Link didn’t sleep a single wink during his journey to Lon Lon Ranch. The mere thought of what had happened to Talon and what might’ve happened to Malon kept his eyes open and his strength up to par. He maintained his course by never looking any other direction except the right one, and he did as little as possible so as not to distract himself. He did stop on a couple of occasions to eat the supplies Sheik had provided, but other than that all he did was march south. Towards the ranch.
By now, the storm clouds hovering over his head were a distant memory behind him, and the gaunt atmosphere was also absent. But reminders of Ganondorf’s control over Hyrule were still around him. During his travels across Hyrule, the countryside had been picturesque and eye pleasing, teeming with marvelous fauna and flora to admire. Now everything had a death-like feeling to it, as if life refused to show itself. Once-beautiful trees and grass were withered and cracked, and fields of flowers were nowhere to be found. The only animals in sight were large black birds, and they sounded so irritated and malnourished it was easy to deduce food was scarce. The sense of decay even affected the clouds, which hung in the air like gray, rotting carcasses.
Link was in a way glad that Navi didn’t want to speak right now; he didn’t feel like talking himself. Still, he could remember exactly how she reacted after he had told her what was going on. He could even remember her tiny face when she acknowledged his words by seeing how his outward appearance had changed…
“But…but this is impossible! How can we be sealed away like that for seven years? And even if it is true, then why was I sealed away? Oh, sure, I flew under your hat after you pulled that sword out because I didn’t want to see anything…but I’m not this Hero of Time they claim you are! Why was I sealed up? Just because I happened to be with you at the time? That can’t be! It just can’t be! I won’t believe it! I just won’t! I swear, this isn’t happening! I must be dreaming! How can you be grown up? You’re a Kokiri! A Kokiri! Kokiri don’t grow up! Either that, or you’re not Link, and I think I know who my charge is! Then again, I haven’t been with you for that long…tell me you are Link! Just tell me you’re Link…and tell me this is a dream! Please, just tell me this is a dream! I want to wake up from this nightmare I’m having! Please, just wake me up! Wake me up…wake me up…wake…me…up…!”
After that Navi had refused to say anything else. The shock had been so great she just fell silent and slipped under Link’s hat, never to be seen again. Link thought this was best, for it would take some time to adjust and understand what was going on. If she needed him, he’d be there for her. But even though he couldn’t hear or see her, during his journey to Lon Lon Ranch he had felt tiny droplets of water upon his scalp several times, indicating Navi had been crying; it was obviously hard for her to really understand anything right now.
But to be perfectly honest, Link didn’t understand it all himself. The explanations of Sheik and Rauru had been of some help, but there were still things he didn’t understand. Why was he grown up when he was a Kokiri? Why had he been chosen as the Hero of Time? And when did he have to relieve himself of that title? He just wished Princess Zelda was here to answer his questions, but right now he was completely alone save his guardian fairy, and she wasn’t in a particular mood to talk.
By the Three Goddesses, what had happened to him…?
The journey came to an end the afternoon of next day. It was the smell that first alerted Link he was back on the farm, but it wasn’t until he saw the silhouette of the farmhouse in the distance that he knew for sure. At first, he couldn’t believe it; he had trekked almost nonstop across Hyrule to get to the farm, and the strain on his muscles made it hard to believe he had finally made it. But when he convinced his mind that his eyes weren’t lying, he smiled and started to run towards the farmhouse.
Unfortunately, the moment he made the decision to run was the moment fatigue conquered his strength. All the pain from his constant walking had been masked by his determination to get to the ranch, and now that he had finally made it there was nothing to conceal the soreness in his limbs. The first step he took felt like walking through fire, and the next step was even worse. He tried not to think about the pain, but it was so overwhelming it managed to stop Link in his tracks after only five steps forward.
Unable to move forward anymore, Link could only fall helplessly to the ground as his legs turned to pulp. Ironically, he didn’t feel anything when his knees struck the rock hard ground with a loud crack. He tried to stay upright, but his upper body strength left him as well, forcing him to sink face first to the ground. The impact of the hard soil against his face was partially softened by his chest taking the burden of the blow, but it was enough to knock Link’s head silly.
As he laid there, his body feeling completely limp and utterly useless, Link realized he hadn’t said a single word when he saw the farmhouse, not even a cry of joy or a word of relief. He tried to say something to make up for it, but his fall had lodged his voice in his throat. He didn’t know why, but he smiled, as if accepting defeat against his tiredness. Maybe a little sleep would do him good and help him recover.
Then again, look what seven years worth of sleep did for him…
It didn’t take long for him to black out, whether he wanted to or not. The last thing he remembered before he slipped into darkness was an approaching shadow off to his left, not doubt some bird seeing if Link might make a tasty meal in this gods-forsaken world…
Futari de ireba kanashiku nan ka nai
Wasurenai demo kono uta
It took a second for Link to realize he was listening to words, and a second longer for him to realize they were being sung. They drifted through Link’s mind like an enchanted wind, reaching his ears but not fully registering with his mind, as if no one were ever meant to understand them. To Link, they didn’t even seem to be real; they sounded more like gibberish than real speech. They could easily be part of another dream…
…but something told him they were real; he just had to open his eyes to confirm it. So he tried, and to his surprise, he succeeded.
The first thing he saw were soft white walls that was the home to several paintings and other assorted wall ornaments. Then he noticed a light blue door off in the far corner, and a writing desk next to it, followed by a cupboard…oh, forget it. Link was feeling far to tired to really care where he was. He could feel he was in a bed, and he could feel a wet cloth rest upon his brow where he had struck his head upon the ground. Someone had taken him in and was caring for him, and had even taken the time to remove his sword, shield, and the rest of his things and place then in a neat pile just to his left; that was what mattered, not where he was being cared for.
The only other thing he wanted to know was who exactly had brought him in…
“Oh, you’re awake. Thank goodness.”
That voice…Link knew exactly who possessed that voice. It sounded a little different, but the same tone and clarity was unmistakable. Straining his stiff neck muscles, Link turned his head to his right…and found the little red-haired girl, only now she wasn’t so little.
Malon had aged almost exactly the way Link had aged: she had definitely changed, but her underlying appearance was still there. She was taller – of course – and her figure had matured into a more curved, defined type, the kind Link had seen during his brief visit to Market Square. Her fiery red hair had grown and it flowed more naturally down behind her neck and along her shoulders. The top part of her dress resembled the slip dress he had seen her wear seven years ago, but now it looked more like a shirt with a long scarlet dress wrapped around her waist. If there was one thing to remind Link of the young Malon, it was her face. Her facial features had definitely grown, but the gentle innocence remained in her eyes and around her lips.
In short, Malon was a grown version of her younger self. That was all there was to it.
Too stunned to say anything, Link only watched as Malon slowly walked in his direction, her hands holding some kind of cloth. She stopped when she was within reaching distance of the bed Link was lying in and leaned over to examine his face more closely. The silence that followed and the look in her eyes made Link think she would say something like “nice to see you again, Fairy Boy” or “I hope you’re feeling okay, Link, because I’ve got some things we’re going to do today.”
Instead, Malon uttered, “It’s been a while since we’ve had a visitor at the ranch. You’re first newcomer I’ve seen in about a year, and the first person my age in over five years. You’re very lucky I was taking a walk through the fields earlier today, or else I wouldn’t have seen you fall down on your face. You were running quite a fever and you were even bleeding across your temple. I hope you don’t do that to yourself all the time.”
She didn’t recognize him. Malon didn’t recognize him! As if the green hat didn’t give him away! Then again, it has been seven years…but still, judging by the way she acted when he left the ranch, he thought she’d at least remember what he looked like. But on the other hand, he shouldn’t really judge her like that, not after what was happening…
Deciding to test her, Link decided to reply to Malon’s concern. “No,” he whispered gruffly, “I don’t do that to myself all the time.”
“Oh, you can speak,” said Malon with a grin. “That’s a good sign, but that hoarseness is a sign the fever hasn’t broken. You’ll have to remain in bed for a while longer.”
No good. She didn’t recognize his voice, even though it was a little croaky. Maybe she had forgotten about him…no, that didn’t seem right. Something else was up, something that had happened during his seven year sleep. Something that was obviously painful for her. And even though he didn’t know what that something was, he feared it might have had something to do with him.
Maybe it would be best for him not to reveal who he was…
“By the way, my name’s Malon,” the farm girl suddenly declared gently. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m L…” Link stopped talking and quickly roamed through his mind for an alternate identity. He used the first name he could think of. “…Mido. My name’s Mido.”
Malon widened her smile until it grew mischievous. “Mido, is it? What a peculiar name. It sounds almost foreign. Mind telling me where you’re from?”
Link started to blush, so he quickly thought up an answer for the curious farm girl. “I’m from…I’m from a place far outside the borders of Hyrule. I don’t know the name of the country because my parents never told it to me; they just told me I was born in a faraway land and not Hyrule. So even I don’t know where I’m from.”
“I see” Malon giggled. “So where are your parents…?” Suddenly, Malon’s smile disappeared and her eye grew heavy. “No, wait, never mind. After what’s happened these last seven years, it’s best not to dig into anyone’s past and let painful memories resurface.”
Malon sniffed softly before lifting the rag in her hand to her eyes. As she wiped a few emerging tears from her cheeks, she added, “Please do me a favor, Mido. Please don’t let the lord of the ranch know you’re here. He doesn’t like me doing things other than my chores, and if he finds out I’m keeping you here he’ll take out his anger on the horses. Promise me you won’t let him know you’re here.”
Link could feel Malon’s heart sink, so he couldn’t help but promise. “I swear he will not even see a footprint,” Link swore. “But tell me something. Why is your father so cruel to you like…?” Link suddenly realized his tongue had slipped and he quickly tried to correct himself. “That is, I’m assuming he’s your father. Else why would you be living here on the ranch…?”
“The lord of the ranch is not my father.”
Link’s eyes widened in surprise, but he tried not to show Malon his disbelief. “He isn’t? Then who is he? A relative of yours?”
“No.” Tears started to run down her face more freely now, some escaping the cloth Malon held. “The lord is a former worker of this ranch, a sour-hearted man called Ingo. He and my father never got along, and I always suspected Ingo wanted to rule the ranch his own way. When Ganondorf conquered Hyrule seven years ago, Ingo saw his opportunity to take control and he swore allegiance to that horrible man. Ganondorf repaid Ingo’s loyalty by casting my father out of the ranch and putting Ingo in charge. I never even got a chance to say goodbye to my father.”
Malon paused to take a breather through her crying. “Over the past few years I’ve wanted to go out and find my father, but the horses have always kept me here. Ingo can be horrible sometimes, but he is most cruel to the horses. He sees them more as trophies than living creatures and he doesn’t care how they are treated just so long as they make him look good. I have to make sure he doesn’t hurt them…or even worse…”
Malon again paused to cry a little before adding, “I’m sorry, Mido. I don’t know why I told you that. You don’t even know who Ingo is, so why should you care what he does?”
“But I do,” Link cried without thinking. He was glad that Talon wasn’t the one that Sheik had mentioned, but he was still horrified to learn that Ingo, the bad-tempered stable worker he had crossed paths with once, which was one times too many, was treating both the horses and Malon this way. He couldn’t just let Malon assume he didn’t care when he truly felt for her.
“What I mean is,” Link continued, quickly realizing his mistake, “just because I don’t know Ingo doesn’t mean I don’t care about what he does. I love horses, really I do and to treat them badly isn’t something I can just walk away from. And you…” Link blushed slightly. “…you’re far more important than horses. To treat a human being badly, especially someone like you, would be an unforgivable sin. After what you did for me…today, I mean, I don’t even want to think about it. Look at you, Malon. You’re a very kind person. Why shouldn’t I care?”
A weak smile appeared upon Malon’s tear-stained face. “That…that’s very nice of you to say, Mido. No one’s ever said anything like that to me, at least not during these hard times. You don’t know how much that means to me. Thank you so much. Thank you.”
Malon whispered her last sentence, and it was so soothing that Link’s blush deepened. “You’re…you’re welcome…I suppose.”
Malon kept her weak smile and kept her eyes pinned on Link’s face as she reached with one of her hands to the base of her neck, where she proceeded to wipe some sweat from her skin. During her swabbing with her palm, she accidentally pulled her shirt collar down a little, revealing a little more skin underneath.
Link happened to gaze there briefly, and when he did his eyes widened in astonishment. He didn’t see anything that he shouldn’t have – which was a good thing, because he would’ve felt guilty about it for the rest of his life – but he did see something more interesting. The pulling down of her collar revealed something hanging around her neck, something he had seen before. It was the necklace with the red jewel, the one he had given her at the end of his first meeting with her.
“She’s still wearing it?” Link thought.
“You like this necklace?” Malon suddenly asked, snapping Link back to his senses. His face turned a bright red, far brighter than his previous blush, and he quickly tried to defend his integrity.
“I…I…no, I…I didn’t…didn’t see…what I mean is…they weren’t visible…no, that’s not it…”
Malon’s smile suddenly widened, and her lips released a soft chuckle. “So, you’re a gentleman, are you? Well, at least there’s one left in this world. Then I take it you were looking at the necklace, right?”
Deciding not to make a fool of himself again, Link just nodded. But Malon laughed again anyway. “It’s nice of you to notice it,” she uttered as she looked down at it as best she could. “I’ve had it with me for about seven years now. I don’t know why, but it keeps me at peace whenever I feel like I’m going to fall apart. And I never forget about the one who gave this to me. Whenever I hold this, I remember him, as clear as day. Even though I haven’t seen him for seven years, he’s still here with me, helping me through these tough times. He’s like the brother I never had…and sometimes, I feel he’s even more than that.”
Malon then looked up and locked gazes with Link, who came to the idea she would recognize him. Who else could she be talking about…?
Malon suddenly spun around and looked at the door, frozen. Link also sat up in bed and stared at the door. He remembered hearing that voice, but he couldn’t recall to whom it belonged…
“Malon!” the voice boomed again. “Where are you, you little wench? You have to clean out the horse water troughs! If you don’t show yourself this minute, I’m going to use my snake whip on your precious Epona!”
Malon’s face drained itself of blood. She turned back to Link, who was still looking at the door, and hissed softly, “It’s Ingo. I have to go now. Please keep your word you won’t come out of this room. If he finds you, he’ll beat me and then…hurt Epona, my beloved horse. So please don’t leave this room. My chores are going to take all night, so I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, Mido.”
Nighttime? Was it close to nighttime already? Come to think of it, the sun did seem have kind of an orange glow right now…but Link didn’t have time to confirm this with Malon. Before he could say anything, she disappeared through the light blue door, calling out to someone as she closed it. The last he heard of her was her voice as it faded away in the unseen distance…
He didn’t need anything to tell him it was midnight; his natural instincts were his timepiece. So when the appropriate hour struck, his eyes sprang open and he sat up as if he had intended to do so to begin with. He didn’t even need to rub any sleep from his eyes; in fact, he felt awake enough to fight with his sword! Or at least his strength had recovered enough to give him that belief…
The bedroom wasn’t completely enveloped in darkness; the window curtains were too thin to keep the bright moonlight out. Even so, everything in the room looked like a washed shadow of itself, giving everything an eerie and gloomy look. Someone might describe it as a dream, but Link knew all too well how real dreams could be…
Link didn’t need much to know that Malon hadn’t returned from her chores, and he also didn’t need much to know she should’ve returned by now. His time at the ranch had taught him Malon knew her way around the farm and how to do whatever was needed. Oh, sure, she may have never been given chores this laboring or time-consuming, but even then she would complete them in a relatively short time. Unless, of course, she lost her enthusiasm for the horses, and Link couldn’t believe that for one moment.
She had to be somewhere outside the farmhouse; this was her room, after all. Knowing her, she would rather sleep in a chair instead of sleep in a bed in another room. But then where was she? She could be anywhere…
Suddenly, Link knew where she was. It was the only place she could be. And if she was there, then…
Link quickly threw the covers off his body and leapt out of the bed, rushing to the window at a brisk pace. When he reached the curtains, he grabbed them and threw them apart with incredible force. He then stared out the window, and saw the full moon staring back at him. Now he was certain.
“So, she’s there again. I guess I can’t blame her. Should I go and see her? But then would she recognize me…? What should I do?”
It took ten seconds for him to make up his mind. Moving as gently as he could, Link shuffled his way back to the bed…and slowly removed his cap from his scalp, being careful to make sure Navi was still inside. The fairy hadn’t appeared to him all day, either because she was sleeping or still reluctant to see him and face the truth. He decided it would be best to leave her completely alone for a while.
Besides, he wanted to be alone himself for when he faced her.
As he gently placed the cap upon the soft bed sheets, Link thought, “So, how am I going to get out of here without waking Ingo?”
The moonlight shining through the window gave him an idea…
Jumping from a second story window wasn’t that much different than jumping from a high tree branch, actually. The only difference was that Link had to use his legs to propel him forward so he wouldn’t land on the roof and alert Ingo of his presence. But when he landed on the soft soil below, it felt like something he had done all his life. Maybe this was why he had survived those falls in Dodongo’s Cavern…
But that didn’t matter. He had to find the old storage barn where Malon was holed up in. After conjuring up the vague direction of the barn, Link took a deep breath and started running as fast as he could.
He found the barn easily, as if he had lived on the farm in Malon’s place. He also found the door he had used the last time he had entered it. It was wide open, probably left that way by someone’s carelessness or Malon’s hastiness. Seeing nothing unusual, Link stepped right through the door…and immediately discovered something awry.
He couldn’t smell anything…or see anything.
All of the stored milk that Malon said was going into making cheese, all of the stale white liquid that gave off a powerful and unholy stench…it was all gone. Now, that might seem like a blessing, but for Link the sight made him quiver. Did that mean Ingo didn’t care about the cows and had gotten rid of them? Or was Ingo using them for other purposes…?
Link didn’t want to think about it. The one time Malon had told him about beef he nearly got sick at the thought. And now was not the time to allow his journey’s rations to come back up…
“Okay, then, where is that entrance, Malon? Where did you hide it?”
He found the entrance easily, mainly because the crates that hid it were still in their place, and thankfully the crates were moved in such a way that the tunnel was clearly visible. All Link had to do was get onto his knees and crawl forward, and soon he would be in the room where Malon was. So he did…
…and struck his head on the barn wall, sending his head spiraling back with a snap. At first, Link thought the tunnel had been walled up, but he quickly discovered his head had been too high.
“Tunnel’s a lot smaller than I remember,” he grumbled as he lowered his head and continued his advance into the corridor…
He arrived in the small room at the end of the tunnel in record time, and when he could he stood up so he could look around the tiny quarters. It wasn’t too difficult for him to find what he was looking for.
At the very end of the room, sitting on her knees with her head in her hands, was Malon with her back facing towards Link. By the soft yet noticeable wails echoing in the chamber, Link could tell she was crying, and it wasn’t just a simple cry. It was the kind of cry that released all kinds of horrible things, from anger to hurt to heartache to loneliness. She had probably been crying like this ever full moon, crying like this to release all of the resentment that had built up in her heart.
When Link witnessed this, he felt like crying himself. But he kept his tears hidden away and instead mumbled loudly, “Malon?”
Malon’s head immediately jerked up and turned around, showing her dirty tear-stained face and dry, red eyes. When she saw Link, her eyes widened in disbelief. “Mido? What are…how did you…what are you doing here? How did you find this place?”
“I watched you from the bedroom window,” Link lied. “I saw you head in this general direction and later decided I wanted to see how you were doing. So I snuck out of the house and tracked you to this place. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve wandered the world long enough to know how to look for the right signs in order to find someone.”
It was a weak defense, but that was all Link could come up with during his trek from the farmhouse to the barn. He just hoped Malon wouldn’t see through it and realize who he really was…
Without warning, Malon turned her head back around. “You must be a pretty good tracker to find this place,” she muttered. “That can only mean you’re a survivor of these horrible times we live in. Me, I don’t know if I’m a survivor or a casualty. Every full moon I come to this place to find the answer, but all I do is ready myself for the next time I ask myself that question. I’m just about ready to surrender, surrender to these terrible burdens on my shoulders and the pain in my heart.”
A soft sniffling sound indicated Malon was shedding more tears. “I…I love my horses…I love Epona…so very much…but…but I…I want to see my father…I want…to see…my daddy. I want to see my daddy…”
His heart sinking like a stone thrown in water, Link decided to say something. “Malon, if…if you want me to leave you alone here, then I’ll willingly do so…”
“No…” Malon’s whisper pleaded. “Don’t leave me…”
Suddenly, Malon leapt to her feet, turned around, and darted her way towards the standing Link, landing squarely against his body and wrapping her arms around him. Link was so stunned by this sudden act that he didn’t know what to do; he didn’t even know what Malon was doing! Why would she suddenly get up and embrace him…?
“Please,” the farm girl abruptly continued. “I never thought to ask you to come here, but now that you’re here I’m glad you did. Please don’t leave me here, alone. It’s been so long since I’ve felt the loving touch of another person, even something like a simple hug. I hardly even know you, Mido, but I can tell you are someone I can trust. I’m not asking you to do anything for me except… to let me hold you, to let me know I’m worth at least that much.”
As Malon pressed her tear-smudged face into his chest, Link wondered if he had made the right decision coming here. But one look at Malon’s heartbroken face told him he had made the right choice. Deciding to comfort her as best he could, Link raised his right arm and wrapped it around Malon’s waist; he thought about using both arms, but determined it might make her uncomfortable to be embrace fully by a “stranger.”
“I wish I could tell you Malon,” Link thought as he stood there with Malon in his arm, “that you’re worth so much more…”
They stayed together like that for about half an hour before they both decided to return back to the farmhouse.
“I have a confession to make, Malon.”
Malon’s face didn’t show any signs of surprise when Link said those words as he was slinging his sword and scabbard onto his back; her face showed more curiosity than anything. “And what’s that, Mido?” she asked humbly.
Link hesitated before he finally replied, “I deliberately came to this ranch for a reason. I’m here to buy a horse from this farm. The best horse this place has, in fact.”
Now Malon’s eyes showed off disbelief. “You’re here to buy a horse? The best horse? Does that mean…you’re a member of a royal family…?”
“No, I’m not,” Link answered as she started to place his shield on his back. “I’m here with special orders to get the best horse Lon Lon Ranch as to offer. That’s all I can tell you.”
Malon took a few steps forward towards Link until she stood in the rays of the morning sunlight the bedroom window allowed inside. “But if you’re not a member of any royal family, how can you expect to pay for one of this farm’s horses? Ingo charges unheard of amounts for these horses, and he won’t sell any of them unless the buyer has some kind of connection to the rich.”
Link smiled a smile he made sure Malon couldn’t see. “Some kind of connection to the rich, huh?” he muttered under his breath. “Well, then I should have no trouble.”
“Did you just say something?”
“Nothing important,” Link answered as he picked up his hat and put it on his scalp, trying to make sure it didn’t look like he had a fairy sleeping inside. “But here’s something I’d like to ask you. Could you please show me your best horse?”
Malon’s jaw dropped, flabbergasted. “Didn’t you just hear me? I said you can’t expect to buy one of these horses…”
“Malon, it’ll be all right,” Link gently interrupted as he turned his gaze to meet Malon’s. “Now please, take me to see your best horse.”
Malon stammered for a brief moment before she finally relaxed and released sigh of defeat. “Very well, Mido. I’ll show you the best horse this ranch has to offer…”
Link didn’t need one of his prophetic dreams to guess who the best horse on the ranch was. When Malon pointed to her at the far end of the enormous pen with all the other horses, he recognized her instantly. Just like Malon, she was now all grown up, a long cry from the young foal of seven years ago. Her magnificent red coat had developed a fiery tinge, and her white mane flapped in the wind like a wild, captured bird longing to be set free. But while she had grown, she still had a deep sense of independence and loyalty lingering around her.
Yes, she had grown up, but she was still Epona.
“You see that red horse over there?” Malon asked Link as she pointed. “That’s the best horse on the farm. Her name’s Epona, and…”
“But I thought you loved her too much to sell her.”
Malon jolted her head sideways to face Link with an astonished gaze. “What…how did you know that? How did you know I liked her that much?”
“Just by the way you mentioned her that one time,” Link lied without a single pause or stutter; he was getting better at lying like this. “I mean, last night you hinted that you loved Epona so much you couldn’t leave her to look for your father. If that isn’t devotion, then I don’t know what is.”
Malon seemed to believe Link’s lie, although it was becoming evident she was growing more and more unsure about her new friend’s words. “Well, I guess I can understand that…”
“But let me ask you a question,” Link interjected. “If you love Epona enough that you don’t want to sell her, then why did you show me her as the best horse on the ranch? Do you sincerely believe I won’t be able to buy her, or is there another reason?”
Malon hesitated, as if contemplating whether or not to say something important, but it didn’t take long for her to make up her mind. “Actually, there is another reason, although I suppose you can call it a ray of hope. By the way you talked about the horses, you seem to have a lot of respect for them and don’t seem like the kind of person to treat them badly. I guess I thought that if you were able to buy Epona, you could give her the proper care she deserves, not like what Ingo gives her.”
“And you trust me just like that?” Link asked immediately afterwards. He didn’t know why, but this conversation felt completely natural, as if he were used to such discussions. “There’s a possibility I could be lying, you know. If I take Epona away from here, I just might treat her as badly as Ingo, maybe even worse. Why do you trust me like this? You barely even know me.”
Link suddenly realized it was happening again. Just like before, Malon trusted him completely, even though she hardly knew him. Why was that? Had she grown too trusting of strangers because of Ingo’s spitefulness? Or was she seeing in him now what she saw him seven years ago…?
“I…don’t know,” was all that Malon gave as an answer to Link’s question. “I guess…I just do, and I don’t need a reason to trust someone like you. Because…I just can.”
Link realized the conversation was going nowhere. Whatever secrets or ideas Malon had about the way she trusted people like him, only she would know them. He remained silent and thought for a moment, trying to think up something to talk about. As he thought, an idea suddenly crossed his mind, and it didn’t take him long to figure out a way to ask Malon about it.
“So, Malon, is there anything special about Epona you’d like to tell me about?”
The look Malon gave Link was an indication she was both surprised and relieved that he had changed the topic of conversation. “Let me see, what can I tell you about Epona? Well, I can certainly tell you she’s a very free-spirited horse. She doesn’t like the idea of being tamed by anyone; Ingo has tried his best over the years to do so, and he’s broken several bones in the process. To become her friend, you have to win over her affection, make her realize you want to be her friend and not her master. So far, only I and one other person have been able to win her affection.”
Link smiled faintly; he knew very well who that “one other person” was. “So, how do you win her affection?”
Malon hesitated. “I’m…I’m not sure if I should tell you here. Maybe when we’re alone and there’s no chance of anyone eavesdropping…”
“I don’t think we’re in danger of that happening,” Link politely interrupted. “Besides, if you’re that cautious, you could just whisper it to me. Please?”
The moment of silence that followed Link’s plea was so loud it overpowered all other sounds around the pair. Malon seemed to hold her breath during this time in reluctance, unable to decide whether or not to reveal the secret to Epona’s friendship out in the open. But finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Malon released a sigh of acceptance and relaxed her tense muscles. “Very well, Mido, if you insist,” she whispered through her breath. She then raised the volume of her voice by just a little so she could say, “The secret to wining Epona over…is a song.”
“A…a song?” Link repeated, trying to sound as surprised as he could. “What do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what I said,” Malon continued, this time with her voice a little softer. “There is a song that my mother sang to me before she died, and it’s this song that Epona really likes to hear. When she hears it, she instantly recognizes the singer as a friend. For that reason alone, I only teach the song to my closest friends, but even so only two people have managed to really establish a trusting bond with her. I’m one of them, and the other’s a good…friend from long ago.”
A trusting bond? Is that what Link had established with Epona back then? All he did was touch the young horse, nothing more. But then again, Malon knew far more about horses than he ever could…
Malon’s voice suddenly seemed to lighten up a little, and a smile appeared to match. “But I’m sure you can also win her affection if you try, Mido. You definitely seem like the kind of person who could manage something like that.”
Link scratched his head, hoping Malon wasn’t going off into some kind of girlish fantasies. “Well, I guess I could try,” he admitted. “But could you sing me the song? I won’t be able to try anything unless I know the song.”
“Sure thing,” Malon replied as she took a step away from the pen and turned her entire body to face Link. “Now, I’d better tell you a little bit about this song. I just call it Epona’s Song, but you can call it what you like, okay?”
“Actually, ‘Epona’s Song’ sounds pretty good.”
“All right, then. Let’s see…oh, I’m going to sing softly so Epona doesn’t hear us and come running here. That might attract unwanted attention. But I’ll sing loud enough for you to hear.”
“Go right ahead, Malon,” Link insisted. “I’m all ears.”
Malon widened her smile before she took a deep breath and started to sing Epona’s Song. It had been a long time since he had heard Malon sing it, and he instantly remembered how playing it on his ocarina paled in comparison to Malon’s version. Malon’s singing had only improved with age, for the child-like touch in her voice was gone, replaced by a more mature silkiness that suited the gentle melody well. He could listen to her sing it forever…
Wait a minute. Malon wasn’t just singing the actual melody; she was also singing words! He suddenly remembered the strange song he heard just before waking up yesterday, and recognized that this song was that very tune! He had no idea when Malon had put words to her treasured song, but he guessed it had been during the last seven years. Why? Because even though he couldn’t understand them, the lyrics sounded sad and tragic, as if containing all of Malon’s years of grief and heartbreak.
Link felt as if his own heart was about to break as he listened to the strange and beautiful yet haunting words of Epona’s Song:
Epona Epona soba ni oide
Futari de ireba sabishiku nan ka nai
Dakara Epona koko ni ite
Omae dake o mamotte ageru
Koushite iru to omoi dasu
Ano hi no yoake
Tsuki ga shizumi taiyou to
Omae ga umareta
Epona Epona soba ni oide
Futari de ireba kanashiku nan ka nai
Dakara Epona koko ni ite
Watashi no uta o kiite ite ne
Koushite iru to omoi dasu
Ano koro no koto
Omae no tame ni kaazan ga
Tsukutta kono uta
Futari de ireba kanashiku nan ka nai
Wasurenai demo kono uta…
Both Link and Malon jerked their heads around in the direction of the loud bellow behind them. When he saw who was standing a short distance away from them, Link felt as if an old ghost were haunting him.
Unlike Malon, Ingo hadn’t changed much since the last time Link had seen him; he looked exactly like the lean, potbellied, work-stained man who had once taken care of Lon Lon Ranch’s horses. Now, however, he looked more like a trusted attendant of the Royal Family, thanks to the gaudy clothing he seemed to wear and show off as a badge of status. His face also had one new touch to it: while it looked exactly the same as before, his eyes were different in that they now exhibited the hidden sentiment Link had noticed long ago.
And that sentiment was bitterness and sourness.
Malon and Link remained motionless for about a minute as Ingo glared angrily at them, his lips refusing to state why he had called out Malon’s name so harshly. The only thing that was on Link’s mind was whether Ingo had heard Malon’s singing or even the significance of Epona’s Song…
“What are you doing here, you little wench?” Ingo abruptly snapped, his hands crossed firmly across his chest. “You’re supposed to be cleaning out the stalls this very minute, and yet I find you dilly-dallying out here with someone you allowed in here without my consent!”
Malon immediately started to shake with fear. “P…p…please, Lord…I…I…Ingo…” she stammered as she took a few steps forward towards the man. “For…for…forgive me…I…I…I was just…”
“You were just what?” Ingo interrupted rudely. “Showing him around? You know very well I don’t allow his putrid kind to purchase or even look at my precious investments. And seeing that you were stupid enough to do that, I shall have to punish you by whipping a horse of my choice.”
Malon immediately started to break down. “No, please, Lord Ingo. Don’t hurt the horses. Punish me instead, I beg of you. I’m the one who broke the rules, not the horses. They don’t deserve to be punished…”
Without warning, Ingo suddenly raised his right arm and slapped Malon’s right cheek with the back of his hand. The clapping of Ingo’s hand against Malon’s cheek was so loud that it sounded like something nearly broke, and the force of the blow was so intense that Malon fell to the earth, landing in the soft grass with a mute thud. She then simply lay there on the ground, unable to move and daring not to cry in front of her master.
“Don’t you dare talk back to me, you little whore!” Ingo barked as he pointed an accusing finger at the young farm girl. “You should thank me for allowing you to stay here as long as you have. If I didn’t need you, I’d have you thrown out of here to join your pathetic father…”
“That is enough!”
Both Ingo and Malon raised their heads to turn to the owner of the commanding voice, which just so happened to belong to Link. He had grown angrier and angrier with each callous word Ingo had spoken to Malon, and that slap to her face had only increased the rage two-fold. He wasn’t about to sit back and let his friend be treated like this; she really did deserve more than that hug he had given her last night, and he was going to prove it right now.
“What do you want?” Ingo asked when he gained his arrogant confidence back.
“Your fight is not with this young girl,” Link answered in a stern and imposing tone. “Your fight is with me.”
“Oh, and why is that?” Ingo sneered.
Link then made a surprising move by folding his arms and placing a smirk upon his lips. “The reason this fine young woman showed me around your farm is because she was showing me prospective buys. I am here to purchase one of your horses.”
Ingo’s face twitched with surprise and his thin eyes widened greatly, but he quickly lost that shock and started to snicker. “What? You? Here to buy a horse? Don’t make me laugh, you little brat. You can’t possibly afford one of my horses…”
“I can,” Link interjected. “In fact, I can pay you four times the asking price of your best horse.”
Those words caught Ingo’s attention. “Four times, eh? Well, I suppose you can give me the money right now so you can back up your claim?”
“I cannot pay your price right now,” Link admitted with the same firm tone, “but I promise you that you will get your money in the near future. I am a man of my word, so you can be assured I am not lying about my claim.”
Ingo stared at Link for about a minute before he started to chortle softly. Within a few seconds, his chuckling had grown into a loud and blatantly mocking laugh that Ingo couldn’t seem to control. “You…really expect me…to believe that?” he managed to utter through his laughter. “I can’t believe…I nearly believed you! I should’ve known…you were nothing more…than a common thief…trying to swindle me out of…one of my best horses! How gullible…do you think I am?”
“Gullible enough to think you can tell me these horses are yours.”
That stopped Ingo’s laughter almost immediately and replaced it with a look of scorn. “What did you just say, you piece of garbage?”
“You must be deaf, so I’ll say it again!” Link uttered, this time a little louder and with a defiant facade upon his face. “You can’t fool me into thinking you’re the one who takes care of these horses. All you do is sit back and exploit the work of others so you can later take the credit for yourself. I’d like to know one time, just one time, when you truly cared for these wonderful creatures yourself, excluding the times you patted them on the faces while showing them off to potential buyers. You may say these horses are yours, but they are not, and it sickens me to think that you have the right to say such a thing.”
Ingo was turning red, the kind of red that indicated he was growing more and more enraged. “You sure are confident for a lying thief, aren’t you?” he muttered through his heatedness, trying his best not to throw a punch at the person who had just chewed him. “And I suppose you know more about horses than me?”
“I just very well might!” Link threatened, his hands waving around with their fists clenched tightly.
“Oh, is that so?” Ingo threatened back. “Well, would you like to prove that lie of yours?”
“You bet I would!”
“Very well, then.” Ingo suddenly lowered his voice’s volume and lowered his hands, placing them behind his back. The sudden shift from resentment to calmness was uncanny. “We shall test your accusation through the only sure way: a horse race. Just you and me. We shall each pick a horse this ranch has to offer and compete in a single-lap race around the farm. Whoever wins the race shall be the one who knows more about horses, as it will take great skill to choose and ride a horse in this race. But to make things a bit more interesting, we must raise the stakes a little.”
Link flinched in puzzlement and cautiousness. “What do you mean?”
Ingo sneered. “We must each wager something of great importance so the loser will learn his lesson well. Me, I will wager whatever horse you have your eye on. If you win the race, you can have the horse of your choice. How does that sound?”
Link smiled. “It sounds like a good deal. As for me, I’ll wager…my life. If you win, I’ll be your loyal servant for the rest of your life. Good enough for you?”
Ingo’s lipped widened into a grin showing his horribly dirty teeth. “More than enough.”
“Mido!” Malon suddenly cried from the ground. “Don’t do it! Please, don’t…”
“Do we have a deal…Mido?” Ingo asked, ignoring Malon’s cries and extending his right hand out towards Link.
Link hesitated, but only for a second. He nodded confidently and grabbed Ingo’s hand with his own. The two men then shook their hands firmly before Link replied, “We do.”
“Excellent,” Ingo snickered. “The race will be tomorrow. I’ll give you all of today to choose your horse…and to have your last moments of freedom. Just do me a favor.”
“Try to put up a decent fight!”
Ingo then started to howl with uncontrollable laugher as he turned around and headed for the farmhouse, his cruel cackle echoing across the plains of the farm like a haunting vision. It was only when Ingo disappeared from sight that Link started to think about what he had done.
“How do I get myself into these things?”
“Mido…how could you do that? Why did you just wager your life like that as if it were nothing?”
“Because there was nothing else I could wager,” Link answered. He was leaning upon his arms against the fence that surrounded the horse pen, his head facing the horses that quietly roamed the enormous enclosure. His eyes had a somewhat distant look in them, for he knew he had made possibly one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
But it was true; there was nothing else he could’ve wagered. He dared not wager the Master Sword or Ocarina of Time, and his other items were too insignificant to be of interest to Ingo. And since money didn’t work the first time, the only thing Link had left to wager was his own freedom.
“But that was still a foolish thing to do,” Malon commented as she stepped next to the gazing Hero of Time. She had gotten up from the ground several minutes ago, but she had only gathered up the courage to speak to Link now. “So are you really going to race Ingo tomorrow? He may not care about the horses as he should, but he’s a master horseback rider and he has a special horse bred solely for racing. Are you ready to face up to that tomorrow?”
“Malon…” Link started with a lump in his throat. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life.”
Malon’s face turned pale and her mouth gaped open like a clearing in a tightly knitted forest. “You…what? Then how you could you say those things? You have no idea what it takes to ride a horse! You can’t just get on a horse’s back and expect to become an expert horseback rider. You first have to gain the horse’s complete trust and confidence, and then learn how to ride it! How do you expect to do that in less than a day?”
Link paused before allowing a weak smile to creep upon his face. “But I’ve already achieved the first thing you mentioned, Malon.”
Malon’s shock turned to a mixture of fear and confusion. “Excuse me? What do you mean…?”
“I’ve gained the complete trust and confidence in one of your horses, that’s what.”
Malon was so stunned by this bit of news that all she could say was, “Which one?”
Link answered with one word. “Epona.”
“Epona? What do you mean Epona? You haven’t done anything with her yet…except see her grazing in the pen, of course. How can you have gained her trust when you’ve done absolutely nothing with her?”
“Because I have done something with her.”
“Oh, really. When, exactly? Last night?”
“About seven years ago.”
When Link uttered those words, a numbing silence seemed to fall over the couple, as if it were a sin to say something after that phrase. Malon stood still in amazed confusion, and Link simply remained still, making sure he was looking straight at Malon’s face. He had decided enough was enough; he wasn’t going to keep up the charade any longer. Malon deserved to know the truth, not the lies he was feeding her.
And yet, even with that blatant hint, Malon still couldn’t figure out what Link was trying to tell her. “I…I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Mido. What do you mean…?”
“Malon, think about it,” Link said calmly yet firmly. “You said yourself that only two people have won over Epona’s trust: you and one other person. Now, if I claim to have won over her trust, then what does that make me?”
The look in Malon’s eyes indicated she was beginning to understand, but something inside of her refused to believe it. “I…I’m still confused. What exactly are you trying to tell me?”
Link sighed, and then decided to use the most obvious indication of his identity he could think of. He raised his left hand and directed it to his left ear, where he proceeded to gently tug upon a thin ring of silver pierced through his earlobe. “Malon, do you recognize this?”
When Malon saw that earring, the air around the two of them went dead still. Impossibly, Malon’s skin grew even paler and her eyes grew even wider. Understanding suddenly crept into her face, as well as the painful truth along with it. She tried to say something a few times, but the shock prevented her from speaking until she could get her astonishment under control. When she could talk, she uttered that name she probably hadn’t uttered in a long, long time.
Link closed his eyes and nodded gently with acknowledgement before opening his eyes again and saying, “Yes. It’s nice to see you again, Malon.”
As if on cue, Malon started to quiver and shake quite violently, indicating her shock was weakening her. “But…why…?”
“I…I don’t know,” Link admitted. “I guess…I just wanted to protect you.”
“Protect…me? From what?”
“From me, of course.”
Malon gawked like a surprised bird. “From you? What…?”
“Think about it, Malon. Why didn’t you recognize me when you saved me yesterday? I’m dressed in basically the same clothing from seven years ago, and I look almost exactly the same, and yet you didn’t seem to recognize me at all. I didn’t know why, but I figured that trying to find out would be too painful for you. So I decided not to tell you who I was, to let you figure it out by yourself when the time was right. But I’m tired of lying to you; after what Ingo did to you, you deserved to know the truth. And that’s why I’m telling you I’m the Kokiri you invited to this ranch seven years ago. I am Link, Malon. I am Link.”
Link tried to sound mellow in his speech to Malon, but it was still too much for the farm girl to bear. The moment he said his name again, Malon fell to her knees, raised her hands into her face, and started crying. Her bawling was so loud and so uncontrollable that it nearly tore Link’s soul apart.
“Malon, please try to understand,” Link pleaded as he attempted to get near her, but Malon suddenly gave Link a tear-filled message that showed she was anything but understanding.
“Just go away,” she hissed. “Leave me alone. Just go away.”
When Malon uttered those words, Link felt something inside of him snap, as if something had been ripped from his body. He had never heard those words spoken to him before, especially from one of his friends. They sounded so surreal, so unreal, that Link couldn’t help but ponder the unlikely possibility that they weren’t meant for him!
“Malon…I…I didn’t mean to upset you…”
“Just go away…”
That last plea was nothing more than a whisper, yet Link considered it the most painful one yet. He was starting to feel something hollow inside, but he refused to believe Malon was actually telling him such a thing, even though a part of him knew believing such a thing was absurd. But he approached her anyway, his hand reaching out to touch her.
“Malon…please, don’t cry. I’m had a reason, I really did…”
“Go away…go away…”
The moment Link mentioned her name again, he placed his right hand on her shoulder…and almost immediately Malon reacted. Her right hand snapped to attention and brushed Link’s hand from her shoulder with incredible force as if it were nothing more than an annoying insect. Link instinctively grabbed his wrist with his left hand, but his eyes were focused on Malon’s face, which was now looking directly at his own.
When she glared at Link, she may as well have taken the Master Sword and driven it through his gut. Her eyes presented every available emotion Link never thought he’d see direct towards him from her; sorrow, betrayal, mistrust, and disgust were the ones that stood out.
And yet, Link still held a glimmer of hope that all of this wasn’t real. “Malon…” he started as he tried again to approach her, but Malon stopped him by twisting the knife already buried in Link’s heart.
“Get away from me!” he demanded so vehemently that Link actually took several steps back. “I don’t even want to see you! Why are you still making fun of me? Go away! I said go away! Go away!”’
Without warning, Malon rose to her feet, turned in the direction directly opposite of Link, and ran as fast as she could. But just when she looked like she would disappear over a small hill, she suddenly tripped and fell to her knees once more. She then seemed to try and get back up, but she abruptly gave up and buried her face in her palms yet again, sobbing loud enough for Link to hear her.
Either her strength had drained from the shock, or she really just wanted to cry. For Link, neither possibility was a pleasant thought.
“Malon, I…” Link started to call out to her before he caught himself. Although he really didn’t want to even think about it, he had no choice but to do so. Malon wouldn’t even listen to him, and trying to even approach her would simply be a waste of time. Link then did finish his sentence, but only as an inaudible whisper. “I’m…I’m sorry.”
As he stared at the miserable farm girl kneeling just a stone’s throw away, her wails clawing at his ears every minute, Link considered approaching her one more time, but knew it would be pointless. As much as he didn’t want to depart from her like this, Malon obviously wanted him to leave her be.
Starting to regret what he had just done, Link lowered his head in shame, turned around, and started to walk away, his eyes affixed to the ground and his hands dangling to his sides. All the while he whispered to himself his last words to Malon, over and over:
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”
Malon didn’t even notice his departure; she just remained where she was, crying both her eyes and heart out as hard as she could and as long as she could…