Gods of Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter V
GIFTS or “Scale and Mail”

“This Mask Salesman sounds like a strange fellow. You say he was always smiling?” Afton asked.

“Oh, yeah. But don’t get him mad; then he really looks creepy! All bloodshot eyes and gets kinda twitchy…” Link did his best Mask Salesman impression including wide eyes and a smile that stretched across his face. He hunched over and wrung his hands. “Where’s my mask, little boy? I’ve been following you, you know! Where’s my mask…?”

Afton shut his eyes, visibly disturbed. “Okay, okay, I think I get it…”

Once Afton and Link had discussed some of the more general points about Termina, it was well into late morning. Afton had asked his fill of questions, and he finally held up a finger and reached behind him.

“I have something for you.” He pulled out a flat something wrapped in linen cloth and handed it to his nephew. “Happy birthday, Link.”

“Gosh, thanks Afton!” said Link, genuinely enthused at the thought of his very first birthday present. Unfolding the linen produced a square package wrapped in brown paper and tied with hemp cord. The cords, Link noticed, had little bells attached to them. Link regarded the brown package with disappointment. “Gee, um…thanks…”

“That’s not the present,” Afton said, rolling his eyes. “You have to unwrap it,” he said, pulling one of the belled cords loose of its knot.

“Oh,” said Link, comprehending. “Hey, neat!” Inside the brown paper was a leather-bound book, but when Link flipped through the pages he found them empty. “What gives? Wait…is this magic, like the Book of Mudora? Do I have to knock on it or something?” Link was about to do just that when Afton stopped him, chuckling.

“No, Link; it’s blank on purpose. You know, like a journal?”

“Oh.” Link stared at the square volume considering for a moment what this meant. “Um, Afton? I’m not sure about this…”

“Why not? I think you’d be a great writer; all you have to do is start and then let the story tell itself…”

“No, Afton, that’s not what I mean…” Afton’s expression told Link he would have to explain. “I haven’t got anything to write with,” said Link.

“Well of course, that was coming next,” said Afton, visibly relieved. He pulled a pair of pencils out of his pocket. “See, look; the cords go here…” Afton took the book and laid it flat—opening to the center page—and then threaded the belled cord through the book’s spine. Then he doubled the cord over and pulled it through the loop that was formed so that the two belled ends could lie in between pages. “See? That way you always know where you are in your book…” Then Afton closed the journal and threaded one of the pencils through a series of leather loops along the closure so the book would stay shut. “And that’s so you can keep your pencil with it. This other one goes in your satchel for later.” He handed the book and pencil back to his nephew.

“Hey, that’s neat—it’s like a puzzle!” exclaimed Link. Afton beamed. As Link admired the cover of the book he noticed a square patch of darker leather just above center. “What’s this for?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s so you can give your book a title. You don’t have to give it one now, but when you’re ready you can bring it by Martha in Castle Town at the printing shop. I already arranged for her to set it—gold lettering and all.”

Link was visibly impressed. “Is that where you got this; from Martha?”

“Nope. I made it.”

Link’s jaw dropped. “You made this?”

Afton shrugged. “I’m not just good at sword-fighting, you know. Well-rounded people have many talents; this just happens to be one of mine. I’m glad you like it,” he added.

Then Link’s expression changed. “Gee, I mean… I wouldn’t want to write in this, Afton… What if what I write isn’t good enough?”

Afton seemed to expect this comment. “Link, an empty book is as good as a life not lived. You’ll never know what’s good enough until you try.” Link said nothing, but this seemed to make him feel better about his new gift. Afton let Link admire the volume for another moment before he spoke again. “So, does this mean you’ll write down some of your adventures? I’d love to hear them when you have them all written up. Between yesterday and today I’ve heard enough to know that your life would be really interesting to read in your own words; you really have a gift for storytelling…”

Link blushed. Afton had a way of making him feel like the most important person in all of Hyrule. He jutted his bottom lip out experimentally. “I think I could do that,” he said, nodding. “I guess this means I’ll have to practice my handwriting; I haven’t written in awhile.”

Afton seemed pleased to hear this. “What do you think you’ll write about first?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Then Link snapped his fingers. “Hey! I could tell about the future! You know; the one I came from…” Link regarded his journal as if it already contained the unique history. “Or maybe I could tell about Termina; I bet nobody’s been there! I’d be the only one who knew about it…” His gaze wandered as if he saw all the things he desperately wanted to describe in his new journal.

Afton was suddenly reminded of something. “Hey, Link, do you remember that boar I told you about? The one that I fought before you came back from Termina?”

“Oh, yeah,” Link said, remembering. “The one that ripped up your tunic and Malon had to sew it back together…”

“Right,” said Afton, recalling the experience with mixed emotions. “Well, it’s interesting how you describe this portal to Termina that just happened to be open; I had never seen boars like that one in Hyrule before. Do you suppose the portal had been opened recently?”

Link considered the idea. “Well, it had to be open long enough for someone to take the Dark Mirror from the Forest of Light and hide it in the basement of Ilkana Castle… I didn’t see any of those boars around in Termina, if that’s what you mean. I don’t think it came from there.”

“Well it wouldn’t have to, if you follow me. If one portal was open there may still be more we don’t know about. Last night you said there were places where you could push into the… What did you call it?”

“Dark world,” said Link. “That was what the Maidens called it, anyway. This one old guy from the Blue Maiden’s village said the portals were called Moon Gates. But you had to have a Moon Pearl to use them…” He thought how ridiculous it must have sounded.

“Right. So here’s this portal that takes you to Termina—a place like a different Hyrule—and then these places suddenly appear where you can push into this…shadow dimension? There has to be an explanation. Just consider the history: back when the gate to the Golden Land first opened they were losing an impossible number of people to the Evil Breath every day. Some said people were disappearing without even coming near the gate in Castle Town. There might have been more than one portal and people just never knew because there was no one left to say anything…”

“Afton,” said Link, coming to his own realization. “Do you think every time the Golden Gate opens gates to other places open too…like the one into Termina?”

“That could be…”

“Because if that’s true, then the portal to Termina could have opened when I drew the Master Sword…er, when my other self drew the Master Sword.”

“It’s a good theory; worth mentioning to Tobias, I think. We should see him as soon as we have the chance. If any more portals are found they will need to be closed—who knows what creatures might already have crossed over.” Then Afton fell into a shallow reminiscence. “If I can avoid meeting any more of those horrid boars I’ll be all the better; they smelled horrible.” He winced.

Link nodded meaningfully. “Yeah. If I never meet a monstrous pig again in my entire life, I’ll be as happy as that creepy Mask Salesman!” They laughed together, a hearty good-natured laugh. An hour ago Link could have said that he felt broken and it seemed odd to him just how quickly he had been put back together again. If Afton had felt like Link’s only family before, Link felt that family had somehow just gotten bigger.

* * *

Link put his journal and extra pencil in his satchel and he and Afton rejoined the others outside in the back yard. The girls had been playing a rousing game of Super-cucco led up by Talon.

“Hey! Looks like Malon wins again!” said the rancher. Malon curtseyed. “Good effort, though, Ruto.” Ruto looked like she had given the game nothing of the sort; she had given up on catching the chickens long ago and was watching the others forlornly. Saria was marching around with a clucking hen on her head and Zelda had succeeded in catching one cucco by the feet. It flapped its wings in panic, screeching. Soon the other cuccos took up the ruckus.

Link’s eyes widened. “Zelda, let go of the…!”

But it was too late. All at once the chickens rose up in rebellion against their coop-mate’s captor. Zelda was bombarded with pecking beaks and fluttering wings. She released the chicken and shooed the rest away from her, red in the face with embarrassment. She stared at the ground, her hands balled up in fists at her side.

Ruto avoided the cackling brood and approached Talon cautiously. “Pardon me,” she said, “but where’s…?” Her voice trailed off.

“What’s that, missy?” said Talon, wiggling the tip of his pinky into his ear. “Say it again.”

“Where is the nearest horse-trough, please?” Ruto said aloud, her cheeks turning a darker shade of blue in the Zora approximation of a blush.

“Oh, right over there, missy. Just past the coop on yer left. Cain’t miss it.” Zelda s******ed as Ruto passed, forgetting her own embarrassment in light of this new development. Ruto stuck out her tongue and Zelda rolled her eyes.

Then Talon saw Link watching from the door. “Hey, it’s the man-of-honor hisself. Everything all-right there, Lieutenant?” Talon saluted Afton with the flat of his hand. Afton smiled, returning the salute casually.

“Great! Then I reckon it’s time for gifts,” said Talon, rubbing his hands together. “Now, who wants to give their gift first?”

There was a splash and Ruto and Zelda immediately rushed for the back door of the house, Ruto trailing a long streak of water after her. The chicken flew off of Saria’s head and Link and Afton had to jump out of the way to avoid getting wet.

“No fair!” said Saria, her bottom lip jutting out. She sat in the dirt. The other chickens scattered away, clucking.

Talon squatted by Saria. “Did you wanna give Link yer gift, young’un?” The look on Saria’s face instantly changed to glee. She jumped up, ran over to Link and threw her arms around him.

Link hugged her tightly. “It’s good to see you again, Saria. Thanks for coming, today.” Saria squeezed harder and then looked up into Link’s face. “Was the hug my present?” Saria nodded. “I thought so.” He smiled.

“Did you care t’go next, Lieutenant?” offered Talon.

“Oh, Afton already gave me his present,” said Link. He reached into his satchel and removed the book. “It’s a journal,” he said, extending it in Talon’s direction. The rancher regarded the square object with confusion blended with vague curiosity.

Talon’s tongue protruded as he tried to open the volume. “Hrm…” said the rancher, “seems locked or other…” Malon took it gingerly from her father.

“Like this, Poppa,” she said, and removed the pencil from the leather loops. Talon let the book fall open. “Right; I was gonna do that next… I’ve just got big fingers, see?” Talon explained.

“Of course you do, Poppa.” Malon patted her father’s thick arm.

The rancher peered at the blank pages. “Hmph,” he concluded. “Just as well there ain’t no words; I cain’t read anyhow.” He handed the book and pencil back to Link. Link took it proudly and reassembled it before placing it in his satchel once more. “Well,” the rancher beamed brightly, “I guess that leaves just Malon an’ me,” beamed Talon brightly. “I expec’ mine won’t take as long as Mally’s so I’ll go first if that’s okay Mal—?”

“Sure, Poppa,” said Malon, rounding up the chickens. Link noticed that she was happier than before. She must really enjoy her life here at the ranch, he thought. He wondered whether she would ever consider coming to the castle to visit…

Suddenly something offensive-smelling was thrust under Link’s nose. He saw Talon holding out what seemed to be a wad of leather covered in bristly black hair. Link glanced at Afton through watery eyes. Afton’s hand was over his mouth but when he saw that Link was watching him he quickly made the sign for ‘pig’ followed by ‘rancher’ and ‘gift’. Link’s eyes widened, comprehending. He remembered what Afton had said about Talon’s banners…

“Oh, wow, Talon, this looks great!” said Link unfolding the bristly-black-fur-thing. It turned out to be a full set of cold-weather clothing including a coat, pants, boots, gloves and even a floppy hat all made from the black leather—the same boar, in fact, that Afton had slain. The articles of clothing were very well-made in terms of quality, but the stench was incredible.

Talon rocked from his heels to his toes. “It ain’t much, but I been workin’ on it ever since I got ahold of the leather an’ I had to trim it to Mally’s size since you was off doin’ hero things—I figgered she was your age, see, so it should fit. Go on, now, try it on.”

Link gritted his teeth and blinked the wetness from his eyes. This seemed to make Talon feel very proud—he must think Link was crying out of appreciation, Link thought. Link set the bundle of clothing down on the hard packed earth and pulled the coat around his shoulders, sliding his arms through the sleeves cautiously. It did fit Link well. “It really…fits. Thanks, Talon.” Link said, blinking again. He noticed Afton suppressing a laugh. Link reminded himself to punch Afton later.

“Aw, shucks, yer welcome,” Talon said, tossing Link’s hair under his green cap. Link’s bangs ended a good bit more disheveled more than usual.

Link noticed that Malon was watching him, smiling. He suddenly felt his chest fly into his throat and his face turned hot. “Um…I think it’s a little warm, just now,” he said. “I’ll just put this away until the weather cools off, Talon, thanks.”

“Oh, yeah, o’ course,” said Talon. He took the clothing back and tied it in a bundle with some string. “I’ll jes’ keep this here so’s you don’t have ta carry it ever’where-like.” He placed the bundle gently under the bench next to the back door of the ranch-house. “So, Mally, I guess you’re it.”

Malon blushed. “Well,” she said, walking toward Link slowly. “I thought a long while about what I could give you, but nothin’ else seemed t’make sense…” She demurred. “But I didn’t want to embarrass you, see, an’ I jus’ figgered we could do it together.” Link was becoming very nervous now. His heart seemed to be pumping only through his ears; the rest of his body had gone curiously numb. “So I guess I’ll give you a head start and if you win, you can keep Epona!”

Like a pendulum swinging, Link’s heart suddenly sank into his boots, but then quickly recovered when he realized what Malon was talking about. “A race?” he said. Malon nodded, her two ginger loops bobbing against her shoulders. “And if I win I can keep Epona?!” Malon nodded again, smiling. Then Link’s face straightened as he looked in the direction of the ranch-house. “What’s that?” He grimaced.

Malon turned to see what it was. There was Afton, in the doorway, and her father standing next to him. Malon saw nothing suspicious. “Link, what…?” And then Afton pointed behind her. Link was halfway to the horse-pen, running frantically and glancing over his shoulder. “Hey, git back here you stupid boy!” Malon called, laughing. And she picked up the cloth of her skirt in a bundle and ran toward the horse-pen. Saria was close behind, picking up the drapes of an invisible dress.

Then there came a noise from inside the house of something heavy hitting the wood floor. Talon turned to Afton. “Kids okay?” he asked.

Afton glanced inside the ranch-house. He snorted comically. “They’re coming.”

Ruto exited the ranch-house in time to see Link throw his arms around Epona’s neck. Zelda was directly behind her, pressing between Afton and Ruto just as Malon was jumping the fence of the horse-pen and Link was galloping away. Ruto looked down at the small box in her hands.

“See Ruto!” said Zelda, setting a large package on top of the chicken coop. “If you hadn’t tackled me on the way out we could have gotten here in time!

“I didn’t tackle you! I told you, I’m not used to running on land. I tripped.”

“Haven’t you caused enough trouble already? Why don’t you just…”

“…go soak in the horse-trough? Gladly. Anything to get away from you.” She stormed off toward past the chicken coop, throwing her small blue box to the ground. Zelda rolled her eyes and exhaled indignantly.

Afton leaned over to Talon. “I think Link and I need to go soon, Talon. Would you mind if I excuse myself? I need to get my uniform on.”

Talon raised his bushy eyebrows. “A right official uniform, eh?” he responded quietly. “What all’s part o’ the get-up?”

Afton seemed amused. “Tell me, Talon, have you ever seen chain mail up close?”

“You mean those fancy metal shirts y’all wore when you was fightin’ that big pig beast? I don’t guess takin’ a closer look never hurt nobody…” Then he looked over at Zelda. She was staring out at the ranch, apparently lost in thought. “Do you s’pose we should leave ‘em alone with each other?”

Afton considered the question seriously. “I think Zelda and Ruto are responsible enough to restrain themselves from any infringements on physical impropriety.” Talon’s eyebrows came together looking very much like a second mustache. When Afton saw he needed to rephrase his statement he said “I don’t think they’ll hurt each other, no.” This satisfied Talon and he and Afton went inside the ranch-house, leaving the door ajar.

Zelda stared out at the ranch. A light midday breeze soothed her warm face, and there were few sounds other than the shuffling of horses’ hooves and the occasional neigh coming from the horse-pen. Then she heard the sound of galloping coming from across the ranch and she saw Link and Malon come around the curve of the horse track. Saria was straddling one of the fence-beams pretending she was riding alongside them. Link was ahead, followed closely by Malon. As Zelda saw them race past, laughing, wetness welled in her eyes. She bowed her head and sniffed, wiping her face with the back of her hand. Then she saw the blue box Ruto had discarded.

Looking back into the house to be sure Afton and Talon were occupied, Zelda went over to pick up Ruto’s box. It was tied shut with strands of seaweed. Gently, Zelda pulled the strands away and opened it. She gasped, raising her hand to her mouth.

Inside the box was a small light-blue scale. Zelda began to cry.

* * *

Ruto rolled over again, trying to find a comfortable position so she could fully submerge herself in the horse-trough. “Dumb horses,” she mumbled to herself. “Couldn’t afford a bigger horse-trough…?”

“Hey,” a voice said quietly. Ruto looked behind her. It was Zelda.

“Oh. What do you want?” said Ruto. Then she noticed streaks of wetness lining the princess’ face. “What?” Ruto sat up. “What happened?”

“You really like him, don’t you?” said Zelda.

“What? Who, Link?” said Ruto shifting in the water again. “No, not really…we just had this…it wasn’t even…”

“I saw what you were going to give him,” said Zelda. She held out the box with the seaweed wrapping peeled away.

“Hey! That’s not yours!” Ruto snatched the box away from Zelda, cradling it in her hands. Her cheeks turned deep blue. “Go away!”

Zelda didn’t move. “It’s okay,” she said, shrugging. “I like him too. At least I thought I did.”

For a moment Ruto said nothing. She turned away from Zelda. “Yeah, well what do you know?”

Zelda balled up her hand and let it bob against her thigh absent mindedly. “You know, I thought your pie wasn’t that bad…” she said.

Ruto didn’t turn around. “Nice try. You think you can just say you like it after the stink you put up?”

“Well, I’m not used to fish pie…and it was kinda salty, but for a salty pie it was good…”


“Yeah,” said Zelda reassuringly.

Ruto shifted back toward Zelda, appeased. “Yeah, well yours wasn’t that bad either,” she said. “A little too sweet, though.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, letting herself chuckle a little. She bent over and picked up a bucket near her feet. Turning it over, she sat down next to the horse-trough. “So… I heard Lutai talking about a Zora she liked once. She said he gave her one of his scales. It was all golden, and she kept it for a long time but then he was lost out at sea and Lutai never saw him again… Does giving someone a scale mean you really like them?”

Ruto bowed her head. “It means you want to be with them forever. That’s the real Zora way of doing things. We don’t have weddings like you do with ceremonies and decorations and things. Zoras just find a special place—somewhere important like a cove or an underwater cave—and they give each other one of their scales. And then they wear it where they took their scale from.” Ruto looked at the box forlornly. “It’s stupid, really. I guess Link doesn’t have any scales to give me…” Ruto’s face scrunched up and she choked on her words. “…and he could never wear mine…” Then Ruto bent forward and pressed her face into the water, shaking her head.

Zelda reached into the horse-trough and patted Ruto’s wet shoulder unabashedly. Ruto’s head shot back out of the water.

Zelda was doused. “What happened?! Are you okay?” she said tolerantly, parting her dripping hair from over her face.

Ruto looked like she was going to be sick. “No,” she shook her head. “This water tastes terrible.”

Zelda snickered but tried to conceal it unsuccessfully.

A smile opened up on Ruto’s face and she laughed. She leaned back in the horse-trough casually. “Seriously, can you believe us? All this trouble for a boy? Boys are dumb,” she said.

“I know!” Zelda finally let out a full laugh.

* * *

Link could hear hoof beats gaining on him. He urged Epona forward. The gate to the ranch was just ahead; the first to ring the bell would win, and winning meant Link could keep Epona. He had been through so much with her; he had to win—if he didn’t it would be like saying he didn’t want her enough. “C’mon, girl,” he said, digging his heels into her sides one last time. “Let’s win this—yah!”

Epona surged forward with a new burst of speed; Link drank in the accompanying rush of wind. The closest he had ever come to flying was when Kaepora Gaebora, a giant owl, had given him a ride down the side of Death Mountain, but riding Epona like this was a unique exception. He felt as if he could close his eyes and he and Epona would just lift up into the air…

Clang! Link’s eyes shot open. They couldn’t have passed the archway that quickly, thought Link. His heart sank as the bell’s toll hung in the air. There was the bell, swinging on its loop, the rope dangling from the hammer… Link cursed himself for losing focus. He pounded his fist into his leg. They had lost! They slowed to a stop when they cleared the arch…but where was Malon?

Then Link heard hoof beats and from within the ranch came Malon on Hossel, a brown stallion. In her hand was a bow. Link’s eyes darted around and in less than a flick of Epona’s tail he had spotted it: there on the ground, near the post of the entrance arch, was the ‘hammer’ that had struck the winning bell—one of Malon’s homemade arrows. Link watched as Malon trotted up to him nonchalantly. She wore a look of guilty pleasure.

“You little cheat!” said Link. “You really had me going there for a second! I thought I’d lost.”

Malon’s face became defensive. “What do you mean ‘thought you’d lost’? I reckon I rang the bell firs’ didn’t I?” Her ginger loops tossed as she shook her head saucily. “I guess you didn’t understand the rules, mister.”

Link twisted the reins in his hands. “Didn’t…what rules? You said ‘win,’ and that’s what I did. Isn’t that right, Epona?” Epona nickered and tossed her mane. “See? Even Epona thinks so. Fair and square.” Link folded his arms.

Malon looked like she might protest but a smile crept its way into her cheeks and she relented. “Oh, alright, Happy Birthday…” She stuck her fist in Link’s shoulder, grinning with half of her face. Link noticed she had pronounced dimples. He thought it was strange…he had never noticed them before. His chest buzzed and he thought for a moment he was flying again…

But the buzzing continued and Link realized that it was actually the Gossip Stone pendant the king had given him. “Oh, shoot,” he said, pulling the stone out from beneath his tunic. “Sorry, Malon, just a second.” When he touched the grey stone Link felt a presence enter his mind and he heard a man’s voice in his head.

Link, are you there? it said.

Yes, I’m Link. I mean I’m here, Link thought. Having Malon around was certainly befuddling.

Good. This is the king. We will be ready for you shortly. Are you at leisure to join us?

Sure, thought Link. He had just won Epona and Malon had dimples; at that moment Link thought he could do anything.

How’s that, Link? You say you can do anything?

Oh, shoot! Link thought. Sorry, your Majesty. Just thinking out loud, I guess. I’ll be there soon.

Very good. The knights will meet you outside of the Temple; they will lead you from there. Be sure to enter by the eastern gate. We’ll be expecting you soon. The presence left Link’s mind.

“What is it?” asked Malon. “Do you have to go?”

“Yeah,” said Link, rolling his eyes. “I have to make an appearance, I guess.”

“It’s okay, fairy boy,” said Malon. “Poppa an’ I’ll be right there in the crowd; you just do what you gotta do.”

Link had nearly forgotten Malon’s nickname for him. It felt like centuries ago that he had first met Malon wandering around Castle Town. She had spotted Navi hovering around his head and knew he must have come from the forest. Hearing her call him ‘fairy boy’ just now was like hearing his real name long after he had forgotten it.

“You’re coming? That’s great! We could…” Link tried frantically to think of an excuse for Malon to stay in Castle Town after the tournament. Then he remembered that he and Afton were going to see Tobias and he thought of the Stained Hall. “Why don’t you meet me at the Temple when we’re done! I could show you…something...”

Malon eyed Link skeptically. “Like what…?”

Link remembered Afton’s mysteriousness about his birthday celebration. “It’s a surprise!” he said.

“Oh! I like surprises!” said Malon. Link’s eyes fell on her dimples again.

“Okay…” he smiled.

Malon waited for Link to say something else. When he didn’t, she said “Don’t you need ta git goin’ now?”

“Oh, yeah. Okay. I’ll just…” Link motioned vaguely in the direction of Hyrule Castle.

“Yeah, you git an’ I’ll tell Poppa ta hitch up a wagon so we can all see you out on your big day. We’ll be there.”

Link patted Epona nervously. He felt like he should say something but try as he might his mind was like molasses; stuck on Malon’s face, the ginger loops of her hair, her freckles… “Okay, so I’ll just go now, bye.” He blurted, waving pitifully. He edged Epona away from the ranch. “Thanks, by the way. For Epona. She’s great…” and finally the blood rushing to his face made him turn away. He kicked his heels into Epona’s sides and squeezed close to her, bolting off as fast as he could. “Yah, girl!” he called, closer than he had ever been to flying.

* * *

“…so then he rubs his eyes, right—because the sun was so bright—and when he puts his hands down I’m right there in front of him—‘cause we’re both on this tree trunk over the reservoir—and he just locks up like a clam and falls over into the water!” Ruto shook her head. “Never seen anything so stupid.”

Zelda laughed hysterically. “No! That’s so funny. It’s like when I saw him for the first time; he looked so goofy wearing his silly green hat. He wears that thing everywhere; I wonder if he’s ever washed it…”

“Well, we know he washed it at least once…” said Ruto.

Zelda tilted her head. “Oh, yeah? When?”

“When he fell into the reservoir; hello!” Ruto and Zelda laughed. Ruto put a fresh wet towel over her legs. The pair of princesses were sitting in the bed of the wagon while Talon and Afton finished hitching up a pair of quarter horses. Ruto had several wet towels covering her body which she had been refreshing regularly from a large bucket of water inside the wagon. Saria was on the back of one of the quarter horses, pretending she was snapping invisible reins.

Malon trotted up on Hossel. She had stowed her bow beside her on the saddle. “What did I miss?” she asked. Zelda and Ruto looked at each other and s******ed. “What’s funny?” said Malon.

“Oh,” said Zelda. “Just telling stories about Link. Ruto was just telling me about when he proposed to her…”

Malon’s face went straight. “You mean he really did…you and Link are really engaged?”

Ruto removed the wet cloth from her head. “Guess so,” she said shrugging.

“Cheater,” said Saria, turning around to glare at Ruto.

Ruto ignored Saria and turned back to Zelda. “So there we were in the reservoir, right, and he was sputtering up water and his hair was all stuck to his face, right—completely stupid-looking…”

“Link ain’t stupid-looking!” snapped Malon.

Ruto rolled her eyes and continued. “And then I told Link that I would only give the Zora’s Sapphire to the man I would marry. So he asked if I would give it to him. And that’s how we got engaged,” she concluded.

Malon looked like she was going to be sick. “Need any help hitchin’ up the boys, Poppa?” she said, throwing her leg over Hossel’s flanks and dismounting.

Talon looked over to Afton. Afton shrugged, strapping a spur to the heel of his boot. He had already donned his chain shirt and arming cap. “Not really, darlin’; jes’ finished up,” said Talon. “Mister Afton saw it was getting’ late on an’ we figgered we’d git goin’ and pick you up on the way out.” He rested the reins over the footboard of the driver’s seat. “You comin’ with? Mister Afton’ll be headin’ out on his own and I’d be mighty glad of your comp’ny.” Talon widened his eyes as if to say he would rather not be left alone with the pair of princesses. “Or is it you wanna take Hossel an’ stick around awhile in town?”

Malon blushed. “Poppa…”

“Yeah, Malon, maybe you just want Link all to yourself?” said Ruto.

“Yeah, maybe you want to steal Ruto’s man, huh, Malon?” Zelda chimed.

Malon looked like she was trying to swallow a live worm and faring horribly. She looked from Ruto to Zelda and back waiting for one of them to take back what they had said. Her eyes filled with wetness and soon her face felt as if it would burn off her head.

“You alright, darlin’?” said Talon.

Malon opened her mouth and screamed. Talon jumped and Afton started, his spur clinking sharply. Saria clapped her hands to her ears. Malon glared into the wagon, balling up her fists, her body shaking. “What’s wrong with you?” Malon yelled, stamping one foot into the hard-packed dirt. Zelda and Ruto were taken aback. They looked at each other soberly, as if for the first time. “Zelly, why are you being so mean? You’re my friend! Leastways you was supposed ta be. I thought you was teachin’ me how ta be proper so’s I could impress…” She drew her arm across her face, sobbing. When she regained her eyesight again she pointed her finger at Ruto. “And you!” she growled. “Zelly’s told me all about princesses and you ain’t no princess. Princesses is proper! They only say nice things about people an’ they don’t make asses o’ themselves when they don’t git what they want. You oughtta be shamed right proper! Both o’ you!”

For a moment, nothing moved. Then Malon stormed past the quarter horses and into the front door of the house, leaving a knight, a rancher, two princesses and a forest child in utter silence. One of the quarter horses nickered.

Afton jerked a thumb toward the door. “Talon, should I…?” he began, but Talon held up his hand. The next moment Malon came back out of the house with a quiver of arrows over one shoulder and a cloth bundle in her arms with a knot tied in it. She threw the bundle over her head, resting the knot on her shoulder with the bulk of the bundle at her side. Then she climbed into Hossel’s saddle and turned the horse around.

“Mal,” said Talon, unmoving.

“Poppa, don’t say no. Don’t you dare say…”

“Be safe, darlin’,” said Talon. “Come home soon.”

Malon looked at her father, wetness welling in her eyes. At first it looked like she might say something but then she looked at the two princesses in the wagon and she scowled instead. Ruto looked down at her bucket of water. Zelda seemed to have come to her senses. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak Malon kicked her heels into Hossel’s sides.

“Yah!” Malon called. Hossel reared and bolted away. In a moment Malon was passing under the entrance arch, the bell clanging angrily as she swung the rope. Talon’s eyes were on the ground. Afton looked at the rancher, visibly concerned.

“She’ll come around,” said Talon, brushing his finger under his nose.

“Talon, I…” Afton began.

“You’d better git if you plan on bein’ in the show, son. We’d better git, too; we’re gonna be late as is…” He climbed into the driver’s seat. Saria patted the quarter horse on the neck and jumped down. When she was settled into the seat next to Talon he snapped the reins. “C’mon, boys, take us ta town.” The horses pushed against the ground, moving the wagon forward. “See you there Afton?”

“I’ll be there,” the knight replied. He waved as the wagon passed. Only Saria waved back.

* * *

The Mask Keeper replaced the winged mask in his pack and slung it on his back again. Always keeping his eyes on his destination, he passed under the circular arcade and entered the mysterious new archway cautiously. Beyond was a short hallway inclining up to a solid stone wall; a dead end. Like the rest of the stone grotto, the stone of the short hall had been worked perhaps less than a hundred years ago. Unlike the grotto, however, the hall was clear of vines and had shown some use; there were a pair of black-wicked candles mounted on the walls. The wicks were cold; the candles may not have been used much, but they had certainly been used.

When the Mask Salesman inspected further he discovered a fine marble dust on the floor where it met the wall. This was not a hallway to nowhere, thought the Mask Keeper, it was a secret passage into the mysterious building, whatever it was. Looking around quickly for any kind of trigger he could find, the Mask Keeper did the first thing that occurred to him. Gripping one of the candelabra by the mount, he turned it until the candles were pointed perpendicular to their original position and stepped back.

Nothing happened.

But the Mask Salesman would not be daunted. He searched for anything else that might open the door, but after minutes of searching he could think of nothing. There was nothing else. Then he remembered the inscription.

He hurried back to the raised platform in the center of the arcade. Life and death their paths do dance… Life and death dancing; what could that mean? Through time and space we pass in trance… He had certainly passed through space, but he was unsure how being in a trance could open the door he knew was hidden at the end of that hallway. He kept reading. But death to life sets Gods at bay… Death to life? Reincarnation? That was the typical lore for the afterlife in Hyrule; it might certainly keep time at bay, but how could being reincarnated help him now?

The fourth line spoke of time’s river. And river Time complete doth stay. He looked up, turning this over in his mind. “I know it has something to do with this, I know it,” he said aloud. His eyes fell on the circular arcade. Then he noticed something he had not before; there was a great deal of condensation on the columns. Something occurred to him. “Rivers flow to the sea,” he said aloud. “Where water rises to the sky and rains down again, completing the circle…a circle…” He rushed to the hallway again. How could he be so dense? The candelabrum had moved, hadn’t it?

The Mask Keeper gripped the candelabrum again and continued to turn it until the candles had gone full-circle and they were pointing up again. “Nature’s ring complete doth stay,” he said aloud. A series of musical notes sounded from somewhere and then he heard a click and the twang of a thick metal wire from behind the candelabrum. The wall beside him grumbled as it split in two, each half separating from the other, opening the way into the temple. Seizing the opportunity, the Mask Keeper threw in his bag of masks and then stepped through himself. The wall grumbled closed behind him.

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