Chapter XVI: Council Of War
Travel was surprisingly swift on Hyrule plains, if marked by the same unnerving quiet that had marked their flight. They elected to not stop, and passed on to Hyrule Castle Town unmolested two hours after midnight. The silence, unsettling and unnatural, followed them like a ghost.
Epona was exhausted, hooves dragging and head drooping in weariness. Ashei’s mare was faring just as badly. Taking up the rear of their convoy, Bulbin’s boar trotted stoically, grunting it’s displeasure.
The gate guard initially refused them entry. He caved after Bulbin offered to knock the little guard door in.
The streets were hushed but not empty, the ragged shape of refugees filled every corner with makeshift shelters. Most drew back from Bulbin’s hulking shadow, Link caught whispered curses as they passed into Castle square. Neither he, nor Ashei, made any note, he didn’t look to see the goblin.
There were more pressing matters at hand.
Thunder rolled overhead. As a servant opened the door a few fat raindrops struck the paving stones. In moments it was pouring, cold and hard. Link was glad for the room over their heads.
The maid escorted them to Zelda, stealing nervous glances at Bulbin over her shoulder. Link ignored her, he really didn’t think the goblin would pull anything at this point- he’d had plenty of chances to do so -and definitely not here, with both Zelda and the royal guard so close.
Unless that had been his intention from the beginning…
Link shook his head, thoughts like that were useless, there were a multitude of far more pressing concerns.
After all, things were always spiraling out of control by the time he became involved.
Bulbin hesitated outside the door, almost prepared to wait out in the lobby. Link elbowed him and tilted his head towards the door.
Zelda was in her study, pouring over a map when they walked in. Link was relived beyond words to see the color returned to her somewhat since their last meeting. Her eyes seemed brighter, and her shoulders held firm. Not bowed under the weight of a kingdom.
The man standing at her elbow-
Link did a double-take.
Graying bear and thinning hairline framed a strong-boned face, weather beaten skin, and piercing dark eyes. Link hadn’t seen the man in ages, he’d thought he had retired…
“Auru!” Ashei said, smiling thinly, “It’s gotta be bad if they dug you up, you old fossil.”
Auru chuckled, eyes wandering over their group. He didn’t seem surprised in the least at the presence of Bulbin.
Sometimes Link had to wonder at his seen-it-all attitude. By all accounts the man had been adventuring since before Link himself had been born. Link held him in high regard, perhaps even higher regard then any of the others who he’d fought alongside in the course of the war, if possible.
But Ashei was correct on that count, the old veteran’s presence could only mean something had taken a drastic turn for the worse.
Zelda didn’t smile, Link thought she looked even more tired than the week before, his brow furrowed in worry. She was running herself into the ground. Zelda’s eyes snapped to the master sword, resting at Link’s back, she relaxed visibly. The queen smiled tiredly, the expression echoed on each of their faces.
“Thank the goddesses you made it, we worried…”
Her voice trailed off and she shook her head grimly. “Come, we have much to discuss.”
“Heraji was using the book to search for the Master Sword himself.” Link said, “He knew about the Triforce, and when he realized I was a vessel he attacked us.” Ashei, her face still marred by the beating she had taken at Heraji’s hand, nodded sullenly.
Link paused, frowning to himself, “He mentioned something about Ganon, that he was his father.”
The room was silent for several minutes.
“This is both puzzling and alarming.” Zelda said, leaning back in her chair, staring contemplatively into her tea. Her gaze snapped to Link suddenly, “Tell me all that happened, don’t leave anything out.”
Link relayed the journey. The ride to Farnon, the burning town, their descent into the forest, and his wandering in the dark under the trees, occasionally supplemented by Ashei’s memory when an event was confused or he had been occupied. Zelda didn’t speak, except to ask the occasional question. Forgotten in the corner, Bulbin sat uncomfortably, hands on his massive knees.
When he finished Zelda closed her eyes and sat back, withdrawing for a moment.
“… The shadow has not appeared again?” she asked after several minutes.
“No.” Link said.
“That’s good to hear.” Zelda said thoughtfully, “… Or not. I wonder where it has gotten to. That worries me.”
She didn’t need to remind them that this didn’t actually remove the threat- the Master Sword didn’t even mean they could kill it. Link wondered just how it was supposed to put them back on ‘even footing’ if that was the case.
“Where are all the refugees coming from?” Link asked quietly.
In response Zelda’s mouth tightened in a thin line. She gestured to Auru, who took a scroll form the bin beside the table and unrolled it to reveal a map of the kingdom of Hyrule.
“There have been raids all along the border- Zelda gestured to the northern slopes of the Snowpeak and Horn mountains –refugees have been pouring into Castletown for days.”
“They won’t get into Kakoriko.” Ashei said, “The Gorons turned it into a fortress after the war.”
Link nodded, the canyon village had been all but wiped from the map in the war of Twilight, though it was his understanding that new settlers had arrived to fill the ghost town since then.
The Goron tribes had, in penance for not assisting the town in time to save the inhabitants, sworn to the defense of the canyon. If the wolf-riders managed to fight their way through the stone-skinned guardians then they deserved to take Kakoriko.
“I expect some of the refugees have taken refuge there, with Renado.” Link said, “But we must think of the war here. How defensible is Castletown?”
Auru stroked his chin thoughtfully, “The city watch numbers just shy of two hundred, and the royal guard and knights are another three score,” he nodded to Ashei, who grinned, “We can conscript a militia from the townspeople and refugees, I expect at least another three hundred able bodies.”
Link nodded, Castletown was well defended by two walls and a moat. For the moment, the wolf-tribes posed little threat to them here.
For the moment.
“We didn’t see any sign of the invaders on the road.” Link said slowly, “That worries me.”
“You’re thinking they’re massing for an attack on the capital proper, yeah?” Ashei said, gesturing to the black dot at the center of the map with a scowl.
“Can’t discount the possibility…”
“But why would they be so lax, yeah?” Auru countered quietly, They wouldn’t want reinforcements coming to our aid, surly you must have passed sentries of some sort.”
Link nodded thoughtfully, “I’m sure we did, but…”
“Perhaps…” All eyes turned to Bulbin, who had remained silent thus far, it was amazing how such a huge individual could become invisible in plain sight like that. He blinked at the sudden focus of attention. “Perhaps they wanted you here.” Bulbin nodded to Link.
The room was silent.
“… If you were trapped behind the walls, it would be difficult for you to leave without them noticing.” Bulbin shrugged.
A minute later Zelda found her voice, “A… valid point.”
There was silence for several minutes. Zelda rubbed the bridge of her nose, willing away the ache beginning there. “Where you able to retrieve the book of Mudora?”
Link sighed, “No, Heraji must have had it on him when he fell.”
She opened her eyes, looking right at Link, “You have something else to tell me don’t you?”
Bulbin set down the spear and Link took it, laying it across the table.
“It was Heraji’s?”
“Heraji is dead.”
Zelda blinked, then turned her eyes back to the weapon where it lay, frowning faintly. After considering the weapon at length she closed her eyes and ran a hand along the shaft, muttering incantations underneath her breath. The hair on the back of Link’s neck stood at attention with the magic in the air. The smell that reached out to cover the shaft was tangy, spicy and soothing. Link was reminded once more of the power he associated with that smell. He had only seen Zelda fight the once, but the power she could draw on was not to be trifled with.
He shivered with it’s proximity. The feral part of him- the long dormant beast –raised it’s hackles, ever distrustful of magic, it was an effort of will not to back away.
After a moment Zelda’s brow furrowed, she dismissed the spell with a wave of her hand and leaned back, thoughtful.
“This is a very powerful demon, sealed inside the weapon to give it added strength.” Zelda said.
He voice trailed off into silence. After a moment she shook herself, “I will seal this myself. In the meantime, there are more immediate concerns.” Zelda said, tiredly gesturing to the maps. The topmost was a full sized chart of the entirety of Hyrule valley and the outlying provinces. Her finger traced a line up from the southern edge of Lanayru Province.
“Scouts, and a few refugees have reported some… unusual activity along the South Ridge road.”
“What kind of unusual activity?”
Zelda shook her head, “They can’t agree, but it’s something big. I’d think nothing of it, we have bigger things to deal with… but South Ridge is too close to be ignored. That, and the common thread in each report is that of a great mist- with menace moving within.” Zelda’s frown deepened, “I… cannot scry any of South Ridge.”
Auru cleared his throat, “If Ganon is indeed involved, and it would be foolish to assume otherwise, it could be a second front.”
“You think the wolves are waiting to attack until this second front reaches Castletown, yeah?”
“Precisely,” Auru said, “the nature of the magic is uncertain, but we can’t discount the possibility that Ganon has bent a powerful warlock or necromancer to his will.” Link rocked back on his heels, nodding thoughtfully. Anything powerful enough to deter Zelda’s sight was mighty indeed.
While Link digested this in silence, Ashei was more vocal, “Wait, I thought Ganon bit it, yeah?”
“I don’t think he can be killed so simply.” Link murmured thoughtfully, then turned to Zelda once more, “What of the seal?”
“I personally inspect it myself once a month.” She replied, “It’s shown no sign of weakening. After we have come to an agreement I will do so again.”
Link was a simple man. He’d lived most of his life in the same valley high in the Ordon mountains, liked fishing and pumpkins, and loved a certain woman. He might have remained thus for the duration of his life if not for certain events…
He’d seen the world burn before, seen victory snatched from his fingers, hope trickle out of his hands as he tried to grasp. He’d seen his most important people taken away, known the despair, never expecting to see them again. He’d killed, fought against things from his nightmares, things that belonged in the darkest hour of the night. Things that ought never walk under the sun.
Sometimes he wondered if it had all been real, it seemed too incredible at times, to ridiculous to be believed. But he bore enough scars to remind him. And he’d lived. Survived. Maybe even thrived. The irony was delicious.
And so the choice was clear.
Link looked back down at the map, “I’ll go to South Ridge.”
Zelda nodded slowly, “I’ll go with you.”
That was not what Link was expecting.
“Your Highness!” Ashei yelped (yes ‘yelped’), “You… can’t be serious.”
Zelda smiled, shaking her head, “No. I won’t stand idly by while you take all the risk.” Not again, she reminded herself bitterly, “If a mage is involved you will need me.”
“No.” Ashei said, her fist rocking the table, “You are needed here. With the rest of us scattered all across Hyrule- goddesses know where –you are needed to protect the capital. We won’t be able to come running at a moment’s notice, yeah?”
Zelda looked like she wanted to reprimand Ashei, but Link’s own thoughts intervened, “Ashei is right, we can’t let ourselves get stretched too thin.” He said, “I’ve dealt with magic-users before, I’ll be all right…”
He sat back, thinking, “Auru is needed here, he’s your most experienced advisor and commander. You’ll need him to organize the militias.”
“I’ll be tagging along with you then, yeah?” Ashei asked.
Link was quiet a moment, “No.”
“We have no idea what is happening on in the north. Something is driving those tribes on, this is happening too quickly…” Link turned his full gaze on her, “I need you to gather whatever information on them you can and relay it to Auru.”
He turned to Bulbin, “You’ve tracked them before right?”
Ashei’s eyes widened, catching his meaning immediately, “You can’t be serious.”
Link sighed, “As long as these wolf-riders are both his enemy and ours I trust him. And you will need help, he’s seen them, fought them I think. He’ll be of use to you.”
After several minutes, it was clear that no one was going to offer a better alternative. It was decided, Link would head south and west along the South Ridge, and both Ashei and Bulbin would head north towards snowpeak.
Somehow Link couldn’t shake the suspicion…
In all past altercations with the legendary demon-king, Ganon had remained one step ahead. Always taunting them with the futility of their quest. He had power, yes. But the true measure of his threat was in his ability to outmaneuver his enemies. The war of Twilight had been won because, Link, as Midna had once said, ‘was too stupid to know when he ought to drop dead already’.
Ganon had not counted on the Hero of Twilight persevering, even after desperate became hopeless and every odd was stacked against him. Otherwise, Link knew he would have won.
Link shook his head, trying to shake the nagging suspicion that this was a trap.
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