Turning somberly from the bed, her head bowed, Princess Zelda turned mournful eyes to Link, who stood motionless by his chair, his body frozen with shock and grief. Silence pervaded the air, making it thick, making him feel light headed. Impa had once again taken a seat beside the headboard of the bed where Anna lay lifeless, her hands covering her face, uttering small sobs of anguish.
"Link," Zelda began softly. "Yes?" he responded, equally as quiet, not looking away from the bed. Zelda paused for a moment, considering her next sentence, trying to put it as gently as possible. "We...We need to...lay her to rest now," she said finally, motioning to where his sister lay. He nodded, slowly, then began to walk to the bedside. He felt numb, closed off from the world around him. The covers were still thrown back in disarray, Impa's herbs and potions still scattered on the bedside table nearby. Impa looked up from where she sat, her eyes filled with tears and red-rimmed. "It was my fault, mine," she choked out, before burying her head in her hands again. "No," Link said his voice hushed, "no, Impa, you tried to save her." The woman said nothing, her body heaving with a tremendous sigh.
Link started at Zelda's sudden, warm touch on his shoulder. He turned to see her looking into his eyes with great sympathy, struggling to keep her emotions under control. "I know of a place where we can take her," she said to him, her voice trembling, leaving his side for a moment to take up a candle that still burned with a soft golden glow from a table close by. He turned to the window, and beyond the curtains' veil he could see that it was still pitch dark and rainy. "We couldn't make it to the cemetery tonight; the Sanctuary is too far," he replied. The princess shook her head, lowering her gaze to the burning candle in her hand, the light playing across her face. "No, that's not where we're going," she said at last. "I want you to follow me, Link, and bring Anna with you."
His puzzlement muted with sadness and weariness, he reached down to touch Anna, already ashen. His fingers shrank away involuntarily, and he berated himself for it. It was his fault she was dead. It was he who hadn't noticed she was sick, it was he who hadn't heeded her strange behavior. Cautiously, he reached out again, and this time was able to make contact with her skin. She was no longer warm with life, and it pained him to notice it. He gathered her up, noticing that she felt lighter than she had just several hours before. Gently, he lifted her from her deathbed, turning to where Zelda stood in the doorway. Her melancholy eyes locked into his for a moment, expressing her mutual despondency. Raising her free hand, she motioned silently for him to follow. He began to do so, and she began to walk away, leading him, holding the candle before her.
In the dimness of the castle hallways, the princess led Link into one of the main hallways. Of to the side, with armor on either side of it and an ornate rug before it, was a door. Stone steps led to the darkness below. Haloed by the candlelight, Princess Zelda hesitated before the door, peering into the darkness, remembering the night when she had been locked in the dungeon that the steps before her led to. Shuddering with the vivid rumination, she lifted her dress a bit and began down, Link behind her. The grey stone that composed the walls were illuminated with the candle's wavering light, seemingly giving them a life of their own.
Reaching the end of the stairway, she could see ahead the dungeon passages. The weak glow she held reached a few feet into the pitch beyond, then was swallowed. Faintly, she could hear the rain, still pounding against the castle walls. Her heart quickened for a moment as wraiths of memory weaved in and out of her mind, recalling the night when she had been left in her cell alone, knowing her fate was to vanish, as the other maidens had, one by one.
Forcing the thoughts away, she concentrated on where she was going, holding the flaming candle before her as though it could burn away her thoughts as well as the dark. Their footsteps echoed in the stone chamber as they continued on. Faintly, in the drab corners of the large chamber, she could hear the scratching scurry of rats' tiny paws. She gasped as her light caught the form of a large rat, its eyes shining a frightening opalescent green to reflect the illumination. As she began forward, her heart pounding at the sudden start, the creature ran off into the darkness. Taking a deep breath, Zelda walked a few more paces, then turned to where a doorway led to another passage. They were in the same chambers they had used to escape to the Sanctuary on that other inclement night that seemed so long ago.
Walking through the passage into another chamber, Zelda turned to Link. "We're almost there," she said gently to him, noting how worn he appeared. He held Anna almost as one would a small child, although she was certainly not small; she was only a couple years younger than they, a young woman. He didn't dare look down upon her pale features, set in death's peaceful mold, as they went on. He wondered faintly where the princess was taking him, but he didn't ask. All he wanted now was to extract himself from the living nightmare he now found himself in. From reality, there is no awakening, he thought dismally.
Zelda continued to lead him through the damp, cold darkness, the light of the candle making her assume the semblance of a wayward spirit to his fatigued eyes. She quickened her steps, making him struggle to keep up. They were fast approaching her destination, in the most frigid, forbidding parts of the castle dungeon.
Suddenly, the princess halted, causing Link to nearly collide with her. Bathed in the wavering glow of her tiny torch, Zelda knelt upon the dirty grey stone of the dungeon floor, her eyes searching for something intently. Link, who could not see in the dim light so well, tried to follow her gaze to see what she could possibly be seeking. Her fingers felt along the floor as she looked, becoming coated with dust in the effort. Her digits found what she sought before her eyes did, and curling them around the object, she began to pull. She paused for a moment to bring her candle closer, and Link saw that there was a large metal ring in her grasp.
She tried for a few moments more to move the hatch the ring was attached to, but it proved to be too heavy for her alone. "Link, could you help me lift this?" she asked. He nodded, gently lay Anna on the floor near him, and placed his hand close to hers. Both of them pulled together, synchronizing their efforts. Dust arose in a cloud, dancing in the light, as a section of the floor suddenly rose from the rest, revealing a black pit that led into obscurity.
The princess rose, bringing her candle up with her. Standing before the doorway in the floor, she lowered her candle a bit to reveal stone steps that led into the unknown. Beginning to descend the narrow stairway, she murmured to Link, "Here it is, the place I wanted to show you." She began to walk again, the dimness starting to envelop her body as she went further down.
Lifting his sister into his arms again, Link followed Zelda. Her footsteps echoed hollowly just a few steps ahead, her candle becoming his guiding light. The staircase twisted and sloped as he advanced. A musty smell pervaded the air, and the dust was so thick it was evident this place had not been traveled into for quite a time. Their shadows were dancing mockingly upon the walls with every step they took, stretching to meld with the dark that surrounded them. The silence pressed on him, causing him to shudder. "Zelda," he said, his voice echoing as he spoke, "what is this place?" She hesitated for a moment. "You'll soon see," came the enigmatic reply.
As they continued down, he noticed the musty odor was becoming stronger, intermingled with an even stranger odor, almost a stench, that waxed in intensity as they went further down the winding stairway. Zelda quickened her pace, making him do so as well. The uneven stairs sloped suddenly downward, then came to an abrupt end. It was here she stopped, her back to him, the shine of the candle surrounding her. He came up slowly behind her, gently shifting Anna's body in his arms. She turned to him, her face shadowed eerily in the light. "Here," she said simply, quietly, then walked slowly beyond.
The light of her candle showed him several biers, made of stone, covered in dust. Along the walls were coffin-like structures, composed of the same stone, heavy lids covering their macabre contents. Upon the biers lay the skeletal remains of the dead, lost forever in death's repose. The shrouds that surrounded them had begun to decompose as well, made of as much material as cobweb, making the bodies lose identity as anything once living. Spiders' webs shone with delicate, shining threads in the corners as the glow caught them.
"The castle's crypt," the princess said, breaking the silence. She held her candle higher, trying to see more. Her voice wavered as she continued, "The last time anyone was down here...was when...my mother died..." She trailed away, trying to regain her composure. He came to her side, wishing he could comfort her, but not knowing how. Drawing a deep breath, Zelda forced control into her tone. "We can lay her in this vault, Link."
Briskly, trying to forget her sorrow, she led him to a stone bier that didn't already have a body upon it. Holding her candle out before it, she indicated for him to lay his sister there. He stepped forward, approaching it, then hesitated a moment, glancing down at Anna. Tenderly, with the same gentleness he had lain her in her bed the night before, he lay her upon what would be her grave, moving her still arms across her chest. Stepping back, he paused for a moment. She looked for all the world as though she had fallen asleep, her face peaceful, her lips forming what resembled a faint smile.
Zelda looked on with him. She came closer, taking his hand in hers, squeezing it gently. With a soft smile, she said, "Anna is at peace now, Link." He nodded, then lowered his head, mumbling a traditional Hylian prayer for the dead. She added her voice to his, both blending in different tones, almost musically, reverberating in the tiny chamber. As the prayer ended, Zelda caught a covert glance at Link, who stood quietly with his eyes closed, another private prayer being recited in his head. After a moment, he opened his eyes, then raised them to meet hers. "Let's get out of here," he said, and she caught the slight tremble in his voice. She nodded in consent, then led him to the stairway.
The castle's hallways were bright in comparison to the crypt, dazzling his eyes as they emerged from the basement. Zelda brought the candle to her lips, and with a breath, blew it out. The smoke wreathed what remained of the candle, then floated upward. The halls were empty; even the castle soldiers had gone to their quarters for the night. The rain was still coming down hard; they both could still hear it.
As they walked through the hallway, side by side, Link turned to Zelda. "I didn't know there was a crypt," he started, "I always thought the famous were buried in the graveyard." She shook her head at his statement, then replied, "No, the royal are buried in the castle's vault. Anna wasn't royal, Link, but she was special enough to be there." The remainder of their walk passed quietly, no further words spoken between them. Finally reaching the staircase that led to the rooms upstairs, she turned to Link. "Here, Link, I'll take you to your room." He allowed her to go before him, then followed behind. Leading him down the hallway, she paused alongside a door. "You can sleep here, Link, and stay at the castle as long as you like. I wouldn't want you to be by yourself..." Once again, she took his hand in hers, and, looking into his eyes, smiled. He thanked her, and, releasing her hand, bid her good night and went into his room.
A solitary candle burned on a lone table beside his bed, making the walls flicker and dance with light and shadow. Another table, set up as an area for reading, stood closer to the door. Tired though he was, sleep evaded him, and he made his way to the table closest to the door, removing the Book of Mudora from the pouch on his belt. Laying the green clad book on the table, he retrieved the candle from the other table, then sat, flipping through the ancient text.
Reaching the desired area near the back of the book, Link reached out and brought the candle closer, his exhausted orbs skimming the contents of the chapters. He spent several minutes turning pages, looking over text, while the night wore on and the candle burned low.
The sound of the door creaking open startled him awake; he wasn't aware that sleep had gotten the better of him. The candle's light had died, bathing the room completely in darkness. Raising his head from the table upon which he had lain it, he looked up, his eyes trying to focus. In sharp contrast to the blackness around him, there was a white figure, drifting toward him, her blond hair flowing loose.
Slowly, Princess Zelda entered the room, her white nightgown flowing around her as she walked. "Link?" In the quiet room, her voice awoke him further. "Zelda?" he answered, and she came quietly to him.
"Link, what have you been doing up all this time? I came out to the hallway, and your door was still open," the princess said, her voice soft and full of concern. At first, he couldn't remember what he had been doing, his weariness clouding his mind for a moment. Then, he saw the Book of Mudora laying on the table in front of him. "I was reading this," he explained softly. Her wordless gaze probed him, and he continued on. "I-I was trying to find out if what happened tonight was foretold, but I couldn't find anything." Frustration and deep pondering were in his voice, and the princess reached forward to lay a hand on his shoulder. "Link, not everything that is going to befall you is in that book," she said, smiling at him a bit. He glanced up at her in surprise. "The ancient people knew you needed help with some things, Link, but they also knew you needed to face some things alone." With that, she turned away from him, and, quietly, returned from whence she came.
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