A NEW CAPTAIN for HYRULE or “Return and Report”
As evening fell over Hyrule the town was alive with dozens of small celebrations. The taverns were bustling, the courtyard had become a makeshift dance square—dimly lit by the streetlamps and torches—and vendors who would otherwise have been selling their usual wares were selling little coins, banners or figurines; impromptu souvenirs of the hero’s victory. It astonished Link how quickly the Hylian people could respond to mercantile opportunities.
Just after the sun had gone down, Link retreated to the steps of the north gate. Around his neck were garlands of flowers and he was followed by a small group of girls of various ages. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t let you in…” he said, waving them off. There were several sounds of girlish disappointment. “Sorry, only official royalty business, isn’t that right?” he said, turning to one of the gate guards with a smile. The guard did not look at Link but rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” Link continued, “I really must be going. Official royalty business and all…” The girls said their goodbyes with blown kisses and little waves and one of them returned his father’s shield with forlorn eyes. When they were gone Link crept behind the large wooden doors, closing them quickly after him. He let out a tense breath.
“I see you enjoyed yourself,” said a voice behind him.
Link spun around. It was Zelda. “Hey! Where did you go earlier? Why didn’t you join us?”
Zelda folded her arms. “It seems you had a big enough crowd.”
Link felt as if he had done something terribly wrong. He began removing garlands from his neck. “Hey, um…there’s still stuff to do. If you want we could go…”
“My father wants to see you.”
Link’s expression twitched involuntarily. It was odd. What with the king being away in Kakariko Village all this time and everything else going on to interrupt things Link had almost forgotten about him. He blushed; Link didn’t know what the king might want. “Is he…mad?”
“No,” said Zelda. She unfolded her arms. “He’s just gotten back. He wants to talk to you.”
“Are…you mad?” Link said, holding the garlands loosely in his hands.
Zelda looked as if she were trying to swallow a live insect. “No.”
“Okay…” said Link quietly. He shouldered his shield. Zelda turned and walked across the bridge toward the castle. Link followed, leaving the garlands in the base of a stone planter.
* * *
The last time Link had been in the Grand Hall of the castle he had been greeted by the king and queen of Hyrule and Colin—Link’s father and the Captain of the Royal Guard. It was a surreal feeling to enter the Hall again now realizing that both he and Zelda had lost one of their parents since that time, especially since he, Link, hadn’t even known who his father was at the time.
Zelda escorted Link to the middle of the Hall. “Wait here,” she said. Link noticed that she had gained a different mannerism somehow; as if being inside the Great Hall made her more proper, less of a child. The king sat in the middle of three seats on the dais at the end of the hall. He wore his traditional red coat and white leggings with his upturned shoes. On his head was the high Crown of Hyrule. Zelda joined her father in the seat to his left.
“Approach,” said the king.
Link obeyed, walking down the blue carpet with bated breath, wondering what the king might say. With each step a new thought occurred to him. Maybe he was going to welcome him back… No, thought Link, that wasn’t likely. He had told Zelda about where the Dark Mirror had come from and how it came into Ganon’s possession. Maybe he was going to arrest him. Maybe Zelda told the king that Link had kissed her and he was to be punished; he wondered if that was allowed. Link reached the foot of the dais with trembling knees.
The king looked markedly different somehow. It might have had to do with being sick for so long, what with Ganon poisoning him, but the king looked physically older and somewhat thinner. There were heavier creases under his eyes and his peppery beard and hair had more white now than reddish-brown. It seemed to Link that he was also sterner, if that were possible, and sadder. The king spoke, his voice as deep and commanding as ever. “Do you know why you are here, Link of the Hylia?”
Link felt as if it were an accusation, as if by being a Hylian the king was expecting Link to have conducted himself more honorably in some way. Link’s mind was aflutter with his previous thoughts of what offense the king might raise to accuse him. “No,” was all Link could manage. He felt that if he said anything more he might collapse from nerves.
“Then let me inform you. I wish to have a frank discussion with you concerning your future relationship to my daughter…”
Oh, here it was: Link was sure he was going to be beheaded, or thrown in the dungeon, or both, or worse. His mind reeled, suffering from the thought of eminent torture. “Yessir,” he said, wincing.
“I have heard of your behavior of late…” the king continued—Link wondered whether he could choose the way he was executed—“…and I understand that it has been most unorthodox.” Link’s legs were about to give way. He remained silent, afraid that any noise could topple him to the floor. “Further, I wish to congratulate you.”
“I’m sorry, your Majesty, I didn’t mean to!” Link blurted, falling to his knees. When neither the king nor Zelda spoke he looked up from his hands hesitantly. Zelda was giggling and the king had a look of thorough confusion.
The king addressed his daughter. “You were right, my dear; most unorthodox. Are you sure he’s not still in the shock of battle?” Zelda suppressed a laugh, shaking her head. The king turned to Link. “Your humility is worthy of your title, Link, Hero of Hyrule.”
Only then did Link comprehend what the king had said. “You mean, you’re not mad?”
“I told you he wasn’t,” said Zelda. It looked as if she were very satisfied, though.
Suddenly Link felt very foolish on the floor; humbled indeed. He stood up again, pretending he had never collapsed and feeling much better considering the circumstances. “Thank you, o’ great king,” he said, bowing deeply.
“It is well, Master Hero,” the king responded. “Now, as I said, I have somewhat to say to you concerning my daughter. She tells me you were absent for some time today.”
Link had to confess that was true. “Yessir,” he said. “I did get carried away…”
“Well, unsolicited abductions taken into consideration, you certainly took your time getting back. Under the circumstances I see the situation as forgivable, but I shall expect my daughter’s protector to be more prompt about his return when there is not an impromptu festival on his behalf underway. Am I understood?”
Link was overjoyed at the king’s tolerance. “Yessir,” he said meekly. He couldn’t help but smile a little.
“And enough of this ‘sir’ nonsense; I am the king, and the captain of my knights will refer to me as ‘majesty’ or ‘liege,’ is that clear?”
Link felt substantially more light-hearted now; more Koroki-ish. “Yes, my Liege,” he said, bowing deeply.
“That will do. Now, as a matter of formality you will need to be knighted and appointed captain. Nelson, my sword.” A guard came over with a beautifully decorated blade. It had a handle of silver and was encrusted with red jewels. At either end of the crossguard were two silver lions heads with another large red gem in each of their mouths. Hardly a blade for battle, Link thought, but beautiful all the same. The king took it from Nelson and stood. “Approach the throne, Link, Hero of Hyrule.”
Link was awed by the moment. He hadn’t expected to be knighted and appointed captain all at once. It seemed too sudden, though he had felt the weight of it ever since Impa had told him who his father was. He drew near the throne and now with every step his mind became more sober, more serious. This was both a high honor and a great responsibility. Link suddenly wished that Afton, his uncle, could be there to see him. But there was no stopping things now; he was standing before the king.
“Kneel,” the king said, and Link knelt. The king laid his sword on Link’s shoulder. “As sovereign of the united lands of Hyrule I, Daphnes Hyrule, son of Hansen, do hereby knight thee, Sir Link of Hyrule, son of Colin, by virtue of your deeds in defense of these lands and in honor of your sacrifices heretofore made to ensure the protection of the Royal Family. Further, I appoint thee as Captain of the Royal Guard, Elite of the Royal Knighthood. Rise Master Link, Captain of the Royal Guard.”
Link stood. If he had ever felt older than his age, it was nothing compared to the way he felt now. It seemed to him as if he had aged ten years in that moment, though he knew he still had quite a bit more growing up to do. “Thank you, my Liege,” he said, and bowed with one hand to his young breast.
A pair of small hands began clapping. Link was pleased to discover that it was Zelda. “Sorry,” she said when the king looked over at her. To Link’s astonishment the clapping continued and he became aware of someone else standing nearby.
“Well done,” said Afton approaching the throne. “Well done, Master Captain.” He bowed once to the king and once again to Link. “I am sorry for being late, but I had…other things to attend to.”
“It is better that you are here now, Lieutenant. The captain was about to take his seat.” The king motioned to Link to sit in the chair to his right. Link suddenly remembered that it was part of being the Captain of the Royal Guard to sit in council with the king and queen of Hyrule. He was frozen to the floor. He couldn’t take his father’s seat; he hadn’t even had the courage to sleep in his father’s bed. He turned to Zelda, weighed down by the thought…what would it mean?
But without Link having to speak Zelda understood him completely. “It doesn’t mean he’s gone and is never coming back,” she said, Link comprehending every word. “It means he’s a part of you, now. You have to take his place, because if you don’t someone else would have to and then it’s as if he truly is gone. So long as you sit there, so does he…” Link noticed the king bow his head for a moment, but Link didn’t stare; he knew he must be hearing his wife speak through the words of his daughter. Link remembered how much Queen Zethra reminded him of an older Zelda; now it was as if Zelda reminded him of a younger version of her mother.
Link sighed. He must sit in his father’s place. I have to, he thought. Link un-shouldered his father’s old shield and for the first time Link—Captain of the Royal Guard—took his place next to the throne of the king. The royalty of Hyrule was whole again.
“Well, I think we could all do with these,” said the king, and handed a handkerchief to each of those present. Link laughed, Zelda looked on her father lovingly, and Afton stood straighter, dabbing his eyes with the white cloth he was given. When the king had sat and dried his own eyes he spoke again. “I think it’s time we heard your report, Lieutenant. Link, this will be your matter of business to conduct, if you will excuse me.” The king blew his nose.
Link turned to his uncle. “Report, Lieutenant,” he said confidently.
“Of course, sir,” said Afton with a short bow. And the mood changed from reminiscent to sober as Afton summarized the outcome of Ganon’s most recent plot to overtake Hyrule. Afton recounted how he had gone to ready the Darknaughts for the Tournament when then they received word from the court wizard that the Wind Mage Vaati had just escaped from the castle in a whirlwind. He gave the reports of the surviving soldiers, how the Darknaughts fled to keep the Royal Jewels from Vaati at all costs, and then concluded: “…many of our knights and soldiers were overtaken by some form mind control and were used as pawns to overtake the kingdom. Some were lost in the battle that ensued. I and a small band of knights took up hidden positions within the castle to ensure that it was protected in the Darknaughts’ absence. Somehow Ganon’s influence reached even within the walls of the castle and we were forced to confine ourselves until Ganon’s occupancy abated. I defer the telling of the fates of the Darknaughts to you Master Captain, as I understand you spoke with them directly.”
Link recalled with some bitterness what had happened. “Thank you Lieutenant,” he said, and considered what he might say that was worthy of the Elite Knights. Finally, Link began. “The Darknaughts were some of Hyrule’s finest warriors. I sparred with them myself; they’re impressive opponents. Ganon caught and defeated them one by one. I was forced to fight them again, but this time to free both their spirits and the Royal Jewels. I used the Jewels to gain access to Vaati’s Tower and defeated the Wind Mage. While it was done in the service of Hyrule I also recognize their sacrifice and honor of their memory; may the Goddesses ever keep them, rest them, and praise them.” Link found his eyes were wet and his whole body shivering as if he had run a very long distance.
“Well spoken, Master Captain,” said the king, his handkerchief hanging uselessly from one hand. He did nothing to stop the flow of tears from his eyes. “You may not know that they were not only my guards but my brothers, and I could not have given a finer account of their bravery. Were that I was there to avenge them myself, but you have already done so in my stead.” He blew his nose again. “Do you have anything you wish to add, Zelda?”
Zelda raised her gold-haired head. Her expression was reflective. “The Jewels have been returned to the Four Sword Sanctuary. The Evil Ganon has also been imprisoned there, and we are confident the Maidens’ seal will hold.” She said no more.
After a respectful pause Afton spoke again. “We still have not heard from the Gerudo but we plan to send emissaries to them with a message of good-will as soon as matters are resolved here. What with the death of their king it will be important to establish friendly relations as soon as possible. With your permission of course, Captain…”
“That’s fine,” said Link, finding he needed to clear his throat. “Is that everything?”
Afton bowed his head. “The reports of the surviving knights have come in as well. The southern part of the land that was frozen in ice by Dark Magic is now thawing quickly. The northwestern forest was overtaken by a shadow of darkness, but it is beginning to clear. Generally, the people of Hyrule are in good spirits and celebrating the Captain’s victory over our enemies.”
“Thank you, Afton,” said Link. “Your Majesty, I offer you the report of my Lieutenant.”
“Well done, Captain,” said the king. He had collected himself considerably well. “My only recommendation would be to exercise caution when dealing with the Gerudo. It may be that they will not react favorably to our offer of friendship.”
“Thank you, my Liege,” said Link. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Also, you should know that by defeating Vaati you have brought the fears of many generations past to an end. It has been long since his tyranny was felt in Hyrule and there are many who remember those times—these may now rest knowing that he will never return.”
Link wasn’t sure whether it was right to feel proud when so many had given their lives trying to save Hyrule, too. “Thanks,” was all he could manage.
“Very well, and with that I think we should all get a little rest. Your ceremonial reception will be tomorrow, Captain. I will contact you via Gossip Stone when we are ready for you. Do try not to sleep in too late.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” But as the king rose from his seat Link realized that he wasn’t sure what the king had meant. Gossip Stones, in his experience, were standing stones scattered throughout Hyrule. “Sorry… Your Majesty? Which Gossip Stone should I stand by?” he asked.
The king looked at Link perplexedly. Then he turned to Zelda. “You did give it to him, didn’t you?” he said.
Zelda looked between her father and Link. “Yes…You do still have it don’t you Link?” When the king looked back to Link, Zelda made a motion at her neck.
“Oh, you mean the necklace?” he said, amazed. He pulled a pendant out from within his shirt. Ostensibly, it was a simple grey stone, but when activated it allowed two people to communicate telepathically. Zelda had given it to him just before they checked Vaati’s seal in the Four Sword Sanctuary. “You mean this is a Gossip Stone? But it’s so small…”
“Yes, well.” The king cleared his throat. “They were originally conceived in their larger forms as Sage Stones; a method for the Sages of Hyrule and the rulers of the races to contact each other in times of disaster or great need. When the power of the Stones was discovered, however, word spread quickly that they could be used to send messages to other Stones and so many people began using them that the flood of thoughts was too overwhelming to allow any further practical use. It also goes without saying that conversations via the Stones could no longer be kept private. They were dubbed Gossip Stones for that very reason.”
“I didn’t know Gossip Stones could do that!” Link said, impressed. The Gossip Stones he had come across always gave him a sensation that they were watching him, and while he had gained useful bits of information now and then he had never imagined he was hearing someone else’s transmitted thoughts.
“These pendants are a modified version of the Sage Stone, actually.” The king seemed genuinely excited to explain; it seemed retiring for the night would be put on hold just a little longer. “I developed them so that we could still communicate privately, not to mention their being much more convenient. It was mostly due to Rauru’s complaining if you’d like to know,” he said with a wry smile. “I had four of the Sage Stones placed outside of the Temple and still it was not enough. But don’t tell him I told you that. He would never forgive me. While the Gossip Stones are no longer useful for private conversations they remain my eyes and ears around the kingdom. If ever there is a disturbance near a Stone I will know of it immediately. And while we are on the topic, I don’t think I had ever imagined that you could dance so well.”
Link blushed. He realized that the king must have seen him celebrating earlier, and—by extension—so had Zelda. Link’s eyes flitted over the princess guiltily. She wore a look of tolerance; there had been a good many girls flirting with Link in between dances. “If the pendants are so special, why did you want me to have one?” he asked conversationally, eager to avoid speaking of the day’s events.
The king became more serious. “When Zelda told me her fears that Vaati’s seal was weakening I insisted she give you one of the pendants so that she could communicate with you if she was in need. You will be pleased to know that this one belonged to your father. A fitting circumstance, I think.” He stroked his daughter’s head. “Thank the Goddesses that you are here, Link, or I might not have my daughter.” He smiled. “As I said, however, I think we all could use some sleep.”
“Oh, no, of course…” Link agreed. He had slept in various uncomfortable circumstances across Hyrule over the last three days and was eager for a well-made bed (if not his cot back in Koroki forest).
“Good. Then I will bid you a good night. I plan on sleeping heartily before tomorrow’s hearty festivities. Lieutenant,” the king said, nodding.
“Your Majesty,” said Afton, bowing low as the king walked away from the dais. Every soldier in the hall stood to attention.
Link crept over to Zelda’s seat. “Why didn’t you call me here with the pendant in the first place, like you did before?” he asked in a low voice.
“We did call you, Link. You must have been having too much fun to notice,” Zelda whispered back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.” She slid out of her seat and followed her father. Link watched her walk away.
Afton cleared his throat. “Will the Captain need an escort to his quarters?”
Link did not look away from Zelda’s diminishing form. “Yeah, Afton, I’ll go with you.” Afton fell into step beside Link as he walked away from the dais. Link shook his head. “What’s with her, Afton? How was I supposed to know?” Link threw his hands up.
“You know Captain, I suppose I’ve never understood women. Not even my sister. What do you say to a little something before bed though, and we’ll talk it over. Oh, and I think I still owe you a birthday celebration.”
“Yeah, thanks Afton!” said Link, remembering. Afton had recently revealed to Link what a birthday was, Link having gone his whole childhood without celebrating one as he had lived among immortal forest-children ever since he could remember. He was just getting used to the idea of having one himself, but it sounded like great fun. “But do me a favor, okay? Let’s not go to that café we went to before. I don’t think I’m in the mood for soup.”
Afton chuckled. “Actually, I had a little something else in mind. It’ll have to be tomorrow morning, though. I think the official festivities are supposed to start at noon. We’ll have until then.”
“Sure! What are we going to do?” Link said becoming excited.
“Well it’s a surprise, you see,” said Afton mysteriously.
“Really? Why?” Link said, genuinely confused.
“Because that’s just how these things go…”
“Oh,” said Link. He supposed he still had a lot to learn about Hyrule’s customs.
* * *
That night Link and Afton talked in the mess hall of the castle barracks over a nice warm glass of milk and a plate of cookies. (‘Compliments of your admirers,’ said Afton.) They talked about their adventures, catching up on daring moments and death-defying obstacles. Link was recounting one particular moment near the end of his most recent quest.
“…and then Blue decided he had an idea, right, and so he goes through the portal and picks me up and carries me over this bottomless pit from the Dark World!” Afton’s mouth dropped open theatrically. “I know! Just think how I felt when I realized what he was doing. I’ve never been so scared in my life…and I was the one putting me in danger!”
“So how did that work, exactly? What was it like to have four of yourself?” The question would have sounded odd to anyone but Link. With his unconventional upbringing and the twists and turns of all of his adventures there was no way anything could seem impossible to him. It was, in fact, the ‘normal’ things that seemed not to fit.
“It was like…” Link paused between gulps to ponder the question. “It was like having brothers, I guess. But brothers that were so much like you that you hated them…”
“How do you mean?” asked Afton. He took another bite of his cookie. He chased the bite with a gulp of milk.
“It was like seeing yourself in a mirror all the time. When you never have to see yourself act stupid, you never really feel as embarrassed as you do when you’re watching. Does that make sense?”
Afton put his milk down. “I think so.”
“And it’s weird, because even when I knew they were all me, they seemed like different people. They were like parts of me…kind of slices of what I really am, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Like Red, for instance…”
Afton held up a hand. “Now wait; ‘Red’? What kind of a name is that? Which of you thought this up; to name each other after colors?”
“Well, it was the easiest way to tell, see? The tunics were all different and… Okay, well it’s a good story, so I’ll just tell it: So there I am in the Sanctuary, right? Well, I know my Shadow is in there because I saw it jump through the portal just before me. So I’ve got my Gilded Sword ready and my shadow jumps out of nowhere and swings at me with his sword and it looks just like mine but it’s made of smoke or something. So I’m blocking and dodging, and finally I’ve got him against the pedestal of the Four Sword and I come down hard on him but he dodges out of the way, right? And then my sword shatters into a million pieces—” Link spread his hands out theatrically “—which is weird because the smith who made it for me said it would never break…”
“Typical,” added Afton.
“Right, but now I haven’t got a sword and I know I’m not going to last long without a weapon and there’s nothing around… Then I see it: the Four Sword. And Afton it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen; perfectly balanced right next to the hilt, curved blade so it’s just as good at slashing as thrusting; I mean perfect. Well I go to draw it out of the pedestal, right? And right when I touch it this feeling comes over me. Like…like…” Link waved his half-eaten cookie around vaguely. “Like hearing yourself think, but not thinking what you’re hearing…?” Afton squinted, trying to comprehend this, but Link kept going. “And then there was this flash of white light and there were three more of me, except each of the other ones was wearing a different colored tunic. So after awhile we started calling each other after the colors we were wearing to tell each other apart and it just stuck.” Link’s mouth was getting dry. He shoved the rest of his cookie into his mouth and took another gulp of milk.
“And you say they all had distinct personalities…” Afton said, offering Link the last cookie.
Link took it from the plate, not really paying attention. “Right,” he continued. “Red was really optimistic but kind of depressed at the same time. Every time something bad happened he was right there with a ‘well, I’m sure we’ll find some way out of this mess.’ But then sometimes he was really angry, especially at Blue. They were always fighting. Seriously, it got kind of annoying after awhile. And Blue was really committed, you know, like he really wanted us to make it, but he was always doing things on the spur of the moment, and he’d always have the most hare-brained ideas; like the carrying-me-across-the-bottomless-pit thing. Or he’d say ‘Hey, I know! Let’s just jump down this hole and we’ll see if we can hit that switch with an arrow on the way down! One of us is bound to hit it!’ Sometimes I just wanted to make him listen to himself to see how ridiculous he sounded.”
“Yeah, I guess I’ve never had to make myself listen to what I was saying before…” Link punched his uncle in the arm. Afton chuckled. “And you said the last one was Violet?”
“Yeah, but he hated the name. He’d always get embarrassed and say he sounded like a flower so we shortened it to ‘Vi.’ He still wasn’t very happy with it, but it was better than ‘Purple.’ I mean how do you shorten that…? Purp?” Link said experimentally.
“Certainly not very dignified. What was he like?”
“Vi was…” Link’s thoughts wandered for a moment and he stared through his empty milk glass. “Vi was quiet most of the time. He always felt like we were forcing him to do things. But he really made me appreciate things, you know? Like even when we were travelling through southern Hyrule while it was frozen over he would stop to pull the snow off of a tree branch to watch it fall. Or he’d slide on the iced-over ponds while the rest of us were arguing about where to go next. He just enjoyed himself no matter what he was doing and he always took time to look around…”
For a long moment Afton sat there watching his nephew ponder. This was a unique moment for Link, Afton thought. Never would Link remember as well as he did now what this experience had done to him. After some time Link seemed to pull himself out of a daydream.
“Well, hey. I’d better get to bed. Wouldn’t want to sleep through the ceremony tomorrow, right?” Link stood and stretched.
“You know, Link, hearing about your stories makes me think you ought to write some of them down…”
“What, me? No, I couldn’t…” Link waved the idea away modestly. “I mean, Saria used to find books in the Lost Woods and she’d read them to me sometimes. She taught me to read and all, but I wouldn’t really write except to paint the signs around the forest. We even pretended to run a shop like I read about and they had me come up with numbers for everything. It was fun, but I haven’t ever written anything for myself…”
“So you never kept a journal?”
“Not really. The Koroki remember everything so they never had to write anything down. I guess being a Hylian explains why my memory was never as good as theirs…” Link yawned.
“Well, it looks like you’re tired, so I’ll let you get some sleep. And remember we’ve still got that surprise to catch in the morning…” Afton gathered up the glasses and empty plate.
“Right, yeah!” Then Link paused. “Wait, did you say catch?”
“Did I?” Afton said mysteriously. “Hmm, that’s interesting. Good night, Captain.”
Link smiled as he turned and walked away toward his room, pantomiming like he was fishing. He crawled into the Captain’s bed that night feeling happier than he had ever felt since the days when he was just a Koroki child without a fairy; long before swords and shields and quests; long before Ganon, long before he knew what it was to fear for himself, to fear for others he cared about. This night out of all of them he felt that things would be alright; even if bad things happened, it would all work out somehow. But mostly, he felt home.
* * *
Long after nightfall the Mask Salesman finally gave up and sat down on the turf under a particularly large tree. He heaved the pack off his back. It held all of the masks the salesman could not do without; and as there did not seem to be many he could live without, he was particularly overburdened. He would have had Brutus carry the load but after the way the salesman had treated him the pony was not about to oblige him. But the forest was lonely without company and the pony had followed the salesman through the wood all the same. He would not have said it, but the salesman was glad of the pony’s company too.
“We’re not going any further, Brutus. I’m tired.” Brutus nickered. “Oh, shut up. When you’ve carried an oversized bundle of masks on your back you can complain about it then.” The salesman stretched his legs, reclining against the tree. “Say, Brutus, care to find us some firewood?” Brutus shook his mane and knelt down in the plush grass, resting his head on the ground. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s too bad that stupid stick-kid broke the wheel, we could have brought the wagon along…useless…” Brutus nickered again. “Oh, yeah, I guess it was me who broke the wheel. Stupid wheel; they never make anything like they used to…”
The Mask Salesman closed his eyes and his head nodded for only a moment, but in that moment he was fast asleep. Minutes passed, then hours. And then, just before dawn, a strange thing happened. A small green light emerged from a nearby tree and floated light as pollen, up to Brutus’ nose. Brutus raised his head and looked at the light. The light trailed away, staying close to the ground and leading further into the forest. By the time Brutus got to his hooves another two little green lights had emerged, identical to the first. Then, as Brutus clomped off after the lights, several more emerged from yet other trees and joined the procession. Brutus had gone some distance away, just on the edge of sight, when the Mask Salesman began to stir.
“Brutus, is that you? Did you bring some firewood for breakfast?” A moment later the salesman’s head shot up and he saw his pony walking away, following the stream of little green lights. “Brutus! Brutus, you get back here!” The Mask Salesman leaned against his pack and strapped it on, heaving it off the ground. “Come here you stupid mule!” he said, running deeper into the woods.
The lights were going faster now that the salesman had awoken and Brutus followed them diligently so that the salesman was always following some distance behind, nearly losing sight of Brutus at least a dozen times. As the lights led them through the bracken, the salesman thought he noticed the same gnarled stump at least twice. After some time—the salesman could not have said how long—the procession of green lights had stopped, and so had Brutus. The salesman saw the pony through some younger saplings some distance ahead, standing in the opening of a natural stone tunnel. The Mask Salesman readjusted the pack on his back and leaned against a tree, panting.
“Brutus,” said the salesman, staggering around the younger saplings. “You are so in for it…”
But the lights continued through the stone grotto and the pony followed behind them; between the stones, down a slope of earth thickly carpeted with grass. The salesman stopped at the tunnel, laying down his pack. “Brutus! Brutus I can’t go in there, my pack is…” But the pony had turned the corner and was no longer in sight. The Mask Salesman swore, rolling his pack into the stone opening. He pushed and pushed but try as he might the pack would not move; it was too big. Or the tunnel was too small. Yes, he thought; the tunnel is too small.
The salesman pulled his long purple wand out of the pack and rapped it against the stone of the tunnel. At first nothing seemed to happen, but then there was a faint grinding and the stones inched further and further apart. In a short time the salesman was able to squeeze his pack between the stones and continue.
Passing through the tunnel, the Mask Salesman emerged at the edge of a large circular clearing; a bowl of earth carpeted with enormous dead leaves each the size of a small rug. The place was bordered by a tall wall of natural rock upon which grew a tightly set fence of trees of every variety. From the trees hung a thick net of dry and withered vines with large brown leaves. The whole floor was crisscrossed with a net of shifting shadows as the morning light filtered through the leafless boughs of the enormous tree in the center of the clearing. The salesman estimated the tree must have been at least half a mile high at its peak; the trunk itself filled almost a third of the clearing. But the most curious was a sight to outweigh it all: stretched across the near half of the tree, as if it were carved into the dead wood, was the rough face of a gnarled old man. The old man’s mouth was opened wide, and for all the salesman could tell the gaping hole would lead all the way to the tree’s roots. Brutus and the cluster of green lights had stopped near a small sapling to the left of the old tree-man.
Then, before the Mask Salesman’s eyes, the sunlight fell over the many green lights and in moments they were no longer green lights, but green children. Their clothes were like large leaves and their hair and eyes were like twinkling emeralds. They circled Brutus with their small bodies and all at once Brutus seemed to be not a pony, but a horse; tall, white and magnificent. Then one of the children climbed on Brutus’ back and the child appeared to be not a child, but a grown maiden with hair in appearance like green cornsilk and wearing a gown of surpassing elegance. And as the maiden rode on the horse’s back the other children became trumpeters and heralds, some going before the horse, some behind.
The Mask Salesman stared in disbelief. “What is this place?” he said aloud. And like a needle to a soap bubble, the words of the salesman broke the illusion and there was the girl-child riding the pony and the other children marching around. In concert they turned and looked directly at the salesman with their piercing emerald eyes. The salesman felt that he had done something unforgivable; as if by entering this clearing he was somehow subject to a law deeper than the earth. Just when the children’s collective gaze was set on him, however, something else began to happen.
From somewhere among the trees came a showering of narrow white leaves that glowed like lanterns with an internal pure light. The leaves swooped, gathered, dispersed and fell again without regard for the calm of the air in the clearing. If this were not enough, the Mask Salesman was certain these leaves were not the usual sort, for they fell not haphazardly, but toward a certain spot on the ground, directly before the dead tree. And as they fell they became not leaves but a venerable man, clothed in a white robe with a long voluminous beard covering his chest and long flowing white hair pulled away from his forehead displaying a prominent widow’s peak. On his apron was a symbol the salesman recognized from somewhere, though he could not have said where. Something about the robed man’s eyes made the salesman think he might be the father of the green children. Then the robed man spoke, and his voice was like the whispering of wind through a tunnel, reverberating like the sound of stones in a cave:
“Why do you come here, intruder?”
“I’m not an intruder,” said the Mask Salesman boldly. If he was to be accused he had rather defend himself. “I’m a merchant and I’m looking for my stolen masks. I’ve been trying to find the thief since yesterday. You wouldn’t happen to have seen a small boy made of sticks, now would you?”
The robed man paused before responding. “The boy you seek is not here.”
The salesman felt like this answer wasn’t good enough, but he didn’t know what else to say so he settled on repeating his earlier question. “What is this place?”
“This is the grove of the Great Dekku, father of the Koroki and life-giver of the Lost Wood,” said the robed man.
The salesman decided to keep the robed man talking. “Are these children the Koroki?” he said.
The Mask Salesman berated himself for asking such an obvious question. “Are you the Great Dekku?”
“No. The Great Dekku is dead. I am his keeper until his life returns. I will answer any matters that concern him.” The salesman noticed the small stalk of a plant growing to the side of the massive tree’s dead remains. He surmised this was what remained of the Great Dekku. The robed man continued. “But if you do not have any further questions I will ask you to leave this place. I have another engagement to attend to.”
“Wait!” said the salesman. “You have led my horse, er…pony astray. In exchange for this inconvenience you can tell where I can find this stick-boy, if he is not here. He’s stolen my masks before; he deserves to be punished.”
The robed man paused again before answering. “This creature you claim as yours is neither horse nor pony and does not follow you out of obligation. Further, our laws are our own; we are not bound to deliver a breaker of those laws into your hands.”
The Mask Salesman was becoming impatient. “But I am entitled to the return of my merchandise, am I not?”
Pause. “If that is what you call it. The masks the boy stole are not simple merchandise, they are masks of great power; fearsome deities bound in mask form. Or did you not know this of your own ‘wares’?”
The Mask Salesman snapped. “I have reached the end of my tolerance, Keeper of the Wilted Dekku! I am the Keeper of Masks, and I know what I deal in. You, sir, are not who you seem to be. Let the deceptions cease!” And the salesman marched over to his pony, the Koroki reverting to twinkling lights and scattering like so many leaves. Then the salesman gripped Brutus’ long nose in his hands. When the salesman pulled away the pony’s face came off—it was but a mask. Underneath the pony’s mask was not a pony, but a man wearing purple clothing after the Terminan style with unkempt greasy red hair and a face that appeared to be constantly smiling.
The white-robed man blinked; now there were two salesmen who could easily have been twins, even if one of them was the worse for wear. The former-pony held his head in his hands and then collapsed on the ground, unconscious from shock.
Then, with sustained indignation, the Mask Salesman pulled on his own face. And underneath was not the greasy red-haired, purple-coated, smiling Mask Salesman, but a tall, hairless, brown-skinned, gaunt thing of a man. He wore a grass sarong and his body was covered all over with tribal tattoos and ritual markings. He stood proud and fierce and intimidating among the Koroki, who fled through the stone tunnel the way they had come.
“While we are discussing the nature of my masks,” said the brown-skinned man, “why do you not remove your own?”
The robed man hesitated. “I am under a solemn obligation, sir, never to reveal the true person under this guise unless it is absolutely needful. However, I know that you are also a man of obligation and that you would not have revealed yourself if this were not a matter of dire importance. Therefore, as I know what you are let it suffice for you to know what I am that we may be equally yoked.” The brown-skinned man nodded. The robed man then pulled his face away from him and all at once his body youthened and diminished in size until he was not a tall man robed in white, but a Koroki child with especially keen emerald eyes that sparkled as if he thought he was being very clever. It was Aako, the Sage of Forest. Aako replaced his mask and his body returned to its white-robed appearance.
“You!” said the brown-skinned man, his gaunt eyes widening, threatening to pop from their sockets. “You were at the bridge! You took Majora’s Mask those many days ago! How could you have deceived me?”
“I did not steal your mask,” said the white-robed sage. “But one of our number did so.” Some time ago, while Aako and the other Koroki children were playing, the Mask Salsman had passed through the forest and stopped just long enough for one of the children to take the cursed mask from the salesman’s wagon. “It was Felso, the Koroki child, who stole Majora’s Mask that day. He and his accomplice, Solfe, had been banished for their crime before you returned for your mask. They are no longer among us.”
The brown-skinned man calmed himself. He sat on the ground, tall even while seated. “But if it they had been banished then who was it that returned my mask to me on the bridge?”
“Her name is Saria,” said the sage. “She was riding your ‘pony’ just now; she is very fond of horses. It was Saria who waited for you at the bridge and delivered your mask to you.”
The brown-skinned man assimilated this. “And the stick-child who stole Majora’s Mask from me the second time…the one who has stolen my masks yet again?”
“His name is Skulki. But you will find that he could not have taken any of your masks after his first misdeed.”
The brown-skinned man eyed the sage skeptically. “What proof do you have? I saw him with my own eyes! How could you know that he did not take my masks?”
“Because Skulki has been here with us since his return from Termina,” said the sage. “Skulki, will you come out, please?”
At first the Mask Keeper thought nothing would happen, but then there was the sound of wood thumping against wood and a small boy made of sticks came up out of the dead tree’s mouth. He had small glowing orange eyes and wore a tattered straw hat. “What is it? Do you need me to bring up more water?” he said.
“That’s him!” cawed the brown man. “Where did you put my masks, thief?”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been here forever—this nice bearded man gave me a job. Now I’m a gardener!”
“Thank you, Skulki, that will be all,” said the sage.
“Okay,” said the stick-boy. “Good luck finding your masks, mister.” He descended into the darkness of the tree’s enormous trunk again.
“But I saw him!” said the gaunt man. “I tell you that stick-child stole two very dangerous masks from me! You must understand this is a matter of utmost importance. You said it yourself; the masks are the physical prison of powerful spirits—deities of Termina called Sophia and Tempus. Possession of the masks is forbidden! I alone am permitted, by the appointment of the Gods. I have been entrusted with the Masks of the Gods as a form of penance for the crimes of my tribe. If I don’t get them back, the consequences would be cataclysmic!”
Aako paused again. “Explain yourself, Mask Keeper.”
The brown-skinned man seemed to be straining between haste and a need for guidance. If he did not explain himself he might not discover where the stick-child was. Finally, the need for guidance won out. “Once, many ages ago, my tribe sought to harness the powers of the Gods and bend them to our own gain. We did this in our hexing rituals using Sacred Masks. One of these was the mask of Majora, the God of Wrath; thank the Gods that its evil has been exorcised. Two others were those of Sophia and Tempus; Gods of Cunning and Decay. The fourth was the mask of the Unnamed One, the Fierce Deity, God of Vengeance.
“But the Gods were not pleased with our flagrant use of their power and they cursed us; destroyed us using the very means we used to pervert their magic. The Masks trapped the souls of those who wore them and enslaved them to the wills of the Gods. I alone was spared as a testator of our folly. My sentence was that I should live until the four Masks could be exorcised of the Gods’ power. If I should ever let the Masks into the wrong hands my soul would be damned.
“And so you see, it is imperative that I retrieve the masks of Sophia and Tempus, and I have no intention of leaving this place until you deliver to me the child who stole them, for twice now has he stolen my masks.”
Pause. “It is true that the thief has twice stolen from you Mask Keeper, but as I have said, Skulki has been here with us.”
The brown-skinned man stood, vehement. “Then tell me who has them!” he said, shaking one long brown gnarly finger in the sage’s face. “Who has my masks!?”
“Those who conspired to steal your Majora’s Mask at the first; your masks are in the possession of the children Felso and Solfe.”
Back to Story Menu