The Garden of Farore: Chapter Twenty-Five
IT WAS a very long time ago, even by the standards of the Age of Legends, when my story began. It began in a small village on the great moorland of Hyrule--or Hyrule as it was then, a small, grassy country ringed by mountains. The Shadowed Mountains to the west and the Celcardens to the east, a little wooden hill fort to the north and the Kokiri Forests to the south marked the boundary of this bright realm. Lotharia had not yet been carved out of the icy wilderness, and Calatia was unpeopled, a wild land. The Valley of the Gerudo was empty too, for the humankind had not yet come out of the west, sailing over the water in their long boats. In this infant land there was a village, a fair one perhaps by the standards of those times; it sat under the enchanted boughs of Kokiri Forest's northern border, on the very edge of Hyrule, and its name is lost to history.
There came a man and a woman there, and a donkey-cart with a few poor possessions, and they built a house where nobody else would dare, at the edge of the forest beneath the laburnum trees. The woman was heavy with child, and soon she became confined to the bedroom of their newly built house, her great belly propped up with cushions--for she was carrying more than a single solitary child. The midwife visited and shook her head, and went away with sadness in her heart. And, since he could do nothing else, the man went on working, finishing the beautiful house and making it into one of the finest that there was. But the laburnums overhung the house, and the strange enchantments of the forest worked their way into its timbers and into the unborn children in the womb.
And so it came to pass that at last the woman entered labor, two months early maybe but not before time, for the four babes she was carrying were taking away all her life as she lived it, and draining her strength day by day to nourish their own young lives. The midwife came, and thanks to her care and skill the babes were saved--one, two, three, four of them, four tiny baby girls. But the woman had given all her life to her children, for there is no love like that of a mother, and all the blood in her body went to baptize them, and all the breath in her body went to bless them. And so she died.
But the four little girls, under the shadow of the laburnum trees, grew and thrived, and their grieving father cared for them and loved them, for he had loved their mother very much. And so it was that, blinded by his love for the children, he did not see the enchantment of the laburnum trees falling over them. It was a dark, strange magic within which they grew and thrived, for the power of the forest was far greater in those ancient days. And the forest had had them since they were within their mother's womb, and so they became strange, and fey, and very very beautiful.
There was Beth, the eldest, who could sing with beauty that would charm the birds out of the sky to listen to her. And there was Meg, the nextborn, whose graceful dancing put the gentle deer to shame. Amy played the lyre, and her music brought the stream out of its very course to run across her feet. And then there was the youngest, Joelle. What her power was none knew, but she knew, and she kept it secret next to her heart, like a precious jewel. For Joelle had the greatest power of all; she could bewitch the hearts of men, and capture them forever so that for all their striving they would ever belong to her, and would find no satisfaction in their lives when they were apart from her. And the girls grew strong, and more beautiful each day, and because they were so beautiful and had such gifts, none could tell how their hearts were growing dark and rotted, like the hearts of the sweet-scented laburnum trees that had given them their strength.
So it came to pass that, one day in high summer, the four girls were all grown into women, and they sat in the great garden of the beautiful house in the forest, under the shade of the laburnum trees or upon the bank of the stream, and they sang and danced and made music to enchant all creatures that might come to them. Their old father was dead now, for they had drawn the life out of him day by day and as they grew stronger, so he grew weaker until one day he was gone, and they found him lying dead like a dry twig in the room he had shared with their mother. And the sisters held a great funeral and feast, and as he had been greatly loved in the village, and had been a kind and noble-hearted man, the only dry eyes in the house were those of his four daughters who laughed and joked as if it were a wedding. But their guests were so blinded by their beauty that none commented on this fact, and only the old midwife saw.
And now the girls were free, and fully grown, and their house was a strange, silent place, full of the shadows of trees and the strange darkness with which the forest had filled them. And in the absence of their father the trees grew right up to the house, and caressed it, and breathed magic into it, and it became green and enchanted, and none dared enter. The great garden stretched out into the forest itself, its fences long broken down, until it was not clear where the house ended and the trees began. And in this place lived the four girls who grew more beautiful by the day. Their hair was long and dark, and their skin as pale and perfect as cream. Their eyes were clear and lovely, and held the colors of precious stones. And by now they were as cruel and blackhearted as the laburnum trees themselves--for of all trees the poisonous laburnum is the most spiteful and the most given to growing astray.
So one day as the girls amused themselves in their garden, there happened to pass by four young men of high birth. A prince, of one of the small southern towns, and a nobleman who was his friend, and a knight who protected the both, and a soldier who was there to guide them. They had ventured into the forest in search of game, finding great sport in the hunting of the animals there--for in those ancient days the power of the forest was new and strong and the animals that lived therein had no little magic themselves. And by bad luck they wandered off the beaten track, and found themselves riding along a path lined with laburnum trees, and it led to the bottom of a hill and at the top they saw a great house. And they conferred among themselves, and they decided to ride up and ask for directions--for by now they were lost.
Beth greeted them as they came up the hill, and the prince was so struck by her beauty that he forgot what he had been about to ask, and it was left to the nobleman to beg the mercy of the sisters and ask for their help. And the sisters looked at these men, and they smiled secret smiles, and then they invited the four weary men to sit down in their garden and rest. Tired from the journey, the prince and the nobleman and the knight willingly agreed, but the soldier was suspicious. His grandmother had been a witch, of sorts, and she had oft warned him of the dangers of the poisonous laburnum, and he looked up at the laburnum trees that caressed the house on the hill, and he was doubtful. But they coaxed them all four down from their horses, and sat them all four on the grassy bank, and gave them fruit to eat and clear spring water to drink, and little by little the prince and the nobleman and the knight forgot their quest.
But the soldier did not. He pretended to eat from the fruit he was given, and he pretended to drink from the cup they handed him, and all the while he looked about him with bright sharp eyes. And the more he saw, the less he liked it.
Beth desired the prince for herself; she sang to him, and bewitched him, and the scented laburnum trees filled her voice with such beauty that the prince quite forgot himself, and sat and watched her, and the laburnum's shadow shielded him from the warm sun, and stretched over him. Meg was already attached to the nobleman, and she got up and danced for him, and the laburnum's shade fell on him also. Amy chose the knight, for want of a greater choice, and she took up her lyre and played him such music that he was lost, and the laburnum's shadow touched his heart. But Joelle chose the soldier for her own, for her power let her see into his heart and she saw that of the four his soul would be the greatest prize. She did not sing, or dance, or play the lyre; she sat next to him, and looked at him with her eyes the color of amethysts, and cast her enchantments around him to tear him from himself. The sisters wanted the souls of these good men, for now that their father was dead they had nothing upon which to prey.
And the prince fell under the spell of Beth, and he drew his sword that was encrusted with gold and gems, and he handed it to her, and she laughed joyfully and drove the point into his heart, and he fell with a smile on his face. And the nobleman fell under the spell of Meg, and drew his sword decorated with silver and the crest of his great family, and with a laugh she pushed the sharp blade through his chest. And the knight was so enthralled with Amy that he handed her his sword of steel with the symbol of his knighthood emblazoned on the blade, and she laughed and clove his heart in two.
The soldier watched all of this, and he grieved for his friends, and despaired for himself--for he had fallen partway under the spell of Joelle whose magic was the strongest, and the laburnum tree's outmost branch cast a shadow on his face. And he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword, his plain, iron soldier's sword, and slowly drew it out. Joelle looked into his face with her eyes of amethyst, and laughed, and held out her hand for him to give her the weapon, and he smiled at her and drove the point into her own evil breast. And then he turned on the other three girls and slew them also, before they could bewitch him. And he wept over the bodies of his friends the prince, the nobleman and the knight, but there was nothing he could do for them now, for the laburnum trees had claimed them and there is no way to bring back the dead--except perhaps in fairy tales. And so the soldier stood up and left the bodies there, and the laburnum trees shed their leaves over them, and covered them, and the forest claimed their bones.
The soldier left and traveled far, seeking to break the spell which Joelle had placed upon his heart, but it was to no avail, for Joelle's power was the greatest of all, and nowhere would he find rest but in her arms. And finally after many years and many great deeds he came to the little wooden hill fort in the north, and became its ruler, and married a woman whom he made Queen, and sired many children who would be the founders of the Hylian race, but he was never happy again.
But the evil spirit of the sisters could not be broken so easily, for the laburnum trees had filled them with darkness and a great power. And so they rose up, filled with a hatred of all living creatures, and repaired to the darkest heart of the forest where the laburnum trees grew in great numbers. And the forest there became a dark place where few could venture safely--for the will of the sisters was strong. So they remained, unquiet spirits forever seeking the soldier whose blade had foiled their evil magic, until at last one came who could command them as he wished. The laburnums were cut down and the old power of the forests had long been broken, but the Wizard-King Ganon came, and gave new life to the sisters with his own dark powers, and set them to guard the Forest Temple against the coming of his enemy the Hero of Time. And there my story ends.
"A pretty fairy-tale," snorted Diomedes. "Though I don't see how it's going to do us any good!" Despite his cantankerous tone, he had been unsettled by the dark tale; the others likewise. There was still one ghost to go and, if Dark Link's story was true, it was the most dangerous of the four--Joelle. The four sisters had ceased to be anonymous spirits and had become malevolent entities in their own rights.
Dark smiled slightly. "Know thine enemy," he said simply, and lifted his hood over his head. "Shall we go?" he asked lightly, looking at each in turn from the shadow of the cloak.
"We must," Zelda said, surprising the others. Sofia shot her a look, but the Princess shook her head. "Dark has been here before--he knows how things go. We have to trust him on this one."
"I've had enough of blind trust in that one for one day," Sofia muttered, just loud enough to be overheard.
Link sheathed his serpentine dagger and unslung his own rosewood bow. The others watched silently as he strung the weapon and tested its give before withdrawing an arrow. Holding the bow and arrow loose in his hands, he stood up straight and shook back his untidy bangs. "We had better get a move on," he said matter-of-factly. "While we've been running around this temple, who knows what our enemy might have done?"
"The Amulet..." Zelda answered, thinking out loud. "We have to go, and quickly. The enemy might already have found it."
Sofia sighed in disgust and drew her scimitar. "Then let's waste no more time!" she said loudly, stealing the show. "Follow me! To the hall!"
The group of five, reconstructed, clambered back through the hole in the wall--who knew where that door might lead? It was more sensible to head back via a route that was already known to them. Sofia took the lead, blade in hand; grateful to have a clear objective at last. She walked fast without running, eager to close with the mysterious Joelle. Link followed her, Prowl perched once more on his shoulder; Diomedes hurried after, pausing to snatch up his borrowed javelin and shake some of the ice off it.
Dark Link watched them go, a faint cold smile on his face, but his moment of introspection was interrupted when Zelda touched him on the shoulder and made him jump. Without pausing to apologise, the Princess brandished the white arrow in his face. "What can you tell me about this?" she demanded.
"The arrow?" He stared at her with ill-concealed irritation. "What about it?"
Zelda glanced round, saw the others disappearing through the hole, and took Dark's arm. Astonished to the point of acquiescence by this violation of his personal space, he suffered himself to be walked along after the others while she talked excitedly. "You said it held the power of Link First, and that he once used it on you. Where did it come from, and what sort of magic is it?"
"The arrow..." He stopped, took a deep breath and tried to sort out his suddenly spinning thoughts. "It is one of the FaŽrie arrows, as you must have already guessed. Link First had certain... magical powers gifted to him by the FaŽrie folk, among them the Fire of Din, the Love of Nayru and the Wind of Farore--all of which you now use as common curses without understanding their true meaning. The FaŽrie arrows could harbor such power; once infused with the fire of Din, one becomes the legendary Fire Arrow. It is one of these that you have found, though it is truly astonishing that the power should survive so long. I would have thought that, even if an arrow should itself survive, its magic would have long since seeped away in the thousand years since the Age of Legends. Let go," he added in exactly the same tone of voice, so that it took Zelda a few moments to process his request.
"So how does it work?" Zelda asked, releasing his arm quickly. She bent her head to step through the gap, and waited for Dark Link to follow. "Link First somehow... put the power into this arrow, and now it is released when I fire it?"
"Something like that." Dark glanced at her with a wry expression. "I must confess, I am not an expert on magic. It is something that I myself am unable to use, and the main reason why I could never match up to Link First in a face-to-face battle." She heard an age-old jealousy in his voice at that admission.
"These Amulets," Zelda began, thinking things through. "They are supposed to let the wielder gain powers. Magical powers? As with the magic of old, Link First's magic?"
"Not exactly," Dark said softly. "The Medallions were keys to the wielder's own inner strength; nothing more. I am afraid that you must not expect to be making any Fire Arrows yourself."
The others were out of sight, though Zelda could still hear them. She and Dark hurried down the stepped ledges, Zelda with some difficulty--although she could have done with a bit of help on occasion, she dared not touch him again for fear of angering him. On his part, Dark jumped down without a second thought, leaping lightly from ledge to ledge with his long cloak billowing behind him. She was filled with admiration at his catlike grace, but of course he was the living shadow of the Hero of Time... The others were waiting for them at the base of the ledges, on the floor of the L-shaped room. Zelda slid clumsily down the face of the last block onto solid ground, and winced at her grazed palms.
As soon as they entered the passage, the change in the light quality was obvious. A warm, autumnal radiance lit the other end of the passageway, a color full of the shades of sunset--the result of mingled blue, green and red. In darkness no longer, the great hall was bathed in a twilight wash of color, its high gables finally visible, its floral stonework free of shadows. The third torch was lit, and it left only one more before... before... what?
Zelda could not help herself, and tugged at Dark Link's sleeve to gain his attention. He turned to her with a resigned air. "What happens when the torches are lit?" she asked softly. "Why do we have to light them? You have done this all before."
"Not I, Link First," he corrected her.
She blinked. "But--you know so much about the Temple--"
"His memories," Dark said matter-of-factly. "I have them all, up until the time I was created. That is when our life-paths diverge. As for your question--I honestly do not know. When Link First subdued Joelle, a new way was opened, but for us--who knows?"
Sofia peered around the broken door, looking into the hall. "Here we go," she said softly, speaking under her breath. Her fingers tightened around the hilt of her scimitar as she prepared to rush into battle, Link and Diomedes right behind her.
"Wait." Dark Link unslung his pack again and drew out two more of the oil-soaked torches he had used to defeat the second banshee. Quickly he passed one to Diomedes and one to Sofia. "Light these," he ordered without looking up, occupied in fastening the satchel's straps again. His fingers worked quickly, deftly. "Link and Zelda may use their bows, but we cannot attack with the close weapons we possess."
"You come prepared, I see," Sofia muttered unwillingly, feeling in her pockets for a flint. Diomedes held his torch out as she struck sparks onto the tightly bound rags that were hungry for flame.
"Only two torches?" Zelda asked, spotting a flaw. "But what about you--you only have a dagger!"
He finished with the satchel and glanced back at her. "I brought only three," he explained softly, "and one was used to destroy Beth. I will do what I can with Sofia's knife. Zelda, you must hold back on the Fire Arrow until you know you can hit her--there is no sense in wasting shot after shot on Joelle's illusions."
"I understand." She had her bow in her hand, like Link; after a moment, she put the white arrow away and withdrew one of the normal iron-headed arrows she carried with her. She had seven in total in the quiver; it would have been eight, but one had broken earlier on the door switch.
"Ready?" Dark asked, drawing the dagger. He glanced at each in turn, then ducked smoothly through the opening and out into the hall. The others followed, walking quietly to the edge of the railing in order to gaze over and prepare themselves for battle.
The first thing that they noticed was the weeping. Soft and low in the still air came the sound of a woman's mournful sobbing, a sound that was normally to be pitied rather than feared. Yet there was a hideous bubbling quality present in and around the sobs that was unnatural, inhuman almost--like the snarling of some monstrous savage beast, it was the very epitome of hunger. Then, too, was the coldness; despite the beautiful light in the hall, it was chilly and damp and the air already bore a hint of fear. Prowl halted hissing in the entrance to the hall and refused to go any further; Link let her be, understanding her reason for terror and grateful that the kitten was brave enough to stay with them at all. Glancing back with affection on his beloved sand kitten, he walked up to the railing and stood beside Zelda and Diomedes, looking down into the hall.
A woman was kneeling on the tiled floor between the four torches, her back to the watchers upon the ledge. Her long black hair swept in a gleaming fall over her back and the dark red material of her cloak; her shoulders shook with her sobs. She seemed utterly unaware of their presence, given over to grief. For a moment Zelda honestly pitied the lost spirit on the floor, but Dark's soft voice hissed into her ear, "Show no mercy--do not be fooled by her act!"
Link laid a hand on the rail, then quickly climbed over and dropped to the ground. Torches aloft, Diomedes and Sofia joined him ready for battle. Dark landed noiselessly as ever, his glowing crimson eyes fixed on the weird spectacle of the crying banshee. Zelda slid down with some difficulty; her limbs were stiff with nervous excitement. She found that her mouth was dry, and wondered if Link felt the same before he rushed into battle. This would be the first fight that the Princess had actively gone into of her own free will, and she felt absolutely terrified.
They approached, spreading out to come at the banshee from a quarter-circle of different directions. Even then there was no response until Diomedes stepped forward into the square made by the four torches. Then, with an evil hiss, the woman's head whipped round and revealed to them the rotted ruins of a face. Horror-struck at the gruesome sight, Link and Zelda both faltered; even Diomedes was shocked. Rising slowly to her feet, the creature that had been Joelle lifted her hands, fell light gleaming on the tips of her polluted claws, and screamed. Freezing winds whipped at them, driving them back and away; the torches guttered, and for an awful moment the Princess thought they would all go out.
The scream turned into a laugh at the end, a low, chuckling bubble of evil joy. Joelle's outline became indistinct, then blurred, then it seemed that there were two of her--then four! The companions watched in speechless horror as the banshee's outline doubled and then doubled again. A host of identical likenesses surrounded them, and the laughing just would not stop, even when the banshee began to scream again, blasting them with a freezing inferno of sound. She sought to put the torches out with her cold.
Somehow, she never understood how exactly, Sofia found the strength to rise when all the others, even Diomedes, were frozen to the spot with horror. Lips set in a line of determination, she swung at the nearest Joelle with her still-burning torch, catching her full in the chest with the fire. With a shriek from hell the banshee disappeared utterly in a lick of flame, just as if she had been made of oil-soaked paper. An illusion! "Kill them all!" Sofia shouted, advancing on the next image with fresh heart. With an effort, Dark Link rose to his feet and slashed at one of the images with the dagger; it vanished.
Zelda set her arrow to the bowstring, and fired, but one of the Joelles brushed to the side like smoke, and the arrow flew past. The Princess gasped and fumbled for another arrow as the awful thing advanced--then Diomedes was there, burning the monster into nothing with a thrust from his torch. Hearing the shrieking renewed behind her, Zelda whirled and saw yet another Joelle floating unstoppably towards her. With an inarticulate cry she shot an arrow straight through the illusion, and it disappeared.
"We have to find the real one!" Dark shouted over the screaming of the monsters. "Quickly!" But it was too late--an evil amethyst radiance had begun to glow around the rest of the Joelles as they floated around to encircle the little group of fighters. Vile claws reached out towards them, unstoppable now by fire. Sofia cried out as one set of talons scored rents across her bare forearm; Link leaped backwards just in time as another Joelle slashed through the front of his tunic. Zelda struggled to get another arrow nocked, hoping to ward off the Joelle advancing on her--and again the valiant Diomedes was in front of her, beating the monster back with his bare fists. Another Joelle clone vanished.
The Joelles backed off again momentarily, allowing the group to take quick stock. Sofia's face was screwed up in pain from the slash she had received, but hers was the only real injury. Link glanced towards her in concern, but he had little time to do anything about it. There were three Joelles left, and now they attacked in tandem, screaming to chill the blood of their victims as they floated menacingly forward. With a roar of fury Diomedes swung for the nearest one, shoving the remains of his burning torch into her face--she disappeared. An arrow shot past Zelda and hit the second Joelle in the chest; Link already had another on the string and was taking aim at the final Joelle, when Dark faded out of nowhere and struck the thing a finishing blow with his dagger. She vanished.
There was silence in the hall for a long moment. There were no more illusions, but at the same time Joelle herself was still present--they could feel it in the freezing air and the atmosphere of death, and they could see it from the torch still dull and dead. Joelle had disappeared--where was she?
The screaming started again, although this time it lacked the horrible echoing overtones that had been present from the illusions. Unconsciously they formed into a group, back-to-back as they watched for the appearance of Joelle. Diomedes' torch had burnt itself out, and he threw the smoking stub away; Sofia's had not much further to go, and after a moment's deliberation she followed suit and tossed it, drawing her scimitar with her good arm.
Joelle appeared before them once again, more menacing than her sisters in her slow, purposeful approach. This time, Zelda sensed, it was the real Joelle--she would face them on their own terms now, and she was not at all afraid of them. The Princess found another arrow and set it to the string; Joelle drifted out of its way and it clattered onto the far wall. Link fired likewise, but again the banshee dodged it without effort. Zelda bit her lip, thankful that she had not tried the Fire Arrow. Unlike her sisters, it seemed, Joelle was a truly cunning foe--they could not attack her hand-to-hand, and they could not hit her from afar. Perhaps... Zelda's eyes narrowed, and then without warning she broke and ran, making for the far corner of the hall. "Distract her for me!" she called to the others.
"What?" Link looked round momentarily, and that second of inattentiveness nearly cost him his life as Joelle rushed forward, snake-quick, with her talons extended. Dark swept Link's legs out from under him and he fell to the ground with a yell as the banshee slashed the air above his head. Before Joelle could recover and attack the prone warrior, Diomedes grabbed her and wrestled her away. But she was stronger than her sisters, and she lifted him up and threw him right across the hall. Link rolled away from her as her claws came whistling down.
Zelda had the Fire Arrow in her trembling hands; she set it to the string, feeling the familiar golden warmth spread through her body and take the banshee's spell from her limbs. Seeing her intent, Dark Link leaped before Joelle and threw his dagger at her, focusing her malevolence on himself. She floated towards him with her jaws open, hissing venomously. Weaponless, Dark backed away, dodging her attacks with desperate grace; he glanced quickly at Zelda, willing her to fire, and Joelle whipped round, following his gaze. The arrow sped from the string, glittering with flame, and the spectre dodged it by a hair's breadth. Infuriated now she grabbed Dark by the shoulders, lifted him up and slammed him into the wall. He tumbled to the ground and lay unmoving. "No!" Zelda panicked, seeing the loss of the arrow and their last hope of defeating the ghost.
Diomedes staggered to his feet, realizing their deadly plight. Determinedly he limped forward, prepared to tackle the banshee once again. Joelle came for him like a hellcat, claws outstretched to rend his brittle bones apart; setting an ordinary arrow to her string Zelda fired again, but the blow did Joelle little harm. Diomedes fought to hold her back, but she was stronger than he; he could hear his own bones creaking with the strain, ready to shatter under the abominable pressure of the demonic undead.
Suddenly, the Fire Arrow's light shone out again, banishing the cold. Joelle looked up in shock, as did Zelda--Link was standing with the arrow nocked upon his own bowstring. He had the ghost in his sights, and his green eyes were glowing with fury. As if rekindled by the touch of the Hero, the arrow blazed up within a halo of golden fire, spreading a healing warmth throughout the entire hall. Sensing defeat, Joelle began to back away from Diomedes, emitting a wail of despair. It was too late--with a streak of flame the powered shaft embedded itself in the banshee's chest, engulfing her with flame. Wailing Joelle sank down, striving until the last to fight, but it was all in vain. The holy fire licked up and devoured her, and the last of the Poe Sisters vanished in a blast of golden light. The amethyst torch began to shine.
All four torches had been lit, and with a grating of stone upon stone the ancient mechanism began to work. Link leaped out of the way as the ground gave way beneath his feet; slowly the central tile, four feet square, folded back and revealed a dark, square hole leading down into somewhere else, a secret part of the Forest Temple. Zelda remembered the place on the map which had had no entrance, the subterranean chamber with the skull motif. That, then, was to be their destination after all.
"So..." she whispered. "They found the way down." The Poe Sisters had failed.
She had watched the battle with her own eyes, and she could barely believe the things which she had seen. He here! Helping them? What madness was this?
"If he has returned," she said softly, thinking aloud. "He lives... After so many years, he yet lives..."
She was puzzled.
She was angry.
She had disregarded the children up until now; they were annoying, yes, but they could pose no real threat. Now, things were different. If that one walked the earth again, there was more at stake than she had thought.
"Where is Poe?" she said.
Pirrillip hovered nearby, anxious. "It awaits, Great Lady!"
"Send it. Send it now. Kill them all."
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