1. A Day Off

"Hey, Mal, take the day off why don't 'cha? I think I got everything under control here."

Malon stopped milking the cow for a moment to look up at the person who'd spoken to her. He was leaning up against the doorway in a casual manner and looking at her expectantly as he waited for her response.

"No, it's all right," she began, running the back of her hand across her sweaty forehead and turning back to the cow, "There's still a bunch to do, and I'm not going to make you do it all by yourself." As soon as she finished her statement, she went back to milking the cow, trying to give the impression that she wasn't changing her mind.

The person leaning against the doorway let out a sigh and made his way into the room. He pulled up a stool and set it next to her before plopping himself down on it and looking directly in the eyes.

"See the thing is, Malon, I wasn't really asking you to do it. I was telling you to." She stopped milking the cow for the second time and turned to him, an eyebrow quirked. A smirk was now adorning his face and his eyes were bright and excited, daring her to challenge him.

"And who are you to tell me to do anything, Emin?" She finally retorted, placing a hand on her hip. Emin's smile grew even wider at that, and he let out a chuckle, pleased to see she had accepted his challenge.

"Come. Walk with me." He said, standing up and extending his hand out for her to take.

She hesitated for a moment, glancing between him and the cow and then back at him, "I really don't think I should…"

Emin rolled his eyes, letting out an exasperated sigh, "Just get up, Malon. It's really not going to kill you."

"Well… it could." She said defensively for lack of a better response. She then wiped her hands on the front of her apron before rising from the stool and taking the hand he extended to her.

As soon as they stepped outside, the gleaming light of the afternoon sun immediately hit her eyes, and it took a couple seconds for her to get used to it. The day was hot, but she still enjoyed the feeling of the warm summer breeze brushing against her skin as well as the smell of hay and horses that lingered in the air. She smiled to herself upon seeing the horses running freely around the coral and the cuccos pecking at the dirt, searching for any unsuspecting worms. It was the type of day that made her want to sit back and relax, and Emin's offer seemed more and more appealing by the second.

She looked up at the new ranch hand. She'd hired Emin about five months ago, and considered it a gift from the goddesses that he was someone they could trust as well as a hard worker. Two months before she'd hired him, she was almost certain that things were going to end in disaster for the ranch. But he showed up right in the nick of time to help and she was forever grateful for that.

"I guess I just don't see why you're so opposed to taking the day off," Emin finally said, jolting her from her thoughts. She tore her eyes away from the cuccos to focus on him, and he was smiling gently at her, his light brown hair swaying in the breeze. When she answered him with silence, he took it as his hint to go on, "After all, it's such a beautiful day, and it's much too hot for work anyway. I just think you need a break." She turned away from him again once he finished, trying to decide how she wanted to explain herself.

It wasn't that she was opposed to taking the day off—a break would be something she'd welcome without a second thought—but still, that would mean more work for Emin, and there certainly was a lot of work to do. The main thing that made her want to stay was because she knew he wouldn't receive any help if she left. After all, her father and Ingo hadn't exactly been the hardest workers for the last few months.

In her father's case, she knew it couldn't be helped. He was getting older, and that didn't mean his work habits were getting any better. He spent most of the day sleeping, and even when he did help out, he was never incredibly productive. That was something she could handle, though, and she didn't want to be angry at him for something he couldn't help.

Ingo's problem, however, was entirely different and one that annoyed her much more. Ever since he'd won a good sum of rupees at the bazaar one day, he'd latched onto the belief that he had some kind of luck bestowed on him by the goddesses. Even after he'd gambled away all of his money, he was still convinced his good fortune would come back and so all of the wages he earned would go straight to the bars. The worse part of it was that with his gambling problem, a drinking problem had been born as well. And so he was either too drunk to work or down at the bars gambling. She'd considered firing him several times, but her father just wouldn't have it. He claimed that Ingo was his best friend, and even if he had turned into a good for nothing drunk, it would be wrong to fire him.

Malon found herself frowning at the thought, and she shook her head to rid herself of them. She knew she still had yet to address Emin, but she didn't want to share with him what had been on her mind just yet, and so she retorted with the only thing she could think of, "Well…If it's too hot to work, than why should you have to work anyway? Maybe you should have the day off."

He seemed to have been expecting this response from her, and so he looked back at her with a smirk on his face.

"Malon, you're underestimating exactly how much work I can do, again." That was something she couldn't really argue with him about; she knew she underestimated him sometimes, though she wasn't really sure why she did. She gave him a quick glance up and down, thinking. While he wasn't the bulkiest or strongest person in the world, he did have a decent build, and he was good at a lot of the things she asked him to do. He was also incredibly reliable, and she knew if he said he was going to get the work done then he would get his work done.

But it still didn't feel right making him do everything. She bit her lip before finally giving him the real reason for why she didn't want to leave him alone. "Look, Emin, Dad and Ingo aren't going to help you if I leave. You know they're not exactly… capable. And I don't want you to have to put up their lazy—"

She stopped once she saw him put up a hand to silence her. She quieted down, but gave him a puzzled look when he stopped and went in front of her, placing both of his hands on her shoulders.

"Malon I promise, I swear to you that I have everything under control on this ranch. I can manage without Ingo or Talon's help, and I promise the ranch won't combust into a million flames if you take the day off. So please just go already, okay?"

For another moment she was silent, staring into his dark brown eyes as he looked intensely into hers. Finally, she sighed in defeat. If she thought about it, she really didn't have any other reason not to go. Emin could be really persistent when he wanted to be, but it couldn't help to ask once more time, could it?

"Are you absolutely sure?" she questioned him, but the look on his face already answered her question. She continued on quickly before he could respond, "All right, all right, I'll get going. Just let me get one of the horses ready."

With that said, she turned to go, only to have him grab her shoulder once more. She turned and looked at him curiously.

"No need to do that," he said with a smile before turning away and letting out a loud whistle. Seconds later, a chocolate brown mare came sprinting over in their direction, and Malon immediately recognized it as Hera, Emin's favorite horse. Once the mare was close to them, Malon realized that she was already saddled up and ready to go.

She turned toward him, her eyebrows raised, "Well you sure are prepared. What made you think I'd say yes?"

Emin simply chuckled in response as he watched her expertly climb up on the horse. When she was on, she turned back to him, still waiting for him to answer her. He shrugged, "There are just some people who are extremely predictable, Mal."

And with that said, he smacked Hera's rear, and she was off, carrying Malon with her. As they passed through the gates, he heard Malon yell something back at him, but he could barely make out what it was as her voice was drowned out by the sound of hooves.

She welcomed the feeling of the wind rushing through her auburn hair and the sun's heat beating down on her back. Even when sweat started permeating the back of her dress and began trickling slowly down her forehead, she was not perturbed. Rather, seeing the expanse of Hyrule field laid out before her gave her energy and lifted her spirits. As she rode across the field, she felt her previous concern of leaving Emin to the ranch by himself melt away into the sea of grass, and finally, she was at peace.

It was a clear and cloudless day—one perfect for riding—and she was glad she'd grabbed a hold of this opportunity and that Emin had been so persistent with her. Before this, she couldn't even remember the last time she took a break or some time off for herself. It seemed her days were always filled with tedious chores and other tasks that took up all the time she had. Constantly, she worried about what would happen the next day. Would the animals be okay? Would they sell a sufficient amount of milk? Would something happen to her father or Ingo? It was a tiring and unhealthy habit of hers, she knew that much, but it was also a hard one to break.

Now, though, as she rode Hera who galloped freely across the field, she couldn't help but feel that her mind was free to roam as well. She smiled as she watched Hera run; impressed by the mare's ability to keep the fast pace she had set. Hera was certainly one of their best horses, there was no doubt about it, and she suddenly understood why Emin bragged so much about her. She was healthy and strong; Malon couldn't help but admire the way her limbs worked expertly together to sustain the speed. She also had such a sweet personality, which was one of the other things Emin loved about her. She had the makings of a perfect horse. But despite all of this, Malon still couldn't help but think Hera paled a little in comparison to her favorite horse, Epona.

She had ridden and trained many horses in her life, yet she still couldn't think of one that could compete with Epona. After all, the horse had a great amount of endurance, was faster than any she'd ever seen, and was both healthy and beautiful. Not only this, but while Epona was stubborn and brash, something most people would find as her downfall, it was what Malon loved about her. The two were alike in many ways, one of the main reasons Malon believed they got along so well.

Thinking of how time had passed since she saw her beloved horse, Malon couldn't help but frown. How long had it been? Six months? Eight months? A year? She wasn't sure, and this uncertainty of hers always bothered her. She wanted to believe that Epona was okay, but it was hard to be sure of anything when she barely ever saw her. All she knew was that she most likely wouldn't be seeing much of the horse until a certain man in green decided to show up again.

Malon hadn't seen Link in what seemed like years, and it was hard to predict when she would see him again. He was always saying that he had some place to travel to—an assignment from the Princess—and that was his reason for not visiting. She saw it as frustrating, of course, and found herself frowning upon remembering the last time he visited her. It had only been for a few days in which he barely spent any time with her, and on the morning of the third day he'd gotten up and left without a word. Since then, she hadn't heard from him.

She heard plenty about him, though. Malon wasn't a fan of gossip, and she found it to be an immature practice to engage in, but she couldn't help but listen in when she heard rumors about him floating around the Market. Although she tended to disregard most of what she heard since it was often far-fetched and ridiculous, she did recall people speaking about his whereabouts. There were some who claimed he was living in the castle and hard at work, and others claimed that he'd settled down in Kakariko and was living a peaceful life. She wasn't sure if either of those claims were true, but based on everything they said, she knew he was somewhere in Hyrule…for the time being.

She noticed that the sun was beginning to set beyond the horizon, casting shades of scarlet across the sky, and she shook her head, ridding her mind of those thoughts. As Hera slowed down to a trot, the wind which had been whipping through her hair before now acted as a gentle breeze against her face, cooling the sweat that had been there before. It seemed the entire fields had grown silent, save for the cry of a bird somewhere in the distance.

She tilted her head back, staring into the cloudless, ruby red sky. Although she hadn't realized it, it seemed the afternoon had passed her by. It was getting late, and she would have to go back to the ranch soon. She cherished the break that Emin gave her, and was thankful for having some time to herself, yet she wasn't sure when she'd be able to do it again, one of the main reasons she didn't want to go. As she stopped Hera, she decided she wanted to prolong her break for as long as she could. She let her eyes scan the heavens for a moment, as if waiting for some kind of sign to appear from the goddesses themselves. However, as she did this, she couldn't help but notice something a bit unnerving: a strange black circle floating in the sky.

Immediately, an uneasy feeling began to work its way into her stomach. She strained her eyes to look closer at this peculiar sight, and it didn't take long for her to identify the black circle as a flock of birds. Not just any birds, though. Vultures.

She was no fool. Malon knew that if there were vultures nearby, that could only mean something was dead. She shuddered at the thought. She knew it was most likely just some old animal that was killed, but at the same time, it was more of the thought of what had killed it that bothered her.

She hadn't heard of any monster sightings of late, but every once in a while, some monster would come out from the forests where they usually hid and scour the fields for food, which would result in some random animal killing. It was strange, though, for the dead animal to be so far away from the forest where they were usually killed and so close to town.

The vultures seemed to have moved in closer to the animal, preparing for their meal. She sat there, thinking. What kind of animal was it that had fallen victim to the roaming monsters at night? She vaguely wondered if perhaps whatever was over there was still alive. After all, the vultures were still only circling it, which probably meant that the animal wasn't dead yet, but that it was dying. Maybe it was still clinging to life. Maybe if she went over there, she could rescue it…

She frowned at that idea. It wasn't a horrible one, but why should she want to go over there anyway? It would just be best to leave the vultures to their meal. She bit her lip in thought as she watched the vultures move in closer to it. But if it was alive… Suddenly, on a complete act of impulse, she grabbed Hera's reigns and kicked her heels into the horse's side, pointing her in the direction of the vultures.

They were a bit farther off than they had seemed before, but Hera was fast and it still didn't take long for the pair to get close to their destination. As they came over a hill that was blocking their view of the dying animal, Malon was able to make out a big black form in the distance—the vultures' prey.

When she and Hera were close enough, Malon was finally able to discern the shadowed form of their prey as a vague outline of a horse. Immediately, she felt herself fill up with a new found determination. She couldn't just leave a lone horse out there to die, especially if there was a chance it could still be living. She would do whatever she had to in order to save it. Pulling on Hera's reins, the horse broke into a light run until Malon ordered her to stop when they were just a few feet away from the animal. She could finally make out what it really was that had died, and was shocked to see it wasn't a horse.

Her heart began to beat rapidly in her chest, and she felt her mouth suddenly go dry. What, in the distance, had appeared to be a mane was hair. What had appeared to be a tail was a tattered and torn dress, and what had appeared to be four pairs of long and powerful legs, were actually lifeless arms and legs.

No, it wasn't a horse that had been killed. It was a woman.

Ahh, I'm baaack! I really hope you guys like that. This is the first time I've written fan-fiction since 2007, and I'm really excited to be back here and working on something new. I do plan on continuing and finishing this (unlike my other stories) because I already have most of it planned out, and I'm really excited to get started. If anyone's curious on other new things I'm planning to post or what I'm going to do with my other stories, you can check my profile for more info. I will be updating that soon.

The title to this story may change, by the way, and yes, Emin is a character of my own creation. I'm sorry for those of you that don't like OC's, but he will play an important role in this. And I also know the ending may have seemed kind of random, but I promise there's a point to it. I'm excited to start on chapter two, and, if you liked what you read, then I really hope you come back for more! Thanks for reading everyone, and please review!