Chapter 10: The Heretics
“You can’t ignore a meeting with a priestess!” Noah exclaimed after Link suggested such a thing. His broad-brimmed hat lay on the table in the private dining room of Evren’s Star, a luxurious inn used to serving nobles and keeping secrets. Upon seeing him, the innkeeper had had maids rush forward and seized their bags, promising the two best rooms, and then the man himself hustled them into the large room with its walls painted to grant an air of a sun-filled forest.
Link shrugged uncomfortably. “It was just an idea.”
They were alone in the dining room save for Pelayla, who perched on a chair back; Ria had slipped out with hardly a word, while Romani stammered something about seeing the sights. Noah paced back and forth, a frown tugging at his scar.
“Dragons, you just had to agree, didn’t you?” he muttered. Suddenly, he halted and stared straight at Link. “You realize I’ll have to come with you to show you the way? Word will spread that I’ve returned, and trust me, the people don’t really appreciate my presence.”
“You could have been honest with your traveling companions,” Link retorted. “We had the right to know that you were a prince.”
Crossing his arms, the Karradaini scowled, brows lowering dangerously. Pelayla fluttered into the air before perching atop Link’s cap, saying, “Before you two start attacking, why don’t you go see this priestess?”
Noah sighed, grabbing his hat. “Very well. What street did she say she lived on? Winging Bluebird?”
“Yes,” Link replied. “Pelayla, if you’re coming, you had better hide yourself.”
She grumbled, but wriggled beneath the edge of his cap, her slight weight seated atop his hair. Striding toward the door, Link opened it and slipped into the carpeted hall, but as he headed for the stairs, Noah seized his arm, hissing, “We can’t go before a priestess armed! Come on.”
Growing increasingly irritated, Link followed him to their shared room, two narrow beds pushed against the far wall and a window looking down onto the street. Removing quiver and bow, he tossed them on his bed, adding his bandolier and bag of bowstrings. His gauntleted hand wrapped around the pouch containing his ocarina, feeling its smooth sides through the leather. He released it and watched as Noah unfastened his twin swords from his back and set them on a brassbound chest at the foot of his bed, reached down his boots and pulled out some daggers, then tugged a pair of knives from the sleeves of his coat. Noticing Link’s gaze, he grinned and said, “It’s useful to carry small blades; people don’t expect them.”
Link said nothing, simply waiting for Noah to finish. The man clapped his hat on his head before striding out jauntily, almost strutting as he walked along in an insultingly arrogant manner. He wore his dragon-embroidered gloves, but turned inside out, so instead of the design only a mass of colored thread was visible.
The innkeeper bowed deeply as they passed, the stout man keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the worn floorboards beneath his feet. At the numerous tables, the patrons ignored them assiduously, men and women sipping at their drinks. Noah, continuing with his haughty swagger, threw open the front door and strutted out onto the busy street, Link following with a more calculated stride that he had heard many back in Hyrule equate to a hunter stalking its prey.
People filled the streets, slipping in and out of shops and taverns, laughing and stopping to chat at corners or cursing and plowing through the crowds. No Riders roamed the street they were on, thankfully, though a line of the Pearl Guard marched past, their enameled armor almost a match for the roads they patrolled. Noah instantly took the lead, standing out with his hat yet somehow blending in with his vibrant coat and arrogant walk; men and women in thigh-length coats all strode along just as self-importantly, as did those encrusted in embroidery from neck to ankle. He wove a way through the crowds, often jostling people, yet he somehow smoothed over a dozen arguments with flowery apologies and profuse bowing.
To Link, there was no rhyme or reason to the layout of the streets, but Noah navigated them with familiar ease, passing over bridges and turning corners without a trace of hesitation. Each building, though distinct and unique, blended in with those around it, and because each was so different, Link could not keep them straight. But Noah continued on unerringly, past fountains worked into leaping fish or birds taking flight or exotic shells, past manors with broad balconies, past colorful markets packed with shoppers. Finally, after skirting a statue of some woman in the tattered remnants of a gown, astride a rearing horse and pointing a bloody sword forward, he said, “This is
Winging Bluebird Street.”
There was absolutely nothing to differentiate this street from the others. However, as Link passed some houses, he noticed a small bird wrought out of silver and painted blue attached to each front door, seeming about to take flight. Wondering if every street had something like that, he followed Noah. The Karradaini strutted through the people traversing the city, then halted in front of a three-story home with a pale red roof, a graceful balcony hanging over the street. Beside the bluebird, this house bore a dragon on the door, green with red underbelly and wings.
Suddenly, the door opened, and Aphelandra Mudora stood in the doorway, her slender stature impressive as light from further inside framed her, transforming stray wisps of hair into a yellow halo. Her dark eyes fastened on Link, and then she urged, “Come in, come in, my father wishes to meet you.”
Hesitantly, he stepped over the threshold, into a room paneled with pale wood and carpeted in light green with bright flowers. A chandelier holding cut and smoothed pieces of crystal shed a warm light, revealing a small table of straight lines holding a white vase painted with a sunrise, and further down the hall, another door stood open, offering glimpses into a room of pale yellow walls and rugs patterned in green and red and blue.
“Nice home,” Noah complimented, breaking the silence that lay heavy upon the place.
Aphelandra glanced back at him. “Yes, my father and I find it quite comfortable. This way.” She glided forward, the hem of her robes swishing over the floor as she entered the next room.
Link followed, taking in the plush armchairs and bookshelves laden with thick volumes at a glance, though his gaze lingered a moment longer on what appeared to be an altar of white stone, topped with a golden statuette of Mother Tala balanced on her tail. As the young priestess gestured to a chair, he sank into it, Noah taking the one to his right. “I will just get my father,” she said coolly, then added, “And take off that ridiculous hat.” With that, she whirled away and disappeared through another door.
“If you take your cap off,” Pelayla hissed near Link’s ear, “I’ll hurt you.”
“She meant me,” Noah said, doffing his hat. “It’s considered rude to conceal your face, even in shadow, when meeting in someone’s home.”
Idly, Link glanced at the small table to his left and picked up what appeared to be a leather-bound journal. Opening it, he stared at a detailed sketch of some ruined temple, and then his eyes widened as he looked at the next page, a closer view of the doorframe. It was chipped in places, worn away in others, yet Hylian script--shaped in older styles, yet still the script he was accustomed to, not the simplistic version used in Karradai--covered it. Even incomplete, there was enough for him to realize it had to be a temple to Din, and to the sides were notes in the usual Karradaini runes, translating it in what he could only describe as a laborious manner, with many errors.
Leafing through the journal--it contained more sketches, more notes and translations--Link froze as he caught the flicker of movement from a door different than the one Aphelandra had disappeared through. He closed the journal slowly and set it back, then raised his head. A woman stood in an open doorway, fists planted defiantly on her hips as she stared at him flatly. She wore a white gown with touches of embroidery along the hem in a simple pattern, all in thread the shade of drying blood, and a tight gold necklace encircled the tall collar of the dress. The white fabric was a sharp contrast to her deep tan, nearly brown skin, and flame-hued hair tumbled around her face and cascaded down her back. If that was not enough to name her, a prominent nose jutted out from her exotic face with high cheekbones, and her tilted eyes were hooded, almost concealing her yellow irises.
“What is it?” Noah asked, twisting in his chair. Catching sight of the woman, he practically yelped. “Who’s she?”
“She’s Gerudo,” Link answered. Though, I’ve never seen a Gerudo woman with that length of hair wear it unbound.
The woman drew herself up, eyes flashing dangerously. “You think you can answer for me, man? I might as well paint my lips white as call myself Gerudo, now. I’m an outcast of my people, an outcast of my own volition; they would have used me.” Stalking forward, lithe and graceful even in something as incongruous as a gown--Link had never seen a Gerudo in so much as a skirt before--she planted herself in front of the armchairs in use, staring the occupants down. “I am called Kyrani.”
“How do you do, Kyrani?” Noah inquired in a courtly voice, bowing in the chair. “I am Noah. Prince Noah, to be exact, though I would rather I was not.”
Tilting her head slightly, the corners of her lips pulled back and down. “Pompous lout,” she muttered under her breath, just loud enough for Link to hear. “Though his scar is impressive.” Rounding on Link, she glared at him. “And you?”
“I am Link,” he answered, then hesitated. “Link Dragonslayer.”
Kyrani’s eyes widened briefly, and then she asked, “Are you the Hero of Time?”
Caught off guard, he stared up at her. “How do you know?”
She turned away, peering at him from the corner of her eye. “We Gerudo know all that happened in the Seven Years of Change.”
Further conversation was cut off as Aphelandra returned, trailed by a tall stick of a man, the same who had nearly run into Link back in the palace. His eyes flicked to the Gerudo, and he nodded. “Ah, so you have met our guest, Kyrani. She has stayed with us for over a year now. I believe introductions are in order? I am Tirgan Hyraki.”
“I suppose you know who I am,” Noah said glumly.
Tirgan nodded. “Oh yes, Noah, always seeking to remain unnoticed. You are already called the Runaway Prince by many, though as many would like you to leave and hide yourself away decently, since you have brought shame to the Royal Family.” His brisk, businesslike tone was at odds with the words he uttered. “But I do not know of your companion.”
“I am Link, from Hyrule,” he introduced. Uttering his name of Dragonslayer to Kyrani was one thing, but this man was Karradaini, and a priest.
Eyes widening, he turned to his daughter and asked, “Is he the one?”
“Yes, Father,” she answered.
“My daughter says you mentioned Nayru,” Tirgan said, facing Link. Reaching down one voluminous sleeve, he extracted a battered journal, pen, and jar of ink. Hugging the ink to his front, he unstopped it, loaded his pen, and opened the journal. “Where exactly did you hear that name?”
Brows drawing together, Link stared at the man. “Why?” he asked cautiously.
“Why?” He blinked his eyes rapidly. “Why, my daughter and I have studied two ancient temples within Karradai, temples devoted to the worship of deities other than Mother Tala. One of them is in near ruins, and that is the one we have studied the most extensively, for the other is sealed shut. The sealed temple mentions Nayru quite a few times, in very archaic writing.”
“I know you Hyrulian’s don’t believe in Mother Tala,” Aphelandra said. “Do you believe in this Nayru?”
“We believe in the Golden Three,” Link responded, wondering how they would handle what he was telling them. “Din, Goddess of Power, Nayru, Goddess of Wisdom, and Farore, Goddess of Courage.”
The yellow-haired woman seized one of her father’s arms, a gleeful expression on her delicate face. “He mentioned Din! He mentioned Din!”
Scribbling furiously, Tirgan nodded. “So, there’s a third, eh? I’ve heard tales of an ancient pagan temple, long since destroyed. Perhaps...? Yes, I think it might be.” He continued writing swiftly.
Thoroughly confused, Link glanced at Noah, hoping for some help. The man just shrugged helplessly. Kyrani, however, narrowed her eyes.
“Of course there’s a third,” she said softly, dangerously. “Creator, Lover, Mother. Goddess of battle, goddess of time, goddess of life. Whatever name you call them, they are the same.”
“I thought you believed in the Sand Goddess,” Link said.
The Gerudo sneered. “Sand Goddess? Bad translation, that. You Hylians cannot comprehend the ancient Gerudian language, just as you barely understand the Ancient Tongue, though many words stem from that oldest of languages. What you term as the Sand Goddess is actually Feraladrask ne Gerudo, the One Great Dragon of the Daughters of the Desert.” Tossing her head, she turned away, arms folded beneath her bosom.
“They have more names? Fascinating.” Still writing, the priest asked, “What are these goddesses like? What do they look like?”
“I have never seen depictions of them,” Link responded. “They created Hylians in their images, however, and they are always described as golden, if that helps.”
Nose practically brushing the page as he wrote, Tirgan nodded. “Oh yes, it does, it does.”
Suddenly, Noah rose to his feet and threw his hat down, a scowl twisting his face and tugging at his scar. “What’s the matter with you two? You’re priests, sworn to Mother Tala! You should be casting down the very idea of other deities!”
Link stood and faced his friend, but Aphelandra pierced the Karradaini with her intense gaze, head tilted minimally. “Oh? I thought you were a skeptic. I thought you did not believe in Mother Tala.”
“I don’t,” he replied uncertainly, picking his hat up and twirling it on his finger.
“Well, neither do we,” she said bluntly, planting fists on her slender hips and leaning forward. “We used to, my father and I, but not since we truly began studying those two temples.”
“There is a sense of a... higher power... surrounding those buildings,” Tirgan explained, still writing. “The fact is, we are considered a disgrace among the very high and honored order of Mother Tala. We try to convince the others, though.”
“That’s what my father was doing visiting the king and queen earlier,” Aphelandra said. “Trying to convince them the truth of Din and Nayru. And now we shall speak of this Farore.”
Link clenched his left hand into a fist. As much as he disliked being thrust into a destiny with no say, he did not want to hear his patron goddess referred to as “this Farore.”
Suddenly, Pelayla peeked out from beneath the edge of his cap. “Listen, I’m sure you can ask him about the Golden Three any time you want to.”
The appearance of the fairy affected the two robed people in vastly different ways. Aphelandra merely folded her arms beneath her minimal bosom and stared very intently at the light-shrouded figure, but Tirgan uttered a wordless cry and stumbled back, tripping over a chair and crashing to the floor. Staggering up, completely oblivious to the ink staining his garments, he gaped at Pelayla. “What is it?” he breathed.
“Is no one familiar with fairies in this country?” she demanded irritably, taking flight and darting around as fast as her damaged wings allowed. “In Hyrule, most people might not have seen a fairy, but they can at least recognize them!”
Clutching at his daughter, Tirgan blinked rapidly. “A fairy? Does that mean all the old stories are true?”
Noah snorted. “Oh please. If all the old stories were true, no dragons would live in the world.”
“That is utterly preposterous,” Kyrani said.
Everyone jumped at the Gerudo’s words, but Link recovered first, facing her. Uncomfortably, he realized he had forgotten her presence, and, judging by the flushed cheeks of the other Hylians, they had as well.
“A world without dragons would be a bleak world indeed,” she continued in the harsh accents of her people. “Already the wingless dragons have been driven into extinction, and the Great Dragons hid themselves away long ago. Dragons yet live, some malicious, some benevolent, but they still live.”
Link nodded in agreement, though he had not realized there were specific distinctions among dragons. Extinct? But Volvagia possessed no wings. “Why do you believe there are no dragons in the world?”
Slipping the journal back up his sleeve, Tirgan gestured to the armchairs. “Sit, sit. I’m not sure how long it will take you to tell the base myth behind this land’s religion. Sit.”
Sinking into a chair, Link glanced briefly at Pelayla as she alighted on his shoulder. Noah sat in a different chair, and Kyrani merely perched on the arm of a third, her gaze unreadable. Smoothing his hair, Tirgan said, “Aphelandra, will you bring our guests some of the punch?”
She inclined her head and said, “Of course, Father.” Sweeping out of the room, she shut the door behind her.
“Ah, where to begin?” the priest said to himself, rubbing his palms together.
“How about with creation?” Noah suggested, crossing his arms.
Nodding, Tirgan said, “Thank you, thank you. Ah, even before all time and creation, Mother Tala existed, living among the stars with her immortal children, all the dragons. Countless children she possessed, among them Aydron the Beautiful and Sythri the Wise, Vextra the Strong and Bantaor the....” He trailed off as he noticed the glower covering Noah’s face and drawing at his scar, then cleared his throat nervously. “Yes, she has many children. Well, one day, her gaze went to the nothingness that was the world. She stretched out her clawed hand and ordered creation from chaos and emptiness. The rocks moved together and formed the ground, the mountains, valleys and hills and--” He cut off abruptly and beamed as Aphelandra returned bearing a tray, offering one of the beaten silver cups to each of the listeners in turn. Link took a cup with a murmur of thanks and sipped the refreshing punch. Kyrani also took one, though she simply held it. Noah shook his head sharply, and she retreated to another chair.
“Where was I?” Tirgan inquired. “Oh yes, the ground. After she finished with the earth, she created forests and other plants, and then the rivers and streams, seas and lakes, and all other bodies of water. Well, delighted with her creation, Mother Tala created Hylians and bestowed upon them intelligence and reason. Yet all was not well in the heavens, for Mother Tala’s eldest daughter desired to rule. Her name has never been agreed upon; some say it is Dtharei, others claim Aquamentus, while others say Firnaorda--”
“Father, if you keep going off on every tangent, you will never finish,” Aphelandra interrupted, though a sort of fondness rested in her voice and a smile covered her face.
He nodded to her. “Thank you. Well, Dtharei--or whatever her name is--was ambitious, and evil rested in her heart. She quarreled with her mother, but Mother Tala struck her out of the heavens with a single blow of her clawed hand. She landed in the world and found that, despite her most enticing lies and eloquent falsehoods, no one would listen to her. In a moment of sly intelligence, she created a new terrifying race she termed Dinolfos, lizards who walked like men but stood taller, the males fearfully crested, the females even larger and capable of breathing fire. These monsters were intelligent, but malevolently so, delighting in cruelty and causing pain. The Hylians turned to Dtharei for help in defeating the terrible monsters, treating her like a savior, and in return, she poisoned the minds of men with her silver lies and gilded promises, stirring up dissension and hatred.
“When Mother Tala again looked upon the world, she was sorrowed to see her daughter fouling it. And so, she descended to the world with all the other dragons in a time when blood ran free as water, when war tore every land and nation apart, when all alliances and ties were forgotten in fear and distrust. She banished Dtharei, bound her in a prison no one could break through, but the dragon could still influence people. By her dread counsel, a warrior slew a dragon.” Tirgan nodded absently, a vacant look in his dark eyes. “That was the greatest sin any mortal had ever committed. I wonder what would have happened if that had not transpired?” He flipped to a clean page in his journal and begin to write, brow furrowed in thought.
“Shocked and appalled,” Aphelandra picked up, “the dragons withdrew from the world, including Mother Tala. Realizing the depth of their terrible sins, the people implored for them to return, but none ever came. Instead, Mother Tala created the Talar birds and released them, to seek out those who would atone for the sins of their ancestors. The first Riders were chosen, and they drove the Dinolfos out, believing that would entice the dragons to come back. But it did not. Now, they believe the whole world must acknowledge Mother Tala as creator in order for dragons to return.”
Link snorted in disgust. “That is what Karradaini believe? What a load of rubbish.”
“It sounds like your Dtharei is the Great Demon, the Fierce Deity,” Kyrani stated. “And your Mother Tala.... I have seen your banners. Mother Tala is Feraladrask.”
Tirgan opened his mouth, but Aphelandra rose, setting the tray down carefully. “Father, I think we have kept these people long enough.”
“You are right, as usual.” Now he was the one who sounded fond. “What inn are you staying at, Link? So I can come and learn more of these three goddesses.”
“Evren’s Star,” he answered, setting his cup down and rising. Noah stood as well, clapping his hat over his unruly hair, and Pelayla flew under the broad brim. “It was good talking with you.”
“Return any time!” the priest said jovially, beaming. “Aphelandra, show them out, will you?”
The woman led the way to the front door and followed them out onto the busy street. Lowering her voice, she said, “You will have to come with me tomorrow when I go to study one of those temples again.” With that, she retreated and shut the door behind her.
Mumbling something about needing a mug of decent brandy, Noah stalked off, ignoring people as they leaped out of his way. Link followed, eyeing his companion warily, but he did not speak, even as they finally reached the front door of the prosperous inn.
Romani and Ria approached them as they entered, Romani bubbling with excitement as she listed off all the amazing statues and monuments and manors she had seen. The two women followed Noah as he led the way up to the rooms, though Link could hardly wait to have his sword properly strapped across his back. He felt naked and vulnerable without it.
Noah slipped inside the room first, then swore explosively. Bursting through the door, Link stopped dead, eyes widening as his disbelieving gaze swept over the damage.
Noah’s side of the room was pristine, untouched, but his side lay in shambles, nearly everything tossed aside. There was his cloak, the seams ripped open and the whole thing shredded into tatters. His quiver lay nearby, most of the arrows snapped clean in half, and his bow rested against the wall as though hurled there, thankfully undamaged. His sword lay out of its scabbard, his pouch of bowstrings was ripped open to display only one intact string, and every pack was turned inside-out and slit at the seams, food trampled over the floorboards and all his garments strewn about, one shirt torn apart and lying in in a puddle of blue potion, the broken pieces of the bottle glittering nearby.
“Who.... Who did this?” Noah breathed.
Fury, pure raging fury, built inside Link’s chest. Harrowed by fate, almost kidnapped in the night, and now this? Wondering what the thieves were after, his eyebrows rose as he saw his Rupees spilled about in a glittering pile, gold and silver gleaming through green and red and blue. What were they after?
And then, his gaze snapped to the one remaining bowstring. The prophecy....
Kneeling beside it, Link lifted the sliced remnants of the pouch, searching in vain for the piece of rolled parchment. His gaze whipped around, hunting, but he did not see it.
“Oh, Link,” Romani murmured sympathetically, kneeling beside him. “Your things....”
“They took it,” he said bitterly. “Those people who tried to kidnap me took it.”
“Took what?” Pelayla asked.
“The prophecy. They took the prophecy.”
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