Chapter 4: Beyond the Rapids
Link sprang up and whirled to face the vessel, automatically reaching for his sword. Remembering it was in the canoe, he clenched his fists and called, “Come out! Show yourself!”
“Men,” the voice said, with obvious disgust. “You hear something you don’t understand, you think it’s an enemy.” From behind the canoe, a fairy rose, surrounded by a nimbus of pink light. “You all think the same way.”
Link’s brows lowered. “Who are you?”
“I’m Pelayla,” the fairy said pertly, wings fluttering.
“Why are you here?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Pelayla retorted, flying a little closer. “I like adventure and excitement. I was supposed to be some forest shrimp’s guardian or whatnot, but forest shrimps are soooo boring and predictable. They spend their entire lives huddling in their little forest, needing the magic of that place to survive. You, on the other hand, seem exciting. You dress like a forest shrimp, but you’re not. For one, you’re grown up, and you also carry weapons. Never seen a forest shrimp with weapons.”
Link stared at the fairy. “
Forestshrimps? Do you mean the Kokiri?”
“Eh, Kokiri, forest shrimp, same thing. Who really cares what ya call ‘em?” She shrugged her wings. “Anyway, what I wanna know is if I can come with you.”
Unsure if he had heard her right, he blinked once. “What?”
“I wanna come with you. See some sights, fight some fights, spend some nights in desperate flight.” She giggled, obviously amused with her rhyme. “I do, I really do.”
“Uh.... I guess you can come,” Link said finally, unsure what to think of the fairy and the sudden prospect of being saddled with a companion.
“Oh, hurrah!” Pelayla shot up before sinking back down. “I’ll have such fun! Hey, you. You haven’t told me your name yet.”
“Link. Link Dragonslayer.”
“Link? Hmm, odd name. Well, Link-o, you better get some sleep.”
“I said you could come with me,” he said pointedly, “not boss me around.”
Pelayla darted over to his drying shirt. “Well, sorry!” she exclaimed, drawing out the last word. “Are you always this irritable?”
“I thought I was done with fairies,” he muttered beneath his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” he replied, eyeing the fairy.
“You said something,” she insisted angrily.
“No, I didn’t,” he said, laughing inside. “You must be hearing things. Tragic, for one so young.”
“I’ll have you know I’m nine hundred eighty-two years old, thank you very much.”
“Listen, will you just shut up? I wanna get some sleep.”
“Oh, fine,” Pelayla responded. “I could use a little nap myself.”
Grabbing his damp cloak, Link bunched it up as a makeshift pillow. Lying down, he rested his head on it, wondering what to make of the fairy. When Navi had come to him, it had begun the turning point in his life. With Tatl, he had been forced into a rough companionship with her, both less than fond of the other. Contemplating what awaited him with this Pelayla--she certainly seemed more jovial than Navi, and nicer than Tatl--he gazed up at the stars.
“Ever wonder what they are?” he asked quietly, not expecting an answer. “Some say they’re bursts of magic left over from the earliest spells, or the souls of the people who died in the first conflict in this world. I don’t believe either of those ideas. I think they’re ancient sentinels appointed by the goddesses to watch over the world, reminders that the Golden Three care for us still.”
“Sounds lovely,” Pelayla murmured sleepily.
Tired from battling the rapids, Link watched the stars for awhile before drifting into slumber, filled with a sense of well-being.
That well-being did not last long. Almost immediately, he dreamed of being tortured again, the techniques used to hurt him growing ever more creative and painful, ripping screams from his throat and seeming to pierce his very soul with agony. He thrashed about in his manacles, wishing for death, when he managed to claw his way awake.
Heart pounding, Link just laid there, slowing his breathing. Though light filled the area, the sun was not yet visible, still hidden beneath the cliffs. Stretching, he stood and walked to the river, squatting at its edge. He cupped some of the cool, clear water in his hands and drank, quenching his thirst before splashing some on his face.
Fully awake and with the memory of the nightmare fading--though it remained lumped in the back of his head, alongside all his other dreams stemmed from the second sight--Link turned around and smiled. Pelayla laid on his cloak, right next to where his head had rested, apparently asleep. Silently, Link crept to her and picked her up carefully. Walking back to the river, he knelt and plunged the slumbering fairy under the water.
She shot back up instantly, gasping and spluttering, her wings sending droplets flying as she beat them furiously. “What was that for?” she demanded indignantly.
He laughed. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve always wanted to do that to a fairy, but I never had the chance.
Her normally pink light flashed to bright crimson. Link knew it meant she was enraged and about to attack; he had once seen Tatl become the same color and attack Sakon. Quickly, he said, “Let’s get ready to go.”
Pelayla huffed, but her color returned to normal. “Incredible. For a man, you’re really sensible,” she said sarcastically.
“And you’re so wise for a fairy,” he retorted, just as acerbically.
“Ooh, he’s a witty one, ain’t ‘e? Well, bub, I thought we were leaving.”
“Hold your horses,” Link muttered, opening a saddlebag and removing an apple. “I need breakfast, you know.”
“Fine, eat your stupid apple.” Pelayla flew back and forth. “Just take as long as ya like. I mean, who cares if it’s past noon by the time we leave? Oh, and don’t think of offering the lady any of your food. Oh no, just shove it all in your mouth, you great pig, and leave me to starve.”
“Do you want some?” Link asked, proffering the half-eaten apple.
Sniffing, the fairy turned away from him. “I do not subside on such crude sustenance; fairies live off magic. Pure, unsullied magic, such as is rarely found with any trained as a mage or sorcerer.”
Finishing the fruit, Link tossed the apple core away and gathered his now-dry clothes. After a little repacking, he managed to stuff them all into the waterproof knapsack. The rest of his gear he left in the prow of the canoe, next to the bags. He pushed the vessel into the river and jumped in, settling himself in the rear of the craft. Grabbing the oar, he sent the canoe forward with long, deep strokes.
“Hmm, you’re good at this,” Pelayla commented, perching on the edge of the canoe.
“Thanks,” Link replied. He remembered becoming intensely curious about canoes when he and some fellow Gorons had gone to the mountain lake and seen some Hylians shooting across the water on the sleek vessels. The other Gorons had balked at being practically unsupported over such deep water, but he had asked the townsfolk about it. Delighted at his interest, they taught him to handle a canoe, though the largest barely held his weight.
The river was relatively straight and smooth, allowing Link to relax somewhat. Occasionally, he paddled around a lone rock fallen long ago from the cliffs, but those were the extents of the obstacles. As the sun finally rose high enough to be seen between the bluffs, he grabbed a waterskin and dumped it over his head, cooling himself down. The water ran down his back and over his bare chest, relieving his hot skin and causing him to shiver pleasantly.
“Rapids ahead,” Pelayla warned, fluttering over and landing beside him. “The worst of the river. Around this next bend.”
Link noticed the current picking up, the water growing choppier. Once again, he heard a low rushing, and as the canoe drew near the turn, he could distinguish water slapping against rocks. Hurtling around the corner, he immediately paddled to avoid a large stone. He glanced at the mesmerizing colors caused by the flying water refracting the light before focusing all his attention on the foaming river.
“Here we go!” Pelayla cried.
The swirling water seized the canoe and threw it straight at a jagged rock. Link dug his oar deep, paddling furiously. The rock scratched the hull, but he paddled away before it could cause more damage. Link avoided more rocks, but the river began plunging up and down, the water beaten to miniature waves by the sharp rocks lying just beneath the surface. In no time at all, the canoe dipped and plunged dangerously, threatening to toss its passengers into the deadly river.
Spray from the river soon soaked both Link and Pelayla, and more water sloshed around in the bottom of the canoe. Suddenly, the river tossed the vessel into the air. The stern landed first, jarring Link and drenching him further. When the prow smashed into the river, it veered to the left, straight at the cliff. Try as he might, Link could not turn the canoe. Bracing himself, he reached out with the oar.
“What are you doing?” Pelayla shrieked over the roar of the rapids.
“Getting us out of here alive!” he shouted back.
The oar hit the bluff with enough force to numb both of Link’s arms. Forcing his tired muscles to work, he pushed off, but the canoe continued toward the cliffs. Carefully, he made his way to the bow and pushed off again in another forceful impact that came close to breaking some bones. This time, the vessel headed to the middle of the river. Returning to the stern, he nearly tumbled into the water as the canoe lurched unexpectedly.
“Not much farther,” Pelayla encouraged. “It’s not much farther.”
Without warning, the canoe hurtled over a small waterfall, throwing Link painfully to his front. Barely managing to stay in, he huddled in the bottom of the vessel, ignoring the water sloshing over him. With a loud splash, the canoe returned to the river.
Link held perfectly still for a few moments, waiting for the canoe to stop rocking. A gentle current dragged it along at the speed of a casual walk, and he sat up cautiously and looked around. The land spread out before him, perfectly flat and occasionally dotted with small clumps of stunted trees, though he noticed some mountains far distant to the west. The River Diamond continued south, meandering through the plain.
“The Flatland Wilds,” Pelayla said.
“Does nothing live here?” Link asked, returning to his seat in the stern.
“Animals do,” the fairy replied. “But no people, except for the nomadic Keaton Clans, but they stay closer to the Serpent’s River than the Diamond. This land is part of no country or kingdom--because there’s nothing worth having here--but it is the most direct path to Karradai.”
“Karradai? What’s that?” Link asked as he began to paddle.
“The kingdom to the south,” Pelayla explained. “It’s fairly large, with a typical monarchy government. It certainly hasn’t had as many wars as Hyrule, and thus more of its old cities are intact.”
Is this Karradai where Zelda is? Link wondered. Is it somehow related to that prophecy?
Remembering the prophecy, he went to the fore of the canoe and rummaged through the rucksack, smiling inside as his fingers found everything as dry as before. Finding the parchment, he sat back in the aft and unrolled it, pursuing its mysteries again.
“What’s that?” Pelayla asked, hovering above his shoulder.
“A prophecy, I think,” Link replied. “Though I don’t really understand any of it.”
“Really? I thought the first line was obvious.”
He stared at the fairy sideways. “What’s it mean, then?”
“Well, it’s basically saying that in order to open the gate to the Sacred Realm, you need to do all this other stuff.”
“The Sacred Realm,” Link breathed. That was one possibility that had not crossed his mind.
“Yup. And,” the fairy continued, “if you have access to the Sacred Realm, you have access to the Evil Realm, too. It’s just an offshoot of the Sacred Realm, really, created to hold the Great King of Evil. So if someone entered the Sacred Realm, it would be relatively easy for them to open up the Evil Realm.”
Questions raced through Link’s mind, so he chose the first one that had popped up. “How do you know about Ganondorf?”
Pelayla snorted. “Oh, him. Every fairy knows about him. I’m more surprised that you know about him.”
“I’m the Hero of Time,” he replied quietly.
“What?” the fairy exclaimed. “Well, that explains a lot. No wonder you’re carrying a strange prophecy around.”
Link rolled up the yellow parchment and placed it back in the waterproof knapsack. As he resumed paddling, he asked, “How do you know so much about the Sacred Realm?”
“I don’t know how, I just do; every fairy does, but some know more than others. But did you know a horse and rider are approaching?”
Startled, Link glanced around as Pelayla sat down on the seat. Off to the east, he noticed a horse with a man on its back facing them, the man shading his eyes despite the fact that the sun was behind him, turing him into a dark shape devoid of features. The horse trotted forward, and Link did not know whether to be relieved or worried that the man rode extremely well, with as much skill as he himself possessed. Just to be sure, he reached forward and grabbed his sword, resting it across his knees.
“Whoa the river!” the rider called as he reined his mount in beside the left bank.
Link plunged the oar straight down into the river, water swirling around it as he halted the canoe and studied man and horse. The black stallion had a tall, proud neck with an arch, a deep chest, and strong withers. His long, solid legs supported him sturdily and hinted at promises of great speed, with short cannons and a good angle to his fetlocks. Easily a match for Epona--perhaps even better--Link nodded once, appreciatively, and turned his attentions on the rider.
The man appeared to be his own age, eighteen or so, and Link judged the newcomer to be the shorter by about a finger’s width, though he possessed broader shoulders. The man’s shaggy brown hair shadowed his bright green eyes yet somehow seemed to frame the jagged scar running beneath his left eye, white against his suntanned skin. The tips of his ears showed through his hair, marking him as Hylian, but he dressed like no person in Hyrule, where even the most ambitious of nobles and haughtiest of merchants held some manner of restraint in the choice of their attire. The man wore an open green coat with a plain white shirt beneath it, yet the coat itself was nearly enough to make eyes pop, embroidered so thickly with red and gold on the sleeves that not one trace of green showed through. There were even tiny gems sewn along the cuffs! A dark leather belt with a ruby-eyed golden wolf serving as the buckle held up gray breeches stitched with red and gold flames and tucked into black knee-high boots blessedly free of any sort of embellishment, though they were polished so they reflected the landscape. He even wore an emerald-studded bracelet around his left wrist, engraved with running wolves and connected by a delicate gold chain to a ring as long as one section of his finger, dotted with tiny rubies. But Link noticed the two slightly curved hilts rising above the man’s shoulders, twins of each other and bound only in plain leather. The man knew the idiocy of encrusting weapons with gems, it seemed; he would have to be careful.
“Don’t see many people on the river,” the rider said, snugging silver gloves. They, too, bore embroidery, a red and gold dragon with outspread wings. “Where are you from?”
There was something odd in the way the man talked, something almost simplistic about it. “Hyrule,” Link answered. “Who are you? Where are you from?”
The man frowned, scratching his scar with a hand. The action only emphasized the ostentatious gloves, the golden thread actually flashing in the sunlight. “I’m Noah, and I’m from Karradai. I don’t know why, but your words seem... complicated... to me. I understand them, but they sound complex. Who are you?”
“Link. Link Dragonslayer.”
Noah smiled grimly. “Any other Karradaini would kill you for such a name, but I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe that dragons are gods and that they left the world to punish us for our sins.”
“That’s what they believe in Karradai?” Link asked.
“Yeah.” Noah glanced downriver and pointed to a dark spot. “I’ll meet you at that thicket down there. We can talk more there.”
Picking up the oar, Link began paddling. Noah dug his heels into his horse’s sides, and the animal trotted off swiftly, its rider guiding it more with his knees than with the reins he held easily in one hand.
An hour later, Link maneuvered the canoe to the left bank and climbed out, taking only his sword after dragging the front end onto land. Pelayla flew after him as he headed for the stand of trees, wings fluttering slightly. A few minutes later, Noah rode up. Gesturing to the small copse, he dismounted smoothly and led his horse forward on foot.
“You must have incredible strength and endurance to have gotten here so soon,” he said with a slightly crooked smile.
Link shrugged and entered the thicket. If the man meant to lull him into a false sense of security with flattery, he was in for a nasty surprise. Crossing a small clearing, he sat down and watched as Noah wrapped his horse’s reins around a branch.
“That is a magnificent animal,” Link said admiringly. Two can play the flattery game.
Noah stroked the stallion’s nose. “Arzosi is the best of the best. You could buy a manor and its estates--and the titles to go with them!--with the amount I paid for him. And he’s worth every Rupee.”
“Are you a lord, then?”
The man stiffened. “No, not a lord. My mother comes from a long line of merchants, though I’m not that good at haggling. I get so impatient that I’ll pay any price to shut the person up.” He sat down across from Link and suddenly noticed Pelayla. “What is that thing?”
“I am a fairy, not a thing,” she snapped irritably. “And my name is Pelayla. Peh-lay-luh. Pelayla.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you, Pelayla,” Noah said courteously, inclining his head respectfully. “I have never before had the honor of meeting a fairy.”
She sniffed loudly. “You’ll do, I suppose.”
“So, Link, did you actually kill a dragon, or is your name only boasting?”
Link clenched his fists, anger seething within him. He dares doubt me? But maybe he hopes to make me so furious that I lose my head and attack him blindly. Perhaps he wishes to only see how well I can control my temper. With great effort, he relaxed. “I slew the evil dragon Volvagia.”
“Really? Interesting.” He still sounded skeptical. “I assume you’re traveling to Karradai?”
“Well, I need to go south,” Link replied. “The Flatland Wilds aren’t far enough south.”
Noah laughed. “No, they most likely aren’t. But if you continue to go down this river, there are rapids further on, and the river itself curves to the west, all the way to the Infinite Drop.”
“To the west, there are tall cliffs with sheer drops,” Noah explained. “The Infinite Drop is a massive waterfall, about three leagues tall.”
“So, what are you saying?” Link asked.
“You can leave your canoe here and continue on foot,” he replied. “The first town is about a day’s walk from here, and you can purchase a horse there.”
“Thanks for the information.”
“No problem. And, I’d be happy to accompany you as a guide.”
Suspicions arose within Link. What if this Noah is a thief, or a crazed murderer? We’ve both been taking measures of each other, eyeing each other. Still, unlike with Hend, he found himself liking the man.
“And who says we need you?” Pelayla asked.
Shifting his gaze to her, Noah donned a smile that tugged at his scar. “I know the country. I know where you can get the best deals, where you can find out almost anything, where names such as Dragonslayer will kill you and where they will make you rich. I know how to distinguish the different guilds of thieves and assassins and adventurers, I know all their tricks. I can help you keep your possessions as well as your lives, and most importantly of all, I can help you go unnoticed, slipping from town to town while you look for whatever you’re looking for.”
“You make it sound like Karradai is a nest of vipers,” Link commented.
“It is if you’re an outsider. Especially if you run afoul of the Riders.”
“Who are the Riders?” Pelayla inquired.
“I’ll tell you later,” Noah promised, standing. “We should get going. Gather your gear.” He untied his horse and led the stallion from the thicket.
Link returned to the canoe and gathered his belongings. Returning to the stand of trees, he peeled off his wet breeches and donned a clean pair while he pulled on a fresh shirt. After shrugging into his tunic and placing his cap upon his head, he slipped on his gauntlets before decking himself out in all his weapons and gear. Seizing his bags, he left the small copse.
“Damn,” Noah said. “Thieves and the like won’t bother you if you go around like that. Not many people go around armed.”
“You do, though,” Link pointed out.
Grinning, the shorter man shrugged. “Not usually, but Jennu and Ailir make good traveling companions. And besides, with garments like these, I have to go armed when I’m outside a city, else I wouldn’t last five minutes.” He gestured at his coat and breeches as though disgusted.
Link brightened, reassessing the man. “You mean you don’t like wearing all that embroidery?”
“What? Of course I like embroidery; everyone with money likes embroidery. I just don’t like standing out, that’s my problem! All my clothes are like these; in fact, these are some of the more subtle of my garments.”
“Subtle!” Pelayla exclaimed. “That thing is grand enough for a king! A king of kings! I never knew such a gaudy thing existed!”
“So, you like wearing clothes like that, but you don’t want to be noticed?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” He swung himself onto his horse with all the grace of a born horseman. “But swords, right. I usually don’t wear them, but I can use them. I’ve never worn them in a city, though.”
“I’ve learned it is unwise to go anywhere unarmed,” Link said quietly.
“Let’s go,” Noah said, squeezing his knees a bit tighter than before and heeling Arzosi forward. The stallion headed off at a slow walk that Link matched easily.
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