The Lingering Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter VI ~ Superb Soup, Superior Service

It was nearing evening when Afton reached Castle Town’s main courtyard. There were straggling shoppers wending their way back to their homes, crews of Hylians putting the final touches on festival decorations and performers making their last demonstrations of the day. When Afton saw Link by the northern gate, he called out.

“Hey, Link!”

Afton!” Link responded, waving. When they came together by the torch-lit street café, Link grabbed Afton around the middle and squeezed. Afton groaned and pulled away, cradling his chest gingerly.

“What happened?” asked Link.

“Well, first a monstrous boar, and then a red-headed seamstress,” Afton said, grimacing.

Link thought a moment and then understood. He eyed Afton’s patched tunic. “Which one did this?”

“Both…” Afton replied. “Though judging from the red-head’s temper they may have been the same.” They laughed. Afton winced as pain shot through his chest again. “Here, let me get you something,” said Afton, indicating the café. “We could always get food at the castle, but this place has superb soup!”

“Actually,” said Link, “let me get you something.” They found an empty table, hanging their shields on their chairs before they sat. Link pulled a fistful of something from a pouch at his waist, letting it fall over the table. They were small, flat hexagonal gems of varying colors; rupees—the common currency in Hyrule.

Afton marveled. His eyes paused on one clear gem that shone like silver. “Where did you get so many!?” he asked, incredulous.

“Found them in the bushes,” Link replied, smiling smartly.

Afton rolled his eyes. “No, really…”

Link knew Afton wouldn’t believe the whole truth, so he settled on a half-truth. “Saving does wonders for the wallet. Termina has some great bankers.”

“Termina?” said Afton. “Yes, I heard you decided to leave for a couple of days. Is that where you went? How far is it to Termina?”

For the sake of simplicity Link decided on another half-truth. “Half a world away,” he said.

One of the waiters stopped by their table, eyeing the pile of rupees. He had slick black hair, parted down the middle, and a well-trimmed handlebar mustache. “Two bowls of soup,” said Link, “and make it snappy. My friend and I are a little tired. We’d like your finest room when we’re done.” Link tossed the waiter a red rupee. The waiter bowed obediently, pocketing the gem as he walked quickly back to the kitchens.

“Well,” said Afton, impressed. “You must have picked up more than just rupees out there in Termina.”

“Yeah,” said Link. “I guess you could say I got around.”

In moments the waiter returned with their soup. “That was fast,” said Afton. The waiter bowed and continued to bus tables.

Link tasted the soup. It was very good; it had fish and he thought he could taste some kind of cheese. Then Link realized abashedly that Afton’s eyes were closed and he was mumbling something to himself. Link waited until Afton had opened his eyes and tasted the soup before eating his again.

“Mmm, that’s good.” Afton paused between slurps.

“So, where’s your horse?” asked Link. He had become very sensitive to losing Epona and felt that it was of the utmost importance to know.

“Geoffrey unfortunately bucked me off at the first sight of my quarry and ran back the way we came. He knows his way home, though, and I expect someone found him and he’s back in the stables by now.”

“Good,” said Link. “Epona’s there, too. Now that Zelda’s using her mom’s…er, now that she’s riding Asphodel, Brynn’s stall was open and they said Epona could use it.”

“Oh,” said Afton, genuinely surprised. “It’s not common that a new rider will have his own stall in the Hylian Royal Stables. That is a high honor. But you are the Hero.” There was no irony in Afton’s voice—all the same Link was embarrassed for him to say it so boldly.

“Yeah, well…it sounds great when you say it like that.” Link’s face flushed. He didn’t know what to say. He had certainly never intended to be a hero, it just happened. “I guess it’s something to get used to…” He went back to eating his soup.

“I see you have a new sword and shield,” said Afton, encouraging the conversation to continue.

“Yeah, there was a goldsmith up in the mountains that forged the sword for me. Really strong—really sharp, too.”

“And what about the shield?”

“Oh, I found that,” said Link abashedly. He knew it would sound to Afton like he had stolen such a precious-looking item.

“’Found’ it, eh?” said Afton mysteriously.

“Well, yeah, you know, I was trying to find my way around and I ended up in an old abandoned castle by a canyon…and it was there in the…basement…” said Link not entirely untruthfully. “I really needed it, see, because there was so little light—I had to reflect it around to see where I was going. It’s good for that…”

The waiter returned to check on them, but Afton indicated they still weren’t finished. The waiter moved over to the next table and collected some dishes.

“It’s okay, Link,” he said in a low voice so the hovering waiter wouldn’t hear. “I’ve picked all sorts of things on my journeys. Once I found a cape that could make you invisible!”

Link wasn’t sure whether Afton was making fun of him, but at least he wasn’t asking about his shield anymore. “Oh, yeah? Huh, that’s funny…” he said. He took another sip of his soup.

“So tell me about Termina, Link. How was your trip?”

Link searched his mind for what he could say without sounding crazy. “They had a really nice inn,” he began. “And there were street performers everywhere, getting ready for a festival.”

“Sounds a lot like here,” said Afton. “What kind of festival was it?”

Link tried to remember as much as he could. “It was a Carnival that they held every year to ask the Gods for a timely harvest. They said that if a couple would marry on the day of the Carnival and trade masks their marriage would be blessed by the Gods…” Link was suddenly glad he had listened to Anju’s Terminan grandmother. Her stories may have been boring, but at least they were amounting to something.

“That’s interesting…” said Afton, sincerely. “Did you know they postponed the Tournament? It was interrupted when that traitorous desert-man arrived…” Afton was lost in thought for a moment. “I suppose Colin didn’t get to finish it, did he, Faroe rest him…” he said quietly.

“Oh. I guess not…” said Link. Suddenly, at the mention of his father Link’s sorrow was renewed. “I miss him,” he found himself saying, though he couldn’t have said why. His vision blurred and he knew he was going to cry again if he didn’t think of something else to talk about. “What was the tournament for?”

“Hmm? Oh,” said Afton, apparently lost in his own thoughts. Link noticed that he wiped his mouth with his dinner napkin, trying to disguise wiping his cheeks as well. “The, uh…the Tournament lets us all come together to celebrate, but mainly it’s a sword-fighting contest. The winner of the tournament traditionally fights the Captain of the Royal Guard. This keeps the Captain trained up and gives the people a good show.”

Then something in Link’s mind suddenly fit together; he was to be the next Captain of the Royal Guard! “I couldn’t…” he stammered to himself, his eyes widening, “…the best swordsman in all of Hyrule…!”

“Oh, nonsense, Link, you’d at least make the finals,” said Afton. “You had me at the tip of a sword and that’s saying something. I sparred with Colin.” Afton finished his soup.

Then something else in Link’s mind fell into place. “Afton…you’re my…” He trailed off, afraid that if he said it the air might prove it untrue.

“What?” Afton said, his blonde eyebrows coming together.

“Nothing…” Link lied. Afton had said he was the brother of Colin’s wife, Karin. That meant Afton was Link’s uncle. And that meant Karin was… “Do I look like your sister?” Link asked.

Afton looked perplexed. “Link, what’s this about?”

Link shook his head. “Never mind.” Link was unsure if he was ready to hear the answer. Now at least he knew his mother’s name.

Afton glanced at Link’s half-finished soup. It didn’t look like Link was going to finish it, at any rate. “Maybe we need to get some sleep; it’s been a long day for both of us. How about that room?” Afton signaled to the waiter, who came immediately.

“Yeah,” said Link, lost in thought. At least he had enough sense to gather most of his rupees from the table. He left behind enough for the food and plenty for the room, and followed Afton to the inn.

* * *

Afton had handled getting the key, and soon he and Link were settled into the best room of the house. It had a balcony with an excellent view of the glowing windows of Hyrule Castle. The town’s main courtyard below was lit up under the rising crescent moon. When Afton threw open the balcony doors Link stayed on his bed. His mirrored shield and sword were tilting haphazardly in the corner.

“I’ve always been curious what these rooms are like,” said Afton looking out at the castle. “Having a place to sleep in the castle is one thing, but only the royalty get the service. Out here anyone’s royalty for the right price…”

“Yeah. Yeah, it’s good,” Link said, stuffing his bag of rupees under the pillow of his bed.

Afton watched Link stare at one of the oil-burning lamps that lit the room. “Link, really, what is it?” Afton kneeled next to him. “Have I upset you?” he asked humbly.

Link looked up at his uncle with a new perspective. He had a relative—an uncle—living in town, right in front of him! But Link knew little of uncles, having only brothers and sisters in the forest. Though Afton was many years older than he, to Link it felt like he was his big brother. Link got down on the floor with Afton and gently wrapped his arms around Afton’s middle. Afton recoiled from this at first, but when he realized that Link was not trying to squeeze him as he had before he took the gesture as sincere.

“Hey,” Afton said quietly, patting Link lightly on his back. “Hey, are you alright?”

Link began to sniffle. For some reason he felt very young again; like a little lost child that had just been found. He pulled away from Afton and wiped his arm across his nose. “I’m fine now,” he added, standing. “But I have to tell you something…” Afton did not move, listening with respect. “It would make it easier if you would sit or something…” said Link. Afton sat on the bed behind him.

“When I came back from Termina I had to talk to the Sages.” Link hesitated. What would Afton say if Link told him he was his uncle? “After everybody left, Impa told me who my dad was…” Would he even want Link as a nephew? What if he was angry? But something told Link, as it often did, that things would work out.

“Your dad?” said Afton. “You mean you didn’t know your father growing up?”

“Well, I had the Dekku Tree, but he wasn’t my real dad, see,” said Link. “My real father was a Hylian. Impa said he was…” There was no escaping it now. Afton would expect him to say something. “She said it was the Captain of the Royal Guard. She said Colin was my dad.”

Afton’s face reflected puzzlement briefly, and then understanding crept across it as Afton raised his eyebrows. Afton slid from the bed and knelt in front of the boy for a second time. Then he put both hands on Link’s shoulders and looked Link in the eyes. He seemed to be searching for something there. When he appeared to have found it, he spoke. “Can it be…? You are my sister’s son.” And he drew Link into a firm embrace.

“I’ve found my sister again,” Afton said, wetness leaking from his eyes. “I’ve found you, I’ve found you…” he repeated.

No else saying it had made it remotely true—no ceremony, no confession could have proved it to Link; but to know that Afton had accepted him…it felt as if he had suddenly become real. What was more; it seemed that he had suddenly caught up on all his missing time, all at once. Now he was not some little lost boy but a young man who belonged to a family, small as it was.

When Afton pulled away he looked at Link with little pools of wetness quivering in his eyes. “I’m so proud of you, Link,” he said, blinking away his tears. “You are such an honor to our family. Your mother would have been so proud of you…”

Link’s face burned. He felt this was the highest compliment he ever could have been paid. “Tell me about her,” Link said.

Then Afton and Link took two chairs out to the balcony, and Afton told Link everything he could remember about his sister. In gaining an uncle he never knew he had, it seemed to Link that he had also gained his mother. And in the darkness of that night every light in the whole world was brighter.

* * *

The next day the festival decorations were returned to their former places and the festivities were made ready for the tournament. Link woke up in the late morning to a group of street musicians practicing their routines. For a moment—that moment between sleep and wakefulness—Link thought he was back in Termina listening to the Gorman Troupe…

“Hmm?” he said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He stretched his arms out to either side and drew a deep breath in through his nose. It smelled like breakfast at the Stock Pot Inn. “Anju? You didn’t have to bring me anything…”

“Well I just thought you might like something to eat…” said an obviously male falsetto. When Link opened his eyes he realized it was Afton with a large plate of food from the café below. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of getting us breakfast.”

“Oh, right. Thanks,” said Link, smiling.

“I take it you’ve had Anju’s cooking, too?” Afton asked conversationally. He set a glass of orange juice on the bedside table. Link took the hot plate from his uncle.

“Yeah, it’s…wait. You’ve had Anju’s cooking?”

“Oh, yeah. Great eggs,” said Afton, sitting down on Link’s bed with his own plate. “I stay with Mutoh in Kakariko when it’s my turn for gate duty and she makes us breakfast. Too bad she’s allergic to the cuccos, though. I have to collect the eggs for her every morning. Have you stayed at their house before?”

“No, um…the inn back in Termina. Must be a common name…” Link said gulping down half his orange juice as an excuse not to say more. His eyes betrayed him, though.

Afton smiled as he took a bite. “You like her.”

Link managed to shake his head and shrug at the same time which only served to make the truth more obvious. “I mean she’s nice…but she got married, so…” he said gulping down the other half of his orange juice.

“I see…” said Afton. “And you don’t like any other girls, huh?” Link choked on the last gulp of juice. Afton chuckled. “Sorry I asked,” he said, letting the subject drop.

For a long moment they just ate their food, listening to the band practicing below. It was nice being here, Link thought. For the first time since the forest he felt safe, comfortable. The ranch had been great, but there was this looming shadow over everything. Then he went to Termina and the shadow became a very real moon, always watching him, pressing him to move forward as fast as possible, daring him to slow down and accept defeat. But now he was back and things were right. Ganondorf had been stopped from entering the Golden Land and…

Finally Afton put his plate down beside him. “Listen, Link. I’ve been thinking about it and I’d love for you to stay with me at the castle. It isn’t much, but there’s always an empty room or two in the barracks. Epona’s already staying in the stables and I’m sure you’d make a great knight…”

Link remembered what Impa had told him the day before and his face felt hot. He didn’t know whether or not he should tell Afton about how the queen had wanted him to become the Captain of the Royal Guard. “Um, yeah. That sounds great,” he said, smiling as best he could. He didn’t know if he could be the captain, or if he wanted to just yet.

“Okay,” said Afton, softly. “Good...” He absentmindedly picked up his empty plate and held it in his hands. “I mean if you’d rather live elsewhere I wouldn’t mind. You certainly can live anywhere you like, I just…”

Link felt horrible—Afton had taken his hesitancy the wrong way. “Oh, no. No, it’s not that…it’s just…” It would have felt odd for him to tell Afton that he was supposed to be his superior. It was like saying he was older than Afton when he wasn’t. Still, he couldn’t think of anything else to say and he didn’t want to lie. “Impa sort of told me yesterday that the queen…before she died she told Impa I was…that she wanted me to be the next captain,” he finally said, wincing.

Afton’s face showed that he was turning this over in his head. Link almost couldn’t bear the seconds it took for Afton to speak again. Finally realization crossed Afton’s face. “Link, this is terrible!”

Link’s heart sank. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t wanna be, Impa just…”

“No, not that, Link. It’s fine. The smith had just finished a special suit of armor for your father to wear to the festival’s final ceremony and now…well, we haven’t got any armor in your size.” Afton looked sincerely concerned.

“You mean you don’t care that I’m…”

Afton sat closer to his nephew. “No, Link. I would be honored to serve under you.” He put his arm around Link’s shoulder. “Really.”

If Link’s heart had sunk before, now it was flying over the fields of Hyrule. He beamed. But then his face straightened. “But what about the Tournament?”

“What about it?”

“I can’t fight all those men and win…they’re the best in all of Hyrule…”

“Don’t worry about that, Link. I told you; I trained with your father and you bested me. He would be proud of everything you’ve done. Just give it your best—it wouldn’t be fair to ask anything more.” It was surreal to hear Afton say ‘your father’ and realize that Colin was the best knight in all of Hyrule. Link’s father was the Captain of the Royal Guard! Suddenly, Link felt that he had a place in Hyrule. He was not just wanted, but needed.

“In fact,” Afton added, looking around mysteriously. He lowered his voice. “There are even some techniques that Colin and I developed together that could really give you an edge. I could teach them to you, if you like…”

Link’s eyes widened. “You would do that?”

“I would be honored. Now that Colin is gone, Faroe rest him, no one else knows them but me; someone has to keep the legacy going. Who better than the son of the Captain himself?”

Link became very excited. His father and uncle had secret techniques! And his uncle was going to teach him! “When do we start?” said Link emphatically.

“We should start today,” said Afton. “Let me get these plates and we’ll check out. There’s a lot to do before the Tournament. It’s only a few days away.”

Link happily threw off the covers and got dressed. “I’ll have to go see Rauru, first,” said Link, grabbing his gilded sword and belting it on. “He wanted me to teach him a song.” Then… “Afton?” Afton paused in the doorway, holding their breakfast plates. “Did you move my shield?”

“No. Why?”

“Because it’s gone.”

* * *

“No,” said the man at the front desk. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen anyone come through here with a shield like that. Are you sure you brought it in? Where were you before?”

“Just at the café,” said Link, poking his thumb behind him. “But I know I brought it in with me…”

“Is there anyone that has a key to all of the rooms?” offered Afton.

“Why, sir! Surely you aren’t suggesting anyone under my employ has…”

“No, sir, we wouldn’t assume,” said Afton. “But surely it is possible that the keys might fall into the wrong hands…”

The man at the desk became visibly flustered. “Negligence!? Master knight, I have given you my best room, given you the height of service and now you repay that service by accusing our employees of negligence and theft…!?”

Afton turned to Link, lowering his voice. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.” Then he turned to the man at the desk. “We’ll keep looking, thank you, sir.”

The man at the desk was still speaking when they left the inn. “…honestly I don’t know why I try to please…”

As Afton and Link stepped out into the noon air they saw the usual street performers in the town courtyard, workers setting up the final pieces for the festival and the patrons and waiters at the café next door. Afton scanned the café intently.

“What is it?” asked Link. He looked too, trying to see what Afton saw.

“The waiter that helped us yesterday isn’t there.” Just as Afton spoke Link realized what his uncle did.

“Every other waiter is, but not him.” Link replied. “He was eyeing my rupees the whole…wait. Hey, Afton, where’s my bag of rupees?”

Afton looked at his nephew in surprise. “You mean you don’t have them?” Then there was a split second when they both realized that the bag of rupees was still upstairs, they looked at each other and bolted back into the inn. As he passed the innkeeper Link realized he was still ranting, now to a hapless maid.

“…and I can’t do any better, now can I? No appreciation, none whatsoever…”

“Innkeeper,” Afton interrupted, “how well do you know the employees at the café next door.” The maid gathered up a stack of towels and quickly took her exit while she could.

“I know all of them,” he said becoming perturbed, “I hire them myself. Why? Has one stolen your horse, now?”

Afton ignored his sarcasm. “Is there a tall fellow—black hair and a handle-bar mustache—that waits tables?”

“Hired him a few days ago. Hey, you!” he added to the maid, “Hurry it up. You’re the only one here ‘til this evening.” Suddenly there was a bump upstairs. The maid stopped, looking up with a perplexed face. “You there! Where are you going!?” the innkeeper hollered as Afton sped past him. Link was close behind. “But you’ve already checked out...!”

Afton drew his thick-bladed sword and took the stairs to the upper floor by twos. When Link reached the top of the stairs he drew his own gilded sword and joined Afton outside the door to their room. The door was slightly ajar, and Link could hear someone moving inside. Afton made some signs that Link did not recognize and then pointed to the window at the end of the hallway. Link shook his head to show that he did not understand.

Afton bent down and spoke quietly. “I will need to teach you the Sheikah signs…this is the sign for ‘rendezvous,’” said Afton, making the hand-sign. “I will go out that window and climb around to the balcony to flush them out. We will ‘rendezvous’ back here.” He made the sign again.

Link tried the hand sign. Afton nodded and started down the hallway. Once he was out of the window, Link turned to watch the door. He could hear the person moving around inside. He thought he could imagine a Gerudo thief shuffling through the bedclothes, drawing his bag of rupees out from under the pillow where he had placed it the night before.

Link heard Afton’s strong voice inside the room. “Halt! What are you doing!?” There was a commotion and Link heard Afton call out. Link did not hesitate, but threw the door open and stood just inside the doorway. Strangely, the room was empty.

Everything looked the way he and Afton had left it; Link’s bed was disheveled, Afton’s was well made, their breakfast plates still sat on top of the nightstand…Even so, something was certainly not right. There were no signs of a struggle and the balcony doors were closed. Link crossed the room to his bed, holding his sword at the ready. When he reached his pillow he grabbed it and threw it off the bed. But instead of his bag of rupees, there was a note. Scribbled on it was a hasty script: “Fool.”

Suddenly the door slammed shut. By the time Link could get across the room he heard a heavy click. Try as he might, he could not get the door to open; it was locked. Becoming frantic he raised his gilded sword over his head and brought it down across the handle of the door. Kicking against it as hard as he could, the door flew open and revealed the retreating thief. Link’s mirrored shield was on his back. And in his hand—swinging back and forth as he ran away—was Link’s bag of rupees.

The thief, a tall man with dark hair, was almost certainly the waiter from the day before. As the waiter ran down the hall, Link could see himself in the shield’s reflection…and behind him in the mirrored shield he saw Afton climbing back through the window into the hallway. He was pressing his free palm to his eyes.

“He’s on the stairs!” Link called out, dashing after the waiter.

As the thief turned to clamber down the stairs Link saw his face. It was strange, Link thought; he had seen this man before, somewhere. Then, just as the thief had reached the bottom of the stairs, Afton reached the banister and jumped over the railing. He landed on the man’s shoulders, flattening him to the ground face-first. At the same time Afton brought his sword down, pinning the bag of rupees to the wooden floor.

“That should teach you to blind me with a dekku seed, vilian,” said Afton. Link was at the bottom of the stairs now, his own sword pointed at the man. Afton looked up at Link. “That one was called the ‘ending blow,’ by the way. We’ll review it later.”

“Get off me, pansy-boy!” the thief shouted, hands flailing for something to grab. “I’ll tan yer hide, next!” Link and Afton looked at each other with shocked faces. Afton pulled Link’s mirrored shield from the man’s back and quickly set it to one side. When he turned the man over both Afton and Link fully realized who the thieving waiter really was.

“Ingo!?” said Link.

“Who are you?” he said, glaring at Link. “Some no-account by the looks of it. Let me go, pansy-boy, or I’ll…”

Afton gripped Ingo by the shirt of his waiter’s uniform. “You will answer my questions, fiend, or I’ll cut out your tongue!” said Afton, pulling a dagger from his boot and holding it to Ingo’s neck. “Why were you at the café yesterday?”

“I quit the ranch and got another job!” said Ingo, raising his chin. “Can you blame me with that lazy Talon and his brat running things?”

“Watch it!” Link rested the blade of his sword on Ingo’s shoulder. “Those are my friends you’re talking about.”

“Spineless, lazy…”

“I’m not finished,” threatened Afton, pressing the blade more firmly into Ingo’s neck. This silenced him. “What were your intentions with this shield?”

“Nothing. It looked fancy. I thought I could get a good price for it.”

“You’re lying…” said Afton.

But before Ingo could respond, the innkeeper entered. “What’s going on here? Are you trying to destroy my business and harass my employees?” And just as Afton and Link turned to look at the innkeeper, Ingo’s hand flew out and there was a flash of light against the wall. Afton and Link staggered back, clutching their eyes. There were sounds of cloth ripping, metal being dragged on wood, then many small objects hitting the floor and a yelp from the innkeeper’s direction.

When Link opened his eyes again Ingo and the mirrored shield were gone, rupees were strewn everywhere, and the innkeeper was on the ground shaking off the daze of the flash. Link and Afton were out the front door almost immediately, rubbing their eyes.

Link stopped the nearest person; a woman with a cloth bag hanging from her shoulder. “Have you seen a man with a shield come past here?” She shook her head, startled by his unsheathed sword. Link stopped a man with a large hat. He knew nothing. Link dashed from one person to the next, but no one had seen where Ingo went.

“He could have gone anywhere,” said Afton. “The city has gates on three sides; he’s gone, Link.”

Link knew his uncle was right. He frowned, sheathing his sword. It was only a shield and some rupees, he told himself. At least it was only that.

Then the front door of the inn opened. It was the innkeeper, still blinking. “Just so you know, sirs, I’m keeping the rupees for the door repair charge. And don’t come back—I wouldn’t give you another room in a hundred years.” He slammed the door.

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