Olchi, The Floating City
There was a chilly silence at the breakfast table the following morning. Link and the abbot purposefully didn't look at one another—the abbot seemingly ashamed, and Link apparently unable to control his temper otherwise.
Zelda noticed that Abbot Winfield seemed to still be deeply in shock. He absentmindedly poked at his breakfast, hardly eating any of it, and he spent a lot of time staring out into space. Like Link, he had experienced a deep, existential disappointment: the great Master Sword that they had supposedly been the guardians of for centuries, appeared to be a fake.
That there once had been a Master Sword wasn't really in dispute. The question was: did it still exist? Had a fake been placed in the maze to hide the fact that the real one had been lost?
The only thing that could possibly be counted as a positive—in Zelda's opinion—was the fact that Link was eating heartily. He had been so upset about the sword the day before, he had not eaten any lunch or supper. But, as he polished off his third helping of eggs, sausage, and toast, he seemed to be making up for the lost meals and physical exertion.
Zelda just wished he was wearing something different. A monk had brought him fresh clothes early that morning, and the new tunic was black. It just seemed to highlight Link's black mood and the sullen scowl on his face.
As soon as they were done with breakfast, they packed food for lunch and gathered up their few belongings—Link threw the broken pieces of the supposed Master Sword into the pack with a certain amount of venom—then they headed out into the courtyard. Everyone had been giving Link a wide berth since his invective-laden explosion had been heard all over the grounds, but a few boys still watched with obvious curiosity as Zelda transformed into a horse and Link leapt onto her back.
Without so much as a parting word or backwards glance, they headed out of the gate.
Link's sour mood didn't seem to relent as they traveled through the exotic countryside; he only spoke to give Zelda directions.
Despite his mood, she tried to enjoy the silence between them and, instead, listen to the calls of unusual birds and the clunking of bamboo as it rattled together in the breeze.
Once they were out of the valley where the monastery was located, they headed due east. Shortly before lunch, the bamboo forests gave way to strange mesas—something between a large hill and a small mountain with nearly-vertical sides and flat tops—and deep gorges that seemed to go on forever. When Zelda stopped at the edge of one and looked over, she could just see—in the dim light—a river snaking along the bottom.
They stopped at noon to eat their lunch, and Zelda took time to further admire the beautiful landscape. The mesas were an orangey-red, but the ground was a lush green. With the sky blue and cloudless above them, everything came together in a trifecta of color that was so intense, it didn't seem real.
Shi-Ha had always been a strange, exotic place to Zelda. Hyrule only had limited diplomatic relations with Shi-Ha because of their strained—and often warring—relationship with Erenrue. The royalty of Hyrule was too-closely related to the royals in Erenrue; they didn't want to cause unnecessary tension by seeming too friendly with Shi-Ha.
Shi-Ha had no royal family. They had suffered a great plague some four hundred years before which wiped out not only the royal family, but almost all of the nobility and most of the common people; for a time, it looked like the kingdom would collapse entirely and the survivors would revert to living on small farms or collecting into villages and seeing to their own needs and defenses.
However, a few of the royal advisors had survived, and they called up all of the remaining scholars and intellectuals in the kingdom to help decide who would be the next ruler of Shi-Ha. There were no known claimants in Shi-Ha, and only a distant connection to the royalty of Erenrue.
After nearly a month of meeting behind closed doors, they emerged with an announcement that was so radical, it shocked even Hyrule and Erenrue. Rather than appoint a new king, or invite in a royal from another kingdom, they had decided that they would not restore the monarchy at all. Instead, they were creating a new kind of government out of whole cloth. They had devised a series of exams that tested a person's knowledge of law, as well as general subjects, like mathematics, history, and philosophy. The easiest test was for bottom-rung positions in the government, like clerks and secretaries. The higher someone aspired to rise, the harder the tests became, until they topped out at a mammoth test that took a week to complete—testing not only intelligence, but perseverance and dedication as well.
Those who passed the hardest test of all made up a Council of Scholars who administered the affairs of the country. They voted on every decision and all but a few issues only required a simple majority to pass.
Hyrule scoffed at the idea of a country being ruled by a committee. The king of Erenrue—who had thought he would place his younger son on the throne of Shi-Ha—was incensed that their claim had been ignored. It was distant, yes, but no one could deny that the sitting king of Erenrue was descended from a Shi-Ha princess.
The king declared war on Shi-Ha and marched on it, determined not to just install his son on the throne, but to take it over utterly and absorb it into Erenrue. Shi-Ha's population had been decimated and they had no standing army and few men left to conscript.
Victory seemed certain for Erenrue until, as they were crossing the same plains that Zelda and Link were crossing, a massive storm struck and destroyed a huge portion of the army and scattered the rest. The survivors said that such a storm had never been recorded in the history of the world, so it could have only been a punishment from the gods for trying to take land that was not theirs to rule. Even the king was sufficiently scared by the apparent wrath of the gods and he retreated to Erenrue and never again pressed his claim to Shi-Ha's throne. But the damage was done: the people of Shi-Ha became bitter over Erenrue's attempt to attack them when they were at their most vulnerable, and they became perpetual enemies—even though their descendants eventually forgot the original cause of their animosity.
And, contrary to everyone's expectations—including its own citizens'—Shi-Ha did not collapse in on itself; in fact, it not only survived, but, once its population numbers began to recover, it began to thrive.
Unlike kingdoms which had to mutely suffer through bad kings, Shi-Ha was always ruled by the brightest, most dedicated people. And because they knew the eyes of the rest of the world were on them and rooting for their failure, those men and women who made it to the top were very careful to keep things fair. It was a capital crime to be caught tampering with the testing system in any way—either by selling answers, cheating, bribing officials, or corruption on the part of the test administrators or the members of government itself.
Zelda had always found Shi-Ha to be terribly curious, but Master Ryu had warned her of showing too much interest in it; as he pointed out, Shi-Ha had demonstrated they didn't need a king or queen to function; she could put herself out of a job and title if the idea caught on in Hyrule.
"It's so pretty here," Zelda said with a sigh, as she finished off the last of her lunch. She was speaking more to herself than to Link, so she was surprised when he replied; it was the first attempt he had made at actual conversation since before he went into the maze.
"You don't want to be caught out here if it rains," he said, looking up at the sky. "They get torrential rains here—typhoons, they call them. You've never seen so much rain before in your life; it's like standing under a waterfall." He pointed up at the sides of the mesas, which looked like they were ribbed. "The rain falls up there and comes rushing down the sides—sometimes quite suddenly and sometimes full of mud or boulders; it can kill you if you get caught in it." He pointed to a nearby gorge. "And everything flows down into the canyons and makes the rivers rise a third of the way up, or more."
"Have you seen one of those typhoons for yourself?"
"They hit at the monastery occasionally; most of the time, though, they turn more to the south. But after one, our teacher brought us out here and showed us the rivers, and the water was still flowing off the tops of the mesa, and you could see where the mudslides had come through and wiped out everything in their path—even whole trees."
They got back on the road shortly thereafter, but their conversation made Zelda think about how much she had missed talking to Link. Even though it had not quite been twenty-four hours since his nervous breakdown, it seemed like it had been much longer. She felt very lonely, even with him around. She hadn't realized—until he emotionally withdrew—how alone she was in the world now. Link was the only person she had who was on her side; who was a friend; who cared about her. At least, she hoped he still cared.
They made good time—Artos had expected them to be walking, as everyone at the monastery did—and it was still early in the afternoon when Zelda stepped out of a spruce forest and onto a low bluff above Olchi, the Floating City.
She stopped and stared at it in awe. She had heard of it, but had never been able to imagine what it looked like. The entire city was build on a series of rafts that were tethered to posts sunk in a natural harbor. Each person had their own raft—the size of your raft determined by your wealth and status—and a house built on silts in the middle of it.
As with many other cities, the wealthiest people, merchants, and craftspeople lived towards the center; the poorer people lived on the outer edges. Those who could not afford to buy a house close to the center of town ended up building their own raft and house and lashing it onto another one. Most families lived in a group of rafts so that they shared space and resources and all the cousins played together where there was always a least one pair of eyes on them.
Three times a year—with the turning of the seasons—the people of Olchi untied the rafts and everyone used staves or tow-boats to propel the entire city through the water to a new location along the coast. This allowed them to follow the migration routes of fish and turtles, which were their primary food source. As they liked to point out, they only had to move the city three times a year, but they were able to fish off the rafts every day.
Not only that, but their summer location was over a natural oyster bed where they spent the entire season diving for pearls. There were very few pearls in the world that did not come from Olchi.
Link threw his leg over Zelda's neck and dropped to the ground. "I think you better transform," he said. "You won't be able to move through town as a horse, and I think it would not be wise to reveal your secret to anyone here. We've never been at war with Shi-Ha, but that doesn't mean they're our allies, either."
Zelda transformed back to her human self.
"And I think we should be careful about your true identity for the same reason," Link added. "The fewer people who know our business, the better."
She nodded. At least he still seemed to be looking out for her; that was a good sign. She continued to hope that his despair was temporary.
They walked down a gentle slope cut into the side of the bluff. At the bottom, there was a wooden boardwalk that crossed the sand and connected up to a pier. At the end of the pier, all you had to do was step off onto a raft and you were in Olchi.
Zelda felt the motion of the ocean—even though it was calm—under her feet. "This feels like being on your family's boat," she said.
"Everything on the water feels like that."
They wandered between the tall structures—most were so high on their stilts, it was easy to walk under them.
"Why do they build the houses up like that?" Zelda asked, looking up at them.
"Because when the sea is rough, the waves will break over the rafts. The lower your house is, the more likely it is to get flooded."
Link had been to Olchi a few times before, so he led the way to the city center. People frequently did double-takes, then stopped to stare at them as they passed by. As at the monastery, Zelda and Link stood out because of their fair features—not to mention their Hylian ears.
The market, in the center of town, was actually located in the space under a bunch of houses. In Castle Town, it was common for the merchants and craftsmen to have two-story houses, with their shop in the bottom and their living quarters up top. The only difference here was that the shops all had open sides and portable tables; when the day was over, the merchants carried everything upstairs so that there was nothing to be damaged or washed overboard.
In the midst of all of the market stalls and houses, there was one huge raft—made with the biggest tree trunks Zelda had ever seen—that was empty, and it served as a general gathering place for all the people. A few temporary merchants spread out cloths and just sat there, selling their wares.
Link stopped before an old beggar man who was sitting in one corner of the main raft, and he squatted down beside him. "Excuse me, can you point me in the direction of Hols, the blacksmith?" Link asked. He was so polite—his voice kind and respectful—that Zelda thought she was hearing the Link she knew.
"Are you kin?" the man asked, looking at Link curiously. "He has ears like yours."
"We might very well be, but not close enough to count."
"Oh. Well, if you go down that street," he said, pointing directly in front of him to a gap between two buildings, "he's all the way at the end and on your right. He can't work up here, where the buildings are so close together, you know; they might catch on fire."
"That makes sense," Link said. He took off the pack on his back and rummaged around in it. "I'm afraid we don't have any money," Link said, before handing the old man what they had leftover from their lunch.
"Then you probably need this more than I do," the man said, offering the food back to Link.
Link waved it off. "No, keep it. Hols will take care of us while we're here."
The man laughed incredulously. "You're going to see Hols, but you have no money? He is the best sword-maker in the country; he commands the highest price."
"So we've heard," Link said. Then he patted the old man on the shoulder and stood up.
Zelda followed him down the "street"—it bore no real resemblance to a street; it was just a bit of raft between two buildings—and they went all the way to the end, as instructed. There, they found a huge raft with a nice, but modest house in the middle of it. Near one end of the raft—as far from the city as possible—there was a small shed with a metal roof above a forge. Under the forge, the raft was plated with metal.
"I guess this is the place," Link said, looking around.
They went up the stairs—which were located under the exact middle of the house—and Link knocked on the trap door above their heads.
A moment later, the door was pulled open and a woman looked down at them with the same curiosity everyone else exhibited. "May I help you?" she asked after a moment.
"We're looking for Hols, the blacksmith."
"You've come to the right place." She stepped back and gestured to them. "Please, come in."
Zelda looked around as they walked in. The main room was large and open. They had large windows—which made it bright and airy—but no glass in them. There was a warm—almost hot—breeze blowing in, and it had a smell of salt and other things that Zelda couldn't identify.
Hols' wife led them to a low table with cushions on the floor. "Please, have a seat," she said, graciously gesturing to the table.
Link and Zelda sat down. A moment later, the woman brought over a little tray with a porcelain teapot and set of cups on it. She carefully poured Link and Zelda a cup of tea.
"Hols has been working all morning and he just came in to clean up for lunch," she explained. "I'll tell him you're here."
As soon as the woman left, Link dropped his façade of polite interest and slumped down, looking as dispirited as before. He took one sip of his tea, then put the cup back down on the table and didn't touch it again.
Zelda sighed inwardly; she was hoping that Link was starting to perk up a little. But, apparently, that was just a show he was putting on for the benefit of others.
She was struck by the irony that she had once begged him to show her his true self, but now that she was seeing him in all of his raw emotion, she preferred the fake Link.
Well… that wasn't entirely true. It wasn't that she preferred Link when he was acting cheerful, but feeling miserable; she really just wanted him to be genuinely happy again.
A moment later, a man came out of a back room and strode into the common area. Then he stopped suddenly and looked at Link and Zelda for several moments.
He was a tall man—much taller than average for Shi-Ha; by comparison, his wife was tiny—smaller than even Zelda. He looked to be in his early forties, and was of average build, but he was very muscular; the sleeves of his tunic were rolled up nearly to his shoulders, and his thick, well-defined arms were on display. Zelda would have guessed him to be a blacksmith even if she hadn't known him.
He was a handsome man, although Zelda couldn't put her finger on what, exactly, made him handsome. His hair was a medium brown—not the black that was typical for that area—and straight and long; it was tied back at the nape of his neck. His skin was brown, but it was hard to tell if it was naturally that way, or if he just had a deep tan. He had the same almond-shaped eyes of the other people in Shi-Ha, but his eyes were light green.
He looked like a mixture of the people of Shi-Ha and those of Hyrule—with maybe a little Erenrue thrown in. Zelda decided it was the mix of features that made him handsome because he both looked familiar and foreign. No matter where you were from, there was something about Hols' face that would intrigue.
Hols' wife surreptitiously poked him in the side.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, startling out of his staring. "I didn't mean to be rude; it's just that I've never seen another Hylian before—much less two together."
Link smiled. "I guess you're making up for lost time."
"Maybe that's it," he said. Then he took a seat at the table. His wife began to set out a late lunch: steaming bowls of rice, noodles, vegetables, and meat in a thick reddish-orange sauce.
"What can I do for you?" Hols asked, looking at Link and Zelda. "Are you long-lost relatives come looking for me?"
"Pity," he said wistfully.
"Why, are you missing some relatives?" Zelda asked curiously.
"I don't know who my father was," he said. "My mother would never tell me, which makes me suspect he might have been from Erenrue. "
Zelda was confused. "Artos said something about your father not wanting you to become a blacksmith, I thought."
"Oh, that is my adopted father; my mother married him when I was just a toddler. I don't know who my real father was." He looked a bit dreamy-eyed. "I always hoped he might have been a blacksmith, too. My adopted father is a big-time merchant, and he wanted to groom me to take over the business from him, as he never had any biological children of his own, but I felt an overwhelming desire to be a blacksmith. Father wasn't happy about it, but he's come to accept it. In fact, I think he might actually be a little proud that I'm so well-respected."
"I'm afraid that's not why we're here," Link said.
"Well, I hate to tell you, but I'm very backed up right now. With all the trouble in Hyrule and now, with Erenrue fallen, I've been called to make new weapons and armor; the government is afraid that that wizard—whoever he is—might get the idea that he can conquer us as well."
"I think that's a fair assumption."
Hols looked at them a little more closely. "Where are you from?"
"We're from Hyrule, but we're lately come from Erenrue."
Hols looked surprised. "Wow, you've just managed to miss all of the trouble."
"Well, actually, we didn't miss it, but we still managed to get out."
"Is that why you want weapons? To defend yourselves? Because any blacksmith in Shi-Ha can make you something decent and at much less cost."
"Well, yes and no," Link replied. "It's a very long story—and it doesn't sound like you have time to hear it all—but suffice to say that there are demons running loose in the world because Nagadii—the wizard—opened a rift in Hyrule that goes all the way to the Dark World. He can also summon and control hordes of them—which is how he defeated the entire Erenrue army."
Hols whistled low. "I was wondering about that—in fact, I hardly believed it. An army from Hyrule defeating Erenrue? And not just Erenrue, but King Ranis—the Lion of Erenrue. How did that happen?"
Hols paled. "That doesn't bode well for us if he turns his gaze this way."
"No, it doesn't."
A moment later, just as Hols' wife was putting plates on the table, a young boy—he looked to be about six years old—came running in and half-tackled, half-hugged his father.
Hols absentmindedly hugged him back, then pulled him into his lap, holding him protectively. "I wonder what we can do about it?" Hols asked. "Is there no way to defeat the demons, or are there too many of them?"
"Yes, there are too many of them, and no they cannot be defeated. You may strike one down, but it will come back to life after a time. The only thing that supposedly will kill them is the Master Sword."
Hols' eyes lit up; it was clear they had moved to a topic that deeply interested him. "Ah, yes, the Sword of Evil's Bane; of course it would utterly defeat anything as evil as a demon."
"Here's the problem—and where you come in," Link said. He reached into the pack, which he had set on the floor next to him, and he pulled out the broken pieces of the sword. Hols hurried to push the bowls of food away so that Link could lay the sword on the table.
"I was told that the Master Sword was in the Westeastern Monastery," Link explained while Hols stared at the sword. "We traveled here—in a very roundabout way—to retrieve it. Abbot Winfield informed me that it was in a vault under the crypt in the monastery. I went through an awful maze, full of traps and nasty creatures, for hours. Then, at the end, I found that." Link pointed at the sword. "That's all there was, and it was in a gold, bejeweled box like it was some great treasure. Old Abbot Artos suggested we come talk to you and see if, in all of your studying, you came across some hint of where the real Master Sword might be. …Because that's obviously not it."
Hols gently shooed his son out of his lap, then picked up the bottom half of the sword and began to examine it closely. "It's a good fake, if it's a fake," he said, clearly reserving judgment.
"It may have been when it was new, but it's obviously not now," Link argued. "Otherwise, it wouldn't have rusted."
"Let me spend some time looking at this," Hols said. "I have spent years studying Master Sword lore; I even made copies of parts of the books at the monastery. I'll have to consult my notes and look at every part of it carefully."
"So… are you saying that you don't know where the real Master Sword is?" Link asked, sounding disappointed.
"I… can't say for certain," Hols said evasively. "Let me look at this for clues, then maybe I can narrow down my suspicions."
He continued to study the sword for a while—to the point that everyone began to eat without him. Finally, he looked up at Link and Zelda again. "Why are you seeking the Master Sword in the first place?
"We need the Master Sword so we can destroy the demons and close up the rift in Hyrule. Without it, the world is doomed. When a human is attacked by a demon, he turns into a demon, too. It won't take long before there's nothing left but demons. Then, supposedly, the gods will wipe the world clean and start over again."
Hols looked deeply troubled. "You said 'humans,' specifically."
Link nodded. "Demons can kill Hylians, but they cannot turn us."
Hols glanced at his wife and son, who were looking at him in silent fear; they were both human.
Hols looked at Link and Zelda again. "I see your need for the Sword." Then he cocked his head to the side, looking at them curiously. "But who are you to go on such a dangerous mission to get it… and to use it?"
"My name is Link, and this is…." Link hesitated, as if unsure to reveal Zelda's true identity. "This is Princess Zelda of Hyrule," he said at last.
Hols and his wife both gasped in surprise.
"We would prefer if that information didn't get around town," Link hinted strongly. "Nagadii is looking for both of us."
"That's why you just barely managed to escape Hyrule and Erenrue," Hols said, putting two and two together.
He looked thoughtful. "Link… Link…" he mused. "I seem to recall that the last person to wield the Master Sword went by that name."
"Some believe me to be the reincarnation of the Hero of Legend."
Hols eyes went wide. "And what do you say?"
Link looked down and squirmed; Zelda could see that it embarrassed him to claim such a lofty title. "All I know is what I've been told," he said evasively.
"Well, there's one way to find out," Hols said. "If you can wield the Master Sword, then you are the Hero."
"What do you mean?" Zelda asked. "I mean… it's a sword, isn't it? How can it be rendered inoperable?"
"Well, the Master Sword is more than a mere sword. If I were to pick it up, it would be nothing but a mere sword. But in the hands of the Hero, it will have magical properties—the properties that you need to defeat the demons. Supposedly, it will emit a soft glow."
Link pointed to the broken sword on the table. "Well, that piece of rusted junk certainly never did anything when I held it. Either it's a fake, or I am."
"Let me study on it," was all Hols would say.
"How much time do you think you need?" Link asked. "I don't mean to be pushy, but if the Master Sword can be found, we need to hurry up and find it. Demons are constantly leaking out of the rift, as well as attacking humans and creating new ones; we don't have a lot of time to spare."
"Understood." He looked thoughtful. "A day—two at most—should be all I need."
Link nodded. "That will work."
"I think it might be best if you stayed here with us," Hols offered. "Her Highness might not be particularly welcome, given that she's the granddaughter of the Lion of Erenrue. King Ranis was both loathed and respected; it would be hard to say how people might feel about her."
Hols looked at Link. "Is it true that Ranis was killed in battle?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
Hols shook his head sadly. "The world's been turned on its head."
"Tell me about it," Link said glumly.