The Garden of Farore: Chapter Twenty
THE horses crowded close together, whickering uneasily, as the four companions prepared to leave them. Zelda searched through saddlebags and came across the spare arrows for her bow; after a moment's hesitation, she took the whole quiver and slung it over her shoulder. Link was reasonably well equipped with his serpentine dagger; he carried it proudly at his side in the loop of his belt. So far the young warrior had not been able to pick up a suitable scabbard for the ancient weapon. A black cloud of discontent followed Sofia as she dismounted with a bad grace: she was not happy with the turn of events.
Dark Link's crimson eyes flashed suddenly as he turned his head and faced them. A slight smile played over his pure black features. "This way," he hissed softly, bared his teeth in a swift smile, and turned on his heel to walk swiftly and silently through the trees.
Sofia hurried to catch up with the others. Plucking at Zelda's sleeve, she drew the attention of the young Princess. "Are you sure this is wise?" the Gerudo woman whispered sharply. "Where is he leading us? Are you sure that it is to the Temple? He has managed to take us far from civilisation, and now to separate us from our mounts--we are lost, hopelessly lost, without him. Zelda, this is extremely unwise. We should turn back."
"No," Zelda said stubbornly. "Sofia--we have come this far; we must go on. There are three of us and one of him--it will be all right!" She smiled persuasively. "I promise you--it will be all right. With Link and you to watch over him, Dark will go nowhere."
"How do you know?" Sofia's face was sullen. "You don't! You know nothing about him except evil! You are putting us further in danger with every step! Zelda--you must listen." Halting, she took the Princess by the shoulders and gazed intently into her eyes. "Turn back. Get rid of this--this thing. We can find the Temple on our own, another day."
Zelda did not break gaze with the red-haired woman, but she slowly reached up and removed Sofia's hands from her shoulders. "Believe me, I know how you feel about him," the Princess said gently; "I fear him myself; but we need his help. So far he has done nothing wrong. There are three of us--we can watch each other's backs, and in any case he does not have a weapon. Trust me."
"This is folly," Sofia growled, but she stood back.
"We'll fall behind," Zelda told her softly, and then she turned and hurried along the path to catch up with the other two. She just caught sight of Link's back as the young warrior turned a bend; she broke into a run, not wishing to have him out of her sight. He turned and smiled at her as she came up to him.
"Problem, my Princess?"
Zelda shrugged slightly. "Sofia has a few qualms. She will be all right, though. And don't call me your Princess, you peahat." They were walking through a natural avenue of trees, paved with rich golden-brown leaves; here and there a sunbeam found its way through the thinning canopy. The light here was no longer green, but gold, and there was dust in the drier air. The orchids and bluebells had given way to forget-me-nots.
The path was crossed by a dip, at the bottom of which ran a small, crystalline stream. Someone had stretched a delicate wooden bridge across the divide, to prevent travelers getting their feet wet while fording the brook. It was the first sign of civilisation they had seen for many miles within the forest. As they crossed, their footsteps resounded through the hollow structure, and a huge moth rose out of the fallen leaves right at the feet of the Princess. She let out a sharp scream of surprise and jumped back, then felt silly when everyone turned to look at her. To cover her moment of embarrassment, she coughed and concentrated on her feet. It was strange to be walking after so long on horseback.
Dark Link led them up a winding, stony path, ascending a steep hill. The trees were thinning out. Occasionally now they discovered strange little walls or other pieces of broken masonry strewn about the scenery; once there was a small statue right in the middle of the way, around three feet tall, and so entwined in climbing plants that its features were more or less totally obliterated. Finally, limbs aching from the strenuous climb, they came out onto the top of the rise and stood beneath the sky once more. It was not long past midday.
There was a natural clearing in the forest, ringed by rhodedenrons. The hilltop was more or less bare of the tall trees which had cloaked the rest of the woods in mystery, and from here it was possible to view the whole forest, a sea of green stretching on and out to the faraway mistiness of Hyrule Field. Gentle breezes caressed them, drying the perspiration from their limbs. It was warm here with the sun's heat; the chill of morning had lifted. The path led across and on down the other side of the hill, descending steeply into a green cave of trees. Prowl, who had been irritated about not catching the moth, set about chasing butterflies, of which there were many among the clover.
"This is the Sacred Forest Meadow?" Zelda asked, feeling somewhat let down. The view was impressive from here, but there was little to see in the actual vicinity. It was just a bare hilltop strewn with half-worked stone.
"The meadow is further along the path," Dark Link corrected her. With the sun's light once more upon them, he had pulled the hood of his cloak back over his head. "I have brought you this way for your own safety, though it be longer."
"What's the other way?" Link asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"The Lost Woods." His voice was cold, carrying a sense of darkness.
"Sounds interesting," the young warrior mumured dryly.
"Perhaps we could go back that way... if you so desire." It was a challenge. Link looked at Zelda with some eagerness in his eyes; she hesitated, feeling a frightened palpitation in her chest.
Sofia broke the impasse. "That will not be necessary, my black friend," the red-haired woman said coolly, flicking her ponytail over her shoulder. "Shall we move on?" Without waiting for a response, she strode forward, brushing past Zelda and Dark Link. She did not look back as she walked swiftly down the path, leaving them behind.
"Come on," Zelda ordered, shouldering her bow. "We had better press on--I would like to reach the Forest Temple soon, so that we can search it and be on our way. This place is not our friend."
"How right you are," Dark hissed softly. She glanced sharply at him, but his expression was unreadable.
The path they had been following came to a sudden end just below the treeline, on the other side of the hill. They looked down upon a deep gully, filled with green foliage; here and there the tops of boulders, fallen rocks from the hillside, stuck out of the overgrowth. The sides of the gully were sheer, composed of black stony soil that was moist and slick with water. A dank scent of water and vegetation filled the air--a smell of stagnation and of age. Little sunlight could penetrate the canopy above, which was as thick and luxuriant as it had been anywhere in the forest, and the viridian gloom added to the overall chilly darkness of the place.
Link leaned over the edge and looked down, picking out the easiest ways to climb into the gully. "Take my hand, Princess," he said. "I will help you down."
"Who says I need help?" Zelda countered, shoving past him. Turning her face to the rock, the Princess slipped over the edge of the path and took hold of the nearest crack in the stone, climbing down with some skill. Link smiled and shook his head as he followed suit.
Sofia glanced at Dark Link, who was hanging back. "What's the matter?" the Gerudo woman asked coldly. "Don't you want to go down there?" There was danger in her question.
He looked at her, then smiled whitely, baring his canines. "Ladies first," he said softly, and bowed deeply, indicating the gully.
The red-haired woman's brows drew together. "No, no, you first. I insist." Her voice was steely.
"As my lady wishes." With a ripple of cloth, the shadow leaped out into the gully and disappeared beneath the all-covering mat of leaves.
Sofia realised she was alone on the side of the rift. Muttering curses in her home tongue, the Gerudo woman spat on her hands and then began the climbdown. It was a treacherous descent, but it went only ten or twelve feet--if she were any judge, for the bottom of the cleft could not be seen. As she reached the leaves, the scent of dead leaves became strong and she wished momentarily for her desert scarf.
If it had been dark above, it was as black as night at the bottom of the gully. They stood all four in a kind of corridor of earth, with a sandy, stony bottom uneven enough to present a danger to the unwary. Huge, twisted roots took up more than half the space in the narrow passage, so that it was only just wide enough for them to pass single file.
"Some meadow," Link said, irritated. He could feel wet soil that had gotten in at the neck of his tunic, and it was uncomfortable. Prowl was on his shoulder, digging her claws in.
"It has changed somewhat," came the voice of Dark Link. The rest of him could not be seen in the darkness--only his eyes, when he turned to look at them. "Obviously, those who once cared for this place are gone. It has been allowed to grow wild in the absence of the Kokiri."
"The Kokiri used to look after this place?" Zelda asked, curious.
"What Kokiri?" said Link.
"Find the walls with your hands and follow me. Feel your way along. It is only a few hundred yards to the end of the maze, so do not make a wrong turning. I will not come back for you."
Only a few hundred yards, indeed--perhaps the most difficult few hundred yards ever walked. The near-blackness made it impossible to clearly see the obstacles in their way; continually they walked into tangled loops of roots that hung down from the trees above them. More roots found their way around their ankles, pulling them back and tripping them up. Something sharp scratched Zelda on the back of the hand; she refrained from crying out, letting out a breathy "ouch" instead. The floor was drenched in perhaps two inches of water. It took almost five minutes for the three companions to clamber out of the end of the tunnel and rejoin their guide, stumbling back into the light with owlish expressions and muddy clothes.
"Here we are," Dark Link said softly.
The gully ended here in a moss-covered stone wall, so ancient and crumbling that there were plants growing in and upon the actual bricks themselves. A tall opening in the center revealed a flight of worn stone steps, leading up and out of the ravine. There was a soft rippling of water; a rivulet ran down over the steps, pooling at their foot; this was the source of the moisture that plagued the tunnels. Fresh, greenish light was visible at the top of the stair. It contrasted beyond compare to the sickly radiance that bathed the gorge: a magical kingdom, seen through the gates of the Underworld.
Time had wrought upon the Forest Temple a rather lovely transformation. They stood all together in an ancient square courtyard, which over time had become a natural garden--free from the rampant growth that had afflicted the former Sacred Forest Meadow. The grassy floor was covered with wildflowers, and one corner of the garden was entirely taken up with a great rosebush bearing white, pink and purple blooms. Other trees grew scattered throughout the garden: aspens, beloved of Farore, and silver birch. Branches from these stretched out over the courtyard and interwove, forming a kind of natural ceiling. It seemed that there had once been a stair leading up to the doorway, which was high in the wall; now, though, any remnant of the steps were gone. Instead, an old oak had grown lopsided, providing an easy climb up to the portal.
"This looks easy," Link smiled, ever glad of a chance to show off his climbing skills. The young warrior shook back his untidy fringe, tossing a few stray leaves to the ground, and made to step forward; he intended to be the first into the Temple--the Temple devoted to his own goddesses. They should have nothing to fear in this shrine to the power of the forest.
That was when they heard the growl. It was long, low and throaty--the sound made by a large and hostile dog, and it came from the thick tangle of roses by the door. At once there came another answering snarl from behind them. Link gasped and leaped back, towards the others, feeling for the handle of his blade even as Zelda unslung her bow. "What was that?"
"Something unfriendly," Sofia said grimly, drawing her scimitar with a scrape of metal on metal. Her eyes were narrowed as she gazed snake-quick at her surroundings, alert for the slightest flicker of movement.
Link wondered why his fingers had not found the serpentine dagger by now. He glanced down at his waist. The blade was gone! "Farore protect us!" he gasped in utter shock, trying to fathom where he might have lost his only close-combat weapon. "My sword! Where's Dark?"
The shadow had vanished.
"Treachery!" Sofia snarled. "He's led us straight into a trap! Damn you, Zelda!"
"I don't believe it," Zelda said numbly.
The author of the savage snarling appeared, slinking low and menacing out of the tall grass in front of them--bellying low, like a snake. At first glance, Link thought it was a dog--it was gray and shaggy, with a pointed fang-filled muzzle and a dog-like body. But no mortal dog was as large as this creature, and when it stood up on its strangely long and muscular hindquarters he realised his mistake. "Goriyas!"
"There are two of them!" Sofia was facing another of the wolf-monsters which had tried to circle around behind them. She clenched her fingers about the hilt of her scimitar and held it straight out towards the monstrous animal, trying desperately to keep her arm from shaking. The cool leather grip was slick and slippery in her hand.
The two Goriyas circled them slowly, heads hanging low as they dropped back on all fours. Their eyes, a pale, pupil-less blue, were not the eyes of mortal creatures. The low, tearing growling continued, a sound that mirrored the circling of the predators. They were gearing themselves up to attack. Even in such dire straits, Link found that he could not help admiring the animals--they were not twisted or wrong like many others of Ganon's misshapen monster experiments. Their limbs were long and strong, and the fur which covered them was thick and shining, a soft dove-gray on top that faded to white on the chest, throat and belly.
Zelda was hurriedly trying to string her bow, but she was clumsy with fright. Her fingers would not obey her. She let out a frightened sob as she fought with the pliant aspen wood; one of the Goriyas fixed its empty eyes on her at the sound, its eyes coming forward. The growl rose to an open snarl, and the monster wolf tensed to leap; its companion crouched ready to attack Sofia, the only one with a weapon.
Then all things seemed to happen at once. There was a ripple of cloth and a dark shape dropped down without sound onto the back of the charging Goriya. The slender blade of the serpentine dagger glittered like a star in the light, then it plunged into the animal's hide. Letting out an unearthly howl the monster tore away from its assailant, then staggered; blood, rich and dark as gems, pattered onto the emerald grass and stained the flowers. The other Goriya sprang to the aid of its injured comrade with a blood-curdling snarl and then the cloaked figure was rolling with it in the long grass. Dark Link was under the monstrous wolf-thing--then on top. The dagger flashed again and the wolf bayed.
The first Goriya had regained its balance. It crouched, weak on the left side where the dagger had penetrated its chest, then it leaped at Sofia who was advancing on it with her scimitar at the ready. She swung wildly, frightened of the bloodstained teeth and outstretched claws; her blade cut into the animal's face, throwing it to the ground. It landed on its weakened side and collapsed; she was on it in a second, driving the scimitar's killing edge through its chest and pinning it to the soil. With a wail, the monster wolf ceased to struggle.
Zelda nocked an arrow to the bow and sighted at the remaining Goriya. It was wrestling with Dark Link; they struggled on the ground, each trying to overpower the other by strength. The Princess stilled her shaking hands with an effort of will and drew; they rolled over again, and Link pushed her aim down to the floor before she could fire. "No, you'll hit him!" he exclaimed.
With an effort, Dark Link threw the wolf off him. It hit the ground on all four paws and came hurtling right back at him; he responded with that same astonishing grace. Somehow, the dagger blade was suddenly in front of him, right in the path of the Goriya. It leaped right into his swing and received a vicious gash that laid its muzzle open. Howling, it leaped to one side and lashed out with its deadly claws. He stepped around the blow with absent-minded skill, dodged two quick snaps and then slammed the dagger into the wolf's side, right up to the hilt. Letting go of the handle of the blade, the shadow somersaulted backwards to avoid the wolf's slash. It stood clumsily, chest heaving, took a couple of trotting steps towards him, then realised it was dead and toppled over onto its side. A little blood came from its open mouth, coating the lolling tongue and teeth.
"Yes, I took it. There was no time to argue." Save for a slight breathlessness, Dark's voice was as calm and cool as it had ever been. He stepped up to the twitching carcase, placed his booted foot on its side, and withdrew the bloody sword. He tossed it towards Link; it landed blade-first on the ground, embedding itself for two inches in the rich dark soil with a thud. Silently the green-eyed warrior picked it up and began to wipe the blade with a piece of cloth.
Zelda stared at the bodies of the two monsters as they lay, staining the rich grass. They shrunk and twisted before her wondering eyes and became nothing more than a couple of thin, scruffy dogs, a lurcher and a shaggy wolfhound. Hunting dogs, perhaps, that had gone feral in the woods. "Dark magic brought these here to fight us, when we thought ourselves beyond the reach of our enemies," she said quietly. "Just like the Stalfos we fought in the desert. Somebody is watching our every move. Perhaps it is Ganon himself who wishes to stop us..."
"I think not. If they were Ganon's, they would have known me." Dark Link ran his slender fingers over the bark of the old oak tree; he grasped a limb and swung himself up onto it, then leaped easily to grasp the edge of the door lintel. The shadow pulled himself up onto the small platform, and stepped forward to look into the darkness beyond. "This is where we must go," he said. "It is not a difficult path." Hesitantly, and one by one, the others followed him; Sofia was the last to go. The Gerudo woman shook her head slowly, her eyes coldly fixed upon him, as she reached for the overhanging tree branch.
The passage, it seemed, was a tunnel through the actual hillside. It was roughly rectangular in shape, and just a little too small for the average adult to stand up comfortably. The stone sides were worn smooth by the passage of time, smooth enough that a hand drawn along found the walls to be slick like glass. This place, thought Zelda, might well have been standing when the Goddesses created the world. Her thoughts were broken when the passage rounded a corner and came out into another courtyard.
It was even older, if such a thing was possible. There was no roof here, and the walls had been broken down to just over eight feet tall. Patches of sky glimmered faintly from above the flowering foliage. The place was overgrown with vegetation, yet once again a great stony flank rose up in front of them, its size masked by trees. A portico, its pillars intact, supported a lintel beneath which lay another passage. This one still possessed its wooden doors, though one had rotted into place so strongly that nothing could shift it. The other hung upon one hinge, revealing a tiny gap through which a further entrance was visible. A great stone blocked this way, standing right between the two doors. There was no sense of dread here, merely peace. And unlike the garden beforehand, there seemed some evidence of tending; a pile of uprooted weeds in a corner bore witness to that, as did the shovel leaning against the wall nearby, its blade still covered with moist black soil.
Someone was sitting upon a tree stump near the opened door. The figure, muffled in a heavy, shapeless garment of patched brown wool, had its head lowered as if asleep. Link glanced at his shadowy other half in slight anxiety. "Another guardian?" he asked in a soft whisper.
The figure heard him, and lifted its head. A long, twisting white beard was revealed, and as the old man got to his feet they saw that it reached almost to his knees. Not that those was very far away, for his height in total could not have been more than five foot. He was very old and slightly plump, yet seemed sprightly and strong enough for his age. In contrast to the long beard upon his chin, his head was entirely bald, and his pointed ears seemed the larger and more comical for it. "There you are at last," he said, sounding not at all surprised.
Zelda stepped forward, feeling instantly trusting of this gentle old man. "You were expecting us?" she asked politely.
"I've been waiting a long time for you," he responded, inclining his head gravely. The others glanced at each other, half-smiling, half-nervous. How long was a long time? Looking at the length of his beard... The old man coughed slightly. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Greenfinger." His eyes twinkled as he held out his hands for inspection; aside from being the gnarled and well-used tools of a master gardener, they were indeed a bright and lively green. "I take care of this place, as much as is in my power. Are you here to fill in for the children?"
"What children?" Sofia asked.
"The children who used to help me tend the garden," Greenfinger explained. "They haven't come here for a long while. I thought maybe you had come instead of them, but I suppose since you don't seem to have any gardening tools... Still, I have some spares I can lend you. Won't you help me trim the roses?"
Dark Link hissed in irritation. "We waste time," he reminded Zelda, then, "Why should we wish to waste our time helping you? We are here on our own business. Now stand aside. We must enter the Temple of the Forest."
Greenfinger smiled, not at all put out by the shadow's sharp tone. "But you can't," he said mildly. "It's blocked off. Not even a Goron could move that stone now." He gestured towards the boulder blocking the doorway. "There's really no way you can get through," the old gardener said, "so why not sit down for a while and take the weight off your feet? It's really quite pleasant when the sun comes out."
"I'll have a look." Sofia strode forward to examine the rock, walking around it as far as she could. She knelt and pulled some of the thick black soil away from the base, but found that the stone seemed embedded deeply into the ground. It was as tall as she, possibly more so, depending on how far down it went. Experimentally, she gave the stone a shove, but it was like pushing a mountain.
"You see?" Greenfinger had turned to watch. Now, as she threw up her arms in defeat, he smiled and nodded gravely. "You can't get in yet, so you might as well relax. What's all the rush about?"
Zelda picked up on the 'yet'. "Do you mean that we have to wait before we can get in?" she asked eagerly. "Will the stone be moved soon?"
"Depends what you mean by soon," the old gardener countered. He took hold of her arm with his green fingers, and gently pulled her towards the stone. "Look here, and I'll show you." Hesitantly, Zelda went with him; the others hung around behind, each curious to see what he had to show--even Dark Link. Greenfinger knelt beside the stone with some stiffness, muttering about aching bones, and pointed to something in the ground. The Princess frowned and bent close to make it out. Half-hidden in the long grass was a tiny sapling, growing in the shadow of the stone. It was an aspen, newly sprouted in the endless spring of the forest. Greenfinger pulled some of the grass away from around the tiny tree, revealing it for the others. "You see this little shoot?" he said. "Soon it will grow into a beautiful tall aspen. Then its roots will push the boulder aside." He smiled gently. "It's all a matter of waiting."
"We can't wait that long!" Link exploded.
Greenfinger shrugged and smiled. "If you have a better idea... Why not help me in the garden while you're waiting? It helps to pass the time."
It seemed surreal, so soon after the struggle with the wolf monsters, to be pulling up nettles and trimming bushes in a garden. Yet, to Link and Zelda at least, the work seemed to be a way to relax and to wind down. There was something wonderfully soothing about working one's way through a rhododendron, clipping all the dead or dying flowers, leaving what was good behind. Sofia had never seen such a garden before, let alone worked in one, and she battled manfully with a rosebush after Greenfinger had showed her the basics. Dark Link refused to lift a finger, sitting moodily on a fallen log that was visually alive with colored fungi. The shadow looked bored, but would not stoop to joining in with his companions.
Greenfinger could not reach the higher branches of the trees, so Link did it for him, eliciting more than one smile of thanks from the old gardener. "The children used to do these parts for me," he explained, motioning to one high-up blossom that needed trimming. "They used to scramble up like squirrels; wonderfully agile, children are."
"What you need," the young warrior remarked, stretching up to his utmost to reach a dead branch, "is a ladder. Then you could reach all the high ones."
The old man laughed. "What, me go up a ladder? At my age! Well... I suppose it might work. I'll have to think about it for a year or so."
"I wouldn't wait that long, or the garden will grow over you." Link tore down the branch, removing most of the dead wood. "There! That's a lot neater."
Greenfinger stood back and nodded approvingly. "You seem to have a talent for gardening, young lad. Your fingers will be as green as mine if you keep it up!" Link quickly glanced at his hands to make sure that they were not actually turning green; the old man laughed again. His laugh was a pleasant, friendly sound that made Link feel at home.
They worked for an hour or two; time seemed to go slower in the garden. Eventually, due to co-operation and good teamwork, much of the overgrowth had been cleared away and the pile of rubbish in the corner had grown much larger. There was more light in the garden, and now thousands of tiny flowers became visible, all the colors of the rainbow. Assumably they had been there before, but it was only the sunlight falling upon them that made them visible. "Much better," Greenfinger said, satisfied.
Dark Link looked round. "If you are finished with this foolery," he said, irritated, "perhaps we can either search for another way in, or leave."
"Impatient, isn't he?" Greenfinger said mildly, further exasperating the shadow by his refusal to retaliate. "You can't be impatient in gardening, young 'un. Trees won't grow in a day because you ask them to."
The shadow ignored him. "Princess, we are wasting our time," he insisted. "Do you really want this treasure, or would you prefer your mysterious pursuer to get there first?"
Zelda sighed. "He has a point," she said reluctantly to Greenfinger. "We need to get into the Temple to find a relic hidden there, but we are not the only ones in search of it. And we must find it first, or Hyrule will be in serious trouble. Perhaps we could break the rock somehow, or squeeze past it..."
"Oh, very well." Greenfinger clapped his hands, dusting leaves from his front and from his long white beard. "I suppose I'll have to lend a hand... er, finger. Watch and learn, sprouts." With that, he stepped forward and knelt beside the aspen shoot. Gently he stroked the tiny stem with his green fingers, smoothing the knotted grass away from the sapling. A green light, like sunlight through leaves, began to grow around the little tree. As the four companions watched in mutual amazement, the tree began to grow. Creaking accompanied its growth as the tiny shoot started to swell and bud; leaves burst from branches that were still themselves sprouting from the trunk. Thick roots twisted through the ground, and the aspen reached for the skies. As if alive the roots twisted themselves around the stone, heaving and shifting it. There was a rending crack, and the stone spilled free of the ground and toppled over, wound around with the giant roots of the tree. Fully half of it had been buried underground, and there was a five-foot hole where it had been. The tree roots twisted through this hole, weaving it closed. The tree's growth finished, it ceased to swell, stopping at around forty feet with a bole as large around as two men's waists. "There you go," Greenfinger said cheerfully. "Don't like to rush things, but if it's as important as you say..."
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