Chapter III: The Shadows to Come
It was about this time, elsewhere in Hyrule, a very different individual was also sleepless.
It was well-known among the various cleaning ladies and cooks at the Queen’s temporary residence, that Zelda was a habitually light sleeper, but lately she had begun to avoid closing her eyes entirely. ‘She works too hard!’ they said, but that was not why she now engaged in self-induced insomnia.
Zelda restlessly paced her bedchamber; it wasn’t hers, of course, reconstruction of Hyrule Castle would likely take years. She was living with a duchess she had known when she was a girl.
She stopped momentarily, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the nightstand mirror.
She was only twenty-one, but right now she looked older. Blue eyes gazed wearily back at her from the polished glass. Golden tresses fell to the small of her back, framing a face that looked striking in the right light and that now looked simply thin. Delicate, aristocratic features. She reached out, touching her reflection where the exhaustion showed under her eyes.
She needed to sleep.
Zelda sat on the side of her bed with a sigh.
It wasn’t her nightmares, at least, not the typical sort. A vague feeling of unease, a nagging fear that seemed to drag her down, clawing at her mind until she was submerged by it and awoke, sometimes as often as four times a night. Coming again and again until it seemed she was growing wearier with sleep, rather than resting from the cares that plagued her fragile kingdom.
She glanced down at the mark on her left hand, the small triangle that marked her as one of the goddesses’ own. A holder of one of the three portions of the golden power. Hers was the mark of wisdom, the gift of Nayru. Perhaps there was a connection?
It had been months since she attempted using her Triforce for anything; she rarely had need for magic during peace. She now regarded the mark with trepidation. Some moments passed in silence.
Zelda raised her left hand before her face and closed her eyes, reaching with her mind for the ambient magic surrounding her.
Her consciousness brushed the threads of energy wound throughout her body, currents of aura blending with that of the ambient energy surrounding her, like a bright spot in the fabric of space, followed the flow to her left hand. She found the bright spot, the place where the world seemed to fold in on itself, becoming a focal point of white-hot intensity. She let her consciousness teeter on the brink, peering into the light-filled depths below, what seemed like a fathomless tunnel of seething, living energy-
-and plunged in.
Zelda opened her eyes.
Light surrounded her, so bright she knew it ought to hurt, but somehow she bore it and could see.
She reached out, feeling through the light, gold, red, and emerald, searching for – what? An answer?
Why did this feeling of impeding danger haunt her?
Her mind was drawn along the current, swept along as though drowning in this place, this well of light. Images passed one after another in brief flashes of color.
Then a spot appeared in the light, a black speck like a cloud on the horizon. It grew hungrily, filling her sight-
Zelda fell forward, landing on the thick bedroom carpet with a thud. She lay there for several moments, panting.
A gentle knock at her door; Zelda composed herself.
“What is it?” She was reasonably certain the quiver in her voice was imagined.
“Would your highness be pleased with breakfast?” The maid’s voice, only slightly muffled by the wood, and sounding somewhat worried.
Zelda glanced at the window. To her surprise, bright sunlight filtered in through the curtains; dawn was long past. How long had she been in her trance?
The princess frowned, thoughts returning to what she had seen and heard.
It couldn’t be, not after they’d fought, and sorrowed, and bled…
The mark on her hand pulsed and she closed her eyes; no, it couldn’t be. But she had seen it with her own eyes, heard the voice…
Zelda set about straightening her gown and hair, effecting the appearance of restfulness. She had little time and much to do.
She needed to find the chief of messengers, rouse the carriers and send them to Ordon without delay. It might already be too late.
Evil had come to Hyrule once more.
The clamor of the wagons, the grunt of oxen. Link kept steady pace beside the lead wagon on Epona as they slowly rolled along beneath the branches of Farnon.
Link let Epona have her head, he trusted her to find sure footing. Instead his gaze was turned inwards…
Rusl, can you look after her for me?
The older man looked at Link. The silence spoke volumes.
The wagon train was packing up, Men and women moving efficiently to hitch the wagons and secure the oxen and various goods. It went quickly as most of the work had been done the night before, the wagon trains rarely lingered in places as small as Ordon.
“You think you’ll be gone long?” Rusl asked.
Link didn’t answer right away.
“I told her I’d be back as quickly as I can…”
Rusl nodded slowly, still watching the merchants as they arranged their train for departure.
“Can you do that for me?”
Rusl looked Link in the eye; “You have my word.”
Link brushed these thoughts from his mind, trying instead to focus on the positives.
His Claymore was slung over one shoulder, good, honest Ordonian steel; his shield was as well. His bow was tied across the back of his saddle along with a full quiver.
In a way, it was exhilarating to be on the road once more; a breath of fresh air through a door long closed, the comforting weight of his weapons at his back and the steady tramp of Epona’s hooves on the trail.
The rhythm of travel.
He never imagined he could have missed it all this much. The steady weight of his pack, the clank of gear and the smell of vegetation bruised by their passage.
“You’ve been awful quiet, yeah?”
Link smiled ever so slightly. Ashei gave him a disgusted look and sighed, “You’re gonna be as good a source of conversation as ever, huh?”
Link laughed briefly. A year had done little to dull Ashei’s spirit, or her temper. This, too, was refreshing- and familiar..
His smile faded…
Ilia stood in the doorway, looking at him in that heartbreaking, lovely way of hers. A single flame glowed in the cellar of Link’s cottage as readied himself. The light cast shadows across his body as he changed. The worst of his scars were hidden by his clothing; long ropy marks, pale and stiff. He hid them beneath a loose cotton undershirt, then a short shirt of chain mail.
Link pulled on the cotton over-tunic, green as the forest, feeling it slide across the chain mail like a second skin.
Then Link fastened the buckle around his chest, feeling the sheath and sword settle against his back like an old friend, a dependable weight.
Or a terrible burden.
Ilia stepped forward, his thick leather gauntlets in her delicate hands.
He grasped her hands in his, gently, tenderly. They gazed into each other’s eyes for a long time, their hearts dying inside them.
Ilia turned away, hurt in her eyes. Link wished he could run to her, assure her he was coming right back.
But he wasn’t sure anymore.
Instead he set his gauntlets down and gently rested his hands on her shoulders, massaging slowly. She trembled under him.
He gently raised her chin, tears running down her cheeks as she looked up at him.
“I’m coming back.”
They kissed then, with passion they hadn’t felt since their marriage. But the emotion that drove them now was fear, fear for the future, and fear that it would be the last.
“I’ll be home as soon as I can.” He said when they separated.
Ilia dropped her eyes, “I know…but…”
The silence separated them, despite how close they now were.
“Just…don’t do anything too dangerous…please.”
Something jostled him in passing, a branch brushing his cheek. Link looked up; the sun was well overhead now, the day half gone. They would be stopping for the midday meal soon…
Link realized that it was the first time he and Ilia had been apart a full twenty-four hours since they were married.
The realization hit him hard, harder than he had imagined it would.
“You okay Link?” Ashei asked.
Link nodded, turning away. He looked up at the hills behind them, already falling into the distance. He took a single deep breath of the air of Ordon. Some distant corner of his mind wondered if it would be his last.
Several hours later, elsewhere in the mountains, a camp lay concealed beneath the valley underbrush. Two figures occupied the tiny clearing, one thicker and heavier, fast asleep and snoring; the other thin and wakeful. The dusk chill under the moonlight, the valley was asleep; the mountain's voice was stilled. A vast blue boar rooted nearby amid the roots of a beech tree, grunting gently.
Suddenly the watcher stiffened; parting the leaves that concealed them and peered down the slope. The vigil lasted mere moments before he sprang across the small camp and began kicking the prone form.
"Wake up, wake up, you porker, your snores are gonna get us all killed!" He whispered viciously.
The huge form swatted at the foot drowsily, "Mhu?" he rumbled. The kicks only increased in intensity.
"We need to move!…Wake up!"
The form rolled over with a groan. "Waatzzzzut?" it mumbled.
"We have company."
The bigger man finally moved, struggling laboriously to his feet. The porquin figure was swathed in equal measures of fat and muscle. He was almost round, with a curiously narrow neck and round head topped with a set of broken horns. His skin was dull, green and mottled in patches, rough with warty protrusions. He wore a wool kilt and a hood of leather over his neck. This figure, though distasteful, was King of the plains’ goblin tribes, known by the name of Bulbin.
The thin man knelt in the bushes, once more gazing out across the valley. Bulbin joined him, making as little noise as possible; his companion hissed in annoyance each time the goblin snapped a twig.
"It's a foraging party, I count a dozen, but there could be many times that number…"
Bulbin studied the forest, noting here a brief rustle in the trees, there a shape that flitted into the open an instant before disappearing into the foliage once more.
"Yes, you're right." Bulbin rumbled, his voice grave, a deep bass, guttural; not unlike an echo from the depths of a cave. "Have they caught our scent?"
"We're downwind. Fortunately, our fire made little smoke, but that is where we passed…" The thinner man's clothing, where the light caught it, was scarlet, dirtied and tattered with many long days on the road. His face was masked with a matching linen scarf wrapped in an intricate pattern about his head. The combined effect was that of a bat crouched in the bushes, thin and starved. Gold earrings dangled from his pointed ears, and his eyes, where they could be seen under his wrappings, were hazel, belonging to a hawk or another raptor of the sky. Proud and fierce, now narrowed in consternation. "They might have missed-
A long howl pierced the night, wild and hungry. Instantly the woods where filled with rushing shapes.
"They have the scent." The thin man said grimly.
Bulbin gnashed his teeth loudly, then turned ponderously and stomped back to where he had been sleeping; he rummaged briefly in the grass before extracting an enormous full-bladed ax. "They won't find us easy prey!" He hefted the ax on one shoulder, eyes glinting.
The thin man stood, still gazing down at the valley. "Fighting here would be a pointless gesture, they have the advantage of both numbers and the cliffs above us." He turned, his eyes luminous in the dark. "But you might be able to make it…” He looked back down the valley. "I'll meet back up with you at the top of the pass."
"Are you certain you can handle them all?" Bulbin asked; he sounded disappointed.
"I know what I'm doing,” the man said. “Now get moving, or it won’t matter."
The crash of many bodies rushing through the trees was audible from the far side of the valley; as Bulbin watched, he could even see them pushing through the woods, making little effort to disguise their movements. Their howls rose in strength and volume suddenly, and he knew they had found the camp.
A sudden flare of light illuminated the mountainside, like the sun at midnight. The light faded and flared again, and again, and once more, then vanished altogether.
There was a pop of displaced air that hurt his ears; behind him on the saddle there was a sudden additional weight.
"Ah! My night vision's shot, let me get a better grip."
The goblin reined his steed in to a slower pace to allow the other man a chance to situate himself.
"I don't think we'll be followed." The man added after they had ridden some time.
Bulbin chuckled, a sound like distant thunder.
The boar picked up speed, grunting and grumbling as it struggled on the slopes. "Those patrols are getting more common," the thin man said, "They're still moving in," he let the statement hang for a moment "So what is our next move?"
Bulbin's brow furrowed, "What I meant to do, we'll find the great warrior and ask him for his help."
The thin man snorted, "And he'll give it?"
"…I don't know."
The thin man made no further comment.
Underneath a new moon, the boar thundered on into the night.
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