((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 4: Deep In The Southland

It was a long three days before the traveling trio made it to the beginnings of the low, rolling, tree-covered hills that marked the end of the expanse of grass and shrubbery. "And I thought Hyrule Field was big," was Link's only comment as they passed into the cool forest.

The last leg of the journey was spent town-hopping from village to village, mostly keeping to themselves and camping on the edges. After four days of such, they stayed in an abandoned barn, and Impa at last sat with them to discuss their destination.

"We're heading for a town called Sapphiro," the Sheikah explained, using a stick to draw a crude map in the dust, by the light of Navi's blue-white glow. "Here is where we are--I think," she said, using her stick to point. "And here is the river we'll have to cross. Hopefully the ferry I used is still there. The town is a few miles above the junction between this river and another."

"Why are we going there?" Link asked.

"Don't ask dumb questions," Navi ordered, flitting past Link's nose.

"It's not a dumb question, Navi. It's where I last left my people," Impa said, brushing the designs away. She looked at Link. "From there we'll go to where I last saw your father."

* * * * *

The first thing Impa wanted to do when they reached Sapphiro was make inquiries as to the whereabouts of her tribe. The last few Sheikah emigrants to Central Hyrule had not given any information as to where her people had gone. She believed that the first best thing to do was to present herself and her son to her father, and to explain why she'd left so abruptly seventeen years ago. Link was hesitant, preferring to search for his father, but Impa insisted that he should meet the old chieftain first. Chief Imrek would doubtless be impressed with his warrior grandson.

"So many memories," Impa sighed as they stood on the hillside overlooking the sizeable village. It seemed such a happy place. "The day my tribe stopped here was always a festival day. The villagers would turn out in droves at the marketplace, welcoming us to buy cider, currants, pastries... It was like a carnival at Castle Village."

Link looked about the town, transfixed by the history he felt here. This place had seen him still part of his mother, though he had never seen the place himself. "Where did you meet my father?" he asked.

"In the marketplace in the town of Rynor," Impa replied. "He offered to take me to lunch at Fibbo's Pastries. The big elm tree was our favorite place to meet. I'll show it to you when we get there."

Zelda glanced at Link, seeing him staring hard into the distance as if ordering the sky itself to divulge its history of that period in time. Impa, however, broke the silence to order them to move out, heading into town.

The reaction they drew from the townspeople was less than rewarding, however. Folk drew away when the three approached, leading their horses. Mothers pulled their children indoors and fathers stood careful guard over their homes. Shopkeepers along the main street took their most valuable items behind their desks, and even the beggars hid their cans and hats of money.

Impa gazed about, disgusted by their attitudes. "[Superstitious simpletons,]" she muttered in Sheikah. Pausing before a blind beggar, who hadn't removed his alms cup because he couldn't see who was coming, she dropped two pieces of gold into it with a clunk. It was loud enough to be heard throughout the quiet square. "[Let them chew on that for awhile,]" she commented to her "sons".

At last, the trio found a town guardsman willing to talk to them. He was an older gentleman, and looked close to retirement.

"I come seeking Sheikah tribe," Impa said, using her fake bad accent. "You see where they go? I gone seven and ten years."

"Hmm, lets see...ah, the tribe that stopped here to trade? Yes..." The man appeared to be thinking. "They've come back often enough, once a year, to trade their goods and horses. They left about a month ago--heading for the River Barrens, I believe the young man I talked to said. They planned to winter there, and they left early because the winter's going to be hard this year."

"Who chieftain still? Chief Imrek still live?"

"Aye, I believe it was one of his grandsons I talked to," the guardsman mumbled. "I think the old fellow's still in charge...fine horseman, that Sheikah..."

"I thank you," Impa said, putting a fist to her chest and giving a shallow, short bow, a Sheikah gesture of appreciation. "[Come, my sons.]"

"[Is that what you needed to know?]" Link asked once they were out of earshot.

"[It is. My people would go to the River Barrens often during the coldest winters--they must be expecting one this year. The bison range there during that time, and the hunting and fishing is good. It is a place much like Gerudo Valley, only flatter--and barren of all but plainsgrass, which can survive even the coldest winter and is good fodder for horses and bison. If our mission isn't accomplished by the time the snows begin to fall, we'll stay the winter with my family.]"

"[When do we set out?]" Zelda asked.

"[We'll waste no time,]" Impa replied. Even the normally stoic Sheikah warrior seemed barely able to contain her excitement. "[We go tomorrow!]"

* * * * *

The journey south between the rivers was pleasant, the sun not to hot and the wind not too cold, as befits early fall in the south. Impa warned them, however, that this nice weather wouldn't last--winters in the south were bitter and vicious, and the inexperienced often lost their lives.

In the two days it took to move along the southern branch of the river, Impa explained that they were going to ar Shem dol Te Traksha, "the Place of Two Pillars", where her people typically built their rafts to journey down the southward waters. The craft she described were large enough to ferry the people's horses and families on a cramped but rapid trip downstream. She believed that there might be a raft left over from a previous group that they could use.

Link and Zelda were amazed at the two giant limestone pillars that stood beside the river, one on each side. The bases were at least twenty feet in diameter and stretched sixty feet into the sky, narrowing to an eroded point. The Sheikah believed that these had once been the base of a great river coliseum, made by a people long past. These two remaining pillars bore the carvings and initials of travelers seeking to make their marks, but far above the reach of passersby were two triforce insignia that looked to have been carved by a professional with tools.

There was no raft left for them to use, but by a stroke of luck, there was the remains of one, its pegs and bindings shattered and broken, leaving it just a pile of pre-cut logs. The rest of the day was spent putting the large craft back together.

The next day, the sky had boiled up with thick, black clouds and rain that grew heavier by the minute. The travelers lashed their packs to the raft, brought the horses aboard, and pushed off with their poles and paddles. The river was swift but smooth, carrying them much faster than horseback, but the sky continued to darken.

"It's the end of the pleasant weather," Impa announced. "The autumn storms will begin in earnest soon."

"Will we make it before then?" Zelda asked.

"We should. We're late, but the river is swift."

They traveled in this manner for a day and a half, camping at night on the riverbank, with the weather growing worse all the while. In the afternoon, the sky was black and the rain thick with sleet and freezing. The river was growing flooded and unruly.

"We'll have to turn to shore if this gets any worse!" Impa shouted over the wind, striving to keep her balance on the churning raft.

"Can we even do that?" Link shouted back, barely able to draw his paddle through the roiling water.

"Let's try to make it as far as we can!" Zelda called from the front of the raft.

Navi, graciously not sitting on Link's head, hid herself in the packs, hanging on to the ties to keep from being blown away.

Impa suddenly stopped paddling, staring hard into the gray blackness ahead, listening. "The sla kay nor!" she cried. "The small white water! The flooding has made it dangerous!"

Amid a sudden flash of lightning they could see ahead rough, foaming whitewater, exacerbated by the rains and flood. They hit the first rapid before they could do anything.

"Hang on!" Link yelled to Zelda, dropping his paddle and gripping the raftwood. She did the same, and Impa clutched the pack ropes.

Going over several more massive waves, Link noticed an ominous creaking, groaning sound. He looked in the direction of the noise just in time to see some of the raft logs break loose, and one of the struggling horses splash into the dark river.

"Epona!" Casting aside all caution, Link plunged in after his beloved steed.

"Link! No!" Impa screamed out in her fear for him.

But she and Zelda could not do much more, for the part of the raft they now clung to was breaking up as well. "Impa! It's coming apart!" Zelda cried.

"Get the packs on the horses!" Impa ordered, she and the princess tripping and scrambling to cinch the saddlebags back on the remaining horses to keep from losing their supplies. Navi, deprived of her perch, clung to Zelda's loose, streaming hair. The two women clung to the horses' necks, not mounting, as the raft came to pieces beneath them, dropping them into the dark water.

To Be Continued...