Prologue: Chapter Eleven

WHERE have you been?" King Harkinian exclaimed joyfully, hugging his daughter tightly. "I was so afraid I would find you hurt, or worse!" The King's silver brows drew together alarmingly as he regarded Zelda, and he continued angrily, "How dare you do this to your poor father, you bad girl! Look at you! You look like a barbarian!"

Zelda, surprised, examined herself. She had noticed changes in herself in the Simani camp, but had not understood how far they had gone until she had seen Hylians again with her own eyes. There was a weather-beaten look to her tanned skin, which no longer held the lily-pale hue of a Royal Princess but was now a warm brownish gold. A long and angry red mark graced her bare calf where the Leever had slashed her; it had not yet faded to the white of a scar. Grime coated both the skimpy Gerudo outfit she was wearing, and her sand-shredded hands, and her golden hair was greasy and tangled about her shoulders. The Princess grimaced involuntarily as she noticed for the first time how dirty she really was. "Yick! Sorry, daddy!" she exclaimed. Then, "Oh, there's so much to tell you! Please don't be angry!"

The King looked down at her sternly. "Angry? I'm furious! ...Tell me the truth, Zel. You didn't run off to marry that young blade, did you?"

The princess blinked, and then her jaw fell open as she understood what her father had thought. "Link? Never!" she said, shocked.

"Charmed," muttered Link, who stood by with Sofia and Galdenor.

"But you haven't introduced me to these people," King Harkinian said suddenly, noticing the young warrior's presence alongside that of the two humans. He set Zelda down gently and took up the reins once more. "Isn't there anywhere that's quiet in this dismal place?" the King asked, frowning at the sea of people ebbing and flowing around his escort. "Don't they have a chieftain?"

"My father's house," Sofia suggested.



A few minutes later the Hylians' horses were being tended to, while Harkinian reclined uncomfortably in Thorkelin's tent, unused to desert hospitality. Zelda and Link, by now quite at home sitting cross-legged on a cushion or on the unsoftened sandy floor, were surprised to see how uncomfortable the Hylian ruler and his guards were without chairs. Sofia and Galdenor joined them in the royal tent.

"I have come for my daughter," King Harkinian said plainly, getting straight to the point. He waited intently for Thorkelin's response, hands on his knees.

The swarthy desert chieftain stroked his small, neatly trimmed beard for a while, regarding the Hylian King through slitted eyes. "She is not my responsibility," he said finally. "Of course you may take her. But I wish to have it explained why my warriors were killed in the canyon."

Harkinian's face grew blotched with anger. "You mean the dogs who set upon my rescue party!" he exclaimed loudly, and a few of the guards who had come with him shifted, glancing to the pile of discarded weapons beside the door flap. Zelda and Sofia exchanged worried glances, hoping that the two rulers would not end up locking horns over the accident.

"Some rescue party," Thorkelin spat in his accented Hylian. "The curs were heavily armed, and they took my scouts by surprise!"

"That's not what I heard!" Harkinian insisted. "The report was that your so-called scouts" -the word was heavy with irony- "shot at my troop and then attacked in force when my captain responded!"

Thorkelin's face darkened, and he took in a breath. But before he could speak, Galdenor leaped to his feet. "Father, hear me!" the prince insisted.

"Galdenor, be still!"

"No, I won't." Galdenor scowled. The Hylians muttered uneasily and nudged each other, noting the tall young man's uncanny resemblance to the legendary Evil King. "Listen," the prince went on determinedly, ignoring the whispers from their guests; "fighting won't solve this. It is likely that we will never know for sure what happened in the pass, but someone probably got nervous and fired a shot by accident. Don't let a mistake come between us!"

"Those are fine words, barbarian," King Harkinian snapped, "but the fact remains. Two of my men are dead, and another will never use his sword arm again."

"And five of my party of six were killed," Thorkelin retorted.

"It was an accident!" Zelda persisted, leaning forward. "Weren't you listening? Daddy, we've fought long enough, and we could learn so much from each other!"

"You've already learned plenty," King Harkinian said angrily, turning upon his daughter. "You're practically one of them now!"

The Princess bridled at his scornful tone. "And what's wrong with that?" she answered fiercely.

"Who says we need to learn anything from you?" Thorkelin broke in, referring back to Zelda's earlier comment.

"We do," Sofia retorted. "Father, look at us. If we four can get on with each other, then why can't the rest of our peoples?" She gestured to indicate herself, Galdenor, Zelda and Link. It was a powerful image indeed; the four teenagers could hardly have been more different from each other. Zelda with her comparatively pale skin and golden hair sat beside Sofia, who glowed darkly like an eastern jewel with her cinnamon tan and amber eyes. Slender Link, his gauntness a reminder of the cobra bite, was dwarfed by the muscular Galdenor. Sofia scooted forward on the sand to lay her hand lightly on Thorkelin's broad arm. "You have the power to stop this," she said softly in the Gerudo tongue. "How much blood have we spilt senselessly over the years? We could end it here and now."

Zelda said nothing as she looked at her own father, but her appeal was plain in her eyes. King Harkinian cleared his throat nervously, glancing at his old adversary. "My people will not like this turn of events," he suggested doubtfully. "The Gerudo have always been our enemies."

"Nobody in Hyrule really cares any more," Zelda countered. "It's Ganon that we fight against, daddy. Not the Gerudo people; they had nothing to do with it. Or are you going to blame Galdenor now for Ganondorf then?"

A slow smile spread across Thorkelin's sandburnt features. "A strange turn of events this is," the Desert King said in surprised amusement. "My own son, who for years urged me to make war on the long-eared ones, now speaks for peace! And you, King of the green land beyond the mountains, what will you say to your daughter's plea?"

"Daddy, don't tell me that Link and I fried in the desert, killed a giant snake and nearly got eaten by plants just so you could declare war on our friends," Zelda added seriously.

King Harkinian sighed softly, and then said: "My father and my grandfather both wasted their reigns wavering over the Gerudo question. Hyrule's monarchy has been plagued with weak rulers who could not make decisions. If I say peace, what guarantee will I have that peace will remain?"

"Do not doubt my word," Thorkelin said darkly. "My people do not lie."

"I meant no offence," Harkinian responded quickly, the closest he would come to an apology. "But your people do not live as long as ours. You may feel friendly to the Hylian people, but what of your successors? Will this truce last for all time or for a short generation?"

The Desert King's teeth flashed white in his face as he smiled. "My son Galdenor inherits the leadership of all the human race after I. He governs all of my people save those that live beyond the far sea." Galdenor straightened up slightly as his father spoke of the responsibility he was due to inherit. Harkinian looked at him sharply, and the young prince met the King's eyes with no hesitation. The blue eyes met the yellow, and in a moment the King bowed his head slightly and turned back to Thorkelin.

"We will have peace," he said.

Link laughed and shook his fist in the air, while Zelda hugged her father so tightly that Harkinian gasped. Sofia and Galdenor exchanged high fives, grinning. "We're saved!" the red-haired woman whooped. "The quest can go on!"

"What quest?" Harkinian asked, frowning. "Who said anything about a quest?"

Zelda gulped. "Ah... that's another thing we have to talk about, daddy," she began.

"But not yet, I hope," Thorkelin broke in. "We must speak of the terms of our peace--are there to be trade agreements, alliances?" The Desert King glanced at Link. "I already know much of your quest," he said quietly, "thanks to Mewla. I apologize for treating you in such a way, young knight. But you must understand that when you came, all my people feared an attack by your kind, and so we had to find out whether you truly came with good intent."

"I understand," Link said, shrugging, though his face tightened with remembered suffering at the name of the dark dragon.

Thorkelin stood up slowly, the leather armor he now wore creaking with the movement. "I will speak with your King," he said in a stronger tone, "and you shall occupy yourselves any way you wish in Gaelaidh. You may go."

The four teenagers leaped to their feet and made a break for the door, but were drawn up short by Harkinian's shout. "Wait, Zelda!" the Hylian ruler called. Fumbling at his belt he untied a small purse, and tossed it to the princess, who caught it automatically and then held it cupped in her hands, feeling the unfamiliar clinking of gold instead of rupees within. "Do try and get yourself some more extensive clothing," Harkinian said, but there was a faint smile on his face.

"Sorry, daddy," Zelda laughed.

She turned and followed the others out of Thorkelin's tent; as they left, she just overheard Harkinian saying, "...that four mere children should end a thousand years of feuding in just five minutes I find hard to believe..." but Thorkelin's growling response she could not make out. Zelda tucked the purse into the only place she had available in the pocketless clothes, and ran after the others, deciding that if Link made any comment about her now uneven bust she would slap him. Hard.



Sofia led the little group down one of the alleyways, away from the bustle and noise of mainstream Gaelaidh. Here there were few people and little going on; just the scavenging chickens and an occasional tethered goat comfortably chewing on a bit of sandpapery marram grass. "Where are we going?" Link asked, hurrying to keep up with Sofia and the longer-legged Galdenor.

"To get our possessions back," the red-haired woman answered. "We are going to find Yamia and find out where they have put all the things the Simani gave us. She had your kitten, Link."

"My kitten!" the green-eyed warrior exclaimed. "Will it be all right?"

"I am sure she would have been well looked after," Sofia reassured him. "Sand cats are very valuable animals, especially when they are still young and can be trained." Link looked thoughtful at the mention of training, wondering whether he could teach his kitten to fight the monsters which plagued Hyrule... when she was big enough, that was. At the moment, the only thing the kit could frighten would be a desert rabbit!

"This one," Galdenor announced, indicating a larger tent that stood alone, colored a soft sandy gold with red horses galloping around and around the circular fabric. The animals' manes and tails streamed out behind them in a lifelike way, and the eye of each had a small green stone sewn onto the cloth. The young prince stepped up to the door flap and called loudly, "Yamia!"

A rattle came from inside the tent, followed by footsteps. The door flap was pulled suddenly to one side and fastened there, and the thin face of the Gerudo huntress appeared in the open space. "Galdenor," she said by way of recognition, her voice scratched by the desert, and then her eyes widened as she saw that Link and Zelda stood free.

"My Royal father has pardoned them," Galdenor explained formally, then, "You had the sand kitten, did you not? It belongs to Link."

Yamia hesitated, staring at the young warrior with her slitted topaz eyes, and then she nodded slowly and turned away. "Come in, why don't you," she croaked, disappearing back inside her tent.

Inside, it was cool, and the sandy floor was laid with woven rush mats. Tallow candles burned here and there and the single room was adorned with furniture; a carved wooden chest of drawers was placed beside what must have been Yamia's own low bed, and a big old trunk sat against the far wall. The elderly huntress took several cushions from a pile and scattered them on the floor, indicating that they should sit. Link, having spotted his beloved kitten asleep upon the pallet, rushed to it and snatched the small animal up into his arms. The sleepy kit mewed in surprise but, recognizing the young warrior, it began to purr loudly and draped its padded paw over his forearm. Sofia smiled at the joyful reunion.

"Yamia is an old friend," Galdenor said to Zelda. "She nursed my sister and I when we were children."

"I am honoured to meet you," Zelda said to the older woman, bowing her head.

"Will you tell me what happened this day?" Yamia asked, letting herself down slowly onto the cushions she had laid for herself; her knees cracked. "I heard Mewla was loosed."

"That she was," Galdenor answered. "But everything is cleared up now, and more to the point, the Hylian king is here to talk of trade. Things may change for us soon. But we came to look for the belongings that were taken from Link and Zelda--do you know where they have been put?"

"Ay," the older woman replied in her wheezing voice. "All are safe in the Stan-steall, save the horses which are stabled here."

"Not the Stan-steall again," Link groaned.

"Have faith," Sofia cautioned him with a smile. "At least you won't have to stay very long this time!" Turning to her brother, the red-haired woman cleared her throat. "Well, big brother, we will have to ride there. Are you coming with us?"

Galdenor nodded solemnly. "I think so. You may still need my authority before the guards relinquish your possessions." He turned to the older woman, a smile on his dark features. "Hlæfdige Yamia, I am sorry that we had to burst in on you thus. There are urgent matters at stake. I promise that I will come back after we have finished our business, and then I will tell you everything." Yamia nodded gravely, accepting the prince's apology. "Come, then," Galdenor said, rising as he turned to the others. "We'll find horses and go straight to the Stan-steall."

"There's no need for us all to go," Sofia suggested. "What if you and I went, Galdenor, and then Link and Zelda could have a look around Gaelaidh on their own?"

"Good idea," Link agreed eagerly. "I have seen nothing of this town yet!" Zelda smiled, thinking of the money her father had given her and of the bustling markets they had passed through.

"Why not?" Galdenor said. "Have fun."



Red rock cliffs shimmered beneath a sky of brilliant amber. All was bare stone weather-worn, and drifting dust. In the noonday heat, nothing moved--not even the creeping things of the deep desert. A blistering wind whispered over the crests of the scorched dunes but it brought no breath of cool relief. The very air was dry and dead.

At the edge of the Gerudo Valley pass, desert winds meeting the mountains had carved ancient stone into weird and marvellous shapes. They rose high above the dunes, commanding magnificent views: great pillars and projections, turreted spires that would put the greatest cathedral to shame.

Upon one of these rocky outcroppings was a thing that did not belong.

The casual observer would have mistaken it for stone, so still was it. Wrapped from head to foot in shapeless sandy garments, the figure might have been a Gerudo. It crouched like a hunting beast with one fist planted squarely on the crumbling stone. The head was bent intently down, studying the desert far below. Searching.

In the far distance, where amber sky met bleached white sand, there was a flicker of colour that danced through the rippling haze: a city of tents, seen upside-down, floating.

Gerudo-style, the figure's head was wrapped and obscured, leaving only a strip through which eyes could see. Twin points of orange fire glittered in that deep shadow as the figure slowly stood; sand cascaded from the folds of the thick desert clothes. A man's form, broad-shouldered and massive, stretched out against the sky.

The figure turned, and gestured with a hand that was covered by a heavy leather glove.


Other shapes began to rise from sand and stark shadow.



The sand kitten hissed and arched her back, splaying her claws as the horny hands of the trader reached around her furry body. Link watched on anxiously as the old man gently buckled a strip of bright red leather around the kit's neck. "Sa, leo," the trader chuckled as the kit mewled at him.

"Very smart!" Zelda said with approval. "What about it, Link?"

"Are you sure the collar won't hurt her?" the young warrior asked dubiously, holding his hands out to take the kit back. She purred as she was placed back in Link's arms. "It's not too tight or anything, is it?" he went on, holding the kitten up to take a closer look.

"Don't be so silly," the Princess smiled. "She's fine, Link! Besides, you'll need to tie her up at night or she may wander off and get hurt. Shall we get the red?"

"I think so," he agreed reluctantly. He rubbed around the base of the kitten's ears, sending her into a paroxysm of delighted purring and pawing, while Zelda handed the leathersmith a brightly shining golden coin. With a huge grin, the old man took the money and then held his hand up to signal them to wait. Bending under his stand, he rummaged in boxes and drew out a long thong of leather in a similar shade of red. Coiling the lead, he pushed it into Zelda's hands and then with laughing shakes of his head refused to take the extra coin she offered him.

"You've probably paid him twenty times too much already," Link laughed. "I don't think their gold coins work quite the same way as our rupees!"

"Never mind," Zelda said with a smile. "He's a nice old man. Here, I'll fix the lead and then you won't have to carry her."

"I like carrying her," Link said. But he let the Princess fasten the thong to the kit's new collar.

The Simani tents had seemed esoteric with the variety of animals and objects that could be found there. But in Gaelaidh it seemed that you could buy anything you could dream of... at a price! Most beautiful were the sand sculptures, fantastically twisted and polished pieces of rock which the desert wind had made. One, which Link especially loved, seemed as a miniature replica of a fantasy castle with coiling serpentine spires, almost two feet tall. But it looked terribly fragile for the long journey back to Hyrule, and he settled for nothing more than a long and wistful look at it. The Gaelaidh markets sold much more than ornaments; the thickly woven, embroidered cloth that draped some stands was like a rainbow of colors and beautiful designs. Clothes there were in plenty and Zelda spent almost an hour bothering one poor seamstress to find a perfectly fitting chemise in just that particular shade of aquamarine, with those tiny silver buttons etched with stars.

The money King Harkinian had given them seemed to be more than sufficient for most purchases, and they shared a cup of sherbet from a sweet vendor's stand, using the change to buy two bags of sticky dates which seemed to have more in common with glue than with anything else. But they tasted wonderful. The sand kitten yowled so loudly that Link, against his better judgement, gave her one of the dates, and the sticky sweet instantly stuck the kit's jaws together. Her look of astonished outrage sent them both into fits of laughter.

"Let's split the rest," Zelda suggested, opening the purse again as she tucked her folded chemise under her arm. "There's still a lot here."

"Could you hold on to it a while longer?" Link asked. "I have nowhere to put it."

"Neither have I," Zelda pointed out. "I'm using my initiative."

"Is that what you call them?" he said wickedly.

She slapped him.

"Ow!" The green-eyed warrior put a hand to his stinging cheek and stared at her in astonishment. "What was that for?"

"Something I promised myself I would do," Zelda said cryptically. "Is there anything else you needed to buy here? Otherwise, we could go back to Galdenor's tent and wait for them to come back from the Stan-steall."

Link thought about it for a moment. "We do have other gifts from the Simani," he pointed out. "I had not looked at half of the things in my saddlebags before the Leevers attacked us. It would be foolish to buy too much and then find ourselves unable to cart it all home!"

"Well, hopefully, we shall be riding with Daddy," Zelda pointed out. Her face grew worried after a moment. "Oh, Link, we still have to tell him about the quest!" she exclaimed. "How are we going to persuade him? I don't even know if he'll believe me about any of this..."

"I'll put in a good word on your part," Link promised. "You have already proved your courage and your strength on this trek, and I do not think you will fold up when the going gets tough." Zelda winced, wondering what tough was if this was not! "Anyway," Link went on, "the King must want to be rid of Ganon just as much as we, and you can show him the Book as proof."

The Princess nodded. "All right," she said. "Let's get some food."

"Good idea," Link agreed eagerly, realizing that the last time he had eaten had been yesterday morning.



"Are you truly going with them?" Galdenor asked bluntly as he rode with Sofia towards the Stan-steall, a third riderless horse between them as transport for the bags they would be taking back. The prince let his gray gelding find its own way as he turned to his sister to hear her answer.

She sighed. "I think so," she answered reluctantly. "Goddess knows I don't want to just leave like this, but if we have a chance to destroy Ganon once and for all it would be a great thing for our people as well as the Ælfan-cynn. We have a common aim."

"I don't want you to go," he said quietly.

"You don't need me here," Sofia retorted. "You'll be King eventually, and I suppose I'll be married off to one or other of the lords." Sadness spread across her features, and she reached out to touch her brother's strong arm. "Brother, we really need to do this," she insisted. "You could come too, if you'd like. Come and help us--we could really use it."

Galdenor laughed sharply, a bitter sound. "Goddess! You're joking, right? I'm the Crown Prince, I can't just up and leave! Father needs me around, especially when he's absent so much. He needs someone back here just to keep the nobles from getting ideas."

"I'll come back to see you often," Sofia promised. "Maybe I'll even bring a few Legendary Knights along to meet the family!"

He bust out laughing--real laughter this time. "As long as they don't cause the sort of stir Link and Zelda have!", he exclaimed. "I don't think anyone will stop talking about this affair for the next two seasons!" Growing serious again, Galdenor looked at Sofia with sad eyes. "I'll really miss you, Soph," he said softly. "It won't be the same without you around."

"Yeah, you'll have to watch your own back for a change," Sofia said with a smile, slowing her horse to a walk. They had arrived at the Stan-steall, and already two of the guards were hurrying down the carved stone steps to formally receive the Crown Prince. Custom ruled Galdenor's life, as it had his father's. He dismounted quickly, handing his horse's reins to the first of the attendants, who bowed deeply.

"Peace," Galdenor ordered as the other man knelt on the sand to begin a kowtow. "We don't need all that, I'm not here for any ceremony. I merely want to collect the belongings of the two foreigners; they were impounded here, if I am not mistaken."

"They are, royal sir," the guard answered, bowing profusely. "Allow me to fetch them for you."

"Do so," he said gravely, waving a hand at the packhorse they had brought. The man hurried off with the spare horse in tow, and Galdenor gestured to Sofia to sit on the lowest of the stone steps. He sat beside her and gently laid his hand on hers. "If you're set on going," he began quietly, "promise me you'll send word back as often as you can. The land beyond the mountains is very different from home, and so are its people. Link and Zelda may be upstanding examples of their kind, but not all the Ælfan-cynn are like that. You must remember that there has been a feud between our peoples for millennia... they may not be the kindest of people to you."

Sofia smiled. "Of course I will write, big brother. And you'll write back to me too! I know it won't be the same as seeing each other every day, but we can keep each other updated on everything that's happening."

"I won't always be in Gaelaidh to receive letters," Galdenor warned. "Father wants me to start taking on some of the King's duties already. I'm supposed to be halfway to Walid already, but there was all this trouble over Link and Zelda and so I never left."

"We'll manage somehow," she sighed.

There was a silence for a few moments, and then Galdenor spoke up again. A new uneasiness tinged his voice as he asked, "Sofia, these amulets... are they powerful?"

She shrugged and flicked her red braid over her shoulder. "I only know what Zelda told me, and she doesn't seem to know all that much herself. But from what she said, they are very powerful, yes. Why?"

He clasped his strong hands in his lap as he stared out over the warm golden desert landscape. "I worry about many things," Galdenor admitted finally, "and this quest is the least of them. If the amulets are as magical as you three think, then you might not be the only ones interested!" He bent his head, closing his eyes; a lock of his red hair fell across his face as he heaved a long sigh and went on. "If only Father had been more careful about using Mewla," he said regretfully. "Hundreds of people heard what you intend to do. The news is probably all over the realm by now..."

"We'll be careful," Sofia insisted. "None of us are expert warriors yet, though Link has possibly the most experience. There will be long training ahead. We won't do anything too dangerous yet!"

"You already have," Galdenor said wryly. "Or have you forgotten the King Cobra?"

She shuddered. "I'm sure Link won't forget in a hurry," she sighed. "He nearly died. The quest was nearly over before it had begun."

"You told me," he said gravely. "I'm still astonished that the Goddess let him live after all that happened in the Temple. But then, she spared the Hero of Time, and he did much worse in the Spirit Temple. Maybe she still has a use for Link herself."

"Do you think we can expect betrayal?" Sofia asked quietly, looking up into her brother's eyes.

Galdenor waited a long time before he replied, and when he finally spoke he looked away from her, toward the west where in a few short hours the sun would sink into the sands. "I believe," he said with finality, "that from now on you should be very careful about trusting anyone... even those you are close to."

"Like you?" Sofia asked lightly, smiling.

"Like me," he answered quietly, and the smile faded from Sofia's face.



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