Chapter 2 - A Moment of Respite
Link walked out into the bustling market plaza in full Kokiri garb without realizing the effect it would have on the local populace, so deep were his thoughts. When he finally noticed people staring and leering at him, he cursed himself for walking out as he was. He had completely forgotten the words from Zelda and recent counselors who advised the king, there had been recent uprisings within Hyrule. Many wanted a stronger central government run by the people and not by a king. There had been riots in the far province of Ordon where the regent there was hanged while many cheered his death. The royal family was not overly liked by the general populace and many recognized him for who he was: royal consort to Princess Zelda.
Link took the hint and quickly dashed through the plaza, upsetting a few chickens in the process. They squawked angrily at him as he brushed past them. Making sure his shield was secure on his back and sword steadfast in its scabbard he kept strapped across his torso, Link entered the shop across the plaza near the town gates. He swung open the door, billowing dust and grime into the store; settling into the corners and crannies of the shelf displays.
Several customers looked up from their browsing at the intruder to their shopping. After a few moments they resumed their business. The shopkeeper barely let out a grunt at the new arrival as he indifferently scratched his hairy chest. Link knew exactly what he was looking for. He snatched it from the dusty shelf and placed it on the counter in front of the owner. The owner took one look at the Deku Nuts placed before him before delivering a quick snort and spit into a nearby spittoon just inches from Link’s hand.
Link scrunched his nose in disgust, “Um, sir, how much for these?”
“12 rupees son.” The owner replied with a drawl.
Link was near to passing out from the putrid odor emanating from the man in front of him. He quickly pawed through his pockets in his tunic and pulled out the man’s requested price, anything to be rid of his presence. Without another word, he stuffed the nuts in the pouch attached to his belt and was well on his way out when the owner called out to him.
“Boy, you know your princess can show her face here anytime she wants. She doesn’t have to keep sending her stable boys to do the dirty work for her!” He guffawed at this as he gave a lecherous smile at Link.
Link left the store with a shiver as he continued to head for the town gates. He strode past the guards at the gate as they saluted him. He absently nodded his head as he steered a course for his horse, Epona, who was dutifully tethered and waiting for him just beyond the drawbridge. She had not yet noticed him and was idling nibbling on some tufts of grass peeking through the cobblestones. She sensed movement out of the corner of her eye and pricked her ears in the direction of his footsteps. She quickly raised her head and neighed, slamming her hoofs down at the sight of him. She was always excited when Link came to be with her.
“Hey girl, you miss me?” Link gently patted her neck and soothed her as he always did with kind words. He put one foot in the stirrup and leapt up into the saddle. He really was getting good at horseback riding in the saddle, there was something to be said for those trainers he had at the castle. Epona nickered with joy as he guided her in the direction of Lon Lon Ranch.
Many thoughts swirled around in Link’s mind, some stayed for but a moment before being swept away by others. The main thought that kept coming back was Zelda and his last few moments with her. What did Malon ever do to upset Zelda? Why was Zelda jealous of him going to Lon Lon Ranch to go see her? Were they not going to be here tomorrow for the festival? Did she fear losing him? Why?
The sun was just passing its zenith in the azure sky as he came near the ranch. Link hardly noticed the time it took for the journey, so deep was he in thought. That mattered little to Epona, she was simply happy to be with her master, riding free across the wind-swept fields. It wasn’t until Link was jolted from his reverie by Epona bucking slightly that he realized he had been staring at the barn of Lon Lon Ranch for several minutes. He shook his head to clear it and leapt off of Epona. She brushed him tenderly with her snout as he petted her face. He tethered her to the nearby post and headed to the inner field racetrack of the ranch.
The racetrack had once been the pride and joy of Talon, the owner of the ranch and father of Malon. In his heyday, there were competitions and tournaments held here as the best horse riders from across the lands converged to prove their dominance with the saddle. He arranged all sorts of events: obstacles, hoops, pots you needed to shoot with arrows to break and many more exciting ideas. There were even years where a Gerudo or two entered, much to the dismay of many a wife of the men attending the tournaments.
With recent turmoil brewing around the country and rumors spreading of an army moving northward from the southern country of Nevachrea, interactions between nations had been precarious at best. Talon ultimately let himself go and both his ranch and his figure started to look it. The entire ranch was in a half-baked tangle of decorations, chairs, tables and bottles strewn about across the grass. Link was about to question if the party had already started a day earlier when he spotted Malon in the pasture.
Malon was the daughter of Talon, the plump owner of Lon Lon Ranch. She was wearing a simple white dress with a blue flourish detailing the upper portion bordering her neck. She was barefoot and calmly brushing a new-bred colt which was to be her next ‘project,’ much like Epona was before Link claimed her. That was not the most striking thing about Malon however. Something that made Link catch his breath every time he looked at her, she had a brilliant sheen of red hair that draped down to the small of her back. Her cheeks were usually ruddy from the sun exposure being out with the horses every day. Link recalled the piercing blue of her eyes every time she looked at him and smiled. She was the first one to ever call him ‘fairy boy’ before Zelda picked up the habit.
Her back was to him as she groomed the young colt. The horse nickered at his approach but she did not seem to have noticed the cue. An evil plan formed in his mind as Link grinned at the thought of it. He squatted low in the tall grass and started creeping towards her slowly, making sure not to make a sound. He was just upon her, barely a few feet away when he noticed a slightly floral scent. Link admired her smell for a moment before admonishing himself of the real reason he was here. She bent over to the bucket by her feet and dipped the rough sponge into the water and continued her washing of the colt.
Link rose up and was ready to scare her when Talon cried from the stable, “Malon, it is starting, I want ya ta come see! Come here quick!”
Link cringed at his plan being foiled until Malon swiveled around and saw him just inches from her face. She screamed throwing up the sponge which smacked Link square on the nose. She tripped on her dress and fell butt first into the bucket drenching both herself and Link’s boots. Talon rumbled up to see what the screaming was about and found both laughing hysterically at the prank. He deduced what happened and started laughing himself.
“Good show m’boy!” He assisted Malon up from the bucket and slapped Link on the back making him stumble before recovering. He always had a soft spot for the boy. “I couldn’t have done it better myself! I’m sure Malon hasn’t had a scare like that since…since…well gosh darn, I really don’t know!”
“Father,” Malon looked reprovingly at her dad, “that is not funny and you really shouldn’t encourage Link like that! What if he did it to you?”
“Nonsense!” Talon huffed, his jowls quivering, “I don’t get scared that easily! Anyway, the both of ya, come here. I want you ta see something!”
He marched off towards the barn with Malon and Link in tow. Link looked from her to her father and shook his head. One had to wonder how a man like Talon had a beautiful daughter such as Malon. Talon’s hair was receding and the shine on his head was polished to a blinding glare. The remainder of his hair was tied up in a brown knot at the back of his head. Link gathered she got her hair from her mother. He was a portly fellow with red dungarees and blue pants with suspenders. One of which was dangling off his shoulder, the button it hooked onto long since lost. The overall impression of the man was that of a lazy slob but Link knew better than that.
Malon turned her head slightly towards Link as they walked, “Link, why’d you do that? You ruined a perfectly good dress and on top of that, you could have killed me!” She let out a small chuckle.
“That’s the point silly,” he stuck his tongue out at her, “besides its just soapy water! Just think of it as getting you ahead of your laundry today.”
With a grin, Malon pushed Link back a few feet and dashed off towards her dad. Surprised but not to be outdone, he ran up and pushed her back in return. Within seconds, they were sprawled on the ground, wrestling, giggling and having fun. It wasn’t until Talon had to tear the two apart that they obeyed his commands. He stormed off once more to the stable, “I swear you young’uns are too young for that nonsense!”
They reached the barn just as Talon’s speech was becoming an unintelligible mumble. He ushered them inside and directed Link to close the door. He did as he was told and they all peered into the musty gloom of the candle lights strewn throughout the barn by rusted nails, Talon was not known for his ingenuity. Link was about to ask the question on why it was so dark when Talon answered his question before he could ask it.
“A horse is giving birth. In my experience, the horses are calmer when it’s dark like this.”
Link mouthed a big ‘oh’ as Malon stuck her tongue out at him as if it was common knowledge. He was about to return the favor until Talon shushed them both. He merely pointed to the mother horse, swollen around the belly. Link had never seen a live birth of…anything before. The thought had never crossed his mind that such events were natural in this world. Slowly but surely, a brown patch darker than the rest was protruding from the lower portion of the horse. Link was fascinated and riveted his eyes on the spot that the young foal was coming from. Within minutes, the entire horse was out and very sticky. If Link had not been there, it would have been Malon’s job to clean the newly born foal. However Talon gave him a rag and a bucket of warm water.
“Now be gentle, it is still fragile,” Talon assured a panicked Link, who didn’t look the least bit calm about this whole prospect, “We also don’t want to upset the mother in thinking that we might hurt it.”
Accustomed to fighting ugly monsters, this task was all but bearable for Link. He gingerly touched the young foal as it tried to stand, albeit unsuccessfully. After several minutes, he felt his job was done and turned towards Malon who had a smug face.
“Nah-uh fairy boy! You missed a spot!” She giggled with childish glee at her joke. Link only scowled while Talon pointed a commanding finger towards the entrance.
“Young lady, you will wait outside.”
With a huff, Malon stomped out of the stable. Talon assisted Link with the remainder of the clean-up. Link started to feel at peace with himself as he got into the rhythm of brushing down the fur. Even the new horse was getting used to his touch and was quite still and calm, absorbing the new, pleasing sensations.
“Well,” exclaimed Talon as he stood up appraising the work, “I guess that’s good enough fer your first time. I’ll do the touching up. Go outside and I’ll be with ya two in a minute.”
“Boo!” Link scrambled out of the way of the door as he stepped outside reaching for his sword. Malon was cackling like a mad woman as she buckled over clutching her stomach in the pangs of laughter.
Link sheathed his sword back in its scabbard, “You know I could have stabbed you. Don’t scare a knight like that.”
After settling down her last twinges of laughter, she managed to sputter out, “Oh yes, the fairy boy, a knight!” Link glared at her mocking. She softened at his expression, “Oh, I’m sorry Link. I apologize. You know I’m just teasing you!”
“Yeah, I know.” Link looked down at the ground, a bit shy for a reason he couldn’t quite fathom. He fiddled with the dirt on the ground with one of his boots until he noticed Malon right beside him. Slightly unnerved, he took a step back and looked at her.
“Link, tell me again, why doesn’t Saria or any of the other Sages know what they really are? I mean, you went to the future right? They all realized they were sages of the temples. Why don’t they remember that?”
He smiled, “Because that was in the future, this is the past to that future. They have not becomes sages yet, so they don’t know that they are sages. Not even Saria. She wouldn’t believe it. It would be too big for her to comprehend.”
Malon giggled, “Such big words you use! Where did you learn them all?”
“Oh,” Link looked away towards the pasture with a despairing look, “from the tutors and teachers at Hyrule castle. I learned a lot, but there are some things I wish I had never learned at all.”
She gave a heartfelt look at Link, she thought it was a shame he couldn’t see the obvious, “But do you like it there? Is it…a good life?”
He resumed smudging the dirt with his foot, “Not really, it’s actually really boring. That and not many people like the royal family right now. It’s a bad situation for them at the castle. Zelda tries to hide it but-”
“She still doesn’t fully believe your stories, does she?” Malon offered, when she got no response from him she wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders. He stiffened up slightly before warming up to her embrace. She leaned into him and whispered secretly into his ear, “I believe you fairy boy.”
Link’s eyes widened just as Talon burst out of the stable wiping his hands with a dry towel.
“Good Goddesses you two! I can’t leave you alone fer one minute can I? Taking me up so soon on m’ offer to marry her young boy?” He bellowed loudly as he laughed at his own joke. Link merely looked away at Epona embarrassed as Malon turned scarlet. After a few moments of silence Talon got the hint, “Ahem, now don’t take me too seriously now Link.”
He gave Link a stiff eye as he guided Malon towards the house. After a few steps, he stopped as if an idea had just come to him in a spark of inspiration. Without turning around, he offered, “Link, if you are willing, I could use your help finishin’ up dinner. Would ya mind coming in and helping? I’ll be sure t’fill your belly.”
Malon looked back and vigorously shook her head in approval. Link could do nothing but smile.
“Yes, that would be great!” Link said with a sheepish grin as Malon gave him a thumbs up under her arm that was in Talon’s grip.
Both Talon and Malon entered the house as they left Link outside to tend to his horse and supply her feed for the evening. It was clear he was staying the night at Lon Lon Ranch and he was giddy with the prospect of it, although he couldn’t pinpoint why. Epona nuzzled him as he poured some fresh hay into her stall. He looked up at clouds promenading above him, the sun was just starting to set on the horizon and radiant hues of orange and gold dazzled across the sky. He shut his eyes and felt the cool breeze kiss his cheeks, breathing in deep the musky scents of horse hair, dung, hay, and the freedom of the outdoors.
Yes, he thought, this is where I belong.