Chapter 4: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Just as Skyloft had emptied out to visit the Surface for Link and Zelda's wedding, the Surface Hylian Settlement had emptied out into Skyloft for Pipit's funeral. He was well-liked and even those that did not know him as anything other than a random Academy student milled about for the ceremony, for Skyloft was a tight-knit community that felt every loss.
A wooden scaffold was built upon the upper level of the Academy property and Pipit's body, dressed in fresh chainmail and a clean uniform was placed upon it along with many flowers. In the past, pyres such as these were erected on the Goddess' Island, but now that the landmass was a part of the Surface, this was judged the best spot. After all the speeches had been made, Sir Eagus would raise the special bird-call and, if tradition went as it was supposed to, Pipit's Loftwing would come to take him away in its claws. Bereft Loftwings were never seen again after they'd taken their masters away. It was thought that the brokenhearted birds took their dead masters to a fabled sky-island where they, themselves went to die – so bird and rider could be together forever.
Wryna and Jakamar escorted Mallara. Link started to speak with her but couldn't get any words out. He could not meet her gaze. She stared ahead, seldom blinking, her expression blank. She'd been catatonic like this ever since the Headmaster had given her the bad news. It had been clear that she had been weeping bitterly, but for now, she could do nothing but stare at the scaffold, or to stare ahead blankly when anyone tried to address her.
Zelda talked with her father while Link wandered the grounds, occasionally met people to share condolences, but mostly, he'd keep to himself, listening to snatches of conversation.
"He was a double-clutching, back-biting, girlfriend-stealing bastard!" - Cawlin. Link's skin crawled. The little jerk was talking to Stritch.
"Listen up, dipwads!" – Groose. Groose had come, taking a break from his desert-work. He sidled up to his former henchmen. "Cram a sock in it right now! If I hear you say one more bad thing, I'll put you on a pyre, pounded flat!"
"My, my, Groose," Stritch commented, "I don't recall you liking the guy much, either… why put up the defenses now?"
"It's called respect, dammit!" Groose growled.
"He was a girlfriend-stealing bastard," Cawlin said, "But it's not like I wanted him to die."
"What did I just say?"
"Come now, Groose. What is less respectful? A few honest words or causing a fight at a funeral?"
"Seriously. Shut. Up."
Link knew that he shouldn't expect model behavior of Groose's former lackeys. He was surprised to see such defensiveness from Groose. Groose had spent a lot of time either getting reported by Pipit for one dumb thing or another he was doing or unsuccessfully trying to bully the upperclassman. Link remembered one time when they'd gotten into an argument about Groose teasing Fledge and Groose had decked Pipit, giving him a black eye. Pipit had just stood up, brushed himself off and gave Groose his infamous death-glare. Pipit had not raised a fist; he'd just glared at the more robustly-built boy, silently daring him to try it again. Then Zelda showed up fussing and Groose had backed right down.
Pipit never used violence to solve anything among his fellow students. He used his forceful glare, his forceful voice and sometimes, arguments of pure logic to keep order. It seemed like everyone knew that he could effectively use violence if he'd wanted to – he was Eagus' best swordsmanship student, even better than Link was before Link had discovered the surface and had gained superior skills through sheer necessity. Pipit would never harm an Academy student, even someone like Cawlin or Groose, because he was very self-controlled. He'd once told Link that he hated dealing with the remlits at night while on patrol because they were such tame animals in the daytime and utterly pathetic with their whining and whimpering when he'd had no choice but to whack one with the flat of his blade. Link suspected that he'd thought of Groose and his henchmen in a similar manner – unworthy adversaries.
Link winced. He passed by Karane, who was crying into Oreille's shoulder. He then passed by Fledge, who was with Instructor Owlan, sniffling and trying to hide it. He also seemed to be looking around nervously, as if wanting to avoid someone in the milling crowds, hoping that they were not about to approach him.
"It is not a weakness to cry," the teacher told the boy. "At times like these, showing emotion is strength."
"If you say so," Fledge gulped. "Pipit was… he was a good senior… He watched out for me a lot… and Link, too."
Link grit his teeth hard at that. He kept replaying the events of the day before last over and over again in his mind. Pipit had known what he was doing and had taken the blow for him. He probably didn't think it was going to kill him – he'd swept in there, hoping to deal a fatal strike on the Stalmaster and duck the sword, only the sword had been too fast for him. It had been an adrenaline-rush reaction – Pipit had seen his underclassman in danger and reacted as he always had in his duties as a good senior and friend. It didn't matter that he'd just graduated and had been inducted as a career-knight, nor did it matter that Link never would because he was King of the Surface now. Just because their ranks had changed did not mean their relationship had. Today, Link felt neither regal nor royal. He felt, most of all, like a failed friend – not an active betrayer, but still a failure.
He saw Gondo with Scrapper floating beside him. Gondo, too, had come in from the desert. Link and Gaepora had agreed to give Pipit's chainmail shirt to the mechanic-smith, the gashed one that the young man had died in, so that he could study it for ways to improve the chainmail for the Surface Knights if not the Skyloft Knights as well. The man had said something about how heavier armor might make flight difficult, which wouldn't be a problem for the Surface, but would be for the Sky.
"Zzzrt. What's wrong with Master Shortpants? Drrzt." Scrapper asked. "One of your kind has ceased functioning. It is not like you have not started making more. Bzzt."
"SCRAPPER!" Gondo yelped, "That is neither kind nor polite! I have already explained protocol to you."
"I just don't understand. Rrzzzt." Scrapper said with a spin, "When we robots lose one of our own, we keep on working. Vrrm. You humans stop everything like the world's ended. Master Shortpants' friend was just a human like any other. Drzzt."
Link glared at him. "And Fi was just a sword."
As he walked away, Link could hear Scrapper buzzing and popping in rage. Gondo was shouting, trying to calm the little bucket of bolts down. Link immediately felt terrible. It was a cruel thing to say and it had hurt him, as well. He missed Fi. He knew no other way to convey the human experience to Scrapper. It was, perhaps, particularly low, since Link did not mourn for Fi the same way he was mourning Pipit. Fi had been a good companion on his great quest, but the quest was exactly what she had lived for. Link knew that she felt – for as much as a single-program sword-intelligence could feel – "completed" when the mission had ended. She had gone into her sleep-mode "happy." Pipit, on the other hand, had everything to live for. He'd just achieved his dream of becoming an official Skyloft Knight, he had a fierce and pretty lover, and he had meaningful work to do.
With a shout from Eagus, the ceremony began. He presided over it. Headmaster Gaepora had overseen some of the more personal aspects of this - such as informing family of the loss, while Eagus presided over speeches for fallen knights. Zelda came up to Link and hugged him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder.
"We are here today to honor Sir Pipit, son of Peregrin, passed before him, and Mallara, who remains…" Eagus droned.
"Sir." This was not a posthumous title. Pipit had been enjoying it during the winter, after a fall graduation and had been a working Rescue Knight before his last visit to the Surface. Two people whose lives he'd saved came forward to speak, as well as the Headmaster. Mallara had tried to speak, but just broke down crying and asking the Heavens for her son back.
Link and Zelda came up last. Link spoke seriously, almost in monotone.
"His last words…" Link choked out, "He felt… free. I… I am so, so sorry…" He stepped down, allowing Zelda to play her harp and sing.
After that, Sir Eagus raised a cylindrical device which he spun rapidly in the air. It created a sharp, distinct whistling sound.
A shadow fell over the gathered as a great yellow Loftwing descended. Everyone stared as it swooped down and took the body on the pyre up in its talons, gingerly. The bird flapped and soared off. The wind of its wings blew over everyone. A scrap of mustard-yellow cloth fell by Link's feet. Link picked up the hat and folded it carefully. His eyes scanned the sky to watch Pipit's bird soar off into the distance and vanish behind misty clouds.
Link joined Karane later at Pipit's house. Mallara had been taken to Jakamar, Wryna's and Kukiel's place to stay with them for a while.
"Thank you for your help, Link," Karane sniffled. Link looked around the house. It was much cleaner than the last time he'd visited and it was filled with little metal and wicker cages all containing tiny birds. There was a pair of cardinals, a male and a female. There were sparrows and a blue jay, a quail and a dove. There was even a lone dark guay in a round metal cage that gave Link a baleful glare. Link wondered where Pipit had gotten all these cages – perhaps Gondo had been constructing them for him, paid in some of the Surface treasures he'd helped Pipit to find.
"Ms. Mallara isn't going to be able to take care of them anymore, and has no reason to. I want to take them back down to the Surface to free them. It's what Pipit would want."
"I'm sure," Link said. "He was probably planning to free them after he'd finished studying them up close, anyway." He started helping Karane take cages down from the ceiling and walls. "I hope they'll do alright on the trip home. My bird's carried a lot of strange things, but never a load like this before."
"I think we can manage to take half each, or maybe even divide the load into a third if Zelda will take a few cages," Karane answered, "These birds are all from the Faron Woods area. We never trapped any from the desert and the only avian-life we found in the volcano area were these large carrion-birds and we didn't want to take any of them because they would be hard to feed… rotten meat and all. Hey! Edgar! Behave!"
Link was holding the cage with the guay and the bird was squawking at him, flapping around and scratching at the bars. "Edgar?" he asked.
"Pipit gave a few of them names," Karane explained. "Edgar just felt right for that one, he told me."
"I'm surprised he took a guay," Link said. "They're kind of evil… less a normal animal and more a low-level monster."
"A bird's a bird," Karane shrugged. "He'd eat right out of Pipit's hand. The thing always tried to bite me."
"He was always good at calming down Loftwings…" Link smiled. "Do you have any idea what you'll be doing now?"
"Well," Karane said sadly, "First, I'm going to continue on the course I was on. I am going to study hard, graduate and earn my knighthood. Then, I think I am going to move down to the Settlement and put my bid in to become a Surface Knight. I am also going to continue Pipit's work. I want to finish the book about the birds of the Surface."
Link took Pipit's hat out of his pocket and laid it, folded, upon a counter. He unbuckled a silver and gold rupee-filled wallet from his belt and laid it atop it. He found a quill and paper and quickly scribbled a note.
"What are you writing?" Karane asked.
"A note," Link said. "It's an invitation to Mallara to join the royal court down on the surface if she wishes to. Zelda and I will take care of her if she wishes to live down there with us."
"I think she's going to be staying with Jakamar's family for a long time," Karane responded. "I think she's more comfortable with them. Even if they move back down to their Surface property, I imagine she'll be with them."
"Alright," Link said. "Let's load up so we can go down and free these captives."
Late that afternoon, when the sun was beginning to fall in the woods outside the Hylian Settlement, Link, Zelda and Karane opened the latches on the doors of cages and let many little birds free to find their own fortunes.
The next morning, Zelda awoke to the sounds of clashing steel. Link's place on their bed was empty, the blankets left messy and a dent left on his pillow. She put on her robe and slippers and rushed outside to find Link slamming his sword over and over again against the big boulder outside the back of their cabin.
"Heeya! Hiya! Yaaaa!" he screamed. He was not practicing his swordsmanship. This was sloppy. If he was seriously practicing his sword-techniques, he'd not be using a stone as a target nor would he be using his sword as one would use a hammer. She saw the sweat pouring down his face and dipped a small bottle into a bucket of rainwater.
"Link!" Zelda called. "Easy! Whatever you're doing… You're going to…break…it…"
Zelda jumped out of the way as half a sword came spinning through the air to embed itself into a nearby tree. Link stood with the hilt in his hand, puffing and panting.
"Here…" Zelda said gently, proffering the water. "What in the world has gotten into you?"
Link appeared to calm down. He took the bottle of water, then got a dark look in his eyes, winced, and threw it against the boulder, shattering it.
"Link! What is wrong?" Zelda pleaded, grasping him by the shoulders. "You'd better tell me what's going on in that green-capped head of yours right now!"
Link sat down heavily on a log and caught his breath. "Water…" he gasped.
"Yes…?" Zelda said gently, sitting beside him. She rubbed his back. "I can get another bottle."
"No," Link whispered, his voice hoarse. He looked up, his eyes distant for a moment. "Water… all Karane and I had was water. We had a red potion, but I used it as soon as I got hurt. If we'd saved it… maybe… maybe Pipit would still be with us…"
"Oh, Link…" Zelda gasped, hugging him from behind. "Ssh. What's happened has happened, not even the Timeshift Stones can change it. Besides, if you hadn't taken the potion, maybe I'd be missing you."
Link calmed a bit, relaxing in her arms. "I don't think I'm cut out to be a king, Zelda," he confessed.
"Why ever not?" Zelda retorted, "I chose you, didn't I? As Hylia and as myself!"
"Everything's so haphazard in this colony, anyway," Link sighed. "We're letting the Skyloft Knight Academy train the knights for here… people only listen to us about the illegal logging because they're afraid of the Water Dragon… and, Zelda… I…" Link winced, "I was able to see to myself down here just fine, but how am I supposed to protect all of these people? Pipit was strong… he was… the last person I'd expect to become a first casualty. I couldn't protect him, Zelda."
"It was… just bad luck," Zelda soothed. "And a choice, if what Karane and you tell me is accurate. He saw the blade coming before you did and wanted to protect you."
"It's not supposed to be that way, though," Link said bitterly as he looked off over the roofs of new houses to the trees beyond them. "A good king is supposed to protect his people."
Link awoke again in the middle of the night gasping for breath – for the fifth night this week. All his life he'd been a hardcore sleeper, and lately he'd become an insomniac. He whispered a spell to ignite the house-torches.
While Skyloft had made use of certain kinds of technology – mostly wind-generators - to produce electricity and heat, the Surface relied upon basic means and the magical forces of the land. Some of the Hylian Settlement was powered by electrical generators fed by steam and chemical combustion, but most people had taken up the use of magical means to replace purely human technologies. Link wondered if the future would bring more of that. They were already living atop the remains of long-lost and long-forgotten technologies a few of them were only beginning to understand (and most of them remained baffling).
Link looked down at his hands, relieved that there was no blood there. That had been his recurring nightmare – his hands sticky and slick with human blood, the unique smell of fresh innards tickling his nose. He glanced over at his wife, deep in slumber, thankful that he'd not disturbed her. Then again, Zelda had slept for just about a thousand years in an amber chrysalis, so she'd officially outranked him now as the world's most hardcore sleeper. Link whispered and willed a minor wind-spell to put the torches out. He settled back in and tried to enjoy the warmth of his blankets and the sensation of gentle breath tickling the back of his neck.
The twilight of drowsiness gave way to a world. Link stood under a dark blue-gray sky, shifting to black and to silver. He was in a Skyloft that looked like it was resting beneath a light, gentle blanket of snow. A few flakes drifted down from the sky. A soft music played on the wind. Everything was silver and white and emanated a diffused glow. Link recognized where he was. This was the Silent Realm – specifically, the Goddess' Silent Realm that he'd had his final spiritual trial in.
He quickly looked about himself. He was not standing within the Gate, but the sky remained calm. There were no sacred tears to be seen, and likewise, no guardians or watchers. Link looked down at himself and noticed that he was in his uniform, but without sword or shield. He also glowed in waves of light that moved over his body – or was it his spirit? He wandered around in the quiet land, devoid of people or animals.
Link came to one of the docks and alerted by a sharp "Wark!" sound, glanced skyward to see a descending Lofting. The bird landed before him and it was a Loftwing like no other he'd seen. Its wings and tail had white sections – like most Loftwings, but their tips were capped in shining metallic gold. The body-feathers of the bird were silver – metallic, glowing silver. The animal's eyes were a deep and startling blue.
Link reached out to touch the creature. It responded to him with a loud "Wark!" It nodded to him, then stalked over to the edge of the dock and flew off. Link blinked for a few minutes. "Does it want me to follow it?" He ran off the platform and whistled for his bird. To his surprise, his crimson terror existed in this strange world and caught him without fail. The bird's body glowed like Link's did – a sign that unlike the solid silver Loftwing, they were strangers here, beings that did not normally belong in this realm.
The silver Loftwing swooped alongside Link, doing a dive and spin. Link's bird did likewise and Link held on tight. Link laughed, enjoying the ride. This was like many a race he'd had with friends while up in Skyloft. He used to have chases with Fledge, Pipit, Karane and Zelda all the time.
Link showed off the recently learned spin-attack move and to his surprise, the wild Loftwing followed suit. A wind kicked up and Link felt his hands slip off his riding-belt as his bird shifted sideways. He did what he was trained to do in this situation – he dug his knees in for a temporary hold while he groped for feathers and the belt. The silver Loftwing pulled up beside him, looked him in the eye and spoke:
"What have I always told you?" the silver creature asked him. "Straighten up and fly right!"
That's when a flabbergasted Link slipped right off his bird. He fell and whistled, but his partner did not come for him. Link landed hard upon silver feathers.
"You! You just… talked!" Link gasped.
"Of course I did." Where did Link recognize that voice from? "Brace yourself, we're gonna land."
The bird's feet landed hard upon the upper Academy grounds of the Silent Realm Skyloft. Link fell and rolled off, landing in a heap. The great silver bird perched before him, cocking its head in a curious manner.
"You talked," Link said again, getting his bearings. "You're a Loftwing."
"Loftwings can't talk and nothing in the Silent Realm has ever spoken to me. That's where we are, right?"
To Link's astonishment, the Loftwing shifted and changed. The feathers of the wings folded in upon themselves and the animal shrunk. A human form stood before him – one dressed in a yellow tunic and floppy hat. Unlike Link, the figure was completely solid here – freckles and all.
Pipit reached out his hand and helped Link up. "I don't understand," Link said. "You're… you're dead."
"And you don't really belong in the spirit world," Pipit answered. "You're dreaming. I didn't know of any other way to reach you."
"Pip… I'm so, so sorry…"
"You only died in my arms. I failed to save you."
Pipit shrugged. "Where's the failure in that? You tried. I tried, too. I tried to hold on. It really wasn't so bad… better to have a friend with me than to die alone."
"You seem… inordinately okay with this."
"The world moves on. That's the way it is. Dad's proud of me. I know that much. And you… you've been under a lot of stress lately – worse than when you were facing the riding-styles exam."
"Pipit… you died. I was supposed to protect you and I failed to. I am a failure as a king and as your friend. What's more…I'm going to be a father. What if I cannot protect my child? Or Zelda?"
Pipit shook his head. "You are not a failure. Listen… you've gotta straighten up and fly right if you want to be a proper leader for your people – and like it or not, you have to be, Link. This is your fate. You did a marvelous job of protecting Zelda in the past – you faced the great-granddaddy of all monsters, remember? You can do it, Link. I have faith in you."
"No buts. I chose to protect you. Don't forget that. My fate was my own. Listen… I am going to watch over you. I will find a way. You can't get rid of ol' Pipit that easy."
Link awoke with those final words echoing in his head. He felt relieved in a strange way. His hands didn't feel like they were coated in blood.
"Mornin' sleepyhead," Zelda said from the hearth. She was working the end of a frying pan in which some fresh eggs from their personal flock of cuccoos were sizzling.
"Zelda," Link sighed. "You should have waited for me to get up…"
"So overprotective. I'm fine, Link. I didn't even throw up today. You were tossing and turning and talking about silver birds or something, so I left you alone."
"Pipit came to me in a dream."
"He told me to straighten up and fly right, so that's what I'm gonna do."
Months went by without great event – more people from outlying islands had come down to the Surface. A guild of merchants had come to Link and Zelda asking advice as to how to conduct trade in Eldin with the Mogma people and small-scale trade had been established. Faron had almost eaten Sparrot the fortune-teller - something that he had not foreseen when he'd taken a trip far into her territory to scout out new scrying materials. Link had rescued him. The Surface Knights were escorting builders, historians, art enthusiasts and pilgrims to the old Skyview Temple to see to its restoration.
The day came when Zelda was called upon to face one of the mortal agonies she had both looked forward to and had not looked forward to. Link paced and sweat outside their home until Kestra, a skilled midwife originally from one of the islands north of Skyloft, bade him to come inside.
"A strong one," Kestra commented. "I should expect no less from a former Goddess, I suppose. Your little one came chargin' out, too, like he was eager to get into the world."
"He?" Link asked.
"He," the midwife nodded.
Zelda lay in bed with a sweet but tired smile. She held a weakly squirming bundle wrapped in a warm blanket. Link sat on a stool beside the bed.
"Look, Link…" Zelda said. "Our son. Isn't he the most beautiful thing in the world?"
The newborn was wrinkly and pink and anything but a picture of conventional beauty. A bit like a baby songbird, Link thought – how ugly and tender and naked they are when they come out of the shell, but still with an endearing nature, and of course, his "baby bird" was the most beautiful thing in the world because he was his.
The child had a light fuzz of blond hair and the startling blue eyes that all babies had when first born. Link knew that between him and Zelda's lineage that the child's eyes would likely remain that same color of blue, or even deepen. Zelda passed the boy into Link's arms and Link held him as if he were made of glass.
"You didn't name him, did you?" Link whispered.
"I have a name in mind, but I wanted us to agree."
"Well, we can't call him Unnamed Baby, now can we?"
Zelda laughed. "Do you have some gallant name in mind, Mr. Hero?"
Link sighed. "Well, I was thinking of naming him after a good, fallen friend, to tell the truth. It's been on my mind for months."
"The same has been on my mind, as well," Zelda agreed.
Link cuddled and rocked his son. "Welcome to the world, Pipit."
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