PART TWO: Requiem
Married life suited Talon and Katma well; she loved the natural world so much that she took delight in working the ranch, and even the always starkly realistic Ingo was much more cheerful when she was around. Customers loved her, and Roku Ranch soon became even more prosperous than it had been before. When they weren't working, Katma and Talon kept in close touch with both of their families, as well as many of their old friends; Katma's best friend, Yrana, had been married to a man named Adat Ilam since Talon and Katma had met, and was pregnant throughout the first half of the Rokus' first year of marriage. She gave birth to a boy in the spring, and Talon found that he couldn't resist finding baby Darvin amazing when Katma spoke of the wonders of a newborn's life.
"Whenever I look at babies, I think of all that potential, in a tiny little body…" she whispered, as they watched the infant napping in his mother's arms. "Think of all the things he could grow up to do, Talon! He could be a doctor, or a priest, or just someone's very best friend. Whatever he does, the world will be a different place because he was in it. Every person makes a difference somehow… What will this one do?"
She always had a way of making the smallest details of life seem so significant, and the most profound moments seem even more monumental.
Just over a year after Talon and Katma were married, Hyrule was rocked with scandal when Prince Churo's betrothed, Alea Shakai, disappeared, and the heir to the throne announced his engagement to her sister, Delia Shakai.
Only a few months later, Talon's world was rocked when he received equally shocking news from his wife.
He had just climbed into bed, exhausted after a day's work, when Katma curled up behind him and whispered in his ear, "Guess what."
He smiled. "What?"
"I said guess," she giggled insistently.
"All right…" he mused, rolling over onto his back and making a thoughtful face. "Let's see…"
Apparently too impatient to wait for him, Katma flashed Talon what was quite possibly the brightest smile he had ever seen on her face, and said rapturously, "I'm pregnant."
His face was so blank with shock that her smile disappeared.
"Aren't you happy?" she asked.
Talon couldn't respond for a moment. Then he blinked, and a smile of his own crossed his face. "Yes, of course. It's just…I wasn't expecting that."
Katma relaxed, snuggling against her husband. "Isn't it wonderful?" she whispered. "We made a life. We're going to have a little baby to raise and share all our love with."
It was a nice thought, Talon agreed, to imagine a little person created out of their love who would grow up to share their passion for nature and the world. But to be solely responsible for the upbringing and well-being of another person…that was a daunting responsibility to lay on anyone's shoulders.
Could he really be a father?
It was a concern that he brought up with his own conscience more than once over the next eight months, as they eagerly prepared for the arrival of their firstborn. They had watched the Ilams go through the trials of raising a baby, and though the couple always said that Darvin was the love of their lives, they also sometimes looked more tired and stressed than Talon felt after his worst days of work.
As he and Katma picked names, set up a nursery, and wondered what their child would look and act like, he asked, in what he hoped didn't sound like too fearful a voice, if she really thought they were ready to be parents.
She smiled fondly at him and replied, "We've got a house, we've got money, we've got family and friends to help us. But most importantly, we love each other, and we will love this baby more than we could possibly imagine." Then she kissed him, to prove the point, and though his fears were not entirely alleviated, he at least felt that he could do no less than have utter faith in his wife.
Still, pacing the living room with Ingo and Adat when he knew his wife was upstairs with Yrana bringing their child into the world was agonizing. He could hear the women's voices, and occasionally his wife's screams and moans of pain. He paused every time he passed the stairs, chewing on his lips, glancing up and waiting to see someone emerge to tell him that he had a son or daughter.
"Calm down, man," Adat told him for the tenth time at least, picking up fifteen-month-old Darvin, who was whining to be held.
"I can't," Talon said shortly.
"You've got to," the other father insisted. "Okay, I can understand you're a bit nervous about this—"
Talon cut him off with a derisive laugh.
"—But I'm just talking about life in general. Breathe once in awhile, all right?"
He smiled at his anxious friend, who could only offer a tight sort of smirk in response. Adat sighed.
"Well, he's getting a bit better," Ingo muttered.
"Now would it kill you to sit down?" Adat asked, nodding towards a chair.
Talon looked at it appraisingly. "I guess not," he admitted reluctantly.
No sooner had he sank into it tensely, however, than they heard a new voice added to the noises upstairs—it was crying.
Talon jumped to his feet as if he had been burned, and was halfway to the stairs when Ingo caught him by the back of the shirt and ordered, "Wait a minute, they might not be ready for you."
The death glare Talon shot him was extremely out of character, but fortunately for both men, Yrana poked her head around the corner at that moment with a wide smile and said, "Come on upstairs, Daddy, and meet your baby girl."
"A girl…" Talon breathed in disbelief. Turning to Ingo, he beamed so widely he thought his face would crack in half. "A girl! I have a little girl!"
"Go on up and see her," Ingo told him with a faint smile, nodding upstairs.
Still grinning like an idiot, Talon charged up to the bedroom, and his wife's side.
Yrana was kneeling on the floor, swaddling the newborn and whispering soothing words to quiet her cries. Katma looked exhausted, but so purely happy that it was nearly heartbreaking to see. Her normally sunshine-bright grin was replaced by a look of euphoria that went far deeper than anything a smile could express.
"We have a daughter," she whispered.
"I know," he said, approaching her side silently. "I know… She's beautiful."
"You haven't even seen her yet," Katma pointed out with a tired sort of laugh.
"I don't need to see her to know she's beautiful."
"Well, then, I guess I don't need to give her to you, then," Yrana said, holding the bundle in her arms before them with a smile. "Here she is, Mommy."
Katma gave a quiet gasp of amazement as she took her new daughter in her arms. The baby was bright pink and puffy, she had bright red hair splayed across her head, she was wrinkly and chubby, with her face screwed up in displeasure against the brightness of the world outside…and she was without a doubt the most gorgeous sight Talon had ever had the honour of laying eyes on.
"Malon…" her mother said softly.
"Hi, Malon," Talon whispered, reaching out to tickle her small baby fingers. "Happy birthday."
They both simply stared at her for a moment in reverent silence. It was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door announcing the arrival of Ingo and Adat, who was holding Darvin by the hand.
"Knock knock… Can we come in?" he asked. Eyes sparkling, he added jokingly, "Darvin would like to meet his future bride."
Talon chuckled as Katma said fondly, "Sure, come on in and see her."
The three of them approached, Adat lifting his son into his arms so they could both see the new arrival. Darvin frowned at her in confusion.
"Aw… What's her name?" Adat asked in a whisper.
"Malon," Katma replied.
"Malon Katma Roku," Talon elaborated on impulse.
His wife looked at him with an inquisitive smile, and he shrugged.
"Here," she said, offering the baby to him, "why don't you hold her, Daddy?"
Taking the baby in his arms was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do; it felt as though this single act symbolized his really taking accountability for this little girl's life. He could feel himself trembling. She was so delicate. What if he hurt her?
And then she opened her eyes, and he forgot everything else.
This, Talon decided as he looked into the wide, blue eyes of the little girl he loved more than any other—his new daughter—had to be the most wonderful, and terrifying, moment he had ever experienced. But it was worth all the emotions just to have her.
That night, it rained.
Malon's first years of life were a time of social turmoil in Hyrule. The upheavals of social order that the Shakai sisters had initiated drew attention to a volatile situation that had previously been shunted to the side because interracial fights within the kingdom occupied everyone's attention. Now, however, oppressed groups of all kinds were asserting their independence and equality in the face of the Hylian nobility; in response, anyone who had the authority to do so was flexing as much political and military clout as possible. They were fighting a losing battle, though, and they knew it. It was clear in the way that Hyrule Castle Town market was now a community open to all of Hyrule's people, in the way the people of Kakariko were organizing themselves to build a productive community in their town…and, above all, in the fact that a girl who could have been queen had rejected it all.
But in the midst of all this, Roku Ranch remained a haven of peace. It was located south of the centres of conflict, and its doors were open to any customers, and so it was as utterly free of politics as any place could be. The smiling faces of Talon, Katma, and their baby daughter were rays of sunshine in the middle of a storm. Sometimes visitors would come just to escape the tension and violence of their home neighbourhoods by watching a little redheaded girl run, laughing, through the corral.
Like Ingo, Adat and Yrana were almost a part of the family; they lived much closer to all the dramatic alterations of the world, and so they spent more and more time at the ranch with their friends to evade a situation that grew more dire every day. Darvin and Malon generally got along well and played amicably together, though occasionally one would cause the other grief; he had a tendency to be overly aggressive when he wanted something, which would often drive her to tears, and she had a tendency to find the same things funny that he found scary, such as insects or a stampede. More than once, they had to be separated, for the sake of everyone's sanity.
"They'll learn from each other," Katma said confidently, one day after they had put the babies down from their naps, leaving the five adults to their conversation. "In twenty years, they won't believe us when we tell them there was ever a time when they didn't get along."
"We can really humiliate them at their wedding," Adat pointed out with a grin. Lifting his glass in a mock toast, he said reminiscently, "To my son and my new daughter-in-law… I'll never forget the time she offered him the generous gift of a baby Skulltula she found in the barn, and he ran away screaming. That was when we all knew it was true love."
"Or was it the time he stole her teddy?" Yrana mused.
"Or stepped on her fingers," Talon added, smirking.
"Or could it have been when she got him full in the face with a fistful of mud?" concluded Ingo with a smirk of his own.
They all laughed at this memory. The cuteness of such moments lay, not in the incidents themselves, but in the fact that Malon had put the baby Skulltula back where she found it so that it wouldn't bother Darvin; that he had given her back the teddy almost right away; that he had stepped on his own fingers to make them even; and that she had helped him get the mud off of his face and clothes. In a world of pain, the selfless innocence of their children reminded them all of what they were lucky to have.
The little girl was her father's pride, joy, and purpose in life. Every time she charged towards him covered in dirt from head to toe, or showed him her latest masterpiece of scribbled artwork, or hugged and kissed him with jam-sticky fingers and lips, or fell asleep curled up in his lap with her thumb in her mouth, there was no doubt in Talon's mind that Malon was the greatest blessing the goddesses could have bestowed upon him.
As years went by, that little girl grew up—she learned to walk, then to ride; she learned to talk, then to sing. For her fifth birthday, her parents gave her a very special present.
"Now, we don't have it for you right now," Katma explained, leading her daughter into the stables by the hand as Talon followed, "but we want to show you something."
"Okay," Malon agreed eagerly, fidgeting with a strand of her hair, as was her habit when she was curious but knew that asking questions would get her nowhere.
Pointing to a chestnut brown mare in the farthest stall, Katma asked, "Do you see Emara there?"
"See how her tummy's getting big?"
Malon nodded again.
"Well, that means that she's going to have a baby."
Malon frowned. "A boy baby," she asked, "or a girl, like me?"
Talon laughed. "Not a baby like you," he told her. "A baby horse, a foal. A girl or a boy, we don't know yet."
"Oh," Malon said slowly, nodding, but still looking faintly confused. Her parents had never really explained the concept of birth to her before.
"And we thought, since you love horses so much," Katma explained, "that you could have this one for your own. When Emara has her foal, it can be your pet. What do you think of that?"
Malon's mouth fell open, and she let out a gasp of joy. "Really?"
Beaming, she wrapped her arms around her mother's legs, since she couldn't reach her waist. "You're the best Mommy and Daddy ever ever! Thank you, thank you!"
"You're welcome, angel."
Four months later, a warm red filly was born, and Malon named her Epona. She doted on the young horse like a mother on her own child, and her new pet returned the affection. In fact, Epona would listen to no one else, not even her beloved mistress' parents…until Katma discovered the key to her heart: like Malon, Epona was drawn to music, and one song in particular could tame her completely.
"She's wild as the wind," Katma said, as she and Talon watched the filly gallop in wide circles around the corral, Malon at her heels, as the other horses watched them with the air of adults disdainfully witnessing the irresponsibility of youth. Leaning against her husband's shoulder, she added, "But she's got a heart of gold and the soul of a poet."
"The horse or the girl?" Talon asked, grinning.
Katma gave him a gentle slap on the arm, laughing lightly, "Both of them, of course."
By this time, Hyrule had settled into a more comfortable kingdom; in part, this was because King Otamio and Queen Xama had passed their thrones on to their son and his wife, which meant that the sovereigns of Hyrule were now King Churo and Queen Delia, and the heir was their young daughter, Princess Zelda. The six races of the nation were united under a single flag, all having the equal rights they deserved, and they were all flourishing because of it.
Both the Roku and Niamey families were flourishing as well. Talon's parents were enjoying a quiet retirement, living in a small house in Hyrule Castle Town; Jenkar remained unmarried, but was perfectly content to live out his days in bachelorhood; Katma's father, as well, was retired from the Royal guard, while Thirad had joined up, as per his goal; Anjema had moved into Kakariko, which was becoming quite a thriving little town, and begun determinedly breeding Cuccos, despite her allergies; even Ingo was as cheerful as he had ever been in his life. And all of them were delighted by the little girl at the centre of their universe; Malon was the heart and soul of a prosperous and loving family.
However, as Ingo habitually said in his more pessimistic moods, "When something's going right, it's a sure sign that something else is going wrong." In Hyrule's case, their political situation was healthy, but their people were not.
No one knew what caused the upsurge in disease, though the straggling remnants of the upper classes cynically blamed the "unwholesome mixing" of people from divers backgrounds. Whatever the cause may have been, before the age of seven, Malon lost her Grampa Roku, Uncle Jenkar, and Grampa Niamey, with Uncle Thirad and Gramma Niamey barely managing to step back from the brink.
It was ironic that, just as the world settled into the peace that Talon, Katma and their families had always known, they themselves were rocked with the loss of their loved ones. But they didn't care about the poetic aspects of their personally suffering—all they knew was how much it hurt. Even bright and beautiful Katma began to look pale and wan as the harsh reality of the world, in which she had always had so much faith, began to strike her. Yet still, she smiled, she spoke of the magic of how a tree grew and the beauty of the music laughter made. And she loved the rain.
One night, as Talon closed up the ranch and sent Malon off to bed, he found he didn't know where Katma was. He panicked only slightly, because she was a fully grown woman who could take care of herself, but he also set out looking. Fortunately, he found her almost immediately.
She was standing just outside the gates of the ranch, perfectly still, her face upturned towards the sky, her palms as well open to the heavens as if offering penance. Sunset light drenched her, evening shadows tracing the curves of all the features of her face, casting her eyelashes onto her cheeks, lingering on her parted lips, exploring paths along her rose-tinted skin like tears and continuing down the creamy skin of her neck towards her collarbone. Her long, bright hair hung behind her like a flag at half mast, drifting slightly in the breeze as though it were a current of water. Her dress, too, floated about her ankles, moving as one with the grass.
"Katma?" he whispered, approaching quietly to stand next to her and laying a hand on her shoulder. "Is something wrong?"
She looked at him with red eyes that shone with unshed tears, and the sight of them sent a dull knife of pain through his chest. She spoke in a tremulous voice.
"It never rains anymore, Talon."
It soon became clear that her ailment was not only emotional.
Though Katma would always be the last to say that anything was wrong with her, Talon could tell that she was not feeling herself. She grew tired more easily, she lost her appetite and lost weight, and she was pale and unsteady. One night, as he lay in bed next to her, he heard a noise that he didn't recognize; it took him several seconds to realize that she was quietly crying. If she wouldn't admit that she didn't feel happy, he knew, it was a sign that she truly wasn't happy, because she was always much more attuned and open with her emotions than anyone else. He drew her into her arms and held her against his heartbeat, and she allowed her tears to come.
Only a few days later, she was in the stables with Malon, listening to her daughter's chatter as they milked the cows and Talon brought in bales of hay.
"…but Darvin said that his Mommy got him a pet cat and I said I have a pet horse and he said he thought a cat was a better pet to have."
"Neither one is better," Katma told her daughter with a smile. "All animals are the goddesses' creations, and so they're all wonderful."
"I know," Malon agreed, before continuing with her story. "And that's why I told him that horses are—Mommy?"
Talon whipped around sharply, alarmed by the concern in his daughter's voice; Katma had rose from her stool and looked rather pale and dizzy. Momentarily, she merely blinked and put on a shaky smile. "I'm fine," she told her husband and daughter. "I just stood up too fast…that's all…"
But no sooner were the words out of her mouth than her eyes rolled as they fluttered closed, and Malon shrieked.
Talon stumbled over the hay he had been unloading to catch his wife just before she fell to the ground. His heart was thundering so hard that he could barely think straight; she was unconscious in his arms, a cold sweat beaded across her ivory forehead, against which her bright hair stood out like streaks of blood…but she was breathing, and he could see her pulse in her pale throat.
Focusing on this fact, Talon lifted her into his arms and said, trying to keep the fear out of his voice, "Malon, run and get Mr Ingo. Tell him to go bring the doctor here."
Eyes shining with tears, the little girl nodded obediently, prompting her father to add, "It'll be okay, sweetheart, Mommy's fine." He managed a smile as well, but knew Malon could tell it was false.
Still, she ran off as Talon carried Katma back to the house and up to their bedroom, where he lay her down and brushed the hair out of her face. Her skin was ice cold to the touch.
"It's okay," he whispered, though she was still unconscious; he was speaking as much to himself as to her. "It'll be okay… You're okay…"
But all he could see before him was the blank face of his own father the last time he had seen him. The day before they had buried him.
He blinked rapidly.
He couldn't have said how long it was before help arrived; it felt like an eternity as the time passed, but only a second once it was over. Ingo ran into the room followed by the doctor and calling, "He's here, Talon, what's wrong with her?" and Talon jumped to his feet instantly.
"Here," he said sharply, forcing himself to sound calm and rational. "She just…fainted for no reason."
The doctor took Talon's seat on the bed, feeling Katma's forehead, opening her eyes to look in them, peering into her mouth, measuring her pulse. The two men watched in anxiety.
"Where's Malon?" Talon asked after several agonizing minutes of silence.
"Playing with Epona," Ingo said shortly, keeping his eyes focused on Katma. "I told her to stay on the grounds and not come up here."
Talon nodded, but could think of nothing else to do.
When the doctor finished his examination, he rose to his feet and said quietly, "She's alive."
This news didn't reassure Talon; was it the only good he could find?
"And?" he asked uneasily.
The doctor shook his head sadly. "Keep her on bed rest, make sure she drinks fluids to keep her strength up…but really…there's nothing we can do."
Talon suddenly couldn't feel his body. "Wha—What do you mean?" he asked numbly, praying that what he suspected was wrong.
He could see the pain in the doctor's face as the man answered, "I'd say…six months."
"Until?" Ingo asked, because Talon couldn't coerce his mouth into forming words.
Hesitantly, the doctor clarified, "Until she's gone."
These words echoed through the emptiness that had replaced Talon's self-awareness, and he reached out for the doorframe to keep himself from falling over. Tears burned in his eyes, and he choked hoarsely, "No… She can't… I can't…and Malon… No…"
The doctor shook his head and gave a genuinely sympathetic sigh. "I'm sorry."
But Talon didn't hear him. He knew nothing except the fact that his world would only remain intact for six more months—and then half of his soul would be ripped from his body.
He felt as though he were moving through water as he made his way to her bedside, and didn't notice that Ingo and the doctor had left. The entire world was Katma, and he sat next to her and stroked her face, staring at her closed eyes.
Until finally, they slowly opened.
"Talon," she said in a weak voice, once she recognized him. "Hi." She managed a smile, but it disappeared when she took in the pain across his face. "What's wrong?"
Never in his life had Talon been so unwilling to speak. He reflected fleetingly on how difficult it had been to ask her for a date when they had been awkward teenagers. Well, really, only he had ever been awkward. And right now he would have given anything be in that moment again.
The word strangled him, and he looked down as the world blurred before his eyes. He had to find the strength to say this. He had to.
But before he did, he heard Katma's voice, as quiet as a breath of wind, say, "I'm dying…aren't I?"
Talon nodded, and only then could he look up into her face. The sight of her, with her skin so pale, her cheeks so thin, her eyes so dull, brought the tears he had been fighting so strongly against. They wrapped each other in their arms, he with all the strength in his body, she with all the strength in her frail arms, and let themselves cry.
After several minutes, Katma said softly, "We have to tell Malon."
"Oh, goddesses," Talon sighed. "How are we supposed to tell her that she only has her Mommy for six more months?"
"Six months?" Katma repeated. "Is that what the doctor said?"
"Well, that's not so bad," she admitted fairly. "It's a good long time to get ready. And besides," she added with a smile that was but a shadow of its former sunlight self, "it's not like it's a bad thing, really. I'm going back to the goddesses."
"But you don't belong with Them," Talon objected before he could stop himself, knowing even as he did how selfish he was being. "You belong here. With me, and with Malon."
Katma glanced down. "I know," she said softly; he heard the crack in her words. "And I'll miss you with all my heart and soul. But you know I'll be watching. You know I'll love you both forever."
This was not consolation enough to Talon, however, and he knew that it would mean little to their daughter, either. Malon's innocent eyes were wide with fear as she sat on the bed between her parents and listened to them gently explaining that her mother would be going away in half a year.
"Why?" she asked, her panic barely contained. "What do you mean, going away?"
"I mean…" Talon began, but he stopped himself, unsure how to phrase the answer. Malon understood the concept of death; living on a ranch, it was something she had faced firsthand. But the death of a Cucco or another animal was nothing like the death of her mother.
"I'm going back to the goddesses," Katma explained gently, taking her daughter's hands in both of hers. "Everyone lives for awhile here in the world, and then they go back home to Them."
"To the—You mean…you're going to heaven? To the Sacred Realm?" Her eyes widened, if possible, even further. Tears shone in them as she asked, "Y-you're…you're dying?" Before either of her parents could speak, she jumped to her feet and cried, "How can you—No, you can't! You can't! How can you…you… No…"
But as she looked at them helplessly, suddenly all the strength appeared to evaporate from her body, and she crumpled onto the bed again, her face against her mother's chest, sobbing with everything within her.
The pain of the news hung heavily over the ranch. However, as usual, it was Katma's indomitable spirit that prevented them all from slipping into the depths of sorrow. Though she couldn't leave her bed, her smile also couldn't leave her face, and Talon, Ingo and especially Malon made every effort to ensure that Katma remained completely ingrained in daily life at Roku Ranch.
Malon still spent as much time as possible with her mother, curled up in bed next to Katma to talk about her day, or show her drawings, or read stories. Talon quite often stood just outside the door, listening to the magical interaction between mother and daughter. Today, it was a story, which was just reaching its conclusion.
"…and she lived happily ever after."
Talon smiled. The princess always lived happily ever after.
"Mommy, I want to be a princess," Malon said firmly, "so I can live happily ever after."
Talon smiled wider; apparently his daughter had picked up on the pattern as well.
"Oh, really?" Katma said, in a tone completely free of mockery. "Well, then, you'll have to marry a prince."
A pause followed, as Malon apparently weighed this possibility, and Talon heard the sounds of her snuggling in closer to her mother.
"No," she finally decided, "I don't want to marry a prince. I want to marry a knight."
"In shining armour?"
"On a snow white stallion?"
"No!" said Malon, sounding frankly offended. "On Epona!"
"Oh, of course," said Katma, her amusement hidden. "But angel, Epona only listens to you."
"I know," Malon answered easily, "but if I'm gonna marry someone, Epona's gotta like him, too." She spoke as though such a thing were obvious; any man who loved her would have to get through Epona first.
"Well, sweetie, if you love him, I'm sure Epona will, too."
Malon went on. "And I'm gonna have a big wedding in…in a big pretty house, or maybe a temple, and I'm going to have the prettiest white dress ever…"
"Do you want to wear my dress?"
Another silence, and Talon knew that his daughter was looking at her mother in wide-eyed amazement.
"Can I really?"
"Of course," Katma answered. "The day you marry the man you love, you can wear the same dress I did the day I married the man I love."
Talon heard the quiet sound of a child's kiss against a mother's cheek. "Thank you, Mommy."
"I'll be there on your wedding day, angel," Katma said softly, and Talon knew the vow was to herself as much as to Malon.
"Of course promise!" she said with a small laugh. "I'll drop whatever I'm doing in the Sacred Realm, so that I can watch you get married and blow you kisses."
Talon closed his eyes and leaned against the wall with a sigh that ached from somewhere deeper than his body. Malon's wedding… Yet another moment that would be twice as painful because Katma would not be there to share it.
The moments she did share, however, lasted not six but seven months; as Katma said, she was never one to accept anything just because someone told her to. In fact, there was a small glimmer of hope in Talon's chest that perhaps his beloved wife might manage to save herself from the destiny the doctor had laid down for her. After all, her brother and her own mother had done so.
If not for the fact that he saw life hang more faintly upon her by the day, he might have entertained the idea that his hope could come true.
He was at dinner with Ingo when Malon came downstairs from Katma's room, tears threatening to overtake her at any moment, and said quickly, voice breaking, "Daddy…Mommy wants you to come upstairs."
Talon didn't allow himself to think or feel, but gave a quick glance at Ingo before he swiftly crossed the room and took his daughter in his arms as they went together to the bedroom.
Katma looked so pallid and thin when he saw her that Talon thought there couldn't be any blood left in her body; her red hair and green eyes, however, remained just as bright as they had been the first day he had met her. Malon held very close to her father, who approached the bedside with his arms around her. Katma's breathing sounded strained as she spoke, but she was still smiling.
"Talon…I just…I wanted to say that…I love you…" she reached out a frail hand towards her daughter, who carefully took it in her own, "And Malon…I love you so much…"
One tear escaped each of Malon's eyes when she blinked. "Mommy, I love you, too…"
Talon took a seat on the edge of the bed with his daughter in his lap, and placed a kiss on his wife's cold lips. When he leaned away, she didn't open her eyes, though he could still see breath moving slowly in her chest.
For a moment, the family remained still, feeling no need to speak or act.
It would have been impossible to say at exactly which instant Katma's soul left her body. But for Talon, it was when Malon buried her face against her father's chest to cry her young heart out, her normally angelic voice wrenched with grief.
This, Talon decided as he looked into the pale, empty face of the woman he loved more than any other—his wife, the mother of their daughter—had to be the most dolorous moment he could ever experience.
That night, it rained.
Losing Katma was, in essence, losing the life of the ranch. Though they all knew she was in a better place, they could feel nothing but agony, because their own lives were all but meaningless without her.
Talon's motivation to go on was almost non-existent; he could be forgiven for slipping out of his former state of wholehearted motivation by the loss of his wife, but as time passed, he never regained it. Even Ingo, who had been more cheerful during the years he had lived and worked with Talon and Katma than ever before, felt her absence personally; he receded into a shadow of gruff ill-temperament, isolated from anyone and refusing to admit he cared about anything. The Ilams lost touch with the Rokus, and in fact the ranch, newly named Lon Lon after the father and daughter who owned it, lost the aura it had once had, of a beacon of joy.
It was Malon who, while she was initially more grief-stricken than either of the other two, recovered into a whole and healthy person most quickly. Though she spent her first days without a mother for the most part alone, crying in her room, looking at every picture she had ever drawn, rereading every story she had ever heard her mother's voice tell, she soon came to accept Katma's loss with the true and infinite wisdom of a child.
The first time Talon saw her outside again, standing with Epona, he was heartened by her admirable mastery of her pain. But when he heard the song she was casting out into the air, he felt she had ripped his heart from his body a second time.
She gave him a smile like sunshine when she saw him, and said in a sweet-toned voice, "Hi, Daddy. Are you still sad?"
Talon opened his mouth, but merely nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak.
"Don't be," she told him simply. "Mommy's okay."
Malon couldn't have known how much her very life hurt both Talon and Ingo to see. To watch anyone go through the world with the same light which Katma had always inspired in everyone she met only reminded the two men of what the world had lost; Malon's every move, every smile, every breath, every laugh brought Katma's ghost to the front of their memories…but it was of course her song, a melody caught in a storm, that was the most beautiful and heart-rending sound they could imagine. Talon hoped she never stopped singing it, and never forgot the woman who had given life not only to her but to him.
What Katma had left inside him, the seed which she had planted, was a love of the world and all things in it. Until the loss of her had irreparably shaken to the roots his hope and faith in everything.
Still, he remembered what the world had once been in his eyes—he saw her dancing—he heard her singing—every time it rained.
She's here and she's real
But you were, too
And every once in a while I think about you
I've been layin' here all night
Listenin' to the rain
Talkin' to my heart and tryin' to explain
Why sometimes I catch myself
Wondering what might have been
Yes, I do think about you
Every now and then
Every now and then