Zora's Ghost: Chapter 52
THE DARKNESS was an old friend.
Feathery, cobweb-tangible, it enfolded him in its cool touch, promising--not peace exactly, but an end to pain. The light from behind receded quickly, and with every step downwards he felt stronger, sharper, freed from an immense weariness that he had almost ceased to notice. It was a dangerous sensation.
The passage was narrow and low, curving steadily to the left, and it smelled of wet earth. In a few short steps the light was cut off entirely, and he stood again in the velvet night of his own element. He descended a steep uneven slope of packed dirt, moving carefully at first over a scatter of twigs and leaves blown in over years, then finding bare loose soil beneath his feet. His fingertips trailed across the earth wall and came away slick with gritty mud; it seemed to him that each step carried him a little deeper into his own past.
Underworld... Shadow Temple... here.
Somewhere, perhaps even beneath his feet, lay the flooded chambers of the Water Temple. Intact? Or in abandoned ruins, like the village of the Kokiri children, the mountain city of the Gorons? He did not like to think of that: the Temple's great cascades clogged by rubble, the magnificent tiled mosaics now showing only splintered reflections of the past. All in darkness now, all forgotten.
His feet splashed down into three or four inches of cold water. The chill was unpleasant, especially after the lake crossing earlier; he was glad of his good boots. He stopped and stood still for a little while, taking slow breaths of the thick underground air. There was no light at all now, and in the absence of it he closed his eyes and let his other senses tell him of the place. The passage continued downwards, into the water. Perhaps the changing levels of the lake had caused it to flood--but that raised a new concern. If the lower level was filled with water, they might not be able to reach whatever lay at the end.
The hill bothered him: it was not a Hylian custom, had not been so even in his long lost childhood. Once, the body of the dead one had passed down this black path, lit before and behind by flaming brands. Why had the builders chosen to craft such a tomb? This custom... it had no place in civilized Hyrule. It was from a time when the Golden Three were young and the memory of older, darker gods echoed still in the wild places of the world.
Sofia's people worshipped one of them: the one they called the Goddess of the Sand, who had been since the beginning, in the howling wasteland before Din came to shape it. None alive remembered now, for those ways had been ancient in Ganondorf's youth, but once Hylians too had honoured Lady Chaos... and her consort, the one who had no name: the Fierce Deity, whose altar ran red with the blood of men and women. Those had been evil days. Here, in this place, they seemed closer.
Well then, he thought, wryly amused by the turn of his own thoughts, I am in good company.
The water swelled and receded like breath, whispering against the ground. By its movement he guessed that the passage connected somehow with the outside lake. Curious now he moved a little further and realised that now there was light--just enough to see the earth walls slick and gleaming with clinging moisture. Around his ankles the water's surface, rippling, glimmered darkly.
For a little while he stood, thinking over possible courses of action. In truth he had no desire to enter the water, not after--after what had happened earlier. He could go back, fetch the others, let Link do this... but no. He had come this far. He wanted to see for himself.
He stepped down. The water reached his knees, flooded over the tops of his boots; in another step it was around his thighs. Its embrace was icy, and for a moment he remembered the blind panic of the sinkhole, the muck that had dragged him down--but the floor here was firm beneath his feet. He continued; the water surged around his waist as he ducked below the last low overhang.
The room beyond was stone-walled and roughly circular, unshaped by tools: he guessed now that the makers had merely found and adapted a natural chamber for their use. It was large--perhaps twenty feet from side to side, though in the darkness and with the water's constant movement it was difficult to tell. Straight ahead, a line of light was brilliant in the gloom: he shaded his eyes and made out the smooth stone dais upon which fell the single ray. A cunning opening had been cut through the side of the hill and it was from this narrow slit that the light came. Blinking he managed to perceive the carvings upon the far wall: intricate designs of birds and fish, and at their center a familiar triple triangle. The carved style was crude and evidently very old, yet it held a kind of fluid grace that was both beautiful and strange. It was not Hylian work.
His wool cloak floated around him, heavy and sodden. The winter cold of the water gripped him strongly now, and he found himself shivering. Clumsily he splashed across, floundering against the press of it, curious to see what it was that lay upon the dais...
They sat together around the little fire, trying not to look for too long at the blank darkness of the barrow entrance. All was silence. Above, on the bare hilltop, a fierce wind rustled the grasses and dipped below the shielding walls of the steps to tug at their hair and flutter the small gold flame on the ground; curls of sweet-smelling smoke blew back and forth between the stone-lined walls and stung their eyes before fading, twisting upwards into the empty air. The sky above was grey and cold, bitter with winter. It seemed the loneliest place in the world.
"Well," Link said with a sigh, "now what? We wait, I suppose..."
"Mido is starting to look good now, isn't it?" Zelda said wryly.
He raised his head at that, looking grave. "And that is another thing--we need to start thinking about getting back there. I don't know what the time is, but I really do not want to be stuck here overnight."
"I really don't want to get back in that water," Sofia muttered, leaning forward to toss a wisp of grass on the fire.
Link shifted on the uneven stone, trying to get comfortable, then glanced up at the gloomy sky and frowned. "Well, I am afraid we have to--our food and blankets are with the horses. We will have to swim back across the lake, certainly before it gets dark. If we all go together and help each other, like we did before, it should be all right."
"We can't go anywhere yet, anyway," Zelda said, leaning back against the wall. She closed her eyes and sighed. "How stupid... We weren't prepared for this at all."
The wind gusted suddenly, icy cold, and tugged violently on their little flame. Thick clouds were drifting down from the north, now, as the light began to fail. Link reached for his discarded cloak and pulled it about his shoulders; it was nearly dry now, but stained and gritty with mud. All their clothes were befouled by the lake water. He fastened the pin with some difficulty and then touched the sticky, bedraggled cast with an expression of distaste; it too was full of muck. "Oh, hang it," he said. "I am getting this thing off."
"You're not supposed to," Zelda said sharply. "You have to wait another week!"
"Well, too bad--I am not waiting any longer. I'm fed up with it." He drew his sword again and gingerly dug the point into the sodden plaster. Zelda sat up in alarm.
Sofia had been sitting with her eyes closed, resting against the damp stone wall; she glanced round at the sound of scraping. "You'll cut yourself," she said.
"I don't care!" Link snapped.
"Oh, come here..." She took the serpentine dagger out of the young warrior's hand and sat him down on the bottom step. Link held his arm out without comment, and looked away with apparent disinterest as she began to cut open the cast with her own knife.
Zelda frowned, disapproving, but did not comment. After a while she felt around for the Gerudo map, thinking to study it a little more while they waited--but it was with the horses, she remembered suddenly. She sighed again and took out the small packet of coiled bowstrings for something to do; the water, at least, had not gotten to them.
In another moment there was a yelp from Link: the cast cracked open and fell away in sticky, soggy pieces. He reclaimed his arm with a wince, grimacing at the pain in his stiff wrist as he flexed it for the first time in weeks. The skin beneath was filthy; he rubbed hard at it, scraping off caked mud and dirt with his fingernails. "Ohh," he sighed, closing his eyes in pleasure. "I can scratch!"
"Ew," Sofia said.
"You try having your arm plastered up for weeks on end," Link told her. He sat back and brushed bits of plaster off his clothes, then stretched luxuriously. "That is so much better..."
"How's the arm?" Zelda asked.
"Well enough, I think." He flexed his wrist gingerly; there was a crack, and he flinched. "It's very stiff."
"Go easy on it, for Nayru's sake; you weren't supposed to take it off. Don't you dare break it again," she added seriously. "It might not heal a second time."
"I know, I know," Link said, sighing.
Zelda stretched out her legs and leaned back against the cold stone wall, closing her eyes. She felt drained; it had been an emotional couple of hours.
"I hate this place," Sofia muttered at last.
Link was rubbing at his arm, flaking off bits of dirt; he looked up at her words, and nodded slightly. "I have to admit, I do not like it much," he said. "I thought it would be a fine thing to get out of Hyrule Castle after being stuck there all winter; but this is not a good place. I will be glad when we can get going again." He scratched again, wincing.
When the first fat raindrop fell hissing into the fire, and put out the weak little flame in a sputter and wisp of smoke, Link swore and stood up. "Come on," he said. "We had better start back. If we are going to get wet anyway, we might as well cross the lake and get it over with."
"What about Dark?" Sofia asked, frowning.
"I'll go in and get him." He slid his serpentine dagger into the sheath and pulled his cloak tight about him, then glanced up at the heavy clouds. "He should have been back before now anyway. It's getting dark."
"You're not going in there alone," Zelda said as she stood. "I'm coming with you!"
"We'll all go," Sofia said.
They clustered in beneath the doorway as the rain began to fall in earnest. The gloomy passage sloped down for a few yards and then turned a corner into blackness deeper than before. Link reached out and felt at the walls, touching a dripping patchwork of stones and mud; he could see nothing at all, not even his own hands stretched out before him. The floor was rough and slightly soggy beneath his feet. "Zelda?" he said, and felt a soft touch against his side.
"It's like being blind," she said beside him. "I don't like this."
"Give it a minute." He stared down into the black, blinking now and then; after a while he thought he could make out something. A gleam of light on water, somewhere below...
"Where is he?" Sofia said behind them. "What's happening? Why did you stop?"
"Looks like the tunnel has flooded," Link said. He tried to orient himself without sight; he felt dizzy, somehow, and off-balance, without the use of his eyes. Darkness--he hated darkness. "We should have brought candles..."
"We couldn't have known we would need them," Zelda said. "Hold hands! Let's try to stay close together." Her warm fingers slid into his.
"Sofia?" he said.
"I'm here. Listen to that rain!" Her voice was wondering and slightly worried; the rain was a muffled roar above. Link glanced down and saw rivulets running beneath his feet, silvery in the darkness. A spring storm? He frowned. From his own childhood he knew how changeable the weather could be around water, but this seemed unusual. Though he said nothing to the others, he was liking the weather's turn less and less. Monsters could be fought or avoided. Cold and wet could not.
There was a muffled splashing from below, and the gleaming surface shattered into a thousand rippling splinters. Something moved against the reflected light and he saw two red gleams fade out of the deep blackness. They tilted--looking up towards him, he realised with a start.
"Dark!" Zelda said gladly, close by his ear.
The gleams winked out for a moment: a blink. "I was coming up for you. What is wrong? Has something happened?"
"Nothing," Link said. "But it's raining hard; there's a storm coming on. We've come down to get out of it."
Sofia pushed past him, warm in the cold darkness. "What have you found?"
The shadow's face, aside from his shining eyes, was invisible in the near-blackness, but there was a smile in his voice. "Come and see!" The lights winked out as he turned; there was a sloshing of water, and then the surface glittered clear again.
Link sighed and did his best to rein in his impatience; Zelda was tugging at his hand now, pulling him down into the flood. He stepped down, grimacing as the icy water rushed into his newly dried clothes. Something loomed at him; he raised his hand and felt a low ledge or lintel of stone, slick and rough. There was little more than a foot of space between the water and the roof.
"Come on!" Zelda said from the other side. Her voice was strained with excitement. "Quick, Link!" Sofia was already moving through, splashing clumsily. He swore under his breath and ducked down to follow her. A moment's fumbling beneath the low roof and he was through; he straightened up, glanced around and forgot his worries in wonder. The chamber glittered with greenish reflections, its carvings dancing in the flickering underwater light.
Dark stood upon a raised platform at the other end of the grotto, watching them. The water washed around the tops of his boots.
"What is this place?" Zelda asked softly. "This... this was not made by Hylians. No Hylian could have made this."
"It is a Zora monument," Dark said, his voice ringing through the watery space. Perhaps it was the presence of the water that changed the acoustics of the room; but there was a strangeness in the sound of his words, an echoing quality. He turned slightly and laid one hand on the stone dais by his side. "Zoras made this to honour a great one of their kind. There are words here; I have tried to read them, but I think you must look for yourself."
"Zoras," Link repeated, wondering. "The spirits of the waters..."
"Spirits? No. They were mortal people, like us. Or perhaps not so like us..." He turned his head to look down at the stone slab. "But look, see what he holds."
Excitement filled the room now, banishing the water's chill. Link glanced at the girls standing together and saw his own sudden hope reflected in their eyes. They moved all at once, struggling through the deep water. Link's boots found a submerged step, and then another--and then he stood in soaked and muddy clothes, knee-deep in lake water, looking down at what lay upon the dais...
The ancient skeleton was arranged in orderly repose, long hands laid together upon a breastbone that arched like a boat's keel. Glittering silvery scales lay upon and all about it like splinters of light. There was nothing macabre about the sight; the old bones spoke only of peace, of rest well earned. They were strange bones, spindly and thin, and the skull was not a Hylian's skull. A fine golden chain stretched around behind the naked vertebrae and extended down to disappear behind the clasped fingers.
"Is it..?" Link said breathlessly. He felt in his shirt and drew out the Amulet of the Forest. The delicate chain was identical.
Zelda pushed forward. While they all stood, she reached out and gently moved one of the skeletal hands aside. The bones crumbled at her touch. She took up the chain and freed it; then pulled. It came free easily.
There was a moment then when time stopped. They stared, appalled, silenced.
It was indeed an Amulet; the chain and the beautifully wrought setting was identical to the others that they had seen. But the jeweled medallion was missing from within. The golden circle was empty.
Zelda knelt at the base of the bier, running her hands over the carved inscription as she worked. The only sound in the chamber was the faint washing of the water against the walls. A sombre mood lay upon the company now, disappointed and disheartened.
"Has the tomb been robbed since the body was laid here?" Link asked. He stood with the others at the water's edge, hanging back so as not to obstruct the meager light from the window slit. It was the first time he had spoken since the discovery; they all had been struck dumb, for a time, by their bad fortune. To have a third Amulet in their hands--but to find it broken and useless!
Dark glanced toward the bier, his eyes narrowing slightly. "I think not," he said. "Why would thieves take out the medallion and replace the Amulet so carefully in his hands? No, it was laid with him in that state."
"But why?" Sofia asked, shaking her head. "It makes no sense!"
"What use is the setting without the stone?" Link said.
"No use," Dark answered. He closed his eyes for a moment, sighed, and then sat down on the edge of the dais, where a ledge ran round above the water's surface. He reached over and dipped his fingers into the water; then held them up, watching the glittering drops slide over his hand and down towards his wrist. "We might as well go home," he said after a moment more. "There is nothing here for us."
"I think I've got it," Zelda announced suddenly, looking towards them.
Link sat down heavily next to Dark. "Let's have it, then," he said, sounding tired and not particulary interested.
Zelda sighed, then turned back to the carved words. "'Here lies Japas, greatest bard of the Zoran people,'" she read out slowly. "I think that word means 'bard', anyway." She paused, frowning closely at the stone, and then went on with some hesitation, "'...he of the nine hundred songs, who told the tales of ages past. You who'll seek the Triforce of the future, I shall hand down to you the ancient lore.'"
"Japas was in the book," Dark said, lifting his head.
"Yes," Zelda said. She sat back and ran her fingers through her wet hair, pulling it back from her face. "He was a friend of Link First, from Termina. He must have been one of the original Knights--I suppose the Knight of Water." She made a slight smile then. "Well, at least that's one mystery solved... Shall I go on?" There were nods. She bent close to the text. "'One half of the legend lies with me. If you desire the other, look to my folk.'"
"That is an easy riddle," Dark said. "It lies with the Zoras. They have taken it to keep it safe."
Link sighed and bowed his head. "In that case we are still doomed."
"We could search--" Zelda began.
"What is the point?" Link said in despair. "The Zoras are gone, like the Gorons! There are no Zoras any more!"
The rain was coming down in hissing sheets, fogging out the air and billowing as it rolled across the churning waters of the lake. On the crest of the hill the old dead tree groaned and creaked against the wind. There was an inch of muddy water on the ground where they had had their fire earlier; little streams were flowing down the steps.
"Nayru's Love," Zelda said in quiet awe, doing her best to shelter beneath the barrow's low entrance. "Link, are we really going to swim back in this?"
Link said nothing. He was standing pressed against the wall, rainwater plastering his red hair flat.
"Link?" Sofia said, after a moment more.
"I don't want to," he said finally, "but we cannot stay here. There's no shelter, no food, nowhere dry to sleep."
"We can't cross in this - we won't be able to see a yard's length!" Her voice was angry, as if the weather had personally offended her.
"Maybe if we wait a while it'll let up--" Zelda began timidly.
"Listen," Link said fiercely, turning on them, and the snap of his voice shocked the girls into silence. "We've made several serious mistakes coming out here, and I don't intend for us to make any more. We don't have room to make any more. This is a very bad place to be right now. Now please, be quiet for a minute and let me think." He turned away from them and stood, arms crossed tightly over his chest for warmth, head tilted towards the heavy smoke-grey blanket of the sky.
Stupid, he told himself angrily. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Should have gone back when it first started. Should have said something. Shouldn't have gone in the lake at all. Now they were out in the open, wet through and without shelter, in one of the worst spring storms he had ever seen.
Waiting it out was not an option. With shelter and fire and something warm to drink, yes - but they were cold, hungry, fatigued and soaked to the skin. And the storm didn't look like it was going to blow over anytime soon; by the look of that sky it was here for the night. Risking a glance over his shoulder he saw the pale, pinched look of the girls' faces. And Dark, leaning in the entrance of the barrow in order to be out of the icy wind now blowing over the hilltop; the shadow's face was stoic as ever, but he could not hide his shivers now. If they tried to stay here overnight, Link thought grimly, it was like enough that at least one of them would not see the morning.
That left only one option: get off the hill. They wouldn't make it to Mido tonight, but there was food with the horses, and blankets - if the horses had not strayed.
His smile, when it came, was dry and mirthless: it was an expression the others would have been surprised to see upon his face. I never was much of a Hero, he thought, but at least I know water. He turned.
"Wait here. I'm going to take a look up top."
No-one commented. He turned his back on them and went up the slick, worn steps, placing every foot with care.
At the top the wind's force hit him with enough force to make him stumble sideways; he caught his balance, grabbed at his cloak as it threatened to fly from him, shook his sodden hair from his eyes as he straightened up. From here he could see the grey lake water, foamy with small breakers as the wind piled it against the hillside. After only a short distance all became lost in a haze. He could not see the far shore. Mido could have been a hundred miles away.
"Steady," he said aloud. First rule: don't rush into anything. If lost, don't guess the way and get more lost.
But nobody knows where we are - we didn't tell anybody! Stupid!
"All right..." He breathed in slowly, then out, then in again; he concentrated on the rhythms of his breath. Let's see... I can probably swim it, if I can keep my direction once I'm in the water. But with three other people to watch, none of them accomplished swimmers... Damn it!
If I get across on my own, I could go for help... No. He dismissed the idea. Even if he got across the lake all right, he would have to ride back to Mido, raise the alarm and guide the rescuers back here in the full force of the storm. He couldn't do it. Certainly not in the dark, and it was near full dark already.
Then we'll all have to go. Somehow, Nayru knew how, he would have to get his cold, exhausted companions back to solid ground. A way would just have to present itself.
He reached up to his breast, where lay the familiar weight of the Forest Medallion; it comforted him a little. Right then... just one thing left to do.
Pushing back his wet, streaming hair, Link stood straight and looked out across the lake, hoping to see through the haze of rain for just a moment - to spot some landmark that he could use for bearings.
And in that moment, quite close, the haze parted, and he saw--
They had stayed where they were at the bottom of the steps, sheltering as best they could in the lee of the storm. Even so, the icy rain was washing down over them every now and then as the wind changed. There was nowhere to stand and be out of it, except in the barrow entrance, and the water now flowing down the tunnel made that an unattractive location too.
"It's not letting up," Sofia said. Neither of the others responded, and in a little while she shifted her weight and spoke again. "But it's only rain..."
"Link's frightened," Zelda said, and was startled by her realisation that it was true. She had not often seen him afraid.
"I wish we were back home," Sofia said with sudden ferocity. "Back in Hyrule Castle, right now."
"But we are not," Dark said quietly. They both turned to look at him; he stood quite still, framed by the low doorway, wrapped tight in his cloak of Kakariko wool. Only his eyes were spots of bright colour in the gloom.
"What do you think we should do?" Zelda asked after a moment.
He looked at her mildly. "I trust Link."
It felt like a rebuke, albeit a gentle one. The Princess nodded slowly; she turned away and then hugged herself, feeling how the cold had started to settle in her limbs. She felt immensely weary.
"All right," she said at last. "We'll--"
And then suddenly Link was there, clattering down the steps into their midst and talking at the same time very fast in a kind of urgent whisper.
"Quick, quick - we're going to have to swim, and we're going to do it right now. Get the stuff - where's the Amulet? Hurry!"
"Link," Zelda said, "what's going on?"
He stared at them for a moment, green eyes wide in his pale face. A wisp of hair was stuck to his wet cheek. "Stalfos!" was all he said, and then he was running up the steps again.
Sofia spat. "Oh, wonderful! Well, that finishes the day nicely! That's all we needed!"
They lay all four flat on the hilltop, rain pounding on their backs, and stared down through the inadequate cover of the thin marsh-grass. The first rowboat was twenty yards or so away, just coming up to the shallow reedy expanse that surrounded the mound. Two ragged-cloaked Stalfos were rowing with the steady, mindless patience of the undead. At the stern, beside a swinging lantern, sat a heavily muffled figure.
"Five, six boats, maybe more," Link muttered. "Didn't catch a clear glimpse--I only saw for a moment. They're coming straight for this place."
"Is she with them?" hissed Dark.
He shook his head, but not in a way that denied the question. "Didn't see. But we have to go, right now. And quietly. We'll slip down the far side--there's all bullrushes that way, more cover."
"Oh!" Zelda said suddenly, and grabbed for Link's arm. The hooded figure had moved, reaching up a scaly hand to adjust the rain-silvered hood he wore, and in that moment, as the lantern's light caught it, there was the gleam of a familiar orange eye. "It's Kleox!" Dinolfos lived!
"Then it was him," Link breathed, his memory flashing up that moment at the gates of Hyrule Town. The cloaked figure, darting back out of sight... He swore viciously and snatched at a handful of grass.
"What?" Sofia said. "What's the matter?"
"They knew, right from the start they knew! I saw him in the town! He was right there, in the town, watching us leave!"
"You didn't say--" Zelda began, sounding hurt.
"I didn't realise until now." He stared furiously down as the boat drew nearer. Two more lanterns were visible now, bobbing like golden ghosts in the thick fog of rain. "Blast it! All right, let's get out of here. Come on! At least all this water flying around will make it harder for them to track us."
"Kleox will catch the scent," Dark muttered.
"Then we had better hurry up and get back in the lake, hadn't we? Running water, just the thing!" Link crawled backwards out of sight of the boats and then stood and brushed himself down, suddenly feeling insanely cheerful. "Come on!"
The far side of the hill was less steep than the place where they had climbed, but far more slippery, especially with the rain. They slithered down in a stream of mud and water. The grass tore free beneath their feet, and they fell, and regained their balance, and fell again. Zelda lost her footing entirely and rolled down the last few yards; she fell headlong into icy water and mud. Link stumbled over her and stood upright, knee-deep, then turned and helped her up. She gasped for breath and held up her head, blinking through the tangled rat's-tails of her hair. It was quieter here; they stood on the lee side of the hill, sheltered in some measure by tall stands of reeds that stirred and creaked around them. The water stirred and smoked with rain.
"They will know that we have been there," Dark said.
Link shielded his eyes from the pounding rain and looked out across the lake, squinting in the darkness. "We can't help that now. We have to get away--we're too exposed. If we can cross the water and get up into the hills, we'll find shelter there." He sighed then and pulled his wet hair away from his eyes. "We're going to go straight as we can for the shore, keeping to the reed beds. Sofia, you stay with me--Zelda, you take Dark. If someone gets into difficulty, the other can help. If we are careful, we shouldn't have to swim much. Just be wary of the mud!"
"Wait!" Zelda cried suddenly. They turned and watched in some surprise as she fumbled in her clothing; her fingers were stiff and moved only with difficulty. She found it and held it out in a shaking hand: the packet of bowstrings.
Link stared at her for a moment, then grinned. "Good thinking! Give it here." He shook the thin coils out into his hand and knotted them together swiftly; in a moment he had a rough-and-ready cord of a couple of yards length. He handed one end to Zelda and looped the other about his own wrist.
They waded out together, pressing close to each other for warmth; stiff reeds brushed their legs; mud sucked at their boots, and the water heaved against them and tried to knock them down with every step they took. It was no warmer this second time with the rain beating their heads and shoulders, but they kept going, heads down, stumbling in their exhaustion.
The last light soon slipped away and left them floundering in a deep darkness without stars or moon to guide them. Zelda quickly lost sight of Link and Sofia; there was only the thin waxed cord tugging gently to lead her on, and Dark at her side. The water came well above their waists. Above the rain's hiss, her breath sounded harsh and heavy in her ears. She could not hear his at all.
"Are you all right?" she whispered breathlessly, after they had gone some distance.
The shadow's head turned; she saw his eyes for a moment beneath the folds of his hood. "...Tired."
"Me too." The cord was tugging insistently; she gulped air and struggled forward, trying not to disturb the water too much. There was a thin crusting of ice on the creaking stems of the reeds.
Suddenly there was another tug on the cord, this one deliberate and firm. It came twice, then the cord went almost slack. Zelda stopped and stared ahead into the rainy blackness, but she could see little more than the shadows of the bullrushes against the sky. What did he mean--go on, or stay put?
Dark's fingers grabbed at her wrist. "Look," he said very quietly, leaning close to her.
There was a light ahead; a faint golden gleam was moving across the stems of the reeds, setting little sparks on the water.
"Get down," she whispered, grabbing at his shoulder. They crouched together so that only their heads were above the water's surface. A thin fringe of reeds shielded them from the open channel. Zelda clamped her jaws shut to stop her teeth from chattering.
The boat passed them by slowly, deliberately; the Stalfos at the helm was turning slowly as he scanned the reeds on either side. Through the bullrushes she saw the flickering orange flames in his eye-sockets, a rotting leather baldrick buckled over the heavy ribcage beneath the tattered rags of a cloak. The rowers' oars dipped down and churned the black water, leaving a little whirlpool where they entered and pulled back.
Creaking, rocking slowly through the water, the boat went on.
When the glow had faded into the night, there was another sharp tug on the cord. Zelda staggered upright, pulled Dark up with her and stumbled on.
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