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                                                CHAPTER THIRTEEN: HORSE PLAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

            It was decided a few days later that Rei needed a horse. The decision itself came from a very long, thought-out process of determination, mainly through conversation.

            "Morning, Rei," Talien greeted his apprentice from horseback, "Want to go riding with us?"

            Rei shook his head. "I don't have a horse," he replied.

            "Oh..." Talien commented... "Then we'll have to get you one."

            And so the matter was sealed.

 

***

 

            Rei, however, hadn't really given the issue much thought. After all, Talien had ridden off before really stating anything besides that one comment, so Rei simply shrugged and went back to whatever it was that he was doing- which, in this case, was learning how to consistently flick a certain wood-handled stiletto knife open and shut. Overall, he was finally beginning to get the hang of the danged thing. What did it was when Damodred idly stated that she would sit there and show Rei how to properly snap the knife open and shut until he actually started doing it on his own. She had approached him about it at the beginning of the evening, and finally left some time after four AM. Even Rei began to notice how tired she was getting- it wasn't normal for Damodred to break up in the middle of her sentences or close her eyes while teaching anything. After she left, staggering and muttering about killing him, Rei decided that he'd make it up to her by finally getting the thing right. He finally got it right three minutes before he himself dropped off to sleep, and in the morning Rei hadn't forgotten how to do it yet. The exact art just took a little more fine-tuning, to lessen the amount of wrist movement, but he had finally won. He also didn't see Damodred until late evening, when she returned from riding with Talien. She reigned in her horse directly next to him, slowed down, and condescendingly pat him on the head, ruffling his hair.

            "Congratulations, we're getting a horse for you," She commented, making sure that Rei's hair fell into his eyes. "We'll be heading to Lon Lon Ranch tomorrow." She smirked. "Just promise not to break anything, okay?"

            Rei nodded and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "I've been practicing with the knife," he intoned.

            "Oh?" she replied, still on horseback, "Any progress?"

            Rei nodded, and instantly flicked the knife open, doing slightly better than he did while practicing earlier that day.

            "Impressive," She said, raising an eyebrow, "...That is, if it hadn't taken you three days to complete."

            Rei blushed.

            Damodred shrugged. "P'eh, we'll make a man out of you yet." She spurred her horse on towards the stables. "Remember, tomorrow at seven, we're heading to Lon Lon Ranch for you. Do try to get some sleep first- choosing a horse is very difficult if you don't think straight."

            Rei nodded as she rode on, and it finally hit home. He was going to get a horse.

 

***

 

            The first problem with not owning a horse, of course, is the issue of traveling. Of course. This, of course, is a good reason to own a horse, of course. Mind you, when that ranch happens to be a very long distance from where you live, the issue of traveling can ruin your day. Of course.

            After all, a horse is a horse, of course.

            "Wait a second," Rei started. Talien turned toward him.

            "Hm?" he replied.

            "If both of you are coming," he said, motioning over to Damodred, "Then how am I going to get to Lon Lon Ranch?"

            "You know, he's right," Talien commented, "We can't exactly carry him..."

            "Good point," Damodred interjected.

            "Well, since we're obviously a horse short," Talien went on, "You're going to have to hitch a ride with one of the two of us."

            Rei nodded. "Which of you guys will I be riding with?"

            Damodred mounted her horse. "The smaller of the two. Also, the one with the stronger horse," she commented, before patting her horse on the back of the neck and smiling at it. "Isn't that right, Aenslaed?"

            Aenslaed snorted contentedly.

            Under five minutes later, they were about ready to go.

            "Now, Rei, before we set out, there are two things that you have to remember," Damodred said over her shoulder to him. "The first is, you'll probably have to hold onto my waist to keep steady. If your hands move any noticeable distance either up or down, I will have you strangled, skinned, burned, and then beaten. Does that work?"

            Rei nodded. He had never even thought of the subject, anyway. Just touching her sides made him feel nervous.

            "What's the second one?" he asked.

            "Don't fall off," she intoned. "If you do, I'm not going back to catch you. By the time that I'd notice it, it'd be too late, anyway."

            Rei raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mea-"

            He was cut off when Aenslaed began his trip by galloping at an incredibly high speed, and vaulting over the nearest fence.

            And somehow, miraculously, Rei stayed on.

 

***

 

            A few hours and many miles later, Damodred and Rei arrived at Lon Lon Ranch, somewhat ahead of Talien. Rei's eyes were bloodshot, his hair was all over the place, and his teeth were still tightly grit together, like rusted machinery.

            "You can let go now," Damodred commented, glancing over her shoulder. Rei didn't respond.

            She reached behind and poked him in the ribs. Rei let out a little yelp and fell off the side of the horse. Aenslaed looked down at him and snorted. Damodred smirked and dismounted.

            "We're here. You can get up now," She commented wryly while taking her horse's reigns. "Talien should be here in a minute or two. We didn't leave him that far behind with that last jump."

            Rei didn't respond. She knelt down to his level.

            "Are you in this much shock because I was riding my horse like a maniac, or because you got to put your hands around my waist for a good two hours?"

            Rei leapt back to his feet with the same enthusiasm that he would have had had he just discovered that a troop of marauding scorpions was setting up camp in his bed.

            "Jumps... death... running horse..." he managed to stammer out, attempting to straighten himself up.

            Damodred shook her head and casually tripped him with her arm. She stood up as he went sprawling. Talien came riding in at that point. The older man casually reigned in his horse, dismounted, and walked over to the others. He glanced down at Rei's fallen form.

            "What in all the world did you do to him?" he asked.

            "Oh, nothing," she commented very casually, "I just took him for a fun ride across the countryside, that's all."

            A small voice, sounding very much like Rei's, but a lot more strained and muffled emitted from his mouth. "That woman is death," it said.

            Talien smiled and helped Rei up, brushing some of the dust off him.

            They stood there for a few more moments before the main gate to the ranch opened, and a rather attractive red-haired Hylian girl stepped out, no older than twenty or so.

            Malon, daughter of Talon bowed at the three visitors, and in a warm country accent greeted them.

            "Welcome to Lon Lon Ranch," she said.

 

***

 

            There was a brief silence after the girl had greeted the three of them. Rei would have bowed, offered a hand, and introduced himself, but he was waiting for Talien to respond first. Talien seemed to be doing the same thing, as well.

            Rei finally offered her his hand, giving a slight bow.

            "My name's Rei Elanis, Miss..."

            "Malon is just fine," she replied, taking his hand in a soft handshake and smiling. Rei returned the expression. There was something about Malon's smile that was contagious- it seemed filled to the brim with that strange kind of sweet comfort found only in the backwoods of the country, where small farms could be seen in their little carved-out spots throughout the forest.

            Talien took a step forward and offered a formal bow.

            "I am Talien Minosa, Ms. Malon. It is a pleasure to meet you."

            Damodred gave a minor nod, and made no motion to take the girl's hand. "Damodred will be fine."

            Malon nodded, still smiling. "I think I've met you before, Mr... Minosa?"

            "We're here to get Rei a horse," He replied, putting a hand on Rei's shoulder.

            Malon nodded again. "Then you came to the right place," she said, looking over to Rei. He eyes were a sparkling blue, giving an incredibly friendly and naive look.

            "Then you've come to the right place," she said in an enthusiastic tone, "Lon Lon's the best ranch in Hyrule, or so they say! We even served the Hero of Time once... C'mon!" And with that, Malon promptly took Rei's hand and quickly dragged the rest of him past the gate and into the ranch itself.

            Damodred shrugged and glanced over to Talien.

            "Hyper little girl, isn't she?"

            "I think she's all right," he replied with a grin.

            A few seconds passed. "Perhaps we should go in," Damodred commented wryly, stroking Aenslaed's mane again.

            "I was waiting for you to say that," Talien commented. By the time that they had made it into the ranch, Malon was already sending Rei on a crash-course in horsemanship.

 

***

 

            "Howdy, folks!" a large, booming voice greeted Talien and Damodred as they entered Lon Lon ranch. The voice was attached to a large, booming man of about fifty who was standing by the gate at the time. Talien smiled, and the man grinned back, offering a hand.

            "My name is Talien Minosa," he said, clasping the hand in his own. "And you must be Talon, correct?"

            "That's right, Mr. Minosa!" Talon responded, shaking the other's hand vigorously. "And does your lady friend there have a name?"

            "Damodred," she responded flatly. "It's Southern."

            "We have a Southerner here, too! that's great! Word of Lon Lon Ranch must be spreadin' around, then!" The jolly man exclaimed, offering her a hand, as well. Damodred kept her arms folded.

            "If that's the case, then we're all doomed," came a voice from inside the barn. A tall, gaunt man stepped out, bearing a slight resemblance to Talon. They both wore the same mustache, anyway.

            "After one look at this dump of a place, an nation would declare war on Hyrule."

            Talon stopped for a moment, then gave a confused laugh.

            "That's Ingo for ya," he responded, shrugging. "I guess every farm's gotta have a cynic!"

            "I'd be an optimist if you paid me more," Ingo retorted as he went back inside the barn. "Besides that, I'd better get back to feeding the cows. Poor things would starve if not for some good workers around here."

            Talien raised an eyebrow. "Is he always like that?" he asked.

            "Ayup. never been different," Talon responded, shaking his head. "Except for that one little stretch about five years, that is. Ingo's a good guy deep down, he's just-"

            "-Disgruntled." Damodred finished the sentence for him.

            "Yeah. That's it- he's Disgruntled!"

            "I said that already."

            Talon blinked a few times at her, before turning to Talien. "Is she always... Anyway, you two are welcome to stay here as long as you need, and feel free to buy some of Lon Lon's famous milk while you're at it!"

            "Thank you, sir," Talien responded, "Now, where do we put our horses?"

            Talon responded by whistling, bringing Ingo out on cue.

            "Ingo, could ya corral these horses for our guests?"

            "Yes, sir," he responded, gravely, reaching out for the reigns to either horse.

            "Speaking of corralling, Mr. Talon," Talien started, "We came in with someone- a young man, roughly twenty or so. have you seen him anywhere?"

            Talon nodded. "So that's where the lad came from! I believe my lovely daughter's giving him the tour of the ranch right now! She's probably got him on a horse or two by this time."

            "Thank you," he responded, nodding.

            "In the meantime, would you folks like to come in? We were just making dinner, and all!"

            "Thank you," Talien answered, "But I wouldn't want to be a burden."

            "Nah, you won't be. We love guests here, anyway!" Talon replied, tweaking his mustache before letting out a hearty laugh.

            "I'll bet you do," Damodred commented, looking around at the modest farmhouse and barn, totally overshadowed by the corral in the center of the ranch.

 

***

 

            Rei had never been much for horseback riding. However, the equestrian residents of Lon Lon Ranch seemed to have it in for the guy. Most often, the horse would simply make a beeline for the nearest solid object, and try to plow Rei into it. Once in a while, the chosen steed would decide to buck him off, or just roll around in the grass for a bit. On the upside, Malon... was the upside.

            "Are you okay?" She asked, slowly helping Rei to his feet. Rei nodded.

            "Yeah... fine... didn't break anything yet."

            Malon smiled at him, then finished helping Rei to his feet.

            "I don't think the horses here like you much," She commented, glancing at the current offender. The horse snorted, and shook its head. "And that one's just a yearling, too."

            "Must have been a bad year," Rei muttered, feeling the pain of having been smashed, thrown, crushed, or otherwise immolated by horses for the last few hours.

            "You don't look all right," Malon said, offering Rei a sympathetic smile. "You wanna go back in now?" she asked with that simple country charm. "Dad's putting on dinner about now. It should be ready, I think."

            Rei smiled. Dinner sounded good right about now.

 

            Dinner itself consisted of home-cooked chicken and potatoes, garnished with a very loud and obnoxious ranch owner named Talon. Overall, Talon wasn't the most obnoxious of hosts. It was the constant hints and references about marrying Malon off to the nearest male that proved annoying after a while.

            "And just when I thought I could hear the wedding bells, that Link guy just up and disappears! They said he went into the past, or something," Talon finished his more recent tale, deboning some chicken. Malon blushed slightly.

            "Dad, you're exaggerating again."

            Talon just smiled back at her and ruffled her hair. "Ingo agrees with me, too! And to get that old coot to agree with me, now that takes some skill..."

            "Skill, or luck," came Ingo's now-familiar voice from the next room. "Although I'd choose neither." The Hylian had a peculiar habit of appearing on cue to interject a sarcastic comment one moment, and then completely disappear the next.

            "Bah," Talon said, waving him off, "He's always like that. You'd think we were brothers, or something."

            Malon gave a slightly embarrassed smile, and turned to Rei. "Would you like some more corn, Rei?"

            Rei smiled, and nodded. "Thank you," he said.

            Talon looked at both of them, and gave a big, fatherly grin. "You wanna marry her? I asked Link that, too."

            Silence.

            Dead silence.

            Talien and Damodred had been relatively mute the whole meal. How they were paralyzed, too. Both Rei and Malon's faces registered complete and total horror. Talon laughed and gave everyone a big grin.

            "Just kidding!"

 

***

 

            Rei was still visibly shaken after the meal. So much so, that he had decided to take a walk around the ranch later on, in the vague hopes that he'd find out that the meal was just a warped dream. The fresh air was nice, discounting the horse manure permeating it. Either way, he found the walk quite refreshing, as evening turned to night.

            Malon caught up with him. "Hey, sorry about my dad back there," she started, "He's just gotten obsessive with marrying me off ever since he stopped sleeping in all the time. I guess it just means that he cares, after all." She gave a nervous shrug. Rei smiled back.

            "It's okay, really... he's just a dad."

            Malon shrugged again. "I guess I should be used to it by now. He's been that way since mom died."

            "Hmm?"

            "My mother died when I was about ten or so." She said, looking down at the ground. "Dad's been trying to marry me off since."

            "I'm really sorry," Rei replied quietly.

            "Don't worry about it. that was twelve years ago," she replied. "Anyway, we've got to get you a horse. You and your friends are welcome to stay the night if you want. it's getting a little late to do any riding today."

            Rei nodded. "Tomorrow, then?"

            She smiled back at him. "It sounds good to me. We should get your friends' help, too. Do they know anything about horses?" She asked.

            Rei shrugged. "I'm sure they know something. Both of them seem to be experts in everything."

            Malon chuckled at that. "They look like it. You've got some interesting people hanging around ya."

            Rei nodded a few times. "You have no idea. Have you tried talking with Damodred yet?"

            Malon shook her head. "No, can't say that I have. She seems interesting, though. How long have you known her?" Malon asked, looking up at him.

            Rei thought for a moment. "I've known them both for.. A month? Two months? I never really thought about it."

            Malon raised an eyebrow.

            "My hometown was burned down," Rei explained, "And those two rescued me. I joined the Sheikah a little while after that."

            Malon nodded. "Okay. They're good friends, then?"

            "Pretty much like family now." He smiled.

            "So Talien keeps trying to marry you off every other day?"      

            They both laughed for a while.

 

            The next morning brought the conclusion to the matter.

            Malon lead Rei to a stall off in the corner while she explained everything.

            "A little while ago, we managed to breed Epona with one of the local stallions," She started, "The problem was, the foal's sire is probably the dumbest horse that I've ever seen. It takes after its father more than anything."

            Malon smiled as she opened the stall door in the stable. "Come on, Stupid. Come on out!"

            "Stupid?" Rei asked, raising an eyebrow.

            "That's his name," she answered, as an averaged-sized reddish-brown horse came strolling into view. From a distance, Stupid the horse looked like a magnificent steed. It was when you got up close that you noticed the abnormally goofy, blank expression on its face. Rei could already tell that Stupid deserved his name.

            "We tried to sell him at first, but Stupid really doesn't act his pedigree."

            Rei gave a nervous smile. "How so?"

            Malon tugged on Stupid's reigns, attempting to move him more out in the open. The horse just looked at her blankly, and started grazing. She moved behind Stupid, and tried  nudging it from behind, instead. The horse just sat there.

            "I think you get the picture," Malon explained with a smile. "He's not likely to try to buck you off, if anything..."

            Rei laughed softly. Malon managed to force Stupid to move the last few inches out of his stable.

            "Try riding him." She said, still smiling.

            Rei mounted the horse with considerable ease- Stupid just stayed there.

            Three hours later, Stupid was still there.

 

***

 

            "Stupid... Go.. Giddyap... DO SOMETHING!" Rei shouted, his patience wearing thin.

            "Please?"

            Malon was sitting in the grass a little ways off, watching him.

            "Well, what did you expect from a horse with the name 'Stupid?"

            Rei sighed. "Well... you're right. He's not trying to buck me off."

            Stupid looked up for a moment, then went back to grazing.

            "Should I try playing the ocarina for him?" Rei suggested, half-jokingly.

            "Only worked with the mother," Malon replied, sitting back a little.

            Rei slumped forward on the horse. "What am I supposed to do? Say 'Walkies,' or something?"

            The horse bolted, Rei in tow. Malon leapt to her feet as Stupid the Horse began breaking records for speed and technique, running around the ranch and leaping over everything- fences, jumps, and other horses- that happened to be in its way. A desperate screaming sound came from its rider.

            "I can't believe it," Malon commented, watching the chaos. "He actually did it."

            Stupid took a turn a tad too sharply, and Rei was flung from the horse. There was a dull thudding sound as he hit the side of the barn.

            It was official. Rei Elanis had found his horse.