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Chapter Four

“Link, stop!”

Impa’s voice trailed after me as I stormed down the hall, and, admittedly, I did not really process her words right away. A sort of blind rage had overcome me, and I know I wasn’t thinking logically.

But how could I?

I had just been told that my best friend, who I had known since we were children, upon whose word I gave up my home and life as I knew it, might have been a murderer.

At least, that’s where my head was at right then. And I was going to make her tell me. I didn’t care what she was doing. I didn’t care if she was eating, or speaking with the council, or taking some much-needed personal time. She was going to talk to me and explain exactly why she needed a vial of poison that was used in the death of her father.

“Link, listen to me!” I suddenly felt my body jerked back behind a large human wall as Impa blocked my way. “Think about what you are about to do.”

“You mean confront someone who is supposed to be my friend about why she asked her servant to steal rat poison?” I hissed, and Impa shushed me, holding up her hands in placation. It didn’t work.

“I know you need to talk to her now; it’s why you are still here-”

“I came here in the first place for her, Impa!”

“-but you need to consider what you are going to say.”

I’ll figure that out when I get there. I glared, nostrils flaring, and ducked past her. Behind me, I heard the woman sigh.

“She’s in her study,” Impa called after me. I took a sharp left and made a beeline.

One benefit of the castle, at least in this particular situation, had to be its size. I left Zelda’s servant in her quarters, in an absolute rage, but by the time I got to the tower that held the princess’s study, the rage had dulled to more of an ache in my stomach. I hated the idea that I even needed to confront her this way. I hated the fact that I had to find out this order from her servant, regardless of her reasons. She could have told me. I may not have enjoyed the news, but I wouldn’t have felt this utter sense of…

…sense of what, really?

Of betrayal? Of fury? She was a princess before anything else; she didn’t answer to me and what I thought she needed to do. She gave commands, and I followed them.

I just wish that, as my friend, you had been honest with me from the beginning.

I knocked. It took her several seconds to answer, and the wooden door was so heavy and thick that I could not make out any sound within. I stood, tapping my upper lip, trying to gather my thoughts enough to form words, then trying to form those words into coherent questions.

She opened the door, poking her head outside. Her bloodshot eyes spoke volumes to the weight suddenly thrust upon her shoulders. She blinked at me, unspeaking, and I looked in silence to her. After what felt like an eternity, she stood back and let me in.

“You know, don’t you?” she asked, once the door had been closed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She sighed, leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed; I had seen that same expression in Impa before. Somehow, coming from a matriarch both delicate and brutally decisive made her seem that much more threatening. She could either nurture me, or she could tear me apart. “What would I have told you?”

“How about…” my mouth plunged forward without my consent. “Hey, I needed this one very specialized poison, and it just so happened to be in one the possession of one of your suspects. Just in case it came up.’”

She chuckled half-heartedly. She looked as tired as I felt, and, for a moment, my heart went out to her. “I suppose it’s too late now?”

“Yeah,” I said, matter-of-factly, a bit insulted by her flippant attitude. I knew it was because she was exhausted, I knew she had yet to truly come to terms with the death of her father, but I could not understand how she failed to realize that her possession of the Seven Year Sleep had suddenly thrown her into my suspect pool. She seemed not to care.

Or, maybe she did, and she knew this would happen, and she, just like me, had found herself well in over her head, to a point that all she could do was try and laugh.

It wouldn’t have been the first time.

I sighed. “Zelda, please. Just… talk to me?”

The princess righted herself and approached me. Her fingers tangled their way into mine and she lead me to sit in her desk chair, propping her own figure to sit atop the desk itself.

“Very well,” she said, blinking slowly. “You know why I asked you to my father’s banquet, right?”

“Because you did not want to attend alone?”

“Yes, and because I did not feel comfortable having Ganondorf here without you. He doesn’t exactly have a great record as leader in this kingdom.”

“Fine, I get that, but why-”

She held up a small, gloved hand. “I did not trust Ganondorf in the slightest, and ordered that servant to search his and Nabooru’s belongings for anything that might be of harm to Hyrule. She found the poison in the folds of Nabooru’s cloak, and brought it to me. And I saw my chance, to rid this land of that man, written in the annals of time as our downfall. It… wasn’t well thought out, but the opportunity could not be overlooked. I had to kill Ganondorf, for the sake of my land, and that seemed as good a way as any.

“Still, I never even got the chance. I requested the vial from my servant, but it had already been taken, presumably by the one who used it on… on my father.”

I rubbed my face fiercely, rolling over her words in my head. I wish that, in that moment, I could have said Zelda had never been prone to gut reaction. I wish I could have said that she was as wise as her Triforce piece would have suggested. She did tend to think through her actions, every outcome, every direction. Her heart, her mind, her wisdom, had always been in the right place.

But… she had her moments when she let her feelings and emotions take her away. When she commanded the very flow of past, present, and future with her fears and hopes. I had always just gone along with her, as her sword and shield.

“Do you know who took the poison from your servant?” I heard my own words roll out of me, foreign in tone and tongue. She watched me, empathic, and knelt to better see me.

I had to have been the only person in this land that would ever see the Sage of Time kneel before them. And were this any other situation, I might have seen the action for the gift it truly was.

“I know I should have told you the truth from the beginning; I failed, in that respect, as your friend, and as the person that asked you here. But, I honestly have no idea who went into her room and took the poison.”

I finally met her gaze, and her tired, strained, beautiful blue eyes held me in their grasp. Just as they had always done.

Just as true as they had always been.

“You took it to kill Ganondorf?”

“Yes,” she insisted, desperate tones easing away the last of my worries. Zelda once more became my friend, and my relief I placed at her feet.

The next day dawned with my head locked in the memory of my confrontation with Zelda, running through our words over and over in my mind. She knew she should have said something. She knew that she now looked awful in her own case. But she had taken the poison to kill Ganondorf, or so she said, and, both with and without bias, I wanted so much to believe her. It would have made my job easier, and, well… no one wanted to think about their best friend committing such a heinous crime against her own father.

But with any other subject in this case, I wouldn’t eliminate them them as a suspect based solely on their own testimony. I would need more evidence to clear their name, no matter who it was. I couldn’t treat the princess any different than one of them… no matter how much I wanted to.

I then thought back to my talk with Ruto. She mentioned Ganondorf, too, and then immediately shut down to further questions.

He has something to do with this, I know it.

It’s there, I just can’t… grasp it.

And, until I could, I had to press on with all other paths. I wiped my brow and adjusted my slightly less familiar, yet extremely useful red tunic, and climbed the last few steps up Death Mountain to the home of the Goron. Today, I visited the patriarch himself, brother and Chief to his people.

Stay impartial, I reminded myself, descending into the mountain. Below me, Darunia waved and patiently awaited my arrival. That didn’t help. Ask him about the trade arguments. Ask him about tensions between our people.

He crushed me in a boulder hug.

Impartial, impartial, impartial…!

“Brother!” Darunia’s voice bounced loudly off the rocks. I smiled, discreetly attempting to recrunch my bones back into place. “It’s been a while since you have come to my home.”

“I only wish I came under better circumstances,” I said, hoping he would get the idea that I wanted to get right to business. I wasn’t there for leisure, so the more time I spent being buddy-buddy with him, the harder it would be to distance myself and do what needed done.

This is going to be tough.

Darunia’s expression fell; I could tell my short words stung a bit, but my mind kept repeating its mantra to keep me on the straightforward. Darunia had been seen arguing with the king prior to his passing, the relations between the Gorons and Castle Town had been a bit rocky — no pun intended — and I had to get to the bottom of it.

“Is there a place you’d prefer to talk?”

The chief glanced around at his people milling about their business. With a broad sweep of his massive, lanky arm, he lead me into his personal throne room. I took a moment to consider the room, the engraved walls and hanging banners. The floor tiling that had always seemed a bit odd. Monochrome and rigid. And uncomfortably warm.

Perfect for a Goron. Not that great for a Hylian.

Darunia plopped on his stone chair and rested his chin in his hand. “It’s unfortunate you’ve been caught up in this, Brother.”

I shrugged, pulling my sword from my back to let my shoulders breathe. I was a sweating mess, even with the red tunic. Nerves, I guess. Stress. “I serve the crown and the land of Hyrule.”

“And the princess?”

“Her, too.” Do I tell him? “I can’t help but wonder how you got caught up yourself?”

“It is as Lady Impa said,” he sighed sadly. “We had been seen by several members of the council arguing prior to dinner. I cannot say our relations haven’t been strained; for a time, I wondered if I would even be invited to his annual banquet. I was pleasantly surprised when the invitation came.”

I pulled the king’s journal from my tunic and opened it to the entry I had found referencing the relations. “You kept increasing your asking price for Goron-mined ore, and the king responded by withholding medicines and potions. Is that a reasonable summation of what was going on?”

He nodded. “It’s what we were arguing about. You see, the very same ore we trade to you is our source of food, and it is not a renewable resource. Furthermore, the labor that goes into mining some of the more difficult and rare ores — such as the ones found within the mountain’s core — is extremely dangerous. We are, so to speak, risking our lives. Do we not deserve proper compensation?”

“It is not for me to speak on matters of politics-” I wouldn’t even know where to begin. “-I’m just here to find a killer.”

“I understand. Then what do you need to know, so that I might clear my name?”

“How did the argument go? Walk me through it.”

“I asked him to step to the side for a moment,” Darunia began, eyes focused clearly on me. “To be honest, I cannot remember how I began the conversation. I had rolled the words over and over in my head so many times; I just wanted the arguing to stop. Admittedly, perhaps his party was not the ideal ground for us to settle terms, but our people have been united for generations, and I was not about to break it.

“But the king was rather drunk, and unwilling to listen. He kept cutting me off, telling me that my prices were unfair, that to pay them, he would need to inflate the cost to his people. He became unreasonable, and, I, in turn, raised my own voice. I should not have. My words were aimed to hurt, and I can never take them back. It was unbecoming of myself and disrespectful to him.”

Regret. That I could see very well in him. I changed course a bit.

“Have you ever heard of the Seven Year Sleep?” He tilted his head at me, a small grin playing on his features. I snorted. “I did not name it.”

His face bloomed into full amusement, he shook his head. “Other than a long, long nap, no. What is it?”

“It’s a poison that basically turns your body against itself and forces you to drown in a very brutal manner. It’s what killed the king.”

He sat straight, and I could feel the alarm rolling off of him. He hadn’t known: that sort of reaction could not be faked. Hmm… And his name had not been anywhere near the register. Besides, Gorons were all about honor, facing enemies, fighting battles face-to-face. If a Goron were to kill, even a Hylian, their victim would see it coming. Club against blade. To even consider poison went completely against their culture.

Chief Darunia was, if nothing else, a proud Goron.

The evidence against him just… wasn’t there. Not even if I closed one eye and didn’t really look out the other. To go with my gut did not exactly lend to a proper investigation, but this time, the facts supported it. An argument did not make a murderer.

“Okay, Brother,” I said, “help me out, then. Give me something I can use. Anything.”

He tapped his upper lip, thinking. “I don’t know what you have discovered about Ganondorf, and I don’t know if he is responsible, but I can tell you this: he has been looking for support against the king.”

“Oh?”

“He approached me about half a season ago, asking me questions about my conflicts with the king. I don’t know how he knew about them, but he did. And he asked me how he could help, offering an exchange for my support in an uprising. He had already begun to aid the Zora in their plight with Hylians, and-”

I am honestly not sure what Darunia said next. I kinda stopped processing his words the moment he mentioned the Zora. Ganondorf had approached them with the same proposal?

Had he made it to Ruto?

The line drew itself. I pictured her face, the moment she let the Gerudo king’s name slip: horror. Her guard had been down and cast aside, and she gave away a secret I had not even known existed.

“Ask your princess, if you must, or Ganondorf, even.”

Her voice rang loud in my memory, producing yet another question that made absolutely no sense: had Ruto and Ganondorf formed an alliance? Was that the connection between them? Like a string teasing and taunting a cat, answers pulled back, back, back.

One thing became clear to me, though. I needed to take all of this back to Impa, and then… I had been avoiding a very obvious lead; the time had come for me to follow it.

I stood facing a large locked door, its dark, aged wood almost seemed to move in the shadows cast in the unlit hallway.

Sometimes Hyrule Castle felt less like a home for monarchs and more like some ancient dungeon. Twisted hallways leading deeper and deeper into the structure’s bowels, wood walls giving way to stone as one moved just beyond the upper chambers. I was no stranger to dungeons, but this castle seemed different, perhaps more intimidating in its antiquity. Some would say that other spots in the kingdom collected Hyrule’s bloody history of greed and hatred, but in that moment, as I stared down the dark entryway, I’d have argued that such history was evident in those castle walls.

It was here that Ganondorf chose to stay while visiting Hyrule.

Why am I even here? I asked myself.

I kept telling myself that the reason why I hadn’t yet pursued Ganondorf in this investigation was because I was trying to be unbiased. But the truth was that the guy just gave me the creeps. Everyone sensed it. He had a threatening aura around, as if he would lash out with the least bit of provocation. And it felt, as stupid as this sounded, like Ganondorf had eyes on everything. It was like he could see everything that was going in the kingdom in his mind’s eye. Even if Ganondorf as murderer turned out to be a closed case, I really didn’t want to be the one to make that judgement.

The Gerudo had made frequent visits to Hyrule Castle over the prior few years, slowly forging a tepid alliance with the now-departed king. And with every stay, he, without exception, chose to stay in the oldest part of the castle, in some cold, dark room with no windows. He said that it had something to do with wanting to respect his hosts, to show humility, but I didn’t buy it. Even though I could never pinpoint a reason, he always seemed to be up to no good down here.

So let’s find out what he’s actually up to then.

I slowly reached for doorknob to give it one last twist. Part of me wished that it would just open up with enough force, allowing entry without me having to bust it off. Even though Impa had assured me that Ganondorf had left the castle on some kind of business, the last thing I wanted to do was make too much noise down here. My hand clenched the knob, and I hesitantly turned it.

Click. The lock sounded as the doorknob resisted.

I guess I have no other choice. I reached for my sword and leveled the hilt just a few inches above the knob. Sweat had already started to gather on my forehead, dampening the stray hairs beneath my cap.

“Hyah!” I yelled instinctually as I struck down on the knob. The old, rusty globe detached easily and fell to the floor, the sound of metal against stone echoed through the empty hallway. I stood motionless for a few moments, half expecting to see someone emerge from one of the other closed doors within earshot.

When I felt confident enough that I hadn’t alerted anyone, I proceeded to force the door open with my shoulder. The door, as sturdy as it was, gave way easily enough; and with a slight hesitation in my steps, I entered the Gerudo King’s quarters.

Though the lantern at my belt shined more light into the room, the chamber wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be. Shadows lingered in the corners, but something in the room was producing a pulsing, red glow. My eyes immediately met a small, lit candle set on a wooden crate, its flame giving off a unnatural blood red color.

I heard a brief creak behind me as I took another step. I froze. My eyes wide open. I turned slowly on my heel to see what may have produced the sound, but with a gnawing fear of what I might see.

Looking back, I saw only the open door. A few frayed wood pieces showing along the edges. I let out a long, deep breath.

It must have been the door settling or something, I told myself.

My attention returned to the red candle. It sat on a dusty crate directly beside the bed, an old cot with grey sheets. As I reached my hand toward the flame, the dark hue engulfing my fingers, I was surprised to feel no heat whatsoever. An incantation, perhaps? Hyrule was no stranger to magic, and Ganondorf didn’t seem one opposed to dabbling in such disciplines.

A feeling lingered inside my head, a sense that someone — or something — was watching me from the shadows. Turning a full circle, I saw only the four corners of the room, the cot, the crate, and… the closed closet door.

My eyes focused on that sealed aperture. It seemed to warp and swell in the pulsating light of the candle, like the chest of some sleeping beast. I even thought I heard a small murmur, a faint hum from behind the door. Or perhaps from the door itself.

But my mind was playing tricks on me.

Surely no one could see through it. And I couldn’t imagine Ganondorf, or anyone for that matter, hiding in some broom closet. I brushed a row of sweat from my forehead and turned back to the crate.

Beside the candle, within arms reach from the head of the cot, I spotted a stack of papers, unfolded letters it seemed. I picked up the top few pages and lifted them closer to my face. The darkness of the room and the crimson glow of the candle made it difficult to make out the words, but, turning the foremost page against the light of my lantern, I was able to glean its last few sentences.

I saw the closing remarks of a letter made in elegant flourishes.

“I really do appreciate your support on this matter. It’s clear that Hyrule’s patriarch no longer has our peoples’ best interests at heart. Perhaps we should act sooner rather than later. I look forward to forging a new partnership between the Zora and the Gerudo.

…And I look forward to meeting with you under more casual circumstances soon.

-Ruto”

I knew there was something going on between them, I thought. I quickly flipped through the collection of papers in my hands, eyeing the same signature at the bottom of each letter. As much I didn’t want it to be the case, I realized that I now held months’ worth of correspondence between Ganondorf and the Zora princess.

I needed to get these to Impa. But I knew I wasn’t quite finished searching the entire room. I stashed the letters into my tunic and started toward the closet door.

But, at that very moment, my stride ceased as I watched the closet door slowly creep open, a drawn-out squeal coming from its rusty hinges.

My blood ran cold. I could see a dark figure standing within the shadows of newly opened cell.

And then I heard a heavy stomp. And then another. The figure slowly emerged from the darkness, into the red hue of the larger room.

Oh, great.

Before me stood what looked like a possessed suit of armor, every inch of its body covered in an iron shell. Atop its head was a horned helmet, with a full iron mask covering its face. There were small holes presumably for the thing to see from, but I could only see darkness lying within that mask. I couldn’t tell whether there was a man or a beast inside, but its frame was so large that I doubted that even Ganondorf could don such armor.

Taking advantage of my stunned and startled state, the foe lunged forward, attempting to seize me by the neck. I narrowly dodged the advance with a sidestep, putting me at the foot of the bed, and my enemy squarely between me and my only means of escape.

I, as if by habit, reached for the shield on my back, only to be reminded that I left the thing at home.

Double great. Only one way to handle this then.

I removed my sword from its sheath and readied it in my hands. My feet settled into position, and I lowered myself into a wide stance. If this thing tried to grab me again, I knew what to do.

But, as if to counter my own weapon, the ironclad brute removed a gigantic battle axe from behind its back. Securing the axe in both hands and taking large step forward, the foe did not hesitate to deliver a devastating overhand strike.

Power, not speed, was its game. So, I jumped once more to side, just as the axe came down hard on the cot. Feathers and ripped linen showered the room. I righted myself and blew my bangs from out of my eyes.

My assailant seemed to struggle a bit to lift its weapon from the debris, so I took the opportunity to make a dash toward the door. But, as if out of nowhere, I saw the axe fly toward me with a spinning, horizontal motion.

The only reason I didn’t end up a stain on the wall of Ganondorf’s chamber that second was because I was able to quickly lift my sword to block the strike, my non-dominant hand pressed tight against the flat of the blade. The enemy’s strike certainly knocked me back a few feet, but my reflexes proved effective enough to keep me breathing.

Blood began to drip from my right hand as I peeled it away from my blade. I clenched my fist to dull the sting. My back was now to the corner of the room, so I again mounted a stance and faced my opponent.

It stepped, battle axe in hand, a few steps to its left, placing itself once more between me and door. It knew I wanted out of there, and this thing wasn’t going to give me what I wanted. Releasing its weapon with its left hand, he began to swing it wildly with its right. It must have assumed that, since it had me up against the corner, it had me dead to rights.

So I did something incredibly stupid. I lunged directly into my foe’s attack, letting my feet fly forward from under me and my body fall to the floor. With the wind of axe swings brushing against my face, I had just enough momentum to slide between my assailant’s legs and reach the center of the room.

The brute took a moment to react to what had just happened, so I lifted my sword and surveyed the back of the its armor. Between the plates of pure iron, areas I knew my blade would have no effect against, I noticed a thin opening that revealed a weaker material underneath.

That was my only chance.

With the weak point decided, I raised my sword above my head and then brought it down with a vertical slice. My opponent let out some kind of metallic shriek — not unlike a steaming furnace — clenching its back to reveal even more of an gap between its armor. I thrust my sword fast and deep into the opening, and I felt something like cords snapping from within its body. By the time I drew my sword out, my foe had already dropped to its knees and slouched forward.

I watched its body fall to floor, whatever life remaining within its iron hull seemingly fading.

The flicker of the red candle was the only movement in that room for quite a while as I reflected on the events that had just transpired.

That’s enough investigating for tonight.

Help Link solve the case! Of the suspects below, choose the one you think committed the crime:

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Murder in Castle Town is a collaboration between Rod Lloyd and Kat Vadam. Follow them on Twitter

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