Cover

Chapter One

 

He was too upset to notice how long he'd been running, but Link suspected it hadn’t been very long at all before emerging into brilliant sunlight. He wasn’t prepared for this; the light in Kokiri Forest was soft and greenish, even at noon, and it took several long, unpleasant minutes for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he raised his head and looked around, curious now. The tunnel of trees had brought him to an area not unlike that which had led to the Meadow, with high, grassy walls on either side, a large tree growing at the start of the opening, and a path that curved around to the right.

“Where are we, Navi?”

“Hyrule Field. Let’s go!” Even in the near-blinding light, she glimmered brilliantly.

He began walking, only to be halted by a strange, rather frightening sight. On one of the higher limbs of a tree beside the path, an owl had perched. Not a cute little owl like the ones he’d seen peering at him from the greenery in the Lost Woods, either. Nope. This owl was huge, and was clearly staring directly at him.

He stared back, awed and not a little concerned. The thing could easily swoop down and snap his neck with that beak, and those talons - !

“Ah! Hello!”

“Okay…Navi, did that owl just say something?” he hissed out of the side of his mouth. Maybe the consequence of leaving the Forest was instant insanity.

“Yes, Link! That’s Kaepora Gaebora!”

Great, he thought. Navi’s lost her mind, too. “You don’t say.”

“He’s a great sage, Link! Talk to him!”

He made a strange face, but cleared his throat and looked up again. “Hello.”

“It appears the time has finally come for you to start your adventure!” said the owl, sounding absolutely jovial.

“I suppose.”

The owl did something weird with his head and continued in a more serious tone. “You will encounter many hardships ahead, Link.”

He knows my name?! “I – er, oh. Why?”

“Because that is your fate. But don’t feel discouraged, even during the toughest times! Now, if you go straight this way - ” He extended a wing to indicate the way the path continued, “- you will reach Hyrule Castle. And there, my boy, you will meet a Princess, which is why you’re going there at all.”

“Is she the ‘Princess of Destiny’?”

“Ah, so he was able to tell you that part, then. Good. Yes, she is.”

He must mean the Great Deku Tree. “Have – have I ever seen you before?”

“No, no. But you’ll be seeing me again! So tell me, young Link, have you understood your instructions, all that I’ve told you?”

It hadn’t been all that much, really, but Link didn’t want to point that out – it would be rude, he felt. So he simply nodded and said he had.

“All right, then! I’ll see you around! Hoot-hoot-hoot-ho!” This last bit didn’t sound at all like the noise a real owl would make. In fact, it sounded like a person imitating an owl.

How very odd.

Before Link could say anything in reply, the great bird pushed away from the branch and flew off.

“Link!”

“Yes, Navi?”

“Let’s hurry! We don’t want to be caught in the field at night!”

“We don’t?”

“No! Hurry, Link!”

He nodded and began trotting, but didn’t get very far before coming to another halt. He’d topped a rise in the land that extended past the walls, and there, stretched out before him in various shades of green, was Hyrule Field. Without a doubt it was the biggest thing he’d ever seen, and looked like it went on forever. Slightly to his right and somewhat distant, he could see what looked like some kind of stairway that led up into the foothills of a mountain. Ahead and also rather far away were the walls of a town. He wasn’t really sure, never having seen one before, but he suspected this was Hyrule Castle’s town. Trees dotted the field toward his left, up and down some pretty hilly terrain.

“Link!”

“I know, Navi. Hurry.” He smiled and started running. How amazing it was to be able to run for such a distance without having to worry about crashing into a wall or hitting a tree!

Link had always longed to be able to run like this, and he did a few forward tumbles as he went, laughing, feeling totally free for the first time in his life.

He stopped a few times to catch his breath, but honestly didn’t want to. A stream that looked like it originated from around the town flowed along on his right, and he drank from it before going the final stretch.

He had begun to walk at this point, a sudden weariness slowing his progress, and it was with mild shock that he realized the sun was going down. How long had he been running? And was this field really so big that it had taken him all day to cross it?

He was hungry now, too, but decided to wait until he was inside the walls before having his meal.

When he got to the gates, he saw a wooden bridge crossed over the water, and was surprised by the chains attaching it to the town’s stone walls.

“Why are there chains, Navi?” he asked, as he went over the planks.

“It’s a drawbridge, Link! The chains pull it up at night so no one can get in after dark.”

“Why?”

“Oh, there are enemies out in the Field!”

He nodded, his idea of enemies having been upgraded considerably since a day ago. “Well, now what?” The man-made walls he was passing were impressive to his ten-year-old eyes, especially since he’d lived his entire life in nature.

“Let’s go in here, Link!”

“Here” was a wooden door leading into the first building on their right and not very far from the drawbridge. Link pushed the door open, entered, and found himself in a room full of clay pots and several large wooden crates. At the far end stood a being unlike any he’d yet seen. Dressed in metal with a shiny metal hat, he was holding a tall pole with some sort of sharp metal tip mounted on the top. He was easily twice the boy’s height, unlike the Kokiri who only grew tall enough to look like, well, like ten-year-old children in size. Link approached the metal-clad man slowly, not sure what kind of reaction he’d get.

“Hello there, boy.”

Ah. That kind of reaction. “Hello. Who are you?”

“Aw, just a guard.”

“Are you – you aren’t a Kokiri. What are you?”

“A Hylian, of course!” Even though the man towered over Link, he had a pleasant smile and nice eyes.

“The Forest is part of Hyrule, too, but its people aren’t Hylian.”

“Of course not, you funny kid! The Land of Hylia isn’t the same as Hyrule, now is it!”

“Oh. No, I suppose not. So…you’re a – a Hylian, and what other kinds of, of people are there?”

“The Kokiri, of course, and humans. Well, and the Gorons. And the Zoras, naturally. I take it you haven’t gotten around very much.” He leaned down and peered more closely at Link. “Hmm. You could be a Kokiri, but I don’t know. You’re not small enough…but you do have a fairy, and you’re in green. Huh! I’d have to say you’re the most interesting thing to happen to me in a long time! Tell you what – this is a storage building that has some magical properties, and because I’m grateful to have this break in the monotony, I’ll let you have some fun here!”

“Fun?” How much fun was he supposed to have with pottery and boxes?

“Break as many of these as you like, and keep whatever you find in them!” He waved a hand at the room. “They’re full of rupees.”

“I don’t need rupees, but thank you.”

“Hey, wait – hear that?”

Link frowned. This guy was loopy. Hear what?

The guard laughed and nodded at a crate to his left. “Break that and see what’s in it. Don’t tell me you can’t hear it!”

Link went closer to the crate indicated and put an ear to its surface.

Scratchity-scratch! Scratchity-scratch!

Crap. A Skull-tula – a Gold one, too, it sounded like. Why would this person think he should let the dang thing out?

“Get the medallion, Link!”

Oh.

“All you have to do is go over there so you can get a running start, then roll into it.”

“Won’t that hurt?”

“Probably, but so what? You won’t die!”

Then you do it, he wanted to say. He also had been meaning to ask Navi why he was collecting the medallions in the first place. “Er, sure. Why not?” It wasn’t like he’d hadn’t just been rolling out in the field…

“Oof! Ow!” A moment later he was sitting up amid a scattering of splintered wood and rubbing his right shoulder. His run toward the box had been a bit too fast, his tuck-and-roll a bit too late, and he’d slammed into the wall, hard. The box, he’d discovered to his discomfort, had broken apart much more easily than he ever would have guessed.

“Link! Get up! The Gold ‘tulla!”

Oh. That.  It was scratching a mere foot away, but he wasn’t frightened. After dealing with something the size of Gohma, no other arachnid would bother him that much. “Right.” He stood, flexed his injured shoulder and took out the sling-shot.

Zing! Whack! Zing! Crunch! The ‘tula imploded and he picked up the resulting medallion.

“Hey, kid, that was great! You okay?”

Link resisted the urge to glare. “Thanks. I’m fine. Well, I should go now.”

“Aw, that’s too bad! You’re great company. Come back, all right?”

The boy nodded, not sure what to think about all that, gave the man a smile, and went out.

“Turn right, Link!”

Since I wasn’t planning on leaving the town already by going left, Navi, that’s…argh. “Thank you, Navi.”

They traveled between a row of buildings, their size a source of great fascination to the boy as he absently rubbed his injured shoulder, peering about with understandable curiosity while he walked. Ahead, he could see and hear more people and from what he could tell, they were all incredibly tall, like the guard.

Soon, the road led past the buildings and opened into a vast paved area with a circular fountain in the middle, boxed plants growing on either side of the road where it continued on the other side of the fountain, the entire space bordered by other buildings, most of which had signs hanging over their doors – shops, something called an arcade, if he was reading the word right, and various businesses.

“This place is…I had no idea something like this existed, Navi!”

“Hyrule Castle Town is very different from your Village, yes! But we must find the Princess!”

“Is she here, in the town?”

“No, Link, she lives in the Castle! There!” She flew upward and when he followed her with his gaze, saw the spires of a massive structure off in the distance ahead.

“Oh.” Oh, indeed. Talk about intimidating! “Um, could I look around here just a little bit first? I’m really hungry, Navi.”

She’d flown back to his shoulder. “Of course. I keep forgetting you have to eat.”

“Don’t you?”

“No, not in the same way. But hurry, please?”

He nodded and looked for a place to sit. To his right was a market booth surrounded by people, most of them talking, some of them lifting colorful folds of cloth from the booth’s table to examine it. Beyond that were a number of shops in a long row that ended at an alleyway. Some of the  individuals on that side of the square were walking about in couples or small groups, still others looking bored and going, it seemed, nowhere. I woman was complaining to no one in particular about how her naughty dog had run off again, and she didn’t know what to do. A younger couple stood amid the crowd, their arms around each other, staring into each other’s eyes, clearly oblivious to everyone and everything around them.

To Link’s left stood a large building with a huge staircase running diagonally up along its front, a porch of some kind running the entire length of the upper floor. An old man in a long blue robe paced slowly before this structure, but spoke to no one. Two men were laughing about something near a tree, and everywhere there were small dogs that yapped at the crowd, running about and getting underfoot or being totally ignored.

What a confusing place! He found a spot on the fountain that wasn’t too close to anyone, and ate some of his fruit, continuing to watch the activity around him. Everyone was taller than any Kokiri, and he looked for differences that might show how Hylians were unlike humans – whatever they were. After a while, he recognized one main dissimilarity; one race had regular, normal pointy ears, but the other’s ears were slightly rounded at the top.

“How strange,” he murmured through the large walnut on which he was chewing. He hadn’t been able to see the guard’s ears because of the man’s helmet, so he wasn’t sure which race had ears like his.

“Excuse me, young man.”

He looked up to find the woman who had lost her dog staring down at him. She was even larger than the guard, at least in terms of girth, he thought. “Yes?”

“Have you seen a small, white dog?”

Link wasn’t sure what to say. There were dogs all over the market, many of which were white. Was she joking? “I’ve seen a few…”

“They’re nothing like my dog! And of course, he’s the only one who answers to the name Richard.”

Richard? What kind of name is that? Link wondered. “Well, no, I just got here, but I’ll look for him, if you wish.”

The woman nodded, appearing satisfied. “Wonderful. You do that, boy, and if you find him, bring him to my house and I’ll give you a reward.”

“Your…I don’t know where you live.”

“Go down the alley near the Happy Mask Shop, follow it around, and my door is the one not facing directly into the alley. Easy.” She smiled and trundled off, leaving Link speechless.

“We don’t have time to look for lost Richards!” Navi had turned an angry shade of dark pink.

Link stood, nodding. He’d finished eating, and found himself wanting to get away from this noisy place, at least for now. It was overwhelming, and he knew he’d need time to adjust to being around so many people, all of whom were completely unlike him.

Except one…not far away and on the other side of the fountain stood a little girl with long red hair. She was about the same size as Link, and like him, was what he’d identified as “disproportionate.” Was she a Kokiri? No, he’d never seen her before, and couldn’t imagine any of them leaving the forest. Further, if she had come from the forest, she certainly would have been dressed in green rather than the pastel frock she had on. And she wouldn’t be standing there looking completely at ease, either, unless she’d lived here for a while. Most telling, though, was her obvious lack of a fairy. Curiosity was suddenly stronger than his desire to get away from the crowd, so he went around the curve of the fountain and stood in front of her.

“Oh! Hello.” She smiled.

“Hello. Who are you?”

“I’m Malon. My father owns Lon Lon Ranch. Why don’t you know that?”

“I’ve never been here before.” Malon?! That name was even stranger than “Richard”! And what was a “ranch”?

“What’s your name?”

“Link.”

She giggled. “What a funny name! And…wow, is that a fairy? I’ve heard of such things but never saw one.”

Nope. Not a Kokiri. “Yes, she’s a fairy. I think your name is funny, too, and I’ve never seen a ranch. In fact, I never even heard of such a thing.”

“Why not? Where do you live – on the moon?”

“The...are there people here who do?” He couldn’t imagine something like that – for one thing, how would they have gotten to Hyrule?

“Oh, my! You really are a funny person, Link!” She broke into peals of laughter.

That she’d been joking about the moon thing became painfully clear, and he blushed, mortified at his own ignorance. “Heh-heh, yeah. I was fooling…” He cleared his throat. “Um, how do I get to the Castle?”

“The Castle! Why would you want to go there?”

“I have to meet the Princess.”

“I see.” She gave him a knowing look. “Of course. All the boys want to meet her. I hear she’s very, very pretty. Never saw her myself, but I guess it’s normal to think she is. Pretty, I mean.”

“No, that’s…I have to talk to her.”

Malon crossed her arms and looked down for a moment. When she looked back at him, her expression was unexpectedly one of worry. “Tell you what, Link. If you do get into the Castle grounds, look for my father. He went to deliver milk from our ranch early this morning and never came back. I’m afraid he got lazy and fell asleep or something. I’d like you to tell him to get home right now. Can you help me?"

“I don’t know. I’ll try.” And then I have to go find a dog named Richard…

“Thank you, Link! And good luck!” She picked up a basket that had been perched on the edge of the fountain, gave him a wave, and walked off into the crowd.

He waved back and headed away down the road that appeared to lead out of town and toward the distant Castle. That was when he realized something. Between spending time talking to the guard, having his meal, his brief encounter with the chubby woman, and the conversation with Malon, enough time had certainly passed for the sun to have gone down, yet it was still early twilight. What was going on? How was this even possible?

And then he thought of what he’d seen inside the Great Deku Tree. Apparently, a lot more things were possible than he had ever imagined.

Chapter Two

 

Link was muttering. Still smarting from his roll into the crate and then the wall in the storage building, he’d stopped at some likely-looking grass on the way out of town, tore off a handful and placed it on his shoulder, then eaten a couple of blades. The pain disappeared, giving him one less thing to have to deal with.

The fact was, so much information had been poured into his head over the past ten hours or so, he feared that if he didn’t let some of it out, his brain would explode. “Humans…what are they? Okay, they’re bigger than Kokiri, I suppose, because the lady with the missing dog had round ears, so she wasn’t a Hylian. On the other hand, I’m not sure the guard had ears like mine, but some of the people in the town did, and I could very well have it reversed. How confusing! But then there are, um, Morons? No, that’s not right. Ah! Gorons! And those other things, Zor, uh, Zoras? Whatever. Wonder what they look like? And magic, lots of magic, it seems. Like fairies and nature aren’t magic enough! Ha!”

“Link!”

“What!”

“Look at the sky!”

Now what? he groaned silently and looked up. “It’s – there’s nothing unusual there, Navi.”

“Yes, Link! It’s getting dark here!”

He stopped. She was absolutely correct. Whereas the sun hadn’t seemed to move when he was in the town, it was most definitely making its descent now. He hurried forward, not exactly sure why.

“Look, Link! A gate!”

Oh, you mean that stretch of metal bars across the opening between two huge boulders? “Yes, Navi. And a guard, too.” At least he assumed so since the man was wearing a suit of metallic clothes like the guard in the storage building.

“Good evening, young sir,” the man greeted when Link was closer.

“Good evening. Tell me, please – are you a guard? And are you Hylian?”

“Yes to both.”

“Could I see your ears?”

The man gave him a disconcerted look, but then his expression cleared and he smiled. “You must be from the forest. I understand you Kokiri-types don’t get out too often, eh?” He removed his headgear, revealing a pair of nicely pointed ears.

Link nodded. “So I was right. Humans have round-topped ears.”

“That they do. Now tell me what I can do for you, my boy.”

“I’m supposed to go see the Princess. Could you let me in?”

After gaping for a second, the man burst out laughing. “You’re a funny one, you are! See the Princess! Ha! You…wait.” He sobered instantly. “You’re serious, aren’t you.”

“Of course.”

“And who told you that? Some other kid, maybe?”

“No. The Great Deku Tree. Am I supposed to pay you?”

The guard shook his head. “No one gets by without a Royal Order. I’m sorry this Deku fella misinformed you. Now, if you wait a week or so, you might catch a glimpse of our Princess when she goes through town for the Mid-Summer Parade.”

“You don’t understand. There’s evil, and bad things are going to happen, and I have to – ”

“Look, kid, it’s getting late and you should be home in bed soon. Now go on. It’s been fun chatting with you, but I need to get back to work.” With that, he slapped the silver covering back on his head, stood straighter, and turned away.

“Come on, Link!”

“But – ”

“Listen! We have to go!” Navi turned reddish and began twinking up and down in front of him.

“Fine.” This was most upsetting.

When they were a few feet from the guard, Navi said, “I think there’s another way in!”

“Fine.” Link was getting discouraged. None of this was going the way he thought it would, and as he tried to work out his next possible move, he stared at the ground without seeing it.

In fact, he wasn’t seeing much at all, which explained why he suddenly crashed into a tree and landed on his backside. “Ow!”

Thud! Scratchity-scratch. Scratchity-scratch.

“Link! Look out! A Gold ‘tula!”

Really, Navi? he thought, getting up and rubbing his rear. Where was your warning to look out when I was about to hit that tree? Crap.

He drew his Sword, slashed angrily at the ‘tula, and a moment later collected its medallion.

“This way, Link!”

He glared in her general direction, but followed her around an outcropping of rock.

“Hello, again! Did you find my father?” It was Malon, who may have been on her way to find the man herself.

“Sorry, no. I couldn’t get past the guard to get in.”

“I thought that might happen. See these vines?” She turned and indicated a trail of them leading up the side of the outcropping. “If you climb them, you’ll find a way in but you have to be careful. Do this for me, and I’ll give you a cool gift!”

He didn’t want a gift. He wanted to see the Princess. But maybe if he talked to Malon’s father about getting into the Castle, the man could help him. “Okay.”

The girl clapped her hands, her face lighting with a grin. At her feet was the basket he’d seen her retrieve from the edge of the fountain; she reached inside and took out what looked like a nest holding a large egg. “This is a Weird Egg. Keep it warm, and it will soon hatch for you!”

Great, he thought. What am I supposed to do with whatever comes out of it? Eat it? Bleh. And why is it called a “weird” egg?

“Take it!”

Navi had remained silent throughout this, and for the first time, Link was finding her lack of chatter as irritating as her redundant instructions. Caught between the strangeness of Hyrule Town, the girl’s bizarre offering, and concern about Navi, he decided simply to take the egg and leave. What the heck. “Sure.” He put out his hands and she placed the nest tenderly in them.

“Take good care of this, Link.”

Well! This was the second thing he’d been told that day to take good care of! But at least he could stuff the ocarina in a pocket – the nest…no.

He must have looked as much at a loss as he felt, because Malon giggled again and leaned closer, whispering, “Link, it’s a magic egg! It will shrink to fit in one of your bag-things, nest and all!”

He gave her a crazy look. Was she serious? One way to find out… “Woah! That’s – that’s amazing!”

She giggled again. “Hurry now, Link!”

You sound like Navi, he thought at her. “Right. Thank you, Malon.”

“You, too, Link! Good-bye!” And then she stood there, staring up at the sky.

It didn’t take very long for him to interpret all that as a nice way to tell him to get going; sighing, he went to the vine and hoisted himself up. The climb wasn’t far, and he reached the top in a matter of seconds. He was on level ground that led to the top of the gate. Thinking it might not be a good idea to be seen up there, he scooted past where he figured he’d be visible to the guard, avoiding an opening in the top of the gate support in which he briefly noticed a ladder. For all he knew there would be others down there. Only now he had another problem.

The distance from where he stood and the ground below was considerable. The idea of jumping wasn’t very appealing. Still, what choice did he have?

“Jump, Link!”

He did – not down, though. He’d been concentrating so hard on his dilemma that he’d forgotten all about Navi, and her tinkling voice in his ear startled the daylights out of him. “It’s awfully far.”

“Don’t you remember what the Scrub told you? Tuck your head in by your knees right before you hit the ground, and roll!”

Link tried to picture himself doing this, and all he could imagine was a landing that would end badly.

“I suppose we could stay here all night,” said Navi. “You could build a little cottage right where you’re standing, and – ”

“Be quiet, Navi.” There. He’d said it. “I’ll jump, then, shall I? Yes. Of course. Probably break something. Not the egg, though. Nope. That will survive, I’m sure, because it’s magic. Unlike me…” After a last quick look over the edge to make sure he wouldn’t land on anything sharp, Link gritted his teeth and jumped.

The whole tuck-and-roll thing worked a lot better than he’d expected. In fact, he was uninjured and standing upright a few seconds later. A bit wild-eyed, but unhurt. “Wow,” he whispered.

“Bet you can’t wait to do that again, eh, Link?”

“You’re very odd, Navi.” He’d actually wanted to tell her he thought she was insane. That would have been rude, though, he decided, and opted for “very odd” instead. “Now what?”

“Stay there, Link!” Navi flew ahead, returning a moment later. “More guards around the side of this hill,” she reported. “Climb up here, but stay to the right!”

He obeyed, moving as quietly as he could which, as a child of the forest, wasn’t all that hard to do. Once at the top, he realized a guard was standing only a few feet away, but his back was to Link and the boy ducked behind a nearby tree. The guard continued to stand there for a while, eventually moving off in a different direction.

Navi had gone ahead once more, and when she came back, led Link away in a diagonal line from the tree that took him parallel with an embankment rising up in front of the Castle walls.

No guards could be seen in this area, so Link broke into a run, finally reaching some vines he could climb to bring him up closer to his goal. After cresting the rise, he jumped down and would have continued along a walkway there, except for the unexpected presence of two more guards.

“Get into the water, Link!”

Something that looked to him like a man-made river was directly to his left; without hesitation, he lowered himself into the water, making as little splash as possible. “What is this, Navi?” The sun was gone now, and the water wasn’t at all warm.

“They call it a moat. Swim to the end down there. I see a spot where you can get out without being seen.”

His teeth had begun to chatter, making the idea of getting out of there very attractive, so he swam hard for the far end. He could barely make it out in the evening gloom, and had to believe Navi’s assertion that it was fairly close.

It was actually much farther than she’d indicated, but he was somewhat warmed by the strenuous nature of the swim itself. When he climbed out of the moat at last, the chill night air accosted him and he blew on cold hands, then wrung as much water out of his tunic as he could.

“This way!”

“Huh?” He looked up from his task, shivering. The pavement turned to the left, following the line of the wall. Ahead, he made out some dark shapes, but nothing he could identify yet.

“Hurry, Link!”

“Why? It’s dark, Navi. I doubt I can get anywhere now.”

She made a small jingling sound that somehow seemed to indicate exasperation.

“All right.” He smoothed out the hem of his tunic so it wouldn’t stay wrinkled from being twisted so hard. “Let’s go.”

Once again, the fairy flew ahead, Link following. As he reached the area where the dark shapes sat, the moon arose. In its light, the shapes became large wooden crates, each with the silhouette of a horned cow head burned into its side.

Nothing strange about that, really, except that he had no idea what the symbols represented (never having seen a cow before). What was strange was the rather portly man lying on his side on the ground, snoring.

Must be Malon’s father, Link concluded. He nudged the man gently with one foot and was rewarded with a huge snort, some grumbling, and then…nothing. The man slept on, his snores a little louder now.

“Wake him up, Link!”

“No, I’d better not. What if he gets upset and calls the guard? I’ll just wait until morning.” He went to one of the crates and sat, his back against its still-warm surface, and closed his eyes. It had been a very, very long day.

Chapter Three

 

It wasn’t the sun against his closed lids, or the chirping of the early birds that awoke Link. Nor was it the natural end of his sleep-cycle.  Quite simply, he fell over.

“Hey! Woah!” He jerked upright again and stared around wildly at the unfamiliar surroundings.

“We’re outside the Castle walls, Link,” Navi reminded him.

“What? What? We…oh. Thank you, Navi.” He stood, stretched, and became aware of a sound that reminded him of someone sawing down a dead tree. A second later, he saw Talon, who was in the same position he’d been lying in the night before.

Before Link could do anything or even think about what he should do, another sound assaulted his ears. Loud, somewhat raucous, it came from his satchel, startling him so badly he nearly jumped into the water in an effort to get away from himself.

“It’s the egg, Link!”

“What?” He had to stop saying that, he thought briefly, almost at the same time remembering the “weird” egg Malon had given him. “Oh.” He nodded, waited for his heart to stop hammering at the inside of his chest, and drew it out.

A small white chicken sat in the nest. The bird turned, stared up at him, and crowed again, this time even louder since its sound was no longer muffled.

“What in tarnation?!” Talon had finally woken up, and had jumped to his feet, looking extremely unhappy. “Can’t a person get a little shut-eye around here?”

“Um, sir? You were sleeping on the ground,” Link pointed out politely. “Since last night, in fact.”

“What’s that? Oh. I…hello. And who might you be?”

“My name is Link, sir. Are you Talon?”

“I am. I fact, I’m the owner of the Lon Lon Ranch, in case you’re wondering.” He raised his arms over his head, stretching, and opened his mouth in a huge yawn. “Yep, yep, yep. Came here to the Castle to deliver some milk.” He straightened his tunic and looked around for a second. “Guess I sat down here to rest, and fell asleep, heh! Now what was that awful noise that woke me up?”

Link held out the nest. “Your daughter, Malon, gave me this. She’s worried about you, sir, and asked me to try and find you.”

“Eh? Malon is looking for me? Uh-oh.” He shook his head, eyes widening in sudden alarm. “I’m gonna catch it from her now!” He wrung his hands, his face scrunching up in a grimace that made the nostrils of his bulbous nose flare in a most unattractive way. “I messed up bad, didn’t I…never should have left Malon behind to wait for me. Aw, dang it! Gotta go, kid – she’s really gonna let me have it for this!” Without saying good-bye, he took off at top speed, arms pumping at his side. He rounded the corner and disappeared from view.

“Malon must be really scary when she’s angry,” Link mused aloud. “Remind me not to upset her if I see her again, Navi.”

“Hmph! She’s a little girl – how scary could she be?”

“I don’t know. You’re a little fairy, but you can be intimidating when you’re angry.”

“I can?”

Not really. “Sure.” He sensed it was making the creature glad to hear this.

“Oh!”

So now what? he wondered. The man’s reaction had made it impossible to have a conversation with him, and Link had pretty much forgotten to ask Talon if he could help him get into the Castle.

“Listen! There’s an opening over there, Link!”

“Where?”

“In the wall!”

He looked, not happy about its location. “Great. There’s that moat-thing between me and the wall, Navi, and it’s too far up from the water to reach. Plus, there’s water coming out of it. How – oh, wait.” He set the nest gently on the ground and went to the nearest crate, which he gave an experimental nudge. The thing was heavy, but not impossibly so.

He pushed harder, and it began to move. “Aha!” Getting on the other side, he began shoving it toward the edge of the walkway directly opposite the opening in the Castle wall. He'd done this before. A moment later it dropped over the edge and into the water like the block in the Deku Tree, its top only a few inches lower than the walkway.

“I think another one…” Link ran to the next box and moved it along, giving it a final push so it landed on top of the first crate. He climbed up, calculated the distance, and jumped.

The opening was small, perhaps a bit smaller than the one in the wall of the training ground in the Kokiri Village, but still wide and high enough for him to crawl through without removing either the Sword or shield on his back. The distance was no longer than the actual width of the wall, and as he stood up on the other side, Link wrung out the hem of his tunic, wiping his hands across his chest to dry them when that was done. There was nothing he could do about the water dripping down his legs into his boots, so he didn’t bother trying.

To either side of the area in which he found himself, stretched well-tended lawns. To his right and not very far was a wall with a door. Probably not a good idea to open it, he decided. To his left, another wall could be seen several yards away. But straight ahead, things were far more promising and somewhat dangerous, if the sound of marching feet was any indication.

A flagstone-paved path went forward for a considerable distance, a stretch of hedge beside it and forming a kind of wall. As he neared this, the footsteps grew louder. They clanged a little, reminding Link of the metal suits the guards wore. The steps came closer, and a second later, the top of a spear moved past the other side of the hedge. Link shrank back, flattening himself against the greenery. If the guard came around the side of the hedge…

No, the spear (and the guard holding it, he assumed) halted a few inches from the end of the hedge, and now he heard the steps moving away, perpendicular to the direction from which they’d come. The guard was obviously circling something on that side.

He tip-toed to the end of the hedge and peered carefully around its corner. He’d been right – the back of a metal-clad guard met his gaze. He couldn’t yet see what else was there, but as soon as the man turned right, Link crept out from behind the hedge and scooted quickly forward. Now he could see more hedges on his right, growing in a rectangular box-shape beside the path and set back a little.

The guard’s progress was marked by the movement of his spear-tip; Link could see he’d be coming back around the other side, so he zoomed ahead past the wall jutting out beyond this area, and ducked behind it.

Another side-ways planted hedge blocked the next space, but he could see statues towering over the top and hear the gentle flow of water. A twin fountain, meaning a longer distance. Crap.

“What time does the shift end today?” asked a voice.

“In about an hour,” answered another.

“Ah. Good. My feet are killing me.”

Drat! There were at least two of them this time, Link concluded. He looked up to see if their spears would be visible, but this hedge was much higher. He’d have to use his ears and some logic if he were to get past these guards.

“They’ve gone from the front of the fountain, Link! You can go now!”

And Navi. He nodded, went around the hedge, and ran as quietly as he could past the fountains. When he got to the next area, he had to stop to catch his breath. The distance hadn’t been far at all, but his heart was pounding so hard, he was finding it hard to breathe.

This time, he had to deal with a large pergola, which he could barely make out through the tight branches and leaves of the next hedge. Vines were growing up and over the structure, and a set of wooden steps led up to the top of the hedge, which was nearly twice as tall as the one before. How could that work? Link hadn’t had a whole lot of dealings with hedges, but common sense told him that walking on one would be impossible. He’d fall right through the stupid thing! Why ever would they put steps next to one?

“Go up the steps, Link!”

Okay, so maybe there was more to this. He climbed, keeping an eye on the one guard walking about underneath. When he got to the last step, he saw that the top of the hedge was even with the top of the pergola, and he had only to step over the greenery and he’d be standing on one of the structure’s beams. Which would have been terrific, were it not for the beam being only slightly wider than one of his feet. Was he supposed to walk across on that?

“Link –”

“Don’t say it, Navi!” he whispered. Wonderful. Well, balancing on narrow things had never been difficult, but falling off things in Kokiri Village never meant getting captured by a huge guard and possibly thrown into prison. They didn’t have prisons in the forest, but he’d heard about them from the Know-It-All Brothers. One of them had a non-Kokiri acquaintance who’d been locked up in some place he called the Gerudo Valley. He’d made it sound very creepy, too.

Well, there was no choice, it seemed. He stepped onto the beam, got his balance, and went forward. Slowly. Below him he could hear the guard’s metallic tread, but didn’t dare look down or pause to see if he’d been noticed. He was sure he’d hear a shout or something if that happened.

He made it across without mishap, but his elation faded when he realized there were no steps on this side. He’d have to jump down, and would probably make enough noise to attract the guard’s attention. Now what? He turned, watching the guard for a while, until it occurred to him that if he waited until the man was at the far side of the structure, there’d be less chance of him hearing the landing.

A few seconds later, the boy saw his opportunity and jumped, hitting the ground as lightly as he could and rolling forward. Then he froze, waiting, but heard no indication that he’d been detected.

His next challenge took the form of two guards circling a huge monument of a man with a crown (probably a king, Link assumed), his stately figure flanked by a two women doing a dance of some kind. The boy found it quite silly, and almost laughed as he watched the pattern of the guard’s movements. Unlike the previous pair who stayed distant from each other, one of them walked to the end of the monument while the other stayed where he was for a few moments, peering around. Then this second guard joined his partner, so the first could walk to the next corner of the monument. They continued the pattern, making it clear Link would have to wait until guard number one had gone to the far end of the back of the monument and guard number two had left his corner to join him.

As soon as this occurred, Link sprinted across the front, hoping he’d be fast enough to get past the wall on the far side before the first guard got to his front corner again. He did, but now had a totally different configuration of hedges, statues, fountains and guards with which to contend. The pathway came to an end a few feet ahead, making it necessary to enter an area to his right that looked like a kind of maze.

“Ooh, look, Link! It’s a maze!”

He almost swatted her. “Thank you, Navi,” he grated. Link knew about mazes from the crazy way the Lost Woods behaved, and from doing puzzles with Saria. She would draw one on the ground with a sharp stick, and he’d have to follow the paths with his finger and see if he could figure out the way through without hitting a dead-end. This maze didn’t look nearly as complicated as the ones Saria drew. In fact, from what he could see through the tangle of branches and leaves, it wasn’t really a maze at all. The path simply wove in and around a series of long hedges, which would make getting through both easier and more problematic.

The “easy” was having hedges to hide behind. The “problematic” was not being able to predict when a guard would come around one of them and find him.

“Navi – can you fly ahead and tell me when it’s safe to go?”

“Of course! Be right back!”

She guided him around the first set of greenery, then the next, and then disappeared for a few seconds. When she returned, she zoomed right up to his ear and screamed, “Run!”

One hand to his ringing ear, he took off at top speed, got to the end of the path, and went the only way available – a sharp left turn into what looked like a kind of wide tunnel. He flattened himself against the left wall of the breezeway (which was its actual purpose) and glared at Navi. “Don’t ever shriek in my ear like that again, please.” He swallowed, trying to catch his breath. “It hurt.”

“Sorry, Link. I was worried you’d get caught – there were four guards, and one of them was about to walk behind the hedge where you were standing.” She’d turned lavender, a color he hadn’t seen around her before, and wondered if that meant she was very sad.

“It’s okay. I appreciate you keeping me safe, Navi.”

The lavender faded into a restful blue, the color in which she was normally bathed when not in some state of agitation. “My pleasure, Link! Ooh! Look! A garden!”

“Huh?” He straightened and turned. At the end of the passage was a wide swath of green dotted here and there with circular flower beds. “Nice.” Walking forward slowly and checking over his shoulder periodically, he headed for this, soon realizing that there was nowhere else to go once he got there.

Windowed walls faced the garden on three sides. At the end and straight ahead was a set of four or five steps that ended in a wide paved area under a single, huge window. Something else was there, too, but it wasn’t until he was almost halfway across the garden that he realized it was a small person. A girl person, if the clothing was any indication.

She was wearing a white, pink and blue dress that covered her feet, a pastel scarf-like thing on her head, and she was looking in the window. He approached her slowly, not wanting to startle her, but as soon as he reached the top, she gasped and turned around.

“What?! W-who…who are you? And how did you get past the guards?”

At first, Link was unable to answer. The girl was absolutely beautiful, more so even than Saria. Her features were delicate, her eyes the most amazing shade of turquoise, her lips…he gulped. Was this what Saria felt when she looked at him?

She raised an eyebrow, and suddenly seemed to relax, but continued to wait silently for his answer.

“Uh.” Link cleared his throat and tried again. “I kind of sneaked past them, actually. And…and Navi helped me.” He nodded sideways at the fairy twinkling over his shoulder.

“Oh. What – what’s that? Navi, you said? Is that a…a fairy?!”

Link nodded.

“Then you are…from the forest, yes?” She took a step closer. “You wouldn’t happen to have the Spiritual Stone of the Forest, would you? It’s a shiny green stone. Do you have it?”

How had she known about that? Curious, he shook his head in the negative, more to see how she’d react than to be ornery.

“No?” She frowned. “Well, that’s odd. I thought you might be the one from my dream.” She looked away, biting her lip. When she looked back, her eyes were narrowed. “You really don’t have it? Come on!” Her eyes were twinking now. “Tell me the truth – do you have it?”

He relented. What a clever person! “Yes, I have it.” He gave her a crooked smile.

She clapped her hands and laughed. “Just as I thought!” Her own smile had a dimple in it, and Link decided – somewhere in his ten-year-old head that was too mature for its own good – that he would go to the ends of the earth for this girl.

“But how did you know that?” he asked, wanting to keep the conversation going forever.

“I had a dream.” She stood a little straighter and cast a quick glance behind at the window before continuing in a lower voice. “In this dream, dark storm clouds were billowing over the Land of Hyrule.” She shivered. “But suddenly, a ray of light shot out of the forest to the west, parting the clouds. From the opening it left, something even brighter lit up the ground, and at first that was all I could see. But then the light turned into a figure holding a green, shiny stone, and was followed by a fairy.” She stopped and stared at Navi for a moment. “Anyway, because it was so real, I knew this was a prophecy – I’ve had them before, you see, and was told how to know the difference between a regular dream and one that foretold something.”

“And what was this foretelling?”

“That someone would come from the forest, so of course, I thought you might be the one. And this person – oh! I am so sorry! I got carried away with my story and everything, and didn’t even introduce myself properly!” She squared her shoulders, changing her stance to something that made Link feel like he should bow. “I am Zelda,” she told him with great solemnity. “Princess of Hyrule. What is your name?”

Gulp. “Link.”

She repeated it a few times. “Hmph. Strange. It sounds somehow…familiar.” Zelda seemed to shake off whatever was nagging at her subconscious. “Okay, then! Link, I’m going to tell you the secret of The Sacred Realm, a secret that has been passed down by the Royal Family of Hyrule. Please keep this a secret from everyone. It goes like this.”

As she began, he found himself wondering if it was the same story as the one the Great Deku Tree had told him, since his tale had also involved the Sacred Realm. Not that it mattered. He would have listened happily even if she’d started talking about the flowers. Soon, however, he realized her story was not the same at all.

Chapter Four

 

Link stood respectfully as the Princess spoke. He would have preferred sitting down, but since she wasn’t, he didn’t think he should be, either. Besides, he was really enjoying the fact that she spoke to him with the confidential air of a long-time friend.

She began by making sure he knew what the Triforce was, then told him the rest. “The three Goddesses, as you probably know, hid the Triforce, which contained the power of the gods, somewhere in Hyrule. Now this power is simple – it grants the wish of whoever holds the Triforce in his or her hands. Naturally, if that person has a righteous heart, Hyrule will be led into a golden age of prosperity. But if someone with an evil mind has his or her wish granted, the world will be consumed by evil! Well, that is what has been foretold. So the ancient Sages built the Temple of Time to protect the Triforce from evil ones.”

“Excuse me – is this Temple the huge building I saw on the edge of town when I was heading here?”

“That’s right. Now, the Temple of Time is the entrance through which you can enter the Sacred Realm from our world.”

Link put his head to one side, thinking. “But…then anyone can just go into the Temple and get into the Sacred Realm, right?”

“Oh, no. Inside the Temple, the actual entrance is sealed with a stone wall called The Door of Time. In order to open it, they say you need to collect three Spiritual Stones.”

So that was why she’d called the Kokiri Emerald a “spiritual stone!” he thought. “And then what?”

“Well, as the legend goes, you need one final part of the key to enter – the Royal Family Treasure!”

A mosquito landed on his arm and bit him. He swatted at it, scratched, and nodded. “What’s the treasure? Another kind of stone?”

“Oh, no, Link! Something much better – The Ocarina of Time!”

He thought about Saria’s ocarina, and wondered how such a simple instrument could be of such great importance. Perhaps the Royal Family’s ocarina was made of some precious metal, or had jewels on it, or –

“Oh! I almost forgot!”

“Yes?”

She gestured at the window. “Before you came, I was, well, I was spying through this window.” She blushed. “I know better than to behave that way, and my father would be appalled, but…it’s the other element of my dream. The dark clouds.”

There were dark clouds inside the Castle? “What, er, what do you mean?” he asked carefully, not wanting to appear stupid.

“I believe they’re a symbol, that they represent a horrible man who has been spending time with the King. This window looks into the Throne Room, and the man is in there right now, talking to my father.” She stepped away from the window and half-whispered, “Would you look at him? Tell me what you think?”

He almost asked her why, since after all he was only a boy from the Kokiri Forest who knew nothing about all this legend and royal stuff. He didn’t, though. The look she was giving him was so full of hope, something else that confused him. With a shrug, Link nodded and went to the window. Which nearly caused a disaster – he had never encountered glass before, and knew nothing about windows glazed with it. It was a good thing, then, that only his fingertips hit it when he went to grasp the sill.

Pulling his hands back, he looked with surprise at the window, then at his smarting fingers, and finally reached out a hand, palm up, until it came to rest against the glass. Cool and smooth, this was not magic of some sort. But what –

“Our windows are covered in glass, Link. You probably don’t need it in the forest. But here, we get some pretty heavy rain, and what we have inside would be damaged if it got wet. Besides, the glass keeps people inside from hearing things outside.” She smiled.

How kind you are. “I see. Thank you.” Because there had been no smugness in her explanation or voice, he didn’t feel embarrassed about his ignorance. Grateful, he returned his attention to the window.

At first, all he saw were two guards standing against the far wall, a dark blue carpet like a fuzzy river going down the center of the room from left to right, nothing more. A second later, someone walked into view along the carpet – a tall, powerful-looking man with red hair, eyes that somehow gave the impression of slyness, of evil. He stopped when he was directly in front of the window and went to one knee before whoever was in front of him and to Link’s right.

One hand was crossed over the man’s chest in a gesture of fealty and he bowed his head, the jewels on dark, silver-studded leather armor, and a single red one in his ear sparkling in the room’s light.

“Who is he?” Link whispered, not sure why he was doing so. Surely the man wouldn’t hear him at this distance, and with a glass-covered window between them as well.

“His name is Ganondorf,” she said, her voice trembling. “He’s the leader of the Gerudo, who hail from far in the west.”

The Gerudo…Gerudo Valley…Link didn’t like the sounds of that at all, especially after the way the Know-It-Alls had described their prison.

“Even though he swears allegiance to my father,” she was saying, “I’m sure he isn’t sincere. I believe the dark clouds in my dream symbolize that man!”

Link leaned a little closer to try and see him better, but the man suddenly turned, his eyes boring into the boy’s, and an ugly smile split the man’s dark face. Startled, Link jumped back, his own eyes wide.

“What happened?” Zelda took his hand, her expression filled with alarm. “Did he see you?”

She’s holding my hand! Wow! “Y-He did.”

“Oh, dear. Not that I think you should worry. He has no idea what we’re planning. Not yet, anyway.”

We?! How wonderful that little word sounded when she said it! He suppressed an urge to clap his hands and start skipping. “Ah.” That sounded clever. Right. And then something occurred to him. “Hold it – you didn’t tell your father any of this, did you?”

“What – about my dream? Of course. I always tell him! Especially if I think something bad will happen to our people, or to the land. He is King, after all, and needs to know such things.” She sighed, dropped his hand, and turned away. “I don’t think he believes it was a prophecy, though.” Now she sounded sad. “Oh, Link, even if I’m wrong about that, I still think that man’s intentions are evil. Ganondorf must be after nothing less than the Triforce itself! I’m sure he’s trying to find a way into the Sacred Realm! Why else would a Gerudo come to Hyrule? They never leave the desert! I wouldn’t be surprised if he were trying to conquer Hyrule – the whole world, in fact.”

“And you told your father this, too?”

She nodded, visibly upset. “It looks like only you and I can protect Hyrule now.” Grabbing both his hands this time, she asked, “Do you believe me, Link?”

Had the Deku Tree not told him about his having a destiny, or that he had to seek out and speak with the Princess of Destiny who had to be Zelda, or about the Triforce, and had he not faced the evil of Gohma and those disgusting plants, he might have hesitated. Perhaps even considered the girl a bit daffy. But he’d been prepared for this, and besides…she was hold his hands, squeezing them, and he was elated in a way that left him short of breath. How very, very strange. He had no idea what that meant, but knew he believed every word of her story. So he told her that yes, he believed her completely.

“Oh, thank goodness!” She gave him a quick hug that nearly made his knees buckle, then released him. “I’m so afraid, Link. I have a feeling that man is going to destroy Hyrule.”

“How?”

“He has a terrifying power – I can feel it.” She put out a hand and touched his cheek, unaware that the gesture nearly caused him to faint. “It’s good that you’re here, Link, that you came to the Castle. I knew you would. We cannot let Ganondorf get the Triforce!”

“W-what can we do to stop him?” His voice came out about an octave too high and he felt himself redden.

“Simple. I will protect the Ocarina of Time with all the power I have,” she said, nothing in her response indicating she’d noticed his discomfiture. “He shall not get his hands on it! In the meantime, you must find the other two Spiritual Stones. Then together, we can get the Triforce before Ganondorf does, and defeat him!”

Yeah! We’ll…oh, boy. I need to sit down.

She dropped his hands again and turned away, reaching into a pocket in the elegant apron covering the front of her gown. “One more thing, Link.” She took out a folded piece of paper, opened it, and scribbled something inside with a red-tipped stylus. “Here – take this letter. I’m sure it will be helpful.”

He took it from her, noticing the creamy paper was thick and embossed with some kind of symbol. His reading skills had been limited to the signs around the Kokiri Village, so he didn’t even try to make out what the spidery writing inside said. “What is this for?”

“You must show it to anyone who questions you about where you are or what you are doing.”

“Oh.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Link. My Attendant will show you safely out of the Castle so you won’t have to deal with the guards again. She…she’s somewhat intimidating, I’m afraid, but please don’t be afraid to talk to her.”

“I – sure. No, I won’t. I mean, uh, you’re welcome. I’ll just be going now, shall I? Yes.” He’d been backing up as he spoke, and had Navi not whispered the word “step” into his ear, he would have fallen backwards down the stairs. Mortified, he turned and went quickly down, crossing the garden with no dignity whatsoever.

Not until he was almost at the breezeway entrance did he stop, and that was only because someone very tall and frightening was standing there, her arms crossed over the biggest bosom he’d ever seen. She had white hair pulled back into a kind of ponytail but didn’t look at all old. With a muscular physique that rivaled that of every man he’d met so far, her clothing consisted of a very un-womanly pair of tight trousers and boots, a blue, skin-tight corset over a low-cut, short-sleeved blouse. At her waist was a belt to which an extremely long sword had been attached. Link almost screamed.

“I am Impa of the Sheikah,” she informed him, not bothering with any other greeting. “I am responsible for protecting Princess Zelda.”

And I bet you do a grand job of it, too, Link said with his eyes, too cowed to speak.

“Everything is exactly as the Princess foretold.”

How did you know what she told me? How – oh, I see. She probably told you about it, too…

And then, without warning, the woman’s expression softened and she gave Link a kind of admiring smile. “You’re a courageous boy.”

No I’m not, he thought. I almost wet myself just now.

“You’re heading out on a big, new adventure, aren’t you.”

Crap! Was that a question? Am I supposed to answer her?

“I was in the Princess’ dream, too, you know. My part is to teach a melody to the one from the forest.”

That shocked him into speech. “It is?”

“Indeed. Pay attention – this is an ancient melody passed down by the Royal Family.”

Apparently, this Royal Family passed down all kinds of things –

Impa was speaking again. “I have played this song for Princess Zelda as a lullaby ever since she was a baby. There is mysterious power in these notes, so listen carefully.” The woman put two fingers to her lips and blew through them, producing a melody that sounded strident, but which he suspected would be very pleasant when played on an instrument.

When she was done, she gave him an expectant look. Before Navi could tell him to try playing it on his ocarina, he took it out. Closing his eyes, he brought to mind what he’d watched Saria do, how she placed her fingers and which configuration produced which tones. Because the instrument was so simple, it didn’t take much to figure out how to reproduce Impa’s melody, so he played it slowly, carefully, and right.

“Very good, boy. Seems you have some talent with that thing. You learned Zelda’s lullaby – don’t ever, ever forget it.”

He stared down at the ocarina in his hands, somewhat surprised at how easily he’d played it, but then looked up at Impa. “I won’t,” he promised.

“Good. You know, if the Castle soldiers find you, there will be trouble. Let me lead you outside.”

He followed her through a doorway to the right of the tunnel, and then down a series of corridors. They went up a set of narrow stairs, down a wider set, through some more doors, and finally out through the door onto the walkway where he’d encountered Talon. The crates had been removed, he noticed as they walked by, and he wondered how they’d gotten them out of the water. In fact, he wondered how anyone even knew they were there.

They did meet a couple of guards after this when they got to the other side, but Impa glared at both of them and shook her head. They backed away and let her and Link pass.

Link didn’t want to know what she was like when angry.

A short time later, they stood outside the walls of Hyrule Town and Impa stared around at the field, her eyes distant. Link waited respectfully, saying nothing, not wanting to die…

“You brave lad,” she said at last, her voice so wistful and faint it took a few seconds before Link realized she meant him.

Why is she calling me that? She doesn’t even know me!

“We must protect this beautiful land of Hyrule!” She pointed ahead at the spot where she’d been staring. “Take a look at that mountain, boy. That’s Death Mountain, home of the Gorons.”

Death Mountain? Oh, great.

“They hold the Spiritual Stone of Fire.”

Ah, yes, one of the ones I’m supposed to go find. Drat. Still, she makes it sound like a good place…He sighed and took a few steps past her – not that those few feet would help the view by much. “What are those stairs?”

“At the foot of Death Mountain, you will find my village, Kakariko. That’s where I was born and raised, and those stairs lead you to it – my people built them when they first settled there.” She leaned down and spoke closer to his ear, startling him just a bit. “You really should talk to some of the villagers there before you go up Death Mountain.”

Behind him and to his right was the path that led back to the Kokiri Forest. There he would find Saria, the familiarity of home, and perhaps safety. To his left was the Castle and Princess Zelda to whom he’d made a heartfelt promise. And ahead, he knew, lay his destiny. There was no choice, really. The route to safety, he told himself, was the route to cowardice and betrayal. He’d never be able to live with himself if he broke his promise. Besides, his new loyalty to the Princess was stronger than anything else in him at that moment, so if he died trying to keep it, well, at least he would die following his heart and doing what was right.

“Okay,” he told Impa. “I will. Thank you.”

She straightened. “Remember, boy – the song I taught you has some mysterious power. Only Royal Family members are allowed to learn this song, so the fact that you know it, will help prove your connection to Zelda’s family.”

“I’ll remember.”

“Excellent. Hurry, now. The Princess will be waiting for you to return to the Castle with the Spiritual Stones. We’re counting on you, boy!” She took a step back and threw something to the ground.

A second later there was a loud bang, a blinding flash of light, and when Link could see again, Impa was gone.

“Dang.”

“I agree,” he told Navi, grinning. She was using his words now. “Well, we may as well head for the mountain.”

“Quickly, too, Link. It will be getting dark soon.”

Oh, right, he thought. There would always be that.

Chapter Five

 

A small stone bridge crossed the narrow river-moat running past the Castle. On the other side were some trees, a narrow stretch of field, and the stairs that led to Kakariko Village.

Link had crossed this bridge, walked across the bit of field beyond, and now stood at the foot of the tallest stairway he’d ever seen. At some point it looked like it took a right-hand turn, but from the bottom, he couldn’t be sure. His head was still filled with all that had happened earlier – his meeting with Princess Zelda, the way she’d affected him, the frightening but admirable Impa, his new and rather complicated quest. So the grumbling from his mid-section took him by surprise, and he frowned.

“I’m hungry, Navi. Could I sit down and have something to eat?”

“No, Link, you have to get to the Village up there before the sun goes down.”

He looked at the sky. The distance from the stone bridge to here hadn’t seemed all that far, but the sun was nonetheless much closer to the horizon. “Fine. I’ll eat when I get there.”

Navi turned green and began flitting up along the stairs, encouraging Link to follow quickly. He did, of course, pausing about halfway to catch his breath – the stairway was extremely steep – and when he got to the top, saw that while the steps had ended, he would, in fact, have to turn right to keep going.

The ground ran between high walls, made by whatever means the builders of this place had used to make a passage through the rock. Ahead, he could see a high log fence, its gate standing open, and beside it, a guard.

This man wasn’t wearing metal; curious, Link stopped to talk to him before entering the Village. It turned out the man was a time-keeper, someone who always knew exactly what time it was and would let visitors and anyone else who asked know. A pleasant enough individual, he was – despite his pole arm – not a very military-looking sort. He even recommended certain things to Link, telling the boy that he would enjoy the Village shop and should visit the windmill. Thanking him, Link went through the gate.

Kakariko Village was nothing like either his home village or Hyrule Town. There were strong-looking houses here and there made of something other than wood, and some sort of building under construction right in the middle. Men carrying wooden beams on their shoulders were walking along the top of the partially-erected structure, others hammering nails, still others laying brick on one side.

Impa had told him to talk to the villagers, but he didn’t think the men busy at their construction work would appreciate being interrupted by a little boy. He went up a flight of stairs to the right of the new building, passing a large house with a fenced yard, and turned left.

“Oh! Little boy!”

He turned and saw a woman waving to him. She stood outside a fenced area beside another house, her expression one of distress. He went to her, hoping he hadn’t done anything wrong. “Yes, ma’am?”

“I – oh, dear. Can you help me? My cuckoos have escaped their pen, and I’d collect them myself, but their feathers make me itch and sneeze something awful! Could I convince you to grab them for me and bring them back here?” She indicated with a nod the fenced-in part by the house.

Thanks to the one that had hatched in his satchel – and which he’d totally forgotten about…where had it gone? Did it fly away? Uh-oh. He had promised to take care of it. Wow. Looked like he’d find out first-hand what Malon was like when she got angry if he ever met her again.

“Can you?”

“Huh? Oh! Um, sure.” Before side-tracking himself, Link had been thinking about how, because of the weird egg hatching and all that, he knew what cuckoos looked like. In fact, he’d seen a number of them hopping about as he’d entered the village. “How many are there?”

“Seven. What is your name, by the way? I’m Anju.”

“Nice to meet you. My name is Link.”

“Well, Link, I’ll have a nice reward waiting for you when you’ve gotten them all back, and thank you so much!”

He’d noticed that at the top of another set of stairs on the left side of the village, a pathway led up to Death Mountain, and he had to admit he was in no hurry to get there. Maybe spending time in this village would help him build his courage, get him used to being near it.

Impa had also told him that the Gorons there had one of the Spiritual Stones, and it occurred to him that he should ask the people of Kakariko what these Gorons were like. In meantime, however… “You’re most welcome,” he told Anju, and set off find her birds.

The first one was only a few feet away, which surprised him. He hadn’t noticed it before. As he approached, the thing skittered and hopped out of reach, cackling at him. He tried again, but the fowl was too quick. “Navi, what am I doing wrong?”

“Try waiting until it has its back to you, Link!”

“Ah. Good idea – thanks.” A few seconds later, the bird seemed to forget about him and turned away to peck at something in the grass. Link crept up behind it, crouching, and – aha!

Holding on to the bird proved a bit of a challenge; as soon as he had it, it began flapping its wings wildly and squawking loudly enough to hurt his ears. He almost dropped it, but then grabbed it by the legs and ran to the enclosure where he flung it inside. The birded landed on what would be a chin in another kind of creature, but hopped quickly upright and grew calm.

“Excellent!” Anju exclaimed, coming to stand beside Link at the fence. “That’s one!” She gave him a wink.

“So it is. I’ll go look for the next one.” He smiled and left her there, peering around as he went. Where had they all gone?

The whole venture took him about an hour, but at last he was heading to the enclosure with the last cuckoo. As he’d caught them, he’d learned something incredible and wonderful – if he had to jump from a high spot while holding the thing, its frantic flapping would actually hold them both aloft for several feet as they drifted toward the ground. This was the most fun Link had had in a very long time, and he was almost sad when the final bird made itself comfortable amid its fellows in the enclosure.

“You’re a sweet little boy,” Anju told him, her smile wide. “And as promised, here’s your reward.” She held out a bottle. It was empty and had a swatch of leather over its top that was secured with a piece of thick twine. “It may not seem like much,” she added, “but it’s clean, and can hold all kinds of useful things for you.”

“Really?”

“Really. And I don’t just mean water or milk, or some such. I mean potions, and bugs, and, well, all kinds of things!”

Potions, eh? Not that bugs weren’t interesting, too. Hmm. He tied the bottle to his belt by its twine and thanked her kindly.

“Be sure to visit our Graveyard,” she called as he began to leave. “Our Gravekeeper, Dampe, gives a terrific tour of the place that I think you’ll really enjoy!”

“Thanks! I’ll, um, I’ll go there!” A graveyard…wow. Not exactly what he’d have put on a list of places he wanted to see.

“Let’s go, Link! Let’s see the graveyard!”

“What? Why? And why would anyone give a – a tour of someplace like that? I mean, what’s there besides a bunch of graves?” And ghosts, he added silently.

No such thing existed in the Kokiri Village, but he’d heard of a graveyard being somewhere deep in the forest. The old Kokiri who’d told him about it had made it sound horrifying.

“Oh, Link, there is so much about the world you don’t know. You do need to see it.”

“Terrific. Fine. Where is it?”

“Probably over by the sign that says, ‘Graveyard’.”

He nodded, unhappy. It had been getting late when he’d entered the village, but like Hyrule Town, something here was causing the sun to halt in its trip to the horizon. Before he could wonder about that out loud, his stomach gave a very noticeable grumble. “I still haven’t eaten anything, Navi.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Link. Please – sit here and have something.” She’d flown to a bench outside the town’s windmill.

“Thank you, Navi.” He climbed the steps leading to it and sat, taking out some bread. The sound of hammers, the creak of the windmill overhead, and the growing comfort of food filling his tummy almost caused Link to nod off. What a peaceful village this was! Busy, but peaceful.

He got up and went to the large well in front of the mill. A bucket sat on its edge attached by a rope, so he lowered it into the water, pulled it back up, and scooped out a mouthful in cupped hands. Cool and delicious, he drank several times more.

“Come on!” Navi urged as soon as he’d repositioned the bucket for the next person.

“Okay. Just tell me something – we’ve been here for at least two hours, yet the sun hasn’t moved. Why is that?”

Navi did something that he’d learned to identify as a kind of smug giggle. “Didn’t you wonder why you’d been told not to leave the Kokiri Forest?”

“Sort of.”

“Oh, Link, it’s about time!”

“It’s about time? About time what? That I figured it out or something?”

“No, no, no. Everything is about the question of time, silly boy! You see, as long as you stayed right where you were, days followed nights and you grew and got older. But as soon as you left, you abandoned the magic of continuity. So now, the only places where time moves for you are the everyone-places. Those places everyone can have in common that doesn’t define who they are or where they’re from! When you go into a town, you’re entering other people’s time, so it won’t move. Only they don’t realize that, because it does move for them, since that’s their place! And if you go back to the forest now, you’ll see that time has stopped moving there for you, too!”

He stared at her, which he could do because she’d left his shoulder and was bouncing about in front of him. He nodded, but said nothing for a long time. And then he told her, “I have a headache.”

“Oh, Link! Did I confuse you? I’m so sorry!”

“No, Navi, I understood perfectly. I have a headache because I can see that what you’ve told me is only the beginning of what I’m going to be learning about time, and other stuff, and if I ever get to be an adult without my head exploding, it will be magic for sure.” He readjusted his belt which was starting to slip down on one side from all the things he was carrying. “Okay – let’s go visit this Graveyard.”

At least he wasn’t hungry any more.

Chapter Six

 

“You know, this time thing is getting to be a pain.” Link glared at the sign on the Gravekeeper’s door that informed him the “heart-pounding” tour started way later than the twilight hour he was currently experiencing. He’d have to come back after dark, but how? It seemed “later” wouldn’t be happening at all.

“Go out of the village, Link! If you wait for it to get dark out there, it will be late here, too.”

“Yeah, but you told me I shouldn’t be out there after dark, remember?”

Navi was silent, but she’d turned a strange shade of yellow. Apparently she was working this out.

“Okay, look, since I’m in this stupid graveyard now, I may as well do some exploring. You coming with me?”

“Always!” She turned blue again.

“Good.” He trudged away from the shack, discouraged, trying to make things out in the murk of near-sundown. The carved stone monuments were gravestones, Navi had explained, but while he recognized that part of what was on them was writing, he couldn’t read it very well. Ignoring the closest row of graves, he headed toward the back part of the area, trailing one hand along the top rail of the wrought-iron fence next to the flagstone path.

When he reached the end of the graveyard, he saw two identical headstones flanking a much larger monument. Curious, he walked to the first one on the left of the monument and peered closely at the carving. “Hmm,” he muttered, sounding out the words on it. “Roy..al..com…Royal? Comp…os…drat. Comp-oser, I think. Bros? What’s that? Sh-sha, uh, sharp. Oh. Sharp. The…know that one…the eld. Eld-er. Elder? Okay. Rip? What?”

A sudden chittering sound was followed by something that glowed, and Link jumped back, drawing his Sword, terrified. The thing seemed to have come right out of the stone, and was now taking shape in front of him.

Whatever it was, it was holding a lantern, which it began to swing in circles as it floated closer to the boy.

“Ouch! Hey!” The lantern had struck him, so he swung the Sword defensively, startled and smarting.

The creature, which was only semi-corporeal, squeaked at him and froze in its tracks as the Sword struck home. Fear fueling his momentum, Link whacked at it again. It changed colors momentarily, then unfroze and floated away, finally disappearing into the solid stone wall behind the monument.

“A-and…and don’t come back!” Link shouted at it, completely disconcerted. He moved away to his right, but it wasn’t until he was in front of the other headstone that he realized his mistake.

Another what-the-heck emerged (or was it the same one – he couldn’t tell) and began swinging its lantern at him. Once more he defended himself against it, and same reaction followed.

“Navi, what are these things?”

“Poes.”

“What? No one is drawing me – what are you talking about?”

“No, Link! They’re called poes! They’re a kind of spirit, or ghost!”

“Oh, great. I’m being attacked by – ouch! Where did you come from? I – ouch! Stop it!” One of them had returned, although he certainly couldn’t tell which, and now he was angry as well as hurt and frightened. The result was a wild flurry of thrusts, parries, and slashes that reduced the poe to a single flame, its lantern and shape gone.

Link was staring wildly at the thing in front of him, baffled beyond coherent thought. Navi told him to look down, and after a few crazy moments during which he finally remembered his name, he saw he was standing on something familiar – it was a gigantic rendition of the Triforce. What was that doing there?

Before he could decide what question to ask first, a voice came from the formless flame. “Gyaaah! You killed me! Unbelievable!”

Link gaped, totally speechless again.

“Oh, wait,” the thing continued. “You’re not one of Ganondorf’s men, are you?”

Startled further, Link shook his head. “N-no.” How did this thing know about the man he’d seen in the Castle?

“Ah. Sorry. Because of my role as a ghost, I had to act like that. I apologize. Now then, let me introduce myself.” It made a throat-clearing sound. “I am one of the Ghostly Composer Brothers of Kakariko Village.” He paused.

Link suspected he was waiting for a response that indicated the boy was somehow impressed. Too bad, he thought. You whanged me with your stupid lantern – I’m not impressed at all, and my shoulder and head hurt, crazy ghost-thing!

“Ah. Yes. Well, you see, all the people in this Village are born to serve the Royal Family of Hyrule,” he continued after several more seconds during which Link simply glared.

Like Impa, he wanted to say, but was still too miffed to speak, his sense of shock fading.

“We Brothers also served the Royal Family, and were assigned to study the hereditary and mystical powers of the family.” The greenish flame crackled for a second or so before continuing. “Though we never could figure out the power of the Triforce, we had almost completed our study of controlling time with the tones of ocarinas.”

“What? You can do that?” Despite his annoyance, which had become more of a pout than anything else, Link was suddenly interested. Maybe this poe-thing could tell him how to deal with the strange way time was behaving in his own life these days. And the ocarina was involved somehow - !

“No, like I said, we had almost completed our studies on that topic.”

“Oh. Never mind, then.” Link started to turn away, disgusted now.

“Wait! I mean…uh, all right. Actually, we did complete our study.” It sounded like the ghost was pouting this time.

Link turned back and crossed his arms. “And?”

“Yes, and. You know, we would have been famous! Famous, I tell you! Well, if that hateful Ganondorf had not tried to steal our results.” If flame was capable of fuming, this one did. “Honestly, boy, we had no choice – we could never let him reap the fruits of our research! That’s why we gave our lives to protect the secret.”

Link bit his lip, the ghost’s revelation making him feel somewhat guilty for his childish behavior. “You really did that?”

In response, the ghost merely sighed and faded away.

“Guess he wasn’t about to tell me the secret, either,” Link muttered, walking off. And once again, he found himself in front of the matching headstone on the other side of the monument.

Like the first, this gave the identity of the body buried beneath, and Link learned that this one’s name was Flat the Younger. He muttered the name, wondering why anyone would call a child something so bizarre, apparently forgetting what his audible musings had caused at the first grave.

He was harshly reminded with a whack on the skull by the second ghost. “Owwww!” he wailed, backing up. “Not you, too!”

Whirrr…whack!

With a yell of pain, Link began slashing at his new assailant, chasing it around the gravestone, and then waiting for it to re-emerge from the wall when it disappeared. As soon as it showed itself again, the boy swung at it over and over until, like its twin, the ghost was reduced to a flame – a bluish one this time.

“Gyaaah! I’m dead again!”

Link sighed, waiting.

“Wait – have we met before?”

“Just here, while you were busy hitting me with your lantern.”

“Ah. Well, I don’t know why, but you – you remind me somehow of Princess Zelda.”

Several sarcastic comments crossed the boy’s mind having to do with dresses and a pretty face, and he was torn between being flattered and highly insulted. He held his peace, however, and listened as the ghost continued.

“Hmmm…since you may have some connection with the Royal Family, I will tell you a little more of our tale.”

“How do you know I’m connected with them?”

A weird opening in the flame that looked suspiciously like a smile gaped at him as the voice said, “Is that an ocarina in your pocket, boy, or are you just…” The smile disappeared. “Sorry. Never mind. You’re too young. But yes, I can feel that you have magic in you, magic like the Princess.”

Unable to make any sense whatsoever of the ghost’s remark about the ocarina, he nodded. “Okay.”

“Yes! Well! Back then – when we were alive, that is, heh-heh – people called us great composers because of the many musical masterpieces we wrote. But mind you, we brothers were not just composers! Oh, no! You see, we had a mission. Our mission was to analyze the mysterious powers of Hyrule’s Royal Family.”

That explained the King’s willingness to accept Zelda’s assertions about prophecies, Link thought, pursing his lips.

“Our names would be part of Hyrule’s history if we could complete our research,” the ghost was saying its voice sounding wistful.

“Wait – I thought you said you had.”

“You’re not listening, child. I never said we didn’t. Now pay attention.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s all right. As I was saying…what was I saying? Oh! Yes. We kept our study extremely secret until we completed it. You see? To tell you the truth, each of us was studying a different song – one to summon the sun, and another to summon the moon. These were things the Royal Family seemed to understand instinctively.”

“So, day and night…time. Yes?”

“Very good. You know, if you were really sent by a member of the Royal Family, I will tell you about the results of our study. And from what you said, it rather sounds like you were.”

“I was.” Link considered taking out Zelda’s letter, but wasn’t sure it would prove anything to a ghost.

“We inscribed it on the royal tombstone. As a messenger of the Royal Family, you should show your royal credentials on top of the Triforce mark.”

So that’s what it’s doing here! He glanced over at it. “What do I – hey! Where’d you go?” When he turned back, the ghost was gone. “Great.”

“Link!”

“Are you going to tell me the Triforce symbol is here?”

“No, Link. You already know that. I was going to remind you about what Impa said – how the notes of Zelda’s lullaby had magic in them. Isn’t that what the ghosts told you?”

He nodded, putting it together, and went to stand in the middle of the gigantic golden triangles. Here goes, he thought, taking out his ocarina. Putting it to his lips, he brought to mind the pattern of how to play the melody and began.

As the last note faded, he felt a drop of rain, then another, and a second or two later, found himself standing in a veritable downpour. Over head, lightning crackled, followed by deep rumbles of thunder.

Had he caused this with the song? he wondered. What about – a ball of fierce lightning settled on the huge monument in front of him, spikes of brilliance shooting out from its center, and before Link could react, he was thrown backward, landing hard on the ground near the Triforce as the tomb exploded. The wind had been knocked out of him, and he panicked for a few seconds, unable to breathe at all, his body one, huge ache.

“Link!”

He couldn’t answer, couldn’t see, in fact. Was this how his life was going to end? Was –

“Sit up, Link! You’re okay. Try to take a breath!”

He obeyed, and a moment later was able to suck in some air as his vision began to clear. It took awhile, but he was finally able to get to his feet, albeit on shaky legs, and the spots dancing before his eyes disappeared in a slow fade.

“Link!”

“I – I’m all right, Navi,” he whispered. “What happened?”

“Look at the Royal Tomb!”

He couldn’t actually look at it – it was gone. Shattered into thousands of pieces, most of them too small to identify as having ever been part of something artistic. “I see, Navi.”

“No, look! A hole in the ground, Link!”

“What?” Seriously? What would be down there – the skeletons of dead Royal Family members? Why was she bothering him with this?

“Jump down, Link!”

“Fly down, Navi!”

She turned red. She bobbed up and down in front of him. Then she turned pink, then red again, and finally a sickly yellowish-green. “Are you afraid, Link?”

He took a long, slow, deep breath and went to the edge of the hole. Some residual lightning showed only that it was incredibly deep, but no details. “Yes, Navi, I am. Jumping down dark holes in a graveyard is not something sane people do.”

“Have you met any?”

“What?” He turned and gave her a strange look.

“Never mind – jump! You have to go down there! This is why you were told to play the song!”

“So I could blow up the Royal Tomb and…fine. Whatever. If I break a leg, or maybe a neck or two, be sure to have some grass nearby for me.” Checking to see that his weapons were secure, he closed his eyes and jumped.

Okay, so it hadn’t been all that deep after all. He was standing at the top of a ramp made of wide grey stones that led down into what looked like a hallway with a door at the end.

“You only have one neck, Link.”

At first he thought maybe the hole had been very deep and he’d died or been knocked out, and was in a strange dream-state. What was she – ah. He suddenly remembered his snide remark before heading into the hole. “Thank you, Navi. I know. I was being sarcastic.”

“Okay. Let’s go!”

“Right.” He walked forward, the slope proving too steep to allow him to go very slowly. At the bottom was indeed a doorframe, but what filled it didn’t look like any door he’d ever seen before. If in fact it was a door. Made entirely of stone and inscribed from top to bottom with runes, it was clearly too solid to move. He put out a hand to touch it, and with a rumbling whoosh, it lifted, opening upward.

“Oh, cool!” He went through and would have continued across what proved to be a large stone-walled chamber with torch-stands positioned here and there, but something stopped him. Not the scratching sounds of spiders, but something else.

Flapping. Not constant, but almost fitful, like a winged creature getting comfortable. It was all around him, too. Instantly alert, he took out his sling-shot and fitted a deku seed into it. What now? he asked himself. What now?

Chapter Seven

 

One of the reasons Link had always excelled at games was his eyesight and unerring focus ability. Apparently, he’d been born with dead-aim, the skill to zero-in on the exact center of things and coordinate his movements to match. Because of this he had found jumping pathstones without missing ridiculously simple. Targeting things with the sling-shot had been every bit as easy for him, even if his life had never depended upon that accuracy before.

Well, now it did, he suspected, as he took aim at a creature he could barely see attached to a side wall in the chamber. Only one of the torches was lit, making it difficult to make out details at a distance. So he concentrated on the thing’s fitful flapping, guessing at its center.

Zing! Squeak! Thunk. One down. He turned slowly, looking for the next tell-tale movement of what sounded like leathery wings. Nothing…nothing…ah! There!

Zing! Squeak! Thunk. Two. He could still hear them, though, and turned about to find the next. And – yup, there it was, closer than the other two. A quick shot, and now he could only hear one. It was even closer than the last, and he realized it had to be on the wall next to the door through which he’d entered.

It was.

Zing! Squeak! Thud. Done.

He walked forward, feeling somewhat safer. Even better, the now-familiar metal bars that had slid down to block both the exit and another door beyond the top of what looked like a rune-inscribed monument straight ahead, slid back up to allow him to get out of the room when he was ready. As he reached the monument, he realized it was actually a staircase with huge, deep steps. Figured. He put away the sling-shot, reached upward, and jumped, catching the edge of the first step and hauling himself onto its top.

Altogether there were three of these and like the other one leading into this chamber, this door was covered with runes that had been chiseled into the stone. What a strange place this was! He came close to it and the door shot upward.

Almost as soon as he’d stepped inside, Link detected a very unpleasant odor. It smelled toxic somehow, but from where he stood, all he could see was some kind of greenish mist rising from the floor at the end of the tunnel-like entry into this next room.

At his shoulder, Navi twinkled at him but said nothing. That made him frown. Why was she being silent? What was in here that she didn’t want hearing her? Or perhaps him…He started walking, but it wasn’t until he’d left the entry tunnel that he saw the highly unpleasant details defining the chamber.

Square openings in the floor contained some kind of green liquid, the surface broken here and there by a semi-skeletal arm and hand reaching upward, frozen in death’s stiffness. Worse, standing on several spots along the crisscrossing pathways made by the openings were…things. Tall, ugly, cadaverous things. They may have been people once, or perhaps had never been. Link couldn’t tell, having never seen anything like them before.

Despite this, his instincts told him they were dangerous. Not moving at the moment, they nonetheless looked like they could suddenly become animated and cause great harm.

“Link!” It was a hiss. “Run! Run past them without stopping! If you stop, they’ll drain the life out of you and you’ll die!”

Naturally, the boy wanted “run” to mean “run back the way you came,” but the same irritating sense of certainty that had told him these creatures were lethal, told him he was supposed to run straight ahead to the corridor barely visible on the far side of the room.

Afraid to speak, he nodded, took a deep breath, and took off. As he passed the first one creature, he felt more than saw it stir. Crap. He ran faster. A low moan came from somewhere behind him and he pretty much flung himself in through the corridor as soon as he reached it.

He found he was facing more pools of poisonous-looking liquid, another narrow path, and at its end, a vast monument atop three shallow steps. A golden Triforce symbol had been painted in the center of the  monument’s top frame, the object itself inscribed, but this time, Navi translated it for him.

“Listen, Link! It says, ‘This poem is dedicated to the memory of the dearly departed members of the Royal Family.’ Um…” Her voice had a tremulous, whispery quality, and Link knew she was as frightened as he was at the moment. “Now here’s the poem – ‘The rising sun will eventually set. A newborn’s life will fade. From sun to moon, moon to sun – Give peaceful rest to the living dead.’ Well! This is an interesting poem, isn’t it!” Her cheerfulness was clearly forced.

“I guess.”

“I mean…huh. What’s this?” She flew to the lower left part of the monument. “Ooh. Something else is inscribed on this tombstone, Link! Look!”

He leaned down, peering closer. “Musical notes?”

“It’s the secret melody of the Composer Brothers!”

“But…wait. Wouldn’t Ganondorf have been able to see this, too?” He straightened and took out his ocarina.

“Maybe – or maybe they did this after they were dead.”

Link shook his head. “That’s plain old creepy, Navi. And besides, how could they do that? I mean, did they whack the stone with their lanterns or something?”

“Don’t be disrespectful.”

“Sorry.” She was right. His sarcastic tendencies were getting out of hand. “Well, whatever. I may as well try to play it, yes?”

“Good thinking, Link!”

He wanted to ask her why she felt the need to say his name all the time, but decided to forget it for now and see what playing the song would do – if anything. He couldn’t read music, of course, but the way the notes had been chipped into the monument reminded him of how the holes on the ocarina were situated. Using that as a guide, he played the short melody, not sure if it was right.

“Oh, there’s something more here!” Navi flitted over the lower section now. “It says, ‘Restless souls wander where they don’t belong...bring them calm with the Sun’s Song.’ Gee, I guess that’s the name of the melody!”

Link was frowning at the ocarina. Nothing, as far as he could tell, had happened. “Yeah. Makes sense.”

“We need to leave now, Link.”

Leave. That meant having to run past those monsters in the next room. The alternative, naturally, was to simply stay put either until someone came along and rescued him (ha!) or he died of starvation. Awesomeness… “All right.” He prepared to start running, and was about to launch himself down the narrow path when Navi’s recitation of the extra wording struck him.

“What is it, Link?”

“Navi, would you read that last bit again, please?”

She flitted back to the tombstone and read the words at the bottom. When she was done, she zoomed back to his shoulder. “What are you thinking?”

“It said ‘restless souls’ and…what else? ‘Calm them with the…’ I think I understand. The only problem is that I’m not sure I was playing it right.” He started walking down the path, careful not to let himself slip into the green, foul-smelling pools on either side. “If I’m wrong, Navi, I’ll probably get killed.”

“You aren’t wrong.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

Okay, he thought, not exactly a comforting answer, but what the heck.

He’d reached the end of the path and peered out into the room ahead. The things hadn’t moved, but they looked horrifying and dangerous anyway. He lifted the ocarina, took a long, deep breath, and played the song.

As soon as the final note echoed away, another sound rebounded around the chamber, something that sounded like paper being torn. More important, however, was what he saw happen at the same time – the creatures turned pure white, almost as if they’d been frozen.

“Woah!” Eyes wide, he took a step into the chamber. Nothing. None of the movement he’d sensed before, no moans. Since he didn’t know how long the effect of the song would last, he ran as fast as before, but without the mind-rending fear, and got to the other side a second before the tearing sound was repeated. Without looking back, he knew the monsters were back to what for them was normal.

He kept running, in fact, until he was back on the ramp leading up from the tomb. Halfway to the top, he stopped to catch his breath. He could see light pouring down from the hole through which he’d jumped. “Er, Navi? How am I supposed to get back up there again?”

“Well, how did you get out of the Deku Tree?”

He thought about that for a second. “Yes, but I don’t see any blue light.”

“Nope. No blue light. But you do see that platform, don’t you?”

He took a few steps further. “Oh. Huh. Didn’t notice it when I got down here.”

“Of course you didn’t. You were looking down the ramp, not at your feet, silly.”

I’m not silly. “True. But what’s your point?”

She did her tinkling giggle sound. “Go stand on the platform, Link.”

He nodded and did as she suggested. Nothing happened for about a split second. He looked up at the piece of sky visible through the hole, and then – light. Bright, yellow-white light. It bathed him in its brilliance, and when it faded, he was standing in the graveyard once more.

Link nodded. He looked around, somewhat slack-jawed. “Aha. Interesting. Didn’t feel a thing. I wonder what that was.” He was muttering, and then, louder, he said, “Navi, what was that?”

“A transporter.”

“Ah. Of course. A transporter. I should have known. Ha. Good. Can we get out of here now?”

“Not yet, Link! There’s more to see!”

He looked at the sky again, at first in exasperation, but this quickly changed to shock. The sun was out. He nearly had to sit down. “How long were we down there?” And what was wrong with his voice? He suddenly sounded like a little girl.

“Not too long. Less than an hour. Less than that, even.”

“Are you laughing at me, Navi?”

“No. Yes. Nicely, though. Haven’t you figured it out?”

Figured out what – that if I had a shovel, I’d whang you with it? “No.”

“The Sun Song!”

Sun…ah. Now he decided that if he had a shovel, he’d whang himself with it for being so stupid. “Should’ve guessed.”

“That’s okay! It’s why you have me here!”

He refused to follow up on that one. Instead, he decided to see how this song-thing worked and played the melody again.

The sun went down and the moon came up, all in about four seconds. That was all.

Amazing. “Got it. So what else do I have to see?”

“Some of these gravestones can be moved!”

“Why?”

“What a curious little boy you are! Here – pull this one back.” She’d led him to a grave that was smaller than the Composer Brothers’ but of the same general configuration.

Link walked behind it and immediately noticed a kind of pathway about the same length as the stone. It looked like someone had dug up the grass to form a dirt track. Grabbing the top of the stone, he pulled, and to his astonishment, it moved easily. But why?

“Listen! There’s another hole here now! Jump, Link!”

“Navi! I’m not your…never mind.” It simply wasn’t worth getting into an argument about, so he went to the front of the grave, and sure enough, another hole was staring at him from the ground.

Sleep would have been nice around now, as would a cup of water and some berries. Maybe a piece of bread. Would have been, but wasn’t going to happen unless there was a bed and a table full of food down there. So, being an obedient little boy, Link went to the edge of the hole, shot a glare at his fairy, and jumped in.

Chapter Eight

 

By the time Link finally left the graveyard, he’d destroyed one of the cadaverous creatures (which Navi eventually informed him was called a “re-dead,” a term he found incomprehensible), learned he could reveal magically hidden chests containing large pieces of the heart-shaped fruit, and jumped down another hole in which he’d discovered a metal version of his shield. This one was quite a bit larger than his wooden one, but Navi told him to keep it, that there might come a time when he’d be glad he had it.

For its size, the shield was fairly light, and he managed to secure it under the wooden shield with only minimal discomfort. So more well-equipped than he thought he ought to be, he returned to the village. Since it was nighttime, no one was about.

“Boring,” he mumbled, and headed for the entrance, deciding to explore the field. He was still very reluctant about going up the mountain, and justified this side-trip by telling himself there was probably nothing he could do there at night anyway. The fact that he now only need play that song on his ocarina to bring the dawn was forcibly ignored.

“Link! There is evil in the field at night, remember?”

“So you said. But I killed off one of those dead-things, uh, re-deads? Yeah. That. I’m sure I can handle whatever is in the field.”

“Yet you’re afraid to climb Death Mountain.”

“Be quiet.” She was right but he didn’t want to discuss it. Not yet. It occurred to him that part of his dread involved a recognition of his woeful lack of experience. Sure, he’d fought a gigantic spider and won; he’d faced a couple of ghosts and reduced them to harmless flames; he’d even hacked a living-dead being into a different state of death. But was he ready for what had to be an even greater challenge on that mountain? Something told him that if he’d had to defeat a creature like Gohma for the Kokiri Emerald, winning the next Spiritual Stone would have to be every bit as difficult, and perhaps even more so.

Navi may or may not have sensed the boy’s conflict, but she didn’t reply or indicate his words had insulted her.

As he went out through the gate and headed for the long staircase, he saw the guard was there, but had paid no attention to him. He rounded the corner and started down the steps, noting how quiet it was at night.

When he was almost halfway down, a strange noise like dirt being shoveled at a frantic pace, began a few steps ahead. A second later there was a large puff of earth and a huge white skeleton pulled itself up from under the step. Without preamble, it slashed at the boy with red-tipped, fleshless fingers, its massive jaws snapping, fiery red light shooting from its eye-sockets.

Link’s instant reaction was to jump backward. He tripped when his heel caught the edge of the step behind him and he nearly landed on his back, but managed to put out a hand to catch himself while with the other he drew his Sword. Yelling in sheer terror, he slashed at the vicious white thing attacking him as he found his footing. With both hands gripping the hilt, he began hacking in earnest, and within seconds, the skeleton tumbled to the ground, broken, and disappeared in a flash of bluish light.

“What – ” Link gulped. “What was that, Navi?!”

“They’re Stalchildren, Link. You should play the Sun Song.”

He thought about that for a moment. “No. No, I think I need to face these things and learn to fight better.” He continued down the stairs.

Before reaching the stone bridge over the moat, he’d fought and defeated three more of these things. Thus far, he hadn’t been injured by any of them, but he was getting horribly tired by now and began to feel hungry once more. What time should it be? he wondered.

“Where are we going, Link?”

“I don’t know. Ack!” Another Stalchild rose up before him and after a brief battle, fell before Link’s Sword. “I need to sleep, Navi, I really, really do.”

Up ahead he could see a structure on top of a hillside. “What’s that?” He pointed with the tip of the Sword.

“Lon Lon Ranch.”

Aha! That…well, maybe not. He wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with Malon, especially since he’d managed to lose her cuckoo. On the other hand, he had succeeded in sending her father home as promised. Besides, he reasoned, it was – crap! Another Stalchild, accompanied by a smaller one, clambered out of the ground and attacked.

“Ow,” he whispered, clutching a wound on his left arm once the two had been destroyed. “Navi, I need to sleep.”

“Here, Link – cut some grass and put in on your arm.”

“Oh, right.” He did, felt a bit better, and started for the stone walls of the Ranch. What he’d been thinking before being attacked, was that Malon would most likely be asleep herself at this hour, so his chances of running into her were slim.

Twice more he had to defend himself against the crazy skeletons, but now he was getting injured in each encounter. The grass helped, but it wasn’t until he found a small heart-fruit and ate it that he actually got some strength back.

A wide grassy pathway led upward between the rocky walls of the Ranch when he reached it at last. As he did, the sun began to rise. Navi told him the enemies would leave him alone during the day – or at least those enemies. Apparently there were other kinds, but she didn’t tell him what they were.

At the top he entered the Ranch itself and found two buildings, one one either side of the path which continued until it opened into a huge fenced-in area. Curious, he entered the building on his left, and there, sitting on the floor amid a gaggle of noisy cuckoos, was Talon.

The man didn’t notice Link until he got closer and greeted him. Setting aside one of the birds that had been on his lap, Talon looked up. “Oh! Hello, young man!”

A cuckoo began pecking at one of Link’s boots and he shooed it away with one hand. “Hello. You’re Talon, right?”

“I am indeed! The owner of this ranch, in fact. And you – you look familiar. Have we met?”

“At the Castle a day or so ago.” Had it only been a day or two, then? What with meeting the Princess, and with all his jumping in and out of holes, fighting off skeletons, learning music that did odd things to his environment, and a dire lack of sleep, he was no longer sure about anything, much less what day it was, should be, or wasn’t.

“Yes! I remember!” the man was saying. “You told me Malon had sent you!” He chuckled. “I certainly got an earful when I found her.” He shook his head, his expression rueful but indulgent. “So! What can I do for you? Do you want to marry my daughter?”

Link gaped. What? What was he talking about? Marry… “I – I mean…well, no, sir.”

Talon threw back his head and gave a loud guffaw, slapping one thigh with a thick hand. “Ha! Just joking, boy, just joking! You’re far too serious about things, aren’t you! No, no, you’re a bit young for something like marriage, eh?”

More annoyed than relieved, Link nodded, his mouth a straight line. Sheesh.

“Tell you what, though,” Talon went on, “I’m going to give you a challenge. If you can win my little game, I have something nice for you, and then you can ask me for whatever it was you came here for, all right?”

“Uh…sure.” Why not? After that, maybe the man would let him go lie down in the huge pile of straw over in the corner.

“Okay! These, as you can see, are my cuckoos. But one of them is very, very special. He looks like the rest, but he’s actually a super-cuckoo! If you can discover which one he is, and bring him to me within four minutes, I’ll reward you handsomely!”

Link stared around the room, counting roughly twelve or so of the birds, all of them identical, and decided to start with the ones closest. Remembering how he’d caught Anju’s birds, he snagged the first, ran back to Talon with it, and when the man shook his head in the negative, tossed it into a space between some boxes and a staircase behind where Talon continued to sit.

Six cuckoos later, he grabbed one, and before he could return with it, Talon stood up and shouted. “That’s the one! You did it!”

Link dropped the cuckoo and went to Talon, totally exhausted, sweat creeping down his back under his tunic.

From a small box on the floor, Talon took out an object which he held up. “You’ve won a bottle of Lon Lon milk, my boy!”

“Milk.”

“Yes! It’s not just any milk, either, let me tell you! My milk is like no other. It fills you with health and energy as soon as you drink it. In fact, I’m told, it even has certain healing properties.” He gave Link a huge grin and handed him the bottle.

“Thank you, sir.” Not sure what to do with it, he held it in one hand, feeling a bit foolish.

“So now, what did you come here for? Is there something you needed?”

At last. “Yes, sir. I need a safe place to sleep for a while. I’ve been, well, I’ve been on a kind of quest, you see, and I believe it’s been at least two days since I really slept. Do you have some straw or something where I could – ”

“Straw! Never mind, my boy, you deserve better than that! You were most kind to my little Malon, even hatching her weird egg for her!”

“Um, yeah, about that…”

“Oh, she’s delighted! It flew home to her – got here before either of us did, in fact! Anyway, you’re also quite good with cuckoos, I’d say. Not many could have found the special one as fast as you did! So tell you what – climb these stairs, and at the top you’ll find a loft with a nice, soft bed. Sleep as long as you need to, and when you wake up, I’ll show you where you can bathe, clean up a little and all that. I’ll have a nice meal for you, too. How’s that?”

Link was astounded. “You – you’re very kind, sir! How can I thank you?”

“Oh, I have a feeling you’ll be thanking me by finishing whatever this quest of yours is. There’s something about you…hmm. Well, no matter. Off you go!” He gestured toward the stairs.

With another word of thanks, Link went up, and as promised, found a clean bed, its mattress filled with incredibly soft down. He removed his clothes and boots, then took off his hat, releasing a tumble of badly-cut blond hair (he’d cut it himself, of course, as all Kokiri did, but never took much care in how he did it). With a sigh of contentment, he ruffled his unruly mop, stretched, and got under the covers.

In less than a moment, he was fast asleep.

Chapter Nine

 

This was the second time in the past few days that Link awoke in a strange place. This time, however, he had no curiosity or any desire to get up. A brief, sleepy glance at his immediately surroundings was all he was willing to offer before burrowing deeper into the incredible mattress. Even his own familiar little bed in his own familiar little cottage was nowhere near as soft and cozy as this. The blanket was softer than his, too, as was the pillow…

“Link! Wake up!”

And then there was that. Two important changes in his life were going to force him out of the bed: a quest and a fairy. He groaned and sat up. “I’m up, Navi,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He had dreamed, he was sure, and vaguely remembered something pleasant…ah, Princess Zelda. He had dreamed that they were walking in the Lost Woods together, laughing and talking. The day had been soft, like the bed, the greens of the forest reflected in the ambient light filtering gently through thick leaves…

“Link!”

“Aah! I’m up! Really!” He jerked upright, eyes snapping open. “Okay. Where are my clothes?”

“Over here, Link! Malon brought them back.”

“What do you mean by ‘back,’ Navi? Where did they go?”

“Silly boy – Talon took them away after you’d fallen asleep last night, and she brought them back this morning. From the smell, I’d say she washed them for you.”

He nodded, suddenly embarrassed. “Yeah. I, um, they were a bit stinky from being worn so long, I guess.”

Navi giggled.

Link glared. He threw off the covers, shivered in the slight morning chill, and got out of bed with great reluctance. When he was standing, he noticed a table on the other side of the loft that held a large water-filled bowl, a thick towel folded neatly beside it, and a cube of soap on top of the towel. He smiled. Getting clean was probably the next best thing to being able to sleep in that amazing bed, and he went at it with a happy smile.

Dressed, clean, and well-rested, he headed down the stairs, feeling better than he had in a very long time. Now all he needed was something to eat. He went outside, inhaled deeply and stretched. The day was slightly overcast, which suited him fine. The sunshine in the world outside the Kokiri Forest was glorious, but he wasn’t yet as comfortable with that as he was with the less boisterous light of home. Besides, the cloudy sky reminded him of his dream…he smiled, thinking of Zelda…

“Good morning, m’boy!”

“Oh! Good morning, sir.”

Talon had emerged from another door further down in the same building. “How did you sleep?”

“Better than I think I ever have, to tell you the truth. And thanks for cleaning my clothes.” He blushed.

“No problem, no problem at all!” Talon clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. “So! Are you hungry?”

Starved. “Yes, sir. A little.”

“Come inside, then! I have plenty of breakfast left. We all get up pretty darned early around here, so me and Malon have already eaten, but I asked her to leave out some food for you.”

As he spoke, he led Link inside. The room they entered was large and pleasant, the walls plastered and whitewashed – something Link had never seen before – with various tables against the walls and one large, round one in the center. On this was a huge bowl of fruit surrounded by platters, one holding a stack of sliced bread, another with several big chunks of cheese, still another containing shelled nuts of varying types, and one with a pile of something yellowish, almost gelatinous-looking. The fruit, bread and nuts were familiar, but Link had no idea what the other things were.

“Have a seat, boy. Here you go.” Talon pulled a chair out, waved at it, then sat himself in one adjacent. He reached for an apple. “Help yourself. Malon baked the bread this morning, and believe me, it’s wonderful. Here.” He picked up another dish, one Link hadn’t noticed before, and placed it near the boy’s plate.

“What’s this?” he asked, taking a thick slice of bread.

“What? Haven’t you ever had butter?”

“No, sir.”

Talon laughed. “My goodness! What do you forest folk eat, then?”

“Fruit and nuts, mostly. Bread, too.”

“So you’ve never had scrambled eggs, I take it. Or cheese?”

“Afraid not.”

“Well, let me introduce you, then!” Talon took Link’s bread and smeared the whitish substance from the small plate onto its surface with a flat knife. Then he cut a chunk of cheese from one of the bigger pieces and put that next to the bread, followed by a scoop of the yellow stuff which he identified as the eggs.

“Wow! This is delicious!” the boy exclaimed after swallowing a mouthful. “Where do you grow them?”

“Grow…oh! No, no, the cuckoos lay them!”

A totally new concept, Link wasn’t sure he liked the idea, but there was no denying how good they tasted, nor how nicely they filled his stomach. The same was true of the harder, salty chunk of what the man had called “cheese.”

“Where does cheese come from, then?”

“It’s churned cow’s milk, just like the butter, but the process is longer.”

Link had never experienced milk, either. This was turning out to be a very educational morning for him. He got full more quickly than expected, and now needed to move. He also needed to relieve himself, and mentioned this to Talon.

“Use the outbuilding next to the stables. It’s closer than the one near the storage silo.”

Link gave him a blank stare.

“Never mind – I’ll show you.” Talon smiled and stood. “Follow me.”

“Thank you, sir. And thank you for taking such good care of me – I never expected you to do all that.” The fact was, Link wasn’t used to anyone being so kind to him, and wasn’t sure how to handle a sudden wave of emotion that made him swallow hard several times.

“Not at all,” said Talon over his shoulder, unaware of the boy’s overwhelming feelings of gratitude.

They had gone outside and past the buildings, turning right at the end. They passed a huge double door on the right, and several yards beyond this was a smaller one. It belonged to a building that was so close to the stable, it might have been part of it except for a barely-discernible space between their walls. The building itself was narrow, and when Talon opened the door, Link could hardly see what was inside. A window had been cut in the back wall, but it was high up, and did nothing to illuminate the lower part of the interior, but after a few seconds he could make out what looked like a low bench with a hole in it.

Even if he hadn’t been sure what this was, the odor coming from its depths defined it as a place for eliminating body waste. What he couldn’t understand was why they’d enclosed it. In the Forest, one dug a shallow hole in the earth for solid waste, covering it back up afterward, or stood behind a tree to…well. This was really strange, he thought. And smelly.

Talon had left him, shutting the door as he went out. Several minutes later, Link emerged, grateful to be out of there, and realized he was facing the gigantic enclosure he’d noticed the night before. Or had it been the morning before? Wait – how long had he slept?

And what were those huge animals running around in the enclosure? They reminded him of his recurring nightmare for some reason…

“Why don’t you go say hello to Malon?” the man suggested, nodding toward the fenced area. “After milking the cows, she works with her horse in the corral.”

“Horse?”

“Yes – haven’t you ever seen a horse before?”

“No.” As soon as he said that, he realized that he must have, because now he recognized them as the same huge, four-legged creatures in that terrible dream.

Talon nodded, obviously surprised, but didn’t say so. “Those are horses.” He waved toward the spindly-legged creatures. “I don’t own them, of course. My ranch is for raising cows only, but part of my income is from letting horse owners use my corral to exercise their animals. One of them gave Malon a horse of her own, a foal that she named Epona. See?” With a hand on Link’s shoulder, he brought the boy to the entrance of the corral.

In the very center Link could make out a small figure. Nearby was one of the horses but it wasn’t much taller than Malon herself.

Closer to where he stood, the larger horses were trotting about, and he was somewhat shocked at the size of them. Even in the dream, he couldn’t tell they were this big. “What do you do with horses?”

“We ride them, of course. What else?”

Link’s dream-people had been riding them, too. Even in real life they looked very fast and he imagined riding one would make travel both quicker and easier. “Oh.”

“Malon says Epona is very special – she would say that, of course!” He chuckled. “Well, you go on, then. Go say hello. I have lots of work to do today and should really get to it.”

Link nodded, not sure he was comfortable with walking into the corral with all those horses running here and there. He could easily get stepped on, he thought. He heard Talon walk off, and figured he may as well go see Malon. Besides, if a little girl wasn’t afraid to be in there, he certainly shouldn’t have a problem with it!

After narrowly avoiding the indignity of stepping in horse poo several times, and once or twice having to wait while a horse galloped past, he made it to the center at last and greeted Malon, thanking her for taking care of his clothes.

“It’s the least I could do, Link!”

So she’d remembered his name. Cool.

“I could see you were enjoying your sleep, so I didn’t wake you earlier. Did you eat?”

“Yes. Your father gave me breakfast. It was delicious.”

She giggled and wrinkled her nose at him.

He cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable. Why did girls get like that? Saria had shown the same kind of cutesy-coy behavior periodically, and he simply didn’t understand. “Um, nice horse.”

“Oh! You like Epona?” She turned and whistled a pleasant pattern of notes and the little horse trotted over, her reddish coat gleaming in the light of a sun that had at that moment emerged from behind its cloud. The horse nuzzled the girl’s shoulder, then turned to Link, snuffled at him, and ran off.

“She’s not used to you,” Malon explained. “Here – let me teach you her song. That way, when you come back, you can call to her and she’ll know you’re a friend. Do you know how to whistle?”

“Not really. But I do have an ocarina. Will that work?”

“Yes! That’s perfect, in fact!” She began to whistle, and when she was done, Link repeated the melody on his instrument.

“You did it!” The girl clapped her hands, delighted. “Oh, and look! Here’s Epona!”

Sure enough, the horse had returned, and now she was pushing her nose into Link’s chest, almost causing him to stumble. “Easy, there!” He laughed and put a hand to Epona’s muzzle. Stroking it gently, he was amazed at how smooth and silky she was.

“She really likes you, Link. I have a feeling she may be a good friend for you when she grows up.”

“You’d let me visit her? I mean, she’s your horse, right?”

“Hmm. Well, yes, but not really. I mean, the owner gave her to me to raise, but she’ll choose who she wants to serve. I have nothing to say about that. Besides, girls don’t usually ride horses – only the Gerudo, from what I hear, and they’re pretty wild.”

Gerudo. There it was again. “Who are they? And are there a lot of girls or something?”

“Why, that’s all there are! Only one boy is born to them every once in a while, but, well. I’m not that familiar with their story, but I do know they’re very fierce and scary. For women. You never heard of them?”

“Once, a long time ago, but only about their prison, so I wasn’t really told anything about who or what they are. Not until the other day, that is, and then only a little bit.” He purposely didn’t mention Ganondorf. Zelda had asked him to keep all of that a secret and he’d die before breaking his promise to do so. He patted Epona’s neck and took a deep breath. This line of thinking had reminded him of his quest. He was pretty sure he should get back to it, despite how pleasant it was to be here with Malon and her horse. “I ought to go now.”

“Where are you going, Link? You seem to travel around a lot. Don’t you have a family?”

“No. Thanks again, Malon. I enjoyed being here. You and your father are very nice, and I hope to see you again.”

“You still have your fairy, I see.” She pointed at Navi, who had remained silent this entire time.

“Yes. Her name is Navi.”

“Hello, Navi.”

The fairy turned a lighter shade of blue and twinkled.

“That means you’re a Kokiri, then. I’d wondered about that after I met you in Town. But…I heard they were very small. About my height, like you, only smaller. You look like you’re going to get much taller some day, but I thought the Kokiri children stopped growing once they got to my size.”

He shrugged, disconcerted. So she’d noticed it, too! What was going on? “Guess so.”

“Before you leave, I’d like to give you something. I – I’ve been keeping it hidden, but I doubt I’ll ever need it. You might, though. I mean, it sounds like you’re going to be having a lot of adventures, and this could help you. See that tower over there?” She pointed to a tall stone structure at the far end of the ranch, beyond the corral and near one of the outer walls. “That’s our storage silo. If you go inside, you’ll find a few cows, probably, and some crates of milk bottles. If you push them aside, you’ll find a secret entrance to a special hiding place I go when I want to be alone. In the straw, there’s a large heart fruit. That kind lasts a really long time after its been picked, and since I only got it about a week or so ago, it should last you another two or three weeks before you have to eat it before it goes bad.”

“Are you sure?” Dang, this girl talks more than Fado! At least she makes sense, though.

“Of course! I would never offer it otherwise, silly boy!”

Great. Now she sounds like Navi. “That’s extremely kind of you. Thank you, Malon.”

The girl suddenly blushed and looked away, which Link promptly took as his cue to get out of there.

A short while later, the life-giving fruit tucked into his satchel, he headed out of the ranch after stopping briefly to thank Talon once again for his hospitality.

“My pleasure,” said the man, beaming. “You’re a good boy, Link. Feel free to come back any time you need a place to sleep, or even for a nice visit, okay?”

“Yes, sir. I will.”

When they were out in the field once more, Navi reminded Link that he really, really needed to get to Death Mountain. With the reminder, however, came a return of the heaviness he’d felt before entering the ranch, and which his stay there had all but erased. “You’re right,” he admitted, unhappy. “I do need to get there.” He headed back toward the stairs to Kakariko Village, and was about to cross over the path that led back to the forest when he stopped.

“You know,” he murmured, “I probably won’t be back for a really long time, if ever. Hmm.”

“Link! What are you doing?”

“Thinking, Navi. Every once in a while I do that.” Should he let someone else have his tree-cottage? But who would need it? There were no new Kokiri children as far as he knew, and now with the Great Deku Tree gone, there most likely wouldn’t be any new ones for a while.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Huh?” And there was something else. Something he couldn’t explain, but it seemed a new sense had awakened in him since his encounters in the Deku Tree. Almost like a compass, only it was in his head. At the moment, it was telling him…

“You have to hurry, Link!”

He made up his mind. “You’re absolutely right, Navi. Let’s go!”

The fairy shot forward, while Link turned right and started back down the path toward the Forest. A second later, she realized he wasn’t with her and zoomed back. “Where are you going? The mountain is the other way!”

“I know, Navi. We’ll get there, but not today. I have a feeling I need to go back to the Village, but I’m not exactly sure why.”

“Very well.”

A few steps later, Link realized that she had sounded almost pleased. “Navi, is there anything you aren’t telling me?”

“Like what, Link?”

“Like why you aren’t arguing with me about my decision to return to the Forest.”

“It’s nothing. I trust you, is all.”

Thinking that was about the weirdest thing she’d ever said to him, he didn’t respond. Besides, the light was beginning to fade, and he figured it might be a good idea to get back to the Village before nightfall. He wasn’t concerned about the Stalchildren or about the Village remaining in darkness – he had the Sun Song, after all. Nope, it was something else.

The first time he’d entered Hyrule field, he’d seen some strange-looking objects resting on the ground far to his left. They were still there, from what he could see, but one of them, he now noticed, had risen from the ground and was floating off somewhere. The fact that these things, gigantic as they were, could not only move, but fly, too, had him quite worried. He had a feeling that since they were around in daylight, they probably wouldn’t disappear at night, either.

Ahead, the narrow passage between grassy walls and trees loomed closer; Link picked up his pace, and got there with no mishaps. Grateful, he dashed into the opening, wondering if everything would still be the way it had been when he left.

Chapter Ten

 

No one was standing guard near the opening back into the Village. Why? What had happened? Was something wrong? How come –

“Link, are you all right?” Navi sounded worried, but not terribly so.

“Where is everyone? What’s happened here?”

Silence. “I think they’re probably in their cottages for the evening. You know you’ve only been gone a couple of days.”

“Are you laughing at me, Navi?”

“No. Yes. A little. You’re too serious, Link!”

He sighed, relaxing. “You’re right.” He trudged forward, feeling somewhat foolish.

“Why are we here?”

“I have no idea. It seemed like the right thing, is all.”

“Where are we going?”

He stopped, put a hand to his forehead and winced. “I don’t know. Saria’s house, I suppose.” He didn’t have a headache or anything, but suspected the fairy’s constant stream of questions would be giving him one soon.

“Why?”

He’d known she was going to ask that. “Because. Because I’m a – a silly boy.” He started walking again.

The journey from Lon Lon Ranch to the Woods had taken less than half a day, but he was hungry, and while not that tired yet (he hadn’t been running, after all), was beginning to think he could use another good night’s rest before doing anything else of major importance. Like climbing a mountain.

He stopped, having reached Saria’s cottage. Unlike his, this one’s door was on ground-level. He went in, a perfectly normal and acceptable behavior here, and called her name.

No answer. No movement. How odd, he thought, going outside again.

“Link! You’re back!”

“Hello, Fado.”

“Everyone was wondering if you’d died. No Kokiri has ever left the Forest and lived, you know. But many said you would – live, I mean – because like Saria says, you’re different from us somehow. How are you different, Link? I mean, you’re stronger than most of us, but – ”

“Do you happen to know where Saria is?” He didn’t like being rude, but if he didn’t interrupt her prattle, he’d start drooling.

“Sure do! She’s in the Lost Woods. In fact, I think she knew you’d be back because she said if any of us saw you, we should tell you to meet her there at the Temple ruin. I’ve never been there, myself. Have you ever been there, Link? It sounds mysterious!”

“Here.” He held out an apple he’d put into his satchel after breakfast at the ranch. “Ever have one of these? They’re delicious.” She needed to stop talking…

“Ooh! Thank you, Link!” She blushed, took the apple, and batted her eyelashes at him.

Suppressing a groan, he thanked her for the information about Saria, told her to enjoy the apple, and took off at top speed toward the wall of vines that would bring him to the entrance of the Lost Woods.

At his shoulder, Navi was doing something odd. Something… “Are you laughing at me, Navi?”

“Yes, Link.”

“Hmm. Okay.” He climbed the vines quickly in case Fado had liked the apple and decided she wanted to discuss the fact with him.

The entrance was marked by the cut end of a massive hollow tree. He ran in, and because he knew the maze-like pathways by heart, headed in the general direction of where he believed the Temple to be. Never having been there, he’d been told enough about its location to have a pretty good idea which paths to take.

As he made his first turn into one of the many openings, he paused. Straight ahead was something that had always made him curious, but about which he’d been unable to do anything. An object that looked almost like a drum dangled from the branch of a long-dead tree; he’d tried hitting it with rocks, and once even used a sling-shot, but both attempts had ended in failure. In neither instance could he reach it. But now he had a fairy sling-shot that had a range far beyond that of his crude home-made versions.

“I wonder…” He went to the wooden railing at the top of what was actually a deep gully within the Woods, and stared at the so-far unreachable target.

“Link! What are you doing?”

He didn’t reply, but took out the sling-shot, armed it with a deku seed, and took careful aim.

Zing! Thwack! “Got it!” He shot at it a second time, then a third, delighted that every one of the seeds had hit dead-center.

Suddenly, a deku scrub, of all things, popped up from the stubby top of the tree’s gnarled trunk. It hopped to the end, peered down at the drum-like object, then across the space at Link, who was slack-jawed with surprise.

He’d never imagined anything was living in the old tree, much less this creature! So scrubs didn’t only exist in the Great Deku Tree!

The creature was hopping up and down again, clearly excited about something. A moment later it spoke. “You did it! A perfect score! That deserves a special prize, I’m thinking – don’t go away!”

What the heck?! Link stayed where he was, still too shocked to speak, and watched as the little leafy being returned to the other end of the branch.

Ploof!

Link ducked, but instead of a deku nut, the thing had shot something softer from its snout, something that sailed over the boy’s head and landed on the grass behind him. He turned, went to it, and picked it up, amazed. It was a soft leather bag which, while somewhat larger than the one in which he’d been carrying ammo for his sling-shot, was still a good size for tying onto his belt. He opened it.

“Woah! Look, Navi – way more deku seeds than I’ve been able to carry at one time before!” He looked across at the scrub. “Hey, thank you!”

The creature gave what sounded to Link like a pleased squeak, and burrowed back into the tree.

Imagine that! he thought, attaching his prize next to the smaller version. That was when he remembered something. Near the end of the ledge was an opening in the fence. A ladder had been placed there, and while Link had climbed into the gully several times in his life, he’d never found anything interesting to do there except exchange stares with a couple of bizarre individuals who seemed to live there. But now…

He headed down the ladder.

“Link! Where are you going?”

He’d been fully expecting her question, and almost laughed. “Down, Navi.”

“Why?”

He jumped to the ground when he’d only gotten about halfway down – the whole drop wasn’t all that far – and turned right. Another grouping of dead tree branches and stumps were sticking up from some thick green ground-cover; as soon as he climbed onto one of the stumps, two figures appeared on the branch of the larger stump facing his.

Every other time Link had encountered these two, they’d said nothing, done nothing – stood there, swaying side-to-side and staring at him. Nothing more. He’d tried talking to them, but a response had never been forthcoming. After the third time, Link had given up, deciding they were simply there to irritate anyone who came along.

This time, however, the flute-like objects tucked in their belts registered in his thinking as having major significance. Confident he was right about this, he took out the ocarina and played Zelda’s lullaby.

As soon as the notes faded, the two whatevers (they certainly weren’t Kokiri) drew out their flutes and to Link’s satisfaction and delight, one of them spoke. “Follow along with our song on your ocarina. We’ll lead you into it.” The being sounded like a boy, one who was somewhat older than Link.

Link nodded happily and put the ocarina to his lips, waiting.

The creatures played three notes in unison, repeated them, and lowered their flutes. Link played the notes back. Immediately, the one who hadn’t spoken tossed a green rupee into the grass by the foot of Link’s tree stump. The same three notes were then repeated, but a new one was added. Again, Link imitated the melody with no difficulty. Another rupee came his way. This continued until he’d played back a rather odd, eight-note tune and the collection of rupees included a blue and a red among the green gems.

The two players lowered their flutes, and now the other one said, “That was quite a nice session! As a token of our friendship, please take this gift!” He jumped down and came closer, laying a large heart-fruit on top of the pile of gems. Then he returned to his stump, the two beings nodded at each other, and they faded away.

Astonished but quite honestly thrilled, Link climbed down and gathered his reward. Who would have guessed? He laughed, tucking everything away.

“Link!”

“I know, Navi. Let’s go.” Smiling, he climbed the ladder and headed off again, this time making a sharp right into the next hollowed-out tree section.

These were what had been used throughout the Lost Woods to connect its multiple areas, with a few exceptions. One of these was facing him when he emerged on the other end – a tall stone doorway set into the side of the grassy wall. Link had wandered into this once, only to find his path blocked by some very odd-looking plants several feet down its length. They were like flowers in the shape of large green balls, and were incredibly heavy; he’d tried picking one, of course, so he could pass, but the thing wouldn’t budge. Strong as he was for his age, he simply wasn’t strong enough.

This annoyance wasn’t in his thinking at the moment. No, his mind was too busy recovering from the sudden and quite startling reappearance of the gigantic owl. He was perched on a branch to the right of the stone door, and had leaned down to greet Link.

“Over here, young man! Hoo! Hoo!”

As if I could have missed something your size blocking out half the sky…

“Link! It’s good to see you again!” the owl went on in a chatty way that set the boy’s teeth on edge.

Creatures that big shouldn’t be allowed to have normal conversations with creatures so much smaller as far as Link was concerned. Trying not to show that he was fixated on the bird’s razor-sharp beak, he acknowledged the words with a smile and a nod.

“Listen to this! Hoot! Hoot!”

Hoot, hoot to you, too. You sound ridiculous. “Certainly,” he said aloud.

“After going through the Lost Woods, you will come upon the Sacred Forest Meadow.”

Oh, great. Another meadow. Last time I was in one of those –

“That is a secret place where few people have ever walked.”

“I’ve heard of it, but – but not, I mean, yeah. Never could find it.”

“Sshh!”

Crap. “Sorry.” Link gulped. Why did he sometimes start babbling when he was afraid?

“No, I mean listen! What is that? I hear a mysterious tune…”

A what?

“You should listen for that tune, too! Hoo hoo ho!” He did that weird, disconcerting thing with his head again, and added, “If you are courageous, you will make it through the forest just fine.”

Courageous. Everyone is wondering if I’m courageous, he complained silently. Sheesh. He wanted to point out that he’d ‘made it through the forest just fine’ many times, but in the face of the bird’s size and obvious sense of authority, he opted for humble silence.

The owl readjusted his head. “All you have to do is follow your ears, and listen to the sounds coming from the forest! Hoot hoot!” And without further discussion, he spread his wings, pushed off from the branch, and flew away.

Sounds from the forest, eh? Great. What sounds –

“Link!”

“Navi!”

“Don’t you hear the song?”

“No. What song? What are you both talking about, anyway? ‘Mysterious melodies?’ Songs? All I can hear – ”

“Is the sound of your own voice! Be quiet and listen, Link!”

He took a deep breath. “Fine.” Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the silence. After a few seconds, the silence…was no longer silent. A lively little refrain was filtering through the air, repeating after several moments. He turned and noticed that it seemed to disappear. He turned again and it got a bit louder, but not much. A third turn and now he could hear it quite clearly. He opened his eyes and found he was facing the opening to the right of the stone door.

“Very good, Link.” She’d spoken quietly, for once not sounding smug. “I guess you should follow it, yes?”

He nodded and went forward, knowing that this would lead out to the Pond. He liked swimming there once on a while, the crystal water refreshing and peaceful. Intriguing, too – at its bottom a line of gems sparkled, but he’d never been able to dive far enough to reach them. It was this small body of water that had provided Link a glimpse of how he looked, its surface like glass, able to reflect his features when the sunlight was at a certain level of brightness.

The music was coming from the tunnel-like connection to the left of the Pond, so after getting a quick scoop of the deliciously cool liquid – his encounter with the owl had left him somewhat dry-mouthed – he headed that way, wondering how much further he’d have to go. The Woods, as far as he knew, were vast. His past wanderings had been limited by an understandable concern over getting too far away and being unable to find a source of food or water sufficient to sustain him on his return journey.

Several turns and a good twenty minutes later, he found himself in a part of the Lost Woods he’d never bothered to explore, mainly because he hadn’t seen anything interesting in that  direction. But now, with the melody louder than ever, he reconsidered his former opinions and kept going.

One last turn and he stopped, surprised. A kind of field with deep grass had opened before him, and in a stone wall straight ahead was a closed gate. It consisted of eight metal shafts with sharp, spear-like tops. Curious, he headed for this to see if it was also locked.

He’d taken only a few steps when he was halted by a loud animal howl on his left, and he instantly drew his Sword. It was a wolf – a really large one. He’d heard of these things which he’d been told were called Wolfos, and had seen crude drawings of them, but of course had never encountered one before.

To his dismay, the creature was every bit as horrifying – and then some – as the primitive sketches. Far bigger in every way, the thing had shaggy, silver-grey fur, a long muzzle ending in a maw full of pointy fang-like teeth, and lethal claws that raked at him as he swung his weapon to fend it off.

The thing swiped at Link’s head and he raised his shield in time to avoid being decapitated, then lashed out with the Sword to take advantage of the animal’s temporary vulnerability. It howled as the blade found its mark, but only backed off for a second.

Link’s heart was pounding like crazy and his alert levels were at their highest. Because of his wounds and the subsequent euphoria following his intake of the small heart fruit, even his battle with Gohma hadn’t gotten his adrenaline flowing this fast.

The fight settled into a kind of rhythm, the Wolfos clawing at him and being fended off by the shield, Link striking back as quickly as he could after this and cutting into its body, the creature backing away, then lunging forward again for a new attack. This continued for what felt to Link like hours, but which in reality had only been a few very intense minutes. In the end, the wounds the boy inflicted took their toll. The Wolfos emitted a final yelp of agony, collapsed to its side, and Link finished it off quickly, stabbing it through the heart.

Like the Stalchildren, this creature’s body disappeared in a sudden flash of bluish light, a light that resembled a kind of broad flame. And then, as had been the pattern of things in the Great Deku Tree, the gate slid open, only this time the bars slid down into the ground since there was no ceiling into which to rise.

Link closed his eyes and waited a bit until his heartbeat became closer to normal and he could breathe easily once more. “Okay,” he said quietly, opening his eyes again. “Let’s go.”

On the other side of the gate the pathway traversed horizontally in front of a high, mossy stone wall. To the left, the path ended at a pool of water that was level with the ground. To the right, he could see it made a left turn at the end of the wall. Before this, he found a small alcove on his left, and would have ignored it except for something shiny gleaming at him from under the foliage growing there. He slashed through it with the Sword and found a large blue rupee. Nice.

He kept going to the end of the path and turned left.

Ploomp!

“Ouch! Hey” A Deku Scrub, but this one was different from any of the others he’d encountered. The ones in the Great Deku Tree had been about his size, and dark green with brownish bodies. The one in the stump in the Lost Woods was smaller and light green, it’s body more yellowish. This thing, on the other hand, was larger, it’s covering orange and red, and looked like a pile of autumn leaves – angry ones.

Shield up, Link stalked forward, furious. The little creep! He deflected the missile and hit the Scrub square in the face. It squealed and ran off.

“Come back here!” Link raced after it, determined to either get it to calm down or –

Ploomp!

Nope. It wasn’t going to calm down. When he cornered it at last, it continued its aggressive behavior, clearly determined to do the boy harm, so he did the only thing he could. With a yell, Link executed the downward stroke he’d learned – wow, had it only been a few days earlier? – and the Scrub exploded into a flutter of leaves and light.

In his frantic pursuit of this new enemy, Link had been forced to go through a series of turns, and realized now that he was in a kind of maze. Well, he’d be much more cautious when he turned corners from that point on. And it was a good thing he’d decided this, since another of the fiery Scrubs was waiting around the next wall.

Finally, after having to swim through one of the deep pools and fight of several more Scrubs, he found a stairway built into a slope that ran between precisely-cut stone walls. At the top of this was another path and two more Scrubs.

Now that he’d had more practice fighting their kind, he was able to dispatch them without getting injured, and once they were gone, he made it unchallenged to the next set of stairs. Before going up, he ate one of the heart fruits to take care of the few minor wounds he’d gotten from the deku nuts he’d been unable to avoid.

“Any idea what’s up there, Navi?”

“I hear the song even more loudly there, Link.”

She hadn’t answered his question, but nothing in her tone suggested there was a problem, so he headed up the steps. When he got to the top of these, he stopped and stared – no question. This was the Sacred Meadow, the half-crumbled ruin of a once-magnificent temple at its far end pretty much confirming this.

And near the Temple, sitting on an old tree stump and playing the now-familiar tune on her ocarina, sat Saria.

Chapter Eleven

 

Between where he stood and where Saria sat was a huge, flat, circular stone on which had been etched and painted the Triforce symbol. He skirted this and went to her slowly, not wanting to disturb her playing.

The ocarina she had was almost identical to the one she’d given him, and he wondered where she got it. And then he recalled that she’d told Frega she was going to buy one from him “some day” with the rupee she’d won. He supposed that giving him her old one had brought “some day” a lot closer.

He stopped a few feet away, watching her play, impressed with how quickly her fingers fluttered over the instrument. She stopped a moment later, brought it down to her lap, and smiled.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Link.”

“How did you know I’d be back so soon?”

She shrugged. “I…know things, is all. Not that I could really explain that.” She giggled. “So – this is the Sacred Forest Meadow, my secret place that I told you about.”

Link raised an eyebrow. “If it’s your secret, why would you tell me about it, much less lead me here?” He had no doubt that her music had been meant to do exactly that, and had to admit she would have needed to employ magic of some sort to do this. Three days ago, he would have scoffed at such a possibility. Not now.

“Why?” She put a hand on his arm. “This place – this place will be important for us both some day. That’s what I feel, anyhow.”

Ah. “Some day” again. He sincerely hoped this one wouldn’t happen as quickly as the other. The Temple behind her, for all it’s having fallen into ruin, was intimidating. As for the fat, flaming Deku Scrubs, that Wolfos, and who knew what else…

“You look confused,” she added. “I don’t really know how or why I know some of the things I do, or how I’m able to do certain things, but when the time is right, I’m sure I will. In the meantime, I follow what my heart and senses tell me.”

“And what are they telling you?”

She grinned. “They’re telling me you’ve become rather good at playing that ocarina I gave you.”

That startled him. Was she guessing, or did she honestly know somehow?

“I’m right!”

Link had never been good at hiding his expressions. “I’ve, um, figured out a few things on it. I’m nowhere near as good as you, though.”

She blushed, the pink of her cheeks making a pleasant contrast with her green hair. “Thank you, Link. All right, here’s what else my heart and senses are telling me – you should play the ocarina with me so I can teach you to talk with the spirits in the forest. What do you think?”

Why would I want to talk with forest spirits? “Are they anything like ghosts?”

She gave him an odd look. “How would you know about ghosts? Oh! You met some when you were gone, yes?”

Reluctant, he nodded. “Two. They were a little insane, I think.” And deadly with a lantern.

“Oh, my! Well, no, forest spirits aren’t the same at all. In fact, if you’re from here and you’re a good person, they’re extremely kind and helpful. So…will you play along with me on the ocarina?”

How could he disappoint her? She looked so hopeful… “Sure.”

“Great! Now, listen carefully and try to follow along with the melody. Are you ready?”

In reply, he took out the ocarina and held it to his lips.

The melody was the same that had drawn him to this place, to her. She played it slowly so he could repeat it with ease, and once he had it, they both played it at a much quicker pace. He found himself able to keep up, and grinned hugely at her when they finished.

“Great, Link! Great! I knew you had music in you!”

Was that what it was? Well, it certainly explained his long-standing desire to learn to play. “That was fun – it…it felt really good to play like that, too.”

“I know what you mean. Now promise me you won’t forget that song, and here’s why. After this, you’ll be leaving the Forest again, won’t you. And there will be times when you might need help or advice or some such. When that happens, if you play that song, you’ll be able to talk with me!”

“How?”

“I’m not certain – it’s another one of those things I just know. Guess we’ll both find out, yes?”

He nodded and looked with renewed respect at the ocarina. “Wow.”

Saria giggled again, raised her ocarina, and went back to her playing. At first, Link found this a rather abrupt way to say good-bye, but then he remembered his own retreat across the bridge a few days earlier. Saria had figured out that he wasn’t good at farewells, he surmised, and was giving him the chance to leave with his dignity intact.

She was, indeed, a good friend. He whispered “good-bye” and turned away, thereby missing the smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes.

Not sure what to do next – other than climb that stupid mountain, an action he was still trying to pretend wasn’t necessary – he headed back down the double flight of stairs. When he got to the bottom he noticed something he’d missed on his way up, probably because he’d had his back to it.

A ladder. It led up the side of the wall facing the stairs. “Are there any enemies up there, Navi?” he asked, his voice low.

She zoomed up and over the top, returning a few seconds later. “Nope.”

Making sure his things were properly secured to and in his belt, he climbed the ladder, only to find a hole in the ground with another ladder leading into it. This wasn’t very deep, actually, so he didn’t bother with this second ladder, but jumped in, landing lightly on his feet. In the center of this hole was another hole. A deeper one. In fact, it looked similar to the ones in the graveyard.

“Er, Navi? What’s down there?”

“Jump in and find out, Link!”

Sure. And if I land on a bunch of sharp sticks or into a nest of rabid deku scrubs, so what, right? “Jump in, you say.”

“Yes. Jump in.”

Awesome. He jumped in.

At the bottom, he was facing a tunnel that glowed blue at its end. The closer he got, the nicer it smelled. This was good. And then he saw something pink – a lot of pink somethings, in fact, and when he emerged from the tunnel, he entered what looked like a circular underground stone gazebo of sorts. It had slender double pillars spaced widely apart that held up a carved stone roof. The floor was made of small tiles that sat under clear blue water. A single step led into this, and when he entered, realized it wasn’t very deep, only up to his shins, in fact.

“What is this place?” he wondered aloud, staring around at the pink objects flying and flitting about overhead.

“It’s a Fairy Fountain.”

“A what?”

“A Fairy Fountain. They’re good fairies, Link, and will heal and restore you if you’re hurt.”

“Huh.”

Just then, two of the itty-bitty creatures flew down for a closer look, or so it seemed. They circled him quickly, zooming around his body too fast for him to note any details. As they flew, they left a trail of dazzling sparkles in their wake, some of which brushed the boy’s face. It felt like the hand of Life itself had touched his skin and he sighed. What a wonderful place!

The fairies suddenly shot upward, and the rest ignored him after that.

“You aren’t in need of their help right now,” Navi told him. “Hey, let’s go – we have to get to Death Mountain!”

He winced. In this place, speaking the mountain’s name almost felt sacrilegious. He turned and left the water, heading back into the tunnel with obvious reluctance.

Like the holes in the graveyard, this one had a small platform directly under the opening, and with the same seamless spatial shift, he found himself back on the surface. He climbed the short ladder and gazed around to get his bearings. If he wasn’t totally mistaken about what he was looking at, it seemed he’d be able to run across this upper level to return to the entrance of the area, and get back into the pathways of the Lost Woods.

Looking at it that way proved somewhat deceptive. The ground wasn’t a solid stretch as he’d first imagined. He found himself needing to jump over several gaps before reaching the end, but fortunately, he’d seen the first one early enough to avoid falling into it.

Once at the entrance, he looked around quickly, hoping no more Wolfos would show up. To his relief, all remained quiet, so he headed out…

“Hoot! Hoot!”

“Ack!” A really strong desire to zap the owl with a deku seed shook Link to his core. Not that he hated the massive bird or anything, but this habit of showing up out of nowhere and startling the daylights out of the boy was getting to him in a big way.

Apparently, the owl had no clue that he was being irritating, sounding more like they’d arranged to meet when Link left the Meadow. “Did you learn an ocarina song from Saria?”

A suspicion grew in the boy’s mind that this owl was following him around. “Yes.”

The owl shook his feathers as if getting comfortable. “That melody seems to have some mysterious power. In fact, there may be some other mysterious songs like this that you can learn in Hyrule.”

Mysterious. Was that everyone’s favorite word? Impa had used the same one to describe the lullaby. “I did learn one from Zelda’s personal guard.”

“Yes, the lullaby. Good. Well! Hoot hoot hoot hoot hoo!” And he flew away.

“Yeah, see you later,” he murmured. “Have a great day.”

“Are you being sarcastic, Link?”

He sighed. “Yes, Navi.”

“I see. We have to go now.”

“I suppose we do.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Yes, Navi, but don’t ask me why.”

“Maybe because you’re still only ten years old.” She sounded almost upset, but in a motherly kind of way, not in a disappointed manner.

“Maybe.” He wasn’t entirely sure he understood the point she was making, unless all ten-year-olds were naturally frightened by big things. Like mountains. Or things that had the word “death” in them.

The exit from the Woods was easy enough to find. In fact, if he turned a certain way in one of the hubs between paths, he’d find himself back in the Village. Only he wasn’t really looking to leave yet. He’d remembered another individual, one not unlike the two flute-players. He, too, had a flute, but looked younger, and quite frankly, very lonely.

Every Kokiri in the Village had not only met this strange boy, but had talked about him in less than glowing terms. He was, in fact, disliked more than Link was, but everyone seemed a little afraid of him. They called him the Skull Kid, but no one ever said why or where that description had come from.

He looked to Link like a rag doll, actually. His face didn’t have skin but some kind of dark, uneven covering. His eyes, too, were not like anyone else’s and almost didn’t look real; still, that fact hadn’t hidden the sadness Link saw there every time he’d encountered him.

Once or twice Link had tried to strike up a conversation, but instead of a verbal response, things had been thrown at him, or zinged at his head from a sling-shot. What would happen if instead of talking, Link played the ocarina? Not that winning this odd individual’s confidence had always been at the top of his list of things to do, but it had been on his list somewhere. Maybe because he knew what it felt like to be lonely, sad, and disliked.

A little more walking brought him to one of the many open areas within the Woods that seemed to have no purpose. This one had a single dead tree stump near the middle, and little else. Yet here it was that the Skull Kid seemed to spend his days. Link entered the area carefully, not sure if the boy would immediately start throwing things, or wait until he tried to talk to him.

There he was, standing on the stump, hopping from foot to foot in a kind of dance, moving to music only he could hear.

Link stopped several yards in front of him and took out his ocarina. Without hesitation – and because he thought it would be a good idea to play it again so he wouldn’t forget how it went – he began Saria’s lively song.

The Skull Kid stopped hopping long enough to stare in what looked like shock, then began dancing again, this time to the song. Before Link had gotten to the repeated part, the other boy took out his flute and began playing along.

When he was finished, Link lowered the ocarina and waited.

The boy jumped up and down with excitement, exclaiming, “You know Saria’s song! That – oh, my! That means…we should be friends! Here – take this!” He tossed something toward Link, but this time, it was a good thing – one of the large heart-fruits.

Link leaped forward in time to catch it before it hit the ground. “Thank you!”

The Skull Kid shrugged and went back to his bizarre, silent dance as if nothing major had occurred. Link knew otherwise – he’d caught a gleam of something not sad in the boy’s eyes, and knew he’d done the right thing.

As they left the area, Navi whispered, “That was very good of you, Link.”

“Thank you.” He blushed, embarrassed by the praise. He wasn’t used to it. In fact, he was so flustered, he didn’t pay attention to where he was going, and found himself in a part of the Woods he almost never bothered to go.

The ground through this opening ended at a ledge that looked out over the wooden bridge leading out of the Kokiri Forest – the one across which he’d fled a few days earlier. The drop to the ground below was only a few feet; he’d gone down there once, but a tingling of his senses that had caused the hair on the back of his neck to rise had sent him scrambling back up the ladder before he could actually explore the place. He had never returned, either.

Now, however, he’d fought and defeated Gohma, and a Wolfos, several chubby deku scrubs, living skeletons…what could possibly be down here that he couldn’t handle? Feeling brave, he hopped down and went forward, crossing under the bridge and up a slight rise in the ground. He topped this and turned –

Ploomp!

“Ouch!”

Ploomp! Thunk! Squeak!

Crazy Deku Scrub, Link thought, watching it carefully. Unlike the others he’d met, this one didn’t try hopping away, and was quite a bit taller. He stepped closer.

“I surrender!” it declared, raising twig-like arms. “I can make your quest easier!”

How did this thing know he was on a quest? “How?”

“Why, by making it possible for you to pick up larger numbers of deku sticks at a time!”

That sounded pretty good. “You can do that?”

“Yes, but it will cost you, of course.”

“What? How much?”

“Only forty rupees, my friend.”

“Okay, let me see if I understand what’s going on here.” Link crossed his arms. “People come down here out of curiosity. You shoot them. If they don’t get hurt or killed, and manage to hit you back, you do business with them. Do I have that right?”

“Pretty much, young sir!”

Link nodded. “You’re crazy. Still, I could probably use more sticks…” He reached into his gem pouch which was bulging by now, and took out the correct number of blue and red rupees to equal forty. “Here.”

Looking quite pleased, the Scrub took the rupees, then told Link to turn around. He did something with the boy’s scabbard and it became somewhat heavier.

“There you go – I’ve given you forty to start you off, and now your holder there can carry up to that many and still have room for your sword! By the way, is that the Kokiri Sword?”

“Um, yes.”

“Really! Now what would such a little boy be doing with something so grand, eh? But no matter – off you go, now! It was a pleasure doing business with you!” He nodded once and burrowed into the ground.

Link stared for several seconds at where the Scrub had been, then took a deep breath. “Right!” He had to adjust the scabbard by shifting his shoulders, but it occurred to him that having to carry more weight would probably make him stronger. “Let’s go, Navi. I’m tired and plan to get a bite to eat and some sleep before we head back to the mountain.”

“So you’re finally going there, are you?”

“Yes, Navi. I do believe I’m ready to try it.” He started walking toward the ladder, his expression one of determination, even though a small part of his mind was pushing for the run-away-as-far-and-as-fast-as-you-can option. He was going to do this.

Besides, he had a feeling that if he did try and run away from it, that stupid owl would show up again…

Chapter Twelve

 

By the time Link entered Kakariko Village for the second time, it was night. He’d overslept, and hadn’t left his own village until well past noon. Then, taking his time, he’d crossed Hyrule Field, gone over the small stone bridge, sat on the edge of the river-moat to have a quick meal, and before he could make it halfway up the long stairway, the sun had gone down. He’d managed to avoid running into any Stalchildren this time, but didn’t want to take any chances, so had run the last few yards to the gate.

Now, staring about at the silent village, he wondered if heading up the mountain at night was such a hot idea. Besides, there had been a few things he’d wanted to check out in the village itself that he’d never gotten to the last time.

As he walked forward, he thought about the way he’d been able to “fly” holding onto the legs of the cuckoo. That would have been a fun pursuit, but there were none to be seen at this hour. Then he thought about the Graveyard. Was it too early again to go on that tour?

“Link!”

Oh, good grief. “What is it, Navi?”

“Where are you going?”

“The Graveyard.”

“Why?”

He shrugged, not bothering to answer. When he got to the entrance, he paused to cut some grass, thinking he should replenish some of the rupees he’d spent on his new deku-stick holder. When he’d undressed the night before, he’d seen what the Scrub had done – another sheath had been attached to the one containing the Sword, the two connected by small metal circles.

No rupees bounced out of the cut shafts. Something else though – bugs. He was okay with bugs. Spiders, not so much. He crouched down to look at them more closely. They were actually rather pretty, their chitinous shells an interesting combination of luminous blue and green stripes.

“Catch some in a bottle, Link.”

Was she serious? “Why would I do that?”

“You might need them.”

Navi’s statements, despite being often very cryptic, were always based on some kind of knowledge of things unfamiliar to Link, so he untied the empty bottle from his belt and coaxed several of the bugs inside, replacing the cap quickly and tying it down so they couldn’t escape.

He stood and headed into the Graveyard, determined this time to stay out of holes. The place was quiet and devoid of gravekeepers as far as he could see, so he went to Dampe’s shack. Sure enough, the sign was up indicating the hours of the tour, and making it clear that this wasn’t the right time.

“Dang.” Disappointed, Link stalked off, this time heading for the area on the other side of metal railing to see what was up there.

“Look at this, Link!” She was fluttering over a bald patch of dirt.

“Okay.” He joined her and stared at it. “That’s dirt, Navi.”

“But it’s different – very soft.”

How would she know? Had she landed on it when he wasn’t looking? “Is that important?”

“Listen! I hear scratching!”

He looked around.

“No, under the ground!”

A Stalchild, maybe? He backed away.

“Oh, Link! Let the bugs out!”

Now what was she on about? “I just caught them, Navi. You said – ”

“Let them out on the dirt!”

Wondering if maybe the poor fairy had flown into a wall and hit her little head, he shook his own, crouched down once more, and undid the cap. The bugs scurried out, skittering here and there, finally burrowing into the center of the patch.

“Back up, Link! Quick!”

He did , and not a moment too soon. A huge Gold Skultulla emerged from the patch, coming to a halt mere fractions of an inch from his right boot. Shocked, he hacked at it, and after its implosion, collected the medallion.

“How did you know about that?”

“I know a lot of things, Link. You have to trust me more.”

He nodded. She was, after all, a fairy, and had obviously been around a lot longer than he had, or at least been to more places. “Okay.”

“There’s nothing more to do here, Link. We should go.”

He agreed. Since the tour wasn’t going to happen, he couldn’t see any other reason for hanging around a place that had lantern-swinging ghosts and dead things. As they left, he cut some more grass for the heck of it, and this time was rewarded with both a green rupee and more bugs. He scooped up the latter, tucked the former into his gem pouch, and went back out into the Village.

The pen that held Anju’s cuckoos was empty – they were probably inside the barn-like structure behind it – so he wandered past, this time ignoring the short staircase on his right. He’d seen something glittering on the side of the large house directly beyond the stairs, one of the few with a fenced-in yard. When he got closer, he saw it was another Gold ‘tulla. Interesting. He whacked at it, and collected yet another medallion. How many was that now? Seven? It was a good thing they weighed almost nothing and took up very little space.

“Did you see that watchtower, Link?”

He frowned. What was a watchtower? He came out from behind the house and looked around the deserted Village. The windmill was turning in a soft breeze, but what – aha! “You mean that tall thing over there?”

“Yes, Link!”

“Okay, what about it?”

“You should climb it and take a look around!”

A few minute later he was standing at its base, staring up at the source of some familiar scratching. So. That was why Navi had told him to come here – not necessarily to do some sight-seeing, but to obtain another medallion. Very well. He took out the sling-shot, hit the creature twice, then climbed up and got the shiny disc.

“Are there more around her?” he asked before she could start telling to him to check out some local site.

“Up there, Link!” She flew away from him toward a lane that ran between buildings. One, he knew, that ended at the gate leading to the path up the mountain.

“Are you trying to get me up the mountain by following a trail of ‘tullas, Navi? I mean, I know where it is.”

“No, Link. I’m trying to help you find medallions so you can help a family here in the Village, and get wonderful rewards for it!”

That confused him so much, he didn’t even try to ask what she meant. “Sure. Where next?”

This time, she brought him to the back of one of the buildings on the left side of the lane, where he found another Gold ‘tulla scratching around on the outside wall under a window. He defeated it easily, tucked the medallion away with the rest, and asked Navi where the next one was.

He didn’t like the answer.

Crashing into trees was, in his opinion, the dumbest thing he’d ever been told to do, but it did get him a tenth medallion. “Now what?” he grumped, rubbing the side of his head.

“Go into the large house up there!”

He thrust out his jaw as he considered stuffing Navi into the bag with the medallions. “It’s late. They’re probably asleep.”

“Not in that house.”

He wasn’t sure he liked the way she’d said that, or even what it seemed to imply. “Oh?”

“Link!”

“Navi!”

“Go!”

“Fine!” He trudged off, unhappy, but willing to do her bidding for the time being. If he got in huge trouble for barging into someone’s home in the middle of the night, so be it, but he’d never again do as the fairy told him without some major discussion first.

The house was dusty inside, its corners shrouded in cobwebs, the furniture in a shockingly neglected condition. In fact, there wasn’t much furniture at all, just a sagging sofa against the wall in the entryway (and what was a sofa doing there anyway?), and a few chairs and tables in various states of disrepair positioned in no logical order around the massive main room.

Light came from a scattering of candles, but they were few and cast more shadows than illumination. Link headed for the center of the room, not sure what he was looking for, or even doing there in the first place.

A second later, he leaped back with a yell of surprise as something dropped from the ceiling to dangle at him, mere inches from the floor. It was, well, it looked like a spider, but it had a man’s face, a combination Link found increasingly horrifying.

It spoke, and Link nearly passed out. “Good evening, young man!”

What? What? Where’s the exit? Holy

“Welcome to my home!”

Link gulped, took several deep breaths, and did his best to recover enough to be polite. After all, the horrifying creature had somehow sounded completely reasonable. “Um…er, I mean, well…thank you.”

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Why does he look like that?’ It’s a sad story, really.”

Link stared.

“Yes. Well. You see, me and my sons are cursed. We, er, okay, we were very greedy people. So the Spider of the Curse, er, cursed us. He sent his little minions out into the world and said our only hope lay in their demise, knowing full well we could never leave the house to do that.”

“Oh.”

Someone has been killing them, though, because as you can see, I’ve gotten my face back, and one of my sons is completely back to normal!”

“He is?”

“Yes – look!”

Link peered past the dangling man-spider and into the gloomy recess of the room. Something was there all right. Or someone. Whatever or whoever it was, he looked like he was doing some kind of exercise, jumping and waving his arms around. Very strange. “When a person kills one of these Spiders of the Curse, what happens?”

“Why, the creature folds in on itself and becomes a lovely gold medallion! Oh, sorry. There goes my greed again. I suppose there’s nothing lovely about a dead spider. Still, gold…”

“Wait – you’re talking about Gold Skulltulas, right?”

“Ha! Yes! That’s the other name for them! Why? Have you  killed one?”

“Ten, actually.”

“Oh, my dear, dear boy! It was you, then! How can I thank you?”

“First, why do they turn into medallions?” He’d been meaning to ask Navi this, but kept forgetting, what with everything else that was always going on when he encountered one.

“So there would be proof, of course! And so a count could be kept. You see, once all of them have been taken out of the world, our cure will be completely broken. Their King arranged for their existence solely for that purpose.”

“Nice.” He was being sarcastic again.

“So here’s what I propose – you keep on killing those nasty rascals, and we’ll make you rich beyond your wildest dreams!”

Link gave him a crazy look. What kind of person would have wild dreams about being rich? Not him, that was for sure. All he’d ever wanted was to have a good life and be accepted by others. Before he could reply, the dangling homeowner spoke again.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Link.”

“Link! Aha. Well, why don’t you go speak to my son. He’ll give you a reward for freeing him from the curse and tell you how many more medallions you’ll need to free the next brother. Er, that is, if you want to.”

“Okay.” That word didn’t necessarily mean okay, that he’d try and kill every freaking Gold Skulltula in the world, or that he’d go talk to the freed brother. He was simply agreeing in general with no commitment either way.

“Thank you, Link! Thank you!”

“Sure.” He wandered off, still not sure what he wanted to do.

“Link!”

“Navi!”

“Go talk to his son!”

“Fine.” He went to the corner of the room where he’d seen the person there flapping his arms.

“I heard what you said to my father!” exclaimed young man who was, in fact, flapping his arms, highly excited. “I’m free! And you did it! Thank you! Here!” He reached back and took something from the table behind him. “This wallet can hold two hundred rupees, and as you’ll see, I’ve already filled it for you! Now please – help my brothers. You’ll need more than ten medallions, I’m afraid, to break the curse for the next one. Twenty, in fact. Good luck to you, my friend!”

Link gave him what amounted to a manic smile, took a step back as he tied the heavy pouch to his belt, and took off for the door.

Back outside, he gave his head a quick shake, still somewhat horrified by what had just happened.

“Are you all right, Link?”

“No, but that’s okay. I’ll get over it. Navi, what in the world am I going to do with so many rupees?”

“You may need lots of them later, you know.”

No, I don’t know, he thought at her. “Okay.”

They were both silent now, both aware of what Link’s next move should be. Death Mountain blocked out the sky to Link’s left. The whole idea of a mountain to someone who’d only ever known forest and relatively flat land was more than a little daunting, never mind the possibilities of what he might find up there.

“I don’t want to go there in the dark.” He knew he didn’t have to elaborate on what he meant by “there.”

“You could play the Sun Song.”

“Yes, I could.” He nodded and began walking down the stairs. “I should.”

Navi said nothing.

“They have an awful lot of staircases in this village.”

Navi remained silent.

“So this way, then.” He headed up another flight of steps. He’d also been up here during his search for Anju’s birds, and knew there was yet another short stairway beyond the buildings on this level.

He finally reached the last stretch of ground before the gate blocking the path to the mountain pass. Looking resigned, he took out his ocarina. He played the Sun Song

In a dizzying display of light and dark, the moon set and the sun rose in the space of perhaps a half-second, causing Link to almost lose his balance. The one other time he’d done this, the reaction hadn’t been nearly as extreme, and he hoped it wouldn’t get progressively worse every time. But for now, that was as bad as it got, and it was early morning.

A guard was standing by the gate, looking like nothing unusual had occurred. Yet it had, only it seemed Link and Navi were the sole witnesses to the sudden time shift. The boy was in awe over the power of the music, and finally understood why everyone was using the term “mysterious” to describe it. How it could do such a thing was certainly a mystery to him and would most likely continue to be.

“We really should go now, Link.”

He nodded and, tucking the ocarina away, walked boldly to the guard.

Chapter Thirteen

 

Unlike the guard at the entrance to Kakariko Village, the one stationed in front of the gate that blocked the path up Death Mountain was clad in metal. He stared at Link in surprise, but said nothing until the boy asked him if he could open the gate.

“The road is closed beyond this point!” He emphasized his words by jabbing a pointing finger at something behind Link. “Can’t you read the sign over there?”

Sign? There’s a – “Oh. Sorry. And no, not very well, I’m afraid.”

“Eh? Oh, I see. You’re just a kid and you can’t read yet!” He laughed.

That wasn’t what Link had said at all, and he failed to see anything funny about it regardless. His expression grim but determined, he reached into his satchel and withdrew Zelda’s letter. This seemed like the right kind of situation for it. Not bothering to speak, he handed it to the guard.

The man took it, managing to look surprised and skeptical at the same time. “Oh…this is – this is surely Princess Zelda’s handwriting!”

Now how would he know that? Link asked himself, surprised. Maybe all the guards were trained to recognize it. That sort of made sense, actually.

“Well! Let’s see,” the man continued, holding it closer to his face, his eyes scanning the lines of writing. “Hmmm. Okay…” He nodded and began reading it aloud. “‘This is Link. He is under my orders to save Hyrule.” He lowered the letter to stare at the boy, eyebrows raised, and returned it.

So that’s what she wrote! thought Link as he put the note back into his satchel. Good. Maybe now he’ll respect me enough to open that gate!

“Wah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! What kind of funny game has our Princess come up with now?! Hahahaha!!!!!”

Or not. He drew himself up and glared.

The man put up a hand, continuing to chuckle. “Okay, okay, all right!” he choked. “You can go now – just be careful…Mr. Hero! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!” He pounded on the ground with the butt-end of his spear, and the gate slid open sideways.

Did all Hylian adults get this weird? the outraged boy wondered. Sure, he wasn’t exactly a hero, but then, that had been the guard’s word, not his or Zelda’s. He threw back his shoulders, told himself there was probably nothing to worry about on the other side of that gate, and began to go through.

“By the way, Mr. Hero – ”

I don’t suppose Navi can bite…

“If you’re going to climb Death Mountain, you should have a proper shield. Looks like you’ve got one under that wooden one – I’d take it out if I were you. This is, after all, an active volcano!”

Gulp. Link knew what a volcano was – Saria had actually told him about them once, although he couldn’t remember why. “Er, thanks.” He reached back and removed the Kokiri shield, took off the Hylian one, replaced the wooden shield in its original position on the scabbard’s hook, then plunked the metal one over it. “Bye.” He gave the man a brief smile, his ego still smarting, and went forward.

“I’d like to ask you a favor.”

Link stopped again. He raised an eyebrow at the guard. He said nothing.

The man actually looked a bit sheepish. “Have you been to the Happy Mask Shop, by any chance?”

The Happy Mask Shop. Link recalled hearing that name before, but…ah, right! The woman looking for her dog. Richard, was it? She said the way to her house was through an alley next to that shop. “No, but I’ve heard of it.”

“Well, you can’t miss it, really, if you’re in Town. It only opened recently, in fact, and everyone is talking about it.”

Link’s eyebrow rose a bit further.

“Ah, yes, well. My little boy pesters me for a popular mask, but I don’t have time to go there, you see.”

His little boy – he owned a little boy?! That was disturbing!

“So could you go and get it for me the next time you’re in the Market? If you don’t feel like it, that’s okay, too.”

I don’t feel like it. “Sure.” I may never feel like it. “What do I ask for?” What else do you own? A little girl, too, maybe? A few owls? Maybe a farmer or two?

“Anyway, it would sure make my kid happy.”

“Your kid?” So he owned goats as well. What a strange man.

“Yeah, my son; he’s a really good boy, and I’d like to show him how much I appreciate him, you know? The mask is a Kee-something. Keaton, maybe.” He shrugged. “And hey, sorry I gave you a hard time, kid. It just struck me funny that the Princess…well, never mind. Be safe.”

Feeling suddenly like a complete idiot, Link told the guard it was all right, and took off up the mountain path. The little boy wasn’t the guard’s property, he was his son! Of course! Link almost slapped himself. For while Kokiri children didn’t have parents, they did call the Great Deku Tree their father, and he called them his sons and daughters. This was why Link even knew what the man had meant, and also why he’d so badly misinterpreted the reference at first.

“Great,” he muttered, glad no one had heard the sarcastic rant in his head. He probably would  go to the mask shop for the man, to make up for his idiotic misunderstanding of the man’s request – assuming he got back from this part of his quest in one piece.

Thud! Ker-thud! Ker-thud!

Dumb assumption. What came at him from around a bend in the path nearly made his heart stop.

“Tektites!” Navi shrieked.

Okay, now, his ear hurt, too. He honestly didn’t care what the thing was called – it looked like a strange version of Gohma. Not as big, of course, but with a single red eye on the front of a disc-shaped body. Unlike the spider, however, this thing had some kind of hard shell-like covering, and only four legs. No legs would have been better. In fact, no big, nasty creature leaping at him would have been best.

He yanked out the Sword and waited until it was almost on top of him, then, eyes closed, he jabbed upward right as it leaped into the air over his head. Fully expecting the thing to land on him, squash him flat, and start eating him, he was taken aback when the blade pierced the underbelly of the creature, and he opened his eyes in time to see it fall apart. Literally. The legs detached, the eye flew off, and the center crumbled into a grotesque little pile of rubble.

There was no time to wonder about this, though, since another one was bounding toward him. He did the same thing, and then repeated his actions a third time on the next one. Where were these stupid things coming from?

A fourth appeared on the trail ahead, but wasn’t moving. Link wasn’t sure if it had learned from its fellows’ deaths or it if was simply waiting for him to get closer. He paused, caught his breath, moved forward, and when he was only a few yards in front of it, the monster attacked.

Stab! Crunch! Clatter! Dead.

Was this how the mountain got its name? By its baddies being so easy to kill? He frowned. Nah.

Directly in front of him now was a massive boulder that looked like it was blocking a hole in the mountain. Beside and in front of this was a much smaller boulder, although it was still quite a bit larger than Link. It caught his attention because of its color – unlike the base stone of the mountain itself, this one was an odd brownish-green with inexplicable speckles neatly spaced along the top curve.

Whatever – it was getting dark, and Link realized that because he was no longer in the village, he’d have to deal with time functioning in its normal way. So he ignored the intriguing object and made a hairpin turn onto an upward ramp along the mountainside. No more of the crusty spider-like things were anywhere in evidence, but he quickened his pace in case any more were lurking around behind him.

When he reached the top, he stopped to get his bearings. It was then that he thought to ask Navi where they were actually headed besides up.

“There’s a village up here, too,” she told him. “Don’t you remember what Impa said?”

Oh, right! The Mor…er, no, Gorons. “Of course. I think I got a little distracted, though, between almost getting eaten by a one-eyed crusty thing and being laughed at by the guard.”

Navi giggled.

Link sighed. “Let’s – huh.” He’d been about say, “let’s go,” but saw that another of those strange, brown-green rocks with the speckles was sitting to his immediate left. He started to approach it.

“Later, Link! The sun is almost down!”

He nodded and set off again on the path. To his right, it dropped away to the previous level which was now far enough down to cause severe injury if he fell from it. When it finally took a sharp left turn, the edge had become a cliff – falling off at that point would have meant certain death. Ah! Death Mountain – yes?

A wall of rock was to his left as he took this bend, and he decided to stay close to it. A moment later, he was grateful he had, but not for the obvious benefit of avoiding a tumble into the abyss on his right.

Making an incredible amount of noise, one of the brownish-green boulders suddenly appeared at the head of the path and rolled directly down the center. Had Link been standing there, he would have gotten severely flattened. As it was, the thing came close enough to push the boy sideways against the wall. He wasn’t hurt, but figured it might be a really, really good idea to run now.

“Look, Link! An opening! It probably leads into the Goron’s Village! Hurry!”

Since he was already hurrying faster than he probably ever had, he didn’t bother to reply. They passed an interesting-looking opening on the left and a large platform of some kind directly in front of him, but the boy completely ignored both, wanting only to get off that path and into what he hoped was a friendly little village.

 At first he was unable to tell what he was coming to. The tunnel into which he’d plunged was dark, the air dry and earthy-smelling. Not like a forest, though. More like…earth. Dirt. And rocks. Soon, however, light entered from the far end, and the closer he got to it, the more he could see that what lay ahead was more a cave than an actual village.

At the mouth of the tunnel, he stopped and looked around before coming out. He’d been right about the cave-like quality of the place, only it looked like it had been excavated and organized into three distinct levels defined by ramps on each, which surrounded a huge, open area. In the middle of this, and on the bottom level, was something he would have called a clay urn except for the size of it. Its top reached above the second level, and it took up a major portion of the floor on which it sat. Two handles flanked a smiling face, but a face that was definitely not Kokiri, Human, or Hylian. Goron, then.

If the face on the urn into which he could have fit his entire tree-cottage was a true representation of the Gorons, they were a people with wide, pleasant features, completely round, innocent-looking eyes and…wait. A terrifying thought came to him as he was considering the Goron features. What if this urn thing was a normal-sized object? Something one of them had casually set down on the floor? That would mean they were –

“Huh?”

“Ahhh!”

The first sound came from what Link had assumed was another of those strangely-speckled boulders. The second was Link shrieking as he jumped back several feet, nearly tripping over himself in his haste to get away.

The boulder had suddenly moved, somehow opening into a very large being with legs, feet, arms and hands – and the same pleasant face as the one on the giant urn. It looked down at the boy, scratching its side with one hand (Link honestly couldn’t tell the thing’s gender).

Link gave the Goron a weak smile.

“OH…I’M SO HUNGRY,” it groused in a deep, unbelievably loud voice.

Was this the normal way they greeted strangers. Was it their way of warning the visitor that he was about to get eaten by a huge, speckled rock? “Er, is that so?”

“EVERYONE FEELS FAINT FROM HUNGER BECAUSE OF THE FOOD SHORTAGE IN THIS TOWN. WE ARE IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION!”

Extinction? How long had they been without, well, whatever it was they ate? “What, um, I’m so sorry to hear that. What do you usually eat here?” Small boys?

The Goron groaned, scratching himself a little harder. “IT’S ALL BECAUSE WE CAN’T ENTER OUR QUARRY, THE DODONGO CAVERN!” Now it began rubbing what Link deduced was its stomach. “WE GORONS LIVE ON A DIET OF ROCKS, YOU SEE.”

Link almost passed out with relief.  “Rocks,” he said faintly.

“AND THE MOST DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS ROCKS AROUND HERE ARE FOUND IN DODONGO’S CAVERN. BUT THAT SEEMS LIKE ANCIENT HISTORY NOW…” It groaned again.

Unable to help himself, Link voiced  what he thought was the obvious solution. “But you’re surrounded by rocks here. It’s a – a rock cave, isn’t it?” Right. As opposed to a cave made of pollen.

“YOU WOULD THINK THAT WOULD BE TRUE, I SUPPOSE. BUT YOU SEE, WE HAVE BECOME SUCH GOURMETS, THAT WE CAN’T STAND TO EAT ROCKS FROM ANYWHERE ELSE.” It sighed. “I WANT TO EAT THE TOP-SIRLOIN ROCKS FROM DODONGO’S CAVERN!”

Okay, Link thought. Now you’re whining. Geez. “I, um, gee. I wish I could help.” He shrugged, powerless to do anything more than sympathize. Most of his snarky thoughts had been the result of an almost palpable relief at learning he wasn’t about to become this Goron’s lunch. In reality, he did feel bad about the creature’s very obvious discomfort. He knew what it was like to be hungry, even if those few times he’d experienced it were the result of poor planning on his part when he’d gone exploring. What long-term hunger was like, he couldn’t imagine, but knew it had to be highly unpleasant.

“I DO, TOO, MY FRIEND.” With that, the Goron plopped back down and curled up again, becoming once more a strange-looking speckled boulder.

Link walked away, staring around as he went, and discovered a number of doorways in the walls around him. Some of these were covered with woven cloths, others stood open, while still others had stone doors. He was curious about the cloth coverings – could rocks weave? Or perhaps they bartered with a race of beings who could.

At the very center of the cavern, near the ceiling and above the gigantic urn, was a cone-shaped platform. From what he could see, the only way to reach it was to walk across one of the thick ropes securing it to wooden projections coming from the side of the circular walkway. Why would they do that?

And who was Dodongo?

He came to an opening that wasn’t a door at all, but the entrance to a kind of stairwell. Now he knew how to get to the lower levels. The steps went straight down, stopping at a landing, then continued in a direction perpendicular to the first. After a second landing, the stairs ran parallel to the top flight. He realized upon reaching the bottom that this set of stairs had bypassed the second level of the village altogether. Interesting.

So now he was facing the massive urn-thing. On the walls were more of those crazy round flowers he’d seen growing in the stone tunnel in the Lost Woods. Which made him wonder…

“Link, look!”

He saw her fly off, whiz past the urn, and disappear around the other side. What the heck? He followed, and found her hovering over a carpet of some kind that had been placed in front of one of the stone-door openings. Woven into it was the Triforce symbol.

Since something interesting always happened when he played the lullaby, and since he couldn’t see any obvious way to open the door, he took out his ocarina and played…

With a rumbling whoosh, the door slid open. Of course. Mysterious, too, perhaps. He went in, followed a tunnel-like corridor, and came out into a pleasant room lit by large torches. Hangings on the walls depicted Goron-y things from what he could tell, and here and there were shelves with large pots and a table or two.

Straight ahead was a massive chair of some sort, but that wasn’t what made Link pause in surprise. No, it was the individual standing beside it, arms crossed, looking outraged.

Wow, Gorons have beards? What are they made of – moss? He wasn’t being sarcastic this time.

“WHO ARE YOU?” the Goron bellowed at him. “WHEN I HEARD THE SONG OF THE ROYAL FAMILY, I EXPECTED THEIR MESSENGER HAD ARRIVED!”

“I – ”

“BUT YOU! YOU’RE JUST A LITTLE KID!”

“Yes, but I – ”

“HAS DARUNIA, THE BIG BOSS OF THE GORONS, LOST SO MUCH STATUS THAT HE’S TREATED LIKE THIS BY HIS SWORN BROTHER, THE KING?”

How would I know? “I – ”

“NOW I’M REALLY ANGRY! GET OUT OF MY FACE!”

And I’m really confused. If I were in your face, that would mean you were chewing on me… “I – forgot what I was going to say. Sorry. Are you upset because you’re hungry?” For some reason, the furious Goron wasn’t frightening Link at all, despite his obvious ire. There was something kind in the creature’s eyes…

“WHAT’S THAT? ARE YOU ASKING ME WHY I’M IN SUCH A BAD MOOD RIGHT NOW?”

“I suppose so, Sir.”

“THEN I’LL TELL YOU! ANCIENT CREATURES HAVE INFESTED DODONGO’S CAVERN! WE’VE HAD A POOR HARVEST OF OUR SPECIAL CROP, THE BOMB FLOWERS! STARVATION BECAUSE OF THE ROCK SHORTAGE! BUT…” His shoulders sagged and he uncrossed his arms, shaking his head with a mournful look. “THIS IS A GORON PROBLEM. WE REALLY DON’T NEED ANY HELP FROM STRANGERS.” He started to turn away.

“Link, cheer him up!” Navi hissed into the boy’s ear.

“With what, Navi? I can’t remember any jokes right now.”

“With a song, Link! A happy song!”

A happy song. Well, the happiest song he knew was on the ocarina, and it was the one Saria had taught him. The Skull Kid seemed to like it, so maybe the Goron would, too. “All right.” He was still holding the little instrument, so he put it to his lips and began to play.

Darunia stopped, turning back. His eyes widened, his mouth dropped open, and for some reason began swinging his massive arms about, his head swaying from side to side, as he launched into the most bizarre version of dancing Link had ever seen.

The boy took a few steps back, but kept repeating the melody, figuring this rock-man might be a mite miffed if he stopped. Shouting and leaping, the Goron kept up the wild dance, his already wide grin growing and nearly splitting his face in half.

Several minutes of hooting and shouting later, Darunia stopped, his expression pretty much the opposite of what it had been when he’d first seen Link. Lowering the ocarina, the boy smiled.

“HEY! WHAT A NICE TUNE!”

Nice? From the way the creature had been cavorting about, Link was expecting an adjective  that was a bit more extreme than “nice.”

“JUST LIKE THAT – ” Darunia snapped his fingers, “ – MY DEPRESSION IS ALL GONE! SOMETHING JUST CAME OVER ME – I – I SUDDENLY WANTED TO DANCE LIKE CRAZY!” He cleared his throat, his countenance growing serious once more. “AS I STATED, I AM DARUNIA. I AM THE BIG BOSS OF THE GORONS. NOW. WAS THERE SOMETHING YOU WANTED TO ASK ME ABOUT?”

“Well, yes. You see, I’m on a quest to find the Spiritual Stone of Fire and the Blue St- ”

“WHAT?! YOU WANT THE SPIRITUAL STONE OF FIRE, TOO?!”

Uh-oh. It sounded like Ganondorf had already been there. And if the look on Darunia’s face was any indication, it hadn’t been a pleasant visit.

“SURELY YOU KNOW THAT THE STONE, ALSO KNOWN AS THE GORON RUBY, IS OUR RACE’S HIDDEN TREASURE!”

Link shook his head. “No, but I understand. My Sword was the hidden treasure of the Kokiri. Of course, it isn’t hidden any more, I guess.”

Narrowing his eyes, Darunia leaned forward, inspecting Link. “I SENSE YOU HAVE GOOD IN YOU, AND MIGHT EVEN BE SOMEONE I COULD TRUST WITH THE RUBY. BUT WAIT – I’M NOT JUST GOING TO GIVE IT TO YOU THAT EASILY. NO, MY BOY. IF YOU WANT IT SO BADLY…” He gave the boy a shrewd look, stroking his beard with two fingers that were each bigger than Link’s arms. “WHY DON’T YOU GO DESTROY THE MONSTERS INSIDE OF DODONGO’S CAVERN AND PROVE YOU’RE A REAL MAN, EH?”

A real man, Link repeated silently. I’m a little boy, in case you hadn’t noticed

“THAT WAY,” the Goron continued, “EVERYBODY WILL BE HAPPY AGAIN!”

Yes, including these monsters that get to tear me apart and have me for supper

“IF YOU DO IT, I WILL GIVE YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT – EVEN THE SPIRITUAL STONE!”

Easy to promise that to some kid who’s about to get munched. “I, um, sure.”

“INDEED? WELL! I HAVE SOMETHING FOR YOU, THEN. I’M NOT REALLY GIVING YOU THIS IN RETURN FOR ANYTHING, BUT TAKE IT ANYWAY.” He lumbered over to one of the chests near the wall, yanked it open, and reached inside. When he turned back, he thrust something toward Link.

The boy took it with a frown – it looked like some kind of metal wrist-band shaped vaguely like a crown, the symbol etched and enameled in red on one side the same he’d seen elsewhere in this village cave.

“IF YOU WEAR THIS,” Darunia told him, “EVEN A LITTLE FELLA LIKE YOU CAN PICK A BOMB FLOWER.”

Oh, good. You noticed my size. Wait – what’s… “What’s a bomb flower?”

“WHY, IT’S OUR CROP – YOU SEE THEM ALL OVER THE WALLS AND GROWING HERE AND HERE ON THE GROUND. WHEN YOU PULL ONE UP, IT BEGINS TO GLOW. PLACE IT NEXT TO SOME ROCKS YOU WANT TO BLOW UP,  OR MAYBE DO SOME EXCAVATING WITH IT. AFTER A FEW MOMENTS IT EXPLODES!”

So that’s what those plants were! And now he’d be able to pick them, apparently. He slid the metal cuff onto his wrist, not sure if it would be too large, but to his astonishment, it seemed to shrink the moment he slid his hand through, and fit itself securely over his wrist and part of his lower arm. Something told him it probably wouldn’t come off very easily, if at all, but he really didn’t care about that.

In fact, he felt something like a jolt of lightning rush up his arm a second later and gave Darunia a surprised look. The Goron laughed and told him to find some bomb flowers to pick so he could get used to his new strength.

Link nodded, thanked the huge creature, and went out. As he did, he thought he heard Darunia say something about a prophecy, but couldn’t be sure.

He climbed the stairs to the top, not wanting to pick any of the flowers he saw in the village because he didn’t believe the residents would appreciate some kid running around blowing holes in their walls. Maybe he’d find some outside. With this in mind, he headed back into the tunnel that led to the mountain pass. He’d noticed a conspicuous lack of Stalchildren up here, and it occurred to him that they might not be able to survive on mountains for some reason.

It was full dark when he got outside, but that didn’t bother him. He was getting tired, though, and considered going back into Kakariko Village to see if someone would give him a bed for the night.

“Listen! What’s over there, Link?”

Navi had been silent for so long, he’d almost forgotten she was there. “Huh?”

The fairy flitted away, heading for the opening Link hadn’t bothered to explore earlier.

“Okay…” Following, he found himself in a small fenced area that ended at another cliff. In the center of an area with its own little fence on three sides, was one of the bomb flowers. And sitting in front of this was what he now recognized as a Goron in a state of repose.

Link tried to tiptoe past the creature, but as soon as he got within a few feet of it, the Goron groaned and stood up, blinking and staring around in what looked like confusion. Finally, it settled its gaze on the boy and smiled.

It explained that it was experimenting with their crop, and had been growing a large flower outside to see how well it did.

“That one, yes?” Link pointed.

“Yes – and I see you have a Goron Bracelet. Go ahead and see if you can pull up the flower.”

“But aren’t you trying to grow it?”

The Goron chuckled. “Looks like you’ve never picked one before. As soon as you do, another grows in its place!”

“Oh.” He was about to try pulling it up when he realized something – the Goron’s voice wasn’t booming. He looked up at it in surprise. “Why aren’t you as loud as the others?”

“You think we’re loud?”

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“Not really. But when we’re outside, we whisper so we don’t disturb the birds and such.”

“You’re whispering?”

“Of course. Now let’s see if you can pick that flower.”

Right. Sure. Pick the flower. He went to it, bent down, and place his hands on its round sides. It didn’t feel much like a flower, he thought, and tugged. With a small popping sound, it came free, and Link laughed with delight. He’d actually picked one of them!

A second later, the laugh turned into a gasp as the globe began to pulse orange and heat emanated to its surface from deep inside. “Uh-oh.”

“You’d better throw that away somewhere,” the Goron advised unnecessarily.

Link looked around quickly, trying to find the best place to toss it. If it really exploded like Darunia said, it might cause an avalanche (Frega used to talk about those) that would damage Kakariko Village.

The pulses grew quicker until it was strobing almost too fast to see. Desperate, Link went to the edge of the cliff on the other side of the smaller fencing, and tossed it over the edge.

The explosion that ensued was much noisier than the boy had anticipated. In fact, it sounded like a great deal of material was still hitting the ground long after the explosion itself had faded. He looked over the edge to see what had been hit by the flower and made out a pile of stony rubble far below illuminated by the light of a full moon. The Goron came to stand beside him, also looking down.

“Oh! How smart you are!” the large being exclaimed. “I don’t know why I never thought of that!”

Thought of what? “Um, what?”

“Now the Dodongo Cavern is unblocked and we can eat again!”

Ah – it must have blown up that huge boulder. “What about the monsters inside?” Or the Goron sitting in front of the cavern? Uh-oh.

The Goron’s glee faded. “Oh, yes. Those. Can you destroy them?”

Link was genuinely confused by this request. He was ten years old, and what – four feet tall? The Gorons, on the other hand, were massive and seemed to be made of rock. Why couldn’t they go fight whatever was in the cavern themselves? Darunia certainly seemed brave and strong enough.

As if it had heard and understood the boy’s thoughts, the Goron  said, “We used to be a race of warriors. We helped the King of Hyrule in the past to defeat his enemies. But something has happened. When that evil man from the desert came, he cast a spell or something on all who could be a threat to him, and now…now we starve, now we are weak, now we do not have the will to fight. Can you help us, shield-bearer?”

Ah, so that was it! Because he had a shield and a sword, they must have assumed he was some kind of warrior himself. Link stared up at the Goron, not sure what to say. On the one hand, he felt these creatures deserved honesty from him, to be told he was only a child of the forest who was new to this world of enemies and danger. On the other hand, he had fought and defeated the terrifying Gohma and a bunch of other deadly things…

The Goron was giving him a hopeful look, and Link heard himself say, “I can try. I promise.” Wait – did I just say that? Aw, heck.

“Thank you! What is your name, friend?”

“Link.”

“You will be remembered for this, Link! Thank you!”

With a weak smile, the boy nodded – remembered? For what? Getting himself killed? Sheesh. “Guess I’d better get going, then, yes?”

“Good-bye, Link! The Goron people are in your debt!”

Not yet, you aren’t, he thought, glum. The moon had only moved a little, and he figured he had at least a couple of hours in which to sleep before the sun came up. With a wave, he left the Goron to guard the new flower that had sprouted up moments after the other had been picked.

“What are you going to do, Link?”

“Sleep, Navi. And get something to eat. Then, in the morning, I’ll have some breakfast if I can, and...Yeah. I’ll go into this cavern of theirs and see if I can survive long enough to help them.”

Had Link been able to see Navi’s features, he would have caught a look of pride shining in her eyes. “Good thinking! Let’s go!”

Chapter Fourteen

 

As it turned out, Link had decided not to wake anyone up in the middle of the night to ask for somewhere to rest, so he’d gone into the mill for warmth and curled up in a corner. The crowing of cuccoos had wakened him a few hours later, and without taking time to check further into the mill’s interior, he’d gone out and knocked on Anju’s door.

She’d been very kind, giving him a hearty breakfast and wishing him well in his quest when he left. When he approached the guard at the gate to the mountain pass several minutes later, the man greeted him with a friendly smile.

“Glad to see you survived! I wasn’t on duty when you came down – the other guard told me you’d made it, though.”

“Oh.” He hadn’t really noticed, not that he would have been able to discern the other man’s features in the dark anyway. “Thanks.”

“Hey, you going to Hyrule Town today, by any chance?”

Yes. I though I’d try to get there by way of this mountain… “Not really.”

“Aw, too bad. I was hoping you could check out the Happy Mask Shop for me.”

Feeling ashamed for thinking crabby thoughts, he looked down, frowning. He honestly wasn’t in any hurry to deal with whatever was big and bad enough to frighten huge people made of rock, and the man seemed to want to do something nice for his child… “I suppose I could go.”

“Really? You’d do that? Wow, what a great kid you are! I’ll pay you back when you bring me the mask – we don’t get our pay until lunchtime around here, or I’d give you the rupees for it now.”

Link couldn’t imagine something like a mask costing more rupees than he had at the moment, which was more than he’d collected in his whole life. The spider-cursed family had given him an adult-sized wallet that could hold up to two hundred green rupees, and the thing was full. “It’s not a problem. I’ll go now.”

Not until he was out of the village and halfway down the mountainside stairs did Navi finally speak. “You promised the Gorons you’d go into the cavern, Link.”

“I know, Navi. I plan to keep that promise.”

She uttered a tiny sigh and said nothing else about it. The boy appreciated this, not being at all in the mood for getting nagged all the way to Hyrule Castle Town.

It was midday by the time they crossed the drawbridge; wasting no time in the storage building – Link wasn’t even sure the same guard would be there – he headed straight for the shop at the far end of the Town’s large square. It was easy to recognize as a mask shop because the entire front of it was shaped, well, like a mask.

A man stood behind the counter, who greeted Link with a grin. Behind him was a wall of shelves. Odd, the boy thought, that only one mask was on it, sitting alone amid a lot of nothing.

“Hyeee! Welcome to the Happy Mask Shop!” The man’s smile barely moved out of place. “We deal in masks that bring happiness to everyone!”

“Thank you.” Link gave him a nod and began to study a board nearby on which mask prices had been listed. He studied it for a while, trying to make out its meaning, and finally concluded that the masks weren’t really for sale. Or some such thing. What he couldn’t understand was the why or how of it.

Even less logical to him was that there was only the one mask to choose from. Perhaps others had already taken the rest. He went to the counter, biting his lip, and stared at the mask with a frown. He pointed at it. “What do you call that?”

“A Keaton Mask. It’s very special and extremely popular at the moment.” Grin.

“And I pay you to take it?”

“Not exactly. How would you like to be a happiness salesman?”

“Huh?”

“I’ll lend you a mask, you see. Then you sell the mask and make that person very happy. Then you bring the money back here and make me very happy.” Grin.

Sounded like an awful lot of extra work…

“If you want to read the fine print, take a look at the sign right over there.” Grin.

Was the man blind? What did he think Link had been doing a few seconds ago? “I did, sir, but I didn’t understand much of it.”

“Ah. Well, the important thing to know is that after you’ve sold all the masks, you will become happy yourself!” Bigger grin.

“Wait – what do you mean ‘all’ the masks? There’s only one.”

“Yes. There is. Right now. Have faith, boy.” Massive, scary grin.

“S-sure. Er, how much is that one?” He pointed to the Keaton mask again. This guy would make an interest Stalchild.

“Ten rupees!”

Whoopee! “Okay.”

The man took down the mask and handed it over, reminding Link that he didn’t need to pay him until the mask had been sold to to someone else. “Why, you can even wear it yourself until then, and show it off!” The grin was beginning to look painful. “You’ll be a popular guy with it on!”

Yeah, that’s what I want to do…Link thanked the man and left as quickly as he could without losing all sense of dignity.

“We should really go back to the mountain, Link.”

“Yes, Navi. I wonder if the guy has fairy-sized masks.”

“You’re very strange sometimes, Link.”

The boy controlled a snicker and headed back to the drawbridge.

By the time they reached the guard, he was getting ready to end his shift and asked Link if he’d passed his replacement on his way there.

“I didn’t pass anyone. Here.” He took out the mask. “The guy in the shop says it’s ten rupees. Is that okay?”

“You got it! Guess that really does make you a hero, wha-ha-ha! Here.” He reached into a pouch under his breastplate and dumped a handful of green rupees into Link’s hand. “Is that enough?”

Link counted them. “Actually, it’s too much. You gave me fifteen.”

The man laughed and put the mask on. “Keep the change, kid! You earned it!” He chuckled, his voice slightly muffled by the fox face covering his own. “Think I’ll get a laugh out of my boy if I walk in the door like this?”

Or a scream of terror… “You, um, yeah! I’m sure he’ll love it.”

“You really ought to pay the mask shop owner back now, Link,” whispered Navi. “Just in case.”

He wanted to ask her what the heck she meant by that, but the guard was talking about how he’d been told there was an explosion on Death Mountain the night before, and that Link should be very careful if he was going back up there.

Without bothering to explain that he knew all about that explosion, he nodded and said he’d be careful, but that now he had to go pay for the mask. Not that he felt like trudging all the way back to the Town. If he didn’t though, Navi would nag him without mercy. Dang.

As they were crossing the drawbridge again, it occurred to Link that Navi was probably concerned about his chances of surviving that stupid cavern. After all, if he got killed, the shop owner would never get paid for his mask. Great. And the sun was going down, too.

This time, two masks stood on the shelves – another Keaton Mask and one that looked like a horned animal skull. As soon as he handed the owner the ten rupees, he was given the new one.

“But – ”

“Now go make someone else happy! This one costs twenty rupees! Byeee!”

Crap. I really don’t have time for this. Frowning, he left the shop. “You know what?”

“No, Link, what?”

“I don’t care if he’s waiting for his rupees. I have a promise to keep, and if I get killed, someone else can take this stupid mask and either sell it or give it back. Since I doubt my death will mean you die, too, you can tell whoever it is that this is what I want. Unless some monster eats it first.”

“The drawbridge is closing.”

“And another thing – why do we have to do all this stuff in the first place? I mean, yeah, I promised Zelda I’d collect all the Spiritual Stones, but why wouldn’t Darunia give it to me if he was such great friends with the King, who happens to be Zelda’s father?”

“You’re climbing up the drawbridge, Link. It’s almost closed.”

“Whatever. I mean, sure, I didn’t exactly tell him she’d sent me, but the fact that I knew that song should have clued him in, wouldn’t you think?”

“Link, you’re about to – ”

Splash! Coughing and spitting out water, Link climbed up onto the bank and turned to glare at the now-closed drawbridge. He’d been so wrapped up in his thoughts, he hadn’t realized he was heading to the end of the bridge as it was being raised, so had walked right off the edge and fallen into the moat.

“I tried to warn you,” Navi said quietly.

Link took a deep breath and decided that the way things were going, he should probably wait until morning to enter the cavern. Which meant finding a place to sleep…the sound of dirt being frantically shoveled behind him made him stand a little straighter and slowly draw out the Sword. “There’s a Stalchild behind me, isn’t there.”

“Yes, Link.”

He nodded and spun around, lashing out with the Sword. The creature fell with a satisfying crunch, and Link, thinking he’d probably get severely injured if he stopped to play the ocarina, turned toward the stairs leading to Kakariko Village, and took off at a dead run. This had definitely become a bad day for an adventure.

He slept in the mill again, got a bite to eat from Anju after explaining what he’d found himself doing the day before, and went back to the gate. The guard waved and smiled, shouting after the boy that his son had loved his present.

Up ahead, after the first bend in the path, Link heard a horribly familiar sound. The leaping thud of a Tektite so early in the morning was not his idea of fun. At least they were easy to dispatch.

When he reached the mouth of the cavern, he paused to make sure his equipment was secure. The recumbent Goron hadn’t stirred as he passed, so he didn’t bother to disturb him – or her, maybe? How did one tell the difference? He was just glad that the explosion hadn’t harmed the Goron at all.

Plenty of light shined into the entrance, showing him two interesting facts: a wall of stone covered what should have been the continuation of the way in, and several bomb flowers were growing nearby. No-brainer.

This time, he’d set the explosive plant down and back away in plenty of time. Once the wall was down, he found himself looking at a very strange place, indeed. Directly ahead was a wooden jetty that had been built over what appeared to be a lake of liquid fire. Pathways led around the outer sides of this, and which ran below walls too high for him to climb up. In the middle of the lake was a small, raised island with some kind of statue at its center, and behind that, a face had been somehow carved into the rock. Not a Goron face, a Kokiri, human or Hylian face – something else with which Link was completely unfamiliar. It looked almost reptilian and was gigantic.

The word “Dodongo” came to mind – after all, this was called Dodongo’s Cavern, so maybe this was a representative of whomever or whatever this Dodongo was.

Another thing he noticed was that the place was uncomfortably hot. Only a few feet in, and he was already sweating.

“Are you hot, Navi?” he asked before she could point out how hot it was.

“No, Link. I’m a fairy.”

“What – so you don’t feel heat?”

“Or cold.”

“Well, I do.”

“I know.”

“Will I be able to function in here, do you think?”

“I don’t know, Link. But you should try.”

No joking. “Yep. I should.” He took a deep, unhappy breath. “Okay. Let’s do this.” He had no idea what “this” was, but moving was better than standing still.

Chapter Fifteen

 

“Those are lava pits, not a lake,” Navi explained. They were standing at the end of the wooden pier, Link peering over the edge after asking her about what he assumed was a fiery lake of some sort.

“Lava?”

“Yes, Link. It’s what comes out of volcanoes. Melted rock.”

“Saria told me about that, but I don’t think she used the word ‘lava.’ What would happen if I fell in?”

“You’d die.”

“Oh. Well, that’s great. How am I supposed to get any further than this, then?”

As if the cave heard his question, something began to rumble from deep within the lava, and a moment later, three smaller, round islands arose, one of them right in front of him. Lava dripped from its sides, and it remained still for several minutes, only to sink downward again. This time, however, it didn’t become immersed in the lava, but stopped with its top several feet above it.

Link waited. Watched. Waited. And sure enough, it began to rise again. When it was level with both him and the larger island on the other side, it stopped once more. A few more of these movements, and the remaining lava on its surface appeared to have cooled enough for him to stand on.

“Okay. Next time it comes up, we go.” He swallowed, uncomfortable in the heat and wishing he’d put some water in the bottle Anju had given him. He did have the milk, but he suspected he’d be better served waiting for an emergency to use it.

The little island came back up, and Link leaped across the gap between it and the pier. As soon as his feet hit the surface, he took a few running steps and jumped again, this time landing solidly on the larger island.

“Look out!”

Before he could react, something struck the ground beside him, nearly hitting his feet. He looked up and realized a beam had shot from the head of the statue. Taking a sideways leap, he scurried around past it, only to feel the heat of its ray scorching the back of his tunic.

The way he’d gone had brought him in line with another of the three small, moving islands, the one to the left of the larger one. Even though it wasn’t quite level with him yet, he jumped and ducked. Heart racing, he risked looking back at the statue, only to find it was no longer moving.

The head, which lacked a face and had instead one eye at its center, had revolved, tracking him. Now that he was no longer on its island, it had gone dormant.

“Dang. How do I fight something like that?” He shook his head and straightened. The island had completed its ascent, so he jumped again, this time landing on the higher ground that had been unreachable from the entrance to the cavern.

The long wall facing him had a path blocked by metal bars and several arched areas that looked like doorways, except these were blocked by purposely-constructed piles of stone. That would have been the end of the matter, except for the bomb flowers growing at intervals on this path. He pulled one up, still delighted at his ability to do so, and dropped it carefully in front of the blockage to his immediate left. He ran off, crouched down, and waited.

When the flower exploded, the stones crumbled, revealing a deep alcove. He went in and found a large chest just like the ones he’d encountered in the Great Deku Tree. Eagerly, he pulled it open and found one of the scrolls he knew would open into a map.

“Now I need one of those compass things,” he muttered, peering at the sketched layout. Here, he felt, the map would be particularly helpful, if the size of the place was any indication.

“Look out, Link!”

“Huh?” He lowered the map and looked around. A second later he saw it – another of the one-eyed statues several feet further down the path. It hadn’t detected him yet, apparently, and he wasn’t about to change that. Tucking the map into his belt, he decided to see what was on the other side.

Yes, that would mean dealing with the deadly statue in the middle of the larger island, but he’d realized that running really fast was a pretty good way to avoid its deadly beam. As soon as the smaller island rose high enough, he leaped onto it, then across to the middle one. Going at top speed, he made it to the other side and onto the smaller island there before the statue’s ray of death could connect with him.

On the other pathway, now, he saw things were a little different. A larger, unblocked opening was a few feet away, its bottom edge too high up for Link to clamber over. Framed in riveted metal, it wasn’t far from a blocked arch, and in front of that, yet another of the statues.

“I wonder…” Again, a bomb flower grew nearby. He went to it, plucked it, and steeling himself, ran toward the statue. When he was close enough to be detected, he tossed the flower and ran back the other way.

Boom! Thunk-thunk-thunk-sizzle…

The first sound was the flower exploding, of course, but the next sequence of noises came from the head of the statue, which had blown off, hit the ground, and bounced three times before going over the edge and disappearing into the lava pit.

Link smiled.

The walled-up archway was no challenge at all, naturally, and after introducing it to a bomb flower, he entered what turned out not to be another alcove, but a pathway leading into a new area. Link had learned the importance of caution by now; he drew his Sword and went forward slowly. Less than a minute later, he was glad he had.

Sounding a lot like the emergence of a Stalchild, a scratching noise began a foot or so in front of him, and dirt began puffing upward. And then the ground erupted as a creature that looked suspiciously like a relative of the giant stone face in the main cavern crawled out. Much, much smaller than its stone counterpart, the creature nevertheless looked dangerous and Link backed away.

The lizard-like thing appeared to sniff the air, but soon focused its attention on Link and charged forward, its stubby legs propelled, it seemed, by its long, scaly tale. This was nothing like the little newts Link used to coax up a stick in the Lost Woods. No, those were actually rather cute. These – the boy got out of the way a second before a huge mouth full of needle-like teeth nearly chomped down on his leg.

Uttering his involuntary yell of fear and fury, he slashed downward with all his might. Perhaps it was the Goron bracelet, or maybe he was getting stronger, but his swing took the thing’s head with it.

That was when two more of them burst from the ground, one in front and one beside him. He managed to mortally wound one after killing the other, and saw something really different happening – the dead lizard-creatures, Dodongo babies, whatever they were, had begun to glow red and pulse in a way very similar to the bomb flowers right before they…

“Run, Link!”

He didn’t really need the encouragement, and got far enough away to avoid injury when the things blew up. Bits of Dodongo rained down around him and he grimaced with disgust.

“Look, Link! It opened a hole in the wall!!”

“Where – oh. There’s something blocking the way further in, though.” He went into the alcove and stopped at a huge metal-clad door. Before he could ask Navi’s opinion about it, the thing slid up, giving him access to a fairly large chamber lit by a single torch in its center.

Scratchity-scratch, scritchity-scratch.

Gold Skulltula. Which would have been fine, had it not been for the two bat-like creatures flanking it on the wall where it hung. They were the same kind of creatures he’d encountered in the tomb.

“I know this one,” he said quietly, taking out the sling-shot and arming it. “Nasty things.” He took careful and…done. Now for the Skulltula. A few well-placed slashes with the Sword, and he was collecting its medallion.

“Come on, Link.”

No, really? I so wanted to just hang out in here all day. “Yes, Navi.” He turned right when they went out, looking carefully in all directions for more of what with his luck probably were babies of that Dodongo creature.

What was confusing him a little was why the Gorons, who seemed so peaceful and pleasant, would have any kind of dealings whatsoever with the leg-chewing, exploding lizardy things. And if the babies were this obnoxious, what must their parent be like?

As soon as that question crossed his mind, he regretted thinking it. Something told him with a great deal of confidence that he was going to find out before he got done here.

Two more of the dear little Dodongos burst through the dusty ground and lunged at him, but he killed one and leaped onto a higher part of the path before the second could reach him. Ahead, the path ended at a stone wall, but to his left was another pier-like structure. It wasn’t all that high up, but when he climbed up, the bars over the door to which it led remained shut.

Great. Now what? There didn’t seem to be anywhere else to go. He jumped back down, barely noticing the horned statues on either side of the pier. Between them, was one of those topless pyramid-like things he’d stepped on to activate a torch in the Deku Tree.

Curious, he stepped on it. The door opened. He took his foot off. The door shut again. Dang. Obviously, he’d have to put something on the switch to hold it down so he could access the door.

Navi had turned green and was bouncing up and down over the statue on his left. Link put his head to one side, giving the thing another look. It appeared to be chiseled from stone and had what could have been a shield of some kind across its chest area and was holding a short stone sword in one hand. It was about the same height as Link, but if it weighed a ton, that wouldn’t matter. Still…

With a shrug and a passing acknowledgement that Navi only turned that color when she was trying to make a point, he walked to the statue, grasped the square shield on either side, and pulled.

It moved. Delighted, Link pulled it forward until it was parallel with the switch, then tugged it sideways until it was resting squarely on top. The bars slid up and he stepped away from the statue. The door remained unblocked.

“Ha!” He climbed back onto the pier and went to the door, which opened for him immediately. Cautious, he headed inside.

The first thing he noticed was that he was in a passageway with another iron-clad door not too far ahead. The second thing was the presence of two more of the bat-like creatures, one on either wall between him and the door.

Thwack! Squeak! Thwack! Squeak! He took a deep breath and headed for the door. As he passed the fallen creatures, he gave them a quick glance to make sure they weren’t moving – getting bitten on the kneecap by a ticked-off bat wasn’t something he felt up to at the moment.

The metal door whooshed open, and he stepped through. Immediately, the door closed again, the familiar metal bars slamming down in front of it. Ho-hum. Not so ho-hum, however, was the thing running toward him.

He was in a room that looked as if the ground had been broken up by what he now knew was lava, making small land areas separated by rivers of it. In the middle was a larger pile of rock that went farther up than he had time to calculate.

A sudden, angry shriek made the boy spin about in surprise. A creature that looked like an obscenely large newt leaped across the crack between the section to Link’s right and the one he was on. What was really disturbing was that the lizard was running on its hind legs, was wearing some kind of short, leather-like breastplate, and had a long, sword-like dagger in one…hand? No, claw? Paw? There was no time to waste on that one, nor to wonder why this place was so infested with reptilian beings. The boy’s full attention was being demanded by his need to survive.

He ducked, the large Hylian shield acting almost like the shell of a tortoise that deflected the lizard-creature’s blade. As soon as it struck, it backed off, preparing to swing at him again.

Link used this moment to straighten and thrust at it with the point of his Sword. He felt it connect with the thing’s soft abdomen; it screamed at him and lashed out with its blade.

Ducking under the shield once more, the boy waited until it had backed off again, and this time swiped at one of its legs. The creature shrieked in agony and hopped away, heading this time for a different section to the left.

Before Link had time to wonder if it would be coming back any time soon, he saw that another one had appeared and joined the first. They waved their arms at each other for a second, and the new one charged ahead, taking its comrade’s place.

They went through the same dance, but this time, Link suffered a rather deep slash across his chest – he’d stood up too quickly, and the thing was ready for him. It had possibly been watching and figured out the boy’s tactics.

With a grunt of pain, Link ducked again, this time waiting a little longer to stand straight and attack. He missed, tried a second thrust, and got cut again for his efforts. Not good. His arm was getting tired, his chest hurt, and the heat was making him dizzy.

“Get away from it, Link! Find some fruit!”

Fruit? Here? Was she serious?

The original attack-lizard suddenly bounded back toward the boy as its partner went off somewhere else. Link must have wounded it more than he’d realized. He took a deep breath, allowing his fear to give fuel to his attack, and began a wild flurry of thrusts and parries the second the creature got within range. A moment later, with an ear-splitting scream, the thing clutched its midsection and tumbled to the ground, its blood seeping between the stones and evaporating almost immediately.

The other one returned.

“Dang.” Weary, Link decided to try something new. He reached into his satchel and took out a large Deku nut. When the lizard was only a few feet away, he slammed it into the ground at its feet.

It froze. Link was astonished. The thing had turned a weird bluish color and stopped moving, almost as if it had been turned to stone.

“Hit it, Link!”

He did. Over and over, until it began returning to mobility, but by then it was too injured to fight back. Within seconds, it was over, and it crumpled to the ground beside its companion.

It had become almost impossible for the boy to catch his breath. He was hurt, tired, hot, and thirsty.

“Over here, Link!”

He blinked, squinting, and saw that Navi had flown to the farthest section of ground near another door; this one had been covered by the metal bars as well, but now they were gone. Beside it was something Link couldn’t quite make out. He jumped over, almost missing the edge, and dragged himself to the spot where Navi was floating.

Pots. Clay pots. And?

“Break them, Link!”

It only took a half-hearted swing to do this, but when he did, he found several pieces of the heart-shaped fruit had been inside. Eagerly, he picked them up and ate them, and was immediately filled with renewed strength and energy. The cuts stopped oozing and his skin began to knit together almost instantly. He wasn’t as thirsty now either, but even the fruit couldn’t do anything about the heat or the rips in his tunic.

He went to the door, and when it opened, went through. He seriously doubted he’d find a nice, comfy bed here or a barrel of cool water…nope. A different kind of place, though. The light in this passageway wasn’t the fiery red of the last area, but a serene, restful blue. Strange. Maybe things wouldn’t be so awful here. Maybe – nah. Not likely. And in another minute, Link was going to find out exactly how right he was about that.

Chapter Sixteen

The pathway wound around to the left before opening into a divided area. Metal torch stands were barely discernible in the dim blue light, and he could see that the path was split by a large section of divided wall down the center. He took the right-side path, noticing as he went that the torch stands, positioned at the breaks in the wall, were unlit. Before he could discover their purpose, he stopped, his attention riveted by a new challenge. What he was facing now was yet another species of lizard, only this one looked like a larger, slightly armored version of the baby Dodongos – if that was what they were.

This kind had spikes going up its tail in a straight line, getting smaller to eventually become a bony ridge along its back. It’s head appeared to have some sort of natural bone mask, the purpose for which became a little bit clearer when the thing turned, saw Link, and promptly opened its mouth. A plume of fire issued forth, nearly frying the boy. He leaped back, wondering how in the world he was supposed to do battle with something that hissed flame.

The creature, however, didn’t seem very concerned about Link. Having issued its fiery warning, it turned away as if completely unimpressed with the boy’s presence.

Link scowled at it. If it didn’t care about him being there, why had it attacked? Or was it merely letting the boy know he was being observed? No, that didn’t seem right…

“The tail, Link! Hit the tail!”

What? Why? Whatever. He took a deep breath, raised his blade and executed the forward jump he’d been taught, followed by a hard, downward cut.

The creature roared and started to turn toward him, but Link ran behind it, keeping it’s body between him and its head. He hit the tail again and flame shot out of the lizard’s mouth, leaving a deep scorch-mark on the stone wall to their right. Another hit. This time, it drew in a deep breath as if preparing to hiss out more fire, but instead, began making odd gulping noises.

A second later, its entire body began to pulse red and orange. Link knew what that meant and ran off to a safe spot behind the nearest center wall. The sound of the explosion nearly deafened him, unlike the quieter and slightly wetter detonation of the smaller version.

When the sound died away, his ears were ringing. “Better cover them next time,” he muttered, giving his head a shake. Where he had gone to get away from the blast was devoid of any other creatures. A few clay pots stood nearby, though. He broke one of them, and sure enough, a heart-fruit tumbled out. He ate it, and was relieved to find the ringing fade away as his eardrums healed.

“Okay.” He turned and headed down the other side of the path. It was empty, except for one of the metal torch stands – or was, until another of the fire-breathing Dodongos lumbered around the corner.

Two dead, exploded Dodongos later, he decided to try lighting the torches to see what would happen. His hope was that the bars covering another door to his right would go away so he could get out of this place. A wooden torch stand, the kind he was accustomed to seeing, stood at one end of the path, and was lit.

Quickly, he took out a deku stick before Navi could tell him to do that very thing and he’d have to fight the temptation to swat her with it. Within a minute, he’d lit the last torch, and sure enough, the metal bars slid up, exposing the door.

This one led to yet another passage, but he could see its end – it was leading him back out into the main entrance part of the cavern. This was the opening that had been too high up for him to reach – apparently he’d gone in one, big loop.

Right before the edge of the opening was another of those topless pyramid-shaped switches. He really hoped he wouldn’t need to hold it down with something heavy to make it work, whatever it was for. He sheathed the Sword and  stepped on it.

A loud click was followed by the noise of something moving far away; the bars covering the opening on the ramp on the other side of the middle island had slid up. Nice. He jumped down from the opening and started across, remembering at the last moment about the one-eyed statue. Not so nice.

Experience was a great teacher, however, and he ran past the stupid thing, making it all the way across without mishap or death.

“I’m getting hungry, Navi, and I need water.” The need wasn’t dire at this point, but it seemed wise to him to at least start thinking about taking care of himself. Who knew how much longer he’d be here, or what kinds of other challenges he’d have to face before all was completed?

“There’s no water here, Link. But you do have some food with you.”

He nodded. “If I have to , I can drink some of Talon’s milk, I suppose.”

“Yes, you can do that. But let’s see what’s in here first, okay?”

“Okay.”

He stepped up to the door and it slid open. A short passage opened into a chamber dominated by a huge stone structure. Surrounding its base were a neat row of bomb flowers.

“What’s this?” he mused aloud. He’d never seen anything like it, but that was hardly surprising. Very little of what he’d encountered over the past several days had been familiar.

“Look, Link!”

He looked. Another arch filled in with stone, and to its left, a single bomb flower. He was beginning to wonder why whoever had stoned up the doors had bothered when these exploding flowers were so readily at hand to undo their work. Ah, well. He shrugged, picked the flower, and set it down in front of the arch, then backed away.

After the dust from the explosion cleared, he entered, met another metal door, and when it rose, walked into a round chamber with three of the horned statues grouped together on the far wall. The one in the middle was facing him, the other two facing left and right on either side of it. He could just make out the sides of a large chest behind them, and suspected it held the compass that would make it possible to read the map better.

He stared at the center statue for a moment – something looked different about this one. Huh. Well, only one way to find out. He grabbed for its stone shield.

“Roarrr!!” The statue suddenly became animated, hopping up and down, its base thudding against the ground in a way that made it obvious it was much heavier than the ones Link had dragged earlier.

The boy barely got out of the way, but the thing turned and followed him, roaring the whole time. He skittered backwards, praying there was nothing for him to trip over, and slashed at it with his sword.

And then it began to pulse red, orange, yellow, orange, red…Link had no time to do anything except cower down under his shield before it blew up, sending chunks of rock in every direction, including his.

“Ouch…” One of the chunks landed on his right foot, another slammed into the shield, knocking him to the ground.

“Link! Are you all right?”

“No,” he said tightly, wincing. “I – are there any pots around here?”

“Yes, Link – look!”

He limped to the side wall where she was hovering and broke one open with his sling-shot. A rupee. Great. A stupid, worthless green rupee. Sighing, he headed for the chest, not knowing what else to do.

As expected, he found the compass, but that didn’t do much for his injured foot, or the large bruise on his arm from falling. Without a word, he took the compass and headed slowly back out of the chamber.

The vast, somewhat monolithic structure was directly in front of him. He shook his head and sat down in a gap between the row of bomb flowers. Opening his satchel, he removed some bread, a few berries, the leftover piece of cheese he’d gotten from Anju, and his bottle of Lon Lon milk. He was tired, hungry, and hurt. The fact that he was seated between an array of explosive plants meant nothing to him right then.

Navi seemed to sense his need to be left alone, and flew off to inspect something in another part of the chamber.

As he ate, Link began to feel a little better. It was tempting to remove his boot and see how bad the damage to his foot was, but it might also upset him, so he left it alone. When he was finished eating, he took the  covering off his bottle and took a swig.

The milk had been invigorating when he’d had some at the ranch, but he hadn’t been injured at the time. Now, he was able to appreciate exactly how extensive the power of that milk was. The throbbing in his foot dissipated slowly but completely, the bruise on his arm went away, and he felt like he’d just woken up from a very long, refreshing night of uninterrupted sleep.

“Navi!”

“Yes, Link?” She zoomed back in an instant.

“This milk is amazing!” He held up the bottle, inspecting the creamy white liquid in the greenish light. “I’m as well as if I’d eaten a whole bowl of heart fruit!”

“Oh, Link – that’s great! Be sure to save some, though. You know, in case.”

He knew what she meant and nodded. “Well, guess we should figure out the riddle of this – this thing.” He reached back and patted the structure against which he’d been sitting.

It really didn’t take much thought to figure out the purpose of the bomb flowers around its base, nor the open space where he’d sat. Even though he couldn’t imagine why he needed to detonate them, he knew he had to.

Picking the newly-sprouted flower near the arch, he brought it to the gap, placed it gently down between the others, and backed all the way into the entrance to the other chamber.

In a rapid series of explosions, the flowers went off around the base, followed a moment later by a deep rumbling as the thing began to shake, stone-dust and dirt rising from the place where the flowers had been. And then – bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Where before there had only been a high wall, there were now six deep steps leading to what looked like ramps that ran along the left and right sides of the chamber. Link was far too short to climb them the normal way; he had to clamber up each one, take a couple of steps forward, and clamber up the next. When he reached the top, he looked down, impressed with how high up we was.

Taking the ramp to his right, he eventually got to the other side of the chamber…and suddenly felt like he was back in the Great Deku Tree. To his left was an opening that led to another of the metal-clad doors. But to his right was a gigantic web, in the middle of which was a Giant Skulltula; beside it, a Gold one chittered.

“Bleh. Didn’t think you guys would be here, too,” he grumped, fitting a deku seed into the sling-shot.

Once the large one had clattered, dead, to the ground, he dispatched the Gold ‘tula, climbed the web, and took its medallion form. He tried to jump down, but the strands were too sticky, and he had to climb back to the floor. Irritating…

“Let’s go, Link!”

Unable to stare directly at the fairy, who was busy fluttering around by his left ear, he stared instead at the floor and told himself she was trying to be helpful, nothing more. “Okay, Navi.”

They went to the metal door, and when it slid up, entered yet another chamber. Once again, metal bars clanged down behind him. Before he could ask the fairy who had put all these barriers inside every tree and cave in Hyrule, he was distracted by the unwelcome flapping of bat-wings.

“Look out, Link! These are fire-keese!”

Fire what? Not that it mattered – a bat was a bat as far as Link was concerned, and these – these were on fire. Purposely. Dang!

Dropping into a crouch, he whipped out the sling-shot. Thwack! Squeak! Thwack – ping!

Missed. Drat.

Thwack – ping!

Argh! It was lots harder to hit them when they were flying in unpredictable, almost spastic movements.

Thwack! Squeak!

Ah. One more, and this one was flying right at his head. He waited until it was nearly upon him, and – thwack! Splat! Squeeeeaak!!!

Yuk.

He stood, got his breathing under control, and took in the layout of the room. A circular pedestal of some sort took up most of its center, and it was surrounded, more or less, by more of the horned statues.

Great. Before attempting to learn whether these were the hopping-roaring-exploding sort, he took out his map and compass to see where another door he’d noticed in the room would lead him. This, too, was barred, but he suspected that the metallic gleam he could just make out on top of the pedestal might be one of those switches, which would probably open the metal bars.

According to the map, some kind of ramp led away from the room on the other side of that second door, and it looked like it was on a different level. Of course – he’d climbed all those deep steps and upward-slanting ramps to get here. Hmm. He wasn’t sure what the area at the far end of this new ramp was, but at least he could see it led somewhere.

He put the map and compass away, and circled the pedestal to make sure there wasn’t something he was missing. Nope. Horned statues all the way around. Why? What were they protecting?

“Link! There’s a ladder behind this one!”

He joined Navi on the side he’d already passed, peering around the statue there. Sure enough, he could make out the wooden sides of a ladder that would bring him to the top of the pedestal. Well, that solved the problem of how to get up there, but what about the problem of getting to the ladder? Would he get stomped at again? Or was this one of the lighter versions that didn’t do anything exciting.

Only one way to find out. He took a deep breath, approached the statue, and grabbed its stone shield with both hands…

Chapter Seventeen

The first time Link had crossed a rope bridge, he’d been six years old. The bridge in question was the one in Kokiri Village that ran from the upper level of the Shop to a raised mound several yards away. Narrow and shaky, it had nevertheless been fun rather than frightening for the little boy with almost no friends and no fairy. Here was something that could challenge him without words, without striking at him, something he could conquer all by himself and not have to worry about coming up with something smart to say. It would have been a perfect moment, in fact, when he’d reached the other side without falling, were it not spoiled by the presence of another Kokiri who had gotten there ahead of him somehow.

Fado. She’d applauded him and told him he must be very brave, and carried on at length about how amazing it was that he’d gotten across unscathed. She even gave him a blue rupee. What had been discouraging about this was the realization that this little girl, for all her seeming admiration of his feat, had herself managed to cross, and apparently – if her nonchalance about being there was any indication – had conquered the stupid bridge long before and probably many times.

Still, despite his shock at finding her there, he retained a sense of satisfaction; after that, he went across frequently. Once in a while he’d run. One time, he hopped on one foot, but this had nearly caused him to fall headlong off the side, and only by throwing himself flat onto his stomach had he stayed put.

Link experienced a brief memory-flash about all this when, upon leaving the chamber (the statue had been inactive after all), he found himself on the longest rope-bridge he’d ever seen. He might even have enjoyed crossing it, had it not been for the fire-keese that flew at him the moment he emerged, forcing him to run flat-out across its less-than-steady length. In fact, there were two sizeable gaps he had to jump, but they hardly registered, and it was a testimony to how good he’d gotten at retaining his balance on narrow, swaying paths while pelting along at top speed.

He outran the keese, and only after reaching the other side and turning around to make sure the danged thing hadn’t followed him, did he notice that this bridge had been erected over the top of the gigantic stone Dodongo head in the main room of the cavern.

“Huh. Look at that,” he muttered.

“That was very brave, Link.”

He made a face, disconcerted by how much she sounded like Fado – and right after he’d been thinking about that very incident, too. “Not really. I’ve done that kind of thing a lot.”

“Yes, but not so high up!”

“Nope. Not so high up. Same thing, though.” To him, anyway. To someone else, the height factor might have been a problem. He turned back toward the direction in which he’d been running.

A dark tunnel lay ahead, and he hesitated. “Navi, can you fly in a little way and tell me if you can see anything?”

“Sure, Link!” Off she went, returning more quickly than he’d expected. “It isn’t very long, and you’ll be able to see as soon as you go in.”

He hesitated a moment as the darkness made him think about how tired he was. He knew this was due in part to all the strenuous activity in which he’d been engaged since entering the cavern, but he was also pretty sure it had gotten rather later. The sky outside was certainly dark by now, and if he didn’t get some sleep soon, he’d start making really stupid mistakes.

“What’s wrong, Link?”

“Nothing. I’m…I’m really tired, Navi. If I knew it would be easy to get back up here, I’d find a way to get out and go back to the village for the night.”

“Maybe we can find a safe way down ahead.”

“Hmm. Okay.” Made sense, he thought, and entered the tunnel.

Only a few steps in, he was able to see the end as Navi had said, which gave him more than enough light to walk by. He could also hear something, an odd, metallic sound that he couldn’t put into a context of any kind. When he emerged from the tunnel, he found himself on a ledge with a wooden ladder propped against it, affording him a way to the lower section. He looked over the edge to see how far down it was, and was greeting by the sight of yet another new thing.

More or less circular in shape, it had metal projections on all sides that looked extremely sharp. As he watched, the thing slid slowly along the floor, only to slide back at more than twice the speed when it reached the wall. Back at the far wall, it stopped and returned, slow again.

Some more observation showed him there was enough room between the base of the ladder and the metal Whatever for him to get off safely. This area was divided by large wall sections; if he waited for the bladed slidey-thing to get to the other end of its quicker run, he’d have enough time to get past it into one of the spaces between walls.

He also realized the whole section was divided into a kind of grid, and if what his ears were telling him was accurate, there were more of the deadly objects sliding around on parallel paths. Well, he’d have to be careful, was all.

Being extremely tired actually worked in his favor this time.  He was moving more slowly, for one thing, but he was also semi-oblivious as his mind drifted periodically to thoughts of a soft bed…like the one at Lon Lon Ranch…no dreams…waking to a hearty breakfast…

“Link! Aren’t you going to push that?”

He blinked several times, finally realizing he was now standing in front of one of the cork-like blocks with no recollection of how he’d gotten there. “Oh. I – um, sure.” He leaned his shoulder against it and gave it a shove. Where was he pushing it to, and why? Feeling slightly foolish, he hauled himself up and stood on its top.

From this vantage point, he could see several interesting things. To his left was a narrow ledge in front of one of those stoned-up entry-ways. To his right, the tops of all those grid-forming walls. The one nearest had a chest on it, but not a huge one like those containing maps and such. He jumped to it, skirting a bomb flower growing nearby, and gave it a kick. The lid sprang up, and he took out…a red rupee.

“Great. Don’t need that.” Dropped it back inside and turned around.

Bomb flower. Wall of stones. Ladder to wall. Movable block. Bed. I need a bed. Not exploding flowers. Bleh.

“Link?”

“I know, Navi – throw the stupid bomb flower at the wall.”

“No, Link. I was going to ask if you’re all right.”

“Oh. Sorry. No. I’m trying really hard not to fall asleep.” He sighed and plucked the flower. Tossed it. Missed. Boom.

A moment later, a new flower began to bloom, and he repeated the action with pretty much the same result. He closed the lid of the chest and sat on it. “I can’t even aim straight, Navi.”

“What else can you do, though, Link?”

“Get the heck out of here.”

“But how? Do you really want to go all the way back the way we came?”

He considered this with a deep frown. They way they’d come might now contain more of the creatures he’d eliminated, which would mean more fighting. “No, not really.” Taking a deep breath, he stood and went to the bomb flower.

Staring through narrowed eyes, he recalculated how hard he needed to throw it, then pulled the plant from its roots, heaved it across the space – the wall came down amid a great deal of noise and dust. Link gave it a grim smile of satisfaction and hopped back onto the block. From there, he leaped to the ladder, caught it, and climbed to the ledge.

This opening brought him to a kind of passage that consisted of a series of platforms separated by fairly narrow spaces. They would have presented no problems, except that the very first one was on fire. How strange! But above it on the wall over the opening through which it led was one of those stone eyes, and it was staring at him.

By now, Link new these were switches, so he took out his sling-shot and hit it square in the center of the carved pupil. The eye closed, the fire died down and then disappeared altogether, and he jumped across quickly. There was no guarantee the flames wouldn’t pop up again soon, after all. At the next section, he encountered a number of the baby Dodongos, but as he ran past them, Sword drawn, he managed to dispatch two and avoid a third one altogether.

The path had curved to the left, bringing him now to yet another metal-clad door. Who in the world had built these places? And why? He had a feeling he’d asked himself this before, but still had no answers.

Metal bars slammed down behind him when he entered, and once again he was in a room of rocky areas divided by streams of lava. And like the last chamber of this kind, two knife-bearing lizards were there, one of them immediately charging at him from another of the rock “islands.”

I’m too tired for this, he thought desperately. Using the same tactics that had gotten him through the previous battle, he ducked, straightened, slashed. This time, he managed to kill the lizard almost immediately.

That kind of good fortune didn’t seem to apply to the second one, and by the time he’d defeated it, he was bloody and about to lose consciousness.

“Link, no! Look! Please!”

He was on one knee, breathing hard and clutching a deep wound in his left shoulder. “I can’t…” Assuming she’d found more of those clay pots with fruit in them, he shook his head, knowing he’d never have the strength to get to them.

“Drink the rest of the milk, then!”

Ah. He could do that. No point in speaking as he pulled the bottle from his satchel, gripping it carefully because his hand was slick with his own blood. He had to use his teeth to remove the top, his left arm completely useless.

Link drank the rest of the milk, and while the wound stopped bleeding and he was able to get back to his feet, he still didn’t feel all that great. At least he could get to the pots now.

By the time he left the chamber, he was thinking he might have the strength needed to get through the entire ordeal after all – unless there was a whole lot left for him to do. At the very least, he reasoned, he’d have enough energy to make his way back outside and down to the village to sleep. He could always come back the next day, now that he was more familiar with the layout of the cavern.

The thought cheered him somewhat, and he headed down the path in front of him. This let out onto an area almost identical to the first – platforms, a fire, an eye switch…he bit his lower lip, scowling. What was the purpose of all this nonsense? To slow him down? Well, if that was it, it was working.

With a sigh of resignation, he took aim and…thwack! The eye closed. Not that it really mattered, because when the flame died down, he saw for the first time that another platform of fire was right behind it. What the heck! How was he –

“Link, over here!”

Her voice had come from somewhere on his left, so he turned. Yup. Another eye switch, this time set into an alcove. He shot at it, hit it, and the second set of flames went out. He jumped, and not a moment too soon. The moment his feet hit the next platform, the one behind him burst into flames again. He made the next jump and headed into the passage on the other side.

To his utter amazement, this brought him back into the room with the sliding blades, but now he was on the other end of it, the part he’d glimpsed earlier but ignored because it was too high up to reach. And there, on a slightly higher ledge, was another chest. A big one.

Forgetting his weariness, he clambered up and hoisted the lid. “Huh. What’s this? Not another bag of deku seeds…too heavy…” He sat with his back against the front of the chest and put the leathery bag between his legs, untied the string at its neck, and peered inside. “Weird. Looks like bomb flowers, only – no, not…ha! Would you look at that!” He pulled one out and realized it had to be a real bomb.

“Link!”

“Navi! If you tell me this is a bomb, I’m going to bite you.”

Shimmering silence followed this statement, a silence that stretched into a very long minute. And then – “Oh, Link! You’re so funny!” She began to giggle, her light strobing between blue and white with fairy-hysterics.

Link honestly didn’t know what to think about that. When she returned to her normal pale blue, he put the bomb away and stood. “I don’t suppose you know how I set them off?”

“Pull on the string near the top, Link. Hee-hee-hee-hee!”

Why she would think that was funny, too, was beyond him. Ah, well. “Thank you, Navi.” He noticed that the passage continued, so he hopped down from the ledge and went in.

Just before it ended back at the main cavern, he encountered another pyramid switch. There didn’t seem to be too many other things that needed to be opened that he could recall, but of course he stepped on it.

The ground began to shake, the loudest sound coming from right outside the opening. He turned and went to the edge, looked over and down, and saw that one of the smaller islands he’d been using to jump to the middle had begun to rise even higher. It kept going until it was level with this upper area, and stopped. A metal plate had been embedded in a stone beside him, and he glanced at it, thinking it might have something to do with all this.

“Can you read it, Link?”

“Not too well. Something about red…”

“It says, ‘Giant Dead Dodongo – when it sees red, a new way to go will be open.’ Wonder what that means, Link?”

As she was speaking, the island began to move again, this time going up even higher.

“You’re asking me?” He looked up at it.

The cave continued to echo from this upward movement even after the island had stopped again, and before the sounds died away completely, it began to descend. When it reached Link, it stopped once more.

While watching all this, the boy got an idea. Apparently, that huge head was this “Giant Dead Dodongo” – it seemed they turned to stone, or something like it, when they died. He’d e cHe Hnoticed that the eye sockets were huge but vacant, and remembered the gaps in the rope bridge spanning the wide space over the thing’s head. Which naturally begged the question, where was the rest of this Dodongo? No matter. What did matter was that the rope bridge was now directly to his right. In his haste to get away from the fire-keese the first time he’d come out into the cavern on this level, he’d completely missed the fact that there was a passage to the left.

He went to the bridge and began crossing it, more slowly this time. When he got to the first gap he stared down through it, and as he’d suspected, the Dodongo’s left eye was right below him. With a smile, he took out a bomb, pulled the little rope switch near its top, and let it drop straight down.

The explosion was much louder than that produced by a bomb flower; dust and flame shot out of the eye socket, and then it flared red as something inside ignited.

“I was right! Ha!” He jumped over the gap and went to the next one, dropped another bomb into the right eye socket, and grinned with satisfaction at the result. This time, however, something else happened.

More rumbling, more shaking…he couldn’t be sure from this vantage point, but he thought he could see something moving under the thing’s snout.

“It isn’t very far to jump down, Link. That would be quicker than going back and waiting for the island.”

“True enough.” Calculating the distance, he sat on the edge of the bridge, swiveled around, and slid off so now he was dangling by his hands. Here goes…He let go.

With a slide and a hop and a thud, he made it all the way down, landing safely on the center island. Right behind the statue. “Uh-oh.”

The head began to swivel; he turned and to his great relief, saw his conjecture had been correct. The Dodongo’s mouth was wide open, displaying sharp teeth. The lower jaw made a kind of ramp up which the boy ran, barely avoiding the deadly ray of light from the statue. At the top of the ramp was a metal-clad door.

How long has this thing been dead, anyway? Sheesh! He went forward, it opened, and without a backward glance, he went through. It was only after he was inside and being attacked by two more fire-keese that he remembered he’d wanted to leave the cavern altogether to get some sleep.

Dang.

Chapter Eighteen

Fire-keese dispatched. Another ledge to climb, some kind of hole in the middle of the floor, a barred door, and a higher ledge. Link sat against one of the walls that had no openings in it, put his head back, and closed his eyes.

“It isn’t safe to do that, Link!”

“Uh-huh.”

“What if something attacks you?”

“You’ll wake me….” and he was asleep.

How long he slept it was impossible to tell. The place looked exactly the same when he opened his eyes again. But this time, instead of feeling refreshed, Link felt drained. His injuries hadn’t been completely healed by the partial dose of milk, and the small heart fruits had only given him enough energy to get to where he was at the moment.

Staring dully at the fairy, who was flitting aimlessly from one side of the chamber to the other, he tried to come up with a solution. Something told him he wasn’t far from the end of this challenge, and he knew he’d never have the strength or energy to see it through if something didn’t…

Of course! Malon! Her gift! He reached into the larger sachel at his side and withdrew the ripe fruit he’d found in the storage tower. Compared with the smaller heart fruits, this one was almost too big to eat in one sitting, but he needed its moisture as well as its sustenance and healing power.

The small fruits were slightly bitter, but not unpleasant. This one, on the other hand, was like honey, the juice bathing his tongue and throat with a soothing, thick sweetness that began its restorative work even before being fully swallowed. He ate the rest eagerly, and when he was done, wiped his mouth with the back of one arm and stood.

“I wondered when you’d remember about that fruit, Link. You also have another one, don’t forget.”

“Yes, I do.” He was smiling, feeling full and pain-free, more awake than he’d been even after a long night’s rest at the ranch. “Let’s go!” Turning, he went to the opening on his left, hoisted himself up, and started down its length.

After a gentle left curve, the corridor opened into an area that was wider than it was long. Directly in front of Link was a constructed wall of wooden beams; overhead, three more of the nasty fire-keese. They flew at him as soon as he appeared, and he attributed his ability to quickly eliminate the threat to the wonderful fruit he’d just eaten.

He hopped down into the space and ran around the wall to where it stopped on the left side of the chamber. He had to jump down onto a lower level and go to the right. There, he found another of the blocks, this one looking more like granite than cork. To his relief, it didn’t need to be moved, only climbed. This brought him to an interesting place. He could either climb higher and follow a wide wall into a new section, or clamber down the other side and blow up a rock-blocked archway.

Since he was feeling so much better, he opted to go for the arch and see what was behind it. As it turned out, a metal-clad door led him into a medium-sized chamber where he carefully avoided one of the horned statues to obtain another Gold medallion.

“Cool,” he muttered, leaving the chamber at a trot. Back in the outer area, he started to climb back up to cross the top of the wall, but was startled by the angry squeal of two more fire-keese. “Dang! Thought I’d gotten rid of them!”

As soon as he shot one down, the second keese came after him, this one moving so swiftly, he didn’t have time to fit another deku seed into his sling-shot, and had to fend it off with the Sword. When it was dead, he peered about, not wanting any more unpleasant surprises.

Silence. Good. Walking along the top of the wall, he came to its end and jumped down into another small space that opened into tunnel. Feeling aggressive, Link swung at one of the clay pots near the arched entrance and was rewarded with three deku seeds.

“Link?”

“I know – hurry.”

“Yes, Link.”

He grinned and headed into the tunnel. By the way it curved left a moment later, Link realized he was probably headed back into the room where he began. It occurred to him to wonder why all the looping and circling had been deemed necessary by whoever had built these places, but forgot to think of an answer when he saw the large block ahead. Beyond it, as expected, was the initial room – the one with the square hole in its center – and his smile got bigger.

“You know what, Navi?” He leaned against the block and began to push. “I bet…this thing…fits…perfectly…in that hole…in the floor!” It tumbled over the side of the ledge (the one that had been too high for him to climb earlier) and he jumped down, got behind it, and began to tug. When he could feel the rim of the hole with one heel, he went to the front and gave it a final shove.

A perfect fit, and immediately, the metal bars covering the door slid up. “Aha!”

“You knew that would happen, didn’t you, Link!”

“I did. Now. What’s on the other side?”

Navi was silent.

“Er, is there a problem?”

“No. Not yet.”

“I see. Right, then. I’ll just go through here, yes?” Oh, brother. Here we go.

With a nod and some manufactured bravado, Link went to the door, waited a second for it to slide open, and went in.

A chest. That was it.  And a small one, at that. Inside were several bombs, which he tucked in with the others. “Um, Navi? Why were you acting like – ”

“Link! Look! The floor!” She was hovering over a spot at the very center of the room.

“What about it?”

“Look closely!”

He went to her and looked down, noticed that there seemed to be wider cracks between the stones here than elsewhere, but nothing else. “So?”

“I bet it will blow up very easily.”

Ah. “I…so what? Why would I want to blow a hole in the floor?”

Navi changed colors several times, her agitation obvious. “Because you – you have to, Link!”

“Why? Is the main monster down there or something?” He was half-joking.

“It is.” She wasn’t.

“Oh.” Dang. “Fine.” He took out a bomb, placed it on the floor and activated it, then stepped back.

The resulting hole was wider than he expected it to be, and from somewhere beneath a blast of hot air shot up into the room. That didn’t sit well with him. This upper chamber was already hot enough.

“Jump, Link!”

Or simply walk over the edge and fall…A ladder would have been nice. “Guess I have no choice.”

Silence.

“Is it far?”

Silence.

“You’re making me nervous, Navi. Way nervous.”

Twinkle, but silence.

Link sighed. Well, if this was why he’d agreed to come in here in the first place, it woudn’t make sense not to see the thing all the way through. At that moment, he really hated being sensible. “Okay. Here I go.”

Peering over the edge, Link realized the ground below wasn’t even as far as it had been from the top of the gate near the castle, and he’d survived that jump. Tuck head in by knees…

He jumped. He tucked. He untucked at the last minute because of what he would have rolled into, and landed safely on his feet.

Lava. Great. He probably would have complained about the increase in temperature, or perhaps the horrible stench assaulting his nostrils, but before either of these annoyances could be explored thoroughly enough to give rise to some serious sarcasm, he was distracted by another of his senses – hearing.

THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!

It was now only a very small, irrelevant part of his mind that was still obsessing about the first two things, since the greater part was suddenly consumed by what had thundered into view - the largest, ugliest lizard Link had ever seen, and it was thumping toward him on legs bigger and taller than his cottage. Was this a live Dodongo? Did it matter what it was called?

The thing raised its head and appeared to be sniffing the air. Thinking it might not bother to check the ground near its feet, Link scooted closer while it was still looking elsewhere and huddled by one massive leg.

“What are you doing?!” Navi’s little voice, barely audible in the vastness of this part of the cavern, sounded, nonetheless, far too loud to the terrified boy.

“Sshh!!! Wait!” he hissed.

The creature was moving. In fact, it had tucked its massive head between its front paws, leading Link to believe it had sensed him. But instead of turning one of its eyes on the boy, it began to roll forward.

Relieved beyond measure, Link nonetheless knew he had to do more than simply stand there, and looked around to see if he had any options besides getting eaten, squashed, or burned to death. As he looked, a plan began to take shape. This lower chamber was roughly circular, a fiery lake with an earthen path defining its perimeter. Pretty unremarkable. However, growing at intervals along the curve were bomb flowers. He also had more of the actual bombs in the satchel he’d gotten from the chest…

Doing something, anything, was better than standing near the edge of the lava; Link ran onto the path and toward the closest flower. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do once he plucked the thing, but throwing it at the Dodongo seemed like his best choice. It had occurred him that if the smaller versions could be destroyed by making them self-explode, he could certainly help this massive version do the same. Then again, the explosion of something so big would probably kill him, too.

Dang.

“Look! It’s coming closer!”

“I see it, Navi. Thank you.”

The Dodongo had been rolling along the path, and moments before had rounded the side that brought it into a head-on intersect with Link. But before the boy found it necesssary to dodge the oncoming juggernaut, it stopped and opened its maw, inhaling in obvious preparation to breathe fire.

Determined to go out fighting…or something…Link grabbed the bomb flower and ran forward, heaving the thing toward the Dodongo’s gaping mouth when he was as close as he felt he could safely get.

To his surprise, his aim had been true despite the terror pounding in his temples. As soon as the flower landed on the creature’s tongue, it closed its mouth and swallowed. A second later, its frame shook with the explosion, its greenish underbelly glowing with a flare of orange light. It crashed to the ground, but if the look in its eyes was any indication, it was far from dead.

Still, Link rushed closer and began hacking at its snout with the Sword. He got in at least ten good whacks before the Dodongo, shaking its head as if a fly had been bothering it, got up, tucked in its head, and continued the strange roll. Link jumped back to avoid it and nearly tumbled into the lake.

“Ack!” Throwing himself forward, he went to his knees, avoiding the certain death behind him. Some part of his mind acknowleged that it was getting harder and harder to breathe in the cloying heat, but he barely recognized the thought, getting to his feet and running toward the next bomb flower. Within seconds of reaching it, the Dodongo came rolling toward him once more.

And once more, he managed to “feed” it the flower. The burst of light in the monstrous chest was more yellow now, as if its skin had somehow thinned. Link went for the eyes this time, but again, it shook off the attack and got up, only to begin the crazy rolling again.

The third time, it took longer for the lizard to rise, and the fourth time, it didn’t fall, but raised its snout upward and let out a deafening roar of pain. Then it curled up and began to roll, but much more slowly. It didn’t stay on the path, tumbling instead into the lava where it blackened and fell apart.

Link could hardly believe it. He’d defeated a monster much bigger than Gohma, much fiercer than anthing he’d ever imagined could exist. And he wasn’t even injured himself. Hot, tired, dehydrated, yes. But unhurt.

“Look, Link – the healing heart-mana! Absorb it, and then go into the blue light.” Navi flew toward the remains of the Dodongo, coming to a hovering stop over something shining red and blue.

Before the boy could point out how silly it would be to walk across lava to get to it, the lake itself blackened, as if its very heat-essence had come exclusively from the now-dead creature at its center. The temperature in the cavern immediately went down and a cool breeze swept in from the hole through which Link had jumped.

He walked to the object Navi was near, remembering seeing something similar after he’d killed the giant arachnid. At the time, however, he’d been nearly dead himself, and hadn’t really paid much attention to what it had been or looked like. Now he could see that it resembled the larger heart-shaped fruit, but seemed to be made more of light than substance. He stopped beside it, not sure what to do. Absorb it, Navi had said. How was he supposed to do that?

“Get closer, Link!”

He went to one knee beside it, and to his amazement, the object’s glow moved toward him, and a second later, had disappeared into his body. He stood, eyes wide with the rush of exhiliaration and sense of physical well-being coursing through every part of him.

Unable to speak, he went to the crown of blue-white light and stepped inside. It enclosed him and swept him upward. A second later, he found himself standing outside the opening to the cavern, facing the pathway back to Kakariko Village.

And then he was lying outside the opening to the cavern, having been knocked down by a gigantic thud behind him. What the heck?! He got quickly to his feet, horribly startled.

“IT’S ME, DARUNIA! WELL DONE!”

He turned, heart still pounding, and found the Goron boss standing there, eyes crinkling at the corners, his face split by an almost scary-looking grin. Before Link could say anything, the bearded behemoth gave the boy a series of congratulatory thumps on the head that sent the boy crashing back to earth, this time with a serious headache.

“THANKS TO YOU, WE CAN ONCE AGAIN EAT THE DELICIOUS ROCKS FROM DODONGO’S CAVERN…UNTIL OUR STOMACHS BURST!” He threw back his head and laughed heartily.

Link, meanwhile, stayed where he was, sliding a few inches back for added safety – not that the Goron couldn’t reach him anyway with those crazy-long arms.

“WHAT A WILD ADVENTURE!” The Goron leaned down, eyes bulging. “IT WILL MAKE AN INCREDIBLE STORY…”

How would you know? Were you watching everything from somewhere?

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THE DODONGOS SUDDENLY APPEARED IN SUCH GREAT NUMBERS! AND THAT BIG ROCK BLOCKING THE CAVE!”

It suddenly occurred to Link that perhaps Darunia might be a lot more simple-minded than he’d assumed. Not in a bad way – he certainly seemed intelligent enough – but he was talking about the situation the way a very young child would recount an incident he didn’t fully understand, yet which had impressed him. Either that, or he was practicing for when he’d tell the rest of his people the story.

“YOU KNOW, ALL THIS TROUBLE MUST HAVE BEEN CAUSED BY THAT GERUDO THIEF, GANONDORF!”

Link bit his tongue. He’d almost pointed out that Darunia had already mentioned the Gerudo as having been behind their woes, yet now sounded as if it had only then occurred to him. To say that, though, he told himself, would be new heights in rude sarcasm, even for him. So instead he nodded, trying to look enthralled.

Darunia narrowed his gaze and stared off over Link’s head (which wouldn’t have been at all difficult even if the boy had been standing0). “HMM. HE SAID, ‘GIVE ME THE SPIRITUAL STONE! ONLY THEN WILL I OPEN THE CAVE FOR YOU!’”

The temptation to cover his ears was nearly overwhelming – he wished he could tell Darunia that it wasn’t necessary to shout like that.

But then, as if the Goron had sensed this, or had suddenly remembered he was outside and wasn’t supposed to be bellowing, he stopped, gazing down at Link with what the boy could only describe as affection. “You, on the other hand,” he continued in a voice so much softer, it was almost shocking, “risked your life for us.” His mouth curled into a warm smile. “Kid, I like you! How’s about you and I become Sworn Brothers?!”

Wow! Is that even possible? “How would that work? I mean, I’m not a Goron or anything, and – is there some kind of ritual thingy or whatever?” He was very confused.

“No, there’s no big ceremony involved! Just take this as a token of our friendship.” He raised his arms, and a sphere of red luminescence grew between his huge hands.

Link got to his feet, dusting off his tunic absently as he stared, fascinated, at what Darunia was doing.

The light began to coalesce and grow smaller, more concentrated, until at last, amid a shower of brilliant sparks, it became a large, gorgeous red gem, mounted in a gold setting that looked like a double-pronged crown. Like the Kokiri Emerald, this floated gently downward, settling at last in Link’s upraised hands.

The Goron Ruby. He gave Darunia a deep bow of gratitude and slid it with reverence into the soft pouch containing the Emerald. He had no idea what the whole “sworn brother” thing was about, but figured it was why the Goron was trusting him with the Spiritual Stone of his people.

All right – that’s two, and only one more to go. He wished he could tell Zelda right away about this, but didn’t think he’d be able to get back into the castle. Besides, he had a feeling she’d just tell him to stop wasting time and go after the third stone. After all, he’d be seeing her in the Temple of Time once that was done anyway.

Darunia was talking again. “Brother! You’ll keep brushing up on your skills as you travel, won’t you?”

“I will – I promise.” No one had ever called Link “brother” before, and he found himself liking how it made him feel.

“Good! Now listen – you should go see the Great Fairy on top of Death Mountain! She will power you up!”

Link stared, having no idea what that could possibly mean.

“HEY, EVERYBODY! LET’S SEE OFF OUR BROTHER!” Darunia was shouting again, but before Link could wonder why, the ground shook in a series of small quakes as Gorons began dropping onto the path around him.

This was getting ridiculous. They were coming toward him, having stood as soon as they landed, arms outstretched, exclaiming things at him – “You did great!” and, “How ‘bout a big Goron hug, Brother!” and other expressions of delight and comraderie.

All of which would have been nice, heart-warming, too, were it not obvious that even a gentle hug from one of these giants would crush him into a jelly. So, self-preservation taking precedence over any desire to avoid hurting their feelings, he ran.

A few feet further on and one more dropped to the ground in front of the boy, knocking him over. With a manic smile, he jumped back up, gave the Goron a quick bow, and scooted around him, her, whatever. It wasn’t until he had left the over-enthusiastic creatures behind that he realized he was heading up the mountain. Well, that was what Darunia had told him to do after all; he wondered if all those Gorons appearing the way they did had been on purpose to herd him in the right direction. Whatever. He made a sharp turn, and instead of going to the path that led back into Goron Village, he was now charging up the steeper incline more directly to his left.

At the top, he discovered a series of ledges. He climbed these, only to find the last one blocked by a huge boulder, a somewhat daunting gap between him and the rock. Navi tickled his ear, and he put up a hand. “If you tell me to blow up the boulder, Navi, I’ll eat you.”

Silence. Then… “Hahaha! You’re being funny again! I love being with you, Link! You’re so entertaining!”

He sighed and took out a bomb. Staring at it for a few seconds, he had to wonder what he was getting himself into this time. He had two of the Spiritual Stones now, and that was good, but unless this Great Fairy could either give him the next one or tell him where to find it, there seemed no reason to see her.

Still, and as he’d acknowledged several times already, Navi never told him to do something that wouldn’t be helpful in some way. Darunia, too, had seemed pretty sure that a trip to the top of the mountain was in order. And he was, after all, only ten. What did he know? Certainly not more than those so much older. Not that he had any clue as to Navi’s age, but Darunia’s beard was, to him, a good indication that the rock-man had many more years under his belt than Link. Well, not that the Goron wore a belt. In fact, he wore nothing.

Giving himself a mental shake, he refocused his attention on the bomb he was holding. Time to move on, he decided. Lifting the device, he activated it, took aim at the boulder, and threw…

Imprint

Publication Date: 06-03-2013

All Rights Reserved

Next Page
Page 1 /