((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 16: In Practice

They began their lesson with wooden swords, a fact which was much to Jared's relief. Link was somewhat confused, as he had never used a practice sword in all his life; his circumstances had required him to simply pick up a blade of steel and rely on his own raw talent to learn as he went. Not that he voiced as much to the others--but before he could ask anything at all, Lyon explained that this was a lesson, not combat; they were here in the interests of learning technique, not injuring each other.

And the wooden swords in Leonine's training hall were a far cry from mere sword-shaped sticks nailed to crossguards. They were finely made, carved and shaped for proper balance, with leather-wrapped hilts, cored with metal for strength and correct weight. Made of hard oak, if given a proper edge they could almost have been blades themselves.

"Now," Lyon announced, when each had chosen a practice sword best suited to him, "I'm sure we don't have to go over the basics of sword-handling; I trust each of you has had proper training in the past. At least in Jared's case--" And he gave the younger boy a meaningful look, resting the point of his wooden sword at his feet. "--I should certainly hope that Sergeant Bryant has been fulfilling his duties in that regard."

"Yes, Father," Jared responded, flushing slightly.

Lyon nodded. "And I have been remiss in my responsibilities as your father, not seeing to at least part of your training myself. It pains me to admit...I have never even seen you in practice, my son."

Keeping silent, Link looked back and forth between Lyon and Jared, unsurprised to see the shadows and regret on the older man's face. Perhaps that was part of the reason why the Duke of Leonine was so melancholy--so many things in his life passed him by, while he was tied up in running a small country.

"It's alright, Father," Jared replied quickly, trying to appear bright and earnest. "I know you're quite busy. And...I've shown no interest before..."

"But that's changed, right?" Link offered, to break the sudden uncomfortable silence. "Now we're here."

"True," Lyon acceded, giving Link a small smile. "I shall take this as a rare chance to correct something I let slip by me before. Well then..." He tightened his grip on his practice sword. "I should like to test Jared, at least, before we truly begin. I have already seen what Link is capable of."

The younger boy gulped. "Am I to face you, Father?"

"In time, my son, in time," Lyon chuckled. "For now, I would have Link test you, so that I may watch you both. If I am to be your instructor, I should like to know where both of you stand."

"Y-yes, Father." Jared's nervousness only subsided somewhat, but Link was pleased. He'd get to see firsthand just how good Jared was--and show Lyon how skilled both of them could be.

"It'll be okay, Jared," Link told him, giving a grin. "Just go easy on me."

Despite himself, the younger boy laughed. "I'll try." Both of them stepped over to the center of the arena's firmly-soiled surface, as Lyon looked on.

"Begin when you are both ready," the Duke instructed, "and carry on to first blood. Then we shall see where we stand."

The two youths were already facing each other, setting their feet, so they did not nod or reply to Lyon. They regarded each other over the nicked, battle-scarred wooden blades, both grinning; though Jared fought it, not knowing why he felt like smiling.

"All set?" Link offered the younger boy a bit of warning, since he was nervous. "Here I come!"

He struck, choosing a smooth, direct swing to start off with, and not putting his whole shoulder into it. Despite the warning, Jared seemed slightly startled, blinking and freezing a mere instant before moving to respond.

The younger swordsman's blade clacked loudly against Link's, stopping the blow. But his grip was like a scared rabbit and he couldn't have blocked anything with much more force behind it; even as their swords disengaged and Link tried another tack, the boy was still hesitating, his eyes flicking to Lyon as if seeking his approval for each defense.

As he pressed the younger boy back with half-blows, Link saw and understood; he knew exactly what Jared was feeling, for he was feeling the same. The only difference between them was that Link was already battle-hardened and experienced, and knew how to keep both his eyes and his mind on-task. Still, the urge to gain the Duke's praise was very strong.

And apparently, Lyon noticed his youngest son's hesitations as well. "Jared!" he called out, bringing a slight pause to the loud whacking of wooden swords. "Do not look at me, son--look to your opponent! I'm not the one you are facing!"

Reprimanded, Jared frowned, his rhythm thrown off yet again--so much that even with the easy blows Link had been throwing at him, he was nearly hit.

"Come on," Link urged, pressing his sword against Jared's, making the younger boy step back once more. "You want to show him how good you are? You have to beat me! You can't do that by backing up." He knew his tone was falling toward mocking, needling, but the only way to push Jared out of his anxiety was to get him angry enough to stop hesitating. "I know you don't like swords, Jared, but I never thought you were afraid of them."

Jared's eyes darkened, and he scowled. "I'm not afraid!"

He dropped back one more step, twisted his sword, and disengaged from the lock in a move Link had seen Bryant pull off once during their match--but not nearly so swiftly. He had barely recovered his balance when Jared's sword whistled out at his chest--the first offensive move the boy had made!--and nearly nailed him from surprise alone.

Link grinned again, feeling the startling force behind the blow as the impact vibrated through the wooden sword. That's it, that's it! Show me what you can do, little brother!

Jared attacked again, his technique strongly mirroring Bryant's but with much greater speed. He was strong for his size and surefooted, well trained in the forms and attacks--and now, just angry enough to go for it.

The wooden swords no longer clacked dully together--now they cracked sharply in the echoing space of the hall, reflecting the power and speed of the blows being shared. The mock-battle was no longer one-sided; both combatants were pressed to attack and defend, back and forth and in circles, several minutes passing with no sign of "first blood"--the first blow landed on flesh.

To Link's pleased surprise, Jared was very good. For a boy who had insisted he didn't like swordsmanship, and hated fighting, he had very definite skill. He wondered how the other youth's own teacher, Bryant, could have described him as "not good with weapons." Perhaps Jared had never really tried enough.

But he was quick and strong and while he lacked in pure experience he had an excellent talent for the sword. For being such a quiet, gentle boy, Jared had surprising instincts for combat, for attack and defense, how and when to move, where to strike.

The younger boy was very good, but still, not quite good enough. Link was still taking it rather easy on him. Well, somewhat easy, Link had to admit to himself; not too much.

Not very much at all.

While Lyon watched with an intent, tightly pleased look on his face, the two youths continued to compare themselves. Jared seemed to have forgotten his reservations in the face of the fight, and Link was simply quite pleased to be enjoying a rather thrilling match.

Link struck from above, a vertical shot meant to land on Jared's shoulder. The younger boy blocked overhead, slid the opposing blade aside, and turned to an upward cut toward Link's ribs. Just in time, Link pulled his sword in and downwards to parry, knocking Jared's sword outward, giving him clear room to strike again.

Link went in for the "kill," taking advantage of the broad opening. Instead of blocking, Jared spun away, choosing to dodge instead. While Link was slightly overbalanced from the miss, Jared completed his turn with a level strike at the older youth's spine--which Link barely parried by bringing his blade up over his head and down to protect his wide-open back. With Jared's sword on his, he pushed both blades up and forward again, and he and the younger boy were facing each other once more.

He was expecting Jared to be off-balance from the sudden maneuver, but he wasn't. Instead of hesitating, Jared let the momentum bring his blade around and direct it at Link's stomach. A close-in block stopped that, the wooden swords sliding along each other as the combatants were brought nearly face-to face.

Jared pulled a different disengaging trick this time--turning the point of his blade downwards and literally tipping Link's sword off of his own. As soon as the weight of Link's sword was off the center of his own, he swung his blade outward and up as he stepped back, getting clear for another blow. Link was already recovering, his sword coming up--

"First blood!" Lyon's voice boomed into the expanse of the training hall, the sudden loud noise startling both youths out of a silence that had previously been made up of pants, grunts, and clashing wooden swords.

Jared blinked in surprise, staring from Link to his father and back again as if waking from a dream. First blood? Where had he been hit? He surely would have felt it if someone as strong as Link had connected a blow.

Link was grinning, shaking out his right arm, looking pleasantly surprised. "You got me," he panted, still grinning widely. "Good shot."

"I...got you?" Jared blinked again, shaking his head. "No...I couldn't have--you let me have that one, right?"

"No I didn't," Link almost laughed, holding up his right arm. "You clipped me right below the elbow with that last swing."

Then Lyon was there, clapping Jared on the shoulder, smiling broadly as well. "Well done, Jared."

Still disbelieving, the younger boy stared at his father. "But...it was an accident!"

Now it was the Duke's turn to laugh. "Mayhaps it was, son, but you did connect. Even if Link was not trying his hardest against you--" And he turned a meaningful look at the young half-Sheikah, who grinned abashedly and shrugged apologetically. "--you did very well indeed."

Jared gulped, at last allowing a faint smile to appear. "I...I suppose so."

"You're better than I thought," Link said, stepping up, shaking his arm one last time. "I was going a little easy on you, but I didn't just let you win. For someone who says he doesn't like swords...you're really good."

The youth shrugged embarassedly in reply, looking down.

"Now then," Lyon spoke up, releasing Jared's shoulder to stand back. "You are both quite skilled, at your respective levels. Jared, you have had a great deal of training, as I'm sure Bryant has drilled you, but you lack much in real battle experience."

At this, Jared nodded in agreement, still looking down, as Lyon then turned to the older youth.

"Link," the Duke went on, "I can see now, just as I did when we faced each other, that you have a great deal of combat experience, to say nothing of your innate talent. But I believe I am correct in assuming that you've had no formal training in the sword."

Link nodded as well. "Yes, sir. I never really had much opportunity. When I was young...I had to just pick up a sword and survive. My mother gave me some teaching in the sword and other weapons, but still...it's not really the kind of training you mean."

"I see," Lyon replied. "You are told how it is done and expected to do it, without much attention to the forms and stances. You are simply faced with live steel and real combat, learning by doing."

Feeling somewhat embarrassed, Link shrugged. "I guess. That's been the case most of my life, your Excellency."

"Do not be so downcast!" Now, Lyon grasped the older youth's shoulder, bringing his eyes back up. "You have made yourself a fine swordsman despite all. I have great respect for that. You were done a disservice by being thrown into battle with little training and less experience, but you have surpassed those obstacles as well as your opponents, and become by yourself a warrior. Self-made. There is great pride to be had in that strength, my boy."

Wide-eyed, Link gazed at the older man with catching breath--almost glad his throat had hitched and his voice closed off so that he couldn't blurt out the things he most yearned to, every time that Lyon came so close to him, squeezed his shoulder so warmly, said such kind and wonderful things. "Thank you, sir," he said at last, shakily, when he was certain he could speak again.

Lyon reached out to Jared's shoulder again, lightly shaking both boys to make them look up at him. "Come now, you both look so glum! We have a great opportunity here! Both of you have a great deal to learn from each other--you see? You shall hone each other, as I am training you; you will correct each other's mistakes and strengthen each other's weaknesses. Both of you have things which the other does not." The Duke smiled at them both. "And I would that both of you should surpass me one day, as your learning proceeds."

Jared was smiling now, shyly eager and intensely grateful for his father's full attention and regard. It was clear that the younger boy would do nearly anything for Lyon now--any stretch of training or exercise, start as early as the dawn or work long into the night.

Link smiled as well, but it was less bright, hiding the pain that squeezed at him. It hurt so much to come so close--to know what it felt like, almost, to be a son...yet to be so far away, unable to bridge the last gap, to take that final step. He clung to what he did have--this warmth, and friendship--and was grateful for it, silencing the cry in his heart that begged for something more.

"Now..." Lyon squeezed their shoulders one last time before letting them go, stepping back. "We have a lesson to proceed with, do we not? Take up your swords, young sirs, and we'll begin to work on your techniques."

Both Jared and Link brought themselves back to matters at hand, tightening their grips on their wooden blades and looking to the Duke for the real training to begin.

"Do you remember how 'first blood' was drawn?" Lyon asked, directing the question to no one in particular.

"I-I'm not exactly sure," Jared admitted, somewhat embarrassed for his unobservance. "I was not expecting to hit him..."

Link gave the younger boy a brief smile. "He dropped his swordpoint and slid me off-balance, and clipped me with the return swing."

"Very good," Lyon nodded. "Now how did he managed to get you off-balance?"

"I was leaning too hard to push him back," Link admitted abashedly.

"Yes, you were," the Duke informed him, stepping a little closer. "You should have been pushing, not leaning--using the strength of your upper body instead of your weight, therefore keeping your center of balance. A swordsman has nothing without his foundation, which is the strength of his stance. Stand so--" And Lyon demonstrated, urging Link to mimic the stance. "--to keep your center of gravity."

Link took the stance, and held his sword as he was bid, listening eagerly and watching with bright rapt eyes, unaware of how young Jared unconsciously mirrored his gaze and expressions, both of them focussed on the Duke.

"Good, good," Lyon went on, nodding. "Jared, stand here across from him, in the same stance--feet a little closer, son--there. If your swords are crossed like so, and Link is pressing the attack--if Jared should drop his sword as before...yes! You see? You are not so off-balance this time. Now again, and this time, Jared, when you drop your sword point, turn it slightly so that Link's blade is directed more away from you--good, but strengthen your wrists; your sword should not waver..."

The lesson proceeded, step by step, each movement corrected, as Link and Jared listened and learned. It was as fun as it was educational--time spent with Lyon, their father, doing something that, despite Jared's reservations, all three of them loved.

Squaring his shoulders and turning his grip as Lyon directed, Link glanced at Jared and grinned in enjoyment. Across from him, Jared caught his grin and smiled too.

To Be Continued...