Chapter IX ~ The Gathering Clouds
“…and then Rauru just disappeared.” Link snapped his fingers. “Like that!” He shook his head in frustration.
“I can understand why you didn’t want to talk about it last night,” said
Aftonsympathetically. He and Link were in Afton’s room in the barracks of . Link had spent the night in Hyrule Castle Afton’s bed, not feeling ready to sleep in his father’s bed just yet. Aftonhad slept on the floor next to Link.
The knight’s barracks was housed under the castle. The rooms were small but comfortable, the only natural light coming from an arched window near the ceiling. Each knight had his own room furnished with a bed, chair, closet, hand-washing basin and a large steel mirror.
Aftonhad taken advantage of the time he had with Link to explain the finer points of the law enforcement system of Hyrule. Because of their need to be ready at a moment’s notice, the knights lived on the castle grounds while the soldiers of Hyrule lived in their own residences in the Town. Knights were provided for by the Hylian royal family while soldiers earned a wage. Many of the knights had just returned from various assignments the day before so as to be ready for the tournament later that day. Presently, Aftonand Link were talking over breakfast.
“Are you finished?”
Aftonmotioned to take Link’s bowl.
Link looked at its half-eaten contents and frowned. “Yeah, I guess I can see why you liked the royal treatment at the inn,” he said handing
Aftonthe dish. “Thanks.”
Aftonnested Link’s bowl in his own and carried them to the hand-washing basin. “So what makes you so interested in this knight’s grave?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know…” Link said. When
Aftonand Link had first met, Link had told him that he owned a Hylian shield once. When Afton asked where he got it Link had lied, saying he bought it from the market, so that Aftonwouldn’t think he was a thief. In truth, Link had found it in the grave of this mysterious knight. The shield was long gone, now—being lost somewhere in the future—but the lie still remained. Link wasn’t sure how to tell Aftonhe hadn’t been truthful in the first place. It didn’t seem like a big thing, all the same it was hard to come up with the words. What was he supposed to say, Link thought? ‘Hey, Afton, just so you know I lied to you once’? “…I guess I just really wanted to know who he was.” It felt like a feeble response, but at least it was truthful.
“It’s funny you mention knights,” said
Aftonopening the closet. “Because I have something for you.” Link couldn’t see what it was, but it looked big by the way Aftonwas reaching for it. “I was going to wait for your birthday, but I thought you might want it for the tournament—go on, now, close your eyes…” Aftonwaited for Link to close his eyes. Link had never had a birthday before, much less a birthday present, so his heart positively fluttered with anticipation. “Alright, then, open them.”
Link’s eyes widened when he saw it. Before him on the bed was what looked like a very old shield made of good, solid wood with steel fittings. The decoration on the shield loosely resembled the pattern of the Hylian shields the knights carried, now.
“It used to be Colin’s from when he had just barely become a knight,” said
Afton. “This was his first Hylian shield. It seemed appropriate that you have it. Now that you’re in need of a shield that is…”
“This was my dad’s?” Link stared at it in wonder. It was like he was discovering some buried part of himself that he never knew was there. Link slipped his arm into the straps reverently. They were a little loose.
“You might have to tighten them,”
Aftonsaid, reaching out to help Link.
Link held out his hand. “No, no!” Link said quickly.
Aftonstopped. “I just want to hold it for a second.” Aftonstepped back, smiling.
“You look good with it,”
Aftonsaid. “Just like you’re dad.”
Link slipped the shield off his arm again and admired it. “Thanks,
Afton,” he said, smiling. “This is really great.”
Aftonsmiled. “Care to get some practice in?”
Link’s heart leapt: the hidden techniques! “Yeah!” But then his face fell. “But won’t it get damaged?” He held the shield close to his body protectively.
Aftonkneeled before Link. “Link, do you remember what I told you about a knight’s shield?”
Link recalled all too well. It was right after he had lied to
Aftonabout where his Hylian shield had come from. Suddenly he felt horrible, unworthy. “ Afton, I should tell you something…” he said, meekly.
“It’s okay if you don’t remember, Link…” he said.
“It’s not that,
Afton, it’s just…” but Link still could not come up with the right words to say it. Nothing sounded right in his head. And now Aftonwas expecting him to say something, so… “Could you tell me about a knight’s shield again?” he said finally.
Aftonsmiled. “A knight keeps his shield for the length of his service. If it is damaged he repairs it as a symbol of his constant vigilance and oath to protect the Royal Family and to serve the Goddesses. There’s no dishonor in allowing your shield to become damaged. It’s there to protect you. There is only dishonor in allowing it to go unrepaired. Do you understand, Link?”
Afton’s sincerity only made Link feel worse. “Yeah,” he said.
Aftonlooked at Link with concern. “Are you sure you’re okay, Link? I thought this would make you happy…”
“Yeah…” said Link, his happiness fighting a losing battle with his guilt. Presently there was a knock at the door.
Aftondidn’t move. “You can talk to me, Link. If there’s something you need to say, you can. You can tell me when you’re ready, alright?” Link felt his face get hot. He nodded. Aftonsmiled kindly.
There was another knock at the door.
Aftonrose to answer it. Link heard a low voice coming from the hallway of the barracks. Link covered his face and breathed in deeply. Where was Impa’s discipline when he needed it?
“They’re in the western courtyard now?” he heard
Aftonsay. The low voice said something else and then Aftonsaid “thank you” and closed the door.
Aftonmercifully waited a moment before turning around. Link hurriedly wiped his nose on his arm. His eyes stung. Link decided he would rather be doing anything else at the moment. He was sure Aftonwas waiting for him to speak.
“Who was that?” he asked, just barely composed.
“They’re ready,” said
Afton. “Maybe I’ll teach you some more signs and tell you about them on the way.”
* * *
“Roll, Link…Right! Right!!”
Link raised his new shield above his head just in time to block a huge saber. The Dakrknaught wielding the sword pressed his weapon more firmly on Link, straining Link’s strength. Two other Darknaughts loomed in front of him brandishing their massive weapons; one an axe and one a mace. Where was the fourth?
“Good! Now: back slice! Left!”
Link threw the saber to one side and rolled to the ground, circling the knight and springing up behind him. As he rose Link drew his gilded sword up along the Darknaught’s back, cutting the laces that held his armor together. Link planted his shield against the knight’s backside and shoved. The knight stumbled forward, his shoulder-pieces falling to the ground.
“Behind you, Link. Shield attack!”
That’s where the other one had gone, Link thought. Link spun around, ramming his shield into the Darknaught looming behind him. The knight staggered back, stunned. His wide, double-edged sword swung wildly causing the knight to throw out his shield arm for balance.
“Helm splitter! Helm…”
But Link had already gripped the collar of the knight’s armor and planted his feet on its breastplate. Flipping over the knight, Link slashed at his helmet. The helmet flew off of the knight’s head, smacking the Darknaught that had just lost his shoulder-pieces in the leg. Link landed on one foot and for a moment thought his ankle would give way, but throwing grace to the wind he turned into the fall and landed on his shield instead. For a moment the air was knocked out of him.
Afton, descending the stairs from the lookout platform in the castle’s western courtyard. “You’d have given your father a run for his money. You’ll have to work on that dismount, though.” The courtyard was strewn with pieces of armor, all detached from their owners by Link in some form or fashion. The training exercise was going very well.
Link stood, regaining his breath. “You kept interrupting my rhythm, shouting commands like that!” Link hollered. But he smiled nonetheless; the exercise had greatly improved his mood.
Aftonapproached one of the Darknaughts and began speaking with him. Link retrieved the helmet, handing it back to its owner. Like each of the Darknaughts, the knight was broad-chested and stood a head taller than most men.
“Thank you for the workout,” the knight said in a deep bass voice, still breathing heavily. He made the hand sign for ‘gratitude.’ “With the king under the care of the Sheikah until he is well again we have had little to do but gate duty. It has been most…refreshing. I am Ameth Nohansen.” He extended his hand.
Link made the sign for ‘honor.’ “My pleasure,” he said, shifting his new shield to his back. He shook the knight’s enormous gauntlet. “I’m Link. I think you four would give a quartet of Iron Knuckles a fair fight.” The other Darknaughts were gathering up their strewn armor. Link noticed now that their armor had tracery of Hylian symbols around the edges of each piece. The tracery was a different color for each knight; one was red, one green and one blue. Ameth had tracery of a brilliant violet.
“I would like you to meet my brothers, Link,” said Ameth. “Oy, Meryl!” he shouted at one of the other Darknaughts. The knight with green tracery stepped forward, removing his helmet. His shoulder-length blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Meryl was the one that lost his shoulder-pieces.
“Sorry about your leg,” said Link shaking Meryl’s gauntlet.
Meryl chuckled. “It is well, friend. We wear so much armor I did not feel anything,” he said, smacking his shoulder. Sure enough there were the interlocking rings of a chain shirt. “You perhaps were in more danger than we, though your superior agility served you well.”
“Thanks,” said Link modestly. At the same time there was a cough from behind Meryl. Stepping to the side, Meryl revealed another knight that could have been his double except that his hair was a little longer and unrestrained. He was no longer wearing his blue-traced armor—Link had caught him from behind so often it had all fallen off. His chest, arms and legs were covered in chain mail and he wore a blue tunic. He tucked his hair behind his pointed ears.
“Link, this is Saphael, my twin brother,” said Meryl, rolling his eyes.
“Meryl thinks that coming out first means he gets to do everything before I do. A pleasure, Master Hero,” said Saphael, bowing. Link noticed a pendant around Saphael’s neck with a silver frame. Within the frame was a clear blue stone the size of a small egg. Saphael must have noticed Link admiring the jewel, for when he stood straight again he tucked the pendant inside his tunic and folded his arms. “And that’s Rubeus,” said Saphael, pointing his thumb at the Darknaught with a pile of red-traced armor before him. Rubeus folded his thick arms and turned away, shaking his head. “He’s the oldest ‘cause he’s grumpy,” said Sapphael. Then he turned to Meryl in mock confusion. “…or was it the other way around?”
“Nice to meet you all,” said Link.
Afton came over from talking to Rubeus. “Have you all met well?”
“All except Rubeus, I guess,” said Link. “He seems a little put out.”
Afton feigned picking something up from the ground. “I think you hurt his pride when you disarmed him…” he said quietly.
Saphael snickered. Then a huge mace flew from Rubeus’ direction and would have hit Saphael in the face if he hadn’t feinted back just in time. “Watch where you’re throwing that thing, blockhead!” Saphael hollered. He charged his brother with indignation.
“Saphael and Rubeus don’t always get along,” Meryl said pointedly. Then he noticed his brothers were wrestling on the ground. One of Rubeus’ thick arms was wrapped around Saphael’s neck.
“Hey!” hollered Afton. “Let him go! That’s an order!” Afton pulled the two away from each other. “How old are you two? Saphael, three demerits.” Saphael tucked his hair behind his ears and folded his arms defiantly. Afton rounded on Rubeus. “I’ll speak to you after the tournament.” Rubeus stormed off, kicking his pile of armor on the way.
“He threw his mace at me!” challenged Saphael.
Afton shoved his finger into Saphael’s chest. “And I expect you not to provoke him! By the Goddesses…!” Afton continued to lecture him.
“Do you feel you are ready for the tournament, Master Link?” asked Ameth, obviously changing the subject.
“Well, I’ll feel a lot better when it’s over…if I win, I guess.”
“Yes,” said Ameth. “I suppose you have a lot to live up to…” Meryl’s eyes widened warningly. “But I’m sure you’ll do fine…I’ll just go help get the others ready for the tournament.”
“…and tell him you’re sorry!” Afton finished.
“Yes, sir.” Saphael said meekly. He unfolded his arms and joined Ameth on his way out. Ameth put an arm around Saphael’s shoulder but Saphael shrugged it off.
Link watched them leave. “Will I have to deal with this when I’m…” he said, trailing off.
“I don’t know,” said Afton, still mildly angry. “This is really strange. Rubeus and Saphael have never gotten along, but they’re never usually this violent about it.” He ran a hand through his blonde hair.
“I didn’t want to say anything, Lieutenant, but I did notice them bickering earlier.”
Afton’s brows came together. “What about?” he asked.
“It was a simple disagreement in the mess hall, but then it escalated into a brawl. I thought they might be reacting to the captain’s passing, Faroe rest him. I didn’t say anything…”
“You’ve done the right thing to tell me. This is disturbing news.” Afton thought a moment. “How are the other knights reacting to the captain’s passing?”
“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” said Meryl. “I only know that where Saphael and Rubeus didn’t get along before, now they’re at each other’s throats.”
“I see. Keep me informed, will you Meryl?”
“Yes, sir. We’ll be ready for the tournament; I’ll see to it.”
“Thank you, Meryl. And well fought today!” Afton called as Meryl jogged away the direction his brothers had gone.
“We’d better get ready, too,” said Afton. “The tournament’s only a couple of hours away.” Link followed him out of the courtyard. They passed through a large gate separating the western courtyard from the southern courtyard. The southern courtyard was decorated with well-manicured shrubs and a central stone sculpture with three Triangles at its height. To their left were the huge wooden double-doors leading into the castle, and on their right were the even larger double doors leading to the bridge across the moat and, ultimately, Castle Town. On the far side of the courtyard was the gate to the eastern courtyard, where one could acces the entrance to the barracks.
“Is the shield serving you well?” Afton said conversationally as they walked toward the barracks.
“Yeah, it’s really great. Thanks…” Link let the shield off his back and admired it for what seemed like the fiftieth time today. Link was glad he had lost his mirrored shield, in a way—if he hadn’t, he might not have gained this one; a constant reminder of his father. He really was very grateful to Afton for giving it to him. When he used it, he imagined his father was protecting him…
As they entered the eastern courtyard, there was a poof! and suddenly a very thin grey man appeared before them. Link cried out. He was so startled that he stumbled backward and landed in one of the shrubs. Afton helped him remove himself and handed Link his shield again.
“Hey, what’s going on…?” said Link as he brushed leaves from his tunic.
Then, when Link looked at the man his gaze was drawn to the man’s stunningly red eyes. The moment their eyes met Link felt his mind being pushed to remember what he had told Afton about Termina and what he had not told him about the knight’s grave and, without understanding how, Link was certain that the man knew he had not been completely truthful. Link had only had this kind of sensation a few times before—when he looked into the one-teared eye of a gossip stone or the Mask of Truth. This time the sensation was far more intense, however; overcome with intense guilt Link found he could not move, holding his shield in both hands.
Grey and white swaths of clothing covered every inch of the man’s body with the sole exception of his hands and eyes. Over his chest the man wore a tattered flap of cloth that bore the familiar symbol of an eye with a single tear. By this Link knew that the man was a Sheikah. I am sorry to have alarmed you, said a voice in Link’s head. The princess wishes you to meet her. Take this. The Sheik hung a pendant around Link’s neck. The pendant bore a small grey stone. Then as quickly as the Sheik had appeared there was another poof! and he was gone, leaving behind tendrils of smoke.
The moment the Sheik’s eyes ceased to see into his own Link was released of his paralysis. The intense guilt seemed to fade slowly. Only then did Link realize that Afton had been completely silent through the entire encounter. Afton was staring blankly at the ground.
“Afton?” said Link, reaching out to touch Afton’s shoulder. He didn’t respond. “Afton!” Link shook his uncle.
“What?” barked Afton, coming to. Link jumped in alarm. “Oh, Link…Link, I’m sorry. I…” he trailed off. Afton looked like he was fighting the urge to be sick. Then he seemed to compose himself. “Yes, I…I hate it when they do that.”
“What was that?” said Link, visibly shaken.
“That was a Sheik; protectors of the queen and therefore Princess Zelda now that she is queen incumbent. Their stare can pierce the mind of those who look into their eyes, uncovering all of a person’s secrets. They can communicate telepathically…”
“That’s what you call it…?” said Link, the experience still vivid and very present.
Afton looked at Link, comprehending. “What did he say?” Afton vaguely noticed that the sky was becoming darker.
“He said I was supposed to meet with Zelda.” Link reached down to the grey stone that now hung around his neck. The moment he touched it Link felt a presence enter his mind.
Link? said a voice. Link thought it might be female. Link? Can you hear me?
The first thought that entered Link’s mind was a distressed yes!
Link! This is Zelda; listen, I need you to meet me inside the castle…Come quickly!
I’m here…I’m in the courtyard, thought Link.
Good, said Zelda’s voice. I’ll be there soon. Link felt the presence leave his mind.
“What is it?” asked Afton, looking worried. Clouds were blocking out the sun, now.
“I don’t know. She sounded scared. She’s coming to meet me.”
The dark clouds were thickening quickly. Afton glanced at the sky warily. “Listen, Link; something’s wrong…and I think I know what. Do you remember what the Book of Mudora said about the Image of Evil?”
Link did his best to remember. “It said it would come behind the Hero, I think.”
“No, Link, it said ‘at his back’. But it seemed like Tobias was having trouble with the translation—he might have gotten it wrong. What if it was supposed to be ‘on his back’?” Afton let this suggestion sink in.
Link’s eyes widened. “It could have been the shield. Maybe they always got it wrong…they would never think that it was a shield—just that it came from behind.” Link looked up at his uncle. “You think the Image of Evil was my shield?”
“It makes sense. The shield is a mirror, right? It reflects what looks into it. So if the Hero has the Image of Evil on his back and the Great Evil is coming behind the Hero then the Evil can see itself in the mirror—Evil’s image.”
Link suddenly felt like he always did just as he solved a puzzle. “Rauru said the warrior’s shield could split a person in two; one good half, one evil…it’s like a mirror, where there are two of you. One is the reverse of the other…” Lighting streaked across the sky. “But Afton, I don’t understand…why would the shield have ended up in Termina? It’s…” Link stopped.
Afton hung on Link’s words. “It’s…what?”
“…so far away…” Link lied. He couldn’t tell Afton he had gone to another dimension. Not now. It would make him sound crazy; like he was making it all up. He didn’t know whether Afton would believe him…
“You never know, Link. Sometimes things can find their way into places you’d never expect. All I know is something is causing the knights to bicker and fight with each other. ‘Evil shall have power to divide the nation asunder,’ remember?” said Afton becoming animated.
Then Link recalled the words of the prophecy. “‘…and even the Hero shall be…’”
“Link!” came Zelda’s voice from the castle’s main doors. It began to rain.
Link became frantic. “Afton, what am I supposed to do? I’ve lost the shield! I’ve lost it; it’s my fault!”
“You didn’t know Link. You couldn’t have known…”
“But what should I tell Zelda?”
“Tell her when the time is right. We don’t know anything for sure. Just help her with what she needs and if it comes up tell her then. I’m going to go make sure the knights are ready,” said Afton. “I have a feeling we’ll need them.”
“Okay, okay…” Link slung his shield to his back. Then Afton turned away and Link suddenly had a feeling of foreboding. “Afton!” He stopped.
“What is it, Link?” Afton said, concerned.
The impression had been so immediate that Link didn’t know whether he had made it up. “I…I think I need to tell you something,” he said.
“Link!” came Zelda’s voice again. “Link where are you?”
“Don’t worry, Link—the Goddesses will be with us. I’ll see you soon; you can tell me then.” He jogged away toward the barracks. “Just protect Zelda!” he hollered behind him. Then he passed through an archway and was gone. Link took in one deep breath and turned the other direction.
Link emerged from the gate to the eastern courtyard. Zelda was looking around in all directions. Her yellow hair was plastered to her face and her dress was soaked with rain. “Link! I’m so glad you came,” she said, seeing him. Link felt a twinge of guilt. He noticed that a Sheik stood by castle’s double doors.
“What’s going on?” said Link, becoming wary.
“I need your help, Link,” she said taking his hand. “Come with me…” Zelda led him across the courtyard and through the castle’s main doors, passing the Sheik standing guard. Link made sure to stare at the ground until he was well inside.
Link had seen a good deal of the castle, but he never imagined just how many rooms there were. Zelda took him to a room one floor down from ground level. It was a large, circular space dimly lit by six cold glowing crystals on the floor and three tall narrow windows. Its cool stone walls and floors were bare except for a circular symbol carved into the floor’s central flagstone that looked vaguely like a bird. Link recognized the symbol from his father’s shield. He guessed it was the royal owl symbol of Hyrule many years ago.
“What’s in here?” he said.
“It’s okay, you can show yourselves,” Zelda said to the air. There was a flash of lightning outside the windows followed immediately by a crack of thunder and the next moment there were six young girls surrounding the central flagstone where there had been nothing before. Each of them looked to be Zelda’s age and were dressed in gowns of an older style. “Link these are the Maidens. They have kept watch over the seal on the Four Sword Sanctuary for many years. Because of the magic that binds them to the Sanctuary, so long as they remain here they never age. I have come here because I need to check the seal to be sure that it still holds…”
“Holds what…?” said Link, trying to follow all of this.
Zelda turned to Link. “Listen, Link. I can explain everything, but I need you to protect me. Something may go wrong and I need to know that you will keep me from harm.”
This did nothing to settle Link’s nerves, but he wanted to do what he could. “Okay, but…”
“Just listen. A long time ago an evil sorcerer named Vaati tried to take the Light Force from the princess of Hyrule so he could take over. He would have done it but a young boy defeated him using the Four Sword. The Four Sword divides the person who wields it into four separate versions of himself.” Link was astonished. The words of the prophecy repeated themselves in his head: ‘and even the Hero shall be divided, and shall be as many.’ Zelda continued: “Once the sorcerer was defeated he was sealed inside the sword and imprisoned in the Four Sword Sanctuary. Because I am a descendant of the princess, I can sense when the seal is weakening. If the seal weakens, Vaati could escape. That’s why I need to go into the Sanctuary. Will you come with me?”
Link did not understand all of this but he knew that whatever the case he would be willing to do anything to keep Zelda safe. He drew his gilded sword and pulled his shield in front of him. “Yes. I’m ready,” he said.
“Good. Thank you, Link.” Zelda withdrew an egg-sized crystal from a pocket in her dress and placed it near the central flagstone. Then she addressed the Maidens. “Let the Sanctuary be opened.” Zelda and the maidens acted in concert; pressing their palms together, bowing their heads. All at once a flower of light bloomed into life on the flagstone, casting eight shadows on the walls. One petal of light after another formed, grew and folded backward with increasing speed. The effect was both beautiful and mesmerizing.
Then there was a cackle behind Link and he turned. No one was there. His brows came together as he looked at the wall, lit up by the intense light. Where was his shadow?
* * *
Two weeks ago the people had welcomed their captain, their king and their queen to the tournament with cheers and loud voices. But when Ganondorf had arrived at the city gates the people were filled with shock and alarm and the tournament had been postponed until further notice. In a matter of days Ganondorf had wrought his evil scheme and found himself at the entrance of the Golden Land, but the Sages had stopped him from achieving his desire. That evening the news had spread: the queen and her captain had perished at the dastard’s hand. The King had been poisoned and was in failing health.
Now the people of Hyrule were awaiting the Tournament with a different attitude. The town’s central courtyard looked much as it had two weeks previous. Townspeople were sitting at the tables of the street café, leaning out over the ledges of their stone balconies, or huddling in groups near the shop awnings. Street performers sang, jugglers juggled, and mothers chased their children, but most of the citizens of Hyrule were overshadowed by a sense of loss. Conversations turned to who the next Captain of the Royal Guard might be, how well the princess might rule without her nursemaid to hold her hand, and whether the king would ever recover. Even the soldiers stationed at every gate slumped for melancholy, their spears leaning heavily on their shoulders.
Suddenly, dark clouds gathered over the Town’s central courtyard. In moments full thunderheads formed and lightning shot angrily from one cloud to another. People stared in wonder and fear. Many ran into the nearest buildings, taking shelter from great sheets of water that began to fall; as if the Goddesses themselves were weeping and would not be comforted.
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