"No-absolutely-not-Mother-Confessor-I-don't-dance," Cara said all in one breath.
"We'll take it slow," promised Kahlan. She nodded to Richard, and he raised his flute to his lips.
"Mord'Sith. Do not. Dance," Cara insisted as Kahlan led her to the space the innkeeper had cleared for the five mysterious travelers at one end of the taproom. "Zedd tried to teach me in Rothenberg. I can't! Kahlan!"
Zedd looked up from his tankard of ale as Richard began to play. The flute was high and sweet, a beguiling melody that almost made the wizard forget the fifth member of their 'Merry Band.'
The ex-tyrant of D'Hara brushed his fingers against the strings of the harp propped between his knees. His hands were free, since Richard had refused to bind Rahl after the fiend had saved his life.
Zedd couldn't quite see how Rahl could use a harp as a weapon, but he still thought Richard had been too generous.
Kahlan twined her arms around Cara's, clinging to the Mord'Sith's leather clad elbows, and bent her spine in a perfect arc so that her hair fell in a dark cascade toward the muddy floor.
Then she snapped back up and swayed into Cara's personal space with a series of staccato steps.
Richard played a string of piccolo notes to match his Confessor.
Darken Rahl began to sing.
His voice was rich and deep and complicated, fluctuating over the ancient sounds of a D'Haran call to war in the old tongue.
The villagers in the taproom began to rock in unconscious response to the liquid music, to Kahlan's swaying hips, to Cara's quickening steps.
The words Darken sang came straight to Richard's mind with hardly any reference to his ears. As the Seeker of Truth, he understood the meaning of the old tongue, the language of the Book of Counted Shadows and of the most powerful enchantments, without thought or translation.
He played an accompaniment, but every so often he would add a dip or change in tone just to force Darken to adjust.
The music reminded Richard of fighting back to back with his brother.
Their audience, with the exception of the First Wizard and the two dancing women, possessed not the smallest understanding of the ancient syllables.
But the song spoke to them anyway. The two musicians were dressed in humble peasant garb, although the younger had a sword sheathed at his hip and the elder sat on the rotted old bench as if it were a throne. Yet it was easy to forget that in the sheer beauty of the music.
At first the blond woman, in the red leathers she wore like a second skin, had stumbled over her own feet. But gradually she grew more confident, eyes fixed upon the sculpted face of the dark woman whenever the dance permitted.
Cara could only maintain her focus if she ignored everything but Kahlan.
She did her best not to listen to Darken's honeyed voice. She feared the memories those rich tones brought back to her.
She feared that the next time he bellowed an order or drawled something suggestive in her ear she would not be able to maintain her distance.
Richard was the Lord Rahl. But Darken had been Cara's lord first.
Kahlan was in no mood to acknowledge Darken Rahl's superiority in anything. Every time she heard him twist a phrase of the military ballad to something more seductive, more wicked, more personal, she sashayed and shook her hips in enticing curves. Kahlan might be chaste by necessity, but Darken Rahl would not unnerve her.
Any battle he started she could finish.
Richard had to avert his eyes after awhile as Kahlan and Cara spun and undulated in perfect unison. They were like goddesses calling on some power far more ancient than Mord'Sith or Confessor magic.
Darken sang. And watched. And smirked.
The harp beneath his calloused fingers hummed with an energy of its own. It gleamed yellow-white like bleached bone in the meager torchlight. There were no breaks upon its smooth surface, no broken strings, no need for tuning. It was a thing of beauty—and of magic.
The innkeeper had kept it in a dusty corner behind the bar. The man had no understanding of what he possessed.
Darken played the dragonbone harp and watched the torchlight flicker in time to every high note of Richard's flute, every lightning flash of Kahlan's ivory thighs, every golden spin of Cara's lithe body. Every perfect vibration of the harp strings.
He smiled, a genuine smile for once, as he raised his voice to the crescendo of the call to battle.
They were all in the fight of their lives.
But when the dust settled and the song of the Seeker's quest to save the Land of the Living was complete, Darken meant to have more than applause.
He meant to have everything.
Kahlan spun Cara into her, golden and ebony hair dancing together in the torchlight. The fire made Cara's leathers look like liquid blood.
The music ended.
For a moment Kahlan and Cara stood close enough to kiss.
Then Richard stood and took Kahlan's hand, and they bowed to the cheering taproom. Kahlan laughed, Cara faded back toward the wall, and Darken waved lazily from his bench for all the world as if he were still looking down at the crowd from the balcony of the People's Palace.
"I wish we could have sung together," Kahlan said shyly to Richard, under cover of the rising chatter of their audience. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and grinned at her Seeker.
"Just being with you puts a song in my heart," Richard vowed.
"And what would you have sung?" Darken drawled. "A tragic ballad of star-crossed lovers? How thrilling."
Kahlan flushed, the confidence dancing had given her fading. "What do you know about love?" she challenged.
There was a brief silence as all three of them remembered the last time Kahlan had asked that of Darken Rahl.
"I wonder if you were aware, Mother Confessor," Darken said, balancing the harp on his lap and rubbing two fingers against his bottom lip, "that the dance you and Cara performed for us bears a marked resemblance to those danced by ancient worshippers of the Keeper?"
"What?" Richard stared. "Zedd?"
"Dance was once a primitive form of prayer," the wizard allowed. He glared at his grandson for forcing him to agree with Darken Rahl, no matter how trivial the subject.
Richard and Kahlan sat together on a bench as far from Darken as they could get while still regrettably acknowledging that their archenemy was part of the group—across a small table from him, in fact.
Darken raised his eyebrows but for once held his peace. Zedd thanked the Creator for small favors.
Cara crossed her arms and said nothing.
It really was unfortunate, Zedd reflected, that no one in this tiny village at the edge of the desert surrounding the Pillars of Creation had ever heard of the Seeker of Truth. Their ignorance had forced Seeker, Mother Confessor, ex-Lord of D'Hara, and ex-First Mistress of the Mord'Sith to sing for their supper.
At least, the First Wizard thought as he took a spoonful of stew, the food was good.