LINK’S FIRST BIRTHDAY or “Orrin’s Grave”
“Afton, is this really necessary?” Link asked. They were riding Geoffrey, Afton’s horse, and Link had been blindfolded for the last twenty minutes. From behind Afton, Link couldn’t tell where Geoffrey was taking them and he was sure they had gone in at least three circles.
“It’s all part of the surprise,” said Afton.
“And you’re sure I don’t need my shield or anything? ‘Catching’ a surprise sounds pretty dangerous…”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Afton. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll have enough of swords and shields once you officially become captain.”
“Are you’re sure this is okay with the king?” said Link. “He made a pretty big deal of me going off to celebrate without Zelda before.”
“Oh, I don’t think that will be a problem,” said Afton smartly. “And it’s kind of fun to think we’re bending the rules just a little, isn’t it?”
Link smiled guiltily under his blindfold. “Yeah…”
“Okay, so can you guess where we are?”
“Zora’s…! You have to go under a waterfall to get to Zora’s Domain, you half-wit! Try again; this time a real guess.”
“Well, there aren’t that many places to go in Hyrule Field, Afton.”
Afton rolled his eyes and sighed. “I guess you’re right. You might as well take the blindfold off, we’re almost there.”
“Finally,” Link said and reached up to remove the blindfold. But just then Geoffrey burst into full gallop and Link had to throw both arms around Afton to stay on.
“Whoa, whoa,” called Afton. Geoffrey slowed to a trot. Link waited to see if Geoffrey might charge off again before he spoke.
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Link asked, removing the blindfold.
“Are you asking me or Geoffrey?” Afton replied.
“Both,” Link said, rubbing his eyes. When he opened them properly Link saw their destination; Lon Lon Ranch never looked so festive. There were banners hanging from the walls, inflated hot-air balloons circling the fence around the ranch and a tall pole in the middle of the ranch that had streamers stretching out to the fence posts. “Wow,” said Link; he could think of nothing else to say.
“The rancher and that daughter of his never do anything small, do they?”
Link shook his head. “They certainly don’t. Afton, look at those banners! I can’t make out what they say…” Link squinted.
“I think they’re supposed to say ‘Happy Birthday.’ I wouldn’t mention anything, though,” said Afton. “Talon probably made them.”
Afton brought Geoffrey up to the gate of the ranch. Link reached up and swung the bell-rope that hung there. The bell clanged loudy.
A few moments passed and nothing happened. “Um, Afton…?” said Link.
And sure enough in a few moments a short parade issued out of the ranch house. There was music playing and banners waving and Link smiled, laughing out loud; the king of Hyrule was leading the procession! He was dressed in a fine multicolored jacket and a pair of checkered leggings. He still wore his crown on his head, but inside of it was a bulbous hat that looked like a mushroom. In his hand he carried an ivory baton that he waved heartily. Behind the king was a familiar orchestra; Aako was smartly drawing the bow across his leaf-shaped viola, Lutai plucked her fishbone harp, Impa played her bamboo flute, Rauru followed with his black horn and Gor Darmon boomed away on his Dongo-skin drums. The six of them marched up and assembled in a semicircle while the rest of the procession emerged from behind Gor Darmon’s rocky bulk.
Talon was wearing the brightest clothing he owned: his freshly washed blue overalls and a vibrant red plaid shirt. He was marching proudly and twirling a short pole with streamers attached to either end. Then Link gasped: after Talon came Zelda and Malon looking more beautiful than he had words to describe. Zelda’s hair had been plaited down both sides and she was wearing a new dress Link had never seen her in before. Malon had pulled her ginger hair back into two loops on either side of her bare neck and wore a dress and smock she had most likely borrowed from Zelda (Link thought she looked very royal) but also suited her well. After the sages finished their parade and song Afton clapped his hands with a chuckle. Link dismounted followed by Afton.
“Hey, Malon!” Link said, running to embrace her. Zelda scowled. Link’s insides turned around and he had the distinct feeling he was doing something unforgivable. He stepped back from Malon and looked around nervously. “Uh, I mean…hi.” He extended his hand.
“Oh, that’s right. I see you’ve already started actin’ like a Captain—bein’ right proper…” Malon said, taking his hand and curtseying.
Link thought Malon looked really nice when she curtseyed. “You look really nice when you curtsey,” he said.
“Aw, shucks,” Malon said, digging the toe of her buckled shoes in the dirt, blushing. Zelda cleared her throat. “Oh, Zelly taught me how; she can do it better. Isn’t that right, Zelly?”
“Master Captain,” Zelda said, extending her hand palm down. Link looked at her hand for a moment, then decided he should probably do something fancy. He splayed out his smaler fingers and tucked his other hand behind his back. Then he bowed as deeply as he could without letting go. When he found his waist would bend no further he decided to bend his knees. Link heard a s****** behind him, and then a full, healthy laugh. At first he thought he might have done something wrong, but then he realized it was the king laughing. Everyone else was watching Aako, who was mimicking Link with bent torso and knees. Link laughed out loud. Zelda did not look pleased.
“Oh, my boy! Perfectly charming. Forgive me, Master Captain, I did not wish to offend you. I suppose it has been a long time since I have had something to laugh about.” He continued to chuckle to himself.
“We got another li’l surprise for you,” said Malon, and she stepped aside. Out from behind Gor Darmon stepped Saria of the Koroki; ostensibly a child of six with green hair and clothing made of a material resembling large leaves. This time Link didn’t even think about Zelda.
“Saria! It’s been so long!” and Link embraced her firmly. She giggled and pretended to scold him, waggling a finger. Zelda glanced at Malon disapprovingly, who shrugged. “How are things?” asked Link. “Are the others okay? I haven’t been back for, sheesh, forever. What are you guys up to lately? Have you found any more books for me to…?”
“Ahem…” came another voice from behind Gor Darmon. Then, to Link’s utter astonishment, he saw a young woman he had almost forgotten—Ruto of the Zoras. He stared, wishing he would wake up…or at least disappear so the others couldn’t see him.
Ruto looked much like a younger version of her aunt, Lutai, who (like all Zoras) had slick blue skin with fine scales and fins growing from her arms and legs. Zoras also wore no clothing and had a kind of androgynous beauty across the sexes. Rarely, Zoras would develop unique features resembling certain aquatic animals (Ruto happened to have a pair of false eyes on either side of her fishy head). Some weeks ago she had given Link the Zora’s Sapphire, one of the Spiritual Stones necessary to open the Door of Time. It was also, conveniently, called the ‘Zora’s Engagement Ring,’ and Ruto had been told never to give it to any man but the one she wished to marry.
Saria turned to Aako. “Captain,” she said, and put her hand out just as Zelda had done. Aako mimicked Link again, bowing with his knees first.
But Link did not laugh. Instead he fumbled with his hands. “Hi, Ruto,” Link finally managed.
“So, Link,” said Ruto, cozying up to him. One of her damp flippers touched his arm and he fought the sudden urge to comment on how slimy it felt. “When should we start planning our wedding?”
“What?” asked Saria curiously.
“What?” asked Malon with a dejected look.
“What?!” said Zelda, livid; indignant even; perfectly irate.
Link was overcome. Desperate, he turned to the king. “Um…I’d love to hear some more music, your Majesty. Do you think you could…?”
“Of course my boy,” and Link was delighted to hear the Orchestra of Sages strike up a lovely serenade…until he realized they were playing the theme of the Water Temple which the Zora frequented often.
“Oh, perfect idea, darling,” said Ruto. “They could play this at the reception.”
“Or something else…?” Link said, inching away from the Zora girl. “Maybe a bolero?”
“Certainly,” said the king and a broad smile spread over Gor Darmon’s leathery face as he led the rest of the sages in the theme of the Fire Temple. Link tried frantically to remove Ruto’s fishy hands from his arm—at first covertly, then outright—but try as he might her arms were too slippery and she would not let go.
Afton must have noticed, for he was saying something to Talon. Talon brushed a finger over his bushy black mustache and came over to Link’s unoccupied side, cupping a hand to Link’s ear. “There’s pie inside, in case you were wonderin’…”
“That’s great!” Link said out loud. Ruto jumped. The Orchestra of Sages stopped suddenly, looking at Link. “I mean, that was great, guys. Just…” he started clapping. “Amazing…tears, see?” This seemed to agree with the sages, who bowed courteously. Everyone, including Ruto, clapped as well. This gave Link a chance to escape. He went up and shook the king’s hand with both of his. “That was amazing, your Majesty, just… I’ve never heard music played like that before… Maybe you’d like to join me for pie inside…now,” he added, glancing over his shoulder. Link’s heart jumped to his throat; Zelda and Malon were listening to Ruto, who was speaking animatedly. Zelda’s arms were crossed and Malon had a general look of disappointment on her face. Link ground his teeth together.
“Yes, well, we’re glad you enjoyed our little performance,” said the king. “But, if you’ll excuse us we will need to make arrangements for later today, if you understand me…” Link knew he was talking about the festivities at noon. The sages prepared to leave.
“Shall I fetch your horse, your Majesty?” asked Talon.
“No, thank you Master Rancher; I think I can accommodate myself.” And the king put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. In seconds the king’s white horse trotted up from elsewhere in the ranch. It had a burnished red leather saddle and matching dagged reins.
“Oh, and Captain,” said the king, mounting. Link looked at him directly. “This was a private performance in your honor; strictly speaking none of the sages were here…if you understand my meaning.” The king put his finger to his nose. Link remembered that the sages were supposed to be in hiding; none were to know that they were the newly manifested white sages supposedly sent by the Goddesses. Coming here in their usual appearances was a very special exception indeed. “I’ve already briefed Master Talon concerning the details; he’s a trustworthy fellow.”
Link cast his eyes over the six sages. “I really appreciate it. Thank you, all of you.” Aako had just brought his hand away from Rauru’s ear. Rauru met Link’s gaze and hastily mumbled something to Aako. Link noticed that Rauru had a very weary expression on his face. Link was reminded of the conversation he never got to have with Rauru about the identity of the knight in the graveyard at Kakariko. Then Rauru quickly turned away, removing a white mask from the sleeve of his robe.
“Rauru wait, I need to talk to…” but Rauru had already found a moment when neither the rancher nor the girls were watching and had placed the mask on his face, disappearing in a swirl of pale white light. The other sages took little notice but said goodbye and walked away, finding similar moments to place their own white masks on their own faces. They, too, disappeared in so many swirls of white. Link continued to stare blankly into the empty space where Rauru was moments before.
With a wave of his ivory baton the king’s clothing returned to its normal appearance and his mushroom-shaped hat disappeared—he wore his usual red coat and white leggings. The king nodded to Afton and Talon. “Master Rancher. Lieutenant.” He clicked his tongue and the horse clopped away through the ranch’s main gate. Only then did Talon realize the sages were gone.
“Well, I’ll be; they didn’t even stay for pie,” said Talon. “I reckon that jus’ means there’ll be more fer the rest of us…”
The next thing Link noticed was Afton’s hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Link. Let’s go inside,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Link, finally pulling his gaze away. “Yeah, okay.” He thought a piece of pie might cheer him up. But when he turned around he saw three displeased young women staring directly at him. Zelda and Ruto had their arms crossed and Malon looked forlorn, toeing the dirt. For the second time that day Link wished he could either wake up or disappear.
But then Saria grabbed Link’s hand. “Pie,” she said, and pulled Link toward the ranch-house. Link just shrugged with a coy smile and went with her. Three displeased young women glanced at each other only a moment before they darted away toward the ranch-house as well.
Talon just stood where he was. “D’you think we ought ter…”
“We’ll let them sort things out, I think,” said Afton. “Could I trouble you for a stall for Geoffrey, Master Rancher?”
“Please, please…this place is as good as yours,” said Talon, taking Geoffrey’s reins. “An’ all that ‘Master’ stuff don’t mean much t’me. You can call me Talon or anything you want…’ceptin’ maybe late for supper.”
“Thank you, Talon. That means a great deal to me.” They walked toward the stable in silence. When they reached the door Afton spoke again. “Talon, I wonder—might I talk to you about something?”
“Sure, pardner,” said Talon, patting Afton’s back lightly. “These ears ain’t pointed for nothin’. What’s on yer mind?”
“I’m afraid Rauru’s presence has reminded me of a matter I need to address with my nephew…”
* * *
Ruto, Malon and Zelda had each made a different kind of pie for Link. It confounded Link how quickly girls could change; one minute they had been absolutely furious with him and the next they were all trying to get him to eat their various confections. Link figured that eating what they offered him could only keep them happy, so he did the smartest thing he could think of; oblige them all.
“No, really, it was great, Ruto. I’m just…really full.” Link tried to smile, but three slices of pie was beginning to disagree with him…especially when the most recent had been made with an unidentifiable breed of fish that smelled like Link’s tunic before it had been washed and pressed for him this morning. Link laid his head down on the dining-room table. Saria patted Link lightly on the back. Malon was sitting at the table staring at a slice of her own apple pie. She nudged it with a fork absentmindedly.
“It doesn’t look like you enjoyed it, darling,” said Ruto. “Maybe her Highness’ pie made you sick…”
“Maybe it’s because you fed him smelly fish,” said Zelda. “Here, Link, try another piece of cherry; it’ll make you feel better.” Link did not respond.
Ruto pressed her fists into her fishy hips. “What do you mean ‘smelly fish?’ I live in the water and I don’t smell!”
“You never bathe either…” Zelda rebutted.
“I’m always bathing!”
“Not with soap!” Zelda observed. “You don’t even have hair; all you have is a slimy fish-head…”
Ruto stepped back as if she had been slapped. “They ought to wash out your mouth with soap! And I hope you choke when they do! Besides, some Zora males like the way our water smells on the women.”
“Yeah and they apparently also like the taste of stink-fish pie.”
Ruto shoved her pie under Zelda’s nose. “That’s reek-fish, I’ll have you know! It’s a Zora delicacy.”
Zelda reeled from the smell. “No kidding,” she said, clapping her hands over her nose and mouth. “Acquired taste, right?”
“It’s probably too refined for you, anyways.”
“Go dip yourself in the horse-tank.”
Saria watched the two princesses intently, her green eyes flitting back and forth like a pendulum. Link sighed, his head still on the table. Malon just frowned.
Talon entered, throwing his arms out wide. “Well, it looks like you’ve gotten to try a little pie, then, Link. Which one was your favorite?”
Link raised his head from the table. “Saria’s.” He rested his head on the table again.
“Saria’s?!” said Ruto, distracted from her bout with Zelda. “But Saria didn’t even make a pie!”
“Exactly,” said Link without lifting his head from the table.
Malon’s face scrunched up and she shoved her slice of apple pie into her father’s hands. She ran through the kitchen, slamming the back door behind her. Talon watched her go, perplexed. He smelled the pie in his hands and took a bite.
Then Saria’s face brightened and it looked like she had a very good idea. She grabbed an empty pie-tin from the table and ran out the back door, slamming it after her as Malon had done. Confused, Zelda and Ruto went to the window. When Link realized that Zelda and Ruto were not arguing anymore he raised his head up to see why everything had become so quiet. Then Saria came back in with the pie-tin, now full of mud and sticks. Covering the top was a layer of leaves.
“Pie,” said Saria, holding it out to Link. Mud was dripping from her hands to the table.
A smile crept across Link’s face. Suddenly he didn’t feel so bad. Just then Afton entered, leaning against the entryway.
“Whelp,” said Talon, finishing the apple pie Malon had thrust at him, “I s’pose it’s time for presents. I’ll jes’ go an’ get Mal.” He wiped his mustache on a cloth and walked out the back door, closing it gently behind him. Link watched him go.
“Link…” Afton said, choking on the name. “I have something I need to tell you.” Link thought he looked regretful. Wetness was leaking from his eyes.
Link looked around at the others in the room. “It’s okay, Afton,” he said, placing his hand on his uncle’s arm. “I wasn’t expecting anything from you anyway. You’ve made all of this so great, I’m just glad to have you as an uncle. Besides, you gave me my dad’s shield and I ended up using that a lot.”
“Oh, no, Link. It’s not that.”
“Oh.” Link’s eyebrows came together. “Then what’s wrong?”
“I have done you dishonor,” Afton said, lifting his face from his hands. “I haven’t been truthful with you.”
Link felt humbled. Ever since Link had first met Afton he felt like he had to cover up parts of his life so he wouldn’t sound like a thieving lunatic. All this time he had felt so guilty about not being honest with his uncle and now Afton was the one confessing; Link felt like a coward. He stood from the table. “No, Afton, I should apologize to you…” he began.
Afton looked up with reddened eyes. “Please, Link, I should finish,” Afton said plaintively. He looked like a guilty man who wished to confess his sins. Link closed his mouth, humbled even more still. Afton gulped on a breath. “I misled you about the identity of the knight in the grave of Kakariko Village.”
Link’s eyes widened. He had almost given up any hope of uncovering this mystery. “Do you know who it is?” Link asked. The prospect of discovering the knight’s identity lifted Link’s spirits until he could barely stand the anticipation.
Saria’s eyes twinkled with grim knowledge. “Orrin,” she said.
Upon hearing the name Afton quickly composed himself. With a glance at the others in the room he made the hand-sign for ‘secret.’ Afton had taught Link many of the hidden hand-signs of the Sheikah, who had taught them only to the Hylian royal family and the knights of Hyrule. Link knew that the sign for ‘secret’ also meant ‘private.’
Zelda said nothing, but took Saria by the hand. “Hey Ruto, let’s all see what Malon’s up to,” she said. Link looked at Zelda, comprehending. Zelda led a confused Ruto out the back door. Saria followed.
When they were gone, Afton spoke again. “The knight whose casket was buried in that grave was my grandfather, Orrin.”
Several emotions fought for dominance inside Link; elation at finally discovering the knight’s identity, happiness at the fact that he now knew something about his mother’s grandfather, and disappointment that Afton had withheld this knowledge from him; especially after Link had vented his frustration to Afton when Rauru would not tell him! Finally a pressure filled up Link’s ears and he fought to keep hot tears behind his red face. His fists balled up and loosened involuntarily and he looked away, exhaling a restrained breath.
When he looked again he saw Afton on one knee; prostrate like a servant before his king as if pleading for mercy. Link felt a little odd about this kind of severe humility—but then, he convinced himself, he knew little of Hylian customs. It was such a personal gesture, even if Zelda and the others were still in the room it would have felt to Link like he and Afton were the only two people who existed at that moment. The pressure in Link’s ears relaxed and the anger in him subsided. He exhaled slowly.
Afton was still facing the floor. “I wished to tell you before, but the truth was hard for even me to bear. I did not wish to weigh you down…”
It occurred to Link that Afton was not speaking of simply of the fact that he had not revealed the nature of his grandfather’s grave. When Afton looked up his expression told Link of a deeper hurt than guilt. It was shame, he realized.
Link’s brows released their tension. “What truth?” he asked quietly.
Seeing his nephew’s compassion, Afton pulled gently on Link’s arm. They both sat on the floor together. “Link, your great-grandfather was one of Hyrule’s greatest traitors.” Without waiting for any questions to mature in his nephew’s mind, Afton continued. “It was during the War of the Golden Land. My grandfather, Orrin, had been one of the knights placed in charge of the gate that led to the Golden Land and, it was assumed, the Triforce itself. Too many of our people had gone inside, crazed by the prospect of limitless power. Countless knights had died trying to prevent their brothers from going in, never to come out again. My grandfather and the other knights were all that was left of those who sought to preserve the Hylia from their own destruction.
“Then, under the cloak of night, a unit of Sheikah spies came to the borders of Hylian lands. They infiltrated the knight’s camp unseen and—under Orrin’s watch—they entered the Golden Gate entirely unchecked.” Link thought of the times when he had snuck past the guards into Hyrule Castle and felt a little ashamed. Afton continued: “The following night another unit of men came from Kakariko Village to enter the gate, but this time the guard had been increased and they were caught. But they were not Sheikah spies but Hylian men; dissenters who had sought out the Sheikah to learn how they might achieve what the Sheikah had. And this was not all—one of the men, the leader of the dissenters, was Orrin.”
Link watched as the statement made Afton hunch visibly. “But Afton,” Link said, “I thought you said he was defending the gate. How could he…?”
“He was defending the gate,” Afton snapped, and then he immediately apologized with his eyes for being so terse; Link was not Afton’s reason for being upset. For the slightest moment Link thought he saw the years of shame rest on his uncle, but Afton quickly shrugged and continued again. “Grandfather turned away once he saw how the Sheikah had been able to avoid all of the guards—he let the Sheikah enter the gate. He should have caught them; arrested them. Instead, Orrin watched the gate to see if the Sheikah would return—they never did. Then Orrin left his post and assembled as many dissenters as he could at a moment’s notice. They sought out the master of the Sheikah to teach them how to enter as his spies had.”
“But he was guarding the gate himself,” Link reasoned. “Why didn’t he just go in if he really wanted to?”
Afton looked directly at his nephew. “We don’t know. By then legends of the maladies of the Golden Land were widespread and worse than rumor; some said that the moment you stepped into the Golden Land you suffocated on the fume of the Evil Breath. Others swore they had seen some unlucky soul return malformed and hideous. Mother thought grandfather wanted to take some of the other dissenters with him to enter the Golden Land together; if they worked in league with one another one of them was sure to obtain the Triforce. But he never spoke of wanting to get into the Golden Land. His fellow guards said he had been perfectly fine until that day, and then he got restless and nervous. Your mother thought he must have caught the Madness; that foul breath which issued from the Golden Land, enticing men to enter the Gate in search of the Triforce, never to return.”
“So once he came back with his…other partners…they got in?” said Link.
“Not at first. When he was caught there was a court martial and the evidence was brought against him. He not only neglected and abandoned his post, but he aided even more of our people in losing themselves to the Madness. He and the dissenters with him were imprisoned and their punishments carried out. Orrin’s shield was ceremonially broken in half; irreparable.”
Link’s heart sank. He knew that a knight’s shield was the symbol of his devotion to serve the Goddesses and protect the royal family. Allowing it to go unrepaired was a sign of severe of neglect in one’s duty to the royal family and the Goddesses. Having it snapped it in half outright was to label the man an unquestionable traitor. What joy there was in knowing that the mysterious knight was his great-grandfather had somehow been drained from him. Now there was only an empty sadness. “But…but he was a good knight before, right?”
“One of Hyrule’s most valiant,” said Afton, wetness welling in his eyes.
Link bowed his head. It all made sense now; Orrin must have been sentenced to death for his crime. That must have been why Rauru didn’t want Link to find out about who was in the grave. “How did Orrin die?” he asked quietly.
This was more difficult for Link to assimilate than anything else Afton had said. “But you said he was buried in…”
“I said his casket was buried there,” Afton corrected. After he let this idea take place in Link’s mind he continued. “My grandfather escaped the Hylian jail alone and made a run for the Golden Gate. He was shot in the eye with an arrow, but this did not stop him from…” Afton faltered, his eyes welling with wetness again.
“…getting into the Golden Land,” finished Link. This meant that there was not even a body to bury.
Afton nodded. “He was never seen again.”
Link’s mind was burning with questions, but he remained silent; it must have been a hard thing for Afton to know that his grandfather had betrayed his people. Orrin did not die an honorable death—as was fitting of a knight of Hyrule—he disappeared into the golden void that had consumed the minds of so many others.
Afton finally spoke again, pulling Link from his thoughts. “My father was always agonized by the shame. He left Karin and me with our mum just after I was born. When I was old enough to understand why my father left we had a funeral for Orrin,” he said. “There wasn’t a body, so we just buried a casket. Your father Colin was there for my sister… He really was a remarkable man,” Afton said, nodding sincerely. “My sister was very lucky to have him.”
Link’s face burned hot. “Thanks,” was all he could think to say. Link’s father, Colin, had given his life protecting the queen of Hyrule; the most honorable of sacrifices possible for a Hylian Knight. All that remained of Colin was his shield, which had been buried with the queen’s coffin in the royal tomb. It occurred to Link that his father had had no proper burial either.
Suddenly another thought occurred to Link. The shield he exhumed from the graveyard was certainly that of a more modern Hylian Knight. The shield Link now owned had once belonged to his father and it varied somewhat in style from the more recent ones; in point of fact, the one that was buried in Orrin’s grave—the one that now lay at rest with his other self, sealed in the Sacred Realm.
“Afton, if grandfather Orrin was never buried in Kakariko Graveyard, then whose shield was buried there?”
Afton’s brows came together and his expression sharpened quickly, just bordering on outright disbelief. “But you couldn’t know about that!” he said finally, shaking his head.
Link realized too late that he had ratted himself out. He took a deep breath and said it as fast as he could: “I lied to you, too, Afton, I’m really sorry!” Link winced, bracing himself for the worst. To his relief, however, Afton didn’t look angry, but perplexed.
“But… How could you know?” Afton repeated.
When Link saw that Afton wasn’t angry he felt unworthy—as if he should have done something more than just blurt things out—like bow, or something…
“Well,” he explained, “I didn’t really buy my first Hylian shield from the Castle Town market. I found it in grandfather Orrin’s grave. I thought the gravekeeper had buried it there as part of his Scary Tour game…” Link offered him a guilty smile.
Afton’s eyes widened and he let out a good-natured chuckle. “Is that right?” he said still laughing softly. “My little grave-robbing nephew!” he reached out and tossed Link’s hair with his hand, reminding Link that he was still very young and that Afton, though he was Link’s First Lieutenant, was still his uncle.
“Well, I mean Dampé has been giving those tours for years,” Link justified. “I just…helped myself, that’s all.”
“Well there’s no harm done, I suppose—it was my shield.”
Link was shocked. “It was your shield?”
“Yes. It was the very first shield I owned,” said Afton in significantly better spirits. “I left on grandfather’s tombstone as soon as I got it. Must have been about seven years ago. I always assumed Dampé had put it into storage. Makes sense he would bury it in grandfather’s grave, though… Sounds like him…”
“You mean you gave up your first shield? But what about ‘a knight’s dedication to the Goddesses’ and all that?”
“Oh, that,” said Afton guiltily. “Well, I felt like grandfather Orrin deserved it, somehow.” He shrugged. “He was no shining apple on the family tree, but if he hadn’t been a knight I probably would never have been. It only seemed fitting. Besides, I was younger then…”
“Sorry…” said Afton. “Present company and whatnot…” He smiled and shrugged at the same time.
“But what did you do without a shield?” Link asked. “Where did you get the one I saw you with when I first met you?”
“Bought it at the Town Market on the way back from the graveyard,” said Afton with a wry smile. “No one was the wiser.”
Link brought his fist to Afton’s shoulder. “You little cheat! You made me feel guilty for having your Hylian shield when the shield you have isn’t even yours!”
Afton put on a face of compromise. “You know, Link, it’s really not the shield that’s important; it’s what it means to you. Tell me: how did you feel the first time you used your father’s shield?”
Link knew the answer, but he considered how much he wanted to say. He felt bold: “Like it was him protecting me…”
“There, you see? And once I left my shield on my grandfather’s grave I felt that my becoming a knight could somehow protect him from the shame of his deeds. Something inside me chose not to blame him, though the weight of what he did has rested heavily on me for a long time…until now. Now that I know what you have done with my shield, the one I placed in Orrin’s grave, I feel that our family honor has been restored. Do you see what I mean? The shield is just a symbol. It’s the symbol that has real strength.”
“Yeah. I guess I haven’t really ever had a shield of my own either. Except maybe that one you got me from the armory. You know; the one with the winged skull on it?”
“Ah, yes. Whatever happened to that, by the way?”
Link winced. It was no good trying to avoid the subject now that telling the truth was going so well. “It’s, uh…in another dimension,” Link said.
Afton paused, his eyebrows frowning. “How do you mean?”
“Afton,” said Link, putting his hand on his uncle’s arm, “it seems I have a little more to tell you about Termina…”
* * *
The Mask Keeper ducked under a low-hanging branch. Then he was yanked backward as the branch caught on the pack of masks on his back. “Cursed trees.” His taller body, gaunt though it was, did make it easier to carry the large pack. His previous form—which he had stolen from Brutus (before he enslaved the man as a pony, of course)—was smaller and had made it much easier to get under the low-hanging branches. Now that he had revealed the pitiable soul for who he was the Mask Salesman chose to leave Brutus behind. He would be dazed and unused to his rediscovered self and therefore a poor travelling companion. Besides, thought the Mask Salesman, he would be happier with the children anyway, and they would probably be happy with him. The brown man untangled himself from his arboreal captor and pressed forward.
He had been travelling for hours. There was no sign of the stick-children and there was no way of knowing where he was going. That white-faced forest kid had explained that the Lost Woods were always changing; any place within them always led to some other part of the forest, but one could never expect where. Only the Koroki were able to make the forest stay; for anyone else going in one direction was as good as another.
The Mask Keeper had passed up many landmarks, most of which he had seen at least twice. There were streams or sometimes little pools of water where he would pause just long enough to drink. There were dead trees and stumps where he would pause just long enough to rest before moving on his way. The path was endless and it was not until the Mask Keeper could see the sun coming down through the leaves from directly overhead that he stopped to let his pack off his back.
The place was a large stone grotto with high walls and a circular arcade in the center. It looked like it had been built within the last century, but never used. Vines covered almost everything, and there was a smell of life about it; freshly decomposed soil and fragrant flowers. The Mask Keeper could hear the skritching of tiny bugs everywhere and birds perched where the tree branches overhung the stone walls.
The Mask Keeper stepped reverently under the circular arcade and beheld a raised stone platform in the center. It bore an inscription:
Life and death their paths do dance,
Through time and space we pass in trance,
But death to life sets Gods at bay,
And river Time complete doth stay.
Resting his pack against the stone platform, the brown-skinned man reached in among the masks and pulled out one that looked like the face of an eagle with large white wings stretching out and back to either side. He looked around him, up at the tops of the high trees and then bent forward, pressing his face into the winged mask. All at once his form shrank dramatically and instead of a tall brown-skinned man there was a white eagle with red eyes.
The eagle jumped into the air and flapped its wings, flying around and around the stone grotto, climbing higher. When it reached the top of one of the taller trees it perched there and surveyed its surroundings. A moderate wind was blowing and on all sides there was a mottling of arboreal greens. The eagle looked above and there was the sun—a golden orb hanging in the middle of a ceiling of bright blue—but off toward the horizon on all sides was a drab gray fog. The eagle looked in one direction and saw the upper half of an enormous tree near the horizon, its dead branches reaching into the air like cracks against the stone-grey sky. That must be the Dekku Tree, the Mask Keeper thought—but it did not stand in the direction he had come.
Then, peering closer with its sharp red eyes, the eagle saw the enormous tree retreat—actually retreat—into the fog. The salesman-bird shook its head. Sure enough, the Dekku Tree was disappearing into the horizon. Then, moments later it emerged from another place further off to the eagle’s left. This was strong magic, thought the eagle. This was why he could never get anywhere; the wood was most literally—and exasperatingly—lost.
The fog surrounding the forest advanced and retreated, consuming some trees and disgorging others. The fog came very near at one point, and it was then that the eagle had decided it had seen enough. It could not say whether those portions of the forest that the fog consumed would be adversely affected, but it did not want to be around to find out.
When the eagle turned around to descend from its perch it nearly fell off instead. There—where before there had only been a far-off castle—was a wall of stone looming only yards away. At the height of the stone wall was a set of shingled towers; a temple had suddenly phased into existence where nothing but trees had been before. The eagle released its grip on the tree and half-fell, half-dove to the ground where it opened its wings and alighted. In another moment the eagle grew into a tall, gaunt, brown-skinned man who removed a winged mask from his face. He peered curiously out of the stone grotto in the direction of the newly existent temple; the direction he had come. It was no longer forest, but the opening of a well-crafted stone archway.
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