((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 9: A Walk in the Country
Jared paused in the process of cinching his horse's girth. Eyeing the object in question, he gave Link an odd look. "It's a bridle."
"Oh." Link turned the collection of leather straps and metal buckles over in his hands. "It goes on the horse's head, I suppose. What does it do?"
Jared grunted, pulling his horse's girth tight and buckling it firmly. "It guides the horse, of course. What else?"
"I don't know," Link replied, wondering how he was going to get the jointed metal bar into the horse's mouth without a fight. "I've never used one."
"Never used a bridle? I thought you said you rode horses all the time!"
"I do. We just don't use these where I come from."
Jared gaped at him. "You mean...you do all your riding with no bridle?"
Link shrugged and handed the bridle over to Jared, figuring he'd know better how to apply it to the horse. "No bridles--and we don't have these 'irons' things for your feet, either. Just a saddle and handgrip. It frees up the hands for weapons." And the saddles he was used to were much larger and more square than the small, smooth ones that Jared said were used for "huntseat" riding or "dressage." He thought that was perhaps why those at Leonine used irons; maybe they would slide out of the saddles without them!
"That's something I've got to see! How in the world do you steer?" Jared asked, eyes brimming with excitement.
"With the seat and legs," Link replied with an easy air. "The horses are trained for it. I don't think my mare would enjoy wearing a bridle."
"I suppose she wouldn't, being used to having her head free." Jared easily slid his arm over the horse's head and slipped the bit into its mouth without so much as a twitch. He then fastened the leather straps over the horse's cheek and throat, passed the reins back to the saddle, and pulled the mane free. "There, he's done. You can ride Sturdy while you're here; he's the most easygoing horse we have."
"Thanks." Link patted the stocky bay gelding's nose and was rewarded with an affectionate nudge. "You'll have to show me how to use this bridle properly."
"Don't worry," Jared chuckled. He turned to his own horse, a jet-black stallion with a friendly temperament that was a bit on the smallish side compared to most of the horses in the Leonine stables. The Leonine horses were not quite as large as Epona, but they were beautiful animals, slim and athletic and probably much faster than Epona was. "Ready to mount up?"
They led their horses out of the barn aisleway and into the courtyard. Workers, sculleryfolk, and various other menials paused in their labors to watch the younger lordling and his Sheikah companion mount their horses and head for the gates.
"Make way! Make way!" shouted the gatesmen, who quickly turned back the massive, iron-bound wooden doors and cranked the metal porticullus up out of the way. They stood back and respectfully bowed as Jared and Link passed through. The horses' hooves clattered over the cobblestones as they danced in eagerness to adventure.
For a little while, Link imagined what it might be like if they all knew he was their Duke's son, and he and Jared could ride out as brothers. Then it would not be just Jared that they bowed to, and their veiled stares of contempt would not sting him as they did now. But he only imagined it for a moment, because he knew it could never be.
Impa leaned back against the linen pillow in the main audience tent and tried to hide a slight smile at the utterly astonished look on her elder brother's face. "[Come on, Sunset, show a little backbone,]" she chided, reminded of their younger days together.
Idek, the youngest of her brothers, had always been her constant companion when they were children. Both of them shared a love of stealth and shadows, and had become some of the tribe's best trackers and huntsmen. Idek never took his responsibilities seriously, having always been the family clown, and his two sons were following in his footsteps.
"[But...Father...]" Idek tried.
"[Is it too hard for you, boastful one?]" Chieftain Imrek asked wryly from his buffalo-robed "throne" chair. "[A moment ago you were professing your unmatched skill, such that you could track a grass-hawk on a clouded day. Where is all your hot air now, Sunset?]"
Idek pulled himself together somewhat. "[I'm good, Father, not suicidal. What idiot would cross the river in these days? To say nothing of the flooding, the Duke's men prowl the forests everywhere. To ask me this, when there is no safe place near the river...]"
"[Very well, Father,]" Impa said, sitting up from her cushion. "[If my brother will not go, then I will.]"
Both men looked at her, one with understanding, the other with surprise. "[B-but Twilight--it's too dangerous!]" Idek protested. "[That Hylian underdog has already done enough to you! I won't have him torment you again if his men catch you there.]" He turned to his father. "[Very well, I will go. I will take three of the best trackers with me and discern the boy's whereabouts. If I cannot free him with all stealth, if his life is not in danger I will wait for an opportunity. Sister, I will bring your son back to you.]"
Impa said nothing as he exited the tent. When he was gone, she glanced at her father. "[Was it wise to let him do this for us?]"
Imrek sighed. "[Sunset may not be the most comitted nor the most responsible warrior in our family, but he does love you, Twilight. As it was when you were young, he would still do anything for you. And he is, as he says often, the best at what he does. If anyone can find your son and bring him back, it is Sunset.]"
Captain Rishto located Leo in the dining hall, where the young Duke-heir was hungrily gobbling some food, having skipped both dinner and breakfast to avoid the half-Sheikah interloper that monopolized his brother's time.
"What are you doing sitting around in here?" Rishto demanded after sending the butlers out of the room. "Do you know where Jared is? I cannot find him anywhere."
"Maybe it's because he went riding," Leo growled between mouthfuls.
"Why aren't you with him? There's always the possibility of Sheikah--"
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Leo asked mockingly. "It's not my job to babysit that whiner. And if the Sheikah grab him, so much the better. Besides, the half-breed went with him--that should be enough to keep him safe."
"He went riding with Link?" Rishto gaped for a moment. "And why wasn't I told?"
"It's not my responsibility to make sure your spies tell you everything," Leo responded with a shrug, shoveling another mouthful of stew. He smiled and blinked at Rishto innocently. "I'm just the clueless little heir-apparent, and if you get caught with all your spies and intrigue, I know absolutely nothing." His face turned into a coldly smiling replica of Rishto's usual calculating smirk. "In fact, I'd rather you did get caught, so I don't have to put up with your nagging and demands."
"Watch your mouth, brat," Rishto barked, dragging Leo up from his chair by the shirtfront and shaking him. His tirade was just soft enough not to carry through the walls. "You owe me everything, do you hear? I'm the one who makes sure you get what you want, I'm the one who makes sure you get everything when the Duke finally dies--all of Leonine's piddly property, all the Hylian village-lords' lands, all the Sheikah territory--everything! I'm the one who makes the whole design work. You'd be nothing but a whining brat without me!"
Leo coolly disengaged Rishto's hands from his shirt and stood facing him. "You forget yourself, Captain. I think you should remember who holds what place in this castle. If I choose to finish this alone, I will do so. I only keep you around because you're doing all the dirty work that I don't want to bother with. You keep to your work, and I'll keep to mine."
Rishto glared into the lordling's eyes, itching to strike him but not daring to damage the heir's face. "I should have killed your mother before she pushed you and the other whelp out," he growled. "I should have done this whole thing my way, instead of listening to her, and then you." He stepped back and looked angrily contemplative. "With the half-breed hanging about Jared all the time, things will get more difficult. I'll change my arrangements slightly, and inform my operatives to do the same. There'll be a battle--I'll make one--and hopefully the half-breed will be...'killed in the skirmish' somehow."
"You may be annoying, but I like how you think," Leo commented, sitting back down to his meal. "I don't like him, either--he reminds me too much of Lyon. Do what you want with him, but be careful; Jared's quite taken with him."
Without another word, Rishto stalked away, his mind on his plans and his face twisted into an odd, calculating smile.
Link and Jared spent a very pleasant day out in the cool forest, exploring trails that Jared knew well, stopping for lunch beside a rushing creek and doing a lot of talking. As they ate smoked ham and sharp cheese, they shared about their love of horses and the woods.
As it turned out, Jared's horse Obsidian had been a gift from his father when he was seven years old. Lyon had helped him raise and train the young black colt until it was a tremendous steed, totally devoted to Jared. Jared hoped someday his father might grant him the use of a mare, so he could raise and train more horses. He loved his stallion very much, and rode everywhere on him.
Link talked of Epona, of how she was very like Obsidian in that she would allow no other to ride her, save her original owner Malon. He told Jared how she liked music, and would listen to him play on his ocarina during the long evenings of his quest. She would protect him and come when he called whenever she could. He told Jared how much he missed her.
It was beginning to get dark by the time the two youths finished their long ride and turned to loop back to the castle. The quiet tones of their voices blended with the soft sounds of crickets and other evening denizens.
It was about that time that Link thought he heard other voices. Pulling to a stop, he gestured for Jared to be quiet before the other boy could ask what was wrong. "I thought I heard something," he whispered softly, dismounting from Sturdy's broad back. "Where are we?"
"A few miles from the Daneed river," Jared responded, climbing down as well. "This is the route Bryant and I took when we found you."
"Jared, stay here."
Feeling a start at those words, Jared opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by his companion's gesture. Link left Sturdy standing on the trail and ventured down the hill to the side, moving noiselessly through the brush. He became more certain when he neared the bottom of the hill, hearing men's voices speaking lowly.
In the crease between two thickly treed ridges burned a tiny, smokeless fire, over which sizzled a small skinned animal, perhaps a rabbit. Nearby was a small burbling brook. Bedrolls were placed near the fire, and four men sat on them, conversing softly.
Link got a little closer to hear what they were saying, and in the darkness finally recognized their clothing, and realized the words they were speaking were in Sheikah!
"[...find him in this gods-forsaken country I'll never know,]" one said, his voice an angry-sounding growl. "[But it's the Chieftain's orders, after all. Why is he so concerned over one half-Hylian boy, eh, Sunset?]"
"[He has good reason,]" said the one called Idek, though he did not stir. "[The boy is my sister's son, Hare-Runner. I have to find him for her. And my father didn't order me, either. I volunteered. The only orders given were the ones I gave to all of you.]"
"[Pah--you're a fool, Sunset. Always have been,]" said another Sheikah.
"[We're risking our lives and the safety of our whole tribe for one halfling boy who may not even still be alive,"] said the third. "[Why must we endanger our families for the sake of one person? If we are discovered, the Duke's wrath--]"
"[It's a matter of honor,]" Idek replied sharply. "[I have sworn to myself on my family's honor to find him--and since the boy is of my blood it is doubly on my family's honor to see him returned.]"
Link, hiding in the shadows, drew back from the gathering and retreated up the hill a ways. That man called Idek--his uncle, the Chieftain's son! Impa and her father were looking for him! A feeling of immense relief stole over him; Impa and Zelda were alive and safe with his mother's tribe. Perhaps even Epona was with them! He could walk down there into their campsite, introduce himself, and be taken to his mother and Zelda immediately. He could even get to them by morning, maybe, if the distance were not too far.
He could get out of the castle, away from Rishto, and free of the hell he was living in there.
But it meant leaving Jared, the only one who had been kind to him. And Rishto's eyes...when looking at Link and Jared and even Lyon...there was something wrong with those eyes. Something in Link didn't want to leave his little brother alone with that man.
It also meant giving up any chance of being reconciled with his father. Sure, he'd met the man, shared a meal, and learned a little about him, but that left him empty, not able to know Lyon as a person--as father and son. Even if it meant Lyon's scorn, he wanted to know the Duke better.
But sitting in that little valley was his ticket out. He could go home.
The meaning of that word was beginning to change for him. It was no longer a place--like the solitude of the Kokiri forest, or the homey comfort of Impa's house in Kakariko--it was the people he loved. Impa, Zelda, Saria...wherever they were, that would be home.
Against his will, he had come to care too much for his younger half-brother. He hadn't wanted to become so attached; his first day in Leonine he had promised himself to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. But Jared was such a sweet, friendly boy, a wonderful person--so kind and generous to a perfect stranger. In such a short time, he had come to regard Jared as a trusted friend...and brother.
Which meant that with Jared there, he could see Leonine Castle becoming his home as well.
Torn betwen two opposing pulls of love and family, Link sat in torment for a few moments. He could go with the Sheikah and be free of Rishto and the cruel stares and whispered comments of Leonine. He could remain with Jared and never have to risk surviving the cold, bitter winter out on the sparse Barrens with the Sheikah tribe. Either way, he gained and lost. Either way meant abandoning someone he cared about.
Rishto's cold, predatory eyes floated before him again, mocking and cruel, and Link felt his ire rising in response. Is leaving now running away? he wondered. By going with the Sheikah, am I somehow letting Rishto win...letting him chase me away? That man had designs on something; something that might cost Jared and Lyon and even Leo. The Captain of the Lion's Guard was dangerous, and not just to Link.
Impa and Zelda are safe. I can risk staying with Jared a while longer. I can always leave and be found by these scouts. I don't want anything to happen to Jared...
With one last long, reluctant look at the tiny campfire flickering dimly through the trees, Link turned back and headed up the hill, careful to remain soundless.
"What was it?" Jared asked from atop Obsidian when Link returned. "You were gone a while--what did you find?"
Link mounted Sturdy and reined the horse back in the direction of the castle. Wordlessly, he nudged the gelding to a walk, Jared close behind.
"What did you see?" Jared asked eagerly. "What was it?"
"Nothing," Link replied emotionlessly. "It was nothing."
To Be Continued...