The Lengthening Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter II: Preparations

“Impa, what did he say?” Zelda nearly had to run to match the pace of her hurried nursemaid. Rats scurried in and out of the puddles of water on the tunnel floor but she paid them no heed. The light of Impa’s lantern drove them from the path. The tunnels under the castle grounds were damp and squalid, but they were the fastest path anywhere within the Hylian Realm.

“I have told you, Princess; the boy warned us of an impending threat to the castle. That is all you need know.” The tunnel forked in three directions. Impa veered to the left, toward the Temple of Time.

“But Impa, it was my dream! Am I not permitted to know the events unfolding from my own prophecy?”

“Your premonition was enough to put the boy on the proper course. That is done, and now events shall unfold as they will.” They came to a stone wall with a barred off storm drain at the base. Bolted to the wall was a set of three corroded handles. Impa pulled on the handle in the center and turned it vertically so it would remain in place. She did the same to the left handle, then the right one. A loud click was heard behind the wall and the stones of the wall shifted back and out of the way to reveal a well-preserved metal ladder leading to a landing high above them. “Come,” said Impa, “you shall go first.”

“Tell me what he really said.” The princess stood defiant, her jaw set.

Impa grew impatient. “Either you will keep up with me or I will carry you.”

Zelda took this as an insult. She screwed up her face and twisted as she thrust her arms in the air. The next moment a green light enveloped her and she vanished. Another flash of green came from the landing above. Zelda’s face emerged from over the ledge.

“Perhaps you should keep up with me, nursemaid. Know who your princess is.”

Impa did not look pleased at this. Snuffing her lantern, she threw it high in the air. One moment Impa vanished in a flash of smoke and the next she appeared on the landing with another flash. Impa caught the lantern out of the air and with a snap of her fingers it was alight again. Zelda recoiled, flattening herself against the wall. Impa lowered her face so it was level with the princess’.

“I serve you because I honor the vows of my ancestors, humble though our heritage may be. You would do well to honor your house with more courtesy to those who protect you, noble one.” Impa stood erect again. Zelda looked on her nursemaid with awe. She pulled herself away from the wall and straightened her gown.

“Lead on, then,” said Zelda meekly, looking at the ground.
Impa placed her foot carefully near the ledge and put her weight on the spot. The stone under her foot sank into the ground and there was another click. The stones of the wall moved again to conceal the ladder and the handles reset themselves.

Zelda watched the wall close together. “Impa, I am sorry. I should not have called you nursemaid as I did, like it was a thing of dishonor.”

“It is what I am, child. There is no dishonor in that,” said Impa. “And you truly are the princess I knew you were.” A smile crept across Zelda’s face. “You must not separate yourself from me again. Come, now,” said Impa. “Haste is imperative.”

* * *

“Can this news be true?” asked Rauru. Tobias stood close by, sweeping their loft in one of the towers of the Temple of Time. Zelda sat in a wooden chair near the door.

“Yes, Rauru, it is,” said Impa. “The Hero has returned from the future to aid us in our time of need, though we knew it not. The coming of the Gerudo King to these lands surely portents evil. It is simply a matter of when he will strike.”

“Which you say will be tomorrow,” concluded Rauru. “And our hospitality and diplomacy have put the enemy in a first class room by the town courtyard.” Rauru pulled back the wisps of his thin white hair. “We will need to be prepared.” The Sage leaned on the sill of the open window, looking out over Hyrule. “I have served this fair land since I was a youth, Impa. I have seen all too much evil in my day. Do you remember Potho? No, of course you wouldn’t…he was my master. He was very old when I was a young man; Tobias’ age, in fact. We saw dreadful things in those days. An ancient Minish wizard had escaped his imprisonment and started to snatch away the young girls of the town. Potho told me of the wizard’s imprisonment within a blade infused with the four elements.” Zelda looked at her nursemaid with a look of surprise but Impa signaled for her to say nothing. Rauru still gazed out the window. “None speak of it anymore, but that noble sword in the hands of the right young man saved the daughters of our land.” Rauru nodded his head, as if remembering some small detail. “He was the ancestor of our young Colin,” he finished.

“The captain?” blurted Tobais. He had stopped sweeping. When Rauru turned to the young man he quickly began sweeping again.

“Yes, Tobias, the captain’s grandfather. His name was Gustav, after the first hero of all. Gustav’s father was a notable hero as well…” Rauru suddenly paused, thoughtful. “Impa, what did you say that boy’s name was? The boy from the future?”

Zelda opened her mouth, but Impa turned swiftly to cut her off. “He did not say, Rauru. We only know him as the Hero of Time.”

Rauru accepted this, though he did not look convinced. “Well, in any case, we will need to make ready.”

“This is why we have come to see you. The Hero relates that the attack will come after he has opened the Sanctuary and drawn the Blade of Evil’s Bane.”

Rauru froze. Then, as quickly as he froze, he became animated. “He plans to open the Sanctuary? Is he mad!?” Both Zelda and Tobias jumped and stared at one another. Rauru paced the floor. “You have come to tell me that the boy who is to be our Hero…”

“…is our Hero…” corrected Impa. Rauru paid her no heed.

“…is going to let our enemy have access to the Power of Gold? Impa, I will not allow it. The Sanctuary is under my supervision…”

“Rauru, he is meant to lure him into a trap…” Impa said over him.

“…and I simply will not allow it. I closed the door myself. I enchanted the keys, and I entrusted them to the races of Hyrule. The door will not open without the keys. How is he supposed to enter without the keys?”

“He will have the keys; he already has the Emerald, and he is on his way to get the Ruby from the Gorons, now.”

Rauru was incredulous. “Already has…! Impa, you surely cannot permit this boy to enter the Sanctuary and combat the most dangerous man alive! I trust you will not allow him the Ocarina…?” Rauru’s eyes darted between Impa and Zelda. Zelda’s eyes shot from Rauru to Impa to Tobias and she clenched her chest where a potato-sized lump lay hidden under her dress.

“Rauru, you cannot know what you are suggesting,” said Impa. “Please, listen to me…”

“No, Impa. No. I simply will not allow the Door of Time to be opened. We stopped the Gerudo King once before, and it cost us two of our number. Oh, Goddesses, no, no. Not again.” He shook his wispy-haired head. Tobias was visibly frightened. Zelda imagined he had never seen his master this way.
Impa grabbed the Sage by the shoulders. “Rauru, is not the Door of Time so named because the Hero of Time was meant to open it? And does not the prophecy speak of a child to whom the Goddesses would grant a sword, like a key, to lock away the Great Evil? And how is the Hero to obtain the sword if he cannot enter the Sanctuary where it is hidden? You said yourself that a sword in the hands of the right young man…”

“Yes, Impa, a young man! Not a boy, a little boy…”

Then Impa clutched Rauru’s clothes in one hand and cupped her mouth to his ear. Rauru paused in his frenzy to listen. Zelda could not hear what it was she said, but whatever it was caused the old man to be still. Then his expression changed from consternation to relief. “Impa,” he said. “Impa, is this true?” He began to weep. Zelda looked as if she had been denied permission to ride her own horse.

“Yes, Rauru. We need you to help us. When he comes, he will be locked away in the Sacred Realm. When this happens you must take the Ocarina from him. We will send him away with it so that it may be preserved. You must do this, or all may be lost.”

Rauru nodded reverently. “Yes, Impa, yes, I understand.”

“Well. Then we must away. Come, Princess.” Zelda looked as if she would protest, but a glance from Impa got her up from her seat, grumbling all the way.

“Impa wait,” said Rauru. He was holding the gray stone that hung around his neck. In all respects it matched the one that the king wore at the tournament. “The queen has just contacted me from the castle. The Sages are to convene. We will set our plan. They also say you are to escort the young hero to the ranch to acquire a horse.”

Impa assimilated this. “Where am I to meet him?” she asked.

“In the castle armory.”

“Be sure that you do not fail,” said Impa. “We will protect the Ocarina.”

“Yes. Until then. Farewell, princess. May the Goddesses watch over you.” Zelda could not bring herself to smile as her nursemaid ushered her out of the Sage’s loft.

* * *

Link exited the Grand Hall the way he had entered. Then he jumped; in front of him stood a very important-looking soldier. Link had the sudden urge to duck behind a planter, but there were none nearby. His Koroki upbringing failed him as he remembered too late that he could not hide in plain sight like the other Koroki. The soldier approached Link…and extended his gloved hand to the green-clad boy.

“Master Hero, I presume.”

Link eyed the man cautiously. “You’re not going to throw me out?”

The soldier laughed a hearty, genuine laugh that caught Link off guard. “Whatever for?” said the soldier. “Impa told me of you. Come, give me your hand if we be friends. My name is Afton. I am the Second Lieutenant of the Knights of Hyrule.”

Link warily offered the man his hand. The knight’s hand almost concealed his. Link realized once again how out of place he felt in such a young body. “Thanks,” he said, taking back his hand. “I’m Link.”

“Very well, Master Link. How can I be of service?”

Link realized that Afton didn’t know he needed weapons. He pulled out the card the king wrote on and handed it to the knight. The knight studied it for a moment.

“Then you will need some equipment it appears. Come, I shall escort you.” Afton turned to one of the two staircases leading down from the Grand Hall. On his back was a shield like the captain’s. Link paused, staring at it.

Afton noticed Link’s alarm. “What is it?”

“That shield…”

“Yes. It is the shield of the Hylian Knights. Do you know it?”

“I…” Link shuffled his feet. “I had one…once.” He felt ashamed to say it. If it was the shield of a Hylian Knight, Afton might think Link had stolen one.

“Really?” Afton said, descending the staircase. “How interesting.” Link caught up with him.

“You don’t think I’m a thief?”

“Not unless you are,” Afton smiled. He led Link through the corridors of the castle. “Each Knight of Hyrule is issued his shield, which he keeps for the length of his service. If it is damaged he repairs it. It is a symbol of our constant vigilance and oath to protect the Royal Family, and to serve the Goddesses. While no more are made than are issued, sometimes knights are lost or perish away from home. The shields of knights past sometimes find their way back to the Castle Town market. I expect this is where you bought yours.”

“Yeah,” Link lied. He realized that the shield he had owned came from the grave of a knight. He was almost glad he no longer had it; it felt like a dishonour to the memory of the knight, whoever he was, to carry around his shield without his permission. The gravekeeper who dug it up for him must not have known…or maybe he did… Link resolved to ask him if he ever got the chance. They exited the castle into the rear courtyard. The sky outside showed it was nearing evening.

“Sir?” Link said.

“Please, call me Afton.” They descended a staircase that followed the walls of the castle proper toward the basements.

“Um…right. Afton? Could you tell me about the captain?”

Afton’s brow furrowed before he answered. “The captain is a good man, valiant and brave. He has seen many battles and is often weighed down by sorrow. Nevertheless, he is a strong man, and kind, when he is not provoked.” Link thought this must be true.

“He didn’t seem very sad earlier,” said Link.

“Yes, he does much not to concern others with his grief.”

“What happened?”

“He lost his wife and child. About ten years ago there were random attacks made on the people of Hylia. Villagers would be ambushed, and then the attackers would vanish without leaving any sign of their presence. It was impossible to track them, and they never left any alive. The captain sent his wife and child to Kakariko to keep them safe, but their escort was attacked, and they were never seen again.”

Link wasn’t sure what to say. “That’s horrible,” he said, finally.

“Karin was my sister,” said Afton. “I was fifteen when she went missing.”

“I’m…really sorry.” He thought again of the Dekku Tree, the most important figure in his young life…and Navi. He still needed to find her. “What was she like?” he asked.

Afton let out a low chuckle. “She was a spoiled brat, as I remember.” Link was taken aback.


“Oh, you’ll have to excuse me, Master Link. I guess I remember my sister differently than others…I like to remember her as if she were still here. It keeps me from feeling like she’s really gone. And she isn’t, really. I remember the way she would tell me about the graveyard out in Kakariko and how it was haunted. She’d threaten to leave me there, sometimes. And she always tried to convince me of things that didn’t exist. Things like castles in the sky, and fish two feet long!” He chuckled again to himself. “She’d even make me think there were rupees hidden in the bushes.”

Link rolled his eyes.

They arrived at the armory in the basements of the castle. The soldiers on either side of the thick wooden double-doors pulled them open when they saw the lieutenant approach. When they entered the armory, Link’s eyes were filled with the sight of walls and walls of weapons and armor. The spears the soldiers always carried stood in upright bundles. Elegant long swords traced with fine inlay; rapiers with sweeping basket hilts; strong, square short swords all hung in patterns on their racks. Stacks of tower shields with feet like a dogs; heavy round shields rimmed with studs; small bucklers all leaned against each other. Countless other things lay in piles, hung from pegs on the walls or protruded from barrels. Link suddenly felt like all the treasures from all the temples he had ever been to had been dumped in one place.

“What would you like, Master Link?” said Afton.

Link didn’t know where to start.

Afton showed Link the finer points of each weapon, making suggestions and offering advice. There was a good shield that closely resembled the Hylian shield Link had once owned, but it was smaller and had a stylized winged skull in place of the bird. Because of its size Link could hold it in front of him, which was a great improvement to having to carry it on his back all the time. He also found a good strong short sword, just right for him. He decided it felt odd having anything fancier, as nothing came close to the Master Sword itself. He longed to hold that blade in his adult hands again. It was as if it were made only for him to use…nothing would be the same.

Link felt that a sword and shield were enough for now. He could find other things along the way if he needed them. It just felt good to be able to defend himself again. While Link was testing the feel of his new short sword by pulling it from the sheath on his back, Afton was comparing the edges of his own rapier to a newer one that looked identical to it. Then a wry smile crept across Link’s face.

“I’ll need to sharpen this soon, I think,” said Afton. Then suddenly the flat of Link’s sword slapped Afton’s thigh, clinking against his mail armor. Afton’s rapier came around reflexively and would have cut the tip from Link’s cap if Link had not met the rapier with his own blade.

“What in the name of…” Afton’s eyes widened when he realized what he had almost done. Then he saw the playful look on Link’s face, and it was as if some third party had given the signal.

Clashing metal followed shouts as the two parried each other’s attacks. Smiling all the while the two of them tested the other’s defenses, not truly wishing to do harm, but interested and excited to see what the other would do. Link found his opponent more than worthy, as he discovered when he was forced to make use of his new shield to avoid a high attack. It had always felt unfair to Link that he had to take on opponents larger than him. Even as an adult there had been the Iron Knuckles of the Desert Shrine that were simply too well armored to manage, and outright impossible as a child. He remembered his tactics, however, and began to take advantage of his smaller size.

As Link worked a few rolls into his routine, Afton was forced into the defensive. He soon had to guess where Link might be the next moment in order to parry his attacks. Nevertheless, Afton was not Second Lieutenant for nothing. Grasping a second rapier Afton began fighting with two hands, parrying with one sword and thrusting with the other. But after a series of strikes Link had learned how to anticipate even this style of fighting, and he was soon beating Afton at his own game. Link caught Afton’s rapier at the guard and forced the tip toward the ground. Lunging, he rolled over the blade with his shield, snapping it near the hilt, and came up within Afton’s defenses with his short sword to Afton’s chest. Afton lowered his borrowed rapier to the ground breathing heavily and smiling.

“Well done!” said Afton. “You have certainly seen battle, Master Hero! If only my old blade had been more resilient, I might have had wherewith to challenge you further.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Link, realizing what he had done to Afton’s rapier. “Sorry.” Then Link and Afton became aware of a small pair of hands clapping very quickly. It was coming from somewhere near the door. It was Zelda, and behind her stood Impa, looking stern.

“Oh, Impa, weren’t they wonderful?” said Zelda. But a sober face from Impa quieted her excitement.

“Master Hero, we are here by order of the queen to escort you to the ranch,” said Impa as if nothing was out of the ordinary. “Are you sufficiently prepared?”

If Afton had not just dueled with him Link might have felt very childish just then, but as it was he looked at Afton and shared a kind of glance that could only have been shared between two brothers when their mother finds they have made a mess of things; a kind of guilty satisfaction. Afton spoke first.

“I should arrange for the smith to mend my rapier,” he said to Link, picking up the two broken pieces. “I suppose my services are not needed for the moment. Your equipment seems to be satisfactory…” This conjured a light snigger from Zelda, which Impa frowned on. Afton walked toward a small door in the back of the armory over which hung a sign with a hammer and tongs. Before he was out of sight he turned and winked at Link. “Good luck with your escort.”

Link rolled his eyes and smiled. He sheathed his sword and slung his shield over his back. Turning, he saw Zelda looking straight at him. Suddenly his face went hot and he didn’t know whether to laugh or find a planter to hide behind.

Impa lowered her stern gaze to Link. “Haste is imperative, Master Link. Come.” Zelda looked up at her nursemaid with a face that said ‘see! I knew it!’ “Yes, child, I knew his name. We can discuss it another time. Come, both of you.” And she walked past the guards toward the stairs.

Zelda waited for Link to get to the door before she followed her nursemaid.

“Hi,” said Link, scratching the back of his neck. Zelda matched his pace.

“Hi,” she replied, a little more musically than she intended. Then Impa’s voice came from the stairwell.

“We will have to hurry if we are to make it to the ranch before the princess’ bedtime.”

Zelda’s face went pink and she sighed.