Broken Mirror: Chapter 49
GALDENOR stooped to poke the fire. They were gathered together in a small leather-paneled drawing room adjacent to the library; it was the warmest place in the castle right now, being situated above the kitchens. The three of them sat around a big wooden table in the center of the room: Sofia, Zelda, and Link, still glorious in his beaded braids. It was midafternoon and the sky outside was white and cold.
"Leave off, brother," Sofia smiled. "It will not get any warmer than it is."
"Goddess!" he said as he replaced the poker in its stand. "To think I used to dream of snow!" He grinned wryly as he turned to the others. "I thought of it as something pleasant on a hot day, I suppose. The reality is rather different."
"Just be thankful we are not in Lotharia!" Zelda laughed. "Half the Lotharian nobles come to Hyrule City for the winter because it is too cold for them up there!"
Galdenor pulled out a chair and sat down. He was well dressed again today, but had discarded the ornamental mail in favour of a thick red tunic and fur-trimmed cloak. Despite the warm clothes, he shivered, and rubbed his hands together as he glanced from one face to the next. "Well," he said. "Where is your shadow, Link? He ought to be here by rights, if he is counted one of you. What I have to say is for all of you."
"He comes and goes," Link admitted, and sighed. "I did look for him earlier. He knows that we were going to meet here; or at least, Zelda pinned a note to his door when we could not find him." He glanced at the Princess as he said this; Zelda shrugged and made a weak little smile.
"Hm," Galdenor said. "Well, never mind." He reached into his tunic and drew out a folded square of parchment. Unwrapped, it proved to be a large and intricately detailed map of central Hyrule; it was ancient and faded, with the ink in places dwindling to little more than a weak brown stain on the yellowed vellum. Strange symbols covered it, and lengthy columns of the jagged picture-writing of the Gerudo. Its ragged corners had bent up slightly during the journey to conform to the prince's chest. Galdenor pieced it together for them and smoothed down some of the bigger cracks; time had not been kind to the artefact. "This," he said, "has been among my family's personal effects for generations."
"It looks it," Link told him, frowning. "But what is it? I mean, aside from the obvious!"
"I should tell you a little of its history first," the prince said, sitting back. "This map has long lain neglected in an old wooden trunk; but it was used once, and perhaps drawn, by an ancient king of our people." Sofia looked at her brother with an expressionless face.
"You mean Ganondorf, don't you?" Zelda exclaimed suddenly.
"I think so," Galdenor said. "Legend has it that Ganondorf carried this map with him when he traveled to Hyrule, and marked out certain locations that were of importance to his plans. Certainly several places have been written upon, and in a very old style." He pointed as he spoke. "Here, and here, and again here. This character means sacred. On our own charts it has always been used to denote holy places."
"One in Kokiri Forest," Link said, leaning over. "And another on Death Mountain." He looked up suddenly as the door swung open. "Dark! Where have you been?"
"I am sorry," Dark said stiffly, turning to close the door behind him. "I was elsewhere occupied."
"Dancing," coughed Zelda. Link cleared his throat in an exaggerated, insincere fashion.
"You knew where we were," Sofia broke in sharply, cutting off any further comments.
"And I am here."
"I have apologised," Dark said, turning his cool gaze on her.
"Never mind," Link said hurriedly. He rose from his seat, indicating the map. "Come look at this!"
Dark drew out a chair and sat down next to Zelda, sweeping his cloak out of the way. He did not look at the table, but turned his head, glancing at the others with an odd, preoccupied expression on his face. Zelda looked hard at him. Something is different, she thought, and in the next moment wondered why she had thought it. He wore the same simple clothes that he had before; his dark blue Castle livery, and the black woollen cloak given to him in Kakariko. The difference, if there was such, seemed in his bearing. He had put his hood down around his shoulders; his head was high.
"A map?" he said. "This is all?"
"It belonged to Ganon when he came to Hyrule," Zelda told him, her eyes bright. "Look at the places marked. You can remember that far back. What do they mean?"
Interest stirred in his face; he bent his head to examine the ancient page. "One in a deep forest," he murmured softly, as if reciting some ancient lore. "One upon a high mountain... one under a vast lake... one within the house of the dead... one inside a goddess of the sand." He raised his head and looked at her--and seemed suddenly to come back to himself. "Locations of the temples," he said without much interest.
There was silence within the room for a moment. "Do you mean," Link said evenly, "that this map shows all the temples?"
"That is the case," Dark told him.
The young warrior grinned in high excitement. "Then it is the key to the Amulets!" he exclaimed. "We know where they are!"
"Not so," Dark Link said quietly. "One was laid in the Forest Temple, it is true. But we did not find the Fire Medallion in the Fire Temple, as it was of old. Nor did you, Link, find the Spirit Medallion when you traveled to the Spirit Temple. And what of the Temple of Light? That lies in the Sacred Realm itself. If the Medallions are the key to the Sacred Realm, there cannot be a Medallion there."
It was almost comical to see Link's face fall--were the matter not so great, nor the disappointment so deep. He looked over the map again, seeming by his demeanour to wish to wrest a new meaning from it. "Is it useless to us, then?" he said.
"Perhaps not," Galdenor said. "There are other things marked besides that." He leaned forward and laid his hand upon the square representing Lake Hylia. "Here, in another later hand, is written something else. The script is not ours. Until recently I did not know what it was; but now I guess it to be Hylian." He looked up at them. "Don't you think it strange that someone should have written in Hylian upon a Gerudo document?"
"Let me see," Zelda said, standing. She bent over and squinted at the faded old characters, muttering snatches of phrases under her breath. After a moment she frowned. "It's difficult," she said, and sighed. "Something... was... Wait, I think I see. 'Herein was laid a noble hero of Hyrule'... At least, I think that is what it says. Some of the letters are very blurred." She looked thoughtful. "A hero of Hyrule?"
"The resting place of a Hero, then," Dark said dismissively. "This means nothing."
"No," Zelda said, holding up one hand. "No, wait. A Hero? Or a Knight?" She leaned across the map again. "That same inscription is written beside the Forest Temple, and on the Death Mountain pass. And here," she said, pointing. "Northern Lake Hylia. The cemetery of the Temple of Time. And I think it is the same thing here, up in the Shadowed Mountains, although that one lies across a tear and I can only make out a few letters." She looked at them. "No Hero was ever laid to rest in the Temple of Time, or up in the Shadows," she said. "We would know! They are all accounted for. Link Second has a tomb in Calatia, as does Link Fourth. Link Third was lost at sea."
"And we know where Link First was," Link said. "We found him..." His eyes widened. "Zel--the Forest Temple, do you remember? Is that the key? Were the Amulets laid with them when they died?"
"If that is so," Zelda said thoughtfully, "then we must find the graves of the other Knights. We have two Amulets already; and from places thus marked." She smiled and pressed her hands together. "Galdenor, you have brought us a real gift!"
"I hope it proves as useful as you believe," the prince replied. "I looked through many cluttered old boxes before I found it; our records are in a poor state." He glanced at his sister and looked solemn. "My time is limited," he said, "especially now that our father is growing old. That is one reason why I came here alone for Yule; he did not wish to undergo the long journey in a hostile climate. But I wanted to help you, even in a small way, if I could."
A shadow seemed to enter the room; an intimation of mortality. The Hylians looked at each other, all thinking the same thing. Gerudo did not live as long as they. "Galdenor," Zelda said quietly, "is Thorkelin well?"
"Well?" he said, looking surprised. "Yes, he is well; as well as he can be at his age." He smiled slightly. "Have I frightened you? Don't worry! My father is still hale; he has years left in him yet! But, he is not as young as he was, and the more strenuous duties must now fall to me."
"We are very grateful for your help," Link said honestly. He looked at Zelda. "We had better talk about this. Where do we look next? The Temple of Time, since it is so close?"
"I would suggest Lake Hylia," Dark said, and the others looked round, slightly startled that he should speak up. He did not look at them; his eyes were fixed upon the map, and his shining black hair hung over his face. "If an Amulet does lie in Hyrule City, it is likely safe enough; Sepultura will not venture into the Temple of Time. That is still a holy place, and Ganon has no power there. We should search farther afield, to the Amulets that are in danger."
"That makes sense, I suppose," Sofia said.
Link sat back. "Well, then," he said, grinning. "We have our next destination! But we won't be able to leave yet; not with the snow so thick. We should wait until thaw, or at least until the winter lets up a little."
"In the meantime," Zelda said, "I think we should at least make a visit to the Temple of Time, and check their records. We can't go on a long journey in this weather, and since we are here we might as well try to find a lead. I just hope our records date back far enough."
"Not today!" Sofia said, rising. "It will keep!" She fastened her cloak around her shoulders. "Aren't you all tired of serious talk yet?" she said, grinning at her friends. "Let's find something fun to do!"
"Archery?" Link suggested.
"No," Galdenor said with feeling. "I am not freezing my fingers off for anyone!"
"We could shoot indoors." He grinned, pleased at the idea. "We could set up targets in the corridor."
Dark raised one eyebrow and sat back. "Link," he said quietly, "while I might formerly have been pleased by the thought of mayhem and carnage in Hyrule Castle, I strongly suggest that you do not spend the afternoon breaking windows and shooting chambermaids. The King would not approve."
The only sound was the crackle of the fire.
"Did he just make a joke?" Sofia said.
It was later; and although it was still not past five, the castle was dark and full of shadows. Link lit a candle at the hearth and stood it up in his windowsill to provide a little extra light. How he disliked these short winter days! They were worse by far in Hyrule than they had been in Calatia; the light was weaker and lasted less, and it was cold--cold enough to chill the blood in his veins. He had been out with Galdenor upon the battlements to show him the lie of the town, and he had been no less glad than the Gerudo prince when the time had come to go back inside.
His room was warm enough; the fire burned bright, filling the hearth with a cheering golden glow. Link pulled off his boots and lay down full length on his bed, staring up at the shadowy ceiling. By the flickering fire he could barely make out the black streaks of the beams. The cold, he thought, he could have put up with, if only it were not for the confounded dark! It was almost enough to make him miss Calatia, though the work in his village had been hard and dull.
He fell asleep for a while, in the warmth and comfort; and was woken by a knocking at his door. Bleary-eyed and tousled he sat up, raking back the clicking braids that he had not yet got round to unraveling. "Who is it?" he said.
In answer, the door opened slightly, and a familiar face looked in: blacker than shadow, with two bright crimson gleams for eyes.
Link was stunned. He sat there for some moments in confused silence. Dark had never called upon him before. Indeed, to his knowledge Dark was not in the habit of calling upon anyone, even the Princess. They called on him, when they needed him for something, and he gave every impression of thoroughly resenting their company. At all other times he avoided them.
"Are you busy?" Dark said. "Shall I come another time?"
"No... no." He stood, wincing at the chill of the stone floor on his bare feet. "Come in! I was not doing anything."
Dark looked deeply uncomfortable as he stepped over the threshold. He closed the door behind him and then stood, awkward and half ready it seemed to flee if he should be given any cause. "I am sorry for disturbing you," he said.
"You're not!" Link padded to his desk and pulled out a high-backed wooden chair. "Make yourself at home, please!" He seated himself, propping his feet on the chair's low rung to get them off the cold floor. "To what do I owe the honour?" he said, teasing slightly. "We don't see you very often outside your room!"
"I... hoped for some advice."
"You?" Link said with a puzzled smile. "Well, what is it? And how can I help? Sit down, please," he added. "I left you the hearth chair on purpose."
The shadow smiled faintly and came forward. He lowered himself into the other chair, and they looked at each other across the open space of the hearth, their faces lit only partially by the flickering fire.
"Well," Link said at last, "you look about as comfortable as a fish on a griddle. I would be a better host if I knew how. What's the matter? What can I do for you?"
"It is not easy," Dark said. He looked away, into the dancing flames. "In truth I know not where... or how... It matters not." He shook his head, impatient at himself. "I cannot express it--what I wish to say, or ask. Things have been so strange of late, and... something... someone said to me, made me think. I am afraid that I have not acted as I should have done. But what else could I have done? I am as I was made."
Link was quiet for a moment. "I didn't understand any of that," he said at last. "Can't you talk any plainer? I am not as clever as Zelda."
"I will speak plain then, or try, at least. At the Yule ball, someone asked me why I kept away from you all, and... when I thought about it, I did not know." Dark sighed and stared into the fire. His words, when he spoke again, came haltingly with obvious effort. "I think... now... that it was simple fear."
"Fear?" Link said. He might have laughed, if it had not been for the look in the shadow's eyes.
"Yes, fear. I have feared you and so I have hidden from you... and with good reason, for all that I feared has come true despite my care." He smiled slightly, wryly. "I suppose I made matters worse. Link... sometimes I wish that you had left me to the mirror. You cannot begin to understand the harm that you have done me."
"Harm? What harm have we done?"
"You made me feel. You made me care! I!" He looked to Link then, and his eyes were bright and fierce. "Once I was Ganon's most trusted servant. Now, I am ruined. I could not go back now even if I wished it."
"I would hardly count that harm," Link said. "It seems to me that we have done you a favour."
"A favour! But what have you left me, Link? What can I be now? What will I be when all of you are gone? I have lived a thousand years; must I live a thousand more, knowing what loneliness is?"
There was silence between them then. Finally Link said, "If that is how you feel, then I am sorry for it. But I cannot help you. You would do better to go to Zelda; she is better at these things."
"I could not," Dark answered, closing his eyes. "Not to her!"
"Just tell me one thing. Would you go back? If you could? If it were in your power to put everything back the way it was, if it were nothing but a matter of choice... would you do it?"
"No," he said, his voice little louder than a whisper. "I was empty then."
"Then what will you do?" Link asked.
"What I must, I suppose." He lifted his head again and looked the young Hero in the eye. "I have no choice, Link," he said more firmly. "Nobody can undo what you have done to me--not even Ganon. But I am afraid; I was never made to feel; and I am so changed of late that I hardly know my own mind." He drew himself up. "I came to ask for your help, not your pity. You... you have tried to be my friends before, and I have spurned you. That was fear and pride. I would be more open if I could."
"Are you trying to apologise?" Link said. "I did not know how you felt; you never said. Well, don't worry about it! We are your friends." He smiled. "Whether you like it or not!"
Dark lowered his head, and felt it break within him: that last barrier that he had guarded so jealously, that thing that he had managed to hide even from himself. He knew.
"Dark?" Link said quietly. "Are you all right?"
He leaped to his feet and fled, soundless as a shadow, leaving the door still swinging open behind him. In that one moment he saw Link half rising from his chair; but it did not matter; he left the young warrior there, frozen in that instant in time, and ran, through darkened passages, through long halls lit with candles. He leaped up a flight of stairs, taking them three at a time. Always at his heels stuck his own shadow: that of a boy with golden hair and blue eyes older than his face; the Hero of Time.
The Water Temple!
He was born in that room, in the moment that he had stepped through that door. Looking down he saw his reflection in the water, a thing of shadows strange and fell. He came forward, slowly, cautious, searching for the enemy he knew was near. By the dead tree he found him, and by the dead tree he struck him down, and fell pierced by his own sword, and felt in that one terrible moment a tearing within himself as his soul was riven in two. Part of him was gone, lost forever; torn away by the witchery of the Evil King. He had slain himself. He had created himself.
We were one once, he thought, and hard on the heels of that thought came another, the one that he had fled from: We still are!
He had reached a dead end. Rather than turn back, retrace his steps, he walked up it, treading soft on the carpet. The corridor was dim, lined by wooden doors; at the far end a window shed a shaft of silver moonlight onto the red rug and cold stone floor. He stood before it and looked out over the town, where lights glowed like faŽries in a thousand windows. Snow had collected on the diamond-paned glass so that he looked through holes in white. The indoor air was thick and dead in his mouth--he needed to breathe. He fumbled with the catch and got it open; snow grated off the ledge and fell as he pushed the window out upon its hinge.
The cold air hit his face like a physical slap. He flinched and leaned out into the biting wind, seeking something--perhaps the dull oblivion of the mirror world. He had thought himself tormented there in that eternal cold, but it was nothing to this pain. Outside, in a velvet sky, stars glowed chill and bright, and the moon sailed like a galleon over the glittering snow-clad hills.
"Who... am... I...?"
He was barely aware that he had spoken aloud. His fingers clenched convulsively at a handful of powdery snow; he crushed it until water bled through his fingers.
What is happening to me..? Am I going mad?
This began... It was after the Forest Temple... No... I have felt... different... ever since I joined them.
A gust of icy wind made him shiver and flinch back. There was snow in the air again, twirling down like white feathers; thick shadowy clouds were drifting in from the east, creeping over the face of the moon. With an effort he raised trembling hands and swung the window to. It took three attempts to latch it. In the sudden stillness he leaned hard on the window ledge, trying to breathe slowly.
Who am I...?
A faint and ancient voice whispered:
You are not a Kokiri... You are a Hylian, and were always bound to leave this forest...
"That is not my memory," he whispered wearily. "Leave me alone... curse you... I defy you..."
He closed his eyes.
In the castle all was quiet. Faintly he heard the wind, stirring the bare branches of the aspens below. Once Saria had taught him to listen to that sound, the song of trees. Lonely, always aware of some difference--some distance--between himself and the forest's children, he had taken comfort in that voice when there was no other comfort to be found.
Even if it is not my memory... if I am truly nothing more than a phantom made of his magic... does it even matter? I was still there...
I cannot... I will not... be his puppet. I am more than that! The resolve grew with sudden swiftness, fierce as a flame.
I must set aside the past.
He drew in a long breath. What he had said to Link was true; he knew that he could never go back to the way he had been. The thought was repellent to him. Oh, I have been used... I have been thief, assassin, butcher for you. Not again. This I promise you, Ganon--do what you will with me, but I will not slay an innocent again!
So, then... I must finish the work that I began when I destroyed the sword. I must try to be more than I have been.
In the town, the temple bell began to sound the hour. He lifted his head curiously and counted under his breath, marking the rich deep chimes as they sang out through the snowbound quiet. Five... six... seven times it rang before falling back into silence. Seven o' clock. The others would be at dinner by now, or heading that way. He had not realised that it was so late. How long had he been standing here?
He sighed and straightened up, smoothing the fabric of his tunic. Another long, lonely night lay ahead of him; he often spent the hours of darkness simply wandering, walking aimlessly around the castle like a restless ghost. Tonight he did not want to be alone with his thoughts; he would have to find something with which to occupy himself.
There was no light under any of the nearby doors, and no sound that he could hear. He walked to the end of the corridor and then paused, unsure which way to turn. Though clean and richly carpeted in red and gold, this part of the castle looked impersonal, unlived-in; by luck or judgement his flight had brought him to the mostly empty guest wing. Sofia's brother would likely have rooms here somewhere. Dark suppressed a shiver at that thought. Whatever the truth of things, he had no desire to encounter that one just now.
The library was not far, and it was rarely used. At this time of the evening it was sure to be empty. He paused, listening; heard nothing out of the ordinary; but cloaked himself anyway out of habit. Any guards he might pass would see nothing--or if they were alert, then perhaps there would be a momentary flicker in the air, a shadow cast by a guttering torch.
He descended a stair and was walking along a narrower, plainer passage when he heard the voice. The corridor was windowless and mostly unlit; but a little further on, a door stood partly open, and golden light washed out across the floor. He would have to pass by the room. Quietly he approached, his feet noiseless even on the bare stone--but his attention was caught by the speaker. Although it had seemed at first to be a conversation, and an animated one at that, he realised now that there was only one voice. He paused, standing in the shadow of the frame, and listened curiously.
"...Pitiful man... without a strong, virtuous mind, he could not control the power of..." A long pause, then a thin scratching sound: a pen, writing. "Virtuous? No... that just sounds stupid... worthy, righteous... that might work..." Paper rustled. "All right, so... let's see..."
Silently he moved forward and glanced around the edge of the door frame, into a scene of homely chaos. The small room, though pleasant and well lit, was in a state of chaotic disarray dominated by books. A litter of pages was spread over most of the surfaces; a wooden chair stood beside the door, supporting an untidy foot-high pile of assorted books and papers. There was a bed, made, but not very well, with a threadbare blanket thrown over it. A number of stringed instruments were propped up in open cases against the back wall.
The speaker was sitting at a battered writing-desk in the corner, with his back to the door. A trimmed quill pen was in his right hand, which rested now on the scarred surface of the desk; the ink-pot had been placed precariously nearby on a pile of two or three books.
Dark stared for a moment; then, not even knowing why, he said softly, "Harper?"
The seated man jerked, and turned hurriedly, pen in hand. "Oh!" he said. "It's you. Scared the life out of me!"
"I... I am sorry..." Flustered, he began to back out of the room, but Harper tossed the pen down and stood, wiping his inky fingers carelessly onto the brown tunic he was wearing.
"No, don't go." The blond man grinned selfconsciously. "You caught me at it, I'm afraid. How embarassing." He did not look embarassed in the slightest. "Come in, come in. Never mind the stuff--just toss it on the floor. Or sit on it, whichever is more convenient."
"I was passing by... I heard voices..."
"Yes, that was me. Terrible habit, I know." He scooped an armful of books off a chair and let them fall thumping to the floor. "Sit, sit, make yourself at home."
Reluctantly Dark sat down in the indicated chair. It was the second time in one evening that he had been a guest, and he felt nervous and acutely out of place. Harper unearthed a bottle of something from the mess of books and papers, and offered it with raised eyebrows. "No? Mind if I do?" Without waiting for a response he unstoppered the bottle and poured some of the contents into a pewter cup. The scent of wine filled the air.
He glanced at the desk and saw a sheaf of closely-written pages laid against the stand. There seemed to be a great many crossings-out. Harper followed his gaze, and smiled wryly.
"No, I'm not mad. I just have a habit of talking to myself when I'm writing. Keeps it sounding real, you know?"
"Writing?" he said.
The blond man drank deep and made a face. "This ridiculous play. I tell you, if I pull this one off without offending anyone important, it'll be a minor miracle."
"You were writing about..." he began, and stopped.
Harper gave him a look: quick, incisive, knowing more than it revealed. "Him. Yes. I suppose you'll be in it."
"I?" he said, alarmed.
"Well, you were involved, assuming I can trust my sources." Harper sat down heavily on the bed and put his half-empty cup on the floor. "Perhaps you can read it for me later on, tell me how far off the mark I am."
"I... no, no..." The thought was intimately horrifying, after that bland and chilly entry in the chronicle.
"I hope I'm not that bad a writer," Harper said, smiling at his discomfort. "Still, perhaps it was a cheeky thing to ask. Sorry."
Dark struggled to find something to say. Why had he come in in the first place? If only he had gone by quietly, as he had meant to do. "No..." He sighed. "I am sorry. I did not expect to be asked. I was... surprised."
"In that case, call it payback for surpising me. You're lucky I didn't knock the ink over." He was smiling lightly, as if it were nothing, but there was a strange kind of alertness in his face. "So... what brings you down here at this time of night? I thought you people were all up in the west wing with the royals."
He drew a breath, trying to sort his thoughts out. "I was... I was going to the library. I wanted something to read."
"Oh?" Harper looked at him for a moment, then rose. He went to the desk and rummaged around, then turned with something in his hands. "This might interest you."
It was a small, slender volume, fragile, cracking and yellowed with age. The chronicle had been tattered, but this object could barely be called a book: it was two leather covers tied around a sheaf of mismatched hand-written leaves. Dark took it automatically, opened it and then stared at the roughly scrawled characters. Ancient Hylian.
Of the Legendary Hero, and the Ocarina of Time...
"What is this?"
"Hanged if I know," Harper said with a shrug. "Found it inside something else. I don't think anyone's looked at it for centuries. I've been using it as a reference, or trying to, but that script is frankly a pain to read. Perhaps you can make better use of it."
Dinner was to be a quiet affair tonight; the real Yule feast was yet to come. The young Knights had been given a table to themselves in a small dining room that adjoined the ballroom. Link was the first to arrive. Eight places had been set in all, allowing for them and any others who might choose to join them; the Castle staff were never sure which of them would turn up for any given meal, although it was a good bet that Link would be among them. He took his place and poured himself a glass of weak wine from a heavy earthenware jug, but he was troubled, and his mind was not on the coming pleasures of the meal.
Presently Zelda appeared, arm in arm with Sofia; the two of them laughed when they saw him already seated. "I told you!" Zelda said brightly, nudging the other woman.
"What did you tell her?" Link asked, setting down his glass; he was glad for the distraction.
"I said you would be the first one here!" She sat down opposite, grinning at him. "Do you ever think of anything but your stomach?"
"That's not fair. I think about things all the time!"
"Chicken," Sofia said, "potatoes, mutton, beef..."
"All right, all right." Link mock-scowled at her, and then his expression turned solemn. "But I was thinking, before you came in... and not about food."
Zelda raised her eyebrows. "Well, that's unusual."
He would not be teased or provoked; he looked at her and told her the tale, how Dark had come to him in his room, and the things about which they had spoken. "What do you think?" he said at last as he sat back. "Should I have done otherwise? I know I could have handled it better... but Farore! Why did he come to me? How could I have helped him?"
Zelda was silent for a long time; then, finally, she said, "I think you did the best that was possible. You reminded him that we are here for him; I couldn't have said anything more."
"Then why did he run off like that?" Link asked.
Sofia sighed and reached for a cup. "Who knows what goes on in his head? I don't know why you are even discussing this--it's just the way he is."
"But he has changed," Zelda said insistently. "You cannot deny that! Look at how he was at first--he would barely give us a civil word, let alone a smile!"
"And I'm not sure I didn't like that old Dark better. At least I knew where I stood." Sofia looked away. She took the jug of wine and poured herself a glass, careful and methodical, spilling nothing. "My brother knew him for what he was," she said quietly. "One glance was all it took. As for myself... I can't tell whether Dark Link is on our side or not, but nothing will change what he is, or who made him."
A sombre mood settled over the company, and for a while the room was quiet. Servants moved around them, bringing dishes, uncovering hot plates; there was a general rattling of cutlery as they prepared to dig in.
Link frowned at his plate, and began to eat, distractedly, tasting nothing. His mind was still in that dim and firelit room, listening to the shadow's halting, awkward words. Zelda was more right than she knew. Dark had changed, a great deal; he remembered how things had been on that Forest Temple journey. He had been cold, indifferent--watching them, it had felt like, to see how they handled the obstacles in their way, as one might watch an interesting insect. It was difficult now to reconcile the two images.
"Where is your brother, Sofia?" Zelda asked after some time had passed. "I thought that he might eat with us tonight."
Sofia sighed and shook her head. "Not tonight--I think he is dining with your father, and talking politics. Though what they have left to talk about by now, I can't imagine..."
At that moment the door opened again. Everyone turned to look; they had not expected any more company. They had certainly not expected to see the one who stood there now.
"Dark!" Zelda said, startled but glad.
The shadow stood in the doorway, holding an old book lightly in one hand; his face was its usual emotionless mask. Link, watching intently, saw now how very careful that expression was.
"May I join you?" Dark asked softly.
There was a moment's quiet. "Of course!" Link said, getting to his feet. He drew out another chair and with his warm, open manner made everything as natural as it could be under the circumstances. Sofia frowned at the tabletop, saying nothing. Zelda tried not to stare as Dark sat down quietly.
Something has happened, she sent to Link as he took his seat.
He glanced quickly at her, a flick of the eyes. You're telling me! came the reply. I did not think to see him again for days!
I don't mean that.
What do you mean then? Aloud he said, "Could you pass the salt, please?"
I'm not sure. Something is different. She tried to keep her eyes off Dark; to curb her insatiable curiosity. Why was he here? Would he eat? He had never joined them at table before--never, except at that harvest banquet where he had had no choice. Her gaze slid sideways despite her best efforts. Dark sat before an empty plate, his head high. He had laid the book down on the chair beside him.
"What's that?" Sofia said into the silence, and the whole room flinched.
Dark turned his head and looked at them for a moment. His hand made a small movement towards the book, then drew back. "I... am not sure," he said.
Zelda threw her knife and fork down; cutlery clattered loudly. "You've been in the library," she said in mounting excitement, and pushed her chair back. "What is it? What have you found? Pass it over--let's have a look!"
"Zelda," Link complained. "Can't we at least finish eating first?"
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