Chapter 8: The Iron Lioness
To say that Karane had a vendetta against monsters would be an understatement.
Link gave his Captain of the Guard a winning smile as they stood side-by-side in the Ancient Cistern. Karane's men and women flanked their captain and their hero-king. The Ancient Cistern may have been a place that people came to for quiet reflection in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, but being directly above a portal to the Underworld (it was suspected that this was the site that Demise had originally emerged from, in fact), it had to be "cleared" every once in a while. The cursed undead had a habit of clawing their way out of their hell to invade the world of the living, taking their personal hell with them. Cursed Bokoblins were what they were, while Stalfos were long-cursed traitor-knights. Some creatures were merely destruction-aligned wildlife, which would do little harm if left alone, but once disturbed, had to be dealt with.
"I'm with Zelda," Karane said to Link. "I question the wisdom of wearing the light-armor. I'm going to be plenty busy on my own, so don't expect me to save your butt, Mr. Hero."
Link was clad in his old adventuring clothes, that is, he was clad as a Skyloft Knight. The Surface Knights around him, Karane included, were wearing shiny, silver-colored armor over shirts of mail – heavier outfits designed by Gondo of the desert. They weren't good for flight, but they'd saved some lives when it came to encounters with the Surface monsters.
"These clothes served me on my Hero's journey," Link pointed out, "and they're easier to move in. Don't worry, Karane. I'll be fine. I've always been fine… well, more or less."
"Are we ready to march, Your Highness?" she asked, adjusting her light helm.
"You know you don't have to call me that."
"You like it better than 'Lazybones."
They both laughed, remembering their Academy days for just a moment. "Yeah. Let's go." Link said with a nod.
The company moved out into the various upper rooms of the Ancient Cistern. Karane went into a focused mode when she was met by various creatures.
"Thwack!" went her sword, scattering a Chu-Chu.
Pipit gave her a proud smile when they'd wandered into the waterfall cave, looking for Link, who had last been seen wandering in this area. Her first dealing with a monster had her taking care of one that was sneaking up at the boy's feet. It was the first time she'd felt her twelve-year old heart flutter at a boy's smile…Were Pipit's eyes always that blue?
"Thrust!" went her sword into the belly of a great spider.
Laughing after sparring-sessions in Eagus' hall as their skills and bodies grew… She'd asked Pipit for some tutoring after class for just this technique, which she had trouble getting the hang of… His eyes were so fierce when he was fighting – even when it was just a practice-session.
"Thwack!" against the leathered hide of a cursed creature wearing fabulous underwear.
"She should go out with… me!" His wide eyes were full of uncertainty, even fear. As if she would reject him when he was the boy she'd been longing after since before they'd even started at the Academy.
"Crack!" against dry rib-bones…
Blood everywhere… spilling over a rent tunic and rent chainmail, onto the grassy ground…Brown freckles stark against paling skin… a cool hand with a light tremor in hers..."Stay with me, darling…" And the light went out in his eyes…
To say that Karane had a vendetta against monsters would be an understatement.
She'd earned the nickname "The Iron Lioness" for her strength and the ferocity with which she dealt with Surface-threats. She'd taken on the job of Captain of the Royal Guard only recently, once she'd decided once and for all that she was no longer going to make a home on Skyloft. She also needed a stable position now that her wandering days were done. She'd recently completed her great work and decided that she really did enjoy working with Link. He and Zelda had given her a force to command, showing their trust in her abilities.
As she found herself smelling the smoke left behind by the demise of monsters and her armor covered in spatters of their fluids, Karane thought about events that had brought her to this place and time.
Her Wing Ceremony had been awkward. Every Wing Ceremony since the one that Link had won had been slightly awkward for the people of Skyloft simply because the ritual by which the winning knight was given the Hero's Sailcloth had been preformed back then, unknowingly, at the time, by the true Hero and the Goddess. No ceremonial Spirit Maiden felt like they could live up to the real one, which was made stranger in that many of the subsequent Spirit Maidens counted the real deal as personal friend. Queen Zelda of the Surface-Lands, for her part, considered it an honor for the Wing Ceremony to continue as it had for all the years of the Skyloft Academy and insisted that the tradition go on for as long as Skyloft felt a need for it.
What was even more awkward for Karane was something she'd heard had been awkward for many female knights: the subtext inherent in the presentation of the Hero's Sailcloth. The old tales of the Goddess and the Ancient Hero carried an implication, for many, of at least a mild romantic link between the two. One dodgy story (thought to have been written in Skyloft rather than the Surface) even had the cheesy poetic line "The Goddess fell in love with a mortal and it was that love that made her weep tears of silver, which scattered and flew off as fairies." It was debatable and debated, but Zelda and Link's relationship resulting from their adventures seemed to confirm a romantic tension.
Karane had flown hard and fast, her hunger driving her on, not to mention the hope that maybe, somewhere in spirit, a certain someone who'd won the race before was watching and cheering her on. She'd accepted her sailcloth from Orielle, upon the top of the Light Tower and wondered if she's have felt less weird if both she and Orielle were women of a certain persuasion – and then decided that no, that would have been even more weird, somehow.
If nothing else, Karane had been in love and, in the little time it had taken her to finish her Skyloft Knight's schooling, her wounds were still fresh.
She allowed herself to celebrate the afternoon and the evening of her victory, to bask in the love of her friends, to ride her bird around the sky after he'd been properly rested from the morning's events, to dance, to laugh and to drink perhaps a little too much of the celebratory wine and beer the Lumpy Pumpkin provided for the yearly event. Her parents had come from off-island and indulged her in hugs and gifts. The day of the Wing Ceremony was a day for happiness and she had it to the full.
The next morning, she was in the cemetery, kneeling before one of the foremost stones. She gently laid a small bundle of hand-picked flowers before a tombstone. The flowers were Karane's favorite – strange red blossoms shaped like hearts. She'd always found them cute. She'd asked Pipit what his favorite flower was once, and he didn't have one – it was "Whatever yours is." There was a long feather from her Loftwing in the bundle as well – he'd also said that he preferred feathers to flowers.
There was no body buried there, of course – just the skull of one of Pipit's long-ago ancestors, the first person whose name was carved on the memorial. The family had done Sky Burials, save for one unfortunate soul who'd fallen through the Cloud Sea. Either way, the marker held the names of a lineage. Karane traced the names.
"Pekin, Pidge, Draken, Gracielle, Cuco, Cormoran, Peregrin…"
"Pipit. Oh, Pipit, I did it. I made Knight. My race wasn't as exciting as yours… Cassowarin almost fell from his bird, though, but it wasn't as close. I smoked 'em, darling. I smoked 'em. You'd be so proud. I'm going to start my training on the Surface tomorrow… I know it pretty well thanks to traveling around with Link. The ceremony that Zelda came up with is a bit different. I'm going to travel to each of the temples she went to – to Skyview in Faron, the Earth Temple in Eldin, and finally to the Temple of Time in Lanayru. It's actually pretty safe to travel those roads now, but it's still a test… I am to bodyguard her playing the role of Impa. I think it will be fun… Zelda and I traveling together, having girl-talk like old times, and maybe I'll keep a keese or two out of her hair."
Karane knew that she and Zelda would not be alone. Others were coming with them, as it was a collective ceremony, but Karane would be the only person there to be earning dual-knighthood. The older former Skyloft Rescue Knights who were coming with the party were given Surface-Knighthood before the ceremony had been devised. Zelda had initiated it as a new Surface-custom just because the people living on the Surface needed some new customs to forge their identity. In other words, unlike the first time she'd taken the journey, Zelda would not be in peril. Still, Karane knew that Link being relegated to playing the good father and leader to the Hylian Settlement by staying home with their new baby was going to be hard on him.
Karane was touched by the name they'd given their son – Pipit. In her schoolgirl dreams, she'd wondered what children between her and Pipit the First would look like. They'd probably have been gingers (she really didn't know the genetics on that for sure) and they'd probably have adorable freckles and they'd play in the mud and probably get a good yelling at for doing things like setting the tails of remlits on fire just because she'd done that when she was eight. She and Pip hadn't gotten as far in their relationship as Link and Zelda had when he'd committed his last act of knightly heroism. They'd talked about it, but Pipit was such a gallant romantic that he'd wanted to have a public ceremony first so he could make her feel beautiful and like the empress of his heart that she was.
Pipit could be so cheesy… That, and they just weren't ready for it yet. They were busy and content enjoying each other's hearts and minds, and basking in the courtship.
In any case, Karane knew that he was serious about Them when he'd finally introduced her to his mother. She'd scolded him for not doing it sooner, because she knew she could have helped the both of them! It wasn't just the money issues, or a constantly dirty house… Karane had recognized Mallara for what she was. She'd had a cousin like that… someone who suffered a severe mental condition, put on a show of optimism to hide it, but ultimately didn't have much control over their emotions or their life. Karane had tried to explain it to Pipit as the "kind of depressed where you're full of energy and even have brief periods of happiness half the time, but are so swayed by your impulses that you come crashing down." Hence the spending and the dirt, a weird combination of a person not caring a lick about taking care of themselves that could only be explained by something not totally within their own control.
Pipit had wondered at Karane's clairvoyance. His mother was hell to live with, but he loved her and beyond being lackadaisical about his tuition-money, just wanted her to take care of herself. Just the fact that his wonderful girlfriend could help him to understand things a little better was a Goddess-send. Karane had even talked to the apothecaries about a particular kind of potion that helped with certain emotional conditions. Moreover, Mallara seemed to be motivated to take care of herself a little better by Karane's being in her son's life alone: She got into a habit of keeping their house clean for those nights Karane would come over for dinner. This continued with the birds that she and Pipit brought home, whom everyone knew would have a hard time breathing in dust. First for Karane, then for the little birds, Mallara began to care about life again in a way that wasn't all false smiles and absent-mindedness.
And it wasn't that she didn't care about Pipit, it's just that he was familiar, and had been at a loss as to what to do with her for so long. Seeing him very happy helped.
"You did die happy, I'll give you that," Karane sighed, tracing the name again on the memorial. "The way you always wanted… doing something stupid-damned noble."
Her attention was caught by the sound of footsteps behind her. She turned around to see a Skyloft Rescue Knight in a blue uniform.
"Oh, I didn't expect anyone here this time of day," he said, taking off his goggled helmet. "Ah, I know you! You're the new Wing Ceremony champion. Congratulations."
"Yeah. I'm headed down to the Surface, though. I have more commitments there than here, actually. I think I've seen you around some. You graduated the Academy, what? Four years ago? I've seen you around the grounds a few times…"
"Corvus," the young man said, giving Karane a smile.
"Lady Karane… or is it Sir Karane? A pleasure."
The shaggy-haired young man extended a hand to Karane to help her up. His hair was coal-black and he had most unusual eyes – red, almost like the eyes of some Surface-dwelling birds Karane had seen. He was a full-head taller than her and was skinny, gangly for a knight but not without some muscle to fill out his uniform. "Corvus"…where had she heard that name before?
"It's Lady. I know I could take the Sir, but I like the ring of 'Lady.' Thank you, Sir Corvus. Are you here to see anyone or just passing through?"
"I pay my respects to one of the graves here every week," he answered, "Although not always at the same time. I'm between shifts."
"That's sweet," Karane answered, "So, your father, your grandmother, someone like that?"
"No," Corvus explained. "I do visit grandfather now and again, although he died when I was five. I've taken up my weekly routine for someone whom I didn't know very well, I'm sorry to say. One of the knights who is no longer with us saved my life once – and that of my Loftwing."
"Oh… I'm… I don't come every week, I'm afraid… I'm back and forth to the Surface all the time. I'm here to say goodbye to my late boyfriend before my next trip."
"You put flowers before the memorial I came to see. Oh, my… it looks like we're here for the same person. You were Sir Pipit's lady?"
Karane began to sniffle. She tried stuffing down her tears, without success. "Y-yes. N-now I remember… you were one of the people who spoke at the funeral. Wait. Wait! I remember it all! It was the big news around the Academy and knight's barracks quite a while ago! Some guy's bird got wing-wounded by an Octorock and he slipped from his bird. Pipit swept in and caught him, then went back to guide the wounded Loftwing back to a pier… it was flying, but bleeding out…"
Corvus knelt before the marker and Karane's heart-flowers. "His bird caught me in its claws and then I watched as that kid got my bird's bleeding under control. Talked and whispered to it like he was magical. I could feel it in my mind how easy my Loftwing felt with him. I don't think either of us would be alive without that young man. First casualty of the Surface, such a pity."
Karane stood straight and tall. "That is why I wish to be a Surface Knight. I want to keep such losses from ever happening again."
Corvus turned and smiled at her. "I heard that your role in the story was one of an avenger. You destroyed his killer."
"Yes," Karane answered, "But it's not enough."
Karane quickly became known among the people of the Surface for the strength and fearlessness that she possessed. As a Surface Knight, she protected travelers. She joined with squadrons on missions to clear the way for new settlements and outposts. She soon was in charge of groups protecting travel and trading routes. She cleared temples of their shadow-dwelling beasts.
When the budding Hyrule City was attacked by an organized group of Bokoblins with a pair of Moblin leaders, she was there. When creatures started to arise out of the darker parts of the forest, she beat them back. Even the Water Dragon Faron became impressed with her skill and her merciless attitude toward the demons and their spawn. She'd become quite good at keeping humans in line, too, though no Surface Knight had yet a need to shed human blood.
For her strength of will and fierce attitude, she was dubbed "The Iron Lioness." Travelers automatically felt safe if they'd learned that she was leading their caravan. Link and Zelda trusted her to watch over their children.
And, in all of her travels, she had a personal project.
"Poor-will! Poor-will!" she called into the open air as she hid behind a bush in Faron. "Twee! Twee! Twee!"
A familiar person sidled up to her, giving her a look that said "Has my dear captain lost her hairy little mind?"
"Corvus!" Don't sneak up on me like that! If you'd really scared me, I might have gutted you on reflex! This is the deep woods. It's still dangerous here."
"Well... the camp was wondering where you'd run off to. It's nearly suppertime."
"And aren't you under orders not to follow me when I'm scouting? You may be my elder, but here, I am your senior."
"Fine, fine," Corvus said, throwing up his hands. "I won't tell anyone what I saw. What... is it that I saw, anyway?"
"Science," Karane answered.
"Yeah," Karane sighed. She showed him a little leather-bound drawing-book. "I am trying to call some of the local birds so I can observe them up close, draw them... get to know their habits. I'm probably more of a bird-expert than anyone on the surface or Skyloft at this point, but it seems like the work is never at an end. There are so many different kinds of birds here."
"I was... very amused at the tiny birds when I first came here," Corvus confessed.
"So was everyone," Karane laughed. "You should have seen Groose gush about them. He was a riot. That's why the first entry here is for the groosia family of birds."
"Groose... he's that hermit who lives out in the desert at the Temple of Time, isn't he?"
"Last I checked. Who knows? The next time we go there, he might be gone through Time. That's his dream."
"I didn't know it was your dream to chase the little birds."
"It's not, actually," Karane explained. "It was Sir Pipit's. We worked together, you see. It was kind of a shared dream, but mostly, it was his."
"Do you regret following his dream instead of... well, your own?"
"I am following my dreams, Corvus. I am a knight. I have a sword on my back. I command a force. I still fly my Loftwing although I do most of my work on the Surface. My dream was always to be a knight and protect people and that I am. I enjoy the work I do with the birds – they're nice to watch, wonderfully intricate to draw, and I like the idea that I'm doing something that will increase the knowledge of the people. It's okay that it started out as Pipit's dream, because it's mine, too."
"Be careful of your dreams, dear captain," Corvus said. "In the end, the only life you can live is your own."
"Understood, Sir Corvus. I'll be back at camp shortly. Remember I like my bacon crispy."
At the end of the day at the Ancient Cistern, Karane's troops were dirty and tired. She was dirty and tired. Her king was dirty and tired. When they exited the ancient temple, King Link issued a new order.
"I propose, since we're all grimy and hot, that we strip down to our under-things and have a pool party!"
Karane laughed heartily. Link may have been her king, but he was still the same old silly creature he'd always been. This was a main reason why he was undisputed for the throne of the Surface-settlers. He was always one of the gang, never high and mighty. Everyone did as ordered, because they wanted to. A splash-fight in the cool of the grotto's waters was just what the tired soldiers needed. Karane kept both shirt and pants on, though she laid her armor carefully upon the shore. After having a relaxing swim and getting playfully dunked by Corvus, she swam up to Link as he sunned himself dry.
There was another thing she liked about her king – he wasn't afraid to show his scars. Being stripped down to his dripping pants, marks on his torso left over from past battles were visible.
"You fought well in there," Link praised, not looking at her. His eyes were shut against the afternoon sunlight. "It makes me feel even safer, now that you're taking a residence in the castle."
"Remember, it's not for you, Lazybones. You can take care of yourself plenty. It's for your kids. I like them. I want to keep them safe."
"The ankle-biters?" Link laughed, "You're the great enemy of all monsters and the reason why you took the position I offered was... for my little monsters?"
"Either way, I'm glad you took the job. You won't be doing as much traveling... Zelda kinda sorta wants you near... in case there's a war or something. That Bokoblin army incident spooked her. I hope the lack of travel is...okay...with you?"
Karane twisted and rung out her long, undone hair. "Well, I have something I wanted to present to Your Highnesses. Last week, I flew out to Gondo's and he finished my run."
Link looked at her quizzically. "Finished your run?"
"You know," Karane explained, "on that new machine he built... the one that people are using to print the territory newspapers. I just received the honor of having the first book made with the thing. It is being mass-produced, a first run of one-hundred copies."
"Really?" Link asked. "So that's the big secret the big guy's been keeping from me? Who knew?"
"I don't know if it's complete, I mean... some new species might be discovered, but I think I've got it as close to complete as it will be in a generation."
"You... you actually went through with it? And finished it? Oh... I thought you'd given that thing up years ago, what with your duties."
"Corvus is the only man under my command who knows I've perfected the art of twittering to attract small birds."
"What does he think of it?"
"He thinks it's sexy."
Link's eyes went wide.
"That's another thing, Lazybones. I wanted to ask the blessing of the Goddess and the Hero over us. Corvus proposed to me."
The winds whipped on Skyloft as a Royal Surface Knight stood before a memorial marker in the cemetery. Karane gently laid a bouquet of heart-flowers on the ground before it as well as a small book: Sir Pipit's Guide to Surface Birds.
It, of course, had an illustration of a pipit-bird on the cover.
"This is going to be the last time I come here for a while, darling," Karane said with a soft smile. "You moved on long ago. I will always love you, but... it is finally time for me to move on now."
She walked away, dove off a pier, called her Loftwing and made for the portal to Faron Province.
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