Author's Note: Ah, Zelda. I don't need to tell you the magics of cutting grass for rupees and trying to play "I am Ironman" on the ocarina, you've been there - that's why you're reading this right now. All I need to say is: I hope you enjoy it, and I don't own anything I'm writing about. Without further ado...
The world is full of the stuff of legends. The sun that rises and the moon that falls are both divine acts that have magic and power behind them. The very earth, water, and sky are the products of the Goddesses. The birth of every king and the death of every pauper are events worthy of a story. Yes, the world is full of the stuff of legends, but in Hyrule there is one legend that is told most often. There are many versions, and few know the entire truth behind the tale, but there isn't a man, woman, or child alive that is ignorant of the Hero.
Many claim he was a swordsman given his power through the favor of some ancient and forgotten god. The sermons of priests are filled with his deeds, citing his path to be the one we should all follow, the path that brings us into favor with the Goddesses. Parents regale their children with stories of the Hero as shape-shifting beast, conductor of the winds, and greatest of all monster slaying enthusiasts. Because he is in so many, there are those who dismiss him as nothing but a child's fairy tale and there have even been impostors attempting to profit off his alleged reincarnation in times of trouble, but in the heart of the people he is prophet, warrior, and wielder of the power of light.
In the hearts of those who know him, or at least he as he exists today, he is Link, the bane of Ganon, wielder of the Triforce of Courage, and child of the forest. The ones who know him as he is are few, and spread far across the land – sages of old awakened by the Hero's unstoppable efforts in a time parallel to our own. Their memories, and those of Princess Zelda, future ruler of the Kingdom, are what will preserve his legacy in the ages.
He cares little for this. His eternal role in history is a bit beyond his understanding, he is but eleven years old. When he began his incredible journeys across the fields and time-lines of Hyrule and Termina for the salvation of mankind and the whereabouts of his friend and fairy companion, Navi, respectively, he was but ten. In the time since then he has grown more than any boy his age has any right to, but he is still a child. He has had access to a body in its physical prime and the help of the wisest creatures alive to help him ensure his foretold victories against evil, but he was then and is now still a child. Zelda saw this in his eyes after he felled the King of the Gerudo, and so restored his lost time, if not his innocence. Sadly, his knowledge of the world and some of its harsher truths has denied him the carefree youth Zelda wanted for him.
Restarting life as a Kokiri without a fairy was impossible. He knew his true parentage, and beyond that, he knew the wonders of the world beyond the forest. The wonders of the world weren't nearly as much fun when he was alone, however, and he had set off in a fruitless, if not uneventful search soon after for the fairy who had been lost to him. After all was said and done he still had no idea where Navi was or even if she still fluttered around in Hyrule, something that frustrated him and took the fire out of his search. His trip to Clocktown had taught him one thing if nothing else; there are plenty of ways to get lost in this world, and even more ways to lose yourself in another one. If he could stumble into Termina and find himself all but stuck, who knew what nooks and crannies a creature Navi's size could lose herself in.
Thus, as he emerged from the tangled trees of the Lost Woods he found himself, once again, unsure of himself and his future. He liked taking things one step at a time. Hungry? Get food. Bored? Find something to do. Lost in the endless twists and turns of the forest? Find the way out. Luckily, Epona had seemed to remember the way they had taken in three days ago (or three months ago, he wasn't quite sure) – and the trees had soon thinned, allowing the next problem to appear, one without an obvious solution. What to do now? He hadn't thought much beyond getting back to familiar territory, he just didn't have a head for long term planning. He had grown accustomed, once again, to fairies doing that for him. He sighed. Leaving behind Tatl just reminded Link how much he missed his floating blue friend.
It was good to see Hyrule field again, though. It was spring, and the newly green grass made everything look fresh and clean. Flowers were budding and the gentle sound of the river could just barely be heard on the gentle breeze. It felt good on his face, and lazily nudged the tip of his green cap around the back of his tunic. He breathed deep. It was really good to be back. An impatient snort from Epona brought him back to reality and he gave her side a reassuring pat.
Perhaps he should just continue his search. Giving up didn't seem like a very fun idea, and it wasn't his style besides. He didn't know where to begin, but maybe Zelda could have an idea. She hadn't had any leads when he went to her before, she had just given him the Ocarina of Time and wished him well, but she was the smartest person he knew, and maybe she had remembered something in the meantime. The castle was... yep, it was over that way, he could see the tips of the towers over the hills. A gentle tap to the side and a short shout brought his pony into full stride in seconds, seemingly energized by the prospect of being out in the open again.
The world is full of the stuff of legends. Perhaps the biggest one of all began riding out towards Castle Town.
Darkness. Deep and thick, unpleasant alone, but nearly unbearable when combined with the sounds and odor coming from the creatures within. An uneasy sleep was nearing an end, their bleary eyes began to open; they could sense someone nearby. Instinctively they knew that the shackled door that kept their chaos at bay would soon be opened and their violent excitement was frightening. In a moment they were on their feet, talons scratching as they rushed blindly in circles on their dusty floor with a mad energy.
A metallic click and a heavy thud, the sound of a heavy lock unlatching falling to the ground. Yes, yes they could taste the new air as the door began to swing open. The light was blinding for a moment, but their freedom was at hand, and they charged at the one who had released them with a reckless abandon. They would now feast. Their clucking was terrible to behold.
"Hello, everyone!" Malon sang as she threw the seed in her hand to the mob of cuccos flapping crazily in their attempts to beat each other out the door of the coop. She couldn't help but giggle at them - of all the animals she helped take care of, the cuccos were the silliest. The hungriest too, it seemed like. The seed seemed to disappear before it hit the ground as she slowly emptied the feedbag she had. "How are you all today?"
Most of them seemed not to notice her at all, keeping their full attention on the food at all times, but one cucco stopped pecking for a moment and hopped over to its benefactor. Delighted, Malon poured a small pile of seed into her hand and bent down to indulge in a bit of favoritism. Her smile threatened to grow larger than her face when the animal looked at her with a cocked head before proceeding to eat out of her hand. The seed was gone within seconds, though, and the little girl winced as the sharp beak pricked the soft palm of her hand. Shooing her now least favorite cucoo away, she finished her chore by simply dumping the rest of the bag on the ground. They'd finish it all, she knew. They always did.
Clapping her hands to clean them and leaving her strange little friends to their own devices for a moment, Malon thought about what she and Dad still had to do. She was still young, just above her Dad's ample belly in height, but she already had to keep the sometimes lax Talon in line. With Mom gone... well, it was clear even to the child that her father needed her encouragement just as much as she needed his. The redhead took a short moment to smooth her dress out before looking over towards the horses.
As expected, Epona was nowhere to be found. She had to fight the urge to begin pouting. The horse had been gone for longer than ever before now, where could it have run off to? Unlike the other horses, there was absolutely no way to keep that wild pony inside the gates of the ranch. Every once in a while it would prick up its ears and suddenly charge out, even jumping over the gate if it was closed. Dad didn't know what to do about it, but Epona had always come back in a day or two, sometimes looking really tired. It was strange, but Malon never got the feeling that Epona was unhappy when it came back, and it certainly didn't seem unhappy and restless inside the ranch; or not around her anyway. Despite herself, Malon could feel a tremble coming to her lip and a tear to her eye. She missed the horse. There were plenty of others, but Epona was her best friend. If only her voice was stronger she could sing Mom's song into the wind and bring the pony back, she just knew it...
"Oh well." Not one to dwell on sad things, Malon fought back a sniffle before turning back to the cuccos. She still had friends here, and even if they weren't as shiny and appreciative of her singing as Epona was, she still had reason to smile.
Elsewhere on Lon Lon Ranch, Talon and his surly ranch-hand Ingo were busy shoveling hay and having what passed for one of their conversations.
"So dern it if I weren't tired when I arrived. Luggin' all that milk around town had my arms feelin' like I might want ta start lookin' for another job..."
"...and so I just thought I'd prop up on the crate an' maybe git a bit of rest before headin' back, y'know..."
"So I wake up and the sky's blacker than one of Bessie's spots an' I knew then and there that Malon was gonna have my hide! Haha!"
"And I was left to do everything while you were gone."
"Haw! Sorry 'bout that! So she wakes me up with a gosh-dern Cock-a-doodle-do! And not jus' one from her niether, she actually brings up one of our Cuccos with her! I don't know how she managed that, the way they flap and such. She must have had ta hatch it herself when she got to me, 'eh? Haha!"
"Woo!" Talon took a moment to wipe his brow and wrinkle his nose at the sweat stains that were now all but permanent on his rough and well worn clothes. "My arms are-"
"'Feeling like you might 'want ter stert lookin fer another job, boy howdy.'" Ingo muttered just under his breath, never looking up from his work. Talon unknowingly continued on in almost perfect sync with his dour helper before smiling as he saw his daughter open the barn doors.
"Ah, Malon, you git the cuccos fed yet?"
"Yeah, dad. All done, and I thought I would go ahead and bring the cows back in."
"Naw, let 'em stay out a bit longer. Beautiful day." The twittering of birds coming in from the open door reinforced his words and brought a measure of strength back to him. "Besides, Ingo here is better at that anyway."
Malon nodded at the truth in that, not noticing that Ingo had begun to stab his pitchfork a bit more forcefully into his haystack. It really did seem like all he had to do was approach the cattle and they would bolt in on their own more often than not. She wondered briefly if she would ever be as good with animals as Lon Lon's ranch-hand was.
"Why don't you...hmmm..." Tapping a thick finger on his chin in a rather exaggerated manner, Talon thought on what he needed done most, what was appropriate for his little angel, and what he didn't feel like doing today.
"Well... the laundry needs to be done..." the girl admitted, her ingrained work ethic and honesty forcing itself out, "...but I could get started on lunch instead!" Her chipper rise in tone gave an obvious hint towards her preference.
"Y'know I was just sayin' how hungry I was gettin', wasn't I Ingo?" Talon's hearty and unappreciated slap to the back only produced a scowl from it's victim.
"Okay, what do ya want?" Red hair bobbed happily as a work rag was draped over one arm, transforming it into a classy waitress's accessory. After a moment, a stick was produced and the word 'MENU' was hastily scribbled into the dirt.
"Well now, I wasn't expectin' deluxe service!" Talon exclaimed with approval. "Lesse now... I'll have me the chef's special."
"Ah!" Malon exclaimed happily, scribbling a bit more in the ground. "That's one big sandwich with a glass of milk and a bunch of flowers. And for you sir?" she asked, turning politely to her other customer, already knowing full well what he would say.
"Two chef's specials darlin'. He wants pink flowers with his," Talon translated. Another nod, and a drawing of a smiley face next to the first order completed the menu.
"Very well gentlemen, I'll be back real quick," she promised, rising from her crouch and dusting herself off.
"Alright darlin', just don't go too far looking for them flowers," her father warned, "I wanna be able to see ya', alright?" After the usual assurances had been made, the rag was stowed away and she hurried off, pleased with herself for avoiding pruny fingers and the smell of Dad's undershirts. There wasn't much blooming flora nearby, what with the animals eating or stomping on most of it as it sprung up, so that only left the ones that grew near the exit to the ranch. Maybe on the edge of where Dad could see, but not enough to where she'd get in any kind of trouble. Not that her father was any kind of a disciplinarian, a good puppy dog face could get her out of anything, but she knew better than to push her boundaries too much. He didn't get mad when she did stuff like lie and run off alone, he usually got really sad, but that was worse than any of the half-hearted punishments he had managed to give out (and quickly rescind) over the years. So she didn't actually leave the ranch, but she got close enough to the field outside to see the top of the big mountain that loomed over Kakariko Village. There, perfect, lots of tiny but still serviceable pink flowers just on the border of the Ranch's property. She bent over to begin collecting a bouquet of them, difficult because the stems were smaller than the flowers themselves. They also didn't have a very strong smell, but still, she was pleased with them.
Pinching her tiny trophies in between her fingers, Malon turned back towards the house, but was suddenly struck by the sound of a very familiar neigh ringing out over the grassy slopes of Hyrule Field. Was it...?
"Epona!" The flowers scattered around her, forgotten, as she waved her arms frantically and called out to her horse. "Epona! Come here, girl!" She was far away, barely a brown smudge on the edge of the Malon's vision, but it was her, no mistaking it. She had finally come back! Malon couldn't wait to give her a good brushing and sing Mom's song with it again, after a quick lecture on running away so much, of course. As the horse grew closer, however, it became clear that there was something troubling on top of it. A rider.
It was a boy she didn't know. He was, oddly, dressed all in green, and seemed very young. Blond hair poked out of his silly flopping hat, and surprised cries and tugs on the reins meant he wasn't in complete control of the horse and certainly wasn't steering it towards Lon Lon on his own. Still, he was doing a better job of riding it than anybody else had, although Epona had allowed few to try, admittedly. There weren't many visitors to the ranch small enough to ride atop the pony and those that were couldn't even get close enough to pet the animal. Malon had tried a couple of times, but hadn't done much more than go around in small circles before dismounting, feeling guilty at making such a small horse carry her weight. This boy seemed to have no such qualms, although he did appear scared of his apparent loss of control over his steed's brakes.
"C'mon Epona!" Malon continued, her tone shifting from joyous to determined. Whoever this boy was, he was going to get an earful. Where did he get off taking other people's friends around on joyrides without asking first? Her slight frown wavered and broke soon though, and she was actually forced to wince and stifle giggles as she saw him tumble off the saddle and roll, slowly but surely, right into a tree. The loud thunk made her suddenly worried for the rider's well-being, but he soon rolled back into her view, albeit groaning and holding his head tightly. By the time he had stumbled back to his feet, Epona had reached Malon and had begun nuzzling her gently.
"Epona! What are you doing out here with him? Are you alright?" Malon squished her face up against the warmth of her horse's fuzzy brown neck before backing up and shaking her finger in admonishment. "You know better than to be playing around by yourself for so long. We were worried about you!" Epona shook her mane a bit in acknowledgment, but then turned around and trotted back to the dizzy looking kid who gratefully steadied himself against her side.
"And who are you?" Malon questioned, not quite as accusatory as she had planned. The very fact that Epona seemed to care about his well-being earned him a few points, but still, the boy was very strange. Up close she could see that he had a sword on his back, even though he looked no older than she was. Maybe it was a toy, but it looked like it was secured with a bit too much care – tightened leather straps wrapped around his weapon, straps like the guards had over their swords. All the sticks and wooden swords she had seen wielded and had wielded herself were either secured by strings or weren't secured at all. He also possessed a metal shield, and it wasn't a trash can lid. On top of all that, he wasn't crying after that nasty fall he had taken, and it looked like it had really hurt.
His large blue eyes widened a bit at seeing her, and a puzzling smile spread across his dirty face. "Malon!" He suddenly exclaimed, taking her completely by surprise.
Malon balked. "You know me? I don't remember you. I would remember a boy as strange as you." He looked like a nice enough boy, though, so instead of taking her horse back home immediately, she merely asked, "What are you doing with Epona?"
The boy faltered for a moment, just now realizing his mistake – of course they would notice their horse gone for such a long time. He regretted not thinking of it sooner and not paying a visit to the ranch after Zelda sent him back to his young body. He had been experimenting with his old fairy ocarina not long after finding his youth restored to him, and hadn't really known whether Epona would still respond or not; but she had, just like always. He simply continued as if she was still his, not thinking through the implications it would have on a confused Malon. It was obvious that his old friend didn't recall the things they had been through together; the rescue of the ranch from Ingo, the time spent making music together - for all intents and purposes it had never actually happened. Still, even if she didn't remember their past, it seemed like Epona at least still knew him, but there had always seemed to be something a little larger than life about that horse.
Malon put her hands on her hips in a gesture of mild frustration. "Well? Why were you riding her? Where did you find her?" Link hurriedly tried to gather his thoughts. Tales of time travel probably wouldn't go over well right now, but he had to explain himself. And like with everything else, the truth would be the only solution here.
"Epona came to me when I played her song, Malon." True enough, if not the whole story.
"What?" Malon looked at him like he had just sprouted a pair of wings and a curly tail. "How do you know... where did you learn her song?" It was a secret shared by only her and her Mother... and anyone else who happened to walk by when she was singing, she supposed, but who would realize the connection between it and her chocolate brown companion? She didn't remember telling anybody about it...
"You taught it to me." He immediately claimed, causing the girl a sudden doubt in her own memory.
"I did not!" Malon exclaimed. There was obviously a bit of hesitation in her eyes though, giving Link hope that he could get out of this without making the girl upset.
"Sure you did," he continued, "You might not remember, it was a long time ago, but you told me all about your ranch and showed me how to play your favorite song. If you don't believe me, I can play it right now..." After a bit of rummaging around in his tunic, Link proudly produced his shimmering blue ocarina; a gift from the future ruler of the kingdom and the most powerful of all his formidable tools.
"What is that? It looks like a blue potato," Malon scoffed, wrinkling her nose.
"This is what I play the song on," the slightly self-conscious hero said. "It's just about the best instrument in the world."
"It looks like a blue potato." Malon repeated. A crestfallen Link couldn't help but see the truth in her words as he looked down on the mystical artifact, but shrugged it off as he raised it to his lips.
"Who cares if it does. Just listen." After checking his finger position and moistening his lips a bit, he began to blow softly. Despite herself, Malon gasped a bit when she heard the sharp, clear tone coming from the ocarina. It was very loud, but not harsh. Gentle, yet unwavering. It sounded like it was coming from all around her, the grass and the trees and the sky. It was so pretty... then came the rest of the notes. The familiar melody began to come together with crisp and practiced finger movements. It was indeed the song she sang everyday, and it sounded brand new to her.
Hearing it like this... she couldn't help but think of Mom. She could almost see her face again as she allowed her eyes to unfocus, putting her full attention to the song being played. As she began to hum along softly, almost unconsciously, Malon became suddenly aware of the fact that she felt like crying. The boy had his eyes closed as he played, so it was tempting, but she roughly rubbed her eyes until they dried up instead. Then it was done. He had stopped sooner than she would have liked, but he had proved his claims.
He lowered his instrument and opened his eyes to see Epona on one side of him, staring at him in appreciation at hearing its favorite song, and Malon on his other, doing just about the same thing. "I... I thought that was very nice." Malon managed, slightly miffed at being wrong in the first place, but quickly getting over it. "Sorry that I don't remember you, there are a lot of kids who come to visit the animals."
"I'm, ah..." Link fidgeted a bit a this, but quickly recovered. "Don't worry about it. Sorry about riding around on Epona without asking."
"That's okay. Just don't do it again," she lectured, treating him much like she had treated the animal beside him. Before she could really get into it, however, she paused and asked,"Um... sorry, but what was your name?"
"Oh yeah," he said before checking behind him for obstacles and pulling off a quick back flip for dramatic effect."I'm Link. I'm a hero."
"Nice to meet you Link," Malon returned brightly, shaking his hand vigorously before breaking away to do an awkward half-cartwheel. "I'm Mal-oof! Malon... hero, farmer, AND master chef." Landing on her back had done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of her introduction. "But I guess you already knew that if you've already met me." She hopped back to her feet and studied Link, stopping when her eyes ran across the ocarina he still held in one of his hands. "Hey, uh... now that we know each other again..." Her face was sheepish, but she met his eyes nonetheless. "Could you, um, show me how to play that thing?"
"Huh?" Link followed her eyes to his ocarina and he considered it for a moment. On the one hand, this was a priceless treasure that could manipulate the very fabric of time and space. On the other, he truly wanted to be back on good terms with Malon. Back on the first hand, he didn't really want her spit on it... Malon began to silently beg, her hands clasped and her eyes pleading as she nervously jogged in place, awaiting his answer. Despite his reservations, he answered her with a slow nod. "Well... if you want. I guess I owe you something for kind of taking your horse."
"Alright!" Malon cheered, jumping up high and rushing over to grab Epona's reins. "Come on then, we can start practicing after lunch."
"Wha-" Link wanted to protest, but was quickly cut off.
"C'mon, grab all the flowers you can real quick and follow me inside. Dad won't mind, and you can tell me more about what you and Epona have been doing for forever." With that she skipped away with his mode of transportation as a willing hostage, leaving him to contemplate his new challenge. It gave him something simple to focus on however. When you need your horse back, you get your horse back. While being nice about it, of course. It wouldn't be very hero-like to just take it back; he'd probably have to do something like save her from Ingo like he did last time, he figured. First things first though. She wanted him to, for whatever reason, gather flowers. He drew his sword and went to work.
And there we go! I feel like I'll have a lot of fun writing this, and should have another chapter up before too long. Liked it, didn't? Wanna tell me what you thought about that surprise twist with the monsters not being monsters, but Cuccos? Reviews are, as I'm sure you've guessed by now, greatly appreciated. In any case, thanks for reading!