**All Standard Disclaimers Apply**

Book Two in the Doppelganger Trilogy
Shadow Kingdom
by The Wolfess


Chapter Twenty Three: Song of Healing

"Take one down, pass it around, eighty seven bottles of Chateau Lons on the wall! Eighty seven bottles of Chateau Lons on the wall, eighty seven bottles of Chateau Lons! Take one down, pass it around, eighty six bottles of Chateau Lons on the wall!"

The Hero of Time was rip roaring drunk. He sat on a center stool at the bar in Lon Lon Tavern leading the whole establishment in a rousing chorus of One Hundred Bottles of Chateau Lons that was starting to give Zelda a headache. Every other chorus, he took a big swig of his premium milk and stared at the painting of Queen Zelda and the royal family that hung on the back wall. A few crocodile tears rolled down his old cheeks, and then he would start singing again.

"Eighty two bottles of Chateau Lons on the wall, eighty two bottles of Chateau Lons! Take one down, pass it around, eighty one bottles of Chateau Lons on the wall!"

"We have got to get him out of here," Zelda finally said, turning to Link. They were sitting slightly behind the Hero of Time. "This is embarrassing."

Link nodded. "I feel bad for the guy," he said. "I'll get Adrienne to come drag him away." He stood up and shook himself, and as he walked toward the tavern door—which had been left open to get some fresh summer air in the musty establishment—a few of the patrons stopped singing and looked at the large wolf with worried expressions. The Hero of Time was oblivious of course. He had seen so many strange things and been followed by so many random creatures that it seemed perfectly natural to have two full grown wolves decide to follow him around. He continued crying and singing at the top of his lungs while paying the worried mumbles of the other patrons no mind.

Link stepped out, planning to run to the woods and grab their hylian friend to drag the Hero out of bar, when she and the pack stepped out of the shadows behind the tavern. "We were never far," Ikal said in response to Link's questioning look. "We wouldn't leave either of you unprotected." The black wolf nodded at Adrienne, who proceeded to follow Link into the bar.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked Link as they paused outside the open doorway, brushing her hair away from her face.

He nodded his head toward the Hero on the bar stool. "Just touch his arm and tell him it's time to go home," he said. "Be careful—if he's anything like me on a bad day, he can be a little unpredictable."

Adrienne nodded and swallowed. She wound her fingers through the fur on the back of Link's neck for a moment, as if taking courage from the feel of wolf fur in her fingers, and then stepped forward. "Excuse me," she said, her voice soft, as she touched the Hero of Time's arm.

"HEY!" he roared, jerking his arm away. "Don't touch me! Leave me alone." He took a big gulp of his milk, and he never once turned to look at who it was that touched him.

"It's time to go," Adrienne said, a little more firm this time.

"Says who?" said the hero, turning around and sizing up the wolf girl in a glance. "You can't even wear real clothes, weirdo," he mumbled.

"You've had enough," Adrienne said, her voice plenty firm now, and took his arm again. "It's time to go home."

The hero didn't even look up from his drink. He jerked his arm away again. "Make me," he said, his voice a little dangerous. Adrienne threw up her hands and growled in exasperation.

"Let me help," said a quiet female voice. The wolves and the wolf-girl turned to see Malon standing there with a sad look in her eyes. She came up on the Hero of Time's other side and sat down. "Hey there, ugly," she said. "You look like you got beat in a brawl with a pack of wolfos."

"Did not," he said, looking at Malon out of the corner of his eye. "Just had a few of these…and got socked in the heart by some selfish goddesses playing with the destiny of mortal men."

"Ooohh, destiny, I see. Well, me and my friend here are going to help you home, and you can tell us all about destiny on the way there."

The hero nodded and let Adrienne and Malon help him up. They held his arms on either side, steadying him as they walked out the door. Link and Zelda followed, with the rest of pack close behind. They stumbled down the main thoroughfare of the little village and through the gate in silence, and as they walked down the stairway toward the little bridge that would take them to the main field the hero started to tell them all just what he meant, exactly, by destiny.

"Let me tell you girls about destiny," he said. "It's cruel. The goddesses just decide what you're gunna do and don't let you make your own choices. You're tied to this woman, and she doesn't give a damn about you."

"She gives plenty of a damn about you," Malon said. "That's the problem. You both give too much of a damn about each other."

They had crossed the bridge and Malon had a horse waiting there with a small cart attached to the back. "Yeah well…" the hero said as the two women helped him lay down on the cart. "I just don't understand…why she can't be with me. She's the queen, can't she do whatever she wants?"

"Will you ride with him?" Malon asked, swinging up onto the horse. Adrienne nodded and climbed into the cart, crouching down next to the hero in a very wolf-like fashion. The cart jerked forward and the wolf pack trotted alongside. Adrienne nodded and smiled as the hero ranted, not really sure what anything he was saying meant. Malon, for her part, guided the horse in silence across the quiet, moon-dappled expanse of Hyrule Field.

They stopped in front of Link's cottage and Malon dismounted. Adrienne crawled off of the cart and the two women helped the hero inside his house and into bed. Link and Zelda followed them inside and lay on the center rug, as out of the way as possible. Malon started a quick fire, and then stepped to the door with Adrienne. She touched the white-haired girl's arm gently. "Thank you for helping him," Malon whispered. "Do you need help home?"

Adrienne shook her head. "I live with the wolves," she said. Malon started to question, and then looked over the wolf-girl's shoulder. The whole pack stood there, their eyes reflecting the firelight in the night.

"Hmm," Malon said, pursing her lips. "You'd think I wouldn't be surprised by these things after being friends with this guy my whole life," she said, mostly to herself. "Well, goodnight then."

Adrienne nodded. "Goodnight," she responded, and walked back to her pack. They went into the tree line, stopping just behind the cottage where they were unseen but could hear everything that went on inside.

Malon closed the door and walked back over to the fire. She poked it a few times, stoking the flames higher, and then pulled a bottle of red potion out of her apron. She uncorked it and poured it into the iron pot that the hero had hanging over the fire pit, then stirred it with a wooden spoon that also came out of her apron.

"You still here?" the hero asked. Malon answered without turning around.

"Yes. I just want make sure you're okay before I leave."

"You're too good to me," he mumbled, turning over on his cot to look at the ranch woman. His hand hung over the side, and wolf Link pushed his head under it. The hero scratched the wolf's ears absently. "How did you know I was there?" the hero asked.

Malon sipped a spoonful of the red potion, then took it off the fire and poured it into a mug that the hero had sitting on a small end table by the fireplace. "You always go there after you see her," she said, her voice tired. "And you always drink too much."

"I have good reason to," the hero said. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "Goddesses, why does my head always hurt so much afterward?"

Malon handed the hero the mug. "Drink this, it'll help," she said.

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the cot, taking the warm mug in his hands. He took a few sips and smiled a little. "Warm red potion always makes me think of you," he said. His eyes lingered on Malon's sturdy form as she turned back aroung and took the pot off of the fire. The fire brought out the red in her hair and it made him smile. "Why do you always help me?" he asked.

"Because you don't deserve this life she's given you," Malon answered, her back turned to the hero as she cleaned up the pot and her spoon. "And because I care too much about you to watch you make a fool of yourself. Things between us may not have worked out, but…"

The Hero of Time caught her hand. He gently tugged her around and locked eyes with her, holding her gaze for an extended moment. "Thank you," he said, his expression sad and intense.

Malon tried to tug her hand away, but the hero wouldn't let it go. He set his mug down with his other hand and stood up, and then slid his hand around Malon's waist. He pulled her into his arms, their faces mere inches apart. Their breathing was heavy, their eyes burning with the chemistry that had always been there.

"Link, don't," Malon said. "You're drunk and I'm married."

He blinked and sighed. "I'm sorry," he said as he let her go. "I just…."

Malon touched his cheek gently. "I know," she whispered. "Me too." She stepped away from him and spun away. Sweeping her spoon and empty red potion bottle back into her apron, she left Link's pot sitting in the wash tub uncleaned as she hiked her skirts in her hands and ran out of the cottage door.

The Hero of Time sat back down and took the red potion, sipping it slowly. It was still warm. His head started to clear, and with it the sadness returned in force. He had driven it away for a little while, almost, but hadn't quite succeeded. He never did. He could hear the sound of Malon's cart rumbling away through the night, and he distracted himself by listening to it until it had faded away completely.

When all had fallen silent and all that he could hear were the sounds of the night animals, his own crackling fire, and the howling of the wind, the hero finished the red potion and set the cup down. He would get no sleep that night. Sighing, he reached into the pouch on his belt and pulled out a blue ocarina. It sparkled with a magical light of its own. As he turned it over in his hands, Zelda gasped.

"That is the Ocarina of Time!" she said.

Link squinted at it and wagged his tail. "It fits the description," he said.

"No, I know that this is it," Zelda said. "It passed back into the hands of the Royal Family upon the death of the Hero of Time and has been in our possession ever since. I have seen it a few times—it is well hidden. Its power could be used for terrible things if it fell into the wrong hands."

The Hero of Time lifted the instrument to his lips started to play. The first song he played was familiar to Link—it was the very same song he played to call his own horse. It was Epona's Song. Smiling inside, he laid his large head down on his forepaws at the hero's feet, closed his eyes, and listened.

"Poor guy," Zelda said, gazing at the hero's sad face and then down at Link. She wrapped her tail around her forepaws to keep them warm until the heat from the fire filled the rest of the room. She figured it must be late summer here, as the nights had more than a hint of winter cold to them. "He is tied to a woman who didn't return the depth of his devotion to her, and had to spurn the affections of a woman who might."

"I don't know," Link said, wagging his tail. "No responsibility, friendship and affection when he wants it, and all the independence in the world…seems pretty great."

Zelda shot a weird look at him. "You do not actually mean that, right?"

Link laughed. "I would have at one time," he said. "But ever since we were trapped like this I've been thinking. A life without responsibilities and stress is boring. I was always bored in Ordon. I read and drew because I was always daydreaming about going places, seeing things, meeting people, that sort of thing. Being anywhere but in Ordon. Having responsibility is kind of fun, and a part of that is having people who depend on you. And being depended on is fulfilling. Trapped like this, unable to help anyone, protect the people I care about, or really love the woman I love…it's really opened my eyes."

"That is good to hear." Zelda said, cocking her head at him.

Link wagged his tail a little, looking up at his past self entranced in playing. The hero went from one song to another. Some of them wolf Link recognized from his previous encounters with the hero's spirit. The hero had had him howl a song to call upon him, and many of them were songs that the past hero was now playing. They obviously meant a lot to him, even in death.

The wolves stopped talking to listen, and as the night went on and the sun rose overhead, they could have forgotten why they had come. They could have relished the freedom and lack of pressure. They could have basked in the presence of the Hero of Time and the Princess of Destiny, following them every moment to learn everything they could about themselves. They could have watched the sunrise every morning, rushing into view like an eager dog greeting its master as the Hero of Time called it to the horizon with the Sun's Song. He was a man of power and mystery. He controlled the flow of time and the very heavens themselves. His presence overshadowed every other legendary figure in history.

"I have never told you this," wolf Link suddenly started, his eyes turning from the orange of the sunrise back to the Hero of Time's face. "When I started my adventure I knew nothing of the ways of the sword. The only sword I had was a wooden practice sword, and Rusl had just given it to me the previous day. And then, just before I stepped into my first temple—the old Forest Temple deep in Faron Woods—a golden wolf appeared before me. He was glowing and obvious otherworldly. He had one bright red eye and the other eye was scarred over." Already Zelda's eyes shot to the Hero of Time, but her ears were cocked toward Link, listening intently. "I thought he was an enemy and tried to attack him, but he pounced and knocked me out. When I woke up, I was on the floor in this cloudy mysterious realm, and the golden wolf sat across from me. He howled, and as he did so he turned into a giant stalfos wearing this strange armor with a bird's head on it and one eye glowing in its socket. In his right hand he held a round shield with a sun pattern, and in left was the rotting, degraded form of a cracked, aged Master Sword."

"What are you saying? That the ghost of the Hero of Time attacked you?" Zelda said.

"No," Link responded. "He instructed me. I thought he was more of an enemy in this form than when he was a wolf and he knocked me down with ease. I thought I was dead before my journey had even started—but instead of killing me, he helped me up and he said these words that I will never forget: A sword wields no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage," wolf Link recited. "You may be destined to become the hero of legend…but your current power would disgrace the proud green of the hero's tunic you wear. You must use your courage to seek power…and find it you must. Only then will you become the hero for whom this world despairs.

"If you do find true courage, and you wish to save Hyrule form the horrors it now faces…Then you will be worthy to receive the secrets I hold! There are six hidden skills for you to learn…those are only for one who carries the blood of the hero…the one whose spirit is that of the sublime beast. Grow powerful. Test your courage. And when you find that you need another skill to overcome the threats that face you…Search for the statues that howl with the sound of the wind. Seek the sound that calls to the spirit of the beast to awaken me again. A sword wields no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage. Remember those words…'. And I will remember them. I will remember him. I found those stones and I called him, and he taught me songs from his life as well as sword techniques. I learned from him in so many ways. He was, in a sense, my greatest companion on my adventure, and my greatest teacher.

"At the end of our time together, he said something that comes back to me now as a lesson I should take to heart: 'Although I accepted life as the hero, I could not convey the lessons of that life to those who came after. At last, I have eased those regrets. You who have marched through countless foes, each mightier than the last... You who now gaze to the future with vision unclouded... Surely you can restore Hyrule to its stature of yore as the chosen land of the gods. ...Farwell! Go and do not falter, my child." Link looked at Zelda, his eyes full of emotion. "You see, Zelda, now that I see him I understand his words more than I had when he first said them to me. Courage is not just taking up a sword and facing evil. He did that, but in the end of his life, the Hero of Time was still a coward. You see him now, living alone because he's afraid to be with people. Loving two women who can't love him back because he's afraid of being alone, but he's afraid of really loving someone more.

"I think that courage is having the courage to live with people and take responsibility. It's the courage to face normal life as well as the tough things. It's the courage to be strong inside, not just outside. I lost my courage because, inside of myself, I grew bitter and weak. I was filling myself with regrets, just like he did. I resigned myself to life and its tasks rather than embracing them. Now I think that my vision is truly unclouded. Now I can see him for who he is: an old man wasting away full of regret, with no real courage left in his heart. And though I owe so much to him—I am him, in a way—I will not share his mistake. I will find a way for us to be free of this curse, and when I do, we will remove Dark Link and the imposter from the throne. We will take back Hyrule and make it the chosen land of the goddesses once more, like the Hero of Time wished it to be. And I will never back down or cower from my destiny again."

As Link spoke, the triforce that had faded from the back of his paw began to glow. It was so soft at first that no one noticed. The Hero of Time played a gentle, love-filled rendition of the royal family's song that made both of the wolves' hearts heavy with sadness, and then he paused. The ocarina fell to his lap. He looked around at the masks on his walls for a long time, memories playing across his features like shifting shadows. Finally the Hero of time lifted the ocarina to his lips again and played one last, sorrowful song: the Song of Healing.

The triforce glowed brighter now, and Link noticed. His heart skipped a beat—had he proven himself? Had he found his courage again? He had no time to reflect on this however, as visions began to swim before his eyes. He saw the people of Ordon embracing him and sending him away. He saw himself before the army, all of them cheering his name. He saw himself surrounded by people, bearing much responsibility and weight upon his shoulders, and completely happy. He saw himself with wolves at his heals and the people of Hyrule looking up at him for guidance.

Zelda also saw visions. She saw her people happy and well fed. She saw them crown her queen, and she saw Link at her side. She saw herself free to make decisions without restrictions, respected by her people and—most of all—respected by herself.

The ocarina playing had stopped. Link and Zelda opened their eyes, and their wolf faces fell off. Two masks clattered on the ground in front of their hylian feet. Each one looked just like their wolf faces had, but with orange lines tracing through the edges of the masks that were reminiscent of the lines that went through the wolf stone.

Link and Zelda picked them up and looked at them, and then looked at each other. Each was wearing their normal clothes—Link, his green tunic, and Zelda, her royal gown. The black tendrils were still on her forearm, barely hidden by the long gloves she wore. The triforces on their hands glowed brightly.

"Link," Zelda said aloud, her eyes welling up with tears. Her voice could be heard by all, and not just by animals. "We…we are back. We are us again."

Link didn't speak. He crossed the space between them with one stride and took her in both of his arms, pressing his lips against hers in a desperate, hungry kiss. She was surprised at first, but soon wrapped both of her arms around his neck and kissed him back with the same ferocity that he had shown. They kissed for a long time, as if they would never kiss again, and only parted when both needed to breathe.

They looked at each other for a moment more, and then Zelda remembered the other hylian in the room. They both turned and looked at the Hero of Time.

"Well…" the hero said, his eyes bewildered and amused. "That was unexpected. So I'm guessing that you weren't really hanging out with me to enjoy the pleasure of my company. Just a pawn of destiny again, like always."

"No, and yes," Zelda said, curtsying to the hero of old. "We came to you hoping you might be able to help us, yes, but mostly we were just interested in your life."

Link bowed from the waist. "We are from the future, sir, and we owe you a personal debt of gratitude. More than we can say."

The Hero of Time held up a gauntleted hand. "Say no more," he said. "I am done with time travel and I am done with destiny. I have had enough for one life time. Go in peace and leave me alone."

"But—" Link started.

The Hero of Time had turned away and was rubbing his face with both hands. "Just go," he groaned. He lay down and pulled his blanket around him. The fire was had begun to die in the hearth and the sunrise had faded in the eastern sky.

Zelda took Link's hand and shook her head. The twilight hero sighed. "I'm sorry," he whispered, looking down at this past self. "Thank you…for your guidance." The Hero of Time made no response, and the two hylians from the future paused only one moment more before they turned and left the hut for good. The pack was standing outside the door. Ikal stood beside Adrienne, the lupine-mask of truth in her hand. It appeared to be the same as it was before, and she had no additional mask.

Before Zelda could ask, Ikal explained. Her powers of premonition and knowledge were growing already. "The Song of Healing only works on those who are in the room. As I was outside the room, it did not work on me. However, your curse was tied to Link's imprisonment, and mine was tied to yours. Therefore when you were set free, so was I."

Zelda nodded, and she laced the gloved fingers of her left hand through the gauntlet-clad fingers of Link's right. He raised them up and looked at them for a moment, then kissed the back of her hand. "It's good to hold your hand," he said.

Zelda was about to agree, but Ikal cleared her throat. The two destined stopped gazing into each other's eyes long enough to pay attention. "There will be time to reunite later," she said. "For now, we need to return to the future. We can't delay. Have you forgotten that your country needs you—and needs you both?"

Link nodded his head, his eyes serious and brimming with courage. There almost seemed to be a bright green rim around his retinas, as if the Spirit of the Hero had awakened within him and was agreeing as well. Ikal nodded, her heart relieved. They were back—they were truly back, and they needed to jump back through the window and return to the Kingdom of Hyrule they belonged to before there was no light in it left to save.


Author's Notes:

I know that this update is a lot sooner than normal, but I couldn't help myself. I was so excited to upload it! Anyway, my girlfriend got me a gameboy advanced with the gamecube link cable for our 4 year anniversary, so I've been playing the Wind Waker and using the Tingle tuner. Never thought I would have heard myself saying this…but Tingle actually kind of a great character in that game. Don't knock it until you play through Dragon Roost castle with him! He's actually really fun. Weird and slightly creepy, but fun!

Anyway, if you enjoyed the chapter please leave a review and let me know what you think. I really look forward to them, even after all these years. Thanks for reading!

Don't forget to "like" the Doppelganger Trilogy on Facebook to get special progress updates in between chapters and other goodies. We're one away from 100 likes, and I'm going to announce a contest on the facebook page when that happens.

~The Wolfess