Disclaimer: Nintendo own the Legend of Zelda

Shadow Lord's Bane

Book I

Chapter 1

Spinning dust motes swam lazily through the air, catching the sharp glint of the sun as it poured light in through the large window. The air felt ragged, stifling, as the heat of the summer's day weighed down on his eyelids, making him feel drowsy. Link, the Shadow Lord of Castleton, lounged in his Throne, idly flicking at his tunic as he tried to drown out the monotonous droning vibrating through his head.

Slowly he forced open his eyes, stifling a yawn at the last moment, and tried to listen to his advisor, standing nearby with a roll of parchment stretched in his hands.

"And in addition to disputing your recent reversal of the Anti-Slavery Act," the man was saying, his eyes darting left and right as he read. "She wishes to discuss the execution of one Nobleman Mafrick." The advisor swallowed, then paused to wipe his brow. "She believes the trial and punishment were both unjust."

Shifting in his seat, Link's dry lips parted as he mumbled his pronouncement.

The advisor blinked, then leaned forward. "I beg your pardon, Milord?"

Link rolled his head around to face him. "I said," he explained, his voice slurred. "I hate that woman."

"Very good, sir," the advisor said.

The Shadow Lord frowned at the man, then turned to face his guards, standing at one side of the Throne Chamber. "Don't you hate that woman?"

The guards stepped forward as one, then chanted in time: "Yes, Milord! We hate that woman, sir!"

Link's eyes narrowed as he fixed them with a stare. He opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it.

"Sir," the advisor said with a cough. "She is waiting, sir."

Closing his eyes, Link felt his temple throb. He steeled himself, letting out a breath. She wouldn't win this time. "Very well," he said, gesturing with his hand. "Bring in Princess Zelda."

The advisor spun on his heels, his boots squeaking on the polished floor, and clapped once, twice. "Very good, sir."

"No, it isn't," Link grumbled from under his breath. No one paid any attention, though, as the silver plated doors to the Chamber swung open, bringing up dust. Striding through the resultant cloud, and surrounded by her entourage, the Princess of Hyrule made her entrance, her emerald eyes gleaming with fury.

She came to a sudden stop, her skirts still aswirl, then reached into her belt, and pulled free a knife. Before anyone could react, she drew back her arm and threw.

The metal shimmered as it tore through the air, the Shadow Lord's guards jumping, then lunging forward...they were all too slow. Suddenly coming to life, Link's arm swung, swooping fluidly, and caught the blade with his hand. He glanced down, saw the trickle of blood run down his palm.

Scowling, Zelda reached for her belt again. She froze as the Shadow Lord's slow, measured voice rang out, bringing the temperature down just a notch. "Don't...do that...again."

The Princess seemed to sag for just an instant, but she quickly regained her composure as she stepped forward. "How dare you!" she spat. "How dare you repeal the Anti-Slavery Law in Castleton? Didn't my father tell you that all such decisions had to be approved by him first?"

Link reached under his hat and scratched his head. "He may have done, yes," he mumbled.

Zelda wasn't finished. "And poor Mafrick! You executed him! He's dead!"

"That tends to happen after an execution. Messy business, really. Wish there were another-"

"Shut up!" Zelda was breathing hard now, her eyes wide, her cheeks tinted rose. "The trial was a farce. My father should have had the final decision. Mafrick shouldn't even have been arrested in the first place. Not without my father knowing."

"Awfully sorry," Link said, sneering. "Next time I have a serial rapist in town, I'll be sure to run it by 'father' before sending in the troops." His voice dropped an octave. "Wouldn't want little Princess to get all upset now, would we?"

Zelda caught it, and glared at him accordingly. "Are you mocking me?"

"Yes, I am." The Shadow Lord reached into a bowl sitting on a table beside his Throne. Frowning as he searched, he pulled free an apple and took a bite, the tangy juice filling his mouth. "Quite happy that you're rather quick on the uptake today. I thought you might have wanted to run back to father and ask him first." Link's voice took on a higher pitch. "' Daddy, do you think Link was making fun of me?" His voice then became deep. "'Why, yes, dearest. Why don't you go nag him some more? He'll surely learn his lesson then." He chewed slowly, his eyes locked with Zelda's, then reached for the bowl. "Grapes?"

The Princess was positively fuming now. The muscles in her face clenched, then, abruptly, she turned to face the window. "You were once the Hero of Time, you know," she said softly. "I admired you. Supported you as my...as the King made you Governor of Castleton." She let her hands come to rest on the pane. "But I see you are no better a man than Ganondorf Dragmire."

Link wagged his fingers in mock-fear, then stopped instantly as Zelda turned back to face him.

"What happened to you?" she pleaded. "What happened to the Hero of Time?"

The Shadow Lord felt his heart catch, then pushed the feeling away instantly, irritated. She was playing games with him again. He hated that. "You were a lot more fun when I was running around finding Spiritual Stones for you."

"Why won't you talk to me, Link?" People flinched, so strange was it to hear the Shadow Lord's true name. "Why've you closed yourself off? What's wrong? I can help-"

"I don't need," the Shadow Lord seethed, "anyone's help. Everything I have, I have earned. I do what's best for everyone, whether you can see it or not. I make sure that people will never lose the things that they'd grown so attached to, that they'd never have them stripped of them forcefully."

At once, Link knew he'd made a mistake. He'd given away too much. Would she notice? Would she be able to tell?

Zelda's voice turned cold. "I see your problem now," she said, her eyes shining as she studied his face. "I see where you went wrong."

The Shadow Lord fidgeted in his Throne. "Do tell."

The Princess walked forward slowly, her boots tapping against the floor. "Everyone's so enamoured with you that they've forgotten to tell you when you make a mistake. They think you can do no wrong -I admit, I was like that once, too. But no-one's really told you what you've truly become, have they?"

Link shifted some more in his seat. He didn't like the way the Princess was looking at him; and liked the heat, now making his tunic stick to his skin, even less.

Zelda's mouth curled with scorn. "Look at you," she spat. "Corrupted by power, impotent, bloated."

The Shadow Lord glanced down at his stomach and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, quickly looked back up. Zelda's face wore an expression of total disgust.

"'Shadow Lord', you call yourself?" she continued, her eyes burning. "Child. That's all you are. I sent you back in time to reclaim your childhood, but I never imagined that you'd hold onto it for so long." Her eyes scanned him, up and down. "Sitting there playing with your sword, still wearing your silly green hat."

Link was stung. He almost reeled from the words, his mouth agape. He looked at the Princess, then at his advisor, noticing that the man was keenly studying the floor. There was relief, thankfully, that she hadn't caught the hint in his words, but this was too much. She was right. No one had mentioned this before. He needed answers. "But," the Shadow Lord gasped. "What's wrong with my hat?"

Zelda threw up her arms, snarling in exasperation. "You see?!" she cried. "You see?! You haven't an ounce of wisdom, nor ability to run a city a big as Castleton. Do you know how many people you've condemned by repealing the Anti-Slavery law? How many lives have suffered? Of course, you don't care about inflicting pain, especially with the way you treated Mafrick."

Glancing at his guards surreptitiously as Zelda went on, Link whispered from the corner of his mouth. "Is there anything wrong with my hat?"

"No, Milord!" the guards whispered back. "We love your hat, sir!"

"I wouldn't be surprised," Zelda was saying, "if you didn't own slaves yourself." She stared at him, and this time there were tears in her eyes. "And to think," she whispered, her voice trembling. "I once considered you my friend."

Link had had enough of this. He drew himself up to his full height, the people around him, Zelda included, dropping back. He was still the Hero of Time, after all. Slowly, he descended down to the floor, his face a blank mask.

Forcing the requisite amount of cold menace into his voice, he said, "Princess Harkinian. You no doubt consider yourself the bastion of all things moral and wholesome in the Kingdom, but let me assure you that you are nothing but an idealistic meddler." He was now face to face with Zelda; the Princess refusing to make eye contact with him. "Had you bothered to do your research, you would know that I haven't repealed the Anti-Slavery Act, I have amended it." A pause, enough to let Zelda's mistake sink in. "You see, as Hero of Time, I find myself very much a man of the people. Unlike you, living in your wonderfully opulent castle, I know how things work in the real world.

"There are over a million slaves in the Kingdom, a fraction of whom live under my jurisdiction. Had I implemented the Act, it would have been chaos. Where would all these freedman live? What would they eat? Where would they work? I'm sure you considered all that, right?" The scarlet flush to Zelda's cheeks told him that she hadn't. He resisted the urge to revel in his triumph, keeping his feelings private to savour for later. "You see, I have now made it punishable by law for any slaveowner to mistreat their workers. All slaves now have to housed, fed, and clothed at the owner's expense. If they fail to do this, they answer to me. Now any slave that wishes to be released is free to do so, on condition that he learns for himself a craft that he can then use to earn his own keep." He leaned forward, catching the heady scent of her perfume. "Far more practical, wouldn't you say, than the 'Release all slaves' order that your father imposed?"

Zelda's snapped her head around to face him. A muscle in her cheek twitched, her face now blurred with fury. "Let me assure you of something, 'Shadow Lord'," she breathed, her words barely above the level of a whisper. "I despise the way you run Castleton. I despise you." Her voice trembled at those last words. "And I vow that I will take this city back. I will be the next Governor. And, no, I'm not going to ask father to depose you...I'll do it myself. By fair means or foul."

They stared at each other, the air between them thick, the heat adding to the heavy atmosphere. "You have," Link said, "really beautiful eyes, do you know that?"

Snarling, Zelda spun on her heels, almost slipping, but catching herself instantly. "You've been warned," she said, her tone venomous. She glanced at her entourage. "We are leaving."

Link motioned at his advisor. "See them out," he ordered, then added hastily in a low voice: "Try and make sure the drawbridge lifts before she gets across. She could do with a swim."

The advisor bowed. "Very good, sir."

"I know," Link said, grinning. "I thought of it myself."

The Shadow Lord thought the advisor's eyes were spinning rather strangely, but ignored it as the man brushed past him.

Sinking into his Throne, Link pursed his lips and knitted his fingers as he pondered. It had been a long time since he'd pitted his wits against a tenacious nemesis. A hunger grew inside of him, chafing his soul. He needed this. The realisation hit him like ice water on a cold morning. Those past few moments talking Zelda down...he hadn't felt alive like that in years.

He was the Hero of Time. He needed an enemy to face, to defeat. A small smile stretched across the Shadow Lord's face. Yes...this would be interesting. He hoped this battle would last a long time. It had all the ingredients - former friend turned enemy, bitter wounds not yet healed. And by defeating her, he would make sure that the only one that had the power to take from him what he'd always wanted would be himself - not some arbitrary decision to send him back in time just when he'd found his heart's desire. Yes, he mused, as the old joy crept into his heart, yes...Zelda would make a worthy foe indeed.