"A great marriage is not when the 'perfect couple' comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences."
1. Creatormas Is Here, The War is Over
"Angel, or star?"
It was an old custom in the Midlands to decorate a tree for Creatormas. Now that the war was over, and the Midlands were part of the D'Haran Empire, Lord and Lady Rahl observed the tradition together.
D'Hara was arid enough that tall evergreen trees were uncommon, but cultural contamination couldn't go all one way. Nor should it.
Angels were no longer popular in the Midlands, Darken knew. These days it was the good spirits who guided people through their lives, not the angels and ministers of grace. Faith had its fashions, just like anything else.
Kahlan looked up from the tiny silver bell she was hanging from one branch. Her eyes were blank and dark. The bell tinkled faintly when she let go.
"Does it matter?" she asked dully.
Darken controlled a flash of irritation. He knew it was too much to expect his wife to enter into the spirit of Creatormas so soon after she had lost the war and her beloved Seeker.
But he would not let Kahlan hide in polite insincerity. She might hate him, she might fight him, but her indifference itched an excruciating path all the way to his soul.
"Why don't you just have a servant do this?" Kahlan asked, gesturing at the tree with one hand. The other rested on the faint swell of her stomach, where their child already grew. It seemed an unconscious gesture.
"And go against tradition?" Darken asked in mock horror. If he couldn't make Kahlan smile, he could at least make her frown. "Mother Confessor, I'm shocked."
Never mind that he had never decorated a tree of any kind before, and it was only thanks to Kahlan's unerring taste that the whole was not covered lopsidedly with upside-down bells and singed tinsel.
Kahlan threw down the last of the silver bells. It shattered against the stone floor of the throne room.
"This is pointless," she hissed. "Send someone if you require my presence."
She swept majestically toward the door.
Darken held up the two choices for topmost decoration. "Angel, or star?" he repeated, as patiently as he could.
"Star," Kahlan said grudgingly, and left.
The war was over. The Midlands and D'Hara, at peace at last—or as much peace was possible without the power of Orden. The Seeker was dead, but he'd had the sheer careless cruelty to kill Cara, and the folly to destroy Orden as well.
And now it was the first Creatormas Darken had ever truly wanted to spend with his family. Kahlan, and their unborn child, were his family now.
The war might be over, but Darken didn't know how to stop fighting. And he had brought the heart of the conflict into his own household.
He smiled wryly, and climbed up on a chair to place the angel on top of the Creatormas tree.
Angels and ministers of grace watch over us all, Darken Rahl prayed without a trace of mockery.
2. You Better Not Cry
Chill rain misted against the window in Nicholas's room. Dusk was falling. Outside all was gray.
With a sigh, Kahlan went to draw the curtains. They were red, of course. For D'Hara, not for Creatormas, although no doubt Darken would claim otherwise.
Nicholas was just a baby, far too young to appreciate the expectant stocking hooked to the corner of his crib.
Kahlan turned away from the window at the sound of her tiny son stirring. He started to cry, and she picked him up and rocked him against her shoulder, singing soothing nonsense. She'd dismissed his nurse, wanting this time alone before the official Creatormas celebrations.
Nicholas kept crying.
"Are you hungry, sweetheart?" Kahlan asked. "Or is it your teeth coming in?"
She picked up the metal ring Darken had spelled to be perpetually cold and gave it to Nicholas to gum. His cries gradually subsided.
Kahlan kissed her son's forehead and walked back to the window with him still in her arms.
"That was kind of your father," she commented. Kahlan had found the cold teething ring clutched in Nicholas's tiny fist last week, and when she confronted Darken about it he'd seemed to regard both the kind thought and the necessary magic hardly worth mentioning.
He hadn't done it for her; he'd done it for Nicholas.
It was getting darker. Kahlan reached one-handed for a firestick, and lit the candle on the nightstand.
A sudden wave of sorrow swept over her. This was her second Creatormas without Dennee.
She missed Richard with furious intensity, but Creatormas was a time for family. She hated that her sister was no longer here to share it with her.
Worse, she knew that when Richard returned and erased this world, Dennee would still be dead. Her sister had died on Valeria rather than surrender to the tyrant Kahlan named husband.
Lighting candles for lost loved ones was a tradition for Keeper's Day, not Creatormas.
Kahlan didn't care. She lit another candle, this one set on the windowsill. The reflection against the glass was flickering and lonely.
Kahlan felt the tears gathering treacherously at the corners of her eyes.
Nicholas murmured indistinctly, around the teething ring.
Kahlan cuddled him close, breathing in his sweet baby smell. She knew if she started to cry now, she might not stop for the next fifty-six and a half years.
But that was the problem. Kahlan wasn't sure she would be weeping only for herself and Richard anymore.
"I care too much," she told Nicholas shakily. "I always have. I love you with all my heart, even though I know I shouldn't. No male Confessor has ever withstood the temptation of our power. You'll grow up and kill us all, and it will serve Darken right."
Kahlan knew her son would be a monster. And yet. Always 'and yet'.
She blew out the candle on the windowsill, turning away from the gray outside world. Her prayers felt as insubstantial as the flames.
3. I Can Feel It in My Fingers, I Can Feel It in My Toes
"Dear Lady Rahl, you look so lovely!" Lady Selachii fawned. She'd been talking Kahlan's ear off all evening. "What do you call the way you dress your hair?"
"I call it, 'the way I dress my hair,'" Kahlan replied flatly. She never interfered with the elaborate coiffures her maid, Alice, arranged for her; Alice combined a genius for hair with a total lack of it in other areas.
It was a pity that Kahlan must depend on Alice to tell Nicholas how to help Richard if she herself should die before he was old enough to understand.
But Kahlan dismissed that problem for tonight. It was Creatormas, and the aristocracy of both the Midlands and D'Hara filled her husband's halls.
Lady Selachii wasn't even the worst of them. She was staring at Kahlan now, in hurt confusion. Kahlan was annoyed to find that she felt guilty.
"My lady." Darken was suddenly at her side, as though he belonged there. "Dance with me."
Always an order, Kahlan thought in irritation. Never a request.
Still, she was glad to escape Lady Selachii, and whatever her own opinion of her husband, she would never undermine her dignity by quarreling with him in public.
Kahlan extended her hand to Darken quite regally. He swept her out onto the floor.
The music was lively, and the steps of the archaic D'Haran dance complex enough that Kahlan had to concentrate on keeping her footing.
Darken never missed a beat, every step as smooth as was his expert handling of the conquered Midlands.
Kahlan had once feared he would crush them, but instead he had given more titles in the past few years than even the Mother Confessor would have dared, and more concessions than she would have deemed possible. Now the lands were thriving.
Kahlan was flushed with joyful exertion by the time the dance ended. She felt alive all the way from her hair to her toes.
Darken was looking down at her with an oddly tender expression.
Kahlan waited breathlessly. They were on the brink of something, and perhaps it was the magic of Creatormas, but she wouldn't break the moment.
Darken cupped her face gently with both hands and pressed his lips to hers.
The kiss was gentle at first, but quickly became more heated. Kahlan curled her fingers around Darken's vest possessively, and he ran his hands through her hair, probably ruining her coiffure.
Passion triumphed over reason for Kahlan. It had been so long. She had not returned to Darken's bed after she knew she carried Nicholas.
No doubt he sought his pleasure elsewhere. Not that she cared.
Bitterness rose in her, only heating her blood further, and she wrenched herself out of her husband's arms.
She stood staring into those bright blue eyes, warm with concern and affection for her. Awareness of Darken, of herself, of the present moment made Kahlan dizzy.
What was she doing?
4. Love Actually
Darken opened his eyes. It was the first time he'd woken without pain in at least a week.
He lay in bed. Candles and boughs of Creatormas greenery decorated the room, and there was parchment piled high on his nightstand.
Kahlan sat curled in an armchair not far from Darken's bed, clearly asleep. She was absently clutching one of Nicholas's toys, a tiny golden dragon.
Darken tried to sit up, and his breath hissed out in pain. He'd never felt so weak.
Kahlan woke at once. She hurried to Darken, felt his forehead and peered into his eyes.
"Kahlan," Darken said.
She started to cry, but she was smiling too. She threw her arms around Darken and gave him a teary but fervent kiss.
Darken returned it. Kahlan's presence, her obvious relief at his recovery, had already done much to restore his strength.
The past week was coming back to him now, memories clouded by illness. The poisoned arrow that had pierced his thigh, the sudden disorientation…And then being here, in bed, while grave wizards examined him.
Most of all, he remembered Kahlan. She'd been in his room, sitting in that armchair, while the magical fever induced by the poison raged through his blood. Sometimes she sang or spoke, bathed his forehead with lavender water or brought Nicholas so that Darken would know his son was safe. Mostly she had just been there, watching over him.
If that was not love, Darken would never know what was.
"Nicholas?" Darken asked urgently. He needed to hear that his son was all right.
"He'll be so happy you're better," Kahlan said, wiping her wet cheeks with her sleeve. "A Creatormas miracle."
"What of the assassin?" Darken asked next. "Did Dahlia catch him?"
Kahlan nodded. "Everything's fine. Dahlia was wonderful. She hasn't done anything permanent yet. She says she's waiting for your orders."
"And the rebels? Is the Resistance—?" Darken flung the coverlet back, preparatory to getting up. He'd been lying here helpless for a whole week! Anything might have happened.
"Relax," Kahlan ordered. "Dahlia thinks the assassin was working alone. You know the Resistance is utterly disbanded, and I don't believe many of them even desire your death anymore. The amnesty and the peace have been good for everyone."
Her voice was warm with approval, and hoarse with exhaustion. Darken noticed the absence of her usual bitterness at having to admit he knew how to run his—their—empire, and his heart lifted.
"I'm looking after our people," Kahlan reassured. "You just concentrate on getting better. I should get the Healer."
She rose, but Darken caught her wrist. I love you, he thought but couldn't say. Thank you, he tried. But that seemed insufficient to express his feelings.
"Don't go far," he demanded softly.
"I won't," Kahlan promised.
5. Baby New Year
Nicholas loved Creatormas. Everyone was happy then.
Saint Nick brought him lots of presents this year. It made Nicholas feel special that he and Saint Nick had the same name.
Creatormas was over now. But Mommy and Daddy acted like there was still something important to look forward to.
Mommy was going to have another baby. Nicholas didn't understand why that was more important than Creatormas.
But his new toys didn't hold his attention. Finally Mistress Garen came to get him. She took him into his parents' room.
Mommy and Daddy sat on the bed. Mommy was holding a bundle that must be the new baby.
She was crying. Nicholas was worried at first, but then Mommy looked up and saw him and smiled.
"Come and meet your new sister, Nicholas," Daddy said.
Nicholas didn't move.
"What's the matter, sweetheart?" Mommy asked.
Nicholas's fears burst from him in a rush of speech. "You're gonna pay more attention to her, and forget all about me!"
Daddy came over to Nicholas and picked him up. Nicholas snuggled against Daddy's shoulder. He always felt safe when he was in Daddy's arms.
Daddy sat back down on the bed with Nicholas on his lap.
Nicholas could see the baby from here. She was tiny, and she didn't have any hair at all. But her eyes were blue like Daddy's and Mommy's and Nicholas's.
"Her name is Dara," Mommy said. She and Daddy looked at one another over Nicholas's head. "Would you like to hold her?"
Nicholas held out his arms obediently. Mommy didn't let go of Dara all the way. She kept one hand under the baby's head.
Dara blinked up at Nicholas. He sat very still. He was worried he would drop her.
Maybe having a little sister wouldn't be so bad, Nicholas thought.
"Is she a Confessor like me and Mommy?" he asked.
"No, she's not," Mommy said. "She's Pristinely Ungifted."
Nicholas wrinkled his nose at the unfamiliar words. "What's that?"
"It means she doesn't have any magic," Daddy explained.
"Not at all?" Nicholas was shocked. "How do you know?"
Mommy and Daddy shared another mysterious look.
"Confessors always know," Mommy said.
"My sister is Pristinely Ungifted also," Daddy said at the same time.
Nicholas opened his mouth to ask more questions. He didn't know Daddy had a sister! But then Dara started to cry, and Mommy took her back.
Mommy pulled down her bodice to feed Dara. The baby stopped crying and started to suck. Mommy and Dara both looked so happy.
Nicholas watched, feeling left out.
"Come on," Daddy said cheerfully. He got up and held out a hand. Nicholas took it. "Today is the first day of the new year, which means…"
"Fireworks!" Nicholas finished, bouncing excitedly.
Today he'd got a new sister, and now Daddy was going to take him to see the fireworks from on top of the roof of the palace.
Nicholas thought he liked the new year better than Creatormas this year.
6. Silver and Gold
"Doll!" Dara shrieked happily. She didn't let go of her new toy even when opening her other gifts.
Kahlan smiled fondly at her tiny daughter. Dara ripped away the paper of yet another gift one-handed, while Nicholas murmured military dialogue to himself as he marched his toy soldiers behind the Creatormas tree.
The scene was pleasingly domestic, and Kahlan was glad the four of them could celebrate Creatormas morning as a family.
She could only hope that in years to come Jennsen would join them. She was Darken and Richard's sister, after all.
And yet it was only thanks to Kahlan and Dahlia's joint efforts to baby-proof the palace when Dara learned to crawl that Jennsen had not succeeded in her desperate plan to murder both Darken and Kahlan.
So many things were protected only by magic. Dara was Pristinely Ungifted, and the most dangerous and secret corners of the palace were easy for her to find.
If it were not for Dara, Jennsen might have killed them all. She considered Darken a tyrant and Kahlan a traitor.
No matter what Kahlan did, it seemed the past would always haunt her.
"You haven't opened your gift," Darken said softly. He kissed her hair before handing her a small box wrapped in golden paper.
Kahlan still thought of that paper as a ridiculous extravagance. She'd never even seen anything like it before she married Darken and became the queen of D'Hara.
Inside was a box. Inside the box was a diamond necklace set in gold.
Kahlan did not care very much for jewelry in general, but the necklaces Darken gave her were different.
During that awful week when Darken had been poisoned, something had changed between them.
Kahlan had not been prepared for the strength of her reaction. Her combined relief and exhaustion when he finally awoke lucid had made it impossible to hide her true feelings, from Darken or from herself.
Not long afterward, Darken surprised her by giving her the key to her Rada'Han.
Now Kahlan smiled her thanks for the necklace, and pulled her hair out of the way. Darken fastened the diamonds around her neck.
Kahlan reached up to feel the cool stones. She had always thought silver suited her complexion better than gold, but the Rada'Han had been silver.
Her wedding ring was gold. Gold was a warmer metal. It did not imprison her.
"Well?" she asked lightly. "How do I look?"
"Beautiful," Darken said simply. "Always."
Kahlan did not admire her own appearance, except for her hair, but in Darken's eyes she was beautiful. She resolved to use them as her mirror from now on.
7. A Creatormas Carol
"Twas the night before Creatormas," Kahlan sang softly. "And all through the house…"
Nicholas gravely stirred the cookie batter. Darken had no confidence in his own ability to make Creatormas cookies, so he just watched.
Dara banged a metal spoon against one of Mrs. Millicuddy's best pots. Darken winced, more at the thought of what his head cook would say if Dara dented it than at the noise.
Kahlan swapped the metal spoon for a wooden one, not missing a note of her Creatormas carol. "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."
"Garie eats mice, you know," Nicholas informed his parents seriously.
"Not on Creatormas," Kahlan said, ruffling her son's hair. "The mouse was perfectly safe."
Rather hard on Nicholas's kitten, though, Darken thought.
"Creatormas isn't like the rest of the year," Kahlan said. "It's special. It's the birthday of the very first people, when the Creator and the Keeper came together at the beginning of time and made the world."
"Now it's an excellent opportunity for merchants to line their pockets with gold," Darken said cynically. He'd never been particularly impressed by the origin of Creatormas.
"Why—" Nicholas began to ask, fascinated.
"Keep stirring, sweetheart," Kahlan said. She managed to smile at Nicholas and frown at Darken at the same time. "I'll check the batter in a little bit."
She yanked Darken's sleeve and he hopped off the table to join her by the huge fireplace.
Nicholas probably still could have heard them, but then Dara discovered banging the wooden spoon against the heavy table leg made a satisfying thwacking sound.
"What do you mean by insulting the Creator that way?" Kahlan hissed. "This holiday is not about gold, or even gifts. Why do you think I wanted us to make cookies as a family?"
Technically, it was Kahlan and Nicholas who were actually making the cookies, but it was true there was no place Darken would rather be on Creatormas Eve than the kitchen, from which Kahlan had banished Mrs. Millicuddy and her minions in the kindest way possible.
"The Creator never did anything for me," Darken said. It was an old anger, not really at Kahlan. But he didn't know how she could be so confident about the true meaning of Creatormas, as though it were different from any other day of the year.
Kahlan glanced at Nicholas and Dara, each still absorbed in his or her own task. "How can you say that?" his wife whispered. "We have been blessed with three wonderful children."
Three? For a moment, Darken wondered if Kahlan were losing her mind.
Then she looked at him with wide, bright blue eyes, and Darken understood.
He spread a gentle hand over her corseted stomach. It must be very early. Far too soon to feel tiny flickers of movement through Kahlan's skin. Another baby. Darken did feel blessed.
Kahlan stroked his cheek and leaned their foreheads together.
"You need to have faith," she insisted.
8. Sleigh Ride
The sleigh bells jingled cheerfully as the Rahl family ventured out into the snow. Nicholas had his face pressed to one window, and Dara was only frustrated in climbing out of the other by Darken's firm grip.
Kahlan had baby Dacey in her arms, wrapped up warmly. There were several outriders, and Dahlia and Garen were both with them, but she couldn't help worrying this trip had been a mistake.
Snow was so rare in D'Hara. They should have stayed in the palace and built snow castles with the children. Now was the wrong time for this visit.
"You seem tense," Darken commented. "You're not worried about going to see Ilithyia and Rachel?"
"And Martha," Kahlan said automatically. "And her whole family. Of course I'm not worried about visiting Lady Middenbury."
Ilithyia Middenbury was a childhood friend of Darken's who had married a lord of the Midlands. When they were attacked by Queen Milena of Tamarang, Lord Middenbury had been killed and their daughter, Rachel, kidnapped.
Rachel and Lady Middenbury had both assumed the other was dead, until Kahlan had put the story together. She and Darken reunited mother and daughter. The process had stirred many difficult memories.
It was not Lady Middenbury Kahlan was worried about seeing. It was Rachel.
Rachel, who had helped Richard and Kahlan and Zedd steal the third Box of Orden so long ago. Rachel, who reminded Kahlan of being Richard's Confessor.
It seemed like another life now. Kahlan was amazed at the foolish girl she had been.
But she still loved Richard. She always would.
In her nightmares, Richard erased this world and plunged the Sword of Truth into Darken's chest, as was surely meant to be. And in her nightmares, Richard returned and a much older Darken smiled while Mord'Sith forced Richard to die in agony.
One or the other seemed inevitable.
Kahlan still sometimes wished Darken had killed her after Nicholas was born, so she could have escaped this agony of indecision. Or if Nicholas were evil, or Darken a truly oppressive tyrant instead of a benevolent dictator…
Then she would have known what to do.
Only her duty should matter. But she had always cared too much.
At last, the sleigh slid to a gentle stop. They had arrived at the Middenburys' castle.
Darken, Kahlan, and the children were surrounded as soon as they came into the entrance hall. Kahlan noticed Dara's feet were wet, and frowned.
Garen saw her look and tugged Dara's boots off, while Martha and Rachel swarmed around Kahlan to exclaim over the baby.
"Can I hold her?" Rachel asked reverently.
In spite of herself, Kahlan glanced at Darken before carefully transferring Dacey to Rachel's arms.
He knew Rachel had been a child of the Resistance. But he was chatting easily with Lady Middenbury.
Darken and Rachel had both put the war behind them. It was in the past. At that moment, Kahlan wished it would stay that way forever.
9. Up On a Housetop
"I love you."
Darken was warmed by his wife's words. Kahlan meant more to him than he could ever adequately express. After everything she had suffered, everything he had done to hurt her, that she loved him—he felt blessed with happiness he knew he didn't deserve.
Darken and Kahlan stood on the roof of the People's Palace. It was a crisp, clear day, the last of this particular year, and the view from up here was spectacular. They could see for leagues upon leagues in every direction.
Darken had eyes only for Kahlan.
He kissed her, and she melted into his embrace.
But after a moment she pulled away, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and said, "Jennsen should come and see the fireworks with us this year."
Darken stiffened. While it was true that Jennsen was his sister, and he didn't believe her a threat after Dahlia had broken her, he could not quite forgive that she had tried to murder Kahlan.
"Perhaps," he said noncommittally. He wouldn't quarrel with Kahlan about Jennsen again. Not now.
"I have to tell you something," Kahlan said.
Darken raised his eyebrows and made a gesture inviting her to go on.
Kahlan took a deep breath.
"Richard is coming back," she said baldly. "He's not dead. He's fifty-eight years in the future with Cara and Orden. Forty-nine years, now."
Darken didn't move. He was horrified that the Seeker lived, bitterly jealous that his archenemy had stolen Cara and apparently remained at the center of Kahlan's thoughts, furious that once again the Seeker ruined everything, and deeply hurt that Kahlan had lied to him.
Then the reason for her deception occurred to him.
"I see," he said in a voice drained of all emotion. "When were you going to tell Nicholas you wish he'd never been born?"
They never spoke of Kahlan's desire to kill Nicholas at birth, out of fear of male Confessors. She no longer thought her son or his father deserved to die—or so Darken had believed.
"Richard can get back," Kahlan affirmed. She squeezed Darken's hands. "With Orden and Confession and agiel. But—Darken, look at me."
Darken met her grave blue eyes unwillingly. He half expected to see a stranger.
"That's not my plan anymore," Kahlan said. "I have a new plan."
Darken wondered why she was telling him this. The first wave of hot fury was starting to drain away, leaving an ugly depression. What a way to start the new year.
"Did you know Dara can't see nightwisps?" Kahlan said, apropos of nothing.
Darken didn't reply.
"I love you," Kahlan repeated. She brushed her fingers gently against Darken's cheek. "I need you to trust me."
Darken turned away without a word. He hardly knew what he was feeling.
"Where are you going?" Kahlan asked.
"I'm not in the mood for celebration," Darken replied harshly, and left before he could say something he'd regret.
10. I Sprang Out of Bed to See What Was the Matter
A shriek ripped through the air, shattering the peaceful silence.
Kahlan was out of bed before she was fully awake. She snatched one of her daggers off the nightstand, thrust her arms quickly through the velvet sleeves of her dressing gown, started for the door, and hit her knee on an antique screen.
Darken murmured a word. Light flared—every candle in the room was suddenly lit.
Kahlan blinked and ran a hand distractedly through her hair. Then she flung the door open.
A small, energetic body cannoned into her and hugged her knees. Kahlan let out her breath and stroked Dara's fair head with her free hand.
"Happy Creatormas, Mommy!" Dara shrieked somewhat indistinctly.
"What," Darken drawled from the bed, "is the meaning of this?"
Kahlan wasn't sure she approved of his using his Lord Rahl voice around the children, but they seemed to like it.
"The girls couldn't sleep," Nicholas explained. He was still in the hallway, holding Dacey's hand and playing with what Kahlan recognized as a whistle shaped like a dragon. "So we thought we'd come wake you."
"You've woken half the palace by now," Darken said. He tossed the coverlet aside, wrapped the sheet around his waist and drew back the curtains from the window. Faint pink fingers of dawn were just faintly visible. "Isn't Saint Nick only supposed to come for good children?"
Nicholas rolled his eyes at Kahlan. She knew he didn't believe in Saint Nick anymore. But he was too sweet a brother to spoil the illusion for Dara and Dacey.
Kahlan pulled Dara inside, setting her dagger beside its mate on the nightstand. The shriek had been Nicholas blowing the new whistle he'd found in his stocking. She recognized that now.
"You frightened your mother," Darken complained.
Kahlan smiled. He was so cranky in the mornings.
"Story!" Dara said imperiously, pressing a book that shouldn't have fit in her stocking on Darken.
He sighed theatrically, but sat on the bed and pulled Dacey into his lap. Dara and Nicholas sat down on his either side.
Kahlan, watching, found herself dwelling on how proud she was of them all, especially Nicholas. When she was his age, she had certainly not possessed his adroit control of the power of Confession. But Nicholas hated the way people feared him for his powers, and consequently took his mother's lessons on controlling them seriously.
As Darken's sinfully rich voice rose and fell with the drama of the story, Kahlan remembered the first time he'd spoken to her. Everything had changed since then, except for their passion. She'd hated him once, but she'd never been indifferent to him.
There were still nights when she woke with words ringing accusingly in her ears: What are you doing?
But Kahlan finally knew her answer. I'm giving my children a future, she thought.
Maybe she ought to give Nicholas her daggers. It was time to pass them on.
11. All I Want For Creatormas Is You
Jennsen reached for an ornament out of the box a servant carried down from the attic every year. It was a silver bell.
Darken saw Kahlan frown.
He set his glass of Eldorian golden wine aside, and strode over to his sister.
Dahlia stood beside Jennsen. Her face was impassive, but Darken had seen her tug gently on a lock of Jennsen's bright red hair a moment ago.
"Put that one back," he said easily.
Jennsen dropped the bell, and Darken waved a hand and concentrated. It, and all the others in the box, flashed instantly from silver to gold.
Dacey clapped her hands together and reached for a newly golden bell. "Want!" she insisted.
Nicholas lifted his little sister up so she could hook her chosen ornament on a branch near the top of the tree. Kahlan adjusted the balance of a candle, and Dara raced around the Creatormas tree, trailing tinsel behind her like a banner.
For a moment Darken just watched, enjoying the way they all took it so seriously. The world would not rise or fall on a Creatormas tree, and yet these little things were important. Amazingly so, in fact.
It was something small that had given Kahlan her idea for Richard's return. Darken did not think it guaranteed success, but he had explained the basics to Nicholas, who could be trusted to do what was right for his family.
He would always regret losing Cara, and the doom of the Seeker still hung over his head…but Darken watched his loved ones decorate a tree, and knew that he wouldn't change a thing.
And neither would Kahlan.
Darken reached into the box again and pulled out the topmost ornaments. "Angel, or star?" he asked.
"Angel," Kahlan chose.
"Are you sure?"
"I love them both," Kahlan said, taking the star and letting it fall back into the box of Creatormas decorations. "But I'm sure." And she smiled.
That smile caught at Darken's heart. Kahlan was incredible.
He did not underestimate the courage it had taken to tell him the truth. They had pretended everything was fine, for the children's sake, but it had taken some time for him to forgive her deception.
That he himself did not deserve her forgiveness had only made things harder.
It was Nicholas who placed the angel on top of the Creatormas tree. He stood on a chair, but he was getting taller—he was chest-high to Darken now.
Nicholas was growing up.
Darken reminded himself sternly that tyrants never wept, not even with pride in their children.
Darken raised his glass to Kahlan. She hooked her arm through his, and they sipped their wine that way. None spilled until Darken met Kahlan's brilliant blue eyes and they both started to laugh.
"What do you want for Creatormas?" Kahlan asked. Her eyes were still laughing.
Warmth seemed to spread outward from Darken's chest, filling his whole body with joy.
"You," he said simply.
12. The Ghost of Creatormas Past
"Come on!" a young voice exclaimed excitedly. "Fireworks!"
The owner of the voice, a girl in her teens, yanked Cara's arm and pulled the Mord'Sith from the room.
Cara rolled her eyes at Richard before allowing herself to be dragged away; Richard smiled briefly in response.
He and Cara had shared an experience no one else could begin to understand. They were refugees from another time, fifty-eight years in the past.
It had been six months since Richard and Cara had materialized on a lonely hill, only to meet Nicholas Rahl and his sisters.
Dara Rahl was Pristinely Ungifted. She had cut her palm as efficiently as someone preparing to write in a journeybook, and when her blood soaked into them, the Boxes of Orden disintegrated into dust.
Her calm and Nicholas's downright friendliness had actually reminded Richard of Kahlan. They both had her bright blue eyes, too.
Now Richard and Cara were stuck in this new world. Nicholas Rahl was a warmhearted leader routinely addressed as Grandfather Confessor, and his people did not need a Seeker.
They did need someone with intimate knowledge of Westland, however, even if the information was decades out of date.
And Kahlan wanted Richard to protect her children.
A little girl chose this moment to climb into Richard's lap. She yawned, snuggled closer against Richard's red velvet vest, and shut her eyes.
Automatically, Richard put an arm around the little girl. Her name, he remembered, was Azara Rahl, and her favorite color was orange.
It seemed incredible that this was Darken Rahl's legacy. But of course the peace between the Midlands and D'Hara had surely all been Kahlan's doing.
Richard missed Kahlan fiercely, with an almost physical ache. But he knew that she walked with the Creator.
As he held the sleeping Azara in his lap and watched the warm flames in the fireplace, Richard thought back to another Creatormas—one year, or fifty-nine years, ago.
Neither he nor Kahlan had had any gold to buy one another gifts. But Richard had charmed a village vendor into tying a lock of hair in the traditional lover's knot, one for each of them.
He still had that lock of Kahlan's hair.
Then the two of them had gotten into a snowball fight, because Kahlan had never played in the snow before. She hadn't been allowed.
And finally, that night, Kahlan had wanted Creatormas decorations. But Rahl had people searching for them, and they couldn't take the risk of lighting candles or ringing bells.
So Richard had told Kahlan to look up at the night sky. "The forest is our Creatormas tree," he had said. "And the stars our ornaments."
Richard sighed, and drew a much-creased letter from his breast pocket. One-handed, he turned the outer parchment upside-down so that a Creatormas ornament fell out. It was a star.
Richard took a deep breath, and once more unfolded the letter from his beloved that began:
My dearest Richard…