Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda belongs to Nintendo. The game idea "Epona's Barn-Cleaning Fun" belongs to me, but I don't think anyone wants to play it.
Notes: Inspired by my part time job and conversations with my dear ArkNorth. This story is dedicated to LinkBob – may he ever find squirrels to chase. Set in the Ocarina of Time universe for the Navi-torture. I like her as a character, but Navi-torture can be amusing. No sex or violence in this story – just lots of excremental humor.
"Malon! Ouch! Hey! Leggo!"
"You're working with me today, Fairy-Boy, no ifs ands or buts!"
"Aw! But I just dropped by to say hi and get some milk! I've gotta go awaken the next Sage! I don't have time for this!"
Malon let go her grip on Link's earring and gave him a death-glare. "You disappear for seven whole years and you say you don't have time to spend an afternoon with me? The nerve! Come on, you obviously don't know how to take care of Epona properly, so I am going to show you what goes into caring for horses. I'll be fun."
"Fun…" Link said, rubbing his left ear.
Malon knew it really wasn't his fault that Epona looked so bedraggled and disheveled. Link was just a boy from the forest. He wasn't raised on a farm and had no idea how to handle large animals. Horses were more delicate than most people took them for. Malon knew that she couldn't just take Epona back from him. Link had saved her from becoming Ganondorf's mount. Ganondorf would have treated her with an intentional cruelty or forced her to breed with his demon-stallion. Link needed her for his mission. Also, Epona had bonded to him.
It amazed Malon how quickly the boy was able to climb onto her back and ride her. He did not fall off or have any fear of jouncing in the saddle when she took off for a gallop, unlike most beginning riders. He rode her as an expert now – entirely self-taught. He even had her trained to leg and thigh signals, eschewing the use of reins. The boy was nothing short of amazing with his apparently natural abilities. It was almost as if he'd ridden large animals before in another life and retained the ghost of memory.
Still, it was obvious that he did not know how to properly take care of his mare. Epona had scratches and wounds all over her (the result of monster-attacks in the field, Link had said), her coat had lost its luster and…
"Do you leave the saddle on her all the time?"
"Um," Link said scratching the back of his neck, "Aren't you supposed to? It makes it easier to get up on her at a moment's notice."
"No, you are not supposed to, Link!" Malon shouted. "Come on. First we're going to un-tack Epona and curry her off. She needs a nice rest and some good food. What have you been feeding her?"
"Grass. She just eats grass out in the field."
"Fair enough," Malon said, hands on her hips. "You do know you're supposed to watch what she eats, right? There are some things she can't eat – bad berries, black walnuts…"
"Epona can't eat walnuts?"
"She must have not eaten any, then. I haven't seen her get sick… she's not been throwin' up or anything."
"Horses can't throw up, Link."
"Their stomachs aren't the same as ours. Work with me one day at the ranch and you'll learn a whole lot…"
After Epona was taken care of and turned out in the main pen with LonLon ranch's other horses, Link learned how to do something that he'd never needed to do out in the field. The last time Epona was kept in a stable-stall was when she'd lived at LonLon Ranch. Still, Malon thought it was important that Link learn how to deal with stalls simply to increase his general knowledge. Also, Ingo really needed a day off. He was getting crankier than usual of late.
"We need to expose the floor." Malon said inside a stall, pitchfork at the ready. "The horses pee a lot, so the wood shavings and straw bits get all soaked, so we have to get rid of that stuff as well as the….stuff."
"Road apples," Link said.
Malon showed Link how to use the pitchfork to remove the brown piles and heavy wads of soaked wood shavings and pitch them into a waiting wooden wheelbarrow. Link's fairy, Navi, hid under his hat.
"Navi's shivering in my hair," Link said, "I don't think she likes this." He scooped and pitched with his own fork, wrinkling his nose. Link liked the smell of horses. Epona's body-odor was a sweet scent, like sweet grass or hay. He didn't like the smell of horse manure nearly as much. Malon told him that she didn't mind it; then again, she'd grown up around it. At least the stuff in the stall wasn't fresh. When Epona let loose a fresh-load out in the field, it sometimes made him gag.
"They go all the time," Malon said. "I'm sure you know that from being around Epona."
"I don't go nearly as much," Link commented. "I don't think Navi goes at all. If she does, she hides it well."
"I hope you wash your hair a lot," Malon laughed. "Yeah, horses' systems are such that… it's just how they work."
"High-fiber diet," Link said. "Do you do this every day?"
"Yep. Sometimes twice a day. Sometimes I want to go up to each and every horse here and say 'STOP POOPING!' There's lots more to do, too, you ain't just doin' this stall, Fairy-Boy."
"You're tough. My back already hurts."
"Alright, now that we've got the big stuff, we need to bank up the shavings on the sides of the stall, that way, the floor can dry out."
Malon flung a pitchfork full of bedding up against one wall. She proceeded to fling another and Link followed suit, banking bedding against the opposite wall.
"Hey! We missed some and it's rolling down!"
"That's the idea!" Malon explained. "This way, we get the little road-apples that we miss on the first go."
Link flung a fork-load against the wall. A fat turd broke against the wood. A tell-tale chiming sound that Link knew well hit his long, sensitive ears. Out of the remains of the manure fell a glittering red rupee.
Without thinking, Link reached down to grab it. It spun in the air above his hands. Malon noted that he did not look surprised by this.
"You can't touch it?" Malon asked.
Before the rupee magically-transferred to his wallet, Link realized a vital fact about this rupee that he had overlooked in his reflexive move to collect it. He wrinkled his nose and narrowed his eyes.
"I don't want to touch it!"
When it disappeared, he wondered just how bad his wallet was going to smell the next time he opened it to buy anything. "Uggh," he groaned.
The next job to be done was the cleaning out of the buckets the horses used for drinking. The stalls each had hooks upon which the buckets were hung, a pair for each stall. Since he and Malon were cleaning them, they were going to clean the tubs for the cattle, as well. Malon did not know if she would subject poor Link to the outdoor stock-tanks, which were prone to growing algae and were considerably more difficult to clean. For now, she had him carry and dump wooden and metal buckets out onto the lawn and bring them over to the pump.
She greeted him with a scrub-brush. "Now," she said, "You put a little clean water in them and you scrub – really get the elbow-grease going."
Navi had opted for some fresh air and had been flitting about around Link's head. She'd gravitated toward a wooden bucket with a little bit of water left in the bottom.
"What's she doing, Fairy-Boy?" Malon asked, watching her hover.
"Fairies like water," Link said. "She's probably just thirsty."
"I've never seen a bucket so clean!" Malon gasped. "Look at that! The sparkles from her wings are making everything clean and shiny!"
"Well, fairies are supposed to be pure creatures… maybe she's purifying it?"
Link scrubbed a bucket with a brush. His hand arm was getting tired. He spied a stick nearby and remembered he had some twine in one of his travel pouches. "Navi…" he called.
"Yes, Link?" The fairy asked. "Hey! I don't like the sound of your voice…"
"Navi, do you want to really help me out?"
"This is your job, Link," the fairy answered, "Malon said that this is your work."
Link reached into the bucket, grabbed up Navi, and ignoring her muffled cries, swiftly tied her to the stick he'd found. He proceeded to use her as a scrub-brush.
"Hey!" *glub!* "Listen!" *glub* "Look!" *glub* "You're drowning me!*
"Look at how clean you're getting these buckets, Navi! Besides, what are you worried about? Fairies are practically indestructible!"
"Is that true?" Malon asked.
"Well, fairies can be taken down by dark powers, but I've seen Navi take a hit from a lizafols' blade and be just fine! Look, it's not hurting her any!"
"Hey! Look! Listen! Link, you jerk! HEY!"
"We cleaned up the stalls already, Link. I don't think you'll find any more rupees."
Link was cleaning the stalls again – looking for free money.
At the end of the day, Link stayed over at the ranch. He was eager to get back to the work of saving Hyrule, but a day with Malon had left him bone-tired.
Navi had stopped speaking to him. She'd floated off somewhere to sulk.
Link went to bed that night a little bit smellier and a little bit wiser. It was a wisdom he wasn't sure he'd wanted. He appreciated his friend Malon just a little bit more, but he'd rather fight monsters.
As night fell on the ranch, Epona neighed happily.
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