Beneath the Surface
"She's taking forever."
"What could be taking so long?"
"She is a busy woman."
"Perhaps she is bringing something. . . important?"
"Of course she is! What else would take so long?"
The last figure at the table remained quiet. He had already failed and had no right to speak amongst his brothers and sisters at the start of their meeting. Though the cold stares they had given him for nearly seven straight years were just now beginning to go away, he still remained silent on the matter and all other matters in question. He would wait for his time to speak, and when he spoke, they would listen.
It was not often that the all gathered for a meeting such as this. Mostly, they each left each other to their own devices – not so much as their meals were eaten together, for they each preferred the quiet confines of their own rooms for all of their daily routines. One of them had even remained in their room for two years straight – when she finally chose to leave her room, it came as a surprise to the other seven, but no one truly cared.
They were lying in wait for one of the five sisters. Though she was not the largest, or the smallest, or even the eldest (if their situation even permitted an eldest), she possessed an air of dignity that demanded respect. It was everything about her – from the way she spoke to whomever she happened apon to even the way she held her quills while she was writing. She was a woman of power.
And when she had demanded they meet. . . meet they did.
But they had been sitting at the table for close to an hour now. They were all beginning to get impatient. Though they respected their sister and saw her as their unquestionable leader, none of them denied that it was rather rude and downright ignorant of her to leave them waiting.
At long last, their sister emerged. All seven stood as she walked gracefully to the table, then took her seat. The rest followed suit, and the meeting finally began. Folding her hands neatly and placing that on the edge of the table, she briefly scanned the table to look at each of her siblings one at a time. The silence was eerie, and even the smallest of insects in the room did not dare to make a sound.
Finally, she cleared her throat. "As you are all aware, we have spent many moons suffering for what our brother has failed to do." The group nodded in silent agreement, including the failure. Many cold glares were suddenly fixated on his person, but not once did he flinch or show any signs of emotion. "I have come to the conclusion that we are all to blame."
This took her siblings by surprise, none more than the brother who had supposedly failed them. "What?" one of her other brothers demanded, standing and slamming his hands on the table. The table shook, the violent action catching his siblings by surprise. "How can you possibly say that we are all to blame? None of us were defeated by his hands! So how can you assume it's our fault! He is the one who acted weakly in the face of a challenge!"
Now angry at being called weak, the one who had failed his mission stood, slammed his hands onto the table, and glared at his brother. "How dare you insult me!" he spat. "YOU didn't have to face him, I did! You have no idea what that boy could do with a sword! NONE! Even my own skills with a blade were well above surpassed, and I have spent my entire existence perfecting them. That was no ordinary swordsman!"
"And neither are you!" the instigator shot back. "If you-"
Their sister held up her hand, effectively silencing them both. "We lost because we sent him alone," said the woman. The failure looked up at his sister in surprise. "Yes, that is why you failed, my brother. We believed too strongly in our own abilities and your own – we underestimated him. We were foolish to send you alone – even if a man can destroy an army on his own, he will always find help in the hands of a companion. Had we gone with you – perhaps even just one of us! – then perhaps the outcome would have been different and we would have stopped him before he reached his goal. Furthermore, we underestimated our enemy and as a result, we were defeated."
There was a quiet murmur across the table as the siblings quietly discussed this amongst themselves. "All right, so the rest of us staying behind here was why he failed," said another sister. She stood, crossed her arms over her chest, and continued. "But what good does that do us now? It's all over and done with – it's too late for us to stop him – he has already won, has he not?"
"No – not yet," she said. "My brothers and sisters of the dark, our ambitions are not yet extinguished!" She grinned, stood, and began to pace around the perimeter of the table. "It has been both seven years and mere moments since the so-called 'Hero of Time' vanquished Ganondorf and the six Sages sealed him in the Sacred Realm. But because of that silly Princess Zelda, everything that our dearest Link did to preserve the Temples and protect that stupid trinket have been undone – none of the Sages, including the princess, are awakened, and the Master Sword lies asleep in its pedestal. Though he is still a fine shot with an arrow, he is otherwise unarmed. Every trinket he collected over his journey is being held elsewhere. Every secret he found the key to solving is locked!"
"And what good will any of that do us?" asked another brother. "If we cause a ruckus the Sages will re-awaken and the Hero of Time will give us a taste of what he did to that imbecile Ganondorf! We cannot do a THING to rectify our fate and I don't understand how you plan to solve our problem! It is a fool's journey!"
"Do you not recall that our brother failed because we sent him after Link alone?" she said coldly.
Realization lit up across the faces of her siblings, and they all snickered evilly.
"Stop it, Link! That tickles!"
Link paid her no heed as he continued to mercilessly attack the sensitive skin beneath Malon's arms with his fingers, sending shrieks of laughter ringing through the barn of Lon-Lon Ranch. The blonde Hylian laughed as he pinned Malon beneath him, grinning wryly as she stared up at him with the beginnings of a stern pout crossing her face. "Malon, if you didn't look so cute when you're ready to rip my head off I'd stop doing this."
"Link? You're a jerk."
Link sighed as he looked down as the one woman who was able to make his head spin out of control. Nearby, Epona snorted at her master and mistress, ignoring the two as she began to drink from her trough. "And yet you're somehow able to stand the absolute horror of keeping me around."
Malon groaned, managing to free herself from the ranch hand's grasp and wiggled herself free from his embrace. She brushed the hay from her skirt, stuck her nose up with indignity, and was able to hold the pose for all of two seconds before Link's arms snaked around her waist and hoisted her over his shoulder. "L-I-N-K!"
"Oh come now, Malon, you know I love you."
"You know I'll murder you if you don't quit it."
"Look at it this way – it's me or Ingo," Link said. He grinned playfully. "Oh I know, I know, you're always in longing for the HANDSOME, CHARMING, CHARISMATIC and CHARITABLE Ingo, and yet for some reason I'm the one your father would sooner take a pitchfork to if he believes a man has had you before our wedding night."
Malon swatted at Link, who laughed in return. "Well, in just a few more months not only will he NOT take a pitchfork to you for having me before my wedding night, but he's going to start asking about his grandchildren. THEN he'll start complaining about the lack of the sounds of little feet running across the farmhouse," she said. Then, she laughed. "But as for right now? You're going to have quite a time trying to convince him you were only tickling me in here."
"Oh come on, Malon, if I was going to seduce you before then it wouldn't be some place where just anyone could walk in on us," he said casually. He grinned. "I'd have taken you to that little nook in the shed – we both know very well that NO ONE would look for us there. But, as you can see, I haven't done that. . . yet." He winked at her in mock lust, clicking his tongue in her direction.
Malon sighed, leaning against one of the support beams of the stable. Undoubtedly he was joking, which was probably a good thing if he wished for his hide to remain attached to his back. "Link? Though you have the tendency to behave like a complete and undeniable beast, you really are a good man." Link casually slid up alongside her, gently placing his hands on her shoulder as he rested his chin on the top of her head. "I'm glad you decided to stay here all those years ago."
"It's only been six and a half years," he said, gently taking her hand. Malon smiled as she felt his hand gently play with the ring around her finger, his eyes seeming to admire it. "And just a little over a month before we'll never have to be alone again." He leaned in closer, kissed her cheek, and gave her a gentle hug from behind. "Well, I have to go see what my next trick will be. Maybe I'll finally get to boot Ingo out of here."
"Oh, I doubt that," said Malon. "Ingo's a piece of slime all right, but let's face it, Link – the ranch is just getting bigger and bigger, and we can't afford to get rid of him. It'll be impossible to run the ranch with just you, me, and Dad. And if I'm with child it would be down to just the two of you."
Link sighed. "Ah, yes. That little matter. Well, maybe someday we'll get a few more cowboys here and THEN Ingo will find the heel of my boot where the sun doesn't shine." Malon laughed at the joke, gave her fiancé one last kiss, and exited the stable to complete the rest of her chores.
Goddesses do I love that woman, Link thought dreamily. He sighed, turned to Epona, and saw the cranberry colored horse was staring at him. "What? Like you haven't been trotting around Secretariat for the past few months!" Epona snorted with indignity and Link rolled his eyes. "And you think Hylians are silly."
Epona's answer was a well-placed kick to a bucket of water. Now thoroughly drenched, Link glared as the horse started to laugh at him. "Not funny," he said. "Now I gotta go change. Thanks a lot Epona – no oats for you tonight." Epona seemed to pale at the notion. Link laughed. "I'm just kidding – it's just a little water. But I'm warning you, if you keep that up. . . NO MORE CARROTS."
Epona whinnied in response, and Link laughed. "You know, for a horse as smart as you are, girl, you're very gullible." Epona snorted again, and Link stuck his tongue out at her. "Yes, I do know you're a very smart horse – you don't remember any of it, but you're quite possibly the best horse in all of Hyrule." Epona didn't seem to understand. Link shook his head. Oh well.
Link exited the stable and made the quick journey to the farmhouse. As usual, his soon-to-be father-in-law was taking a nap by his favorite Cuccos, snoring lazily. Link rolled his eyes. At least when Talon was awake he was a good boss and a much better businessman than he let on. Though the man acted like a simpleton, Link had watched several would-be con-artists leave the ranch in defeat and many successful business deals that had resulted in the growth of the ranch to where it was today. Leaving Talon in his "happy place" as Malon called it, Link proceeded up the stairs to his bedroom.
Technically, Link shared his bedroom with both Talon and Ingo, but it was a rarity that either man retired in the bedroom. Talon often fell asleep with his beloved birds, and Ingo was often found in random places around the ranch with a bottle of brandy not too far away. In essence, he had the room to himself and decorated it largely in his taste – there were lots of plants in the room and a few wooden pieces that still bore their bark. The room had a very forest-like appeal, something that reminded him of his former home in the Lost Woods.
Link sighed as he undressed and grabbed a clean tunic from his half of the dresser he and Ingo shared. As he pulled the green article over his head, it reminded him of his extended childhood with Saria and the other Kokiri children, whom he had left shortly after the end of his adventure as the Hero of Time. He sensed that his body would begin to age eventually, and he would no longer fit in with his childhood friends. The departure of Navi wouldn't help much, either, and Mido would undoubtedly begin to mercilessly bully him again.
The six months following the end of his journey (or at least where his journey ended while he was in his younger form) were somewhat chaotic for Link. One by one, he returned the Spiritual Stones to the races from which they belonged (though the Kokiri Emerald was returned prior to his final departure from the forest). Though the Zoras recalled Link and Ruto's adventure in Jabu-Jabu, and the Gorons were always thankful for what he did in the Dodongo's cavern, he didn't feel like he truly belonged ANYWHERE in Hyrule. He wouldn't survive very long with the Zora or Goron tribes due to their environments and choice of delicacies, and he didn't even consider the Gerudos. That left the Hylians, but where in Hyrule would he run? Though he reasoned it was possible his birth parents may have had siblings or other relatives, he had no way of locating any of them, or, assuming he could find one, give a logical explanation to whatever distant cousin he found.
And then he remembered Lon-Lon Ranch.
That wasn't a half-bad idea. Talon was very fond of Link and had even offered him a job their when he was older (and, as a joke, Malon's hand – how ironic they were now engaged!). Malon, as a little girl, was delighted at the idea of another child her age to play with. Ingo was happy because he thought he would have someone to bully, but Link had no trouble fending off the egotistical ranch hand.
Though life on the ranch was quiet, Link loved it there. The work was hard, but the benefits were more than worth it. The food was good, his sleeping quarters were quiet, and he had many chances to ride Epona with Malon hugging him from behind as the two made business trips to Hyrule Castle, running orders for milk and eggs back and forth between the ranch and Hyrule's capitol.
As he and Malon grew older (a concept that was still fairly foreign to Link), he began to notice his feelings for her extended beyond mere friendship. At "fourteen" (or at least when he guessed his body had reached the physical age of fourteen) he began to notice Malon in a new light. Though she was always a pretty little girl, her appearance seemed to enhance with her age and rapidly approaching womanhood. Though she retained a very feminine figure, beneath her skin raced strong muscles she had earned after years of riding horses and performing farm work.
Malon was beautiful.
Before long, Link began to notice Malon eyeing him in return. At first he was confused, but after several long, hard looks in the mirror he realized that the Link who had defeated six temples, defeated Ganondorf and saved Hyrule was slowly beginning to emerge from his childish body. And yet this time, the Temple of Time would not return him to his former self. The thoughts made Link feel unsettled, until he recalled the Malon from his adventures had once called his "handsome".
Perhaps she was starting to fancy him again?
Curious, Link decided he would test this theory and mimicked some of the actions the young men in the Hyrule Market performed when they were after the affections of a young lady. Malon seemed flattered by each and every one, eventually rewarding Link with something he didn't truly understand the greatness of until it was bestowed apon him:
Their first kiss.
HIS first kiss.
HER first kiss.
And from that moment on Link knew in she had his heart.
Some years later, after saving up what little money he earned from the ranch (part of his pay was room, board, and meals), Link bought the very ring that now graced his beloved's hand. After convincing her to take a ride with him on Epona, he brought her to the shores of Lake Hylia.
Malon had been confused at the sudden expedition to the lake, but Link had chosen the last carefully. Though there were many places in Hyrule one could consider to be beautiful, this was one place that he connected with love. The reason was a simple one – Sheik had taught him the "Serenade of Water" to warp him to Lake Hylia during his journey. Since he didn't think it necessarily correlated to his previous engagement to Ruto (something he had long ago been able to talk the Zora princess out of – thank the Goddesses), he believed it had something to do with the lake itself.
And so, after playing Malon the Serenade of Water, he had asked for her hand.
And she accepted.
That was about a year ago, and their planned wedding date was rapidly approaching. Though it would be by no means a large ceremony, it meant a lot to them both. Malon was going to wear her mother's wedding dress, and Talon had given Link an advance in pay so he could purchase his own wedding suit (Talon would have leant him his, but it Link was too tall and too thin for it to fit correctly). They had arranged for a minister to marry them on the ranch, and then. . . well, Link wanted to go somewhere special with Malon, but he wasn't sure where. To make matters worse, he only had a month left to decide where they would take their honeymoon.
And the clock was ticking. . .
"How pitiful – the great Hero of Time has been reduced to a lowly ranch hand?"
Link froze in place, looked around the room, and was unsettled to find no one there. "Who said that?" he demanded. Grabbing a bow and slinging his quiver over his shoulder, he left the room and jumped the flight of stairs, landing soundlessly before Talon. Seeing that his boss was undisturbed, Link proceeded outside to discover what was going on.
Link turned to see Malon carrying a bucket of Lon-Lon Milk from the stable to the house. "Malon, get in the house – something's not right here," he said sternly. Malon stared at her fiancé in confusion. "I don't want to see you get hurt – please stay in the house. I'll find you once I figure out what's going on."
"Link, what's wrong?"
"I can't explain it exactly, but. . . I heard a voice in my room."
"Humor me, Malon."
Malon sighed. "All right. Whatever." And with that, she opened the door to go inside while Link diligently pressed on towards the corral. Not wanting to be left out, Malon quickly left the house, closed the door behind her, and hid behind a crate of bottled milk. Peeking over the top, she began to watch.
Just what is he up to!
For several minutes, nothing happened. Link had knocked an arrow and was looking around with frantic interest, but there was nothing to shoot. After a short bit, he seemed to relax a little, but kept the arrow knocked. Malon blinked in curiosity. She'd never seen Link that frightened before – normally, Link was a very level-headed young man and very few things seemed worry him. So what was troubling him now?
Malon bit her bottom lip. She'd known Link for a very long time – just about seven years. Though for the first. . . well, perhaps month or so that she knew him, she had only seen him for little bits at a time. She wasn't quite sure why, but despite his young age, he and that little fairy of his seemed to be on some sort of a mission. Malon never found out what that mission was despite several efforts to try and loosen Link's tongue.
But nearly five months passed between the time she last saw Link with Navi and the day he arrived fairy-less at the ranch. He wasn't in the best of shape – seemed rather thin and malnourished, his clothing was a little ragged, and his body was lined with several bruises and small cuts with inexplicable origins. Malon had naturally rushed him inside, but before she or Talon could properly fuss over him, he asked if her father's offer of giving him a job was still standing.
That had stunned her father for several moments before he ordered – yes, ordered – little Link to bed, where father and daughter spent the next few days making sure he was well-fed, warm (winter was rapidly approaching at the time) and on his way to a swift recovery. During that time, Link, remained silent save for a few utterances of "thank you", or, when asked what had happened, "I don't want to talk about it". Not once did he ask for anything, but graciously accepted whatever food he was given. It was obvious he didn't want their more than generous hospitality, but his near starvation was something he could not fight whenever the smell of beef stew permeated the house.
Naturally, once he was fully healed, Talon humored Link and said he could have a "job", which at the time consisted of little more than the menial tasks Malon performed on a day-to-day basis. But over time Link grew to love the ranch, and the ranch grew to love Link. And as he began to grow into the young man Malon was pledged to marry, he became a well-weathered cowboy.
Ranch worked had shaped Link's childish body into one that, though still somewhat thin, was very well toned with soft yet powerful muscle. His voice, once very soft even for a boy, was now much deeper but a care-free tone in his tone only hinted at his age. His smile, Malon thought, was one thing that never changed – it was always genuine, sincere, and able to make her smile on her saddest days.
But right now Link was acting strangely. And Malon was worried.
Malon's eyes wandered a bit as she tried to discern what was bothering her beloved, and she suddenly saw something she didn't expect to see sitting atop the roof of the stable. Malon couldn't believe her eyes as her chin dropped in shock to see. . . Link? She shifted her gaze again to see Link was stilling in the field, and yet that other Link in dark clothing was on the roof, poised ready to attack with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. As he leapt silently in the air to strike him down, she screamed.
His fianc's screams caused Link to turn in time to see other Link leap at him, swinging the sword wildly above his head. Her Link shot an arrow at his twin, but missed and had to roll out of the way to avoid the attack. Malon watched in horror as Link parried the attack with the bow, which would not hold out for much longer against the solid steel of the other blade. Frightened for his life, Malon grabbed a nearby rock and prepared to throw it.
But someone from behind grabbed her hand. Malon quickly turned her head to see an older, chubby man dressed in a black monk's robe holding her back. Much to her surprise, his complexion was almost grayish in color. Instantly, she thought of a corpse and nearly wretched at the notion. The strange corpse man, however, didn't seem to be minded by her disgust. "I think not, little missy – my brother has a score to settle with that meddlesome Hero of Time, as do the rest of us," he said coldly. "We don't need your interference."
. . . Hero of Time?
"MALON! GET AWAY FROM HERE! RUN! RUN!"
Malon turned her attention back to Link, who was been picked up clear off the ground by the most frightening Goron she had ever seen in her life – no other Goron she had ever seen had a mane of silver hair or skin as gray as soot! And none of them were nearly as big as the one holding her squirming fiancé, whose many efforts, some of which had even draw blood from the Goron, were proving useless against the massive creature.
But Link was not giving up. Even though the Goron remained unmoved as he held the struggling Hylian above his head, the Hylian was fighting for his life. Screaming, spitting, swearing, kicking, and threatening to do horrible things to the Goron Malon couldn't fathom were just a sampling of what Link did. But even as the heels of his boots scraped against the Goron's face, drawing a thick river of blood from the wound, she knew that at least half of his attention was on her.
"Runad! Kiln!" the monk holding Malon suddenly called. The Goron dropped Link, who, much like the two other strangers, turned their attention to the gray man. "If you two paid closer attention, you would see our little Hero of Time seems greatly concern for this little girl." With a speed Malon wasn't sure was even Hylian, the man had her in a tight death grip with a dagger pressed against her neck. She felt a scream begin to form in the pit of her stomach, but primal fear prevented it from ever escaping her lips. Instead, a high pitched squeak emitted.
"MALON!" Link cried, reaching towards her. The man stepped back, and pressed the blade slightly harder into her neck. Though it did not reach the precious life support of her jugular vein or her throat, it was enough to create a small cut that drew just enough blood to visibly drip down her neck. Link froze in place, unsure of what to do.
"Now, listen closely, BOY," said Malon's captor. "You feel for this girl?"
Link slid back into a standing position. Sensing defeat, his face seemed to loose emotion. "I don't care what you do to me. I really don't. But please. . . don't hurt Malon," he said. He looked up at her, sadness in his eyes. "I would never, ever be able to live with myself if she died and I could do nothing to save her."
From there, the other Link (Malon noted this man also looked like a corpse) slid up behind her fiancé and wrapped a casual arm around his neck. Link seemed to instantly recoil at the gesture, but only gave her twin a glare in response. "I'd say you're sweet on her – maybe you've even tumbled under the sheets with her, hmm?"
"How dare you question Malon's honor," Link said through gritted teeth.
"I'd say that would be a 'no' with a hint of a 'but I wouldn't mind that'. Wouldn't you agree, Runad?" said other Link as he turned to face the Goron. Wordlessly, the Goron nodded. "Just as I suspected. Noble and honorable as you may be, you still have the hot blood of a young man coursing through your veins."
Link's face was now flushed, and his eyes were closed. "She is my fiancé."
"Oh, so THAT'S it!" said the evil twin. He snickered. "Now I understand." He turned his gaze towards Malon. "Lucky girl – not every girl in Hyrule would get such an opportunity. . . though I can tell you right now, you won't get that chance. I'm sure you'll spend what would have been your wedding night within the cold earth or crying for your poor, beloved LINKY-POO."
"You will NOT harm Malon!" Link snapped, pushing his twin away. Malon's captor tightened his grip again. She let out a cry. Link gaped at her, clenching his fists in frustration as he turned his glare back to the other Link. "Let her go! I'm not amused by whatever it is you're doing and I will NOT allow you to hurt her!"
"Truth be told, I don't want to hurt her, either," said the twin, holding up his hands. "That's not what I was sent here to do. For all I care the girl runs off and joins the Gerudos." He slinked his way behind Link, wrapping an arm around the other as he leaned forward to breathe into his ear. "My goal. . . is you."
Link's eyes widened. "What?"
"Ah, now we're getting somewhere!" said Dark Link. Malon watched as the twin began to circle her beloved. "Let's test how much you love your little farm girl, shall we? I'll make you a deal. My brother will let the little brat go if you surrender yourself to me. We'll go on a little trip, and your fiancé will be safe."
"LINK!" Malon screamed.
Link stared blankly at his twin. He seemed to be thinking over what was said very carefully – this wasn't hesitation, but rather contemplation. This was a delicate situation – one false move could result in his or Malon's death – possibly both. "What you're saying is that if I allow you to kidnap me, you'll let Malon go unharmed," he said. The evil twin nodded. "I understand."
"So, what is your decision?"
Link turned to look at Malon forlornly. His anger was tapering off, a soft, gentle look in his eyes. "Please. . . just let me say good-bye to her one last time. If you allow me to say good-bye and promise to let her go unharmed, I will go with you without a fight. That is my only request."
Dark Link seemed to think over before finally nodding. "All right. You have one minute. Auron, drop the girl." The old man that Link once thought he knew let Malon go, and the instant his grasp on her was gone she ran into Link's waiting arms, crying hysterically into his shoulder. Link embraced her, burying his face into the softness of her red hair, savoring it for what he thought may be the last time. . .
. . . unless. . .
A flicker of hope found its way to the back of Link's mind. As quietly as he could, he reached one hand into his belt loop to retrieve his last shred of hope. EVEN if he was only able to drop it on the ground, that might be enough. It isn't my safety that's key here – what Dark Link is after may be far graver than just my life. . . and if that's true. . .
Link slipped the item into the hem of Malon's skirt. "You have one chance, Malon, so listen carefully," he whispered. Malon sniffled, but appeared to be listening. "Go to the castle with Epona and ask to see Princess Zelda – the first answer you find will be all the information you'll need."
"I don't understand," she sobbed.
"Please Malon," he begged. "The princess will explain much of what's going on here, but you have to get an audience with her first and explain every detail of what happened here that you can remember. I know you can do it, my love." Gently, Link kissed the top of her forehead. Malon looked up into his eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I love you, Malon."
And in a bright flash, Link was gone.