Shadow’s Promise

Burden of Memory

Executive Producer and Lead Novelist — Christian Butler

A stark wind blew and it was cold. We only awoke when it tousled our hair and brushed our cheek. The night’s sky was the first thing we saw upon opening our eyes. The stars were out, pinpricks in infinite numbering, woven into the firmament high above. We could hear the flickering of flames close by. It wasn’t until we made to sit ourselves up that we noticed our arms were bound tight behind our back. Only after some finagling were we able to reposition ourselves.

There was a small cook fire, its warmth welcome in the cool night. Shadows were cast ever outwards across the dirt beneath us. And sitting across us on the other side of the fire was a mysterious stranger, his face mostly obscured, his deep-set eyes of a burning green staring at us as we moved. He had a stick in hand which he used to stoke the flames, absent of mind. Only a single question came to mind so we asked him where it was we were.

At first he said nothing. “That is to be the first of the questions you would ask.” We found his response to bear something of a rhetorical sound to it, almost posed more as an accusation than anything else. Whatever his intentions in asking it, it must’ve worked because we found ourselves ruminating on other questions which ultimately led us to a more frightening revelation —

We don’t know how it is we came to this place, nor from whence we’d come.

The stranger said nothing. He only continued stoking the flames. “Take however much time you need,” he offered.

We looked about us only to find that the surrounding landscape was mostly flat. Deep against the night we could make out the silhouettes of what appeared to be rolling hills but they were many miles’ distant. We could make out the shadows of some structures that stood behind us, ruins of a sort, they’d seemed. Otherwise, there were no structures that we could see, nothing against the horizon: no trees, no fortresses or holdfasts, just a vast stretch of nothingness. We turned back to the stranger sitting across the flames and asked him if we were in a desert.

“Yes. For now, we sit in an oasis.”

We were disheartened to find in his answer nothing of use, so we took another moment to try and consider a more salient question, asking if he knew from whence we’d come, and without a word, he lifted his stick and pointed behind our shoulder. We turned back towards one of those ruined structures, our eyes squinted to try and bring them into a clearer focus. What we could make out, it seemed to be a massive portal, a stone gateway, but one which led nowhere; there was behind it only more desert. With furrowed brow, we turned back towards the stranger, not quite sure if we understood his meaning, and so we asked him.

He only said, “There was a light, blinding and warm. And when it receded, there stood nothing, only you and your shadow…at least, that was how I came to find you.”

We tugged our arms against the rope. Then we asked him the obvious question.

“It is not that I do not trust you,” he gave back. “It is only that I do not know whether or not you can be trusted.”

We took in his words, formulating the appropriate response, how were we to be able to trust him?

The stranger only shrugged and said, “That is the question, isn’t it?” He drew his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them and began to rock himself to and fro. “Trust…it’s a fickle, fragile thing. It can take a lifetime to earn and an instant to lose. You don’t want to throw it away or waste it. Neither does one seek to betray or abuse it. Trust…well, it is something of a testament, isn’t it: something of a kin to a promise. Tell me this: what sort of promise could we make, you and I, that would sufficiently establish between the two of us what you might consider to be Trust?”

We had not an answer, at an utter loss for words.

“And that is why your hands are bound. Because it seems to me that you cannot trust even your own self. Would you agree?”

In posing the question, the stranger raised a point we had yet to even consider — what is it to trust one’s own self? A hypothetical within which we’d found ourselves lost…

“Forget for a moment how it is you came to find yourself here and let me ask you this — where are you from?”

We met his gaze, only to find that we didn’t have an answer…

“Where is home?”

We tried, in the finding of an answer. But none could be found, as though one were to search a library for a book without anything to reference its location. It’s there, you know it is, but you don’t know where to find it…

Home…

“What is the last thing that you remember, before having awoken?”

Our gaze had drifted to the flames which danced methodically and hypnotically. Perhaps we’d find the answer there in that orange light, staring back at us, an obvious truth, something that we should know, should be able to answer. All there was were the flames, licking the air in a furious frenzy. And just when it had seemed there was to be no answer, we began to see it, if only in bits and pieces at first.

It was as if a dream. We told him of the rich canopy, thick and lush and lively. And the dappled sunlight as it rained down upon us, dotting the ground below in dancing sunlight. The ground covered in a thick and ancient hummus, swallowing the sound of our footsteps as it lightly crunched underfoot. And the trees, massive and piney sentinels reaching forever skywards, their bark covered in sticky layers of sap and mottled with mushrooms of varying sizes and colors. And the smell, so very crisp, tickling at our nostrils.

But there was something else: a long and dark shadow that stretched deep into the depths of the trees beyond. And the further we walked, the larger the shadow would grow, would spread itself, until finally, all that could be seen was covered in darkness, swallowed by it. And the shadow — it was our own, spread from our own two feet.

But it was only a dream. At least, that’s what we told the stranger.

Only, that wasn’t true, was it? It was something more than that, something special, too difficult to put into words. That place, before it was engulfed in shadow, had been familiar and intimate, somehow, as if in a way we should be able to name, but we couldn’t, despite our efforts. We knew all this, held in our possession these numerous details, but alas, their significance alluded us. We wondered aloud to ourselves: what was this place?

For a time, the stranger said not a thing. He ceased in his rocking and spread his knees apart. Then he clasped his hands together as if in meditation and said, “The forest.”

That was the word. How had it escaped us so completely?

But it was more than that, we would tell him. The stranger, silent, only nodded, and for a time, neither of us said a thing. Then finally, the stranger asked, “Would you call this place home?”

We met his gaze, and found something familiar in the notion, like the pealing toll of a far-off bell. Yes, we thought, the forest is our home…in this there was truth, so we gave back a nod of our head in affirmation.

“Then it would seem that we have our heading,” the stranger said, crossing his arms. We asked him what it was he meant and he responded, “If I am to help you, we need some direction towards which we might aim ourselves in this endeavor. The forest: it is the only clue that we have. Maybe there we’ll come to learn something more about your presence, here, how you came to be.” He stood himself, crossing his arms again as he turned away from the fire. It seemed as though he could see something out there in the desert’s vastness. What it might’ve been we couldn’t say, but whatever the case, it seemed to matter, to the stranger, at least. Then he turned back towards the flames which lit his covered face unevenly. His eyes met ours and in that deep green there was something palpable in their sincerity, almost as if he saw deep into us, a deeper truth hidden even from ourselves. He had come to a resolution.

He uncrossed his arms, pulling them back behind him. “It is my aim to assist you, only, in order to do so, trust must be established. Therein lies our dilemma.”

We couldn’t trust ourselves, so the stranger had said before and so we reiterated for him, in response.

“Precisely,” he said.

We took the moment to consider the circumstances, and it seemed as though something didn’t quite add up. This stranger finds us in the desert, presumably unconscious, ties us up because he doesn’t know that we can be trusted but offers us his assistance —

Why? What has he to gain? What changed now that he’s willing to establish any trust between us? We would voice our concerns, only they seemed tangential to whatever obvious truth seemed to stare us in the face. And that’s when the revelation finally occurred and we asked him: did he know us?

The stranger didn’t answer at first, but then his head cocked to the side and he responded, “Do you even know yourself?”

And there it was, again, that sensation of searching for something that couldn’t be found, nothing more than a single word.

“This I can promise you: I’ll help you find your way, will usher you down the path that lies ahead, wherever it may go. I will be your guide and guard. This I will do, for my name is Sheik of the Sheikah tribe. This I can promise you, as long as you can tell me your name.”

There was only a word, that lone word. We knew not its significance, but it was the only thing we had to offer, to establish between us any semblance of trust. So we said, “My name…

“…my name is Link…”


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