"You are not focusing, Highness," said the old, stringy tutor.
Zelda released the breath she had been holding, and dropped her hands away from the stubbornly unlit candle. "Yes... I know," she mumbled down at the table. "I'm sorry."
Mage Loethos made a creaky sound in his throat, and peered at her through tiny fish-eyed spectacles. "Does some matter distract Your Highness? I know you are capable of producing the flame in its raw form, yet each time you approach the verge—the cusp—of its refinement, you pull yourself away as if expecting to be bitten." He shuffled goose-like to the densely-scrawled slateboard, and underlined the same labored words for the dozenth time. "If Your Highness will recall, the essence of targeted magic is carried across the guiding ley lines, tangible to those who are sufficiently receptive - Your Highness being no exception, naturally. You need only seek out each strand of magic, and draw it hither-forth to your target, in order to..."
Zelda already knew the theory well - and the tangible proof, far too well. Even now the lines danced at the corners of her sight, tangled and taunting and shimmery dark. "They make me see visions," she admitted faintly, "and they frighten me."
"But that is splendid," marveled the Mage, waxy fingers tugging at his wispy beard. "It's not unheard of, for the particularly gifted or enlightened to derive advanced Sight from prolonged contact with Ley-work. As a matter of fact, the reputed Arch-Priest of Leandre, upon receiving one such insight, caught himself in a fit of inspired fervor for days, and furthermore..."
"I don't want to receive any more insights," said Zelda in what she thought a clear voice, but in the way ingrained to father-kings and learned men, Mage Loethos heard only what he expected of a coddled young Princess: sweet, dainty words as inconsequential as candy floss. He prattled ever-onward regarding the subject of fabled Sight-seers, and Zelda excused herself politely, for it was time for tea and needlework, amongst plenty other things.
Dreams and illusions are the domain of womenfolk, her mother had been fond of quoting to her, laughingly waving away courtly men's curt demands for reasons and solutions they can catch with hands and strike with swords. But fever had taken the Queen years ago, before Zelda had time enough to learn all her secret wisdom, and so she turned once more to the other most-powerful woman in her life: her surrogate almost-mother, who was nearly as attentive, nearly as understanding, nearly as wise - if not nearly as lighthearted.
"More prophecies?" A sharp glare aimed at her, like the primed edge of a half-drawn knife.
"I don't know," mumbled Zelda, wishing she had less childish words to offer. "They're not like my dreams from before. They don't seem to be sending me any specific message, and they're never the same, and... and they seem more like things that's happened - or are happening, but..." She clenched her fists, feeling frustratingly useless. "I don't know what it means this time, Impa."
"Use this," Impa said, scooping from fluid shadow a spindly trinket woven with a pattern of twine. "It's a Sheikah dream charm," she explained, turning it in her hand so that the glossy dark stone at its tangled center caught the light with a crimson glint. "Charge it with a song of slumber, and let it guard your sleep. The web will snag the false shadows, and the Eye will show you to the truth within the unconscious dream realm."
But though Zelda hummed, and played, and crooned her lullabies with all her heart, and the charm's garnet eye glowed foggily as if responding to (drinking up?) her proffered songs, her nights seemed no better warded, and the dreams came heedless of the lone bauble hanging from her bedcurtain. Over weeks, then months, they unfurled to her a grim tapestry of scenes from a stray lifetime, one where cruelty reigned and fear sapped strength from men and smiles from women; one where, she dreaded to admit, somehow—some way—she was to blame.
Yet court life in the waking hours remained calm and routine as ever, with no sign of even a chipped goblet or ill-placed horseshoe, much less any ominous augury she could announce importantly and officially. Zelda soon stopped making mention of her dreams at all, for even if Impa had always a sympathetic ear open, she could offer up no new insight or usefulness while the dark dreams flowed uncaringly, despairingly on. Nights stretched long and lingering beneath fresh layers of ice and snow, and the dream charm dangled, dim and abandoned.
"Impa, I want to learn to fight," said her dream-self one day, when her Sheikah protector materialized in the now-familiar cottage, an armload of supplies trailing split-seconds behind.
"So you can tussle in the dirt like street children?" Impa spared her barely a glance before busying herself at one shelf, then another.
"No, like the soldiers of Hyrule. Like you."
"Certainly not." Impa did not even look back from her task. "You of all people should understand what's at stake. The utmost responsibility is upon you to safeguard the Triforce of Wisdom, since it's the only piece we can be certain has not fallen into the enemy's hands - yet."
"Then is it not even more crucial that I learn to defend myself - so that I may defend the Triforce?" Zelda edged her way to Impa's side, doing her best to stand tall and impressive at waist-height. "I can't stand cowering in the dark like this for the rest of my life. This is my kingdom, Impa. Father is dead. The Hero of Legend is gone. Who is left to fight for Hyrule, if not me?"
Impa hefted a sigh, and stooped down to cup her face. "Zelda, an eleven-year-old princess is no more qualified to 'fight for Hyrule' than any of the commonfolk in this village."
"But they can learn," Zelda insisted, through the budding of frustrated tears, "and I can learn. Let me learn, Impa, so that I could at least someday become less of a burden to you, or to this village. They have already paid too much for the sake of a princess they've never even seen."
A weary smile crept over Impa's face. "I may have taught you too well," she conceded, smoothing out Zelda's clenched brows with a gentle thumb. "Your reasoning is sound, my child. I know there may come a day when I cannot be at your side, when you must stand alone and unguarded. I speak with only the futile desire of an old nursemaid to never have you face danger or pain." She smiled again, this time with a resigned sadness. "If only it were that easy."
"I hope to never make you have to worry about those things again, Impa," Zelda replied, lifting a defiant chin to ease the lump at her throat.
"Very well," said Impa, in a voice mistier and farther away than usual. For a moment she lingered there, but suddenly she stood and smeared her palm across the hearth, leaving behind a sizzling trail of dark symbols. "If you mean it, then speak this oath," she intoned, hard and stoic once more.
Zelda stared at the string of characters, but each was a cryptic shape that resembled nothing of her letters, not even the calligraphy she had hated practicing. She looked back up at Impa helplessly. "I, I can't—"
"If you mean it," Impa repeated, face set like stone.
Zelda turned back to the symbols, each as cold and meaningless as ever before. I do mean it. I want to fight. I want to learn. The letters remained hard and unbudging in the dancing shadows, and her heart started to sink, just a little. I want... I really want to help—Impa and Link and everyone else—I want to stop people from getting hurt.
(I want to know—)
A flicker of firelight, and the letters changed without changing. The knotted symbols remained alien all the same, yet as she scanned them, words bobbed to the surface of her mind like eager fish. "I open my Eye to sights unseen," Zelda read out loud, tentative and barely believing, "for I seek the path untouched by light."
"Look, and find it before you," Impa responded, her voice heavy with solemn pride. "Cower in the dark no longer, Princess. From now on, shadow will be your greatest ally."
"Impa, I want to learn to fight," Zelda said in a rare moment of solitude, minutes and passageways before handmaidens and attendants would sweep her back to a life of gold and lace. Supper was just past and night not yet taken hold, and it was safe enough to tempt the dream-shadows in the privacy of a tightly-wound stairway awash with liquid orange torchlight.
Impa came to a precise halt, one skeptical eyebrow raised. "And what is the impetus for this?"
Already the script veered off-course. Zelda gaped, finding herself at a mortifying loss for words. "Well, um... in case Hyrule is... besieged... and I need to take up arms to... lead..."
Impa shook her head dismissively, and resumed her long-legged stride. "Zelda, that is no duty for a princess. Or even a queen."
"But if I were a prince, would it not be expected of me?" She hastened to catch up, her words tripping out equally breathlessly. "If I were a boy—"
"Yet you were not born a boy, nor a peasant child, nor a Goron who takes rocks for his supper." Impa wheeled around, her fire-light shadow flaring out like a mantle before her. "You have your place in life, young Princess, why do you seek to defy it all of a sudden?"
"I just... I just thought..." Zelda came to a frustrated stop, trying to grasp the reasoning that came so easily in dreams. Impa was supposed to be proud of her for this. "I want to be stronger and... and protect the throne..."
"Academic fencing, then? I could arrange for the swordmaster to make room for you in his weekly sessions. You'll be able to properly lift the ceremonial sword when you come of age, at least."
"But I—" There was nothing Zelda could think to argue this logic, though it tore her heart in reluctant disappointment. It wouldn't be enough to save the world. She trembled rigidly on the stairs, unable to bear taking a step forward or back.
Impa came to her side, as soft as shadow, and lifted her chin with a callused fingertip. "Tell me the truth behind your desire, dear one."
"I want to be able to do something," Zelda burst out, nearly angry and nearly desperate. "For the Triforce, and for my kingdom. Father doesn't listen to me, I can't go outside the castle on my own - I can't even use magic anymore, because every time it brings back those visions and I..." She stopped, shameful at her thoughts. What were dreams and illusions, to keep her shackled in the living, waking world?
"I don't want to be afraid anymore. Of those dreams, of the future, of the dark—" (Of tyrants and monsters, of blades or fire—) "I want to learn the Sheikah arts. From you. I want to master the visions and shadows."
"That is no easy feat for one such as you, Zelda." Impa's mouth was stern. "Not for a Hylian, and certainly not for a princess unaccustomed to feats of strength and labor. Are you aware what you ask for?"
"I open my Eye to the sights unseen," Zelda said, the words coming to her in a sudden rush. "I seek the path untouched by light."
Impa raised her brows appraisingly. "Look and find it before you, then. Know that I do not teach the Sheikah techniques lightly, and I will not accept a pupil who recoils at the first taste of bitter hardship." She pushed aside the door atop the staircase, and the white-warmth of ivory lamps and chatty maids broke into the hallway like day over moon-chilled grounds. "You begin at sun-up tomorrow."
"Thank you Impa," Zelda breathed, her heart blossoming, and remembered barely to curtsy before flinging her arms around her nursemaid's waist.
Strong hands patted her shoulders before ushering her into her chambers. "Don't stay up too late gossiping," the Sheikah said with a wry smile, and shut the door behind her.
Sorry to all you folks I confused inbetween the last chapter and this one! I hope that this one clears up some of your questions. I do have this story quite thoroughly (THOROUGHLY) planned out, but it'll really take a miracle to get it all written. I don't plan to ever declare this story dead, but once again, you should probably just stick it on your watch list and pretend it's gone until one day, SURPRISE CHAPTER.
By the way, if you guys are going to ask questions in your (awesome) anonymous reviews, at least leave an email so I can respond to you!