Prologue: Chapter Nine

WHAT?" exclaimed Link in amazement. "That's ridicul--oof!" He was flung down onto the ground and any further comments he might have had were cut off by the knee of one of the Gerudo pressing down onto his back, forcing his face into the sand. The young warrior cried out as his arms were pulled together behind his back, for he was still sore from the cobra's bite. Zelda was tied in much the same way, although she was treated a little less roughly owing presumably to her injury. The Royal Princess got out only one angry shout before she was bound and gagged.

"What are you doing?" Sofia cried in the Gerudo language. Running forward she grabbed hold of the shoulders of the tallest Gerudo and looked earnestly into his eyes. "They didn't kidnap me, Galdenor! If anything, I kidnapped them!"

Link and Zelda exchanged meaningful glances, having caught the one word they could have expected to recognise. Galdenor... so the tall man was Sofia's mysterious brother. Link saw him in an entirely different light now that he was present in the flesh. Galdenor was heavyset and muscular, with darkly windburned skin adorned with blue tattoos. He was dressed in the manner of the Gerudo people; a pair of baggy silken trousers and a leather vest; and his bare chest and shoulders rippled with sheer physical power. A winding scar made its way across his cheek and along the line of his jaw, white and faded with age. Galdenor's face was long and predatory--he had a sharp nose and chin, and there were two red spots of angry color high upon his dusky cheeks. His hair too was red, short and swept back over the crown of his head, and his eyes, the same golden color as Sofia's, were small and cold. Link shivered to look at the tall young man, remembering ancient pictures of Ganondorf which he had seen when a small boy in Calatia. How easily Galdenor's rugged features could have passed for those of the legendary Evil King!

Sofia faced up to her brother with her hands upon her hips and a cross expression upon her face. "Galdenor, what is all this? I tell you they did not kidnap me! We went to the Spirit Temple, that is all!"

"You brought unbelievers to the Spirit Temple?" the heavyset young man repeated in amazement. His thick brows drew together alarmingly. "Sister, you are in a whole lot of trouble!"

"I'll answer to my father for that," Sofia snapped, "not to you, brother! Now let them go--they are my friends!"

"I think not," Galdenor said. "They are under suspicion of abducting you, and until they clear their names they are prisoners. I don't know why you feel the need to cover up for them, but it won't make you any more popular with Father at the moment! He is furious, Sofia, do you understand? You left Gaelaidh without his permission--you took two unbelievers to the most sacred place of our people, and you failed to report your destination to anyone who could have gone after you to dissuade you from this foolishness!" Galdenor's voice became louder as he went on, until he was almost shouting.

Sofia gaped at him, for one moment unable to respond to the astonishing accusations. "I told Nabun where we were headed," she answered slowly. "Did he say nothing when my father returned to Gaelaidh?"

Galdenor looked away. "Nabun is dead, sister."

"What?"

The heavyset young man nodded, looking back to his sister. "Only a few hours after you left Gaelaidh with these two, a bigger band of them came through the pass--about twenty they say. It was cold murder--our scouts did not have a chance. Only Imuru and Shar were left alive, and Imuru is not expected to live long. Nabun was one of the ones in that scouting party... the cursed Ălfan-cynn do not take prisoners."

"Goddess," Sofia whispered numbly. Nabun had been her friend.

"I wasn't going to tell you like this, sister," Galdenor said quietly, "but you drove me to it. I'm... I'm sorry about Nabun. But at least you're safe."

Link closed his eyes, and concentrated. All Hylians had telepathic abilities to some degree, and Zelda was one of the more sensitive; he hoped that she would pick up on his unskilled sending. What are they talking about? he asked.

The Princess lifted her head and looked at him; her blue eyes gleamed above the gag which filled her mouth and almost covered her nose. How would I know?

He tried to shrug. That man looks mad. We're in trouble.

It will be all right. Sofia will sort it out. Zelda lay back upon the sand and attempted to relax. Link sighed through his gag, reluctant to believe such an easy answer. By the look of the tall human, Galdenor, Sofia was in almost as deep as they were.

"Come on, sister," Galdenor said finally. "We've all got to face the music eventually. Ride behind me--we'll catch your horses later." His mount, a rangy gray, rolled its eyes bad-temperedly and pawed at the sand with a hoof as Galdenor clambered into the saddle and extended a hand to help Sofia up too. Hesitantly, she mounted her brother's horse, glancing helplessly at Link and Zelda.

One of the other Gerudo grabbed the frightened sand cat by the scruff of its neck and stuffed it into an empty saddlebag, tying the neck of the bag tightly shut. Link was pulled roughly upright and draped over the back of another horse; he heard the Princess whimper despite herself as she was given a similar treatment. The young warrior's blood boiled at the injustice. Fools! he wanted to cry. Can't you see she's hurt? Then they were in motion and he froze atop the horse's back, trying desperately to keep his position without the use of his arms or legs.

"Galdenor," Sofia said urgently as she submitted to her brother's orders, "please, you must let them loose. They are not dangerous!"

"That's for our father to decide," the tall man answered coldly. "I can't take the chance, sister. What if they escaped? Father's angry enough already without that green wood on his fire."

"I tell you, they're harmless," she insisted. "They won't try to escape. They're honourable people."

"Enough!" Galdenor roared. "Goddess, you try my patience!" Pitching his voice a little lower, he went on: "Father ordered me to find you and apprehend the two fugitives, and that is what I'm doing. You think they're not dangerous? Then how come you were still alive when I found you? Leevers would make mincemeat of untrained warriors!"

"Well, of course they can fight," Sofia snapped. "But they will not run away; they are on a quest to save Hyrule and they need to be here. And you repay their hard work by tying them up!"

Galdenor shrugged. "They have done nothing for me yet. Why should I worry about their wellbeing? You've gone soft, sister--these creatures are not humans!"

Sofia's face grew dark. "Damn you, Galdenor," she spat, "and damn your racist beliefs! They may be different to us, but they're just as human!"

"I've heard enough of this nonsense." Pointedly he turned away from her to concentrate on his riding, his red hair rippling out in the wind. Letting out a long and ragged sigh Sofia gave in, placing her arms around his strong waist so that she would not fall. At least their belongings were safe--those that remained to them after the Leevers had chased away two of their horses. Glancing to her left she saw that the sand kitten was safe in the hands of one of the riders; an older woman stick-like and lanky, with a short ponytail that bounced at the nape of her neck. Her name was Yamia, and she was an old friend of their family; she had been nursemaid to both the children when they were young. Sofia's heart was eased in her by the knowledge that Link's pet would be treated well.

With fresh or almost-fresh horses it was not long before they came over the crest of a dune and saw the tent city stretching out before them. In ordinary circumstances the sight would have gladdened Sofia's heart, but now she experienced only a sinking of her spirit. She was terribly afraid that death awaited Link and Zelda inside the confines of Gaelaidh, particularly when the accusations against them were considered. She closed her eyes, feeling younger and more helpless than ever she had for years, and prayed that her father would be lenient. She had gotten the two young Elves out of the frying pan only to drop them in the fire, as the saying went.

The party split up in a thunder of hooves, and Sofia turned upon the horse's back to see Yamia and the two who had Link and Zelda, flying toward the great rock that stood to the north of the city. An escort remained with her and Galdenor as he sped his own horse through the streets toward the tent of their father. "Galdenor, where are they taking them?" she asked urgently.

"To the Stan-steall," her brother answered roughly.

"No!" Sofia cried furiously. The Stan-steall, the Place of Stone, was an impregnable fortress; its cells, carved from the living rock beneath the desert, were the last resting place of those destined to be condemned. "Galdenor, they are not guilty! You must tell him the truth!"

"I'll tell him what I know," he said finally. "You'll have your own chance to speak up, sister." Slowing the horse to a trot he approached the tent of Thorkelin and stopped outside. "Go see Father," he said more gently. "He was worried about you, you know. And say nothing about going to the you-know-what yet!"

Sofia slipped off the back of her brother's gelding with a sigh, and as he turned his horse she looked up at him with a pleading expression in her eyes. Comically in such a large man, Galdenor actually squirmed as he met her eyes. "You know they're not guilty," she said quietly. "I wasn't being forced to go with them, was I?"

"It certainly didn't seem so to me," Galdenor admitted with a faint shrug. "And I can't think of a reason for you to support them if they really abducted you. But you'll have your work cut out to prove that. You know what people are about... them." He had not said the word that was an oath in their tongue, and she was grateful to see that in his way, Galdenor was telling her he believed her. "I'll have a horse sent round to you soon," he said by way of farewell, and skilfully wheeled his horse, urging the animal into a gallop. Sofia bit back a sob as she watched her brother ride away.

"Daughter?" That was a voice she knew as well as her own. With a cry she whirled and flung herself into the arms of her father, who stood at the entrance of his tent. King Thorkelin caught her and enfolded her in a powerful bear-hug. "You're all right," he whispered into her hair. "I was so worried..!"

 

 

Link sighed loudly. "How do we get into these situations?" he complained to the world.

He and Zelda had been thrown--literally thrown--into a dank and rocky prison cell with only a heap of rancid straw to soften the damp and uneven floor. The Princess's slashed leg had been given a cursory treatment by an elderly man who roughly washed and bound the wound, and then they had been taken to this place and left on their own. Heavy manacles had been fastened around their wrists--as if they could even think of breaking the thick iron bars that held them in! Zelda was being astonishingly brave. Stoically she bore the discomfort of her injury, insisting that they share the slight comfort afforded them by the straw, and now they sat against the wall side by side upon the rough bedding. Water dripped somewhere, and the straw stank.

"At least they didn't just kill us," Zelda said miserably. "That big man looked furious."

"That's not all he looked like, either," Link answered, his voice low; he did not believe that the Gerudo guard outside could understand Hylian, but he was taking no chances. "Zel, did you see? You noticed the resemblance?"

"To the Evil King?" Zelda asked with a weak laugh. "Oh, yes. The only difference I could see was that he was younger by some thousand years! He is a direct descendant of Ganondorf! He must be!"

"Which would mean that Sofia is, too," Link marveled softly. "Din's Fire!"

"We mustn't judge her by her parentage," Zelda ordered. "That would be wrong. I trust her, Link--I was unsure at first whether to, but she proved herself true again and again."

The young warrior frowned in the gloom, and shifted; the chain clanked. "But I never knew of Ganon having a child, Princess... it was not in the histories that I read."

"It would have been a well-kept secret," Zelda said thoughtfully. "I can think of few who would wish to admit having him as an ancestor!"

"There's Gerudo blood in my family too," Link told her sadly. "It goes way back, almost to the Hero of Time. I think it was either his son or his grandson who married a Gerudo."

Zelda's eyes widened. "You could be related to Ganon too!" she exclaimed with a start.

"I hope not," he said, dryly. "I have spent my whole life trying to kill him. I would not like to find that he is some great-great uncle of mine!"

There was a momentary silence, and then the young warrior laughed softly. "Well, there is one good thing that has come out of this!"

Zelda glanced at him. "Name it," she said sarcastically.

"Me ■in mod-sefa licao leng swa wel."

"Nayru! you said it right!"

He smiled wryly. "Well, while we were on our way here I had plenty of time to perfect it to myself. I shan't forget it in a hurry, I can tell you!"

"I don't suppose it will do much good to know it anyway, now," Zelda said hopelessly. "Obviously they are already convinced we are criminals--otherwise why would we be here in this horrible place?" A little of her real fear showed through the courageous mask she wore, and Link tried to put his arm around her for comfort; the manacles upon his wrists prevented him and he settled for touching her shoulder gently.

"Courage, Princess," he told her softly. "I've been in worse places before."

"Oh, yes?" Zelda fired, a little of her spark returning to her. "Where?"

Link shrugged. "I can't remember right now. But trust me, this will turn out all right in the end!"

The Princess savagely forced back the sniffles which threatened to overcome her at his courageous words. "How do you know?" she countered, the stress putting more of an edge in her words than she might have had otherwise.

He laughed again. "Nayru! you don't think the Goddesses would do this to us when we've only just started on our quest, do you? They're fairer than that, Zelda!"

She leaned her head upon his shoulder, and allowed a few tears to come. The events of the past few days were catching up with her, but she would not let herself give way before misfortune--never! But he had heard her stifling her sobs and she knew he was looking at her in concern. His sweet and caring nature touched her heart and she felt a great wash of sorrow rise up in her throat. "My hair's all tangled," she said stupidly, and burst into tears.

 

 

Sofia reclined on a pile of heavily embroidered cushions as her own hair was brushed and re-braided by attendants; her father stood facing her, his head down. Thorkelin was, like his son Galdenor, a tall and powerful-looking man; his face was craggy and he cultivated a small and neatly trimmed beard. His red hair, shot through with twists of gray, was just long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail. He was dressed more fully than most of the Gerudo; as well as the silk trousers and leather vest he wore a dark blue cloak, richly embroidered and lined with more silk. The Gerudo King's stern face was twisted into a mixture of relief and anger as he spoke. "Where in the Realms have you been?"

"On a journey," she answered uncomfortably, knowing that her inadequate answer would not please him. "Father, please... you have to release Link and Zelda. They had nothing to do with it."

"They were with you, weren't they?" Thorkelin boomed. His voice, cracked by years of desert life, growled in his chest like a sand cat's snarl. "If they hurt you in any way, daughter, I'll have them killed-!"

"No!" Sofia cried, starting up. "Father, it was I that took them away from Gaelaidh, not the other way around! I tell you, they're innocent! They only came out here in the first place because they were looking for help!"

"Help with what, daughter? What would they want with us?"

"Help to right an ancient wrong," she said, watching her father with bright intent eyes. "You know what I'm talking about. They came here because they've found a way to destroy him. Forever."

"There is no way," Thorkelin said bluntly, turning to pace around the confines of his tent. "If they weren't lying, they were stupid."

"But there is a way!" Sofia exclaimed. She jumped up, pulling her hair away from the handmaiden's grasp. Unbound it fell about her face and shoulders in long twisting tresses. "The Goddess told us there was!"

The King whirled dangerously. "What?" he growled in disbelief. "She appeared to the unbelievers?"

"She spoke to all of us," Sofia elaborated in a calmer voice. "Link and Zelda came here to seek information about the Knights of Hyrule--it's said they're the ones who fought back Ganon in the beginning. I believed their story and so I went out into the desert with them, and the Goddess told me that it was true. Link--the young man--is descended from the Hero of Time," she added, remembering what she had learnt of her companions' history. Perhaps it might not be prudent to tell her father about Zelda's parentage just yet!

"I don't believe you," Thorkelin said finally. "I've tried to understand why you would want to protect these Ălfan scum, but this story simply makes no sense. The foreigners will be judged fairly, this I promise you, so go and rest. And tell me no more of these stories! I will see them tomorrow for myself and then I'll make whatever decisions must be made."

"I want to see them," Sofia said determinedly, taking heart from his controlled demeanour. "Father, Galdenor said they were being taken to the Stan-steall. I want to talk to them first."

"Goddess!" Thorkelin exploded in a fury of kingly rage. "You'll do as I tell you! Now go!" Without waiting for her answer the King whirled and stomped out of the tent, pulling the flap roughly closed behind him.

Sofia snatched a band of green silk from the hands of her unfortunate attendant, and tied her hair into a semblance of a ponytail, then she hurried from the tent herself. She had to find her brother.

 

 

Galdenor paced, much like his father had done, around the circle of his tent. The woven pattern was of black and gold thread, golden moons and stars upon black cloth, and the interior of his dwelling was somber even with the candles that were kept burning day and night. A red and gold hanging cloth screened his sleeping area from the rest of the tent, which lacked all but the most cursory furniture; a wooden table upon which lay scrolls and writing materials, and a high-backed chair.

Flicking back his red hair the young Gerudo strode over to the screen and pushed it aside. Behind lay a rumpled pallet and a big wooden chest; he opened the chest, which was not locked, and withdrew a fat book. Riffling through the well-thumbed pages Galdenor found the picture which he had looked at often since he was a small boy--the face of the so-called Evil King. Ganondorf looked out through time and space from the two-dimensional world of the page; his amber eyes seemed at once noble and careworn, his hair a flame in the darkness. This was the Ganondorf in whom Galdenor believed; the man he had played at being when he was a child. The Ganondorf who had won his place by trial of combat, who had led his people to new lands when the drought devastated their holdings in the canyon, and who had singlehandedly tracked down and killed the maurauding Lion of Teth that preyed upon the horses of the Gerudo... not the one Link and Zelda knew from their own different histories.

Upon the facing page was the better-known visage of the Hero of Time. The artist's brush had not been kind to this figure from the past. The blue eyes of Link First were chips of cold ice, his fine nose a blade, his expression a cold, cruel glare. The faint trace of a scar marred his otherwise perfect cheek. He, not Ganondorf, looked the sort of person who would go after the Triforce of Power in order to rule the world.

Galdenor was not sure what to believe. The boy they had unwittingly rescued from the Leevers--he looked a little like the picture in the book. But not enough! His face was gentle and kind, and there was little doubt about his courage in standing up to the plantlike monsters. All his life Galdenor had believed that the Ălfan-cynn were a cowardly lot who cared for little but their own advancement, and he could no longer believe that true... at least, not of all of them.

"Galdenor?" It was Sofia. "Are you there?"

He jumped guiltily, and closed the book with a snap. "Just a minute!" he called, pushing the tome back into the chest and lowering the lid. In a second he pulled back the screen and stepped out. "Hello, sister," he said warmly. "You survived, then."

She sighed. "Daddy was furious... you were right. I think they're going to kill Link and Zelda. Listen, brother, you have to help me get them out of this!"

"Now wait just one damned minute," Galdenor began. "Why are you so set on saving them? What happened to you when you were out there with them?"

"Listen to me for a while, big brother," Sofia said quietly, coming up to him and taking his hand--her own slender fingers were dwarfed by his heavy paw. "I'll tell you everything, fair as fair, and then it's your decision."

She told him.

 

 

The candle, almost new, was burned down halfway to the holder by the time Sofia could explain everything to her brother's satisfaction. "Knights of Hyrule?" Galdenor frowned, barely able to make the imaginitive leap necessary to believe her story. "Like the Hero of Time? To destroy Ganon? And the Goddess herself spoke to you of this?"

"That's about it," Sofia agreed with a little sigh. "Do you see how important it is that Link and Zelda don't die?"

"But I thought that..." Galdenor stopped, not knowing what he thought. It seemed inconceivable that three randomly chosen people could hope to become heroes as great as Link First, and he said so.

"We're not a random selection, not in the least," she contradicted. "We all share the same history. Link is descended from the Hero of Time. And Zelda..." She looked around uneasily, and then stood on tiptoe to whisper in her brother's ear. "She's the Hylian Royal Princess."

"What?" Galdenor exclaimed in astonishment. "Why's she out here all alone?"

"It's her quest too," Sofia answered. Her eyes narrowed slightly as a new thought struck her. "She didn't tell her father where she was going, either."

"What a mess," he marveled softly. "There's a damned good reason for not killing her then... we might bring their entire people down on our heads. She's probably the reason our scouting party was attacked--they were looking for her and they ran into us. Father must be told this, at least." Stepping forward he made for the door and was pulled back by Sofia's grasp on his leather vest.

"Not yet!" she insisted. "Galdenor, I've got to see them, find out if they're all right or not. Zel was wounded when we fought the Leevers. Will you take me to the Stan-steall? You know they won't let me in on my own authority."

Galdenor smiled wryly. "I suppose you've already asked Father, and been turned down?"

Sofia shrugged helplessly, caught out.

"Well, you obviously didn't tell me, so I don't have any reason to refuse your request... seeing as I don't know anything about it."

"Thanks, big brother."

She put her arms around him, and he returned the embrace. "I was worried about you," Galdenor said quietly. "I really thought they'd taken you prisoner after you rode off into the sunset with them."

"I can look after myself," Sofia said with a smile.

"I know you can, little sister," he murmured affectionately, stroking her soft hair with a roughened hand. "Come on, we'll ride together to the Stan-steall."

 

 

Link yawned widely and wriggled upon the hard floor; Zelda was asleep, her head resting fetchingly on his shoulder. Imprisonment sure was boring, the young warrior thought, without even a window to divert the attention from the surroundings. His bitten shoulder ached, though the pain had largely gone from his ribs and the colorful bruising was starting to fade. Tales told, he remembered, that the Hero of Time had once been captured and imprisoned by the Gerudo people, but he had escaped and had so impressed them with his skills that they had offered him the chance to become one of them. Typical, the young warrior thought with another yawn. The tales told many fascinating facts about history, but they never gave any concrete details: like how to escape from a Gerudo prison cell.

The guard had gone from outside, suggesting that they felt there was little need to watch over prisoners here. That wasn't a particularly happy thought.

To pass the time, he looked up at the ceiling and tried to count the number of spaces in a spider's web that stretched between two of the cell bars and the rocky roof. He got to around thirty-seven before they became small enough that they were difficult to discern, and in trying to decide whether one tiny hole counted as a space or not he lost count. The webmistress herself was impossible to spot against the dark stone.

His ears pricked up suddenly as he heard faint voices nearby... no, not nearby, for the underground nature of the complex meant that sounds traveled far through the stony passages. The gutturals of the Gerudo dialect echoed to him almost as loud as voices in the next room, but he could not make out the individual words. Carefully so as not to disturb the Princess, who had fallen into sleep only after a protracted bout of crying, he stretched out his legs and listened carefully. Were the voices coming closer?

"Link?" came a familiar voice.

He sat up straight, and Zelda stirred. "Sofia?" Link asked disbelievingly, hope rekindling in his heart. A few seconds later the familiar shape of the red-haired Gerudo woman appeared in front of the bars. "Sofia, it's really you!" Link exclaimed, shaking Zelda. "Zel, wake up!"

Sofia grasped the bars and gazed through them as if she could will them out of existence. "I am truly sorry about this, Link," she said quietly. "I am doing everything I can to get you out of here... I promise."

Zelda opened her eyes with a start. "Link?" she asked sleepily. "Where are we? ..oh!" She stifled a squeak of surprise as she caught sight of the tall dark man with Sofia--the one who had taken them prisoner after the fight, the one who looked like Ganondorf.

"This is my brother, Galdenor," Sofia said formally, indicating her companion. He smiled uneasily and muttered a few words in his own language. "He speaks some Hylian, but not a great deal," Sofia explained. "He knows now what really happened--I have told him."

"Have you told the King?" Link stood up and came forward.

She sighed. "I have, but he did not believe me. We may have some trouble there."

"What kind of trouble?" Zelda asked quietly.

"My father is determined to proclaim you guilty," Sofia explained. "His advisors tell him that to do otherwise would cause trouble with the people--which it might well do, although I am not so sure. Nobody knows you are the Princess yet, Zelda--I am saving that card to play if things become dangerous. Galdenor is on our side in this affair, so we do have one ally! If you are found guilty, we will try and rescue you."

"What happens if you don't manage to do that?" Link asked.

"It won't come to that," Sofia said confidently, but her unsure look betrayed her. She glanced at her brother, who spoke a few quick words, obviously urging her to hurry up and finish her business with the strangers.

Link sighed and looked away, and so it was left to Zelda to ask the question which had burned in both her thoughts and in Link's. "Sofia... are you related to Ganon?" she asked quietly, raising her head to look at the red-haired woman.

"Yes," Sofia said without hesitation. "He is my many-times-great grandfather."

"Was there a son, then?" Zelda suggested. "There is nothing in our histories that speaks of a child."

"Ganondorf's son by Naburu was Sarussar, who was not a year old when the Hero of Time came out of the forest," Sofia answered. "It is through him that our line descends. If you are really interested, ask Galdenor--he knows the entire family tree." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Say nothing to him about the Evil King. He is proud of his descent, and will not hear our ancestor maligned."

"I understand," Zelda sighed.

"What will happen now?" Link asked, interrupting. He tugged irritatedly at the manacles which bound his wrists. "I think I would prefer slightly less constricting guest quarters, if you have no objection," he said dryly.

Sofia's face filled with chagrin. "I am truly sorry, Link, but I cannot get you out of here yet. If it is any consolation, you will not be here long--only until tomorrow. Then my father will speak to you himself. I wish I had been able to teach you at least a few words of our tongue before now."

"Me ■in mod-sefa licao leng swa wel?" Link suggested.

"Goddess!" she exclaimed. "I don't believe it!" Galdenor roared with laughter at her reaction, and the young warrior looked smug, over-pleased at the result of his hard work.

Becoming serious again Sofia reached through the bars and touched Link's arm gently. "Cene," she said quietly in her own tongue, then, "We'll get you out. Just be patient. We will get you out."

 

 






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