The Far Sea: Chapter 71
THE RITO man did not struggle. Dark hauled him along roughly, bumping him over the stones, moving up towards the cliffs, and though such treatment must have hurt him he made no sound. Link followed slowly with his sword half drawn, the girls walking close behind him. He felt sour.
This isn't right. When did we become the villains?
Aloud, he said, "Call your birds off."
The Rito watched him over Dark's blade, his breast heaving like a wounded owl. "This was not our doing..."
"You attacked us," Sofia said. "What do you mean it wasn't your doing?"
The man seemed to gain some confidence at that. He closed his eyes, drew in a breath and held it for a moment before responding. "Kovanni mentioned a name... Ganon..."
Instantly the evening turned cold. "Ganon?" Link said, taking a shocked step back. "Wait--Ganon's behind this? Himself?"
The steward swallowed painfully against the blade at his throat. "So you know the name... The Prince... seemed to think that this Ganon was... aiding the White Serpent in her sorcery."
"Where is Kovanni, anyway?" Zelda asked after a moment.
Grief showed suddenly, startling, in the Rito's eyes. "He... is not well."
"Because of us?" He did not answer, but his silence was answer enough.
For a moment nobody moved. Then Link cursed and jammed the serpentine dagger back into its sheath. "Let him go, Dark," he said. "He's not the enemy here."
Dark gave him a long, slow, unreadable look, then lifted his sword away with a flourish and shoved the man, hard. He fell forward onto the shingle and lay still for a moment, then slowly pushed himself up on his arms. The small cut on the side of his neck had bled scarlet into the creamy collar of his tunic. He raised his head and looked at Link with clear, calm eyes.
"Will you permit one of my people to land?" he said.
He's leaving the advantage in our hands, Link thought. He glanced to the others, each in turn, then nodded. "One, then."
The steward got to his feet, keeping his movements slow and controlled. He dusted a little bit of grit off the front of his tunic, fastidiously, then raised his right hand and made a gesture. Shadows zipped overhead in the twilight, and then from behind them was the rattle of loose stone under bootheels. Link turned, laying his hand once again on the hilt of his sword. It felt eager to be drawn.
A young man bowed to him and laid a long leather sack down on the shingle, then backed off a few paces and stood with his hands clasped in front of him.
"Zelda?" Link said, but the Princess was already moving past him, stepping awkwardly on the round stones as they shifted under her feet. She bent down, pulled the neck of the bag open, and reached inside. Her mouth formed an O of surprise: she met his gaze, wide-eyed, and drew out his own rosewood bow. Then a curved Gerudo scimitar, a couple of familiar knives in hand-tooled leather sheaths...
"You see," the steward said quietly, "you are armed and we are not. Will you come with us now?"
"To our ship?" Link said, turning.
"They are demanding your return, but they will not hear us. They shoot at us if we come within arrow's range."
He hesitated for a moment more. Rani's gaze was steady and open.
"All right," he said finally, and took the bow as Zelda held it out to him. "I trust you. Let's go."
The Golden Queen had stopped firing; evidently, Janiver or the soldiers felt that they had made their point. As the skiff rounded the peninsula, Link looked up at the sunlit side of the mountain, noting the dozens of scars and pockmarks blasted into its flank, and fervently thanked Nayru that fire-powder had never seen serious use in a land war. If an eight inch cannonball could smash a three foot crater into basalt, what could it do to a man?
Rani handled the skiff well, running it swiftly before the wind and meeting waves at just the right angle to avoid being bounced about. Slowly the Golden Queen grew larger in his sight. He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, leaning back on his seat--feeling simply grateful that he did not have to do anything more for now. He was worn out.
"This was never our fight."
His head jerked up. "What?" he said dazedly.
The steward did not look towards him; he was intent, apparently, on the sea. But in another breath he spoke again, in the same soft tone of voice.
"We did not ask for this to happen. We know nothing of this Ganon, save that he bears you ill-will. And you do not know what we have lost, or may have yet to lose, from this sorry episode."
Link frowned. "Kovanni?" he said. "Prince... Kovanni..? That was the name? He tried to save Zelda and Sofia when they were in trouble."
"The Prince took a grievous wound, in confronting your Ganon or his allies." Rani's voice was clipped, cold. "We do not yet know how well he will recover."
"I am sorry for your loss," Link said after a moment's silence. He sighed. "But it was not our doing either."
"No," the steward said. "That is why we are letting you go."
Shamefully, he found he did not have the strength to climb the long rope ladder. They winched him up to the deck in a bosun's chair.
It was strange to be back on the Golden Queen after so long--the ship looked dirtier and more battered than he remembered. Grim-faced soldiers stood at the bow and aft rails, strung short-bows lying ready in their hands. The kargarocs were keeping a good distance away. He waited at the main-deck rail long enough to see the little skiff come skimming back round the point with a head of golden hair at the stern, then turned and dragged himself down the stair to his old familiar cabin. He didn't even bother to take his dirty boots off before crawling into bed.
"Milord? Are you awake, milord?"
"Uh?" he said intelligently. He forced open eyes that felt dry and gritty, sticky with salt.
Time had evidently passed, for the light was different in the cabin--gray and dreary. It felt like morning, or thereabouts, and rain was lashing against the porthole window. He swallowed with a dry throat and then sat up, groaning as various pains woke up too and made their presence known.
Someone set a tray down on his desk, clumsily: porcelain clattered. "Brought you a sup to eat, master, since her Highness said you was poorly. Didn't want to disturb you afore..."
"Oh," he said, still not quite sure where he was, or what was going on. "Well, thank you."
The man gave him a rather awkward bow and then hesitated, shifting from foot to foot, seeming unsure what to do next. He was middle-aged and very tall, with pale gray eyes and a close-cropped head of bristly blond hair. His face seemed familiar, but for a confused moment Link could not place him. Then his gaze found the white tabard with the Phoenix crest.
"You're one of the soldiers," he said. He'd never seen the man without his silver helm on before.
The soldier grinned at him, showing a set of very good, clean teeth. "S'right, milord. Bret. Will ya be needin' anything else?"
Link frowned and tried to push his hair back out of his eyes. He wasn't used to being waited on--or, truth to tell, waking up to find someone in his bedroom. "I... no, I don't think so... well, that is..." Ugh, was that itchy, salt-encrusted mess his hair? It clung stickily to his fingers as he pulled them away. "I could do with a bath," he said sheepishly. "But I don't suppose..."
"Oh, aye, we've got the water forrit." The soldier winked at him. "I'll see about it, milord, while you're havin' your breakfast."
"Thanks," Link said again. The man made another wobbly bow and clumped out of the room, closing the door smoothly behind him.
For a little while he just sat there, quietly, listening to the old familiar shipboard sounds. The Golden Queen was underway again, and moving at quite a pace by the feel of it. Was it over, then? Were they back on course, heading for the Isles of the Winds? Must be... It didn't feel real yet; too much had happened, too fast.
Something wonderful was filling the air of his cabin. He threw the sheets back and climbed out of bed, wincing at the pull of his sunburned skin, then limped over to the table and sat down. Under the metal dishcover was a plate of salt pork and beans, with a generous helping of scrambled egg on the side. It wasn't exactly what he would have considered to be hot, but he didn't care very much right now. He wolfed it all down, chasing it with a cupful of lukewarm sugary tea.
Food changed everything--he felt a lot more together by the time he pushed his empty plate away. He got up and went to his closet to fetch some clean clothes--his were utterly foul with salt and old sweat--and was just pulling on a new pair of boots when there was a knock at his door.
They'd found an old tin hip bath from somewhere, some dark forgotten corner of the hold most likely, and had managed to drag it all the way to his cabin. He stood aside as the man forced it noisily through the slightly too-narrow doorway, then nipped back outside to return a few moments later with a bucket of steaming water swinging in each hand.
"There y'are, master--anything else, you can call on us."
"Thank you," Link said, meaning it. "Thank you very much."
The man grinned at him again, took the tray and went out backwards.
Oh, it felt good to be clean...
The long dining room was empty, save for the remnants of an earlier breakfast that had not been cleaned away. He dragged a chair over to the brazier and sat as close as he dared, warming his hands above the glowing chunks of charcoal. His hair was still damp, lying loose on his shoulders. It felt very light and fine all of a sudden--probably, he thought with a grimace, because he had left a lot of it behind in the cabin. And a good deal of skin, too, for his face and forearms were sore and tender to the touch.
The warmth was pleasant--it was a clammy sort of day--and he dozed off for a while in the quiet. The door opening woke him up.
"Good morning," Zelda said with a smile, sitting down opposite him. She looked scrubbed and clean as well: her face was slightly flushed. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and she had changed her tunic for a light green chemise. "You slept late... How are you?"
"I'm fine," he said, "better for the long sleep, anyway. So we're on our way, then?"
"It seems so..." For a moment it seemed that she would say something else, but then she sighed and looked down at her hands where they lay in her lap.
"What's the matter?" he said gently.
She shook her head, then forced a smile as she looked towards him. "Oh... nothing. I heard some of the sailors talking today: we'll be at the Isles in a week or less, they think."
"Well, that's good."
"Yes, but I can't help worrying..." She sighed again, heavily. "Anyway, I suppose we'll figure something out when we get there."
He nodded, slowly and thoughtfully, and leaned back into his chair until the fabric padding creaked under him. For a while there was silence, aside from a muffled thudding from somewhere far below.
He sat up. "What?"
She was looking at him, unhappily, twisting a fold of her chemise through nervous hands. "I'm... I'm worried about Dark."
Now he was alert.
"I was up on deck this morning... he's not right, Link. Something's wrong. He... just..." She let out a long breath, then turned her face away, embarrassment rising pink in her cheeks. "I don't know... I suppose I'm just being an idiot..."
He leaned forward, caught her hand and held it. "Tell me."
"Well, he just... looked at me, like he didn't know who I was... Oh, it sounds so..." She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then seemed to draw herself together, finding strength from somewhere within. When she looked back at him, her face was very serious. "This is to do with Koholint, isn't it? What happened? What's wrong with him?"
"Aside from the usual?" She didn't smile. "Okay, not funny..." He sighed and got to his feet, went to the table and stood there for a moment looking vaguely at a large wicker basket of fruit, then turned to face her again. "I don't know what's happened, Zel, truthfully. He was healed there, for a while, of whatever it was Ganon did to him. I... I wish you could have been there with us. He was so... It was like looking at some old dried-up stump of a tree, and suddenly seeing it bloom." He smiled at that, weakly amused by the look on her face. "Sorry, not a good analogy. Why do you ask?"
"Iáru made me doubt him. I hate that. He's a friend, a good one--I shouldn't be thinking this way. But when I talked to him on the Petrel he seemed so cold... he's never talked to me like that before. Not even in the beginning, when we first found him. And then today..."
"All right," he said softly. "I'll go and talk to him."
"It'll be all right," he said.
But it wasn't, of course.
He didn't bother to knock; he was certain that he would be told to go away. Instead, he just turned the handle and walked in.
Or at least that had been his intention. He stopped dead on the threshold, shocked despite himself. The room was pitch black--the porthole window had been stopped up somehow so that only a chink of light could squeeze in--and it was hot, far too hot for the slightly chilly day. Even with the light now streaming in from the open door and the corridor, it took him a moment to find Dark: the shadow was huddled against the far wall beneath the porthole, naked to the waist, with his eyes squeezed shut. He had the Ocarina clutched tightly to his chest.
His eyes opened a slit; he turned his head very slowly and stared, and the look in those blind red orbs made the back of Link's neck prickle. Something wrong was in this room. Something he'd felt before, in a dream.
Link sucked in a long breath through his teeth, steeling himself for what he knew he had to do.
"This can't go on," he said, and stepped forward. There were things, unseen, lying on the floor: his boots tangled for a moment in something soft, some discarded length of fabric. He kicked it aside.
As he reached out to touch the shadow's shoulder, something happened. The moment his fingers brushed damp, hot skin, there was a crack, and a jolt of pain like a static shock flared in his hand and all the way up his arm to his shoulder. They both cried out; he stumbled back, tripped over something and fell hard onto his backside. His body tingled; the muscles of his right arm felt wrenched.
"What was that?" he managed to gasp out, when he could breathe again.
"Leave me alone!" The shadow's bootheels scraped frantically on the boards; he was pressing himself into the corner, flinching away like a frightened animal.
Link sat still for a moment, taking deep breaths of the hot, humid air and trying to calm his suddenly spinning thoughts. His heart thudded against his breast. "All right--look--I won't touch you," he said. "But I'm not having you lying in this mess. Get up and pull yourself together." He couldn't think about this just yet. He had to get on with it quickly before he lost his nerve--just do, don't think, don't stop to wonder. Carefully he got to his feet, leaned over and pulled the shutter open. Light from the porthole, suddenly flooding in, showed the room trashed, clothes and belongings thrown across the floor needlessly.
"Farore's Wind..." He turned around on the spot, admiring the destruction. "You have been busy."
"Close it--no light!"
"No." He started picking things up and dropping them into drawers. "If you're going to act like a child, I'm going to treat you like one." The jug was still standing untouched on the dresser: he unstopped it and poured water into the canvas basin. "There'll be no more of this, do you understand? Now clean yourself up and put a fresh shirt on, or I'll have to do it for you. Don't think I won't." There, that was some of the mess at least. He moved towards the door, then paused and turned back. "Ten minutes, Dark. If you're not presentable by then..."
"Just go away!"
"I will--for ten minutes." He closed the door, then just stood in the corridor, taking long shuddering breaths. It had been fetid in there.
That shock that had gone up his arm--Dark had evidently felt it too. His muscles on that side of his body still felt hot and weak. Wincing, he stretched out his right arm in the light from the open hatch, and then stared silently at the livid bruise spread across the back of his hand.
In the end he went up the steps and took a couple of turns about the deck, in the rain. The cold, and the fresh air, brought him back to himself somewhat.
When he came back down a little later, his hair now wet again and windblown, he paused outside Dark's door for a moment, listening. There was no sound from within. He sighed, and turned the handle.
Dark was sitting slumped on the edge of the bed, his head hanging low. The Ocarina lay on his lap, resting on the palms of his limp hands. He looked like a broken-stringed puppet which had been tossed away and by chance landed in a sitting position. His hair was damp and tangled; by the looks of it he hadn't combed it since the last time they had been aboard this ship. At least he had put a shirt and tunic on, though the drawstrings hung loose at his throat, the collar gaping open.
"Dark?" Link said softly.
"Come on--get your cloak on and come out on deck."
"Do I have to carry you?"
"Leave me alone." His voice just sounded dead now.
"No," Link said. "I'm your friend, and friends don't let friends go to pieces like this. I don't know what's going on here but I'm not going to put up with it--you can walk out or be dragged out, but either way you're coming out of this stinking room for a while." He picked the long black Kakariko cloak off the floor, bundled it up and threw it on the bed. "Put it on."
The rain had let up a little, but it was still drizzling heavily, and the wind was chill as it blew across the deck. Link turned the collar of his tunic up around his neck and wished he had had the foresight to fetch a cloak for himself as well.
They walked for a while together in silence, along the maindeck towards the front of the ship. The Golden Queen still, here and there, bore the faded marks of violence: a dark stain clinging in the gaps between the boards. People had died in that fight, he remembered--people on both sides.
This was never our fight, the steward had said. Ganon's arm had stretched a long way in pursuit of himself and his friends.
He glanced sideways. Dark had not raised his hood, and the rain ran silver in his black hair. The shadow trudged along beside him, moving clumsily with dragging steps, seeming not to care overmuch where he put his feet. His grace of movement was gone.
They were nearly at the narrow stair leading down to the foredeck. Link stopped beside a couple of stacked crates, and leaned his elbows on the rail to look out across the gray and misty sea. The water below foamed and hissed as the Golden Queen ploughed her way clumsily through choppy angled waves. It was quiet here, aside from the wind and water; there were few sailors visible on deck today. Below them, on the foredeck, the captain was a faded figure in a dark blue cloak, made misty by the rain.
After a few minutes he heard Dark draw in a long, trembling breath, as if he would speak. But he did not; instead he leaned on the rail, and closed his eyes, and turned his face into the wind. His hair rippled in the sea-breeze, featherlight.
"It's him, isn't it?" Link said.
"I--" Dark shivered suddenly, and hunched his shoulders.
Link watched him for a moment, then turned and looked quickly about the ship. There was nobody in sight, aside from the captain some ten or twelve yards away--and Janiver had not seen them standing here, would not be able to hear them over the wind and rain. "It's all right," he said, turning back. "We're alone." He waited a few moments more, and then sighed. "Look, the last thing I want to do is pester you, but I have to know. If... there's going to be a danger to us, I have to know."
"He is awake," Dark said softly. "Awake and calling me... I..." He closed his eyes. "I try to... to remember, how it was on Koholint, but I... I cannot... it... seems... so far away..."
Link said nothing. There didn't seem to be much that he could have said.
"I... I am afraid, Link."
"Of him?" he said.
Dark began to laugh. The sound was thin and horrible, without humor. "Him? No... Not him." He turned, his face suddenly serious--and open; for what was probably the first time the shadow had dropped his mask intentionally before him, and his expression was terrible to see. "Link... you may have to kill me."
He found himself backing off a pace.
"Listen to me!" Dark lunged, grabbed him by both shoulders; his eyes flared suddenly. "You must promise me--"
"Do it right! Finish it! You know how! Don't let me come back again--"
"All right," he said, shaken. "I promise."
Dark stared at him for a few seconds more, wild-eyed, then jerked away and planted his hands heavily on the rail. He stood there looking out to sea, breathing in short, panting gasps, with the rain running down his face.
After a moment Link came and stood beside him. His shoulders stung beneath the wet wool of his tunic; Dark's fingers had clutched so tightly.
For a while they stood silently together, watching the rain sweep across the sea in sheets. The atmosphere seemed easier between them now. Link, shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot, blinked water out of his eyes and wondered uneasily just what sort of bargain he had entered into.
"Where's the Ocarina?" he said eventually.
Dark turned his head. "The Ocarina?"
He grinned. "Yes, you know, it's about this big..." No smile. Nobody was laughing at jokes lately. He sighed and gave up. "Have you got it with you now?"
"I..." The shadow's brows drew together, puzzled. "Yes."
"Play it, then."
"Because I want to hear it again."
Dark stared at him for a moment longer, then slowly reached into the pocket of his tunic and took out the Ocarina. It was as beautiful as Link remembered. The shadow held it for a moment loosely in his hands, as if he could not quite remember what to do with it, then lifted it. His slim fingers wandered over the holes.
The first few notes were hesitant, thin and breathy, drifting away to be lost in the wind. His confidence grew slowly, note by silver note.
After a while he turned away, so that his face was hidden as he played. Link didn't mind. He closed his own eyes and let the music carry him away.
There passed two uneventful days. They fell back into their routines aboard the ship, eating together at table, spending the long evenings peacefully together in the long dining room. There was nothing to do, in any case, and nowhere to go. They could do no more for their quest until they reached the Isles of the Winds. In many ways it was a relief to spend the days in idleness, with nothing expected of them; it was a chance to rest body and mind and prepare for whatever might lie ahead.
Link kept his eye on Dark. He told nobody about the conversation in the rain, but privately he puzzled and puzzled over what had happened--that strange stinging shock that had shot up his arm, and which Dark had felt too. They had brushed against each other accidentally since then and it had not happened again. But the bruise on the back of his hand took a long time to fade: it lingered on day after day, a visual reminder of something inexplicable.
On the morning of the third day, they reached their destination. The day dawned pale and clouded, with a blanket of white stretched across the width of the sky; the water was calm and still, an ocean of silver ripples. The Isles of the Winds appeared first as a scatter of dark needles rising out of the water ahead. Link stood at the front of the ship with the captain and watched them grow, feeling a sense of nothing so much as disappointment. This was what they had come so far to find; these tiny spires had brought him and his friends over eight hundred miles, to the very limits of their knowledge. They looked very small.
The needles, as the ship came closer, were revealed to be dozens of rocky cliffs and towers jutting from the sea: sad remnants of islands shattered by the vicious weather. Clouds of seabirds circled, dipping to the sea and sweeping up again in noisy shrieking flocks. The ship turned ponderously toward one of the larger masses, a looming flank of black stone veined with crimson. Conspicuous at one end, a slender spire of rock rose high into the sky. "Grand Needle," Captain Janiver said when he enquired. "Biggest island in the archipelago. Grand Needle port's the main trading post, and the only harbour deep enough for us."
"What happens if we need to visit the other islands?" Link asked, suddenly concerned. Such a problem had not occurred to him before.
"You'll have to charter a small boat, lad, or take one of the skiffs." The captain smiled. "I shouldn't worry overmuch. There's plenty folk on Grand Needle who'll take you out for a small fee."
The port of Grand Needle lay within a horseshoe-shaped bay, ringed by vast cliffs; it was with some difficulty and a lot of shouting that the Golden Queen maneuvered through the narrow opening. A small crowd was already gathered on the harbourside to watch the ship come in. Zelda joined him and they stood together at the prow until the gangplank finally rattled down.
"Well," he said with a smile, "this is it."
She nodded thoughtfully, but said nothing in reply.
"Hardly seems real, does it?" He leaned on the rail, staring at the town spread out before him. Grand Needle port was perched precariously on the sloping cliffs; some of the houses had been partly dug out of the rock. Roofs were tiled; thatch would have been torn away by the winds that had blasted and bent double the trees atop the hill. Narrow streets wound up and down at astounding angles, or turned into long flights of steps to ascend the steepest slopes. He sighed then. "I have never been so far from home before. Storms, bird-folk, magical islands... Do you think the return journey will be as exciting?"
"Nayru," she said, laughing, "I hope not! I have had quite enough excitement already, even if you haven't. Anyway, we can't go home yet--we still have to get in contact with the Zoras." Her expression fell. "I wish I knew how we are going to do that," she added in a quieter voice. "I have been thinking and thinking, and I can't come up with anything."
"I wonder what's going on at home right now," Link mused.
"You're not even listening to me, are you?"
"I'm trying." He grinned at her. "My head is just too full of other things right now."
"Well, that makes a change," she said crisply. "Usually it's empty."
"Zel, that was below the belt."
She poked him sharply in the ribs. "I was joking, you peahat. But try to empty your head for a little while at least, all right? We really need to concentrate on this."
"I know, I know..." He smiled at her for a moment, then turned his face away, looking up at the island. "I was just wondering. Zelda, we have been away from Hyrule for a long time--weeks now, by my reckoning."
"Oh, how terrible," she said, giggling. "Weeks without a Hero. Link, I am sure Hyrule can look after itself for that long."
"Hey! You two!" Sofia waved at them from the harbourside. "Are you coming?"
"We're coming," Link called back. "Give us a minute!"
"Well, hurry up--everyone's waiting for you!"
They reserved rooms in the town's only inn, a shambling wooden building called the Wayfarer; the quarters were plain but welcoming. Link had just about finished unpacking the small bag he had brought with him, when there came a light knock on his door.
"It's open," he called, and shoved a drawer closed with his foot.
The door swung open a little way, creaking, and Zelda poked her head through the gap. "Sofia and I are going out to look around the town," she said eagerly. "There's still plenty of light in the day. Do you want to come?"
He thought about it. He was eager to see the town--but truthfully, he was feeling very tired; it had been a long day, though much of the morning had been taken up with waiting. They would have a good week to spend here at the least. And he hadn't quite found his land-legs yet--he still felt a bit as if he was still on the ship; the ground was swaying under him. "Not today," he said at last. "I'll come tomorrow, all right? Bring me back a cake or something if you're looking round the shops."
As he had hoped, she laughed. "All right--if we go past any cake shops, I'll be sure to think of you!"
"Good luck," he said.
She nodded, a little more seriously, and stepped back out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her. He heard her running down the corridor to the stairs, her feet thudding loudly on the hollow boards.
It was quiet in the inn once the girls had gone. He put his last few things away, then poked about the room for a little while, looking along shelves and in the bottoms of cupboards. It was a little smaller than his cabin on the ship, but probably a little more comfortable: he had an easy-chair, albeit rather battered, and a fireplace with a fire ready laid. He dug out his tinder-box from amongst his things and lit the fire, then took the most interesting-looking book down off the shelf.
As he was sitting down he heard a soft trill of music from the next-door room. He smiled quietly, knowingly, to himself and settled the book on his knees.
It was full dark before the girls returned to the inn common-room, shivering and damp from drizzle. They were both tired and dispirited; they had spent hours roaming the docks and harbourside, asking all they met whether they had seen or heard of Zoras in the area around the islands. They had been laughed out.
"Nothing," Zelda said, accepting a steaming cup as she sat down. "Nobody knows anything. We tried everywhere. Taverns, mapmakers, the fish market..."
"About ten people directed us to a boat called the Zora's Tail," Sofia added, looking glum.
"Either they haven't heard of them at all, or they think we're asking about some sort of mythical water sprites." She sipped and made a face. "Bleah. What is this?"
"Tea," Link told her bluntly. "I did my best."
"Oh. In that case it's very nice." She swirled the liquid around in the cup and then set it down carefully. Her face was drawn as she looked up. "Link... I'm starting to think that this might have been a wild goose chase. The people here simply don't know Zoras. I ended up spending half my time trying to explain exactly what they were." She sighed. "It just seems such a let-down. We came all this way for nothing..."
"I wouldn't say nothing," Link told her. "After all, we did meet Iáru. We know so much more than we did. Don't lose hope yet!"
They stayed on at Grand Needle for several more days, waiting as the Golden Queen was re-outfitted for the long return journey. Zelda used the time to make some enquiries around the town, unsuccessfully; Link took up with the crew of a fishing boat and went with them to some of the other islands, Thorn Point and Eelback. He came back dejected and alone.
On the evening before they were due to sail, he went down with her to the sea-front, having no particular desire in mind other than to bid farewell to the place. It was deserted in the dusk and felt incomplete without the noise and bustle. They walked together along the harbour wall, speaking little, and only of things unrelated to the Quest. At length there was nothing more to be said. She stood hand in hand with him at the end of the quay, looking out across the water as darkness spread towards them. Grand Needle harbour faced eastwards, into the gathering night. Towards Hyrule.
"Have we failed, then?" Zelda asked quietly, breaking an uneasy silence. She did not elaborate, but both of them knew what was meant.
"Not yet," he said.
"But what are we going to do, Link? They live on their own, as far as the histories tell us, and avoid Hylians whenever they can--there's no reason they would ever come up here to talk to us. And we can hardly go down there to find them. How can we do this?"
"I don't know."
"We've lost, Link, can't you see? We might as well just give up and go home. At least if we can't get the Water Medallion, Sepultura won't have it either--"
"Zelda, don't." The sudden passion in his voice startled her into silence. "Don't give up! We'll do this. Somehow or other, we will."
"Well, tell me how," she said sullenly. She pulled her hand out of his and turned, looking morosely across the harbour. A forest of bare masts rocked and creaked with the motion of the tide: fishing boats, yachts, skiffs, a flat-bottomed merchant vessel, and over everything the bulk of the Golden Queen casting its long shadow. A flash of colour in the twilight caught her eye. One small vessel still had its flag up--a ragged scrap of red, brilliant in the last of the evening light. Only the flag was visible nodding above the gathered mass of boats. Zelda breathed in sharply, and her eyes widened. She started to run back along the harbour wall.
The Stormy Petrel was moored in a tight space between two much larger boats. Up on the mast's crossbar, above the furled sail, a large white seagull perched with ruffled feathers and half-lidded eyes. Zelda stood breathless from her run, gazing across at the familiar paint-splashed hull, as Link came puffing up beside her. "What?" he asked. She grabbed his arm and he stopped and stared with her.
"That's his boat, isn't it? I'm not imagining it?"
Link gave her a look, and then cupped his hands to his mouth. "Stormy Petrel ahoy!"
There was a clatter from within. The cabin door opened. Silvery, long-limbed, Iáru looked out at them. "Oh," he said flatly. "It's you."
"What are you doing here?" Zelda asked disbelievingly, and then in dawning hope, "Did you change your mind about helping us?"
He went back inside and came out with an old hardwood plank, which he threw across the gap. They came over slowly, unsure of themselves. Iáru looked them up and down. "Hmph," he said, and went back into his cabin.
"Iáru?" Zelda said timidly.
"No, darling. I haven't changed my mind." He put his head out again. "I told you, didn't I, I had things to do?"
She looked at Link, who shook his head in faint puzzlement. "All right then," she called. "Why are you here?"
"I've done them."
He grinned at them both as he came out again, enjoying their amazement: they, standing together on the deck, utterly confounded. In another heartbeat Zelda ran forward and tackled him, wrapping her arms around his neck; he stumbled back a step. His skin was warm and very smooth, not in the least what she had expected.
Iáru looked appalled as he pulled himself away from her. "Never," he said, "do that again."
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