((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 14: So It Begins...

Link nearly bowled Jared over when he tore through the great hall's main doors. The younger Hylian had apparently been looking for him as well, and greeted him with surprise when Link skidded to a halt just in front of him.

"I say, where have you been?" Jared asked, startled at his sudden appearance.

Link couldn't stop grinning. "I was sparring with the Duke--and he says I'm really good! Can you believe it? And he wants me to study swordsmanship with him!"

"You...crossed swords with my father?" Jared stared at him.

Link nodded rapidly. "He says he'll teach me more, too. He told me I'm the best he's seen in years!"

"I see," Jared replied, his face falling a bit. Then he perked up, forcing himself to smile brightly. "Well, I'm happy for you! My father doesn't usually take an interest in anyone like that--not even me. Heaven knows I'm awful with a sword..."

Link paused, forgetting his elation for a moment to regard Jared with an understanding eye. It couldn't be that the boy was jealous, could it? "Say...why don't you practice with us?"

"What?" Jared blinked. "But...but I couldn't! I'm no good at all, and...well...I've never even practiced with Father before...!"

"You mean Bryant's done all your training?" Link asked incredulously.

Jared shrugged, embarassed. "Yes, of course. Father's a busy man, and he's so great with a sword...I'd just be a bother to him."

"Oh, come on. I'm sure he'd love to practice with both of us. You're his son, after all."

"I don't...really..." Jared looked down. "I'm not like him or Leo--or you, Link. I don't like fighting and killing and things like that. That's why...I'm not so very fond of swords."

"It's not like that," Link tried to explain. "Swordsmanship isn't just about fighting and killing, you know. It's more like an art. Like...like horsemanship."

"Horses don't kill people."

Link frowned. "A poorly trained horse can."

Jared glanced up at him in surprise.

"Swordsmanship isn't just for war," Link told him. "It's a way of expanding your skills, staying fit, and exploring your talents. When the Duke and I fought, we weren't trying to kill each other. Either of us could have--someone who picks up a sword without proper training is more dangerous than a skilled swordsman because they don't know how not to kill. That's part of swordsmanship too."

"So it's not just about learning how to kill men in battle?" Jared asked, almost surprised of that fact.

Link smiled. "Of course not! You don't train a horse solely to ride--you also train him to jump fences, pull wagons, or even do tricks. You don't have to shed a single drop of blood to be a good swordsman."

Jared's eyes seemed to brighten. "Really? Then...then I could really practice with Father?"

"Yeah!" Link clapped him on the shoulder. "In fact, I'd really like you to join us. I'm sure he would too."

"I will!"

Grinning at each other, the two youths headed into the library to find a game to pass the time and talk about swords--and the promise of time spent with Duke Lyon.

* * * * *

Rishto also blanched at the news of Link's incredible prowess with the sword. Leo was still too upset about the news to be amused at the sight of the Captain so astonished, and while the young man brooded in a chair in Rishto's office, Rishto himself paced the room and tugged at his goatee.

"He's more dangerous than I thought," the Captain muttered to himself. "And with the blasted winter storms moving in I can't arrange a battle--not at all. The troops can't move now--we'd lose half the force in the blizzards."

"Why not just hire a non-associated assassin?" Leo quieried at length. "One man should be able to do it."

"Fool. Think before you open your mouth."

"But--!" Leo protested indignantly.

"If he fended off Lyon that long, what makes you think a mere assassin could do the job?"

Leo scowled, hunching down in the chair. "So hire someone better than Lyon."

"Can you name such a man?" Rishto waited in terse silence for several seconds while Leo pretended not to have heard the question. "I thought not. You are a fool."

"What do you expect we should do?" Leo finally demanded.

"Wait," Rishto replied. "It's very simple--we can bide our time. We have little less than half a year before you're of age--that's enough time to prepare. We can move in the spring, as soon as the thaws come."

"What about Link?"

"What about him? He knows nothing, and as long as he knows nothing he's no threat to us." Rishto ceased pacing and faced Leo fully. "I'm close to figuring him out; I can feel it. There's just something...right there at the tip of my tongue, but I just can't think of it yet. Something I'm forgetting..."

Snorting, Leo stood to leave. "Very well, then," he spat grouchily. "We'll wait. While you ponder these mysteries, I'll sit on my hands while the man who could be my undoing walks free. I'm tired of waiting for my turn, old man."

Rishto glared at him. "Watch how you speak to me, boy, or I'll be your undoing. Get out of my sight."

Sneering, Leo did--leaving Rishto gazing out his office window, his dark thoughts concentrated on a certain half-breed enigma.

* * * * *

"I'm beginning to have my doubts about this plan," Impa confessed as they packed Zelda's borrowed horse with enough supplies to last several days. The princess couldn't use her own horse--a rider without reins would draw too much attention. "I don't like the idea of you going off alone into enemy territory."

Zelda smiled at her, trying to look reassuring--when in fact she had some doubts herself. "Don't worry; I won't be alone. Chekuko will be with me--and Navi too."

At the mention of his name, the Sheikah boy looked up from his own horse's saddlebags and smiled. The young goatherd had been chosen to accompany Zelda on this venture because he was quite an accomplished fighter for his age, he was nearly as good with a bow as Zelda herself, and at thirteen was the oldest of the half-Hylian children--and therefore, with a little work, could avoid the stigma of Sheikah where they were headed.

Impa sighed at last, in agreement with Zelda's words. "I just wish I could go with you."

"I know. I wish you could too, but..."

"I look too much like a Sheikah, I know," Impa finished for her wryly. "Good thing Chekuko here takes after his Hylian parent so much. All we had to do was change his eyes; his skin is light enough to pass for a country tan and his hair is above suspicion."

Hearing his name again, Chekuko looked up at them curiously. His eyes, once dark crimson bordering on mahogany, now flashed green courtesy of the eye stone, complimenting his copper-red locks in a strikingly handsome manner. Without the eyes to mark him as one of the Shadow-Folk, he looked like nothing more than a Hylian child of the fields, tanned by the sun, emerald gaze sharp and piercing and his hair like a burnished Southern mark-coin. Only his sharper, more angular features and slim, wiry build still marked his Sheikah heritage--and the casual observer wasn't likely to notice the difference.

"Dont't worry so much about me," Zelda said at last, patting her mentor's arm reassuringly. "I won't be going as a girl here either--I know better. I'll still be going as a boy--just not a Sheikah boy this time." She gestured to her clothing; both she and Chekuko wore Sheikah clothes altered to look like common Southern garb--and Zelda's eyes were pale blue once more.

Almost shyly, Chekuko stepped up to their side. "[I am ready,]" he announced politely. "[May I help you finish packing?]"

"[Thank you, but no,]" Impa replied, smiling at the young boy's willingness. He'd been surprised to have been chosen by his Chieftan for such an important mission--and when told he was going to be helping with the rescue of Imrek's grandson, he was doubly honored and had promised his best to the mission. "[You should go say goodbye to your mother; you'll be leaving soon. And if you see the Lady Butterfly, please tell her to come.]"

"[Yes, Lady!]" Chekuko skittered off into the tents to do as he was bid.

"Lady Butterfly?" Zelda asked curiously when he was gone.

Impa sighed. "Sheikah has no word for 'fairy'--at least none in recent memory. The children saw Navi and called her the Lady Butterfly because they had no other word--and they were too much in awe to speak her name. She seemed amused by it, though."

Zelda chuckled softly, nodding. Sheikah language was big on titles, hence their tendency to refer to the Duke of Leonine as "the Lion," for example. Such titles were often thought up and adopted on the spot, and used when referring to the person--usually for someone either very respected or very disliked, such as Navi the "Lady Butterfly." True names were used among tribesmen, friends, and family--those with whom one could be familiar--but when amongst foreigners, a Sheikah gave his title, not his name.

Speaking of Lady Butterflies, Navi herself zipped up, a bright ball of blue light even in the morning sun. "Here I am! Are we ready to go?"

"All set!" Zelda replied, eager to be on her way. "We just need to wait for Chekuko and then we'll be off."

Impa finished buckling the saddlebags and checked them over again, more an attempt to look busy and unworried instead of nervous and concerned. She was letting Zelda go alone and unescorted again, against her better judgement; the last time she'd done so, "Sheik" had met up with Link and was eventually revealed and captured by Ganondorf. Granted, there was no Ganondorf here, but there were some things that could actually be worse than an evil warlock who simply wanted to burn her to a crisp and take the Triforce.

Zelda's hand on her arm stopped her distracted motions, and she turned to face the princess, trying not to display her inner worries on her face.

"I'll be alright," Zelda whispered. "I promise I will. I'll find Link--you have my word on that too."

Impa chuckled in chagrin. "Am I that obvious?"

Zelda smiled and impulsively hugged her. "Impa...you've been like a mother to me for so many years--how could I not learn to understand you? Please, have faith in me. Let me fight this time. You just wait here, and I'll bring your son back to you."

Impa returned the hug, putting all her faith and prayers into the embrace. "Don't forget, you promised me you'll be okay. If you don't keep that promise, I'll never forgive you."

They laughed softly together, until a shyly scuffing foot caught their attention and broke them apart. Chekuko stood there, pointedly not watching them, while Navi hovered near the boy's shoulder.

"Are you two quite finished?" the irrepressible fairy demanded impatiently. "'Cause if you are, we've got a rescue mission to start out on."

The two women laughed again, and Impa sent Zelda toward her horse with an affectionate shove. "Take care of yourself--and that's a command, Your Highness."

"You too, Impa--and that's also a command, Royal Bodyguard." Zelda tugged her horse's rein lightly and nudged him to a walk, heading out of camp. "Goodbye!"

"See you later, Impa!" Navi squeaked, settling on Zelda's shoulder for the trip.

Chekuko was up on his horse in a flash, eager to be off, eager to prove himself. "[I am prepared. I will not fail you, Lady Twilight.]"

"[Protect her,]" Impa whispered to the boy.

"[With my life,]" Chekuko promised, turning his horse after Zelda's. "[It is an honor to serve the family of the Chieftain. Be well, Lady!]"

"[Good luck, Arrow-Flight. Ride true, fight well, and stay strong!]" Impa raised her arm to wave at the little party as the two horses struck out over the barren, ice-spotted plain, heading for the Haucha River. As they passed into the distance, Impa still watched them, her eyes growing worried and sad. "[Take care, my dearest princess. I do not want to lose both my son and my adopted daughter. Take care of yourself as well...]"

To Be Continued...