Shadow's Mastery: Chapter 75

HEAT lay thick on Hyrule Town. The streets lay empty, dry and dusty; the fountains in the square flowed at half normal pressure to conserve water, for the river ran low and sluggish in the stifling air. There was nowhere cool to go for relief--even the deepest cellars became ovens eventually under the relentless sun, and the stored wine spoiled.

Out in the countryside, the farming folk went about their lives with faces that were set and still. The people of the fields were not given to displays of emotion--there was little room in their long days of work for that, what with cows to milk and stalls to muck out--but the very calmness in those careworn faces young and old spoke ill. Clouds, when they came, drifted high and fast, and soon blew over to leave the sky once more colorless and clear. The crops were already suffering; through the rolling Lon Lon meadows the leaves of the young wheat drooped limply as if exhausted by the mere pressure of the atmosphere.

And it was not yet full summer.

In the Temple of Time the ancient copper bell began to strike the hour. Sahasrahla, caretaker of the Temple, did not even glance up from his work as the reverberating tones echoed through the wall. After so many years he was as much a part of the majestic building as were its stones: he knew the rhythm of the clock so well that he would have noticed had it been out of time by a single heartbeat.

Seven chimes rang out over the city. As the final echo died away, the old priest did look up, at the high cobweb-clouded windows of the vestry. It was still quite light outside. In the still, heavy evening he could hear the sound of the living city finally beginning to stir, rousing itself for a few hours of work now that the stifling heat of the day was nearly past: carts rattling past, voices humming like sleepy bees. It made the old man comfortable to think of so much life and youth, so near to him. He knew that he was not as well as he once had been--that his own time, in fact, was drawing to a close--but Sahasrahla had no regrets. His only desire where that was concerned was that he be allowed to die here, in peace, in the place that he had loved and served faithfully for so many years.

He was working today on a manuscript, one of many stored within the Temple's archives. The document was of minor historical importance, but Sahasrahla loved it all the same for what it was: a piece of the past. And so he bent close to the cracked old parchment and copied out the faded letters with great care, absorbed in the task of saving a dead author's poem from the mice and the dust.

There was a sound: a creak from beneath the old man's feet. Sahasrahla paused in his work. But the Temple of Time was an old building, as old as the Age of Legends; it fidgeted and settled a little, sometimes, when the sun's heat had warmed its ancient bones. The old man listened to the silence for a while, and then bent back to his task.

When the sound came again, it was louder, and Sahasrahla laid down his pen. A low grating subsided into an uneasy silence. The old priest frowned but made no move; he was unsure whether what he had heard had been within the building, or outside. Perhaps a cart was unloading in the street...

Then there was an unmistakable crash. Sahasrahla rose with a grunt of effort and took up the candelabra from the center of the table. He made his way down to the crypt, grumbling quietly to himself. He wasn't worried--such things happened now and again. Settling timbers, or subsidence, or even the miniscule efforts of mice, could nudge and overbalance a heavy casket if given time enough. It meant extra sweeping, and the old man disliked working down in the cold cellars of the Temple--it made his joints ache.

The key stood ready in the old wooden door, but it was not locked. He removed it with gentle care, knowing that the rust made it fragile, and opened the door, and the familiar rush of damp air flooded over him. By the Three, even the crypt was feeling warmish in this awful weather. The candles guttered in the draught. Sahasrahla pocketed the key and made his way with care down the worn stone steps, skirting an occasional puddle of condensation.

At the bottom, a long vaulted hall stretched away into impenetrable darkness. Sahasrahla began to walk briskly: the dead held no fear for him. Soon enough he found the source of the disturbance--a long stone coffin had slipped from its shelf and shattered on the stone floor, cracking one of the massive flagstones. The old priest sighed to see it: not only would the bones have to be sorted from the rubble and re-interred, but a mason would have to be brought in. He held the candle close to the recessed shelf, squinting, seeking an answer. But the shelf did not seem to be tilted at all, and only the one casket had fallen. The others were still firmly rooted in place, dust gathering around their bases.

Then Sahasrahla heard another coffin shatter in the shadows, behind him. He turned, raised the heavy candelabra high and advanced, grim now. The flickering light fell upon a ragged hole in the center of the floor; in and around it, the huge and heavy flagstones lay in pieces. Beside it lay another, intact coffin--a huge ornate stone box covered with carved reliefs. The old man gave a start of surprise as he saw rough steps leading down into a deeper darkness. Someone, for some reason, had been digging down here unknown to him, and had unearthed...


He understood, then, and began to back away. Something moved in the gloom--moved towards him, looming at the very edge of the candle's light. He turned and began to run, surprisingly sprightly for an old man; and the thing came scuttling after, skritch-skritching on the hard stone floor. The candles blew out one by one in his hand. Sahasrahla understood that he would not make it to safety: as he leaped up the steps in the deepening gloom it was only a few paces behind him. But he knew also that he could not allow it to come out into the Temple. His groping fingers found the door and dragged it shut; his other hand jammed the key back into the lock and twisted hard, breaking it off. The door was thick Kokiri Forest oak bound with iron. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.

Then the darkness was upon him.



North Castle stood on a hilltop, out of the valley's heat, which usually meant that the castle gardens were cooler than the town. Not now; there had been no whisper of a breeze all day. The air, even at this hour, was still thick and oppressive; the once verdant grass lay brown and brittle, dying on the lawns, and the earth, in those places where it already lay bare, was dusty and deeply cracked. Down in the Queen's Courtyard gardeners laboured to save ancestral rosebeds; the well was sinking and the moat running dry.

It was a summer just like this nine hundred years ago: the Imprisoning War. The air felt sticky in just the same way. The crops died in the fields. People went hungry in high summer.

It was on just such an evening as this that the University of Kasuto burned...

He wandered restlessly through the dying gardens, the dry grass whispering with papery desiccated voices beneath his feet. Even now there was not so much as a breath of wind to bring relief, and his hair lay damp on the back of his neck. The heat had driven him out; he preferred the pain of sunset to the unbearable choking stuffiness in the tower room.

He was alone: the others were preparing for some royal dinner or other. He knew that he would not go--he could not bear the thought of it, sitting in that stifling hall, the smoke and smells filling his aching head. Let them look and wonder at the empty place at table. Assuming anyone even noticed his absence. Assuming anyone cared.

Come now. That is hardly fair. They would care. The boy would.

Indeed, he will doubtless come looking for you, pestering you...

He bit his tongue, hard, until sharp points pierced flesh and he tasted salt blood. Stop, he thought.

Lately he felt as if there were two of him. Some of the thoughts he was having did not feel like his own thoughts. What would it be like to not know the terrible things he knew; to be alone in one's head--like the scullery maids he could hear distantly, laughing in the kitchen garden as they cut rosemary (scent coming for a moment sweet and green to his nose, as he passed by the courtyard gate)...

He stopped dead in the middle of the path. He had forgotten what he had been thinking about, or why he was walking here in the first place. The scent of rosemary--why should it make his eyes burn and his breath come fast like this?

There was a meaning, once, to the scent of rosemary, but he could not decide whether it was to do with a green-haired child sitting on a treestump, the thing in her cupped hands singing like a meadowlark--or with fire, and distant screams, and a little girl standing barefoot in the red-lit street, looking towards him almost curiously as the flames licked at her nightgown.

That was... it was a long time ago...

...wasn't it?

His body gave a great involuntary shudder, like a startled horse. He had forgotten to breathe; he gasped in a painful breath, his hands clenching and unclenching convulsively.

There was no goodness in the air tonight anyway--it was too hot, too still, too dead...

Ash drifting against the reddened sky, like fine gray snow...

No. That was a long time ago. You are here, now.

His legs were stiff and unwilling to move. He moved anyway, lurching along the path and round the corner of the granary to where he knew there was a bench. It was in full sunlight, with a view down into the valley, but he did not care. He sat down heavily and stared out at the sun hanging low and red over the town. Distantly the Temple bell began to strike the hour: the tower was a small black spike, halfway up the valley's side, poking above the layers of sloping roofs. Seven o'clock.

A voice said, Father went to the castle to deliver some milk, and he hasn't come back yet...

No. That was a long time ago. Another time, another castle even, for old Hyrule Castle was long gone, rubble and scavenged stone now lying in half a hundred town house walls.

He hugged himself tightly as he stared into the thick red light of the setting sun. The sky looked as if it were bleeding. The pain of it was bad, but at the same time he could not even feel it. He could feel nothing at all. Not even the warmth.

O Din... Farore... help me...



"He's getting worse," Sofia said.

Link fiddled with the collar of his tunic, pulling the strings tight and tying them in a neat knot. He was already sweating into his freshly laundered formal clothes; this heat just did not want to let up.

"When are you going to do something about it?"

His hands paused in their work; he stared into the mirror, past his reflection to where she stood in his doorway, leaning with one hand resting on the frame. She was wearing a long dark red gown, sleeveless and quite plain, with the Medallion of Fire gleaming gold on her breast. With her high angled cheekbones and dusky skin she should have looked haughty, beautiful; but she did not have the trick of standing in a Hylian woman's gown. Her stance was too stiff, her feet too widely planted; her shoulders were too firmly set. She looked ready to fight something.

"Me?" he said. "Why me?"

"Because you're the only one he listens to nowadays! You know that!"

"I try," he said after a moment. He looked back at his reflection, sighed, and used his hands to try and smooth down the unruly mess of his hair. Something about the weather made it unmanageable, no matter how much he brushed it.


"You know how angry he gets when he thinks anyone's trying to be nice to him. I don't know why, maybe he thinks we're making fun of him." He picked up his comb again, looked at it and put it down. "I'm reluctant to push him, Sofia. If I try, and he clams up, it'll just make it worse."

"Worse than it is now?" She came in, pulled his chair out from under the writing-desk, and flopped down with a most unladylike air. Her eyes were tired; she had made no attempt to cover up the dark rings with paste and powder, as she could easily have done. "We're losing him, Link, day by day... I can't believe we're all just sitting here watching him fall apart!"

What did you do when a friend became... well, sick? You could hardly send someone like Dark to the grim hospital on the hill.

"I don't think he's changed his clothes for a week," Sofia said. "Not that he smells, of course, but there's mud on his trousers. Either he hasn't noticed or he doesn't care. People are starting to talk, Link. That man--what's his name, the musician--he asked me this afternoon if he was all right."

"Fiddler?" he said. "Or... Harper? Something like that. I don't know him very well."

"Nor do I; I'd never spoken to him before. He seemed nice though... and worried." She heaved a sigh and twisted a gold bangle around and around on her wrist.

He came over to the bed and sat down to pull his boots on: his new best pair in black polished leather. Prowl hadn't got at them yet--but then she was less playful nowadays. The sand cat had grown again while he and the others had been away; she was the equal in size of any of the King's hunting hounds now. She lay on the end of the bed like a heraldic beast, her head up and her golden wild eyes fixed thoughtfully on him. He reached over and rubbed one of her tufted ears, and was rewarded with a lazy rumbling purr.

"Did you know he wanders?" Sofia said. "Just walking around for hours on end with this vague look, as if he isn't sure who he is or why he's there."

"I know," he said. "Sofia, I know all of this. I just don't know what to do about it."

"Talk to him!" She was near tears, he realised suddenly. "You're the only one he'll still listen to!"

He bent his head without speaking, tugged at the leather. The boots were stiff, still new enough to squeak. Slowly he squirmed his foot down past the bend at the ankle.

She was right, though he hated to admit it. Maybe not right about Dark trusting him--but right in that something needed to be done.

I've been too lax, I suppose... trying to give him the space he wants, when it's something else entirely that he needs. But no... I am sure that if I had pushed it, we'd have lost him sooner, driven him off...

"All right," he said, jamming his other foot down into its boot. "After we've got this dinner out of the way, I'll go and find him, talk to him."

"Why are we going to this thing anyway?" Sofia asked sourly, sitting forward in the chair to learn her elbows on her knees--another strong, unfeminine gesture that pressed creases into the delicate rustling silk. "I hate this... I feel like a dog in a dress."

He bit his lip to stop himself grinning at the image. "You could have worn... you know, Gerudo things."

"They'd stare. They always do." She grimaced. "And I can't believe he's holding it inside. We'll have to have the fire, and candles; the hall's too dark otherwise. A fire, in this heat!"

"Surely it's been hotter than this at home," he said with a smile.

"Well, it isn't sticky like this at home." She threw herself back in the chair with a huff and folded her arms. "You're trying to distract me."

"No, I'm not--I said I'd talk to him."

"Talk to who?" Zelda asked, poking her head round the open doorway. "I've been looking for you two--we've got about ten more minutes before we have to go down."

"We'll make it," Link said, getting to his feet. The new boots pinched slightly around his toes. "Do you want to come in for a minute?"

"Do I look all right?" She stepped through the doorway hesitantly, holding her hands clasped in front of her. The flush in her face was not all to do with the heat.

It had been a long time since he had seen her in anything other than men's tunics and loose peasant trousers, her golden hair either scraped into a messy braid or left free to blow in the wind. She had chosen a soft, pink, girlish gown with puffed sleeves and a belt of square gold links; her hair was held back from her face with a delicate web of pearls. She looked like a princess--and more, like a grown woman. In that instant he saw himself next to her: a clumsy peasant with hands rough from work, his borrowed finery ill-fitting.

"You look... fine," he said. "Really."

If she heard the stiffness in his voice she did not react to it; she sighed and sat down on the bed beside the sand cat, moving--he noted--with trained and entirely unconscious elegance to avoid crumpling the frail fabric of her skirts. "I could have done without this tonight, you know... I wish we could just take some cold cuts from the kitchen and sit out together somewhere."

"Who are these people, anyway?" Sofia asked curiously.

The Princess shrugged. "Lotharian barons. Merchants. I don't know. There's going to be about thirty of us; I saw the table laid earlier when I was coming up. It's going to be ghastly."

"The weather's not helping," Link said, moving to the window. It was standing wide open, supposedly to admit the breeze, though there was no trace of a breeze--had not been for days in fact. He leaned his hands on the sill and looked out at the oppressive reddened sky; the sun hung huge and low over the western hills. "Feels like thunderstorm weather, but look at it--not a cloud in the sky."

"We had better go down," Zelda said after a minute or so. She rose, and the sand cat turned her head to watch, tufted ears flicking.

Prowl slipped out with them as they closed the door, and followed them along the length of the corridor, padding silently on the worn red carpet. Those oversized feet finally looked like they belonged; her body was lean, lithe and muscular. She moved with her head down in a long stalking stride, so that her pale whiskers just brushed the rug now and then.

"Are you taking her with us?" Zelda asked as they descended a circular stair.

Link smiled, thinking of a time when he had done just that, and the sand cat--only a kitten then of course--had chewed up a good portion of a valuable woven tablecloth with her small milk teeth. "I'll drop her off in the kitchen as we go," he said. "Miriel usually feeds her in the evenings."

"And Dark?"

"Dark?" he said, wrong-footed.

Her blue eyes were wide and searching as she turned to him. "Yes--is he coming tonight?"

They had reached a landing; they stopped, all three. Prowl, purring, drew her body for a moment against his legs, doubtless leaving a few sandy hairs on his clean brown trousers. He didn't look down--he was wondering how to answer.

The silence became slightly too long, and then Sofia broke it. "I shouldn't think so," she said frankly, "would you?"

The three of them shared a look that went beyond words.

"I suppose not," Zelda said.



All the windows had been thrown wide open, as had the door into the south garden, but it did little good; the banqueting hall was still hot, humid and choking with the haze from the candles. Link sat down beside an empty place--well, it was hardly a surprise, but it felt disappointing nonetheless.

He didn't know many of the faces around him; most of the guests tonight seemed to be gentlemen of a certain age. Jewels and velvet were everywhere. The talk was political, and he tuned most of it out, concentrating instead on eating whilst maintaining impeccable manners. He understood: this was not like the cheerful Yule Ball, a dinner given for fun and in friendship. This was business. A few seats above him Zelda was in full Crown Princess personality, looking beautiful and severe and nodding in all the right places. Harkinian, at the head of the table, was the center of a boisterous knot of conversation; but the King was saying little himself, looked calm and grave as he listened.

We're decoration, Link thought, smiling wryly to himself. Like the expensive candles and imported fruit. A Gerudo princess and the Hero to enrich the company. His Majesty wants to impress these people.

Well, the least he could do was avoid showing the King up. When a dish of grilled whitebait was put down, he made sure to pick the right knife.

Someone near him cracked a joke, and the people sitting around him exploded in the hwah, hwah, hwah sort of laughter that he had learned tended to characterize inherited money. Link smiled, too, but not at the joke; he hadn't heard it.

A dog in a dress... hah, that's a good one. But I'm the dog in the dress now--I don't belong here, in this sort of company. I ought to be back in Calatia ploughing fields or something. He glanced towards Sofia who was sitting a couple of seats away, on the other side of the table; her attention, too, was focused on her plate. Everyone was talking loudly over and around her, as if she weren't there: probably, being a woman and not currently in a position of power, she was simply beneath their notice. There were very few women here, and aside from the Crown Princess they all seemed to be relegated to the lower end of the table.

He didn't even have much of an appetite. It was just too hot for this, too hot to enjoy sitting in a crowded room and picking one's way through half a dozen complicated dishes. He answered politely when spoken to, sipped sparingly at his cup of watered-down wine, and hoped it would all be over before too long.

They were just beginning on dessert, a concoction of ice and chilled fruit--ice, in this weather! that was impressive--when the music started, gently, from a corner. A few heads turned, but without real interest; the hum of conversation dimmed for a moment, then resumed. The blond man was sitting in a shadowy alcove, perched atop a plain wooden stool; his eyes were closed, and a faint smile crossed his face now and then as he plucked a melody from his lute.



The moon was rising. He watched it climb slowly above the treetops, into a sky that was dark and hazy and, despite the lack of clouds, showed very few and faint stars. It was a little cooler now.

I have been dreaming, he thought.

He always seemed to feel a little clearer during the hours of darkness--not that that was any comfort to him. In darkness there was the call. It drew him, ceaselessly; sometimes in a cold sweat of horror he found himself walking dazedly in a south-easterly direction. Towards Death Mountain and Kakariko--towards the gate that had once lain, and doubtless did lie still, beneath the ancient graveyard.

It was not so bad tonight; it was always better when the moon was full. The new moon days, the dark of the moon, were what he dreaded most. That was when he went to his room, barred the door, lit the candles.

Ironic--to be afraid of the dark. To be afraid of himself.

Or perhaps not so ironic then.

It was like Koholint, climbing that terrible mountain in the snow--knowing even as he took his first step onto the slope that he would not have the strength to reach the top. Not without the boy--the boy who had pulled him to his feet whenever he fell. That boy had grown up somewhere along the way, and Dark had not even noticed at the time. Soon enough he would be a mature man... and then, after the manner of his kind, grow old and die...

And I will be alone...

No. Not alone...

"I will not think of that," he said softly to the still air. "I swore that I would not..."

There was music from somewhere, distantly: the rippling flow of a harp or lute. The dinner, he thought--he should have gone. But they did not really want him there; they would be glad not to have to put up with his presence. He hated it so when they stared and whispered behind their hands.

I should have gone, he thought.

He stood up painfully; his body was chilled from too long sitting still. Yes--he should have gone. He had been called, and he should have gone at once. It was only right.

He began to walk--and then stopped, or tried to stop in mid-step: he nearly fell and had to catch himself on a nearby tree.


He had been moving away from the castle, towards the east, towards Death Mountain.

For a little while he stood shivering, struggling inwardly, as the moon drifted slowly higher through a foggy sky. An owl screeched somewhere, weird and frightful: a lost soul in the night. At last he turned with an effort and began to walk again--heading deliberately back towards the castle, following the gravel path, towards the distant strain of music he could hear.



The long table had been cleared, and the evening had now reached the excruciating stage of mingling. Guests wandered vaguely about the hall with drinks in their hands, or gathered in groups to continue their conversations about nothing very much. Gloomily Link leaned against the wall in a darker corner of the banqueting hall, not far from the musician, and wondered when would be the best time to slip off quietly. Sofia had been dragged into a discussion at the far end of the room, and looked about as uncomfortable over there as he felt back here; Zelda, of course, was beside her father, handling the whole thing with supreme grace.

"You're looking a bit sour, y'Lordship."

It had been a soft murmur, barely registering to his ears above the melody of the lute; nobody else would have been able to hear unless they were standing next to him. He blinked and glanced round and down; the young man winked at him, then bent his head again to play a passage on a high string.

"I'm not a lordship," Link said.

The music did not pause. "Nor were most of this lot fifty years ago. New money."

"Why does Harkinian put up with this?" He turned his head and looked again to where Zelda stood with her father. Her poise was impeccable as a slightly too-drunk man leaned slightly too close to her. He could see the tension in her jaw as she smiled her response to something the baron had said, but only because he knew her well.

"Why?" The bard threw a minor chord into his playing, abstractedly, changing the tone. He played on for a few bars before speaking again. "Because most of this lot could probably buy Hyrule City if they wanted. Politics, my friend. These are troubled times."

Link stared at him for a moment. "Is the King--?"

"Oh now, there's no point asking me anything political. I'm just the court jester."

"I think you're a bit more than that," Link said boldly. He was curious now about this man who seemed to have an interest in Dark.

"Flatterer." The bard shifted position, settled his lute slightly closer in his lap, and modulated the music smoothly into a different key, picking up the pace. His fingers, strong and slender, glided delicately over the polished frets. The piece he was playing was swift and complicated, full of trills and leaping arpeggios, but he made it look effortlessly easy. Link was reminded of another who played in the same dreamy unselfconscious way.

"Uh-oh," Harper said softly.

He looked round, and drew in a quick, startled breath. As if summoned by his own thought, Dark was standing in the open garden doorway, staring into the brightly lit room with unfocused eyes. His servant's clothes were crumpled; mud both fresh and old was caked thick on his boots. Nobody had noticed him yet: most people had their backs to the garden, were facing towards the hallway or the lighted end of the room; but it could only be a matter of moments. Link held his breath.

Don't come in, he willed the shadow, and Dark looked round, vaguely puzzled. Stay where you are... If Harkinian's guests saw him in this state there would be panic--or worse, laughter.

"You'd better go and get him," Harper murmured underneath the flow of music.

"I can't," he whispered fiercely. "The moment I move towards the door--"

"Leave that to me." The musician struck three sharp ending chords, then got to his feet. He moved forward a few paces, stepping into the firelight: a gaudy figure in brightly coloured satin. "My most noble lords and ladies, a moment of quiet if you please. I'd like to take the opportunity to humbly present a little song of my own making, a first exclusive preview of this summer's play in three acts, The Legend of Zelda." There were discontented rumbles from the gathering, but the ruse had worked--the blond bard was suddenly the center of attention. He twanged a discordant, humorous note on the lute and began to sing: a silly, slightly rude comic song about a young farm girl wishing for romance as she milked the cows.

Link went quietly to the door, moving along the unlit edge of the room. "Dark," he said softly, taking the other by the arm. "Come on, come with me."

"Link?" The shadow seemed dazed, drunk almost. "What... what is this place?"

"Come on," he said again, and gently led him out into the moonlit gardens. Dark came with him willingly, or at least did not struggle or try to resist. The cooler air felt good after that crowded room.

What now? He hadn't thought this far ahead; there hadn't been time. On the one hand, returning to the hall was out of the question: he wouldn't have set foot in there again tonight for anything.

"I was looking for you," Dark said, confused.

He forced a smile. "Well, you found me..." It looked like he'd be keeping the promise he had made to Sofia. Maybe if he found a quiet spot somewhere, where they were not likely to be disturbed... Perhaps his room, or Dark's--yes, that would be best. Somewhere quiet, where he could at least try to get some sense out of the shadow.

He led him out through the Queen's Courtyard, guessing rightly that nobody would be heading that way at such a late hour. They came back together around the corner of the building towards the great entrance hall, through a deep darkness punctuated here and there with a lighted window. The torches, for the most part, had not yet been lit.

They had to pass by the entrance to the banqueting hall again to get upstairs. Link paused in the gloomy atrium, eyeing the bright square of light spilling long across the tiled floor. The noise from within was rowdy: Harper, though still singing, was being drowned out by loud male voices and laughter.

A man was standing just outside, peering through the open doorway. He looked like a town man, not castle: he wore a homespun tunic and a rather scruffy cloak fastened with a plain copper pin. Nervously he shifted from foot to foot, twisting a red cap through his hands in an agony of indecision. Evidently he was trying to pluck up the courage to enter, to step into that glittering, boisterous throng.

Link hesitated for a moment, finding himself feeling curiously sympathetic to the fellow's plight, then gave in and stepped forward. "Can I help you?" he said.

The man flinched and turned swiftly. His face glistened; but despite the heat he was terribly pale, his eyes wide and frightened. He made a quick, jerky bow. "Begging your pardon, my lord, the gate was--there was no-one at the gate--I--I come from the town--I've a message for the King..."

"You can give it to me if you like," he said kindly. "I know the King."

The man shifted, awkward. "I... I was told, the King..."

He smiled, wanting to at least try to put the messenger at his ease. "If it helps, my name is Link."

It did the trick. The man drew in a long, trembling breath, and some of the colour rushed back into his face. "Oh, master, it's the Temple, there's something--terrible sounds--"

Link heard him out silently, promised to deal with the matter.

Zelda? he sent, once the man had hurried gratefully away.

It took a minute or two before she answered, and when she did her thoughts felt vague and irritable: he only had half her attention. What is it?

There's a problem. Can you make your excuses and get out of there?

After a long moment, That won't exactly be easy.

I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important.

A vexed sigh, or an emotion rather like it. I'll try.

Bring Sofia with you. He broke the contact abruptly and sat down on a lower step of the great staircase, to wait.

"Am I foolish, Link?" Dark said softly, sitting down beside him.


"I feel foolish. What day is it?"

He had to think. "Nineteenth of May."

"What year?"


"I just want to hear it," Dark said.

"Twenty-seven oh-five."

They sat in silence for a while. A boy came with a taper and lit the torches all along the length of the hall, on both sides. Someone came out of the kitchen passage with a tray of wineglasses, and hurried into the banqueting hall. It seemed a very long time before the blaze of light from the hall door dimmed momentarily, and two women came out into the atrium together in a flurry of rustling silk. Zelda spotted him at once and hurried over, her satin slippers scuffing on the brightly polished tiles. "What's happened?"

"There's something wrong in the Temple," he said, getting to his feet. "Go and change--quick. I'll explain on the way."



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