Chapter 5 - Smoke and Mirrors
Princess Zelda wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to ask when she reached his cell. She had never been to the actual prison before. It wasn’t something she had a need to do. She had known her father going down once or twice to speak with the man but really thought nothing of it. Every time he left, however, he would always appear haggard and weary, almost as if his visit to the prisoner would suck the very life out of him. Granted, the prospect of her going down there herself wasn’t all that appealing either. Would she leave looking that way too? What exactly went on during those visits?
She hadn’t realized she was simply staring down the staircase leading to the dungeons until a quick sputter from a nearby candle interrupted her thoughts. Calming the beating of her heart, she picked the candleholder off of its perch on the wall and took the first tentative step down the stairs. She noticed how little the light truly illuminated the staircase as she headed downward into the depths of her own castle.
The spitting of the candle grew less the further she descended, as if the very air was stagnant and still. No wind from the outside world reached these catacombs. The thought crossed her mind, were these not catacombs of a sort? Except they placed living people in them to slowly die for crimes they had committed. She wasn’t even sure they had ever released any prisoners during her lifetime. Did they all rot down here?
She turned the corner of the hallway and looked down the passage; she had no idea why, but she knew it was the right one. A chill of dread came from one of the cells on the far end. She swallowed hard but was rooted to the spot. A low moan of pain issued from the cell to her left, but it was not her target. She ignored the sound but was still stuck in place. Why couldn’t she gather the courage to face him? She was already within breaths of his cell!
“It is rude to visit someone without showing your face princess.”
Zelda squealed slightly at the sudden voice slinking out of the far cell. She hadn’t expected it to sound so deep. She never did get to meet him face-to-face and talk. She didn’t even know what he sounded like. With a heavy shudder, she slowly padded down the hall, not knowing she was trying to be as quiet as possible for no real reason. She got to his cell at the end and turned towards it.
He was a hulking brute of a man; even in the dark shadows unlit by the candle she could see that. He was merely sitting on the bench attached to the brick wall of his cell. He was leaning over with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped and chin rested on them. He didn’t bother to look in her direction at all.
The most noticeable thing about Ganondorf besides his imposing figure was the tone of his skin. It was unlike any Hylian she knew. It was a dark sheen which was a sickly green in the light of the flame. He was no longer wearing the robust armor of blacks, reds and golds emblazoned with intricate Gerudo design. They had stripped him of that and replaced it with sack cloth shirt and pants. It did nothing to hide his menace however. The only thing left that wasn’t taken from him was the diadem encrusted on his forehead. It was a royal ruby of brilliant crimson that shimmered even in the dim light of the candle; surrounding it was a vessel intricately carved into his forehead which trailed off into the hairline. Zelda was a bit nauseated at the thought of having something like that permanently attached to your head, unable to be removed without significant pain or scarring.
Zelda jumped a little as Ganondorf mocked, “So what do I owe this most treasured pleasure of a visit from the esteemed Princess Zelda?”
“How did you know it was me?” Squeaked Zelda before quickly getting her voice under control.
Ganondorf ignored the question, “I presume there must have been some reason you came down here to see me.”
Zelda was unnerved, Ganondorf was stock still. He had not moved a single muscle. It was as if she was talking to a statue and it distressed her greatly. She could not tell what he was feeling and could not pick up on any nonverbal cues.
“Yes,” she paused, wondering how much she should tell him before the ultimate question, “when we stopped you from stealing the royal family treasure; I think we might have changed the future.”
Zelda waited a few beats, when there was no response from the cell she continued, “It seems a powerful army from the southern country of Nevachrea is coming. Would putting you in jail have something to do with that?”
Zelda was not sure if she had heard right at first, so low were his chuckles. Within seconds, the laughter boomed out of the man as he threw his head back in apparent glee. She jumped back away from the cell as the candle angrily wavered at the sudden movement. It was a good long minute before Ganondorf was able to control his laughter. He stood up and faced Zelda. Good Goddesses he was huge!
“My dear princess,” he said, containing his mirth well, “it would have been easier to have dealt with the Gerudo than with what you face now.”
“Why are they attacking now?” Zelda almost pleaded wanting to know the answers, “What stopped them before?”
Zelda blinked for a few moments, she didn’t quite understand his statement.
“Just you?” she said incredulously.
“Hmph,” Ganondorf huffed, “how little you know. Your grandfather made a deal with my people in exchange to end the war with Nevachrea many years ago. We utilized our magick to form a protective barrier around that entire country, sealing them in to keep them at bay. Without me as the pivot point of the spell, that protection is lost.”
It all started to make some sense, “But you deserved to be down here. You showed a lack of good faith by deceiving us to your real purpose here.” Zelda accused.
“My reasons are my own,” Ganondorf said impassively, sending a shiver down Zelda’s spine at the emotionless droning, “I do not need to explain my purpose to a young child who knows little of the ways of this world.”
“Ganondorf,” Zelda tried to sound regal and firm, “you know we can let you rot in here.”
Zelda screamed and leaped backwards to the far wall of the passage. Within moments, Ganondorf had closed the distance to the cell bars and slammed against them causing a racket that could be heard down the prison. An accusing finger thrust out between the bars pointing directly at her.
“What you do not realize princess,” he said with malice, “I choose to stay in this cell. I can leave at any time I wish.”
Zelda was dubious as his hand withdrew between the bars and he slumped himself back down onto the bench. He resumed his original position and placed his chin back on his clasped hands. She was not sure if she had heard him right or if he was simply bluffing. She stepped up to the bars again and went to speak when he softly spoke just above a whisper.
It was not so much a request but a command. Something inside her inner being was screaming to stay but her body would not oblige. Without a second thought, she ran down the corridor, feet keeping pace with the beating of her frantic heart.
Princess Zelda yelped when a hand gripped her arm and pulled her swiftly to the side of the corridor as she exited the dungeon stairs. She was swiftly pressed against the wall. The cold marble was chill across her back. She looked up at her caretaker Impa with uncertainty. She hadn’t meant to be caught like this doing something she was not supposed to.
“Zelda,” Impa reprimanded, “I thought I told you to get prepared for the journey?”
“I…uh…” Zelda stammered, “I was just making sure that-”
“You better think real hard about the next words that come out of your mouth.” Impa warned. Zelda simply closed her mouth and stood wordless before Impa. She was caught and she knew it; there was no reason to hide it now.
Impa shook her head before continuing, “No matter. It seems the battle has come to us.” After a quizzical look from Zelda, “There have been Nevachrea supporters inside the castle walls. Moles, spies, it doesn’t matter. They have apparently been inside our kingdom for years now. It seems they are the ones sowing dissent and unrest throughout the provinces. Already there are skirmishes in the castle and town square amongst the guards and what appears to be the local populace.”
“Dear Goddesses Impa,” Zelda said raising a hand to her mouth, “Is everyone truly against us?”
“No,” Impa shook her head, “The majority of the citizens are joining the cause and trying to drive them out. But that is not what is important right now, I received word from a scout that she saw a young boy in a green tunic riding on a red mare enter the Lost Woods not less than an hour or so ago.”
“Link!” Zelda was shocked, “Does he not know the danger?”
“I am sure he is aware princess,” Impa took her by the arm and started leading her down the hallway, “we are going to scout the edges of the Lost Woods and see if we can discern where he might have gone. I will make sure no harm comes to you. But you must stay with me, understood?”
After a swift nod, they both traveled swiftly down the corridor and rounded the bend towards the double doors leading to the main entry hall. An arm extended from the shadows with a backpack of clothing and a satchel of food. Impa took it without question and handed it to Zelda who nearly stumbled with its weight. Zelda was always surprised at how much the Sheikah were capable of as the arm that had provided the necessary provisions had vanished.
She clumsily swung the backpack over her shoulders and was just figuring out how to put the satchel on when Impa spoke, “I took the liberty of having someone pack your things and procure us food for the journey while you were down in the dungeons talking to Ganondorf.”
Zelda was struck dumb with her mouth open, “How…did you…?”
“I am Sheikah.” Impa said resolutely.
“I walked into that one, didn’t I?” Zelda giggled.
Impa looked down on her charge with a warm smile, “Yes you did, little one.”
It felt good to have a personal moment of mirth between them when everything around them was falling apart. They left through the grand shutter doors and out into the night. The oncoming chill of winter had not fully set in and merely a cool breeze brushed through Zelda’s dress. As they proceeded down the hill to the town stables, they could hear the clash of swords and the yells of the town guards. Off in the distance, they could see the glow of a fire brewing from an unfortunate house.
Keeping to the shadows, Impa motioned for Zelda to stay close behind her. She peered around the corner and saw several scuffles between the town guard and various civilians. It was hard to identify which were traitors or loyal citizens. Ignoring them, she grabbed Zelda’s hand and while crouching low, moved swiftly across the plaza. They moved from shadow to shadow, making sure they disturbed nothing with their passing. Zelda was entranced with the way Impa moved; with the grace of a cat she danced between patches of darkness. Zelda twice stumbled trying to keep up with her protector’s movements.
They were within view of the town gates opening up to the wide expanse of fields. Impa frowned slightly. The gates were to be shut at night. Were there traitors even in the ranks of soldiers themselves? Someone either had to have opened it from within or they were overrun by the spies amongst them. Impa highly doubted the latter. She gave Zelda’s hand a gentle squeeze before heading along the edge of a row of buildings, keeping to the darkest side of the street. She would have normally taken to the rooftops, but knew better than to tax her young princess.
Just then a man landed in front of them with a splatter, a spear shaft pierced through his sternum. Impa looked up swiftly to see a soldier descending with sword flashing. She swung Zelda in front of her out of the way before rolling to the side to avoid the initial dive. The man slammed the sword into the cobblestones, shattering it completely. He stumbled briefly before regaining his balance. Impa was on him in seconds. She unfurled her baton and clicked a hidden button on its underside, several spikes projected around the circumference of its tip. She brought it down onto his face goring his cheek and slicing his nose clean off. The man crumpled to the ground as she gave another blow to the stomach, penetrating several internal organs.
Zelda looked on in horror as she watched a man die for the first time in her life. Blood was coming out in gushes from his abdomen as he kneeled over in painful death. Impa didn’t even bother to look at her opponent, she was facing Zelda. She knew her handiwork and was not worried about the result of it. Zelda was safe and that was all that mattered.
“Princess,” Zelda recoiled a bit from Impa’s outstretched hand, “I am sorry you had to see that. Come with me, we must-”
Impa and Zelda both stared at each other in disbelief as a low groan emitted from the corpse lying behind Impa. She slowly turned around to the dead soldier and watched him slowly get back up onto his hands and knees. As the man rocked back and forth regaining feeling in his limbs, the blood flowing from his stomach seemed to be slowing down in regularity. The man spotted his bloodied nose off to the side in the dirt and grime of the street and made a grab for it. He fumbled and fell back onto his stomach with a sickening groan. Without regard to the two witnesses of this profane event, he jammed the nose back onto his face and held it there. Impa’s eyes widened slightly as his hand left the nose that it was now firmly reattached to his face.
“Zelda,” Impa commanded, “Get to the stables now! Get us a horse!”
Zelda turned and ran towards the stable just a block down as Impa slammed the man back down to the ground with another swing of her baton; Zelda winced at the slight crack she heard but kept going. She dashed into the stable and looked down the stalls for a free horse. One was lame but two were in prime condition. She opened the stall door and untethered the bristling brown stallion who was just as unnerved as she was.
It stamped its feet and neighed loudly, she tried to calm and soothe it when a big grubby arm wrapped itself around her waist and a hand clasped itself around her mouth. The smell of reeking body odor and moldy eggs hit her nose making her gag. She was lifted off the ground and carried backwards into the opposite stall. The smell of stale beer flushed into her nostrils as a filthy mouth shoved itself near her ear.
“Good evening princess. No stable boy here to do your dirty work? That’s too bad.” The man chortled.
The man roughly threw her down onto the straw before leaping on top of her pushing the air out of her lungs with his overbearing weight. The man was disgustingly massive. He was fat with a repulsive beer belly and a chest full of hair. His head was bald with smudges of what looked like more than just dirt. Zelda wanted to retch but couldn’t. The man quickly started trying to pull apart her dress with insane fits of laughter as he did so.
“Keep squirming little princess,” he leered as he restrained her arms and started pawing her body, “no one is going to save you now!”
The neighing of the horse grew louder and the screaming inside Zelda’s head rose to a fever pitch. This wasn’t happening! Why was this happening? Zelda jolted as warm blood splattered onto her face, a spearhead had scored through the man’s neck. His eyes went wide with surprise as he tried to speak but merely gurgled on his own blood. Impa, with a heavy heave, lifted the man off of Zelda with the spear and tossed him to the side of the empty stall. He lay there staring in useless fury at both women as he tried to grab and cling to the spear still sticking through his throat.
Impa reached her hand out to Zelda to help her up, but all Zelda could do was lay there in shock still staring at the disgusting man. Impa forced Zelda up and walked her over to the stall, it was only then that she realized Impa was covered in gore and unknown fleshy bits. Zelda shuddered as Impa lifted her up and set her on the horse before swinging up herself in front of Zelda.
“Hold onto me tight princess, we ride fast and hard.” Impa commanded.
Zelda could to nothing but comply, she simply stared ahead into nothingness. All she could do was utter one phrase, “The soldier…”
Impa looked back to her briefly, “Not dead.”
With a swift kick to the sides, the horse galloped out of the stable and into the night. Without even looking, Impa bent low on the horse and swung the baton in an upwards arc as they reached the entrance to the stables; the baton struck the soldier in the chin lifting him clear off the ground. He slammed back down as they rushed onward towards the town gates and into the open fields.
Impa smirked, “Still not dead.”
They rode like the wind for several miles before Zelda was finally in a mind to think clearly. She was going over the events of the last few hours and still hadn’t pieced it all together in her mind. None of it seemed to be real, or something from a horrible nightmare. How can the dead come back to life? Why were they not able to be killed? She looked around and was unsure of where they were or where they were headed.
“Where are we going?” Zelda asked, giving Impa a slight squeeze around her midsection to get her attention.
“To find Link.” Impa said decisively.