The Lingering Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter II - The Gerudo Waste

The western extension of the Death Mountain chain separated the fields of Hyrule from the bleached sands and dry, scorching heat of the Burning Desert. A young boy clothed entirely in black crept hurriedly into the fissure carrying a clinking bundle. The fissure was wide enough for a man on his horse, but no more. There was little about the surrounding mountains to suggest that anything could live among them—there was no shrubbery, no life of any sort. Surely nothing could live in the burning heat of the desert; nothing except the Gerudo, that band of all-female thieves whose leader was the Black Thief Lord, Ganondorf Dragmire (which by interpretation meant King of the Enchanted Thieves). The Gerudo people had little to offer the rest of Hyrule and so they were forced to steal and plunder for their sustenance.

The boy came to the edge of a wide chasm. Far below, the waters of a treacherous river flowed. To the north the source of the river’s flow could be seen: a monumental waterfall that was fed by a number of other small rivers, in turn being fed by the Great Waterfall at the height of Zora’s Domain far to the east. The irony of this place was that the waters below were too far and too treacherous to make use of, and so they just mocked those that passed over the bridge spanning the chasm. The desert waited ahead, the fields behind. The boy pressed onward.

As the boy cleared the far opening of the fissure the complex of dwellings that served the Gerudo as both home and fortress came into view. Set back into the concave wall of the mountains, perched on a ledge like a hungry vulture, was a veritable beehive of century-old adobe dwellings. The face of each mud brick house was block-like in shape and built firmly on the dwelling below it. Higher dwellings were accessed by ladders, and rickety balconies were all that kept one from falling. Mounds of dirt had been thrown up in front of the complex and long tattered triangular flags undulated torpidly in the dry desert air. The flags may once have been red, but now the sun-bleached banners were light beige with only hints of their original hue. Countless cloudless years had drained all color from the landscape, as it had long ago bleached the color from the flags, and the scene had been subdued to a drab light brown monochrome.

But splashes of color marched among the monochrome like an army of ants. Dozens of swarthy scarlet-haired Gerudo women were climbing up and down among the dwellings. Guards swathed in purple gauze carried wide-bladed spears as they paced the flagged embankments. They were watching intently for something, each of them peering toward one opening of the fissure, then the other. The boy halted when he saw the foremost of the guards. When their eyes met the guard halted, pointing her wide-bladed spear at the startled boy. He froze, nearly dropping his precious, clinking bundle.

“Freya!” barked the guard, “call the king; we’ve found him!” And in moments another purple-swathed guard was climbing one of the ladders.

* * *

“Test him, I say!” barked the wizened, red-haired man. He was garbed in stiff leather armor, flexible at the joints and dyed black. A cloth cape hung from his bent shoulders. The cape was fraying at the edges but it was otherwise well cared for. At the man’s feet was a crumpled sheet strewn with broken glass and a fresh pool of white liquid which was now disappearing quickly into the parched ground. The boy’s lip trembled but his eyes were dry as the desert, retaining every precious drop of moisture. Instead he wore an angry visage, fuming with spite for the aged man.

“Lord, he is too young. He has not even finished his training,” said the guard, a young scarlet-haired woman. She folded her arms, her silver bracers flashing in the light of the setting sun like the defiance in her eyes. She wore a short sandy-white velvet vest, ballooned pants made of layers of light gauze, and velvet shoes with points curving up from the toes.

The red-haired man’s ancient, sparsely-whiskered mouth twitched with malicious glee. “Do you challenge me, Raean? It has been long since our last bout. I could use the exercise…”

“Some of us still follow the training routines, Lord King; I have had all the exercise I need. Besides, old man, you would kill yourself, whatever your pride might say.” She paused, seeming to have come up with an amusing joke. “Do you remember when you first tested me…?”

“I have tested all of my daughters, Raean, at least until I became too old to produce any more of them.” The old Gerudo male pressed backward against his curved spine with visible effort. When it had cracked twice he sighed satisfactorily and hunched forward again. “I can hardly remember which of my concubines birthed you. I only remember your name because you seem to constantly stand in my way. Now open the gate and test that foolish boy or I will have you banished to the Waste!” He glanced down at the young boy and rounded again on Raean. “And don’t let him pass unless he finds all of the keys—every last one.” He pressed the tip of one crooked finger into her shoulder. “I’ll have none of your cheating for this one.”

“Wouldn’t think of it Lord King,” Raean said, brushing his hand away. The boy thought he saw something in the guard’s hand, but he could not see what it was. She turned to him and winked.

The old man did not seem to notice, but scowled and stormed off with a sweep of his cape. She watched with mild sufferance as her king hobbled toward the center of the mud-brick complex, glancing over his hunched shoulder at the guards patrolling the embankments. She could hear him shouting at them to get back to their stations. Then she noticed the boy in black looking up at her, blinking as his eyes fought the sight of the waning sun.

Raean sighed theatrically. “That’s the seventh time he’s threatened to banish me to the Wastes this week,” she said. “It’s a good thing he can’t remember much more than my name.” The boy silently toed the sand, his small jaw clenched. Raean lowered a silver-braced arm and folded it around the boy’s small shoulders. “Come on,” she said, turning him to face the gate. “We may as well get started.”

“No!” said the boy. And he ran to the gate of the training grounds, punching and kicking it with childish consternation. This drew the attention of the closest guards.

“Hey, kid, what’re you doing?” said Raean, glancing around at the spear-bearing women. “Stop, stop…”

The boy shoved his face at Raean. “Why does he hate me?” A scowl made lines from his nose to his mouth.

“He doesn’t hate you, kid. He’s just a senile old man. And he’s very busy…”

Then the boy became even more furious, thrusting his fists into the ground and screaming. “I hate this place, I hate it!”

Raean withdrew a silver key from her girdle and took it to the gate of the training grounds. Turning the key in the lock she opened the gate. The young boy watched her indignantly. “He’s crazy. He’s crazy because of me, isn’t he?” he demanded, staring into the tunnel that led deep within the mountain. “He wants me to die.”

No, kid. It’s just the way it’s always been.” Raean put her hand on his black shoulder. “You ready?”

The boy threw her hand off of him. “No. I’m not going…What’s in there anyway?”

“You’ll find out. You won’t die. Just do your best.” A muted reptilian shriek echoed out of the cave. He looked up at Raean with wide eyes.

“Here,” she said, “take this. But don’t tell him I gave it to you.” She pressed a large ring into his hands. It was fine silver, worked to resemble hexagonal crystalline shapes, and in the center was a six-sided blue stone that appeared to be frosted over with condensation. He rubbed the stone with his thumb, but the frost returned immediately.

The boy let the ring rest in the palm of his hand. “It’s too big, stupid. How’m I supposed to wear it?” he said.

“Don’t worry about that; it’s just because his fingers are so thick. Here; you put it on the first finger of your left hand.” She slipped the silver ring onto his finger. The ring shrank until it fit his finger perfectly.

He looked up at Raean, seeming to have changed his mind about how intelligent she was. “Alright, so how does it work?”

Just keep it on that finger, next to the tip of your arrows before you loose them. It won’t get you through everything in there, but it’ll help you with the nastier things.” She turned him to face the cave. “Go on, now.”

“I told you I don’t wanna,” he said.

Then she grabbed him by the neck and threw him in, locking the gate after him. “And risk getting the back of the big man’s hand? I don’t think so. He’ll cut off my water rations.”

The boy rose himself up and rattled the gate. “Let me out, I’m ordering you!”

“Oh, no. It’s not like that yet, kid. Get in there. If you come back out we can talk about who’s giving orders.” When it looked like he wouldn’t move she approached the gate, just out of his reach. “Look, I gotta put on a good show, kid. Do just like you did in training, right? No sweat.”

The boy looked over his shoulder. “But are there really…dead people in there?”

“Just get going. If you never find out you won’t be any the wiser.”

Finally giving in, the boy walked into the darkness a few paces. Turning, he said: “Raean, if I die will you come get me?”

Raean smiled sympathetically. “Sure thing, kid. And don’t lose the ring; if you come back without it I’ll kill you myself.” A grateful smirk crossed the boy’s young face. Then he turned and disappeared into the darkness.

“He’s bound to be like his father, you know,” a female voice said. Raean turned like a startled cat, brandishing a short dagger from some unseen place at her waist. She stopped her blade short of the speaker’s neck.

Nabooru, I hate it when you do that,” said Raean, replacing her dagger. The young woman, no more than seventeen years old, was unruffled. She was dressed like Raean but her costume was a coral pink hue and she wore arm-sleeves that stretched from her elbows to her knuckles. A large red stone rested on her forehead and another hung from a choker on her neck. Her long red hair was pulled back in a high ponytail and a short veil covered the lower half of her face.

“At least it keeps you on your toes,” Nabooru said. She crossed her gloved arms. “I haven’t seen you lately; I have to do something to keep you alert. If you don’t come to training there’s no way you’re ever going to beat me.”

“Look, I’m not going to challenge you again, so if you want the satisfaction you can forget it…” Raean crossed her arms, flashing her silver bracers, “…unless you want to scrap right here?”

“I think you would have a slight advantage just now,” she said, eyeing Raean’s silver bracers, “but in any case I don’t think you have time. The Matron wants to see you,” said Nabooru.

Raean’s murderous glance changed into one of sincere displeasure. “I’m managing the Training Grounds just fine! What more does she want?” Nabooru raised her eyebrows and gave Raean a look of tolerance. Raean rolled her eyes again. “I hate it when she does this. This is the third reassignment since the waning crescent.”

“You won’t want to keep her waiting,” said Nabooru. “The other attendants are crossing the Waste soon.”

Then Raean’s displeasure melted into delighted disbelief. “The Shrine?”

Nabooru nodded. “I wish I could go myself, of course, but Koume and Kotake requested your presence specifically.” She grinned behind her veil.

Raean’s eyes widened. “You little dung beetle. You know I’ve wanted to serve at the Shrine since I was old enough to be tested. You could have told me!”

Nabooru shrugged. “What are sisters for? Now get going, they’ll be leaving soon.”

“But who’s going to watch for the kid when he comes out?”

“You mean the King sent him in? He’s hasn’t even finished training! He’ll be…”

“Don’t worry; I gave the kid his Lordship’s ice ring. He’ll be fine,” assured Raean. Nabooru gave her sister a look of impressed disbelief. Raean just smiled. “Took it from him while he was poking at me with his gnarly old finger.”

“Well, I guess I could take a little time off from drilling the guards,” Nabooru replied in mock exasperation.

Raean threw her arms around her sister’s neck and kissed her forehead. “You really are worth something, I suppose,” she said.

“You’re going to be late,” Nabooru said, pressing Raean away firmly. “The Matron’s chamber is all the way on the other side of the fortress.”

“Thank you,” Raean said, pressing the silver gate-key into Nabooru’s hands. “Tell the kid I said goodbye.”

“Yeah, by the time you see him again you’ll be calling him Lord Ganondorf.” Nabooru said, and Raean turned and ran toward the western fissure, blinking as the light of the glowing sun peeked out from behind the mountain wall.

* * *

“My Lord Ganondorf, are you well?” Abrum asked. He set the pile of dry brush he had gathered on the ground away from the fire. The sun was setting somewhere west of the Burning Desert. Gerudo Fortress was just on the other side of the mountains from the small camp. Asera was assembling their triangular tent; just big enough to accommodate the three of them. The twilight air was thin, dry and bitterly cold. Ganondorf peered into the fire and drew a deep draught from his water skin.

Asera looked up from the long stake she had just driven into the hard, dry dirt. “The tent is up, Master. Will you come and rest?” Ganondorf stared at her blankly. “Come, Master. We have been traveling for days; you need rest if we are to enter the fortress tomorrow.” The black thief stared into the fire again and drank from his water skin. Asera and Abrum each caught the other’s worried glance. Ganondorf was only very quiet when he was thinking about something terrible he had done or wished to do.

“Lord, what is it?” Abrum pressed.

Without looking up, Ganondorf responded. “I will tell you, Sheikah whelp, if you will cease your insufferable questioning.” Ganondorf stood, pouring what liquid remained in his skin over the fire, reducing it to a puddle of muddy ash.

“What are you doing!?” Abrum’s face broadcast his astonishment. “We’ve not been able to conjure water since the Hylian witch summoned those light-horrors to take away our magic; that was the last of our reserves! And you just snuffed our fire!”

“Wipe that shocked look off your face, boy. We are warm enough and the fire will attract attention this close to Gerudo lands. Anyone foolish enough to build a fire outside the mountains is no fool, but somewhere they ought not to be. Now sit and I will tell you something.”

Abrum sat by the smoldering embers in indignation, rubbing his hands and tucking them under his arms. Asera came to sit in front of Abrum. He made room for her, wrapping his arms around hers.

“All settled, then?” Ganondorf sneered. When the others made no response he continued. “When I was a boy I would come to this spot to watch the outside world,” Ganondorf began, jutting his chin in the direction of the fissure just to the south of them. “Inside that stone prison it was always the same. ‘You must train, young man, for one day you will be king.’ ‘Do not go outside; they will not understand you there.’ And then there were always my father’s rants about how all of Hyrule would one day be his. It was my place to finish what my father started, they told me. I would be expected to keep the Gerudo people alive.”

Ganondorf turned away from the fissure and looked down at Asera, his cold, black eyes twinkling in the growing dark. He lowered himself to one knee before her. “There were times when I thought about the women of my tribe…” he continued. He reached one strong hand toward the female thief. She lifted her chin, baring her slender brown neck. “I thought about what it would be like…to be king.” Ganondorf’s hand closed lightly around Asera’s neck, his glossy black eyes shining.

Abrum pulled Asera closer to him. Ganondorf saw the malice on Abrum’s face and sneered, releasing his grip on her. “But I never hallucinated that I would ever succumb to the feeble, debilitating curse of what they called ‘love’,” said Ganondorf. He bent forward, as if to tell a particularly good secret. “Some of the tribeswomen came to me when I was older. I learned very early in my life what it was to be loved by a woman…” He became serious: “but only a fool would love one in return.” Ganondorf stood again. Abrum’s hold on Asera relaxed marginally.

On the other side of the spitting coals, Ganondorf lifted his face to the inky blue sky. Little pinpricks of light were showing now. “One day I duped my trainer into believing there were snakes in her bedchamber and I was able to get a moment of peace from her incessant drills. I came here.” He did not turn; it was as if he could see the scene in the stars. “That was when I saw them: a man and a woman riding in a wagon, heading south. They were obviously afflicted with ‘love’ for each other, no doubt on their way to make a little day of the lake. But the oxen could smell me, and they stopped. Then fortune smiled and the desert’s breath came from the fissure and toppled the sick fools to the ground. While the man was cradling the loathsome red-haired woman like a feeble baby I stole what was left of their unspoiled cargo: four bottles of milk. The sentimental fools never knew I was there.

“I had never had milk before, so I drank one bottle on my way back to the fortress. It was far different than anything I had ever tasted.” In his voice was an eerie delight; so innocent, yet laced with greedy pleasure. “The water that was available to us Gerudo was putrid, stale and never without a little sand that found its way into the barrel—just like it found its way into everything else. But this milk was rich, thick and nourishing.” He lingered on the words as if they were sufficient to recreate the memory. “This, I thought…this was something fit for the king of the Gerudo. But the moment my trainer saw me she went and got my father.” Ganondorf kicked a toe of dirt on the fire and fell silent.

Asera was quiet, watching her lord. “What happened?” Abrum asked tentatively.

Ganondorf turned to stare at him resolutely. “You will hear no more from me tonight, boy; perhaps tomorrow when we enter the desert for the last time.” He stood and walked past the fire to the tent.

“What do you mean ‘the last time’?” Abrum asked, twisting to watch Ganondorf pull open the flap.

Ganondorf ignored him. “I will sleep alone tonight, I think,” he said conversationally. A distant howl drew their attention southward, toward the lake. “Give my regards to the wolves,” Ganondorf said, and chuckled to himself as he ducked into the tent, drawing the flap after him.

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