Shadowed Fate

By Farore769

Chapter 3: The Journey Begins


Link woke abruptly, tearing himself out of a nightmare--something to do with him being tortured--that he thankfully forgot as soon as he sat up. Stars still glittered in the dark sky, but they were fading as dawn drew near. Standing, he donned a shirt and breeches, and then he pulled on a tunic. After tying the laces of the shirt, he buckled a belt around his waist, and then he picked up his bandolier, the Great Fairy’s Sword and Hylian Shield already fitted through their loops and secured. He fastened it across his chest, slanting from left shoulder to right hip, and then he adjusted the lapels of his tunic. From the belt encircling his waist, he hung his quiver and bow, the pouch containing his ocarina, his bag of bowstrings, and a wallet filled with most of his savings. Link swung his dark green cloak around his shoulders, clasping it at the throat with the pin from Malon and fitting the sword’s hilt through the slit at his left shoulder. Sitting down on the edge of his bed, he pulled on woolen stockings before tugging his boots on, turning the tops down. He drew on his leather gauntlets, snugging them securely, slipped his usual blue hoops through his pierced ears, and finally donned his floppy cap before leaving the room.

            He ate a quick breakfast, hardly tasting the bread and slices of fruit, and then he slipped his arms through the straps of the rucksack. Slinging the saddlebags over his right shoulder and picking up a blanketroll near the door, he left his house, pausing for a moment as he shut the front door. Already the place looked abandoned, the windows dark, the chimney bare of smoke.

            Who knows if I’ll ever return? he thought bleakly.

            Striding around the building, Link watched as the dark sky lightened to gray in the east, though a few stars yet clung to night in the west. By the time he saw Epona, the gray had gained a pale pink wash, gradually increasing and strengthening. He whistled Epona's Song, and the mare raised her head and whickered softly. Removing her hobbles and packing them, Link tightened her girth straps, buckled the saddlebags in place, and tied the blanketroll behind the cantle.

            “You ready for a ride, girl?” Link asked, stroking her glossy neck.

            The roan mare tossed her creamy mane and snorted. Mounting smoothly, Link let her frisk for a moment before turning her to face the sleeping Castle Town. Gently nudging her with his heels, he took a firm grip on the reins, and she started off at a steady trot.

            Her steel-shod hooves thudded over the hard-packed road running from town to castle, and then they rang loudly over the cobblestone streets, frightening a pack of snarling dogs and a cutpurse keeping to the shadows. Though a few people staggered out of taverns, and some stall owners began spreading their wares, the town seemed utterly deserted. Pink covered the eastern sky with gold at the very edge, while blue and deep purple cloaked the west, the final dusky stars still shining defiantly. Time itself seemed frozen; the world was caught between night and day, between dreaming and waking, between exhaling and inhaling.

            Link rode out of the town square and approached the guardhouse nestled between the raised drawbridge and the awe-inspiring heights of the white walls, white banners rippling in the breeze to display the golden phoenix cradling the Triforce. A guard stood next to the gate, holding his spear a few degrees from erect, conversing with a merchant sitting in a horse-drawn cart filled with crates. The man gestured broadly, his whining voice carrying to Link.

            “... must get these fruits to Kakariko before they spoil!” the merchant explained. “The shipment was late in coming, you see, and any day now they could go bad. The people of Kakariko pay dearly for these fruits, and if I make it there before they rot, I’m suddenly a wealthy man. If not, I lose all my money; they cost me that much! Please open the gate?”

            “Absolutely not,” the guard replied in a weary voice, no doubt longing for his bed, alcohol, a pretty girl to fondle, or all three. “You’ll just have to wait like anyone else would. I wouldn’t even open these gates for the lord regent himself, not unless it was a matter of war.”

            “You don’t seem to understand, Captain,” the merchant wheedled. “You see, my life is destroyed if these fruits are unworthy of market.”

            “Don’t try to flatter me,” the soldier snapped irritably. “If they go bad, sell that fancy coat of yours. Even the king never wore such a flashy thing.”

            “No one would know if you lowered the bridge,” the man said.

            Link reined Epona in beside the cart. The mare eyed the gelding in the harness, and she laid her ears back, baring her teeth. Stroking her neck and whispering soothing words in her ear, Link managed to calm her, though she still eyed the other horse like a warhorse about to attack. The merchant regarded the roan mare, and he nodded thoughtfully before studying Link. He stared back at the plump man flatly, at his silken coat practically made of spangles that glittered like some fool entertainer’s garments, and the merchant curled his lip and faced forward, mumbling something about “peasant boys with swords and warhorses.”

            Birdsong filled the air, and Link held Epona back as she began inching nearer the gate. She complied, standing still, and then the drawbridge began its ponderous descent, lowered on heavy chains as thick as a man’s leg. The merchant sat forward, worrying his lower lip with his teeth, practically bouncing on the seat of the cart.

            “Come one, come on, faster!” he muttered.

            The guard yawned widely, pushing his helm back. “The men working the drawbridge could just let gravity do all the work and let the winch unwind itself.”

            “Then why don’t they?” the plump man demanded.

            “Because the weight of the bridge, falling that fast, would tear the wall apart, which would obstruct the flow of the river, which would then stop trade and such, as well as leave the town defenseless.”

            As the drawbridge settled to earth, the merchant snapped, “About time!” He slapped the reins across the gelding’s back, and the horse strained against his harness. Slowly, the cart lurched into motion behind him, and he plodded out across the drawbridge spanning Zora’s River. “I just hope my fruit hasn’t spoiled!”

            Link watched the cart turn down the road leading to Kakariko before heeling Epona forward. She walked across the bridge, stepping carefully, almost fastidiously. Before them, Hyrule Field spread endlessly, gently rolling hills of rippling grass and scatters of wildflowers, mountains ringing the northern end and Lon Lon Ranch standing atop a rise a day’s ride away.

            Reaching through the connection between him and Zelda, Link once again ran into a barrier obstructing his path. He strained against it, and gasped in pain as iron needles pierced his brain, as a metal band crushed his heart. Desperately fighting, he retreated, and the pain ended, leaving him panting over the pommel of the saddle. Epona whickered and rolled her eyes, obviously concerned.

            “I’m fine, girl,” he assured, patting her. “Still south, though.”

            Two days of travel, and the dawn of the third day saw horse and rider staring at massive Lake Hylia. But the journey across the large plain was far from uneventful. An hour of brisk trotting was followed by half an hour of Link jogging beside Epona, gripping her bridle--an old campaigning trick. However, on his second dismount, he noticed another rider approaching from the east. When the time came to once again swing up into the saddle, the lathered gray horse dashed toward him, energy lagging. A splinter of a man with a beak-like nose beat at the poor animal with a riding whip, shouting, Keep on, lazy brute! Hail, rider!”

            Link reined Epona in, brows lowering dangerously. Beak-nose jerked the reins back sharply, and his gray shrieked in protest, pulled roughly to its haunches before skidding to a halt, trembling with exertion. The man sat upright in his gaudy red saddle, adjusting his flashy blue coat, yet Link noted the unnecessary tightness in his legs, the slightly awkward way he handled the reins in his gloved hands. The man was not a skilled or experienced rider.

            “What do you want?” Link asked. “To kill your horse? If you rode all the way here at a gallop, it’s a wonder you didn’t ride the poor thing into the ground, or cause it to snap its leg. Another few minutes at that pace, and you would have killed it!”

            The man opened his mouth indignantly when the accusation began, and as it went on, he only drew himself higher. “How dare you?” he demanded. “Who do you think you are, a flaming lord? You don’t look one to me.”

            “Yeah, and who are you?” Link retorted. “Some little upstart who’s stolen a horse and run away from home?” He raised an eyebrow as he noted the short sword at beak-nose’s hip. “Or a knight?”

            Bristling, he said, “Huh, what’s wrong with a sword? You carry one, too.”

            “I know how to use it,” he responded, heeling Epona to a walk. “The way you carry yourself speaks volumes; you’ve never even drawn the thing.”

            The man rode his gray to Epona’s side, glaring at Link with hazel eyes. “Right. You think you’re so big, pretending to know so much about swords and horses. Who did you sleep with that you’re running away, yeah? I’m the best swordsman where I come from.”

            Noting the man’s rounded ears, Link asked, “And where’s that? Annith?”

            He licked his lips, uncertainty flashing across his narrow face. “Actually, yes. How’d you know?”

            “You’re obviously not Hyrulian, not with that thing.” He indicated the man’s saddle. “Even the Royal Family only adds touches of gold or silver to its saddles, and not even those back-stabbing lords and ladies would dare add more. You came from the east as well, and no humans live in Kakariko. And that leaves Annith. What are you doing so far west?”

            Shifting, he nervously tugged at the collar of his coat. “I was sent. By the prince. I’m one of his best friends, you see. King Jarj has been gone for awhile, and without him to intimidate--or at least fight against--Verysith, that country is itching to invade and conquer. I’m doing this to help my country.”

            “Peaceful times these might be, but you should never let your guard down. You should never travel alone unless you can defend yourself.”

            Once the gray had recovered enough from the idiotic gallop, Link taught the man--he introduced himself as Hend, adding so many flowery titles before and after that he nearly missed the man’s name--the trot-jog trick. He seemed surprised that horses could not keep up a gallop for days on end.

            “But that is how they do it in all the stories!” he protested. “A ten day gallop, and then battle!”

            “The horse would die long before then,” Link said bluntly.

            When they stopped for the night, parallel with Lon Lon Ranch but to the east of it, Link dug out some food and ate it after seeing Epona hobbled. Hend watched him, nibbling on some sort of delicacy unsuitable for travel, and then he blurted out, “I didn’t bring anything to tie my horse with. How do I stop him from running away?”

            Link snorted. “Wrap the reins around your hand. That way, you’ll at least be woken if something spooks the animal, as your arm might be torn from your socket.”

            Hend started to laugh, then noticed Link’s flat expression. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You are!”

            Using his blanketroll as a pillow, Link wrapped his cloak around him. “Go to sleep,” he ordered, and immediately drifted off, an ability learned when he could only sleep infrequently, in the worst conditions possible.

            Almost immediately, the nightmare began.

            He was naked, dangling from a ceiling by iron manacles biting into his wrists, and something struck his back. Fighting back a scream, he searched desperately for the magic that lived within every Hylian’s blood, that few could wield with much power. He only wanted to stop the pain--a piece of white-hot metal struck his shoulder, and he howled in agony--but the magic was not there; it was as though it had been torn away. Something sharp lashed across his back, and a fresh scream tore from his lips before he fell.

            Landing on his front, Link sobbed at the agony--and immediately stopped. No pain existed. Pushing himself to his feet, he turned slowly, taking in the high balconies surrounding him, all with large arched windows but no doors. He was in a courtyard of sorts, with grass and flowers growing beneath the sun-filled sky, yet he was trapped.

            This is better than that other dream, he thought, walking forward. That had a ring of truth to it; will that happen to me?

            If he was destined to be tortured, there was nothing he could do about it. Still walking, he searched for any way out of the curious place, but saw nothing. The lowest windows were nearly twenty feet above the ground, the stone perfectly smooth and sheer, all of one piece, as impossible as that seemed. And there was nothing in the courtyard with him save grass and flowers.

            Wait. Something golden glimmered ahead, catching the sun. Breaking into a jog, Link hurried forward, eyes fixed on the golden object. Quite suddenly, he saw a large mirror, golden-framed and polished to dazzling brilliance, standing on legs worked to resemble taloned feet. He halted before it, staring at his reflection as it wavered and disappeared beneath a different scene.

            He sat a black warhorse, two score mercenaries waiting behind him, a pack of rabid dogs to loose and ravage at his word. Spotting a family of emaciated people running for safety, he pointed at them, and the sell-swords howled and whooped in glee, charging at them. The fleeing people noticed, of course, and forced their trembling limbs to work faster, but they were soon buried beneath the armed men, chopped to pieces.

            I never did that! Link protested, gripping the frame as he tried to tear his gaze away. That wasn’t me!

            Then how about this? a soft, dark version of his voice responded.

            The surface of the mirror clouded for a moment, then cleared. Link saw himself, a boy of ten, the Kokiri Sword clenched in his fist. His tunic was torn and smeared with dirt and soot, ash had settled in his fair hair, and a cut sliced his right cheek open, barely missing his eye. Standing on an island of stone in a sea of molten rock, he stared down at the wounded Lizalfos, her ankle broken and blood covering her scaly hide. She stared up at him, pleading in her yellow eyes.

            “Spare me,” she hissed desperately, claws inching toward her sword.

            Wordlessly, the boy Link kicked it into the magma, where it hissed and melted. The Lizalfos shivered despite the waves of heat dancing in the air.

            “Please,” she begged. “I will tell my people not to harm you. No Lizalfos will ever trouble you again!”

            The boy Link hesitated, then sheathed his small sword. Bending, he draped the Lizalfos’s arm across his shoulders, staggering under her weight. She hissed her thanks, her words becoming unintelligible as she slipped into her kind’s sibilant accent. He helped her to the edge of the island.

            And then he dropped her into the magma.

            The Lizalfos had time for one pained shriek before she was sucked under, before the molten rock covered her scrabbling claws as they searched for something, anything, to hold onto. And the boy Link just watched it all.

            I didn’t know what to do, Link thought desperately. I panicked! What if she had been tricking me?

            Then explain this, that dark voice prompted.

            Another vision began in the mirror, and Link stared at the northern section of Clock Town under the night sky. He saw himself right away, a boy of eleven with a cynical cast to his eyes that had been lacking in his ten-year-old version. An old woman with a large bag over her shoulder walked slowly down the only road, but she could not see him, hidden as he was behind a tree. Only one other person was visible, a skinny bald man that strolled out, apparently to saunter past the woman. At the last second, however, he struck her, knocking her to the ground. He snatched the bag as she started the cry of thief, and he dashed for the exit.

            “Not this time, Sakon,” Link muttered, drawing an arrow on his bow and aiming at the man. Fire burst to life around the point, and he released the bowstring.

            The arrow struck the man, but the flames leaped to the bag and set off the bombs within. A fiery roar filled the night, and light blazed brightly as the explosives blasted apart, tearing Sakon into bits of bloody flesh that were burned and incinerated before they landed.

            He was a thief, Link thought, almost pleadingly. He deserved whatever misfortune befell him. And he didn’t stay dead; when I went back in time, he was alive again.

            You make excuses for the dark deeds of your past, for the dark deeds of our past. You didn’t have to kill either of them. You could have simply left the Lizalfos there; you could have tackled Sakon and torn the bag from him. But you murdered them.

            It wasn’t murder! I had no choice!

            You deny those deeds. “And I embrace them.”

            Whirling around, Link stared into his face, the skin and hair blacker than a raven’s wing, the eyes twin pools of gleaming crimson. Instinctively, he took a step back, bumping into the mirror as he groped for the hilt of his sword.

            Dark Link smiled cruelly. “Yes, you and I are more alike than you would like to believe, aren’t we? After all, we are the same person.”

            “You’re not real,” Link protested. “This is a dream!”

            “Dream this may be, yet I am as real as you, perhaps more.” A sword suddenly appeared in Dark Link’s left hand, twin to the Master Sword save for its black color. As suddenly as it had appeared, the blade winked out of existence. “But in a dream, things can happen that are impossible in the waking world of rational thought.”

            Every cruel deed, every act of malice and spite, hatred and rage, flashed through Link’s mind, threatening to overwhelm him with despair. Falling to his knees, he clutched his head, willing the images to stop. He loathed himself as those visions persisted, hated himself and everything to do with himself. He was no better than Dark Link, really; he had thought himself noble, and good? A fine joke.

            Filled with despair and self-revulsion, Link stared up at the physical embodiment of his own inner evil--which still dwelled within him, he understood now--and gasped. A mirror image of himself smiled in a condescending manner, fair bangs shadowing blue eyes set in a face with skin somewhere between pale and tan.

            “Look at yourself,” he commanded, gesturing to the mirror. “Look at what you are, really.”

            Filled with trepidation, Link turned his head and met the scarlet eyes of his pure black reflection.

            He sat up immediately, covered in cold sweat, and pressed a gauntleted hand to his hammering heart. Glancing down, he sighed in relief at the sight of his normal colored fingers, and then he glanced to the east. Dawn threatened to break at any time, so he rose, lashed his blanketroll behind his saddle, and nudged Hend’s snoring form with the toe of his boot. “Hey, get up.”

            The man gave a start and sat upright, eyes wide as he stared up at Link. “What did you wake me for?” he demanded grumpily. “I was having a lovely dream about a serving maid I knew, a woman just plump enough--”

            “We’re going,” Link interrupted flatly, removing the hobbles around Epona’s front legs. She held still as he packed them away before mounting. “Now.”

            Grumbling under his breath, the man awkwardly climbed into the gray’s saddle, holding the reins too tightly for the good-natured animal. “All right, all right. Why are we going so early?”

            “Gets us to our destination faster.”

            “And where is our destination?”

            Link did not answer.

            By noon, he could see the treetops of Kokiri Forest rising to their left, but he felt no pang of homesickness. The forest had never been his home, and never would be. Instead, he fixed his gaze on the path leading still further south, to Lake Hylia and whatever lay beyond.

            By noon, Hend was complaining.

            “They never say how much sitting in a saddle hurts!” he said loudly, knuckling the small of his back. “Aren’t we ever going to stop?” And, a few minutes later, “I’m hungry. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a roast lamb right now!”

            By noon, Link noticed a pair of riders approaching from the west at a swift canter. He said nothing, for fear Hend would take it into his head to confront them himself. Even at the distance, he could tell the pair had been all but born on a horse’s back, making his handling of Epona crude and unskilled. That, combined with the animals’ leggy stature, identified the pair in a heartbeat.

            “Riders to the right!” Hend suddenly yelled, sawing on the reins. His poor horse turned, and he slapped its croup with his whip.

            Leaning out of his saddle, Link seized the gray’s bridle, halting it. “They’re Gerudo!” he hissed. “The worst thing you could do is ride up to a pair of Gerudo and start talking to them the way you did to me yesterday!”

            The man fought to free his horse. “Gerudo, eh? I’ll kill them! Give humans a bad name, and just because they have round ears!”

            Link groaned as he watched the Gerudo draw their horses in, shading their eyes as they stared at them. Having no desire to encounter any of their kind at the moment, he suddenly released the gray. “Fine, then. Go to your death.”

            Clinging to the pommel of his red saddle, Hend hardly waited before digging his heels into the horse’s sides. It sprang forward, and he nearly toppled off, clinging to the reins with all his might. He pulled the gray back, and it reared, whinnying in protest to the rough treatment. To the west, the two Gerudo headed toward them.

            “Time to be out of here,” Link muttered. He booted Epona forward, and she dashed off, legs flashing as she distanced herself from the gray. After a few minutes, Link reined her in to a trot.

            Hend left Link’s mind as he continued on, drawing near the remains of the old fort that had once guarded the Lake Road. The road itself was little more than a broad dirt path now, with bits of paving stones occasionally working their way to the surface, and the fort was reduced to the four corner towers, with iron fences rusting between them. As the sun slid beneath the western horizon, he camped near the ruins, falling asleep immediately.

            He woke before dawn, unusually refreshed because of a lack of nightmares. Humming to himself, he mounted and urged Epona forward. As they neared the spike-topped fences, she picked up speed, and then she gathered herself and leaped over them. Another quick dash, and she sailed over the obstruction, landing with a thud. Link let her regain her footing, and then he heeled the mare forward.

            The sunrise over Lake Hylia was an impressive sight, for pale light clung to the eastern horizon before the sun broke over the rim of the world, the great orb gilding the wave tips with gold as they lapped at the banks. Staring across the shimmering water, Link saw the distant cliffs as a dark band, land barely hinted at. Dismounting, he took Epona’s reins and led her forward on foot till they stood on a slight cliff overlooking the lake. 

            What to do, what to do? he wondered. He sensed along the mental connection again, taking care not to press against the obstruction, and he still felt drawn south. But how?

            “Off on another adventure, eh?”

            Link glanced in the direction of the voice, startled to see the frail old researcher standing outside his house, his wrinkled skin like thin white parchment pulled over his bones, his hair tufts of snowy whiteness. The man cackled and said, “You can’t cross Lake Hylia on a horse.”

            “You mean there’s a way to go south from here?” Link asked.

            The old man nodded. “The River Diamond flows out of the lake, into the Flatland Wilds.”

            “How am I supposed to go down the river?” Link demanded irritably. “By swimming?”

            “Oh, there’s no need. Only a Zora could make it across without drowning, but they avoid the southern end of the lake.” The researcher pointed at the trees standing, dark and tangled, along the water’s western shore, their branches hung with draperies of gray moss. “There’s a small inlet there, with a canoe that I used to use in my younger days. That’s a much better way than swimming.”

            Link eyed the man for a moment, then led Epona as he walked toward the indicated spot, passing over a natural bridge spanning the river flowing from Gerudo Valley, the water churned to white by the rocky falls predominant in the deep canyon. He wrapped the reins around a low-hanging branch, then waded out into the shallows, searching among the close-growing trees, his fingers trailing over slimy wood. Unexpectedly, he found a narrow path cut through the tangle, and he followed it to the inlet, a wooden canoe floating on the placid waters. He examined it, finding the oar resting beneath the seat. Sighing, he forded a way out of the secluded area.

            “Well, girl, I guess this is where you and I part,” Link said to Epona’ stroking her. “Return to Malon, okay? She’ll take care of you if I don’t make it back.”

            With an unusual display of affection, the roan mare placed her head on his shoulder for a moment. He patted her, then removed the saddlebags, choosing to leave the blanketroll lashed to her saddle. “Go to Malon,” he ordered softly, then slapped her croup. She dashed off, and he watched sadly as galloped away, her creamy mane and tail streaming out behind her. When she disappeared, he picked up the bags and draped them over his shoulder before returning to the inlet.

            Link stowed the saddlebags and rucksack in the bow of the canoe, then sat near the aft. Picking up the oar, he used it like a punting pole, pushing it against the bottom. The sleek vessel shot out from among the trees and into Lake Hylia, rising and falling with the waves. Link paddled, angling toward the cliffs that    bordered the lake to the south. After he passed the island that stood over the Water Temple, the waves increased, but the canoe cut through them smoothly. Glancing over the sides, he noticed fish darting just beneath the surface, bass and trout, pike and walleye, even the twisting form of a Hylian Loach, just for a brief moment before it disappeared. Overhead, gulls cried out raucously as they dove and snatched up fish, squabbling over the food, and a heron flew among them for an instant, regally ignoring them as it headed for the eastern shore and the marshes its kind preferred.

            After an hour, the southern cliffs loomed high in Link’s sight, dominating the view with their dark, craggy surfaces. Hundreds of gull nests sat on the rocks, and flocks of the white birds burst upward as the canoe neared, accompanied by threatening squawks. Link ignored them, searching for the River Diamond. Unexpectedly, he found a narrow fissure, just wide enough for the canoe to slip through. He dug the oar in deep, sending the vessel through the cleft.

            Almost immediately, the river broadened, the sheer cliffs no longer threatening to smother whoever came by despite continuing to loom overhead. Link smiled; the rocky bluffs provided total shade save for a narrow strip of golden light to his right. The swift current seized the canoe and carried it along without need of a guide. Realizing this, Link placed the oar beneath the seat and leaned back, trailing his fingers in the deliciously cool water.

            I haven’t seen any diamonds, he thought jokingly, in an uncommonly good mood. I wonder where they are?

            Around noon, Link grabbed one of the saddlebags and pulled out some flatbread and cheese. He devoured the food, and then, instead of drinking from a waterskin, he cupped some of the river water in his hand and drank noisily. The cool, sweet water tasted delicious, especially to a dry throat, and he quickly brought another handful to his face. Sighing contentedly, he watched the cliffs begin to grow shorter, their faces weathered to reveal pale stone beneath the dark outer layer.

            Suddenly, a dark rock appeared in the middle of the river. Grabbing the oar, Link paddled around it, twisting to study it as he passed it safely, his brows drawing together. Facing forward, he noticed two more further downstream, their surfaces glistening with the water rushing around them, water flung into the air when it crashed against them. An ominous rushing filled the air, coming from just beyond the curve of the river. The current gathered speed and strength, pulling the canoe along. More rocks burst from the river, impeding his path, and as he whipped around the bend, Link swore fluently.

            Swift and dangerous rapids rushed ahead, the water battered against rocks of all shapes and sizes. The river frothed before him, churned white and foaming, and the constant droplets thrown high and violently into the air shimmered in every color imaginable as they drifted back down, fracturing and refracting the light like a thousand sparkling prisms till they dazzled the eye.

            “Seems I’ve found those diamonds,” Link muttered, paddling backward furiously, trying to assess the flow of the river in the few seconds of relative safety. The relentless pull of the river snatched the canoe and hurtled it forward, heading straight for the rocks. Link paddled swiftly, desperately, barely avoiding the nearest slab of granite.

            The canoe bucked like a wild horse, threatening to throw him into the river, where he would be dashed to pieces against the stones. The spray flung up by the rocks and the water surging over the sides of the vessel soon soaked him, yet he struggled onward bravely, fighting to avoid obstacles. He had no other choice.

            Without warning, the canoe scraped against a rock, and then the vessel spun around. Working to correct the course, Link swore as the canoe struck another obstacle, and then the craft was thrown into the air, landing in a huge splash and slamming his jaws together painfully. Another toss upward, this one smaller than the first, and then the current flung the vessel up and forward. Link gripped the sides of the canoe as tightly as he could, bracing himself for the landing.

            A splash that drenched him more completely than the rest of the battle through the rapids heralded the canoe’s return to the water. The vessel rocked from side to side, and then stilled, barely moving at all.

            Curious, Link glanced around. He was in a wider section of the river that lacked any kind of true current, most likely a sort of pond. To his right, the cliff sloped down to a flat piece of rock, and ahead, the river narrowed again, the rippling surface of the river telling of the swift but calm current. Noting the fading light, Link wearily paddled to the shore, sore from the brief time traversing the rapids.

            Stepping out of the canoe, he dragged it onto the piece of land, well away from the river. Taking off his sopping cloak, he spread it out to dry on the rocks still warm from the sun. After a moment’s thought, he unbuckled his bandolier and set his sword and shield--along with his bow and quiver--in the canoe before stripping off his cap, gauntlets, tunic, and shirt. Laying them beside his cloak, he wrung his hair out before rummaging in his packs for something to eat, selecting an apple, some meat, and bread. Sitting down, he leaned against the hull of the craft, the rough wood scratching his bare back. He ate automatically, swallowing the food without tasting it.

            Meal finished, Link stood and walked back to the river. He squatted at its edge and cupped some water into his hands, drinking. Refreshed, he stretched out on the flat rock, watching the stars come out slowly.

            “It’s so peaceful,” he murmured to himself. “I can’t even hear the rapids. I’m glad I passed them in daylight.”

            “Oh, they get worse up ahead,” a light, high-pitched voice informed from the direction of the canoe.


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