Cara threw Kahlan to the ground at the general's feet before the tent flap had fully closed, her long Mord'Sith braid bobbing with the force her throw.
With her hands tied and wrapped in front, Kahlan could at least break her fall. And there was a carpet on the tent's floor. Kahlan pulled her legs under her, but otherwise kept down, disguising her alertness even as her eyes darted around the tent, taking everything in.
"The rumours were right," Cara drawled, hands lazily caressing the handle of her agiel. It was sheathed, but the two escorting soldiers who had come in with them as well as the officers who had been conferring with the general still eyed it with a great deal of wariness. "It was her. The Mother Confessor."
Cara wrapping Kahlan's hands in cloth, then tying her forearms together, smirking. Cara dragging her along by the rope around her arms, which was fixed to her collar. Kahlan stumbling after her across the camp, past dozens of soldiers trying to catch a glimpse, knowing Cara wouldn't stop - couldn't stop - if she fell ...
It shouldn't have sent a quiver through Kahlan's insides. And the prospect of what they were facing shouldn't have filled her with delight.
After a year in Aydindril, ruling and judging, this - being on the road; being tied up inside an enemy camp; being vastly outnumbered with only a daring plan against seemingly overwhelming odds - this was freedom, and Kahlan's spirits soared with the joy of it.
To think she almost hadn't let Cara convince her to come ...
"You will do no such thing," Cara interrupted rudely. "I captured her, and I will keep her. She's mine to train. Hand me the rada'han."
The general made to protest, but Cara had seen where his eyes went, and was upon the chest already, pulling the precious, rare magic-restricting metal collar out. No one dared stop her.
"Not that I need it," she said with a smirk. "But there's so much more fun to be had if I can actually touch her skin."
Kahlan's eyes were wide and fixed on the rada'han. She shivered. Its promise echoed in her mind.
Cara crouched next to Kahlan, pulling her up by the rope around her neck. Their eyes met.
Kahlan lifted her tied arms at the same moment that Cara pulled a hidden dagger, and the sharp blade sliced through rope and wrappings with a single smooth cut, freeing Kahlan's hands. A moment later the dagger was in Kahlan's own hand, and she whirled to her feet. Four officers, an aide, and the general. Kahlan knew her target.
She lunged at the general, dagger in her left, her right hand outstretched. Behind her, Cara's agiel whined as the Mord'Sith went into action.
One of the officers next to the general was quicker than the others and opened his mouth to call out, sound the alarm. The small dagger flew from Kahlan's hand into the man's throat, and he fell.
Behind her, another muffled noise, Cara silencing a cry before it could sound.
A second officer rushed at Kahlan. A kick and a twist, a second kick to make sure he was down. Kahlan pulled the man's sword from his belt as she rose.
Then something bumped into her from behind - Cara, pushed backwards by the sheer force of a kick that had hit home - but letting it land had been strategic, Kahlan realised a moment later as Cara took advantage of her attacker's closeness to slam her agiel into his throat, and the man crumpled to the ground.
Cara kicked at his head for good measure. He wasn't getting up any time soon.
A moment Kahlan had reached her target. The general's sword was coming at Kahlan. She caught it with her own, letting its force push towards her, only turning it aside at the last moment, when the man was close enough for her hand to reach his throat. Her power released.
"Command me, Confessor," he rasped, falling to his knees, at the same moment as the last of the others fell onto the carpet, knocked unconscious.
It had taken only moments, and no one had raised the alarm.
"They can't tell one Mord'Sith from the other," Cara said disdainfully. "They fear us, but they don't see us."
Chaos was king in D'Hara. When Cara had followed the rumours of a rada'han, she hadn't expected to stumble across a rogue D'Haran battalion from before the fall of Darken Rahl, seeking to make an empire for itself, much less to find it allied with one of the remaining Mord'Sith temples.
The plans had changed quickly, from a treasure hunt to a desperate attempt to stop the invasion of the nearby border country of Thentalia.
Now the group of Mord'Sith was on the prowl, following the rumours they'd planted about the Mother Confessor - and Cara and Kahlan were set to bluff their way into the enemy camp.
Never mind that Cara looked almost alien like this, in full Mord'Sith armour and with her hair - magically regrown by Zedd - in the severe Mord'Sith style she hadn't worn since the Sisterhood of the Agiel had cast her out. Never mind that it all made the insides of Kahlan's chest and stomach shiver. It was the perfect ruse.
Zedd and Richard would keep the Mord'Sith away from the camp until Cara and Kahlan had done their part. The old gang, together again. It felt fantastic, and Kahlan and Richard were finally comfortable with each other again, after the tense period following their break-up.
They fit together so much better on the road than they had managed in Aydindril. Kahlan still wasn't sure why that wasn't true of Cara, too - why a Mord'Sith should find herself more comfortable in the Confessors' Palace than the Seeker had. But Cara had stayed with her, when Richard had found it necessary to leave.
So many things had changed over the last year. But she couldn't regret any of it.
Confess, and give her orders, just as planned.
The Mord'Sith, when they returned, would very likely suspect something. But the army's progress toward Thentalia was stopped, at least for now, and by the time the rogue D'Haran forces managed to remove their compromised leadership and reorganise their campaign - if they did - reinforcements would have arrived, and Thentalia would be ready.
Cara picked up the rada'han where it had fallen during the fight, smiled down at it and tucked it away under her armour.
It was a risk - a series of risks - start to finish, and Kahlan wanted all of it, which was why she'd resisted it so fiercely.
Leaving Aydindril: she had a duty there, and she couldn't absent herself merely to pursue a personal quest. Never mind rumours of one of the few remaining rada'hans in existence, never mind the temptation.
"You're frustrated," Cara had said. "Your judgement is suffering." Translated from the Mord'Sith, she was telling Kahlan not to be so strict with herself. Which, coming from her, was rather rich.
Eventually Kahlan had let herself be persuaded. And thank the Creator for that: they'd never have discovered the impending invasion of Thentalia in time, otherwise.
Their mad, scrambling plan to defeat or at least delay it - now that was dangerious in a more immediate sense. Cara impersonating a Mord'Sith from the temple allied with the D'Harans, Kahlan letting herself be brought into the enemy camp with her hands tied, her most powerful weapon and defence rendered inaccessible, was almost reckless. And Zedd and Richard, wizard and Seeker, magic users both, playing bait and leading the searching Mord'Sith astray, no less so.
Kahlan had to keep suppressing a grin. It was exhilarating. And if they could pull it off, it would be more than worth the results.
They met up again outside the camp, grinning at each other in triumph. When they were safely ensconced in their hide-out inside a dry cave, lit just enough by a small gap in the rock wall, Kahlan scribbled a note in the journey book they had stored here along with their things, letting Richard and Zedd know they could stop leading the Mord'Sith on a wild-goose chase.
Now they only had to hide out until the soldiers on patrol and the Mord'Sith on their hunt had returned to camp and the new orders from the Confessed general and his staff had propagated. Then they'd meet up with Richard and Zedd again, and hurry to Thentalia to prepare them for what still might come.
Waiting: it should have been tedious, but Kahlan was strung tight, tension running through her. She was entirely too aware of Cara's body and her own, and of the rada'han Cara had taken with her.
To think that if not for the rada'han, they would never have come here.
Kahlan could almost hear Cara's voice in her mind, see the grin that accompanied it: Sometimes it pays to be selfish.
Now, Cara sat up from where she'd slouched on top of a blanket, watching Kahlan change back into her travel dress. She leaned over toward Kahlan.
Kahlan swallowed, licked her lips.
Cara reached for the rope collar still in place around Kahlan's throat, her hand sliding along to the knot. Kahlan closed her eyes. Her skin felt raw, oversensitive, overheated.
A sudden, sharp tug, and her head jerked forward as her eyes flew wide open: Cara, rather untying or cutting the collar, had hooked a finger under it, pulling Kahlan forward with a jerk.
Cara's grin was wide, dangerous. "You like it when I manhandle you."
Kahlan flushed, but her eyes didn't quite manage to move from Cara's. Yes. Her throat was too tight to get the word out, but if Cara couldn't read it on her face, in her eyes, in every line of her body, she wasn't Cara.
"Well," Cara said finally, brightly, "you are my captive, aren't you? Mord'Sith know exactly what to do with a woman like you." She did look the part, her hair still long and braided, though she'd removed the corset and the neck guard of her Mord'Sith armour. Her smirk was all Mord'Sith, too, but the gleam in her eye said personal. It only made her look more dangerous, and more appealing.
A moment later the rada'han dangled from Cara's red-gloved index finger, a temptation and a promise. Transfixed, Kahlan nodded. That was why they'd come, after all.
Cara's left hand slowly, almost gently pulled the rope away from Kahlan's neck; her right pulled a dagger from Kahlan's boot sheath and inserted the tip between skin and rope. The rope fell away.
Then it was cold metal around her neck instead. Instinctively, reflexively, reacting to the danger she was all too well aware of, Kahlan's hand went to Cara's throat. Cara smirked at the implied threat, stopping less to reassure Kahlan than to taunt her.
Finally Kahlan breathed out, long and trembling, and let her hand fall down again. She'd waited so long for this.
"Ready now?" Cara asked, mock-sweetly.
More than. Kahlan nodded. A second later the rada'han locked firmly into place, and she shivered.
It was dangerous, not because of Cara - though Cara was never not dangerous; that was a part of her so essential that Cara was unthinkable without it - but because Kahlan couldn't get out of it, even if she needed to. Her most powerful defence was taken from her, and only Cara could release her.
But, after all, there was danger in the other direction, too. She could never risk it without a rada'han. She hadn't risked it, no matter how much she'd yearned. How much they'd both ached for it.
With orgasm, a Confessor's powers released - and if there were any skin contact at all, her lover would be Confessed. Or, in the case of a Mord'Sith, Confessed and killed. No matter what taunts Cara made about self-control, Kahlan could never risk it.
But with the rada'han in place, it was safe. Not easy, and not free of its own danger, but safe for Cara, and that was what mattered.
Kahlan swallowed down her nervousness and leaned forward, eyes fixed on Cara.
Cara smirked and hooked her finger under the metal collar, pulling Kahlan the rest of the way towards her until their lips met.
Time slipped away. Clothes only just put on vanished again. Skin slipped against skin, mouth against mouth, safe, with no fear. Danger held back by a band of metal, freeing her, freeing them both.
Dark hair, flowing free; a long braid pooling beside Kahlan's head.
Soon, Kahlan was breathing hard. She could hardly believe she could do this. The rada'han made it safe. Oh god, yes. She was so close.
Cara was on top of her, fingers buried deep inside Kahlan, thumb rubbing against her clit, driving Kahlan closer and closer to the edge. Her kiss-swollen lips closed first around one nipple, then the other, sucking, biting, licking.
Suddenly Cara's heads lifted, her hand withdrew, and she sat up. Kahlan's body surged towards her, and she let out a desperate whine.
Cara smirked, wiping her hand on the blanket. She moved back, away, sat on the blanket next to Kahlan's bare thighs. One hand went to Kahlan's neck.
"Shhh," she said. A caress, over and around the collar -
Click. The rada'han opened.
"No!" Kahlan cried, urgently, fear crashing over her like icy water. "You can't, you have to -" Her hands were at her collar, trying to fix the rada'han into place again, but Cara had the advantage and pulled it away, threw it clean across the cave.
"I don't have to do anything," Cara told her with a smirk. Sitting apart, not touching. Then she pulled one of her agiels from the heap of discarded clothing and lifted it between them like a salute.
"What - what are you doing?" Kahlan asked, trying to sit up, disoriented, disconcerted, needing.
"No skin contact. No touch," Cara said slyly. "Only this."
No, Kahlan thought. She hadn't risked it before for a reason. No. Yes. Please. Oh god, Cara -
She fell back, trembling, as Cara's agiel whined at her collarbone, too loud in Kahlan's ear, too close. It didn't touch, hovered millimetres from her skin, but something radiated from it even so, something powerful, something overwhelming. Then it began trailing downwards.
Kahlan bit her lip, struggling to lie still, the arousal she'd briefly been shocked out of returning in full force, the threat-and-promise of the agiel travelling downwards over her belly only heightening her awareness of every inch of skin.
For an instant, the agiel hovered in place. Then, suddenly, too quick for Kahlan to do more than gasp, it stabbed down.
Pain so intense it felt like pleasure, pleasure so overwhelming it hurt - there was no distinction as it rolled over Kahlan. Her body arched, and she keened, awash in a tide of magic and pain and sudden, shocking pleasure. Her body shook with her release, Confessor power rushing from her in waves -
- waves that dissipated into the air, affecting no one, because no one had touched her skin, after all.
The tip of Cara's agiel had touched Kahlan's clit only for a second .
Cara leaned forward and grinned, and crushed their lips together as soon as the magic cleared from the air.
"No," Cara said categorically. "No more petitions today. Not one more."
And she dragged Kahlan - actually physically dragged her, to the bemusement of the palace servants - out of her office and down the hallway towards the baths.
It was six months since they'd come to Aydindril, three since Richard had left, and Cara's patience had finally snapped.
The inhabitants of the Confessors' Palace had grown used to the Mord'Sith who'd made her home here, and Kahlan suspected they'd come to regard Cara with no small relief: the only person here who didn't consider herself bound by the Mother Confessor's orders, the only one willing and ready to override Kahlan's will if necessary.
It was a relief to Kahlan as well.
She was a stubborn woman, and as Mother Confessor she was the ultimate authority in the Midlands. But Cara, when she didn't want to be moved, could make herself unmoveable.
Kahlan sank into the steaming waters with a moan. Cara had been right. She needed this - needed a break.
"I could kiss you," she said, words like a sigh, tension flowing out of her, melting into the heat of the bath.
"You could," Cara said.
And because Cara's eyes were gleaming with challenge, Kahlan did.
Kahlan nodded. "We need to get back to Thentalia."
They busied themselves packing up their campsite, not looking at each other. Kahlan hadn't known what to say, afterwards, and Cara - well, Cara was almost always more comfortable with the unspoken.
"You were right," Kahlan said abruptly.
"I'm always right," Cara announced confidently. Then her eyebrows went up. "About what was I right, exactly?"
Kahlan smiled fondly at her. "The rada'han," she said, and pretended not to notice Cara suddenly going very still. "Coming here. Finding it. Using it." She swallowed. "Taking it off."
She'd needed it. The rada'han had made it safe. No risk of Kahlan coming unexpectedly, of being unable to hold back. Cara had been careful, had only removed it after she'd sat well away.
But Cara had removed it.
No matter how much Kahlan needed the safety, the assurance of the magical restraint, she also resented it, hated having part of herself locked away. And of course Cara knew. If anyone understood railing against your limits, against being held back, it was Cara.
Of course Cara would know what to do, how to have the rada'han's safety and her unrestrained freedom, too.
Cara breathed out. "Of course I was."
"Of course you were," Kahlan agreed. She hooked her arm through Cara's, and they left the cave behind, setting out on their trek across the forest.
Always Cara. Always her. Always them.