A/N: Sorry I didn't upload last week. I have lots of good excuses but I'm sure you don't care about those, so I'll just say that I'm sorry and I'll try to do better. Hopefully the fact that this chapter is a little longer than usual will help make up for it.
I loved Lon Lon Ranch. It was the only place left from my childhood that held nothing but good memories. Like in the barn where I used to play games or do odd tasks for Malon's father, Talon. Looking back, I think he was just being generous to the poor orphan boy who was friends with his daughter. Then there was all the time I played with Malon and the days she spent teaching me to ride a horse.
While it had been too long since I last stopped here, Lon Lon was the only place I still visited semi-regularly. Amidst all my failures, this place felt like my one success. It was a place where I didn't have to feel the crushing guilt I experienced anywhere else from my past.
And then of course there was Malon herself. She was amazing. So nice and fun and pretty, but still such a hard worker. And the takeover hadn't hardened or embittered her like it had to so many. She had retained this optimism and light about her in the midst of so much darkness. I felt incredibly lucky to have her as a friend.
"So have you been having much trouble with Ingo?" I asked after we explained what had happened on the Zelda front. We were all sitting around Malon's kitchen table. Trenton and Landon were good company, though perhaps a bit mesmerized by Malon, not that I blamed them. Sheik, however, was even worse than usual. He kept his scarlet gaze locked on Malon, and his eyes were full of dislike and distrust. Why couldn't he leave us alone like he normally did? I don't think I've ever hated him more.
"No. Everything's been so much better since you helped out a year ago."
Sheik kinked an eyebrow in interest. "And just how did he help you?"
Malon replied cheerily, "Well, there was that time when we first met, and he found and woke my father so he could make a milk delivery on time. Then there was the time he filled in as an emergency farmhand for a week. Then-"
I tried to hide my smile as Sheik stopped her from making the list any longer. Malon had obviously noticed his cold looks, as her faked obliviousness was a way to get him back. That was so like her. If you crossed her, she'd make you wish you hadn't, but she'd do it with a warm look and kind gesture. Kill 'em with kindness, as she said.
"No," Sheik said, "I meant that instance a year ago."
"Oh silly me. Of course you wouldn't want me to waste your time by listing every single small thing Link's ever done to help us. Especially since he's done so much over the years. I just feel so lucky to have met him all those years ago. I guess you could call it fate and..."
I coughed into my arm to stifle the laughter I felt rising in my chest as Malon continued rambling. Sheik was becoming increasingly exasperated by the second, and I thought he might actually lose it. Instead he finally lowered his icy gaze.
I felt the urge to jump up in victory. Malon had just managed to do what I previously thought impossible: she beat Sheik in a staring contest. I knew that girl was special.
"Anyways," Malon continued, ready to really answer Sheik's question since she got what she wanted, "Ingo had been my father's second-hand man on the ranch since I was just a little girl. Over the years, he began to grow resentful because my father, as much as I love him, has a bit of a lazy streak and would often pass off his work to Ingo, making him do both their jobs.
"After the invasion, the ranch suffered financially. We limped along for a few years, but soon it got bad enough to the point Ingo was able to take over. He kicked my father out and treated the other workers pretty badly. I stayed on because I was afraid for the horses."
"Weren't you afraid for yourself?" Trenton asked.
Malon smiled her appreciation at his concern, making him blush. "No, I was too valuable. Besides, even though I wasn't exactly happy with what happened, I thought Ingo might make a halfway decent owner. He had been such a hard worker, and he was always nice to me. But he developed a bit of a gambling problem. It became bad enough that he very nearly ran the ranch out of business. I know Lon Lon is a pretty small town, but in this new Hyrule, I doubt many of its inhabitants could find sufficient work if the ranch went out of business.
"And then this lunkhead," she said pointing to me, "comes riding into town like nothing's changed. When Ingo saw him, the look on his face..." Malon shook her head and smiled at the memory. "His whole head turned purple in rage."
Seeing the confused look on the others faces, I stepped in to explain. "Ingo was never really a fan of mine, but when I was around fourteen, Talon gave me my horse. Ingo thought Epona was the key to getting the ranch out of debt, so he was absolutely furious that Malon's father had just given her away. Never mind the fact that only Malon and I had ever been able to ride her."
"So when he sees this horse and rider," Malon continued, "that he convinced himself were the source of his financial woes, he lost it. He started screaming at Link, demanding that he return Epona. I tried to step in and cool things off, but Ingo was completely unreasonable at that point. Link was still pretty calm, as is his nature, but then Ingo slapped me aside to get better access to Link. I think that's the first moment I ever saw true anger in Link's eyes."
My jaw clenched at her words. I could still see his hand slapping her face, still clearly hear the crack that sounded when he made contact. My blood boiled at the memory, and I had the urge, even now, to find that man and beat him bloody with the hilt of my sword.
"Link leaned down so that he was nose to nose with Ingo. They exchanged threats, and I thought for sure that their confrontation would devolve into a fistfight. Instead, Link made a proposition: a horserace. If he lost, he would give up Epona, but if he won, the ranch would come back under the control of my family. Ingo was desperate and angry enough that he accepted. It was stupid on his part, especially considering that Epona was far and away the fastest horse we'd ever had."
Landon nodded, having seen Epona's speed first hand. "So did you beat him easy?" he asked.
"Well..." I said, stretching out the word and shifting in my seat. "Not exactly."
"He should have," Malon said, giving me a look. "He was up by a horse length with what, maybe fifty yards to go?" She aimed her question towards me. I shrugged. That sounded more or less correct. "But then we heard a scream and alarm from town. Instead of taking the extra few seconds to win the race, Link immediately turned Epona towards the cries and rushed to help, leaving Ingo with an easy victory."
"But why wouldn't he..." Trenton started, but then he shook his head. "No of course he wouldn't. Link's never been one to finish a task, regardless of importance, if something more immediately interesting catches his attention."
I cringed at his depiction of me, but I couldn't really argue against it. Finishing the race wouldn't have cost me much time, and there had been a lot riding on the outcome. But when I heard that scream, it was like my brain had turned off, and I was ruled completely by the instinct to not let this town suffer any fate even close to that of Castletown.
"So what happened?" Landon asked, probably the only one more interested in the story than discussing my faults.
"One of the rogue attacks," Malon said. "It was our first one; we had mostly been left alone until then. I guess Ganondorf thought it was our turn to be remember his power."
"What did you get hit with?" Landon asked. Since we tended to travel exclusively to the small towns, he was familiar with these kinds of attacks. They were a way to keep the scattered smaller settlements in line without having to keep guards at every single one.
"Lizalfos," I answered. I had only heard of those monsters before that day. Seeing them in person, well, they were nasty. Basically, they were giant anthropomorphic lizards that wielded excruciatingly sharp blades. And while they were a head shorter than the average man, they were insanely quick. They'd strike at your belly, and then before you could react, they were behind you, slashing at your back.
"I rushed after Link, only to see men scattered around the perimeter trying to fend off the monsters. There may have only been four of the creatures, but they were lightning fast. Sometimes they'd spin, using their tails to sweep their opponents legs, and once the man was down on the ground, that's when the Lizalfos' daggers would come into play. There was so much blood. It looked less like a battle and more like a massacre."
Malon blinked hard as if she were trying to erase the memory from her mind. She swallowed her distress and composed herself so she could continue. "But then Link reached the battlefront. He rode Epona at a full gallop and took an angle that forced the Lizalfos to jump back for a moment's retreat. Something overcame Link, I can't quite explain what, but he had a glint of fire in his eye. He organized the remaining men into a defensive formation that would not break easily right before the monsters descended in their second attack. He called out orders, and the men were better able to protect each other. Then I watched as Link took two of them out himself while it took a group of ten men to defeat the other two.
"Ingo finally made his way over to us and his eyes traveled from the dead men lying about to his injured workers to Link, who had his sword belly-deep in a giant lizard creature. After removing and cleaning his blade, Link grabbed Epona and regretfully led her over to Ingo, fully prepared to fulfill his end of the bargain. However, the scene Ingo had just witnessed shocked him to his core, finally allowing some of his old sense to break through his prideful heart. When Link was little more than an arm-length away, Ingo dropped to his knees and cried out that he was overwhelmed and that he didn't know what to do. Then he begged forgiveness from Link, from me, and from his workers, who he had treated so badly.
"What happened next was a rough transition, but a necessary one. My father was allowed to return, and a deal was struck that he and Ingo would co-own the ranch as equals. Though it was tenuous at first, it seems to have worked out for the best, as they both excel in different areas. My father's been able to keep Ingo from gambling and Ingo makes sure that my father keeps on task."
"Well of course things are working more smoothly now. Malon's really the one running the ranch," I said. After all the praise she gave to me through that story, I felt the least I could do was return the favor.
She smiled humbly and tried to deny it, but I knew it was true. During the many times I had pitched in as an extra hand, I noticed that many of the workers took their problems straight to Malon because she tended to solve them quickly and without nearly as much hassle as either Talon or Ingo. And if she wanted something, pretty much anyone in town would bend over backwards to help her out.
I sat back in my chair contentedly as Malon started in on an embarrassing story from my youth, presumably to keep me from getting a big head after her first story. That was fine by me. She could continue with those kinds of stories all day as far as I was concerned. All I wanted to do was enjoy both her company and this short reprieve from thinking about the impossible hero I was supposed to become.
A noise sounded from below. I stopped my careful writing as I perked my ears. I folded the papers that contained newly drawn up plans and strategies and held them to the flame of the candle that allowed me to work in the night. Disintegrating the papers might have been an unnecessary precaution, but it was no great loss. Once I wrote something down, it was locked in my memory.
Another noise and a new light source proved I was no longer alone in the barn where I had been sent to sleep. Everyone else had a room in the house, even the General, but I preferred being out here on my own anyway.
As the figure made its way up the stairs, I adopted a blank look to my face, prepared for an enemy but not expecting one. I was surprised to see that it was Malon who stepped up to the loft I had made my bed. If she gave anyone a late night visit, I would have assumed it would be Link. My earlier behavior had definitely not enamored me to her. I waited in silence for her to explain.
"Excuse me?" I said, fixing my face into a stern expression to try and convey that I had neither the time nor the patience for an impromptu visit like this.
She crossed her arms and planted her feet in defiance "Convince me that Princess Zelda is as great as Link thinks she is."
I stared at her, trying to understand her angle. A hundred responses ran through my mind, but I finally decided this would go faster if I were honest. Or at least as honest as I ever was.
She nodded as if confirming something to herself. "Then convince me that she's worth following."
"I do not understand."
"She has a plan, right? I mean, why else would she send you to train Link. It's part of her move to take back Hyrule. It has to be. Given what Link's told me about her and the fact that she's using the godesses' chosen hero-"
"He told you?" I interrupted.
A small smile made its way across her face. "Well I guess technically you just did." I could have slapped myself for letting shock overcome my normal prudence. "But I've suspected for awhile. Even when we were little, he used to seek out monsters, never showing any fear. I grew more suspicious a little later when I gave him a new pair of fingerless gloves as a gift, and he freaked out when I made a move to take off his old ones. And his performance during the attack a year ago pretty much sealed it for me. The way he led the town to victory, those men would have followed him anywhere."
I tried to keep my expression neutral, but she could not have said anything that made me happier. For our plans to work, he would need that kind of leadership-granted, on a much larger scale-so knowing he had that potential meant one less thing over which to worry.
"Then why does the princess matter to you? Clearly you believe in Link. Is that not enough?"
"You're right, I do believe in Link. But right now he's acting more as a puppet to the princess' will than anything else."
I was ready to object, but she stopped me by saying, "Don't try to say differently. You yourself already admitted that he thinks too highly of her when you said you could not defend his views on the matter."
I closed my mouth. This girl was sharper than I had initially given her credit. I would not make the same mistake of underestimating her again.
"So convince me that she's still worth following. It will be worth it to you if you are successful. We don't just breed and sell horses here, we also use them in a message/package delivery service. Seems like that could be useful if you're trying to recruit people to your cause. I myself also have influence, not only in this town, but in many of the neighboring communities. I am prepared to dedicate all I have to your mission, but first you need to convince me that the princess has a viable plan, that I wouldn't be placing unnecessary risk on the people I love and the life I've made. I need to know that she's also willing to risk everything to succeed and that she won't abandon her plans like she abandoned Link all those years ago."
I blinked at the shot, anger rising in my chest. She knew nothing about the circumstances. There was no other choice, and besides... I stopped my venomous line of thought and pushed down my anger. It would not help anything.
From her look, she thought I would lie in order to gain her support. I did feel a slight temptation to do so-there was much we could do with her resources-but empty rhetoric would not convince her of anything. I believe the only reason she was still speaking to me was because I answered her first question, or demand rather, honestly. I decided the same strategy would be best here.
"If you are looking for a foolproof strategy to take back the land, you should leave now. Ganondorf is exceedingly powerful, and even using all our energy, cunning, and skill might not afford us the chance to take him down. And yet there is still hope. The goddesses themselves spoke anciently about an evil that would envelope all of Hyrule. They promised that during this time, they would give their mark to the hero who would save us all. I think it's high time that their prophecy be fulfilled.
"Any doubt you have about the princess' dedication can be put to rest. While she has only started to surface recently, she has been planning and fine-tuning her plan every moment since she was forced to flee from her castle. Not a moment has gone by since that day where she was not thinking about the people of Hyrule or preparing to get it back. I have seen this firsthand.
"No, she is not perfect. She has made and will continue to make many mistakes. But do not forget, she too was marked by the goddesses. They have given her wisdom far beyond her years, and it shows. With or without you, this war will begin soon, but to be successful we will need every resource we can get our hands on, so I would far prefer to have your support. But the only other thing I can say to you is this: I believe in Princess Zelda, and I believe in Link. I believe that together, they will give Ganondorf a reason to be afraid. And to me, that's enough."
Malon examined my face intently, and we sat in silence for a few minutes. That was fine with me. I appreciated silence for the valuable tool it could be.
She sighed and one of the corners of her mouth curved upwards. "Fine, you've convinced me." Then her expression turned more timid, almost as if she were embarrassed. "Could I ask you one more question? This one's a little more personal."
"You can ask," I said, refusing to commit either way until I knew her question.
She looked down at the ground. "Why does Link see the princess the way he does? He's one of the most stubborn and independent people I've ever met, yet she comes calling after disappearing for seven years, and he does whatever she wants like an obedient lapdog."
I immediately tried to explain. "Princess Zelda has a kind of rare charisma... She was one of the first people he met after leaving... The castle was the closest thing to a home..." Each of my attempted answers felt false as soon as they left my tongue. Upon seeing the eager look on her face, I simply said, "I am sorry, but truthfully, I do not know."
She nodded sadly and said a quick thank you before turning to leave. A strange compassion swept over me, and before reason could stop me, I blurted, "He may have pledged himself as a servant to the princess, but ever since I challenged him when we first met, I have never seen him happier than during time he has spent here with you."
A reluctant smile crossed her face. "Thank you Sheik. You know, maybe you're not such a bad guy after all."
Oh if she only knew.
A/N: So that's probably the last we'll see of Malon for a while except for a brief parting scene at the beginning of the next chapter. I hope you enjoyed her. Or at the very least, I hope my depiction of her didn't cause you to gnash your teeth and punch the screen in despair. Either way, I'd love to know how you felt and whether any of you would be interested in seeing her again. Thanks for reading and have a great rest of the day.