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Chapter Three

The next morning, still fresh off my first small victory in the case of the king’s death, I found myself looking across the single, vaulted room of Granny’s Potion Shop in Kakariko Village. Its owner and attendant was a strange being, with a long, thick neck, distractingly large, beak-like nose, and a pet cat that may or may not have been stuffed. She spoke in a high, brittle voice that almost sounded painful to her throat, the kind often attributed to advanced age. And she always held an air of mystery about her, but not a mystery I cared to solve.

Most notably, though, was her taste in decor: a horrifying merger of Pink-and-Flowers-Everywhere and I will haunt you ‘til the day you die. Her shop, tucked away behind the village’s medicine shop, should have probably stayed in the shadows. Instead, it was lit by two massive blue torches that looked like something out of a wicked child’s tale, casting the bright, garish walls in a dancing glow.

But, man, bring Granny a random collection of fresh herbs or mushrooms, and she could work some amazing magic. Anything you needed, she’d whip it up in one of her massive cast iron vats. Never tasted great, but it certainly cured whatever ailed you.

Including, apparently, monarchs.

Castle physicians had found the king’s downfall to be a professionally crafted blend of poisonous mushrooms and nightshade flower — not mandrake, as Ingo had claimed. Upon learning of the poison’s chemistry, my thoughts immediately went to Granny, as Hyrule’s premier Potions Master. The woman had spent her entire life creating potions; if she did not make it, she could probably tell me who did.

She smiled at me, and I suddenly realized I had been standing in the room silently, staring at her for an unnaturally long time.

“Are you going to come in, or just look at me?” she creaked.

“Forgive me, Granny. I was just looking at the wallpaper. Is it new?”

“You noticed!” Her glee was evident, and she stroked her sleeping feline companion. “I just had it changed last week.”

“It’s-” Horrendous. “-lovely.”

“Thank you, Link. Come, come! I have a new blend of Blue Potion for you to-”

“Oh, I’m not here for that.” I met her disappointed look as her face fell, and scratched the back of my neck. “But save me some, and I will come back.” That brightened her. Business could carry on as needed; I slid a slip of paper across the counter to her. “Could I have you take a look at this for me?”

Granny picked up the paper and unfolded it. She had to tilt down her large pointed nose, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that particular feature hindered her vision. It certainly distracted my own. It didn’t seem to bother her, though, as she read to herself a list of ingredients found in the king’s digestive system, making little sounds of interest in her throat.

“I would know this mix anywhere: my own personal little work of art, called the Seven Year Sleep.” I snorted, amused, and she brandished her pearly whites. “But, this list here is sealed with the crest of the Royal Family. Surely, my handiwork was not responsible for the death of our beloved king?”

I nodded. “Sadly, Granny, it was. Which is why I need to know if you have sold any of this lately?”

“Oh, sure,” she bent and disappeared below her counter; her back and neck cracked and popped unnaturally, lending more to the notion that she was rather old, like an antique doll. I grimaced, the sounds turning my stomach. She hefted a massive, brown registry book onto the counter. The thing had to weigh more than she did. On its cover in peeling gold, a year range, which included the current time.

I didn’t even get time to dread waiting for her to flip through the entire thing to find what she was looking for before she was sliding the book to me, open to the very page I needed.

“It’s not a very popular poison, honestly, for the gruesome way it kills. Basically messes with the chemical composition of the bile in your stomach until your body rejects it and you drown in your own juices.” The subdued excitement in her voice made me… uncomfortable.

I stared at her, trying not to imagine that happening to the king. It failed; the line of yellow foam I had seen tracing down from his mouth didn’t help, as I suddenly realized exactly what it was. She pressed on.

“Mostly, it’s used against particularly pesky pests, the likes of which farmers and their crops haven’t seen in a few years, so sales have gone a bit stagnant. There have only been a couple people who have purchased it. I hope this helps.”

I thanked her, and she went to make herself scarce behind a massive red curtain, leaving me to my investigation. The cat went with her, jumping up and sauntering away, tail flicking leisurely.

“Huh,” I said, “apparently you are real.”

It turned me as if to say, oh, please, before disappearing behind the same curtain.

I looked down at the register, a list of names, quantities, and dates beneath a header “Seven Year Sleep.” It was like a glimpse into historical pest trends over several decades. For a few years, sales of the potion would be nearly negligible, then clusters of names over the course of a growing season, then nothing again for several years. I scanned down to the bottom of the list.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you get an answer you thought you wanted, until you had it in your hands? The feeling of unease, of regret so heavy, and all you can do is beg the powers that be to just erase all knowledge of the moments before. What I saw, I could not unsee, and I felt my stomach drop to my feet. I let out a very heavy sigh, wishing I could just forget.

Three names, mere days apart. All three people had been here. All three had picked up a single vial each of Seven Year Sleep prior to the king’s grand banquet. My head found its way into my hands as I wondered, now, how to confront them.

Ruto, Mutoh, and Nabooru. Oh, Goddesses, why?

It didn’t bode well. For me or for them.

My summons to Ruto to return to the castle was surprisingly answered with compliance and haste. Normally, I would have gone to her, to Zora’s Domain, but this time, I felt asking her to come to me, where I had the upper hand in case things went sour, was the wiser move. After all, I had once been engaged to the Zora Princess, by a matter of misunderstanding and technicality; and though things ended on a rather positive note, I know part of her still harbored a bit of resentment.

That’s the sort of personal history that could fuel a fire, and what I knew after seeing Granny’s register, I was very aware that I was about to light a spark.

Still, I found myself in the council chambers of the castle, staring across the table into her large, hard eyes. The only other person in the room was Impa, standing at the door, but I knew on the other side, more guards awaited, just in case.

Of course, so did she, and part of me wondered if I should have dismissed them to make her feel more comfortable, and prone to opening up. But I also knew that, if push came to blade, I might have hesitated against her. I needed someone — or a few someones — to help me do what needed done.

If at all.

I stared quietly at Ruto for a moment, letting the tense silence linger for just a while longer. With so much history between us, I knew, at least in part, her tells. She may have carried with her a royal resolve and a fiery confidence, but she always let little hints of emotion show when she was caught off guard. A look of surprise or a flash of anger might have been all I needed. That was my plan of attack: to go after her emotions.

“I wanted to ask you a few questions, if that’s alright with you, Ruto?” I began.

She eyed me, posture rigid and unforgiving. “Were it not, I would not be here.”

What did I expect? Knowing Ruto as I did, again, I was surprised she was here at all. I carried on. “Listen, I know this isn’t easy for you. Being accused of regicide is nothing short of pure insult, I am sure, putting the delicate balance between Castle Town and Zora’s Domain on the line. I want to clear this all up as fast as possible, saving the sanctity of character for all those who are innocent, and preserving our relations. I just have a couple of questions, a couple moments I am unclear on, and I could really use your help.”

She scoffed.

You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?

“So, tell me, what do you think about the relations between Castle Town and Zora’s Domain? Things have been a bit tense recently, with accusations of overfishing disturbing supply.”

“My father and King Hyrule were working to solve this issue,” she snapped, her voice cutting. “I had faith in them to maintain peace.”

“Yet, as our relations are currently, Zora’s Domain has been strained to meet agreed upon quotas.”

“And yet, we have.”

I growled to myself, wanting nothing more than to put my head down in exasperation. Ruto had always been headstrong and self-assured, and, honestly, I had rather admired her for it, even as she forced me to carry her around on my back when we were kids. Now, though, it was aggravating. Somehow, I restrained myself from expressing annoyance, but the irritation remained just below the surface, waiting. “Some of your people have begun to believe the Zora are merely servants to Hylians, to our crown. They feel autonomy has been lost over the generations.”

She glared at me, offering nothing.

“Care to comment on that?” I asked.

“Our people have lived in tandem for ages. We acknowledge the same Goddesses, and were forged by their hands. It was meant that we should serve each other, protectors of land and sea.”

How many times have you rehearsed that line? She spoke to me not as Ruto, but as a Zora Princess and a representative of their royal family, just as she should have.

“Yet,” I pressed, “at the party, you were overheard expressing these opinions of dissent to two council members’ wives.”

“What I say and believe and what my station and title require do not need to be the same, Link.” Her words came at me like daggers, but they made little sense.

That’s not how this works, I thought to myself, and opened my mouth to say just that. She beat me to it.

“My actions must always be for the greater good of my people, not to humor the disgruntled few. Maintaining a peace between Zora and the presiding throne of Hyrule must always come first.”

Her phrasing caught me off guard. Ruto had never been one for clever words or turns of phrase. She said exactly what was on her mind, sometimes before she even considered the implications. When she said something, her words painted a clear image of her thoughts and beliefs, with no other way to interpret meaning.

Presiding throne of Hyrule, to her, was just that. She did not mean the throne of Hylians.

She meant the throne that held power.

A very liquid phrase, indeed. I decided this was my moment to bring up her purchase of the poison. “Is that why you purchased the Seven Year Sleep: to shift the presiding throne of Hyrule?”

She hesitated, and never had a silence screamed so loud. Clearly, she had never expected to be connected with the poison.

“Granny keeps a register, a complete record of all potions that walk out her door. You purchased a single vial of her pest control poison a fortnight ago. Traces of the very same poison was found in the king’s system.”

“Circumstantial,” she said, grasping onto a loose thread. And, she was right, but it wasn’t a circumstance I was keen to let go of right then.

“True, but, you… you cannot deny, it looks a bit odd.” My brief stutter gave her the opportunity to retaliate.

“Odd does not constitute guilt. What I purchased that poison for does not concern you, but I can assure you, it was not to murder His Majesty. That would not be for the greater good of my people.”

“I fail to understand, though, Ruto. I need you to help me.”

“My purchase should concern you just as much as the complications of internal political debate. You are a blade, Link. You follow orders. What we do in the chambers of our respective councils is outside your realm of ‘need-to-know.’”

Ouch. “Until a couple days ago, I would have agreed with you. But now, it is my concern. The reigning patriarch of Hyrule was forced to drown in his own bodily fluids by someone, and I need to know who. I owe it to the kingdom, to the princess.” Her eyes narrowed at the mention of the king’s daughter. I might have sparked something. 

“So, then,” I folded my hands in front of me, trying to give off both an air of authority and a sense of openness. Yet, the circles she lead me in and the doors she closed before me only served to irritate me more. She was shutting down, and I could see it. “Why can’t you tell me? If not to kill King Hyrule and not to put your people in harm’s way, why purchase something so specialized?”

“It is not a matter of public record, and therefore, none of your concern. Ask your princess, if you must, or Ganondorf, even.” Her eyes flew open. I did not think it possible for a fish-girl to pale, but suddenly, all color visibly drained from her face. She’d said too much.

“What about Ganondorf, Ruto?”

She stood, the scales around her neck completely rigid. Her fins flayed, a holdover from an old Zora instinct to make oneself look as large as possible when threatened. “This meeting is over,” she hissed. “I’m returning home.” Her feet thudded hard against the floor as she stomped to the door. Impa barred her way, and, to Ruto’s credit, she stood tall, commanding the Sheikah to move.

“It’s okay, Impa,” I said. “Let her go.”

Impa obliged with a curt nod, and Ruto slammed the door behind her.

Ganondorf? I thought. What does he have to do with the Zora?

Another path. Another twist. My head spun, and I finally took a moment to set it on the table.

“Link?”

Five more minutes, Navi.

“Link, get up.”

Please, please, just a little more time.

“Are you going to sleep all evening? Get up.”

I was rudely jolted awake by a sharp jerking in my shoulder, pulled to stand by a momentarily unseen force. I swayed, staring at the grains in the wood in the table to try and find my ground; they undulated, then slowed, and finally, I lifted my eyes to Impa, standing next to me with a firm grip on my upper arm. She let go.

“This is a matter of importance; you need to come with me.”

“How long was I out?”

She spun on her heel and beckoned me to follow her out of the council chambers. I struggled to keep up with her broad steps, jelly legs still trying to process that I was awake.

“About an hour,” she said, not slowing for me.

“I don’t even remember falling asleep.”

She had no response, continuing to her yet-unknown destination. It took me a little too long to process that, though she normally acted with haste and purpose, this pace was fueled by worry. Perhaps even fear.

Something is wrong.

She descended a set of stairs near the kitchen; I could hear the sounds of servants putting the finishing touches on dinner, and my stomach grumbled in protest. Part of me considered just sneaking in and snagging a sample of the evening’s delights, but the revelation that something worried the princess’s advisor kept me following. I’d come back for it.

Below the kitchen, we entered the hall of servants’ quarters. Like a maze, we wound, until we reached a completely uniform wooden door. Nothing about it stood out to me, so how Impa could identify it as our destination instead of, say, any of the dozens of others we passed, I did not know. She put her hand on the door knob, then hesitated.

“What you hear in here, Link,” she began, tones so low, I had to strain to hear her, “must not be repeated. Do you understand?”

“What?”

“I asked, ‘do you understand?’ This is not something we need getting out of these quarters, let alone the castle. Say you understand.”

I drew back, gut telling me to turn tail and go home. Nothing good could come of whatever was on the other side of that door.

Stupidly, my mouth proclaimed my understanding.

Impa opened the door and ushered me inside.

I stepped into what looked like a quaint little living room, decorated in white and pastels. A single couch, a small chair and matching ottoman, a bookshelf next to a small desk, and about a dozen or so paintings scattered along the walls that looked like they had been done by a small child. On the outside wall, heavy curtains had been drawn tightly over a single large window, casting the room in a bit of shadow and furthering the notion of secrecy.

In the chair, looking like she wanted to sink into it and become a part of the decor, a thin-framed woman sat with hands white-knuckled on her on her knees. Even from where I stood, I could tell she was shaking, and she refused to look up when I entered. She simply pointed to her couch.

“Welcome to my home, Master Link,” she said, voice quivering. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, thank you,” I said, sitting in her offered spot. “Is everything okay?”

She did not answer, and instead looked up at Impa, still standing at the door. The servant’s swollen eyes, bright green, betrayed her shed tears. My mind reminded me that I really should just run. Last chance. You don’t want to know whatever you’re about to hear.

“Go ahead,” came Impa’s assurance. “He needs to know.”

No, I don’t!

“It’s okay,” I pushed.

Traitor.

The girl took several deep, shuddering breaths, and I took a moment to remind myself to do the same. I did not want to be there. Everything inside me told me that I was in over my head; but that had become my new reality, hadn’t it? From the moment I told Zelda I’d come to her father’s birthday banquet.

“Where should I start?” the girl asked weakly, looking once more to Impa.

“The poison,” the Sheikah directed.

She nodded, still not making eye contact with me. “I didn’t really know what it was, only that she needed it. I thought it would be harder to steal, but-”

“Start from the beginning, please,” I said, raising my hand. “Are you saying you took some of the Seven Year Sleep?”

“Yes.”

“From whom?”

She took another deep breath. “From the Gerudo.”

“Ganondorf?”

“No, the other one. The woman.”

I raised my head in understanding. Nabooru. That connected with what I knew. I encouraged her to continue.

“I hid it here, until she needed it.” I wondered which “she” she meant. “But someone stole it from me. Tore my entire quarters apart looking for it.”

“Do you know who?” She shook her head, and a tear slipped from her eye. “But why did you need it?”

She hung her head. Her shoulders hunched, her entire form shrank, back, back, hands shaking so violently that I was afraid she’d somehow hurt herself. I scooted forward and tried to soothe her, hands raised, palms out. She grabbed one of my hands, crushing it against her chest.

“Whoa, okay…!”

I didn’t know at the time! I’m so sorry! I couldn’t have known something terrible would come of it, not like this! I only did what she asked of me! And it doesn’t even matter, because I never got the chance to give it to her!” She sobbed, oblivious to just how much she was hurting my hand, though, I didn’t stop her.

Her words didn’t make sense, but she was talking, and that was something. She had a secret she wanted to tell me. Finally, finally, she looked me in the eye. “She ordered me to steal the poison, because she knew no one else would do what needed done.”

Who was it? Who asked you to take the poison from Nabooru?”

Remember that thing I said about seeking answers, then finding them and instantly feeling that awful, awful sense of regret? Like nothing you could ever do would prepare you?

The girl looked at me, eyes bugging, begging me to read her mind so she didn’t have to say it. But she did.

And for the rest of my life, I knew I would wish she hadn’t.

“My Lady… Princess Zelda.”

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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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