Part the First
The present King of Hyrule, Hadrian, was a good if not remarkable ruler. His reign would be looked back on later as a time of stability and growth between a time of unrest before he took the throne and almost constant crisis after he left power.
His twin children, Menelaus and Zelda, were not quite as different as night and day. They had been born nearly twenty years in the past, around the same time that one of the King's trusted advisors, (though he was not in such a position at the time) General Anton Lot, had found an infant child by the road.
When the boy was found, Lot was a major in the small Grand Army of Hyrule, and it was joked often that he signed his name "Major A. Lot." But that has nothing to do with this story. The boy, whom Lot named Link after the near-legendary King of nearly a century past, was raised by the officer and his men, and no boy could have dreamed of a better childhood. Other children may fantasize idly about adventure, excitement, fighting barbarians on the northern frontier and all that, but Link got to live it.
By virtue of Lot's military genius, he was promoted rapidly and eventually made military advisor to the King when Link was thirteen, and this turned out well both for Link, who had known nothing of other children, and for the royal children, who suffered a similar dilemma for a completely opposite reason. Link, needless to say, became the fast friend of the two.
This being said, let us begin.
Prince Menelaus was alone in a dim, candle-lit room, poring over a copious pile of maps, when a knock came at the door. "Come in," he instructed, and the door swung open. A man roughly Menelaus's age entered; he was fair as opposed to the prince's dark, but as tall and (as more than a few women had observed) as handsome. Link.
Menelaus, however, did not look up, and did not know (or indeed care) who had entered until Link said, "Are you still studying those maps?"
The prince slowly raised his head and turned it to focus his exhausted, bloodshot eyes directly and wordlessly on those of the other, remained in this position for a few seconds, and returned to the cartograms. "I want to be as prepared as I can be when I take the throne." King Hadrian was old, and he was going to stay old until he died and joined his wife; he had already announced his intention to abdicate the throne in favor of an oligarchy of his extremely capable offspring.
"You already know everything you can possibly need," insisted Link.
Tired was at certainly the best way to describe Menelaus at present. His following bitter laugh and his creaky voice belied this. "I don't. Oh, no, I don't."
Link knew his friend was stubborn when he was tired. Accordingly, he knew it was futile to keep this up. He said with a sigh as he turned to leave, "Well, if you're still here in the morning I'll drag you to the nearest bed and tie you down and make you relax." Just before the door closed behind him, he added, "I mean it. I will." The door creaked shut, and Menelaus had his peace once again.
The maps showed all subjects; the archives in Hyrule Castle had the most complete collection of maps and atlases in all the world; not even the renowned scholars in far-off Calais could boast supremacy on this point. The particular map which captured the prince's attention was one of the finest maps in the archives. It showed all of the known world: fair Hyrule in the east, militaristic Calatia across the ocean to the south, mysterious Anbary in the desert to the west, Hyrule's island colonies of Holodrum and Labrynna in the otherwise uncharted ocean to the far east, impenetrable jungles and cliffs to the distant south, and huge swaths of hostile yet unclaimed barbarian land to the north. It was the north that fascinated Menelaus the most. The mountain range that encompassed the famous peak Death Mountain was the northern limit of civilization. Beyond those mountains was endless turmoil between the Gorons, the Gerudo, and the Dundranis.
Menelaus' plans continued to form and re-form in his mind through the rest of the night, and for now we will leave him there.
Zelda had met Link just outside Menelaus's door. "Well?" she asked. The cleverer of the twins, but not the more fanatically dedicated to learning, she was concerned for her brother's health. She was also quite possibly the most beautiful person to be found in or out of Hyrule, a fact which few neglected to notice.
Link shrugged. "He's still at those maps. I don't know why."
"He knows what he's doing," replied Zelda. She wished she could believe that; it was said more to convince herself than Link.
Young love is usually inevitable, but there are circumstances in which love evades youth. Such was the case with Link and Zelda; some thought it inevitable that the two fall in love, but this had as yet failed to happen. They bade one another a good night and retired.
Link awoke early the next morning and wandered to the room Menelaus had been in, where he found Zelda arriving at the same time. It seemed a crime to spoil the perfect silence that blessed the morning, so they said nothing, only opened the door. The prince was asleep, half leaning on the table and half sprawled on the floor. It was a position that would have been highly uncomfortable had he been awake to experience it.
Link sighed a quiet but decidedly exasperated "Not again..." and, dragging his friend across the floor by his upper arms, made his way out of the room. In response to Zelda's confused look, he explained (quietly), "I told him if I found him here in the morning I'd make him relax." There was no further need for explanation; Zelda knew as well as anyone that when Link said he was going to do something, Link did it.
The heir-apparent was dragged through the tile-floored halls of the Royal Palace of Hyrule, to his own apartment and the expensive bed that lay in its corner. When at last he awoke, at around midday, he was alone. Menelaus dragged himself from bed, and, finding himself still clothed, decided to forego that step and find the notorious individuals who had obviously perpetrated this crime. The manhunt was a short one.
"Morning," yawned a groggy Menelaus. Link was absent, probably sleeping in, and his sister was the only one he had found.
"Afternoon, actually," corrected Zelda. She then went on to further explain that "I don't want you losing any more sleep studying; we'll be crowned tomorrow."
"I haven't forgotten," he replied offhandedly. "You know where Link is?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
Link, it turns out, was in the large open area near the barracks of the Palace Guard, learning the ancient art of swordplay. Or at least he was in theory; in practice, he was helping an increasingly aged General Lot keep his reflexes about him. They both knew this, it was simple tradition that kept it from being called anything else.
Link, clad in a traditional soldier's uniform (a green tunic with baggy brown trousers), wielded his bundle of wood left-handedly with as much dignity and respect as he would the finest sword, and with it he repeatedly drove back the bundle of wood belonging to his adversary, but rarely struck anything but the practice weapon. More often that Lot did, however.
A few loud cracks resounded across the stone walls as Link, pushed his way towards Lot, who was retreating steadily, until eventually wood struck flesh and the general grunted in mild pain. Short of breath, he leaned on the bundle. "I think that's enough for today, Link."
Link rolled his shoulders. "Yeah, all right."
Lot's next comment could not have been truer: "I'm getting old, Link."
At a younger age, Link might have said, "Tell me something I don't know," but at this time Link had the experience to know when to keep his mouth shut. This knowledge resulted in the entrance of an awkward silence into their conversation. This silence was, fortunately, not terribly long, as the old general continued his solemn speech. "I've been having this pain in my side lately, Link. The doctors tell me I won't last 'till spring."
This time Link's silence came because he was too stunned to speak. Lot had been like a father to him; he was his father! He could not die!
"Fifty-four years is a long time to live, Link. I think I've lived most of it well. I've gotten to see you turn into a fine upstanding man, and a first-rate soldier. My only regret is that it didn't last longer. But the Goddesses have decreed that my time is up."
Tears were, at this point, beginning to well up in Link's eyes. What could he say? What could he do? Just sit back and wait? He could not sit idly while the man who had been his father died!
Except, there was nothing else he could do. Accept the inevitable. Embrace it. That was what Lot had told him. If only he could.
"Stop crying, boy. I'm not dead yet." Lot forced a dry laugh at his own comment, but they both knew it to be forced.
Link had to sit down and let this all sink in. Blinking his eyes dry, he took a seat on the dusty ground. It was late spring now. That would give him... almost a year? Maybe? When at last he was able to speak, he said, "What's causing this?"
"Some sort of infection," explained Lot, who was handling this a whole lot better than Link had been, given that he and not the boy was the one who was going to bite it in less than a year. "I wasn't really paying attention." The old general took a seat next to his son, and in doing so suddenly looked very old, with silver flecking his dark top and his body seeming to lose its old muscle."This will be hard for you, Link. You have never lost a loved one before. I still have a few months left. Try not to let it get to you too much."
"I'll... I'll try," Link managed to say.
* * * * *
By the next day, the news of Lot's impending doom wasn't getting to Link too much; there was too much else going on for anyone to worry about the sickness of an old man. Today, there would be a new King and a new Queen!
By tradition, the King of Hyrule wore an ancient red fur robe and an equally ancient undecorated gold crown, and by tradition, nobody told the Queen of Hyrule what to wear. Tradition demanded that the older ruler present the newer with such ornaments as served an extremely important yet entirely symbolic value. An ancient custom decreed that any ruler of Hyrule, upon entering this position, must swear certain oaths to the people and to the land, and that the advisers associated with the Throne take these oaths. An archaic cultural habit necessitated the enormous celebration which followed the ceremony in all corners of Hyrule. Despite the nontraditional nature of this generation of monarchs, tradition was to be followed exactly to the letter. It was not, after all, the first instance in which Hyrule had been an oligarchy, and there were time-honored provisions to account for this turn of events.
It had all been done before. Nothing to worry about. You just have to say a few things and it'll all be over with and you can get down to business. That was what Roeinoff, the Prime Minister, had told Zelda and Menelaus. Menelaus seemed to be taking this advice well enough; he was relaxed. Zelda, too, was relaxed. About as relaxed as a cucco with its egg missing.
She paced frantically up and down the marble-tiled hallways of the Royal Palace, her elaborate ceremonial gown (which she happened to hate with a vengeance) trailing behind her in a manner which served to distract onlookers from her vehement self-assurances that she was ready and could go through with this. Every time she passed a window which afforded her a view of the ornate clock tower she paused to glance out of it and to wonder why, exactly, time seemed to be moving so slowly today. Link had tried following her to reassure her of the simplicity of the whole thing (a certain tumultuous age in Hyrule's past had created the need to make crowning ceremonies so simple a child could perform them easily) but had long since seen the error of his ways, and now he had been called to take a place with the Royal Guard outside the palace. His upbringing as a soldier and his relation to the greatest military mind Hyrule had yet seen gave him the privilege of associating with this highly selective organization, while not truly being a member.
He was to stand, in full uniform and with all the ceremonial arms that only Hyrule's Finest could bear, completely still, for the duration of the ceremony, excepting in the case that something were to happen that threatened anyone's life. His position alongside the stone stairway leading to the entrance of the castle meant that he could observe the crowd which already was gathering in front of the building. They came from all walks of life; there were tattered rags in the throng almost as often as there were fine silks, and the large packs of peddlers who were unwilling to let even so solemn an occasion pass without trying to earn a profit. The Royal Guardsmen would look at them all as though they were assassins and thieves. Link could hardly blame them; they were soldiers to their bones, and Lot had always said A soldier trusts no one except those they must, and sometimes not even them.
It was over an hour before anything else would happen, and it took all of Link's self-control to keep from moving a muscle; the dress uniform of the Royal Guard was not the best-designed uniform in the world, given that those who wore it routinely went hours on end without moving. Perhaps it was to test their discipline, or to keep them alert. Though how anyone could stay alert when the whole of his flesh was itching worse than if he had been caught by a pack of forest dryads was utterly beyond him. He was in the middle of offering the Goddesses his umpteenth silent prayer that it not last too long when a score of unseen horns blasted the national hymn to herald the approach of the people involved with the ceremony amid a fantastic thunder of applause from the now-huge crowd below.
Link tried to name all of the dignitaries who passed him. First was the priestess from the Temple of Din (just visible on top of a hill not far from here), and she was flanked by the priestesses from the Temple of Nayru and the Temple of Farore. They held in their identical white-robed arms, respectively, the gold crown, the ivory scepter, and the thick green-backed Book of Mudora. Next came old King Hadrian. Following him was the Prime Minister, Roeinoff, and all eight of the King's advisors marching double-file. Link almost flinched when he saw Lot limping slightly, but he managed to put that aside for now. The Steward of the Castle, Sardis, was last.
Roeinoff, Sardis, and each of the advisors took their places in a half-circle surrounding Hadrian and the priestesses, and the horns which none of the Royal Guard could see immediately stopped playing. Out from the main entrance from the palace marched two decidedly regal figures. Zelda was on the left, and there was not a soul present who was not astonished at her beauty. On the right was Menelaus, who seemed already to have become an experienced ruler, such was the pride and dignity with which he carried himself. They stopped opposite the priestesses and their father.
"Who are you?" bellowed Hadrian, and the crowd silenced.
"I am Menelaus, son of Hadrian and Prince of Hyrule," responded Menelaus.
"I am Zelda, daughter of Hadrian and Princess of Hyrule," replied Zelda.
"What claim have you to the Throne?" As he asked this, Link was acutely aware of the white running through the old man's gray head, and of the power which seemed to remain in his body.
"I am the son of the King of Hyrule and his chosen heir," said Menelaus.
"I am the daughter of the King of Hyrule and his chosen heir," said Zelda.
It was the Priestesses' time to ask questions. The Priestess of Din was first. "Do you swear that as ruler you will be no weaker than as before?"
The Priestess of Nayru added, "Do you swear that as ruler you will be no more foolish than as before?"
And the Priestess of Farore, "Do you swear that as ruler you will be no more unjust than as before?"
"I swear all these things," said Zelda, who was echoed by Menelaus.
Hadrian and the priestesses walked aside, the King on the heirs' right, and the Priestesses on their left.
"I am Prudence," said the first advisor, who handled the treasury. He was a scrawny, pale, bespectacled man with a nasal voice. "I will let as little harm as possible befall you, if you swear to rule with me."
The second advisor, who resembled a badger and was responsible for embassies to other countries, said, "I am Generosity. You will have few enemies if you rule with me."
The third, Lot, said, "I am Valor. Praise will find you if you rule with me."
The fourth, a very old sharp-nosed man who regulated Hyrule's famed criminal punishment system, said, "I am Justice. None can call you wrong, if you rule with me."
The fifth, a pretty young woman who managed the Royal Library, said, "I am Knowledge. You will not be taken unaware if you rule with me."
The sixth, who was the Priestess of the Temple of Heroes and looked very similar to the white-robed Priestesses of the other Temples, said, "I am Piety. The Goddesses will favor you if you rule with me."
The seventh, whose duty it was to gather intelligence and looked good at it, with his shifty eyes and huge ears surrounding his mouse-like face, said, "I am Vision. The darkest night will hinder you not, if you rule with me."
The eighth, a kindly old woman whom the heirs knew well and would serve as regent in the event of a ruler's incapacity, said, "I am Discretion. You need fear nothing if you rule with me."
The Steward, Sardis, who was long and thin, with a reptilian face and smooth brown hair, said, "I am Honor. I will be yours if you rule with me."
The Prime Minister, Roeinoff, with his bald, broad face atop his squat body, finished with, "Do you swear to always consider the counsel of us, your loyal subjects, when it is given to you?"
"I swear it," said Menelaus and Zelda in unison.
"So be it," replied Roeinoff. "So be it!" he said much more loudly. "May the Goddesses favor you, King and Queen of Hyrule!" The crowd below erupted with cheers.
Hadrian and the priestesses returned to Zelda's and Menelaus' front. The Priestess of Din handed Menelaus the simple gold crown of Hyrule, and he placed it on his black-maned head. The Priestess of Nayru gave Zelda the ornate ivory scepter of Hyrule, and she held it in one of her gloved hand. The Priestess of Farore gave her the ancient green-bound Book of Mudora, and with her free hand she clasped it. The King of Hyrule then removed his red fur robe and placed it gently in the hands of his son, who in turn placed it on his own shoulders. If the mass of people gathered around the palace could have cheered any louder, they did.
* * * * *
Menelaus, not wearing his crown, strode down the long hallways of the palace easily and with purpose, to the quarters of the King's Foreign Policy Advisor, Cambyses. The King caught the badger-looking man just as he was leaving on some errand. "Your Highness?" asked the advisor.
"Cambyses, I am going to send an ambassador to each of the barbarian chiefs. Have them come to me in my office, and I will instruct them."
"As you say, your Highness." Menelaus had been King now for a few days, and he had decided that it was time to busy himself with something other than the day-to-day affairs of Hyrule.
The young sovereign continued on towards the royal study. Zelda would not be using that room today, so he could instruct the ambassadors privately. As he walked, he felt a slight grin tugging at his face but forced it back. What he was planning was crazy, and it was best to let it appear to begin of its own accords.
The royal study was a long, cozy room; it had a prodigious bookshelf on one wall and an enormous, if aged, map of the world painted on the other. A fine wooden desk sat facing the room's heavy oak door from the far end, with its back to a large window which looked to the east over Lake Hylia. Menelaus took a seat behind the desk and turned to the window, and after a while the thick oak door swung respectfully open to admit the three ambassadors he had sent for. He turned slowly and addressed them.
"You are to go to the chiefs of the barbarian tribes. Tell them that we invite their lands to be provinces of Hyrule. Try to persuade them, but if they are resolute, do not press the matter. Do not negotiate any terms, but bring their replies to me. And tell no one my instructions. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Highness." "Absolutely, milord." "Crystal, your Majesty."
"You may depart when you are ready."
* * * * *
The Temple of Heroes was on the grounds of the royal palace of Hyrule, and it was exactly between the Temples of Din, Nayru, and Farore. Each of these Temples had been built jut under a century past, and were all of identical design. Constructed of the finest marble and enchanted with magic no longer found in the tanks of modern society, the white buildings were all but indestructible. Each temple had a Priestess (in honor of an ancient tradition) who lived within the Temple and guarded the Inner Sanctum of each. A huge door, made of some substance which resembles stone, guards behind it a treasure whose identity is not even known to the Priestesses. There has been endless speculation by the learned, but the only conclusions that can be reached are those which any fool can find in a history book; that the Temples were made for a purpose which will be revealed, along with their contents, at the appropriate time.
The cemetery surrounding the Temple of Heroes is where the most honorable warriors in history had been buried, whether or not they were Hylian. Barbarians, Calatians, and Anbars were buried in the cemetery almost as often as Hylians.
Lot, the Priestess of the Temple had said, would almost certainly find eternal rest here.
Link felt a strange attraction to the Temple of Heroes, as though there were something familiar there, something he knew. This was, of course, completely ridiculous; Link had never even seen the Temple of Heroes until he was allowed to tour the palace grounds when he was nine, and it had been several more years until he had even set foot in the place. No, this felling of familiarity was a new thing.
Link rose from his seat on the thick red rug inside the Temple, and thanked the Priestess for helping him to ease his mind about Lot's death. "It was my pleasure," replied the Priestess, whose age Link could not discern beneath her completely white robe. "It's not very often that I have visitors." Link guessed by her voice that she was not much older than he.
Link departed the Temple with his mind at peace. He seemed newly aware of the vibrance of the world around him, of the beauty for which Hyrule was famed. The breeze was crisp and cool, the birds singing reached his ears in a way that seemed strange and new and beautiful. He felt he could lose himself in the depth of the sky, and the grass, he could see, was teeming with life, as tiny insects hopped away from his footsteps. The sun was brighter, yet it did not seem to shine in his eyes. This time of year, the moon was often visible during the day, and there it was off to the west, white and thin, setting over Pristine Lake Hylia, which shimmered like silver in the noonday sun. The palace itself, a huge stone building, seemed grander even here than he could remember any part of it ever having been. He could see Menelaus staring unconcernedly out the window of the royal study. A cloud drifting idly across the sky so captivated him that he nearly walked into Zelda, and in the process snapped back to reality.
"Oh! Zelda, I'm sorry," he said.
"No, it's all right, Link. No harm done." She did not seem to wait around for Link to ask her what she was doing out here when she so much preferred the library, and got straight to the explanation. "Menelaus is up to something."
"Isn't he always?"
"Yes, but this time I'm worried about what'll happen. And it would... reassure me if I knew what he was planning."
"You know as well as I do there's nothing for it but to wait and see."
"Yes, but..." she decided that Link should know better than to try to deny her help like this. "Oh, just help me figure it out. He's sending ambassadors to the barbarians, and they have secret instructions. He was studying hard, every anthropological book we have and every political essay, and all of the maps. He's definitely scheming something."
Link paused to ponder this. "Well, he's smart. And so are you. I'm sure if anything bad happens, one of you can fix it."
Zelda sighed. "You're right. I just can't help worrying. He's my brother now, and we have a responsibility to Hyrule."
"I've said it before: you worry too much."
"Yeah, I know."
Neither one of them said anything, and Link began to slip back into his trance-like captivation of the world, but somehow it seemed different now that he had worldly troubles weighing him down again. Diminished, perhaps.
Zelda once more brought him back to reality. "Well, I have some important matters I need to take care of, so if you'll excuse me..." and she left without another word from either of them.
Link continued his leisurely walk back to the palace. It was a beautiful day, he decided again. He might as well go to the lake and... and he'd decide what else when he got there.
It so happened that Link's path brought him past the stables, where Lot was soundly beating an Elite Royal Guardsman with a bundle of wood. He let up when he saw Link. "Ah, Link. There you are. I'll lose my touch, if I keep practicing against rabble like this. Care for a match?"
"Actually, I was thinking I'd go to the lake."
Lot set down his bundle of wood, and said, "Well, a little R&R never did any harm, and I don't recall anyone saying we would be needed today. What say I come with you?"
Link shrugged. "Sure, why not?"
The royal palace of Hyrule was scarcely fifty yards from the grandest city in the world (or so Hylians liked to think), Hyrule City. The city was built around a thick paved road which eventually led to the Great Sea in the south, where Kakariko Harbor (the second greatest city in the world, as far as Hylians are concerned) ferried people and goods to and from Calatia and the increasingly numerous inhabited islands on the sea. This road split off into many other roads between the city and the sea, and one of these roads was the several-mile path to Laky Hylia. Lot and Link purchased a traveler's lunch each from a local vendor and they set off for the lake.
Lot's limp, though he tried to hide it, made Link rather uncomfortable and worrisome, but aside from that, the walk was very pleasant. They talked little (as men are wont to do) and enjoyed the scenery, and along the way, the other pedestrians who shared the road with them made them aware of the fact that they were not the only ones the lake had appealed to on this fine day.
Lake Hylia itself was filled with water whose purity was only slightly tainted by the use it put up with; for fish, it was a safe haven except from fishermen and other fish; for fishermen, it was the giver of life and wealth. Its blue surface sparkled like the night sky mixed with quicksilver, and boats sailing idly by only added to the effect.
Several people sought profit from the fact that few who came to the lake from afar owned a boat; Lot and son took advantage of the presence of such people and commandeered a small boat and a pair of fishing rods, and relaxed in the center of the lake until their food was eaten and their faces reddened by the sun, and returned to shore blissfully unconcerned with their lack of fish. It was nearly sunset when they returned to the castle and found a shock waiting for them.
* * * * *
"There's nothing you could have done, Lot," said old Hadrian while he, the steward, and his children's advisors surveyed the grim scene. "He died peacefully."
The eight and the palace physician were crowded around a large bed, of the type which only the very important were allowed to use. In this bed Prime Minister Roeinoff lay still, as though sleeping. Though, truth be told, he was dead.
"He had a heart attack," explained the physician. "Quite common for people his age and in his position, I'm afraid."
"I leave the palace for one day, and..." muttered Lot.
"I said," said Hadrian, "there was nothing you could have done, man."
The physician added, "All things put aside, you still shouldn't be out with that bad lung of yours, General."
"I'll leave whenever I damn well please," snapped Lot. He hated being told what to do. "Though I don't know if it's wise. Hadrian, old friend, we're dying off one by one. First it was Semiramis, and then Lydia, and now this, and you know I'm ill. Soon it may be Elpenor. Or you, for that matter."
Elpenor, the regent, was present, and she made no secret of her advanced age, but she was still as strong as an ox; her demeanor showed it but she was too respectful for the late Prime Minister to say anything. Hadrian, though, had fewer qualms. "Don't be ridiculous, man. Surely we'll all die sooner or later, and I'm afraid it's sooner for some, but it can't do any good to go around predicting deaths. And Elpenor won't be dying any time soon."
Nobody said much of anything for a while. Then Lot asked, "Where are Menelaus and Zelda?"
"Zelda just left to get the Priestess," explained Sardis, "and Menelaus is... thinking this turn of events over in his study."
"They need to be here," said the general. "Who will be Prime Minister now? Who would volunteer?"
Sardis cleared his throat. "Did anyone else volunteer?" asked Lot. The silence was his answer. Lot allowed no doubts about his mistrust of Sardis. "I see. Well, I am going to fetch the King."
Lot walked through the stone halls of the palace in sort of a daze. Roeinoff was—had been—his close friend. He almost found himself barging into the royal study rather than knocking first. "Come in," came the reply in Link's voice, oddly enough. He did so.
Menelaus and Link were seated in the overstuffed chairs in the study, apparently involved in some sort of conversation when Lot had knocked. "Majesty, you should be there," he said. The inklings of a plan began to tickle at his mind.
Lot led the two to Roeinoff's deathbed in a daze, caused not by the death of a friend—the Goddesses knew, he had seen enough of that—but by the strategic expertise in his head working overtime. Politics is like war without honor, he had been reputed to say many times. He didn't like dabbling in it, but sometimes a man had no choice.
When they arrived, Zelda had come with the Priestess of the Temple of Heroes, who would be performing the last rites. Everyone but her had their head bowed.
"Fire of Din," said the Priestess gravely, "cleanse this the soul of Roeinoff of Hyrule, son of Solon, that he may live with greater virtue still when he returns to this mortal coil." She then muttered a sacred incantation and continued with "Truth of Nayru, teach this the soul of Roeinoff of Hyrule, son of Solon, that he may live with greater wisdom still when he returns to this mortal coil." She muttered a different incantation and said, "Love of Farore, bathe this the soul of Roeinoff of Hyrule, son of Solon, that he may live with greater honor still when he returns to this mortal coil." A third incantation, and she concluded with "Spirits of the Dead, welcome this the soul of Roeinoff of Hyrule, son of Solon, and let him know rest before he returns to this mortal coil. In the name of the Goddesses, so be it."
There followed the customary moment of silence. Lot had seen so many close to him die; this was simply the newest name on the list. It still hurt to see a friend die, but after as much death as he had seen, Lot had become numb to the pain. One learned to put aside grief and allow important matters to take first priority. And right now, it was important to Lot to keep Sardis from grasping too much power.
* * * * *
Menelaus had not taken Lot's suggestion terribly well. Perhaps it was the cool ease with which it had been made, so soon after Roeinoff's death. "It's not up to me, though, Lot. We'll see how it turns out."
"We certainly will." Lot had never spent much time in the royal study before; it did have a spectacular view out the back window. "By your leave, Highness," he bowed, turned, and—
"I don't know whether Link is ready for this."
"I have faith in the boy."
"Careful who you call 'boy,' general," cautioned Menelaus. "He's older than I am."
"Yes, Highness." And with that, he left.
Link had been barely more receptive of the plan. "Well, if you say so. I still have my doubts, but if you think it will work, I'm willing to go through with it."
The other advisors to the Throne were largely indifferent. "There's nothing that says you can't," said the treasurer, Priam.
"And I think the boy'd do well," added Cambyses, the Foreign Minister.
"To be perfectly honest," said Thera, the Priestess, "I don't relish the thought of Sardis in such an influential position."
All eight advisors deliberated long and hard. Three, including Lot himself, could be counted on to support the plan. Three would certainly oppose it, and as Sardis was not one of the advisors he could not participate in the vote. And so it fell solely on the shoulders of Priam and Elpenor: let Sardis take the position of Prime Minister and hold the position of Steward until a replacement could be found, or let Lot be Prime Minister and have Link fill the position of military advisor?
Elpenor trusted Lot more then Sardis, but she also had to consider that Lot would be dead in less than a year and Sardis would probably get the job then anyway. Link, she thought, could do with some experience, but there were other ways to get it. Furthermore, Sardis was clever, and didn't pretend to have the moral standards that Lot was familiar with.
Priam had great faith in Sardis' political prowess, but he also knew that Lot was almost as good, and was not afraid of action. Link had great potential as a general, but overall it seemed to him inevitable that Sardis be Prime Minister and Link be military advisor.
Sardis found their verdict very pleasing.
* * * * *
"Milady, I've received word that civil war has broken out in Calatia." After only a day, Sardis was fitting into his new position of Prime Minister as though he had held it all his life, although he never lost an opportunity to look smug when Lot was near.
"Is that so?" inquired Zelda. "I shall expect a full written report of the matter by sundown."
"Y-yes, Milady. As you say, Majesty. Although I have little information to work with. By your leave," Sardis left the Queen to her peace in the library.
Zelda returned her nose to the book she was studying. She was following Menelaus' steps, reading everything he had read, and presently she was concerned with The Noble Savages of the Northeast: Accounts of an Extended Stay in Goron Land. The Gorons, it seemed, respected boldness and decisiveness, and often recognized this with an informal ceremony of "sworn brotherhood," whereby the two involved became, in the minds of the Gorons at least, brothers.
This was all very interesting, she decided, but it did not help her. She rose and, walking around the enormous pile of books and scrolls (most of which she had read), found the librarian, Elam. "Are you sure these are all of them?"
"I'm afraid they are." Elam was a nervous young woman, younger than Zelda, and had brains which her Queen envied.
"Thank you again for all your help with this."
"It is my pleasure, your Highness"
Zelda decided that she would take leave of these books for the time being. The stone halls of the royal palace of Hyrule soon led her to the large doorway that admitted visitors. There was a visitor here whom Zelda certainly would not have expected.
He stood ten feet tall, at least, with a brown hide which looked like well-worn leather, and a sort of mane rose from his neck. Several patches of gray clustered on his back rose off of his skin. His huge arms hung from enormously wide shoulders well down to his scrawny knees, but despite the fact that his legs resembled tiny twigs that could snap at any moment, he seemed to have no trouble standing on them. From where he stood, Zelda could not see his face, but she did not need to in order to be absolutely certain that this was a Goron from the northeast. The mane on his neck illustrated that he was a very powerful Goron; only the strongest had that.
"Greetings," she said to the Goron, and he turned so that she could see his broad, noseless face and beady eyes. "I am Zelda, Queen of Hyrule. The hospitality of the palace is open to you, sir..."
"Tarentum, Chieftain of Goron City," replied the other in a voice which boomed like thunder. "I seek Menelaus, the King of Hyrule."
"I am here," said Menelaus as he entered the room.
"Menelaus of Hyrule," said Tarentum. "You have given me a great gift. I have no gift I can return..." the Goron paused and dropped to one knee.
"...but my fealty."
"I accept it gladly, Tarentum of Goron City," said Menelaus, "provided that you offer it also to my sister."
Tarentum rose and bowed before Zelda as well. "Do you accept my oath of fealty?"
Zelda was not quite certain what to say. It was not every day that you had a complete stranger appear and swear to obey you for life. Menelaus was the cause of this, that was certain. "I accept it, and welcome you to Hyrule." What was Menelaus up to?
Tarentum rose and laughed, a laugh so loud and deep it seemed to shake the very foundations of the palace. "This is truly a joyous event, brother," he said to Menelaus, pausing to speak (Brother? Zelda wondered before remembering the book she had been buried in not five minutes before). "It deserves a celebration to match!" As though from nowhere, three full-grown Gorons (though they were all smaller than Tarentum) rolled into the palace. "Teach these Hylian cooks how to make a feast!" commanded the Chieftain, still laughing hysterically.
Sardis would have a fit to find three Gorons taking over his kitchens, and that suited Zelda nicely.
Menelaus had his arm behind his... brother's... back, and was saying, "Now, if you'll follow me, brother, I'll show you around."
* * * * *
In all his life of traveling visiting exotic locales, Link had never tried Goron ale, much less gotten himself nearly drunk on the stuff. "That'll hurt me in the morning," he said to some people he didn't bother to recognize, who burst out laughing. He had gotten on well with the Gorons, especially Tarentum, he vaguely remembered as he made his unsteady way towards his room. The food was good, too. He had no idea Gorons ate anything but rocks, much less anything so spicy. Elam had probably burnt the roof of her mouth on that fish. And if it's true what they said that laughter was the best medicine, then Lot certainly would be living a few months longer at least.
That was a sobering thought. The dead will stay dead, he had said once, and the living will all join them. That is the way of things, and no amount of tears or blood can alter that. He was trying to move on, he was.
He managed to nod at one of the guards in the stone halls, who was no doubt jealous of those who were even still enjoying themselves. He had never before though of Aurelian as such a flirt. His path took him past the main entrance to the palace, and as he walked by considerably straighter than he had been recently, someone stopped him. "Link?"
Link recognized this person as Smitt, one of the ambassadors and a good friend of his. "Yeah?"
"I need to see Menelaus. He's going to want to see this."
"This way," said Link, leading him down the stone halls to the banquet hall, where the servants would be hard at work cleaning tomorrow. Menelaus was the only one Link could see who was sober, but then again, more than a few guests had already left.
"Milord?" asked Smitt, offering the King a wax-sealed envelope marked with a slender crescent moon.
Menelaus took the envelope with a mumbled "Thank you," and opened it to read the letter inside. Its contents made him stare at it for a moment, temporarily unaware of the world around him. "Get me Zelda and General Lot. Quickly."
"As you wish, Highness," said Smitt, bowing slightly and scurrying off. If he understood the meaning of this message....
"What's it say?" asked Link.
Menelaus said nothing.
It was not long before Smitt showed up with Zelda and Lot. "Thank you," said the King, "you are dismissed."
The ambassador bowed and Menelaus did not bother to care where he went.
"Pack your things," said Lot. "Make sure you come armed.
"Tomorrow we ride for the Gerudo lands, to meet their King."
To be continued