The night should have been quiet. It was, to some extent. The air was still, the roads were more or less deserted, save for the occasional Whatever that happened to scuttle by. A young woman's screams were the only thing that broke the stillness. Magdalena had already been awake. She restricted her sleeping to precisely eight hours a night and never deviated from this schedule. The woman had been sitting in her bedroom, reading by moonlight while her husband slept when she heard the noise coming from her basement. After taking a moment to dress herself in what she found most dignified for a midnight meander, she stormed out of the room, down the twisting staircase, toward the basement.
She always walked with perfect dignity and poise, tapping the silver tip of her bamboo cane on the blue tiles making up the floor. Of course, she had no real need for a cane. Magdalena may have been past her prime, but she was, by no possible stretch of the imagination, a feeble woman. She liked the cane, particularly the ornate head; a large silver bust of one of the Sirens. It gave her a certain air of importance, plus it was great for bashing the servants over the head with.
As Magdalena swept through the darkened hallways, the sounds became louder and more intense. The female cries were intermingled with murmurings from what couldn't be less than a dozen people, Magdalena decided, pausing for a moment in front of a tall mirror to tighten the bun in her graying hair. Where was Oderic? She felt certain that she could hear his voice in the crowd. What in the name of the Sirens was he doing up at this hour with the rest of them?
Satisfied that she looked dignified enough for this late night pilgrimage into the servants' wing, she continued on her trek through the hall, her stride proper and quick. Briefly, she wondered how it was possible that her husband and son could sleep through the noise. Admittedly, Ivan could sleep through almost anything, including his own snoring, but their son had always been a fussy and light sleeper, prone to wake at the slightest noise. As of late though, teenager rebellion had gripped him, often sending him out in the middle of the night. Magdalena supposed he was out carousing with that obnoxious boy from the village. She spared a quick moment to try and remember his name, but found herself oddly disinterested.
There was a new sound. Magdalena clearly heard the voice of Aviva, the village healer. She couldn't make out exactly what the young woman was saying, but she knew the intonations right away. Aviva was speaking calmly, her voice carrying above the throng. Indeed, that had grown louder too. It sounded more like two dozen bystanders now. As Magdalena reached the third spiral staircase, the one leading directly into the servants' wing, a final noise joined the cacophony, trumping all the others: The wailing of a baby.
Descending the metal staircase, the old woman fleetly tapped down the hall. Bright light was coming out of a large common room where the servants normally spent their off hours playing cards or dice. The light spewed into the hallway, broken by the shadows of people milling about in the room. Magdalena neared the room, banging her cane louder and louder on the floor. The noise had the desired effect of echoing off the stone walls, reaching the ears of at least a handful of people in the common room. The murmurings turned to loud, hissing whispers and Magdalena noticed the shadows quickly disappear as people fled to the perimeter of the room, away from whatever source of light was spilling into the hall.
Pausing outside of the entryway, Magdalena spared a last second for her ears to monitor the noise. The murmurings and the screaming had stopped, Aviva was silent now. What remained of the symphony was the shrill crying of the baby, combined with a commotion of scuffling and padding feet. Satisfied, Magdalena moved forward, turning a corner to stand directly in the center of the arched doorway.
Just as she had expected, two dozen or more servants, in various stages of undress, were scattered along the walls, all staring at her in a mixture of fear and confusion. Closest to the door was Oderic who immediately stooped into a low bow. He looked oddly out of place in his courtly attire. In the middle of the room, amidst a tangled pile of blankets and pillows was one of the chamber maids, in her nightdress, her face gleaming with sweat and twisted in a dazed expression. Kneeling beside her were Aviva and Aviva's young protégé, a local girl from the Mabe Village, busy swaddling a screaming baby.
"My lady," Oderic yelped, standing up straight. Even at his best posture, he was only just a few inches short of Magdalena's chin and his gut spilled over his belt. "What brings you to this part of the castle at such a late hour?"
Magdalena pursed her lips, refraining from spitting out the first few thoughts that came to her mind. "It was somewhat difficult to fall asleep under the circumstances," she finally said, placing both hands on top of the cane in front of her.
"A thousand pardons madam," Oderic replied, shrinking rapidly.
"I suppose it would be rather ludicrous to ask what exactly is going on down here," she continued, staring daggers at the chamber maid.
"Yes…" Oderic fumbled for words. "Well, we're all very sorry for the noise. Isn't that right?" He turned his gaze around the room. The servants standing along the wall all nodded, mumbling empty apologies. "Go on Erigie," he prompted the chamber maid. She nodded weakly.
Aviva was leaning over to place the baby in Erigie's arms. Magdalena stopped her, clearing her throat loudly. "Aviva," she said forcefully, extending a free hand in her direction. Aviva looked at Erigie for a moment. Slowly, she rose to her feet, still holding the baby in her arms. As she stepped forward in Magdalena's direction, the old woman thrust her cane into Oderic's hands and reached out with both of hers to take the finally silent child.
Pushing aside the folds of yellow fabric, she exposed the baby's face. She was shocked at how small the baby was. It must have been at least two months premature. "It's a girl," Aviva said evenly. "Dasheme."
Magdalena didn't show any signs of acknowledgement to Aviva. Instead, she turned her attention to Dasheme's face. She seemed the spitting image of Erigie. Wide, hazel eyes stared up at Magdalena. A small tuft of honey blond hair fell over her forehead, a color matching Erigie's own. On closer inspection though, Magdalena began to notice something unusual. The shape of the child's face was different from Erigie's, the tight, square jaw, the high cheekbones, the long chin.
She felt a smoldering rage ignite from within her. "Everyone get out of this room," she said quietly. Too afraid to even mutter, the servants began clearing the room. Magdalena threw Oderic a look, meaning that he was to remain where he was. She turned her gaze down on the child again, hot rage gathering up behind her eyeballs. A sense of betrayal filled her. Magdalena felt angry and foolish for not noticing Erigie's condition sooner. She hated feeling foolish.
The room was soon cleared. Only Oderic, Magdalena, Aviva and her assistant, and Erigie remained. "I said everyone Aviva," Magdalena growled at the healer.
Aviva looked at her with a serious expression. "The baby was too early. Erigie wasn't ready. If I don't stay here to finish treating her, she could die."
"Get out," Magdalena hissed. "Get out!" The baby started crying again. "Out, out, out!" Magdalena continued to roar, glaring at Aviva.
There was an uproar from behind her. Magdalena realized that all the servants she had dismissed remained in the hallway behind her, instead of returning to their respective bedrooms. "You're condemning this girl!" Aviva shouted back at Magdalena, trying to make her voice heard over the rumblings and the crying.
"Oderic!" Magdalena shouted.
Oderic stepped forward, placing a hand on Aviva's back. "Be on your way Aviva," he said meekly, steering her in the general direction of the door. "And you as well," he added to her apprentice. The confused girl followed after Aviva and Oderic, directly into the noisy mass.
"You can't do that!" one of the butlers shouted back at Magdalena.
"Let Aviva stay!" another maid screamed.
"Leave at once, all of you!" Magdalena cried. "Leave or you'll all be dismissed from your posts."
This didn't seem to concern them. Rather than disbanding, the servants continued to yell and scream. "You've no right to decide the difference between life and death!" someone growled.
"You're our mistress, not our god!"
"Don't condemn Erigie!"
"My baby…my Dasheme…"
"Oh no!" someone gasped.
Magdalena turned around, looking back into the room. Erigie, instead of lying on her back in the middle of the blankets, was now on her face, a few paces away. Evidently, she had tried to stand up and walk over to Magdalena to remove the child from her arms. Weak as she was though, she fell over and didn't stir.
"Oderic," Magdalena barked as the crowd fell hushed in shock. Oderic stepped forward still clutching Magdalena's cane in both hands. "When my son returns in the morning, you tell him that that girl and the child are dead."
The crowd surged forward at that. Magdalena held the baby in front of her as a protective shield and began to fight her way past. Lucky, they disgruntled servants didn't put up much of a fight. Magdalena was also gratified to see that Aviva and her girl had vanished.
Absently, she felt her pocket. A few gold coins jingled against her thigh. Good. That would be more than enough. The wailing infant in her arms began to thrash her tiny extremities about. Magdalena wrapped her tightly in the blanket, placing a loose flap of fabric across her face. She had no desire to see the child.
Finally, she escaped the screaming, panicked mass of people. She turned around, addressing them in a loud, crisp tone. "Let this be a warning to all of you ambitious young ladies in my employ. Such behavior will not be tolerated." Turning sharply, she headed back to the spiral staircase, Oderic trailing behind her. As she disappeared, ascending over the ceiling, she sensed dozens of narrowed, angry eyes watching her go. Good. She liked it that way. It was better to be feared by one's servants than loved, she reasoned. After all, what could they possibly do to her?
Zelda laughed lightly as she gazed fondly across the field where Link was crawling about on his hands and knees, braying like a mule. Two little girls and a boy lay on their stomachs, their chins propped up in their palms, watching as a forth child, another boy, rode Link like a horse. It was an adorable sight to see, Link there entertaining the four brunette look-alikes. They all giggled happily, shouting out various things to Link.
Resting on Zelda's lap was the fifth of the quintuplets, another girl, who sat patiently, allowing Zelda to braid her hair into two long plaits. She seemed oddly disinterested in the display and was instead enraptured by a passing cloud that Zelda found oddly similar to a bunny. Cradled in the girl's, Dawn's, arms was an old stuffed toy that Zelda had long ago outgrown, but never managed to dispose of, a Yoshi Doll.
A small smile crept over Zelda's face as she realized that Link looked oddly like the doll. Besides being all dressed in green, the same shade as the doll's skin, he had the same goofy smile, one he reserved specially for children. Zelda looked back and forth between Link and the toy, her laughter convulsing in her chest.
It felt good to laugh. Less than twenty four hours ago, Zelda had been trapped in Bottle Grotto with Link, fighting the gigantic Hinox as well as a host of other monsters, only to encounter her own future reflection. Thank Farore; they had managed to escape with their lives and another instrument. Still, with the return trip for Bow Wow, added with the rapid fire succession of lies told to Tarin, Zelda could feel the toll the lack of sleep was taking on her. It didn't help that Marnie had asked her to watch the kids for a few hours, but thankfully, Link proved to be ten times the babysitter that Zelda could ever be.
Dawn was tugging on Zelda's necklace. "Marin," she said in a no-nonsense way, "Can I play with Yoshi tomorrow too?"
"I'll tell you what," Zelda replied with a smile. "Why don't you keep him? He needs a good home and I think you can give it to him."
"Really?" she asked with wide eyes.
"Really," Zelda nodded. She looked up and noticed Valerie approaching up the north road.
"Thank you!" Dawn cried, careful not to move too much, lest she mess up Zelda's meticulous placement of a pink ribbon on the end of a braid.
"Hello Marin," Valerie said kindly, coming to a stop at Zelda's side. "And hello to you Miss Dawny," she added to the child.
"Hello," Dawn replied with a bright, toothless smile.
Across the field, the boy who had been riding Link (either Philip or Andy, Zelda couldn't keep them straight) was wrestling him to the ground. Link, whose head was being planted on the grass by two tiny, sticky hands, saw Zelda and Valerie. He quickly grabbed the boy around the waist and lifted him up into the air, setting him down on the field. Amidst the disappointed sighs of the children, he stood up and made his way over to the group.
"Why don't you go introduce Yoshi to your brothers and sisters," Zelda said, scooting Dawn off her lap.
"Okay," the girl said. She scampered away, blond plaits bouncing behind her and Zelda realized that she had only put one bow into her hair. The other was still in her hand. Link noticed this as well and began snickering. Zelda promptly stuck the ribbon onto the tail of his hat. He turned around, trying to grab it and suddenly resembled a dog chasing its own tail. When he finally got it and pulled it free of his hat, his gaze was met by Valerie's. There was great concern in her eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked, all at once growing dead serious.
"I need you two to do me a favor," Valerie said quietly.
"Anything," Zelda replied immediately.
"Sure," Link agreed, "name it Val."
Valerie reached into her wicker herb basket and scuffled around a few of her pickings. On the bottom of the basket, she revealed a parchment page, folded in half. She removed the page and handed it to Zelda, her hand shaking slightly, causing the paper to bob up and down. Zelda took the page and unfolded it, reading aloud what was written in black ink. "'Valerie, you are hereby summoned to the presence of Prince Richard of Koholint at noon today in the villa of the Ukuku Prairie. Come alone, we need to talk business, or I'll have a pretty interesting conversation topic for dinner tonight. Signed, Prince Richard.'" Zelda looked up, rolling her eyes in the process. "He gets worse every day."
"Tress thought he was okay," Link supplied.
Valerie snatched back the parchment from Zelda, obviously annoyed. "He's blackmailing me," she hissed. "Again."
Link frowned. "Oh," he muttered. Suddenly, his eyes turned wide as saucers. "Oh!" he cried. "He knows?"
"Since when does he know?"
"He knew before you. Why do you think he calls me 'little angel' all the time?"
"That suddenly makes a lot more sense now," Link said.
"Wait a second," Zelda interrupted them both. "How does Richard know that you're the Angel of Farore? He doesn't even know who Farore is."
"Well, he doesn't know all the details," Valerie answered stiffly. "It happens that when my wings are kept invisible for extended periods of time it gets rather…uncomfortable."
"And I happened to unfold them in the middle of the woods when I thought no one was watching."
"So Richard saw you," Link concluded, looking all too pleased with himself.
"Over the years, he's called in a favor or two with me," Valerie explained. "Nothing major, mostly free medical treatment. The last few months though, for some reason that's beyond me, he's been trying to get me to go to Kanalet for him."
"Kanalet?" Link asked.
"The castle below the north ridge," Zelda said nonchalantly.
"There's a castle on Koholint?"
Zelda gave Link an annoyed look. "Really Link," she said dryly, "you do need to get out more."
"Well excuse me Princess," he hissed, grinning impishly. Zelda responded by grabbing the brim of Link's cap and pulling it down over his eyes. He found this entirely too amusing and reached out, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her close to peck her on the cheek.
Valerie cleared her throat loudly. "I don't mean to interrupt," she said crisply, not at all sounding sincere, "but we have a crisis here."
Link pulled his hat back off his face. "Sorry Val," he mumbled.
"Sorry," Zelda echoed.
For a moment, Valerie looked like she was on the verge of cracking a smile. "Richard is at his breaking point," she said solemnly. "The last thing that any of us want is for any of our little secrets to become common knowledge. The three of us are bound together now. If one of us becomes the object of suspicion, we all do."
Link nodded. "So what do you want us to do?" he asked simply.
"Come with me," she said quietly. There was a genuine vulnerability in her tone, one which neither of them had heard in a long while, not since they learned that she was their guardian angel.
"Of course we will," Zelda told her firmly
"You bet we will," Link affirmed. "And if Richard thinks that he can just push people around I'll…" he fell silent, sensing the presence of the children behind him. "Stop him," he amended, "I'll stop him."
"Thank you," Valerie said to them, smiling ever so slightly. "I'll meet you ten minutes before noon at the fishing pond."
"Okay," Link nodded.
Valerie dipped her head and turned around, walking back in the direction she came from, her pink shift disappearing around the hedges. Zelda closed her eyes and dropped her forehead against Link's chest. "I'm so tired," she whispered hoarsely.
"Yeah," he muttered, running a hand over her hair, "me too."
"You've stayed awake longer than this though, right?" she asked, looking directly up into his eyes.
He nodded. "During that fun little jaunt I had with Agahnim and Ganon. I was awake for what couldn't have been less than five days in a row. From the time your sister contacted me telepathically to the time when I finally returned to my bedroom."
"Well, if you can stay up five days in a row," she reasoned, "we can both make it until nightfall."
"That would be necessary, since Tarin seems to think that we never left the hut."
"I hated lying to him," Zelda lamented.
"Would you rather have told him the truth?"
"No," she said firmly, "that would only make things worse. Still…"
"I know," Link whispered, cupping her chin in his hand.
She sighed, turning her cheek against the soft felt of his tunic. "I can't get the images from Bottle Grotto out of my mind," she said, her fingers falling over her necklace.
"It was all pretty strange," Link admitted. He was still somewhat black and blue from his fun filled encounter with Hinox, but his main concern had been that image of Zelda he had seen, looking sallow and forlorn. He desperately hoped that future would be avoided.
"There are things I haven't told you yet," she confessed. "Things I saw that you should know about. I went through two of those portals you know."
"We can't talk about it now," Link said reasonably.
"Well just get this little visit with Richard out of the way then we can talk and go to bed early."
"That sounds like a good plan."
A shaft of light streamed in through the otherwise closed drapes hanging over the window to the tiny, one room hut. Billows of dust danced in the dim gray light, turning circles in midair with effortless grace. The beam of light extended across the room, wall to wall almost, splashing over the face of Matilda who slept peacefully. She was so still, in fact, that if Carry hadn't known better, he might have taken her for dead.
He sat at her bedside, his back to the wall, watching the swirling and swishing of the motes of dust with a disinterested, glazed stare. Long ago, he had tired of staring at the Spartan décor of the hut, the wooden dresser, the wash basin, the almost empty bookshelf. He had seen them all before anyway. Nothing in Matilda's home changed, nothing but the dust.
Carry sighed, craning neck to one side to receive a satisfying pop follow by a rush of relief to the tension he'd been carrying for hours now. Indeed, it had been hours since he trudged in, Matilda in his arms, after the trek from Bottle Grotto. While he had initially tried to digest everything that occurred within the dungeon, he finally gave up and settled on staring at various objects in the room. It was all too confusing. Beyond him. He settled for allowing understanding to come with time and had not the girl from the future promised him that one day he'd understand it all?
Matilda was still under the mysterious girl's spell, whatever it was. She had been asleep the entire time, completely peaceful, save for the restless back and forth motion of her eyes from beneath her eyelids. Her dark hair fell across her face, compelling Carry to lean over and gently prod it aside. He was careful not to stick her with his claws, though he somehow doubted that she'd notice. This wasn't just any ordinary sleep after all; this was a deep, relaxed sleep, brought on by nothing less than the most potent of magical spells.
For the first time in several hours, Carry stood up, his joints cracking stiffly. He yawned, opening his jaw quite far before snapping his teeth shut again. The bookshelf, for all its ordinary qualities, was becoming increasingly inviting, so Carry walked to it, quickly scanning the contents of the shelves. There was little there that held any interest for him. A copy of 'Fun with Bombs.' 'The Properties of Warp Holes.' 'Selecting the Item That's Right for You.' They were all perfectly ordinary books for a native Koholintite.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Carry recalled the satchel that Matilda had been carrying with her in the dungeon. It had been strapped to her back during the exodus back to the hut, but now it lay discarded in a corner. Carry walked to the satchel and opened it, peering in curiously. From the bag, he withdrew Matilda's hookshot. Carry was always impressed with the way that she managed to handle the mysterious, one of a kind weapon. Next out of it was a book. Carry glanced at the title etched into the black leather cover. 'Nightmares.'
"Careful, that book is older than you are." Carry turned around abruptly to find a bright flame with no origin burning in the middle of the room. Slowly, the fire shifted, molding into the shape of a woman and pretty soon, died down completely, leaving Catsy behind.
Carry blinked, his eyes stinging from the intense light. "How do you know?" he asked.
"I wrote it." She moved toward him and the sound of dozens of silver bracelets clanking together shook the room. As always, Catsy was dressed in a most outrageous fashion, but Carry was certain she'd outdone herself this time. Today, it was a black halter over a red skirt, ending just below mid-thigh and made of a strange vinyl that squeaked as she walked. She had on bright neon stockings that tapered from yellow to orange to red to blue, like flames crawling up her legs. A good twelve silver bracelets hung from each arm and all of her fingers were bedecked in matching silver rings with red and black stones. Completing the absurd ensemble were two black flats, held to her feet by straps with ruby buckles.
"Oh," Carry replied, examining her in a mixture of horror and fascination.
Catsy seemed pleased by the attention to her wardrobe. "Do you like?" she asked. "I figure it'll catch on someday." She ducked under the shaft of light and made her way to Matilda's bedside. "Still out cold," she muttered.
"It was a spell," Carry started to explain, following after her.
She held up a hand, her bright red nails flashing. "I already know," she explained, still looking down at Matilda. "I saw the whole thing."
Carry scowled. "I could have used your help if you were there."
"Now, now Carry, you know I can't fight against the other Nightmares. It's bad enough with the curse." She thrust her hand forward, directly into the shaft of light filling the room. Instantly, a noisy sizzling sound erupted as her skin began smoking. She withdrew the hand. "'And if one Nightmare shall betray the others, this traitor shall not see the light of day.' I can't imagine how bad it would be if I actually fought one of them."
He nodded slowly. "I guess."
Finally, she turned her attention away from Matilda and looked up at Carry. "On the plus side, your dungeon crawling friends seem to be doing very well for themselves. They've already defeated two Nightmares by themselves. Not to mention they gave Gene's Guardian a lesson in manners."
"They only defeated one Nightmare," Carry corrected her. "Gene was defeated by someone else."
Catsy pursed her lips, smiling all the same. "Yes well, that isn't what I meant. Anyway they defeated another Nightmare long before they started on the dungeons. I won't go into the dull details." She glanced at her reflection in a wall mirror and at once began fluffing up her bouncy curls with her good hand. The other was raw and beginning to turn red. The one that had been in the sun. "It's a whole new game now," she said nonchalantly. "They're about to take on the first of the Sirens."
"About to take on?" Carry repeated nervously.
Catsy nodded. "Very soon. Oh, don't worry though," she called as Carry began to walk to the door, "they won't be needing your maps this time."
"They won't need me?" he asked.
She shook her head, glancing at him in the mirror. "There will be no problems navigating Key Cavern."
"But I can help fight. I did last time."
Catsy turned around. "I wouldn't worry about that too much. Iris will hardly present much of a problem for them."
"She's noncorporeal for one thing."
"What does that mean?"
"It means she can't touch anything on this plane. She's not solid."
"Gene was the same way."
"No," Catsy replied. "Gene was different. Gene couldn't physically touch things, but he had other means of manipulating objects in the world."
"Iris is pure energy. She manipulates the physical world through the use of a vessel."
"Another being. Shall I use layman's terms? The only way Iris can put up a fight is by possessing another person's body. Without a physical state, she's toast. Your friend Link is well versed in the art of manipulating energy."
Catsy laughed. "There's so much you have still to learn about the great powers of the Hylians."
"I already had a lesson about that last night in the dungeon," he replied earnestly. "Catsy, do you know who she was?"
"Yes," Catsy replied, turning her attention to Matilda again. "And you will too. Very soon."
"I'd say…" Catsy paused, examining Matilda's tunic. "When Link and Marin take on their third Siren."
"But Catsy," Carry started. "You're the third…" He trailed off. Before his eyes, Catsy's physical form was reduced to a blazing fire again that quickly smoldered itself and disappeared.
The trio assembled, as planned, just near the fishing pond. Following an almost silent walk through the Ukuku Prairie (broken only by Link's sneezes) they found themselves standing outside the door to Richard's villa. A signpost to the right pompously displayed Richard's name in large gothic letters, but the villa itself was remarkably humble. The curtains were drawn tightly shut in both the windows facing the front of the house.
Valerie knocked. "Come in," a voice said on the other side of the door.
"Should we just go in?" Zelda asked.
"He's expecting me," Valerie replied, pushing the door open and barging in. The inside of the villa itself had a far more fitting grandeur to match the inhabitant. Oak wall panels glistened, reflecting candlelight that supplemented the shut out sunlight. A raised platform to the left hosted Richard's bed, complete with satin sheets, and a fancy chest made of willow.
On the right hand wall, Richard was sitting at his desk, his back to the door. "Salutations," he muttered, not bothering to look up from his work.
Link and Zelda quietly filed in behind Valerie. She planted her hands on her hips in annoyance, glaring at Richard's back. Today, he was wearing a navy cape over his red tunic. Valerie knew all too well what it meant when Richard put on the cape. He was having delusions of grandeur, again. "Well?" she asked bitingly.
Finally, Richard turned around. He regarded Valerie for a moment with aloofness, before noticing Link and Zelda behind her. "I don't think you want your friends here for this conversation," he said.
"Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of them," she replied icily.
He jerked an eyebrow up slightly. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. Nevertheless, it's your decision I suppose." He nodded his head to the unwelcome guests. "Marin. Link." Link responded by simply folding his arms and glaring. Zelda remained completely stationary. "I see you have no mark of social grace left," he muttered.
"Stop wasting our time Richard," Valerie snapped.
"There is always time for politeness."
"Out with it Richard."
"Out with what?"
"What do you want?" Valerie demanded in exasperation.
"What makes you think I want anything?"
"The cryptic note."
"Ah yes," Richard sighed happily, resting his pen down on the desk. "Well little angel, I'm calling in a favor."
"I knew it," she droned. "You're as predictable as the sunrise."
"Well, you wouldn't know it from the looks of me, but I used to live in the castle up north."
"We're all aware of your life story Richard."
"That was until the servants went berserk. Anyway, as you well know, I've been forced to live under these most…" he glanced around at the room "dismal circumstances for a long time now without so much as a memento of my former life." He paused for a moment, half expecting a cry of 'you're not a prince Richard!' from one of the other two. They, however, remained silent pillars of glaring. He continued. "The décor of this dreadful villa has become tiresome. I want to make a change."
"Cut to the chase," Zelda finally shouted, unable to bear his prattle. "What does Valerie have to do for you to make you shut up?"
"Let's make…a deal. Shall we? I want you to retrieve the golden leaf I left behind in the castle when I fled."
"Fine," Link said abruptly.
Richard turned to glance at the boy. "I am impressed," he muttered, "that you would agree to such a proposition without knowing what's involved."
"I do so out of friendship," Link replied evenly.
"Friendship with the little angel," he went on. "It's touching. Do you have any idea what she really is?"
Link narrowed his eyes, looking directly at Richard. "Do you have any idea what I really am?" he asked menacingly.
"Well that was rude," Richard barked, standing up and knocking over his chair in the process. "Just for that, I'm upping the price."
"You can't do that!" Valerie shouted. "We had a deal."
"I changed the deal. In exchange for my silence, I want you to retrieve, not one, but all five of the golden leaves of Kanalet Castle."
"Richard, be reasonable," Valerie said.
"Do you want to up the price again? There was a standing suit of armor I was very fond of."
"Enough!" Zelda cried. She walked over to Richard. Though she only stood an inch or so above his shoulder, she looked him right in the eye. "It's a deal. Five leaves for your silence."
Richard smiled. "I always knew there was some reason in that pretty skull of yours Marin," he purred.
"I'm doing this for Valerie," she replied.
"You really are, aren't you?" He looked back and forth between Link and Zelda. "There's nothing in this for you."
"That doesn't matter," Link said.
"Typical response from the golden boy," Richard muttered. He leaned over to right his chair again and promptly sat down. "You should know that I honestly don't know what's going to be involved in this."
"What do you mean?" Valerie asked.
"No one has come in or out of that castle for a good ten years," he answered. "Since the night of the riot, the gate has been down. I don't know how you'll get into the grounds."
"We'll find a way," Link said.
"Yes, well, I'm sure you will. You're all so terribly clever," he drawled sarcastically.
"Before the gate was sealed," Link continued, more to Valerie and Zelda than to Richard, "people must have been in and out. Who do we know who's seen the inside of the castle?"
"Me," Richard snapped. "Aside from yours truly, there's no one in the entire Mabe Village, Animal Village, or Ukuku Prairie who's been inside the castle who's still alive."
"You can't tell me that Molly, the oldest inhabitant of the island, has never been inside your stinking castle," Link shot back.
Richard chuckled. "Do you really think that old hag would have any interest in castle life?"
"Damn," Link muttered.
Valerie frowned. "Aviva was in the castle," she whispered.
Richard gave her an incredulous look. "Yes well, I said no one living has been there. Aviva's been dead for nine years."
Link glanced sideways at Zelda. *Who's Aviva?*
*An old healer before my time on Koholint,* she replied telepathically without moving a muscle.
Richard smirked. "Kanalet Castle is the only bloody building on the island Carry hasn't found a way of mapping," he said smugly. "You're on your own."
"We'll manage," Zelda said.
"It should be quite an experience for you," he continued, ever in love with the sound of his own voice. "Not knowing who or what you'll see inside. It'll certainly break up your routine."
Zelda hid a smile. "Is that all?"
"That's all. Do have fun. Oh, and I'd like my precious leaves back by midnight tonight."
"Let's go," Link said. With that, he stormed out the door. Zelda followed closely behind, throwing Richard one last look of disgust.
Valerie remained a moment, her head tilted to one side, examining Richard in her placid, passive way. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.
He looked back at her with his cold, pale blue eyes. "It's what I do," he replied matter-of-factly.
"Analyzing my psyche will have to wait for another day little angel," Richard said, turning his back on her to resume whatever work had been occupying him before they arrived. "You're losing precious time."
"Then why did you pick me for this?"
"Because some things never change."
Valerie watched his back for a moment longer before slowly turning and exiting the villa. As the door closed gently behind her with an annoying click, Richard pushed aside the papers piled up in a jumble on top of his desk. Underneath the inconsequential fodder, a sheet of parchment was buried. Decorating the yellowing surface was a pen sketch of a beautiful woman with soft eyes, looking up at Richard in a curious, kind way. It was the same expression Richard had seen in Valerie's eyes that day. So long ago it seemed, yet he could perfectly recall that she had looked at him differently, without hate, without anger. She had looked at him with fresh, humane eyes.
He examined his drawing again. Valerie's eyes seemed to follow him as he moved his head back and forth to look at her from every possible angle. Where had that gaze gone? He hadn't dreamed it. It had been there. But where was it now? And why wouldn't Valerie look his way with those regarding eyes again? Why wouldn't anyone look his way without judgment? It was a feeling he missed.
With great difficulty, the woman knelt down before the altar. A glance over her shoulder told the escorts who had walked her here to leave her alone. They disappeared through the high wooden door, shutting it behind them. As soon as they were gone, she turned away from the pointed archway to face the room before her.
Directly in front of where she knelt was a high shrine, constructed of all the finest materials available. A large chunk of gold composed the base of the statue. It was nearly the size of an anvil and chiseled to resemble what could only be described as a large rock. Seemingly floating out of various cracks in the rock were three delicate figurines, each carefully designed and engraved to resemble a beautiful woman. The women, beautiful though they were, appeared horribly generic in the sense that they all seemed to have the same face, the same bodies, the same gracefully arcing arms. They differed only in hairstyle and dress, though just barely. The woman on the right wore shining robes of jade, the woman on the left had a toga of bright pink coral, and the one in the middle had lapis.
She examined each of their golden, expressionless faces. Despite the highest of praise the artisan had received after creating the enormous sculpture, she still found it difficult to imagine that these figures were meant to portray actual living beings. They were so stiff, so static. Behind their eyes, there was no light, no life. All there was, it seemed to her, was a fabulous display of wealth with no real purpose.
With a sigh, she leaned forward, dropping a lit taper into an incense burner. Instantly, billowing purple smoke filled the air in between the woman and the large shrine, mingling with the smell of mold to produce a sickeningly sweet odor. She bowed her head, part in reverence, part to avoid inhaling too much of the nauseating smoke.
"Sirens," she whispered. A frown spread across her lips. When she whispered, in her opinion, she sounded like a snake hissing. Her throat grew tense and the words came out with a rasping gurgle. "Sirens," she repeated, this time allowing her voice to carry to its fullest. Much better. "Your humble servant kneels before you in supplication as in days past and days to come."
She picked up a ceremonial dagger from beside the incense burner. It had been designed to match the beautiful sculpture, but unlike the unsettling figurines before her, she found the dagger much more aesthetically pleasing. The figures tried to look like life. All a dagger could ever try to imitate was a dagger. It was nothing more than a gold handled weapon with a silver kris blade tapering away into nothingness.
The point turned inward into her left palm. She pierced the toughening skin under her thumb as she had done so many times before. A small bead of crimson blood welled up on her skin. She squeezed her hand closed for a moment, then turned it palm down and spread her fingers before the altar.
"Praise to you, mighty three," she continued. She had said the words so many times over that they were second nature to her now. Often times, her mind would wander as she walked through the mundane ritual. There was something different today though, something that held her attention fast to the pomp, disallowing her thoughts to stray for one moment from the words. "Iris, Goddess of Visions, Angelika, Goddess of the Ocean, Catsy, Goddess of Defense, to the three, humbly I subscribe."
Her gaze was suddenly pulled upward, for what reason, she would never know. But when she turned her eyes toward the statue, she noticed a change, something she had never seen before. The center figurine, cloaked in lapis with long plaits running down her shoulders, had changed. Those pupil-less eyes, always so vacant before, were glowing now.
"Subscribe you say?" a booming female voice shouted from the nothingness around the shrine. "We shall see about that."
Suddenly, she was unsure of what to do. None of the ancient rituals she had ever practiced could prepare her for this strange turn of events. "I have always been a loyal believer in the will of the Sirens," she said, speaking to the statue as if it were another person, not a lifeless hunk of metal.
"That you have child; that you have." The light from within the dead eyes of the statue moved outward, slowly forming a large ball of energy, floating in front of the shrine. Bright and white, the light was practically blinding. It hummed and quivered, but seemed more or less a steady foundation, spinning about its own axis within the incense filled air. "The past however," it continued, "is the past. Your loyalty of the future is what matters to me."
"Who questions my continued faith in the power of the Sirens?" she asked.
"I am Iris, eldest of the three."
"Goddess of Visions."
"The one and only."
She bowed her head, bringing two fists up to her forehead in supplication. "Great goddess, to what honor does this lowly subject owe for receiving the gift of beholding your mighty visage?"
"Cut the groveling. Do you truly consider yourself a faithful follower?" Iris asked.
"Yes, of course."
"Answer me honestly."
Her face screwed up in a frown. "I have had doubts."
"I thought as much," Iris grumbled. "Still, despite your doubts, you have consistently carried out all the rites and rituals called for of a true and faithful follower."
"I strive to please you."
"If pleasing me is what concerns you then I have chosen well in appearing before you."
"What is your will?" she asked.
"Your faith is to be tested child," Iris said, the light flashing brighter with every word.
"In what way?"
"I shall give you a task. If you carry it out completely and as ordered, I will know you to be a true believer."
"Give me your orders and I shall see them carried out if it is within my power," she said reasonably.
"This task will rely solely on your power," Iris replied.
"Then it is already done."
"You will soon be visited," Iris continued.
"By three outsiders."
"Outsiders? That's impossible. No outsiders have been within these walls for ten years."
"Are you questioning me?" Iris' voice boomed loudly.
"No, of course not!"
"Good." There was a long, silent pause. When Iris spoke again, her voice seemed much calmer and collected than before. "Now, you will soon be visited by three outsiders. You will recognize them at once, for two of them have pointed ears, unlike any Human's ears. They are known as Hylians. The third will appear perfectly Human. She is not."
"What is she?" the woman asked.
Iris was silent again. "She is of no consequence."
She frowned. "What am I to do upon receiving this visitation?"
"You will order your guards to kill the three intruders," Iris said firmly.
"Kill them?" she asked with wide eyes. "But why? What have they done that is displeasing to your sight?"
"Never mind what they have done," Iris said. "This is a test of your faith, not theirs."
"So I am to order their deaths," she repeated slowly. "And then?"
"And then what?"
"Is there nothing more?"
"That is your test," Iris said. "There is nothing more to it."
"Simply kill the three intruders?"
"That is my test."
"I grow weary of repeating myself," Iris said. "Kill the three and your faith will be confirmed in my eyes. I will look upon you with favor."
"Your will be done," she said, bowing her head for emphasis. When she looked up again, the spinning, glowing ball had vanished. She looked into the eyes of the central icon. They had returned to a dead, cold state. "Guards!" she called, turning over her shoulder. Instantly, the wooden doors parted and her escorts returned to the room, quickly marching down the center aisle toward her. She allowed them to hoist her up onto her feet. As the three of them slowly made a slow procession out of the chamber, she briefly reflected on why a goddess could possibly care about the lives of three unbelievers.
Cautiously, Zelda placed one foot in front of the other, aligning her sandals perfectly on the makeshift wooden bridge, consisting of little more than a few loose planks tied together by a rotten, frayed rope. As she began to cross over the water, she lifted her chin, refusing to look down, instead looking ahead at Link who was already on the other side. Though it was only a mere handful of feet from one side to the other, Zelda was certain that any moment now, the creaky transept would give way under the strain. She held her hands forward, reaching out and Link, at the edge of the other side, leaned forward to grab her and pull her across.
With a sigh of relief, she turned to Valerie, still on the opposite side. She hiked up her dress and placed a dainty foot onto the wood, testing its strength. When she was content to make her crossing, she moved forward with surprising agility, pausing only once, right in the middle, to readjust her weight. She started again quickly, reaching forward for Link's proffered hands. He grabbed her wrists and pulled back quickly, bringing her safely to the other side of the bridge.
Without a word of reflection, the trio turned around, preparing to delve into the mystery of Kanalet Castle. They were all struck mute as they realized the enormity of this task. Zelda and Valerie had both seen Kanalet many times before…from a distance. Suddenly, though they were encountering an entirely new perspective of the mysterious and supposedly haunted castle. Link, who had seen many castles before in his time, though he tried to act aloof, was shocked by the proportions of the palace. True, it wasn't as large as North Castle, but the refined elegance of the multiple flying buttresses, matched with the twisting, delicate spires atop the castle towers made North Castle look like a beaten down warehouse in comparison to Kanalet Castle.
"How are we going to find the leaves in a place like this?" Zelda asked. In truth, it would be far more difficult than any of them had believed. Everything was gilded, the spires, the archways, the meticulously crafted tracery in the windows.
"Any last minute legends you ladies forgot to tell me about this castle?" Link muttered, leaning backward to try and see the top of the highest tower.
"Well…" Valerie said, licking her lips. "I don't know if this will help you or not, but no one knows who built it."
"Great," Link sighed. "A mysterious castle on and island with eight mysterious dungeons: This can't end well."
Valerie turned to look at him. "Are you suggesting that this place was built by the Nightmares?"
Link righted himself. "It could be. This does have all the makings of a house of worship."
"A temple to the Nightmares…" Zelda frowned, picking up a stick from off the ground. "But wait a second…what would a Nightmare need with stables?" She pointed straight ahead at a small building on the castle grounds that was clearly made to house a great many horses.
"Horses!" Link shouted. He surged forward, racing at top speed toward the stables. Valerie and Zelda raced after him. After skidding to a stop just short of the stable wall, Link stood up on his tip toes and leered into a window, cupping his hands around his temples to see in the darkness. "I was beginning to think that there weren't any horses on the whole island," he continued enthusiastically.
Valerie looked at Zelda. "What's a horse?"
Link had made his way to the door of the stable by this time. He yanked it open, allowing a great amount of sunlight to rush into the dark stalls. The stalls, much to Link's disappointment, were completely empty. "Oh man…" he sighed, walking forward down a central aisle.
"Sorry Link," Zelda said, following after him, hitting her stick against each stable door. "But the only farm animals we have around here are chickens. Unless you want to learn to ride one of them…" Valerie snatched the stick out of her hands with an irritated look.
"Hey," Link said, coming to a screeching halt. Up ahead was a post with brass hooks sticking out of it in all directions. Hanging on the hooks were various riding implements, a crop, a helmet, a harness, a bit. Link walked forward and picked up the riding crop, turning it over in his hands to examine it. "Magdalena," he read on the handle. "There have to have been horses here once," he declared, passing the crop over to Zelda.
"You might be right," she said.
Link picked up the helmet and turned it over but as he was about to put it on his head, something cold and hard fell out, hitting him in the head. "Ouch!" he shouted, clamping a hand to his forehead.
"Are you all right?" Valerie asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Link said, tossing the helmet haphazardly aside. "I just got hit by this." He knelt down on the ground to pick up whatever it was that had soundly bounced off of his forehead. It was a small, hand crafted key. The gold prongs extended upwards into a handsome, red orb which tapered at the end. Bronze sculpted ivy decorated all the way up the key and a matching bronze eye was embedded into the red orb.
"What is that?" Valerie leaned over Link to get a better look.
"It's a key," Zelda replied dully, also craning her neck to see. "I wonder what it's to."
Link pocketed the key and stood up. He turned back toward the door, but stopped. "Now isn't the time to find out," he said quietly, reaching over his shoulder to draw the Master Sword.
"What are you talking about?" Valerie demanded.
Zelda, who had also straightened out, turned to follow Link's gaze. "Oh no," she muttered.
Finally, Valerie looked at the door. Standing in a line were five rather large gentlemen, dressed in identical suits of armor, looking at the trio with less than friendly grimaces. "You are trespassing on the grounds of Kanalet Castle. You are all under arrest," the man in the middle said. "Drop your weapons."
"Maybe one of you gentlemen can help us," Valerie said diplomatically. "We seem to have lost our way and –"
"Drop your weapons."
"No dice Val," Link said.
"You have to the count of three to drop your weapons."
"Link," Zelda hissed.
"There are five of them."
"We've faced worse odds before Zelda."
"Three!" The men raced forward, their armor clanking loudly. Link charged at them, thrashing his sword back and forth. He blindsided one of them with a crashing blow to the helmet. The startled guard shouted, trying to clap his hands to his ears to shut out the noise. Unfortunately, his metal gloves only created an additional ringing, causing him to drop to his knees.
A particularly burly specimen came rushing towards Zelda. Without her arrows, she froze uncertainly. Just as he was about to grab her around the waist, she threw the riding crop forward, bashing him in the shoulder. Although is armor protected him from any serious harm, the abruptness of the attack bought Zelda enough time to reach out and rip his breastplate off of the suit of armor. Without protection for his chest, Zelda easily jumped, kicking him with a sandal. He fell back, crashing into the guard that Link had disabled with noise.
One of the guards had finally managed to draw his own sword. He clashed with Link, their faces inches apart. Link grinned impishly, easily parrying the amateurish thrusts. He laughed delightedly, employing the fancy footwork the wise men had taught him years ago. Somehow, he had always believed it would never be of any use, but he was enjoying the chance to show off now. These burly sacks of muscle were strong all right, but they were sloppy fighters, lacking all the dignity and form of true knights.
Zelda grabbed a loose sword from the fallen knight and turned around, just in time to catch a man coming up behind her. He reached forward, holding his sword with one hand and grabbing her wrist with the other. In response, she copied his motions, grabbing his iron wrist. Locked in a tight pose, they two of them glared at each other, both uncertain of how to break out of this awkward predicament.
"Zelda!" Link grunted, glancing at her in between blows from his opponent. "Seashell!"
She grinned, comprehending him. Gathering up a great deal of concentration and heat behind her eyes, she telekinetically lifted the guard's helmet clean off his head. The bearded man behind the visor blinked in surprise, loosening his grip on Zelda's wrist. She took that opportunity to twist free of his grasp and knock him soundly in the forehead with the flat part of her blade. The helmet then dropped, hitting him on the head and knocking him unconscious. He collapsed in a groan of metal armor on the floor.
"Cease this immediately!" one of the guards, the one who had ordered them to drop their weapons, shouted. Zelda turned to look at him. He was standing behind Valerie, one arm latched across her chest, the other holding a sword to her throat. She looked forward with a placid expression as always. "Drop it!" he bellowed. Reluctantly, Zelda opened her fingers, letting the sword drop.
Link, who was caught mid-parry against his opponent, heard the clatter and turned his eyes toward the scene. The guard took advantage of him and kicked him behind the knee, causing it to collapse. Link dropped, the Master Sword flying into one of the stalls. "Not so cocky now," the opponent muttered, pointing his sword at Link as another guard rushed to retrieve the Master Sword.
"Not only," the leader holding Valerie hostage continued, "are you guilty of trespassing, but you're now guilty of resisting arrest."
"By whose authority?" Link asked.
"The authority of Kanalet Castle. Kill them."
The man holding his sword on Link lifted his sword, about to bring it down when Zelda's bearded opponent cried out, "Stop!"
"Do you dare to question my orders?" the leader asked, glaring ferociously at his subordinate.
"Of course not, but don't you remember our orders? The Princess demanded that all trespassers be brought to her."
"Princess?" Link mouthed, looking at Zelda. All she could do, of course, was shrug.
"Very well," the leader sighed. He pushed Valerie forward, sheathing his sword. "We'll take them to the Princess. She'll decide their punishment."
There was a knock at the door. For a moment, Carry froze, unsure of what to do or say. The insistent knock came again, this time accompanied by a call of "Matilda, are you there?" from the other side of the door. Carry glanced over his shoulder at Matilda. She remained blissfully oblivious to the world outside of her dreams. He should have expected this. Without a doubt, she was notably absent from her daily activities. Was it her day to cook?
Swiftly, Carry padded across the hard dirt floor. Slowly, he turned the doorknob, trying to be as quiet as possible. As he pulled the door open, he revealed Tarin, who was just turning to walk away. "Hello," he whispered, his brain formulating a dozen different lies to tell the confused visitor depending on whatever impending questions were to come.
"Carry? What are you doing here?" Tarin asked jovially, ignorant of Carry's discomfort.
Carry cringed at his booming voice. He gestured with his claws to stay quiet. "Matilda's sick," he lied. "I was just sitting here with her."
"Oh, is she sleeping?"
Carry nodded. "Yes."
"Oh, I'm sorry I didn't know."
"I just came here to drop off the shovel I borrowed from Matilda a little while back."
"Come in," Carry offered, growing bolder as he saw his lies taking affect very well. He pushed the door open a little more, allowing Tarin to shuffle in, the shovel propped over one shoulder.
Tarin immediately turned to examine the sleeping Matilda. "She has been looking a little bit under the weather lately," he commented, leaning the shovel against the wall. "I was getting a bit worried."
"She just needs to sleep it off," Carry said reasonably, hoping that what he said was true.
Much to Carry's horror, Tarin leaned closer, slapping his palm down on Matilda's forehead. "Well she doesn't have a fever at least," he declared, slowly removing his hand.
"How can you tell?" Carry asked.
"Oh, a parent always knows."
"Aye," Tarin chuckled. "One time, when Marin was only about knee high, she got such a bad case of the flu that she became delusional. Kept thinking that I had left her, kept screaming out, 'Tarin! Tarin! I need you! Come back home Tarin!' and the like."
"It's no good to be sick and alone."
"No, most certainly not," Tarin agreed. "And you're here to keep Matilda company, just like I was there for Marin."
Tarin's smile slowly faded. As he continued to stare at Matilda, his focus became internal. Sadly, he continued, "She doesn't have much need for me nowadays, you know."
"What do you mean?"
He sighed heavily. "Marin's been off on her own a lot more these days," he explained. "Some days, I don't see her more than five minutes. She's always out and about."
"With Link," Carry supplied.
"Aye, with Link."
"But don't you like him?"
"Oh of course I do, of course I do," Tarin said, turning to hold up his hands defensively. "I didn't mean to imply anything else." He lowered his arms and looked down at Matilda again.
"Then what's wrong?" Carry prodded, his curiosity peeked.
"It's just that…" Tarin struggled for words. "It's just that I worry about my Marin."
"Worry about her?"
"She's only seventeen: Very young and impressionable. And you know how long she's dreamed of the outside world. I just fear that somehow, in the long run this infatuation with Link will only hurt her. Or worse even, turn her into a different sort of person."
"Why would you think that?"
Tarin ran his fingers over his mustache and up, massaging the heavy bags under his eyes. "A few days ago, Marin did something that she's never done before, not even as a child."
"What did she do?"
"She lied to me."
Carry's curly eyebrows shot up. For a moment, he felt gripped with fear. Did Tarin know about Little Marin's midnight exploits in the dungeons? As it was, Carry only knew because Catsy, the omniscient creature that she was, had told him. He felt fairly certain that Marin and Link didn't want anyone on the island knowing at all, especially not Tarin. "What did she say?" he asked slowly.
Tarin waved his hand. "It wasn't any sort of dangerous or enormous lie," he assured Carry. "She told me that she was going to wash some laundry at the pond with the rest of the girls. But as I was walking to the well, I saw her in the window of the library with Link.
"Everything about Marin that worries you involves Link," Carry observed carefully.
Tarin frowned, considering this. "Aye, that's true," he admitted.
"But you said you liked Link."
"And I do," Tarin stressed.
"Then where does all the worrying come from?"
"I think…" Tarin paused to gather his thoughts. "I think it's stemming from Kurt."
"Link is nothing like Kurt," Carry said firmly.
"Oh no, of course he isn't. What I mean is, it's stemming from something that Kurt said to me."
"What did he say?"
"He said that Link was a great danger to Marin. He warned me that Link would get her killed."
"He was just saying that because he was jealous," Carry said, trying to rationalize the remarks that he knew could very potentially be the truth. Link was a danger to Marin, he realized, he was leading her through the dungeons of Koholint on a mad quest to wake the Windfish. Still, at the same time, Carry understood that there was a greater purpose behind their quest than either Catsy or the pair would let on.
"Maybe so," Tarin said, "but jealousy and madness are two separate things. Kurt could have been telling the truth."
"Link is a good person," Carry stated. "Good people don't try to hurt other people."
"I suppose, I suppose. And I know I'm probably just being irrational," Tarin concluded. "It's not like Link's talked her into doing something dangerous. All he's done is convince her to lie once or twice so that they could be alone for awhile. That's not so bad."
"No," Carry replied absently.
Tarin turned around, facing Carry again. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't be dropping all this on you."
"It's all right."
"No, no, I shouldn't have kept on and on about it. I suppose I just needed to vent some of my worry."
"I understand," Carry told him.
"Well," Tarin gave one last backward glance at Matilda, still sound asleep and dead to the world, "I better be on my way. I'll see Marin this afternoon. She promised not to stay out in the hot sun all day."
"Don't worry about her Tarin," Carry said. He felt horribly hypocritical saying that, as he himself was constantly and endlessly worrying about Marin and Link these days.
Tarin clapped Carry's shoulder, which was quiet a reach, considering how much Carry towered over the older man. "And you don't kill yourself fretting over Matilda. She'll be back on her feet in no time." He swaggered back to the door, smiling at Carry before going out.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Carry muttered to himself. He sat down on the small chair in the corner. "Catsy," he spoke to the air, "Kurt's meanness lives on even though he's gone."
Carry turned his warm granite eyes back to Matilda. Her eyeballs were gracing beneath her eyelids and her mouth had fallen open. For a moment, he feared that she was having a nightmare of some kind, but the gentle rise and fall of her chest, resulting from the slow, easy breath that escaped her lips comforted him, lulling him to a relaxed, daydreaming state.
At first there was only bright nothingness. Slowly, the nothingness dissolved into white heat and energy, taking the form of light. Soon that too got old and then there was a girl. Matilda recognized the girl. It was her. But it wasn't. It was all terribly confusing, like a vision from the Dream Shrine, a place Matilda had only gone once in her entire life and a place which she intended never to venture near again.
She had been fifteen or so when she decided to try out the Dream Shrine, to see what everyone was talking about. Dressed in her pajamas, she snuck through the village barefoot, climbing over a few rocks and slipping into the low entrance of the building. After spending a great amount of time examining her surroundings, she sat on the bed and was shocked when the four great torches of the room instantly went out. She had been so scared that she had run out of the building and torn down the streets of the Mabe Village, all the way back to her little hut, screaming. Matilda had never even touched the dust meant to induce vision.
Dust! Matilda watched as the image of herself widened her eyes in recognition. She remembered now. She had been in Bottle Grotto. A stranger had saved her from the Nightmare. Matilda tried to conjure up an image of the stranger, but found it difficult, almost impossible to remember what she had looked like. All she could see, in her mind's eye, was the gold compact filled with a magical powder, being blurred by a cloud of dust flying at her face. And then there had been only bright nothingness.
"There isn't much time. There's never enough of it though anyway. Listen to me Matilda. You have to fight the voices." The stranger's voice was speaking to her again, although Matilda couldn't see her.
"Great," she muttered, watching herself crane her neck in several directions, searching for the source of the stranger's call.
"You have to fight the voices," an echo repeated.
"A voice is telling me to fight voices," Matilda replied dryly. "This makes lots of sense."
Matilda watched her own image begin walking, as if on an endless treadmill. The scenery never changed. Whiteness everywhere. She noted that there were no footsteps. It was as if she were walking on nothingness, not just through nothingness. In all, it didn't make a lot of sense.
"Think Matilda, think," she said to herself. Her own image turned to look at her, even though there was nothing to see. "You were in Bottle Grotto," she continued. "You were in the Nightmare's chamber. And then…?"
"And then what?" she asked herself.
"And then you were here. Where ever this place is. You fell asleep and suddenly you were here."
Matilda was suddenly thrown by the strangeness of talking to herself. With muddled clarity at best, she supposed that she was dreaming. Why not wake up then? Vaguely, she recalled someone once explaining to her that you couldn't force yourself to wake up. That didn't seem fair now. Matilda wanted to wake up and in general, was always used to getting what she wanted. Why not now?
"They're all against you."
Matilda recognized the voice at once. It wasn't that of the stranger who had saved her life then banished her to this bright realm of nothingness. No, it was The Voice. She had grown awfully familiar with the masculine timbre. It sang to her at night as she poured over the pages of her volume about the Nightmares. It babbled on and on throughout the day as she interacted with the people around her. It screamed whenever she approached one of the dungeons.
"Who are you?" Matilda asked. It was a question she had asked many times before, but had never been given an answer to. The best she ever got was a cryptic reply, something along the lines of Ambition or Mystery. Being a very literal person, such responses drove Matilda nuts.
This time, the Voice didn't even grace her with an answer. Instead, it merely repeated the all too familiar refrain of "They're all against you."
"So you've said," Matilda murmured. Her avatar image walked further along the empty expanse until Matilda realized that there was something invading the nothing. Over to the right of her own image, as if on a blank white wall, a tiny shadow, about the size and shape of a moth, was forming. The dark figure looked like a painful bruise, and it was growing ever so slightly.
"You've got to beat them," the Voice continued. It was definitely coming from the shadow, Matilda decided, even as she looked in the opposite direction to locate a source of the shadow, which of course, wasn't there.
"Beat who?" she asked.
"The ones that are stopping you from conquering the dungeons," it replied in the most straightforward answer to date.
"I'm not supposed to listen to you," she said defiantly, her own image lifting her chin to a high angle.
"You've always listened to me before," the Voice said soothingly. "Nothing is going to change now."
"Things are going to change," Matilda insisted, willing herself to square her shoulders.
"They never will."
"Stop it!" Matilda screamed, the image clamping her hands over her ears in a childish act of rebellion.
"Do you really think you can shut me out?!" the Voice thundered. Nothingness shook around her. "I am always with you! When you wake up, I'll be there. When you rest, I'll be there!"
"Why won't you leave me alone?"
"Because you have a great future."
"I don't want a great future. I reject it."
"Don't you want to leave the island?"
"I will leave the island," Matilda replied. "Someday. But I won't do it your way."
"There is only one way!" the Voice shouted. "And the more you fight me, the more difficult it will be. Time is running out."
"There's never enough of it anyway," Matilda said weakly, recalling the stranger's echoing message.
The Voice ignored her comment. "You lost the prize of Bottle Grotto," it continued. "Just as you lost the fight for Tail Cave."
"So what!? You need all eight instruments to wake the Windfish and break the spell of the island!"
"Two are gone now. I should just give up."
"They're not gone. And after you collect the other six, I'll show you how to find the missing two."
"I don't care about them."
The shadow on the wall had grown. From a moth, it became like a small bird. Two inky black wings flapped in silhouette while a long, sharp beak opened and closed in correspondence to the words the Voice was saying. The entire apparition quivered and shook rapidly. The speed with which it was increasing in size had doubled and was steadily climbing. Matilda's image had to step back slightly in order to face the entire thing.
"You do care," the Voice said slowly.
"Why do I care?"
"Because I say you do!"
"You don't control me."
The Voice laughed. "I do control you," it said wickedly the timbre losing any remote resemblance to a Human voice.
"No," Matilda said weakly. "I'm still in control."
"Perhaps in this world you are."
"The world of dreams. But in the other world, the real one, I control you and you'll do as I say."
"I'll fight you," Matilda declared. "I'll fight you as that woman told me to do. I'll find a way."
"There is no way," the Voice said. The shadow was increasing at an exponential rate now.
"I'll find one!" Matilda shouted, her gawky body running backward now to avoid being absorbed by the shadow.
"Here are your instructions," the Voice went on, pretending, it seemed, not to hear Matilda's shrieking as the shadow began to overtake her. "You will go to another dungeon. You'll break in and steal an instrument. And then another. And then another. I'll tell you which one each time."
"No!" Matilda shouted, tripping over her own feet and falling onto her knees. The edge of the shadow loomed ever closer.
"Carry will try to stop you. We both know that he's behind many of the complications you've faced so far."
"He's my friend," Matilda whimpered softly, not fully aware of how pathetic she sounded.
"He doesn't matter. Nothing else matters."
Matilda hugged her knees to her chest, sobbing quietly to herself. She squeezed her eyes shut. The bright nothingness was receding as the great black shadow of a bird slowly overtook the entire space. When Matilda opened her eyes again, there was nothing but blackness. The shadow had completely consumed her.
Zelda struggled against the brutish grasp of the guard holding her hands behind her back. In response, he pushed her sideways, slamming her cheek against the wall. "Stop it!" Link shouted. He tried to move to Zelda, but the two guards on him yanked on his arms, keeping him from deviating on the path they were following.
As if the exterior hadn't been indication enough, the interior of the castle confirmed the vast amount of wealth possessed. It was oddly like being back in Bottle Grotto again, except that the décor was less garish and less varied from room to room. In Kanalet, every room had the same blue tiles and the same gray stone walls. True, there were elaborate standing suits of armor, ancient portraits, and silk tapestries here and there, but the arrangement was tasteful and precise, as if someone had spent years and years trying to figure out where everything was meant to go.
The halls of Kanalet were filled with people, all of them strangers to Zelda, despite her tenure on the island. They peeked curiously out of doors and into windows, fascinated by the small parade traversing the hallway. Each and every last one of them was Human and every lady had fine jewelry while the gentlemen sported handsome weapons. There were a few children racing down the hall alongside of the guards, jumping up and down and pointing excitedly at the three strangers. Zelda found herself wondering if any of them had ever seen someone from beyond the castle gates before.
Zelda, Link, and Valerie were lead into a small, circular chamber with little more than a cushy sofa in the middle, piled up with pillows. On the opposite side of the room from which they came in was another double doorway, bedecked with gold runes. The leader of the guards held up his hand, signaling for a cease in the progression. Alone, he opened one of the double doors and stepped inside, closing it behind him.
"You will await sentencing," one of the guards holding Link said needlessly. With that, he released his hold on Link and the others did the same. Immediately, Link moved over to Zelda. Afraid to open his mouth, he gave her a concerned look, inquiring as to her well being. She smiled weakly back at him, signaling that she was all right.
Valerie was directing her gaze across the room. A final guard was standing at the doors, holding Link's sword. *I could get it telekinetically,* Link lamented to Zelda, *But they'd be on you and Val in two seconds.*
*We'll just have to wait this one out,* she replied.
*I don't understand; what are they talking about? Princess?*
*I don't know either.* The double doors in front of them both opened. Link, Zelda, and Valerie were pushed forward, herded into the room on the other side.
The throne room was a massive hall, filled with light streaming in from the rows and rows of high windows on either side wall. A lush red carpet stretched from the double doors, which had just closed behind the group, all the way to the other end of the room where there was a large cherry oak platform. Surrounding the platform were even more people, whispering excitedly to each other as they watched the slow march of the prisoners toward judgment. Standing apart from the crowd, just on the borders of the platform were two burly looking guards, both folding their arms across their chests, wearing identical scowls on their faces as they glared at the trio.
"A show of respect," one of them barked. Instantly, Zelda felt two meaty hands on her shoulders, pushing her down to her knees. Beside her, Link and Valerie both fell, kneeling a few meters before the platform.
Boldly, Zelda lifted her head, looking up at the platform. Directly in the middle was a large gold and purple throne and resting in it was a tiny woman. She appeared to be in her late twenties, and very pretty, dressed in a white gown with gold embroidery around the collar. Resting on top of her fluffy blond hair was a wreath. On closer inspection, Zelda realized that the wreath was comprised of five golden leaves!
"Princess," the head guard declared. "I present you the prisoners. They were caught trespassing in the stables and brought to you immediately as ordered."
The Princess looked down on the group. "What were you doing in the stables?" she asked her voice cold and hard. None of them answered. "Silence will not save your lives," she declared, "answer my question."
"We didn't mean to trespass," Valerie said finally, lifting her head to address the Princess and company.
"That is not an answer," the Princess boomed.
"Sounded like one to me," Link muttered.
The leader of the guards smashed him over the head with a metal glove. "Don't talk back to Princess Erigie," he growled angrily.
Zelda's eyes widened. "Erigie?"
"Answer my question!" Erigie roared, eyeing Valerie.
"We were looking for something," Valerie stammered.
"What were you looking for?"
"A treasure," Valerie said quickly, regaining her poise.
"Yes," Valerie replied. "Your crown."
"Thieves!" another guard shouted.
"We're not thieves!" Zelda cried.
"Silence!" the head guard yelled, smashing the glove into Zelda's temple. She fell over, her vision blurred for a moment. In that instant, she could hear Link on her side, fighting to move over to her.
"Restrain him," the guard ordered. Zelda's vision cleared and she righted herself, looking over to see Link held by two guards, smoldering in his own anger. Another guard had come over to Zelda and was now holding both her wrists in one meaty hand with an iron grip.
Erigie was fingering her golden wreath, a wry smile on her face. "You came for my crown," she mused, "an interesting anecdote to be sure." She pushed herself forward to the edge of her throne. Instantly, one of her attendants littering the outskirts of the platform moved over to her, handing her a bamboo cane with a silver handle. Erigie set the cane down and used it to pull herself to her feet. As Zelda watched her limp forward slowly, she noticed that her left leg was more or less dead, being pulled behind her.
"Are you prepared to pass sentence Princess?" the head guard asked.
"In a moment," Erigie replied. She looked over the trio's heads at the guards restraining them. "Show me their ears," she commanded.
"No!" Link shouted just as one of the guards placed a hand over his mouth and the other pushed aside his blond hair. Zelda, meanwhile, felt the guard behind her yank her long orange tresses back, pulling her head along with it, exposing her ear to the assembly.
The entire crowd gasped in unison, gawking at Link and Zelda's Hylian features. Valerie, whose hair was also being pulled back, was released abruptly, no one expressing much interest in her ordinary Human ears. Zelda closed her eyes, cringing, thankful that she didn't know anyone in the crowd, aside from her companions.
"Demons!" one of the courtiers declared in horror.
"They're not demons," Erigie said wisely, glancing at the frightened spectators. "They're known as Hylians."
"What?" Zelda could hear Valerie whisper. She opened her eyes and gazed in Valerie's direction. Her friend seemed shocked, staring up at Erigie with disbelieving eyes.
"How do you know?" someone asked curiously.
"Are you questioning the Princess?" one of the body guards roared, unfolding his arms.
Erigie held up a hand, stopping him before he could descend into the crowd and take out the dissenter. "I received a vision from the Sirens, warning me of this event," she explained.
Zelda's scalp was aching now. "Let go of me!" she screamed, pulling her hands against the guard's grip. He managed to restrain her, just barely, and the head guard began to move in her direction.
Link threw his head back, smashing the back of his skull into the nose of the knight behind him. Thrown into a frenzy, the guard released Link's arms and the boy shot over to Zelda, throwing his arms around her head before the leader could hit her with the glove. "Don't hurt her!" he bellowed.
Zelda pressed her cheek against Link's chest, wrapping her arms around his waist. As she looked out from his arms at Erigie, she noticed a strange expression on the older woman's face. Her light hazel eyes, which until this point had been throwing a damning gaze at the three prisoners, softened. It was only a second or so before Erigie resumed her game face, but for that brief period of time, as Link held protectively to Zelda's shoulders, the Princess seemed to regress into her mind's eye, losing focus as she watched the lovers.
Guards on either side of them began to yank at their shoulders, attempting to pry the two of them apart. "Stop," Erigie ordered.
"What are we to do with them?" the head guard asked, signaling for his men to remove their hands from the Hylians.
"I'm prepared to pass sentence," she said thickly. All eyes in the room turned to stare at Erigie. She remained fixed, leaning on her cane, watching Link and Zelda with an almost compassionate look.
The silence swelled, growing increasingly uncomfortable. Some of the courtiers began coughing loudly, shifting their stances to fill the empty space. One of the guards cleared his throat. Two women in fancy ball gowns whispered to each other. The body guards glared and everyone fell silent again. The head guard stepped forward noisily. "What is your majesty's decree?"
"They are to be punished," she said evenly. All the guards drew their swords, pointing four of them at Link and Zelda and another one at Valerie. "Stop!" Erigie ordered for the second time. The knights looked up at her. "Throw them in the dungeon," she said hoarsely.
The knights turned and lay into the trio. Amidst a sea of confusion, the baffled travelers were herded out of the room, Link and Zelda still clinging tightly to one another, Valerie still wide eyed with shock. As the doors to the throne room slammed shut, a loud voice thundered down from the vaults of the castle itself. "You fool!" the voice shouted. Erigie shot her gaze upward, as if trying to find the source of Iris' voice. "You've disobeyed me!"
"Forgive me," Erigie whispered, suddenly aware of the fact that the rest of the people in the room were chattering away as normal, unaware of the scolding that their Princess was receiving from above.
"I ordered you to have them killed and instead you merely banished them!" Iris screamed.
"I'm sorry," Erigie said. "I know you ordered me to kill them, but I just couldn't do it."
"You felt compassion for them," Iris mocked her. "You are a weak, pathetic creature, unworthy of my counsel."
"Please forgive me!" Erigie begged.
"Enough! I am done with you Erigie!"
"I couldn't…" Erigie whimpered quietly. There was no response. Gradually, her awareness returned to the room about her. Leaning heavily on the cane, she pulled herself off the platform and slowly limped to the doors. Everyone in the room turned to her, bowing and deferring. She ignored them and made her way into the small waiting room beyond the double doors. A couple guards were standing around, admiring the Master Sword. They snapped to attention at the sight of Erigie. "What's that?" she asked, pointing to the sword.
"The male prisoner's weapon," a guard explained. "The only weapon they were armed with."
"Come with me," Erigie ordered him, walking out of the waiting room.
Richard lobbed a stone up at the roof of the villa, but his aim was off, so instead of making a nice clean arch over the thatching, it smashed through the attic window, sending showers of glass down on top of him. "Stupid bird!" Richard shouted shaking an angry fist up at Ezri who sat perched on the roof. Ezri responded by merely looking down on him with haunting yellow eyes. "Get off my roof!" Richard raved, hurling another rock up at the owl. This time, the stone smashed into the villa chimney, cracking the red bricks.
Slowly, attempting to make a clean getaway, Tracy, who had been on her way to the Animal Village, backed up. She was just turning around with the intention of going down the south road instead when she heard Richard call, "I know you're there Crazy Tracy."
Sighing heavily, Tracy walked forward again, stopping a few feet from Richard's rock quarry. "Good afternoon Richard," she muttered.
Richard continued to look up at Ezri, even as his body turned and moved toward Tracy. Finally, he pulled his focus away from the unwanted squatter and onto the Human. "Off to convince more unsuspecting fools that you can actually practice medicine?" he asked.
"Hey Richard, I can practice medicine."
"Try that on the unsuspecting…oh ha ha, very funny." Richard gave her a wry smile, squinting his eyes.
"I thought so."
Richard pulled the basket in Tracy's hand forward, leering into it. He pushed aside a handkerchief flung over the top and shifted around the bottles inside, making note of the colorful liquids filling them. "Sleeping draught, burn balm, disinfectant, and…" he pulled a bottle out of the basket and removed the cap, sniffing the yellow liquid inside. "Lemonade? What's the lemonade for?"
"Me," Tracy said, snatching the bottle back. She took a quick swallow before capping it and returning it to the basket. "The rest are supplies ordered by Valerie," she explained. Inwardly, she came up with all sorts of nasty caps to add to the end of the sentence. After all, where was it written that she had to check in with Richard every time she did something? He didn't own her!
"Valerie's house is that way," Richard muttered, pointing back in the direction of the Mabe Village.
"She's not home," Tracy said. "I thought that maybe she was treating Lexx for his broken leg."
"Oh, you won't find her in the Animal Village," Richard smirked, looking pleased with himself.
"Yeah, she's doing a little 'favor' for me," he went on, the smirk growing ever more irritating.
Tracy stared at him for a moment, her long black eyelashes blinking in a combination of surprise and disgust. "You didn't," she said finally, her voice as cold as ice.
"You did!" she cried. "You called in a favor with Valerie! You blackmailed her!"
"It's what I do," Richard said for the second time that day.
"You blithering idiot!" Tracy continued ranting.
Richard raised his eyebrows. "Now, now Crazy Tracy, that's no way to talk to someone who knows your little secret."
Tracy poked her finger into his chest, digging the nail in somewhat. "I could say the same to you!"
He knocked her hand away and took a step closer, squaring his shoulders. "To what are you referring?"
"Richard! I thought you liked her!"
"Yes Valerie! The pretty little blond girl. I can't believe you would do something this stupid!"
"Stupid? It's an investment. I get what I want, so I'm happy, Valerie gets to keep her dirty little secret, so she's happy. Everybody wins."
"Are you a masochist?"
"Are you a masochist? Someone who enjoys pain? A person who tries to hurt himself?"
"I know what a masochist is!" Richard snapped back.
"Well? Are you one?"
"Why in the world would you think that?"
"You seem to enjoy pain."
"I do not."
"Why are you pushing Valerie away? Normal people, when they like someone in a more romantic way, they say nice things or leave presents, but you, on the other hand, blackmail your would be suit!"
"How dare you compare me, a prince and gentleman, with normal people," Richard spat.
"Right, it would be an insult to them."
"Hey, do you think I haven't tried?" he broke suddenly. He began circling around Tracy, ranting more to himself than to her. "I tried being nice to her. I even thought about gifts, but nothing works with her, she's just a mean person. And I don't let mean people push me around."
"Not anymore," Tracy muttered.
"What was that?" Richard asked harshly, stopping in his tracks and snapping out of his tirade.
"Nothing," Tracy replied. "Richard, you don't just give up when something gets too hard. You make an effort."
Richard's ears began to turn pink. "I will not lose face to Valerie or you or anyone else on this island."
"Fine!" Tracy yelled, throwing her hands up. The basket around her elbow swung violently but didn't tip. "Just keep pushing people away Richard. Keep doing what you're doing."
"Thank you so much for your permission," Richard deadpanned dryly, clenching his jaw.
"And when you die alone, there will be no one left to say a kind word about you," she continued. "Because you will Richard, keep this up and you will die alone. Alone and forgotten and all there will be left to say is that it would have been better had he not lived at all."
She pushed her way past Richard and began marching down the road, her blue bow now lopsided in her hair. Richard watched her leave, outwardly calm, though inwardly still seething. He hated arguments with Crazy Tracy. For all her faults and eccentricities, she was a lot smarter than anyone gave her credit for.
He looked back up at his roof. Ezri was still sitting there, watching with his mournful eyes. From his yellow beak emerged a soft moan. "Oh what do you know?" Richard asked bitterly, glaring at the night bird.
"Jerks!" Link shouted as the grate slammed shut, placing a protective line of bars in between him and the brutish guards. "If you eat as well as you sword fight you must need a bib!"
Zelda covered her mouth, smiling despite herself. Valerie, however, was not amused. "Well, now what do we do?" she asked crisply, listening to the fading footsteps of their captors.
"I'm not sure," Link admitted. He turned around to examine their surroundings. Certainly, when they heard the word dungeon, this wasn't what they'd been expecting. Instead of being shackled to a wall or placed in the stocks, they were thrown into what seemed like the subbasement of the castle itself, which was sealed off from the rest of the building by a steel line of bars. The dungeon was a series of interconnected, dark rooms. In the entryway where the trio stood, Link observed some suspiciously familiar decorative pots. "Hey Zelda," he muttered, "Do you suppose this is a Nightmare's dungeon?"
Zelda looked around, glancing at the jugs. "It certainly isn't a row of cells," she decided finally.
"What are you suggesting?" Valerie asked. "Do you think that those people in the castle really are in league with a Nightmare?"
"They certainly have riches to spare," Link replied, walking over to a doorway on the other side of the room. "It could be a pretty reasonable deal. The Nightmare gives them wealth and protection in exchange for…" He frowned. "In exchange for what?"
"Us," Valerie said. "Princess Erigie knew about Hylians. One of the Nightmares must have warned her."
"Why would a Nightmare actively want us thrown in his or her lair?" Zelda asked.
Link shrugged. "To get us off our guard? We're completely unarmed. If we had walked in voluntarily, we would have brought weapons."
"I thought she was going to have us killed," Zelda murmured.
"Regardless," Valerie interrupted, "we need to find a way out. We're no match for any Nightmares."
"You're new, you don't know." All three of them turned to the shadowy doorway where the voice had come from. Standing in the middle was a small, chubby man, wearing the tattered remains of what looked like courtier garb. His face was dirty and contorted, but covered by a thick, raggedy beard that was just starting to show streaks of gray mixed in with the brown. Strangely enough, for his disheveled appearance, he had on what looked like a pair of brand new leather boots.
"Don't know what?" Valerie asked, slowly approaching him.
"There is no way out!" he shouted. Like a wild animal, he turned and disappeared into the shadows with a yowl.
"Hey!" Link shouted, "Come back here!" The three of them ran into the next room, chasing after the little man. Inside the room, they were greeted by what looked like an army of spiders, milling back and forth across the floor. Valerie shrieked and recoiled back a step. Her cry caused the little man to appear again, on the opposite side of the room. "Hey you!" Link called. The little man saw them and took flight, disappearing into another room. "He's quick," Link muttered. Turning around, he picked up Valerie around the waist and began running through the mass of spiders, carrying her, with Zelda following behind.
The next room was more or less empty, but running down the walls was a thick green slime. Link put Valerie down and began to scan the darkness, searching for the little man. There were three arches in the room, one behind them, one on the opposite wall, and one leading to a room on the right. "Which way?" Zelda asked.
Link scanned the slime on the wall. Next to the door on the right, he noticed a fresh handprint in the guck. Silently, he pointed to that arch and the trio converged on it. Peering in, they could see the next room had no other entrances or exits. Huddling in a corner, with his back to the door, was the stranger, muttering quietly to himself. Slowly, all three of them moved in, approaching the man from three directions so that he couldn't run away. Valerie walked closer, gently putting her hand on his shoulder. Like a frightened animal, he yelped and turned around, cowering back against the wall. "Hey," Valerie whispered, "We're not going to hurt you."
"Y-you aren't?" he asked hoarsely.
"No," Valerie shook her head.
"We just want to talk to you, that's all," Zelda explained.
"Oh." He straightened up, smoothing down his ragged coats as if taking a formal audience.
Link folded his arms. "Who are you?"
The stranger cleared his throat and answered his voice suddenly much fuller and more dignified. "Oderic Pring," he said, "first steward to Queen Magdalena."
"Queen Magdalena?" Zelda repeated with a confused look. "We only met Princess Erigie."
"Queen Magdalena has been dead for quite some time," Oderic explained hotly. "As well as her husband, King Ivan."
"Steward is a pretty important job," Link said. "What are you doing down here?"
"If you must know," Oderic replied, "I was thrown in here by the others, following the night of the revolution."
"When the monarchy was overthrown."
"I don't understand," Zelda complained. "This is Koholint, there is no monarchy!"
"Ah my dear," Oderic said, "You're too young to remember this I suppose, but this castle was once a great home, open to the rest of the island. It was built by Lukas Pratt and his wife the lovely Alexandra Neuman almost two centuries ago. Since then, the family has always lived in the castle." He frowned. "Somewhere along the line, there was some nutcase who finally decided that all those living in the castle must be royalty. The tradition was carried on down the lineage after that."
"So they're not really royalty, they just think they are."
"Well, Magdalena and her family were the last generation I'm afraid," Oderic lamented. "After the revolution, things changed."
"What kind of revolution?" Link asked.
Oderic's insanely high, bushy eyebrows fell as his eyes filled with sadness. "It was a night ten years ago, one I'll never forget. One of the chamber maids gave birth to a baby girl, Dasheme I think it was. Lady Magdalena was awakened by the noise and came down to the servants' quarters to see the child." He shook his head sadly. "There was no mistaking those cheekbones."
Valerie blinked. "What do you mean?"
"For years the girl had been carrying on a secret affair with Magdalena's son. Everyone in the castle knew about it, save for Magdalena and her husband. But one look at the child told Magdalena everything. She was embarrassed, considered it a disgrace to the family. After ordering the healer, who was so desperately needed to save the mother's life to leave, Magdalena took the child and it was never heard of again."
"That's awful!" Zelda cried.
"But the story doesn't end there. You see, the chamber maid survived somehow. By all logic and reason, the girl should have died, but she pulled through. She became the figurehead around which the rest of the servants rallied. So enraged, they were, by the treatment that Magdalena had given her, they rebelled one night, murdering Magdalena and Ivan and the rest of the family in their bedrooms and taking over the castle. They made Erigie the new leader and sealed off the gates."
"Why did they seal the gates?" Link questioned with a frown.
"The official reason was to keep the villagers of the Mabe Village from finding out about what happened," Oderic said. "A stupid excuse. They already knew what had transpired behind these walls. But the real reason was to lock out the sole survivor of the insurrection."
"Magdalena and Ivan's son, the father of Erigie's child and the only person who could have turned things around and taken the hate out of her heart. They wanted that hate there."
"Who's Magdalena and Ivan's son?"
Zelda gasped, clasping a hand to her mouth. "Sweet Nayru…" she whispered, her eyes widening.
Link looked at her. "Zelda?"
"I remember," she said slowly, removing her hand. "In Bottle Grotto, I went through a portal and I saw Erigie. I know it was her, I recognize the face now. I saw her with Richard."
"Richard?" Valerie and Link asked at the same time.
"Poor, poor master Richard," Oderic lamented, oblivious to their shock. "I was ordered to tell him that Erigie and the child were both dead. That's why I'm here today. I was too damn loyal to Magdalena for my own good. The others just didn't trust me after that."
"Richard is the one who sent us here," Valerie said.
"He's still alive then?" Oderic looked up at her, a small spark of hope lighting up his otherwise dead eyes.
"Very much so."
"We have to tell him," Zelda said quietly. She looked at Oderic. "You have to tell him."
Oderic chuckled mirthlessly. "There's no way out of Key Cavern kids, I should know, I've been here for ten years."
"Key Cavern?" Link repeated. He looked over at Zelda. "We were right; this is a Nightmare's dungeon."
"There's a door back that way," Oderic said, pointing in the direction they had come from. "But it's sold steel and locked."
Link pulled the key he had found in the stables out of his pocket. "We've got an exit," he said proudly.
"Key Cavern is the home of Iris," Zelda muttered, closing her eyes to remember the few fragments she had read about the dungeon. She opened her eyes. "We won't need weapons to defeat her. She's energy. You can manipulate energy."
"I don't like the way this conversation is heading…" Valerie mumbled quietly to herself.
"Two birds with one stone," Link declared. "We'll fight our way out."
"Fight?" Oderic shrieked, "Are you mad?" You have no idea what kinds of terrors are located deeper in this dungeon."
"We even have a map," Link continued excitedly, pointing to Oderic.
"Oh no," Oderic shook his head violently. "There's no way I'm purposely marching into the dangers beyond the safe part of this dungeon. Not again."
"We'll make you a deal, Oderic," Link said. "You lead us to the Nightmare's chamber, we'll slay the monsters. And then we'll unlock the door and take you to Richard so that you can tell him the truth for yourself."
Oderic sighed, sounding very, very old. "Fine, I'll take you into the dangerous part of the dungeon, fool that I am: Just as long as you take me out of here afterwards. I need to see sunlight again before I die."
"It's a deal," Link said.
As Valerie began to lead Oderic back to the door, Zelda touched Link's arm, pulling him a step behind. "I saw them," she said quietly.
"Richard and Erigie?"
"Yes." She frowned. "Link, they were in love. Just like us. That's why Erigie didn't sentence us to death. She saw you protecting me and she remembered what it was like."
"Do you think Richard was really capable of loving?"
"He wouldn't have turned into the vengeful person that he is today if he hadn't been in love," Zelda replied.
Erigie dismissed the palace guards with a sharp snap of her wrist. Once they were gone, she turned her eyes up to the enormous shrine. Lying in front of her was the boy's sword, a piece so magnificent that it could have easily been a part of the shrine. She leaned forward and placed both her hands on the silver blade, sitting on her heels. "Mighty Iris," she whispered, staring straight at the figurine in the center of the structure, "hear me, come to me."
Nothing happened. Erigie scowled. She looked down at the sword, noticing the inscription for the first time. Link. So the boy had a man. She briefly wondered what the other two were named. For some reason, she couldn't remember the names or faces of any of the villagers. Except one. She clearly remembered Aviva, who had defied Magdalena's orders and returned to the castle, saving Erigie's life. Magdalena had repaid this kindness by beating Aviva to death with her cane.
She glanced at the cane lying by her side. Magdalena had never needed it. Erigie was the one who needed it now. The silver bust on the head of the cane began trembling. A low rumbling filled the room, though Erigie was certain she was the only one who could hear it, as the guards hadn't rushed back into the sanctuary. She looked up at the shrine and saw to her satisfaction that the eyes of middle figure were beginning to glow as they had before.
Bringing two fists up to her forehead, Erigie closed her eyes. "Mighty Iris," she breathed.
"Speak up lower being!" Iris demanded angrily. "You waste my time in summoning me here, traitor."
"Iris I come in supplication," Erigie cried.
"I've heard that before."
"I bring you an offering," Erigie insisted, turning her eyes up to the glowing ball of light floating before the statue.
"An offering?" Iris scoffed. "What can you possibly bring me that will make up for your betrayal of my direct order?"
Erigie pushed the Master Sword forward toward the shrine. "I bring you this," she replied, "the sword of your enemy."
"My still-breathing enemy!" Iris shouted.
"I am not worthy to kill any mortal that would be great enough to win you as an enemy," Erigie said. "That honor is for you alone."
"You work words prettily," Iris mumbled.
"Thank you," Erigie whispered.
"And your offering does please me," she continued, "though it hardly makes up for your transgression.
"I know that I am unworthy of your forgiveness."
"Still, the past cannot be ignored. You have worshipped me faithfully for years and your people have been more than accommodating when I needed a vessel for unions with the other Nightmares."
Erigie blinked, not understanding. "What?"
"You will be given one chance to redeem yourself," Iris declared loudly, the light growing brighter.
"I am not worthy of second chances," Erigie said, pulling her fists up to her forehead again.
"Nevertheless, I grant you one."
"Thank you mighty Iris."
"Place your hands on the offering," Iris instructed her.
Erigie leaned forward, resting her palms on the cold blade of the Master Sword. A soft tingle ran over her skin, like an electrical current. Her vision blurred, or perhaps the room just filled with smoke, either way, she couldn't be sure. The next thing she noticed as a sort of sensation of weightlessness as if she were being lifted off the floor. She probably wasn't, but at any rate, she couldn't feel the cold tiles beneath her shins. All she felt, in fact, was the smooth surface of the blade.
In the next instant, before she had been given adequate time to adjust to the strangeness; she felt her body drop, falling from and unknown and unseen height, down onto a cold, uneven surface. The fog clouding her vision dissolved and she discovered, much to her surprise, that she was no longer in the shrine of Kanalet Castle. In fact, she didn't know where she was.
The room around her was very dark, save for the flickering of flames from four lamps in the corners of the room. There were also two unlit torches against one wall, flanking a sealed doorway. In the dim firelight, Erigie saw that the floor and walls were both constructed of hastily assembled stones, cemented together to create a bumpy, rough surface.
"Where am I?" Erigie asked as the ecstasy disappearing as the affects of the smoke wore off.
"You are in Key Cavern," a booming voice replied. Instantly, there was bright explosion of light.
Erigie looked up and saw before her, a bright, blinding sphere of energy. As opposed to the fist sized incarnation she had encountered in the safe halls of Kanalet Castle, this apparition filled up nearly a good fifth of the room. The light was so bright that Erigie was forced to avert her eyes. Even so, when she blinked, she could see the blinding whiteness on the insides of her eyelids.
"Why have I been brought here?" Erigie implored.
Iris, sensing the impact of the light, somehow dimmed, becoming bearable to behold again. "You have been brought here to redeem yourself," she explained haughtily.
"How can I do that?" Erigie asked. She looked down and noticed that the Master Sword was still lying before her, as if she and it had never moved from their original place. Her cane however, was nowhere to be seen.
"Be patient," Iris scolded her. "The time is not yet at hand."
"How will I know when the time is at hand?"
"You will know."
"Will you tell me?"
"I tire of your constant questions!" Iris roared.
Erigie huddled down, bringing her hands up for the third time. "Forgive me," she squeaked.
"You will wait here," Iris instructed her crisply. "Silently. You will wait until the time is at hand. Should your prove yourself worthy of my forgiveness, I will spare you and your miserable subjects
Erigie's eyes grew wide with fear. "And if I fail you?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
The light of Iris flared up again. "Not another question! If you are a loyal believer, you won't need to ask questions, you'll just believe!" The room shuddered and shook. Erigie nodded weakly. "Good." Iris sounded appeased. "Let this be a warning to you."
When the echo of her cold voice vanished, Erigie lifted her eyes to find that so had she. Alone in the dark, cold room, she reflected on the harsh words. 'Let this be a warning to you.' The ring of Magdalena's voice stirred somewhere in Erigie's memory and she shuddered.
The slow leisurely trek through the dungeon had quickly turned into a wild chase through the twisting hallways. Oderic, in his excitement to leave Key Cavern, demonstrated to the fullest exactly how quickly he could move. Even Link and Zelda, both in their physical prime, had difficulty keeping up with him. The saving grace, however, was the fact that Oderic had begun chattering incessantly, outlining the history of the castle, rattling off Richard's family history, and ranting and raving about the lamentable lack of protocol observed within recent years.
Following the sound of his voice, the trio tagged along behind him up a flight of steps, delving deeper and deeper into the heart of the dungeon. So far, they hadn't encountered any remarkable demons, as in the two prior dungeons, only a few squawking Keese that arched across the ceilings, flaring their sharp little talons. Oderic seemed undaunted by them, leaving the others to wonder about his earlier hesitation regarding a venture into the dungeon.
"Of course," Oderic was rambling, "she was a woeful disgrace to her mother and in fact her mother's entire side of the family. All the same, traditions were traditions so the title was passed onto her by her father. One would think that a union between such great figures would produce something better than a gawking, slack-jawed girl with knobby knees and a very literal interpretation of the world, but some things just can't be helped."
They had reached the top of the staircase and found themselves on a raised platform in the middle of a torch lit room. The stone walls glistened, dripping with bright green slime. "Hey Oderic," Link said as he walked down the steps from the platform to the ground, "what kind of things should we be expecting?"
"Expecting sir?" Oderic's voice asked, though the chubby steward was nowhere to be scene.
"Yeah," Link replied, extending a hand to Valerie to help her down the stairs without tripping over her long pink skirt. "What kinds of demons live here?"
Oderic's round face appeared in an arched doorway across from the stairs. "Well I don't know much about demons," he said, "but I'm fairly certain that we'll soon be encountering Dodongos."
"Dodongos." Link looked at Zelda. "Guardian?"
She shrugged. "I suppose."
Link turned back to Oderic at the door. "Is Dodongos what you're afraid of crossing?"
"I find it best not to mess with forces beyond one's Human capacity," he answered crisply. With that, he turned and began chattering again, walking into the next room.
"How come there aren't any ordinary demons?" Link muttered under his breath. "Doesn't this Nightmare need servants?"
"She has servants," Zelda whispered back. "What do you think all those people in the castle are?"
"Zelda's right," Valerie added, hiking up her skirt as she walked. "All those people are Siren worshippers."
"What's a Siren exactly?" Link asked. "Besides having to do with the golden instruments."
"The Sirens," Valerie told him wisely, "are Nightmares. More specifically, three Nightmares: Iris, Angelika, and Catsy."
Zelda gave her a funny look. "How do you know this stuff? You always know this stuff."
"Anyway," she continued, "legends depicted the Sirens as three beautiful women who would lure sailors to their deaths with their songs."
"Hence the instruments," Link put in.
"Exactly. Did you see Erigie's cane? With the silver bust on the end? That was a statue of Iris, the first Siren. The one we're about to face." Valerie's mouth twisted into a frown. "I'm still not sure this is a good idea," she added. "You're both unarmed and woefully uninformed about this dungeon."
"We could have read up on it," Zelda defended, "if my book on the Nightmares hadn't disappeared. I barely got to skim the first few chapters."
"We're not unarmed anyway," Link added. "Zelda's getting pretty good with telekinesis. Besides, we can always bash in the brains of the stupid Guardian with a clay pot."
"Telekinesis is only the most basic level of Hylian mind power," Valerie said. "You are capable of so many more feats, from auspex to Farore's Wind."
"Val, you have to start at the beginning before you can advance," Link rationalized.
There was a loud shriek from Oderic up ahead. Instantly, the three of them shot forward, under an arched doorway, and into the room Oderic's voice came from. Standing against the opposite wall, lofting the squirming steward a good five inches in the air, was what they could only infer to be Dodongos. The Guardian was eight feet tall and completely covered in a suit of black pewter armor. His high, rounded helmet opened with a visor, lined in mother of pearl, and out of it peered two flaming red eyes. That was on his first head. On his second head was an identical helmet with shimmering blue eyes.
"Put him down!" Zelda shouted, surging forward. Link grabbed her arm, pulling her back quickly, just as Dodongos reared, throwing Oderic over her head and into the opposite wall.
"Oderic!" Valerie cried, racing over to his side as he slid down the wall and onto the floor.
Link bent over and scooped up a loose rock from the flooring. He pulled back and hurled it at Dodongos, nailing him directly in the helmet. The left helmet that was. There was a noisy ringing that sounded through the room. Dodongos seemed momentarily stunned by the shock, but he quickly recovered and began to advance on the group. All the while, he didn't make a sound. Zelda wondered if he even had a mouth on either head.
"Get him!" Valerie ordered Link and Zelda.
Zelda picked up another stone and threw it at Dodongos. "Over here stupid!" she screamed, waving her arms and drawing its attention toward her.
Dodongos pulled back an arm and swiped at Zelda, viciously smashing her with a backhand. She fell against the wall, burying her face in her hands and closing her eyes. Link became enraged at this and lunged forward, grabbing the Guardian around his thick waist. Much to his surprise and to the creature's as well, Link was able to push him back against the wall. He realized that he was still wearing the Power Bracelet from Bottle Grotto on his bicep, underneath his sleeve. He had completely forgotten about it!
Unfortunately, in the time it took him to reach this revelation, Dodongos had regained his composure and gave Link a sound thrashing, beating him back against the wall beside Zelda. She was still flushed against the wall, her face buried in her hands. "Zelda?" he whispered, one eye watching the rapid approach of Dodongos, "are you all right?"
She turned away from the wall to look up at the Guardian. To Link's utter amazement, her pupils had turned blood red and were glowing, bathing her entire face in orange light. As she stared at Dodongos, steam began spewing out of his armor, through the mother of pearl visors. Dodongos stopped advancing and began flailing about, causing more smoke to erupt from the joints of his armor.
Link's eyes were wide. "Din's Fire," he whispered, watching Zelda carefully.
With a loud clatter of pewter, Dodongos fell to the floor, a disgusting smell stinking up the entire room. Zelda blinked in shock, her eyes returning to normal. "What the…?"
"Din's Fire!" Link cried. He grabbed her shoulders and kissed her. "You just used Din's Fire! Even I can't do that!"
She looked at him with a dazed expression, opening her mouth, though words failed her. "Guys," Valerie hissed. They both turned over to her and saw her sitting on her heels, looking at Oderic, prone on the floor. Link stood and pulled Zelda up and together they walked over to the far end of the room.
Oderic's mouth was hanging open, a trickle of blood running down his chin and into the remains of a white ruffled collar. Although he was blinking, his glazed over eyes were unquestionably dark. His breath was raspy and pained. "Where did everybody go?" he asked softly.
"We're all right here," Valerie said, slipping her hand underneath his head.
"Young man," Oderic lifted his arm, searching for Link.
"I'm here," Link replied, kneeling down next to the prone man.
"Take my boots."
"Take them; they'll be of use to you." Link nodded and obediently removed Oderic's boots. His head rolled off to one side slightly, and then rolled back. He smiled lightly.
"What?" Zelda asked. "Why are you smiling?"
"Sunlight…" he whispered. He licked his lips. "Tell master Richard… No one person can defeat their demons…" His head rolled to the side again, and this time, it didn't return. Gently, Valerie leaned over, sliding her fingers across his eyelids to close them.
"Rest my friend," she said softly. "Into the arms of Farore I commend you." She kissed his forehead gently.
Link looked at Zelda. "Din's Fire," he repeated. "Zelda, how did you learn to do that?"
She shook her head quickly, closing her fingers around one of Oderic's limp hands. "I don't know. I don't know. Link! That's the third time someone has said that to me!"
Valerie stood up, smoothing down her dress. "We'll come back for him."
Link and Zelda both nodded a silent consent. Link put on the boots, tossing his old, worn out ones to a side. Joining hands, they pressed on, taking a doorway on the right, Valerie behind them. None of them dared to look at the others. All three were too saddened to speak.
There was no sort of ceremony or heralding call. Matilda's eyes opened. Without tossing and turning or making any sort of sound, she awoke and found herself staring up into the clumsy thatching of her own roof. Frightfully exhausted as she was, she took a moment to try and recall how she had gotten back to her own hut. Hadn't she been in Bottle Grotto when she fell asleep?
A rustling sound from the other end of the room caught her attention. She rolled her head to one side and saw Carry sitting in a corner, an ink well on his knee, drawing lines lovingly across a piece of parchment flushed up against the wall with the tip of his claw. So that's why they were always black, Matilda thought to herself, rolling her head back onto the pillow.
"Matilda?" Carry asked quietly, rising up. "You awake?"
Matilda feigned a yawn. "Yeah," she said sleepily. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Carry replied, coming to her side. "Little Marin was out walking this morning and she found you out cold by the pond. We brought you back here and you've been sleeping all day."
"Marin huh?" Carry nodded his head. He dropped the leaf of parchment in his hand and bent over to pick it up. "Carry," Matilda whispered very quietly, "you're a terrible liar."
"Did you say something?" Carry asked, straightening up again.
Matilda sighed. "I was down at the pond washing some laundry," she explained to him.
"You know you shouldn't be out after sunset," he scolded her.
"I was just getting some work done. I just wandered away from the pond for a second and I must have walked into a tree or something."
Carry looked at her with his warm granite eyes. Of course, he couldn't believe her. Matilda knew perfectly well that Carry was just playing innocent. What mattered was that he continued to believe that she didn't know about his own exploits into Bottle Grotto. Then again, he could have been telling the truth to a certain extent. Perhaps Matilda's mysterious savior had somehow carried Matilda out to the pond. It was perfectly plausible that Marin had found her. Matilda made a mental note to look into that later.
"Don't do it again," Carry said. "You scared us all a lot. We didn't know if you were going to wake up."
"It's all right Carry. I've been unconscious before. It's just like going to sleep you know."
"Did you dream?"
"No," Matilda lied.
"You must be hungry; you've been asleep all day. What would you like me to get you?"
"Nothing," Matilda replied. "I'm not hungry."
"You should eat something."
"No. Thank you."
"I don't want anything."
"Are you sure?"
Matilda slammed her hand against the wooden headboard of her bed. "Leave me alone!" she shouted at Carry.
He blinked. "What?"
"I am sick and tired of these questions!" she roared, kicking her feet to free them from the tangles of her sheets.
"I was just trying to help," he said defensively.
"Well maybe I don't want your help, did you ever think about that? Did you? Answer me!"
Carry looked completely flustered. His mouth opened and closed several times before he managed to regain his ability to speak. "I'm sorry," he said plainly, his tone genuine.
"Yeah," Matilda stood up, "everybody's sorry."
"I'm just trying to be nice."
"You know what your problem is Carry?" She didn't wait for him to reply. "You may have the noblest intentions in the world, but all you ever do is get in people's way. You're a big, stupid oaf, that's what you are." She took several advancing steps on him, pushing at his shoulders with her palms. In his shock, he fell off guard and was thrown back with each shove. "A loveable fool, that's all you are. When you're not around, people laugh at you. They laugh at the big stupid animal that doesn't understand the ways of the world, who thinks and acts like a child and doesn't realize that grownups can think for themselves!"
Carry was backed up against the wall, watching as his best friend ripped him to shreds. He tried in vain to understand where her anger was coming from, but found himself completely stumped. Briefly, he entertained the notion that the sleeping spell the time traveler had put on her had been something more than a sleeping spell, but he quickly dismissed the idea. Had she not helped him to save Matilda's life? It wouldn't make sense.
"I'm sorry," Carry said again, very quietly, averting his eyes from Matilda's angry glare.
"You're sorry! You're sorry!" Matilda threw her hands up in the air, backing away from him. "You're just like a broken record. Get a better vocabulary for crying out loud!"
"Why are you saying these things?" Carry asked, struggling to remain calm under the circumstances.
"I'm just saying what's true."
"Yes," he said firmly, stepping away from the wall. "We're supposed to be friends."
"All right Carry," she shot back crisply. "We're supposed to be friends." She was pacing back and forth now, stalking like a locked up animal across the floor of a zoo cage.
Carry's childlike demeanor seemed to heighten. "What's the matter with you?" he whispered.
She paced for a few minutes then slowed, then finally stopped, staring up at Carry. "We're friends?"
"Then I want you to do me a favor, as one friend to another."
Matilda walked over to the door. She turned the doorknob and held it open, gesturing grandly toward the outside world. "Out," she ordered him. Without a question or hesitation, Carry made his way to the threshold. He turned around once he got there, looking at Matilda to see if there was any doubt in her eyes. She remained stationary, holding the door open with one hand and pointing to it with the other. His shoulders sagging slightly, he ducked under the upper beam of the doorway and stepped onto the soft grass of Matilda's front yard.
"If you need me…" he started.
"Stay out of my way Carry," Matilda replied. With that, she slammed the door shut so hard that the entire hut trembled.
Immediately, she broke away from the door and dashed over to the other side where her satchel was lying abandoned on the floor. She tore open the flap and much to her relief, at once found her hookshot and her book, both sitting undisturbed at the bottom of the bag. Sitting down against the wall, she picked up the book and opened it to the last page she remembered reading, the one about the Nightmare of Bottle Grotto. Gene, that's what his name was.
Despite the fact that she had more or less failed to do as intended regarding the dungeon, Matilda felt a small hint of satisfaction. She had actually, after all, confronted a Nightmare. True, it had nearly cost her everything, including her life, but somehow, she had managed to survive. If she could survive one encounter with a Nightmare, she could survive others.
"Where to next?" she asked herself quietly. She scanned the chapters regarding Key Cavern and Angler's Tunnel, skipped over the one on Catfish's Maw, glanced at the Face Shrine, and then turned to the first page about the Eagle's Tower. The very first page had a large picture of a hawk with a strange inscription written beneath it in words that Matilda didn't understand. She looked at the picture for a long time, unable to understand why it captivated her so.
Sighing, she shook her head violently, clearing away all stray thoughts regarding the picture. She skipped over the chapter and began to read about Turtle Rock. Outside her door, Carry stood, staring back at the small house and wondering what had inspired the outburst in his best friend.
Richard kicked a small rock with the tip of his boot, watching as it skittered several meters ahead of him. He continued walking, eventually reaching it, and he kicked it again. It flew up, jumping across the path before landing directly into the straw bristles of a broom. Richard looked up and saw Grandma Ulrira standing in the middle of the road, looking down at her broom with mild amusement.
"Well thank you," she said, sweeping the stone away, along with the rest of the dirt she had caught.
"My gift to you," Richard sneered, attempting to withhold some of the sarcasm in his voice.
"How generous you are!" Grandma Ulrira sang. "And what brings you stalking into the Mabe Village today?"
Richard scowled. He honestly didn't know. "I thought I would stop by the library."
"I'll say one thing for you Richard," she said, going back to her work, "you've always had an inquisitive mind. Curious about everything!"
"Yes…well…" he tried his best to mask his futile fumbling for words. "It's a living."
"How old are you now Richard?" she asked, looking up to rest her chin on the top of the broom handle.
"I don't see how that's any of your business madam," he replied crisply, starting to walk past her.
She persisted. "Twenty three? Twenty four?"
Sighing irritably, he turned around to face her again. "If you must know, twenty six."
"Twenty six!" she repeated. "Richard, it's high past time you learned a trade and found yourself a real job."
"I am complacent as is madam," he said.
"Surely there must be something you enjoy doing, besides blackmailing people," she responded. "You could become a farmer. I hear there's a new breed of grain called gasha seeds that grow an extraordinary crop."
"I think not."
"How about a fisherman? There's certainly a market out there for a good fisherman."
"Madam, I'm suited for exactly one profession in the world," Richard said quietly.
"Being a prince," she sighed.
Grandma Ulrira shook her gray head, smiling secretively. "Poor, poor Richard," she said.
"You're as stubborn as your mother."
He regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and surprise. "You knew my mother?"
"Sure did." She began sweeping the road again, pretending to ignore the dumbfounded Richard.
He moved around her to catch her eye again. "How?"
"She would come into the village every day before you were born," Grandma Ulrira replied, turning again to sweep behind her.
Richard ran around her. "What did she do in the village?"
"Oh, nothing in particular. She'd stop by the library or spend some time on the beach, but she always passed by my house."
"I never knew that."
"You're just like her in many respects Richard. Always working to improve your lot, always clinging to whatever beliefs you have."
"I'm not sure I appreciate the comparison," Richard muttered. "My mother and I did not part on the best of terms."
Grandma Ulrira slowed down her work, looking up into Richard's face. "No," she said quietly. "You didn't."
"It was ten years ago, but I still remember all of it," he said. "Sometimes I think I'm the only one who remembers what happened that night. Certainly no one ever talks about it. It's been forgotten."
"Oh no," Grandma Ulrira said, wagging her finger at Richard. "People may not talk about it, but that's because people don't like to be reminded of unpleasant things. We all remember seeing the fires, hearing the noises that night. It's shock that keeps us quiet."
"That's Human nature I suppose," Richard admitted.
"Still, no one that ever met her could soon forget about Magdalena," the old woman smiled.
"Do you think so?"
"The word 'formidable' was invented to describe Magdalena."
"Tell me about it," Richard laughed.
"Your mother was the type of woman who had a perfectly clear idea of what the world was supposed to be like and who never tolerated anyone else's ideas, no matter what."
"She was awful, wasn't she?"
Grandma Ulrira laughed through her nose. "Yes," she replied, "but not because of that."
"Richard, you have the same quality as your mother. You're stubborn and a perfectionist and bent on sticking to your world view, the rest of us be damned. But you're not awful."
"I'm not sure I appreciate the comparison," Richard repeated.
"I don't say things that I expect to be appreciated," the old woman told him, "I say things that are true." She seemed to look up past Richard, over his shoulder. "And speaking of 'like parent, like child,'" she muttered.
Richard turned around and saw Tarin approaching up the road, lumbering steadily as he dragged a wagon filled with mushrooms behind him. "What's that?" he asked, looking through Richard, at Grandma Ulrira.
"Your little Marin is shaping up to be a female copy of you Tarin," she said brightly.
"Oh really?" Tarin came to a stop beside Richard, huffing and puffing from the work. His cheeks were bright pink and they blew up like two balloons as he panted for breath.
Grandma Ulrira nodded, a few stray strands of white hair falling out of the loose bun on top of her head. "She stopped by this morning with Link."
"Did she now?" Tarin's eyes portrayed an unusual combination of disappointment and sadness that neither Richard nor the old woman could understand or acknowledge.
"They wanted to know if Grandpa Ulrira knew a story about something called the 'Power Bracelet.' He didn't, which is a shame. Link really seems to love hearing his stories. Why only a few weeks ago, he came by to ask all sorts of questions about Tail Cave."
"Tail Cave you say?"
Richard folded his arms across his chest. "I heard a quaint little anecdote regarding that place the other day," he muttered.
Tarin turned to acknowledge Richard for the first time. "And what's that?" he asked.
"That someone prized the doors open."
"Really?" Grandma Ulrira breathed, her eyes widening.
"Of course, it could just be hearsay," he said. "Most rumors regarding that place turn out to be just that."
"You don't suppose Link was responsible, do you?" Grandma Ulrira mumbled, wringing her hands around the handle of the broom.
"Until such a rumor can be confirmed," Richard said as he turned to leave, "I prefer not to dwell on it." With that, he stalked off down the road, back in the direction he came from, quickly finding another rock to kick.
Tarin looked at Grandma Ulrira. "What's he doing asking about the dungeons? Why would anyone want to know about things like that? A man could get killed skulking through a place like that. Remember how Lexx's father disappeared?"
"They were just a few harmless questions," Grandma Ulrira replied defensively. "And you know how my husband loves to tell stories."
"Well I'd appreciate it if he didn't tell any more ghost stories to my daughter," Tarin said tightly.
Grandma Ulrira regarded him with curiosity for a long moment. "Tarin," she whispered, "Marin's a grown woman now."
"She's still my child."
"And you feel an obligation to protect her, I understand that." Grandma Ulrira went back to sweeping. "But there's a difference between protecting her and shielding her Tarin. She's too old to be kept away from the great big world now. And the world is so much greater with Link in our company than we ever believed. Marin deserves to be a part of that world."
"Aye," Tarin consented sighing heavily as he watched her work, "but what's to become of me?"
"Link!" Valerie shouted, "Duck!" Link obediently dropped down into a sort of fetal position on the ground, allowing Valerie to hurl a handful of powder at the swarm of Keese flying directly at him. The white dust impacted their leathery wings and they all shrieked, combusting into a shower of gray ash.
"I hate not having my sword," he grumbled, standing up to brush the ash off of his tunic.
"That's the last of them," Zelda said, eyeing the room. They had wandered into a rubble room, filled with broken down statues, missing arms, legs, and heads. As was the case for almost every room in the dungeon, there was little lighting, only two blazing torches around a particularly ominous looking doorway.
"Are you absolutely sure about this?" Valerie asked for the millionth time or so. "Are you sure you want to face a Nightmare under these circumstances?"
"Even if I wasn't," Link replied, "We wouldn't have much of a choice. I mean, the only way to get into the dungeon is through the castle, and we can't go through that again."
Zelda folded her arms across her chest, looking at Link with a bemused expression. "Link, how are we getting out?"
"I'll unlock the exit Oderic was telling us about."
"You do know that you can enter through the exit, right?"
Link stared at her for a few minutes. As he comprehended what she was saying, his face flushed. "Well, that's true, but as long as we're here, we might as well take care of it."
"All right, all right, enough," Valerie sighed. "Let's get this over with. If we stall much longer, the villagers will start to miss us."
Nodding, Link walked over to the door and examined it. Dead in the middle of it was an imbedded handprint, inlayed with gold. Link stuck his hand into the grove and attempted to turn it, but the action yielded little result. Frowning, Valerie walked up behind him and touched him on the shoulder. He stepped back, allowing her to thrust her own hand into the print. Instantly, she was able to rotate the decoration clockwise. There were several clicking noises from the other side and the door slowly slid open.
Link gawked at Valerie. "How did you do that?"
"I don't have fingerprints," she explained. "This is a magical lock; it only allows recognizable hands to open it."
By this point, the door was yawning wide open. With some trepidation, the trio stepped into the dark room. There was a loud crash and the door slammed shut behind them. In that same moment, four lamps, in each of the corners of the room flared to life, illuminating two figures that had been waiting for them.
The first was quickly recognizable as Erigie. She seemed as baffled to see the group as they were to see her. Beside her was a woman that no one recognized. She was tall and slender, sporting an amazingly beautiful, pink gossamer dress that swayed gently at the hem and sleeves, though there was no wind. Her hair was divided into two long blond braids; each fasted by a fantastic gold hair clip decorated in rubies. For a moment, she regarded the travelers with aloof blue eyes.
"Who are you?" Link asked blankly.
She ignored him, instead examining Valerie curiously. "What power do you represent?"
"Who are you?" Link demanded again.
"She's Iris," Valerie told him softly, "the Nightmare of Key Cavern and the first Siren."
"I prefer to be addressed as the Goddess of Visions," Iris said to her.
"You're a false goddess," Valerie whispered coldly.
"We'll see about that." Iris turned to address Link and Zelda. "I know who you are," she said, "and I know why you've come. I'm going to offer you one last chance to change your mind."
"You could just surrender," Link deadpanned.
"So that's how it must be," Iris muttered. "So be it."
"Zelda," Link said, "power up. We can destroy her with telekinesis in three seconds."
Iris laughed. Abruptly, she disappeared from sight, though her voice continued to linger as she taunted the Hylians. "You can't find me!"
Erigie jerked forward violently, as though she had been pushed. Her bad leg gave out from under her and she spilled over onto the floor, her wreath of golden leaves rolling off against a wall where there was another locked door. Valerie rushed over to her and knelt down beside her, pulling her up by her shoulders. Erigie's head fell limply backward, her mouth hanging open.
Zelda stared. "Is she…?"
Suddenly, Erigie's eyes popped open. No longer hazel, they had become a haunting black, as if her pupils had completely consumed the irises. She righted her head back up and looked at Valerie, a small smile spreading across her face. With blinding speed, she lurched forward, grabbing Valerie's supporting arm and pulling her, face down, into the floor. Valerie tried to lift her head of her own accord, her face bloody. Erigie, now on her feet, lifted the angel clean off the floor and slammed her into the wall. Link noticed for the first time that the walls were oozing with the same sticky slime as they had encountered in many other rooms. Valerie's body stuck to the wall, like a fly to flypaper.
Erigie then turned on the other two. She began walking toward them, her limp suddenly a distant memory. "She's possessed," Link realized aloud. "Iris is inside of her."
"Startling revelation Hero," Erigie replied. Her voice was hollow and raspy, absent of the sympathy from before. "Here's another one." From seemingly out of nowhere, the Master Sword appeared in Erigie's hands. She screamed, charging directly at Link. He ran, dashing out of the way and was baffled when he found himself on the other side of the room. He had never run so fast in his life. Erigie, or Iris, seemed equally surprised. The surprise turned to rage. "The Pegasus Boots!" she shouted, "How did you get my boots!"
Link looked down. He had completely forgotten about the boots, a final gift from Oderic. "Your boots?" he asked.
"The treasure of my dungeon, how did you get them!?"
Link shrugged. "It seems only fair. You attack me with my own sword, I wear your boots."
Zelda had quietly made her way to the wall where Valerie was suspended. She was tugging on Valerie's skirt, trying to pry her free of the slime. Erigie turned on her, charging at full steam. "Behind you!" Valerie warned Zelda, her eyes on the blade of the sword.
Zelda turned around, just in time to catch the blade in between her hands. The tip of the sword was inches away from her face and blood began gushing out from in between her fingers. Link ran directly into Erigie, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her down to the ground. The two of them tumbled across the room, the Master Sword itself clattering to the ground in front of Zelda's feet.
Erigie gained the upper hand. She landed on top of Link's chest and began pounding her fists into his face. He brought his hands up, boxing her ears. Despite the temptation, he resisted using the aid of the Power Bracelet on his arm. He knew that his own strength would be enough and was indeed pleased when Erigie screamed, clutching her head, and falling over onto her side.
"Afraid to face me yourself, Iris?" Link asked, getting up onto his knees and planting Erigie's shoulders to the ground.
"I'd rather not have you tear me apart molecule by molecule with your mind," Iris' voice said through Erigie.
"You could just surrender," Link offered again.
"I have a better idea," Iris replied. She swung her leg up with surprising flexibility, nailing Link in the jaw. He fell backwards, putting both hands to his face. While he was down, Erigie got up, turning on Zelda who was busy assessing the damage to her hands.
Zelda looked up at saw Erigie coming at her. Quickly, she kicked the Master Sword ferociously, sending it flying in between Erigie's feet right to Link's side. Erigie ignored this, throwing a wild punch at Zelda's face. Zelda stepped to one side, watching the fist fly past her eyes. She reached out and grabbed Erigie's extended arm, pulling it back as far as possible then twisting it. Iris cried out in pain and latched out with her other hand, closing her fingers around Zelda's throat. "Time to die Princess," she snarled. Zelda released Erigie's arm and brought both her hands up in a futile attempt to pry the fingers away from her neck.
"You first!" Link shouted. He was on his feet and running. There was a loud, sickening thump and the next thing anyone knew, the Master Sword's blade was erupting out of Erigie's stomach. Erigie released Zelda and brought both her hands to her midsection, planting them around the gushing wound. She made no sound, but her mouth slowly opened. An intense white stream of light poured out from her lips, spiraling to form a ball of energy in the air. Link pulled his sword back just as the stream ended and Erigie dropped like a stone to the ground.
"No!" Iris' voice screamed from the sphere of light.
"Yes," Zelda said coldly. She stared at the energy, her eyes narrowed. Flecks, small at first, but gradually larger, began shooting off from the concentration of power, creating a shower of light which fell down onto the ground and died like fireworks. Iris shrieked as Zelda tore her apart. Gray fog began filling the room. Finally, what little remained of Iris split in two, causing a final large explosion of light. When the brightness faded, all that remained where Iris had been was a fairy on the ground below.
From behind Zelda was another intense burst of light. Valerie disappeared from her place on the wall and reappeared a moment later on the ground, not a hair out of place nor a hint of green slime. She smiled slightly then turned, picking up the wreath of golden leaves and disappearing into the doorway behind which had somehow opened.
Zelda turned to Link. He was kneeling beside Erigie, the Master Sword discarded. Gently, he slipped his hand under her head. She didn't respond so he lifted her wrist with his other hand, closing his fingers around her pressure points. With wide, distraught eyes, he looked up at Zelda, silently saying the words racing through his mind. He had killed her.
Valerie reappeared in the doorway, clutching a sparkle of golden light in her hand. The Sea Lily Bell, their third instrument. She looked down at Link, trying to conjure up something to say to him. "It wasn't your fault," was all she could say.
"I know," he whispered back, not entirely believing it.
"Richard doesn't need to know about this," Valerie added, looking at the wreath in her other hand.
"He can never know," Zelda agreed.
Valerie put a hand on Link's shoulder. "Let's go." Link silently stood up, returning the Master Sword to the sheath on his back. He bent over and picked up Erigie's frail body, carrying her to the door. Solemnly, Zelda and Valerie followed behind him.
Erigie and Oderic were buried side by side in the Tabahl Wasteland, just outside of the cemetery. The only marker for their graves that the group could come up with was Link's key to Key Cavern. It was jammed firmly into the ground, the red orb with its bronze eye facing out into nowhere. Link and Valerie recited several Hylian death chants while Zelda stood by respectfully, ignorant of the words. When the makeshift funeral ended, the trio went their separate ways, Zelda to Crazy Tracy's to get her hands mended, Link to the Mabe Village to work some more on clearing the tanglewood in the spot he intended to build a home for himself, Valerie to Richard's villa with the golden leaves in her hand.
She knocked on the door. There was no response so she waited a few minutes before knocking again. Once more, no one answered. She leaned over and tried the doorknob, finding it unlocked. Slowly, she pushed the door open all the way and walked in. The interior was dark, save for one small candle on top of Richard's desk. Richard himself was sitting at the desk, intensely focused on some of the papers.
Valerie cleared her throat loudly. Richard looked up with a start. He saw Valerie and shuffled the papers on the desk with one hand while standing up and turning around to address her. "You're early," he said.
"You said you wanted them by midnight, not at midnight."
"I did say that, didn't I?"
Valerie walked over to Richard's desk and slapped the leaves down one at a time. She had taken pains to detach them from the wreath, the remains of which were floating in Martha's Bay. When all five were laid out she stepped back. "Five leaves," she said, "I've fulfilled my end of the bargain."
"Tres bien. I will fulfill mine," Richard replied. "For now."
"That's what I said."
"You are infuriating Richard."
"I try my best." Valerie turned around and started walking to the door, but Richard stopped her. "Valerie," he called.
She turned to face him. "Yes?"
He frowned. "What was it like in there?"
"It was beautiful," she answered truthfully.
"The place hasn't been trashed. Everything is perfectly preserved," she continued.
"Were there people there?" he asked.
Valerie looked at him for a moment, weighing her options. What would be the appropriate way to answer that question? On the one hand, she could lie and tell him that no one was there, but that might inspire him to make a sojourn of his own and Valerie knew that would get him killed. On the other hand, if she told him there were people there, the subject of Erigie or Oderic might come up and she had no desire to discuss either with him.
"Yes," she finally said, "there were people there."
He nodded gravely. "The servants."
"And their families."
Richard picked up one of the leaves, twirling the gilded stem between his finger and thumb. Valerie noticed, much to her dismay that a stray honey hair from Erigie's head was clinging to it. Luckily, Richard didn't seem to see it. "And their families," he repeated.
"Family is a very important thing," Valerie ventured bravely.
"A very important liability," Richard corrected her.
She frowned. "Still, there are some risks worth taking. Family is an intrinsic need. We form families when our own family is absent."
"What do you know about Human nature?" he snapped. "You're not even one of us."
"Maybe not. But I've observed you long enough to know a thing or two about your basic needs."
"What is your purpose here angel?" he asked.
"To be a guide," she answered truthfully.
"I don't need guidance," he replied coldly.
"I never said I was your guide."
"Then why are you dispensing all the gems of wisdom tonight?"
She blinked. "I honestly don't know."
"And here I thought you had all the answers."
"No one head can contain all knowledge or wisdom."
"Is that some kind of ultimate truth?"
"No," Valerie replied. "The ultimate truth is that no one person can defeat their demons."
"I don't know."
"It wouldn't be the ultimate truth if it wasn't cryptic. I know several individuals who have yet to figure it out." Valerie turned around and started to walk to the door. She stopped herself suddenly, turning to face Richard who had resumed working on whatever he was working on. "Richard?"
"You're still here?" He looked up at her. "What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I just have to know."
"The night of the riot, when the servants took over the castle, where were you?"
"Where was I?"
"I know you weren't in the castle. Otherwise, they would have killed you."
He sighed, putting down his pen and shifting in his chair to face Valerie. "The day of the coup, I had quarreled with my mother. After several hours of shouting, during which, I might add, she called me by some very inappropriate terms, I stormed out of the castle to escape her soothingly shrill screaming."
"And you were so upset you didn't want to return for hours," Valerie nodded. "I understand." She tilted her head to one side. "Where did you go?"
"I thought I was the only one with an arsenal of annoying questions around here," he said.
"Just tell me."
Richard sighed again, his shoulders moving up and down in exaggeration of his annoyance. "If you must know, I was on the beach."
"Yes, the beach."
Valerie smiled. "The place of dreamers."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The beach is a place where dreamers go."
"I thought the beach was reserved solely for lovers' rendezvous," he said dryly.
"Lovers are dreamers," Valerie replied. "And dreamers are lovers, in one way or another."
"That sounds like an accusation. I'm happy to report that I've never been one."
Valerie stared at him. "Then what were you doing on the beach?" Before Richard had a chance to respond, Valerie turned around and walked out of the door, closing it gently behind her with the same old, loud click.
Richard looked down at his drawing of Valerie's face on the desk. The eyes were closer than ever tonight, in recapturing that guiltless gaze. As Richard thought about the way Valerie had just now regarded him in the flickering candlelight, he decided that he liked that expression even more. Slowly, with precise and planned strokes, he brought his pen down on the drawing, adding shadows to her monochromatic face.
"Can I ask you something?"
They lay side by side on the beach, looking up at the stars, Zelda's head lying on Link's chest. He ran a hand absently through her hair, resting his chin on the top of her head. "How did you do it?"
Zelda frowned, staring out at the sky above her. "I don't know," she finally said quietly.
"You don't know?"
"It just happened."
"That's very strange."
"I tried to do it again," she muttered. "But I couldn't."
"Well," Link supplied thoughtfully. "Maybe it only works when it's necessary. When you need it."
"Maybe." Zelda yawned sleepily. "I didn't like it."
"You didn't like using Din's Fire?"
"It seems so cruel. To die from being burned."
"It was a monster."
"There are many different kinds of monsters," Zelda said wisely. "Some more easily identified than others."
Link frowned. "Do you think Erigie was a monster?"
"No," Zelda said softly. "I think she was a woman who made a choice, but I don't blame you for what happened to her. I wonder what happened to her baby."
Link shrugged slightly. "Hopefully Dasheme will have a better lot in life, where ever she is."
"Do you think she's still alive somewhere?"
"If she wasn't, Erigie would have lost her will to live I think. Parents can feel it when their children die."
"How do you know?"
"Close examination of your parents."
She looked up at him. "My parents?"
"Back in Hyrule, King Ferdinand and Queen Gilda are as strong and as beloved by the people as ever. There's no way they could have accomplished all they had if they honestly believed that their daughter, the Princess of Destiny, wasn't still alive somewhere."
"They loved me?"
"Of course. They still do."
"My memories are just so…muddled. Sometimes I remember everything in Hyrule as clear as day. Other times all I see are faint shadows."
"You'll see them again," Link promised.
"We defeated two Nightmares in less than two days. It's all much closer to reality than before. I guess the only question that remains is when do we take on the next one?" Link didn't reply. Zelda sat up slightly, turning to look at him. Much to her surprise, Link had fallen asleep, his mouth hanging open, his cheek in the sand. She smiled and leaned over, kissing his forehead. Then, she lay down again, snuggling up against his side and draping one hand over his chest. She shut her eyes and let the gentle roll of the waves lull her to sleep.
On the other end of the beach, just out of earshot, Carry stood, leaning against his staff. He watched them with sympathetic eyes, wondering what they were saying. Beside him, a crackle of fire erupted, heralding in Catsy's entrance. This time though, the flame was a dull blue, blending in with the night so as not to draw attention from the lovers.
"Curious?" Catsy asked, walking to his side. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Tonight, it was a turquoise sequined bikini, covered by a length of sheer blue veiling. Spiraling up her legs were yellow ribbons, attached to the backs of her bright cyan high heels. Completing the look were a pair of tie dyed satin gloves, shining pastel yellow, pink, and blue in the moonlight.
"A little," Carry admitted.
"They defeated Iris," she continued nonchalantly.
Carry turned to her in surprise. "All ready?"
She nodded. "It was an impressive display, to say the least."
"What do you mean?"
"They incinerated Iris' Guardian."
His eyes widened. "I can't imagine Link or Little Marin doing anything like that."
"You're in for a world of rude awakenings Carry."