing together on the outside of the dance floor, not quite beneath the roof of the colonnade.

"That was really bad," Sofia said, letting go.

"Yes," he said.

"Let's never do it again."

They looked at each other. The corner of his mouth twitched; she fought back more laughter. "Oh Goddess... Let's get off the dance floor quickly; they'll start again in a minute. I can't believe we just did that."

 

 

"Did you see?" Link said in high excitement. "Did you see?"

"I didn't see!" Zelda complained. She grabbed at Link's arm, hung on. "Tell me!"

"They were dancing!" he whooped.

"They never!"

The two of them were standing near the dais at the top end of the room, close to stairs that led up to a second floor gallery. Earlier, King Harkinian had stood here to speak; but now that the floor was filled with dancing couples, this part of the room had been given over to conversation. Behind them, on the platform, the musicians rolled out a quick little clockwork waltz.

"They won't get out of this one," Link said. "I won't let them. Every time he tries to be dignified from now on, I'll say, you danced with Sofia."

"Where is he anyway?" Zelda asked, frowning as she looked about.

"Not here." Link shrugged. "I have been looking for him. I think he has genuinely gone this time." He smiled wickedly. "Probably doesn't want to face us! But Sofia's by the door."

"Quick, let's catch her before she gets away."

They hurried laughing to the colonnade and made their way down it, dodging around various people making their way on and off the dance floor. Sofia was sitting down, rather red in the face; she glanced up as they approached, and looked slightly dismayed.

"Well," Link said, plumping himself down in the seat next to her.

"Been having fun?" Zelda asked teasingly.

Sofia made a face. "Don't you two start on me..."

"Well, we can't start on Dark," Link said, leaning back in his chair. "Where is he?"

"What was it like?" Zelda interrupted, sitting down on Sofia's other side.

Helplessly, Sofia began to laugh again at the thought. "Absolutely dreadful, if you must know. Oh, Goddess..." She covered her face with her hands for a moment. "I think he was actually worse at it than I was."

"It's all good as long as nobody falls over," Link said wisely. "So... where did he go, anyway?"

"I don't know... he just went."

Link shook his head, gravely disapproving. "Not very chivalrous."

"Aagh," Sofia said through her fingers. "Go away, both of you, and let me die in peace."

The talk moved on to other things; eventually their group split up. Link spoke to Galdenor for a while, and then got deep in conversation with a young nobleman who was also from Calatia. It grew late, and the torches burned low in their brackets, and were replaced one by one with fresh light. The great old rafters became misty with smoke. The musicians sweated over their instruments; the dancers grew footsore and weary and eventually began to leave off and head for their bedrooms in the castle's guest wing. By the time the temple bell struck midnight, the ballroom was half empty. Outside, it snowed on.

"Goddess," Sofia said to Zelda, sleepily. "I shall be glad to go to bed tonight."

"Must be all that dancing," the Princess smiled. "Did you enjoy yourself, though?"

Sofia looked thoughtful. "I think so. It was certainly interesting."

"Interesting, eh..?"

"Don't start."

Zelda covered her mouth and yawned hugely. "Nayru's Love," she said through the yawn.

"Go to bed, Zelda, for the Goddess's sake," Sofia told her, laughing. "You're making me want to fall asleep right here!"

"I think I will." The Princess smiled as she turned to go. "Good night to you, Sofia!"

"And to you." Sofia watched her friend out of the door, then turned to the colonnade and found an unoccupied chair. She supposed she would follow the Princess to bed soon enough; she was very tired herself. For now, though, she wanted to think.

Quietly her brother sat beside her. She looked up swiftly, blinking, then smiled when she saw his face. He put his strong arm around her shoulders and she leaned against him, resting her head on his chest. The mail-rings were cold and hard against her cheek.

"My little sister's all worn out," he said, teasing her gently.

"Aren't you tired, Galdenor? You've ridden miles this morning too!"

"Yes," he said, "I'm tired. I'll sleep late tomorrow, I think." He reached out and brushed at a lock of her hair with his finger. "But try and wake up a little now. I need to talk to you."

"If this is about me dancing..."

He sighed. "What part of be careful didn't you understand?"

Sofia rubbed at her bleary eyes. "Well, look at it this way--at least I knew where he was."

"This isn't a joking matter, Sof."

"Galdenor, I'm sorry, I'm too tired to talk about it at the moment. Tell me off in the morning, all right?"

After a little while he sighed again, and stood. His hand rested on her shoulder for a moment and then slipped away. She watched him go.

 

 

It was late; Dark did not know for sure how late, but the corridors through which he passed were empty. Guards nodded on their feet and yawned, propping themselves up on the butts of their pikes. He walked quickly, visibly, without even attempting to conceal his presence.

The library doors were open; they were always propped open. He stepped inside, smelling the musty odor of history. Beside the door there was a rack of cheap white candles and a burning torch in a heavy gold stand. He took a candle down and lit it, then made his way in between the great dark shelves, holding the candle close. Normally he would not have bothered with a light, but tonight he wanted to read.

He found what he was looking for toward the back, upon a shelf that could not be reached save with the aid of a small stool left there for that purpose. The big old book was bound in cracked brown leather; gold lettering had all but flaked off, leaving behind the indents of lost words like traces in time. He took it down and laid it on the table. The furniture here was like the books: old, heavy, sturdy and pregnant with history. He put the candle down with care so that it would not drip on the pages, drew out a chair, sat, and opened the chronicle. In the flickering light he laid open a creamy page and squinted at the cluttered old-fashioned script. He was not a fluent reader; he slid his finger across the words, one by one, murmuring them under his breath.

The Impriâoning War waâ fought yn the Yeare Eighteen Hundred and Three, a Yeare which âhall bee remembered as the Yeare of Dread, for yn this Yeare did Mandrag Ganon break free from the Sacred Realm, and there was Great âtryfe...
"Yes, yes," he mumbled, flipping past. "Go on, go on, I care not!"

...at that tyme there did live yn the Lande of Calatia a younge Boy of remarkable Valour, and according to ancient Cuâtoum he waâ called Link. And âo did yt come to pasâ that, yn the Extremitie of hiâ Deâpaire Lysander, High King of Hyrule, did take yt upon Hymself to Wryte to this Valorouâ Chyld and requeât his Asâiâtance. Aâ âoon as the Boy Link received thiâ Misâive, remembering the great Deedâ of hiâ Anceâtors, he did take up hiâ Bowe and âet out uponne the Road.

And whenne that Ganon heard of the cominge of thiâ Chyld, yt yâ âaid that he did Laugh, and âay, "I am hardly Surpriâed that my Armies are âo eaâily Capable of Defeating the Hylian People; for they will nowe âend little Children againâte me!"

He flipped to another page. "Ahh..." he said softly, leaning close.

But yet, an though the Thunderbird was âubdued and the Enchantement Broken, the Hero found that hiâ Queâte had not yet come to an Ende, for the Laâte General of Ganon awaited âtill. As soone as Dark Link heard of the Falling of the Thunderbird, he Marched Forthe and made War most Ruinouâ uponne the Faire Lande of Calatia; for yt waâ his Object to Destroy the Hero'â Line and thuâ free his Maâter from Impriâonment Eternal withinne the Sacred Realm. Fromme that Dread Advance the Calatian people fled into the Hilleâ and lived There, for they posâeâed not the Hearte nor Will to reâiât the Dark Hero, whoâe âtrength came from a Greater Age.

Whenne the Hero Link returned from hiâ Great Queâte, he beheld the Devaâtation of his Homelande, and hiâ Great Hearte grew âtrong within him; and he did come forth, and come to Dark Link; and the two prepared for Battle, aâ yt yâ âaid yt waâ done in Dayeâ of Olde.

Yt waâ not at firât eaây to tell who would Win; for Bothe were Fulle Armed and Moâte âkilled in the Arteâ of Combat; but yt âemed that the Dark Hero would have the upper Hande, for he waâ a Thinge of âhadow, and his Power came from the Blesâing of Ganon in the Dayeâ of Olde. But the Hero Link drew his âworde that was the Maâter Sworde of Legend, and with thiâ Sworde that Evil cannot Touch did he âtrike down at Laâte the Dark Hero, âlaying his Bodie and leaving him a âpirit on the Winde, that had no Power, and could cauâe Harm no Longer to the People of Calatia. And then did the People return from their âanctuarieâ and make Merrie, and Honour the Hero, and thuâ waâ Ganon'â final Hope thrown Down, and made Low, and the âtandard of the Evil King was trampled yn the Duât.

For a little while tonight he had forgotten who he was. It had been... good... to dance with Sofia; he remembered laughing aloud as they stumbled and clutched at each other, and he could not remember the last time he had laughed--if indeed he had ever laughed for the joy of it. But the past was waiting, always, to reclaim him. He had seen the dark man watching as he left the hall.

He stared at the handwritten page for a long time. Yes; yes; he had done it; that was how it had been. But he had never expected to see it written in a book; his life in all its dark and haunted glory, stacked in six dry volumes upon a library shelf, for anyone to read.

He pushed the book away and sat there quietly for a while, staring into space.

 

 

Morning found him wandering the grounds of Hyrule Castle, leaving the long lonely trail of his footprints across the sparkling white lawns. The snow had stopped falling sometime during the night, but it had left the castle a foot deep, the town submerged in places. He kicked through it, trudged through it, neglected the salted paths to force his way through drifts. He had no real destination in mind; he just wanted to move.

Presently he wandered beneath an archway and came out in a small octagonal courtyard. The snow was shallower here; the high walls had kept most of it out. An elderly woman was working with a rake at the roots of some thorny barren tangles; rosebushes, that had shed their finery in the winter cold. She looked up as he approached, and drew the Triforce in the air--an old charm to ward off evil. He affected not to see as he walked by.

At the far end there was a little raised deck. He swept away snow with his hand and sat down on the white stone steps. At once the cold penetrated his clothing; it sought its way through the folds of his cloak and tunic and caressed his skin with icy fingers. He began to shiver, and pulled his black cloak closer. His hood was down, and the tips of his ears felt frozen; he reached up with one hand and rubbed at one of them, feeling at the icy chill in his own flesh. His breath huffed warm and white from his mouth.

Down in the town the temple bell began to chime in a deep and brassy voice. He counted under his breath: eight o'clock. It was still not quite light. The sky was gloomy with gray, promising more snow later.

There was a window at his back; he turned round suddenly, hearing a noise, and saw Galdenor passing by within. The tall man glanced out and caught sight of him at that same second; their eyes met, and locked for a long, hostile moment. Then Galdenor pulled his gaze away, and walked on without another glance.

That happened before once, Dark thought, frowning. Exactly like that. I looked through the window, and he saw me... When had that been? And then I turned, and Impa was there... Impa? No. That was Link First again. Impa had taught him Zelda's Lullaby. Dark moved his fingers experimentally; yes, he knew the notes, remembered the shape of them, could even recall the clay texture of the faŰrie ocarina, rough beneath his fingers, crudely baked, ridged with Saria's shaping fingerprints on that far-off sunny day. So was it his memory as well? Did he own it?

In that case, he thought, I am the Hero of Time!

He chuckled at that thought and the gardener glared nervously before returning to her task. She was raking snow away from the roots of the bushes, for what purpose he did not know. It was snowing again, very lightly; he shook back his hair and tilted his bare face towards the dead gray sky. A snowflake stung for a moment as it melted upon his cheek.

It was too cold to sit outside for long. He got to his feet and brushed a little snow off his clothing, then made his way back down the path, walking carefully on the slippery packed snow. Under the arch there was a wooden door in the wall; he paused there for a moment, then opened it and stepped inside.

This part of the castle was not known to him, though he guessed that he was not that far from the Great Hall. He stood in a narrow corridor, illuminated by narrow diamond-paned windows at intervals along its length. The floor was of rough stone flags. After the garden, the indoor air felt very warm on his skin. He breathed in slowly through his nose, scenting a dozen different and familiar things: wood polish, old stone, a distant hint of baking bread from the kitchen. There were sounds and clatter around now as people began to wake up; the castle was no longer his alone. He shook out his cloak and began to walk, intending to find his way back to his room. A woman carrying a bundle of linen made a perfunctory bob in his direction as he passed.

Halfway up a circular staircase he heard the music; he paused with one hand resting on the rail and pricked his ears curiously. It was some kind of bowed, stringed instrument, but beyond that he could not tell what it was, nor where exactly it was coming from. The musician was skilled: the bright, shrill melody leaped about like water in a stream bed, swift and never quite predictable.

He lingered for a moment more before continuing on his way.

 

 

"...and then, sir, there is the matter of access to the pass."

"Indeed? Do you propose to set up a border checkpoint?"

"Possibly. With respect, your Majesty, my father and I have discussed this at some length and we feel that it would be desirable to have some limitations on contact between our cultures, at least for a while. There are many details to be worked out."

"Oh, I agree, by all means. Certainly we must take all due care. Nevertheless Hyrule has held to a policy of, if not free trade, at least free exchange with neighbouring states, for a good many years..."

There was a large pale square upon the stone wall above the fireplace, where the soot had not stained so darkly, and Harkinian had given the Gerudo prince the fireside seat so that his guest would not be sat looking at it. It was painfully obvious that something had been removed. The object in question, an antique tapestry depicting the Hero of Time with his foot upon the head of the defeated Ganon, was rolled up carefully in an inconspicuous corner of the room.

Can we really ever have any common ground?, the Hylian king wondered, glancing up at the incriminating spot. This polite young man's ancestors have been feuding with mine for well over a thousand years. All the weight of history is against this little peace we have made.

The air in the meeting room was damp and chilly, despite the well-stoked fire, and the rugs and hangings spread liberally about. Thanks to the vanity of an ancient king, North Castle had been built almost entirely out of stone--even the floors of the upper storeys sported a stone fascia--and magnificent as it might be to look at, it held the cold in. The prince had kept his cloak on.

Harkinian moved some papers to one side. "Who would have jurisdiction over this checkpoint?" he asked, reaching for the jug of mulled wine. "Drink?"

"A little, thank you." Galdenor took the cup, sipped and set it down. "...We would wish to be the administrators. Of course, the situation will differ depending on whether trade or diplomacy is the intended purpose." His yellow eyes were calm and slightly shadowed beneath the heavy brows; they revealed nothing of his thoughts.

I do not trust him, Harkinian realised. And I am not even sure why. Is it simple prejudice? I do not like his eyes...

"Very well, then--we can work out the details at some later date. Now, as to the disputed territory in the valley..."

 

 






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