O. M. G. You have no idea how much I loathe finding titles. NO IDEA. But anyway, I've done worse than this before.
What has become of me? This was supposed to be a oneshot but I somehow got handicapped by OiH and was unable to keep it short so it extended into the longest oneshot in the history of my life (I hope never to top that 38 pages record).
(That's right, 38 pages.)
I heeded some careful advice and chopped the story up into three parts, so you won't have to read it all at once... because who would, right? ;)
Thanks to The Hylia's Twilight Princess Visual Guide; GameFAQs' Twilight Princess Game Script v.1.00; Nintendo's 3-D rendered character images; Nintendo Power's Official Twilight Princess Player Guide; and Wikipedia for all other odd research facts, like enemy names and fish arthritis.
Extra notes at the very end. Enjoy!
Colin was excited, but he tried to hide it. At fifteen, he was considered a man by all standards, and it wasn't right for a man to display childish excitement at the prospect of anything.
Years of training with his father and Link had sharpened his skill with a blade, practice with Fado and Link on horseback riding had turned him into a healthy, agile young man, tricks from Talo had made him sneaky by Ordon reckoning ―though not as sneaky as the mentor himself―, the ways of healing had been imparted to him by his mother and Ilia… And still, he would not reach the hero's experience and talent.
Still, he smiled a little; today, none of those things really mattered.
Finally, the day had come for him to leave Ordon and explore the world. Finally, he'd see what it was Link did whenever he left Ordon days at a time.
He'd woken up extra early in the morning, though in retrospect, it had turned out to be quite useless. His mother had already finished preparing his pack, and his father had already sharpened his sword. And, he saw when he began walking up the slope to the ranch, Fado had already saddled Lon, his horse.
Colin sighed, a little disappointed. He'd looked forward to preparing himself on his own, like a grown man, but he couldn't hide the fact that it all made him feel quite cherished.
A hand clapped down on his shoulder, and he turned to look up at Link's smiling face. The twenty-two year-old sported a deep brown tunic—he'd given up on the 'green of fields' after his adventure, claiming that it was out of place once peace returned, but he hadn't been able to wear Ordon clothes either.
"Ready for a long day of riding, Colin?" He asked, and shouldered his own pack higher.
Colin smiled, then looked up as Talo came down the hill atop his own horse, Romani. He was grinning, as always.
Though both the boys were fifteen, they looked nothing like one another. Talo had cut his brown hair quite short, so that it was a brush of unruly strands, like a bird's nest, Beth would always say, fondly. He still had his sharp eyes, but he hadn't grown quite as tall as Colin, for which he loudly blamed Jaggle, his father, who was also on the short side. Colin, on his part, was lithe but tall, and his hair, in his later years, had grown curly and framed his face, sometimes falling into his eyes, which had, after many sparring matches with Talo, grown sharp as well.
The two boys were meant to travel with Link to Castle Town for the Hyrule Summit. They carried a present specifically requested for by the princess herself, but what it was, only Link knew, and he guarded the secret with stubborn amusement, in spite of the others' curiosity.
Talo had already strapped his pack on Romani's back, and the young mare stamped the ground impatiently. Like her young master, she was restless for exercise.
Fado, easy-going as ever, handed Lon's reins to Colin, and said, in his usual drawl, "Now don't y'all make a mess, hear?"
Talo rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Fado. We hardly ever do. Besides, the messy one's you. How're you going to deal without Colin and I to help you herd the goats?"
Fado shrugged and seemed slightly embarrassed. "Well," he slowly said, "I taught Beth to ride. She'll be a good hand while you're all gone."
Colin and Link exchanged smirks, but said nothing. Talo, on his part, looked suitably horrified, and accordingly opened his loud mouth to shout, "What? Fado, what're y'doing, moving in on Beth like that?"
Fado, at that, couldn't help an embarrassed flush. "It ain't nothing like that!"
Talo squinted. "Oh, yeah. Like you weren't thinking of it. Come on, big guy, why'd she go for an old guy like you?"
Luckily for all, Link chose that moment to clear his throat, and said, "Talo, Fado's only two years older than me. Are you implying I'm getting old?"
Now it was the young maroon haired young man's turn to be embarrassed. He mumbled, "Uh, no, Link. That's not what I was―" He suddenly raised his head and motioned to Fado vaguely, "But anyway, what's he thinking? It's not like he… like he…" Then, when he caught Colin's raised brow, he just rolled his eyes and exclaimed, "Ah, never mind!"
"Miss Beth and I get along quite well," Fado drawled defensively. "She says I'm more mature than you tots."
"Tots?" Talo roared, his voice cracking because he was screaming so loud, "We ain't tots, you gangly hawk!"
"That's enough," Link suddenly interrupted. "Talo, let Fado and Beth make their own choices. If you don't stop soon, we might suspect you have your own infatuation with her." He smirked. "Now that simply wouldn't do, would it?"
Talo snorted, and Colin snickered. Under his breath, the shortest of the two mumbled, "If you don't quit the laughing, Blondie, I'm spearing you through as soon as we're out in the fields."
Colin, no longer the kind to back down from one of Talo's challenges, mumbled, "We'll see about it, Pint-size."
Talo shot him a nasty glare, which Colin answered with a cynical smirk. He had a rough competition going on with Talo about which of the two made the best swordsman ―after Link, of course. So far, determining a winner had been impossible. Talo, in spite of his brash behaviour, was a fierce fighter.
"Well," Link said, breaking up their momentary lapse into rivalry to remind them of their purpose, "Since you both have your own mounts, maybe I should call―"
All four young men ―Link and Colin, Talo and Fado― turned at the voice. Tugging Link's mare along, Ilia was padding forward, her mere presence soothing the edge on their thoughts. She smiled at Link and handed him Epona's reins. She had just washed and brushed the mare's coat, and Link nodded in thanks. She greeted Fado politely, then her green eyes turned to Colin and Talo, a mild scolding look etched in them.
The boys shrunk a little, but then she smiled and said, "Good luck for your journey. Don't be too tiresome with Link, now."
Talo rolled his eyes and snorted, but Colin smiled softly and said, "We won't, I promise."
Ilia smiled again indulgently, then pulled Link apart from the group and started speaking to him in hushed tones. The boys tried to hear what it was all about, but all they managed to see was that Ilia had handed Link a small package, narrow and thin and delicate looking. Link smiled and nodded, carefully placed it in his own pack, then gave Ilia a brief, friendly hug, which she returned with a last well-wish.
"… And don't run off on any foolish ventures," she warned them all in a motherly tone, shooting Link a somewhat glacial warning look. He looked accordingly abashed, which seemed to satisfy her.
"Here comes Mayor Bo," Fado remarked. Ilia turned to her father and softly greeted him.
"Ah, boys," Mayor Bo sighed. "Already of age, eh? Four years ago, we almost lost you lads and now you're all grown up. Makes a man proud to be mayor." He passed his arm around his daughter's shoulders and added, "Link, my lad, haven't seen you in a few days. Been awful busy?"
Link shrugged. "Here and there. Running errands, mostly."
Mayor Bo nodded. "Seen Renado of late? Hasn't caught on, has he?"
Link shrugged. "I haven't worn those boots in years anyway. There's been no reason to."
Colin didn't know what they were talking about, but somehow he didn't find enough interest to care. He turned and observed as his father, mother and baby sister walked over the flat bridge and joined them. His father, Rusl, the village's blacksmith and senior swordsman, was smiling. In the past four years, the corners of his eyes had grown even more wrinkled. His arm was around his wife Uli's waist, who looked as gentle as always. Her pale hand held her little daughter's, Aryll. Aryll had her mother's traits, soft and gentle. At four years, she already promised to be a beautiful girl. Colin felt deep brotherly love for her then, as she walked up to Lon, reached up and started patting the young stallion's side, awed by the animal's size.
"Colin," his mother called, and Colin immediately walked up to her and listened carefully. She smiled tenderly, brushing a curled blonde strand off his cheek with the same motherly kindness as always ―he might have been considered an adult, but he still loved her attentions― and said, "Be careful, now. Don't do anything dangerous. I want you home in one piece."
Colin grinned. "Of course, mother."
He bent forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Then, he embraced his father vigorously, as the man warned, "Link might be a fine swordsman ―and a bit of a hero― but he isn't your bodyguard." Pulling away, Rusl said, "Don't be afraid to help him out, all right?"
Colin nodded. "I know that. I learned my lesson four years ago."
"Good. Now get your sister away from Lon; she might get knocked over."
Colin smiled and hurried to obey. Meanwhile, Talo had been bidding goodbye to his own family, though this ceremony was definitely less dignified than what Colin had had to endure. Talo's father was telling him to attack anything in sight, and his mother, Pergie, was sobbing her eyes out, begging him not to risk life and limb on such a journey. Colin felt uncomfortable for his sparring partner, in spite of their rivalry. He'd always sort of feared massive Pergie, whose emotions were as steady as a weathervane, and his sympathies extended quietly to the other young man who had to endure her loud embarrassing pleas.
He caught Talo's brother Malo's eye as the eleven year-old glanced over. They exchanged nods. There was something about Malo's genius that was frightening. Every now and then, the mailman would come by and deliver astronomical amounts of rupees to Malo, claiming they were his stores' profits. Colin didn't know what was so genial about Malo, but he vowed never to try and find out. It wasn't any of his business anyway.
Beth walked up to him then. She had lost her baby-fat and looked somewhat elegant. Colin had respect for her, and she for him ―ever since he'd saved her life and all― but he couldn't help asking, "So is it true that you're to become Fado's… assistant?"
Beth had the decency to blush. "What? …Oh, um… well, yes, I suppose that's―"
"You like him, don't you?" Colin teased. "What happened to your being smitten with Link?"
Beth rolled her eyes. "I've grown out of that silly thing, Colin. Besides," her eyes became all knowing, "he has someone else on his mind. Someone who isn't from here."
This surprised Colin. He spent a lot of time with Link whenever he dropped by Ordon Village, and never once had he noticed anything unusual about the hero. He was as calm and good-humoured as always, though in retrospect, it was true that Colin had never really known everything there was to know about Link.
Beth noticed Colin's puzzlement and giggled. "Oh, Colin, you're such a boy. A woman immediately notices that kind of thing."
"It sure took you a lot of time to figure it out," Colin replied. "Until a few months ago you were still all over him."
Beth's knowing face turned sour. "Colin," she flatly said, "if you don't watch it, I'll throw you a punch. I swear I will."
Colin smiled, brushing the threat off without much care. Beth sometimes played tough or mature, but she was just as childish and harmless as before. "Well, then. Anything you want me to bring you back from Castle Town? Latest fashion, maybe?"
Beth's gaze turned momentarily excited then dimmed somewhat. "As if you'd know fashion if it hit you in the face."
The blonde young man looked insulted, then said, "Fine then. No homecoming presents for you, if that's how you want it."
Beth and Colin turned. Link was calling the young man over, and the whole village stood nearby. Beth smiled and hurried over to her mother Sera and her father Hanch, then glanced shyly at Fado, who was inching in her direction.
"It's time to go. Tie up all your stuff." Link had already finished strapping his own packs and his rolled sleeping mat to Epona's back. He was already sitting in his saddle, and Colin recognised the hero's obvious desire for open space. He'd tasted it for the first time four years ago, and since then he'd never been sated. Colin hoped to feel the same thing too.
"Yeah, come on, Colin," Talo called, "or else Link and I are leaving without you!"
It was unlikely, but that got Colin moving. In no time at all, his own pack and provisions were tied to Lon's saddle securely. He placed one foot in the stirrup then hoisted himself up with ease, swinging his other foot over Lon's back and sliding into the other stirrup.
"Well," Mayor Bo officiously said, "I would have made a speech for this moment." He cleared his throat. "But I don't think holding back the adventurous would help at all. So fare well, lads. Make us proud. And pay Ordona Province's respects to the princess."
"We will, Bo," Link promised. "I'm sure the gift that Ilia and I prepared for her highness will please her very much."
Mayor Bo nodded slowly. His wrinkled eyes and strong build seemed to inflate with importance, but he nonetheless smiled at the three young travellers. "In that case, do try to enjoy yourselves as well. You're old enough to be allowed to, and young enough to be forgiven in case you do something foolish."
The villagers laughed, and it was with a last farewell to their big family that Link, Colin and Talo in tow, slowly trotted out of Ordon Village.
The day was sunny and mild, which was ideal. They rode at a good pace, fast enough to make the blood flow steadily in their veins. Colin was accustomed to riding: he and Talo had taken up the positions of ranch hands when Link had proven to be absent too often on stately affairs, but he had never been much farther than the Faron Province. They quickly passed the long bridge ―that bridge always made him nervous, like it was too rickety to withstand the weight of three horses and their riders, but it held up― and rode through the Faron Meadows.
Link turned in his saddle when they reached the Faron Spring. They'd been riding for half an hour already. "Let's stop here to give one last respite to the horses." He dismounted, to the boys' surprise. As means of explanation, he said, with his usual well-meaning smile, "There won't be many places for them to stop at before we reach the open fields."
Talo furrowed a brow, not moving to dismount, even as Colin unquestioningly obeyed and lead Lon to the spring. "But there are water holes in the fields, aren't there?"
Link's eyes let his entertainment show, and he shot Talo an amused smirk. "In the summer, they're more like mud puddles, and only if you really want to defend Romani against Kargorocs and Bulblins while she drinks."
As he watched Lon slowly drink from the healing spring, Colin asked, "Link, what's the gift for the princess?"
Talo raised his eyes and prodded as well. "Yeah, Link. Why won't you tell us?"
Link smiled, but evaded the question by saying, "It's a gift that she requested. It's a royal secret, but if you behave on the trip, I might tell you."
"Aw, goat shit," Talo grumbled. "We ain't kids anymore."
Link merely smiled, took off his boots and rolled his pant legs. Both boys watched as he waded off into the shallow spring, where the water barely reached his knees. He took a bottle and filled it with clear water, then came back to them and offered them a sip.
"Nothing like spring water to cure aches," he said. They shook their heads; he shrugged, and took a long sip for himself. He lowered the bottle, corked it, then looked at the horses, who were now grazing on the sweet grass that grew nearby. "Time for the long leg of the road." He patted Epona's side and the mare looked up, ready to trot again.
"How long until we reach Castle Town?" Colin asked.
Link looked pensive, then climbed into the saddle. "Two or three hours, maybe. It could turn into four if we take our time. Either way," he turned a smile to the boys who had also mounted, "we should be there by early afternoon."
"Great," Talo said, satisfied. "Right in time for a good snack."
They exchanged grins, and entered the short tunnel that lead to Coro's grove. The lantern seller was reclining in his chair, in front of his rickety house, and looked quite satisfied to stay there. His bird, Trill, was hopping around on the ground, searching for worms in the dirt. Trill let out a bird cry when Epona's hoof landed too near, and he flew off to land on Coro's head.
Coro looked up, a bit startled, but he lightened up. "Why, it's the Ordonian." He smiled, and noticed that Link was not alone. "And two others! What is this," he asked, "an exodus?"
"It's time for the Hyrule Summit," Link said conversationally as they passed without stopping.
"Really?" Coro scratched his head and looked pensive. "You don't say." He watched as the three travellers headed for the passage to Hyrule field. To Trill, who was whistling, he said, "Maybe it's time for me to drop by Hena and Iza's places, huh?"
The undergrowth of Faron's trees was untamed and it stretched over the passage, and the horses had to pick their steps in a single file as they passed through. The air here was heavier, wetter, warmer. Colin swapped away at the flies that harassed him.
After fifteen minutes of underbrush, the space cleared up and they were amongst tall, leafy trees. Beyond the trunks, Colin could guess a wider expanse of land.
And, soon, they walked out into the field. Colin had to take a moment to deal with his awe. He'd seen the field before, four years ago, but he had forgotten how immense it was, how broad the expanse of the deep blue sky seemed, fading into the distance, meeting the green hills at an unreachable point.
He glanced at Talo, and was pleased to see that he too had trouble containing his admiration.
Link didn't wait long. He started to make his way down a gentle slope. The boy riders fell into step quietly. It was a companionable silence, and all their worries were carried away by the gentle, warm wind that blew across the fields. Far ahead, if Colin squinted, he could make out the delicate towers of Hyrule Castle, white and gleaming against a beautiful, cloudless sky.
"I can't believe we stayed in Ordon that long," Talo finally said, and Colin had to agree.
They followed a dirt road. It was easier for the horses and it allowed them to focus on other things, like how the sun was suddenly much brighter and warmer. At first it was pleasant, but soon it grew oppressive. The three riders took the time to drink from their bottles as they went.
They were still in the Faron province when came the time for a quick lunch. Link lead them off the open road and under the cover of a small copse of trees. They tethered the horses to low branches so that, if they pleased, the creatures could graze the green grass and dry hay.
They shared their provisions, apples, bread, cheese, and goat milk, and ate in the same companionable silence. Colin glanced at his sword at it lay amongst all his belongings. It was a narrow scabbard, with a sturdy, undecorated blade sheathed in it. His father made all of Ordon Village's blades, and though he was a talented craftsman, he paid little attention to extra ornaments. Colin didn't mind. He was not particularly fond of fighting, though he had a natural skill for it.
He glanced at Link's sword. The hero always kept his blade strapped to his back. Force of habit, he said, but Colin suspected that its weight was also a comfort for the man who'd learned to sometimes rely on its sole presence in his hour of need.
"Say," Talo suddenly spoke up, his mouth full of bread and cheese, "what happened to that nice, shiny sword of yours, Link? The one with the purple grip?"
Link finished his mouthful and looked genuinely confused. Then, as if struck by a sudden memory, he asked, "Oh, you mean the Master Sword?"
Talo's narrow brows raised. "It had a name?"
Link grinned sheepishly. "I didn't name it, if that's what you're wondering. Yeah, um, I found it."
"You found it?" Talo repeated incredulously.
"Yeah," Link said, and he took a casual bite of his own piece of bread. "And once I was done with it, I put it back."
"It's not such a big deal," Colin said. "It's not the sword that makes a hero. It's just one of the tools."
Link smiled benevolently at the young blonde, but Talo wasn't nearly so forgiving. "Are you kidding me? You don't just discard a nice sword like that, useful or not!" He turned to Link. "Come on, Link, tell me where you put it. If you won't use it, I will."
Link grinned again. "Sorry, kid."
Infuriated, Talo let out a loud huff. "I'm not a kid anymore! Won't anyone give that term a rest?"
But Link wasn't listening to Talo's anger anymore. He'd tensed, and Colin sensed something radiating off of him, like waves of danger.
Talo calmed down as well and fixed his eyes on the elder of their group.
The handsome hero waved at them quietly, motioning for them to untie their horses and gather their belongings.
"Bulblins," he whispered.
"Do they know we're here?" Talo whispered excitedly.
"Not yet, but I intend to keep the element of surprise." He turned to the boys and said, "Gather all the stuff, and head off into the open field. I'll join you. Keep following the road. And beware of Kargorocs."
If at first Talo was disappointed that Link wouldn't include them in the foray, the mention of other threats kept him from complaining. With a happy, thrilled grin, he hurried to pack everything. Colin did the same and watched as Link vanished into the undergrowth, probably to check how numerous his enemies were this time. He wasn't eager to defend himself from the leaderless foes that roamed the vast fields, but knew he had no choice in the matter.
He climbed into Lon's saddle then lead Epona away. The obedient mare followed without a sound, accustomed to surprise attacks. Talo, on his part, had eagerly unsheathed his sword and was watching the sky, his sharp green eyes wary of any potential threat.
In the copse of trees, Colin barely heard Link's war cries and the shrieks of surprised enemies. He was focused on trying not to stray too far.
"Damn it," Talo complained from Romani's saddle. "Link got all the fun. There ain't a puny Kargoroc in sight."
"That's good," Colin reminded him. "We don't want to see Kargorocs."
"Speak for yourself," Talo daringly declared. "You're too pacifistic to know anything about real combat." Colin snorted, and Talo continued, "If you had half the courage Link does, you'd be looking for Kargorocs too."
Brushing a curly blonde strand of hair out of his eyes, Colin said, "If you were half as smart as Link, you'd know to avoid difficult battles."
Talo was about to retort, but suddenly, Link burst out of the copse of trees, sprinted for Epona, climbed on the saddle from behind, and announced, "Kick it! Now!" He barely waited to see if they'd hurry to obey before urging his mare into a sprint.
With surprise, the boys gave their horses' flanks a good squeeze, and both galloped after Link, who had unsheathed his sword again and was looking over his shoulder at the spot they'd just deserted.
Curious, Colin turned to look as well, and his eyes widened.
The copse, which had until then been peaceful and quiet, was now teeming with Bulblins and other members of the Moblin family. A few green-skinned archers aimed, and Colin turned back to look at Link and Epona's sprinting forms, ducked, and kicked Lon's flanks. Unaccustomed to such freedom of speed, the stallion gladly obeyed.
He heard Talo calling, "Link, what happened back there?"
Link started to turn, but an arrow hit the corner of his shield and ricocheted. His face became comically alarmed, but he said, in a surprisingly relaxed voice, "I underestimated their forces."
"Is this normal?" Colin asked over the rush of the wind, wondering if perhaps such a large gathering of enemy creatures was something to be worried about.
But Link didn't look particularly concerned. "Well, I might have messed with them in my past errands around here. They tend to get suspicious, see?"
Colin ducked again when another arrow zipped by him. Lon let out a breathless cry, but kept on running. He knew it wouldn't be long before they had to slow down and give the horses a rest. Only legends told of horses that could gallop for hours on end.
"What should we do?" He called, seeing that the Bulblins weren't going to give up on their trail.
"Don't worry," Link called back. Hills zipped by, and the speed was exhilarating. They were covering a great distance like this. "We're reaching the Lanayru pass. We'll lose them in the narrow passage."
"I don't think," Talo said, trying to convince Romani to keep at a gallop, even though the mare looked terrified and breathless, "that a simple pass will get rid of them!"
Of the three horses, it seemed that Epona was faring best. She hardly looked out of breath, perhaps because of her experience, and perhaps it was because Link was completely at ease on her back.
"Trust me," he said, "it will."
Soon, as they galloped over a low hill, a rocky façade that they hadn't seen before appeared before their eyes. It cut the fields from one side to the other, and Colin wondered how he could have thought that the field was continuous. Beyond the rocky wall, he saw the spires of Hyrule Castle.
"This way!" Link commanded, seeing the Bulblins gain on them ―they seemed inexhaustible! ― "The pass is somewhere around here!"
Colin, feeling Lon waver under him, and seeing Romani heave in fatigue and fear, hoped, for the first time, that Link knew what he was doing. Before, it had seemed preposterous to doubt the hero. He was a hero, after all! But now, when their lives were so at risk, he felt the first inkling of doubt creep in. He resolutely shook it away.
Link had been following the rocky façade, and had suddenly vanished from sight. Talo lunged in after him, and he too seemingly disappeared into the wall. Colin hurried closer, and without needing to be coaxed, Lon pressed in the narrow pass that broke through the wall of rock, almost invisible if not approached from the front.
Here the passage was treacherous and often his leather leg protectors would brush against the stone on both sides, promising otherwise painful gashes, scratches and bruises, and he thanked his mother for the efficient protection. He was zipping through the narrow pass at a dangerous speed, but wasn't willing to slow down.
He knew they were being followed. Bulblin cries were close behind, and it made his heart beat wildly in his chest. He knew, now, that he didn't have the guts to turn about and try to face them head on. He was nearly paralysed by fear, and the only thing keeping him going was the adrenalin.
Slowly, though, he became aware of how the passage grew larger, and he zipped by a large, tan rock formation. This was unusual: the rock here was grey and white. He tried to turn in his saddle, but preferred not to. He had a sinking suspicion of what he'd seen, and the thought was extremely comforting.
Colin had seen Gorons before. The friendly, imposing creatures that dwelled in Death Mountain had helped, four years ago, to reconstruct the bridges and help the trade in Hyrule, and they'd been kind enough to help rebuild Kakariko Village after it had been freed of the shadow oppression.
If there was a species that Colin trusted, it was the Goron tribe.
He thought it was a pity that he'd missed his chance to see one of the altruistic rock-eaters once again, but when the three riders suddenly broke out of the pass and entered a sheltered, large part of field, he noticed that he needn't be so disappointed.
The south gate of Castle Town loomed high above the field, dominating a massive stone staircase with many flowers. In the protected area of field that was held under Castle Town's jurisdiction, many large, colourful tents had been erected, sheltering travellers from all around Hyrule, forming an ocean of red, yellow and blue fabric that billowed in the warm air. Flags and banners floated high in the steady breeze, and many swirls of clear smoke rose from between the tents from hot cooking fires, and the smells of cooked meat and warm coal reached their nostrils.
The only access to this area was from the pass they'd just zipped through, and Goron emissaries safely guarded it. That was a comfort.
With visible relief, Link slowed Epona to a trot, then to a walk as they approached the ocean of tents. Talo and Colin allowed Romani and Lon to imitate the hero's mount, and the horses did so with gratitude and exhaustion.
Link was grinning from ear to ear, not in victory ―he'd most likely already forgotten about the danger, since he was so accustomed to it― but because the sight of a large group of Hylians, Gorons and Zoras made him extremely happy. He seemed to recognise many faces, too, and greeted them all with a big smile and a nod, to which many of them replied with respectful smiles.
The sound and smells and sights were a comfort to the boys as well. Some Hylian gypsy musicians were practicing on the grass in front of a colourful tent, and a string mandolin and lyre, as well as tambourines and flutes, accompanied their voices. A few young girls danced in the sunlight as their families looked on, busying themselves with installations. A stone pool had been dug in to accommodate the few Zoras that stayed nearby. They were lounging in the shallow water, enjoying the fresh wind on their scales. Some Gorons were helping the weaker Hylians to put up their tents, and they overheard many jokes and laughs.
Taken in by the great number of smiles, the boys hardly noticed when they reached the bottom of the large staircases. A ramp built between the steps allowed carriages and horses to climb the slope. There were many beggars and vendors installed on either side of the steps, promising the very best silks and wares in all Hyrule.
"Say Link," Talo asked, and Colin looked up curiously as they climbed on horseback, "is Castle Town always so animated?"
Link smiled. "No. It only gets this lively when the Hyrule Summit comes about. Most of those people you saw in the field, with the tents, are travellers and Hyruleans from far out west or north. Some of them travel for days to present their respects and views to the princess. The Hyrule Summit has become an occasion for a festival."
"It's awesome," Talo said, unabashedly proving that he still had the capacity of being awed as a child.
"It is," Link agreed. They'd reached the top of the stairs by now, and they were before the tall gates of Castle Town, with its banners and impressive grate. He seemed to be searching the crowd. "Say, did you boys notice a tall, sixty-five year-old man, with balding greyish-white hair and overalls― oh, there he is!"
Colin looked in the direction of Link's gaze. Indeed, a tall man was striding forward. His build was large, almost warrior-like, but his eyes, under bushy grey eyebrows, held instead a sort of magic wisdom.
Link dismounted, and the hero and the man exchanged shoulder claps.
"Auru!" He greeted, cheerfully. "I was wondering if I'd find you. This whole place is livelier than at the Autumn Carnival when they promise free wine and ale to all the visitors."
Auru smiled, his old face crinkling in amusement. "You seem in a fair mood, lad," he said, gruffly.
Link grinned. "I just narrowly escaped certain death. Speaking of which," he turned to Colin and Talo and smiled approvingly, "that was some fair riding, boys. Auru, these are Talo and Colin, from the province of Ordona, and it is their first time in Castle Town."
Auru nodded at the boys, respectfully, then observed, "Your mounts look exhausted."
"Well," Link sheepishly admitted, "I might have provoked a couple of Bulblins and―"
"Say no more." Auru raised a hand and looked at the boys in teasing sympathy. "I know only too well how you love to vex the uneducated masses of foes in Hyrule, lad. Now, … Colin… Talo… why don't you let me take care of your tired horses while you hurry and book a room at an inn? Tourists are coming in and there won't be anything left before the end of the day."
Colin felt hesitant. He dismounted, but wasn't sure whether to relinquish Lon's reins to this stranger or not.
Link placed a brotherly hand on his shoulder after taking his pack off of Epona's back. "Don't worry, Colin. Horses aren't allowed in the inner streets anyway, and Auru knows of the best stables in town. You can trust him."
The name seemed to strike a chord, because Talo suddenly exclaimed, "Wait a minute," he pointed a finger in Auru's direction, even as he seemed to come to a realisation, "You're Auru, as in Telma's vigilantes!"
"It's rude to point," Auru said, amusedly.
"Link told us all about you!" Talo continued, nonetheless lowering his arm. "You're a war veteran with an eye for magic!"
Auru chuckled, and turned to Link. "Should I thank you for advertising my existence?"
Link shrugged and smirked. "I wouldn't say no to a pint of ale."
Auru snorted derisively and took the horses' reins. Talo and Colin hurried to take their packs and bags from their horses, then watched as the older man patted Epona's nose. "Keep dreaming, lad." He examined the two mares and the stallion he was holding on to. "Really, Ordona Province still makes the most impressive mounts." He outstretched a hand to Link, who sighed and pitched out a hundred and twenty rupees, which Auru took unquestioningly.
Surprised, Talo and Colin watched as Auru left with the horses and the money, disappearing into the streets and the crowd beyond the south gate.
"Why did you give him money?" Talo asked, ever the louder of the two boys.
"How else will we pay for the stables?" Link answered, rhetorically. Unconcerned at the idea of having been stripped of a hundred and twenty rupees, he shouldered his pack and said, "Don't worry. Heroics are a lucrative business." He looked particularly amused with himself, and added, "Besides, that money will cover for our three horses and give them comfortable accommodation overnight. Now come on."
They obeyed. Where the city was concerned, Link was the most experienced.
They passed through the south gate and entered the southern thoroughfare of Castle Town. It was bustling, even more so than the entrances were. Colin quickly lost count of how many people were rushing by in every direction. Vendors were loudly advertising their wares and long lines of customers waited, often blocking the street, so that the boys and the hero had to push their way through. Quickly, Colin developed a dislike of crowds. He missed the open, free spaces of Ordon. Here, the buildings seemed to loom overhead, threatening to crush him, blotting out a faint strip of blue sky high above the rooftops. The gutters on each side of the street were filled with water and mud, but at least most of the city was disserved by a sewer system.
In spite of his discomfort with crowds, Colin had to admire the craftsmanship of Castle Town's builders. Most stones and bricks were pale, ranging from white to red, with all the pinks and oranges in between. The streets were polished cobblestones ―polished so smooth by a thousand feet that he was afraid of slipping― and there were lush green gardens glimpsed here and there inside narrow, high courtyards guarded by elaborate black iron fences, and some buildings formed perfect archways overhead. The buildings were decorated with repetitive patterns or delicate sculptures, and the windows were straight and square, or arched and tall, and the rooftops were red ceramic tiles bricked together like puzzle pieces. In little alleys, Colin saw clear water fountains, with water pouring out of lion or phoenix shaped heads into small basins. The streets were a real maze, chaotic but all unique, forming a kaleidoscope of stone treasures.
Children were playing in the gutters, letting shallow-drafted wooden boats float down the water-filled gutters, squealing excitedly at every bounce and twirl of their constructions. Some of them were playing tag amidst the crowd of adults that bustled in the remarkable décor, and Colin had to admire how carefree the children seemed. He hadn't thought that in such a large hellhole of people, children would find the space to be children.
He slowed to admire a few shop wares, but none of them caught his attention for much longer than a few seconds. He found himself unable to look at everything, and the crowd as it hurried in every direction kept him from admiring every detail at his own pace.
Link glanced back, and seemed to notice Colin's contrariety. With a gentle grin, he said, "Don't worry about tourism. At night things calm down, and the city lights up beautifully. You'll have plenty of time to sightsee."
"When do we get to meet the princess?" Talo asked, his eyes aglow with enthusiasm. The city air excited him more than it upset him. Colin had to admire him for it.
"Tomorrow," Link patiently promised him, his face benevolent. The hero always seemed to be on top of things. Colin felt his heart swell with admiration.
"So," Talo said, looking around, flooded with sights, sounds, smells and impressions, "what are we going to do until then?"
"Well," Link said, guiding them through the throng of marketers and tourists, "first we're going to find an inn and some warm food. Then, we'll go announce to the castle organizers that the representatives from Ordona Province have arrived in the city. After that, I have a few errands to run for Ilia and Sera and your mothers… and then I have to greet a few acquaintances… and then I have to get my claw-shot examined by this Goron craftsman… and then…"
Talo's face, as Link's list grew, fell into a pitiful scowl. "So we won't have time to explore the city properly?"
Link blinked. He was still listing his duties, eyes a bit vague as he strained his memory. He looked at Talo, almost comically surprised, as tough he'd forgotten that the boys were there. "What? Oh, no, that's only my list of things I need to do. You boys will be free to go wherever you want."
Colin looked surprised. "Wherever? Won't we get lost?"
"Of course you'll get lost," Link said, amused. "That's the whole point of the thing. Don't worry, though. You always end up finding your way back to the inn when your stomach begins to gurgle."
Talo and Colin, rather amusingly, shared the same flat expression as they regarded the hero. Sometimes, the man had a way of making things sound terrifying.
"Come on," Link continued, as though he hadn't noticed their looks, "we'll find the inn, sign up at the castle, and then you're free to explore the city until suppertime."
The boys didn't bother to argue anymore.
"So where is our inn?" Talo asked, always the kind to focus on practical actions. Colin often reproached him his consequent lack of subtlety and tact, but the chestnut-haired boy preferred to shrug it off without a care.
"It's not a very touristy sort of inn," Link answered, shrugging his pack's strap higher on his shoulder as they continued to walk through the streets. "It's off the main arteries, so it's quiet enough. It's owned by Telma, but the management is handled by Malo."
The boys stopped in their tracks.
Talo, utterly confused, couldn't help a slightly scared look. "You mean…"
Link grinned, clearly amused. "Your brother is a financial genius, Talo, whether you like it or not."
"But he's eleven years old!" Talo exclaimed, his voice cracking a little. He coughed. "It's just not right!"
Link laughed, and he engulfed himself in a small side street. It was narrow and shaded, with thick, leafy vines growing on one side. The pavement was uneven, higher on one side than on the other. The boys followed him; one after the other because it was nearly impossible to walk side by side here.
"I don't understand," Talo said, unexpectedly voicing Colin's quieter thoughts, "what is wrong with that kid. How come he opened his shops all over Hyrule at just seven years of age? Am I the only one who thinks there's something inherently scary about my brother?"
Colin, rather than refraining sarcastically, as he would have any other day ―'inherently is a big word, pint-size'―, agreed instead. "He's too intelligent to be quite normal."
"And he rallied the Gorons!" Talo continued, glad to see that he wasn't alone to think as he did.
"And he's filthy rich," Colin added, his eyes a bit wide.
Link just laughed.
They broke into a small, shadowed courtyard. It was just as shaded as the alley leading to it, and there was a large, undecorated fountain on one side of it. It was lower than the city's floor, so they had to go down narrow steps. More steps under a building lead to a closed door, beside which a large placard announced, 'Telma's Bar'.
There were a couple more doors in the courtyard, all securely locked.
"Isn't it early to be entering a bar?" Colin asked, a bit teasingly. "Link, you're too young to be a drunkard."
In retaliation, Link ruffled the boy's curly blonde hair. "It doubles as an affordable restaurant and watch it, kid. I'm easily provoked."
"Like you'd hurt the son of your mentor," Colin said, and the twenty-two year-old hero rolled his eyes. "Don't pretend. You know you're powerless. I will some day defeat you in a battle of wits, and then the world will see that… What is that?" He looked beyond Link at a spot of snow white.
"This," Link said as he crouched and grinned, "is Telma's cat, Louise."
The white Persian meowed and let herself be picked up by the hero, though she did her best to stay limp and detached about it. She had, until then, been strutting in the courtyard, on her way to find a spot on the rooftops that would be comfortable enough to sunbathe at, but soon, Link was stroking her behind the ears, and she couldn't help a dignified purr.
"I didn't know Telma had a cat," Talo remarked as Colin reached out and gently petted the feline's thick white fur.
"Louise's a city gal," Link said as he walked towards the door to the bar. "The country air doesn't suit her, does it, Louise?"
They could have sworn the cat understood, because she meowed almost disdainfully.
"That's what I thought," Link said, as though she'd just made a valid point. Link had a way with animals, almost as though he was part of one. Colin had always admired that about him, and the way it was almost mystical… or magic.
Talo reached for the doorknob. Louise the cat, as though realising that Link's comforting arms were only going to carry her back inside when she very much wanted to stay outside and enjoy the warm summer sun, became a little agitated. In warning, she pressed a clawed paw into Link's chest, scratching him through his tunic.
The hero winced, and with a wounded, a bit teasing look, he held her at arm's reach. The slightly overweight white Persian seemed to be glaring blankly at him as she hung limply from his hands, her flat face even more scrunched up than usual. Link smirked and said, "Alright, Lou, I'm letting you down. No need to get so prickly."
He placed the cat on the ground, and Louise raised her fluffy tail scornfully. Slowly, deliberately, she strutted back up the steps. Once she reached the top, though, she turned back and meowed again. Link grinned and waved, then reached for the door of the bar.
With a flourish, he said, "As I was saying, Telma's bar doubles as a restaurant during the day, so it's always quite active." He pulled the door open and invited the boys in.
Immediately, they were greeted with warm light and raucous laughter reached their ears.
It doesn't end here! (I know you didn't read my starting notes so I'm warning you.)