For years, the volcano lovingly nick-named ‘Little Lass’ had gone off on schedule, never early, never late. The first sign of trouble came when for some reason or another, Little Lass erupted five minutes late. In those five minutes, it seemed that a thousand years of Subrosian tradition crumbled as the citizens of Subrosia stood around the base of the volcano in fear, trembling in anticipation of the eruption which eventually came. No one, not even the village elders, could ever remember it being late. Everyone assumed that the aberration would quickly be forgotten as things returned to normal, but they didn’t. In fact, Little Lass’ tardiness was just the beginning of the trouble.
Quakes had always been a frequent visitor to the land, but today, they were slowly becoming out of control. Pebbles rattled on the ground every few minutes as the very foundations of Subrosia shook. Every square inch of the land was quivering, from the base of Little Lass all the way to the tribune’s manor where Philo, leader of the Subrosian people, stood by the window, watching as panic gripped his nation.
Everywhere he looked, he could see people running, screaming in fear as yet another quake came. A flurry of green, blue, and red cloaks flew past the window, racing to find loved ones and embrace them like it was the last night of the world. Perhaps it was, the old man mused. The earthquakes didn’t bother him so much, of course. True, they had never been so constant, but they were still familiar to him. What bothered him more was something extraordinary he had certainly never encountered before. He felt it under his hand as he stood by the window, a cool, slick sensation that was neither water nor glass. On his window pain, a frost had appeared, blurring the images of fear outside of his study.
He raised his hand, pressing it against the foreign invader, feeling the ice melt, oozing down his fingertips. Of course, he knew what water was. Like all men of his station, he had been well educated in the legends of the past, when the Subrosian people lived above the ground like the Humans of Holodrum. He had even seen pictures of water. This was different though. This time, he was feeling it with his own hand. All too well, he knew that it did not belong in Subrosia.
Sighing, he turned away from the window, crossing his office and steadying the lantern on his desk as yet another tremor racked the kingdom. He walked to his bookshelf, scanning the official ledgers and registers for any of his old school books he had never quite managed to part with, despite his age. Rosa must have taken them, he realized with a grimace.
She had always been far too interested in the over world. Officially, he remained disapproving as all the elders. In his heart, he was secretly quite willing to let her explore. Truth to tell, he knew that had he not been born a tribune’s son, he would very much have enjoyed going up there himself. He knew that conditions were harsh for a Subrosian, but he also knew very well that Rosa’s curiosity had come from him, not her, frankly, stuffy mother. He certainly couldn’t argue that it had been a bad thing either. The fact of the matter was that had it not been for Rosa’s curiosity, the great topsider who had restored Subrosia to order following the great fall of the ‘temple’ would never have come. Better still, without that great hero, the pirates who had been stranded in Subrosia would still be there. Rosa had brought the hero.
Where was she now? The thought struck him rather suddenly. All day, as the quakes ravaged the land, Rosa had been nowhere to be seen. With everyone racing to embrace their loved ones like it was the end of the world, Philo found it strange that his only daughter should go missing. Then again, she didn’t frighten as easily as most people. He supposed he would send for his eldest son and ask about the state of the family. Of course, he knew he could rely on his sons to take care of Rosa, but what he feared was that Rosa needed no taking care of. When had he gotten so old? When had she grown up?
There was a rapping on the door. “Come in,” Philo muttered without turning to look. He could hear the rock slab of a door scrape against the ground, accompanied by two sets of footsteps.
“Sir,” a familiar voice called out to him. It was Jamis, one of the elected senators who served as advisor to the hereditary tribune. “You must address your people at once,” he continued.
“I intend to,” Philo replied with a hint of irony in his voice. “As soon as I know what I’m going to tell them.”
“We’ve been to the official archives,” a second voice said. This was Tao, Jamis’ constant companion, another senator. “Do you realize what today is?”
“What’s today?” Philo asked. He turned around to face the senators, both donning robes of green as all elected officials. Philo himself wore red, along with his family, as a mark of ancient royalty.
“Precisely one thousand years ago today, the dark ages ended,” Tao told him urgently.
Philo felt a heaviness fall on his shoulders. He knew all about the dark ages, a time when Subrosian fought against Subrosian over the most trivial of all possessions: Land. It was out of that era that his ancestor, the first tribune, emerged as leader of the people by delegating them the responsibility of electing five senators to represent their interests in the government.
It was also out of that time that the Subrosian theology abruptly shifted from a dour, pessimistic outlook on life to one which saw Subrosia as a mirror of the cosmic order. The robes that all Subrosians wore, covering their faces, came into fashion then for the very good reason that the people began to believe that the only way to maintain the cosmic order was to avoid looking into the eyes of the damned. Because from that point on, each Subrosian was seen as damned.
“The contract of Flordelis,” Philo said quietly.
“Yes, sir,” Tao told him.
The old tribune had feared as much. “The people believe that Flordelis will return today to collect on a thousand year old contract.”
“As she promised in the stories,” Tao explained, “We had a thousand years of peace and prosperity. The terms clearly state that our land, our institutions, our people belong to her.”
He sighed. “Surely,” he muttered, “you don’t really believe in such fables, gentlemen.”
“It’s not a question of what I believe or what Jamis believes,” Tao explained gently.
“It’s what the people believe,” Philo said with a weary nod.
“Yes, sir,” Jamis said.
“I don’t know what I can say to them,” he sighed. “When someone sets their mind on believing something, it is difficult to say otherwise.”
“According to the terms of the contract, you must step down as tribune,” Tao told him.
“That will hardly be a comfort to the people,” he grumbled.
“It will comfort them to know that their leader is taking their fears seriously,” Jamis supplied.
“The last thing we need right now is anarchy,” Philo snapped. “Authority must be maintained.”
“But if you don’t fulfill the terms of the contract, the people will see it as a defiance of Flordelis,” Tao said.
“Which will lead them to expect certain doom,” Jamis added. “Sir, the panic will only get worse.”
“If someone is doomed then I don’t see what good panicking will do. They’ll still be doomed.” Philo turned back to the window, watching as the people rushed by. Someone slipped on a patch of frost and fell over, landing on his back. Immediately, his hands flew up to his hood, making sure to hold it in place. He rolled over, rubbing his hands against the ice in wonderment. “Send out the police,” Philo muttered reluctantly, turning back to Jamis and Tao.
“The police, sir?” Jamis asked carefully.
“Authority must be maintained. They are not to harm anyone. They are only to control the crowds and keep the people from hurting each other.”
Tao stepped forward. “But what about Flordelis, sir?”
“If she comes,” he said with a very skeptical edge to his voice, “she’ll be expecting a well ordered city, won’t she? Was it not she that gave us order and discipline to begin with?”
“Shall I have the police tell the people as much?”
“If they will believe it and if it will keep them from further harm, it would be the logical statement to make.”
“What about your statement, sir?” Jamis cut in.
“When you address the people.”
“The day is young,” Philo sighed. “I will speak to them at the end of the day, when we know for certain whether or not Flordelis intends to collect on her end of the bargain.”
“Very good, sir,” Jamis muttered nervously.
“Tell me frankly,” Philo continued softly. “Do you really believe that she will come?”
“I cannot say,” Jamis answered. “In a thousand years, a story can become so manipulated, so mangled, that it’s difficult to say what’s what.”
“Yes,” Philo murmured, “the contract was only put on paper a hundred years ago. Who knows how much it may have changed since then?” He glanced in Jamis’ direction. “And what about you, Tao?”
Tao shrugged. “I believe it, sir. I was brought up to believe it. My parents wanted me to be prepared for the day, in my lifetime, when Flordelis would come to claim Subrosia.”
“I do not,” Philo admitted, steadying his lantern as another quake shook the office. “I think it’s a story that my ancestors concocted to bring about peace in a time of troubles.”
“A powerful story to work so well,” Tao commented.
Philo nodded. “Yes. But I do firmly believe that stories can be the most powerful forces in the world. Even more powerful than quakes.” He took a deep breath. “Go, see to the people.”
“Yes, sir,” Jamis said.
“Yes, sir,” Tao echoed a moment later.
“Oh,” he stopped them before they could leave. “Have either of you seen my daughter?”
“Rosa’s disappeared again?” Jamis asked.
“So it would seem.”
“No, sir,” Tao said.
“I assumed as much. Well, be on your way.”
The two of them bowed and walked out of the study, closing the stone door behind them. Philo sat down heavily at his desk, fishing about for a moment before he found a fresh slab of clay. He set it down in front of him and picked up a wooden stylus. “My fellow Subrosians,” he whispered, carving the words into the soft clay. “I come before you today to say…” But he trailed off. The fact of the matter was he didn’t know what he was going to say.
As Link walked into the tavern, he was immediately struck by the sad, longing song of a mandolin. How perfectly the music spoke to him, so far from home, so lost. He had never expected to find himself in the Horon Village again, yet he had arrived. Absently, he brushed his hair over his ears, looking around at the patrons of the establishment. There were one or two familiar faces, each of them staring off into space as they listened to the invisible mandolin’s song, doubtlessly turning their thoughts to their own grievances. Link’s was hardly the worst, but he did miss Hyrule. He missed his friends and most of all, he missed his uncle.
It wasn’t his fault that things fell out the way they did, but he continually got mad at himself each time he allowed something to distract him from his journey home. First, it had been all that trouble with Onyx. Then, before he could return home, he had been called on an urgent matter to Labrynna. Between facing off against Veran and dealing with a certain annoyance named Ralph, Link had been fairly certain he would never reach his native shores again. He didn’t want to return to Holodrum once Veran was defeated, but duty called him there to deliver a fairly nonsensical secret to a villager from an old woman in Labrynna. After this, Link promised himself, after this, he would go home again.
He crossed the room, listening to the heavy fall of his footsteps on the polished wooden floor. “What can I get you?” the barkeep asked, flinging a towel over his shoulder.
“Milk,” Link muttered.
The barkeep stared at him incredulously for a moment, the corners of his lips twitching in bemusement. “Milk it is,” he said, fighting to keep the chuckle out of his voice. He departed, disappearing in the back room to retrieve the most unusual drink order.
Adjusting his cap, Link sat down on a stool, resting his elbows on the counter and sighing into his palm. Just as his thoughts began to stray once more to the beautiful land of the Triforce, the song ended and he suddenly heard someone calling his name from across the room. “Link? Is that you?”
Link turned around to the direction of the sound, his hand instinctively going to the sword at his side. In the corner of the cantina, he spotted a young man leaning against the wall, balancing a mandolin on one knee. There was something familiar about this man, but it took Link a moment to place him. He wore a simple pair of dark brown slacks and an impossibly white poet’s shirt, unlaced practically to his navel, revealing an impressively muscular chest. He had long blond hair, pulled back by a satin ribbon at the base of his neck, emphasizing his rather attractive features.
“Link?” he asked again, standing up and swinging the mandolin on its strap around behind his back. “Don’t you remember me? Donal?”
Link instantly made the connection. He remembered now, Donal, one of the gypsies he had met upon his initial arrival in Holodrum. “Donal,” he said, breaking out into a smile. “Yes, of course I remember.” Gradually, hoping Donal wouldn’t notice, Link let go of his hilt, the Master Sword falling limply to one side.
“Well, I certainly didn’t expect to find you in here,” Donal said brightly, crossing the room to plop down on the stool next to Link.
“Me neither,” Link admitted. He reached out, clasping Donal’s wrist and giving him a brisk shake. “What are you doing here? I thought you troop would have moved on by now.”
Donal shook his head. “The troop fell apart really,” he sighed. “After all, we lost our star dancer.”
“You’ll be pleased to know that she’s alive and well,” Link supplied.
“Yes, I know,” Donal responded. “I’ve been hearing great tales of you, Link. You and your daring defeat of General Onyx.”
“They’re all exaggerated,” Link shrugged.
“Modest to boot.” Donal slugged Link’s shoulder playfully. “What in the name of all things sacred are you doing back here?”
“Trying desperately to get out of here.” The barkeep arrived, setting Link’s drink down with a condescending smirk. Link reached into his wallet to fish out the proper currency.
“No,” Donal said, reaching out and putting a hand on Link’s wrist. “Allow me.” With great showmanship, he produced a coin, handing it to the barkeep. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks,” Link said, picking up his flagon. “So what have you been doing, if the troop broke up?”
“Pretty much what you see,” Donal replied, patting his mandolin lovingly. “I play here almost every night.”
This caught Link slightly off guard. All of the gypsies he had encountered had been hopelessly talented. Frankly, it seemed to him that playing in a dank tavern was a bit beneath Donal’s skills. “Oh.”
The young musician shrugged. “The pay is steady enough and it’s only until I can afford passage on a ferry out of here.”
“Why not go on foot?”
“I miss the sea,” Donal said with a shrug. “My parents were privateers. Mother captained her own ship. I was born on the sea.”
Link scowled. “I don’t care much for water myself,” he admitted.
“Perpetual fear of drowning.” He shuddered slightly, recalling just how much time he had spent by the water during his adventure in Labrynna. His wreck on the island of the Tokay had more or less permanently scarred him.
“Water’s better than land, mate,” Donal laughed. “When you fall down, you don’t smoosh.”
He laughed nervously, sipping his milk. “I’ll keep my feet firmly planted on bedrock, thank you very much.”
“Your loss,” Donal shrugged. “I tend to think that the sea offers more adventure than anything you could find here. Then again, I’ve never had much in the way of adventure.” He frowned slightly. “What are you drinking there?”
Before Link could answer, the door to the tavern flew open and hit the opposite wall with a crack. A form silhouetted against the moonlight swept in, drawing the attention of all the patrons. Link knew, all too well, this particular Subrosian, shrouded in a red cloak and wearing a length of pink ribbon around her neck. She immediately spotted Link, somehow beneath her heavy hood, and made her way toward him, ignoring the surprised gapes of several drunken customers.
“Link!” she cried excitedly in her soothing, smooth voice. “I knew I’d be able to find you! I just knew it!”
He set down his mug, standing up to greet her. “Rosa? What are you doing up here?”
“Up here?” Donal repeated incredulously.
“I came to find you,” she explained. “I need you.”
“Nothing like the direct approach,” Donal muttered, glancing into Link’s mug and smirking.
“What’s the matter?” Link asked, ignoring the comment.
“Subrosia is in danger,” she explained.
“What kind of danger?”
“The people think it’s the end of the world.”
“What?” His heart sank inwardly. Not another apocalypse!
“We need your help.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Tales of your bravery have been sung throughout Subrosia,” Rosa said. “The way you managed to lift the…” she stumbled over the word, “…temple. The way you saved the topsiders.”
“That wasn’t bravery,” Link said weakly, feeling Hyrule slip through his fingers once again. “It was just dumb luck.”
“Well, whatever it is, it follows you.” She paused, probably staring at him from under her heavy hood. “Please, Link,” she whispered. “We need your help.”
He sighed sadly. “All right, I’ll see what I can do.”
Rosa surged forward, hugging Link around the waist with her cloaked arms. “Thank you!”
Link smiled weakly, pulling out of the embrace. He flagged down the barkeep. “Get me a canteen of water,” he told him.
“What exactly is Subrosia?” Donal asked, examining Rosa curiously.
“It’s another land, beneath the crust of Holodrum,” Link explained.
“And this is where you’re from?” Donal turned to Rosa.
“Yes,” she muttered shortly.
“Oh.” Link gestured from Donal to Rosa. “Donal, this is Rosa.”
“Daughter of Philo, tribune of the Subrosian people,” Rosa said smugly, dipping her head.
Donal smiled wryly. “So you’re a princess?”
“Something like that,” she replied.
“Rosa, this is Donal,” Link continued.
“Son of Captain Pegeen Aldred,” Donal added.
“So you’re a pirate?”
He laughed. “Worse, I’m afraid.”
“What’s worse than a pirate?”
The barkeep returned, giving Link a canteen full of water and a dirty look. Link took the former, ignoring the latter, and paid the man, strapping the canteen to his side. “I can’t promise anything, Rosa,” he said carefully.
“I won’t ask for any promises,” Rosa replied.
“Can I come?” Donal asked suddenly, causing both Link and Rosa to turn in his direction. “What? Why not?”
“Father doesn’t like topsiders coming down into Subrosia,” Rosa said.
“You’re bringing Link.”
“Father knows Link,” Rosa insisted.
“I’d like to help,” Donal persisted.
“How can you help?”
“How is Link going to help?” he shot back.
Rosa faltered at this. “Fine,” she mumbled after a moment. “You can come. Just don’t cause any trouble.”
“The thought never crossed my mind,” Donal said with a bow.
Link sighed. “Get yourself a canteen,” he told Donal.
“There’s no water in Subrosia.”
“No. And since it’s close to bedrock, it gets very hot down there. The first time I went down, I got dehydrated.” He scowled. “I’m told, I ended up dancing like an idiot in front of half the population.”
“More like a fifth,” Rosa corrected him.
“I’ll get some water,” Donal said. “Barkeep! Another canteen!”
“Rosa,” Link turned back to her. “You have to give me a little more information here.”
“I told you, the people think the world is coming to an end.”
“How exactly?” Link ticked off on his fingers. “Monsters? Storms? Poor dental hygiene?”
“Quakes? Rosa, there are quakes all the time in Subrosia.”
“Not like this.”
“Frost,” she replied.
It took him a moment to absorb this new information. “This sounds serious,” he finally admitted.
“What do you mean?” Donal asked, paying for his water.
“Frosts and lava flows rarely mix.”
“Hey, that’s pithy,” he muttered. “If my grandmother were alive, I’d have her needle point it.”
“We’d better go,” Link sighed.
“Follow me,” Rosa told them, already on her way out the door. “And don’t let anyone see you.” She vanished.
“I hate it when she does that,” Link mumbled, gripping his sword and heading out the door.
Donal hurried after him. “Link, if Subrosia is a land of lava flows, why, in the name of all things sacred, is she wearing a full cloak?”
“I don’t know,” Link admitted. “It’s some kind of Subrosian thing.”
“What do they look like?”
Link shrugged. “I have no idea.”
The two of them hurried out after Rosa. Link’s heart was sinking into his chest. Hyrule would have to wait, yet again. Unfortunately, and despite his greatest protests, Link was a hero. And he knew it was his duty to be a hero. Even at the cost of his own, personal happiness. Vaguely, he wondered what Donal was up to. After all, he had no real reason to trek down to Subrosia.
Tao threw a tablet against the floor, watching it shatter into a dozen pieces. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered for the thousandth time.
“So you’ve said,” Jamis muttered, collecting the pieces into a small burlap satchel.
“The old man actually thinks the legend is rubbish.”
“Of course he does,” Jamis replied, tying a bit of twine around the mouth of the bag. “You know how the tribunes are. Arrogant and stubborn. They all believe their power is limitless.”
Shaking his head, Tao smashed another tablet. “Does he not feel the quakes? Is he missing the frosts?”
“He knows,” Jamis sighed. “He just doesn’t want to believe.”
“No indeed,” Tao agreed. “Flordelis is a threat to his power. Of course he doesn’t want to believe she’s coming. He doesn’t want to step down.”
“Would you?” a voice asked. The Subrosians turned to look over at the screen set up on the opposite side of the room. Frankly, by Subrosia standards, it was something ugly and lowly, not carved out of permanent rock, but made of ephemeral paper and brittle sticks. Behind it, they could see the silhouette of Vash, changing her robes. They tried not to gawk too much, but it was very difficult.
“No,” Tao admitted.
“Of course not,” she replied. “No one would. The duty of a person in power is to stay in power.”
“In the face of men,” Tao argued. “But this is beyond mere mortals. This is the goddess of vengeance.”
“He doesn’t believe,” Jamis repeated.
“He will soon enough,” Vash told them. “When Flordelis appears before him in the flesh, he’ll believe.”
“I hope so,” Tao sighed, smashing another tablet. “For his sake.”
“Concern for the tribune,” she scoffed. “How touching.”
Jamis crossed the chamber. Although most of the records were stone tablets, there were one or two books, back from the ancient days. That they had survived the hot conditions of Subrosia was a miracle. He briefly skimmed the spines before selecting the proper volume and taking it down from the shelf. “I do not pity him as tribune,” he declared firmly, crossing over to a stone table. “Rather, I pity him for the folly of an old man.”
“Pity is a weakness,” Vash spat from behind the screen.
“Yes,” she answered. “And it will get you killed, Jamis.”
“Cut it from your heart,” Tao told him, picking up the shattered remains of the tablets.
“Of course,” Jamis muttered. He opened the book and flipped through the pages, filled with colorful illuminations. “Our primary duty is to protect the people,” he sighed. “Not the tribune.” He found the proper page and ripped it from the spine, folding up the brittle drawing and sticking it into his robes.
“He will step down,” Vash said. “When he realizes that Flordelis is a reality and not a fiction.”
“And whether the people love him or not, they will not question his decision,” Tao added.
“His children will resent him for it,” Jamis pointed out.
“No they won’t,” Tao insisted. “They’ll realize that Flordelis is real. Just like their father.”
“I worry about Rosa.”
“Rosa?” Vash asked.
“Philo’s daughter. Jamis fancies her.”
“I do not!” Jamis cried.
Both Vash and Tao laughed at this. “Is she going to be a threat?” Vash asked.
“She’s beloved by the people,” Jamis said sheepishly. “Almost more so than her father.”
“She is not a goddess,” Vash replied.
“No,” Jamis admitted. “She’s not.”
“The people will not follow her in place of Flordelis any more than they’ll follow Philo.”
“I suppose not,” Jamis admitted.
“For her own sake, she’d best not interfere. If she does, she will be eliminated. As will her followers.”
Jamis sighed, glancing out a window at the plain of Subrosia. “What’s to become of our people?” he mused.
“A new era is beginning, my friend,” Tao said passionately. “Some will face it with fear, but I choose to embrace it. There is great glory to be had.”
Although he had visited Subrosia several times before, Link had never been allowed into the tribune’s manor. It was really quite remarkable, though alien to his experiences with many monarchs. The estate was carved into the base of a red cliff like a labyrinth, decorated with delicate stone tracery depicting scenes from mythologies that Link could only guess at. Peeking out of the rock were thin windows of volcanic glass that glittered like stars as he approached the complex. These windows climbed up high into the rock face, going up at least twelve stories by Link’s calculations.
Inside the building, Link was promptly abandoned by Rosa and Donal who hurried down to the infirmary to care for a rather nasty burn Donal had sustained, touching one of the rock walls as they descended into Subrosia. Link was guided through the complex building by a Subrosian underling in blue robes who continually cast glances back over his shoulder at the topsider.
Not particularly anxious to engage in any sort of small talk, Link occupied himself by examining the fascinating architecture. The walls were so smooth he could easily have mistaken them for polished oak, glossed dark red. Stone slabs served as doorways, a bit clunkier than what he was used to, but every bit as effective. Each door was carved with Subrosian runes, doubtlessly explaining the purpose of each room. From what Link understood, this was the public portion of the state house, filled with offices for elected officials and civil servants. It was the private part of the house, with the infirmary, where the royal family of the tribune lived.
Link had to admit, coming from a land of a strict monarchy, that he didn’t entirely understand the Subrosian system. Still, judging by the impressive size and décor of the house, he reasoned it must have been in place for a very long time, long enough to allow this impressive maze. Rosa had informed him, as well, that her family had been in power for well over a thousand years. Only a stable land could record history that far back in time.
“This way, sir,” Link’s guide said beneath his hood, gesturing to an elaborate door of solid, pink granite.
“Thank you,” Link mumbled. He pressed his hand to the door and it opened with surprising ease, scraping softly against the floor. Inside, he discovered a warm, comfortable office, not at all like the royal chambers of Hyrule. There was a large stone desk against one wall, underneath a delicate window overlooking the plains. One wall was made up entirely of a bookshelf, though as Link looked, he realized that instead of books, most of the volumes lined up in neat rows seemed to be clay tablets, fired and glazed in the volcano.
Standing by the window was a Subrosian in deep red robes, a dark hood covering his face. Link could only assume this was the tribune. “Tribune Philo?” he asked carefully, stepping into the room.
“Hello, Link,” Philo replied, his voice reaffirming Link’s theory.
“It’s good to see you again,” Link said diplomatically. Vaguely, he wondered how it was possible for the Subrosians to tell each other apart. They certainly all looked the same to him.
“It’s good to see you too, Link. Although a bit unexpected. What are you doing down here?”
“Rosa asked me to visit,” Link explained.
“What did she tell you?”
He clasped his hands behind his back. “She said it was urgent. That the world was coming to an end down here.”
“She’s always been prone to hyperbole,” Philo mumbled.
“She says the quakes have been out of hand.”
“Yes,” Philo admitted. “It all began when Little Lass was late for eruption. After that, the quakes began.”
“Leading to mass hysteria.”
Philo chuckled. “You’d be surprised how little it takes. There’s been a further development, however. Come over here.” Dutifully, Link crossed the room. Philo reached out and took Link’s hand, pressing it against the windowsill. Immediately, Link’s fingers slipped on the melting frost. “You see?”
“How is that possible?” Link asked, running his fingers along the glass and frankly enjoying the frost a bit. Subrosia was difficult to bear with his delicate Hylian sensibilities.
“We don’t know,” Philo answered. He sat down on a stone stump behind the desk. “The people think that the end is coming.”
“Quakes and frost don’t really spell out certain doom,” Link replied, sitting on the corner of the desk. “Just a bit of a mystery.”
“There is another matter,” Philo told him.
“A legend. Dating back many centuries.”
“What’s the legend?”
“Are you familiar with Subrosian history?”
“Not particularly,” Link admitted. “I’ve only been down here once or twice and I didn’t have much time for cultural activities.”
“Fair enough.” Philo leaned back against the wall. “Over a thousand years ago, the Subrosian people experienced our dark age. It was a terrible epoch, as all dark ages are. War, famine, disease, murder, all of it. But, it ended abruptly as my ancestor assumed the role of tribune.”
“How did it end?”
Philo chuckled. “That is the legend. According to our most basic theology, the Subrosian people signed a contract with a goddess named Flordelis. This contract promised us a thousand years of peace and prosperity.”
“What happens at the end of a thousand years?”
“Flordelis would return to lay claim to the city and everything in it.”
“I see,” Link murmured, his mind already making the connections.
“Today is the thousandth anniversary of the contract. The people believe that Flordelis returns today to collect all of our damned souls.” He shook his head. “Of course, it’s all nonsense.”
“You don’t believe it?”
“No. I don’t. The problem is that the people do. The people have believed it for a thousand years. It’s the very basis of our belief system. It’s the reason why we’ve never started a war. It’s the reason why we wear the cloaks.”
“Yes. Some nonsense about how we all will eventually belong to Flordelis, so therefore we’re all damned and should not be looked at by anyone else.” He waved his hand dismissively. “At least, that’s how it began. Eventually, it became tradition and law.”
“But the people believe?”
“Unfortunately, most of them do. Which gives me a bit of a problem regarding how to deal with the situation.”
“What do I tell a people who are convinced that they belong to the goddess of vengeance?”
“That it’s not true,” Link replied haughtily. “That there is no Flordelis and no goddess coming to collect their souls.”
“And crush a thousand year old system of belief?” Philo retorted.
“Oh,” Link mumbled. “I didn’t think of that.”
“That is the problem facing me. Putting an end to the panic without putting an end to our way of life.”
“Change is inevitable, sir.”
“Yes,” Philo sighed. “However, change cannot happen all at once and abruptly. What we need is a cultural evolution, not a revolution.”
“How can I help?”
“We just need to make it to the end of the day,” Philo explained. “When the people see that the anniversary has come and gone without an appearance by Flordelis, they’ll calm down. In the meanwhile, my main concern is avoiding any sort of hysterical rioting.”
“Do you have anyone operating crowd control?”
“I’d be more than happy to stick around and help them.”
“That would be much appreciated, Link.”
Link shrugged. “I want to help. Your people were very good to me during a very difficult time.”
“We are nothing if not hospitable.” Philo stood up. “Where is my daughter anyway?”
“The infirmary?” Philo’s voice rose in alarm.
“A friend of mine accompanied us down here. He burned is hand.”
“Donal,” Link explained. “He was with me when Rosa found me. Got curious. We said he could come.”
“I should like to meet him. Many of the more conservative members of our society object to topsiders entering our world. As for me, I’m curious to know more about them.”
The Subrosian healers had no idea how to treat a burn victim. With such a high tolerance for heat, they were at a loss as to what had caused Donal’s hand to crack and peel. At long last, they wrapped it up in a bandage and told him not to go lava bathing for a week or so. Donal was only too happy to comply. Hand throbbing, he left the infirmary with Rosa and asked her to show him around the estate.
She led him to an enormous room that she called the throne room, though to Donal, it looked more like a ballroom. Instead of thrones, there were two rows of chairs going along each side of the room. In between these rows was a beautiful stretch of empty floor, carved out of obsidian and mica in a checkerboard pattern. An enormous chandelier of electrum was suspended over the floor, though Donal could not see any sort of chains holding it up. Dozens of small, blue candles burned, casting monstrous shadows onto the floor.
“This is where the elected officials and the hereditary officials meet to hold hearings for the commons,” Rosa explained with boredom, making a sweeping gesture across the room.
He walked into the room, listening to the vague echoes his boots made. “Excellent acoustics,” he commented. “Do you clear away the chairs for balls?”
“Balls?” She followed after him. “I don’t understand.”
“You know, for dancing.” He turned back to look at her. “You do have dancing down here, right?”
“We dance,” she replied with a shrug. She demonstrated by suddenly stepping abruptly to the right three times. She spread her arms out, then moved to the left in quick, jerky movements.
Donal stared at her for a moment. “What was that?”
“Dancing,” she replied.
“That,” he said crisply, “was not dancing. That was a seizure.”
“How do you do it?”
Shrugging, Donal scraped his foot along the floor, sweeping it up to one side then crossing it over his ankle in a simple little soft shoe. With a hop, he switched feet, repeating his pattern. Dropping his arms to the side, he kicked out each leg, tapping his toes first to the left and then to the right. “That is dancing,” he told her.
“Only if you’re a small child who needs to use the bathroom,” Rosa shot back, planting her hands on her hips.
He chuckled. “Occasionally. We have many kinds of dances though.”
“Show me another.”
“All right.” Abruptly, he reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her in with a twirl. He planted his other hand on the small of her back and started a brisk foxtrot. Rosa laughed, struggling to follow his lead, keeping one hand planted on her head to keep her hood from flying off. “This,” he explained as they flew around in clumsy steps across the room, “is a foxtrot.”
“I’m getting dizzy!” she cried.
“All right.” At once, he transitioned cleanly, swaying her back and forth in three steps. “This is called a waltz. It’s my personal favorite.”
“It reminds me of the rhythm of the sea.”
“What’s a sea?”
Donal stopped dead, his arms falling to his sides. “What’s a sea?” he repeated incredulously.
“Yes. What is it?”
“You don’t know what the sea is?”
“The sea is…” he struggled for words. “I’m not sure I can do it justice.”
“It’s such an enormous thing.”
Rosa seemed to be leaning her head to one side in curiosity. “Describe it for me, please.”
“A vast amount of water.”
He opened his canteen, pouring a small amount of his precious water supply onto the floor. “You see that?”
“The sea is like that, times a hundred million. More drops of water than you could ever count.”
“I think I know what that is. I once saw something up on the over world called a Spool.”
“No, no, no,” Donal shook his head. “That’s Spool Swamp you’re thinking of. A swamp isn’t a sea.”
“What’s the difference?”
He brushed a stray strand of hair behind his ear, gesticulating vaguely as he worked it out. “All right, picture Spool Swamp. With it’s disgusting, moldy green and brown water. Now, imagine that water is blue.”
“The bluest of the blue. Deeper than any sapphire. And completely bottomless. You can’t see what creatures are lurking beneath the surface, crawling along the sand below. Can you picture it?”
“Sort of,” she replied with a nod.
“Now.” He reached out, putting his hands on what he could only assume were her shoulders. “Imagine standing over that blue, looking down into it.” Gently, he started to rock her shoulders, pulling her back and forth to the rhythm of the gentle waves he remembered from his childhood.
“Why are we moving?”
“These are the waves,” he explained. “The wind moves the water which, in turn, rocks the boat.”
“The one we’re pretending to stand in.”
Rosa pulled back, smoothing down her sleeves gently. “This is all a little too confusing for me.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled with a shrug.
“The sea sounds beautiful though,” she added quickly, afraid to wound his pride.
“You have no idea,” Donal sighed.
“It sounds like you love it very much.”
“I miss it,” he shrugged. “I’m going to go back there someday.”
“I wish you luck.”
The door to the room opened then, stone scraping against stone. Two Subrosians, both wearing green robes walked in, deep in conversation. “That’s not the point, Jamis,” one of them was saying passionately.
“I know, Tao, but all the same…” he trailed off, catching sight of Rosa and the topsider. “It seems we have a guest,” he said.
“Rosa,” Tao said, walking over to them. “Your father’s been looking for you. Did you run away to the over world again?”
“Yes,” Rosa admitted.
“You know you shouldn’t be doing that,” Tao scolded her.
“What is this outsider doing here?” Jamis asked crisply, facing Donal. Donal imagined he was glaring beneath his hood.
“Oh. This is Donal, a friend of the topsider hero, Link,” Rosa said, gesturing to him. “Donal, this is Senator Tao. And this is Senator Jamis.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Donal said politely, extending a hand out in their direction.
“You know you’re not supposed to bring outsiders into the city, Rosa,” Jamis continued, ignoring Donal’s friendly gesture.
“There are no laws against it,” Rosa said fiercely, coming to Donal’s defense. He lowered his hand and turned to watch her.
“It’s going against a thousand years of tradition,” Jamis said.
“As I recall,” Rosa replied, “if it had not been for an outsider, the…” she stumbled, “temple, would still be in our land.”
“Your point being?” Tao asked dryly.
“My point being,” she answered, “That some traditions could stand to be changed.” By this point, Donal was out and out impressed. Rosa was far more defiant than he would have imagined her to be.
“And I suppose next you’ll be suggesting we forgo the formality of our cloaks,” Tao scoffed.
“Does your father even know he’s here?” Jamis cut in quickly, pointing angrily at Donal.
“Father is meeting with Link as we speak,” Rosa replied. “Should he have a problem with the outsiders, I’m certain we’ll hear about it shortly. In the meantime, until he objects, you are to treat this man has a guest of the royal establishment. He is a guest of my father and myself.”
Tao nodded curtly to Donal. “Welcome to Subrosia.”
Jamis was silent for a moment, standing completely still, like a statue. “Welcome” he finally said.
“Thank you,” Donal murmured, suddenly grateful that he could not see the glare Jamis was doubtlessly giving him.
A quake suddenly shook the room, mercifully preventing the need for additional small talk. Jamis and Tao rattled into each other. Rosa lost her balance and fell, but Donal managed to catch her, righting her again as they both dropped down to the floor. A light dust descended from the ceiling, falling over the four of them as the final throes of the tremor dissolved into stillness and quiet.
“Is everyone all right?” Donal asked carefully.
“She’s getting angry…” Tao muttered.
“The goddess of vengeance,” Tao said, getting back to his feet. “She comes to claim Subrosia today.”
“If you believe in that sort of nonsense,” Rosa added, helping Donal up again.
Donal smirked. “Which you clearly do not.”
“You’d be wise to believe, Rosa,” Tao told her. “Flordelis is coming.”
The door to the throne room flew open again. In floated Philo, followed by Link who was brushing dust off of his shoulders. “Rosa!” Philo called, crossing swiftly over to her and taking her in his arms. “How many times must I tell you not to run off like that?”
“A few more times, father,” she answered with a laugh in her voice.
“Are you all right?” Link asked Donal, going over to him.
“Just a little shaken up,” Donal quipped.
As soon as the words left his lips, a second quake came, throwing all the inhabitants of the room to the floor. “They’re getting worse!” Jamis shouted, rolling along the tide of the quake.
“We noticed,” Rosa shot back, falling against Donal’s side.
Link flipped over onto his stomach, pressing his hands against the floor. He felt them slip and he fell to his face. The ground was cold and slippery. Carefully, he pulled back, touching the thin layer of ice that was forming. This was no casual frost. This was an actual slick. The quakes shook again, causing Link to fall back on his face. There was a loud explosion and he felt a wave of fire slap his cheek. At once, the quakes stopped and Link was able to sit up.
Beyond a dancing curl of smoke, smoldering from some kind of explosion, a new figure had appeared in the room, standing between the rest of them and the door. She was a woman, clearly not Subrosian because she proudly displayed her face, painted with gaudy blue paste over her eyelids, going up to her eyebrows. Around her ears and throat, she wore a white cowl with a hole cut in the back, allowing two long, black braids to fall, halfway down to her knees. The rest of her decidedly attractive body was wrapped in a shimmering pink gown with a long train that trailed behind her. She lifted an arm, the window sleeve falling away to reveal cream, perfect flesh. “I’m here,” she said with a gleeful smile.
“Flordelis!” Tao cried, falling to his knees and bowing.
“I see you’ve heard of me,” she said with a laugh.
“Hail, goddess,” Jamis whispered, bowing as well.
Link slowly clambered to his feet. Flordelis examined the Subrosians sprawled across the floor. “Oh, do get up,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “Really, I’ve had just about all I can take of the prostration. It was fun for a few millennia, but now it’s really quite old.” Her gaze fell on Link, standing off to one side. “Oh,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. “That’s much better.” She walked over to him, going in a circle to examine him from every angle. “I love a man in a dress,” she murmured, eyeing his legs. After a lingering moment, she turned to face the others. “Now, which of you is currently in command of my kingdom?”
“Your kingdom?” Rosa spat.
“Rosa!” Jamis hissed.
Slowly, Philo rose to his feet, smoothing down his robes. “My name is Philo,” he said softly. “I am tribune of Subrosia.”
“Excellent,” she said, clapping her hands together in front of her chest. “Philo, is it?”
“Well, we’ve got quite a bit of work to do, Philo. Between organizing the new regime and your resignation, I imagine the two of us will be spending a great deal of time together.”
“Resignation!” Rosa shouted indignantly, jumping up to her feet.
“Rosa!” Jamis cried.
There was no stopping her. Rosa marched right up to Flordelis. “How dare you suggest that my father should resign!”
Flordelis looked past Rosa to Philo. “Who is this…person?”
Philo grabbed Rosa’s shoulders, pulling her back. He stepped in front of her, facing Flordelis. “My daughter,” he said apologetically.
“She really must learn some manners,” Flordelis sighed.
“Please forgive her,” Jamis said quickly.
She glanced at Jamis for a moment, squeezing her hands into fists at her sides. Suddenly, the ground began trembling again, throwing everyone back to the floor. Rosa crashed into Donal. “I will not tolerate rudeness in my kingdom,” she told them icily as the quake ended. “Now, we have business to attend to.” She pointed to Tao. “You.”
“Tao, mistress,” he said, rising to his feet.
“I want you to scurry off and bring me reports on the resources and industries of Subrosia. I want to know everything about the gross domestic production there is to know.”
“Yes, mistress,” Tao replied with a bow. At once, he swept out of the room.
Her attentions next fell on Jamis. “You.”
“Jamis, mistress,” he told her.
Flordelis was about to give him another inane order, but Link interrupted, back on his feet again. “Why don’t you tell us who you really are,” he said, folding his arms across his chest.
“Oh?” she asked, turning to face him.
“You are no goddess,” he retorted.
“Are you so certain of that?”
“Have you ever seen a goddess before?” She walked over to him. “Who are you anyway? You’re not one of them.”
“Link,” he replied.
“I see. Tell me Link, what do you know about Subrosian theology?”
“Enough to tell that you’re not a goddess.”
Flordelis balled up her fists at her sides. There was a soft crackling sound. Link looked down to find a swirl of ice gathering around his feet. He made to move away from it, but found that his boots had been frozen to the ground. Slowly, painfully, the ice began to crawl up his legs. They ached at once, as though on fire, but he could not move to escape. “I don’t like my subjects to be rebellious. I like them to be perfectly satisfied in their knowledge that I am mighty.”
“I am not one of your subjects.”
“Oh no?” The ice stopped climbing and slowly began to melt. “You’ll find, my dear Link, that you are.” She made a broad, sweeping gesture across the room. “Everyone in this kingdom now belongs to me.”
“But we’re not Subrosians,” Donal said softly.
She turned to spare him a passing glance. “But you are in my kingdom,” she replied. “Therefore, you are mine.”
“Forgive me if I don’t curtsy,” Link said tightly.
Flordelis turned back to him. “I like you. You have character. You shall be my new favorite.”
By this point, the ice around Link’s feet had melted enough for him to break free of it. He immediately turned his back on Flordelis, crossing back to Rosa and Philo. “You don’t have to roll over for her,” he told them.
“No, father,” Rosa agreed.
“Why are you so resistant to me?” Flordelis wondered loudly. “I assure you, I don’t intend to change your respective lives considerably.”
“No,” Link responded. “You just mean to enslave an entire population.”
“An entire population that owes me for a thousand years of peace and prosperity,” she pointed out.
“I’m not entirely convinced that they owe anything to you.”
“Have I not proven myself? Would you like more tremors?”
“You’ve proven yourself a skilled magician and a clever actor, nothing more,” Link answered.
“This grows tiresome,” she sighed.
Link turned to Philo. “Sir, I beg of you, before blindly handing over your kingdom to this woman, find proof she is what she claims to be.”
“Yes, father,” Rosa urged him.
“Proof? Again, you ask for proof.” Flordelis rolled her eyes.
“If you’re truly Flordelis, you have nothing to fear,” Link told her.
She sighed. “I suppose that’s the case. Very well. You may search for any kind of proof you wish. But unless you discredit me, I will assume responsibilities as leader.” She glanced at Philo. “Once your little friends have exhausted their search, you may officially step down.” She turned to Jamis. “Show me the village square,” she instructed him. “I want to see where my shrine will be built.”
“Yes, mistress,” he mumbled.
As Jamis led her out, Flordelis turned back to look at Link once more. “I’m going to enjoy you,” she said. And with that, she was gone.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t like her,” Donal said once her footsteps vanished.
“You’re not the only one,” Link muttered.
“Rosa!” Philo gasped, rushing over to his daughter and pulling her into a tight embrace. “You mustn’t make her angry, child!”
“Father, you can’t possibly believe –”
“What I believe doesn’t matter,” Philo interrupted. “What I know is that she has power. She could do real harm to you.”
“Her tricks are nothing special,” Link replied. “I’ve seen people do far more impressive and dangerous magic.”
“What do we do, Link?” Donal asked.
“We need to start with the basics.” He looked at Philo. “Is there a copy of the contract somewhere?”
“In the royal archives,” Philo said.
Rosa grabbed Donal’s hand. “I’ll show you.”
“You two go research everything you can about Flordelis,” Link told them.
Donal nodded. “What are you going to do?”
“I think I might research Subrosian gross domestic production myself. What could she be looking for?”
“Use my office,” Philo told him weakly.
“Are you all right, father?” Rosa asked.
“I’m going to take a walk,” Philo said. And he left.
Rosa and Donal hurried to the royal archives. They were nothing like Donal had expected. Instead of a room filled with old musty books, he found himself surrounded, primarily, by clay tablets. Immediately, they located a copy of the supposed contract between the tribune and Flordelis from a thousand years ago and sat down, their heads bent together, scanning the Subrosian runes.
“It says here,” Rosa told him, pointing to a vertical line of pictographs, “that Flordelis will collect on the Subrosian territories and all good things that come from them.”
“All good things?” he mused. “Well, I suppose that counts me out right away.”
She laughed. “I’m not sure how she defines good things, to be honest.”
“The semantics will kill you,” he chuckled.
Rosa scanned the tablet. “According to this, her return following the thousand years of peace would be heralded with rattling and shivers.”
“Well, tremors and ice will cause both.”
“Damn,” Rosa sighed, leaning back.
Donal glanced at her. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“Actually,” she said, “my mother died a long time ago.”
“Oh.” Donal wished he could shove his foot in his mouth. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s all right,” Rosa told him. “I didn’t really know her.”
“My mother died when I was fifteen,” he said, leaning his elbows on the table in front of them. “I was absolutely devastated.”
“You were close to her?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “I was so overcome that I packed up my things and foreswore the sea.”
“But you speak so lovingly of it.”
“Without my mother,” Donal explained, “I couldn’t find any beauty in the thing I loved the most. Of course, now I realize what a great fool I was.”
“Retrospect is a fantastic thing,” she said.
“Something like that.”
She sat up again, looking down at the tablet. “Well, this confirms everything. She does technically own the land, the people, and the institutions.”
“Are there any other sources we can check?”
“What do you mean?”
“Some record of mythology. What does Flordelis look like, according to legend? What does she sound like? Anything like that?”
“Well…” Rosa glanced at the shelves. “There’s a book up there. It’s about ancient creatures with supernatural powers. I think there’s a drawing of some kind in there.”
At once, Donal crossed the room, scanning the shelves. “Which one?”
Rosa stood up, coming to his side. Carefully, she reached up standing on her tip toes, pulling a volume down from a high shelf. The weight of the book threw her balance off and she stumbled into Donal. He caught her around the shoulders. “Oops,” she muttered.
“No quakes this time.”
“I’m beginning to think that you’re magnetically drawn to me.”
She laughed. “I’m so sorry.”
The two of them returned to the table where Rosa set down the book and began flipping through it. “It’s funny. I’ve lived in Holodrum for awhile now. I never knew a thing about this place.”
“We’re a bit clandestine when it comes to outsiders,” she said.
“You know, I got that impression from your friends. Jao and Tamis?”
“Tao and Jamis,” she corrected him laughingly.
“Right. I didn’t like them. They weren’t very nice.”
“They can be a little bit stuffy. They’re well meaning though. Jamis himself has been reelected to his position nearly ten times.”
“He seemed very protective of you.”
Rosa sighed. “Yes. A little bit.”
“Is there anything…”
“I mean, between the two of you…”
“Between Jamis and myself?”
“Good?” she repeated.
He cleared his throat. “Well, he just doesn’t seem right for you. A bit too institution, if I may say so.”
“I’m not entirely sure what that means,” she said with an amused tone, “but I think I’ll accept it.”
Rosa flipped a page. She paused, then flipped back. “That’s not right…” she muttered.
“The book goes from Tahafra to Anyanca. It skips over Flordelis completely.”
Donal ran his fingers across the crease of the pages. “There’s something that’s been ripped out. I can feel the edges.”
“Who would rip out the page on Flordelis?”
“Someone who didn’t want anyone seeing her picture?”
“There are some tablets of folklore against the wall,” Rosa said, shutting the book and standing up. “Maybe they have a description of her somewhere.”
They crossed the room and Rosa ran her fingers along the titles of each stela, searching. “Do you see anything?” Donal asked after a moment.
“No,” she said dourly.
“So, every bit of literature about Flordelis, except for her contract, is gone and someone’s torn out her picture?”
“That about sums it up.”
He leaned against the shelf, folding his arms across his chest. “When I was working as a gypsy, we had a saying.”
“When going to hide know how to get there and how to get back and eat first.”
Rosa was silent for a moment. “What does that have to do with anything?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I think we know for certain now that there’s foul play going on. When evidence is missing, it’s a clear indication that something is being covered up.”
“So you don’t believe that she’s a goddess either?”
“No,” he admitted. “I never did.”
“The question is, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Wait for Link?”
“I guess so.”
“It’s getting pretty late,” Donal sighed. “Why don’t you go to bed? We’re not going to get much more done tonight.”
“Will you walk me back to my quarters?”
“Of course,” he replied. “Although, I have absolutely no idea where they are.”
Rosa giggled. “I’ll show you,” she told him.
“Lead the way.”
As they departed, they happened to turn their backs on the stacks. From a dark, shadowy shelf, a pair of eyes peered out at them, hidden underneath a green hood. Great anger filled his heart, watching Donal depart with Rosa. He clenched his fists, his breathing getting faster and faster. How dare he! An outsider! He had no rights to her, none at all! If anyone had earned the privilege to escort Rosa to her room, it was he. He would have his revenge.
The heat was starting to get to Link more than he cared to admit. As a Hylian, he had rather thin skin, meaning he lost a lot of hydration just from standing around a Subrosian plain too long. Leaning against a wall, he took a big gulp of water from his canteen, grateful for the lukewarm water which wetted his gullet. He would have to return to the surface to get more, he realized dourly. And there simply wasn’t time for this.
It was horrendously late and Link had finally realized his own exhaustion and retired to one of the guest apartments in the state house Philo had been generous enough to provide for him. The room was sparse, but frankly, Link didn’t need more than a bed right now. He sat down heavily on it, running his hand through his untidy hair. At once, he flopped over onto his back.
The ceiling above him was of stone, of course. His eyes followed the cracks, trying to decide what they looked like. Somehow, everything merely reminded him of home. Oh Hyrule. Would he ever see it again? A very small, very weak part of his mind began searching for who to blame for his unfortunate exile. He assigned some to Onyx, some to Veran, quite a bit to Ralph, but most of all, he couldn’t avoid the fact that he blamed himself. Somehow, he continually got himself caught up in things that shouldn’t have been his business.
There was a scraping noise and a light fell over the ceiling. Link sat bolt upright to see Flordelis breeze into the room, closing the door behind her. “Get out,” he said immediately.
“That’s not very neighborly,” she told him.
“What are you doing in here?”
“I came to pay you a visit.”
“Go away,” he said.
“You really can’t give me orders,” she said. “I own you.”
Flordelis crossed the room. “In time,” she murmured. “You will come to appreciate me.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Haven’t you heard at all about me? I made the walls of Galaxia crumble. Eventually.”
“What do you want?”
“Just you,” she said.
She sat down beside him on the foot of the bed. “Is it so hard for you to believe that I find you attractive?”
“You’re modest,” she said. “Self defacing. I like that.”
“Please go away.”
“Tell me, have you ever been with a woman before?”
“That is none of your business,” he said tightly.
“Hmmm…that’s a qualified yes.” She leaned forward, bringing her lips close to his ears, hidden under his hair. “I look forward to discovering the qualification.”
Link stood up, crossing the room to get away from her. “I’m really very tired,” he said.
“Do you find me attractive?”
“I see nothing attractive about a woman attempting to enslave an entire race,” he replied.
“Oh, I see. You’re one of those sorts who actually believe in something as preposterous as inner beauty. It’s sweet, really.”
“You’ve got me all figured out.”
“Not quite,” she declared. “But I’m working on it.”
“Oh, I intend to,” she answered. “And if you would allow yourself, you might enjoy it too.”
“Let’s forget about this whole ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’ notion and focus on something more relevant. What do you think of my body? Be honest. I can take it.”
Link rolled his eyes. “I’ve seen better.”
“Oh,” she blinked. “I didn’t expect you to be so brutally honest.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“I know. That’s why I like you.”
“I really wish you didn’t.”
“Life isn’t always fair, Link.”
“You’ll learn to make the best of it.” She reached behind her head and slowly started undoing her braids.
Link eyed her wearily. “What are you doing?”
“I sense your type. You like the virginal, sweet girls. You’ve known a few. Perhaps you’ve deflowered a few.”
“Don’t go fishing into my past,” he warned her.
“Touchy subject? Perhaps there’s been a bit of a tragic loss. Separation from someone special?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“I knew I was right,” she murmured, shaking her head. Her hair was loosened from the braids, falling around her face in ebony ripples. “How’s this? Maidenly enough for you?”
“Why me?” Link groaned.
“Still not enough,” she tutted. “I love a challenge.”
“This isn’t a challenge,” Link muttered. “It’s impossible.”
“We can go round and round for all eternity. The thrill of the chase. I’m not getting any older.”
“I’m really very tired.”
“Then go to sleep.”
“Not with you here.”
“Afraid of me watching you sleep.” She leaned forward. “Afraid of what dreams I might overhear.”
“None of them will be about you.”
“You say that now.”
“I mean it.”
Flordelis reached behind her neck, a clicking sound signaling her unfastening the clasps of her cowl. “Tell me, what were you and your little friend doing down in Subrosia anyway?”
“We came to help,” Link replied. “Rosa found us and told us there was trouble. You, apparently.”
“Rosa again? That girl seems very prominent around here.”
“She’s far more pleasant than some individuals.”
“A back handed pot shot at me? I respect that. At least I know you have a spine, Link.”
“Won’t you go away?”
“You’re a broken record. It’s very boring.”
“I’m trying to be as boring as possible.”
“I admire your strength of character.” She pulled the cowl off, shaking her head and allowing her hair to ruffle and fall over her face for a moment. “Do not take it lightly when you catch the attention of a goddess.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good.” She smoothed her hair back, brushing it behind her ears. Link felt his heart leap up into his chest. As he watched her, he suddenly noticed two long, delicately pointed ears. She was a Hylian! Fighting as hard as he could, Link still couldn’t escape little a small yelp out. Flordelis looked over at him, taking this for some small victory. “Do you like? I understand that some men see the hollow of the throat as the most attractive part of a woman.”
“Very nice,” Link murmured, carefully smoothing his hair down over his own ears. He knew immediately that he had a new card to play. He knew exactly what she was. It would be best not to let her know that he came from the same heritage. Perhaps, down the line, he might use it against her.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“As you like,” he said absently. He glanced back at the door. “Listen, I really need to go.”
“I just remembered something…I have to do.”
“You’re walking out on me?”
“No one walks out on me!”
“Sorry!” he cried, not at all genuinely. And he raced out, not bothering to close the door behind him. He could feel Flordelis’ eyes burning into the back of his neck, but he really didn’t care. Quickly, he raced down the hall until he was certain he was out of her sightlines. At this point, he leaned against the wall to catch his breath.
A triumphant chuckle escaped his lips. Finally! He had something! A lead. He knew that he could discredit Flordelis, this so called goddess. And once he did, oh yes, then the triumph would truly be his. Once he proved her false, he could finally go home. Victory was sweet. Still, he sighed, best not to savor it until it was in his hands. He would have to find Donal and Rosa right away. There was a lot of work to be done. He took off down the hall.
It was fairly late, but Philo found nothing but sleeplessness when his head hit the bed. He very quickly surrendered to it and rose, putting on his robes again and talking a walk. His feet led him to a field just outside of the manor, usually filled with children at play, but quiet tonight. By some miracle, the police had managed to calm the people enough to send them all to bed. The quakes had stopped, leaving everyone with many questions, but less fear than before. Philo had never really believed in miracles before, but he was willing to accept the notion, if only this once.
The glow of the lava flows lit up the field, dull red. During the day, the lava flows turned orange. At night, the color faded, like the sun, or so Philo was told, though he had never seen it before. For a long while, he watched the lava flows, as small dots of black drifted lazily past him. When at long last the hypnotizing effects of the river wore off and thoughts once again entered Philo’s mind, he turned away, taking a leisurely stroll down the path.
Just this morning, he had been so convinced that Flordelis was a myth. And now, now here she was, in the flesh, expressing a command for him to step down from a position he had held for nearly twenty years. How could he do it? It wasn’t that he was in love with the power or the responsibility, but he had taken his duty seriously for so long. He felt as though he knew his people, intimately. They were a part of him, a part he wasn’t ready to abandon to the whims of a woman he knew nothing about. He was a parent, after all, and he did occasionally treat the Subrosians like his children. How would Rosa respond to suddenly being handed over to the custody of a stranger? The same as his people, he imagined.
Rosa certainly thought that Flordelis was a fake. Philo was hard pressed to disagree outright, still, he had to admit, she seemed to have vast amounts of power at her command. He didn’t much care for the frosts she brought. In fact, they frightened him. All Subrosians feared the cold. The quakes were another matter. Although not uncommon, he knew that too much stress on the bedrock could cause disaster. Little Lass might be the least of their problems.
He sighed, sitting down on a stone. Perhaps Link and his friend Donal could do something, help somehow, but as the hours wore on, Philo began to doubt it. Not their aptitude, nor their abilities, merely their fortunes. This might be one battle that the great hero of Holodrum could not win. He had a great deal of respect for Link. The boy had great fortitude and was clever as could be. Not only had he found his way to Subrosia all by himself, a feat never before accomplished by a topsider, but he had managed to restore balance to the land by getting rid of that ‘temple.’ Philo would be eternally grateful to the boy. His friend, however, puzzled him. Philo couldn’t quite make out what Donal’s motivation was in all of this. He didn’t have the answer to that, but he knew that he didn’t entirely trust the boy.
“Philo? Is that you?”
He looked up and saw two figures in green approaching him. Jamis and Tao. What were they doing out and about? “Yes,” he answered loudly, raising a hand to salute them.
“What are you doing up at this hour?” Tao asked.
“I was just about to ask you the same,” he said, forcing a small chuckle into his voice.
“Fair enough,” Tao said, dipping his head.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Philo admitted.
“No doubt, you’re still thinking about the events of this afternoon,” Tao said gently.
“I’m not surprised,” Tao sighed, sitting down next to him on the rock. Jamis remained standing, silent.
“There are many things to take into consideration.”
“Are there? Truly?”
“Of course, Tao.”
Tao sighed. “It seems to me, the best way to handle a transition is smoothly. With dignity.”
“What are you saying, Tao?”
“I’m saying,” he sighed, “that there is no dignity in this charade.”
“You want me to step down?”
“I’ve been saying it all along, sir.”
“I suppose you have.”
“Why can’t I convince you it’s the most peaceful solution?”
“Because,” Philo explained, “it would mean handing over the Subrosian people to a stranger.”
“Flordelis is a goddess,” Tao reminded him.
“But,” Philo continued. “Goddess or not, she is still a stranger. And I don’t know if she has the Subrosians’ best interest at heart.”
“Does it matter? There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“There may not be anything we can do about it,” Philo answered. “But goddess or not, it is my duty to defend the interests of the people. Even if it means defying a power beyond my abilities.” He glanced up at Jamis. “You’ve always been a champion of the people, Jamis. Don’t you agree?”
Jamis was silent. “Jamis!” Tao barked.
He shuddered. “Yes?” Jamis mumbled absently.
“Philo just asked you a question.”
“I’m sorry,” Jamis muttered. “What was it?”
“Flordelis,” Philo said. “It’s my duty to defend the people against her, even if I know I cannot stand up to her. Do you agree?”
“I…” He paused.
“I’m not sure I agree,” Jamis finally said.
“What? Why not?”
“I’m happy to defend the people,” Jamis explained, “But I’m not entirely convinced that the methods are right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes,” Tao added. “What do you mean?”
“Link and his friend, Donal,” Jamis said. “I don’t trust them.”
“You don’t?” This caught Philo genuinely off guard. True, they were defiant and quite against tradition, but still…not trustworthy?
“I feel their interests are not…the well being of the people.”
“Again I ask, why not?”
“I can’t get a particularly good read on Link,” Jamis admitted. “He’s very much an enigma.”
“I have a feeling that his interest in this case has to do with a very specific Subrosian.”
Philo looked sharply at Jamis. “Who?”
“Who?” Tao echoed.
“Your daughter,” Jamis replied.
Dead silence. Philo couldn’t entirely comprehend what it was that Jamis was hypothesizing. Donal? Interested in Rosa? What in the name of Subrosia did that mean? “Explain yourself,” Philo snapped. He didn’t mean to sound so harsh, but this was his daughter.
“It must have occurred to you at some point in these past few years that Rosa is hardly a child anymore.”
“I don’t like where your talk is heading.”
“I doubt very much that Donal’s interests in Rosa are strictly casual. All that time he’s spending with her, supposedly researching Flordelis. He’s eyeing her like a prize, stealing touches and embraces.”
“How dare you suggest such a thing!”
“You may turn a blind eye, sir, but I cannot. I almost think that he wants to steal your child away from Subrosia, away from the traditions and the loving eyes of her people.”
“Rosa would never –”
“Wouldn’t she?” Jamis cut him off. “How many times has she snuck up to the surface?”
“Jamis…” Tao said carefully.
“You need to be very careful, sir. Very careful indeed,” Jamis continued. “Your obsession with disproving Flordelis could cost you a daughter.”
“I trust Rosa,” Philo said fiercely.
“Very well and good,” Jamis responded. “Trust your daughter. You know her best. The question, sir, is whether or not you can trust this Donal character?”
Philo was silent for a moment. At once, he stood up and began marching back to the palace. Tao turned to Jamis. “What are you doing?” he hissed. “We have no reason to believe that any of that is true.”
“I got what you wanted, didn’t I?” Jamis muttered back. “Philo hates the Human now. He’ll put an end to that investigation into Flordelis.”
“Why do I have a feeling you have a personal interest in this?”
“Because I do.” Abruptly, Jamis followed after Philo, hurrying to catch up. Tao shook his head. A moment behind, he went along. He would see how this played out. And hope for the best.
“Donal!” Link was running through the hall with absolutely no idea where he was going, but he didn’t care. “Donal!” Each elated step only reinforced his exhausted body. Small victories were always the best, better than the greatest of triumphs. At the end of a big battle, Link would only be exhausted, but a small victory; that was something else. That rejuvenated him. “Donal!”
“Donal?” Link followed the sound of the response, brushing past several very confused Subrosians on the night watch. “Donal!”
It reminded him very much a childhood game where a blindfolded player would try to locate his fellows with some kind of call and response. Childhood was very much a thing of the past, but somehow, the game still thrilled Link. He needed to take whatever he could get when it came to fun. “Donal!”
Racing around a corner, he finally discovered Donal, moving in his direction, the mandolin back on his hip. He had just been playing. “There you are,” Donal said, sighing with relief.
“Donal! We have an edge!”
Link grabbed Donal’s shoulders, shaking him with excitement. “Flordelis is Hylian!”
“She came to my room and she started taking off her cowl and I saw her ears, Donal!”
“Wait a second, she came into your room and started stripping?”
“She has pointed ears!”
“Why did she come into you room and start taking her clothing off?” Donal asked.
“That’s not important!” Link insisted. “What matters is that she’s a Hylian. She’s a Hylian con artist.”
“Well, we pretty much knew she was a con artist,” Donal replied. “How does Hylian help?”
“Don’t you see? If she’s Hylian, all of her tricks can be explained.”
“Yes. Everything she’s doing must be related to Hylian magic. We just need to figure out which kind.”
“I don’t understand.”
Link sighed. “All Hylian magic,” he explained, as if speaking to a small child, “with the exception of three basic spells, is produced with the aid of a magical instrument.”
“Okay,” Donal nodded.
“What we need to do is find out what instrument she’s using, which will explain how she’s causing the quakes and the frosts.”
“And the explosions,” Donal reminded him. “There was that big explosion when she appeared.”
“Right. I almost forgot about that.”
“But Link, she wasn’t exactly waving around a magic wand.”
“True,” Link admitted, “but I noticed something. Each time she caused a quake or a frost, she would squeeze her hands.”
“She was probably hiding the instruments in her hands. Something small, like a talisman or a medallion.”
“How do we find out?”
“I wish I had my copy of the Book of Mudora,” Link muttered.
“Book of Mudora?
“Ancient Hylian scriptures,” Link explained. “It provides a full etymological explanation of the Hylian language and it lists every single sacred item a Hylian could use for magic.”
“But that doesn’t matter. The point is, all we have to do is find out what she’s using. If we can, and if we get a hold of it, even I can do the exact same spells.”
“Looking to take over Subrosia, mate?”
“Sovereignty is not for me,” Link answered.
“You like your freedom.”
“What’s that?” Link quipped dryly.
Donal chuckled. “Well, we’d better tell Rosa.”
“Where is she?”
“I just walked her to her room. Come on.”
With Donal leading the way, the two of them hurried down the corridor, filled with a newfound excitement. This was the breakthrough they needed. “It occurs to me,” Link muttered as they went, “That a single Hylian couldn’t possibly have done this all by herself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Flordelis doesn’t really fit into Hylian theology. Someone must have given her the story.”
“Are you saying that she has some accomplices here?”
“She must,” he replied. “How else would she even have been able to get down here in the first place?”
“You did it.”
“I had some help.”
They arrived at the door. Gingerly, Donal tapped on it, but there was no response. “Rosa?” he called.
“Are you sure this is the right room?”
“I’m sure,” Donal said.
“She went in there?”
“She said she was going to bed.” He pounded a little bit harder on the stone. “Rosa!”
“Where else could she be?”
“I don’t know!” Donal answered, concern swelling.
Link frowned. “I hope Flordelis didn’t get to her.”
Donal whirled around to look at Link. “What?”
“I don’t know. Flordelis didn’t seem to like her much.”
With that, Donal lifted his boot and kicked the door. Much to their surprise, it swung open, slowly. Meanwhile, Donal’s toe began throbbing. That didn’t matter much, however. The two of them raced into the dark room, scanning it immediately for signs of a struggle. Like Link’s guest quarters, Rosa’s bedroom was fairly bare, with only sparse furnishings, but there was one thing that Link’s room lacked.
Lying on the bed was a creature beyond Link’s healthy imaginings. She was a delicate thing, very thin, dressed only in two modest strips of white gauze. Her skin was pale white and in the darkness, it exuded a silvery shine. A serene face with closed eyes was turned toward them. Unlike humanoids, the features of this creature’s face were fairly indistinct, a smooth nose easily transitioning into a cheek with no real change in shadows. Her mouth was a pale blue, lips quivering in a dreamlike state. She had a soft pink hair, intermingled with two delicate tentacles that stuck out of her forehead and tangled in her hair. In between her eyes was a lavender star shape with eight points, one of which traveled all the way down her lack of a nose.
“What the…” Donal faltered.
The creature’s eyes opened, by far, they were the most remarkable thing about her. They were a milky amber tone, with no whites. Her pupils were diamond shaped. They grew as the light hit them. With a shriek, the creature sat up, grabbing a nearby piece of fabric, a red robe, and holding it against her chest. She stared at them in pure horror, those azure lips hanging open.
Link blinked several times, attempting to form some kind of coherence. “Rosa?” he asked.
“Shut the door!” she cried. Link obeyed at once. Donal, however, remained completely frozen.
“Is that you?” Link wondered.
“You’re not supposed to see this!” she wailed, burying her face in her crimson robe.
“By the gods…” Donal whispered.
Rosa looked up at him. “What?”
Before Rosa could respond to this, there was noise from outside of the door. “Rosa,” Philo’s sharp voice called from the other side.
Panic gripped the girl. “Oh no…”
“Now what?” Link asked.
“Hide!” she hissed.
Link and Donal hurried across the room. Rosa struggled to untangle her robe, but before anything could be done, the door burst open, letting light flood into the room. Philo entered, flanked by Tao and Jamis. Immediately, the three of them froze in the doorway, their gazes jumping first to the intruding topsiders then to the exposed Subrosian princess on the bed.
“Rosa!” Philo cried.
Tao charged forward, pointing at Rosa. “Traitor!”
“What?” Donal exclaimed.
Rosa shook her head violently. “No. No, it was an accident.”
“You have revealed your true form,” Tao declared angrily. “And not only to men who aren’t your husband, but to men who are outsiders!”
“You don’t understand!” Rosa shouted. “They didn’t know!”
He grabbed her robe, flinging it angrily to one side. It landed at Jamis’ feet. “You have betrayed the traditions of your people,” he growled.
“It was an accident!” Donal declared, stepping forward.
“There are no accidents with you three,” Tao answered snidely. “You’ve been conspiring from the beginning to destroy the foundations of Subrosian society! Admit it!”
“That isn’t true,” Link replied.
“You are the three who dare to question the divinity of Flordelis! And now this! Breaking the most sacred of Subrosian traditions!”
“Listen, Tao!” Rosa begged. “For once in your life, listen!”
“No more of this!” Tao roared. “I have stood by silently for long enough. This crime cannot go unanswered!”
“Tao!” Jamis cried.
But Tao was beyond listening. He pointed at Rosa. “For the crime of exposure, you must stand trial!”
“No!” both Jamis and Donal protested.
“Sir,” Tao said, turning to Philo. “I charge you to do your duty. As acting tribune of the people, since you have not stepped down.”
Philo was silent. He walked deeper into the room, passing Rosa and the others and crossing to the opposite wall. For a moment, he stood there, staring at it, before turning around and pacing right back again. Jamis leaned forward. “Sir?”
Link stepped forward. “Tribune Philo, please, it was an accident. Honestly sir, nothing but –”
The tribune held up a hand, silencing Link. He turned to face Tao. “Surely,” he started slowly, “you don’t expect me to condemn my own daughter.”
“A tribune is a tribune first,” Tao replied in a deadly cold voice. “You cannot make exceptions for your family. You must put the good of the people above such personal nonsense.”
“I will not do this,” Philo declared.
“Then you must step down,” Tao answered back. “A tribune cannot pick and choose which laws to uphold.”
“Don’t you dare step down, father!” Rosa exploded. “Don’t you dare let that woman run our kingdom!”
“You must make a decision, sir,” Tao said tightly.
“Tao, you cannot –”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but what woman was she talking about?” Everyone turned to see Flordelis standing in the doorway. She was once again fully dressed, her hair back in the braids and her cowl tight around her throat. Her blue eyes danced around the room, first to the senators, then Rosa, and finally to Link, who she eyed amorously for a moment before addressing Philo. “What’s going on in here?”
“There has been a massive breech in traditions, mistress,” Tao said, stepping forward.
“Rosa has dared to expose her true form. This is a most grievous break with our traditions.”
“A goddess would know that,” Donal mumbled.
Flordelis ignored the jibe. “I see,” she said, glancing at Rosa. “And what are normal proceedings?”
“She must be tried for her crime.” Tao glanced at Philo. “He refuses, however, to formally charge her.”
“A tribune serves as official high judge of the Subrosian courts,” Tao explained. “It is his duty to formally charge and sentence her, following the evidence.”
“I believe,” Flordelis said to Philo, “we agreed that I was to assume all your duties, unless discredited.” The tribune did not respond. “Very well,” she continued. “I will formally charge Rosa with the crime of exposure.”
“The charge has been made,” Tao sighed.
“I’ll try it right now,” she declared. “Give me the evidence. Who saw what, exactly?”
“The three of us,” Tao said, “Jamis, Philo, and myself, came in here to find Rosa as you see her now, completely exposed to these two outsiders. Neither is her husband. Neither is family.”
“It was an accident!” Donal exclaimed. “Link and I came here to see Rosa. When she didn’t answer the door, we got concerned. We came in to make sure she was all right.”
“We didn’t know,” Link added.
Donal nodded. “It wasn’t her fault.”
“Personal bias!” Tao growled. He pointed to Donal. “This man has lustful feelings for Rosa.”
Rosa blinked. “What?”
“What?” Donal echoed.
Link was shocked as well. “What?”
“Jamis saw,” Tao continued. “Tell her, Jamis. Tell her exactly what you saw in the archives.”
Everyone turned to Jamis. He stood there, silently, most likely staring at Rosa, though no one was sure. “Tell us, Jamis,” Flordelis urged him.
“Go on,” Tao said.
“I saw…” Jamis faltered.
“Tell us,” Tao snapped.
“I saw them in the achieves. He embraced her.”
“I did not!” Donal exclaimed.
“He told her he wanted to take her up topside,” Jamis went on.
“That’s a lie!”
“And he asked where her bedroom was.”
Flordelis folded her arms. “Well, I think I’ve heard enough,” she said, ignoring Donal who was fuming. “I find Rosa very guilty of this crime.”
Rosa gawked. “What?”
“You may sentence her now,” Tao said.
“What’s the legal precedent?”
“Execution,” Tao said. “Death by public stoning.”
“Very well, so be it.”
“What?” Jamis cried.
“I told you when I appeared that I wouldn’t be changing your way of life considerably,” she said. “Although, I suppose in this case, it reflects more on your way of death.”
“No…” Rosa moaned.
“You can’t do that!” Link snapped.
“I believe, I can do whatever I wish,” she told him.
“This is a court session?”
“Then I wish to file charges,” he said.
“What sort of charges?” Tao scoffed.
“Against Flordelis,” Link replied.
Tao laughed. “You can’t do that.”
At this point, Philo spoke up, very softly, very withdrawn. “Anyone may file charges against anyone else. That is our way.”
“But he’s an outsider!”
“Flordelis sees him as one of her subjects,” Philo said. “Therefore, he may press charges.”
“What is this charge?” Flordelis asked.
“I charge you with fraud,” Link said. “And I wish to hold an official hearing to investigate your supposed divinity.”
She folded her arms, looking at him with a cold, very hard look. “Very well,” she finally said. “In the morning, I will grant you your trial. But I will not go back on my ruling.” She gestured to Tao. “Take away the condemned.”
Tao immediately crossed to Rosa, fiercely grabbing her arm. “No!” she cried, trying to fight against him. “Father!” But Philo did nothing. Tao hoisted Rosa up off the bed and dragged her across the room. “Father!”
“Rosa!” Donal shouted, surging forward. Link grabbed his arm, pulling him back.
“I suggest that everyone get a good night’s rest,” Flordelis said. “Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”
Dragging Rosa behind him, Tao left the room. Flordelis followed. Jamis watched them go. “This is what you get for messing with forces beyond you!” he said angrily. And he left.
“Sir?” Link asked carefully, watching Philo.
He turned angrily on Donal. “Stay away from my daughter.”
Donal gaped. “But I didn’t –”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Philo threw up his hands and marched out of the room, leaving the two outsiders alone at last.
“What do we do, Link?”
Link frowned. “We have to prove Flordelis is lying.”
“But what about Rosa?”
“The only way to save her is to discredit Flordelis.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe…if we prove she isn’t a goddess and worthy of the powers of the tribune, maybe we can overrule her sentence.”
“But what if we can’t?”
“Do you have a better idea?”
He scowled, reluctantly shaking his head. “No. I don’t.” He paused for a moment. “Did you see her?”
Donal shook his head slightly. “She was beautiful.”
Link shrugged. “I guess.”
“She looked so scared.”
“Don’t worry.” Link planted a hand on Donal’s shoulder. “We’ll find a way to save her.”
“What if we can’t?”
“Then…I don’t know.”
“We can’t let them kill her.”
“We have to follow their rules,” Link said. “The second we break Subrosian law, we become the bad guys.”
“What if obeying the laws means letting her die?”
He sighed. “We’ll find a way, Donal. We have to.”
“Because we’re the good guys.”
“Maybe it works differently in your world, Link, but where I come from, it’s rare that the good guys win.”
The throne room, as it turned out, was also where the high court was held. The elected officials, among them, Jamis and Tao, took their seats against one wall. On the other, sat the tribunal family, namely, the eldest sons of Philo and one of his sisters. Since Flordelis would be defendant in this matter, Philo was given a throne apart from the others to sit as arbiter. He sat in the middle of the room, half slumped over in his high backed chair, facing the doors. When everyone had assembled, he made a vague gesture and the doors were opened. Flordelis entered first, flanked by an honor guard of the police force. Link followed thereafter, alone.
Philo sighed. There was so much ceremony to wade through before anything could be accomplished. He rose from his seat, raising his arms up to the sky. “By flame and by firelight,” he chanted.
“We survive,” the senators and members of his family chanted.
“By ore and by bedrock.”
“By one house and by the people.”
“By law and by justice.”
With that, the throne room had officially been transformed into a court house. “Champions of the people,” Philo said, turning to the row of senators. “Declare yourselves.”
The senators all rose from their seats in unison. As each stated their name, they pressed a fist against their hearts. “Tullura.”
“You are welcome,” Philo sighed. The senators all sat down. He turned to his family. “Representatives of the tribunal, declare yourselves.”
In unison, they rose. Echoing the senators. “Kinzie.”
They sat down. “You are welcome.” Philo turned to look at Link. “Step forward and make your claim, plaintiff, before this court of law.”
“Sir,” Link said, “I charge that the supposed deity called Flordelis is, in fact, a mortal fraud.”
“The charge is entered.” He turned to Flordelis. “You may begin your defense.” And his duty done, Philo sat down again.
Flordelis turned to address the room with a commanding tone. “This topsider, as you call him, claims that I am not, in fact, the goddess of vengeance. I defend myself with offense. I shall prove that I am who I claim to be.” She glanced at Philo. “A demonstration?”
He gestured vaguely. “Proceed.”
With a great deal of show, Flordelis closed her eyes. As Link watched, she squeezed her hands again. Immediately, the room was immediately rocked with a quake. The lanterns on the walls rattled, their flames dancing and casting monstrous shadows on the floor in a dance with the chandelier. All the senators exchanged nervous whispers, clutching their chairs. The royal family seemed completely baffled, gripping their armrests and watching Flordelis as if unable to look away. When she felt she had sufficiently shaken the chamber, Flordelis released her fists and the quakes stopped. Things slowly settled.
“This is the power I wield,” she declared. “If that is not proof enough of my divinity, then behold this. The impossible made possible in Subrosia.”
Squeezing her other hand into a fist, she made a gesture, sweeping across the room. The floor began to crackle. One of the senators let out a shriek. Like a white parasite, the frost began to spread over the floor, chilling the room. It climbed up the walls, snuffing the flames of the lanterns. Had she continued to hold on, it might have reached all the way up to the grand chandelier, but Flordelis abruptly released her grip and the spread stopped. Link tried to decide if she looked tired: Using that much magic always required a lot of energy. He knew this much from experience. She was a very tough woman.
The panic in the room gradually resided. Philo righted himself in his chair. “I think that’s enough in the way of power,” he said. “You’ve proven your point, let’s not destroy the room.”
“As you say,” Flordelis consented, dipping her head.
“Do you have any other evidence to present?” Philo asked.
“Hmmm…” Flordelis walked over to the senators, strolling down their line and examining them. She stopped before Tao. “You. Tao, is it?”
“Yes, mistress,” he replied.
“Do you believe that I am Flordelis?”
“Good.” She passed along the line a bit further. “Jamis?”
“Do you believe that I am Flordelis?”
“Yes, I do.”
She stepped back to address the room at large. “Does anyone here, aside from my respected opponent, question whether or not I am Flordelis?” The Subrosians sat uneasily, exchanging hushed whispers. No one would dare to speak. Link wasn’t at all surprised. Flordelis’ showmanship was excellent. She had them riveted, scared silly. He knew that no one was brave enough to defy her. Not while she could create ice and quakes. At long last, Flordelis turned to Philo. “The defense rests,” she told him breezily.
“Very well,” Philo said. It was, without a doubt, the shortest defense in the history of Subrosian law. “We will call a recess. In half an hour, the plaintiff may offer his opening remarks.”
“Fine by me,” Flordelis sang.
“Do not wander far,” Philo called to the senators. “I don’t want the public to know more about this than necessary. It would cause a panic.”
“Yes, sir,” the others mumbled, bowing their heads in assent.
At once, the formality, the ritual, the stiffness all dissolved. Flordelis walked over to Link. “Well, I think this is going rather well, don’t you?”
“You cannot hold people in fear forever,” he told her.
“You’d be surprised what I’m capable of.”
“Somehow, I doubt it.”
“We’ll see,” she clucked. “Tell me, where is your little friend? Donal, is it? I thought he would attend.”
“As you can see, he’s not here.”
“Where is he?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Oh, I have a pretty good guess,” she said. As she walked away, Link had to admit, he probably had the same guess.
Donal sat on the ground, against the wall. He had been in dungeons many times before, generally due to his constant inability to pay his room and board. Every time, he had been struck by the fact that the rock walls were cold and dank. But it was different in Subrosia. Everything was hot, even the basements. This dungeon was certainly built no different from others, just a hallway with cells lining one wall and lantern holsters along the other, but still, it felt foreign. Perhaps it was the sand covering the floor. Perhaps it was the heat. He longed for something familiar, a pool of moonlight falling through the grated windows, a drizzle of water from a leaky pipe. Anything that would be somewhat of a comfort.
Rosa was on the opposite side of the bars, locked securely in her cell. She lay asleep sprawled out on a slab of stone, no different from any other bed in the land. Her cheek was nestled against her shoulder, her knees up to her chest in a tight ball. As Donal watched her, he found himself wishing to all things sacred that she was spared any wretched dreams to remind her of her awful fate. He knew all too well that anticipation was the ultimate murderer of the condemned.
Upstairs, he knew that Link was now trying Flordelis, or whoever she was, searching for a way to discredit her authority. While Donal knew that Link was a great hero and clever beyond most others, a part of him doubted his Hylian friend’s abilities to litigate. Therefore, his mind raced, conjuring up contingencies plans. He would have to find another way to rescue Rosa. The problem was, Donal knew very well his limitations. He wasn’t a strategist. He was a musician and yes, perhaps a bit of a pirate. Yet, glancing over at his mandolin, he knew that it would not be enough to save Rosa’s life.
He picked up his instrument, laying it across his lap. “What is that, anyway?” Donal looked up sharply. Rosa was sitting on the foot of her so called bed, hugging her arms across her chest for modesty’s sake. It certainly wasn’t due to the cold.
“Did I wake you?” he asked apologetically.
“So what is it?”
“This? Just a mandolin.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s a musical instrument.” He paused. “You do have music down here? Don’t you?”
“We have music,” she replied with a small smile.
“Oh good. Just checking. The evidence of your dancing suggests something of a lack of rhythm.”
“Just a Human observation.”
“Will you play something?”
He frowned, looking down at the strings. “I can try. If you’d like.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
Donal picked up the mandolin, pressing the hollow cavity against his chest. He strummed a few chords experimentally. “I should warn you right now,” he mumbled.
“I can’t sing worth a damn. I’m really actually quite horrible. Normally, someone else does the singing.”
“There’s no one else here.”
“You don’t have to,” she told him gently. “Not if it embarrasses you.”
“No, no,” he insisted. “I can do it.”
He strummed a few notes. “Here I am with questions I don’t understand. Standing before her, I find I can’t talk. Questions rise up inside me when I least expect them, unseen, like waves of heat rising from the sidewalk.” He played a soft instrumental transition, his head waggling to the beat. “My tears mingle with sweat, diamonds rolling off my cheeks. I know that I love her, I know that it’s true. It isn’t my life, it’s my heart that she keeps.” He quickly changed the key. “But through the tension I smell lilacs. I remember that life is supposed to beautiful. So what if I don’t have all the answers? I still have the flowers, and someday I’ll have that woman, so cruel.”
When the song ended, Rosa tilted her head to one side. “What’s it about?” she asked.
Donal shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s an old song. Tavern ditty. Probably was written by a man with a severe case of heartache long before we were born.”
“I like it.”
“And you’re a good singer.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Tell the truth.”
“You’re all right.”
She laughed. “All right, you’re not the best.”
“Still, this is my first personal serenade.”
“Well…” he shrugged helplessly. “I just wanted to take your mind off of…things.”
“Did it work?”
“A little bit.”
“That’s all that matters, I guess.” He set the mandolin on his lap, brushing his fingers against the smooth side. “For now.”
“Has the trial started?”
“I think so.”
She frowned slightly. “What are you doing down here? Shouldn’t you be with Link?”
“I didn’t want you to be alone.”
“How long have you been sitting there?”
“I don’t know. All night, I suppose?”
Rosa blinked her enormous eyes. “All night?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“That’s so kind of you.”
“It’s what any decent Human being would do.”
He leaned against the wall. “You’re my friend, Rosa. I don’t abandon my friends.”
Rosa sighed, standing up and pacing the length of the cell. “I hate this so much,” she muttered.
“Doesn’t exactly look fun.”
“I always thought the cloak tradition was a little bit stupid,” she admitted. “But I’m not a revolutionary.”
“I know. We all know it was an accident.”
“That Tao!” she groaned. “This is all his doing!”
“He was certainly quick to accuse.”
“A little too quick.”
Donal frowned. “Have you had any prior history with him?”
“With Tao? No.”
“It seems a little weird that he would suddenly jump like that.”
“Well, he was awfully upset with me for bringing outsiders to Subrosia,” she muttered.
“And he sent his flunky to spy on us when we were researching in the royal archives.” Donal frowned. “Wait.”
“We were investigating Flordelis.”
“I’m remembering something Link said to me.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that Flordelis must have some Subrosian accomplices.”
“What are you saying? Do you think that Tao is helping her?”
“Think about it. Tao and Jamis have found the perfect way to prevent us from researching Flordelis.”
“Throwing me into a dungeon. I see.”
“Maybe that’s why Tao jumped at the opportunity to accuse you.”
Rosa blinked. “And both of them have access to the royal archives. They could have been the ones to tear the page out of the book. And destroy all other evidence from the records!”
“I think we have a lead,” Donal said triumphantly.
“The senators have an office,” Rosa muttered. “Jamis and Tao practically live in there. That may be where they’re hiding documents or other useful information.”
“Where is the office?”
“Upstairs in the administrative wing.”
“What’s the door labeled with?”
She knelt down, drawing a Subrosian rune in the sand. “It looks like this. There aren’t any guards and the door is never locked.”
He looked down, memorizing the image. “I’ll go,” he said. “Maybe I can dig up something that’ll help Link.”
“The two of them should be in court most of the day. All the other senators will be there.”
Donal stood up, leaning his mandolin carefully against the wall. “I’ll be back before you know it. Don’t lose heart.”
“Be careful, Donal.”
Looking over his shoulder, he offered her a small smile then hurried down the hall. Rosa watched him until he disappeared. She sat down on the edge of her bed, watching the mandolin. His song was still in her head, causing her body to sway to a waltz beat, the rhythm of the sea. She wondered if she would ever see the sea. Never before had she been so interested. Of course, this morning was a day of many firsts. It all started with Donal.
Court reconvened promptly after half an hour. Once again, Philo led the gathered officials through the same inane rituals about the survival of the Subrosian people. Finally, Link was called to state his case against Flordelis. For her own part, the supposed vengeance goddess lounged in a chair that had been brought for her, one knee hiked over the arm rest, resting her head in her palm. Link walked straight past her and came to the senators. “I’ve been informed,” he said slowly, choosing his words very carefully, “that according to the myth of Flordelis –”
“Objection,” Flordelis chimed. She glanced at Philo. “As I am here, I am clearly not a myth.”
Philo sighed. “Sustained.” He turned to Link. “The purpose of this trail is to determine whether or not it is a myth. Until proven otherwise, it is to be considered historical.”
Link fought to keep from rolling his eyes. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll retract it then.”
“According to the…” Link paused to select the word, “…oral tradition regarding Flordelis, the terms of the contract stated that she would promise a thousand years of peace and prosperity in exchange for complete control when the contract reached maturity. Right?”
The senators all nodded. “Right,” Tao said firmly.
“Jamis.” Link pointed to the senator.
“I’m Nefertari,” she said indignantly.
“Oops…” He scanned the row again quickly. “Jamis?”
Success. Link decided to carry on as hastily as possible to avoid answering for his faux pas. “Explain to me how that worked. Did she just snap her fingers and clear up the mess, carnage, and corruption?”
“No,” Jamis said slowly. “It was a gradual process.”
“Then she must have helped it along by giving you a series of new laws to put an end to civil strife.”
“No,” Jamis replied. “The new laws were devised by the very first senatorial tribunal counsel.”
“Then she appointed the proper people to this counsel?”
Jamis shook his head. “No, the senators were elected by the people and the tribunal members came out of the royal house, appointed by the tribune.”
“I see.” Link paced down the length of the row. “Then she must have destroyed all the weapons that were being used by Subrosians against other Subrosians. That would be an important step.”
“Well…no. The weapons were actually collected following an edict by the counsel.”
“Did she clean up the pollution?”
“No, that was accomplished by a series of clean air acts.”
“Do you mean to tell me that she didn’t pick up a single piece of trash? Didn’t make a single change?”
“Get to the point, Link,” Flordelis droned.
“Sustained,” Philo mumbled.
“My point,” Link said defiantly, “is that it seems to me the contract is null and void. Flordelis didn’t do a single thing to institute the thousand years of peace. The Subrosian people did that themselves.”
“The purpose of this hearing is not to address the terms of the contract,” Philo said. “We’re here to discuss the individual before us.”
“And,” Flordelis added, “I should like to point out that the thousand years of peace did happen. The contract never stated how it would happen, just that it would happen.”
Link sighed. So much for that idea. He had been so proud of himself too, sitting up in the royal archives, concocting this argument. Now he had to take a new tact. And quickly. Any hesitation on his part could be perceived as a weakness and the last thing he wanted to do was appear weak before Flordelis. He would not be so easily intimidated as the senators.
“Do you have any further arguments, Link?” Philo asked.
“Yes…” he said slowly, his mind still reeling. “I have a question for the defendant.”
He turned to Flordelis. “What was the first thing you asked for when you manifested yourself yesterday?”
“I believe I asked who was in charge,” Flordelis answered.
“Did you not ask for reports on the resources and industries of Subrosia?” he continued.
“Yes, I believe I did.”
“I charge you with this question,” Link said, turning to the senators. “What kind of goddess has an interest in the gross domestic production?”
“I work in mysterious ways,” Flordelis countered. “It is not their concern what my interest is.”
“I believe you’re interested in exploiting the wealth of this kingdom,” Link replied.
“Objection,” Flordelis snapped.
“Sustained,” Philo muttered. “Let’s not jump to conclusions without any evidence.”
“Yes,” Link sighed.
“You’re grasping at straws dear,” Flordelis sang.
Philo leaned back in his chair. “Do you have anything else, Link?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“I’d like to ask Mistress Flordelis to remove her cowl.”
Flordelis sat bolt upright in her throne. “Objection!”
Link stared at her. “Grounds?”
“What’s the purpose of it?”
“The purpose will be explained,” Link said, more to Philo than to the indignant Flordelis.
Briefly glancing in between them, Philo nodded. “Objection overruled,” he decided.
“Very well,” Flordelis grumbled, reaching behind her head to unclasp the snaps of her cowl.
“Observe her,” Link said, gesturing vaguely to Flordelis. She removed her cowl, instantly revealing her ears. “Hylian ears,” he said.
She blinked in surprise. “How do you…”
Casually, Link brushed back the hair from his own ears. “I charge that she is a Hylian,” he said.
“That’s absurd!” Flordelis declared.
“I can manifest myself however I choose.”
“In that case, perhaps you would demonstrate by showing us a different form? One a little less Hylian.” He grinned inside. Hylians had many abilities, but changing the shape of their ears was not one of them.
“Absolutely not,” she stated.
“I will not deign to sink to your level of legal trickery.”
“I see.” Link turned to the tribunal counselors. “I charge that this woman is not a goddess, but rather a Hylian. All of her parlor tricks can be done by any Hylian who happens to be properly equipped.”
“Keep your business out of my equipment,” she scoffed.
Link ignored this. “All Hylians have pointed ears. All Hylians have blue eyes. I assure you, I’m an expert on the subject.” He paced back to Philo’s throne. “The plaintiff rests,” he said.
“Very well,” Philo said. “We’ll have another recess before closing arguments in that case. Court adjourned.”
As the others began to shuffle out, Link walked over to Flordelis. She was busy fastening her cowl again, looking very annoyed. “Well,” he mumbled. “I think that went well.”
She glared up at him. “You be careful, Link. You go too far –”
“And you’ll what? Damn me?”
“You just watch yourself,” she hissed. And with that, she finished securing the cowl and stormed out of the room, following behind Tao and Jamis. Or was that Nefertari? Link wasn’t sure.
He turned around, walking deeper into the room. There was no way of telling what the Subrosians thought of his arguments. He couldn’t see their faces to gauge any reactions. Hopefully, he had at least planted some seeds, some twinges of doubt. Given the fear they were gripped by, he knew very well that this could be his only chance to save them. Then again, as he reflected on his opening defense, he realized what he had said was every bit the truth. The Subrosian people, a thousand years ago, had saved themselves.
It took Donal several tries before he managed to locate the room with runes exactly matching what Rosa had drawn for him. He was careful not to let anyone see him slip inside, shutting the door just enough to make it looked closed, but keeping it open enough for him to hear what was going on in the halls. The trial was still in session, it seemed, but he had no idea how much time that actually gave him. Getting caught ranked up on the list of potential disasters right under Rosa’s imminent demise. There was no room for error.
The office itself, like all other Subrosian architecture Donal had encountered thus far, was horribly Spartan. Against each side wall were two stone desks with lanterns and tablets piled up in various stages of organization. The opposite wall had a fifth desk, apparently for the head of the senatorial counsel. This position was rotated monthly, according to one thousand years of tradition. It was the only tradition Donal had encountered down in Subrosia so far that he had liked.
Being unable to read Subrosian, Donal could only guess which desks belonged to Jamis and Tao. Deciding that the best method was simple trial and error, he started going around the room. The first desk was nearly empty. Sitting by the lantern, however, was a red tablet. The runes on it were messy and nearly illegible. He smiled slightly. Perhaps the child of this senator had drawn it for him or her. Moving along, he came to a second desk. This one was cluttered with what could only be ledgers. Large, neatly stacked piles of small red ore chunks were arranged around the ledgers, in varying amounts. Donal supposed it was some sort of tax system. The Subrosians used tally marks instead of numbers.
When he came to the desk of the chief senator, Donal was beginning to feel somewhat lost. As he searched aimlessly through the clay tablets, he realized that for all he knew, he could be passing up the one piece of evidence he most needed. There was simply no way for him to know. In the face of this futility, he found himself almost wishing that Subrosian law dictated that he be arrested instead of Rosa. She could do more good right now. Frankly, it was a little odd that she was the only one to receive punishment. After all, he had been the intruder with the alleged gall and audacity to see her uncloaked.
The fact of the matter was, Donal could no longer wipe the image from his mind. No matter what he did, Rosa was always there, dancing in the corners of his eyes in her full, immodest beauty. He found something amazingly artful and poised about the Subrosia form. They reminded him, vaguely, of mermaids. In his youth, he had spent ample time with picture books, filled with lively, colorful illustrations of the deep sea sirens. A Subrosian looked just like them, only without the fins. Perhaps it was the two delicate tentacles, floating over her hair like sea weeds. Or, perhaps Donal’s imagination was running away with him again. Either way, he found Rosa to be an entrancing beauty, something outside of his world. And anything outside of the world was an ideal to Donal.
He moved on to the next desk, rummaging through several burlap sacks filled with ore chunks. Donal had not expected the Subrosians to be such a delicate, fragile looking people. Given the conditions they were forced to live in, he was certain they were like the Gorons up in the northern mountains; lumbering and a bit hefty. He wondered if the males and the females looked the same. The odds were rather high that he would not see another one. Not after this enormous debacle. Seeing Rosa alone had been a mixed accident.
Picking up one of the bags, he felt a sharp pang. Yelping in surprise, he dropped it, listening to the pieces inside clatter. They didn’t sound like metal ore. He looked down. His finger was pricked, bleeding a little bit. After sticking it in his mouth for a second, he leaned over and opened the bag. Inside, he found dozens of misshapen pottery shards. They were broken at clean, sharp edges. Hesitantly, he pulled one out and turned it over in his hands. There were Subrosian runes carved into the flattest part of the shard, accompanied by what looked like an ear. It was part of a larger picture, but as Donal looked into the bag, he realized that there were far too many pieces for him to put together in the time he had.
Closing the bag, he began to scan the rest of the desk. Neatly folded to one side was a spare set of robes. He poked the laundry and heard a soft crinkle. Carefully, he slipped his hand into the layers of fabric, feeling around slowly so as not to disturb the tidy folding. At long last, his fingers brushed against something brittle. He clamped his fingers together and pulled, bringing a sheet of parchment out from the hidden chambers of the robe.
Donal sat down at the desk, unfolding the yellowing sheet. The side he opened it to was covered in more runes, none of which looked the least bit familiar. He turned the page over and suddenly found himself staring into a face. It was a woman, very small and very compact, almost childlike. She had a long, narrow nose and a tiny, mealy mouth, but her eyes were enormous, black irises like black holes, swallowing up the page. Her hair was feathery black, with neatly trimmed bangs falling over her forehead. Gold plumes sprang forth out of her scalp, framing her face.
Immediately, Donal recognized the style of the drawing. It was exactly the same as the illustrations from the illuminated volume Rosa had found in the archives: The one with a page missing. As he ran his finger along the ledge of the paper, he could very easily guess that this had been ripped, hastily, from a book.
So, this is what Flordelis looked like. Although the one he had met in the flesh had some similarities to the woman in the page, Donal could immediately tell that they were not the same person. And, given the fact that the other one was Hylian, this girl’s rounded ears gave away the fake. He blinked. Ears? At once, he grabbed the burlap bag he had found the shards in. Pulling out the shard he had examined before, he saw another rounded ear, just like the drawing. Flordelis may or may not have been a real person, but she clearly wasn’t in Subrosia right now.
From the crack in the door, Donal suddenly heard footsteps approaching the room. He grabbed the entire bag and shot around the room. As he neared the door, he could pick out two familiar voices approaching.
“I can’t believe how careless that was,” Tao was growling.
“Not so loud,” Jamis urged him.
They were headed for this room. Donal turned around and dashed back to the first desk, the one with the child’s note. He was about to crawl under it when something green caught the corner of his eye. On the last desk, the one he had not checked, he noticed an actual book, with paper pages, lying open. Although the footsteps were continuing to approach, his curiosity got the better of him and he zipped over to it, peering down. Much to his surprise, these weren’t Subrosian runes that greeted him. They were entirely different. Beside the runes were three drawings, golden circles, one with a lightening bolt, one with a wave, and one with three crescents.
There was something familiar about this. Leaning forward, he examined the detailed backing behind the circles. He had seen that shape before. Three triangles stacked up into a pyramid. Yes! The Triforce! This was a Hylian text. “Vash practically gave him an advantage,” Tao continued outside.
“She gave him nothing,” Jamis sighed. “Just an interesting theory. He can’t prove anything.”
“We’ll see,” Tao answered.
At once, Donal raced across the room, diving under the first desk. It wasn’t a moment too soon, for the door swung open, scraping against the floor, and two sets of footsteps came marching into the office. “I never would have expected that topsider to be so clever.”
“He is annoying, isn’t he?” Tao mused. “We’ll have to deal with him eventually. I have a feeling he won’t be letting up.”
“Leave him be,” Jamis said. “Philo will rule against him. For the good of the people.”
“He’ll be remembered as a great tribune indeed,” Tao deadpanned.
“Don’t speak unkindly.”
“He had better step down.”
“You know he will.”
“Yes,” Tao admitted. “I’m just not convinced that we can keep him silent by any means other than…”
“Other than what?”
“Stay innocent of it, Jamis.”
“Tell me,” Jamis insisted.
Tao sighed. “I suppose I might as well. You’re already in just as deep as the rest of us.”
“What are you going to do to silence him?”
“Once he officially steps down,” Tao said carefully, “there’s going to be a little accident.”
“What kind of accident?”
“Philo will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An unfortunate quake will cause a rock slide to come loose and fall upon him.”
“You would really kill your own tribune?”
“Don’t you forget why we’re doing this!” Tao hissed. “That man is the worst thing to happen to Subrosia. His radical reforms are destroying our way of life with all these new innovations.”
“He’s still a tribune.”
“And he will receive all the rights accorded to a tribune. A state burial and an ever lasting memorial. But he is a danger to our way of life while he is alive, Jamis. He’s allowing too much liberalism. Too much freedom. You know how he lets his daughter run about in the over world without any concern. It’s giving her foreign ideas which she’s bringing back to pollute Subrosia.”
“That won’t be a problem much longer,” Jamis said softly.
“An unfortunate side effect,” Tao told him gently. “But if Rosa’s death is what it takes to restore our home, I say, so be it.”
“I cannot be so brusque about it.”
“I understand,” Tao muttered. “And I can see how it will be little consolation, but just remember the greater good.”
“The greater good,” Jamis echoed flatly.
“Come. Let’s get something to eat before the trial starts up again. I can’t wait to hear their closing remarks.”
“I’m sure it’ll be entertaining.”
The footsteps retreated without any further exchange. When the door finally shut, Donal allowed himself to breathe again. He planted his hands on the top of the desk and slowly pulled himself up. The room was unchanged, but the circumstances had taken on an entirely new dimension. For a moment, he stood perfectly still, gripping the stolen page and the broken shards against his chest. He replayed the entire conversation in his head, twice, making sure that he had understood as much of it as he could.
Although the news was something dire and the situation worse than before, a part of Donal was elated. The pieces were beginning to come together. Soon, it would all make sense. And once it made sense, the matter could be cleared up. Still, there was one problem. The fact that he and Link had seen Rosa without her cloak on didn’t fit the puzzle. What had happened had been outside of conspiracy, outside of masquerades. Even if they managed to uncover all the plots and backstabbing, could they still save her life?
Again, the court reconvened right on time, repeating the opening rituals. Link and Flordelis stood on opposite sides of the room, glaring at each other in an unending staring contest. It might well have gone on and one indefinitely, but at last, the time came from closing remarks before the decision was rendered by Philo, acting in his capacity as final judge.
“Mistress Flordelis,” he called, ending the competition.
“Do you wish to make closing statements?”
“I do.” She stepped away from Link, going down the middle of the room in between the senators and tribunals, the long train of her dress trailing behind her. “I thank you for indulging the topsider in his most noble quest to protect the people of Subrosia. It is right that this people should be protected for it is a glorious land, one of great moral values. It would be wrong for anyone to try and take advantage of such a wonder. My honored opponent is an example to all, of the proper behavior of a Subrosian, putting the people and the kingdom above any personal securities. I applaud his fortitude.”
She turned around, slowly walking in the opposite direction. “Having said that,” she continued, “I will tell you flat out that he is lying to you. Although his intentions are noble, his information and his convictions are flawed. He tells you that I am not Flordelis, who brought Subrosia such peace and prosperity low these many centuries ago. I tell you that I am.” She paused, standing in front of Link and staring into his eyes. “Therefore, such defamation of my character cannot go unpunished.”
“What do you want?” Link asked wearily.
Flordelis turned away from Link, moving back up to Philo. “When my victory is decreed, I will, officially, before all the people, assume the role of tribune.” She bowed her head to Philo, “Once the incumbent steps down of course. Upon attaining this position and addressing the people myself, I intend to turn over power to the senators.” Casually, she glanced at Tao and Jamis, sitting among the others. “They will rule the land, in the best interests of the people. What I ask for myself is one thing and one thing alone.”
“And what’s that?” Philo asked.
She snapped her arm out, pointing a blood red nail at Link. “I want him,” she said. “As my personal attendant and body servant.”
“I’m not a possession!” Link objected.
“No, you’re not. However, you dared to challenge me in court and upon being proved wrong, you must be punished. That is the Subrosian way. Rather than death by stoning or imprisonment, I ask that your punishment be the complete and unconditional surrendering of your person to me.”
“I will not!”
“Then withdraw your case,” she answered breezily. “While there’s still time. But if you don’t, you are agreeing to my conditions.”
Link stared at her in disbelief. She had put him in a most difficult situation. He knew, of course, that he could not withdraw. He could not let the Subrosians be summarily sentenced to a lifetime of servitude to this woman. But a nagging fear was growing in him. What if he lost? Would he really surrender to her, and consign himself to the same fate he wanted so desperately to save the Subrosians from? He really had no choice. “No deal.”
“So be it,” Flordelis sighed. “I am Flordelis the great and powerful goddess.” She squeezed her hands together, causing a very quick quake to rock the room. “I rest my case.”
“So entered,” Philo said with a nod. “Link, do you wish to make any closing remarks?”
“Yes,” Link said, a bit too slowly.
“Go on then,” Philo encouraged him.
Link walked out to the middle of the room, looking around at the others. “Flordelis was right,” he said, “when she charged me with caring too much about the Subrosian people. I do. It is right that this people should be protected. And that means protecting you from this…this woman. She is many things, I’ll grant you. A great actor, skilled with a sense of showmanship and timing, but she is not a goddess. She is a mortal. A Hylian, no different from me except for the fact that she is equipped with some kind of special talismans that allow her to trick you into believing that she can cause quakes.”
He paused a moment, licking his lips and brushing his hair back behind his ears. “The people of Subrosia saved themselves a thousand years ago, through their own drive and motivation, through their own laws and their people. Now, they need to save themselves once again. From stupidity and gullibility. You don’t belong to anyone but yourselves! Never believe otherwise.”
“Is that all?” Philo asked after a moment of silence.
“Very well.” He gestured for the two of them, Flordelis and Link, to sit down. At once, Flordelis sank down into her throne, luxuriating as before. Link perched himself on the little stool that was provided for him. “I’m certain,” Philo started slowly, “that Link’s impassioned words have had a strong impact on the pathos of every single one of you sitting here, listening. It is evident that he has put his very heart and soul into the effort of codifying his theories regarding Flordelis.” Philo looked directly at Link. “However, theories are what they are.”
Link’s heart began to sink. “No…”
“A theory without any proof,” Philo continued, “is nothing. It’s fiction, not something you can base your entire life’s beliefs on. Or cancel them with.” He planted his hands on the armrests of his chair. “Therefore, without any proof, they cannot be trusted, no matter how appealing they sound. I’m sorry, Link. I have no choice but to rule in favor of the evidence. In favor of Flordelis.”
“With that you sentence your own daughter to death!” Link shouted, standing up and pointing at the tribune.
“I will have order!” Philo roared. He gestured vaguely to Flordelis, his voice immediately losing all its power. “Carry out your sentence,” he told her softly. “He is yours.”
Flordelis smiled wickedly. “Thank you, sir,” she cooed.
“Mark the verdict in the record book,” Philo snapped to the tribunal counsel. “This case is closed. Court adjourned.”
At once, Philo rose from his chair, crossing the room and exiting, the double doors parting before him. With whispers and chit chat, the counsels began to break up, casting unreadable glances in Link’s direction. Flordelis stood and floated across the room to where Link was frozen in shock. “I won’t be unkind,” she told him with a hint of slyness.
“Exploitation is in your nature,” he replied fiercely.
“You should be grateful. With a word, I could have had you put to death with your little Rosa friend.”
“I would still be right.”
She smirked. “I am a goddess in more than one way.” She patted his cheek. “I’ll see you tonight.” Swiveling her hips slightly, she walked from the room. Link turned away.
Subrosians, as it turned, out had blue tears. Donal knew this now, because as he sat, relating the story of what he had heard in the office, he saw Rosa’s eyes water up. She kept blinking them away, but he knew they were tears. In all honesty, he couldn’t really blame her. “I can only assume that Flordelis is going to cause this ‘accidental’ quake,” he concluded.
“But not until my father steps down.”
Rosa nodded. “If he dies before resigning from office, the title of tribune passes on to my oldest brother.”
“I guess Tao figures your brother will be just as radical as your father. It runs in families, or whatever.”
“My father isn’t radical,” she said hotly. “Just because he thinks that Subrosia is capable of joining a larger world someday…”
“I know,” Donal said, sensing the break in her speech.
“And even if he was…”
“He doesn’t deserve to die.”
“No, Rosa, of course he doesn’t deserve to die.” He paused with a scowl. “And he won’t die.”
“What?” She shook her head, brushing the back of her hand across her eyes. “Give me that,” she said, pointing to the satchel.”
Donal passed it in between the bars to her. At once, Rosa dumped the pieces out and sat down, trying to fit them together like a hopeless puzzle. “Link and I will stop it,” he said.
“Why are you making promises you don’t know if you can keep?” she asked softly.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Maybe I’m going crazy.”
“There seems to be a lot of that going around.”
“What do you mean?”
“Those senators! I can’t believe them!”
“I don’t know,” he replied with a shrug. “Tao kind of seems like the type. Then again, I’m not sure what the type is down here.”
“No, I don’t mean Tao. I wouldn’t put anything past him. But Jamis. Jamis was supposed to be a man of the people.”
“He seems to believe that he’s doing what’s best for the people,” Donal muttered, squatting down to watch her put the pieces together.
“He’s been tricked, you mean.”
“I can’t believe them.”
“Well, at least we know who’s responsible for all of this now,” he supposed, trying to sound hopeful.
“Yes, there’s that.”
“It’s really quite brilliant.”
“You sound like you admire them.”
Donal shrugged. “Up topside, we can still respect someone we absolutely loathe.”
“You can do that here too,” she said coldly. “Only these are the men plotting to kill my father.”
Rosa shook her head. “My life’s not so important.”
“Don’t say that.”
“There’s a bigger picture here.”
“That’s exactly what Tao said.”
“Oh.” She was silent for awhile, playing around with the pieces and not really accomplishing anything.
He walked up to the bars, resting his forehead in between two of them. “I’d care,” he muttered.
She looked up. “What?”
“If you died. I’d care.”
They were silent. “Someone’s coming.”
“I can hear someone coming.”
“You can?” Donal looked up. Sure enough, he spotted a silhouette approaching them down the narrow hallway. “Hello?”
The shadow turned into a face, a pair of blue eyes shadowed by messy blond fringe. “What are you doing down here?” Link asked. “You’re supposed to be gathering information.”
“I did,” Donal said, gesturing vaguely to the cell with Rosa and her elaborate jigsaw puzzle.
“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be trying the fake goddess in court.”
“I did,” Link said glumly.
Rosa looked over at him. “What happened?”
“It did not end well.”
“They sided with her?” Donal scoffed.
“What’s worse than that?”
“As a prize for winning the trial, she gets me.”
“What would she want with…?” Rosa trailed off. “Oh.”
“Tough break, mate,” Donal muttered.
Link shook his head. “Forget about it. Tell me what you’ve learned. Get my mind off of that mockery of a trial.”
“Well, I found the missing information about Flordelis,” Donal said, handing Link the ripped out page.
“A little too late,” Rosa said apologetically.
“That’s all right,” Link sighed. “It probably wouldn’t have helped me much anyway.” He unfolded the paper, examining it critically.
“This is another image, of some kind,” Rosa said, holding up a nose and turning it around before she placed the piece.
“Where did you find these?” Link asked.
“The senatorial office,” Donal answered. “And…there’s something else. Something you need to know.”
“I found out that Tao and Jamis plan to murder Philo. As soon as he steps down from office.”
Donal nodded. “With what they called an unfortunate quake.”
“Flordelis,” Rosa supplied.
“So…” Donal muttered. “Now we know who her accomplices are.”
“They’re more than accomplices,” Link said. “At the end of the trial, Flordelis declared her intentions to hand over tribunal power to the senators.”
“You think they’re controlling her?”
“Well, it might be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“There’s something else,” Donal added. “Something I haven’t even told you yet,” he said to Rosa.
“What is it?” Link asked.
Rosa looked up as well. “What?”
“When I was in the office,” Donal said, “I found a book on one of the senator’s desk. With a green cover. And it had this…I think it was a Hylian symbol on it. The one with three triangles.”
Link blinked. “The Triforce?”
“That’s the Book of Mudora.”
“I thought so,” Donal mused. “It was open to a page with drawings. I think they were talismans.”
“Show me what they looked like,” Link insisted.
Donal looked down at the sand. Carefully, with the toe of his boot, he drew a large circle. In the middle of the circle, he added a zigzag line, shaped like a lightening bolt. “That was the first one.”
For a moment, Link peered down at it. Awareness suddenly dawned on him. “I know that.”
“What is it?”
“That’s the Ether Medallion.”
“The Ether Medallion. It’s a Hylian artifact.”
“Oh. What does it do?”
Link searched the deep recesses of his memories. “It creates…frosts.”
Rosa’s eyes widened. “Frosts?”
“Well,” Donal murmured, “that explains her little display.”
“Were there three of those drawings?”
“One with four crescents and one with a sort of wave?”
Donal nodded. “Yeah.”
“The Bombos Medallion and the Quake Medallion.”
“Let me guess,” Rosa said, “they cause explosions and quakes?”
“You have to get a hold of those medallions, Link.”
Donal stared at him in disbelief. “To stop these people from killing Rosa tomorrow morning!”
“There’s still time to discredit Flordelis.”
“You’re right,” Link admitted.
“You can get the medallions, can’t you?”
He nodded. “I can. Unfortunately, I can think of only one way to do it.”
Philo sat alone in his empty office. It was late, but for the second night in a row, he could not sleep. This time, for different reasons. There was Rosa, haunting him at every turn, condemning him for this decision to rule in favor of Flordelis. He did not do it out of personal opinion. He did it because that was the way of the Subrosians. Link just didn’t have enough evidence.
Unfortunately, Link was right about one thing. Casting his vote in favor of Flordelis was as good as a permanent death sentence on his child. Rosa. His only daughter. The thought of life without her in the world was too cruel a fate to bear, tribune or not. She was Rosa: A source of light even in the darkest depths of Subrosia. And what would the people say when they learned of what was to be done? They all loved her. Rightly so.
He looked up. Somehow, he knew, even before seeing them for himself, that it was Tao and Jamis approaching him. “I’m not in the mood to talk tonight, gentlemen,” he said.
“I understand,” Tao responded, dipping his head.
“And yet you’re still standing here.”
“What do you want?”
“Sir I’d…we’d like to discuss…”
Philo looked up at him. “Again?”
“Sir, you’ve ruled in favor of Flordelis. You therefore acknowledge the fact that she is who she claims to be. According to the terms of the contract –”
“I must step down,” Philo finished.
Sighing heavily, Philo turned away from the senators, looking out of his window, where only a day ago, he had seen such great panic. It was calm out there now. The panic was in his heart. “I know,” he said softly.
“Sir, you must make some hard decisions.”
“I’ve already made my decisions, Tao.”
“May I ask what they are?”
“I will step down.”
Tao turned to Jamis, then back to Philo. “I’ll have your speech writers write something for you. You can address the people first thing in the morning.”
Philo shook his head. “No.”
“I won’t do it tomorrow morning.”
“If I may ask, sir, why the delay.”
“I don’t want…” But his voice broke.
Jamis stepped forward. “Sir?”
“I don’t want her to see.”
“Who sir?” Tao asked.
“Sir, it really won’t make a –”
“Yes it will!” Philo snapped.
Quickly, Jamis planted a hand on Tao’s shoulder, as he was preparing to reply. “Tao…”
“My daughter begged me not to step down,” Philo went on.
“That may be,” Tao pressed. “But it’s hardly proper to honor the final wishes of a girl who’s been found guilty of treason.”
A most unexpected thing happened then. Jamis pulled back his arm and punched Tao in the stomach. With a groan, the older senator doubled over, holding himself. He stumbled back, coughing. Jamis, for his own part, folded his arms across his chest and stood motionless as Tao faltered. “Never,” he said in a soft, dangerous hiss, “speak of her like that again.”
“Jamis…” Philo whispered. “What have you done?”
“Only what was necessary, sir.”
“You call that necessary?” Tao wheezed.
“You will have respect,” Jamis declared.
“What? For her? The traitor?”
Jamis slugged Tao again. He fell over onto his side. “Enough, Jamis,” Philo said gently.
“Yes, sir,” Jamis said.
“I take it back, I take it back,” Tao cried.
“Good,” Jamis chirped.
“Are you two quite finished yet?” Philo growled.
“By your leave, sir,” Tao said, getting to his feet.
“You have it.”
“We’ll discuss your speech later, then?”
“Very good.” Tao slowly made his way down the road, turning to look back at Jamis. Doubtlessly, he was most upset.
Philo turned to Jamis. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
He paused. “Thank you.”
“Walk with me, Jamis.”
And Philo began walking. He followed a path along the lava flows, deep crimson at this hour of the night. Invisible waves rose up from the heat, casting twisting reflections down on the pavement. Philo watched them dance, his head bent low under the imaginary weight of the crown. No one else was out and about at this hour of the night. The place was deserted.
“Do you have any children, Jamis?” he asked.
“Do you want any?”
“Someday, sir. After I find a wife.”
“I’ve known you for many years now, Jamis.”
“And in all that time, I never knew if you were married or not.”
“I don’t hold it against you.”
“I hold it against me.” He shrugged. “I’m a leader of many people. I should know about them.”
“You’re concerned with the whole. Sometimes, that means you have to sacrifice small things.”
“No one should have to make sacrifices,” Philo said. “Not if it can be avoided. And this could have been avoided with one friendly conversation.”
“Am I a bad leader?”
“You’ve always considered the people. I’d say no.”
“Then am I a bad person?”
“I wouldn’t say so. Why?”
“I know that I am a bad father.”
“Do not dispute me,” Philo cut him off.
“I’m condemning my child to death.”
“It’s not you; it’s our traditions that are sometimes cruel.”
“But you believe it’s proper to uphold them?”
Jamis was silent a moment. “I always did.”
“Now, I’m not so sure.”
“What’s made you change your mind?”
“Many things, sir.”
Reluctantly, he shook his head. “Nothing I can discuss.”
“As you wish. I won’t push.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Will you walk with me?”
“Thank you, Jamis.” Philo sighed again. “I really don’t want to be alone tonight. Tomorrow will come all too soon.”
It was strange to sit in anticipation of the sunrise, even knowing that there was no sun. Subrosia was like a tomb, buried beneath the sky. It could be almost suffocating for the outsider, yearning for the daylight, stars, the moon, or even just a cloud. Worse yet, perhaps, was that the anticipation of the day would linger, doubtlessly arriving as a rude awakening to one who was used to seeing it come. Donal was no philosopher, but he rather wished that Subrosia would be true to its darkness and that day would never actually come.
He sat against the dungeon wall, playing a few absent notes on his mandolin without paying much attention to them. Rosa was with him, awake this time, staring out into the open space of her cell. Without even asking, Donal knew that their thoughts were together, clinging desperately to the hope that Link would manage some heroic rescue, while at the same time expecting nothing less than the absolute worst possible scenario. Death.
Try as he might, Donal could not come up with an appropriately comforting remark to soothe Rosa’s troubled mind in what might possibly be her last hours of life. Nothing brought comfort except for the slim hope of a miracle. Several times, he opened his mouth, to tell her that Link was, in fact, a miracle worker, but each time he stopped himself, finding the words hopelessly shallow. No one could be a hero every time. A thousand minstrel tales of heroic failures had taught him that. Even the greatest warriors fell eventually.
Looking down at his strings, he realized how dreary his notes sounded. Guilt gripped him and, at once, he began to play a more light-hearted ditty, the title of which he had long ago forgotten. His fingers danced over the instrument, lithe as bits of popcorn flying on a breeze. What a funny metaphor that was. He wondered if they had popcorn in Subrosia. As a child, when he was fitful or sleepless, his mother would take a dried ear of corn from the galley and roast it over the fire in her cabin for him. It wasn’t the taste so much, that comforted him. It was the sound, each kernel exploding into a light, dove-like shape that would float down into a pan below.
“Have you ever had popcorn, Rosa?” he asked, deciding only afterwards how stupid that sounded.
She glanced over at him. “What’s that?”
“Something my mother used to give me,” he said casually, hoping to quickly change the subject.
“I’ve never heard of it.”
He shrugged. “It’s not important. I’m just babbling.”
“Tell me anyway. I could use a little babble.”
Donal set down his mandolin. He stood up, crossing over to the line of bars separating the two of them. “When I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep, my mother would take me into her cabin. She was the captain, so she had this beautiful, big room on the stern. Enormous bay windows overlooking the sea. She would set me down by the fireplace and fetch an ear of dried corn from the mess.”
“It’s a vegetable.” With his toe, he drew an ear of corn in the sand. “She would hold it over the fire and the dried kernels would suddenly explode. From the explosions, these white pebbles, lighter than cotton, would drift down.”
“Pop…corn. I get it.”
“Yeah,” he laughed softly. “A very satisfying snack. When you bite them, they sort of crackle in your teeth. And then, they melt, almost.”
“And that made you unafraid?”
“Usually,” he said with a nod. “Of course, back then, what did I have to be afraid of?”
“I guess fear’s always easier when you’re a kid.”
“I mean, what’s the worst that can happen when you’re a kid? You fall down and scrape your knee?”
Rosa smiled for a fleeting instant, but then it faded. “I wish we had an ear of corn right now. Maybe it would make be less afraid.”
“I wish to the gods I could do something for you.”
“You’ve already gone above and beyond the call for me. And you barely even know me.”
“Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve known you forever,” he said.
“Why is that?”
“He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s all very strange.”
She hesitated for a moment. “I sort of feel that way too,” she admitted. “Like I’ve known you all my life. Or like I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me?”
“I wish I could explain it to you.” She paused. “I wish I could explain it to myself.”
“No need. I think I understand.”
“I think so. I’ve played songs of it my whole career. I’ve watched it happen to the people I know. I’ve heard all the stories and the poems and the annoying verse epics about it.”
“I think I love you.”
Rosa was silent awhile, watching him with her big, solemn eyes. Finally, she nodded a bit, biting her pale blue lips together. “I think,” she said slowly, “that I love you too.” She laughed humorlessly. “I think that in another time, another place, anywhere but here, I could have been your companion forever. Even though I barely know you.”
Donal slipped his hand through the bars, gently taking hers. Subrosian skin was pleasantly smooth, almost slippery, like silk. He raised her hand up between the bars and kissed her knuckles. “We took a step too far, didn’t we?”
“Do you regret it now?”
Link stubbed his toe, bumbling through the darkness. He let out a soft Hylian oath, but quickly turned over his shoulder in panic. Much to his relief, his noise hadn’t disturbed Flordelis, or whoever she was, still sleeping peacefully on the feather bed that she had ordered the Subrosians to build for her in place of the typical rock slab. Still, and for good measure, Link froze where he was, watching her until he was certain that the twitching of her eyes beneath her gaudy eyelids was the result of dreams, not a surprise waking.
Hobbling forward, as silently as he could, he moved to a stone chest. It was of Subrosian design, and therefore had no lock. Still, it was a difficult matter, heaving the lid off and setting it down on the floor without making any noise. Even with that small victory came a new challenge. The room was desperately dark, so the objects in the chest, at first, seemed like nothing other than bland shapes. Steeling himself, Link thrust his hands inside, blindly feeling around.
His fingers tripped over various articles of clothing, most of which he didn’t care to pause and identify. He wondered how it was that the Subrosians accepted a goddess who liked to accessorize. Didn’t it seem at all peculiar to them that she had a need to carry her gowns, rather than conjure them like she had supposedly conjured a thousand years of peace?
Something clinked beneath his fingertips. Link cringed, his eyes immediately snapping up to the bed. Once again, mercifully, Flordelis remained asleep. For a goddess, she was certainly a deep sleeper. Link closed his fingers around whatever it was and carefully pulled it out of the chest. There was a dull, almost nonexistent, red light coming in through a window near the bed. His foot still throbbing, Link rose and crossed over to it, opening his palm.
Resting there was a gleaming speck of gold, a small coin with the shape of a wave engraved into the center. The Quake Medallion. An enormous, silly grin spread over Link’s face. Swiftly, he shoved the talisman into his pocket and tip toed across the room back to the chest. After some digging around, he located two more medallions. As expected, he could feel four crescents on one and a lightening bolt on the other. For good measure, he searched the rest of the chest for any other artifacts that might be useful, but those seemed to be the only ones.
Pocketing the last two coins, he carefully hefted the lid back onto the chest. Flordelis let out a soft moan, causing Link’s heart to jump into his throat. When he looked up at her, she merely turned over in her sleep, burying her face into one of the soft, silken pillows. Link took a deep, steadying breath. This was a decided victory, but the war wasn’t over yet. In order to complete his task, he would have to defeat her one more time, this time using her own weapons against her. It wasn’t the medallions; he knew how to wield those well enough. This time, he would have to become the actor himself. Careful not to spoil the victory within his reach, he slowly made his way back to the bed.
Again, Rosa’s fantastic, and apparently, virtually nonexistent, ears picked up the sound of footsteps approaching long before Donal was aware of it. The two of them were sitting close to the bars, holding hands in between them. When they heard people approaching, Donal rose, turning around and standing in front of Rosa. Two Subrosians appeared, both of them in blue robes. One carried a set of keys. The other carried a pair of manacles.
“No…” Rosa whispered.
“Time to go,” the one with the keys said, selecting the proper key and holding it up.
Donal stepped in front of the lock, holding his arms out to either side and clutching the bars. “No,” he said.
“Get out of the way, topsider,” the one with the manacles growled.
“Don’t do this,” he told them.
“You’re in no position to be making commands,” the first said, trying to pry him away from the lock.
“She’s done nothing wrong!” he insisted.
“Don’t presume to judge us by your over world standards,” the second Subrosian snapped.
“She is still a member of the tribunal family!”
“The tribunal family is not above the law. And neither are you. Get out of the way.”
“Donal!” Rosa cried.
“I won’t let them take you.”
The Subrosian with the manacles threw them to the floor. He grabbed Donal by the shoulders, wrenching him free of the bars and flinging him into the wall. Donal hit the wall, slicing his lip. As blood began to trickle down his chin, he turned savagely back to the scene where he saw the door being unlocked. Some power seized hold of him. He grabbed his mandolin by the handle and flew forward, smashing the hollow chamber of the instrument against the Subrosian’s head. The wood splintered and shattered, flying apart. The Subrosian with the keys crumpled to the ground.
Instantly, the second Subrosian turned on Donal. He surged forward, prepared to grab him again. Donal swung the broken arm of his mandolin like a sword, trying to catch the Subrosian on the side of the head. In his fury, he missed. The Subrosian ducked and Donal’s blow hit the cage door, destroying anything left of the mandolin and momentarily stunning him.
“Help!” the second Subrosian cried.
“Coward!” Donal declared, straightening himself out and taking a rather sloppy swing at his foe.
The lithe Subrosian easily ducked the blow again. He knelt down and caught Donal around the knees, throwing him down into the sand. “Help!” he shouted again, though he was holding his own well enough.
Rosa gripped the bars, leaning her forehead in between them. “Donal, stop it!” she called.
He was beyond listening. Grabbing a handful of blue robe, he pulled the Subrosian down to the floor with him, savagely pounding his fists against the foe, though he seemed to only be hitting cloth. “You won’t kill her!” he screamed. “I won’t let you kill her!”
“Stop!” the Subrosian yelled.
“Stay away from her!” Donal clasped his hands together and raised them up over his head. He was about to bring them down on the hapless Subrosian servant when he felt two strong hands grip his wrists.
“That’s quite enough of that,” a voice said from behind.
Rosa blinked. “Tao?”
Tao lifted Donal up from the ground, still clutching his wrists. He flung the Human into a rather large crowed of Subrosians who had come running at the sound of a battle. “No more disruptions.”
“No!” Donal struggled, but the Subrosians grabbed his arms, holding him back. He had been in many bar brawls before, but this was something else entirely. There was no fighting this many people. Intellectually, he knew this. But all the same, he kept on fighting.
“Making a scene?” Tao clucked. “Really, have you no dignity left? Restrain yourself.”
“Don’t touch her!” Donal demanded.
Casually, Tao walked over to the bars. He slipped his hand through, poking Rosa’s cheek. “Like this?” Rosa recoiled, slapping his arm. Tao turned to look at her. “That wasn’t very nice.”
“What more can you do to me?” she asked him defiantly.
“True enough. You are condemned.”
“What more do you want than my death?”
“Nothing,” he chuckled. “With that, I suppose I’ll have it all. Or very near. The rest will come in time.”
She leaned forward. “I know what you are,” she whispered.
“There’s no need for subterfuge, my dear. Proclaim it to the very foundations if you like. No one will believe you.”
“You really are fearless.”
“Then why delay?” she spat.
“An excellent point. Guard. We have an execution to get to.”
As the guard retrieved the keys from his fallen companion, Donal fought against the Subrosians again. “No!” he cried desperately. “Don’t touch her!”
“I already have,” Tao crowed.
The door to the cell opened. The guard planted a hand on Rosa’s shoulder steering her out. “Rosa!” Donal called.
She looked up at him, those blue tears beginning to build up in her eyes. “Donal…” she whispered.
At once, he let out a roar and ran forward, dragging several hapless Subrosians along behind him. Rosa wrenched her shoulder free of the guard and moved to him. He caught her face up in his hands and kissed her. She snaked her arms around his waist, kissing back. For a moment, all too brief, the world seemed to slow down. Time froze, an event horizon isolating the two of them from everything else, all the chaos and cries and faces of disgust around them. This was no ordinary kiss. This was the first kiss, always an extraordinary moment in the history of lovers. Donal pulled back to look at her, at her lovely, alien face. For a single second, there was dead silence between the two of them.
All too soon, the silence was broken as the outside world invaded into the sacred space of the kiss. The Subrosians grabbed Donal, pulling him away from Rosa. At the same time, Tao and the guard wrenched Rosa away. “Disgusting!” Tao declared to the crowd.
“Kill the outsider!” someone yelled.
“Defiler of the Subrosian people!” another added.
One pointed at Rosa. “Death to the brazen hussy!”
“Kill the traitor!”
The guard clapped Rosa’s hands in the manacles, behind her back. She stared across the space at Donal. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you too,” he told her.
“I’m not afraid.”
“Be strong, Donal.”
“No! No, I won’t be strong! I have to save you!”
“Take her away!” Tao roared.
The guard began to drive Rosa from the dungeon, past the angry, shouting people. She looked back over her shoulder at Donal, blinking her eyes sadly. “Goodbye,” she whispered.
“Rosa!” He surged forward. One of the Subrosians caught him by the shoulders, throwing him back. He stumbled into the bars of the cell and fell over, his face landing in the sand. Beside him, the Subrosians picked up the guard he had beamed with the mandolin, carefully supporting him on their shoulders without disrupting his robes too much.
Donal lifted his head, watching as the crowds departed, parading Rosa and the poor, fallen guard down the hall. He opened his mouth to call out to her again, but suddenly, the bottom of a green robe appeared before him, blocking his sightlines. “That girl is going to die,” Tao sneered, looking down at Donal from under the black shadows of his hood.
“No…” Donal said weakly.
“Yes,” Tao countered. “And I won’t have you causing any more trouble, topsider.”
“Let me go to her.”
Tao shook his head. “No.”
“I love her.”
He reached over to one side, picking up a metal rod. “That’s a touching story,” he muttered.
“Please, let me –”
Tao brought down the rod on Donal’s skull with a crack. Instantly, the Human dropped to the ground. “No,” he deadpanned, kicking Donal’s stomach for emphasis. He leaned the bar against the wall again and started down the hall. Halfway out of the dungeon, he turned back over his shoulder. “Are you coming, Jamis?”
Jamis was standing against the wall, staring down at Donal. When he heard his name, he turned to Tao. “I’ll be along in a minute,” he said.
“Don’t linger,” Tao snapped. “We have a lot of work to get done today. I need your help. That idiot Vash has lost her medallions.”
“Yes, Tao,” Jamis sighed.
This appeased Tao. He walked away, leaving Jamis alone. Jamis looked down at Donal’s broken form, his mind going back to what had just happened. Rosa loved this mealy, disgusting topsider. And worse yet, all his assumptions about Donal had been correct. Donal loved Rosa. For some reason, he should have felt triumphant that Donal was now lying here, while Rosa was being carried away, but he wasn’t. In fact, he felt completely hollow now.
There were very few occasions that called the people of Subrosia to gather together. In general, everyone minded their own business and rarely did any sort of community events, other than elections, take place. Today was different though. News of Rosa’s execution had spread as quickly as news of Flordelis. Both realities called the Subrosian people together today, both perfectly horrifying.
They gathered on the plain, just near Little Lass, who had returned to a state of regularity. Overnight, a scaffolding had been built. It had been well over five hundred years since a public stoning. Truth to tell, the Subrosian texts regarding the ritual were fuzzy at best, so they had to more or less start from scratch, trying to find the most efficient way to kill Rosa while still obeying their own laws. The scaffolding was arranged in a circle, rather like a theatre. Standing along the unsteady floorboards were various Subrosian officials who had been assigned the duty of throwing the stones. Below, peering in between the support beams, the masses gathered, watching as their beloved princess was paraded into the arena.
Flordelis stood on the scaffold, among the officials bearing stones. Timidly, the people gazed up at her. This was their new tribune, though Philo had not yet stepped down. She was certainly a sight to see. She stood upon the scaffolding, dressed for the occasion. A tight black corset hugged her bosom, going all the way down and becoming a pair of leather slacks. Along the side of each pant leg, a shimmering fringe, looking a bit like a fish’s fin, shot out, wrapping around to connect to a silver broach on the small of her back. Her hair was piled elegantly on top of her head, with two long ringlets falling down either side of her face. Pursing her ruby lips, she gazed down into the hole as Rosa was brought forth.
“We need to be careful,” she whispered to Tao by her side.
“And why is that?”
“We could very easily make her a martyr.”
“The people may love her,” Tao sneered, “but she’s certainly not a martyr. She’s never had any sort of cause to champion.”
“Martyrs can come from the most unlikely places,” Flordelis replied.
“Don’t even think about it,” Tao said dismissively. “In a few months, she’ll be all but forgotten. She will change nothing.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Enough of this. Your public is waiting.”
Stepping forward, Flordelis looked down at the people. They were, in fact, all staring up at her now. Lifting her chin, she turned to address Rosa below. “Daughter of Philo,” Flordelis called down to her. “State your crime so the whole of Subrosia will know it.”
“My only crime was being a victim of circumstance,” Rosa replied. All around her, the people gasped in surprise at such a bold defiance of their new leader, in the face of such doom.
“Then go to your death believing it,” Flordelis said.
“Long live, Subrosia,” Rosa called. “It has been the death of me.”
“Enough speeches,” Flordelis snapped. “People of Subrosia, behold the punishment for breaking with tradition.” She raised her hand. “Release the stones into the –”
Tao, Flordelis, and all of Subrosia turned around. There, they saw Link running across the plain, waving an arm in the air. “Not him again…” Tao mumbled, shaking his head.
“You have already had your day in court,” Flordelis called to him. “And lost, I might add.”
“People of Subrosia!” Link shouted, ignoring her. “Do not allow this woman to condemn Rosa to death! She has no authority over you!”
“Actually, I believe I have,” Flordelis retorted.
“She’s no goddess!” Link cried.
“We already have ample proof that she is!” Tao exclaimed in exasperation. “Your arguments are pointless.”
“What if I told you that I could steal her power?”
This caught the people off guard. They turned to one another, mumbling in concern. Tao slowly began to slink around the scaffold. “You can do nothing,” Flordelis laughed.
“You are nothing but a mere mortal.”
“There is nothing mere about me,” Link answered.
“This is utter nonsense.” She turned back to the officials on the platforms. “Release the stones into the –”
Link squeezed his hands together. Suddenly, the ground began to rumble, shaking gently. The gathered Subrosians gasped, clutching onto one another. “Remember these?” Link asked.
Flordelis glared down at Link. “How dare you…”
“I can cause quakes too,” Link continued. “Maybe I should claim to be Flordelis myself.”
“Stop this at once!” Flordelis shrieked.
“Why don’t you?” he countered.
“Go on, stop the tremors.”
She frowned. “I like the tremors.”
“Well, I don’t.” Link released his hands. Instantly, the shaking stopped. Steady once more, Tao climbed down the ladder to the ground. “Let’s see another demonstration of your power, Flordelis.”
“I am not in the mood for this.”
“You were all ready for fun and games yesterday. How about this one?” Link gripped his hand. With a crackle, frost slowly began to climb up the legs of the scaffold. The officials on top shouted in fear, dropping their stones which fell, causing the people below to scatter.
“Stop!” she demanded.
“Why don’t you stop it? I don’t think you really can.” Link released the pressure and the frost slowly melted away in the heat.
“Seize him!” she called to the guards at the bottom of the scaffolding, controlling the crowds.
“What kind of goddess needs guards to seize me?” Link asked. “Shouldn’t she be able to smite me on the spot?” For a third time, he applied some pressure. There was a boom and suddenly, an explosion rattled Little Lass, sending a weak trickle of lava, five minutes early, down the side of the rock.
The guards looked at one another. Abruptly, they began to climb up the side of the scaffold, toward Flordelis. “What? Stop!” she screamed. “Stop!”
But they didn’t stop. “You’re going to need to present a more convincing argument,” Link told her.
“Tao!” Flordelis shouted. But as she looked around, she realized that Tao was nowhere to be seen.
“People of Subrosia,” Link said. “You have been deceived, by this woman, Senator Tao, and Senator Jamis.”
“Tao!” Flordelis cried desperately.
“Where’s Tao?” Link asked, looking around.
There was no reply at first. Finally, someone from the crowd jumped up, waving his arms. “He’s taken Rosa!”
“Senator Tao has taken Rosa!”
Link charged forward, fighting his way through the crowds that gradually shifted out of his way. He got to the base of the scaffolding and looked inside. There were several stones littering the ground, but no sign of Rosa anywhere. “Where did he take her?”
Up above, the guards had laid hands on Flordelis. “Let go of me!” she demanded indignantly.
“Don’t let her go!” Link told them. “She has to answer for her crimes!”
“Stone her!” someone shouted.
The crowd picked up on this with a vengeance. “Stone her!” they began to chant. “Stone her!”
“Don’t stone her!” Link told them.
“She deceived us!” someone screamed
“Punish her!” another roared.
“If you stone her, then you’re every bit as guilty as she is! Let her live with her crime. Let her answer for it in some other way!”
“I don’t know!” Link yelled. “We’ll think of something. But first, we have to find the other guilty parties.”
“And save Rosa!” an official called.
“Save Rosa!” the masses chanted. “Save Rosa!”
“Sure,” Link grumbled under his breath. “Now you like her.”
Philo’s heart nearly stopped from surprise when the door to his office burst open. He looked up from the clap tablet in front of him and saw Tao storm in, dragging Rosa behind him. “What’s going on?” he asked, rising to his feet. Half of him was confused and indignant for the interruption. The other half was overcome with joy at seeing his daughter alive and well.
“This has gone on long enough!” Tao roared.
“I’ve tried using reason and I’ve tried using appeals to your better nature. Now I’m going to appeal to something else.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Step down, Philo.”
He couldn’t believe it. “What?”
“Step down.” Tao reached into his robes, pulling out a flint dagger. “Step down or I’ll cut her throat. Right here. In front of you.”
“No,” Rosa yelped.
“Shut up,” Tao snapped, pressing the blunt end of the blade against her throat. “I’ve had enough of you.”
“Let go of her!” Philo barked.
“I’m through taking orders from you,” Tao sneered. You are nothing but a joke, old man.”
“You go too far.”
“No, you go too far! For years now, I’ve sat back to watch you systematically destroy this kingdom. You, with your liberal, new ideas. You, with your tolerance for the topsiders and their influence. You, with your soft hearted disposition. You have no respect for our way of life!”
“How dare you,” Philo said. “How dare you come in here and tell me how to do my job.”
Tao pressed the blade into Rosa’s neck. “Ahhh,” she gasped, her jaw dropping open slightly.
“You’re killing her,” Tao said.
“Release her this instant!”
Philo, Rosa, and Tao turned around to see Link racing down the hallway. While he was distracted, Rosa clapped her hands together, ramming her elbows into Tao’s stomach. He grunted in surprise and pain, doubling over and dropping his knife. She grabbed the top of his hood and viciously yanked it back, exposing Tao’s face. Tao screamed, clapping his hands over it and letting go of Rosa as Link arrived. Immediately, Link threw himself in the air, practically flying, throwing himself on top of Tao’s back. The two of them fell to the floor in a tangle of green. Tao let out a low groan.
A moment later, Philo had run across his desk, pulling Rosa into his arms and embracing her. “Forgive me, Rosa,” he whispered.
Link got up slowly. He looked down, but Tao did not move to fight. Grabbing the back of his robe, Link turned him over and immediately, everyone knew why. Tao had fallen on his knife. It had gone right into him when he fell. “Oh…” Link murmured apologetically.
“It’s what he deserved,” Rosa said angrily.
“I don’t understand…” Philo said, looking back and forth between Rosa and the senator.
“Tao was plotting against you,” Link explained, stepping over the corpse to join the Subrosians. “He set up this whole Flordelis thing. She really is Hylian. She was controlling the quakes and the frosts with these.” Link handed Philo the medallions. “They’re Hylian. I can operate them myself.”
“I don’t understand…”
“It was all a ploy to get you to step down, father,” Rosa said gently.
“And Flordelis?” he asked, “Who is she?”
Link shrugged. “Some actor.”
“Her name is Vash.”
Everyone looked to the doorway. Jamis was standing there, out in front of a growing mass of Subrosians who had been called from the noise. Leaning against his shoulder, badly bleeding, was Donal. “Donal!” Rosa gasped, rushing across the room. Donal looked up, his eyes slightly out of focus. Dizzily, he took a few half hearted steps before collapsing on the ground. Rosa sank to her knees beside him, pulling him into a tight embrace on the floor.
“Jamis?” Philo stepped forward.
“Flordelis is really named Vash,” Jamis said. “Tao hired her to impersonate Flordelis so you would step down from the throne.”
“And you knew about this?”
“Yes, sir.” He hung his head. “I didn’t think that Tao would go so far as to try and kill people.”
“One act of redemption will not spare you punishment for serving as his accessory,” Philo snapped.
Rosa brushed Donal’s bloody hair back, away from his face. “Donal, what happened?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“You’re alive,” Donal said with a laugh. “Nothing can hurt me.”
“Isn’t that sweet?” By the doorway, several guards had appeared, dragging Flordelis…no…Vash, along behind. She sneered at the couple, but even her harshest glares couldn’t reach them now.
“Guards,” Philo called, “Arrest Senator Jamis.”
“Yes, sir,” one of the guards said, clapping a hand on Jamis’ shoulder and pulling him back.
Link knelt down by Donal, examining his head. “We’ve got to get you up above ground,” Link said. “To some healers who can fix that. And we have to go now. Before you get dehydrated.”
“And what happens to me?” Rosa wondered softly.
Everyone turned to look at her. “What do you mean, child?” Philo asked.
“I have still broken tradition,” she said. “And the entire population has seen my face. According to our laws, I have to die.”
“No!” Donal insisted, taking her face in his hands. “Don’t say that. I won’t let them take you from me a second time.”
“But you have to go.”
Standing, Link looked at Philo. “What’s to be done, sir?”
Philo folded his arms. He regarded the gathering masses by the door then looked down at his daughter, in the arms of the injured musician. “What we need,” he said slowly, “is a cultural evolution, not a revolution.”
“As is my tribunal right as judge in legal matters,” he said in a high, official voice, “I hereby change the punishment for exposure. From this point on, one guilty of exposure shall be sentenced to exile. Not death.” He sighed. “And,” he added quietly, “perhaps someday soon, in the course of this evolution, exposure won’t be so much of a crime.”
Rosa leapt to her feet, throwing her arms around her father in a tight embrace. “Thank you, father,” she whispered.
“Well, it looks like you’ve won, Hero,” Vash said, folding her arms. “Trust me when I say that it would have been much more fun if you had lost.”
Link shook his head. “No thanks,” he said. “I’ve already got a girl.”
After kissing her father on the cheek, Rosa ran back to Donal, excitedly pulling him up to his feet. He laughed weakly. “What’s the rush there?”
“My whole life,” she said. “I want you to show me the sea.”
“I can do that,” he said.
“Not until you see a healer,” Link said, going to Donal’s other side to help Rosa support him.
The three of them linked arms around their waists. Slowly, with great care, they began to walk out of the office. The guards around them parted, creating an aisle for them to pass, unmolested, with a sense of reverence. Together, the three new heroes of Subrosia, newly born in the wake of the scandal, departed, leaving for a world of sunlight, popcorn, and the sea.