"Pleasant dreams, Your Highness," Impa recited mechanically, then huffed out the candle. Sweet dreams for Zelda were scarce, and Impa cared little. The princess's eyes turned to her again, narrowed as though trying to look through a misty window, and did not answer. Impa smothered the eye of red that still breathed on the wick, returned the gaze, then moved to leave the room.
"I thought my name was Zelda."
Impa halted. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the dry winter air deeply. The cold bite in her lungs humbled her annoyance. She turned and looked down at the child. She was caressing the blanket of bearskin, looking up at Impa with pondering eyes.
"Your name is Zelda, Your Highness."
"But you are taller than me. Everyone is."
Impa had to bite back mirthless laughter at that; the statement gave Impa a rather sinister rush of amusement for a moment, but shook herself of the schadenfreude reluctantly. Still, she could not resist a tilt of the head and a small nod. The princess was young. She would not pick up on the insult to her position.
"Then why do you call me that?" the child asked innocently. She gave a further tilt of the head, and curiosity glistened behind grotesquely blue eyes.
"Your Highness is a title, not a name," Impa said flippantly and turned to leave again, hoping that the inconsiderate child would let her be. Sleep used to come in larger quantities before this cursed job, Impa reflected. Before this cursed child. She placed her hand on the door's latch, then paused, remembering the book she had left on the girl's vanity. She turned to retrieve it, only to find the princess holding it, staring at the cover with scrutiny to rival a mason.
"I have a title?" the girl asked, her voice high pitched. "Books have titles, too! See?" She pointed at the golden-plated lettering on the thick, engraved cover. "Hissss-torrrr-eee: The Hyuh...-hy-Hyrulian Cccciii-iivil War..."
Impa took a moment to reflect that she found it less than endearing when Zelda stated the obvious.
"Impa..." Zelda glanced up at her, her eyes wary and clashing horribly with her previous childlike questions. "I don't understand. I am no book. I am a girl. I have...I have a heart and a skeleton, not pages and leather. I am alive, not..." she looked at the book again. "Not..." her face twisted with effort to find an antonym to 'alive' that was not 'dead'.
Impa swept down and took the tome from the child's hands and tucked it under her arm. With her free hand, she caressed her brow, glaring with her red eyes down at the princess. How to explain this...?
"A book," Impa started, "is...a legacy. Do you know what a legacy is, Your Highness?"
The girl nodded. "Father used to explain—"
"Books," Impa interrupted quickly, "are not the only things to have titles. Not the first, certainly. Legacies are. You are a legacy...you will have a legacy. All royalty does. That is why you have a title."
In the hearth, a log snapped wildly, bursting with watchful red and orange before settling back down beneath the flame's caresses. Zelda's face lit for a moment, and the shadows and light danced in such a way that her unsatisfied eyes seemed red. Impa blinked at this, wondering what altering eyes such as those could see. "Books have their titles written on them, right here on their cover," Zelda states, holding the by its two sides and looking down at it. "Why isn't my title written on me?"
And, it was back to the questions—already. Impa drew a deep, soundless breath, resolving to end this session with this inquisitive pest as soon as possible.
"It is," she said shortly.
Zelda looked up sharply. "Where?"
The girl visibly started.
"My crown is my title?"
For the first time since Impa had tucked her in, Zelda lifted her body into a sitting position, allowing the furs to fall from her shoulders. She reached toward the vanity and picked up the bejeweled tiara from its pedestal, turning it about in her hand. "So..." she said, glancing up at Impa, "if I took off my crown...I could take off my title....?"
The book landed on the vanity, Impa's hand pressing it down. The Sheikah woman snatched the furs and thrust them back over Zelda's body, then shoved the girl roughly onto her back. Zelda gave out a squeak of alarm but made no move to rise. "Go to sleep," Impa growled sharply, her annoyance having festered too far to conceal. She stood and, for what must have been the hundredth time that night, made her way toward the door. Something metallic clattered to the ground noisily behind her, but she did not stop. She wanted to sleep, Din damn it all, to go back to her bed and escape empty and meaningless questions from this stupid child.
"Do you always read the title before you read the book, Impa?"
This question stopped Impa dead in her tracks outside the door. From behind the threshold, she blinked her eyes twice, and turned to look at Zelda.
The little Princess was reaching down to pick up her crown, which had fallen from her grasp. Her little hands (really very little, Impa reflected, were they always that little?) closed around the circlet and lifted it carefully. She cradled it there in her hands for a moment, before placing it at her bedside, next to the book that Impa suddenly realized she'd forgotten.
She looked at Zelda's blue eyes, pools of unfathomable depth.
Suddenly too terrified to enter the room, Impa left her book lying where it had been and fled down the corridor to her chambers.
The next day, Impa entered Zelda's room to find that her charge had already risen and left to greet the white winter morning. The fire in the hearth had settled to grayness (Din, she had forgotten to stoke it last night), and the air nipped at her with icy teeth. Intending to make the bed, she turned, reaching out to neaten the ruffled furs, and blinked.
On the bed lay Impa's book.
Surprised, she moved to pick it up. In her hands, it flopped apart; the cover, vehemently torn from the binding, landed on the bearskin soundlessly. Impa gaped at it as the title glared back at her, cold and empty.
The pages fell. They fluttered unceremoniously to the floor, scattering about like a shredded bird. In the privacy of Zelda's bedchambers, Impa sat down on the bed and wept, unable to explain to herself why.