Things were not right.
Vincent sat alone in his room, sword on his lap, absently rubbing it with a cloth.
The rubbing stopped and the knight looked about him.
"Who is there?" he demanded, looking around the room carefully.
Silence greeted his question.
He rose to his feet and took a better look around the room, sword loosely gripped in his hand.
The voice was louder this time but coming from nowhere yet at the same time everywhere around him.
"Show yourself!" he shouted. The knight brandished his sword menacingly as his eyes darted around the room. Nothing moved, yet to the adrenaline-backed eyes of the young man, the very air seemed to be advancing on him. With his sword in a death grip, adrenaline pumping from some hidden reserve, Vincent narrowed his eyes and screamed, "Show yourself!"
The walls of his room shook with the voice's insane laughter, drowning the knight's mind in turmoil.
Link strode through the many dark, cold hallways of Hyrule Castle. They had not always been dark and cold, the boy thought. Ever since Mira had died, things had not been right.
Over the past few weeks, Queen Julia had become nothing more than a ruler in name only. She spent all of her time in her chambers, refusing to allow entrance to any other than her son, Trine. Trine had adopted the throne and had already established himself as the ruler of the Land. Several people of the castle had gone missing since Trine had taken the throne, but it seemed to him that only a few people could see the reason of those disappearances: They had been the supporters of Princess Zelda.
No, Link corrected himself, not princess. Not any more. Zelda had been exiled for the death of her sister, Mira. The girl's rank and title had been stripped of her and she had been cast out of the very land that had given her birth, had raised her, and had been so deeply rooted in her heart that every breath she took was for it. Hyrule had turned its back on Zelda in favour of her young cousin, Trine. As much as it saddened him, Link knew that the people of Hyrule would realize their mistake too late. Trine wanted something. What it was, Link could not say, but he was sure that it was more than just the command of the oldest nation in the world.
Link rounded a corner and almost collided with his sullen companion from Calatia, Vincent.
"Link," asked the man, "have you found him?"
"No," Link said, shaking his head sadly, "I can't find any trace of him. It seems like he has just disappeared."
"Nothing 'just disappears'. Nature does not work that way. Only creatures make things disappear."
Link looked his friend over slowly. Poor man, he thought. He's a wreak.
Vincent had neither rested nor slept in the past two days and the quiet knight looked it. His only companion whom he would call friend had vanished without a trace shortly after Zelda had been banished. No, Link again corrected himself, not friend. Vincent had always treated the moblin as more of a trophy than a friend. A trophy that not all moblins must live in slavery under the mighty Calatian thumb. Unfortunately, Kubo hated him for it. It was one thing to be freed from slavery and quite another thing to be constantly reminded of that slavery.
But now Kubo was missing.
"Come on," Link said, putting his arm around Vincent and guiding him to the kitchens, "let's get something to eat. Maybe we'll think of someplace Kubo could be that we haven't searched yet."
Silently, the knight nodded.
Together Link and Vincent entered the dining hall of Hyrule Castle and found some tidbits of food there. They seated themselves opposite each other and started to eat in silence.
"Link," said the knight suddenly.
Link stopped chewing on a piece of bread and looked to his friend. "Yes?"
"I have been thinking lately, since Kubo vanished, and I have come to a decision. I shall leave for Calatia tomorrow."
"Why?" This was bad news to Link as the lonely knight was the only ally he had in the castle.
"This castle reeks of evil, Link. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. I can no longer stay in such a vile place. Sooner or later it will consume me, as it will consume you too if you remain here."
Link sighed. "I understand. I don't blame you. Ever since Trine took over, this castle seems less beautiful and more gloomy. It's as if the spirit has been taken from the walls." Link absently rubbed the table, fondly.
"Then come with me, Link!" Vincent said urgently. "Come with me to Calatia and help me free the slaves! Make a name for yourself other than a king's lackey!"
Link shook his head. "I can't go. I have a duty to the people of Hyrule if not to the royal family. My place is in Hyrule."
"Link, there is a whole world out there waiting for you to come and explore it and learn from it and help it in ways you cannot imagine. You can not stay here all of your life. You could learn so many things from so many people if you came with me."
"Sorry, Vincent," said Link sadly, "I have too many responsibilities here. As long as the royal family and the people of Hyrule are living, I will be here to protect them."
"What if the royal family has become corrupt? Will you still blindly follow it?"
When Link did not answer, Vincent shook his head and looked to the nearest door as a man in a long, shrouding cloak walked in and stopped at the sight of the two heroes eating. The knight recognized the man as one of the two who had accompanied Prince Trine from Delabor. As far as he knew, neither had ever said a word to anyone. They could not be trusted.
Vincent leaned closer to Link, one eye still watching the man in shadow.
"Link, you should leave here as soon as you can. This castle is doing more than just feeling wicked, it is radiating emotions of evil." At Link's confused look, the Calatian continued. "Last night I was alone in my chambers and voices started talking in my head. They started softly but quickly became so unbearable that they pounded my head with every word. It went on for hours and I started to lose control of myself. I took out my sword and started attacking everything around me, trying to make the voices stop. I was in a haze of hatred at the voices, every word they uttered rang through my bones and chilled me to the spine!" Vincent paused to steady his breathing. "I killed a woman in that haze." Before Link could say anything, the knight continued. "I heard the door open and I turned to it and saw King Eridanus standing there; the very man whom I have been fighting against for my entire life. I pierced him with my sword, and as soon as I had killed him, the voices stopped, his body vanished, and was replaced with that of the serving girl, Helen." At this, Link could see his friend begin to shake violently in pain at the memory. "She died in my arms, Link! I killed her in cold blood! And the voices started to laugh at me. Shrieking that I was under their control now and would serve them for eternity! They made me kill her!" The knight's eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment before again centring on Link "Even now I can here them. Calling me and jeering me softly. They could again take over my body and mind at any moment! I must leave this castle or risk losing my mind!"
Vincent's body seemed to lose its strength and his head fell to his chest as he held back the stinging tears of shame. Link thought about what the silent knight had just said. It was unbelievable that Vincent, this calm and composed man, could ever fly into a violent fury so uncontrollable that he would kill in cold blood. Link could vaguely remember the girl, Helen. She was always so happy with life, always smiling and willing to help others smile. If he remembered correctly, she was also very beautiful, not a flaw in her perfect skin. Such a waste of life.
Link placed a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder and said, "It's not your fault. The voices pushed you to it. There was nothing you could have done."
Vincent looked up at Link. "But it was my fault, Link. It was. It was because of me that she was even near my room."
Link started to open his mouth to speak, but the knight cut him off.
"Just before dinner last night, she came to me in the gardens and asked about the slavery in Calatia. We talked for some time but dinner time was upon us before we could cover much of the topic. She was expected to help serve the dinner, so we agreed that she would visit me after dinner in my room. It was because of me that the poor girl was there!"
Link slightly squeezed his friend's shoulder reassuringly. "You could never have known what would have happened. It's not your fault."
"Thank y-," Vincent looked slightly above Link's head, his eyes wide, his pity forgotten. "Link look out!"
Link dropped from the chair and spun around just as a dagger sank itself deep into the wood of the table.
The Hero of Hyrule looked up at his attacker to see that it was one of the men in long concealing cloaks that followed Trine about. Link reached down to his side for his sword but only then realized that he had left it in his quarters. The knife was pulled from the table and swung again at Link. The young man rolled away out of reach of the blade and kicked at his attacker's feet. The robed man fell down onto Link and immediately received a fist in the gut. He grunted and rolled off of Link.
Vincent jumped over the table and kicked the knife from the robed man's hand. He drew his own sword and pressed it to the man's neck. Link got to his feet and kneeled next to the robed man. As soon as he saw the man's face, he gasped.
"What is it Link? Do you know him?" asked Vincent.
"Yes I do," said Link, pulling off the hood that covered the man's face. "Auldric! I thought you were in Turka."
Aulrdic spat at Link and missed his face by inches. "You shall die, Link! I'll kill you!"
Link, bewildered, stood up and said, "Vincent, let him go."
Slowly, the red knight removed his sword from Auldric's throat. Quicker than either of them would have thought possible, Auldric launched himself at Link and started strangling him.
Link and Vincent forced the man off of his one-time friend and Vincent held him fast.
"Why are you trying to kill me, Auldric? What happened to you?"
"That is not for you to know, Link."
Link and Vincent looked to see Trine walk into the room followed closely by the other man concealed with a long cloak.
"What?" Link asked of his new master, shocked.
Trine looked the three combatants over and said, "What has become of your friend is not your concern. Release him."
Obediently, Vincent let Auldric go and silently the would-be-assassin moved to stand behind Trine.
"He just tried to kill Link. He should be punished," said Vincent.
Trine glared at the red knight. "Do not tell me what to do," he growled, "I am king of Hyrule. You would do well not to overstep your position."
Vincent returned Trine's glare and said, "You are not king of Hyrule. You are just filling in your mother's shoes. You are the ruler of nothing. Perhaps you should not overstep your position."
Link could see the fury building up in Trine's eyes. "How dare you speak to me in such a way! Filling in or not, I am still the ruler of this land and while you are in it you shall obey me! Only your friendship to Link is saving you from the executioner's block." He turned to Link and almost shouted, "This man is under your protection. If he speaks out against me again, you shall be held responsible. I will personally kill you both. Am I understood?"
Link nodded and hung his head in submission. "Yes, sire."
"Good. Do not let it happen again." With that, Trine stalked out of the room followed by his two cloaked followers.
Link and Vincent just stood silently in the hall staring after the lord.
As they left the dining hall, Ashir spoke up from beneath his cloak.
"Sire, perhaps you should not have threatened Link. He might react to it."
Trine did not look at the sorcerer as he replied. "Let him react. I know how to handle him."
"I hope you are right, lord. He could become a problem if he is outright against us. The people trust him. If they see the throne in direct opposition to him, they may follow him."
"Do not worry." Trine paused. "Can my mother be controlled as Auldric here is?"
Ashir glanced at the youth beside him. "Perhaps, though I would be reluctant to try. She is very weak from the potions I have been giving her. She may die from the spell."
"It is a risk we must take. Prepare the spell quickly. I think Link may make his stand soon.
"As you wish, sire."
The trio continued through the many dark halls of Hyrule castle in silence.
The next day was a chilly fall morning. The sky threatened to start raining and a slight wind rustled the leaves on the many great trees of Hyrule City. Somewhere in the great city, a window slat slammed shut, disturbing the early morning peace.
Link and Vincent had gathered all of their belongings and were prepared to leave Hyrule. All that remained was to inform the queen of his plans.
After the threats Trine had made on Link's life as well as on Vincent's, Link knew that the royal family that he had sworn to protect had disintegrated. The man who had been like a father to him, King Gerrik, had been killed while deathly ill. His good friend Mira and her husband Torvus had died under mysterious circumstances and the princess to whom he was protector and friend had been exiled from the land. Link knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be ordered to take part in something evil and he could not allow himself to be controlled blindly by people who surely had the vilest of intentions.
The two companions entered the hall where the royal chambers were held. Link approached the door and was stopped by the guards.
"I wish to speak with the queen." he said simply.
"No one is the see the queen except his highness Trine." said one of the guards.
"I am the protector of the royal family. That title gives me the ability to override the orders of anyone in the land if I feel the need to. Let me in."
The guards looked at each other before replying. "But Prince Trine said-"
"I don't care what he said. I'm overruling him. Let me in."
Again the guards glanced at each other and then stepped aside to allow Link to enter the room.
"Thank you." Link said coldly.
He entered the extremely ornate general room of the Queen Julia. Gems and gold hung off of everything. He looked around for the door to the queen's personal chambers.
He quickly found it and knocked softly on the door.
"Yes?" came a weak voice from the other side of the door.
"Highness, it's me, Link. I need to speak with you."
"Come in, Link." came the voice again.
Link entered the room and saw the ailing queen lying in her giant bed. He gasped at how sick she looked. She looked almost dead. Her cheeks were sunken so drastically that her skull could be easily seen through her skin. Her skin was almost chalk white and her eyes almost glowed yellow.
The frail hand of the ruler waved slightly, dismissing the doctor that was constantly hovering over her. When he had left the room, the queen spoke. "Yes, Link?" she whispered. "What brings you here? It has been so long since I have seen anyone other than Trine and the doctors."
Link started to speak when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Out of the corner of the room walked Trine. He sat down on the bed beside his mother and looked at the hero.
"Yes," he said, smiling, "Tell us what brings you here, Link."
Link drew in his breath and said, "I wish to give up my title of Royal Protector."
Julia shook her head slowly. "Why would you want to do that?"
"My duty was to protect King Gerrik and his family, especially Princess Zelda. I have failed at protecting the royal family so far, and Zelda is no longer part of the family. I do not think that I could protect you."
Julia was silent for a moment and then asked, "Are you sure?"
Link nodded. "I am sure. I am leaving the land today."
Julia nodded sadly. "I am sorry that you must go. The people truly look up to you. All of Hyrule will be sorry to see you leave." She paused to gain her breath. "Help me up, please, Trine."
Her son helped her skeletal frame into a sitting position and she ordered Link to kneel before her.
"Link, I hereby release you from all duties to the crown of Hyrule, other than those required of a citizen of this land. I hereby strip you of the title of Royal Protector, of the title of Captain of the Praetorian Guard, of the title of Knight of Hyrule, and of the title of Hero of Hyrule."
Link kept his head bowed as he was stripped of everything that bound him to his homeland. Only now did his actions strike him. For the past few years, these titles had been everything to him. They had made him who he now was. As the Royal Protector, Link had become very close to the princess Zelda, been by her side whenever she needed help or just a shoulder to lean on. As the Captain of the Praetorian Guard, he had led a militia of over forty of the strongest and best knights in the land in guarding the Royal family from any and all harm. As a Knight of Hyrule, he was guarding his homeland from any danger, be it foreign or domestic. And as the Hero of Hyrule, he had fulfilled an ancient prophesy and had the adoration of the entire world. Without these titles, what was he? A rogue? A brigand? A knight without a home? Link thought harder. An orphan? A peasant? After all, his parents had died when he was very young and he had been raised by his uncle as a peasant labourer. If it had not been for these titles, he would probably have died in obscurity among the masses of the land. He would not have seen the things he had seen. He would not have done the things he had done. He would not have met the people he had met. And Zelda. It had been because of the prophesy that he had even met her, yet it was also because oft he prophesy that he had to live in hatred of himself. He may have been the Hero of Hyrule, but he was still just a peasant, and could never have a relationship with a princess. His feelings for Zelda had to be constantly masked, and in doing so, he had to wear a mask of lies and deceit to cover up the real him. A thought struck him. Now that Zelda was no longer a princess, but in banishment, he could finally remove his mask and show her the real person inside her knight. He could be free.
Eventually, the queen finished the ceremonious rights and Link's mind focused on the duties at hand. He rose.
"Link," she said solemnly , "Please hand over the Master Sword."
Link looked down at his sword. It had been with him since the beginning and now he must give it up. The sword had become as much a part of him as his arm, but he must relinquish it along with his titles. It belonged in Hyrule among the royalty, not with a peasant in another land. Reluctantly, he passed the blade and belt over to the frail queen. It was by far the most difficult action he had taken in his life. His fingers refusing to release that which had made him what he had been for the past several years. Eventually, though, he overpowered the sword and relinquished it. Something in the back of his head wept and disappeared. The weight was too much for her to hold and it dropped with a dull clang to the floor.
"Do you have any requests as to who should take your place?" she asked.
Link shook his head. "No, your highness. I have not found anyone worthy enough to take on my duties."
"Well," said Julia, "We must have a Royal Protector." She turned to Trine. "Trine, do know of anyone who could take the title?."
"Mother," he said, "I know the very man. The prince left the room and returned again with one of his cloaked assistants in tow. The hood was pulled back to reveal the face of Auldric.
Before Link's startled eyes, the very man that Link had once called friend and now reluctantly called enemy was given the power to control Hyrule. He was given the titles of Royal Protector, Praetorian Captain and Hero of Hyrule. Link watched in silent horror as the Master Sword, the Evil's Bane, was handed over to a man who surely now followed evil.
Auldric stood up and brandished his new sword. In his hands, the sword flickered with an unusual orange flame, instead of it's normal blue. The young man replaced the sword in it's scabbard and grinned at Link in a menacing way, his eyes burning like coals in a fire with intense hatred.
"Good bye, Link." he said and he sheathed the sword.
Link and Vincent slowly led their horses through the many crowds of early morning Hyrule City.
Neither said a word until they were outside of the great city's walls.
Stopping his mount and looking back at his former home, Link said, "I've been thinking, Vincent."
"I will come with you to Calatia and then I shall go find Zelda."
Vincent shook his head. "The chances of you finding her are next to impossible. She could be anywhere in the Seven Lands."
"I know," admitted Link, "but I just have this feeling that Zelda is destined to rule Hyrule. I've got to find her and bring her back."
The silent knight shrugged and mounted his steed. He waited until Link had done the same before asking, "What if the princess is dead?"
"She isn't." Link replied, fixing his gaze southward. "I can feel it."
Vincent stared at his companion for a moment, shook his head, and kicked his steed into movement. A second later, Link followed. Neither one of them noticed Trine and his two hooded associates watching them from the battlements of the castle walls.
As soon as the two heroes had faded from sight, the prince turned to Link's former friend.
"Follow them and report to me everything they do. Do not let them notice you. Understood?"
"Why can I not just kill him?" asked Auldric.
"You are not strong enough to kill him. Wait and I guarantee you will slay Link." came the reply.
Auldric nodded and tightly grasped the pendant hanging loosely around his neck. In the centre of the pendant was a small blue crystal that would allow him to speak with Trine over long distances. Such powerful magic was almost unheard of to normal people. Only a magician or sorcerer could make such a device.
As the young man raced out of the city in pursuit of his prey, Trine turned to his other cloaked companion who also held a pendant.
"The pendants will work?" he asked.
The cloaked one nodded. "Yes master. I assure you. My former master used these crystals often. They work perfectly."
Trine grunted happily. "Well," he said, "If they were good enough for the great Agahnim, they are good enough for me."
The sorcerer nodded.
The chamberlain, Roland, wandered the halls of Hyrule Castle aimlessly.
Ever since Julia had been crowned queen and her son had essentially taken over, he had nothing to do. Trine used all of his own personal servants to do his bidding. Especially those cloaked ones who follow him everywhere. The new lord had no use of a chamberlain.
Roland let out a heavy sigh. Things were not going well for him. Not well at all. Not only had his position been downgraded from one of considerable power within the castle walls to one barely high enough to aid the cooks in preparing meals. And his ambitions for more power in the royal family's troubled times had been thwarted. He had intended on blackmailing Sir Rampt to make some leverage for power, but that plan had broken as soon as the fat pudge of a man had hung himself.
And Link! What had possessed that boy to give up everything he had? He had been assured of a life of luxury the moment Ganon had been killed and now he had left it all behind him! And for what? For that wretch of a princess, probably. Who knew what Link saw in that girl? To everyone in the castle she had been a royal bitch, yet the Hero constantly protected her and would hear of nothing against her.
And he had given up the sword! What a fool to give up such a lovely and powerful weapon! It was possibly the only thing that kept him a cut above the rest.
Roland stopped his skulking of the halls just long enough to realize his joke. He chuckled lightly and continued on his way.
Really, now that he thought about it, Roland knew that giving up the sword was the right thing to do. Not the smartest, but the only right option the boy had if he wanted to leave the land without guilt. That sword belonged in Hyrule; belonged to the people of Hyrule.
The chamberlain was still in confused argument with himself when, as he passed a window, he saw an unusual sight. Stopping to get a better view out of the window, Roland could not help but wonder for what reasons a Calatian would be riding into the castle.
The rider was ushered into Trine's personal dining room just as the prince was sitting down to eat. The Calatian stood silently, patiently waiting to be recognized by the young ruler.
After what seemed like hours to the poor soldier, Trine finished his meal and looked up at him. Fingers steepled before him, the prince reclined in his large throne and waited.
Drawing a deep breath, the Calatian began the message that had taken him countless miles from his homeland. "Lord Trine, it has come to the attention of his highness King Eridanus that you have in this land the apprentice of the evil Wizard. This Ashir is commanded by my lord to be turned over the Calatian authorities for termination at once. Any failure to comply to this order shall leave Calatia no choice but to declare war with Hyrule."
Trine's eyes seemed to bore into the young soldier's heart as he stood waiting for an answer to the ultimatum.
The prince gestured to a servant lurking somewhere in the shadows of the hall and his goblet was promptly filled. After he had taken a long sip and smacked his lips in appreciation of the drink, Trine spoke. "Tell your king that Hyrule does not make deals with lords who would send underlings to do stately business. Tell you king that Hyrule will not have any business with those not of this state." The Hylian's voice rose in pitch and he stood up from his chair, leaning his hands upon the table. "Tell your king that Hyrule will not be threatened by some pitiful weakling human nation that thinks itself better than that which has been destined to rule over all of the Seven Lands! Hyrule will not bow down to a ragtag nation of disgusting, putrid humans! There will be no agreement. Tell your king to prepare himself to feel the might of Hyrule!"
With that, Trine waved his hand and the Calatian found himself surrounded by guards. "Take him to the edge of the land and kick him out!"
With a yelp, the soldier was dragged away by the guards.
Trine steadied his breathing and sat down again in his throne. Behind him, a figure stepped from the shadows.
"Was that wise, master?" asked Ashir.
Trine again sipped from his goblet. "It is all part of the plan, my friend. Now I am sure that Eridanus will arm himself if he has not already done so. Do we still have the moblin in our custody?"
"Yes, master. He awaits only your command to die."
"Good." Trine said, rising from his chair and walking from the room. "Make sure you are prepared to complete the spell on my order."
Ashir bowed his head and followed his master. While he had no idea as to the final plans of the prince, he was sure that Trine had everything under his control. Everything.
Was the entire kingdom going insane?
Again wandering the halls of the mighty Hylian castle of Hyrule, Roland was having serious doubts as to the sanity of Trine, his new master.
Only a matter of hours ago, the high lord of Hyrule had decided to tell the castle chamberlain about the fact that Hyrule was now at war with Calatia. Preparations were to be made concerning a public announcement of the declaration of war. Roland had to call the attention of all citizens of the city to attend.
The chamberlain stopped and leaned heavily against a wall. He was getting too old for all this running around. After all, that was what pages were for.
Why war? Why with Calatia? What was Trine thinking, declaring war upon the most powerful nation in the Seven Lands? It was suicide to do that!
A stray thought struck the man: How would the people react to the news? While Hyrule and Calatia had never been on the best of terms for years, they had never been enemies. Why, many citizens have relatives from Calatia. Surely the citizens will realize the insanity of their new ruler and refuse to follow him.
Roland shook his head sadly. Was revolt the best choice? Many people would die if the peasants revolted, probably even himself! Is that not what was reported to be happening in Forhas? The people were rebelling against the crown and targeting royalty and royal servants for murder! Could the same happen in Hyrule?
No, he told himself resolutely. The people would never rebel. They follow their traditions too strictly, though they would certainly be upset at the news.
He was safe for now.
The king was going to give a speech!
The peasants of Hyrule City ran along in their busy lives, many unaware of the momentous occasion on hand: the Hylian monarch was to speak in public! Such a thing had not happened for decades. Even the oldest men could only just remember seeing a monarch speak.
As one, a young boy and his friends raced through the narrow twists and turns of the many alleyways of Hyrule City heading for the castle. One by one, the boys jumped nimbly over barrels and broken glass and the sewage of a city and finally emerged from the dark caverns of the city into the open piazza of the newly remade castle gates that was now crowded with other citizens. Standing atop each other's shoulders, on boxes, and anything else that would allow them sight of the monarch, the boys craned to see the balcony where His Highness would come from.
They cried gleefully as the king emerged from the depths of the castle and waved to the people amid a chorus of cheers from the crowd. The roar rose to deafening heights and finally calmed as His Highness raised his hands for silence. Behind the man stood several men of the inner court. While many peasants had never seen any of the royal court, the young lad knew who some of these men were. How did he know? Growing up on the streets of a major city tends to grant heightened senses and skills that one either learns or he dies. It is as simple as that.
This boy, however had put his talents to uses that most Hylians would have been horrified to know of. One such use was the habit of sneaking into the castle grounds at night. Through these lunar excursions, the lad had learned to match faces with reputations. This was how he recognized those around the monarch on the balcony.
The tall, thin man who looked like a big scarecrow was the chamberlain. He always looked scared of something, the boy thought. Next to him stood Fleming, the man in command of the Hylian armies. He was a big, burly man with a large beard that looked, thought the boy, much like an octopus. Next to him was the minister, Varburg, leaning heavily against the balcony rail. This man scared the lad, for his face was always in a scowl and the man's piercing green eyes, long hooked nose, and raspy way of breathing made him seem more like a monster than a man.
Before Varburg stood a man whom the boy had not seen before; a man dressed in the robes of the desert from what he knew. He was dressed in a bright blue habit that looked at least two sizes too big for his small stature, draped in red scarves that reached his feet, and wearing a large blue turban that hid his face from view. On his habit was an emblem in the shape of a golden circle with several points around it.
And next to this man stood he who must be the monarch. This young man stood tall and proud, even though he was a good head shorter than the others (except the desert man, of course). This man wore the most elegant clothing made from what looked like the most expensive of fabric. His young features portrayed a man of wit, intelligence, cunning, and guile; a man who had power.
His shaggy, shoulder-length, dusty blonde hair fell roguishly across his ice-blue eyes. His pointed ears poked slightly through the mass of hair, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt his Hylian ancestry. Atop his head sat a circlet of gold that shone brilliantly in the afternoon light.
The crowd fell silent in expectance before the young king.
"People of Hyrule," he said, "I come before you this day with grievous news." A few worried whispers pierced the expectant silence. "As many of you know, your glorious Hyrule has never been at peace with our southern neighbour, Calatia, yet we have always managed to keep just short of war. For decades, we have known that a conflict between our mighty nation and the dirt-crawling land of Calatia would be inevitable, only the time has remained in question." The king paused to gain his breath. "That time is now."
The crowd erupted in a hysteria that only ceased after several minutes of the monarch calling for calm.
"The Human king has declared war on his honourable neighbours because he wants our land, our money, our lives, our children. Yes, our children. You see, my loyal subjects, Calatia is a typical Human state in all aspects of those vermin: they seek greed and power and blood; yet these vulgar rodents are unique in the Seven Lands in that they endure slavery! Yes, the Humans keep slaves. Every Human in the land has at least one slave. They keep moblins and Zoras under the whip, so what is to stop them from taking the noble Hylians too? Nothing! Nothing, that is, except the very people of Hyrule! That is right, my people, only you, the Chosen of the Gods, can stop these Human creatures from enslaving the entire world and keep our children safe from the Calatian slavers! We must not allow the Humans to rampage the Seven Lands for eternity, looting and plundering the landscape to their heart's content! They must be stopped; they will be stopped! They will be shown the error of their ways by those who have the divine right to guide the lesser species of the land: The mighty and noble Hylians!
The monarch paused for his words to sink in with the people before continuing. "At this very moment, the Human king is preparing his armies of scum to march into our beautiful land and defile it. Are we going to submit and allow these Humans to dominate the world?"
The crowd roared in fury at the thought of Humans ruling their wonderful land of Hyrule. The sound was deafening.
"People of Hyrule, my people. We must defeat these Humans at their own game! We must defeat them in the battlefield and show them the true might of Hyrule! The true might of the Hylian! The true might of those chosen by the Goddesses themselves; the true might of those destined to rule the Seven Lands! We must prepare for this Holy War!"
Trine threw up his hands in triumph as the crowd of citizens exploded in a fervour of anger and hatred and pride.
As Roland looked at the sea of faces, he was chilled to the bone by what he saw. The features of those who could have been family, friends, or just people passed on the street looked disfigured and evil; the faces of murderers or those cursed with insanity.
What were the people doing? the chamberlain thought. They did not seem to care that Trine had lied as to the reason why Hyrule and Calatia were going to war. They did not seem to care that Trine was not even the ruler of Hyrule yet was making a declaration of war. They were following him blindly; like sheep to the slaughter. They had no idea what they were doing and, somehow, that frightened Roland more than anything he had ever known.
The staff of the doorman struck the floor twice as he announced the next visitor of the king of Hyrule.
"Kasube, the leader of the Merchant's Guild!"
The great doors of the throne room of Hyrule Castle opened with the obligatory creak and a small, fat man waddled in dressed in what looked to be the finest robes money could buy. Beneath his light brown, bushy hair were a pair of beady little black eyes. Masking these eyes were a pair of glasses; very expensive.
Trine clucked to himself in disgust. The royal family had never invested money in such things as glasses for they firmly believed that the Gods made every Hylian as they should be. To improve upon the body was as good as sacrilege.
His purse clinking with the sound of many rupees, the man, Kasube, came and knelt before the king.
"Highness," he said, "I am honoured that you would want to see me."
Trine beckoned and the man rose. "I have agreed to see you because you have many questions to ask me concerning our war with Calatia. You may start."
The man blinked in surprise and began.
"Highness, many of my fellow merchants and clients are wondering what it was, exactly, that caused this declaration of war?"
Trine smiled slightly. "My friend, Calatia has been vying for the power that we possess for many years now. You know that. I know that. Why else have trade relations been so small? It is because those Humans do not want us to become rich. If we become a wealthy nation, it will be that much harder to conquer us when the time comes." The merchant nodded slowly, as he worked his mind over these words. Trine continued. "Also there is the fact of slavery. The Humans have used slavery for as long as anyone can remember. They subjugate those inferior to them. If they conquer us in battle, what is to stop them from enslaving our families? From enslaving our children. Do you really want some Human lord forcing your son to work in his fields from morning to night? Do you want your daughter sent onto the streets to earn her keep? Do you want your wife to become his mistress? I should think not. That will happen if we allow these creatures to conquer Hyrule. Now do you understand why we must fight? To preserve our way of live and to ensure our children have a bright and happy future."
Kasube had narrowed his eyes and his face was distorted by anger. "I understand, Highness. Never let it be said that Hyrule has never stood up for what is right and good!"
"It comforts me to hear such things," the king said, taking a drink of his goblet. "Anything else?"
"Yes, Highness. We of the Guild of Merchants are concerned as to what will happen to our neighbour nation after the war. Up until now, we have had limited access to Calatia to trade our goods. As soon as war was declared, we have been cut off. So we were wondering..."
As the merchant trailed off, Trine picked up the thought.
"Do not worry. As soon as Calatia is conquered, I shall declare it a colony of Hyrule. As that will make it in effect a part of Hyrule, there will be no restriction of trade whatsoever."
Kasube grinned before continuing. "Yes, after defeating Calatia. We of the Guild would very much like to know exactly how you intend to defeat the Calatians? From what we know, Hyrule has a very small army compared to Calatia, and that army has been very ill-equipped since the rule of your grandfather."
Trine smiled. "Hyrule does not need to rely upon such things as numbers to win a war with Humans Has it not always been that Humans rely more on size than strength? They may have a large army, but we have a smart army- a smart army that will destroy anything that it comes up against, I assure you."
The merchant sighed a little and opened his mouth to speak, but Trine cut him off.
"I am right in assuming I have the support of the Merchant's Guild in this war? I would dearly hate to have to, how can I put it, 'repossess' some property in order to finance this endeavour of mine."
As Trine's eyes bore deeply into Kasube's, the merchant swallowed hard and nodded quickly, his hand unconsciously grabbing onto his purse protectively.
"Good," said the king, "I trust there are no other concerns?"
"No highness." He paused. "You can be sure that I will tell all you have said to my companions and have them tell others. All of the land will know of our duty to stop the Human animals!"
Trine smiled. With that, the monarch turned back to some scrolls by his side and the meeting was ended.
In the weeks following the declaration of war between the powerful nations of Hyrule and Calatia tensions among the surrounding nations rose.
Troops were drafted from the Delaborean regiments to aid it's sister country of Hyrule in the Holy War against the Humans. The northern nation of Turka had flat out refused to aid in the war. It's logic was very sound to the rational citizens of Turka. No matter which nation won the war, the land would be surrounded on two sides by that nation, on a third side by ocean, and the fourth side by the impenetrable mountainous arctic of Erus Egredi.
The mainly Human South of the Seven Lands had banded together to stop what might be the downfall of their civilization. Calatia had been preparing for battle long before the declaration had come, yet still requested aid from it's neighbouring nations of Arkhas and Forhas, both of which were human controlled states. Arkhas gave it's willing support in Eridanus' campaign, but the nation of Forhas had troubles of it's own. Civil war had ground the nation to a halt, as peasants continually raided royal property. The nation had been torn in this massive revolt, as the royal held lands dwindled under the pressure of revolutionaries.
The drawing room of Hyrule Castle had been converted into a war room to aid the Hylian leaders in planning their strategies. The ornately designed furniture had been pushed aside to make room for a giant map of the Seven Lands, which dominated the floor space. Chairs and small tables had been aligned along the walls.
Looking down at the map of the known world, General Fleming of the Hylian armies had a concerned look upon his scarred features beneath his large, unruly beard.
"Does something trouble you, General?"
Fleming turned around and saluted to his lord and master.
"No sir!" he said in perfect military fashion. "I was just thinking of the best strategy to attack the Humans, sir!"
Trine nodded. "Good." The king walked to the map and stood beside the general.
"I suggest we send some regiments through the western pass to circle down on the Calatian capital from the north, while we send the rest of the army through the southern pass to directly attack Calasta."
Trine shook his head. "We should do an all out frontal assault."
Fleming felt his jaw hit the floor. "But, sir! We- we are vastly outnumbered by the enemy three to one! Our men could not possibly survive such an attack! It would be suicide!"
Trine slowly turned his eyes from the large map to stare at his subordinate. The general found himself looking squarely into his king's icy blue eyes; blue eyes that seemed so beautiful in their complexity and wonder, yet concealed a danger. A danger lying just below the surface, like a sea monster waiting for prey just below the surface of the water. There was something that haunted the general in those eyes. Something malevolent.
"You underestimate our chances, general." said the king. "We are Hylians. They are Humans. They are weak to us in every way. We can win with a full assault."
The young ruler's voice was laced with so much malice, that even he general could not mistake it. "Yes- yes sir. A full frontal assault. Of course, sir."
Trine nodded slightly. "Good. I am glad you have faith in your nation and your people. Now make the necessary preparations, I want the armies gathered at the southern pass by the end of the week. Understood?"
Fleming nodded vigorously, his long hair shaking to and fro as he did.
The Delaborean prince smiled wickedly and left the room. To the general, a heavy weight seemed to have lifted from his shoulders when he monarch departed. He sighed loudly and sat in a chair. Calming himself from the fear his master had just instilled in his heart, Fleming idly wondered how such a man had become king.
General Carlyle of the Calatian Royal Army surveyed his men. Sitting atop his brilliant white steed in his official uniform, the general looked impressive to all. Dressed in black breeches, knee high boots, loose red tunic covered in a breastplate that blindingly reflected the last red rays of sunlight out, down from the hill he stood upon , and off into the distance toward the mountain pass that separated the great nation of Calatia from the neighbouring nation of Hyrule. His long grey cloak was caught by the strong, cold wind and billowed about him majestically. It was only a matter of time before winter approached and made moving an army nearly impossible. The attack must come now. He knew it, and he was sure that his opponents knew it.
He turned his gaze down onto his many men. Thousands upon thousands of Calatian and Arkhasian soldiers lay camped in just as many small tents along the landscape. Small fires light the twilight sky as the men cooked their meals and waited for the time to attack their enemies. Somewhere close by a curse echoed through the camp in a heavily accented voice. Carlyle smiled grimly. The Arkhasian soldiers deserved his sympathy. After all, they were desert dwellers and were not at all accustomed to this autumn Calatian weather. They would have to get used to it. Off to his right, a high squeal pierced the night and some screams followed it closely. The men were on edge as it was, thought the General, they did not need clumsy moblin slaves making a racket.
A rustling of bushed caught his attention and he looked to see an aid approaching.
"Yes?" he asked when the aid had come near enough.
The aid saluted and said, "Sir! All preparations are finished! We only await your word to attack, sir!"
Nodding, Carlyle looked north to the pass. Silently, he ran an ancient Calatian hymn through his mind for luck. All they could do now is wait.
Kubo opened his eyes and quickly closed them again.
The air smelled so foul, that it stung the small moblin's eyes. His nose had long ago become useless.
A clang nearby made Kubo strain against the air to see what was happening. The prison door had been opened and someone was approaching the cell in which he was held. He was right. The rustle of keys reached his mutilated ears followed closely by the turning of the bolt in the door lock. He cringed at the sound of the cell door opening and squealed softly in fear, curling up into a small furry ball on the damp floor of his cell.
A voice. "It is now time to put you to some good use, my little friend. Come along."
Saying that, a pair of hands grabbed the small animal and lifted him out of the cell into the dim lights of the hallway. Still in his ball, Kubo had frozen for pure fear of his kidnapper. For the past few weeks, since he had been abducted from his quarters given him by the queen, Kubo had resided in that cell and had endured daily beatings that had brought his to within an inch of his life several times. He could take no more. He wished with all of his might that he could die right now, before the beatings continued for another night, but Fate had never looked so kindly upon the little moblin. Born into slavery, sold constantly, beaten for making mistakes, fed only enough to keep him alive, and now beaten horribly each and every night in a strange country that had promised him salvation.
He could vividly remember following the hero, Link, into Hyrule with the guarantee that he could live a happy and fortunate life. One that could not exist in Calatia. He had been so full of hope for his new life, that he must have let his guard down one night and forgotten to bolt his door. Then he was abducted.
The sound of another door opening snapped the poor creature out of his reverie and back into the real world. Again his eyes were accosted by an unfamiliar bright light. He could hear a slight bubbling coming from this room. He could taste the sweet taste of magic in the air. Heavy magic. Strong magic. His fur stood on end in the intense magical field. The build up of static in his coat was tangible. Everything around him seemed in motion.
Had his eyes been working properly, Kubo would have seen a small den-like room filled with various artefacts of the occult. In the middle of the room was a small book on a lectern, before a large altar. Large curtains hung along the walls from the low ceiling, and several large candles illuminated the room brightly.
In strode Ashir with the small body of Kubo held in his arms. Reverently, the magician placed the poor moblin on the altar and took his place behind the lectern. For a moment before he started, the man looked at the helpless creature. It's fur matted with blood and bare in some places, curled up in a small ball and shivering, whimpering slightly, one would have to have a heart of stone not to pity the small animal.
This animal would help bring about a revolution in Calatia; a revolution that could make Ashir very, very powerful; a revolution that would leave an army of thousands at his command.
Moving his gaze from the stricken moblin to the book before him, Ashir started the rights. His hair sizzled and sparks flew from his fingertips as the intense field of magic about him began to condense on the altar.
Sweat fell from his brow as he concentrated on the spell that would grant him his power. This was a dangerous right to perform alone, and he had seen his master do it only once before. The chance of death was staggering, but it was well worth it. A spell to control an entire race of animals. Who would have thought such power was within the grasp of one such as he?
On the altar, Kubo could feel his body being crushed by the field of intense magic. Soon the pain became so unbearably intense, the moblin had to uncurl himself and scream. He could feel his bones breaking and his blood seeping from his nose, mouth and ears. He opened his eyes barely and almost wept for what he saw: a lovely, shimmering woman standing over him and speaking soothing words to him. His pain seemed to recede as the woman's voice calmed and relaxed his tearing muscles. Tears streamed down his face in awe at this woman who could be so kind to him after so many days of pain and suffering. Slowly, the woman embraced him and cradled him in her arms as a mother would do to a child, brushing away the tears falling from the moblin's sad, mournful eyes. Her touch was like ice and Kubo's skin froze in her hands. She looked lovingly into his eyes and smiled. Kubo could feel his heart split as he looked at her beautiful face, into her deep eyes. He shed more tears in shame of being in the very presence of her, for he was just the torn and broken shell of the moblin he used to be and she was so wondrously marvellous.
She smiled again in pity at him and, in a voice like an angel's, said, "Do not cry. You are safe now."
As the light of life drained from Kubo's sorrowful black eyes, he managed to utter his thanks to this strange, wonderful, and kind woman.
The final words were spoken and the magical field collapsed around the creature, casting a blinding light throughout the room. Ashir shielded his eyes, and, when he opened them again, the moblin was no longer on the table. In it's place lay a small bronze bracelet, intricately sculpted with two snakes encircling the wrist and the symbol of an eye gracing the top, looking into oblivion. The wizard smiled.
In the throne room of Hyrule Castle, Trine waited patiently on his ornate throne for his magical servant to give him the very object for which the magician was freed from his imprisonment, nearly six months ago. An object that would allow Trine to conquer Calatia with his pitifully small army in a matter of days. An object that would bring him one step closer to that which he truly desired.
They could hear the screams.
General Fleming if the Hylian army listened carefully to the midnight air along with his fellow commanders. A cold wind whipped at their cloaks and their hair, numbing their limbs. The moon hung high in the star-lit sky, bright as a jewel, unhindered by clouds, staring solemnly down at the world beneath it.
Another scream reached the Hylian's ears by means of the wind. The Calatian camp was in turmoil.
Looking at his commanders for arguments, Fleming pointed his steed toward the enemy camp and started off at a light canter. His army followed without uttering a word. He would have liked to have them following him silently, but it is nearly impossible for thousands of fully armed soldiers to move anywhere without a sound.
The scouts had returned minutes ago from the Human camp and had told him all that they had seen. The Humans were under attack. It had appeared, to the scouts, as if the human's slaves were revolting against their masters and causing general panic among the camp. Now was as good a time for a full attack as any.
With his army in tow, Fleming entered the pass and crossed the border.
General Carlyle watched in horror as a man near him was tackled by several slaves. This was not supposed to happen!
One minutes everything had been peaceful in the Human camp and the next all hell had broken loose. The Moblin slaves were revolting! This was really not supposed to happen! Slave revolts just did not happen!
His sword buried itself deep in the hide of a slave that had its back to him and the thing fell. Two more fell to the general's blade before the small monstrosities overpowered him. He fell to the ground with no less than six moblins attached to him, each clawing its way into his flesh. Fighting for his life, Carlyle, with the help of two officers who had happened to be nearby when their leader had fallen, managed to kill the six slaves, but more were on their way. The general did the only prudent thing to do in such situation: He turned and ran like hell.
He found his steed, mounted, and galloped up onto the same hill from which he had surveyed his powerful army just hours before. Looking down at the carnage of his camp, a fearful sound reached his ears. Turning to look at the border pass, he was horrified to see the Hylian army advancing on the camp like a tidal wave. It was a classic pincer movement. The infantry was advancing from the north, while the cavalry had circled around to the east to attack the flank. Carlyle shook his head in sorrow as he saw his entire army torn apart between the slaves and the Hylians. Softly, under his breath, the general uttered a prayer to those who lost their lives and a curse upon those who took the lives of his men. After several more minutes of watching the carnage, Carlyle wordlessly turned his mount south and rode for Calasta with his dire news.
The messenger hurriedly entered the throne room of Hyrule Castle and quickly bowed before the king.
"You had better have a good reason for barging in like that." Trine said, the viciousness almost dripping from his words.
"Yes, sir, I do." the messenger said, rising. "General Fleming has sent word from the front. The Calatian Army has been defeated at the boarder!"
A chorus of cheers arose from the assembled nobility hovering around the edges of the room. Trine smiled.
"That is good news. Lucky for you." He stood. "Friends, we have struck the fist major blow against our Human neighbours! This is only the first step in totally wiping out any threat those creatures will have to us! Tell the people! They, too, deserve to hear how their fathers and brothers are doing for the good of Hyrule!"
Several aids rushed from the room and another round of cheers broke from the nobles.
Trine smiled again, this time to himself. It was only a matter of days now before Calasta would fall to both the slaves and the Hylian army. By now, the cities would be in chaos as slaves around the country attacked every Human they saw. The government would be in tatters when his armies finally march through the land without any resistance.
Still smiling at his achievements, the king absently patted the bracelet on his wrist. A bronze bracelet that was decorated with two snakes and a glaring eye.
Slowly, Auldric picked his way silently through the dank, dark tunnels of the Moblin underworld. Somewhere in the maze of tunnels, a drop of water fell to the floor with a faint 'plop!'
Ahead of him, he could see the faint shimmer of light against the darkness. That was his prey. If he squinted he could barely make out the shapes of two men leading two horses.
One of them, Link, the Hero of Hyrule, would soon die by this sword, Auldric swore, hefting in his hand the mighty Master Sword that had until recently been in the possession of Link.
The other man was the former knight, Vincent, of Calatia. Auldric had no qualms with him, but he would surely meet the same fate as his companion should he get in the way.
"Follow them and report to me everything they do." That was what Trine had said. Follow them. Do not be seen. Do not attack. What did Trine think he was? A loyal dog? Auldric would follow the instruction only as far as he wanted. As soon as a suitable situation arose, Link would die. No one, not even Trine, could stop that.
That time would come soon enough. Eventually, the two heroes would be apart from each other for long enough to allow Auldric to kill his enemy. Patience. That was all he needed.
Silently, he crept forward through the tunnel, following in Link's path, constantly watching.
For almost a day now, Link and Vincent had been underground, walking the amazing tunnels of the Moblins. Who would have thought that these tunnels could exist under whole countries without anyone noticing them?
And it was all thanks to Vincent's father, Gregory. The old wizard was said to have accomplished many great things in his life, but to Link, none were nearly as splendid as these tunnels. Apparently, after the great Sunian War, Gregory had taken a stance against the Calatian doctrine of slavery. Even though he had fought alongside the king, Eridanus, Gregory could not sway the Calatian thought. So he began taking in runaway slaves. Not long after that, he began working on what the old man had called his dream: a haven for Moblins. When Link and Zelda had visited the so called 'Underworld', it had been a thriving cavern filled with thousands of Moblins, each working on bettering the city, and expanding the myriad of tunnels that crisscrossed the world.
That time in the Underworld had been the first time Link had met Vincent. As the son of Gregory, he had been avidly against the slavery that the Calatians took for granted. Unfortunately, he had taken a different approach to freedom. A former Calatian knight, Vincent had always solved problems with brute force. This ideology was what had caused a rift in his relationship with Gregory. The old mage insisted on a peaceful resistance, taking only slaves who ran from their masters. Vincent, on the other hand took what slaves he saw and killed their owners. Both men had the right ideals at heart, but went about it in such different ways that they could hardly stand to be in the same room together for long.
Such as it was in Calatia, it was no wonder Vincent had asked to join Link and Zelda on their journey back to their homeland. He wanted to flee from under his father's gaze for a time as well as see a new land that was free of slavery- a land which he hoped Calatia would be like in the future.
As Link snapped out of his thoughts, the tunnel grew immensely wider suddenly. Looking around, Link noticed that they had entered a large room, dimly lit by their torches.
"Where are we?" he asked of his companion.
Vincent looked around. "We must be near the old mines in the mountains. Be careful, the tunnels here are very ancient and could crumble in an instant if disturbed. Watch your horse."
Link looked behind him to see his steed moving about nervously, edging near the frail wall.
"Whoa there, Silvermane. Whoa," Link tightened his grip on the horse's reigns and looked her in the eye. "What's the matter, girl?"
Glancing over at Vincent's steed, Winter, Link noticed that he, too, seemed to be nervous about something.
"Vincent?" Link whispered.
The knight held up his hand and nodded, looking about him.
Aside from the horses, nothing moved in the room, not even a breeze. The dusty, stale air just hung about the room like a giant invisible curtain. Link's eyes darted this way and that, searching the gloom for any signs of movement, or the darkened shadow of a creature. His ears stretched to hear any noise that may come from the room. Nothing. The minutes passed silently. Still nothing.
Then he heard it.
At the far ends of his hearing, Link heard a slight whisper of something small scurry around in the blackness.
Looking to Vincent, Link pointed in the direction of the noise and slowly, the two advanced, Link taking the right, Vincent the left.
Muttering a spell of protection under his breath, the Hylian drew his sword and stopped moving. Again listening in silence, Link heard the scurrying again.
Changing their positions, the two men again advanced on their prey. After a few more steps Link paused, listened, and then threw his torch down onto the ground several feet from him. The torch splintered in a flash of light, sending burning embers scattering throughout the room. In the split second the room was illuminated, Link caught a glimpse of the animal. It looked unlike anything the hero had ever seen before.
Before his eyes, as they readjusted themselves from the flash of light, the creature seemed to glow dimly in the dark. A small ball of colourful light that looked almost transparent.
Vincent clucked and sheathed his blade. "It's only a Zol," he said. "It's harmless."
To prove his point, he kicked it lightly with his boot. The glowing ball distorted with the impact and rolled across the floor. It came to a slow halt and wobbled slightly, as if it was made of jell-o. Two shiny eyes blinked at Link. After a moment the Zol seemed to gather it's senses and rolled off, leaving a small trail in the dust on the floor.
The danger having passed, Link also sheathed his sword and gathered the reigns of Silvermane. Vincent did likewise with Winter. The two men continues on their way.
After several more minutes, Link noticed that the walls had become very old and fragile and looked very different from the walls of the Moblin tunnels.
"Are we in the mines?"
"Yes," said Vincent, nodding. "Underneath the Eridani Mountains."
Link looked worriedly around him. "Under the mountains..." That did not sound too good. Mountains were for going over, not under. "Who built these mines?"
Vincent shrugged. "I suppose some ancient miners. We found some mining equipment in some of these tunnels when we were digging the Underworld."
"Where did the miners go?"
Again a shrug. "I do not know. Maybe they could no longer find anything to mine here and moved on."
As the duo walked on, they passed another Zol who was busy crawling into a small hole in the wall. Silvermane noticed this and reared slightly in surprise. As she did, her flanks brushed against the wall of the ancient tunnel.
"Whoa!" Link cried, grabbing the reigns and trying to clam the beast. Somewhere down the tunnel a rock fell in a clatter of dust and pebbles.
Vincent looked worriedly around. Somewhere in his gut, something was trembling. As the horse grew calm again, the rumbling grew. More rock fell.
"Link..." he said.
The Hylian looked at him in the dim light of the torches. "What?"
"I think we should run. Fast."
Link looked around as Vincent started off down the tunnel at a quickening pace with Winter. The tunnel shook and a loud thunder resounded through the shaft. A pebble fell on Link's head.
"Oh, shit," he said under his breath and quickly followed the knight.
Soon, with the two men hurrying down the tunnel with their mounts, the thunder grew and a cloud of dust came rushing up behind them. It quickly surpassed them and continued down the corridor, leaving Link and Vincent covered in dust and grime. Their horses were not much better. In a final thunderclap, the tunnel shook and was still.
After a few silent minutes, a small light flared to life. Link, his torch having been snuffed in the dust cloud, had ignited a light spell. Looking around, the hero crawled out of the layer of debris that covered him and the floor. Finding a hand, he helped his companion up and brushed him off.
"Well, that was exciting," Link said sarcastically.
"Damn horse," Vincent muttered, giving Silvermane a steely gaze. The horse carried itself in such a way that if a horse could grin, she would have done so. Damn animals.
The knight looked around in the gloom.
The companions were in a small alcove built into the wall of another room. This room was much bigger than the one they had entered earlier, but also in much more disrepair. At one end was the tunnel which they had just ran through, the floor covered in debris, and at the other end was a semicircular wall with three tunnels leading from it.
Link also noticed these tunnels.
"Which one do we take?" he asked.
Vincent looked carefully at each one before answering. "I don't know."
Link almost felt his jaw hit the floor. "What?!" the young man screamed, incredulous at this turn of events. "I thought you knew where you were going!"
"I do know where I am going!" shouted the knight, turning on the Hylian. "We must have missed a turn when we were running." He glared at Link. "Running because of your idiotic horse!" he added.
Link held Silvermane's head lovingly. "She is not idiotic! She was just frightened by that thing back there!"
Vincent and Link stared at each other in the dim light of Link's light spell.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours to the heroes, Link backed down. "This is getting us nowhere. We need to get out of here and arguing is not going to do that."
Vincent looked back at the tunnels. "You are right, of course. We must keep our priorities. First we must find our way out, then we can argue all we want."
Link smiled and joined his friend looking at the three tunnels. "So which one?"
The knight walked to each doorway and stood for several minutes, straining his senses for any hint of recollection or even of hope that one would lead out of the maze of tunnels.
"Listen," he said, standing in front of the left tunnel.
Link approached the tunnel and stood still, listening. Several minutes passed and he heard nothing. "What...?" he started, but as the words left his mouth, his ears picked up a very faint shimmer of sound, far off in the depths of the mine.
"Water?" he asked.
Vincent nodded and walked back to Winter, gathering the reigns. "That is what it sounds like. The horses could do with some fresh water, anyway."
Together, the Hylian and the Human guided their mounts down the small tunnel, the sound of running water steadily growing louder until, at last, they emerged from the small corridor into another room that took their breath away.
The tunnel let out into a small platform that was but a tiny peninsula in a giant lake of crystal clear water. All around the giant cave, tiny white and blue lights in the walls flashed some unknown dance and reflected light onto a magnificent blue waterfall that cascaded from some point in the dark ceiling into the lake creating a light mist of water and sending large ripples scattering through the lake, its waters lightly lapping at the sides of the cavern. The roar of the waterfall enveloped the travellers and deafened them.
After several moments of stunned silence, Link said simply, "Wow." Vincent nodded.
Quietly, the two helped their horses to the rim of the lake and then took out what little food they had taken with them. It was not much, but at their current rate of travel, Calatia should be under their feet in the afternoon of the next day.
"So you have never been down here before?" Link asked Vincent, biting into a small loaf of bread.
Vincent shook his head and took a sip of wine. "No, never."
Link nodded and looked around the cavern in wonder. Such a marvellous creation of Nature. It was always humbling to see such a thing as the greatness of Mother Nature, for when compared to the splendour of Her, nothing Man creates can begin to compare. Letting his hand drift listlessly in the cool waters beside him, Link's mind began to travel; back to when he had last seen such amazing beauty.
More than two years ago, the young nephew of a woodcutter, Link- a well liked boy in the small town of Kakariko- was woken one stormy night to the sound of voices. Getting out of bed, Link had seen his uncle strapping on armour. Link had watched as the man had gone out into pouring rain in the middle of the night carrying a sword and shield. Link could remember wondering as to what was going on- hearing voices one minute, his uncle leaving suddenly looking like he was going to battle, it was all just a little too strange.
Again the voice called to him. A girl's voice; a voice that sounded like heaven itself. A voice that wanted help.
It had not been long before Link had followed his uncle out into the storm, urged by the strange girl's ethereal voice. The young boy had wandered through the land many miles in pouring rain, guided only by the strange voice, until he had finally arrived at Hyrule Castle. He could remember looking in awe at the high battlements, the towering walls, and the gorgeous craftsmanship of the Hylian capitol.
Finding a secret entrance into the castle, Link had seen his uncle, mortally wounded, collapsed against a wall in a heap.
"Link! Save the princess, the princess Zelda. You are her only hope! Please!" His uncle's last words had etched themselves into Link's young brain and had driven him to complete the final wishes of his livelong guardian who had been more than a parent, but also a friend, a mentor, a brother. His uncle had been his entire life before that night, and, seeing the old man slumped against the wall covered in blood, Link's whole world had come crashing down on him. No longer would the two of them be able to have long talks by the fire about anything and everything under the Sun; no longer would they be able to take walks in the woods, marking trees for the next day's work and enjoying the peacefulness of Nature; no longer would they be able to go to see the theatre troupe that came into town every summer; no longer would his uncle be there waiting to hand out useful advice about the world and it's workings; no longer could they be together.
To fill the void where his uncle's place had been in his life, Link had relentlessly pursued the man who had caused his uncle's death: Ganon. Walking the endless halls of the castle, breathing hatred and thinking vengeance, Link had fought his way into the castle dungeons and eventually came to the cell block where Zelda was being held by the wizard Agahnim, who himself was in the hands of Ganon. It was then that Link had first seen the princess and, even though they had just met, had fallen in love with her. Her beautiful hair fell like a halo around her head, her brilliant blue eyes ignited fires deep within Link's young chest, her lips speaking melodious notes of words, sounding more wonderful than anything Link had ever heard before. She was perfect, a vision of beauty personified. It was at that point that his life slowly began to revolve around hers.
From that ghastly night, many years ago, Link and Zelda had been through much together. As the years passed, their friendship grew stronger and stronger. She had helped him through the months after Ganon's death when he had been almost suicidally depressed. While the demon had been alive, Link had at least a purpose to his life: to avenge his uncle's death and save Hyrule. After killing Ganon, Link had had no point to live, until Zelda had shown him how much there was he could do to better himself, Hyrule, and those around him. Then it was Link's turn to help the land as the magician, Grundel, had attacked Hyrule. The old man had been killed thanks to Link, and the boy had felt as if he had been reborn; he had new purpose.
After that, there was the rebuilding of the city to attend to and Link had been kept busy until the king had suddenly become ill and died violently. Mira had been placed in control of Hyrule with Zelda and her protector taken on as counsellors. It was then that the priest, Rothe, had appeared and summoned the evil faerie, Vaun. Luckily, Link had destroyed the faerie before any physical harm could have befallen the land, but there had been one casualty: a girl's heart had been broken.
Link had been thrust back in time to an ancient Hyrule, shortly after confronting Vaun for the first time. In that Hyrule, the hero had met the farm girl Malon. Unfortunately, they had fallen in love, but they both knew that Link could not stay; his own Hyrule- the future Hyrule- needed saving. He could not be with her. So he had left, but not after Malon had given him several parting gifts, of which the tunic he was currently wearing was one of. Another was the ring pendent that he wore on his neck.
Malon had said the ring had belonged to her mother and was for luck and protection, and so far, Link had to admit, nothing terrible had befallen him.
Malon... She was the only girl who had ever rivalled Zelda in his heart. She was by far the kindest, most loving person Link had ever known, while Zelda was the most beautiful and noble person he had even known. They both had their quirks that made them special in the young man's eye. Malon had an unstoppable mouth and Zelda was often snobby and acted like a spoiled little princess. He loved them both.
Yet one thought kept jumping into his mind: Zelda was a princess.
While Link may have saved Hyrule from almost certain destruction and had protected Zelda for the past several years, he was still a commoner. Commoners did not marry princesses. That is the way of things, Gerrik had once told him, taking him aside one day shortly after he had been appointed royal protector. Royals married other royals, possibly even nobles, but never peasants.
Gerrik had been like a father to Link after his uncle had died, and the boy had known that his king was only trying to protect him from possible ridicule and embarrassment and scandal. Since that day, Link had never shown his true feelings for Zelda, but he was sure that she felt the same way about him. There had been many moments over the years that she had hinted at her love of him, but she also knew what princesses were to do; marry princes.
Unfortunately, while the chances of him marrying Zelda were almost impossible, the chances of meeting Malon again were unbelievable. If he wanted to stay with the farm girl, he would have to leave everything behind and start his life over again. Could he do that? Just leave everything he had worked for and go live a happy life?
No. Not while things here were such a mess. Trine did not deserve the Hylian throne, Zelda did. Until Zelda was sitting securely on the throne, Link could not abandon her. She needed him- the world needed him, if Trine was truly as ambitious as Link suspected him of being. There was more going on behind the boy's face than just thoughts of nobility. Why else would he have had Auldric brainwashed into killing him?
Auldric. What had happened to him? Link had once considered the boy as succeeding him as royal protector someday. Auldric had been like a brother to Link and his apprentice and friend. What could have happened to make him turn on Link like he had? What had Trine done to him?
The face of Auldric two days ago, as he had attempted to kill Link, was still frozen in the boy's mind. His face contorted in rage and hatred was frightening to Link. If even his best friend could turn against him, nothing was certain anymore.
Link felt a light pulling on his chest and looked down to see the ring pendent Malon had given him shortly before they had parted ways. Well, there was one certainty at least. He could never forget Malon. Idly, he rubbed it gently, thinking of the girl who had rivalled Zelda. This ring had been special to the farm girl, and it had become equally special to Link. This ring was the constant reminder of the one time in the past few years when he was truly happy and content. This plain, golden ring was the most treasured possession he had- more so than the Master Sword. This ring was a tangible memory, frozen in time, doomed to forever repeat itself in Link's mind in a continuous circle of love and happiness.
Link snapped out of his reverie and looked to Vincent. The knight was lying calmly on the ground of the small peninsula sleeping soundly. Somewhere to Link's left, the horses shuffled their feet and lapped up some water. The drone of the waterfall numbed Link's ears and soothed his mind of the troubles of his life. This cavern was peaceful.
Sighing loudly and tucking the ring under his tunic, Link leaned back and closed his eyes, still listening to the water all around him. It was not long before he drifted off to the sweet bliss of sleep.
Link awoke to see Vincent getting the horses ready for another day of travelling. Noticing the movement, Vincent said, "Sleep well?"
The Hylian nodded, rose and stretched. He had slept remarkably well, despite the roar of the waterfall and the hard bed of rock. He felt refreshed.
Not long after he had woken up, Link and his companion headed off along a narrow pathway that curved up and around the giant cavernous walls. Only wide enough for them to travel single file, Vincent led the way.
After more than three hours climb, the small group finally reached the end of the path. Now, well over three hundred feet above the lake, the narrow path turned sharply to the side and burrowed itself into the wall, forming a small tunnel.
"Look ahead," the knight said.
Link craned his neck to see around the horses and his companion. There, at the other end of the small tunnel was a shimmer of light.
After more than two days underground, this bright beam of heaven was a wonder to Link's eyes, and he urged Vincent onwards. Slowly, the two guided their horses through the narrow passage and halted at the end, where the ceiling had opened to reveal a beautifully blue sky. The floor of the hall tilted upwards gently and met with the ground outside.
Waiting for Vincent to step out into the fresh air, Link moved passed the knight's horse and followed his companion. Stepping out into the warm glow of the sun, the Hylian shielded his eyes and looked around.
What he saw made his breath catch in his throat.
The tunnel had opened out onto a small stone platform that overlooked a sea of clouds and mountaintop islands. Above was only the clear blue sky and below was only the soft white blanket of fog. In the distance, a small flock of birds glided on a cooling breeze that whipped at Link's face. On either side of the men, the Eridani Mountains stretched as far as they could see, their peaks rising to meet the Gods.
"Beautiful," the Hylian heard himself say.
Vincent could only nod, so taken was he by the sheer magnificence of the view.
The two stood staring at the immense painting before them for several more minutes, before the knight finally tore his gaze away and took in his immediate surroundings. They were standing on a small flat deck of stone and mortar that was built into the mountain side. On the right side of this platform was a narrow path leading down into the clouds. Both the path and the deck looked as if they had not been touched in hundreds of years. They had probably been in the use of those who had created the mines.
"Which way is Calatia?" Link asked, finally free of his awe.
Vincent looked around and gazed toward the sun. "That way," he said, pointing off to their right.
Link looked in that direction, but could see nothing that could confirm his companion's decision. Shrugging, he said simply,: "Fine by me. Let's get going."
With that, they gathered their horses, and started down the path hoping to reach Calatia before nightfall.
Somewhere in what was left of the tunnel, something moved.
A rock fell from it's perch and crashed to the ground, revealing a bruised and battered hand. Carefully, the hand moved small boulders this way and that until there was enough space for the body attached to the hand to free itself of what could have been it's grave.
The owner of the hand -and the body- was not happy. He tightened his grip on the Master Sword and started off again after his prey.
The world spins, continents move, futures begin and end, and life goes on. So it was that Link and Vincent were able to find their way across the Eridani Mountains and into Calatia without any mishap (except for Silvermane eating Vincent's lunch. Damn horse). The two friends were again forced to delve beneath the surface of the world in order to avoid whatever forces the Calatian king had after them. Their destination: the Moblin Underworld.
Travelling the narrow cut passageways of the Moblins, Link and Vincent were nearing the centre of the free Moblin world, the home of Vincent's father, the famous mage, Gregory.
"Wait." said the knight, stopping.
"What is it?" asked Link.
"Something is not right. We should be hearing the noises of the city by now."
Both men strained their ears to listen, but only silence echoed in their ears.
Without a word, the two hastened their approach to the city.
Without warning, the tunnel peeled away into the wall of a giant cavern. This cavern was the shelter of the free Moblin world, a city of greatness to rival the best of the world, and made out of the hopes and dreams of a race wishing for a better future. Unfortunately what met the eyes of the travellers was only the smouldering and ruined remains of that wondrous city.
Vincent openly gasped and stood motionless for seconds as his eyes took in this new and frightening picture.
"Father?" he muttered. Then he took off at a run, shouting for his father at the top of his lungs, his screams echoing throughout the ruinous city.
Link could only follow and watch as his friend and companion moved from burnt out building to rubble pile in frantic search for his father.
In spite of all that he knew of Vincent, Link was certain that the lonely knight loved his father deeply and would do nothing to bring harm to the old man. While they may have argued constantly over the best way to free the enslaved Moblin race from the vicious yoke of the Calatians, they cared for each other in a way that only father and son can. Unfortunately, Vincent suffered constantly from his connection with his father. Gregory was a man of world renown thanks to his role in the great Sunian War many years ago, fighting alongside such men as King Eridanus of Calatia, King Gerrik of Hyrule, Prince Avinian of Forhas, and many others who achieved fame in that war. Vincent could never hope to live up to his father's fame. No matter what he did, the world was now a different place to that of his father, and fame was not easily gained. There was no great war, there was no holy calling, nothing. There was only the never ending battle for the freedom of a few souls from the shackles of slavery. Doing this, in the often violent way of the knight, meant that Vincent was not so much famous as notorious. The people of Calatia feared and scorned him, while the rest of the world barely knew of his existence.
Link watched his friend stop at the end of a street and stare stock still at something just out of the Hylian's view. Walking to join his friend, he noticed wells of tears gathering in Vincent's eyes. Following the man's gaze to a nearby wall, his breath caught in his throat. There, on the wall, was the torn and battered body of the famous mage, Gregory, pinned to the wall by means of several stakes. A river of blood ran down the wall under the body and gathered in a pool at it's feet. The face was not twisted in anger or hatred, but lined with worry and pity, with the mask of pain that Link had seen all to often underlying it all. To Link, this was a horrifying shock, but to Vincent, this was the ultimate blow. Link looked to his friend in sorrow and could nearly see the walls of sanity being broken down behind the man's eyes. His world had ended.
Slowly- hesitantly- Vincent walked toward the body of his father and stopped before it. Wordlessly, he grasped the stakes and pulled them free of his father, causing the mage to fall to the ground. Vincent did not move for several seconds, just watching his father's corpse lay upon the dirtied, blood soaked ground was tearing at his mind and body. Then the knight knelt and lifted his father's head gently, resting it upon his knee.
Link could only stand by and watch the poor man grieve. This was something that Vincent had to do on his own. It would be improper for Link to step in at this point. Only when the knight asked for help, would the hero approach. Link sat down on a stone and waited.
After more than an hour, Vincent laid his father's head on the ground and closed the eyes. He said a prayer and called Link over.
"Link," he said in a small, raspy voice, "Do you have a penny?"
The hero reached into his money pouch and gave his friend the penny.
Opening Gregory's mouth, the knight placed the penny on the corpse's tongue.
"May the spirits welcome you to Hades. Farewell."
Link bowed his head in solemnity as the prayer was uttered, even though Vincent's voice broke several times while praying. The man was close to breaking, if he had not already done so. Vincent stood and stared at his father. The tears on his face were clear for Link to see.
They both stood over the mage's body until Link had to pull his shattered friend away from the scene. The knight seemed dazed. The shock had finally settled in. The weeping was over.
The pair of travellers spent the night camped just outside of the Underworld. Vincent said not a word the entire time that camp was set up or dinner served. He did his jobs but nothing else. After the meal, he just sat still, staring into the fire, not moving. Just breathing.
Link wondered about his friend. They had not known each other long, but after having to rely upon each other several times, they had formed a bond that would be hard broken. They had set out together to find hope for their lost lives. Vincent had lost his path in life, and Link had lost his way of life. Both had set out to amend their problems, the knight to return to Calatia and rejoin his father's gallant crusade; and Link to find his lost princess Zelda, and return her to her rightful place on the Hylian throne. Now Vincent's dream had been stolen. How would the knight react? Would he be excessively violent? Or just calm and withdrawn from the world? Would he go off and do something amazingly stupid, or would he do absolutely nothing? Link had no idea, but he had to keep an eye open for signs of trouble.
The night passed uneventfully and by morning the duo were again on their way.
Link shifted his position on Silvermane. Riding all day had a negative effect upon the posterior. He turned in his saddle slightly to look at Vincent riding at his side.
"How are you doing? Better?"
The knight looked at his friend but said nothing, only stared with unseeing eyes.
Link shrugged. That was to be expected. Shock was common among victims of tragedy, but with the Calatian, it was as if his mind had completely shut off. It worried Link, but he knew that eventually his head would right itself.
"So," he said aloud, "Where could Zelda have gone? She went south from Hyrule, we know that. And Calatia is openly hostile against her, so she could have passed through and entered Forhas. Does that sound likely?" He asked the silent knight.
No response, only a blank stare. Of course.
Over the course of the day, Link and Vincent travelled through much of Eastern Calatia heading for the country of Forhas. All the while the Calatian was quiet and unheeding. Night began to fall and still the pair had not crossed the boarder. Camp was made.
As they ate their meal, Link began to talk, mostly just thinking aloud as his companion was unwilling to speak.
"I wonder what could have killed Gregory?" The knight did not move at the mention of his newly deceased father. "He was one of the most powerful wizards in existence and he was brutally killed. And where did the Moblins go off to? I did not look as if they were killed as well. Perhaps the Calatians found out about the Underworld? Surely the Moblins could not have done such a thing to him?"
Link looked to his friend but saw nothing in his eyes. Had he even heard what was said? Link would doubt whether or not the man was even living were it not for the rhythmic motions of his chest and the small cloud expelled as he breathed in the cold air. The poor man.
Suddenly a scream came from the blackness surrounding the campfire, interrupting the young hero's thoughts. Link drew his sword and glanced all around him but saw nothing. The scream sounded distant, but that did not mean that it was not heading their way. It had sounded human, but Link could have been wrong. Better safe than sorry.
"You can go ahead and sleep," Link said to Vincent, "I will keep watch tonight."
There was no confirmation that the knight had heard him.
Link settled down on the ground and pulled a blanket around him against the hash night air, his sword across his knees; ready in a moment's notice. He could see nothing beyond the few feet where light was thrown by the fire, but his ears were sensitive and should pick up anything that moved close enough to be a danger.
All he could do was wait.
Auldric was tired. So unbelievably tired. And cold. And sore. He had travelled without rest for nearly two days through the plummeting temperatures without the use of his horse or blanket and he had just tripped in the dark on a root causing him to careen down a steep hill. He had unwittingly screamed in shock but nothing was broken, thankfully. If only he had the horse that would never have happened.
Slowly, the man grinned. Yes, the horse. Trine had planned on using that beast as a spy, to report everything Auldric did on his hunt. He was not trusted, not even by he who had given him reason for living. The horse had been killed shortly after Link had entered the mountains. Auldric would be damned if he would play the games of Trine any longer. He would no longer be under the crushing command of that foul man. He would be free.
But not yet. As long as Link was alive, his freedom was in peril. Link would always overshadow whatever Auldric would do. The perfect warrior would always be compared to his lesser friend. As long as the young Hylian was breathing, Auldric could never be certain of a favourable future. Link must die for Auldric to live.
The deranged man looked along the dark rolling hills of the Calatian landscape toward the faint glow of a campfire in the distance. That would be Link, Auldric thought to himself. At east he was close.
Trine may have been stupid to think he could control Auldric, but he had known one thing: the young man was not ready to fight Link. Especially with that knight travelling with him, Link would be unstoppable for one such as Auldric. But he could wait. Auldric had all the patience he would ever need to await Link's demise.
The young man crept forward until he was only a few meters from the campfire's light. From such a distance, Auldric could easily see Link sitting on watch and his companion sitting off to one side staring at the fire.
Auldric took a closer look at the knight. There was something not right about the man. His stare seemed strangely lost. He did not move. He breathed slowly. While Link's eyes were constantly moving, looking into the night, the Calatian only sat there staring into the fire, his breath the only visible sign of movement. Auldric could not shake the feeling that something was not right with the man.
But Auldric could wait. He would always be watching until the time was right. Link would die, Auldric was certain of that. The only question was when, and that would come soon enough. All he had to do was wait.
The next morning, the sun breached the heavens and banished the night in favour of day. The chill of night was slowly swept away; it's only remains the grass speckled with glistening dew. A weary Link and a vacant Vincent were on their way East shortly after sunrise.
Link had kept watch the entire cold night, unwilling to entrust such a demanding duty to Vincent who had shown no signs of breaking his shell of silence. It had been a harsh night as the temperature had dropped drastically after the sun had dropped below the horizon. The year was moving on, Link knew. Soon there would be snow on the ground covering the tracks of his princess, ruining forever his chances of finding her. He had no definite idea of where she could be, but his best chance would be in the forests of Forhas. Link shook his head. The very idea of finding Zelda was almost hopeless. She could be anywhere in the Seven Lands by now. Even if by some miracle Link managed to find out where she was, they could pass within a mile of each other and not be the wiser.
Link closed his eyes and relaxed as much as he could upon his horse and breathed in deeply. Clearing his mind, he focused solely upon Zelda and where she was.
The minutes ticked by without any revelation or sudden insight, and Link had almost given up hope when his mind erupted in light. There, in his Mind' Eye, he saw Zelda riding her horse solemnly through the hills of Calatia. There, on the horizon, sat the faint image of forest- the same forest that divided Calatia and Forhas.
Link looked at his princess's face and felt his heart torn as he saw several tears fall from her saddened eyes. He knew how she must have felt. Her homeland had deserted her and now she was all alone in unfamiliar territory. Link reached out his hand to touch his beloved, but at the movement the image shattered and was gone.
The hero opened his eyes and looked around. Stopping his horse, he gazed around him. There, on the horizon, was the very forest he had seen Zelda riding toward.
"Vincent!" he called.
The knight stopped his steed and looked at Link with his now common blank stare.
"This way!" Link cried and aimed his mount in the direction of the distant forest.
The knight silently complied.
For more than a day, the two companions had travelled in the direction Link had been shown in his vision, and they had still not found Zelda. What they had found was a large river winding through the forest that they chose to follow. Also, finding them, Father Winter had paid the land a bitter visit. In a single night snow and ice had covered the ground and trees. The river had become a raceway of frigid ice and water. The forest had been transformed from a dizzying mix of colour into a shadow of white and grey. More harrowing than the cold and the bleakness of the land was the absence of life. Nowhere to be seen were any animals or birds. The forest was deadly silent but for the occasional sound of ice falling and the constant crash of the river.
Link and Vincent traversed this unforgiving terrain. Link was relentless in his pursuit of Zelda. He would find her even if it would take him the rest of his life to do so. With the aid of Link's newfound connection with the princess, he was certain that she was getting nearer.
Vincent had remained unfeeling and unresponsive. Link had given up trying to force the man to communicate after the snow fell. If he was unwilling to curse the bitter cold, he would be unwilling to have casual conversation.
Idly, Link toyed with his ring-pendent. He was essentially all alone with no one to talk to. If he did not find others soon, he feared he would lose his mind. Like Vincent, he thought, looking over to his companion.
Looking down to his pendent, images of his days with Malon came flooding into his mind. Those days were the happiest of his life, and he would never forget them; could never forget them.
If only he and Zelda had been able to have the freedoms he had been able to enjoy with Malon. Zelda was royalty and expected to marry nobility, not just a royal protector. When it all came down to it, he was nothing more than a peasant who had become lucky. There could never be anything between him and Zelda. With Malon, Link had been able to become more than just friends, he had become a cherished love. While neither he nor the farm girl had said anything, they had both shared the same feelings toward each other. Words were never needed.
The only problem with a relationship with Malon was that she lived in the past. If he wanted to spend his life with her, he would need to give up all that he had worked for in the present. That would be a hard choice. Should he give up everything and seek the possibility of lifelong happiness?
Link shook his head. Now was not the time to be thinking about possibilities. He had to find Zelda and bring her back to Hyrule before Trine did something terrible. For all he knew, Trine had already destroyed his homeland. Perhaps there was nothing left to go back to. Perhaps this quest for Zelda was nothing more than a waste of time.
Link shook his head. No. That could never be. He had spent the past several years protecting Zelda from whatever harm could befall her and he was not about to stop now when she needed him most. Zelda came first in his actions until she was safely seated on the Hylian throne.
From somewhere behind the pair of travellers a twig snapped. Link did not even turn around. He knew they were being followed. He had known since the night before they had entered the forest when he had heard the scream. Animals did not scream like that.
Link had just shrugged this pursuer as a very dedicated thief, but after following him and Vincent through frozen and harsh terrain, doubt had crept into the warrior's mind.
Not a sound was heard in the forest except for the soft clop of the horse's hooves for many hours. Dusk was beginning to settle in when the ground suddenly ended in a roar.
Link moved his horse to the edge of the ground and looked over. The river fell over a hundred yards into a small pool surrounded by sheer rocks. The rocks were so high that they had shielded the roar of the waterfall from the outside world. As Link peered into the chasm, he felt in dwindled at Nature's glory. To be in sight of such a giant and magnificent wonder made the heart move. Link was overwhelmed.
Vincent's horse snuffed at the air and Link turned his attention away from Nature and back onto the problem at hand. Should they go down the cliff or around the falls?
Link looked to the horizon to see if either way proved more promising than the other. There, several miles away, a single column of smoke rose into the reddening sky. Someone was burning something. Someone was nearby.
Thankfully, the possible dwelling was in the direction away from the falls, so scaling those towering walls was not necessary. Link silently breathed a sigh of relief.
As he was turning to remount Silvermane, something erupted from the surrounding bushes.
Auldric was cold. So cold.
Following Link had drained much of the energy form his body, and it was a constant struggle to walk, let alone keep up with those damn horses.
Tired and haggard, Auldric collapsed into the light blanket of snow and lay still.
As he lay near death, the sound of falling water reached his ears. The noise was faint, but audible. Then, to revitalize him, a horse neighed nearby.
Auldric sat bolt upright and crawled forward until he could see the horses through a thin veil of leaves.
A grin formed on his lined face. His prey had stopped. Before his eyes, Link dismounted and walked to the edge of a chasm over which the river tumbled. If he could be fast enough, Auldric could push his nemesis over the edge to his doom. If the fall did not kill him, then surely the chilling waters would do it. Auldric took his chance and unsheathed his balde, jumped up as adrenaline began to pump through his veins, and charged Link.
Link had only just unsheathed his blade when his attacker was upon him, slashing with his sword.
Link parried and sidestepped. He would be damned if he would be pushed over that cliff. He brought the sword around in an upward slash which was deflected but then he spun with the blade and brought it down aiming at his attacker's head.
The man blocked but was no match for the speed and force of Link's attack. Pushed back, he fell to the ground, Link's blade upon his pushing for the throat.
As both men were struggling in an apparent standstill, Link caught sight of his attacker's face.
"Auldric?!" he exclaimed in disbelief. "What are you doing?"
His one time friend spat back his reply and kicked Link away.
Jumping to his feet, Link held his sword ready but did not attack.
"What are you doing Auldric?" he repeated.
The haggard man regained his footing and braced himself. "Killing you!" Saying that, he rushed Link but was quickly forced aside by the warrior's blade.
As soon as Auldric turned, he again rushed Link, but was again forced aside.
"Fight me, you bastard!" Auldric screamed in rage, brandishing the Master Sword for another attack.
Link again forced the attack aside and said, "I will not fight you. You are my friend. I do not fight friends."
"I am not your friend!" Auldric again came at Link but this time was faster than Link was expecting and came close to taking Link's head off. Fuelled by hate and anger, The Master Sword became a blur of steel. Link was forced back by the sudden barrage and had no way to retaliate without killing his one time friend.
Link took step after step back until he was standing knee deep in the rushing water of the river and still Auldric's blade was assaulting him.
Auldric continued hurling the Master Sword at his friend, sure that he was gaining the upper hand, when a small chunk of ice hit him hard in the side, knocking him off balance in the hurrying waters.
The attack of steel had ceased and Link used that to his advantage. Swiping at his off-balance attacker's chest, he connected with his former blade and succeeded in causing Auldric to fall over in the frigid water.
Link was hit by an piece of ice and looked around him. He was dangerously close to the waterfall. Less than ten feet away he could see ice toppling over the edge.
Working his way over to his fallen friend, something caught his foot and dragged him under. Struggling against the current and the need for air, Link fought his way back to the surface and gasped for air. As the water fell from his eyes, he saw Auldric towering over him, the Master Sword poised above his head ready for the final blow.
His blade still in his hand but under the rushing water, Link could only stare in horror at his friend who was ready to cut his head from his neck. The wicked gaze Auldric had on his face was enough to chill Link's heart. It was a look of pure hatred boiled to the surface.
As the magical sword began it's downward arc, Auldric was hit from the side by a giant piece of ice. The force of the blow tossed him out of the water and into the air for a moment before he again entered the cold and fell over the edge of the waterfall.
Link stood up and rushed to the riverbank, out of the treacherous waters. As he climbed up the bank, his friend's scream was still echoing in the chasm.
Breathing hard both from the battle and from the chill, Link peered over the edge down into the running waters of the falls but could see nothing of his friend.
Link spent several minutes in a pitiful heap upon the chasm edge. He was cold, wet, and grieving the death of his long-time friend.
Forcing himself to his knees, Link looked to the horses. They were exactly where they had been before Link's assassination attempt. So was Vincent. He had not moved even though his ally was in peril.
Cursing Vincent for his lack of thought, Link retrieved a blanket from Silvermane's saddlebag and wrapped it tightly around himself. If they did not find shelter soon, Link would freeze to death in the cold air. Looking again out beyond the waterfall, the rising smoke in the distance looked even more promising.
Sighing at the amount of time it would take his to reach the smoke, Link mounted his horse and guided it across the rushing river. Vincent followed silently.
Night had fallen many hours ago when the travellers arrived at the source of the smoke. They emerged from the trees and before then was a small clearing with a cottage. Dotted around the building were several outbuildings. Light poured forth from a pair of small windows that looked incredibly enticing to Link in his shivering state. Getting off his horse, Link cautiously approached one of the windows and peered inside. There in the warm glow of a fire was a small living room with comfortable-looking chairs and stools surrounding it. In one of the chairs sat an old woman knitting.
Link could not contain himself any longer and quickly lead Silvermane and Vincent into the clearing. Walking up to the door of the cottage, he knocked three shivering knocks.
After a few seconds of intense waiting, the door opened and an old man stood before them with an axe in his hand.
"What do you want?" the old man said in a gruff voice.
Link, his whole body shaking from cold, said, "My friend and I have been travelling for many days now and we were hoping we could spend the night in front of your fire."
The man looked Link over and then peered through the dim light to look at Vincent.
He had just opened his mouth when a scream came from within the house.
Both he and Link looked into the cottage to see a familiar young girl staring at them.
"Link!" cried Zelda in shock, running forward to hug him.
Link could only smile in happiness, knowing that his princess was safe and near.
The sudden flush of emotions proved too much for the hero and, without saying a word to Zelda, he collapsed into unconsciousness.
Dark shapes were moving in a dark world.
The flashes of light that streaked across the sky every so often only illuminated the utter darkness of the world, shedding light upon nothing; making the darkness more complete.
Somewhere in this hell of black, a man was walking. Walking from nowhere heading for nowhere. Having no purpose in his mind, he just walked; walked onward in the land of darkness.
The endless wind scorched his ears and scored deep lines in his battered back. His skin crumbled under the harsh gaze of the sky and his feet bled with each step he took in his tortured walk.
He was in pain. A pain only he could know. A pain much more acute than anything any mortal had ever experienced. A pain only a condemned god could feel. His pain came from his destroyed body and his destroyed mind. His destroyed limbs and his destroyed eyes.
Yes, his eyes. His most important asset had been taken from him in the battle. He had once been honoured for his gift to see what others could not, but no more. He was now less than normal men. A burden on nature and on Man. He was a waste.
He walked on and on, down valleys and up hills until he at last came to what he was searching for. He had found the Mythril mines. Overcome with pain and joy, the man fell on his broken knees and prayed to the gods to grant him his dieing wish.
He rose and stumbled into a small cave and stopped. Around him the sound of movement could be heard. Dark shapes in a dark land. Ethereal beings of sound. Formless monsters of the mind. He was surrounded by these things and led down a maze of narrow corridors until at last they stopped and allowed him to sit upon a stone slab.
Muttering to themselves in strange tongues, the formless ones lay the man down and covered him with a cloth and flowers. The man smiled. His wish had been granted and the pain would forever leave his body. He would be free. He had done his duty for his entire life and had now been given his payment. He closed his sightless eyes and took a deep breath. It was all over now.
A blade pierced his open neck and his pains were over amid the constant voices of the shapeless ones. Dark devils in a world of nothing.
Link opened his eyes and came awake in an instant, the horrible images of the dream still fresh in his mind. He looked around.
Understanding dawned on him as memories of last night came flooding back into his mind. Even so, his mind had been hazy. He could dimly remember riding through the woods and coming to a house. Then... What then? He saw Zelda. Link shook his head to clear his mind, but doing so only caused the world to spin. Was it just a dream? Did he really see Zelda?
Link lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. Perhaps it had been a dream. After all, the chances of actually finding his princess after such a long time and distance were very remote. In fact that sort of thing only happened in fairy tales. This was real life after all, not some fantasy; not some legend.
The door to the room opened and Link opened his eyes. He immediately shut them. Damn it all! Was this part of a dream as well?
"Are you up?" asked a unnervingly familiar voice.
Link slowly opened his eyes and saw the beautiful face of Zelda staring down at him.
"I might be," Link said softly, his voice cracking with lack of use. "Am I dreaming?"
The girl smiled. "No. You're not dreaming. We are together again."
Link smiled and tried to raise himself onto his elbows but Zelda pushed him back.
"No. Hecuba left strict instructions for you to stay lying down."
The boy sighed and felt his stomach growl. "How long have I been asleep?"
"About two days. You had a fever and needed some rest. The cold had got to you."
"Two days..." Link mused. "Who's house is this?"
"An elderly couple live here, Donalbain and Hecuba."
Link nodded. "I shall have to thank them for looking after me."
"You can do that later," Zelda said picking up a bowl of water. "When you are fully recovered."
"But I-" Link started but Zelda cut him off.
"No buts! Now sleep."
Saying that, the princess shut the door, leaving Link all alone in the room with only his thoughts to keep him company.
He had drifted off to sleep again when a knock came at his door.
"Yes?" he asked and the door opened to reveal the old man, Donalbain. The old man smiled warmly and Link looked his host over.
The man was small thanks to a stooped posture and had a beard that fell down to his waist. He walked with a cane and dressed in a simple blue tunic with grey breeches and a brown, leather vest lined in fur. On his feet were well worn boots.
"Good to see that you are up, boy."
"It was thanks to you, sir." Link replied courteously. The old man shook his head.
"Nope. It isn't I you should be thanking, lad. It is my wife. She took care of you. Her and Zelda." Donalbain brought a stool over to the bedside and sat on it. "That young girl was by your side since we brought you in here. She was really worried for you, you know."
Link smiled. "That does not surprise me. We have been friends for a long time."
Donalbain nodded. "Of course. Now," he said, rising and clapping his hands, "Let's see if you can walk. Up you get!"
Saying this, the man grabbed Link's arms lightly but firmly and lifted him to a sitting position. Link waited until the room had stopped running around his head and then aided the old man in getting up. It was then that he noticed that he was wearing no clothes.
"Umm..." he said, blushing from embarrassment.
The old man looked confused for a moment before realization dawned on him.
"Ah! Of course! That was why I was sent in here." he chuckled lightly. "Couldn't ask one of the girls to do it, right? Right."
He went over to a cupboard and rifled through the clothing inside. "Hmm," he said. "This might work. Try it." Saying that, he tossed a rough brown tunic onto the bed. Link put it on.
Donalbain looked him over and nodded.
"That'll do for now. Come on. Dinner is almost ready."
"What about trousers?" Link asked.
Donalbain shook his head. "Whatever for, lad? You're not going outside in your condition. Just a meal and then back to bed for you. Now come on."
Link sighed and was helped by the old man out of the room and into the large living room he had seen earlier. A fire still burned in the fireplace. They went through another door where there was much commotion to be heard.
Inside, Link saw Zelda rushing around the kitchen with plates while an old woman stood at the stove watching the pots there like a hawk. At the small table sat Vincent, apparently still comatose in his movements.
"Ah!" came a cry. Link looked and saw the old woman staring at him. "Here he is! The young man who has come to steal our young Zelda away from us!"
"What?" exclaimed Zelda, stopping in her rush.
"Felling better are we?" asked the old woman, ignoring Zelda's shock.
"Yes, miss. Thank you" said Link.
"You are very welcome, young sir." The woman waved her hand at the girl. "Don't you deny it. You two were meant to be together. I can tell these things, you know." The woman winked at Link while Donalbain helped him to a seat at the table before sitting himself.
Link waited patiently as the women laid the table, served everyone, and sat down.
The woman was obviously the talkative type. She immediately began chatting to no one in particular as soon as she had seated herself. Link had to carefully pay attention to keep up with the conversation, though he was sure that most of the questions were aimed at him.
"So, Link- may I call you Link, or is that strictly reserved for young beauties like our Zelda?- how was it you came into these woods? My name is Hecuba, by the way. Accident? Or were you looking for something? Or someone perhaps?" said the old woman in a rush before putting a fork full of food into her mouth.
After a second of silence, Link realized that he was expected to answer. "Umm. I came here looking for Zelda, actually." He took a mouth full of the food before him and immediately loved it.
The old woman beamed. "Oh, isn't that lovely! Isn't that lovely, Donalbain?"
"Yes dear." the old man said wearily. Link guessed the woman was this talkative all the time.
"Yes, that is what I thought. You are lucky to be alive, young man. Do you realize that? Why, you must have been in that cold for hours in those wet clothes. Not good for anyone to be out like that, I say. Don't I always say that?"
"Yes, that is what I thought. So who is this talkative young man we have here?" Hecuba glanced at Vincent before returning her attention to Link. "He won't tell us his name or anything. Is there something wrong with him? He's not dumb is he? Not that I have anything against dumb people, mind you. Poor folks, they are. They got the short stick from the gods, they did. Lovely people, they are. Just not too swift, poor folk."
Another silence before Link knew to answer. "His name is Vincent and he is not dumb. He just seems to be in permanent shock after seeing his father die a few days ago." Link took another mouthful of the delicious food.
Zelda almost chocked on her food. "Gregory is dead?!" she asked in alarm.
Hecuba waved at the girl to silence her as she readjusted her posture to look at Vincent. "Oh the poor dear!" Hecuba rose from her chair in a swirl of skirts and walked around to behind the Calatian, embracing him in a bear hug, burying his head into her plentiful chest.
Donalbain took the absence of words to lean over to Link and whisper, "Don't mind her, she's always like this with guests." Link nodded.
"How awful to have seen something so awful! Poor dear. And Donalbain, don't bore the lad with your endless chatting."
Hecuba sat down again and resumed talking while eating. "Yes, that is what I thought. How are you holding up, dear?" she asked Vincent who was, as always, unresponsive.
"Ah. Yes. Of course." She took a mouthful of food and turned her attention back to livelier subjects. "So what is it you do back home, Link?"
Link swallowed his food and said, "I used to protect the Hylian royal family. But I quit."
This time, Hecuba was cut off by Zelda, butting into the conversation. "What? You can't just quit the Hylian Royal Guard! How could you do such a thing?"
"Well," said Link, "You had left Hyrule, and I disagreed with the way Trine was running things so I left with Vincent to find you."
"Oh, isn't that romantic?"
"Yes, that is what I thought. And Zelda dear, it is impolite for young girls to butt into a conversation. Please keep that in mind, dear."
"Yes, Hecuba." said Zelda primly, barely covering her distaste for the rule.
Hecuba continued with her ranting. "So you protected the royal family, eh? That sounds so wonderful. I bet you got to go to all those fancy balls and eat fancy food all royal like. That sounds like paradise."
Link shrugged and ate some more.
"If you were a protector," spoke Donalbain, "does that mean that you had to fight beast and warriors and such?"
Link nodded. "Constantly."
Hecuba sighed. "Such violence. And you're only a child, too. It must have warped your mind something horrible. I tell you, all the children I see are always running around trying to do bad things. And it is always getting worse, it is. Why, just the other year, a dear friend of mine was killed by a couple of young tearaways she was helping. Found them wandering the forest, brought them home to feed the poor devils and they pushed the poor soul into an oven, they did. Kids of today!"
"I blame the parents!" Donalbain said in disgust.
The old woman nodded and wiped a make-believe tear from her eye. "It is sad. Oh! Have you finished, Link dear? Would you like some more?"
Link shook his head and said, "No, thank you. That was the most delicious food I have had in a long time. Thank you. If it is alright with you, I would like to return to bed. I want to be up and about as quickly as possible."
"Well, very well," Hecuba said, visibly unhappy with his decision, "Would you like something warm to help you sleep?"
"Yes thank you, if it wouldn't be too much trouble." Link said, getting himself up from the table.
"It will be a minute before it will be done, so you head on back to bed and I'll be in later to give it to you."
"Thank you again." Link said and walked shakily back to his room. Just before he had closed the door, he heard the old woman say, "Isn't he a poor soul?"
"Yes dear," came the reply just as the door closed.
Link smiled. He liked the couple already. Unfortunately, with Hecuba doing all the talking, he had not had a chance to really talk with Zelda. But that could wait.
He took the tunic off and got into bed. Just as he had settled down there came a knock at the door.
"Come in." he called.
The door opened and Zelda walked in with a steaming mug in her hands.
"Here you go, Link." she said as she sat down on the bed next to him.
Link pushed himself up and took a sip from the proffered mug. "Goat's milk?" he asked.
The girl nodded. "Donalbain keeps a few goats in a pen out back."
Link speedily finished the warm milk and handed it back to Zelda. She took it and rested it in her lap. "Link, I..."
Link held up a hand and smiled. "I missed you too."
Zelda's eyes clouded over and she embraced Link in a heartfelt hug. Link could feel her warm tears fall onto his shoulder. "I missed you so much!" she cried. "I was so scared when I left Hyrule! I had to ride for miles without seeing anyone, and I couldn't go into any towns and it was just awful since I left you!"
Link rubbed her back and soothed her. "Don't worry. I'm here now." He grasped her shoulders and pulled her out of the hug, looking her in the eye. "Your protector is back." The girl smiled through her tears and Link thought it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. He grinned.
"I'll keep all the monsters away from my little princess." he said in a teasing voice.
Zelda laughed and slapped him on the shoulder playfully. "Oh! You're terrible!"
Link laughed and again held the princess's arms, this time serious. "I really missed you."
Zelda nodded and hugged him again. "I missed you too." They remained still for several seconds; the only sound their breathing, the only movement Link's hand stroking her hair gently.
Suddenly Zelda pulled away. "Well, you must get your rest or you will never be healthy again." She pushed Link back into bed and lightly kissed his cheek.
She picked up the lamp hanging on the wall and went to the door. "Sleep well, my hero."
Link smiled. "You too, my lady."
Zelda smiled and closed the door softly, leaving Link alone in the darkness, with only the faint moonlight streaming through the window to illuminate his view.
His mind a whir of thoughts, Link soon fell asleep, from exhaustion or his recovering body but most likely the sleeping potion Hecuba had put into the warm goat's milk. Link awoke early the next morning to the sound of wood creaking.
Slowly, he sat up in his bed and looked out the window by the bed. Outside, he could see millions of white specks flittering across his view and gathering on the white ground.
Again the sound of wood creaking reached his sensitive ears. He looked up and, for a moment, felt a wave of fear wash through him. The snow outside was piling up on the roof. Hopefully the cottage could handle the weight.
Link smiled as images from last night's dinner flashed across his mind. The house, small and simple as it was, seemed to have survived many years so far, and showed no signs of collapsing any time soon.
Getting slowly out of bed, Link put on his tunic from the night before and stopped at the door. Outside of the room, he could hear movement. Someone was awake. Link opened the door quietly and shuffled cautiously out.
Walking through the living room, Link stopped at the kitchen door in amazement.
There, before his startled eyes, was Zelda, princess of the most powerful nation in the world, running about the kitchen like a common housewife. Link was stunned.
Zelda kept moving around until she caught sight of her audience.
"Oh!" she cried, startled. "Link, I didn't know you were up."
Link smiled and entered the room, sitting at the table. "That's all right. I didn't know you could find your way around a kitchen."
The former princess blushed and went to the stove, putting on a kettle. "Hecuba has been training me. She is very insistent that I become a fully prepared wife. Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, please." Link said and settled into the chair. He laughed lightly.
"What's so funny?" Zelda asked.
"I never pictured a princess doing household chores, that's all."
Zelda turned to stare at Link and then sat down opposite him. "Well," she said slowly, "I haven't actually told Hecuba and Donalbain about where I came from, exactly."
"What did you tell them?"
"I told them I was exiled from Hyrule for a crime I did not commit. That is true enough. Hecuba took pity on me and they took me in as their daughter." She paused as the kettle began to whistle and poured some tea for the two of them. "I like it, really." she said as they waited for their drinks to cool. "I like living such a simple life. There are no fancy balls, no fancy food, no scheming people, no danger, really. It is unbelievably relaxing." She sighed in contentment. "I wish I could stay here forever."
Link sipped his tea. "But you can't." he said simply.
Again, the girl sighed, this time in regret. "I know. I have to go back, don't I? I just wish things were different."
The minutes ticked by tensely as the two drank from their cups silently.
"Listen to that," Zelda said softly.
Link paused and listened. Then, when he understood what his friend was talking about, he smiled. "Nothing."
Zelda nodded. "Yes. Nothing. Not a sound. I have never been in such a place. In Hyrule, I was always surrounded by people, countless numbers of people. There was never any quiet like this." She sighed. "I love it here."
Link finished his tea and nodded. "This is a wonderful place, Zelda, but you can't stay. You do know that, don't you?"
Zelda slammed her cup down onto the table in anger. "Why not? Huh? Why not? Don't I deserve to live in a place where I can be happy? Truly happy?" her eyes misted over in anger and frustration. "Why should I go back to Hyrule, where people will hate me and scrutinize everything I do? In Hyrule, I can never be as happy as I can be here! As queen, I would have to put the good of the state ahead of me. Here, I can put my needs first. I can be happy here, don't you see that?"
Link watched as his friend of many years reduced to sobbing wretchedly, her breaths coming in gasps behind streams of sweet tears. Link knew very well how Zelda must feel, after all, this cottage was just like Lon Lon Ranch, where Link had spent the best week of his life with Malon and her family. It had been painful to leave the girl back in the past so that Hyrule could be saved, but he had done it with the promise to return. Now Zelda must do the same thing. There were still many things that needed to be done before Zelda could find peace. Besides, true happiness can never be achieved while things of importance are going undone. They will always be in the back of the mind, lingering with doubt.
Link rose and sat next to his princess, putting a comforting arm around her. She leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder. "I know exactly how you feel. I wish that we could stay here forever, too."
Zelda stopped crying and sniffled. "You do?" she asked quietly.
Link nodded. "I would love to be able to spend the rest of my life in a place like this, surrounded by peace, but I can't. And neither can you. We both have jobs to do. Our duty is to protect Hyrule, and we can't do that from here."
Zelda said nothing but only burrowed deeper into Link's embrace. She knew what had to be done, but refused to accept her fate. One thing Link had learned over the years was that Fate was not to be ignored.
"Although," he said slowly, "perhaps we can stay just for the winter." Not ignored, only postponed.
Zelda's head flew away from his chest and to his face as she kissed him quickly on the cheek and hugged him tightly. "Oh, thank you thank you!" she cried. "You don't know how much this means to me!"
The girl released her friend from the hug and got up from the table getting back to work. "Too much to be done around the house to sit talking all day. Donalbain should be up soon. You can help him get the wood in for a fire."
Link stayed sitting in the kitchen for a few seconds watching Zelda as she busied herself doing chores and then he went back to his room.
The sun slowly dropped from view beneath the horizon of the great Hyrule fields. Slowly and with much effort, a small ox cart wound it's way along a narrow road. A wheel struck a stray rock in the road and the resulting jolt nearly tossed the small driver from the vehicle.
Ashir adjusted the cap that had almost fallen into the road along with him and sighed. The life of a magician was no picnic. He looked back at the load of boxes and jars rocking in the bed of the cart and counted to make sure none of them had fallen off. Good. They were all there.
The magician turned his eyes back on the road and squinted in the gathering dusk. Soon the great city of Hyrule should come into view. He had spent almost the entire day on the road after returning to his former home amid the great wooden columns of the Lost Forest. And why was he torturing himself atop this rickety cart and equally rickety ox at such a time at night in the middle of autumn? All for the wish of that damn chamberlain. What was his name? Ah, yes. Roland. Damn Roland. How dare that man order one such as the Great Ashir to do duties?
Again the small man sighed. It was not without just cause though, he had to admit. According to Roland, it was for the benefit of the state that Ashir tend to the ailing king. And why shouldn't he help Trine this once? After all, the magician owed his freedom and his very life to the young king. One good turn deserves another. Quid Pro Quo and such.
Since the death of his mother and the apparent defection of Auldric, Trine had fallen into some sort of despair. He spent his days sprawled on his throne, eyes unfocused, ears closed. The city doctors had tried their best to help their young liege but their treatments were ineffective. For days now, Trine had done nothing to better the state, and indeed himself. He had locked himself away in his mind, hearing nothing; seeing nothing; doing nothing. Roland had come to Ashir to ask for help and the wizard could not blame the man. After all, there was a country to run and a war to fight. Without a clear leader, the country could fall apart.
And so it was that the right hand man of the king of Hyrule was running around in a cart that threatened to collapse with every turn of the wheels. All for Hyrule. To try and save the mind and body of a broken king for the sake of the country.
Ashir focused his thoughts on his young king. Although the magician had seen much death in his life, nothing had disturbed him more than seeing a boy of such power wasting away in grief and sorrow.
The magician remembered when Trine had explained the entirety of his plan. He had marvelled at how uncaring the boy was when he had discussed the murders of his closest family members. His grandfather, aunt, uncle, even his own mother. Trine had seemed so relaxed talking about the death of his family. Ashir shook his head sadly. Even with all of the meticulous planning made by his young lord, no one could have predicted the shattering impact the death of his mother would have had upon him. It is never easy to bite the hand that has fed you since birth. There are always emotions hidden deep within the soul that rise to the surface at only certain times. Even the most stoic man has broken down and wept at some time in his life. Things happen. Terrible things. And always when you least expect them.
But then again, Trine had predicted his mother's outcome many weeks before her death. After all, he had planned it that way. Unfortunately, something had risen from deep within the king and had compelled him to remain by his mother's side throughout her last days. Only the gods knew what he did in there. Even he, Ashir, was refused access to the chambers those last days. Apparently the young man had loved his mother more than he had known.
But why? Why had he chosen such a terrible time to lose his mind? If he had killed his other family members, what difference could killing his mother make? Roland had voiced his opinion. The stupid man assumed that the pressures of ruling the kingdom had finally become too great for their monarch's young mind. Ashir had another reason and it seemed much more possible. The wizard had gone through a similar problem in his own younger years and was familiar with the causes. With the death of Queen Julia, and the exile of Princess Zelda, Trine was truly and utterly alone. He was of royal birth, so friends were few and far between; He had lost all family he had ever known; he had no family of his own to call on for help anymore. His mother was gone, he had no wife, no children. He was alone. Completely alone in a vast and complicated world. He had no one to turn to for help and understanding. He had unwittingly created his own hell and was now forced to live in it.
Ashir again looked behind him at the motley assortment of bottles and jars. Hopefully, one of them would hold the key to the locked door of Trine's mind. On that note, the cart crested a hill and all of Hyrule City was spread beneath the magician's view. The cloud of smoke from the thousands of chimneys of the city blended dully with the red fall evening and the gathering dusk. The sounds of a busy city closing down for the night could be heard from the hill over the brisk wind. Above the many buildings of the metropolis, the towers and spires of the castle could be seen dimly in the distance. A dark aura surrounded the dim giant and seemed to spread itself about the capital, enveloping each citizen with its vile hands.
Ashir rubbed his eyes and then his hands. It was either the cold affecting his sight or a vision he was seeing. Sometimes having the magical touch could be a curse. To have a man such as Trine sinking into depression and delirium could spell disaster for the land. Also, the plan could not continue without Trine's help. If the king could not be cured, all that they had gone through would have been for nothing.
Of course, whether the king was healthy or not was irrelevant without Auldric. They still needed the Master Sword. Somehow that turncoat would have to be hunted down and returned to Hyrule.
Ashir grimaced. His spell on the boy must have been too weak to contain his mind. Auldric should have been under direct control of Trine until Trine deemed fit. No less. Something must have gone wrong with the spell or affected the damn boy in such a profound way as to break it. Needless to say, when Trine snapped out of his insanity, someone would have to pay for the mistake. That someone would be Ashir.
As the cart slowly creaked its way across the drawbridge of the city gates, the wizard sighed. Things were definitely not going as planned. Only time would tell whether the plan could continue or crumble, much as the king's mind had.
Only time would tell.
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