Chapter IX: Shallow Thought
Heraji swam back to consciousness by degrees; there was a pain in his side, lessening somewhat, a pleasant warmth resting over the wound, he supposed that was his blood… He felt a hand move over his scarf, going to the knot on one side of his head and he was wide awake, staring up into Ashei’s face.
“Don’t break my other arm now!” He realized with a jolt he was gripping her wrist, hard, knuckles whitened with pressure, and released with a jerk.
He sat up, fighting dizziness with the sudden motion. His shirt had been parted to get a the gash in his side. But there was no gash now, not even the tightness of scar tissue, all he could discern was a thin streak of lighter skin against the ebony.
“How do you feel?”
He looked up to find the Queens’s eyes even with his own, she knelt beside him, summer-blue gaze serenely studying him. He realized who had tended him and felt foolishly embarrassed.
He tried to stand.
Zelda made no move to stop him, standing with him as he fought his way to his feet. Heraji swayed, waiting for his stomach’s rebellion to settle.
“Heraji is your name?”
He turned his gaze to the Queen, “Yes.”
Zelda studied his eyes, making no sign herself, “What did you want with the book of Mudora?”
Heraji made no reply, her gaze made him uncomfortable. Her eyes seemed to look right through him, leaving his soul bare under the strength of that gaze, like a plant that withered under the sun.
He turned, brushing past Ashei, only to find himself face-to face with Link. Link’s arms were crossed over his chest, his face stony.
Heraji locked eyes with the Ordonian and for a moment they stood thus, neither moving a muscle.
“What do you want?” Heraji demanded.
“I want to know what you’re doing here, and why you need that book.” Link inclined his head to one side, indicating the book where it lay.
Heraji’s eyes hungrily lingered on the parcel, then slid back to Link’s face.
“I suppose you are entitled to an explanation…” he said slowly.
Link had the briefest of warnings, a flash of magic, hot and intense, and Heraji’s fist plowed into his gut. With blinding speed Heraji’s other hand grabbed a handful of Link’s tunic, flipping the Ordonian over his shoulder with a flick of his wrist. He was at the book in a blinking, muscles flooded with magic, infused with the strength of twenty men.
The tome that had weighed him down before felt light as a feather as he picked it up, but the tearing in his shoulders reminded him this was only borrowed strength. The shooting pains that accompanied the spell were already beginning.
Heraji threw the tome over one shoulder and turned to meet Link’s rush, to Heraji’s eyes the world around him slowed to a snail’s pace, Link’s motions appeared comically exaggerated as time compressed in Heraji’s perception.
- Shallow -
Link had landed and rolled to his feet in a single smooth motion, his sword already drawn. Heraji was at the book in a single flash of motion. Link leaped at him, sword raised for an overhand chop that would bisect the wizard.
Heraji leaped to one side, avoiding his blade, attempting to kick Link in passing, a flash of intuition and Link rolled, coming up under the blow and launched himself straight up, slashing at Heraji’s unguarded back.
Except that Heraji was no longer there, but rather in the air, high above, descending in a graceful arc.
In his travels Link had encountered many powerful and canny beasts, but never any that could simply dodge his blade. Dodge it and make it look easy…
Now he’d found two in the same day.
Heraji landed hard, swaying as the expenditure of energy took its toll on his weakened body. Link took advantage of the momentary falter and attacked, coming at Heraji with a flurry of cuts.
There was a snick- a quiet sound like a key turning in a lock, and Link felt the faintest spray of blood on his cheek.
Heraji stumbled, reeling, a hand held to his jaw. The scarf over his face was free, in tatters. Link caught sight of his eyes; not afraid, but very, very surprised and wary. A hooked nose and ebony face with chiseled features, hair as red as new wine.
Link’s eyes widened, he knew that face. It was the face that had haunted his every waking moment, the nightmare overshadowing each hour of repose, more than a year ago. The face that had burned in his nightmares of late.
Heraji fixed him with a shocked stare for a moment, then turned and vanished down the street.
- Shallow -
Heraji ran, past stalls filled with the curious, brave and foolish, past Agitha and her cleaning lady (What a day that girl was having!), and to the gates, shut fast at the first sound of alarm. He ignored the doors and guards, running up the front like a spider or scurrying lizard and vaulted up over the stone ramparts.
Link skidded to a stop at the base of the gate, watching the tail end of Heraji’s cloak as it disappeared over the battlements.
- Shallow -
An hour later they gathered in Zelda’s reception hall around a small table spread with bread, strawberry preserves, and a side of roast venison. The travelers related the events of their departure and subsequent adventures as they ate.
“We’ve reports of similar attacks to the north and East, small raiding parties probing outlying settlements, but they grow bolder and more numerous daily.” Zelda said pensively in the hollow silence after they finished speaking.
Link nodded, gaze fixed on his drink. Off to the side, Ashei cast a dubious look at Bulbin as he struggled to light an enormous horn pipe.
“I am glad you’re safe, when my messengers failed to return, or came bearing wounds and wild storied of monsters abroad, I feared the worst.” Zelda sighed, she drummed her fingers on the table, “What of this Heraji?” Zelda asked, gaze flickering between Link and Bulbin, “One moment he helps you escape these wolves, the next he steals from me…”
“I know little of him,” Bulbin rumbled, “Besides his name, he told me nothing of himself or his intentions.”
Zelda nodded contemplatively, “He lied about his name.” She added, “It was in his eyes.”
“He looks like Ganondorf.”
All eyes turned to Link.
“While we were fighting I managed to tear that scarf he covers his face with. He looks just like him.”
There was a long silence, unbroken except for the crackle of the fire.
“This does not bode well…” Zelda said, “Could it be Ganon himself, or is it some agent or kin of his, sent to avenge him?”
Link shook his head, lost in his own thoughts.
“But if that’s the case then why did he defend you from the Shadow, yeah?” Ashei interjected.
There was no answer to that.
“What was that thing anyway?” Ashei asked.
Zelda looked tired, “It is a true shadow, a monster created for one purpose and one purpose only, to kill the hero. It was defeated and sealed away centuries ago by the previous bearer of the mark of courage.”
“It is remorseless and utterly unwavering in it’s pursuit. Once it has returned to the darkness it will need time to build its strength, so we have a brief respite before it returns.”
“Wait, I thought you killed it, yeah?” Ashei interrupted abruptly.
“I did not, I don’t know if it can be killed.” Zelda replied. “The power of light can shatter it, weaken it, send it back to the shadows twisted and formless; but unless it is sealed once more it will simply rebuild itself and return, stronger and more cunning each time.”
After a contemplative silence Zelda spoke, “This can’t be a coincidence. For the past several months I have been experiencing dreams, nightmares… and when I woke from them foreboding weighed heavily on my heart. Fear, of some encroaching shadow or some near danger.”
“Only one thing ever put the hero on even ground against this monster was Evil’s Bane, the Master Sword.” Zelda locked gazes with Link, “That should be our first priority.”
“Then we can kill it?” Ashei asked hopefully.
“No, but it will buy us time.” Zelda said.
Link nodded quietly, “I can leave now. Farnon is a three day’s ride from Castletown, will we make it?”
“I don’t know for certain.” Zelda said. Both Zelda and Link looked at the other two, Bulbin and Ashei.
“I will accompany you.” Bulbin rumbled. Ashei shot him a sour look.
“I’d love to come along, but I’d only slow you down with this arm.” She said sourly.
“Ashei, come here.” Zelda said. She laid a hand on the cast, frowning slightly as he eyes lost their focus, gaining the faraway look of one searching far in the distance. Then the queen spoke a single quiet word.
There was a ‘pop’ and Ashei blinked, she lifted the arm experimentally.
“Ah, thanks. Thank you, your Majesty.” She amended with a short bow.
“Think nothing of it, Ashei.” Zelda smiled, then sobered. “I’m sorry for sending you off like this, without so much as a night’s rest, but there is no time.” She sighed, “I was hoping to catch up.”
Link smiled, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back.”
Zelda’s smile was rueful, “That means this isn’t the end.”
- Shallow -
Under the cover of pine trees Heraji repaired his face wrappings, taking care to pull the knot tight.
“I will kill him slowly for that.” He muttered to himself. It had been years since he had shown his face under the sun, since someone had seen the mark of shame…
He scowled, fists clenched, then turned to the business at hand
Having finished securing his face he set a hand on the book lying beside him. Creamy pages whispered under his fingers as he leafed through. It was a real treasure, he hadn’t seen anything like this since leaving the Dust Mountains.
He frowned as he squinted at the pages, night was falling and the clouds made twilight deepen to inky black in a blinking. He sighed, if anything more was to be gleaned from the pages it would have to wait for dawn, fire was out of the question in the off chance searchers had been sent after him.
He wrapped the volume carefully in waterproof oilskin and lay back on the pine needles, staring up into the branches. A kind of dark satisfaction guided him to sleep.
And the memories followed.
- Shallow -
Ages ago, in another eternity or another life…
A gentle lullaby, a woman singing under the shade of palms, the sound of running water as the winter storms pounded the ground outside.
The smell of magic.
Father, a single joyful word came to mind as a shadow blotted out the light, he knew him immediately. He ran to him, laughing. Strong arms lifted him up, giggling as only a child can.
Then yellow eyes filled his vision. Something seized his mind and it seemed that a voice was whispering hateful things in his head, stealing away the joy of the memory. He wanted it to stop, he tried to look for father, but he was a prisoner of those eyes. He fought the gaze, struggled for air as his mind burned.
He thought he felt the mind slip, just once, for a moment. Then it was over; he was being set down, tears running down his face. Not because of the burning, scalding, dark mind; no, but because of what he had heard then, at the end.
‘You are defective.’
Father had turned to mother then, and with a voice that smoldered with anger, spoke.
“He will not do, we must try again.”
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