“Another piece of junk.”
Link snarled in disgust as he threw the sword in his hand to his right, ignoring the loud clang it made when it struck the pile of discarded blades he had already created. His temper growing shorter with each passing moment, Link picked up another sword sitting in a smaller pile to his left, hoping this sword would satisfy him.
“Do bandits always use such cheap garbage?” he growled as he tossed the sword into the discarded pile with a violent jerk, almost throwing himself off the rock he was sitting upon. “Doesn’t anyone use a decent sword anymore?”
A quick glance at the remaining blades in the pile to his left didn’t give him much hope that he’d find a suitable piece of steel there. Sighing in frustration, he buried his face in his hands for a second before he rolled his hands over his head, running his fingers through his hair. He then wiped some sleep from his eyes before looking upward. The sky was mostly hidden by the canopy of the forest that surrounded him, but the patches of light peaking through the branches indicated the sun had finally come out after a long period of rainstorms.
Shaking his head, Link stood up and stretched his arms out to correct his back. “Well…no point in staying here anymore…”
—You’re leaving already?—
The abrupt arrival of the Voice didn’t surprise Link anymore, so he simply nodded as he replied, “Yes, I am. None of those bloody bandits had a sword worth anything.”
—Hmmm…but what you’re really saying is that you can’t find a blade that equals the Master Sword—
A shiver ran down Link’s spine when he heard that. “Well…what if I am? That was a very good sword, you know…”
—Yes, I know. It was a work of art. A blade fit for the gods themselves. If only wielding it didn’t mean you have to be the Hero of Time…—
A grimace escaped Link’s lips. “Don’t remind me…”
—But don’t worry. You’ll find a sword worthy of your talents one day. In any case, where are you going now?—
The Voice’s question forced Link to think for a few moments. “You know…I don’t know. Maybe I should ponder that for a while before setting out.”
—A good idea. However, before I leave, I suggest you not forget your precious hookshot—
“My hookshot…?” Link said aloud before he understood. Nodding again, he turned his attention to a large oak tree a stone’s throw away from the rock near where he was standing. “Guess I’d better retrieve it…”
Without another word, Link calmly made his way towards the tree, where his hookshot’s arrowhead was embedded firmly inside the trunk. Grinning, Link grabbed the firing mechanism’s handle and placed his hand over the trigger to release the arrowhead’s catch-hooks. But before he pressed the trigger, Link first reached out with his other hand to steady the shoulder and thus the corpse of the bandit punctured by the hookshot through the heart and pinned to the tree because of it.
“You know,” Link coolly uttered to the bloody carcass, looking into the man’s blank and lifeless eyes, “you look just like a farmer I met about two weeks ago. Now what was his name again…Jaro, that’s it. May I call you Jaro? I can? Thanks. Now, if you don’t mind, Jaro, I’d really like my hookshot back if you don’t mind.”
Link then sneered as he used the trigger to retract the catch-hooks and yanked the weapon from the chest of the bandit with a sickening squelch. Blood began dripping from the freshly made hole in the corpse as the body began to slide down the tree trunk, the bandit still silently staring off into nothingness with a look of horror on his face.
“Thank you kindly, Jaro,” Link continued. “I must say, you’re a lot braver than your friends. They simply dropped their weapons and ran off…and all because I nailed you to a tree. Pathetic, isn’t it…?”
Link suddenly caught sight of a purse dangling from the bandit’s belt. His grin widening, Link bent down and removed the pouch, giving it a firm rattle. The jingling of crystals inside indicated it was full of rupees.
“Oh, and thanks for this parting gift. I hope I’ll see you again sometime, Jaro…oh, wait, that’s right. That’s not possible, is it? Pity. Oh, well. Goodbye, Jaro.”
Link mockingly waved farewell to the carcass before turning around and heading deeper into the trees. Killing ordinary townsfolk was needless and served no purpose, he knew…but Link had absolutely no qualms in killing bandits.
Something he took a lot of delight in knowing…
He found Epona where he had left her: in a clearing with spotty patches of live grass. Link had decided not to tether Epona this time because she deserved to roam around a little bit every now and then. Besides, it’s not like she was going to run away. Why would she run away from him…?
Before Link took even two steps into the clearing, Epona twisted her long neck around and saw her master. With an excited bray she galloped in his direction, slowing down only just as she approached him. Because she approached him and not vice versa, Link didn’t have time to experience the flashback of the night he left Kakariko Village; instead he was forced to focus on Epona as she gently thrust her long face in Link’s stomach, snorting playfully.
“Hey, girl,” Link sighed, placing his hands on Epona’s snout and caressing it gently with his palms. “How are you doing?”
Epona released a high-pitched squeal and shook her mane wildly in response, her dark eyes gazing faithfully at her master. The cute gesture couldn’t help but make Link smile a little.
“That’s good to know. Listen…I don’t know where we’ll be going yet, so you still have some time to run around, all right?”
Epona’s head tilted a little bit to the side, as if she were saying “What, you don’t know?” The look alone compelled Link to answer Epona’s unanswered question.
“Yeah, I know. I’ll give it some thought, and when I know, I’ll let you know…hey, Epona, what are you…?”
Without warning, Epona pointed her snout downward and started using her teeth to scratch around on Link’s belt. Link had to raise his arms to give Epona’s head some space, and it was only when her nose stopped on one of his pouches did he do something.
“Epona, what are you doing?” he asked in a surprised tone, gently pushing Epona’s face away from his belt. “What was that all about?”
The mare took a couple steps back as Link pushed her away, and when Link asked his second question Epona used her snout to gesture in a manner that suggested, “Take a look! Take a look!”
Wondering what Epona was going on about, Link shrugged and opened the pouch the horse had indicated. When he opened it, his eyes grew wide with remembrance. To his surprise, Epona had pointed out the pouch containing his ocarinas.
“I can’t believe I forgot about these things…” Link mumbled to himself as he reached in and fished out a random ocarina.
The ocarina he ended up pulling out was the fairy ocarina, the one Saria had given to him just before he left the Lost Woods seven years ago. Now that he was all grown up, the small ocarina looked quite tiny in his hands. He was sure he could still play it, but it would require some nimble finger work…but then again, why should he play it again? This was a gift from Saria, the girl he loved with all his heart…the girl who abandoned him to fulfill her so-called destiny.
Why, he had a good mind to simply throw this blasted thing away…
But he didn’t. Something inside of him wouldn’t allow him to do that. The ocarina may have reminded him of Saria, but it also reminded him more of his happier years with her than her betrayal in the Chamber of Sages. She may have forsaken him, but she couldn’t take away the memories he truly cherished…
Sighing softly, Link replaced the fairy ocarina inside his pouch, pulling out the second ocarina inside, the one he did want to get rid of.
The Ocarina of Time.
This instrument represented everything he hated about his stint as the Hero of Time, as well as everything else that stole his life away. Princess Zelda gave this to him for safekeeping while fleeing Ganondorf, and he had upheld that obligation ever since that fateful night. But that was when he actually cared about what she wanted him to do. Now he knew that she had used him, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was the one pulling Sheik’s strings.
He should’ve gotten rid of this thing when he threw down the Master Sword. But since that opportunity was gone, maybe he should just break it…
A soft snort reminded Link of Epona. He looked up at her to see her fidgeting a little, as if waiting impatiently for Link to realize something.
“What? You wanted me to see these things?”
Epona grunted loudly and bobbed her head as if nodding.
Link’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not suggesting I go back to Sheik and give him this damned thing, are you?”
This time Epona shook her head wildly, indicating she was disagreeing with that suggestion.
“Hmm, then why would you want to show these things to me…?”
Link thought about it carefully for a moment. Epona wanted Link to see the ocarinas, not necessarily one of them specifically. So maybe it had nothing to do with the ocarinas themselves, but with what they did…which was play music. And Link knew more than enough songs to play on them: Saria’s Song; Zelda’s Lullaby, Epona’s Song…
Wait a minute…
Link glanced up at the mare, who almost seemed to be smiling at him. “You…you want me to go back to Lon Lon Ranch, is that it? You want to see Malon again?”
Epona stamped her front hoofs vigorously in response, capping it off with a squealing bray.
Link glanced down at the Ocarina of Time briefly before looking back at Epona, who couldn’t mask the eagerness in her eyes. It had been a while since Malon gave Epona to him, and Epona undoubtedly missed Malon at least a little bit. He hadn’t been to the ranch ever since saving her from Ingo, and he couldn’t help but admit he was a little curious as to how things were going there now that Talon had returned. He did remember overhearing those farmers briefly mentioning Lon Lon Ranch returning to normal, but still…
“Hmmm, what was it that Malon said when she gave me Epona?” Link asked himself.
…now you’ll have another friend to keep you company, maybe to help you get over your feeling of isolation.
A half-smile curled up on Link’s lips. Epona had been good to him, hadn’t she? She always loyally took him to where he needed to go and never asked for anything in return. She had done a fine job in transporting Link across Hyrule so he could complete Sheik’s errands, but ever since he cast away his title as the Hero of Time she had become more than that.
Everyone around him whom he thought he trusted – Sheik, Navi, Saria, Darunia – they all either lied to him or abandoned him. But not Epona…she stayed with him. She may just be a horse, but whenever Link was around her he felt more at ease, more at peace than when he was away from her. Even the Voice couldn’t match the level of comfort Epona gave him. The Voice was merely his guide, but Epona…Epona was his friend…
It only took a few minutes of thinking before Link finally nodded in agreement. “All right, Epona. We can visit Malon, if you’d like.”
Upon hearing those words, Epona head bounced up and down excitedly and she reared back onto her hind legs wildly in glee. Her enthusiasm was so fierce that Link was forced to intervene.
“Woah, woah, girl. Calm down,” he demanded, making a grasp for her reins.
Epona eventually did calm down, but only after a little bit of coaxing from Link. The Hylian breathed a sigh of relief when Epona finally did relax, and he patted her snout with his hand in an attempt to keep her relaxed.
“We won’t go just yet. I’d first like a bite to eat. But once I’ve finished eating, we’ll head out for Lon Lon Ranch, okay?”
Epona snorted once, which Link took as an agreement.
“Great,” Link nodded. He patted Epona’s snout for a bit longer before he made his way for the saddle packs where he kept his provisions. He opened one of the packs and pulled out several pieces of fruit. But before he had a chance to bite into one of them, he heard a familiar voice inside his head.
—Might I ask what you’re doing?—
“Hmmm? What do you mean?” Link asked the Voice.
—I’m referring to you going to Lon Lon Ranch. Why in the name of the Three Goddesses would you want to go there?—
One of Link’s eyebrows raised in confusion. “Excuse me? Is there a reason not to go there?”
—But, of course! That girl Malon is part of the old life you were forced to live in. And as I recall, you gave up everything tied to that old life of yours—
“That may be true,” Link agreed while taking a bite from an apple, “but Malon has done nothing to me. She helped me out when I was injured and gave me one of the few moments of happiness I had during my journey. She’s nothing like Sheik…”
—Maybe she’s done nothing to you yet, but she has the potential to do something to you should you see her again—
Link first forced himself to swallow the piece of apple in his mouth before thinking, “What are you talking about?”
—Think about it. After you set her free from Ingo, you told her everything about yourself, including that you were the Hero of Time. I’m willing to bet that once she learns you no longer chose to be the Hero of Time, she’ll try to force you back into that ridiculous role—
Link frowned deeply upon hearing that. “You don’t know that for certain, do you?”
—Admittedly, I don’t…but I’m trying to warn you of the potential danger of visiting her. Do you really want to take that chance?—
Link didn’t even need to think to come up with an answer. “Yes, I do.”
—Then I’ll tell you right now that you’re making a big mistake. You do this and she will be all over you. She will do what Sheik tried to do…—
“Will you shut up?” Link yelled forcefully in his mind. “I’m going to see her and that’s that. I know she won’t betray me. And even if she does, then all I have to do is leave the ranch and never return. Simple as that.”
“No buts! This is my decision, and you should know better than to try to change my mind. I’m going, and that’s final. Understand?”
A brief silence filled Link’s thoughts, but Link could swear he felt the Voice holding something back in anger…
—You’re right…it’s your decision. You can go wherever you please—
A victorious sneer crept on Link’s face. “Now that’s more like it…”
“Dad, it looks like a storm’s rolling in.”
Talon looked up from the bundle of hay he was tying up and turned to face his daughter Malon, who was standing a stone’s throw away from him and pointing at the sky in the distance. He followed the direction of her finger and, just as she said, saw storm clouds beginning to creep from the horizon towards the farm. A look of worry growing on his face, Talon stood up and stretched to get the cricks out of his back.
“Another storm, eh? And so soon after the last one…” he sighed loudly. “Still, nothing we can do about it. We have to get everything ready. You know what to do, Malon.”
“I sure do,” the farm girl said almost with a giggle. “Get the horses inside and fill their troughs with water, right?”
“You’ve done it too many times for me to confirm it, you silly girl,” Talon grinned at his daughter. “Just go do it before the thunder scares the horses.”
Malon nodded and hurried off in the direction of the horse barn, wanting to get the doors open before bringing the horses inside. It was a little bit difficult running wearing her work clothes – she never found pants at all comfortable – but she forced her legs to move at fast as they could. A sudden gust of wind nearly blew her straw hat off her head, but her fast reflexes were enough to prevent her from losing it.
She reached the barn in record time, taking only a second to catch her breath. A confident smile on her face, Malon pretended to spit into her gloved hands – she couldn’t bring herself to really spit – rubbed her palms together, and grabbed the handle to the massive sliding door.
“Right, here we go…” she muttered to herself before she started pulling with all her strength.
The door creaked and groaned loudly before finally moving along the railing, and before long Malon had opened the door enough for two horses to enter the barn comfortably. Taking a deep breath and releasing it quickly in celebration of her accomplishment, Malon used her arm to brush some drops of sweat from her forehead.
“Wonderful,” she beamed to herself. “Now to get the horses inside and…say, what’s that?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Malon saw something on the horizon heading towards the ranch. At first all she could see was a small speck approaching across the fields, but as it got loser she saw a more recognizable shape. Still, she did wait until it was close enough before she felt confident to turn around and yell at the top of her lungs:
“Dad! Come quickly! Someone’s coming!”
She heard her dad’s response a second later across the wind: “I’ll be right there!”
With that out of the way, Malon focused her complete attention on the approaching figure in the distance. She already knew that the person heading towards them was someone riding a horse, so that tempted the question of who it could be. Horses were a high commodity in this day and age, and the ranch had only started selling them again recently, their few customers mostly consisting of members of the resistance movement. So could this be someone from the resistance coming to purchase more horses? Or was it a previous client who had recently heard about Talon’s return…?
“Wait a second…is that what I think it is…?”
Malon tried blinking several times to make sure she wasn’t seeing things, but after doing that she couldn’t deny at what she was looking. The horse by now was close enough for Malon to make out the creature’s color, and the sunlight clearly showed that color to be a fiery red. It wasn’t an uncommon color for a horse, but there was one red horse in particular that Malon knew, and if this really was that horse…
Just then, she saw the green cap…
“By the Three Goddesses…” she whispered as she felt her heart skip a beat. “It’s him…!”
Her deduction was only confirmed when she saw the now-familiar shape of Link raise a hand and wave in her direction. He was now close enough that she could see his gaze looking directly at her and a smile on his face. Malon’s beart beat instantly increased and her face grew almost as flushed as the color of Epona’s hide, and yet somehow she found the motivation to raise her hand to wave back.
“Link!” she called out jubilantly. “Is that really you?”
She didn’t receive an answer until Link pulled up right next to her and brought Epona to a complete stop. He looked down at her into her eyes, which were peering almost shyly from beneath the rim of her straw hat, and smiled warmly before replying, “It’s really me. How are you, Malon?”
Before Malon had a chance to answer, she heard some heavy footsteps behind her that could only belong to her father. “So what’s going on here? Who’s visiting us at this time…?” The ranch owner paused as he stood beside his daughter, his eyes fixed on the green-clad rider before Malon. “By Din’s Fire…it’s Link!”
Link grinned at the chubby man and nodded. “That’s right. Nice to see you as well, Talon. How are things since you got back?”
Still a little flabbergasted, Talon tried to make up for his astonishment by talking as fast as he could. “How are things? Things are fantastic…they’ve been absolutely fantastic…you won’t believe how happy I am since you saved Malon…I can’t thank you enough for what you did…everything’s back up and running…business is slow but that’s to be expected…I’m having a wonderful time and Malon is happy…”
“Woah, dad, slow down,” Malon giggled, placing a hand on her hyper father’s shoulder, causing Talon to fall silent immediately. “Let’s not run him out after he just got here.” She then looked back at Link, a timid smile on her lips. “So, Link…what brings you to Lon Lon Ranch?”
“I just came for a visit,” Link answered. “It seems Epona wanted to see you again, so I figured I might as well come along for the ride.”
Malon shifted her gaze towards Epona. “She did, did she?” A girlish giggle on her lips, Malon walked up to Epona and hugged the mare’s face. “She’s such a little baby, getting homesick like that. I take it she’s been good to you?”
Link patted Epona’s mane a couple times on the neck. “Absolutely. She’s been a great horse…and an even greater friend, haven’t you, girl? I…Malon, is something wrong?”
Link’s question came just as he noticed Malon’s eyes unexpectedly widen, as if she had noticed something. When she heard Link ask the question, Malon quickly shook her head and widened her smile. “Oh, no, it’s nothing. I’m just happy to see her again. Thanks for bringing her back, even if it is just for a visit.”
A puzzled look entered Link’s eyes. “Is…everything okay? Did I arrive at a bad time or something?”
“Oh, everything just fine,” Malon assured. “It’s just that you arrived just as we were readying for the approaching storm. We’ve got a lot of work to do before the rain hits, unfortunately.”
“Oh, all right…” Link acknowledged, though he still felt a little uneasy about the look in Malon’s eyes. “So…is there anything I can do to help you out…?”
“Not on my watch!” Talon stated. “You’re a guest of this ranch, and I will not tolerate my guests getting their hands dirty by doing chores.”
“Are you sure?” Link asked.
“Absolutely,” Talon confirmed. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go inside the farm house and make yourself comfortable until we’re done out here, and then be forced to have dinner with us. Can you live with that?”
Link couldn’t help but chuckle at Talon’s sarcasm. “Sure…I’ll force myself…”
“By the way, Link…where’s Navi?”
Malon’s question caused Link’s voice to freeze inside his throat. He looked down at Malon with a brief glance before looking up at the sky. “Navi is…no longer with me.”
“No longer with you?” Malon uttered in a surprised tone. “But how could that be? I thought you were a Kokiri and Kokiris always had a guardian fairy…”
“It’s…complicated,” Link interjected. “And besides, I’m not really a Kokiri. I’m a Hylian.”
Malon’s head jerked back in astonishment. “A Hylian? Really…?”
“Yes, really,” Link hurriedly stated, his voice sounding slightly albeit noticeably agitated. “In any case, I’ll go to the house and wait for you to finish your work. What do you want me to do with Epona? Shall I take her for you…?”
“Oh, no, don’t worry about Epona,” Talon calmly affirmed, as if he hadn’t noticed Link’s tension. “Malon will be more than happy enough to do it…”
“Actually, I’ll do it, sir.”
Link, Malon, and Talon all turned their heads at once to face the owner of the new voice, who was slowly shuffling his way out of the barn. The ranch owner and farm girl instantly recognized him, but it took Link a moment or two before he identified him. And when he did, he couldn’t believe who it was.
Yes, it was indeed Ingo, the cruel man who had taken ownership of Lon Lon Ranch seven years ago, thrown out Talon and forced Malon to work for him. But this Ingo no longer resembled the Ingo Link had nearly killed in a fit of anger…in fact, he didn’t even resemble the original Ingo. No longer wearing gaudy clothing, the man was dressed in a simple farm worker’s outfit that was dirty from head to foot. His thick moustache still twitched upon his upper lip with his every movement, but his potbelly was noticeably reduced. However, the biggest difference was in Ingo’s eyes: they no longer harbored bitterness and sourness in them.
The farm aid quietly walked into the light with an uncharacteristic smile on his face, his gaze fixed solely on Malon and Talon. “You don’t have to trouble yourselves with this, Miss Malon. I’ll take care of it for you.”
Malon flashed a grateful smile in Ingo’s direction. “Thank you, Ingo. I really appreciate it.”
“That’s perfectly all right,” Ingo said before he started looking up at the rider of Epona’s back. “So, who is the rider of this beautiful horse…?”
Ingo instantly froze in horror when his eyes saw who the rider was: the boy with green clothes who had come close to killing him not too long ago. The farm aid felt his voice gurgle in his throat as he reflexively took a step backward, his face unable to look away from Link.
“Y-you…” Ingo finally blurted out.
“Ingo!” Link angrily bellowed, as if hearing Ingo’s voice directed towards him set off something inside of him.
Without another word, Link leapt off Epona’s back and stormed the short distance towards the frightened Ingo. Upon reaching him, Link reached out and grabbed Ingo’s shirt, pulling the man into the air, their faces close enough that their eyes were forced to look into one another. Ingo immediately started shuddering in fear, but Link didn’t seem to care.
“You wretched bastard!” Link snarled. “What do you think you’re doing here? I oughta wring your filthy neck for just showing your face…”
“Link! Stop it!”
Malon’s loud plea caused Link to turn around and face the farm girl, but not release the scowling look in his eyes. “What?” he demanded almost hostilely.
“Ingo’s reformed!” Malon cried out quickly. “After you left and dad came back home, Ingo changed his ways. He was rehired as a farm helper and has proven himself trustworthy. He’s worked just as hard as anyone and hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s not the man you knew before, Link. He’s different. I swear.”
Link’s snarling face lightened up a bit…but only a bit. “Is that so?” he asked before he once again turned to face Ingo, who was still shivering anxiously. “If that’s the case, then you’re one lucky bugger. However…”
Link’s eyebrows knitted together tightly and his eyes narrowed as he leaned in as far as he could and growled, “…understand this. You even so much as touch Malon, and I will kill you.”
Without even waiting for an acknowledgement, Link threw Ingo to the ground as hard as he could. The farm aid landed on his back with a soft thud, but he didn’t so much as release an oomph because he was trembling all over. Ingo’s eyes remain fixed on the boy standing over him, while Link’s own eyes stared down at the man with a cold and callous glare. As if to emphasize this unstable gaze, a thunderbolt was heard in the distance...
“Link…” Malon started but didn’t have time to finish.
“I’ll see you inside the house,” Link asserted before turning around and heading for the farmhouse, leaving two stunned individuals and a truly terrified man to watch after him…
“Here it is! Specialty of the house! Roast duck with dumplings!”
Talon’s dramatic entrance into the dining room from the kitchen included him carrying a large tray with an enormous, delicious-looking roasted bird on the platter, surrounded by mouth-watering potatoes and carrots. Link and Malon, sitting at the dining table across from one another, immediately felt their mouths grow moist with anticipation.
“It smells wonderful, dad,” Malon commented, sniffing the air to catch as much of the scent as she could.
“It does, indeed,” Link agreed, keeping his eye on the food until Talon placed the platter in the center of the round table. As Talon gleefully rubbed his hands and moved to take his seat, Link looked around and noticed something.
“Say…where’s Ingo?” he asked.
“Ingo’s busy cleaning the stalls at the moment,” Talon answered as he sat down. “He said he didn’t feel that hungry and would eat later.”
“Figures,” Link thought to himself before saying aloud, “Oh, okay.”
After warning to kill Ingo should he ever harm Malon, Link had made a beeline straight to the farmhouse, where he quickly wished he hadn’t threatened the man…at least not in front of Talon and Malon. Those two would’ve undoubtedly asked Link what he was doing, which would end up making Link feeling uncomfortable. However, to his relief, when Malon checked up on him about an hour later, she made no mention of the incident.
Feeling that they ignored it, Link then had taken the opportunity of “making himself comfortable” by using the bath to clean himself. It wasn’t too long after that when Talon and Malon arrived at the farmhouse, their preparations for the upcoming storm complete. Not even then did either of them mention the incident with Ingo, so Link believed the matter had been put aside.
Now it was evening, and outside fierce rains were already beginning to fall from the heavens. A streak of lightning occasionally streaked across the sky, but it did little to dampen the cheery mood at the dinner table in the farmhouse.
“Well…go ahead and help yourselves!” Talon smiled cheerily. “We can’t let this good meat go to waste.”
Wholeheartedly agreeing with Talon, Link reached for the duck and used his fingers to pick off some tender meat from the duck’s roasted body – Malon opted to use a fork to fill her plate. Talon waited until the “kids” were done getting their food before he reached out and took one of the duck’s legs, yanking it off the body with a loud squelch. Without even bothering with a plate, Talon took a huge bite out of the leg, suckling the skin with his lips and scraping the meat off the bones with his teeth.
“Dad, your manners!” Malon gently snapped at her father. “We have a guest, you know.”
“Oh, I don’t think Link minds, do ya?” Talon jollily inquired with a smile.
“Not at all,” Link grinned as he scooped up some of the duck meat on his plate with his fingers. “In fact, eating with your hands in how food should be eaten.” He then quickly dipped the food into his mouth, slurping the meat between his lips and swallowing the bits without even chewing them.
“Men…” Malon sighed as she rolled her eyes before using her knife to cut up the meat on her plate.
Link couldn’t help but smile, both on the outside and inside. As he looked at Malon and her father and interacted with them, he noticed how calm and relaxed he felt just being around them. Even after his little threatening of Ingo earlier, they had chosen to ignore it and still welcomed him into their home. They truly seemed to care about him, to care about how he felt. He even thought he could feel a tiny trace of…happiness…inside his heart.
Coming to the ranch really wasn’t a mistake…
“So Link…why is Navi no longer with you?”
Luckily for Link, he didn’t have any food in his mouth when Malon asked that question, else he would’ve choked on it. He slowly directed his gaze towards the farm girl, who was quietly and nonchalantly looking at her food, and slowly put down the pieces of meat in his fingers. “Why do you want to know?”
“Well…” Malon paused for a moment as she placed her fork down on her plate. “…I remember you two being very good friends when you were hear last. So I’m just a little curious to know why she’s not with you anymore. Did something happen to her?”
Link felt his shoulders tense up as one of his hands closed up into a gentle fist. The mood in the room had unexpectedly grown quiet – even Talon had toned down his behavior. “She’s fine. We just…drifted apart, that’s all.”
“I see,” Malon nodded as she reached for a glass of water. “Any particular reason why?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just that…” Malon again paused, this time to take a sip from her water. “…I find it strange for you and Navi to drift apart in such a short period of time, especially since you two were so close…”
“We drifted apart…!” Link interrupted forcefully before he softened his voice. “That’s all. All right?”
Amazingly, Malon still didn’t look at Link as she replied, “All right.”
But something wasn’t “all right”. Link could see it in Malon’s eyes. She was hiding something from him…
“Malon…are you all right?”
Malon raised her head, but she still refused to look at Link. “Yes, I’m fine…I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” She then again raised her glass to drink…
Malon was forced to look at Link this time – the force of his fist slamming down on the table’s surface was too much for her to ignore it. His eyes glowered in her direction as he snarled a warning at her:
“Don’t…toy with me.”
Talon had fallen eerily silent by now, and Malon was noticeably shivering. “Link, I…”
“I said don’t toy with me,” Link growled. “Something is going on with you…and if you don’t tell me this instant, don’t think for a second I won’t do anything to get it out of you. Understand?”
Malon’s trembling was now so acute that as she placed her glass down on the table she spilled over half its contents. She then fastened her hands together as she took several deep breaths to calm herself down. Link merely continued to glare at her, his patience beginning to wear thing…”
“It’s just this, Link,” Malon started. “When you arrived here, you said that Epona was the one who brought you here, right?”
Link slowly raised his head until his gaze was level with Malon’s. “Yes, that’s right. So?”
“Well…when I held her, when you patted her neck…I felt something inside her. I saw something in her eyes, something that startled me at first.”
“Which explains the look in her eyes,” Link thought before saying, “Continue. What did you see?”
Malon closed her eyes and took several short breaths before giving the answer. “I saw…fear.”
Link could feel his jaw drop. “Fear…? What are you talking about?”
“When you patted her neck and spoke to her, I could feel her shiver out of fear. The look in her eyes was one of pure terror. At first I though she had been scared by thunder or something, but it took me a second to realize what triggered the reaction.
“Link, Epona didn’t come back here because she wanted to see me…she came back because she’s terrified…of you.”
Link’s jaw dropped down even further…before it clamped shut as Link felt his temper snap. “Terrified…of me? What is this nonsense you’re spouting?”
“It’s not nonsense, Link,” Malon stated as calmly as she could, trying to hide her quivering. “I saw it myself when you attacked Ingo. He did nothing against you or anyone else, and yet you threatened to kill him. You thought Ingo was terrified by that? I was terrified after watching you act like that. My dad and Epona were also shaken by your little display.”
“They were, were they?” Link growled before jerking his attention to Talon, who’s eyes widened upon being seen by the boy. “Is this true? You were terrified of me?”
Talon didn’t even move in response to Link’s direct question. He simply froze in place, trying not to do anything that might upset Link…
“You’re acting like it here as well, Link,” Malon pointed out, trying to get Link’s interest away from her father. “You’re acting so angrily towards us for asking a few simple questions and…”
“My behavior is perfectly all right, thank you!” Link roared hastily in Malon’s direction, again slamming his fist on the table, this time hard enough to cause the plates to rattle. “I have every right to suspect things when people are asking me questions that I don’t wish to answer.”
Malon somehow found the courage to speak up after such a direct declaration. “But you’re acting nothing like the Link I knew when you saved this ranch…”
“The Link you knew is dead!”
A deafening silence befell the room, but Link refused to let it stand for long.
“You hear me? That Link is dead. Link the Kokiri, Link the boy with the burned hand, Link the Hero of Time…that Link is dead. Understand? Dead!”
Both Talon and Malon remained quiet for a moment, allowing Link’s harsh words to sink in before Malon suddenly realized something. “Wait a minute…you mean you’re…no longer the Hero of Time?”
Link’s teeth clamped together and formed a deep growl in Malon’s direction. “Yes, that’s right. I’m no longer the Hero of Time. Got a problem with that?”
What Malon said next rang inside Link’s mind like a bell. “Yes, I do…how can you not be the Hero of Time when that’s who you’re supposed to be?”
…who you’re supposed to be…who you’re supposed to be…who you’re supposed to be…supposed to be…supposed to be…to be…to be…be…be…
Link gently slammed his palms down on the table and slowly, painfully slowly pushed his chair back and stood up. When he was standing completely on his feet, he looked down at his plate of unfinished food. “So you…think I should…go back to being…the Hero of Time…is that it?”
Malon’s response may as well have been a knife in the back. “Yes, I do…”
Out of the blue, Link used his right hand to slap the plate of food before him to the side, sending the dish and its contents flying through the air and silencing Malon once more. The plate landed on the found with a loud clang, while the food mostly landed against the wall, sticking to the surface thanks to the juices. Link then slammed his right hand onto the table again so he could prop himself up steadily in order to say what he wanted to say:
“Go to Hael, you little bitch.”
Link’s words were enough to cause Malon’s face to turn white as a sheet. “L-Link…how could…?”
“Shut up!” Link bellowed, snatching up his glass of water. “You think you know me? You think I should surrender myself to my god-damned destiny and become a puppet once again? You think I make a nice pawn in someone else’s sick game?” Link then threw his glass to the ground, shattering it into thousands of pieces. “Well, I’m sick of games…and I’m sick of people trying to force me to play them!”
“And to think…” Link interjected, raising his fist into the air, “…I thought you wouldn’t betray me…”
Suddenly, before either Malon or Talon could move or say anything, Link turned around and sprinted away from the table, not stopping until he reached the stairs in the next room that lead to the second floor. He then paused, turned his head to face the farmer and farm girl in the previous room, and said one more thing to them:
“Both of you…I hope I never see you again! You can both die for all I care!”
He then turned back around and dashed up the staircase.
It took Malon up to half a minute before she finally made a move. “Link! Link, wait a minute! Link, wait!”
“Malon, wait, what are you doing…?” Talon called out to his daughter, but he was too late to stop her. Malon leapt from her seat and ran as fast as she could after Link. She continued calling out after Link as loud and quick as she could, trying to get him to respond but not getting anything from him.
Then, just as she reached the staircase, she heard a loud crash…
“Link! What are you doing? Link!”
The farm girl raced up the stairway and headed towards the guestroom where Link had set himself up. She burst through the slightly ajar door, still calling out Link’s name…but she found no one inside the room. All the weapons and baggage Link had taken off for supper were gone, and she quickly saw why there was no trace of their owner: the window to the room had been smashed in.
“Link!” Malon cried out as she rushed towards the broken window and carelessly stuck her head through the shattered pane into the stormy night. “Link! Where are you? Come back! Link! Link…!”
It was no use. The former Hero of Time had disappeared into the night…
—I told you she would do that, didn’t I?—
As angry as Link was at the moment, he was forced to agree with the Voice. “Yes, yes, you did.”
—And yet you ignored my warnings because you thought you had things all figured out—
Link found it difficult enough trudging his way through the open plains surrounding the ranch with rain driving into his face and thick mud slowing his footsteps, but he couldn’t ignore the Voice’s assertions. “All right, all right, you were right. You were right about her.”
—I was, wasn’t I? But let’s not forget that right now you’re doing exactly what you said you would do should she betray you. At least you kept your word on that matter. However, because you went back to that little wench, you no longer have a horse—
As he wiped some rain from his face, Link snarled loudly. “Epona…I can’t believe she betrayed me as well…”
—You can’t trust anyone these days. They’re all out to get you. They all want to use you, to force you to do things you don’t want to do. It’s sickening, isn’t it?—
“Yes, yes, it’s sickening! Do you have to rub it in, curse it?”
—Unfortunately, I do. You learned a valuable lesson here today, and I’m just making sure you remember it—
Link couldn’t argue with that, so instead he snarled once again and concentrated solely on trekking across the plains. He could hardly see a thing in the grey darkness, his only source of light the occasional streak of lightning across the sky. The mud was growing thick enough to cause him to partially sink into the ground, and he could swear the rain was boring tiny holes into his skin. Maybe in hindsight it wasn’t a good idea to head out into the storm like this…
But even the possibility of being cold and lost in a rainstorm was worth getting away from that traitorous witch Malon…
When Link turned his head to look behind him, the last thing he expected to see was the figure of Malon galloping towards him on the back of Epona in the lashing rain, but that’s exactly what he saw.
“Link! Wait up!”
The initial surprise gone, Link faced forward again and continued marching through the muck.
“Link!” Malon called out, slowing down Epona a little. “Please, wait for me…!”
“Get away from me!” Link roared without looking back. “I don’t want to see you!”
Not listening to Link’s demand, Malon slowed Epona enough so that the horse was trotting next to him. “Link, please…listen to me…”
“I said go away, damn it!” Link barked, still refusing to look at Malon. “I’m in no mood for your bloody games!”
“Link, I just want to talk. Please hear me out…”
“Are you deaf or just stupid? Get away from me this instant!”
Had Link looked up at Malon, he would’ve seen a determined look stiffen in her face. The farm girl brusquely pulled Epona’s reins back, bringing the mare to a halt. Malon then leapt off the horse’s back, lifted her skirt, and trudged after Link in the deep mud.
“Link, I’m not leaving until you hear me out,” she firmly told him.
“By the Three Goddesses, you’re becoming such a pest,” Link grumbled while continuing to slog forward.
“If that’s what it takes to get you to listen to me, then so be it,” Malon resolutely declared as she reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.
That hand touching Link was enough to get him to spin around and finally look at Malon directly. “Listen here, you little…”
It was then that he saw how sad Malon truly was. In the pouring rain, Malon’s once-beautiful appearance had been washed away. Her gorgeous red hair was lying flat against her head and drooping sloppily across her shoulders, and her dainty white dress was stained with mud from riding on Epona through the fields. The dirty rainwater had stained her face all over as if she had been crying, an illusion made worse by the fact that her eyes were almost filled with tears.
A sigh escaped Link’s lips as a fork of lightning scratched the sky. “Fine. What is it you want to say?”
—What are you doing, you fool?—
“Link, I…” Malon stammered, shivering slightly – whether it was from the cold weather or from fear was anyone’s guess. “I just wanted to tell you something about Epona.”
Link momentarily looked up at Epona, who was quietly waiting a few steps behind Malon and eyeing the pair with her dark eyes. “Yeah, what about her?”
“I…I told you that she came back to the ranch because she was terrified of you, remember?”
Link nodded. “I remember. So?”
Malon lowered her gaze slightly. “Well, even though she was scared of you…why do you think she stayed with you despite that?”
A blank look entered Link’s eyes. “Huh? What do you mean?”
—Don’t listen to her! She’s trying to trick you!—
“I said shut up.”
“What I mean,” Malon replied, raising her eyes again, “is that even though Epona was terrified of you, even though she could’ve easily run away from you and come back to the farm on her own…she didn’t. She instead remained with you, she stayed by your side at all times. Why do you think that is?”
“A…as if I’d know,” Link snapped, though he had to admit he was curious to know why.
Malon noticed Link’s curiosity and satisfied it by answering her own question. “I’ll tell you why, Link. It’s because Epona cares about you. She cared about you enough to stay with you despite your fearful personality, and she cared about you enough to help lead me through this rainstorm towards you. Epona loved you enough to remain by your side no matter what.”
Slowly but surely, Link could feel the rage within him drain away. “But…what are you getting at?” he asked more calmly than he expected.
“Just that…Epona and I have something in common, I guess.”
Link’s mouth drooped open ever so slightly at hearing that, the anger in his eyes replaced by a bewildering tenderness. “Malon…”
—You idiot! She’s playing with your sympathies! She’s trying to draw you back in! Pay no attention to her…are you even listening to me?—
He wasn’t. Link was completely focused on the dirty but kindhearted face of Malon, who was looking back at him with a sad determination.
“You…you were right, Link,” Malon softly uttered as she slowly knelt down in the grimy dirt, pulling Link down to his knees as well. “I…I don’t know you. But I want to know. I want to learn more about you. That way, I…I won’t bet…I won’t betray you…”
“Malon, I…” Link spluttered, unable to say anything at the moment.
“Epona was brave enough to stay by your side…well, that’s my wish as well. I care about you, Link…I really do. You’re one of the few friends I have left in this world that I didn’t lose to that wretched man Ganondorf…and I can’t bare the thought of losing you.”
“But…but what about that little business of me no longer being the Hero of Time? Don’t you care about that?”
Malon took a deep breath, leaning in close to Link’s ear, and whispered to him, “I…don’t care…”
When Malon leaned back again, she saw Link staring at her with a stunned look in his eyes. By the look on her face, even Malon hadn’t expected to hear herself say that. Another bolt of lightning crackled across the sky, lighting up their faces for a brief moment before plunging them back into a grayish gloom. Neither of them spoke, as if waiting for some kind of response from the other…
Just then, a faint smile appeared on Link’s lips as he raised his right hand and used it to brush some wet hair from Malon’s eyes.
“Link…” the farm girl muttered delicately.
“You silly little girl. I’ll never understand you.”
Malon remained motionless after hearing those words, her mouth hanging open in quiet thought. Then, without warning, Malon’s eyes burst into tears and she threw herself forward, planting her face directly in Link’s chest, where she started to cry her eyes out.
“I’m…I’m sorry I…I made you angry…” she bawled, her words partially muted by Link’s damp shirt. “I’ll never…never do that again…I promise…I…I swear…just please don’t…don’t ever leave me again…”
Link placed a hand gently on Malon’s head to comfort her, widening his smile as he realized her acknowledged he had forgiven her. But he still couldn’t believe it. Even after all those nasty things he called her and accused her of, Malon still dared to chase after him and apologize to him. She really did care about him…and she was willing to remain by his side to learn his side of the story.
So the eventual mistake ended up not being a mistake after all…
—What are you doing? That girl is corrupting you with her little crybaby act! You’re letting her influence you!—
“No, you’re wrong,” Link sternly thought. “Malon’s not influencing me at all. She simply wants to stay by my side and learn what I know…”
—But that’s her ruse! She’s winning your trust so she can get to you when you’re most vulnerable! You can’t let her take you in like that!—
Link could feel himself grow angry again, only this time it was at the Voice. “And you can’t get all paranoid just because I happened to find someone who is sympathetic to what I feel.”
—Paranoid? How dare you accuse me of being paranoid! Need I remind you that I’m the one who exposed the lies you’ve been living ever since you picked up that wretched sword…?—
“And need I remind you that I’m the one who makes the decisions here! You’re just a guide, nothing more. I’ve heard your advice, and I’ve found it to be wrong in this case.”
—But I’m not wrong! Can’t you see that? Open your eyes and see…—
“I will not let you control me like Sheik once did, you bloody-well understand?”
The Voice fell silent for a moment inside Link’s head after Link made the threat, and when it spoke again there was a noticeable sneer in its voice.
—Yes…I understand perfectly. But mark my words…you will regret the day you didn’t listen to my advice—
“Oh, and what are you going to do about it?”
That was the last time Link heard the Voice that night…