Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old by LadyNorbert
Chapter Six: A False-Heart Traitor
My reunion with Ilia could have gone a lot better, I thought.
It seemed that when Ilia was first taken, she had been shot with a magic arrow, and although she'd healed from her injury well enough, she'd lost her memory. She remembered nothing of Ordon Village, or the other children, or me.
"Poor lamb can't even remember her own name," clucked Telma, the tavern owner. "Bless her heart. You know that girl, don't you?" When I nodded, she shook her head sadly. "She found this poor boy collapsed in the road and did all she could to save him -- which is more'n I can say for that doctor," she added, glowering in the direction of the departing physician. "Says he doesn't know how to care for a Zora. But I recollect there's some kind of shaman over in Kakariko who knows how to tend to Zora and Gorons and the like; if we could just get him there, he'd be all right."
"Please," Ilia added, looking imploringly around at the Hylian guards who were milling about in the tavern, "please, help us take him there."
"Inadvisable! Too dangerous!" said one.
"But on the other hand, we can't ignore a pretty girl in need either," another one said.
"We'd better escort you," said a third.
"Well, isn't that nice!" said Telma. "To get there, we have to cross two plains which are infested with beasts, but we should be safe n--come back here, you cowards!"
There was a cacophany of clanks and shoving as the guards practically fell over each other in their rush to get out of the room. "Cowards! Don't ever show your faces here again!" Telma roared. She sighed, and shook her head again, then glanced at me. "So we're left with just one young swordsman, are we?"
"I'm afraid so, ma'am. But I'll escort you to the village. The shaman is a friend of mine."
"May I ask your name?" Ilia whispered.
My heart sank a little. My oldest and dearest friend in the world -- dearer to me than anyone save Zelda -- and she had to ask me my name! "It's Link."
"Link?" she repeated, sounding puzzled. "Link, I will never forget your kindness."
Telma put Ilia and the prince into a covered wagon for the trip, with some provisions, and I rode Epona alongside. We formed a very strange little caravan, but at least without the entourage that the guards would have formed, we thought we stood a decent chance of arriving in Kakariko unnoticed. We were wrong, of course, but the logic was reasonable. After all, who would have expected that King Bulblin would have survived his fall into the ravine, and come to challenge me again?
I heard Ilia scream as one of the flaming arrows struck the wagon canopy and set it alight. By the time I had driven the marauders off, most of the cover had burned away. "Is it still driveable?" I asked Telma, pulling the exhausted Epona to a halt.
"Should be. We're nearly there anyhow."
Renado was more than a little surprised to see me again so soon. Carefully he lifted Prince Ralis from the wagon, and peered at him. "You have gotten him to me just in time," he said. "We will take him to the inn; I believe I know the remedy that will best suit him."
Ilia, meanwhile, was somewhat flummoxed by the way the children pressed around her, crying out how happy they were to see her. She ducked behind Epona, her large eyes frightened at being recognized by so many unfamiliar faces.
"Is that my name?" she asked me timidly. "Ilia?"
"Yes. And these are your friends -- you and they, and I, are all from the Ordon Village, south of here," I told her. "This is Beth, and Talo, and Colin. And that's Luda, the shaman's daughter. Luda, could you show Ilia where she can rest?" I gave my friend a gentle pat on the shoulder. "It'll be all right, I promise."
"Poor lamb," Telma clucked again as the two girls walked off together, Ilia still looking uneasy.
I took Epona and Telma's wagon horse to the stable which adjoined one of the abandoned houses. There was water there, and dried sweet grasses the horses could eat; after the recent misadventure, I felt they deserved a rest. By the time I joined the rest of the group at the inn, Renado reported that Prince Ralis was making progress.
"He has come through the worst of it," he said. "As long as he rests, he should come through it in due time. Do you know anything of the fate of his mother? He keeps mumbling about her, her welfare consumes him."
I nodded, gravely. "The Zora village was overtaken by the same sort of monsters that have been plaguing other areas of Hyrule. They made an object lesson of the boy's mother." I refrained from revealing the source of my information; Renado would almost certainly have understood, but I wasn't so sure about Telma, and I didn't want to frighten Colin, who was also within earshot.
"I'll stay with him until he gets better!" said my little friend. "No matter how long it takes!"
"Is that so? Thank you, Colin." Renado laid a hand on the boy's blond head, smiling.
"Link? Is it true...about Ilia?"
"Yes, she has lost her memory. But I think if we give her enough time, young Ilia will find her heart again." Renado looked very seriously at Colin. "So I would like you to remain in the village until she does. It is our turn to show the courage that you have already displayed."
"I think that's a very good idea," I said, hiding a smile at the look of happy pride on Colin's face. "I know I'll feel much better about everything, knowing that you're here with her."
"We meet again. It appears your efforts have begun to return some vigor to Hyrule, but it is far too early to relax. Do you feel ready to earn another hidden skill to steel yourself for the forthcoming battles against more powerful foes?"
"Yes." The winter air is refreshing after the stifling heat of Kakariko.
"Very well. Let the back slice be hewn into your mind!"
Again and again we fight, this ancient shadow of a hero and I. "You carry yourself well," he compliments when we finish. "It appears you are certainly capable of performing my lost art. We shall meet again..."
Telma decided to stay in Kakariko a little longer, though she urgently pressed me to visit her tavern again in the future. "It's actually kind of a safe house for some friends of mine," she confided. "There's a secret passage that leads to the castle." I filed that bit of information away for later.
Before we could leave the village, however, the apparition of Queen Rutela made herself known to me again. "This way," she said, guiding me to an obscure graveyard. "You have my thanks for saving my son, and have done well to bring him to Kakariko. This place is sacred to us; it is where the Zora go when they die."
There was a tomb in the graveyard which the spirit identified as being that of her late husband. He had crafted the Zora armor for the hero who was to come, and though it made my skin crawl in a way that nothing else had done, I opened the grave as she bid me, and retrieved the armor.
"Tell my son, when he is well, that his mother loves him without end," she said. "Farewell, brave hero."
"So," said Midna, coming out to take a look at the prize, "you found all your friends and got the nifty Zora armor. It's kind of ugly. But you're not forgetting the fused shadow, are you?"
"Of course not."
"Good. Because even if you went back with everyone now, the whole mess would just keep repeating itself. We need the fused shadow in order for you to stand a chance against Zant. What are you waiting for?"
"Do you know this place, Link?"
"The forest glade? We have always met here."
"But do you remember it from life?"
I look at her, curious. "Should I?"
"It lies in the heart of Faron Woods. You have been here many times, although it looked different from one life to another. I wondered if you might remember."
"I am sorry, my lady, but it does not seem altogether familiar. My heart knows it only as the place where I have always found you."
She smiles tolerantly. "It is a great deal more than that, beloved hero. The time is coming when you will return to this place in your waking hours. You will not find me here then, but know that I am with you nonetheless."
The waters of Lake Hylia were very cold, and without Queen Rutela's gift, the third fused shadow would have remained an impossible dream. In a part of my mind where I could dwell on such matters, I wondered at the good fortune I had experienced thus far. The goddesses, I thought, must be guiding me in the right path. They wanted us -- Zelda and myself -- to emerge victorious. The thought gave me an abundance of hope.
One of the Zora approached me as I reached the depths, his expression one of incredulity. "Sir, you wear the garb of the hero in my people's legends. Are you...?"
I had to smile. "So it would seem."
"Well met, dear hero, well met!" He showed me the entrance to the magnficent temple of the Zora; they had sealed it shut. "Once it was sacred to my people, but now it has been overrun by monsters. We could not defeat them; we merely sealed the door so that they might not bring darkness to others."
"That sounds vaguely familiar," Midna said with a giggle. "Sort of like what the Gorons did to their patriarch."
I cannot stop to gain my breath, for Zelda is in mortal peril. I rush through Hyrule Castle, ignoring the guards loyal to the wizard Agahnim, racing against time itself to reach the room where he has taken my princess. His men mortally wounded the sage who guarded her in the sanctuary and seized her, bringing her back to this place. Zelda is one of seven maidens descended from great sages, and in her bloodline is the seventh and final key to breaking the seal between the world of light and the world of darkness.
"You are too late, hero," he cries as I burst into the room. "Behold, the ritual!"
An energy barrier holds me in place at the doorway, and I can only watch in mingled fear and heartache as the unconscious form of Zelda slowly rises, doll-like, to hover in midair. An orb of light grows around her, glowing brighter and brighter until at last I must shut my eyes. When I open them again, Zelda is gone.
"Link, come on! What is it?" Midna seized my arm and shook it roughly until I snapped out of the vision.
"What? Oh -- sorry, Midna."
"All right, look. Fused shadow or no fused shadow, I'm getting kind of tired of these little mental side trips of yours." She sat down on a piece of statuary. "You promised you'd explain it sometime, and I've decided that it's sometime now."
I heaved a sigh, idly running my fingers over the pommel of the sword. "I'm not sure I understand it all myself."
"It's like this. Zelda and I are...old. Really old. Not our bodies, but our souls. We were...well, back when the world was made, and the Triforce...you know what the Triforce is, right?"
"I've heard Zant mumbling about it from time to time, yeah. It's a gold triangle, right?"
"Right." I unlaced my left gauntlet and pulled my hand free. "Well, when the goddesses made the Triforce, they picked out three people to bear its different attributes, in case anyone ever had any grand ideas about stealing it. See? I'm one of the three, and so is Zelda."
"Huh." She studied my birthmark curiously. "Okay, go on."
"Some time back, someone did try to steal it. He was the third soul picked by the goddesses, and he tricked Zelda and me into helping him. But all he wanted was power, he didn't care about wisdom or courage, and so when he touched the Triforce it broke. He got the power part, and I got the courage and Zelda got the wisdom. Now she and I are on an eternal quest to keep him from getting our portions of the Triforce and taking over the world. When we die, we're born again into this world to continue the fight."
"What does all this have to do with you dreaming while you're awake?"
"It's...kind of strange." I laced up the gauntlet again. "It used to only happen when I was asleep. Zelda says that I'm remembering my other lives, the other fights to defend Hyrule and the Triforce."
"And when you're sleeping, you visit her?"
"I've done that since we were children, since long before I knew about any of this. She's just always been there. We fell in love centuries ago, and it keeps carrying through from one life to the next. But we can't be together until we vanquish our enemy."
"Who is your enemy? What's his name?"
I looked at her and shook my head. "That's the part I can't seem to remember. I don't know who he is."
"Huh," she said again. "All right, I guess I understand it now. Come on, the fused shadow is waiting."
"You must wake, my princess," I beg her. "Please, hurry, let the spell cease..."
Zelda has been turned to stone by the dark wizard Vaati, and I have just dueled him with a Picori sword imbued with the power of four elemental stones. The building around us is beginning to crumble. It is dangerous to remain, but I will not leave her.
She transforms to flesh, and tumbles forward into my arms. We rush from the building before it collapses, and make our way to the safety of an elemental shrine, where I must face Vaati again. "I have the power of a god," he cries. "How can a mere child like yourself possibly defeat me?"
"The last fused shadow!" Midna crowed. "I'll just take that, thank you."
"Now, don't resent me for all I've put you through," she said. "I need this thing. We've got to go do something about the usurper Zant, who calls himself the King of Shadows. Let's head back to Lanayru's spring."
"How are we going to find him?" I asked her, watching her dive into my shadow as we entered the clearing. "Isn't he in that other realm?"
"Uh...no." Midna came rushing back into visibility. "Zant!"
I spun around and stared with some shock at the hooded apparition which confronted me. "Did you honestly mean to take an ancient and withered power like this and turn it against me?" he asked in a cold voice. I thought he was addressing me, but he continued, "You are a foolish traitor, Midna. Why do you defy your king?"
"My king?!" she spat. "You, who do nothing but abuse the magic of your tribe? You must be joking!"
"Are you implying that my power is our old magic?" He scoffed. "This power is granted to me by my god! It is the magic of the King of Twilight, and you will respect it!"
I might have been a spectator for as much as I had anything to do with what was happening. This was all between Zant and Midna, and I could only watch. Really, I felt as though I'd been struck dumb as Zant continued, "My Midna...did you forget? That beast" -- he pointed at me -- "is one of the light-dwellers who oppressed our people! No matter how much you may desire otherwise, you cannot consort with their kind!" His voice took on a different tone then, wheedling in a way, almost seductive; his full focus was on her again. "But if we can make their world ours, Midna, light and darkness will meet at last. Our tribe will take back their realm, and sweet darkness will blot out this harsh light! I need you, Midna. Not just for me, but for all of our people. Lend me your power."
For half a second, I honestly thought she might capitulate. There seemed to be something of indecision wavering in her eyes. It vanished, however, only to be replaced with steely resolve. "Never."
"So be it, then...I will return you to the light world you covet!"
Lanayru's light suddenly flared, brightly; it was trying to intervene on our behalf, but Zant's Twilit powers were greater than I'd imagined. As I watched, helpless, light began to encircle Midna. Brighter and brighter it flared, turning her into what I can only liken to a small sun. Then the orb burst in an explosion of fire, and with a parting, mocking laugh, Zant left us both sprawled on the ground. I was in my Twilit wolf form, and Midna...
The exposure to so much light in such a short time had taken a dreadful toll on the little imp. Where most of her body had been colored black, she was now a sickly, ghostly shade of white. She twitched, slightly, and groaned. I got to my feet and gave myself a shake, then moved to nudge her gently.
"Zelda," she mumbles. "H-hurry...to...Zelda..."
"Hero of the goddesses," said Lanayru, "you must make haste. Bring her to the princess in the castle; she alone can unlock you from your shadow form. I will give you what aid I can, but you must hurry."
I have no time left. My search continues -- for the White Sword, the Magical Sword, the Picori Sword, the Kokiri Sword, the Giant's Knife. I need a sword and I need it now. Hyrule is on the verge of destruction.
My lady, my princess, lend me your aid!
Lanayru's power deposited us in Castle Town. I couldn't think what to do; I needed to get to the castle, but it was so heavily guarded that I couldn't think how to manage it. I trotted through the town, Midna groaning as she clung to my back with what little strength remained to her. "Hurry..."
"Hey!" I paused, and looked around. "Hey, what's wrong with that thing on your back?"
It was a brown cat. "That Zora kid looked just as bad when they brought him here -- maybe you should take that thing you're carrying to Telma's bar too!"
Telma's bar. This made me remember -- Telma had said there was a secret passage which led from her tavern up to the castle. I raced through the streets, following the faint scents of Ilia and Prince Ralis which still lingered there, but a Goron at the door caused me to check my progress.
"You there," said a soft voice. I moved to the side of the building, where an elegant white cat sat on the windowsill. "You're Link, aren't you? I thought as much. I'm Louise, you may have seen me when you were here as a human. Why on earth do you look like that? Oh, never mind, I see you've brought us another patient."
"Pr-princess...Zelda..." Midna was fading, and my alarm was increasing.
"Through the window -- quickly! This way!" said Louise. "Go up to the attic; you'll find a passage up there that leads to an unused waterway, it runs under the palace. If anyone can help that...thing...on your back, it must be Princess Zelda. Good luck."
Louise's directions were accurate. The ancient waterway enabled me to reach the palace roof, and from there it wasn't hard to find my way back to the window that led to Zelda's tower prison.
It was the first time I had ever, in my waking life, heard my name ringing on Zelda's lips. She looked up as I burst into the room, and surprise drew the exclamation from her mouth. I trotted forward and whined; overjoyed as I was to see her, and to know for certain that she was well, Midna had to come first. Zelda helped me to ease her to the floor, where she lay gasping.
"Please," she begged softly. "Please tell me...how do we break...the curse on this one? You need him...to save your world! That's why... Princess, please, you must help Link..."
I gave another whine. If wolves could weep, I would have had tears in my eyes. The little scamp cared about me. I looked at Zelda, whose beautiful face was more solemn than ever. She placed her ungloved hand, the one bearing the Triforce birthmark that matched my own, gently by my head. After a moment, she shook her head; her power was of no use here.
"What binds him is a different magic than what transformed him when he first passed the curtain of twilight," she said. "It is an evil power. But where there is darkness, there is light to banish the darkness as well. Head for the sacred grove that lies deep within the lands guarded by the spirit Faron." She gave me a significant look, and I remembered; she had spoken of Faron Woods in our last dream-meeting. "There you will find the Blade of Evil's Bane...the Master Sword."
So that legend was true as well. The Master Sword, according to the stories, was a holy relic, a sword that nothing evil could ever hope to touch. Zelda explained that the evil which had transformed me would wither and die in the presence of the blade. It was the only chance I had of returning to my true form.
"Link..." Zelda ran her hand over my ears in a lover's caress. "Hero, sent by the goddesses. I too have been granted special powers. And the time to use them is at hand."
"Link...you can get to the woods...on your own...right?" We looked down at Midna again. "Princess, a last favor...tell him how to find...the Mirror of Twilight."
Zelda bowed her graceful head. "Midna," she said, "I believe I know exactly who and what you are. Despite your mortal injuries, your concern is for us; all that has happened is the result of our deeds, yet it is you who reap the penalty." She looked at me, then back to Midna. "Accept this now, Midna...all that I have to give."
She took Midna's tiny hand in her own. I looked intently at my small companion, who was glowing again; her color was restoring to normal. She looked at me, horrified. "Link, stop her!" But in a flash, she was standing beside me...and Zelda was gone. I walked in several circles, looking about the room frantically.
"Zelda!" Had the cry come from my own throat and not Midna's, it could not have held more despair or pain. It was all I could do not to howl and attract the attention of the guards. "Zelda...you gave me all that you had...though I didn't want it."
We gazed at one another sorrowfully, but shortly Midna's face adopted the same steely resolve as when she faced down the usurper king. "Let's get to Faron Woods." She vaulted onto my back and I made good our escape through the window. I was deeply grateful to her for her insistence that we move forward; the loss of Zelda had left me so crushed that I wasn't entirely sure where I found the strength to stand.
We crested the hill, making our way south, when we paused to look back at Hyrule Castle. A luminous golden diamond was sliding into place, encasing the entire palace within its confines. "I don't know what that means," Midna said, "but I don't think we're getting back inside any time soon." She squinted up at the sky. "We have a few good hours of daylight left. Come on -- for Zelda."