Chapter Twenty Nine
Bloody and weary, Link walked around the side of the remains of Thanos' palace and entered the courtyard. The sight before him was an odd one: Si'Frant were clustered together in one end of the large yard; Zelda and her party were in the opposite end; and Qulanda and Duena stood in between, looking unsure about where they belonged. Every one seemed to be talking at once and demonstrating with wild hand gestures what they had done in the throne room. Now that the fear of death was gone, they could look back and marvel at their individual rolls in what happened.
It was an odd sight; under normal conditions, half of these people would be ready to kill the other half. But to Link's eyes, it was beautiful.
"Link!" Zelda started for him.
Despite muscles crying out in protest, Link found himself running to her. They met somewhere in the middle of the courtyard and all other concerns suddenly became less important. He lifted Zelda from her feet, swung her about, and kissed her hard and passionately.
"Impa found you," Zelda said breathlessly when her boots were again touching soil.
"Yeah, she's with Duncan now." Link tightened his arms around her and breathed in the smoky scent of her. "Gods, you feel good." He drew back sharply when thought caught up with him. "Why are you here?"
Zelda gave him a sardonic look. "Where else would I be?"
"Hyrule. Safe behind a couple of battalions of palace guards."
"This was where I was needed," she told him. "This was where you were. No battalions were going to stop me from coming here."
Link sighed and tried to hold a stern face but failed. He hugged her again. "I'm glad you're here."
"Come on, I want you to meet someone."
With his arm around her waist, Link and Zelda started back to where Glenn and Irbe waited.
"Hello, Glenn," Link said. "Nice to see you again."
"Link," Zelda said, "meet Captain Josia Irbe, head of my personal guard detail."
Link looked at her in surprise. "I apparently missed some things." He held out a hand to Irbe. "Nice to meet you, Josia."
The large man took the proffered hand and they shook. "I've heard a lot about you, Sir Link."
"Just so you know"—Link kept his tone jovial but squeezed Irbe's hand enough to let the man know his level of seriousness—"if anything ever happens to Zelda, and you're still alive, I'll come after you second. Remember that." He released Irbe's hand and smiled good-naturedly.
Irbe returned the smile with an unsure one.
"I'll catch up with you later, Glenn." Link turned Zelda around and they started walking to the center of the courtyard. "My turn, princess."
"Was that really necessary?"
"Yes, it was."
Looking intimidated by the soldiers and warriors around them, Qulanda and Duena brightened at Link's approach.
"Link!" Duena said excitedly. "I did as you instructed! I danced the forms of the blade and controlled my fear. I was worried I would falter, but I managed to find my quiet center—just as you taught!"
Link smiled. "I knew you could do it, Duena. Congratulations." Separating himself from Zelda, he reached over his shoulder and pulled the Goron's sword free of its makeshift sheath. "You should have this back then." He twirled the sword about and formally presented it to her hilt first with the blade balanced on his arms.
Reverently, she took it from him. She looked comfortable holding the bared blade. "I thought I would never see this again."
"I thought I would never see you again," Qulanda put in. "Are you all right, Link?"
He glanced over his shoulder. "I'm fine," he said. "Better than ever before. Zelda, this is Qulanda Rinter and Duena. Both proved to be invaluable traveling through the Wasteland of Canor. They are friends and I owe them a lot."
Zelda inclined her head in a small bow. "Qulanda and I met in the throne room, but we didn't have much time to speak. Duena, that was a very impressive display of blademastery in there."
The Goron drew herself up tall. "Thank you, ma'am."
Qulanda's gaze flicked between Link and Zelda. "Link talked about you a lot during the trip here," she told Zelda. "Treat him well or you'll have us to answer to."
Zelda laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."
"There's something I want to discuss with you, Qulanda," Link said, drawing her to the side. "For getting me here safely, and for going far beyond what is expected of a travel guide, this is yours." He reached into his tunic and withdrew a leather pouch filled with rupees.
Qulanda's eyes widened at the sight of the money purse. "That's more than three hundred, Link. I can't take all that."
"You can and will." He pressed the bag into her hands. "You didn't have to go in the palace with me, but you did. You didn't have to stay and fight Duncan, but you did. Plus, you'll need the extra money to pay the right people for information in Cape Town."
Wet eyes met his gaze. "What?"
"I can make it back to Hyrule without you," he said. "Go south to Cape Town and find her and bring her back, Qulanda."
For almost a full minute, Qulanda just gaped at him. Finally, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him. "Thank you, Link," she whispered. "I will."
Behind them, Duena cleared her throat and stepped forward. "Might I accompany you, Qulanda?"
The guide stepped away from Link but kept an arm around him. "I might have to rent a boat and sail the Great Hyrulian Sea, Duena. Why would you want to come with me?"
"After what I experienced in that palace," the Goron said earnestly, "I find that I feel confident in facing anything—even water.
"You are my friend, Qulanda, and still require assistance. I shall stay with you until the end if you will have me. That is," she quickly added, "unless Link has an objection."
"No," Link said. "If there was any debt between us, you have more than repaid it. I'd take her with, Qulanda; Duena has proven to be quite helpful on a journey."
"Spirits guide us, you are more than welcome with me. Let's go to Cape Town!"
"Oh!" Duena threw her arms wide and scooped Link and Qulanda up in a big hug. "I shall miss you, Link!"
Duena lifted them like rag dolls and squeezed them tightly. They waved their arms and slapped the Goron's exoskeleton.
"Can't...breathe," Link gasped.
"We done yet?" Qulanda managed.
Duena held them a moment longer and then set them gently down. "I shall miss your company, Link," she said again.
Link drew a deep breath. "Likewise," he said honestly. "You, too, Qulanda."
"I feel that we'll all meet again," Qulanda said. "Maybe legends will even be written about us someday."
"I think you two are on your way to writing those legends already." Link looked to the side and saw Verr beckoning him and Zelda from the opposite end of the courtyard. "I have to go now, but I'll see you off before you leave."
The two travelers nodded and let him walk away. Zelda, who had stepped back and let the friends have their moment together, joined him again. "Should I be jealous?" she asked lightly.
"No. Wrong gender for that."
"Really?" Zelda raised her brows. "For you or her?"
"I'd think you would know the answer to that better than anyone, princess."
Verr, leader of the Si'Frant, stood waiting for them. The hood of her sand colored robe was up and masked her face.
"You wanted to see us?" Link asked.
"I wished to thank you before we departed," Verr answered. "When you cast Pav and I from Hyrule with the words that we must live for ourselves, I was left confused. I still thought then that the Si'Frant should remain as they were.
"Your words, Link, sent us down the path to redemption. Thank you."
"I only wish the price didn't have to be so high," Zelda said. "I know how many people you lost on the way here and fighting the garjos."
Verr's shaded eyes glazed over with sadness. "Thank you, Princess Zelda. No lesson is without pain, however, and it seems we paid greatly to learn how to live."
Link glanced to the group of Si'Frant behind Verr, watching them. "Where will you go now?"
Verr was silent for a moment. "The Si'Frant have not been on good terms with the Vless for centuries," she said. "Perhaps it is time to rectify that. With them beside us, we can begin rebuilding Canor and our ranks. It will take a long time, but the end...the end is worth it."
"Indeed." Link offered his hand and Verr shook it. "Travel well."
Zelda stepped forward and offered her well wishes too.
"One last thing, Knight," Verr said. "My teacher foresaw something on the horizon bearing down on us all. He called it a new world order. I am now privy to many things he knew, but not those visions. It seems when this order arrives we shall all be, as you Hylians say, trapped in the dark together.
"I do not know if we will be needed, but should a day come when you or Princess Zelda are in need of help, call us and we shall come. The Si'Frant will stand ready to face whatever the future brings."
"Hyrule offers the same commitment," Zelda said. "Goodbye, Verr."
Link nodded. "Farewell."
Verr secured her cowl and turned on her heel. She began walking toward the gates and the Si'Frant fell into step behind her. The procession was horribly small, but all walked with purpose in their strides. For the first time in their lives, these Si'Frant saw the world through the eyes of the free. In many ways, Link reflected, they were even more dangerous now than when they were overzealous slaves. Now, however, they were an army against darkness. As the group passed the mouth of the gates, he thought back to his vision of the future in the palace.
"You look oddly pensive," Zelda said. "What's on your mind?"
"The future." Link looked to her. "I was just thinking about the horizon."
Her gaze slipped away for a moment, but returned to his. "I think you and I are going to be doing a lot of that, aren't we?" The final part of that came out almost hopeful.
"No," Link said, "we won't."
Zelda recoiled slightly. "But I thought in dreamscape...I thought we were going to—"
Link pressed a finger to her lips. "Shh. I meant, nati, that if there is a dark destiny ahead of me that it can come and take its best shot. I refuse to live in fear of shadowy words whispered by a prophet centuries ago."
"But what about the path of sins?" she asked.
"Well, so far my path seems pretty clear," he said. "I'm happy now. Maybe I made the choice correctly and altered the prediction."
"But you can't know for certain."
"We're not supposed to know about the future, nati. I'll walk the path I selected without fear of where it will lead. Right now I have all that I want, and the future doesn't matter because it will only be what we make it."
Zelda opened her mouth to speak but closed it again without uttering a sound. She tilted her head and considered him. "What did you call me?"
Worry showed on his face. "Didn't I use the term correctly?"
"Y-yes," she stammered. "If you meant it in that context."
"I thought you didn't know Old Hylian," she said.
Link slipped his arms around her waist. "And I told you that I'm always willing to learn." He leaned in but she stopped him with a hand against his chest. "What?"
Her face contorted in a grimace. "I don't like your beard, Link. Could you get rid of it by tonight?"
"Tonight?" He paused for a heartbeat. "Absolutely."
As they kissed leathery birds flew high overhead. Pollen and spores, no longer dormant, fell from their wings to the ground. Insects were slowly making their way back into north Canor. Life was returning. It would take generations, but plants and trees would again grow from fertile soil. Canor would no longer be a wasteland. The plants and animals, however, would remain forever changed by the magic that had infested the land for so long. The legacy of Thanos.
Impa tore a strip of cloth from the hem of her robe and gently wrapped it around Duncan's sightless eyes. "You foolish, foolish man," she said. "Do you have any idea what you have done? What you put me and everyone else through?"
"I just wanted to make things right," Duncan said, resting against one of the stone columns on the ruined palace's roof. "I tried so hard to save my father and Givoi. I tried so hard, Impa, to undo all the harm that resulted from the stupid mistakes of my youth. Every time I changed something, it only became worse. I saw what would have happen if I had not destroyed that book, and I think I shall forever have nightmares about that timeline."
"Well," Impa said in an uncharacteristically tender voice, "perhaps your decisions were not all stupid, then."
Duncan gave a bark of a laugh. "I must have been condemned from the start to make bad choices. I had thought that by helping and teaching Link, I could tip the scales back in my favor, but that is no longer possible."
"He surpassed me, old woman. Link used one of my lessons about the perception of belief against me and took the Eye. He made me think—made the magic think—that he was going to kill me and convinced the magic to abandon me. It was genius. Pray, Impa, that your student never surpasses you."
"Little chance of that." Impa sighed and regarded the infuriating man that had driven her from one corner of the world to the next. "Was it worth it?" she asked. "Knowing the price?"
"I always knew there would be a price to pay; there's always a price for power. Yes, even though my work remained incomplete, the price is just. I'm an old man and what are a few years off my life?"
"Will you go home to Calbor?"
"No," he said. "My sister thinks I am dead. Why tell her the truth only to have her face my real death not long after? No, it is better this way." He smiled to himself. "Much better than it was before..."
It had become a routine for Isgrid. After her daily lessons, she would cross her small village to Lady Azar's house. In the wintertime, when the air coming from the Great Hyrulian Sea was frigid and biting, she would wrap herself in a cozy wool cloak and make her way across the influential areas of her village.
She would pass vendors selling furs and scents from all over the known world. Even the cold weather could not keep many of the traveling merchants away. Many of the yearly visitors would recognize her from business dealings with her father and call out greetings.
Isgrid's father owned the town's general store and leased many of the booths the merchants set up in. Her father would let the vendors use the booths in return for some of their wares that he would then sell during the off-season when they sailed back to Calatia or Faran. It was a complex system of trades and handshake deals. A system that her father had promised she would learn when she was old enough to take control of the business.
It was for that reason among many that Isgrid enjoyed these weekly visits with Lady Azar. Acting as official courier between her father and the head of Azar Trading Company, Isgrid was learning much from Nara.
Sometimes, after Nara signed the papers and they were back safely in the young girl's pouch, Isgrid would ask Nara to tell her stories about the past. Nara would smile and oblige.
She would talk about how she took control of the family shipping business when her father died of a fever, and about the heroics of her brother at the Tower of Magic. Duncan Azar had sadly died decades earlier when several of his fellow students had fallen under the spell of an ancient spirit and stolen a book of magic. He had gone with a wizard squad to save the students, but when the spirit proved too strong for the wizards, he had thrown the book into a fire and burned it. They cast the spirit out, but it struck Duncan down with its last gasp in the world of the living.
Wizards from the Tower had come to Calbor—everyone living then remembered it, but could oddly not recall their names or faces—and haled Duncan as a hero.
It wasn't long after that when Nara and Duncan's father fell ill and left control of the company with Nara. Lady Azar, as the town knew her, had struggled at first, but managed finally to return the company to its glory.
Arriving at Nara's villa, Isgrid politely knocked on the double doors. One of the servants let her in and showed her to an elegant drawing room.
Lady Azar was waiting there for Isgrid, and smiled a full smile when the little girl walked in. "Welcome, Isgrid. Did you bring those forms your father promised?"
"Yes, ma'am." Isgrid opened the pouch at her waist. This part of her job always made her feel very important. "I have them here."
"Then sit and let's go over them. When we're finished, I'll take you down to the garden and we'll talk for a while."
Isgrid walked to Nara, passing an old, worn walking stick propped against the corner of the room as she did so. Nara never mentioned the stick, never even showed any signs of having seen it. Isgrid shrugged and her gaze slipped easily from the walking stick. Perhaps it was just a forgotten family heirloom...