ELDA yawned and opened her eyes slowly, stretching her arms out above her head.

The first thing she saw was the ornate roof of another woven tent, bright crimson with a blue and golden dragon coiling endlessly through it. The Princess shuddered squeamishly, for the shining curves and knots of the dragon's sinuous body reminded her horribly of the giant cobra in the Temple. She was lying on her back in a hard bed, covered by another beautiful hand-woven cloth... no, she saw, turning on her side, it was not a bed but some kind of low pallet. It was comfortable even so, and she wondered how long she had slept. She rubbed at her eyes with her knuckles, a strangely childlike gesture out of which she had never grown, and sat up. Last night was a blur to her after Sofia and her friends had turned up--she remembered vaguely a long ride through the desert as the stars began to fade, and then she was being carried somewhere in the dark... The Princess sighed and shook her head to clear it, then gently lifted back the covers. She had been dressed in a simple linen shift, and she wondered where her own clothes had been taken. There were some garments laid out upon the sandy floor beside her bed, but she was for a sleepy moment sure that they were not for her--the Gerudo clothing, while clean and superbly made, would be considered highly offensive if worn at home. But was she not being prejudiced against her rescuers once more? "When in Calatia, do as the Calatians do," the Princess muttered then, and took up the white silk trousers. The Western Desert might not quite be Calatia, but the proverb still applied. At least the thin silk would be cooler than what she had worn before, she thought and smiled. The top definitely would. It was a finely woven tight-fitting item of gold and scarlet thread, with tiny beaded jewels sewn onto the shoulder straps and to... well, other strategic areas. There were no sleeves and nothing to cover the stomach. It barely covered her chest. Zelda got into the clothes with a wry smile at the thought of Link's reaction to her new look, and then she found a strip of red cloth that would do to pull her hair back, Gerudo-style: she knew that she must look like a blonde Amazon with the outfit she had on, but she could not stand the prickling of her waistlength locks any more. Long hair was simply too hot in the desert. "Zelda?" came Sofia's voice from outside. "Are you awake?" The Princess ran a hand through her ponytail, fluffing up the long golden swathe. "Yes, I'm awake. Come on in." The door curtain parted with a soft swish, and the red-haired woman stepped through in a blast of light and heat. "Well, don't you look nice!" Sofia said in surprise, regarding the Princess. Zelda bridled. "If you know where they put my own clothes, please don't hesitate to tell me!" she snapped. Sofia smiled and held up her hands in a calming gesture. "Peace, peace. I am afraid that the nomads burnt your other outfit and Link's tunic, Zelda--they were so dirty and desert-stained that they would not have served for anything better than rags anyway. Clothes are disposable here." The red-haired woman smiled and flicked her ponytail back over her shoulder. "The daughter of the tribal chieftain offered us both the pick of her wardrobe, but I had little choice when choosing your clothes. You are rather slimmer than she is, I am afraid. How do you feel?"

Zelda frowned, running her hand over the waistband of her new trousers--they were loose on her. "How do I feel? Worried, Sofia. Where is Link?" "He is not yet fully recovered," the red-haired woman admitted, shifting her sandaled feet on the cool sand. "For awhile this morning we thought we should lose him. He responded badly to the elixir we gave him against the cobra's venom, and then of course he had been worsening for a long time before I came back." Sofia smiled at the Princess, her amber eyes flashing. "But I swear your friend is made of adamant, Zelda. He pulled through. He was very tired, and now he rests and sleeps." "So he is going to be fine?" Zelda asked eagerly. "This is wonderful news! When I saw him so ill, I was sure he would die before you could do anything for him." Sofia lifted a hand in warning. "Wait, Zelda--please do not get too excited yet. Link will live, yes, but he has taken some damage from the poison. He still has no sensation in his right arm--often, the paralysis lifts with time and exercise and we have no reason to doubt that it will do so this time, but--" "What?" Zelda interrupted. "Paralysis? What are you trying to say?" "He cannot lift or feel his arm and hand," Sofia explained. "But given the time he should recover most of the movement in it. I have seen this before when a bite is serious. We should be grateful that he lived through it at all, with the amount of poison he took. He is as stubborn as a goat." "Poor Link," Zelda said softly. "Can I see him?" "For a little while," the red-haired woman agreed. "It is your right as consort." "Consort?" the Princess exploded. She stood with hands on hips and glared at the other woman with furious ice-blue eyes. "Who said anything about my being his consort? He is my bodyguard!" Sofia raised an eyebrow. "And what is that supposed to mean?" Zelda snarled. "Just that I have seen how he looks at you, and you at him," the red-haired woman answered mildly. "There's nothing between us," Zelda insisted angrily. "We are merely traveling companions. Of course I am concerned about his health, he was badly hurt, but--" "So he's not your boyfriend?" Sofia suggested. "No!" "Very well, Zelda." The red-haired woman smiled, her eyes twinkling. "I'll take you to him anyway. Pretend you are his consort if you can bear to--it will make life much more simple with these people. They will not appreciate the idea of a young unattached man and woman traveling together. No," -as the Princess drew in another deep breath- "do not say it. This is purely a matter of what is most prudent. We are their guests and must abide by their rules. I have put my own life upon the line by bringing you two here."

Zelda sighed deeply. "I will do as you ask, Sofia." She raised her head and shot a cool glance at the other woman. "But this does not mean that there is anything between us!" "Of course," Sofia said smoothly. She handed Zelda a pair of leather sandals. "Put these on, Zelda... the sand outside can sear the skin from your feet at midday." Outside, the sun was high in the sky and Zelda wondered how long she had been asleep, though she did not ask Sofia. The place they were in was nothing compared to the tent city Gaelaidh, for it was a mere gathering of five or six wide tents arranged in a circle around the black remains of a campfire. Bony oxen of white or gray wandered through the camp, and horses browsed upon the small and woody plants that grew in the sandy soil. This place was on the edge of the desert where there was just enough water to support some plant life. Zelda looked up into the cloudless sky, a blue the deep color of cornflowers in high summer with the sun a disk of white gold overhead. Blue... not amber. There was little sand upon the winds. She caught sight of one of the people of this settlement, a wizened old man sitting cross-legged on a mat in front of the dark opening of his tent, and scraping half-heartedly at the wooden shaft of a dart with a gleaming wood-handled knife. His skin was the color of chocolate and looked like tanned leather. A sparse mat of white hair covered his partly bald scalp, and grizzled stubble coated his chin. He looked up at her, eyes almost buried in wrinkes, and gave her a wide toothless smile. The Princess gathered her courage and smiled back at the ancient tribesman, lifting her hand in a regal wave. The old man chuckled bashfully, pleased as a child. "That's it," Sofia muttered. "Act well and nobly, Zelda. They believe you're some kind of good spirit. These people have never seen a being with golden hair or white skin before. Live up to their expectations!" "I see," Zelda said. Sofia led her to a tent standing apart from the others, woven in soft leafy patterns of green and aquamarine. "This is the house of the doctor," the red-haired woman informed her companion. "Link was taken here to recover." Quietly Sofia stepped up to the opening and drew aside the curtain, motioning for Zelda to enter. She laid a finger upon her lips as the Princess passed within. Link was lying on a pallet similar to hers in the center of the round tent. His chest and shoulder were bandaged, and his long red-brown hair had been combed and lay loose around his head. He slept peacefully, looking far more healthy than she had seen him last night. Careful not to make too much noise Zelda padded across the sandy floor towards the pallet and knelt upon the sand beside her friend, gently brushing his cheek with her finger. He stirred and opened his eyes, turning his head towards her. "...Zelda?" "Hello Link," she said softly. "It's me." Thankful tears grew in her eyes but she blinked them back. Now was not the time for weeping. Link yawned. "We found the Temple, then," he said sleepily. "Yes, that's right. And Sofia could become one of the Knights as well. If she agrees to come with us, we'll be halfway there already!" Zelda smiled. "You must get better soon, Link, so we can get on with our quest!" "Don't want to hold you back." He lifted his left hand to his face, flicked back a lock of hair.

"You won't hold us back," Zelda said gently. "How are you feeling?" He smiled weakly. "Tired. Drained. My arm-" "I know. It will be all right." Zelda touched his right hand gently where it lay upon the coverlet. "Sofia says so, and I think we should trust her by now!" "It doesn't feel all right," Link sighed. "It feels like meat. I could poke it with a knife and the only way I could tell would be the blood." Zelda shushed him gently, stroking his cheek with her finger. "It is just an effect of the venom. You'll be able to use your hand again soon." He blinked twice and then shook his head slightly. "Zelda... would you mind leaning back a little? That outfit is rather... shall we say... intimidating." Zelda jumped to her feet, insulted. "How dare you!" she exclaimed, almost tempted to slap him around the face, snake bite or no snake bite. Then she smiled despite herself, and laughed with relief. "You must be feeling better if you've started doing that again." Link clenched his jaw and sat up awkwardly, pulling the coverlet up around himself with his good hand. "Have they left me any clothes?" he asked, a little breathless. "I am not sure that you are supposed to be up," Zelda began. "I feel fine, Princess," he said firmly. "Just a little... tired, that is all." Zelda cast her eye over the meager contents of the bare tent, and her gaze fell upon a pile of Gerudo garments upon the sand--neatly folded trousers like her own, a kind of open vest of leather, a wide cloth belt and a pair of sandals carefully placed on top. She knelt and picked up the clothes, then carried them to the pallet and set them down before him. "Would you like any help with that, Link?" she asked sweetly, fingering the white silk trousers. Link blushed to the roots of his hair. "Er... no thank you, Princess," he stuttered, for once truly discomfited, and shifted his legs underneath the blankets. Zelda bit back a giggle. Revenge was sweet, she thought. "Very well. I will turn my back." "Please, Princess, at least go outside while I dress!" Link begged, his green eyes pleading. "I would not insist on being present while you... er..." "Not a chance," Zelda said firmly. "I'm staying right here. You are still weak!" She smoothed back her golden hair and smiled wickedly. "Of course, if you were to address me as Zelda instead of "Princess", I might feel less like being stubborn..." "I see," Link sighed. "So I have to promise to call you Zelda from now on?" Zelda said nothing, merely waiting with her eyes firmly upon him. Link held out for a few moments, but finally he squirmed under the coverlet and let out a sigh of exasperation. "All right, all right! I promise!"

"You promise to call me Zelda and not Princess?" she demanded. "I... promise." "Always?" Link made a miserable face and his long ears even drooped. "I promise!" he sighed. "All right?" Zelda smiled in victory. "See you in a few minutes, Link." She rose to her feet slowly and exited the tent, unable to keep a little swagger out of her walk. Link, alone, watched the tent flap fall closed behind her, and then his dejected expression changed slowly to one of pure evil cunning. He pulled his left hand out of the mess of covers where it had been hidden, and uncrossed his first two fingers. "Gotcha, Princess," he whispered softly, and reached for his clothes. "How is he?" Sofia asked as Zelda left the cool tent and stepped back into the boiling sunlight. The Princess smiled. "We owe his life to these people," she said softly. "He is fine. He is getting dressed now." The red-haired woman frowned. "He should stay in bed." "Don't try and make him," Zelda insisted. "Link will never do what is sensible, trust me." She smiled wryly. "He is as stubborn as I am... although he does not have quite as much common sense." Sofia laughed. "Ah well, it probably will not do him much harm to be up and about!" Zelda smiled with the red-haired woman, and then her expression changed as a thought struck her. "Sofia," she began, "we should talk. About what the Goddess told us." "I thought you would ask me sooner or later," Sofia answered slowly. "You wish to know whether or not I will be accompanying you on your quest." "That was what I was going to ask, yes," Zelda agreed reluctantly. Sofia nodded, and sighed. "I still have not decided. It disturbs me when I think about it. I am sure that fate wanted us to come together... but to leave my homeland, perhaps forever!" She stared down at the ground. "I am afraid," she admitted. "Part of me does not want to go with you at all." "It is not a fair thing to ask of you," Zelda said finally, after a moment's silence. "Sofia, maybe we can find someone who can take your place in the Knighthood. There must be someone else." "I am not sure of that," Sofia sighed. "Zelda, ask me again when we come back to Gaelaidh. First we must present you and Link to my father... and I have to beg his pardon for taking you to the Spirit Temple without consulting him or waiting for his permission." The other woman pulled an uneasy face. "I do not think he will be very pleased." "We will deal with that when we come to it," Zelda promised. "Surely he can be brought to reason. I know something about kings, Sofia--I can help you talk him out of his anger."

"Thank you, Zelda," Sofia smiled. "I would greatly appreciate that. I will tell you this--I certainly will not leave without my father's goodwill. He and I... we do not get along perfectly all the time, but I do love him. He is a good man." Zelda looked around once more, feeling strangely at home in the bivouac of the desert nomads. By Hylian standards these people lived in frightful poverty, barely subsisting upon the edge of the endless sands, yet in their own way they had just as many beautiful things as any Hylian farming family. The tents, now--they were works of outstanding beauty worthy of an incredibly high price in the markets back home, were they sold as cloth. She became aware of the small band of ragged children beside the burnt-out fire. The oldest around eight and the youngest only just walking, the little group stared at her with identical wideeyed expressions of awe. Both boys and girls were naked to the waist, and they had been baked to a warm nut-brown by the white-gold sun. Zelda smiled at them and waved, and shyly one or two waved back. "You do realise that you will probably become a story they will tell to their grandchildren, don't you," Sofia murmured. "Thus history turns in on itself," Zelda said softly. It was another example of the cyclical nature of history--she hoped earnestly that it was not a reminder of how history would turn back to Ganon's time in three hundred years. The tent flap was pushed back and Link stepped yawning out into the sunlight. He was still pale, but he looked nothing like as bad as he had after the cobra's bite. "Farore, it's hot!" he exclaimed, screwing his eyes up against the sun. "How long was I asleep?" Sofia shrugged. "I know not. I could not sit and watch the hourglass; I was busy." Turning her attention to Link once more she looked him up and down critically. "You look good in the desert clothes too," she said thoughtfully. "You are the wrong color, of course, but..." She let her words trail off into a pregnant silence. "But?" Link ventured. The red-haired woman smiled and tossed back a stray strand of her long hair. "Oh, I was just thinking to myself," she answered. "It may be that my father will be more understanding if you two look less like Hylians and more like humans." "Cut his ears off," Zelda suggested. Link did not find this funny. "Well," Sofia laughed, "perhaps you could learn a few words of our language instead. That would surely help you to become accepted in Gaelaidh!" "When should we leave?" Link asked eagerly. Sofia frowned in warning. "Not until you are stronger, Link. We will wait at least a day or two." "I feel fine," Link protested.

"Well, I do not think you are ready for a marathon or a long ride," Sofia responded firmly, "and that is what the journey to Gaelaidh will be. At least we do not have to worry about finding it-Gaelaidh is the only inhabited place in the desert that does not move around with the seasons!" "Does this place have a name?" the green-eyed warrior asked, looking about him and taking in the small settlement for the first time. Sofia shook her head. "They are the tents of the Simani tribespeople," she answered, "but they like all the nomadic peoples carry their home with them." "How did we get here?" Link asked. "I must have fallen asleep..." "You were very close to death for a while," Sofia told him seriously. "You were carried here." "Oh..." Link said quietly, and was silent. Zelda wiped her forehead in search of some relief from the blazing heat--her hand came away wet. "Well, shall we stand here until we are roasted alive, or should we move?" she asked dryly. "If you please, you can go," Sofia smiled. "We have been given the freedom of this place by their leader, so we may enter any of the tents except for his own. I suggest that we go back to the place where you were, Zelda--it is larger than most and will comfortably take three people." "They are very kind to just make room for us all like this," Link said earnestly. "We should tell their chief that we are very thankful for their help." "We will," Sofia said. "I have already spoken with Siman, and he does not speak any Hylian so I will have to interpret--" "Siman of the Simani?" Link interrupted with a smile. Sofia inclined her head. "On accepting the leadership of a tribe, the leader takes the tribe's name as his own. Come now, both of you. Enough talking." Turning she walked back across the smooth ground toward the red-gold tent with the dragon pattern. Scrawny chickens who had been scratching at the ground scattered before her purposeful approach. Zelda waited a moment before following Sofia and Link. Stepping close to the nearest tent she touched the fabric gently, trying to fathom of which substance the beautiful thing had been woven. The young princess could remember many unhappy afternoons in the castle back home, when her nursemaids had tried to teach her weaving and the other arts thought suitable for a lady. Zelda had never managed to complete even the simplest white cloth without getting all the threads in a tangle, snapping the weft and having to reknot it so that lumps appeared in the fabric, and even breaking the shuttle once or twice. Her creations always looked dreadful, and were often speckled with tiny rust-colored spots where she had pricked her finger trying to embroider the things. She wondered thoughtfully what would have happened to her, and what her life would have been like, had she been more adept with the practices of a Royal Princess's lifestyle. "Zelda? Are you coming?" Zelda jumped and relinquished the weave of the tent, letting the heavy material slip gently through her fingers. Looking behind her she saw that Sofia and Link waited for her at the tent flap and she hurried across the hot sandy ground towards them.

She could remember her childhood with crystal clarity, even from the earliest age. Her father, although he was kind and loving without fail when he saw her, was too busy to spend much time talking or playing with his young daughter and so by necessity Zelda was brought up mainly by women. It was a background she shared with most of the female nobility in Hyrule. She had been tutored by women, socialised with women and had been cared for by women. The Royal court was a female-dominated society--let the men play at soldiers, but the womenfolk would stay right at home and manage the kingdom's household affairs. Zelda remembered having to try and socialise with daft frilly creatures like Fellica, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Duke of Lotharia... at one time her father had wanted Zelda to become best friends with Fellica. But all the other girl had ever wanted to talk about was clothes. Dresses! Zelda couldn't stand the thought of it. Dresses with silk, dresses with satin, dresses with pearls and lace, dresses with matching muffs and petticoats... Her friendship with Fellica had lasted one stormy morning, during which time the gentle little Duchess had been reduced to tears and Zelda to stony silence. And now Zelda had to fight and ride with the best of them. She knew that she was weaker and, compared to the others, shamefully unfit. But she had kept up with Sofia and he throughout their first taxing journey, and she could feel her body stronger and leaner than it had ever been. Without any conscious work on her part, she had developed a set of stomach muscles, leaner legs and arms and an endurance to rival most Hylians. There was a pleasant ready feeling to her body. In the past few days Zelda had done so much hard physical exercise that the Gerudo clothes and lifestyle looked positively good on her. If only Fellica or Gwyneth or any of those flighty ladies at court could see her now! She smiled as she ducked through the tent flap into the room where she had woken only a short time ago. Sofia sat cross-legged on the floor and Link followed suit with less grace, flopping down with a groan of relief. The Gerudo garments sat well upon him too, the open vest displaying his smoothly defined muscles and clean lines. The bandage around his chest moved slightly with each breath, and his long red hair, red and golden-streaked now from the sun, curled down his back and around his neck and shoulders like a lion's mane. Zelda realised she was staring and averted her eyes, blushing slightly. She sat down carefully on the floor, her legs together in front of her. "Would either of you two like some food?" Sofia asked. Link grinned. "By Din, yes!" "I would appreciate a drink," Zelda answered, wiping her forehead again. Even in the shade it was far too hot. She knew she had been sunburnt, but she had been so busy she had not even noticed it until it had reached the no-longer-painful peeling stage. Both she and Link were deeply tanned from the desert trek. The red-haired woman jumped to her feet again, seemingly furnished with boundless energy. "I will go and find you something," she said, making for the door. "I know not what they will have for us, but there shall be enough for a meal. They may expect us to help them prepare the evening meal later--that is one of the rules of hospitality among these people." Sofia made a fist against her chest. "If they give you food and you do not repay them, there is a debt of lif-wrahu upon you." "I will not ask what that means," Link said. Sofia laughed. "Yes, that is something I should get around to while we are resting here! Both of you must learn at least some of our language before we have to attend my father the King." She stepped outside once more and let the tent flap fall back into place. Her footsteps, soft upon the sandy ground, receded and were gone.

Zelda leaned forward, clasping her hands around her knees. "Do you realise, Link," she began, "that we're only here because of her?" He nodded. "Sofia seems so much like one of us now," he replied thoughtfully. "I would love to have her as one of the Legendary Knights--she is courageous, strong and self-confident, just what we need!" Zelda sighed. "I still have not prevailed upon her to come, Link." "It must be her choice," Link said with quiet resolve. "If we make her come and she does not truly wish to, she will be unhappy and that will not be good for our goal." The young Princess laughed suddenly. "Why, Link! Whenever did you get so wise?" Link smiled wryly. "Sometime after that snake bit me, I believe." They shared a peal of laughter, expressing their joy at having come so far and their relief at having made it through all the dangers they had faced, intact and without too grievous an injury. Then they regarded each other through new eyes, reassessing their relationship with each other as it now stood. Now after all that they had done, they felt each other more nearly equals--Zelda more adept at the tactics and hardships of survival in a hostile land, and Link less in awe of the young woman who stood to inherit the sovereignty of the land of his birth as well as many others besides. Link found himself becoming less protective, perhaps, but Zelda found herself becoming less of a Princess at the same time. Perhaps in another less desperate time and place, they could have been brother and sister to each other. Still giggling Zelda relaxed on the floor, setting aside any last residue of her Royal selfconsciousness in order to meet him as an equal. "So," she said, mastering her happiness. "What about your shoulder? I saw that you were still feeling ill when you sat down." "It's not a feeling of illness, Zelda," Link sighed. "I just feel tired--as if I could want to sleep forever." He touched his limp right arm. "This is not helping my mood... but I think Sofia is right. I can move my fingers a little already, although I still cannot feel them." "It will come," Zelda said gently. Link reached up and carefully loosened the bandage around his injured shoulder. "It's gone down," he informed the Princess. "It is not painful any more." Shuddering he gently soothed the soft white linen bindings. "The main thing I remember about the ride back from the Temple was the pain... it just got worse and worse until... I must have fallen asleep. I do not remember any of how we ended up here." "You did not miss anything," Zelda smiled. "Tell me about your home in Calatia." "Calatia?" Link said in surprise. "Have you never been there?" "No," she answered. "Much to my regret." The green-eyed warrior frowned. "Well... it is much like Hyrule. The people live off the land. Perhaps Calatia is not quite as fertile as Hyrule, but then few lands are. Hyrule has a perfect position... ringed by mountains, fed by a great river and on a plain which was created from volcanic soil..."

"I know about Hyrule," Zelda interrupted. "What about Calatia?" Link smiled. She was so headstrong sometimes. "Yes, Calatia. Well, I grew up in a small fishing village called Haven, on the shores of Lake Lomere--" "It sounds idyllic already," the Princess interrupted again. "Well, compared to living at North Castle, anyway!" Laughing, Link held his hand up to indicate quiet. "There's some in Haven who would disagree with you there. But how can I tell you anything when you keep interrupting?" "I am sorry, Link," Zelda answered, abashed. "I was always chided for my impatience back home." "Much like me," he replied with a light grin. "My grandfather--you know, the last Hero--always told me off because I kept interrupting his reminiscences to ask questions. He was a grumpy old man, but he told me many fascinating stories about the old times in Hyrule." "Wasn't he the one who had an affair with the Crown Princess?" Zelda asked, alert. She couldn't help enjoying a bit of scandal. Link bit back a laugh. "Not really. That is, he would have married her but things never went his way. So, after a while they parted and he went back to Calatia. He never forgot her, though, and I heard that she never forgot him either. He told me amazing things that he had done with the Princess--once they had to rescue a flying unicorn which Ganon had captured and was using against them, and then there was this time when my grandfather was turned into a frog and had to be kissed to break the spell, but the Princess would not do it!" "Who did, then?" Zelda asked in curiosity. "My grandfather's guardian fairy," Link answered. "Spryte, her name was. When he was the Hero, there were still real fairies living in Hyrule. He used to talk about her a lot, too." The Princess sighed thoughtfully, her cerulean eyes distant. "You must have had a wonderful childhood if your grandfather was the last Hero... all the things he would have taught you, all the things you could have done." Link shook his head sadly. "Not really... He died when I was only seven. He was a very old man when I was born--he left it too late before he married, out of respect for the Princess." "He must have been old," agreed Zelda. "He would have been sixteen or seventeen when Ganon last arose." "He was never sure how long ago it was," Link smiled. "As I said, he was very old." Zelda leaned back against the pallet, it being the only piece of furniture in the tent. Stretching her legs out, she asked, "What of your parents? You have said nothing about them." "That is because there is little to tell," Link answered quietly. "My mother was a simple woman who had lived in the village all her life. As for my father..." The green-eyed warrior sighed. "He was a fisherman. I did not often see a great deal of him, because he was always working out on the lake. When I did, I had the impression of a hard, unimaginitive man who only really cared about getting by. He was, I think, a disappointment to my grandfather--my grandfather was upset about

not siring a legendary Hero." He smiled. "But my father was a good man, and he looked after my mother and I, saw us through some difficult years." "Your parents," Zelda began. "Are they--?" "Still alive?" Link nodded. "Oh yes. And probably furious that I did not stay in Calatia to help my father out with his boat." "I am sorry about pulling you away from your family like that," Zelda said tentatively. Link smiled and waved his hand in the air. "Trust me, Princess, your summons was a blessing. I can think of nothing more boring than spending the summer mending nets and untangling crab lines." "You certainly could not call this boring," Zelda agreed with a smile. "Now," the young warrior said, leaning forward himself, "what about you, Zelda? What was your childhood like?" "O Three," exclaimed Zelda in disgust. "It went so fast I barely noticed it. If you are anyone important to Hyrule--anyone at all!--your life is work, work, work, never a break, never any fun. The only free time I can remember is playing in the gardens with a set of tin soldiers one of the guards gave me. That was a sad story, actually--his little boy died before he was a year old, and so the man was left with the toys he had inherited from his father. He gave me the soldiers when he saw me throw my doll down the well." Link blinked. "You threw a doll down a well?" he asked in bemusement. Zelda shrugged. "My aunt bought it for me for my birthday when I was seven or eight," she explained. "I didn't want a doll, I wanted a bow and arrows. So as soon as she left I dropped it down the well so that my father couldn't make me carry it around and look grateful for it." What a girl, Link thought, unable to resist a smile.

OOD, when it arrived, looked to be enough for six people, let alone three. Sofia entered bearing a wide tray laden with assorted edibles, and a sloshing water skin was looped over her shoulder. With care the red-haired woman knelt upon the sandy floor, flicking her long ponytail over her shoulder with a toss of her head, and set down the heavy tray. "Ooh," Link said in appreciation. Sofia flung down the skin and began to illustrate the contents of their meal. "Corn bread, goat's cheese, this meat is freshly cooked beef ribs, and we also have a little chicken although that is less easy to come by. Two peeled eggs, assorted fruit and nuts, and this is sherbet, a traditional sweet

among these people." She smiled and pulled the full skin forward. "Oh, and they have procured wine from somewhere." "Wine!" said Zelda in surprise. "I did not know that your people drank it!" "You thought we survived on water?" Sofia smiled. "Well, I suppose we do survive on water at that, but we can brew alcoholic drinks also. I am afraid that it will not be quite what you are used to--it comes not from grapes but from crushed loganberries. A little sweet for your tastes, perhaps, but it does get you drunk the same way." With a smile, Sofia gestured at the full tray. "Well... go ahead." They set to with a will. A surprisingly short time later, the tray was almost empty. It had been the first real meal any of them had had for over two days, and the simple home-cooked food was both nourishing and extremely good. Zelda shocked herself by eating almost a third of the meat and bread herself, although Link demanded and got the lion's share. Sofia ate comparably sparingly, helping herself to the cheese and fruit but refusing any meat, although even her portion of the meal would have been seen as excessive by Hylian standards. "I could learn to enjoy this life," Link said thoughtfully. Sofia shook her head. "You are not always guaranteed a supply of food living in the western realms, Link. These people come upon hard times just like you do... and if the rains do not come then their animals will die and leave them without all but that which they can hunt or gather." She set aside her cup and leaned forward, meeting the Princess's eyes with her own. "Tell me about the Legendary Knights." "What would you like to know?" Zelda countered. "Anything you see fit to tell me," Sofia answered. "I know little yet, save that they fought against Ganon and had magical amulets to help them!" The Princess frowned in thought. "We know very little ourselves, Sofia. The Knighthood is shrouded in secrecy. In the Book of Mudora there are warnings against trying to bring together all six Knights, though why I do not know. All I have found is a footnote which speaks of corruption. "From the beginning the Knighthood was a secret affair--founded, it is said, by the Hero of Time, who knew in his enlightened wisdom that Ganon would return to Hyrule in three hundred years. He prepared for the return of Ganon by hand-choosing four great warriors of the races of Hyrule. With the addition of himself, it made up five. Legends do tell of a sixth Knight, one to wield the Power of Darkness, but whoever he or she was he was lost. I think it likely that the sixth Knight was a Sheikah priestess, just as the Sage of Shadow was." Sofia sighed. "Well, I am little wiser than I was before I asked!" "You know everything we do," Zelda answered with a wry smile. "There is nothing more in the books I have access to--had access to," she amended. "I am not in my father's house now." "Obviously," the red-haired woman said with a wry look. Link stifled a yawn.

"Tired?" Sofia suggested. The young warrior nodded slowly. "I do not like being weak... I am not tired enough to sleep." "Yes you are," the red-haired woman said sternly. "It was only yesterday that you were bitten, and recovery sometimes takes up to a week. With the amount of venom you ingested, I would be very surprised if you recovered in a day." Sofia sat beside the pallet and shook out the coverlet. "Rest for a while longer, Link--we will come for you when you are needed." It seemed that Link would balk at the prospect of further enforced rest, but he capitulated after a moment, going over to the pallet and lying down carefully on his back. He could not hide a wince as he did so. "Come, Zelda," Sofia murmured, taking the Princess gently by the arm. "Let us leave him to sleep a while longer--I will take you to speak with Siman." "I'm not tired!" Link called after them as they left the tent. Sofia smiled and shook her head slowly in a gesture of amused despair. The sun had continued quite a way upon its journey through the sky. Now it was not so unbearably hot, although there still was a deal of heat shimmering over the sandy ground and in front of the far off mountains. Now the little camp was populated by people, short-eared and longlimbed with skins the smooth brown of chocolate--people who had frozen in the act of whatever they were doing to turn and look at the golden-haired spirit in their midst. The slender Hylian princess felt rather uncomfortable under their awed stares, although she had been stared at before when with her father on royal walkabouts. Mastering herself she smiled at the little gathering. Sofia laid a hand on Zelda's shoulder then, and said to the assembly, "Heo naman Zelda." There were slow nods and murmurs of approval, and then some of the tribesmen resumed their work. The children, seemingly frozen to the spot, did not. "What did you say?" Zelda asked. The red-haired woman smiled. "I merely told them your name. It was not a name like theirs--that is what they wanted. They want to see you as a being from another world." "I think I am," Zelda said in soft wonder. "This place is nothing like Hyrule." Sofia nodded. "From what you have said, your world is very different. But if we keep up the mystery, they may well wish to escort us back to Gaelaidh, or at least help us to within sight, and that is a good thing." She halted in front of the largest tent, woven of a black and red pattern of scorpions and strange geometric shapes, and waited. "Siman's tent," she explained in an undertone. "What are those for?" Zelda asked, indicating what appeared to be long ox horns atop the construction. "An honour to their gods," the other woman answered quietly. "They follow an older religion than any of us." A word was barked from within, and Sofia pulled back the flap. "You first, Zelda," she murmured. Zelda stepped forward into the cool darkness of the tent.

Link sighed and rested his hand behind his head. Now that he was lying down he did not even feel sleepy any more. Restless, he shifted and rolled onto his side, then looked at his right arm which lay on the pallet before him. The skin was cloudy with bruises. A frown of concentration spread across the young warrior's face--his fingers curled into a loose fist then relaxed again. He bent his wrist and then his elbow--the muscles were sluggish to respond, but finally did as he pleased. His arm was still numb. He closed his eyes and then sent the impulse to his fingers to close. He could not tell whether they obeyed him. He opened his eyes and saw that his fingers had closed, but now relaxed as he took his mind off the action of closing. He sighed. Sitting up again he yawned and pushed the bedcovers away. It was far too hot to think of covering up, anyway. Even in the light Gerudo garments he could feel the heat and sweat upon his skin. It struck him then that this bed was where the Princess had slept earlier. Feeling suddenly uncomfortable in his relaxed position, he sat up shaking back his long red-brown hair and swung his legs onto the floor. There was a rustle near the doorway. Link turned his head and saw one of the nomad children staring at him in wide-eyed awe. He guessed it was a boy, although it was not easy to tell as both boys and girls dressed alike and had more or less the same hair. He raised his good hand and waved at the child, and then said, "Hello." The little boy looked at him without any understanding. He made a move to get up, and the dark little face vanished from the doorway, the tent flap swinging back into position. Link stood and made for the door. There was a scattering of sudden footsteps as he ducked out into the late afternoon sunlight. The little boy stood ten or eleven paces away, holding Link's own rosewood bow in one small fist and a white swan-feathered arrow in the other. "Hey, that's mine!" Link exclaimed and took a few steps toward the boy. The child's muscles tensed as he prepared to turn tail and flee. Link shook his head and smiled. "I won't hurt you!" He supposed he must look rather intimidating, the strange warrior from a far land. The little boy gazed at him for a long moment, then turned away and clumsily fitted the arrow to the string. He tried to draw it back, but the short bow was too strong for him and he managed only a couple of inches draw. The arrow slipped slightly from his small fingers and he fumbled in trying to get it back where it had been without losing his draw. Unable to resist a smile, Link strode over to the child while he was thus occupied. "No, no," he said, taking the bow from the astonished boy, "you're doing it wrong. Look, do it like this." He demonstrated, bending his knee a little and fitting the nock of the arrow to the string. Holding the bow horizontally at arms' length, he drew--his numb right arm felt strange and unfamiliar, as if it was not a part of him, but it held--and sighted along the length of the arrow. Relaxing his hold upon the bow, he placed it and the arrow back into the boy's hands, and turning pointed at a palm tree only ten paces away. "See if you can hit that," he suggested, kneeling beside the boy. Although his words were not those which the tribespeople understood, the meaning of his gesture was clear. The boy bent his knee as Link had done, then hefted the bow and nocked the arrow onto the string. Link watched, and then reached out and corrected the boy's stance. Startled the little boy looked up into the green eyes of the warrior, then he smiled shyly. "Go on," Link said, indicating the tree once more. "Sight first." He placed his hand under the arrow and lifted its iron nose up a little. The boy squinted along the arrow's shaft as he drew back, his thin arms trembling with the strain. "Now," Link ordered, and the boy released the arrow with a loud twang. The swan-feathered shaft, crafted in faraway Hyrule, flew through the air with a hiss and eagerly buried itself in a target. But it was not the target Link had hoped for! With a ripping sound the arrow bit through the wall of a nearby tent some four paces from the intended

tree, and there was a hollow thud of it hitting something hard within. A blistering stream of Gerudo invective poured out of the tent flap, followed swiftly by a furious old woman, brandishing a wooden pot with the arrow buried in its flank. "Oh dear," Link lamented, trying not to laugh. "Very sorry, milady!" He trotted up and made appeasing gestures, indicating that he would like the arrow back. Seemingly not pausing for breath in her torrent of fearsome-sounding curses, the old woman yanked out the arrow and flung it down at his feet before turning and flouncing back inside. Picking up the arrow, Link inspected it for damage and found none. He turned back to his young pupil and found that there was a group of six assorted youngsters all watching and waiting excitedly. "What?" he asked. "You all want to learn?" Well, he thought, looking at their hopeful faces, it could do little harm to show them the basics. Although it might be wise to take them away from anything breakable first. It took Zelda's eyes a few moments to adjust, for the black tent of Siman let in little sunlight. Unlike the others, this tent was more or less rectangular so that the length of the room stretched out before her. A fire burned in the center of the room and illuminated the creature squatting upon the mat at the far end. With his dark skin adorned with blue paint and designs and his head shorn of hair, he was barely recognisable as the same species as Sofia. He wore the same white trousers and leather vest as the rest of the males Zelda had seen, but was additionally garbed with a great number of brass anklets and decorative chains. "This is Siman, overlord of the Simani," Sofia murmured, standing beside the Princess. The alarming figure upon the grass mat stood up slowly and majestically, jingling with ankle-rings, and spoke in a deep inflected tongue. "He says," Sofia explained, leaning close, "that he is honored by the presence of the Lady from the East." "Tell him that I am honored also by his hospitality," Zelda replied, falling back on court etiquette. Sofia conferred with the painted man and then turned back to the Princess, her amber eyes gleaming golden in the firelight. "Siman asks you and your consort to join his people in their evening meal tonight. His words, not mine, Zelda!" -as she began to object. "They will have a special feast to celebrate your presence among them." The red-haired woman smiled then. "He also asks that you tell him what it is like to live beyond the stars. He believes you are a spirit too." "That could be a dangerous misunderstanding," Zelda sighed. "Tell him it is like this land but greener." Sofia nodded and relayed to Siman the Princess's words. "He asks if you are great among your people," she reported. The Princess frowned, alarm bells beginning to ring. "Sofia, are these people honorable?" she asked. "Of course," the red-haired woman replied a little stiffly. "You do not need to fear from them." Zelda nodded. "Very well. Tell him that I am the daughter of the King of Hyrule." "I'll tell him you are the daughter of the King of the land beyond the mountains," Sofia corrected. "We do not know the word "Hyrule"." She spoke with the chieftain once again, and then he stepped off his mat and gestured to a tray which had been placed before the fire, speaking once more in the Gerudo tongue. "He asks if you will partake of a delicacy they have collected for you,"

Sofia explained. "Please try it if you possibly can--it will greatly please them, and the preparation of the dish takes a long time. It is a great mark of respect that they offer it to you." The Princess stared at the objects on the tray, which appeared to be some kind of round white balls specked with seeds or tiny pieces of bark, steeped in honey. "What are they?" she asked cautiously. "Mîn geomor," Sofia answered. "Fire ants baked in flour and sesame oil." "Sofia, I can't," Zelda whispered frantically. The red-haired woman shook her head slowly. "It really would please him, Zelda. And you may even like them if you try them." "We do not eat insects!" Zelda complained. "The very idea makes me feel sick!" "Well, if you will not, you will not," Sofia said quietly. "Tell him that." Zelda looked at Siman. The tribal leader seemed expectant. With a sigh, she reached down and picked up one of the little dumplings. "I'll try," she told Sofia. The other woman smiled. Closing her eyes Zelda bit into the dumpling, tasting flour and a strong sesame essence. Something inside was crunchy, like large poppy seeds, and there was a faintly sharp and lemony taste upon her tongue. She chewed and swallowed, then smiled weakly at Sofia and Siman. Siman chuckled deeply, then reached down and took a dumpling himself. The tribal leader chewed the food with gusto, smacking his lips. He swallowed most of his in one gulp while Zelda nibbled on the peculiar hors d'oeuvre. She felt herself recovering some of her poise and confidence already, and the "mîn geomor" was actually palatable, as long as she didn't think too hard about the crunchiness between her teeth. It would make an interesting thing to tell the others back home, she thought--she wondered what Fellica would think of the idea of ant cakes. Maybe she should ask for the recipe so she could find out... Siman rattled off a long stream of convoluted syllables that came out half-clogged by food. Sofia listened intently and then turned to Zelda once more. "He thanks you for accepting his hospitality and hopes that you will put in a good word for his people. He also wishes to know where you are heading, and whether you will consent to accept a few small gifts from his clan." Zelda nodded. "Well, I imagine that we are heading back to Gaelaidh, and then Link and myself will be thinking of ways to return to Hyrule--I have to make peace with my own father, Sofia! ...What gifts? Should we accept them? You know more than I about these people." "They will be offended if you do not accept them," Sofia told her. "Hospitality is a matter of tribal pride among the nomadic peoples. I don't know what they will give you, but I imagine that it will be substantial!" Frowning, the Princess shook back her golden hair--a habit she had when under stress. "Well, I do not like to accept charity," she began, "but if it is expected we should do as he wishes us to." "Good," Sofia nodded, and relayed the information to the chief. Smiling widely and revealing a set of excellent teeth, Siman stood up straight with a jangle of jewellery and took Zelda's hand in his own. She felt slightly alarmed as her small fingers were swallowed up by the human chieftain's great fist, but he clasped her hand with every indication of the utmost friendliness, ceremonially shaking her arm up and down before releasing her.

"We are dismissed," Sofia informed the Princess. "He looks forward to meeting you again tonight." The green-eyed warrior was surrounded by six avid young pupils as he sat cross-legged on the ground, stripping the severed branch of a young mahogany tree with a short bone-handled knife he had borrowed. Link was showing the village children how to construct a small bow strong enough to kill rodents and low-flying birds--something he had done many a time during his childhood back home. He spoke as he worked, although he was aware that none of them could understand a word he said. "...and then you have to test the branch to make sure there's no rot in it. See, bend it like this, gently from side to side. If it's weak it will break. Then, round off the bow arms like this so that there's a thin place just before the end. You have to make a niche there and that will be the place where the bowstring goes." Deft little hands copied his movement on anything that came to hand--palm bark, pieces of stick or the hems of trousers. Link picked up the coil of string that lay ready beside him and knotted the end into a loop. This he slipped over one haft of the pliant young branch, stretched tight and tied around the other end, cutting the leftover neatly with his knife. He hefted the little bow and then picked up one of the small darts he had carved beforehand. There were no suitable feathers to hand to wing the arrow, and in any case fletching was a skill that took many years to acquire. If the feathers were laid poorly strange effects could be observed, from dramatic midair spinning to the arrow curving in its flight, and even swooping straight up into the air to return swiftly and hit the shooter. "It's ready," he said, and held the bow out to them. Eagerly the children grasped for it and after a slight scuffle one of the larger ones emerged victorious. With a whoop of joy the child snatched the bow and dart and raced off between the tents, followed by its companions who shouted at its heels in hope of regaining the toy. "You seem to be popular," Zelda said with a smile. He turned to see the Princess and the redhaired Gerudo standing and watching him. Feeling slightly self-conscious Link stood and brushed the bark and wood shavings off his clothes. "Well met, Princess," he said formally. Sofia raised an eyebrow. "Didn't I tell you to go to bed?" Link thought for a moment. "Yes," he admitted. "Why?" Smiling, she shook her head. "Why indeed. Why aren't you there?" "I could not sleep," he said stiffly. "And then one of them had my bow, so I showed him how to use it and then they all wanted a go, and one thing led to another..." The red-haired woman watched the children as they sorted out between themselves who should have possession of the bow and arrow. The lucky recipient of the toy drew and aimed at an unlucky kangaroo mouse which hopped about on the stones at the edge of the camp, searching for seeds with its long sensitive snout. "It looks as if you have started a new craze, Link," Sofia said laughing. "Their parents will be furious with them if they damage anything." Link shrugged. "I do not think that they will be stupid enough to aim at each other, and that older lad seems to know what he is doing. Besides, you never know, it might be useful to them." He

smiled, his heart in the land of his parents. "I remember spending many happy days aiming at trees and bluejays with a bow just like that one." "It will soon be sundown," Sofia said, looking at the sky which was now the deep afternoon blue of the tropical sea. "We should help our guests prepare the evening meal, if we can." She snapped her fingers suddenly, and withdrew a long dagger from her belt. "Here, Link, the Goddess wanted you to have this in replacement for your sword." Link accepted the serpentine dagger with care, holding it up to make the sunlight play along the smooth tapering blade and glint upon the singly wrought emerald scales of the hilt. "It is a beautiful blade," he said in amazement. Lifting the dagger he swung it several times cutting air, and then slipped the weapon through his own belt. "I am thankful to the Goddess," he said quietly, "for this is far superior to my old sword!" "Was it your grandfather's sword?" Zelda asked. He shook his head. "My grandfather had a weapon that could shoot magical bolts--I don't know where it was stored, or what happened to it when he died. I bought my old blade from a traveling merchant. It was the best I could afford at the time." Link smiled wistfully. "It was nothing magical, nothing special, just a sword, but I will miss it anyway!" "It met as good an end as it could," Sofia comforted him. "Look, Link! There is a job for you--Che is fetching wood for the fire." She pointed to where a young dark-skinned man with a bronze torc carried logs to the site of last night's blaze. Link mock-scowled and trotted over to offer his services as a wood-carrier. He grinned at the human man and then picked up a heavy chunk of palm wood. The other young man looked startled and then grinned back, flashing his perfect white teeth. They bared teeth at each other for a few moments, then Che slapped the elven warrior on the shoulder and bent to pick up his own load. The two young men set to work side by side, already the best of friends, without a single word being exchanged between them. "We should lend our own hands soon," Sofia said to Zelda, "but first, I would like to teach you a little of my language. It would be good if you could learn some before we returned to Gaelaidh, for my father will be more inclined to listen to you." "All right," Zelda answered. "Teach me." Sofia nodded. "Repeat after me. Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel." "Meh thin mod-sef..." Zelda tried, stuttering. "No, no. Me þin. Don't say "th"," Sofia corrected her. "There is no "th" in our language! It is more of a-" She made a soft lisping noise through her teeth. Zelda took a deep breath. "Meh thin..." She dissolved into giggles. "Oh, I cannot say it!" "Try again," the red-haired woman suggested. "It took me a long time to learn your double L, but I got it more or less right in the end!" "You mean like "Gan bwyll y mae mynd ymhell,"?" Zelda questioned. "Gan bwy..." Sofia swore. "I could have sworn I had it perfect."

They laughed together as they wandered through the camp, trying to make the sounds of each other's language, so different in their ears. Still spitting out nonsense syllables, they accepted the invitation of a tribeswoman to sit and shell hard fruit in preparation for some kind of stew. Sofia listened to and translated the instructions for Zelda, roaring with laughter when the Princess tried to repeat the difficult phrases and got it hopelessly wrong. When the elderly tribeswoman joined in in the Simani dialect, peeling tubers at the same time as trying to repeat Zelda's words, they ended up speaking in three different languages and understanding little of any of them. The promised dinner threatened to dissipate in gales of laughter until someone else stuck their head out of a tentflap and spat threatening phrases at them. Sofia informed Zelda that the essential meaning of the invective was "Keep the noise down". "I warn you, Sofia," Zelda began, "and tell her too: I have never in my life attempted to cook anything before." Sofia grinned, and relayed the information to the old woman, who hooted derisively and then reached out to grasp Zelda's hand and squeeze it to show that no harm was intended. The Princess smiled despite herself. "Can you ask her what her name is?" "Asira," Sofia informed the Princess after exchanging another stream of words. "She also says that she is four score and nine years old and has never seen anyone with hair like spun gold before." The old woman reached out again and took a strand of Zelda's long hair between her horny fingers, rubbing it gently. "Eighty-nine?" Zelda said in amazement. The old woman presented every sign of advanced age, yet in Hylian terms she was in the prime of life. Here was firsthand evidence of the difference between the Gerudo and Hylian span of life. "Tell her that..." "Must I always be your translator?" Sofia said with a smile. "I think that until I can say three of your words without stuttering, you will have to," Zelda sighed. They were soon finished with the task, and the old woman scooped the fruits of their labor into a wicker basket and carried it off somewhere. Sofia and Zelda remained sitting together upon the mat, no longer speaking but each lost in their own thoughts. Zelda looked at her hands. When she had started out upon the journey that had led her and Link to the western realms, she had had well-cared for hands as any lady of the Royal House must. Now, they filled her with horror. Her nails were splitting and roughened by the abrasive effects of sand, and her soft palms had hardened to the reins and to constant use. She had nicked herself several times with the knife while removing the tough husks from the small green fruit, and the small cuts added to the general effect. Her hands looked like those of a hard-working peasant nowadays. Ah well, she thought. She was well aware that there were changes all over her. Link perhaps had not changed quite as much... no, save for the obvious, like the spectacular tan from the desert trek, he was hardly scruffier than he had been when she first set eyes on him. Adversity ran off the young warrior like water off a duck's back... or was it merely that he had never looked tidy, and so the wilderness could do little to him? She yawned. "Oh... I am too tired, Sofia." "I must admit, I am exhausted myself," the other woman admitted. "I will have trouble staying awake for supper."

"It smells like it is almost ready," Zelda said, sniffing. Indeed, a scent of roasting meat and spices was floating on the air, and she could hear the crackling of a great fire. "Will I be expected to eat any more... delicacies?" she asked cautiously. "I know not whether there will be any more," Sofia said, and smiled. "Mîn geomor are a rare dish, Princess, usually reserved for very special occasions. I suppose there may be mîn gedufan or ferhwearde, but... ah, it depends whether you mean delicacies or ants," she finished with a grin. "I think I meant ants," Zelda laughed. She lay back upon the sandy ground, her hands behind her head, and looked up at the deepening sky. A warm pink glow reached out from the western horizon, and above her head the cloudless heavens were the color of deep water shot through with violets. She closed her tired eyes and relaxed against the hard surface beneath her, feeling the warmth from the ground replacing the loss of warmth in the cooling evening air. Her sharp ears caught the sound of people laughing, people talking, people gathering around the fire, and the soft scratching of a desert mouse as it searched for food... "Zelda, wake up." She was being shaken. She opened her eyes and was startled to see that the sky had deepened to blue-black velvet, and the first stars were beginning to appear in the darkening night, their light pale as they gathered their strength. Sofia shook her again and she pushed the other woman away. "I'm awake." "Dinner," the red-haired woman informed her, and got to her feet. "Ouch--stiff." Zelda winced in sympathy as she heard Sofia's knees crack. Stretching her arms and legs, Sofia shook her long ponytail over her shoulder and looked down at the recumbent Princess. "Well, shall we go?" "All right," Zelda yawned, rolling over. "I cannot believe that I just fell asleep on the ground." "Well, you did," Sofia smiled. "Aren't you hungry?" "Strangely after such a large lunch, I am." Zelda blinked twice and then stood up, stretching as Sofia had done. They passed between the tents and came upon the cooking fire which had burned all afternoon. Now everyone seemed to be there, eighteen to twenty adults and children sitting in the circular space at the center of the camp. Link, sitting with the young nomad Che, saw them and waved. "Over here!" He already had a full plateful of food, Zelda noticed with a smile. Che was talking animatedly to Link in his own tongue, and every few moments Link interrupted him in Hylian. It was obvious that neither of them had any idea what the other was talking about, but they seemed to be getting on very well. Zelda made her way through the crowd and found a space next to Link to sit down in. She was promptly handed a clay dish laden with a hunk of roasted beef, vegetables in some kind of spicy sauce and a lump of something white and not immediately identifiable. "Thank you," she said absentmindedly, and turned to Link. "This is great fun!" Link said enthusiastically, waving his hands in the air. "I could stay here forever!" "I hope not," Zelda answered seriously. "We have to head back to Gaelaidh soon. You look a lot better, though."

He made a fist with his right hand. "It's still numb, though..." Che said something to him and Link answered cheerfully, "Is that right?" Turning back to Zelda he said, "He showed me the whole place after I finished with the wood, Princess. Did you know they've-" "Wait a minute," interrupted Zelda, scowling. "I thought you had promised me you wouldn't call me that any more!" "Did I?" Link said in surprise. Then he laughed, held up his left hand, and crossed the first two fingers. "Why, you--!" The princess seethed. The evening drew on, and the feasting slowed as everyone, even the most ardent of eaters, had their fill. The roasted carcass of the young cow that had been slaughtered was picked almost clean, and the children were asleep upon the ground. Link saw that his little bow and arrow had not strayed from the hand of the oldest boy since he had given the toy to them, and he smiled. There was a weight upon his good shoulder, a pressure that had been there for some time but which he had not noticed. Che laughed and said something in his own tongue, pointing, and Link looked down to see Zelda asleep against his shoulder. Her blonde hair had come loose from its tie and flowed around her sweet face like molten gold. The murmur of conversation had lulled the Princess to sleep. Sofia was nowhere to be seen. Link smiled, and then yawned--the day had taken its toll upon him also. "Well, Che," he said cheerfully, "it seems that it is time to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow, maybe?" The other young man laughed again, murmuring soft words as he touched Zelda's golden hair. "Fare well," Link said yawning, and he stood and lifted the sleeping Princess to carry her out of the dissolving circle. He took the Princess to the tent where she had slept that morning, and gently laid her fully clothed upon the pallet. Kneeling beside her Link touched her cheek gently with the back of his forefinger, and then he slipped out of the tent flap, letting it fall behind him. Perhaps another time he would have woken her, but tonight he wished only to let her sleep, and to rest himself. Tomorrow, he knew, they would be heading back to Gaelaidh, and maybe that evening they would be in Hyrule once more--the adventure in the Western Desert was almost at an end. Of course, he was wrong.

INK yawned and forced his eyes open against the sun. "Not morning already," he moaned and threw his arm over his face, turning onto his stomach so that the light did not shine onto his closed eyelids. He still felt stuffed from last night, and a headache gnawed at his temples like a hungry animal. With a sigh the young warrior sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. The tent flap had been incorrectly tied last night, and the bright band of sunlight which had awakened him was streaming through a wide gap in the richly woven fabric, stippling the sandy floor of the tent. He

was disoriented for a moment, until he remembered where they were and the events of the past few days. And today... Link threw back the covers and got to his feet. Today was the day they returned to Gaelaidh and, hopefully, headed home! Tonight they could be back in Hyrule for a well-earned rest. It was as hot as ever, though an instinct told him it was yet only early morning. Last night he had gone to sleep in his clothes, pausing only to take off the leather vest before throwing himself down upon the blankets. He picked up the discarded garment and shook sand out of it--the cursed stuff got everywhere. And he was sure that sand had gotten into his bandage as well; either that or Gerudo bandages got pricklier the longer they were worn. Link grimaced and flexed his fingers... still weak, still numb. It seemed that he would have to live with the sensation, at least for a little while. Carefully he pulled the end of the bandage loose and unwound it, suppressing a wince as the soft material peeled away. Sure enough, a quantity of sand fell from the folds as he removed the dressing. Underneath he was surprised to find that his shoulder and right side were spectacularly bruised. His ribs ached when he breathed in deeply, and the bite itself was a nasty puncture wound clotted with dark blood. It felt better to have the cool air on it, though. Link let the bandage fall and shrugged on the Gerudo leather vest. The desert clothes were definitely more comfortable than his old tunic had been on the trek and he was glad of the comfort afforded by lighter garments. Yawning he slipped his feet into his leather sandals. Stepping out into the bright morning sunlight Link came face to face with the embarrassed Che, who had seemingly been standing outside to listen. "Hello," he said by way of greeting, and the young nomad responded with a few friendly words in his own tongue. "I wish you could understand Hylian," Link remarked cheerfully. Che grinned and made a vaguely interrogative noise, then he pointed to Link's shoulder and pulled a painful face. "Ealu-scerwen," he remarked with an exaggerated wince. "Hurt?" Link suggested. "It did, a little." He mimicked the young nomad's wince and touched his wound. "Ouch," he said. "Ouch!" Che responded with a wide grin, and laughed, clapping the warrior on the (undamaged) shoulder. "þe wildeor, leo." Reaching into a leather bag that hung by a strap from his own shoulder he grasped something securely and drew it out, holding it out to Link. It was a big, dusky kitten, only a few weeks old, still striped with the dark brown splashes that would mar its pale gold coat until it was old enough to live alone. Che dangled the kitten by the scruff of its neck, proffering it to the young warrior. Link grinned in amazement and touched the kitten on its round pink nose; it blinked a pair of saucer-shaped topaz eyes and mewed loudly. "Wow!" he said, smiling at Che. "þe wildeor," Che insisted, gently pushing the young animal into the warrior's arms. "You want me to have it?" Link asked. "I couldn't!" "þe wildeor," Che said gently. "Ge-sellan, Link." "Many thanks, Che!" Link exclaimed, and held the cat close to him. It purred and snuzzled into his chest enjoying the warmth of his body. Che grinned at him again and shrugged his now considerably lighter bag onto his shoulder; touching Link's wound once more the nomad bared his teeth in a friendly gesture and strode off

across the sand to disappear inside another tent. Link held the kitten up to examine it properly; it was the size of a buck rabbit and surprisingly heavy, with comical outsized paws and ears. The kitten showed no fear and no alarm at being picked up and held, mewing softly and batting playfully at his face with its big soft paws. "What'll I call you?" Link murmured, cradling the kitten in his good arm and stroking the top of its furry head. "Link?" He turned and saw Zelda peering out of the flap of her own tent. "What's that you have?" Tucking the kit under his arm, the young warrior trotted across the sandy ground to show the Princess his present. "Look, Che just gave him to me! Isn't he great?" He held the kitten up as Che had done so that Zelda could take a good look. "It is very sweet," Zelda said with a smile, "but it's not a he." Link blinked and turned the kit round again. "Hmm, so it isn't. Oh well. What should I call her, then?" "It's up to you," the Princess smiled. Sofia appeared around the corner of the tents. "How are you feeling, Link?" she asked. "Fine, thanks," Link smiled. "And Che gave me a cat!" He bounced the kitten up and down in his arms, thrilled with his new pet. A smile spread across Sofia's dark features. "A sand cat," she said, reaching out to rub the base of the kit's big ears. "Che must have trapped it in a rabbit snare or something similar. He probably gave it to you in payment for the bow you made the children--it is their way always to repay gifts. You're a very lucky man, Link! Few people ever have the honor of raising one." "How big will she grow?" Link asked. "Big enough to bring down a deer," Sofia said with a laugh. "As long as you can feed her enough!" "I'll look after her better than her mother ever could," Link promised happily. "Will she be all right if I take her back to Hyrule?" The Gerudo woman shrugged. "They don't have to live in the desert, but they are more comfortable in a hot climate. If you're going to take her to live somewhere cold, you should make sure that she is kept warm at least until she has grown." "Are we okay to leave?" Zelda asked. "I don't want to spoil your day, Link, but we should be thinking of returning to Hyrule as soon as we can now. My father is probably having kittens himself by now!" Sofia stared at the Princess in confusion, obviously unfamiliar with the phrase. "Well, I feel fine," Link said cheerfully. "And I mean it this time!" "Sofia?" the Princess asked, glancing at the other woman. Sofia flicked her twist of red hair back over her shoulder and then smiled. "I am ready. They have fed and watered our horses, so we can leave any time. But we should say farewell to Siman first." "And thank him for all his kindness," Zelda said.

Sofia spoke to the chieftain in the darkness of his tent, while Link and Zelda waited outside in the bright sunlight. Their morale had improved beyond bounds during their short stay in the nomadic camp, and though neither of them mentioned it they both knew that they would be sad to leave the peaceful life of the desert people. Link squatted upon the sandy ground and played with his kitten. It was only a short time before the tent flap parted once more and Sofia exited, followed by the powerful form of the chieftain Siman. In the sunlight he was even more intimidating, a head and shoulders taller than the Princess and jangling discordantly with ankle-rings, but his face was kind and his eyes bright. Zelda turned and bowed slightly to the chieftain, and Link stood up quickly with the sand kitten in his arms. Siman's lips drew back from his teeth in a wide smile as he laid his hands on Zelda's shoulders and reverently embraced her. The finality of his gesture left her in no doubt that Siman was giving her his farewell. Next Siman took Link's hand in his and shook it gravely, rumbling a few words in his guttural tongue. The young warrior smiled and said simply: "Thanks for everything." Siman's smile widened even further, if that were possible. The chieftain turned to Sofia and spoke, and she listened carefully, nodding. "He says," she translated for them, "that he has taken the liberty of replenishing our possessions, and he hopes that we will be pleased to accept his gifts in payment for our company. He speaks for his tribe when he says that it has been an honor receiving us, and he hopes that we will come back and visit his people again some day." "We'll definitely try," Zelda smiled. Link's kitten mewed loudly as if in agreement, and they all laughed. "This way," Sofia said gently, taking the Princess's upper arm. "Come on, Link." Siman ducked back inside his tent as the three companions walked across the warm white sand together. Sofia led them around the back of the camp to a small wooden pen where a number of gaunt horses browsed on the straggly grass. Their own three animals were clearly visible with their richly embroidered saddles and harnesses; the saddlebags now bulged with objects, presumably Siman's gifts to them. Sofia vaulted over the fence and took hold of her horse's bridle, leading the animal toward the swinging gate at the end of the miniature corral. Link and Zelda followed suit. "What in the name of Farore has he given us?" Zelda asked in amazement, wondering at the full bags. Reaching up she untied the thong that bound one of them, and peeked inside to see a rich swathe of heavily embroidered cloth. "Oh, Sofia, this is too much!" the Princess exclaimed, a lump in her throat. "They have given us far too much already!" "We've already accepted their gift," the red-haired woman pointed out. "What do you think it would look like if we gave it back now?" Zelda sighed. "I suppose you're right. But I would have been more than satisfied had they merely given us something to eat and sent us on our way. This is more than ever I expected." "These are kindly people," Sofia smiled. "They would say that they have already been paid with your presence." Link climbed into the saddle, still clumsy with his right arm. Sitting up alertly on the horse's brown-and-white splashed back he sat the little sand kitten before him on the saddle; the horse laid its ears back at the smell of the predator, but was well enough trained not to object to such a young and inoffensive animal. "Well, shall we go?" he suggested, taking the reins in his good hand.

"They've all turned out to watch us go!" exclaimed Zelda as she caught sight of the throng that had assembled by the animals' pen. Even the children were there; Link's little toy bow and arrow was still clutched in the hands of one of them. Sofia was also mounted by this time. "Come, Zelda," she said quietly. "I do not wish to leave this place any more than you do, but we must go." "I'm ready," Zelda answered, but she waved to the Simani before she set her foot into the stirrup of her mount. A barrage of shouts and whistles followed them across the desert air as Sofia led the way over the white sand towards Gaelaidh, and at least a few of the tribespeople stayed to watch their visitors out of sight. Finally a tall dune hid the nomads' camp from sight, and Link and Zelda turned their attention back to the way they were headed, across the dunescape towards the endless horizon. With fresh horses, and full of good food, they made excellent progress, cantering steadily over the hard compacted sand beneath the blue sky. The desert seemed to change from day to day, for now there was no sign of any sand in the air and the ground underfoot was no longer gold but pure bone-white. The surface of the desert was tough yet springy, a feeling almost akin to riding over short spring grass in Hyrule, and the horses were able to maintain a comfortable pace with little effort. The endless dunes rolled out beneath the companions' hooves. "How far do we have to go?" Link asked after a while, shielding his eyes as he peered ahead into the glare. "I do not see any signs of a city yet!" "It is not far," Sofia informed him with a smile. "Gaelaidh has a habit of creeping up on you unawares! You may not see it because of the heat-haze, but we shall reach it before the sun passes overhead." The light and heat that bore down upon them sprang from their left, at an angle which suggested a time of ten o'clock or thereabouts. "Good," Zelda exclaimed. Reaching into one of the saddlebags she drew out a small green cloth and mopped her forehead with it. "Three, it's hot," she sighed. "Not as bad as the last time we were out here, but still hot." "It's the desert," Sofia said wryly. "What do you expect?" The red-haired woman sighed softly and looked out over the dunes, her eyes far away. "Is it very much cooler where you live?" she asked thoughtfully. "Depends where we live!" Link said with a laugh. "It's pretty warm in Calatia, but not like this. We have no desert in my homeland--I live on the shore of a lake. Hyrule Town, where Zelda lives, is in the north of the realm, so the temperature there is lower and they have snow in winter. Then there's Lotharia, which is as far north as anyone's ever been, and there's ice and snow there all the time, even in the middle of summer." "Snow," Sofia said with a light laugh. "I have seen it from afar, on the flanks of the great mountains, but never has it fallen down here upon the sand. I should like to see your land when it snows, Zelda." "Do not talk about snow!" Zelda begged. "It only makes me feel hotter." "We can stop in the shade of a dune, if you like," suggested the red-haired woman. "There is plenty of water--the Simani saw to that. You can have a bite to eat as well."

"Can we?" Link asked eagerly. "My kitten's hungry." Indeed, the sand kitten had been vocalising its displeasure for some time now, and the mews were becoming louder as they moved onwards through the sand. "Have you a name for her yet?" enquired Sofia, halting her horse. "This place looks as good as any." Link dismounted energetically, leaping from the saddle with the cat tucked under his arm. "I thought I would leave the task of finding a name until we were back home. I don't really know her yet." Placing the cat on the surface of the sand, he looked through the saddlebags until he found a leather bottle filled with water; he removed the cork and drank deeply, then knelt and poured some into his cupped hand for the sand kitten to drink. Innocently trusting, the cat lapped from the hand of the young warrior, licking at the droplets of water which clung upon her pink nose. Zelda found her own canteen and upended it, careless of wasting water now that their goal was so near. Sofia did not criticise; indeed the Gerudo woman even had a good mouthful herself, swilling it round inside her mouth to relieve dryness. Recapping her bottle Sofia wound a scarf over her mouth and nose and then lowered herself down onto the sand with a wince. The horses bunched together, snorting in the heat and lazily switching their tails. "Here, Link," Sofia said, rifling her bag of provisions. "They gave us some fresh meat for the kit." She drew out a parcel wrapped in waxed cloth and tossed it to the young warrior. Scenting the food the kitten miaowed loudly and jumped into Link's lap. He stroked the kit's fine fur as he fed it small pieces of spiced beef. Delving deeper into the bag the red-haired woman found a small loaf and a hunk of goat's cheese, and she broke the items into three roughly equal pieces to share out. The three companions washed down their midmorning snack with draughts of clear water and relaxed for a while, enjoying the heat in some strange perverse way. "I think we should get back to Hyrule as soon as possible," Link said finally, sitting up. He had been reclining on the warm sand in the shade of the dune, the kitten curled up and purring on his flat stomach. "If I stay here much longer," he added with a light laugh, "I'll end up becoming a Gerudo and never wanting to leave!" "That might pose difficulties in the completion of our quest," Zelda agreed, smiling. "Sofia, shall we move?" "Ready when you are," the other woman yawned, getting to her feet and brushing sand off herself. "Now, both of you... before I forget, I must teach you the greeting of our people. It may soften my father's heart if you are able to address him in his own tongue." Zelda grimaced. "I think I already tried that one." "What one?" Link asked; he had not been present during the mutual language lesson. "Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel," Sofia answered with a smile. "Can you say that?" "You better not be able to say it first time," Zelda growled under her breath. Link frowned. "Could you say that again... slower?" "Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel." The young warrior took a deep breath. "Meh thin..." He stumbled on the next word.

"Ha!" Zelda crowed. "þin, not thin," Sofia corrected with a wry smile, climbing into the saddle. "Can't either of you master one simple sound?" "It's not a simple one," Link grumped. He shook out an empty saddlebag and put the kitten in, then sat the bag in front of him upon the horse's back. The warm darkness and gentle rocking would settle the young kit and perhaps send it to sleep, with its belly full of food. "Let's go." The red-haired woman flicked her horse's reins and guided the animal up the slope of sand. The young warrior and the princess followed with little regret--it was, after all, growing hot and the shade that remained for them between the dunecrests was meager. Hardy they might have become, but the heat of the desert day was too strong for even the animals that lived there, and there fast approached the time when nothing moved upon the bleached sands. "Try just making the one word," Sofia suggested; "þin." Link screwed his face up. "Th... pth... spht... pffth..." "Ew!" Zelda grimaced. "Stop that!" The young warrior sighed loudly. "It's too hard! My mouth's not the right shape!" "Oh, and mine is?" Sofia challenged. "There's no difference, silly! And you almost had it. Try again!" She slowed her horse to walk alongside Link's, Zelda falling in beside her. Far back along the desert trail the three sets of hoofprints stretched out over the smooth sand, marring it with their presence. The wind toyed with the marks, tipping a few grains of sand over the edges of the prints to round off their corners a little, but the day was a calm one and mostly the trail remained. A ripple appeared in the sand as something moved underneath; many desert creatures took sanctuary under the surface of the desert when the midday heat shimmered over the crests and ripples of the sea of sand. Momentarily something broke the surface; something hard and sandcolored. The ripple submerged again in a moment, but two or three other ripples appeared in different places shortly after, and then another after that. The hoofprints upon the dune surface shivered suddenly, and then the sand sank inwards to become a flat, smooth trough, wiping the tracks from the desert. The ripples surfaced again, heading up and over the dune, wiping out the tracks as they went. A small curl of wind floated along the dunetops and stirred grains into the air, but there were no longer prints for the breeze to play with. Zelda was the one who first managed to approximate the sound. A pleased grin spread across the princess's face as she looked toward the red-haired Gerudo. "Sofia-!" The rest of her sentence was unspoken, but the meaning was clear. Did you hear that? "Very good," the other woman said, sounding surprised. "Hold that thought. Now you, Link!" The young warrior groaned. "Must I?" "Come on," Sofia said briskly. "One more try."

Link took a breath. "Sspth... no. Can't do it." His horse snorted as if to express derision, and the others smiled at the funny happening. He made a horrible face. "Even our animals are against me!" Sofia laughed. "Perhaps you had better do the talking, Zelda." The princess simpered smugly. Link grew red in the face. "Right! I'm going to do this if it kills me!" he said crossly, intensely disliking Zelda's self-satisfied expression. "Hopefully it won't come to that," the red-haired woman said dryly. "Try to make the sound harder. You El--Hylians--have mostly soft sounds in your language, which is why this is difficult for you." "Go on, Link!" Zelda giggled. "You can do it!" "Thph... daah!" He snarled in frustration. Sofia was staring intently into the distance. It was a few moments before her companions noiced the silence of the red-haired woman, but when they did they both turned their attention onto her--such was their instinctive trust in each other that neither Link nor Zelda said anything but waited for the Gerudo woman to speak first. After a long and pregnant silence she drew a small breath and said, "Look. Do you see the reflection in the sky?" Link frowned as he gazed into the expanse of deep blue, shimmering with heat-haze. Upon the horizon, above the dunes was an image, upside-down, of the tent city! It was so detailed that his sharp eyes made out even the people who walked upon the sand between the tents, though they were tiny and appeared as through rippling water. "Gaelaidh!" he said in excitement. "How near are we, Sofia?" "I judge it to be an hour's ride away, no more." The red-haired woman drew her scarf up over her face. "Come, you two. Let us ride fast now! We shall soon be back in safety!" Without waiting for an answer she dug her heels into her mount's sides, and the gray-maned horse sprang forward over the sand. Link slapped his horse upon the rump to urge it forward, and he and the Royal Princess followed their escort at a gallop. The nearness of a place which could be called safe, beckoned to them. And once they reached Gaelaidh it would be a matter of speaking to the King and then they could return home to Hyrule. Hyrule... the very word conjured thoughts of home. The adventure in the Western Lands had been exciting, but both Link and Zelda were beginning to feel a desire for the green and pleasant fields of their own land. Perhaps sensing their riders' eagerness to be home or perhaps scenting the nearness of home themselves, the horses stepped up their pace, throwing sand out behind them as they ran. Link made a sour face. Over and over again he mouthed the difficult words of Sofia's greeting. He was determined to have the phrase right in his mind and in his mouth before they reached Gaelaidh! The ripples in the sand had reached the place where the three companions had stopped for their rest, and they found the discarded cloth which had wrapped the kitten's meat. For a moment the sand seemed to boil, so frenzied was the excitement as the wrapper was drawn into the sand and there torn to pieces. The companions' resting place was completely turned over by the movements beneath the sand, until no trace of their passing remained atop the surface of the desert. The ripples flowed on, searching, following the tracks of the horses and the faint scent left in the sand.

The kitten suddenly mewed loudly, and Link jumped before placing a hand into the bag where it sat before him to check whether the little creature was all right. He felt its warm fur, and beneath the bunched muscles where the kit crouched. Its fur was bristled along its back. Frowning in puzzlement, the young warrior held the reins with one hand and tried to stroke the kit's fur down with the other. He could feel it trembling beneath his hand. Sofia's horse reared suddenly, and it was only by a feat of good horsemanship that the red-haired woman was able to keep her seat. A moment later Zelda's own horse shied, and Link yanked on the reins to bring his mount to a halt, turning it round to try and calm the princess's spooked animal. The kit fought to be free of the leather bag, spitting and hissing like a creature gone demented. "What's wrong with them?" the young warrior yelled, perplexed. He fought with his own horse, trying to force the animal to settle down, but the horse bucked and shook its head, skipping sideways across the sand. Sofia gasped suddenly, and stared at the sand with wide eyes. "Leevers!" she cried, fumbling for a weapon. "What?" Zelda shrieked. A moment later her horse bucked hard and threw her. The princess landed upon soft sand with a cry of surprise, and struggled to her feet. Sand rippled around her as things surfaced--things with dark leathery skin and humped backs armored by horny sandcolored spikes. Zelda jumped backwards and fell as one of the monsters heaved itself partially out of the sand towards her; she saw for a second a nightmarish visage, all gaping greenish mandibles, like some kind of giant crab. Link leaped from his horse's back, drawing his sword in midair. The bag with the kitten dangled from the terrified horse's saddle horn, and in a moment the string which held it came loose. Hissing furiously the kit clawed its way from the bag and darted hither and thither upon the sand, seeking some kind of solid refuge where the monsters could not reach. The young warrior had no time to spare for his pet, however; he dashed forward with the Goddess's serpentine dagger in his left hand and brought the shining blade down upon the horny back of a Leever, driving the point in with all the force he could muster. The blade slid right through and came out slick with dark green ichor. Zelda found an arrow miraculously in her hand, and when the next monster leaped at her she shoved the slender dart at it point-first; the iron tip tore through the thick hide, and the wounded beast shuddered back beneath the sand in a spatter of green liquid. Two of the horses had bolted, disappearing into the desert landscape, but one--Link's--remained. Neighing in fear the plucky little animal plunged and stamped upon the sand. Sofia, drawing her blade, advanced in a curious uneven stride and with a sharp swift slash cut one of the monsters in two. Yet, more remained. The three companions instinctively backed into a defensive circle upon the sand and watched the rippling intently; they were surrounded by a ring of seething sand, and the monsters were working themselves up for a full-scale assault. "What are these things?" Zelda screamed. "Leevers!" Sofia answered, breathing heavily. "Partly animal, partly plant--or at least that is what people say. They must have picked up our trail and been following us all this time!" "They're carnivorous, I assume," Link said dryly. Sofia shot him a glare but his eyes were firm on the ripples, the long dagger readied in his hand.

"Ware!" Zelda cried suddenly. A Leever erupted from the sand right in the middle of their circle, and before any could react the monster had surged forward and attacked the Princess. Zelda cried out in pain as she felt the sharp mandibles of the plantlike creature slash into her calf. With a snarl Link dived on the monster and slashed it to pieces. "I survived... being bitten by a... giant snake..." he panted as he attacked, "...and I am... not... going to be beaten by... a plant!" "There are too many!" cried Sofia desperately as two more Leevers surfaced a few paces away and slid in for the kill. "We cannot fight all these!" There was a sharp "ziip" followed by a meaty thud. With an unearthly yowl one of the monsters turned over in the sand and then began slowly to sink--visible embedded in its leathery flank was the red-fletched shaft of a longbow arrow. Sofia's eyes widened in amazement as two more arrows appeared seemingly out of nowhere, biting into the bodies of more Leevers. Then, indistinguishable from the dunes in their sand-colored clothing, Gerudo closed in around them, each holding a bow with an arrow nocked to the string. As if by magic, the Leevers disappeared. Link knelt beside Zelda and shrugged off his leather Gerudo vest; quickly he wrapped the thick material around the Princess's gash, pressing it down to slow the bleeding. "Nice timing!" he called out to their rescuers. One of the Gerudo came up to Sofia and laid a heavy hand on her shoulder, rumbling in the guttural tongue of the human peoples. She shook her head in disbelief and spat out a few sharp sentences, but the other did not seem to be interested in her words. Strong fingers grasped Link and pulled him away from Zelda; before he could react, an unsheathed dagger was pressing into his throat. Words rolled over him. "Sofia!" the young warrior gasped, struggling with his captor. "What are they saying?" The red-haired woman had upon her face an expression of shock. Her brows drew together in puzzlement and she spoke sharply to the apparent leader of the band. Her only answer was a vicious headshake. "They say," she began, her voice trembling, "that you are under arrest... for kidnapping me!"

HAT?" exclaimed Link in amazement. "That's ridicul--oof!" He was flung down onto the ground and any further comments he might have had were cut off by the knee of one of the Gerudo pressing down onto his back, forcing his face into the sand. The young warrior cried out as his arms were pulled together behind his back, for he was still sore from the cobra's bite. Zelda was tied in much the same way, although she was treated a little less roughly owing presumably to her injury. The Royal Princess got out only one angry shout before she was bound and gagged. "What are you doing?" Sofia cried in the Gerudo language. Running forward she grabbed hold of the shoulders of the tallest Gerudo and looked earnestly into his eyes. "They didn't kidnap me, Galdenor! If anything, I kidnapped them!"

Link and Zelda exchanged meaningful glances, having caught the one word they could have expected to recognise. Galdenor... so the tall man was Sofia's mysterious brother. Link saw him in an entirely different light now that he was present in the flesh. Galdenor was heavyset and muscular, with darkly windburned skin adorned with blue tattoos. He was dressed in the manner of the Gerudo people; a pair of baggy silken trousers and a leather vest; and his bare chest and shoulders rippled with sheer physical power. A winding scar made its way across his cheek and along the line of his jaw, white and faded with age. Galdenor's face was long and predatory--he had a sharp nose and chin, and there were two red spots of angry color high upon his dusky cheeks. His hair too was red, short and swept back over the crown of his head, and his eyes, the same golden color as Sofia's, were small and cold. Link shivered to look at the tall young man, remembering ancient pictures of Ganondorf which he had seen when a small boy in Calatia. How easily Galdenor's rugged features could have passed for those of the legendary Evil King! Sofia faced up to her brother with her hands upon her hips and a cross expression upon her face. "Galdenor, what is all this? I tell you they did not kidnap me! We went to the Spirit Temple, that is all!" "You brought unbelievers to the Spirit Temple?" the heavyset young man repeated in amazement. His thick brows drew together alarmingly. "Sister, you are in a whole lot of trouble!" "I'll answer to my father for that," Sofia snapped, "not to you, brother! Now let them go--they are my friends!" "I think not," Galdenor said. "They are under suspicion of abducting you, and until they clear their names they are prisoners. I don't know why you feel the need to cover up for them, but it won't make you any more popular with Father at the moment! He is furious, Sofia, do you understand? You left Gaelaidh without his permission--you took two unbelievers to the most sacred place of our people, and you failed to report your destination to anyone who could have gone after you to dissuade you from this foolishness!" Galdenor's voice became louder as he went on, until he was almost shouting. Sofia gaped at him, for one moment unable to respond to the astonishing accusations. "I told Nabun where we were headed," she answered slowly. "Did he say nothing when my father returned to Gaelaidh?" Galdenor looked away. "Nabun is dead, sister." "What?" The heavyset young man nodded, looking back to his sister. "Only a few hours after you left Gaelaidh with these two, a bigger band of them came through the pass--about twenty they say. It was cold murder--our scouts did not have a chance. Only Imuru and Shar were left alive, and Imuru is not expected to live long. Nabun was one of the ones in that scouting party... the cursed Ælfan-cynn do not take prisoners." "Goddess," Sofia whispered numbly. Nabun had been her friend. "I wasn't going to tell you like this, sister," Galdenor said quietly, "but you drove me to it. I'm... I'm sorry about Nabun. But at least you're safe." Link closed his eyes, and concentrated. All Hylians had telepathic abilities to some degree, and Zelda was one of the more sensitive; he hoped that she would pick up on his unskilled sending. What are they talking about? he asked.

The Princess lifted her head and looked at him; her blue eyes gleamed above the gag which filled her mouth and almost covered her nose. How would I know ? He tried to shrug. That man looks mad. We're in trouble. It will be all right. Sofia will sort it out. Zelda lay back upon the sand and attempted to relax. Link sighed through his gag, reluctant to believe such an easy answer. By the look of the tall human, Galdenor, Sofia was in almost as deep as they were. "Come on, sister," Galdenor said finally. "We've all got to face the music eventually. Ride behind me--we'll catch your horses later." His mount, a rangy gray, rolled its eyes bad-temperedly and pawed at the sand with a hoof as Galdenor clambered into the saddle and extended a hand to help Sofia up too. Hesitantly, she mounted her brother's horse, glancing helplessly at Link and Zelda. One of the other Gerudo grabbed the frightened sand cat by the scruff of its neck and stuffed it into an empty saddlebag, tying the neck of the bag tightly shut. Link was pulled roughly upright and draped over the back of another horse; he heard the Princess whimper despite herself as she was given a similar treatment. The young warrior's blood boiled at the injustice. Fools! he wanted to cry. Can't you see she's hurt? Then they were in motion and he froze atop the horse's back, trying desperately to keep his position without the use of his arms or legs. "Galdenor," Sofia said urgently as she submitted to her brother's orders, "please, you must let them loose. They are not dangerous!" "That's for our father to decide," the tall man answered coldly. "I can't take the chance, sister. What if they escaped? Father's angry enough already without that green wood on his fire." "I tell you, they're harmless," she insisted. "They won't try to escape. They're honourable people." "Enough!" Galdenor roared. "Goddess, you try my patience!" Pitching his voice a little lower, he went on: "Father ordered me to find you and apprehend the two fugitives, and that is what I'm doing. You think they're not dangerous? Then how come you were still alive when I found you? Leevers would make mincemeat of untrained warriors!" "Well, of course they can fight," Sofia snapped. "But they will not run away; they are on a quest to save Hyrule and they need to be here. And you repay their hard work by tying them up!" Galdenor shrugged. "They have done nothing for me yet. Why should I worry about their wellbeing? You've gone soft, sister--these creatures are not humans!" Sofia's face grew dark. "Damn you, Galdenor," she spat, "and damn your racist beliefs! They may be different to us, but they're just as human!" "I've heard enough of this nonsense." Pointedly he turned away from her to concentrate on his riding, his red hair rippling out in the wind. Letting out a long and ragged sigh Sofia gave in, placing her arms around his strong waist so that she would not fall. At least their belongings were safe--those that remained to them after the Leevers had chased away two of their horses. Glancing to her left she saw that the sand kitten was safe in the hands of one of the riders; an older woman stick-like and lanky, with a short ponytail that bounced at the nape of her neck. Her name was Yamia, and she was an old friend of their family; she had been nursemaid to both the children when they were young. Sofia's heart was eased in her by the knowledge that Link's pet would be treated well.

With fresh or almost-fresh horses it was not long before they came over the crest of a dune and saw the tent city stretching out before them. In ordinary circumstances the sight would have gladdened Sofia's heart, but now she experienced only a sinking of her spirit. She was terribly afraid that death awaited Link and Zelda inside the confines of Gaelaidh, particularly when the accusations against them were considered. She closed her eyes, feeling younger and more helpless than ever she had for years, and prayed that her father would be lenient. She had gotten the two young Elves out of the frying pan only to drop them in the fire, as the saying went. The party split up in a thunder of hooves, and Sofia turned upon the horse's back to see Yamia and the two who had Link and Zelda, flying toward the great rock that stood to the north of the city. An escort remained with her and Galdenor as he sped his own horse through the streets toward the tent of their father. "Galdenor, where are they taking them?" she asked urgently. "To the Stan-steall," her brother answered roughly. "No!" Sofia cried furiously. The Stan-steall, the Place of Stone, was an impregnable fortress; its cells, carved from the living rock beneath the desert, were the last resting place of those destined to be condemned. "Galdenor, they are not guilty! You must tell him the truth!" "I'll tell him what I know," he said finally. "You'll have your own chance to speak up, sister." Slowing the horse to a trot he approached the tent of Thorkelin and stopped outside. "Go see Father," he said more gently. "He was worried about you, you know. And say nothing about going to the you-know-what yet!" Sofia slipped off the back of her brother's gelding with a sigh, and as he turned his horse she looked up at him with a pleading expression in her eyes. Comically in such a large man, Galdenor actually squirmed as he met her eyes. "You know they're not guilty," she said quietly. "I wasn't being forced to go with them, was I?" "It certainly didn't seem so to me," Galdenor admitted with a faint shrug. "And I can't think of a reason for you to support them if they really abducted you. But you'll have your work cut out to prove that. You know what people are about... them." He had not said the word that was an oath in their tongue, and she was grateful to see that in his way, Galdenor was telling her he believed her. "I'll have a horse sent round to you soon," he said by way of farewell, and skilfully wheeled his horse, urging the animal into a gallop. Sofia bit back a sob as she watched her brother ride away. "Daughter?" That was a voice she knew as well as her own. With a cry she whirled and flung herself into the arms of her father, who stood at the entrance of his tent. King Thorkelin caught her and enfolded her in a powerful bear-hug. "You're all right," he whispered into her hair. "I was so worried..!"

Link sighed loudly. "How do we get into these situations?" he complained to the world. He and Zelda had been thrown--literally thrown--into a dank and rocky prison cell with only a heap of rancid straw to soften the damp and uneven floor. The Princess's slashed leg had been given a cursory treatment by an elderly man who roughly washed and bound the wound, and then they had been taken to this place and left on their own. Heavy manacles had been fastened around their wrists--as if they could even think of breaking the thick iron bars that held them in! Zelda was being astonishingly brave. Stoically she bore the discomfort of her injury, insisting that they share the slight comfort afforded them by the straw, and now they sat against the wall side by side upon the rough bedding. Water dripped somewhere, and the straw stank.

"At least they didn't just kill us," Zelda said miserably. "That big man looked furious." "That's not all he looked like, either," Link answered, his voice low; he did not believe that the Gerudo guard outside could understand Hylian, but he was taking no chances. "Zel, did you see? You noticed the resemblance?" "To the Evil King?" Zelda asked with a weak laugh. "Oh, yes. The only difference I could see was that he was younger by some thousand years! He is a direct descendant of Ganondorf! He must be!" "Which would mean that Sofia is, too," Link marveled softly. "Din's Fire!" "We mustn't judge her by her parentage," Zelda ordered. "That would be wrong. I trust her, Link-I was unsure at first whether to, but she proved herself true again and again." The young warrior frowned in the gloom, and shifted; the chain clanked. "But I never knew of Ganon having a child, Princess... it was not in the histories that I read." "It would have been a well-kept secret," Zelda said thoughtfully. "I can think of few who would wish to admit having him as an ancestor!" "There's Gerudo blood in my family too," Link told her sadly. "It goes way back, almost to the Hero of Time. I think it was either his son or his grandson who married a Gerudo." Zelda's eyes widened. "You could be related to Ganon too!" she exclaimed with a start. "I hope not," he said, dryly. "I have spent my whole life trying to kill him. I would not like to find that he is some great-great uncle of mine!" There was a momentary silence, and then the young warrior laughed softly. "Well, there is one good thing that has come out of this!" Zelda glanced at him. "Name it," she said sarcastically. "Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel." "Nayru! you said it right!" He smiled wryly. "Well, while we were on our way here I had plenty of time to perfect it to myself. I shan't forget it in a hurry, I can tell you!" "I don't suppose it will do much good to know it anyway, now," Zelda said hopelessly. "Obviously they are already convinced we are criminals--otherwise why would we be here in this horrible place?" A little of her real fear showed through the courageous mask she wore, and Link tried to put his arm around her for comfort; the manacles upon his wrists prevented him and he settled for touching her shoulder gently. "Courage, Princess," he told her softly. "I've been in worse places before." "Oh, yes?" Zelda fired, a little of her spark returning to her. "Where?" Link shrugged. "I can't remember right now. But trust me, this will turn out all right in the end!"

The Princess savagely forced back the sniffles which threatened to overcome her at his courageous words. "How do you know?" she countered, the stress putting more of an edge in her words than she might have had otherwise. He laughed again. "Nayru! you don't think the Goddesses would do this to us when we've only just started on our quest, do you? They're fairer than that, Zelda!" She leaned her head upon his shoulder, and allowed a few tears to come. The events of the past few days were catching up with her, but she would not let herself give way before misfortune-never! But he had heard her stifling her sobs and she knew he was looking at her in concern. His sweet and caring nature touched her heart and she felt a great wash of sorrow rise up in her throat. "My hair's all tangled," she said stupidly, and burst into tears.

Sofia reclined on a pile of heavily embroidered cushions as her own hair was brushed and rebraided by attendants; her father stood facing her, his head down. Thorkelin was, like his son Galdenor, a tall and powerful-looking man; his face was craggy and he cultivated a small and neatly trimmed beard. His red hair, shot through with twists of gray, was just long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail. He was dressed more fully than most of the Gerudo; as well as the silk trousers and leather vest he wore a dark blue cloak, richly embroidered and lined with more silk. The Gerudo King's stern face was twisted into a mixture of relief and anger as he spoke. "Where in the Realms have you been?" "On a journey," she answered uncomfortably, knowing that her inadequate answer would not please him. "Father, please... you have to release Link and Zelda. They had nothing to do with it." "They were with you, weren't they?" Thorkelin boomed. His voice, cracked by years of desert life, growled in his chest like a sand cat's snarl. "If they hurt you in any way, daughter, I'll have them killed-!" "No!" Sofia cried, starting up. "Father, it was I that took them away from Gaelaidh, not the other way around! I tell you, they're innocent! They only came out here in the first place because they were looking for help!" "Help with what, daughter? What would they want with us ?" "Help to right an ancient wrong," she said, watching her father with bright intent eyes. "You know what I'm talking about. They came here because they've found a way to destroy him. Forever." "There is no way," Thorkelin said bluntly, turning to pace around the confines of his tent. "If they weren't lying, they were stupid." "But there is a way!" Sofia exclaimed. She jumped up, pulling her hair away from the handmaiden's grasp. Unbound it fell about her face and shoulders in long twisting tresses. "The Goddess told us there was!" The King whirled dangerously. "What?" he growled in disbelief. "She appeared to the unbelievers?" "She spoke to all of us," Sofia elaborated in a calmer voice. "Link and Zelda came here to seek information about the Knights of Hyrule--it's said they're the ones who fought back Ganon in the beginning. I believed their story and so I went out into the desert with them, and the Goddess told

me that it was true. Link--the young man--is descended from the Hero of Time," she added, remembering what she had learnt of her companions' history. Perhaps it might not be prudent to tell her father about Zelda's parentage just yet! "I don't believe you," Thorkelin said finally. "I've tried to understand why you would want to protect these Ælfan scum, but this story simply makes no sense. The foreigners will be judged fairly, this I promise you, so go and rest. And tell me no more of these stories! I will see them tomorrow for myself and then I'll make whatever decisions must be made." "I want to see them," Sofia said determinedly, taking heart from his controlled demeanour. "Father, Galdenor said they were being taken to the Stan-steall. I want to talk to them first." "Goddess!" Thorkelin exploded in a fury of kingly rage. "You'll do as I tell you! Now go!" Without waiting for her answer the King whirled and stomped out of the tent, pulling the flap roughly closed behind him. Sofia snatched a band of green silk from the hands of her unfortunate attendant, and tied her hair into a semblance of a ponytail, then she hurried from the tent herself. She had to find her brother.

Galdenor paced, much like his father had done, around the circle of his tent. The woven pattern was of black and gold thread, golden moons and stars upon black cloth, and the interior of his dwelling was somber even with the candles that were kept burning day and night. A red and gold hanging cloth screened his sleeping area from the rest of the tent, which lacked all but the most cursory furniture; a wooden table upon which lay scrolls and writing materials, and a high-backed chair. Flicking back his red hair the young Gerudo strode over to the screen and pushed it aside. Behind lay a rumpled pallet and a big wooden chest; he opened the chest, which was not locked, and withdrew a fat book. Riffling through the well-thumbed pages Galdenor found the picture which he had looked at often since he was a small boy--the face of the so-called Evil King. Ganondorf looked out through time and space from the two-dimensional world of the page; his amber eyes seemed at once noble and careworn, his hair a flame in the darkness. This was the Ganondorf in whom Galdenor believed; the man he had played at being when he was a child. The Ganondorf who had won his place by trial of combat, who had led his people to new lands when the drought devastated their holdings in the canyon, and who had singlehandedly tracked down and killed the maurauding Lion of Teth that preyed upon the horses of the Gerudo... not the one Link and Zelda knew from their own different histories. Upon the facing page was the better-known visage of the Hero of Time. The artist's brush had not been kind to this figure from the past. The blue eyes of Link First were chips of cold ice, his fine nose a blade, his expression a cold, cruel glare. The faint trace of a scar marred his otherwise perfect cheek. He, not Ganondorf, looked the sort of person who would go after the Triforce of Power in order to rule the world. Galdenor was not sure what to believe. The boy they had unwittingly rescued from the Leevers-he looked a little like the picture in the book. But not enough! His face was gentle and kind, and there was little doubt about his courage in standing up to the plantlike monsters. All his life Galdenor had believed that the Ælfan-cynn were a cowardly lot who cared for little but their own advancement, and he could no longer believe that true... at least, not of all of them. "Galdenor?" It was Sofia. "Are you there?"

He jumped guiltily, and closed the book with a snap. "Just a minute!" he called, pushing the tome back into the chest and lowering the lid. In a second he pulled back the screen and stepped out. "Hello, sister," he said warmly. "You survived, then." She sighed. "Daddy was furious... you were right. I think they're going to kill Link and Zelda. Listen, brother, you have to help me get them out of this!" "Now wait just one damned minute," Galdenor began. "Why are you so set on saving them? What happened to you when you were out there with them?" "Listen to me for a while, big brother," Sofia said quietly, coming up to him and taking his hand-her own slender fingers were dwarfed by his heavy paw. "I'll tell you everything, fair as fair, and then it's your decision." She told him.

The candle, almost new, was burned down halfway to the holder by the time Sofia could explain everything to her brother's satisfaction. "Knights of Hyrule?" Galdenor frowned, barely able to make the imaginitive leap necessary to believe her story. "Like the Hero of Time? To destroy Ganon? And the Goddess herself spoke to you of this?" "That's about it," Sofia agreed with a little sigh. "Do you see how important it is that Link and Zelda don't die?" "But I thought that..." Galdenor stopped, not knowing what he thought. It seemed inconceivable that three randomly chosen people could hope to become heroes as great as Link First, and he said so. "We're not a random selection, not in the least," she contradicted. "We all share the same history. Link is descended from the Hero of Time. And Zelda..." She looked around uneasily, and then stood on tiptoe to whisper in her brother's ear. "She's the Hylian Royal Princess." "What?" Galdenor exclaimed in astonishment. "Why's she out here all alone?" "It's her quest too," Sofia answered. Her eyes narrowed slightly as a new thought struck her. "She didn't tell her father where she was going, either." "What a mess," he marveled softly. "There's a damned good reason for not killing her then... we might bring their entire people down on our heads. She's probably the reason our scouting party was attacked--they were looking for her and they ran into us. Father must be told this, at least." Stepping forward he made for the door and was pulled back by Sofia's grasp on his leather vest. "Not yet!" she insisted. "Galdenor, I've got to see them, find out if they're all right or not. Zel was wounded when we fought the Leevers. Will you take me to the Stan-steall? You know they won't let me in on my own authority." Galdenor smiled wryly. "I suppose you've already asked Father, and been turned down?" Sofia shrugged helplessly, caught out.

"Well, you obviously didn't tell me, so I don't have any reason to refuse your request... seeing as I don't know anything about it." "Thanks, big brother." She put her arms around him, and he returned the embrace. "I was worried about you," Galdenor said quietly. "I really thought they'd taken you prisoner after you rode off into the sunset with them." "I can look after myself," Sofia said with a smile. "I know you can, little sister," he murmured affectionately, stroking her soft hair with a roughened hand. "Come on, we'll ride together to the Stan-steall."

Link yawned widely and wriggled upon the hard floor; Zelda was asleep, her head resting fetchingly on his shoulder. Imprisonment sure was boring, the young warrior thought, without even a window to divert the attention from the surroundings. His bitten shoulder ached, though the pain had largely gone from his ribs and the colorful bruising was starting to fade. Tales told, he remembered, that the Hero of Time had once been captured and imprisoned by the Gerudo people, but he had escaped and had so impressed them with his skills that they had offered him the chance to become one of them. Typical, the young warrior thought with another yawn. The tales told many fascinating facts about history, but they never gave any concrete details: like how to escape from a Gerudo prison cell. The guard had gone from outside, suggesting that they felt there was little need to watch over prisoners here. That wasn't a particularly happy thought. To pass the time, he looked up at the ceiling and tried to count the number of spaces in a spider's web that stretched between two of the cell bars and the rocky roof. He got to around thirty-seven before they became small enough that they were difficult to discern, and in trying to decide whether one tiny hole counted as a space or not he lost count. The webmistress herself was impossible to spot against the dark stone. His ears pricked up suddenly as he heard faint voices nearby... no, not nearby, for the underground nature of the complex meant that sounds traveled far through the stony passages. The gutturals of the Gerudo dialect echoed to him almost as loud as voices in the next room, but he could not make out the individual words. Carefully so as not to disturb the Princess, who had fallen into sleep only after a protracted bout of crying, he stretched out his legs and listened carefully. Were the voices coming closer? "Link?" came a familiar voice. He sat up straight, and Zelda stirred. "Sofia?" Link asked disbelievingly, hope rekindling in his heart. A few seconds later the familiar shape of the red-haired Gerudo woman appeared in front of the bars. "Sofia, it's really you!" Link exclaimed, shaking Zelda. "Zel, wake up!" Sofia grasped the bars and gazed through them as if she could will them out of existence. "I am truly sorry about this, Link," she said quietly. "I am doing everything I can to get you out of here... I promise."

Zelda opened her eyes with a start. "Link?" she asked sleepily. "Where are we? ..oh!" She stifled a squeak of surprise as she caught sight of the tall dark man with Sofia--the one who had taken them prisoner after the fight, the one who looked like Ganondorf. "This is my brother, Galdenor," Sofia said formally, indicating her companion. He smiled uneasily and muttered a few words in his own language. "He speaks some Hylian, but not a great deal," Sofia explained. "He knows now what really happened--I have told him." "Have you told the King?" Link stood up and came forward. She sighed. "I have, but he did not believe me. We may have some trouble there." "What kind of trouble?" Zelda asked quietly. "My father is determined to proclaim you guilty," Sofia explained. "His advisors tell him that to do otherwise would cause trouble with the people--which it might well do, although I am not so sure. Nobody knows you are the Princess yet, Zelda--I am saving that card to play if things become dangerous. Galdenor is on our side in this affair, so we do have one ally! If you are found guilty, we will try and rescue you." "What happens if you don't manage to do that?" Link asked. "It won't come to that," Sofia said confidently, but her unsure look betrayed her. She glanced at her brother, who spoke a few quick words, obviously urging her to hurry up and finish her business with the strangers. Link sighed and looked away, and so it was left to Zelda to ask the question which had burned in both her thoughts and in Link's. "Sofia... are you related to Ganon?" she asked quietly, raising her head to look at the red-haired woman. "Yes," Sofia said without hesitation. "He is my many-times-great grandfather." "Was there a son, then?" Zelda suggested. "There is nothing in our histories that speaks of a child." "Ganondorf's son by Naburu was Sarussar, who was not a year old when the Hero of Time came out of the forest," Sofia answered. "It is through him that our line descends. If you are really interested, ask Galdenor--he knows the entire family tree." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Say nothing to him about the Evil King. He is proud of his descent, and will not hear our ancestor maligned." "I understand," Zelda sighed. "What will happen now?" Link asked, interrupting. He tugged irritatedly at the manacles which bound his wrists. "I think I would prefer slightly less constricting guest quarters, if you have no objection," he said dryly. Sofia's face filled with chagrin. "I am truly sorry, Link, but I cannot get you out of here yet. If it is any consolation, you will not be here long--only until tomorrow. Then my father will speak to you himself. I wish I had been able to teach you at least a few words of our tongue before now." "Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel?" Link suggested.

"Goddess!" she exclaimed. "I don't believe it!" Galdenor roared with laughter at her reaction, and the young warrior looked smug, over-pleased at the result of his hard work. Becoming serious again Sofia reached through the bars and touched Link's arm gently. "Cene," she said quietly in her own tongue, then, "We'll get you out. Just be patient. We will get you out."

ORNING dawned over the desert in its usual riot of reds and golds--color bled back into the bleached landscape with all the suddenness of a rainstorm. Gaelaidh stood beneath the early sun like a garden, full of incredible colors--reds, blues, greens, gold and black and silver. And to the north was the dark bulk of the Stan-steall, ancient fortress of the Gerudo kind, immortal and impregnable beneath the desert sun. No light penetrated into the fortress, for it was entirely without windows and the labyrinth inside was lit only by the smoky flames of torches. Sofia had spent a restless night sharing Galdenor's tent; worried as she was for the safety of her friends she had felt that she needed her brother's company. But she could not sleep for thinking about Link and Zelda in their uncomfortable cell, bound and helpless with only rotting straw for a bed. Before sunrise she had risen and, quietly so as not to disturb her brother, dressed and left the tent. Her tied red hair streamed out behind her like a fiery banner as she rode through the everchanging streets and out onto the sand-covered hills that surrounded Gaelaidh. Dismounting beside a small oasis she let her horse drink, and sat down to watch the sun rise over the sand. Last night, after she had seen Link and Zelda, Galdenor had taken her back to his dwelling where they had talked for an age, going over different possibilities and ways to ensure that her friends were freed. At the end of their discussion neither she nor her brother were much enlightened, especially when it came to the King's position in the affair. Thorkelin, Sofia knew, was a good man and yet he hated Link's kind with a passion--a passion shared by many of the Gerudo people. And his attitude would not be helped by the death of Nabun and the others in the canyon party-Nabun had been a close advisor to the King, and a trusted friend. "Goddess," the red-haired woman muttered angrily, her amber eyes flashing. "We didn't beat the cobra just so that the quest could be ruined by my father's stiff neck!" She clenched her fists in determination--somehow, she would change Thorkelin's mind! Rising with a suddenness that made her knees pop, she began to pace up and down the sand, a stubborn frown drawing lines upon her face. There had to be a way she could help her friends. For a moment she toyed with the idea of sending word to Hyrule to enlist the help of Zelda's own father--Kings understood one another after all--but Sofia realized that that option would be more likely to cause all-out war between the Hylians and the Gerudo, and that she could not risk. Alternatively, she could tell Thorkelin everything. This seemed to be the best choice right now, as she knew her father valued honesty above all. But he would not be at all pleased about the Spirit Temple part of the journey, and there was little Sofia could say in answer to that. After all, she had taken two unbelievers to the sacred place, risking the all too real wrath of the Goddess. Her only defense was that she had done what she had because she needed to find out whether Link and Zelda had been truthful about their purpose in the Western realm.

There was a soft scrape of feet and she turned to see her brother's powerful frame. Galdenor stood a few feet away, holding the reins of his horse in one big fist; she had been so engrossed in her problems that she had not heard him approach. "Sofi?" he asked kindly. "Are you all right?" "No," she admitted with a sigh. "It's just going round and round in my head. Daddy's going to be mad whatever I say!" Galdenor shrugged. "Just tell him the truth. It's the only thing you can do now. Then their fate is in the hands of the Goddess." Sofia shook her head angrily. "I don't like that plan--it's too risky!" "What else are you going to do?" he asked practically. "Bust them out of the Stan-steall?" "I thought about that," she admitted. "Well, don't think about it." He let go of his horse's reins and came forward to lay his big hands gently on her shoulders. "There's nothing we can do," he said with finality. "You have to tell Father as much as you can--you have to speak out for them. Lay it all bare. The only way out of this is the honest way. You know that." "I do," Sofia sighed after a long moment. "I was thinking about it before you came here. But he probably won't even let me speak." Galdenor looked toward the bright sun, shining amber-golden in the early morning sky. "We should get back," he said matter-of-factly. "Father wanted to get the case over and done with early. The prisoners may already be on their way from the Stan-steall." "But it's only just morning!" Sofia said. "He told me that they'd be judged at midday!" "Did he?" Galdenor said in surprise. They stared at each other for a moment. "I can't believe it," Sofia said. Her brother touched her shoulder. "Forget about it," he said gently. "Come on. We'd better go." "What do you mean you can't find them?" King Harkinian paced up and down the red-carpeted hall that served as an audience room. Hyrule's ruler was a tall, white-haired man with the bright blue eyes that seemed to characterize those of royal blood; tall and noble, he wore a sword by his side despite his obvious age. The King's face was creased into lines of worry as he whirled and paced the other way, feet making little sound upon the thick red mat. "They can't have just disappeared!" The messenger shifted anxiously from foot to foot, his unease plain in his face. Self-consciously he smoothed down his dark blue tunic adorned with a golden Triforce; the livery of the Royal House. It was never pleasant to be the bearer of bad news.

"Tell me again what happened," King Harkinian murmured, sinking down into his golden chair and placing a hand over his eyes as if to block out the fact of his lost daughter. "We... we rode through the Gerudo Valley pass, sire," the messenger began hesitantly, "following the tracks. Their horses were running loose down in the canyon; they went on on foot. Kaleth ordered that we go on over the rockfall to see if they were on the other side. We climbed over the fall and were attacked by Gerudo. Tristan and Lysander were lost ere we fought them off, and Alun is maimed." He looked down at his feet, then up again to meet the King's eyes. "I'm sorry, Sire," he said hopelessly. "I won't give up," King Harkinian said finally, rising from his chair. His voice becoming impassioned, the King slammed a fist into his palm. "Those Gerudo scum had better not have hurt my daughter, or I swear by Din I'll wipe their filthy hides off the face of the earth!" His shoulders straightened and he strode towards the door. "Ready my horse!" Link stumbled on a hidden stone and was jerked upright again by the rope around his neck. He winced at the rough handling but said nothing; neither he nor Zelda would give their captors that satisfaction. They had come for the two prisoners after an interminable time, and it was only when the open doorway of their prison became visible that the young warrior knew it was sunrise. The Gerudo had bound both he and the Princess with their hands behind their backs and now led them along on the ends of leashes--like dogs, Link thought with a flash of anger. For a mad moment, as he stared at the back of the man who led him, he wished for a weapon, but killing his captors would only make things worse. He needed the goodwill of the Gerudo if he was going to make it back through the desert to Hyrule. "Zel?" he called in a whisper, his eyes on the Gerudo. "Are you all right?" "So it's "Zel" now, is it?" the Princess hissed back, a little of her usual spark remaining in the sassy comment. "I'm serious," Link breathed softly. She glanced at him and mouthed, "I'm fine." Her face was very pale, save for the grime which coated it, and there were dark circles around her tired eyes. The young warrior bit his lip at the Princess's appearance--a night trying to sleep on the cold stone floor of a prison cell would take it out of even the toughest Hylian, let alone a Princess used to luxury. He felt admiration for Zelda's courage in facing the dire situation; many a man would have folded by now. He raised his head and looked forward, down into the valley below. They were heading down the side of one of the sandy hills that surrounded Gaelaidh, and the tent city spread out beneath him like a marvelous tapestry of colors. At any other time he would have been glad to see it, but now he was only afraid that it would be his last resting place. Lowering his head again the young warrior sighed. There was a sharp tug on the rope which pulled him off his feet. He fell full length with a cry, sending up a puff of sand. Two of the Gerudo laughed roughly, and the one who had been leading him leaned over and tweaked his ear, commenting rudely in the Gerudo tongue. Furiously he leaped to his feet again, shaking them off, and resisted any further attempt to be led. "Do your people have no respect for anyone?" he shouted angrily. Although they could not have understood his words, the Gerudo understood the tone of the young warrior's voice. Dark glances were exchanged before there came another, gentler tug, the message

of which was clear. Swallowing his rage Link capitulated with their desires, but was slightly heartened to see their guards now slightly more subdued. It gave him new courage to see that they could, after all, be swayed. The sun was still only just above the dunetops by the time they reached the floor of the basin and stood once more on the white sandy streets of Gaelaidh. A curious, muttering crowd lined the streets as the guards led their two unusual prisoners through the wide bright main roads, twisting and turning as they made their way through the city. Link was momentarily afraid that the assembled throngs might try to throw things--he had seen angry crowds before in Calatia, and it was a frightening sight--but his heart was eased when he saw that there was merely a bright interest in the crowds of watching eyes. He resented being turned into a sideshow for the amusement of the desert people, but it was infinitely better than being attacked by a mob. Once he thought he saw Sofia in the melee, but it was an older woman that he picked out. "Where are we going?" Link asked out loud, but none of the Gerudo answered. In a moment his question was answered, as the escorts turned a corner into a wide and whitely sanded square which had been cleared of people and dwellings. A raised platform had been set up in the center of the square, and behind it stood a great tent larger than any of the others. The designs woven into the fabric of this dwelling were familiar; the same tight hieroglyphs had been engraved upon the walls of the Spirit Temple, though not in this profusion of colors. There was a throne, of sorts, that had been placed upon the raised dais, and upon this sat a man who was obviously of some influence among the Gerudo people. Beside him stood two women dressed in sumptuous silks, their red hair bound tightly into braids, and richly dressed Gerudos both male and female lined the edges of the rough square. Gazing spellbound at the human lord, Link saw that he wore a heavy golden circlet set with jewels of many kinds, and he realized that this must be none other than the King himself... A hard blow to the small of his back threw the young warrior to the ground, and he heard Zelda scream in fright. Beginning to rise, Link froze in his place when he felt the cold tip of a blade prick his back. With an effort of will he held himself still, lifting only his head to look into the eyes of the King of the Desert. "Me þin mod-sefa licao leng swa wel?" he tried, with an ingratiating smile. A ripple of laughter ran round the edges of the open place. Majestically the King rose, sweeping his blue cloak behind him as he stood. "Know you where you are, Ælf?" King Thorkelin demanded in heavily accented Hylian. Zelda began to say something but was silenced as the King glared in her direction and snapped, "Be still!" The King's eyes turned back to the young warrior. "Gaelaidh?" Link suggested. More laughter. King Thorkelin stepped gracefully down from the raised platform, and paced back and forth upon the sand. "This place is the Wîc Rihtwîsnes, in your tongue the Place of Judgement. Have you anything to say before judgement is passed?" "What are we accused of?" Link demanded, attempting to inch out from beneath the blade at his back. A renewed pressure told him that moving was not a wise course of action. The King's brows drew together. "Since you ask, I will tell you," he said coldly. "You and your woman come like thieves in the night to my land which is forbidden to your kin. You have abducted my daughter and forced her to take you to our most sacred place, which you defile with your presence, and while you divert our sight by kidnapping my daughter, your warriors come through the pass and murder my scouts in the most cowardly way. The penalty for such crimes is death." Sofia, listening in the crowd, suppressed a gasp; the King knew everything, it seemed! Who was it who had whispered to her father, put such a damning spin on the truth of things?

"But we didn't do it!" the young warrior cried. "You have it all wrong! She offered to show us the way!" "And I am not his woman!" Zelda snarled. The King laid a hand upon the pommel of the scimitar that hung by his side. "You lie," he responded quietly. "You bewitched my daughter so that she would show you the Temple of the Goddess." Link sensed the tide of opinion beginning to turn against him and Zelda. It seemed that the assembled Gerudo nobles were to act as jury, with the King as prosecutor and judge... not a particularly auspicious combination. Desperately he called out, "Ask Sofia what really happened! I am no magician, surely you can see that! The truth of the affair does not matter to you; you merely intend to see us killed!" There were gasps at his words, and a suspicious murmuring arose among the watchers. "Insolent dog!" the King spat. "How dare you address me like that?" Link winced as the tip of his escort's blade poked his back. "Normally, sir, I'd be more polite to a King," he snapped back, "but we both have received nothing but ill-treatment at the hands of your people, and I grow tired of being pulled around and thrown into dark holes!" Warming to his theme, the young warrior shifted on the sand so that he could look more directly into Thorkelin's face. "This is a travesty of justice," he said firmly. "If you wish to try us for these imagined crimes, at least allow the chief witness to speak her part." "My daughter is unwell," Thorkelin growled. "She is resting." "No, father, I'm not," came a familiar voice. There was a universal intake of breath, and Link felt the tip of the guard's scimitar leave his back. Quick as a cat the young warrior rolled away from the blade and leaped to his feet, turning to face the Gerudos who had held him prisoner. He shook the loosened rope free from his neck. Drawing their blades as one, the guards prepared to rush him. But a red-haired form flashed between him and the weapons leveled against him. "You must stop this," Sofia ordered angrily, turning to face her father. "These people are not criminals." "What is the meaning of this?" Thorkelin raged. "I told you-!" "To stay in my tent until midday when the judgement would take place," Sofia said flatly. "I know. But you wanted to get this done without me, didn't you, father?" "I knew you would stand up for them," the King growled. "You have been bewitched, Sofia, and your word counts for nothing in this court. Stand aside!" "She is not bewitched," Galdenor announced, pushing his way through the throng to stand beside his sister. She took his hand and held it tight. "Father, you must listen to us," the prince ordered-his Hylian was, like Sofia's, perfect, and Link suppressed a smile at the small deception. Sofia had been cautious to the last. "You also, Galdenor?" Thorkelin said weakly, his voice barely above a whisper. "I also," he agreed, slicking back his red hair. "As Crown Prince, I have a right to be heard. And let it be known that I support Link and Zelda!" Excited talking broke out throughout the plaza as the assembled people discussed how the new disclosure should affect their decision.

For the first time, another person spoke up. He was an elderly man, his skin burnt to leather by the wind, and he stood at the foot of the raised dais, close to the King's seat. "Perhaps Prince Galdenor is also bewitched," he croaked cunningly. "Should we trust his word? The fairy folk are tricky creatures. Who here does not remember the old stories? Tales to entertain the young, we thought--but behold, two of them stand before us now!" An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd. "That is true," Thorkelin said slowly. "Then let us examine the facts of this case." A dark scowl spread across his craggy features. "I have intended to be fair to these creatures, even despite their race. Though there are those who would wish to see justice swiftly meted, I have wanted to hear and judge impartially. But I cannot be blind to the danger that these two may pose to us. Therefore it is in my people's best interests to--" "Wait!" Galdenor cried. "There is an easy way to tell whether we are speaking the truth! Summon Mewla, father!" The silence that fell was abrupt and total. Link glanced uneasily at Zelda, who stood between two of the guards. She met his eyes and shrugged faintly, saying, I have no idea. The tension that had arisen at the mention of Mewla was almost palpable in the air, and the color had drained from the King's face. He stood like a statue, only his eyes darting from one face to the next. "Mewla," he said finally, real fear in his voice. "Galdenor, my son... go back to your tent." "No, father," Galdenor said quietly. "They have been accused of witchcraft--and worse, I have been accused of weakness in my mind. I cannot and will not let that pass. Mewla can tell us all if it is really so. Unless you think they can bewitch her, too?" "Who is Mewla?" Link asked, frowning. "Quiet," the King snapped, glaring at the young warrior. Then, "Galdenor, if Mewla is summoned and finds that these are witches, you know what must happen." "Yes, father," Galdenor said grimly. "I know. But she will not find that so." "She will demand payment," Thorkelin insisted. The prince shrugged. "Give her a horse. She cannot complain--a life is a life, after all." There was a long silence, and some of the watchers murmured uneasily. Then, finally, the King's shoulders slumped. "Very well, my son," he said in a soft voice. "Since you insist on this insanity, we will call Mewla to the Place of Judgement." "Who is Mewla?" Link insisted. But already people were fleeing the square, clearing a wide pathway. Faintly he heard voices throughout Gaelaidh, calling what sounded like warnings in the Gerudo tongue. In the Place of Judgement, none spoke. The young warrior glanced at the Princess, and tried another telepathic sending: This doesn't sound good . Zelda flicked her ears up and looked round at him; her eyes were worried. What is Mewla ? she asked. Link shook his head helplessly. "How do you two do that?" Sofia murmured. Link jerked in surprise--he had not expected her to speak. "What?" he asked, confused.

"You spoke to each other, didn't you?" the red-haired woman muttered. "But I heard nothing." She turned to face him. "Link, are your people really witches?" she asked quietly, solemnly. "Not us two," he said with complete confidence. "Although I can't vouch for everyone in Hyrule. Who is Mewla?" "My great-grandfather captured her one night as she lay sleeping," Sofia murmured, glancing at the Gerudo people who still ringed the square. She pitched her voice low enough that she would not be overheard by the watchers. "She was a youngling then. He subdued her, and forced her sometimes to do his bidding, but she will never be tamed. She has great power which is only barely held at bay by the little we can do to hold her. My father keeps her caged only because we cannot kill her and it would be too dangerous to let her go." "Will we have to fight her?" Link wished desperately that his hands were free. Sofia shook her head. "No... if we loosed her, we would never recapture her, and she would take her revenge upon us all. My father intends to use Mewla to find out if you are truly capable of casting enchantments upon your enemies. She will look into your spirit, and she will know." The young warrior nodded his understanding, and then closed his eyes to relay the message across to Zelda, who stared at him in sudden fear. Sofia frowned as she saw another unspoken conversation pass between her two friends, and determined to find out the secret if she could. But then the eerie silence was broken by a cry that had not sounded over Hyrule for over a thousand years--a reptilian scream, which died into a bubbling, threatening hiss. The head of Mewla rose above the emptied tents behind the King's platform, and a moment later the rest of her came into view around the corner, surrounded by people striving to control her with a hundred ropes and strong chains wrapped around her body and through the iron collar around her sinuous neck. "Nayru's Love!" Zelda screamed in terror. "A dragon!" Mewla was magnificent. A small specimen she was, perhaps, but no less fantastical for that. She measured at least forty feet in length, fully two thirds of which was tail and a twisting, serpentine neck. Her ebon scales, so black that they shimmered oily rainbows in the sunlight, were harder than the strongest of swords and fitted together so closely that they were as a second skin to cover her own soft one. Like the scales, her claws were of deepest night, so polished that they shone like steel. Her great pale eyes glowed blue with inner flame. Mewla screamed again, lifting her head high in a struggle to free herself from the bonds which held her down; her slender snout gaped to reveal long needle-like white teeth in a bright blood-red mouth. The handlers dragged the dragon into the empty square by sheer force, she resisting every step with abortive jerks of her head and lashes of her long tail. Wings she had as well, but they had been lashed tightly to her sides with thick iron bands. Still, Link could not doubt that the dragon could do terrible damage with just her claws and her teeth, and he was greatly thankful that she was under control... ...just. One of the ropes through the collar snapped and Mewla screeched again, throwing her head from side to side in a bid to break the rest of her bonds. Before such a thing could happen, King Thorkelin leaped forward to stand right before the dragon, alone and unprotected upon the sand. "Hear me!" he roared.

"Free me," Mewla hissed back, the Hylian words coming strangely from her fanged mouth. Her humped back rippled with power as she prepared for another spasm. "I have a command for you!" the King shouted. "Stand down, worm!" The baleful eyes of Mewla met those of the King, and for a long moment a battle of wills raged between the human and the dragon. Then, abruptly Mewla gave in. The long neck straightened down upon the sand, as did the sinuous tail. The dragon abased herself before Thorkelin, tongue lolling from her jaws as if she were a playful dog. "O Master," she fawned, "what may I, your humble slave, do to serve you?" Thorkelin turned, sweeping his arm out in a grand gesture. "These two," he announced, "have been brought here to be judged. They are accused of witchery. Look into their souls and see what is hidden there." His eyes settled on his son and daughter who stood defiantly by their friends. "Move away, both of you," he ordered, his voice cold. Sullenly, Sofia backed away, guided by Galdenor's hand on her shoulder. All attention in the square returned to the beast of glittering darkness. "What will you give me?" Mewla purred, her long tail rippling. The handlers kept their chains tightened in case the dragon gave a sudden lurch--they knew that her show of submission was just that, a show. "If they are guilty, their lives belong to you," Thorkelin answered. "If not, you shall feast on a blood mare of the Royal House." "I want a stallion!" Mewla snapped. "Mares are no fun!" The King scowled. "By the Goddess, will you demand even this?" he said angrily. "You know that a good stallion is worth his weight in gold!" "And if you will not pay me in gold, as was the tribute of old," Mewla answered, "you will pay me what I ask." All trace of her servility had vanished in an instant as she haggled with the King. "Very well," Thorkelin said grimly. "You shall have it. Now do as I ask." Mewla raised her head again, and, whether the handlers would or no, she crawled forward upon the sand, scraping her belly upon the ground. Her glittering eyes fixated themselves upon Link, and she swayed her long head from side to side slowly, gazing at him with one eye then the other, then both together. "What is your name, Great Warrior?" the dragon purred. Link felt the bright blue of her eyes swallow him as he answered. He tried to look away but he could not--she held him with her gaze. Dreamily he felt his awareness of the world sinking away from him, submerging in the eyes which now appeared as great gemlike pools that swelled and flowed towards him. Some part of him answered the dragon's sly questions, he knew, but most of him was rapt in the pleasure of those wondrous, magical eyes. "Hylians must be very suggestible," Galdenor muttered to Sofia. The elven warrior had gone under the magical hypnosis in under three seconds--many humans might have held out for as long as a minute before Mewla overpowered their will. "Do you think he will be all right?" Sofia whispered back anxiously. "I've never seen anyone go down so fast. What if Mewla doesn't release him?"

"She'll have to," he answered. "She agreed to the offer that was made her, and her word is her bond." "What's Daddy doing?" Sofia frowned. Thorkelin stepped forward once again. "Well, dragon?" he said coldly. "What do you see?" "Very interesting," Mewla purred, still gazing into Link's eyes. The young warrior stood as a statue, looking up at the dragon with no expression upon his face--his mind was elsewhere now. Zelda looked on, her ears laid back in fear as she awaited her own turn. "Truly a fascinating story," Mewla elaborated, flicking her tail in an affected, catlike manner. "Then share it with us," Thorkelin ordered. "Reveal the truth! Is he a witch?" The dragon snorted. "Hardly," she breathed. "What else?" Thorkelin insisted loudly. Mewla's lips drew back from her teeth in a reptilian grin. "He is sorry for me," she purred. "He thinks you should let me go." "Nice try," Galdenor muttered. Raising his voice, the prince called out, "Father! If they're not witches, then we are speaking the truth! Let them go!" "Ask the elf why he came through the pass," Thorkelin ordered, ignoring his son's comments. "We'll have it all out of him here and now." "Well?" Mewla purred, addressing Link once again. "You heard the nice man." Link did not blink as he spoke slowly; his voice, dreamy and flat, had a strange artificial quality about it. "We seek information about the Knights of Hyrule," he answered. "Why?" asked Mewla. There was no hesitation in his reply. "We wish to recreate the Knighthood by finding the six Amulets of Legend, in order to obtain the Triforce and break Ganon's power in the Dark World." Zelda winced helplessly as the young warrior spilled the most secret details of their quest. "Is he lying?" Thorkelin questioned, frowning. "I find this hard to believe." "Impossible!" the dragon hissed in fury. "You dare doubt me, king? Nobody has ever lied to me, and nobody ever will!" "He's telling the truth!" Galdenor shouted. "Mewla says so! What more proof do you need?" Thorkelin nodded slowly. "As impossible as it sounds, it seems that their story is true," the King said reluctantly. Unnoticed by most, the old man who had spoken against Galdenor--Kauto-scowled in anger and slammed his fist into his other palm. "Therefore," Thorkelin went on, "the charges of witchcraft and abduction may be dropped." "Let them go, then!" Sofia cried.

"Not yet," the King countered, pacing back to stand before the ensorcelled warrior. "There is still one charge against them--the murder of the scouts in the valley pass." "It was nothing to do with us!" Zelda spoke up. "We were already far from the pass when this mysterious attack happened, and Sofia will vouch for that." "You might not have been there in person, but your cursed hunters were," Thorkelin insisted. "Five of my people are dead because of that treachery. Men with wives and young children. Who will support their families now? Someone must pay for their deaths!" "But not these two," Sofia said angrily. "We can unravel this last mystery later, father, but for now, for the Goddess's sake release them. We have all three been through terrible things in the desert, and to be treated like this when we finally reach home is an affront on human hospitality." "Very well," Thorkelin answered with a heavy sigh. "Galdenor, these two are in your charge. I do not expect you to disappear over the horizon with them, is that understood?" The prince grinned in amusement, and Sofia stomped on his toe. Link groaned. There was a throbbing pain behind his forehead, much like the pain he had had after Milo's coming-of-age, when he had overindulged in strong wine. The young warrior put a hand over his aching eyes and hoped that he hadn't thrown up over anyone important this time around. "Link, how are you feeling now?" Zelda asked softly, brushing the dark red hair from his forehead. "I'll be down in a minute, mother," he mumbled. She raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. "It is the dragonspell," Sofia explained. "His head is confused." They were in the cool shade of Galdenor's own tent. With Mewla now subdued and returned to her great tent behind the King's dwelling, normal life was returning to Gaelaidh and already there was a bustle of people and horses outside the flap. The young warrior lay senseless upon Galdenor's pallet as Sofia removed the bonds from Zelda's sore wrists and found a leather bottle full of clear, cool water to pass round. "Listen, Sofia... Galdenor," Zelda began, "I want to thank you both for standing up for us back there, and for everything else you did. I was really afraid we were done for--" "It is no problem," Galdenor said. "I also must thank you, for opening my eyes. Our two peoples must pull together now; too much is at stake." Zelda nodded. "Well, if I can get along with Sofia, then I see no reason why my father cannot get along with your father," she said with a light laugh. "We will have to convince them both to listen to each other." "Where am I?" Link asked plaintively, sitting up with a hand upon his head. "Link, you're all right!" Zelda exclaimed, and enveloped him in a warm hug. Still confused, he returned the embrace with a puzzled glance at Sofia. After a moment, Zelda relinquished her grasp of the young warrior and turned back to the two humans. "We should get back to Hyrule soon," she suggested. "Sofia..?"

The red-haired woman nodded. "Ah, I know. That question again." With a sideways smile, she shrugged her shoulders. "I will miss my brother, but..." She left the sentence unfinished, laughter in her eyes. "You're coming with us?" Link exclaimed joyfully. "As soon as we sort out this last problem," Sofia agreed. "We have to find out who killed the scouts, and why." "Something's going on out there," Galdenor said with a frown, cupping his ear with one big hand. Indeed, there did seem to be an increased commotion outside the darkness of the tent--people were shouting something over and over again. "What is it?" Zelda asked. Sofia shook her head, indicating confusion. "It sounds like they're saying 'the Ælfan king, the Ælfan king," over and over again," she said, frowning. "The elven king?" Link repeated. Zelda stared at him, and understanding dawned upon them both together. They charged for the door flap of the tent. "Link? Zelda?" Sofia stared at the swinging flap. "Galdenor, quickly!" she ordered, leaping to her feet. King Harkinian reined in his horse as the Gerudo people milled around his company. The Royal Guards, resplendent in their silvered armor, closed in to protect their silver-haired ruler, alarmed at the fascination of the masses. "Where is your leader?" the King shouted again and again in Hylian, but only awed stares greeted his request. Suddenly, the people parted like water to allow a slender, blonde Gerudo girl to rush through. Her hair, the color of spun gold, bobbed behind her in a high ponytail as she ran and leaped up into the startled King's arms. "Daddy!" she screamed, throwing her arms around him. King Harkinian caught her automatically, and then did a double-take that would, under other circumstances, have been funny. "Zelda?" he gasped.