Prologue: Chapter Twelve

THE mighty huntress slinks across the smooth ground as soundless as a shadow, bellying on the sand to take advantage of every irregularity in the ground. Her eyes fix firmly on her prey, her mighty haunches ripple and her whole body shivers in an ecstasy of concentration. Her deadly, sharpened claws are at the ready as she crouches low, muscles like coiled springs of steel, the one thing in her world the unsuspecting form of her unfortunate prey. Suddenly, with a blood-curdling snarl, she leaps!

But the beetle saw her coming, and, with a rattle of stiffened wings, shot up into the air, looping gracefully over the kit's head to land several feet behind her and resume its crawling search for food as if there had never been a sand kitten and a failed pounce. Snorting and shaking her head, the kitten pawed sand from her whiskers and then sat on her haunches and stared around, baffled as to the whereabouts of her vanished victim.

"Well done!" cried Link, laughing. He and Zelda had returned to Galdenor's tent with a bagful of food, and they had intended to wait for Sofia and Galdenor before starting on their purchases. But five minutes of dutiful waiting had been enough to convince the young warrior that neither of the humans would be very hungry, and so he had eagerly started on the meal. Zelda grabbed a helping before everything edible they had bought disappeared either into Link or into the kitten, and now they were just finishing up. Bored already, the kit was play-hunting around Galdenor's tent, and had already attacked the unfortunate prince's precious wooden furniture with her sharp little claws. Link searched the bottom of the food bag and found a black olive; he tossed it to the kitten who leaped to catch it between her paws. She rolled the hard fruit around on the floor for a few moments, before she decided that it made a poor plaything and promptly ate it. This swiftly done, the kit began to crawl stealthily around the confines of the tent, rubbing her furry sides against the cloth walls.

"She's so sweet," Zelda laughed. She sat cross-legged on the sand, watching the kitten at play. The red collar bought from the old leather-merchant looked well against the kit's sandy golden fur. She flicked the black tip of her stubby tail from side to side as she hunted imaginary prey.

"I'm going to call her Prowl," Link decided. "Look how she prowls about! Here, Prowl! Come to Papa!" The young warrior held out the remainder of his dried meat, and the kit came bounding towards him at the sight of the food. He scooped her up and sat her on his lap to feed her the spiced beef; purring the kit rolled onto her back and let him stuff her mouth with food while he rubbed her round little stomach with his other hand.

"She takes after you," Zelda remarked. "You can keep putting food in, but you can never fill it up!"

Link mock-scowled at her. "Not funny, my Princess," he said, knowing what she hated above all else.

Zelda sat back on the sand and shot him a cool look. "You want another slap?" she enquired lightly.

"Not particularly," Link had to admit. "I'll be quiet." But he instantly broke his resolution by asking, "Do you think we will be able to leave for home tonight?"

The Princess shook her head. "I really do not think so, Link," she answered thoughtfully. "Daddy will probably want to stay the night just so that he can talk with King Thorkelin. There are all sorts of things they will want to sort out before we go. It could be as much as a week before we can start off for Hyrule."

"Oh no!" Link exclaimed. "I hope that it does not take that long!" Unconcerned, 'Prowl' grabbed his hand between her two front paws and mouthed at his fingers with sharp little teeth. He quickly pulled his fingers away from the kit, and tickled her under the jaw instead. She wriggled and mewled in sheer delight, pedaling her four paws madly in the air. "No offense to the Gerudo, my Princess," Link went on, stroking the kit, "but I want to get word to my parents in Calatia."

"If you don't stop calling me your Princess, you'll never get back to Calatia," Zelda threatened.

"Sorry, my Princess."

"I'm going to slap you really hard in a minute!"

"Now now, that's not very nice," chided a deep voice. Galdenor pulled back the tent flap and entered, ducking low to avoid the low doorway. He held the flap back for Sofia, who looked very much smarter in a pair of deep violet trousers and a golden, tight-fitting top. Galdenor himself had combed his hair back into a short bob of a ponytail, and he wore tough black leather armor adorned with the Gerudo symbols of crescent moon and star. "What's this I hear about slapping?" the prince asked mildly, settling himself cross-legged on the sand.

"Never mind, he's just being annoying," Zelda sighed. "Why are you two dressed up?"

Sofia snapped her fingers. "Oh, of course, you don't know!" she exclaimed. "We have to attend at my father's tent tonight. There's going to be a banquet in honour of the Ælfan king."

"Two questions," Link said quickly, breaking in before Sofia could explain any further. "Are we invited, and what's the food like?"

Zelda was shocked. "Oh, Link! You can't be hungry again, you just can't! He's already eaten everything we bought," she explained for the benefit of the others. She sighed.

"Prowl ate almost as much as I did!" the young warrior protested in an injured tone.

"Erm, yes," Sofia said slowly. "Yes, you are both invited, along with your King Harkinian. And the food, I can promise you, will be excellent. But the real reason you are coming is to help me tell Thorkelin and your King about the quest. I want to come with you, but I am not sure how to explain that to my father. He will not like the idea, of that I am sure."

"When is it?" Link asked.

"Sunset," she told him. "So hurry up and get yourselves ready. You have less than an hour. If you come with me, Zelda, I will take you to where you can bathe and clean yourself up properly." Zelda laughed and nodded, cheered by the prospect of her first proper bath in days. "Link, go with Galdenor. Men and women have separate bathing-places here."

"I should hope so," Link said in surprise.

The red-haired woman looked at him with a faint smile on her dusky features. "South of the desert there is a hot fertile land we call Aili-Abay. The people who live there go naked all the time. Strange as it may seem to you, even we weste-folc are seen by some as cold and reserved."

"Amazing," he murmured wistfully. "I should like to see some of these far lands. How much there is of the world that we do not know!"

"Perhaps we could go and travel those places someday," Sofia said quietly.

"Let us get hold of the Amulets of Legend first," Zelda insisted. "Who knows, the quest might even lead us to those lands before we are done!"



In the utter absence of light, darkness can be almost a living thing: a force that seeps out from crack and chasm to stifle all that is warm and bright. Creatures of night fear the golden sun above all things, but that sacred light had never touched this world beneath the green world. A world of infinite strangeness, silent, black, cold... but far from dead.

A golden spark darted down stifling tunnels, through vast stone hallways cut by no mortal hand. Strange and fearful carvings glistened for a moment slick with running water as the little light passed by, and then faded once more into a shadow so complete that to look into it was to be blind. The spark flew on, hurrying, heedless of what its radiance revealed in the outer dark.

At last it reached a gateway where the passage opened into a massive hall, lined with columns like the trunks of dead and ancient trees. A mosaic floor gleamed murkily like a shadow in deep water, masked by the dust of centuries. In the doorway of this black cathedral the little spark paused, hanging motionless like a dragonfly on the damp cold air. The iridescent wings buzzed, agitated. There was light here, light which should have been a welcome thing after the long dark journey, but the spark was afraid.

Two spitting, smoking torches flanked a shadowy shape: a great throne carved from the living stone of the chamber floor. Beside this stood a figure cloaked and hooded, standing still as death. Now the hidden face lifted towards the light.


It was a woman's voice. From the thick black folds of the cloak, a pale hand lifted, beckoning. Reluctantly the spark came towards the throne, wings whirring in the still air. It settled for a moment on the outstretched fingers whose nails were painted red as blood.

"I wish to scry, Pirrillip. Find me my noble captain."

A round steel basin had been placed upon the throne; as the woman turned, reflected light glittered in a dark still liquid that lay within. The fairy's wings closed and opened for a few seconds, then it took flight once more and swooped down to touch the water once, twice, thrice. Each time, ripples spread, and a little scatter of glowing dust settled on the surface.

The hooded woman bent close, one slender hand resting on each arm of the throne, and watched the bowl intently. In a little while a thin pale light began to shine there. The picture that formed rippled and swam with the movement of the water: it showed a rocky desert landscape, and a figure wrapped and muffled in sandy-coloured rags. Of the face, nothing could be seen but a blackness, within which glittered two points of orange light.

"How goes the hunt?" the woman said.

The other bowed his head for a moment. When he spoke, the voice was a man's, deep and strong, yet oddly hollow. "We have found him, your ladyship. There is a city... I think you know of it." A chuckle. "It is curious. The Hero has taken refuge with our Master's own heirs."

She started at that. Torchlight fell across the bottom half of her visage and revealed pure white skin, red lips, a perfect rosebud mouth now drawn down in surprise. "Why? What has Gaelaidh to do with Hyrule?"

"It seemed strange to me too, Lady, at first," said the face in the pool. "But I have learned now what it is that brings him here. Six amulets of power that have been lost for a thousand years and more." The orange lights flared suddenly hot in the invisible face. "You know of what I speak."

"No..." she whispered, suddenly gleeful and yet unwilling to believe.

"It is true. Old things begin to waken."

Suddenly the woman turned from the pool, fixed her hidden gaze upon the spark that hovered a few paces away. "What do you know of these amulets, Pirrillip?"

"N-nothing!" stuttered a thin high voice. Nervously the light darted back--but it was not swift enough, for the woman's hand shot out snake-quick and caught it by one sparkling wing.

"You lie!" the woman hissed, bringing the spark close to cage it in her cupped hands. Buttercup-yellow light illuminated her lovely mouth as it twisted in an expression of ugly hatred. "Who was it sent that first blond fool out of the forest, if not your kin? Who was it led this one's grandfather to Death Mountain? Your family has fawned over his since the end of the Age of Legends! Now tell me of the Medallions - are they real? Can they be found? Speak, moth!"

"I know nothing, Lady - I swear it!" Terror put a squeak into the tiny voice.

"Lie to me, Pirrillip," the woman whispered, "and you will die a slow death. This I promise you." Her hands opened; the spark darted away to hang, trembling, beside the torch's flame.

In the momentary silence, the figure in the water spoke once more. "There is something else."

The woman turned. "What? Tell all."

"The Hylian king, your ladyship. He is here. Both he, and his only daughter. They are far from Hyrule, in the heart of the Haunted Wasteland, and our Master's power is strong in that country. Think of it! It would take but a single swoop."

"You mean then to assail the city?" said the woman.

"No. We are too few for that, and on foot, we are too slow to take them by surprise." There was a cold cunning in the hollow voice as he went on, "But had we horses..."

"I understand," the woman said softly, and although her shadowed face could no longer be seen as the light in the bowl faded, her tone betrayed the smile upon her lips.



This was more like it, Zelda thought with a rapturous sigh as she let herself sink into the steaming rose-scented water. She could feel the tiredness and grime seep away into the water to leave her pink, clean and refreshed. The Leever bite on her calf stung momentarily, woken by the water, but then it subsided and left only a pleasant tingling as the hot water acted to soothe the half-healed cut. The Princess stretched luxuriously and spread out her hair into the water, determined to soak every inch of her body in the perfumed bath.

It was not hard to do. Even now that she had looked around the Gaelaidh markets and caught a glimpse of the diversity of the desert communities, she was shocked by the opulence of the bath house. The bath itself was circular, chest-deep and large enough for her to stretch out fully in the water. A ledge running all around the outer rim provided a submerged seat to rest upon while bathing. Rich dark stone trimmed with gold provided a setting for the polished tiles in the bath, and she ran her hand over the golden fishes that leaped and arched their backs upon every third tile. A soft greenish light covered all; many candles stood in the bath house, set into delicate lanterns of sea-green glass. Unlike all the other tent-buildings she had seen, the round bath house had walls and a roof of wood, although even this was decorated with the ubiquitous Gerudo woven cloth, which draped over the exposed beams in a rainbow of deep cool colors and designs. In a place so parched for liquid, there was something guilty about immersing oneself in a pool of deliciously hot water.

She was not alone in the bath house; Sofia had left two shy young Gerudo women as assistants, telling Zelda "If you want for anything, just command them. Don't be afraid to do so. It is their job and they are proud of it." The girls busied themselves with Zelda's clothes as she stepped naked into the readied bath, and she was surprised at her lack of embarrassment in front of them. It simply felt natural and right. She stretched out a hand sleepily and found a bar of soft white soap placed into it as if she had spoken her thought. The attendant kept her eyes respectfully on the ground.

Zelda knew her hair needed a wash, but it was not until she started with the soap that she truly appreciated how bad it had become. Sand and filth made a scum upon the water as she rubbed the soap into a lather, submerging to try and work out the tangles underwater where it was easier. It took her almost twenty minutes before her long golden tresses were sufficiently sand-free for her to start on washing the rest of her, and by then the soap was over half gone. "Ugh," she muttered, feeling sand grate against her feet at the bottom of the bath. One of the bath girls poured more hot water, although she had not asked for it; the increased warmth sent a shiver of delight up her spine. She realised what Sofia had implied with her comment about the girls' job; they were uncannily skilled at judging what their charges wished.

Clean enough to pass scrutiny, the Princess stood up in the bath and shook out her hair. It squeaked through her fingers. The gritty feeling had almost entirely gone from her scalp and so had most of the tangles that had infuriated her before. She ascended the steps cut into one end of the bath and accepted a thick green towel from one of the girls. A selection of new and freshly laundered clothes were held up for her scrutiny and, thinking of her father's request, she chose a rather more modest combination of a blue chemise with silver buttons, and soft suede trousers delicately embroidered--although she was tempted by Siman's red gauze and gold thread number with the strategically positioned garnets! The bath house girls helped her dress and then she found herself sitting on a cushion with one girl tenderly combing and braiding her hair, and the other trimming her damaged nails with an expert's touch. Neither of them had spoken a word throughout, and Zelda could not catch their shyly doe-eyed, dewy gazes.

It was with something akin to regret that she slipped on a pair of leather sandals and left the bath house to join Sofia who had waited outside. Zelda felt so much more herself after the pampering that she greeted the red-haired woman with an exclamation; "I want one of those back in Hyrule!"

"The bath?" Sofia smiled. "Perhaps your father will have one built for you."

"I will try and persuade him to do that," Zelda laughed. "It is much nicer than having to wash your hair over an icy basin in the winter!"

The other woman flicked her thick red braid over her shoulder; a gesture which seemed to characterise Sofia more than any other she made. "You look nice," she commented. "Not quite human... but not quite Ælfan, either. I cannot place you!"

"I hope that is good," Zelda remarked dryly. "Where do we go?"

"We should find Link and Galdenor, and go with them to the Feasthall," Sofia answered. "I am afraid that we may be late to the banquet, but it should not matter too much as long as we are not too late." She smiled wryly. "I think more of Link's insatiable appetite than of my father," she said with a laugh. "If he is bringing his kitten as well, you will have to guard your plate!"



Link, meanwhile, had enjoyed a less opulent, yet no less pleasant, experience. Galdenor led the way to a squat stone building with a sandy floor and a row of tiny windows; there a dark-eyed Gerudo boy of no more than eight years showed them to a large covered pool in the shape of a rounded crescent moon, filled with steaming water. The sand kitten, still in attendance, trotted up to the water's edge where she sniffed suspiciously, whiskers twitching in curiosity. Then, to Link's bemusement, she jumped straight in. He ran to catch her with a cry, but she surfaced paddling contentedly with her big fur-padded feet. "I thought cats were supposed to hate water," Link remarked, staring at the kit.

"Not sand cats," Galdenor explained. The prince smiled slowly--the expression lit up his dark and naturally sullen face like sunlight on a rocky plain. "I wish I had one," he said, watching Prowl as she kicked nonchalantly to the edge of the pool, where a slight ridge made it possible for a small creature to clamber out dripping wet.

"Can't you get one?" Link asked in surprise.

The tall man shook his head as he knelt to rub Prowl's wet head. Her soaked fur stood up in spikes as she submitted to a rough caress. "Sand cats are very rare," Galdenor said, "and to catch a kitten is very difficult because of their protective parents. Most of the few sand cats which come to us are orphans."

"Poor little Prowl," Link sighed. At that moment the kitten bounded over to him and rubbed her wet self up his legs. "Yick," he said thoughtfully, shifting his feet as Prowl transferred warm water off herself and into his thin Gerudo trousers.

Galdenor straightened up and brushed his hands briskly. "Well, Link," he began, "I will leave you here to do whatever you must. You will find clean clothes laid out beside the door." Casting a last affectionate gaze at Prowl, the tall man turned and slipped out through the thick curtained doorway.

It took only a moment for Link to strip and jump enthusiastically into the pool. Prowl, scenting more fun ahead, followed and fastened herself to his bare shoulder with needle-hooked claws, agitating his slowly healing wound. Patiently Link submitted to the kitten's excesses and started to work the grime from his skin, thinking with a slight wistfulness of things that were past. He would never have dreamed of such a luxury as a heated, scented bath when he had been a fisherman's son in Calatia--it was fresh lake water all the way! Perhaps those times had been easier for him... they had certainly been simpler. A three-roomed stone house beside the harbour had served for four people; a fisherman, his wife, their son and the memory of a daughter who had not survived.

Life was quiet on the shores of Lake Lomere. Although traders came to the village of Haven to buy fish, in particular the great blue-finned sturgeon that bred only in the great Calatian lakes, the inhabitants of the community led peaceful and insular existences. The days were a hazy blend of sun, sails and fishing; there were always lines to be untangled and nets to mend, boats to tar and caulk. There had been little time to spend on training for war, but somehow Link had fit in the time, during the evenings or on stormy days when it was too rough to fish, to talk to his grandfather who lived alone in the house on the quay. He had sometimes been too tired to talk, but he was never too tired to listen to the stories that had fired his desire to be a Hero. His father disapproved of the old man and his stories, but Link loved to hear them and so eventually he had been allowed to go more or less when he desired.

Grandfather had died quietly in the night when Link was only seven years old. The old man had kept to himself, had been surly and unsociable, and so his passing came without many tears for most of the people of Haven. But the legacy he had left to his young grandson was greater than it had seemed. Even as he worked on the boat with his taciturn father, nimbly ducking the boom to fix anchors or check the salmon lines, the young Link entertained dreams of becoming one of the legendary Heroes of Hyrule and meeting the Princess herself. The call had come young, as it had for all the previous Heroes; when he was only fourteen years of age and barely big enough to swing a sword, a band of Moblins had broken into a farm near Haven and carried off five sheep. After this incident there seemed to be more storms and fewer sunny days when the fish rose to the bait, and uneasy whispers began to circulate; the name of Ganon was never spoken aloud but it seemed to be always upon everybody's lips and in their secret thoughts. Link knew it was time for him to leave the village of his birth and seek out the adventures of which he had always dreamed, and although he resisted Link's decision strongly, his father knew also that there was no other choice. And so the boy had put aside his sea-longing and his love for his home, and had packed some bread and a piece of cheese in a leather satchel. His mother cried for a while, but she made a set of tough green traveling clothes for him, and packed a change of socks as mothers were supposed to do. For protection he took only his beloved rosewood bow that his grandfather had left to him, and his father gave him a small bag of money--most of the summer's savings--for the purchase of a sword.

He had looked back only once, as he toiled up the stony trail that led north over the heath. Sunlight shone on the glittering waters of the lake and bathed the red roofs of the village in translucent golden flame. Poor though Haven might be compared to the great Hyrulian castles, it was the only place he had ever known and in that fading afternoon light it looked more beautiful than any white city of dreams. A faint wind blew up from the shore, carrying with it a faint tang of salt as if to remind him of all he left behind on the journey. For a moment Link had been possessed by a homesickness so strong that it nearly robbed him of all desire to continue on his path. He even took an unsure step back down the path as if to return home.

But then something else awoke in his heart, for he was descended from the Hero of Time and the adventurer's spirit was never far beneath the skin in that ancient line. Resolutely the fisherman's son shouldered his meager pack and turned his face from the place where he had been born. And so he came to Hyrule in the ancient way: a boy dressed in green, bearing a sword.

Since then, Farore had led him far and wide over the lands that came under the sway of the kings of Hyrule. His struggles had established his own honourable status as a Hero and had shown him every bit as strong and courageous as his grandfather had been, even if his exploits had not been as visibly dashing. He had grown and matured in battle, and the blood of the Hero was strong within him. And yet, sometimes, so was the longing for home.

Link sighed. The sea-longing, that ancient curse of mariners, troubled him now. Those who had once sailed the great waters, whether upon a lake or out onto the endless Ocean, never lost the feeling of wonder, the desire to return to that life. A peace lay out there for those who dared to seek it, somewhere upon the wave-tossed seas far from the sight of land.

"Come on, Prowl," he said determinedly shaking off the pleasant, familiar melancholy. "You're clean enough anyway!" He picked the bedraggled kit from his shoulder and deposited her upon the floor of the bath house, where she licked at her wet fur as he clambered out and grabbed a towel. The feeling of water on his skin reminded him for a moment of the afternoons he had spent swimming in the lake, but that other water had been cold and salty. He could not help wondering what was going on in Calatia, the homeland he had hardly seen for two long years. Hopefully he would find an excuse to return there before too long.

Clean pressed clothing was draped over a big old wooden chest. Link picked out the garments one by one and pulled them on, admiring himself in the full-length glass mirror that adorned the wall. The silken trousers were plain and perfectly white, and he loved the effect of the open leather vest. Now that his bruises were fading, his lean muscled chest and stomach looked impressive. Gerudo garb was certainly more flattering to the body than the practical tunics and hose worn in Hyrule... but such meager coverings would not be particularly pleasant to wear in the snows of the harsh Hylian winter, he thought regretfully. Anyway, it would probably offend people back home if he walked around so skimpily dressed. He hoped that someone in the King's troop would be able to lend him a proper tunic for the return to Hyrule.

He had some difficulty putting on the vest. His right hand was weak and unreliable and he found that he couldn't flex his shoulder enough to shrug the garment on properly. He cursed and tugged the vest up with his good hand. All of a sudden, that lingering weakness worried him. His right arm was his sword arm.

The curtain swung open suddenly with a clink of beads, and Galdenor put his head around it. His red hair was wet and slicked back. "Link, are you ready yet?" he asked mildly. "You have been in here almost an hour."

"Really?" Link said in surprise. "Yes, I am ready. Can Prowl come?"

The tall man laughed. "I see she has had her bath too!" he exclaimed. "Pick her up, Link, she can sit on your lap."

"She's not just going to be a pet," Link explained as he tucked the kit under his arm and hurried after Galdenor. "I want to train her to fight; then maybe she can help us in the quest. She could guard things, or maybe warn us of danger, or..."

"Don't count your Cukkos before they're hatched," Galdenor admonished gently. "I have seen more killer instinct in a desert rabbit than in that little kit."

Link laughed. "Oh, she'll be a real killer, I promise you! You did not see her at play today. She was hunting in your bedroom."

"Hunting for what, I wonder?" Galdenor said with a wry smile. He tapped the kit on the nose, and she went cross-eyed to try and follow his finger. "Silly little thing," the prince said affectionately, rubbing Prowl's ears.

Zelda and Sofia were nowhere to be seen outside, and Galdenor frowned thoughtfully. "Surely they would have finished by now," he muttered to Link. "They were going to meet us here."

"Maybe Zelda took longer than I did to bathe," Link suggested, shrugging.

"I doubt it," Galdenor teased.


Smiling, the prince smoothed back his hair and turned to the young warrior. "We will wait here for a few minutes," he said lightly, "and if they have not come then I will go and look for them. We still have some time before the start of the celebrations, although if possible I would like to get there early. As Crown Prince I have a duty to be there. Doubtless your golden-haired princess feels the same way. She has missed her royal father, has she not?" he finished, eyebrows raised in question.

"I don't know," Link had to admit. "I think so. Ah... if I'm to be honest, Zelda is a mystery to me, Galdenor. I feel that I shall never truly understand her."

"Does she understand you?" Galdenor asked softly.

Link frowned. "I don't know. I think not. She--I feel that if--she is special to me, but..." His voice trailed off as he foundered, hopelessly trying to express something for which there were no words.

"I see," Galdenor said, thoughtful. "But there is nothing between you."

The prince had instantly understood the situation, and Link was surprised into silence for a moment. "Yes," he said, recovering, "that is the way of it. I do care about her, very much so. But then again, there is something about her that keeps me at arm's length, always."

"Give it time," Galdenor murmured, bending close that his words would not be overheard. Straightening up again suddenly, he looked out over the evening. "Look, there they are," he said, his voice suddenly light again.



Just on the other side of the hill overlooking the city, a band of strangers gathered as the sun slid slowly down the western sky. Their appearance was strange--they wore heavy hooded cloaks which covered every inch of their bodies and heads. The garments were sand-stained, loose and shapeless, but their flapping folds could not conceal the bulky size of their occupants. A group of riderless horses stood bunched together beside the oasis: great black stallions with an evil red glint in their fierce eyes.

Two of the hooded figures dropped to the ground and wormed their way up the slope, keeping low to avoid displaying themselves by their outlines against the sky. Together they peered over the edge of the sandhill, looking down upon the riotous colors of Gaelaidh. After a moment, by unspoken consent they slithered backwards and returned to the group.

"That's the place she meant, is it?" the first growled, his voice a low and somehow echoing rumble that came from within his chest. Two orange sparks gleamed beneath his low hood, the only indication of either eyes or a face.

His companion nodded, or at least the head of the thick cloak he wore seemed to dip. "Reckon so. Bloody 'ell, what a trek! She might've warned us about all the bloody sand."

"Watch yer language, Marcus," warned the first, rubbing his gauntleted hands together as if cold. "You know what she's like."

Another of the figures spoke up, snorting as if unimpressed with his comrade's dire pronouncement. "Yeah, right, we all know that. What I want to know is, if she's so bloody all-powerful, how come she needs us to do her dirty work? And anothing thing--why ain't the cap'n coming with us?" There were murmurs of assent from some of the others, and one or two looked at each other nodding as if to agree upon the rightness of the point.

The first speaker, who seemed to be some sort of leader, coughed hollowly. "Now then, now then, boys," he growled. "We don't want any of that. You 'eard what the cap'n said! We're 'ere to do a job, and that's what we're bloody well going to do if I 'ave any say in it. Right, 'oo's got the itinerary-whatsit, then?"

"Me, Julius," broke in one of the others, proffering a much-thumbed piece of parchment in his gauntleted hand. Julius took it and unfolded it, tearing it slightly in the process--his hands, covered by the thick leather gloves, were clumsy. The others hunched silently in their covering cloaks as their proclaimed leader read laboriously through the paper, spelling out some of the more difficult words.

"Go to the desert city with all due speed. When the sun has set, take the... the steeds I have be... b-e-s-t... bestowed. Bestowed... upon thee, and enter the city. There you shall seek out a party of H-y... Hylians. Your mission is to cap... captcher the boy and bring him to me. All the others must be killed. Upon com... com... c-o-m-p-l... completion! Completion of this mission, you shall re...ceive... that which you desire," he finished in a rush. "Well, boys, that sounds fair, dunnit?" He turned to the others and awaited response. "That which we desire! Not bad, is it?"

His companions all agreed that it was not bad.

The leader harrumphed and dusted his hands together, stuffing the paper into a fold of his cloak. "Right then, that's it," he said with finality. "You two, get them 'orses ready and we'll be gettin' down there in about 'arf an hour. Sun's just about set anyway, but cap'n said we'd better wait 'til it's full dark."



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