Rain lashed the windows of Lord Rahl's chambers. A violent gust of wind broke a window catch, and the casement blew inward, sending the blood red curtains billowing out into the dark room.
Darken's eyes snapped open.
As a child, Darken Rahl had dreamed of the Keeper almost every night. He was a light sleeper.
Every sense strained for signs of danger. Darken didn't move.
A flash of lightning illuminated the room, bright as day. An indigo shadow fell on the floor, venturing further into the room than the small figure who cast it. Mussed hair, great dark eyes that were usually blue but now looked like two pits of blackness in the white face.
Darken spoke his son's name aloud, but the boy made no answer. One hand quavered near his mouth. Nicholas began sucking his thumb. His eyes were huge and fixed on Darken.
Thunder crashed outside, less vibrant lightning right on its heels. Darken saw Nicholas flinch.
His father's words echoed in his mind: a true Rahl fears nothing. Don't be such a baby, Darken. It's only a storm.
Darken held out his arms to his son.
Nicholas ran to him as more thunder rumbled outside. It sounded like the voice of the Keeper. Fortunately, whatever censure the Lord of the Underworld had for Darken Rahl remained incoherent.
Darken didn't know how long he sat in bed with his son pressed to his heart while the storm raged.
He considered the perfect punishment for the Mord'Sith on guard outside his rooms who had let the prince pass without word from him, but reluctantly discarded his plans because he wouldn't have wanted Nicholas to return to his own bed in the nursery cold and frightened and alone. He didn't even bother closing the casement; just let the rain spend its fury on the carpet.
When someone else came to stand on Darken's threshold, it was not his Mord'Sith guard.
It was his wife.
The lightning and her loose hair made Kahlan look like a lost spirit. But the terror in her eyes before she saw Nicholas safe in his father's arms was a living thing, urgent and desperate. Darken imagined her going to check on the boy, seeing his empty bed and fearing the worst.
Someday Nicholas would inherit the power of two great nations. His own mother had dreaded the day he would come into his Confessor powers since he was born, because they might yet turn him into a monster.
But for now Nicholas was just a toddler terrified of a thunderstorm.
Kahlan avoided Darken's eyes as she came inside. She kissed her son's forehead, and would have fled the room if Nicholas hadn't leapt up out of Darken's lap and snatched her hands in his small ones.
Children had a surprisingly strong grip, Darken had noticed. Kahlan hissed in either annoyance or pain before she gave in and perched on the very edge of the embroidered coverlet.
Nicholas let go of one of her hands to throw an arm around Darken's neck. He still trembled at every loud boom of thunder, but gradually the fear drained from his body and he fell asleep against Darken's chest.
Kahlan tried to disentangle herself. Nicholas's grip was impressively tenacious, even in sleep.
Darken watched his wife until she met his eyes. He wasn't touching her, but he thought he could feel her tension stretching between them like the charged air of the thunderstorm. The only area of calm was Nicholas, innocent and asleep and trusting between them.
Darken and Kahlan held one another's gaze in the lightning-lit darkness. Together, they waited for the storm to pass. Neither slept.