Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old by LadyNorbert
Chapter Five: That Wandering Knight So Fair
There was a splash of cold water on my face, and I jerked awake instantly. I looked around wildly; Renado, Colin, and Barnes the bomb expert were all peering at me intently, the other children somewhat in the background. Barnes was holding an empty bucket. I sat up, then slowly got to my feet.
"What happened?" Colin asked. "You seemed fine, and then suddenly...you passed out."
"Oh." I paused, thinking. "Oh. Oh, I think...I think it was just the heat." Being so close to Death Mountain, Kakariko Village was a very dry and overly warm location, so this was plausible. I was not about to explain to anyone that I'd just had a tumultuous vision of several past lives.
Trying to put Colin at ease, I gave him a reassuring smile. "Hey, you know what I've been carrying with me while I was searching for all of you?" From my supplies I extracted a fishing rod; he had made it just for me, shortly before I was supposed to deliver his father's weapons to Hyrule Castle.
The grin that split his face spoke volumes. "Have you fished with it?"
"A few times. It's kept me fed." I rumpled his blond hair and put the rod away. "When this is all over, you'll have to show me where to get the best bait." I turned to Renado. "I will go and speak with Mayor Bo, as you suggested."
"And I will care for the children until your return," he replied. "They will be safe here." He gave me a penetrating look that somehow reminded me of Zelda. "Journey swiftly and well, young hero."
"There is little time."
"Our time grows short. I fear our meetings in this fair wood will soon be curtailed." Already I can see some glimmers of twilight hovering in the distance.
"It will not be forever," I promise her. "Already I am beginning to fulfill the light spirits' request that I join the fused shadow. With this, the one who holds you prisoner can be vanquished." Daring more than I have ever been permitted, I lift a hand to her pale face. "Do you believe in me?"
"I always have."
"Then do not despair, my lady...I am coming for you."
Midna, Epona and I crossed Hyrule Field and made our way through Faron Woods, which was so bright and green that it felt like a welcome embrace compared to the deathly dust of Kakariko. There was a commotion in the village as I entered; after all, I had been with Colin and Ilia when they were captured, and my friends had feared I myself might be dead. The relief and rejoicing in their eyes and voices was overwhelming, and doubled in strength when I assured them of the safety of Colin, Beth, Talo and Malo.
Bringing the news to Mayor Bo was harder. His daughter was the only one for whom I'd yet to account, and he took it hard. Still, he tried to remain pragmatic. "Renado's an old friend," he told me. "If the kids are in his care, then we can relax. But come inside; you look like you've got something else on your mind."
"That I do." We sat down, and I explained what Renado had told me about the Gorons and their situation; I quietly left out the part where I was given a task by the light spirits of Hyrule. "And Renado says that you are the only one who has ever bested them in a test of strength, so I should ask you to instruct me. Then they'll hopefully allow me to enter the mines and solve their problem."
"Ah. Renado told you about that, did he? Well, it's true...I did defeat them in a little contest of strength -- with some secret help," he admitted. "I'll help you, if you promise never to reveal my secret."
"You have my word."
"You always were a good lad. Come down to the basement; I'm going to teach you about sumo wrestling."
I felt more than a little ridiculous during our lessons, and it was hard not to be distracted by the even more ridiculous outfit the mayor wore when we wrestled. Finally, I bested him frequently enough that he declared himself satisfied with my progress. "But it's going to take more than that to beat the Gorons," he said. "Open up that chest over there."
Inside the chest were a pair of incredibly heavy iron boots. "You wear those, and it'll be easier for you to win. Just remember what I taught you, and use the boots to keep your position, and you'll be fine. But remember -- not a word to anyone. Especially Renado!"
"We meet again. You have a little more of the look of a hero than you did before. Do you feel ready to earn your next skill?"
"But before we begin, I must test you to ensure you have mastered the last skill I taught you...the ending blow. Now then, come at me!"
Our blades meet, and meet again, ringing clearly through the wintry air. After a few moments, I have him on his back, and the ending blow is executed.
"Excellent. It appears you are certainly capable of performing my lost art." I move back, and he rises to his feet. "Now I shall teach you the defensive maneuver which is the shield attack."
"Link." Midna's voice came out of my shadow as Epona galloped back across the field. "Link, look...isn't that one of those things like the one that was on your horse earlier?"
I peered across the field. "I think it is...they're called Bulbins. Their leader is a wild thing called King Bulblin; looks like that might be him." He was directly in our own path, and I realized with some horror that he was heading toward Kakariko Village. "We've got to get there! Hyah!"
Epona exploded around the bend into the village just as King Bulblin wheeled around on his mount. In one piggish hand he gripped the collar of Colin's shirt; my little friend dangled there, clearly unconscious. Then he turned and rode off in the opposite direction, laughing as a handful of cronies joined him.
"Link!" Beth wailed. "You've got to save him -- he pushed me out of the way -- I'd be dead if it weren't for Colin!"
"Hurry, Link!" shouted Renado. "They headed north, toward the field!"
"I'll get him!" Spurring Epona into action, we raced through the village and out into the greener expanse. The Bulbins were heading for the Eldin Bridge; Colin was now tied to some sort of pole that was affixed to King Bulblin's mount. He kept looking back and taunting me, urging his fellows to take care of me. Epona was close to panic as we rode, dodging the flaming arrows launched in our direction.
"Get close, Link! Ignore the others -- hit the king with your sword!" Midna sounded halfway concerned. I broke away from the crowd and gave chase. As soon as we crossed onto the bridge, another Bulbin set fire to the wood stacked there at both ends; we were trapped. It would be a joust to the death. "Two hits should do it," advised my little companion. "The bridge sides are open; you can knock him into the ravine."
"Your confidence is overwhelming. Hup, Epona!"
We charged toward each other at top speed. At the last possible second, I veered to one side, lashing in the other direction with my sword. A chunk of Bulblin's armor went flying. We wheeled around and charged again. As Midna predicted, a second hit send him tumbling from the saddle, and I lunged to secure Colin lest the giant boar he rode follow after. Epona reared up on her hind legs in what could be described as a triumphal pose.
Colin remained unaware until we had returned to the village, where he woke in my arms. "You saved me, didn't you?" he whispered. "You...you can do anything, Link."
I blinked, trying to stem the tears that threatened. "You'll be all right, Col."
"You can help the Gorons in the mine, too, can't you?" He passed out again, and I allowed Renado to take him from me.
"We will keep him in the old inn," said Renado. "He should recover fully, with rest and quiet. I will watch over the children of Ordon, I swear it; they shall never come to danger so long as I breathe. Come, children."
Beth and Luda trailed after him, but Talo remained. "That was a really brave thing for Colin to do," he admitted. I sincerely hoped this would put an end to Talo and Malo giving Colin a difficult time. "But, Link," he continued, changing the subject, "could you talk some sense into Malo? He's in that boarded-up shop and said something about 'getting started.' I don't know what he's about."
Malo, as I found out when I entered the building, had decided to take over the abandoned general store. I could only wonder how many people were going to give him any serious business, given that for some reason Malo looked to be perpetually ten months old. "Every time you make a purchase, it helps the village," he informed me. "I can't be a hero, but I figure I can give people heroic business deals!" Partly to humor him, and partly because it looked like a good purchase, I handed over a small pouch of rupees in exchange for the Hylian shield on one shelf.
"That's a nice one," Midna commented. "Ready to take on Death Mountain?"
Zelda is deeply concerned about the great seal, the one which she and the other six maidens placed on the wizard Vaati to keep him imprisoned. She has summoned me to the castle to guard the seven of them as they investigate whether the seal is in any danger. I have known Zelda all my life; my grandfather is the blacksmith and a friend to her father. We played together as children and I have loved her since I was very young. I would give my life for hers without question.
But as they open the portal to the Four Sword Sanctuary, I can sense at once that something is very wrong. It is my own dark visage emerging from that gateway; he takes the maidens and traps them in crystal, and I must wield the Four Sword to do battle with him. When I do, I will find there is much more to do, and a dark mirror must be located in order to put things right...
"Really, I wish you'd stop doing that," Midna commented in a lazy sort of voice.
"I wish I could stop doing that," I replied, shaking off the vestiges of the vision.
We started up the dusty trail to Death Mountain. No sooner had I climbed to the top of a ladder than a Goron guard tried to scare me away. When this tactic failed, he turned into a rolling boulder and pelted toward us. The iron boots were hardly comfortable, but they allowed me to stay put while I wrested him to one side and sent him tumbling off the side of the mountain.
"Whoa, this place is dangerous. Is this the traditional Death Mountain welcome?" asked Midna with one of her giggles. It certainly seemed to be, since we had to fight our way past at least half a dozen other Gorons before we were in their arena. Mayor Bo had warned me about this location, and how I would have to face one of the Goron elders -- in my case, Gor Coron -- before I would be treated with any sort of respect.
"Young warrior," said Gor Coron, "you have a strong will. You have seen the mountain erupting without pause. When first it began to vent its anger, I and three of the other elders went with our patriarch, Darbus, to investigate its anger. We have a treasure which was entrusted to us by the spirits, and we must protect it." He spoke of the fused shadow. I nodded. "I believe you are not here by accident; the spirits have guided you here. Go to the aid of Darbus!"
"Everybody wants something from you, don't they?" Midna commented when we were alone. This far under the surface of the earth, she couldn't be troubled by the light. "Bring back the spirits' light and they turn you back into a human. Talk to the Gorons for the people in Kakariko. Go into the mountain and find a patriarch. What's a patriarch, anyway?"
"He's sort of the father of these people. Their village chief, I guess. And may I remind you that you want a few things from me too?" In spite of myself, I half-smiled at her.
"True," she admitted. "Only person we seem to have met who didn't ask you for anything was Zelda."
"I know. Let's go."
I lost track of time underground, and I also lost count of how many times I was burned by the hot magma churning inside the volcano. Using the magnetic properties of the walls around me, I was even able to walk on the ceiling. I found the other elders of whom Gor Coron had spoken, praying in chapels deep within the mines. They each gave me a portion of a special key, explaining that when Darbus had gone mad, they were forced to lock him inside. "It is for this reason," one of them told me, "that we have ceased to allow outsiders into the mines. Our relations with the villagers have always been friendly, but we feared for their own safety as well as his."
Elsewhere I encountered a hulking thing called Dangoro, who -- as Midna put it -- 'gave me some trouble about my credentials.' After I tossed him into the lava, however, he seemed to improve his opinion of me and allowed me to open a chest containing what he called the Hero's Bow.
"I remember this...I think," I murmured, running my fingers over it. "I threw it in the fairy fountain and the arrows turned to silver..."
"What are you muttering about?" asked Midna.
"Nothing. Let's keep going."
With the three key shards in place, I opened the chamber where Darbus was being held by a creature Midna identified as the Twilit Ignitre Fyrus. The patriarch looked so bewildered and exhausted from his ordeal, he couldn't even figure out how to say thank you. But the Goron elders, having heard the commotion, came to escort him outside, and their effusive gratitude more than made up for any lack. More importantly, at least as far as Midna seemed concerned, we had the second piece of fused shadow.
"You know, you've been very helpful so far," she said as I sat down to rest for a few minutes. "So as a reward, I'll tell you an interesting story. Zant."
"That's the name of the King of Darkness who cast this pall of shadows over your world," she said in a low tone. "He's very strong. You would be nothing to him in your current state, that's why you need the fused shadows." With a kind of fierce dignity, she added, "But Zant will never be my king! I have nothing but scorn for his supposed strength. Not that your Zelda is much better."
I lifted my eyebrows. Midna was a friend, or at least she was close to a friend as someone from the twilight could possibly be, but she was flirting with dangerous territory. "Excuse me?"
"It still appalls me that this world of light is controlled by that princess," she replied with a shrug. "A carefree youth, a life of luxury...how does that teach duty?"
"Zelda is hardly what I would call carefree," I retorted, a bit heatedly. "You know nothing of the burdens she carries in her heart."
"But I suppose you do."
"I...it's hard to explain."
"Well, if you ever figure out the words, I'd love to hear about this. I guess I shouldn't begrudge her the circumstances of her life. She didn't choose it, after all. And I would never wish harm on her."
"Good to know."
Gleeok, I think. It is almost certainly Gleeok on the other side of the chamber door, guarding the eighth fragment of the Triforce of Wisdom. I have faced down two of these foul dragons already and have come to learn their stench. Yet there is hope in my heart such as I have not known before this, for the longest part of my struggle is nearly at an end. With this final piece, the precious Triforce of Wisdom will be whole again, and will give me the guidance to find my way to where the princess is held.
I force the door. Yes, there it sits, this time with four heads weaving from side to side, spitting flames. The more I slash, the more the heads come loose and fly around the room. Cold dread grips my soul as I realize that I might not survive this battle...and if that is the case, Hyrule is surely doomed. Zelda is doomed.
"Focus, please," Midna said irritably. "You're doing that more and more often. It's one thing when you visit her while you're asleep, but really."
"I'm not visiting her." I sighed. "I'll explain later. I promise."
We left the mountain, which had ceased its endless eruptions, and made our way back to Eldin Spring. Eldin complimented our efforts and urged us to turn our steps northward, into Lanayru Province. There we could find not only the third fused shadow, but "the one whom you seek." It had to be Ilia.
We returned the village to spread the word that the Gorons' troubles were over and they would soon resume trade with humans. I already felt reasonably satisfied about this, but my pleasure grew tenfold when I saw Colin running toward me. He tripped, however, and tumbled face-down into the dirt road. I hurried over to set him on his feet, grinning at him. "You look much better."
"I'm fine now," he said. "Remember what I told you back in Ordon, Link? I'm going to grow up to be just like you." I pulled him into a hug before he could continue. "Whenever I thought I couldn't hold on...I'd think of you and Ilia, Link. So you don't have to worry about me anymore! Go find Ilia."
Renado moved up to join us. "Young Colin has recovered well," he said, smiling. "Luda and Beth have been...very assiduous in their care of him." The amusement on his face gave me the idea that the girls had fallen into competition for Colin's attention, and I couldn't help grinning. More seriously, Renado continued, "Leave the children to me. I will watch over them, I swear it. Do not let their fates trouble you. Go to those who need you. In Hyrule, countless tales are told of the ancient hero...and your deeds bring them all to mind." He lifted a hand in respectful farewell. "May the graces of the great goddesses who shaped Hyrule bear you on your way."
I couldn't bring Epona with me into the twilight, though I also couldn't leave her behind in Kakariko. It would have taken too long to reach Lanayru Province without her. I found what I hoped was a safe enough glen near the curtain wall, told her she was a good horse, and set her loose.
Once in wolf form again, it was quick work to locate Ilia's dropped pouch. From this I was able to pick up the trail of her scent, which led me deeper into the twilight. Hyrule Castle was not far away; just knowing that I was that close to Zelda gave me strength.
I overheard some women gossiping about a Zora child, who had collapsed and been taken to a tavern in Castle Town. Zora usually lived much farther north than the castle, and I had to wonder about that. Meanwhile, there was apparently trouble with the lake; the water supply was being drastically reduced, but no one seemed to know the cause. Ilia's scent trail continued to lead me through the town, and I finally spotted her spirit form inside the tavern, along with that of a strange-looking boy -- it must be the Zora. The tavern owner, or at least I assumed that's who the woman was, assured her that someone had gone to fetch the doctor.
"Aw, what an emotional reunion! Yes, a girl and her wolf!" Midna giggled, and I growled softly. "Sorry, but you know how it goes! These folks can't see you, either."
We made our way to the blocked river, thanks in no small part to a bird we rescued through the destruction of another shadow creature. It was easy enough to spot the problem; the temperature was completely wrong for the season, and the Zora village was frozen. The faces of the Zora stared mutely through the thick ice, unable to communicate.
"We can't leave them like this," Midna fretted. I was surprised by her concern, but I had noticed that she was starting to act more like she cared about the people of Hyrule than she originally had. "Look -- there's a portal here now, we can warp around Hyrule. I have an idea."
From Death Mountain, we retrieved a large chunk of burning rock, and passed it through the twilight portal to the frozen river. Almost immediately the ice cracked and broke, and water started to flow down the waterfall and into Lake Hylia. Unable to offer any other form of congratulation, I barked and wagged my tail, which made Midna laugh. We turned to leave when a voice cried, "Wait!"
It was the spirit of a Zora in royal regalia. "Please," she said, "you must allow me to thank you for revitalizing both my people and this spring, which is the water source for all the lands of Hyrule. In life, I was the elder of this Zora village and the queen of my people. I was called Rutela." She explained that the creatures of twilight had raided the Zora village and executed her as an object lesson to the other Zora. But before she died, she had sent her son, Prince Ralis, on to Hyrule Castle to tell Zelda what had happened. He never reached the castle. "Young man...you who takes the form of a proud beast...I have something to ask of you. Would you save my dearest, Prince Ralis? If you do this thing, I will bestow upon you the protection of water. This power will grant you the ability to swim and respire in very deep water as if you were a Zora. Please...save my son."
"What did I say before?" Midna asked with a sigh as we left the queen. "Everybody wants something from you. But this sounds pretty good. What do you say, Hero?" She grinned at me. "Right, you probably don't want to meet the prince looking like this. Well, the water's flowing pretty swiftly now, so why don't we just let the current carry us down to the lake? We can reach Lanayru's spring from there."
"You are so close, and yet so far from me."
"It has to suffice, my lady. Just knowing that you are so near gives me courage."
"Your friends are all right?"
"I live but for you. So long as you are alive, I can endure anything."
"Ugh, aren't you awake yet?" asked Midna, giving me a small shake. "Look! We washed all the way down to Lake Hylia, and the spring is just over here. Well, let's go! Snap out of it!"
She dived back into my shadow, and I stepped into the twilight-poisoned spring. The weak voice of Lanayru rose to me over the rocks. "Hero...chosen of the gods...you have done well to make it thus far." The spirits, I know, are neither male nor female, but Lanayru struck me as possibly the most feminine of the four. In a way it seemed to remind me of Zelda. Again I was charged with the task of filling a vessel with the stolen tears of light, and I set out on this next phase of my quest.
It was by far the most challenging insect hunt I had yet experienced, and I thanked the goddesses that it was the last. The insects who plagued Lanayru were much more widely scattered than those who had robbed Faron and Eldin of their light. All around me I could hear the murmurs of the spirit-people who were frightened by the chittering beasts. Midna had to warp me to Lake Hylia to catch the last one, it had eluded me at such a distance.
"You make sure to get that last fused shadow, now!" she said with a giggle as we returned to the spring. "See you later!"
Human again, I gazed up at the golden spirit; I couldn't quite identify the form it bore. "Your efforts, O hero of the gods, have restored the light spirits to Hyrule. Now you seek the dark power concealed in a temple in the bed of Lake Hylia." The voice was firm. "You must bear witness to something, and never forget it."
Lanayru spoke to me about the days of chaos, when the three goddesses had forged the land and seas. Before they departed, they gave power equally to all who lived in the light; but a long time after they left, some of the people of Hyrule began to covet the power said to exist in the Sacred Realm. I knew this story, dimly, from my childhood; it was the great war. Now Lanayru explained what part the light spirits had played in the resolution of that conflict. "We sealed away the great magic the interlopers had mastered. You know this magic; it is the fused shadow. O hero chosen by the goddesses, beware. Those who do not know the danger of wielding power will, before long, be ruled by it."
"The lakebed temple, huh?" asked Midna, once I had left the clearing. "Sounds like a swim...hey, didn't the Zora queen promise you the ability to swim if you rescued her son?"
"You're right. Let's get back to that tavern -- between the Zora prince and my friend, it's our best first stop."