Chapter VII

With the grace and poise of a swan drifting mutely upon the glass- like surface of Lake Hylia, Epona slowed from her powerful galloping streak and halted at the base of the broad stone stairwell extending into the foothills of Death Mountain, and the exuberant village of Kakariko nestled within.

"Never much liked climbing, did ya, girl?" Link grinned and ruffled the animal's mane from around Malon's shoulder. "Always loved to jump, though." Malon hummed in agreement and twisted to lightly kiss the man's neck. "She never would have learned to jump had you never taught her, Link."

"Aw, I didn't teach her, she just happened to make the first and biggest leap of her life with me at the reins, that's all." Link shrugged.

"Well, enough of that. Let's hurry up to the village, I can already hear the music!" Malon slid out of the saddle and stood waiting with a keen look whilst Link tied Epona to a nearby tree trunk. He turned to face her, and she immediately grabbed his hand.

"Come on!"

The couple practically scuttled up the steps, and upon reaching the top, strode up to the gates.

Malon gasped. The two were nearly blown back with the immensity of the scene that lay before them. Everywhere, from the lowest shrub to the uppermost aeries of the lookout tower, there were decorations. Long, colorful streamers twisting every which way, draped from house to house, strung into the eaves of both trees and houses alike. Vibrant lanterns swayed in the gentle evening breeze, all glowing intensely in rich, earthy colors, signifying a celebration of autumn. Small trails of smoke curled up from a large bon fire being built up near the well, and everywhere, scattered between houses and clustered in a tight circle around the village square, diminutive, makeshift shops were erected. From a rooftop, festive music issued from all manner of percussion, harp, tambourine, or ocarina. As all of this occurred, citizens of all different age and race congregated from one shop to another, at times exchanging rupees for the scores of harvested produce set out on display, or participating in various games and contests, such as bobbing for deku nuts, or bombflower bowling. Others, mostly the young couples, came merely to experience such a jubilant event, cheer on contestants, or-

Dance. There was a large, open plot of grass situated nearly directly below the roof from which the instrumentalists bellowed out their tune, and couples of any and all races of Hyrule spun, skipped, and weaved in almost perfect pitch harmony. Everywhere, there were old folks chattering robustly, adolescents laughing with friends merrily or dancing, and children frolicking in the leaves, yelling gaily to one another. It was the most euphoric, joyous scene that Link had ever witnessed.

Malon wrapped her arms around Link's sides and rested her head delicately on his shoulder.
"Are you glad you came?" She peeked up at him and winked, flashing pearly-white teeth in her usual high-spirited beam.
"You bet." Link grinned back and tweaked the slender point of her Hyrulian ear with his nose. "Wouldn't have missed this for the world." The man looked around then, silently calculating. 'Where, when, how? There's so much to keep us busy- will I get my chance?" He shook his head, causing the ranch girl to do a double take.

"What is it?" She questioned.

"Nothing, nothing. Hey, let's go check out some of that produce- I hear there was a good harvest this year. Then we'll go dance, alright?" Link cleared his mind. 'Don't worry about the time. Your chance will come," he told himself.

"If you say so." The woman's eyes held a trace of doubt a second longer, then she shook her own head softly. "Shall we, then?"

"Milady." Link put on the dignified, false face of royalty, locked his arm with Malon's, and led her into the festival.
**********

The rest of the night proved to be quite an exciting experience for the two young lovers. They strayed to the booths first, checking out all sorts of various products and wares. They had their fortunes read by an ancient old Gerudo woman, who predicted that the couples' future, both near and far alike, would be riddled with unexpected yet pleasant surprises. This left Link overwhelmingly gratified, for predictions made by the ancient sorceresses that hailed from the deserts of the west were not to be underestimated or taken lightly. He was aware of and respected the rumors made regarding witchcraft and sorcery within the sand-engrained halls of Gerudo Fortress, for he had experienced much of it deep in the depths of the Spirit Temple while battling Ganondorf's twin mothers, the sorceress sisters Koume and Kotake. For the remainder of the evening he stayed in high spirits.

Later, after the two had tired of the shops, they strode out into the ring of dancers and readied for the next song.

"Malon- you know I'm no good at dancing." Link groaned.

"Well you should be, with nimble feet like yours. I've seen you move, my love, and if you really put your heart into it, instead of your mind, I guarantee you'll surprise even yourself." She tugged his arm gently so that he faced her, and then took both his hands. He began to protest once more, but the petite, flowing notes of an Ocarina sounded on the air, and the song was immediately underway.

Malon's eyes lit up. "Ah! It's "Twirl of the Fayrie!" I used to love this song. Hope you can keep up with me, fayrie boy, because this is a fast one! Come on!" Malon giggled and spun around rapidly, so that her hair was flung in a blurred loop of auburn. Then she began moving her hips, swaying to the beat as it augmented in speed and volume. Soon she was prancing about, twirling this way and that. People around the two caught notice and intuitively moved to form a clearing around them. Link stood awkwardly for a moment as all eyes focused on the appealing young farm girl from Lon Lon Ranch as she spun. Then, either from desperation or by warrior instinct, he joined her. Clumsily at first, but as he lost any sense of embarrassment or impulse, he began to reply on concentration less and less, and the rhythm of the music was his guide as he danced, fingers entwined with Malon's. The faces became a blur; just a backdrop for the apple of his eye- the woman he held in his arms. They danced straight through the end of "Twirl of the Fayrie" and into the next two, losing track of time or place, replying only on the music. Finally, the pace dropped, and the band shifted benevolently into a slow song.

"This I can do." Link moved up to Malon so that they pressed up against each other, then he wrapped his strong arms around her slender waist. Her body was hot from the dancing, and her gown stuck to her with perspiration, but Link cared naught, for he was aware that he must have been sweating, too. They held each other close, lightly swaying to the droning beat. She talked lightly into his ear as they danced.

"Link. do you remember when we first met?" Malon's eye's narrowed in commemoration.

"How could I forget? Right there in the market- you had been waiting for your father to come back from the palace milk run. The first thing you did when you saw me was comment on my green clothes and pretty little fayrie." Link smiled, remembering.

"Hmm, that's when I first called you fayrie boy. You were so cute back then, with you miniature sword and wooden shield; braving dangers that many grown men could never hope to live through. I envied you. I envied your ability to persevere, to never lose hope, and most important- to never forget what's important. I was just some silly ranch girl helping my father on a milk run, and there you were, in the midst of your epic journey, going out of your way to help me out. You've always been like that, always giving, never asking for anything in return. I love you for it Link, and I think that I always will." The woman laid her head down on Link's shoulder, breathing softly against his neck.

Link, though he appeared calm and collected on the outside, was having some major conflict inside of his head. 'She said she loved me! Should I do it now? Wait, she's said it many times before. It's not really a big deal. But she sure took her time working up all that. Maybe she expects me to talk to her now, and then pop the question. Maybe if I don't do it now, I won't get another chance tonight. Maybe if I don't do it now, I'll never get another chance again.! No, that's silly. All the same- it must be done tonight. It must be done- NOW!'

"Malon." He whispered to her ear.

"Mmm?"

"Come with me for a second." It wasn't a question.

"Okay.Link?" Malon questioned.

"Just come." The two separated and Link took her hand. With the utmost vigil, he led her through the other dancers, then out into the square. She followed him up two flights of steps, moving in the direction of Death Mountain. They circled behind the closest building, reaching a ladder.

"Up here." He gestured to the ladder, then followed her up. When they reached the roof, the ranch girl turned around.

"Link, I don't underst-" she started, but the man put a gauntleted finger to her lips.

"Shh. Trust in me. Now I want you to come over and and wrap your arms around my waist, and no matter what, don't let go. Okay?" Link peered at her in the half-light. This time she only nodded, doing what he asked.

Once she was secure, Link felt around for his Hookshot. Upon finding it, he set it, and then pointed it up at a barely visible nook in the stonewall of the colossal windmill that loomed above the village. The red target spot appeared and Link toyed with it, moving it around inch by inch, depending only on the flickering glow of the lanterns below to find the mark. Finally, he spotted it. "Hold on," he warned.

"WHOOSH!"

"CLICK!"

The hook found hit home. It jerked back, and the reflex shot the two through the air to land seconds later on the very ridge Link had aimed at.

Malon's eyes where round in shock. "I hope you don't mind my asking, but what the hell was that!?"

"Hookshot. I want to show you this place. Follow me." Link took the woman's hand, and she followed him shakily.

She was well aware that they were inside of the windmill- she'd seen it as they shot through the sky- but she was still confused. 'Where in the windmill? A secret passage?' They climbed two last sets of stairs, and then reached a ledge. Link stepped aside.

"What do you think?" He swept his hand out.
They were very high up now, near the very top of the windmill, looking out from behind the large rotating wings that operated it. From this position, Malon could see all of the festival below her, and Hyrule field, and- though it was uncertain- she felt sure that if it had been mid- day she would've been able to see the ranch. It was an absolutely gorgeous sight.

"Oh, Link." Malon gazed up into his strong eyes. They stood facing each other, hands held between them.

It was now or never. 'Goddesses, help me,' Link prayed silently. 'Give me all the courage, wisdom, and power I can get.' He blinked, inhaled deeply, and then began.

"Malon- ever since that very first day that I walked into the market, looking for all the land like a bedraggled, starved little nobody and saw you, I knew that you were special. I noticed this right from the start, of course, from your incredible, beautiful, wondrous hair, and how whenever you moved or laughed, it would bounce in the sunlight and just dazzle my eyes. But then I got to know you, your deep sensitivity and longing to be loved and held and touched by someone you can trust, and a personality to match your fiery hair. I'd never met anyone in my life like you, and that still holds true, after all this time. You've always been there for me, even in the hardest times of my quest. I could always come back to the Ranch for some milk and some inspiration. You were always there for me to fall back on.

"I will admit though, that up until these past few months, I always firmly forced myself to believe that we were just best friends and helping hands, nothing more. I won't say that I always wanted it to be that way, but that's just how I figured it always was. But something funny happened last summer, around two weeks after I had first come to work for your dad on the ranch. He asked me about you. I'm sure you know about how he used to kid around with me all the time when we were young, asking me if I'd like to marry you and whatnot. But- I sensed that he was serious this time. So I thought it over, long and hard, and found all these buried feelings for you. And I acted on them, inspired by what you father told me. And wouldn't you know it- his assumptions were right! Malon, these past few months have been the best of my life, hands down. Everyday, I feel like I have a purpose, a reason for getting up and working every morning. We've made so many new memories in these last few months to keep along with all of our childhood ones. I feel complete, full, like before this I was always in lack of something. You've filled that space for me, Malon. Looking into you sweet, beautiful eyes, I really do feel like I could spend the rest of my life with you, start a family and grow old with you."

Link steadied himself, then reached his trembling left hand into his right gauntlet, bringing the box out behind his back, preparing. All troubles and doubts had abandoned him now. No longer was there nervousness, or helplessness. He was nearly there. All that was left was the question.

"Having said all that, I guess what I really have to say is." Link dropped slowly to one knee, and took Malon's open palm in his own. He had not noticed, but since the couple had arrived at the top of the windmill, the eastern horizon, and then gradually the whole sky, had been getting lighter and lighter, signifying that a new dawn was at hand. And as he placed the box on her hand with all the delicacy of a rose petal falling to land on a shimmering spider web, and flicked the lid open with his thumb, the very first aurora of sunlight had peeked over the horizon, and the sunburst spread her rays far and wide. As soon as the box was opened to reveal the prize within, a stray ray fell precisely on top of the Eye of Farore, and the light was shattered, magnified into millions of microscopic particles, painting the inner walls of the windmill ledge in green mosaic wonder. Link's eyes never once strayed from the woman's face, though, as he asked the most important question of his life.

"Malon, will you marry me?"

And for an instant, for a miniscule moment in time, there was an eternity of silence as the first moments of the new day came and went. The entire scene froze, no birds chirped, no people called. All that did not cease to live were Malon's round, cerulean eyes as they slowly moved from Link's face, to the ring, back to Link's face. The world stood on one agonizing foot, prepared to fall in any direction. And then, from nowhere-

"Yes."

At first Link failed to notice entirely that Malon had spoken at all, for it had been merely a whisper on the wind. And then, but the time the fact that she had answered had reached him at all, he could not even remember what she had said.

"Uhm. What?" Link asked sheepishly.

And then finally things came back. The birds were singing, cuckoos were crowing, and far below them, the village was beginning to awake from its deep slumber. And then Malon came alive.

"Yes, YES! Of COURSE!" Malon laughed out loud, then leaped into Link's arms, causing them both to topple over. She laughed again gaily, and the sound was like bells. Then she tilted his head up and glanced at him. He spoke.

"I love you, Malon. Always and forever I will. Don't forget that, alright?"

"I won't, Link. I love you, too, fayrie boy. Malon leaned down and kissed him gently.

"Well, then you've made me a happy man. You ready to go home and tell your dad so he can start arranging the wedding?"

Malon put on a pout face. "Oh, do we have to go just yet?" She watched him carefully as she spoke.

Link saw his reflection in her eyes and noticed that same look on her again, the one he had seen twice before. He knew, now. He knew what she was all about, but could not resist the urge to ask anyway.

"Well, what did you have in mind?"

"Oh, you'll see."
**********

Far away, back at the ranch, Talon was just stirring from his heavy sleep. He got up and dressed, then rubbed his eyes and went to Malon's room to wake her up. He got there and the bed was empty. He stood questioning for just a moment, then realization hit him, and he moved to his usual window, pondering. Finally, he turned to his cuckoos.

"I figure they won't be back fer a while. but them weddin' bells can wait as long as my little Malon wants 'em to. Thatta boy, Link. Thatta boy."

~~End Of CILG~~