The Far Sea: Chapter 55
ALL ACROSS the wide blue gold-glittering sweep of the sea, white dots were converging on the port town of Saria.
It had been a hard night and morning's work--as it always was--but it was done now. The catches were cleaned and stowed, the nets rolled away with sailor's neatness, the decks swilled down with hauled buckets of salt water to loosen the treacherous slick of scales and fish-blood coating the worn grey wood. The sea was calm and the wind fair, and so, one after another, each with a retinue of wheeling, mewing gulls, the boats were coming in.
Saria lay at the lowest point of a long valley opening out towards the sea. The city curved round in a new-moon crescent, following the contours of the bay--a town with fortified walls on the landward side, yet lying wide and welcoming towards the ocean. Though established, prosperous and proud, it was a new town by Hylian standards; it had been built some time after the Imprisoning War, designed by an ancient queen to be both an attractive and a well defended settlement.
The town had a character of its own: Saria people were thought to be slightly eccentric. A forthright seagoing folk, they had more in common with Calatians than with their more taciturn northern relatives, who tended to be suspicious of large boats and anyone who used them. Hylians farmed, but Saria's lifeblood was the ocean.
It was a town of gulls as much as people. The grey-and-white birds thronged the blue-slate rooftops as if they were cliffs; spattered the wide paved streets with their white guano, and insolently raised their scruffy, squabbling broods even on top of the great bell-tower of the Cathedral of Nayru, thinking deafness a fair trade for security. The great grey gull is not like a pigeon, to be deterred by netting and a few rusted spikes; he can, and will, make his home on an inch and a half of cracked cliff-face ledge. One crumbled brick or jutting slate is all he needs to feel quite at home. The citizens of Saria were forever evicting nesting gulls from chimney-pots and window-ledges--and once, memorably, a high rafter of the Guildhall, where the parents had got in and out through an inaccessible half-boarded skylight, drowned a number of fine speeches with blood-freezing shrieks, and finally befouled the left shoulder of the Mayor on a holy day in front of half the town, before being removed, fledgling and all, to a more suitable nearby roof.
Despite the inconvenience, nobody in Saria would have thought to harm a gull. The birds were the luck of the town, and its surety: as long as the gulls remained, no trouble would come to Saria by sea.
As the fishing boats eased their way into harbour, clouds of gulls whirled and soared, squabbled over fish-scraps. Some few, as always, finding no purchase in the fierce competition on the quay, glided on inland to pick through the town's middens, or even to hunt for worms in the cow-pastures beyond: stamping their feet furiously on the close-cropped grass to simulate the sound of rain.
A grey gull, riding the cusp of the sea-wind up into the long valley, would see the great trade road linking northern and southern Hyrule as a thin brown ribbon winding out of the dark woods and into patchwork fields. Traffic was not over-busy. The rain had left the road thick and muddy, a wretched journey for carts, and the young spring sun could not yet take the teeth out of the wind.
Even so, the bird would see at least four riders abroad this morning, and--however works the small, fierce, hungry mind of a gull--might have wondered a little at the sight...
...a red-haired man, tall, sitting with a soldier's easy poise, followed by a beautiful golden-haired girl on a graceful white horse. Another young woman, dark-skinned with a stained bandage on one arm, rode just behind her. The rear figure was invisible in the depths of a heavy black cloak. All four wore expensive but utterly filthy clothes; likewise the horses, though of excellent quality by their lines, were spattered from head to toe with muck.
And yet they rode as if they had no idea what they looked like and indeed did not particularly care...
They were making their way along a rough sheep-track which led down from the woods, past farms and pastures, towards the road. Despite their dishevelled state, the riders seemed cheerful; they spoke quietly to each other, in the relieved yet solemn manner of those who had but lately escaped from some shadow.
The gull's eyes would likely not be acute enough to make out the watchers in the woods, some half a mile back along the trail, at the summit of the valley.
Can't do it, not now. Can't get within bowshot on the open pasture without them spotting us, can't catch 'em in a straight run without mounts of our own...
Bastard son of a Gibdo! I know it was you!
"Orders, sah?" rumbled a voice in the impenetrable shadows of the bracken.
Kleox Dinolfos, crouching in a patch of sunlight on the edge of the treeline, heard the sarcasm and bared his teeth silently. So it was going to be like this...
"We let them go," he said aloud.
"Her Ladyship's not gonna like that," Galba muttered, only a few paces away. One of the other Stalfos sniggered somewhere.
Kleox stood up casually, folded his arms, and watched the Hero and his companions ride away. They were almost to the main road now, a quarter-mile or so from the town gates. His gaze lingered on the hindmost rider, the one who hid from the sun beneath a voluminous black cloak.
A wretched blanket! And then no trail to follow, no scent...
"Her Ladyship," he said, turning, "currently has no say in the matter. I do. Fall back and wait for further orders."
Galba, huge and fire-eyed, ambled out of the darkness, twigs and brittle leaves crackling beneath his heavy boots. Lizalfos were, on average, mansize, and Kleox was by no means small for his species, but the Stalfos was several inches taller than him. They stood face to face, so close that their bodies almost touched, and the air became taut as an over-wound spring.
"So it's finally come, has it?" Kleox said. "I've had my eye on you. You fancy yourself another Maximus, do you?"
"Mebbe so," the Stalfos grunted. Flares of eyes were all around now; the company had drawn close and watched the unfolding confrontation, still as death. "Listen, you've 'ad us chasin' wild geese up hill and down dale and we've bloody nothin' to show for it. I've lost two good men--"
"Men!" Kleox threw back his head and yipped the sharp, taunting laugh of the Lizalfos.
"Ay, men! And more of men than you'll ever be!"
It had gone too far now. Everyone knew it.
Kleox stared into the yellow flare of Galba's gaze. Then he shrugged, grinned, and stepped back. "Oh well," he said, stretching idly. "If that's how you want it--"
A blur of motion. The two blades whirred out, clashed and screeched against each other; there was a quick ferocious struggle and then the Stalfos's bones and armour were clattering to the dirt in a heap. The smashed skull bounced against a treetrunk and fell smoking into the mud. Nobody moved. Kleox examined a thin cut across the scaled muscle of his upper arm, which was just beginning to ooze dark blood, then shrugged, leaned on his sword and looked towards the semicircle of fiery eyes. It centered, now, around the pile of old trash that had been Galba.
"Who's next?" he said mildly.
One by one, sullen, cowardly, they moved away.
The Phoenix Plume was a large modern half-timbered building which stood on the corner of two major streets. Like many Calatian town houses, it was built as a square surrounding a central courtyard. The bar part of the inn had a street door, but the majority of the rooms faced into the yard, away from the noise and bustle of the town.
Like all inns in Saria, it was expensive; but it had been the first one they had seen as they rode through the East Gate, and nobody had felt like going any further.
Link wanted nothing so much as a long bath, but he made do with a change of clothes and a splash or two from the ewer in his room. In twenty minutes he was back on the street, looking for the city's post office. They would have been expected back at the castle today or tomorrow; he had to send word to the King.
He had been in Saria only once before, a couple of years ago, while on his way to visit Hyrule Town for the first time. In a way, the vibrant sea-port was more intimidating than that great and ancient city; to a Calatian peasant-boy as he had been, Saria gleamed with unimaginable wealth and power. The shop-fronts he passed were bright and new, the window displays clean, spacious and stylish. There were no crooked overhanging tenements here. There were no poor people here, as far as he could tell.
This had to be Market Street, because there was the spire of the Cathedral of Nayru just showing above the guildhall. Therefore, according to the innkeeper's directions, there had to be a side street. He spotted it after a moment and dodged a two-horse carriage to cross the road.
He eventually found the post office on another street corner: a large, impressive building with a gilded Phoenix crest above the street door. A liveried coach rolled out of the yard as he entered, and he hoped that he had not missed the last dispatch of the day.
The magnificent, gloomy office had a roof like a church, dark beams arching up into shadowy cobwebbed heights. It was not crowded. He paid a rupee for paper and ink and wrote a brief account of their find at one of the counters, mentioning the attack in passing.
...however, by Farore's grace we are all safe and plan to remain in Saria for at least a few days, in the hope that we may discover some new information, tho' the trail seems long cold...
Link had not often had occasion to write letters. Hoping that his penmanship was not too crude for the King's eyes, or his spelling too exotic, he sealed the letter with a stick of post office wax and handed it over to be stamped.
Coming out of the dusty, echoing hall into the bright and busy street, he breathed out a long sigh. One job done... Now, as he walked slowly back to the inn, exhaustion pressing a lead weight upon his shoulders, he had time to consider their options from here.
A cold trail, he had written, and it was cold indeed. Nine hundred years cold, or thereabouts; if one discounted a few apocryphal stories told of Links Third and Fourth, the last time Zoras had been seen in Hyrule had been during the Imprisoning War. They were mythical, legendary, fairytale; bearded scholars in dusty libraries argued about whether they had ever existed at all.
Well, they had seen the tomb of Japas, so that question was answered. And they had half an Amulet; that proved, at least, that the rest was out there somewhere. Small comfort though that might be.
The inn was already growing busy, though the afternoon's light had not yet fled. He made his way through the bar-room, ordered a hot bath, and dragged himself upstairs to his room. The maid who came to fetch him had to shake him awake.
The stables smelled richly of sweet hay and new-cut wood; and they were quiet, for the ostlers were eating in the kitchen of the inn. A dozen horses drowsed, or shifted their feet, or pulled at the hay piled in wire racks. It had been easy enough to avoid the stableboys outside; although supposedly on guard, they were engrossed in a game of dice. He might not have needed to disappear at all.
The black horse raised its head up as he approached, eyeing him balefully out of its white-ringed eye. Dark leaned his arms on the half-door and waited, keeping still, and in a little while the velvety nose was pushing at his shoulder, curiosity overcoming wariness. He handed over the winter apple he had stolen from a barrel in the kitchen and listened to the strong teeth crunching, thinking of another horse he had known, long ago.
The black horse's coat was still specked with mud here and there, and his searching fingers found burrs in the thick coarse hair. The ostlers had not done their job well. He picked at a tangle in the shaggy mane, and the horse leaned toward him, grumbling pleasurably.
"Ah, you like that?" he said softly. The horse's ears swiveled forward. "Tha'll show thy teeth at me, but tha's quick enough to come when tha wants something, ay?" His saddlebags were hung on a nail on the opposite wall; he took them down and rummaged to find the curry-comb and dander brush. The door scraped along a well-worn groove in the stone as he pulled it back, and the horse shook its head as if bothered by a fly.
At the touch of the brush the horse's shoulders twitched. He spoke to it gently, knowing that the tone of his voice would reassure the animal no matter what words were said. Gradually the horse settled, and the iron-spring stiffness of it smoothed into thick dark velvet under his hand.
"There, you Moblin's son... not so bad, am I? Stay now, stay... Bite me, would you, you dog? Na, I think not... Ah, you black beast, you son of a mule... You and I are kindred spirits, I think. Ah, look at you, you donkey, you knock-kneed nag, th'art pig-filthy. There now... You like that?" He was running the brush over the powerful haunches now, bringing a shine into the sable coat. Every few strokes he had to pause to scrape clumps of shed winter hair from the stiff bristles of the brush. The horse whickered impatiently.
He hummed softly, tunelessly, as he lifted each foot in turn. There was a little dirt, but not much; under the left hind shoe he found a very small stone and dug it out with a quick twist of the hoof pick. The sleepy quiet of the stables was pleasant, especially after the noise of the inn. He had avoided the bar room when he came down, preferring to slip out unseen through the kitchen, but even at this early stage of the evening the clangor coming from the open door was considerable. The others would soon be having dinner somewhere within; he might even join them, if they had picked a reasonably secluded corner...
--Abruptly he realised, and was so startled he dropped the hoof pick.
He was happy.
Kneeling, he felt around in the straw for the lost tool, and considered the strange and unfamiliar sensation of contentment. He could not remember the last time he had been happy--if indeed he ever had been. But he was actually looking forward to seeing his friends this evening, sitting with them, listening to their chatter.
Thy Master would not recognise thee, old shadow...
Well, and that was a good thing. He could even allow himself to think it now, the thought that he had been shying from for so long: sooner or later, if this quest was successful, they--all of them--would face his old Master. When that time came, he was not sure what would happen. But that was better than the certainty he had had before. The young Hero, just starting to grow into his true power; the Gerudo; the little Princess; he did not want their blood on his hands.
The hoof pick's bright-metal gleam caught his eye beneath a few stray scraps of straw. He picked it up and dropped it absently into a pocket, then stepped back to look at his horse once more. It was contented and clean, or at least as clean as he could make it, and he felt the satisfaction of a simple job well done. He reached out to pat its glossy neck, but it ignored him; it was already intent on the hay. After a little while he slipped out of the stall and carefully latched the door behind him. His bags lay open on the floor; he knelt down and began carefully to repack his things, picking out a few items to take with him to the inn.
The long wooden building was quiet in the dim lamplight and full of the drowsy warmth of horses. He started down the aisle, a bundle of clean but crumpled clothes tucked under his arm. He would wash himself at the basin in his room and come down presentable to join his friends. And why not? Why hide away? Let the world think what it wanted; he would be with his friends tonight, after they had come through such a night on Hyrule's western hills.
His hand reached out for the latch--and paused. Nothing had changed. The horses still blew sleepily or switched their tails. The shielded oil lamp on the sill did not gutter. But he knew, with cold and horrible certainty, that he was not alone in the stables any longer.
He dropped his hand and stepped back.
Stillness. Peace. No answer. A few wisps of hay shifted at his feet, stirred by a breeze blowing beneath the door-crack. Dice rattled faintly outside, accompanied by groans and a ripple of soft laughter.
His skin prickled as if touched by a cold wind.
He reached out for the door again, hesitated, glanced back. The horses were still. No ear was pricked, no eye showed a white. Nevertheless, something was there. Anyone else would have doubted, shrugged it off. A goose walked over my grave. Dark trusted his instincts; he knew too much not to. The horses could not sense the wrongness; well, then, so it was a message meant for him alone.
Calmly, slowly, he turned round. Of course, nothing was there. That too was expected.
"I am here," he said.
And a spreading sense of malevolence that pressed in upon him without mercy, filled the corners of his sight with cobwebs. A mouse skittered in the roof. He staggered back and fell against the drystone wall, cold and clammy like the Underworld, black, velvet black, hot ice sliding on the skin, the caress of a lover, and in the shadows that dark fire, kiss of Din so black, so beautiful, hot and cold like poison fever, watching, waiting, speaking, summoning--
He was kneeling on the floor, stone flags cold through the roughly woven fabric of his clothes. It was hard to breathe. A great weight seemed to be pressing down upon him, a weight of cold earth and stagnant air, as if he knelt once again in that dark hall, before that dark throne...
I will not!
In a moment, he knew, he would faint and be lost. He fumbled his numb fingers to his belt, an instinctive reaction--but his sword was in his room, and anyway there was no enemy here to be warded by iron. But there was something cold and hard in his pocket, something that might do...
The hoof pick clattered to the floor. He snatched at it and dug the point into the flesh of his palm until a thin stream of blood spattered on the stone. The pain cut through the shadows like a silver knife. Abruptly, as if a cloud had drifted over the moon and now broke apart, the world returned to normal. The shadows were gone as if they had never been.
Wearily he gathered his scattered belongings, then pushed himself to his feet. The joy had gone out of the evening now. His hand was slick with blood from fingertips to wrist, bright like paint on his black skin. He looked stupidly at the wound for a little while, as the red drops swelled and slid slowly over his palm. Then he made a small mental effort. The wound closed and healed over. The bloodstains on his sleeve and the floor were already fading in the lamplight.
He slipped out of the side door into the gravel yard. It was raining again, very lightly, and the night air was cool on his face, ruffling his hair. He tilted his head back and breathed slowly and deeply until he was sure he was controlled again.
What happened back there?
The sky was blue turning to lavender, darkening in the east. Huge white and gray seagulls wheeled and screamed above the houses. They caught the last sun and glittered brilliant white-gold against the smoky darkness of the shifting clouds. The birds seemed frantic, agitated. But what did he know of gulls? The sea was strange to him; even as old as he was, he had seen it only a handful of times. Still he did not like to see the white birds flying so, that chaotic, panicked confusion of movement.
A soft gasp brought his attention back to the present: the stableboys had noticed him. Four youths stood or crouched frozen by the side of the long building, staring wide-eyed. The dice lay forgotten on the ground. He raised a hand in ironic salute, turned up his collar against the rain, and headed for the inn door, feeling suddenly very tired and old.
The bronze bell in the Cathedral struck eight. Link, sitting at a corner table close to the fire, looked up at the familiar yet unfamiliar sound. Living in Hyrule Castle, he had grown so used to the distant tolling of the old Temple bell that he barely noticed it; here even the echoes were different as they rolled down wide streets and rebounded off the tall town houses. It made him feel oddly homesick.
The Phoenix Plume was just starting to rouse itself for a long evening of business. He stretched his legs out under the table and watched lamplight flashing off the glasses and pewter mugs as they slid back and forth at the crowded bar. The barmaids--all young, all pretty, all wearing fashionable low-cut dresses--smiled professionally as they swayed between tables, fending off the amorous advances of an occasional drunkard with absent-minded ease. He wondered how much they were paid for their long hours of work, and whether they had been trained to smile all the time.
There was no sign yet of his friends. He toyed with a cup of watered-down wine and wondered whether to go looking for them. Aside from passing Zelda in the corridor once, he had not seen any of the others since they had arrived together at the inn.
The tables were filling up quickly now, and looks were beginning to be directed at him for having one to himself. He shifted uncomfortably. Sooner or later, according to inn etiquette, he would be asked to share or move. A dark-haired woman at the bar was eyeing him, every so often, over her shoulder. He tried to avoid her gaze, and looked out instead towards the door, over the crowded room, as if he was expecting someone. The door banged open again and three men came in in a swirl of rain and friendly greetings, laughing and shaking out their hooded traveling cloaks.
He sipped his cup again, doing his best to eke it out. The woman was still watching him. Just as he began to be certain that she would come over any moment, a flash of startling red hair caught his eye. Sofia was struggling through the crowded room. His heart leaped with a stupid sense of relief; he stood up and waved to her. She saw him, waved back, and began to make her way over. In a moment she was sliding into the seat opposite.
"Goddess! Popular place, this!" she said, sounding a little breathless.
He nodded, smiling wryly, now, at his own nervousness of a few moments ago. "Our bad luck to pick one of the most popular watering holes in Saria, I suppose."
"Nice, though..." She glanced around at the low painted ceiling and oak-panelled walls. Smokeless beeswax candle-lamps burned in wall-mounted holders all around the edge of the long room, one to a table. "I don't think I have ever seen an inn as nice as this..."
"Is Zelda coming?"
She nodded. "I was just in her room. She'll be about five minutes."
"Good," he said, satisfied. "I ordered dinner for half past, so that works out neatly."
Sofia rested her elbows on the table and looked at him, her eyes bright with amusement. "You did, did you? How very businesslike."
"Don't tease me," he said, laughing. "I'm doing my best!"
"I know, I know." She grinned at him. and leaned back, rocking her chair for a moment on two legs. The short sleeve of her light shirt pulled up a little with the movement, revealing a fresh white bandage.
"How's the arm?"
"Hm? Oh--it's fine. It wasn't much to begin with."
"Sofia..." he said.
"What? Link, it's fine. The doctor came while you were out, put a clean dressing over it and pronounced me healthy as an ox. All right?"
He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
"What's for dinner, anyway?" she asked after a moment.
"Honestly, I don't know. I just asked them to bring dinner for three."
"Only three? Oh, of course..." Sofia frowned, then gave a small shrug. "Well, as long as it's hot and in plentiful supply, I'll be happy. Goddess, what a night we had of it... Oh, there she is!" She jumped up and waved, and in a moment Zelda was beside them, pink-faced, her hair slightly damp. Link moved over so that she could sit down beside him.
Dinner arrived shortly, in the form of a luxurious spread of local fare--fish stew, new bread, steamed vegetables and mussels from the bay. They set to gladly and for some time there was no talk. Their last hot meal had been in Mido--was it really only two nights ago?--and it had been little enough anyway.
"Goddess preserve me," Sofia said suddenly, putting down her fork. "Look who's shown up."
A small, indistinct figure was moving quickly through the shifting throng, always keeping out of the direct lamplight. Link had to stare hard to convince himself it was Dark; despite the intense black of his hair and skin, and the entirely unHylian glow of his eyes, nobody was giving him a second look. The shadow was oddly inconspicuous in the large, well lit room. If you took your eyes off him even for a moment, he vanished. Link wondered for a moment why none of the inn's patrons seemed to notice what was in their midst, then realised: they really weren't seeing him, somehow. If Sofia hadn't pointed him out, Link doubted he would have noticed anything at all until Dark sat down.
"He doesn't know where we are," Sofia said, and stood up again. "Hoy! Dark! Over here!"
The shadow looked up as she called, saw them, and hurried over. They moved dishes away as he sank thankfully into the vacant seat. A few people glanced lazily at their party and looked away again, evidently seeing nothing worthy of their notice.
"We're living in the end times," Sofia said. "Dark's come out without his cloak on."
"Funny, Sofia," Dark said, brushing a lock of hair behind his ear.
He looks exhausted, Link thought, and felt contrite all of a sudden. He didn't rest all night--leading Kleox away while we slept. He picked up the jug to pour himself another drink. "I suppose we can't get you anything?"
The shadow smiled tiredly, but shook his head. "I thank you... If it is all right, I came just to sit..."
"You wanted to keep us company," Sofia said. She reached out and patted his forearm as he glared at her. "That's very sweet."
"How are you, Dark?" Zelda asked quickly.
"Well enough," he said, then leaned back and closed his eyes.
They ate for a while in silence, or with only cursory conversation. Finally, as they were coming towards the end of the meal, Zelda pushed her plate to one side.
"I've been thinking, about... you know."
"Now is probably not the best place or time to speak of it," Dark said.
"No, I think it is, because we ought to know what our next move is going to be." She took up her half-empty cup and cradled it in her hands, looking at them over the polished rim. "Are we staying here until we get a lead? Do we give up on this one and try the next? I really don't know how we're going to find out... what we need to know."
"I say we stay here," Link said. "For several reasons, the first being: this is a seaport, and ports are where stories get told. Someone here might know something to start us off."
"I like that idea better than going home with our tails between our legs," Sofia said dryly.
"Dark?" Zelda asked. He moved a hand wearily, signifying agreement or disinterest, one or the other. "Well, that's settled then," she said. "Good. Link, did you--?"
"I sent it, yes. I said we'd probably stay a few days."
"That's it, then," she said again, and smiled a little helplessly. "Start looking tomorrow?"
"Let's talk about it tomorrow," Link said, pushing back his chair. "If we talk about it tonight I'll go to bed with my head buzzing, and I am too tired to stare at the ceiling all night."
His head ended up buzzing anyway; although not because of the third Amulet. Something else was bothering him, and he couldn't quite name it. Something to do with himself. Perhaps it was just being in a strange place, in a strange bed--although he had never had trouble sleeping before. He found himself fidgeting, unable to find a comfortable position.
When the bell struck two, he gave it up as a bad job. Though it was a cloudy, rainy night, his room was not dark; Saria, unique among Hylian towns, had an organised system of street lighting. Throughout the city there stood great public braziers for citizens to light their own torches, and a dozen men in the town's employ were paid a wage to spend the night going from one to another, tending them. One of the fires burned on the corner of the street, in direct view of his window. He dressed himself in the dim orange glow, then went over to the window and leaned on the sill.
It was raining again, not strongly but steadily, and the town was quiet and still. On the far side of the street the tall houses were dim and misted; here and there a lighted window glowed with a softly rainbowed halo.
Link let out a heavy sigh and rested his forehead for a moment against the cool diamond-paned glass. He felt dog-tired but not the slightest bit sleepy. How restful it would be to just cease being for ten or twelve hours--not to be thinking and worrying and wondering without even being sure what it was that was bothering him.
His breath was misting the glass. He pulled out a bit of his sleeve and rubbed one of the diamonds clear again. The small hole gave him a blinkered view of the corner, the brazier under its sloping wooden roof and a bulky, thickly wrapped figure standing before it, rubbing heavily gloved hands at the bright flames--
He brought his arm up and scrubbed hastily at the fogged glass. The shape became a little clearer, and a cold, sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. Where had he seen this before, the huge, broad-shouldered form, wrapped, cloaked, muffled, gloved, so that nothing could be seen of the shrouded form beneath? Only in the desert, and beneath the mountain, and on the heath last night--!
Surprisingly, what he first felt was rage--absolute fury that they should have had the temerity to follow him and his friends even into the town. It was breaking the rules. They were supposed to be safe here! His fists clenched, trembling, and at that moment the figure turned its head and looked for a moment towards the inn, towards his window, as if it sensed him watching. The face below the cowl of the hood was invisible.
His anger left him wide awake now and full of a strange cold efficiency of thought. He stepped back from the window and walked calmly to his bed, the polished floorboards creaking gently with his weight. His sword belt hung from one of the bedposts, the scabbard dragging on the ground. He picked it up and put it on.
The corridor was windowless and pitch black. It didn't matter; he knew his way down. He went slowly, walking on the edges of the stairs so that they would not creak. At the street door he hesitated, unsure what to do next. The heavy oak bar he could lift away with a bit of effort; but it seemed likely the door would be locked too--and the key was not standing in the lock. He did not want to raise a hue and cry by waking the innkeeper.
He shifted from foot to foot, torn, then had a sudden thought. The bar-room door, a little way down the hall, stood ajar, and the dim yellowish light of a single candle tinted the air. Link smiled with not a little relief; he had a good idea who else might be up at this hour.
He pushed the door open and entered. The long room that had been so busy earlier was deserted now; the tables pushed to the sides so that the floor could be swept. A sour spilled-beer smell hung in the air.
Dark was sitting at their corner table with the candle in a pewter holder before him. As Link approached, the shadow glanced up without any sign of surprise and quietly closed the small book that he had been leafing through.
"Reading?" Link said as he sat down.
"Nothing that would help us." Dark looked for a moment at the slender volume in his hands, then slid it across the table. It was bound in cheap black leather with a Triforce heat-pressed on the front. Link recognised it at once; there was another on the shelf in his room. A prayer-book. "You must be bored," he said, laughing a little. "Bored or devout--which is it?"
"It passes the time--something I tend to have a lot of." Dark watched him for a moment. "Why are you here?"
The mental image was back--that formless, ominous shape at the brazier. His amusement fled as swiftly as it had come. He leaned close.
"There's someone outside, on the street corner. Watching this place. Maybe watching for us."
"I think it might be a Stalfos."
Dark's eyes narrowed. "Here? In Saria?"
"I don't know." He rubbed at his eyes. "I'll just tell you what I saw--someone very big, clothed so you can't see his face or hands. He's at the beacon on the corner."
Dark shook his head slowly. "It could be anyone, Link--it is raining, after all. There is nothing strange about wearing a hood in the rain."
"Well, I'd still like to check," Link said grimly, getting to his feet. "The main door is locked. Do you know another way?"
The shadow nodded. "The kitchen--there is a side door with a bar but no lock. It leads to the courtyard, and the street, if they have not locked the gate."
"Let's go and find out."
The kitchen was down a flight of four stone steps at the back of the bar. They went without light, Link having to feel out each step carefully with the toes of his boots. As Dark had said, the kitchen door had a wooden bar but not a lock; they lifted the bar down together and propped it quietly against a pile of flour sacks. The low doorway led them out into the cool, rainy night, past some garbage cans and around the side of the stables.
A wrought-iron gate had been drawn across the arch. Link took one glance at the heavy chain and padlock and cursed. There was no way they could get by without raising an alarm.
"Link?" Dark said softly, off to the side "Hush... look." He gestured to where he was standing and then pointed out through the gate. Link came over, wiping rain out of his eyebrows. At this angle, he could just see the edge of the brazier, some twenty yards away, and the heavyset figure standing by it.
"Is that him?" Dark hissed.
"Yes," he whispered back. "I saw him from my window."
They watched through the bars in tense silence for a few minutes, as the eerie muffled figure held out gloved hands to the leaping flames, rubbed his thick fingers back and forth. Rainwater ran in streams over the waterproofed cloak that shrouded him. Then he twitched the oilcloth aside, revealing a strong wicker basket at his feet; stooped, took a handful of splintery kindling and tossed it onto the brazier. The flame leaped higher.
"Oh, Din curse it!" Link slapped his fist into the palm of his other hand as he realised what he was seeing.
"The watchman..." Dark's eyes were bright with suppressed laughter. "It seems you have got wet needlessly, Link."
"And you too," he said with a wry look. "I am sorry. What an idiot I am!"
"Better a false warning given than a true one unheeded," Dark said, turning. "Come--let us go back. The bar-room is still warm. We can dry off; and you should try to sleep a little."
"Some chance of that," Link said. "I've given myself too much of a scare now. I think I'll just sit up with you and call myself names until breakfast-time."
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