The howling wind rattled windows as rain beat down in sheets. It was late and as black a night as anyone had ever seen. Darkness clung to everything, creating such a void it seemed nothing could possibly exist beyond the stone walls of the room, gripping the inhabitants in tense anxiety. Richard paced the floor, head down, hands knotted tight behind his back, his constant footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting. Zedd, sitting near the roaring fire, watched him, trying his best to look confident though he was anything but.
Another agonizing cry came from behind the closed door, halting Richard’s steps. Each time Kahlan cried out he would stop. Wait. Listen. Not until he heard the reassuring voice of Rose, the midwife, encouraging Kahlan to push would he resume his pacing. It was proving to be a difficult birth, leaving everyone uneasy and on edge. He desperately wanted to be in there with her but Rose had found Lord Rahl’s presence too much of a distraction.
When Kahlan’s labor had begun early the day before, Richard became a fixture at her side and had remained so until somewhere around sunset this evening, when his tone and manner proved too much of a strain for the midwife. He knew she was doing her best – in fact she was the best – having helped many a Confessor through childbirth...though never did they have a fretful husband at their side. Having an overwrought Lord Rahl in the room was too much for Rose’s nerves. Richard only knew that Kahlan’s pain was agony for his heart and he wanted it to stop. Rose had repeatedly suggested that perhaps he would be more comfortable in the sitting room with his grandfather. Only when Kahlan squeezed Richard’s hand and told him it was alright did he at last relent. He could see he was upsetting her too. He squeezed back tightly, and, with his free hand, pulled sweaty tendrils from her face. “I’m right here” he whispered, “just on the other side of this door.” He had kissed her brow before finally joining Zedd in the sitting room.
Now, eyes locked on that closed door, he once again heard Rose’s comforting words telling Kahlan to keep pushing. He resumed his pacing.
Over the crackle and spit of the fire he could hear his wife’s arduous breaths, her cries; her pain. Richard ground his teeth; he could stand it no more. Headed for their inner room, he was stopped in his tracks by the sudden, sweet sound of a baby’s cry.
Zedd jumped up from his chair, awash with relief that it was finally over. The actual birth was something only a midwife could assist with, but now that it was over, Zedd could use his magic to take away the pain Kahlan was surely suffering. The sense of foreboding that had blanketed the room quickly began to lift. He knew Richard had been terribly concerned and now…now he was a beaming father. They shared a firm hug and Zedd clapped his grandson on the back, “Congratulations, my boy!”
As they stood with their arms wrapped tight around one another, a shriek of agony they both knew to be Kahlan’s threatened to take Richard to his knees. All of the joy he was feeling rushed out of him with such sudden force it took his breath. Only his grandfather’s tight hold kept him on his feet. Richard pushed at the wizard’s boney shoulders to free himself. Zedd held firm, instinctively wanting to shield his grandson from whatever pain lay in the other room, but it was no use – Richard instantly overpowered him, breaking free and rushing for the door.
Richard’s heart pounded in his ears as he burst into the inner room. For all the commotion that had just taken place it was quietly surreal; dark but for a bit of firelight. Rain and wind driven branches scrapped against the windows, pressing in with haunting sounds. Their room never felt so small. Richard’s eyes went to Kahlan. She had her head turned away from him, arms over her face in spent agony. A heaviness hung in the air keeping him rooted. Gripping tight to the door handle for support, he was too afraid to breathe, let alone speak. Try as he might, he couldn’t make his feet go.
Allison, the midwife’s apprentice, was the only movement in the room, silently tending to Kahlan, taking away bloodied linens. Rose stood just off to the side, at the foot of the bed, holding a small bundle in her arms, a look of sheer terror on her face.
Richard could only stare at the woman holding his child. He wished she would speak and end his agony. She looked stricken, too terrified for words. Wide-eyed, she pulled deep within herself gathering courage, finally managing a whisper, barely loud enough to hear, “It’s a boy.”
Kahlan cried out again at hearing Rose’s words to Richard. It was a desolate, mournful cry, one that conveyed the heartache she felt for her husband.
Richard blinked, tamping down the terror that threatened to take hold. A slight tremor rolled through him as he fought to control his wits. He stared at Rose for the longest time, the storm raging outside as well as within. Trying to center himself, he concentrated on the low hiss of the fire, the pouring rain, Kahlan’s soft mewling. Finally, a smile came to his face and he held out his arms.
Rose avoided his eyes as she placed the baby in his arms. “Come, Allison,” she commanded quietly and they quickly took their leave, closing the door behind them.
Richard looked into the eyes of his son, his own filling with tears. He looked so innocent. A burning, powerful need to protect him rose up in Richard. He knew others would be terrified by his birth. His young life was already in danger.
Richard swallowed through tears and made his way to the side of the bed, sitting down next to Kahlan. She still had yet to look at him, staring off in anguish as tears streamed down her face. Richard leaned in, still with the baby in his arms and put his head close to hers. His voice was low; firm, but gentle, as he commanded her, “Look at our son, Kahlan. Isn’t he beautiful?” Even through her pain she could hear the pride in his voice. She turned her tear streaked face to look at him, saw him gazing lovingly into the eyes of their child. The crushing pain in her chest lifted just a little. Their heads huddled close she looked down to the baby’s face, tears still coming faster than she could wipe them away.
“Yes,” she answered, her voice thin and raspy through her crying. “Yes, he is beautiful.” Richard looked up and they shared a tearful smile. They were a family already, husband and wife, adoring their newborn son.
Richard placed the child in her arms, keeping a tender hand on him, unable to let go. “He needs a name.”
Kahlan trembled with fear. Male confessors were never named. They didn’t live long enough to have names. Richard was letting her know, this child would live. No Ritual of the Waters would be performed on their son. As frightened as Kahlan was, she knew it could be no other way. She would rather die than be forced to kill Richard’s son. How could she even conceive of killing a part of him? A part of him she loved so dearly? And yet she knew the people would demand it. They wouldn’t love this child like they did. They would show only fear and hatred toward their son. Terrified for what lay ahead, she felt a flood of relief as well. Richard would let no harm come to him. She knew without a doubt he would protect him with his life, as would she.
“I like the name Ethan” he said after a time. Kahlan nodded her approval with a smile, wiping again at her tears.
There was a soft knock as Zedd came into the room. By the way he stayed quietly near the door, Richard was certain the old man knew. Rose would have told him on her way out. Richard’s free hand instinctively slipped to his sword, slowly letting his fingers curl around the hilt, pulling strength from its magic. He knew this was only the first of many encounters to come. It surprised him how easily he knew what he would do – even against his own grandfather, should he try to harm his son. It all started – or ended – here. Now. Keeping his gaze on Kahlan and the baby, Richard spoke to his grandfather behind him, his offer laced with warning: “Come, Zedd. Meet our son.” He felt the flicker of rage within as he turned then to look at the wizard, “Your great-grandson...Ethan." He spoke the boys name as a challenge.
Zedd understood. He didn’t doubt Richard knew very well the name Ethan meant enduring and long-lived . He barely recognized the hard eyes cutting into him…waiting…watching, wondering, what his next move would be. He knew his life was at stake. It pained him to see the barely controlled wrath of the Seeker directed at him. Though he understood, it didn’t lessen the hurt.
Not because of fear, but because he knew the man better than almost anyone, they need not worry. They should fear no judgment from him. If Richard protected the child with his life, so would he. The wizard took a hesitant step making his way closer, resting a hand on Richard’s shoulder giving it a squeeze, conveying his love through his warm touch, “He’s beautiful.”
Only then did Richard relax the tight grip he held on his sword.
Zedd slipped quietly from the room, closing the door behind him to stand alone in the vast, dark hall. Suppressing a shiver, he closed his eyes against the horror of it all threatening to consume him. A male confessor. And one with the gift, no doubt. A frightening thought.
Never had a boy child born to a Confessor been able to remain pure in heart. The magic inevitably corrupted them, drove them mad, leaving them with an unquenchable thirst for blood.
Last Autumn, when Nicci had a change of heart, wanting to do good in the world and willingly gave Richard back his Han, never did anyone imagine this. A corrupt Confessor with the gift, even a fraction as powerful as Richard’s, would wreak havoc on the world. He could annihilate them all before his tenth birthday.
Zedd shook his head to no one but himself. How could this child be allowed to live? It was his own flesh and blood but, dear Creator, he could be the end of them all – of everything. Would they have the strength to do what needed to be done if Ethan grew like all the others? Zedd hoped with all his heart his great-grandson would be different but how could he be so naive to think it would be so. He feared he was allowing his love for Richard and Kahlan to lead him down the wrong path, lulling him into a false sense of hope. This would only make things harder for them when it came time to do what must be done.
Flashes of lightening lit the stone walls around him. It was a dreadful night he wished long gone. No, he decided. Once this night was past, the real nightmare would begin.
The wizard sighed heavily knowing there were things that needed to be done. He turned toward the thick mahogany door leading back to Richard and Kahlan. Lifting his hands, he chanted softly as a warm glow spread over the door and around its frame before slowly fading and winking out into the night.
First, he needed to find Cara. The entire ordeal of the Mother Confessor giving birth had sent the seasoned warrior to the farthest corners of the palace. The Mord-Sith, so adept at dispensing pain was unable to endure her friends tortured labor. She would never admit it of course, but he and Richard knew Kahlan’s agonizing cries tore at her worse than any Agiel.
Thunder rolled long and loud sending vibrations through his bones, rattling a delicate vase on a nearby table. “Sprits help us” he whispered before heading into the gloom of the palace halls.
Zedd broke the news of Lord Rahl’s son to Cara, then swiftly made his way to find Rose, the Mord-Sith close at his heels. He was fairly certain the midwife could be trusted to stay quiet; she had served the Confessor’s for years after all. Still, he had to be sure.
Cara banged a leathered fist on the door. It opened almost immediately, Rose’s face draining of color, no doubt in fear for her life. Cara got straight to the point, muscling her way in, towering over the old woman, “You haven’t been wagging your tongue, have you?” Her closely held Agiel threatened Roses neck.
Zedd pulled back on the Mord-Sith’s imposing stance. His voice gentle, “What she means to say, Rose, is that Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor realize the magnitude of their son’s birth and the impact it will have on the people. I’m sure you can understand their desire to handle this delicately and will allow them an opportunity to address this as they think best.”
A little of the woman’s color returned, realizing she wasn’t about to be struck dead. “Of course, Wizard Zorander. I’ve sworn Alison to secrecy already…she wouldn’t be my apprentice if I didn’t trust her.” She eyed Cara warily before looking back to Zedd, “As for me, I’ve birthed many a Confessor’s child in all my years…though only two be boys. This makes three. I’m sure they’ll do what’s right in the end, like the others.”
Zedd was visibly relieved and turned back toward the door. Rose gestured with a finger, "Wait" she said and left them there while she searched an old, weathered cabinet, pulling out drawers and opening doors until she found what she was looking for. Zedd returned Cara's questioning look with a shake of his head. He had no idea what the woman was up to. Rose returned, pressing small objects into the wizard’s bony hand. “They’ll be needing these…when they’re ready.”
Zedd looked down at the items. Krieg root and tallow oil: necessary for the Ritual of the Waters. He restrained himself from throwing them back at her, instead staring into his palm for what seemed an eternity. Slowly he wrapped lean fingers tight around them, his lips set with grim acceptance.
Richard stuffed a foot into his boot, pulling it tight. Now that the sun was up he steeled himself for what lay ahead.
He rubbed weary eyes and reached for his sword, strapping it around his waist. He had lain awake much of the night, waiting for the sun to rise; despite the fact that Zedd had shielded their room allowing none but those already inside to pass through. It was but a small respite his grandfather could give them, knowing they were safe, at least for the night. Still, he hadn’t gotten much sleep; partly from thinking about what they were going to do, but mostly at the sheer joy of beholding his wife and newborn son.
Richard thought of Kahlan's naked body, all snug and warm pressed close to his chest throughout the night; how she had kept Ethan nestled against her breast. Richard never once loosened his protective hold that enveloped them both.
Sometime after Zedd had left and they lay awake in the dark, Kahlan had begun to weep. “Richard, what are we going to do?” He knew the road ahead would be nothing short of treacherous and he had no idea of its outcome. But he would fight to the death to protect his son, as would she; that much he knew. But he didn’t want to think about that now. No matter what the future held, he wanted them to at least have this. For Kahlan to have this one night with her son – free from fear and duty and ancient traditions. He wanted her to bask in the joy of being a mother, of being in love.
He rolled her to face him, a sleeping Ethan still in her arms pressed between them. “Shhh....not tonight, Kahlan” he whispered, kissing her brow. He slid a hand over her hip and pulled her closer. His strong arms felt so good around her and she took strength in his firm hold, his gentle words. “Tomorrow will be here soon enough. We’ll think about it then. All you need remember is this: I am the Seeker. And you are the Mother Confessor. We’ll figure this out. Tomorrow. Tonight is just for us: You, me and our son.” He smiled the gentlest smile.
He always knew how to make her feel better, even when it all seemed so hopeless. She kissed him then; tender, deep and full of emotion.
Richard had awoken to the dawn and Kahlan’s soft voice. She was cooing to Ethan as he nursed and Richard’s heart swelled at seeing her joy; the natural way she took to being a mother. Richard sunk his face into her hair, breathing her in as he snuggled close behind her. “Do you know how beautiful you are?” he whispered.
“Not as beautiful as him,” she said dreamily, eyes on their baby. Seeing his sweet face, his tiny lips latched onto her breast, she could not conceive of him ever becoming a monster. Though unspoken, Richard shared her thoughts. Seeing the two of them together was almost more than he could bear.
Now, as he readied himself to go, Kahlan rested a calming hand on Richard’s shoulder, giving him an encouraging squeeze. He was going to meet with the council members, telling them of their son’s birth. He promised to return by midday when, depending on the council’s reaction, they would together decide what to do next. He placed his hand over hers, giving her and Ethan one last kiss.
“What’s this?” Richard asked, touching a finger to Ethan’s chest, pointing to a small, crimson spot just above his heart.
“A birthmark, I guess” Kahlan replied. “I noticed it this morning. I don’t know how I missed it last night… I don’t think I once took my eyes off him.”
Richard inspected it more closely. He didn’t remember seeing it either. The small horseshoe shaped mark was barely the size of Kahlan’s littlest fingernail, deep red in color but otherwise, innocuous looking. Satisfied it wasn’t a concern, Richard kissed the mark and looked up, giving Kahlan a brief smile. “I’ll be back soon” he said before heading to the door.
Flanked by Zedd and Cara on either side, Richard boldly swept into the Confessor’s Council Chamber.
The members all stood, cheers of congratulations tossed about the room. All of Aydindril had known when the Mother Confessor’s labor had begun and spontaneous celebrations had erupted throughout the city in anticipation of the birth.
“Thank you,” Richard said, holding up a hand to silence them, his face revealing nothing of the distress inside him. “Mother and child are fine.”
The head councilman, Ambassador Thompson, spoke up, “It’s certainly a joyous day when a Confessor is born. What name have you given her?”
Hands clenched at his side, Richard felt the power of the sword at his hip. If he drew his blade, someone was going to die. Eyes of steel probed each of the members in turn. “Ethan” he replied, threatening them with his glare.
The child’s name hung in the air with deafening silence. Slack jawed, no one moved a muscle. “We have a son,” Richard added proudly, trying his best to keep his voice from breaking.
Several members stepped back in horror, all of them gasped. Fearful murmurs instantly buzzed about the room but Richard’s deadly glower quickly silenced them. He moved further into the chamber, his steps and his tone deliberate, “I will convey your well wishes to the Mother Confessor” he mocked. Ambassador Thompson looked aghast. Richard challenged him, “You did say a Confessor’s birth was a joyous occasion did you not?” His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, his body trembling with fury. He was ready for battle.
Thompson chose his words carefully, “Lord Rahl…surely your wizard has made you aware of…the consequences…of a male Confessor?”
“I am aware Ambassador, of the barbaric elimination of children: Innocent lives that haven’t even been given a chance to determine their true nature.”
“None has ever shown themselves to be anything but evil,” he interrupted. It’s beyond their control – beyond anyone’s control.”
“How many have been given a chance to grow?” Richard countered. “How many have been allowed to live past their infancy?”
“Enough to know” Thompson replied coolly. “Need I remind you that the previous Mother Confessor, Serena, raised her son with nothing but love and compassion…Secreting him away in the bowels of the Keep, isolating him from the outside world, all in an attempt to let him live, to keep him on the side of good. Yet he lusted for power, killing anyone in his path. Even at such a young age he coveted death…thirsted for blood. Why would your son be any different? Why, after a thousand years of bending to evil would your son choose to serve good?” He looked at Richard with disdain “Because he’s yours?” he scoffed.
Cara was suddenly there, Thompson’s collar fisted in her grip, “You seem to have forgotten who you are speaking to.” She reached for her Agiel.“ Let me remind you…”
Richard caught her arm, “Let him speak, Cara. I want him to have his say.” He looked to the other members throughout the room, “I want everyone to have their say.” He knew he couldn’t even begin to reason with them until he’d heard their fears, their anxiety.
Thompson was surprised by the unexpected understanding. He softened his tone to a fearful whisper. “You have the gift. I’m told the most powerful Han in more than a thousand years. Do you realize what that means? What that child would be capable of?” Richard didn’t answer, but kept his eyes on the man. Thompson finally continued “I’m not sure that you do. You were raised in Westland, a place without magic. You’ve never seen the destruction of such a force, one with only a fraction of the power your child surely has.”
Richard was struck by the memory of his time spent in the future, when Kahlan’s son Nicholas, a Confessor with the gift, brought annihilation to all. Nicholas’ Han was not nearly as powerful as Ethan’s would be. It was a sobering thought, and not one he was willing to contemplate. The memory of that brief glimpse suddenly left him feeling defeated. Surely his son wouldn’t grow into a bloodthirsty tyrant, not a child he and Kahlan had created. It was unimaginable.
Richard stood silent for a long while looking through a large row of windows cut into the stone walls. He could see the Keep far off in the distance. Last night’s storms had finally cleared, leaving behind low, gray clouds threatening to consume the tower, high up on the hill. Richard wished he were there now, away from all of this. He wished he could hide himself away in there, in its darkest corners, far from everyone. Not everyone. Kahlan would have to be there. He couldn’t survive without Kahlan. Maybe they could take their son and just hide away from it all, forget this nightmare in the safety of the Keep. He didn’t care that no male Confessor had been able to overcome their lust for power and blood. What if Ethan was the first? What if…
Everyone in the room, Zedd and Cara included, watched and waited; silent as Lord Rahl weighed heavy matters…Perhaps finally coming to terms with something deep inside himself.
When Richard at last spoke his voice was quiet, seemingly lost in faraway thoughts. They all strained to hear him, “What if Serena made a mistake in locking him away?” He looked up, a bit more vigor in his tone, “That isolation kept him from humanity, kept him from having relationships with others.” His voice grew stronger yet, “How could he possibly learn to know love without experiencing it?”
The Ambassador took a step closer to Richard, his voice soft with sympathy, “I mean this with all due respect Lord Rahl, I truly do…but it seems you are looking for our approval on a matter where we cannot give it. This is bigger than being your son, the Mother Confessor’s son. This will affect all of humanity. We can’t allow it. We won’t.” He continued on then as if the matter was fully decided, a formality to his voice. “Due to the circumstances, we can forego custom which calls for the child’s immediate death and allow you some time before the Ritual of the Waters is performed, a chance to ‘say good-bye’, if you will. You have a month. Anything longer and it will just be more difficult.”
Richard was incensed as wrath inundated his body, “Do you really think it matters to me if my son is a day, a year- or 10-year’s old?” he growled. “I’ll not stand by and let him be murdered! If you people won’t listen to reason, I’m not opposed to violence.” In a blink he held the Sword of Truth in his hands, the distinct ring of steel sounding through the room, his chest heaving with fury.
Zedd instantly stilled the blade with a wizard’s web, halting Richard’s swing midair and drawing his temper, “Release the spell!” he seethed, glaring at his grandfather.
Zedd spoke as gently and calmly as he could. “He’s given us a month, Richard. Time not normally afforded. We must use it to our advantage…spilling blood now will not help our cause.”
Richard panted hotly. He knew the wisdom of Zedd’s words but his sword demanded blood. He felt the spell lift. Zedd was leaving it in his hands. Richard fought fiercely the magic - the fury - rushing through him, begging to be unleashed. Cara watched his struggle as he battled to regain control. He looked to be in agony. It took every ounce of Richard’s strength to finally slam the blade back home into its scabbard.
“What’s the matter?” Richard asked with concern. After leaving the council chambers, he, Zedd and Cara had returned to Kahlan, finding her fretful over a crying Ethan.
“I don’t know. He’s been like this for hours.” Kahlan bounced Ethan in her arms, trying anything to ease his wailing. “He has more of those marks on him...” She pulled back the soft blank he was bundled in to show Richard. “He’s warm too.”
Richard took the baby from Kahlan for closer scrutiny, not knowing what to make of the little crimson horseshoes covering his chest and belly. Ethan fussed about, his cries growing louder. He turned to his grandfather, concern etched on his face, “Zedd?”
As Richard held him, the wizard placed a palm on the boy’s pliant chest, his lean hand completely covering his tiny torso. Closing his eyes, he let his magic flow, feeling his great-grandson’s aura, searching for an aberration. Richard watched intently, anxious over his son’s distress as Zedd cocked his head this way and that, interpreting what he felt. Almost immediately, Zedd’s face turned flush, beads of sweat formed above his gray brows as his breathing grew ragged. He tried to pull away but his magic held him secure, an unseen force keeping them bound. It hurt to hold onto the boy, but try as he might, he couldn’t let go.
Seeing his grandfather’s state, Richard grabbed his wrist and yanked him free, frightened by what he saw. “What is it, Zedd?” he asked, still holding onto him.
The old man panted for breath struggling to slow his racing heart. He at last opened his eyes, gray and watery as they looked back into Richard’s. He couldn’t speak…didn’t want to speak. How could he possibly tell him what he now knew?
Kahlan clung to Richard, thankful for his strong arm around her waist, without it she would surely fall. They held their son between them as Zedd spoke the terrible news.
Ethan was suffering a disorder of his Han…essentially, an illness of magic from magic. The power of it had nearly taken him to his knees. He, a grown man and Wizard of the First Order. The child’s powerful Han, combined with the strength of his Confessor powers was too much for such a small life. So potent were the two magics, together they were toxin, poisoning his very essence.
“How do we stop it?” Richard demanded.
Zedd knew the dreadful truth of it: There was no stopping it. He stared at them blankly; a nearly imperceptible shake of his head conveyed the grim news.
Kahlan’s anguished cry tore at the old man’s heart. She held tighter to Richard and he crushed her to him, her face buried in Ethan’s tiny neck. Tears streamed down Richard’s face, his knees weak with agonizing fear as his insides twisted with pain. It took every ounce of his strength just to keep them standing.
“There must be a way,” Cara insisted. Silent until now, she stepped closer, suddenly ready for battle, eager to strike out. Seeing the Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor in such pain flooded her with anger. “You’re a Wizard of the First Order – there must be something you can do.”
Zedd knew such a mix of powerful magic was beyond anything he had ever encountered. His great-grandson had been born to the mightiest Mother Confessor in centuries, perhaps of all time, and the Seeker of Truth – a Rahl – with quite possibly the most powerful Han of anyone who ever lived. He wasn’t sure if his own Han was strong enough to withstand even a partial cleansing. Just touching Ethan’s magic had nearly left him unconscious. But he had to try. He didn’t dare tell them he could die with the very first attempt.
Zedd nodded resignedly, “I can try to purge the illness from him – take it into me, as I did with the Fire Fever.” He looked first to Kahlan, then Richard. “I’m afraid it’s not a cure. Unlike the Fire Fever, Ethan’s illness is not caused by some outside force but from within. It’s his own magic doing this to him: the Confessor’s magic, tied to his soul, and his Han, tied to his blood.” Tears again filled the old man’s eyes, “It may help sustain him for a time, but nothing more.”
Richard pulled Kahlan even closer, a powerful hand held her head to him as he whispered desperately into her ear, “I’ll find a way, Kahlan, I swear, I’ll find a way.”
“Not so much next time, Zedd” Richard gently admonished. “I don’t want to lose you too.” They had the wizard on a sofa in their adjoining sitting room, keeping him warm by the fire, a thick blanket tucked around him. Purging what he could from the child’s tiny body he now looked deathly ill. “Take only what you can.” Zedd wearily nodded in reply. Richard turned toward Cara, “Watch over him, will you?” It had been a long night and none of them had slept. As she slipped in beside his grandfather, Richard rubbed the tired muscles in his neck and stepped back into the bed chamber.
Kahlan was lying atop the covers, little Ethan tucked into the crook of her arm. The baby had settled down and was, at the moment, sleeping peacefully. Richard eased himself onto the bed noting Kahlan’s red rimed eyes. He shared her pain for their son, but his heart hurt for her as well. He hated to see her fear. Her tears. She would never say it but he knew she was counting on him to end this nightmare. He propped his head on and arm, watching her, knowing she wouldn’t like what he was going to say.
“I have an idea Kahlan. Zedd said it won’t work but we have to try.”
Hopeful eyes stared at him waiting for him to continue.
Kahlan sat up a little, excited by the idea…any idea that might help save their son. They had used Quillion to separate Annabelle from her Confessor powers. “Why does Zedd say it won’t work? It worked on Annabelle. We could –”
Richard put a gentle hand over hers to quiet her, he dared not get her hopes up, but it was all they had. “Because it’s more than just his Confessor powers” he said softly. “His magic has made him ill. Zedd said removing the power won’t take away the sickness.”
She knew he was trying to keep her grounded, but she couldn’t help herself, “Once the magic is removed though, can’t Zedd purge the illness, like he’s already started to?”
He nodded, “That’s my thinking as well. But even so, I’m not sure how much time we have.” He held her hand tenderly in his, his dark brown eyes penetrating hers, “I need to go.”
Kahlan gripped tighter to his hand. “But...where?” She knew he had to leave - there was no Quillion in Aydindril - but the thought terrified her. What if something happened while he was gone? Dear spirits, what if their son died while Richard was off looking for Quillion? She wouldn’t survive it without Richard at her side. And he would be devastated if something terrible happened while he was away. But he had to try. She knew he would never forgive himself if he didn’t try. He would risk anything to save his son.
“Shota” he said firmly. “She’s the only one I know of who might possibly even have Quillion.” Richard probed her with his gaze. “You have to be strong, Kahlan…no matter what happens.”
Through her tears she nodded, touching a hand to his cheek. He gave her a lingering kiss, torn between not wanting to leave, yet anxious to be on his way. There simply was no choice. Ethan’s life was stake and the sooner he left, the sooner he would return. If Zedd wasn’t needed here to purge the illness he would send him. And Cara was not an option. Shota clearly despised the Mord-Sith. No, this was something only Richard could do. “I’ll go as fast as I can” he whispered.
Kahlan watched through tear-filled eyes as Richard tenderly caressed his son’s head. He bent to kiss his lips, keeping his mouth pressed to Ethan’s as he said a silent farewell. He had no way of knowing if he would ever see his son alive again.
Richard half slid down the hillside, its steep incline and the matting of leaves under foot aiding his efforts as he hurried into Agaden Reach. He steadied himself with a tossed out arm, dragging his fingers through the dirt as he neared the bottom of the slope. He’d left his horse at the top, tied to a limb, afraid of risking injury to the animal in the precarious terrain. He needed him ready and rested for the return to Aydindril.
His boots came to a halt at the bottom of the bluff and he took a moment to look around as he regained solid footing. The forest surrounding Shota’s home was dark and unearthly. Massive trees stood guard along a barely visible trail, their lithe, willowy branches hung down, a multitude of leaves swaying in the twilight breeze, giving the woods a ghostly feel. The home of a witch.
Richard hadn’t gone far when the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He felt eyes watching him as he made his way deeper into the Reach.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
Richard whirled around at the sound of the voice, sending frightened birds fluttering for safer limbs. He found nothing but trees, his eyes scanning the gloom for some hidden form in the shadows. Looking up to the darkening sky he saw only the haunting wave of the willows.
Richard turned to continue on his way, halting suddenly at the sight of her standing there on the path. She hadn’t been there when he’d first heard the voice. It unnerved him how easily Shota could appear like that, seemingly out of thin air. Even so, he was glad to see her. She was who he came for after all. Almost without thought, Richard rested a hand on the hilt of his sword, pulling it free a few inches before letting it fall back into its scabbard; reassurance that his weapon was at the ready. He reminded himself to be on guard…and to be civil. Shota had a way of bringing out his anger and if he wanted her help, he’d have to keep it reigned in.
He frowned at her words, “You have?”
She held an air of resentment at his presence. Richard was sure she wasn’t used to visitors in the Reach. Aside from Zedd, he knew of no one who had entered in and survived. She held him with a fixed glare. “You and the Mother Confessor have born a monster and now you want my help.”
Richard clenched his jaw biting back the ready retort. He didn’t want to end his chances so quickly of gaining her help. With great effort he let it go. “How do you know?”
“I know many things” she said, still a good distance away from him.
He hoped she wouldn’t make this difficult. He needed Quillion and Zedd was certain she would be the one to have it. He wasn’t leaving without it. “Then you know why I’m here.”
Darkness enfolded them in the woods. Shota moved closer, seemingly without effort. She simply glided closer until she was right before him. Almond eyes drifted over his shoulders and down his chest, taking in his muscular form, obviously pleased by what she saw. The topic at hand seemed of little consequence to her as her eyes feasted over him. “My magic allows me to see certain events.” She finally pulled her admiring gaze from his frame and fixed him with a cold, hard glare. “I know you have a son, Richard. A very powerful son. He’ll be the death of us all.” She was goading him, intentionally provoking him to argument, but Richard remained silent. This was too important. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall into her trap.
Shota waited for his anger, letting out a small huff when he didn't take the bait. She turned away, dropping her glare. “I’m able to see certain events in time, Richard, but I’m not a mind reader. I know of your son and I knew you were coming, but I haven’t the slightest notion as to why you’re here.”
Richard started haltingly, “My son…Ethan…he’s sick.” Richard described for her Ethan’s illness, how his Confessor’s magic and his Han, together, were too potent for his tiny body. He explained to her, as Zedd had explained to him, that his son was so powerful, his own magic was killing him. He told her too of Zedd’s attempt to purge the sickness, nearly killing himself in the process. That seemed to catch her off guard. She seemed to know everything he told her, that he had a son, that he was extremely powerful and that his magic was killing him. But his words of Zedd seemed to shake her. “His powers are destroying him, Shota. I need your help.”
In the small sliver of moonlight, Richard could see the almost compassionate look she gave him though her voice allowed no room for argument. “That kind of power cannot be allowed in the world.”
Richard closed his eyes against the pain of her words. He knew no where else to turn if she refused to help. If he couldn’t reason with her he would have to fight her. His chances were better against all the Midlands than this lone witch woman. Richard’s words were pleading, “He's my son, Shota.”
Her compassion quickly turned to barely contained anger simmering just beneath her cool demeanor. “Did you ever stop to think, Richard that this illness might be brought on by the Creator herself?”
Richard was speechless, completely dumbstruck at her words.
She floated close to him once more, “Perhaps this is her way of ensuring someone with that much power doesn’t live long enough to destroy us all.”
Richard didn’t see the sense in that and he said so. “If the Creator didn’t want that kind of power lose in the world then she simply wouldn’t let those powers come together. She would prevent them from ever forming and joining together.”
“Couldn’t that be what she’s doing now? It’s not in a way to your liking, but still a preventative just the same.”
Those words cut Richard more deeply than anything, to think that the Creator, the giver of life, would purposely work to destroy life...his son’s life. Cold realization ran down Richard’s spine: He killed to preserve life. How many souls had he taken in order to preserve the greater good? He just couldn’t bring himself to believe that his child would be one of them. That his small, innocent babe would grow into an evil tyrant, that he would one day be responsible for ending life as they knew it. With a deep sigh, Richard pressed on. He couldn’t let himself become distracted with such thoughts; he had to focus on the matter at hand. “Please Shota, I need your help. I’ve come for Quillion.”
Shota appraised him for a long moment, revealing nothing of what she was thinking, never taking her eyes off his. She thought to tell him but couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She had seen far enough into the future to know he wasn’t ready for that yet.
Cara stood watch from the open door, leaning against its frame, her position allowing her to keep an eye on both rooms at once. Zedd, in the sitting room, exhausted and withered, lay on the sofa before a small fire. Kahlan in the other room, the bed chamber, sat in a small chair beside Ethan’s crib where she had been the entire night. The child was resting peacefully now after another recent purging by Zedd. Cara couldn’t decide who looked worse, the wizard, after taking more the child’s illness, or Kahlan, keeping a constant vigil over her son, with little food or sleep. Cara curled fingers around her Agiel, drawing comfort in the bond she felt there. “He’s alive” she whispered.
Kahlan looked up, eyes deep set and haggard, “What?”
The Mord-Sith took a few steps closer to her friend. “Lord Rahl. He’s alive. I can feel him through the Agiel.
Kahlan smiled her relief. She hadn’t really doubted, but it was good to hear. She realized then that she hadn’t asked Cara that question yet today -- if she could still feel the bond -- as she had asked every day since his departure. Richard had been gone nearly a week and the tedious routine of keeping Ethan alive was taking its toll on her. On everyone.
“How’s Zedd?” she asked wearily.
Cara cast her eyes back toward the open door. “He’s resting. He looks paler than the last time.”
Kahlan took another reassuring look at Ethan, and, seeing he was sleeping soundly, rose from the chair. She was deeply worried for Zedd as well; it wouldn’t serve anyone to lose him in all of this. As she made her way to check on him Cara stopped her with a firm hand to her arm. “You look paler too. Why don’t you get some rest…I’ll send for some food.”
“I’m fine” Kahlan replied, slipping free of her grasp.
Kahlan stopped short, not even turning to face her as she spoke, “If you’d like to go get something to eat, Cara, go right ahead.” Her terse tone said she had no intention of caring for herself while those she loved were in such dire straits.
Cara bristled at the very idea. “My concern is for your belly, Mother Confessor, not mine.”
Kahlan immediately regretted her tone and gave Cara a thankful nod. She knew she was just trying to look after her, but right now, her own well being was the last thing on her mind.
Kahlan stepped into the cozy sitting room to kneel beside her old friend, putting a gentle hand to his sweat soaked brow. “How are you Zedd?” she asked quietly.
Gray eyes opened slowly, looking flat and lifeless. “I’ll be fine child, don’t you worry about me.”
Kahlan took up one of his hand in both of hers, “Well I am worried about you. Don’t you go doing anything foolish, now. I have to answer to Richard when he returns.” Fear that Richard’s son or grandfather would be dead by the time he returned was a constant terror for Kahlan. Only now did she begin to fear the unimaginable…How would she ever tell him if they lost them both?
A brisk knock at the door put Cara on alert, her gaze falling to Kahlan who was once again at Ethan’s side. The crimson marks were back and covered not only his chest and belly, but his arms and legs too. They could hear Sergeant Duff through the door, “He’s coming, Lord Rahl has returned!”
Cara immediately opened the door, just wide enough to see his face. He repeated his words, in case she hadn’t heard him. She hadn’t told Duff where Richard had gone, only that she wanted to know the moment he was seen riding into town.
“I’m sure the entire palace has heard you by now” she hissed.
Wanting only to please, the Sergeant looked wounded by her tone. “Yes, Mistress, Cara. I’m sorry.”
The Mord-Sith felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the man, then got angry at herself for feeling it. “Go, see if he needs help” she said in an effort to be rid of him.
Richard rounded the corner just then, rushing down the hall. Cara could see the metal shroud that housed the Quillion in his grasp. She did her best to hide her surprise at his disheveled appearance, not that it wasn’t warranted, considering the turmoil he was in, it was just…unexpected, she’d never seen Lord Rahl in such an unkempt state. His hair a tousled mess, he obviously hadn’t shaved or bathed since he’d left, and, judging by the lean lines of his face, he’d eaten little.
Still, his eyes were bright as he lifted them to her, waiting for her reassuring nod, letting him know if Ethan still lived. She gave it and saw his relief, saw his gesture toward the thing in his hands and the hope he was placing in it.
Richard slipped by her, not even acknowledging Sergeant Duff standing just beside the door. Cara closed it behind them, leaving Duff in the hall. Richard immediately knelt beside Zedd, looking ashen and withered. “How are you grandfather?”
Zedd tried to smile but was too weak. “I must look deathly; you…calling me grandfather.”
Richard smiled for the both of them. “You can rest now. I have the Quillion.” He was anxious to see Kahlan and Ethan, but he had to assure himself Zedd was alright; his son was alive because of him. Having done so, Richard quickly made his way into their inner chamber.
Kahlan sat on the edge of their bed, rocking a fussy Ethan in her arms. He’d always seen her looking so cool and composed. Even in the heat of battle she had a gracefulness about her; a serenity. He saw none of that now. What he saw now was heartache and misery. He saw pain etched in her features; the weary droop of her shoulders; her tangled mass of hair. When she looked up, he saw her tears streaming down her face.
Richard went to her side, pulling her head against his shoulder to comfort her, and she gratefully collapsed against him. She had stayed strong for so long, she needed to let go. “It’s alright, Kahlan” he whispered, holding her tight. She held Ethan in one arm, clinging to him with the other. After a brief moment she loosened her hold to caress his face. She cupped her hand over the thick scruff of his whiskers, her eyes conveying what words could not. She had been so afraid for him, of what Shota might do; afraid he wouldn’t return in time to save their son. “I’m here now” he said softly as if reading her mind. “And I have the Quillion.” She cried harder then, as relief filled her.
He set down the magic orb and laid her back against the pillows, taking Ethan into his arms, terrified at seeing how the illness had progressed. Richard put Ethan in his crib and placed the open Quillion in beside him. The orb didn’t discriminate, if anyone with magic got too close, it would absorb their power as well. He went and sat beside Kahlan, taking one of her hands up in his and twined his fingers with hers.
A small hum filled the room as the Quillion came to life, purple shafts of light at various points and angles surrounded the orb and it began to glow with the same purple hue.
Anxious, Richard and Kahlan huddled together, watching as the light grew brighter. Richard’s heart felt light with the notion that once this was over, he wouldn’t have to fight the Council or Shota or anyone else for the life of his son. Ethan would be able to live life free and unafraid.
They sat up as the hum grew louder and the purple light began to blaze. Kahlan looked at Richard warily. She didn’t remember the Quillion reacting this way to Annabelle. So bright was the light, they had to shield their eyes against it.
Cara called from the doorway, “Why’s it doing that?”
In that instant, all three of them covered their ears from the suddenly screeching sound it gave and a loud blast split the room, sending shards of shattered Quillion scattering throughout. Suddenly, the light, the hum – their hope, was gone.
Richard paced the room, running a hand through his disheveled hair as he tried frantically to think of a solution. He could only surmise that Ethan’s magic was too powerful, even for Quillion. What did they do now? Zedd was too weak to be of any help to them and was near death himself. They couldn’t risk having him take anymore of the illness.
Richard stepped out onto the terrace for some air. The tightening in his chest made it hard to breathe, he felt like he was suffocating. He could see Kahlan through the glass panes that stretched floor to ceiling as she held Ethan close. His cry was constant now, his tiny body completely covered in the little crimson marks. Through the partially open door, Richard could hear her cooing softly, trying anything to ease their son’s suffering. Never had he felt so helpless at what to do. The Council, Shota, people of the Midlands; he knew what to say to them, and in time was certain he would convince them to let Ethan live. But this… this was some invisible force that had invaded their home, ravaging what they cherished most. Richard pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, attempting to relieve the building pressure: How did he fight this foe? There was no one to appeal to, no one to convince of his son’s right to life. No evil entity he could slay with his sword. What was he to do?
Thoughts swirling in his head, the world around him suddenly fell silent. No more wailing cries from his son, no more tender words in Kahlan’s lilting voice. He knew. An instant before he heard her agonizing cry, he knew. Kahlan’s mournful mewl sent him to his knees, piercing his heart. He knew her keening could mean only one thing. Their son was dead.
Cara watched in horror as the Mother Confessor collapsed to the floor holding the tiny bundle that was her son tight to her breast. Through the giant windows, she watched a stricken Lord Rahl push himself to move, as if in slow motion, half standing, half crawling, as he made his way to Kahlan. Cara steadied herself with a hand to the door. She couldn’t believe this was happening. Suddenly filled with overwhelming sadness, she felt no desire to hide her tears, letting them fall freely.
Richard enfolded Kahlan and Ethan into his arms, holding tighter than he would have thought possible. Grief overwhelmed him for what they had lost. He ached with a wretchedness far deeper than he’d ever known. He ached for the life not lived. He ached for boyhood days unknown and the pleasures of watching his son grow into a man. He ached not only with his own pain, but for the pain that Kahlan suffered. The woman he loved more than life had lost her firstborn child. His heart broke for the agony she would endure.
Kahlan’s mouth hung open in cries without sound. She felt her very heart being ripped from her chest, a flood of torment, burning, as it rushed through her veins. If not for Richard’s strength of presence she would surely follow her son into the realm of darkness.
Kahlan hugged herself, rubbing her arms. Despite that she sat with her legs in the sun, she felt chilled to the bone. Seemed she always felt cold anymore; no matter that the days were warm. It may as well have been the dead of winter; that’s how she felt inside. A summer breeze kissed her face but she took no notice, lost in a gloom.
Zedd sat quietly nearby as he so often did. A round, iron table sat between them holding glasses of lemonade and a tray of untouched cookies Agatha had left. Almost a month had past since Ethan’s death and still he wasn’t himself. Not just from the pain of the loss, he knew that would never truly pass, but the illness he had tried so desperately to drive from the child had ravaged his old bones. He was glad Kahlan was willing to sit out on the terrace with him. Until recently she wished only to stay in her room. It felt good to be out in the fresh air, watching birds flutter by, the squirrels and chipmunks skittering about. He took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the lilacs blooming below in the Confessor’s Garden and smoothed the light woolen blanket draped over most of him, feeling like the old man he was, watching her eyes as she looked toward the mountain not far off in the distance. It climbed high above the manicured gardens beneath them, just beyond the far wall enclosing the grounds. He followed her gaze, knowing full well who she watched.
From her seat on the terrace, Kahlan could see Richard at the top of the bluff, sheltered beneath a stand of tall maples, surrounded by pine, birch and elms. It seemed only right that Richard’s son was buried in the woods. They both felt that the Confessor’s Garden was too austere a place to lay him to rest. Though it was considered their private sanctuary, they feared curious onlookers sneaking in to fulfill some morbid curiosity. More than that, Kahlan feared Richard’s wrath at any who dared try. It wasn’t that the trail to the top was impassable, but it’s steep terrain and rocky ledges would be a deterrent for many, being more difficult to navigate than simply jumping a stone wall.
Unable to be bring herself to be near the grave of her son Kahlan took to the terrace, watching Richard from afar as he stood like a sentinel on the summit. She saw the red of Cara’s leather beneath a tall elm further down the hillside and it relieved her to know she was at the ready should Richard need her.
Zedd saw the silent tear slip down Kahlan’s cheek, her eyes rooted on her husband. She had not been to the top since the day of the funeral. He wondered if she was thinking of that dreadful day; or worse yet, a day that followed soon after: The day she had tried to return. Richard knew it would be difficult for her and he’d led her like a frightened child, offering his hand and gentle words of assurance, telling her it would be okay. Zedd remembered his grandson’s recount of what took place as he and Cara sat right at this very spot on the terrace, with twilight settling in, and watched as husband and wife made their way to the top.
Nearing the peak, Kahlan found she could no longer breathe; her stomach wretched in twisted knots as she begged him not to make her go. In a fit of frantic misery, she collapsed in Richard’s arms before ever making it to the top. He carried her all the way home, down the side of the mountain, past the gardens and majestic fountains. Along the street all motion stopped; wagons quickly brought to a halt out of respect for her pain. Men took off their hats and women bowed their heads. Though terrified by Ethan’s birth, they knew the anguish his death had caused their beloved Mother Confessor. Seeing Lord Rahl carry her heartbroken through the city streets was almost more than they could bear. Richard paid them no heed as he solemnly carried her up the granite steps, through the palace halls to their room to at last lay her gently on their bed.
She hadn’t tried to return since.
Positioned just below the crest out of site, she kept her distance from Lord Rahl. He knew she watched him, but he never spoke to her there. Cara hoped her quiet presence brought a measure of comfort though she couldn’t be sure. The lines of agony etched in his face were always present.
Cara recalled being surprised that even upon the death of his son, Lord Rahl had sense enough to stop her when she rushed in to give the Breath of Life. With a firm hand to her shoulder he’d held her back, “No, Cara. You’ll die.” He’d remembered Sister Verna’s words that such a powerful Han would be death for his Mord-Sith. In her desire to help, she’d completely forgotten and was amazed at his ability to remain so focused.
He seemed even more anguished now and she worried over his state of mind. It wasn’t like him to be away from the Mother Confessor for so long, certainly not at a time like this. She remembered the day Kahlan collapsed, remembered her looking limp and lifeless in his arms as he carried her home. Never had she seen Lord Rahl look so somber, so tormented. His face from that day still haunted her dreams.
She looked to the sky and saw the hues of pink, red and orange – It was almost time to go. As she did every evening when the sun went down, she would slip silently away to go watch over the Mother Confessor. Sometimes when Lord Rahl returned she would still be awake, standing guard in the hall just beside the door. Most often, he would return much later in the night and would find her asleep on the sofa in his and Kahlan’s suite. He would shake her gently and tell her to go to bed.
Richard sat on a sturdy bench of pine beneath the shade of the trees, watching a pair of rabbits grazing on leafy greens. He often stayed up here from early morning before the sunrise, to late in the night, long after Kahlan had gone to bed. He’d fashioned the bench so he would have a seat up off the ground and had made it rather quickly, more for function than form. But he took his time in placing it, positioning it at an angle and a bit off to the side in order to keep his son’s grave in view while still taking in the sunsets over the valley below.
As much as Kahlan couldn’t bear to be so near their son’s grave, Richard couldn’t bear to be away. He hoped she understood his need and felt the remorse creeping back in. He’d barely seen her since the day she’d tried to return, the day he carried her home. The thread of guilt he’d sheltered since Ethan’s death flowed in torrents that day at seeing her grief so profound. He had stayed with her that night, holding her to him as he quietly wept with her, wishing only to end her heartache. He felt the full responsibility of that pain and the guilt of not having saved their son weighed heavily on him. He had promised her he would find a way. He had failed.
Richard turned to the south, back toward the palace and could see she sat on the terrace with Zedd. They often sat there now, when the weather was nice. He was too far away to see her face, but he could make out her long dark hair and the white of her dress. From this distance he could safely watch her, beneath the shadow of the trees without fear of meeting her eyes. Richard hoped in time he would break through his guilt and find a way back to her, a way to ease her suffering. Only then would he be able to ease his own.
Reluctantly, he pulled his eyes away and turned back to the west, overlooking the valley and meadows to the river beyond. The sun would be setting soon.
Kahlan’s eyes fixed on the fire, barely visible through the trees. Watching from inside her room, through the tall windows that overlooked the terrace, she could just make out its faint glow atop the mountain. Seeing its flicker somehow made her feel closer to Richard yet at the same time, further from him than she'd ever felt before. She wished she had the strength to go to him. She knew there was a need buried somewhere deep inside her, yet she couldn’t get past the emptiness, a cold barren veil she couldn’t seem to shed. At times it was achingly close and she tried to remember those feelings, then, just as quickly they would fade away, staying just beyond her grasp.
Watching the fire she was suddenly flooded with memories of that awful day she wanted only to forget. Her pain had been so overwhelming she didn’t think she could go on. Richard’s soft voice had been the only thing to keep her sane, like a beacon in a thick fog, keeping her from slipping into madness. She remembered Richard’s hand holding tight to hers, his other arm secure around her waist as she leaned against him for strength. “It’s alright Kahlan, I’m here. We’ll do this together” he had said, holding fast to her as they made their way up the mountain. Thinking back on it now she could hear the pain in his voice – at the time she had been so lost in her grief she hadn’t heard his own. Besieged by fear and panic as they neared the top, she couldn’t breathe, she struggled and fought like a wildcat. She realized now he’d only been trying to hold her, comfort her, but at the time, she’d been terrified he would force her to go. To see. She’d clawed at him and beat against his chest until she finally collapsed against him, exhausted. He’d swept her up in his arms and she remembered sobbing into his neck as he carried her down the hillside. When he at last laid her in their bed, he’d held her close. His arms felt so strong and secure around her as he tried to soothe her with his words, his touch. “I’m so sorry Kahlan.” She’d been too distraught at the time to offer any words of comfort to him and wished now with all her heart she’d told him how much she loved him, needed him.
That had been weeks ago and she’d seen little of him since. He came and went so quietly, so late in the night, she only knew his presence by the imprint in his pillow and the fold of the blankets.
As hard as this was for her, Kahlan knew it was doubly hard for Richard. She had been raised her entire life for service and duty; her life had never truly been hers. Before Richard, she had never expected to have happiness or love.
Even with all of his assurances, she somehow knew in the back of her mind, a male Confessor child would not stand. She had wanted to believe him with all her heart that this time would be different, but somewhere deep inside she had known all along, their Ethan would never grow to be a man. It had been that way for thousands of years – if not by nature, by force. Growing up in Westland Richard couldn’t conceive of such an atrocity. His love of life and quest for truth made him much more vulnerable than she in matters such as this.
Kahlan went to lie down on the bed, sliding under the luxurious covers, searching once more for the need she knew lived inside her. She desperately wanted to find it and break past the pain. It seemed an eternity since she’d felt anything other than sadness and grief. She closed her eyes and waited for the sweet relief of sleep.
Richard tossed more wood on the fire, just a small piece, it would be morning soon and he had yet to go to bed. He spent countless hours up on the hilltop wondering how he would ever give Kahlan her life back when he himself felt so dead inside. He wished he could go to her and hold her, keep her close and kiss away her pain, but when he reached inside himself to draw on those feelings he found only darkness, an empty soul, devoid of life. Devoid of feeling. There was no more grief or sadness. No desire or need. There was nothing. He almost wished for the pain to return – at least then he would feel something. He’d rather the anguish than this emptiness. Richard placed a hand on the sword at his hip, drawing on its magic, instantly feeling it tingle in his veins as it began to course through him. He closed his eyes succumbing to the power of it, letting it rush through him until it flowed with a vengeance and fury stormed in his blood, filling him with rage. It was better than feeling nothing at all.
Though her legs grew weary, Cara had steadfastly stayed at her post outside the Mother Confessor’s room knowing her presence helped put Lord Rahl’s mind at ease. She was growing used the routine now, nearly two months since Ethan’s death. When her eyelids became too heavy, she decided it was time to slip inside for a rest on the sofa. She was surprised to find Kahlan still awake, sitting up by the fire. It unnerved her. They’d spoken little since Ethan’s death and she wasn’t sure if she should stay or go, leaving her to her private sorrow.
“Sorry” she mumbled, turning to leave.
“Wait, Cara…” Kahlan’s eyes pleaded with her, “please?”
“Of course” Cara said, closing the door. Not sure if she should sit, she took up her guard post on this side of the door.
Kahlan had felt forlorn for days, more so than she had been. She had awoken one recent morning to find Richard’s side of the bed still warm. When she had reached her hand to his place in their bed, she’d felt his warmth, his presence. It made her sad to know she had missed him by mere moments. She had felt dead for so long, the heat of him rekindled a spark of life inside her and the ache of needing him filled her once more. She had been so long without him and realized she missed him terribly.
She hoped Cara could offer some insight into how Richard was faring, she saw more of him than anyone these days.
Kahlan patted the sofa next to her, “Why don’t you come sit? You’ve been standing out there quite a while.”
Cara did so silently.
“How are things? Are you well?” Kahlan asked.
Cara thought it an odd question, “I’m fine” she answered flatly.
After a long pause Kahlan asked, “Is there any word of trouble within the city?”
“No, everything is quiet.”
Kahlan smoothed her hands over her thighs, “Is there any word from D’Hara?”
Not one to step lightly, Cara got right to the point, “You don’t care if there’s word from D’Hara.” She knew what Kahlan really wanted to hear.
Not ready to admit it, Kahlan toyed with a thread on the sleeve of her dress. “How’s Zedd, did you seen him this evening?”
“Yes” Cara replied, “I stopped by his room before I came here. You know, he actually wants to go for a walk tomorrow, down by the riverfront. I think he’s finally beginning to feel better.” She looked Kahlan directly in the eye, “He misses you Mother Confessor.”
Her words made Kahlan uncomfortable and she pretended not to know what Cara really meant. “Misses me? I saw him earlier….has he forgotten already? Perhaps I should –”
“Lord Rahl” Cara interrupted.
Cara noticed Kahlan’s uneasiness at hearing his name but she didn’t care. She didn’t like seeing them apart. They needed each other, now more than ever. Why couldn’t they see what was so plainly obvious, even to a Mord-Sith? “Lord Rahl. He misses you.”
Kahlan looked down at her hands as she twisted her fingers, her heart felt heavy at the mention of his name. “Has he told you that?” She looked up, “When you’re up there with him, does he tell you he misses me?” Kahlan felt envious of Cara’s time with Richard. It seemed an eternity since she heard the sound of his voice.
“No. He doesn’t speak to me on the mountain.” Somehow, Kahlan wasn’t surprised. “But I’ve heard his pleas” Cara went on. “When he doesn’t know I’m near…He curses the spirits for your pain and in the same breath begs for their guidance.
I asked him shortly after you…after he carried you home, when he woke me from the sofa and told me to go to bed…I asked why he spends so much time away from you. I didn’t think he would tell me at first, it took him so long to answer. Just as I was about to leave he said that your suffering was his fault. That he had promised you he’d find a way to save your son. He can’t forgive himself for the torment he’s caused you.”
“But, it’s not his fault!” Kahlan cried vehemently. “He did everything he could to save Ethan! He risked his life in going to Shota, he risked Zedd’s in purging the illness…he would have given his own life had he known how to exchange one for the other!” Tears came anew at hearing Richard was bearing the weight of Ethan’s death, blaming himself for what nature had done.
Cara’s tone was surprisingly soft, “We know that…We’re intelligent thinking women.” She smiled briefly before leveling a serious look. “He loves you Mother Confessor.”
Kahlan felt lonelier than ever, “I love him too” she whispered. She decided then and there this had gone on long enough. They were letting themselves fall into despair, something neither would want if they were in their right mind. She knew she had to do what she thought she never could or would. She had to go the one place she never wanted to go. If Richard wouldn’t come to her, she would go to him, only this time, she had to find the strength to go to the mountaintop alone.
Kahlan grabbed at a switch jutting from the trunk of a maple. Drawing near the summit, she was finding this part of the trail quite steep and the supple branch was just enough to steady her as she gained solid footing. She’d made it past the hardest part, past the place she had collapsed in Richard’s arms. Vivid memories flooded her as she had drawn near and she’d felt the pit in her stomach grow and twist, threatening to take her down. But then she remembered Richard’s calm voice, assuring her he was with her, telling her how much he loved her. She could almost feel his arms around her as she forced herself to go on. Now well past it, she showed no signs of slowing and wouldn’t allow herself to think about it, afraid she would change her mind. Determination burned inside her: she would make it the top.
With a final pull on a large stump right below the highest ridge, she was finally up and over. Out of breath, she rested on the ground, panting from her effort as her eyes surveyed the scene. She saw an empty bench and a long cold fire pit. Her eyes quickly searched the forest looking for signs of Richard in among the trees but she saw nothing. She pushed herself to her feet, her heart sinking at not finding him here. She was about to call his name, thinking he must be nearby when her eyes caught sight of a small mound of dirt. It was ringed with rocks and had a large, flat stone at one end. Her breath caught in her throat. It was Ethan’s grave. Kahlan shook with cold though it was a warm summer day. Tears stung at her eyes but she forced them away. After what seemed an eternity, she took her first tentative steps toward it.
Trembling uncontrollably, she knelt beside the marker. Placed after the funeral, she’d never seen it. It was a simple headstone, one gotten from the woods, not the stonemason in town. She looked at the letters, roughly cut, but deep and neatly aligned:
Beloved son of the Mother Confessor,
Kahlan Amnell and her husband,
Lord Richard Rahl
Kahlan smiled and ran her fingers over the words she knew Richard’s hands had carved. She liked that he used ‘husband’ rather than mate, for that’s what he was: the man she loved more than life and the man who loved her equally in return. She looked down at the grave. Small as it was it seemed gargantuan before her, like it would open up and swallow her whole. For a time she wished it would. She dug her fingers into the dirt, clutching at the moist earth, burying her hands in it. She could no longer see the ground as quiet tears came to her. Grateful for this moment alone, she at last let herself go, sobbing uncontrollably as she lay over the small mound.
Richard struggled to stand, his legs weary with lack of food or rest. He wasn’t even sure where he was anymore or where he was going, he only knew he had to clear his head. He couldn’t think when he was so close to Kahlan and their son’s grave. He thought if he could just go deeper into the woods, be in the quiet among the trees, he could find a way through this.
He’d once again been atop the summit, sword in hand, letting anger rule his reason…It was the only way to escape the emptiness. When he’d turned from Ethan’s grave and saw the sun rising – the dawn of another day – he knew he had to do something. They couldn’t go on like this. He took a long look at the Confessor’s palace before turning to kick dirt on the fire. Flames extinguished, he stepped over it, toward the thick of the forest, heading deeper into the still dark wood.
His days had become a blur. Richard had known he was spending too much time on the mountain but he hadn’t realized how fully depleted he was until now. He’d rarely slept or eaten since Ethan’s death. He staggered a bit on his feet. He didn’t know how far he had gone but he hadn’t stopped all day and the heat of the sun was wearing him down. Whenever he felt too tired to continue, he reached inside, calling on his wrath to help him persevere. He’d grown accustomed to the rage and let it abide in him without so much as a touch of his sword. It had grown something of a beast in him, filling him with dark thoughts. It was his constant companion. He wasn’t sure if he could put away the anger even if he tried. But he didn’t dare try. So deep had he fallen into the abyss, he was no longer bothered that he found it more tolerable than the emptiness he’d known for so long. In fact, he was finding he rather preferred it.
The sound of book babbling in the distance broke through his mental fog and Richard stumbled toward it. Pushing through a thick of bushes, he saw the stream far below at the bottom of a deep ravine. He needed water. He was so exhausted he could hardly stand. He started down the slope taking only a few steps before getting caught up in a twist of branches. Had he an ounce of strength he would have tried to catch himself, stop his falling. As it was, Richard tumbled limply to the rocks below.
Kahlan laid across Ethan’s grave for what seemed like hours. Judging from the position of the sun, it had been, and now that she was there she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to tear herself away. At long last her tears abated, but she kept her face pressed to the dirt, as if resting a cheek on her little boy. “You were very special, my son. You were born in love. One day, we will see you again.” She would tell him then that no other Confessor had ever been able to marry for love, and that he had been born to two who loved each other deeply. Then he would know how truly special he was.
She finally sat up and wiped the tears from her face leaving dirt stains on her cheeks. She looked about the clearing and saw how peaceful a space Richard had made there. She admired his hand hewed bench overlooking the valley. It was almost sunset and she could see it was the perfect vantage point from which to watch. The small fire pit off to the side, the one she had seen so often from her terrace, would provide just enough warmth and light for the evening. There was a true tranquility she found in being there and she felt like she could breathe for the first time in months.
Kahlan at last stood and brushed her hands on the skirt of her dress before taking a seat on Richard’s bench. The sky glowed with vivid reds; streaks of pink and orange running through it. She settled in hoping he was alright. Richard was a man of the woods and she understood his need to go off into them. She was only sad that he didn’t know how much he had helped her. She may have come up here on her own accord, but she was never alone. He was with her every step of the way.