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The excitement and thrill that had pumped adrenaline through him for the past two hours drained suddenly as he looked up at the intimidating peak of Death Mountain. He hadn’t realized just how tired he was. He hadn’t gotten time to between sneaking into the castle through the guard-ridden garden, talking to the blond-haired, blue-eyed princess, and being totally entranced by the princess’s body guard’s disappearing act.

But now… Now he sagged. His bones ached, his head was pounding. Navi tugged at his sleeve.

“What are you waiting for? Let’s get going,” she persisted.

But link hesitated. He glanced up at the mountain again. And then something… something… turned his head back towards Hyrule Field. There, looming in the distance was a large shape.

“It’s right in the middle of Hyrule field really. It’s a half a day’s walk from here.”

The lyrical little voice sung enticingly in his head. Navi gave him an anxious, waiting look. He cast another longing glance back towards the looming figure of Lon Lon Ranch. He turned towards the Ranch, heading towards it at a run. Navi hovered at the drawbridge of Hyrule Castle, gaping. Finally, she fluttered after him at full pace. She pulled back on him futilely.

“Link! We’re supposed to be going to see the Gorons about the spiritual stone!” Navi exclaimed.

Link continued to ignore her. He was heading up the path now at a brisk pace. The sun was still just coming up from under the horizon casting a blushing pink glow to the landscape. He didn’t get to the winding, grassy entrance way of the Ranch until the sun was already hot and high in the sky. He paused for a moment, then took in a deep breath and walked inside.

A fresh, delicious breeze hit him in the face. There was the far away sound of whinnying and hoof beats. There were some pots lining the right wall of what looked like the stable. To the left was what looked like the door to the house. He walked over to it and knocked lightly. There was no answer. He knocked again, louder this time. Finally, he opened the door and poked inside.

There were cuccos everywhere. Link was very confused. Sitting amongst the gaggle of squawking, fluttering birds was the man he’d woken up at the castle the other night. He was Malon’s father, owner of the ranch. His name was Talon, Link remembered. Surrounding him were three cuccos who, unlike the others, were staying put, pecking in an odd, very concise fashion. Talon was snoring loudly. Link inched closer, cuccos running amok at his feet.

“Excuse me?” Link tried timidly.

There was a surprised yelp as Talon’s eyes snapped open. At last he focused on the boy and grinned, still sleepy.

“Well, if it isn’t the forest boy from the other day at the castle,” Talon said. He rambled on for a while, then he gave a devilish little wink to the boy. “How’d you like to play a game. See these three cuccos here? They’re special super cuccos. I’ll throw them into the bunch of regular cuccos. You have to find all three of them in the time allotted, and if you do I’ll give you something special. It’ll be ten rupees to play. You interested?”

Link floundered, unsure of what to do really, and then, shrugging to himself, reached into his wallet and pulled out the money. He handed it to the waiting man, who smiled and stuffed it into his pocket.

“You’ve got thirty seconds. Ready? GO!”

Talon raised his arms and the three cuccos fluttered into the air and then came landing down, mixing in with the other birds. Link stood for a second, confused, then ran towards one of the cuccos he’d seen land. Talon whooped and congratulated him. Link ran towards the general direction of the second cuccos, grabbing at random birds. The second one he grabbed was another one. Finally he headed towards the door, where the last one had landed. Talon counted down the seconds.

“Five… four… three… two…” Link made a grab at one of the birds and Talon hollered happily. “That’s it! You did it. Come get your prize.”

Link walked over to him as his cuccos slid back into their pecking order. He laughed heartily.

“So, kid, how’s you like to marry Malon?” he asked.

Link flushed, his cheeks burning pink and he couldn’t think to speak. Talon stared him down, waiting for the response. What do you say to a question like that?

Link gulped, then uncertainly said, “Um… sure?”

Talon laughed harder than ever, holding his stomach. “I’m just joking, boy! Aren’t you a little young for that? Anyway, here is the real prize.”

Talon grunted, rising from his position on the floor and walked to the icebox. He reached inside and took out a bottle, handing it to the boy.

“Lon Lon milk, finest in all of Hyrule. Some people say that when you drink it, you instantly feel refreshed. When you run out, come back and see me. I’ll be happy to give you a refill.” Talon grunted again as he sat against the leg of the table again. “Malon’s somewhere outside, if you’re wondering. Nice to… see you… again.”

In seconds, Talon was snoring again. Link watched for a second, but the man was in a deep sleep. He walked out of the house. He decided to try the other door and walked into a stable.

Standing in the middle of the floor was an excessively hairy man holding a pitchfork and doing nothing. Link stepped into the room, looking around. Most of the stables were empty. Link guessed that all the horses were outside.

“Pardon, sir,” Link started to ask. “Do you happen to know where Malon is?”

The man scoffed. “This is ridiculous. The owner is so lazy that, I, the great Ingo, am forced to do all the work. I, Ingo, should be running this place, not that lazy bum, Talon!”

Link shrunk back towards the door. He got a weird feeling from this man. “Well, thank you anyway.”

He headed outside again. Maybe it was stupid to come. He looked towards the place where the sound of snuffing and stomping was coming from. He headed down the narrow inlet that led into the actual ranch and took in a breath as he looked over the vast, calming pastures of Lon Lon Ranch. There was a large central corral that the horses were freely streaming in and out of. He walked towards it, more out of unconscious curiosity than anything else.

Just as he neared the entranceway to the corral, the small redhead stepped out, a bucket of feed in her hands. She looked up and caught sight of him, hovering.

“Oh, well, if it isn’t the fairy boy from the marketplace the other day,” she said with a smile. “Good to see you. And hey, thanks for finding my dad for me. He’s always kind of irresponsible.” Malon shrugged, then smiled, a twinkling curiosity in her eyes. “So, did you get to talk to the Princess?”

Link hesitated for a moment, then nodded. Why did he get this curious sense of comfort around her? Perhaps it was her blunt, honest manner. He shook the feeling off.

“So, what did she say?”

Navi fidgeted from under his hat. Link knew she wasn’t thrilled about telling people of his plans.

“Not much,” he answered vaguely, which was kind of the truth. They’d talked in circles for a while. The Princess was a bit confusing. She spoke a lot without saying much about anything. He gave an exhausted sigh. “She kind of sent me on an errand. I need to go to Death Mountain.”

“Death Mountain,” Malon repeated, obviously impressed. “Wow. That’s exciting. I wish I could go. What kind of an…” her question petered out as she looked him over, her brow furrowed into a concerned frown. “You’re going now?”

Link nodded, shifted on his sore feet.

Malon shook her head. “No you’re not.” He looked up at her, surprised and confused, but she stood firm. “You’re dead on your feet. When was the last time that you got some real sleep?”

Link’s silence answered her question. He changed the subject. “It is truly important that I complete this errand-”

“Perhaps, but you’ll never make it if you don’t get some rest. Now come on, you’re not going anywhere until you sleep.”

Bemused, Link followed meekly behind her as she set her pail down by the outer stable wall and led him over towards the far west corner of the field. There, built into one of the support columns of the high fence surrounding the ranch, was a room. She led him inside. There was hay strewn over on the floor in a pile and there was a cow mooing softly and chewing her hay contentedly by a mass of crates. But there, wedged comfortably in the corner was a small, dressed cot.

“Now, you sleep. When you’re rested, you can go off on your royal errand, all right?”

Navi flew out from his cap and faced Link, obviously not liking the recent turn of events.

“Link, we must go-”

“Excuse me,” Malon interrupted, just as determined as the insistent little fairy. “I understand that you are his keeper and that you have a certain duty to comply with, but you can’t keep pushing him so hard. He’ll just end up giving out before he gets anything done. You can leave first thing in the morning. Now are you going to stay here and rest with him or would you like to join me while I finish my chores?”

Link was shocked. No one had ever spoken to Navi in such a tone. Malon was politely telling her that Link was going to rest and she could either go along voluntarily or she would be forced to comply. Link waited for the answer. There was shock clearly splayed over Navi’s ethereal features. Then she set her jaw in a grim, defiant line, and gave a sharp nod. She disappeared into one of Link’s empty pouches. Malon gave a final look to the now still pack, then gave Link a small smile.

“Sleep well, fairy boy,” Malon said, opening the door to exit. “And sweet dreams.”

And for the first time in years, he actually did have sweet dreams.

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