Chapter 15: Secrets and Flowers
The smell of fresh bread wafted to Link, eliciting a hungry rumble from the stomach clinging to his spine. Groaning, he opened eyelids still heavy with sleep and stared up at a pale blue ceiling painted with fleecy white clouds. Sunlight entered from somewhere, and a cool breeze slid over his face.
Shifting slightly, he felt good linen sheets slide over him, and he burrowed a little further into the soft mattress. Bandages wound around his upper body, but he was otherwise nude beneath the blankets. Gathering his strength, he propped himself up on one arm, and he gazed around the white-walled room, taking in the chest at the foot of the bed, the plain but sturdy wardrobe, the small writing desk with a plain ladder-backed chair before it with a clean set of his usual garb folded neatly atop it, the small table beside the bed with all his belt pouches on it. Nowhere did he spot the source of those delicious smells.
Where am I? Link wondered, staring at the open window that allowed the sunlight and breeze to enter. It showed him a rolling countryside of green grass, an orchard far away behind a low vine-covered fence. Clearly, he was not in
, but he was not in any of the other settlements he knew in Karradai, either. Crystal City
The door opened, and Aphelandra bustled in, a wooden tray in her arm bearing a loaf of fresh-baked bread, a bowl of sweetened porridge with pieces of fruit in it, and a plate of sliced ham. Sitting fully upright, Link watched as she set it across his lap, a smile on her fragile face. “Well, eat up,” she urged.
He needed no second urging. Grabbing the spoon, he began shoveling porridge into his mouth, tearing great chunks of bread off with his teeth in between bites. He consumed the ham at some point, and all too soon, he scraped his spoon along the inside of the empty bowl before licking it off, wishing desperately for more food.
“Thank you,” he said, looking at the priestess. “Where am I?”
“You are in the house of my father’s sister, the most renown healer in all of Karradai. She’s a mage,” she explained, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Anyway, it has taken all her skill to keep you and those three women alive. She says that some inner magic in you fought for your life, otherwise you would have died before Prince Jendrick managed to bring you here.”
The Triforce. “Well, thank your aunt for saving me,” he said. “But where is this?”
,” she replied. “You’re lucky it was so close. Otherwise, I doubt that inner magic of yours would have saved you. I saw your wounds when my aunt was undressing you--she sent for me right away, to help her--and I would never have thought that anyone could survive what you had. Your back was almost completely torn away! I could see your spine in places!” Crystal City
Worried, Link twisted an arm behind him to feel through the bandages, but Aphelandra said, “Don’t worry, it’s all regrown, though it’s sapped most of your strength. Anyone without my aunt’s skill, however, would have been unable to restore so much lost flesh, and without a single scar!”
“What happened?” Link asked. “How did those Riders know to come?”
Sitting at the edge of his bed, Aphelandra tucked a lock of yellow hair behind her ear. “Well, Noah performed an ancient method of signaling a need for Riders, or so he told me, and his brother confirmed it. Anyway, Jendrick and three others flew to the building, but in the meantime that Ria and Romani hurried in, accompanied by Kyrani. Noah stayed outside to protect that woman you two rescued, but he gave Romani one of his swords. Anyway, the women hurried in and must have fought or something, and then the Riders entered and found you all in a room, unconscious, though I heard Jendrick say he feared you were all dead when he walked in, especially you and Romani. They brought you, Kyrani, and that golden-haired woman here immediately, where my aunt has been caring for you ever since.”
“But what about Ria?” he asked.
“What about me?” The woman strode in, cloaked in her usual dark gray. “The wounds I sustained were not life-threatening.”
“But you--I saw you get stabbed!” he insisted.
She chuckled. “She missed anything vital. Unlike with you, however. Where would the world be if the Hero died?”
Aphelandra glanced at him, a question in her dark eyes, but he stared down at his hands. “I shouldn’t have gone into that building without first assessing it.”
“Oh? If you had not, Zelda would still be in the clutches of those brigands. You saved her pain and suffering and freed your use of the no’tzennok.”
“You knew about that?” Scowling at the woman, he demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me more about it?”
“Because you already knew enough about it.”
Averting his gaze, Link absently felt along the connection, and a vision of a room similar to his suddenly overlaid his sight, a room a few doors down the hall. Another presence ghosted toward him through the no’tzennok, and then his awareness brushed Zelda’s, gleaning a complicated mix of relief and old pain, of attempts to forget and sleepy comfort. He retreated, and the vision of the room faded.
“Ria, I have no idea what to do,” he admitted suddenly.
Folding her arms beneath her cloak, the woman turned away. “Well, we can safely assume the Partisans control Karradai, with the king dead and Senna still in place as advisor. And they will be putting much more effort into tracking you down, now that they know you can recognize at least five of their number, seven if Lonnu and Hynor have rejoined them. So either you can flee, or you can cut them down, though killing Senna now would throw the kingdom into turmoil and chaos.”
“It has to do with the prophecy,” Link muttered. “I know it does! But it all hinges on Shadowed Fate, whatever that is. And Sacred Flowers, and Secrets, and Sacred Ones. What are they?”
“Perhaps they are not objects but people,” Ria suggested softly.
“I’ll leave you two to your conversation,” Aphelandra said after a moment of thoughtful silence, rising and taking the tray. “I’ll come back later.” With a smile, she headed for the door, her robes whispering softly.
Kyrani passed by her, a bandage wrapped around her temples, and then she swayed before tottering to the chair. The priestess pursed her lips, but the Gerudo paid her no mind, clutching at the back as she straightened. She looked odd, a sheer white nightgown molding to her form, her hair still unbound and looking as though she had gone a week without brushing it. Ignoring Aphelandra, who gave one icy sniff before leaving, she said, “Link, there is something you need to understand.”
“What?” he asked. “Kyrani, I have to thank you for saving my life--”
“I didn’t go in there for you,” she interrupted harshly. “I went in there because of the Gerudo in there. You see, Avra--” Her fingers tightened on the back of the chair, her nails leaving long scratches in the polished wood. “I--hate--her. I want to kill her. Yet, I fought as Gerudo when I have no right to.”
“Kyrani, you’re not making much sense.”
Lifting a fistful of hair, she shook it at him angrily. “Not only do I leave my hair unbound, I don’t care for it! It is all I deserve. But do not ask me to crop it; I will never crop my hair so long as Avra lives!”
Unable to understand the woman’s strange rants, Link asked, “How is Romani?”
“Not counting you, she sustained the most damage,” Ria answered calmly. “A few ribs were broken, she received deep cuts, and her skull was fractured. Until she awakes, no one can be sure if she has wounds even deeper than those. They have been healed,” she assured as Link opened his mouth, “but she still remains unconscious.”
“I want to see her,” he said.
Kyrani tilted her head slightly, then winced, rubbing at her bandage. “Why? You do not expect her to wake for you, do you?”
He shrugged, and then gave a start as Noah hurried in, a leather belt pouch clutched to his front. Striding to the bed, he handed Link the item, saying, “I thought you’d want this back.”
Curious, Link opened the pouch and drew out the Ocarina of Time, its smooth surface gleaming slightly in the sunlight. He ran his fingers over it, exhaling slowly, then brought it to his lips and began to play. His fingers moved over the holes automatically, and a mournful tune filled the room, sad and thoughtful, a melody to strike the soul. Everyone stared at him, but he ignored them, lost within the song. He finished, and no one moved until the final note faded away and left them in silence.
“What... was that?” Kyrani breathed, touching her temples in a wondering manner. “My spirit swelled beneath that melody, worked harder to repair the body it lives within.” Again, she prodded the bandage before unwinding it to reveal unblemished skin. “I am healed.”
“It was the Song of Healing,” Link explained, lowering the sacred instrument. “Though it never healed bodily injures before.”
Noah stared at the ocarina with widened eyes. “Link, you don’t suppose.... Do you think you might...? I mean, she went through a lot....”
“Yes,” he answered, returning the instrument to its pouch and setting it on the small table nearby. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he held the blanket to his waist, clearing his throat. “Um, Ria, Kyrani, if you would not mind leaving?”
Ria moved for the door, but Kyrani leaned against the wall and crossed her arms beneath her bosom. With the nearly transparent nightgown, that pose became exceedingly scandalous. “What, do you think I have not seen a man before? I’d like this chance to admire your scars.”
Gaping at her, Link pulled the sheet further over his lap. “My scars?” he managed to get out.
“Certainly. A man with scars, not too few yet not too many, is one to admire, especially if he has your muscles.” Suddenly, a grin spread across her face. “Ah, you think I am considering you for a lover. No, Nabooru’s lover’s claim still hangs over your head. No Gerudo will take you to her bed, though many would like it.”
Thoroughly confused--When did Nabooru seek me out as a lover?--he glanced once at Noah before throwing modesty out the window and walking to his clothes. Walking, not hurrying in the least; he did not care if Kyrani scrutinized every inch of him. At least, that was what he told himself, but as she did begin studying him, he found himself donning his breeches faster than usual, pulling the white wool over his legs swiftly before dropping his freshly laundered shirt over his head and tying the laces at his throat. The green tunic went on over that, and then he buckled his belt at his waist before tugging on stockings and slipping his feet in his leather boots. Grabbing his gauntlets and tucking them behind his belt, he glanced around for his bandolier. “Where are my sword and shield?”
“Healer Skaril does not want you using weapons before you are completely healed,” Noah explained.
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Link stalked to the door, snatching up the Ocarina of Time on his way out. He entered a wall paneled with polished mahogany, and then headed to his left after a brief touch through the no’tzennok. Striding forward, he slipped inside an occupied room and approached the bed.
Golden hair spread out on the pillow, surrounding a beautiful face that held no sign of the horrible torture inflicted upon in. Serene in repose, Zelda lay perfectly still, the rise and fall of her chest beneath the blankets her only movement. Kneeling beside the bed, he drew the ocarina out again and brought it to his lips. He played the Song of Healing, but soft enough to lull a newborn to sleep. Once he finished, he set the instrument down and tenderly ran a finger along her cheek, and three triangles glowed on the back of his left hand, one brighter than the others. Suddenly, blue eyes stared up at him, the care-filled pools he remembered as the princess sent him back in time rather than the happy eyes of the child who had bidden him farewell before he set off in search of Navi. He began to retreat, but she caught his hand with her own. Two Triforce marks flared brilliantly, and then she released him and sat up, bandages covering her from neck to waist, strips of cloth wrapping around her arms.
“Link,” she greeted solemnly. “I felt you stir, even in my sleep.”
Noah hovered uncertainly in the background, licking his lips. As the princess regarded him, he suddenly said, “Your Highness, I mean you no harm or--”
“I know,” she replied, a regretful smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I am sorry for the way I reacted when you helped to rescue me. I... was not myself, then. They had spent so long torturing me I came to dread, and to fear, whenever someone approached me. My name is Zelda. What is yours?”
“Noah,” he answered, bowing simply. “I am glad you have recovered enough to wake. I must say, I feared you would sleep the rest of your life away.”
Her smile blossomed to one of gratitude. “I thank you for your concern, but I am hale now, merely tired. Link restored my magic, and that helped escalate my body’s recovery.”
“I am glad.” Running a hand through his hair, Noah glanced at Link. “I am glad.”
Link wondered over Noah’s strangely reserved manner, his usual carefree bearing replaced with one of sad weariness. With something close to shock, he noticed the plain blue coat covering the Karradaini’s frame, made of good wool and lacking so much as a stitch of embroidery. Shaking his head, Link put the strange observances out of his mind and asked, “Zelda, have you ever heard of anything called Shadowed Fate?”
Brows drawing together, she shook her head. “No, never. What does it mean?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he explained. “Zelda, Ganondorf has followers. They’re in Karradai, hunting for me in hopes of taking the Ocarina of Time and somehow freeing their master.”
The princess drew a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “It was only a matter of time before the Partisans resurfaced,” she whispered.
Link stared at her in shock. “You know about them?”
Zelda nodded. “They became quite famous in the seven years of your disappearance. Ra’noyl the Dinolfos, bloodthirsty and totally merciless and wanting only to crush the Hyrulians. Asner, a Hylian assassin so skilled people only realized he had struck days after he had returned to hiding. Kal, called the Ghost by many for her albino coloring, hating all Hylians and seeking to turn their lives into endless misery. General Okbrand, the Stalfos commander, a brilliant tactician who led the battle that ended in the fall of Hyrule. I crossed his path more than once, and I am lucky I escaped with only scars. Worst of all, perhaps, was Avra, Ganondorf’s lover, totally devoted to him and fierce in her devotion. If you angered her you did not live to see the sun fall.”
“Do you know how many there are?” Link inquired.
“Twelve,” she answered promptly. “Each after something different, though I can really only sympathize with Kal and King Jarj.”
Jarj? King Jarj? “Doesn’t he rule Annith?”
“Yes.” Sadness entered her eyes. “If only he had approached my father, first. Then Annith would be secure, and he would not be tied to Ganondorf. Though, naturally, he was frightened of any Hylians.”
Puzzled, Link asked, “Why?”
“Annith is a country comprised solely of humans,” Zelda began. “I suppose shortly after creation, humans felt uncomfortable being in close proximity with those who could commune directly with the goddesses. So they created their own small country in the east beyond the
, a quiet state that posed no threat to the growing nation of Hyrule. However, there came a time in Hyrule’s history when certain nobles, fed up with the Royal Family always in highest power, broke away and formed a country south of Annith, even taking some of Annith in the process. Strange ideas grew within Verysith, different ways of looking at things taken for granted in Hyrule. To Verysai, partnerships are the basis for everything, children entering into training for the partnership of their choice at the age of ten. But in Verysith, what defines a person is their ears. If someone does not have long pointed ears, they are an animal.” Krylene Mountains
Appalled at the thought, Link gaped at her. Noah gasped, and then asked, “Humans are animals to them?”
“Yes. Humans are raised in kennels, taught that they are lesser beings from the moment they are born.” Zelda shook her head. “It is madness, but it is true, unfortunately. And some humans are trained like hounds, to be the lesser in a pair. Their handlers--humano, they are called--can be very strict, but many pamper their humans.
“Verysith is the largest threat to Annith,” the princess explained. “The Verysai military is extremely strong, and they view their northern neighbors as animals running free, animals that need to be chained. The Annithian army is all that holds them back, but Verysith has been ignoring that fact more and more, growing larger and more confident that they could swipe Annith’s defense aside. In a moment of desperation, King Jarj turned to Ganondorf for help, pledging to follow him if the Gerudo but granted some protection for his people.”
Sympathy welled up inside Link, sorrow at the terrible choice forced upon the king. Would I have done any different, in his place? he wondered. “You said you also understood Kal. Why?”
“She came from Verysith,” Zelda said quietly. “Raised to think she was an animal, that Hylians were far superior to her.... Do you blame her for any chance to strike out at Hyrule, whose population is predominantly Hylian?”
“So that’s why Avra said it was important she remained in the lead,” Link murmured. “If Senna took charge, Kal would hate it.”
Leaning forward, Zelda seized his lapels and dragged him close, eyes wide. “Senna?” she breathed. “Senna is with them?”
“All are together,” he answered, a little frightened. “A Gerudo, a Dinolfos, two Lizalfos, a Stalfos, an Iron Knuckle, three humans, and three Hylians.”
She slumped in defeat, releasing his tunic. “Senna. That name only brought a little less fear than Avra’s. She makes Avra seem straightforward and direct. And, three years after Hyrule fell, at a time when Ganondorf had sent a large bulk of his army to Annith to fight back an attempt by the Verysai to seize the human country, rebellion filled Hyrule. An army gathered, for it was the only chance they would get to strike a blow to oust Ganondorf from his stolen throne. He knew of their movements, but he seemed... amused. He did not mind that a force of around five thousand was moving to strike against him when he was surrounded by less than half of that. His counterattack--he sent out Senna.”
Zelda paused, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I saw the fight,” she said finally. “Or, rather, I saw the slaughter. Senna stood before the ruined bridge leading into
, completely unarmed, clad only in her usual black robes. As the army charged toward her, she smiled. That was the last clear thing before the eruptions began. I could sense the magic she wielded, and it was just a little shy of my own ability. And she ripped men apart. Soldiers exploded with such force that they tore everyone up twenty feet around them. The ground fountained fire. Men and horses died, screaming, and she laughed, completely unruffled. But with the last score of soldiers, she took more care. They tried to flee, to escape her, but she killed them one by one, hamstringing them with slices of magic before slitting their throats. She took special care with them because she needed their corpses intact.” Castle Town
“Why would anyone need intact corpses?” Noah breathed, eyes wide.
Zelda sighed. “Because Senna is the one living person capable of--and master of--the forbidden death magicks. She is a necromancer.”
Gasping, Link said, “So she can--”
“--raise people from the dead, yes,” the princess finished. “But the only known type of resurrection is a cruel mockery of life. ReDeads, rotting cadavers unable to move in direct sunlight, shambling along, searching for people to drain life from to maintain the enchantment holding them together. They only ever obey their creator.”
“Are all ReDeads Senna’s creation, then?” Link asked bitterly. Once ensnared by the paralyzing gaze of a ReDead, it was nigh impossible to break free. He had become careless, one time. Absently, he touched the round scar at the back of his neck, hidden by his hair, that he had received in the bottom of the Kakariko well. ReDead teeth were sharp, and contained venom that further incapacitated their prey. It was a wonder he had had the strength to continue on, to ignore the instinct to curl up in a corner and die.
Zelda shook her head. “No, there have been necromancers before Senna, though death magic was banned in the War of the Gold, which began near three decades ago, after the betrayal of Auryth. He was the last sanctioned necromancer, and even today we curse his name and memory.”
“So how did she learn, if necromancy was banned during that war?” he inquired. “She is not even thirty.”
A wry smile touched the princess’s lips. “There are other applications of death magic, such as staving off death itself. In times of old, necromancers were often looked to when a need for healing presented itself. So Senna, though she will age, will no doubt fight to remain in her prime for as long as she can. She might have learned from Auryth, or actually been his teacher; he was very young when he was appointed to the Council of Mages.”
“That is the person advising my mother?” Noah demanded, eyes blazing. “A lawbreaking sorceress? We need to kill her!”
“And what about the undead troops that are no doubt nearby?” Zelda countered. “To kill their master is to free them of everything. They will wander across Karradai, feeding away at the people.”
“We can destroy them,” he said, a touch uncertainly.
Even with the venom in him, sapping his strength and knotting his muscles, Link had known enough of ReDeads to fight the one that had bitten him, while it was yet confused by his movement. “You mean to chop every one limb from limb, smash the head into an unrecognizable mess? That is the only way to destroy them.”
“Or disrupt the magic animating them,” Zelda said. “Though that is extremely taxing, and leaves you vulnerable to physical attack. No, I am afraid Senna remains alive for now, though she is a force to be dealt with, preferably sooner than later.”
“All the Partisans are forces to be dealt with,” Link said, picking up the Ocarina of Time and clutching it protectively. “They must all be destroyed, and before they learn what Shadowed Fate is.”
“Where have you heard of this Shadowed Fate?” Zelda asked. “You mentioned it before we began discussing the Partisans.”
Wondering where to begin, Link rose to his feet. Grabbing a plain chair, he pulled it up beside the bed and sank into it. “Zelda, I was instructed by Saria to seek you out. And, shortly after that, I received a prophecy.”
“What did it say?”
Clearing his throat, he intoned,
“If you seek to open the Gate,
The Key you seek is Shadowed Fate.
In the Secrets that lie beneath the Ground
Is where the Wisdom required is found.
To find the Third Force of Power,
First you must seek the Sacred Flower.
When the Three gather all in
Then you shall see the Sacred Ones’ Face.
On to the Realm through the Gates you pass.
Before you will stand a Magnificent Mass.
Three Stone Structures with Names familiar to you,
The Names of the Gods, Din, Farore, and Nayru.”
“I heard part of that,” she breathed. “ ‘The Wisdom required is found.’ I thought it was referring to me.”
“Maybe it was,” Noah said suddenly. As both Link and Zelda turned to regard him, he flushed crimson. “Well, you said she had this Triforce of Wisdom, and that fortress was certainly a secret, and underground.”
“I suppose it was, at that,” she said thoughtfully. “But I never thought to live long enough to hear a piece of Shnril-Kokirin spoken.”
Link mouthed the strange word, and then he asked, “What is... that?”
“Kokiri prophecy,” Zelda explained, gesturing slightly. “Noted from other prophecies because they seem to be more in the style of directions than foresight. And you heard a new bit.”
“Well, the Partisans have it,” Link said bitterly. “I was... stupid and didn’t bother destroying it. And they stole it.”
Silence. Then, “So they have instructions on how to enter the Sacred Realm.”
“I don’t know what more to do,” he confessed. “I’m out of ideas. I went to the library, to try to gain insight on the prophecy, but I learned nothing and was discovered by two of the Partisans. I thought that, after I rescued you, I would know what to do, that my purpose would be clear. But I’m more confused than ever.”
Just then, Aphelandra entered, beaming at everyone as she carried a vase filled with yellow flowers with many large, shiny green leaves with paler creamy veins through them to the windowsill. “Oh, don’t mind me,” she said. “I just thought some plants would cheer you up, Zelda. My aunt always said plants helped her patients recover swifter.”
“Thank you,” the princess said graciously. “They are lovely. What are they?”
The priestess grinned. “Aphelandras. I was named after them--apparently, my mother loved these flowers and refused to live in
because they cannot grow without sunlight.” Crystal City
Something snapped into place in Link’s mind. She’s named after a flower, and she’s a priestess, someone sacred.... “You’re the Sacred Flower!”
She blinked, obviously startled. “What?”
“ ‘If you seek the third Force of Power, first you must seek the Sacred Flower’!” Bounding out of his chair, Link seized her arm, laughing in delight for the first time in what felt like years.
“If that’s true....” Zelda began, then stopped, eyes fixed on someone in the doorway.
Turning, Link stared at a younger version of Noah, though this man wore his brown hair cropped close and lacked a scar beneath his eye. A certain hardness lacking in his friend filled this one’s face, however, and a zealous light resided in his eyes. Clad in the white shirt, black jerkin, and black breeches of a Rider, his gaze met Link’s, and he cleared his throat. “I would like a word, if you are able.”
Releasing Aphelandra, Link followed the man out into the hall. He strode ahead with a firm, purposeful air, his hands clasped behind his back and head held high. Once sufficiently far from the room to ensure no chance of eavesdropping, he rounded on the Hyrulian, feet planted shoulder-width apart. “I am Rider Jendrick,” he introduced.
“Link,” he replied, nodding slightly. The man seemed waiting for more, so he sighed and plunged ahead. “Link Dragonslayer, Hero of Time and chosen one of Farore, the Goddess of Courage.”
“Ah.” Something in the man’s return nod conveyed a sense of confirmation. “I thought you had the look of the northern heathens, but I was unsure. Truth, last time I saw you, you were practically torn apart, and near dead from loss of blood. In fact, according to the healer that resides here and cared for you, she feared major blood vessels had been ruptured in your brain. You are as sane as before?”
“Of course,” he growled, clenching his fists. How dare he question my sanity, the filthy--! Calming himself, he drew a deep breath. “Thank you for rescuing me.”
Jendrick paused. “My brother was... desperate. Usually, only a Rider could have performed what he did, but he does have our gloves. I came as swiftly as I could, and found him clutching a tortured woman clad only in a cloak, gasping out something about there being others in the fortress, others who needed our help.”
Running his fingers along the ocarina before returning it to the pouch, Link waited. He could have said all that in front of the others, so why had he...?
“I need to know who attacked you, because it obviously wasn’t the men that worked within that rat’s keep. I sent a message out; other Riders will be sure to eradicate them.”
Link sighed. “They call themselves the Partisans. Their lord is a man twisted by ambition and greed and the blackness in his heart. Everyone has darkness within him, but his was nurtured like some noxious growth, strangling whatever good resided within him.” Everyone has darkness but me; mine seeks me out. “Luckily, he is sealed away, but the Partisans seek to free him, and then no place will be safe, for he will conquer the whole world. You are familiar with one of his followers, I believe. You know Senna?”
The man hissed, baring his teeth and narrowing his eyes. “Senna? My father’s advisor? She is one who harmed you?”
“Yes. The Partisans were behind your father’s murder. Ra’noyl, a Dinolfos, was the one who actually committed the deed, but the others helped arrange it, Senna aiding in smuggling the reptile inside the palace.”
Fury broke upon Jendrick’s face, twisting it into a feral mask of rage. Slamming a fist into his open palm, he snarled, “They shall pay, all of them! How many are there? How many?”
Taking an involuntary step back, Link said, “Only twelve. But you must not move yet. Now that you know the truth of Senna, you must stay away from her. Please! It could ruin everything.”
“What is everything?” he demanded.
“You probably wouldn’t know, unless you know of some secrets underground.”
The man’s anger vanished abruptly. Blinking, he said, “But you’re not a Rider. How would you know?”
“Know what?” Link asked, brows drawing together.
“Of the secret paths of the Riders,” Jendrick explained. “Though, in our trials, we only ever take the lower path, never the upper. Talar birds will not fly through the upper.”
Struggling to remain calm, to hide his growing excitement, Link feigned casualness and hung the pouch from his belt, asking, “Where are these secret paths?”
“Through the open maw of the dragon carved out of the cavern wall,” he said reluctantly, as though having something personal dragged out of him. “Of course, without a Talar, you have no way of entering.”
“Of course.” Disappointment welled inside him. I suppose it was too much to ask for things to fall into place so neatly. “Is that all?”
“That is all.” The Rider’s face softened, and he said, “I assume you will eventually be returning to Hyrule?”
Link nodded once, confused.
“Will you... take my brother with you? I hate to say it, but he is an embarrassment to Karradai. I’m sure he will be happy in the north, where no one is blessed enough to be a Rider and where no one is aware of Mother Tala.”
“I’ll offer the choice to him,” Link answered carefully, “but it will be his decision.”
“Thank you.” He returned to his normal impassive composure before turning and striding away. Link watched him go with no expression on his face, watched the heir to the throne of Karradai descend down a flight of steps at the end of the hall.
Then he whirled around and slammed his fist against the wall in frustration.
“Do you mind?”
Glancing in the direction of the voice, Link stared at the woman emerging from a room on the left side of the corridor. Her white hair was gathered in a neat bun atop her head, and her entire face seemed honed and sharpened with her long nose as the point. She smoothed a dark blue gown ostentatiously, pressing against her bony hips, and she pierced Link with a fierce glare. “I have a patient in there, you know.”
“Sorry,” he apologized, massaging his bruised knuckles. A slight indentation remained in the wood paneling, but he had sustained no more damage than the blotches of dark purple and black seeping onto his fingers.
Sniffing, the woman drew herself up. “You need to return to your bed. You shouldn’t be up and about. Go on, shoo!”
“Can I see the woman in there first?” he asked suddenly, realizing who had to be within it.
The healer’s face softened, if such a thing were possible, and she nodded reluctantly. “Yes. But you may only remain for less than fifteen minutes, and then straight off to bed.”
Link assured her that he would follow her instructions as he slid around her, entering a room similar to his, with the window thrown open and plain furnishings. His eyes fixed on the figure on the bed, and he found himself kneeling beside Romani, fingers hovering over the blood-soaked bandage wrapped around her head.
“Romani, why did you ever leave your ranch?” he asked softly. “Why did you journey from Termina? Why did you have to fall in love with me?”
“Love? Who’s in love?”
Too late, he noticed the fairy resting upon the bedside table. Swallowing deliberately, Link began, “It’s none of your business, Pelayla.”
“It is all of my business,” she protested. “Which is it? Do you love the girl? Or does she love you?”
“Pelayla, I don’t want to--”
“She loves you. I’m right, aren’t I?” Fluttering her wings, she jerked into the air. “And you don’t, but you don’t want to hurt her. What a tangled mess.”
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Link turned from her, feeling the muscles tensing in the back of his neck. “Pelayla, I’m not in the mood.”
“Oh? I couldn’t tell.”
The cutting sarcasm caught him off guard. The fairy had been sexist with him, offended, irritable, even murderous, but never scathingly sarcastic. He spun to face her, teeth bared. “What did you say?”
Her light flared crimson. “You heard me,” she snapped. “You know what? I’m sick of your pity act. That’s all you want, people’s pity. ‘I never had a say in my life. I’ve been robbed of my freedom. A woman I have no feelings for loves me. My life is miserable. Pity, pity, pity.’ ”
Her cruelly mocking voice cut him deeply. With rage flaring inside him, he advanced on her slowly. “Oh? At least I never shirked my duties. At least I never ran away from what I was supposed to do.”
“You think you’re so big, don’t you? So noble.” She turned the word into a curse. “You’re not noble, you’re selfish. You just want sympathy.”
In a flash, he darted to her and seized her in his left fist. Squeezing his fingers tight, he eyed one of her smaller wings, protruding through his closed fingers, and gripped it in the thumb and forefinger of his other hand. With cold determination, he ripped it off.
Pelayla gasped; Link felt her tiny figure convulse against his palm. Staring at the transparent wing clutched in his fingers, the torn edge frayed and beginning to gather blood from the delicate silver veins, he suddenly felt sick with himself. He released the fairy and sat on the floor, clutching his knees to his front.
All at once, Pelayla dragged herself over to him. “Link, I’m sorry, I spoke in anger and--”
“You spoke the truth, Pelayla,” he said flatly. “I am everything you said I was, and more. Worse things. Much, much worse.”
“No, you’re not--”
“I am. I’ve made excuses for the dark deeds of my past”--that dream of the mirror and Dark Link, from so long ago, resurfaced in his mind--“because I thought I was able to. I thought being the Hero entitled me some privileges, to balance the burden of fate. But having my evil torn out of me does not mean I cannot hate, or grow angry, or feel spite or malice.”
Awkwardly because of her missing wing, Pelayla flew to his shoulder unsteadily. “But you are not an uncaring shell, either. You can feel joy, and love, and compassion. Nothing ever has one facet. Take skodrags, for example. They may be a ghastly thing to look at and hear, but I’m sure they--”
Pelayla uttered one startled cry as Link bounded to his feet. “Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded pointedly, sharply unbalanced as she flew upward on three wings instead of four.
“I need to tell Noah something,” he said, dashing from the room. Hurtling through the hall, he burst into Zelda’s room and shouted, “I know what to do! I know where to go and how we can go!”
“Link, what are you talking about?” Noah asked. He and the three women--Kyrani had entered, at some point--stared at him in blank confusion.
He explained. And, after they got over the initial shock and revulsion, everyone soon clamored to go with him.
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