Chapter II: Calling of Fate
The dreams didn’t return for several days, much to Link’s relief, and as is the habit with such things he pushed the memory to the back of his mind. There where other things to attend to this time of year. The spring planting needed to be finished, and a few late lambs were to be delivered. Ordon in late spring was truly beautiful; the trees still bore most of their blossoms, yet the fields and hills had the richness, the fullness of summer to come. It was a vivid, yet restful time, the energy and vigor of spring and the beginnings of summer heat rolled into one. Link could have been content to let the seasons roll on, living in the simple peace he’d helped bring to the blue mountain-slopes; only attending to the nightmares once he drove the timber out to Hyrule Castle Town at the end of summer.
Then something happened that changed that.
Visitors where not common in Ordon. So when a trade caravan crossed the Gulch Bridge a week later it was cause for some excitement. There was a small feast prepared, and gifts exchanged on both sides; it seemed the entire village was there.
Link and Ilia had come into town for the occasion. Link had left Ilia with Uli and a group of wives from the Caravan, and had himself gotten into a deep conversation with Rusl and the train’s physician over the latest outbreak of blackfoot among the lower pasture herds, when someone tapped his shoulder.
He turned to find a familiar face greeting him. Nightshade-dark eyes and a painfully pale heart-shaped face, with a direct gaze and stern jaw above a slight frame. She carried a rapier by her side and wore a shirt of chain mail over a leather jerkin; full-length riding boots sheathed her legs to the knee, and steel-backed gauntlets encased her hands. His surprise must have shown,
“Aren’t you glad to see me?” Ashei said.
Rusl, Link, and Ashei sat down at one of the corner tables, far away from the general bustle and clamor. The waitress brought them a tankard each and they let that occupy them for several minutes.
Rusl broke the silence first, “Well, Ashei, I don’t suppose this is a social visit.”
Ashei sat back, crossing her arms, “No, it’s not… Have you talked to the Caravan Master?”
Both of them shook their heads in the negative.
She sighed, “Well, there’s been a lot of strange goings-on lately, yeah. No bull-riders or goblins, and that’s a good thing; but Caravans have been disappearing and not a trace of them to be found. No survivors, no signs of struggle, no wreckage on the roadways, nothing. They’re just vanishing, see? The merchant’s guild is scared stiff. The Queen’s tried to get some sort of escort issued, but you know what its like. The Royal Guard’s a bunch of pansies; can’t be bothered with us ‘common folk’, yeah. The wagon trains’ve taken to hiring their own protection, and here I am.”
Link raised an eyebrow; he and Rusl exchanged glances. Both of them knew from firsthand experience that Ashei was very much a warrior. The daughter of a solider, she was every bit as formidable as any man. Link would have given much to have been there when she’d convinced the nervous-looking Caravan Master she would make good ‘hired protection’.
“Any idea what’s doing it?” Rusl asked.
Ashei took a long draw from her pint, “Too clean to be the boar-tribes. And if it was a dragon we’d probably know by now, those things aren’t subtle, yeah.” She mused. “We haven’t had one of those down here in ages...”
Link listened silently, sipping his tankard. The shadow of the disquiet he had known a week before resurfaced.
“I’ll tell you what though, I’ve got a feeling this is only the start of something big, yeah.” Ashei said, “If trade stops then the kingdom ends too, Hyrule can’t exist if the villages aren’t connected, see? And if the villages stop trading then how’s news gonna get by? An army could just march in and take us out, one at a time. We’d never know until it was too late.”
“What’s the Queen doing about it?” Link spoke up for the first time, gaze intent.
Ashei shrugged, “What can she do, yeah? Queen or not she can’t make anything happen unless she has troops willing to follow her. Most of the useful ones where wiped out in the war, remember? And fresh soldiers don’t just jump out of holes.”
“She could start lopping off heads…” Rusl chuckled darkly, “That might get her more cooperation.”
Link shook his head. “She won’t do that.” Ashei agreed. Zelda had taken the full title three months after the war ended, the coronation following in Hyrule Castle Town, as the castle itself was in ruins after the final confrontation with Ganondorf. But though she was popular with the masses, Hyrule aristocracy had never been known for its loyalty, or bravery. The nobility had clapped their hands and smiled along with the rest of them, but when it came to actually setting the kingdom in order they where (As Ashei herself had once said) about as helpful as overdressed monkeys.
“No…” Rusl sighed after a moment, “She won’t.”
There followed a contemplative silence, an unspoken question hanging.
The festivities wound down, the village’s pulse gradually fading back into a familiar rhythm. Ilia collected Link and they walked home, her cheerful banter not alleviating his unease. That knife in his chest twisted as he watched her walking beside him. She had been the first of his casualties in the war. It had almost killed her.
That night he lay in thought a long time before he fell asleep. And once he did finally drift off, it was not the blessed visions of Nayru that graced his rest.
He stood on a plain of dust and dry, dead grass. From where he stood he could see three suns, each on a horizon of its own. The entire sky burned red, reflecting off the ground at his feet. Clouds hung low overhead, purple and violet. By taking a step forward would he would choose his destiny. The destiny was the end, and in the end was a new beginning. But the light and life of the day began and ended here, under the blood-soaked sun. A metaphor for life.
A stiff wind blew in, kicking up dust, hiding the suns. When it passed only one remained. Link took a step towards the light, then broke into a run. Or perhaps the ground rushed by beneath him, the landscape flowing away like a river.
He stood in the ruins of a great palace, the crumbling pillars disappearing into a light far above him, but it wasn’t sunlight. The space was vast, but still and silent, a great chamber of some sort, far below the ground; the smell of magic was everywhere. He thought he could hear music, drifting from some other place an unfathomable distance away…
The place rushed past, gone in a breath.
He was under trees now, huge trees with bores as wide as a house, or larger. The leaves where so dense here that the sunlight was dimmed to a half-light, bathing everything in green. Someone stood a little way off, under the shadow of a tree.
The man’s back was turned, his face obscured in shadow, but he looked about Link’s height. He wore a tattered cloak and carried a pack. He was running, again? Green became gray, the world dissolving in fog, the sound of his heartbeat seemed suddenly loud in the silence. A cold weight settled in his gut.
From nowhere a hand seized his throat, lifting him- yellow eyes filled with seething hatred bored into him.
Link woke with a start, sweating and breathing heavily. On the back of his left hand, the triangle that marked him as a bearer of the Triforce burned, hot and painful. Beside him Ilia stirred.
“Is something wrong?” she whispered.
Link took a deep breath, another.
“No, its fine. Go back to sleep,” He replied when he trusted himself to speak.
He waited until he was certain she was asleep once more, breathing deep and even, before slipping out of bed. He made his way to the wash stand and splashed water on his face. He washed vigorously, scrubbing away at the confused memory of his dream. It would not wait for fall, whatever this was, he was sure of that now. Whatever was triggering his connection to the goddesses was deadly urgent. Link idly rubbed the back of his left hand as he thought, studying the mark.
He would leave with the wagon train; there was no other choice.
He just wasn’t sure how to tell Ilia.
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