He fell. The wind rushed in his ears, and he fell long and fast, his life slipping away. Just as he felt the last sparks of life fading from his body, he hit something solid and knew no more.

Minutes or decades, seconds or centuries later, he heard a voice. The voice said only one thing, but it was enough to let him know that he was still in the world of the living.

The voice was deep and rich, with a cultured accent not quite like any he'd heard before. All it said was this: "I'm not through with you just yet."

And he felt life in him again, for his task was not yet done.

----------------------------------

The Legend of Zelda:

The Secret War

One

Twenty-five years after the events of The Legend of Zelda: The Fourth Piece

"But Father, I've never used this sword before. It's too heavy!"

The speaker, a girl of eighteen years with tanned skin and bright red hair, held in her hands a massive greatsword, nearly as long as she was tall. A Gerudo, she was used to smaller, curved scimitars, which she could wield with deadly speed and accuracy. This weapon, meant for someone much taller and stronger than her, felt awkward and unwieldy in her hands.

"Precisely," her father answered. A tall, broad-shouldered man with long dark hair and a thick beard, both now beginning to show streaks of gray, he was dressed as she was, in loose-fitting tan-colored robes meant to shield the wearer from the harsh desert sun.

He gestured at his daughter with one large hand. "You will not always have your preferred weapon on hand. As a warrior, you must be proficient in many different forms of combat. Suppose you have been captured by an evil warlord. Upon escaping from his dungeon, the only weapon you are able to procure is this sword. The warlord himself attacks you. Will you drop your weapon and flee because you are inexperienced?"

The girl scowled instinctively. Her mother had always taught her that surrender was cowardly, but her father had balanced this with the teaching that death in glorious battle was not always the best solution.

She hefted the gigantic weapon. "I should stand and face him, of course."

Her father raised one eyebrow. "Should you?"

Without warning, he sprang at her, swinging his own weapon, a smaller longsword. The girl stepped back, tilting her massive blade to counter his initial strike, but her father was already moving again, with quickness unusual for someone of his size. He slammed his blade against hers three times within the space of a second, nearly tearing the weapon from her hands. She again backed away, watching her footing on the loose sand shifting around her.

Her father advanced again, moving with speed and skill that spoke of decades of experience with the ways of the sword. With a sudden twisting of his weapon, he spun the greatsword right out of her hands to tumble away through the sand.

The girl frowned angrily; she was acknowledged as being nearly a master already with her usual weapon, the scimitar, and to be defeated so quickly was humiliating.

Stepping forward, her father gently tapped the side of her neck with the flat of his sword. "You stood to face your opponent, and now you are dead. How will you return to free your companions the warlord has also captured?"

The girl sighed irritably. "I am sorry, Father."

"Sorry for what, Lynaka?" he said, smiling suddenly. "Sorry that you could not defeat an opponent of greater size and experience while wielding a weapon unfamiliar to you? Even with all your mother and I have taught you, you did not stand a chance. As I have told you many times before…" He trailed off, indicating that she should finish.

Lynaka sighed amusedly, smiling herself. "It is not always dishonorable to retreat. I will do better to remember this, Father."

He stepped forward and put a thickly muscled arm around her shoulders. "Fortunately, you stand little chance of being captured by an evil warlord. We are blessed with peace, and have been for many years." He gestured to her fallen sword with his own. "It does not hurt to be prepared, though." Her father smiled down at her, his dark eyes full of pride. "You have mastered your mother's weapon, the scimitar. Now, it is time to expand your training to other weapons."

Lynaka nodded as he released her shoulders and she stepped forward to retrieve the greatsword. As she often did, she ran her fingers over the inscribed lightning pattern running down the length of the blade. According to her father and his friends, this sword was over three hundred years old, and had once belonged to a Hero of the Hylians, the people who inhabited the lush green country to the east of the desert. It had been given to her father as a gift of friendship by the last Hero, a descendant of the original owner of the weapon.

She turned to hold it out to her father. As he took it, he swung it skillfully through a complicated arc, making the blade seem as if it weighed nothing at all. When he did this, it reminded Lynaka of the stories he had told her since she was a little girl, of the terrible war he had fought twenty-five years ago alongside her mother and the Hylians.

His name was Arnak, and he had once been a bearer of the Triforce of Power, one-third of a powerful artifact belonging to the Hylians. He had fought alongside the bearers of the other two pieces against the Dark Lord responsible for the war, and upon the evil man's defeat, Arnak had come to the desert and eventually married her mother, a former raider named Nabooru.

Lynaka's father sheathed the greatsword and slung it over his shoulder by the baldric on its scabbard. He picked up his bag and gestured to his daughter's equipment, lying next to it, with his boot. "We should get moving. If we keep a good pace, we can make it back to the city before the hottest part of the day."

The girl collected her equipment and followed her father out into the desert, following close behind him as they walked. Arnak was so tall that, walking behind him, his daughter was shaded by his shadow, something that she had amused herself with when she was younger.

As they turned, bound for the city deep in the desert, Lynaka moved to walk next to her father. "So," she said, looking off in the distance at the towering spires of Hyrule Castle, "do you think Mother will let me come along on your trip to Hyrule?"

Arnak looked over at the castle himself. "I think so." He reached out to pat her affectionately on the shoulder. "She may even ask us to bring your sister along."

Lynaka groaned, and her father laughed. She turned to look up at him. "Father, she hasn't even passed her survival trials yet! Do you think I'll really have to bring her?"

Arnak shrugged. "You only passed your trial a month ago. Erike is two years younger than you, but already she is nearly your equal with the scimitar. She may even get to take the trials soon."

Lynaka also shrugged. She and her sister were named after her parents' friends and comrades in the wars, but only she had ever met her namesake. She had been just eight, and the former Hero had come to visit her father to request his aid in a war the Hylians were fighting. Arnak had agreed, and they had not seen him again for almost two years, receiving only intermittent letters.

Once he had returned, Arnak had refused to talk to his daughters about the war, only mentioning that he would never leave the desert for that long again.

Thinking of something, Lynaka looked over at her father. "Do you think we'll get to meet the Queen?"

Arnak nodded, his expression thoughtful. "I do not doubt it." He smiled at his daughter. "Your mother will tell you more. She has a special task for you."

Lynaka looked up at her father, curious. "What is it?"

He smiled again. "I will let her tell you."

The girl wondered what it could be, but she did not ask him any further questions as they drew closer to the city, now visible off in the distance. The two of them quickened their pace, eager to be home again.

---


---

Several hours later, Lynaka stood waiting for her mother in the council chamber of the administration building in the center of the city. Her family's apartment was in this building, so she knew its halls well.

As it usually did, the portrait of Ganondorf hanging on one wall attracted Lynaka's attention. It depicted the Accursed One shortly after his coronation, standing in a noble pose with a jeweled scimitar in his hand and a smile on his face. He was dressed in black armor overlaid with Gerudo designs in silver scrollwork, and he stood in front of the building Lynaka now stood in, painted in exacting detail. He looked proud and noble, a warrior king of legend at the start of his career. Lynaka found it hard to believe that the man in this portrait became one of the most reviled men the world had ever known, responsible for the suffering of thousands, most of them his own people.

However, he was not considered to be the most evil king of the Gerudo. That dubious distinction belonged to the man whose portrait hung on the opposite side of the chamber. Lynaka turned to look at the other portrait, crossing her arms over her chest as she did so.

Raneses had been defeated years before she was born by her parents and their allies, but his legacy still affected her and the rest of her people every day. His portrait depicted him in a similar pose to his ancestor, standing with the ornate jeweled scimitar of the Gerudo leader in his hand. He was tall, and the portrait was nearly life-size, so he towered over Lynaka as he would have in life. Most Gerudo referred to him as the Nameless One, since he had so dishonored himself during his thankfully brief reign so that he no longer had the right to bear his name.

The Nameless One was not smiling, and there was a hint of malevolence about him, though it was obvious he was trying to hide it. He wore similar armor to his ancestor's, and a long black cloak hung from his shoulders, once poetically referred to by Lynaka's sister Erike as a 'waterfall of darkness to match his soul.' He had used the people who birthed him as nothing more than tools in his conquest, finally ordering them to their deaths against Lynaka's namesake, who fought for the Hylians. Her mother had been instrumental in helping the Gerudo resist this order before they could be destroyed by the Hero.

Perhaps the thing that made Lynaka most proud of her mother was that she was said to have delivered the death-stroke to the Dark Lord, sharing it with Link the Hero.

"The storytellers still debate which of them was more wicked," a voice said from behind Lynaka.

She turned to see her mother standing in front of the Matriarch's chair, one hand on the armrest. Nabooru's hair was still as vibrantly red as her daughter's, though streaks of gray were liberally scattered through her long mane, bound up in the braid worn by most Gerudo warriors. Though she was past fifty, Lynaka's mother was still in top physical condition, her face largely unlined and her bare arms as toned and muscular as a young warrior's.

Lynaka gestured behind her to the portrait of the Nameless One. "He was. Even the Accursed One made sure to provide for a family."

Nabooru nodded slowly. "I am inclined to agree with you, my daughter." She smiled, moving to clasp Lynaka's forearm in a warrior's salute. Ever since Lynaka had passed her survival trials, officially marking her as an adult, her mother and the other Gerudo warriors had begun greeting her this way.

"So," Lynaka's mother said, putting an arm around her shoulders, "your father tells me you slew a wild boar by yourself on your trip."

Lynaka nodded, smiling. "It was an exciting hunt. We brought as much of the meat as we could carry back with us. Father joked that he could have carried the entire thing one-handed twenty-five years ago. Is that true?"

Nabooru chuckled. "You father was a Triforce Bearer. With the Triforce of Power at his command, there was little he could not do in those days." She gestured to the portrait of Ganondorf. "But, he gave up that power willingly, and that is what made him different than the Accursed One."

Lynaka nodded again. She had heard this story many times. Turning, she looked over at her mother, who was slightly shorter than her. "Father said you have a task for me on his trip to Hyrule."

Nabooru nodded, moving to sit in the Matriarch's chair. Only her friends and family knew her by her given name now, as she had given it up upon being made leader of the Gerudo people. Further, only her husband still called her by name anymore. To most, she was the Matriarch, dignified ruler of the desert tribe. Lynaka knew this was going to be an official mission, not just a request from a mother to her daughter.

"You are to request permission to enter the Royal Archives, where you will research all that you can about the Blood Curse," the Matriarch said. "The Gerudo need to break free of it, now more than ever."

Lynaka nodded gravely. For centuries, only one male had been born to the Gerudo every hundred years, keeping them in perpetual danger of dying out as a race. The last male, the Dark Lord Raneses, had fathered no children, and as a result, no purely Gerudo children had been born since Ganondorf's daughters almost a century and a half ago. Lynaka herself was evidence that children could be born again upon the male's death, but her brown eyes, which she had inherited from her father, were also evidence that the desert people's blood was not as strong as it had once been. Gerudo children ordinarily kept no traits whatsoever from the father, but most of the girls of Lynaka's generation had something from their fathers, including pointed ears on those whose mothers had taken Hylians as mates.

The Gerudo were a proud people, and they wished to keep their own culture instead of being absorbed into another. The Hylians under Queen Zelda had been steadfast allies of the Gerudo for the last quarter century, but the old crones whispered that the Hylians were still trying to conquer the Gerudo, albeit through a different method.

Lynaka straightened, bowing formally while touching one fist to the opposite shoulder in a gesture of respect. "I will do this, my lady," she said.

"Good," said the Matriarch. "I am planning for you to take my place someday, and to be the one to break the Blood Curse will ensure that you will be a great ruler for our people."

The young warrior nodded once. "I will devote my full attention to it."

Nabooru rose from her chair and walked over to her daughter, laying a hand on her shoulder. "This is a weighty responsibility, but you should pace yourself. The Gerudo have been trying to break the Blood Curse for centuries. You will not accomplish this overnight. You may not even accomplish it at all, though I know you will do your best."

Lynaka smiled. "Of course, Mother. Thank you for trusting me with this."

Nabooru nodded. "You are an adult now, and this is an honorable quest. I know you will make me proud."

"I will not let you down, Mother," Lynaka said.

Nabooru put her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Consider yourself privileged. Few Gerudo have been willingly allowed into the Hylians' capital, though that has changed since the peace." She gestured at the doors at one end of the circular room. "Come on, let's go help your father finish packing."

Mother and daughter left the council room, leaving the portraits of the two Dark Lords alone to silently watch each other once again.

---


---

A few days later, Lynaka tried to contain her awe upon seeing Castle Town for the first time. Next to her, her father paid a man who kept stables to take care of their horses while they were in the city, counting out Rupees into his hand.

Hyrule Castle towered over the city, gleaming white with blue roofs on its towers. Banners flew from every tower, depicting the triangle made of three smaller triangles that was the Triforce above a red phoenix on a blue field. Soldiers in impeccable uniforms marched in regular patrols through the city, their comrades visible along the walls on watch. It was around midday, and the city was packed with people, rushing through the streets on business, strolling amiably along with their friends, walking their pets, or meeting friends at one of the outdoor cafés scattered throughout the city.

Lynaka felt a hand on her shoulder, and she turned to see her father smiling down at her.

"I am going to visit a few old friends," he said. "Why don't you explore the city a little? There is a bar called Telma's near the southern gate, and I'll meet you there this evening."

The young warrior nodded. "I'll see you later, Father."

She turned to go, but Arnak touched her shoulder. "Watch out for pickpockets," he said. "There isn't much crime here, but those sorts of people like large crowds, so watch yourself."

Lynaka patted the scimitar sheathed at her waist. "I can take care of myself, Father."

Arnak smiled amusedly. "I do not doubt it," he said. "See you this evening."

Lynaka nodded in farewell and moved off through the crowd, continuing to look around at the city. Most of the buildings were made of brick, but a few were made of wood, and the architecture was radically different than what she was used to in the desert. This was clearly a prosperous city, and she did not see any poor or shabby-looking people or buildings. Almost everyone looked happy, well-dressed and well-fed as they went about their business.

Amusingly, for what was reputedly the greatest military power on the continent, very few of the people here seemed to be warriors aside from the soldiers. She was the only person carrying a weapon on the street that she could see, but no one spared her a second glance. Apparently Gerudo were a common sight here since the peace, though she had known that already.

As she made her way out into the central square, Lynaka paused near a café to look up at the statue in the fountain that occupied the middle of the square. Almost ten feet tall, it depicted a man holding a sword aloft, as though he were about to lead a charge. He was dressed in functional warrior's garb, with a long tunic over intricately crafted chain mail and a long, shapeless hat on his head, which was carved as though it were blowing in an unseen breeze. He held a shield at the ready, as though about to step in front of someone to protect them from an incoming arrow, and his expression was determined and noble.

"He's a little shorter than that in real life, you know," a voice said from behind Lynaka.

She turned to look at the person who had spoken, a young human man with reddish-orange hair who was draped lazily over a chair next to one of the tables in the café.

"Have you met the Hero?" Lynaka asked the young man.

He shrugged, pushing the other chair at his table out with his boot. "Yeah, I've seen him," he said offhandedly, idly gesturing at the chair with one hand. "Everybody has, at least once. Seems like there's a parade every time he comes back here."

Lynaka approached the table but remained standing, her arms crossed over her chest. She swept her gaze over the young man quickly, filing away the details she observed and sizing him up with a glance.

He appeared to be in his early twenties, dressed in well-made but ill-maintained clothes in dark colors. His relaxed demeanor was a lie, as Lynaka could tell just by looking at him that he could snap out of it and have the sword hanging from his belt at her throat in an instant. His eyes were a bright, intense blue, currently filled with an amusedly bored look.

"Sit down," he said, gesturing at the chair again. "You're making me nervous."

Lynaka raised an eyebrow, deciding to have some fun. "Oh?" she asked innocently. "What is it that makes you so nervous…?" She leaned forward slightly, silently indicating that he tell her his name.

"Daskin," he said. He gestured to her scimitar with a lazy wave of his hand. "That pig-sticker you've got there, for one. You know how to use it…?" He imitated her questioning pause.

"Lynaka," she answered, finally sitting down. "Yes, I do."

Daskin smirked. "Well, being a Gerudo, I'd think so."

Lynaka leaned back in her chair slightly. "You seem to know more about me than I do about you, Daskin."

He snorted. "Hardly. Who else is going to be walking around Castle Town with a sword hanging from her belt? There hasn't been any real trouble here in fifteen years." He smirked again. "Plus, Gerudo women are known for their somewhat… distinctive attire."

Lynaka crossed her arms over her bare midriff, frowning slightly. She had noticed that most of the women around here wore heavier clothes, but Hyrule was much cooler than the desert, anyway.

"Was there something you wanted, Daskin?" she said, somewhat impatiently.

Daskin grinned in a way he probably thought was charming. "Just a friendly chat with a pretty girl. What're you in town for?"

Imbecile, Lynaka thought. "A mission with my father," she answered.

He raised his eyebrows comically. "Ooh, a mission! You some sort of spy?"

"No," she said bluntly, growing annoyed. "My mother sent me here to do research in the Royal Archives."

Daskin chuckled. "Somehow, you don't strike me as the type who likes hanging out in libraries. You planning on threatening the Chief Archivist with your pig-sticker?"

Lynaka silently made to get up, but the young man waved her back down, his expression half-heartedly apologetic.

"Hey, it's a joke," he said, chuckling. "Thin-skinned, are we?"

She smirked back at him. "No, just a low tolerance for fools."

Daskin clutched his chest, feigning injury. "Ooh, ouch. I'm mortally wounded."

Lynaka half-frowned at him, amused despite herself. "Are you going to continue to waste my time with bad jokes?"

He idly spread his hands. "You have something better to do?" His blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Like stand around and stare at statues?"

Lynaka smirked again. "I didn't see you doing anything more productive."

Daskin put his hands behind his head, leaning back to prop his boots on the table and ignoring a dirty look from the owner behind her counter. "Maybe I'm here on a mission of my own," he said. "Maybe I'm performing essential reconnaissance."

"I doubt that," said Lynaka, gesturing to the mug in front of the young man. "It looks more like you're drinking away the afternoon."

Daskin grinned. "Maybe that's just what I want it to look like." He dropped his boots back to the cobblestones and pointed behind Lynaka. "You see that guy over there?"

She turned to see what he was looking at and spotted a well-dressed middle-aged man with a slight paunch standing in front of a vendor's stall on the other side of the square, one hand on his chin in a thoughtful expression.

"Yes," she replied.

"He's been standing at that stall for the last five minutes, trying to decide whether or not to buy himself a new belt, 'genuine Eldin leather', and I think he's going to do it."

Lynaka half turned to face her companion. "Why do you say that?"

Daskin shrugged. "Well, the belt he has on is starting to get kind of shabby-looking. I bet his wife told him just this morning that it is, and now his decision is whether or not to let her tell him how to dress himself."

The Gerudo warrior scoffed. "How could you possibly know that?"

Daskin smiled an easygoing smile, spreading his hands. "I don't. But look, he's reaching into his pocket."

Lynaka turned to look, and sure enough, the middle-aged man was paying the vendor, frowning slightly as he accepted the belt.

She turned back to Daskin with a wry smile. "All right, maybe you were right. You have nothing better to do but sit around and watch people?"

He grinned. "Why not? It's a beautiful spring day, the sun is out, and just about everybody is happy. I say enjoy it while it lasts."

"While it lasts?" Lynaka repeated, gradually finding this young man a little more interesting than she had first assumed.

Daskin nodded. "That's the thing about Hyrule; it's usually in the middle of some calamity or other, so people learn to appreciate the times when it's not so… interesting."

Lynaka frowned. "I'm not sure that's how most people would view it. The last time Hyrule was 'interesting', as you put it, hundreds of people died in a terrible war."

He shrugged. "From that remark, I'm assuming one of your parents fought in that war."

She nodded. "They both did."

"Mine, too." Daskin leaned forward in his chair slightly. "You want to take a walk? I feel like stretching my legs."

Lynaka shrugged; she didn't see why not. She stood and watched as he tossed a few Rupees on the table, draining his mug.

When Daskin stood, she realized for the first time how tall he was. While not as tall as her father, he was still over six feet, and thus several inches taller than her.

He smiled at her as he tugged on the bottom of his jacket to straighten it. As he did so, she got a closer look at his sword, which was a fairly simple longsword, long enough for two hands but light enough for one. The crossguard was thick dark steel engraved with angular patterns, and the circular pommel was hollow, inset with an interesting turquoise-colored gem.

Daskin noticed her looking at it and patted the hilt. "Like it? A rich noble had it specially commissioned by his personal blacksmith when I saved his life."

Lynaka raised an amused eyebrow. "I'm sure you're going to tell me the story now."

He grinned, indicating she should go ahead of him with a wave of his hand. "But of course," he said. "It's one of my more interesting adventures."

The Gerudo refrained from rolling her eyes, falling into step beside Daskin as they strolled around the fountain. "Do you have many 'adventures', or do you spend most of your time sitting around watching people?" she asked teasingly.

Daskin lightly feigned indignation. "My lady, only a small portion of my time is spent idly in cafés, waiting for pretty girls to walk by. With the nice boring peace we're under, you've got to make your own fun, unless you want to go off and fight in one of Queen Zelda's wars, which I don't."

She looked over at him. "Do you have something against what your queen is doing?"

He shrugged. "Hey, I'm all for eradicating slavery, but there are too many slavers who've gotten too rich off their trade to sit around and let Queen Zelda disrupt their business. Her advisors have been telling her for years that sooner or later they're going to band together and take her on in force."

Lynaka smiled. "And yet, the Hylian Army conquers more territory with each campaign. The slavers have only a few cities left now. They're all but crushed for good."

Daskin shrugged again. "Eh, I don't want to debate politics. I'd rather talk about something else." He grinned, rapping the leather-wrapped scabbard of his sword with his knuckles. "I was going to tell you about that noble's life I saved, wasn't I?"

Lynaka sighed, feigning patience. "If you must."

He grinned. "I must." He ran his thumb over the crosspiece of his weapon, rubbing a scratch in the metal with his fingernail as if just then noticing it.

Filling it with fancy words and details Lynaka thought unnecessary, Daskin described how he had encountered a noble and his wife in Faron Woods and had helped them fend off some highwaymen. During the fight, his sword had broken, but he and the noble had managed to drive off the highwaymen, and as thanks, the noble had his personal blacksmith craft a new sword for Daskin. He also mentioned that he had 'made the acquaintance' of both the nobles' daughter and their maid while he was waiting for the sword to be finished, which Lynaka understood perfectly, thinking it the most unnecessary of his added details. Who did he think he was telling the story to, one of his drinking comrades?

Lynaka raised a skeptical eyebrow as Daskin finished his story. She couldn't decide whether to be offended or amused at his attitude, but she decided to be amused and chuckled shortly.

He grinned. "What do you think?"

She laughed again. "I think you've got an interesting imagination. You should become a storyteller."

Daskin grinned again, that smile he thought was charming. "Who says I'm not already?"

Lynata shook her head in amusement. "You would get along well with my father's friend Raskys. He tells stories like yours, though half of them are probably not true, like yours."

Daskin shrugged. "Doubt if you will, my lady, but I would not lie to a beautiful woman."

This time Lynaka did let herself roll her eyes. She gestured down the street, vaguely in the direction of the southern gate. "If you will excuse me, I have to meet my father soon." She allowed a bit of mischievousness into her tone. "Unless you'd like to meet him."

Daskin smiled casually. "Maybe another time."

Lynaka nodded amusedly. "Of course. Goodbye, Daskin."

He grinned, and she found that she had already lost track of how many times he had done this since she had met him.

"Until next time," he said, bowing slightly.

Lynaka smiled and turned to walk off down the street, headed for Telma's Bar.

If there is a next time, she thought to herself amusedly.

---


---

Arnak met his daughter in Telma's Bar later, and he was amused by her story of her encounter with Daskin.

"Sounds like a fool," he chuckled as he took a drink of ale. "I would stay away from him."

Lynaka shrugged. "He seemed harmless enough."

Arnak nodded, allowing a teasing smile to come over his face. "Fools usually do."

His daughter gave him a mock-irritated look, a smile belying it. "Did you meet up with your friends?" she asked, looking around the tavern at the other patrons.

Arnak leaned back in his chair, which, he realized as he did so, was the same chair he had sat in the first time he had come into this bar more than twenty-five years ago. Or maybe it wasn't. He wasn't sure.

"They're meeting us here," he said. "One of them is the Chief Archivist, so you should speak to him about helping you look through the Royal Archives."

Lynaka nodded. "I'll do that, Father. I want to get started on Mother's mission for me as soon as I can."

The young woman who had served them asked if they needed anything else, and Arnak replied that they were fine, realizing only at her puzzled look that he had spoken in Gerudo, the language he had been using for the last few minutes.

"We're fine, thank you," he repeated in Hylian, ignoring his daughter's snickering.

Their server smiled brightly. "All right then. Let me know if you need anything." She turned and walked over to another table, cheerfully asking its occupants if they would like a refill on their drinks.

"We're fine, thank you," Lynaka said in Gerudo, laughing.

Arnak pointed at her with one finger, pretending to frown. "Don't start."

She blinked innocently, adopting a who, me? expression.

Arnak chuckled, still pointing at her as if to say yes, you. "I know half a dozen languages. I'm going to get them confused occasionally."

His daughter laughed. "Yes, that's it." She playfully pointed at him. "The gray hair has nothing at all to do with it."

Arnak shook his head, exaggeratedly sighing in annoyance. "Daughters!" he said in mock exasperation, grinning.

Lynaka laughed again, a happy sound he never got tired of hearing.

"Having a good time?" a familiar voice asked.

Arnak looked up to see Telma herself standing next to their table, a welcoming smile on her face. Aside from a bit of gray in her hair and a few laugh lines around her eyes, she looked exactly the same as she had the first time Arnak had met her.

"Oh, yes," he replied, smiling back.

Telma gestured for him to stand up. "Oh, come on, don't just sit there. Give me a hug!"

He obeyed, still smiling, and she slapped him on the back twice before she let go. Telma pulled over a chair from one of the few empty tables and sat down at their table, smiling at Lynaka before turning back to Arnak.

"Oh, I haven't seen you in years!" she said. "Where's your better half?"

"She had to stay home," he answered. "She's very busy."

Telma chuckled. "I don't doubt it." She turned to smile at Lynaka again. "Is this your daughter?"

Arnak nodded. "This is Lynaka, our oldest."

Telma extended a hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Lynaka." She laughed shortly as Lynaka shook her hand. "That's quite a grip you've got there. What brings you to Castle Town?"

"I'm on a mission from my mother," Arnak's daughter answered. "I am to research our people in the Royal Archives."

Telma nodded thoughtfully. "Shad can probably help you with that. He's been in charge of the Archives since before you were born." She laughed suddenly, turning to Arnak. "That reminds me, did you know he has a family now?"

"Oh?" said Arnak. "Who did he marry?"

Telma smiled. "He met a girl from a village out near Lake Hylia, and they must have really hit it off, because they were married within six months."

Arnak smiled himself. "Well, that's good."

His friend nodded. "They have three children, two boys and a cute little daughter."

Arnak grinned again. "How about the others?"

Telma leaned back in her chair, making it creak slightly. "Well, Rusl's still down in Ordon with his family, though he still comes up to visit from time to time. He has grandchildren now, you know. Ashei's still the Grand Marshal, which means she's in charge of the slaver wars. Link's with her most of the time."

"How is Link?" Arnak asked.

Telma shrugged. "Still fighting. Somebody should tell him he's not the Hero anymore, and not getting any younger, either. I still hear crazy stories about what he's doing down there. If it was anyone else, I'd think they probably weren't true."

Arnak fell silent, and Telma picked up on this. "They recruited you to fight for them once, didn't they?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yes." Pointedly, he changed the subject. "So, who is the Prime Minister now?"

"Still Auru," Telma replied. "He has to be past ninety by now, but you wouldn't guess it to look at him. I swear, he's the only one of us who hasn't aged in the last twenty years."

Arnak chuckled, looking up as the door to the tavern opened and two people walked in, a man and a woman.

Both were in their mid-forties, hints of gray in their hair, but otherwise, both Shad and Ashei looked much the same as the last time he had seen them, almost ten years ago. Shad had grown a beard, which he kept neatly trimmed, and he wore a finely made suit that made it obvious he was a librarian and scholar. Ashei wore a Hylian Army uniform cut in a severe style, absent of decoration except for a bit of gold at the collar and on the cuffs that signified her rank. She wore a sword at her hip, making her the only other person in the tavern besides Arnak and his daughter who was armed.

Telma waved them over, and they pushed another square table against Arnak's, smiling as he made introductions and told his daughter a bit about how he knew them.

"I didn't know you were back in the city," Telma said to Ashei. "When did you get back?"

"Yesterday afternoon," Ashei replied. "I have a month's leave before we set off for the next slaver city. Link's in command while I'm gone, and frankly, he's the only one I trust to take charge of the war besides Viserys." She shook her head amusedly. "We keep taking their cities, and they keep running off to move into new ones. We've been at this for almost ten years, and we still haven't gotten rid of them all. Just when we think we've freed the last of the slaves, we get word of another city they've moved into."

Shad sighed. "It's been their economy for centuries. We're not going to overturn that entire region overnight, not with everything else we're committed to doing."

Ashei nodded, turning to Arnak. "You've been out of touch for a few years, haven't you? Did you know about that war over in Calatia?"

Arnak nodded. "Yes, I did. Link told me about it when he came to ask for my help in the first part of the slaver campaigns. We still see troops crossing back and forth at the northern part of the desert often."

Telma set her mug down on the table with a loud bang, looking around at the others. "All right, enough talk about war." She gestured to Shad. "Maybe you can help Lynaka here with a mission she's here on from her mother."

Shad smiled at Arnak's daughter. "Certainly. What can I do for you?"

"The Matriarch wants me to research the Blood Curse in the Royal Archives," Lynaka replied. "Do you know if you have anything on it there?"

Shad frowned thoughtfully. "Well, I'm not personally familiar with the subject, but the Archives have manuscripts dating back almost to the First Hero, and we've greatly expanded them with the aid of the Oocca, who've kept their own archives over the millennia. I'm sure we have something you will find useful."

Lynaka inclined her head respectfully. "Thank you. I will be wanting to begin my research as soon as possible."

Shad nodded. "If you come to the Archives tomorrow at about nine o'clock, I can help you look through the index for any volumes you might need."

"Thank you," Lynaka said again.

Arnak and his friends spent most of the rest of the evening talking, recalling the adventures they'd had when they were younger and catching up on what they'd been doing since the last time they'd seen each other. As it usually did for most who'd been part of the Oocca War, the conversation turned to 'Link stories', each trying to top the other with something incredible they'd seen the Hero do. Arnak noticed his daughter was fairly quiet, responding only when asked a question, and she seemed bored, though she was doing her best to hide it.

He didn't blame her; she hadn't been there for anything they were talking about, and didn't know any of the people they referred to, either. Still, he was glad she remained polite and respectful.

As the evening wound down, they each eventually decided to retire for the night, and Telma offered Arnak and his daughter her spare room, which they accepted. Tomorrow would likely be an eventful day.

---


Author's Note: This story is a sequel to an earlier story of mine, 'The Fourth Piece', which was itself a sequel to 'Twilight Princess', and though it can stand as its own adventure, it is a continuation of both tales. It will be long, at least novel-length, and intricately detailed and complex. I've become somewhat known for my twisty plots, and this will be no exception. ;)

I look forward to sharing more of this story with you, so I hope you enjoy the ride!