((LEGAL STUFF: Link, Zelda, Impa, and the other game-based characters are property and copyrights of Nintendo. No infringement intended. No profit made--these stories are purely for reader enjoyment. The new characters introduced here are mine, purely fictional--do not use them without my permission! Any similarities to events and persons in reality or other peoples' stories are purely coincidental. Thank you for your patience.))

The Legend of Zelda: Journey to the Past
by Becky Tailweaver

Chapter 3: Lessons in Heritage

What Impa taught Link first was the amount of learning he had to unlearn. To be a Sheikah meant to be a master stealth first, of unarmed combat second, and weapons third. Zelda, a female with no Sheikah blood, had mastered much of what Sheikah girls her age knew. For Link, Impa thought, half-Sheikah already and a natural to boot, it should be even easier.

The first thing Impa did was declare a three-day period of rest and healthful food for all of them. They needed to get their strength back.

Then, the training began in earnest.

Impa took him on long forays into the mountain foothills and forests on Death Mountain's side, teaching him the art of silent moving. Impa would track him through the woods, seeing if her instruction had paid off. His Kokiri upbringing gave him an edge in the forest, and he could outsmart Zelda in a game of "fox and hounds". When things got more serious, Link would have to crouch in a fern clump or sit in a tree for hours on end in a long, tiring game of hide-and-seek, with both Impa and Zelda being the seekers. When Impa could neither track him nor find him, she declared him ready for the next level.

Link was forced to rethink combat tactics drastically. Impa covered the basics of unarmed fighting first, forcing him to think on his feet and learn to cope without a metal shield to hide behind. Without a sword in his hands, he felt strangely helpless. But slowly and surely, his defense became stronger, his attacks faster, and soon he was adept at punches, hand-chops, high kicks, and sweep kicks, as well as a variety of holds and defenses. He was a bit rough on technique, but effective. It took him little time to master what took most Sheikah years to learn. Impa congratulated him on his natural talent.

Impa left out the broadsword training, seeing as how Link was already an expert. Instead, she started with the quarterstaff, then worked her way up through the blunt weapons. Then on to the edged ones; knives, scimitars, sabers, and finally, single sword only. Link had to learn to fight with any weapon, with either hand. He had to concentrate even harder to call upon his own swordsmanship ability to attack and defend with a small, narrow sword and no shield. But the thrill of combat sang in his blood, and soon he could defeat Zelda easily, and beat Impa twice almost by accident.

Link loved his horseback training as well, as it allowed him to work closely with his steed, Epona. The mare was willing, able, and a responsive partner. Link was a master at horseback archery, but he also had to learn to fight with all available weapons while riding. He learned to do what he called "saddle tricks," such as turning backwards, sitting sideways, handstands, and riding standing, all at top speed. He mastered the ability to mount a galloping horse from the ground or a platform, and to get off the same way. He learned how to knock another rider off, from the ground and from horseback, and even how to switch to another horse while riding at full speed.

Link also used this time to get to know Impa better. He discovered that she was a woman of deep feeling, with a heart as big as Hyrule though she strove to hide it. Her tough exterior hid a tender and loving spirit, a spirit that she longed to share with him but found hard to do because of their distance. Link, though he knew who she was, he had called her "Mother" only once, and had not dared do it again.

Three months of intense work--though Link loved every moment of it--and Impa abruptly announced that they would be leaving on the morrow. Link and Zelda barely had time for a surprised and delighted glance at each other before Impa declared lights-out in the house.

* * * * *

The morning brought high spirits and a trio of Hylians already packing. Impa donned traditional Sheikah clothing for a woman of her age, and Zelda wore the garb of Sheik. Link was given an outfit slightly similar to Zelda's, in the typical style for a Sheikah. He felt reluctant to give up his green tunic, his last bit of Kokirish heritage, but he did it willingly, for this was a journey he refused to back down on.

He chose to pack only weapons a Sheikah typically carried, cutting his usual arsenal by more than half. He brought the bow with which he excelled at archery, a dagger about the same size, heft, and quality as the Kokiri Sword, Deku Nuts for vanishing without a trace, and a larger, stronger version of the boomerang he'd once used, this one made of black oak and adorned with a green balance stone at the apex.

Saria had made him a new ocarina, an adult-size green one, which she called the Forest Ocarina. She and her fairy, Devin, had dropped by a week ago to say hello and give it to him. Amid the hugs of greeting she explained to him how she knew everything about his parentage, his journey, and his intentions from her conversations with her fellow Sage, Impa. She kissed him on the cheek and wished him good luck before disappearing into a tiny globe of green light that zipped away back towards the Forest.

Secretly, Link was overjoyed that Impa and Zelda had insisted on joining him. The reconstruction of Hyrule Castle was going well, what with the Master Carpenter and his expert assistants helping the Goron stonemasons to build the place. Soon, the tall, beautiful spires would stand again. Everything seemed bright as the last three months of summer had cycled into the beginning of sunny, brisk autumn.

Link was nearly bouncing with the excitement of setting out soon. Impa and Zelda were in the house, gathering last-minute necessities, while he was strapping the saddlebags to Epona's sides. There was an unexpected but familiar fluttering sound above him, making him jump in startlement. "Hey!" said a tiny voice. "You're not leaving on another adventure without me, are you?"

Link looked up. "Navi!" he greeted with a welcoming smile.

"In the glow," the little fairy replied smugly. "I was hanging out in the Deku Tree meadow with the other fairies when Devin told me what he'd heard from Saria--that you were going off again."

"You heard right," Link replied. "I'm going south for a special reason." With that, he launched into a narrative that quickly reiterated the story he'd been told by Impa and finished by telling her of his promise to find his father. This left her slightly speechless--quite an accomplishment for such a talkative fairy--while she tried not to gape at this sudden explosion of information.

"Well, I'm coming anyway," she finally stated. "I think it's wonderful you've found your true mother. I don't care what the other fairies say--I don't care that you're not Kokiri. I'm not supposed to follow an outsider, but you're my friend. I'm going to be your fairy whether they like it or not."

"You don't have to," Link said.

"I want to," Navi asserted. "We've been through so much together--and besides, the Forest is so boring without you around!"

When all was packed on the three horses outside, Impa greeted Navi cordially, then took the two Hylians by the hand and led them back into the house. "The most important part of the disguise," she explained. Zelda's eyes twinkled, but she didn't explain to Link what her mentor meant. Navi flitted and twinkled from place to place, watching.

Impa had them kneel, then knealt before them, a small red crystal in her hands. "Zelda's magical disguise was a one-time-only gift from a friend during our journeys. It hid her from Ganondorf by slightly changing her physical form--giving her a different hair color, tinting her skin--as well as disguising her mental aura. In effect, she was masked from any magical detection until she removed the disguise. Since we don't have that option, we'll just have to do things the old-fashioned way."

"Aren't you a Sage?" Link asked. "Can't you just wave your hands and--?"

Impa gave him another one of her exhasperated looks. "Link, the magic of Hyrule imparted to the Sages is not up to us. The land itself chooses when and what we must do."

"Silly boy!" Navi put in.

"That's why Impa's using this crystal," Zelda said with a glance at the impetuous fairy. "It can do what we need with a minimum of magic."

"What do we need?"

"Watch," Zelda said with a giggle, closing her eyes. Impa lifted the crystal and passed it back and forth over Zelda's forehead for a moment, her own eyes closed in concentration. Link felt a tingle of magic pass through the air, and when Zelda's eyes opened again they were a striking red color, as Sheik's had been.

Navi sparkled in surprise. "Wow!"

"Oh!" Link said, startled. "That part of the disguise. Do I...do I have to do that, too?"

"If you want to pass for a true Sheikah," Impa explained. Then she cocked her head to regard him. "I think that if you mastered this mode of disguise magic, being half Sheikah, you could change your eyes on your own. But it's a difficult method to learn and we don't have time now to teach you."

Link reluctantly closed his eyes, allowing Impa to perform the procedure. He felt a tingle of magic, alike but strikingly different than what had passed through Zelda. It was as though the crystal didn't have to create the new eye color; it reached deep into him and pulled up something that was already there. His eyes itched slightly for two seconds, but by the time Impa said, "It's done," they had stopped.

Link opened his eyes. Everything was just a tad blurry for a moment, but soon cleared. "Did it work?" he asked.

Impa was gazing steadily at him. "Perfectly."

Link rose and rushed over to the little mirror above the washbasin. When a sharp red gaze pinned him from out of a gold-haired, angular face, he drew back in amazement. Where Zelda/Sheik's eyes were dark red, his were bright ruby-colored. "Just like yours, Impa!" he found himself marveling.

Impa and Zelda were standing near him. "You are my son, after all," Impa reminded him. "We're ready to depart."

"Wow, Link! You look scary, now!" Navi squeaked.

Once outside, they finished strapping everything to the horses. Impa wore clothes much like Sheik's, but cut a little like her old battle gear. Over this she donned a Sheikah-style cloak, embroidered with the Eye of Sorrow. Zelda and Link were given similar cloaks, and Zelda wore the dark blue clothing and pale wraps that were her hallmarks as Sheik. She had to once again use the wrappings as a mask to disguise her softer features. Impa, a grown Sheikah warrior woman, could intimidate potential opponents; Zelda, small of stature and a young girl, could not. But as Sheik, at least she was somewhat threatening, in the same manner as a small, silent wildcat.

Link wore clothing of a similar style to Zelda's; close fitting, dark green instead of blue, but the mask he wore pulled down around his neck; no need to disguise his face. His newly ruby eyes flitted back and forth in excitement as he mounted Epona and reached for her saddlegrip.

Impa smiled. "Eager, aren't we?" She mounted her gray gelding, Cloud, while Zelda sat upright in Moonlily's saddle. Moonlily, the same white mare that she and Impa had fled from Ganondorf on, all those years ago. They urged their horses to a steady walk as the villagers gathered to see them off, shouting goodbyes and blessings of good luck. Once out of the town and on their way on the road down through the hills, Impa slowed to allow the two to come up on either side of her.

"You two are to play the part of my sons," she instructed. "Link, the elder, and Sheik, the younger."

"Isn't my name not Sheikah?" Link asked. "I'm not even sure it's Hylian."

"Oh, it is. I named you, remember?" Impa said. "The word 'sheik' in the Sheikah tongue means 'shadow,' and 'sheik-ah' means 'shadow-folk.' My own name means 'twilight'."

"The Sage of Shadow--Sheikah," Link realized. "Then Link is a Sheikah name?"

"Yes," Impa replied. "In Hylian, a link is a connection or bond. In Sheikah, 'link' means 'shade'."

"Like shade from a tree?"

"No..." Impa gave a short chuckle at his innocent question, thinking for a moment. "Perhaps I translated to the wrong word. I meant shade as in 'ghost' or 'phantom'."

Link had such a perplexed look on his face that Zelda burst out laughing. "It's all right, Link," Impa assured him, forcing herself not to join Zelda. "My people aren't superstitious. For a Sheikah, it's a very complimentary name. It heralds your swiftness and silence, like a ghost."

"I can tell I still have a lot to learn," Link said.

As the horses fell back to single file, Zelda looked back at Link. "It's too bad you grew up apart from your mother," she said. "You know almost nothing about a whole half of your heritage."

"I've learned a lot from her," Link said defensively.

"That you have, and you've done well with all I've taught you," Impa agreed. "But I'll have to teach you the Sheikah tongue."

"I'll help," Zelda volunteered.

"Me too!" Navi cried, though in truth she didn't know a word of Sheikah.

"I'm glad you three are coming," Link said for the hundredth time in the past three months. "I don't know what I'd do alone."

"Just remember that next time you tell me to buzz off," Navi retorted smugly, before popping under his turban. Under his hat was her usual hiding place when she wasn't required, or needed rest.

They crossed the bridge over the river two hours after departure and had lunch on the open plains, Lon Lon Ranch in sight in the distance. With their early morning start, the trio pushed on late into the evening and spent the night on the ridge just outside the Ranch. As they lay in their bedrolls staring up at the stars, they talked of what they would see far to the south, of the people they would meet, and Link began a small bit of practice in the language of his mother's people. Impa was native, and Zelda fluent, but Link stuttered and stumbled over the simplest of sentences.

The dawn of the next morning saw them already underway, traveling down the valley and into the large bowl that contained Lake Hylia. The great Lake stretched on and on, the farthest shores barely visible, and they reached it late in the afternoon.

"Some say this Lake is the center of the world, where all the water goes," Impa said softly as they stood on the hillside overlooking the sparkling water. "Others say it is Death Mountain that is the center. Still others believe it's the Castle. No one has ever marked the true boundaries of our land."

"Not even fairies," Navi whispered softly, her tiny head peeping out through Link's long gold-blond hair, just above his ear.

"For a long time no one went beyond Hyrule proper," Zelda explained. "Just the lands of the Gerudos, the Zoras, the Gorons, and the Kokiri."

"Then where did the Hylians come from?" Link asked.

"From the vast expanses of Hyrule Field," said Impa. "Our people were plainsdwellers; hunters, gatherers, and wanderers. We made huts of grass and brush and moved from place to place following the herds of wild cattle and horses."

"Hyrule Field sure is big," Link commmented. "Horseback alone takes near two days to cross, just going straight south from Kakariko to the Lake. The rest is even more enormous."

"And we've many days ahead of us, as well," Impa reminded them. "With no ferry across the Lake, we'll have to go around."

Zelda shivered just a bit. "None of us have ever been beyond the Lake. Or Death Mountain, or the Desert, or the Castle."

"Or the Forest," Link added.

"Does that even have an end?" Navi whispered, still only so Link could hear.

"You're both right," Impa said as she nudged her horse into a walk, "Central Hyrule is a very sheltered land, despite the evils of Ganondorf. It was the safety within the bounds of the Circle of Temples that made this land so appealing."

"A circle?" asked Link

"That's silly," Navi said, and Link waved a hand towards his ear to quiet her.

"Have you not seen a map of Hyrule that includes the Temples?" Impa asked. "The Temples form a circle that encompasses our land. You can draw a single line all the way around--Forest Temple, Shadow Temple, Fire Temple, Light Temple, Spirit Temple, and Water Temple. All are on the outermost edges of Central Hyrule."

"Like a circle of protection," Link acknowleged with a nod, keeping Epona close beside Cloud.

"My father called everything outside of this circle the 'Wild Beyond'," Zelda said, following.

"It is much wilder than anything you know," Impa said. "Once we pass the far side of the Lake, our guard must be up. It's a dangerous land."

"Not as dangerous as the stuff Ganondorf threw at us," Navi whispered in Link's ear again.

"Shush!" Link hissed. "I'm trying to listen."

But no more was said. As they rode down to the shore, Link saw the squat form of the Lakeside Laboratory on the rock bluff over the Lake, and far off along the shoreline he could just glimpse the old Fishing Station. Even the great tree on the island far into the Lake still stood tall, a marker for the ancient Water Temple. Briefly, he wondered if Princess Ruto of the Zoras was there.

They passed by the old scientist's lab, heading for the craggy rocks and high spires that signaled the beginnings of the Gerudo Canyon, the last bed of Zora River. The frothy falls and white rapids spilled out below them as they crossed a narrow, rocky land bridge.

Impa then led them along the lakeshore, where it began to grow craggy. They had to switchback and climb the high, mesa-like sides of the western Lake bowl, where it intersected with the rocky high desert. Just a few hours to the west one could find the beginnings of sand and wind, and the Gerudo Desert.

But their path was along the side of the lake. Their camp that night was in a flat area among the rocks, with the sounds of night birds and the tiny laps of lakewater against the shore. The horses tethered safely nearby, the travelers bedded down in a cleft, and Link listened eagerly to another language lesson, politely tolerating the comments of his impetuous fairy companion.

By noon of the next day, they had left the rough desert edge behind and found themselves in rolling hills and dense pine forests, the Lake often barely visible through the brush as they wound their way along the shore. Their only guide besides Link's trusty magnetic compass, they would soon be lost without the silver glint of water through the trees. Often, they would have to dismount and lead the horses through the worst thickets, and their going slowed to a crawl. They went on like this for two days before the shore of the Lake began to curve away from their southerly course.

"I remember when I came this way," commented Impa that evening as they stayed their last night near the shores of the Lake. "I had never been this far north--few Sheikah venture this way--and I had never seen so vast an expanse of sweet water. Central Hyrule is a very rich land."

Link was coming along well in his language lessons, already good at things like simple greetings, questions, and names for common objects. A little weak on complicated grammar, but Impa thought him a fine pupil, though Navi's laughter at his mistakes was sometimes ill-timed. Link found the consonant, flowing tongue oddly familiar.

"It should be," Impa said in answer to his comment on this, during their first night out of sight of the Lake in the deep darkness of the woods. "It was the only language I spoke to you in as an infant."

The travel through the forest, up and down the rolling, tree-covered hills, took more than three days. Link was comfortable in the woody-smelling closeness of the trees, but Zelda once expressed her half-joking despair of ever seeing the open sky again.

They began to descend out of these foothills on the morning of the eighth day of their journey. The forest thinned, then petered out into a dry, rolling prairie and clumps of trees gathered around springs and rivers.

Impa informed them of their situation during their first night on the open grass. "It will take a week to cross this prairie to the lands of my own people. My hope is that there are other towns along this route that I passed by in my hurry to the north seventeen years ago."

True to Impa's word, they saw nothing but grass and occasional trees for four straight days of travel. Their food supplies were beginning to look thin, but then Link, after a brief conference with Navi, suggested they swerve their course just slightly to the southwest, where he could see in the distance the beginning of more tree-covered hills. He thought that there might be a town on one of the hillsides, given the rivers flowing from that direction.

Link was becoming more fluent in the language and customs of the Sheikah, and during his lessons there were fewer and fewer laughable mistakes. It took them two days to reach the foot of the hills, but they were already overjoyed to have seen lights up the hills the night before. As Link had thought, there was a small, rough village there.

Impa called a meeting before entering, to set some ground rules for interaction with the people. Link and Zelda were glad to comply.

"We're not going to stay the night in the town," she informed them. "We'll sleep out in the forest. Speak Sheikah whenever possible--that goes double for you, Link--because we'll need to keep up our ruse."

"Our red eyes will let them know before we even get close," Link said.

"One word of Hylian out of your mouth and they'll know where you're from," Zelda countered, interrupting Impa. "You and I have a northerner's accent."

"Funny. I didn't think I had any accent at all."

"That's 'cause you do all the talking," Navi quipped from her perch on his shoulder.

"You're used to it," Impa explained. "It's the people here that'll have an accent to you."

"Do we have enough Rupees to buy food?" Link asked.

"The people here don't use Rupee jewels as money," Impa explained. "They use gold. It's a metal, I know, but it has much value because it's very rare here. I only have a little, so we can't splurge. Still, Rupees are of good enough quality for gems that we might be able to barter with them."

They rode into town that afternoon, single file and silent, as is Sheikah custom. Masks pulled up, cloaks pulled close, they looked every inch the mysterious, dangerous Sheikah wanderers. Everything from their horses' tack to their saddlebags was just as any Sheikah warrior would have. No one should have reason to doubt. Link noted the odd stares they received from passers-by, but passed it off as them just being strangers in town.

They tied their horses outside the town's bazaar and stepped in, three dark figures against the afternoon light. Link was thouroughly enjoying all the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

"[Be silent, my sons,]" Impa said softly in Sheikah. "[I will haggle for food.]"

"[May we go look at the weapons, Mother?]" Zelda whispered. Her voice was lowered and roughened to approximate a young lad's. Her eyes sparkled above her mask, showing her mirth at calling Impa 'mother'.

"[You may, Shadow,]" Impa replied, equally amused. She then turned to the shopkeeper, who waited impatiently behind the counter. As Link was led to the rear of the store by Zelda, he heard Impa speak Hylian, though she made her speech thickly accented and poor. "Buy food here? Price be good."

"[You haven't said a word,]" Zelda whispered to Link when they reached the weapons rack.

Link fingered a pike blade, inspecting the edge. "[Not good enough,]" he replied, his Sheikah still foreign to him. "[Mouth is strange.]"

"[You mean, 'tongue'.]" Zelda corrected. "[You know, all you need is a little more confidence. You should be chattering away with your little brother.]" She didn't allow herself any girlish giggles, but kept herself firmly in the Sheik persona. Even Link almost thought he was speaking to the young man he'd thought she was, back during the battle with Ganondorf.

"[What? Slow speak, please,]" Link managed. "[I still not flowing.]"

"[Fluent,]" Zelda reminded him.

"[One wrong before native speakers and we are gone,]" he retorted with a frown. He shook his head in annoyance at his lack of fluency. "[Frustrate. Why Twilight call you Shadow?]"

"[What did you hear in Hylian?]"

Link considered. He'd said, "Par Impa shuka Sheik?" "[Ah,]" he realized. "[Names literal for Shadow-Folk.]"

Link heard the other people in the shop talking amongst themselves, much of it about the three new arrivals. They probably thought they were just two Sheikah boys talking about the shining weapons on the shelves, but they were afraid nonetheless. Link knew he probably cut an impressive figure; a strong young man, a bow and quiver strung at his shoulder and a knife in his belt. "Sheik" was less imposing though no less threatening, with the long, slim assassin's dagger carried at her side.

"[We're done,]" Impa called from the front of the store, hefting the new bags of hardbread, cheese, and rice cakes.

Link and Zelda came obediently back to her side. Following his companions out, Link bumped into a man just coming into the door. The man backhanded him viciously, knocking him to the ground. "Sheikah whelp!" he spat venomously.

Navi could faintly be heard in Link's hat, railing at the man, but with enough presence of mind not to use Hylian. Instead, she shrieked and squeaked in the fairy tongue, sounding like an irate mouse. Fortunately, only Link could hear her.

Offended by the man's predjudice, Link jumped to his feet, tensed and angry. Then Zelda was at his side, tugging his elbow. "[Don't fight! Come away! Remember, you don't understand him!]"

Still fuming, Link allowed himself to be led away by his "brother".

"Yeah, go off and run, red-eyes!" the cruel man guffawed, his accent twangy-sounding and rough, obviously thinking the youth couldn't understand him. "Demon spawn, them Sheikah," he said to his friend behind him. "You can tell by them eyes. Sneaky buggers'll steal ya blind."

Link burned with anger. Turning to the men, he said loudly in Sheikah, "[You are the son of a sick cow and an ugly pig! If I were not on a mission I would teach you what honor really is!]" With that, he left the man still laughing at him and strode back with Zelda to their waiting horses.

Impa, waiting there, looked about to burst with laughter. "[Well handled, Ghost,]" she complimented. "[That's about as fluent as I've ever heard you speak.]"

"[See?]" Zelda agreed. "[I told you all you needed was confidence.]"

"[Let's just leave,]" Link said, marveling at the almost magical way he understood them so easily. "[I have a feeling we won't be long welcome here.]"

Out in the forest that night, Link waited until Zelda had gone off for privacy before approaching Impa about his almost miraculous new ability. Impa looked at him steadily for a moment before answering.

"It may be that your subconscious mind only needed the impetus to burrow into old memories of the days when all you knew was Sheikah," she said. "Perhaps the anger you felt and the need to speak only that tongue unlocked a hidden door in your mind."

"It's strange how easily it comes, now," Link said. "When you said my name, back in the town, I really didn't hear you say 'Link'. To me, you really truly called me Ghost--in Sheikah, that is."

"It is what I named you," she told him. "You were a child unknown by my family, carried in secret. You were silent at birth. You came in the dark of the night, quickly--so swiftly you were born before the midwife came. You were right for the name Ghost. Swift, silent, secret, strong..." She faded out when Zelda walked back into camp. "No one saw you?" she asked.

"I hope not--that's embarrassing," Navi commented, perched atop Link's head. Link rolled his eyes, at his wits' end with the irrepressible fairy.

"No," Zelda replied, with a smile for Link and a wink for Navi. "I know better than to let anyone see what I'm doing when I'm disguised as a boy. [Don't fuss over me, Mother,]" she added in Sheikah.

Impa turned suddenly to Link. "You haven't called me 'Mother'."

Link winced internally. "I...don't know..."

She gave him a sympathetic look. "I know it is still hard for you, Link. But one day our disguises might depend on that one word."

There was uncomfortable silence for a long time.

"So," Zelda tried, "did we get enough supplies for the rest of the trip?"

Link was glad when the two women struck up a conversation excluding him, giving him time to think.

To Be Continued...