The Far Sea: Chapter 57
SUNSET was a volcano across the sky, larger than the world. Spreading out from the vast horizon, fissures of jagged fire glowed through smoky billows of lavender and misty gray, and blasted the tossing waves with spears of amber light. The very clouds burned; and still the ship sailed on through a sea of flame, forging an arrow's flight into the west. White birds dipped and screamed in its wake.
A solitary figure stood at the prow, forward of the wheelhouse; Link's red hair, gold-tinted from the sunset, tossed wildly in the wind as he leaned forward, staring out over the endless world of water. He had been here for hours--almost since they had left port that morning. His cheeks were sore with salt and the unrelenting sun, his eyes half blinded with the glory of what lay ahead, and he was cold and damp with spray, but he could not bear to look away for long. His heart surged as restlessly as the waves.
Is this how he felt, my ancestor? Link Third, who left a home and a young wife heavy with child...
Few histories spoke well of Hyrule's third Hero, who had done his duty and nothing more--had cast out Ganon and sired a son to continue the line, and then had turned his back on his native land and on the ties of his ancient blood. He had stocked up his little boat and sailed into the west, and the waters had swallowed him. No legend told his fate--whether he had been drowned, or shipwrecked, or had come to some new land and settled there. Listening to his grandfather tell the story, Link had often wondered why the man had done as he did. A sea journey was a great and beautiful thing, but only when there was something to come back to. Why simply vanish? Why abandon a family--a home?
Standing here now, he thought he understood a little better. The universe was here and he no more than a mote in it. What was a guardian of one tiny country beneath the infinity of sea and sky?
There is so much, he thought, leaning on the wooden rail, that I will never know or see in my lifetime. I would have to live a thousand years... and yet even Dark, who has lived that long, knows as little as I about what lies ahead.
A shadow crossed his face suddenly and he looked up and smiled in stunned joy. One of the great white gulls soared only a foot or so above his head, still and straight on long black-tipped wings that curved like the blade of a scythe. He could see the bright yellow feet tucked into the silky-smoothness of the underside, the little hollows at the base of the wings, the red spot on the beak. It hovered over him, matching speed with the ship and seeming not to move at all--frozen in flight against the glorious evening. For one, two, three long breaths it was there, and then the long wings trembled, the body turned, and the bird slid away from him, gliding down the side of the ship. He stood yearning after it, his mind full of white wings.
I could be happy, he thought, out here...
He imagined Hyrule drowned beneath the waters; he imagined a world where there was nothing but sea and sky, and a future Hero sailing over the waves with golden hair gleaming; the forest-green tunic stained with salt. For a little while that thought held him, but then he thought of the rolling hills and the white walls of the town and knew that he loved the land too, in its own way. He was not Link Third. He would pass the test; he would return home with his friends.
"Link?" Sofia called softly, coming out behind him. "Are you still here? You have been standing out here for ages."
"I'm coming in now," he said.
"Good--or you will miss dinner, which would hardly be like you!" She stood beside him, grinning, her golden eyes turned to flame, reflecting the colours of the sunset. Her red hair was tied back in a high ponytail and it flew like a banner in the wind. The sight of her brought him back to land. He returned her smile and pulled himself away from the tossing waves to follow her inside.
Dinner was set out in a long room below deck--the ship was even equipped with a dining room and attached kitchen. Link took his seat with a rather resigned air, expecting any sort of dried or salted meat, or perhaps a stew with beans and dry biscuit--he knew about ship-stores--but when he lifted the cover off his dish, he found a steaming plateful of diced steak and fresh green peas. His expresion was comically surprised, and Zelda, who was sitting opposite, laughed.
"Is this a ship or a floating hotel?" he asked with a wry smile.
"Are you complaining?" Sofia answered, digging in.
"Not at all." Link forked up a mouthful and chewed for a moment, then closed his eyes and smiled. It was excellent. He wondered what manner of meat it was and how they would keep it on the long voyage. Perhaps they had a few sheep or cows below decks. By now it would hardly have surprised him.
They ate for a while in silence, concentrating on the taste and texture of the food; they were all hungry. It was several minutes before Link looked at his companions again, and then he frowned, noticing a lack. "Where's Dark?"
"In his cabin," Zelda said, sighing a little. "I asked if he wanted to sit with us, but he told me to go away."
"I'm surprised he hates it so much," Sofia remarked. "You don't, do you, Link?" She smiled at him for a moment, then grew serious again. "I wondered, actually, if I would be the one to be seasick; after all, there are no boats at all in my country. But so far I feel fine."
"It's not rough yet," Link warned her.
"Then let me know when it is," she said, laughing.
There was nobody to serve them or to clear the table when they had finished, so they stacked the plates themselves and left everything neatly on the trolley. Then they sat down in the lounge part of the room, making themselves as comfortable as possible in the heavy stiff-backed chairs. It was strange, Link thought, to feel so unimportant; here they were merely passengers along for the ride. In a way it was rather restful.
If it didn't become boring. They had brought a few books and games with them, but the voyage would take at least three weeks with a fair wind. If they were just expected to sleep, eat, keep out of the way--
He had to smile at himself then. Is it boredom you're afraid of now? You'd have been glad enough of that on the heath!
"Share the joke, Link?" Sofia said suddenly.
He shook his head. "Oh... nothing. I wonder what Sepultura is doing back home, that's all. Now that we've slipped the leash."
"Well, we're out of it, anyway," Zelda said, sitting back in her chair and pulling the Book of Mudora open on her lap. "Let's enjoy our freedom while we can!"
He nodded, rather thoughtfully, then sat back himself and propped his feet on a low stool. All around him were the sounds of a ship at sea: creak of timbers, an occasional shouted order from somewhere, the deep rush of water against the keel far below. They would be well out of coastal waters by now, the depths below them unmeasured by any Hylian hand.
They're out here somewhere. I know it. He had been certain of it as he watched the waves this afternoon, glistening in the sun. There had been a rightness about everything, a certain quality to the air. And if they are here, all we have to do is find them, get a message to them. It won't be easy, of course, but it can be done, and if it can be done, why, then we'll do it.
The room was warm, the air thick with the scents of tar and wood. Sunny days in Calatia...
Sofia's voice broke into his doze. "Well, I'm going to bed, I think. It's been a long day." She stood up, stretched and headed for the door.
"I think I should go too," Link said, rousing himself with an effort. "Farore--I was nearly asleep in the chair!"
"Too much sea air," Zelda said with a smile. "Do you know your nose is still red?"
He rubbed at his face. "Is it? Never mind--it will go off eventually. Good night, then."
"Good night. I'll stay up a little longer. You never know, I might find something."
"That would be good," he said, rising. "Good night."
The lamps were burning low in the corridor. He hesitated for a moment at his door, glancing towards the next door down. He had not seen Dark since they had embarked; he had teased, this morning, but now he genuinely hoped that the shadow was all right. Still, if Dark was in one of his moods he would likely not thank Link for a social call. Link hovered for a moment, then opened his own door and stepped inside.
His room was still in some disarray; he had begun to unpack earlier, but had not finished the job. Quickly he went about picking things up and tossing them into drawers and cases: boots to clatter by the door, a tin of goose-grease--for his sword, which had seen shamefully little of it lately--into a compartment of his desk. He retrieved a few small necessities from his sea-chest, then closed the heavy wooden box and shoved it into a recessed closet so that the ship's rockings would not send it skidding across the room.
This is it, then...
He sat down on the bed to pull his second-best boots off. For days he had been looking forward to being on a boat again; but he could not feel quite so excited now. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, or simply apprehension of the mammoth task ahead. This is work, he reminded himself, not a fishing trip. You're not supposed to enjoy it!
The room felt stuffy. He went to the porthole window, treading carefully on the boards in his bare feet, and fiddled with the stiff catch until it clicked. The window swung open in his hand, sucking in a swirl of cold wet air and darkness. An exceedingly fine mist of salt spray brushed his lips. With the window open the ship's movement seemed suddenly more pronounced; he heard the water rushing, saw an occasional line of white spreading out into the darkness as a wave broke against the Golden Queen's side. Yellow reflections danced distantly on the black waters, lights from other windows along the great ship, but beyond that small range of light there was nothing that he could see--no sky, no sea. All was black, as if the ship had sailed beyond the end of all things.
The cold wind was making him shiver. He closed the window, feeling strangely disturbed by his thoughts, and picked up a comb from the dresser.
In the mirror, a stranger's face looked back at him.
No... not strange, but unfamiliar as the face of an old friend not seen in many years. He had looked in the mirror this morning, of course, at the inn, but he had not truly seen for a long time. There was a graveness there, particularly about the eyes, that had not been there before; he did his best to smile, and his reflection returned the gesture with quiet dignity. He was thinner around the face, his cheekbones more defined, and the wound he had received on Death Mountain was faintly visible in the lamplight as a thin paler line slanting down towards the corner of his mouth. He looked older, in an unsettling way.
Keep this up, he thought, and you're going to end up looking like Dark--in the lines, anyway, if not the colour.
That struck him as funny; he laughed aloud, genuine happy laughter, and the illusion evaporated. The face in the mirror was his own again, green eyes glinting cheerfully beneath a shock of tousled red hair. He began to comb the knots out, swearing at the clinging salt which snarled the locks at every stroke of the comb.
Sleep was deep and dreamless. He awoke in quite a different world, with warm yellow light flooding the room through the porthole window, and the blue sea full of golden sparks. The sun was behind them, its light streaming out around the ship and on towards the distant west. It was not far past dawn.
He got up and dressed quickly, throwing on yesterday's clothes, then slipped out into the corridor with his winter cloak bundled under his arm. There were no sounds from his friends' doors, and the dining room was empty when he glanced in.
The soldiers seemed to have taken it upon themselves to guard their end of the ship: one of them, a tall dark-haired man of indeterminate age, was waiting by the steps that led up on deck. Standing stiff in his silver armour, one gauntleted hand resting on the short sword at his hip, he looked wrong in the low wooden corridor. Such sights belonged to the cool shadowy halls and high stone arches of Hyrule Castle. Link greeted him as he went past and was rewarded with a grave unsmiling nod. He climbed the steep ladder-like steps and came out on the deck.
A boat at sea, he knew well, is never still; unless it is becalmed, at anchor or derelict there is always some adjustment to be made. Down by the forecastle two men were scrubbing the deck with the mule-stubborn patience of sailors. Another man was halfway up the main-mast, swaying casually on a small wooden platform without ropes or rails, sixty feet above the deck, as he surveyed the horizon. Yet the illusion of peace and stillness was pervasive--until there came from somewhere a huge, roaring, incomprehensible shout and a couple of bare-footed boys dashed out onto the lower deck and up into the rigging. Link watched for a little while with his arms folded against the morning chill, wishing he understood more about this great complicated machine. Then he turned away and went to walk on the rear deck.
Someone was there before him. A small, slender figure, wrapped in a dark blue travelling cloak, leaned on the rail looking back to whence they had come, where the sun lay low over the water like a great round shield of flame. The brilliant light--it always had a different quality over water, for some reason--was caught in the other's golden hair, coming midway down her back now, as it whipped in the wind.
Something strange touched him, something that felt a little like joy and a little like pain. He wanted something he could not name.
He walked over and leaned on the rail himself, a foot or so away. Zelda turned swiftly, looking startled, but smiled when she saw who it was.
"You're up early, Link."
"So are you." He grinned, then tilted his head slightly, enquiring. "What was it you were looking at? I wouldn't stare into the sun if I were you. Beautiful though it is out here!"
"Oh..." She shrugged vaguely. "I was looking at the water. There was a fish, the biggest fish I have ever seen. Bigger than a man, I think."
"A dolphin, maybe?" he said, leaning over. He liked dolphins; there had been many of them back home and he recalled cheerful and mischievous creatures, with a knack for stealing fish out of nets. "What did it look like? Did it jump?"
Zelda frowned, seeming a little uncomfortable. "Dolphins are friendly, aren't they, Link? They help shipwrecked sailors."
"Not a place to talk of shipwrecks," he said, feeling an irrational unease at the word. "But yes--I think the stories are often exaggerated, but dolphins have been known to help people."
"I didn't get that sense from it," she said. "I... I can't describe it, really. It was long and gray with a fin. I think it was following the ship for a while. It... I don't know, perhaps I'm being silly, but it didn't feel friendly."
"Maybe a gyorg, then." He stared down into the water, rising and falling steadily some twenty feet below them. A trail of white foam stretched out behind them, fading into distance and painful light. "There are fish that look a little like dolphins, and they're about the same size, but they have great mouths full of teeth. I've never seen one--you only get them far out in deep water, and never in a lake--but I've heard they follow ships sometimes to take advantage of the garbage that gets thrown off." And sometimes to take advantage of an unlucky crew member, he would have added, growing interested in his own story, but the look on her face stopped him.
"Would they attack us, do you think?"
He laughed it off. "They can't get at us up here, and they prefer fish anyway, for the most part. Just be careful of going for a swim when there are gyorgs around, or one might decide to have a nibble!"
"How horrible," she said, shivering. They stood for a while in rather awkward silence, watching the water as the sun climbed slowly higher. Link tried not to be too obvious about looking for gyorgs--he was curious now to see Zelda's sea-monster for himself--but the shifting glass-slick waves reflected only the sun and the ship, revealing nothing of what might lurk beneath their surfaces.
"I wonder how far we've come," Zelda said.
"Hm?" He glanced round. "Oh--a good way, I should imagine. Wind's been steady all night as far as I could tell, and we're going at a good clip by the look of the clouds."
"How far do we have to go?"
"Only the captain can say that," he said, smiling. "But I'll ask around today, see if anyone among the regular crew might be knowing how many miles we've covered. I would rather like to know for myself."
She nodded again, but seeming not to hear him; her expression was thoughtful and preoccupied, solemn as he had rarely seen her. He could not guess what she was thinking.
"Well..." she said after a moment more, and then sighed, a little. "I am starting to get cold--and hungry. Shall we go in?"
"Why not?" Link said, bringing back his cheerful mood with an effort of will. "With any luck there'll be breakfast by now--or at least I thought I heard dishes below a moment ago. We'll pick up Sofia as we go."
"And Dark?" Zelda asked, smiling now.
He grinned back at her. "If he doesn't bite my head off for knocking I'll ask him. I just hope he'll be sensible about it--if he insists on sitting in his cabin the whole time, he'll make himself feel worse."
They crossed the rear deck together, leaning a little as the wind gusted fiercely into them, and descended the rough-hewn ladder to the main deck. The Golden Queen was busy again, her sails being let out or taken in according to the thunderous yells of the officers. Captain Janiver was standing forward by the wheelhouse, overseeing everything. Another man dressed in gray, most likely the first mate, stood beside him; occasionally they put their heads together for some quiet discussion.
"Oh!" Zelda said suddenly, grabbing his arm. "Look, seagulls! I hadn't seen any at all since yesterday--I thought we left them back in Saria."
"We likely did," Link said, frowning. Seagulls, out on the open ocean, this far from land? Somehow he doubted it. There were very few birds he knew of that did not like to rest at night on solid ground; the great gray-backed gulls of western Hyrule would fly a long way for food when they had to, but they were still coastal birds. Nevertheless, he turned to look where she was pointing, off to the north.
There were birds, quite far off, gliding ponderously against a smudge of dark cloud on the horizon. They were not gulls; their flight was too stiff and heavy for that. He squinted to try and bring them into focus, and counted one... two... three, wheeling and diving without ever seeming to flap their long arched wings. Far off as they were, they gave the impression of great size.
"I've never seen anything like that before," he said. "They're miles away if that cloud is where I think it is--they must be huge! I wonder what they are?"
The voice came from just beside and a little way behind them; it was guttural and low, spitting the word out of the back of the throat. One of the sailors had come up and was watching them intently, a heavyset Sosarian of unguessable age with tightly curling black hair and skin like dark leather. He narrowed his eyes at Link, spat accurately over the side, and nodded his head towards the distant soaring birds. "Kargaroc," he said again. "Bad fortune."
"Bad fortune?" Link said, intrigued.
The sailor grimaced. "Kargaroc, they bring storms. Always fly ahead of them. Bad luck birds."
"But what are they?" Zelda asked. "They must be huge things to be seen that far away."
"Big, ayuh... Sea eagles. They eat fish, eat gulls. Not good to see them, not good fortune."
Link nodded at that, understanding a little more. If these kargarocs killed gulls, which were so revered in the town of Saria and among other seafaring peoples, it was hardly a surprise that they should be so disliked. If they were seen before storms, seen as harbingers, that would only feed the superstition. Understandable.
He was not prepared for what the man said next.
"They say some of them can turn into men."
He blinked, glanced at Zelda's puzzled face, then back to the sailor, who watched him with calm, dark, totally serious eyes. Waiting to see what these strange passengers would make of it.
"Men?" he said.
The sailor's shoulders hunched, protectively, and he sketched a Triforce in the air with his right forefinger--which was missing the top joint. "There are sorcerers out here, lake-boy. Never heard of it? Ayuh, it's our secret, those who sail the Far Sea. Far out, where there's no land for a hundred miles. There are sorcerers who can turn into birds. The kargarocs, some of them are not what they seem. We never hurt a kargaroc. Bad fortune, very bad fortune."
Was the man joking? Was this some sort of trick to wind up the foolish passengers? Link stared out across the expanse of heaving waves, the ship rising and falling in the swell, and tried to figure it out.
The sailor slapped him on the shoulder. "Be easy, Hero. You've sailed before. You know. You'll tell those who need to be told, ayuh?"
"Yes," he said. "Yes, all right. I'll tell them."
The man looked at him for a moment more, fiercely, then turned away and hurried off towards the foredeck.
"What was that all about?" Zelda asked.
"A warning, I suppose." He pushed his hair back out of his eyes and turned once more to watch the distant birds. "For whatever reason, he wants to be sure we don't try to hurt those creatures."
"What, does he think we'll take pot-shots at them?" Zelda was stung.
He shrugged. "They think we're nobles. Nobles will do all sorts of crazy things--" Abruptly he realised what he had just said, and felt his cheeks grow hot.
"Thank you, Link." She folded her arms and glared at him.
"Sorry, sorry." He tried desperately not to laugh. "I didn't mean you--"
"So I'm not noble? What exactly are you insinuating?"
There was an undeniable spark of mischief in her eyes; he saw it, recognised it, and then the laugh that he had been holding back, finally escaped. He doubled up. Zelda made a mock-punch at him, then started to laugh also, helplessly.
"You know what?" he said when he had his breath back. "I'm going to stop digging now. Come on--come in and have breakfast with me. Let's forget about the wretched birds--we can't do anything to them anyway, miles away as they are."
The day wore on, and the weather began to change; the morning's blue and golden promise faded away behind a blanket of thick, sodden gray. By lunchtime it was spattering occasional gusts of rain, and the seas were black and sullen around the ship, little ridges of white appearing and disappearing on the waves. It was too cold to be comfortable up on deck; they spent the morning sitting around in the lounge, or at least Link, Sofia and Zelda did. Dark had still not made an appearance.
Lunch was brought in on a trolley by a sour-faced man, who served them in gloomy silence and stumped out as soon as each plate had a helping. It was stew this time, provided in high-sided clay bowls so that the contents would not slop on the table as the ship rocked.
Sofia, Link thought as he broke open a roll, was not looking well. There were shadows around her eyes, and her face, beneath the dusky Gerudo tan, had an odd pallor to it. Seasick? She was eating, though. Absently, as if her mind were elsewhere.
"Are you all right?" he said at last.
She flinched, looked up and gave him a wan smile. "Oh... sorry. I'm just... tired, that's all."
"Bad dreams." She said no more, but picked up her cup and sipped it slowly.
"Perhaps it's just the first night in a strange place," Zelda offered. "I sometimes have bad dreams."
Sofia nodded. Link, watching her, was suddenly afraid that she might start crying. To distract her from whatever it was that troubled her so, he began to talk, telling her about the kargarocs and what the sailor had said. As he had hoped, she grew interested and began to listen, then to ask questions.
In the middle of the tale, the door opened and Dark came in. Facetiously the girls broke into a round of ragged applause. "You made it!" Zelda cried.
Link smiled widely, as much out of simple relief as at their antics. "How are you, Dark? Come and sit down."
The shadow hesitated by the door, holding it open with one hand. Though it was neither cold nor bright in the long room, he had his black Kakariko cloak on and the hood up, pulled close at his throat. "The ship... it is moving."
"Yes," Link said cheerfully. "They do that. Sit down before you fall down."
"No--it is moving differently to before." Dark came into the room, letting the door bang behind him, and sat in the proffered chair. He was shivering visibly.
"There's a blow coming on, most like," Link said, thinking of the cloud he and Zelda had seen this morning, with the birds flying before it. How had the sailor put it? They always fly ahead of storms...
"A storm." He sighed. "Can I offer a little advice? Don't shut yourself up. Best way to get over it is to stay busy, distract yourself by doing something."
"Doing what?" Dark said sourly.
"Well, you could try talking to people. That's quite interesting. Did you overhear about the kargarocs?" He ran through a quick summary of what had been said. "What do you think--is it true?"
"How would I know? I know nothing about the sea. And the less I learn, the happier I will be." Dark huddled in the chair, eyes half closed, wrapping his cloak tighter around himself.
Link sighed again and subsided for a while; then he had another bright idea. "Anyone want to play chess?"
"I will," Zelda said at once, jumping to her feet. "I'll just go and get the board." She slipped out of the room; he heard her going quickly down the corridor.
The ship was moving differently, Link thought while he waited. He could see it in the candles. The flames, which should have been standing upright, now inscribed a long slow arc in the air, as if they were small hands solemnly waving farewell. It gave him pause for thought. How big, exactly, would the blow be?
By the time the sun was once more tilting to the west, over the Golden Queen's prow, the question looked like it might shortly be answered. The wind was coming from the northeast now, and while the sailors could fix the sails in a certain way to keep their course steady, it meant that the waves now hit the ship at an angle, making her wallow drunkenly between crest and trough. Link began to feel a little queasy himself from the constant rocking, but he kept on reassuring his friends when they asked--wishing only that he believed himself as safe as he was claiming them all to be.
The hour would have been about five o'clock, and he was lying on his bed trying to concentrate on a book, when the commotion started above.
It began with a storm of shouting, of the usual incomprehensible "Hooo-aaaAARD!" variety, and at first he ignored it, having done his best on several prior occasions to decipher the merchant-sailor tongue, without success. But the excitement did not seem to die down; feet clattered on the boards above his head, and the shouting, when it came again, had a hoarse, urgent, raw quality to it that he had not heard before. He lay still a little while longer, fighting temptation, but at length his curiosity became too strong. He tossed the book down on the pillow, got up and staggered clumsily to the door.
The corridor was tilting crazily from side to side, and water was puddling all along its length, spraying in in waves from the open hatch at the far end. He made his way along, slipping and splashing, unable to avoid falling against one wall or the other every time the Golden Queen rolled. When he reached the hatch, the shock of cold water coming down made him gasp. It was more or less fresh: rain, not seawater. So the ship was still sound--that was something to be thankful for.
Abruptly, a hand caught at his elbow. "You mustn't go up there, master--'tis too rough!"
He turned his head and stared at the soldier: a different man from this morning, heavyset, with a close-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. Beneath the silver helm, his eyes were wide and frightened, his skin wet and white. The ship lurched suddenly, unpredictably, and they both had to catch at the wall to steady themselves.
"What are you doing here?" Link asked, feeling inexplicably angry. He pulled himself away. Full armour, on a ship in a storm! "For the love of Farore go to your cabin! You're in more danger than I am!"
"But the Princess mustn't be left alone--!"
"What are you guarding her from?" he shouted back, and scrambled away up the steps, hauling on the handrail to avoid falling in the wet. There was no sign of the sun now. Just a quarter-mile or so off the starboard bow, a gigantic wall of black clouds and rain was bearing down on them. The main-deck was fogged with rain billowing down in sheets; as he watched, the ship rocked sideways, slipping down into a trough, and the sea foamed up and swamped part of her foredeck. She bobbed up shedding water like a duck coming out of a dive, seeming rather surprised and rattled by the experience. Captain Janiver roared from somewhere near the wheelhouse.
Farore's Wind-! He realised, suddenly, that there were men up in the rigging--even now, with the storm almost upon them! As far as he could make out, they were trying to furl the sails, which by now would be almost unmanageable, slippery and heavy with tons of water. It looked horribly dangerous.
He shifted from foot to foot, wishing desperately that there was something he could be doing to help. The captain knows what he's doing--you'll only be in the way if you go down, and that'll put them in even more danger! But another part of him, a part that felt very old, did not want to turn away from trouble. There had to be something--
A sailor caught sight of him standing by the hatch, and screamed something through the wind and water. By the movement of his mouth it might have been "Get below!" At any rate it made his mind up. He stepped back and put his foot down on the first step, intending to go down backwards and close the hatch behind him.
It passed by with strange deadly grace, just a few feet above his head; the shadow crossed his face. He stared upwards in disbelieving awe, shielding his eyes with his hand to keep the rain from blurring his vision. The kargaroc beat its wings twice, very slowly, brown-and-white feathers striking the air with heavy whuffing noises, then banked, dipping its long golden tail, and glided slowly away into the mist of rain and spray.
"Golden Three have mercy on us..." He barely realised that he had spoken aloud. It had been huge! Those outspread wings--they must have stretched seven, eight feet from tip to tip--wider than a man was tall! How could anything that big even fly?
There were more!
Sweeping lazily over the ship, gliding with deceptive speed out of the rolling clouds, the birds--maybe half a dozen of them--sliced the storm's edge. There were cries of alarm and fear from the deck; he saw sailors running below, or making gestures of warding in the air. Janiver, clinging to the rail on the starboard side, was bellowing at those still in the rigging.
Link saw the disaster unfold, saw the kargaroc swoop down toward the gap between the upper and lower mainsails, both by now half-furled. A loose loop of rope, swinging like a noose, caught one of the great scythe-swept wings. Thus snagged, the kargaroc was brought up short in its flight, swinging round to hit the mainmast with a thud that shuddered the whole vessel. The great bird's tense predatory stillness was gone now; it fought and struggled with monstrous fury in the tangle of ropes, downy brown feathers raining down on the upturned faces of the horror-stricken watchers.
The kargaroc's cry was eerie, almost Hylian, full of baffled rage and wildness. Its head, crested with twin plumes like white horns, bore a wicked curved beak which hung open as it screamed, revealing a startling blue tongue like a flick of cobalt fire. Its yellow eyes seemed to glow against the darkening sky. Men were scrambling towards it where it hung at the end of a snarl of ropes and torn rigging. Knives glinted silver-white in the gathering dark--slashing not at the bird but at the ropes which bound it. It did not understand. The head whipped out on its long flexible neck, twisting upwards like a striking snake, and the vicious beak tore a sheet of blood from the face of one of the sailors. He screamed and reared back, his own voice shrill and birdlike through the roar of the approaching storm. His fellows attacked the ropes with renewed haste. One came free, then another. The trapped kargaroc shrieked hatred at the sky. Now it hung by a single rope, the sail above billowing free and out of control. The ship wallowed.
Someone swung. The final strand parted. The kargaroc was free--!
The ropes had knotted themselves somehow during its struggles. Even so the kargaroc fought all the way down, thrashing in blind, instinctive, animal rage. It had freed both wings when it hit the deck, sixty feet below, hard enough to crack one of the planks. Everything stopped.
For just one breath the giant bird lay still on the deck, a mangled heap of blood and feathers. Then the Golden Queen tilted again, dragged over to port as a gust of wind caught her free-flapping sail, and a black wave rolled from one side of the foredeck to the other. When the water subsided, nothing remained but a faint pinkish wash on the deck.
Then the storm was upon them, and it was all a sickened Link could do to heave the trapdoor closed against the gale.
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