Shadowed Fate

By Farore769

Chapter 9: Crystal City


Link did not sleep well. For one, Noah had somehow wound up sleeping in the narrow bed, leaving him with the hard floor. At least two hours passed before he managed to fall asleep. Then the torture nightmare returned, as vivd as though it were real. When he finally woke, the spare blanket he had wrapped around himself was soaked with his sweat. Throwing it off, he simply lay on the floor, stripped to the waist.

            Abruptly, someone scratched at the door. Link grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around himself, standing slowly. A soft knock sounded, and he glanced at Noah. The man lay face down on the bed, one arm dangling over the side, and showed no signs of stirring. Sighing, Link opened the door a crack and gasped in surprise at the familiar pair of dark eyes peering through.

            “May I come in?” Freia inquired with a smile, eyeing the blanket around him with interest.

            Probably thinks I’m stark naked underneath, Link thought sourly, in no mood for congeniality. “Listen, you can’t come in.”

            “Oh?” Her full lips turned down in a very attractive pout. “Why not? You promised.”

            “One of my companions is in here with me,” he explained impatiently. “And weren’t you there when I lost my temper?”

            Tilting her head, she smiled again. “Oh yes, I was. I don’t like a soft man; I like one with temper. But you shouldn’t hold it in so long. You may vent at me whenever you wish.” Abruptly, her eyes narrowed. “One of your companions? Not that red-haired sow!” She forced the door open wider and stuck her head through. Spotting Noah, she blinked in surprise and said, “Oh, Mistress Tirana’s young favorite. Well, I know a place we can go.”

            Link pushed her out into the hall and shoved the door closed in her face. Pressing an ear against the heavy wood, he faintly heard, “Oh, I do like when they play hard-to-get,” followed by slippered feet heading away.

            He sat on the floor, irritably rewrapping the blanket around him. I promised her nothing! The woman has no right to think she can just come in here and--and--!

            Another hour passed, and then another. Just as Link’s eyelids began to slide shut, voices drifted to his ears, loud enough to drag him awake but too soft to understand the words. He glared at the door, but the noise came from the street. Rising to his feet, he padded over the window and peered out and down.

            Three people stood in the middle of the street, all cloaked and hooded. One was obviously female, the other two rather androgynous. The woman and a twisted, contorted figure that seemed familiar faced the other, a person of ordinary stature but so swathed in layers that any hint of a gender was nonexistent.

            “... are sure?” a man’s voice demanded. That came from the person in layered garments.

            “Of course I am,” the woman snapped in a melodious voice, crossing her arms beneath her bosom. “Do you think I would be mistaken?”

            “Just because you are a mage--” the man began hotly.

            “You mistrust all magic-wielders,” the contorted figure said in a throaty hiss, voice so alien Link could not decide whether it was male or female. “Kss, as do I! But she has been put in charge over us, and so we must follow.”

            “I must take my leave now,” the woman said. “You know how impatient Okbrand gets if he is made to wait, even if he is immortal. You two must meet up with Shinabi and the others and rendezvous at the third of our locations. I will return to my post along with Okbrand, Lonnu, and Jarj.”

            The man folded his arms as well, adopting a challenging stance. “What of Ra’noyl?”

            “She follows her orders. Remember, she is ranked higher than you, as I am ranked even higher than her. If everyone does their part, we should succeed. Try not to do anything stupid.” With that, the woman strode for the edge of town, leaving the man and contorted figure.

            “I hate reptiles,” the man said flatly, a sneer in his voice.

            “Too bad,” the disfigured person replied. “Kss! That is much too bad! Now let’s head to the city.” Both people walked away and disappeared down a different street, swallowed up by shadow.

            What was that about? Link wondered, moving from the window. Those people are trying to get something, but for good or ill?


As the horses labored up the hill, Link adjusted his sword so it rode more comfortably across his back. The sun blazed out of a cloudless blue sky, hot enough for true summer rather than spring, and his cloak was packed away as a result. Pelayla flew near his head, somewhat awkwardly because of her damaged wings, while Romani and Ria rode on his left and Noah on his right. As they neared the crest of the hill, the Karradaini proudly proclaimed, “New Crescent, the most beautiful of our open-air cities.”

            As Phantom topped the rise, Link stared in awe. The city was shaped like a crescent, so it appeared the moon had fallen to the earth. Silver-streaked white walls curved around it, shaping it into its scimitar shape, with a silver gate set midway between the two horns and another on the opposite outward curve. The buildings themselves, white with silver roofs, furthered the illusion, lining the white streets that curved in fanciful swirls.

            “Amazing,” Romani breathed. “I’ve never seen a city so big.”

            “We’ll go in by the western gate,” Noah said, pointing to the gate between the horns of the moon. “Then we can find an inn and look in the library.”

            “Does this city have a large library?” Link inquired.

            “The largest,” he replied. “Well, second largest. The one in Crystal City is larger.” Standing in his stirrups, he pointed at a gray rise beyond the city. “The capital is underground, you see.”

            “I’d love to see this Crystal City,” Romani murmured. “It sounds lovely.”

            Sinking back into his saddle, Noah stared down at his hands. “Ah, but New Crescent is here, and Link’s woman might be in there. Most people stop here before heading to the capital.”

            Link said nothing. Instead, he reached through the mental connection between him and Zelda... and sensed her to the south, nearer than when he first set out, but further south than New Crescent. “She’s not here. Let’s go to Crystal City now.”

            Noah stared at him. “How do you know she’s not? Are you a mage? Ah, well, never mind. We can ride around New Crescent.” He booted Arzosi forward, and the stallion started down the slope.

            Urging Phantom on, Link rode down the hill and caught up with Noah. The dun tried to race ahead, wanting to display his fabled speed and endurance, but the Hylian held him back, keeping apace with the black. The others joined them, Pelayla clinging to Romani’s shoulder, and the redhead herself gaped openly at the huge gleaming walls that drew nearer as they rode, towering high overhead. A few dark green banners rippled lazily in a cool breeze, all displaying a dragon and a black bird Link recognized as a Talar, the mount of the Riders.

            “Is that dragon Mother Tala?” Romani asked after awhile, staring at the largest banner and the copper and black dragon marching across it with outspread wings.

            Noah barely spared it a glance. “Yes, that’s Mother Tala, the great goddess that watches over the world. Ha, dragons aren’t even real.”

            “Yes they are,” Link said quietly, in no particular mood to talk. He felt slightly sick, like he had been wounded severely and was only now beginning to register the pain. “I fought and slew one.”

            “Never make such a claim in any settlement except Morda,” Noah warned. “As for dragons.... Ah, maybe you killed the last one. What was its name again?”


            “Well, that is a proper name for a dragon, I guess.” Apparently, he wished for some shade, for he dug out his broad-brimmed hat again and slapped it on, angling it so his face was indistinct.

            Nearly two hours later, they finally reached the tall gray rise sloping upward into a crude semblance of a dome. A dark opening yawned widely in the side facing them, an entrance into a cave. Strangely, a stable sat beside the opening, a group of mounted people stopping and allowing some men to take their horses away.

            “We have to leave the animals in there,” Noah explained, dismounting as a groom ran up.

            “Good day, sirs and madams,” he said, bobbing his head and rubbing his palms together. Another groom hurried up, bowing swiftly. “Now, take whatever supplies you need, and we’ll take care of your horses, don’t you worry. A name, sirs and madams?”

            As Pelayla hid herself in his bag of Rupees, Link waited for Noah to name himself. When the Karradaini stood silently, he sighed and said, “I’m Link.”

            “Very good, sir,” the first groom said, grabbing Phantom’s bridle. The stallion laid his ears back and bared his teeth, but Link soothed the horse while slinging the rucksack across his back and draping his saddlebags over his right shoulder. Seizing Arzosi’s bridle as well, the groom bobbed his head and led the horses away while the other man took Heartfire and Storm.

            “Come on,” Noah prompted, gesturing to the others. “We need to hurry to catch a glider into the city.”

            Wondering what a glider was--and not to mention why they had to leave their horses behind--Link walked toward the entrance swiftly, following Noah. Ria managed to match his pace, the tips of her boots peeking out from beneath the edge of her cloak at every stride, but Romani had to jog to keep up.

            Falling in behind the group of people, they walked through the opening and into a long cave lit with guttering torches. After a few minutes of travel, the cave widened, and then Link stared upward, vainly searching for the cavern ceiling, which soared upward and was cloaked in shadow. An open area of ground spread out before them, a sprawling cabin built frighteningly close to a drop with only darkness beyond, half a dozen burly men leaning against it and another man in an outfit similar to a Rider’s stretching muscular arms nearby.

            “It’s a bottomless ravine,” Noah explained. “Crystal City is the city of Riders, and only Riders can come and go freely and easily. The only way to get across is if you’re a Rider or to take a gilder.”

            “What’s a glider?” Link asked as they halted behind the group of people. Wealthy folk, apparently, the men in thigh-long coats, the women in high-necked gowns, all thickly embroidered from collar to hem. At his question, a few glanced back at him, and then they nodded, one woman going so far as to eye him like some half-wild dog washed and groomed for a visit yet still with a rank odor clinging to him.

            “That,” Noah answered, pointing.

            At first, Link thought the contraption soaring out of the darkness was a dragon with its wings outspread. Yet as it drew near, he realized it was a thing of wood and fabric with a dragon figurehead, wooden seats on its back holding people. As the glider dipped lower, it somehow banked to the left, its tail-shaped rudder moving to the side. He noticed a woman seated on a small platform underneath the body, one hand wrapped around a tiller connected to the rudder. Skillfully, she grabbed the pieces of wood that connected her seat to the rest of the contraption, and then it glided over the clear area. Changing her grip, the woman seized handlebars overhead and pulled on them, lifting herself from the seat. She extended her legs as the glider neared the ground, and the six burly men rushed forward. Her feet touched the ground, and she ran with the momentum of the glider as the men seized various parts. Finally, they managed to halt it, and the people climbed down, taking extreme care around the wings.

            “We have to ride that?” Romani exclaimed, staring at it in something close to awe.

            Wondering how such a thing could hold even one person aloft, Link approached it, paying no mind to the wealthy people he shouldered past. Instead, he headed to the woman, who panted heavily while leaning against the side of the glider, sweat glistening on her plain face and slicking her hair back.

            The seventh man hurried up to her, a broad smile on his face. “That was an excellent landing! You really are getting better.”

            “Thanks,” she replied with a grin, straightening and crossing ams so thick with muscles they reminded Link of a Goron’s. She, too, wore an outfit reminiscent of a Rider’s, though the jerkin was edged in amber thread. “You ready to take this next batch of people to the capital?”

            “I’ve been resting all day,” the man responded. “Wisnil should be arriving within the hour, but Harlen is ready to take that glider. Now you go and eat something. Flying is a demanding occupation.”

            “Indeed it is.” With hardly a backward glance, she strode toward the cabin.

            “Come aboard, come aboard!” the man bellowed jovially, gesturing to the glider.

            The group of wealthy people climbed up, but Link hesitated, unsure if he would trust his life to a thing that seemed so flimsy. Slowly, he clambered onto the wood and fabric structure and cautiously sank into one of the low seats. Noah swung up and settled himself in one before leaning back, completely at his ease. As the final people sat, the man with the muscular arms glanced at the brawny people and said, “All right.”

            Grabbing parts near the rear of the glider, they lifted the contraption. The other man disappeared beneath it, and then Link clutched the sides of his seat as the robust men started running straight toward the edge, quickly covering the distance. As the drop neared, the men used all of their considerable muscle to hurl the glider forward off the ledge. It sank a little, but then it rose and straightened, soaring off into the darkness.

            “Relax,” Noah said, pulling the brim of his hat lower and folding his hands over his stomach. “We’ll get to Crystal City soon enough.”

            Carefully avoiding so much as glancing over the edge, Link loosened his hold  on the seat, drawing his legs closer to himself. Romani stared over the side, coming perilously close to toppling over the side--or so it seemed to Link. Ria sat easily, her gray cloak concealing her entirely, completely unruffled by the bottomless drop below.

            “How am I supposed to relax?” Link demanded softly. “If this thing falls apart, we’ll plummet till we starve to death.”

            “You’ve never flown before, have you you?”

            “Yes, I have.” Glancing at the Karradaini sitting at his ease, Link shuddered. “I could always see the ground before, though.”

            “Don’t worry, it’s just a few more minutes,” Noah comforted, raising the brim of his hat just long enough to flash him a reassuring smile.

            It might have been a few minutes, but, to Link, it felt like the flight stretched on for hours. Quite suddenly, a sheer stone wall loomed out of the darkness, and the direction of the glider changed slightly. Link noticed an opening higher up and pointed it out to Noah. The man just shrugged and muttered, “Riders get their own bloody entrance so they don’t have to deal with us common folk.”

            Another opening gaped ahead of them, and the glider soared toward it. Gliding under the arched opening, it sank gradually, and as it neared the ground, muscular men rushed up and grabbed parts of it, finally halting it and settling it back on the solid stone.

            Swiftly climbing off the glider, Link breathed easier as his feet touched the ground. Walking from the contraption swiftly, he watched the others descend and approach, talking softly. He crossed his arms as he grew impatient, tapping his foot.

            “See, that wasn’t so bad!” Noah said, resting a hand on Link’s shoulder. “Now, let’s go to Crystal City.”

            His pouch of Rupees stirred slightly, then a bare sliver of pale illumination shone out, and Pelayla said, “I’m curious about this so-called Crystal City myself.”

            “Keep hidden,” Link advised as he followed Noah down a stone tunnel lit only with guttering torches, the dancing flames casting shadows that leaped and flickered nauseatingly even on the perfectly smooth walls. It did not help with his clenched gut, the feeling of sickness within him. A pale awareness filtered into his mind, like his nightmares of being tortured, but disembodied, barely feeling the pain. All thoughts of sickness and torture fled, however, as he followed the others and stepped out onto a ledge.

            A massive cavern spread out before them, the far end cloaked in impenetrable darkness, the ceiling dripping strangely beautiful stalactites and dotted with crystals that shed a soft, lambent light. On the cavern wall to the right, a monolithic dragon head protruded, cunningly carved in mid-snarl, its massive stone fangs parted. A river began somewhere near that gigantic carving and twisted along the floor, flowing among the greatest city Link had ever laid eyes on.

            Before the War of the Gold, a little more than thirty years ago or so, the city surrounding Hyrule Castle had been the grandest in the world, so the stories claimed, drawing artisans and masons who marveled at its beauty, beauty that was destroyed during the war. But, staring at the settlement before him, Link wondered whether it could have compared to Crystal City. Broad streets of some pearlescent material spiderwebbed over the cavern floor, each corner decorated with a tall white pole holding a chunk of glowing crystal. Wherever a road came to the meandering river, a white bridge arched over it, the rails dotted with crystals and worked to resemble rearing horses and dashing foxes, stooping eagles and prancing stags. Neat shops and tidy homes, sprawling taverns and many-storied inns lined the streets, all constructed of polished white stone but with tiled roofs in every color imaginable. At every one of the numerous intersections, a fountain or statue or monument rose, and manors stood out among the other buildings, all domes and balconies and graceful columns. But even the largest of those paled against the palace situated beneath the dragon head. Massive and elegant, towers and domes rose impossibly high, vying for space with fluted columns and ramps of stairs sweeping upward to balconies. Gold leaf shimmered over all the domes, and sliver streaked the walls, lining the arched windows solidly. The whole building spoke of power and wealth.

            “That’s Crystal City,” Noah said flatly, staring down without expression at the city bursting with life, people milling about the streets and flitting in and out of buildings. “Capital of Karradai and stronghold of the Riders.”

            As if on cue, a pair of Talar birds soared nearby, and Link noticed more flying above the rooftops or swaggering among the press of people. Up near the roof of the cavern, more Talar birds hovered, a strange haunting cry coming from their direction. He stared at them; something was not right about their appearance.

            Noah followed his gaze and nodded. “Yes, Crystal City also has an infestation of skodrags, cursed beasts that no one wants near them. But come on. Let’s head into the actual city.”

            Tearing his gaze from the skodrags, Link followed the Karradaini as he started down a sloping ramp. The broad path clung to the side of the rise, twisting back and forth and finally depositing them at the start of the widest of the pearlescent roads, one that led straight through the city to the palace gates. Up ahead and still outside the city proper, another road forked away, heading toward a different rise, where people climbed up and disappeared in a tunnel.

            “That’s the place to leave from,” Noah explained. “With a different place to land and take off, no collisions happen.”

            Link froze for a moment. Collision was one disaster that had not crossed his mind. Focusing on the city, he allowed the Karradaini to lead the way into the crowds filling the streets.

            Link had no liking for towns or settlements, preferring seclusion to being among hundreds of people jostling past him with no word of apology. However, Crystal City was captivating enough to make him forget he was surrounded by thousands of others. The people were interesting in themselves, men with hair that brushed their shoulders, women with their long tresses elaborately curled and decorated with strings of silver or gold. The men wore coats that somewhat lessened the severity of Noah’s in bright shades and decorated with even brighter embroidery, and the details on the women’s gowns outshone anything men wore. Occasionally, a woman in a thigh-long coat strode through the crowd, standing out with her hair cropped above her shoulders and the sword belted at her waist.

            Beyond the people were the shops themselves, their wide front windows displaying everything from bolts of cloth to gem-encrusted swords and shields, and hawkers cried their wares nearby, offering services as well as items. Street musicians and tumblers performed, garbed in gauzy coats and breeches in impossibly vibrant shades. Link watched, stunned, as one woman perched upon a man’s shoulders caught another woman thrown by the man, who then wrapped her legs around the first woman’s shoulders and stretched her body out parallel to the ground, upper half completely unsupported.

            “Come on, we can make the library in about five minutes,” Noah said, apparently uneasy. Whenever someone came even close to glancing at him, he shrank back and tugged his hat lower. Whatever his reasons for wishing to remain inconspicuous, his attempts at hiding failed when a Rider strode past.

            With her Talar towering over her, she made an impressive--and intimidating--sight, swaggering along in much the same manner as her mount. Her hazel eyes slid over them lazily, then snapped back almost instantly, locking on Noah. He uttered a strangled yelp and tried to scurry away, but she strode forward and whipped his hat off, revealing his cringing face with the distinctive scar.

            “Well, well,” she said coolly, nodded to herself. “Look who decided to return.”

            “I had every right to leave,” he protested, drawing himself up, donning an air so regal most kings would have paid dearly for it.

            The Rider snorted. “You had absolutely no right to leave. I’m taking you to the palace, where you can explain yourself before King Rylash himself.” Seizing his upper arm, she turned her lazy gaze on Link and the others. “You three, come with me as well.”

            Link drew himself up, a scowl crossing his face at the temerity of the woman, that she dared command them to follow. As he sensed a presence to his right, he glanced in that direction and stared up at the Talar glaring down at him with dark red eyes. Falling in step behind the woman and attempting to ignore the massive bird flanking him, he exchanged puzzled glances with Romani. Have we landed ourselves with a criminal with charges severe enough to be brought before the king himself?

            People practically leaped out of the way of the Rider, somehow bowing and curtsying at the same time. The woman ignored them all, marching Noah along and ignoring his orders for release. Sighing heavily, Link followed the pair as they passed through delicate golden gates surrounding the palace. Unexpectedly, the Talar bird took off in an explosion of wings, but the Rider continued dragging Noah, heading straight for the main entrance, and Link and the two women continued to follow.

            A pair of guards in burnished breastplates edged in dark green gave a start at the sight of the woman, saluting her while attempting to edge away without seeming to. One flashed a nervous smile at Romani, but she paid him no mind, biting her lower lip. Ria remained as calm as ever--well, as calm as anyone could tell concerning a person always covered by a cloak--but Link himself felt the illness returning, accompanied by a stronger image of torture. Even the grand interior of the palace did nothing, though he still admired it in a detached way, admired the pale shades of colored marble serving as floor and wall and ceiling, the graceful friezes and gold-edged niches holding vases and statuettes, the tapestries depicting battles and Riders and, occasionally, dragons.

            The Rider led them through countless hallways, turning abruptly and skewing all sense of direction. Finally, she halted outside a door embossed with Mother Tala in flight, ignored the pair of young soldiers standing to either side, and opened it.

            The woman entered first, Noah shuffling sullenly at her side, and then Link, Ria, and Romani passed through, into what had to be the throne room. It was a long, grand room, decorated with elegant wall hangings depicting hundreds of dragons, each a different color, with stand-lamps spreading light evenly throughout. The tiled floor formed a mosaic of Mother Tala surrounded by smaller dragons and Talar birds, each formed with painstaking detail. At the far end of the hall was a dais holding a pair of thrones, one massive and commanding, the other smaller and more elegant. Studying the people seated upon them, Link took them for the king and queen, the man tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair clipped short, the woman slim and beautiful with dark brown hair cascading to her shoulders. Both wore clothes fit for a ball, the man in a long coat and silken breeches, both liberally covered with embroidery, the woman in a tight-bodiced gown sewn with pearls and gems, but the Hyrulian remembered Noah’s explanation of the Royal Family; despite their garb, both people seated before him were Riders.

            At the arrival of five people, the king sat forward, a heavy gem-encrusted crown winking in the lamplight. The queen merely adjusted her skirts, but her green eyes fixed on Noah with a dark sort of recognition. The king glanced at the woman holding the man and said, “You may leave, Rider Ahil.”

            She bowed deeply. “As you say, Your Majesty.” She released Noah, glanced once at Link, and spun around, striding away swiftly. The doors closing behind her sounded very much like a cell door crashing shut.

            “So,” King Rylash said, staring down at Noah. His hooked nose made him seem an eagle regarding his prey. “You chose to return to us.”

            Staring at the tiles beneath his boots, Noah shrugged. “I really had no choice, now did I?”

            “Who are these others with you?” the queen inquired, turning her gaze on Link, Ria, and Romani. “Country folk?”

            “No,” Noah mumbled. “Well, at least not from Karradai. Link’s from Hyrule”--he gestured at him--“Romani’s from some place called... Termina, was it?” Barely waiting for her confirming nod, Noah concluded, “And this is Ria. I don’t know where she’s from.”

            “You would not have heard of it,” she replied. Link barely caught the faint emphasis on the word you.

            Rising to his feet, Rylash stared down at Noah. “Your brother is disgusted with you.”

            Noah raised his head, an expression of fury twisting his face. “Oh, is he? Well, Jendrick’s always been disgusted with me, ever since I didn’t become a Rider! I told you to let me live my life how I want. All the proper papers have been signed--with ten times as many witnesses as necessary--making him the rightful heir to the throne! I may have been born crown prince, but kingship is not for me anymore!”

            Link gaped at the man, realization dawning. Noah’s the son of the king and queen, a member of the Royal Family! But... why isn’t he a Rider?

            Resting a slender hand on her husband’s arm, the queen rose, regal and proud despite her slight build. “Rylash, not now,” she admonished. Regarding the people before her, she said, “I am Queen Alanar, wife to King Rylash and mother of Noah and Rider Jendrick. I thank you for keeping my eldest son out of trouble--he has been known to perform some rash actions--and offer the palace’s hospitality to you.”   

            “Thank you, but we’ll just stay in the city,” Noah answered.

            Alanar nodded, sinking into her throne. After a moment, Rylash followed her example, glowering at his son. Somehow, Noah managed to ignore it.

            A side door opened, and a woman slipped inside. Link’s gaze snapped to her, and his eyes widened. She was stunningly beautiful, in a darkly enticing way, with long black hair tumbling halfway down her back in glossy waves and bright green eyes peering out from a lovely pale face with elegant cheekbones and delicate lips. A gown of green silk clung to her perfect form, touches of black and golden embroidery along the sleeves, hem, and bodice, and a close-fitting necklace of hematite and jade encircled the tall collar of the dress, which seemed to emphasize the tear-shaped cutout on her bosom displaying some of her cleavage. She smiled at the people arrayed before the throne, then glided to the king’s right side.

            “Ah, this is my advisor, Senna,” Rylash introduced, gesturing to her. Alanar beamed at the woman like someone proudly gazing upon a favorite daughter.

            Gripping her skirts, the black-haired woman sank into a deep curtsy. “My greetings to you, travelers,” she said in a melodious voice.

            Link froze, recognizing that voice. She’s the one who was talking in the streets of Morda! She must have raced to get here ahead of us. But then Noah said he had heard she was a mage.

            “Hello,” Noah greeted, smiling at her as she straightened. He regarded her with admiration, clearly seeing a beautiful, powerful woman.

            “Noah, didn’t you say we were going to stay at an inn?” Link asked suddenly. He stared at Senna sideways, trying to dredge up the memory of that overheard conversation. What interest would she have in people who stand out?

            “Yes,” he answered, turning around. “Yes, we’re going.”

            “What inn?” the king demanded, eyes boring into his son’s back.

            Noah stiffened, head held defiantly. “Evren’s Star.” Without waiting for a response, he stormed off. Link and Ria strode after him, Romani hurrying to catch up.

            Just as they exited the throne room, a man in dark green robes nearly plowed them over, stumbling back with a bit-off oath and nearly landing on his back. He straightened himself, tucking a few stray wisps of yellow hair behind his long ears before glancing over his shoulder. “Stay here,” he said to someone, then entered the throne room, seeming lost in thought as he pushed past Romani and Noah.

            The person the man had spoken to was a slender woman of a height with Link, her yellow hair brushing her waist and gleaming in the light from the lamps. She, too, wore dark green robes, though a black rope cinched hers in at the waist and emphasized her delicate figure. Despite her almost fragile appearance, however, a certain strength that defied destruction rested in her pretty face.

            “Ah, Prince Noah,” she said, inclining her head to him. “I thought you had run away for good, this time. But you certainly have some interesting companions with you.” Her surprisingly dark eyes slid over Romani and Ria, touched Link and lingered briefly on the pouch of Rupees, almost as though she could see the fairy hidden within. Pelayla quivered slightly.

            “And who are you, Priestess?” Noah asked, staring her down.

            Regarding him with nearly black eyes, she said, “I am Aphelandra Mudora, daughter of Tirgan Hyraki. He just went to speak with the king and queen.”

            “About what?” the Karradaini demanded.

            The priestess drew herself up. “That is no concern of yours. Now, if you will be on your way, I must wait.”

            Link studied her for a moment, then muttered, “Nayru take me if I understand what’s going on.”

            Aphelandra rounded on him, back stiffening. “What did you just say?” she asked, eyes widening.

            She is a priestess for this Mother Tala, and I just mention Nayru! “Uh, nothing.”

            “You said Nayru,” she insisted, taking a step toward him. Her dark eyes suddenly sparked with strange intensity. “I’ve read that name before, somewhere.... Will you come to my father’s house later today? We live on the Winging Bluebird Street.”

            “Uh, sure,” Link answered, without the faintest idea where that was. Noah will know.

            Noah, it seemed, was not in the mood to linger. Seizing Link’s arm, he pulled at him, muttering, Bloody talking with a priestess. Bloody promising to meet with her. You won’t get to go to the library now.”

            Freeing himself, Link followed Noah through the tangled warren of corridors, hardly aware of the others nearby. Why did she react like that when I said Nayru? Goddesses, what have I done now?


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