A/N: For all you newcomers, this is the Twilight Stallion's most valued work to date.
I implore you good people to read, review, comment, criticize, and discuss as much as you like. But most of all...
Chapter 1- The Horseman's Treasure
Link vaguely listened to the spectators' hushed comments, hearing loose words such as "horse," "Rex," and "nonsense," and even "impossible."
Rex Keas, known simply as Mr. Rex to his working hands, was the owner of the white painted stables that lay tucked in the hills. His barn housed a number of fine steeds, bred for the purpose of being sent to the capital to be trained as war horses as soon as they matured. The stable building formed a square around a large wood fenced corral, which at this moment was seated upon by a crowd of visitors waiting for a show to begin.
Among this throng of people was the one called Link, a young man with a flaxen head of hair and serious eyebrows furrowed over striking blue eyes. He leaned casually against the fence, shifting his feet impatiently, indifferent to the other people surrounding him.
He stood there because his boss, Rex, had made the claim that he could tame the wildest horse in the stable, Epona. Arrogant as he was, Rex had made this declaration public, and attracted many spectators to watch and see if he would succeed. Though some people believed that the brusque man would be able to ride the untamed mare, most heckled this idea and came only to watch Rex be thrown into the dirt.
He chuckled to himself, as one might do when he knows a fact that others do not. What he knew was that Epona, the mare he loved and cared for, was not wild at all; Link had ridden her dozens of times at night, when all of the other stable-hands slept, and when Rex would not be able to stand by and throw snide remarks and insults their way. In fact, as far as anybody knew, Link was the only one Epona trusted, and the always high-and-mighty Rex refused to accept it. When the mare had fully matured, Rex forbade Link from riding her, since he would not eat his pride because of this boy.
Link could only observe with apprehension the chaos that would ensue. The corral gate swung open and out trotted Epona, at the time bare of a saddle or bridle. Though he had been friends with this horse ever since her birth, Link still awed at her; Epona, like her brothers and sisters, was a largely built horse, with a reddish chestnut color to her coat, a thick mane and tail as white as snow, and thin feathering over her black hooves. Her neck arched into a finely curved shape as she paced throughout the corral, tail erect and nose held high as she investigated her situation.
Rex, a muscular, burly man, wearing the usual overalls and hat, now entered the corral as well, a coiled rope bridle in hand and a saddle hung over his arm. He eyed the spirited mare with a hint of distaste, and then proceeded to approach with the rope held up for everyone to see.
Epona stopped trotting and stood her ground, eyes bright and looking at Rex anxiously. To the surprise of all, she remained stoic as Rex walked up to her. With the saddle he carried, he fastened the cinch and fixed the bridle over the mare's face.
As Rex mounted up, Link held his breath, bracing himself for an explosion of bucks and kicks, but he let it out again when the mare still stood motionless. As long as Rex behaves himself, so will Epona, he thought hopefully.
When he was properly seated in the saddle, Rex rapped Epona's sides with his heels, sending her off at a choppy lope. He was not a skilled rider; he had not the soft hands and firm voice of one. Instead, he had a loud, coarse voice and an unkind nature, along with an egotistical mind-set.
The mare's nostrils flared, suspicious of this rough riding man. Rex decided she was going too fast, and tugged on the reins to try and slow her down.
Link could easily have told him that pulling on the reins will make a horse want to resist you. But since he was not only forbidden to interfere, but too far away to speak up, he was silent, but his feeling of dread intensified as the fiasco continued.
Epona snorted, now thoroughly irritated, and ignored Rex's pleas for her to halt. She ducked her head down, blowing the dirt on the ground as she did so, and that was when Rex lost all control of her. He took to grabbing her mane for dear life.
Link could hardly bear to watch. He glared at the others around him who were murmuring amusedly to one another, and for a moment considered leaving the corral to seek solitude, until the climax of this display took place.
Losing her patience entirely, Epona slid back on her hocks and stopped, sending Rex flying over her neck and to the ground, landing on his face first.
Now Link wasted no time. Without hesitation he jumped over the post-rail fence and dashed to Epona's side, taking her head close and talking to her softly. The mare's mouth was foaming with saliva, and to Link's fury, her sides were spotted with red patches of blood where Rex had kicked her.
Damn Rex and his spurs! Link thought angrily to himself. Paying no attention to Rex, he quickly led Epona away, heading toward the barn and intending to nurse the mare's wounds. Before he reached the safety of the barn, he heard Rex shout after them, "There's gonna be hell to pay for the both of you!"
A few hours passed, and Link had already cleaned up the horse and put her away in her stall for the night, and now he had taken refuge in his own living place; a tiny loft above the barn, kept especially for each of the five stable hands. A ladder led up to the room, which had only a woven rug covering the floor and a mattress for sleeping, and a wooden nightstand. This was what Link considered home, small as it was.
At the moment he sat up against the rafters, legs crossed and gazing absentmindedly at something in his hands. It was a medal, bronze in make and perfectly sculpted in a round shape, although the most interesting feature was the detailed head of a horse on the face of the medal. A soft, but evident glow emanated from this object, giving the burnt orange hue of the medal a shining copper radiance.
This medal was something Link kept in his possession at all times, for two reasons. One, because it was likely to be a magical object, although he did not know a thing about its origin. Two, because it was a gift to him from his father.
It opens old wounds… Link closed his eyes, recognizing the dull throb of his heartbeat. The very concept of his father seemed hazy, like a distant daydream. As did the rest of his family members, the ones he grew up with, anyway. All of them were either dead or disappeared.
Except…for one. His brother, who had become as Link's father had; a hazy memory. The last remnants of his existence revolved through Link's head for the first time in ages."Please don't make this any harder than it already is, Link-"
"You can't just leave! What if I need you?"
"You don't need me anymore. Soon you won't need anyone's help anymore."
"So that's all you have to say?"
"I can't tell you everything. Live, and learn for yourself. That is exactly what I must do."
"When will you return?"
"I don't know."
"Will you ever return?"
"…I don't know."
The sound of footsteps from down in the barn drew Link from his reverie; he slipped the horse-head medal underneath the blanket on his bed to hide the glow.
Rex's voice carried well from down the ladder. "Don't worry yourself, boy, I haven't put down that mare, yet."
Link was silent; he was not afraid of Rex, but even so, he knew it would not pay to be on his wrong side by protesting. Instead he was careful not to make a sound.
"She's valuable, for sure, but so far that mare has been more trouble than she's worth," Rex continued. "A shot in the dark, at best. Yet, from what my stable hands have told me, Epona has been ridden every night while the sky is too dark to see. Is this true?"
He found out. Now what? Link nearly opened his mouth to argue his innocence, but he managed to keep quiet for a minute longer.
"I don't plan on firing you for that, even though you probably deserve it," said Rex. "Because otherwise, the mare could have caused great deal more damage today than she did."
You're telling me, Link thought irritably.
"That's what I pay you for, after all."
Link nearly laughed. You hardly pay me at all. Epona is the only reason I have stayed at this job. Get to your point, already.
"Anyway, I'm going to sell her while I can still make a profit of her. Let me know if you plan on giving an offer."
Rex's voice faded away and his footsteps did also, leaving the barn downstairs utterly quiet.
Link started with excitement. He's actually offering to sell Epona to me? He stood up and then kneeled beside his nightstand, pulling out the drawer, and then he extracted a leather pouch bulging with the weight of rupees. He emptied the pouch's contents on the top of the nightstand, and then proceeded to carefully count each green, blue, and yellow gem that were now spread over the desk.
"Two hundred…and fifty," he muttered to himself as he finished counting. "Not even a bargainer's price." He groaned, and pushed the rupees away. Epona must be worth hundreds of rupees.
He gathered up the money and slid it back safely into the leather pouch, tying it and putting it back to its place inside the drawer. I'll make the offer anyway. Perhaps it'll be worth my while. Now he felt tired, and he decided to go to bed shortly.
Still, a terrible sadness welled up inside of him as he yanked off his boots and climbed onto his mattress. The likelihood of buying Epona was not very promising, and if his meager amount of money was not enough, he would soon have to face the prospect of saying goodbye to the only friend he had.
The irascible clamor of the crowing rooster was what Link awoke to the next morning. The sound, though a familiar wake-up call, was exhaustingly repetitive; he cringed at the noise and turned over in bed, thinking unhappily, Just a few more hours… He felt so warm and comfortable in bed, he was sure he would sleep for days if he could. He lingered for about ten minutes, starting to doze off again. Normally he would wake up early to his job, since the earlier he started, the more time he could set aside to be with his horse. Especially since now, time with Epona had become precious to him, for any day now she would be sold.
This was precisely why Link felt no desire to leave his room. All he had to look forward to that day was difficult, mind-numbing work, along with Rex and his usual barking orders.The very thought made Link's head ache terribly.
His eyes shot open. Conscious of the fact that he probably slept in later than he should have, Link quickly sat up and stretched. He reached for his clothes; a clean but worn white shirt to wear underneath a forest green tunic, along with a roughly stitched pair of pants. He dressed hastily, and then pulled on his dependable pair of leather boots. Before he was ready to go, he noticed he had forgotten his hat. He swept the floppy green cap from his drawer and pulled it over his head, satisfied.
Now that he was up and dressed, Link felt slightly more prepared to face the day. He noticed that his medal had fallen from its place beneath the covers of his bed and onto the dusty wooden floor. He picked it up; brushing away the dust and stealing a fleeting glance at the beautifully carved horse head before it disappeared into his pocket.
Just as Link touched ground while climbing down the ladder, he was startled to see an oddly dressed man standing expectantly by the barn entrance. Every moment or so he looked across the aisle and scratched his chin, as if waiting for somebody. Whether it was his unblemished royal blue clothing or sheet of chain mail visible from the edges of his sleeves and waist, or perhaps his perfectly combed hair or his authoritarian posture, the man clashed greatly with all others around him. A particularly unusual facet about him was the Hyrulean Coat of Arms displayed prominently on the front of his helmet; the Sacred Triforce beheld above the wings of a red eagle.
It took him a few seconds, but Link finally concluded that this man must have come from Scutum, the nation's capital. The man suddenly looked his way.
"Pardon me, good sir, but I am in search of one named Link. Would you be able to tell me his whereabouts?"
"That… would be me," Link answered him. He was now very curious about this noble from Hyrule's southernmost city, and he wondered what the man would say to him.
"Ah! A pleasure to make your acquaintance, good sir!" The man inclined his head. "My king has sent me here as messenger, to find one with your title, and request for you to journey to the city of Scutum at once!"
Link raised an eyebrow, intrigued. He speculated probable reasons for this sudden occurrence. "I was not aware that the King knows who I am," he said.
"Oh yes. He was advised by one of his consultants that you held the secret to a problem that has vexed us for a long time. I implore you to visit our proud city and present yourself to his Majesty." The messenger finished his query with a pause as he awaited a response.
"What exactly does the King want from me?" Link asked.
"Assistance, I believe, with matters a soldier such as myself would not have an inkling of what about," replied the messenger. "His Majesty explained nothing specific, however, he likely will upon your arrival. Please; will you give me word of your coming so that the King is informed?"
Link hesitated, for he was still questioning the legitimacy of this unexpected summons. What noble matter could possibly involve me? After a short moment of thinking, he nodded. "Yes. Tell the King I will be there."
The messenger looked pleased, and bowed his head again. "The house of his Majesty will be greatly honored. Now I must depart; I look forward to meeting you again in the grand city!" He turned and left the barn, boot spurs jingling as he walked, and moved toward his own brown coated horse tied up by the corral, and disappeared from view.
Scutum…that is many miles from here, Link contemplated. A day away, at most, if riding a horse. Which I don't have. He fumed silently. If only Epona were mine…this may be our only chance to leave this place. If the King of Hyrule has asked me to stay in Scutum…yes, this is my chance! His chance had come to start something new in his life.
All Link had to do now was make his offer for the horse and hope for the very best.
Rex ogled the small leather pouch with clear disdain and said, "Nothing doing, kid. Two hundred and fifty won't even cover half. Besides, I've already decided to send the mare for her breaking in."
"What?" exclaimed Link, confounded. "She's already gone?!"
"No." Rex gestured lazily toward the barn. "She's still in there. I have a trader offering two thousand rupees for the mare. He'll be taking her and a few others away tomorrow."
Two thousand… Link's heart sank. How could I compete with that? He glared at the smirk on Rex's face and realized that the price had been fixed all along.
"You were never going to sell Epona to me, were you?" Link said hatefully.
Rex shrugged. "I never figured that you would afford that mare, anyway. But don't fret; she will go to a worthy knight somewhere in the country, fight as a warhorse in battles, hostilities and the like, and if she lives through another five years of that, she will live safely in the stables of the Royal Family."
"You never cared for her!" Link yelled fiercely. "You cannot just send her away to war to get killed!"
There was no sympathy to be seen on Rex's stony countenance. Instead, he crossed his arms authoritatively. "What's done is done. This conversation is over. Go back to work."
He stood there, waiting for Link to follow through with his order. Link did nothing, except cast him a gaze of sheer loathing. He had clenched his fists in suppressed anger, making an effort not to lose his temper.
"Did you hear what I said, boy?"
Link still did not respond. Rex merely shook his head and turned away, muttering, "You're on thin ice, kid."
Link had subconsciously decided his future course of action. He had, without realizing it, made a plan so reckless, so thoughtless and irresponsible, it seemed to be his only option. Completely forgetting about the rest of his duties for that day, he slowly retreated toward the shelter of the barn loft. Before climbing the ladder, he glanced down the aisle at Epona's head extending from her stall window, ears turned toward him with interest.
Don't worry, he mentally told the horse. Tonight will be the last we see of this village.