Lon Lon Ranch
The sun was setting before Link had even gotten halfway across Hyrule Field. Fortunately though, Navi pointed out the walls that encircled several buildings. As they approached the entrance, Link noticed a sign pointing into it:
LON LON RANCH
"Hey!" Link exclaimed. "This is where Malon lives!"
"You seem quite excited about it," his fairy remarked.
Link blushed. "Well… it's just that I can give her Cuccoo back now." He reached into his pack and pulled out the chick, which cheeped and bounced excitedly in his palm. He clapped his hand over it again with a cry of, "Geesh, little guy! Do you want me to drop you?" and then walked through the entrance. Upon entering, he immediately found two buildings on either side. Just visible beyond them was a corral where he could just see horses galloping.
"Where do you think Malon is?" Link asked.
Before Navi could reply, the chick leaped from Link's hand and scurried to the door on the left.
"Hey!" Link ran after it. He snatched the little Cuccoo and then straightened when he saw the door. He asked the Cuccoo, "In here?"
It bounced in his palm and cheeped. So Link pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The Cuccoo jumped from his palm and flapped to the ground where dozens of other Cuccoos clucked as they strutted around the barn. Link glanced around.
"There's Talon again." Navi pointed. "And he's sleeping again."
Link spotted him sleeping with his back against a crate. He had three Cuccoos climbing all over him and nipping at his clothes. He was snoring gently.
"Not for long." Link grinned. The little Cuccoo was climbing up the man again, digging its talons in his clothes and flapping its wings. When it reached his ear, it puffed itself up and then bellowed, "CUCKOOOOO!"
"Huh - what in tarnation?!" Talon bellowed, toppling over with a crash. Somehow, the little Cuccoo had managed to stay on him and was now nipping his ear.
"All right, all right, I'm awake already!" Talon pushed himself back up and yawned loudly while he scratched the back of his head. The chick flapped down from his shoulder and then scurried into the gaggle where it vanished.
Link turned to the ranch owner. "Hello, sir," he said. Talon stopped scratching and turned to him, blinking in surprise. His mustache wiggled in bewilderment.
"Well, I'll be! You're that boy I met back at the castle!" He chuckled genially. "Seems you're destined to wake me up in the most confounded way."
Link ducked his head shamefacedly and played with his fingers. "Sorry, sir. I didn't…"
Talon laughed good-naturedly, "Don't worry, kid, I didn't mean anything by it. In fact, it was a good thing that you did. I made it up with Malon, thanks to you. She's always sayin' I should be more responsible."
"So is she here?" Link asked. He avoided his fairy's look.
Talon motioned outside and answered, "She's out in the corral with the horses. Got a natural gift with them, she does." He smiled fondly. Then he focused his attention on Link with a strange look as though he had just thought of something. "She's smart too and good-lookin'. Fancy meeting her?"
"W-we already have," Link answered, trying not to blush. Navi noticed, however, and her mouth turned up in a slight smile. Her charge pretended not to notice.
Talon laughed at Link's expression. "Quite a gal, aint she? So! You come here for any reason?"
"Oh, nothing really," Link answered, looking to the door.
Talon chuckled. "If that's the case, how about a little game?" He motioned to three Cuccoos, which were now sitting tamely next to him. "I have here beside me three cuccoos different from the others - Super Cuccoos!."
Link studied them then looked at the other Cuccoos pecking around the place and then turned back to the three Super Cuccoos again. "They don't look any different to me."
"Ah, now that's the game!" Talon clapped his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. "You're going to find these three after I toss them into this here gaggle of normal cuccoos. If you can find them in thirty seconds, you win. But if you don't," he grinned wickedly, "then you give me… say, ten Rupees. Deal?" He pulled out a watch from his pocket.
Link shrugged. "Sure."
"Oh, and you can't have help from your little fairy friend there." Talon waved his watch at Navi. She and Link exchanged glances and then she shrugged and said, "Very well, if those are the rules," and she drifted to a point above the ranch owner's shoulder.
Talon grinned and nodded. Then he focused on his watch. "Get ready." He held up three fingers. "On your mark. Get set…" He gave a short, high whistle and the three "super" Cuccoos took off into the air.
Link wheeled around, trying to keep track of where they were going, but he lost them when they sank into the gaggle of Cuccoos.
He plunged into the clucking gaggle and began grabbing the birds and lifting them into the air. He turned to Talon with each one, but the rancher only shook his head, saying, "Nope - that's not it - almost had it - you've gotten that one before - come on, boy, you can do better than that!" Link was beginning to think that Talon was cheating him out of ten Rupees when the rancher yelled, "That's one of them! Now you've got only two more to go!"
He tossed the squawking bird and plunged into the gaggle again. He tossed birds left and right, trying desperately to grab one of the man's special Cuccoos. His efforts were rewarded when Talon yelled, "That's another! All righty then, only one more to find!"
Link tossed the bird and ran for the rest of the Cuccoos, which squawked and ran from him. His heart was pounding hard and he was soaking his clothes with sweat. It only got worse when the ranch owner called out, "Ten seconds left! Come on, boy, you can do it!"
"No!" Link wheeled around, looking for any he hadn't already grabbed.
"Five seconds!" Talon called.
Link dove into the gaggle, sending the Cuccoos scattering with squawks of protest.
Link grabbed a Cuccoo. Talon shook his head and yelled, "Three!"
Link desperately tossed the Cuccoo and then wheeled around. He suddenly spotted a bird that seemed different somehow. Maybe it was the way it strutted while the others waddled. Maybe it was its feathers that seemed just a little bit whiter and glossier. Reacting on his instincts, Link sprinted toward it. It gave a crow of fright and ran.
Link swatted Cuccoos aside, gaining on the fleeing bird.
Link dove and caught it by the legs. He rolled onto his back and thrust the Cuccoo, which squawked and beat its wings indignantly, into the air.
"By George, you've done it!" Talon yelled at the top of his lungs in his excitement. "The last one by a nose hair! Git on over here, kid, you've really earned yourself something special!"
Link pushed himself to his feet, being sure to hold the Cuccoo in the air as he did. It was flapping and squawking, which made it more difficult for him, but somehow he kept a hold of it. He approached the ranch owner, panting and sweating but feeling enormously pleased. He didn't notice the bits of hay and feathers stuck to his clothes and hair.
Talon had an enormous grin on his face. His mouth stretched wider than his mustache. "That was some of the finest wranglin' I've seen in a long time. Why, my daughter would be the luckiest gal alive to marry someone with your talents, wouldn't you say?"
Link scratched the back of his head. "I suppose so."
"Well then, how about it?" The ranch owner leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You and Malon tonight under the old apple tree?"
The boy gave him a strange look. "Huh?"
"Marriage, boy! You're getting married!"
Link choked and staggered backward, dropping the Cuccoo, which ran off, clucking. Navi stifled a laugh by biting her fist, though her body shook and her eyes streamed with tears. When Link finally recovered, he wiped his eyes and stammered, "M-marry? I-I think I'm a little too young for that… don't you think?"
Talon threw his head back and roared with laughter. Link grew red in the face, which he tried to hide by lowering his head. His fairy drifted close to his ear and remarked, "You're also too young to be saving the world, but that's not stopping you."
Link scowled at her. "What's that even supposed to mean?" Her only reply was a chuckle.
"You really are too much!" Talon answered when he had finally calmed down. "You didn't really think I'd marry you and Malon tonight, did ya? A few years maybe…" He burst out another guffaw.
Link was now thoroughly annoyed by the whole thing. "Was that my prize, by the way?"
Talon suddenly stopped laughing. "Oh! Right, right, your prize. Sorry, got a little carried away there. Here." He offered to Link a bottle full of rich, white milk that he had taken from a box behind his back. "Our world-famous Lon Lon Milk! Brimming with vitamins and nutrients, it's just the sort of thing to pep you up when you're feeling low."
"Thanks." Link took the milk and peered into its contents. He swished it around and was satisfied by the sound it made. Then he waved to Talon as he exited the barn. Talon waved back and called, "You're welcome here anytime!"
Link shut the door. Then he turned and bumped into a tall, lanky man who was wearing dirty coveralls and carrying a mud-caked rake over his shoulder - at least, Link hoped it was mud. Both he and the man cried out.
"Watch where you're going, will you?" the man growled in a scratchy voice.
"I'm sorry," Link said, "I didn't see you." He looked up into the man's face. The man had a thin mustache that curled a little at the ends. His face was contorted as though he had just swallowed an entire gallon of spoiled milk, and his eyes narrowed when he realized Link was watching him.
Link shook himself from his daze. "N-nothing. I was just wondering… are you and Talon brothers?" They both had mustaches.
The man's mustache twitched. He straightened himself and barked indignantly, "I am most certainly not! I would never compare myself to that lazy bum! Bah! I, the great Ingo, do more in one minute than that fat, old man does in one day! You would think that someone who puts so much energy into this place as I, the great Ingo, do would be in charge, but no! Instead it's that fool, Talon!"
"Okay," Link said, nervously backing away. Navi gave a tentative bow to the grouchy man. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Ingo."
Mr. Ingo's mouth pressed together. Then he barked, "If you've no business with me, then scram! You are bothering me! There are other things that need to be done around here before the day is done! And since I, the great Ingo, am the only one to do them, I have no time for idle chat! With a huff, he turned and stalked into the barn where Talon was. Link watched him until the door shut. Then he muttered, "What a cranky man!"
"He obviously resents working for Talon," Navi remarked, "and given what we've seen of Talon's capacity for sleep, I feel a little sympathy for him."
"But still…" Link frowned. Then he turned to the corral. "Did Talon say that Malon was with the horses?"
"I'm sure she'll be happy to see you," his fairy told him.
Link blushed and Navi smiled. He ducked his head and hurried out to the corral. As he ran, he saw many horses grazing about the field - many of them weren't even within the fences. A few of them galloped around, whinnying happily. Link had to jump out of the way of one horse that raced past. Then, after making sure no horse was going to jump in front of him, he continued toward the gate of the corral. It was open, so he let himself inside.
The corral was quite large. There were five horses cantering inside and they were all thirty paces away from each other. Link whistled as he looked around. "They sure love their horses." He studied each of them, watching the muscles rippling beneath the sheen of their coats and wondering which one he'd like to ride to the forest. He imagined himself riding atop a snow-white horse and reining it to a stop in front of Saria, who would gasp in amazement and then ask for a ride. And then he'd jump down and help her into the saddle and then…
"I think I see Malon," Navi said, cutting into his thoughts. "Shall we go say hello?"
"Oh." Link saw where his fairy was pointing. "Yeah, and we can ask her for a horse, too."
They walked across the corral to her. As they approached, Link heard her humming a tune - the same tune she had been humming back in Hyrule Castle Town. As she hummed, she stroked a chestnut pony, which nuzzled her shoulder affectionately.
"Well?" Navi prompted him, for he had paused. "Aren't you going to greet her?"
Link cleared his throat nervously. He stepped forward and waved as he said, "H-hello Malon." To his horror, he stumbled, almost falling onto his face. He managed to catch himself but felt his face starting to burn.
Malon didn't seem to have noticed, but her face lit up when she saw him. "Oh, hello again, fairy boy!" She giggled.
"My name is Link," he said. His voice came out peevishly, mostly because he had nearly embarrassed himself, though he realized a second later that he had sounded rude, and his face grew even redder.
Still Malon didn't seem to notice. She beamed. "I was hoping I'd get to see you again, so I could thank you for finding my dad… and maybe ask about the castle. Did you see the princess?" She gave him a sly smile.
Not trusting himself to speak, he simply nodded.
She giggled. Then she asked brightly, "So, what are you doing here?"
For a minute, Link couldn't remember. He had to shake himself and close his eyes before it came back to him. "I-I was wondering i-if I could borrow… a horse."
Malon giggled. "A horse? We've got lots of those! You should say hello to mine." She motioned to the side of her. "Her name is Epona. Isn't she cute?"
"Hello, Epona." Link reached out to touch her muzzle, but the pony suddenly jerked and galloped away.
"Wait! Hey!" Link chased after her for a few steps before he staggered to a stop and his arm dropped in defeat.
"Strange, I thought she would like you," Malon remarked, cocking her head and staring at him with a curious expression. Then she turned to Epona, who was circling around them from a distance. She began to coo her song again, directing it toward the little horse. To Link's surprise, the horse immediately turned toward her and began trotting back. As she approached, she hesitated, owing to Link's presence. But she seemed unable to resist Malon's song and came forward in small, tentative steps. Finally, she was at the girl's side, nuzzling her shoulder again.
"She likes your song," Link said in amazement.
"Yes…" she sighed and stroked Epona's head. "My mother sang it to me when I was a baby." She closed her eyes and swayed as she hummed the tune, still stroking Epona, who nickered and nuzzled her affectionately.
Suddenly, Malon opened her eyes, turned to Link, and said in an excited voice, "I've got an idea! Let's sing together!"
"Oh!" Link shook his head. "I-I don't think I can sing that good… but maybe I can play it." He pulled out the ocarina."
Malon gasped and then clapped her hands together as she squealed, "Oh, that is such a pretty instrument! Where'd you get it?"
Link shrugged shyly, "My friend gave it to me."
The ranch girl clapped her hands together and giggled. "You must play it for me! I want to hear how it sounds! You should play my song with it."
Link shrugged. "I'll give it a try."
"Okay!" Malon clapped her hands again and beamed from ear to ear. "Play it like this." She hummed the tune.
Link attempted to follow along, but he fumbled with the notes and had to experiment to find the right tune. He asked Malon to repeat the song to help him. He was worried that she would find him a disappointing ocarina player, but she surprised him. She did not seem to mind coaching him; rather she looked as though she enjoyed it, giggling when he played a note wrong and helpfully hummed the correct note for him to match.
It took some doing, but eventually Link mastered the song. It was a melody with a calming effect, starting high and then climbing down to a more placid level, the notes evenly spaced - a horse running with the unbridled wind suddenly slowing to a canter for a nibble of grass. Together with his ocarina and Malon's voice, they performed a harmonious melody.
At the end of the song, Link noticed that his ocarina was glowing again. He watched it curiously until the glow faded away.
Malon sighed and turned her starry gaze to the sky, which was starting to darken. She said quietly, "That was beautiful."
Link nodded in agreement. He was startled when something butted his shoulder. He turned and was surprised to see it was Malon's pony nuzzling him. Malon noticed and exclaimed, "Oh, look, fairy boy! She likes you now!"
Link raised his hand uncertainly up to Epona's head. When she didn't shy away, he gently patted her. She whinnied softly but did not move. Emboldened, Link began stroking her head.
"Is it all right if I borrow her?" he asked Malon.
"Borrow her?" Malon asked curiously. "What are you going to do with her?"
The question threw him off and he hesitated. "I-I was thinking of riding her."
"Riding her?" Malon repeated as though the idea had never occurred to her before. "But she's too young. I haven't ridden her yet. She hasn't been taught yet."
"Oh." Link dropped his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I just thought I could come here to borrow a horse for my journey."
"Oh, it's all right," Malon said brightly. "We have other horses that have been trained. How about Midnight?"
Link spent the rest of evening trying other horses, but he found that many of them were either too big or too slow or too shy or just too ornery. He got on a lot of horses only to fall off again. He was quite red in the face and covered from head to toe in dirt by the time Malon invited him inside. Link was unable to refuse when he realized how dark it had gotten. He and Navi joined Malon and her dad at the table and thanked them for the food. Link noticed Ingo sitting on a wooden bucket in the corner by himself, hunched over his plate, occasionally shooting glares at the four of them.
"Why doesn't he sit with us?" Link whispered to Malon.
She shrugged. "He just likes it this way. Won't have anything to do with us as much as he can help it."
When they finished with dinner, he was offered a bed. Malon was willing to let him sleep in her room, but Link didn't feel comfortable forcing Malon off her comfortable bed for him - especially when Navi was hovering over his shoulder and warning him to be a gentleman as though he regularly wasn't. He asked if there were other places for him to sleep instead. He finally found a place in the barn underneath the hay. He had to convince Malon that he was quite comfortable where he was before she would leave him alone so that he could finally get some rest.
Malon told him, "I hardly ever sleep in it anyways. I have a secret place in the stables where I sleep instead. The horses like me to sing them to sleep." She giggled.
"I really appreciate it," Link said with a yawn, "but I'm already comfortable and I don't want to…" he yawned again, "get up."
"Okay," relented Malon. Then she told him in a voice reminiscent of Navi's, "but next time, you're sleeping in my bed and you'll see how comfortable it really is."
"Mmm…" Link replied, his eyes already closed. Soon he was breathing in a slow rhythm.
Malon watched him for a moment. Then she said quietly, "Well, goodnight then, fairy boy. Sweet dreams." Then she tiptoed away to let him sleep.