Link tried to carefully get up from the rubble beneath him and make as little noise as possible, but he already knew that the gesture was useless. If the sound was what he thought it was, getting up slowly would only make the situation worse by minimizing his time to escape. His heart pounded away as the sound began to deepen and grow in intensity, and sweat covered his palms as he reached for his sword. If he were to be captured, he would go out fighting.
Link stood up on the broken crate and stood with his blade poised, waiting, waiting…waiting…
It took Link about a minute to realize that the sound he was hearing wasn’t moving closer in his direction as he originally thought. Instead, it was just getting louder…no, wait; now it was growing softer! If this was what Link thought it was – soldiers coming to inspect the cause of the crash – then they had some peculiar habits or something…
"Link…" was all Navi could say before Link hushed the fairy with a wave of his hand. He stared around the crate-stacked area for about a minute longer before he made the decision to inspect the noise for himself.
Taking as cautious steps as he could, Link crept towards the general direction of the noise, which by now had faded again. He still kept his blade naked as he began mingling within the tiny maze of crates, but his suspected his true weapon in an emergency would be to run…just then, the noise flared up once more, this time undoubtedly a lot closer than before. Link quickly twirled to face it, and quickly realized the source was hiding behind a nearby crate.
Taking a deep breath, Link skulked around the crate and peered it around with a careful eye…
To his complete surprise, he found something entirely unexpected: a man sleeping upon a pile of golden straw. The frightening sound Link was hearing was nothing more than rough snoring being forced through the man’s enormous nose.
Link, completely astonished at this discovery, walked around the rest of the crate to examine the slumbering man further. He wasn’t the shortest adult Link had seen, but he was undoubtedly the fattest. But his plumpness didn’t necessarily mean he was a weak man; the two strong-looking arms protruding from his body destroyed that belief. The man’s face was decorated with lines of hair trailing down his cheeks and meeting underneath his nose, creating a bushy rope with several small pigtails arranged periodically.
But the most noticeable thing about the man that Link noticed was that he had a familiar smell dancing around him…the same aroma that Malon possessed, the aroma of the outdoors.
With a sudden jolt, Link realized that the sleeping man was Talon, Malon’s father.
So this is why Malon’s father didn’t go back to his daughter. He was sleeping! How could just sleep here like this and leave Malon to cry for him? If Link hadn’t come along when he did, she would’ve had to cry all alone…
Navi’s warning came too late. Without thinking, Link took his right foot and swung it with all his might into the man’s enormous stomach.
He then retracted his foot quickly so he could bend down and grip it to stop the unexpected surge of pain.
"Ouch!" Link cried as he tried stroking his foot through his boot. "This guy’s got a stomach made of rock or something…"
"Wh…wh…who kick…kicked me?"
The voice was a shaky one, but it possessed enough substance to signal that the owner was awake. Through his minute pain, Link watched as the chubby man Talon lifted his head and opened his eyes in the sunlight. He used a nearby crate to support himself as he stood up, and his wobbly legs indicated he didn’t have the strength his physique had earlier indicated. Then, without warning, the man emitted a brief yet disgusting belch, and almost immediately a pungent odor filled the air.
Link tried holding his hand over his nose and mouth to block the tang, but it had obviously existed before the burp was even made because the scent still burned his nostrils.
Talon looked around with shaky eyes for a moment before finding Link. The man’s face reminded Link of one of his friends that sleepwalked.
"You the one th…th…that kicked me?" Talon asked, discharging another blast of that awful smell.
Link lifted his hand from his mouth for a split second to answer with a brief "Yes" before returning it. Link didn’t feel like going into any reasons of why he had kicked Talon because any conversation would force him to sniff that dreadful aroma. Luckily, Talon wasn’t in the mood for explanations either. Instead he lifted his heavy eyes and looked at the sun barely peeking over the walls of the castle.
"What time is it? Is it morning already?"
Link didn’t give an answer; Talon didn’t need one.
"Uh," the man groaned as he straightened his back. "That’s the last time I talk those guards into giving me a drink of that horrible liquor. Next time it’s delivery and dash. Don’t have time to fall asleep all night…"
"You’re right about that!" Link suddenly blurted out, his face in a gentle rage. He didn’t care about the stench; he had something important to say to the man in front of him. "Do you realize you left Malon all by herself all night? You realize she cried because you didn’t…"
"Malon…?" Talon suddenly exclaimed, his eyes jumping wide open. "By Farore’s Wind, I completely forgot about her!" Now completely awake, Talon grabbed Link’s shoulders, not caring about the Kokiri’s apparent anger, and begged, "You, boy, whoever you are, do you know Malon? Is she all right?"
"She was until you didn’t show up. She cried her eyes out because you left her all alone like that! You…"
"By Din’s Fire!" Talon bellowed, his face tightening in a worried countenance. "How could I do that to her? Talon Hylara, you’re as big an idiot as they come! Thank you, little man. I don’t know who you are, but thanks for that kick in the stomach. I really deserved it. You probably should’ve kicked harder…but I don’t have time to go into that. I need to get back to my daughter. Again, thank you."
Then, without another word, Talon took off. Link, surprised by the man’s unexpected moves, watched in amazement as the fat farmer ran faster than any other person Link had seen before did. Talon soon disappeared behind a stack of crates, but his enormous footsteps could still be heard as they receded in the distance.
Then, for the first time since he had met Talon, Link smiled. "Go…go to Malon. Make her smile again…Malon, thanks for the great time yesterday…"
"Link?" Navi suddenly said, interrupting Link’s thoughts. Link turned to face the fairy, who continued, "are you okay? Why are you talking to yourself?"
Link stared at the fay for a moment before shaking his head. "I don’t know. I guess it just felt right. That’s all. Why? Is there something wrong with it?"
"It’s just that the Great Deku Tree warned us fairies that those who talked to themselves were usually loners, those who isolated themselves from others. He warned us that such behavior wasn’t acceptable for a Kokiri, and…well, I guess it doesn’t matter. But you’re not a loner, are you?"
"No," Link answered quickly, but almost immediately he felt that answer slide down his throat like a chunk of raw vegetation. He usually experienced that feeling after lying, intentionally or unintentionally.
Did he just lie to Navi…and to himself?
Shrugging the thought off, Link briskly continued. "Come on, let’s quit dawdling and try to find a way inside this place. The Princess of Destiny shouldn’t be too far away."
"Now you’re talking sense," Navi beamed proudly, as if she felt she had just accomplished something.
Zelda stared at her private garden from the door into her bedroom, marveling at its quiet splendor and simplicity. Her eyes then fell on the chair near the window that led to her father’s throne room and sighed. It was almost an eyesore amidst all the garden’s beauty, despite the fact it was beautiful in its own right.
Maybe artificial elegance was never meant to be amidst the beauty that nature could create. Maybe unnatural could never be meant to be with what the Three Goddesses created. And that was yet another reason she had to make sure the King of Thieves didn’t get his filthy hands on the Triforce…
The meeting between the king and Gandondorf would begin shortly, she knew, so she decided to get to the chair so she wouldn’t miss a thing.
As she entered the garden, she failed to notice her bedroom door stood slightly ajar…
"You’re kidding! You want me to do what?"
Navi’s light faded, a warning that it was about to brighten, before saying, "You’re going to dive into this gutter and follow it upstream until you get inside the castle. Look, it leads straight inside and it’s probably the only way in without making a disturbance."
Link couldn’t argue with that. He had searched the castle walls around the crate area and had managed to find several entrances, but all of them were either locked or guarded by several serious-looking sentries. The only unguarded and unlocked "entrance" was a small water channel that flowed from underneath the castle and into a dike that led to the moat in front of the palace, the moat Link luckily didn’t encounter.
Navi was right. It was probably the only way he could get in. He couldn’t argue with that.
But he could argue with something else. "Maybe, but look at this thing! It’s completely filled with water! We don’t know how far it goes before it reaches a place for me to surface! And besides, who’s to say that the gutter isn’t guarded on the other side of the palace?"
"Okay, then! You got any ideas? Any at all? If you do, are they good ones? Go ahead, I’m listening! And remember, while you tell me your brilliant ideas, we’ll be wasting time here that we could spend searching this enormous castle!"
Navi’s harsh tone made Link step back in modesty. He desperately wanted to argue back, but how could one argue with a fairy that had both plausible arguments and a very short temper? He turned to the running water, trying to visualize how far it led underground, and how far it would force him to hold his breath. He then turned back to Navi and said with a hesitant and a grumbling tone,
"Oh, very well! If I must!"
"Good! Now, just dive into the gutter and start swimming. I’ll stay under your hat…"
"Oh, no!" Link interrupted as he lifted a hostile finger at the fairy. "You’re not getting off that easily. You’re going to go through this as well. You’re going to swim upstream just like me!" His tone softened somewhat. "Besides, I need your glow for me to see…which makes you the leader of this little journey, doesn’t it?"
Navi’s light flickered like crazy, but she didn’t say anything. Link made a small smile, for it was actually quite nice to see Navi beaten at her own game. The fairy glared at Link for a few moments before shaking violently and suddenly zipping straight into the water-filled gutter. The fairy swam around the slow current for a while before disappearing into the large pipe from where the water was coming.
Link, not wanting to lose the slight benefit of Navi’s light, held his breath as he, too, jumped into the frigid water…
It was dark. Despite Navi’s light, the stone gutter tunnel was still quite dark for Link’s eyes. The flowing water stung his open eyes as he struggled to keep them open, and several times an abrupt rush of water nearly caused Link to let go of his breath. To top it all off, the tunnel’s current was stronger than it had been near the mouth, forcing Link to claw his way across the tunnel’s wall. Occasionally the crawlway curved upward, but for the most part it snaked in a straight, horizontal path.
"What am I doing?" Link thought to himself as he began to feel the pain of lack of air within his chest.
On and on he crawled, the cold water lapping against his skin like serrated blades, threatening to either carry him away or force him to release his breath. Ahead, Navi’s light began to fade and her progress slowed. Eventually, his pained eyes saw no light at all. Had Navi given up and been swept away by the current, or was she still ahead?
Link had no idea about her fate, just like his own…
Just then, he saw a small light in the distance. Was it Navi? Was she farther than he had expected? No wait! It wasn’t Navi at all, but light illuminating from another source! And unless fire could be lit underwater, it could only mean one thing: an exit from the gutter channel!
Link didn’t know where he found the strength to continue, but he did. He pulled along with all his might, using the thin brick cracks as his leverage against the current, which slowly yet surely began to grow faster and faster. Link’s chest felt like fire, but he pushed on, determined to make it to the light at the end of the tunnel…
Without warning, Link’s face broke water, surrounding it with air. With a loud gasp, Link released the stale air in his lungs and sucked to take in fresh amounts. His stinging eyes fluttered madly to flush out the icy water, and several coughs were also discharged as he began to breathe freely again.
He didn’t have time to adjust to the air again before he heard a familiar yet waterlogged voice. "Next time, you lead! You hear me?"
The wet fairy appeared in view moments later, her wings obviously soaked to the veins and her temper obviously even shorter. She evidently wanted to argue, but Link didn’t feel like even talking to her at the moment. Instead he ignored her as he looked around at his new surroundings.
He was swimming in a small pool that was fed by another channel that ran underneath a nearby wall. Surprisingly, the suction from the underwater tunnel he had crawled through wasn’t as strong as it had felt earlier. Whoever had designed the castle had designed it very well. The light source that Link had seen initially was a series of lit torches that snaked around the room in a precise sequence. Although each burned with a fiery essence, they had obviously been lit a long time ago. The room itself was made of thick stone and was completely empty save for one or two large barrels, which emitted a strong odor of oil.
Deciding to get out of the pool before the suction dragged him back into the tunnel, Links swam towards the edge of the tarn and climbed out, making sure he had all his belongings with him: sword, shield, hat, slingshot, pouch with ocarina…he had everything. But that meant little at the moment, for his greatest challenge was yet to come.
And that was finding Princess Zelda, the Princess of Destiny within this enormous castle…
Ganondorf snarled as he scraped the dried, caked mud off his boots. He didn’t like the idea of cleaning his boots, and actually doing the act was even worse. But he refused to allow anyone – even his personal servants – to touch his personal belongs, and he knew he had to be, regretfully, cleaned for his meeting with the King of Hyrule.
"Even such gullible men have their limits!" he thought viciously as he remembered the stern instructions for his appearance by one of the King’s messengers. "I wonder if the same is true for their necks underneath an ax’s blade?"
When he finally had removed all the mud from his shoes – to his own satisfaction, at least – he made sure his armor and cloak didn’t have any visible markings that would be offensive. Finding none, Ganondorf smiled for the first time that day and headed for the door to his chamber. When he opened it, he found two Hylian Royal Guards standing there. They tried to appear completely erect, but the effects of Gerudo whiskey were still apparent around their breaths.
Ganondorf’s smile widened.
"We’re here to escort you to the throne room, Sir Ganondorf," said the guard on the left. "Please, follow us…"
"I’ll do no such thing," Ganondorf interrupted with a hostile and cynical tone. "I know my way without your help. I’ll lead; you follow. Got it?"
The guards looked at each other for a moment before nodding hesitantly. "Very well."
"Too easy to bend," the King of Thieves thought as he began heading down a corridor, with the two guards following closely behind. "They’ll be no trouble at all for my Gerudo! No trouble at all! It’s sad, really…but how I enjoy savoring it!"
The trio headed down corridor after corridor, making their way to the throne room. Nothing spectacular happened on the way, although Ganondorf did notice one unusual thing as he turned a corner and passed a small collection of barrels.
"That’s odd. Did something just duck behind those things…? Ah! Probably just a rodent carrying a leaf or something. Still…oh, never mind!"
Link waited until the group had disappeared around another corner before poking his head above the barrels. It wasn’t the first patrol of guards he had encountered during his slinking around the maze-like passages, but it was definitely the closest call he had had so far. He wiped some sweat droplets from his brow and looked around to make sure the coast was clear before stepping out of his hiding place.
Navi appeared a moment later. "Link, this is ridiculous! We can’t just wander around this place aimlessly until we’re either caught or we die of starvation! Do you have any idea where the princess might be?"
"No, I don’t," Link answered with frustration. Yet it wasn’t frustration over Navi’s impatience but over the situation. He had no idea where he was, no idea what he was doing, no idea he was going in the right direction. He could be going in circles, for all he knew! Every corridor looked exactly like the last one and if not the last one then the one right before the last one!
It was so annoying that Link considered climbing back into the water gutter, riding it back outside, and asking one of the guards for help!
However, Link’s anger couldn’t mask one thing he noticed as the three people passed him earlier. The first one, the one leading the other two, looked vaguely familiar, despite the fact Link didn’t even get a good look at him before hiding behind the barrels. In fact, it wasn’t even that he looked familiar.
Instead, it was more like he felt familiar…
Just then, the familiar clank of armor echoed along the corridor again. Link by now knew almost instinctively that he had to hide. He turned to the barrels to duck behind them again, but then realized that the guards would see him in the direction they were approaching him. The barrels wouldn’t provide sufficient cover, and it was too late to rearrange them properly. Not that he could if he wanted to…
"Link, what are you doing?" Navi softly cried. "We have to hide!"
"I know, I know!" Link replied frantically. He looked around for a sufficient place to hide: an alcove, a tapestry, anything that he could fit behind…wait, that door! Was it…yes, it was unlocked…no, even better. It was open slightly!
Without thinking, Link bolted for the open door and pushed it open with all his might. He nearly lost his balance because of the surprising smoothness of the hinges, but he quickly recovered in time to turn around and slam the door shut. Navi, luckily, had managed to spot the open door at the same time and dart inside before the portal was closed with a soft thud.
Moments later, the clanking soldiers passed by the door and left as quickly as they arrived.
Sighing in relief, Link was about to open the door when he caught sight of his surroundings. With a start, he realized he had stumbled into someone’s bedroom. And someone of great importance, at that!
The large bed in one corner was the first clue. It was so big that Link estimated he and half his friends could sleep comfortably on it with room to spare. Sitting next to him was a chest of drawers with an enormous mirror that could probably reflect the Great Deku Tree at the right distance. Even the odors held a certain pompous scent, as if they had been designed specifically for this room.
"All the more reason for me to leave…" Link began to think when he caught sight of the garden.
Before Navi could protest, Link ran to the second doorway and looked out at the magnificent garden outside. Although he had lived in the Lost Woods all his life, he had never beheld such a beautiful sight before. Every type of flower he knew – and several he didn’t know – were gathered and arranged all over the place and the person who had planted them obviously knew how to treat each one right. The air was pleasant and fresh, a rousing change for Link after his walk through the stuffy palace hallways. If he didn’t have something important to do, he would stay here forever.
Then he saw her.
He didn’t know yet that it was she, but he saw her nevertheless. At the far end of the garden, on a stone platform underneath a large window, sat a young girl about his age in a large, cozy-looking chair. She distinctly hadn’t seen the intruder standing several feet away from her.
If it had been someone else, Link might’ve quietly left without making his presence known, but something inside of him told him to approach her. Navi softly whispered something in his ear, but he didn’t hear her. Instead, he slowly approached the girl to get a better look at her without disturbing her.
When he was only a stone’s throw away, her head shifted slightly enough for Link to see her face clearly. It was then that he recognized her almost immediately. There was no mistaking it.
Link had found Princess Zelda.
Without thinking, Link took a step forward and uttered calmly, "Excuse me, Princess Zelda?"
The thud of the back of the chair striking the stone platform wasn’t too loud, but it was enough for Link to stop all movement. The Princess was standing now, her face in a state of shock and staring directly into his eyes. Her face was white as a sheet and she barely moved a muscle.
The two stared at each other for a silent moment before the Princess finally spoke up: "Wh…who are you?"