When Link looked up and saw Din’s Eye already starting to set over the horizon, he prevented himself from using the old “time sure flies by” line. His awakening in the Chamber of Sages had spoiled that phrase for him forever, and he didn’t feel like being reminded of the magical entrapment that stole seven years of his life and allowed him to live a dream he dearly wanted to be real but in the end was nothing more than a hollow fantasy. Just the thought of his imprisonment made him bitter, and right now the last thing he wanted was to feel bitterness.
Misery would do just fine.
The tree had been resting against for the past several hours didn’t feel as comfortable now, as if it were prodding Link to go do what he had to do. But Link knew it was his pride more than anything that was urging him to stand up. His bet with Ingo seemed just as stupid as before, but his pride didn’t want to allow him to back down from that challenge. Oh, sure, Link could just steal a horse during the night – he knew Epona’s Song, he could coax Epona to go with him – but he knew he would regret reneging this as long as he lived.
Honor. He tried calling pride honor, but that sounded too ridiculous and mocking of what honor really stood for. Maybe the right word was stupidity…
“Oh, boy,” Link sighed as he hung his head between his knees and gripped his hands together behind his head. “How many times must I make these mistakes? Am I being tested…or punished? Maybe this is my punishment for pulling that blasted sword. Maybe it’s my fault that Hyrule is like this. Maybe…”
“What did I say about people talking to themselves?”
Despite the familiarity of the voice, it startled Link and caused him to jerk his head upward. He was so startled, in fact, that he didn’t have time to say something in response when a well-known fairy fluttered out from under his hat and in front of his face, her wings releasing their memorable drone. Her face was covered by her vivid pink light, but Link could tell she was smiling, albeit feebly.
“Navi…?” Link started but couldn’t finish when Navi answered her own question.
“People talking to themselves are considered loners, people who don’t need anyone other than themselves to survive. I sure hope you haven’t fallen into that persona while I was moping around under your hat.”
Link wanted to say something in defense of his personality, but something that Navi said made his ask her something else. He couldn’t help smiling as he inquired, “Excuse me, but did you just admit you were moping around under my hat?”
The accusation didn’t even faze Navi. “Yes, I did. I’ll admit I acted a little selfish when I heard what had happened to us. I refused to believe it at first, but when I had to believe it I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away. But every time I thought it had left, the truth came back to haunt me; every single time that happened, I cried. I’m sure you could tell when that happened.”
“Yes, I could,” Link assured, recalling the times he felt Navi’s tiny tears upon his scalp.
“Anyway, all that moping lasted until last night, I believe. It was then that I realized, ‘this is stupid. Are you just going to sit under Link’s hat the rest of your life while he faces this new challenge alone?’ It didn’t take me long to decide that I wasn’t going to do that. So here I am, ready to face whatever is thrown at me.”
Link nodded, glad to see that Navi had regained her confidence and spirit. But one thing still bothered him. “If you decided last night, then what have you been doing under my hat until now? Did you not want Malon to see you?”
“No,” Navi replied rather sheepishly. “It’s just all that crying had tired me out, so I fell asleep and just now woke up.”
Link wanted to stick out his tongue in gentle disgust, but decided not to.
But just when the mood seemed to lighten up, it turned serious again when Navi continued speaking. “So, I take it you’re going to go through with this race with Ingo tomorrow.”
Link’s smiled faded away like a much-needed dream. “I guess I am,” he confessed. “And to tell you the truth, I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. If I lose, what kind of Hero of Time will I be? The one who has to serve a cruel horse rancher’s every beck and call? The only good that can come out of this is that Malon will finally have a friend to talk to…but I doubt Ingo will give us that kind of privilege…”
“Tell me something, Link,” Navi suddenly interrupted. “Why do you think this is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made?”
Link started his answer by repeating his previous words. “If I lose, what kind of Hero of Time…?”
“Link, what did you just say?” Navi interjected again, this time a little more forcefully.
Link was starting to get confused. “Navi, are you deaf or something? I said, ‘if I lose…’ ”
“Exactly!” Navi cried out as loud as she could.
“Listen to those words carefully, Link. You are going on about if you lose, not when you lose. And yet you’re talking about tomorrow’s race as if you’ve already lost. Now tell me, why call your little race with Ingo a mistake when the real mistake hasn’t even been made?”
“Real mistake? What exactly are you getting at?”
“Just think, you thick-headed idiot. Think about what you did back at
. You volunteered to rid Dodongo’s Cavern of those vile creatures, and when you did you thought it was a mistake. Think about what you did at Zora’s Domain. You got yourself eaten by that enormous fish god despite everyone’s threats and common sense, and when you did you thought it was a mistake. Death Mountain
“And look how those mistakes turned out. You saved the Gorons by giving them back their food supply, and you rescued the Zoras’ beloved princess by guiding her past those electric monsters. Now tell me, are they still mistakes?”
Amazingly, Link understood what Navi was trying to tell him. “You mean…it’s not a mistake if I find a way to correct it?”
Navi’s light started flickering gently. “I see you still have your senses. Does that mean you understand your current mistake?’ ”
“Yes,” Link uttered with some conviction. “My mistake…isn’t really a mistake…unless I lose that race tomorrow.”
“…that I have to do all I can to correct that mistake…” Links abruptly stood up and erected his back, making sure he felt like he was dwarfing the tree behind him. “…and that means doing all I can to win that race tomorrow!”
“You got it!” Navi cried with joy before she calmed down and added, “And thank the Three Goddesses. I never thought you’d understand everything that quickly.”
Link made a face, but it didn’t last very long because the determination in his eyes had no room for childish attitudes. He glanced up at the sky, watching the dismal gray clouds float away upon a dying wind trying to find life in a dying world. But he didn’t concern himself with those clouds or the state of Hyrule. Right now, his eyes had one goal in sight, and that goal was to beat Ingo and win whatever horse he had his eye on.
And he just so happened to have one very special horse in mind…
“Come on, Navi, let’s go,” Link said as he started walking away from the tree in the direction of the distant farmhouse.
“Where are we going?” Navi asked as she started to trail beside him. Trail beside him for the first time in seven years.
Link flashed a devilish smile. “To help a couple of good friends of mine….”
Nightfall was sovereign over all when Link reached the ranch farmhouse. Everything was quiet; not even the evening insects wanted to fill the desolate farm with their mystical songs. Everything was still; even the wind took no interest in the ranch’s desperate need for some kind of life. It was as if the farm had soured with Ingo’s heart, and Link found that idea very believable.
Speaking of Ingo, he was most likely inside the farmhouse, sleeping. The man’s ego could be split into several pieces and one portion could most likely fill the emptiness the ranch had experienced since Ganondorf’s rule. Link clenched his fist when he recalled Ingo’s despicable treatment of Malon today. He hoped Ingo would choke on that pride of his in tomorrow’s race…
Like everything else, the stables offered no sounds to be heard. Hoping that wasn’t a bad omen of any kind, Link approached the stable door and pushed it in as gently as he could, hoping it wouldn’t create some unpleasant rasp with its hinges. To his relief, the door made absolutely no noise other than the disturbance of the air around it. Feeling lucky, Link stepped into the stables to find the friend he had “bonded” with all those years ago.
To Link’s amazement, he found Epona almost the instant he closed the stable door behind him. At the far end of the room, clothed in the gentle rays of a dying torch above her stall, Epona lay upon a bed of neatly laid straw. In the faint torchlight, she appeared as a timid forest animal with a primal instinct. She clearly noticed Link’s arrival, and while she appeared cautious of his presence she wasn’t about to run away from him.
When Link laid his eyes upon the fiery horse’s own eyes, he couldn’t help but smile. “There you are, girl,” he whispered to her as he started advancing towards her.
Almost immediately Epona snorted, prompting Link to halt his progress. The young mare obviously didn’t like the idea of someone she didn’t recognize approaching her, and Link guessed she would do everything she could to make sure he was aware of her dislike of his attempts to approach her. But the Hero of Time’s smile didn’t waver, because he knew exactly how to get the horse to accept him.
He reached for his pouch containing his two ocarinas, thought for a moment, and decided to use Saria’s fairy ocarina. Maintaining his grin, Link then lifted the instrument to his lips and started to play Malon’s song for the vigilant horse.
It didn’t take long for the song to affect Epona; a few notes into the song, the tense mare jerked her head into the air and twitched her ears in tiny semicircles, as if making sure her hearing wasn’t lying to her. Epona then relaxed her anxious muscles and lowered her head, giving a longer yet much gentler grunt, a grunt that signaled it was all right to approach her. In fact, Epona’s Song eased the horse so much her eyes hinted that Epona was close to falling asleep!
Knowing that the last thing he wanted was for Epona to fall asleep, Link stopped playing the song after one sequence and loomed towards the horse, trying his best not to do anything to startle her. But Epona didn’t seem to even flinch at Link’s advances, even when the Hero of Time stood directly over her. The sleepiness in her eyes had left, thankfully, replaced by a serene sentiment that indicated Epona was somehow…glad to see Link.
Making sure his smile never left him, Link reached out and gently touched Epona’s face with his right hand. Epona didn’t even cringe; in fact, she seemed to demand that Link touch her! Finding that Epona accepted his hand, he decided to see what would happen if he stroked her. When he did, Epona sniffed at him, but not in warning but in thanks.
Link found Epona’s reaction welcoming and confusing at the same time. He was glad Epona welcomed him so, but he wanted to know why.
“You’re a strange one, aren’t you?” he whispered to the young mare. “I met you only once before and yet you already treat me like I’m Malon. I know you can’t talk to me, but I’d just like to know why you trust me like this…”
“She just does, Link.”
Link allowed his smile to fade slightly. “But I’d still like to know why, Navi…”
The pink fairy suddenly quivered in front of his face. “Link, I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t? Then who…?”
Link did as Navi instructed…and nearly jumped back when he saw the familiar shape of the Lon Lon Ranch farm girl standing in the shadows a short distance away.
“Malon…” he stammered, trying to find the right words to say after what had happened earlier today. “Wha…what are…?”
“Please don’t say anything,” Malon pleaded as she stepped closer into the faint torchlight, displaying her tear-painted face. She was still wearing her daytime clothing, meaning she hadn’t even gotten into bed yet. Had she been lying awake and just now decided to check up on the horses…or had she been waiting here all along…?
“Malon, I’m…I’m sorry I…”
“I said don’t talk, Link,” Malon asserted firmly, although with the same humbleness as before. “I want to say this before you speak, so please hear me out.” The farm girl then lowered her head but kept her eyes open. “I…I’m not angry with you for lying to me about who you were. I never was. And…I’m not mad you for the bet you made with Ingo, either. I didn’t approve of it in the least, but it wasn’t enough to make me angry. There was another reason why I was mad with you…mad enough to tell you off like that.”
Malon wilted her head down further. “I said those things to you…because I thought you had forgotten about me.”
When Malon uttered those words, they were enough to coax Link into breaking Malon’s plea for silence. “Forgot about…wha…?”
“Seven years ago,” Malon resumed, as if not hearing Link’s mutterings, “when we said our goodbyes, I only asked you for one thing: to never forget me. You gave your word, and I sincerely believed you. That promise stayed with me like this small stone around my neck; whenever I glanced at this necklace, that promise always resurfaced. Every time I looked at that stone, I always told myself you would one day return to this farm.
“Then Ganondorf came. When he conquered Hyrule and gave the ranch to Ingo, that promise faded away like my dreams. This necklace still reminded me of you, and to tell you the truth it actually once stopped me from taking my own life, but it no longer reminded me of your promise. I figured you had to survive just like me in this cruel world Ganondorf had created, so my hope for you to keep that promise was a selfish one that I eventually pushed into the far corners of my memory. All I needed was your memory to stay alive; that was it.”
Tears started to snake down her cheeks and her fists were starting to clench together tightly. “Then you showed up, claiming to be someone called Mido who wants to buy the best horse on the ranch. At first, I thought nothing of it, but when you revealed whom you really were, something inside of me snapped. Thoughts raced through my mind like a winter’s gale, including the promise you made never to forget me. And soon an idea formed in my head: you had forgotten about me.”
By now, Malon was so overwhelmed by her tears that she had difficulty standing up, so she decided to kneel in order to continue her story. “At the time, it all made sense. You had forgotten about me. You came to the ranch looking not for me, but for a horse, meaning an animal was more important to you than I was. You hid your identity from me so your precious time wouldn’t be wasted with my repulsive friendship. And you wanted to choose Epona so I could suffer through the rest of my pathetic life without my only remaining friend. I figured I was now nothing to you except a little girl you could use for your errands…by the Three Goddesses, I came close to actually hating you!”
Then, as if on cue, the pain in her face softened and her lips bared a faint, almost-invisible smile. “But then…after thinking about it a little more, I realized just how stupid I was to think of you like that. Your interest in my troubles, your hug last night in the barn, the way you stood up to Ingo…it all went against everything I had made you out to be. It was then I realized you hadn’t forgotten about me.”
Malon turned her head upwards to match her gaze with Link’s. “It was I…who had forgotten about you, forgotten about everything you had ever been to me and what you really mean to me. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m here: to ask for your forgiveness. Link…can you ever forgive me?”
Link remained motionless for a moment, unable to think of anything in response to Malon’s confession. He felt like an eternity had passed when he finally made a decision, and that decision was to stoop to Malon’s level…literally speaking, of course. Without rushing or dawdling, Link shuffled a little bit forward before he knelt down with the red-haired farm girl, just within arm’s length of her. It was there he decided to ask a question that had been on his mind for a long time now.
“I’ll…I’ll forgive you, Malon…if you answer just one simple question.”
“…What’s that?” Malon asked nervously.
Link took a deep breath before he uttered, “How…can I mean this much to you? The amount of time we’ve spent together pales in comparison to the amount of time you’ve probably spent with some of your other friends. And yet…you treat me like I’m one of the most important people in your life. I…I just don’t understand, Malon. How…can I possibly mean this much to you?”
Malon blinked in surprise, wiping several tears from her eyes with her long, silky eyelashes. She gawked at Link for a brief pause, as if suddenly unable to speak, before she suddenly started to…laugh? Well, it wasn’t necessarily a laugh more than it was a light chuckle. But either way, she somehow found Link’s question humorous…
Suddenly, without warning, Malon leaned forward and pushed her face directly in front of Link’s, smiling like a forest animal with secrets it refused to reveal. Link, incapable of reacting in time, simply remained immobile. Malon then slowly maneuvered her face around Link’s head until her mouth was directly next to his left ear, and she then whispered something that sank into Link’s mind like a fallen tree in deep mud:
“You just do.”
Then, without warning, Malon sprang forward and wrapped her arms around the boy in front of her. Link, caught off guard by Malon’s embrace, actually nearly choked because Malon was hugging him so tightly. It was only when she loosened her grip on him slightly that he had the breath to ask her something.
“Malon…why are you hugging me?”
“Because you forgave me.”
“But…but I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t need to, did you?”
That question caught Link off guard more than Malon’s hug. As hard as it was to believe, she was right. He didn’t need to say anything. By the Three Goddesses, this girl was something else!
“No,” he muttered, unable to stop himself from smiling. “No, I guess not.”
Link was somewhat surprised when Malon released him from her embrace almost immediately after he said that; her hugs usually lasted a lot longer. But he wasn’t in the mood to question unimportant differences like that. There was still one thing he wanted to know from her.
“Malon, you mentioned my forgiveness was one of the reasons you came here. Was there another one?”
A devious smile broke on Malon’s lips. “Why, yes! To help you learn how to ride Epona, of course!”
Link nearly jumped up with sudden realization. He had completely forgotten about his race with Ingo tomorrow! How could he disregard something that important the moment a beautiful yet wacky red-haired girl walked into the room?
“You…you’re really going to help me?” was all that Link managed to say in response.
Malon placed her hands on her hips, as if offended by Link’s lack of faith. “Of course I am, silly! Did you really think I’d let you learn how to ride Epona all by yourself just because of a little misunderstanding between us? You can’t get rid of me that easily! You’ve already taken the first step, but the second step does require a little practice. But I have confidence in you, and I’m sure Epona does as well.”
Malon then stood up, keeping her eyes fully trained at Link the entire time, and widened her smile before holding out her right hand, palm up. “So how about it? Are you ready to learn how to ride a horse?”
Link knew there was nothing else he could do. If he didn’t take her hand, she would pester him until he did. If he tried standing up by himself, she would force him back down so she could help him up herself. Shaking his head in mild defeat, Link reached out with his left arm and grabbed Malon’s hand, squeezing it gently. Malon surprisingly squeezed gently as well before using her farm girl strength to lift the Hero of Time to his feet.
The moment that Link stood his full height, something unexpectedly burst into his mind…something he and Malon had said all those years ago. Without even thinking about it, he realized now was the best time to get it off his chest.
He locked eyes with the red-haired girl, took a deep breath, and uttered, “Malon, once this is over, I’m…I’m going tell you what I’ve kept from you. You told me seven years ago you’d hope I’d find something in you to trust you with my secrets. Well, I think I’ve found more than enough. Tomorrow, whether I win or lose, you’ll find out exactly who I am. Is that all right with you?”
Malon seemed to blush in the faint torchlight as she replied, “Perfectly all right. In fact, it sounds wonderful…Fairy Boy.”
It felt so warm, Malon’s hand…
The morning of the day that could forever change Link’s life was unexpectedly cool with gentle breezes blowing in from every direction. But Link didn’t complain in the least; the gusts helped minimize the appearance of the sweat on his brow.
He stood at the very spot he and Ingo had quarreled yesterday, his eyes watching the horizon where the farmhouse lay. He was trembling slightly out of worry and uneasiness, but he stood tall and proud, prepared to face whatever consequences came him way. At Malon’s request, he had removed all of his belongings so he didn’t weigh Epona down as much; the horse could withstand the extra weight, but today’s event was a test of speed, not strength.
Speaking of Malon, the farm girl was right by his side, also staring in the direction of the farmhouse. Her trembling suggested she was just as nervous as Link, if not more so, but she refused to let it show on her face. To dampen her quivering a little she started fiddling with her fingers, and when that failed she fingered the stone on her necklace. And when that failed she resorted to actually speaking to the boy next to her.
“Ingo will come here on his horse, Jova. He wants to poke as much fun as you as possible before the actual race, so what better way to humiliate you than to make his appearance on horseback when you can’t even ride a horse?”
Link didn’t turn to face Malon, but instead cracked a tiny smile on his lips. “I guess he would. But we both know better, don’t we?”
Malon released a soft yet audible chuckle. “Yes, I suppose we do. But still, are you sure you feel ready to ride Epona?”
Link widened the smirk on his lips a little. “With your help, how can I not be ready?”
“That wasn’t my question. I asked you if you’re sure you feel ready, not if you are ready.”
Link’s smile faded. “Gee, Malon, you sure know how to analyze your questions and their answers, don’t you?”
“One of the peeves of being a farm girl, I guess,” Malon sighed, giving Link a brief side-glance before turning her gaze back to the distant horizon. “But seriously, I’m just asking you because it’s one thing to say that you’re ready and another thing to feel ready. It can mean the difference between a successful ride and a quick trip to the ground…or, in your case, your prize and your freedom.”
As much as Malon’s words sounded too idealistic, Link understood what she was saying. “When you put it that way, I guess…actually, I know I feel ready. Thanks to your help, as well as Epona’s, I’m confident I can do this.”
Malon turned her head downwards. “Good, I’m glad,” Malon uttered.
But regardless of those words, Link knew that Malon was anything but glad. And he could probably guess why she wasn’t as happy as she claimed to be. If Link won this race, it would be a no-brainer to figure out which horse Link would choose as his prize. And despite Malon saying she would love Link to take Epona, he couldn’t help but wonder if she really meant it. Besides, she had been talking to “Mido,” not Link, at that time.
After what happened yesterday, did she still want Link to take Epona away from her?
Twisting his gaze in Malon’s direction, Link started, “Malon, let me ask you something. What will you…?”
“So, there you are!”
The piercing hoarseness of Ingo’s voice caused both Link and Malon to turn their attention to the direction of the farmhouse. Sure enough, they saw the regal and important-looking figure of Ingo heading straight towards them, seated upon the back of a powerful-looking horse.
Malon had told Link a little about Ingo’s specially bred racehorse, Jojo, but description couldn’t do this horse justice. The beast stood slightly taller than Epona and its hair was tinted a light yet rich brown save for its mane, which boasted a much darker shade of its hair color. Every limb the animal possessed rippled with muscle and its enormous head rose high above the man who dared to challenge its master.
Ingo was dressed in his extravagant clothing from yesterday, so Link couldn’t help but make a face at the man’s showiness. Luckily, Ingo didn’t notice and simply moved his prized racehorse closer and closer to the pair of Link and Malon until he turned Jojo around in such a way that the ranch owner could survey the two of them clearly.
“You’re just waiting here so you can admit defeat, is that it?” Ingo sneered, his eyes locked on the Hero of Time. “I’ll understand if you’ll forfeit the race because of your inability to handle a horse. Of course, that means you’ll starting working here immediately, and…”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?”
Link’s question caused Ingo to jerk his head back in surprise before he grew red with anger. “What did you just say to me, you little brat?”
Link, leering at Ingo as he leaned against the fence of the pen with his arms folded, answered, “It doesn’t matter what I just said. All that matters is that I’m not forfeiting the race. I’m not backing out of this for your amusement. You wanted this race, so I’m going to give you one. Fair enough?”
Ingo was still heated about Link’s mocking question, but he managed to hold back enough anger to reply, “Yes…more than fair. So I take it you have a chosen horse?”
“Oh, yes, I have. In fact, it’s waiting at the beginning of the course even as we speak.”
That remark made Ingo straighten his neck with interest. “Already waiting for you at the start of the course, eh? I didn’t know you already knew where the course was laid out…”
“That was my doing, Lord Ingo,” Malon gently interjected as she stepped forward. “I decided to show him the course beforehand so there would be no time wasted the morning of the race.”
Ingo eyed Malon suspiciously before he finally uttered, “You did, did you? Well, at least you’re good for something.” The ranch owner then returned his gaze to Link. “All right, then. Since you think you’re ready, we might as well get started. You know where the starting point is, so I’ll meet you there.”
Without another word, Ingo used his reins to guide Jojo around before giving the horse a brutal slap on the back. Jojo reared slightly into the air before trotting off quite hastily in the direction of the race’s starting point. Link and Malon simply stood and watched as the cruel man disappeared over the nearby horizon.
When she was certain Ingo was gone, Malon turned her attention to Link, who was still smirking in Ingo’s direction. “Link, are you sure it was a good idea to mock him like that?”
Link’s sneer quietly faded as he replied, “I really don’t know. Maybe I thought making him mad would break his concentration, or maybe I just didn’t think at all.”
Malon placed her hands on her hips and sighed with a shake of her head. “Tell me, Fairy Boy, do you always act impulsively like this?”
Link shook his head as well, more at himself than at Malon. “All the time, Malon. All the time.”
The sun had completely risen over the horizon by the time Link and Malon arrived at the starting point of the race. As he had promised, Ingo was waiting for them, his baneful eyes keeping an impatient close watch on the two adolescents. Jojo seemed just as eager as Ingo to start the race, as his body twitched in every conceivable manner. It was pretty obvious that Jojo was a powerful horse whose life completely revolved around racing; Link just hoped his own choice of a horse would be enough.
Speaking of which, Epona was standing in the exact spot Link and Malon had left her earlier. Link had suggested tying Epona down to something, but Malon had discarded the idea; Epona would never abandon her friends like that. The young mare wasn’t as fervent to race as Jojo was, but she did show off something that Jojo lacked: confidence. Whereas Jojo showed off, Epona limbered up; while Jojo crowed, Epona prepared.
Two different horses, two different strategies. One of these horses’ riders will win the race today, Link knew. The other will wish the bet had never been made…
“So you finally decided to show up!” Ingo abruptly hollered at Link. “Get on your horse now before I decide to make you race me without a horse!”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” Link assured dryly at the irritated ranch owner before he turned to Malon. “Well, this is it. Let’s see if last night’s efforts pay off.”
“Don’t worry, I have complete confidence in you and Epona,” Malon declared with a gentle smile. “By the way, what question did you want to ask me before Ingo interrupted us back there?”
Link curled up one side of his mouth. “I’ll ask you after the race,” he replied after a slight hesitation.
Malon rolled her eyes. “Still determined on keeping your secrets from me until the very end, huh?”
Link jokingly nodded. “You could say that. Anyway, here I go.”
Link then turned and started heading for Epona so the race could start and Ingo could just shut up. But as he was about to take his first step, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder that halted his advance. He didn’t have to turn around to know it was Malon’s hand.
“There’s one more thing I should tell you before you start the race,” the farm girl’s gentle voice uttered.
“Oh? And what’s that?” Link inquired curiously.
Malon didn’t answer straight away, but instead leaned her face forward until it was right beside Link’s head. She also happened to snake both her arms over Link’s shoulders and clasp them together against his chest. She then whispered into Link’s ear, “If all else fails, talk to her. That is all she needs.”
Before Link could ask what those words meant, Malon nestled her cheek against Link’s and gently placed a kiss there. Link’s face immediately grew red and his voice couldn’t find anything to say, so Malon had the opportunity to ask him, “Do you understand?”
Link nodded yes in response, even though he really didn’t. Malon widened her smile.
“Good!” she abruptly yelled in a giggly voice before throwing herself a step behind Link, her arms waving wildly in the air. Then, in an unexpected move, faster than Link could react, Malon used her arms to shove him gently yet firmly in the direction of Epona. As the Hero of Time stumbled a bit, searching for his balance, Malon added in the same cheerful tone, “Now go and win yourself a horse race, Fairy Boy!”
Deciding not to look back at her and therefore provoke anything else, Link simply made his way to his horse. His blush had disappeared with Malon’s push, and his posture was straight as can be in order to show Ingo Link was ready for the challenge. But even so, Link couldn’t help but scratch his head as he wondered, “Am I just not meant to understand her, or am I just that pathetic…?”
He was glad he didn’t ask that question out loud because he knew which answer the fairy under his hat would’ve given him…
“So you know the course?” Ingo asked Link impatiently as the Hero of Time climbed into the saddle on Epona’s back.
The question sounded more like a statement, but Link answered it anyway. “I do.”
Ingo waited until Link had Epona’s reins firmly in hand before he continued, “Then I take it you’re ready to race.”
Link gave Ingo a condescending side-glance. “I’m ready to do more than that, like, say, win this race.”
Ingo’s moustache twitched with agitation. “Big words for a boy who doesn’t even know how to ride a horse. I take it you spend all of last night learning how to actually get on the horse?”
Ingo added a harsh chuckle to his question, but Link wasn’t fazed in the least by Ingo’s intimidations. Instead he simply concentrated on making sure he felt as comfortable as possible, as well as ensuring Epona also felt relaxed. A tense horse was more likely not to obey its rider in high-pressure situations, he recalled; he just hoped Malon’s advice came through for him.
After all, like she said, today’s race would mean the difference between his prize and his freedom…
Link patted Epona gently on the side of her neck before he uttered loudly, “Okay, Ingo, let’s cut the unnecessary garbage. I’m ready to race, and if you are, let’s get started before I lose my patience.”
Ingo’s eye twitched with excitement. “Finally, you said something sensible,” he hissed in a mocking tone. “But I’m going to make sure you eat those words after I win this race.”
“Not if I make you eat them first,” Link thought.
Almost instantly, the air around the farm fell silent, as if the entire world stopped what it was doing to watch the horse race between the two opponents. The wind died down to a breathless trickle and every natural sound imaginable vanished. The resulting stillness was so deafening that Link swore he could hear it scream at him. Everything movable in sight, from the swaying dry grass to the decaying clouds, stopped their progressions, causing the scenery to morph into an eerie, lifeless painting.
Although Link tried to remain calm, he could already feel the sweat drain down his forehead and underneath his clothing. His jaws clamped together as if in dire need of each other, and his grip clasped the reins as if they were the greatest treasure in all of Hyrule. Link’s anxiety also rubbed off a little on Epona, who was scraping one of her feet restlessly against the dead pasture.
If only the race would begin…
Without warning, Ingo’s coarse voice broke the silence. The penetration was instantaneous, but it shattered everything. It came so fast that Link thought it was some unknown creature howling because it had caught its prey. When he finally realized what it was, Ingo had already started moving forward on the back of Jojo, gaining a momentary lead in the race.
Sweat now emptying down his face like blood from an open wound, Link instinctively did what Malon had taught him to do: he gave the reins a solid whipping and called out as loud as he could, “Hyaaaaa!”
The effect was immediate, but Link could see every action, as if played out for him in slow motion. The moment the reins lashed against the horse’s neck, Epona’s muscles rippled with untold supplies of energy. As soon as Link cried out, her ears shuddered in a semi-circle and back again. She had been signaled to move forward, and using the recently released energy she pushed herself forward with an abrupt yet smooth thrust.
Epona’s start to the race was nothing short of perfect, exactly the way he needed it to be.
Had Link not felt the saddle beneath him, he would’ve at first thought he was flying. But that effect immediately vanished the moment Epona’s front hooves landed on the ground with a thud. And yet as quickly as it was destroyed, it was also rebuilt; Epona seemed to touch the ground for only a split second each time before soaring once again like a flying squirrel on a temperate wind.
With each step Epona took, her speed escalated and her stride grew longer. Within a matter of moments, Epona had reached a pace fast enough to force her white mane in waving in one direction, the direction opposite of the one Epona was traveling. As he held on for dear life, Link tried his best to look for Ingo, but the wind in his eyes forced him to squint and thus limit his range of vision to just beyond Epona’s head.
After what felt like an eternity but probably really amounted to half a minute, Link decided to take a chance and expose his eyes to the piercing blows of the wind in his face. Taking a deep breath and making sure his hold on Epona’s reins was secure, Link forced his eyelids open…and almost immediately he saw Ingo. The ranch owner and his racehorse had already gained quite a lead thanks to Link’s hesitation at the start. But thankfully, closing in on that lead wasn’t a lost cause. He had faith in Epona; she could catch up!
“Let’s do it!” Link screamed in his mind before giving the reins another ship across Epona’s neck, signaling he needed more speed. The horse willingly complied with an abrupt yet effortless burst of power, driving Epona forward.
By now, Link had forgotten about the stinging sensation in his eyes caused by the wind; all he thought about now was the race and how he needed to close the distance between him and Ingo. Several times Ingo had turned his head and looked behind him, undoubtedly to see where Link was in relation to him; every time Ingo seemed to snarl, turn his head back around, and whip Jojo on the rear austerely with his hand. Apparently Ingo wasn’t pleased Link had managed to keep up with him thus far and was trying to widen the gap between him and his competitor.
Link, however, wasn’t going to give him that privilege.
As Link urged Epona to close the distance her and Jojo, the first bend in the course suddenly appeared. Link suddenly shifted all his attention from closing the gap to making the turn; one wrong move, he knew, and Ingo’s lead would increase up to twofold. There had been a reason Malon made him practice turning at high speeds for over three hours last night…
Marked by nothing more than a dirty clump of dried berry bushes, the first turn was probably one of the tamer bends in the race. Still, Link had to make the left turn perfectly; he didn’t want to give Ingo the satisfaction of an increased lead. Speaking of Ingo, Link watched as Ingo hit the corner first. It was probably due to Jojo’s life-long training as a racehorse that Ingo made a flawless turn around the bushes. Link also thought he saw Ingo give Link a mocking side-glance as he finished making the turn.
“Get ready, Ingo!” Link thought devilishly as he tightened his grip on his reins. “I’ve got a surprise for you!”
Immediately after thinking that, the first turn presented itself. Link watched the bend anxiously, waiting for the right moment…and then yanked the reins in the appropriate direction with all his might. Epona responded by turning her head where Link wanted her to see, bringing her entire body with her. The angle Link had chosen forced Epona to turn in such a way that her speed wasn’t entirely compromised. She did slow down, but only marginally. When Epona faced the intended direction, Link returned the reins to their proper place, allowing Epona to move forward again at regular speed.
The turn was almost seamless; Link couldn’t remember making a better turn during his practice runs last night. Ingo obviously thought Link’s turn was pretty good as well, for the ranch owner didn’t look too pleased. That was exactly what Link wanted.
“Come on, Epona!” Link’s mind cried out as he begged the horse for another burst of speed with the reins. “We can do this! I believe in you!”
Link didn’t know why, but when Epona unexpected gave him a brief side-glance he thought he could hear her say, “I believe in you, too…”
From then on, the race was a tight one. Ingo still managed to keep his lead, but Link refused to allow the gap to widen further. With each bend, each one sharper than the last, Link proved to Ingo he was more than a worthy challenger by refusing to get left behind in Ingo’s dust. And with each stretch between bends, Link made it clear that Epona was more than a match for Jojo’s speed by closing in with each step she took.
Ingo, once merely irritated with Link’s uncanny ability to complement his own abilities, now grew restless and infuriated. Every time he looked back and saw Link’s smirking face, he cursed under his breath and slapped Jojo’s rear to make his horse go faster. Link simply responded by giving Epona’s reins another lashing, and the mare managed to match the opposing stallion’s pace effortlessly.
The race dragged on seemingly forever, but Link hardly cared. He had managed to decrease the distance between Epona and Jojo considerably; Ingo was so close that he could see the man’s moustache twitch with fury. The man was so close Link could hear his muttered curses as if they were screamed in Link’s face.
Link knew it was now or never. Right after the next bend, he was going for it.
Both riders perfected the next corner immaculately, and the moment Epona faced the right direction, Link made his move. He lifted his legs a little before digging them as hard as he could into Epona’s sides. Epona knew what this signal meant; it was the signal for her to push herself to her fastest speed as long as she could hold out. She eagerly complied, filling her muscles with raw strength.
Almost immediately Epona showed just how powerful she was. With her efficient and thundering stride, she forced herself forward, gaining a position directly next to Jojo before, to Ingo’s surprise and rage, gaining the lead! Ingo’s lips cried out every curse it could think of, but Link ignored them and simply looked back at the irate ranch owner, leering as best he could.
“How about that, Ingo?” he taunted in his mind. “I’m winning! I’m winning! Who’s bragging now? Not you! Ha, ha, ha! I’m winning! I’m winning! I’m…hey, wait a min…oh, no! No!”
Link quickly turned his attention back to the race…and promptly realized the mistake he had made. He had forgotten about the shortest stretch of the race, the stretch where the sharpest corner of all lay at the end. He had forgotten Malon’s advice not to use Epona’s raw power during this stretch because it was far too short and making the end turn too fast could be dangerous.
To Link’s horror, he could already see the corner approaching, and he didn’t have time to slow Epona down enough to make the turn safely.
“No! This can’t be happening! No!”
But it was. Before he could react, Epona charged past the corner at neck-breaking speeds. In a panic, Link threw the reins in a random direction, forcing Epona to change her course. Link then realized too late that the direction in which he had pointed Epona was too sharp. His body caked with sweat, he could only watch and wait for Epona to lose her balance and unwillingly throw him to the ground.
Miraculously, Epona somehow didn’t lose her balance, although she did stumble while trying to turn around. When Link didn’t see the ground rushing toward his face, he started to feel relieved. But that was until he realized that in order to maintain her stability, Epona was slowing down, almost to the point where Link was sure he could walk faster than her!
“No! Don’t do this to me! Not now! Please, I beg of you!”
Without thinking, Link whipped the reins as hard as he could in order to get Epona back up to speed. But his efforts seemed to do nothing except give Epona unnecessary lashings. It was only when Epona faced the intended direction that she finally responded; she leapt forward and started running again as if nothing had happened. But this time, Link could feel a difference in her movements. Instead of smooth and flowing, it felt rough and uneven. The unexpected turn at that sharp corner had destroyed her rhythm, and Link could only imagine how long it would take for her to get it back.
In the meantime, the damage of Link’s foolishness was done. Ingo had taken advantage of Epona’s stumbling and had pulled ahead again, this time gaining a much bigger lead than before. In desperation, Link kicked in Epona’s sides to coax her raw energy again, but to his dismay Epona refused to use it. For whatever reason, tiredness or stubbornness, the mare wouldn’t give Link the privilege of the trick that had helped him to pull ahead.
It was then that Link remembered one other thing. After the sharpest corner of the track lay one more corner and the final stretch, the stretch to the finish line. And thanks to his stupidity, he was going to lose; there was no way Epona could catch up now.
“By the Three Goddesses, what did I ever do to deserve this?” he bawled, already feeling tears of fear and desperation streaming down his face. “Now I must suffer at the hands of this man for the rest of my life! Some Hero of Time I turned out to be! I’ve failed! I’ve failed! I’ve…”
…fails, talk to her. That is all she needs.
Malon’s words before the race ran through his mind so suddenly and so clearly that he could’ve sworn Malon had spoken them to him right there and then. But he wisely spent no time thinking about whether or not she was nearby and instead thought about the meaning of the words.
“Talk to her…talk to her…does she mean talk to Epona? I’m not sure about it…but hey, I’m not the one who knows all there is to know about horses! But what can I say to her? What can I say that’ll help me? What!”
It didn’t take him long to figure something out. “Epona!” he called out as loudly as he could. “I’m sorry for that last corner! I know I should’ve been concentrating more on the race and not on taunting Ingo, which is why we’re losing right now. But I know that if you hadn’t done what you did back there, losing this race would’ve been the least of our problems. You’re the one who has carried me this far, and I know you can take me all the way. So please, all I ask of you is to help me win this race. If you help me, I’ll help you. I have faith in you, Epona. I know you can do it. Will you help me?”
After saying that short speech, Link realized how cheesy it really was. Did Epona really listen to it? Was it all she really needed to win this race…?
Suddenly, Link felt it. He didn’t have to look down to realize what was going on; he just felt it. Epona’s stride had found its rhythm again, the one she had maintained throughout the race until that last bend. He could even feel her muscles replenishing and her movements growing more and more graceful. Within a matter of seconds, Epona had come the horse that had made that spectacular push at the race’s beginning.
“You…you’re listening to me, aren’t you?”
Epona didn’t make any noise in response, but Link could almost swear she was somehow telling him, “Yes, I am. Now that I’ve kept my end of the bargain, you keep yours. Show me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
As Link wiped away the remaining tears on his face, he smiled. “You got it. Let’s do this.”
With Epona back to her regular self, Link gave the reins another whipping. Epona responded by increasing her speed, like she had done before. Link’s spirits were immediately lifted; he had complete confidence in this horse and her capabilities. She would help him win the race…or die trying.
Results of Epona’s astounding stimulation emerged immediately. Already Epona was closing in on Ingo and Jojo, who had almost disappeared over the horizon thanks to Link’s slipup. But now they were close enough that Link could make out Ingo’s face, and when the ranch owner looked back and saw how much Epona had caught up to Jojo, he had more surprise than anger in his eyes.
The last turn of the race wasn’t the sharpest corner of the race, but it did have one thing the other corners didn’t: a mud patch surrounding it. Malon had told Link last night that Ingo had made that spot of land a part of the race course so he was guaranteed winning. Thanks to underground springs, the mud patch always remained damp, making the ground slippery and very dangerous. Only a well-trained horse could make the corner at high speeds, and Jojo was just such a horse. Of course, all horses had to slow down in some way or another, but Jojo had to decelerate only slightly.
Malon had made Link practice that area quite a bit last night so they could find the fastest speed Epona could take the corner without losing stability. Link knew Epona’s capable pace at that corner, but with the finish line approaching he knew it wouldn’t be enough. He realized he had to take a huge gamble, all or nothing. But unlike that sharp corner behind him, he wasn’t going to do it without permission.
“Epona,” Link cried out, “I’m going to have to ask you for a favor! The upcoming corner is where we used to slow down so we could get past it, but right now that would almost guarantee us losing the race. I want to take the corner at full speed! It’s incredibly risky, and there’s a chance we could both get hurt. But it’s the only chance we have and I feel we must take it. Will you do it? Will you take the risk?”
Again, Link didn’t need to hear any sound from Epona to know that she agreed wholeheartedly with his request.
“Thank you…my friend,” Link uttered gently. “Then let’s go for it.”
Ingo, meanwhile, getting more and more irritated that Link was closing in behind him, snarled and cursed with every step Jojo took. He had never lost a horserace in his life and he wasn’t about to lose one to a little brat who had the nerve to mock him. He will make that boy pay, thanks to the upcoming and final corner of the race. No one except Jojo can make this turn at neck-braking speeds, he knew; Mido would either have to slow down to make it safely or go in fast and crash. Either way, Ingo would pull ahead and cross the finish line, winning the race and thus his challenger’s life.
And boy, did Ingo have ideas for Mido after he had that boy’s life in his hands…
The corner was in sight. The mud looked especially slippery today, meaning Ingo was virtually guaranteed a gain in his lead. But he knew he had to slow Jojo down just a little bit, because even Jojo had a limit. But Ingo had trained his horse well; Jojo could take the bend at speeds another racehorse considered its maximum pace!
“You’re mine, boy!” Ingo thought gleefully in his mind. “You’re all mine!”
Moments before Jojo’s hooves found the mud, Ingo pulled the horse’s reins back to slow Jojo down to the correct speed. Jojo attained the proper speed moments before the loud, nauseating sounds of squeezed mud echoed under his feet. But the sounds didn’t last too long, as it didn’t take long for the racehorse to make it out of the deadly corner with Ingo smiling evilly. He had done that corner so many times he could complete it with his eyes closed.
Now the race was securely his.
“Ha! I’ve won, boy! I’ve won! You belong to me! Your life is mine to control! When I get my hands on you, I’m going to make sure you wished you never came to this farm! Just wait and see what I have in store for you!”
Ingo was in such a good mood that he decided to run the last leg of the race at the speed he had used to leave the final corner. To make his victory all the more sweet, he looked behind him to see how his challenger was doing. To his complete delight, Mido was entering the bend at full speed, a lot faster than Jojo had taken it. Ingo had no idea how a plain horse like the one Mido was riding could match Jojo’s pace, but it didn’t matter. Mido’s horse will slip, both horse and rider will tumble out of control, and the race was out of Mido’s hands forever.
“I’ve won, boy!” Ingo cried, raising his right hand into the air to shout his triumph. “I’ve won! I’ve won! I’ve…what the…? No! It’s not possible!”
But it was. To Ingo’s complete disbelief, Mido’s horse wasn’t slipping! The horse was taking the corner as if it were running on solid ground! Of course, the flying mud and sickening squelching sounds showed otherwise, but that still didn’t deter Ingo from the fact that Mido’s horse was actually taking the corner at an impossible speed.
“Slip!” Ingo demanded, his face growing red more out of fear than anger. “Slip, you stupid animal, slip! You can’t do this! Slip!”
But his cries were too late. Mido’s horse had already left the muddy bend the moment Ingo started shouting for it to slip. When Ingo realized his adversary’s horse wasn’t going to skid and was heading straight for him at a blazing pace, Ingo turned his attention back to his own horse.
“Move!” he ordered Jojo with several harsh slaps on the horse’s rear. “Faster, you dim-witted beast, faster! Come on, go! Go! Faster! Go! Go! Go!”
Ingo’s motivations forced the horse to go slightly faster, but his efforts were all in vain. A matter of seconds after witnessing the incredible feat of his opponent, Ingo looked to his left and saw Mido and his horse riding right next to him, the boy’s eyes partially facing ahead of him and partially facing Ingo.
Ingo, his tight face growing white with panic, made an attempt to say something but couldn’t find anything to say.
Mido, however, did have something to say…
“Sorry I wasn’t able to eat my words!”
Link’s brief taunt was just that: brief. After his mess-up back at that sharp corner, he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Epona had done something incredible for him, and he wasn’t going to waste this opportunity given to him. After jeering at Ingo with that quick statement, he returned his attention to the race, the one he was going to win.
By now, the finish line was in sight. Marked by two wooden pegs placed side by side, the two horses and their riders would reach the finish line within half a minute if they kept their current pace. Link, however, wanted Ingo to feel his pride destroyed so he could feel the pain he had given Malon and her horses for the past seven years.
“Epona, this is my final request for this race! I want you to run as fast as you can to that finish line! Will you do it for me…no, will you do it for Malon?”
Epona gave Link her silent yet understandable approval.
“Then here we go!”
Without another word, Link sank his heels into Epona’s sides as hard as he could. Immediately thereafter, Epona opened her strength to its full potential and soared forward like a wild wind in a thunderstorm…maybe even faster! But whatever speed she ended up with, it was fast enough to leave a dazed Ingo on his treasured racehorse gaping in Epona’s dust.
“Yes, Epona…you’re doing great…yes, we’re almost there…almost there…go for it…go for it…we’re almost there…come on, nearly there…come one, Epona…we’re nearly there…we’re…we’re…!”
Link never thought crossing a finish line on a horse would create some kind of sound, but that’s exactly what happened. The moment Epona’s feet made it past the two wooden stakes, everything went dead still, as if sound suddenly ceased to exist. Like the beginning of the race, motion turned into slow motion. Emotions bombarded Link’s heart all at once, but they were all the emotions he had hoped to experience: joy, delight, relief, amazement, excitement, and others he couldn’t begin to identify. Basically, there was only one way to describe him at that very moment.
His lips straining to keep the enormous smile on his face, Link pulled back Epona’s reins and brought the horse to a screeching yet gentle stop. The moment Epona stopped trotting forward and stood still, Link felt compelled to wrap his arms around the horse’s neck and cuddle his face against her magnificent mane.
“Epona…!” he exclaimed as blissfully as he could. “We did it! We actually did it! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I cannot say this enough, but thank you! By the Three Goddesses, thank you…!”
Link snapped his head back in amazement, thinking that Epona was actually speaking to him. But he quickly recognized the voice and realized it wasn’t Epona’s. He lifted his head and turned to his right, and sure enough, he saw Malon, running straight for him and Epona while waving uncontrollably. Powerless to hold back his enthusiasm, Link waved back as hard as he could with one arm.
“Maloooon!” Link cried back. “We did it! Epona and I won! We won!”
Malon didn’t yell anything in response; instead she continued running as fast as she could, her red dress flailing behind her. Link, unable to stay on Epona’s back any longer, released the horse’s neck, jumped down to the ground, and waited for Malon to reach him. The farm girl arrived at the spot where Link and Epona stood within a matter of seconds, and it was evident she wanted to hug Link for his incredible accomplishment.
Link welcomed the embrace with open arms, and when the farm girl collided with the Hero of Time they both clasped each other tightly. Link, his cheerfulness uncontrollable, lifted Malon partially off the ground and started to swing her around in circles. Malon, also incapable of controlling her delight, accepted Link’s gesture with gleeful giggling. Link responded by laughing as loud as he could.
Link spun around Malon for only a few moments, but that was all it took for them to feel satisfied. When he was finished, he gently placed the farm girl back on the ground; oddly enough, neither Link or Malon made a move to release the other from their embrace. But since they were too thrilled to really notice, they just talked anyway.
“Link, you did it! I knew you could do it!”
“Yes, we did!” Link replied, unable to bring himself into taking full credit for his victory. “Epona was marvelous. You were right; talking to her was all she needed. I’ve never seen anything like it! I don’t know how it happened, but it did! Epona just responded as if she were a person. It’s incredible! How did it happen?”
“Why question why something happened,” Malon uttered teasingly, “when it just happened? You don’t really need to know, now do you? You won the race, and that’s all you need to be concerned about.”
“I guess you’re right,” Link admitted. “But let me just say…I couldn’t have won the race without your help, Malon. You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome…Fairy Boy.”
It was then that Link realized just how close Malon was to him. He tried not to blush, but he failed in the attempt. Even though he was glad his friend was happy for him, he couldn’t help but wonder about Malon’s behavior. Even though he accepted her answer to his question last night – “You just do” – he still wasn’t satisfied. He had to know why Malon acted the way she did around him.
Maybe he shouldn’t have asked how he could mean that much to her. Maybe he should’ve asked her why…
Both Malon and Link turned around with a jerk, and sure enough it was Ingo. Link hadn’t even noticed the man’s arrival after crossing the finish line, but it was easy to tell that Ingo wasn’t in a good mood. He was standing a short distance away from his horse and an even shorter distance away from the Malon and Link, his face red with rage and his arms crossed against his chest.
“Malon! Get over here now!” the ranch owner demanded, using his face to indicate where he wanted the girl to stand.
Link quickly returned his glance to Malon. “Malon, don’t go. You don’t have to…Malon, wait!”
But it was too late. Before Link had a chance to say anything more, Malon released Link and started towards her master. Link tried calling her back, but his pleas didn’t register with her. She simply moved forward until she was standing directly in front of the infuriated Lord Ingo. There, she lowered her head and spoke as calmly as she could.
“Yes, Lord Ingo?”
“You taught that boy how to race a horse last night, didn’t you? Answer me! Now!”
Malon answered with a timid nod of the head.
“Then do you realize that you’re the reason I’m going to lose one of my prized horses to that good-for-nothing brat? You’re the reason I have to hand over one of my best animals without getting anything in return! You have no idea how angry I am with you, you little wench! I’m going to make sure you pay for this for years to come! You’ll wish you had never seen that boy in your life by the time I’m through with you! Do you understand me? Do you?”
Malon remained quiet for a moment, but then her sagging fingers suddenly curled up into fists and she muttered something under her breath. Ingo, not in the mood for games, screamed, “What did you just say to me? Speak!”
Malon lifted her head so her now tear-filled eyes were level with Ingo’s sour face. The conviction in her voice echoed loudly as she stated compellingly, “I said, ‘I’m not the reason you have to give away one of the horses.’ You are!”
Ingo nearly went berserk when he heard Malon say that. “I’m…what? How dare you talk back to me, you little whore! How dare you…!”
“Shut up!” Malon interjected as forcefully as she could, leaning forward to emphasis her message. “Listen to yourself! Listen to what garbage you’re trying to pass off as the truth! You’re just a cruel, heartless bastard, and I’m sick of you blaming me for all of your problems! I hate you for everything you’ve ever done to this farm! You don’t deserve to own these horses! You don’t deserve to own this ranch! You don’t even deserve to be a hired hand! My father should’ve gotten rid of you a long time ago! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you…!”
Without warning, Ingo slapped Malon with the back of his hand hard enough to silence the girl’s painful lecture. The blow wasn’t hard enough to knock her to the ground, but it probably would’ve been better if Malon had fallen because Ingo, overflowing with uncontrollable rage, rushed straight for Malon, grabbed the farm girl by the shoulders, and forced her to the ground.
Malon landed on her back with a loud crash, and Ingo didn’t waste any time pinning her to the ground with his legs around her waist. He stared at his innocent-looking victim with ire for a seemingly long moment before he finally raised his hands and started striking her face as hard as he could. Each blow was harder and more brutal that the last, and every time he hit her he said a single, harsh word to accompany it.
“You…little witch…I’ll teach you…to talk back to me…like that…I’ll make you wish…you had never been born…I’ll kill you right here…and now for making a fool…out of me…I’ll…what the…?”
Ingo’s arm had been grabbed, preventing him from giving Malon another blow. He looked up…and saw Link standing over him and Malon, his eyes tight and his teeth grinding. Almost anyone who saw Link’s face would’ve trembled in fear. But Ingo wasn’t scared in the least by the boy’s presence.
“Let go of me, you little brat! If you don’t release me, I’ll…”
Had Ingo anticipated that Link would actually hit him, he would’ve prepared for it. But since Ingo hadn’t foreseen it, he felt victim to Link’s fist as it collided with Ingo’s face and sent the man flying a short distance away from his female quarry. As Ingo landed, Link gave Malon a quick glance before stepping over her and walking towards the cruel ranch owner.
Ingo had never been struck down by anyone before, so the anger he had felt towards Malon was nothing compared to the anger he felt towards Link. Moments after landing on the ground, he immediately forced himself to stand back up. When he was fully erect again, he stared at the Hero of Time with the look of a wild man in his eyes.
“You…little twerp!” Ingo hollered. I’ll…make you pay for that!”
Link didn’t say anything in reply; he merely continued marching towards the man without a single word.
“I’ll get you for that!” Ingo promised as he suddenly made a charge for Link, his fists ready to do as much damage as they could, even kill…
Another blow from Link sent Ingo flying again. The second blow was harder than the first one, and it landed squarely in Ingo’s mouth. Juices from his mouth flew in every direction as Ingo sailed through the air like stone, landing with a crack on the rocky ground. Link, for whatever reason, kept his bad-tempered face and again advanced towards Ingo.
Ingo again struggled to get up immediately after landing, but he first had to cough into his hand to clear his throat before he could do anything else. When he looked at his hand, he saw puddles of blood forming in his palm. Link’s second blow was making his mouth bleed.
“You…you little…you…” Ingo bellowed breathlessly. “You hurt me! I’m going to…”
“I will not allow you to do this any longer,” Link abruptly uttered monotonously.
For the first time, Ingo jerked his head back in surprise, more because of what Link had said than the fact that Link had actually spoken. “Wha…what…?”
Before Ingo could continue, Link raised his right leg and, without warning or indication, landed a solid kick on Link’s lower jaw with his boot. The blow was so powerful that Ingo flew into the air almost as high as his horse’s back. Blood and saliva spattered from his mouth like drifting rain, and the loud groan from Ingo’s mouth hardly described the pain he was experiencing.
After landing on the ground a short distance away, Ingo tried again to get back up, but discovered he couldn’t move. He could feel pain surge through his swollen face, pain that was draining all of his strength. He even discovered he couldn’t move his jaw; Link’s last blow had practically sealed his mouth shut! It didn’t take long for Ingo’s anger to be replaced by genuine fear…
…and that fear was realized when Ingo looked up and saw the familiar boy he knew as Mido hovering over his aching body. The boy looked like a completely different person; instead of the strong-minded and determined person that had confronted Ingo yesterday, he was now an emotionless and cold boy with absolutely no remorse in his eyes.
Link stared banefully at the man before him for a moment before he uttered in the same droning tone, “I will not allow you…to hurt Malon anymore. Do you hear me?”
Link’s next blow was aimed at Ingo’s side, and it hit the target dead on. This blow didn’t send Ingo flying like before, but it did cause Ingo to roll over a couple of times before stopping on his back with his bloated face staring at the sky. His first response when he ceased moving was not to try and stand up but to release a soft yet pain-filled moan.
By now, any remaining strength in Ingo was gone, leaving him a helpless target for Link’s anger. Link seized upon the opportunity by standing over the beaten man and then sitting down on Ingo’s stomach, wrapping his legs around the ranch owner’s waist like Ingo had done to Malon. Ingo made no move to stop Link or beg for mercy; he simply laid still, his distended eyes staring blankly at his opponent.
Link also made no move for a brief hesitation, taking the time to scrutinize the man who had dared beat Malon in front of him. Then, his face looking as livid as ever, Link raised his both his hands, clenched them both into fists as densely as he could, and started striking Ingo’s face as hard as he could.
“I’ll teach you to hurt my friend like that, you bastard!” he cried in a fuming tone. “You’ll never lay another hand on her! You hear me, you cold-blooded monster? You’ll never lay another hand on her! I’ll personally make sure of that!”
Link continued striking Ingo’s face with all of his might before he abruptly stopped and reached for Ingo’s throat, wrapping his fingers around his neck as tightly as his strength would allow. Link then started to rock Ingo’s neck up and down, backing the man’s head against the ground with all of his might. When he saw he wasn’t doing enough damage, Link simply picked up the pace.
“You hear me?” Link screamed. “I will not allow you to hurt her! I will not allow it! I will not allow it! I will not allow it! I will not allow it! I will not allow it! I will not…!”
When Link heard his name called out by that familiar voice, something inside of him shattered. His hands instantly stopped shaking Ingo’s neck and his face snapped around to look behind him. It was Malon, bruised and battered but otherwise all right. But although she was all right, when Link saw her delicate figure of symbolic innocence he felt his heart go numb. Flashbacks of his past suddenly rushed into his immediate memory.
What he saw nearly made him scream with defeat.
“No…it’s happening again! I’ve lost my senses…I’ve gone insane! No, this can’t be happening! Not here, not now! Not in front of Malon…!” He kept his gaze affixed on Malon for a second longer before he looked back at Ingo, who looked ready to invite death to take him away. “I…I could’ve killed him! I nearly killed…a person! Not a monster…a person! I nearly killed him! If…if I had my sword with me, I probably would’ve…no, this can’t be happening! Why…? Why did it have to happen again…right here…right now…? No…”
But the biggest shock came when Link forced himself to look at the man he had just beaten. Ingo’s face was just beyond unrecognizable, thanks to dozens upon dozens of black and blue marks and areas of swelling around his lips and eyes. However, the most alarming marks on his face were…burn marks! How could there be burn marks on Ingo’s…?
Link quickly glanced at his hands, and was just in time to watch light yet noticeable trails of smoke linger from his fingertips. His heart skipping a beat, Link quickly drew his fingers close to his nose and took a whiff of the odor. It didn’t take him long for him to recognize the familiar scent of something he had used during his last fit. He didn’t know how it had manifested without his permission, but the smell on his hands didn’t lie.
The smell…of Din’s Fire…
The emotional rush inside of him was enough to cause him to faint…no, not this time. He wasn’t going to faint this time. He wasn’t going to faint in front of Malon. He’d rather do something else to release all of these surging sentiments…
…which is exactly what he did.
Right there, while still sitting on Ingo’s motionless body, Link cried his eyes out, his wails lost to the incoming winds…
“…and that’s the whole story.”
It had taken Link the rest of the day for him to tell Malon his tale. He had started from the very beginning, from the moment Navi came into his life to when Sheik said he had to get a horse before his quest could continue. He had told her everything he could, from the Spiritual Stones to the Sacred Realm, from Princess Zelda to Princess Ruto, from Gohma to Ganondorf. He even went into great detail as to how he was supposedly the Hero of Time chosen by the Master Sword, how he had uncontrollable lapses of insanity, and how he could unexplainably use magic.
By the time he was finished, the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon and several brightly burning candles supplied the only light source in the farmhouse. The air tasted muggy and stale, and the darkness outside of the candle’s touch felt thick enough to choke on. The overall atmosphere wasn’t exactly pleasant, but thankfully Malon didn’t try to make it even more uncomfortable.
Although the bruises on her face had swollen her lips slightly, she didn’t hesitate to speak after Link had finished. She leaned in her seat so she could get a better look in the faint light at the boy in front of her and uttered, “So…if you’re a Kokiri, a dweller of the forest that cannot age, why are you standing here as the Hero of Time, fully grown?”
Link shifted uncomfortably in his own chair, but he answered calmly, “I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to that ever since I saw my reflection in that pool. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a single reason why I was chosen as the Hero of Time. You’d think the Master Sword would’ve chosen a Hylian, someone born of the land that the Triforce guarded, to be the Hero of Time. But instead it chose me…and stole seven years of my life just so it could have its own way.”
Malon nodded gently, obviously sincerely listening to what Link was trying to tell her. She leaned back in her chair again and said, “I understand, really I do. But I suppose to fully understand I would’ve had to walk in your shoes. How exactly do you feel about all this? Angry? Bitter? Indifferent? Maybe…content?”
It didn’t take Link long to think up an answer. “I feel…isolated, alone. This responsibility was placed solely on my shoulders, and even though Navi is with me she doesn’t have to be here with me. Even Sheik, who said he is going to help me, says he can only do so when it’s convenient for him. I feel so helpless…as if I’m presented with two different choices and each one is just as bad as the other. I never wanted this to happen to me…and yet it did. Am I being punished…or am I being tested? Either way…I just want to go home.”
As Link finished his answer, he burned his face in his hands and slouched his back forward as far as he could. “I just want to leave this world behind…leave it all behind and return to the world I knew…the world where I felt at ease…at peace. If I had the power to make the decision over again…I would’ve never set foot outside the Lost Woods.”
The possible reactions Malon could’ve given to such a statement were endless, but Link was prepared to live with the consequences. He had been cheated seven years of his life, and he had the right to say how he felt. Besides, Malon wanted to know his secrets, and this was just about as confidential as it could get.
As he sat there, his face hidden from view, he prepared for the worst response Malon could give him. Instead, he felt soft fingertips stroke his hands and gently pull his fingers away from his face. When he could see again, he saw Malon kneeling before him, her somewhat bloated lips smiling as best they could.
“I don’t blame you,” she whispered tenderly. “If I were you, I’d probably think the same thoughts you are thinking right now. Life can be very cruel, sometimes far crueler than Ingo could ever be. But we have to take life as it is, because if we don’t, then what do we have?”
Although Link wasn’t in the mood for philosophical simplicities, he had to agree with Malon. “I…I guess I see what you’re saying. But…but it’s been almost two days since I’ve ‘awoken’ and I’m still trying to come to terms with this. So forgive me if I’m still a little skeptical about accepting my fate.”
Malon nodded weakly. “I understand.”
Deciding to move the conversation in a different direction, Link thought for a moment before asking, “So, uh…what are you going to do with Ingo?”
Malon pursed her lips. Ingo was upstairs in his bed, still unconscious thanks to Link’s insanity fit. They had brought him back to the farmhouse because, while he wasn’t the most likable person in the world, he was still a person in need of care.
“What I’m planning,” Malon started before sighing deeply, “is nursing him back to health, I guess. However, thanks to you I have found the confidence to stand up to him. I can now take control of the ranch again and care for the horses the way they were meant to be. And while Ingo regains his strength, I’ll show him how to be someone worthy of working at this ranch…someone like my father.”
Link scratched his head. “Are you sure that’s wise? Do you think you can actually change Ingo from the man he is now that easily?”
“He’s in no state to do any harm right now. And beside, I think his pride has been hurt too much for him to be the man he is now.”
“Well, I hope you’re right, because when tomorrow comes I won’t be around to help you if he turns on you again.”
The following silence was enough to make the choking darkness seem nourishing. Link and Malon tried not to look at each other for a few moments before Malon finally murmured, “By the way, Link, what was that question you were going to ask me earlier today before Ingo interrupted us?”
Link nearly coughed; he had completely forgotten about it. But now was a good a time as any…
“The question was…what would you have thought if I had lost the race with Ingo? Would you have been sad for me because I lost my freedom, or would you have been happy because you finally had someone to be your friend for the rest of your life?”
Malon hesitated to answer, but then she chuckled slightly and answered, “Ask me in the present tense and I’ll answer.”
Link chuckled back; he knew he couldn’t ask the question in such a way anymore.
That night, Link and Malon slept in the living room, seated sitting up in their chairs. Link slept with his hat in his lap and his hands clasped together. At his side were the Master Sword and his shield, ready to be taken up again for the morrow’s journey. Malon slept with one hand draped over the side of the chair and the other in her lap, holding an open book face up. Link had been the first to fall asleep, so Malon had acquired a book to read in the candlelight until she, too, fell asleep.
Underneath Link’s cap, Navi smiled. “Well, well, well, Link. I must say, you sure know how to handle things, even without my help. And I must also say…I’m very proud to be your fairy.”
“So are you all ready for the journey?”
Morning had broken, and Malon was helping Link prepare for his brief ride to
. Most of the important stuff had been taken care of, including readying the horse for travel and attaching necessary items like horseshoes, reins, and the saddle. All that remained were provisions, and Malon had those in abundance – four sacks worth of food, to be exact. Link asked her if that was overdoing it; Malon merely replied there was no such thing as overdoing it. Kakariko Village
Of course, Link knew better than to argue with Malon’s bizarre logic and waited until he had loaded the provisions in his saddlebag before he answered Malon’s question.
“I’m just about ready to leave,” he replied before turning around to face the farm girl. “The only thing that’s left is the goodbyes.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Malon uttered with a smile, but it was obvious the smile covered up what she was really feeling.
Link quickly recognized this and decided to make a proposal. “Malon…would you like to come with me?”
Malon’s eyes expanded in gentle astonishment. “Go…with you?”
“Yes. You’ll be a lot safer in
, and I’m sure I’ll be visiting that place quite often. So would you like to come with me?” Kakariko Village
Malon wavered in answering Link’s proposal for about a minute, but when she made up her mind her face showed she was confident and undoubtedly sure of her decision. “Thanks for the offer, but…I’m afraid I can’t. If I leave, there’ll be no one to take care of the horses; Ingo fired all the hired hands long ago. I’m the only one who can take care of them properly now. And besides, there’s Ingo…”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right with that man?”
Malon nodded. “Trust me. I’ll make sure I’ll be all right.”
Link nodded back. “Okay, then. Then I guess this is where we part. Goodbye, Malon.”
“Goodbye, Fairy Boy.”
The two of them then reached for and wrapped their arms around in a farewell embrace. It was one of the few times Link felt comfortable giving Malon a hug, mainly because the hug was nothing more than a parting gesture. They released each other fairly quickly after first embracing each other, and they didn’t say another word to each other as Link turned around and prepared to mount his horse.
As he mounted, however, Malon did head over to the horse’s face and gave it a few gentle strokes with her hand. “Goodbye, Epona. You take good care of Link for me, okay? I’m so proud of you, and I know you’ll be the best horse Link could ever hope for.”
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to take Epona now that you’re back in charge of the farm?” Link asked from Epona’s back. “I can always choose another horse…”
“Oh, no!” Malon protested. “I can’t possibly do that. Only the best horse will do for the Hero of Time. And besides, now you’ll have another friend to keep you company, maybe to help you get over your feeling of isolation.”
Any protest that Link may have considered to counter Malon’s answer disappeared. He smiled as best he could at the farm girl, making sure he memorized her face as much as he could. The swelling from yesterday’s beating were all but gone now, so Malon was again the radiant girl he had always known…only older, of course. He had no idea how long it would be until he returned to the ranch – he had made that promise to himself last night – so he wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget her.
“Thank you, Malon, for everything you’ve done for me.”
“And thank you, Link, for all you’ve given back to me.”
Link smiled, gave one final nod of goodbye, and then turned his attention to Epona, who was patiently waiting for her new master and friend. Link gave the reins a whip, a much gentler one than the ones he used in the race, and called out, “Let’s go, Epona! Hyaaaaa!”
Epona’s response wasn’t as immediate or intense as the one in the race, but it was effective, nevertheless. The mare cried out one time, as if saying goodbye to her lifelong friend Malon, before vaulting forward, carrying Link towards the distant horizon, towards Kakariko Village. While her pace wasn’t the fastest Epona had ever run, it was still fast enough to allow her and her rider to disappear from sight within a matter of minutes.
As she watched them leave, Malon felt compelled to sing her song again. She didn’t sing as loudly as she had when Link had asked her to sing; instead she merely mumbled them under her breath. But the words she was singing were meant for Epona than anyone else. As the words resonated within her mind, words she had written in an ancient language so only she and Epona would know their meaning, their translated meaning stood out in her mind more than anything else:
Epona, Epona, growing up with me
When I’m with you, I can’t be lonely
Therefore, Epona, you are here
Growing up safely
I started to think it was cold
At the dawn of that day
The moon had sunk, and with the sun
You were born
Epona, Epona, growing up with me
When I’m with you, I can’t be sad
Therefore, Epona, you are here
Listening to my song
I started to think it was cold
Right at that time
For your sake
I’m making this song
When I’m with you, I can’t be sad
Never ever forget this song
As the song died away on her lips, Malon recalled a passage she had read last night from her diary, the diary she had kept in her younger days until Ingo had taken over the farm. She didn’t know why, but the passage just seemed to stand out at that moment:
When I said goodbye to Link today, at first I felt sad that one of my friends was leaving me. It was the kind of sadness I always felt when one of my friends left the farm to go home. But I also felt something else today, something a lot more than sadness. I don’t know what it was, but it felt as if I had said goodbye to someone more than a friend. Like maybe my daddy.
Ever since Link came into my life, I felt something for him, something I cannot explain. Maybe when I’m older, I’ll find out what it is, but right now I feel very confused. I don’t know Link that well, and yet saying goodbye to him was one of the hardest things for me to do. My mom once told me that sometimes the Three Goddesses send people to be our guardian angels. Maybe Link is my guardian angel, and that’s why I’m so sad to see him go.
But whoever he is, I can’t wait to see him again. Maybe by then, I’ll figure out who he is and why I feel this way about him…
When Malon wrote those words seven years ago, she had been only eleven. But after reading that passage last night, Malon could see the maturity within those words, and looking back Malon remembered how she had acted around Link: more like a teen than a child. There was something about Link, something she really couldn’t explain. Being a farm girl gave her plenty of time to think, plenty of time to ponder life’s mysteries and quirks. And yet, not even seven years worth of thinking could explain why she was so drawn to him, why he meant that much to her…
“You just do.”
She knew her answer to his question two nights ago didn’t satisfy him, and truthfully, it didn’t satisfy her either. She wanted to know, she wanted to find out…but not now. Maybe when this was all over. For now, all she had were memories. But that was all she really needed.
Grinning from ear to ear, Malon looked in the direction Link and Epona had disappeared and whispered, “See you soon…Angel Boy.”
The moment that escaped her lips, she felt like kicking herself for how lame that sounded…
While riding across the plains of Hyrule at a leisurely pace was certainly refreshing – a horse race at a neck-braking pace was certainly the antithesis of such an experience – all Link could do was think. And all he thought about was the last few days he had spent as an “adult.” He thought about his awakening, about Rauru, about Sheik, and about Malon. While it had only been about four or five days, these last few days had been some of the hardest he endured his entire life.
And yet, while his Kokiri upbringing said he shouldn’t accept it as natural, for some reason he did. Why was that? Did the Master Sword force him to grow so he could become a Hero of Time? Or was there more to him that he originally thought? Did any of this explain why he never had a fairy to begin with? Or was he just trying to find justification for possibly the biggest mistake he had ever made?
There had been one question Link had asked Navi two days ago after her brief lecture over supposed mistakes. The question had been out of curiosity, but now he wondered if it deserved a little more attention and consideration:
“Navi, do you think…that pulling out the Master Sword is a mistake I can never fix…or do I have a chance to make sure it doesn’t become one?”
Navi never answered that question. But by the Three Goddesses, he wished he had an answer!
But according to Rauru, the one who had raised him would reveal everything…or at least explain what was going on with him aging. So all Link had to do now was get to
as quickly as he could, meet up with Sheik, and then head for the Lost Woods and find the answers he desperately wanted. Kakariko Village
As the sun reached its peak, Link was thinking of only one thing by then. He was glad he had saved Malon from Ingo’s brutality, but now there was only one person on his mind.
“Saria…I’m coming, Saria…”