Chapter Fifty-One: Tales To Tell
The cavern prison grew colder as winter edged closer. Link took to regular dips in the warm water to keep warm, but the chill of evaporation was harsh and almost unbearable. He had to rely on his Liar's tunic for warmth, but it wasn't enough – his boots had been taken, and the tunic didn't cover his legs, arms, or feet. The Zora had also taken his bags and bottomless pack.
Link's skin grew pale in the dim cave, and he took to exercising as much as he could, to keep up his strength. There was barely enough room for it, the cell being five paces by six long. But despite the cramped conditions, he did calisthenics thrice a day, wheeling through his fighting forms relentlessly, working on speed one set, strength and precision another. On and on, until he ached, his muscles burning with heat. Each night he was too exhausted to feel the cold.
Link was afraid it would not be long before he didn't wake up the morning after a particularly icy night.
The cave water lapped gently at the rock floor, the ripples heralding an approach. Ruto popped straight out of the water in a leap, splattering the dry section of the floor with water. An adult-sized Zora followed, not bothering to raise more than her head above the service. Her skin had the healthy iridescent blue flush that all females had. There seemed to be little difference between male and female Zora besides coloration – the males were a flat clouded grey. There was not a significant difference in size between genders.
The adult had a long, ugly scar running down her naked left arm. She had brought a large woven kelp bag with her.
"You must be Sanri." Link said warmly, nodding politely.
"Aye. That I be." She replied in a stilted and heavy accent. "Ruto tell of ye plight, to me. Have brought help things. Sealskin." Sanri said, pulling a sleek grey pelt out. "For cold."
"Thank you." Link thanked her with great enthusiasm, running his fingers through the thick fur when she handed it to him.
"Brought mushrooms, fish. For eating." Several handfuls of fungi were scooped out of the bag, followed by two fat cave fish. "Heat stone." The stone was misshapen.
"Great, I can finally cook my dinners!"
"Not." Sanri said.
"Our heating stones are meant for water, not ruining fish. It is for keeping you warm – it will not be hot enough to cook anything." Ruto said, slicking the scales on her tail down along the grain.
"Pity." Link sighed ruefully. Sanri nodded.
"Last. Chisel." She pulled out a battered chisel. "And hammer," Sanri added, emptying a fist-sized rock from the bag. At Link's look of confusion, she snorted. It was a very Ruto-like expression. Or maybe Ruto had learned it from her caretaker. "Chisel way out. Make more hole in rock."
"That'll take forever, chiseling that shaft big enough to squeeze through. Isn't there another way?"
"The caves are like a labyrinth to outsiders. And mostly underwater. Even if you could breathe water, the passages are so heavily swum and guarded you would get caught immediately." Was Ruto's reply.
Sanri nodded in agreement. If she wasn't quite as fluent in the modern vernacular, she at least understood more of it than she spoke. Pearl Zora, having isolated themselves for over a century, had preserved their language while the rest of the country's language had evolved over the years.
Link spread the seal skin on a dry part of the stone floor, then sat on it, pulling out his belt knife. "Well, then. I suppose we'll have to change plans. Would you ladies care to eat with me?" He picked up one of the plump fishes and began to clean it.
"We would be honored." Ruto made some room for Sanri, who pulled herself out of the water. Link began to lecture on various tells that people might give whilst lying, as he gutted the fish and scraped the scales off. Ruto happily ate the organs. By now Link was accustomed to eating fish raw – the flesh was firm but chewable, the flavor sweet and impossibly juicy. Sanri crunched down the bones of the fish, after she gulped up her own catch. The fungi she'd provided were spongy and somewhat musky, but filling.
After a long drink of water from the canteen Link's captors had allowed him to keep, the three conspirators discussed the physicalities of Zora expression – apparently Zora could learn to dilate their pupils upon command, feigning interest or attraction, but it was a rare skill. Sanri demonstrated, and the rest of the evening was spent coaxing Ruto through the learning process. Night fell outside – the air near the ventilation shaft grew colder, and the little beam of light that filtered through went out. The light stones in the chamber always glowed gently.
The hour grew late – Ruto and Sanri said their goodbyes, and dove into the watery tunnel to turn in for the night. Link took a deep pull off his water canteen, and munched on a bundle of pounded kelp to round out his scant diet of fish, shellfish, fungi, and vegetation.
Link took the time to bathe in the warm water, scrubbing his body with sand from the tunnel bottom. He longed for some soap, or even a comb. When his skin grew waterlogged and began to wrinkle, he submerged himself one last time, getting the sand out of his hair. How long would he be trapped here? The Zora guards had used magic to create a bubble of air around Link as they had transported him through the underwater caverns. How long could Link stay underwater? Could he learn to hold his breath long enough to escape, or would he have to chisel his way out?
Link ran out of air. He surfaced, gasping. The elf boy got out the water, shaking the water from his body, wringing it from his long blonde hair, long overdue for a cut. When it was neatly braided, he jammed his knit hat on his head, making sure his long ears were covered. On went his clothes, the liar's tunic last, warming his skin.
The seal that had died for its fur had been a large one – there was enough to pad the floor, and also wrap around him. Link clutched the heat stone to his chest, which got no warmer than deliciously hot. Warm at night for the first time in a long time, Link was in bliss, the heavy fur silky and plush, his stomach full. Ruto only came twice a day, which meant he had to ration what she brought to last the day.
He closed his eyes, willing himself into sleep as he'd learned to do over the course of his journey.
Link woke after a night of vague but pleasant dreams, stiff from the hard rock floor, but feeling better that morning than those nights previous when he'd slept in the cold.
Link rinsed his mouth, rubbing his fingers over his teeth to clean them. The rest of his morning preparations consisted of washing his face, doing a few stretches to loosen up, and eating a small meal of mushrooms and pounded cave weed.
He rinsed his mouth again to remove the foul taste, and turned to examine the chisel Sanri had brought. It was two hand's lengths long, and made of a hard, shining metal - not iron, steel, or bronze. There was no rust on it, despite the fact that it must have been stored underwater.
The cave ceiling was about six feet above the floor. The ceiling sloped down to five feet near the ventilation shaft, the stone looked like some kind of combination of grey slate and limestone.
Link sighed, and looked up at the shaft between captivity and freedom. He hefted the chisel, considering how big a tunnel he would have to carve. Three feet in diameter sounded appropriate – he would be climbing as he carved upwards. Link examined the rock walls of his cave cell, and then carefully closed the good fingers on his bad hand around the chisel. He raised the rock hammer and struck. Chips of rock flew. Again, deeper. Again. Again, this time to the left, again and moving left again, until he'd carved a sturdy foothold two feet from the cave floor. Another foothold, and Link found a rhythm, driving the chisel into the rock face.
That rhythm drove him, a pair of drums sounded in his mind, followed by flutes, and a single guitar. Magic lent him strength, energy to continue.
He struck too deep – and an alien, bitter energy flashed through him, burning hot and needling cold together at once. He dropped the stone and chisel without feeling or hearing them clatter to the rock floor.
The drums in his mind's ear grew louder, throbbing like the heartbeat of the land, slower than a Hylian's heart would sound in their chest.
The sky opened up
And down came rain
Down came rain
Down came rain
The sun it shone
And gold grew grain
Gold grew grain
Gold grew grain.
A woman's voice sang, low and sweet as summer sunshine, strong and steady as a tiger's purr. There was a strange echo, lilting words slurred, the vowels broad, the consonants heavy. Where had he heard such a voice, that thick accent before?
The flood it roared
An' washed us away
Washed us away
Washed us away
The god he came
What did he say?
Did he say?
Did he say?
Kattala braided her hair as she watched Dampe and the gravedigger Eduward dig a pit in front of the fresh grave marker she was sitting on. She swayed with the song as she sang, the two men using the melody to time the movements of their shovels.
Well war came here
And took our boys
Took our boys
Took our boys
Yes war came here
It took our joys
Took our joys
Took our joys
The storm it blew and
Stripped us clean
Stripped us clean
It stripped us clean
The hole it grew and
All grew green
All grew green
All grew green
It would not be long before the grieving family of Elsra Hepwort arrived with the casket containing the woman's body. The awareness of the local souls hovered heavy over the cemetery, woken by the gravediggers, curious as to who would be joining their number. One particular spirit hovered just over her shoulder, dry as drought and deep as the One Ocean. It reminded her of Link, of how his soul had felt when he played on his ocarina. There would be no point in asking the shade who they were – souls did not have nor need names.
Kattala tied off her plait and picked up the refrain of the song, the gravediggers joining in.
My heart is achin'
No comfort to be found
I have been breaking
Can you hear the sound
(Feet take me up
Feet take me up)
I'll bet you'll hear the sound
Of the cry when my
Feet take me up to the high cliffs
Sound of the drums my heart
Rocks and waves
That broke the small skiffs
Here will make a start
On this knife's edge
Cold and oh so sharp!
An' that voice says to me
Soft and slow
"Don't look down
Don't look down
Don't look down
Don't look down
The ground is warm
Under your feet
The air is so very cold
The clouds are grey with
Ice and sleet
And I am so very old."
The old one laughs!
"Come on down
Come on down
Come on down
Come on down
And I'll put you down
In the ground.
With the old souls
Down in the ground
Into the arms of the earth
Honey, come on
Down in the ground
And the hard-soled god
Will lay a lavender wreath
The hard-soled god
Will lay a lavender wreath
Right down over
Your burial mound, my sweet."
Kattala fell silent as the funeral procession drew near, relatives in black carrying a casket draped with red velvet. She hastily got off the grave marker before they noticed, brushing out the skirt of her black dress.
Elsra had had a long life, five children and a few dozen grandchildren. She'd hailed from Stonewall before she'd moved north to marry her clockmaker husband. During Elsra's life, Kattala had seen her patiently working as a teacher in the Kakariko school, teaching music and dance. Elsra had always looked upon Kattala with a look of disgust, but she'd been warm and kind to any other child, so Kattala was looking forward to speaking with Elsra Hepwort in death. The deceased always came round eventually, with only Kattala for company and conversation.
Now, surrounded by friends and family, the coffin was laid in the earth by the menfolk. Mashnuts were thrown into the grave, to symbolize fertility, of returning the body to the earth. The funeral songs were chanted, as the local priestess blessed the grave and the stone marker.
A second spirit nudged up against Kattala's cheek like an affectionate cat, perching on her shoulder.
New new! It whispered, confused, Ground has been disturbed. Shall we chase off?
Kattala caressed it with her magic. No, she sent back, New ghost for the graveyard. It is good.
Yes. That seemed to satisfy it, and the shade returned to its grave. A chill wind blew off of the mountain, and the young mage-in-training shivered, regretting not bringing a thicker coat.
One of Elsra's closest friends had been Melbina Surri, Tangle's aunt – the same sour-faced woman who coveted the Tangle manor and leyline station. She squinted in the bright afternoon light, her face powder-white, lips and cheeks rouged, her eyes heavily made-up. At seventy-two, she was the youngest of Tangle's uncles and aunts, and already she resorting to glamours to keep her face young. eighty was still young for a mountain elf, but Melbina ought to have the beginnings of lines around her eyes and mouth by now. There was not a wrinkle to be found, but not even beauty spells could hide the sour downturn of her plump lips, or the glitter of avarice in her pale eyes.
At last the blessings were said, and the grieving party left, letting the Dampe and the gravedigger who assisted him fill the grave with dirt. A carefully cut piece of sod was rolled out to hide the rectangular patch of bare earth, and stamped down as decorously as possible.
With the Link-like spirit tucked into her overdress pocket, Kattala knelt to lay a bouquet of star-of-the-mountain at the base of the conical grave marker.
"Hallo, Elsra." She said softly, feeling the newly-deceased soul ripple sleepily, only just beginning the process of separating from her body, "Welcome to your resting place. I'm sorry there's no afterlife for you, nothing to do but haunt the graveyard. The Mad God never saw the necessity of an afterlife, I'm afraid. But that's not as bad as it could be, so chin up. We – me and Dampe – keep the yard right tidy, and don't forget nobody. I'll plant flowers for you come springtime, and pour libations on the holy days. Your name is on the list of souls now, and the temple priests will read your name every Godsday. So you won't be forgotten, don't you worry. And when you've left your body all the way, you'll be able to talk to me, and I'll listen long as I can. You can teach me songs, and how to dance the twit-and-dog. And it won't be as fun as life, but you'll be right as you can be."
"What are you doing here, Katerin Ferres?" Great-Aunt Melbina inquired frostily from a few feet away, plucked eyebrows raised. "Lurking about like a crow up to mischief, I think."
"Oh, no, Aunt Melbina," Kattala said with innocent alarm, "I was just paying my respects to poor Madame Hepwort, her being a great lady when she was alive, and a pillar of the community besides."
"Indeed." Melbina's pale blue gaze inspected her sharply. "She did not care for you in life. Why should that change in death?"
"Loneliness?" Came the girl's reply.
"There is no room for such feeling in the blessed afterlife, Katerin. So the Goddesses have decreed."
"The lady is fresh and buried, Great-Aunt. Perhaps she needs more time to rise. And I like flowers. I thought they would add some cheer to the place, mayhap." She pulled out a handful of star-of-the-mountain from her overdress pocket, pale silver blossoms and delicate green vines. "These would look good in your hair, since it's so dark." Kattala offered a few blossoms as a peace offering.
Melbina looked taken aback, her frown softening.
"Perhaps a few." The older woman allowed. "I am to visit Lady Eleni this afternoon. It is time I found a new husband."
Kattala nodded, little paws already weaving vines together nimbly. Melbina pinned the chain of flowers to her shining black curls, pinning a blossom at the black lace throat of her gown.
"That looks fair, it does, Great-Aunt." Kattala said quietly. Her aunt looked thoughtful.
"You are kind, child. It is a pity you don't have noble rank, little one, or you could wear a veil to hide that unfortunate nose." Melbina stated with a curious look in her eyes, adding, "Has your father allowed you to speak in that hideous accent after all these years? You would do well to speak clearly."
Kattala blushed and ducked her head so the woman could not see her humiliation.
"And a graveyard is no place for a well-bred girl, however ugly and foreign. Have you no chaperone?"
Kattala bit her lip, and said in reply, "My father trusts me with Master Dampe, Aunt."
"I see I shall have to speak with your father about this. Come, little one. That gravekeeper is strange, mark my words."
"Yes, Aunt… may I say my farewells to him? I can't up and leave so quick, like… that."
"Very well. Be quick about it, child."
Kattala bobbed her head and trotted over to the elderly gravekeeper, who was beginning the weekly processional with the incense thurible. She patted the pocket with the spirit in it.
"Time to go back, Link. You're lucky the leyline you hit didn't kill you straight out, you are. Good thing I caught you since that line knows me. I'll find you again when I get the chance. Promise. But don't hit the line again – only the Mad God knows as what wandering shade might take over your living body while your soul's away. Take care, dear." She kissed Link's soul and sent him flying back through the vast network of leylines to his waiting body.
Link gasped as he woke up in his body, winded after so long and fast a journey. His muscles were stiff from being still for so long. He rubbed feeling back into his limbs, picking himself up off the stone floor from where he'd collapsed.
Had he just gotten sucked into a leyline?
He got onto his knees and peered into the large hole he'd broken into. A light glowed feebly from within. So much for a handhold there. He would have to carve a ladder of holds on the other side of the wall near the shaft.
Suddenly there was a new resource in his limited arsenal. He could send a message out – and someone could rescue him. Or at the very least start digging down from above. And somehow Kattala knew where he was, and could send his spirit through the leylines!
Could the legends be true? Could people actually travel physically through the lines and still survive?
What to do? Link needed to eat, and then think for a very long time. Hope flared in his chest, and he found himself smiling. He wasn't alone anymore – Kattala had remembered him, could be with him now, if only in spirit.
Jon fidgeted, nerves raw.
"Go on. Begin your tale."
Jon glared at Ganondorf's encouragement, who sighed.
"Young man, I owe you my life four times over. Nothing you can say can use up more than one of those."
"All right," Jon allowed, and began to tell the king about his life, how his mothers had thought themselves barren until his bloodmother had conceived, how the midwife who'd confirmed Anamara of the Weaver was indeed pregnant, and with twins. But when she went into labor, only one child had come out. His fathers had been busy guarding a rather volatile town that had a diamond-mine in westernmost Province of Arryn. His bloodmother herself was a dedicated teacher, so he had always been closest with his heartmother, who enjoyed weaving – hence his clan's name.
His uncanny and growing resemblance to the Hero Thereo was noted throughout town, to the detriment of his bloodmother's reputation. It was for that reason that when Dark turned four, he was paired with three-year old Ferrick Keen, who was rapeget and ill-loved in his own clan. He'd never really minded having a younger bond-mate since Rick had always been an early bloomer, growing faster than a normal child. The situation at home in Rick's clan had grown so untenable that Rick had moved in permanently with the Weaver clan by the time he was nine. Growing up together while sleeping in the same bed had led the two to sexually experiment together throughout puberty, as was natural for pair-bonds, but Dark and Rick had been unusually close.
Patcheem boys were taught to fight early on – but Dark had a tendency to go into berserker rages when pushed too far. Rick was the only one able to calm him down, and the younger boy noted when Dark was in a rage he spoke and held himself differently – used different fighting techniques than Dark had been taught.
Dark had been the one to label the rage as a person he called 'the Monster'. He did his best to stay in control, but sometimes there were slips. Rick was the only person the Monster liked, which was saying a lot, as the Monster didn't even think much of Dark, or Jon, now that he'd changed his name.
Jon spoke of how he didn't dream like normal people – instead he relived the Dreamer's memories while he slept.
He spoke of how he'd never felt at ease in Patcheem, that he didn't enjoy fighting, especially since it brought out the Monster more frequently.
Finally, he spoke of turning sixteen, and being shipped out as a cadet to guard a chain of travelling caravans.
"I met your son early in spring," Jon said, "Link of the Gerudo. He was a nice enough fellow, if a bit fond of his secrets. He left us midway through the journey, just made off in the night. I haven't heard of him since."
"I see." Ganondorf replied.
"The caravan continued South, but we were attacked, and my Rick was killed. I couldn't stand living a soldier's life after that, so I headed south and ended up here. I changed my name. I was a stable boy for a few months, until Yelen found me. I've been studying healing ever since."
"Tell me, Jon Kilresey," The Gerudo King said slowly, "Have you changed your allegiance along with your name?"
Jon shrugged. "No allegiance to anyone except myself and those I like. I don't like watching people die. But you're asking if I'm a spy for the North. I'm not. The King can take his taxes and his endless need for using men as cannon fodder and shove it this far up his-" He gestured, and Ganondorf grinned. "But you won't see me fighting for secession either. I just want to be left alone."
"Jon Kilresey, I will be happy to leave you alone, along with everyone in Wickment. When I reach my destination, I'll send a troop to guard the town. I will leave yourself all alone, but for one objection."
"What?" Jon inquired sharply, red eyes narrowed.
"I must insist that after you achieve your Mastery in Healing, that you attend one of the South's universities to become a full Doctor of Medicine."
"With what money?"
"I am a king, young Master Kilresey."
"Fair enough." Jon said in acceptance, then paused to think, "But wait. Could you send Elys to school as well? Her family's in a poor condition, and she's very kind, and smart. She helped with your recovery as well as Mistress Yelen."
"A full dowry for the girl, and I'll see what I can do for your Mistress. Although she seems to be doing quite well for herself here." He looked admiringly around the well-kept surgery room. "She must care for the more difficult cases in the area besides just this town. This house belongs to no mere hedgewitch or midwife."
"Thank you, my Lord."
"It will be my pleasure. Now, come, you have told me your life's story. Let me tell you mine, although it will be much longer than yours.
"My story does not begin with my birth. It begins with the birth of my people, the Gerudo, and before even that, the settling of this country now called Hyrule.
"Hyrule did not always exist in isolation, although its surrounding mountains, marshes, desert, and stinking swampland beyond the Lost Woods kept most nations out. The curious slipped in through the mountain passes, paddled in from the marshes, braved the desert to see what lay within. These parties stayed mostly apart, or turned back. If you had looked at a map in those days, the outside world would have a hazy blank space titled 'Wilder-want', for few had been there and still returned. Five thousand and five hundred years ago, a great temple city was built in Quesal, in the heart of what is now Crimen. The people who built it called themselves the Slensina, and they were an industrious, harmonious people. They called themselves humans, and their skin was brown and their ears round. They settled in and around Lake Hylia, and they were prosperous.
"Centuries later a great ocean storm wracked the coast of the southern side of the great continent, driving a group of Shadow-Walkers through the Haunted Wasteland and into this country. They intermarried with the Slensina in today's Lakeland Province, and over the years three groups emerged. In the south-western shore of Lake Hylia dwelt the Gerudo, who worshiped the Sun, and called themselves the Children of the Sun. In the northeastern shore dwelt the Mahoya, who called themselves the Children of the Stars. And in the fertile land between lake and plains dwelt the Sheikah, who had descended from both Shadow-Walker and Slensina, and called themselves the Children of the Moons.
"The three nations lived in peace, sharing the temple city Quesal as the holiest of holy sites in all of Southern Hyrule. The Plains between the mountains and the Lakeland was left unsettled, for great storms frequently ripped across them, fueled by the warmth of the One Ocean south and west of the Haunted Wasteland. The People of the Sky were unique in that they received power from the sun, moons, and stars rather than the earth itself. Peace reigned, and the three Peoples of the Sky took from the land only what could be given back. The dead remained at rest, appeased by the rites performed in Quesal. The Golden Age lasted for three centuries, until a greedy man of the Sheikah people waged war against his Mahoya neighbor, coveting the well that was on that man's land. The petty feud led the man to kill his neighbor. The murder led to a blood feud that could not be resolved between the two families. Family turned settlement against settlement, and finally, the Sheikah people waged war against the Mahoya. The Gerudo demanded the matter be resolved by the spirits at Quesal, but the Sheikah refused to listen, and continued to attack the Mahoya."
"And then one day there was no Mahoya people, only a few survivors who had fled to the Gerudo. The High Priestess decreed that the Sheikah, once an enlightened People of the Sky, were to be cast out of Quesal, their dead to wander the world without rest or satisfaction. No longer would the Sheikah pay tribute to the spirits of rain, of light, good earth, and the spirits of all living, growing things. No incense and resins were to be burned at the Temple, no oracles told or bones broken, no songs of praise uttered by their mouths, no garment could be dyed holy purple from costly snail shells. The spirit of the Lakeland turned against the Sheikah, and turned their eyes the fire of rubies, the red of the earth they had needlessly stained with blood. Even now no Sheikah can bring trees to bear fruit in the land of the Mahoya.
"Cast out, the Sheikah settled in the storm-torn Plains, always travelling with the herds of antelope that live in the grasslands. The Sheikah divided into tribes and began to war with each other. Determined to keep the Sheikah raiding parties at bay, the Gerudo built a wall between the natural border of the Imally forest and the southernmost reaches of the Backbone Mountains that lay between the lake and the desert. Sentries were posted along the wall, which stretched from present-day Slainway all the way to the northernmost part of Lakeland Province.
"The world turned, centuries passed. The Sheikah spread out across the Central Plains, raiding less and less, still the bitter enemies of the Gerudo. They gravitated to the Zora River, but built no permanent cities.
"In the heart of the Gerudo territory our people continued cultivating the land, growing spices in the islands of the Lake, building temples to the sun with fine-stained glass, priestesses in holy purple and silver. Our scholars studied the natural world and the stars, the nature of magic and of people themselves.
"But history moved on outside our isolated part of the world. The Great Devouring Wars rent empires apart, small principalities swelling with new conquests, nothing but endless war and turmoil. Even barren Idre - a vast tundra in the center of the continent – could not escape the bloodshed.
"A thousand White Elves and three tribes of Shapeshifters who dwelt in Idre appealed to three wise women Sainted by the Mad God, the God who made all the world. The three Saints, Din, Nayru, and Farore, led their supplicants to Azavaire, for that was what the People of the Sky had named their homeland. The three women spoke with both Sheikah and Gerudo – and a treaty was worked – if the Saints would wall off Azavaire from the rest of the world, the elves and shapeshifters could live in the vast mountains and forests. The Plains were to be left to the Sheikah, and the South, with its Lake and red earth, for the Gerudo.
"It was acceptable to the refugees, and the treaty was signed and enshrined in the Temple at Quesal three thousand years before this age. And so it was for two millennia, the Gerudo in the heart of the South, the Elves in the mountain keeps, the Shapeshifters hiding themselves away in the wilderness, and the Sheikah scraping a living from the barren Plains.
"But those Plains changed with the closing of the borders. The Sea-storms ceased to wrack the central steppe, letting them flower with grain and fruit trees under the hands of the slayers of the Mahoya. The leylines scattered across the country connected to form a web, fit for the outsiders to draw from, they who drew power from the earth, while the Gerudo drew strength from the sun, and the Sheikah from Luna and Seles.
"The hearts of the White Elves grew bitter and greedy in the high valleys. Even then, their love of honor and purity held them in check. It was not so for the fifth son of the Elf king Handen, who ruled the mountains above Arryn. Harkinian was his name, and he had no love for duty, and honor. He was given Hag's Peak Valley as his barony, a hard life for any elf. He coveted the richer land in Hightop Valley, but knew it would never be his, for his elder brothers were many, in numbers and in the men they ruled. Harkinian turned his gaze then upon the green lowlands that were rightfully that of the Sheikah tribes.
"He saw what he wanted, and weighed it with his duty to his people. No, I say he never once considered it. As soon as his mind was made up, he told his people to pack their livelihoods and turn to the lowlands. Those who did not leave with him starved that winter with no lord to care for them and their concerns.
"I needn't bother tell you of Harkinian's story – you are Hylian. You know the story. But there are many sides to a story, many that go untold because the winner wish not to have those worse stories told of them. The Firebirds accepted the elf-chieftain, but other tribes did not. The Flat Mouths wished to treatise with him, and even sent riders South to Quesal to obtain a copy of the Founding Treaty between the White Elves, the Shapeshifters, and the People of the Sky, witnessed by the Three Saintly Goddesses. The Treaty said that no elf should have dominion over the lowlands, which would always belong to the Sheikah.
"Harkinian read it himself, and rejected it.
" 'This was of the age before, and times have changed much. People must take victory for themselves, and defeat is for the weak. What need have people for treaties unless they be weak? By the favor of the Goddesses do I win by strength of arms, and it is through their disfavor with you that you cleave to me. I say that cunning words and other sorts of trickery are the lowest weapon a man has to him.'
"And Harkinian looked upon the works of the Goddesses, the founders of Azavaire, not this country a ravening elf-beast made a mockery by calling High-Rule, and pissed upon it. Not long after he defeated and killed the Flat Mouths, and captured the rest of the Plains for himself and the traitorous Sheikah who followed him.
"Five hundred years later, the Kingdom of Hyrule had conquered or assimilated the Sheikah population, and turned their sights upon the South. Again the Treaty was brought out, and ignored. The Hylians slaughtered every single Gerudo male, and dismantled the Temple at Quesal until not a single brick remained where it had been laid millennia ago."
"So that's what Elys means when she says the South is the land of the Sky." Jon commented. "The South says it belongs to the Gerudo – the Sky people – so the Hylian King has no power over it."
"Yes." Ganondorf didn't meet Jon's red eyes, choosing instead to watch a songbird in the eucalyptus trees out the wide windows. "The movement began in Imally. People were tired of the taxes, and the overseers of the big farms, and abuses towards indentured servants.
"At first, support was shown by the symbol of a rising sun. Then the worship turned to that of Din. Before long the overseers were circumvented, the hedgewitches sent their apprentices to the Universities to steal Northern magics. There were small uprisings here and there over the last century that were crushed quickly and hushed.
"Fran the Bastard was the one who contacted me to consult on a true revolution of the South. A sustainable movement that could actually be successful. I was reluctant at first. My people's territory had just entered the protection of the King. But it soon became clear the King does not care overmuch for the people he is meant to watch over, nor much for duty. His daughter is a bright fierce lass, Ganhala's Sheikah blood runs true in her despite showing elvish."
By 'showing elvish', Ganondorf referred to the phenomenon of a mixed-race child only taking after one race.
"The King and the nobles in the Capitol see only her maidenhead, to be given to the man chosen to be King through marriage. They would crush her spirit, when she could be great. The northern lords and the King, much like Harkinian, seem only to understand victory and defeat, thinking that might confers right."
"So the South must hand over such defeat to the North that it shakes the idea of secession straight through and out their thick skulls." Elys said from the doorway, a laden tray propped up against her hip. "I didn't listen long, but I heard enough to cotton on. It's time for luncheon, King Ganondorf."
"Excellent, my dear girl. Who would you be?"
"Elys Miriam Tedal, your Majesty. Of Briarsedge."
"You needn't call me 'Majesty.' With this battered nose I'm in no way majestic. 'My Lord' will do."
"Yes, my Lord. "
"Very well then, Miss Tedal, what do you have for me today?" Elys went pink.
"Cream of tuber soup, and fresh rolls, my Lord. Fruit juice too."
"That sounds most appetizing. You have my thanks."
Elys laid the tray on the side table usually used for surgery tools. She curtsied as well as she could, and excused herself.
Jon took the pitcher and poured two full cups of sweet juice, divvying the rolls and soup out carefully. Ganondorf sipped his drink gingerly, sighing in satisfaction as it quenched his thirst. He ripped a roll apart, dipping the chunks in the rich creamy soup.
"My mothers –yes, there are two of them – they were sorceresses. My motherline has a tendency for twins – and my mothers were quadruplets in the womb, identical to the last hair on their heads. Two babes were stillborn, but Koomeh and Kootakeh survived. For this they were gifted with foundational magic – what the Hylians and elves call academic magic.
"This magic is powerful, more potent than that of individual magics, more universal than racial magic. It comes only to those whose twins – the second part of their soul – have been torn from them by death."
Ganondorf paused to chew carefully, savoring the simple food before swallowing. He took a deep draught of juice then continued.
"My mothers never spoke much about what had happened in their lives before me. I only learned after their deaths that they had failed the Ordeal every Gerudo girl must undergo to be considered a woman. They left our people to study magic at the mage's University in Crimen. They returned to the Fortress upon achieving their Mastery.
"My mothers never parted from each other. Neither ever took a wife, or ever expressed an interest. I wonder if any Gerudo woman would have had accepted the suit of either of them. They were completely devoted to other, in every way. But they kept their incest secret.
"I don't know how old they were when they decided they wanted a daughter to teach. My mothers were anything but nurturing – but they liked the idea of leaving a continuing mark on the world, of having a child who worshipped them.
"They wouldn't settle for just anyone, of course. And a man from Parchen wouldn't do. My mothers used magic to appear as proper Hylian beauties, and travelled to the Rosethorn, where some of the oldest nobility likes to retire for a season.
"King Rolens was on the throne then. He had three sons, all grown – Daren, Rolens the second, and Daphnes the fourth. Daren had two children – the prince Coren, and the princess Dalia. Daphnes was still seeking a wife at that time, but he was in no rush since he was the youngest son of Rolens.
"Rolens the second was in Rosethorn at the time. He liked to dally with the local women so any heirs he had were illegitmate. He was said to be a very handsome man, but with little charm.
"I don't know how they arranged it, but my mothers lured him into their rented room at a wayhouse. After plying him with wine heavily laced with dreamweed, they seduced him. They kept him tied up for three days, copulating with him while the dreamweed was in effect. When they were done with him, they cut his throat and fled through the leylines back to the Gerudo allotment.
"His seed kindled in their wombs. They gave birth in the Wasteland, fourteen months later, the usual period of confinement. One babe from each woman, yet identical. They couldn't tell us apart. My brother died in the night of the same disease that kills all male Gerudo infants. I suppose I was born with something he didn't have, because I lived. I thrived.
"They raised me together in a tent in the Wasteland, never leaving except to buy new supplies. There were enough carcasses and lost souls in the desert to fuel a lifetime of necromantic studies. My mothers were not… tender-hearted. Or particularly patient women. I suspect that if my foundational magic had not had such potential, they would have left me to fend for myself in the wastes. How do you Hylians say it? …They did not spare the rod when I failed their expectations.
"I was eleven when the Hylian soldiers tracked my mothers down for the murder of Prince Rolens. There was no trial. There was no need for one. My mothers readily admitted they had killed him. We were marched to the Fortress, where my mothers were hung. The Gerudo women burned the bodies, and scattered them into the wind, far out into the desert.
"The women of the Fortress took me in. The Queen herself raised me. Such a sudden departure from living in the restless barrens, to living in uncountable luxury. I did not handle the change well. The Queen spoiled me as she had spoiled her daughter Tabiya. My magic was strong – for all their faults my mothers knew their craft well. It was the only thing that got me through the Ordeal of Kingship.
"The King's Ordeal is not the same as the Woman's Ordeal – that which all Gerudo girls must overcome to be fully adult. Preparations for this trial begins upon puberty – with the girls' first menses. There is little preparation for a King. I was taught a wanderer's song that named the landmarks I was to follow, the star paths.
"Then I was sent out into the Wastes at the age of twelve, told only to return at the proper time. When I asked when the proper time would come, the Queen said I would know when.
"I followed the star paths at night, slept in what little shelter I could find during the day. I walked and walked, following the rising sun. The last mountains of the Curled Backbones extend into the desert, but are little more than crags and rolling dunes anchored by tough grasses. I climbed them, and continued on my way. The rock and sand gave to cracked earth and hardy shrubs. I came to the edge of Azavaire, the border no elf has ever seen. Only the most potent magic wielders can pass the boundary, and so I was able to pass. When my hide sandals were worn to tatters, I wove new ones out of the abundant grasses that littered the vast plains that lay beyond the desert crags.
"I saw strange beasts there, horses that were not horses, antelope three times larger than the ones in our Hylian Plains. Great frilled lizards that stalked after the herdbeasts much like a ridge-cat might hunt a fawn or wolf-pup. Halfway across the grasslands I saw the sea for the very first time.
"The people of Hyrule think Lake Hylia is vast. Compared to the other lakes, it is. But the sea, the One Ocean is infinitely larger. The water there is sweet, not fresh. Lake Hylia is so clear you can see the lakeweed forests at the bottom even at the deepest depths. The One Ocean is blue as finest sodalite, the waves capped with ivory foam. The beaches on Old-Region Lienna are made of powdery white sand.
"The grasslands grow on fertile loess soil, and the flourishing farms bring flat coastal Lienna most of its wealth. When my food ran out, a farming family – the Oxemans - took me in as an extra hand for the harvest. The patriarch and his sons were my first encounters with friendly males. I had only those Hylian soldiers and officials for comparison.
"It was paradise! No one judged me by the color of my skin or eyes. The land was fertile and kind, the vista of seaside two hours' ride away. Their only expectation of me was to do as I was told, and when I made mistakes I was corrected gently, without scorn.
"Why would I ever wish to return to Hyrule? Gerudo Kings are raised from birth to rule. All I knew how to do was herd the hair sheep my mothers kept for their flesh, milk, and blood. I didn't even know how to read. How could I begin to be a good King?
"I was with them for a year. I had grown close to the Oxemans, so much so that a marriage to one of the younger daughters was to be held when we were of age. In the next year blight struck the wheat. Then came a spring of whooping cough. We lost most of our wealth paying for the healer to make his calls for the sick ones. The stricken fields were never planted because we were too busy tending the bedridden and couldn't afford to keep the hired hands who were themselves ill. I am made of very hardy stock, so I was never badly hit. As a male Gerudo that lived past infancy, I must have some kind of resistance to disease that the other male babes never had.
"It got worse – people never die of starvation. It's the illnesses they catch when so weak which claims them. I worked so hard to bring in enough to feed us all, but there was nothing left to entice the healer to help."
"I was sixteen when I buried the last of the Oxemans. I sold the house, the farm, the animals, the tools, the furniture. The blight had hit the whole area we'd lived in, so I had to sell these off for a pittance. But there was enough money to equip me for my return to my people. I vowed then I would be a good king. I would not let my people die of starvation like the Oxemans had.
"I set out for the border of Azavaire, but the way out of Azavaire is easier than the way in, I'm afraid. But that is a story for another day, when my strength returns. Come now, I would be most grateful if you brought me something to quench my thirst after so much talking."
How sorely I have neglected you all! To be fair, Stats for Psychological Research sucked out my soul. Ah the spectre of Real Life. I got stuck on Ganondorf's story, and only recently reached a breakthrough.
The rest of Ganondorf's story is coming, I promise you all. I will never, ever abandon this story. I might postpone, I might turn to another short project momentarily – my latest is a children's book I hope to send out within the next year once I find a willing illustrator. But upon my honor as a storyteller, I will finish this.