Zora's Ghost: Chapter 54
THEY rode in single file, between the cart ruts where the ground was smoothest. At last the rain had blown over to leave the sky clear, bright and cold; the stars were brilliant with that particular clarity that comes with frost. Now and then an owl would cry out in the darkness, or a chill wind stir the rolling slopes of hill-grass and heather, but otherwise all was silent. The old road ran sunken between deep banks, winding back and forth, occasionally curving down almost to the shore of the lake. By the movement of the stars it was getting on for midnight.
Zelda had not imagined it was possible to feel so tired. Only cold and hunger kept her now from falling asleep on her horse's back--indeed, if she fell off she thought she might not notice. The horses too were exhausted, and it was as much as the riders could do to keep the poor beasts trotting on the thick and muddy ground. Still, they were going faster than a Stalfos could walk, and that was the main thing, wasn't it..?
The heavy stillness of the countryside was an invitation to relax, to let down one's guard. Instead, she reached into her shirt and took out the thing that they had stolen from the tomb of Japas. There was time, now, to think about it. The gold was white as seafoam in the moonlight; it felt warm and heavy on her fingers, almost alive.
Japas. A strange name, foreign. She remembered the odd un-Hylian bones upon the dais, and the way the millions of fine scales had caught the light like mother-of-pearl.
Japas, the musician, the Zora, who had shared that strange riddle of Termina with the Hero of Time--he had worn this jewel once. Despite lying in the damp tomb for Nayru knew how many centuries, the metal was not at all tarnished. She peered closer and thought she made out figures in the carved pattern etched so fine on the polished surface. There--was it a fish, or a figure, or a letter? It did not want to come clear.
In her mind the third Amulet felt like a toothache of the brain, like the unscratchable itch in an amputated limb. It felt as if something was indefinably missing, aching; she could not help poking at it.
She poked at it--
--and was elsewhere--
Seofen yeares ere thu swore that thu sholde wed me. Hastow come to keep thy vow?
Na, that Ich shall nat.
Na. Ich cannat live with thie, onder the sae. Woods be mine hous.
Th'art grown hard, Link.
Ond thu--thu took the stone--
We were but childer; Ich knew nat what it was to thie. Would thu have thy vengeance now, ond me life?
If Ich cannat have thie--!
Thu knowst thu cannat.
...Then help me. Help me lift that black enchantement on the londe ond on mi kin. An though thu lovst not me, do this for her that thu lovst. But know mine heorte be ever true to thie, though thu braak it!
--and Zelda was back in the saddle, jogging along the dark shadowed lane as if nothing had happened. Her chest ached from lack of air; she gasped in a long sweet breath and felt her heart thumping against her ribs.
The words had been those of a man and a woman, their tone echoing as if they stood in some great empty hall. Her voice had blown alternately angry and tearful, but his remained calm, steady, tinged with--not regret, but a kind of detached sorrow, as if he regretted her pain but knew there was nothing to be done about it. They had spoken in Ancient Hylian, and though Zelda knew it well enough from books, she had not realised how different it sounded; she had had difficulty making much sense out. Except that...
She turned in the saddle. The shadow had fallen into his old position at the rear of the group; he rode some four or five lengths back, the reins bunched in one hand. His other, his left, rested on the saddle horn. He sensed her watching and looked up at her with mild curiosity; his eyes caught the moonlight in the old familiar way. Whatever had just happened, he had evidently not shared the experience. Zelda smiled faintly and turned back to the road.
The woman had said, Link. The Hero of Time. That was Link First's voice. Then the woman... Ruto, the Sage of Water? That scene was from the First Quest, from the Water Temple?
Her hands hurt; the broken amulet was digging into her palm. She had gripped it too tightly--when she opened her fingers, there were pale indents in the flesh, the skin flushed red around it.
"You remember, don't you," she murmured, staring at the old worn ring of gold. "Somehow..." It could not be aware, it was just a thing, but perhaps it was not too outlandish to imagine that a tool might retain impressions of its use. Certainly there was something strange about many old artifacts. She had worn the Princess's heavy gold tiara once or twice for formal occasions and had never liked it much; the jewel seemed to turn her into someone else, a different kind of Zelda. It was the history inside it--it felt a little like the Temple of Time sounded. Ancient. Patient. Indifferent.
The Amulet of Water wanted to be whole again.
She held it for a long moment, thinking, then carefully opened the top button of her shirt and slid the jewel beneath. It fell against her bare skin with none of the coldness of metal. Link had remarked upon that with the Forest Amulet, before; that it felt warm to him. When she held it, or the Fire Amulet, they had always been cold--not unpleasant, but certainly not alive like this. So they woke only to those who were their rightful holders... Well, at least it confirmed that she had a place on this quest; she had wondered, at times.
Ahead, the road was dipping downwards, turning in a slow curve towards the lake shore; they were nearing the cutting through which they had come - was it yesterday? So long ago... They had been cheerful then, talking lightly of the way and of their hopes. There was no talk now. Link rode ahead, sitting very upright on his red horse; she wondered where he found the energy, lately. Sofia rode a little way behind him; she made no pretense at being alert, slumped in the saddle with her head nodding.
The shore stretched out on the left, dark under the moon: the lake waters gleamed black like oil as they broke sluggishly on the mud. On their right a high bank still speckled with snow cut off their sight of the fields of central Hyrule. As the bank grew higher and arched around, the cutting loomed out of the night, a tall hunch crowned with a blackness of trees: three hundred yards ahead. Two hundred...
An owl called, and Zelda's white horse lifted its head suddenly, ears swiveling forward. Ahead, Link had reined in and stood still in the middle of the road, his horse pawing nervously. His attention was focused on something up on the bank; she could see only darkness beneath the bare branches.
"What is it?" she said, coming up. Sofia roused herself slowly, rubbing at her eyes.
He silenced her with an impatient movement of his right hand. The owl called again, from behind them, and with a cold shock she realised that it was not an owl, but someone's fair imitation. The cry was answered by a soft whisper of steel: Dark had drawn sword.
"Mice in a meadow," Link said, with something that was almost cheerfulness. "Rot him, he's out-thought us again. Well, at least we gave them a good run..."
The half-dozen Stalfos seemed to materialise out of the darkness, hurrying down the steep sides of the cutting on either side of the road; first there was nothing, then the corpse-light flares of eyes, then the bodies, bulky under mouldering cloaks and rusted armor. These carried spears, not swords: huge halberds, ten or twelve feet long, with tips wickedly barbed.
"Turn back," Sofia said, but their escape route had already been blocked off by others slithering down the bank behind them, hemming them in.
There was nowhere else to go, so they backed slowly towards the lake, until the hindmost foot of Zelda's palfrey splashed into icy water; it would go no further then but huddled with the others, trembling and tossing its head. The four horses stood at bay in the center of a tightening semicircle of steel, nothing behind them but the cold unknown.
Heads turned as Kleox came stalking up through the dune-grass, a grin of triumph on his face. Two powerful Stalfos hurried along behind him, clanking with armor and carrying heavy packs. The others parted to let him through; he stood, hands on hips, looking toward them with a bright birdlike eye.
"Well, we have you at last. Hand them over!"
"I don't think so," Link said calmly, drawing his own sword.
"Oh, see sense, boy! You're outnumbered ten to one--let's do this like civilised people, eh? Just give up the Amulets and you can go."
"Sepultura tried that already," Sofia said, pushing her skittish horse forward to stand between them. "If it didn't work for her, why do you think it'll work for you?"
Kleox watched her for a long moment: the stares met, both calm, both steady, both golden as the desert sun, and there seemed to be a moment of understanding, even sympathy. Then he shrugged. "Oh well. Fair enough. Galba?"
The tallest Stalfos rumbled an order, and all around pikes were cast down with a clatter so that heavy longbows could be swung into action. The bows were strangely shaped, knobbed at each end, and gleamed dull yellowish in the moonlight: they were made of bone.
"Last chance," Kleox said, stepping back a pace.
Suddenly a horse squealed; Dark hauled cruelly on his reins and the black stallion stumbled round in a tight, painful circle, dragged round by its head, then bolted straight into the lake in a storm of hooves and flying water. There was a split second of indecision. "Go!" Link yelled. The other horses, their nerves already strained to breaking point, needed little encouragement to follow the black's example. They floundered out as a group, plunging and churning up the mud. The brighter of the Stalfos waded out after them, but too slowly.
"Shoot them! Shoot them!"
Zelda, struggling to keep her seat as the black water reached the palfrey's white breast, risked a glance back and saw that hers was not the last horse out; Sofia's gray balked, screaming, in the shallows. Everything seemed to slow. The bowstrings were drawing back. Too close! "Sofia!" she cried desperately, trying to rein in her own horse - a Stalfos grabbed for the gray's reins - but Sofia chopped down viciously with her scimitar, the monster fell back, and the terrified gray surged away, struggling desperately into the deeper water. An arrow buzzed past the Princess's ear like an angry hornet. She wanted to wait, to help her friend, but the palfrey was swimming now, carrying her away swiftly towards a distant tree-lined shore, and once again cold water was seeping in through the tops of her soft leather boots...
Lake Hylia had been deep and round like a bowl, once, with a single narrow river outlet to the sea, but forest clearance and centuries of erosion had caused the river to overflow and form a series of extensions, so that the lake now stretched down for many miles into southern Hyrule, periodically narrowing into a bottleneck before spreading out into wide shallows again. Though narrow, the bottlenecks were no use as fords, for the water ran swift and deep, often with treacherous currents. It was across one of these channels that they had traveled, cutting off a long loop of the shoreline.
The mid-west of Hyrule was uninhabited. Lying as a buffer between the lake and the sea, with the impassable Shadowed Mountains fencing in the rain to the north, the land was forever wet and running with streams; Hylian crops could not be grown in such damp conditions, and the only animals that thrived were frogs and insects. It was notorious fever country. Occasionally an intrepid few would attempt to settle, to reclaim worthwhile land from the advancing bog or to take advantage of what good timber there was, but they never stayed long.
The horses stumbled up dripping and shivering onto the shore, on the very fringes of the forest. The bank was steep and coated with a thick layer of pine needles; the trees grew right down to the water's edge. In the distance, to the north across the waters, the burial mound was just visible as a deeper dark on the lake.
They were back where they had started. No--further west, now, on the far side of the lake.
"What do we do?" Zelda was close to losing the last remnants of her composure; this last disappointment was too much. "They're between us and Mido - there's nothing out here but wilderness!"
"Saria," Dark said, dismounting. "There is no choice now - we must go through the forest to Saria."
"We don't know the way!"
"I will find the way. Link knows the waters, but it is my turn now; I was born in these woods." He was loosening the saddle girth, unconcerned. "Things are not as black as they seem, Zelda. We are ahead of them now. Kleox must go many miles down to the old bridge, or go back to his boats, before he can follow us--we have a little time. I suggest you see to the horses."
Link freed his foot from the stirrup and dropped painfully to the ground. "See to the horses?" he said with a wry look. "I wish someone would see to me! But it's good advice--we'll have to walk them or rest them, anyway, if we want to go anywhere in a hurry. Let's get under the trees."
The horses were cold, filthy, beaten down, reluctant to move at all; they had to be cajoled into the dark forbidding woods. At last they left the lake behind and ventured in between the towering yews, bracken crackling underfoot. For some minutes they walked in silence and single file, leading the horses, blinking like owls as they tried to make out each other's shapes in the gloom. Little by little yews and conifers changed to leafless deciduous trees; they were heading upwards, as far as Zelda could tell.
Is this how it is going to be forever? she thought dully. Will it ever end, the running away? She could not doubt, now, that Kleox would be around the next corner, waiting for them with some new trap. Every sound in the black woods was an enemy.
"Stop here," Dark said softly, after an interminable time.
They stood now in a small dark clearing; a clearing it was only in that tree trunks did not fill it. There was no sky and little light, and the leafless branches stretched thick and dense only a few feet above his head. As yet there was no spring growth upon these trees. It was a cheerless, spiritless place, and it stank of rot; the floor was thickly carpeted with dead leaves in varied states of decay. The palfrey dropped its head wearily, blowing through dilated nostrils. Its dark eye showed white.
"Where are we?" Link asked.
The shadow was doing something--unfastening his cloak, it seemed. "I fear that I cannot tell you, Link--or not in a way that you would understand, at least. We are somewhere between Mido and Saria, that is all."
Very patiently, Dark said, "No. We are not lost. See to Sofia." He pushed his bundled cloak into a saddlebag.
Link stood for a moment, staring at him. "Sofia?" he said, then turned with Zelda to look. The Gerudo had been following quietly, bringing up the rear as they traveled through the woods; she leaned now against the side of her horse. Her posture was awkward, and abruptly Zelda realised that the wet darkness on the shoulder of her Hylian tunic was not a shadow.
"I'm all right," she muttered, clutching at the place. "It's all right, it just winged me..."
"Let me see." Link was by her side in an instant, easing her down onto the ground, gently lifting away the water-sodden fabric. Zelda stood frozen beside the white palfrey, unsure what to do or say. "It's not too bad," he said after a moment more.
"Deal with it," Dark said coldly. "She stinks of fresh blood."
Something about his tone touched a nerve already overwrought by the endless night of struggle and fear; Zelda felt her fists clench. "Don't be so mean--"
"Mean? I, mean?" Now he was angry, as he rarely if ever was; his voice, though quiet, was a blade of ice. "It is your safety I think of, all of you. Few things are easier to smell than blood, and it is by scent that he is hunting us. Clean her up--or would you prefer to go back and surrender to him?"
"I'm sorry," she said in a small voice. She wanted to cry.
Silence stretched out painfully. Perhaps even Dark felt that he had gone too far; when he spoke again his tone was gentle, for him. "Follow the left hand path, when you are ready. There is shelter ahead; I think you will be able to risk a fire."
"You're not coming?" Link asked.
He was almost entirely invisible in the deep shadows; without even the rustle of his cloak, their only guide was the sound of his voice and the occasional flash of crimson as his head turned their way. "I have business with Kleox, I think. We cannot have him following us to sanctuary, and coming upon us while we rest, so I shall work a little magic of my own. I will join you later. Wait--I shall need your saddle blanket."
"My what? What for?"
The moon was setting; it had sunk below the bare branches of the forest and could only occasionally be seen, gleaming pale through a thicket of dark twigs. The long, tiring night was nearly over. And with nothing, Din-cursed nothing to show.
"Damn you, hurry it up..."
Kleox paced irritably on the little slope of dry land as the last few boats approached shore, their rowers climbing ponderously overboard to haul them out of the water. They were so cursed slow about everything! Why the woman had such a fondness for the lumbering creatures he could not begin to imagine--admittedly a Stalfos would never tire, would walk all night and all day if need be, but surely the interminable delays made up for that. He could never get them to hurry; he suspected it was their little personal rebellion against him.
The final boat was, eventually, pulled up above the waterline and made fast. He turned without another word and ducked under the darkness of the trees, leaving them to follow or not as they wished. So far it had been easy; he had simply watched and marked the place where the Hero and his friends came ashore. Hoofprints in the soft muck of the shore confirmed his guess. Now the hard part came.
And again I put my nose to the ground for a bunch of old bones. The difference being, this time I'm in charge. Hah. Funny. The only thing that had changed was that he answered to the woman directly, and took all the blame.
The ground was a thick mat of pine needles and bracken, only slightly damp despite the rain. He spat a curse as he knelt to examine it: he had run into the same difficulty earlier. Wretched stuff was as springy as a heap of new hay; it took no imprint at all, even from a horse's foot. Still, there was always scent...
Crouching on a branch the thickness of a child's wrist, fourteen feet above the forest floor, a shadow perched, and watched as the Lizalfos searched slowly over the ground, back and forth.
The way diverged from here: there was a wide track trodden into the bracken, probably by deer coming to drink; it was almost clear of undergrowth. Newly broken twigs bled thick sap onto the leaf litter. The other track looked like nothing more than a badger trail, a winding path barely wide enough for a single horse to push through, all clogged with stinking bracken. At least, it ought to be well clogged; he had pulled enough of the wretched stuff over.
Dark could admire the way his enemy was so careful to cover every foot of ground, without spoiling any of the delicate clues that lay there. He knew what Kleox was smelling: pine sap, an overpowering pall of it, everywhere. The pungent resin would mask any clinging hint of blood that might still linger in the air. But there was still a scent of horse and Hylian leading away into the night, faint, yet undeniable to the minutely sensitive nose of a Lizalfos. Kleox bent close, snuffed again, placed the scent, and motioned swiftly to his soldiers. They started off down the wider path and were swiftly lost to sight.
Unseen above, Dark smiled. It would take them a good long time to find the saddle blanket; it was wedged up a tree nearly a mile away. He had taken the most circuitous route that he could find.
It had been quiet for over a minute. He slid down the treetrunk, landed lightly on his feet, and started for the narrow path...
They had been climbing for a long time, toiling up a steep slope covered with brush. The fallen leaves underfoot stank of rot; they were black, slippery, decayed. Here and there there was still a thin film of ice atop the cover, hidden by drifted leaves, so that the unwary foot might crash through and sink deep into a wet black muck.
Link was leading, with a horse on either side; the way was wide enough now to do so. The black was favouring one foot slightly, although they had not dared to stop to check it for stones. The girls trudged along behind him, too weary even to speak now. A small red flower had already budded through the makeshift bandage--actually the sleeve of Link's spare shirt--knotted around Sofia's upper arm. Now and then Zelda glanced towards it it as the Gerudo struggled up the endless slope beside her. Could Kleox follow them just from that? She would not have been surprised.
At last they reached the top of the slope, and stood together on the ridge, looking down into a small bowl-shaped valley littered with mounds of ivy. Forest cover was not so thick here; the starlight through gaps in the interlocking branches provided enough light to see reasonably well. The faint line of the trail wound down the hillside, between the roots of ancient trees.
"Look," Link said, kneeling beside a small heap of green leaves. He pushed the strands of ivy aside to reveal stone. "A waymarker..."
"But we're miles from anywhere," Zelda said in surprise. "What does it say?"
He poked at it, trying to pull some of the slender grasping roots away. They clung with the strength of trees. "Nothing," he said at last, throwing the creeping stands back across the waymarker in disgust. "It's too worn."
"Could there be a village around here somewhere? Is that what he meant?"
"Out here?" He brushed dirt off his hands and straightened up. "Nobody lives out here, Zelda. Sometimes there are robbers on the fringes of the forest, but even they do not like to go too far in, and besides, they rely on travelers coming past for their living. I don't know this part of the land at all--I am just trusting that Dark knows where we're going--but I know that the country people aren't fond of Kokiri Forest. Especially these very old parts of it."
"So why the marker?" she persisted.
He took up the reins of the two horses again and turned to start down the hill. "Who knows?" he said without turning. "Perhaps people came out here to hunt, once."
Zelda sighed and followed him down.
The valley floor was flat and almost clear of undergrowth--it was pleasant, even, to walk through a thin carpet of dry leaves rather than clambering through thorns and bracken with the reluctant horses in tow. They wandered among the huge old trees, stepping now and again around a root that writhed along the ground. The only sign of life here now was the ivy, of which there was a vast amount; it draped the trees in unseasonal green, rambled along the ground, entwined ancient stones in its coils. The scent of it hung in the air, fresh and slightly bitter; now and then the massed leaves would rustle in a faint breeze.
Link halted; the path they had been following stopped here, faded away in a few more paces to leave the forest floor pristine.
"Now what?" Sofia asked, coming up beside him.
He frowned, looking around. "I don't know. He said to follow the path..."
"Well, we've done it. We're here. Wherever here is."
They were standing more or less at the bottom of the valley, surrounded by the strange humps of ivy. From the top of the ridge they had seemed small against the immensity of the trees; now, at close range, they were revealed to be ten or twelve feet high, and twice that in length. Zelda let her horse go and walked toward the nearest one, curious despite her tiredness. Her questing fingers slipped between the rustling ivy leaves, found a fibrous tangle of roots, and then--stone.
"Oh!" she said, startled; she had suddenly realised what these must be. With a quick glance back at the others she slid around the corner of the thing and felt her way along the side, finding the straight contour beneath the ivy. After a few paces her hands sank into a space where there was no stone: a doorway. Wrestling with the ivy, she pushed her way into a close green darkness, the scent of the ivy rising all around her.
"Zelda?" Link called, his voice slightly muffled.
"I'm all right." She backed out again, ivy leaves catching in her tangled hair, and came face to face with him in the starlight. "Link, look--it is a village!"
And now they could all see the overgrown outlines of other buildings rising out of the litter. Though the ivy masked the true shapes of things, the stone cottages were laid out in a reasonably ordered fashion. No need to ask whether the settlement were abandoned--the trees growing in and around it were full size. Nayru knew how long this place had been drowsing here.
Sofia had taken off her horse's bridle and was struggling to get a small sack of grains out of one of the saddlebags; they hurried to help her, suddenly conscious that the horses must be suffering as much as they. Attending to the animals was comforting, a familiar ritual that spoke of home. Zelda found a curry-comb and gave her palfrey a cursory brushing-down, though there was little that could be done there; indeed, she was probably filthier than the horse anyway by now. They left the animals a little more comfortable, chewing on the meagre supplies they had brought for them. Link dug out some bread that had not been entirely spoiled by water, shared it out with them and then disappeared, presumably to explore.
Zelda sat down heavily against a tree, gnawing a knob of bread that was, while both soggy and stale, the best thing she had ever tasted, and stretched out her aching legs. "Are you all right?" she said after a little while.
"Hm?" Sofia looked up. "Oh... yes, I am all right. It only nicked me... but I'm tired, Zelda. I've never been so tired. It's only worry that's keeping me awake."
"Me too." She sighed heavily. "I wonder what Dark is doing..."
The other woman made a tight smile. "Do you really want to know?"
They shared an unspoken thought: Dark knew how to kill, and kill silently. Was that his plan? Would he kill Kleox by stealth, out in those black woods? There was a sourness in that thought: even though the Lizalfos was with their enemy, and certainly they had no reason to love him, it did not feel right.
In the midst of that thought, Link came crashing back, calling excitedly. "Come on! I've found something..."
It was a building larger than the rest, up at the far end of the village; a great gnarled cluster of oak had half-hid it from their sight as they came down. Link had pulled down a lot of the ivy from what had once been a tall arched double-door, though the wood had long since rotted away. Grinning, he led them through the arch into darkness--or not quite darkness.
Though the front part of the building still had its roof, it had fallen in at the latter end, and starlight fell bright upon a raised dais. They ducked around pieces of the roof--broken joists rotted through and hanging down at crazy angles--and came out under the sky again, still fenced by the high walls. Where their steps scuffed away the fallen leaves, there were stone flags underfoot.
"What is it, the town hall?" Zelda asked, turning slowly around on the spot.
"No," Link said. "Look." He pointed toward the dais at the far end, and to a growth of ivy that hung off the wall above it. But--no, it was not just ivy. He had been at work here too; great handfuls of the stuff had been torn away and thrown to the ground. Through the remaining green, a stone face glimmered pale.
Sofia, the outsider in their culture, was quicker to realise. "It's a church," she said. And Zelda felt a slow growing warmth of delight as she made out the features of the goddess Nayru. Once she would have worn a golden crown and held out a golden Triforce to cast its rays over the assembled congregation; but now her brow was bound by roots of ivy, and her outstretched arms bore garlands of that same ever-green plant.
"He said there was a sanctuary," she said. "He must have known about this place, from however long ago."
"Seems a good omen, doesn't it?" Link agreed, easing himself down on the soft carpet of leaves. "I say we rest here--with the goddess to watch over us."
Sleep was dark, dreamless and all too short. The next thing Zelda knew was a strong grip on her shoulder; someone was shaking her. She groaned and opened her eyes into a cool pink predawn light.
He was kneeling over her, very black against the rose-streaked sky. A small dried leaf was caught up on his shoulder, on the rough fabric of his tunic. Still dozy, she reached out to pluck it off, but he had already whisked away to wake Sofia. "Come, come," he was saying, "we must go now."
Zelda sat up with a painful gasp; she was both saddlesore and footsore at the same time, a most unpleasant combination. A few feet away Link, bleary-eyed, was running his fingers through his hair in lieu of a comb.
"I'm thirsty," she said, and had a water-bottle thrust into her hands. She looked at it stupidly for a moment, then pulled at the cords binding the cork. They came away and she upended the bottle in her mouth. Fresh clean water poured over her parched tongue like a blessing from the goddess.
Dark crouched, resting his elbows on his knees, and watched them as they roused themselves. "I let you sleep while I could," he said, "but it is not safe to stay here too long. It is light now, and we will have easier going."
"Is Kleox dead?" Sofia asked.
He looked surprised. "Dead? As far as I know, no." A rare smile crossed his face; he stood up and leaned sacriligeously against the old altar. "But they have had a merry chase--through some good big briars, with any luck. If they will try to hunt me like a fox, they should be prepared for me to pull fox-tricks."
"So that's why you took my saddle-blanket off me," Link said wryly. "I did wonder..."
Dark glanced at him. "Pad the saddle with a spare cloak. But come: we should leave, before any more of the day is lost. He must have found out my deception by now, and once he uncovers the real trail our safety depends on staying ahead of him."
Link stretched and sighed. "All right then," he said, brushing leaves from his clothing. "Let's go! One last run to Saria!"
They rode all morning under the trees, going now by the easiest roads; there was no need for stealth now. Little by little the woods changed again, ancient oak and ash giving way to younger plantings of timber-trees, silver birch and sweet chestnut. The ground was dry now underfoot; the woods were open and full of light.
Gradually the trees fell away around them and became scrubland, and then green pasture. They descended a long slope of meadow-grass and then began slowly to climb again. Dark had been leading them; now, as they left Kokiri Forest behind, he raised his hood again and dropped back without a word to his old place in the rear. They might well have gone back in time--all of the last night's events might never have happened. Zelda felt the warmth of the third Amulet about her throat, just to make sure, then glanced back at him, shrouded once again in his Kakariko cloak.
Link shouted suddenly; she turned in a hurry and saw him at the top of the ridge, standing in the stirrups with one hand shading his eyes against the midday sun. Sofia was moving quickly up the hillside to join him.
"What is it?" she called, urging the palfrey on.
"Saria!" he shouted back. "We've done it! It's Saria, just a half-mile or so!"
Snorting, catching some of its mistress's excitement, the palfrey crested the hill, and Zelda saw the town stretched out before them in a great valley, nestling against the long blue-green curve of the ocean. The pale winter sun hung over it, a white-gold coin in the silvery sky. Saria, Hyrule's largest port, was the great trade route to Calatia and all the southern countries: a big bustling white-gleaming town ringed by three sets of famous walls. The road was a brown ribbon winding away to the east. She saw carts on it--horses--people.
"We've done it..."
Here endeth Zora's Ghost...
This page is hosted by North Castle and created by Dark Link © 1999-2006. All rights reserved.