The Guardian Ceremony
Link was ten years old.
He was lying in his bed, and he was ten years old.
He laughed a little, feeling blessed butterflies swirl in his stomach. He could tell it was very early in the morning by the weights under his eyes, but he wasn't tired for once. Usually he took every opportunity to sleep, but today . . . today was special.
Today was the day he met his Loftwing for the first time.
He rolled onto his side, cushioning his head with his arm. He couldn't stop thinking about it. All the ten-year-olds on Skyloft would meet in the highest place on the island; there, under the shadow of the great Statue of the Goddess, their Loftwings would come to them. It happened almost every year, for every generation. Sometimes there was only one child, looking up into the sky for a new shape; other times there was a large group, sometimes fifteen in number, whispering amongst themselves about their dream birds.
They always wondered what color their birds would be. Blue, green, black or white? Deep russet or light sky? A yellowish lime or the shade of the night? No one knew what the different colors meant, or if they had any meaning at all. Some said it was only a genetic thing, while others insisted that the hue of one's Loftwing reflected their personality. Blue, the townspeople said said, meant leadership and reassurance, while green was humble and generous. Black was cleverness and white was purity. The lighter your bird was, the wiser you grew to be.
Link didn't believe most of it. He did think color was important, though. It told how rare a bird was, for example. Blue Loftwings of any shade were the most common, while green and yellow were close behind. Brown and gray were seen only once in a while, and black and white were quite rare.
Link curled and uncurled his toes, flopping onto his other side. He tried to drift asleep, but whenever he closed his eyes images would dance in the darkness of his mind: proud, giant birds that soared around him, feathers waving in the wind, their majestic wings held wide. He imagined them circling him, and one would detach itself from the others and fly to him, and they would be partners for the rest of their lives.
The thought kept him awake until he heard the bell toll.
There were only five kids in Link's group this year: Groose, Cawlin, Strich, Fledge, and Link himself.
It was noon, when the sun was highest in the sky. It shone down directly on the five ten-year-olds, who were huddled in a group on the altar in front of the Statue of the Goddess. She was truly huge from this angle. Link stared up into her smiling face and felt reassured some, for he was nervous now.
Ever since he'd gotten here, a sick, twisted feeling had been born in the back of his head: what if no Loftwing came for him? What if he was bird-less forever? What if he wasn't worthy enough to earn a partner? The others seemed to be having similar thoughts. Groose didn't look nearly as pompous as usual, Cawlin looked nauseous, and even Strich had broken his monotonous façade to seem worried. Fledge was full-out panicking. He turned fearful eyes to Link. "When are they coming?" he whispered, his voice shaking.
Link shrugged a shoulder, trying to appear casual but thinking the same thing. "I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see."
The entire town's population surrounded the five. They stood silently, expressionlessly, looking on with expectant eyes. Every Loftwing of Skyloft was grounded today, standing next to their partners, preening or dozing, so that when they saw a shadow in the sky there could be no mistake that it was a child's new bird. They seemed relaxed, Link noticed. He sought out a particular pair of bright blue eyes and calmed down a little when he saw the confidence in them. Zelda, standing dutifully next to her father, raised a hand and waved eagerly, giving him the thumbs-up with her other hand. Link raised a hand back. She was only a few months away from ten, but the gap was enough to delay her meeting until next year.
A faint thump thump thump filled the air. Everyone's heads snapped up to the sky.
A small Loftwing drifted to the ground, flapping its wings when it reached the surface and alighting on the stone. It was smaller than the fully-grown Loftwings, as all new birds were, for it was an adolescent like the kids and would grow up with them. It was a dark blue and rather thick, with a meaty neck and heavily shadowed eyes. Like all Loftwings, its neck, tail, and the ends of its wings were white, and the latter had light blue and red stripes on the outer edges.
It scrutinized the ten-year-olds with an unreadable amber eye, and then began to stride toward them.
They instantly spread out, standing stock-still, shaking visibly, so that it could be clear which of them it chose. It walked purposefully up to Groose and stopped in front of him.
Groose lifted a hand and tentatively placed it on the bird's bill. Then he smiled in genuine delight, staring into his new partner's eyes. The Skyloftians cheered for Groose and his Loftwing and welcomed him into their midst as he walked to them, one hand on his bird's back, still staring like he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
After the kids met their birds, they were still forbidden to fly until the day after, because the time in between was to be spent bonding and learning about each other, including the naming of the birds. Flying lessons were also given, and harnesses were fashioned so the new flyers wouldn't fall off. The kids were also required to perfect their unique whistle by whistling different tunes until they felt their Loftwing respond positively.
It didn't take long for the other birds to arrive. After Groose's bird, a faded brownish Loftwing with just a tinge of purple landed and chose Cawlin. The applause had scarcely died down when a grayish lime came and picked Strich. Now the only ones left were Fledge and Link.
As another set of wingbeats filled the air, Fledge and Link exchanged encouraging smiles for each other. Who would the Loftwing pick?
A green, more vivid than Strich's and thinner, fluttered to the ground clumsily. It wobbled towards them on stick-thin legs, like it wasn't used to this thing called walking. It seemed to lean toward Link-
-his heart skipped a beat-
-before it veered to the side and stopped in front of Fledge.
As the two walked away amid rather raucous applause, leaving Link alone, Link looked to the skies again, listening intently for the sound of his bird drawing near.
. . . When ten minutes passed, no sound could be heard still.
At this point, Link began to panic. I really am not worthy. The sky was lifeless and empty. No bird was coming for him.
He turned shameful eyes to the headmaster, Zelda's father, refusing to let his eyes drift to Zelda's herself. He couldn't bear to see the pity that would surely be there. He'd failed them, both of them, his best friend and his teacher . . . somehow. The headmaster had nothing but confused sorrow in his eyes. He motioned for Link to come to him, to step off the pedestal and abandon his chance.
Hanging his head, Link shambled to him, keeping his sight on the ground so the others couldn't see his overflowing eyes. He was a failure. Somewhere to his right, he could hear Groose and his gang snickering to themselves. There goes Link, they would say, the boy without a Loftwing. They would torment him for the rest of his life. They would be a part of something he would never have.
Something besides his misery began to form in Link's head and made him pause. It was he and not he at the same time; like a thundercloud flickering on the edge of his consciousness. He had never felt it before, and he didn't have any idea what it was. It almost scared him, but something . . . something about it felt natural. It felt right. Complete. Whole.
A shadow fell over Link, and a Loftwing's scream tore through the air.
The crowd gasped as Link looked up. A dark shape was blocking the sun above him, darting down at the ground at a reckless speed. The light from the sun cast a fiery halo around it, giving it a bright red glow. Link ducked, covering his head, as a blast of wind shot over his head and a Loftwing landed on the altar. It turned to the crowd and shrieked again, its beak opened wide, its wings spread to their full extent, showing off its brilliant plumage.
Its feathers were red. Red like blood.
It was a Crimson Loftwing.
The bird sheathed its wings and strode toward Link, tossing its head. He stood still as a statue. His heart felt like it stopped. Crimson Loftwings didn't exist. They were just an old wives' tale. It must've been a trick of the light that this beautiful creature had taken on the color of a ruby and stopped in front of him.
The thunderstorms in Link's head grew- then it burst open like a bubble. A flood of unfamiliar emotions clogged Link's mind, a cautiousness and curiosity that were not his own; cautiousness because somehow the town Link had lived in his entire life was a new place, and curiosity because Link was captivated by . . . himself?
The Loftwing lowered its beak into his outstretched hand how had it gotten there? and closed its eyes.
And Link understood.
The world around them was obliterated in that instant. Nothing existed; nothing lived except for those two, the boy and the bird, connected by body and mind. Link's head was suddenly very busy with two separate entities. He wondered how he had ever thought, ever lived without the Loftwing, this beautiful creature that belonged to him, just as he belonged to it. They were one, and suddenly the thought of being divided was implausible, impossible.
Link opened his eyes and met the eyes of the Loftwing, its- no, his - brilliant golden irises shining in the light.
And both knew instinctively from each other what to do.
The Crimson Loftwing stepped forward and crouched as Link vaulted himself onto his back. He had a fleeting impression of his surroundings shocked, blurred faces; blood-red feathers underneath him, lending him warmth; and the smiling Goddess looming overhead before he was gone.
With three powerful strokes of his wings, the Loftwing launched them both skyward, shrieking in this new and wonderful triumph of unity. They rocketed up, faster than Link thought any bird ever could. He heard panicked shouts from below, but he could scarcely hear them, scarcely care; he only felt the wind in his face, the whistling in his ears, the warmth from his bird beneath him and the new closeness they shared.
Skyloft shrank to a dot on the clouds as the Crimson Loftwing slowed and leveled out, holding his wings steady to drift in a lazy circle. Link ran his hands over the scarlet feathers. He kept trying to convince himself he was dreaming, that he would wake up any minute now with no bird and a hyperactive imagination, but the moment never came.
He always thought that the sky must be a lonely place, with nothing but a bird to keep you company. He thought it would be hard to fly. Now he knew that it was anything but. It was the most natural thing in the world to crouch with his knees on the Loftwing's lower back and keep his hands on his shoulders. It wasn't loneliness he felt, but peace. An entire third dimension had been added to his world, and he felt like he could do anything, go anywhere. The Crimson Loftwing . . . his Crimson Loftwing . . . turned his head to the side so he could stare at Link. He opened his beak a little and rasped a happy call, like he was asking how Link liked the sky.
Link grinned, and he felt like his heart just might explode from happiness. He had a Loftwing. Not just any Loftwing, but a Crimson Loftwing. It was almost too much to ask for. Link leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his bird's neck, burying his face in the feathers.
He looked up. Four Skyloft Knights had followed them to the heavens and were circling them. The one who had called out was none other than Headmaster Gaepora himself, riding his old golden Loftwing Kaeba. He waved. "Are you all right?"
Link nodded and waved. "I'm fine!" Go away, he thought, go away and let us fly.
"We're gonna take you down now!" Instructor Owlan called. "Can you feel your Loftwing? In your head, I mean?"
Link nodded, and Instructor Horwell now said, "Tell it that it needs to descend to the village! It should understand. Make sure it knows that it has to go down, right now!"
Link nodded again, and concentrated, rather unwillingly, on the bubble in his head. He thought with all his might about landing back under the Goddess. The Crimson Loftwing shook his head and uttered a raspy protest, but Link felt him tip forward nonetheless.
Too far, in fact. He folded his wings to his sides, stuck his neck straight out, and began to dive. The instructors and the headmaster yelled for him to stop, to descend slowly and carefully, but the bird and the boy had other ideas. Link instinctively flattened himself to the bird's back, feeling exhilarated. He could hear the teachers' birds struggling to match their speed and beat them to the ground, but they were no match for his red terror. They streaked like a flaming comet to Skyloft, diving straight toward the Statue of the Goddess.
The island grew alarmingly fast until it loomed ahead, and Link was sure that his bird would crash him. Just as he was beginning to feel worried, however, the Crimson Loftwing threw his wings out and caught the air. In three powerful strokes he slowed them enough to land, and land they did, touching down on the altar in front of the Goddess, in the middle of a crowd of shocked spectators.
Zelda was the first to run up to them, followed by Fledge and Pipit, an older boy that was friendly to Link. The Crimson Loftwing arched his neck and started to back away, but Link patted his neck, reassuring him, letting him know the three were friends. Zelda bounced to his side and jumped up and down, squealing, "You got a Crimson Loftwing! You got a Crimson Loftwing!"
Pipit reached up and pounded Link's shoulder, almost unseating him. His bird flailed, almost tipping over. "Nice job, Link! You should be proud," Pipit said, a grin on his face.
"Well, I've never seen a sorrier looking thing than that right there!" a pompous voice crowed. Link scowled. Groose and his cronies with their new birds had swaggered up, staring at his bird with narrowed eyes. Groose had a cold smile on his face. "You can't even control that stupid bird, can you? It took one look at you and tried to take off!"
Zelda whirled on him, hands on her hips, about to angrily retort, but a shriek interrupted her.
The Crimson Loftwing opened his beak and dashed at the trio of idiots, screaming, Link hanging onto his neck frantically. The bird almost knocked the boys over as he beat his wings, trying to kick and scratch them with his talons. Link grabbed his neck and forced him to back up, trying to think of happy things to calm the bird. Groose's blue bird sidled in front of the Crimson Loftwing, hissing savagely, protecting its partner.
The instructors landed then and separated the angry birds, though a few got bitten in the process. Link dismounted his Loftwing and slung his arm around his shoulders, holding him still so he wouldn't go after Groose. The bird kept making lunging motions with his neck whenever he saw him.
The kids spent the night in the sparring hall, which was the only place big enough to fit both them and their Loftwings. As a rule, Loftwings were never allowed in the academy, but the hall was an exception. The kids stayed up long into the night, socializing with their birds and trying to think of names for them. They were mostly divided into two groups: Groose's gang, and Link and Fledge. They both stayed as far away from each other as possible; Groose said it was to keep the "loser smell" out of his nose, but Link knew he was just scared of the Crimson Loftwing.
Link and Fledge sat across from each other, telling stories and commenting on observances they had about their birds. Fledge, for instance, had discovered that if you scratched a Loftwing on its upper neck and skull, it would go completely limp and close its eyes with bliss, almost like a Remlit being scratched behind the ears. Link in turn had found that some Loftwings - like his own - didn't seem to like the color pink too much; a faded pink was fine, but a strong, vivid magenta irritated them. He'd found this out the hard way when they'd passed a Skyloft Knight. The Crimson Loftwing had become strangely jerky and twitchy, and Link could feel animosity boiling in his head.
Fledge sighed. "I'm jealous of you, Link. You and your bird are so . . . close. I can tell you two just act so comfortably with each other."
Link blinked. "Isn't it the same with you and your bird?" He glanced behind him at his Loftwing. He had fallen asleep with his head buried beneath his feathers and standing on one leg. It looked like one poke could tip him over.
Fledge shook his head. "I'm . . . kind of scared of her. I mean, her beak looks so sharp, right? One wrong move, and you've got a scar." He shuddered. His Loftwing was standing on one leg but not asleep, just gazing around lazily with soft movements of her head.
"But can't you feel her?" Link asked. "I mean, her emotions?"
Fledge shrugged. "Kind of . . . only when it's really strong, I guess. She's still mysterious to me." He patted her leg carefully. She didn't respond.
Link thought it was odd. Didn't he know this was a guardian bird? One that would never hurt him? Their very purpose was to help and protect their partners. Didn't they feel the connection, the bond?
Was everyone like this?
"So . . . what do you think you're gonna name her?" Link asked, to change the subject.
Fledge smiled shyly. "I have a few ideas. What about you?"
Link had been batting a few names around in his head for a while, and he really liked how one sounded. It seemed to fit the Crimson Loftwing very well.
"I've got some ideas too."
The next morning, the kids and their Loftwings were lined up with their birds to their right sides. They were under the shadow of the Statue of the Goddess once again. Today was the Ceremony of the Names, and the whole town was there to watch. Zelda waved at Link. He grinned back. He couldn't wait to tell the town the name he'd thought of. He'd tossed and turned, wondering if his bird would accept it, or if the village would laugh at him. He hoped not.
Headmaster Gaepora stepped up to Groose, first in line. They were arranged in order from whoever got their bird first to last. "Groose," he said in a loud voice, "what have you decided to call your partner?"
In a booming voice and a very pointed glance at Zelda, he practically bellowed, "Banon!"
The courtyard rang with applause. Gaepora nodded, smiling, then stepped up to Cawlin. "Cawlin, what have you decided to call your partner?"
Cawlin's Loftwing, the faded purple female, was to be called "Darunia!"
More applause. Link's pulse pounded in his ears.
"Strich, what have you decided to call your partner?"
A few laughs were dispersed around the courtyard this time. Strich always was a little strange.
Gaepora stopped in front of Fledge. "Fledge, what have you decided to call your partner?"
Fledge swallowed uneasily and mumbled something. Gaepora leaned closer. "I'm sorry, Fledge, I missed that. What have you decided to name your partner?"
Fledge swallowed again and said in a slightly louder voice, "Nabooru."
Gaepora smiled and nodded. "A good name," he said, and Fledge swelled with rare pride.
And then Gaepora stepped up to Link, a friendly grin on his face. "Link," he said softly, looking down at him with proud eyes, "what have you decided to name your partner?"
Link turned his eyes to the majestic bird at his side, his bird. The Crimson Loftwing's red feathers caught the morning sun and shone beautifully, bathing him in a fuzzy halo. He looked down at Link with an amber eye and rasped gently. And Link knew, just like he knew that skies were free and clouds were endless, that his new friend had found his name pleasing.