((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 12: One Good Blade

When Idek reached the safety of his people's settlement, collapsing at the feet of a sentry, the whole village lit up with excitement. Their youngest prince had returned with news! As the sentry and his fellow guards carried Idek into the encampment, folk crowded the spaces between the tents and Chieftain Imrek came clear out of his dwelling to meet the entourage.

Idek, upon seeing his father, gave a weak but cocky smile as he leaned on the support of two sentries. "[See, Father? I told you so...]"

"[My son! My son!]" Imrek said in relief. "[You are alive and returned!]"

Impa, with Sheik close behind her, dashed out of the tent behind her father. "[Sunset! Where is my son?]" she all but demanded.

"[He is--]"

"[Hush!]" Imrek ordered, waving his hands at the gathered Sheikah. "[All of you, return to your tents! If there is word, I will send for your family heads to deliver it to you. Let us return to rest--it is not well for us to be in an uproar at this hour of the night.]"

As Imrek took Idek and supported him on his shoulder, the Sheikah reluctantly gathered their own and trickled away from the Chieftain's tent, disappointed that the announcements were not made immediately.

Imrek carried Idek into his tent, into his own chambers, and laid him beside the small clay oven that warmed his room. He assisted his son in removing his soaked and tattered clothing and replacing it with a warm, woven lounging robe. Once Idek was swathed in woolens and buffalo skins, Imrek allowed Impa and Zelda to enter and speak with him.

More than a little miffed at being put off, Impa sat down and addressed her weakened brother directly. "[Sunset, you promised me word of my son. You promised you would bring him back!]"

Idek gazed at her sadly and set down his mug of warm spicebark cider. "[Twilight, Father...Ghost is well and safe. I was captured, and he helped me escape--but he would not come with me. He chose to remain, for reasons I do not know. Sister, he gave me a message for you: He said he has found what he was looking for, that he is sorry and he understands, and that he will come soon.]"

Impa blinked away sudden tears. "[He found Lyon...]"

"[Perhaps now...we can at last achieve peace,]" Imrek said softly.

"[What do you mean?]" Impa asked.

"[Since your dishonor nearly eighteen years ago, our two peoples have been at war,]" Imrek explained. "[The Hylians began it--I do not know why--but we continued it for the sake of your honor. You were gone...and we thought that the Lion had spirited you away to hide his shame or that you had died because of his dishonor to you.]"

"[But...Father, I have returned,]" Impa said. "[There is no more reason to fight.]"

Imrek smiled gently. "[Our war with the Hylians ended the moment I laid eyes on you again and heard your voice tell me you were alright, and that the dishonor was no more. But our enemies will not be so quick to cease. The Lion's Man wishes heartily for war with us. There will not be much to dissuade him.]"

"Link..." Zelda said quietly, speaking up for the first time. "He is the key."

"[Pardon?]" Imrek asked.

Zelda looked up at him. "[Ghost...he's the key to stopping this war! He's a child of Shadow-folk and Hylian--from the royal lines of both. He's our path to peace! He is...a link.]" She paused, her eyes widening. "[His name...Ghost...the same word in Hylian means 'link'.]"

"[Twilight, he requested an...'eye-changing stone?']" Idek said hesitantly. "[I believe he needs that bit of magic you used on Shadow...or Zelda.]"

"[By the Eye, you're right!]" Imrek realized. "[If he's to be acknowleged by the Lion he must be restored to his true appearance. We must deliver the stone to him.]"

"[How can we do that, Father?]" Idek asked. "[An entourage of Shadow-folk arriving at the gates of the Lion's Den will be slaughtered, not welcomed, no matter how peaceful our intentions. The Lion's Man will see to that.]"

Imrek rubbed his beard. "[Hmmm...]"

"[Sir?]" Zelda said softly, sitting up. "[I believe I can help you with this problem.]"

* * * * *

The fact that the early-morning ride had been cancelled filled Link's heart with glee, though he expertly disguised it as disappointment when Leo curtly told him that he was to remain within the castle walls today--they had a Sheikah assassin on the loose. Jared was moping about somewhere and Link couldn't find him, so he wandered aimlessly for a bit before finding himself in the soldier's armory next door to the forge and barracks.

There were many fine weapons hung on racks within the armory, though there were none so fine as the Master Sword. After wielding a gods-forged weapon like that, even the best of steel swords felt clunky in his hands. But he looked around a bit before reaching to the back of one of the racks, towards a sword covered with dust. He picked it up, hefted it a bit, and found that it was a fine blade.

"Ye've an eye for swords, lad, that ye do."

The voice at the armory door startled him, causing him to nearly drop the weapon. He whirled, surprised to find a thick, burly, bearded man regarding him with kindly twinkling eyes. "I...I..."

"No need te panic, laddie," the old soldier said with a chuckle. "I won't arrest ye fer lookin' at some old swords."

Link frowned, feeling that he recognized the brogue-laced voice. "I know you from somewhere..."

"Aye, me name's Sergeant Bryant. I were the one who--"

"You were at the river with Jared!" Link realized. "You rescued me."

"Smart boy," Bryant said. "I'm the young lord's trainer and bondsman. I look after 'im while his father's busy, teach 'im to fight and hunt and such-like." He regarded Link with a smile for a moment. "I see ye've chosen a blade, lad. And a fine choice it be."

"This? I guess..." Link shrugged. "It seemed like a good one."

Bryant chuckled. "That there be the former captain's blade. Belonged to good ol' Armand, who were Captain o' the Lion's Guard before Rishto, back when Duke Lyon were but a lad your age. No finer sword you'll find in this armory. 'Tis old, but well-forged steel with great heft an' balance."

"Yes." Link looked the sword over, noting the crest on the pommel. "I see. I didn't mean to--"

"Nay, nay!" Bryant said quickly. "If ye've got an eye for good swords, I'll wager ye're good at swordplay as well, laddie. Even though ye don't carry one of yer own."

Link shrugged.

"How'd ye like a sparrin' match, lad? I'm jest an ol' soldier with creaky bones, but I'll give ye a drubbin' should ye give me an inch."

Brows raised, Link regarded the thick man with surprise. "You...wouldn't mind...?"

Bryant smiled. "Not a whit, lad. I enjoy a good match as much as th' next man. But m'lord Jared...ain't a swordsman, ye know as I mean? He's a good lad, but nowt with weapons."

Link actually laughed at that; he understood. Jared was far too gentle to care much for swords and fighting. He smiled eagerly, too; he hadn't had a chance to use his specialty--the broadsword--since he'd left Central Hyrule. A match right now was just what he needed to clear his mind. "Sure. I'll spar with you. Where do you want to go?"

Bryant gestured out the door. "How's aboot right here in th' courtyard? That way there's plenty o' room."

Grinning, Link followed the older Hylian out to the broad courtyard, where they paced off the requisite distance and Bryant drew his own sword. As they faced each other, Bryant stood straight and stared at Link. "Ye're left-handed, lad," he observed with some surprise.

Link looked at his sword, then back at his opponent. "Yeah? So?"

"I never knew any left-handers, 'cept m'lord Jared an' the Duke." Bryant grinned. "Never fought a lefty save fer them. This'll be interestin'."

"Let's go!" Link shouted, then charged.

The two met with a clash of steel. Three strikes, all of which Bryant parried, then returned an attack of his own. Link met each thrust with no trouble. Bryant was immensely strong and a wonderfully skilled opponent, but he lacked a little in speed and agility. Neither gave the other an inch of quarter, enjoying their match to the fullest.

The courtyard around them soon became full of servant-folk, who gasped and ooohed and cheered as the sparring match went on. Even a few of the soldiers stopped in their rounds to watch the grounds sergeant go at it with a mere slip of a boy--and it appeared that Bryant was beginning to lose.

Link parried each of Bryant's strikes, expertly deflecting the old soldier's thrusts in a direction that would make it hard for him to recover and defend. Being left-handed against a right-handed opponent made it easier for Link to drive him back; he was used to right-handed enemies and knew how to use his quirk to an advantage. He could strike at angles that were difficult for his opponent to block.

Bryant was puffing by now; the old soldier was finding this young Sheikah to be as quick as a hare and strong as a lion. He was the wind itself with that blade, handling it with a mastery that bespoke both hours of training and great natural talent. Finally, with a thrust, twist, and flick, Bryant's sword flew through the air, landing at the feet of an astonished private across the courtyard. Link stood before the old sergeant victoriously.

To his surprise, Bryant applauded. "Well fought, laddie, well fought! I've seen no man better with a sword, save the Duke 'imself. Ye're bloody good with that blade, boy--not a single man in this castle 'cept Duke Lyon could stand against ye...not ev'n Captain Rishto. That I know."

"The Duke is good with blades as well?" Link asked, surprised that Lyon, a quiet person like Jared, would have anything to do with swords and weapons.

Bryant fetched his sword, chuckling softly. "I were the best swordsman among the guards, save Captain Armand, long ago. I trained Duke Lyon meself, and he passed me up when he were yer age. Captain Armand hisself trained Duke Lyon after me--I've known no better swordsmen than those two. The Duke...his sword is a part o' him, and when he wields it--beware!"

"I am not deserving of such flattery!" spoke the Duke's voice from the direction of the great Hall doors. "You speak far too well of me, my old teacher."

Bryant whirled, and Link stared beyond him, startled beyond words that Lyon had seen their match. "Yer...yer Ex'lency!" Bryant bowed quickly. "No offense, sir--me an' the lad were jes havin' a little match. No 'arm done."

"None at all, old friend." Lyon gripped Bryant's shoulder. "Might I borrow your blade?"

"S-sir..." Without hesitation, Bryant handed his sword over.

Link stood loosely, unsure, wondering at this sudden change in the Duke. His face had lit up from its usual melancholy cast, and his eyes were much brighter. He seemed a different man--like he was in the Hall during the Sheikah's "trial."

"I watched your match with the sergeant," Lyon said, stepping closer to Link. "You have great skill for one so young. I have never seen your equal among any of my men."

"Uh, thanks," Link said hesitantly. "I...I had a lot of practice up North." There. Not a total lie.

"Would you care to cross swords with me, Link?" the Duke asked. "Just a little match, as with Bryant. I have not had an opponent of any skill in years. Would you allow me this liberty?"

"How can I refuse, Excellency?" Link asked. "You are the Duke."

"But face me as though I were a commoner," Lyon said. "Man to man, skill against skill alone. Do not rein in your sword simply because I am the Duke and you fear my wrath should you win. If you win, I will give you naught but praise."

"I accept," Link said softly, not knowing what else to say. He was nervous; truth be told, even his hands were shaking. He was going to spar with the Duke himself--his own father. How would he stand up to this supposedly legendary swordsman? Could he do well enough to please Lyon, even if the other man had no inkling as to who he really was?

Father, even if you don't know...please, be proud of me, Link thought with a deep breath, setting himself into a ready stance, sword raised.

Lyon touched the tip of his sword to Link's. With a smile, the Duke spoke. "Shall we begin?"

To Be Continued...