Written: 04.03.99 to 05.22.99
All characters: © Nintendo 1998 and used without permission.
Thankyou: Angelica, Kami!
Now, the story ...
The fishes leaped and darted in the clear blue waters of Lake Hylia, reveling in their new freedom. The lake was just recently refilled, for for seven years previously it had been a dry basin. Its waters sparkled in the sunlight like liquid crystal bluer than the sky above and just as clear. The sky was painted with wisps of white cloud so fine that they looked as if they had been sprayed on. Just another idyllic spring day in Hyrule.
The little wavelets met the shore of the lake on white sand which was still free of any weeds or water plants. Those dormant seeds had not had time to sprout yet, but it would not be long before the sleeping life buried in the lake shore began to flower. Nature never left any niche unfilled for long. The water met the land in a perfect sweeping curve which was unbroken by any rocks or other objects, except in one place where it was forced around an unnatural protrusion. A curious waterbird had earlier landed on the object which appeared to have been washed up from the lakebed, thinking it was a rock, but when the object stirred a little, the bird flew off and left it alone. Rocks did not move.
The object moved and its fingers clenched sleepily. Presently it groaned and slowly sat up, and was revealed to be a young man. He was dressed in a smoky gray tunic, had shining black hair and a dark complexion. His eyes were the color of rubies.
He yawned and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, but sand came off into his eyes and it stung. He rolled over onto his front, facing the lake, and splashed water into his eyes to remove the irritant.
"Where am I?"
He had some vague memory of being in a wet place and fighting someone whose face he couldn't see. After that it was all kind of hazy ... and before it, too.
"Who am I?"
There were great gaps in his mind where it felt like there should be something, but instead there was just emptiness. He felt as if he had woken up in a strange land where there was nothing he recognized. It was a total isolation. He coughed, for he had swallowed water, and stood up brushing the sand off himself. There was something missing from his outfit--several things actually. He thought he should have had a hat of some sort, and a ...
He knelt and swept sand away from a gleaming metal object on the shore. After a moment he found the handle of a sword and lifted it up, shaking sand off it. The sword shone with a cold pale light and had a hand-guard shaped like stylized wings. It felt right in his hand and he swung it twice, realizing that he was familiar with the weapon. So he was a fighter. There was a scabbard strapped to his back and he slipped the blade into it with a metallic shing. He knelt on the shore again and pushed sand about until he uncovered the shield. Its strap was encrusted with salt and sand, and he picked the shield up and hammered on it with his free fist to knock the stuff off.
He had a sword and a shield now. He searched the shore for a while, wandering up and down aimlessly, but he did not find anything else which he thought might belong to him. Maybe this was all in the world that he owned.
His tunic was salt-stained, sandy and wet and his boots leaked. The first thing he wanted to do was get a change of clothes. But if he didn't have anything else, then what was he supposed to do?
Find someone else and take their stuff.
Link made the horse rear as he pulled up in front of the rancher's daughter at Lon Lon Ranch. "Hi!"
Malon smiled at her friend. "Well met, Link. How's things in Hyrule Town today?"
"Oh, the usual," Link breezed as he dismounted. "Girls just won't leave me alone nowadays, you know..."
"You're teasing me again!" Malon pouted, folding her arms crossly. "You're mean to do that to me!"
"I only do it because I care," Link smiled, taking her hand. "If I didn't like you I wouldn't talk to you. So how's business?"
"Oh Link!" Malon said exasperated. "Do you really want me to talk about how much milk we sold this week, and the new mare my father bought from the Gerudos?"
"No," Link answered, his bright blue eyes sparkling with mischief, "I just like to hear the sound of your voice. Tell me about the mare."
"Are you going to walk Epona to cool her down?" Malon asked. "It looks like you rode her quite hard."
Link looked embarrassed. "Oh, poor Epona! Sorry, girl." He took hold of the bridle and led the horse into the corral. "Malon, will you walk with me?" he asked.
"Sure." Malon hurried to catch up, and she walked beside Link and the horse as they moved slowly around the inside of the corral.
"I really missed you," Link said. "I wanted to get back here but there was so much that needed doing elsewhere; Princess Zelda always has some task for me in Hyrule Town, and the Gorons were having trouble with Dodongos again, and then there was that mess with Ruto getting lost again. I swear she just does it to get to me--and I always have to go and pull her out of wherever she's got trapped." Ruto had consented to break off the engagement with Link after it had been pointed out to her that he couldn't actually breathe underwater without a magical Zora Tunic--and living at the bottom of a lake was obviously out of the question for a Hylian.
Malon hesitated before saying anything. "Link... Princess Zelda--"
"I'm not interested in her, before you go on," Link said, second-guessing what she was thinking.
"But she is a princess, Link. Don't you want to be King of Hyrule? I'm sure she'd marry you if you asked."
"Malon," Link said seriously. "I don't want to be a king. Can you imagine me dealing with royal matters of state? All I really want to do is settle down somewhere and have fun. And the only girl I like is you."
Malon smiled shyly and let him hold her hand as they walked. "I don't think I could ever like anyone else, Link."
"You won't have to," Link said. "Malon, when I was just a kid--remember when we first met? Anyway, Talon asked me if I wanted to marry you, in a joking sort of way. I said no because I was just ten years old, but... I think he will let me change my mind, even though I don't have any inheritance to give you. That is if it's okay with you..."
"What are you saying?"
Link put his hand into the pocket of his tunic and drew out a small, plain gold band ring. "Malon, will you marry me?" Link asked, holding the ring out in his hand.
"Oh..." Malon said, blushing. "Yes--yes, of course I will!"
He smiled with relief. "Then it's settled. I think Epona's cool now, we can stop walking."
"Did you come here today just to propose to me?"
"Well, you know, I was just passing through, and I thought, hey, why not..." he grinned.
"You are really awful sometimes!" Malon giggled, then "Oh, Link, I'm so happy. My father will be overjoyed, you know you're like a son to him."
Link smiled at her. His blue eyes shone. "Then here's to peace," he said softly, pulling her close to him. They sank down together in the corral with only the horses for company.
Princess Zelda paced back and forth in the Temple of Time. She was not alone for another Hylian, an old and rather stout man in brown robes, stood beside the altar where the three Spiritual Stones of Forest, Fire and Water, rested in their niches.
"It is not right," Princess Zelda insisted, obviously carrying on a discussion which had started a long time earlier. "Link defeated all of Ganondorf's henchmen in the Temples."
"Nonetheless," the old man, Rauru, responded patiently, "at least one escaped. I have reliable information that Link's evil alter ego survived the flooding of the Water Temple and is currently at large."
Zelda let loose a sigh of exasperation and flicked a lock of her sun-gold hair away from her forehead. "Wonderful," she muttered sarcastically. "So what you are telling me is that there are two Links on the loose?"
"Oh, don't worry about telling them apart," Rauru said comfortably. "Dark Link is--well, what his name suggests. There are very few Hylians with black hair and with his coloring he will stand out like a raven among swans."
"That's not the point," Zelda replied crossly. "The point is that Dark Link is still alive and presumably still dangerous. He has all Link's skills, remember, and Link single-handedly defeated Ganondorf."
"Not single-handedly!" Rauru contradicted with a frown. "Have you forgotten all we Sages did for him? He could never have done it were it not for our help."
"But Dark Link has Ganondorf's blessing," Zelda pointed out.
"And Ganondorf is gone."
The Princess whirled around and paced the other way, up to the Sage where he stood near the dais. She glared at him. "Even when he's sealed in the Sacred Realm Ganondorf is dangerous! His minions are still giving us problems wherever the Temples stood. Can you deny that Ganondorf's influence is still strong in Hyrule?"
Rauru shook his head. "No, Princess. Ganondorf still has his magical powers even though he is exiled from Hyrule. But he will not break free as long as the Master Sword is carried by the Hero of Time. I must remind you that the issue is not of Ganondorf, but of Dark Link. What shall we do about him?"
"You are right," Zelda agreed with a sigh. "We have to deal with Dark Link. I will tell Link what we have found, and perhaps he will be able to destroy his alter ego--permanently, this time. Do you have any suggestions, Rauru?"
The Sage of Light thought for a while. "There is something you should know about Dark Link, Princess. When Ganondorf's power was broken in Hyrule, his influence left his creations. Dark Link may be much weaker than before without Ganondorf's black magic, but he now has a terrible weapon at his disposal." Rauru leaned close to Zelda. "The Sword of Tears," the Sage said quietly. "Do you know of the weapon?"
"No," Zelda said in surprise. "What is it?"
"It is a blade forged during the darkest part of Hyrule's history," Rauru replied. "Ganon, the Evil King who was Ganondorf, created it. There are curses a thousand years old on that sword, and some legends say that it is to the Master Sword what Dark Link is to Link. In the hands of Ganon it caused the downfall of the Legendary Knights. Some say that it has a mind of its own and will cause its wielder to survive even certain death. So you see, it is not as simple as hunting down and killing Dark Link. You must also defeat his sword."
"I will send a messenger to Lon Lon Ranch," Zelda said. "Immediately."
The burly rancher folded his arms sternly and stood with legs akimbo, facing the tall slim warrior who stood in front of him, framed in the sunlight as it came down on the corral. "So you want to marry Malon?" Talon said gruffly.
"Yes, I do," Link answered seriously. "I know I refused a long time ago, but I was just a kid then. Talon, you know I have little to offer her, but..."
"But you're in love," Talon finished. "Oh no, lad, don't look so surprised. D'you think I was born yesterday then? You come in here most every day with some little present for us; flowers, ribbons, even a twenty-pound carp once!"
"That was an accident. I didn't know what to do with it when I'd caught it-"
"Save it, lad," the rancher smiled. "I know what I know. And if Malon's agreeable to it, then I've no cause to keep you from your sweetheart." Talon nodded to Link, indicating the ranch with his hand. "I'd like to leave the ranch to you, lad, for I've no son to hand it to when I retire. And much as I have faith in Malon's abilities, Hyrule is a warrior's country and my daughter is no warrior."
Link knelt in front of the rancher. "I'll not fail you," he exclaimed, overcome. "Talon, this is more than I expected."
"Get up, lad," Talon smiled, and there was laughter in his eyes. "I'm used to talking up to you, I can't handle it when you do that!" Link stood up again, slightly awkwardly for he was tall for a Hylian. "Just look after her, okay lad?" Talon said softly.
"That I shall," Link promised. "No evil shall harm Malon while I still draw breath!"
The rancher took hold of the warrior's strong shoulder. "Whoa there, lad. When d'you mean to wed?"
"As soon as we can, now we have your permission."
"Malon will need a dress," Talon said, "and you need clothes too, unless you really do have more than a couple of tunics and a pair of boots to your name! Why not go down to the town with the girl and spend a day shopping?"
"But what about the ranch?" Link asked. "We couldn't possibly leave you to manage all alone, Talon!"
The rancher laughed. "It'll look after itself for one day, Link. Sides, I have Ingo to lend a hand with the tough jobs."
"Oh, Ingo." Link grimaced.
"Now I know you two don't get on, but you'll have to make up someday. Ingo's a good man, just easily deceived." Talon clapped the young warrior on the shoulder. "Look deeper, lad, and you'll find that almost everyone has a heart of gold."
"Well, how touching," came a voice. Link jumped and whirled, and his hand went instinctively to his sword. They had not heard the dun horse come up through the soft grass. Its rider was a young man with flaxen hair so blond it looked white, and pale gray eyes. He was wearing a dark red satin tunic adorned with the livery of one of Hyrule's noblest Houses. Sardonically he bowed his head, placing a hand on his heart, and flicked back his straw-blond hair. "Hail and well met, Link."
"Rushi," Link answered coldly, disrespectfully using the first name of the Earl of Kato, a land to the south of Lake Hylia. "What can I do for your Lordship?" Earl Rushi was high in King Harkinian's favor, a fact much due to the extent of his holdings in the south of the realm. He and Link had never gotten on, especially since the misunderstanding which neither of them mentioned.
The Earl looked down from atop his horse, icy coldness in his pale cloud-gray eyes. "I see you're just as civil as usual, sirrah. Tell me, how's peasant life?"
"Was there any point to your visit?" Link asked with deceptive courtesy. There was a great world-weary patience in his voice.
Rushi scowled, for he heard clearly the hidden scorn. "I come bearing tidings from the Princess. She desires an audience with you so be quick about it will you? I shall not escort you to the town, I am sure you know the way by now."
Link summoned up his self-control and then shone a bright and sunny smile towards the Earl, full of joy and satisfaction in his existence. "I congratulate you, my lord! To be a courier to the Princess Royal is a great honor for you indeed! Many a Hylian would be jealous!" The insult was twofold; Earl Rushi knew full well that in Kato carrying messages was a serf's job, and he knew that Link knew. Not only that, but he resented being compared unfavorably to a Hylian. He breathed in deeply and his gray eyes became colder.
"Enjoy your straw and horse dung, peasant boy." Wheeling his horse about, the Earl dug in his spurs and cantered down the hill out of the gates.
Link clenched his fists.
"Calm down, lad," Talon said quietly. "Don't get him angry. There's a man you should try to get along with, if only for diplomatic reasons. He could make your life pretty unpleasant if he wanted to."
"I'll never get along with him--never!" Link snapped.
"You're more alike than you think," Talon sighed. "Well, the Princess is waiting, by the sound of things. Go on Link, Malon will wait a while longer."
The dark-haired man set out away from the lake, charting his course by the sun. He decided to head towards the hills to the north-east, for there they were lower and there would possibly be a path through them that was not too hard going. He felt very tired and he knew that he would not be able to stand a difficult climb. Most of all, he needed nourishment; not just water, for Lake Hylia's waters were brackish, but also food, for he could not remember when he had eaten last. Indeed, he could not remember if he had eaten.
So many things were missing. He had the basic knowledge he needed to survive, the knowledge that the country he was in was Hyrule, the names of the creatures that lived therein and the properties of the plants and trees he passed. He knew the feel of a sword in his hand, and the sound of water running underground. But he knew almost nothing else.
Something hit him like a thunderbolt, making him reel physically with a rush of impotent hatred. One name.
It was all his fault. The young man frowned, self-consciously running his hand through his inky black hair. He remembered fighting the other, and... and he had lost, somehow. When he tried to think about it the memory slipped away from him, remaining always just out of reach.
Whoever he was, Link must die.
The sun beat down on him like a white-hot furnace. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, feeling his salt-stained clothes chafing against his skin. His sword and shield were so heavy... too heavy...
He sank to his knees on the dusty ground. Determination had kept him upright this far, and the desire to know who or what he truly was, but now he knew he was too weak to continue. He collapsed on the ground, panting harshly. His blood-colored eyes closed.
One thought remained past all the others as he gave way to the heat and the exhaustion, as his drained body demanded rest. Link... must... die.
Link was surrounded on all sides by the smiles of the townspeople as he made his way slowly through the market square. The people of Hyrule Castle Town were always glad to see him, for the debt they owed to the styled Hero of Time was great. Sometimes their adulation made him feel uncomfortable, for they pressed close to him in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of the fabled Master Sword. Drinks and meals were offered to him, as were other things, and the babble of voices around him made thinking difficult. Half laughing, he raised his hands as he forged a way through the throng. "Please, my friends, let me pass!"
"Did you really-"
"-of course he did, he's the-"
"-Skulltula infestation in-"
Smiling faces presented themselves to his eyes. Hope strove with adulation as the crowd attempted to present a thousand demands.
"-word with you, sire, if you can spare-"
"-two rupees for a poor-"
"-horse is lame, sire, and-"
He could not answer all of the requests at once, and he could not answer one of them without ten others being flung his way. It would be difficult to get to the Temple of Time unless the crowd was somehow appeased. As usual.
"Please, my friends, let me pass!" Link pleaded. "I am here to see the Princess!"
The babble died away slowly. There was a commotion at the edge of the crowd.
"Let him pass!" Four Hylian soldiers were elbowing their way through the throng, cracking heads where they had to. Link smiled, recognizing one of his friends among the guards.
"Hail, young master," the old soldier greeted him, gently shoving two buxom silk-clad washerwomen aside as he came to stand by Link. "How goes it?"
"Well enough for seeing you here, my friend!" Link smiled. "The princess--is she--"
"In the Temple, yes," Dardo agreed, taking hold of Link's shoulder. "She sent us to get you when we heard the noise out here. I'll say one thing, sire, the people do love you greatly."
Link smiled ruefully. "Aye, and it can be a problem."
"Be glad they do not hate you, sire. You've not seen this mob when they're a mob." Dardo took hold of Link's shoulder. "Well then, will you come with me? I'll escort you to the Temple safely. The way this lot are, they will rip you to pieces in sheer gladness!"
Link laughed and let the soldiers close in around him. The townspeople groaned in disappointment when they saw their Hero being led off by the guards, and made to follow. The rest of Dardo's company broke off to prevent the people from entering the Temple grounds, and Link followed the old soldier through the old wrought-iron gates into the gardens of the Temple. Unlike the royal palace gardens, the ground here was left to grow wild and shelter what small creatures could find a home beneath it and upon it. Flowers sprang high from the tall grass, and instead of a laid path there was merely a beaten track to the ancient wooden doors of the Temple itself.
"Well, I'll go and see the Princess," Link said finally. "Will you wait for me, Dardo? I must still get out of Hyrule Town afterwards..."
The old soldier smiled and nodded. "Go ahead, sire. I'll wait here." Dardo leaned forward, winking, and wagged an admonishing finger. "Mind you, I've still not forgiven you for you-know-what!" He had gotten in trouble eight years ago when Link, as a boy, had managed to sneak through the palace gates and talk to the young Zelda behind Dardo's back.
Link exchanged handclasps with the soldier, and then ran lightly up the steps into the Temple.
The calm and peace of the ancient and sacred place washed over him like a sea of silence. As it had the first time he entered, the light pouring down from the high windows bathed him in restful and energizing purity. The beauty of the Temple of Time was ancient and without end. But after so long, Link was somewhat inured to the temple's quiet glory. He strode without hesitation up the red-carpeted path to the altar where the Royal Princess stood, her back to him as she examined the three Sacred Stones upon it, keys to the Door of Time. Five paces away, Link stopped and waited.
"You took your time," Princess Zelda said in a low, cool voice.
"That's not fair, Princess. You should do something about your subjects, they kept me back."
"Enough," the princess said urgently, turning with a flick of her sun-like golden hair. She met his eyes with an intense gaze, and he saw there was fear in her face. Link's face expressed puzzlement. "Princess?"
"What happened to you in the Water Temple?" she asked quietly.
Link was taken aback. "Water Temple?" He shook his blond bangs out of his eyes and then folded his arms with a frown. "What is wrong?"
"I need to know, what happened to Dark Link?" Princess Zelda replied. She came forward and looked up into his eyes. "It is important."
Link turned away, closing his eyes to aid his memory. "The Water Temple is strangely hazy in my mind, Princess... I remember that I fought Dark Link, and that his face was in shadow so that I could not see him, but I do not remember the outcome. The next thing I remember is speaking to Ruto in the Sacred Realm."
"I know more than you, or you have forgotten," Princess Zelda said quietly. "You told me how Dark Link became more solid with every blow you dealt, as if the more you accepted his existence the more real he became. However, I can tell you more now, for Rauru has found out the events of that day. Dark Link was created by Ganondorf from your own dark side--your fear and your anger and hatred. But whereas you are balanced, he has nothing in his spirit but darkness. He is a soul in torment, lost in an endless night. You defeated him, but some of his darkness re-entered your heart and instead of killing him you left him dying upon the floor of Ganondorf's arena. You went on through the Temple and destroyed the evil monster Morpha, and then the Temple flooded, but you had already been taken in safety to the Sacred Realm."
Link nodded slowly. "I remember... a little more." He frowned suddenly. "So why did you call me here? Surely not to tell me this."
"Link," Princess Zelda said quietly. "Dark Link is not dead."
"What!?" Link exploded. "But surely--even if he did not die when I defeated him--the flooding of the Temple--he could not have escaped in time!"
"His sword saved him," Zelda explained. "The ancient blade has dark power above and beyond any artifact save the Master Sword."
"Now I see why you called me here," Link said grimly. "My work in Hyrule is not done. I must hunt down and destroy Dark Link."
Zelda nodded. "But be careful," she replied softly, touching his hand. "For Dark Link doubtless has the same idea about you!"
The hut was small and poor, constructed of logs and driftwood from the lake's shore. The mismatched pieces of wood were lashed together into a confused amalgam that passed for shelter, but though it looked rude and poorly made, no rain or wind could enter unless it was allowed to.
The old woman lay her burden on the single hard bed she shared with her daughter, groaning a little with the effort she had expended in carrying it, and then called in a thin, cracked voice. "Kara, my daughter! I need your help!"
A young woman with soft auburn hair, as straight as the other was stooped and as fresh and untouched as the old woman was withered, entered through the curtained opening that served for a doorway into the other room. "Mother?" she began, then saw what had been found. "Who is this?"
"I do not know," the old woman croaked. "I found him lying like a dead thing among the rocks. He breathes still, but what ails him I know not. Go outside, daughter, and fetch his belongings. I could not carry them as well as him."
As the young woman, Kara, ran out excitedly, the crone set about making their unexpected visitor comfortable. This was the real reason she had sent her daughter away, for despite her advanced age she was as strong as an ox. She peeled off the salt-stained tunic with an expression of distaste and arranged the young man in the bed, covering him up with a thin blanket. She recognized well enough the symptoms of sunstroke and exhaustion for she had tended her beautiful child once before, when Kara was much younger and stricken with the same affliction. There was a bucket of water standing by the door and with this the old woman filled a pitcher. She took a rag and gently sponged the engrimed salt from the unconscious young man's face and moistened his lips with the cool water.
Kara ran back in staggering a little with the sword and shield slung over her shoulder. She dropped the weapons with a clatter of metal then stretched her arms out with a wince. "Oh, they are heavy!"
"'Twas the strain of carrying them that overcame him, I'll say," the old woman replied. "And if this tunic is anything to go by he had a swim in the lake in full armor, then rolled in the sand to finish off."
"Perhaps," Kara ventured, "he was swept up when the lake refilled?"
"Who knows," the old woman replied. "I'll tend to him, daughter, fear not." Her old voice softened a little and she brushed back the man's sand-covered black hair. "He's nothing more than a boy, poor child." The old woman's voice changed suddenly, adopting a pre-emptory tone. "Get you gone, and do your chores, daughter."
Kara pouted. "But may I talk to him, mother?"
"Only when he's awake," the old woman replied practically. "Go on, lass."
All morning Kara hurried through her chores, cutting corners so that her work was done by midday. By the time she had finished, the young man still had not awoken although her mother was unstinting in her ministrations. Kara sat beside him, cooling his forehead with a damp cloth. The old woman saw one of her daughter's hands resting gently on the young man's, and she shook her head smiling to herself. It was about time her pretty daughter showed an interest in men... but she wished it had not been this one. Something about the dark-haired Hylian unnerved her. The old woman went into the hut's only other room and began to clatter about with pans, preparing a broth for when their visitor was recovered enough.
The young man stirred and then slowly opened his eyes. "Oh!" Kara exclaimed in surprise when she saw that he was awake. He looked at her for a moment, then closed his eyes again.
Kara rose from his bedside and stood back. "Mother?" she asked quietly. It had frightened her when she saw the color of his eyes--they were a dark, jewel-like red, a color that could never be mistaken for brown. "Mother, he wakes."
He opened his eyes again and sat up, holding the blanket over himself. "Who are you?" he asked in a low voice.
"I am Kara," Kara said. "This is our home. How are you?"
The young man sighed.
"I don't know who I am, so how can I say how I am?" he answered in quiet despair.
"Oh..." Kara said. He was looking at her and she looked away, her cheeks coloring. Those shining ruby-like eyes were like a fire and in his darkly tanned face they smoldered like coals. The effect was exotic and becoming, although slightly off-putting. Kara felt like a plain peasant girl when she looked at him.
The young man was feeling strange himself. For the second time that day (he assumed it was the same day) he had woken to find himself in a strange place. The girl who had been bending over him, he saw, was extremely pretty. Her large brown eyes were almond-shaped and she had a mass of dark blonde hair curling around her face and shoulders. But she had turned away almost as soon as he saw her and now she held herself uncomfortably, looking at the floor. He looked around, taking in the squalid yet clean little hut, with a square oak table just big enough for two and a roof of wattle and daub. But his eyes returned to the girl who had been tending him, she seemed too attractive for a peasant's hut like this one.
He wanted to talk to her but that would wait. First he wanted to find something out. "Do you have a mirror?" he asked quietly.
The girl looked up seeming startled, but then she smiled shyly and fled into the other room, returning a moment later with a small circular mirror made of beaten silver. He recognized the object as being one of worth, despite the cheap glass cut stones stuck to the twisted rim, and he accepted it with care. His fingers trembled a little as he looked at his face in the mirror. "I don't recognize myself," he said softly as if to himself, "but then I didn't know what I looked like until now."
"Don't you remember anything?" the girl asked. "My mother found you lying near the lake. You collapsed in the heat."
He sat bolt upright. "My sword!" he exclaimed in panic.
"It is here," the girl replied, motioning to the blade which, along with the shield, was propped against the wall. "It's all right, what did you think we were, robbers?" He held his hand out for the sword and she placed its hilt into his fingers. At the cold touch of the blade on his hand much of his fear vanished, although he remembered the thrill of terror which had gone through him at the thought of the blade being lost. He wondered uneasily whether the sword had too great a hold on him but such thoughts were too much for him when he had only just awakened. "We would have no use for such a weapon," the girl told him gently. "Wait, I will fetch you some clean clothes." She was back in a moment with a tunic woven of soft white linen.
He made the girl turn her back while he pulled the tunic on--he was not so far gone that he had no modesty left. It was comfortable and well-made but he disliked the color. However, it was easier to be dignified in front of a nubile young girl when you were wearing clothes, and he recovered the self-possession to demand, "My boots."
Kara, convinced that their visitor must be a lord of some kind--for why else would he dare to order around the people whose hospitality he was using?--scurried to fetch a pair of her own, for his were clearly no longer landworthy. It was lucky that they were almost the same size.
The old woman entered as he was pulling on the new boots. "You look better now," she exclaimed, setting down on the table the tray she was carrying. "My name is Darpa, and this is my daughter. Might we know your name?"
"I don't think so," he answered in a preoccupied fashion, looking at the boots. The old woman's face registered confusion.
"He's lost his memory," Kara confided to her mother.
The young man reached for his shield but a dizziness swept over him suddenly. He sat back on the bed clutching at his head.
"Here," Darpa said coolly and handed him the bowl that had been on the tray. "Get some hot soup down you before you pass out again." He suddenly realized how hungry he was. All thoughts of leaving disappeared from his mind and he disposed of the soup in less than a minute. He shoved the bowl back into Darpa's hands and then lay down again. The two women waited for their guest to express his thanks but he just closed his eyes. "How rude," Darpa muttered and took the bowl back into the kitchen.
He woke suddenly from a dream in which he battled unceasingly with someone who met every blow he swung, but whose face was shrouded in light so that to look into his eyes was a dazzling impossibility. The return to reality jarred his mind into a stronger awareness and he was able while still drowsy to make a mental clench at the things which slipped away from his consciousness like silver fishes in night-cloaked waters. He woke fully with one single, concrete fact in his head--and a feeling of relief.
I am Dark Link.
So he had a name! And therefore presumably a past as well. He was immeasurably glad that he did not feel so isolated any more.
Nobody else was in the room, and he looked around seeing everything with new eyes. The floor was covered with dry rushes and smelt of them--a clean straw smell. The small room was crowded by their furniture which consisted of the bed, a small table and three rude wooden chairs. Its baked mud walls were uncovered by anything, but in and around the window grew a small climbing vine with tiny white flowers, shrouding the window in a profusion of fresh green foliage.
He got off the bed. Thankfully his legs held him up this time--those two women had probably saved his life by picking him up off the ground and looking after him. Dark Link wondered why they had bothered, for he would not do it for anyone he saw dying. He would have gone through their belongings for anything useful, then left them where they were. He picked up his sword and strapped it on and then hefted his shield.
"Are you leaving already?" The girl was standing in the doorway.
He shrugged and turned away.
"Aren't you even going to say thank you to us?" she asked sadly. "It's only polite, for you are our guest."
The concept of politeness was not one Dark Link was familiar with; nor was the idea of hospitality for he had little respect for other people's belongings. But something did seem to be called for in this situation, because the girl was waiting for him to act. "I remembered my name," he said by way of explanation.
"Oh?" the girl said.
"There's something I have to do. I'll come back." Now why did he say that? He had no intention of coming back. Oh well. It was the right thing to say anyway. The light of understanding appeared in the girl's face. "You're going to find your friends?" she asked.
"Yes, the people who you were with before you got lost."
"I wasn't with anyone ... as far as I know."
"Oh." The girl looked down again. Her fingers knotted each other. "...Must you go?"
"Don't you want me to go?" he asked in surprise.
"Well ... can't you stay a while longer?" she replied quietly. "You didn't even tell us your name."
"Dark," Dark Link found himself saying. "My name is Dark."
"I'm Kara," the girl said shyly. She had told him before but he realized he had forgotten. "Can you remember anything else yet?" she asked.
"Not much. Why are you so interested?"
"Well ... I care."
Something in Dark Link's cold shadow of a heart was touched--some last remainder of his other self awoke into day, from a time when he had been one whole person. There was a feeling of loss in his soul as if he had been torn in two. That little gleam of light was too painful for him and he sought to extinguish it, but it remained nonetheless. "Are you all right?" Kara asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," he lied. Her voice directed to him in friendship eased his pain a little and he found the courage to smile. "Maybe I will stay ... if you want me to."
"Oh good!" Kara smiled happily. "We can talk!"
The red horse flew through the morning light like a crimson kingfisher, shining in the sun. Her feet flashed through the long grass, her white tail bobbed and glittered in the light. Her rider leaned low over the horse's neck as she ran, exerting her to reach the limits of her speed.
The fastest horse in Hyrule, and she's mine, Link thought joyfully, as he always did when he rode Epona. He had won the horse off Ingo in a bet when Lon Lon Ranch had been called Ingo Ranch. It was another reason why Link and Ingo didn't get on--Ingo was still bitter at being beaten in two races by a 'mere boy'. When Talon returned from Kakariko and reclaimed the ranch, he made the gift of Epona official. Nowadays Link didn't know how he had ever survived without Epona, for she made it possible to reach even the furthest corners of the realm in hours rather than days. And this was what he was aiming for, for he wanted to reach Lake Hylia in the southeast before night. He believed that Dark Link would be around there somewhere and without a horse Dark would not go far from the lake itself before Link arrived.
Link's hat blew off in the wind of Epona's speed. He grabbed behind him automatically and just caught it by its tip. Maintaining the horse's pace he raised himself in the stirrups and shoved the hat underneath him where it could not be lost.
Epona passed by Lon Lon Ranch in a thunder of hooves. Link saw Malon at the gate and waved to her, but such was the horse's fabled speed that she was gone before Malon could wave back.
Malon saw Epona speed across the grass and past the entrance to the ranch, so fast and smooth that she seemed almost to fly. The rancher's daughter smiled as she heard Link's joyful laughter. She too loved the feeling of speed when riding a horse, and she was glad that Link shared so many of her interests. "Come back soon!" she called, knowing full well that he would not hear her. He would come back anyway. Probably he would be carrying something ridiculous as a present for her and Talon. He had not brought them a horse yet, maybe he would this time! Malon laughed out loud at the image that that thought conjured.
"Come back soon, Link," she said quietly, smiling, "whatever the princess has told you to do." One of the horses neighed.
It was not long before Epona's speed brought her and her rider to Lake Hylia. Link dismounted quickly and left the horse to fend for herself. Epona was an intelligent creature and would not wander off like many other horses--and many people too. Link had no fear for her, and he knew that even if she disappeared she would always come when she heard his whistle.
He walked to the lake's edge and looked out over the blue waters. Out there in the center of the lake there was an island, under which was the door to the Water Temple. Link remembered the Temple, where he first saw Dark Link.
The room was an illusionary lake which seemed to go on forever without end. The door he had entered by seemed to be standing alone in the wide emptiness without a wall to back it up. Since there was only one way to go, Link set off across the glassy surface of the lake towards a central island with a dark dead tree growing upon it. When he glanced down he saw his reflection in misty grays beneath him, cupped in the strange watery floor. The image beneath him looked strange and frightening and he looked up again quickly.
He stepped onto the central island and looked around again. The other door was barred. Perhaps he could force it. Link took a few steps back into the strange water but then his eye caught something unusual. He looked down into the water which was now rippling around his ankles like ordinary water would.
His reflection had disappeared! Link sensed danger near him and he drew his sword, readying his shield at the same time. He turned round.
A shadow was under the stunted tree. Link could not clearly make it out. He went forward to take a closer look and then the shadow leaped at him. He raised his shield instinctively and felt the shadow's blade clang against its metal. Although the shadow seemed insubstantial, its weapon was real! "What are you?" Link shouted but the shadow did not answer.
Link stayed on the defensive and let the shadow drive him slowly backwards away from the island. At the very moment when the shadow relaxed to swing a stronger blow, he attacked with his own weapon and hit the shadow. It fell backwards and then he could see it more clearly.
It's me! I'm fighting myself! he thought in shock. Ganondorf, what is this thing you have made?
Now he sighed to himself. He remembered how difficult it had been to defeat Dark Link. After all, Dark Link had all the skills he had and he did not have any of the honor in battle that Link held to be most important. Someone with Link's power, but who was totally ruthless and unscrupulous could be very dangerous.
"So how much do you remember?" Kara asked Dark Link. They were sitting at the table in Kara's and Darpa's house.
Dark shrugged. "I know not. That is what frightens me. There might not be any more."
"Of course there is," Kara said faithfully. "You didn't just appear out of thin air, that's ridiculous!"
Is it? Dark thought. But he did not say that. "I wish I could remember more," he told her. "Do you have any idea what I could do?"
"No, I'm sorry. But you're welcome to stay here until you remember anything else."
He smiled at her. "Thank you. I think I'll take a look around outside now."
"Go ahead." Kara smiled and stood up. "I'm going to help my mother in the kitchen. Please be back for dinner."
Dark strolled out of the hut with his hands in the pockets of his new white tunic, his shield and sword slung over his back. He was deep in thought, trying to remember whatever it was that he should know. Thinking about what he remembered of the place he had fought in before, he wandered without knowing where he was going. Finally he climbed a sand dune and found himself looking at the long blue stretch of water that he had come from that morning.
He dropped to the ground, masked by long dune grass, and narrowed his eyes. There was a bright light upon the shore, too bright to make out. But when it moved, he saw within it the shape of a person.
He remembered fighting Link. Neither of them had been able to see the other properly ... they were too opposite to even appear clearly in each other's eyes. To Dark, Link had appeared as a creature formed entirely of searing light. This had to be Link! But why would he be here, right now, on the day when Dark awakened once more?
There was only one explanation. They know I'm still alive... and they're looking for me.
Dark's instincts were calling him to do something ... things were coming back to him faster now. He drew his sword slowly, remaining low on the ground, and then his free hand went to a golden crystal pendant around his neck ... a stone with the symbol of the Gerudo engraved upon it. He closed his eyes and called upon his innate power.
He had disappeared. All that was left to show where he had been, was a faint shadow upon the ground, and a faint darkness in the air.
The shadow began to move forward, down the duneslope and onto the blinding white light of the sand... and towards his enemy.
Link, standing at the edge of the lake and looking out over the water, felt a coldness creep over him suddenly, as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. But the sunlight was as bright as always, and he felt afraid. He began to turn to go back, collect Epona and leave, but then he heard the horse neighing frantically. Link whipped the Master Sword out of its sheath, readied his shield and ran back towards where he had left Epona. There was nothing near the horse, but she was nearly berserk, rearing and striking out with her hooves at nothing. Link grabbed her traces and tried to calm the spooked horse. "Easy, Epona girl! What's wrong?"
Epona jerked her bridle free from his hands and bolted, knocking him over. Link got to his feet quickly, looking all around for something--maybe a snake? that could have caused the horse to go off her head. There was nothing.
Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye. There was a shadow on the sand ... but nothing to cast it. He stared at the shadow and then saw a long thin streak of shadow slide out of it, as the shadow of a sword's blade upon the sand. Link backed away.
He sees me, Dark thought. No, he sees my shadow. Without a sound, he dropped his invisibility and blindly attacked the bright light before him.
Link barely had time to leap back before the shadow's blade bit into his shoulder, just above the shield's protection. He cried out and fell back, lifting his shield to block any further blows. Dark Link-- again! How could he have survived the Temple? Was it his sword? Certainly there was something about the magic blade ... Link's shoulder felt deathly cold where the sword had cut him. He struck out and felt his blade clang against the shadow's shield.
I barely defeated him last time, will I be able to this time? But he was stronger now, in top condition and Dark Link was not. Now recovered from the shock of seeing, or not seeing, his alter ego once again, Link began to drive Dark Link back towards the water's edge meeting each one of his blows with one of his own. The two blades clanged together viciously showering sparks onto the combatants.
Dark's ankle splashed into the water. He instinctively looked down for a moment to ensure his footing and then Link smashed his shield into his alter ego's face. Dark fell onto his back in the water, dropping his sword.
"Stop! Stop it!" It was a girl's voice. Link stepped on Dark's chest placing the tip of his blade at the shadow's throat, and then turned around. A girl was running towards them--a pretty blonde-haired girl with a plain cotton dress on, and bare feet. "Stop! Don't hurt him!" she cried.
"What?" Link exclaimed.
"Don't, he's lost his memory!" the girl cried, running up to him. "He won't hurt you!"
"He attacked me," Link said through clenched teeth.
She pushed him away from Dark Link, who sat up putting a hand to his head. "Tell me it's not true," the girl begged, kneeling beside Dark. He pushed her away roughly and stood up grabbing his sword. Link readied his own blade.
"I thought you were a good person!" the girl cried in pain. She turned away weeping bitterly. Dark Link's head turned as he looked at her, then he sheathed his sword and reached out his hand to touch her gently on the shoulder.
Link stared at them both. Then he blinked several times and looked again. Dark Link's body was becoming visible to him! Dark put his arm around the weeping girl and Link, forgotten, watched as for the first time his alter ego's face became visible. Dark Link looked just like him, but with deeply tanned skin and black hair.
"I'm sorry, Kara," Dark Link said quietly, but loud enough for Link to hear. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Who are you really?" the girl demanded. "Don't you know that this is Link, the Hero of Time and Hyrule's Hero?"
"Yes, I did. That's why I tried to kill him."
"Are you satisfied now?" Link said coldly. Dark Link glared at him ferociously, daring him to say anything more. Link stared back coolly and then went on. "This ... thing you see before you is a creation of Ganondorf," he told the girl, "and I was sent by the Princess Royal to destroy it once and for all."
Kara pulled away from Dark Link. "Go away!" she cried bitterly. "Leave me alone!"
Dark's lips drew away from his teeth and he snarled soundlessly at Link. Then before Link could do anything, he touched an amulet hanging around his neck and faded into the air. Link saw the shadow racing away over the sand and he ran after it as fast as he could. But Dark was as fast as the wind and in moments he disappeared into the grassy dunes where his shadow would not give his presence away. Link knew he had lost him and with a sigh of disappointment he whistled for his horse. He forgot all about the girl.
Dark Link crouched down in the long grass for a second time and watched his other half mount and ride slowly along the shoreline, searching for him. The girl, Kara, was making her way away from the lake and he knew that she was crying even though she was many yards away from him. He knew he could not be seen by either of them so instead he simply watched. Now for the first time he had seen Link's face and he was surprised. He had not thought Link would be so utterly different to him, with bright blue eyes and hair the color of sunlight. Something Link had said had given Dark pause; that he had been created by Ganondorf. Was that true? Did Dark truly have no family and no roots in Hyrule?
He felt a great anger coming over him that Link should have so much when Dark had nothing. But slowly an idea grew in his mind. As if sent by a higher power, a dark cloud moved to cover the sun ... and to hide Dark's shadow should he attack for a second time. Dark Link drew his sword again and again slipped down onto the beach and ran lightly towards his opponent.
This time neither Link nor Epona were aware of his approach. He ran beside the horse which was walking quickly through the clean white sand, and then he lunged and grabbed Link's ankle to pull him out of the saddle. Link was totally unprepared and fell backwards off the horse, which bolted. Kicking out at his unseen assailant Link jumped to his feet and drew his sword. "Show yourself, you coward!" he shouted, whirling. Dark's sword poked him in the back and he whirled again, stabbing blindly at air. A mere second later the tip of the sword tapped his shoulder. Dark Link was toying with him.
Link growled. Even if he could not see Dark, he had a trick which would grievously injure anything nearby, and which had aided him when fighting Dark Link before. He sheathed his sword and dropping to the ground prepared to cast Din's Fire, a great fireball which would destroy in flames anything within range.
Dark Link faded into view right behind him. Before Link could cast the spell, he brought the butt of his sword down hard onto his alter ego's head. Link fell to the ground with a groan and lay unconscious. Quickly Dark Link knelt beside him and began to go through his belongings, knowing that he did not have much time before the other woke.
The first thing he reached for was Link's beautiful sword which had fallen onto the white sand and now lay gleaming like a star. Dark's fingers came within a hair's breadth of grasping the magical weapon but then there was a crack and he was thrown backwards. With a gasp he got quickly to his feet, massaging his hand which was tingling with the aftermath of a powerful electric shock. The tips of his fingers were singed and the sword seemed to vibrate slightly upon the sand. Regretfully Dark Link decided he would have to leave the sword where it was. But the rest of his alter ego's gear was fair game.
He lifted up the heavy shield Link carried, which had a frontpiece of burnished silver so polished that it was as a mirror. Dark turned the shield to look at his own face, but the reflection he saw was distorted and dark. He grimaced and laid the shield aside then went through Link's pockets. The first and possibly the most exciting find was a blue crystal ocarina with the Royal Family's crest upon it. Dark put the ocarina on top of the shield. There was a strong bow with a quiver that was nearly full of arrows; this he took and strapped to his back. A bag of nuts he tossed aside contemptuously, not understanding why his alter ego saw fit to keep them. He took an object made of metal with a belt clip, an extending spring-loaded chain and a grapnel on the end; although he did not know what it was used for, it looked expensive. When he lifted the mighty warhammer his fingers tingled to tell him that this weapon was an object of great power and he laid this with the objects he had already decided to keep. Even the ornate scabbard would do very well for his own sword rather than leaving it to Link. He took the small money Link kept about his person, and then stripped his alter ego down to his undergarments. Kitted out in Link's green tunic and with most of his weapons equipped, Dark tucked his inky black hair under the hat as far as he could, but he knew that his disguise would fool nobody at close range. It was intended simply to keep people from questioning him upon the road.
He sheathed his sword in its new and beautiful scabbard then picked up the heavy shield. With barely a flicker of movement, Dark Link faded out again. His shadow flitted over the sand away from the lake and into the rolling dunes as rain began to fall. He smiled, glad that he now had stronger and more waterproof garments to keep him warm.
Link awoke with Epona's whickering and soft warm breath in his ear. A fine drizzle was coming down off the lake and he was soaked through and chilled to the bone. His head ached. He got to his feet slowly and then realized that everything he had been carrying was gone!
"That sneaky thief..." he snarled. "I'll get him if it's the last thing I do!"
At least Dark Link had not gotten to Epona. Link stroked the horse as he went through her saddlebags, taking out the soft red tunic that had been given to him by the Gorons and then the magical winged hover boots he had found in the Shadow Temple. He did not want to touch Dark Link's discarded garments lying upon the sand, and he avoided them as if they carried some strange ill. He dressed quickly, lamenting the loss of his most powerful weapons beside the Master Sword. Why had Dark Link not taken the Master Sword? Biggoron's sword and the Megaton Hammer were gone; so were the Hookshot and his bow, but Dark had left the most powerful weapon in his arsenal untouched on the sand. Dressed, Link picked up the sword and slipped it through his belt. The weapon banged uncomfortably against his legs but he had no alternative seeing that Dark had taken even his scabbard. And the Ocarina of Time! Link groaned. "How could I have been so stupid?"
He walked carefully while wearing the Hover Boots; they were very slippery and not intended for day-to-day use. Grasping Epona's saddle horn he pulled himself up into the saddle and flicked the reins. The red horse ran along the shoreline kicking sand and then he turned inland. He could not face the Princess and tell her that Dark Link had actually got the better of him. Instead he would run Dark Link down if he had to go across the whole world to find him. The hunt was on.
Dark Link was still cloaked in his shadow-invisibility when he saw Link passing to the north on the red horse Epona. He ducked down reflexively but he knew his alter ego could not see him as he was. Link looked mad and Dark knew that it was a good idea to keep away from a frontal confrontation ... at least until Dark was once more confident of his abilities. Link had one great advantage over him, that of the power of magic.
But you can have the power too, a voice said to him suddenly.
"What?" Dark Link whipped out his sword, afraid that someone could see him despite his near invisibility. "Who are you?"
I am Ganondorf, the voice replied and he realized that it was speaking within his own head. I am reaching out to you from the Dark World where I have been imprisoned.
"So?" Dark asked warily, lowering his weapon.
I can help you achieve your aim of killing Link. By doing so you will be aiding me. I will give you the means to effect your revenge upon him.
"I'm listening," Dark said quietly.
You can use your power over the shadow to create illusion. It is not a power without limitation, for those who possess the Eye of Truth will see through your creations, but it will aid you. If you so desire you will be able to make yourself seem as another ... and change the appearance of that other, should you so desire.
"Is that so," Dark said thoughtfully. He understood what Ganondorf was getting at and he liked the sound of it. "And what do you get out of the bargain?"
My enemy is your enemy, replied the voice of Ganondorf. If you remove the wielder of the Master Sword I will be closer to setting myself free. And I shall not forget your contribution once I do free myself.
"And if I do not aid you, doubtless you shall not forget that either," Dark Link said wryly. "Very well, I shall take your advice." He gently stroked the carved hilt of his sword with his fingertips. "This blade has your name on it, my friend," he said softly to the air.
One more thing, Ganondorf said. If you choose to accept me as master, you shall find it beside the lake. It will aid you in your quest.
"What is it?"
A surprise. Think of it as a long-term loan.
Dark Link smiled in amusement. "How nice of you, master!"
Then you agree, Ganondorf's voice murmured. I knew you would.
He turned and headed back down to the lake's edge, where he saw a tall black horse saddled and bridled upon the sand. The animal pawed the ground aggressively when he approached but he knew that it would not harm him, for it had been sent to him. This is my horse, Ganondorf told him, so take care of it. I shall not be pleased if you kill it. When you have no use for it, command it to enter the charm you wear around your neck and you will take it with you wherever you go.
"Very useful!" Dark Link laughed coldly. He grasped the ornate worn leather pommel of the stallion's saddle and swung himself easily up onto the horse's back. Now he had everything he needed--clothes, weapons and transport. The spirited stallion reared at his touch on the reins and he skilfully wheeled the animal round in a circle, and with a flick of the reins sent the horse thundering across the green plains in the direction his alter ego had gone.
"Kara dear, won't you tell me what's wrong? You've hardly spoken to me since this morning." the old woman asked kindly. "Did something happen between you and that young man?"
Kara sighed heavily and shook her head. "No, mother." She continued to toy with her dinner, gazing out of the window with an expression of sad longing on her face.
"Well." The old woman rose and began to clear the plates. "Forget about him," she advised as she disappeared into the back room. "He was trouble. Mayhap I should have left him where he was, but I always was a soft touch for poor injured creaturs."
Kara stood up and went over to the window. She pushed aside the drape and looked out into the darkness beyond. The sun had only gone down a short time ago yet already the plains were dark as midnight, the stars hidden behind thick mats of cloud. The lamplight that poured from the windows of the lighted house reached only a few short feet into the impenetrable darkness and made it seem as if their house was adrift in a sea of night. Kara shivered and then against her will she thought of Dark Link out there somewhere, alone in the darkness. Was he afraid or lonely?
Stop thinking about him! she commanded herself sternly. Everyone had heard of Dark Link who had heard of the quest of the Hero of Time. What Link said was true, Dark Link was evil and did not deserve pity. Not even because he had the most beautiful and exotic eyes, and his black hair unlike that of any other in the land.
Kara lost herself in a daydream and all the men who walked the pathways of her mind had dark hair and ruby-colored eyes.
Link stared into the flames of his campfire and moodily lamented the loss of his bow. With it he could have shot a rabbit or even a crow and had something to cook, but he was forced to go hungry this night. He determined to purchase another bow as soon as he could get gold of some more money. In the meantime he sighed and leaned back against the flank of his recumbent horse.
Somewhere outside this little circle of light, Dark Link was stalking. It irked Link that he could not search for him even in the darkness but he knew full well that it was impossible. It was difficult to see Dark Link even in full sunlight when he was using the shadow-magic to hide himself. In the darkness of midnight it would be too dangerous even to try.
Link's fingers tightened around the object he held. It was another thing that had been in Epona's saddlebags rather than upon Link's person and so Dark Link had not acquired it. Link was not sure but he thought that leaving it might just have been Dark Link's undoing. The object was a pair of spectacles with rims made out of some metal wire. The lenses were clear and they seemed too heavy in the hand to be glass; probably some kind of crystal. This artifact was the Eye of Truth that let the wearer see what was hidden in the darkness. He had not tried it yet but he knew that he would soon if he had no more luck in his search. He sighed, decided he was going to get cramp if he did not move, and stretched out his long legs towards the fire. Sometimes he felt too tall.
Suddenly there was a jingle of harness outside the circle of firelight and a soft scraping sound. Link got to his feet quickly and snatched up the Master Sword which had lain close to his hand ever since he made camp earlier that evening. Epona was also on her feet whickering anxiously. The red horse sensed a presence.
Dark Link appeared out of the night as he dismounted from the black horse and landed soundlessly on the grass. He was still wearing Link's tunic.
"I did not think you would seek me out," Link said grimly and readied his sword. He knew he was disadvantaged by the lack of a shield but he had fought without one before and he was confident he could hold his own.
"I did not come here to fight," Dark Link answered.
"Then what?" Link said angrily. "To steal my horse as well?"
The dark elf smiled coldly. "As you can see, I have my own. No, I came here to steal something else from you tonight."
"You shall not have it," Link said and raised his blade.
"I have already taken it," Dark Link answered with a laugh.
He pulled the Mirrorshield from the back of the black horse and turned it towards Link. It was with a great shock that Link saw his own reflection, black-haired and deeply tanned. He looked back to Dark Link and saw himself there instead. "What is this trick?" he demanded.
"No trick," Dark Link answered and touched his sun-colored hair. "I can't kill you as I am so instead I shall become you! See if anyone will help you now they think you are me!" Link leaped over the fire towards his alter ego intending to cleave Dark Link's head from his body but the other was mounted before he could get within striking distance. Dark Link dug his boots into the black horse's sides and the animal sprang away like a thunderbolt. His hoofbeats receded into the night. Link ran after him a little way but it was already too late.
Link held the reflective blade of his sword up to his face to verify what he had seen reflected in the Mirrorshield. Sure enough his face had changed color to be like Dark Link's and Dark--well, he had seen what Dark now looked like. Link began to realize the trouble he might be in. But then he took a closer look at his reflection in the sword's shining surface. Dark's illusion had not penetrated all the way through for his eyes were still the same blue they had always been, even if his hair was now black and his skin tan. It comforted him a little to see that there was a limit to Dark Link's magic. And he still had the proof that he was not evil, he had the Master Sword and the Eye of Truth. He walked towards his horse but Epona moved away uneasily.
"Easy, Epona girl, it's me!" Link said, holding his hand out. The horse doubtfully kept her distance. He frowned and then tucked his black hair behind his ears. "Come on Epo, it's your old friend Link! You know me!" He whistled softly Epona's song that Malon had taught him and the horse came forward and let him stroke her face. "Good girl," Link whispered, pulling himself into the saddle. His disguise was good but Epona had seen through it. That meant others could too. But he did not think it would be a good idea to head for Hyrule Castle Town until he could lift the illusion. The guards at the gate would bang him in jail the moment he approached the entrance to the town.
He could think of only one person who might be able to help him and who would recognize him even changed as he was. Saria, his oldest friend who lived in the forest of the Kokiri. Now there was no time to lose and he rode away from the campfire as though pursued by monsters.
The guard at the gate of Hyrule Town woke suddenly to the sound of hoofbeats. He stood up quickly hoping that nobody had noticed him asleep on duty and then looked out of the small window of his guardroom. The room looked onto the moat.
He might be half asleep but he recognized the green tunic and blond hair of the Hero of Time. Why should Link want to gain entrance to the town at this time? Surely he knew that the gates were not opened at night but only when the sun rose? And it was still two hours off dawn. "What's your business here?" he shouted out of the window.
"I need to see Princess Zelda!" came the reply.
"Don't you know what time it is?" the guard shouted.
"Yes! Let me in!"
"But nobody is allowed in at night!"
"I don't care!"
The guard did not want to be the one who refused the Hero of Time entrance into the town. He raced to the heavy mechanism that lowered the recently repaired drawbridge and began to turn the crank. The chains rattled through their fastenings and a shudder went through the ground at his feet. Slowly the drawbridge began to lower towards the edge of the moat. Before it had even touched the ground, Link kicked the flanks of the strange black horse he was riding and the animal leaped the gap and galloped down the lowering gate into the town. "Wait!" the guard cried but he was already gone towards the royal castle. "But I need to know your business in the town!" Oh well, he thought. Link is obviously in a hurry and who am I to stand in the way of Hyrule's Hero?
Another problem became apparent when Link entered the village of the Kokiri deep within the confines of the forest. The houses were dark and dead and there was no movement within the village. "Hallo!" he shouted. "It's me, Link! Come out!" There was no reply. "I need your help!" Still nothing moved.
Link's eyes slid sideways to a prickly bush beside Mido's house. He tensed and then he leaped into the bush, grabbing the Kokiri hiding there. She screamed and tried to get away but he held her tightly. "Fado!" he said earnestly. "It's me, Link!"
"No you're not," the Kokiri girl cried. "You don't even look like him! Go away!"
Link held her down with one hand and withdrew the Eye of Truth with the other. He held the glasses over her eyes so that she had to see him through the crystal lens. "See the truth!" he ordered. Fado gasped and stopped fighting him. Link let her go and stood up slowly. "Do you believe me now?" he asked.
"Why do you look like someone else?" the Kokiri girl asked curiously, holding the magical glasses in her small hands. "We all thought you were one of them." Other Kokiri were appearing now.
"I've had a magic cast on me," Link explained. "I need your help to remove an illusion."
"But we don't know how to do that," Fado said.
"Maybe the fairies will," Link answered. "Where is Navi?"
"She is with the Deku Tree Sprout," Fado told him, handing back the Eye of Truth.
"Thank you Fado." Link hurried through the village towards the Deku Tree's meadow, accompanied now by a crowd of curious Kokiri. The forest people went only as far as the entrance to the meadow and there they clustered while Link disappeared through the mossy passage.
There was a cloud of fairies around the Deku Tree Sprout but they scattered like dragonflies as soon as Link entered the meadow. He trotted down the slope to the young tree ignoring the fairies' panic. "Great Deku Tree," he began. "I--"
"Who are you?" the Deku Sprout demanded. "How did you find this place?"
Link was taken aback but then he drew the Master Sword and threw it down before the young tree. "I am Link, though you may think otherwise, and that is my proof!" he shouted angrily. "I need your help in lifting an illusion!"
The Deku Sprout was silent a long time then its leaves rustled softly. "Ah," it said quietly. "Now I see through the illusion. Yes, I understand your problem, Link."
"Can you lift the magic?" Link demanded.
The Deku Sprout chuckled in amusement. "You get yourself into some tight places, Link!" the tree said. "No, I cannot lift it."
"It is not what you think. The illusion is within yourself."
"I cannot lift it," the Deku Sprout insisted. "Only the one who created the illusion can destroy it."
Link hung his head. "Then it is hopeless, for Dark Link will never lift this magic of his own free will!" He bent and picked up the Master Sword. "I might as well go into self-imposed exile, for while I look like him I will be in danger from every good-spirited creature in this land."
"Not so," the Deku Sprout said. "We recognize you now. Those who are sharp enough to see the truth will see what you truly are, and they will see Dark Link too. But you may need to help them see what is true. It will certainly not be easy to convince people, especially Hylians, that you are who you say you are."
"How can I defeat Dark Link?" Link asked.
"Only you know that," the small tree replied. "You had better decide what to do."
"Link is waiting for me?" Zelda asked.
"That's what he said," the palace guard replied. "He seemed strange somehow ... there's something different about him. I was in half a mind not to let him in, but he is the Hero of Time. He awaits in the courtyard, my Princess."
"Thank you," Zelda answered. She patted her golden hair selfconsciously as she passed out through the archway into the courtyard, smoothing her silken dress. Link was sitting on the edge of the fountain with his back to her, swinging his feet idly. She smiled to see him occupied in such a boyish way. But then Link often veered between the extremes of being deadly serious and acting like a child-- he had refused to be sent back in time after defeating Ganondorf and so had gone in age straight from ten to seventeen. He had not had much time to grow up.
She knew she loved him, but she also knew he loved Malon, the daughter of a farmer-come-merchant who had extensive dealings with the Royal Family. Out of love to Link Zelda did not intervene, although she did not know of anyone else she would consent to love--ever.
The Princess shook off such thoughts and walked lightly forward into the courtyard. "Link?" she said quietly.
He turned and smiled at her. His hat was pulled down so that his face was in shadow underneath his blond hair. "Hello, Princess. You took your time!"
"Did you find Dark Link?" Zelda asked, sitting down beside him on the white marble fountain.
Link grinned. "You could say so. He stole my horse." Zelda took a breath to speak but then Link drew a sword from the blue and gold wrought scabbard he wore. "But I got this, so who had the better deal?"
Zelda touched the dark sword gently with the tip of her finger and then drew back. The blade was ice. "The Sword of Tears," she breathed, "you recovered it. That was well done; this blade must never be used, for evil or for good purpose." Then her eyes widened in anxiety. "But where is the Master Sword, Link? Surely you did not cast it aside in favor of this cursed weapon?"
"It's safe," Link answered with a laugh. "But don't ask me where, for I won't tell you!"
The Princess nodded. "But Dark Link himself?"
"Is still at large," Link said sighing. "I cannot find him alone, he has the power to disappear at will. I shall need aid to kill him and recover my horse."
"You shall have it," Zelda promised. "But there is nothing I can do for now. You had better return to your ranch and come back here in the morning to decide what we must do."
"It is a long way to Lon Lon Ranch without Epona," Link said casually. "To be honest, I would rather not have to ride there tonight. I think I will take a room in the town somewhere."
Just as casually, the Princess suggested, "You could stay here tonight, if you so wish ..."
Link smiled. "Thank you, Princess, I would be delighted."
He followed her to the guest rooms that were in the north wing of the castle, and the Princess showed him to one of the best. Link parted company with her at the door after casually accepting an invitation to dinner that night.
Once he was alone he threw off the hat and flung himself on the bed to enjoy the softness of the silken covers--he was a sensuous being. Comfortable as a cat he sprawled onto his side and gazed for a long time into the large full length silver mirror that had been placed against the wall nearest the window. His eyes gleamed dark red beneath his golden hair, but when the hair cast shadows upon his face the color of his eyes was not noticeable.
Meanwhile Link--the real Link--was sitting despondently on a tree stump in the Lost Woods and wondering what his next course of action could be. The Lost Woods was the only place in Hyrule where he could go without the fear of meeting other people who would attack him. Dark Link's magic spell had worked very well, he had had evidence of that when the Skull Kids who had been his friends attacked him. Not even his closest friends could recognize him with Dark Link's spell still hiding who he really was.
He drew the Master Sword and turned it over in his hand several times to feel the familiar cool metal surface of the magical blade. His fingers gently stroked the Triforce symbol upon the hilt and not for the first time he wondered whether the Sword could lift the illusion he was under. Link sighed heavily and lowered his head to gaze at the mossy ground at his feet. He wished that the fairy Navi was still his companion, for he felt lonely and afraid. But then probably Navi would have followed Dark Link instead, thinking that they were each other.
Link heard again in his mind Dark Link's words, "I can't kill you as I am so instead I shall become you!" Those words had been at the forefront of his mind for hours, ever since he saw Dark Link last. It was what he was most afraid of--that Dark Link could take his place as the Hero of Time and from there work to destroy Hyrule, and nobody would be the wiser. They would just think it was Link himself and even if he defeated Dark Link his own reputation would be irreversibly stained. And if he did not fight Dark Link he would be condemned to an existence as an outlaw, forced to walk alone. For Dark Link would have the entire country up in arms against him as soon as he could gain the power. And Link was sure that it would not be long before his alter ego had the power.
There was a possibility. If Link returned to Hyrule Castle Town bearing the Master Sword in his hands, the sword that no evil could touch, then nobody could question that he came with honor. The truth would come out if he and Dark Link could duel for the Master Sword would defeat Dark Link's weapon. Even if Dark Link wielded the greatest sword in Hyrule, Link's own sword would surely prove the stronger.
But something else told him that the plan would fail. As soon as he showed himself within the town, the people would rise up against him. They would believe that he had stolen the Master Sword. Certainly they would not believe that he held the Sword in the name of peace.
He opened his other hand and looked at the Eye of Truth which he still held tight lest it be taken from him. With the Eye he could prove that he was the real Link ... assuming he could get close enough to someone to show them the truth. That would be the real problem.
"Well, you can't stay here forever," he muttered to himself as he stood up slowly. "You have to face the world some time soon." He would go to Malon first and make her believe him about Dark Link's magic and then perhaps she would be able to help him or offer advice. Link stooped and picked up the Master Sword again, slipping the sacred sword through his belt. He put the Eye of Truth in his pocket to prevent its loss--he would not let the artifact away from him even for a moment--and then made his way back through the Lost Woods to the Kokiri Forest village. Epona waited just outside the entrance to the village and Link made himself enjoy as usual the short walk through the Greenwood, with the scent of green and growing things all around and the light of the fading moon shining upon the trees.
Epona greeted him with her usual soft snort and let him climb up onto her back without any sign of fear. In the dark it did not matter what he looked like, his scent was the same. He patted the horse then rode her in a half-circle and set off toward the lighted windows of the ranch, high up on the ridge overlooking the plain.
The first light of dawn had kissed the eastern skies by the time he reached the ranch and the first signs of activity and Hylian life were appearing in the ant-like movement down by the town, so far off that its walls were shrouded by the morning. Link tried to tuck his hair behind his ears, a futile way to hide its changed color, and wondered if this was the way Dark Link always felt. If so Link could even find pity in his heart for his alter ego who had never asked to be as he was--for Link was a kind-hearted man. He urged the horse up the ramp into the ranch and dismounted as soon as he was hidden from view of the town. This was not his way to come silently as a thief.
Link was met by Malon and a pitchfork as soon as he entered the wide area in the center of the ranch. "Stay back, I'm warning you," she said dangerously, holding the impromptu weapon at his throat. Link raised his hands to show he was unarmed. "Drop the sword," Malon demanded. Link considered whether to begin explaining now, but it would be difficult to reason with someone who held a long and sharp object in a hostile manner. He pulled the Master Sword free from his belt and threw it on the ground at her feet.
Malon's expression changed. "That is Link's sword," she said in horror. "What have you done to him?"
"You black devil," Malon hissed. "You'll not get away with this!" She burst into tears and threw the pitchfork aside, kneeling instead to take up the Sword and cradle it in her arms.
"No!" Link said in alarm. "You've got it all wrong! Just listen to me for a moment! I'm not Dark Link! I know I look like him, but--"
"I sent the ranch hand out of the back entrance," Malon said dully. "The King's soldiers will be here any moment. They'll kill you."
Link took a deep breath. "You may just have condemned Hyrule to a terrible fate. Just listen to me for a moment, Malon. Think about it. Do you believe Dark Link would come here if he had killed m--Link? Of course not! Would he not want to avoid any of these places? And he certainly would not come here during the day, he shuns full sunlight! You know that, I told you about the Water Temple before!" Malon was not even listening to him, he saw. "Listen!" he ordered angrily and knocked the Sword out of her hands as he grasped her shoulders. "It's me, Link! Recognize me! You have to recognize me! This is an illusion Dark Link created!" His voice softened as he saw that there were both tears and terror in Malon's eyes. "Malon," he said gently, "please believe me. You ... you still wear my ring," and he took her hand and touched the golden band.
She gasped. "How did you know about that?"
"I was the one who proposed to you," Link said. "Malon, it really is me."
Malon reached out and with her fingers gently parted that shining black hair to look into his face. She drew a shuddering breath. "Your eyes ... Link, it is you. O Gods, I was so frightened ..." With a sob she flung herself on him and wrapped her arms tight around his chest, lying her head on his shoulder. Link held her gently and buried his face in her hair.
They stood like that for some moments, each deriving peace from the recognition of the other. Then there was a sound of jingling harness and chain mail outside the ranch. Malon pulled away quickly. "Link, the soldiers!" she exclaimed and her eyes became wide with fear. "I forgot all about them! Ingo will be with them--we have to hide you!"
Link looked around quickly for a hiding place, saw a pile of hay in the back of Talon's wagon which Malon had been working to move from the wagon to the ground. "I'll hide," he told her, "and you tell them something."
"Tell them what?" Malon panicked.
"Anything!" Link said as he dived into the hay and pulled it over himself. In moments he was hidden from view, but the hiding place seemed such an obvious one that the soldiers would surely not fail to look there first. Unless, Malon thought ...
"Ho, there!" The first soldier rode into the ranch. "You, girl!" he called to Malon. "Where's the dark elf?"
"You're too late," Malon said, self-consciously trying to smooth hay from her skirts. "He ran in here as though demons were after him, then he went straight over the wall and out."
"The wall?" the soldier said in amazement. "You're trying it on, girl, nobody jumps walls eight feet high."
Malon pointed to a pile of crates stacked up against the ranch wall several yards away.
"Din's Fire," the soldier muttered.
A wrench of cold horror stole through Malon as she suddenly noticed the Master Sword which was still lying on the ground in full view of the company, right beside the haypile. They would notice it any moment and then Link's only weapon would be lost. She did the only thing she could think of under the circumstances--she moved and stood before the sword to hide it with her skirts.
"What are you hiding?" the soldier demanded.
He urged his horse forward a few steps. "Step aside!" He could not see the hand snake out of the haypile, grasp the sword and withdraw silently into the hay, but when Malon moved there was nothing there except the hay.
"All right," the soldier sighed. "The only thing that side of the ranch is Gerudo Valley and the deserts--we'll search for him there and near the lakeside." He wheeled his horse around and rode hard out of the gate again. The others followed suit.
There was a rustling and movement in the hay and then Link's head broke the surface with a thunderous sneeze. "I thought I was going to do that while they were still here," he said sniffing thankfully. "I was holding my breath! That was a good idea of yours to send them off to the lake!"
Malon lent a hand to help him climb out of the hay. He brushed strands of hay off his clothes and out of his hair. "What is going on here?" Malon demanded. "There's the rumors of Ganondorf awakening, you look like Dark Link who we have all been told to watch out for--and if you are here then who is the Link at the castle?"
"At the castle?" Link exclaimed. "It must be Dark Link! I look like him and he looks like me--it was some magic of his that nobody I spoke to knows how to lift. If he is at the castle, Princess Zelda may be in terrible danger."
"What are we going to do?" Malon asked.
"There is only one thing we can do," Link said grimly. "You have to get me into Hyrule Castle Town."
"That will not be easy. Link--I mean Dark Link--rode into the town only a few hours ago and then messages went out to all of Hyrule that Dark Link--that's you--was on the loose and we should shoot first and ask questions later." Malon held his hand tightly. "The provinces are out in arms to hunt you down, Link! This is all a dreadful mistake!"
"It was not Dark Link's mistake," Link pointed out. "But so far Epona, the Kokiri, the Deku Sprout and you have recognized me--at least that means people can, if they look hard enough. I have to find the Princess and convince her, only with her help can we get rid of Dark Link. And she may know how to lift the illusion."
"I hope she does," Malon said. "I don't like you with black hair."
They waited at the ranch throughout the heat of the day in order to avoid being challenged by soldiers. With Malon's help it was easy to convince Talon that Link was who he said he was, and the three of them (minus Ingo who had been sent to deliver goods to the town) sat inside discussing ways of stopping Dark Link. "We had better go as soon as the sun begins to set," Malon said, "or we won't be in time to get through the gates before they close for the night."
"How am I going to get past the guards?" Link asked. "I do not have Dark Link's power of becoming a shadow--although it would be damned useful if I was Dark Link right now!"
"Don't talk like that," Malon said. "If you were Dark Link I wouldn't help you."
"You'll have to go in disguise," Talon said practically.
"It's too dangerous," Malon insisted. "What if we are challenged at the gate? Link won't have a chance to fight or escape, and they won't wait to question him. Their orders are to kill Dark Link on sight."
"If going in disguise is the only way, I'll do it," Link said firmly.
"What if we delivered more milk to the Castle?" Malon suggested. "An extra few crates which had been requested of us. Except that one of the crates will not hold milk!"
"Brilliant," Talon praised his daughter.
Zelda and Link sat facing each other across a wide table in the royal palace's dining room. Although her hands were folded primly in her lap Zelda felt like dancing for joy. Link chose my company over Malon's! Perhaps she would yet have a chance to love him as she wished to love him.
Food was set before them and for a while longer there was no speech between them. Presently Zelda set down her cup and spoke quietly to break the silence. "I like your clothes tonight." Link had changed for the occasion into a tunic of dark blue--the breast embroidered with a gold Triforce. Zelda had never before seen him in anything save the green Kokiri tunic he always wore.
He smiled at her. "I thought a change would be good," he said deliberately.
"You say that as if it means something aside from the obvious," Zelda said with a faint hint of a question.
"Perhaps it does," Link said and bent his head to his plate.
"Oh?" the Princess said quietly.
Link gestured with his cup. "Once I get rid of--of Dark Link, I want to change the world." He laughed. "Never let it be said that I lacked ambition!"
Zelda nodded slowly but her mind was very busy. Now she could see what the guard had been talking about when he said Link seemed somehow different. "Link ... is there anything wrong?" she asked.
"Why should there be?" Link smiled.
"No reason," Zelda answered softly. She ate sparingly, preferring to watch him surreptitiously. Yet there was nothing she could put her finger on to say, yes, this is what has changed. It was more a subtle alteration in his whole being--he seemed more focused and confident in himself, and more than a little brash especially in the way he now spoke to her. "So you saw Dark Link," she suggested, "and he took your horse. Did you ... exchange words with him?"
Link shrugged. "No more than was necessary. I suppose he is hiding somewhere now that he knows I am on his trail. When I am rested, Princess, I will go out and hunt him down." He smiled coldly. "I will not stop until I find him, I promise you that."
Zelda inclined her head to show that she had heard and understood him but his words had troubled her. It just did not seem like Link to be so eager for a kill. But perhaps he felt challenged by the presence of his doppelganger in the realm. Zelda knew that if there was an evil Zelda out in Hyrule as there was an evil Link, she herself would not wish to wait before destroying her clone-self. She felt threatened by Dark Link for she knew the extent of Link's skills. She could never guess how near to Dark Link she was.
Her companion fiddled with a golden pendant under the table. Dark Link was fighting against the furious orders of the imprisoned Ganondorf who insisted on speaking to him through the gem. Get her, now! She's the dangerous one! Kill her, damn you! No, Dark returned firmly. I need to use her to finish Link. She has all the power in the realm. Once I have tricked her into destroying the 'Hero of Time' I will kill her, but not before!
The Royal Princess was looking at him. Dark smiled quickly at her and pretended to be toying with his food. He did not want to arouse any suspicions in the Princess for she would have to trust him fully before he could use her against his alter ego.
"Link," Zelda said. "You will have to use the Master Sword to kill Dark Link. It is the only way such creatures of evil can be destroyed, even though he does not have the Sword of Tears to protect him. If I were you I would retrieve the sword from wherever you have hidden it--it was commendable of you to place the weapon where Dark Link could not try to destroy it, but you are going to need it before long!"
Dark Link nodded with a smile of understanding. Is that so ... I can only be killed by the Master Sword? That is interesting, I will have to keep that in mind, he thought. "What does the Sword of Tears do?"
"I told you before," the Princess said with a frown. "It causes its owner to become almost immortal. With the Sword of Tears a warrior can fight on even when mortally wounded. But by the same power it clouds judgement for the wielder does not know when to retreat."
"Still it sounds useful," Dark Link said thoughtfully.
"It is not a blade you can use," the Princess insisted. "Put it out of your mind! Such things are not for those who walk under the sun. Leave evil weapons to those who are suited to them."
"Oh, I shall," Dark assured her. "Each to his own." He laughed again.
"Are you finished?" Zelda asked coolly. Disapproval was hard in her voice.
"Cool it, Princess," Dark smiled just as coldly. "I have everything under control."
The Princess shook her head slightly. She sensed now that something was wrong in this room. But Link, as if he knew that she knew, was looking at her with that open and trusting look that he did so well--an expression which surely could hold no dark secret unless Link himself was a far more complex person than she had thought. "Link, would you come to my chamber tonight," Zelda requested. "We need to discuss the matter of Dark Link in greater detail."
"I will do that, Princess," he agreed.
"I will tell you where to go," Zelda said. "Walk quietly when you come--I would appreciate it if you kept our companionship a secret for now."
The laden milk cart rattled slowly through the gates of the town. The rancher and his daughter were well-known figures in Hyrule Castle Town and several people stopped to wave at them. Nobody asked why Talon should be delivering milk this late.
They parked the cart just outside the main gates of the royal castle, out of the immediate sight of any palace guards, and Malon carefully lifted the lid of the crate she had been sitting on. She helped Link to climb out--he was stiff after being squashed into a cramped position for so long. He groaned as he clambered out of the crate.
"You shouldn't grow so much," Talon said. "You're too tall, lad!"
"I can't help--"
"Ssh," Malon warned. "The guards."
Link looked up at the castle. There was a lighted room in the topmost tower of the north wing. He knew which room that would be. "Princess Zelda is awake," he told Malon, "we can get to her tonight if we hurry!"
"How are you going to get up there?" Malon asked craning her neck back to see the high tower.
Link bit his lip. Of course, Dark Link had his Hookshot. He had forgotten. If he had been a child he could have climbed through the water system as he had done before, but he was too big for such paths now and the road between times was closed. In any case, he did not have the Ocarina of Time. "Perhaps if I climbed," he muttered. The walls were sheer and did not afford a handhold. "This will be difficult."
"Look there!" commanded Talon and he pointed to the castle's gray stone flanks. There was a window only a short way up--it might be reachable with the Hookshot if not for the moat. From there it would be possible to reach the ledges and bastions which adorned the north side of the castle--and possibly a skilled thief could climb all the way to Princess Zelda's distant window, if he had a good head for heights and more than his measure of foolhardiness. "So?" Link demanded. "I cannot jump ten or twelve feet!"
The rancher tossed him a rope with a slightly rusted grapnel attached to the end. "I came prepared, Link lad," he grinned. "I thought it'd be like this!"
Zelda opened the door a crack and saw Link waiting outside. She had sat up by the light of a lamp, waiting for his knock upon her door. "You are late," she said coldly.
"I had to change first," Link told her. He was wearing a tough gray tunic and dark leather boots and was now armed. "I am leaving at first light to hunt my other half down."
"Come in," the Princess whispered and stood aside to let him enter. Link stalked into the room moving with the predatory grace of a cat--his blond hair glittered cold and starlike in the light of the lamps she had set about her room. Quietly Zelda shut the door behind her and latched it against the intrusion of any unexpected palace guards.
Link went straight to the wide window and flung it open, leaned out into the night as if he hungered for the darkness. "Well, Princess," he said quietly, "what shall we discuss?"
Careful, Zelda thought. He is far more dangerous than you believed. This is no mere boy! "How are you going to destroy Dark Link?" she asked.
Link drew the sword from the scabbard strapped to his back. "With this," he said with infinite coldness.
She recognized the weapon and cried out. "Link, no! I told you that that blade is too dangerous! It corrupts those who wield it!"
"But it won't corrupt me!" Link shouted. "I am master of the sword!" He lifted the Sword of Tears and swung it slowly in a circle. The blade of the sword gleamed with a cold, eager blue light. "See," he said in a calmer voice, "the sword obeys my commands. And it is the only way to defeat him. He will die on the blade of this weapon and then I shall have no further need of it." He replaced the sword in its sheath--the sheath that was meant for the Master Sword--and turned to her with a smile. "Trust me, Princess! I know what I am doing!" And I do, he thought. I know very well.
"Do you really?" Zelda asked quietly.
Link came over to her and gently took her hands in his which were covered by the golden gauntlets that gave him supernatural strength. Zelda felt the power flowing through him and was intoxicated by his closeness. "Yes, I do," he replied, "and I shall do it for you."
"And what will you do after you have killed Dark Link?" Zelda asked. "What will you do with the Sword of Tears?"
"I will not need it," he replied casually--too casually? "You may take charge of it, see that it never falls into the wrong hands again."
"Very well," the Princess whispered. "But I fear that it has gained too great a hold on you for you to give it up without a struggle, Link."
He still held her and now pulled her towards him. Zelda gave in like a willow tree bent by the wind--she felt caught up in a fairytale romance, and here was the mysterious warrior from a foreign land come to sweep her off her feet to some distant world. Just as she had dreamed many years ago when she was a child and reading books, her prince had come. She folded in his arms and bent her head against his broad chest hearing the strong slow rhythm of his heart.
Something cold and hard pressed against her cheek. She lifted her head a little and saw that the object was a golden amulet on a fine chain around Link's neck. Zelda's eyes focused on the jewel and she saw that it was engraved with the symbol of the Gerudo. "Link," she began. She was going to ask him why he would wear the sign of Ganondorf when he was sworn to fight against him, but then a flash of fire went off in her brain. Zelda tore herself away from his arms. "No!" she cried.
"What's wrong, Zelda?" Link demanded and he took a quick step towards her. The Princess backed away just as quickly. But there was nowhere to go--the door was locked, damn it! She had locked it herself to prevent their being disturbed. She cursed her stupidity. Link had been corrupted by the sword and now he served Ganondorf, and she was alone in a room at the top of a tower with the most powerful and dangerous elf in the realm.
And then her heart stopped. Link tossed his hair aside as he came towards her and drew his sword, and his eyes flashed ruby-red in the light of the lamps. "You ... you are ..."
"I thought you might see through the disguise," he said calmly. "Unfortunately, Princess, I cannot let you go now. You see, it might prove difficult for me if you told the palace guards what you see in me. They would think you were the mad one, Princess--for how can you make people doubt the evidence of their own eyes?" The Sword of Tears gleamed fitfully in his hand. "Of course," he said lightly, "that leaves me with a problem. What should I do about you?" He smiled. "Perhaps I can buy your silence."
"Get away from me," Zelda hissed. "I know who you are! How dare you come here! Leave this place and do not return!"
"Why?" Dark Link snapped. "So you can wait for your true Link to come along and save you?" He scowled. "Hel-lo? He is in love with that farmer's daughter! He doesn't care about you, Princess, except in the very proper way!" Zelda breathed in sharply and drew back, for he had touched the very heart of the sore place in her soul. "Link is too innocent to be able to love you, Princess!" Dark Link went on and now his blood-colored eyes shone like coals in Link's fair face. "Would he make a king? Does he have the determination--the ruthlessness--to make you a husband?"
"And I suppose you could do better," Zelda said with a weight of scorn. "You are a mere reflection of him. You have no personality of your own! What makes you think that you could overcome him?"
Dark Link's face grew cold. "You will regret those words, Princess," he said quietly. "We are alone and until morning I am your master. What will you do to stop me? You are powerless!"
Zelda snatched up a nearby candelabra made of massy gold and brandished it in front of herself. "Do not come near me," she warned.
Dark Link laughed. He flicked his sword out and contemptuously caught the candelabra upon the point of his blade. With a movement of his wrist he flung it from her hand and tossed it into a corner. The candles guttered and went out. "Are you so ready to die?" Dark Link asked coolly and his mirth disappeared. This was the real Dark Link--the exact opposite of Link in every way. He was cold where Link was warmly demonstrative, hot-tempered where Link was laid-back and cruel where Link was kind. And Zelda realized with a shocking thrill that this kind of man she could also love. But she could not forget the real danger she was in while he was near her and so she pulled back and tried to slide around the bed to the door of the room.
Dark Link sprang to interpose himself between her and the escape. "Naughty," he remonstrated without a smile. "I told you, Princess, you are mine."
"What are you going to do to me?" Zelda asked in fear. In answer he grasped her by the arms and pulled her into his embrace. She was attacked by a crushing kiss. Furious and trapped Zelda fought in his arms but Dark Link did not let her go until he had finished. Then he pushed her away from him with rough passion and she fell to her knees on the floor of the chamber. "Touch me again," she threatened breathlessly, gulping air, "and I will scream."
"If you were going to scream you would have done it already," Dark Link said coldly and pulled her to her feet. "Look at me. I am what you want, not some soft-headed farmboy. I can rule and dominate--I have the material of a King."
Zelda stood quite still and looked into his shining fiery eyes. "Yes," she agreed softly. "Link is not a ruler. But you are not a King. You have no shred of honor in your soul, Dark Link--if you have a soul at all and not a dark void. Leave this place, I shall never accept you as a Hylian. You are hence cast out from this realm."
"But only if I want to be," Dark Link told her with a smile. "Remember Princess, though you may be the heir apparent to the throne, in the end the power belongs to those who have the greatest weapon. And I do."
Zelda watched over Dark Link's shoulder. He had his back to the window and she saw a dark shape rise up into the window's frame and silhouette against the pale white orb of the moon. Two hands grasped the window ledge and then the intruder pulled himself through the window into the room. His dark black hair did not shield his clear blue eyes from her sight.
The real Link drew the Master sword which shone like a star-
and Dark Link whirled to meet the blow with his own Sword of Tears. Without a spoken word the two warriors closed in for the battle meeting steel with steel in a deadly dance of swordsmanship. Zelda pressed up against the locked door of the chamber and watched with her heart in her mouth. She did not know which one to cheer for--the dark one or the one with golden hair? Which Link was which?
"Die, damn you," grunted the fair Link, slamming his sword against the other's. Sparks flew.
The other Link ducked and kicked out at his enemy's ankles. Dark Link fell to the ground and rolled quickly. He got to one knee and flung a dagger which grazed the real Link's shoulder. The real Link gritted his teeth in pain but leaped to his feet and rushed his enemy. "You won't escape this time!" he shouted.
"I have no intention of escaping," Dark Link informed him and slashed out with his sword. The two blades met and locked in midair and their wielders strove for mastery, each pushing at the other. But Dark Link wore the golden gauntlets and he began to drive Link to his knees. They fought against each other with identical expressions of hate upon their faces until it was no longer clear that there was a difference between them.
Link suddenly gave underneath the pressure and threw himself to the ground before rolling away. Dark Link fell over him and was thrown roughly away. They flew at each other without stopping to recover from the mutual surprise.
But then Zelda entered the fight with a heavy silver ewer. She leaped forward and brought it down upon the fair Link's head with all the strength in her body. "Hit him quickly!" she shouted to the other Link. "Use the Master Sword!" Dark Link struggled to stand, stunned.
Link stabbed out with his sword throwing the whole force of his body into the thrust. His blade bit deep into Dark Link's chest grinding against the bone, and the newly stained point broke through the other side. Dark choked and fell to his knees with his hands shakily clasped around the hilt, dropping the Sword of Tears as if it were nothing. Link let go of the Master Sword suddenly horrified at what he had done. Dark's warm blood was on his hands and tunic and it was just as red as that of any Hylian.
The door to Zelda's chamber was suddenly flung open as its locks broke. Soldiers poured in! The sound of the battle had attracted attention, but in the excitement of the fighting neither Zelda nor the Links had heard the sounds of the palace guard trying to break in. The guards stopped dead when they saw what was before them--as it appeared to them, the victorious Dark Link stood over Link who had been impaled upon his own sword.
"Sorcerous dog!" The first soldier ran forward drawing his own blade. "He's killed the Hero of Time!"
"Stop!" commanded Zelda and she sprang between them. "It is not what you think!"
Link knelt beside Dark Link and grabbed the collar of his tunic. "Lift the illusion and I'll see that you live!" he ordered savagely.
"Too ... late ..." Dark coughed. His trembling fingers closed around the hilt of his sword and as he touched the weapon his weakness seemed to lift. He turned the blade and snapped it forward to drive it into Link's thigh and as he fell with a cry Dark got slowly to his feet.
The soldiers backed away in fear. Dark Link's illusion was fading as his blood stained the floor at his feet. But although his injury should have killed him by now, he was standing--and with the Master Sword still stuck in his gut! As if in slow motion Dark Link looked down at himself. With his right hand he grasped the hilt of the Master Sword, screwing his face up as if the touch of the sacred blade was painful to him. Slowly he pulled the sword out and dropped it to the floor where it lay smoking slightly. It was obvious to the watchers just who was who now, for Dark Link's illusion left both of them with a hiss and a faint pall of smoke.
Zelda helped Link to his feet. He leaned on her with an expression of pain, pressing his hand to the wound in his thigh.
"Get the dark elf," the Princess ordered the soldiers.
Dark Link waited for the first of them to approach; his right hand clasped over the wound in his torso and the Sword of Tears still within his left hand. Suddenly with astonishing speed he ran and dived for the window. The soldiers leaped after him and the sergeant caught hold of the hem of his tunic just as he went through. For a moment Dark Link hung by his clothing and then the tunic ripped. There was no scream--merely a faint splash several eternal seconds later.
"Thank you for saving me," Zelda said to Link as he rode slowly to the gate of the castle. His thigh and shoulder were bandaged but he had avoided serious injury in the fight. Dark Link had apparently not been so lucky--the golden gauntlets and some shreds of ripped cloth were recovered from the moat but the dark elf's body had not been found. It was not surprising, the sergeant in charge of the search had said, for if he had fallen in the moat then he could have been swept over the weir and out of Hyrule Castle Town, wherever the river saw fit to take him.
"You are welcome, Princess," Link smiled. "At least we won't have any more trouble out of him!"
"I will tell the soldiers to look for his sword and recover it if possible," Zelda told him. "We can never let that weapon fall into the hands of one of Ganondorf's minions, even if Dark Link no longer wields it. It is too dangerous to be free."
"And I'll keep my eyes out for any more monsters in Hyrule!" Link promised with a laugh.
"Good-bye, Link," Zelda said softly.
"Good-bye, Princess. Look out for elves bearing gifts." And with that he patted the red horse and rode quickly through the palace gates. There were few townspeople about but they waved to him, and he waved back. It was good to be accepted.
The drawbridge was just being lowered as he reached it. He rode Epona out into the wide green reaches of the field, and turned the horse's head towards the ranch which gleamed golden in the morning sunlight.
The heavy knock at the door made Kara gasp and jump in surprise. Who would want to visit them at this time of night, and in such a storm? The wind howled about the house as if it were trying to expunge all lonely living things which hid from the tempest, and driving sheets of rain battered what foolish creatures had been caught out when the clouds burst. Some lone traveler looking for shelter, she thought and she got to her feet and walked over to open the door.
The dark-haired man was leaning against the wall, struggling for each breath. His hands were clasped over his chest and she saw the stain of blood all down his tunic. He opened his glowing red eyes a little and looked at her, too weak to smile.
Kara caught him as he fell, and dragged him inside. His sword fell from nerveless hands as she lifted him onto the bed and gently began to peel the blood-soaked tunic away from his wound.
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