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Chapter One

When I first agreed to come to the King of Hyrule’s Birthday Banquet at the castle, I did so for the princess. She asked, and I obliged, as I so often do at her requests. What can I say? We go back years, and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for her. In this case, she still gets worried during big gatherings, especially when the King of the Gerudo is on the guest list. So, she reached out and invited me to come, and, despite not really enjoying big gatherings myself, I caved.

Still, when I agreed, I didn’t exactly expect it to become a murder investigation, least of all, the murder of the King of Hyrule himself. Yet, there I stood, staring down at his bulky, ashen, lifeless form on the ground, lying on his back, eyes glazed and unseeing. I could not help but wonder if, just this once, I should have told her, “I’m busy.”

I sighed, feeling a bit defeated, and knelt to examine the body.

“Her Highness insists there was no one behind him,” Lady Impa recounted to me. She loomed, as she tended to do — it’s difficult for a tall, muscular Sheikah warrior to do anything but loom. Nevertheless, it was a bit off-putting, and not something I felt I could get used to. Often, I wondered how the princess dealt with it.

I really don’t want to be doing this, I thought to myself, feeling the woman’s crimson eyes burn into the back of my head. I had seen plenty in my years, having fought monsters and beasts alike, but nothing unsettled me quite like Impa’s gaze. Suddenly finding myself lead investigator in a case of regicide wasn’t helping. I sighed again.

“No blood that I can see, and no entry wound,” I replied. “We won’t really know for sure until the castle physicians get their investigation done, but, I think on the preliminary, we can rule out stabbing. Besides, look there.” I pointed to the king’s mouth. At the corner of his very blue lips, traces of yellow foam drew a line down his chin. “You don’t see that with a stab wound.”

“What are you thinking?”

I stood, brushing out my tunic, and adjusted my bangs beneath my cap. I really should have cut them before the party, to look a bit more presentable. Oh, well. I glanced back to the banquet table, where the king’s half-consumed birthday dinner lay scattered and spread. He had flailed a bit just before his death — smears of meats and gravy coated his hands, giving sense to the smears along the tablecloth.

“Have the physicians test the food and ale,” I directed.

“Poison,” Impa nodded. “Perhaps.”

“Like I said, without knowing what they will find, it is hard to say, but I that would be my best guess. So, you say you have a few suspects?”

She took a moment to consider the scene once more, arms crossed over her broad chest, before gesturing for me to follow. We left the otherwise empty banquet hall, and I momentarily felt a bit relieved. The sight of the king’s very dead body was sure to haunt my nightmares for a good long while.

That relief was short lived, though, as Impa opened a side door to a servant’s dining area, and I suddenly found myself the subject of attention for six very angry, very confused people. It looked like Impa had just taken a sampling of every race in the land and locked them up in a room together. Like some sort of twisted psychological experiment.

Clear lines had been drawn between them all. And in the middle of the room, sitting at a table and facing the door, the Gerudo King Ganondorf grinned darkly at the sight of me. Suspicion of him really came as no surprise; he hardly seemed at all upset by this sudden turn of events. At his shoulder, however, his Second in Command Nabooru stared sternly, and her presence did take me aback for a split second. I had never pegged her as one who would commit such an act. But she was Ganondorf’s best.

On his other side, like a lost puppy following a new master, desperate for attention, Ingo of Lon Lon Ranch wore a similar grin, punctuated by his slightly ridiculous yet impeccably kept moustache. The man basically worshipped Ganondorf, so I could see the logic of his presence in the room.

Near one corner, Zora Princess Ruto and Goron Patriarch Darunia sat, leaning their heads in like I had just interrupted a hushed conversation. Ruto looked positively livid, scales around her neck and shoulders practically standing straight up with her tension. Darunia, being Darunia, ever brotherly even in his most worried times, waved at me, an action I returned before realizing how inconsiderate it might be, given the circumstances.

Leaning against the wall in the opposite corner, arms crossed and staring daggers at Ganondorf, was the Hylian carpenter Mutoh. I hadn’t interacted too much with the man, but he was wearing his emotions on his sleeve at the moment, and it was more than clear to me who he thought was responsible. He didn’t even look at me when I came in. Not that I was bothered by that. Still, I didn’t quite follow the logic right then in why he was a suspect.

But, then again, that’s why I was there: to investigate these things.

This…was going to be tough.

I pulled my hand from the back of my neck — I hadn’t even noticed I had put it there, to be honest — and stepped into the room to begin.

Ruto beat me to it. “Link, tell this woman to let me go!” She jabbed a finger at Impa. “This is no way to treat a member of the Zora Royal Family!”

To her credit, Impa said nothing, but her silence only served to infuriate Ruto even more.

“You know I can’t do that, Ruto,” I said, shaking my head. “The King of Hyrule is dead, and everyone of you is in here for a reason. It’s now my job to-”

“Do you think I killed him?! How dare you!” Ruto’s voice cracked. Next to her, Darunia flinched. I didn’t blame him one bit.

“I didn’t say that. I said-”

“This is quite possibly the single most insulting thing you could accuse me of! You can be sure my father will hear about this! Now, I demand you let me go!”

From the other corner of the room, Mutoh chimed in. “I agree, you should let us go. We all know Ganondorf is responsible for all this anyway, so what’s the point of keeping the rest of us? Just bag him and be done with it.

Ganondorf slowly turned his head to face the carpenter. “That,” he said, deep, resonating tones bouncing off the stone walls, “is something you will have to prove, isn’t it?” A small, confident grin remained on his face.

Oh, Goddesses, here we go, I thought, rubbing my face angrily. “Enough! No one leaves until I get my questions answered, do you all understand?”

The room fell silent once more. It is a rather depressing thing, to suddenly see the peace leave one’s life; that moment of quiet, I knew, would be my last for a while. I did not really want it to end, and I already felt the weight of my duty over my head. It was going to be a long day.

“Ok…” I growled, looking from one face to the next very pointedly. There was one, though, whose presence all together made absolutely no sense to me. “First of all, Ingo,” the man in question jumped at the attention, “were you even invited? I don’t remember seeing your name on the guest list.”

“I come in the stead of my master and his daughter, who have rather unfortunately come down with a sickness.” Something about that last part of his statement told me Ingo did not, in fact, find Talon and Malon’s illness unfortunate at all. I simultaneously made a mental note to go see the farm family with an offering of soup when this was all over, and smothered my distaste for their stable hand. He rubbed me the wrong way, and I think he knew it.

But did that make him a killer? Hardly. I needed to focus on facts. Whatever and wherever those may be. “Impa,” I said over my shoulder.

She stepped up and took the lead. “Ganondorf Dragmire, King of the Gerudo. Known adversary of His Royal Majesty, despite the rickety peace talks the two had been engaged in.”

The Gerudo let out a sarcastic snort, as if he found humor in Impa’s characterizations.

“Nabooru, his Second in Command-”

“Forgive me, Impa,” I interrupted, a rather daring move. I felt her eyes glare down at me, but she let me continue. “Can we just assume I don’t really need introductions? I am quite familiar with who each of them are.”

She nodded curtly before continuing. “Nabooru, acting upon her King’s command. She is unflinchingly loyal, and wholly capable.

Nabooru didn’t even look up, her cold stare stayed pointed at the cold stone floor. She was just as intimidating as Impa was, and her poise did little to set me at ease.

“Ingo, who, once His Royal Highness had passed, was caught attempting to steal a ring off the body.”

Oh, what an idiot, I thought, but wisely kept my mouth shut. Now was not the time.

“Princess Ruto, overheard pondering the benefits of a separation between Castle Town and Zora’s Domain to the other guests of the party-”

“And how exactly-” the Zora began.

I held up my hand to cut her off.

“Darunia was seen locked in an argument with the King just before dinner.”

“What kind of argument?” I blurted impulsively. Impa shot me a look of annoyance before relaxing her expression and motioning for Darunia to respond.

“Just about trade, Brother. Nothing more than that.” He spoke with a calm sincerity, obviously trying to appeal to our mutual friendship. “You know we Goron are bound by honor. We handle business with firmness, face to face. We don’t attack anyone while their back is turned.”

“I know, Brother. We’re just trying to get all the facts straight,” I said, quickly realizing my inherent bias when speaking to a friend. Being objective is really hard.

“And Mutoh’s contracts with the Royal Family have recently been revoked,” Impa continued. “As you can see, each subject had some basis of motive in carrying out the crime.”

But none of these cases are particularly strong, I thought. So much for an open-closed book. I nodded slowly and adjusted my cap. “Ok. So, then, did any of you do it?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Should you not be out-?”

“How dare you continue to-?!”

“Brother, please…”

“That’s..!”

I honestly don’t know what I expected, but my question was met with a cacophony of voices, each speaking louder than the next, with earnestness, with annoyance, with glee. And one thing was very certain to me: I had no questions for these people. Not right then. Not when everything felt so unclear, and so very fresh. Ruto was right: I really couldn’t keep them locked up there. The very person meant to find a killer in the shadows had no idea where to begin; not a single one of them even seemed possible in that moment.

I’m sorry, Zelda, but next time, I don’t care what it is. I really am just going to say I am busy.

I decided to dismiss the suspects for the time being and investigate the banquet hall more closely. There must have been something, anything, that could lead me in the right direction.

The tables and surrounding chairs remained untouched from the meal hours earlier. Flies had already begun to collect over the piles of half-eaten food, no doubt drawn by the stale zest in the air. The servants may have been instructed to forgo their cleaning duties until everything was thoroughly looked over, but that hadn’t stopped these tiny pests from sullying the crime scene in their own way.

I slowly inspected the position of each chair, one by one, struggling to remember exactly where each person was sitting. I was too worried about my own behavior at the time. Why would I sit there studying everyone else? I asked myself defeatedly.

Obviously, the king sat at the high table, the princess at his side. If poison was the culprit, it must have been administered fast and only to the king. I turned to the table closest to the monarch’s. The leaders and chiefs of each race of Hyrule had sat at that table: Darunia, Ruto, and of course Ganondorf. They were certainly close enough. If no one was paying attention, any one of them could have stepped over and delivered a dose of some deathly chemical.

Of courseI thought. That doesn’t rule out the servants, either. I’ll have to order a thorough search for poison in each servant’s quarters.

I then turned my attention to the food on the king’s high table. Zelda would have shown symptoms by now if she, too, had consumed something foul, so I could probably rule the food out. Perhaps… his drink.

A small silver chalice lay tipped over in front of the king’s chair, clearly dropped from the table in the frenzy of the moment. Now that’s an interesting find, I thought. The king wasn’t one to drink from such a lowly apparatus. His usual cups were gold and encrusted with jewels — a man of taste, the king was. So the question remained: why was he drinking from this cup? Did he even notice the change of habit?

A sturdy set of footsteps interrupted my musings, and I looked up to see Lady Impa approaching from the hallway.

“Did you notice the king’s choice of chalice this night, Impa?” I asked.

She glanced quickly toward the floor. “Not something our dear king would dare quench his thirst with, I’d say.”

“Indeed.” My gaze immediately drifted to the other tables, as I hoped to see the king’s cup sat up somewhere else. Alas, there was no sign of a shiny, golden goblet anywhere in the banquet hall. They can’t make this easy for me, can they?

“Perhaps our culprit switched the king’s chalice with another then?” Impa suggested.

“That’s certainly a possibility. But what happened to the king’s original one in that case?”

Impa placed one hand on her hip, looking as frustrated as I felt. “I get the feeling some of our suspects are hiding things from us — if not information in their heads, something stashed away in their cloaks. It’s entirely possible our killer has hidden the king’s chalice away somewhere.”

I let out a prolonged exhale. “I just can’t get a clear picture out of all this mess,” I said, brushing away a wayward plate with my foot. “Striking shadows in the dark is just too dangerous. I need something that can give me a direction.”

“Perhaps,” Impa said, “this might be of some help to you.” She offered me a mask — had she been holding it the entire time? Well, if that’s how astute my powers of observation were…

The mask itself looked relatively plain: Hylian, slender, and pure white. Like it was unfinished, a basic mock-up upon which so many others would be modeled. Why was I only then seeing it? Well, you try asking that of a Sheikah twice your size, with biceps as big as your face. I took the mask in my hands, warm, as though it had been on her person, and ran my thumb along the edge. Nothing about it particularly stood out. “It was found on the floor outside the King’s private study… with the lock forced open.

Upon closer examination, I noted the craftsmanship. The edges, filed smooth, still appeared uneven, and the material felt like sturdy cloth stiffened and starched until it held form. A fine product, really. Something originating from only one place in the land that I could think of.

Well, I guess it was a start.

“Ah, yes, that is my mask.”

I jerked my head from side to side, realizing I had been staring at the Happy Mask Salesman. His smile creeped me out, like something I would see in my nightmares. There was always something going on in behind that toothy grin, secrets kept from the world. He picked a speck off his otherwise pristine violet sleeve and returned to examining the white mask.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked.

I am surrounded by eyeless faces of beasts and animals, talking to a man who resides in a clown’s smile and looks like he knows the fate of the universe, but it’s all one big joke. “I’m fine. Just unsure of what I am doing.”

“Right,” he nodded knowingly, returning the mask to an empty space in his display. “You are investigating the King’s death, are you not?”

“I am.”

“Well, allow me to presume to answer your next question, then,” the Mask Salesman adjusted the white face, then turned back to me. “No, there is no record of a purchase to this mask. It seems your murderer is also potentially a thief.”

“I see…”

“Three nights ago, this disappeared from my shop. I have mourned its absence so. And now, you have returned it!” He grinned. I shuddered.

“Funny thing about masks, Link. We all wear one. The words we say, the faces we show to the world; who is to say that the me you see is truly me at all?”

My first thought was, what? My next, after a moment of pondering, was, oh… I think the revelation dawned on my face just as surely as it surfaced in my head.

The Mask Salesman noticed, and met me with sly, parted lips. “Do not be fooled by the masks we wear. Not everyone is who they claim to be.”

I left the shop, maskless and clueless, wondering how many beginnings I could possibly get before I finally found a lead that stuck.

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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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