Chapter 6

Castle Grounds

If it wasn't' for the fact that he was so afraid of being caught by one of the guards, Link would have enjoyed his surroundings. The grounds around the castle were lush with trees and bushes dotting them. There was a pleasant smell of pine and freshly cut grass. The morning dew was cool against his bare legs, and birds sang from the treetops. Still, Link shivered. He knew the guards wouldn't let anyone near the princess. It was clear that security around the castle was in the process of being strengthened. Part of him wanted to simply sneak back out of the grounds and try again when he had more courage, but he knew that in a few days, the guards would be so thick in this area that it would be impossible to get through.

Navi bobbed nervously next to Link. "We'll use the bushes and trees for cover." She whispered. "The most important thing is to keep out of their sightline. As soon as a guard turns his back, that's your chance to get to the next bush. I know this is nerve wracking, but the key to this game is being patient. Never run out unless you're absolutely sure that no guards are looking in your direction. Most importantly, however, you can't make any noise!"

Link nodded. The guards appeared to be walking in patterns. Some guards would walk a straight line, turn and then walk back again. Others would walk around in a circular or rectangular pattern. There were two guards within his range now. One was walking back and forth to Link's left, while the other one circled the hedges in front of him. He would have to wait until the circular guard was around the other side of the hedge and the other guard had his back turned before Link could set out. Then he would have to sneak around the hedge. It seemed impossible and yet, he had no choice. Link steeled himself.

The circular guard wandered to the other side of the hedge, the other guard turned his back, and Link ran for it. He ran straight into the hedge and got stuck. Both guards stopped at the sound of him struggling.

"Link! Do something!" Navi hissed.

Link did the only thing he could think of. He burrowed into the center of the hedge. He heard the guards approaching.

"What was that?" The one said to the other.

"I don't know. It came from the hedge."

"Was it an animal?"

"Probably… unless it was another one of those kids…"

"I don't think they'll be back. Xilo gave one of them a good whipping a little while ago."

Laughter. "Did he now? Oh I wish I could have seen it. I've been longing to tan one of their hides. Which one was it?"

"I don't know. Why don't we go and ask him?"

"What about our posts?"

"Oh, they'll keep for a few minutes."

The two guards stalked off towards the gate, and Link scrambled out of the hedge. There were more guards prowling around the grounds, but Link was able to avoid them easily using the trees for cover. Eventually, Link made it to the castle, or at least to the castle walls. A moat ran around the castle and a swift current pushed the moat waters towards the east and around a bend. The moat was being fed by a stream which caused the current. Link was currently on the west side of the stream. He noticed a high iron fence running around the other side of the stream. The west side of the stream wall was blocked off by hills too steep to climb. On the east side of the stream the wall and fence turned sharply to the north. Link couldn't see what was on the other side.

"We'll have to think this out carefully…" Navi began to say when Link took a flying leap into the moat. Navi screamed and chased after him. "What are you doing?! Do you want to drown yourself, or are you just hoping to make enough noise to make the guards come?!"

Link couldn't answer her. He was being sucked rapidly towards the east gate. The walls were too high for him to reach. He kept pushing himself from one side to the other, looking for some way to escape. Then he noticed that one of the banks was not so high. It rose gently towards a tree. Link swam as hard as he could until he reached it and managed to drag himself out of the water. He had saved himself, but he was still on the wrong side of the moat. He was just shaking himself off when Navi gasped.

"Look! There's a man sleeping over there." She whispered.

Link walked around the perimeter of the wall to the north. This side of the castle contained a small opening where waters from the sewer system fell into the moat. The opening was just small enough for a boy to crawl through if he could make it to the other side. Link was so focused on the opening that he nearly tripped over something. He looked down to find a man sleeping on the floor. Link jumped back. The man was short, fat, and bald on top with some hair growing on the lower part of his head. The hair grew long and was pulled back into a ponytail. Link hoped that he grew tall and muscular like the guard. It seemed that some adults never got rid of their baby fat.

"Is this Malon's father?" Navi asked. She bobbed around the man's prone form, examining him. Then she hovered over a crate next to him. "Look! It's a milk crate!"

Link nudged the man with his toe, but he didn't move. He shoved the man with all of his might, but he still didn't move. Navi hovered over the man's ear and talked into it, but the man snored as if nothing disturbed him. It was then that Link remembered the egg. He reached back among his things to pull it out, but was surprised at how warm and fuzzy it felt in his hand. Navi cried out.

"It's hatched!"

The hatchling opened its eyes and peered up at her as it blinked in the sunlight. Suddenly, it' opened it's beak and let out an ear-splitting crow. The man jumped to his feet, barely noticing that he nearly trampled Link in the process.

"Who? What? What time is it? Where am I? What day is it? Where's breakfast? Did someone milk the cows? Are the cuccoos fed? Ingo! Did you feed the… who are you?" The man peered down at Link as the boy opened his mouth to answer and cut him off before he could. "Malon! Where is she? Oh boy will she be mad! I'm Talon, by the way. Nice to meet you! Gotta go!"

The cuccoo seemed to know that Talon was its rightful master. It flew up and landed on his shiny head, pecking at it.

"Ouch!" Talon cried. He turned and began running towards the west side of the castle walls. "Malon! I'm coming, honey! Please don't be mad!"

"Well, at least that's one less thing to worry about. Now we can get back to… Link! What are you doing?!" Navi cried.

Link was pushing one of the crates towards the moat. He stopped just as the crate was at the water's edge. The crate was taller than him, but he managed to scramble on top of it. He was now on level with the sewer opening. Voices were coming towards them on the other side of the iron bars.

"That guy said there was a kid over here."

"Who knows? He looked a little batty to me. He left his daughter alone all night, after all! Anyway, after the walloping I gave that kid, he wouldn't dare come back."

"Well, Xilo, apparently you didn't wallop him hard enough."

"Hmph! I think I can wallop a scamp as well as you can!"

"I don't mean any offense, friend. I just mean there's a technique to it. You have to make sure they remember that whipping every time they even think of sneaking back into the castle grounds."

"Maybe so… But I still don't think it's the same kid. If there's a kid in there, it has to be one of his friends."

"As you like, Xilo, but the next one's mine. You can't have all the fun, after all."

Laughter. "Of course, friend."

Link didn't wait to hear any more. He took a running leap and managed to barely get his fingertips on the ledge leading to the sewer opening. It was slippery with the water running over his hands, but Link managed to scramble onto the ledge. He immediately crawled through the opening so quickly that he didn't have time to stop himself when the ledge ended. He fell forward on his face. From the other side of the wall, Link heard the guards talking.

"See? I told you he was bats."

"Back to work, then. It's too bad. I got my hopes up."

Navi scoffed. "I hope for your sake that they don't empty the chamber pots into the sewer system. Do you have any idea how lucky you are?"

Link stood up. He was in the castle gardens. High hedges made a wall on his right side. The castle wall ran along his left. A path ran between them, and Link followed it carefully. He could hear the clanking of armor on the other side of the hedges. Link peered around a corner and found that the castle gardens went on for some distance. There were rectangular hedges, statues, and fountains with a guard patrolling each. Link took a deep breath and went to work. He ducked around the guards, literally following along behind them as they did their rounds. In some areas there were two guards, and he would have to run back and forth avoiding them before he could scamper along to the next area. At one point, he found himself climbing a wooden pole and walking a balance beam over the heads of several prowling guards.

Finally, Link skirted around the last pair of guards and made it to a large courtyard completely fenced in by the castle. The yard contained a circular flower bed in its center. Ponds of clear water and fish ran along its perimeter. Link was too nervous to enjoy the scenery, however. He scanned the castle walls, looking for a way in. The only possible entrance was through one of the windows scattered along the walls. They were pretty high up, but not impossible to reach. The problem was that Link had no way of knowing where these windows would lead him. He could end up in the Princess' bedroom or he could find himself in a guard station. The best plan, Link decided, would be to peer in each of the windows before deciding which one to sneak in through.

"Link!" Navi gasped suddenly.

Link looked up and froze. A young girl in royal clothing stood across from him at the other end of the courtyard. She was spying through one of the windows, her back to Link and Navi. She seemed almost as tense as Link felt. Link couldn't decide whether to approach her or to jump into one of the ponds and try to hide.

"That has to be the princess." Navi whispered. "We have to talk to her, but if she gets frightened and calls the guards, we're finished!"

Link stood there for a few more moments, contemplating his chances. He took a step. Then, he took another step.

"Link!" Navi hissed. "Be careful! We don't know how she'll react!"

Link ignored her, however. He picked up his pace, walking so quickly that his feet began to make swishing noises in the grass and his sword began to clank against his shield. The girl turned and stared at him with wide eyes.