The Far Sea: Chapter 70
ZELDA spent most of the return journey sitting below, with Link. He slept on, waking occasionally to ask for water, only to fall asleep again moments after she gave him the cup. It was not long to midday before he finally roused himself enough to speak with her. She helped him sit up, bundling a blanket to give him something soft to lean back on.
"Do you want to talk?" she said quietly, when he was comfortable again.
His green eyes were still and solemn in the gloom. "If you like, I will, but you'll probably think I'm mad when you hear what I have to say."
A shadow moved in the darkness beyond the lantern's light. Zelda glanced that way quickly before answering. "I know something happened to you both, now. I've seen the ocarina. But what little I have heard has only confused me more--"
"The ocarina?" he broke in, holding up a hand to stop her. "The ocarina's here?"
She nodded, and could not avoid another glance towards the back of the hold. "It was in the boat with you when we found you. Dark has it right now."
"He played it," Link said, and began to laugh softly. "Zel, you should have heard... he played it so beautifully. And there was the time when the ball got stuck in the chestnut tree. I promised myself I would tell Sofia about that someday, just to see her face."
"Link, you're scaring me."
He blinked and smiled faintly for a moment. His eyes, when he turned to her, were clear. "I told you you'd think I'm mad. I'm not. I'm just tired and not making much sense at the moment. I'm trying to tell you what it was like, that's all."
Zelda took a long breath. "Suppose," she said, "that you tell me everything. Start from the beginning."
He spoke, and she listened, and somewhere in the shadows the dark shape must have listened too. It took a long time before the weak voice failed and faded. When at last he had fallen silent, she sat still, thinking, with an inexpressible sadness in her soul.
"I'm sorry for him," Link said, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against the wood. "He wanted to come back all along, really. He was a Hero, sworn to protect Hyrule; his heart was there all along. But he couldn't do it, couldn't destroy the island and the people he'd grown to love. I'm not sure I could have, if it weren't for Dark... and for you." He smiled then. "I thought about you, Zel. It tried to make me let go, but I kept hold of you. Your voice calling me brought me back."
"And now we have the Ocarina of Time." She moved close to him, leaning towards his warmth in the darkness, and he put an arm around her shoulder. "Whatever good it might do us," she added doubtfully, and then looked up with dawning excitement. "Link! Do you think we could learn to use it? Go back in time--we could stop Ganon ever coming to Hyrule!"
"Put that out of your mind." Dark's voice was sharp, scornful. "You do not understand, not in the least. Go back in time? The Ocarina is not a device for time travel."
"I thought that was exactly what it was," she said, pulling away a little. "The Ocarina of Time! Link First traveled in time with it, didn't he?"
His eyes gleamed out of the shadows, two slitted orbs of red. "At least try to understand! The Ocarina moves you through time, through the life you have lived. Yes, Zelda, you might go back ten or fifteen years to revisit your childhood. But then you would be a babe in arms! Do you understand? You cannot go back further--you would cease to exist."
"What about you, then? Could you use it?"
"I will not see it abused for that purpose," he said softly, "ever again." His voice shook with suppressed fury.
"All right, all right!" Zelda exclaimed. "Nayru's Love! What's gotten into you today?"
Link touched her arm; she looked at him, and he shook his head gently. Don't, he said in her head. He's not up to this right now. Let him alone.
"I'm going up on deck," Zelda muttered, and jumped to her feet. She stormed over to the hatch, stamping hard on the wooden boards, and climbed the ladder two rungs at a time; the hold creaked and echoed with the sound of her anger. Link waited until the thudding of footsteps on the deck above had died away.
"Nice one, Dark," he said, folding his arms. "It's quite difficult to make her genuinely angry, but you seem to have managed it. Why don't you try your charms on Sofia next?"
"Who asked you?" the shadow hissed.
"Just shut up and listen. I know how you're feeling right now--"
"You have no idea how I'm feeling!"
"--but," he went on, ignoring that, "that's no excuse for taking chunks out of everyone else. She's your friend, in case you had forgotten. You could have explained nicely, without going out of your way to make her feel stupid." There was a thick sound from the back of the hold; Link raised one eyebrow. "Oh, you're growling at me now? Oo, scary. I'm impressed."
Something clattered and smashed on the boards: pots and pans. "Shut up!"
"That didn't belong to you, if you broke it," he pointed out mildly.
The darkness sprang. His head bounced sharply off a wooden beam; when the stars cleared, he was lying on his back, a black shape looming over him. The lantern fell off its hook, rolled across the floor and fizzled out, leaving them in near total darkness, aside from the shaft of sunlight spilling down through the open hatch. He stared up into Dark's glittering eyes and felt the chill clutch of shadowed fingers at his throat--not tight yet, but iron-strong, threatening. Teeth glinted whitely.
"Well, that was mature," he said.
"What's going on down there?" a voice shouted.
Link turned his head with difficulty, saw a silhouette against the hatch. "Nothing," he called.
"Keep it down!" Footsteps receded across the deck.
He sighed and looked back up to the shadow crouched above him. "Thank you for the headache," he said in a quieter voice. "I'm sure I shall enjoy it immensely tonight. In the meantime, would you mind getting off me? I already feel as if all the skin's been flayed from my face and arms, and you sitting on my chest now isn't helping matters much."
There was a long moment when very little happened. The grip at his neck lessened. Then, slowly, Dark drew back. Link sat up, rubbing the spot at the back of his head. "Thank you," he said. The shadow was crouched back against the wall like a beast at bay, one hand flat against the planks, the other lost somewhere in the folds of the long black cloak. There was nothing in the face that he could see but the pair of shining crimson eyes, wide now, staring back at him.
"Link?" It was a broken whisper. "It... hurts..."
"I know," he said gently. "Stay down here for now, out of the light." Slowly, painfully, he got to his feet, wincing at the pull of burned skin. "I'm going to go up on deck. I'll find out what has happened since we got separated, then I'll come back down and tell you. All right?" There was no answer. He let it slide.
He had some trouble climbing the wooden ladder; he was sore all over, and his limbs trembled with the strain of hauling his tired body upwards. As he emerged into the light of day, he saw the ugly, peeling state of his bare forearms, and winced, knowing from personal experience how long it would take to heal. He looked about with professional interest, admiring the neat little boat, and then sat down quickly as his legs threatened to give way.
His hands, too, were sore and tender, but in a different, deeper way. He turned them over to look at the palms and was surprised; the skin was criss-crossed with fine white lines like old scars. Those marks had not been there before. Tamaranch? he wondered, flexing his fingers.
"Link!" The cry rang out gladly; Sofia trotted across the deck towards him, smiling in welcome. "How are you?" she asked as she flopped down beside him. "Zelda was worried."
"I'm all right." He sighed. "Or I will be in a day or two. Dark is a different matter."
"Oh, Dark," she said sarcastically, glancing away. "There's nothing wrong with him--there never is."
He fiddled with the hem of his shirt, pulling at a frayed thread. "You're wrong about that," he said after a moment. "I understand a little more about him now. If you could only have seen him on Koholint... He was a completely different person."
Sofia looked sceptical. "Koholint," she said.
"Ask Zelda; I don't want to have to explain it all again."
"I can't," she said with a wry smile. "She's sulking in the cabin. I didn't manage to gather why as she stormed past me, but from what she was muttering I assume it was Dark being his usual charming self."
"He's not well," Link said quietly.
"We all know that."
He sighed and looked toward the front of the boat, where the slender silvery figure stood. "So that's a Zora," he said after a while.
"Iáru." She grinned. "I had better warn you in advance, Link, he's a little eccentric."
"In a good way or a bad way?"
"In an... eccentric way."
He nodded, but distractedly; his eye was on a big white seagull that perched right on the end of the Stormy Petrel's prow. Iáru stooped for the boathook that lay ready by his feet, and at once the bird took off and winged swiftly around the ship, spiralling in between hanging ropes to land on the deck a few yards from them. Iáru turned and shook his fist at it.
"Oh, it's back again," Sofia said, smiling. She reached into a pocket and threw the bird a scrap. It pecked at it, apparently out of curiosity rather than hunger, and then left it alone.
Link was staring into the sea-green eyes. A look of wonder spread slowly across his face. "Is it you?" he asked softly.
"What?" She blinked at him.
He ignored her; he held out his hand, palm up and fingers curled. The seagull twisted its head about, eyeing him from all angles, then hopped forward a few steps with wings half-raised. The yellow beak clicked, pecking at his fingertips. With the back of his forefinger, he stroked the smooth white head, then moved downwards to touch the bloodied mark upon its breast.
Sofia was staring at him, a look of utter bafflement on her face. "Link, what are you doing?"
"It's him," he said. "I don't know why, or how, but it's him."
"Who? What are you talking about?"
Abruptly the bird spread its long wings and rose, rowing upwards through the air. It circled them both once, then turned and glided out across the water; this time it did not come back. Link got to his feet and watched it go. In a few more minutes the white speck vanished into distance, becoming indistinguishable from the wisps of cloud hanging in the sky.
"Good bloody riddance," Iáru muttered.
The sun climbed higher and reached its zenith, drifting high in a pale, washed-out sky. It was another very hot day--but humid this time, which was worse for the heat even with the steady breeze.
Still, with the wind in their favour they made excellent time. Their destination was only a few more miles off, and the craggy peak of Dragon Roost just beginning to rise into view over the edge of the ocean's curve, as afternoon headed toward evening.
Iáru kept the girls constantly busy, running about with ropes, drawing buckets of water from the sea to rinse the decks, or even climbing up to make some small adjustment to the sail under his direction. Link would have liked very much to join in and help--he had already fallen in love with the boat--but he simply did not think he had the strength to do so. Instead, he sat quietly on the deck and listened to the shipboard sounds. The Stormy Petrel was a beautiful little vessel--lovingly kept and cared for, with not a bolt or a frayed rope-end out of place. She repaid her owner's devotion by skimming over the sea as lightly as the bird for which she was named. He could tell by the way she met the waves that it would be a rare storm indeed to swamp this boat. Enviously he watched the tall, silvery figure at the helm, wishing to try the wheel for himself but not daring to ask. He knew just how she would be: quick and deft under his hands, turning willingly at the lightest touch...
He closed his eyes and dozed again for a while, letting his mind wander freely over recent events. He had heard now from Sofia the full story of their rescue; what puzzled him was the reckoning of days. By his own account, he and Dark had been on Koholint at least a week: seven days on the island, seven nights in the bottom of the boat. Something had happened to time out there.
A shadow fell over him, stealing the sun's heat. He roused himself and looked up, into the black and gleaming eyes of Iáru. Beyond the Stormy Petrel's prow now like a spire rose a great peak of gray stone, half of it gleaming gold, the other half steeped in impenetrable darkness. "Well," the Zora said, hands on hips, "you're here, or you will be shortly. Would you care to go down and remove your friend from my hold?"
He sighed quietly and got to his feet. "I'll get him."
"You can clean up the mess you've made while you're down there, too. Fold all the blankets and pile them up neatly. And if he's broken anything, sweep it up." Iáru turned and walked away, a tall slim form, his pearly skin reflecting mottles of gold under the glorious late-afternoon sun. Link stared after him, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. Then he went to the hold and climbed down the rattling ladder.
It was pitch black beneath without the lantern. He felt his way across the floor until he found it; to his groping fingers it seemed undamaged, so he stood it up on a crate and left it there.
Dark was watching him from somewhere among the boxes. He couldn't see the shining eyes, but he could sense their gaze locked upon him; the back of his neck prickled. He ignored it and busied himself picking up the bundled blankets, shaking each one out to fold it and lay it down again.
"I know you're he-re," he sang softly. There was not a sound in response, not even the whisper of a breath. He sighed and continued with his task. "You know," he said after a while, "you might at least help me. My head is pounding, I have the world's worst sunburn, and I would much prefer to be sitting down somewhere." Silence. "Look, would you stop trying to scare me? It's not working. I'm not going to be scared of anyone who climbs trees to rescue children's toys."
Now he heard something: a soft puff of breath. It was hardly laughter, but it was progress. "That's more like it," he said briskly, holding up a blanket to match the corners. "I like you much better when you're not bouncing my head off the walls."
"We are here, then?"
"Afraid so. You'll have to come out in a minute. Are you ready?"
"I am sorry," Dark said. "For earlier."
"It's all right." He felt around for another blanket and had it put into his hand. "Thanks," he said in slight surprise, and smoothed it down, wrapping it over his arm before tossing it onto the pile he had made. "That's all of them, isn't it?"
"Yes." The voice was close on his right hand. He reached out and touched an arm through cloth.
"Cheer up--we've nearly done it. We've found a real, living Zora! All we have to do now is sort this mess out and talk to Iáru's people, and then we can go back home to Hyrule."
"I am tired, Link," came the soft voice.
"Well, me too. And I'm hungry. I don't want to do anything more tonight than eat a big meal and fall into bed."
"You know that is not what I mean."
He sighed. "I know. But what else can I say? I'm doing my best." After a moment he said, "Have you got the Ocarina?"
"I think you should keep it, for now. It really belongs to you anyway."
"I am not the Hero of Time," Dark said. There was a cold note in his voice.
"All right," Link answered, shrugging. "But keep it anyway. You can play it, which is more than I can do!"
The shadow did not answer, and he did not push it; instead he crawled slowly over the floor, feeling over the smooth wood with his fingertips for any small things that should not be there. As far as he could tell without light, the hold was neat and tidy. The girls had changed back now into their own clothes, tattered and dirty though they were, and he found their borrowed garments laid out on one of the chests. He began to fold the discarded shirts and pack them back into their box.
He was pulling the creases out of a sleeve when he heard the first sharp report: a heavy, barking cough like distant thunder, that reverberated through the wood beneath him.
His ears pricked: he froze with the garment crumpled thoughtlessly in his hands, and held his breath to listen. In a moment it came again, and again, a series of sharp reports in a broken, unpredictable pattern.
"What is that?" he said, squatting back on his heels. The sound was unfamiliar, yet--or perhaps because of that very fact--it roused in him a sense of nameless unease.
Dark shifted suddenly, beside him. "I know that sound--it is cannon fire." He sounded puzzled, if anything.
"Cannon fire? Are you sure?" What a stupid question... He shook his head, annoyed at himself, then stood up awkwardly, hunching his shoulders in the low space. "Come on--I don't like the sound of that one bit." Urgent footsteps thudded on the boards above, moving from the cabin to the helm; he hurried to the ladder, squeezing awkwardly between the piled boxes, and was up on deck in the space of another breath.
A thin, smoky, bitter-tasting haze enveloped the Stormy Petrel momentarily as it rounded the point; and Link, caught halfway to the helm, had to stop and cough. In another moment it blew over, leaving the view clear to the mountain's flank.
Zelda and Sofia were watching together at the bow rail, a few feet away from the wheel where Iáru stood. They made room for him as he came up, dabbing at his streaming eyes with his sleeve. Nobody spoke.
Directly ahead, steeped in the deep orange light of the setting sun, the Golden Queen turned ponderously, presenting her broadside to the island. Her gun ports--which had looked like nothing back in Saria, just a line of square flaps cut into the side--were open, and blunt gray-gleaming snouts poked out into the cooling air like beasts snuffing for a scent. A flame flashed from the muzzle of one of the cannons as they watched; a shallow crater appeared high on the mountain's flank, and an instant later, as broken rock rattled down to the foaming sea, the sharp crack of the explosion reached them on the boat. The unlit lantern rattled on its hook.
Kargarocs sliced the sky over their heads, arrowing towards the ship.
For a moment they all stood still and staring. Then Iáru cursed and hauled on the wheel, spinning it swiftly. The Stormy Petrel lurched and tilted sharply as she turned in a too-tight circle, swinging back the way she had come. Water foamed up around the prow. Link, thrown off balance, stumbled against Sofia before catching himself on the rail.
"What are you doing?" Zelda cried.
Iáru did not even glance in her direction; he was guiding the Petrel in towards the shore, swinging the boat around jutting outcrops of stone and somehow managing to pick the safe channels by eye alone. "I'm not getting mixed up in this," he said roughly. "I'll go in as close as I can, so you can get ashore, but from then on you're on your own. I'm not risking my boat."
"But you can't--"
He turned on her. "Can't? I've done everything I said I would and more--found your friends, ferried you to Dragon Roost, and I've got a full hold and no chance to shift it before winter, thanks to you. Now what you do from here on is your problem, because I've got other things to do." The Petrel slid into the shadow of the island, out of sight of the ship; the air turned cold around them as the sunlight faded. He moved swiftly down to the port anchor-winch, set it spinning with one heave on the handle, then crossed to the starboard one. The chains rattled out. Juddering and groaning, the Petrel dragged to a halt only a few yards from the surf.
In the stillness the guns barked again. Iáru went into his cabin, brushing by Dark who was standing by the hatch, and closed the door behind him.
They all looked at each other, wordlessly. They had not expected this. "What do we do now?" Zelda asked at last, very softly.
Link turned and looked towards the shore: a strip of dirty gray shingle littered with fallen boulders from the towering cliffs. "Do what he wants," he said finally. "Let's get ashore and then work out what we're going to do. At least we won't have to swim--the skiff won't take all of us, of course, but if we make two trips..."
"But what about the Medallion?" The Princess was nearly in tears. "I thought he'd..." She shook her head, then turned away hurriedly and gripped the bow rail in white-knuckled hands.
The skiff, having been towed back uncovered, was looking somewhat the worse for wear. He untied it from the Petrel's flank and climbed down carefully, stepping onto the board seats. The bilge was awash; Sofia handed him down a bucket and he began to bail the water out.
Up on deck Zelda was arguing with Iáru, unsuccessfully by the tone of it. He paused a moment to listen but could not make out exactly what was being said; he sighed and bent to his work again. He had rarely felt so tired.
When the little boat was riding better in the swell, he reached up and took the small bundle from Sofia, and set it down carefully on one of the board seats, out of the wet. "Is that everything?" he said.
She climbed down awkwardly, and clung to the mast for a moment to get her balance as the skiff wobbled. "We hardly had anything with us--just the book, and a couple of bits and pieces."
"And the Amulets," he added.
"Well, we've got those, of course..." She looked unhappy, turned her head to look up on the Stormy Petrel's deck. "Link--should we be doing this? Just... leaving like this?"
He sighed, then found a smile for her from some last reserve of strength. "Well, if Iáru doesn't want to help us out any more, we can't exactly make him. And I don't really blame him for not wanting to sail into that mess round the point--a stray cannonball could do his boat a lot of damage." He stood up and cupped his hands to his mouth. "Dark? Are you coming, or shall I come back for you in a minute?"
"Let me row," Sofia said suddenly.
He turned, rather surprised. "Do you know how?"
"Show me." Determinedly she sat down and reached for the oars lying ready in the rowlocks.
Link tried not to smile. It was a kind gesture, but a transparent one. He guessed why she had made it, and in truth he was grateful: he had not been looking forward to the exertion. Still... "You're sitting the wrong way round," he said. "Turn round, so you've got your back to where you're going--that's it. And then you just dip the oars in the water and pull them as you lean back--but hold on a minute." Dark had appeared at the top of the Petrel's sea-ladder. He moved across and helped the shadow climb down into the skiff.
There was not room for three to sit, so he stood, leaning against the mast, and guided Sofia's first efforts at rowing. Slightly erratically, the skiff drifted into shore, and its keel ground on shingle amidst the foam of the breaking waves.
He left them standing together on the stones and rowed back to the Petrel alone. The first few strokes brought a wave of dizziness rushing through his head, but after that it was all right.
Zelda was waiting for him at the top of the sea-ladder, looking very cold and controlled--the expression he privately thought of as her Crown Princess look. He brought the skiff in close and grabbed a rung of the ladder to steady it as she climbed down; the swell was quite high, and he didn't want the skiff to be thrown against the Stormy Petrel's side. She sat down without saying a word, and folded her hands in her lap.
"He said no, didn't he?" he said, pushing away.
She just nodded.
He settled the oars and began to row, concentrating very hard on maintaining an even pace. His breath was coming fast now and he tried to stifle it so that she would not hear. Behind them, the Petrel's anchor-chains rattled upwards; well, so that was that.
She was watching him. "Link, are you--?"
"No... I've got it... Tell me what he said."
Zelda glanced back at the Petrel, receding now as they headed into shore on the edge of a wave, and the Crown Princess look cracked. Her eyes glistened suddenly with unshed tears. "I tried, I really did, I said we'd give him all the money we had... I know he's done a lot for us for nothing, I know we don't have the right to ask more, but--" A tear slipped down, glistened for a moment on her sunburned cheek. She reached up and scrubbed it angrily away, taking a few flakes of peeling skin with it. "He knows about the Water Medallion, I'm sure he does! But he wouldn't tell me!"
He sighed. "Never mind. We'll find someone else."
"But what if we don't?"
"We will." He was sweating profusely now, and his shoulder muscles were on fire. He paused for a moment to try and catch his breath, and to push back the gray creeping in at the edges of his sight.
Zelda stared at him, and her expression changed. "Oh, Link," she said softly, "you shouldn't be doing that. Let me--" She was reaching out for the oars.
He shook his head, as much to clear it as for anything. "No, I'm all right--"
A soft steel sound brought his head up quickly; his right hand darted to his side for the hilt of the serpentine dagger. Even amidst the rush-rattling of waves on the shingle beach, with occasional booms and crashes coming from the other side of the mountain, the sound of a sword being drawn was something he knew at once. He vaulted out of the boat into foaming water and then was half swimming, half wading up onto the beach in the middle of a breaking wave. As he stumbled out of the water a kargaroc swept low over his head, and he ducked reflexively; the bird veered sharply away from the beach as Sofia snatched up a stone.
A bird-man was kneeling awkwardly on the shingle, with his head tilted back. Dark had his arm twisted up behind him, and was pressing the edge of the plain Kakariko sword lightly against the exposed throat.
"Don't kill him!" Link called as he hurried up the shingle slope. The stones, worn smooth by the sea, rolled under him, and twice he slipped and nearly fell before reaching the flat.
So this was a Rito... He'd heard Zelda and Sofia's descriptions, of course, but he hadn't expected them to look so, well, Hylian. The man had a shaggy mane of dark hair peppered with gray that curled a little at his shoulders; his eyes, currently flicking fearfully back and forth, were a very normal shade of hazel. He wore a cream coloured long-sleeved tunic and brown trousers tucked into rough grayish calf-boots--the cut of his clothes was slightly outlandish, but would not have seemed that out of place in the marketplace of any Hylian town. Were it not for that peculiar beak...
His eyes focused on Link. He stared for a moment, panting swiftly, and then from the bird's beak came a man's voice, clear and resonant, although tinged with a strange accent.
"The boy in green... and the black ghost... So you are all safe..."
A shadow flitted over the stones. Link turned his head quickly but saw no sign of an impending attack: there were several kargarocs now circling anxiously above, but none of them seemed inclined to land. Slowly he let his anger ebb away, then took his hand from the hilt of his sword. "Who are you?" he said, stepping forward.
"Please... mean you no harm..."
"Speak!" Dark hissed, jerking the man back. A bead of red oozed onto the blade.
"Rani, the Prince's steward... please, you must come with us."
"We're not going anywhere with you," Sofia said coldly.
"Can someone give me a hand here?" came Zelda's voice, strained and irritated. She was struggling in the surf, drenched, trying to haul the skiff out of the sea on her own.
Link hesitated, shifting from foot to foot--unsure who to look to first. "Watch him," he said finally, and wondered whether he meant for Dark to watch the Rito, or Sofia to watch Dark. He went back down the slope, slipping and sliding on the treacherous stones. Zelda looked up at him quickly as he approached, but said nothing.
The skiff was mostly out of the water anyway. He waded in and set his back to it, forcing it up onto the shingle. Stones ground against the keel. It jammed, slid, then jammed again, and he knew he had no more strength. Well, at least it was safe from the tide for a little while. Ah, Farore, he was so tired...
Wearily he trudged back up the beach, Zelda moving close beside him. She let him lean on her for a moment at the top. The Rito man--Rani--had closed his eyes, perhaps in resignation.
He glanced up and saw circling wings above, black against the evening sky. Dozens of them now... but not one of them had tried to land, apart from that first time. Only he and Dark had weapons to hand, and the birds could surely see that... Their reluctance couldn't be because they were afraid of a few thrown rocks.
The 'Prince's steward'--that sounds like someone important. That's why the others haven't swamped us yet. Well, so we have a hostage, if we can just think of something to do with him.
They were all waiting for him to do something. "All right," he said, making an effort to gather his wits. "Listen--we don't want to fight--we just want to get to our ship and go."
"We will take you," the Rito man said hoarsely.
"And the ship? What's going on with the ship?"
"The crew must have got free," Zelda said suddenly. Her eyes widened. "So that's it!"
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