Broken Mirror: Chapter 47

IT WAS a bright still afternoon, and snow lay thick on the streets of Hyrule Town. City sounds were dimmed; cartwheels creaked through soft slush, footsteps fell muffled; but conversely the voices, the cries of market traders or porters, the whinny of a horse, rose strong and clear in the cold air. The clear sky was the soft fragile blue of a duck's egg; the winter sun was a shiny new coin over the southern hills. There was an unusual sense of excitement in the air. This was the first day of Yule--and tonight there would be feasting at the castle, and the great Yule ball.

The castle itself was alive with light and voices. In the Great Hall, a gigantic needle-leaved spruce tree brushed the rafters; a kind of light scaffolding had been erected around it, and young men in Castle livery scrambled about lighting candles on the many branches. Coloured chains of paper festooned the walls, and a great bunch of crimson-berried holly had been affixed to the lintel of the great door, where it hung, twisting slowly in the breeze.

In his room, Link grinned at the tall mirror and ran his fingers through his hair, which was bound and threaded through with tiny braids in the Calatian formal style. Glass beads clinked as he turned his head, swinging the loose braids that hung down before his ears. He intended to look his best tonight in honour of the occasion, and he was decked out in unusual finery: a new green tunic, a silken cloak, polished patent-leather boots. Small gold hoops gleamed in his ears.

The ordeal beneath the mountain was a distant memory. Link touched the fading whiteness of the cut on his cheek; it was invisible now unless you knew what to look for. His arm was still in a cast, but he had dispensed with the sling and could even use his fingers reasonably well. In a few more weeks he would lose the cast itself. Yes... he felt good. And he looked good.

Someone knocked at the door. He turned, and the beaded braids swung and clicked together. "It's open," he called. The handle turned, and the round wooden door swung in; Sofia stood there, dressed uncharacteristically in a Hylian tunic and pants; it was too cold out now for Gerudo silks. She stared at him.

"Good grief," she said.

Link grinned and straddled a chair. "What do you think?" he asked.

"I'm overwhelmed! How long did it take?"

"My hair? Hours. I persuaded Miriel to do it last night."

"I am amazed, then, that she took the time out from cooking." Sofia came in and sat down on the edge of the bed, careful of Prowl, who dozed on the counterpane. "I have just come from the kitchens," she said, shifting to get comfortable. "It's madness! There are plucked birds everywhere, and the air is full of feathers." She grinned at him and fished in a pocket. "I thought of you," she said, tossing him a small wrapped parcel.

He caught it and sniffed at it; his eyes brightened. "Marchpane!" he said in delight. The sweet, made from a paste of sugar, eggs and ground almonds, was used in the baking of cakes; it was a luxury in Calatia, and he had only tasted it a few times in his life. He peeled away the waxed paper and discovered a soft golden lump the size of a fist. "I love you," he said, pulling off a piece. "Is there any more going spare?"

"I wouldn't try," Sofia said with a grin. "Everything is getting rather hectic down there. I'm sure they will have plenty left--just wait until the baking is done before you try your luck!"

Link turned back to the mirror and combed with his fingers at a last few braids, teasing the tiny beads into place so that they would clink against each other when he moved. He had slept in the hairstyle and his head was sore; he loved the effect of formal Calatian braids, but it was definitely a once-a-year thing. Sofia stroked Prowl's silky head; the sand cat yawned, rolled over and playfully mauled her hand.

"She has grown amazingly," Sofia said. It was true. Prowl was a fuzzy kitten no longer; the sand cat was finally growing into her outsize ears and paws. Her limbs were long and gangly now and her streaked baby coat had faded into a uniform golden hue.

"She's in disgrace right now," Link told her. "She tore up one of my good shirts yesterday! And look at my furniture!" The legs of the table and chair were scored with deep marks that gleamed white against the polished black wood. Prowl purred, unconcerned, and extended her claws into the counterpane, plucking at loose loops of thread.

Sofia rubbed behind the sand cat's tufted ears. "What you need," she said, gazing into Prowl's golden eyes, "is a strong wooden post. If she can scratch her claws on that, she might not be so tempted by your furniture."

"I'll try it," he promised. "Good idea!"

She was quiet for a few moments, playing with Prowl. He watched her in the mirror; she grinned and fidgeted, clearly anxious to tell him something else. He waited, and in a little while she spoke again. "Link, my brother is coming!"

"Galdenor?" He turned, smiling widely. "Really?"

"I received a letter this morning. He'll be here tonight!"

Link laughed. "That's wonderful! It will be great to see him again! I know you have missed him," he added in a more serious tone.

"I have," Sofia said, "very much. I shall be very glad to see him."

He looked at his reflection but did not see it, thinking of that time; the desert's heat seemed very far away with snow whirling in the winter air. "Have you told Zelda?"

Sofia shifted on the bed. "Not yet--I couldn't find her. Where is she, Link, do you know?"

"She went out. I think she's in the garden. Something's going on out there later." He frowned at the mirror.

She stood, disengaging her hand from the sand cat's playful jaws. "Shall we go down?" she suggested. "Let's find her and give her the news."

"Give me a minute," Link said, tugging at a few beads.

"Link!" she said, laughing. She grabbed his arm. "Leave them alone! You're so vain!"



Prowl followed them down, through the Great Hall that rustled with Yuletide decorations; the sand cat pounced and bit at stray wisps of coloured paper, and sniffed around the base of the tree, with a comical air of curiosity. Yule was a new experience to her; indeed, Yule in Hyrule Castle was a new experience to Sofia, who had been startled by the sight of a full-grown tree indoors, and was startled yet again at the sight of it decked out with a thousand little white candles in silver cups. "Do you really believe that the fairies will stay in that tree?" she asked, staring up as they went past. The tree's topmost branch brushed the dusty rafters; a boy balanced precariously at the top of a ladder as he fixed a golden star to the tip.

Link laughed at that. "I don't know how strongly it is believed now," he said. "For most of us it is just a custom. Doesn't it look well?"

"It is beautiful," she admitted, craning her head to look.

"Do you celebrate Yule in Gaelaidh?" he asked.

Sofia shook her head. "Not as such," she said. "We never really notice the winter solstice; the sun shines nearly all year." She laughed at a sudden thought. "I wonder what my brother will make of snow?"

They passed out into the open air of the courtyard, and wandered together along a little colonnade. It was snowing again--it had snowed on and off ever since they had left Kakariko, nearly two weeks ago, and the leafless trees of the King's garden creaked beneath their smooth white burden. A fountain trickled bravely; its bowl was crusted with floating shards and hung round beneath with icicles.

Here too there was bustle and business. Everywhere there was a clutter of ladders, trimmings, bits of rope: lanterns were being strung in the bare branches of the trees so that they would shine through the ballroom windows in the evening. The paths were a slippery mess of grit and trodden-down snow.

Sofia shivered and huddled in her thick woollen cloak. "Goddess," she said, her words huffing out in smoke. "It's freezing!"

"We won't stay long," Link said. "Do you see Zelda anywhere?"

"Zelda?" Sofia called, and was rewarded by an answering cry. In a moment more the Princess appeared before them, warmly wrapped, her face flushed with cold. Snowflakes sparkled in her golden hair, still short from the fight on Death Mountain.

"Link?" she said in amazement. "Nayru's Love! What have you done to your hair?"

"You like it?" He flicked back a few stray braids, making the beads click and sparkle.

"Very Calatian." She stood back with her hands on her hips, a teasing look in her eye. "It's a shame Yule only comes once a year, Link; I don't think I've ever seen you so well groomed."

"Bah," he said cheerfully.

"So... what's going on?" Zelda asked.

Sofia spoke up eagerly, of her brother and of the letter that had come to her earlier--traveling only a little way ahead of him, by the date and time he had given. Link withdrew a little as the girls chatted about the upcoming evening; he had heard most of it already, in various forms, over the last few days. Nobody spoke of anything else.

Prowl bounded around in the snow, leaving round deep holes everywhere her paws fell. She brushed against a bush, which discharged a quantity of snow onto her back; startled, she leaped away and shook herself vigorously.

Link laughed, glad of the distraction. "Silly cat," he said affectionately, leaning back against a cold stone pillar. Prowl came to him, and he knelt and pulled the half-grown sand cat into his arms, teasing and tussling with her as he had done when she had been a much smaller kitten. She squirmed in delight and wrestled his good arm with soft, heavy, padded paws. In a moment more she clawed to be set free, and he let her go onto the snowy expanse. Prowl sauntered away with her stubby tail held high and made a great show of examining a rose hedge. Link stood up and shook the snow off his clothes.

In a moment, drawn by something he could not have named, he raised his eyes from the sand cat's play. The rose garden was more or less square, edged on two sides by the great hall and the ballroom and on a third by the less majestic sprawl of the kitchen garden. The fourth edge, well screened by trees, opened out onto a bit of common land where the castle's flocks grazed during the summer months. There was a slight but steady downward slope to the terrain. He turned and looked back towards the great hall--and saw a cloaked figure step out from beneath the colonnade. Though it was still light, the newcomer cast no shadow on the snow. He said nothing, but motioned with his good hand to catch the girls' attention.

Dark had not seen them; he stood alone in the white expanse, facing slightly away from them, rapt it seemed in some secret thought as he looked up at the bare black trees. His hood was down despite the cold, and a few fat snowflakes already gleamed in his fine black hair. Prowl's explorations had brought her close to him, and now the shadow and the sand cat noticed each other for the first time. She stood foursquare in the snow, her tufted ears pricked forward and her stubby tail held straight, then went over and brushed her body against his legs.

For a moment Dark was perfectly still, then he bent down and touched the top of her head, lightly with the tips of his fingers, as if to make sure she was really there. He straightened up, turned, and looked at the three of them on the icy path. There was a moment of mutual embarrassment, and the shadow turned to walk away. "Wait!" Link said, hurrying forward. "We have hardly seen you all week! Are you all right?"

Dark looked coldly at him for a moment. "I am well," he said in a voice with no life in it.

"Will you come to the Yule ball tonight?" Zelda asked. Prowl trotted up to her and purred around her own ankles.

"I... think not." He raised one hand to lift his hood. "Good day to you."

"Oh no you don't," Link said. He walked boldly forward and stood before him, barring his exit. "What is wrong with you of late? You have been hiding from us! Is it something I have done? Have I offended you?"

Dark blinked at him and had the good grace to look ashamed. "No," he said, looking down. "It is nothing."

"Then come to the party," Link said, grinning. "We should all go together!"

"I... I am sorry. I feel... unwelcome at such events. That is all."

"Oh, let him stay in his room," Sofia said. "He doesn't like the company."

"Come anyway," Link said, ignoring this. "Just for a little while. You aren't unwelcome at all! Sofia's brother will be here later--you should at least meet him!"

"Sofia's brother?" Dark said softly.

"Galdenor," Zelda said. "We told you about him before. Don't you remember?"

"Will you come?" Link said.

Dark sighed. "For a while, then." He raised his hood then, pulling the soft black folds close over his blacker hair; turned from them, gave them one more quick furtive glance, and left silently, a shadow in the bright white world. They said nothing until he had gone inside.

"Well, that was strange," Zelda said at last, frowning.

Sofia crouched down to stroke the sand cat, who purred joyously at the attention. "He's always strange," she said without concern. "You should have let him be, Link--you know he won't like it."



The remote west turret had escaped most of the preparations for Yule, but someone had hung a wreath of holly on his door while he had been out. Dark smiled at that and opened the door with care, touched that he had been included even in a small way. The door swung closed behind him upon its own weight; he heard the wreath swing softly, scraping stiff dark leaves against the aged wood. He crossed to the window and opened the shutters, careless of the swirling snow. It was coming down quite strong now, and the thick clouds provided a shield against the deadly sun: a rare chance for him to enjoy the day. He leaned out and drank in the clean, chill air.

Eventually he turned from the window and opened his small closet. The clothes hanging there were, for the most part, plain; he owned no decorative items. Next to Link with his glittering Calatian braids, Dark might hope to blend in and be unnoticed. That was his greatest wish for the evening ahead; already he was regretting having given Link his promise. He knew what it would be like. There would be stares and whispers and small, unobtrusive edgings away.

He ruffled through his meager selection of hanging clothes and picked out one of the dark blue tunics embroidered with the gilded Phoenix. It was unremarkable, at least; half the castle attendants wore a similar garment. He flung off his cloak and stripped quickly to the waist. The cold air on his skin made him shiver and think of the mirror; he had liked the cold once, had gloried in it; he could do so no more. Imprisoned within that world of eternal ice, he had thought that he would never be warm again. He struggled into a clean white shirt and pulled the dark blue tunic over his head.

An unusual commotion from below drew his attention; he went to the window again and leaned out, striving to see through the billowing snow. A large group had arrived at the gates. Dark leaned further, blinking ice out of his eyes. At the head of the party rode a man, a tall dark red-haired man, wrapped in furs, upon a great black horse. Sofia's brother? He was curious. He shaded his eyes against the white. And, in one clear moment when the snow blew back and left a clear path between he and the other, he was elsewhere:

Clinking noise, chain on iron. Darkness, rain and thunder. White horse framed in the gate, then fleeing, racing by. A girl looks back... She is gone.


The tall man in black, on the black horse. He looks down--his terrible eyes--raises his hand--

Dark clutched at the sill, certain for one terrible moment that he would faint, or fall. Ganondorf! he thought wildly: the Gerudo King was come! And, at one and the same time: Sofia's brother, it must be... He had the dizzying sense of being two distinct people.

Somehow, with immense difficulty, he pulled back from the window and stumbled on shaking legs to his bed. He was not in the habit of using it; now, he collapsed full-length upon it and grabbed at the pillow, clutching it to his chest as if it were the only stable thing in his world. The shutter banged back and forth in the wind; a swirl of freezing snow blew about the room. He became adrift in time. He saw himself--playing the Ocarina before the Door of Time--bowing before Ganon in the Pyramid of Power--charging forth to confront the dragon Volvagia--laughing joyfully as Old Kasuto burned.

In the midst of his turmoil there came a light sharp knock upon the door.

"Go away!" he cried, his voice strained with fear and distracted rage.

At once the door opened. Zelda looked in; her eyes widened with alarm, and she ran to him and knelt by him. "What's wrong?" she asked insistently. He shrank from her.

"Leave me alone!" he hissed. "Just go!"

"No! I am not leaving you like this!" She reached out for his hand. "What's wrong? What has happened?"

He threw the pillow at her, pulled away and stumbled to his feet. Pressed against the wall, he stared at her kneeling there. "Who has come?" he demanded. "Who is the man on the black horse?"

"Galdenor," Zelda answered, looking bemused. "Sofia's brother. I... I came to bring you down to meet him."

"No!" Dark said wildly. "I cannot!"

"Why?" She stared at him as comprehension slowly dawned. "Dark, he isn't Ganon! He is a noble man. Link and I know him from our first journey--we told you the story. Don't be afraid of him!"

"I am not afraid," he said, struggling to recover some of his lost poise. "But I will not face that man."

"He's here all Yule, Dark; will you stay in your room the whole time? You will have to meet him sooner or later." She smiled encouragingly. "Come down. Meet Galdenor. He was a great friend to us in the desert." He shook his head; but she overpowered him, handing him the wooden comb off the dresser, picking up his cloak to shake out the folds.



Even bundled like a parcel in a huge thick fur cloak, the tall man still shivered violently. He stood as close to the fire in the Great Hall as he dared, rubbing his gloved hands before the blaze. Link couldn't help laughing to see such a sight. "Galdenor!" he said, pushing through the throng. The hall was filled with people kicking snow off their boots and talking, laughing, greeting each other.

"Link," Galdenor said, glancing round with a smile. "I like your hair!"

"I get the feeling that I'll have a lot more comments about it before the evening is out," Link grinned. He held out his hand; the other man clasped it strongly. "How are you?"

"Cold! By the Goddess! I've never been so cold in my life!" Galdenor's teeth chattered as he spoke. "How do you people stand it?"

"It's not this cold all year," Link said with a smile. "Take off that cloak! You've got snow in it!"

"Hey, brother!" came another voice. Sofia bounded out of nowhere and flung herself on her brother; he staggered back, laughing as he embraced her and swung her round. They greeted each other joyfully in the Gerudo tongue, and rattled on together for some minutes, heedless of the Hylians surrounding them.

"You need a shave, big brother," Sofia teased, running her fingers along his jaw. He pulled his head away and mock-scowled.

"Can't a man grow a beard in peace?"

"You'll look like Dad!" she said, laughing. "Don't you dare!"

"All right, all right... I haven't had the chance and you know it! I've spent all day riding!" He grinned at her mischievously. "What's that shapeless thing you've got on?"

"Shapeless? It's a very good Hylian tunic, Galdenor, as you well know. Too cold for silk! Anyway, you're a one to talk--is that a carpet on your back, or a live bear?"

"Ha ha," Galdenor said, loosing the clasp of his cloak. The brindled fur stuck up in stiff, frozen spikes, dusted with snow. He handed it to a Hylian attendant who staggered away beneath the weight of it. Beneath, he wore an ornate Gerudo-made mail tunic, sewn with largely ornamental steel rings and slit at the sides for better movement. A purple silk sash thick with gold embroidery was tied around his waist, and his high boots were of Hylian style with golden buckles. His hair had grown; he had it held back with a golden band across his forehead. Amongst the tastefully expensive silk gowns and plain woven tunics of the Hyrule nobility, he looked exotic and magical; an Oriental lord.

"Wow," Sofia said, looking him up and down.

"Thought I ought to make an effort," he told her with a grin. "Since Dad couldn't come, I'm the official representative."

"How is Dad?" she asked.

"Well enough. Very busy."

Sofia happened to glance round and saw Link standing a few paces away, examining his cast. "Oh!" she said, and switched to Hylian. "We've been rude, Galdenor!"

"Don't worry about it," Link said, smiling. "I know you have missed each other. Go ahead and talk! There is plenty of time!"

"We'll catch up properly later, when we're alone," Galdenor told him. Suddenly he grinned in disbelief, and knelt. "Is that Prowl?" he asked, holding out his hand. The sand cat sniffed at his fingers and rubbed her head against them, seeming to recognise his scent even after so long apart. "By the Goddess!" Galdenor said as he stood again. "She's grown so much! I remember her as a little tiny thing!"

"She eats more than I do now," Link said. "That is impressive!"

Galdenor stripped off his gloves and stuffed them in a pocket; he blew on his fingers and rubbed them vigorously together. "I always wondered," he said, "how Hylians could have three different words for frozen rain. I encountered all of them on the way here. Snow, hail, sleet. I shan't forget them in a hurry!"

Link laughed. "Come into the ballroom!" he said. "It is less draughty, and there will be drinks!"

"I hope there's something hot," Galdenor said, following. The great doors swung open before them; attendants bowed and moved gracefully out of the way. Sofia slipped her hand into her brother's and held his fingers, squeezing them. He smiled at her and then looked around--and up--in stunned silence. She knew how he was feeling--she had felt the same way when she first saw Hyrule Castle. They had grown up in Gaelaidh, which was rich and luxurious enough in its own way--but this was simply life on a different scale. Even the King's own tent would have fitted easily into one corner of this room. The ballroom was forty feet long and fourteen high, carpeted in red and gold, and it was looking its best for Yule; the gray stone walls were festooned with wreaths of holly, and torches burned bright in every niche. Two long damasked tables stretched the length of the room, laid with a hundred kinds of food.

"You get used to it," she murmured.

"Goddess," he said under his breath. An attendant offered him a glass of hot spiced wine from a tray; he took one absently and then held up the crystal glass and examined it, shaking his head in wonder.

"Where's Zelda?" Sofia asked suddenly. "She should be down by now!"

"She went up to fetch Dark," Link told her. "How strange. I wonder what is taking them so long?"

"Who is Dark?" asked Galdenor.

Link and Sofia exchanged meaningful looks. "We had better explain a few things," Link said, taking Galdenor's arm and guiding him towards a quieter corner of the room. "We have a fourth Knight now--a skilled fighter with a great deal of knowledge about Hyrule in ancient times. He has been a great ally to us already."

"Well, that's good news, isn't it?" Galdenor said, looking puzzled. "Why so grim?"

"You're not going to like him," Sofia said.

"Why shouldn't I like him? I don't even know who he is yet!"

Link took a breath and decided to face it. "His name is Dark Link. We freed him by chance from a magic mirror where he had been imprisoned for centuries. Ganon created him in the Age of Legends; he is the shadow of the Hero of Time, brought to life by sorcery."

Galdenor was silent. Sofia squeezed his hand nervously. She had expected disbelief, possibly anger--not this wordless brooding stare.

"Ganon created him," he said finally. "And you make him a Knight, and ask him to join you. I suppose nothing I could say will change things now?"

"I know what you're thinking," Sofia said, tilting her face towards him. "Believe me! I felt the same way. But he has been faithful to us when there was nothing to be gained from it. I don't understand why he stays, but he does!"

"Please, Galdenor," Link said, "just try not to be startled when you see him."

"I hope you know what you are doing," Galdenor said grimly.



It was dull outside and the snow was coming down hard; but in the Great Hall, people laughed. The hum of lively conversation reached Dark on the stairs. He hung back in the archway, adjusting the collar of his tunic, wishing for one moment to look good too in honour of Yule. Then reality intervened; a young woman walked past, glanced, caught sight of his eyes and gave a little scream before curtseying in embarrassed confusion and hurrying away. He did not want to be here. Not now, not at this time.

Zelda stood on tiptoe, surveying the bustling hall. "They aren't here," she said, looking back at him. "They must have gone in already. Come on!" She grabbed his hand and towed him at a trot across the hall, brushing beneath the outstretched lowest boughs of the Yule tree. The doors swung open for them; the liveried attendants stepped back.

The tall dark man was standing with his back to them as he chatted to Link and Sofia. Link saw them; and something must have showed in his face, because in another moment the dark man turned. Zelda ran to him and hugged him. "Galdenor!" she said, laughing. "It is wonderful to see you!"

"Likewise," he said, but seeming distracted. His gaze moved from her, and fixed on Dark; his deep-set eyes gleamed gold in the firelight.

Zelda looked swiftly at Link. Does he know? she asked. He nodded. How did he take it?

As well as could be expected, Link answered with a slight toss of his head. His beads clinked together.

"They're talking again," Sofia said to her brother. "They talk without words. You can always tell because their eyes go all unfocused."

Galdenor grunted. He was still staring at Dark--who stared back, his blank eyes shining brightly in the torchlight. Zelda stepped in to break it up. "Galdenor," she said, taking his arm, "this is our friend Dark Link. Dark, this is Sofia's brother Galdenor. He's the Crown Prince of the Gerudo people."

"I am... honoured," Dark said at last, with some difficulty.

"Likewise," Galdenor said again. Slowly he extended his hand. It hung in the air between them like a challenge; a gauntlet thrown down. Dark reached out and gave the prince his own. They clasped for a moment and withdrew.

Link exhaled; it was done.

"Well!" Zelda said brightly. "Now what? Shall we hit the buffet?"

Galdenor smiled at that, and turned his attention from Dark. "I like the sound of that," he said. "I have had nothing since dawn, and that was little enough. It's a two-day ride from Gaelaidh."

"Well, we are glad you could come," Link grinned.

"It is a shame your parents could not be here, Link," Zelda said, slipping her hand into his.

He looked at her for a moment in something like surprise. "My parents? They would not want to come. They would certainly not like to travel all this way, and they are not too fond of Hyrule in the first place. Besides, there's too much needing doing. My father will probably spend the winter caulking his boat."

"What in the Goddess's name is that?" Galdenor said, sounding startled.

Link grinned. "Caulking? Or a boat?" There was laughter.

"I am not that provincial," Galdenor said with a wry smile. "I do know what a boat is! Believe it or not, Link, we used to be sailors! We sailed across the sea to Hyrule. But that is a very long time ago now, even in Hylian terms. I know nothing about boats myself."

"Caulking," Link said; "filling the gaps in the timbers to make it watertight. It is a filthy job." He made a face, remembering. "All my previous Yules have smelled of tar!"

They moved towards the laden tables and took plates from the pile at the end. Link picked out a few delicacies and put them on the floor for Prowl, then chose a second plate for himself. He wandered down after the others, piling his plate high as he went.

Dark did not follow them. He stepped back, into the shadows beneath the colonnade, and made himself as unobtrusive as he could. From here he could watch without being seen. He stared at the tall dark man--Sofia's brother, he told himself again. It was difficult to keep that in mind. He had known Ganondorf, had seen him firsthand. Everything about the young prince was familiar: his face, his hair, his muscular body. He was younger, of course, and his features slightly softened by that youth, but with time, Dark thought, they might be as twins. Yet there was something intangibly different. He watched the prince laughing at something Sofia had said, and put his finger on it. Galdenor looked happy. Ganondorf never had.

A voice close by said, "That's an impressive glare--what's he done?"

He flinched, and then sighed, recognising the speaker. "Harper." The blond man was dressed for tonight in gaudy red and green; he leaned easily against one of the worn stone pillars, balancing a plate of assorted goodies in his left hand.

"You remember me--I'm touched." A teasing grin. "And how are you this fine fresh Yuletide e'en?"

Dark stared at him.

"See," Harper said gently, with barely a hint of gentle mockery, "this is where you say, fine thanks, and yourself?"

He could think of nothing to say to that, so he said nothing. Harper was not fazed. He set his plate down on the edge of the table and dusted a crumb from his fine tunic, then leaned back against the pillar and was quiet. They watched the crowd in the well-lit center of the hall: social groups forming and breaking up. Dark found himself struggling with unease and unfounded suspicions, and at last was driven to say something... anything.

"You are... here to play?"

Harper faked astonishment, stumbling and clapping a hand to his breast. "Farore's Wind, it speaks!" He grinned again and nodded to the small raised platform at one end of the hall where a number of musical instruments lay waiting. "As ever. And you--why are you here?"

"I came for my friends," Dark said reluctantly.

Quick as a flash: "Oh? Why aren't you with them?"

Dark blinked. He glanced across once again, at the others. They stood in a loose circle near the musicians' dais; they were talking animatedly, but he could not hear what they were saying over the general hum. Suddenly, and startlingly, he felt left out. He stifled it and asked quickly, "You are the... court musician?"

Harper laughed wryly. "Musician, manager, poet, scribe. Sometimes I think I'm the only one who ever does anything around here. For instance, I've just been asked to put on a play for his Majesty this coming summer. Write, produce and perform, more like."

"A play?" Dark was only vaguely familiar with the concept. Once, long ago, he had seen part of a mystery play in the marketplace of a Hyrulian town--now where had that been, and when? There had been a wooden platform attached to a cart, and people in odd clothing...

"About the Hero of Time." Caught unawares, Dark jerked back reflexively and turned to stare at the man; Harper apparently did not notice. His gaze seemed focused inward now, on something that only he could see. In another moment he came to. "Ah, I think I see my flute player. I'd better go and see to things. If you'll excuse me..." And he slipped away into the crowd.



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