The Bird Riding Ceremony was on the morrow, but I had no time to prepare.
The Wind Festival was this night, and I had been coerced into watching my uncle's booth in the courtyard alongside all the other merchants.
The Bird Riding Ceremony was a rite of passage in Skyloft in one's eighteenth year, and a requirement of Knighthood. I had never known my parents, and my uncle insisted I follow my father's footsteps and attend the academy to become a knight.
I was anxious for the ceremony but it was not fear of competition that caused me unrest.
It was the prize reserved for the winner.
A gift from Zelda… my closest friend.
Zelda and I had been friends as long as I could remember. As children, we learned to ride our loftwings together, and it was she who kept my life interesting, for Skyloft was a boring place.
In our fourteenth year we enrolled in the academy together, and despite her being the daughter of the headmaster, Sir Gaepora, nothing changed and we grew closer.
Yet recently… things were not as they always had been.
I had begun to feel a slight tension between us… a feeling I could not explain. I felt a strange swell of joy at the sight of her, and my skin would warm at her touch. I knew not why; she was merely a childhood friend and nothing more. I sighed heavily, shaking my head to rid myself of these conflicting thoughts.
The sun was sinking behind the clouds when I finished preparing my uncle's booth. Many of the residents came and bought what suited their fancy, but as twilight approached, I began to worry. My uncle told me he would be here to relieve me for the ladies of the academy were to sing to commence the festival dance, and I promised Zelda I would be there. Soon the last of the evening light disappeared and the torches and hanging lanterns were lit. I ran a hand impatiently through my hair and suddenly heard the loud laughter of my uncle in the distance. Jumping over the stand with ease, I took him by the arm and pulled him roughly to the booth.
"Oh-ho, sorry Link, Madame Selvy tempted me with her—"
"Cider?" I could smell it on his breath.
"What's your hurry?" he slurred slightly. "The dance just begun…"
The color drained from my face. "Already?" I nearly cursed aloud and left my uncle without another word, running from the courtyard to the pavilion on the west side of town. I arrived not minutes later, panting as I looked about for a flash of Zelda's golden hair.
And then I found her, stepping down from the stage with the other ladies. She was not wearing her usual garb; she wore an indigo gown with a golden belt and feather earrings hung from her ears. She carried a silver lyre while the other ladies carried different instruments. Zelda's outfit was peculiar indeed, but somehow it befitted her.
I shook off this sudden reverie and focused on the heavy guilt within me; I missed Zelda's performance and she would be most disappointed.
As I tentatively made my way over to her, she took notice of me. Granting me a swift smile, she called out to me and excused herself from the other ladies.
I apologized profusely like a blundering fool, readying to hear her chastisements.
"You promised you would come," she pouted. "I practiced all day."
"I wanted to be here… truly," I said lowly. "But my uncle…" I stopped; I did not wish to speak poorly of him.
Zelda tilted her head, a small smile growing at her lips. "I forgive you…" Taking my hand she continued, "but you must oblige me a dance to excuse yourself."
I was surprised she forgave me so readily and my face flushed; her touch sent a strange sensation through me, but I disregarded it. "D-dance? No I… I—"
"Zelda!" a rough voice called to her. It was none other than Groose, a fellow knight-in-training. He pushed the merry crowd aside as he made his way closer with a silly grin plastered on his face. However it quickly faded when he set eyes upon me.
"Oy!" he sneered. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be tending to your drunkard uncle?"
I bit my teeth and glared. "It would be wise to hold your tongue." Groose had been paying particular attention to Zelda ever since last summer and though he made her feel ill at ease, I knew she could take care of herself, but I could not help but feel over protective of her in his presence.
Groose chortled and crossed his arms, turning back to Zelda. "I must congratulate you on your performance, Zelda," he said smoothly. "Will you not dance with me?"
A look of disdain crossed her face and she moved closer to me. "I have already promised a turn with Link."
Groose furrowed his brows and scoffed, trying to disguise his disappointment. "Perhaps later then…?"
Zelda started forward, brushing past him as she pulled me behind her. "Perhaps," she answered coldly.
I gladly followed after her and as I passed Groose, he grabbed my arm and whispered harshly, "you best not get in my way tomorrow. I won't have some short, pretty boy stealing my glory."
"Release me," I muttered, "We shall settle this on the morrow." I yanked myself free and continued after Zelda into the crowd. I expected her to stop any moment and force me to join her in a dance… yet she did not.
"The audacity of him!" she cried, causing others to look at her curiously. "I just…." Her voice died away; we were headed towards the entrance of the festival grounds; we were to leave?
I called to her again but she simply glanced at me. "Come with me."
I raised a brow at her stubbornness, wondering what she was thinking. We made our way past the entrance pillars and the small fires that had been lit to light the way to the festival. Red banners hung from the pillars, etched with emblems of Skyloftian family crests and bright lanterns hung from the trees.
Walking further into the darkness on the cobblestone path, I could see fireflies floating about in the warm summer breeze, seeming to enjoy themselves just as the attendees of the festival. Zelda remained silent still as we came to the wooden staircase leading to the Goddess statue, something I found odd for she was a hardly quiet for long periods of time. Concerned, I tugged her back before we could reach the top.
"Are you alright?" I asked. "Did he upset you?"
Her hand tightened around mine at my inquiry and I became aware of her warmth… but did not mind.
"You may know already, but I am to present the winner with a gift… I am praying it is not Groose."
I nodded my head. "What is this gift?"
She released my hand with a sigh and turned to me with a finger to her lips. "It is a secret," she whispered. "But I know you shall be the winner." The pale glow of her skin from the lights below, the glimmer in her blue eyes, the curve of her red lips… her soft laughter… I thought Zelda quite beautiful.
"I-I see," I said uneasily. My face shaded; where had these strange emotions come from? I cast them aside to regain my composure. "You think too much of me; you should hope Groose falls from his bird; if he wins there will be no end to his boasting."
Zelda covered her mouth, stifling a laugh. "You must promise to win then."
I sighed in amusement. "I shall promise to win on one condition…"
"Since I was not able to hear your performance… would you play again?"
I saw her blush, even in the pale light of the moon. "Now? Oh Link, I couldn't—"
"Why not? We are alone."
Zelda glanced at me from beneath her lashes and pursed her lips. "I-Indeed. Very well, I shall play for you… but you must not laugh!"
I simply rolled my eyes and sat on the steps as she positioned her lyre and cleared her throat.
She began to strum a slow melody I had never heard before; it was graceful and calm, flowing with a sense of peacefulness. She then hummed the melody and changed the lyre's notes to accompany. Closing her eyes, she sang:
"I am called beyond the skies,
To a land of dreams far from sight.
Winds of old have come anew,
Whispering 'close your eyes.'
There I see a realm shining with golden light,
Where the heart is made true."
The words were haunting, filled with unknown meaning. Zelda played a few more verses, ending with a flourish of notes, strumming the highest octave. Opening her eyes, she glanced down to me with a shy smile.
I had no proper words to describe how the song made me feel; I could only stare at her in amazement.
"…Well…?" she asked.
"…I have never heard an equal."
"Truly?" she grinned.
I nodded. "Is this your own?"
"Yes, I have not a name for it, but for now I think of it as a lullaby."
Zelda looked at me uncertainly and pursed her lips. "I am rather embarrassed to admit its origin," she sighed, taking a seat beside me.
I unknowingly moved closer to her. "Tell me."
"...I have not slept well the past fortnight; I dream strange things as of late… dark clouds enshroud the sky and tempest winds force me down to the abyss below the clouds." Shuddering once, she continued. "But then a strange golden light saves me… and I wake."
I furrowed my brows. "I am sorry you dream such things."
Zelda shrugged a shoulder with forced a smile. "I am sure they will pass."
We fell silent once again and looked back to the festival below, listening to the echoing music, the merry laughter and talk of the townspeople. The colored paper lanterns swayed in the breeze, causing the lights to appear as if they were dancing alongside the townspeople. I then felt Zelda shift beside me and her head fell against my shoulder.
"I am rather tired… might I rest a moment?"
I held no complaint, but my heart seemed to have stilled at her closeness. I could only mumble, "of course."
I did not know how long Zelda and I sat together, staring at the twinkling stars above, feeling the warm breeze against our faces, watching the festivities… letting the music lull our worries away. The night deepened, and when the moon hung highest in the sky, the townspeople began to retire and a soft gasp from Zelda reminded me of time's existence.
"Ah, I must go; my father will wonder where I am!" She carefully gathered her harp and stood up, dusting the grass from her dress. "Thank you for your company." She let out a sharp whistle, and her blue loftwing swooped down from a perch on the Goddess statue's wing. "I have something to show you tomorrow, will you meet me here before the ceremony?"
I helped her onto the loftwing, grumbling, "In the morning? Whatever for?"
She leaned down, her hair sweeping across my shoulder. "It is a secret."
I furrowed my brows, but she simply giggled at my confusion and threw her arms around me; my face shaded once again.
"Goodnight Link, promise to come!"
"I promise," I breathed into her hair; it smelled of flowers.
Her loftwing moved impatiently, forcing us from one another and she smiled apologetically as it spread its wings.
They took off into the sky and Zelda waved to me, her silhouette slowly vanishing into the blackness.
I then made my way home… all the while thinking of her and what her secret could be.
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