Richard spent most of the day refusing to think about why he was doing what he was doing. Cara was no one. She was part of the tortures that still gave him nightmares. She showed no remorse. She had hurt the one person he never wanted to be hurt. But he still couldn’t stand to see her give up all that she’d fought for. He knew her. He’d spent more time in her company than Zedd or Kahlan could dream of and he wasn’t going to give up on her.
He fought long and hard all day. He went against Kahlan, a once unheard of thought. He even did the one thing he swore he wouldn’t; he became Lord Rahl for Cara. He forced her to his will, something he detested. He detested it because it was what kept him from Kahlan, because it was what Denna had done to him and what Cara had done to others. But he knew the two of them knew how to break that forced will and that bound them together.
She was obviously proud of him for taking his title. She must have wanted it. Part of him wondered if she’d manipulated him into doing it. She fought against it, probably not wanting to betray someone she thought of as family, but she was devoted to him and to who she thought he was. Maybe he was that. But for right then, he knew that if she could give up her family to serve him, then he could give up his pride to save her.
When he failed and she was going to die anyway, he wasn’t going to allow it. Perhaps it would destroy him in Kahlan’s eyes, but he couldn’t help himself. He was the Seeker and he would not see murder being done, no matter the cause, justification or people involved. He had a plan, a desperate plan. But in the end, he didn’t have to use it and he was, instead, able to count on the goodness and justice he knew belonged in Kahlan’s heart. And he didn’t even have to wonder if Cara would save Kahlan.
When they cleared the town Richard sent Kahlan out to wait for Zedd. She went willingly and he watched her go, hating what came next. He walked Cara back to her sister’s to gather her belongings.
“I suppose you want a thank you,” Cara said.
“No. You weren’t guilty.”
“I was, I am,” she said with a strangled voice and he looked at her.
The little girl she’d never gotten to be was in her eyes, tempered with years of self-control.
“I won’t say it’s okay,” he said. “But I’m sure your father knew you wouldn’t have done it if you’d known.”
“Perhaps he wasn’t the weak one,” she said bitterly. “Perhaps I was, to be fooled like that.”
“You were nine years old,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Nine year olds don’t get judged by the same standards as adults. You weren’t weak, Cara. You were passionate.”
She glanced at him sideways.
“An interesting word choice.”
“Don’t forget I know you better than anyone would think.”
“Yes, and I you, Lord Rahl.”
“That was a temporary thing,” he said, knowing it was useless.
He had ultimately won the day, but she had won her greatest victory.
“It never is,” she said, finally smiling. “You are Lord Rahl now. I serve and protect you.”
“But…” he fell silent.
“But the Confessor,” she finished.
“I know you aren’t the same person who killed Dennee, but Kahlan can’t see that.”
“She has great strength,” Cara said. “She would have made a fine Mord’Sith were it possible.”
“Don’t, don’t say that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said curtly, after a moment. “Perhaps you haven’t spent as much time in our temples as I have, but I believe you spent enough.”
“Five seconds is too much,” he said, swallowing hard. “Anyway, I just…Kahlan means the world to me.”
“I would not hurt your precious Kahlan if it meant hurting you, my lord,” she said, her tone not entirely guileless. “I will not inconvenience her with my presence.”
“Cara, I don’t want you to go. I do need your help.”
“Of course you do,” she said, slowing as they came to Grace’s house. “But you are more than Lord Rahl, more than the Seeker. You are a simple woods guide.”
“You do know me,” he said wryly.
“And you will not hurt her if you can help it.”
“No, I can’t. But I don’t want to hurt you either.”
“Again you underestimate the Mord’Sith,” she said proudly. “We can handle anything.”
“Probably,” he agreed. “But if I can help you ever…”
“I shall be the one to help you.”
She turned to go and Richard put his hand on her arm. She looked at it like it was a foreign object.
“You wanted her to know,” he said quietly. She froze. “Last night. Oh, at first you tried to distract us from Valeria, but as soon as it came down to it, you wanted her to know it was you. You said it in the kindest way you knew how, but you wouldn’t have cared if she killed you and it was only me that kept you from seeking that.”
“You presume a lot,” she said finally.
He shook his head, coming around to face her.
“I know a lot. That’s why you came here too. Oh, it’s true you didn’t have anywhere else without me and you wanted to see your childhood home through your adult eyes, the eyes of someone not enslaved to Darken Rahl. But you wanted them to hate you, because even though you thought he deserved it, you hated yourself for killing your father.”
“Richard, stop,” she said tightly.
“Stop holding it in, Cara. It won’t do you any good. You’re not who you used to be. That little girl can grieve now. You wanted her to die so you wouldn’t be in so much pain and only your duty to me kept you from doing it.”
“Duty,” she cried, looking up at him, tears of long past on her cheeks. “My apologies, Lord Rahl, but you seem to think very highly of yourself for someone who doesn’t even want that title!”
“You’re right, I don’t,” he said, holding both her arms. She stepped backwards, but he stepped with her. “But at least I’m not going to be like you and say that it’s only my quest that needs you. I need you. Just me: Richard.”
She searched his eyes and stared into his face for what felt like forever. She apparently found what she was looking for because she grasped his arms and clutched tightly for a moment and then a mask came down over her face. She was Mord’Sith again.
“We both know Kahlan is more important to you,” she said quietly. “I will find my way.”
She turned and went into the house and he stared after her, in her blue dress, her gait strong and sure, and then went to find Kahlan. He thanked her from the bottom of his heart and he admired the strength of her character, but he was never as glad as when she told him they were going back.
He stood and watched as Kahlan confronted Cara and he didn’t know what was said between them. When Kahlan turned to rejoin them his gaze went past her to Cara. The woman stared at him for a brief moment and then turned to look at her childhood home. He knew what she felt in that moment before she walked toward them, a group of people mostly her enemies and her one friend. He reached out and squeezed her hand briefly and she let one corner of her mouth slightly turn up. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.