The innermost sanctuary of Zaynar’s temple was surprisingly stark, given the grandeur of the spires crowning the house of worship. Carved, it seemed, out of solid stone, the chamber was tiny and cramped. There was no furniture apart from a small circular dais in the center of the room. The only decoration to be seen was the circle of gilded etchings carved into the stone, at the very top of the walls. These scenes depicted the life of Zaynar, according to Alastrian mythology. They went from the birth of Zaynar out of the river Soleah to her epic battle with Din to her creation of the Alastrian people. All the scenes were beautiful, intricately created centuries before now, before the hard times that always accompanied war.
It was in this room, and none other, that Queen Evanthea bowed to her head to anyone. Even as she knelt before the dais, she felt a pang of shame at having to assume such an uncomfortable and awkward position. Then again, it was rare that queens had to tolerate such supplication, and she was coming to seek help from the goddess, so she elected to forebear. Folding her perfectly manicured fingers together, she ducked her head, the crown feeling a little bit too heavy.
Of course, it was quite late, so fatigue had some power over the old woman. The sun would be rising in a few hours, she was sure of it. She had spent the entire night sleepless, plagued with doubts and dreads concerning her frail kingdom. In recent times, the war had taken a turn for the worse and she could not ignore the harried whispers of her courtiers, wondering to one another if the kingdom was as weak as propaganda made it out to be. Finally, she had abandoned all attempts at sleep. Calling her poor, heavy eyed servants, she had been dressed in her most glorious of royal robes and had stolen away to the
in the middle of her sleeping kingdom by a horse drawn carriage. At this hour of the night, or morning perhaps, she was the only worshipper and so the innermost sanctuary was at her disposal. templeof Zaynar
Looking down on her from the dais was the chief diviner of Zaynar. He stood in deep crimson robes, half covered by the fox skin over his shoulders. The stuffed head of the fox rested on top of his bald scalp, angled down so the fox’s nose was just in between his hard eyes. Floating before him, at his hands, though they didn’t touch it, was the Shard. The deep scarlet light emanating from the Shard was the only real light in the room. To Evanthea, though she wouldn’t dare say it aloud, the diviner looked oddly like one of those peasant fortune tellers with their crystal balls which they used when pretending to see the future.
“Why have you come here?” the diviner asked his queen in a booming voice.
“I come to ask help of the goddess,” Evanthea replied.
“Are you prepared to offer libation?”
“Then hold out your hands.”
Evanthea always hated this part. Sighing inwardly, she turned her hands palm up and held them to the diviner. From the folds of his robes, he removed a kris blade knife, bespangled with rubies. He stepped around the floating Shard to the edge of the dais and reached over, taking Evanthea’s left hand. Skillfully, with the practiced ease of a surgeon, he sliced the heel of her palm with the blade. Evanthea winced, but didn’t dare cry out. The diviner repeated this on her other hand, the tucked the knife back into his belt once more.
“Zaynar,” Evanthea recited as she closed her eyes, “I am yours.”
The diviner dipped his fingers into his queen’s blood. He brushed his thumb over her eyelids, as though applying the paint that silly village women wore over their eyes nowadays. When he was done, he stepped back, resuming his former position with the Shard in between them. There was a moment of silence and while it was brief, to Evanthea, it seemed like an eternity before a pulse of light emitted from the Shard. “The goddess is with you,” the diviner declared at last. Frankly, Evanthea had yet to live to see a time when Zaynar didn’t respond to a libation.
“Zaynar, my people have always been loyal followers,” Evanthea whispered. “We have made sacrifice even when there was none to give. But now your people are in a desperate situation, and we turn to you. Help us. There must be a way to end this war with the Duracs. Help restore your people to their former glory, I beg of you.”
Almost instantly, red swirls of ether shot out from the Shard. They flew in circles across the room, leaving behind the faintest traces of red fog. Though the display was beautiful, it was only momentary before the swirls converged about the diviner, entering into his eyes which lit up bright red. “You have found favor,” the diviner said, his voice wavering under the influence of Zaynar’s power.
“The goddess will help us?”
“How? Tell me what must be done.”
“Tomorrow morning, you must send your eldest daughter, Princess Idina, for a walk on the beach. There she will find a Hylian boy…”
“A Hylian?” Evanthea asked incredulously. “But the Hylians are firmly set in their resolve not to become involved in our war against the Duracs.”
“This Hylian will not know home soil from foreign.”
“The goddess will provide.”
Evanthea nodded. “Very well. What is Idina to do?”
“She must claim this boy as her own husband and return him to the palace with pomp and celebration as a hero who has been away for many seasons, thought to be a casualty of war.”
“But the people know full well that Idina is unwedded.”
“The people will cooperate under threat of death. Your entire court must participate if this is to be carried out.”
“How will this boy help us against the Duracs?”
“The child born of your daughter by this boy will be the father to a line of warrior kings, capable of defeating even the greatest of Din’s monsters. In his own right, he too, is a great Hero.”
“As powerful as all that?”
“He shall perform wonders,” the diviner promised. “You must send an escort with Princess Idina. With the boy will be a marvelous sword and shield. They must be hidden from his sight for they are sacrilege, icons of Din and her wicked sisters. The sight of them will restore him to their service.”
“It will be done.”
“Zaynar demands a sacrifice in exchange for this gift.”
“Whatever it is, it shall be done too.”
“On the night of the next new moon, the boy must perform a blood sacrifice of an enemy at the altar of Zaynar in the center of the palace. If he spills no blood on the altar, his true memory will return to him.”
“I submit to the will of the goddess, of course.”
“Be wary, Evanthea, this boy is a great gift. He will turn the tide of battle, but you must turn him from Din and her wicked sisters. He must be dedicated to no god other than Zaynar, no woman other than Idina.”
“I thank the great goddess,” Evanthea said, bowing her head deeply.
“Give me your hands.”
“They are yours,” she answered proudly, holding her bleeding palms out to the diviner.
He took them and slowly, the red glow faded from his eyes. Evanthea’s eyes lit up with the same crimson hue as the ether passed from the diviner into her bloody cuts. She felt the ether surging through her veins, through her arms and up into her torso and head. It was a dizzying, but wonderful sensation, as the power of the goddess infused her frail, mortal body. In that glorious moment, she could see the whole drama unfold before her. She saw the Hylian boy, still in Hyrule. He was certainly handsome, though still quite young in her mind. Zaynar’s ethereal hand swooped down through the mortal plain, sweeping up the lad and carrying him away from home and hearth to set him down on the beach of faraway Alastria.
“Your prize is waiting for you,” the diviner whispered.
The power of the goddess was so great now that a silly smile spread across the old woman’s face. She started to laugh, though she wasn’t sure there was anything funny about it. Louder and louder, her laughter grew, filling the cramped sanctuary. As she cackled, the light in her eyes grew brighter, flaring like two great flames that threatened to consume everything and everyone in her path, the power felt so intoxicating.
was not long in coming. The rich and velvety black sky soon turned navy, streaked with brilliant stripes of lavender and rose. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, the Sunrise reflected the light, giving off an eerie glow. Unlike most shores, the sand of Alastria wasn’t sand at all, but rather an infinite number of tiny black marbles, pebbles really, but they were perfectly round. When wet, the stones never stuck, so while this was disaster for sandcastle builders, it was excellent for swimmers and sun bathers. beachof Alastria
The smooth stones made little sound as they ground against each other, so it was no surprise that the approach of two regal figures was completely silent that morning. Princess Idina led the minute procession, head held high. As the earliest rays of sunlight struck the land, they glinted off of her sharp, high cheekbones, creating shadows around her eyes which blackened them out completely. She was dressed in her absolute finest, an imperial gown of peacock blue gossamer with a long train that seemed absolutely absurd for where she was going as it caught on the gravel. Her long, black hair was piled up on top of her head, save for a few curly wisps, arranged artfully around her pointed and angular face.
Walking a respectful pace behind her was a taller and much more imposing figure, Captain Aeson, her mother’s captain of the guard. He trudged through the rocks, his knee high black boots sinking deep with every step. Under his arm he carried a metal helmet, but he was not wearing his armor this morning. Instead, he elected to wear a red tunic with gold accents and a blue sash, indicating his high ranking position with the royal family.
Behind them walked several of Idina’s serving ladies, the maids all respectfully silent. Every once in awhile, Aeson would look back over his shoulder at them. When his gaze drifted away, the ladies would all press their hands to their cherry lips, smothering soft giggles at the look from such a handsome gentleman. And Aeson was, in fact, quite handsome. He was of a lean and muscular build, a tow head with gentle hazel eyes.
Idina looked angrily over her shoulder after yet another one of these episodes. “Silence,” she barked. Immediately, all her maids fell into an obedient quiet.
“My lady,” Aeson whispered.
Idina turned to scold him, but she saw that he was pointing down the beach. Following his gaze, she spotted what had taken his attention. “That must be him,” she muttered. “Ladies,” she clapped her hands twice and all the ladies clustered about her, picking up the cumbersome train of her dress.
The group started down the shore at a faster clip, all of them equally curious to see what it was Queen Evanthea had sent them for. These days, the beach was a dangerous place, what with all the Durac aggression. It was rare that anyone from the castle was allowed to venture so far from its protective walls. Idina and her ladies had all been very excited at the opportunity to leave, even if only for a short while. Of course, Idina was most anxious of them all. There was more awaiting her on this shore than the opportunity for fresh air.
Princess Idina was the first to arrive, naturally. As her mother had promised her, there was a boy unconscious on the pebbles. He was face down, a green cap covering the back of his head. “Turn him over,” she ordered. The flock of ladies in waiting descended on him, easily rolling him onto his back. Strangely enough, though he was sprawled on the beach, he wasn’t even remotely wet. And that’s when Idina got her first good look at him.
Handsome was an understatement. This boy was divinely beautiful, in Idina’s opinion. His skin was glistening and pale, stretched tight over his face and perfectly round jaw. Hair as yellow as corn fell on his forehead. As her mother had warned her, Idina spotted two delicately pointed Hylian ears, but that didn’t concern her. Her eyes drank in his visage. Though dressed in a peasant’s tunic, bright green with a big brown belt, his body carried an element of nobility, befitting of royalty.
“Oh, Aeson,” Idina whispered. “He’s perfect.”
Aeson, however, was busy examining the boy’s weapons. Cradled in the crook of his arm, where a child would cuddle a stuffed toy, was a metal sheath, out of which came the hilt of a broadsword. Attached to the sheath was a shield of some sort of alien blue metal. The front of the shield displayed a large red bird, crowned with that symbol of the wicked goddesses, the enemies of Zaynar, the Triforce.
“A warrior,” Aeson observed.
Scowling, Idina noticed the weapons. “Take them, Captain,” she instructed him. “Hide them away somewhere.”
“Aye, my lady,” he nodded, prying them away from the boy’s tight grasp. Much to his surprise, though the boy was unconscious, he seemed reluctant to part with the weapons and retrieving them proved difficult.
“Go to court and announce that our long lost prince has been found,” Idina continued. “As my mother instructed you earlier, anyone who resists or refuses to go along with our ruse is subject to capital punishment.”
“Yes, Princess. I’ve already sent my men out to insure complicity with the villagers.”
“Very well done, Captain.”
“Thank you,” Aeson said, bowing.
“Now go. Leave us.”
“Aye.” With that, Aeson turned properly on heel and marched away from the flock of ladies, back in the direction of the castle, the spires of which could just be seen in the distance, through the morning haze.
Idina turned her attention to the ladies in attendance. “What goes for the villagers goes for the rest of you as well. Is that clear?”
“Yes, madam,” the women chorused.
“Very good.” Idina gracefully knelt down on the beach, tucking her legs underneath her body. She gathered the sleeping boy in her arms. “Fetch some water,” she muttered absently. One of her girls nodded and ran down to the waterside. Idina absently stroked the boy’s cheek. His skin was smooth and warm. “Tell me,” she sighed, “is he not perfect?”
“Oh, very perfect,” one lady said.
“Divine,” another added.
The girl with the water returned, handing it to Idina in a small cup. She fished a blue, silk handkerchief from her sleeve and dipped it into the water. “Wake up,” she cooed softly, pressing the damp cloth to the boy’s cheek. He stirred, groaning softly. “It’s all right,” Idina whispered, wiping his forehead. “Open your eyes.”
And he did. Two brilliant blue eyes opened, staring up at Idina in bewilderment. “Wh-Where am I?” he asked.
“You’re on the beach.”
He lifted his hand, noticing the strange pebbles beneath it. “The beach?”
“You’re home,” she told him gently, “back in Alastria.”
Slowly, he sat up, looking around dizzily. “I’m home,” he said carefully.
“Yes, my darling, you’re home.”
“Yes, a thousand times yes,” she said with a laugh.
He frowned uneasily, licking his lips. “This is my home…who am I?”
Idina’s face went slack. “What?”
“Who am I?”
“You don’t remember?”
Mournfully, he shook his head, looking around as he noticed all the serving maids, staring intently at him. “I…don’t…”
Idina gathered his face in her delicate hands. “You are Prince Oren, once a resident alien, now future regent of Alastria.”
“I’m a prince?” He scowled, pressing the heel of his palm to his temple. “Who are you?”
Doing her best to sound wounded, Idina replied, “I’m your wife.”
Those blue eyes went wide. “Wife?”
“Idina,” she told him urgently. “Don’t you remember?”
“No…I don’t remember anything.”
“You are Oren and I’m Idina. Nothing could be simpler. We’ve been married two years. How can you not remember me, beloved?”
“I’m sorry,” he told her earnestly. “Really.”
“It must be shock,” one of the girls ventured.
“Yes,” a second replied. “That must be it. He’s in shock.”
“Shock?” he repeated incredulously. “From what?”
“From the war,” a third lady supplied.
“War?” He looked back at Idina. “What war?”
“Our people have been at war for nearly a hundred years, my love,” she explained.
“Who are the Duracs?”
“A race of warriors from the
.” islandof Gonzalo
“Was I fighting in this war?” he asked.
“Yes, you are one of our greatest generals. We thought you had been lost in a sea battle, but now I see Zaynar has been merciful and has returned you to us.”
“Our goddess, darling, the great and glorious Zaynar. You really don’t remember anything, do you?”
He looked at her with a very sincere, apologetic look. “I’m sorry,” he told her gently.
She touched his cheek. “It will come back to you in time.”
“I hope it does.”
“Come, we must return.”
“To Rives,” Idina replied, standing up.
The boy stood beside her. “Rives?”
“The castle,” she explained, pointing in the direction of the spires. “Mother will be so pleased when she sees you!” She leaned forward, intent upon placing a kiss on his lips. Abruptly, he turned his head away. “Darling?”
“I’m sorry, I just…”
She sighed. “You’re still confused. Oh, my love, you’re shaking.” Idina reached out, wrapping her arms tightly around his shoulders.
“I’m sure it’ll come back to me in time,” he mumbled.
“All will be well now that Zaynar has returned you to my arms,” she gushed. “Come, let’s return home.”
“Queen Evanthea will be pleased to see you,” a serving girl said, curtsying deeply to him.
“All of us are grateful for your return,” a second added as the entire flock stooped down into a curtsy.
“Hail, Prince Oren,” several of them chorused.
“Long live Prince Oren,” Idina corrected them sternly.
“Long live Prince Oren,” they echoed.
There was no question to all that met her that Lady Olivia was different from the other attendants to the queen. To be certain, she was no more beautiful than anyone else in the court, though she was far from ugly. Clearly, she didn’t rank terribly high among the nobility, being of a tender age. Her dress was no finer than everybody else’s attire. The way she moved was no more graceful. Nevertheless, Olivia always managed to stand out. Today, more than usual.
As she walked down the corridor of the castle, she was practically skipping. Several of the elder attendants gave her stern looks of disapproval, but to Olivia, they weren’t even close to existing in her world. She continued her elated romp through the hallways, lifting the cumbersome hem of her sea foam green gown in an undignified manner. A few servants gave her confused gazes, but she merely laughed, dipping her head to them. The conical hat on her head fell off with this motion and her cornsilk blond hair, which previously had been hidden away, fell in long corkscrew curls about her shoulders.
Breezily, Oliva laughed at her own follies and the servants standing about her had no choice but to join in. Her cheerfulness was infectious, even in the direst of eras in Alastria’s history. Scooping up the absurd hat, Oliva continued along her way, headed for the throne room.
It was strange that Queen Evanthea was holding court so early this morning, but Olivia dutifully obeyed her monarch, waking and dressing at dawn to make her way. In truth, she had no real fondness for court, except for the times when a foreign traveler would pay a visit to the Queen. Usually, it would be a dignitary from one of the other kingdoms of the realm. The most exciting part of that was speaking with the dignitary’s attendants, who would tell great tales. Olivia’s fondness for foreign news was often peeving to her older brother, Captain Aeson, but Olivia sought after stories with such vigor that Aeson could not deny her curiosity.
The throne room was in sight. There were no scarlet carpets rolled out. Involuntarily, a small sigh escaped from Olivia’s lips. No visiting dignitaries. No attendants. No stories. Well, she supposed, at least she had the excitement of the night to look forward to.
“Lady Olivia?” a puzzled, half bemused voice asked. Olivia spun around. Standing in a doorway, armed folded across his chest, shoulder resting on the stones, was a squat, dark haired Hylian. He wore an earthy brown tunic of burlap with gray, baggy leggings. Most prominent was the handle of a lute, just peeking over his right shoulder.
“Tibbet!” Oliva cried in excitement, running at him.
“My, Lady Olivia, is that you?”
“Oh, Tibbet! You came back!”
Tibbet chuckled, removing the floppy brown hat from his head and bowing courteously to her. “I told you I would. But I think the last time I saw you, you were a mite shorter.
“Oh, get up, get up!” As Tibbet straightened out, Olivia threw her arms around his scratchy shoulders, giving him the biggest hug she could muster.
“You’re excited to see me,” Tibbet observed, patting the back of her shoulder lightly.
“I thought you had forgotten your promise,” she scolded the minstrel, taking a step back.
“Forget my promise to you? Never. I told you, I’d be back after I attended the royal court of Calatia. Now, here I am.”
“It’s been two years. I didn’t think you were coming.”
Tibbet dropped his hat back on his head. “Well, that was a bit unavoidable. In between Calatia and Alastria, I had to return home for a short while.”
Olivia nodded. “I heard there was great strife in Hyrule. Is that true?”
“I’m afraid it is,” he replied. “But, it is passed now.”
“A wizard by the name of Agahnim caused a great raucous in Hyrule. He endeared himself to the king as a royal advisor then tried to, well, let’s just say that he went around kidnapping maidens descended from the Sages of the Imprisoning War to do some very naughty magik.”
“Descended from the Sages? But Tibbet, didn’t you tell me that your family was descended from Rau…Rar…Rur…one of the Sages?”
Tibbet nodded. “Yes. I’m surprised you remember that.”
“Oh, did he terrorize your sister? Is she all right?”
“Lyna is fine,” Tibbet assured her. “She had a bit of a fright, but she’s well now, perfectly fine.”
“Thank Zaynar!” Olivia breathed.
“Well, I think Zaynar had little to do with it. But what tales I have to tell you!” he crowed.
“Of a great hero that rose out of the village to save the defenseless Crystal Maidens.”
Tibbet shrugged. “That is what I shall call those unfortunate girls who were imprisoned by Agahnim. The
Maidens. Do you like it?” Crystal
“Yes, very much.”
“Well, they were rescued by a boy, no older than you. A hero that, until that day, no one had ever known the name of.” Dramatically, Tibbet grabbed a corner of his cape and spun around in a circle, letting it flare out. Olivia grinned in delight. Tibbet’s cape was perhaps what she liked best about him. It was a patchwork of fabric he had collected from each of the kingdoms he had visited in his time as a wandering minstrel. They were so numerous she could scarcely pick a favorite. Among them, of course, was a slip of fabric he had collected from Alastria, the discarded hem of a dress Olivia had worn.
“Tell me about the hero!” she begged.
“He saved my sister, he saved all the maidens, he saved Hyrule.”
“What was his name?”
Tibbet dropped down to one knee, spreading his arms out. “Link,” he declared in a strong voice.
“Link? What an unusual name.”
“An unusual name for a boy with an unusual destiny,” he answered.
“How unusual of a destiny?”
Tibbet jumped to his feet. With a pantomimed sword and shield, he began to battle thin air. “Blessed with the sacred blade, the Master Sword, Link braved the terrors of Agahnim, facing off against monsters that defy your wildest imagination.”
“Moldorms with thousands of spindly legs,” he cackled.
Olivia screamed with delight. “That’s disgusting.”
“The Helmasaur King!”
“The great swollen jellyfish, Arrghus.”
Olivia dissolved into a pile of giggles. “You must stop!” she gasped. “You know how my brother hates it when you tell me stories about monsters.”
“Not even Kholdstare the ice demon?”
She put a hand on his shoulder, glancing from side to side in a most conspirator-like manner. “It’ll have to wait,” she whispered.
“Of course, of course, as you wish. Tonight perhaps?”
Olivia frowned a bit. “Some other time.” She looked over her shoulder at the double doors leading to the throne room. “But I have to go now, or I’ll be late.”
“Why is the Queen holding court so early in the morning?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think she wishes to make a declaration to the entire castle. And there’s another strange thing.”
“Aeson left the apartments very, very early this morning, evening before the sun rose. He was summoned by the Queen’s valet.”
“Do you know where he went?”
“No, and he hasn’t returned either.”
“He might miss the declaration.”
“Something strange is happening, Tibbet.”
“Well, I’m sure everything will become apparent when the Queen addresses you in court.”
“Are you coming?”
Tibbet shook his head. “I still have to sign in with the castle steward. I only arrived a matter of minutes ago.”
“Them I’m the first to see you?”
Olivia grinned at this. “Good.”
“As it should be, my lady,” Tibbet answered, bowing deeply. He straightened up, an aloof expression on his face. “Tell me, though, is Astrid still in court?”
“That is a wonderful attempt at casual,” Olivia teased him.
“Well, I do my best.”
“Yes,” Oliva told him, “Astrid is still here. Although, considering some of the stunts she’s pulled, I find it amazing.” She glanced at the doors to the throne room again. “She’s probably right inside, if you want to say hi.”
Tibbet frowned. “No, no. I probably shouldn’t show my face in court until I go declare myself. Your brother’s knights tend to run a very tight shift about this place. I wouldn’t want to be thrown into the dungeon as a spy.”
“A wise precaution,” she agreed. “I have to go now.”
“I’ll see you later?”
“Of course you will. I want to hear all your stories about this hero called Link. And about the monsters.”
“The monsters, of course,” Tibbet chuckled. He took her hand, stooping low to kiss her knuckles. “You’ll hear your fill of tales, I promise you.”
“Good.” She turned around and started walking away. Right before the throne room doors, which two knights opened for her, she turned back over her shoulder. “And I’ll tell Astrid you’re here!”
“Olivia!” Tibbet shouted, but too late, for the great doors slammed shut behind her. He smiled wryly, tucking his hands into his pockets and turning around to amble his way to the castle steward.
It was a bright and glorious morning by the time Princess Idina, the Hylian boy, and the entourage reached the moat of Queen Evanthea’s castle. On Idina’s orders, the knights lowered the drawbridge, allowing them to cross over to castle grounds. As they walked, on either side of them, all the knights, courtiers, and servants they passed dropped down to one knee. All this baffled the Hylian. He heard murmurs of “Your majesty,” and “Your highness” surrounding him. How could it be that everyone knew who he was except for him?
“Captain!” Idina called, holding her hand up as she spotted Aeson. “Captain come here. Come see who’s returned to us!”
At once, the tall tow head raced to the Princess and her newly claimed husband, kneeling. “Prince Oren, thank the great goddess, you’ve returned to us.”
The Hylian stared blankly at him. “The shock of battle has robbed him of his memory,” Idina said quickly. “My love, this is Sir Aeson, the captain of the guard.”
“Please…please stand up,” the boy said. As Aeson rose, he held his arm out. They clasped each other by the wrist, the friendly gesture feeling completely alien to the so called Prince Oren.
“Hurry to the throne room at once,” Idina ordered, “and tell my mother. She’ll be so pleased.”
Aeson nodded. “Aye, my lady.”
“We shall follow.” As Aeson sprinted off, Idina turned to her husband. “Does any of this look at all familiar?” she asked.
He took a moment to examine the castle grounds. To be certain, it was a beautiful mastery of architecture, with high rib vaulted ceilings and arched doorways, peaking in a sharp point. All the narrow windows were flanked with gold and blue banners, the royal colors perhaps. “No,” he sighed.
“My poor Oren,” Idina cooed, hugging his arm with both of hers. “This is our home.”
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
“But foreign,” Idina finished for him.
He looked down at her. “I’m so sorry,” he told her gently.
“Give it time, give it time,” she answered, patting his bicep. “Come on, mother will be so pleased to see you!”
They paraded down the corridors. Everywhere they went, the courtiers would curtsy and bow, muttering phrases of reverence. Perhaps he was just imagining it, but to the boy, it seemed as if some of them were uncertain or hesitant, even reluctant, to defer to him. He wondered if he was just imagining it.
Idina and her prize passed through a high set of double doors, finding themselves in a dark anteroom. On the opposite end of the room was a plush purple curtain made of velvet, with gold cords. Two knights flanked the curtain. They both knelt down at the sight of the royal couple. “You don’t have to do that,” Oren said.
“Oh, let them,” Idina laughed. “It’s been so long since you were last seen here. I’m sure it is a pleasure. Guards, open the curtains.” The guards rose to their feet and one of them yanked on a golden rope, drawing open the curtains and revealing the throne room.
The stark contrast to the rest of the castle was the first thing that struck the boy about the throne room. While the rest of the castle was built of gray stone with matching floors, the walls of the throne room were light mauve plaster with hints of lavender. The floor was covered with pink and white tiles, arranged in a checkerboard pattern. On the far end of the room, directly opposite of the curtains, was a raised dais, circular, with a matching floor pattern. There were two large, plush purple thrones on the dais, with a small stool in between them of the same fabric. To one side of the dais, and possibly the only thing higher than it, was a winding staircase leading up to a second floor landing. The landing was encircled, like a balcony, with high wooden posts, matching the color of the walls.
This was just the architecture of course. The true contrast was in the people standing around, gaping at the curtains. Flanking either side of the dais were richly dressed courtiers, almost all of them in a shade of blue or green; ladies in ridiculous hats and gentlemen with silver spurs on their boots. Sitting on the dais, in the left hand throne, was a regal, though elderly, woman. Her silvery white hair was pulled back into a tight bun, surrounded by a braid. She wore a gold tiara, studded with purple stones and in her left hand was a scepter.
Sitting at the woman’s feet was a jester, dressed in a costume of purple, gold, and blue. Her face was coated in a thick white paint, with blue diamonds painted around each of her eyes, making her look a bit like a raccoon. When the curtains opened, the jester lifted a stick with a grotesque plaster head on top of it, shaking it so that the bells rang, drawing the matron’s attention to the doorway.
“Idina, where have you been?” she asked good-naturedly, standing up.
“Momma, look,” Idina cried, pulling Oren into the room. “Look who’s come home!”
“Oren?” Evanthea asked wide eyed. “Is that you?”
Befuddled, all the boy could do was nod, grunting out a simple, “Yes?”
The courtiers began to whisper excitedly to one another, “Prince Oren’s come back. Look how haggard he seems.”
Evanthea stepped down off of the dais and made her way to her daughter and son in law. She threw her arms out, pulling both of them into a delighted hug. “I knew that Zaynar would return you to us.”
“The battle’s done him great harm, Momma,” Idina recited, “He’s lost his memory.”
The Queen pulled back, running her hands along the boy’s collar before resting them on his shoulders. She looked him up and down, half biting her lower lip as she gave him the once over. “Well, it will all come back to you.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying, your majesty,” the boy answered.
“We are so truly blessed. Ismene! Ismene?” Evanthea turned around to look behind her. She let out an irritated sigh. “Astrid,” she barked to the jester, “go fetch Ismene at once.”
Silently, the jester stood up and skipped up the stairs. The Hylian looked at Idina. “Ismene?” he asked.
“My younger sister,” Idina explained.
“Your younger sister,” Evanthea added. “I can’t think to where she’s wandered off. Oh well, soon we’ll all be reunited again. A happy family, just like before.”
“I don’t understand,” the boy said. “I’m not like you, I’m…”
“Hylian? Yes, yes you are. You came to Alastria five years ago. You had been driven out of your homeland by that dreadful king. When you came to Alastria, you met Idina and you two were married.”
“We had just been talking about starting our own family,” Idina purred, “but duty called you across the sea to the war with the Duracs.”
“The Duracs…the warrior race,” he recalled from the beach.
“A vile and filthy breed,” Evanthea scoffed.
“What do they look like?” he asked.
“All Duracs have a tattoo around their eye,” Idina explained. “They’re bulky oafs with long, primate tails.”
“Indeed, they lack the natural grace and beauty of the Alastrians,” Evanthea boasted haughtily.
“And you’re all Alastrians?” he questioned.
“Yes,” both mother and daughter replied.
“Well…forgive me for asking this, but what’s the difference between Alastrians and Humans?”
Evanthea opened her mouth to reply, but she was interrupted by the jingle of jester bells. Looking up at the landing of the staircase, the three of them saw Astrid standing beside a fresh face. Princess Ismene peered down from the balcony with clear, beautiful blue eyes. It was immediately obvious that she was Idina’s sister, though her features were somewhat softer, a bit less severe. Her long, dark hair, hung loose, draping over her pale white shoulders. As compared to her mother and sister, Ismene’s clothing was fairly simple, a blue satin dress with cap sleeves, no baubles, no trinkets. She caught the boy’s gaze and they held a long look, although the meaning behind it was confusing to both.
“Ah, Ismene, there you are. Come down here, come see who’s returned to us from the dead,” Evanthea breezed.
Ismene remained frozen to the landing, her slender fingers gripping the balcony. After a long moment, Astrid, using her stick with the plaster head, prodded Ismene’s back, driving her down the stairs. Of her own volition, at the bottom of the staircase, Ismene crossed the floor to join her family. “Oren,” she said softly, forcing a smile. “You’ve come home.”
He blinked. “Yes…”
She put her hands on his shoulders, giving him a light hug which barely passed for a hug at all. “We were so worried.”
“He doesn’t remember anything,” Idina told her sister.
“How surprising,” Ismene muttered dryly.
“Ismene…” Evanthea hissed.
She spared her mother a quick, apologetic glance then turned back to her sister and her trophy. “We’re glad to have you back, Oren.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying,” he replied.
“Would you prefer it if I said we were unhappy to have you back then? I should hate to seem a parrot.”
He stared at her for a moment, blinking as her words rolled around inside of his head. Suddenly, half involuntarily, he found himself chuckling. “A parrot only answers back.”
“If I should answer back, I think I should be put in the stocks. To answer back to royalty is generally frowned upon.” She paused to consider this. “I have no stock in the stocks. I find them to be a most horrid and crude means of punishment.”
Again, the boy laughed. As his laughter died down however, he found himself locking eyes with Ismene. “What means would you prefer?”
“I would prefer that no one needed punishment at all. That we should all behave in a civil, fraternal manner.”
“Oh, look at this,” Evanthea gushed. “My children all reunited again. Isn’t this perfect?”
“Completely perfect,” Idina echoed.
“We must celebrate this.” Clearing her throat, Evanthea parted from the group, climbing back up onto the dais to address the entire court. “Tonight,” she declared firmly, “we will hold a ball to honor and celebrate the return of my son in law, Princess Idina’s husband.”
All around the room, the courtiers clapped politely. Idina clung to her husband’s arm. “Oh Oren! Isn’t this just wonderful?” she asked.
Still staring at Princess Ismene, the boy muttered, “Wonderful…”
Despite Queen Evanthea’s prejudices, Durcas could, in fact, be very beautiful. As Xax liked to boast, his handsome shape was praised throughout the Known Worlds. With bright flaxen hair, pulled back at the base of his neck by a leather ribbon and smooth, cocoa brown skin stretched tight over his pronounced muscles, it could be argued that he was, indeed, very fine. Of course, contrary to Alastrian tastes however, he had a ring of blue ink tattooed around his right eye in the shape of an asterisk. Like most Duracs, he wore precious little, nothing more than a pair of brown leather trousers and a cotton vest over an otherwise bare, and very muscular, chest. There was a special hole cut into the seat of his pants for his long, whip-like tail to curl out.
Unfortunately, for all of his good looks, Xax was a failure when it came to stealth. At least today he was. Flanked by four heavily armed guards, he was marched down the halls of the castle. They had fitted him with special made manacles that not only bound his wrists and legs together, but also his dexterous tail to his neck, thoroughly hobbling him.
They five of them made the slow walk down to Captain Aeson’s office. It wasn’t an office so much as a small arena and, when entering, they could immediately hear the sounds of battle. Aeson was engaged in a spar with his young squire. Not wanting to interrupt, the guards fell completely silent until Aeson had at last disarmed his student. “Captain,” the leader of the group called.
Aeson offered his squire a hand, pulling the girl to her feet. With a kindly smile, he dismissed her to continue her training then made his way over to his men. “What is it?” he asked.
The two soldiers in front stepped apart, revealing Xax in his disgruntled state. “We caught him sneaking through the castle,” the leader explained.
Little took Aeson by surprise, but he was certainly taken aback by the comely appearance of this particular Durac. Then again, he generally only saw them when they had been starved in the dungeon for weeks, tortured on the rack and completely stretched out of shape. “Was he armed?” Aeson questioned the leader.
“Only with this,” the leader replied. He snapped his fingers and another guard stepped forward, holding Xax’s knife. It was a work of art, like most Durac weapons. The handle was molded in the shape of a coiled snake and plated with gold leaf; the craftsmanship was amazing! Aeson could see the very texture of the snake’s skin. As for the blade, it was platinum, etched with Durac runes, the translation of which Aeson could only guess at.
“That’s all?” he asked, taking the blade.
“Aye, that’s all.”
For the first time, Aeson looked the prisoner in the eyes. He had milky blue eyes that cast no reflection of the light back at Aeson. “Awfully bold of you to sneak into an enemy’s castle armed with only this,” he said. He did not mean to taunt, although it of course came out that way. To be perfectly honest, Aeson couldn’t help but admire such boldness.
“We found him slinking around your own apartments,” the leader of the guards added.
Eyebrows raised, Aeson continued to examine his prisoner. “My apartments? Really?”
“You are a brave soul,” Aeson muttered. “What’s your name?”
The prisoner stood stoically silent. “He doesn’t understand Common,” the leader of the group reasoned. “Stupid Durac.”
“Oh, I think he understands,” Aeson answered. “What’s your name?”
Squaring his shoulders as much as his bonds would allow him, the handsome Durac faced Aeson. “I am Xax,” he barked, his voice dripping with the rich Durac accent, “son of Thisbe.”
“I knew he understood,” Aeson muttered.”
“Daughter of Hana, daughter of Keiko, daughter of Rosalind,” Xax continued proudly.
“I stand corrected, sir,” the leader mumbled.
Xax was still going. “Daughter of Lursa, daughter of Jade, dau –”
“I don’t require your entire lineage,” Aeson cut him off. “Just your name will suffice.”
“Stupid Duracs with their crazy matrilineal customs,” the leader hissed to one of his companions.
“That will be enough, corporal,” Aeson told him sternly before turning back to Xax. “Now, Xax, was it?”
“Xax, son of Thisbe,” Xax insisted.
“I will call you by your own name and nothing more,” Aeson snapped. “Now, Xax, what were you doing in my apartments?”
Xax lifted his chin, glaring defiantly at the Captain. “I am Xax,” he repeated, “son of Thisbe.”
The leader slapped him across the face. “Answer the Captain when he speaks to you, Durac!”
“What were you doing in my apartments?” Aeson asked again. “Were you sent as an assassin?”
“A pretty horrible assassin, if that’s so,” the leader chimed in. “Armed with only one small knife.”
“I am Xax, son of Thisbe,” Xax said again.
“That must be the only Common he knows,” the leader muttered.
“Were you sent as a spy?” Aeson pressed on, ignoring his knight. “Did you come to learn our army’s numbers?”
“I am Xax, son of Thisbe.”
“Did you come to kidnap a member of the royal family?” Aeson continued his interrogation.
“I am Xax, son of Thisbe.”
“Your refusal to cooperate will only make things more difficult for you, Xax, son of Thisbe.”
“You will kill me fast or kill me slow,” Xax said. Everyone was momentarily stunned into silence.
“So, you do know Common,” the leader grunted.
“If you confess to your crimes,” Aeson said directly to Xax, “the Queen may have mercy on you.”
“Alastrians know no mercy. You will kill me,” Xax answered.
“We show every bit as much mercy as the Duracs do,” Aeson shot back.
For a moment, Xax stood there in silence. When he spoke again, his voice was mournful, almost introspective. “Then I will die,” he whispered.
“Stubborn lout, isn’t he?” the leader added.
“Confess to your crimes,” Aeson pressed.
“I have done no wrong,” Xax told him.
“You’re an enemy soldier snuck into our castle. I’d call that a serious offence,” Aeson insisted.
“I am no soldier,” Xax responded simply.
The leader sighed. “Shall we just kill him now and be done with it, Captain?”
“No,” Aeson said quickly.
“But, Captain, you’re obviously not going to get anything out of this brute.”
“His fate rests in the hands of the Queen,” Aeson reasoned. “Take him to the dungeon.” The leader clapped his hands and the three soldiers still flanking Xax began to hustle him out of the room. He turned to follow, but was stopped by Aeson. “Corporal,” he called sharply, “a moment.”
The leader trotted back to his Captain’s side. “Yes, sir?”
“Corporal, how did that Durac get into the castle in the first place?”
“Well, sir, I…”
“We have guards at every single entrance.”
“I know that sir.”
“It is absolutely impossible that he could have gotten in through a doorway.”
“Yes, sir, very impossible.”
“And he couldn’t have very well swum the moat. We have toxins filling that water, completely lethal to Duracs.”
“He was bone dry when we found him, Captain.”
“So how did he get into the castle?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know, sir.”
Aeson put a threatening hand on his knight’s shoulder. “Find out,” he snapped angrily.
“Of course, I’ll take every measure. Still, I don’t think he’ll tell us anything more than ‘I am Xax, son of Thisbe,’ sir.”
“I want to know how he got in and I want to know why he came.”
“Seems to me that the liar was obviously here to kill someone.”
“I’m not so sure,” Aeson muttered.
“Sir? You’re not saying you really believe the lout’s story, are you?”
“You have your orders,” Aeson barked, turning on the leader.
“Aye, sir. And I’ll carry them out at once.” The knight turned on heel and marched out of the arena, going in the same direction as his fellows had hustled Xax away. Aeson remained, sighing softly as he watched. A hand rose to his temple and he massaged it gently. The thought of a Durac being able to get all the way to his apartments was more than unsettling. At least his younger brothers and sisters were safely attended by escorts. He could only thank Zaynar that Olivia had been away at the time. What horrible things could happen to the poor girl, being the sister of the captain of the guard!
Tibbet was generally confident of his own sense of direction, but even he had to admit that after a two year absence, the halls of the castle seemed more like a twisting labyrinth than the familiar byways he had been expecting. Finding the castle steward had been simple enough. There were more than enough knights willing to escort him, some employing more duress than others, but after assuring everyone that he was merely a minstrel and not a government spy, Tibbet had been left on his own and found himself horribly and painfully lost.
It felt strange to be surrounded by Alastrians. After all, he had come from Hyrule, where everyone looked like him. Now, Tibbet found that he stood out in a crowd once more and he wasn’t entirely sure he felt comfortable. True, he loved getting all the attention he could muster when he was playing his lute for a crowd, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun to draw such stares when all he was doing was walking down a corridor.
“Oh the battling bard was a delicate soul and a beautiful lass was she,” he sang quietly to himself, “with her fairy band she roamed about the land until one day she chanced on me.”
Suddenly, Tibbet could hear the clanking of armor coming his way down the hall. Thank the goddesses! Someone to give him directions! Quickly, Tibbet followed the noise, scurrying down the hall as fast as his short legs would carry him. Soon, he happened on the landing of a staircase, overlooking a hallway beneath him. He rested his hands on the balcony, peering down where he saw a full escort of knights marching through the hall. Everyone who saw them immediately scrambled to the walls, curtsying or bowing respectively. Tibbet strained his eyes, trying to make out which member of the royal family was being escorted.
Much to his surprise, the only civilian he saw among the company was a blond Hylian boy in a green tunic. “Link?” he whispered uncertainly to himself. Carefully, he stepped down two or three stairs, hoping to get a better look. Yes! It was him! “Link!” he shouted joyfully, sprinting down the stairs to find himself directly in the path of the knights. “Link, I would never have expected to see you here!” The knights skidded to a stop, looking at each other in confusion.
“What game are you playing, minstrel?” one of the guards growled.
By this point, Link had come to the front of the line. Tibbet ran to him, throwing his arms around the boy and drawing him into a huge bear hug. “Link, it’s so good to see you!”
Link stared blankly at Tibbet. “Who are you?”
Tibbet stepped back abruptly. “Link, it’s me, Tibbet. Lyna’s brother.”
“The Cyrstal Maiden, the second one you rescued, Link.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“Calling you what?”
Tibbet blinked in surprise. “That’s your name. Are you feeling quite –”
One of the guards stepped forward abruptly, latching onto Tibbet’s throat with an iron fist. “Don’t mind him, your majesty,” the guard grunted to Link.
“Your majesty?” Tibbet choked.
“He’s just a loon. Guards, escort Prince Oren to his quarters.” At once, the knights hustled Link away, who continued to stare at Tibbet in confusion until he was pulled out of sight. A few of them remained however, circling around the hapless minstrel.
The guard holding into Tibbet released him roughly, throwing him to the floor. He looked up at the knights with a confused expression. “Prince Oren?”
“You need a lesson in respect, boy,” the guard said, pulling his hand back to strike Tibbet’s face.
“Gentlemen,” a voice called from above. His arm suspended, the knight and his fellows looked up. Standing on the second floor landing, looking over the railing, Astrid’s raccoon-like face peered down. “Is that the minstrel Tibbet? Princess Ismene’s been expecting him.”
“Astrid!” Tibbet yelped.
“I hope your beating won’t take too long,” Astrid sang to the guards. “I would hate to bring him to the Princess all bruised.”
The head guard looked up at Astrid, then down at Tibbet. With a disgusted growl, he dropped his hand and gestured for the knights to depart. “You watch yourself,” he warned Tibbet as he left.
Tibbet scrambled to his feet, climbing back up the stairs. His gait was somewhat off kilter, but he clung to the railing, looking up at Astrid’s glowing white face. “Astrid, you saved my hide.”
The jester met him halfway down the stairs. “That’s three beatings I’ve saved you from now,” she replied merrily.
“The first one didn’t count,” Tibbet insisted, giving her a tight hug. He pulled back, clapping her shoulder lightly. “How are you?”
“Medium rare,” she replied.
“Astrid, what’s going on?”
“Oh, many complex things. Even as we speak now, for example, your stomach is engaged in the breakdown of several complex fibers that go into the structure of the bread you ate for breakfast.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Well, even as we speak now, a series of winds are shifting the clouds above us to move storm fronts.”
“I meant this Prince Oren business.”
“Oh, you mean Princess Idina’s husband?”
Tibbet blinked. “Princess Idina doesn’t have a husband. That’s Link, a friend of mine from Hyrule.”
Astrid gripped Tibbet’s shoulder. Nervously looking from side to side, she pulled him further up the steps, out of hearing range for the servants busily cleaning the corridor. “You know that and I know that,” she hissed.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure exactly. This morning, the Queen called everyone in the castle into an early session of court. She told us that today, Idina would bring home her husband, the long lost Prince Oren. And anyone who denied his previous existence would be…” Astrid made a quick, slicing gesture across her throat.
“That boy is not named Oren.”
“He doesn’t know that.”
“What do you mean?”
“When he was brought into court, Idina herself announced that he had lost his memory.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Tibbet declared softly. “I saw him in Hyrule not three months ago and he knew perfectly well who he was.”
“Methinks the Queen’s diviner has played a hand in this,” Astrid mumbled. “Dark magik is afoot.”
“Why would they want Link?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know that, fool.”
“You’re the fool.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.”
Tibbet removed his hat, running a hand through his hair. “Magical memory loss. The Queen must be getting something out of this.”
“Aye, something big.”
“And we’re going to find out what it is.”
“Aye, we are. But you must be patient. And careful. Those guards nearly scraped the flesh clean off of your face.”
“If there’s a threat of death over those who don’t play along with the Queen’s game, the stakes must be high.”
“Until we learn what they are, you’d best go along with it and pretend you don’t know Lank.”
“Prince Oren it is, then. But Astrid, it’s going to be hard to forget him. He’s Hyrule’s greatest Hero since the Imprisoning War.”
“Hyrule’s always had Heroes. They’re not so common in Alastria.”
“What can we do? Aside from wait around?”
“Tonight during the ball, the entire castle will be in attendance.”
“So it’ll be the perfect opportunity to go slinking about. I want to know what this mess is about just as much as you.”
“Aye, and until then you’d best stay out of sight. After all, I can’t save your skin every time.”
“The first one didn’t count,” the minstrel chuckled. Tibbet looked her in the eye. Astrid has the clearest emerald green eyes he had ever seen, clashing completely with her silly costume. “It’s good to see you again, Astrid.”
“Yes,” Astrid agreed. “It is good to see me.”
Tibbet laughed. “I’ve stayed away too long. I forgot how funny you are.” With that, he passed her, going up the stairs and disappearing into the second floor.
Astrid stood still, watching him go. “Funny like a clown,” she muttered to herself. In her mind, she was replaying every moment, every instant she had witnessed in the throne room this morning. She searched as hard as she could for a clue as to what was happening, but in her vast wit and intelligence, the only moment she could replay with any clarity was when Ismene had met Oren…no…Link.
Olivia stood off to one side of the private salon. Only the royal family and their innermost circle of friends and servants were allowed to enter and Olivia was counted among them, more due to her brother’s connections than due to any fondness with the royals. Still, she always managed to brighten up the gloom. The chamber was dark, lit only by the weak light coming in from the glass oriel with western exposure. With plush purple carpet and deep maroon walls, there was little for the light to reflect off of. A few paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, but they were almost never lit.
Idina and Evanthea lounged on velvet ottomans, sipping from silver wine goblets which Olivia would occasionally refill from the decanter she hoisted up on a platinum platter. A parade of ladies in waiting streamed in through the door, each one carrying a gown that had been taken out of storage. One at a time, the ladies would step forward to allow Idina and Evanthea to scrutinize the dresses. Inevitably, each one was rejected and the lady holding it was sent back to the attic to fetch another gown. Olivia found each one more beautiful than the next. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why the royals found flaw in such loveliness.
There was no question about it; tonight’s ball was going to be the grandest Alastria had seen in five years.
had worn heavily on the morale of the kingdom at large and this festival would surely cheer things up a bit. Olivia herself wasn’t certain on her stance regarding this Hylian boy. If he was everything he promised to be, certainly Alastria would become a better place for it, yet at the same time, she pitied him. Still, it was better to remain silent. The last thing she wanted to do was draw extra attention to herself. Battle
“What do you think of this dress, Momma?” Idina asked, gesturing to a lady in waiting who held an elaborate red dress with gold tubing and lace around the high neckline.
“A bit too stifling for an event like this,” Evanthea replied, dismissing the girl with a wave of her hand.
“I want to look my best,” Idina sighed for the tenth time. “Mother, he’s absolutely perfect.”
“Yes, dear,” Evanthea mumbled for the tenth time, “I know.”
“I didn’t expect him to be nearly so handsome. Most warriors are ugly and covered with scars.”
“You were lucky.”
“I can’t believe he’s all mine,” she moaned dreamily, throwing her head back in ecstasy.
“He’s not yours yet, Idina,” Evanthea told her sharply. “Until he is bound to our cause, he’s not yours.”
“How will he be bound?”
“He must make a blood sacrifice to Zaynar first.”
“By the next new moon.”
“But Momma, that’s only three days, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is.”
“So it won’t be long before he’s mine,” Idina sang with a big, stupid grin on her face.
“Not long, dear,” Evanthea muttered. Another lady had entered in carrying a ball gown. This one was a straight blue dress with purple diamonds over the bodice and long window sleeves going nearly to the floor.
“This one is a distinct possibility,” Idina mused.
“You’d look very becoming in it,” Evanthea agreed. “What do you think, Olivia?” she asked abruptly.
Olivia blinked in surprise. “It’s a beautiful dress,” she said diplomatically. To be honest, in Olivia’s opinion, no dress could detract from the sharp angles of Idina’s face, but she would hardly say such a thing.
“Put that one off to the side,” Evanthea said. “It’s one of our finalists.” The lady in waiting obeyed with a curtsy.
“Where is Ismene?” Idina wondered suddenly as she waited for the next dress to be paraded out.
“Zaynar only knows,” Evanthea replied with a shake of her head. “She’s been surly all day.”
“I want her to be a part of this,” Idina said.
“Leave her be, Idina. Her sour mood will only spoil your special day.”
“This ball is something like my wedding, I suppose.”
“And tonight like your wedding night,” Evanthea added.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Idina admitted.
“According to the diviner, the child born of my daughter and this Hylian boy will give rise to a line of warrior kings.”
Idina touched her belly absently. “That’s quite the burden.”
“Think of it, rather, as immortality for yourself,” Evanthea told her.
The door to the chamber opened. Instead of being another lady with yet another dress, as expected, Aeson entered, flanked on either side by two honor guards. “Captain?” Idina asked angrily. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“Hush, Idina,” Evanthea snapped, rising to her feet. Sulkily, Idina folded her arms across her chest, leaning back in her seat.
Aeson made his way to the center of the room and knelt, the guards beside him doing likewise. “I apologize for interrupting, your majesties.”
“What is it?”
“There’s been a slight disturbance in the castle.”
“A few of my men caught a Durac spy sneaking through the third floor of the castle.”
“I would call that a bit more than a mere disturbance, Captain,” Evanthea said angrily.
Aeson ducked his head submissively. “A thousand pardons.”
“Continue,” she said with a wave of her hand.
“The spy has been caught. No additional Duracs have been found.”
“Where was he caught?”
“Around and about my own apartments, your majesty.”
All the color drained from Olivia’s face. Her hands going numb, she dropped the platter in her hands, letting it, and the decanter, fall to the carpet with a thud and clatter. Idina glanced in her direction. “Clod,” she muttered.
“Forgive me, your majesties,” Olivia mumbled quickly, kneeling down to pick up the mess she had made.
“The poor thing is frightened,” Evanthea said sympathetically. “I can hardly blame her, what with a Durac in her own living quarters.”
“He’s been locked up in the dungeon,” Aeson said, more to his sister than to the Queen.
“Well, he won’t harm anyone there. Is he someone of importance?”
“No, my queen.” Aeson watched as Olivia cleaned up the mess. Her hands were trembling. “He recited a good portion of his lineage, he’s no one. Xax, son of Thisbe. No recognizable names there.”
“Too bad. We won’t be able to use him as a bargaining chip, I suppose.” Evanthea bridged her fingers, looking thoughtful. “Well, he can still be of use to us, in the long run.”
“How’s that, my queen?”
Evanthea glanced at Idina. “He will be our blood sacrifice.”
“Brilliant idea, mother,” Idina grinned.
The Queen turned back to Aeson. “Captain, I’ll leave the arrangements to you. On the next new moon there will be a festival to Zaynar.”
“Aye, my lady,” Aeson said, rising to his feet. The guards on either side of him rose as well.
“Arrange for the usual festivities and merriments. At the conclusion of the ceremony, we will sacrifice the Durac to our goddess.”
“That’ll certainly send a message to the enemy,” Aeson added.
“It will do much more than that. Let it be known that the returned Prince Oren will lead the ceremony. At the end, he will personally sacrifice the savage Durac to Zaynar.”
“And forever dedicate to himself to the Alastrian people,” Idina gushed.
“It will be done,” Aeson promised. He turned around and started to march out of the salon.
“Captain,” Evanthea called him back.
“Let them handle the preliminaries,” she said with an absent gesture to the honor guards. “See to your sister.”
Aeson waved the guards to go on without him. Olivia, by this point, was still on the floor, shaking like a leaf. He made his way over to her, kneeling down and offering her a hand. Abruptly, Olivia stood of her own volition. “By your, leave, your majesties,” she mumbled, racing out of the room before anyone could answer.
“What’s the matter with her?” Idina scoffed.
“Just a fright, your majesty,” Aeson assured the princess, climbing to his feet once more. “One of the drawbacks of being sister to the captain of the guard.”
“Will she be all right?”
“I’m sure she will be,” Aeson answered.
“Well, go see to her,” Evanthea prodded.
“Aye, my lady.” Aeson stood stiff and straight at attention for a moment, then turned on heel, marching out of the chamber, right past a very befuddled lady in waiting holding a lavender ball gown.
“Things just have a wonderful way of working out, don’t they mother?” Idina sighed.
Evanthea settled herself back down on her ottoman, waving the serving maid to enter. “We have our prince. We have our sacrifice. All we need now is the new moon.” She frowned slightly. “And the cooperation of the entire court.”
Prince Oren’s chambers were rather plain by most standards. This was because the prince had been away so long, the guards claimed. Still, as he paced the room, Prince Oren, or rather Link for that was what his real name was, felt a certain amount of uneasiness deep down in the pit of his stomach. The encounter with the Hylian minstrel was still fresh in his mind. One of the guards had breezed over the event, explaining that Tibbet was a bit of a madman who came around occasionally to entertain the foolish ladies of the court. Yet, Link was certain he hadn’t seen much insanity in that boy’s eyes. Besides, what need had they for a madman when they already had a jester?
He paused by the window, looking out at the Alastrian panorama before him. The countryside was pretty enough, but the kingdom itself was poor and dirty, torn, he was told, by years of the strife which accompanies war. Leaning his chin in his palm, Link rested by the sill. All day, he had been struggling as hard as he could to conjure up some memory, some glimmer of recognition, that would tell him this was his homeland. Hard as he tried, he could go no further back in time than to the morning when he woke to find himself in Idina’s arms.
Everyone was certainly nice to him. And apart from Tibbet, everyone recognized him as Prince Oren. Had he sensed any awkwardness in the throne room, attending the royal court? He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something had been amiss. What was it? Every time he replayed the scenario, he came back to the moment when Ismene had entered. That was when the strangeness began to sink in, but why; he could only be left to guess.
Leaving the window behind, Link walked across the room, finding himself in front of a mirror. Several attendants had left him a fresh set of clothing to wear, a simple silk tunic with long white sleeves, purple in the middle. The clothing he’d been found in was hustled away from him by the servants. For some odd reason, he felt oddly attached to the green tunic and was sorry to have to part with it. He had tried to save it, but to no avail.
As he stared into the mirror, it was though a stranger was looking back at him. He couldn’t recognize his own reflection! There stood a tall, handsome Hylian boy with corn yellow hair and dazzling blue eyes who seemed to lack any sort of identification. Frustrated, he curled his fingers up into a fist. In the mirror, well defined bicep muscles appeared.
From the other side of the room, he heard bells ringing. Turning around he saw the grotesque jester staff with plaster head sticking through the curtains that separated his chamber from the anteroom. “Come in?”
The curtains parted as Astrid walked in, brandishing her staff much like a trumpet. She pressed her lips together, pretending to play a fanfare. “Princess Ismene requests an audience with you, your highness,” she sang.
Link couldn’t help but grin at the pageantry. “Do the royals always use their jester to announce them?”
Astrid lowered her stick. “Truly, sir, you’ll find that a fool is the most versatile of servants. The fool is sent on an errand and if it gets done, the fool is a good servant, if not, it can be chalked up to his madness.”
“His madness? Don’t you mean her madness?”
“No, indeed, sir, for in all that I have ever read, no woman has been a fool.”
Link chuckled. “You have a quick wit.”
“Quick perhaps, but not fast enough to catch your slow tongue.”
“Indeed. I announced Princess Ismene a minute ago and you still haven’t parleyed to her entrance.”
“What does that mean?”
“You haven’t said she may enter.”
“Oh!” Link looked sheepish. “Please, tell her she can come in.”
Astrid rose up onto the toes of her left foot, her right foot gracefully suspended in the air. She tucked her jester staff into the belt around her narrow waist and cupped her hands to her mouth, making the same trumpeting noise as before. After a moment, the curtains parted as Ismene walked into the chamber. “The Princess Ismene,” Astrid said, bowing grandly, cocking her heel out.
“Thank you, Astrid,” Ismene said gently.
“And that is my cue to exit,” Astrid sang merrily. She nodded politely to Link and scampered out the curtains, the bells of her stick ringing all the way down the corridor.
“She has a way with words,” Link mused.
“You’d be surprised how many scrapes she’s managed to get herself out of just by talking everyone to death with puns and riddles.”
“The ideal jester.”
Link looked as Ismene. She seemed somewhat distracted with a small tie on her dress, loosely wrapped around her middle. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked, trying to sound polite.
She turned her eyes up to him. “I wanted to apologize for being so…callous, back in the throne room.”
“You weren’t callous.”
“At least, I didn’t think so. If anything, I’m the one who should be very distant right now. After all, I seem to be missing a good seventeen years of history. It’s really quite terrible. First, apparently, I lose my homeland, then I lose years out of my life, then I lose my memory, then I lose –” Rather abruptly, Ismene moved forward, clamping a hand down over his mouth. Link’s eyes widened for a moment and he instinctively latched onto her wrist, pulling her hand away. “What was that for?”
“You’ve already lost so much; you needn’t lose your tongue as well.”
“Why is everyone so obsessed with my tongue?” Link asked loudly. He blushed a bit, realizing what he was saying even as it came out of his mouth. “It’s going to take awhile to catch up.”
“Yes,” Ismene agreed with a slight frown, looking down at her wrist, still captured in his fingers.
Quickly, Link released Ismene. “Can you help me?”
“I can certainly try. What do you need me to do?”
Link crossed the room, sitting down on an uncomfortable wooden bench by the window. “I have a lot of questions,” he said earnestly.
Carefully, Ismene picked her way through the room, sitting down next to him, just far enough away that another person could fit in between them. “What kinds of questions?”
“About the past mostly.” He looked at her very seriously. “How did I meet Idina?”
“Well…” Ismene placed her hands in her lap, staring down at them intently. “You had just arrived from Hyrule for asylum. You…saw Idina crushing grapes at a wine festival. She was hoisting up her skirts and stomping around the barrel and you came up to the side and told her that the wine would be sweet because such a sweet girl was making it.”
Link furrowed his brow, trying the best he could to remember, but he drew a blank. “And then…?”
“Throughout your courtship, you gave her violets, because they were purple like the wine. And on your wedding night she wore a lavender dress.”
“What about us?”
Ismene looked up sharply, her eyes locking with his. “What do you mean?”
“What sort of relationship do we have?”
Link could see thoughts racing behind Ismene’s eyes before she answered. “We’re very good friends.”
“I thought I felt a twinge of…something.” Link scowled, fishing for words. “When I saw you in the throne room. Some sort of…I don’t know, I guess it was familiarity.”
Ismene smiled weakly. “That’s a good sign. It means that your memories will return to you.”
“I hope so,” he sighed.
“Why don’t you tell me what you do remember?”
Link shrugged. “Nothing.”
“I get certain senses…not exactly images, more like feelings. But the faces are all blank and the words don’t mean anything.”
“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” she said softly. Gingerly, she reached out to rest a hand on his shoulder.
He looked at her, a small smile on his lips. Gently, he patted her hand with his, before resting it on top. “Everything will get straightened out, sooner or later,” he said hopefully.
“I hope that…well, maybe at the ball tonight things will get more familiar for you.”
“The ball,” Link sighed. He chuckled after a moment. “Something tells me that I don’t like formal occasions.”
Ismene laughed at this. “Me neither. All those women parading around like peacocks.”
“Men seeking out wealthy prospects for wives.”
“The same old boring dances, completely devoid of passion.”
“Boring music,” Link added, “with decades of history and tradition, but completely dull.”
“Oh I hate balls,” Ismene said smiling, with a slight shake of her head.
“Will you be there?”
“Yes of course, mother will expect me.”
“Well, I hope you’ll save a dance for me.”
“Would you like that?”
“Yes, very much.”
Ismene looked at his shoulder. Link’s hand was still on top of hers. Clearing her throat gingerly, she slid her fingers free, standing up. “Well, of course I will,” she said quickly. “But now I have to…”
Immediately, both of them fell into a lapse of silence. Finally, Ismene smiled. She curtsied politely. “It’s good to have you back…Oren.”
“It’s good to be back. I think.”
“By your leave.” Without waiting to be dismissed, Ismene turned around and walked out of the room. Link watched her go. Though she soon vanished through the folds of the curtains, part of her still lingered there in the room. He took a deep breath, her faint scent still floating around his head. What was that smell? Certainly not perfume. Ismene struck Link as being very different from the silly girls he had seen in the court. Reluctantly, in the depths of his mind, he had to admit that Idina more resembled them. There was something different about Ismene, she somehow lacked pretense.
“No,” he scolded himself. “This isn’t right.” But then again, truer words were never spoken regarding the entire situation.
Olivia was sitting on the edge of her bed when she heard a knock. She didn’t have an actual door to separate her room from the rest of the apartments so much as a floor to ceiling screen that folded up like an accordion when open and stretched tight like a wall when closed. It was hard to knock on the contraption, so in truth, the knock sounded more like a soft tapping.
“Who is it?” Olivia whispered, looking up from her hands to face the accordion doorway.
Her chest deflated a bit. “Oh.”
“Olivia? Can I come in?” her brother implored.
“I want to talk to you.”
She licked her lips, smoothing her hair back over her shoulders. On the wall, across from her, was a fairly large mirror in which she glanced at her reflection. The course of the day had further frazzled her appearance. Not only was her hat gone, but her hair had become disheveled with activity and the fabric of her dress was somewhat stained with the spilled wine. Still, she reasoned she looked presentable enough, as she ran her fingertips over her eyes.
“Come in,” she called.
The doorway folded up, sliding open as Aeson walked in. He turned around to close it behind himself before standing in front of Olivia. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she replied.
“I was worried about you.”
“Evanthea had to tell you to see to me.”
Aeson sighed wearily. “Olivia, you know how it is. It’s my job to attend to the safety of the royal family before anything personal. I couldn’t very well have broken from my duty without a command from the Queen.”
“Duty above all other things, I know how it is.”
With a few steps, he turned to sit down beside her. “I’m off duty now. And you’re the first thing on my mind, little sister.”
“I’m fine, really.”
He put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into an embrace against his side. “I know that Durac must have frightened you something awful. But Olivia, I swear no one will ever hurt you.”
“I couldn’t live with myself if my job brought you into any sort of danger. I promise there won’t be any more Duracs skulking about.”
She looked at him. “Aeson…”
There was a heavy moment of silence. Olivia scanned her brother before shaking her head slowly. “Nothing.”
Aeson squeezed her arm lightly, leaning over to kiss the top of her head. “I have some news that will be sure to cheer you up.”
“Princess Ismene has opened up her wardrobe to all the ladies in waiting for the ball tonight. You can wear the gown of a princess.”
“I’m not going to the ball,” Olivia said.
He blinked, pulling back to look at her. “What?”
“I said I’m not going to the ball tonight.”
“But why not?”
“I’m not much for dancing.”
“Olivia, you know that’s not a valid excuse.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“The Queen will be very upset if all her ladies in waiting aren’t in attendance. That includes you.”
“Tell her that I’ve taken ill.”
“You would have me lie to the Queen?”
“That’s right. Duty first. Well, as it happens, I’m not feeling all that well, Aeson.”
“Olivia, stop being so childish.”
“Why shouldn’t I be childish? Everyone treats me like a child.”
“You’re going to come to the ball tonight,” Aeson told her firmly. “And you’re going to have a wonderful time.”
“That Hylian minstrel you’re so fond of is back in the palace, you know.”
“I’m sure he’ll be there to tell you all those gruesome stories you love so much and think I don’t know about.”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“I’m sorry, will you please go?”
Aeson blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Will you please leave? I have a headache.”
“Get out, Aeson. Get out or I’ll make a scene right here.”
Dumbfounded, Aeson rose to his feet. He stared down at his little sister. She seemed perfectly calm and collected, but he had never known her to be so distant. Sitting on the bed, she stared straight ahead, not even sparing him a look, as if she had just dismissed him like she was royalty. “What did I do wrong?” he asked her.
“Nothing, just go.”
“If there’s anything I –”
“I want to be alone.”
“All right, all right.” Aeson stepped backward, grabbing the handle of the accordion doorway with one hand. He opened his mouth to say something more, but realizing that his efforts would just be in vain, he opened the door and stepped out, sliding it shut behind him. Biting his lips together, Aeson leaned his head against the crease, feeling the cold metal of the handle press into the skin of his forehead. On the other side of the wall, Olivia buried her own head in her hands, driving her nails deep into her scalp.
The throne room was filled with stunning decoration. Hundreds of paper lamps, deep pink, were strung up from the ceiling, dangling down like little pink stars and casting rose colored reflections on the checkerboard floor.
of chrysanthemums were wound around the grand staircase and balcony. The thrones had been removed from the round dais. Replacing them were dozens of musicians, filling the room with the sound of fife and mandolin. Those purple curtains which separated the throne room from the rest of the castle were thrown open, tied back with gold braids. Garlands
Every courtier in the kingdom was in attendance tonight. They mingled, moving together as a sort of living sea to be observed from the second story landing where Link stood. Not a single face was familiar to him, save for the royals and the knights who had escorted him down the halls. Across the room from him, beneath the arched doorway where the curtains parted, he could spy Evanthea chattering away with a bald man in crimson robes.
“Oren! There you are!”
Looking down the stairs, Link spotted Idina standing on the bottom step. She was dolled up in a straight blue dress with purple diamonds over the bodice and long window sleeves going nearly to the floor. On top of her head, hiding most of her dark hair was a large conical hat, bright blue, with a long white veil falling from the point along with gold streamers. Idina waved him down, the large assortment of rings on her fingers flashing in the pink light.
Slowly, Link made his way down the stairs to her. “Hello,” he said, bowing politely.
She ran her fingers down his chest. “You look absolutely wonderful out of those ridiculous peasant garments.”
“Look at all the people who’ve come to welcome you home, my love,” she said, sweeping her hand out across the expanse of the room.
“I wish I knew who they were,” he told her.
“My poor Oren,” she clucked, caressing his cheek. “It’ll come back to you soon, I promise.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying.”
Idina looped her arm around Link’s, pulling him forward to walk through the middle of the room. “Tonight, I’ll make you remember the love we shared,” she told him in a husky, seductive tone.
Link sputtered. “Who’s that your mother is talking to?”
Glancing in the direction of the door, Idina laughed lightly. “Oh him? That’s the high priest of Zaynar, our kingdom’s diviner.”
“Does he have a name?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know. Everyone just calls him ‘diviner’ or something like that.”
“He seems awfully close to your mother.”
“He’s a very good friend of the family,” Idina explained. “Why, when you went missing, he headed up the first rescue effort.”
“The diviner is a very powerful man, my love. Why, all things considered, he’s the most important man in Zaynarism in the entire world.”
“The worship of the great goddess Zaynar.”
“I’m embarrassed to admit it,” Link said, “but I honestly don’t have any recollection of Zaynar.”
“The mythology is very long and very involved. I can take you to the temple if you like.”
“Give me the short version of the story for now.”
Idina shrugged. “Zaynar was born out of the river Soleah. When she ascended to the Sacred Realm, she was turned away by the wickedest of all goddesses, Din.”
Link blinked suddenly. “Din?”
“That sounds a little familiar.”
“Oh. Well, at any rate, an epic battled raged before Zaynar was cast out of the Sacred Realm by Din and her sisters. She then traveled across the sea and where her foot touched the water, an island arose and on it, the Alastrian people were born.”
“I’m still not sure I see the difference between Humans and
Link was interrupted by a fanfare of trumpets, the same one which had heralded his entrance a little while ago. Looking up at the second floor landing, he spotted Ismene as she made her debut. To be quite honest, her appearance took his breath away. She wore a lavender chiton with a violet sash tied around her narrow waist. From her arms, midway down the biceps, two plum bands supported light lilac veils which nearly reached the floor. As she walked down the stairs, a small satin train trailed behind her, revealing wine colored shoes. Ismene needed no baubles, no flashy jewels. Her simple, true beauty was enough decoration.
“Princess Ismene,” a herald announced.
“Well, isn’t that dress quaint?” Idina sneered.
Ismene made her way directly toward Idina and Link. She dropped into a low curtsy. “Good evening, sister. Good evening, Oren.”
“Good evening, Ismene,” Link said, bowing to her.
“Mother and I didn’t think you’d be gracing us with your presence,” Idina muttered.
“I’m sorry I didn’t attend salon earlier today,” Ismene replied. “You look beautiful, Idina.”
“Yes. Well, Ismene, you’re certainly charming yourself. Although don’t you think it’s rather inappropriate not to wear a hat to such a formal occasion?”
“You needn’t be so catty.”
“Ladies,” Link said quickly, “I hope you’ll both do me the honor of a dance tonight.”
“Do you think you’re up to the challenge?” Idina asked, sliding her fingers down his chest.
“I think I still remember how to dance,” he replied, grabbing her wrist gently to pull it away. He took her hand in his then put his other hand on her hip. Momentarily flustered, Idina touched his shoulder and the two of them set off on a waltz. Ismene stood where she was, watching the two of them and she noticed that from time to time, Link would throw a gaze in her direction.
As the night wore on, Link was introduced to dozens of lords and ladies, none of whom he could keep straight. He was forced to address the crowd briefly, and sick to his stomach, he just barely managed to thank them all for their devotion. Idina clung to him like flypaper, always poking and probing him to the point where he was unnerved. He finally managed to detach himself from her when she was distracted by several ladies in waiting huddling a corner, gossiping about everyone else’s clothing.
He wandered through the crowd, engaging in polite small talk with those who approached him. From time to time, he would pick up little snippets of conversation from Ismene and the various courtiers who approached her. “Good even, Ismene,” a Zaynar missionary called. “Zaynar protect you.”
“A thousand greetings, Brother Alonz. It would be better to ask Zaynar to protect the knights, for they are the ones who protect me.”
Both Link and Brother Alonz chuckled at this. “You’ve a biting wit on you this evening, Princess. You seem merry.”
“Marry? No, sir. I think I’m still a maiden, unless I’ve been betrothed without my knowledge.”
“This court will never want for a jester with a wit like yours, my dear.”
The conversation slowly faded as Link was again swallowed into the thriving mob of courtiers. Evanthea demanded a waltz at one point. The old queen moved with surprising grace, considering how many times Idina had stepped on his toes. She even introduced him to the diviner, although like her daughter, failed to provide Link with the man’s name. Soon, he began to wonder if even the diviner himself remembered his own name or if it had been lost in decades of service to the castle and the goddess.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” he heard Ismene’s voice come out of the crowd, “should it come before the ball ends.”
Following the sound, Link picked his way through the crowd until he located Ismene. She was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, peeking out at the crowd from in between the rails. Walking away in the opposite direction was a small serving girl. “There room on that step for one more?” he asked, approaching Ismene.
“Of course,” she answered, sliding over to let him sit next to her. A moment of silence hung heavy in the air between the two of them. Ismene threw an uncertain glance at Link then turned out to face the crowd. “Well, this is certainly…”
“Overwhelming?” Link supplied.
Ismene laughed. “I was going to say pompous, but your word works too.”
“Why are you hiding away in this little corner?”
“I’m not hiding. I was just…wondering where Astrid is.”
“Off punning, no doubt.”
“I don’t think she’s here.”
“You’re rather fond of her, aren’t you?”
“She’s the only real person in the court.”
“Real person? What do you mean?”
“She doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not. No pretenses, no airs…”
“By your own definition, I’d accuse you of being a real person, Ismene.”
She was silent before continuing. “Astrid can be brutally honest and get away with it because she’s a jester.”
“Aren’t most jesters mad?”
“That’s just a myth.”
“I’ve been hearing a lot of those tonight.”
“It’s not really common knowledge, but since you’re…” she hesitated, “…family, I suppose it’s all right to tell you.”
“Astrid is actually my half sister.”
He blinked in surprise. “How?”
“Poppa and a kitchen wench. When she grew up, Poppa wanted to insure her a proper place in court, but Mother would have none of it. Court jester was the compromise they reached. Poppa died soon after he saw it fulfilled. Mother’s tried countless times to dispose of her, but I just won’t have it. It’s the only favor I ask Mother for, time and time again, to have Astrid around.”
“But doesn’t it bother you that she stands as a testament to your father’s infidelity?”
“Having Astrid and her mother in his life didn’t make Poppa love me any less, I’m certain.”
“May I be frank?”
“I admire the way you look out of her.”
“She’s my sister,” Ismene replied.
Link glanced at her. She seemed a bit upset, so he leaned forward with a goofy smile. “You still owe me a dance.”
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
At once, Link bounded up to his feet, holding a hand out to Ismene. “There’s no time like the present.”
Ismene slipped her hand into his, hoisting herself up to her feet. As Link pulled her close, their eyes locked again and Ismene felt a shiver run down her spine. Carefully, Link led her out to the dance floor, quickly falling into step with the other courtiers who were waltzing. The two of them moved with far more grace than even Evanthea had, due, most likely, to the fact that Ismene wore much simpler shoes, better suited for dancing.
“You’re very good,” Ismene told him in surprise.
“Was I bad before?”
“Oh, no,” she fumbled quickly. “That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“I just meant that you’re a very good dancer,” she said.
They made their way in circles across the floor. From the doorway, Evanthea’s attention was drawn to the pair. She folded her arms across her chest, eyeing Link critically, trying to read his thoughts. A glance to the corner gave Evanthea Idina’s thoughts. She stood there, glowering at her sister and Link. Evanthea managed to catch her older daughter’s eyes and Idina gave her a very insistent scowl, the sort of look that used to cross her face right before throwing a temper tantrum back when she was a small child.
Bridging her fingertips, Evanthea slowly made her way across the room. Everyone scurried out of her way, deferring with curtsies and bows, but Evanthea didn’t stop to acknowledge any of them. She climbed the stairs, her long maroon train trailing behind her as the beads on the trimming clattered across the steps. When she reached the top of the stairs, she planted her hands on the balcony, nodding to one of the musicians. He immediately signaled the others to silence, save for the trumpeter who played a quick fanfare.
All eyes in the room fell upon Evanthea and the dancing stopped, Link and Ismene quickly stepping away from one another. “Good lords and ladies,” the herald shouted, “the Queen has an announcement.”
“My friends,” Evanthea said, squeezing the railing to the point where her knuckles seemed to go white. “I thank you once again for coming this evening to celebrate the return of our Prince Oren.” There was a spattering of applause before Evanthea continued. “We are all grateful for his return.”
Idina sidled up to Link’s side. “Get up there,” she hissed to him, grabbing his arm to pull him from Ismene’s side.
“A secular ball,” Evanthea continued, “however, is not enough to show our gratitude.” Link began climbing the stairs reluctantly, Idina trailing behind him, prodding him along like cattle. Ismene made her way to the bottom of the steps, but didn’t follow. “Therefore, in honor of the gift of Zaynar, a festival sacrifice will be held on the night of the next new moon.”
“Festival sacrifice?” Link whispered to Idina in confusion.
“And on that day, our Prince Oren will renew the vows to Zaynar he made when he first married Princess Idina.”
“What’s a festival sacrifice?”
“Gentles!” Evanthea crowed, “I invite you all to attend this joyous occasion, two evenings from now. With song and dance, we will celebrate the blood rites of the great Zaynar.”
Applause broke out across the room. Link grabbed Idina’s arm. “Blood rites?” he repeated.
“On the eve of the new moon,” Idina hissed, “a blood sacrifice will be offered up to the goddess. You’ll be expected to lead the ceremony and spill the first blood on the altar.”
“Sacrifice? What’s being sacrificed, a cow or something?”
“No, no,” she explained in sotto, still applauding, “it’s the blood of an enemy that must be spilled.”
“Blood of an enemy?”
“A Durac prisoner who was caught sneaking through the castle.”
Link blanched. “I have to kill a person?”
“Not a person,” Idina replied breezily as the applause began to die down again, “A Durac.”
“And now,” Evanthea resumed her speech, “as the evening’s festivities draw to a close, let us ask the goddess to bless this household, that it may never be torn apart. We ask Zaynar to grant healthy children to the Prince and Princess. We ask her to shield Alastria from the threat of Gonzalo. We ask her to restore the former glory of this people to its rightful place.”
Cheers broke out across the room. To Link though, there was no sound other than the frantic racing of his heart. True, he couldn’t remember being a devotee of Zaynar, but something about this ritual struck a sour note with him. Despite Idina’s blasé statement, he felt certain that Duracs had to be people and that killing people was wrong. Yet, how could he have such a firm sense of right and wrong when he didn’t even have a firm sense of who he was?
“Religious chambers. I hate religious chambers.”
It must have been close to . Normally, in the empty silence of the night, when all the priests and diviners were asleep in their beds, the blood red glow of the Shard died down. But this wasn’t a silent night. From the other side of the door to the innermost chamber of the temple, there was a loud scratching of metal against metal. Two dark figures, hidden in shadow, kneeled in front of the door to the sacred room, one of them twisting a hairpin into the lock, the other looking nervously about, as if expecting trouble.
“Why do you hate religious chambers?” Tibbet whispered as he craned his neck to the side.
“They’re all doom and gloom,” Astrid replied, never taking her eyes off of the lock.
“Do you really think so?”
“Well, here anyway. They always lead to punishment and sacred fasts.”
“Not a big fan of the fasting?”
“Oh, I fast,” Astrid chirped. “Presently after dinner.”
“At ease, Astrid. You’re off duty.”
“I’m sorry, I just can’t help it.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
She laughed softly. “As sure as I know that there’s a ramrod stuck straight up Sir Aeson’s…ah ha!” There was a soft clicking sound and the door croaked, swinging inward a foot or so.
“You got it.”
“And you doubted me.”
Red light spilled into the hallway as the duo crept into the chamber, Astrid’s jester bells ringing loudly in the silence. Quickly, Tibbet shut the door behind them. “Welcome to the inner sanctum,” Astrid addressed him with wide arms.
“So this is what a Zaynar sanctuary looks like. I’m impressed. And a little bit afraid.”
“Oh, Zaynarism is all nonsense when you get right down to it,” Astrid told him dismissively.
“Well, what are we looking for?”
“The scrolls. Old Uri writes all of his prophecies on scrolls.”
“The high priest.” Astrid pointed to one side of the room. “You start over there, I’ll look here.”
Tibbet wandered to where she pointed. He looked up at the etchings briefly, looking as though they were stained in blood under the red glow of the Shard. “This is sacrilege,” he muttered.
“Not really,” Astrid replied as she began digging through a bowl of fruit offered as tribute.
“Why do you say that?”
“Zaynarism is really all about seizing power in the end,” she explained, popping a green grape into her mouth.
“And wealth,” Tibbet murmured as he ran his hand along a rich carpet rolled up, leaning against the wall.
“They tend to be one and the same.”
“You have a wonderful way of rationalizing things.”
He moved further down across the room, half looking for the scrolls, half reading the scenes up across the top of the wall. His eye fell on a tall, narrow wicker basket with a tight lid over it. As he started to near it, his hand reaching for the lid, he heard Astrid hiss loudly. “What? What is it?”
“You don’t want to open that,” she said firmly.
“Why? What’s inside of it?”
“About a dozen rattle snakes.”
“I don’t want to open that,” Tibbet agreed, pulling his hand back quickly. “Why are there snakes?”
“They create a sense of fear. Fear is power.”
“You know, where I come from, wisdom is considered just as important as power.”
“Well, you won’t find any of that here.”
Tibbet encountered a second wicker basket. This one had no lid so he braved looking inside. “But you will find scrolls,” he said triumphantly.
Astrid skipped over to his side, accompanied by the clamor of her bells. “Quick, find the one for Evanthea.”
Nodding, Tibbet started digging through the basket, occasionally pulling out a scroll to look for some key word that would give them a hint of what was going on in the palace. “Queen Evanthea came to see me this morning, before the cock crowed,” he read. “This must be it.”
“Keep reading,” Astrid urged him, crouching on the ground, her hands resting on her knees.
“Before the cock crowed? Who talks like that?”
Tibbet stood up, pacing the room as he read aloud. “She asked the goddess to help bring an end to the war with the Duracs and restore the glory due to the Alastrian people. The goddess was with her and sent me a vision of a Hylian boy who would restore the balance of power. Zaynar told me that she would wipe his memory of all the past so that his life might be reshaped according to Alastrian will. She said that he was destined to mate with Evanthea’s daughter, producing a son that would be the founder of a lineage of warrior kings, the likes of which had never been seen before, possessing the greatest power in the entire realm.
“This being the case, I instructed Evanthea to send her daughter Idina to the shore where Zaynar would deposit the boy, in order to claim him as her husband. He will henceforth be known as Prince Oren, and provided he performs a blood sacrifice to Zaynar by the next new moon, he will forever be champion of the Alastrian people, their eternal servant.”
“Is there anything else?” Astrid asked.
Shaking his head, Tibbet rolled up the parchment again. “That’s all it says. And that’s no little amount of information.”
“Then he really is your friend, Link.”
He nodded. “Hyrule’s greatest Hero.”
“You keep calling him that.”
“Well, he is. He rescued my sister, Lyna, when a madman tried to use her to take over Hyrule.”
“Then he must be very valuable.”
“He’s powerful,” Tibbet explained.
“Powerful enough to wield Light Arrows and defeat the crazed, pig monster semblance of Ganondorf Dragmire.”
“Very,” Tibbet said, sticking the scroll back into the basket.
“And if the new moon comes and he makes blood sacrifice, he’ll belong to Evanthea and Idina forever.”
“Which would make Alastria the ultimate power in the realm.”
“The question is what are they going to do with that power?”
Tibbet and Astrid exchanged a look. Astrid’s face, still painted white, caught the glow of the Shard, giving her the appearance of a phantom of some kind. It was Tibbet who braved to say what was on both of their minds. “Conquer Gonzalo.”
“And everyone who thinks she would stop there, stand on your head,” Astrid quipped.
“With Link leading her armies, she could very likely take over the realm, including Hyrule.”
“At the cost of thousands of lives,” Astrid added.
“More like hundreds of thousands.”
“And if Link performs a blood sacrifice,” she continued, her eyes going inward as the scenario played out in her mind, “he’ll feel no remorse. He’ll lose all sense of conscience and mercy.”
“Which would turn him into a killing machine.”
“And founder of a line of warrior kings.” Astrid scowled. “That part of the prophecy doesn’t make sense. Why would his son be the founder of a line of warrior kings and not Link himself?”
“I don’t know.”
From the other side of the door, the sound of footsteps began to emerge, accompanied by the drunken singing of the priests and priestesses of Zaynar. “Looks like the ball is over,” Astrid hissed.
“We’ve got to get out of here and fast.”
Astrid stood up. As she did so, the bells on her hat started ringing. Frustrated, she grabbed hold of the fabric, ripping the bells off. Looking from side to side, she raced to the bowl of fruit, dropping the bells into it. “I know a fast way out,” she told Tibbet, tossing him an apple as she turned to face him.
“Without those bells, you’re less of a jester,” he joked dryly, catching the apple in his hands.
“I’d rather be less of a jester and more of a living person at the end of this night,” she answered back. “Come on.” Grabbing his hand, she pulled him forward. The two of them raced out of the chamber, shutting the door behind them. Inside, the Shard slowly faded, drowning the etchings in darkness.
Although it was very, very late, Evanthea could not sleep. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to be the only restless soul in the castle. Long after the ball had ended, she encountered Captain Aeson walking uneasily through the hallways. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to join her in the salon for a game of chess. Now, hours later, the Queen and her Champion sat across from each other at an oak table, fast engaged in their fourth game of the evening. All the while, they chatted about things of little consequence until Evanthea stumbled on a raw nerve.
“I didn’t see your sister at the ball this evening,” she commented absently, sliding her rook forward five spaces to capture his pawn.
“She decided not to attend,” Aeson replied, shifting uneasily in his chair. “She’s a bit…”
“Moody?” Evanthea supplied.
Evanthea laughed softly. “Teenage girls,” she said with a wave of her hand. “They’re all so unpredictable. I thank Zaynar every day that Idina’s grown out of that irritable phase.”
“So her mood is just due to her age?”
“I should think so.”
“Well, if that’s the case, then I suppose that I have three more years of this moodiness to look forward to.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Evanthea responded. “Honestly, Aeson, you’ve been above and beyond the call of duty with your Olivia ever since the loss of your parents.”
“It was hardest on her,” Aeson sighed, pushing his knight around the chessboard. “The younger ones don’t really remember mother and father. Olivia and I do and will always carry that with us.”
“You’ve served as an excellent father to them,” Evanthea praised him. “You are a man of high caliber. Honestly, I think that if our ‘Oren’ hadn’t been sent to us, I might have been tempted to arrange a match between Idina and yourself.”
“I would hardly be worthy,” Aeson said carefully.
There was a soft tapping on the door to the salon. “Come,” Evanthea barked as she moved her queen. “Check.”
The door slid open. Ismene silently entered the chamber, closing the door behind her. At this late hour, she wore a simple cotton night chemise, a royal blue robe tied over it. Her long, dark hair was pulled into two braids that hung down her back. “I am sorry to interrupt,” she said, curtsying deeply.
Aeson, who had just moved a pawn, jumped up to his feet, bowing his head. “Your majesty.”
“Yes? What is it?” Evanthea asked sharply.
Ismene looked at her mother. “May I speak with you?”
Evanthea threw a weary glance at Aeson. Moving her queen forward, she muttered, “Checkmate.”
Bowing, Aeson picked up his red cape which had been flung over the back of his chair. “Well played.” With a respectful nod to Ismene, he departed from the room, the echo of his spurs clicking down the hallway until they faded into the night.
“Sit down, child,” Evanthea told Ismene, gesturing to the vacant chair. Ismene silently settled down. “What are you doing up at this hour?”
“I haven’t been able to sleep,” Ismene replied. “Mother, I really need to speak with you.”
Evanthea sighed. “How did I know?”
“I saw the way you were looking at him during the ball, young lady. That sort of behavior is unbefitting of a princess.”
Ismene blinked in surprise. “What?”
“You’re attracted to him,” Evanthea put it plainly.
“What? No! Of course not, that’s not what I wanted to talk about at all.”
“Deny it all you like, young lady, but don’t take me for a fool. I know you better than you give me credit for.”
“All right, all right. What did you want to talk about?”
“Mother, listen to me. What we’re doing is wrong.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Lying to him like that, it’s wrong. We have to tell him the truth, about who he is. It’s the right thing to do.”
“You are arguing against the will of Zaynar, Ismene.”
“Perhaps, I am.”
“That’s a serious crime, as you well know.”
“Is the goddess always right?”
“Ours is not to question,” Evanthea replied. She began to set up the chess pieces again, as if for a fresh game. “Zaynar has given us a gift. It would be immoral to turn it away.”
“Oren isn’t a gift, he’s a person. With a life and a past of his own that we’re denying him with this ruse.”
“You pity him?”
Ismene was taken aback for a moment. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, I do pity him.”
“That is very noble of you, Ismene. Nevertheless, the hoax will continue. You need only wait until the next new moon then it’ll be all over.”
“It will be a life sentence.”
“After the blood sacrifice, nothing else will matter, my dear.”
“He’ll be the prisoner to a falsehood!”
“Ismene, you will cooperate.”
“But it’s wrong.”
Evanthea played with the chess pieces a bit more. “Duke Eglamor was at the ball tonight,” she said in a soft, deadly voice.
Ismene sunk back into her chair. “Mother…”
“He’s still very fond of you, you know.”
“He’s a pompous, self righteous cad.”
“He still wants you for his wife,” Evanthea finished, looking up at her daughter with cold eyes.
“I won’t have him.”
“Your will is submissive to mine, Ismene. And if I chose, I can give you to him. You know that.”
“Are you threatening me, Mother?”
“You will cooperate with this ruse. It will be the most satisfying solution to everyone’s problems.”
“If marriage to Eglamor is what it takes to do the right thing that will be my punishment.”
“I have important things to attend to; I don’t have time for your insubordination. Astrid wasn’t at the ball this evening. She’ll need to be properly punished.”
Ismene closed her eyes, folding her hands submissively in her lap. “As your will commands,” she finally whispered.
“That is a proper daughter,” Evanthea said proudly. “Now off to bed with you, my dear.”
“Yes, Mother,” Ismene answered, getting up to her feet without making any eye contact.
Ismene was halfway to the door. After a moment of hesitation, she turned around, looking over her shoulder. “Goodnight, Mother,” she said sharply. With that, she slid the door open and slipped out of the room.
A great amount of indignation surrounded Ismene as she made her way down the hall. How dare she, the princess fumed to herself. Her mother had actually threatened her. Never, not in her wildest moments, had Ismene ever imagined Evanthea capable of such a thing.
Thoughts of Duke Eglamor filled Ismene’s vision. She loathed the man with a wild passion, everything about him from his fat, pink face to the wisps of brown hair he would comb over his bald spot. Many times, she had noticed him leering at the backside of the serving maids while attending court. The thought of being yoked to him as a submissive wife was unbearable, not because she feared he would cheat on her, which he had done on his previous wife, but because she feared the disgusting man would be faithful to her. Yet Ismene would have born this punishment quietly, if that had been all, but the thought of something happening to Astrid was too much.
In truth, Ismene didn’t know if she would ever wed, but she was certain that if she did, it would be to someone of her own age, someone she loved. There would be no arranged marriage for her. A part of her had pitied Idina when she learned about the prophecy and that her sister was fated to wed a man she had never seen before, but that pity was quickly turned to indignation when she saw the way Idina behaved around her Oren.
Now, all of Ismene’s pity fell onto the boy. He seemed to be a good man, even though she hardly knew him. His shape and dress told her that he had seen many things, gone on many adventures and had a clear sense of who he was. To take that all away was beyond cruel. It was downright evil. Ismene found herself longing to take him in her arms and protect him from Idina.
Was she attracted to him? The thought suddenly struck Ismene like a harsh blow to the head. Her mother certainly seemed to think so. Beyond a doubt, he was a handsome man, with the pale, glimmering skin of a Hylian. Ismene had to admit that when she caught his gaze, she felt something. But what was it? A part of her wanted to answer fear, but how could she be afraid? What was there to be afraid of? Perhaps she did feel something for the boy after all. Although she knew that should have bothered her, she was undaunted. Someone had to care about him, instead of just caring about the power he represented.
Perhaps what frustrated Link most about suddenly being royalty was the myriad of servants who fawned over him and did everything for him. He couldn’t so much as undress himself without a dozen stewards all fussing his clothing, as if he couldn’t take off his shoes by himself! Finally, at long last, the last of the valets vanished, leaving Link blissfully alone in the anteroom of his apartments. They had managed to drape him in royal pajamas, but at least they were gone.
In the silence of the very, very early morning, Link paced back and forth across the chamber. He had been working so hard to drudge up some glimmer of memory that by this point he was too exhausted to sleep. Every once in awhile, a small article or word would spark the dimmest ember of a memory, but before he could fan the flame, it would smother. Oddly enough, the words that should have been closest to his heart, his own name, Idina’s name, and the like, sparked nothing for him. It was always, silly, trivial words.
And then there was that minstrel. He was the first and only Hylian Link had seen in the castle and despite the dismissal the knights had given him, Link could not be so quick to forget what he had said.
Maidens? Somehow, Link was certain that was important. Rescued? How could he have chanced to rescue a Hylian maiden when everyone said he had been off to war with the Duracs? The two stories just didn’t combine. Furthermore, why would he bother to rescue a Hylian girl when he himself had been banished from Hyrule? Crystal
Far too many questions, far too few answers, for Link’s taste at least. He sighed softly, running a hand through his hair. The ball tonight hadn’t made things any easier. Strangely enough, what scared him the most wasn’t the thought of a blood rite. No, what absolutely horrified him was the way he had felt when talking with Ismene. There was no question about it; he felt his heart flutter a bit when she approached. He knew it was wrong, of course he did. She was his wife’s sister! There was just something about her, something sweet, something kind and intelligent and he was drawn to it.
With a frustrated grunt, Link stopped pacing. It was far too late to wonder at such complexities. As much as he tried to suppress it, a yawn managed to escape. Bedtime, he decided. With heavy footsteps, he made his way through the anteroom to the curtains of the bedroom. The Alastrians sure liked curtains. Frankly, Link preferred doors. They provided a lot more in the way of privacy. As he parted the curtains and walked into the bedroom, however, all hopes for privacy dissolved.
The bed in the middle of the room was round, with a wide assortment of satin pillows on top of gold silk sheets. Lounging on top of the sheets was Idina. Her clothing was something scandalous, a coal black negligee underneath a sheer black robe that left little to the imagination. Her hair was down, loose, although it still seemed rather stiff from the vast amount of hairspray it required to stay up on top of her head. The lighting in the room was terrible, no more than a few flimsy candles. Their light bounced off of Idina’s face at odd angles, making her features even more sharp than before.
She looked up as Link entered with a silly, half intoxicated smile. “Well, hello stranger,” she said.
“Idina,” Link stuttered, involuntarily taking a step back.
“Happy birthday,” she whispered.
“It’s not my birthday,” he replied, not entirely sure if that was true or not.
She shrugged one shoulder up to her ear. “No, but you still have a present waiting for you. Why don’t you come open it?”
“Idina, I beg you to stop.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m really not in the mood for –”
Idina sat up, looking a bit cross. “Oren, you’ve been gone for years.”
“I know. I know, but Idina –”
“What could possibly make you want to be away any longer, Oren? It’s been years!”
“I know!” Link bellowed back. Quickly, he sat down on the side of the bed. “Listen to me.” Cautiously he took one of her hands, continuing in a lower voice than before. “I don’t want to…well…until I get my memory back…this feels wrong, somehow.”
“Oren, I am still your wife.”
“Well, technically –”
“I know that you’re my wife!” he squealed. “But…but…until I get my memory back, I can’t ignore the fact that you’re a complete stranger.”
“And what if it doesn’t come back?” Idina asked, wounded. “What if you’re like this for the rest of your life? What does that mean for us? For the family we were going to start?”
“I don’t have all the answers,” Link replied. “And believe me; I have just as many questions as you.”
“Oren, we can’t wait for you to sort things out. We have a future to build together.”
“Please try to understand…”
Idina touched his hair lightly, raking her fingers through it. “Let me help you,” she begged him.
Link took her hand, gingerly prying it out of his hair. “That’s not the answer, Idina.”
She drew back, as if struck. “Oren…”
Abruptly, Link rose to his feet. “I think I’m going to take a walk,” he said, managing to avoid eye contact with her. “I need to clear my head and I don’t think I can sleep.”
“Don’t do this to me, Oren!”
“You can stay here,” he told her.
Without looking back, Link marched out of the room, the curtains closing over Idina’s protest. Briskly, he made his way out of the apartments all together, a mistake, for he soon found himself completely lost in one of the many corridors of the castle. His heart, he had to admit, was racing, but strangely, it was out of fear rather than desire. What reason did he have to fear Idina?
She was unnerving, to be certain. Very forward at times, except for in the shadow of her mother. The way she treated other people was almost cruel, especially the servants. Perhaps what truly bothered Link the most about her was the fact that she didn’t know the diviner’s name. How could someone grow up around a person and not know their name? To be certain, Idina was self centered, at least from what Link had seen of her, but that was hardly fearful. There was something more…
The hallways of the castle were almost sinister at night. Aside from the dull light of some wall mounted torches and the occasionally passage of a knight patrolling, they seemed dead, completely void of the festive quality from a mere few hours ago. As Link stalked down, uncertain of where he was going and not particularly caring, for once, he listening to the echo of his footsteps.
A frown marred his face. Something wasn’t right. He stopped walking and the corridor was plunged into silence. Slowly, almost carefully, he took a step forward. The echo sounded again. He stopped. Silence. Another two steps forward. Echo. Link pounded his foot against the floor three times in quick succession. When he stopped, he heard three loud repetitions.
He whirled around, his hand going instinctively to his side as if to draw a weapon, which of course, he lacked. Standing behind him was Astrid, her white face gleaming orange in the candlelight. When he saw her, she pounded her foot against the floor three times quickly. “You shouldn’t follow people around like that,” he told her sternly, although not really meaning to scold her.
“I do many things that oughtn’t.”
“What are you doing awake at this hour?” he asked.
Astrid began to walk in circles around Link, forcing him to turn to keep eye contact. “Why, this is the time of night when the castle is busiest.”
“Is that so?”
“Aye. This is the time of night when Evanthea always creeps off to plot with her flunkies.”
“And the time of night when liaisons occur.”
“And, indeed, the time of knights.”
“What does that mean?”
Immediately, Astrid stopped orbiting about Link. When he stopped turning, an incredible wave of dizziness beset him, causing him to stumble over to a wall for balance. “Most castle business takes place in the clandestine hours of the evening.”
“What’s that got to do with you?”
“Why, castle business is my business.”
“Is that so?”
“I assure you, sir, I know more about what happens on these grounds than even Evanthea herself.”
“So you’re snooping?”
“I like to think of it as being a well informed citizen of the castle.”
Link squeezed his eyes shut, still trying to steady himself. “That’s deplorable.”
“Well, I realize it’s hardly behavior befitting of a Hero,” she chirped. “But then again, I never claimed to be one.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Link asked. Oddly enough, he felt another ember of memory glow, but as always, he couldn’t seem to kindle it. There was no response. Link opened his eyes to find Astrid gone, absolutely no sign of her in the abandoned hallway.
All the courtiers dreaded another early morning call to court, but much to their relief, none came. As the sun rose, most of them were lying blissfully asleep in their beds. Evanthea was awake. She blamed it on old age when her bleary eyed servants arrived to dress her in royal robes, but the truth of the matter was that uneasiness of her mind had caused her to sleep fitfully and she had finally given up. It was that conversation with Ismene. Realizing her own daughter stood in opposition to the hoax made Evanthea begin to wonder about the rest of the castle. The entire kingdom itself wouldn’t be a problem of course. How often did they see their royals anyway? The castle would be another matter.
The Queen marched her way down the abandoned halls, her attendants struggling to keep pace, yawning like vulgar scullery maids. When they arrived in the throne room, it was clean as clean could be. Some servants must have been up all night to tidy it up after the ball, but it was well worth it. Leaning against the wall was the nighttime herald. He seemed to be playing a dice game with a stable boy. The Queen’s arrival caught them completely off guard and both of them jumped up to their feet, stiff at attention.
Evanthea pursed her lips together. Normally, such behavior was unacceptable and she debated punishing both of them, but somehow, she knew there were more important matters to attend to. “Fetch the top ranking knights,” she snapped at the frightened herald.
“Yes, your majesty,” the herald said, bowing nervously and then running out of the room.
“And you,” Evanthea turned on the stable boy. “I believe you have duties to be attending to.”
“Yes, your majesty,” the boy whispered. He stooped down into a bow and was so terrified that he backed up all the way to the door in the same froglike posture.
The thrones had been returned to the dais. Calmly, Evanthea seated herself in her chair, casually drumming her fingernails on the arm. Everyone waited in silence. The ladies in waiting exchanged nervous glances. None of them could be certain of what kind of mood Evanthea was in today. They all knew better than to speak first, idle conversation was something their Queen loathed and they would only speak when spoken to or else remain silent.
,” Evanthea called to one of the ladies. Orly
She stepped forward with a curtsy. “Yes, your majesty?”
“I’ve broken a nail, go fetch the manicure kit.”
“Yes, your majesty,”
replied, scurrying out of the room as fast as etiquette would allow. Orly
It wasn’t long after that the sound of armor clanking down the hall could be heard. At this hour, before the castle was truly awake, the knights were usually sparring in full gear. It was the only time the knights ever wore the full, bulky suits, other than on holidays. No doubt Evanthea had interrupted one such spar, but she didn’t particularly care. Her uneasy mind had to be settled, one way or another.
The first to enter the throne room, of course, was Aeson. Evanthea had to admit, he looked very becoming in the armor, much more muscular and almost illuminated with the reflections of the morning daylight. Following after him came a few of his top officials; the three lieutenants, and even his own squire followed along.
“Good morning, your majesty,” Aeson said with a low, respectful bow.
“Good morning, your majesty,” the other knights all chorused, each of them stooping as best their armor would allow.
Evanthea nodded. “Good morning.” By this point,
had scurried back into the room, kneeling by Evanthea’s side. Evanthea gave her a hand and the girl set to work filing the Queen’s nails. “Gentlemen, I wish to discuss the status of our little ruse. Tell me, how are the courtiers and servants responding?” Orly
“There has been little incident,” Aeson replied.
“Little incident is not the same as no incident. Tell me what’s been going on behind my back.”
“There was a cook who stated, and I quote, ‘this ordeal is rubbish.’”
“Ten lashes should be enough to silence her,” Evanthea said. “What else?”
“Duke Icus expressly called the ruse an absurd pipe dream that would never, ever come to fruition.”
“Is that so?”
Evanthea sighed. “See that he is removed from court until he has a change of heart.”
“We’ll do so at once.”
“I don’t believe so, my Queen.”
“Sir!” one of the lieutenants exclaimed. “The minstrel.”
Aeson glanced at the lieutenant before addressing Evanthea again. “Yes, there was an episode involving that Hylian minstrel.”
“The one who’s always telling your sister those disgusting stories? Is he back again?”
“He is, my lady.”
“What did he do?”
Aeson frowned. “He had a chance encounter with Prince Oren in the hallway and proceeded to address him in the familiar.”
“Oh?” Evanthea muttered, her eyebrows lofting.
“It seems that in his former life, our Prince Oren wasn’t a nonentity and in fact had some respect in Hyrule. The minstrel called him by name.”
“What name was that?”
The Captain glanced uncertainly at his lieutenant. “Lunk?”
“Link, sir,” the lieutenant supplied.
“Link,” Aeson said, turning back to Evanthea.
“A peculiar name,” the Queen murmured. “You say that he’s more than an nonentity?”
“Aye, my lady. Apparently, the minstrel spoke of a great rescue that Link performed back in Hyrule. Something about maidens.”
“Oh dear. Well, this is no good. This is no good at all.” Evanthea watched
working on her nails, weighing out the possibilities and consequences of the chance encounter. Orly
“Prince Oren seemed to take him for a madman, your majesty,” the lieutenant offered.
“The minstrel is still a great threat to our ruse,” Evanthea answered. “And, if this Link is as famous as we’re led to believe, all Hylians in the castle could pose a potential problem.”
“Madam?” Aeson asked quizzically.
“Captain, how many Hylians are currently listed as residing in the palace? Apart from our minstrel friend, of course.”
“Ten, I believe,” Aeson answered.
“Three of them are musicians, one is the royal portraitist, two work as healers, and four are tutors for the children of the lower ranking lords and ladies.”
“Add the minstrel and we have eleven Hylians living in the castle.”
“Aye, my lady.”
Evanthea sighed irritably. “Well, it seems we have no choice.”
“Captain Aeson, I order you and your knights to banish every Hylian living under my roof.”
If Aeson was at all surprised by this proclamation, he didn’t show it. “Go to the castle steward,” he barked to one of his lieutenants.
“Get a list of all the Hylians living here and their room assigments.”
“Aye,” the lieutenant said, bowing and exiting the room.
“You three,” he said to the other knights, “rally everyone to the training arena. I’ll address them there with orders.”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused, quickly exiting after their fellow.
Once they were gone, Aeson turned to address Evanthea. “You know I would never question your judgment in front of the men,” he said softly, “but I beg your permission to speak freely.”
“Granted,” Evanthea replied.
“This action will not be taken lightly by the Hylian monarchy, should these eleven return to Hyrule.”
“I had considered that possibility,” Evanthea replied.
“This may well be seen as an act of war.”
“Oh, really, Captain,” Evanthea sighed, “It’s not as if I’m having them executed or even harmed in any manner.”
“The Hylians believe in freedom of movement,” Aeson explained.
“I don’t really care what the Hylians believe in,” Evanthea snapped.
“What I mean,” Aeson corrected himself, “is that they won’t take kindly to this action.”
“We only need two more days,” Evanthea replied. “After that, Hyrule will no longer be a problem, even if they do act on the threat. Alastria will be the leading power in the realm.”
By mid-morning, the hallways were ringing with the patrols of every single knight available in the castle. Even the men who had just come off of their night watch were instructed to help comb the castle for Hylians. The frightened courtiers clung to the walls, getting as far away from the passing troops as they could, lest they be accused of hindering the search, an act of treason in Alastria. Of course, Evanthea hadn’t made her intentions entirely public, so many feared they too would be arrested for the petty crimes of their pasts.
Tibbet, certainly, had no idea what was going on, but considering the actions he had taken with Astrid last night, he felt it proper to stay out of sight. Being a minstrel, and therefore of a lower status in most foreign lands, he was adept at ducking guards. Indeed, he often boasted to Olivia that he could hide in the shadows better than the Keese of Hyrule. Unfortunately, shadows were in low supply at this hour of the day, but still, Tibbet managed to stay out of sight.
He took pains to make his way through the castle via the narrow servants’ hallways, climbing the twisting spiral staircases of iron. They lacked the simple elegance of the more aristocratic hallways, but then again, one tended to encounter far more interesting people in the back of beyond anyway.
“You!” a booming voice shouted.
Tibbet’s heart leapt up into his throat. He turned around, but, much to his relief, he saw a knight closing in on a kitchen wench behind him. Quickly, Tibbet slipped behind the staircase as the brassy woman turned around, planting a hand on her hip. “Yes?” she asked loudly, making no attempt to hide her annoyance with the knight’s interruption of her regular routine.
“Have you seen…?” The knight looked down at a small sheet of paper in his hand, “…a minstrel answering to the name of Tibbet?”
“Not today,” she replied, “but I’ll wager anythin’ he’s off beguilin’ the Lady Olivia.”
Indignation filled Tibbet’s chest, but he didn’t dare go out to defend himself. “Wonderful,” the knight groaned. “Just wait until I tell the Captain.”
“Why? He fixin’ to string that boy up by his lute strap?”
“Something like that,” the knight grumbled, continuing down the hall to the peels of laughter from the woman.
Tibbet started to walk out from behind the staircase, but suddenly a hand from above clamped down on his shoulder. He looked up to see Astrid crouching on a step, her arm reaching out from between the rails of the banister. She pressed a finger to her lips, signaling silence then gestured for him to follow her. Tibbet nodded, carefully tip toeing up the steps to meet her. Clandestinely, they crept to the top of the second floor landing. Astrid grabbed Tibbet’s arm and dragged him down the twisting and turning hallways. Soon, Tibbet recognized where they were, they were in the hall leading to the private apartments of the royal family.
“We could be hanged for being here,” Tibbet hissed. He didn’t add the nasty mental image seared into his mind of being strung up by his lute strap.
“You might,” she replied, “I have the run of the castle. And as it is, you’re in a bit of trouble.”
“What’s going on?”
“The Queen made a proclamation this morning. All Hylians have been officially banished.”
“What?” Tibbet scoffed indignantly. “She can’t do that!”
“She can and she has,” Astrid answered.
“If I had my druthers, I’d say it’s because of the scene you caused with Prince Oren.”
“So because of that she’s banishing all the Hylians?”
Astrid shrugged. “She’ll risk anything to have the ultimate power in the realm, you know that. Even war with Hyrule.”
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Tibbet sighed.”
“Which is a problem,” Astrid agreed. “If you’re powerless.” There was a glimmer in her raccoon eyes.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that we’re not powerless.”
“We know what’s going on.”
“Knowledge is power.”
Tibbet unconsciously found himself pulling down the brim of his floppy hat, over his ears. “We can do something.”
“What’s more,” Astrid responded, “we’ve no choice but to do something.”
“But what can we do? Make sure the sacrifice doesn’t go down?”
“There’s no way we can do that. Just imagine how many guards there will be at the ceremony.”
“Well, what would you suggest?”
“We need to get Link out of the castle,” Astrid said firmly.
“But how are we going to do that? The place is crawling with guards.”
“You managed to make it this far,” Astrid muttered. “Using the remote hallways will help.”
“It won’t get him out though; the main doorways must be heavily protected.”
“True…” Astrid stared at the grotesque head on her jester stick, contemplating their options. “Then again, the knights don’t know about every entrance to the castle.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, there’s a Durac prisoner in the dungeon.”
“I heard about that,” Tibbet admitted.
“No one knows how he got into the castle.”
“I’ll bet he knows.”
“Maybe we could find out,” Astrid offered.
“And use his route to get Link out.”
“Of course, we’re assuming that Link will want to be rescued,” Astrid pointed out.
“Link is my friend,” Tibbet said thickly, “I have to help him, if it’s within my power.”
“So that’s his real name.” Both Astrid and Tibbet whirled around. Behind them, leaning against the doorway to her private apartments was Princess Ismene, dressed this morning in a robin’s egg blue robe, her hair loose and wavy from last night’s braids. She clutched the neckline of her robe, holding it closed as she made her way to the duo on the opposite end of the hallway.
“Princess Ismene,” Tibbet croaked, dropping down to one knee.
“Get up,” she told him gently.
Astrid stepped forward. “Princess, we were just…”
“Oren’s real name is Link?”
The jester and the minstrel exchanged a look. “Yes, your highness,” Astrid finally answered.
“You want to help him?”
“Yes,” Tibbet replied nervously.
“So do I,” Ismene declared.
Tibbet blinked. “You do?”
“I feel sorry for him,” Ismene said with a slight shrug of her shoulders. “Please, let me help you.”
“Princess, your mother w –”
“Never mind my mother,” Ismene cut him off.
“We’d be best to mind her,” Astrid said. “She’s put out a proclamation to banish all Hylians for fear that the ruse will be discovered prematurely.”
“Well, it’s a little late for that,” Ismene grumbled. “The ruse has already been discovered.”
“By this lob,” Astrid said, smacking Tibbet’s arm.
“Ow!” he yelped.
Ismene looked at him. “Tell me what you know, precisely.”
Tibbet rubbed his shoulder absently. “Link is a Hero of Hyrule. Your goddess Zaynar kidnapped him, wiped his memory, and dropped him down on the Alastrian beach.”
“The memory loss is only permanent if he performs a blood sacrifice by the next new moon,” Astrid added. “Specifically, it seems, the sacrifice of the Durac currently rotting away in the dungeon.”
“Otherwise he’ll get his memory back?” Ismene asked.
Ismene looked at Tibbet. “It’s not safe for you to be seen in the hallways. Come into my apartments, no knights will search for you there.”
“Do as I say,” she told him gently. She turned to Astrid, putting her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Astrid, will you bring him to me?”
“Aye, if that’s what you wish.”
“It seems only fair that we should tell him what we know,” Ismene declared, “before smuggling him out of the castle.”
“I’ll fetch him at once,” Astrid promised. She jumped up, landing with one heel cocked, bowing her head. With that, she spun around and scampered down the hall, flailing the jester stick about.
“You say Link is a friend of yours?” Ismene asked Tibbet.
Tibbet nodded. “He is. He saved my sister from evil clutches once.”
Putting her hands on Tibbet’s shoulder, Ismene drew him back to the door of her apartments. “Then come in here at once and tell me about him. I want to know everything.”
As Aeson walked down the hall, he listened to the sound of his keys clank against his armor. Somehow, the noise soothed him, even though it was quite grating in reality. It reminded him of his dignity, of his position of high honor, of his duty to Queen and country. Unfortunately, the noise was not enough to draw away his attention from the frightened courtiers, clinging to the walls as they watched him pass, flanked by his customary honor guard.
Everyone seems overly frightened today, due to the attempts to round up the Hylians. Aeson found himself questioning Evanthea’s decision to keep quite about her proclamation. It seemed to him that the silence was merely causing more panic for the people who didn’t know what was going on, but were completely innocent. Well, no one was completely innocent, Aeson supposed. Most people were guilty of small crimes, here and there: Bribery, embezzlement, infidelity and the like. Himself excluded, of course.
Aeson rounded another corner and found one of his lieutenants, running in the opposite direction, making a hasty beeline toward him. “Captain!” the breathless knight shouted.
“I have report.”
“I’m listening,” Aeson said.
“We’ve managed to round up the tutors and the healers. The portraitist has barricaded herself in her quarters and the musicians seem to be out riding.”
“Well, have an escort arranged to greet the musicians when they return to the stables,” Aeson instructed his underling. “As for the portraitist, just get the skeleton key from my office and pull her out. Try to do it as silently as possible. Don’t use force unless absolutely necessary.”
“What about the minstrel?”
“There’s been no sign of him, sir.”
“Find Astrid,” Aeson ordered.
“The jester, sir?”
“Where ever she is, the Hylian minstrel is likely to be nearby.”
“Try to calm things down. The courtiers are starting to panic.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
The lieutenant continued off down the hall. Aeson went on his way, his escort trailing behind. Halfway to the kitchen, he suddenly stopped, impulsively taking a right and turning down to the hallway of apartments for the higher ranking officials of Evanthea’s court. When he got to the door of his own apartments, he gave a look to the honor guard, signaling for them to wait outside. He ducked in the door, closing it behind him.
In the main sitting room, he found his little brothers and sisters gathered at the feet of their tutor, listening to the woman’s hypnotic speech as she drilled them on the alphabet. With a small smile, Aeson continued through the room, walking as smoothly as possible so as not to disrupt their lesson with the obnoxious clanking of armor. As expected, when he arrived at the entrance to Olivia’s room, the accordion doorway was pulled tightly shut.
“Olivia,” he called, rapping his knuckles on the door gently.
Much to his surprise, all he heard from the other side was a simple, “Come in,” from Olivia.
Aeson unhooked the latch and slid the door open a foot or two, sidling in before closing the door behind him. Olivia was sitting on the foot of her bed with an open book in front of her. She was dressed in her riding breeches with a silk, white poet’s shirt for a blouse. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a thick braid, although a few curls had managed to escape and now hung loose around her face. “You’re not going to appear in court dressed like that, are you?”
“I thought I might go for a ride,” she replied dully.
“You’d best avoid the stables for awhile,” Aeson told her. “There’s going to be an arrest there, soon.”
“Don’t take me for a fool, Aeson. I know what’s going on. Evanthea has you rounding up the Hylians like cattle.”
“The Queen’s orders are to banish them from the castle. I’m just doing my duty,” Aeson answered tightly.
“That’s all you ever do,” Olivia sighed. She stood up, walking over to her big brother, nearly a head taller than she. “What’s next? Genocide? Oh, I’ve forgotten, we’re already champions of that with the Duracs.”
“Olivia!” Aeson shouted. He pulled back his hand, slapping her across the face. Olivia’s head snapped to one side, but she quickly turned back, looking up at her brother with blazing eyes.
“You know it’s true,” she said challengingly.
“How dare you say that,” he barked. How dare you! After what they did to our people! After what they did to our parents!”
“The Duracs aren’t savages, Aeson. They’re people! And if you had any idea how wrong it is to classify an individual by his species then you’d understand…” her voice broke, tearfully. “Aeson…”
The knight stared down at her for a moment. With a sharp pang of guilt, the enormity of what he had just done hit him. He drew her into a tight hug. “I’m sorry, Olivia,” he whispered, pressing her cheek against his chest. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s too much,” Olivia sniffled. “It’s just too much.” She drew back, looking up at him. “Aeson, you have to listen to me.”
“I know, I know,” he said, holding up a hand to silence her.
“I know you’re fond of that minstrel,” he continued, “but Olivia, I’m completely choiceless.”
Olivia seemed to withdraw for a moment, inwardly. “Tibbet,” she muttered. Blinking, she turned to look up at Aeson. “Yes, Tibbet. Aeson, you can’t arrest him, it isn’t right.”
“It’s not our place to question the orders of the Queen.”
“But what if the Queen is doing something wrong?” Olivia persisted. “You’re a knight; you stand for justice, not blind obedience.”
“In this case,” Aeson said heavily, “they are one and the same.”
“You know what she’s doing is wrong.”
Aeson looked down at her. Olivia’s cheek was turning pink where he had struck her. Gently, he touched her face, enormous guilt tormenting him. “I’m powerless,” he told her softly.
“And so you’d condemn an innocent man?”
“I know the minstrel…I know Tibbet is your friend,” Aeson sighed, “but right now, he’s also an enemy of the state.”
“For what crime? For being born with long, pointy ears?”
“Please don’t do this to me,” he begged her.
“It’s not about you, Aeson!” She turned her head, as if expecting another slap, but thankfully, none came. “It’s about doing what’s right.”
Aeson leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I have to go,” he told her.
“By the end of the week, all of this will be over and done with and we can return to our lives,” he promised. “And I’ll make it up to you, I swear it.”
“Please save your pity,” she told him icily.
“I’ll take you out riding. I’ll even arrange for you to ride one of the royal thoroughbreds, if you like.”
“Shiny beads and shallow flattery.”
“Olivia, I’m trying as hard as I can.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but sometimes trying isn’t enough.”
“I’m sure your friend Tibbet will be able to return in a few month’s time,” he said, rather unconvincingly.
“Will you please go?” Olivia asked him quietly.
Aeson looked down at her. She looked back up, perfectly calm, almost placid. It was a bit eerie to him, as Olivia had never been known as a stoic. “All right,” he agreed, “all right.” He stepped back to the door, watching her as he went.
Olivia licked her lips. “Goodbye, Aeson,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said shaking his head, “so terribly sorry.” With that, he turned around, parting the accordion wall and going through. He began to make his way back to the hall, once again passing his younger brothers and sisters with their tutor. They seemed completely undisturbed by the scene that had taken place and Aeson hoped with all of his heart that they had remained completely ignorant of it all, though his reason told him that wasn’t possible with such thin walls.
As he walked away, he felt uneasy, as if a part of him had been deprived of power. Perhaps it was because of the harsh scolding he had received from Olivia. She was right, after all. The Hylians certainly didn’t deserve to be banished. What he was doing was wrong. On the other hand, perhaps it was because, unbeknownst to him, as he departed from Olivia’s room, he left his keys behind, clutched firmly in his younger sister’s tight fist.
Link wasn’t quite sure how it happened. He had woken up on a sofa in the anteroom of his apartments that morning to be greeted by a parade of servants and attendants. After a lot of fussing they had managed to dress him in a long brown tunic over white leggings with long blue snatches of fabric hanging down from his shoulders. He looked a bit like a bird. As soon as he had finally managed to shoo the stewards out of the room, Astrid had appeared to inform him of a royal summons. Before he could utter so much as a syllable, the girl was herding him out of the room, literally, prodding him along with the head of her jester stick.
As they wound their way through the halls, Link discovered that something was afoot in the palace. In every direction they turned, they found armed knights in full gear marching in formation, the clanking of their armor creating a fantastic cacophony. Link desperately wanted to stop and ask what was going on, but Astrid continued to poke him in the back, speeding him along. He wondered what it was that allowed her to take such action; the virtue of being a jester or the fact that she was the king’s illegitimate daughter. Either way, no one seemed to pay them a second glance as they passed, ridiculous though they appeared.
Soon, they arrived at the entrance of Princess Ismene’s apartments. “After you, my lord,” Astrid chirped.
“Now I’m your lord,” Link droned. “A few moments ago, I was your prize bull.”
“Not at all, sir. If you were a bull, I would have slain you.”
“With the sharp edge of your wit, no doubt.” Link entered the room, Astrid following behind him.
Ismene’s apartments were quite different from the rest of the castle in that there was nothing ostentatious about them. The floors were covered by simple off white carpeting and the walls were soft blue. As in all the other royal apartments, curtains separated the rooms, but in Ismene’s apartments, the curtains were pulled back by blue cords. Sunlight streamed in through the oriel window, making the carpet glow with reflection. The furniture, all wood, gave the room a foresty smell. Of course, the most remarkable thing about Ismene’s apartments was Ismene herself, who was currently sitting on the window ledge, listening to Tibbet, who sat on the floor, as he talked a mile a minute.
Astrid jangled the bells on her stick, seizing the attention of the room. “Princess Ismene,” she called, “your guest has arrived.”
The princess rose, swiftly crossing the room to Link. He bowed, kissing her hand politely. “Close the door, Astrid,” Ismene instructed. She turned to Link again as Astrid complied. “Come sit down, we have some important matters to discuss.”
“What’s the matter?” Link asked, following Ismene back to the window. He noticed Tibbet sitting on the floor. “What’s he doing here?”
Tibbet quickly clambered to his feet. Little as he was, he squared his shoulders, addressing Link. “I see you remember me.”
“Yes, you’re the loon who attacked me in the corridor yesterday.”
“We prefer to call him Tibbet, actually,” Astrid quipped, joining the group near the window.
“What’s he doing in here?” Link asked again.
“Hiding,” Ismene explained.
“From the knights. Mother has put out a proclamation. All Hylians have been banished.”
“Yourself excluded, of course,” Astrid added.
Link blinked in surprise. “Why?”
“Because knowledge is power,” Tibbet supplied.
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me be the one to speak in riddles, Tibbet,” Astrid sighed scornfully.
“Sit down,” Ismene told Link, putting her hands on his shoulders to gently press him down into a chair.
“What’s going on?” he demanded.
“An elaborate hoax,” Ismene replied. “Deception.”
“Of you,” both Ismene and Astrid answered at the same time.
Link craned his head to look at each of them. “I don’t understand.”
“The reason you have no memory isn’t because you were shocked by war,” Ismene explained, sitting down next to him. “You never went to Gonzalo.”
“Then what’s wrong with me?”
“Your memory has been wiped by a more divine cause than war,” Astrid said, sitting down at Link’s feet. “The goddess Zaynar wiped your memory.”
“So that Mother and Idina could trick you,” Ismene responded. “You were never banished from Hyrule. You’re not an Alastrian general. You only arrived here for the first time yesterday. And your name isn’t Oren.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s Link,” Tibbet chimed in. He stepped forward to address Link. “You were born in Hyrule. You were prophesized to be one of Hyrule’s greatest Heroes in fact. Not three months ago, you saved a bevy of maidens from an evil sorcerer named Agahnim, among them, my sister Lyna. You drew the Master Sword, evil’s bane. You fought against Ganon. You saved Hyrule.”
“Doesn’t any of this sound familiar?” Ismene asked.
Link shook his head. “None of it. Who’s Ganon?”
“The much uglier version of Ganondorf Dragmire,” the minstrel replied.
Tibbet stared at him in disbelief. “Ganondorf Dragmire. Really, evil guy. Responsible for the Imprisoning War. Eliminator of dreams…um…terminator of…good stuff.”
“Good thing your occupation doesn’t rely on your use of words,” Astrid muttered to Tibbet.
“None of this is ringing a bell,” Link said, apologetically.
The minstrel was getting desperate now. “You slew the Moldorm. You entered the Dark World. You…turned into a bunny.”
“I’m certain I would remember that,” Link shot back.
“It’s no use,” Astrid sighed. “Zaynar’s put a massive whammy on him. It’s a wonder he knows he’s Hylian at all.”
“Well, the ears help,” Tibbet mumbled.
Link turned to Ismene. “I don’t understand. Why would they do something like this to me, if it’s true?”
“It is true,” Ismene assured him.
“And they’re doing it because you’re such a powerful little bugger,” Astrid supplied.
Tibbet sighed. “Anyone who’s able to defeat an incarnation of Ganondorf Dragmire is very powerful.”
“Which is exactly what you did,” Astrid urged. “And Evanthea is real hot to restore glory to Alastria. You’re the way to do it.”
“She wants to end the war with the Duracs,” Tibbet explained, “so she visited the diviner and got Zaynar to work some magik on you.”
“They’re using you,” Astrid told him.
Link looked down at her. “And?”
Ismene reached across, touching Link’s face and turning it to look at her. “And we’re not going to let them,” she said firmly.
“The memory loss is only permanent if you participate in the blood sacrifice tomorrow night,” Astrid said.
“If you don’t, presumably, your memory will be restored,” Tibbet added, sitting down next to Astrid.
“How can you stop it?” Link asked.
“By making sure you’re not around to kill anybody on Zaynar’s altar.”
Astrid sat up, putting her hands on Link’s knees. “We’re getting you out of the castle.”
Link shook his head. “No, it’s impossible. I can’t be left alone for two seconds here. And there are guards everywhere.”
“Yesterday, a Durac was caught skulking through the castle,” Astrid explained. “No one could figure out how he got in, but however he did it, there must be a route of escape for you. I’m going to go to the dungeon and see if I can get any information out of him.”
“I’ll go with you,” Tibbet said.
“No, you can’t. Those guards are looking for you.”
“You can’t go alone. You’ll need help and these two,” Tibbet gestured to Ismene and Link, “will draw more attention.”
“He’s right, Astrid,” Ismene said.
“All right,” Astrid sighed.
“You’ll have to stay here, Link,” Tibbet said. “Hopefully, Idina won’t come looking for you here.”
“Hopefully,” Link echoed.
Ismene placed a hand on Link’s shoulders. “Are you willing to let us do this for you?” she asked. “This is a completely academic conversation if you don’t want to be helped.”
Link looked at Tibbet. “Am I really what you say?”
“Everything and more,” Tibbet swore.
“Then, I have to get out of here,” Link replied to Ismene.
“It’s agreed,” Ismene declared. “We’re all in on this together. We’ll find a way to get out of the castle and Tibbet will take you home.”
“There’s not much time,” Astrid said, climbing up to her feet. As Tibbet rose beside her, she grabbed the brim of his hat, pulling it as far down as she could over his ears again. “To the dungeon with us. You two lay low.” Joining hands, Tibbet and Astrid raced from the room, vanishing into the hallway as the door slammed shut behind them. Link and Ismene exchanged a look.
Evanthea’s nerves were frayed from the racket made by the knight’s armor. Resolved to remove herself from the situation as much as possible, she retired to her apartments, arranging for her servants to draw her a hot bath. While she waited, she paced the length of her sitting room, a veiny hand pressed up against her temple as the knights trooped through the halls. It seemed like an eternity before her bath was finally ready. Grateful for the respite, Evanthea disrobed herself and sank into the delightful depths of the tub.
Her heavenly moment only lasted a short while though. Relaxing among the bubbles, she heard one of her ladies in waiting walk into the room, the soles of her shoes clicking against the marble tiles on the floor. “Yes? What is it?” she asked without even opening her eyes.
“Princess Idina wishes to speak with you, your majesty,” the frightened lady in waiting said.
“Send her in,” Evanthea said with a heavy sigh.
“Yes, my Queen.”
There were a few more moments of blissful solitude. Evanthea raked her fingers through the thick foamy layer of bubbles, listening to the noise they made, so like the sound of oil hitting a hot saucepan. “Mother,” a whiny voice called soon, breaking the void of silence.
Evanthea opened her eyes. There was Idina all right. She was dressed for the afternoon already, wrapped in a splendid white chiton with a pink ribbon wrapping around her stomach. A gossamer veil hung from her shoulders, trailing down to her wrists where it was tied with white ribbons. Her dark hair was piled up on top of her head, held in place by a silver tiara made of two long rows of diamonds.
“My darling,” Evanthea said breezily, “why are you wearing that so early in the morning?”
“It’s well after , Momma,” Idina replied.
“Is it really?”
“Momma, I didn’t come here to discuss the time of day.” Idina opened her mouth to say something more, but the clank of armor through the hall momentarily cut her off. When the noise died down, she scowled. “What’s going on out there?”
“I’m having all Hylians removed from the castle,” Evanthea answered.
“To protect our little investment in Prince Oren.”
Idina sighed miserably, sitting down on the edge of the tub. “Perhaps it isn’t worth it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, darling?”
“He isn’t attracted to me, Momma. Not at all.”
“How do you know that?”
“Last night, I practically threw myself at him and he ran away.”
“Well, walked away. At a very fast pace!”
“Idina, that doesn’t mean anything.”
“How can you say that?”
“The boy is still dazed and confused. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s just being a gentleman.”
“That’s what he said.”
“Do you think it’s more than that?”
“Yes!” Idina moaned.
“Idina, I realize that you’re very eager to consummate this marriage and get started on your immortality, but you need to be patient. Right now, things are in a very delicate balance and anything that frightens or confuses him will only upset that balance. By the end of the night tomorrow, he’ll be yours for all eternity.”
“But what if he doesn’t love me, Momma?”
Evanthea shook her head, looking a little more than bemused. “This isn’t about love. This is about marriage.”
“I don’t want to be like you and Father.”
“Don’t bring us into this, Idina,” Evanthea said sharply.
“How can I avoid it?” Idina asked loudly. “You two were the very model of what I didn’t want in a marriage.”
“Your father was a mean, selfish, rotten man,” Evanthea snapped.
“And what if Oren is too?”
“Then you’ll have to find other ways of satisfying yourself.”
“I don’t want the courtiers whispering behind my back that I can’t satisfy my own husband,” Idina muttered darkly.
Evanthea’s eyes flashed angrily. For a moment, she didn’t say anything, staring intently at her daughter. When she finally did speak, it was in a low and dangerous voice. “Idina, this isn’t about pleasure. This is about your duty to your people. Someday you’re going to be queen. And you’ll need to learn to place your own desires underneath your duty.”
“The diviner has decreed that your marriage to this boy can put an end to the struggle with Gonzalo.”
“I know that.”
“Too many people have died already. It’s time for the war to end. And to restore the glory of the Alastrian people.”
“So you’d condemn me to love someone who doesn’t love me in return?”
This caught Evanthea off guard. “You love him?”
“Oh Momma, just look at him, just look at him. He’s perfect. How can I help but fall in love?”
“He has an attractive shape,” Evanthea admitted.
“He’s an excelling creature,” Idina sighed longingly.
“You take care that your lust doesn’t outweigh you judgment, Idina. Many a woman has been made a fool of out of love.”
“Have you ever been in love, Momma?”
Evanthea considered the question for a moment. “Yes, I suppose I was in love when I first married your father.”
“I found that his ideals and mine didn’t coincide.”
“And after that, we found that we had little to talk about.”
“Now get out,” Evanthea said sharply. “I want to finish my bath in peace.”
The dungeon of the
was like any other typical dungeon, as far as Tibbet could tell. He had never really visited before, but the first thing that struck him as he crept in was how remarkably similar it was to some of the dungeons he had seen in his travels. What truly struck a familiar note with him was the smell. Dungeons tended to have a mossy, dingy smell, the more humid, the more powerful the stench. Of course, there were other smells too. There was the faintest whiff of decaying flesh in the air, as well as a small indication of stale bread, but overwhelmingly, it was the moss that tingled Tibbet’s nose. Castleof Rives
It was surprisingly easy to get into the dungeon. All of the castle guards were so busy trying to find the stray Hylians that only one sentry was left to guard the entrance. He had been easy enough to deal with. Astrid whacked him over the head with her jester stick and he went out like a light. She was somewhat remorseful as they dragged the unconscious knight into a broom closet; he was one of the nicer ones. Still, necessity was a virtue at the moment.
Once the guard was disposed of, his keys tucked into the jester’s pocket, Tibbet and Astrid had no trouble creeping into the stairwell. They padded down the stone steps, Astrid clutching the bells of her stick in a tight fist so they wouldn’t make noise. When the duo arrived at the bottom landing, they found themselves in the very heart of the dungeon.
Of course, there were no windows. Tibbet reasoned they must have been a good twelve feet below the ground. All the lighting was provided by a line of torches on the left hand wall of the cellblock. The cells themselves were on the right side, a string of ten in a row. Just before the first cell was a table and a few chairs. On the table rested a book, a quill pen, and a deck of cards.
“The guards must get very bored,” Tibbet muttered, walking over to the table and picking up the cards.
“Never mind that,” Astrid snapped. She pointed to the book, “Look and see where the Durac prisoner is.”
“You can read, can’t you?”
“Yes, even four syllable words like condescending and patronizing. Go!”
Obediently, Tibbet opened the book and began flipping through the brittle, yellowing pages. “What’s the date?”
“The 14th,” she replied.
“That means yesterday was the 13th,” he mumbled to himself, still flipping through.
“Yes, yes,” Astrid said, craning her neck to look nervously over her shoulder for any signs of trouble.
“I think I’ve got it,” Tibbet crowed, stabbing a finger at the page before him. “Xax, son of Thisbe, arrested for lurking outside of the apartments of Captain Aeson and his family.”
“That’s our man.”
“Arrested for lurking? Boy, you folks are strict.”
“You have no idea,” Astrid sighed. “Which cell is he in?”
“Um…” Tibbet ran his finger across the line of text. “Number Nine. He’s scheduled to be sacrificed.”
“You mean executed.”
“No,” Tibbet said, pointing, “Look, it says sacrificed.”
Together, Tibbet and Astrid began to creep down the hallway, toward the end of the cellblock. Most of the cells were empty to be quite honest. The dungeon was rarely used for long term punishment and lately, things had been rather slow, as suggested by the deck of cards. Still, there were a few prisoners to be seen, most of them Evanthea’s own domestics, thrown into the dungeon for minor crimes. Astrid easily picked out Evanthea’s personal waiter, given a week for spilling red wine on one of her white dresses during supper.
Cell nine, of course, was the second to last. Little light fell into the barred window on the doorway, making it absolutely impossible for either of the pair to see Xax from the outside. Astrid pulled the guard’s keys out from her pocket. There were eleven of them. She looked up at Tibbet who merely shrugged. “Try them one at a time, I guess,” he said.
Astrid stepped over to the lock and began testing the keys. She cranked the first one. No luck. So she shifted to the second. “I hope he speaks Common,” she mumbled as the second key failed.
“I just hope he’s willing to help us,” Tibbet replied, walking across the room to grab a torch and bring it back.
“This is really important to you? Isn’t it?” The third key failed.
Tibbet nodded firmly. “Link saved my sister’s life. I feel like I really owe this to him.”
The fourth key failed. “You Hylians are a much closer community than we are.”
“It wasn’t always like that,” Tibbet explained. “There was a time when we fought amongst ourselves. The Imprisoning War really changed our collective outlook.”
“I wish this war would do the same for my people,” Astrid sighed as the fifth key failed.
“It might. You never know.”
Astrid shook her head. “No, no I’m fairly certain there’s no hope left for –” There was a loud metallic click. As Astrid yanked on the sixth key to pull it out, she swung the door open.
Tibbet stepped in first, wielding the torch in front of him. The cell was remarkably bare. Against the right wall was a chamber pot and a brittle, misshapen tin plate. On the left wall was a simple cot. A blue, wool blanket covered a lumpy figure resting on the cot. Clearing his throat, Tibbet approached the cot. “Um…excuse me, Xax?”
“Is he asleep?” Astrid asked, trailing after Tibbet.
“I guess so,” Tibbet answered. He took a few more precarious steps forward until he was right next to the cot. “Hello?” he whispered, jabbing the figure with his finger.
“Is he dead?”
The minstrel grabbed the woolen blanket, yanking it off of the figure. He gasped, taking a step back. Lying on the cot was a limp, ghostly white figure with no hands, feet, or eyes. “What the…?”
Astrid took a step forward, poking the figure with her finger. She heard a soft rustling noise underneath the white covering. “It’s straw,” she mused.
Tibbet held the torch closer to get a better look. Indeed, lounging on the cot was nothing but a straw doll, approximately the same shape and mass as a Durac would have. “How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Astrid said. She stooped down and picked up the blanket, throwing it back over the lumpy mannequin.
“We’d better get out of here,” Tibbet muttered, taking a step back.
“You read my mind,” Astrid answered, already halfway out the door. As Tibbet passed through, she swung the door closed, as silently as possible, and removed the key. Tibbet crossed to replace the torch. “Dead end. What do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” Tibbet echoed. “We need to find our own way out of the castle, I guess.”
They started walking back up the cellblock. “Can’t you Hylians do some sort of teleportation spell?”
“Only those with the highest level of mental training and discipline can do that,” Tibbet explained.
“In other words, not you.”
“Halt!” Looking up the hall, Tibbet and Astrid spotted a gaggle of soldiers standing on the bottom of the stairs. Leading the pack was a knight that Astrid recognized as Aeson’s first lieutenant, a rather unpleasant individual all things considered. It was this particular knight that stepped forward, looking directly at Tibbet. “Under the authority of Queen Evanthea of Alastria, you are an enemy of state and hereby banished from the
.” Castleof Rives
Astrid and Tibbet looked behind them. There was no place to run. Astrid stepped forward, standing in front of Tibbet protectively. “This man has done nothing wrong,” she said firmly.
“Don’t cause a scene, Astrid,” the lieutenant snapped. “You’re in enough trouble as it is for being down here.” He snapped his fingers, pointing at Tibbet. Two of the hulking knights started walking to the boy.
“Stop!” Astrid shouted, getting in the way. As if brushing aside a flea, one of the guards knocked her over. Astrid fell to the ground, her hat falling off and rolling to Tibbet’s feet.
Eyeing the guards, Tibbet stooped down to pick up the hat. “You have no warrant to arrest me,” he said carefully, stepping back.
The guards continued advancing on the minstrel. “That’s really not an issue,” the lieutenant snorted. Tibbet turned, taking flight down the corridor. The knights easily overtook him, each one grabbing one of his arms and hoisting him clean off of the ground so that he was running in midair. One guard handed him to the other who promptly flung the minstrel over his shoulder like a sack of flour.
“Put me down!” Tibbet demanded, flailing his arms and legs to no avail.
“We’ll take him to the Captain,” the lieutenant barked.
“Let me go!”
“Bring him here.”
Tibbet over his shoulder, the hulking guard walked back to the staircase, mercifully stepping around Astrid who was still on the floor. As he passed her, she sat up, long, glimmering locks of dark brown hair falling around her shoulders. She looked up and caught Tibbet’s eye as he was carried to the stairs. In that moment, a strange understanding passed between the two of them. Everything they did now was for the cause. The urgency to rescue Link, which had so filled Tibbet’s spirit, passed into Astrid through her clashing green eyes.
Soon, Tibbet was hauled up the stairs and out of sight. “Get above ground where you belong,” the lieutenant snapped to Astrid.
“Will I be able to see him again?”
“Most certainly not,” the man sneered. “Why would you want to associate with criminals anyway?”
“Oh…I just want my hat back,” she sighed as she stood to brush the dust off of her trousers. The lieutenant scoffed and marched back up the stairs, following Tibbet’s cries. Astrid remained below, wondering what she would do now. Not only had she lost an escape route from the Durac, but she had lost her partner in crime. She knew very well it was her duty to save Link above all other things, but an urgent part of her wanted to rescue Tibbet too. Her soul was torn in half, each going in a separate direction. Still, she knew what Tibbet would have wanted her to do. She would see Link’s rescue through.
“They’ve been gone too long,” Ismene said, drumming her fingers on the windowsill. She and Link had been sitting in her apartments for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. Most if it spent in awkward silence. As she gazed across the room, she noticed that Link seemed withdrawn, as if existing solely in a world of his own thoughts. Of course, she couldn’t blame him. She could only imagine what it would be like to have no past. Gingerly, she made her way over to him, sitting down beside him. “Listen, Oren…I mean Link…”
Abruptly, he snapped out of his dream world, turning to look at Ismene. “Say it again.”
Hesitantly, he reached a hand forward, pressing his fingertips lightly to her jaw. “Thank you.”
Her jaw nearly quivered. Link’s fingers felt warm and smooth against her skin. “For what?”
“I don’t know,” he said, studying her face as if to memorize it. “For revealing the truth to me.”
“It was the right thing to do.”
“You didn’t have to do it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Why? And don’t tell me because it was the ‘right thing’ to do. People know what’s right and don’t do it all the time.”
“I suppose,” she said slowly, considering each word as she spoke it, “because I could empathize with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I first saw you, I felt a great swell of…”
Link withdrew his hand, leaning back to look at her. “Pity?”
“That’s not what I was expecting you to say.”
“What did you want to hear?”
He stood up, pacing uneasily across the expanse of the room, over to the window where Ismene had been only a short time ago. Fretfully, he turned around to face her. “Ismene, I…”
“I have something I need to confess to you.”
“What is it?”
“I find you to be…stimulating.”
She smiled slightly. “You flatter me.”
“No,” he said, crossing back over to her. “Not at all.” He knelt down in front of her, taking one of her hands in both of his. “You are, quite possibly, the most fascinating woman in this entire castle.”
“And I feel guilty for these feelings. Since everyone keeps telling me that I’m supposed to love Idina. When I see her, I feel nothing. I feel worse than nothing, I feel empty.”
“She’s not your wife,” Ismene said in a barely audible whisper. Why was he talking of love?
“I know. Now, I know.” He shook his head. “It never made sense that I could love her when…”
“When there’s someone like you around to outshine her.”
Ismene closed her eyes. “Link, I have to confess something to you.”
She opened her clear eyes, looking into his with great intensity. “I’m attracted to you. I can’t help it. When you look at me, you go right through me and I feel as though I’m completely…”
Link stood up, sitting down next to Ismene again. He released her hand with one of his and slowly brought it up to touch her face again. “I feel exactly the same way,” he told her.
“So we’re both powerless.”
“It would seem that way.”
“What do we do?”
“When you’re powerless, you only have two choices.”
“What are they?”
“You can either fight back until you perish in the fight…”
Ismene bit her lips together. “Link, if this plan of Astrid’s is carried out, it’s possible that we may never see each other again.”
“And I can’t spend the rest of my life wondering…”
“…what might have been?” Suddenly, Link leaned forward, brushing his lips against hers. They were warm and sweet and he was compelled to press them into a gentle kiss. Much to his sheer delight, he felt Ismene kiss back, turning her head to one side. Letting go of her hand, he reached his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him, so close that he could feel her heart beat. It was racing.
The complete ecstasy of the embrace was over before it had completely sunken in. Ismene pulled back slightly, but Link felt as though she were still pressed against him, his skin alive with her touch. “Link…” she whispered.
He looked at her, his gaze half amorous and half childish. “What’s happening?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. Without another word, the two of them surged forward at the same time, engaging in a second, even more passionate, kiss. Ismene raked a hand through Link’s hair, her fingers trembling. He reached up and caught her hand, pulling it down, right in between their two hearts.
“Whatever it is,” he whispered, breaking away from the kiss, “it feels…”
“Right,” she finished for him.
“And whatever feels right must be right.”
Ismene pulled back. She rose swiftly from her seat and crossed the room to the window. Pulling on the gold cord, she lowered the blinds, twisting the rod to shut them. The room grew dim with only the light which escaped from in between the slats managing to illuminate things. Ismene turned away from the blinds, standing in front of them to face Link. That little light was enough to catch her hair and silhouette, making Ismene appear to glow.
Link stood up, crossing the room until he was standing in front of her. Ismene pressed her palms to his chest, running them down to his waist. She leaned forward, kissing his shoulder, almost absently. He could smell her freshly washed hair. It smelled like violets.
Stepping back, Ismene told hold of the sash tying her dressing gown around her waist. She pulled the silk free of its knot, pushing her robe off of her shoulders and letting it fall to the ground. Although Link still had no memory, every fiber of his being screamed to him that he had never before seen a naked woman. If he had been attracted to Ismene before, though, looking at her now nearly made him weak in the knees. Her body was extraordinary, more like one of the paintings of the goddesses Link had seen in the royal art collection than like a real person.
At last, after all of his inquiring, Link finally understood the difference between Humans and Alastrians. On Ismene’s chest, just below her collarbone, two delicate flaps of blue skin pulsated with her breathing. Alastrians had gills. What was more, on her back, just barely visible in the glowing light, a delicate set of fins, looking more like gossamer wings, hung from just beneath the shoulder blade, to the waist.
Gently, Link trailed his fingers down the side of her face, going down her neck and shoulder. He stepped closer, wrapping his other arm around her waist. Ismene gathered his face in her hands and kissed him, closing her eyes and leaning close, as close as she could, to his chest. As the kiss ended, Link stooped slightly, hooking his arm around underneath her knees. He picked her up and she draped her arms around his shoulders and neck. With a final, lingering kiss, he carried her away, through the parted curtains and into the heart of her bedroom.
In every hallway, at every corner and junction, through long stretches of stone and jagged hairpin turns, knights stomped along. It was as though martial law had been declared, absurd a notion as that was for a monarchy. The knights were absolutely everywhere, swarming like bees, and the courtiers, for fear, had taken shelter in their apartments or had fled to their summer homes to escape the madness.
Astrid was certain that all of this extra security wasn’t for a Hylian portraitist barricaded in her quarters. Something was stirring. They must have discovered that Xax as missing, she reasoned. Bad news for her, since she had been in the dungeon without permission, spotted by three knights. Four counting the one she had knocked out. Was she a suspect? The thought of being thrown in the dungeon herself didn’t please Astrid at all. She had once spent a week there for a jest that was taken just a little too seriously and it wasn’t a fond memory. Evanthea already had it in for her as it was.
Slipping behind a standing suit of armor, Astrid watched as two more knights patrolled past her. Slowly, she peeked out from underneath the massive arm of the suit. As those two guards turned the corner, three more approached from the opposite direction. Again, Astrid ducked behind the frozen statue until the coast was clear. Quickly, she slipped away, scurrying down the hallway as silently as she could. Ismene’s chambers seemed miles away, and given the circumstances, Astrid didn’t want to be seen returning there. She would have to find a more roundabout way.
She began to slink down the hall toward the apartment wing. A new thought had been occurring to her. Why not leave the castle with Link? He could take her back to Hyrule where she’d be certain to encounter Tibbet again. Dourly, she supposed that there was the possibility the knights would kill him. Certainly, Evanthea wouldn’t mind his loss. She’d merely turn a blind eye. Rotten woman! Astrid could taste bile in her mouth just thinking about all the cruel things Evanthea might permit them to do to hapless Tibbet.
The sound of armor alerted Astrid to more knights. She looked about for a place to hide, but much to her dismay, the hall was relatively empty. Not so much as a tapestry hung on the wall. Carefully, she moved to one side, trying to determine which direction the footsteps were coming from. Suddenly, a door on the other side of the corridor opened. Peeking out was Lady Olivia, wearing a stunning pastel pink gown with window sleeves and a lacy hat, shaped like a heart, and lined with a row of glossy pearls.
Olivia glanced around the hall. She spotted Astrid and ran over to her, grabbing the jester’s arm. “In here,” she hissed, pulling Astrid back into the doorway she had come from.
They were soon inside of Princess Idina’s storage closet. The room was dimly lit by several oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. Low light kept the fabrics from fading. Rows upon rows of clothing racks lined the room. Against the walls were crates of beauty supplies; rogue, lipstick, face powder, false eye lashes, and perfumes. On top of each of the clothing racks was a menagerie of hats, different shapes and sizes, most of them only worn once before being discarded.
“Lady Olivia,” Astrid stuttered as Olivia closed the door behind them.
“Are you all right?” Olivia asked.
“Well enough, my lady, thanks to you. But what are you doing in here? You could be put in the stocks for this.”
“They could do worse to me than that,” Olivia mumbled. “Is Tibbet all right?” she added thoughtfully.
“He’s been taken away,” Astrid admitted.
“I imagined that’s why you were skulking through the halls,” Olivia explained distractedly.
“What are you doing in here?”
Olivia glanced nervously to the side. She turned to look back at the jester with an expression of deep concern. “Can you keep a secret, Astrid?”
“Aye, my lady. I’m quite the expert at it,” she answered, yanking off the oversized collar of her costume and casting it on the floor.
Cautiously, Olivia made a beckoning motion with her hand. Out of the shadows stepped a robbed figure, the hood pulled down so far that Astrid couldn’t see the person’s face. The figure put an arm around Olivia’s waist as she lifted her hand to pull back the hood. Revealed before Astrid was the most handsome Durac she had ever seen. His golden hair caught the firelight, casting a bright reflection that seemed to light up the room. Involuntarily, Astrid found herself gasp, taking a step back.
“It’s all right, Astrid!” Olivia hissed, holding a hand out to her. “He won’t hurt you.”
“My apologies,” Astrid sputtered, completely baffled.
“Astrid, this is Xax. Xax, this is Astrid. She’s the one I told you about.”
Xax bowed before the jester. “Hello, Astrid,” he greeted her in his rich, exotic voice.
“What did you tell him about me, exactly?” Astrid asked Olivia skeptically.
“You know the ins and outs of the castle better than most people. I told him that you could help us.”
“Help you what?”
Olivia looked at Xax, putting a hand on his shoulder. She had that distant smile on her face which answered Astrid’s question before she even spoke. “We’re going away, together.”
Astrid blinked. “You mean you two are in…?”
“Yes,” Olivia answered passionately.
“Then you’re the one that left the straw doll in the basement!”
This seemed to take Olivia by surprise. “How did you know about that?”
“I was down there with Tibbet.”
“What were you two doing in the basement?”
“Looking for him,” Astrid proclaimed, pointing to Xax.
Astrid turned her attention to Xax. “How did you get in the castle?”
“Why do you want to know?” Olivia cut Xax off before he could answer.
For a moment, Astrid was silent, considering her options. It seemed that Olivia and Xax were in earnest. She supposed, then, that there was no harm in placing all her cards on the table. “Prince Oren. We were trying to help him escape. We wanted to figure out how he got in the castle so we could take Oren out the same way.”
Xax wrinkled his nose. “Why would the Prince want to escape?”
“His real name is Link and Evanthea had him mystically kidnapped,” Astrid explained.
“Then your task is one of great honor,” Xax said approvingly.
“I suppose you might say that,” Astrid sighed. “Anyway, Tibbet and I went down to the dungeon to find out how you got in. That’s where Tibbet was caught by one of Aeson’s men.”
“Then we must rescue him,” Xax declared.
“No, there’s no time,” Astrid told him reluctantly. “We have to get Link out of the castle before it’s too late.”
A heavy pause filled the air. Finally, the Durac spoke. “There’s a secret passage,” Xax said. “It runs beneath the castle and all the way out to the shore.”
“Can you show it to us?”
Xax nodded. “But the way is difficult.”
“Where does the passage begin?”
“In the throne room.”
“The throne room!” Astrid exclaimed.
Olivia surged forward, planting a hand over Astrid’s mouth. “Help us to escape,” she whispered, “and we’ll show you the way.”
Gingerly, Astrid peeled Olivia’s hand off of her face. “It’s an accord,” Astrid agreed.
“Where is Link?”
“Hiding in Princess Ismene’s apartments.”
“She’s in on this too?”
“Aye. She knows what Evanthea’s doing is wrong,” Astrid replied.
“Then let’s go.”
“No,” Astrid snapped, “we can’t just waltz out there. The castle is swarming with guards. Your trick must have been discovered by now.”
“What do we do?”
Astrid examined Xax critically. “You’ll have to be disguised.”
“That’s what the robe is for,” Olivia answered.
“The knights will certainly question someone hiding their face.”
“Then I will slay them,” Xax declared. From the depths of his robe, he drew a magnificent sword, swinging it in the air.
Astrid jumped up, grabbing his arm and pulling the sword closer to inspect it. Engraved on the hilt was a Hylian symbol, a Triforce, if memory served. “Where did you get this?” she asked.
“I found it in Aeson’s room,” Olivia volunteered. “There was a shield too.”
“We can disguise him as a knight. My lady, go back to your apartments and fetch the shield, along with any armor you can get your hands on.”
“What are you going to do?”
Astrid looked around the room before her eyes fell on a crate of face cream. She briskly walked over to the crate, wedging it open with the end of her jester stick. As she had hoped, inside were bottles of base make up of a wide assortment of hues. She selected one, going back to the group. “We can use this,” she said to Xax, “to over your tattoo.”
“For a Durac to hide his clan symbol is a great dishonor,” Xax objected indignantly.
“What’s more important to you?” Astrid asked. “Your honor or your Lady Olivia?”
Without a moment of hesitation, Xax replied, “Olivia.” Olivia looked up at Xax, positively beaming.
“Then you’ll endure this for a short while,” Astrid said. “There will be no other Duracs about to know your dishonor anyway.”
“I’ll go get the armor,” Olivia said. She turned to Xax and the two of them kissed a deep, passionate kiss, Olivia’s foot popping from underneath her skirts. When they at last had to break away, Olivia flounced out of the room hurriedly, leaving Astrid alone with the stranger.
“Don’t worry,” Astrid said screwing open the bottle. “I’m an expert at this. I do it every day.”
“Are you a Durac too?” Xax asked.
Astrid laughed. “No, no, I’m as Alastrian as Olivia. The Queen just requires me to hide other aspects of my face,” she sighed as she began dabbing the face paint over Xax’s tattoo.
Aeson was pacing the expanse of the arena when he heard footsteps approaching. He hoped against hope that his knights were bringing him good news. As the afternoon wore on, he was growing wearier and wearier by the minute. Against every effort he had made, the courtiers had been thrown into a state of catatonic panic and despite his wishes castle life was not going on as routine. Then again, Evanthea was being less than helpful in the matter. She had completely withdrawn from public view, taking away the little comfort her presence would provide to the frightened nobles.
Frustrated and headachy, Aeson had abandoned his armor, left in dark red leggings and a loose white poet’s shirt. He imagined his appearance was nothing short of scandalous, but frankly, he was too aggravated to care. Of course, Olivia’s scolding words were still haunting him, searing into his subconscious. She was more and more like their mother every day. No one else could look at him and be so annoyed.
Three knights marched into the arena. In the lead was Aeson’s lieutenant. Carrying up the rear of the small parade was a sergeant carrying a writhing bundle of brown fabric over his shoulder. “Captain!” the lieutenant called.
Aeson turned to address the group. “What is that?”
The sergeant dropped the wriggling mass which made a sound of indignation as it rolled over to reveal Tibbet’s elaborate cape, flopped over to completely over his head. Angrily, Tibbet grabbed a handful of the fabric, pulling it away from his angry and bright pink face. “We caught him skulking through the dungeon,” the lieutenant explained. “With the jester. Just as you predicted.”
“And why did you bring him here?” Aeson asked, as though addressing a small child.
“He resisted arrest, sir. And he was in the dungeon without authorization. We thought you might want to handle this case personally.”
“Go help out with the portraitist,” Aeson sighed irritably.
“She’s still barricaded in her room?”
“She’s started lighting things on fire. This is a woman who refuses to do what she’s told.”
“Aye, sir,” the lieutenant said with a stiff salute.
“Dismissed,” Aeson muttered. The lieutenant marched out of the room, but his honor guard remained by the door, at attention. “That goes for all of you,” Aeson called loudly.
“Aye, sir,” said the sergeant.
“Aye, sir,” said his companion.
Both of them marched out of the room leaving Aeson and Tibbet with the ringing echoes of their armor. For a long while, Aeson was silent, the throbbing noise in his head sufficing to fill the room with sound, as far as he was concerned. He walked in a circle around Tibbet, still huddled on the floor, Astrid’s hat firmly clutched in his fingers. To say he was disgruntled in his appearance was something of an understatement. Tibbet looked downright cross.
“Answer me this, storyteller,” Aeson barked. “What were you doing in the dungeon?”
“Hiding from your men,” Tibbet lied. “You have no right to remove me from the castle against my will. I’ve done no wrong.”
“You’re guilty of two crimes now,” Aeson replied. “Breaking into the dungeon and resisting arrest.”
“All as a result of an illegal removal attempt.”
“It’s perfectly legal. Queen Evanthea herself authorized it.”
“On what grounds?”
“She has no need for grounds. She’s the Queen. She can do as she pleases, you know that.”
“An irresponsible monarchy is worse than anarchy,” Tibbet said angrily.
“Well, you would certainly know a lot about that,” Aeson snapped.
Tibbet was taken aback. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You minstrels,” he said the word with disgust, “just love causing trouble in otherwise peaceful societies.”
“I resent that accusation.”
“I know your reputation well. Seducing young and impressionable women and then abandoning them on the side of the road.”
“I would never do something like that!” Tibbet shouted.
“I’ve heard the stories,” Aeson continued, “I know how your game works, how you travel from place to place, a different lover in each kingdom: None of them knowing about the others until it’s too late.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Don’t lie to me. I know you’ve tried to work your will over Lady Olivia, my own sister.”
Tibbet pursed his lips. “So that’s what this is about. Me telling Olivia stories that you didn’t like.”
“You tried to seduce her!”
“I did no such thing,” Tibbet answered calmly.
“Don’t lie to me!”
“I am not lying to you. True, I told Olivia stories. That’s what I do, I tell stories. But as Farore’s my witness, I would never, ever do anything to harm Olivia or her honor as a lady.”
“To say that one minstrel is no different from another minstrel is just as wrong as saying that one knight is no different from another knight,” Tibbet sighed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You cannot classify someone by their vocation. A jester,” he said, holding up Astrid’s cap, “can be twice as noble as a duchess.”
“You’re not proving your nobility to me.”
“Then let me prove your nobility to you,” Tibbet answered.
This caught Aeson off guard. He narrowed his eyes, staring at Tibbet. “What was that?”
“Let me prove your nobility to you.”
“I know who and what I am,” Aeson snapped.
“And what are you?”
“Captain of the Guard.”
“Is that an honorable position?”
“Then are you an honorable person?”
“Of course I am.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Why are you doing this? You know these actions you’re taking on behalf of Evanthea are dishonorable. And I’m not just talking about the forced relocation of the Hylians.”
Aeson stood there, staring at Tibbet, but in reality, he couldn’t see the minstrel. He couldn’t see anything; he was so withdrawn in on himself. ‘You’re a knight; you stand for justice, not blind obedience,’ Olivia had said to him. How strange it was that a peasant minstrel’s words should echo such noble sentiment. “You know,” Aeson said softly.
“About Oren? Of course I do.” Tibbet stood up. “And you know that robbing a stranger of his life is wrong. It’s more than wrong, it’s –”
“Dishonorable,” Aeson finished for him.
“Evanthea is playing the villain,” Tibbet said cautiously. “And you are a fool if you think that your duty to her outweighs universal goodness.”
“Your speech is eloquent, storyteller.”
“Silencing a few Hylians won’t change the fact that this is wrong, everything about it.”
“If Evanthea sees you…”
“She won’t. When I leave this castle, it will be for good,” Tibbet promised solemnly.
Aeson glanced down at the jester hat, still firmly clutched in Tibbet’s hand. “But your work here isn’t finished yet.”
“No. There’s something I have to do.”
The knight nodded absently, his eyes withdrawn and almost lifeless. He licked his lips. “All right,” he said softly.
“Go. Just go.”
“Don’t let me see you here,” Aeson added with a sharp edge. “After this moment, I never want to see your face again.”
“You won’t,” Tibbet promised.
Aeson pointed at the door. “Go.”
Taking a few steps backward, Tibbet continued to watch Aeson. Finally, excitedly, he turned around with a flourish of his cape, racing out of the room. Aeson watched him go, suddenly feeling a thousand years old. All the strength was drained from his limbs, all the energy from his mind. He was suddenly too tired to oversee his knights, and not just today. Shoulders slumping, he slipped out of the room, going back home to his apartments. His walk was not a lonely one, however. All the way, he was accompanied by his own doubts, thoughts swirling around his mind like a whirlpool that might never find rest. To the highest powers, he hoped against hope that what he had just done had been the right thing, honorable in the eyes of the universe if not in the eyes of his monarch.
Link and Ismene sat side by side on the foot of Ismene’s bed. Link was back in his green tunic, which Ismene apparently, had rescued from the incinerator. Ismene, resting her head on Link’s shoulder, wore a simple green shift with gold piping around the sleeves and waist. He stroked her knee absently with his thumb, his head half clouded with her violet scent. Both of them seemed to be in a dreamlike state, truthfully. Not a word had been exchanged, only kisses. Link was certain that the events of today would be on his mind for the rest of his life and for this reason he tried to memorize every sight, sound, and smell. Unfortunately, the sound he was least expecting was the loud jingling of jester bells.
Both Link and Ismene nearly jumped out of their skin when they heard it. “Princess Ismene,” Astrid hissed from the anteroom.
“They’re back,” Ismene whispered as they both rose to their feet. “We need to go to them.” She started to walk out of the room, but Link reached his hand out, grabbing her arm and pulling her back into another lingering kiss. She returned the kiss, her hand brushing gently down the side of his face, but soon pulled back reluctantly. “We have to go,” she told him. Nodding slightly, Link let go of her and followed out into the anteroom.
There, they were greeted by an unexpected sight. Astrid was standing there, looking a bit less clownish than normal without her hat or collar. Beside her was a lady in waiting that Link didn’t recognize and a burly man in full armor with a long blue cape on his back. “Where’s Tibbet?” he asked.
“He got caught by a few guards,” Astrid explained hurriedly.
“Lady Olivia?” Ismene addressed the girl with a nervous coloring to her speech, “what are you doing here?”
“We’re here to help, your majesty,” Olivia said.
“Your highness,” Astrid motioned to the knight, “may I present Xax, son of Thisbe.” She reached up, lifting the visor off of Xax’s helmet so that part of his face could just barely be seen.
“The Durac?” Ismene questioned, peering closely to examine Xax’s face. Astrid reached behind Xax and lifted a corner of the cape. Then, his tail could plainly be seen, swinging back and forth. “You’re willing to help us?”
“Yes, Princess,” Xax answered. “If you let me and Olivia escape too.”
Ismene looked to Astrid for an explanation. The jester merely tapped two fingers to her heart and at once Ismene understood. “This is an unexpected surprise.”
Astrid looked at her incredulously. “Is there any other kind?”
Ignoring the jibe, Ismene addressed the Durac. “Well, Xax son of Thisbe, you have yourself a deal.”
Link stepped forward to address him. “How did you get into the…” he trailed off abruptly.
“Link?” Ismene looked over at him. The boy seemed frozen, staring at something, though she couldn’t be sure what it was. With concern, she took a small step in his direction. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
Slowly, Link reached out to touch the shield strapped to Xax’s arm. “I recognize this,” he whispered.
“We found it in Aeson’s room,” Olivia said.
“Aeson went with Idina to find Link,” Ismene muttered. “It could very well belong to you, Link.”
Immediately, Xax detached the shield from his arm and handed it over to Link. Link accepted it graciously, turning it about in his hands to examine. “How did you get in the castle?” he asked absently.
“There’s a secret tunnel beneath the castle grounds. It lets out right on the beach.” Xax put an arm around Olivia’s waist. “We’ll take a boat to Calatia. They’re more tolerant there.”
“Where does it start in the castle?” Ismene inquired.
“The throne room.”
“Getting there unseen is going to be tough,” Astrid sighed.
“If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now,” Ismene said firmly. “Soon, Idina will be calling on Link for supper.”
Astrid marched to the door. “Then we’d better get going.”
The others followed and soon they were out in the hallway. Clanking armor had become a constant, chronic sound, making it absolutely impossible to figure out from where the guards were approaching. It didn’t help that Xax’s armor was every bit as loud. They skulked their way down the corridor, Xax and Olivia clasping hands the entire way. Before long, they were back in the servants’ hallways with the spiral iron staircases. There were few servants to be seen.
“Where is everyone?” Ismene wondered.
“Scared out of their wits,” Olivia supposed.
“There’s a back entrance to the throne room,” Astrid whispered, pointing down the hall.
“We can’t go into the room if it’s crawling with guards and courtiers,” Olivia replied.
“Knights!” Ismene hissed.
The group withdrew behind one of the staircases, watching as a regimen of corporals marched past. “We can’t stay out here either,” Link muttered to Olivia, watching them pass.
Xax lifted the visor on his helmet a bit to peek out. “How far is the back entrance?”
“About fifty paces from here,” Astrid replied. She glanced from side to side. “Now or never.” With that, she shot out from behind the spiral staircase, breaking into a full sprint down the hall. The others chased after her, Olivia and Ismene holding their skirts up as high as possible. Twenty paces from the door, they heard another gaggle of knights approaching and so pulled back into an alcove. It was a tight fit, the huddled escapees cramped up tight against one another.
“This is ridiculous,” Ismene mumbled, brushing Olivia’s hair away from her face. “They’re everywhere.”
“Bully for the Queen’s security force,” Astrid deadpanned, glancing out. “Come on, the coast is clear.”
They raced forward again, crowding around the servants’ entrance to the throne room. Astrid pulled the door open a crack and they all peeked inside. Much to everyone’s surprise, the throne room was practically empty. Indeed, all of the courtiers were gone. It seemed that Evanthea decided not to hold court today and so the only souls left in the throne room were three low ranking knights, swarming about the front entrance.
“Where’s the passage?” Link asked Xax.
“There,” Xax whispered, pointing at the floor.
“I don’t see anything,” Ismene murmured.
Xax pointed again, with great intensity. “There.”
“The pink tile near the front.”
“There’s a secret passage beneath the pink tile?” Link asked incredulously.
“The tile is a trap door,” Xax told him. “When it’s lifted, it leads to the tunnel system.”
“I wonder who put that there,” Ismene mused. “And how is it possible that none of us could know about hit?”
“I don’t know,” Xax replied with a shrug.
Olivia was craning her neck, looking apprehensively over her shoulder. “More knights are coming,” she hissed.
“Those knights are too close to the trap,” Link said nervously, looking into the throne room.
Astrid grabbed the bells of her jester stick into her fist. “They’ll be gone in moment,” she said firmly. Without another word, she slipped into the throne room, creeping silently across the floor. The knights were standing with their backs to her, so she quickly made her way behind the nearest one. Swiftly, she pulled her foot back, delivering a sharp kick to the knight’s rear. As he turned around, she held up her jester stick so that the first thing he saw was the grotesque, disproportionate head. He shrieked in surprise, stumbling back and toppling into a second knight. This caused a domino effect and the second knight hit the third, all of them landing in noisy heap on the checkerboard floor.
Laughing blithely, Astrid leapt over the pile of metal and ran from the throne room. Angrily, the knights clambered to their feet, chasing after her and leaving the throne room completely empty for the others to slip in and crawl into the trap door, just as Xax had promised.
Screaming at the top of her lungs now, Astrid tore down the corridor. The grumbling knights, hindered by their heavy armor, chased after her. As they went, however, they drew more and more attention and the number of guards making grabs for Astrid increased. Luckily, Astrid was very agile and, missing half of her costume, managed to out run most of them. She really had no idea where she was leading them. Away. That was the only solution. She had to lead them away from the throne room, at any cost.
She spun around, streaking down the hall as fast as she could. Unexpectedly, however, a door suddenly swung open on her right hand side and Evanthea, flanked by a dozen ladies in waiting, stepped out into the hallway. Astrid tried to skid to a stop, but it was too late and she ended up toppling over, falling on her face right at Evanthea’s feet.
“What’s going on here?” Evanthea demanded sharply.
The knights finally managed to catch up, all of them panting for breath. “Pride of the security force, you are,” Astrid quipped, sitting up on her knees.
“She was making a scene in the throne room,” the first knight Astrid had scared gasped, leaning over to rest his hands on his knees.
“And screaming through the hallways,” another knight added.
“I was not screaming,” Astrid said smugly, “I was shrieking.”
“Silence,” Evanthea snapped. She pulled back her arm and slapped Astrid across the face, sending the girl flying to the floor. “Get back to your posts,” she ordered the knights angrily. The guards all bowed and began to slink away. Evanthea looked down at her hand. All across her palm and fingertips was white make up, smeared off of Astrid’s face from the blow. As Astrid sat up, indeed, there was a long streak of flesh color on her left cheek where white had been. “Stupid girl,” Evanthea hissed at Astrid venomously. One of the ladies in waiting handed Evanthea a handkerchief. She wiped the white paint off of her hand and dropped the cloth on top of Astrid, kicking her sharply in the ribs as she walked down the hall.
Aeson was careful to be quiet as he crept back into his apartments. It was doubtlessly nap time for several of his younger siblings and the last thing he wanted was to disturb them. At least someone should be at ease in the castle, he thought dourly. Slowly, he crept over to the accordion door of Olivia’s room. It was snugly closed and Aeson paused for a good length of time, considering whether or not he would knock. Finally, half fearfully, he did. “Olivia,” he called softly. There was no response. “Olivia, please.” Again, nothing. “Olivia, I’m coming in.”
He slid the door open and stepped inside, closing it behind him. Much to his surprise, the room was empty, no sign of Olivia anywhere. She must have gone riding after all. Rubbing his eyes, he turned to leave again when something caught his eye. On the floor, kicked haphazardly into a corner, he spotted Olivia’s saddle. Resting on top of the glistening leather was an envelope. Crossing the room, Aeson stooped down and picked it up. Written in very neat, flowery script was his own name.
Breaking the wax seal, Aeson opened the envelope and pulled out the letter inside. He sat down on the edge of Olivia’s bed and unfolded the sheet of parchment. “My dearest Aeson,” he read aloud. “By the time you read this letter, doubtlessly, I will be gone.”
His head snapped up sharply. Aeson bounded to his feet and walked swiftly to the window, peering out. The courtyard on the other side of the glass was completely abandoned. Scowling, he turned back to the letter, reading on. “Please do not go looking for me, as I do not want to be found. It well may be that we will never meet again in this life.”
Aeson found himself compelled to look away from his sister handwriting for a moment. His eye fell on the shelf on the opposite wall, holding a collection of music boxes, Olivia’s childhood treasures. Slowly, he crossed the room, running his fingers along the glossy surfaces of the boxes. He selected one in particular, the one he had given Olivia the day their parents were killed. The outside was glimmering mother of pearl, etched with scenes of sea nymphs at play. His fingers lifted the lid off of the box and the bright, cheerful tune began.
Fingers trembling, he looked down at the letter. “I don’t expect you to understand what I’ve done,” he read, his voice growing thicker with every word. “I only hope that you will never think ill of me. Please know that I love you very much, Aeson, and that I always will. I’ve gone because I’ve finally found someone who loves me above his own honor. Forgive me if my actions bring you to shame. I would never want to do anything to harm your reputation.”
When Aeson looked down at the music box, something silver caught his attention. Resting against the red velvet inside was a set of shiny keys, ones he recognized as his own. He touched his side, for the first time realizing that they had been absent. His insides aching, he read on. “Tell the others how much I love them. I leave all of my belongings to them as I will not need them where I am going. For now, I pray that when we meet again in the next life, you will forgive me for all the things you blame me for. Honorably yours, Olivia.”
Aeson sank down to his knees, clutching the letter so tightly that he could hear the paper crinkle and perhaps tear underneath his fingers. Olivia had known that he would react this way, that he would be upset, perhaps even shed a tear for her. What would always leave her wondering, for the rest of her life, was whether Aeson would cry for her or for his own slighted honor.
The tunnels underneath the castle were surprisingly clean. Aside from the echoic drip of water, there was little indication of age. What was truly remarkable about the hidden passage way, however, was the light. Naturally, there were no torches or lanterns blazing, as there were in the castle. Instead, it was as if the rocks themselves were alive and glowing with pale blue light. “Blue quartz,” Xax had explained absently when the others first stopped to marvel at the sight.
As they made their way deeper and deeper into the tunnel, the sounds of the castle, particularly the loud clanking of armor, grew faint. “I hope Astrid’s all right,” Ismene muttered.
“Me too,” Link agreed, turning around to offer Ismene a hand as she stepped over a jagged rock in the path. “I’ll never get a chance to thank her.”
“Do you think she’ll get in a lot of trouble?” Olivia asked. “Evanthea’s always had it in for her.”
“She’ll be all right,” Ismene said firmly, trying to convince herself of that as much as the others.
“Yeah,” Link said with equal conviction.
“How much further have we to go?” Ismene asked Xax.
“About a hundred paces,” he replied.
Ismene’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? So soon?”
“The road to the beach is twisting and turning,” he explained. “This is a straight route.”
“That road will be the safest for you to take back to the castle, Princess,” he added politely.
“People will ask questions,” Ismene noted.
“You can tell them you went to the temple,” Olivia supplied. “I’m sure none of them will deny you your right to solitude during prayer.”
“I’m not supposed to leave the castle unattended.”
“You can blame the lack of attendants on the ridiculous Hylian purge of the castle. Everyone’s scared witless. And poor Tibbet…”
They continued down the glowing passage. There was nothing but the dripping water now. All else was silence. No doubt they were beyond the castle at this point and for some reason, Ismene felt uplifted at the idea. She truly had never left castle grounds unattended before. Perhaps this particular trip wouldn’t count, as she wasn’t alone when she set out, but still, the joy of rebellion struck her.
Xax turned to address Link. “There’s a merchant ship that sails to Holodrum. It’ll probably be in port tonight for you.”
“But I want to go to Hyrule.”
“There aren’t any ships that sail to Hyrule from Alastria. The closest port with Hylian ties is in Labrynna.”
“The indirect route it is, then,” Link sighed.
“And off to Calatia with us,” Olivia gushed, wrapping her arms around Xax’s shoulders.
Ismene walked ahead silently. Link watched her, noticing a small, forlorn sigh that escaped her lips. Carefully, he made his way over to her, touching the back of her hand with his fingertips. He was about to say something, when abruptly Xax stopped in his tracks. Above them, they heard a seagull scream. “Here it is,” Xax announced, pointing upward. The group collectively turned to look where he was pointing. Above them was a gaping hole in the rock, through which they could see the darkening sky and the shadow of a seagull.
“So there’s just a hole in the ground that nobody’s ever thought to investigate?” Link asked.
“Not exactly,” Xax replied, stripping off the burden of his armor.
Link clipped his shield to his belt. Ever since he had laid eyes on it, his mind had been churning. Cloudy memories were starting to resurface, but as of yet, he couldn’t make out names or faces, just blank images doing things that were completely beyond his comprehension. With his thoughts racing, he jumped up, catching the lip of the hole with his hands. Grimacing with effort, he pulled himself out of the cave and onto the surface. At once, he understood what Xax had meant by ‘not exactly.’
The boy found himself standing, not on the black pebbles of the beach, as he had expected, but rather on a high sea cliff, overlooking the royal blue
. Winds were fierce, blowing Link’s hair about. He stumbled for a moment in surprise, but quickly regained his footing. They must have been a hundred meters up. No wonder the passage felt like it was on an incline. Alastrian Sea
Turning, Link dropped down to his knees and reached his hands into the cave. Ismene caught them and, gripping tightly, Link pulled her up out of the tunnel. A sword and sheath flew out from the hole, landing right in front of Link’s feet. After the clattering of armor, Xax followed out, back in his leather pants and vest. He, in turn, mimicked Link, reaching down to draw Olivia out with much greater ease than the Hylian. Link knelt down on the rock and picked up the sword. He drew it half out of the sheath. Engraved on the blue blade in very simple figures, right near the hilt, he saw his own name.
Carefully, Link turned the sword over. On the other side of the blade, inscribed in flowery and fancy script, he saw a legend. “The Hero’s triumph on cataclysm’s eve,” he read softly to himself, “wins three symbols of virtue. The Master Sword he will then retrieve, keeping the knight’s line true.” The words seared into him, conjuring sensory memories of the forest.
Olivia clung to Xax’s side, looking down at the distant beach below. “That’s a long way down,” she said.
“There’s a path,” Xax told her gently, wrapping his tail around her shoulders, “it’s steep, but without jagged rocks. Don’t worry.”
“How are you going to get to Calatia?” Ismene asked, watching his tail with keen interest. “I mean no offense, but you two can’t exactly be seen parading through the harbor.”
“I have a boat,” Xax answered. He pointed down the shore. “There, behind those rocks, in a small lagoon.”
“In Calatia, they won’t care about a couple of mixed heritage,” Olivia explained. “We can settle down there.”
“There are Hylian missionaries there,” Link said standing up. “The place is crawling with half breeds and no one cares.”
Ismene stared at him. “How did you know that?”
Link blinked. “I…I don’t know. I just sort of…”
“His memory is coming back!” Olivia cried triumphantly.
“It’s too soon,” Ismene said. “How is that possible? That’s not supposed to happen until the new moon.”
“I don’t know,” Link replied.
Xax turned to Link. “I wish you much luck, Link,” he said, clapping his shoulder. “Din bless you.”
“Good luck to you too, Xax,” he replied. “And Olivia,” he added, nodding at her. Olivia giggled and threw her arms around Link, giving him a big hug. Link chuckled heartily. Quickly, she pulled back to Xax’s side. Link found himself facing Ismene. Sensing a change in the air, Xax and Olivia backed off a few paces, giving them some privacy. There, Olivia took a corner of the blue cape on Xax’s shoulders and gingerly began to wipe off the make up hiding his tattoo.
“Well,” Ismene said quietly.
“Ismene…” Before Link could finish his sentence, Ismene had flung herself at him. They kissed passionately, Link wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close. Her arms snaked around him, fingers kneading the tense muscles of his back. Their heads turned in unison, eyes closing, deepening the kiss. He lifted her up off the ground but then Link abruptly broke away, pulling his head back to look at her. “Ismene, will you –”
“Ungrateful little sneak!” Both Link and Ismene turned suddenly. Standing right by the mouth of the cave, was Idina, her arms folded across her chest, her dark eyes blazing with fury at the two of them. Her hair whipped about, savagely in the wind, half masking her face. “I ought to gouge your eyes out with my nails,” she hissed, stepping in Ismene’s direction.
Link set Ismene down on the ground. Ismene stared at her sister pleadingly. “Idina, please!”
Idina bent down and pulled a knife from the strap of her sandal. “Treacherous tramp!”
“My knife!” Xax, watching the scene from a good distance away, cried to Olivia. He seized her hand and began running back to Link and Ismene.
Link quickly put himself in between the sisters, his arms going back protectively around Ismene. “Idina, stop it.”
“And you!” she roared, pointing the tip of the dagger at him, although she was a good distance away. “You! I could have given you the world. What does she have to offer you?”
“The truth,” Link said firmly.
“The truth is only what the majority of people believe.”
Ismene stepped out from behind Link, edging around the cliff with her hands up. “Idina, listen to me. We don’t have to be party to Mother’s wrongdoing. We can change things for the better.”
“I won’t do anything for you,” Idina growled. “I never want to lay eyes on you again, you whore!”
“Idina, please,” Ismene plead, practically in tears.
“No more!” Idina screamed. With that, she pulled back her arm, hurling the dagger with surprising skill at Ismene. Link’s eyes filled with wide terror. Suddenly, for a reason that he could not explain, a single word flashed through his mind: Agahnim. Without thought or rationale, Link found himself pulling the sword out of the sheath. Gripping it in both hands, he swung it, hitting the dagger in midair before it could reach Ismene. With a loud clash of metal, the dagger spun, flying back in the direction it had come from. The blunt hilt of the weapon hit Idina in the eye. Shrieking, she put both her hands over her face, a bright spurt of crimson oozing out from in between her fingers, stumbling around with an endless barrage of curses.
By this point, Olivia and Xax had managed to make their way back to the scene. Idina thrashed about, knocking into Xax. Being a rather sturdy figure, she bounced off of him and skittered back to the edge of the cliff. Her balance wavered and she rocked on the balls of her feet for a moment. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as Idina’s efforts gave way. Her torso fell first, carrying the rest of her body with it. As she folded up in half, just before disappearing below the precipice, a final angry look flew from her eyes to Ismene. Then she disappeared.
Olivia squealed in terror, turning around to bury her face in Xax’s shoulder. He put a hand to the back of her head, watching the edge of the rock cliff. Link was frozen for a good solid moment before his hands felt the hilt of the sword again. As though it were on fire, Link dropped it, stepping back in horror. Cautiously, Xax inched his way over to the edge, keeping his arms around Olivia. He looked down then turned back to Link and Ismene. Sadly, he shook his head.
“No…” Ismene whispered, cupping her hands over her mouth. “No!” She surged forward, making a grab for the fallen dagger.
Xax’s tail curved around his body, wrapping around the knife, the coiled handle in the guise of a serpent. He pulled it out of Ismene’s reach. “She tried to kill you,” he said.
“She was my sister…”
“The power of grief is strong,” Xax told her wisely. “But the power of jealousy is stronger. You would have been destroyed.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Link said fiercely.
“There’s a purpose to everything,” Xax answered. With surprising gentleness, he wiped a tear from Oliva’s cheek with his thumb.
“What’s the purpose of this?” Ismene asked.
Xax shrugged his gigantic shoulders. “Sometimes, the plans of the gods don’t reveal themselves to mortals until much later.”
There were no windows in Astrid’s room. Come to think of it, there was no furniture. All there was, aside from Astrid herself, was a small trunk, a straw mattress, and a mirror on the floor, leaning against the wall beside a wash basin. She sat on her knees by the basin, dipping Evanthea’s discarded handkerchief into the murky water and wringing it out. In the mirror, she saw her own dingy reflection. On her cheek, just where Evanthea had slapped away her make up, a purple bruise was forming. Gently, Astrid pressed the handkerchief to her face, feeling the cold water sooth the ache of her throbbing cheekbone.
Jester costume thrown asunder, Astrid sat in the dim candlelight of her twelve by twelve quarters in nothing but a man’s cream tunic and gray leggings. She set to work washing the make up off of her face, raccoon eyes slowly disappearing. Her thoughts drifted to the two couples in the throne room. By this time, she hoped they had made it safely to the beach. Patience required she would have to wait awhile before finding out how the story ended.
There was a soft rapping on her door. “Come in,” she muttered absently, clearing away the last traces of white paste. In the mirror’s reflection, Astrid saw the door to her room slide open. “Tibbet!” she cried in surprise.
Indeed, in the doorway’s reflection, sliding the wooden panel shut again, stood the minstrel, his lute strapped to his back. He held up Astrid’s hat in one hand. “I thought you might want this back,” he told her, half jokingly.
Astrid stood up and turned around to rush over to him. “Are you all right? I thought for sure they had…what?”
A strange look came over Tibbet’s face as he stood there, his mouth hanging open ever so slightly. For a few moments that seemed eternal, he worked his mouth up and down, trying to find his breath again. “Astrid, you’re…”
“Hurt? No, I’ll be all right,” she said, touching her cheek lightly. The bruise stung a little, but she managed to keep from wincing. To be certain, she’d had far worse in the past.
Tibbet cleared his throat gingerly. “No…I was going to say…beautiful.” For the very first time in her career, Astrid was completely speechless. Tibbet took a step back. With a soft, explosive laugh he said, “Come with me.”
He took her hand. “Come away with me. We can accomplish great things together.” Looking at their hands, he suddenly released her, taking a shy step back. “Please come with me. I…I can’t return to Alastria and…and I can’t live without having you in my life.” He cleared his throat, gradually averting his eyes to the floor. He could feel her staring at him. “Astrid, I’ve been in love with you since before I met you, I think. My whole life. And I would rather wander in exile at your side, forever, than spend eternity in the Sacred Realm without you.”
Astrid shook her head absently, as though laughing at some old and worn out joke. She gathered his face in her hands and lifted his gaze back up to meet hers. “Shut up, fool,” she told him. Then, before he could say another word, she leaned forward and kissed him.
The sun was setting over the beach. Black pebbles, catching the last rays of daylight, shone, looking deep purple. A numb sensation had seized Link has he followed Xax and Olivia down the steep slope of the cliff. Ismene’s hand was clutched tightly in his, but he couldn’t feel it. All he felt was a heavy coldness.
Of course, it wasn’t his fault. No one dared to insinuate such a thought. Idina’s death had been her own folly, her own rage. Nevertheless, Link felt the burden weighing down on his shoulders as if he had struck her a deadly blow. Olivia was the only one who wept for Idina. Xax didn’t know the woman enough to care one way or another. Ismene, for her part, was equally silent on the matter, probably torn between sorrow at losing her sister and relief at not dying by her hand. If there was a higher purpose in this, as Xax prophesied, no one could see it.
Other things had begun to swarm around Link’s troubled mind. Agahnim. Link remembered now: The cruel sorcerer who had imprisoned the descendents of the Hylian Sages in an effort to attain the power of the Triforce. He remembered every minute detail of the adventure, the telepathic summons, the journey to the Dark World, and each of the nasty beasts he had defeated. Hyrule had returned to his mind now. He knew with certainty that he had to return home.
With a loud sound, Link realized that he had stepped down onto the pebbles of the beach. “This is where we part ways,” Xax said, breaking the heavy silence that had set upon them.
“The harbor is just beyond that turn in the beach,” Olivia said, pointing down the shore. “You’ll have no problems getting to your ship.”
Link turned to look at Ismene. “Come with me?”
She leaned forward and kissed his forehead gently. “I can’t. Hyrule isn’t going to take kindly to Alastrians for now.”
“Then I’ll go with you, we can run away somewhere together.”
Ismene shook her head. “You have to return home. Who knows what threats may arise from Ganon’s ashes?”
“But Ismene I –”
Quickly, she put a hand over his mouth. “Anything you say now is just going to make things more difficult.”
He took her hand in both of his, lowering it from his face. “Will I ever see you again?”
“Only Zaynar can say for certain.”
“I don’t accept that!” Link cried loudly. “I don’t accept that we can leave our fates to the power of a goddess.”
“If it hadn’t been for her, we would never have met in the first place,” Ismene said gently.
“Ismene…do you love me?”
“Is that what you need to hear? Do I have to tell you that I don’t love you? Is that the only way I can get you to save yourself?”
Ismene lowered her eyelids for a moment, summoning up vast reserves of courage from somewhere in the depths of her being. “I don’t,” she whispered quietly. “Now go. And whatever you do, promise me, don’t look back.”
Link squeezed her hand once. They locked eyes for one final time, an understanding drifting between them. Together, they were doomed. Apart, perhaps they stood a chance. He took a step back, then another. Finally, Link turned around and starting walking down to the beach. Keeping faith with Ismene, he never looked back. Ismene, Xax, and Olivia watched him until he turned out of sight, around the bend of the shoreline.
When he was gone, Olivia took Ismene’s arm gently. “Come with us, Princess,” she said.
Ismene nodded slightly. “I will go with you. There’s nothing left here for me now.”
And that is precisely what Ismene did. While she would arrive safely in Calatia though, such fortune did not await poor Link. Making it to Labrynna by way of Holodrum, Link boarded a Hylian sailing vessel headed for Hyrule, but his homecoming was not to be. A squall struck the ship, and though he valiantly fought the waves, a lightening bolt reduced the ship to splinters. Link was washed up on a foreign shore, farther from home than he ever dreamed. He would never again meet an Alastrian, but would spend the rest of his days with the roaring of the
ringing in his ears, an endless testimony to all he had been through. Alastrian Sea
To all, it seemed that the diviner’s prophecies to Evanthea had been proven false, but that was not entirely true. The actions Evanthea and Idina had taken with Link led to the end of the war in a most indirect manner, for after Evanthea lost both her daughters in the same day, she was left without an heir and at her passing, it was Aeson who inherited the throne. Filled with longing to see his sister again, Aeson sought to make peace with the Duracs, and though he never beheld Olivia for the rest of his days, his actions brought an end to the strife.
When Xax’s boat arrived in Calatia, Ismene’s belly was swollen with new maternity. She gave birth to a son who she named Oren. Every day, for the entirety of Oren’s childhood, Ismene would tell him the story of his father, the great Hylian Hero. Oren married a Hylian missionary and they named their first son Link. Like his grandfather before him, this Link would have a princess in his life as well, for in due time, Link traveled to Hyrule and rescued a maiden named Zelda. Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled, for Ismene and Link’s line gave birth to a family of warrior kings, the monarchy of Hyrule.
And what of Astrid and Tibbet? What became of the two exiles? Well…that’s another story…
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