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    Memoria [Book 1 of Legend of Zelda: Concordia]
    • Chapter 1 - Consciousness

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      First there was sound. The hum and buzz of energy and machinery, and the lapping of water tickling her senses like a caress. Then there was sensation. The water was comfortably cool, and she could feel it stroking her arms, whispering against her ears and cheeks. There was nothing else touching her – she appeared to be floating in absolute calm and darkness, with neither the energy nor the will to move. There was no time in this artificial womb and no difference between waking and dreaming. She was never hungry, and always in comfort, and in this state her mind began to wander like a daydreamer, or like driftwood rocking back and forth on the surf.

      What a strange existence I find myself in… How long have I been here?

      And then there was light; cool blue on black and endless reflections on water that cascaded off slick stone walls in a multitude of flickering patterns and fell across her closed eyelids like spider webs. It was the first real disturbance to her incubation, and she moved for the first time, little muscles in her face shifting, fingertips responding to the ripples in the water in tiny involuntary twitches. The water, if it was water, was now cold as her skin awoke in gradients with the rest of her body, or perhaps the mechanism that she was suspended in was starting to fail. Her bones became alive with aches and itches, and she became aware of her own breathing, the rising and falling of her chest and the sounds that she was making, merging with the sound of the water like the soft rushing of the tide.

      Pretending to be asleep was no longer an option when she was brought to sparkling consciousness by a sharp stab of pain in her centre. In one violent motion, she bent in the middle, the water sucking at her hair, reluctant to let her go. She was shivering now, blinking, heartbroken over the rude introduction back to reality. There was a sucking sound and she felt the water drain away. If the water had been cold, the air on her naked skin was like needles. Gasping and huffing, she found the edge of the basin she had been submerged in and swung her stiff legs over it, the cold stone rasping against her tender limbs.

      Testing her legs to see if they would carry her weight, she was able to stop shivering long enough to take proper stock of her surroundings. She was in a man-made cavern, the edges of the space lost in shadows, the only light the pulsing blue lights of the stone mechanism that hummed with some kind of strange artificial energy. Pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes, she strained to remember.

      They put me here to keep me safe.

      Who were they? How long have I been here? Safe from what?

      The air here was still, dead. There was not a speck of dust on any of the surfaces. Dust supposes life, and there had been no life here. Except herself. Memories surfaced in her mind more like assumptions rather than clear images. Wasn’t there supposed to be a room to the left of the main chamber? The memories she was trying to keep hold of were half formed, as if they had first been made in her early childhood, with an unreal quality that made her wonder if they were genuine or dreams. Her bare feet padded across the stone floor with light slapping sounds. The blue light revealed the edge of a large protrusion from the floor, like a small diamond shaped pillar. She reached out to touch it without thinking. It was like glass, and like stone, but neither. As soon as her fingertips met the surface, it hummed and lit up with a startling orange light that almost blinded her and caused her heart to race. A section of the wall, with a grating crunching sound, slid up until there was an opening three times as wide as herself, and a little taller.

      There was a deeply rooted familiar sense about the room. She had not only been here before, this had been a frequent haunt of her. Possibly a home. She knew without having to look that it was smaller than the main chamber, and made up of shelves and figures clothed in items and equipment, tools, chests of currency and gear and, quite possibly, food. The pain in her core, she realised, was severe hunger cramps. The room was lit by the same eerie blue light that illuminated the main chamber, and she was able to find exactly what she expected, and so she wasn’t frightened by the person sized figures that stood sentry along the walls, knowing that they were wooden statues designed to display clothes. After searching the chests, disregarding weapons and other objects that might come in handy later, she found no food. She wasn’t surprised (how could she expect food to keep for an indefinite amount of time, possible years or decades?) but for the first time, she felt a twinge of anxiety. She would have to leave the safety of this place in search of food, that was obvious, but a shadow formed in her mind at the thought of it, more frayed memories. There was something out there that sought her. It lay slumbering in some dark corner of the world, and leaving this place would awaken it, send it raking across the landscape for her, to find her, destroy her, for it could not stand her very existence.

      But this was a dream, maybe a children’s story that, in her foggy state, she mistook for history. Fiction or not, she couldn’t stay here. Turning to one of the figures, she stripped it of its furred cloak and tunic and pulled them on, completing her attire with a thick maned headdress in the shape of a white wolf’s head, eyeless and heavy, but warm. She stopped shivering. She felt as if her body were sinking into the soft furs, and her feet felt sure and protected in heavy fur-lined boots.

      There was a looking glass fixed to the wall of the chamber, and she glanced at it furtively, if only to confirm what she already knew. It was like recognising a friend she hadn’t seen in countless years. Dark skin, a graceful, angled brow and prominent nose that gave her face a sculpted quality, like an idol carved from stone. Long, pointed ears hidden under a dragon’s crest of scarlet hair, dyed purple by the blue light. The face in the mirror was both infinitely familiar and shockingly strange, and she tried not to look at it again while she dressed.

      Once she had finished, she picked a bow from the wall - a handsome, long-limbed thing with a bone handle – because she knew how to use one, though she could not be sure that she had ever held one before. She also strapped a pair of long curved knifes to her hips and a quiver of arrows to her thigh. She was about to leave, when something caught her eye. The light had revealed the edge of something that looked like an eye peeking out from beneath a half-closed lid that she had neglected to close in her search for food. Curious, she reopened it, and found a mask with four empty eyes like an insect, and bearded with an infinitely soft fur that she did not recognise. It was terrible and beautiful all at once and for a reason that she couldn’t understand, it brought upon her a strange mixture of fear, anger, and disgust, as if the mask was a symbol for some awful event that was never recorded but always remembered. Feeling sick, she shut the chest and left the room, leaving the mask behind but still feeling it’s hollow eyes bore into her, accusing her of something that she didn’t understand.

      xxx

      Wind lashed the snow-covered mountains that cut the sky with sheer cliffs and jagged edges. Upon exiting that place that was rapidly forming the identity of a tomb to her, she found herself in a small cave protected from the elements. The door to the tomb closed behind her and she was left facing an indistinguishable rock face. Taking two of her arrows, she laid them on the ground in the shape of a cross and planted a stone on top of them to keep them in place, serving as a marker if she ever wanted to find the door again. There had been more clothes and weapons, as well as rupies, and it wouldn’t do to never be able to access them again.

      Her bow in hand, she mastered her anxiety and stepped into the world to hunt.

      xxx

      She was out of practise and slow. There were animals in the mountains, but when she would spot the fleeting glimpse of a fox’s dash between rocks, she would lose it at once or spook it away down a hole. After the second time she did this, she was beginning to get desperate and gave up on living prey, instead searching any scrub for wild berries or mushrooms that might live in these freezing conditions. She was able to find some, pink and bulbous as well as some poisonous looking blue mushrooms. It wasn’t going to be a king’s feast, but anything was better than starving.

      On her way back to the cave to see if there was means to make a fire, she spotting a white hare, standing stiff and erect on a rocky outcrop. Crouching, she held her breath. After her previous failed attempts, stumbling upon a potential proper meal like this was pure luck. Heart hammering so hard against her rib cage, she feared that the hare might hear it and flee, she eased an arrow from her quiver and onto the string. With an excruciating slowness, she pulled it back, her chest aching from holding her breath, though she didn’t dare let it go. Focusing her aim on the animal, her mouth dry, she loosed the arrow.

      It zipped through thin air faster than she could follow, but the hare jerked sideways in an unnatural movement, and lay dead and bleeding on the snow, a white feathered arrow sticking out from its head. At first, she thought that she had caught it, and that some trick of the wind had caused the freak collision, but then she remembered that her arrows had red feathers and she stared, uncomprehending, at the scene.

      It all fell into place when the figure of a man emerged from behind a boulder. Frantic, she rose and strode forward, pointing at the hare and calling out to the stranger, “I was about to shoot this – it’s mine, I need it!”

      The wind was strong, but the air was clear of falling snow so she could get a good look at him. He was smaller than her by a head, and barely on the edge of adulthood, with long blonde hair breaded with string and small red gems, pale skin, dressed much like her in furs and thick boots. He was androgynously handsome, with broad shoulders and a slender waist, though much of his form was lost in his bulky clothes. His eyes were blue and somehow honest. He didn’t protest her claim but gave her a sheepish smile and waved at the dead hare dismissively, pointing a thumb to the two strapped to his back and holding up his hands as if to say ‘I’ve got plenty, take it’.

      She thanked him. She hadn’t expected to see anyone else in this hard, frozen landscape and she felt embarrassed by her aggression. Taking the arrow from the hare, she picked it up by the ears and made her way over to him, handing him back his arrow. He didn’t speak, but continued to smile at her, taking it. There was an awkward pause as both shuffled about, wondering if it would be more polite to introduce themselves or part ways.

      Finally, she asked, “what are you doing here?”

      Once again, he didn’t speak, but pointed at the hares on his back and then off down the mountain slope, to a point several hundred feet away, where there was a flicker of orange light and a plume of smoke. A campfire.

      She thought of the tomb beneath the mountain, and the food she now carried, and became sure that there had been no way of making fire there. Not wanting to explain to this stranger that she had crawled out of the earth just that day with no memory of who she was or how she got there, she lied.

      “I was camping alone, and a pack of wolves attacked me, stole my food. I had to flee and got lost and now I have no way of cooking this,” she held up the hare. “Could I come with you and use your campfire?”

      He gave her a searching look. She wondered if her story was credible, given her ferocious appearance in wolf pelt tunic and wolf’s head headdress, but he seemed to come to a conclusion in her favour, because he nodded, and gestured for her to follow him. She did so, feeling more than a little relieved. It wasn’t just being able to cook her food – she was hungry enough that she could have eaten it raw if she had found no other way. She had no idea what she would have done next. Not hurting for food or shelter, and not tired enough to sleep, she would have sat and stared at the wall, trying to recapture the memories that alluded her until she was stir-crazy. Furthermore, she hadn’t realised until now that she had been lonely. The act of hunting had taken the edge off the uncomfortable aloneness, but once that had been sorted, she would have felt lost and afraid without someone else there.

      “What’s your name?” she said.

      He stopped and she almost collided with him. Bending, he used his index finger to draw four letters in the snow.

      LINK.

      Then, making sure that she was watching him, he performed an action with his hands by looping thumb and index finger of one hand through the other and locking them, like links in a chain. All this was done in silence. She stared at him.

      “Are you mute?” she asked, rather bluntly.

      He didn’t seem to mind, and nodded, still smiling.

      “Can you hear me?”

      He nodded again.

      She realised that it was now her turn to share her name, and felt panic rise up in her chest. For a few awful moments, she couldn’t remember her own name, but then it came to her, sluggishly, and she wrote it in the snow, almost from muscle memory, before it could slip away again, not for him, but to force herself to remember it.

      SUN.

      Link read her name and pointed at the sky, towards the bright winter sun and then made a sort of salute, his hand making a crescent shape. She shook her head.

      “No. Sun… like… like love. Beloved.” She put her hand on her heart, though he had made it apparent that he could hear her. She got that strange feeling again of remembering a dream. She felt, rather than understood, that her name wasn’t Hylian, but the language of her own people. She thought of azure skies and baking yellow sand and felt a pang of loneliness again, despite his being there. Nothing could be further from the monochrome wilderness that surrounded them. He seemed to understand, though, because he nodded and made a different gesture, crossing his forearms over his chest and hugging himself. She realised that he wasn’t doing this solely to express himself, but for her benefit, using his hands to make gestures that represented words, so that he might communicate without writing. She made a mental note of the movements required for both their names.

      The started off again down the mountain and she pondered her new silent companion. She wondered again what he was doing here. Was he a trapper, or a tanner? Was he an explorer? With a jolt, she wondered if he was an escort, and if there were other people at his camp. Did he live in a village close by? She examined his gear more closely and saw an elegant hand-and-a-half sword with a blue winged hilt in an ornate scabbard, a shield across his back with a geometric design of a red bird and a three-part pyramid that was irritatingly familiar, as if she should have understood what it meant. A folded paraglider, a bow and a quiver of arrows – his gear was more that of a knight than a hunter. He must be an escort, or a guard, she thought.

      Too bad her own identity wasn’t so easy to puzzle out
      The world is quiet here.

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      The post was edited 2 times, last by katherine summers ().

    • Chapter 2 – Memory

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      As they got closer to the camp, she could pick out the details of a scene unfolding. A tall and proud looking Rito was speaking to a woman. She was blonde, like her companion, and from what Sun could see, very beautiful. There was something delicate about her features, her white skin, that made her seem apart from her surroundings, as if she belonged in a library, or a court, as opposed to a tundra. Sun hung back, letting Link go ahead of her, feeling intrusive. The woman was speaking, her voice fair and sophisticated, and utterly blithe.

      “Thank you, Taka, I’ll return right away. Go ahead of me and inform the castle. I don’t imagine it’ll take us more than a week to get back.”

      The Rito, a fine, sleek, white feathered male, took off and it was like a flurry of snow had been cast into the air. Sun watched him go in wonder, as he disappeared into the clouds with surprising speed. The woman was still speaking, this time to Link, who had reached the edge of their camp.

      “Oh good, you’re back. Start dismantling the tents while I pack away the rest of the equipment. Taka has just informed me that Princess Riju will be coming to the castle a week before the festival in order to have a meeting with me and I am very curious as to what it might be about. I suspect it might have something to do with trade, given that they are the trading hub of Hyrule.” She said all this without looking behind her, packing books into a miniature chest. Link obeyed her command without hesitation, taking apart the camp and depositing things into bundles, which he then lashed together. She continued; “Nevertheless, it will appear awfully rude if we don’t get there on time. You know how I was criticised for going on this mission in the first place. They want me within those walls every second of the day,” a hint of sadness crept into her voice. “You’re lucky, no one says anything when you go off adventuring.” Her speech wasn’t hurried, and she didn’t check to see if Link were listening. It was as if she were talking to herself.

      There was a pause. The woman stopped packing and cradled a leather-bound journal across her knee, the thick parchment covered in dark green ink. Sun gathered her courage and took a breath to speak, but the woman, who still hadn’t seen her, went on and Sun shut her mouth, not wanting to be rude. “I wish that we could have searched a little longer. I am sure that we are close to the location that the journal specifies. Though… perhaps I am wrong after all. Some of it doesn’t make sense, no matter how long I spend translating it. Do you think he was mad?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I wish he would say where in the Hebra Mountains the heirloom actually was! He goes to great pains trying to impress on the reader how important the artefact is, but won’t explicitly say where it is or even what it is.” She hadn’t moved from her position in the snow, though Link was striding about her in precise activity. “These Gerudo rumours concern me, Link. I should know better than to put stock in sages, prophesies and legends, but… something about this doesn’t feel right. It’s my duty to protect Hyrule, and if this ‘great change and disruption’ is any threat to her, well I have to know about it.”

      Sun listened to all of this, waiting for the woman to stop speaking so that she could make herself known. She kept glancing at Link, expecting him to introduce her, but he had busied himself in taking apart the camp, moving in a way that made her suspect that this was the usual dynamic between them. Not only was he a guard, but also some sort of servant, and this woman, someone of authority, as evidenced by her straight back and soft, clear diction. He worked, listening to her, falling into a comfortable sort of routine that comes with love and loyalty. Sun felt even more that she was intruding.

      “Link, you’ll have to go fetch the horses. I let them wander, but they won’t have gone far. They’ll be on that plateau to the –”

      She finally noticed Sun, and started.

      “I… I did not realise that we had a guest.”

      Sun smiled, both embarrassed and relieved that she had finally been noticed. “My name is Sun. I met Link hunting on the mountain, and he said that I could come back and use your campfire, but it seems like you’re on your way.”

      “Indeed,” the woman said. “I am Princess Zelda of Hyrule.”

      Princess? Was she actually speaking to royalty? What was she to do? Bow, or salute or… She flushed. Now that they were face to face, she realised that the princess wasn’t much older than Link, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. Her throat dry, she realised that she was still holding the hare by the ears, blood dripping onto the snow. Not knowing what else to do, she let the hare fall and removed her headdress, letting her long hair fall free and ripple in the breeze.

      “It’s odd to meet a Gerudo so far north,” said Princess Zelda. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

      Sun opened her mouth to repeat the story she had given Link, then stopped, knowing that it would only explain why she was at their camp, not why she was in the Hebra mountains. Thinking fast, she said, “I’m searching for the artefact too.”

      “I – what?”

      “The heirloom. I heard you talking…”

      What the princess had said earlier had made Sun think that the legend she referred to was a generic folk tale. Words like prophesy had sounded too grand and important for only a handful of people to know, but the shocked expression on Zelda’s face told her that she had made a mistake. There was no going back now. She shuffled her feet, glancing at Link, only to see that he had stopped packing up the campsite and was gazing at her with intense curiosity. After an uncomfortable silence, Zelda stepped forward.

      “But the existence of the journal isn’t widely known about,” she said, confirming Sun’s thoughts. “How do you know there’s anything out here to look for?”

      “It’s a legend of my people,” she said, glad that her voice was steady. “You said so yourself. I didn’t know about any journal, but I knew about the legend of the artefact –” she saw an opportunity “– I’ve just been searching all over for where it might be, asking around, making guesses, but you seem to know a lot more than I do. You’ve got a lead on it and everything. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and we can compare notes…?”

      As she had hoped, Zelda’s cheeks went a little pink. Her flattery had worked. “Well… We have to abandon our search, I’m afraid. We’re returning to Hyrule castle.”

      “Yes, of course.” She had to stop herself sighing in relief. “Do you have a map I could look at. I’m a little lost and I would like to see which way I could take to leave the mountains…” And do what? She had no idea what she would do or what would happen to her, but despite her warm clothes and her hunting skill, she knew this snowy wilderness would kill her if she stayed. The muted quality of the thick snow, as well as the piercing cold made her feel like she was underwater, and she couldn’t help seeing the landscape as alien and hostile. How anyone could live here, she couldn’t comprehend. Meeting Princess Zelda had distracted her, but now that it came down to making her decision, the hunger cramps came back with a vengeance and she was starting to feel light headed. She would just have to figure it out as she went along.

      “Right. Link, could you please fetch Sun a map?”

      Link stood straight and bobbed his head in a tiny bow, and opened one of the small chests that appeared to contain papers. He produced a map, which she thanked him for and smoothed across the lid of the chest. At first she was overwhelmed by all the lines and makers zigzagging across the parchment, but she took a breath and forced herself to concentrate. It was like relearning something she had been taught in childhood and had since forgotten, and it didn’t take her long to understand that the lines described the elevation of the mountain, and that the markings were place names. It was also a very limited view, and from what she could see, only displayed the local area around them. Looking over her shoulder to make sure that Link and the princess were distracted, she folded up the map and opened the chest, sifting through it with her fingers until she found what she was looking for. She pulled out another sheet of parchment, this one thin and worn, and much larger than the first one. It was another map, and she was pleased to see that it showed a little more than the Hebra mountains.

      For long seconds, she poured over it, her eyes travelling along the roads and rivers, taking in the shape of Hyrule, a shape that was at once new and familiar. She could read the words effortlessly, just as she knew how to speak Hylian, and was absorbed in relearning the names, sounding them out in her head until they made sense. And there, at the bottom left hand corner, was a vast empty space, labelled Gerudo Desert. Her heart started to beat rather hard and she traced the lines of the surrounding mountains, her breath caught in her throat. So that was home? Something welled up from deep within her. It was a better goal than she could have hoped for, and while she had no idea if there was anything for her there, it was as if there was a compass needle in her chest now fixed in the direction of home, putting at her.

      Standing, she folded up the map and tucked it in her clothes without realising, and said, in a voice that sounded deep and clouded, “you said that you were going to Hyrule Castle?”
      Princess Zelda was a little distance off, standing amid her little boxes and bags, waiting for Link, who had apparently disappeared to find the horses. She started a little when Sun called out to her, as if she had been shaken out of a daydream, and said, “Yes. That’s where we’re going.”
      “May I travel with you? I… I want to make my way back the Gerudo Desert. I know that the castle is more East of that, but it’s on the way. I’d be grateful if I could accompany you.”

      The princess eyed Sun, who still had the wolf’s head in her hands, weighing up the situation. Sun went through everything again in her head, trying to see herself from Zelda’s perspective. A foreigner, inexplicably on the other side of the world from where she came from, fierce and primal looking, in just the spot where they were searching for some strange Gerudo artefact, apparently looking for it as well, despite only a minority of people knowing about it. Sun, for her part, didn’t immediately know her way through the mountains, and knew that she would have to follow the two of them to lower ground, and it would be a lot easier if they agreed to let her travel with them, with access to food and maps and without the fear of being caught and attacked. The Hylians were small, and appeared delicate, but Link had shot that hare faster than she could, and she had not heard his presence until he revealed himself. In a fight, she imagined he would be quick and vicious, with the experience of his employment, whereas her combat ability started and ended with her ability to feed herself. Her stomach twisted, reminding her that even that wasn’t much to speak of.

      To her relief, however, the princess nodded, and with the secure authority that comes with noble blood, instructed her to pack up the maps and bring the chest over to where she was.
      “We don’t have another horse,” she said.

      “I don’t know how to ride,” Sun replied, wondering if the Hylian horses would be able to carry her.

      Link returned, holding the reins of two sleek and well-groomed steeds, a tall, stiff necked stallion, pure white with a shimmering mane and decked out with a fine saddle and bridle (obviously the princess’s mount) and the other a monstrous brute, with a jet body, amber mane and tail and beetle black eyes shrouded in long lashes. It was this horse that took most of the burden of the camping gear, as well as Link himself, though Sun imagined that it would have been able to carry her and all. She followed behind on foot, however, and they set off.

      xxx

      At first Sun was withdrawn and reclusive on the journey, keeping apart from the other two. Her mind was still reeling from her reintroduction to the world. More and more came back to her as she walked, the snow giving way to stony paths, though the cold never let up. She thought of the chamber in which she had been sleeping and wondered if she should have gone back there to pick up more objects that could have been of use, but the truth was, she was glad to leave it behind.

      Someone had put her there. No – she had been hidden there. She couldn’t help but look out across the horizon as the mountain gave way to stunning sun drenched vistas and think of that thing that hunted her, a sense of dread stalking her like a shadow. Her mind cast up a vision of some great dragon shaped darkness, all teeth and fire and smoke, but she had no way of knowing what it was, or even if it was out there. Only the desire to look over her shoulder, to scan the hills and keep her weapons close by.

      Thankfully, her companions were cheerful and oblivious to her paranoia. Princess Zelda in particular would chatter away, pointing out observations, telling stories and bringing up anecdotes. Sun thought that it was for Link’s benefit, but though he listened to every word and smiled when she smiled, laughed when she did – a light careless laughter that made her think of summer – it was as if he were hearing these stories for the first time. This would make sense, only almost all of the events described seemed to include him in some way. They were aimless and rambling, much as recollections of past capers are, but Sun found them a nice distraction from her sore feet and the frustrating emptiness that she found when she looked into her memory. It was easier to sink into someone else’s past than to try and find her own.

      xxx

      She was in some place far away, and yet so intimately close.

      Home.

      A bustling marketplace, the sandstone baking in the afternoon sun, everything bleached white under a brilliant cloudless sky, and Sun and her friend playing at molduga slayers, racing from the shadow of one house to another. The imaginary sand dragons could only go where the sun shone, and the rule was that if either one of them stayed out of the shade for too long, they would be eaten up, and the other would have to drag them from the dread maw of the creature. There was much kicking and screaming and then frantic running for the shade once more, where they collapsed, panting and exhilarated. They weren’t very good at slaying the molduga, because there was always another one to chase and hide from.

      But there was another game they played, one that didn’t stop, even when their parents called them inside for supper. It was a secret that bonded to two together, and one that little Sun would defend fiercely if it came to it.

      It had all started when she and her mother had greeted a woman and her child at the entrance to Gerudo Town. She had been told before the meeting that she was to pretend that the woman was her aunt, even though they were of no relation, and to be on her very best behaviour. She was also to play with the child, and make them feel welcome, for they came from a distant land and didn’t know anyone in Gerudo Town.

      “Mama, why is he wearing girl’s clothes?”

      She had felt, rather than seen, her mother stiffen and got the sense that she had said something very rude. “What are you talking about, love? She’s a vai, just like you.”

      And so the rules of the game were established. Nevertheless, she thought herself rather clever for seeing through the disguise in a way that only a child can. The two of them stayed with Sun and her mother in their little home, and the two children shared a room, whispering long into the night and becoming fast friends, hushing themselves when the grown-ups came to make sure they were asleep. Her ‘cousin’ showed her how to peel a banana from the bottom so that she didn’t snap off the top half, and she ingratiated him with the rest of her friends, letting him play in all of their games, though she kept their special game just been the two of them. He was tough, rough and quick witted and fit right in, winning every race and impressing even the older kids by climbing the tallest building in the town, right to the top.

      But then he had to go, for his mother couldn’t stay in Gerudo Town, and she missed him with a powerful misery as though she had been split in two. She wailed at her mother, clutching hold of her silk trousers, red face streaked with tears.

      “Why can’t he stay?”

      “He would be found out if he stayed too long.”

      “Why aren’t voe allowed in? It’s Gerudo Town after all! Is there another town, where all the Gerudo voe live? Is that where he’s going? Because I will run away mama! I’ll run away and find him and we can play again and –”

      Her mother stopped her with a look as sharp as a knife. “There are no Gerudo voe, Sun.”

      “Then… then what’s he?”

      There was a long, horrible silence as they stood together in the kitchen, and Sun felt strangely afraid, even though there was nothing to be afraid of.

      “Mama…?”

      Then there was a face in the window, like a horse, but not like any horse she had ever seen, with long delicate antlers that were more like the moth’s antenna, and four round eyes in a row that glowed piercing red in a bearded face that seemed to be cutting right through her body to her soul. Sun staggered back, reaching for her mother, but she was not there. She was no longer in a kitchen but outside, in a grove surrounded by little glowing sprites. Moonlight rippled across a pond and grass grew between her bare toes, but instead of feeling calm, her entire being was taken over with terror. The creature stepped towards her.

      xxx

      She woke, tearing herself away from the grove that was both fantasy and memory, feeling an intense flood of sadness and joy that brought tears to her eyes. She curled in on herself, clutching hold of the dream even as it slipped through her fingers like heavy silk. The boy? Who had been the boy? Had he even been real? Her muddled mind had imagined him as Gerudo like her, and the notion was both perverse and fascinating, but the image of them chasing each other through the streets was so viscerally real that she was certain it was true – even the part of about his being Gerudo. As she thought about it, however, watching the sun come up, she realised that the boy might have painted himself brown, and dyed his hair red to make himself look Gerudo, to make the disguise more complete. By the time that Link and Zelda were mounting their horses, she had decided that this was probably the whole truth of the matter, and she played the scene over and over again in her mind.

      So preoccupied was she that she didn’t hear Zelda announce that they would be reaching the castle in time for supper.
      The world is quiet here.

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    • Chapter 3 - Translation

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      They had left the snow behind days ago and with cobbled stone beneath her feet and blue skies overhead, Sun was uplifted. She was now gazing around in curiosity, not anxiety. They were coming upon more and more evidence of civilisation. There had been a stable that had doubled as an inn and she slept in a bed for the first time since she had awoken. Something about being around other people, busy doing their work, and hearing the chatter of travelling merchants and the soft notes of bards’ instruments, the crackling of fire and sizzling food – it all made the dreams and the mystery seem far away. She didn’t feel like she was home, exactly, but she must have been a traveller in her past because it all seemed so very comforting.

      Now, she walked behind the horses, the green expanse of Hyrule Field a relief after the rocky passes and ravines of the Hebra mountains. The sun wasn’t as warm as she would have liked it, but it’s light was welcome, and it shone colour into the world. At last it was wasn’t all monochrome white and greys, but dazzling emerald’s, rick earthy browns, and the sky – oh how good it felt to be under and open sky and not oppressed by heavy clouds! She found herself smiling, listening to Princess Zelda twitter away on her sweet little birds voice.

      “But what about the night guards?” Sun asked, surprising them all. She had sped up to walk between the two horses, and even though both Link and Zelda were mounted, she barely had to crane her neck to look into their faces. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t spoken to them before on their journey – there had been murmured ‘thank you’s at night when they shared food, and quick, sharp signals to Link when they hunted together, but it was the first time that she had taken interest in their conversation, or rather, Zelda’s monologue.

      The latter had been telling a story about how Link, as a boy, had hatched a daring plan to steal a barrel of apple wine from the Master Chef of Hyrule Castle. As always, Link was listening, smiling, nodding along, but pulling blanks when Zelda said things like, “do you remember?”, “wasn’t that funny?” In Zelda’s recollection, Link had carried the cask of wine all the way into town, sometimes carrying it on his shoulders, sometimes rolling it down the path, in the middle of the night without anyone stopping him. Sun, for her part, wondered where the night guards had been, for they must have seen the child walking through the castle gates and down the hill into town. Zelda recovered from her awkward pause quickly enough and answered;
      “I think they liked him. You see, Link’s father was the captain of the castle guard and they were fond of both of them. It was only one barrel, and I think they thought it was funny to see the little boy chasing after it down the hill,” she smiled a little herself, “but the chef wasn’t too pleased, you can imagine.”

      “And what happened next?”

      “Well,” Zelda’s face took on an expression of furtive glee. “The Master Chef replaced his next batch of apple wine with a distilled version that was so strong that one glass would floor a Gorok worker, and sweetened so that you wouldn’t know the difference. He left out such a barrel for Link to steal and – you do remember!”

      Link’s face had grown red, and he bowed his head, trying to hide his embarrassment behind his bangs. Zelda laughed, and there was more than just joy in it, but something akin to relief. She reached out across the gap between their mounts to touch his shoulder, her eyes shining, but Link, mortified, nudged his horse forward into a trot that left the two women behind. Sun watched Zelda, but if the latter was dismayed by this, she was either too pleased, or too composed to let it show.

      After a moment watching him ride ahead, Zelda said, “You know, I think there’s a little bit of fairy in him. His mother used to say that the fairies had lured him into the forest to play when he was a baby and he spent more time in there than at home. She used to joke that they put more work into raising him than she did…”

      “Where are his parents now?” Sun asked when Zelda trailed off. “Is his father still Captain of the Guard.”

      “They’re dead.”

      The sun was no longer so warm.

      “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t –”

      “You didn’t know?” Zelda looked down at Sun, frowning. Then her expression softened. “It’s alright. It’s easy to forget how much time has actually passed for us.”

      Sun didn’t quite understand what she meant, but felt it would be too rude to ask.
      Field and pasture gave way and they were now walking down the high street of a town, lined with sturdy stone houses. She noticed the first half of the ground floors and foundations of the cottages and shops were sooty black and looked much older than the upper floors, which were clean and freshly build. The whole town had a patchwork quality and more than once she saw Hylian thatcher’s and masons resting in groups or going about unfinished buildings. These gaps in the construction were masked by bright festival banners and anbaric lights that were coming to life as the evening came on. Apart from the Hylians, there were a few visitors who appeared to be here to celebrate the festival. Colourful Rito, their feathers vibrant in the sun, and massive Goron, as tall as her and grumbling about the cold. Even a watchful Zora, overseeing a group of children splashing in a stone fountain. Some people stopped when they saw the princess’s white stallion stride through and there was a flurry of waves from the young and low bows from the old. Zelda smiled at her citizens, returning their waves and Sun was reminded of how young the princess was, so full of light and energy. She understood now how Link could follow her, and be loyal to her.

      They crossed a grand paved bridge lined with flags and she saw for the first time men in uniform, soldiers standing sentry like gleaming statues. They saluted as the two of them, Zelda on horseback and Sun on foot, walked up to the grand castle gates and were greeted by a sergeant.

      “Princess Zelda, welcome home.” He stepped forward and bowed. “Captain Link arrived just ahead of you, and your guests are resting in their chambers. Shall you be meeting them tonight, or would you rather wait until the morning.”

      “Riju said that it was urgent. I’ll see them tonight. Send messengers to let them know that I will be happy to meet with them in the great hall in an hour. Have the tables set for dinner – I prefer to discuss trade over food.”

      The sergeant looked awkward. “Princess, there was a man with her. A stranger…”

      “What do you mean?”

      Sun was standing alongside Zelda’s horse and she watched the sergeant with interest. He looked shaken and to her surprise was glancing at her periodically. “Many pardons… I don’t know how much I should say…”

      Zelda followed his gaze to Sun and back again. The latter shifted, feeling once again like she was intruding.

      “Sun?” Zelda asked. “Where do you intend to go from here?”

      Where indeed? They had been travelling for so long, and while the desert land to the south continued to tug at her insides, she needed rest. “I’d like to stay and take part in the festival.”

      “Then you will be my guest. Sergeant, have someone show her to lodging within the castle, and make sure she is well taken care of. And have the stable master board my horse.”

      He saluted again, and did as he was told.

      Sun was surprised at Zelda’s offer of hospitality. They had travelled together, it was true, but they had barely exchanged more than a conversation. Link and Zelda might be the closest thing she had to friends while she was still reeling with barely an identity and only the clothes on her back, but she didn’t expect the princess to treat her the same way. Regardless, she wasn’t going to protest, and allowed herself to be led away by a servant. On the way she passed Link, who was making his way back from the stables. She smiled at him and he returned it. While this took the edge of it, it didn’t stop her feeling alone as she entered the castle via a side door and up a spiral staircase. He and the princess really were the only two anchor points she had in this unfamiliar yet familiar world and losing sight of them caused her to lose some of the confidence she had gained while with them. But she could stay near then forever, and she wasn’t going to get very far if she couldn’t function on her own.

      xxx

      The great hall was well decorated both to welcome back the princess and in preparation for Calamity’s End. Banners for the four champions were hung at intervals from the vaulted ceiling, each with their nations colours and symbols. Behind Zelda’s throne, there was a massive tapestry depicting the four divine beasts, each in their own corner standing against an army of ancient guardians, with herself and the champion Link in the centre, facing off against Calamity Gannon. On either side of this, the sky-blue flags of Hyrule were hung, each emblazoned with a silver eagle below the triforce. The repairs that the castle had gone through had been extensive but the craftsmanship had been masterful, and it was all but returned to its former beauty with marble floors and great stone pillars. Four long tables had been arranged down the length of the hall, with a smaller one at the head of the hall. This was where she would meet her guests, and it was already spread with a modest, but delicately cooked supper, enough for herself, the Princess Riju, Link and a mysterious fourth person.

      She had arrived and found that Link was already there, sitting on top of one of the long tables, his feet resting on the bench and gazing up at the ultramarine banner of the Zora people, three crescent moons joined in the centre above a white trident. When he heard her enter, he offered her a weak smile, but there was pain in his eyes. She crossed the hall and took a seat next to him, folding her skirts about her in a dignified fashion.

      When the silence had been allowed to settle, she said, “I’m sorry. I know the festival is difficult for you.” She put her hand on his, and this time he let her touch him. “She was beautiful. You must miss her very much.”

      He didn’t respond, and she didn’t say anything more. In some ways, he was a different man to the one that had almost lost his life one hundred years ago, but in others he was exactly the same. She knew that there was companionship in his silence, not dismissal or disinterest.

      Finally, he lifted his hand from under hers and touched her shoulder, making a series of gestures.

      What do you think of Sun?

      “Our Gerudo companion…? She was very helpful and polite. Hylia only knows what she was doing up there in the mountains. I don’t imagine that the cold suited her very well at all.”

      She seemed… He paused, scanning about for the correct term, then used his little finger and thumb to make a V with his hand, resting his chin on the space between them - misplaced.

      “Do you mean ‘lost’?”

      He shook his head. No.

      Before Zelda could ask him more, however, the door to the great hall opened, and the guests were shown inside. She got to her feet, stepping forward to meet them and saying, “Welcome, Princess Riju, and to your guests. Why don’t you please take a seat with me and we… we…” She saw the man standing beside the girl and faltered, feeling abruptly as if she had been plunged into a dream.

      xxx

      Sun was bored. She sat in the chamber they had assigned to her when she arrived, looking about her and wondering for what felt like the hundredth time what she was going to do next. She had it in her head that she could walk back down into town to see the decorations being put up and maybe browse the shops, though she didn’t have anything in the way of money. So she retraced her steps back into the castle courtyard and passed the guards, trying to ignore how their watchful eyes burned into the back of her head.

      During the trip, as they had descended into grasslands and the weather had improved, Sun had been pleased to find that her snow gear peeled away in layers, and she could shed much of it so that she didn’t overheat. She had left a good portion of it back in castle chamber, including the wolf’s head headdress, and let her long hair be teased and tugged by the breeze. In this way, she explored the town. Much of it was built for Hylian proportions and she found herself tripping on stairways and ducking under archways. She thought to go back and watch the Zora children play, but they must have moved on. Instead, she sat by the empty fountain and admired how the sun sparked off the gushing water, letting her mind drift.

      For a moment she thought she had dozed off and was dreaming, and maybe she had, for she was started to hear voices speaking her own language. But she was still at the fountain in the middle of a square in Hyrule Town. Not wanting to look like she was listening in, but burning with curiosity, she glanced around for the source of the conversation.

      Two women with olive skin and blood red hair sat some distance away at a table outside an inn, drinking steaming liquid from wooden cups. They might have been mother and daughter. One of them, the older one, had said something witty and they were laughing. The effect that it had on Sun was profound. If she closed her eyes, she could see the marketplace at dusk, actually smell the fermenting fruit, and she was overcome with a powerful nostalgia that made her heart ache. Without realising what she was doing, she had stood up and had started to meander over to them. Imagining the awkward conversation she would have to have if they caught her eavesdropping, she attempted to act as natural as she could, taking a seat at a table that hadn’t been cleared away, and taking one of the empty goblets, dragging it under her nose and pretending to nurse it. The women, for their part, hadn’t noticed her, and continued speaking.

      They were talking fast, but that didn’t matter. It was as if a tap had been turned on inside her. If it had been easy to speak Hylian, this was like breathing. It wasn’t just effortless, but lifegiving.

      “He couldn’t enter the town of course, so he hung about, waiting for me outside the gate. Day and night, melting and freezing, he waited for me like an idiot. I had no idea! So when I left to head to the oasis, he was standing there, waiting. Mama, I didn’t even know his name but he had gotten it into his head that he was madly in lovely with me.”

      “Mad, certainly,” said the old woman. “Insane.” They both laughed, a deep, throaty laugh that comes after a few healthy servings of mulled wine. She would smell it in the air, sweet and citrusy.

      “And he had the gall to be upset with me, saying it was my fault that he had waited there all that time.”

      “That’s why you took so long!”

      “Exactly. He followed me all the way to the oasis and back, telling me about how he was the heir to his grandfather’s fortune, and how if I married him, I would want for nothing – blah blah blah. I’ve never met anyone more annoying.”

      “You should have married him,” her mother shot back at her. “It would get your lazy ass out of my house!”

      “Mama!” More laughter.

      Sun was smiling, captivated by the inane chatter. They could have been talking endlessly about the weather and she still would held onto the curls of the vowels, the soft hiss of consonants, the glottal stops and the rich accents that made her think of spicy food and sitar music. There was one word in particular that caught her attention.

      Yirath.Heir.

      It interested her because on their journey, she had overheard princess Zelda speaking about the journal of the Gerudo sage, speaking about the artefact as an ‘inheritance’ of the Gerudo people, belonging to everyone. Zelda did not have a native competency with the Gerudo language and Sun, who had only just days before struggled to remember her own name, had not had the confidence to correct her. Now, she realised that the translation was wrong, and not just in a small inconsequential way. Zelda thought she had been looking of an object, or a treasure. She was looking for the Yirath’za, the heirloom, of the Gerudo.

      Sun, wanting to be useful and in some way to repay the princess for her kindness, made a note to inform Zelda, that they should have been looking for the Yirath.

      The heir of the Gerudo.
      The world is quiet here.

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    • Chapter 4 – Negotiation

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      There was no mistaking what this man was. Standing eight and half feet tall with rich olive skin and scarlet hair, a flat brow and razor straight nose, he towered over Princess Riju and dominated the space he was in. He had amber eyes, not the colour of fire, which is warm and inviting, but cold and sharp like crystal, and they regarded Zelda with a searching curiosity that made her feel small and exposed. He was dressed in night-blue robes, trimmed elegantly in gold fabric in the swirling patterns typical of a Gerudo chieftain and seeing him wear it made her both frightened and angry in a way that she couldn’t justify. He carried an impressive longsword, easily two thirds again the size of Link’s mastersword and twice as thick, in a heavy black scabbard. It was customary for ambassadors to remain armed when in the court, as a sign that the company was wise and temperate enough to be trusted while carrying their weapons, but Zelda had the sudden urge to demand an exception. She was not able to explain exactly what had caused the intense aversion she was experiencing, or how his presence made her feel like the ground had disappeared below her but it was so sudden, and so powerful that for a moment she lost her composure.

      “What… What is this?”

      Riju and the Gerudo man shared a glance, almost imperceptible. Zelda felt Link stiffen beside her and heard the rustle of cloth and leather as he took his sword from across his back and placed it in front of him, balancing the tip on the floor, both hands resting on the pummel and feet slightly apart – a seemingly formal posture, but she knew his eyes were hard, and fixed on the stranger. Riju stepped forward, hands open.

      Sav’saaba, Princess.”

      This simple and friendly gesture tempered the tension, and Zelda was able to fall back into her role as diplomat and leader, as mask-like calm descending over her face. “What a… singular honour it is to have you both here. It is always a pleasure to host the princess of the Gerudo, but if I had known that you would bring here the subject of prophesy…” She trailed off, trying to smile though the awful dream-like quality of the scene.

      “Allow me to introduce my friend, Ganondorf. He made himself known to me only months ago, but we have spent a lot of time together. I came here to give you the opportunity to formally meet and to discuss his emerging place in the future of Gerudo leadership.”

      My friend? His place in Gerudo Leadership? Everything was going too fast. The room was shifting. She could not remember a time when she had been more wrong footed. All the training she had received, every lesson she had been taught in etiquette and foreign policy had done nothing to prepare her for this. While she could not explain the toxic mixture of outrage and suspicion she felt, she could understand the shock, and so she used the latter to give reason to the former. How dare they spring this on her? A week before Calamity’s End? And what had Riju said, that she had been spending time with Ganondorf for months? It wasn’t like her to keep secrets. The two of them were close, in constant communication. It was not a secret that the young and inexperienced Gerudo princess wrote to Zelda, asking for guidance and advice, and all this time there had been this vital information kept from her. For a fleeting moment, she considered that he was an imposter, that this was some elaborate trick and disguise, but then he spoke, and that desperate hope was dashed.

      “Princess, please accept my humblest apologies that I did not reveal myself sooner. So much preparation had to be done before we could meet. Furthermore, we did not want to disrupt the restoration of Hyrule given your only recent return to us.” His voice was deep, smooth and accent-less.

      Did not want to disrupt…? She would have laughed if she didn’t have to be so outwardly calm. Wasn’t the entire premise of his existence to bring disruption, as the prophets said? However, she was moved somewhat by his humility, and it was her duty to handle her subject with grace, regardless of their creed, or indeed, their gender. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Not at all. It is I who has been rude for not greeting you properly. Only the uniqueness of the occasion has disarmed me.”

      She continued, addressing Princess Riju. “Dearest friend, you and your guest must sit with me.”

      While weapons were allowed in the court, an invitation to the dinner table meant shedding weapons and armour. Riju was unarmed, but Ganondorf obliged, unbuckling his sword from his hip and leaning it against one of the empty tables, happy to leave it under the watchful eyes of the guards who stood at the entrance, more for the appearance of propriety than anything else. Link, on the other hand, hesitated, watching Ganondorf like a hawk. For his part, Ganondorf ignored him, taking his seat at the table, next to his leader. If it had been other company, Link might have joined them at the table – a place had been set for him - but Zelda shot him a look. He was to stand guard, and not relinquish his weapon.

      Once the three of them were seated, food served and wine poured, Zelda spoke, “I am very eager for you to catch me up on what’s been going on. Please, tell me everything.”

      To her surprise, and disproportionate annoyance, it was not Riju who answered, but Ganondorf.

      “When I was born, my mother parted from the tribe to protect me. You understand the responsibility placed on the shoulders of any Gerudo woman who bears a male child. There would be some who would see my existence as a threat, and so I was taken north, and hidden in the Hebra mountains.”

      Zelda’s jaw clenched. Of course!

      “Even so, I grew up on an education in the ways of my people, and my mother did everything that she could to prepare me for the day that I might take on the position of chief of the tribe. When you defeated Calamity Ganon, I saw this as a sign. It was time for me to come out of hiding and take my place in the restoration of our nation.”

      “But that was a year ago,” Zelda said, still speaking only to Riju. “You said you met him months ago.”

      “I was afraid. I delayed,” Ganondorf hesitated. “It’s an… intimidating prospect, stepping up to your destiny.”

      Link was looking at Ganondorf, his expression unreadable. For a moment, Zelda saw the parallels between their stories and it gave her pause. But this was quashed by a defensive assertion. She and Link were each eighteen years old, and Ganondorf looked like he was a decade their senior. Riju, the current Chief of the Gerudo, had been leading the clan for more than a year, and she was still a child. How could this man, well into adulthood, complain about the weight of responsibility? Her resolve hardened.

      “Your destiny?” she echoed, finally speaking directly to him. “Is it your destiny?”

      He said nothing.

      She gave him an open-handed gesture, an invitation. “And how are you related to Princess Riju?”

      “He’s not related to me,” she said.

      “Then, forgive me, what is his claim to your position?”

      There was silence. If Ganondorf was offended by these questions, he showed nothing of it on his face, but Riju was frowning, incredulous. “Zelda, don’t pretend you do not know the prophesy.”
      “I know the prophesy. But I know you too, my friend.” She reached across the table and placed her hand on Riju’s own, smiling. Riju’s frown melted. Despite the contrast between the two, an observer might have thought they were sisters. “I know that you’re intelligent, that you rule the Gerudo with a critical mind and observant eye. In the past year, I’ve seen you bring further prosperity to the desert, and even before then, your people were thriving under your judgement, and the judgement of your mother before you. I don’t see why that has to end…” There was more that was left unsaid, but it was clear what was being implied.

      … Because a man showed up and asked for it.

      “It doesn’t,” Riju replied. “I’m not stepping down. I believe that the responsibility of governance doesn’t need to rest only on one pair of shoulders. Ganondorf and I have discussed a shared ruler-ship, where we split duties between us. He has shared with me some interesting ideas. He talks about councils, of departmentalising government, establishing heads of trade, of war, of foreign relations, of justice, and more. In the last one hundred years, due to the Calamity, our population was small, the people of Hyrule scattered. There was only the need for one leader per clan. But now that’s not the case. He’s made me understand that we must prepare for an even more prosperous future. Cities will replace towns, and our nations will be actual thriving countries, not just vast empty plains populated with ruins. It will happen sooner than we think, and it falls to us to pave the way, to build the foundations that will support the policies our children will decide on after us.”

      Zelda listened to all this with growing alarm, a complex swirl of emotions fighting for dominance. She was impressed by the scope of what Riju was saying and caught up in the ambition of the future she was painting. Hyrule had once been exactly as she had described before the Calamity, and it made sense that they would reach that level again. Already it had happened. Zelda had used her authority to gather the descendants of her court, and introduced a system of taxation that was paying for the recovery of Hyrule and the Hylians in particular were seeing the benefits of a stable infrastructure. Merchants need not fear the attack of monsters or bandits on patrolled roads, and countrymen who had been only surviving were given occupations that supported themselves, their families, and provided vital services for their fellows. New towns were being built with new roads to connect them. It was becoming once more like the Hyrule she remembered.

      On the other hand, the influence that Ganondorf seemed to have over Riju made her anxious. These ideas were seductive, and she worried that the young princess might be taken in by promises of high ideals that in reality were ways in which he could claim more and more power for himself until, far too late, Riju would realise that he had taken her kingdom right out of her hands. She considered her next words.

      “Forgive me, I mean no offense, but Ganondorf, you are an unknown entity. I am not saying that your ideas are not good, only that it would perhaps be more suitable for you to spend time in the Gerudo court, to integrate back into your society after such a long absence, and build a relationship with your people before having such a large say in their future. You have, after all, only been in known in a small way for a few months.” She spoke directly to Riju again; “it is dangerous, after all, to let outsiders influence you so directly.”

      “Zelda, I’m disappointed in you.”

      Riju’s face had fallen and she had withdrawn her hand from under Zelda’s. Zelda looked taken aback.

      “What do you mean? I only meant –”

      “No, I must speak. You have shown me great disrespect. Firstly, your scepticism of my culture and my history is not appreciated. To you, it might be ill advised to act on prophesy, but this is more than a few words written down millennia ago by a few individuals. This is a part of our identity, and I thought you knew better than to dismiss it.

      “Secondly, your lack of faith in myself is… it’s hurtful.” Her face softened and the look she gave Zelda pierced the latter in a place that Riju’s words could not reach. “I trust you. I turned you to when you returned, for help. It is not because Ganondorf is a man that I listen to him, but because he is offering new solutions to new problems. With or without him, the world is going to change, and go through much disturbance, and he is the first person who has spoken to me about preparing for that upheaval. I am asking you to trust the judgement that you spoke so highly of just moments before, just like I have trusted yours.”

      Zelda opened her mouth to speak, but Riju was not finished. Her voice hardened, and her eyes became fierce and bright. “Thirdly, your hypocrisy is unbecoming.”

      She froze, her mouth slightly, and Link, who had not been facing the table, turned his head sharply to look.

      “If I should be wary of outside influence, then perhaps I should be wary of yours. I believe that we should all work together and only through support and co-operation will we see the four corners of Hyrule restored to their former glory. Your warning only reveals your jealousy. I think you know full well that you have been able to influence the lives of the Gerudo abstractly through me, and you’re threatened by the possible loss of influence that Ganondorf represents. How can you warn me off the assistance of another when you are the foreigner and he is of my people?”

      Ganondorf was looking at Riju as if he were seeing her for the first time. It was apparent that he had not expected her to come to his defence so spectacularly, or that she put such faith in him.
      Whatever words Zelda had prepared dissolved on her tongue. There was a stony silence that sank into her very bones, and it felt as if she had been struck a physical blow. The accusations were scandalous, but more than anything, there was a creeping shame spreading through her. As terrible as it was to admit it, there was some truth in what Riju had said. Now that the inner monsters inside her, all vying for attention and control, had been named one by one, she could no longer lie to herself. Her fear wasn’t because this man was a threat, it was because he was a perceived obstacle to her friend, and to her seat of power. Her anger wasn’t because he had insulted her, but because he had surprised her, caught her off guard and vulnerable. She held these thoughts in her hands for a few brief moments.

      And then they poured away. Just because she had been clumsy with her words did not mean that she was wrong. He was an obstacle to her friend, he was a threat to her seat of power, and if she didn’t keep a close eye on him, he might once again catch her unawares and she might lose more than her dignity. Outwardly, her face fell, and the tension left her shoulders. Head bowed, eyes burning, she spoke softly.

      “Riju… I… I’m so sorry. What can I say to repair the damage I have done?”

      “Zelda… I want to know that you have the same faith in me as I do in you.” Riju once again reached out, offering her hand for Zelda. Gratefully, she took it.

      “I do. You know I do. It’s just… this is all so sudden.”

      “I know.” Riju allowed herself a small, sheepish smile. “I can hardly believe it all myself.”

      The two women shared a moment of silent reconciliation, the conflict abated if not resolved.

      After a few moments, Ganondorf coughed.

      “You know, Riju, she’s not wrong.”

      “What?”

      “Well,” he said, “While I have been living at the court, I have only really gotten to know yourself and your close circle. If I am to lead, it would be invaluable for me to spend more time among our people. There was only a day between you revealing me to the court and our journey to Hyrule Castle to meet Princess Zelda – hardly enough time to integrate. I should know them, their concerns, their hopes and fears. It makes sense, don’t you think?

      “Yes,” Riju allowed. “That is a fair criticism. Perhaps we are making decisions too rashly. It’s just so easy to get caught up in the excitement…”

      “Indeed,” he said, giving her a warm smile.

      There was another silence, this one more companionable. Zelda still felt uneasy, but the edge had been taken off the worst of the anxiety.

      They ate, letting the conversation settle before starting again. Eventually, Zelda said, “Actually, Riju, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about reinforcing the trade network between our two nations. Hyrule town is growing and there is a demand for exotic fruits and luxury goods, not just the essentials. I’ve been eager to renegotiate our partnership to include more of your people’s fine craftsmanship in exchange for livestock.”

      As a gesture of friendship, she turned to Ganondorf said, “I’d like to hear your contributions. Trade is the lifeblood of the Gerudo, and I’m sure you must be eager to immerse yourself.”

      “Yes,” he said, his smile broadening. “We have much to discuss.”

      Zelda, glancing at Link, saw that she was not the only one who was disconcerted, rather than reassured, by that smile
      The world is quiet here.

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    • Chapter 5 - Reunion

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      It was two days since Sun had arrived at Hyrule Castle. She was staying in relative comfort, in a chamber of her own, with food sent to her room, or down in a small dining hall by the kitchen, where she was joined sometimes by Hylian servants. It was obvious that Princess Zelda had given orders that she be catered for, but it seemed that those orders might have been vague, because the staff didn’t really know how to treat her. Nevertheless, they made her feel welcome. When she wasn’t in the castle, she took the time to explore the grounds, and when that was exhausted, the land surrounding it. She walked around the moat, and wondered through the town, though without a destination or money to buy anything, she didn’t stay in one place very long. More than once, she thought about trying to find more of her own kind, but each time decided against it. It was presumptuous to assume that they would have anything in common.

      In some ways, she was glad for the solitude. It gave her time to think. Memories, thin like water, were coming back to her, though she could never be sure if they were just dreams or fantasies that she wanted to be memories. They were certainly comforting thoughts. The light of the stove as her mother cooked, the air burning with spices, the feeling of hot sand under bare feet, cooling rapidly as the world went from yellow to moonlit blue. She could remember the voices of friends, but not their names. Snatches of melody and the plucked strings of songs that filled the evenings after shops were closed and women returned to their homes and children were called home, but not the words. One moment she thought she could bring forth the image of a complete scene, an event from beginning to end, only to have it slip through her fingers like sand. She tried not let it frustrate her, but after two days of walking and thinking, she was starting to feel a little stir crazy, and desperate for distraction.

      On the morning of the third day, she gathered the courage to speak to one of the servants.

      “Where is Captain Link and Princess Zelda?”

      “They are seeing guests and preparing for the festival, ma’am.”

      “I would like to see them, if they are not too preoccupied of course.”

      The servant, a young man with a round face, gave her a short bow and said, “I’ll deliver a message to them. Do you want me to say anything specific?”

      “No, thank you.”

      “Right away, ma’am.”

      He disappeared. She felt embarrassed, wondering if she was overstepping herself. Her messenger didn’t indicate that there was anything unusual or untoward in her request, so she waited. Breakfast was being served in the little dining hall.

      Far sooner than she had expected, the messenger returned with an envelope. Mopping up egg yolk with a chunk of bread, Sun thanked him, and broke the wax seal. It was from Link.

      Sun –

      Forgive the Princess and I for not coming to see you sooner. Our guests have taken up far more of our time than we expected. There is a new member of the Gerudo court that will become more and more significant in the future. I must ask you to indulge me as while the matter is not exactly a secret, the involved parties intend to reveal themselves at staggered events, so as not to cause too much of a disruption. You will know more when you attend the festival.

      Speaking of which, I hope that you are still planning on attending. That is the second thing taking up our time and energy. Hyrule Town will be hosting it, and it is the first anniversary of Calamity’s End.

      I must confess, I have mixed feelings about the event, but I know that Princess Zelda and I would be pleased to see you there, and if you would do me the honour, I would like you to attend as my guest. As much as I would like to accompany you into town, I must be at the head of the parade. We will march to the square and Zelda will speak. I will find you then. I will be taking part in many of the competition events, so I will be sure that you have priority seating. Members of each clan will represent their people in these competitions, and I hope that it will be the highlight of the festival.
      Please find enclosed documents that will allow you to purchase suitable attire and anything else that you might need. If you wish to take part in the open competitions, equipment will be provided.
      I very much look forward to seeing you again.

      Link.

      The first thing that struck her was how formal the writing was. She had been feeling some anxiety over a possible divide between them now that they had returned to civilisation. On the road, where they had worked together, ate around the same campfire and slept feet apart, she had become comfortable around the two of them. Now that the princess had returned to her domain, Sun worried that a gap might have developed. She was not nobility, certainly not royalty, not a soldier, possibly not even a citizen. She had considered that this might be the reason why they had not come to see her, and that Zelda had simply assigned her a room at the castle as a sign of good will, and had expected Sun to head south before too long.

      But reading over the letter again, there was warmth in it. He wanted to go to the festival with her, wanted her to cheer him on during the competition. There was a hint of regret surrounding the obligatory nature of his role in the parade. Furthermore, she could sense that whatever was keeping the two of them occupied must be genuinely important, and that they really weren’t brushing her off.

      “Do you want to reply?”

      She looked up from the letter. The servant had been standing by her, waiting for her to finish. Flushing, she nodded, and he went to fetch ink and parchment. She composed her response, simply; I would love to attend. I will wait for you by the fountain. Thank you for your generosity. Sun.
      It was funny, she thought. Despite his silence, there was a rich internal life. On the road she had found that, like her, he would spend a lot of time thinking. When he wasn’t doing that, he was listening to Zelda, taking in everything that she said. She had never seen him with a vacant expression. It made sense to her that when putting quill to parchment, he would write copiously. The letter was like a window to that constant stream of thought.

      She examined the document that came with the letter.

      By the decree of the Royal House of Hyrule, this letter entitles the bearer to purchase goods without the use of currency at the point of sale. Any merchant may present this letter, alongside proof of sale, to the Lord of the Treasury to collect compensation for goods and services rendered up to five thousand rupees.

      There were three copies.

      xxx

      It was the day of the festival and Hyrule Town was transformed. There were flags everywhere and in the preceding week, visitors from the four corners of Hyrule had arrived in their hundreds, lining the streets in preparation for the parade. Rooftops had been converted into viewing platforms and children hung out of windows. Splendid, jewel-coloured Rito took positions on the highest perches, including the castle battlements – which was not strictly allowed but was tolerated for the special occasion. Shopkeepers cried and squawked, selling binoculars, little banners, and watercolour renders of the five champions, among other things.
      Sun had risen early to find a good spot on the fountain to watch the parade. It was right in the middle of the Central Square and a stage had been erected on the road leading up to the castle. Careful not to get her good clothes wet, she climbed the massive stone horse, large enough for her to haul herself up on his smooth head, held conveniently horizontal for her to sit on. There had been a moment when she thought that a patrolman was going to tell her off, but after figuring out what she was trying to do, he chuckled and moved on.

      She couldn’t help smiling as the rest of the crowd gathered, feeling like a peacock in a flowing emerald dress, made in traditional Gerudo style with a few of her own alterations. She had decided against a veil, instead plaiting her thick mane of hair until it ran down to the small of her back and requesting a skirt instead of loose-fitting trousers. The result was a two-piece dress with an exposed midriff, hemmed with silver thread in swirling patterns, and a skirt that danced around her ankles, transparent past her knees, revealing long calves and the straps of well-crafted, high heeled sandals. At first, she had felt self-conscious in such rich garments, but she soon saw that everyone was coming out in their very best clothes, and relatively, she was not overdressed. Also, the silk and satin were a relief after the heavy travelling clothes she had been wearing.

      She heard the hiss of snare drums on the breeze. The parade was about to begin.
      Princess Zelda was at the head, in a white dress and cloak, her golden hair catching the light of the sun, curled into ringlets for the occasion and topped with a delicate silver tiara. Link followed behind, on his goliath of a horse, resplendent in ceremonial armour, complete with Hylian shield and mastersword, strands of flyaway hair escaping from beneath his helm. He spotted Sun and gave her a tiny nod, serious face breaking out into a small smile. Following them were the band, marching Hylian men and woman with drums and brass instruments. After them, the Zora tribe, sleek and gleaming, their prince openly beaming and waving to the crowd. Several women were reaching out to him from rooftops as if they could touch him. Next, the Goron people, dressed in jewelled iron armour that made them look even larger than they were. They sang in time with their stomping feet, and that combined with their deep throaty voices made the ground around them vibrate. Once they had passed, the Rito came, their soft lilting melodies the perfect counter point to the Gorons, with a small choir of pastel coloured chicks carried on the shoulders of their parents, and headed by a teal accordionist, feathers puffed up and proud.

      Sun had been clapping and cheering with the rest of the crowd, and confetti showered down from the rooftops. Then something strange happened. A ripple travelled along the crowd, spreading an astounded silence like a contagion. Hands faltered and whoops died in throats.
      The Gerudo tribe were the rear guard of the parade, and lead by the princess, a beautiful young lady whose hair was bound up in gold. No one’s attention was on her, however, because walking beside her was a man in black armour, helmless and unmistakably Gerudo. The crowd began to whisper, and then talk excitedly. Some looked worried, but most were simply amazed. The silence did not last long, however. Once the initial shock had run its course, the cheering started up again - particularly in response to the veiled Gerudo dancers, who moved hypnotically and charmed the crowd, especially the men, who were leaning over walls and out of windows to get a better look.

      Sun, for her part, could not look away from the towering man in the black armour as he made his way forward, and followed Zelda onto the stage. The rest of the marchers split down the middle and encircled the fountain where a space had been prepared for them. On the platform, Zelda stood on the centre, and on either side of her were the respective leaders of the other four clans, as well as Link at her right-hand side, and the man in the black armour standing beside the Gerudo princess.

      The band finished up in a chorus of triumphant high notes, and Zelda addressed her people.
      “Citizens of Hyrule, my friends and subjects, we are gathered here today to celebrate the defeat of Calamity Ganon at the hands of our champions.” There was a mighty roar from the crowd and she smiled. “They will be competing in the Champions Games, representing the pride of their people. Yunobo of the Goron!” A young Goron punched the air and there was much stamping from the Goron tribe. “Teba of the Rito!” A dark eyed, white Rito bowed stiffly, cheered by his people. “Prince Sidon of the Zora!” there was much clattering of spears on shields from the Zora as the handsome Sidon waved. “Princess Riju of the Gerudo!” The princess raised her hand and there were cries of “Althana! Althana!” from the Gerudo - Hail! Hail!

      “And Link, Champion Knight of Hyrule!” Zelda took Link’s hand and thrust it into the hair. His face cheeks were red, but his eyes were piercing. Everybody cheered him, but the loudest shouts came from the Hylians, and there was a flurry of blue and white flags.
      Once the crowd settled, she continued. “My people. Many of you have gone your whole lives never knowing peace. It has been a year since the nightmare has ended and in that time, much work has been done. Homes have been rebuilt, towns repopulated. For the first time in generations, the darkness was beaten back. Treasure hunters and travellers turned their swords to the bokoblin menace, knowing that this time, each blow was permanent. For the first time, we knew that there was hope, we know that there was an end to the fighting. Now, a year later, mercenaries, hunters and rangers, you can put down your swords. Blacksmiths, you may cease the production of weapons, and use your forges to make hammers and sickles. Traders, lift your heads and walk the roads of Hyrule in safety and confidence. Soldiers may hang up their shields, for your place is the rice field, not the battlefield.

      “Today, we hold these games to remember the trials of the champions, to honour their fight and glory in the knowledge that our children will never have to shed their blood for freedom. It is because of them and their sacrifices that we can raise our swords, not in combat, but in sport and pleasure. It is today, on the first anniversary of Calamity’s End, that I declare true and everlasting peace in Hyrule!”

      The response was immediate and deafening. Even Sun was caught up in the swell of emotion.

      xxx

      The Champions games were being held throughout the day at various locations in Hyrule Field. Once the speech concluded, the crowd dispersed and the champions retired to prepare themselves. It wasn’t long before Link met Sun at the fountain. He had shed most of the decorative armour, but still made an impressive figure striding across the paving stones towards her. To her surprise, he took her hand, and despite their closeness in age, he seemed like a boy as he led here away from the fountain. At the gate to Hyrule Town, he turned around to face her, grinning broadly and gesturing to her clothes, then waved his hand over her face, eyes wide and bright. His meaning was clear enough.

      You look beautiful.

      His smile was infectious. “Alright, Champion of Hyrule. When were you going to tell me that you were so famous?”

      His expression turned bashful. Luckily for him, an announcer was calling from down the road that turned east around Hyrule Field.

      “The jousting will take place at the ranch in thirty minutes! Last chance to make and take bets!”
      Link raised his eyebrows at her.

      “Lead the way, Champion!”

      xxx

      A raised pavilion had been constructed for champions and their entourage at the ranch. Their air smelled of horses and baking grass. Already people of all kinds were gathering in a circle around a section of the ranch that had been flattened for the tournament. It was one of the open events, and several opponents had already clashed over the barrier, leaving deep ruts in the dirt where horses had skidded to sudden stops. There seemed to be a break in the games, and merchants were hauling their wares up and down the rows of spectators, hawking roasted meat and sticky honey treats. Link led her to the pavilion where Zelda sat at the head of a long table, shielded from the sun by a delicate white parasol, which she held in gloved hands. She was presiding over a light lunch with the rest of the champions, who were lounging about, enjoying the sunshine.

      Link was greeted by the Zora prince, who stood up and embraced him, laughing with delight.
      “Link! My friend, it has been too long!” As to be expected, he had a cheerful, enthusiastic voice that carried. Sun covered her smile with her hand. “Are you ready for the joust?”

      Link nodded.

      “I can’t wait to see it! You know, there’ll only be two champions competing in this contest. You and Riju’s substitute.” Link must have frowned, because Sidon continued, smiling wide and revealing rows of pointed teeth. “Well, my lad, can you imagine me on a horse? Or Yunobo? And you’re technically Princess Zelda’s substitute, aren’t you? I mean, I know you’re both champions in your own right, but you know that the princess isn’t one for sport.” He laughed, and Sun was starting to understand why women were so taken with him. Everything about him was charming and bright. He bent down to Link’s level so that he could point across the pavilion to the man in the black armour. “He’s over there. Looks like a bit of a brute, doesn’t he? But I know you’ll beat him. I’ve got a three hundred rupee wager that you’ll take him out in the first bout.”

      Sun looked past the two of them. The man in the black armour was sitting apart from the rest of them, and he looked agitated, tapping his nails on the lip of his goblet and looking in the direction of the stables. Prince Sidon and Link were still talking, but she could barely hear them. She felt again that sense of brushing her fingertips on the edge of a memory. Or was it a dream? Untethering herself from Link, she drifted over to where he sat, pretending to be looking for something, hoping to get a closer look. He made her think of the desert at night and she wanted to know why.

      “Sav’aaq, eisha.” Greetings, sister.

      Her heart leapt into her mouth. He wasn’t looking at her, but he must have sensed her presence. It wasn’t like there was anywhere to hide.

      “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you, Sir.”

      “No need to be formal. I don’t have an official title.” He glanced at her briefly, and then did a double take, his eyes flashing. She saw a shiver run through his entire body and he was looking at her with amazement. Where there had been tension, there was just open surprise.

      “Sun?”

      “I know you…” she whispered, feeling the ground tilt beneath her.

      “Yes,” he said. He put down his goblet, slowly, as if he thought that moving too quickly would cause her to vanish. “Sun, how long have you been awake?”

      And then she remembered.
      The world is quiet here.

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    • Chapter 6 – Reclamation

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      “You put me in the chamber…” she said, looking up into his face and feeling as if the world around them was falling away. “You were…” she put her hands to her forehead, her thumbs on her temples. “You were angry at me.”

      “I wasn’t angry.” His voice was soft. He had stepped closer, speaking so that no one else could hear them. “I was afraid.”

      “I… I did something.”

      It was as if she were standing in that cold, dead chamber again, the unnatural lights of the machinery casting a ghostly glow over the two of them. His hands were on her arms, and she had been trying not to cry. She felt it again, a pooling of wretchedness in her chest that made her heart hurt. Overwhelmed, she blinked rapidly, trying to bring back the sunlit pavilion. “I’m sorry. I… I don’t remember…”

      “Don’t think of that. How long have you been awake?”

      “I don’t know… a week, a little longer.”

      “Do you remember who I am?” He seemed like he was trying to suppress some kind of panic behind a cold exterior, but his eyes, darting over her face, and the way he shifted towards her as if he wanted to touch her, gave him away.

      “Ganondorf?” The name came to her like her own did, like something akin to muscle memory.

      “Yes. What else do you remember?”

      She was about to answer but then there was a shout from across the jousting field and he turned towards the direct of the sound. Sun was trembling. Now that she was close to him, she could smell iron and leather, and something else, something that made her think of shadows and fear, but also relief and exhilaration.

      His hand was on her arm in the present now, and he had closed what little gap there had been between them to whisper in her ear. “There is something I must do. Come and find me after the joust. I’ll take care of you, like I did before. And know -” His hand had slid down to hers and his fingertips brushed her knuckles “- that despite the shock, I am very glad to see you again.”

      She felt warm, her heart beating fast, and without knowing why, his words filled her with joy. She wanted him to be happy, and more, she wanted to be the one to make him so. He withdrew, and she saw him smiling, his amber eyes warm and melting. She didn’t want him to break the connection.

      There was a rapping on one of the wooden supports of the pavilion, and Ganondorf stepped away from her, leaving her feeling lost and confused again. Link was a few feet away, looking between the two, and frowning. He hadn’t reached for his sword, but his defensive posture and meaningful looks at Sun made it clear that he thought she was bring threatened. Sun, for her part, wanted to be away from both of them, and felt her cheeks burning. There were so many bewildering thoughts to peel apart and examine. She couldn’t do that surrounded by people.

      “Link… I-I’m fine. I just need some water.”

      Ganondorf was already striding away towards the stables. She wanted to follow him, but now wasn’t the time. The joust was about the begin.

      xxx

      He had been watching them for some time, partly because he felt guilty for ignoring Sun, but also because he felt the compulsive need to keep tabs on Ganondorf. If asked, he could never justify why. It was like some animal instinct that demanded two conditions be met. He must stay near the princess, and he must watch Ganondorf. When he saw him advance on Sun, he glanced at Zelda. She had been watching the pair of them as well and a look from her was all he needed. Sun looked upset and anxious, and she was frozen in place, clearly intimidated by the man standing so close over her. Link was not about to tolerate this stranger frightening his friend and guest.

      When he reached the couple, he knocked smartly on a wooden post, announcing his arrival. Startled, Ganondorf stepped back, spotted link and scowled, his lip curling. Sun appeared to sway on the spot.

      What did he say to you?

      He could only think it. Even if he said it with his hands, she would not understand the question. So he showed his support simply by being present, and making sure that Ganondorf knew eyes were on him.

      An announcer warned everyone that the final joust of the day was due to begin in five minutes.

      His opponent turned and left, but Link stayed as long as he could, making sure that Sun really was ok.

      Just another reason for him to keep a close eye on Ganondorf.

      But now he had to get ready for the joust. There could be no more delaying. If he was honest with himself, he would rather have done anything else. It wasn’t his opponents size that bothered him, or the spectators – he had, after all, fought in battles with adversaries three and four times the size of a Gerudo. But those had been in fights where the stakes were clear. He had to kill those monsters because they would not only kill him and most probably eat him, but go out to kill other people. And they had to kill him because he was bent on destroying the one force that was keeping them immortal.

      A squire brought him his horse, the dark animal that was bigger and stronger than any horse he had seen before or since. Link had named Hinox. Mounting, he checked over his armour as quickly as he could and took his lance from the squire. There was no time to hesitate, so he nudged the horse forward until they were lined up with the barrier.

      He was no stranger to anxiety, or fear, but this was a different kind of feeling. A deep sense of wrongness that could not be named. He couldn’t shake the impression that this man was out to hurt him, that taking part in this light-hearted competition was wholly inappropriate. You didn’t compete with your enemies – you killed them. He realised that he was holding his lance so tightly that his fist was beginning to ache. He looked around. The sun was too bright, the faces in the crowd too excited and happy. There were children here. Hinox shifted and stamped, sensing his tension. With a steady hand, he dropped the visor of his helmet.

      He had to raise it again, however, to see what all the commotion was about. There was laughter in the crowd and shouts of surprise and incredulity. He didn’t have to search for long to find what was so funny.

      Ganondorf trotted in on a horse that, in proportion to him, looked like a pony, and ridiculous. Even the least knowledgeable of amateurs would have understood that it was unsuitable for jousting. It was large and muscular, certainly, but placid and dull witted, probably spending the majority of its days pulling ploughs through fields. Furthermore, compared to the severe man in black armour atop it, the bay gelding was positively cute, with fluffy feathers above massive round hooves and a long fringe that covered its eyes. It was impossible that Ganondorf had chosen to ride this onto the jousting field. It must have been the only horse strong enough to carry him, his armour and his lance. Link could picture it lumbering up the track, while he coursed down it and slammed into Ganondorf two thirds of the way down the barrier, and had to laugh. He simply could not maintain his state of anxiety under these circumstances.

      The flag fell between them and, still chuckling, he lowered his visor a second time.

      A beat. Two. The flag lifted.

      He spurred Hinox forward and felt the surge of power beneath him like a tidal wave. As the rhythm of the hoofs gathered speed, he felt that familiar unstoppable momentum. This horse had seen battle, and against the greatest of opponents it had never wavered, never slowed or veered. Not even the earth splitting beneath him would startle Hinox. He could see Ganondorf getting closer and he braced himself for impact, tilting his lance to point squarely at his chest.

      But something was wrong. Ganondorf was not galloping towards him, but trotting at a moderate pace. For a split second, Link considered turning his horse away, worried that there was some trick, or mistake that he wasn’t aware of, but then it was too late. They were too close.

      Link saw, as if in slow motion, Ganondorf drop his lance and raise his hand, palm upward. He heard through the rush of wind that deep voice call out two words.

      Tilaq Ya’itzi!”

      Hinox skidded to a stop, the muscles in its neck straining as it fought to plant its feet. Link was thrown forwards, the violent deceleration enough to take him out of the saddle. The world tumbled, sky and ground merged together in a sickening blur, and then he was on his back in the dirt, winded. The horse had enough sense not to trample him, but he heard the thud of boots nearby as Ganondorf dismounted. Wheezing, he struggled into a sitting position, wresting to remove his helmet. He thought for a dizzying second that his opponent had come to check if he was alright, but the boots walked right past him, and a few seconds later, his saddle joined him in the dust.

      It was then that he realised that the crowd was silent. There was only the sound of the wind in the grass and birdsong. Using the barrier for support, he hauled himself to his feet, reaching for Hinox’s reins only to have them jerked from his fingertips. Ganondorf looked down on him from a considerable height, now mounted on Link’s horse. He had to squint as he craned his neck to see, but Ganondorf was nothing but a dark shape against the sun.

      “You seem to be under the impression that if it’s on your land, then it belongs to you. You are mistaken”

      Link’s arm began to tingle, and then ache. It had been crushed under him when he had fallen, and the pauldron was dented, digging painfully into his collar. Wincing, he could hear a shiver run through the crowd over the ringing in his ears. First it was hushed and urgent whispers, but as his opponent turned Hinox with a word and urged him into a trot away from Link, the whispers turned into exclamations of surprise and even booing. Ganondorf didn’t seem to care. The crowd parted for him as he rode out of the arena, making his way out of the ranch. There was some scattered clapping, but this died away as Link spat bitterly into the dirt, seething with savage wordless rage.

      xxx

      “Can he do that?” Prince Sidon asked in amazement as he saw Ganondorf trot away on Link’s steed. He no longer looked so silly.

      “No. No he can’t.” Zelda’s voice was dark and full of fury, as if she was synchronised with Link’s emotions. “I’ve never seen such under-handed cheating! I’ll have him arrested!”

      “Can… can you do that?” Yunobo stammered. They all had an excellent view of the arena and had all watched in silent horror as the spectacle played out. The other champions shifted about awkwardly, not knowing how to react to what they had just seen.

      A squire led a fresh horse up to Link, who was limping, but he appeared to reject it, turning and walking out of the jousting ground on his own power. Zelda watched this with a searing heart, both relieved that Link was able to keep some modicum of dignity and flushed with sympathetic shame. It wrapped around her chest like white hot iron bands. It was as if it was she who had been unseated. She wanted nothing more than to run to Link, to comfort him and vent her outrage, but she knew better. He would be unable to face anyone quite yet.

      “No, she can’t.”

      Zelda whirled. Princess Riju was regarding her with a guarded expression.

      The atmosphere inside the pavilion had become electric. Sidon and Yunobo were both looking anywhere but at the two women. Even Teba, who sat at the very end of the table away from everyone, and who was usually stoic, had turned a subtle shade of pink.

      “Riju, would you care to explain what your man was doing out there?” Zelda was aware that people were watching, and as Riju squared up to face her challenge, she was reminded of how young the Gerudo princess was, but in that moment, she didn’t care. “These games are about coming together in good faith to compete and form strong bonds between all the peoples of Hyrule, and the first thing your representative does is steal from my captain.”

      “He stole nothing. I won a horse from you.”

      Zelda struggled to keep her voice level. “I will see to it that there are consequences for that display of faithless foul play. Do not put it past me to –”

      “To what, your Grace? Clap him in irons? Am I to see my representative arrested and flogged? Is that really what you’re suggesting? Do you really want to set a precedent where creatively winning a jousting match is now a crime?”

      She was forced to bite her tongue. There was no answer to Riju’s implication.

      “If I may, Princess,” Sidon offered tentatively. “He didn’t technically cheat. Don’t get me wrong!” He said, raising his hands as Zelda rounded on him. “What he did was against the spirit of the competition. But he unseated Link, lance or not.”

      “Here’s what’s going to happen,” Riju continued. “I will pay for the horse. I will speak to Ganondorf and have him issue an apology to Link. Furthermore, he will be disqualified from participating in the rest of the Champions games. Does this sound agreeable to you?”

      It took Zelda a few seconds to gather herself. Forced to look at the issue dispassionately, it was far more than she had any right to demand, and yet nowhere near as satisfying as seeing Ganondorf arrested. Looking at Riju, she saw something else in the crease of her brow, in the way her hands clenched and unclenched. She was almost as angry as Zelda, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. Glancing around, she saw the other champions in a different context. These were her friends and allies. Riju was like a little sister to her. Taking a deep breath, she forced her heart to slow. What would Link think of her if he knew that she was making enemies out of friends for lack of a war to fight?

      “I accept, Riju. Forgive my outburst.”

      Riju smiled, visibly relieved. “Not at all. It’s certainly… unprecedented.”

      There was a silence between them, both feeling off balance.

      It was Prince Sidon that spoke first. “We should go find Link, make sure he’s ok.”

      “Yes,” she agreed. “We’ve given him enough time. And if he is seriously injured, he’ll let himself pass out before he tells anyone.”

      xxx

      Sun had planned to disappear while everyone was at the duel so that she could have peace to arrange her thoughts, but as she walked along the road that lead to town, she could hear the audience in the distance. Shouts and jeers were brought to her on the wind, and then – silence. She turned, but she was too far from the ranch to be able to see what was going on. Shrugging, she walked on, enjoying the coolness of the afternoon and thinking of the man in the black armour.

      Events were slotting into place like a puzzle coming together. Her dreams of an audacious voe in Gerudo Town had been real, and Ganondorf had been that boy. More memories were coming back to her, making her heart ache, as if remembering someone who had died. She had cried when he teased her for being smaller than him, and her mother had consoled her, telling her that she would grow big and strong in her own time. He had done something when he had heard how upset she was, hadn’t he? She couldn’t remember. Even as certain memories became clear, there were still dark patches in her mind.

      She heard the smart chop-chop of horse’s hooves behind her and stepped onto the grass to give the rider space to pass. It was Link’s horse, but it wasn’t Link who rode it.

      Ganondorf slowed to a walk and Sun let out a soft “Oh…”

      She had never given the stallion a second thought when Link had been astride it, ither than inwardly remarking on its freakish size, but seeing Ganondorf sitting saddleless and straight backed, it flooded back to her. How many times had she seen him waiting in dark for her beside that horse? How many times had she sat in front of him as they traversed canyons of Rito country?

      “Tilaq!” she breathed, an involuntary smile breaking out across her face.

      “So happy to see him,” Ganondorf chuckled. “I remember when you first met. You were scared of him. I had to bribe you to get in the saddle.”

      “That’s not true,” she said. “I rode with you. We went from one end of Hyrule to the other on Tilaq’s back.”

      “Oh yes, eventually that was the case. But at the first you wouldn’t go within ten feet of him.”

      “Where’s his saddle?”

      “It was too small. But you can still come up here with me. You’re almost as skilled a rider as I am, if I remember right. Take my hand, it’ll all come back to you.”

      She regarded his hand with a fast beating heart, and let her eyes shift to his face. “Ganondorf,” she said, feeling the weight of his name on her heart. “The man I used to know… he’s not you. You’re different.”

      “I’m older,” he admitted, withdrawing his hand and looking troubled.

      “It’s more than that,” she said, turning back to the road. “You remember who I am, who we were together. I… I still don’t know. I remember the little boy in the veil, and I remember the young man who said goodbye to me in the mountains, but there’s this big stretch of nothing in between. I can’t just go back to the way things were when I’ve lost so much of it.”

      He was silent for a while and they started to make their way towards the castle. After a time, he said, “I knew something like this might happen. The technology that was used to sustain you as you slept, it was old – ancient even. There were historical records that suggested that memory, identity, the things inform your sense of self, these are more difficult to recover than consciousness.”

      She didn’t respond. It was both painful and soothing to hear him speak. There had been sadness between them, even if she couldn’t remember its source.

      “I can help you recover your past.”

      “I think you’re the only one who can,” she agreed. They walked together a little longer, the only sound Tilaq’s hooves plodding on the dirt track.

      “Ganondorf… Why did you lock me away?”

      He sighed.
      The world is quiet here.

      Fanfiction.net | deviantart | Ao3 | Tumblr | Patreon

      The post was edited 1 time, last by katherine summers ().

    • Chapter 7 – Invitation

      Display Spoiler

      They found Link behind the stables, sitting on a bench, attempting to pry off his armour. He had his back to them and Zelda was unsure whether their presence would be welcome, but he heard them coming and, glancing over his shoulder, making a come over then gesture.

      Aside from Zelda, Prince Sidon was one of the few people who understood Link’s sign language, having learned it from the princess during the times they had stayed in the Zora Domain in the past year. Given that Link had spent a lot of his childhood there, along with the royal family who would pass their summers there on vacation before the Calamity struck, the two of them viewed it as a second home, and Prince Sidon as a brother.

      “Are you… okay, Link?” Zelda asked, slowing her pace as she approached him.

      He didn’t answer her question, but waved Sidon closer. Help me get this off.
      “Sure thing, friend.” He bent and examined the offending pauldron. It was deeply dented and gripping Link’s shoulder like a vice. Rubbing his hands together, he gave his best winning smile and said, “Nothing for it, you’re just going to have to grit your teeth. Here,” He hooked his fingers under the metal and, bracing his other hand on Link’s other shoulder, applied pressure until Link was able slip free, hissing with discomfort. “Alright, now let’s take a look – you fell from quite a height.” The rest of the armour was easy to remove, and Zelda grew pale, seeing livid bruises already blooming on his upper arm and chest. “Where does it hurt.”

      Link patted his shoulder, flexing his hand, and then held his ribs.

      “Yes, cracked ribs? I thought so, we really should fetch a healer.”

      He shook his head. No, not yet.

      “Don’t be silly, Link,” Zelda said, stepping forward and putting on a brave face. “There’s nothing be embarrassed about. You’re a knight. It’s to be expected that you’re going to fall off your horse and hurt yourself every now and again.”

      He made sharp, irritated movements; I didn’t fall off my horse.
      “You were unseated in a jousting match. The same thing would have happened if he knocked you off with a lance.”

      “Well, to be fair to Link,” Sidon remarked, taking a seat on a bench. Even sitting, he had to bend his head to look the Hylians in the eye. “It was poor show of Riju’s substitute to make a spectacle of it.”

      Link signed, making a face as if he had been forced to swallow something foul. There’s no way he would be able to beat me in a fair competition. Not on that carthorse.

      Zelda’s face fell. “We… we don’t know that. But he’s disqualified. So it’s a moot point.”

      Good.

      She felt a surge of envy. Her bitter feelings about the joust had not disappeared, but she couldn’t afford to make herself look even more like a fool, so she had to carefully set her face, stand straight and brush off the slight as if it was nothing. Link, on the other hand, was at liberty to scowl and seethe. At worst, he would be accused of being a sore loser, whereas her ability to made clear-headed decisions would be called into question.

      “Sidon, could you call for a physician? There’ll be one close by, in case something like this happened during the games. I’m surprised one hasn’t come to find us yet.”

      “Of course, Your Grace.” He stood and bent to kiss her hand, and she couldn’t help but smile a little. His charm and joy were infectious, and even though she had sent him away in order to speak to Link in private, the day seemed to grow a few shades darker without his presence.

      Alone with Link, she took a seat on the bench and waiting for him to sit beside her. Anxiety blocked her throat. There was so many idea’s and thoughts that she had bubbling up inside her and she wanted nothing more than to blurt them out, but, at the same time, they were so unsettling to admit that she dared not say them aloud. Finally, struggling to find the right words, she made an attempt. “Link… Do you… That is to say… When Ganondorf faced you on the jousting field, did you feel… afraid?”

      Their eyes met and he was looking at her with wide eyes, as if she had reached inside him and set something aflame. Raising his hands, he made a short flicking motion, and then winced his as injured hand twitched. He tried again, giving her a loaded look.

      Dread.

      She latched on to this connection, turning to face him like they were children sharing secrets. “Like he’s… he’s-”

      Like he’s done something terrible, and you’re the only one who knows.

      And he knows you know. And if you say anything, you know he’ll…” She was breathing hard, and without realising it, she had reached for Link’s good hand, and was squeezing it. “I… I need to ask you to do something for me, Link.”

      He waited, silent. He didn’t need to tell her that, if she requested it, he would scour Hyrule for any object, draw his sword against any threat, stand in front of any danger. He had already died for her once, only to walk out of the resurrection chamber to throw himself into fight after fight to free her.

      “I’ve decided that it’s time for me to accept the crown. My father has been dead for more than a hundred years, I am of age, and there’s no reason for me to delay any further. I thought that I was waiting out of respect for his memory, but now I see that I disrespect him by shying away from my responsibility. I… I don’t know if there’s any foundation for this, but I can feel something coming, like the time between Calamity’s End and now has been the eye of a storm, and there’s a second darkness ahead.”

      Link continued to watch her, waiting. If he had been surprised by her announcement, he didn’t show it.

      “I need you to stay by my side, to be my right hand and appointed knight. I need to know that I can turn to you when we are opposed by darkness.”

      She didn’t know how he would react. Would he gaze at her with concern at the grim portents of her words? Would he laugh and pledge his loyalty as if it she had commanded a Zora to swim? Would he reject her, after everything she had put him through, would this be the final straw?

      What he did was pull her to his chest and wrap his arms around her, resting his chin on her golden head and breathing deep. She could hear his heartbeat, and while she was stiff at first, shocked by the sudden act of intimacy, she couldn’t help but melt into his arms, letting his steady breathing soothe and ground her.

      xxx

      The castle grew larger as they made their way down the road. Sun was simply following Ganondorf, who appeared to have a destination in mind. He had yet to answer her question, and the silence between them had been so long and palpable that she was on the verge of telling him to forget that she had asked at all, before –

      “I’m sure you know that you’re being hunted.”

      “Yes. I sense it.”

      “I locked you in that chamber so that it couldn’t find you. While you were sleeping, it would think you dead, simply seep into the cracks in our world and hibernate.”

      “And now that I’m awake –”

      “It’s awake and searching for you.”

      “And I consented to this?”

      “Yes.”

      “I’m not going back,” she said, the emotion in her voice surprising her.

      “I know.”

      “So I’m going to have to face this thing.” Where would she even begin? She knew virtually nothing about the shadow that, even now, was seeking her. How could she even start to prepare for battle against something that defied identity.

      “Yes. We will.”

      She looked up at him and saw that smile again, the one he seemed to reserve only for her, but there was also worry in the knot of his brow.

      They passed through the gate to Hyrule Town and Ganondorf dismounted, stretching with a grunt. “Bareback riding is less than it’s made out to be. As much as I would rather not relinquish Tilaq a second time, we can’t take him into the castle, and I might as well leave him with a saddler.”

      “We’re going into the castle?”

      “To the castle library, specifically.”

      She hesitated. “Is that open to the public?”

      “I expect not.” He said no more.

      Sun tried to stifle her apprehension. She was sure that, as the guest of the princess, she would be allowed inside. Zelda had not forbidden her from going anywhere, after all. And Ganondorf was a… diplomat? Ambassador? He said that he had no official title. A thought occurred to her.

      “How did you get that horse anyway? Doesn’t it belong to Link now?”

      “I won it in a joust.”

      “Oh right,” she said, wishing that she had stayed behind to watch the match. “So what’s the deal? You get to ride it around for the rest of the festival.”

      He looked at her, his face somewhere between confusion and mirth. “No, Sun, Tilaq is my horse.”

      “Yes, but… you’re not going to… give him back?”

      He shook his head, a smile spreading across his face, saying nothing.

      They were at the stables, and Sun hung around while Ganondorf made enquiries and handed over his horse, along with an appropriate number of rupees and a list of instructions. The castle courtyard had been walled off to form a kind of fighter’s ring, and she couldn’t help her attention wondering over to the group of people surrounding two fighters, who were sparring in frantic competition – A Zora woman herded a tiny Hylian to the edge of the ring with a two-pronged spear. Evidently, the former was the victor, because the Hylian raised both his hands, dropping his sword and buckler with a clatter. For a moment, she imagined herself in the ring and bit her lip, struggling with the urge to leave Ganondorf to his mysterious errands. What better way to rediscover who she was, she reasoned, than letting her feet carry her where her heart desired and testing her nerve against steel and muscle? If she hadn’t known it before, she knew it now. She was not for dust, dry paper and oak tables. What could he possibly want to do inside when the sun was still glorious.

      “Gan,” she said, and the saying the shortened version of his name felt like slipping into an old and favoured pair of boots. “I want to enjoy the rest of the festival.” A pause. “While I can.”

      He seemed to understand. “Come find me later, yes?”

      She nodded, and left him in a flurry of silk and gossamer.

      In truth, she was glad to be away from him. It was clear to her that she was an addition to his plans that he hadn’t accounted for, but more than that, there was an invisible wall between them, build from the years that had passed for him and not her. They were technically the same age, but he had lived far longer than she had, accumulating knowledge and history that he wore on his shoulders like a heavy cloak. It wasn’t the way he looked at her, but rather the way he looked away from her that made her feel small and uncertain. He said that he would help her recover her past, but there was an implied ‘later’ at the end of that promise, after he had seen to his own motivations and desires – a ‘later’ that she wasn’t prepared to wait for.

      A ‘later’ that she might not live to see.

      As she approached the fighting ring, the sound of clashing metal grew louder and there was a definite buzz of excitement in the air. People made way for her so that she could get a better look. The Hylian who had lost the last match had been replaced by another, less like a street fighter and more like an athlete, his slight form tense with electric energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Though he was young, his hair was silver, bound tightly in a knot at the back of his head, and he carried a quarterstaff. For a moment, Sun was worried that this might not be a fair fight, but close to, she could see that the Zora’s spear had been blunted for the purpose of the sport. A man, an officiator, was standing between them, talking to the Zora softly and making a movement with his hand that evidently meant that she was to tone it down. When both combatants were ready, he stepped out of their way and signalled for them to begin.

      Immediately, like two magnets shooting towards each other, the two fighters met in the middle over a rapid series of blows that Sun could barely follow, the sound of metal on wood ringing out in a quickfire rhythm. Before she knew what had happened, the referee had shouted, “hit!” and the two separated, the Zora sulking and rubbing her shoulder where she had apparently been struck moments before. There was a pause while the two of them panted and paced, like caged animals and the score was recorded. Then the referee signalled the second round and they were on each other again. This time, she was able to make out the individual movements among the blur. Crack-crack-crack… and a pause as they appraised each other, and then another series of short clashes, wherein the Hylian drove to tip of his staff into the Zora’s webbed foot and she howled, dropping her spear and leaping backward, glaring.

      “Two strikes! You’re out!” the referee announced. To the Hylian, he said, “what’s you’re name, sir?”

      The winner muttered something.

      “A round of applause for Arren, of the Sheikah Tribe!”

      The spectators clapped and there were a few cheers.

      “Who will be our next challenger?”

      The clapping died away. There was silence. It was late in the day, and the sun was going down. It seemed that anyone who had wanted to fight had already had their fill.

      “Anyone?”

      “I’ll take that challenge!” Sun had to force it out before she lost her nerve. It was bolstered, however, when the spectators cheered her. Flushing, she grinned. It didn’t seem to matter that she was a stranger, only that she was bold enough to step forward. There were even a few Gerudo women who saw her and waved, calling; “haz matla eisha!” - Get him, sister! – and she felt her cheeks burn.

      The referee beckoned her forward, and she joined him in the middle of the circle. “What’s your name, lady?”

      “Sun.”

      “Sun has accepted the challenge!”

      More cheering.

      “Alright, lady, you’ll need to pick a weapon. We had a wide selection. What would you like?”

      Nervous, she tried to find the word for what she was looking for. Instinctively, she wanted something long, thin, preferably two of them, but words stuck in her throat. Helplessly, she tried to describe what she meant, using her hands to indicate length and thickness, but the referee simply scratched his head. Eventually, he asked her to follow him to a table where the weapons were all set out. For a moment, she couldn’t see what she was looking for, and then, there they were. Two-foot long slender blades, curved, with ergonomic handles. They weren’t quite complete, the normally razor sharp blades blunted, the handles missing the hooked pummel. Sun pointed; “those. The… uh…” Still the word eluded her.

      “Seikan?”

      “Yes!” she cried, berating herself inwardly. How could she have forgotten? Taking the Seikan in her hand, she felt a flare of excitement and a tightness, an urgency, in her chest. It was as if her hands were made to hold them. Trying to still her beating heart, she returned to the circle and faced her opponent. Almost with an animal instinct, she bent her knees, taking her weight on the balls of her feet – but something was wrong. Holding up her hand to indicate a halt, she gathered one end of her skirt about her hip, attempting to bunch it up and free her legs. There were whistles and chuckles from the crowd. After thirty seconds of failing to make it stay, she heard a shout from the crowd. One of the Gerudo women was calling for her attention and miming a through-the-legs motion. Exasperated with herself, she remembered how it was done and passed the front of her dress through her legs, over her hips and bound the two corners of the hem together in a knot, creating a make-shift pair of shorts that allowed her freedom of movement. Smiling sheepishly, she nodded at the referee, who counted down from three.

      “Fight!”

      He was on her, and it was like being set upon by a cat. She saw him hovering before her as if suspended in the air and, for a horrible split second, she was sure she was going to freeze. But then his staff met the blade of her left seikan and, all of a sudden, she knew what to do. Only just more than half her height, he had dexterity and speed on his side, and she was stunned by the ferocity of his blows, but she was delighted to find that his first three blows were deflected, almost as if someone else had taken control of her body. Before she could wonder at the memory that was alive in her arms and feet, the fourth blow caught her like a bite on her calf and she stumbled.

      “Hit!”

      Gasping, but grinning and buzzing with exhilaration, she returned to a fighting guard almost immediately. The crowd was shouting out tips and encouragement, but it was all a blur. There was nothing but herself and this little silver-haired man. She was good at this – this was easy.

      Round two and she was on the offensive, bolstered by a surge of confidence. She gained ground, one step, and then another, feeling the vibrations of the knives against the quarterstaff. She was swearing, battering herself against the silent ghost of a man, but then – all too soon – a jab in the stomach that sent her reeling back.

      “Hit! Two Strikes! Arren wins!”

      “Again!” She demanded.

      The referee chuckled. “No, lady, this is an elimination tournament. You lost. Give someone else a shot.”

      Heart low, she conceded, handing back the seikan with more than a little reluctance. The spectators clapped and cheered her anyway. The Gerudo waved to her.

      “Good show sister!”

      She hung about shyly, not sure what to do with herself. They seemed to notice this, because they beckoned her over. “Sun, was it?” They were a little taller than her, red hair gathered in elaborate bands in long full ponytails, wrists and necks glinting with gold and red gems. The one who had asked her name was carrying a basket filled with little paper packages.

      “Free samples,” she explained, offering one to Sun. “If you’re not doing anything, come join us. The games are winding down and people are going to want food. You’re welcome to eat with the rest of us – I’m Sornah, and this is Zara.”

      Feeling victorious despite her defeat, Sun nodded.

      There had been a part of her that had feared that if she had gone to meet her people, or tried to seize her identity, that it would flee before her or worse, reject her. The possibility of being invited in had not occurred to her, and the relief of it flooded her. It seemed the adrenaline from the fight was still pulsing in her veins, because her eyes itched and she had to hide her face in her forearm, trying to stop her emotions getting the better of her.
    • Chapter 8 – History



      Display Spoiler

      In truth, he was glad to be away from her.



      There had been a plan, long ago, that she would disappear from the world, sealed away and out of the reach of the thing that hunted her, causing it to fall idle, until he was powerful enough to destroy it. That had been what they had believed, but then they had been young and hopeful. Even as he had said goodbye and laid her down to sleep, the possibility that he might never find and defeat the shadow had occurred to him. As the years passed, it became more apparent that he would never see her awake again. It wasn’t just that the shadow had hidden itself too well, it was as if it could only exist when she was conscious. He had tried, failed, mourned and moved on.


      Seeing her again had been exciting, he could admit no less. With her standing before him, luminous green eyes looking up at him through thick lashes, not a day older than when he had last kissed her, he had been transported. For a second, he was a young man, and there was only the two of them in the sun and the grass. But that had been an illusion. As he had walked with her, spoken with her, he was uncomfortably reminded of how far behind he had left her. She was just a child, fixed in time. It wasn’t just the temptation to return to a time he had abandoned, but that he saw himself in her eyes, the barely-a-man he had been so full of anger, fear, and hunger. It forced him to regard that boy who had loved and learned from the wrong people, had failed to see the face of true evil and accumulated a debt that, ten years later, he was still not prepared to pay.


      He was startled to find that he was clenching his fist so tightly that his fingernails were digging painfully into his palms, and his heart was pounding in his throat. He stopped walking and took deep breaths. He was inside the castle, walking down a passageway that was lined with tall mullioned windows that cut the sunset into fiery strips. A servant was lighting the sconces on the walls. When he spotted Ganondorf, he bowed and hurried on.


      He needed to stick to the task at hand. Who knew when he would get this opportunity a second time? Putting Sun from his mind, he started walking again, trying to ignore the gnawing feeling at the back of his mind.


      The library was a massive vaulted hall supported by great stone pillars. The floor was checkered marble, the walls lined with shelves, the space dotted with long tables where sat Hylian scribes, bent over massive books, quills scratching. For a few moments, he couldn’t help but be impressed, but then he noticed the little blemishes. Some of the tiles were cracked, the bookshelves mostly empty and blackened in some places, as if by some long-extinguished fire. The staircase that lead down into the main space of the library was dusty, the carpet frayed, and he noticed the parts of the banister that had been repaired with fresh oak, paler than the original material. He could only imagine what it must have looked like before it was abandoned to the beasts that had nested here. It wasn’t the first time he had encountered significant structures that had been soiled by the Calamity, but it never failed to grieve him. So much of what should have been his, turned to dust.


      As he descended, a few of the scribes looked up, and realising who he was, returned to their work with rather fixed faces. An old man in rich earth coloured robes stood, trying to disguise his nervousness, and approached him.


      “Pardon me, my lord, but are you looking for something?”


      Ganondorf regarded him. It appeared that they thought he might have gotten lost. “Indeed, I am looking for books on history.”


      The old librarian bowed, folding his pale white hands inside the sleeves of his robe. “Forgive me, my lord, but the library is still being recovered. It is not quite ready to be open to the public…” He looked up at Ganondorf through thick white eyebrows and when he saw that the latter was about to protest, he added, “it’s only that the books are still being copied. Much of the library was destroyed, and we’ve only been able to save a few of the volumes. What little we have has been catalogued, and our scribes are doing their best, but it’s possible that the book you are looking for no longer exists.”


      “I understand,” Ganondorf said, trying to rein in his disappointment.


      “Is there a particular history you are looking to research?”


      “A chronology of Hyrule. Do you have anything of that sort?”


      The librarian nodded, the very tips of his pointed ears flapping. “Indeed, my lord. Come this way.”


      He expected to be led to one of the shelves, but to his dismay, the librarian brought him to a table, where a sandy haired youth was hunched over a tome, his tongue sticking out as he copied from a book with pages wrinkled with damp, the script faded to the point of obscurity.


      “I’ll ask you not to touch the original,” the librarian said, “but you may read the copy. Anthony, put down your quill and take a break.”


      The boy did so, stretching and cracking his knuckles with a groan. Ganondorf reached for book, but Anthony gasped and slammed his hand on the page that had yet to be written on, careful to avoid the illumination. “Not yet!” he cried. Ganondorf gave him a withering look. “Forgive me, lord, only you have to wait for the page to dry before you and read the rest of it.”


      Incredulous, he eyed the original instead, but grudgingly realised that if he were to try and flick through the pages, they would simply crumble in his hands like dry winter leaves. It seemed the scribe was only able to turn each page with the utmost care using tweezers and pointers, peeling the pages apart as if doing fine surgery. He would simply have to be patient.


      The three of them sat around the table and literally watched ink dry.


      Finally, yawning, the scribe turned the book around and pushed it across the table towards Ganondorf. Without thanking him, the latter began his search. Incomplete as it was, the scribe had done a good job in rescuing over half the text. While the two Hylians left him, to rest and light the candles in the library, he read.


      In the beginning, there was chaos…


      He skipped ahead.


      The three great goddesses, their labours completed, departed for the heavens…


      The record wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. Passing over whole passages, he thought he found what he was looking for. An illustration of the triforce, lovingly illuminated on the page in such detail that he might had admired if he was a scholar, headed a chapter. But he was disappointed to find more of the same generic language and straightforward telling of the myth. He was about to give it up, when he saw a tiny note in the margin.


      Ref. to “Kegami”?


      Frowning, he examined the passage that the note appeared to relate to.


      The triforce is eternal, and while there have been times in history where it has been fractured, even broken, it has persisted since Creation. It cannot be unmade, any more than the sky can be brought down, or time itself be made to flow backwards. This author will not indulge in speculation regarding the end of the Hyrulean Civil War, and will leave such unfounded claims to lesser bards.


      ‘Kegami’, he knew, was a sheikah word, though one he didn’t recognise. Looking up, he scanned the library for the copyist, Anthony. He saw the boy and, catching his eye, waved him over.


      “My lord?”


      “This word – do you know what it means?”


      “I… I think so. It’s difficult to translate. It’s sort of like ‘mirror’, but it’s more about what’s inside a mirror.”


      “Reflection?”


      Anthony shrugged. “Close enough.”


      “And why did you write it here?”


      “I didn’t. I mean – I did, but it was in the original text. I think the scribe who had copied the book I’m scribing from wrote it first. We are to include all annotations and assume they are the authors.”


      “Do you know why it refers to this passage?”


      The scribe had to take the book from him as he was too short to read over Ganondorf’s shoulder. “This one, my lord? Well… I don’t know. But me and the other scribes think that this paragraph is a little… well, it’s kind of a joke, really.”


      “Explain.”


      “I mean… The author writes that the triforce can’t be destroyed, any more than ‘time be made to flow backwards’ right? But that makes no sense, especially when you skip ahead…” the scribe flicked through the pages and found another passage, pointing. “‘And lo, the Princess rewarded the Hero, using the triforce to grant his wish and turn back the years, returning him to his lost youth’. This is from the Chronical of the Hero of Time right? So he says that time can’t go backwards, and then says that time went backwards. Not only that, but he throws in a reference to the Civil War out of nowhere and makes this comment about ‘lesser bards’, whoever they are. We think that he was just griping on some other author that he had a disagreement with.” He puffed out his chest importantly, clearly excited to be given the opportunity to show off his knowledge.


      “Or…” Ganondorf murmured, more to himself than to the scribe, “he is implying that the utter destruction of the triforce isn’t such an impossibility.”


      Anthony paled, deflating. He smiled, but the smile was thin and the laugh he gave was forced. “Heh, don’t let the Master Librarian hear you say that, my lord, that’s blasphemy.”


      “I’m sure it is.” Ganondorf was unfazed. He would be very interested to hear the sort of ‘speculation’ that the author was rejecting so defensively. It seemed linked to this concept, kegami. He thanked the scribe, who scurried away from him with the book, clearly grateful to be dismissed, and stood.


      There was a little more energy to his stride as he made to leave the library. He had not expected to find anything remotely useful, and discovering a scrap like this, no matter how tenuous, was a victory. He was already planning routes to Kakariko Village when he saw that someone was waiting for him at the entrance to the library.


      It was Riju. Her face was stormy, her arms folded.


      “Ganondorf.”


      “Princess. We should depart from Central Hyrule as soon as you are ready. I am impatient to get back on the road.”


      “Oh, so you’re aware that your discourteous behaviour has made us unwelcome here?”


      He paused in front of her, raising his eyebrows. “Oh come now, it’s not my fault if Zelda’s knight is a sore loser.”


      Riju could barely contain her outrage. “Are you being deliberately stupid?”


      That rattled him, and his eyes narrowed. “Princess?”


      “Come with me. I can’t believe I have to educate you on your precarious position, but you do insist on acting like a presumptuous fool.”


      His indignation mounted, and his cheeks flushed. In a low voice that crackled with suppressed resentment, he said, “As you bid, Your Grace.”


      She had never spoken to him like this, but from the way that her heels beat the floor as she led him around a corner to a part of the castle he hadn’t seen before, he sensed that this was something that she had been holding onto for quite some time. He didn’t have any patience for her childish temper, but he still had to be careful and toe the line. She stopped in front of a glorious stained glass window and rounded on him. Careful to control his face, he waited for her to tell him what this was about.


      “Do you know what this is?” She said, pointing to the painted figures on the window. It was clear that she already knew the answer, but he glanced at it.


      It was a scene depicting the defeat of Calamity Ganon. Two tall figures stood on either side of Hyrule Castle, each stylised to resemble the ancient legends that he had just finished reading about – the Princess and the Hero, clad in shining white and emerald green respectively. Above the castle, shards of fire and dark magic shrouded a great monster, hideous even in the delicate artistry. The glass princess held the bow of light, the hero, the mastersword. All in all, it was an impressive piece, if a little gratuitous.


      “It’s the Princess Zelda,” he growled. “And her knight, Link, defeating Calamity Ganon.”


      “That’s right,” she said, giving him a smile that made him want to shout at her. “This was a gift to the Royal Family from the Zora people after they returned peace to Hyrule. And do you see Calamity Ganon there, how pretty the flames are? The Hero of Hyrule never explicitly shared what he saw down in the sanctum of this castle, so why do you think the glass worker imagined a great male figure with red fire for hair?”


      “I have no idea,” he hissed, though he knew perfectly well.


      “It couldn’t be that people of Hyrule are still suspicious of the Gerudo people? Or the rumours that Ganon was once a man who walked among us – a Gerudo man? It couldn’t possibly be that Ganon is a character used to frighten children at bedtime. Don’t be naughty, little one, or Ganon will come out of your closet and eat you!”


      “What are you saying?”


      “That there are still people alive who remember the Calamity a hundred years ago, and you walk among their children who see you emerge from the desert and think of this!” She thrust her finger at the window. “And you seem to think it’s a good idea to go about antagonising Link? My mother knew Urbosa, and Link fought alongside her –”


      “It is women like Urbosa that drove my mother to flee her home,” he snapped. “And need I remind you that I was born and lived under the threat of Calamity Ganon just like everyone else?”


      “You don’t see it, do you? Do you know what happened when I addressed our people and told them about you?”


      “Oh, do tell.” His voice was full of venom.


      “A day after we left to come to Hyrule Castle, the Yiga Clan attacked the town.”


      “Why didn’t you tell me this?”


      She waved away his question as if it were a fly. “It was unimportant. They smashed some pottery and painted a few walls. No one was hurt and they didn’t manage to steal anything before the guards rounded them up and threw them back into the desert. But they did leave a note nailed to a tree in the town centre, praising and swearing fealty to you. They think you’re their king!”


      “They’re fools. Children playing at being warriors.”


      “Oh, I haven’t gotten to the good part. Before that, about a good half of the residents, the older ones, simply packed their bags, and left. They didn’t feel like their town was safe anymore. I tried to reason with them, but they were scared of you. They saw you as the return of our people’s shame.”


      “And you agree with them?”


      They were both breathing hard, the adamant teenager squaring up to the towering adult, fire in her eyes.


      “I have questions.”


      “I’m all ears, Princess.”


      “Why did you take the name, Ganondorf, if you didn’t want to invite comparisons?”


      “My mother named me on the advice of mad witches. It’s one of the few things she left me, and I don’t intend to discard it because it makes people uncomfortable.” The answer was automatic, born of something raw and twisted inside him. If Riju was letting it all out, he saw no reason to be cagey with the truth.


      “Why didn’t you come forward to help Link defeat Calamity Ganon?”


      “I didn’t think he would succeed, and I didn’t believe my aid would make any difference. I thought he would fail, and alone I would not be strong enough to take up the task. When has a Gerudo ever wielded the sword that seals the darkness?”


      This seemed to surprise Riju. The tension between them was softening, and there was more curiosity than anger in her next question. “What are you doing here?”


      “I don’t understand.”


      “A man of courage would not have stayed hidden for decades before revealing himself. And a man of wisdom would not have chosen this difficult path. What do you want?”


      “To live, and live free.”


      She shook her head. “No, Ganondorf. We both know that’s not true. If that’s what you really wanted, you would have built a home in the plains, found a wife and be living that free life already. Instead, you’re snapping at the heels of political power, and seem bent on keeping everyone in a state of anxiety.”


      He fell silent. The question she had put to him had an answer, but it wasn’t one that he could speak aloud. If she knew his true desires, it would be as bad as if he had openly admitted that he was seeking war against the Royal Family. She was wrong when she said that he lied. He did want to live free, but it was more than that. It was as if he had walked the same path over and over, only to be cut down just as he was about to reach his destination. It was time for that to change, but he couldn’t explain that to her in words that wouldn’t sound threatening.


      She sighed, trying to read his face. “I can’t let you keep that secret for much longer. Eventually, I will be forced to make you speak. Keep your silence for now, and get ready to leave. We’ll set out in the morning.”


      “Yes, your Grace.”


      She departed. He watched her go and when he was sure that she couldn’t see him, he laid his gloved hand on the window. It was still warm from the glow of the setting sun and he felt a vein of lead press into his fingertips. If he were to drive his fist into the glass with all the strength of his arm, he could shatter it. He imagined the castle breaking apart, the dark clouds of fire falling to the ground like rain, the figures of the Hero and the Princess cracked and weakened, their perfect faces marred by ugly fissures. The thought made something inside him glow with satisfaction.


      But then his mind took the notion to its logical conclusion. Someone would find the broken window, and there would be questions raised. The Zora craftsman would probably be contacted and paid generously for a replacement – though there would be much lip service paid to the irreplaceable nature of the original. If it was traced back to him, somehow, he would be charged with petty vandalism and made to pay for the repairs. All that destruction would simply be a hiccup in time, and sooner or later forgotten, the characters of the story returned to their proper place.


      When he was younger, this would have made him angry. But that anger had been tempered into something colder, something bitter.
    • Chapter 9 – Warning



      Display Spoiler

      She followed Zara and Sornah to the town square, where the vendors had congregated, setting up colourful stalls and cooking over open fires. There was a sumptuous smell of bread and roasting meat in the air, mixed with wood smoke that stung her eyes. The clamour of merchants advertising their wares, the clatter of ironware and the snap of the fires filled the space. The Gerudo cut a path through the festival goers and Sun stayed close behind them, until they reached tent that appeared to belong to them. It was empty now, but the women soon set to decorating it, chattering away.


      “Where are you from, Sun?”


      She stammered, knowing that this had been coming, but still unprepared for it. “I… uh. All over the place. I don’t really settle long.”


      “Fair enough,” Sornah didn’t seem to think anything of her answer, but Zara gave her a curious look. To deflect the attention, she asked, “And you? You didn’t come all the way from Gerudo Town, did you?”


      “You bet we did. Do you know how many inns and rest stops are between here and the desert?”


      “Five,” Zara said, holding up her hand and showing five fingers.


      “That’s right. And inns mean hungry travellers, all going our way. All of them needing something to put in their bellies, all of them carrying plenty of rupees to spend at the festival.”


      “But they shouldn’t be spending it all in one place,” said Zara


      “No, so we give them somewhere to start.”


      Sun couldn’t help smiling. Their enthusiasm for business was catching. Zara had set up a tripod and was starting a fire under it, sprinkling a powder on the firewood. She winked at Sun. “Makes it burn hotter,” she explained, and sure enough there was soon a flickering blue fire, licking the underside of a massive wok.


      “Can I help?” Sun offered.


      “No, it’s fine. We didn’t invite you to come over to work. We just thought you could use some company. Did you come to the festival alone?”


      “Well…” she said, not sure if she should lie or not. “I have friends around somewhere, but they’re off doing their own thing.”


      Sornah unravelled a massive banner, died vibrant purple with a green compass painted across the middle and the name South Western Meat and Poultry in large Gerudo lettering across the top. This she tied between their tent and a lamppost, high enough so that people didn’t have to duck under it to pass. There was a bright sizzle form the wok as Zara shredded red meat into the bowl, and oil sputtered. The smell was mouth-watering.


      “Some friends they are,” Sornah chuckled, her voice raised over the sound of cooking. Sun returned her smile shyly. “They’re okay. Just, we all want to do different things. So what’s it like – Gerudo Town?” Now that she was with them, she burned with curiosity. The sandstone streets of her dreams were fleeting and full of shadows, obscured by the mist of unconsciousness, and she wanted to know if what little she could remember would be confirmed.


      “You’ve never been?”


      “Sornah, you do know that there are people who don’t live there, right?” Zarah called over the sound of spitting oil, carving bright red fruit with a sharp knife.


      “Shush, I know that! Okay, well, it’s nice. Hot and dry and… it’s like…” Sornah considered the question. “Like colours are more full there, you know. Everything here is green and brown and grey. Even the sky is grey or white most of the time. But back home, nothing is grey. Everything is yellow and blue and bright like jewels.”


      It sounded just like her dreams. Zara used a pair of wooden tongs to lift some of the contents of the wok and stuff them into a flatbread pocket. She wrapped this up in parchment and offered it to Sun. “Losers eat for free,” she said, smiling. Sun laughed, not offended in the slightest, and thanked her host. It was hot and sweet and sticky. Whatever meat was in it – she thought it might be boar, for it had a rich tangy flavour – disintegrated on her tongue, and her eyes rolled skyward.


      “Good huh?” Sornah was beaming with pride, and Sun could only nod, mumbling and licking the thick sauce from her fingers. “Good. Keep ‘em coming Zara, we need to compete with the rest of the smells.”


      Despite Sornah’s protestations, Sun was itching to make herself useful, and ended up kneeling beside Zara, chopping fruits and vegetables in preparation for them to be seared in the wok. While they cooked, Sornah paced, soliciting passers-by with brilliant confidence and charm. Soon there was a queue, and while they kept up a brisk pace, Zara remained relaxed enough that she started to talk Sun through the steps of preparing this and that dish. At first, Sun listened and pretended that she didn’t already know the recipes being described but, after a while, began to finish Zara’s sentences, and making recommendations of her own, debating the finer points of balance and flavour.


      “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that you’ve been doing this as long as we have,” Zara grinned.


      Sun was silent for a moment, absorbed in the onion she was dicing. Her fingers had been slow and stiff at first, but with every cut, she became surer of herself. “I think my mother did this,” she said, surprised at how thick her voice was. “I’m sure I helped her like this when it was busy…” Her knife was poised but motionless, and she was alarmed to find that her eyes were on the verge of spilling over, and not because of the onion. She kept on speaking, the words falling from her lips without her realising that she was saying them aloud. “She used to sing while she worked…” She squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to remember, her heart aching.


      Zara, noticing the sag in Sun’s shoulders, nudged her. “Has it been a while since you’ve seen her?”


      Sun nodded, not trusting herself to speak.


      “What did she used to sing?”


      Feeling heat rising up her neck, she tried to remember. The words would not come to her, but the melody, a sweet, bright little tune played on her lips, asking to be hummed. She was glad that Zara wasn’t looking at her, otherwise she might not have been able to work up the nerve. If she were to try and sing, the melody might die in the air and be lost forever. Despite this fear, she managed to mumble a few small notes under the sound of sizzling food. The song didn’t abandon her, and each note came to her just in time to be replaced by the next one. With more confidence, she raised her voice, humming while she chopped.


      “Hey, I know that,” Zara exclaimed and began to sing along, adding words to the melody. As soon as Sun heard the first line, she remembered the song in full and joined in, a smile breaking across her face, feeling warm and safe. Zara bobbed her head to the melody, adding something rich and novel to the turns of the language.


      “Goddess, Zara – you’ll frighten away the customers with a voice like that!” Sornah teased.


      “I’m surprised they have any appetite at all after they’ve had to look at your face,” Zarah muttered, quiet enough so that only Sun could hear. The latter snorted, wheezing in the struggle to keep her laughter in.


      “Isn’t that what Furosa sings? You know, at the Canteen?” The initial rush of customers had trickled away and Sornah could pause long enough to lean against one of the tent poles and fold her arms.


      “No, no, you’re thinking of Yshri, the cook.”


      “Ah! Yes, you’re right.”


      They were talking about her mother. She just knew. Her breath caught in her throat. She could see her now, standing at the counter, busy with her hands and humming all the while, the sun from the window on her face. The sudden and absurd desire to get to her feet and simply walk to the seven-day journey to Gerudo Town was beating in her chest, and she struggled to keep chopping vegetables as if they had said nothing out of the ordinary. Before they could change the subject, she ventured in a small voice, “I’m Yshri’s daughter.”


      This earned her looked of confusion. “I thought you said that you weren’t from Gerudo Town.”


      “I was born there,” Sun amended. “I just don’t live there anymore. You wouldn’t happen to know how she’s doing, would you? Does she still work at the… what was it? The Honourable Canteen?”


      “Noble. Noble Canteen. And she was the last time we were there. Looked well, didn’t she, Zara?”


      “Absolutely.”


      “She was one of the one’s that stayed behind, said she wasn’t going to be frightened away by some over-aggressive snake of a voe.”


      Zara nodded, murmuring her agreement. Sun looked from one to the other, puzzled. “What...? Do you mean –?”


      “Ganondorf.” Sornah stated grimly.


      “Oh.” She lowered her eyes, hoping that they didn’t notice how her cheeks flushed.


      It was then that Sornah had to turn and serve a customer, and Zara turned her attention back to Sun, speaking in a low voice that was part snide derision and part agitation. “Did you see him though? Walking at the front with Princess Riju like he’s some kind of leader. Do you know what I don’t understand? Why he’s still breathing. If I were chieftain I would put an end to him as soon as I knew he existed. But there he is, strong and alive and sowing the seeds of further disaster. As if… as if the last one hundred years wasn’t enough.”


      Sun didn’t speak. She thought of him before the joust, standing in front of her, torn between wonder and fear. With a jolt, she remembered what he had done so many years ago when he realised that his teasing had brought her to tears. He had locked himself away in the cellar of her mother’s house from dawn until nightfall, emerging to present her with a small sand seal only large enough to fit in the palm of her hand, made from sewn cloth stuffed with sand. It might have been then that she had decided to love him. But he wasn’t a child any more. There had been steel in his eyes before he had looked at her, and now that she thought about it, she had never remembered him so primed for… something. He had always been restless, a pacer, struggling with a nervous energy like an animal in a small space. Now that energy had taken on a kind of precision. Perhaps she had seen what she wanted to see, heard what she wanted to hear. If she was honest with herself, how well did she really know him now? Still, she couldn’t help but feel defensive, eyes locked on the task at hand. Zara, however, wasn’t finished.


      “How can Princess Zelda stand in front of us and declare peace while sharing a platform with that man?” Resentment had crept into her voice, and Sun noticed that her hands were shaking. “She pretends that the deaths of our husbands and our sisters for the last three generations are avenged while she stands beside the harbinger of evil and… Din, why did it have to be our people?”


      “Zara, business is slowing down. Go, stretch your legs. Take a walk.” This was Sornah, her voice firm, but not unkind. Sun tried not to look as Zara got to her feet, dusting herself off and went to Sornah, who put a hand on her shoulder and murmured, “It’ll be ok, sister. Na’ahn dai Imaan.”


      We always survive.


      Once Zara had left, Sornah bent to douse the fire and clear up the cooking materials.

      “I’m sorry about… Well… She had more reason than some to be angry. Her husband… I’m sure you understand.”


      Sun wanted more than anything to find a reason to leave. There was an awful kind of guilt in her heart. To her, Calamity Ganon was so distant, so far away. If it had encroached upon her life in the past, she had yet to remember, and now, everyone around her was celebrating the anniversary of its destruction. She had been hidden away in safety and obscurity when others suffered.


      Night fell. The anbaric lamps flickered into life like trapped fairies. The festival seemed to be winding down, but instead of ending, the mood shifted into something more relaxed. The people in the square were finishing their evening meals and turning to wine. The Rito accordionist she had seen lead his people in the parade was sitting on the lip of the fountain, his accordion breathing softly as he tuned it, turning his head so that his ear could catch the notes. A mixed group of children had gathered around his feet and were waiting patiently for him to sing. The waters of the fountain reflected a crescent moon, and glittered with stars. It was difficult to believe that anyone could be mourning on a night like this.


      “Sornah,” she said, once everything had been packed away. The trader was waiting for Zara to return, her eyes on the Rito bard, who was singing in a throaty voice along with his instrument, swaying with the melody. She glanced at Sun.


      “What is it?”


      “Do you believe that he’s… the harbinger of evil?”


      She didn’t answer immediately, and Sun felt embarrassed for having voiced her question. Eventually, she let out a heavy sigh and said, “What are the chances that he’s not?”


      “But… What if –”


      “What if it’s different this time? How many Gerudo men do you know that didn’t succumb to power? There hadn’t been one for ten thousand years, they say, and the last one gave himself over to corruption and became Calamity Ganon. Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something in our blood, some potency that expresses itself as beauty and strength in women, but turns to cruelty in the veins of men.”


      She wanted to protest, to defend herself. He was never cruel to me! She thought again of the thin, lonely little boy who only had friends in the summer, and only then while wearing a veil, and the young man, exiled to the snowy mountains and isolated. No wonder his mother kept him away from the desert, with people like Zara and Sornah secretly hating him for being a Gerudo and a man at the same time. What would they think of her, knowing that she had, in her teenage years, slipped through the desert in the night, making the journey to the plains to meet with him? Would they have hated her, if they had seen her walking with him earlier? What would they say if she told them what he had told her before they had parted – that he was proud of his heritage, proud of how far they had come, from fortresses to towns, thieves to masterful craftswomen and traders?


      But she said none of this, simply stood by and listened to the Rito’s song, swallowing her discomfort.


      “I have to go,” she said, and there was a coldness in her voice that she regretted. The night had deepened, and adults had come to collect their children from the fountain, leading them yawning and complaining to their respective homes. The Rito didn’t seem to mind, and continued to play, providing soothing background noise to the soft conversations of the people still outside, lingering, reluctant to say farewell to friends, both new and old.


      “Where are you going?”


      “Gerudo Town. I want to see my mother again.”


      Sornah chuckled. “You know, I never knew she even had a daughter. Such a small world, isn’t it?”


      “Yeah…”


      How would Yshri react when she saw her daughter in her doorway? A chilling idea presented itself to Sun. What if her mother had assumed she was dead? No… No, surely Ganondorf had found her, had told her the truth about what had happened to her daughter. The thought pulled at her, lending her urgency.


      “Sarqso, for the food.”


      “Anytime, sister. I’m sure we’ll pass by each other again on the road.”


      Though she felt warm and grateful, and genuinely hoped that Sornah was right, she also felt a twinge of anxiety. She would be travelling with Ganondorf, and she would rather not have to test the comradeship of her new friends against their deep distrust of him.


      She hadn’t realised how tired she was until she finally made her way back up to the castle and through the courtyard to the side door that led to her chamber. Vaguely, she found herself wondering where Gan was sleeping, and chastised herself. He would have no such curiosity for her, after all. Smiling to herself, she found her bedroom and closed herself inside.

      Her last thought as she drifted off to sleep was cosy cabins in the tundra, the blizzard outside in another world, watching his hands as he made the flames in the hearth into dancing figures.
    • Chapter 10 – Dreaming

      Display Spoiler

      There was a crash and Zelda was startled into waking. Heart hammering, pulling the sheets up around her chin, she stared at the door to her bedroom and sank into the bed, making herself small. She could hear voices on the other side, frantic and hushed, followed by hurried footsteps down the corridor. An atmosphere of fear permeated the room, and she could sense that something very serious was going on. Her first thought was that there was a fire, or that someone had injured themselves in the night, but she couldn’t smell smoke, and the sounds from the corridor were too urgent to be the result of a simple accident. She remained frozen in her bed, waiting, straining to hear any sound that might tell her what was happening.

      “Where is he?”

      “We think he came in through one of the tower windows – how he scaled the battlements –”

      “It doesn’t matter how he got in – send guards to his Majesty’s chamber. He won’t have gotten far.”

      An intruder! Zelda hid under the sheets, shivering and holding herself, glad that she was safe in her room behind a locked door. It must be a thief, she thought, broken into the castle to steal from her mother and father. Despite her alarm, she couldn’t help but find this all very exciting, and was already composing the story she would tell her friends later. But who would be foolish enough to try and steal from the Royal Family? They would be caught in a matter of minutes. The King’s chamber was only a few rooms away from her own. Maybe the thief would run right past her door.

      Biting her lip, she slipped out of bed and padded to the door in her bare feet, ignoring the cold. The fire had burned itself out and there was a chilling draft, but her curiosity overcame her discomfort. Pressing her ear to the wood, she shut her eyes and tried to picture the corridor outside.

      “Julien! Report!”

      “Six dead, sir. I… I’m sorry. We tried… He’s just too strong… He’s coming this way.”

      Six… Dead…? They didn’t mean…? Six guardsmen… killed? The thrill of adventure died. Holding her hand to her mouth, she struggled not to make a sound. She backed away from the door, shaking her head as if she could deny what she had heard. She could no longer feel the cold, but it was as if it had seeped into her bones without her noticing, and she shook uncontrollably. Her parents! The intruder had been in her parent’s chambers! Where were they? She needed to –

      “Lady Impa!”

      “Step aside. He’s after the princess. I have to get her to safety.”

      “Of course, but why –?”

      “She’s the only one left.”

      There was a terrible silence. Zelda sank into a kneeling position on the floor. On some unconscious level, she had understood what Impa had meant. But that would mean that everything was over, that the castle would fall, that the intruder had, in one awful blow, sent her home and family up in smoke. Without making a conscious decision to do so, she rearranged what she had heard. She was the only one left in the castle. Her parents had managed to escape, and were hiding somewhere, probably in the town. And she needed to stand up and be strong, for her mother and father. It wouldn’t do if, when she joined them, they found out she had panicked and done something silly. Princesses were brave, after all, and she had to set a good example. Taking a deep breath, she started to get dressed. Her hands were steady now.

      Impa swept into the room, as Zelda was pulling on her shoes, still in her night dress. She had managed to grab gloves and a shawl from her wardrobe, but she understood that time was crucial. There would be no allowance for her to take anything else with her. Taking Impa’s hand, she followed her guard out of the room and down the corridor. The torches were unlit, and the floor was divided by swathes of moonlight coming in through the windows. Men in armour dashed past her, going the other way, swords drawn and faces grim. Zelda struggled to keep up with Impa, stumbling and panting, but she didn’t complain.

      The passed by the door to the chapel, and Zelda remembered something with a jolt. Slipping free of Impa’s grip, she turned on her heel and raced inside. She could hear her maid’s cursing, but she didn’t care. Even if she had to leave everything else behind, she couldn’t allow this one thing to fall into the hands of the intruder. Sprinting up the centre of the chapel to the alter, she sidestepped the massive stone statue of Hylia, whose normally serene expression looked anxious in the half light, and dove for the ambry. She unfastened the lid with shaking hands and took the object that had been hidden within.

      Impa had caught up with her by now and had taken her hand once more, hissing, “we don’t have time, Princess. We need to get you out of the castle.” She didn’t ask why Zelda has insisted on taking this detour, possibly because of the urgency of their flight, but their pace definitely increased and the air of calm authority that Impa possessed was replaced with something too close to fear. Seeing Impa afraid was somehow worse that hearing about the dead guardsmen.

      They stopped, so suddenly that Zelda almost collided with Impa. The sounds of armour and men’s voices could be heard behind them, far away. They were at the bottom of a spiral staircase, and Impa was blocking the landing with her body, holding out an arm so that Zelda couldn’t pass, breathing a curse.

      “Impa, what - ?”

      “Hush, child.” She turned and knelt in front of the trembling child. “Listen to me. When I tell you to, I want you to hold on to me as if it’s the most important thing in the world. You do not let go, no matter what, you understand?”

      Zelda nodded, eyes wide and trusting.

      Then she could hear advancing footsteps and the sound of rasping metal – a sword being drawn.

      “Step aside, Sheikah. I only wish to take the girl. No one else need die tonight.”

      Zelda could see him now, under Impa’s arm, taking up the entire height and width of the corridor, and she experienced a shudder of recognition. It had been the man she had seen in her father’s court only a few days before, kneeling before the King with a suspicious glint in his yellow eyes. She had known then that he was a liar and a manipulator, but to see him standing there, his diplomats robes traded in for savage black iron armour and a sword that looked as if it could cleave a horse in two, made her quail with rage and terror. If only she had warned more people. If only her father had listened to her dreams.

      “Don’t insult me, Ganondorf. You’re not going to get away with this!”

      “Enough then – stand and die, like the rest of them!”

      Fire unfurled from his outstretched hand, the light causing his shadow to dwarf him and illuminating his terrible sneer. Zelda screamed as he hurled the ball of fire at them and Impa near-simultaneously grabbed her by the shoulder and shoved her to the side, diving out of the way herself just in time for an explosion to obliterate the staircase behind them. With her free hand, Impa cast a smoke bomb in front of them and gathered Zelda up in her arms, shouting, “hold on!” Zelda shut her eyes tight, wrapping her arms around Impa’s neck and holding on with everything she had. There was a deafening crash of breaking glass and several sharp stings on her arms and legs and cheek and Impa plunged through the nearest window and scraped to a stop on the castle battlements like a cat.

      They were running and Zelda buried her face in Impa’s shoulders, feeling the latter’s body straining to push forward, faster, breath coming in short gasps. For dizzying seconds, they were airborne, and Zelda almost lost her grip as they became weightless and then hit the ground with a bone jarring landing. She could smell smoke now, and opened her eyes long enough to see that a fire had been set inside the castle, and the moon was hidden by billowing clouds of black smoke, like the storm clouds of her dreams.

      They made it to the stables, and Impa was shoving Zelda’s limp and exhausted body onto a horse before hauling herself up behind her. With a terrified shriek, the horse burst from its pen and they were racing out of the castle courtyard and across the moat. Over the sound of the coursing wind, they could hear the hoofbeats of a monster behind them and a shout like a peal of thunder.

      “Come back here! You think you can outrun me!?”

      He was on their heels, but his horse was not built for speed. They flew over the drawbridge, and out onto the grass of Hyrule Field and with what was left of her senses, Zelda fumbled with the only thing she had saved from the castle. Crying out, she struggled against Impa and turned to see a lone figure on the banks of the water – a child, her new friend who had believed her when she had shared her dream with him.

      “Link!” She yelled, and threw the ocarina as hard as she could behind her. She watched long enough to see it tumble into the moat, but the horse was already carrying them over the hill and away from the castle at such a speed that the boy and the man in black armour were shrinking into the distance.

      xxx

      Link had not retired until much later, wishing to spend time with his old comrades. The two of them had retreated to the castle to continue the festivities, but Zelda was begun to wilt as the night wore on and bade her goodnights to their guests soon after the sun set. Much talk, drink and hours later, Link made sure that his guests had adequate accommodation before climbing the stairs to his own chambers, very close to those of his charge.

      A courier was waiting by his door. He took the letter he was offered and nodded his thanks, a little curious as to who might be sending him a message. It was sealed with a insignia that he did not recognise. Inside was a single slip of parchment, with a note in plain black ink written on it.

      I have found Tilaq in good health and spirits. For that, at least, I thank you.

      It took him a few seconds to understand what the note was referring to, then he remembered the strange words that Ganondorf had used during the joust. Some apology! In disgust, he dropped the letter in the fire that had been set up by servants. The night had been too pleasant, and he was too content to allow the reminder of what had happened earlier that day bother him overmuch, but he would be glad to see the back of the Gerudo in the morning.

      He prepared for bed.

      He slept lightly, his dreams dogged by black clouds over the castle, a chase in the dark, and when a knock came at his chamber door, he awoke without difficulty. Shrugging on a robe and tunnelling his hands through his hair so that it was out of his eyes, he went to the door and opened it. A servant was standing there, looking nervous and apologetic for disturbing him. She kept her eyes on her feet as she spoke.

      “Captain, the princess desires your presence in her chambers. Forgive me for disturbing your rest, only she is in distress and she asked for you specifically.”

      He held up his hand to indicate that she wait, and returned to his bedside table, tying up his hair with string and pulling on his boots. When he had made sure that he was dressed enough, he followed the girl the short distance to the Royal Chamber, feeling a little anxious. It was not usual for him to be invited into her bedroom in the middle of the night, but he resolved not to show his discomfort. It wouldn’t be embarrassing if he didn’t act embarrassed. It’s not like he would be alone with her.

      He knocked, and heard her on the other side, inviting him in. He went, followed by the servant. Zelda was sitting on her bed, a shawl wrapped tightly around her and trembling. The air was ice cold, and he could see her breath fog up in front of her. Already servants were attempting to stoke the fire. He stood at the foot of her bed and waited.

      “I left the window open,” she explained, her voice soft and troubled, “before I went to bed. I forgot to close it. That’s why it’s so cold.”

      He didn’t respond. Something didn’t feel right.

      “Link. Sit with me.”

      He raised his eyes to meet hers. She looked pale, and her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair, normally silky and so well kept, was tousled and hanging in curtains about her face. Yet, the light from the candles warmed her skin, and colour was returning to her cheeks. He sat, keeping a respectful distance between the two of them, and waited.

      “I had a nightmare,” she said, so quietly that he could only just hear her. “I was a child. And the castle was attacked by… oh, it’s such a silly thing to be frightened of, but it was so real and terrible, and I knew that if I told you about it, you’d understand.”

      He stared at her. Making small, timid movements, he said, an attack on the castle? Black storm clouds? A chase? A sacred ocarina? He felt strangely ashamed, as if he were admitting to have been frightened of shadows in the closet, but there was an intimate quality to the night. The fire was finally crackling in the grate, lighting the edges of objects with a homely yellow glow and he was reminded of the times they had spent together as a child, sneaking out of their chambers at night to go on adventures. There had been no rules to follow back then, no threat to face, and they would make tents in the great hall and share ghost stories by candlelight. He didn’t remember all of it, but there were glimpses of this and that throughout the tunnels of his mind, of times when he was happy, when he was close to her.

      Now, the adult Zelda looked at him with wide, glimmering eyes, just like she had behind the stables earlier that day. In a petrified whisper, she said, “how did you know?”

      I dreamt the same.

      There was a pause, in which Zelda appeared to be deliberating on what she could say aloud. “When I was a child, Impa used to tell me stories. She said that my mother could sometimes see the future in her dreams, and that Hylians used to weave magic into their music. I never took the stories very seriously. I was either too young and saw them as mere bedtime stories, or too old and concerned with more pressing issues. They were nice to listen to, but hardly an accurate history. Now… The ocarina. It was more than just a symbol.”

      Do you think that Ganondorf can use magic? In my dream, he attacked me with shadow.

      “In my dream,” she said, “it was fire.” Another pause. “The Gerudo have their own religion and ritual, and it is possible that there may have been tales of great witches and sorcerers in their history. But that kind of magic doesn’t exist anymore. If anyone can tap into it, Hylian, Gerudo, anyone else, it is in small ways. Some Zora can make it rain, and Rito can create gusts of wind from nothing in order to achieve flight. I have never heard of anything beyond that, certainly not the war-magic that he used in the dream.”

      Din is the Goddess of Fire. He could draw on Her power to achieve sorcery.

      “And the Goddess of volcanoes, sand and power. Nayru is the Goddess of love and women, also revered among the Gerudo, while Din is just as important to the Gorons. I know what you’re trying to suggest, Link, but… well… the powers of evil spirits and those who could wield magic died with Calamity Ganon.”

      You draw power from Hylia.

      “I know…”

      Then why can’t he –

      “Why can’t you? Why can’t we all? I prayed every day for all my life to all three Goddesses and, even then, only achieved my power when it was too late. In the last year, I have occasionally held experiments, trying to access that power again, with mixed returns, and nothing close to when we did battle with Ganon. But that makes sense. Why would Hylia lend me Her power during peace time? Hyrule doesn’t need a sorcerer, it needs a queen.” Link looked like he was about to interject, but she cut across him. “If Ganondorf ever does evil in the name of Din, he is a liar and a heretic. The Goddesses never wish wrath upon us.”

      Link fell still. He forgot how much time Zelda spent in prayer and study. If anyone would be an authority on the powers of the divine, it would be the young woman who argued with the keepers of the temples and took pilgrimages to the four corners of Hyrule to pray for wisdom, courage and power.

      “Regardless,” she continued. “This dream is troubling. I would be a fool to ignore it. Kala?” She turned and addressed the servant girl that had woken Link and led him here. “Please fetch a Rito courier. I wish to send a message to Kakariko village.”

      The girl bowed and departed.

      Turning back to Link, she said, “I must hold a meeting. Impa will know what to do. She will understand the meaning of the dreams we’ve had. I would trust no other advice. We will meet in Kakariko with the leaders of the other clans, all except Riju. We cannot risk news of this meeting finding its way to Ganondorf, as that could trigger him to make real any sinister plans he has. Furthermore, I think it would be useful to announce my plans for coronation at this meeting.” She seemed to have made up her mind, and the presence of a plan of action brought about a physical change in her. She no longer looked pale and drawn, and even in her night dress, she was the picture of authority.

      Link, on the other hand, was troubled. In all the books he had read, in all the training he had received in the methods of peace and war, secret meetings in response to prophetic dreams were never a precursor for lasting peace.
    • Chapter 11: Excuse

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      Sun was up and dressed with daybreak. She wore the paired down version of the leather and furs that she found in the cavern, and packed everything she owned in a single bag. When she made her way down to the courtyard, she found Ganondorf and the chieftain already there, instructing servants on packing up a sturdy carriage for the journey ahead of them. She handed her bag off and approached Ganondorf, who was dressed in light travelling leathers and looking at her with interest, scanning her body. Flushing, she looked away, but he took her arm and examined it.

      “These are mine,” he said, frowning and tapping the long gloves.

      “What?”

      “I mean… they were mine.”

      “They were what was left in the cavern when I woke up.”

      “Ah,” he sighed, releasing her wrist. “I remember now. I left most of my possessions with you. I wasn’t going to need them and well, given where they had come from… it seemed like bad luck to keep them. They suit you.”

      “You must have been smaller then,” she met his eyes and smiled, “for these to fit me.”

      “A lot of things have changed since then.”

      “My lord,” a porter called from the carriage. “We’re ready for you, if you wish to depart. The stables send word that your horse is saddled and we’ll be bringing him to you presently.”

      Ganondorf nodded his approval and turned back to Sun. “Will you ride with me this time?”

      She nodded. She wanted to be close to him, but not for the sake of companionship or flirtation. On the back of his horse, there would be nothing but the long road ahead and the hours of the day, and they could talk about the past without being overheard. Furthermore, he wouldn’t be able to walk away or occupy himself with some other pursuit.

      Tilaq was lead forward and Ganondorf mounted, offering his hand to her. She was glad she was no longer wearing a dress, but even so, once she was settled behind him in the saddle, she realised she had underestimated how tight the space was. Her knees rested against his thighs and she could feel the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. But when the horse started to move, her embarrassment fell away, to be replaced with the thrill of a journey started and she patted Tilaq’s strong flank, smoothing down his bristly coat. They followed the carriage - drawn by a team of four other horses, Princess Riju only a shadow inside, hidden by semi-sheer curtains – through the castle gates and across the bridge. Their party was made of the carriage, a Hylian driver, two Gerudo warriors who walked on either side, Tilaq and his two riders, and a single guardswoman bringing up the rear.

      The morning was chilly, but between the horse and Ganondorf, it was impossible to feel cold, so Sun simply enjoyed the breeze as it teased the strands of her hair and admired the way that the rising sun dyed everything pastel colours.

      After enough time had passed, and they were leaving Hyrule Town for Hyrule Field, she gathered together all her nerve and said, “You told me you would help me recover my past.”

      “Where should I begin?”

      “Just… start.”

      He sighed, and she could sense his hesitation. She remembered how he had stood at the gates of Gerudo Town what must have been eighteen years ago. He had been thin and frightened, but as soon as she had spoken to him, he had responded to her friendship with a warmth and eagerness that she only now understood was not the result of a happy childhood. He had eaten up her company and their games like a starving creature and while their partings at the end of the summer had been mournful for her, it had been devastating for him. She decided to take the weight of talking from his hands, and made a start of her own.

      “We met for the first time when we were children, didn’t we? You had to disguise yourself to get inside Gerudo Town, and you and your mother stayed with me and mine. We stayed up all night, talking…” she went on, not concerned with whether or not he was listening, but with gathering up every errant anecdote and memory, threading them through each other like a braid until she was weaving a rope. It was as if, by speaking it aloud, she made it solid finally. All the fragments that she had already remembers were ordered, and by doing so, she was able to fill in the blanks. Like walking down a flight of stairs in the dark, she put a mental foot forward and found firm ground beneath her, and then another and another. She was talking softly, and just like she had planned, no one else was able to hear her above the sound of Tilaq’s hooves.

      “And then… Mama said you had gotten too old. You were becoming a man, and that we couldn’t risk bringing you into the town every year any more… and…” The words dried up. There was nothing but abyss under her foot.

      It was then that he finally spoke, picking up her thread. “But you were becoming a woman. You could leave Gerudo Town for longer and longer stretches without supervision. So we would meet in the desert at night. Everyone just assumed you had a Hylian boyfriend hidden in the barrens.”

      “And then when I was even older, I would visit you in the Hebra Mountains.”

      “That’s right.”

      “But things get… fuzzy after that. My mother allowed me to go to the mountains so long as I came home before autumn. You had Tilaq by that point, but I don’t remember how you got him… We met at the lake…” She stopped, coming up against a psychological wall.

      “It’s because you’re forgetting a few people. We were not alone in the mountains. But if we’re going to talk about that part, there are things that you must know about me, things that happened when you weren’t there.”

      “Why?”

      “Because when you remember the reason why you were sealed away, you’ll be remembering a falsehood.”

      He talked and she listened. Together they pieced together the events. As they went through it, she remembered parts that he had forgotten, and would expand or correct him when necessary. Sometimes he would tell her things that she was sure he had never told her before, as if it those things had only gained significance in hindsight. They would stop to eat and rest occasionally, stretch their legs and separate in order to collect themselves, treating the pauses in distance as pauses in time, before resuming once more.

      By the time that night had fallen, and the story was complete, Sun was so exhausted that all she could feel was numbness. Her mind treated each revelation dispassionately, as if it were separate from herself. She knew that if she accepted everything he said, the emotional toll it would take to hold the past in her heart would have hollowed her out like a dead thing. Instead, she held it outside herself, letting sleep sweep her away and cataloguing in unconsciousness what her conscious mind rejected.

      When she woke, she knew that it was all true.

      And she was going to kill him.

      xxx

      Before.

      He felt as if his heart was going to expand until it suffocated him, but he wouldn’t cry. He might later, in the dead of night when they were all asleep and couldn’t hear him, but he would be damned if any of them followed him outside and saw him in tears. He panted as if he had been running, bearing the hot anger inside him like it was molten iron in his stomach, searing and unbearable. The wind and snow didn’t help. Inside it was an oven of tension and suppressed hatred, and out here it was unforgiving and barren. Goddess, how he longed to feel the warm sand beneath his feet, not this awful carpet of freezing snow.

      “Gan…”

      It was his mother. He rounded on her. “Why does she have to talk about Sun like that? It’s horrible!”

      A thin woman, whose height only emphasised the sharp angles of her hips and shoulders; even then she was sickly. The northern climate suited her even less than it did him, and he always felt guilty for complaining when he looked at her wasting away, shivering by the fire. But she, at least, had chosen to bring them here and he couldn’t help but throw his resentment at her feet. To her credit, she always had the strength to pick it up and hand it back to him with loving eyes. This isn’t mine. If you take it back, I can make it easier for a little while. It was hard for both of them, he knew, but when he didn’t have the strength to keep going, she would lend him plenty to spare, as if the love for her son was bottomless. He just wished he was strong enough to protect her, to give back every meal that she had skipped so that he could eat, every friend she had lost, and every possession she had sold. He felt the threat of tears again and turned away, hiding his face in his gloves.

      “I know…” she said, coming up to him and pulling him close. “I know it’s difficult when they talk about your future. It’s such a heavy weight for you to carry when you’re still so young…”

      “I don’t want any of it!” he cried. “Sun’s my friend! She’s the only friend I have, and they keep going on about her like she’s some sort of livestock. ‘Too skinny,’ they say, ‘not good for child bearing’. Who cares!?” his voice had become shrill. “I don’t want to marry her!”

      His mother was regarding him with that infinitely patient look that made him feel ashamed. “You might feel different when you’re older…” she offered. “She won’t be skinny forever… and feelings deepen over time.”

      Every breath cut into his chest like a knife. “Was that the only reason you took me home? To find a wife?”

      Alma was silent for a moment, and for the first time, she was unable to meet his eyes. “It was the reason they suggested it. They wanted you to find a wife so that, when you take your place on the throne of Hyrule, you could establish a dynasty.”

      If I take the throne of Hyrule,” He snarled.

      “But,” she went on, as if he hadn’t spoken, “it wasn’t the reason I wanted to take you there. I wanted you to see your people, walk among them and feel the heat of the desert sun and… I just wanted you to be happy. I wanted you to know what a pomegranate tasted like. I wanted you to play with children your own age. I can’t stand to see you lonely.”

      He let her embrace him then, feeling her fingers in his hair and burying his face in her furs. He couldn’t stop the tears coming now and by the time they parted and she was wiping his face with her thumb, they had frozen on his cheeks.

      “I hate this,” he moaned. “I hate the snow.”

      “It doesn’t have to be so bad,” she said, smiling. “Sand is nice and all, but it doesn’t stick together like snow…” She knelt in front of him and took a handful of snow. “If you take this,” she had packed the snow into a ball and handed it to him, parts of it still clinging to her gloves, “you can press it together and make almost anything. There were legends of people who lived long ago who would make their houses of out snow…”

      He could still feel the tightness in his chest, but the pain was slowly fading and he managed a weak smile. “That’s just another story…” he mumbled.

      “No! No, I’ll show you.” She piled snow up in front of her. The wind had gone down, and the sky was clear, the snow around them thick and undisturbed. It was one of those rare days when he felt that the mountain had let off trying to actively smother them. Using her hands to shape and mould, she succeeded in creating a brick shape, the heat of her hands under the gloves causing the snow to melt and form a hard shell of ice. “They would make their houses out of bricks like this, and it would trap heat inside. They could light fires inside without it melting, and everything.”

      “I don’t believe you,” he said, but his smile was natural now, and he was distracted.

      “Come on, let’s make warriors out of the snow.”

      “What?”

      “Like this,” she instructed him to take the snowball she had given him and roll it into the snow so that it formed a boulder just a little higher than his hip, and then another and another, so they could be stacked one on top of the other. The use the branches of dead trees to make arms and spears, and soon he was fetching tools from the cabin, giving them helmets made out of pots and shields made out of basket lids.

      This, of course, drew the attention of the individuals who had driven Ganondorf out into the snow in the first place. A pair of sister witches, stooped and leathery, with large shrewd eyes that made him shiver. When he had reached for a cooking pot, one of them, Koume, snatched his wrist in long spidery fingers and held him in a vice like grip. He froze, resisting the urge to struggle.

      It was worse when he struggled.

      “What are you doing?”

      “Mama and I are making snow warriors…” he flushed under her derisive glare.

      “Aren’t you a little old to be playing in the snow?”

      “I’m eleven,” he said, but under his breath. It was better not to openly contradict them.

      “Shouldn’t you be training?” This was the wizened creature known as Kotake by the fire, warming her arthritic hands which clicked like little pebbles.

      “I trained all morning,” he mumbled. It was true. His arms and legs still ached from it.

      “Go then.” Koume let him go, scowling.

      He breathed, and selected a pot as far away from her as possible before dashing outside before she could stop him. To his annoyance, they followed him outside, shuffling in the tracks he had left in his wake. Trying to ignore them, he continued building with his mother, enjoying the expressions he could draw on them with his fingers. It was difficult. Though they didn’t interfere, the day had lost some of its vibrancy under their cold eyes.

      Finished, they stepped back to admire their handiwork. Two stoic snow warriors stood to attention before them and, though he felt a little silly, he couldn’t help but glow a little inside. It was so rare that he could simply do something for the sake of itself. It was something that Sun would have suggested they do, and he felt a pang of regret that she wasn’t here to enjoy this. But it was a good pang. They would simply have to make their own someday when she came to visit him here.

      “Very sweet,” Koume crowed, and he glared at her.

      “Indeed,” Kotake agreed, raising her hand. “I think this would make for an excellent learning opportunity, don’t you sister?”

      “Absolutely.” There was a hideous gleam in their eyes, and he felt his heart sink like a stone.

      His mother stepped towards them. “There’s no need to –”

      “There’s every need, now be silent Alma.”

      She shut her mouth and sagged. He couldn’t blame her for her compliance. He had done no different in all the times before. She would only make it worse in the end if she tried to stand up to them. He waited, trying to pretend that he wasn’t afraid.

      It was Kotake who did it, raising her gnarled hands towards the snowmen. They began to twitch and stir, stretching out their wooden limbs with eerie creaking sounds. The exertion of building them combined with the stamina training he had done that morning left him with little energy, and though he managed to drive out of the way of the first wild swipe of the snowman’s arm, he was struck by the second one, the stick breaking across his face. Luckily, his skin was numb because of the cold, and so he didn’t feel it as the sharp bits of the stick left little cuts on his forehead, but inside he felt like something had died.

      Couldn’t they just let him have this?

      Crudely, he dismantled the stubborn snow warriors and snapped their spears over his knee.

      “Again,” Koume ordered, and her sister obliged.

      They formed a second time, like creatures climbing out of a bog, the arms first, this time made entirely of snow and ice, pulling themselves out of the ground. These were different, not the clumsy round things that he and his mother had made, but tall hulking monsters without faces, advancing on him, twice his height and three times as wide. He knew what they wanted him to do, but he had no strength left to call on the magic inside him.

      He could hear his mother pleading.

      “Please stop this!”

      “You know how it has to be,” they said in unison, and their voices were like nails on the inside of his skull. “Suffering and rage are the mother and father of power and resilience. Scarred flesh is harder to cut, broken bones are tougher to break again, and a mind that has been tested will not succumb to fear and compassion.”

      As he reached for one of the cooking pots, hoping to wield it like a club, he couldn’t help thinking; if that’s true, then why am I so weak?
    • Chapter 12 – Mourning

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      It was still early morning, that time when a profound silence blankets the world and all that could be heard was the secret workings of her body, her heart beating like a race horse, and her breath like wind. She woke with lightning in her chest, skin burning. Even at this early hour, the heat of the previous day hadn’t dissipated. There hadn’t been rain for several weeks, and everything felt brittle, crackling with anticipation. She left her room and crept outside, exiting the building via the kitchens. Stables that had once only been used to trade horses and provide communal lodgings for travellers had been expanded to include proper inns, complete with kitchens, cafes and second floor accommodation for those willing to pay a little extra. The princess and her entourage, of course, were put in the very best rooms, the innkeeper and stablemaster having been alerted of their arrival ahead of time. At some point in the past, Sun had travelled this road before, and she remembered the small circular building it had once been, surrounded by tents and campfires. It would have been better if nothing had changed – there would have been less chance of someone interrupting her.

      The guards who had travelled with them were sleeping in the downstairs communal area so as to better be prepared if something were to happen during the night. Despite the oppressive heat, everyone seemed asleep, though Sun paused to watch them for a few minutes just to make sure.

      She had bound her hair high in a ponytail, and dressed in her traveller’s gear, fully prepared to make her departure when the time came. On the way to the carriage, she passed the stables, pausing by Tilaq’s stall. He seemed uncomfortable in such tight quarters, and, like her, bristling with energy, snorting and pawing the ground. She reached out a hand and he extended his neck, touching his nose to her palm in greeting. He must remember her, she thought, and was relieved. Having a horse would make this so much easier. Letting her hand drop, she crossed the remaining distance to the carriage.

      There would be a night watchman, but they would be responsible for the entire stable, and Riju would not have set a watch on the carriage. They carried no money, after all, and besides, the worst that could happen in times like these would be if an animal clambered in and gnawed at the chest and fouled the clothes. Therefore, Sun was able to walk right up to the carriage, and search the back for the rest of her possessions. Wrapped up a fur cloak, she had kept the weapons found in the cavern. Checking them, she saw that they were still sharp, the light of the moon illuminating the mirrored edges in strips of brilliant blue light. Holding them in her hand, her thumb on the blade, she imagined what this could do to flesh and shuddered. Now that she stood here, alone, her chest empty and aching, the reality of her decision in her hand, a paralysis came over her. It was no use. No matter what she did now, she had already lost. Kill him or not, she still had to live with the consequences of his actions. Wrapping her fist around the handle of the first knife, she squeezed until it hurt, wanting to cry but feeling nothing by air inside her.

      “Sun… what are you doing?”

      She froze, whole body like a taut bowstring. No. No, he wasn’t supposed to be here. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

      “Stay away from me.” It wasn’t a plea, but a threat.

      “Sun,” his voice was low, wishing to avoid the attention of anyone that might be nearby. “I know you’re angry. I would understand if you –”

      She couldn’t stand his voice. It sent ripples through her like poison. “Shut up,” she breathed.
      He was getting closer to her now, close enough for her to strike. “I’m not going to force you to –”

      It was too much. Whether he knew it or not, every word out of him was like an affront. Force her? Oh no, he had never forcedher to do anything. “I said shut up!” she cried and lashed out, the knife coming free of its sheath and darting out like a snake, one quick jab. It returned red, and she stared at it with eyes that saw nothing, the blade quivering.

      Ganondorf snarled, clutching his arm. Black was pooling just under his shoulder where the blade had bit. She didn’t look at him as he took the sleeve of his shirt and tore it free, using it as a makeshift bandage, each breath coming in shuddering gasps, his whole body appearing to curl around the wound, other hand pressing on it even as blood leaked through his fingers. He didn’t return her attack – he had been unprepared for it. That’s what he gets for not listening to me, she thought coldly. She understood that she should be feeling alarm, regret even, but all she could feel was disdain. Let him bleed. It was nothing compared to the fate that he had condemned her to.

      xxx

      Before.

      He was fifteen when he buried his mother.

      After that, his life became a special kind of hell.

      He had not realised when she was alive, but once she was gone he became suddenly aware that she had been his shield against the witches. While they had hated her, openly berated and contradicted her, she had actively protected him from the worst of their abuse. He might never know the extent to which they had tortured her for this, or what threats they had levied against her in order to secure her compliance. But, there had always been present a grudging reverence for the woman who had borne the first Gerudo man in ten thousand years and for this reason they had limited themselves to chipping away are their morale, hissing insults under their breaths, planting lies between mother and son in an attempt to get them to turn on each and keeping the worst attacks for when Alma was not around to step in front of him. He had never told her that they would do this. When they starved him, he pretended he wasn’t hungry. When they burned him, he would hide his scars from her. Kotake and Koume never physically hurt Alma, but the implication was always there and he would have endured any trial or torment to protect her.

      When Alma had become virtually bedbound, never leaving the fireside, he had been made to fetch the ingredients for her medicine, risking his life more than once on the freezing cliffs of the mountains, staying out all night if he had to. He never once refused, even though he was well aware that the sisters could easily do this themselves. He had felt the strength in their bony arms when they held his arm in freezing water for failing their tests. He had seen them fly more than once, and they had summoned more than enough horrors for him to fight. He even wondered if they could simply conjure the ingredients they needed from the air, but had never challenged this. If he put his foot down, he knew that they would lock him in the cellar and simply let Alma die, choking on her own blood. That would make it his fault, they would whisper in that way that made his skin crawl. It would be as if he had killed her with his own hands.
      Such a lazy, ungrateful boy.

      And then there was the potion itself, a foul yellow tea that made the cabin smell like a swamp. Alma would shudder and gag as she tried to drink it, making weak jokes about how bad it tasted, and Ganondorf wondered if it was really poison. She would get better initially. They colour would return to her face and she would stop shivering. Her coughing would subside, and she might have the strength to sit by the window and watch the snow. But then the sickness would come back only hours later, and she would cough until her whole body was wracked with it, worse than before. He wanted to sit with her, be with her in case she needed him, but the witches wouldn’t allow it, forcing him outside to chop wood or some other inane chore that was just an excuse to keep him away from her.

      He had been out gathering herbs when it happened. They had already wrapped her up in a blanket and laid her on her bed. Perhaps knowing that he would be volatile at that moment, they had left him alone for three days. Knowing little of his peoples’ customs and funeral rites, he could only do what felt right. He buried her with her meagre possessions, and in warm clothes. He found safflina and knotted it together to make a bouquet, which he laid on her chest. The cold preserved her, but even so, in the time it took him to break through the hard ground to make a deep enough grave, she had stopped being his mother. Whatever spirit that had been Alma, it had deserted the bundle of bones that he put to rest.
      He hoped she was somewhere warm, and wept.

      xxx

      It had been Kotake who found him, kneeling by the mound, still has if he had been turned to stone. At first he was afraid and angry, and watched her like he might watch a wild and dangerous animal. But all she did was kneel, her eyes closed, her head bowed. After a while, he saw something that astounded him. Tears. Shimmering like jewels on her lined face. She was murmuring something under her breath, her frogs voice surprisingly soft and pleasant.

      “What is that?” he asked, unable to keep the resentment out of his voice. How dare she come here and mourn. After everything she had done to hurt them, every scar and every cutting word, what right did she have to weep over his mother’s grave. “What are you saying?”

      She met his eye. There was something there he had never seen before. Something soft and trembling. “It’s a Gerudo prayer to Din to shelter the souls of the dead.”

      They stared at each other. Despite the harsh living, he had grown taller than her, and she seemed like a malevolent old toad, sinking into the folds of her own cloak like a bog monster. He had never thought about her as a woman, a person, but now he felt at a disadvantage. She was more a part of his heritage than he was, it seemed. He could not pray for his mother in his own language. Was this her plan? To make him feel inadequate even in this?

      “Repeat after me, bo –” She stopped, and cleared her throat. She had been about to call him boy. He continued to stare at her. He had never heard her do any more than bark at him, but she was speaking with something behind her voice that was eerily like compassion. She took a breath, and spoke again.

      “Din, illi’at alnaar, yr’ja zanea kai.” Din, Goddess of the earth, comfort us.

      He echoed her, one line at a time. Had she ever taught him anything before this? His mother had taught him to fish, hunt, read and write. Even Sun had taught him how to cook a little, how to climb and swim. The witches had always claimed that they were teaching him how to fight, how to endure, but they had never instructed him, only thrown him into battle after battle and let him survive or be overcome. This might actually be the first time that Kotake had ever passed on knowledge to him that wasn’t lies intended to wound.

      They came to the end of the prayer and fell silent. Kotake drew back her cloak and took a lantern that had been hanging from her belt and placed it on the grave. “The Gerudo light fires so that Din can find their loved ones and guide them to a land of clear water and palm trees,” she said. She seemed to be waiting for him to do something. Swallowing, feeling like his insides were made of knives, he lifted his hand and produced a flame, lighting the lantern and closing it to shield it against the cold.

      “Step back,” Kotake instructed, and he did, standing and shuffling back. Taking a deep breath, she made a gesture as if to scatter something on the grave, and ice formed a shell over the mound inches thick and sparkling like crystal, encasing the lantern so that its flame formed a star light glow, casting patterns like broken glass on the snow.

      “It’s not perfect…” she said, pulling her cloak closer about her. “We do not have the tools to properly embalm her. But the Goddess does not neglect even her poorest children…”

      It was more than he could bear. Not caring that she could see him, he buckled against the wall of the cabin and wept bitterly, hunched around the pain in his heart and letting hopelessness flood him. The sun had set, the only light left on earth trapped inside the ice tomb, and at that moment he could not believe that there would be a sunrise ever again.

      How could there be?

      Kotake approached and stood by him, close but not touching. She was simply a presence, a reminder of the existence of other living things. Not a comfort, just a counter to the void.

      Once there was nothing left inside him to bring out, she spoke. “Gannondorf. When you are ready, there is something I must tell you.”

      He didn’t appear to hear her for several minutes. Finally, he nodded. He had sagged down into a sitting position in the snow, his back against the wall of the cabin.

      “You have a father.”

      That made him stir. Something hard and awful awakened in his chest. It was painful, but better than the empty.

      “He lives in Necluda. I can take you to him.”

      “Why are you telling me this now?” The unspoken question; how can I trust you?

      “Because Koume would not want you to know.”

      He lifted his head, his eyes red and sunken. “Who is he? Does he know about me?”

      “A Hylian temple priest. He… doesn’t know.”

      He didn’t respond. The darkness gathered. He couldn’t feel the cold anymore. It was as if there was no more time, that the future had been put on hold indefinitely. He couldn’t think of getting up, of getting on. Not now. After what seemed like hours, Kotake spoke again.

      “I must go. Koume will be wondering where I am. Please… don’t tell her I was here. She… she would be angry with me.”

      He expected her to disappear dramatically, leap into the air and fly away like a bat, but she simply turned and walked into the darkness, swallowed by the night. This insight into the dynamic between the two sisters confused him. It was like the world was shifting under him. It was never going to be the same again. Childhood was long behind him, and with it the illusion that the world was simple and there was no more than good and evil, summer and winter. His mother was dead and Kotake was speaking to him like he was family, offering this peace between them. Was it another trick? How could he know, emotionally wounded as he was?

      xxx

      Out of respect for her role as his mother, the witches had never restricted their movement, though they did demand on knowing where Alma was taking him at any given time. Three days more days passed before they both returned and resumed their tyranny. Their control of him became relentless and paranoid. Koume in particular would accuse him of imaginary crimes and punish him accordingly. He was perpetually monitored, and when he tried to leave the mountain, she would beat him back with increasingly terrible visions and tests. Trapped and desperate like a caged wolf, he took to skulking about the cabin, a vengeful ghost.

      Something was different, however. Kotake was strangely absent from the worst of the attacks. When Ganondorf was accused of letting food spoil and Koume burned his hands in response, she was nowhere to be seen. Later, when he struggled to sleep that night, she had visited him with balms and soothing potions, using her ice magic to lessen the damage caused by the burns. She took to warning him, leaving him little paper messages, which she instructed him to burn, letting him know when Koume was planning to spring a nasty surprise on him, or giving him tips on how to survive the ruthless training he went through. She snuck him food and even little treats, berries and trinkets.

      As Koume became more horrible, Kotake grew more generous. Perhaps Koume knew her sister was doting on him and was increasing her punishment accordingly, or maybe it was the other way around. Eventually, when Kotake stopped trying to hide her mercy, Koume began to turn on her. Undermining her, destroying the gifts she brought him, keeping food from both of them. Much like Alma before her, she was safe from physical attacks, but it was clear that a rift was growing between the sisters.

      And then one night when the last of the snowstorms raged against their shelter, Kotake shook him awake and told him to get dressed. Groggily, he obeyed her, reaching for his clothes kept in a chest at the foot of his bed.

      “No, not those,” she hissed, and handed him a bundle.

      Inside was a set of beautifully crafted cold weather clothes, including thick fur boots, a heavy cloak and gloves. He had never owned anything so rich. He imagined this is what princes might wear when travelling. He traced the silver threads with his fingers, admiring their patterns, but Kotake took his hand. “We don’t have time,” she said. “We need to escape.”

      “Escape?” His heart beat a little harder.

      “She’s going to kill you tonight. She thinks you’re too weak to be the King of the Gerudo, so she plans to smother you and start over with another child.”

      It was a mark of how bad it had been lately, that he believed her without question. He had thought something like this had been coming for some time.

      “Come on, Gan, we can leave now and flee the mountains. I can get you past her sentries and we can go to the Necluda to find your father. It’s time.”
    • Chapter 13 – Poison

      Display Spoiler



      Before.


      He had wanted to go into the village with her, but she had been right. He was too tall, too conspicuous to walk among the Hylian people. As it was, he waited some distance away at a small campsite amid a copse of trees. Staring at the campfire, he tried to clear his mind, but the thoughts kept coming back to him. What if he refused to come? What if Kotake found him and he wanted nothing to do with either of them? What if he spread the word of his existence to others? It is not a crime to exist, he reminded himself, but Kotake had done a good job in drilling into him the risk of making himself known to others.


      “You would be hunted. You were brought into this world to make change, to tip the balance – but there are people, people of power and wealth who see you as a threat to their continued ability to leech from society. You will be seen as a thief for taking back what is yours, and they would kill you for it. You must wait until you are strong enough.”


      What “strong enough” looked like, she hadn’t been particularly clear. Still, there was wisdom in her words. His mother had fled the desert because of this exact reason, her life in danger should anyone discover that the baby on her back was not a girl. She would not have done that if there had been no threat.


      Still, he chafed at the limitations this brought him. He could never sleep at an inn, or walk the safer roads, or go anywhere people might see him. And he had to wait for Kotake to make contact with the man who was his father, to bring him here. Restless, he stood and began to pace. He had alternated between glowering into the fire and pacing around the copse. After a little more of this, thinking it would calm him down, went to his horse, Tilaq.


      This had been a gift from Kotake on his sixteenth birthday. Given that even he was not entirely sure on what day of the year he was born, and simply measured his age by each coming winter, he was sure that she had simply made this up, in order to have an excuse to travel more efficiently. She was small and light enough to ride a normal horse, but as he was rapidly reaching adulthood and was already over seven feet tall, not just any horse from the field would do. He could have ridden a stronger stallion, but as Kotake explained, he would yet outgrow that. So, taking him to what she referred to the Gerudo Plains but was known to most as the Oseira Plains, she helped him set up a campsite and then told him, under no circumstances, was he to follow her into the grasslands. He obeyed, more because he was too tired to follow her than anything else, but he had wondered what she wanted to keep secret. They stayed there, close to the mountains, for over a month. Each night, Kotake would leave him at the camp, warning him not to follow her, and each night he grew more and more curious as to what she had was doing, until finally, he decided to disobey her.


      Climbing high so that she wouldn’t see him, he crept along the edge of the rocky cliffside, always making sure he kept sight of the huddled figure making her way through the tall grass. It wasn’t long before she made it to a clearing in which wild horses were grazing. They hadn’t smelled her yet and she slowed, approaching them with caution. All the horses except one lifted their heads and upon seeing her, shied and cantered away, irritated at her disturbing their night time meal. The one that was left was a black mare, slow and swollen in the late stages of a heavy pregnancy, still sleek and beautiful. She was anxious, pawing the ground and snorting, but, apparently in some kind of trance, remained where she was as Kotake closed the distance between them and took out a knife. Even at this distance he could see it flash in the late day sun and shivered. His heart beat harder. Kotake closed her other hand over the blade of the knife and he saw it come away red.


      He had seen enough. He knew little about blood magic, but enough to know that he should have heeded her warning and remained at the camp. Trembling, he was so distracted that it took him twice as long to get back, his mind whirling with the implications of what he had just seen. There was only one other kind of blood magic he had ever been told about. And that was the blood ritual his mother performed that had brought the sister witches into this world from the swirling winds of time. Feeling sick, he tried to pretend that he hadn’t seen anything.


      Two nights later, Kotake returned from her nightly excursion leading a foal by a rope around its neck, her hands covered in blood. He pretended to sleep, and lay still when she came back, watching her from the corner of his eye. Not wanting to disturb him, she tied it to a small rock pillar and disappeared into her own tent. Once he was sure she was asleep, he sat up and stared at the animal. It was like no horse he had ever seen before. Deep midnight blue coat that shimmered in the moonlight, still fluffy and wrinkled form it’s birth, it shivered on thin spidery legs. It’s mane and tail, hardly more than tufts of fur, were blood orange. New-born as it was, it still stood two or three hands taller than a normal foal, and he shuddered to think of what had happened to its mother. There was no other way to look at it – this creature was to a horse what a Gerudo was to a Hylian.


      Now that it was a colt, and large enough to ride, Kotake had bought him a saddle, bridle and other necessaries for riding. At first he had feared that he would fall and make a fool of himself, but once he was mounted, he felt the premature power beneath, steady like the earth beneath his feet, and knew that Tilaq – named for the Gerudo word for ‘unshaken’ - would never throw him, stumble or shy. Of all the gifts that Kotake had given him, this was the richest.


      Standing in front of him now, Ganondorf reached up and patted his neck, smoothing down the tousled mane. Surprising him, Kotake had been table to teach him how to groom and shoe Tilaq and once he understood what to do, he gave his pet a quick once over every morning. Though he had nothing to compare it to, he liked to believe that, thanks to this, Tilaq was in fighting condition. Partly to pass the time, and partly to calm his nerves, he took the brush from one of the saddle bags and set about methodically untangling the mane, earning an irritable nudge from the great nose. The horse could sense his anxiety and it responded in kind, almost stepping on his feet. Ganondorf admonished him gently in that tone that one reserves for young children and animals, pretending that it was the horse that was nervous and needed comfort, not himself.


      There was a crackling of broken leaves and the sound of voices coming from a little distance off. His movements became stiff and his expression fixed, and he didn’t look up, wanting to appear disinterested, though he didn’t know why. He heard Kotake’s voice.


      “Ganondorf.”


      He turned. She was alone.


      “He wouldn’t meet with us here.”


      He had expected this, but it was a disappointment nonetheless.


      “We will have to sneak you into the temple at night. He will meet us then.”


      Nodding, he asked, “so he believes you.”


      “Yes. He’s actually very interested in meeting Alma’s son,” she said with a smile. “He fully appreciates the implications of your status, and I have sworn him to secrecy.”


      “Good,” he said, though further delay made his stomach turn over. He couldn’t help but think that something was going to happen that would dash their plans. He would get caught or some other disaster and he would lose the chance to meet what was left of his living family.


      They had to do it early in the morning and he wore a thick hood and cloak. From a distance, he might be mistake for a normal Gerudo, but close to, his broad shoulders and hard features gave him away. So they hurried through the village, avoiding the main road and rather skirting around the backs of buildings. The temple was the only stone structure in the settlement and appeared older by far, giving an old authority that loomed, unmoving and stoic against the sky. Such villages were becoming less common as bokoblins and other unpleasant creatures spread the influence of Ganon. It was rare to see something like this intact and even as he admired it, he imagined it in ruins – something that was a possibility given only a few short years. They entered via a small side door and he followed Kotake down a stone corridor, the sounds of his footfalls disturbing the austere silence.


      Priests were given their own chambers inside the temple with living quarters and space to meet privately with guests and parishioners. He was waiting for them outside these.


      A Hylian man, middle aged and dressed in the gold and white robes of his priesthood, stood in the doorway. Despite his age, his hair remained thick and dark, though it was receding, and his eyes were alert and inquisitive. He had his arms folded inside his robes and was watching Kotake with suspicion, made uncomfortable by her insectile appearance. Ganondrof searched the man’s face for any resemblance to himself and found none. When the priest saw him, his lips parted and his eyes became wide with awe. He wondered if the priest saw any of Alma in him and found that words wouldn’t come. The Hylian – Kotake had informed Ganondorf that his name was Cyril – spoke first.


      “Are you…Ganondorf?”


      “Yes.” His voice came out like a croak.


      “Come inside, both of you. I have prepared some food… it’s not much. I know it’s early…”


      Cyril’s living space was modest, but clean and well kept. There were books in a small bookcase, a fire in stone grate, which produced most of the light, and a frayed rug on the floor. Curtains were drawn over the window, and there was a small shrine to Hylia, complete with a vase of spring daffodils and a single candle. He invited them to sit around an oak table while he fetched a plate of savoury scone-like cakes and some clay tea cups. Everything in this room seemed to be built plainly, but to last.


      “Do you drink tea?” he asked.


      Ganondorf nodded, feeling massive and clumsy in his chair. Kotake simply perched on hers, eyes downcast, perfectly still has if she was carved from wood. On the other hand, Ganondorf was restless, tapping the tip of his finger on the table top.


      When Cyril finished brewing the tea, he took a seat opposite his son and regarded him with a sorrowful expression. “I… I’m sorry. About… Kotake told me about your mother.”


      Ganondorf felt his throat tighten. “Thank you,” he managed. He realised that he was holding his breath and exhaled. “Did you… How did you meet her?”


      “She was a warrior. One of those scouts that dress up like travellers and merchants in order to trick bokobins into ambushing them so they can report on the safest routes for actual traders.” He noticed the look of surprise on Ganondorf’s face. “You didn’t know this?”


      “No. I… she… didn’t tell me.” He couldn’t imagine her strong enough for hard travel, let alone inviting monsters to attack her.


      “Oh. Well… she found me in a tight spot. I had been captured, you see. She took out the camp single handed and made sure that I got home safely. I was so taken with her that I packed by bags and left my village to travel with her from that day on.” He smiled, nostalgia softening his features. Ganondorf tried to imagine him as a young man, a travelling preacher, struggling to keep up with the fearsome Gerudo warrior and found it comical. But was it any stranger than himself sneaking into the desert to be with sun?


      “What happened?”


      There was a pause. Neither he nor Kotake had touched anything that Cyril had given them, but almost as if he was looking for something to do with his hands, Cyril poured tea into their cups. It smelled sweet and sharp, like oranges. “When she became pregnant, I offered to marry her of course, but I don’t think she saw the need. You Gerudo do it differently, I think. She wanted to be at home with her people in Gerudo Town. Naturally, I couldn’t follow her there and the desert heat disagreed with me. So, I returned here, and we corresponded with letters. One night, I received a letter saying that she had lost the baby, and that I wasn’t to contact her again… I thought she was in pain, and I wanted to go to her, but… that was an impossibility.”


      “You never heard from her again?”


      He shook his head.


      Ganondorf watched him warily. The narrative seemed too cold, too forgotten. Had he really just accepted his lot and moved on with his life? So, he didn’t like the heat and that was the reason why he didn’t immediately go to be with her? If it had been him, he would have marched right up to the gates and demanded to see her. For all he knew, Koume could have written that letter in an attempt to isolate Alma and have full control of his upbringing. Did he feel no responsibility? If it had been Sun… The rising emotion in his chest alarmed him and he directed his thoughts elsewhere. He didn’t like to think about his future with Sun, such as it was, at the best of times.


      “But now, you’re here. We didn’t lose you after all.” His face broke into a smile, but there was something skewed about it. It didn’t reach his eyes. “I know it’s not alcoholic, but would you join me in a toast to your heath?” He raised his cup.


      Ganondorf frowned. Something was wrong. Taking up his own cup, he lifting it in imitation.


      “To you,” his father said.


      Kotake shifted and he felt her hand on his knee like a claw, nails digging into this skin. Without turning, his eyes darted to her and he saw her shake her head so slightly that he thought he might have imagined it. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, he waited for Cyril to drink first.


      He didn’t move. Seconds went by.


      Cyril’s smile slipped and Ganondorf felt his stomach sink to his boots.


      “Why don’t you drink?” he asked, his voice thin.


      Cyril gave a forced chuckle. “Suspicious one, aren’t you?”


      “Drink it.”


      He lifted the cup to his lips and tilted it, hiding his lips, but his throat didn’t move.

      Ganondorf put down his own cup and stared at it without seeing. He knew he should feel angry, and that would come, but at the moment, he felt only despair. He could see the truth now. Cyril may have loved Alma, but he had been grateful when he had received that final letter.


      “Did you know that I was male?”


      He didn’t say anything, but stared at him, his eyes watery and pleading.


      “Tell me,” Ganondorf growled, rising from his chair, towering over the little man.


      “I… Alma suspected. She… might have let slip –”


      Of course. He might have been ready for parenthood, might even have been thrilled to have a daughter. But a son? Had he said something to her? After she had confessed her suspicions, had he lashed out at her? Is that why she lied? What a relief it must have been to him.


      He had only himself to blame, really. He should have guessed.


      “I’m going to leave now. If you let me go, and do not tell another soul of my existence, I will let you live.” His voice was dead, cold like ice.


      Cyril’s hand shook as he put down his cup and bowed his head. With what must have been some nerve, he said, “I had to. I couldn’t face the Goddess if I hadn’t at least tried. You might live long enough to come to power, but know that in the end, She and her servants will prevail over you.”


      Ganondorf stared at him, open mouthed. For a moment, he had to admire the man’s gall. “Did you hear me?” he said, his voice trembling with suppressed rage.


      “I heard you.”


      “Swear that you will not speak of this.”


      “I swear.”


      With one final look of disgust, he left, closing the door behind him. His chest was tight as if there was something inside him, pushing against his ribs to get out. He didn’t stop, not for a moment, striding out of the temple and back the way they had come. Kotake was his silent shadow. When they had cleared the village and had made it back to the trees, he set about saddling Tilaq, a little rougher than perhaps there was any need to be. Just before he mounted, he paused, and spoke. His voice was like shards of glass.


      “Just make sure they don’t find his body.”


      He didn’t need to look at her to know she was smiling.
    • Chapter 14 – Lies

      Display Spoiler

      Before

      It was a peaceful, clear night, and from his spot in the lee of a rocky outcrop, he could see the stars and their constellations peppering the endless sky. An aurora painted the sky delicate rivers of yellow and blue. There was a blanketing silence that felt surreal, almost as if he were in a place of dreams. The fire snapped and flickered behind him, more for light than anything else as the night as comfortably warm.

      “Do you know why I brought you here?” This was Kotake, who was watching him from under her hood with large, dragonfly eyes.

      He remained silent, waiting.

      “Come closer,” she said, and he let out a sigh, dragging himself away from the sky and moving to sit by the fire. When he was face to face with her, she nodded towards a little pathway between two rock faces. “Do you know what lies in the grove at the end of that path?”

      “No,” he said, eyeing her with curiosity.

      “Eons ago, it is said that there were seven sages,” she said, her voice low like the rustling of leaves, “that protected all the aspects of the land of Hyrule. The spirits of these sages are eternal, and the Sheikah say that they still walk among us in one form or another. Some sleep in the inner hearts of the Divine Beasts, ready to awaken and protect their lands. Some breathe in the wind, and live in the clouds to make the rains fall. There is one that sometimes comes to that grove, the spirit of the sage of the forest. He is powerfully magical, and only chooses to take physical form so often. When a light comes from that grove, we will go to him. And you will kill him.”

      He stiffened, his jaw clenched. “Why?”

      “You cannot rule over a broken Hyrule. The Princess Zelda still lives within the castle and keeps Calamity Ganon at bay. This, you already know. If he is to give up his power to you, you must prove yourself to him.”

      “But I can already manipulate his magic.”

      Creatures who were possessed by the spirits of Calamity did not attack him, and if he took their lives, he could channel the mysterious essence they produced. He could move and shape the Malice that coated the ruins, shifting it out of his way, or forming it into structures and even weapons. The power of Calamity Ganon had spread through the world like veins from a heart and he could sometimes feel it pulsing in the earth. He could store it in his body, calling on it when he needed it to kill or poison. He had even experimented, injecting Malice into animals, though this had given him mixed results. The horrors he could create had to be disposed of, their flesh corrupt and ruined, made weak by the assault on their health and sanity.

      “What you can control is merely a fraction of his complete power. You cannot imagine the sheer destructive force of Ganon. You are yet too young to inherit it. But you are coming of age, and it’s time for you to go to the castle and offer yourself as an apostle to his control.”

      He looked away, feeling uneasy. She had told him this before. It was his destiny to forfeit his body so that Ganon could become incarnate in him. He had no idea what lurked at the centre of Hyrule, but he imagined a terrible formless darkness that consumed and withered, bound to the very stone of the castle walls. His very birth was caused by and in service of Ganon, designed to give the darkness a vessel and escape the prison in which the Goddess Hylia held him. He liked the idea of holding the power of Calamity in his hands, but what would become of him? When he became Ganon, would he gain more than he lost? He looked at his hands, equally built to wield a sword and run his fingers through the hair of his beloved. With that power, he hoped to protect her, to elevate her to Queenship. But then, was it not the nature of power that it must not be divided or by definition become weakness?

      “So, if I were to bring him the head of this sage, I would gain his favour?”

      “It would be more like a signature on a contract. You would be proving your commitment, your right to his power and your loyalty to him.”

      “I understand,” he said. “How is it to be done?”

      “He takes the form of the Lord of the Mountain. I will trap him, and you will behead him. There is a magic that I will imbue in your blade that will cause the head of the sage to become a mask, like those used by trickster gods and heroes. It is in this that the sage’s power will be captured.”

      He processed this, picturing it in his head and shuddering. There was nothing more to be said. The night no longer felt warm, and he pulled his cloak tighter around him, shivering with what could have been the chill, what could have been nervous anticipation. Hours passed.

      As the darkness deepened and the moon was shrouded in cloud, an ethereal glow cast itself against the rock walls of the valley.

      “Are you ready, Ganondorf?”

      He stood.

      xxx

      He was panting, his hand and forearms burning with blood that glowed iridescent blue. The body in front of him didn’t collapse so much as it shrivelled, dissolving. What had been muscle, flesh and hair sank before his eyes to become something black and smoking. Kotake had turned the surface into a mirror of ice, cuffing the cloven feet of the Lord of the Mountain, and the creature was now heaped on the ice like a gossamer cloak. He didn’t feel powerful.

      He felt sick.

      But then, it was over. His sword quivered, the force of his swing causing it to break the ice and embed itself in the soft earth at the bottom of the pool. Wrenching his weapon free, he knelt and picked up the mask that had been made, an almost perfect render of the many eyed creature he had slain, delicate and impossibly soft, the fur flowing through his fingers like feathers. It was beautiful and awful all at once.

      He heard a voice. It was Kotake, gleeful, voice slick with cruel laughter.

      “Did I do well, sister?”

      He straightened up, looking at her. She was not looking at him, but at a spot above his head. Dread spread through his limbs like poison. Turning, he saw who the witch spoke to.

      Koume floated in the air, positioned as if perched on an invisible ledge. Her smile was terrible, her eyes narrowed in twisted mirth. “Oh, Kotake, I could not have done it better myself.”

      “What is the meaning of this?” His voice shook.

      “Consider it the ultimate test,” Koume sneered. “I knew that if you stayed in that Goddess forsaken mountain, you would die like your witless mother.” His hand was still on the hilt of his sword and he raised it, almost out of instinct. Her words were pierced his heart and suddenly that bitter feeling of helplessness came over him, as if everything he had become in her absence was being ripped away. “We needed to build you up, arm you for this moment, nurture the darkness inside you. And you have risen to the occasion admirably.” There was a razor edge to her tone that turned her praise to condemnation.

      Kotake had joined her sister in the air and they embraced. His eyes darted to her. He wasn’t going to call her traitor, wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. For her to have turned traitor, she would have to have been on his side. Telling himself that she hadn’t taken him in, that he had not been hungry for an ally, was easier than admitting the truth. “So all this,” he spat, holding out his sword, the heavy claymore that had been another gift from Kotake, “was just preparation for what?”. His clothes, his armour and bow; all had been presented to him as gifts, proof that he was worthy to take ownership of Hyrule.

      “Not just your sword, boy,” Kotake slipped back into berating him as easily as if she had taken off a cloak. “Did you really think your Hylian father had the guts or the brains to try and kill you on his own? Where would a priest of Hylia procure deadly poison? Who do you think convinced him he would succeed?” She covered her mouth with her hands, eyes wide with mock horror as if she had said something she shouldn’t have. “Fool that you are, even now you don’t understand what we’ve done for you, what we’ve made you into. Poor, hard done by little child, see the power that was always inside you. Bow to the darkness that should have ruled you from the start.”

      He snarled. His hands were shaking. “So what? You played your parts and I’ve acted out every scene in your theatre. The hero kills his father, buries his mother and is rewarded with infinite power?” He thrust the mask of the Lord of the Mountain in the air. “I don’t need this – I am not two parts of a whole. How do you think Ganon will welcome me if I bring him the heads of the great Gerudo witches, Twinrova?”

      They cackled in unison, but he stood firm. “It doesn’t matter what you do. Kill, or die – either way we will have our end of the prophecy fulfilled. If you prove wanting against our final test, the shadow that you have summoned will finish what you failed to.”

      He wasn’t listening, didn’t care what they had to say. He let the mask fall onto the ice and stepped forward, drawing on all the strength within him. There was already an inherent magic here, lingering despite the execution he had performed moments earlier, and while it was unfamiliar to him, it inspired him. They underestimated him, unaware of the power he had accumulated since he left Hebra, and had a taste of freedom. They were not there when he trained in the Gerudo canyons, waiting for night to fall and Sun to come to him. Fury coursed through him and it was easy to channel that energy into his hands. It was their turn to fight.
      In his left hand he formed a spear of fire, which he hurled at Kotake, looking to kill her first. It found its mark, pinning the witch to the rock wall behind her. She had lifting her hands to form a shield of ice, but either she hadn’t been quick enough, or the shield wasn’t strong enough, because the burning spear had pierced it cleanly in two and she hung from her throat like an old coat, twitching. Koume screeched hatefully and he rounded on her. A thousand different methods of destroying her flashed through his mind, but he knew better than to deliberate. Seething, teeth bared, she lashed out with her own fire lances, but he was too quick for her. Every test, every forced lesson, had prepared him for this moment and his face was twisted in a vicious grin as he impaled her on his sword, lifting it skyward so that her body slipped down and black blood spattered on the ground at his feet. With a cry, he swung the sword in an arch, causing the writhing creature to fly away from him, tumbling grotesquely until it came to a stop, and lay still.

      There was silence.

      He was breathing heavily, his hair clinging to his damp forehead. For a moment, he didn’t dare move. It seemed impossible that they would actually be dead. The magical lance that he had created snuffed out, causing the first corpse to hit the earth with a thud that set his teeth on edge. Nothing moved.

      Then, the moon broke free of the clouds. The grove was illuminated in cold white light and he saw it, out of the corner of his eye. It was the size and shape of a Gerudo warrior, but male and clothed in liquid darkness that swirled and rippled as if under water. Where the body of the Lord of the Mountain had fallen, the darkness there had taken form. He stared at it, peering across the distance between them. It was as if his eyes didn’t want to look at it, slipping over the place where it stood and refusing to bring it into focus, but its very presence sent a shock of terror through him as if he had been struck by lightning. He was paralysed, caught between heartbeats. The figure took a step towards him, the outline of a heavy boot crunching on the broken ice, body consuming light and air so that he felt pulled towards it. Regaining the use of his limbs, he staggered back, raising his sword in front of him.

      The shadow – his shadow – took another step.

      Panic flooding him, he reached down and picked up the discarded mask, holding it out for the shadow. It took every last bit of his nerve not to crumple in front of this thing. It was six feet away from him, and it raised its own sword, each movement appearing to distort and slice the reality around it.

      … See the power that was always inside you. Bow to the darkness that should have ruled you from the start…

      … The shadow that you have summoned will finish what you failed to…

      … Our final test…

      He fled.

      xxx

      Weeks later.

      “Are you sure this will work?”

      His fingers brushed her cheek and he bent to kiss her forehead, shutting his eyes so that she wouldn’t see the pain in them. “The ritual was a success. The shadow doesn’t follow me when I sleep. Switching over ownership of the mask, and therefore ownership of the crime committed to obtain it, will mean that the shadow will pursue you instead.” He felt her shudder and wrapped his arms around her, hands on her soft hair. “But… while you are asleep, it will be weak, stationary. I can fight it then. I can – I will – defeated it. Listen to me, Sun.” He took her face in his hands and lifted it so that she had to look him in the eye. “It will be like taking an afternoon nap. You’ll wake up and seconds will have passed for you. We’ll be together again before you know I’m gone.”

      She buried her face in his shoulder. She was scared, he could tell, and trying to hide it. His heart contracted. There was a significant part of him, the part that held her and loved her with all the ferocity he had, that believed he could do it. That part scowled at the fear inside him, snapped its teeth and demanded an end to the whole thing. He was so close. Just one last fight, one last risk, and he could be with her forever. They could block out the rest of the world and simply tangle themselves in each other. They would wander the land, beholden to no one but themselves. Or they could buy a boat and just sail off the Necluda coast, and leave everything behind. The future would be spread ahead of them, infinite and filled with nothing but peace.
      He had stored everything he owned, every gift, clothes and armour, weapons and trinkets, in the cavern with her. He told himself this was to keep everything safe until he returned. He would only need his horse, one set of armour, his sword and his wits for this fight. This wasn’t going to take him more than a night. He had felt the shadow closing in on them as they traversed the Hebras. It was close to them. A few hours travelling, and he would come back to her a free man.
      It wasn’t because looking at those things made him feel sick with anxiety. It wasn’t because it had been Kotake who had procured these treasures for him, and to continue to carry and use them felt like admitting he still owed her something.

      Leaving Sun here would keep her safe. It was a key part of his plan to destroy the shadow.
      It wasn’t because he couldn’t face the possibility that she might see through his lie and realise that it had been him who had killed the Lord of the Mountain, and not the witches. It wasn’t because he was too ashamed to look at her for longer than a moment, or because he was sure that time would erode his strength of will and he would blurt out a confession to her. He was certainly not afraid that she would reject and abandon him upon finding out the truth. After all, he would be coming back to wake her up. She would be overjoyed to see him triumphant and that would overshadow everything that led up to this. There would be no need to tell her whose fault it had been.

      He used his command of the strange energy that powered the Sheikah technology to set everything up. He had spent many nights altering its inner workings, reversing and resetting its power source in order to turn the resurrection chamber into a sarcophagus. It would not heal her body, but maintain it in a deep sleep. He wondered if she would dream.
      “I’ll see you soon, Sun,” he said, and bent to kiss her, breathing in the smell of citrus and lotus flowers, lingering despite himself.

      She talked to him while he helped her into the glowing pool, and he wished that she wouldn’t. Words of encouragement, blithely making plans for when she woke up.

      “We should go to the Gorons, you know,” she said. “They have this powder – I think it’s made out of the lizards that live there – but anyway, it makes the most fiery curry, you wouldn’t believe. I’d like to try making it.”

      He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

      He was glad that he wouldn’t have to go for too long without her cooking. He could imagine the sparse joyless meals he would have to endure if he did end up never coming back.

      But he would come back.

      He would.
    • Chapter 15 - Flight
      Display Spoiler


      In the moonlight, she could see the criss-cross of scars along his bare forearm, faded but shining like silver, and looked away. She didn’t want to see him in pain, not because she sympathised, but because it was insult to her. He didn’t get to be in pain, not now.

      “You’re insane,” he spat, “put down the knife.”

      “No.” Her voice was calm, cold like iron.

      “What are you going to do? What’s the conclusion to this? I can’t kill you, because I’d be forfeiting my own life, and you’re not going to kill me because it doesn’t change anything.”

      “Don’t assume that you know what I will or will not do.” He was right, of course. Killing him would change nothing, except perhaps bring about a satisfying sense of justice. At least he would see some consequence for his actions. Not enough, but some.

      “I was –”

      “Don’t say you were young.”

      “I –”

      “Don’t say you were scared.”

      “I was broken. Is that what you want to hear?” he raised his voice, speaking over her.

      “You know what someone said to me?” she hissed. “She said she didn’t understand why you were still breathing. You’re so hated, and have so much potential for death and ruin, but those around you have let you live, and now I know why. It’s because you’ve managed to manipulate the world so that someone else pays for every mistake you’ve ever made.”

      “I’m paying for it now!”

      “I’m sorry,” her voice was still low, but searing with sarcasm. “How inconvenient for you that I just happened to show up and remind you that you have something to be ashamed of.”

      There were sounds coming from the stable. The night watchman was due to come round, and he would see two of them, Ganondorf bleeding and the knife dripping in her hand. She turned her head to look in that direction and he used her distraction to close the distance between them and grab her wrists, turning the blades away from him. “Sun, I thought I could make it better. I thought I could reverse that I had done.”

      “How can I believe you?” She hadn’t realised that she had been crying. “You could have taken it back. You could have woken me up and we would have faced it together.” She strained against him, furious at his advantage. It was just another way he had benefitted from his cowardice. He had been free to grow strong and tall, and she had remained as she was. Ten years ago, she could have overpowered him. “I loved you. I was willing to die for you. And you put me away just like the other reminders of your shame.”

      “I can’t change the past,” he said, almost pleading. “What do you expect of me?”

      She shoved her boot into his kneecap and he grunted, loosening his grip. Snatching her hands back, she lashed out once again with the seikan. If he had been armed, it might have been an equal fight, but he could only meet her blade with the flat of his palm, or step back fast enough to limit the depth of her cuts. Two strikes and he was bleeding from cuts across his shoulder and chest now. Wide eyed and frantic, he moved like a snake, creating a flash of something that blinded her and sent her reeling back. Blinking, tears streaming down her face, she put her hand to her cheek and felt welts. Peering through the film over her eyes, she thought at first that he had somehow found and lit a torch, but then she saw that he had produced a rod of fire from nothing. Her skin began to tingle and fizz. He had burned her.

      “I’m sorry.” His voice was ragged, pained. “I won’t let you kill me. Please… just put down the knives and we can –”

      The night, uncomfortably warm, suddenly turned cold. She shivered, trying to see him. The light from the fire in his hands died as if it had never been; all she could make out was his silhouette. He was backing away from her, casting about him, as if trying to find something. Confused, she froze, trying to understand what was going on. She heard him curse, and then saw the shape of him run towards the stables. Something was wrong. He wasn’t running from her, that was sure. She heard it behind her and spun around, weapons raised and lips pulled back in a grimace.

      A man, or something in the shape of a man, taller than her, defined by the sharp edges of heavy armour, was advancing towards her. She thought for a moment that her injured eye was the reason why she couldn’t quite make out any details, but when she rubbed her good eye free of tears with the back of her hand she still couldn’t quite understand what was in front of her. It cast no shadow, and even though the moon was shining directly on it, the figure seemed to absorb the light, causing no reflection on its armoured shoulders and helm. But it had weight. Matter around it seemed to be repelled by it, dividing and splitting so as not to touch it, and the ground it walked on was branded black by its footfalls.

      She could not draw breath. This must be it; the shadow, the thing that hunted her. As if she had been plunged underwater, she could hear nothing but deafening silence. Before, there had been the sound of her breathing, the stomping and snickering of horses in their stalls, the singing of crickets. Now everything had been snuffed out. It was as if a veil had fallen between her and the rest of the world.

      How curious that it would take the form of him.

      In a way, it might as well be him.

      There was no pause, no ceremony or moment of recognition between warriors. Without breaking step, it attacked, and she was on the defensive, frantically retreating and diverting blow after blow. The sword it carried, made of the same unreality of its wielder, struck with such unnatural force that the bones in her arms vibrated with it, and she gasped. It was relentless, robotic almost in its savagery. Still, there was no sound. It was all she could do to meet his swings. There was no attempt to weave around her defences or cleverly disarm her, it just struck and struck until one too many hits caused the seikan in her right hand to shatter like glass and sending her staggering back several steps.

      Arms were around her, solid and real, and she was forcibly turned. Tilaq was in front of her and the person holding her was urging up and on. She mounted and Ganondorf took his place behind her. Suddenly there was sound again, the pounding of hooves as the horse stamped and whirled, before being driven forward and away from the stables. She turned to see the shadow creature standing still, appearing to watch their flight. Reorienting herself, she realised that they were pounding down a road that led east, and she snarled like a cat. She had dropped the other seikan at some point during the confusion, so she tore at his wrists with her nails instead, fighting for the reins.

      “Stop this!” He shouted, ripping his hands away from her.

      “No! You will take me to the desert!”

      “I’m trying to protect you!”

      She slammed her elbow backwards and it hit him in the stomach, winding him. Taking advantage of this, she grabbed for the reins and pulled, hard. Tilaq reared, panicked by the conflicting instruction, and she clung on, not caring if she lost her fellow rider in the manoeuvre. Turning him on his hind legs, she kicked him and he veered off the road, making a wide circle around where they had just come so that she could drive him west.

      “Don’t you dare abuse my horse!” Ganondorf roared, trying to retake the reins, but he was off balance and wounded, his grip weakening.

      “Don’t worry, Gan, I won’t hurt your precious pet,” she hissed through clenched teeth. Ganondorf was forced to hold onto her in order to stay astride and she considered shoving him off and leaving him on the road. Despite being sorely tempted, she turned Tilaq back onto even ground, scanning for a valley that would take them back to the road, knowing that there was a real possibility that the horse would buck her without his master. More so, however, she refused to give him an easy way out. If nothing else, she would make certain that he did not survive this hunt unscathed.

      They found the road, turning southwest, and it was a long time before her heartbeat calmed to match the rhythm of Tilaq’s hoofbeats as he went from pelting gallop to cantering. She sat up in the saddle, catching her breath, grateful for the tireless steady stride. Ganondorf wouldn’t be comfortable, but she didn’t care and he didn’t complain. They only slowed when moonlight turned to the pink of dawn and the landscape had shifted from grasslands to rock and sandstone. The aches and weariness caused by her fight and the subsequent ride began to make themselves known, and her eyelids grew heavy, her body bowing over the horse’s neck. Finally, when she couldn’t keep it up any longer, they stopped under an overhanging rock structure that would protect them from the sun and she dismounted, refusing to look at him.

      Wordlessly, she took stock of everything they had brought with them. No food, minimal arms, their gear left behind at the stables. Bone tired, she inhaled sharply and forced herself upright. There would be lizards in the crags, possibly mushrooms growing on the underside of boulders. It wasn’t going to be good eating, but they might be too weak to hunt effectively if she left it until morning.

      “Sun.”

      She didn’t react to the sound of her name, but strode straight past him as if he were a tree, disappearing to look for food.

      xxx

      When she returned, holding four sandy lizards by their tails, she found that Ganondorf had dismounted and was resting with his back against the cool cliff face, his eyes closed. His skin was grey but he was no longer bleeding. She dropped her catch next to him and snapped, “do something useful.”

      Opening his eyes and giving her a sour look, he picked up the lizards and weighed them in his hands.

      “Don’t complain. It’s not like you brought any hunting weapons with you. I had to do with my bare hands.”

      Silently, he closed his fist around them one by one until they smoked and tossed two of them in her direction, charred. He also threw her a water skin. At least he had the foresight to pack his saddlebags with something,she thought.

      They ate.

      Breaking the stubborn silence, she said, “what about Tilaq. He’ll need water.”

      “There’s a spring not too far from here. He’ll stay there until I call him.” He was looking at her, a strange expression in his eyes. She glared back, though the vision in her right eye was still a little blurry. He sighed and got to his feet, coming towards her. She stiffened and he knelt down beside her, flinching as he reached out to touch her.

      “What are you doing?” she growled.

      He was holding a small flat stone with yellow paste lumped on it. “Your face. I did a little searching while you were off finding us breakfast. I know a little about healing burns. I’ve prepared a salve from –”

      “If you think that I’m going to let you touch me –”

      “It’ll scar if you don’t let me help you,” he said, a hard edge coming into his voice.

      “Wouldn’t want there to be evidence of your attack, would you?”

      “You tried to kill me.” He was struggling to keep his voice level. “Sun, I know you don’t want to hear this, and after everything, you might not even believe me, but we’re in this together until we can find a way to destroy that shadow.” He raised a hand to silence her, for she was about to interrupt him. “I want to help you. I’m on your side. If you insist on distrusting me, there’s nothing I can do to change that, so look at this way. If you die – if that thing kills you – ownership of the mask defaults to me, so I will be the hunted. It is in my best interest to protect you and defeat the shadow. I’m not overjoyed that this is happening now, but it’s not something that I can postpone. I know the last thing you want is to be with me right now, but anywhere you go, the shadow will follow, and therefore I must follow. Do you understand?”

      She didn’t respond, but simply looked at him, arms folded.

      His eyes softened, and he sighed. When he spoke, his irritation had been replaced with something else, something pained and mournful. “There’s not many things I regret, but I regret this. You might not have realised this, young as you were, but those times I spent with you are the only truly happy memories I have. When I left you, I committed to a life of solitude. I did love you, and… sometimes I still feel… empty without you. It was my biggest mistake, killing the Lord of the Mountain. You say that I never paid for it, but I did. With ten long years of purgatory, waiting for something to change, unable to find anything approaching joy. I might not have welcomed you back like you expected me to, but now you’re here, I want to make it right again. After everything you did, after you gave me a brief taste of a normal, happy life, I owe a debt to you.” He paused, clearing his throat. “Now, let me help you.”

      She glanced away from him, the muscles in her jaw clenching. Finally, she gave the smallest of nods. Carefully, he applied the salve to the burn. It was cool and soothing, and the itching diminished. After a few moments, she said, “stop saying that it was ten years ago.”

      “What?”

      “For you, it was ten years, but for me, it was weeks ago. You were right, I didn’t feel the passage of time. When I woke up, I had no memory, but as far as I was concerned, I had only slept a few hours. Time meant nothing to me in that cavern. You got to live those ten years, growing and learning and becoming what you are now, lacking though you are.” His face hardened but she continued. “You robbed me of that. I had friends, Gan. I have a mother. It wasn’t just you that left me behind. That’s a decade of time that I lost, that I could have been spending with them. Now they are ten years older and ten years without me.” Tears were forming and her eyes burned. “I might never recapture the friendships I lost, and I will never make up for the time I missed with my family. You might be able to destroy the shadow. But you can never give back what you took from me. For you, it was a mistake that you outgrew long ago. For me, the wound has only just been dealt. So stop saying it was ten years ago!” This last part was a shout that echoed throughout the valley.

      “I couldn’t fight what didn’t exist. When you slept, it ceased having a physical form. There was nothing to hunt!”

      “You could have come back! I would have forgiven you if you had admitted your failure!”

      He swallowed and looked down, unable to meet her eyes. After a few moments, her words hanging in the air like brands, he shook the rest of the paste off his fingers and said, “leave that on. Try not to sleep on that side, if you can. We must rest if you want to continue to Gerudo Town any time soon.” His voice was heavy and dead.

      Breathing heavily, she stood and walked some distance away from the place they had stopped so that she didn’t have to look at him. He had already seen her crying, but saying it all aloud brought on a kind of pain that she couldn’t bear to let him see.

      He had chosen to walk away and leave everything behind. Goddess knew what he had been doing all that time, but even if he had done nothing but wander the world with no purpose and no friends, he had been free to do so. Would he ever understand what he had kept from her? If he had lied to her, she was certain he had lied to her mother, who would have mourned her and got on with her life. What celebrations and milestones had she missed? Everyone she had ever known might have married or left, might even have daughters of their own. She might have blood sisters by now, for all she knew, and have missed them growing up.

      And for what? For his convenience? Because he had been too cowardly, or because her very existence was an inconvenience? He had wanted a clean slate, a chance at freedom, and so he had left all the trinkets of his childhood along with her, buried and forgotten – just so that he didn’t have to think about the mess he had found himself in. She dug her nails into her palm, wishing that she still had her weapons, fighting the urge to go back and finish what she had started the previous night.

      If he did manage to destroy his shadow, she would be glad to done with him. If it killed him, she would be glad to see him die. Either way, it would be better to keep him with her, at least until it was over.
    • Chapter 16 – Homecoming


      Display Spoiler



      They had made steady progress through the canyons, only speaking to each other when it was absolutely necessary, Sun treating Ganondorf like her own silent shadow. Travelling without the chief and her influence meant sleeping rough and living off whatever she could scavenge and hunt. After a day, they came across a stable built at the end of the road and the entrance to the desert proper. Tilaq refused to walk on the shifting sands and they had no money to stable him. Furthermore, Sun suspected that the owners of the stable would refuse them even if they did have the money, if she could judge anything from the dirty looks they received. She need not have bothered, however, for the horse appeared to know where to go, plodding back the way they had come.


      “He’ll be waiting for us in the plains on the other side of the mountain,” Ganondorf explained. “It’s where I’ve always left him when… when I came here before.”


      She didn’t answer, but stepped onto the sand and started walking directly south.


      They were not equipped for comfortable travel. It was easier at night, but the extreme highs and lows of the desert climate made her bitterly long for the sandals and silks she had left behind in the carriage. They walked barefoot at night and shredded their cloaks to make crude turbans to stave off heat stroke, resting in the shade of the ruins when they could. Thankfully, the desert was not devoid of life. Sand sparrows were impossible to catch, but hydromelons grew in these shaded areas and they could pluck voltfruit from cacti. The latter were sour and difficult to eat, but at least they wouldn’t starve to death.


      At the Kara Kara Oasis, she instructed him to hang back and out of sight so that she could negotiate for supplies. At the very least, she could refill their water skins. She was surprised, however, when she ran into some familiar faces at the rest stop.


      “Sun?”


      She looked up from the pool and peered at the two figured across from her. Then, a wide smile break over her face, she waved. “Sornah! Zara! Yes, it’s me. I’m so glad I ran into you.” She hurried round the edge of the pool to greet them.


      “Sun, what’s happened to you?” Sornah reached out to touch her face, her forehead creased with worry. “Goddess, you’re sweating buckets. Don’t you have anything to keep cool?”


      “No,” she panted. “I… well, I got caught out. I got overwhelmed by bokoblins on horseback and had to make a quick escape. I wasn’t able to take any of my equipment with me. One of them got me with a torch before I could get away.” She hated lying to them, but she didn’t want to make her situation worse than it already was. It was selfish of her to want to keep on their good side so that they would be more likely to help her, and knowing who she was with would more than compromise that. It wasn’t just their help that she wanted. They were the only other Gerudo, aside from Ganondorf, that she was on speaking terms with.


      “Bokoblins still have mounted gangs? I thought they had all been eradicated by now.” This was Zara, and Sun winced internally. It was too late to change her story now.


      “It must have been one that was missed,” she shrugged as casually as she could.


      “Well, you’ll have to tell Teake where they attacked you so that she can send out a party to deal with them,” Zara said, giving Sun a look that made her uncomfortable.


      “Yes… yes, I will,” she said, cringing inwardly. She thought of saying that this imaginary band might have already moved on to a different location, but thought better of it. It would be easier to lie the less she did it. She hoped that her voice didn’t betray her nerves. Luckily, Sornah was quite willing to accept her story. She took her hand, leading her towards the inn that existed on the south bank.


      “Don’t worry, sister, we’ll do what we can to sort you out. Now we don’t have any clothes to spare, but I’ll show you how to make a cooling elixir that’ll keep you going until you get to town. It’s not a long journey, only about a day or so.”


      “Sarqso,” she breathed, flooded with relief.


      “Zara,” Sornah called behind her. “Would you fetch us the pack with the elixirs in?”


      “I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am,” said Sun, as she was taken to the shaded area behind the inn. There was a small communal cook pot that wasn’t currently in use. This part of the oasis was quiet, and they had the space to themselves. Sornah stood beside the cook pot, regarding Sun with a serious expression.


      “I know who you’re travelling with,” she said.


      Sun’s heart leapt into her throat. Her mouth suddenly dry, she considered doubling down, but something told her this would be futile. She wasn’t prepared to insult the closest thing she had to a friend. Instead, she bit her tongue and studied her boots, trying to fight the rising sensation of panic in her chest.


      “I saw you leave Hyrule Castle with him. I assume you’re not longer with the Chief.”


      “No…” she replied. “We had to split off from the rest of the group.”


      “Is she safe?”


      “Yes, I think so. The thing that chased us, it was only after me and him.”


      “I didn’t tell Zara. Not because I trust that you know what you’re doing, but because if she knew then she might do something stupid like go after you. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why.”


      “I know…”


      “The why, in the name of the Goddess Din, do you trust him?”


      “I don’t,” she said. She was torn. She didn’t know how much she could tell Sornah, didn’t know if she would even believe her. Helplessly, she cast about for something that could explain away her situation. “He… he owes me a favour. I don’t like travelling with him, but there’s something that I need to do and he’s helping me.”


      Sornah stared at her. Sun realised that this probably raised more questions that it answered.


      “I see.”


      “I’m not helping him,” she reiterated. “He’s not going anywhere near Gerudo Town. I expect that while we’re taking care of this… this task, he won’t be able to do any harm to the rest of us, to our people.”


      “This isn’t about what harm he can do to our people,” Sornah sighed, her voice soft. “This is about what harm he can do to you. Or did you really get that burn from a bokoblin?”


      The compassion in Sornah’s voice stunned Sun, who felt a flush creep up her neck. “I… Why do you care? I mean, you don’t know me.” She winced, realising that her words were harsh, accusatory. “I guess what I mean is I don’t understand why you’re so concerned.”


      “Because you’re Yshri’s daughter. And moreover, you’re our sister. We have to stick together, especially in times like these. You would do the same if you thought your sister was in trouble. Na’ahn dai Imaan.”


      There it was; that phrase. It brought a grim smile to both women’s lips. It was something her mother use to say when stories of accosted travellers and Yiga attacks reached them through trade routes. Sun had to blink rapidly to clear her eyes. Once again, Sornah remined her that there was at least a small part of her world, her home, that was still waiting for her. Even after she had been plunged into this strange world, where her lover was now her enemy and the very stars had shifted in the sky, there was still a family looking out for her. Sornah saw the flickering of her eyelids and reached out to embrace her.


      “I don’t know how you fell in with him, or what it is that you need to do, but I’m going to help you in whatever way I can. Even if that means just reminding you that whenever you’re ready to tell the truth, we’ve got your back.”


      With everything that had happened – the confrontation, the anger that had been simmering inside her, the fear of discovering exactly what she had lost – Sornah’s words cut to her core and she had to shut her eyes tight, unable to stop the tears this time. After about a minute, they parted and Sun rubbed her eyes with her knuckles, sniffing.


      Sornah looked like she was about to say something else, but then Zara swept around the corner, carrying a pack which she dumped on the ground. Sun hid her face, taking silent deep breaths as Zara looked from her to Sornah, her frown deepening.


      “I got the elixirs,” she said, giving them both a curious look.


      “Sarqso. How many do we have?”


      “Five.”


      “Right. I think we can spare Sun two. One for getting there and one for getting back.”


      Zara shrugged, bringing out two crystal phials filled with clear blue liquid that
      sparkled. She handed them to Sun, who wiped her face and smiled her thanks. Zara returned the smile. “Don’t expect any more freebies,” she said, her voice light. “You’ll borrow us out of business at this rate.”


      “I’ll pay you back,” Sun promised. “With interest.”


      “We travel regular routes, so I’m sure we’ll run into each other again,” Sornah said. “Don’t avoid us now.” She chuckled, and Sun gave her a small nod to show that she understood the double meaning. She thought again of telling them the whole truth, but with Zara there, she didn’t know if it was wise. Even so, what good would it do them? That wasn’t something that could be solved together. If Ganondorf hadn’t been a coward, this fight would never have been handed to her. If he hadn’t been so foolish, there wouldn’t have been a fight in the first place. No, they would have to face this alone.


      Thanking the traders one final time, she left the oasis for a ruined statue of a Gerudo warrior, piercing the heavens with a crumbling stone sword some distance away from where anyone would see them. Without looking at him, she put the phial on the plinth and leaned against the cool stone. “I’m going to go on alone,” she said, as if speaking to herself. “You can’t come into town with me, so you might as well just stay out here until I’m ready to find you again.”


      “Don’t take too long,” he warned. “If you stay in one place for any length of time, the shadow will come for you. Those walls won’t keep it out.”


      “I’ll take as long as I need,” she snapped. “Just… stay out of sight.”


      “I will not continue to hide, not in my own country.”


      “Do what you want,” she said, too tired and irritable to argue with him.


      “Is there a particular place that you wish me to wait for you?”


      She looked up, meeting his eyes for the first time in days, incredulous. She wondered if he had asked this question just to annoy her, or to make her uncomfortable. For a moment, she considered not acknowledging the question at all. Finally, she shrugged, as if she didn’t care. “You know where,” was all she said. “Take this cooling elixir, if you need it.”


      “Sarqso,” he muttered, and she turned away in disgust.


      Without another word, she felt him and headed back to the road, veering south and quickening her pace. Unstopping her own bottle of elixir, she downed it in one swallow. It was so cold that she gagged, her lips and tongue going instantly numb. Shuddering, she felt the immediate effect as the liquid settled in her stomach and spread throughout her limbs, giving her much needed relief from the burning sun. It was as if she had shaken off a great weight. She could stand straighter, see clearer. Her each step no longer felt like a great labour. Finally, she felt a little more at home. What had been an irritation was now a pleasure, the desert heat a caress and not a bludgeon. She made good time on the road, eager to get to town before nightfall. If she remembered correctly, she used to be able to make this journey in less than eight hours on a good day. Free of Ganondorf, she could pretend that nothing had changed, that there was no mask, no ritual, no demon shadow to fear. When her own shadow was crisp and small and hemmed in by the cloudless day, it was hard to believe that a being of darkness could exist out here at all.


      Being alone also meant that her mind wandered to her memories, finally as sharp and clear as the elixir she had just taken. She remembered how she would perch atop the town walls, watching the horizon for his signal – a flickering torch, lit for about a minute and then smothered, creating a plume of smoke. She would slip from the wall, landing in the soft sand and practically fly over the desert to find him, racing the encroaching chill of the night to be in the warmth of his arms again. Back then, his strength had been comforting, his golden eyes full of lustre, his face transformed when he smiled at her; broad smiles with teeth bared, a laugh that came with surprising ease as if he had simply been waiting for an excuse. She sighed, berating herself. That boy was a decade dead, and in his place a man with cold eyes, a hard face and a smile that was rare and reserved. She was old enough to understand that it was not so easy to cast aside her love for him, but she was lying if she told herself that she wouldn’t mourn losing him. The adult Ganondorf proved a poor imposter, leaving her with nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment.


      Still, she struggled to put the two men together. There must have been a part of him that wanted to resume as if nothing had happened, otherwise why had he delayed so long in telling her the truth? It was just another form of selfishness, she thought angrily. He was a fresh wound to her. She was bittersweet nostalgia to him. He had been quite happy to indulge in the memories of his youth at her inevitable expense.


      Immersed in thoughts like these and protected by the cooling effects of the elixir, the road slipped underneath her and the sun sank low in the sky, turning the dunes red. When she saw the walls of Gerudo Town rise up from the horizon, her breath caught in her throat and she hurried forwards, breaking into a jog the nearer she got. By the time that she stopped outside the entrance, it was dusk and the torches were lit. Two guards with glimmering golden spears stood on either side of a tall archway hung with brightly coloured banners. She approached, feeling suddenly nervous, her mouth dry, heart pounding, and not just from her brief run. They nodded at her as she walked past.


      It had changed less than she had anticipated. The streets were paved with the same stone, the walls the same sandy yellow colour. Sornah had been right; everything was saturated with colour. The shops seemed a little different, with different banners and decorations. She paused, looking up at the palace directly ahead of her. She didn’t stop long, however. Still in a state of agitation, she strode past the shop fronts, where the merchants were packing up for the night, and took a right through an archway. For her, it had been less than three months since she had last been home, but she was sure that if her mother was still here, she would be in the middle of a shift at the Noble Canteen. Holding her breath, she took the stairs up to the entrance to the bar two at a time, stopping in front of it, feeling as if her chest was about to burst.


      She pushed open the door and entered, moving forward to stand at the bar, all but bouncing in the balls of her feet.


      “Sav’saaba, ja’vehvi. What can I do for you?”


      With a shock of recognition, she saw the owner of the bar and struggled to keep her cool. Furosa had been a kind of aunt to her, and hadn’t begrudged letting Sun help her mother in the kitchen or play with the other children outside, so long as she kept from tripping her up during the afternoon rush.


      “Furosa, it’s me. It’s Sun.”


      “Sun? That can’t be right, she… she…” The older woman gazed at her, the wrinkles around her eyes becoming more pronounced. Sun scanned her face, noting all the little differences but caring far more for the things that hadn’t changed. She still tied her hair the same way, still wore the same bangles, the same style of makeup with heavy eyeliner that had made her look glamorous to Sun when she was a child. “Goddess…” Furosa murmured, reaching out to touch Sun’s face. “Sun… it’s you. That’s… impossible. You’re supposed to be dead. You died ten years ago…”


      Sun’s heart sank to her stomach, but she kept smiling. “I… I thought you’d say that. I’m not dead. Furosa, where is my mother. I want to see her.”


      Furosa stared at her. “Are you a ghost? You’re still the young lady that I remember. If you were alive, you would be all grown up by now.”


      “I know,” Sun said, trying to hide her dismay and impatience. “I know. It’s a long story. But you have to believe me. I’m not a ghost, I’m real, and I’m here. Please, is my mother working.”


      “In the kitchen, vehvi. But…”


      Sun didn’t wait to hear her, but strode around the bar and through the door behind Furosa, past a startled serving girl, almost knocking over a tray of drinks in her haste.


      There she was. Standing with her back to Sun, stirring a pot of something that smelled divine. She might not have realised it was really Yshri if it weren’t for the fact that she was singing as she cooked. Tears welled up in her eyes and she felt like her knees were about to give way.


      “Mama…”


      The woman paused in her singing, and turned around, a confused expression on her face.


      The wooden spoon in her hand fell to the ground with a clatter.
    • Chapter 17 - Yiga

      Display Spoiler


      He preferred the desert at night. The sky was dyed a deep velvet blue and the sand shimmered silver. Eternal as every rock and stone was, measuring time only in millennia, he could rest in the canyon and return to the time spent waiting for her to come to him. Far from making him happy, it only made the empty feeling in his heart all the more profound. He sat with his back against the outside wall of the labyrinth, tilting his head upward to ponder its impossible height. He had yet to discover who had built the endless corridors, only that they must have been masters of architecture and undoubtedly powerful magic users. While the natural rock beneath him was still warm from the daytime heat, the artificial walls were cool and relieving. While the journey here had been less than gentle, the wounds that he had received at Sun’s hands were healing well, becoming just one more set of scars.

      All was quiet. After one hundred years, the restless spirits and malice-fuelled machines had finally been put to rest. If he chose to, he could enter the labyrinth without fear of running into anything remotely alive. Just over a year ago, there had been a great disturbance in the magical forces of the earth and air, something that he felt like a bolt of lightning. Calamity Ganon had been torn apart, and all his force and power had defaulted to himself; the individual born solely as a vessel for that power. Before then he had developed some skill in manipulating the small amount of malice granted him, using it primarily for hunting and combat. There had been a limit to what he could use, and he then had to reclaim lost energy from the spirits of the monsters he came across, unable to draw directly from the source. Now, when tapping into that energy, it was like dipping his hand in the Necluda ocean. Even so, he was divided between himself and his shadow, and had long suspected that it had been granted half of what should have been his alone.

      Moreover, he was not alone in the changes that had swept across the land. Machines such as the Divine Beasts had finally fallen into irreversible sleep. If he looked to the south, he could see the jutting silhouette of the titan, Vah Naboris. The story went that the vengeful spirit of the Lady Urbosa herself had taken the helm in order to aid the hero, Link, in his invasion of Hyrule Castle. Urbosa was a symbol of pride and heroism for the Gerudo. In contrast, he had been told that Ganon had righteously destroyed her as an example, to show what happens when Ganon’s favoured race rebelled against their purpose. He had long ago discarded much of whatever lies disguised as history the mad twin witches had passed to him, but he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of relief that Urbosa was before his time, and that it had been put to Link to call upon her ghost. He had no doubt that if he had, a year before, attempted to board Vah Naboris – even against Calamity Ganon – he would have had to contend against the full extent of her fury. She, like much of the Gerudo, would have taken his existence personally.

      He shut his eyes and rested, letting his mind wander and grateful for the pleasant breeze. His Gerudo blood served him well in this, his home climate, far more than in the lifeless tundra of the Hebra or even the picturesque summer grasslands of Central Hyrule.

      There was a sound like a chuckle as a stone was disturbed up and to the right of him. He stirred, opening his eyes. Lizards and snakes didn’t bother him, but it was better to know what he was dealing with. If he was quick enough, he could catch it, but he wasn’t overly enthused about the idea. He was a little hungry but Sun would be returning soon enough with more suitable supplies from town, so there was no need for him to spend too much energy hunting between now and then. A slender moon had risen, but it only served to deepen the shadows cast by the formations in the cliff. Seeing and hearing no more, he resumed his position and tried to sleep.

      A shuffle, a sound of cloth in the wind. It was far too distinct for him to ignore. He got to his feet, turning a little of his energy towards making a flickering light in his hand. The darkness fled, but not before he saw shapes in the shadows, small figures like imps scurrying away from him. Thieves? Surely not bandits. He frowned.

      “Come forward,” he growled, “or leave me in peace.”

      There was a pause as the shadows seemed to consider his offer to let them go without a fight. Then, as if materialising out of the air, a man stepped forward. He was slight and thin, even more than was usual for Hylians, and dressed in red. The light from Ganondorf’s flame reflected off an ivory mask, daubed with a scarlet weeping eye.

      Yiga.

      He tensed, hand reaching for his sword, but the Yiga held up his hands in a gesture of peace. He spoke, his voice muffled by the mask and hood that obscured his entire face. “Master.” He sank to one knee. “Forgive us for disturbing your rest, and we beg your indulgence. We come to you now, your most humble and obedient servants, that you might instruct us on your will. We have strived to serve you for thousands of years, but for all our devotion, we have only been able to guess as to your desires. Now that you have granted us the honour of your presence, we put ourselves at your disposal.”

      For a moment, he was speechless. He didn’t know whether to laugh or draw his sword. In a way, after what Riju had told him, he had expected something like this, but the bowed head of the clansman, his soft plaintive voice and the flowery formal words made him deeply uncomfortable.

      “Stand up,” he grunted. “Whoever else is here, come into the light so that I can see you.”

      Two more masked people emerged, forming a semi-circle around him. A woman, and another man, carrying a small basket. Other than that, he could make out no specific features on any of them. They each bowed low, but remained standing. Faceless as they were, they reminded him of the awful golems of his childhood and he scowled at them. “I’d like to know who I am dealing with,” he said. “Take off the masks, or I do not speak with you at all.”

      The three of them looked at each other, appearing to hesitate.

      “What?” He asked, his lip curling in a smirk. “Unwilling to obey a direct order? Some servants you are.”

      The bristled at this and hurriedly took down their hoods and removed their masks, revealing pale faces and delicate Hylian features. Their leader, the one who had come forward first, was the only actual sheikah there, as far as he could tell. He was young and the only one who looked remotely comfortable. His eyes were downcast, but he was smiling, excited. The other two appeared to be struggling between awe and fear. The man with the basket was shaking. If Ganondorf wasn’t so irritated, he might have found the situation entertaining.

      “You’re very poor guessers,” he said darkly. “I suspect we have here a case of mistaken identity.”

      “Your Majesty…” the sheikah said, “please, enlighten us. If we have made a mistake, set us on the right path.”

      “I am not a king,” he snapped. “Or a lord, or your Master.”

      There was a stunned silence. He took a step forward and they backed up. The sheikah no longer looked pleased to be there, and he saw a tremor pass over his face. They think they have displeased me, he thought. They think that I am going to punish them. He had an opportunity on his hands, he realised.

      “Let’s discuss your record of service,” he said, his voice low and dangerous. “You stole from my people, to begin with. The Thunder Helm, no less – a prized heirloom of my chieftain.”

      “What is a chieftain to a king?” This came from the woman, fire in her eyes.

      “If I am the King of the Gerudo, and the Thunder Helm is therefore mine, then it follows that you stole directly from me.” He said, smiling as that fire died.

      She tried to refute him, her voice trembling. “We s-stole foryou,” she said. “The Gerudo aren’t your people.” At this, the other two stared at her in alarm, shaking their heads and desperately gesturing for her to be quiet, but she either didn’t notice them or didn’t care. “They turned away from their heritage, settled, renounced their proud history as formidable master-thieves. They have become soft. You’re the herald of darkness who’s going to show them their errors and make the Gerudo nation what it once was. We only wanted to give you what was yours”

      The offense he felt was almost overcome by his amusement. Almost. “I see…” he said, as if pondering her words. “Ignoring the fact that I am Gerudo and you are not, you posit that the expansion and the prosperity that they have enjoyed these last hundred years was… a mistake? They have earned political power, and respect across all the domains of Hyrule. Eisha sil savaba hu’ami ukhti.” They responded with confused looks and he let out a bark of laughter. “You don’t even speak my language and yet you presume to lecture me on my history?” The woman quailed, growing white as a ghost. “Allow me to give you a translation. They are my mothers and sisters. Their success is my success. You have been a blight on us. Your most recent act in my name was to terrorise Gerudo Town, vandalising and leaving threatening messages nailed to trees. You’d think that my servants would know better than to disrespect the town I was born in.” The torchlight in his hand illuminated their anxious faces and he was satisfied to see that their little meeting wasn’t going anything like they had planned. “Now I understand that politics is a little above your heads, but the damage that you have done to my reputation and to the security of my people – and yes, they are my people – has been rather inconvenient to me. I have no use for servants who act so counter to my desires. Even approaching me like this puts me in a difficult and dangerous position. What? You thought I would welcome you with open arms? Pat you on the head for doing a good job?”

      They each flushed, struggling to hide their humiliation. None of them would meet his eyes. Finally, the sheikah stepped forward, lowering himself to his knees once more, touching the ground with his forehead. “Forgive us, mighty Ganon, we –”

      “What did you call me?” he said, and there was a rasp of metal as he drew his sword and placed the edge under the clansman’s shoulder. The tension in the canyon doubled, and the other two held their breaths, backing away still further. Bending down, Ganondorf closed his fist around the man’s collar and lifting him up and off his feet, so that they could be face to face. In doing so, he had extinguished the flame in his hand, and the only light between them was the moon reflecting off the blade of his sword, and turning his yellow eyes silver.

      His voice was little more than a hiss. “The Champion Link and the Princess Zelda destroyed Ganon a year ago. He is dead. Have I made myself understood?”

      The terrified sheikah nodded, gasping. Ganondorf threw him back towards his fellows, now only silhouettes of darkness against the greater blackness of the night. He landed hard with a grunt of pain and scrambled to his feet. None of them had drawn weapons in response to him. Perhaps they were not so foolish after all.

      “Get out of my sight,” he said. “If I so much as hear the name ‘Yiga’, I will personally hunt down each and every one of you and ensure that you never use my name to justify your petty crimes again. Stay away from Gerudo, crawl back to whatever hole you came from and tell your clan leaders my orders. Disband, give up this foolishness and prostrate yourselves before Chief Riju. I pray she is not as lenient as I am.”

      They fled. He flared his magic so that he could see them go, masks replaced. Cowards, he thought. He sheathed his sword and returned to his position against the wall. There were no such thing as good terrorists, and he doubted they would actually heed his command, but he took great pleasure from tearing their self-righteous nonsense apart. He hoped that it would at least cause some disturbance among them. They saw him as some kind of rallying point, and he would do well to disillusion them at every turn. There would always be fanatics who never stopped worshipping the corpse of Calamity, but he would have to deal with them later. He had more pressing things to be dealing with.

      They had left something behind. Scooping it up, he saw it was the basket that the silent one had been carrying. He opened it, and found it filled with bananas. He allowed himself a derisive snort, sitting and breaking one off from the bunch, peeling it from the bottom. He knew enough about the Yiga to know that they left bananas at Goddess statues as offerings. The foot soldiers, at least, really were like children.

      xxx

      The two women faced each other, Sun breathless, face tearstained. A small crowd had gathered outside the door to the kitchen and she could hear Furosa shoo the onlookers away, scolding them and closing the door in order to give them privacy. At first, it was almost as if no time had passed at all. Yshri had aged well, her dark skin smooth, her eyes as bright as they had always been. She didn’t want to see the small imperfections, the evidence of their parting. Her shoulders slumped just a little more. There were lines around her eyes and neck. Her hair had streaks of lighter colour through it, browns and yellows where the red had already faded. Sun stepped towards her mother, feeling suddenly a lot younger than she was.

      “Mama, it’s me. I… I came home.”

      “Sun,” she whispered. “Is it… really you? My girl… Ja’abna…”

      “I’m sorry,” Sun’s voice cracked, and fresh tears blurred her vision. She hid her face in her hands. “I’m sorry I took so long. I didn’t think it would be so long…” She was sobbing, her shoulders shaking.

      Yshri closed the gap between them and pulled her into her arms, crushing her. “Sun. My Sun, don’t cry. Please don’t.” Her mother’s voice came out muffled as she buried her face in Sun’s hair. “Don’t cry, you’re here. You’re home.” The two of them clung to each other as if they might fall apart if not held together. “My girl, you’re alive… you’re alive…”

      She fought to breathe. Yshri stepped back, holding onto both of Sun’s hands, taking her in. She lifted her hand and brushed the hair off Sun’s face, holding it up so that she could see her better. “How…? I thought you had died… He told me –”

      “He lied. Mama, he lied to both of us.”

      Yshri’s eyes were filled with grief and confusion. “Did he keep you from me?”

      “No… I was… I was put in a kind of sleep. He told me I would wake up soon…” She struggled to explain, her heart aching. “Mama, don’t make me talk about him. I’ve missed you. I want to go home.”

      They embraced again. There was a hiss as the meal that Yshri was preparing boiled over and she tore herself away from Sun reluctantly. She took the pot off the stove and covered it, leaving it to drip. “Come then,” she said, taking Sun’s hand and leading her out the kitchen through the back door. “Furosa will have to manage without me for a night.” They made their way to the little apartment behind the bar.

      Nothing had changed, and at the same time, everything had. The solid wooden furniture had been replaced with sandy coloured stone with lush cushions but the patterned rug remained. The same colourful hangings remained, stitched with homely phrasings of good luck and happiness, but there was a new throw on the sofa, depicting a still life basket of fruit. It smelled the same, of old spices and herbs, the smell of a cook and of all the breakfasts of her childhood. She wandered from room to room, followed by her mother. She frozen when she came to what used to be her own bedroom, only to find it had been converted into pantry, her bed removed, her chests of clothes and possessions gone.

      “I’m sorry…” Yshri said. “I thought…”

      “I know…” she said, sniffing. “Don’t apologise.” She turned back to her mother, who put a hand on her arm. She was led back to the living room, and made to sit while Yshri fetched a dusty bottle from a cupboard.

      “You’re old enough to drink now. Here.” She poured some sweet-smelling berry coloured liquid into a glass and handed it to her. She took it gratefully, and tasted it. It was a fresh liquor that tasted of lemons and pomegranate. She hadn’t eaten all day and immediately felt dizzy.

      “Mama… I hate asking you to… only…”

      “Shhh…” She smoothed down Sun’s hair, kissing her forehead. “I have some leftover pilaf.”
      She perked up at this, her heart heavy with relief. “Is it…?” She swallowed, feeling a headache coming on. The cooling elixir was wearing off but the house was cool and comfortable. She didn’t think she had it in her to cry any more. She was still taking deep breaths, trying to keep it together.

      “Just like I’ve always made it.”

      Sun smiled. For the first time in what felt like forever, she felt a little lighter, like maybe everything was going to be ok after all.


      A/N – Just a fun I’ve noticed while listening to tonnes of music while writing this, and I feel like there are some really cool songs that uncannily match the personalities/experiences of the characters and I wanted to share!
      *Feeling Sorry – Paramore (Sun, on Ganondorf)
      *Run – Delta Rae (Teenage Sun)
      *Scared – Delta Rae (Ganondorf and Sun)
      *Chasing Twisters – Delta Rae (Ganondorf, returning to the Gerudo desert after his self-imposed ten-year exile)
      *False Prophesy – Abney Park (Ganondorf)
      *Roads Untraveled – Linkin Park (Ganondorf)
      *In Our Bones – Against the Current (Link and Zelda, on rebuilding Hyrule Town)
      Yes, I am aware that this is the nerdiest, most self-indulgent thing I could possibly do, and feel free to mock my taste in music in the comments.
    • Chapter 18 - Consolidation

      Display Spoiler

      It was difficult to talk at first, but as the darkness deepened outside, she found that words came easier. By going over it all again, she solidified the order of events in her mind, reinforcing their reality. Her mother listened, asking few questions. She didn’t look all that surprised when Sun revealed the truth behind Ganondorf’s lies, but she didn’t look angry or upset either. There was an expression of grim resignation on her face that asked ‘what should we have expected?’ and didn’t require an answer. By the time Sun had finished, Yshri had lit the oil lanterns on the table and everything was cast in a soft orange glow. Sun was tired to her bones, her eyes itching, her whole body heavy and aching, but she resisted sleep. She could sleep later, she decided. She hadn’t travelled all this way only to lose more time to sleep.


      "In hindsight," Yshri said at last, "I think I always knew there was something wrong about his story. Din forgive me, I believed that you really were dead, but I was sure that he had lied about something. All those years ago, I resigned myself to never knowing exactly how you had died, or even when. I would never know where your body was. All I had was the memory of you chasing after him that spring time, and when summer turned to autumn and winter came to Hyrule, I went looking for you."


      Sun looked shocked, and her mother nodded. "Yes, I did. I hadn't seen nor heard from either of you. I started asking questions, telling traders and travellers to keep an eye out for you. I even went looking myself. I got as far as the Nima plains before he found me. My search was causing him quite a bit of trouble, I think, which is why he came to me. That was a year after I said goodbye to you."


      "He... he didn't come back to find you right away?"


      "No, Sun. I think... I don't know what he was thinking. Perhaps that he thought that simply pretending that none of it existed would make it go away. But he found me in the ruins in the dead of night and he begged me not to expose him. I had promised to Alma that I would protect him if anything ever happened to her, and so I had been careful to only tell everyone that you had disappeared with a man, and that you should have returned in the autumn." A dark shadow passed over her face. "But I was tempted to break my word. I came close too, several times. I think it had become dangerous for him to travel at all, even off the roads, and that's when he realised he couldn't ignore me forever."


      Sun could see her mother's jaw was clenched, that she was pressing the tip of her thumb against the lip of her glass until it had gone white. "That bastard fell to his knees before me and begged, tears in his eyes. 'On my mother's name', he said, 'please don't let them find me!'. He knew that I did not care for him, but that I would honour Alma's memory. Even then... I knew something more than the fear of discovery plagued him. I cannot feel any real hatred towards him. He was only doing what a dog does to protect itself. I knew he had no honour, no conviction, so it does not pain me to hear you confirm it. He told me that it was the witches that had killed you, believing his affection towards you was misplaced, and that he had failed to protect you, and he asked for my forgiveness. I don't know why he thought it would mean anything coming from me. It was you he had failed, after all. But... if only to make him disappear, I told him that I would cease pursuing him, but that he would never be welcome under my roof again. That was enough for him, it seems, because he has never tried to contact me since."


      When Yshri looked up, she saw that Sun was staring at her, her brow knotted. "What is it?"


      "You knew about the witches?"


      "Of course I knew. Alma would tell me about what they did to him. I was there when she staggered back from the East Ruins, bleeding and muttering something about ancient protectors. I bandaged her hands and promised to keep her secret."


      "Why didn't he tell me?"


      "Would you have told him if you were in his position? Think about it, Sun. You were one of the few people who had known him as a child, and I imagine that as you both grew up, he wanted more than ever to be a man than you could stand by, who was free and able, beholden to no one. How do you think you would feel if he told you that the only reason he was allowed to spend any time with you at all was because the witches permitted it? If you had been found wanting, they would have killed you and severely punished him. While you were gaining more and more freedom, he was still under their shadow, and that doesn't make for a very impressive character, does it?"


      "But I would have understood -"


      "Yes, I know - but did he ever really seem like the kind of boy who would leave something like that up to another person’s judgement? You're a lot closer to those memories than I am, but I am sure I remember just as well as you do the kind of youth he was."


      Sun fell silent for a moment, thinking it over. So many small observations gained a new significance when brought up against this fresh knowledge. When travelling, he had worn bracers on his forearms and gloves on his hands even though she had never seen him carry a bow. When she had ever expressed the desire to test herself against him in a friendly spar, he had outright refused. More recently, she remembered his words at the Gerudo Canyon Pass.


      I know a little about healing burns... It'll scar if you don't let me help you.


      "Then why did you ever let me near him?"


      "What would you have done if I forbade it?"


      Sun flushed. Her mother had always had the uncanny ability to ask questions that both dared and refused an answer.


      She continued, her voice softer. "Though it wasn't just up to me. I felt sorry for the boy, and Alma had expressed her desire that he be able to interact with children his own age. I trusted you, I knew that you would keep his identity to yourself, and that you would keep him out of trouble. When you grew to love him, it seemed inevitable that he would hurt you one day. All I could do was be there when that happened to dry your tears. As for the danger you might have been in? Call me a fool, but I really did believe that I could protect you if it came down to it. If those witches had ever laid a finger on you, I would have torn them to shreds myself. So much so that a part of me was disappointed when he told me that he had killed them for what they had done to you - I mean, what he said they had done to you."


      Sun felt a sudden surge of pride and affection for her mother.


      Yshri gave her a sheepish smile. "That is, I probably wouldn’t stand a chance against them. I must confess, however, that I was waiting for him to break your heart, find some other pretty thing or something of that sort. I'm not surprised that he lied, I'm just a little taken aback by the supernatural nature of the whole affair. The Lord of the Mountain? What did he expect would happen? Killing something so beautiful and pure, it would bring out the worst reflection of anyone. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that his worst was so bad that it stood up and attacked him - probably trying to crawl back inside him. I wish... I wish you had come to me. I know he would never have trusted me, and he would have been right not to. But... you could have come to me. I would have helped you."


      "I know..." her voice was full of remorse. "I know that now. But he said that if I told anyone, I would be putting them into danger."


      "Of course he did. It figures that a snake like him wouldn't have any qualms about manipulating a girl like you away from the people who could have protected her. Sometimes I think it would have been better if I had just let him drown all those years ago."


      "W-what!?"


      "Oh yes," Yshri's voice was low, sardonic. "Alma was not a... stable woman, especially just after he was born. I've never seen someone so desperate and scared. You were only a child, and protected behind the walls of Gerudo town, so you wouldn't remember what it was like. Alma had been out there, had seen some of the terrible creatures and destruction brought about by Calamity Ganon. She believed that if her son was not already corrupted, then it was only a matter of time before he was either killed by his people, or eaten alive from the inside by evil. In her terrified mind, it was easier to drown him in the Regencia than to let him live to become either victim or monster. I found her, bundle in her arms, kneeling by the edge and I did the only thing I could do. I stopped her, I talked her down. I blurted out whatever promises came to my head, anything to stop her committing infanticide."


      "Do you regret it?"


      "No. I don't." It was a heavy sigh.


      "Is that why she summoned twinrova? Because she was mad?"


      Yshri was hesitant to answer. "No... and yes. That madness was a little easier to understand."


      "What?" Sun exclaimed. "But how? If they had never been brought here from... wherever they came from, all of this might never have happened!"


      "True..." she admitted, looking uncomfortable. "But think about it this way. You, like Ganondorf, are an only child. Yet, you have countless sisters and aunts, mothers and grandmothers. You will never be alone, or without family, even if something were to happen to me."


      Sun thought of what Sornah had said and felt again that sense of collective strength, of belonging.


      "But for him... that's not so true. He was kept from his people, hidden away by his own mother who was convinced that if anyone ever knew about him, he would be hunted and killed. Our very language doesn't allow for his inclusion. We have no word for 'brother'. I think Alma hurt for the loneliness in his future and took a gamble, reaching back far in the past for Gerudo who were legendary in their commitment to defend and serve the sons of our long distant history. It was only when it was far too late did she see how awful her mistake was."


      After a pause, Sun asked, "do you think it's true, what they say about him?"


      Just like Sornah had done, Yshri considered the question a long time before answering. "It's... difficult to believe that when I have memories of him in his mother’s arms. If there is any evil in him, it came after his birth, and if I have to be truly honest, then I have to admit that he seemed to love you. As purely and sweetly as any boy can love. If it was real, I don't think he would have been capable of that if he were a monster. But there's no denying what he did, and Gerudo live a long time. I cannot say what he might be capable of now or in the future."


      "Mama?"


      "Hmmm?"


      "I have to go back out there." Her voice was dry and brittle like pressed flowers.


      "I know. But not yet. We still have some time. At the very least you have to let me gather some supplies for you."


      Sun was overcome by a wave of gratitude. She had expected her mother to protest, to insist that she stay, had even considered the possibility that she would have to sneak away in the early hours of the morning. But that would mean torment and guilt. She couldn't begin to imagine what her mother must be wrestling internally. Her only daughter, killed and returned to her only to be taken away again, by the same man and for the same reason as a decade ago? She felt her heart throb. Yshri stood and walked around the table to take her daughter's hand.


      "You need to sleep. I'll take care of everything. I insist that you sleep in my bed tonight. No -" she said, in response to Sun opening her mouth to protest. "- I don't need to rest. I knew I wouldn't be sleeping tonight the second I saw you in that kitchen."


      There was so much that needed to be done. She would have to get proper travelling clothes, food, tools, even weapons. The very thought of it all sapped what little energy she had left. Succumbing to her mother's insistence, she left the living room and prepared for bed, just as the edges of the horizon bled amber.



      xxx



      Sun woke to blazing sunlight, feeling fresh and comfortable for the first time in weeks. She shifted, groaning as she stretched out on the bed. Sitting up, she took a moment to appreciate her surroundings, the first familiar place in too long. The sound of sand sparrows lilted through the window and it had yet to reach the hottest point of the day. Slipping out of the room, ignoring her now well-worn travel leathers, she left the house via the back door and splashed water on her face from the aqueduct that ran behind it, serving as a source of fresh water and a cooling system for the town. After the barren desert, this was an incredible luxury, and she remembered with a smile that she used to take it for granted. Dressed in a plain shift she had borrowed from her mother, she sat on the lip of the aqueduct, gathered water in a clay pot and used it to wash her hair, brushing out the knots with her fingers. The cool water and the summer sun was such a pleasure that she felt the urge to sing.


      "Sun?" It was her mother, coming from inside the house.


      "I'm out here," she called back, breaking off her song while she braided her hair over her shoulder.


      Yshri came through, her arms piled high with boxes. Some were wrapped artfully in silk and tied in bows, others were old and battered. She knelt down in front of Sun, spreading the boxes out and opening one of the plain ones. "These are the clothes and possessions of yours that I kept. They're perhaps a little dusty, but I imagine that they'll still serve." Grief passed over her face and Sun slid off the aqueduct so that they were kneeling together, putting her hand on her mother's.


      "It's okay. Please don’t be guilty about cleaning out my stuff." She tried to smile. "It would be strange if you didn't get rid of most of it. It's not something you should feel bad about."


      Yshri gave her a grateful smile and opened the other boxes. There was far more here than Sun would actually need. There was a cool and practical sari for the desert, emerald green to match her eyes. But there were also items that would be useful for travel in the rest of Hyrule, dried fruits and salted meats for the road, a canteen for water. In one box, wrapped in flowery paper, was a set of armour similar to the kind that were worn by the towns guards. Bracers, greaves, a breastplate, lined with thick, specially woven silk dyed a deep midnight blue and plated in bronze. The highlight of the collection was a pair of seikan, with long curved, hooked handles. Sun marveled, picking one up and weighing it in her hand. It was about half as heavy as the one that had shattered. The scabbard was of a similar design to the armour.


      "I told the swordsmith about what happened," Yshri said. "Not the details of course, but about how your last pair broke. She recommended these. They were made using an ancient shiekah technique. The folded steel makes them stronger than they otherwise would be."


      "Mama, how much did this cost you?"


      "Don't worry about that."


      "I'm going to pay you back," she stated firmly. "Ganondorf has a cache of rupees in the Hebras. I don't know exactly how much is there, but once this is over, I'll come back with it."


      Yshri laughed. "I didn't raise you to pay for things with a man's money... but in this case, I think we can make an exception."


      "Sarqso. Even if I brought you all the rupees in Hyrule, I couldn’t ever pay you back."


      "I'm your mother, Sun. It's not about the money."


      They embraced.


      "I wish I could come with you," Yshri said, her eyes soft, concerned. " But I can't. I've had to take on extra duties here in order to keep the town running after half our population left. You're lucky we still have the craftswomen who make all this stuff. They stayed to maintain the guards weapons and armour. The guards have stayed of course, but even they have taken to public services to keep everything ticking over for the remaining residents. They need me here."


      "I understand. Will you be... okay, while I'm gone?"


      "I'll be worried... But I'll be busy. You'll need a place to come home to after it's all over."


      "It won't be as long as before, I promise."


      Sun helped carry the boxes inside and began to pack. She put on the sari but forwent the weapons. Previously, she would have left fully armed and armoured, but things were different now. There would be very little danger on the way to their destination. It was only then that she would have to make use of her mother's gifts.


      Shouldering a heavy pack laden with everything that she would need, she hugged her mother one last time and was about to leave when Yshri stopped her.


      "There's something that I haven't given you yet."


      Sun waited, curious. Yshri looked embarrassed, as if she had been debating whether or not to do this. She handed Sun a pouch. "This is the last of what I can afford. I couldn't buy anything for him but he'll need equipment too if he's going to bring you where you need to go and back safely."


      Sun frowned, shaking her head. "No, he doesn't need -"


      "This is just to get both of you to the Hebras. I'm not doing it for him. I'm doing it for you. And for Alma. I consider whatever promise I made to her fulfilled by this last gesture."


      She knew that there would be no use arguing, so she took the bag of rupees. It felt heavy in her hand. She fully intended to force Ganondorf to repay everything in full. As far as she was concerned, he had lived on borrowed time, borrowed freedom, taken from her, and it was the least he could do to settle the debt.


      "Sarqso, mama."


      "I'm not going to say goodbye." She took Suns hands. "H'tah nulta maj'dazaan."


      Until we meet again.
    • Chapter 19 - Misremembered

      Display Spoiler

      It was late afternoon. Ganondorf had passed the hottest part of the day in the shade of the labyrinth. He was not accustomed to waiting on someone else. Pacing along the outside walls, he tried to control his impatience. Just when he thought he would have to resign himself to another rough night while she enjoyed the comforts of home, he heard her calling him.


      He emerged, expecting her to look the same as when they had parted, but when he saw her, he felt as if the steady rock bed beneath him had disappeared. This must be what she felt like, he realised, as he experienced a rush of potent nostalgia. The late sunlight caressed her hair and shoulders, bringing out the warm tones in her skin, and she was draped in an elegant sari that exposed her midriff. He had seen her in these clothes many times before, and it struck him how perfectly preserved she was, as if she had just walked right out of his memory. Once again, he was a young man looking back at her as she made her way up the hill, arrested by her loveliness.

      He knew what was coming, and immediately regretted not choosing an alternative meeting place. He had thought he would be far enough removed from his memories that it wouldn't bother him. He had assumed that it would hurt her more, that it would be an adequate jab, recompense for her attack on him. Gritting his teeth, trying to ignore the flush he felt in his face, he was determined not to let her see what was going on inside him. Reluctantly, he wondered if she would be struggling with the same discomfort. She was close to him now and he felt a powerful urge to cross the distance between them and touch her. A part of him, a crazy, compulsive part, was urgently trying to convince the rest of him that if he re-enacted the scene, she would respond, reminded of how happy they had been together. It only lasted for a split second, however, before he regained control. He might have liked who he had been with her, but a decade was more than enough time to smother any foolish high-romantic notions. She was not and could never again be his Sun, any more than he could be seventeen years old again. Everything between them was heavy and corrupted, like a sword that had become more rust than steel. Any attempt to see the shine that used to be there would cause whatever was left to fall apart like dry autumn leaves.


      Even so, as she passed him, not even looking at him, he couldn't help feel cold.


      "Come on," she said. "We need to go."



      xxx



      They walked in silence, following the valley through to a pass that zigzagged east and south. They followed the edge of the labyrinth and passed by the blackened skeletons of guardians, their evil machine legs splayed like dead spiders. Even though she knew that they weren't alive, she cut a wide circle around them and kept one eye focused on each one until she was sure they had left them far enough behind. Eventually, she called back to him.


      "So what's the plan?"


      "We go north once we're in the grasslands, follow the road into Rito country and then to the Hebras from there. The mask will still be in the cavern. We'll have to move swiftly in order to maintain a lead, but if we maintain this pace we should be relatively safe. We take the mask, and anything else we need and head back south to Satori. There, in the mountain grove, we'll offer up the mask. The spirit of the sage must still be inside it, and if we bring it back to it's place of rest, we can undo what was done."


      The heat dipped as afternoon became evening. Something about his plan didn't seem right to her. It took for granted that the shadow was made from the vengeful spirit of the sage. But if that was the case, why did it take his shape? Would the sage simply take on the shape of whoever held its mask, wearing their faces like masks of its own? No, that wasn't right. She had not fought with a double of herself at the stable. She massaged her temple with the heel of her hand.


      She slowed her pace, coming to walk beside Ganondorf so that she could look at him. He had dark circles under his eyes. His cheekbones stood out prominently, his lips drawn and cracked. She unslung her pack and produced her canteen, offering it to him. "Here. You must be thirsty. Have you eaten?"


      "Yes." He didn't elaborate and she didn't press him.


      After another pause, she bit her lip and asked the question that both of them had deliberately left unspoken until now.


      "How likely is it that we'll succeed?"


      He didn't respond right away. They were passing south of Davel Peak and there was nothing but flat rock and sky before them. "We can't fail." he said, and left it at that.


      "We need to talk about how to fight it if it finds us again," she said. "You would know the most about it."


      He scowled, and though she sought out his eyes, he avoided her gaze.


      Grimacing, she faced forward and tried to control her emotions. Not a year ago, from her perspective, she had been anxious to begin their next adventure. The blinding rage she had felt before had simmered into a near constant irritation. She no longer wanted to kill him, but more than anything she longed to get away from him. Being in such close proximity filled her with doubt and anxiety. In light of how he had used her, had all their time together been a lie? There wasn’t enough of the man she used to know left in him for her to ever really know the answer to that question, and struggling in opposition like this would make failure inevitable. It galled her that she would be the one to try and find some common ground, but it was becoming clear to her that if she didn’t at least try, this already difficult task would become impossible. Taking a deep breath, she broke the silence.


      "Are there still lynels down in the Oseira Plains?"


      "I don't think so... I'm not sure. There's been a collective effort all across Hyrule to take out most of the monsters that have made the land their home. It is possible that some have been missed or avoided," he said, disinterested.


      She forced herself to smile. "Remember when we took one out?"


      He turned to glance at her, frowning. "I remember having to take it on myself so that you wouldn't get yourself killed."


      She thought, or perhaps hoped, that there was more than mild derision in his voice


      "Yes, but I was able to stay on its back for a full fifteen seconds."


      "It almost killed you."


      "Yes, but it didn't. You took its head off, remember? And you wouldn't have been able to do that if I wasn't distracting it."


      "You were annoying it, not distracting it."


      He wasn’t smiling, his eyes as hard and cold as ever.


      "And then the mounted bokoblin band showed up and we were standing in front of this lynels corpse, you on Tilaq holding its head and both of us covered in blood. I've never seen a hastier retreat."


      "We were such stupid children."


      "Speak for yourself! And I'm hardly a child. I'm eighteen."


      "Why are you bringing this up?" he asked.


      "I don't know... I guess I'm just trying to remind myself that we were capable of taking on things together..." She paused, eyes on the ground, heart heavy. "We were unstoppable. We were fearless so long as we were together. If you had had more faith in us, then maybe -"


      "We were fearless because we didn't know any better," he sighed. "It was easy to laugh and make light of gambling with our lives when we both never saw the consequences of a single misstep and turned a blind eye to the reality of these creatures. Did you know that they ate people? The bokoblins in particular would ambush travellers and torment them by forcing them to watch as they cooked each individual one at a time. They would hang corpses from trees to make jerky. How many times did we surprise a bokoblin camp? How often do you think it was more than animal meat spitted over their fires? Furthermore, did you think that I never laid awake at night and wondered about the Malice I could collect from them? You treated it like a useful quirk of my magical ability, but I had to consider the possibility that I could do that because I was kin with them. And maybe I was. I am of Ganon and so are they - perhaps they were my true brothers. You fancied us monster hunters, but I took no pleasure in fighting them."


      "If you hated it so much, then why did you join me?" she snapped. She didn't appreciate the condescension in his tone, especially when she already knew everything that he was telling her.


      "Because... it gave me some sense of control to pretend that I was choosing those battles, and because I was too foolish to know better."


      "Or maybe you just had fun."


      "Have you not been listening to me?"


      "I've been listening to you reach back into the past and twist things so that you get to be a victim. I was there, Gan, and forgive my arrogance, but I think I have a better idea of what it was like than you do. You weren't pretending to be in control by planning those adventures with me, you enjoyed taking ownership of your destiny, if only for a little while. It made you happy to prove to yourself that when you were strong and healthy and working as part of a team, you could do anything. You took satisfaction out of taking their malice and redirecting it right back at them. You had the capacity to enjoy life once - why do you insist otherwise? Is it because it's easier to live with throwing it all away if you believe that it never really happened at all?"


      If she had shocked or wounded him, she didn't see anything past his stony expression. Likewise, she made no indication of the pain in her chest. It hurt all the more for how needless it was. He hadn't needed to become this, to become something so bitter and regretful that he was now a stranger to her. What good did it do them to recolour their past in a cold and troubled light when it was never like that to begin with? She wasn’t going to tolerate it. If she had to rake over every memory in order to force him to admit his hopelessness was unfounded, then so be it.



      xxx



      There were no lynels in the Oseira Plains, but Tilaq was waiting for them in the swampy wetlands. They took turns riding him north, and their pace quickened under the more temperate climate. Though they had left the hot and cold variations of Gerudo behind, the mood between them continued to fluctuate. One day, they would co-exist almost companionably. Ganondorf's dark humour appeared to have persisted into adulthood and he appeared to take pleasure in helping her hunt and watching her cook. But the next, some disagreement or problem would emerge and he would become sour and brooding, walking several yards ahead of her and responding to her attempts at communication with icy silence. Nothing triggered this more than if she brought up some memory of the past. If her retelling of a story did not match his in the smallest detail, he would snort derisively and call her things like 'vehvi'. This in turn infuriated her to such an extent that she would kick Tilaq into a canter and ride ahead as far as a mile before slowing down again, only meeting him at the next rest stop or campsite.


      They travelled like this as far as the Tabantha Frontier. Now that they were so close to Hebra, Sun wanted to plan their strategy. Neither of them had seen or sensed the shadow behind them, but as they were covering ground at a pace, and didn't linger in one place for any length of time, she determined this was to be expected. According to Ganondorf's plan, they should never actually meet the shadow a second time, but she didn't believe that it wouldn't at least try to stop them. Every time she had tried to bring this up, however, he had shot her down, dismissing her concerns. So, in order to put him in a good mood, she offered to go into Rito Village alone and pick up some cold weather gear for the mountains. Rito were as tall as Gerudo with broader shoulders and backs to support their wings, and would provide the best fit for him outside of custom made clothes. She hadn’t told him about the money her mother had given her for him, so it would appear as a favour that was expected to be reciprocated.


      The Rito were confused to see a Gerudo this far north, but friendly and welcoming. The women in particular admired her brightly coloured clothes. She wanted to buy a glorious white feather cloak and a graceful circlet of silver, studded with rubies that were enchanted to keep her warm, but that would mean trading everything they had and then some, so she was forced to opt for more practical standard gear. She also replenished their supplies, picking up a few specialist recipes and cheeses from the general store. When she returned to the stables on the edge of the canyon, she presented Ganondorf with her haul, which he accepted, gratefully shedding his now scuffed and damaged leathers.


      Back on the road, once they were clear of people, she tried again to bring up her worries. The sun was setting and already they could feel a cold wind from the north nipping at their fingers and noses. Once they hit snow, she was sure he would be in nothing but a foul mood. It was now or never again.


      "If we ever have to fight the shadow, I think it would be useful to assume that it fights like you.”


      "What do you mean?" he sounded tired and she winced internally. It wasn’t a good start.


      "When I fought it before, it was using a weapon like yours. It was fighting like I've seen you fight before. I think, in this way, it is also a copy of you."


      "What of it?"


      "So I think I should get in some practise before we have to face it."


      "You want to fight me?"


      "I want to spar with you," she corrected gently.


      "No."


      "Gan -"


      "It would be a waste of time. If anyone is going to fight this thing, don't you think it should be me? Why would you need to prepare yourself for a fight you'll never face?"


      "And what it if defeats you?"


      "Then take comfort in the knowledge that with both of us dead, then it will simply fade away and be a danger to no one else."


      "Goddess," she swore. "I forgot. It's all or nothing with you. Either you triumph and they give you a crown, or you give up and flee like a coward."


      This stung him. "I never said I would flee."


      "But you would."


      "If you're trying to goad me," he growled. "It's not going to work."


      "When we get to Satori, you're going to have to commune with the sage's spirit in order to return the mask, right? How long is that going to take? We'll be sitting ducks. Do you really think that the shadow won't catch up to us and I won't have to keep it off you while you're busy?"


      "I would think," he said, slowly. "that it would be the other way round. You're the owner of the mask. You will be calling on what remains of the Lord of the Mountain."


      She was silent at that. She was riding Tilaq, feeling the massive muscles shift and sway beneath her, surefooted and peaceful. Idly, she twisted a lock of his main around her finger. Facing this with him was starting to feel worse than simply going it alone. "Gan, why do you think this is going to work?"


      He let out a breath, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. When he spoke, it was through gritted teeth. "Because it was the mask that started all of this."


      "But -"


      "Sun, be silent."

      "I will not. You keep saying it was the mask, but it wasn't was it? It was you who -"


      "We’ll stop here for the night," he said, the firmness of his tone indicating that he would hear no more.


      Seething, Sun dismounted. He had led her off the path and up a hill, where there stood a clearing among the evergreens, overlooking the canyon. A circle of standing stones like reaching hands surrounded a small platform made of a smooth black stone, grooves carved into its surface that shone in the early moonlight. It was one of the Rito song circles. Each stone had a hole carved into it, where the wind could pass through and whistle melodically. A sheikah shrine was the only other structure, made of the same carved black stone. Ganondorf made himself comfortable, sitting between the roots of a pine. Sun lead Tilaq to a patch of overgrown grass and let him graze, still scowling.


      "What did you even do with all that time that I bought you?" she asked, lowering herself onto the grass opposite him and crossing her legs, glaring at him.


      He had shut his eyes, as if the sun were giving him a headache. "What is it to you?"


      "I'd like to know what made you so cold and grumpy," she said, assuming a pleasant smile, as if she were just curious and not daring him to justify himself.


      "I... travelled. I sought out the secret places of Hyrule where I could live without being disturbed. I discovered ruins and ancient texts. I explored the labyrinths at the edges of the world and in order to plunder the knowledge hidden there."


      "And? What did you find?"


      He opened his eyes, looking at her as if considering how much to tell her.


      "I found books, journals of explorers before me, before the time of the first Calamity. They spoke of impossible technologies, far flung worlds above and beyond this one. Dragons and leviathans, the triforce. The world we live in was built on the ruins of incredible ancient societies. The sheikah, the Zora, even our people have a history that spans back tens of thousands of years."


      Sun leaned in, interested despite herself. She hadn't expected this.


      "At first, I was looking for my ancestors, other Gerudo men, so I could study their rise and fall. I found little. Nothing but myth and allegory."


      "Sounds like an adventure," she said, unable to keep the resentment out of her voice.


      "It was the preoccupation of a man that wanted to lose himself in the past rather than face the future."


      Sun looked away, struggling to disguise her disgust. How could he still talk like this, like it had all been a waste? Did he still not understand how offensive it was to her?


      "But you must have discovered something useful," she pressed him.


      A small smile reached his eyes. "Useful? That remains to be seen.”
    • Chapter 20 - Leftover

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      It was night-time. They hit snow just a few days ago and had lost the path, instead trudging ahead through passes and ledges that offered the path of least resistance, veering west. This was not a place for travellers. Rest stops consisted of ruined cabins set up by long abandoned expeditions and abused by bokoblins. More than once finding the shell of a shelter cracked open and exposed to the elements, they opted for natural caves that provided shelter from the snow, but not the clawing cold that raked their faces. Ganondorf had known what to expect, but even in his Rito cloak he was stiff and shivering. Sun, who had only ever been here once before, was miserable, lagging behind and hunched over like an old woman. Though she never once complained, or perhaps because she didn't, he pitied her and insisted that she ride Tilaq from now on so that they could maintain their pace and he didn't have to worry about her freezing to death. The horse, unlike them, seemed to be built to plough through the knee-high snow, sure footed and confident. Furthermore, he seemed to have an instinct for avoiding dangerous snow drifts that were indistinguishable from solid ground until it was too late, and Ganondorf was happy to follow in his wake.


      He did not consider himself a superstitious man, but he couldn't help but see ghosts in the snow flurries, putting him in a state of perpetual unease. He had purposely avoided the eastern peaks, where he had lived for so many years and where his mother was buried, but elements of the landscape took eerily familiar shapes and more than once he thought he had made a miscalculation, retracing the steps of his childhood. He almost felt relief when he didn't recognise his surroundings and had to double check the Rito maps to reorient them.


      Now, they slept in the lee of a rock face, protected from the harsh wind. Sun was resting close to Tilaq, whose natural body heat kept her relatively comfortable. It wasn't difficult for him to light a fire, but the damp and the cold meant that it was virtually impossible to keep it burning. They would arrive at their destination a little before noon the following day. Ganondorf watched her, his thoughts keeping him awake.


      Her sudden reappearance had scattered his plans to the four winds. If it had been up to him, he would have been in Kakariko by now. It seemed like forever since he had been in the Hyrule Castle library, searching for any indication that there might be something more beyond this reality. He still remembered the words scratched in the margin.


      Ref. to Kagemi?


      The scribe hadn't known what it meant, and while the term was unfamiliar to Ganondorf, it wasn't the first time he had seen it. Kagemi had been cut into stone tablets in hidden caves under the lakes of the Zora Domain. An approximation of the phrase had been written in another text he had found preserved in the catacombs beneath the Temple of Time.


      Kagemi.


      It's sort of like 'mirror', but it's more about what's inside a mirror.


      Reflection?


      Close enough.


      It was a thought that tended to come back to him just as he was preparing to sleep, when he had a little time to let his mind go where it pleased. If 'reflection' wasn't quite right, what concept had the scribe been trying to convey? He didn't think it was a co-incidence that the most solid reference to it had been at the Temple of Time, a towering ruin of a cathedral crawling with the corpses of guardians, hollow and lifeless. He had found his way there almost by accident while exploring an underground tunnel system that branched into the walls of the Great Plateau.


      He had learned very early on that it wasn't just the graveyards, shrines and ruins that the ancestors of Hyrule had left behind, but numerous underground tombs and chambers, much like the one that Sun had laid in. Some appeared to be bunkers and barracks, others stores of knowledge and museums of a religion and a way of life long wasted away. Anyone would be fascinated by them, but they caught his interest because, for the first time, he had an unbiased source of information on subjects that even Kotake and Koume had been reluctant to share with him, at least not without heavy editting. It had shocked him to the core to find his own name scrawled in the journals of nameless historians in libraries that had not seen torchlight in millennia. In secret and solitude, he had broken into dead places seeking knowledge that he was sure was forbidden, hidden away from the world for fear of how the words of history could corrupt, as if by reading about the deeds of the Makers of the World, he would mimic their blasphemies and re-enact their destruction. Revelatory thought it was, it was sparse, contradictory and riddled with metaphor and speculation. There was a further limitation to how much he could learn, given that these were almost always written in an ancient sheikah script that was laborious to translate, especially as his fluency in contemporary sheikah was spotty at best. Kingdoms in the sky, great demon kings who lived on through darkness and malice in a never-ending battle with a Goddess and all Her daughters; these stories existed alongside sober histories of the Hyrule Royal Family, and of course, Ganon.


      Moonlight reflected off the snow and frost that clung to the rock, causing the ground to sparkle in an imitation of the stars above. He stood, trying to coax some warmth into his numb hands and feet. He had to keep looking for another way out, even if Sun was too young to realise that sometimes not every problem had a solution. She would understand, in time. Even if she didn't, what was that to him?


      He left her sleeping and began to retrace their steps. They had passed by a sheikah shrine just before they had stopped for the night. Despite his extensive exploration of the hidden world under Hyrule, he had never yet stepped foot inside one of these shrines. As far as he could tell, they were impervious to attack, so blasting one open had never been an option, and Malice, though oddly compatible with the sheikah energy, had never been enough to restore power to the portals. Now, after the Champion had triggered an awakening in the world, these once hidden places were now accessible to him. He was no scientist, and so he didn't understand the connection between his power and the power that the ancient sheikah used, but he was able to determine what it was not. It was not anbaric energy, a recent Hylian invention that produced current from amber and copper, nor was it the same as fire, or lightning. It pulsed, like blood through veins, and seemed equally alive and biological, but at the same time ethereal. The closest thing to it, in his estimation, was Ganon's Malice, and he, like Ganon, could reach in and force the energy to change direction, to pulse faster and slower, controlling the mechanism. Though if he pressed too hard, he would corrupt and choke the channels, warping them until they were useless. It was like pumping salt water through a pipe. Through overuse, the salt would collect and dry, form blockages and rust the pipe.


      The shrine came into view, it's obsidian surface catching moonlight like a mirror, the glowing energy coming off it turning the snow a lightning blue. He stepped onto the platform, removed his glove and laid his hand on the pedestal to the right of the entrance. It was designed to accept a slate or tablet about seven inches across. He possessed no such object, but this did not deter him. Relaxing, he felt the pulse of power beneath his palm and concentrated on it until his heart beat in time with it. Only then did he press down, both physically and mentally as if trying to break past a thin sheet of ice. The blue light flickered, responding to his pressure. There was a sound like a sigh and the grooves of light faded from blue to toxic purple and then red, spreading across the structure like an infection. He felt something inside click, like a lock forced open and he smiled to himself. If the sheikah had designed their monuments to keep him out, they had underestimated his power.


      He stepped through the opening, his fingertips never leaving the surface of the shrine. The lift mechanism had been built for sheikah monks, but it was large enough for him to stand in. Spreading his hand against the runes carved into the smooth wall, he exerted just a little more pressure and felt the ground beneath him give way, sinking into the stone. His smile widened and he felt his heart race despite himself.


      He felt weightless as the elevator took him down, deep underground. He could see no mechanics, ropes, pulleys, anything that could offer an explanation as to how he was being carried so smoothly downwards. The walls of the elevator seemed to be made from a fine web of light that surrounded and protected him, though he could see nothing but subterranean darkness in all directions. Finally, after what felt like several minutes, the lift came to a stop and he stepped forward, blinking. He was in a room, the walls and floor seemingly made from a dull grey metal. Everything pulsed with that strange energy and he felt it coursing beneath his feet like a river. Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes become adjusted to the light, which was coming from the ceiling. At first, he believed that the space he was in was somehow open to the sky, but that was impossible. It was still night-time outside, and the blinding artificial white light was nothing like sun or moonlight. He was not cold, or warm; the air was still and dead. There was no dust, for there had been no people here for countless years. He could hear a hum coming from the walls. A sheikah eye started at him, wide and weeping, pulsing blue. It seemed as if it were watching him from atop a doorway ahead of him.


      There would be a test, he understood. Across from him was the doorway, wide and tall, that led to a massive hall, bigger than he had ever seen above ground, natural, or artificial. His boots clicked on the metal floor as he stepped through. It felt like an arena of some kind. He drew his sword, alert and watchful. He waited for something to happen, for the keeper of the shrine to speak to him, or a sign to instruct him on what he was meant to do. Carefully, he made his way to the centre of the hall, but there was no voice, no sign. Relaxing, he looked around. The puzzle wouldn't be obvious, he determined. He would have to go searching for it, perhaps that was the challenge...?


      Then he saw it. A guardian rested in the corner of the hall. For a moment, he thought this was the challenge, but something didn't feel right. It was sprawled out, it's shell rent down centre, leaving a jagged gash of brass and silver, clearly dead. Confused, unsettled, he saw the door to the final chamber was already open and started towards it. Inside was another room, similar to the entrance, with a chest on a raised platform. He went to it and put his hand on it, looking to force it open with Malice, only to find that the lock had already been broken. Dismayed, he looked inside, finding nothing. His heart was pounding now, not with excitement and anticipation, but with rage and something else, something akin to panic.


      Behind the chest there was a dais with a groove in the centre, where a monk might sit in frozen meditation, but was now empty. Whatever being had watched over this place was no longer here.


      As he sheathed his sword and swallowed his disappointment, he consolidated his thoughts. Cursing himself, he paced the length of this final room. This path had not been for him, he realised. The shrines, and the power that lay hidden within them, had been kept for the Champion of Hyrule. Of course, it made sense that the sheikah would see Link as their project, laying out tests to hone his wits and blade on, bestowing their gifts on him so that he might have the best chance of defeating Calamity Ganon. With Ganon dead and the Champion restored to his rightful place beside the princess, there would be nothing left behind him except for empty rooms. He almost envied the boy. To be able to wake up, with no clue as to his identity, with only a sword and a shield, and know exactly what he must do. No doubt, no fear, or uncertainty, knowing only that he was made to rend the darkness. Even now, when there was no villain, he stood by the princess, content to be her knight and protector. Almost as if by divine right, Link had been given a purpose.


      And himself? What fate had the Goddesses written in stone for him? To lead the Gerudo and be their downfall? To kneel before Ganon and become his tool?


      The answer to that question, as far as he could see it, was that there was no purpose for him. Hyrule had nothing left to give him. Princess Zelda took the throne, and all her mothers before her, the one true ruler of all. The Champion Link was given the sword that seals the darkness and dubbed the protector of all that is good, bringer of peace. It was as if the entirety of existence had been moulded to fit them. After all that, what was left for him to be? A challenger to Zelda's throne? A bringer of war for Link to set himself against? Was he to be just a foil to their identities with no individual destiny of his own?


      He thought of what Riju had said. If he had truly wanted peace, he would have built a home in grasslands and lived with Sun, self-sufficient and happy. She didn't understand that his existence was an anomaly that required smoothing out. If he remained here and did not act out his part, then he would be either forced to do so or this celestial narrative would collapse, leaving the land to slip back into chaos and eventually ruin.


      No. The only way that the equation could be balanced, was if he removed himself from it.



      xxx



      As expected, they found their way to the cavern the following day. It was Ganondorf that opened it. Sun hung back, wanting to let him collect what they needed. It wasn't just that this place was the scene of his deception. She also remembered how the mask had felt in her hands, so soft and beautiful, and at the same time so awful, those empty eyes gazing back at her. The desire to prove that she was not afraid, however, overcame her revulsion of the object, and she pushed past him impatiently, going straight to the side room and then the chest.


      Now that it was once again in her hands, she was reminded how large and heavy it was. Her fingers shook as she wrapped it in a cloak she tore from one of the statues. Few living people could say that they had seen the Lord of the Mountain alive, and she was not one of them. She hoped that she somehow never would be. Such a feeling of guilt and despair overcame her as she handled it, thinking of the massive God's head it had been cast from, as if so much as holding it made her complicit in the crime that had been committed to obtain it.


      She tried to remind herself that she was not the one who swung the sword, that she had only taken on responsibility for the slaughter symbolically, but that was easier said than done. Securing it on her back, under her pack, her insides twisted themselves with dread. Questions, useless and painful, surfaced in her mind like dead things floating to the top of a stagnant pond. Could she have done something differently? If she had been there for him, to help him, to give him another choice, show him another way, would he have listened? Could she have saved him?


      Quietly, she shut the chest and gathered up other useful objects, including the rupees she intended to use to pay back all the people who had helped and invested in her. When she was sure she had picked up everything, she left, touching the diamond shaped pillar so that the stone door sealed behind her. She stood for a moment, running through everything in her mind. If it was going to be up to her, she wanted never to have to return to this place for anything. Finally satisfied, she left, passing Ganondorf on the way out.


      It was telling that he had not followed her in.