Winter on The Ranch

"Malon, I got me boot stuck again! A little help! I can't feel me toes!"

Malon laughed as she exited the stables, seeing her father's leg sunk into another snow filled hole. She laughed even harder seeing him thrash about on the slippery ice trying to free himself. She finally walked over and placed her hands under his armpits. She grunted slightly as she yanked him from the ice with one mighty heave. It was times like this that she wished they still had a hired hand. Ever since Ingo was fired the year before, things had definitely been a little more peaceful without his constant whining, but also harder as his work now fell to her and Talon.

Talon chuckled nervously and bowed to Malon gratefully, saying, "Thank ye much, Mal. How are the hay bales…"

"The hay bales are broken and ready for the horses and cows to eat, the water barrels are full, and I just put the last bucket of milk into the basin. I just have to lock the corral doors." Talon patted her on the head, ruffled her hair lightly and said, "Good girl, I'll see ya inside." Talon shook out his boot as he walked inside the house.

Malon giggled again and walked over to the corral, humming to herself as she pushed the swinging section of the split rail corral closed. As she wrapped the chain about the hinge and closed the rusty lock, her ears picked up a small sound, drifting through the snow.

At first she though it was the wind playing tricks on her ears. She went back to adjusting the lock until it stayed shut. She got back up and turned, only to hear the sound again. It was closer this time, and she strained her ears until she could clearly hear… an ocarina.

Her heart stopped in her chest. It couldn't be… it just couldn't… but a familiar tune began to play over the snow, and Malon found herself walking steadily faster until it became loud enough that she could hear the notes echo across the field. She froze in her tracks, seeing a cloudy silhouette in the falling snow. It was far too tall to be a regular human. Malon quickly recognized the shape of a horse, with a rider on the saddle. The rider brought his hands to his mouth and the tune began to play again.

Malon was hesitant, but she began to sing a few notes of the melody. She sang a whole line, and then waited, listening intently. Sure enough, the ocarina played the next part. She continued to sing along and soon Epona's Song echoed throughout the ranch, the hollow but mystic sound of an ocarina accompanying the light, sweet sound of Malon's voice.

The figure drew closer and Malon saw him stow the ocarina in a satchel by his belt. His hood was up on his gray cloak. At first Malon thought it might have been someone else, but as the figure drew close, it said brightly. "It's been an awfully long time, Red. But you can still sing better than the goddesses themselves, I see."

Malon's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates and a smile instantly split her face in half. "LINK, IT IS YOU! IT'S REALLY YOU, OH THANK THE GODDESSES YOU CAME BACK!!!" She quickly ran up to him and tackled him into the snow in a spine cracking hug. Link managed to wheeze out a chuckle and said, "It's good to see you too Malon… now could you loosen the grip? As much as I enjoy this position, you're cutting off my circulation."

Malon eased up on her grip, and then realized exactly what position they were in. Malon had somehow fallen on top of Link, and her face was about an inch from his. Neither of them moved for a moment, allowing a fierce blush to settle into both their faces. Malon then seemed to snap back into reality and quickly got off Link, brushing off her dress and coughing nervously. Another voice came booming from the front porch and soon Talon's round form came lumbering through the snow. "Malon, for the love of the goddesses, what's the racket about… L-Link!? Is that really you, boy-o!?"

Link smiled and dropped his hood, his messy blonde hair and long green hat finally visible to Talon's old eyes. "LINK, HA-HAH, WELCOME BACK BOY-O!!!"

He thumped Link on the back and quickly said, "Well this is a right treat, it is! Malon, help him inside and get yer tail to work, we gotta set up a spare room for Link…"

"Oh, are you sure? I could just sleep in the barn, like last time."

"Nonsense, boy-o, no friend o' mine will be sleeping in no barn during a right chilly day like this. No, yer stayin' inside, where it's warm. Malon, help him tie up Epona and git yourselves inside, before you freeze!"

Link and Malon quickly guided Epona through the icy snow and into the barn, letting her rest in her favorite stall with a nice big pile of hay. The horse happily whinnied lightly and laid to rest inside the stall, looking quite content with herself. "You've taken such good care of Epona, Link… how can I ever thank you?"

Link seemed to be in thought for a moment, but he quickly smiled and said, "No thanks necessary, Red. You raised Epona like she was your baby, who am I to ruin such a wonderful upbringing?" Malon smiled brightly and hugged Link again, still in shock that he was actually there. She walked back to the barn doors, not realizing Link wasn't following. She was halfway to the house when she realized that Link wasn't behind her.

She walked back inside and found Link wandering about the barn, seemingly examining it from roof to floor, as if trying to memorize the layout of the place. His ran his gloved hand along one of the support beams near Epona's stable and suddenly got a glazed over look in his eye. He also wore a light smile on his face, as if he was deep in his memories. Malon just stood idly by, taking this chance to get a good look at him.

He hadn't changed much since he left last month. The cold outside left a slight pink tinge in his cheeks, but everything else seemed the same. She was glad that life in the palace hadn't turned him into some sort of zombified, boring aristocrat. His blonde hair still hung messily on top of his head, framing his strong face and ocean blue eyes perfectly. His shoulders were broad and Malon could tell that his years as a traveler and warrior had definitely helped his physique. That was a fact she often found herself daydreaming about…

She caught herself staring and quickly turned away, trying to fight back the blush in her face. Link finally registered that she was still there and said, "Oh wow… I'm sorry, we should be getting back to the house…" Malon nodded, but looked slightly apprehensive.

"Mal, what's wrong?"

Malon looked at him for a long while and said, "Link… how long are you staying?" Link laughed and said, "What, you're sick of me already? Gee, thanks for the warm reception, Malon." Malon shook her head and said, "No, I'm not joking around. You're never here for too long, so I need to know when to have your supplies ready."

Link looked at her as if she had grown a second head. Malon didn't miss this and felt herself becoming confused as well. It was almost as if…

"You are here for supplies… right?"

Link thought for a second and finally got her meaning. He walked on up to Malon and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Mal… I'm not here for supplies. I'm not here for them because… well, if you and your father will have me, then I'm not leaving again, period."

Malon felt her heart stop again. He… wasn't leaving!? Malon didn't dare trust her ears, she must've been dreaming again. "You… you… you really want to stay?"

Link nodded and said, "I could work as a farm hand to earn my keep, I could even sleep in the barn, your father doesn't even have to pay me! Just as long as I have somewhere to sleep and food, then I'll be okay. Again, it's up to you and your father whether I can stay or not." Malon stared bewildered at him for a few minutes, making Link extremely uncomfortable. "Mal? Are you okay? You look a little pale…"

Quite suddenly and without warning, Malon launched forward and latched onto him in as tight a hug as she could manage. Link reflexively felt his arms reach around her as well, and looked down when a slight murmuring sound came from her face, currently buried in his shoulder.

Link listened closer and discovered that Malon was crying. "Malon… Malon, what's wrong?"

"No…. nothing's wrong… you just… oh Link, thank you so much!" She once again buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed out her joyful tears. Link relaxed and smiled, knowing that she wasn't upset over something, and held her tighter, letting her dry out before he released her again. Malon finally quieted down and rubbed away a few stray tears as she drew away from Link. Wrapping an arm about her shoulder, Link walked her back to the house, both of them smiling broadly, Malon bursting to tell her father the news…

"Are ya absolutely certain boy-o? The farm life is awful quiet for a travelin' hero such as yerself."

"Believe me Talon, I am done with traveling for the rest of my life. I can't keep wandering out there anymore, I need a little more stability than that."

"Now, about this issue of payment…"

"Really Talon, it isn't necessary. I don't ask for money, only for…"

"I know, I know, food, clothes, and a place to sleep. But don't be unrealistic boy-o. Yer gonna need money for things if ya plan to live a normal life like meself. Not to mention for a ring when you finally decide to propose to my daughter…"

Link nearly choked on his tea, thanking the goddesses that Malon was upstairs asleep. "Wha-what a-are you talking about!?" Talon arched an eyebrow at him, not missing the profuse blush that had entered Link's face. His old eyes also noticed Link's hand unconsciously reach into his pocket, where he seemed to be fingering some sort of small item.

"Boy-o, I'm old but I ain't blind. Yer just like I was when I met my wife, goddesses rest her soul. I can tell you feel a lot more than just friendship for my little Malon." Link stared down at the table, still fingering the small object in his pocket nervously. Talon could plainly see that he was nervous, and decided to help him out a little.

"Link… I gotta tell ya, I'm certainly glad to see ya back, but I don't think even I was as happy to see ya as Malon. She's been right lonely on this ranch, ya know. All the people her age are in the town, and we don't see many young gentlemen interested in a farm girl nowadays. But even besides that, she's quite taken with ya…."

Link looked up from his tea and finally stammered out some more, "S-she is?"

"Well, of course she is, boy-o! You see it all the time in the way she looks at ya… or doesn't look at ya. Surely you've noticed how she always seems so chipper around ye?"

Link thought about that carefully, and found himself agreeing with Talon's words. She rarely ever seemed sad around Link, and if she was, then she always seemed to be cheered up when he came around. He often times turned his head to find Malon staring at him, then quickly turning away and blushing.

"Not to mention how ya took care of Epona for so long… I'll tell ya, she doesn't trust Epona with anyone, not even me sometimes. When you somehow managed to get her to trust you even with her favorite mare, I knew something was probably gonna happen."

Link looked up the stairs and smiled lightly. "She's waiting for ya boy-o. If not now, then when? How much longer are you gonna make her wait? How much longer are ya gonna make yerself wait?" Link looked at Talon for a second, and merely smiled as he rose from the table, walking to the stairs. He turned around and said, "I've been waiting for years Talon, I never said I was gonna wait any longer than that."

Link quietly crept up the stairs and found himself in front of Malon's bedroom door. He opened it soundlessly, thankful for his expertise at being stealthy. Walking inside, he quickly turned around and made sure the door didn't slam closed. Confident that all would remain quiet, he turned around to take in the sight before him.

Malon lay asleep in her bed, nestled under the covers in the cold winter night. Her copper red hair fell about the pillow gracefully, framing her beautiful face, now awash in moonlight from the nearby window. Link took a seat on her bed, and slowly reached a hand to her delicate face. He gently rubbed his thumb across her soft cheek, the pad of his thumb ever so slightly touching the corner of her lips. Link found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss those lips, what they would feel like, how they would taste…

He smiled in spite of himself. It was moments like this that Link truly counted himself as lucky. He couldn't understand how Talon could be right about the men in town not showing interest in Malon. He himself had seen almost every woman in Castle Town, as they often waved to him or cast winks or sly smiles to him as he went through town on Epona's back. And he knew no matter what woman tried to nab him, they could never hold a candle to Malon.

They were too pale and fragile for Link's taste, and far too high maintenance. They were fit for rich townsmen, not traveling heroes like him. No, instead, he found true beauty in a farm girl. Malon was by no means plain looking, Link always knew she was just as beautiful, if not more so than the Three Goddesses themselves. He would know… after all, he had seen them. But she also knew how to fend for herself, she didn't depend on a man to get her work done. No, she went about her day to day life, doing chores that most townswomen considered beneath them, and didn't complain one bit. In his mind and eye, Malon was the closest thing to perfection on the whole planet. Even the Princess Zelda seemed somewhat average now that he got a good look at Malon.

Link found that in his train of thoughts, his face had unconsciously crept closer to hers. He soon felt quite anxious, he was far too close to be considered safe… but then again, if he moved a little more forward… he could try… she was still asleep… but if she woke up… Link soon found that he didn't care…

His lips ever so slightly made contact with hers, and he felt the rest of his mind slip away. Malon did not seem to be stirring, in fact, Link did not sense any signs of her waking up… that is, until he felt a pair of hands tangle themselves in his hair, along with Malon's lips kissing him back.

Link's eyes snapped open and he froze for a second, but as Malon kissed him stronger, he felt himself relax into it again. After a few moments, he broke away slowly and his eyes opened to find Malon wide awake, her eyes gazing into his knowingly, a small smile gracing her soft lips. Lips, he realized, that tasted like strawberries…

"You were awake this whole time."


"You knew I would try to kiss you."


"You wanted me to do that."

"Oh, you have no idea how much."

Link made to speak again but Malon quickly silenced him with another kiss. Link broke away and sighed heavily. Taking a seat on the bedside and looking out the window, into the moonlight as dark specs of snow floated down lightly. "Malon… how long have I been doing this?"

Malon looked at him strangely. "Doing what?"

"Coming to this ranch, being happy here with you and your father, only to leave again."

Malon's face fell slightly, that was something she normally tried not to think about. "Well, it doesn't matter, you're staying now and that's that. Dad said he was more than happy to…"

Link shook his head and, much to Malon's relief, smiled. "That's not what I mean Red. I mean, think about it, you've been on your toes for the past year or so looking for any trace of me while doing all your farm work. That's time you could've spent elsewhere, having your own life. Why did you stay? Why did you insist on watching out for me instead of going to town, going to see the world?"

Malon thought for a long time before answering. "Link… it's not that I don't like cities, I do. They're grand, majestic, awe-inspiring… but, I couldn't live in one. I mean sure, when I was a little girl I always wanted to live in a castle with a handsome prince and all that stuff… but then I grew up. I got to the city with dad to drop off milk and get supplies, and that's all."

Malon chuckled quietly to herself, "Even if I did, as you say, have my own life, it's not like it would be that exciting. In case you haven't realized, city men are not attracted to farm girls. Oh sure, I can try to make myself pretty and such, but it won't matter. I'm not rich, or of noble blood. In other words, I'm not a…"

"Stuck up, snot nosed materialistic witch?"

Malon laughed brightly and said, "Exactly. I could never live in a palace or a city, like you have." Link chuckled himself and said, "Well, I'm here, so you should be able to guess my feelings on the issue. I had to leave… too crowded, too loud, too expensive… and… there was one more reason…"

He turned to Malon and she felt herself blush slightly at the way he was gazing at her. "Mal, I came back because I… well, because I know this is where I belong. I've been all over this world over and over again and I'm done. I want to settle down in ONE spot, and be able to live my life as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. And… I also thought about… perhaps…"

Malon saw the slight hesitation in Link's face and couldn't help her own nervous excitement from showing slightly. "You…thought about what?" Link cleared his throat and said, "Malon, tell me, how old are you?" Malon was caught off guard with that, but responded nonetheless. "I'm nineteen… why?" Link nodded and smiled, "What a coincidence, so am I. Shouldn't people our age be concerned about marriage?"

Malon had hoped he would mention it, but it still didn't make her ready for it. "I… I suppose so…"

Link looked away for a second and then stood up, taking a small parcel from his pocket. He motioned for Malon to join him, and so she rose as well, taking note in exactly how much taller Link was than her. She thanked god the low light was hiding her blush, as it was now a bright red being this close to Link. She felt a rough, warm hand take her own small one and gasped as Link slipped a small silver band on her left ring finger. On it was a diamond cut in a very familiar shape…

"May the blessings of Farore, the Goddess of Courage, pass on to the woman I now ask to be my wife." Malon's eyes shot up to his and locked there for what seemed to be ages. He had said the words so simply, and yet they filled the whole of her brain like a rushing tsunami. After much effort on her part she managed to squeak out a "yes…" before kissing Link as hard as she could.

The Triforce on the back of Link's right hand glowed softly as the two continued to kiss in the waning moonlight, and began to grow until, unbeknownst to them, the entire ranch was bathed in a bright light, slowly fading away until Malon and Link separated, turning to find three bodies of pure light in the room.

"Hero of Time, you have indeed chosen wisely in the girl who is to be your wife. Malon Lon, step forward." Malon paled and sunk back slightly, but Link gently placed a hand on her back and encouraged her forward. She thought it odd that he was so calm.

One of the bodies stepped forward and took on a slight emerald hue. "I am Farore, Goddess of Courage, here to give my blessing to this union. Your house shall be protected from this day forth. Your children, and their children, will carry all the wisdom and power you two possess. Rest easy, kind hero and gentle lady, your lives shall be prosperous and happy." And with that, the bodies disappeared.

Malon looked to Link for a second, then to the mark on his hand. "Is there something I need to know?"

Link smiled and said, "Soon enough, love, soon enough…"

Before she could respond, he kissed her again…