Posted on June 22 2018 by Jarrod Raine
The Search Begins
Zelda spoke gentle coos to the mare while Rylan fitted her with the gear of a royal mount. The mare tossed her velvet black head with a snort as the cream-and-brown saddle came down on her back.
“Have you decided on a name for her, Your Highness?” Rylan’s voice, a deep contralto unbefitting of her small, quick form, seemed to resonate from within her chest. The guard could certainly captivate attention with the simplest of words. She would have made a wonderful lady of the land: strong, self-assured, independent, qualities many of the ladies touting noble titles lacked. Zelda might have actually enjoyed her company in the court.
Of course, she fit the title of Knight of the Royal Guard even better. Her sharp red eyes had told Zelda all she needed to know about Rylan before Rylan herself had admitted to it: she was a Sheikah warrior to her core, like Impa in the advisor’s youth. Born, bred, and proud. Both her parents had died in service to the crown, and now Rylan had chosen to carry on their honor as a royal guard herself.
“I have not, no. Can you think of anything?”
The mare snorted again and nudged Zelda’s shoulder with her muzzle. The princess smiled and offered up another slice of apple.
“In Ordon, she was named Nightshade,” Rylan answered, affixing a decorative chain of royal shields around the horse’s backside, “like the flower. Always so wild, and she seemed to thrive at night. She was fast, much faster than the rest, moving silent as the wind without effort.” As she spoke, the guard came around to the mare’s other side and patted her shoulder affectionately. “Always one to do your own will, weren’t you, girl?” The horse breathed steadily and nudged Zelda’s shoulder again. “A sign of great trust. She likes you, Your Highness.”
And then it hit, a realization like a falling stone crashing into Zelda’s mind. She furrowed her brow and looked deep into the guard’s face for an answer, even as the question came out. “She belonged to you, didn’t she?”
Rylan smiled; like her eyes, the expression was as sharp as the blades she wielded. “Can we ever truly own the creatures of these lands, Your Highness?”
“I…I am sorry, I did not know…”
“It is no worry. She has taken to you. And it makes more sense that you should ride her: you, too, are different than the rest.”
“Rylan…” Zelda whispered sadly.
“Princess!” Impa cut through. The old warrior came up behind Zelda and rested a hand on her shoulder, abruptly and quite effectively ending the conversation. Rylan gave a curt bow and turned to return to her own mount, a royal white stallion. Zelda watched her mournfully. “Ready to go?”
She hung her head for a moment, absentmindedly scratching the mare’s neck. Nightshade. So it shall remain. “Yes, I suppose.”
“Have you figured out what we will do for Link?”
“A side trip to Lon Lon is in order, I think. Don’t want to take too many of my father’s horses. Maybe they can help us there, like they did for Deya?”
Impa nodded approvingly. “So, then. One last thing. Where is that boy?”
“Your Highness, please…I beg you…”
Zelda buried her mouth in the palm of her hand, trying her hardest – and failing miserably – to smother her snickers beneath a facade of royal stoicism. Serious thoughts attempted to manifest in her mind as she struggled, only to peter out as she beheld the boy in front of her. Her breath shuddered out her nose in a staccato snort for several moments before she finally broke composure to burst out in a fit of uncontrolled giggles. The subject of her laughter blushed with a groan and pulled the rather ridiculous blue beret from his shaggy golden locks.
“I look like an idiot,” Link grumbled, not meeting her mirth.
“You look dashing!” she choked out, only half joking, yet still all laughter. “So ready to charge into battle to protect my name!” Next to her, Impa grunted her disapproval of the scene, mumbling about noble duties and responsibilities.
Link growled and shook his head, cheeks as red as Din’s fire, and glowing just as bright. The uniform of the Royal Guard fit him so well, from the crimson undershirt, blue crested vest, and pointless white gloves to the needlessly tall white boots and dark pants to that stupid little hat. In it, he stood regal and oathbound, a knight of honor.
And he was positively unthreatening to even a simple little cucco. She had always thought the uniform dumb, but he made it look particularly…amusing. She succumbed to another bout of childish laughter.
“Are you ready to go?” she barely managed to say as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“Please, please, Your Highness,” he repeated once more, “can I just wear my tunic?”
“Awe, come on,” she pouted.
He hung his head. “As you wish…”
She sighed and chuckled to herself, slowly rocking her head. “Fine. Go change, but make haste. I want to make it to the ranch by midday!”
He bolted, vest flapping in the wind, leaving her behind to laugh again in his wake.
Well, at the very least, the princess would get the timing she wanted. The sun hung high overhead, beating down upon the riders – and Link – with the vengeance of a thousand flames. Or so it felt. It didn’t help that, of the group of six, he was the only one walking, unfortunate enough to be forced to keep up with the pace of horses. His feet screamed with every step he took. Lady Impa and Rylan both had offered their mounts, but he had refused, a decision he now questioned.
Still, the heat seemed to be getting to most of the group. Link glanced around, noting as the princess wiped her head and three of the four other guards shared a canteen. In fact, the only two showing no signs of bother were the two Sheikah; they rode in silence, eyes alert for any sign of trouble. Somehow, this did not surprise him.
Relief was on the horizon, though, and fast approaching. The gates of Lon Lon Ranch drew nearer and nearer with every step, and Link willed himself to push through. Just a little farther. Secretly, he hoped the rest of the princess’s trip around the lands wasn’t so unseasonably warm. Last thing he wanted was to regret taking her oath, especially when her purpose was so pure and kind.
“We are going to find the perfect place for a new town. Someplace the citizens of Ordon can call home once more, and begin rebuild all that was lost.”
Preferably someplace with shade. He took a swig from his own canteen and kept going.
Soon enough, they stood outside the closed gates. At least a story high, they appeared to be made of oak, carved with charming designs of horses. Directly inside were a scattering of moderately sized buildings. A few stood on the left that, from the shape and design of the structures, appeared to be living quarters. As for the few on the right, from the occasional horse neigh or snort – and even more so, from the smell – they were clearly the stables. Looking down the warm dirt path between these structures, a few horses could be seen calmly trotting around inside a paddock.
“Welcome to Lon Lon Ranch, Your Highness.” Two stable hands approached them, one rotund with a friendly mutton chop connecting to his moustache and the other thin with comedic facial hair like a set of handlebars. Both of them appeared to have worked all day under the sun. “We apologize for not meeting you outside the gates. One of our horses disappeared on us again and we’ve been frantically searching for her.”
The princess dismounted, handed her reigns off to Rylan, and turned to face the two men. She swiped the words aside with a small flick of her wrist. “I have come to speak to the owner of this stable. Is he here?”
The two stable hands exchanged glances, expressions passing thoughts unspoken, but not unnoticed. Link watched them with a keen eye, waiting for the response. “That would be us, Your Highness.”
“Fine. I have come to discuss the purchase of a horse.”
This made the two men brighten significantly. “Yes!” the rotund one exclaimed, a gleam in his eye. “Very well! Right this way!”
As the stable hands led them toward the main pen holding the horses, Link was surprised. He watched as a few ran around freely while others munched on hay on the opposite side. The collection of royal guards split off to oversee a couple other stable hands leading the caravan’s mounts into the pen. Zelda’s black mare reared back and knocked over a water bucket, much to her attendant’s dismay. Rylan immediately jumped in to soothe her. Link held back a chuckle.
There was enough room to host another Knighting Ceremony within these walls; he nodded, mildly impressed. Plenty of room to run. They’ve definitely shown some care to these horses.
“We pride ourselves on raising Hyrule’s finest steeds, for the crown and the common folk alike.” The rotund one took some hay and fed it to one of the horses. “Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, one of our horses, specifically our most untamed mare, has disappeared. We believe that she ran to the small forest east of here, and were about to go get her until we heard that you were arriving.” He stopped before bowing. “Again, we apologize.”
Zelda waved her hand dismissively once more. They may not have known it, but Link could sense her annoyance. They apologized to a crown, not her. He resisted nudging her in a come on manner; Impa did not.
“I’ll just send my knight to fetch her for you. Besides, we have matters of importance to discuss.” She turned to Link. “Go,” she jerked her head toward the exit. “Bring her back shortly.”
Link, without a moment’s hesitation, took off toward the forest.
He took a few seconds to catch his breath. Be back shortly, she said. It’s just a horse, I said… Link looked around the clearing, seeing if he could find any sign of a horse. In the back of his head, something seemed…off. The air felt still, as though there was something watching him. Eyes burrowing into the back of his head. A crawling just beneath his skin that raised the hair on the nape of his neck. And then, he heard a sort of cry. The telltale sign of a horse’s whinny.
He moved towards the sound, cutting bushes in his way and climbing over a few mossy rocks. Before him, another small clearing and a draft horse, with a shiny chestnut coat and a cream white mane. This must be the mare. What other odds are there?
The horse’s back left hoof was caught by a simple rope snare attached to the ground, and she kept pulling with her might to free herself. Link crouched low, slowly approaching with his arms out to show that he wasn’t hostile. The horse stared, unblinking, silent but tense.
“It’s alright. I’m not here to hurt you,” he said, attempting to sooth the creature. He held one hand up, palm facing out, making his way to the trap itself. “Let’s get you out of there, alright?” As he moved to undo the trap, the horse panicked, trying to escape and crying out. The cries she made seemed to add to the eerie feeling settled in the clearing itself. Link held up his hand again. “Shhh. It’s alright, It’s alright.”
And then he heard something new. Something different. And something positively terrifying. A sound hidden behind the horse’s cries. A howl not of this world.
He turned around to find that five wolves, hearing the mare’s cries, had not just snuck up behind them, but now bore down on the trapped creature and her rescuer.
“Well,” he told the horse, “you’re really are going to be a difficult one, aren’t you?”
Featured image by MaskedGolem