Princess Zelda sat in her cushy red throne, rather plain looking next to the immaculate, gold and jewel encrusted, velvet setup her father had next to her. Before her stood a young page of the royal family, a frantic and worried look on his face. He was trembling and sweating, his head low and his hat clenched so hard in his fists his knuckles were turning white. Or perhaps it was fear that was doing that to him? The King was rather frightening when he was angry, even if the anger wasn't directed at anyone in particular. However, his rage was boiling over at the Zora's this time, and even though it wasn't the page's fault that they were being so rude to the king, he was the bearer of the bad news, and would be the brunt of the king's wrath for today. Zelda couldn't help but feel sorry for the man.
"Who do they think they are?" King Daphnes bellowed. "Telling us to stop drawing water from Lake Floria?"
"They say there's something wrong, Your Highness. Their queen has fallen ill, and the lake is mysteriously draining." The page quivered in his boots, waiting for the next bout of shouting.
"Give them this message: Their leader shall no longer refer to herself as a queen, nor her daughter as princess. There is only one royal family in this country, and you are standing before them!"
"Anything else, Your Majesty?" the page squeaked.
"We will continue drawing water from the lake, whether they like it or not!"
King Daphnes slumped back down into his throne. Beads of sweat ran down his round face, and his forehead was creased with lines of rage. His hands were still balled up into fists on the armrests of his seat, and Zelda could see them visibly shaking.
Ever since the death of her mother, the queen, Daphnes had become unbearable. He was always lost in deep, brooding though, or seething and throwing a tantrum. Zelda had taken on her mother's quiet, calm demeanor, so her father's fits often rattled her when she was younger. As she aged, though, she had learned to live with them. Most of the time, his anger wasn't even towards her, but towards the other races that co-existed with the Hylian people, the Gorons and the Zoras. Another thorn in his side was also the recent uprising of a group of bandits in the desert, calling themselves the Gerudo. They overtook the prison built in the desert to contain them, turning it into a fortress and stealing from those who had to travel through the desert to reach the plains.
The thievery wasn't the only problem. According to Daphnes, their worship of their deity, The Goddess of the Sands, was blasphemy. Countless missionaries preaching Hylia's teachings were sent to the desert to convert those her father referred to as "greedy, thieving chuchu's; Spineless creatures that absorb whatever wealth they can". Very few actually returned, and all of them could only report failure.
"I will not let a little tribe of jellyfish ruin our festival plans."
Zelda was brought out of her thoughts by her fathers voice. He wasn't particularly speaking to her, but she was the only other person in the room, so she was expected to listen.
The princess nearly jumped when her father barked at her. She looked up at him, now standing before her, his steel blue eyes looking down at her in their typical, narrowed fashion.
"The wedding announcement will be made on the day of the festival as well. I expect you to be on your best behavior."
"Yes, Your Highness."
As soon as the king turned away from her, Zelda rolled her eyes. Her father had been obsessed with her arranged marriage for almost a year now, ordering dress after dress, designing immaculate cakes, inviting guests, de-inviting guests, the list went on. He had Zelda meet with her future husband every weekend in his manor house. Groose was truly in favor of Daphnes. He already addressed the red-headed youth as his son, and Groose addressed Daphnes as his father. Zelda, however, felt rather differently about her fiance. He was pompous, rude, and self centered. Not to mention his ridiculous hair, and that his name sounded more like an annoying, honking bird than a king's. She didn't directly protest her father's wishes, though. This was for the good of her people.
Your role in the protection of your people goes far beyond your earthly duties...
Zelda's head shot up. She scanned the room, only to find it empty. Her father must have stormed off somewhere, for she was completely alone. Where had the voice come from, then? The voice that sounded so sweet... so soft and familiar. She shook her head. It must have just been a trick of her own mind.
~ ~ ~ ~
"Link, darling, wake up."
Link opened his bleary eyes, only to be met with bright sunlight that forced him to clamp them shut again. Marin was sitting on the edge of his mattress, gently shaking him by the shoulder to wake him. He groaned and pulled at his quilt, twisted around his body. He always moved around when he slept, usually waking up in the morning to find himself curled into a ball at the end of his bed, with his blankets swaddled around him like a cocoon, and Tiki sleeping peacefully on his pillow, since he was no longer occupying it. As usual, the little remlit was there, snoozing away. Her eyes flickered open and she stretched and mewed. She padded over to Link and licked his face with her sand papery tongue, urging him to get up. It was his job to feed her, so the creature became accustomed to waking him up and forcing him out of bed to provide for her.
He reached out and gave Tiki a scratch on the head, right between her ears. She purred and slumped back down on the mattress.
"I'll be down in a few minutes." Link yawned.
"Just hurry up. Malon is getting impatient."
Link groaned and stretched out, relishing a few more seconds of comfort before forcing himself to sit up. Malon impatient wasn't a pretty thing to see. His adoptive sister was always impulsive and energetic, making Link look even more lazy next to her. While she was up at the crack of dawn each day, doing her chores on the farm, Marin and Talon had to hook Link up to a team of work horses to drag him out of bed. He didn't waste too much time, though. Even after all these years living with them, he couldn't call Marin and Talon "mom" or "dad", and still felt more like he was in debt to them for taking him in, even if they insisted he wasn't.
Link wandered into the kitchen, lured by the smell of goat sausage and eggs frying. Talon and Malon were already dressed for the day and seated at the table, and Marin was toiling away, preparing breakfast. Link slid down into his usual spot, next to Malon, and across from Talon. The man smiled at him through his thick mustache.
"Mornin', Sleepyhead," he greeted cheerfully. "I think this is the earliest I've ever seen you awake. Bet you couldn't sleep at all last night, knowing what today is."
Link, still in a groggy state of confusion, cocked his head at Talon. "Huh?"
Malon giggled. "Oh, Daddy, he's forgotten all about it!"
"Forgotten what?" Link looked from Malon's bright, smiling face to Talon.
"The Festival of The Hero, Link," Marin said as she slid some of the goat sausage and scrambled eggs onto Link's plate. "After the morning chores are done today we head into town to present our gift to the royal family."
"They're sure to love it this year." Talon sat back in his chair, looking accomplished. "That mare is the crown jewel in our collection. I've never seen such a brilliant red in a horse."
"They're sure to love it," Malon smiled. "She's so beautiful."
In his spare time, Talon bred horses for nobles, and taught Link everything he knew about creating the perfect horse. Depending on what the future owner wanted, Talon would breed them for size, strength, stamina, coat and mane color, anything they wanted. It was a slow process, but it was Talon's pet project, and when a horse was successfully sold, there was extra money in the household for luxuries they normally wouldn't be able to purchase. It was how Link was able to get his first sword. It was a simple short sword, used in academies for students, but he treasured it nonetheless.
"I'll miss the girl. She would have made a fine racehorse."
The blur of red flashed before Link's eyes. Epona, the horse Talon had been trying to produce for nearly fifteen years, and his most treasured horse. Link had ridden her a few times, and she had gained the nickname "The Red Terror" for her speed and stamina. She was a muscular, beautiful horse with a rust colored hide and snowy white mane. She would be presented to the king himself by Talon.
"You don't have to give her away," Link remarked. He meant it, too. He had become rather attached to the mare in his time caring for her.
Talon threw his head back with laughter. "You know I can't do that Link. She's a lovely horse and all, but the money she's worth is important to our family." Talon looked at him with his bright eyes and winked. "But maybe you can breed one of your own someday?"
Link couldn't help but smile. "It took you fifteen years to breed Epona. I might be an old man before I produce a horse like her again."
"Tell you what, Link," Talon said between bites of sausage, "I'll let you present her to the king, that way you can say your goodbyes."
"Maybe you'll even get to meet Princess Zelda." Malon smiled slyly at Link, and he rolled his eyes.
"I doubt it."
"The King said that there would be a special announcement at the festival today involving Princess Zelda. I'd think she'd be there." Marin sat down in her place. "You might get to catch a glimpse of her."
Link eagerly downed the rest of his breakfast. He wanted one last chance to ride Epona before she was handed over to the king, even if it was only for a few minutes. He rushed out of the tiny farmhouse and through the pumpkin field, up to the doors of the stable.
Inside was dark, except for the sun that managed to break through the open windows and little pigeon holes in the roof. It was warm, and smelled of sweet hay. Link took in a deep breath. He could never get tired of the smell, and it always made him feel so relaxed, he might just fall into a pile of hay and sleep. He had done it a few times before, only to be awoken by Malon gently poking him in the chest with a pitchfork and scolding him for being so lazy.
Two rows of pens lined the stables, and Link's feet instinctively carried him to the very last one on the right, where Epona was kept. She was sticking her head out over the gate, eagerly awaiting him. She tossed her head back and whinnied loudly. Even if she couldn't speak, it was obvious that she was happy to see him. Link patted her on the neck and unlatched the gate.
He lead her out into the corral, jumping up onto her back without even bothering to put a saddle and reins on her. Link wrapped his arms around Epona's neck and gave her a little squeeze with his legs. At once she took off at breathtaking speed. Her hooves clopped on the ground, throwing up dirt and grass, making a rhythmic pounding noise as they came into contact with the earth to propel her forward. Once Link felt the rhythm of her movement, he slowly loosened his grip on her neck, allowing himself to sit up.
Wind rushed through his hair and thrummed in his ears. This is when he was truly at peace. To be riding as fast as Epona could carry him, letting himself get lost in the feeling of it all. It was absolutely perfect. The only thing wrong with the moment was the size of the corral. It was so small. More often than once, Link was tempted to sneak Epona out and take her for a ride through the fields at night, when no one was awake. Talon would be cross with him if he did, but Link craved the adventure.
A sharp whistling noise ran through the air. It started out as a loud, high pitched tone, but it eventually warped into a simple, descending three note call. Malon stood at the gate of the corral with a piece of whistle grass still clamped in her fingers and held to her mouth. Epona veered in her direction and came to a halt in front of the red-headed girl.
"Link, you're supposed to be doing chores, not daydreaming," Malon huffed, and her hands were on her hips.
"I just wanted to take her for one last ride before..." Link trailed off, and began to absentmindedly run his fingers through Epona's mane.
Malon's eyes soften just a bit. "Well, just make sure to feed the cuckoo's before we leave."
Link smiled at her. "Thank, Malon."
"Don't forget!" Malon said, her voice back to it's scolding tone. "And don't harass them this time!"
"Malon, that was one time. I won't do it again, I swear."
"You tried to use a cuckoo to fly off the roof, Link. A cuckoo."
Link squeezed Epona's sides again and the mare began to trot away obediently. Malon called after him, but Link only laughed.
"Sorry, Mal! I can't hear you!"
Epona picked up speed once again, and began down the dirt track that wound around the corral. Just a few more minutes, Link thought, then I'll do my chores.