Chapter 3: Fly, Free Bird
"Ugh! Is this tea or hot leaf juice?" Karane wretched as she set her teacup down, nearly spilling its contents in haste to part it from her lips.
Zelda softly laughed. "Mr. Owlan said that this kind of leaf, brewed as tea would help ease my aches and be good for the baby."
"You need to brew it better… let it steep lightly, in very hot water. That should improve the taste… if it can be improved upon."
"Well, you were always the tea-expert. We'll let him be the judge." Zelda lightly patted her slightly swollen belly. She was only beginning to show. Karane and Pipit had arrived yesterday at the cabin she shared with Link. People had begun work on a stone and brickwork building that was to become a governmental center. Link and Zelda had insisted that they did not actually need a palace to live in, but such a place would come into use in the future when the population grew and a council and offices would be needed to govern the land. Zelda expected the budding castle – and the need for it – to be ready in her children's time. As it was, she and Link had been effective in scaling back the taking of timber and in orchestrating a re-routing of some of Faron Woods' water for irrigation and general use in the settlement. There was the rain-collection system to supplement it.
"Are you sure it's a boy?"
"Have you got a name yet?"
"Not yet." She looked over to Link, asleep in a chair on the other end of the dining room table. "Wake up, Sleepyhead. It's almost time for you to go."
"She's right," Pipit said as he nudged Link awake. He sat next to the less-than-regal King of Hyrule (the name that the land had been dubbed of late). Link snorted and apologized.
Pipit had a book open before him. He'd been penciling in little notes, based on his memories. He and Karane had been up in Skyloft all winter, for Faron Woods had been choked with cold and snow and Pipit had just finished his official graduation and induction into the Skyloft Knights, so he'd been busy with work. He'd just been given some vacation time and since he'd heard of the thaw, had decided to try to find the elusive "eagles" the Kikwis had told him about the last time he'd made landfall.
He'd been naming the birds of the Surface after what the Kikwis called them and had been recording what he hoped would become a comprehensive guide to the Birds of the Surface. The Kikwis, themselves, were a part of Pipit's book because, though flightless, they were a kind of bird – at least according to certain classifications of physiology. Pipit was more comfortable classifying their kind as "planimal" to denote them as a plant / animal hybridization.
Pipit had found that the Kikwis' ancient names for the many Surface-birds were similar to the names of people in Skyloft. He'd found "sparrows" and "parrots," "oriels" and "wrens"…
"What's that one?" Link asked, pointing to a drawing. Karane had been doing most of the drawing-work for this book, for she had an artistic hand. Pipit concentrated upon the writing and scientific aspects.
"Well, that's a pipit," Pipit said brightly.
Link laughed so hard he snorted. "Don't tell me you've gone Groose on me! You're naming them after yourself now?"
"No, no, no!" Pipit said, holding up his hands and shaking his head. "That's what the Kikwis call that kind of bird. Trust me; I was as surprised as anyone. It's not a bad bird to name after myself, though."
Link read another page. "Groosia rose, groosia azure…"
"The 'grooselings.' They're the same species, various colorations. I decided to give Groose his way, after all."
"Listen," Link said, "You've been keeping up with your sword training, right?"
"Me and Karane both. There may not be any monsters on Skyloft anymore, but a knight's gotta keep sharp."
"Good to hear," Link answered. "Because there are a few monsters still lurking around down here. You said you wanted to go out by the Ancient Cistern. That place is mostly sealed up, but it does house some undead – Cursed Bokoblins and Stalfos… those things don't need a master to keep on fighting, since they're pretty much just magic-animated corpses. I'm always checking that area when I get the chance. There have been… a few escapes. Faron gets most of them, but she doesn't like rotten meat so she's a little lax on security there."
"What's their threat-level?" Pipit asked.
"The dead Bokoblins not very much. They just kind of latch onto you, a bit like Chu-Chus but a lot more disgusting. The Stalfos are infinitely more dangerous. They are skeletal warriors who used to be knights in an ancient age and they… never gave up their will to fight, even in death."
"Oh, that's awful!" Karane proclaimed. "I hope none of them were Skyloft Knights."
"I don't think so," Link said with a shake of his head, "I think they fought in the ancient Surface-war. They're probably the remains of ancient demons or may even have been human traitors who worked with the ancient demons and thus were cursed. I don't know for sure, but that's what I think. Anyway, if we run into any… I doubt we will, Go for the back. Slice for the vertebrae and the ribs. That will sever the back and send them toppling."
"Are you sure you're going to be alright out there?" Zelda implored.
"There are three of us and we all have swords," Link said. "I think we'll be just fine if any trouble arises."
Pipit packed up his book and pens and slung his sword across his back. Karane slung a bag with water-filled bottles over her shoulder, over her sword. Link picked up his sword and Divine Shield and the three headed out. They walked through the Hylian Settlement, greeting the people at their shops and doing their daily errands. Link scrambled up a shortcut, climbing a fallen log. He reached down and helped his friends up. They found another rise like this and scrambled up.
"Well, here it is, the Ancient Cistern," Link said, pointing across quiet waters to the ancient ruins of the entranceway.
Pipit was shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand. "Up there," he said… "Do you see it?"
Link and Karane looked skyward to see an arching shape. It was a bird of some size – not quite as big as a Loftwing, but larger than most of the other Surface birds.
"I think the nesting area is somewhere up there, over that rise," Pipit said. "Is there any way to get up there, Link?"
Link scratched his chin and took a pair of strange claw-like devices out of his traveling pouch. He fitted them onto his hands. "I… I don't know how much weight these can carry or how exactly this is going to work since I've always used these alone, but if both of you will grab onto me, I think I can pull us up."
It was a very awkward group-hug. Pipit grabbed onto Link's shoulders while Karane wrapped her arms around his waist. The trio rocketed up to an earthen ledge and fell down together in a heap.
"We are Not. Doing. That. Again." Pipit commanded as he fitted his hat back into place.
"We should have taken turns with the Clawshots, I guess," Link said, "But they were a gift to me from one of the Old Goddesses. I don't know if they're meant for anyone but me to use."
They hiked on, looking at the scenery and moving as silently as they could, listening to the calls of common birds, trying to pick out the screech of eagles. A shadow behind a tree moved. Link narrowed his eyes. He drew his sword and shield off his back. Pipit and Karane tentatively drew their swords as well.
"What is it, Link?" Karane asked.
Suddenly, a creature leapt out at them, screaming a high-pitched, dust-dry scream. It thrust out its arms, each holding swords. It was a skeleton with four arms.
"Stay back!" Link shouted. "It's a Stalmaster! This is a very dangerous enemy!" His face was white with fear. He danced and dodged and drew the undead knight's attention. He grumbled under his breath, "I thought I'd taken care of you already…"
Pipit grabbed a bottle out of Karane's shoulder-bag. It was filled with red potion, the only bottle of the stuff they had, just in case. They would have carried more if they thought the journey was going to be this eventful.
"Link said to go for the spine, right?" Karane asked.
One of the great swords hit Link, knocking him to the ground. Karane slammed her sword into the skeleton's spinal column where the ribs joined what would have been the belly if it was a living man. Link got himself up and Pipit tossed him the red potion, which he drank down, stemming the tide of blood that was running off the side of his scalp. Pipit sliced off one of their attacker's lower ribs. Link thrust the tip of his blade into its sternum.
The monster stalked toward Link, its four arms and four swords folded together. It unleashed its blades in a multi-directional sweep, which Link just barely blocked with his shield. Karane swung and missed as the Stalmaster moved. Link wheeled around only to find himself being tackled by Pipit who simultaneously pushed him out of the way, dealt a devastating blow to the center of the monster's spine and took a hit from one of its descending blades. The yellow-clad knight was sent wheeling to the ground.
Karane jumped up with a war-cry and sent her blade square into the back of the skeleton's skull. It cracked and broke and the monster fell clattering to the ground. It turned to smoke and dust, leaving nothing behind it but the rupees that had been in its belt-pocket and unique sour and sickening smell of charred bone. "Pipit!" she cried.
The bloody heap that was Pipit tried to pull himself up. He uttered an animal-like squall of pain. Link dropped his sword and crouched down beside him, holding him up and positioning him on his knees.
"Ah! Aie!" Pipit yelped.
Link's eyes quickly scanned him as Karane fished around in her bottle bag. "We're all out of potion," she said, "We only had the one… All I've got is water."
"Pass it here." Link took a bottle of water and put it to his friend's lips. Pipit sipped in a little before he accidentally made a sharp movement and sucked in air through his teeth. Link held him down while lifting his shoulders up.
"Karane," Link instructed calmly, "Fish around in my belt-pouch. Take the Clawshots and go get help."
Karane nodded. "Understood," she said.
"We won?" Pipit asked.
"Yeah, your girlfriend finished it. Split the damned thing's skull. Remind me never to get into a fight with her. She's dangerous."
Pipit laughed softly, then winced, then moved, and then winced some more. "Oh, Goddess, Link, how bad is it?"
"I don't think you want to know."
Pipit gave him an intense look. "I prefer honestly. Please."
Link hesitated. "I'm holding you up with one arm… my other hand is kind of… keeping your insides inside you."
"So it's worse than it feels."
"Believe it or not, I've survived injures like this. With the right potion… Your side's gonna hurt for a while, but you're going to be alright. Karane's getting help. You'll have a story to tell your kids."
Pipit's eyes were getting glassy. Not a good sign. Link shouted into the forest. "Are there any fairies around here? I could sure use your help! Come on out! Please!" Tears were streaming down his face at this point. He tried to stifle them to keep Pipit calm, but they wouldn't stop. "You like helping heroes, don't you? He's a hero, too! Please, if you're out there – show yourselves!"
"Link… tell my mom I'm sorry, okay? After dad left, mom was just never the same. I was supposed to be the man of the house… I was supposed to take care of her…"
"You can still take care of her. Stay with me, Pipit."
"You know, it really doesn't hurt anymore."
"Where are you?" Link shouted into the still morning air. A couple of grooselings were disturbed from the grass and flew off. "What's taking them so long?"
"Get a hold of yourself, Link," Pipit said calmly. The young man couldn't feel his extremities anymore and he was feeling mostly tired. There was a nagging ache in his middle. It didn't hurt as much as it had at first; it was more like a bite without power now. He wondered, briefly, how long he'd have to stay in bed if he survived this, and how long he'd have to use a cane or a crutch. He couldn't do swordplay or ride a bird like this, and it was going to be a good long time before he could continue his work down here. He'd fight hard to recover. He had to finish his work. His mom needed him and so did Karane.
Despite the numbness, he was certain he felt warmth on his right hand. Someone was grasping it. Karane was back. Up in the sky were a pair of circling Loftwings high above them, just below the great cloud layer. Pipit couldn't tell whose they were. If one of them was his, it wasn't in range for him to sense it in his soul.
"They're so… free up there," he whispered.
"Stay with me, darling," Karane pleaded. His hand went limp in hers. Link felt Pipit's entire body go slack. The wounded boy gazed skyward, his eyes half-lidded and still.
Zelda vaulted up onto the rise using the Clawshots. She tossed them down to her father below and came running as fast as her round middle and aching ankles would allow her. Karane immediately scooted out of the way to allow Zelda access to the patient. Zelda put both of her hands gently over Pipit's chest and she looked like she was trying to sense something – like she was doing something of a Goddess-nature.
She shook her head, and then ran her hand over Pipit's eyes to close them. "I…I'm sorry," she choked. "Even when I was Goddess, the Old Gods had limits on my power. I can sense that his soul is gone. He's….he has moved on…Just moved on."
"Is everything alright up there?" Gaepora shouted. He was answered by Karane, who broke out in a piercing wail.
Link held the body close as if he could will the life back into it, letting his tears fall silently. He picked up Pipit and started walking off into the forest. Karane chased after him while Zelda stayed behind to talk to her father.
"What are you doing?" Karane demanded.
"I need to clean him up," Link said in a hoarse whisper. "We're going to have to take him back to Skyloft… for his mother… and I know he'd want a Sky Burial."
"I'm coming with you," Karane said numbly.
"Link, you don't have to." Gaepora's voice. He and Zelda were behind them. "This is the kind of thing that I am to be in charge of. It's never easy." He shook his head. "I never thought I'd have to do ceremony for a knight so young."
"There's a pond near here with a clean waterfall," Link said. He winced. "He's still dripping blood…"
Twilight fell on the Hylian Settlement. The lanterns hung on the houses wore dimming-shades and none of the usual music of the shops played. Pipit lay in state on a cot inside the Goddess Shrine, before the bejeweled map of the Surface, his sheathed sword over him. He didn't look peaceful so much as simply dead. Two pairs of the newly appointed Surface Knights guarded the back side of the building and the entranceway. They each wore a black Lofwing feather in their hats as a symbol of mourning.
Zelda milled outside the shrine, walking and talking with Karane in the evening air.
"You were the Goddess…right?" Karane asked. "You should know where people – their spirits, I mean - go when they die?"
"Yes and no," Zelda said. "I am a mortal now… my memories from that other life are not complete and even then, I remember my powers being limited. I couldn't use the Triforce that I protected, I was under the auspices of Din, Nayru and Farore, I could be wounded and was by Demise, and I didn't meddle in the lives of my people too much – I wanted them to figure things out for themselves."
"That sounds like it might be for the best, actually. If you're doing things right, people won't be sure you're doing anything at all."
Zelda looked at the rising crescent moon as it just peeked out from behind the treetops. It didn't look any more distant down here than it did in Skyloft. "I remember…" she winced, "I remember… the death of the Ancient Hero. I held him and swore that his spirit would be reborn. Then I set up plans that ruined that reborn-Hero's life."
"I wouldn't say that… you're talking about Link, right? He moved Heaven and Earth for you… I'm sure he'd do it again. You shouldn't blame the Goddess for choosing the right man to save the world."
"I don't like past-me," Zelda spat.
"Well, you're you now," Karane offered. She let a tear silently fall. Zelda's eyes were red from crying, too. Both of their voices were scratchy and strained.
"Sometimes people are reborn," Zelda said softly. "Sometimes, it's as their own species, sometimes as another. Knowing Pipit, he may become a Loftwing. Usually, people go into the spiritual realm. Link has been there as part of his spiritual testing as the Hero, but he did not go to any part of it that other souls go to. Occasionally, if their business is unfinished, they remain as a ghost. Sometimes accursed and wicked men become undead creatures and sometimes monsters do not get rest. Every once in a while, very seldom, a soul will just dissolve, as in, a diffusion into nothingness, unawareness and a kind of sleep, but that only seems to happen to people who really, truly want it or people consumed by sufficiently powerfully evil, as I almost was."
"What do you think has happened to Pipit?"
"I don't know for sure," Zelda said. "I think he's destined for rebirth. That's kind of how he 'felt' to me when I touched his newly emptied body. I can tell you that he felt free."
"He won't really be the same if he comes back…"
"That's right. Each life is its own." Zelda took Karane by the hands. "We will remember him – his life, this life, Pipit as Pipit, and honor him."
Zelda and Karane hugged and wept anew. Zelda rubbed her friend's back. "We will keep him in highest honor on the Surface. After all, he saved Link's life today."
"Where is Link?" Karane ventured to ask. "After… after everything, he just kind of went off back the way we'd come… he didn't even clean himself up…"
Zelda sighed. "Link is… best left alone right now. He gets…dangerous… when he's upset."
"Not to you, I hope?"
"No… not to people – not to those he cares about, but he's still best left alone when he wants to be alone."
Just then, Link came staggering back into the outskirts of the settlement. He dragged his sword behind him and walked with a limp.
"Link!" both Zelda and Karane cried, running up to him. His hair was matted with blood and indiscernible goo. His tunic was ripped down to the chainmail and his pants were torn. There were blood spats of many colors – the red-brown of dried human blood, the brighter red of fresh human blood, the black, green and purple of various kinds of monster blood including what appeared to be a rotted black-brown ichors that gave Link an evil reek. He had some scrapes, cuts and other wounds on his arms and a sizable bruise on his left cheek.
Link struck his sword into the ground and used it almost as a crutch. "Won't be…monsters in the woods for a while," he wheezed. "Went into the Cistern and cleared it out. All of it…"
"Link…" Zelda whispered. "Easy."
"Kinda like fightin' that horde Ghirahim sent after me all over again… Won't be anything killing my friends anymore…"
"Link… let's get you inside… Get you cleaned, get you treated, okay?"
Link nodded, willing to obey his Zelda.
"I'll come," Karane said. Then she choked, "After all, we were… we were staying with you… and… Pipit wouldn't want you dying right after him!"
Back to Story Menu