The Looming Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter V - Diplomacy at the Waterfall

Far in the southwest of Hyrule lay the vast Lake Hylia, home to many varieties of fish, a prime place to observe aquatic life, and, far below the surface, the location of one of the six temples of Hyrule. This temple was arguably the most difficult to access, being entirely underwater. This posed no difficulty for the Zora, however, as the fishy race was as accustomed to life in the water as out of it. But the Zoras did not live in the great Hylian Lake. They lived as far away from their place of worship as any race in Hyrule could. For a Hylian the distance would mean an intensive pilgrimage, but for a Zora the trip to their domain in the far northeast of Hyrule would be an hour or two at a good swim. This was accounted for by their knowledge of all the subterranean waterways between the temple and the domain and an uncanny ability to swim against the current at great speed. It was said among the Hylians that currents simply didn’t exist for Zora folk; they could fly through the water like a bird through the air.

Following the maze of aquatic passages from the temple in Lake Hylia, a Zora could enter any river, access any stream, or swim in the moat of Hyrule Castle itself. Passing all of these, ascending the thick, rapid-flowing rivers, one would come to the mountainous region that the Zora people called home; a series of expansive watery caverns and mountain lakes, all connected by channels and tunnels, bounded by underwater gates.

There, from the gaping mouth of the large cavern at the height of Zora’s Domain, bubbled the waters of a lake-sized natural spring that spilled out in a mighty waterfall and passed through the many naturally-carved paths which were managed by the Zora people. The maintenance of these waterways determined whether Hyrule would receive clean water.

To the Zoras water not only sustained life, but served as their primary means of trade. The Zoras could not by any means stop the water from flowing, but as they lived in the water it was incumbent upon them to be certain that it remained pure, and this satisfied the needs of most of the other races in Hyrule. Their most beneficial pact had been made with the Hylians, with whom they had formed an alliance. The king of Hyrule offered to help the Zoras preserve their way of life and ensure that they remain relatively undisturbed. In return the Hylian kingdom was always provided with good clean water and the defensive benefit of a full moat.

The cavern at the height of Zora’s Domain served not only as the source of all of Hyrule’s water, but also as a meeting place for the Zora people and the throne room of their king. Steps led out of the water on all sides to a horseshoe-shaped walkway that circumvented the bubbling spring. Presently, a Zora sentry stood at the base of these steps, shifting impatiently before the king’s throne.

The king of the Zoras sat back in his coral chair, pensive. The bulk of his heavy body made him look like a reclining jellyfish, but his features more resembled those of a lobe-finned fish. Like all Zoras his skin was a pale blue and he had flippers for feet and webbed hands. In general, the Zora people never wore clothing, but had developed folds of scaly skin that sometimes resembled cloth. Overall they had a kind of androgynous beauty; rarely would individuals have more distinguishing features. The king was one of the rare Zora, however; small fishy eyes were set on either side of his head in true fish-fashion and cresting his head was a short fin-ridge that reddened at the edges.

“There is someone at the base of the waterfall, Sire,” repeated the Zora sentry, hoping the king would respond this time. The sentry tapped the butt of his bone spear on the steps nervously.

“Is it the Haired King?” the king of the Zoras finally asked. It was not a derogatory term; at least no more than it was for the Hylian King to say ‘the Scaled King.’

“No, Sire. He would not identify himself, but said that his message was urgent and that he preferred to deliver it and his introduction to you himself. Shall I admit him?”

“No,” said the Zora king, looking absentmindedly at the steps that led from his throne into the deep pool of water before him. “I will go out to him myself.”

The sentry raised his visor of his fishbone helmet to reveal an incredulous look. “But…but Sire you said…I can ask him to leave…we…he could come again when you are…more available,” the sentry stammered.

“Krelian, I have never been more available.” The king did not even smile. A sick spot settled in the sentry’s stomach. He lowered the faceplate of his helmet.

“King Zora, your majesty…the diving contest…With all due respect, you could have one of the dukes…”

“I will go myself, thank you,” said the king, and he rose from his throne and slipped into the water as if he was taking a bath; cautiously, feet first.

It had been some years since Delphineas Zora, king of the Zora people, had lost his wife. His people had shared his sadness and did all they could to alleviate the burden of arranging the affairs of the kingdom while the king was in mourning, the dukes and their advisors taking on much of the mercantile responsibility and caring for the waterways that supplied Hyrule with its water. The king did show some signs of improvement after the first year, although he had grown physically larger for lack of activity. He left most of the governing arrangements where they lay and soon he was viewed as more of a figurehead than a ruler. The people looked after themselves, mostly, and as King Zora had allied himself with the king of Hyrule many of the decisions regarding policy and procedure were simple enough to be handled in council with the Hylians.

Despite his acquired reputation for laziness King Zora’s people still loved him. His rare joy was being the mediator of the monthly diving contests (the latest of which had been due to start as soon as the king reached his seat beneath the waterfall) but he did little else recreationally. It was unusual that King Zora ever went swimming, except to keep himself damp, which was necessary for the Zora people, and this was why it was so shocking for the sentry to see him dip into the water as if he had done it just yesterday and volunteer to go out to meet a visiting dignitary over attending the diving competition which waited on his attendance.

King Zora swam remarkably well for a person who was both large and out of practice. While he appeared squat out of the water, he was graceful and respectable-looking in the water, the whole of him being regarded as a small agile whale of sorts. The king pulled his finned head under the surface and slipped through the water-bearing channel of his domain, his small fishy-eyes seeking the outlet of the giant waterfall from whence all of Hyrule’s water flowed. Just when he reached the edge of the waterfall, the current snatched him and threw him out into the air. The other Zoras looked up from the mountain-walled lake below and watched as their king hit the surface of the water with a massive splash. Then the king did something he had not done for years—he swam across the lake and out into the sluice that drained into the lower reservoirs; he was going outside the domain.

The king followed the water’s course under a natural bridge. He surfaced near the middle of the reservoir, pushing his head silently above the surface of the water. All around him were lush green mosses and grass covering the numerous shelves of rock protruding from the mountainside. The air was warm and the dragonflies were humming. And standing upon the natural stone bridge spanning the sluice was a man clothed entirely in black, from his boots to his buckles. A long tattered cape made of faded cloth hung from his shoulders. His thick leather jerkin was covered in dust, making it appear not black, but a dull gritty brown. Ostensibly, the man may never have touched an ounce of water in his life, and this was not far from the truth. This was Ganondorf Dragmire, king of the enchanted thieves known as the Gerudo, a desert-dwelling people who had seen about as much usable water as males in their homeland. And though the Zora king had never met the man, he knew from his reputation that the king was vile and cruel. Nevertheless, the noble Zora wished to meet the Lord of the Gerudo personally, and he pulled himself out of the water and sat on the bank. Apparently hearing the water splash, Ganondorf turned, flourishing his cape.

“Ah, the mighty king of the Zoras!” said Ganondorf, inclining his torso in a deep bow. “I am honored to find myself in your very presence. I had thought you might invite me in…You are well, I hope…?” The Zora king raised his ungainly bulk to a standing position and waddled up the slope of the bridge to where the king of thieves was. He said nothing as he approached, but he noticed that the desert king’s red hair, which he could see very clearly as it was pointed directly at him, was wild and littered with sand.

The Zora king took more than a moment to let the sight of Ganodorf sink in. If anything it only made the desert man hold his penitent pose, and the Zora king was interested in seeing how long he would stay that way. Would he break silence or courtesy first? King Zora discovered shortly that it was silence, for Ganondorf repeated his question. “You are well,” he said, raising his head to look at the king, “I hope?” King Zora noticed that even the man’s eyes and the edges of his mouth were caked with dirt.

“No better off than you it must seem,” King Zora finally said, and sat down again on the bridge of rock. “You come all this way to the domain of water and yet you do not drink. Water flows all around you and yet you have not bathed.” The Zora king stared out into the clear blue waters of the reservoir. “Surely I cannot tell if he is a fool to whom I speak or a man too courteous to stay his thirst after a long journey. Come man, drink. At least wash your face so you are something to look at.”

Ganondorf stood upright, straightening his dusty jerkin. He spoke with an air of devotion: “On the contrary, o’ king, it is neither foolishness nor courtesy that stays me from these waters, for when I set out from my desert country to visit the very king of the great water people I vowed I would not slake my thirst until I found myself in his company at the height of the great waterfall that crowns all of Hyrule!”

“Well, you certainly have one of the two Lord Ganondorf…”

“His esteemed majesty knows me before I introduce myself, may his scales never dim!” said the Gerudo Lord, bowing as well as he could to the sitting figure.

“At least you had the sense to raise yourself up again, Sir Dragmire, though as for knowing you before you introduced yourself, your villainous name and heartless reputation would precede you anywhere…” Ganondorf looked as if he did not know whether to take this as a compliment. The Zora king went back to watching the water. “And if you had waited much longer to introduce yourself I might have thought you were waiting for a moment to wish for my scales never to dim. But then, a man as cunning and cruel as the true Lord Ganondorf would have no need for such pleasantries to win influence.” The Zora king turned to look at his guest. “Did you have some object in coming to visit ‘the very king of the great water people’ or was this simply a social call?” asked King Zora pointedly.

It looked as if Ganondorf would have said something, if he did not just get a better idea. “His majesty has cut me to the quick…May I sit with you?”

“I have long since sat, sir. You may do as you please,” said the Zora king, unmoving.

Ganondorf gathered his cloth cape around him and sat beside the squat fish-king. “I had thought, dear king, that you had received word that I shall pledge fealty to the king of the Hylians tomorrow. It has long been an age of enmity between our peoples and I have hoped to rectify the reputation that precedes me. In the meantime I have taken to visiting the nearby races to offer my good will to them. Was this not obvious to his majesty?”

“Not quite as obvious as the deliberateness of the dirt caked on your face and clothes, dear Lord Ganondorf. Perhaps you would not think this king familiar with the visual qualities of his own dried mud? We traffic more than water and fish here,” said King Zora, grasping one of Ganondorf’s wrists and turning the palm of his dirty hand face up. “If you will notice, there is a slight sheen to it.” Ganondorf brought his hand to his face as if he had never seen it before. “Very popular among the potters of the castle town in Hyrule,” King Zora continued. “I suspect you carried a bag of sand with you all the way from the desert as well so that you could encrust your hair with it prior to meeting me. What I cannot surmise is what the infamous Lord Ganondorf is doing on my doorstep, as the Hylians say, for I cannot assume it is simply to show me your ‘good will’.”

Gradually the desert king’s face became less and less readable until it was perfectly blank. Then he seemed to take on a guilty air, as a child who has been found out for a ruse he was playing at. Ganondorf removed a leather bag from his belt and opened it a little, dropping it on the mossy stone between them. It was filled with sand.

“I would accept your good will, if that is what you claim to offer,” said the Zora king, “nevertheless before we enter my domain I hope we can at least be forthright with each other. If you will please disarm yourself…”

This time the Gerudo lord did not seem caught-in-the-act, but sincerely taken aback. Nevertheless, he reached behind him, under his cape, and removed a small dagger in a sinister-looking black leather sheath. Raising his hand to indicate he had something more, he stuffed his fingers into his boot and pulled out another blade, similar in appearance to the first, but longer. He raised them both in one fist so they could be easily seen and set them down beside the bag of sand with a look that said ‘ah, well.’ King Zora never flinched. After studying each other for a moment, Ganondorf waiting for some response of acceptation, King Zora quietly patient, Ganondorf stood. “Shall we?” Ganondorf asked.

“Certainly,” King Zora replied, and lifted his fishy bulk from the stone bridge. “Since you have declined to drink I suppose I will not need to offer again, but permit me while I dampen my fins,” and he dove into the reservoir with a large splash. Ganondorf looked after him to see where he went, and in moments the Zora had swum up the sluice against the current and was standing on the stone path on the other side of the bridge.

“Well, are you coming, Ganondorf, Lord of the Gerudo?” The Desert Lord left behind his two blades and he and the Scaled King walked up the stone path that protruded from the stone face, never the one getting ahead of the other.

* * *

The waters gushing over the edge of the waterfall cascaded almost a hundred feet, dividing into countless smaller rivulets that slapped and sprayed when they hit the surface of the lake below. The Zora on top of the waterfall stretched both arms out and flared his pectoral fins to show he was ready. When King Zora nodded, two stones hit each other with a crack and the diver leaped off the waterfall performing a complex twist of movements and passing through the sheet of water below with little more than a sloop! Then an air of expectancy permeated the mountain-walled enclosure and seconds later the diver emerged at the surface again holding up a large, clear purple stone. “Nine seconds!” came a shout from the base of the waterfall and the crowd of Zoras on the landings around the lake erupted in cheers and hollers. “Hoorah, Gluto!” “Good show!” they called.

“And how much was that one worth?” asked Ganondorf politely, sitting cross-legged beside King Zora near the base of the waterfall. It looked as if he loathed the liquid and had no interest in touching it. Conversely, King Zora’s flippers were swishing lazily in the water.

“Fifty points for the stone,” answered the fish-king, watching the contestant as he leaped out of the water, dolphin-like, “and fifty for making it in time. It is yet to be seen how much his form wins him.” Ganondorf appeared to listen with polite interest. The diver took his purple stone to a stand where a slightly smaller orange stone and a larger red stone were already placed. On either side were two other stands; one that held two red stones and an orange, and another with only two purples.

“That was the last of the purple stones,” the Zora king continued, “the only stones higher than that are the two oranges and the blue. As it stands the duchess will need a stone worth at least a hundred in order to win.” The thief-king was still listening, but he was no longer watching. “The oranges are 100 each, but both are already taken,” said King Zora, “and the blue is 200. So far none have been able to reach the blue in less than ten seconds in a contest, but I have seen Lutai do it in twelve while she practices. Look, here she comes.” But Ganondorf did not notice. He was peering into the depths of the lake, searching for something.

Atop the waterfall, from behind a curtain of coral colored weed stepped a lithe, athletic female Zora. She made the indication that she was ready, the stones cracked, and she jumped. She twisted and flipped and her arm-fins were out, then in, then sloop! and everybody waited. Four seconds. Eight. Then just as it seemed she wouldn’t make the surface in time she leaped straight up out of the water and the cry came “ten seconds!” For a moment the voice of the crowd seemed stopped in their throats as they looked for the color of the stone amid the thrashing water. Then somebody shouted “it’s blue!” The Zoras whooped and cheered and clapped and Ganondorf looked intently at the diver as her webbed hands disclosed a shining clear blue stone, the smallest of all.

“Hah! Bravo, bravo,” the Zora king cheered, clapping. He noticed the way Ganondorf was staring, but quickly pretended not to. “Would you like to meet our winner, Ganondorf?”

Why, meet the winner?” said Ganondorf, smiling wickedly at the sight of the stone. “I’d be delighted.”

King Zora called Lutai over to the ledge. She quickly dove under the surface and leaped out of the water, rolling onto the green moss-covered ledge and springing to her feet. She was still holding the blue stone. Now that Ganondorf could see her better he noticed that high on her fishy head was a pair of false eyes, and she had fins growing from her shoulders, elbows and knees.

“Ganondorf Dragmire, may I present my wife’s sister, Lutai, duchess of the Zora. Lutai, I met Lord Dragmire without the waterfall this morning.” Lutai gave her king a furtive glance before putting one foot forward and tipping her head, splaying her fins and webbed hands, as per the Zora’s manner of greeting one respectfully while standing.

Ganondorf stood and cast aside his cape in one motion. “Enchanted. Congratulations, my lady,” he said, bowing. “I wonder…may I see the winning stone?”

Lutai looked to her king. He smiled knowingly. “I have not won formally, yet, Lord Dragmire,” said Lutai kindly, handing the desert-king the clear blue stone. “The judges have yet to announce the points awarded on my form.”

Nonsense, Lutai. Your form was impeccable as usual,” said the Zora King, his flippers splishing in the water.

Ganondorf turned the egg-sized blue stone over in his hands. Other than being of particularly good cut it was not remarkable. “Tell me, Lutai, is this the Zora’s Sapphire?” he asked. A shock of electricity seemed to pass between King Zora and Lutai.

Lutai did not need a cue from her king this time. “The Zora’s Sapphire? You must be knowledgeable indeed to know of that sacred stone.” It was obvious she was avoiding his question. King Zora thought he saw Ganondorf trembling for a moment, gripping the blue stone in his hands a little tighter, but when the desert-king spoke there was no sign of terseness in his voice.

“Ah, yes, I have learned much from the king of these blessed lands,” Ganondorf replied, glancing around at the lake and its mountain walls. Then he looked directly at King Zora, smiling with all of his teeth. “His majesty, the king of Hyrule tells me many things regarding the affairs of the water people.”

This sobered the Zora king. Lutai’s posture stiffened. “And what, pray, does our esteemed ally relate regarding our people?” she asked.

“Oh,” Ganondorf began, mocking pity, “he spoke of the unfortunate state of your patron deity, the Great Fish Jabun. I hear the creature is a little…green around the gills, shall we say?”

The fish-king responded to the word ‘creature’ with the Zora approximation of a frown. “No, Ganondorf, you must be mistaken. Jabun the Wise is quite well. My daughter Ruto related nothing out of the ordinary when she returned from his alcove this morning. She attends him regularly to leave offerings and would have told me if he were ailing in any way.”

Ganondorf noticed Lutai folding her arms behind her back, her elbow fins bending slowly toward her hands. He could see they had keen edges like the blade of a sword and tips sharp like daggers; they would be dangerous if she was angered any further. But he pretended not to notice.

“Does she now?” Ganondorf said. “I see. In any case it may also interest you to know that the King of Hyrule has asked that I request the Sapphire of you to present to him tomorrow when I swear my fealty.”

“And why would the king of Hyrule have you bear the Sacred Stone of the Zoras away from its rightful land?” asked the Zora king.

“Consider it a sign that you have accepted my good will, o’ mighty King Zora,” Ganondorf responded, bowing shortly.

“I have accepted nothing of the sort, and you have offered less, Lord Dragmire. Furthermore, it is not in keeping with courtesy to call the deity of the water people a ‘creature’. If you will please return the stone you took you may leave here empty-handed or you will be driven away by force,” King Zora said calmly holding out his webbed hand for the stone.

“But I gave it back to you, o’ king,” said Ganondorf, drawing his cape around himself, concealing the leather pouch he had at his waist.

“Did you? I do not seem to remember that,” answered the king. “If I had it then I would not find it in that leather bag you have at your waist, would I?”

“Why no, good king,” replied Ganondorf. Pulling the pouch from his belt, he opened it and reached inside. Withdrawing his hand, he waved casually, throwing small granules out into the water. “It is but sand,” he said. And surely the grains still fell from between his fingers.

“Curious,” said King Zora. “You live in a desert and yet carry not water with you but bags and bags of sand…if it is what you say, that is, and not some sorcery…”

“What accusations, good king! First I shall be forced to leave and then I am charged with bringing sorcery past your borders. Even if it were sorcery, I have shown that I do not retain your stone,” said Ganondorf decisively, brushing the remaining debris from his palms.

“Then you have no reason to remain here,” said the Zora king. “Go now or be driven from this place.” Suddenly Ganondorf became aware that a score of sentries stood poised on a dozen landings above and around him, their white bone javelins ready. He wisely did not doubt their accuracy, but backed away from the king with hands out at his sides.

“Very well,” Ganondorf conceded with a scowl. “I suppose I have somewhat to tell the king of Hyrule concerning the hospitality of the fish people; as cold as they are wet. Do call for me if anything should happen to your fish-god, Jabun. It would be a shame if he were to accidentally swallow his attendant…” Ganondorf’s sinister mouth curled at the edges.

Lutai noticed that her king was shaking slightly. “Go. Now,” the fish-king repeated. The Gerudo lord turned with a sweep of his cape and walked away from Zora’s domain. Never did he turn until he was gone from the place. Only then did Lutai relax her fins.

“Lutai,” said the king, “summon Gor Darmon. Have him block the ground entrances to the domain.”

“At once,” she replied, and in moments she was passing through an opening at the bottom of the lake.

“Krelian,” the king called. There was a splash and in another moment the Zora had jumped out of the lake, dolphin-like, at the king’s side. “Post your sentries at every entrance to the lake,” the king said. “None may enter unless they can prove they are sent from the Hylian royal family.”

“It shall be done, Sire,” he said, and he turned to the nearest sentry, clapping his pectoral flippers to his sides. The sentry jumped to action, shouting orders to the remaining Zora guards.

After a pause Krelian turned to the Zora king. “With your permission, Sire?”

“Yes, Krelian?”

Why did you decide to leave the domain today?”

“It was good for me…” the king replied.

“But why today?”

The Zora king sighed. “We can only mourn for so long, Krelian. I have mourned for years and I have grown lazy. My heart had grown cold…it was time for me to shake off the ice and wake up.” Krelian pondered this while he watched the other sentries taking up their positions. Then the king spoke again. “What the Gerudo man said about Jabun made me burn inside, Krelian. What he said about Ruto…I do not know what I would do if I were confronted with the man who hurt my family…if he does anything to my daughter…”

“We will be here, Sire. We will not let any harm come to her.”

“Thank you, Krelian. I am sincerely grateful for your loyalty. I certainly do not deserve it.”

“No more than any of us deserve loyalty, Sire. But we give it to you, and we give it freely. You are our king.” And for the first time in years, Delphineas Zora felt like a king again.

* * *

“He took the stone?!” bellowed Gor Darmon, pausing in his hurried waddle. His rough voice grumbled through the cavern.

“It was just the diving stone from the contest, Darmon!” said Lutai, patting his huge stony arm. “You know I would not let him take the Sapphire.”

“Does he know it is not the Sapphire?” he asked, relieved. He began waddling again toward the cave exit. Lutai followed, easily keeping pace.

“I do not know. It was a battle of wits, Darmon; it was difficult enough to get him out of the domain without killing him.” It was awkward for them to travel together. Lutai could not run as fast as Gor Darmon could roll, yet he could not walk as fast as she. Haste demanded it, however, if they wished to talk while they traveled.

They came to a steep rocky ledge that would have brought progress to a halt for a Zora. “On my back,” said Darmon and Lutai obeyed, wrapping her finned arms around his neck. “The Desert Man was not so eloquent when he came to us,” said Gor Darmon as he climbed the ledge.

“He came to the caverns, too?” she asked, her face to one side of the Goron’s stony round head.

“Yes. He said the mines were blocked by boulders. Said he could clear them out for us. Wanted the Ruby as payment.”

“Darmon, you didn’t…?”

“No. Gor Daruni told him to soak himself in the crater. So he left.” They reached the top of the ledge.

“Can you clear the boulders away?” asked Lutai, dismounting.

“It would take too long,” said Darmon, waddling again. “We haven’t got enough stored up to feed us all. Daruni’s already sent most of us away to find our own food. Once I block up your paths I’ll have to stay in the temple under the crater to survive. I’ll have the Ruby with me. Daruni’s sent to the king to see if they can help. Meantime the brothers who stayed are helping to clear the rubble.” They had reached the cave opening.

“I am sorry it is so inconvenient for you, Darmon.” Lutai said patting his enormous rocky fist with her webbed hand. “It’s a shame you can’t take the water passage back to the domain. We are very grateful. Please, take whatever rock you don’t use, if it’s any good.”

“Thank you, Lutai,” Darmon said in his gravelly voice, “but I am quite content with what I have in the temple.” What he could have said was that the Zora’s water was sweet but their rocks were all sour. “It is a shame the Ruby is so precious…” he said with a hungry gleam in his eye.

“I’m sure it would taste wonderful,” said Lutai, grimacing.

Darmon shrugged and grew sober again. “Have you spoken to the Koroki? The Desert Man will surely try for the Emerald if he has not already. You can take the forest-passage just short of the ledge back there.”

“I will see them on my way back,” said Lutai. “Thank you again, friend.” And the giant stone man curled up and rolled away down the mountain. When he was out of sight Lutai turned and sprinted back toward the forest-passage. Before she reached it, however, she felt a vibration at her neck. Touching the gray stone that hung there she heard a voice in her mind. It was the voice of a young boy, full of sorrow. And he said only one word: Dying.

* * *

Impa watched her charge stand on tiptoe to see into the window of the Grand Hall. The flowers in the gardens were blooming, their heads poised; still. Then, without announcement, a young green-clad boy entered the gardens through the only entrance; opposite the princess. Around his head floated a glowing ball of blue light with wings like a dragonfly. Zelda turned away from the window and noticed the forest-child. She gasped. Her dreams were becoming real.

Back to Story Menu