Chapter 5: Fledglings of the Plains
The map of the Surface of Hyrule that most of the people from Skyloft knew resided within the chamber of the Goddess' statue. It was incomplete. Only the main provinces of Hylia's old kingdom were displayed upon it, ignoring lands in between and beyond. As the people of the Sky explored the Surface, new maps were quickly being penned upon scrolls.
For example, there was a great range of mountains in between Faron and Lanayru that snaked along Faron and fed into Eldin. Between those mountains and the first stirrings of Lanayru's desert was a vast plain. It became a high desert country nearer the deep desert and a sea of grass nearer the mountains. The mountain range served to regulate the Surface's weather, keeping most of the precipitation in Faron and denying it to Lanayru. The plains caught enough of the moisture to grow grasses, but not forest. Areas that people shifted to a past state with the Timeshift Stones spoke of an era when the desert caught more rain. The desert of long ago resembled the high desert parts of the plains as of the time when the re-colonization of the Surface by the Hylian people began.
Yet, there were no people upon the sea of grass when Fledge fell in love with it. He loved flying over the waving grasses on his peridot-green Loftwing, sweeping low to touch the seedy stalks. The shy boy marveled at the multitudes of large, strong beasts that milled about grazing.
The people of Skyloft knew what cattle were. How else did they get the leather used for boots, gauntlets and bird-riding belts? There was an island far to the west of Skyloft about the same size as the city that raised cattle and attractive blue goats with joined horns. Beef was an expensive luxury in Skyloft due to issues with transport, but it was enjoyed by many people there, including, on occasion, students in the Academy cafeteria. Fledge remembered the first time Pipit had tried steak – how his eyes bugged out his head and how happy it had made him – having apparently never eaten it before he'd started classes.
There were great beasts other than cattle upon these plains, however, creatures that the people of the Sky had previously known only in legends. Among the strong animals roved herds of creatures that resembled cattle, yet they had large, humped backs and curly, shaggy coats. There were also creatures that the legends told were once harnessed and ridden by the mythical people of Hylia's Realm. The old books called them "horses." These fascinated Fledge most of all.
The boy had taken to camping and living out on the plains.
"Looks like I've become independent now that I've gotten some muscle," he told his bird as she walked faithfully beside him one morning. He looked over the slightly curved horizon at the rising sun and listened to the plains birds sing sweetly and make raspy calls.
"Twee! Twee! Twee!" he whistled back, closing his eyes. A chill wind kicked up from the grasses to touch his cheeks. His Loftwing answered the bird calls with her own loud "WARK!" and several of the tiny birds in the immediate area flew off in fear. Fledge laughed and pattered her on the neck.
"Queen of the birds here ain't ya?" he laughed. She walked right behind him. Fledge's Loftwing was a little more protective of him than most birds were of their riders. Perhaps it was because of the early nervousness inherent in their relationship, or because she sensed her boy as needing extra-special care. Their "connection" wasn't as strong as most, but it was still the bulk of each of their lives. When Fledge was younger he had taken a full week before he was confident enough to climb upon his bird for the First Flight and he'd gotten sick immediately after it.
He'd heard the story of Link's immediate connection to his Loftwing and was, like everyone else on Skyloft, jealous of it, though he cheered Link on. Link had been everything Fledge wanted to be and was not; brave, confident, strong, and nothing ever seemed to faze him.
"It is strange how life goes isn't it?" he told his bird, not sure she could understand him, as he thought about everyone at the Academy. "Our class, girl… everything's gone so differently for us than we expected."
"Take Link. If there was anybody in our class cut out to be a knight, it was him, and now, he's not a knight, he's a king!"
"And Zelda… she's… the Goddess. That just blows my mind. I've been praying to the Goddess since I was little and to think she was sitting next to me in class and neither of us knew it! I mean… it doesn't really kill my faith in life… great powers made the world and the world's full of mysteries, but it's just strange."
"Karane… she's still aiming to graduate, maybe the only one of us who is anymore, and she wants to come work down here on the Surface."
"Last I heard, Cawlin was dating the Item Check Girl, or trying to date her but running into problems with her father or something. And something about getting into 'paranormal investigation,' whatever that is. And Stritch is trying to become a great scientist, ento-ento-mologist, something like that down here. He'd like some of the bugs we've found, wouldn't he?"
Fledge sighed deeply. "Poor Pipit… he became a knight after all, but he…d-died. He was strong, all cut-out for it like Link… I never thought he'd be the first casualty of the Surface…"
"And Groose – macho, meat-head Groose… can you believe it, girl? He's trying to figure out the mechanics of Time! I never would have guessed he'd be doing that. It's almost as weird as the thing with Zelda being the incarnation of Hylia. Weird, weird, weird…"
Fledge squint his eyes and looked at a grazing herd. He was distant enough from the animals to not alert them to his presence. "And what am I doing? I'm hiding… I worked hard to get strong like Link and unlike him, I'm not helping anyone with my strength, all I'm doing is hiding like the coward I am."
Fledge let out a long sigh. One of the main reasons he'd taken to the plains was because no one knew where he was. He'd dropped out of the Academy and, aside from trips every once in a while to read books from the library in Hylia's Temple, he was avoiding the Hylian Settlement. Fledge knew that he was never cut out to become a Skyloft Knight. The Academy was something that his parents had pushed him into; particularly his father who was ashamed of his "Nancy-boy wimp of a son" and thought knight-training would whip him into shape.
Sure, he'd partnered with a bird just like everyone among the sky-islands did, but he spent most of his time on the ground when he could help it because he got airsick easily. Any of the sharp, swift aerobatic maneuvers his classes focused on would leave him losing his breakfast every day such classes were in session. He could barely lift a sword during Eagus' sword-training, and now that he had the strength to wield one through the maneuvers without breaking a sweat, he knew he was still a klutz about technique and finesse.
Fledge had gained physical strength but knew that he still lacked in mental strength. His father would never understand this and Fledge feared that any trip back to Skyloft right now would entail him meeting his parents – who'd lived off-island, but word always traveled fast around the Sky – and dealing with their anger and disappointment. Travel to the Hylian Settlement carried the same risk. He'd actually ducked out of Pipit's funeral early – just after all the important rituals had been done – to avoid dealing with his parents. He'd found his Loftwing difficult to pilot while tears still blinded his eyes.
These wild plains were where he was free.
A strange sight caught his eye as he walked. His bird flapped skyward, circled above him and then disappeared from sight, probably off to find herself food, so Fledge walked alone. As he crested a small rise he saw a small horse, walking in circles and pacing. It was a young one, a baby.
Fledge squinted. "A..f-filly," he said, trying to remember the term from an ancient book he carried in his adventure pouch that described the beasts. Its language was close to modern and readable by him, but barely. A quick glance at her undercarriage told Fledge that this little horse was a female. "Mares" were the adult form, and "stallions" were the adult males. Male horses were easy for him to spot on the plains, for, when relaxed, their attributes were quite impressive, though very few of the ancient artists had ever drawn a mighty stallion in a relaxed state. There was a "third-sex" of horse Fledge had learned from that same book, created by people in the old days because some found mares unfavorable and stallions were even more difficult to control – the gelding. When Fledge had read on about how geldings were made, he'd crossed his legs and felt ill.
Fledge saw that the filly wasn't alone. Upon the ground lay a large body – a dead mare that the boy assumed must be the little horse's mother. "Poor thing," he said. He walked closer, shivering a bit. He'd never been this close to a horse before, living or dead. The foal did not run. It snorted at him and stamped a fore-hoof and paced some more, as if trying to guard its mother, or as if still relying upon her protection because it didn't know what to do.
The young man edged closer. He examined the mare's carcass. Whatever had killed her was not apparent. He felt a twist in his guts when he looked at her big, glazed-over eye. Horses had such large, soulful eyes and this one was soulless. A fly landed upon and crawled across it. The filly fled to a few paces away. She stared at Fledge warily. Both mare and offspring were the same color, a chestnut brown with black in the mane and tail. Fledge could see stripes on the mare's legs.
Fledge had read that many things could kill a horse, things that would not have bothered a Loftwing. Loftwings rarely had problems with their guts backing up and taking on fluid, for example, for the simple fact that they were, like people, able to vomit. Many problems with the legs could be fatal for a horse – particularly a wild one. This was all in addition to the many predators they faced. Fledge had seen lions and wolves out on these plains – also "mythical" animals recently brought into "reality" as far as Skyloft consciousness went.
"You aren't going to survive out here on your own, are you?" Fledge asked, looking at the frightened foal. The living animal lowered its head and tore up a clump of grass. Its head went upright and its ears shot up when Fledge took a step toward it. "At least you can eat on your own, but I don't think you're going to last the night when the wolves come out," he said, trembling slightly.
To his surprise, Fledge found himself edging toward the little horse. The horse kept backing away, but he kept advancing. Then he shot an arm out and found himself hugging the filly's neck. It tried to back away from him and kicked its hind legs while he held firm, strong enough to wrestle the animal in toward himself. "Sssh…" he said. "Calm down. Calm down. I can take you to my camp. Sssh, now. If we stay here with your mother, you'll die. She'll attract predators. Come on now… sssh. I am trying to help you."
Fledge blinked. Was he really doing what he was doing? The horse seemed to calm a bit, nonetheless. His newly toned-up arms were really coming in handy here. He edged and pressed and led the horse back to the little area he was camped in, edged up against a rock formation. That was when Fledge realized that he had no pen to contain the little horse and he had no idea how to tie her so that she wouldn't hurt herself. He released her with a sigh and watched her run off. She stayed within sight and stared at him, stamping and snorting.
"I want to protect you," Fledge pleaded, "but I don't know how… I suppose you have a better idea of how to survive out here than I do."
The filly stayed to the edges of his camp the entire day. Fledge tried offering apples that he'd found in a wild orchard by the clear-running creek he liked to gather clean water at. He'd tried his hand at fishing there and had gotten a few fish, but was largely unlucky. Fledge found food where he could out here and was living largely off apples, wild tubers and stamina fruit. When night fell, Fledge sat by the fire, listening to the howls of wolves. He had a basic sword for protection and had yet to actually need to use it. He wondered what this plain might have been like filled with monsters. He had no idea if it even was, for Link had not come out here on his great quest and had no stories of battles here.
Fledge's Loftwing roosted nearby. In a flash of firelight, he noticed that she seemed to be roosting something, for she was acting like a bird with an egg or a small chick. To his surprise and delight, he saw, beneath one of her wings, the little horse bedded down upon her front knees, her hind legs splayed out to her side. Her long little head was dipped down in sleep.
He awoke the next morning to the strange, ticklish feeling of velvet lips and hot breath from a large nose nuzzling his side. When he rose, the horse jumped, snorted and backed away from him. She stood staring at him warily in the morning light.
Fledge sighed and smiled. "Maybe I should give you a name," he said. It was not customary for the people of Skyloft to give their Loftwings names, for the creatures were considered as much a part of a person as one's own body. Still, sometimes Fledge called his bird "Citrine" because he found it easier to call her with a name and the color of her main body feathers reminded him of the insides of citrus fruits and of certain kinds of stones. He didn't think a horse would have the same sorts of intuitive powers as a Loftwing, and a name came to his mind – something from an ancient word for affection.
"Phila," he said, "I think I'll call you Phila. You're a filly, so it works out."
The horse blinked and resumed grazing.
In coming days and weeks, Phila followed Fledge wherever he went. When he went to find food, she followed behind him. When he went looking for nice big rocks to bench-press or wild pumpkins to toss, she was there. The most exhilarating thing, Fledge found, was to ride his Loftwing low over the plain as Phila ran below him.
Phila did not take long to start growing big. She was not fully-grown by the time Fledge had developed enough of a gentle relationship with her to pet her and caress her ears, but she was still of an impressive size.
Fledge got an idea born of the ancient book he'd been reading. "Hey, Phila…" he said to her as he rubbed her back. "D-don't be alarmed… I want to try something."
With that, he arched up his leg, grabbed firmly to the base of her mane and slid himself onto her back. Phila whinnied and paced. "Easy, now," Fledge said gently to the alarmed horse. She kicked and bucked, but he held firm, gripping his legs to her sides. While his workout regimen focused on his upper body, all of the walking he'd been doing across the grassy reaches had given him impressive leg-muscles to match his arms and chest. Fledge was surprised at how easily Phila submitted to this, but he knew when she'd just about had enough. As he slid off, she jumped and he fell. He dusted himself off and laughed about it.
This happened several more times. Fledge made a habit of easing up to Phila and mounting her every day, for longer and longer periods. She soon grew used to carrying his weight. He did not have the "reins" he'd read about in the old book to control her, but found that he could direct her by pressing his things and legs into her sides. Pressing to one side found her turning in that direction.
Soon, Fledge found himself riding across the plains while his bird soared overhead. He'd reach skyward and touch his hand to her dipping claws.
Little dark purple cubes glittered in crystalline splendor, nestled tightly into a sizeable crack within a large, sandstone-colored structure in the partial shape of a great gear. A large chunk of the gear was missing and lay on the earth before it, partially concealing a great tawny-colored platform.
A young man with hair like a proud flame sat upon the base of this platform, diligently polishing a small purple stone. He chiseled it with small tools, trying to form it into the shape of a perfect cube to match the many others that had been fitted into the crack in the gear. The white fabric of a tent ruffled in the breeze behind him. Groose's skin had taken on an impressive tan from working out here in the glare of sunny days.
He looked up as he saw something approaching him out of the dust. "What the-?" he asked. Groose was not used to visitors and then, they tended to drop down on him from Loftwings. He squinted as the shape grew closer and gained definition. "Fledge?" he asked.
Fledge pulled up into the ancient Temple of Time courtyard astride an animal that Groose had never seen before. "Good job, Phila," he said, patting the quadruped's neck. "Heya, Groose!" He said to the flabbergasted Groose.
"What in the world is that thing?" Groose yelped.
"You didn't pay much attention in myth and history class, did you?" Fledge asked.
Groose quirked an eyebrow. "I got a lot of sleep in that class."
"This is a horse," Fledge laughed. "She's why I came all the way out here to see you."
"Horse, huh? How are you riding it? I mean…what….whoa!"
Fledge slid off Phila. "This is Phila and it's a long story."
Groose grabbed Fledge by the shoulders and looked him over, shaking him. "Is that really you, Fledge?" he called, "Are you sure you haven't been replaced with Link or somethin'?"
"No, Groose, its' me! I found the horse when she was little and kinda… we'll we're friends now. It's kind of like a person and a Loftwing. I couldn't ride her all this way across the chasms, so my bird carried her most of the way, but I needed to bring her to you because I thought you'd be able to solve some problems."
Groose blinked, looking from Phila to Fledge. "You tamed a wild animal."
Fledge shrugged. "Sort of, I guess."
"I can't believe it. That sounds like something Link would do."
"Really?" Fledge said, his eyes bright.
"Well, yeah. Hey, let me show you the Gate of Time here. Big Groose has almost got it figured out. Been polishin' Timeshift Stones and I'm gonna get it repaired in no time."
Fledge looked up at the Gate. "If I say it's impressive, you won't pound me, right?"
"Aw, you know I ain't like that anymore. You do think it's impressive, though, don't ya?"
"Yeah, I do," Fledge laughed. "All those little cubes look like they took a lot of work. How do you figure they have to be cubes?"
"I saw the other Gate of Time come together and it was all in little cubes before it assembled. It's just an experiment, I guess. I'm not sure it'll really work. Sooo… you came to ol' Groose for help?"
"Yeah! Yeah!" Fledge said, keeping an eye on his horse, which was milling by one of the courtyard walls. "I figured I could come to you or Gondo, but I don't know where Gondo is and I knew you'd be here. You're good with mechanics and all… I thought you'd be able to help me engineer something…"
"Engineer something? You don't want me to load your critter into the Groosinator, I hope. I'm sure the only reason the thing didn't kill Link was 'cause he's Link – luckiest guy in the universe."
"No, no, no. I'm worried about her hooves. Look at how ragged they are. I think it's from me riding her. I need something to trim and file them. I also have a few ideas from this book I've got. Do you see here? People used to have saddles on 'em. I think riding might be more comfortable that way."
Groose scratched his chin while looking at the illustrations in the book Fledge held open for him. "I think we might be able to come up with something. After all, once I've got the Gate of Time finished, I'll have all the time in the world…"
Phila's hooves, clad in shoes of iron, clip-clopped upon the cobblestones of the main street of the Hylian Settlement. Fledge rode in like a prince, not caring anymore that he might meet his parents there. If they were disappointed in him, he did not care, for he knew that he had done something important and had something important to show everyone.
Phila was wary and he could feel her tenseness beneath him. Fledge paid attention to the darting of her ears and he kept a tight grip on the reins – one of the many things he and Groose had made for her after the old patterns. Fledge had taught himself to use them and had gotten Phila used to them. He was embarrassed as she polluted the streets behind her with a few sizeable spats, but he took it as a sign of her good health.
People stared and muttered and whispered as he rode up toward the Royal Cabin. He was about to ask a Surface Knight about Link when he saw him. "Hey!" Fledge said waving.
Link held a tiny child by the hand – a little boy with golden hair similar to his who couldn't have been yet two years old. Zelda emerged from the cabin and stared, wide-eyed at him. Fledge circled Phila around. "Hey!" he called.
Zelda's eyes suddenly looked distant. "Zel?" Link asked, scooping the child up in his arms.
"I am looking at something from ancient days," Zelda said cryptically.
Link approached his old friend and the strange animal he was aboard. "It's okay!" Fledge laughed. "I've got her under control! Long time, no see!"
Link cautiously reached a hand out, balancing his son on his hip. Phila sniffed the proffered hand and snorted. "That's a plains animal, isn't it? You're riding it like a Loftwing…"
"Yeah!" Fledge exclaimed, "Isn't it great? Groose made the saddle for me, and the reins, the bit, the handy little doodads my feet are in for mounting. The blanket there's to keep the saddle from rubbing her back too hard…"
"How in the world?"
"I came all this way to show you! I'd heard you and Zelda had that kid you were waiting for, is this him?"
"Yeah," Link said shyly. He stepped back as Fledge dismounted. Fledge took the reins in one hand, using them as a lead. He shook them when Phila flinched. "Hey!" he scolded.
"His name is Pipit," Link continued. "He had his first birthday not too long ago and is just about halfway toward his second."
"A nice name," Fledge sighed. "I was gone for that long?"
"It's like you dropped off the face of the planet… and Skyloft," Link began.
"I was hiding," Fledge confessed, "but I found a reason to return. Link, Zelda… this is Phila..."
Fledge demonstrated his newly-formed, self-taught skills. Phila was accommodated hastily with a pen that had originally been built for cattle.
"Horses," Fledge explained to Link, "Well, they're special. They're anxious like me… they're really strong, but they don't know how strong they are, because they're surrounded all the time out on the plains by things that want to eat them. They're just wired to be afraid and cautious almost all the time. I think I understand them, Link."
"They're strong, but they think they're weak," Link mused. He petted Phila's neck as she leaned over the rough-hewn wooden fence. Fledge had expressed concern over her chewing it. Fledge had taught both Zelda and Link how to approach his baby. It came to Zelda quite naturally. Link less so, but he had learned.
"It's like a Loftwing, I guess," Fledge said with a shrug. "You have to be kind… gentle, but also firm when it's called for. To tell the truth, I'm not even sure I should be riding her this young. I'm worried I'm gonna mess up her back or something. If the horses out on the plains are any guess, she still has growing to do."
"You're amazing, Fledge," Link said.
"What? Me? Amazing? You're calling me amazing?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because I'll never be as cool as you, Link."
"Fledge, you did something I don't think I could do."
"Sure you could! If you'd been there!"
"I don't know, Fledge. I may have just knocked back an arrow and put her out of her misery, then had steak that night…"
"I've killed a lot of things, Fledge."
"But those were monsters and stuff."
"True, true. Still, Fledge, I don't have words to describe how awesome this is! Loftwings really aren't cut out for the Surface life, you know? If people used these animals in the past, they could again, but you're the first person smart enough… and brave enough to figure out how!"
"I don't know, Link," Fledge said with a shrug. "This could be just a one-time thing. I've just been experimenting. Phila's my friend."
"It seems that you know more about her kind than any of us do right now. We could learn a lot from you."
Queen Zelda delivered a speech in the central plaza while Fledge rode Phila around her.
"It is imperative," Zelda said in a loud, strong voice, "that we revive the ancient arts – and invent new ones! If you don't feel strong, don't let that stop you! Use your minds and your strong hearts! Be brave and invent! Explore the land and see what it has to offer you! The future belongs to you!"
Thus it began with one young man and one orphaned animal… From this humble start a new age began – one in which Hyrule was run on horsepower.
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