Chapter 22: Keeping a Promise
The journey back to Hyrule was vastly different from the journey to Karradai. Of the original group of five, only Link and Noah remained, and the absence of the others saddened the Hyrulian. He missed the playful bickering between Noah and Romani, Pelayla’s outspoken comments, even Ria’s--Farore’s--silent presence. Yet it seemed more lively despite the hollow sorrow, for he and Zelda would brush each other’s minds through the no’tzennok, and he always sensed Noah and Aphelandra unless he shut them out.
Hend had eventually chosen to accompany them, filled with the realization that he would no longer be welcome in his native Annith. Surprisingly, Dvarn also joined them, for his entire company had died, and the only person he considered anything close to a friend was Noah. He rarely said anything as they traveled north, seemingly lost in thought as he toyed with his horse’s mane, but one night, he approached Link when the Hyrulian had walked from camp to try to deal with the guilt he felt for Pelayla and Romani.
“Link,” he said, drawing close, resting a hand on his sword. “A word, if you please.”
Turning, surprised, Link regarded the man. His solemn face bore little expression, but something flickered within his hazel eyes. “What is it, Dvarn?”
“I do not know what to do with myself,” he said, standing at his ease. “My company was my whole life. Now, I only have the companionship of Noah.”
“Maybe you can help us hunt down the other Partisans if they become a nuisance,” the Hyrulian suggested.
Tilting his head back and gazing up at the stars encrusting the dark sky, the mercenary sighed. “Link, I wish to thank you. Without your initial plan, we would have fallen fast and hard. You kept us alive.”
He found nothing to say to that. Do not thank me, thank the dead captains of the
. Instead, he said, “I hope you will practice swordplay with me.” Ikana Kingdom
“Of course.” Dvarn lowered his gaze, and a rare smile crossed his face. “I wonder what awaits me in Hyrule.” Turning, he strode back to the camp, leaving Link staring at his back in slight confusion.
It took about two weeks for the group to reach the eastern border because they had to ride northeast through the Flatland Wilds in order to skirt
. Despite Hend’s warnings of nomadic clans that might snap them up at anytime, no people appeared on the empty plain, and they rode through land that gradually rose, though it came nowhere near the heights of the bluffs flanking the River Diamond. Finally, when the group topped a ridge overlooking the eastern ford of Zora’s River, Link stared hungrily at the distant white walls of Castle Town shining beneath the noonday sun, the towers and spires rising into the sky, and then shifted his gaze to Death Mountain’s smoke-ringed peak, the mountain standing out from the shorter peaks of the Gadanas. A wind blew past him, and he tasted the fields and forests and lakes and rivers of his homeland. Lake Hylia
“We’re almost home,” Zelda said with a smile, heeling her white gelding forward. “If we travel far enough, we can make Lon Lon Ranch by nightfall.”
The people of the small hamlet that served as the ford’s guardian poured out of their homes at the procession of mounted people, gaping and pointing at Zelda in wonder, for they recognized their long-lost crown princess. They took in the others with awe, no doubt wondering what important figures returned with the heir to the empty throne, so much so that they almost forgot to help them across. But they filled the large raft and sent it across, the workers jumping nervously if anyone so much as glanced in their direction. Link was relieved when he led his dapple stallion off the aged planks and onto firm Hyrulian soil.
Zelda led the way, with Noah at her side, and the group rode toward the high walls of the ranch. The princess’s estimate proved to be correct, for the sun sank beneath the horizon just as her mount cantered up to the gates. Link guided his horse with pressure from his knees, and as the group dismounted outside the buildings, he watched someone pass across a window with a dull lurch.
The door opened, and Malon hurried out, a robe draped hastily over her nightgown. She gaped at the six people clustered beside their mounts, then stared at Zelda in shock. “Your Majesty!” she cried.
“I’m not queen yet,” she replied gently. “I am terribly sorry to intrude, but do you have room for us to sleep here? A stall in a barn would be welcome, or a place in the hayloft.”
“Your Ma--Highness, you shame me!” the redhead exclaimed, drawing her robe tight against her. Whirling around and sticking her head through the open doorway, she shouted, “Father! Ingo! Jonan! Come out and help!”
With a burst of shock, Link noticed the plain golden band on Malon’s finger. Of course. She was getting married in three weeks, or so Jonan had said, all that time ago. By how much have I missed her wedding?
The three men sidled out, each appearing very sleepy and, in Ingo’s case, a touch disgruntled. Still, everyone stared at the cluster of people and animals, and then the ranch hand began leading horses away, taking reins and whispering soothing words in their ears.
“Well, what a surprise!” Jonan exclaimed, giving his usual toothy smile as he moved beside Malon. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her toward him. “My wife and I will gladly vacate our room for the night.”
“That isn’t necessary,” Zelda insisted. “We will not displace you, any of you, for the night.”
Extracting herself from Jonan’s encircling arm, Malon met Link’s eyes before glancing away from the entrance, toward the corral. He understood and, excusing himself, followed her as she walked away, aware of Jonan’s gaze stabbing into his back. Once sufficiently far from the others so as not to be overheard, Malon turned to him.
“You came back,” she said simply.
“I did,” he responded, then waited.
She fidgeted slightly, hands clutching the skirts of her nightgown. “When Epona returned without you, I thought that... maybe....”
“I had to send her back,” he replied. “And good thing, too. The horse I purchased in the land I traveled through died. He was a magnificent Gerudo horse.”
Bowing her head slightly, she sighed. “I hate it when horses die.”
Silence stretched between them, and then Link asked quietly, “How was your wedding?”
“It was beautiful,” she answered, a touch stiffly. “Jonan is a good man, and I have grown fond of him. There has hardly been any change in my life.”
“Fond? You haven’t come to love him yet?”
Glancing at him sadly, Malon shrugged. “I care for him, but I still think love is too strong a word. Ah well, there are more important things in life than such feelings as love, more important things than the dreams we entertain in our youths.”
Link said nothing, merely ran a finger beneath the bandolier slanting across his chest. Finally, Malon said, “Well, I’d better see you to wherever you’ll be sleeping. I probably won’t see you before you leave in the morning; Jonan is a touch... jealous... when it comes to me.”
“I can tell,” he answered wryly, gaze flicking to the man standing with arms folded, glaring murder at him. “Well, I hope you can still come visit me.”
“Of course!” she said, eyes widening in surprise. “Why wouldn’t I?”
He shrugged. Maybe because your husband would prohibit it. Perhaps Jonan realizes that you still love me. You’re wrong, Malon. Love is what drives us, that and those dreams you told me of weeks ago. Everyone needs love, to receive it and to grant it. Zelda and Noah are lucky; most of us are left floundering, trying to sort out emotions, and by the time we succeed, it is too late. Maybe I loved Romani, or could have come to love her; I’ll never know now. Maybe I should have married you, to make you happy, because, now, we’re both unhappy. “I don’t know. I was just making sure.”
The kingdom rejoiced with Zelda’s return, the Lord Regent Sarn stepping down with tears of joy. She was crowned two days after her return, and a week of celebration followed. Yet, instead of settling down afterward, as should have happened, all of Hyrule swelled with anticipation for the grand ceremony when she announced her engagement to Noah. Messengers were sent to the Gorons and Zoras and, at the queen’s insistence, the Gerudo, so the races could send delegates to the festivities.
Yet for Link, the days went by as normal. He spent most of his time within his small house, oftentimes tracing the scar slanting across his left palm and the Triforce mark on his hand or holding the Gilded Sword, which was the Kokiri Sword honed and reforged for added strength. After some rummaging, he found the clay ocarina given to him by Saria so long ago, and he would sit outside and play all the songs he knew. Yet, though some of the melodies possessed their own magic, the plain instrument could not harness their power and utilize it.
Two days before the wedding, he sat at the table in the front room, his fingers moving over the holes with familiarity, a sorrowful melody coming from the instrument. Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door, and he set the ocarina on the tabletop, calling out, “Come in.”
Zelda entered carrying a slim object wrapped in cloth, her long hair caught back with a pale crimson scarf and a plain dress of blue wool fitting to her form. She smiled at him and took a seat across from him, setting her burden on the table. “This is the first chance I’ve had to come visit,” she explained, settling back in her chair and running a hand through her golden tresses. “Ruling a kingdom is pressing business even in peaceful times, and these are far from pacific, with rumors of war seeping from the east.”
“I understand,” he said. “What did you want?”
She rested a hand on the hidden object, but her gaze strayed past him. He knew where it rested without looking; the Gilded Sword was propped against that wall. “What blade is that?” she inquired.
“The Kokiri Sword,” he answered. “Made stronger, and longer, but still the Kokiri Sword.”
“I see.” Tilting her head, a thoughtful light entered her eyes. “I once read the only other piece of Shnril-Kokirin that Hylians know of, though a fragmented version. ‘When Borrowed Steel strikes Heart of Wood, you will understand all you should.’ And you borrowed that steel.”
If you seek to find the Way.... Twisting in his chair, Link regarded his one remaining weapon. “Zelda, do you know of any ‘way’ that would affect the Kokiri, or could be associated with them?” I promised to return that sword. I was never to keep it.
“Once, I read that the Kokiri have forgotten what it is like to have a non-Hylian form,” the queen answered. “The text said a way had to be found for them, in case their fairies disappeared. Too, people have to learn a way to live once all the old magic--such as that within
--is gone from the world, which will never happen so long as Hyrule yet lives as the goddesses shaped her. Why do you ask?” Kokiri Forest
“I was curious.” Facing her again, he indicated the cloth-wrapped bundle before her. “What’s that?”
She lowered her gaze, an air of solemnity hanging about her. “It is a present for you. If not for your actions, I would most likely be dead now, and all twelve Partisans would be unified and at large.”
“I don’t need a reward,” Link protested.
“But you need a new weapon, as you lost your last one.” Gripping the cloth between thumb and forefinger, she twitched it aside.
A sword in a dark blue sheath tooled with white gold lay before him, an elegant crossguard worked like two dragon heads sweeping out above a hilt bound in dark leather, the silver pommel containing a piece of clear forest-green crystal cut so it shone. Taking the scabbard and grasping the hilt, Link drew the sword out, marveling at the slender blade tapering to a fine point and the edges honed to razor sharpness. The blade itself was a rarity, rising out of the crossguard a pale blue color streaked with silver, and then the blue faded, eventually replaced completely with the silver metal. A dragon like Volvagia was etched near the crossguard and outlined in fine gold, further distinguishing the weapon.
“It’s beautiful,” Link breathed. “Where did you get it?”
“I had it made,” Zelda answered. “Its name is Draskarith, or Dragons’ Bane.” Reaching out, she tapped a section of the blade that was entirely blue. “This is no ordinary material. Do you know what was used?”
He shook his head. “No, but it is nearly as fine as the Master Sword.”
“What looks like silver is metal from a meteorite,” she explained. “A gift from the goddesses, if you will, and infinitely stronger than iron or steel. The blue.... I am not sure if it is metal, but it is just as strong as the silver. It is what is left of the Ocarina of Time. I had it melted down and forged into this.”
Hardly believing the words, Link stared at her. “You destroyed the Ocarina of Time? Why?”
“It is as much a danger as it is a help,” she answered. “Yes, you were able to travel through time with it, and you saved two lands through using it, but the Partisans planned on journeying back in time with it, to prevent Ganondorf from being sealed away. As you know, those involved in the time travel retain their memories of what could have happened. They would have remembered their motives. Whether they were to murder me straight away, or kill you as a child, or find you when you were an infant and raise you to fight for them, the end would have been devastating. It is better, with the Ocarina of Time gone.”
Sheathing the weapon, Link rose and walked a few steps away, cradling the scabbarded blade. I have no excuse for keeping it now. I’ll have to keep that promise I made to myself eight years ago.
Magic hung thick in the air as Link entered
for the first time in many years. A strange haziness hung between the towering trees, rendering everything in the distance indistinct. Fireflies--or what appeared to be fireflies, trailing tails of illumination--danced through the air in their lazy paths. He smiled sadly, remembering those years he spent with the forest as his whole world, afraid to venture out form beneath the guardian trees. He had not been happy, at least not at the time, but it had been simpler back then, easier to live. Kokiri Forest
He strode across the wooden bridge spanning a small meadow, his boots loud in the near silence that hung thick in the magic-impregnated air. Animals called and hooted all around, their cries subdued, but none showed themselves. They would caper around Kokiri, of course, would alight on the children’s hands and rub against their legs, but he was no Kokiri. In retrospect, the animals had always know him for a Hylian, refusing to approach him.
The air was lightening to gray as dawn drew near, the stars concealed by the haze filling the forest, but Link noticed a few Kokiri already outside their homes carved out of living trees, the lights of their fairies shining across the distance like glimmering jewels in pale rainbow shades. He almost headed for his old house, but he decided against it. The forest children would panic if they saw him, and he knew the fairies, at least, were aware of his presence, for they carefully guided their charges away from him, unwilling to trust an intruder upon the secluded world beneath the ancient trees. Turning his gaze ahead, he climbed up the ridge leading to the Lost Woods, glancing back once at the peaceful village before entering the tangled trees ahead.
Dark and thick, the Lost Woods spread out in a confusing maze, yet Link knew the hidden trails well, having taken sanctuary many a time within the wilder sections of the forest. He struck off, sure of his path. He was familiar with the trick of convincing himself that he was not lost, that he knew perfectly well where he was going and was headed that way. In what seemed like no time, he stepped out into the Sacred Forest Meadow, the final barrier to his destination ahead of him.
The maze was designed to confuse those who believed the path was difficult to find, the correct way so simple they were sure it had to be a trick. But Link knew the truth, having fled through the maze to escape the taunts and insults of the Kokiri. He turned corners, stepped across pools of water, strode ahead, and eventually turned down a tunnel of close-grown trees, only the barest sliver of light creeping down between their branches interlocked so far overhead. Ancient stone steps, worn with the years yet untouched by wind or water, led the way forward, and he mounted them, drawing ever closer to the very heart of the forest. And then he stepped out of the tunnel.
He was in a tall courtyard constructed of weathered gray stone. Lichen covered the bases of the rectangular blocks, replaced with creepers and vines that forced their way through crumbling mortar and had, in places, torn down sections of the wall, revealing the dark forests beyond, and branches covered in heavy leaves hung over the battlements, casting dappled shadows at the bases of the ancient partitions. Directly ahead, stairs jutted out from the high entrance to the
, ending in jagged ruins just past a single dead tree, and, nearby, there was the stump that Saria had sat upon and played her ocarina. Forest Temple
If you seek to find the Way, the Key you need is where Leaves slay.
Link’s gaze focused on one tree beyond the crumbling walls, wrapped in vines that were strangling it, while overhead, thick leaves denied it the sunlight it thirsted for. Here, where the trees grew so thick that they fought to thrust their branches toward the sun, leaves were capable of killing their fellows.
When Borrowed Steel strikes Heart of Wood, you will understand all you should.
Guided by some unknown force, Link walked forward slowly, almost expecting to head toward the dead tree growing beside the entrance to the
, its bark warped and cracked with years of standing lifeless within the elements. Instead, his feet carried him to Saria’s perch, the concentric rings of the perfectly flat stump darkly clear in the subdued light. Reaching above his left shoulder, he drew out the Gilded Sword, watching the light play over its gold and steel blade. He grasped the hilt in both hands and, as though he held the Master Sword and stood before the Pedestal of Time, stabbed the blade deep into the exact center of the wood. In that moment, a command rang in his head, and it saddened him, though he knew that, to find happiness, he would have to obey. Never again was he to step foot beneath the trees of Forest Temple . Kokiri Forest
Voices of Pasts shall speak once more, then will ne’er be heard evermore.
“Link...” a woman’s voice whispered from behind, barely heard.
He turned, searching for the source of the voice, but all he saw were fireflies dancing in the predawn air.
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