The Legend of Zelda: Rebel Assassin
'Ridiculous. A recurring cycle, bringing together a hero, a princess and a great evil every one hundred years? Fairy tale nonsense. And a Hero of Time, from centuries past? What does that even mean? Burn this book. Never let your children read it.'
- from 'Breaking the Seal', a commentary on the Book of Mudora
'Someone once told my friends to 'expect the unexpected.' Good advice, I say.'
- from the private journals of Fran Marcaster
The cool, velvet night air rippled then split as the portals tore into the atmosphere. They dropped from the glowing holes like, dark molten metal, the four of them landing on the flat rooftops of the city. They were silent, liquid shadows that then leapt between the narrows spaces of the buildings that crowded around the centre of the city like a hive.
At least that's how Link saw them.
Cold stars winked down with piercing light. Link's vision swept across the horizon to keep track of his three companions. Thud, thud, thud. His pounding heart would awaken those few people that were sleeping this night, he was sure of it.
Idiot. Idiot thoughts.
Link flicked at the modified crossbow that hung from his belt and heard the faint, reassuring whirr of the mechanism clicking into place, the tangy scent of the weapon's explosive powder telling him all was working well. Small, compact, lethal. The only handheld weapon an assassin truly needed.
The Trial. The night where a trainee assassin had to prove himself - or herself - worthy of joining Commander Kisho's squadron full-time. And Kisho had, for Link, chosen this night.
Link ran to the edge of rooftop, letting his eyes fall on the people below. Like a forest animal waking after a winter's long sleep, something had stirred amongst the people of New Hyrule Town.
A new king was to be crowned. Excited whispers leapt from tongue to tongue, people had gained an extra spring to their steps, and the warm glow of hope rose like the morning sun. A change, it was said, was as good as a night's rest and the people were ready for it.
None of this, though, concerned Link. His sharp eyes focused on the street, feeling the cold stone of the wall under his gloved hands. Leaning slightly over the building's edge, his mind fell back onto his training.
Melt away. Let everything melt away.
Link heard the whisper of a boot crunching on stone and felt the presence of his fellow assassin, Jonah, beside him. Short brown hair framing a surprisingly soft face, he was one of few comrades that was close to Link's age of sixteen.
Jonah lightly tapped his own weapon as he watched the younger man carefully. "We await your command," he said with trickle of amusement. "Sir."
Link was the youngest ever to take the Trial. He'd proven himself to be more than ready though. He believed he was with all his heart. Still. There was an awkward knot in his heart, a needle like pinch of doubt that made him feel slightly embarrassed that he was in command of such a well-trained unit of his seniors.
"Got a target?" Jonah asked.
"I'm still looking," Link answered truthfully. Lights gleamed from the streets below, as the throng of people rushed about, making last minute trades before tomorrow's big coronation day. Children laughed, their voices floating in the air. The smell of grilled meat curled around the scent of perfumed sweets, rising up to the rooftops. Link sniffed them away angrily, considering them to be nothing more than an idle distraction. "Where are the others?"
"Watching," Jonah replied. His breath ghosted from his lips. "Waiting."
Link swallowed. Five summers he had been with the group. Not officially, oh no. Just a trainee. He'd watched from the shadows as they had handled the larger kills, watched and learned His life had been building up to this moment. Though he had some minor kills under his belt, this would be his first real one. If he could tackle this hurdle, he would become a fully-fledged member of the king's elite assassins. And, more importantly, he would be first Hylian ever to achieve that feat.
All the time he had spent on the archery field, sharpening his eyes and hands so that all worked in fluid synchronisation, all the nights he had let his mind free, meditating as he tried shut out the promptings of his soul, all the hours he pushed himself with various exercises – running, lifting, jumping – to pack on some muscle onto his slender frame, all of it would be for nothing if he couldn't pass the Trial. A mixture of trepidation and excitement bubbled within him. He was eager to grasp this opportunity with both his hands, though he knew how far he would fall if he failed.
I'd fail Mystral.
An image of his older sister's face slipped into his mind. Link blinked it away.
His eyes darted from face to face, holding slightly on one person, discarding the image as unfamiliar and then quickly moved onto another. A man. A woman. A child. A pretty maiden. He lingered too long on that last one and he hissed inwardly at himself. Distractions needed to be filtered out.
"Prey sighted," he barked, trying to keep his voice calm. "He's entering Goron Alley." Link allowed himself a small smile, sensing victory. "Alert the others."
Jonah smiled back, making elaborate hand gestures mixed with short, shrill whistles. At the corner of his consciousness, Link could almost sense the others dart into position.
"Good job," Jonah said.
Link merely grunted in reply. He was heartened by the genuineness in his friend's tone. He wasn't going to show it, though. Taking a small yellow capsule from his belt, Link threw it into the air, where it promptly erupted into the shape of a large, golden bird. The creature flapped its wings lazily, then turned to fix Link with narrowed eyes.
"What?" it said in a mock-weary voice. "What do you want now?"
Smiling, Link leapt, hanging in the air for a fraction of a second, before landing on the bird's back, making it sag slightly. "Let's go, grumps."
He gave the bird a gentle kick, making it glide down swiftly towards the streets below. Had anyone looked up at that moment, they would have seen nothing. The Glimmer Birds of Phantom Island had the unique talent of being able to hide themselves and their riders from sight. Unless, of course, they wanted to be seen. Link saw the others jump onto their own rides, birds of purple, brown and red, only visible to the assassins at this very moment.
"I hope you're well rested, Bannock," Link said, as the bird flew. He suddenly remembered the coldness of the current climate as a chill wind bit at his face.
"I am always rested and ready," Bannock replied, an indignant touch to his voice. "Unlike you."
Link buried his smile in the bird's feathers, trying both to gather some heat and to keep his mind concentrated on his task. He caught a glimpse of Castle Dragmire, framed in moonlight in the distance, standing cold and still. Tomorrow it would be quite different. Tomorrow the aged king would abdicate in favour of his son, and the people would celebrate the new rightful ruler. No other claim to the throne would be entertained, of course. Especially after tonight when the assassins would slay another of the would-be usurpers.
They flew over the people's heads and Link was tempted to dive in lower just to see the looks on their faces when they felt the change in the air. He tried to stop himself from laughing, but failed. Link felt a change in the air. A large, brown Glimmer Bird approached him from the left and he caught the sight of Commander Kisho's weathered face.
"Something amusing you, Link?" he growled in his cultured accent. Link almost felt the heat rise in his face, like a child that had been caught doing something wrong. "Keep your mind on your task, lad."
"Yes, sir," Link replied, choking down the anger he felt at himself. He didn't want to disappoint his mentor.
"Which way did he go?"
Link cocked his head in the direction. "To the right, sir."
Without replying, the Commander banked his bird sharply to the right. Link panicked, struggling to match the manoeuvre. They swooped down Goron Alley at a dizzying speed, shops and people spinning wildly in Link's vision as the wind tugged at his hair and cloak. He caught the glimpse of a running man up ahead.
"I see him," he said, excitement rising in his voice. "I can catch him."
"No," Kisho replied gravely. "You have to do this on foot."
"You heard the man, Bannock," Link cried. The bird nodded, then swept in close to the ground and melted back into his capsule form. Link caught it, grunting as he landed in a crouch. The others followed suit.
The townsfolk scattered in confusion as the assassins literally, at least to their eyes, fell out of the sky. Link didn't pause to rest, pushing his legs along as he scooped his crossbow up from his belt.
"Move!" he shouted as he dodged and weaved through the mass of people, sliding between courting couples and ducking under tradesmen carrying heavy crates.
Sight and sound assaulted his senses, the brightly coloured decorations, the songs of the minstrels, the cries of the shopkeepers. Most darted out of his path, but some were not quick enough. One, pushing along a cart full of dark green, round vegetables, froze in shock, his mouth hanging open and his eyes glistening with fear. Link had no time to even slow down. He leapt, landing deftly onto the pile of vegetables, before springing into the air once more, arms outstretched and laughing at the sheer thrill of the bitter wind flying into his face. Landing on the other side with only the slightest of stumbles, he continued, his heart soaring with the pure joy of being alive. The cart toppled to one side, spilling its contents all over the ground. Hearing the yell of protest from behind him, Link bit his lip. The Commander wouldn't be happy at the amount of attention he was drawing to himself.
The other assassins caught up to him and they ran as one, their boots clattering on the pebble-strewn ground, shattering pools of ice into crystal-like shards. No one tried to stop them.
He would have loved to have stayed and experienced the town at night. Youthful impulses tugged at him, tempting him with the prospect of a night's worth of excitement. The happy, laughing faces around him were seductive. It took an effort, but he pushed it way, buried it until at least the next day. He knew better than to be distracted while he was on duty. Tomorrow they were all on leave for the coronation. Tomorrow, he could relax without fear or regret.
The prey threw a fearful glance back in their direction. He knew was being pursued. Link raised his crossbow, feeling the drawstring tighten with a twang.
"Harkinian!" he shouted. "Stop!"
Link knew he had made a mistake from the hiss that escaped from his Commander's lips. Big Rivero DiSott bellowed in laughter. The most vicious of the group, with thick scars on his face and torso as a testament to that. What he lacked in the atypical assassin grace, he made up for in sheer brawn. Though he seemed to hold most people in disdain, he always had an extra slab of hot anger ready for Link. It was a shame that they both worked in the same squadron.
"Mistake number two, boy," the big man quivered as he spoke in his deep tones. "You gave the name away."
The shame stung, but Link kept his modified crossbow trained on the fleeing man. Seeing a raised weapon made the townsfolk flee in greater panic and the assassins stopped running, standing as the calm eye in the whirlwind of people around them.
"What are you doing?" Rivero continued. "You won't be able to strike him from here, little boy. Besides you're spooking the people. Mistake number one - you disengaged too early. Everyone saw us. You trying to get us demoted?"
The taunt ignited cold determination that ran in Link's veins. He narrowed his eyes, fixing the point of the arrow on the prey's leg.
"Commander," Rivero said. "We need to nip this one now."
"Wait," Kisho replied.
The word gave Link a breath of encouragement as did the exasperated sound that escaped from Rivero's lips in response.
Link pulled the trigger. There was a flare of orange light as the arrow flew free.
It was a clear shot. Most people were now cowering in shops or out of sight as the assassins became the centre of attention.
The arrow spun through the air like a bolt of lightening, ripping the atmosphere in its deadly path. It sliced through the running man's leg and he stumbled to the ground, crying out in pain. The four assassins surrounded him in an instant, their weapons ready and aimed. Link had reached him first, eager to claim his kill and pass the Trial.
"Nice work, Link," Kisho said with a tight smile. "Finish this."
"Yes, sir," the younger man replied quietly, locking another arrow into place. The prey looked up at Link with wide, fear filled eyes that made something catch at his heart. Link pushed it away and fingered the trigger. Emotion on the job, he knew, had to be shorn away until it was blunt like the sword that had taken a thousand-thousand kills. He didn't need it, especially not now. Passing the Trial would gain him full acceptance into the assassins' circle. They were his life and he needed their approval.
Let your heart grow cold, he told himself. It's a target, not a person.
A woman burst from the shadows, a wailing child in her arms. Link stepped back, startled. She fell to her knees in front of the man, putting herself between the assassins and their prey.
"Anju," the man said, his voice trembling. "Don't do this."
"Quiet," she hissed. Her defiant glare made Link want to take another step back. "Let's see how manly these fellows really are. Will they shoot through a defenceless woman and her child in the sight of the One, Unseen Himself? "
There was something else about the couple made Link hesitate. Something that bothered him. Like himself, the man, woman and child were Hylian. Link looked up at his Commander as he tried to fight the tide of helplessness.
Kisho simply shrugged. "This is your Trial, Link," he said. "Your call."
"Another Harkinian," Rivero rumbled with distaste. "Kill all three of them."
Let your heart grow cold, Link's mind repeated, but he felt his resolve slip. He hesitated again and he glanced over at Jonah for aid. The hard edge in his friend's eyes almost made the young man flinch.
"It's better this way, Link," he said softly. He raised his crossbow, the mechanism clicking as an arrow was readied.
A stab of betrayal struck at Link's heart. He'd expected Jonah of all people to support him when he needed him. Then again, Jonah and his fellow assassins probably didn't even realise why Link was so unsettled. They were, after all, all Calatians. Link felt his breathing start to quicken and his fingers flexed and unflexed around the crossbow's trigger.
What's wrong with me? I've killed people before. Who cares if they're Hylian?
Still he couldn't shut out the annoying whisper of confusion, the blanket of doubt that was taking the edge off what he had hoped would be his night of triumph.
Jonah took in a deep breath as his finger began to push down on the release button.
"Stop," said Link. "We have a Code, remember? This is wrong. We don't... we don't kill innocents to get to our intended target."
The words sounded hollow.
"Ha!" Rivero snorted, making Link glower in anger. "Are you serious?!"
"He's right," Jonah said, though Link thought he caught a flicker of doubt in his friend's eyes. "One less Harkinian is one less threat to our King."
Kisho remained silent, watching the young assassin through narrowed eyes. For a moment, Link was convinced. Kill the woman and the child and then remove the threat. Who was to know? None of the people who were watching them in terrified silence knew who they were anyway. What would they do? Complain to the king? Killing was his profession. Quick and clean, they could dispose of the bodies and then head to the tavern to relax. He desperately wanted to believe it. He needed to. Everything he had worked for was built on this. All he had to do was fire the weapon and walk away, a few lives less in the world, but, for Link, it would mean a few rungs higher on the ladder.
Link licked his lips as Jonah turned his attention back to the prey. His friend aimed the crossbow.
A spark ignited deep in Link's heart. Something ancient, familiar. A decision was made.
Link swung his own crossbow away from the fallen family and aimed it at his friend. "I said 'Stop'," he whispered, his breath floating in the air in a faint, puffy cloud.
Jonah's face tightened, but kept his weapon steady. Link heard Rivero growl beside him. Kisho made no move. Time seemed to slow and the air thickened. Link desperately tried to keep himself from trembling, as his mind screamed at him for being a fool. Here he was, the youngest of the four, taking his Trial, and he was doing everything wrong.
"Is that an order?" Jonah replied in a quiet voice. He didn't even turn to look at him.
A heartbeat of time passed. Link felt kept his jaw still, not wanting to show any fear. Jonah had to know how serious he was. He knew the Commander wouldn't interfere, knew that the Trial involved Link showing responsibility while being in command. His fingers were slick with sweat, but he didn't waver. His friend looked him over, a disbelieving light in his eyes.
Slowly, Jonah's weapon arm dropped. Link did not take either his eyes off his own crossbow or off of him. "Go," he said down to the man and woman. They hesitated, confusion and awe creasing their faces. Link felt his irritation grow. "Leave! Get out of here."
They stumbled to their feet, the woman having to support both the baby and the injured man at the same time. The woman threw Link one last look, sending her thanks in a breathless voice. He grit his teeth, feeling all the worse that his companions were witnessing this.
With a roar, Rivero lunged at him, grabbing him by his collar and lifting him up. Link's eyes bulged and his crossbow fell from his fingers, clattering to the floor. He felt himself be brought near to the big man's face, close enough so that he could see the red veins pulsing in the large assassin's eyeballs. He smelt Rivero's hot, rotten breath on his skin.
"You've failed the Trial," he said simply, before letting him drop. The words cut into the youngster's soul.
The others started to walk away and Link rubbed at his throat, feeling the deep imprints of Rivero's fingers there. Letting despair weigh down upon his heart, Link collected his weapon and made his way shakily to his feet, before slowly walking behind the other assassins.
Kafei stumbled down the narrow, cobbled streets of the Kokiri Quarter, his wife Anju hurrying after him, their baby cradled in her arms. His injured leg was biting in its pain, but he needed to go on. He ignored the pointed stares that he received from the people around them. They were the odd ones out here, he knew, their worn faces an eyesore in the sea of fresh-faced youth that populated the area. The Kokiri were forever young, trapped in bodies that never aged beyond their twenty-fifth summer. But they were also a private people and tolerated strangers without asking too many questions. Perfect for Kafei and his relatives.
He'd heard stories that the Kokiri had once vanished from the earth. Other times other intricate details were woven into the tales; that the Kokiri were once known as the Krog and that they once grew no more older than seven summers. Kafei didn't know how true how either of those rumours were, but he wondered what it would be like to be always a child. Idly, he had once asked his wife whether she would still love him if he somehow were to be transformed into a little boy, and she insisted that she would.
At the moment, though, his thoughts regarding his wife were dark.
"I can't believe you risked yourself and our child like that," he said in a harsh whisper. The look on her face told him that she was not cowed.
"What did you want me to do?" she said, her anger rising to match his. "Leave you to be killed?"
"Better that I die than all three of us," he replied, flashing his eyes towards her. They turned into a side street, away from the bustle of the main path where lanterns hung casting a glow that left no place to hide. Smoke from cooking fires clung to the air here, curling slowly skyward.
"Don't talk like that," Anju replied softly. She paused to shift the baby's position in her arms, before continuing, "That boy. He let us go."
"You were lucky," Kafei replied, his eyes shifting as he tracked the area for any sign that they were being followed. All he saw were the broken crates, stained with the sludge of rotted fruit and smelling just as bad, littering either side of the path. They were alone. "Trust you to find the one murderer in the world with a soft heart."
She hissed, her eyes gleaming. "I'd think most other husbands would be a little more appreciative when their wife just saved their lives," she spat. The baby stirred in her arms, his mouth stretching into a yawn as he shook a tiny fist.
Kafei turned away from her, coming to a stop in front of a heavily plated entrance, rotted wood peeking out from behind the metal. Casting one last look around him, he rapped on the door twice. After a moment, he heard the sound of a sliding bolt. An opening appeared near the top of the door and a pair of eyes peered out at them.
"Password?" the voice on the other side said in a breathy whisper.
"Ocarina," he replied, letting the word roll on his tongue.
The pair of eyes disappeared and Kafei heard the sharp metallic tugs of the locks being released.
"The boy was Hylian." Kafei was surprised to hear his wife speak again, but he felt too tired to respond. His tunic fluttered in the breeze as old scrolls, the monthly ones that detailed all the relevant news of New Hyrule, swirled around his feet.
"A traitor. So what?" he said, asking the question with a tone that indicated that the conversation was over.
The door swung open quickly and they entered just as fast. They strode down the darkened passageway, the dust in the air making their noses twitch. The baby sneezed.
"Take Hobert to our room," Kafei said, turning to his wife. "I'll go see if there's any food."
She nodded, walking away. There was still anger in her eyes and Kafei felt a pang of regret.
As he made his way to the pantry, he heard the echo of raised voices.
"This isn't wise," one said, an Elder from the sound of it. "What if you are seen? Or worse, captured?"
"No one even knows who I am or what I look like," the other answered, young and female. "Besides, I'll be in disguise. Even if anyone did see my face, it wouldn't alert them. I'm going out in public tomorrow, so I don't see why I can't go out tonight."
"You're too valuable," the Elder said. "It's too big of a risk. We need you here. She needs you."
"I can take care of myself," the female answered, her voice taking on an edge like a newly sharpened blade. "I'll take some of the others if that'll make you happy." There was a pause. "Who's with me?"
A heartbeat of silence passed.
"Look," she continued, her voice abruptly tugging with softness. "I know you're worried and I'm touched. And I know that she needs me. I'm not deserting her. She knows that." There was a pause, as though she were gathering her thoughts. "Please, just one night. They don't even know I exist. There's no danger. Trust me."
Kafei heard a murmur of assent and pursed his lips. He sided with the Elder's caution, but at the same time pitied the girl that had to be locked away down here for such a long time. He entered the pantry as he heard the hard thud of boots marching up stairs.
The cook saw him and quickly shook his head, an apologetic look in his eyes. Kafei's heart sank, knowing that there would be no food this night. He hoped, at least, to be able to find some milk for his son. Looking back into the passageway, he saw a group of his fellow family members appear, the girl in the lead.
"Out of our way," the girl said to the doorman. Kafei sighed as he saw them leave, concern biting at his heart.
Just as he turned back towards the pantry, he caught the flash of a blue tunic before it vanished into the night.
Link couldn't lift the heaviness weighing down his soul, despite the laughter and smiles that reverberated around the cramped tavern. He spun his mug of water around on the table in bored frustration, as his eyes lay on the series of lights set into niches in the wall, glass lanterns that held in burning powder like entrapped, twinkling stars. The lanterns gleamed at him, the illumination seemingly trying to mock the darkness he felt inside.
He sat by himself in one corner, alone, just how he wanted it. This didn't stop others clasping him on the shoulder, enquiring about his health or offering to buy him a drink. Declining as politely as he could, Link tried to shut out the noise of the tavern, the hum of voices, the conversations that would crack into bellowing laughter without a moment's notice.
Others were here, too. Other assassins. He didn't know who exactly, but it was an unspoken rule that they had marked this place, for reasons he still didn't know, as their own. The thin and surly tavernkeeper tolerated their presence. Probably because of all the rupees they brought in.
In the outside world, very few people knew who they were and what they did. Here, in the comfort of shared companionship, they could be free.
His eyes trailed across the room. At one end, through a curtain of smoke, he saw a crowd of men huddled around a wooden target piece, cracked and stained from many summers of use. Rivero and Kisho were there, exchanging friendly taunts as they attempted to outdo the other. Rivero pulled back one meaty arm as the mob fell into hushed silence. With a yell, he let free an axe, the rust stained blade spinning through the air.
A splintering crunch followed.
The men erupted in cheers and Link tore his gaze away, not able to feel like he could join in with their joy. It was at times like this that he wished he could escape to the caves that surrounded New Hyrule Town. Whenever there was too much on his mind, he would climb up to the rocky caverns, sitting back as the soothing sound of trickling water tinkled in the background. From his vantage point high above the town, he could see for miles, the never-ending carpet of green grass, the traders that made their way down winding paths, the wispy smoke that floated above the town at daytime, and the sparkling lanterns that shone during the night. It was relaxing, and the fact that the people and buildings looked so small from up there made his problems seem to shrink as well.
Mystral called it stupidity. According to her, if she needed to relieve the weight from her mind, she would just busy herself in some useful task instead of wallowing in misery, indolent and pathetic. Link smiled as he recalled her voice. He'd hoped that he would be able to go home this night with the good news of his promotion into the ranks of real assassins, but now that idea had withered away like a scroll cast into a flame. He didn't exactly know how she would react if he had passed. Mystral didn't exactly approve of his profession and avoided speaking of it as much as she could. She had no choice but to tolerate it, though. The king himself had chosen Link at a young age, when the small, blond haired Hylian had caught the Gerudo's eye.
They had been travelling back from a nearby village, tired, hungry and disappointed from a fruitless day of trading. Mystral and Link had no one else but each other, and they'd been forced to live on the crusts of bread that more wealthy people threw away. His sister worked all day, a seamstress of considerable skill, hoping to sell the gowns and dresses that she made to the higher-class women in neighbouring towns. Link had been too young to work himself, and he kept himself busy either by watching as his sister's efforts turned her face haggard, or by exploring the hills and rivers around the town.
The sun had begun to set that day and they were nowhere near home. They'd been set upon by bandits, a group of horsemen with blackened teeth and blood-stained swords. Link had stood his ground, a little boy no more than seven, growling and spitting curses with ferocious anger. The bandits had laughed at the sight, but others viewed it differently. Black clad warriors had sprung from the shadows, coming to the rescue. Then, the king himself had stepped out, looking Link over with an amused eye.
He'd been taken in after that, trained to become Dragmire's loyal assassin. The castle paid a healthy stipend, one that had supported both him and his sister well enough through the summers. Still. He knew that Mystral didn't like it at all. Some nights, she would look at him with a pained expression, wondering aloud at how much he would lose just so that they could be fed. But she could not refuse the king, and there was nowhere else for them to go. She had learned long ago to accept whatever came her way without complaint, and this was another in a long line of setbacks in her life that she had no control over. He didn't really understand her objection. After all, their targets were always all criminals and revolutionaries anyway. If someone wasted the gift of life they deserved to have it ripped from them. Out of the three meagre kills he had, one was a sick man that preyed on young girls and the other two were minor foreign dignitaries that the king suspected of planning a rebellion.
Link looked up, pulled from his thoughts by Jonah sitting himself down in the chair opposite with a bowl of steaming stew in his hands. Link looked at him with wide, incredulous eyes.
"What is it?" his friend asked. "Did you want some, too?"
He raised a hand to try and catch the attention of one of the serving girls, but Link waved him away. "No, no," he said. "I can't believe you're still talking to me, that's all."
Jonah chewed on a morsel of meat thoughtfully, his eyes still on the young assassin. "Would you really have shot me?" he asked quietly.
Link opened his mouth to reply, then realised that he had no answer for that. He had been caught in the heat of the moment, and the memory was already a blurry stain on his mind. "I don't know," he answered with a shrug.
His friend watched him for a moment longer. "Take that miserable expression off of your face," he said in a light tone. "You did well enough."
Link scowled. "I failed."
"You don't know that," Jonah said softly. He flicked a glance over at the Commander before returning to his meal. "Kisho hasn't decided yet. There's still hope."
Link's heart stirred. "Really?"
"Well," the other man said, taking a sip from his spoon. "You attacked the target in a public place. You drew unnecessary attention to all of us. And you didn't finish him off when you had the chance." Jonah winked, his mouth curling into a smile. "Apart from all that, you showed courage and kept your mind focused." He paused. "Most of the time."
A sigh escaped from Link's lips as the familiar criticism bit at him. Despite all the time he had spent in meditation trying to hone to his mind, he was still prone to letting himself be distracted too easily. This night he had steeled himself especially, desperately trying to keep an iron grip on his thoughts. "I don't think Rivero would agree with you," he said.
The younger man was caught off by surprise by Jonah's small laugh. "Don't worry about him, Link. He always finds fault in everything and everyone. Besides, it's the Commander's decision. Alone."
Feeling slightly relieved, Link looked up as the door creaked open once more, a swirl of chilled air gusting in with the newcomer. He groaned inwardly when he saw who it was. Jonah saw the look on his face and glanced over his shoulder. He turned back with a wide grin.
"Looks like you're going to be busy," he said with another laugh. Winking, he picked up his bowl and stood to depart. "I'll leave you to it."
Link watched with narrowed eyes as the newcomer, a Hylian, scanned the room, shrugging off the smiles and welcomes of the serving girls. His hair was long and grey, and he wore a thick coat to keep himself warm. Finally, his sparkling eyes came to rest on Link's table and he made his way in with a grim smile. Despite not really wanting to, Link smiled in response.
Old Man Marcaster slid into the seat opposite. He'd somehow entwined himself into Link and his sister's life, so much so that Link had grown to accept him. Well, like you'd accept a stubborn rash or a permanent scar. A serving girl approached the elderly man, but he scared her away with a pointed stare.
Link leaned back, one arm draped across the back of the chair in an attempt to be casual. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rivero and Jonah look at him with amused expressions.
"How are you, Fran?" he asked, as the other man studied, with squinting eyes, the list of foods that was carved into one wall.
"Slop, slop, slop," he said. "Doesn't anyone serve real food?" The old man shook his head and turned his attention to Link. "The same as I was the last time you asked," he replied with a gruff tone. There was a heartbeat of silence between the two, Link knowing that this was what passed for pleasantries in Fran's life. He knew the old man wouldn't enquire about Link's own health. He wondered what had happened in his life to make Fran so bitter. "How did it go, laddie?"
After all this time, Link still had a problem trying to place the old man's accent. "Not too well, Fran," he said. "I didn't concentrate hard enough."
"Oh?" Fran said, rubbing his hands together to generate some warmth. "Weren't able to catch your target?"
"Worse," Link replied, the dull ache returning to his heart. "I let him go."
Surprisingly, Fran's face brightened at the revelation. Link felt a little irritated because of it. "What happened?"
"There was a woman with a child," he said in a sour tone. "She tried to protect him. I couldn't kill them."
Fran's face split into a grin and Link tensed, wanting to get away before he lost his temper. "Ha! There's still hope for you yet, laddie."
The young man had heard this talk many times before. He struggled to keep his eyes from rolling. "I'm destined for greater things, right?"
"Link," Fran replied, his voice as serious as the expression on his face. "Lad, I know you think I'm a crazy old fool." Link couldn't argue against that, but he kept quiet, waiting for the elder man to continue. "You just have to trust me, that's all. I don't know where and I don't know when, but there will come a time when you'll be called on to…" He was losing his words, throwing up his hands in exasperation. Link knew that he was trying to find a way to say what he wanted without sounding too unhinged or pretentious. He knew, because he'd had this very same conversation almost a thousand times previously. "To rise above your station."
Link's eyes drifted as Fran spoke. He saw the others still throwing axes at the target, and he briefly calculated at what angle he would have to position his crossbow to hit it from here. His gaze fell back to the old man and he realised that Fran had finished what he had to say and was waiting for Link to respond.
"Look," said Link, his forehead creasing as he wondered how not to hurt the man's feelings. He was surprised that he even cared. What was happening to him? "Really, I appreciate what you're doing. But you've been with me this past four seasons and this big destiny hasn't scooped me up yet." He couldn't resist his next words. "You're just someone who's trying to find some purpose at the end of his life, and you've latched onto me for some reason."
The flicker of pain that crossed Fran's features deflated Link's heart. Now he desperately wished he was high above in his cave, away from dealing with people and life itself. Maybe Mystral was right. He needed to distract himself. Idly, he wondered when the squadron's next hit would be. Killing something would help relieve tension. That is, if he could actually go through with it next time.
"You must have patience, laddie," Fran said, his expression softening. "I wish I could tell you all the things I know, I really do." Link was struck by the thick sincerity in his voice. "You wouldn't believe me, anyway. All I know is that we all have a role in life. And I truly believe I was brought here just to keep you on the right path. It can't have been a coincidence that I stumbled over you, it just can't."
As usual, whenever Link started talking for too long to Fran his mind swam with confusion. "Brought here? Coincidence?" he asked, leaning forward. He was interested, despite his earlier reluctance. "What do you mean?"
Fran fixed him with shining, almost maniacal eyes. "There was once a man known as the Hero of Time," he said, his voice deadly with weight. "You, Link, can follow in his footsteps and become truly great."
Link didn't want to be anything more than what he was now. "He called himself the 'Hero of Time?'" he said. "If I did that, Mystral would scold me for being an egotistical cloud cucco head." He wanted to lighten the mood, feeling sorry for the old man. Anyone else would cringe in embarrassment before spewing forth the stories that Fran did. He was relieved to see a smile crawl across the other man's wrinkled features.
"You are an egotistical cloud cucco head," Fran taunted, without malice.
Link grinned. He paused to look up dramatically with a raised hand. "The Assassin of Time. How does that sound?"
"It sounds like you want to kill time," Fran said with a dry voice.
Link blinked. "So it does." His mind raced, gripped by a sudden urge to prove the old man wrong. "It was five hundred summers ago, wasn't it? I remember studying about that time when I was younger. The people were united under a kind Queen. There was wealth and peace. Hylians were a strong and noble race. Sounds a lot better than now."
"Laddie, laddie, laddie," Fran said, slapping the table and leaning back. "Romanticised nonsense to make you feel patriotic about the past. Life wasn't any more easier back then than it is now."
"How would you know?" Link asked, feeling the itch of irritation. "You weren't there."
Before the elder man could say any more, Link's attention was diverted by the door opening again. A small group of men entered with calm and unhurried steps. Something in the way they carried themselves struck Link. They had an aura of noble detachment about them, a confidence that seemed to hang in the air like something tangible.
Fran followed his gaze. "Entertainers," he said with disinterest. "They'll be putting on a show tomorrow."
Link leaned forward a bit further. One of the newcomers looked young, his slender form draped in a blue tunic with the shape of a red symbol on his chest. The lower part of his face was wrapped in bandages, as though he was injured in some way.
"Who's that?" Link asked, his concentration sidetracked once more.
Fran studied the newcomer for a moment. "I don't know his real name. Only the one he uses on stage."
Link waited, his eyes prompting the old man to continue.
"Sheik," Fran said finally. "He's known as Sheik of the Sheikah."