((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 7: A Home Or A Prison?

Impa and Zelda looked up from their meal with Chieftain Imrek as Idon, dressed in full Sheikah travel garb, swept in the tent flap with a rush of air. "[Ah, my son, any news?]" the Sheikah chief asked as Impa and Zelda held their breaths in anticipation.

"[Aye, Father, I have news,]" Idon replied solemnly. "[Traces of the boy were not hard to find--he left a good chunk of cloth on a waterlogged tree in the middle of the river at one point. And we found the place he washed up; the gravel bar just near the biggest spicebark grove--on the other side of the river.]"

"[And the lad himself?]"

"[I hardly dared cross, Father, with the water in such turbulence; but I did and found hoofprints and bootprints. I believe he was picked up by some of the Lion's men.]"

Impa turned back to her father in confusion, her ruby eyes begging an answer.

Chieftain Imrek sat back against his cushions with a frown. "[This does not bode well, my daughter. You know already that the Lion is our blood enemy; your son is now their prisoner, and I can't say what they might do to him.]"

"[But...]" Impa struggled for hope. "[He speaks Hylian well, and he has not the manner of the Shadow-Folk, Papa.]"

"[You used magic to turn his eyes red, Twilight,]" Imrek reminded her gently. "[Duke Lyon will not know him nor aknowledge him.]"

Impa bowed her head, recalling her shock, disgust, and fear when told that her former lover, Lyon, was in truth not a rogue bandit but the young heir-apparent of the lands of Leonine. And now he was the ruler, the Duke, and her people's most hated enemy. Link looks so like Lyon, she thought. Lyon was such a good man--so kind--how can he be so cruel now...?

She didn't want to recall her father's tales of the horrors inflicted on her people by Lyon's Hylian soldiers. Why there were so many dark-haired children among the tents, why so many women bore terrible scars, and why so many men were missing or maimed.

"[I cannot give up hope,]" Impa insisted softly. "[He is my son.]"

Imrek's features softened. "[My child, I feel your loss. He is blood of my blood, as well. Every effort will be made to ascertain whether he still lives, and to return him to you. But I cannot guerantee...my daughter, you know what has happened to others...]"

Zelda was equally upset by this news, and rose to leave the tent. Secure in her disguise, she left the family alone with their discussions and hurried outside into the night, striving to keep her calm. It would do no good to break down when Link needed her.

She wandered to the place where the goats were kept for the night, a place lit by a single dim torch. Several children--those who watched the goats--were playing zanzel, a game using pebbles and stones rather like marbles. They ceased their game at her approach, and stood up in a respectful line before her. They were common Sheikah children, with their dark-tanned skin and incongruously pale hair; pale hair ranging from light red to light orange, light tan to light yellow, even shades of pale pink or blue. All had red eyes, from deep crimson to bright ruby, almost magenta. A few darker-haired children could be seen, those with red, brown, or dark blond locks, showing their Hylian ancestry and standing out from the group.

"[Don't stop on my account,]" Zelda said, bringing up her Sheik persona and roughening her voice. "[Please, I am only taking some air.]"

The children giggled shyly and scattered, returning to their game or fleeing back to the tents. The oldest boy, a girl, and a little boy of about five stayed standing before her, obviously curious.

"[Are you Shadow?]" one older boy asked. "[The great friend of the Chieftain's daughter?]"

"[I am,]" replied Sheik with a smile. "[And what is your name?]"

"[I am Arrow-Flight,]" repleid the boy, proudly despite his carrot-red Hylian hair. Chekuko.

"[You are the goatherd here?]" Sheik asked gently.

"[I am. I take care of all of these goats.]" The boy stuck his chest out a little. "[It's a big job, but I'm strong and tough. I do good so my older brother doesn't have to work hard. He lost his leg in the war, you know. The last time we had a big battle.]"

Sheik hid his grimace. "[I am sorry.]"

"[I'm Sand-Flower. My mother makes food for the Chieftain's family,]" the little girl, a pale-blond-haired wisp of a child, said shyly. Ashula. She spoke as if trying to assert her own importance to the tribe. "[I get milk from Arrow-Flight and take it to her so she can make bread and cheese.]"

Sheik knealt down to her and she clung shyly to the little pale-haired boy, obviously her little brother. "[And what an important job you have, too,]" he said. "[My friend's family appreciates your mother's cooking. I just sampled some tonight, and it was delicious.]"

"[Thank you. I'll tell Mama you said so.]" Ashula giggled and turned away shyly, taking her little brother with her. She picked up the leather cask near the pen, apparently the container of goat's milk, and trotted off into the camp.

"[She's a nice girl,]" Chekuko commented with a childish shrug. "[But she's been a little odd since her papa died in the war. And her little brother never talks any more.]"

Sheik abruptly yielded to Zelda as tears filled her eyes. The little boy spoke of war like it was a common fact of life. And it was; it was a war that had been going on for longer than this child had been alive. He was no more than twelve or thirteen--not that she was that much older than him. But still...it was terrible he had to live this way. "[I'm sorry,]" she whispered.

"[Aw, it's okay. My hold-father says they'll get over it as they grow. They're Shadow-Folk, so they're survivors.]"

"[Hold-father?]" The actual Sheikah word Chekuko used was one of those usually reserved for stepchildren, a word literally meaning "mother's-husband parent," not a true "father."

"[He's the one who taught me to take care of the goats, him and my brother,]" Chekuko said. He gestured guilelessly at his dark copper locks. "[My real father's a Hylian soldier. I don't know who he is but he must have been a strong man, because Mama says I'm too strong to be Hold-Father's son.]" He spoke so matter-of-factly it was as if he didn't care about the circumstances of his birth. He wasn't hesitant or shy about it at all. Not like Link, Zelda mused.

These little halfling children, the result of the cruelty inflicted upon these people during the war, were accepted without reservation into the Sheikah tribe; accepted as one of them. No question. Obviously, Chekuko's mother took great pains to make him secure in his heritage. And his "hold-father" was a kind and gracious man to accept his wife's illegitimate child into his family.

And Link was so worried about being accepted! These Sheikah would welcome him with open arms...if he were here.

If he were here.

Zelda felt tears welling again and pulled her mask closer to her face. She found no more relief out here than she had in Imrek's tent; her worry over Link would not go away. "[Forgive me, Arrow-Flight, but I must return to the tent...]" She turned to walk away.

The little boy gazed after her sagely. "[Oh, I see. You've lost somebody in the war, too, huh?]"

Zelda paused, glancing back. "[Yes. Yes, I have. Someone very important to me.]"

* * * * *

"Jared! Hold up, my boy."

Jared of Leonine pulled up short on the stairway at the rich tone of his father's voice. Turning, he gave a respectful nod of his head as the Duke of Leonine Castle came to stand at the foot of the steps. "Yes, Father?"

"That Sheikah fellow you brought to see me--where is he?" Lyon asked.

"He wanted some air, Father, so I took him outside. Diggins says he went into the stable. Seemed a little ill, to me..."

Lyon's face took on a slightly harder shadow. "Why don't you go keep an eye on him? You know how Sheikah are about horses, son."

Jared drew back, askance. "Father! He's our guest--"

"I know that, Jared. Do as I say."

"Yes, sir..." The young man unhappily trudged off towards the door, ignoring the bowing butlers and saluting guardsmen.

A shadowy figure stepped out from behind the banister. "Is there a problem with the Sheikah man--the one your son should have told me about when he was brought in?"

Lyon started around, then relaxed at the man's familiar features. "Ah! Captain Rishto, old friend, one of these days my old heart will give out like an overwrought spring when you sneak up on me!"

Axe-faced Rishto, Captain of the Lion's Guard, gave a short, grim smile that reached only his mouth, never his eyes. Himself a good fifteen years older than the Duke, he gave a snort of hard amusement at Lyon's "old heart." Tall and lanky, with thin, grizzled, iron-gray hair and a dark goatee, Rishto looked every bit the battle-hardened leader of the Duke's home guard. "Do you share my suspicions of the Sheikah lad, Your Excellency?"

"I might if I knew what those suspicions were, Rishto."

"Perhaps he is a spy?"

"Was that your first thought?" Lyon chuckled. "Seems a bit repetitious to me. As I recall you were accusing the forgesmith of--"

"Doesn't it seem odd to you, sir?" Rishto interrupted evenly, earning an ignored look from his master. "A Sheikah lad supposedly washed up on the riverbank conveniently near where Sergeant Bryant was taking your youngest son hunting? You know as well as I do no Sheikah would test the Daneed's waters in this season. And what Sheikah in his right mind would have stayed willingly in this house? If he were a true Sheikah captive, he would have killed your son and fled the castle at the first possible opportunity--unless he wanted to stay."

"True." Lyon's features flicked into a frown. "I value your advice, my friend. However, as sneaky as you might have been, I don't think you overheard the entire conversation. The lad is a halfling, and knows little about his mother's people. I've known enough Sheikah to know that his attitude and bearing are completely different. Why he's dressed as one is another matter, though...but I'd just as soon not assume the absolute worst about him. Sheikah or not, he's just a boy."

"It's that boy's looks, isn't it Lyon?" Rishto's countenance darkened. "Don't be blinded by his resemblance to your youngest son. Keep your eyes on him--mark my words, he's up to something." With a short bow, the Captain of the Lion's Guard turned on his heel and strode away down the hall, not looking back.

Lyon shook his head in confusion about his Captain's last comment; he'd noticed no similarity between Jared and Link. Shrugging to himself, he returned to his private desk to continue studying his strategical maps.

* * * * *

Link was calming himself by currying one of the many beautuful horses in the stables of Leonine. His present subject, a small blood-bay gelding, stood half-asleep in his stall as Link worked him over. Most horses enjoyed the firm massage given by a proper currying-down, and this fellow was no exception.

Link left his backpack, cloak, and most of his extra clothing paraphernalia--including hood, turban and mask--outside the stalls, near the steps leading to the loft where he'd sat to think. The stables were cool with the night air and well-lit by the various carefully-placed, glass-enclosed oil lamps. It hadn't been hard to locate the tackroom, in which were rows of polished saddles and bridles, bins of feed, and other well-kept equpment. Link was enjoying the work with the horses almost as much as they were.

Only the rhythmic pounding of a horse's hooves alerted him to the approach of a rider, who pounded clear into the main hallway before dragging his gasping mount to a halt. Ducking behind the gelding's shoulders, Link peered over his withers to see a rider just dismounting from a gigantic gray horse--a horse that was currently worked to a lather and fighting his bridle. The rider jerked the bit in the horse's mouth and shouted for the stablehand.

"Hey, boy! Terry! Where are you? Diggins--curse it all, where's everyone got to? Diggins! There you are, Terry! Where've you been, you lazy brat?"

"M'sorry, Excellency, sir, I been asleep--"

The gray horse's rider cuffed the young boy about the head. "That's no excuse for leaving your master standing about with a sweaty horse! Now get to it!"

The boy shied away from the rider's heavy hand and took the reins, leading the exhausted horse away down the hall to be cooled and groomed.

The gray horse's rider pulled off his gloves and slapped them against his thigh, turning to leave the stable. It was at that moment that Link, shifting his weight, brought his boot down on the tail of a friendly barn cat that had come to sit near him during the time he'd held so still. The cat shrieked, the gelding reared, adjacent horses shied about, and Link jumped in several different directions at once trying to avoid the havoc. He clumsily ducked out the stall door to get away from the upset horse and promptly tripped on the bucket of brushes and combs he'd left outside the door. Link, the bucket, and pieces of equipment were scattered all over the floor. Link picked himself up out of the dirt, heart pounding, feeling like an utter clod.

The entire situation might have been funny had it been between any two other people.

Link found himself facing at a tall, black-haired young man about his own age, with blue eyes and a hard, aristocratic face with long, sloping features. He was dressed in a nobleman's riding uniform, trimmed with purple and gold. He was staring at Link with something akin to bewilderment, and had probably been doing so since the cat howled. He took in Link's features and garb, and his expression changed to shock, then recognition, then anger.

"Sheikah!" the youth shouted, leaping at him suddenly. "Guards! Sheikah in the stable! Quick!"

Link dodged the other youth's headlong rush, then jumped back out of the way when the young man drew a sword from the sheath at his back. He quickly fell over again, this time from backing into a wheelbarrow and tipping over with it. Not having anything to defend himself with and completely forgetting his unarmed combat training, Link scuttled backwards like a crab. Dodging another sword-swipe, he rolled sideways, finding the pitchfork that had been in the wheelbarrow--along with the manure.

Now he had a weapon. Not using the tines, Link fended off the other youth's skillful sword-thrusts with the wooden end of the pitchfork. They danced about the hallway in a deadly whirl of combat, upsetting horses and sending the Cuccos roosted on the stalls fluttering and squawking in confusion.

"Stop!" came a young, accented voice from the doorway. "Leo! Link! Stop it this instant!"

Link was quite surprised when his dark-haired opponent was tackled by a smaller golden-haired figure. Drawing back, he realized that Jared had arrived and was attempting to clear up the mess.

"Dammit, Jared, what are you doing?" the black-haired youth demanded, getting up from the ground and brushing disgustedly at his soiled clothing. "Don't tell me you know this knave who is trying to steal our horses?"

"He's not a knave, Leo!" Jared insisted hotly, looking at Link with something akin to admiration. "He's my guest. He fell into the river and got lost, so he's going to stay with us until he's found his way again."

"This...Sheikah?" Leo spat.

Link glared, eyes hard. So this was the heir to Leonine Castle, the eldest son of Lyon. Apparently just as mistrustful as the rest of them. "I don't want to be misunderstood," he stated softly. "I wasn't trying to steal the horses. I was grooming them. Look in the stall, there--you can see the brush I dropped, and the hair that's come off the horse."

"A likely story," Leo grumbled, but glanced in the stall door anyway.

"Father will tell you," Jared insisted, glaring stubbornly at his elder brother.

"Fine, fine!" Leo sheathed his sword and turned to leave. "But don't ask me to share a meal with that...that...tribesman."

The irony of it is that I'm not even really a "tribesman!" Link thought. After Leo was gone, he set the pitchfork against the wall near the upturned wheelbarrow. "Sorry about the mess, but he attacked me--"

"Don't mind a thing," Jared insisted with a grin. "I suppose it's well past supper. Shall we go in? Oh, your clothes--I guess fighting in a stable is dirty work, eh?" He laughed shortly. "I can get you some clean ones, if you'd like."

Link looked down at his manure-streaked Sheikah outfit, regretting how dirty he'd gotten the clothes Impa had made for him. He was reluctant to shed this last connection to his friends and family, but under the circumstances, perhaps it was for the best. Maybe if people didn't label him "Sheikah" on sight he might have some chance of fitting in here--at least until he found a lead as to Impa's whereabouts. "Sure, I'd appreciate it," he responded to Jared, picking up his pack and other clothes from where he'd left them.

As he followed Jared in, he pondered his odd meeting with the dark-haired son of Lyon. That's just weird. He looks nothing like Lyon. It's odd that Lyon could put so strong a stamp of his features on Jared and I, and yet leave Leo looking...perhaps like his mother? And his age--he seemed almost...older than me?

A wave of fear swept over him as he realized the implications of that statement. For Leo to be older than him, it meant that Lyon would have already been married to his lady at the time of Link's conception. That made Lyon's dalliance with Impa not an indiscretion of youth but an adulterous affair! Horror of horrors--a double mark against him. Link paled, unnoticed by his young companion, as he realized how much deeper into trouble he was sinking.

Oh no, how much worse can this get? I'm in over my head--I want to go home! But he was already trapped--so he followed Jared in, down the bright entryway and to the stairs. The massive oaken doors closing behind him felt like the gates of a prison.

But for Link, there was a far worse prison within the confines of his own mind, with the horrible realizations and revelations he'd been thrown into. Iron bars of regret, remorse, and self-loathing encompassed him. Chains of confusion and indecision weighed him down. Locks made of his own fear trapped him in his own carefully-hidden, secret dungeon.

And from this prison there was no escape.

To Be Continued...