The Happy Mask Salesman
Link was outside early the next morning, combing the grass and overturning rocks for Rupees. His fairy watched him patiently as he collected them into his wallet. She asked him, "How many do you suppose you'll need?"
"I bought this shield from Rudy for forty Rupees," Link shook his shoulder to indicate his shield as he replied without looking up, "but I'm not taking chances. I'm filling up my Rupee sack as much as I can before I go. I don't want to get there and find out I don't have enough."
Navi could see the sense in this and she decided to help. Link found that she was particularly useful in this task. The light that shone from her body made the hidden Rupees glitter. He came to recognize the flash of each color of Rupee and by the time the sun was fully exposed above the mountains, his Rupee sack was bulging.
"Ninety-nine Rupees," he announced, tightening the drawstring. He bounced the wallet in his palm and then commented, "I'm going to need a bigger sack."
"Let's just concentrate on getting that shield," Navi advised him.
Link turned to the path leading out of the village with a sigh. Then he drew himself up, put on a determined grimace and said bravely, "Let's go."
The trip to Hyrule Castle Town was surprisingly short compared to all of his previous trips, including the ride Talon had given him from Lon Lon Ranch. It was approaching noon when he stepped into the square. The hustle and bustle of the town market was in full swing with people running, yelling, buying, and selling. Link shook his head, trying to take in the confusion again.
"It's not like Kakariko Village, is it?" Navi commented.
"I'm still not used to seeing so many people in one place," Link replied. He looked about the square and said, "Okay, so where is that place that sells shields?"
"I believe the soldier said that it's a bazaar," Navi answered, scanning the town. Then she pointed across the square to a small building with a sign that looked too large for it above its door. It had the image of a large, bearded man frowning down at the people. Underneath the image were strange, big, red letters that proclaimed, BAZAAR.
"Ah, thanks, Navi," Link said and hurried across. He paused at the door for a second before he grabbed the knob and pulled it open. Then he pulled it shut behind him as he stepped through.
It was quieter in the shop. A large man, who was sitting in a corner behind the counter and polishing a helmet, looked up. Spotting a customer, he set the helmet down on his worktable then stood up and took his place behind the counter. He placed both palms on the surface and watched Link with a serious look on his face. Link noticed that it was the same man he had seen on the sign. He approached the large man nervously.
"Hello there, son," the man spoke in a deep, rumbling voice. Link thought it sounded like thunder. "Feel free to browse." He waved his hand over the items behind him on the shelves.
Link wasn't interested in browsing however. He walked right up to the counter and said to the man in his bravest voice, "I'd like to see your shields, please."
"Ah." The man nodded. "Well, I can show you these." He turned to the shelves behind him and pulled something from it. He swung the item onto the counter, which pinged on impact. "These are my current hot seller, the Hylian Shield."
Link looked down at it, impressed. This shield wasn't wooden was the first thing he noticed. Instead, it was made from light metal that gleamed at its edges. On its front were designs molded and painted in vivid colors: a red symbol that represented a bird with its wings outstretched, and above it a golden symbol that Link immediately recognized as the Triforce. Silver designs snaked around these two symbols, which were all set against a blue background. He took off his wooden shield and set it on the counter for comparison.
The man's eyes darted to it and he frowned. "That one's been through some battles, eh kid?"
"That's why I'm going to get this kind instead," Link replied, tapping the metal shield. He noted with pleasure the metal ringing his finger made on it.
The man grunted. "I don't know. It might be too big for you, kid. I could fix this shield for you if you'd like. It would most likely be cheaper anyways." He picked up the cracked shield and turned it over, inspecting it.
"But the guard told me I'd need to get a better shield if I'm going to climb Death Mountain," Link protested, tapping the metal shield again.
The man turned to him in surprise and raised his eyebrow. "Oh, so old Brad told you about us, eh? For that, I'll give you a special discount!"
The boy lit up with excitement. "So how much is that?"
The man set the wooden shield on his worktable and pulled out a set of tools to repair it. He glanced over at the kid and frowned as he thought about the question. "Originally, I priced it at eighty Rupees. But since Brad told you about us, I'll drop it to forty."
"What do you know?" Navi said, smiling somewhat smugly down at Link. "The same price Rudy charged you for the wooden shield. You probably didn't need to spend all that time looking for Rupees after all."
But Link didn't care. He gleefully tipped out forty Rupees onto the counter and thanked the man as he picked up the metal shield. He found it a little bulky to hold, even when he slipped his arm through so that it settled on his back. It was nearly as big as he was tall.
The man studied him thoughtfully. "I still think it's mighty big for you, kid, but if that's what you want then so be it. Do you still want me to fix your shield though? In case you need something smaller to use?"
"All right." Link agreed. He twisted himself, trying to get used to the feel of the big metal shield sitting on his back. It was almost like a shell that he could duck into. It covered nearly everything but his head and legs below his knees.
"It will take a while, so why don't you take a walk around Hyrule Castle Town?" the man suggested. "There's plenty to see."
"And besides, you do have an errand to run for the soldier back in Kakariko Village," Navi reminded Link.
Link sighed. "Oh, all right." He turned to the big man, who was starting to saw his wooden shield in half. "Do you know where I can find a shop that sells masks? What is it called?"
"The Happy Mask Shop?" the man said helpfully.
"Yes!" Link snapped his fingers. "Do you know where it is?"
"Just two shops to my right," the man answered, using his saw to point.
"Thank you. I'll be back later for my shield." Link waved to him and then stepped out into the busy market square.
Navi remarked to him, "What a thoughtful man, offering to fix your shield like that so that you have a smaller one to work with."
"I still like this one," Link said stubbornly though he was staggering a bit under its weight.
His fairy shook her head. "Just because the shield's bigger doesn't necessarily mean you'll be safer."
"I can handle it," Link insisted. Then, to take Navi's mind off of the shield, he said, "So where's the Happy Mask Shop?"
A moment later, he wondered how he had ever missed it. The shop was right next to the path leading up to the castle, but that wasn't what made it so prominent. Over the face of the building was a clump of brightly colored masks with exaggerated expressions: a blue one with its mouth turned down far past the normal limits, a yellow one smiling so widely that Link's sword could have gone through lengthwise, a red one with a demonic scowl, and a green one peeking out from behind the red one as though it was afraid of being seen. Beneath the masks, large yellow letters practically roared out, "HAPPY MASK SHOP!" that would have caught Link's attention from anywhere in the square. The first word that came to his mind to describe it came from the shop he had just left… bizarre.
"I wonder what the salesman is like?" Link wondered aloud. Then he stepped inside.
Ganondorf felt the need for some fresh air. Pacing the castle corridors for hours upon end had become a wearisome task and restlessness had settled upon him. So after warning Balthagar and his loyal Moblin guards not to do anything suspicious, he left the castle for a quick stroll.
But a breath of fresh air was not his only purpose for escaping the confines of Hyrule Castle. No, he wished to lay his eyes upon his ultimate prize. He had been careful not to give the fools at Hyrule Castle any reason to suspect his true motives behind this embassy, but he could not resist the temptation any longer. The time was not yet right to bring his plan to fruition, but he hoped a glimpse of the treasure he sought would slake his thirst for just a little longer.
But for a glimpse, he first had to find the temple that housed it: the Temple of Time.
He stepped into the square. As he glanced around the marketplace, he realized that he would have trouble blending in with the people here. His fine silk clothes of black and red were too somber amongst the subtle colors of their peasant rags. And with his heavy cape trailing behind him, he would surely draw the unwanted attention of every simpleton here.
But it was a small matter, he finally decided with a shake of his head and a smile. He would be merely a curious foreigner who wished to study the culture of the people here.
Satisfied with this pretext, he strode purposefully up to a man, who stared at him as though surprised that he would grace him with his presence.
"Good afternoon, friend," Ganondorf spoke in a smooth voice, doing his best to repress a derisive sneer.
"A-afternoon," the man responded, looking even more surprised that Ganondorf would actually speak to him.
Ganondorf struggled to contain a laugh. He bowed to hide the tugging at the corner of his lips and spoke, "It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to observe your intriguing culture. Such magnificent architecture I have never seen elsewhere!"
"Well, uh, thanks. We are known for our, uh, architecture."
"Hyrule Castle," Ganondorf waved to it on the rise overlooking the town, "an impressive feat of masonry and design."
The man nodded in agreement, warming up to the theme, "She's a beauty, all right. No doubt about it."
"Surely no greater model of fine craftsmanship can be found," said Ganondorf, raising his arms in a gesture of adulation. Then his gaze shifted to the man and he spoke in a sly voice, "Although, I have heard rumors of a grander structure hidden here in Hyrule Castle Town. A temple in which it is said a great power resides."
The man blinked at him in surprise. "You mean the Temple of Time?"
The Gerudo King's eyes gleamed. "Why, yes. That is exactly what the rumors speak of. The Temple of Time, a hidden shrine, they say, and only a select few know of its location."
The man looked utterly perplexed as he said, "But everybody knows where it's at!" Quailing under the piercing look that the dark man gave him, he pointed and said, "Just take the eastern path and it will take you straight there."
By Aleika, that was too easy, thought Ganondorf. Out loud, he said, "Truly? The Temple of Time is real? If what you say is true then I must see for myself." He strode past the man with an earnestness that was sincere. But, seizing hold of caution, he forced himself to stop, turn around, and call to the man, "I thank you for the conversation. It was most… illuminating."
He failed to contain a menacing laugh as he turned back and strode again down the eastern path. The man watched him leave, feeling slightly bewildered.
"You're welcome," he said, scratching his head.
Link had not been prepared.
He realized now that the façade had been merely a taste of what awaited him inside the Happy Mask Shop, for what he found when he stepped inside were masks.
Lots of them.
Masks of every size, shape, color, expression, texture, and stretch of the imagination hung on every square inch of royal purple wall. A bird of prey mask scrutinized Link from a high perch, its midnight blue feathers shimmering, making the mask look alive. A child-sized mask of a wrinkled face gazed at Link with a gloomy expression, its pale, lumpy skin looking as though it literally had been molded by a child. A mask that was so small that even Navi might not have been able to wear it, squeezed in by the larger masks surrounding it, had been crudely painted into the likeness of a pig, with the finishing touch being a yellow-green squiggle trailing from its snout.
Link spun around, taking in the overwhelming collection, until he heard a high and piercing voice. "Greetings, my most opportunistic friend! Welcome to the Happy Mask Shop!"
Startled, he spun around to find who it belonged to. For a moment, he didn't see anyone. Then he spotted movement near the back of the shop and saw a man standing at the counter with his hands clasped together and wearing a grin so wide that Link thought his face might tear in half. He wore a purple suit that rippled with light so bright that it hurt to look at it. His red hair was combed neatly over his head. He had small eyes that looked pinched but that may have been because of his wide smile.
He spoke again in a voice charged with enthusiasm, "Here, our aim is to please! Looking for happiness? This is the place! We've got something for everyone!" He emphasized "everyone" and threw out his hands in a dramatic gesture to show that he meant it. Then he beckoned. "Come, come closer, boy. No need to worry. I don't bite!"
Link started toward the counter hesitantly. He was quickly becoming convinced that this was the strangest man he had ever met. Navi seemed to share in his hesitation for she stayed well behind him. When he reached the counter, the man giggled, leaned closer to him over the counter, and asked him in a grand voice, "How would you like to be my partner? A salesman for happiness?" He might just as easily have been asking, "How would like to be the king of the world?"
It took everything in Link's power to not just turn around and make a run for it. He stammered, "I-I just came here for…"
"A mask, yes, certainly!" the salesman cut in, clapping him on the shoulder and giggling. "But this is no ordinary shop! You see, we do things just a little bit differently than other shops do." Keeping his left hand on Link's shoulder, the man drew the boy's attention to his other hand with animated gestures. "Here's how it works: I lend you a mask, you sell the mask, and then you bring the money back here!" He flashed Link a dazzling grin. "Couldn't be easier! And yet, nothing could be more rewarding."
Navi frowned. She drifted forward, bringing the grinning salesman's attention to her, to Link's gratitude. She asked in concern, "But if you do that, how do you know if the mask is sold? And what if the money doesn't come back?"
"Oh, but it does come back," said the salesman assuredly as though this logic was perfectly reasonable to everyone. "One way or another, the mask is paid for."
"So no one steals the money when they've sold the mask?" Link asked dubiously.
"They may try," said the salesman airily, "but one way or another, the mask is paid for." He giggled, which sounded oddly menacing. "That is why I am so very careful who I choose to lend my masks to. Very careful indeed…"
Link wasn't sure he liked this strange man. He was starting to unnerve him. He asked, "So… can I borrow a mask?"
"That is yet to be decided," said the grinning salesman, brandishing a finger at him. "First you must answer me this: can I trust you to sell the mask and return the payment here?" He tapped the counter emphatically.
"I-I think so."
Navi added, "We will ensure you get your payment for the mask."
With a cry of glee, the Happy Mask Salesman brought his hands together in a deafening clap and exclaimed, "Splendid! Very good! I had a feeling about you two! The kind of feeling one has when he can trust another!" He started to bend down to reach for something under the counter when he caught himself and straightened hastily. "Ah yes, I forgot to ask. What mask are you looking for?"
"A kee-something mask," Link answered. When the salesman's brow rose in question, he explained, "The guard didn't know what the mask was called."
"He also mentioned that it's a popular mask," Navi added helpfully. "He wanted it for his boy."
"Then the Keaton mask must be the one you're looking for," said the Happy Mask Salesman, and he drew a mask seemingly out of the air and set it gently on the counter. Link picked it up and studied it.
It looked like a fox with tiny eyeholes and a pointy black snout. There was no visible mouth underneath the light coat of soft, yellow fur. Link placed it on his face and found to his surprise that it fit very comfortably.
The Happy Mask Salesman giggled and pointed at Link's mask. "You'll be quite popular with that mask on."
Link pulled the mask off and slipped it into his pouch. Without looking directly at the grinning man, he stammered out, "Well, uh, thanks for lending me this mask… uh… I'll make sure you get the money back." He shuffled awkwardly for the door.
The salesman waved at him. "Don't forget, when you've sold it, bring the money back here. Ten Rupees for the mask. When you've done that, I will lend you another mask."
"Sure, okay, thanks," said Link, still not looking the man in the eye.
"After that, I will lend you another. And after that, another - until all of the masks are sold!"
"All of them?!" Link spluttered in astonishment, his gaze darting to all the masks hanging on the walls.
The Happy Mask Salesman giggled. "Each to a new face until everyone is happy." Seeing Link's expression, he said, "What? Is it not a simple task? Why, to someone like you it should by no means be a difficult task."
"Well, sir," said Navi, trying to explain, "you must understand that we have a greater task to complete, which means we will not have the time or opportunity to commit to your business."
"But are you not endeavoring now to bring happiness to everyone?"
Navi reacted in surprise. "What do you…"
The Happy Mask Salesman winked. "I have ways of knowing. I can see that you, young man, have suffered much and have grown much in a short time. I can see that you are a brave and compassionate lad who strives to make the world better for all. And I see that you are capable of much more than even you know, so you see this 'commitment' is by no means a difficult task for you. You just need to have faith. Have faith…" He closed his eyes and tilted his head back as though basking in a soothing rain.
For a long time, nobody spoke. Finally, Link said as he pulled the door open, "All right then. I'll see what I can do. Goodbye." Then he shut it before the strange salesman could say anything more.
Outside, his fairy murmured, "There is something unsettling about that man."
"Like the way he seemed to know things about us?" Link asked. "Or how he said that the masks were always paid for one way or another? Or that creepy laugh of his?"
He was surprised when his fairy agreed, "Yes. Very unsettling."
They set off to put some distance between them and the Happy Mask Shop, the masks over the door watching them go. They were both relieved when they stepped into the Bazaar. The brawny shopkeeper looked up.
"Just in time," he said, and he swung Link's shield onto the counter. "Here you are. Fixed it as good as new. Better, as a matter of fact."
Link had to agree. Not only had the shopkeeper repaired the crack in the shield, he had smoothed it until it was like glass, repainted the insignia in fresh red paint, and had also bound it in an iron frame. "Wow," he said, inspecting it appreciatively. "Thanks."
"Just be careful, kid," the man told him. "If you need swords and shields, then I can only guess what you're up against."