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Ever After

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“Have you reconsidered my offer, Kahlan?”

When the Underworld freezes over, Kahlan longs to reply. She stares through the bars of her cell at Darken Rahl, hating him. Hating the soft hair, the stupid little moustache and tiny beard. The (appropriately) blood-colored robe-vest-thing. The deliciously sculpted arm muscles. The smirk.

“You couldn’t wait until I was delirious from lack of food?” she suggests.

Rahl frowns. He waves two fingers at one of the two Mord’Sith who flank him on either side. It’s more a shooing motion than a coded gesture for the left Mord’Sith to interpret, but she doesn’t seem confused. She sashays down the dungeon hallway.

“I won’t let you starve to death,” Rahl promises Kahlan.

“What a pity,” she sighs.

Someone laughs. It isn’t Rahl, with his greedy fingers reaching for Kahlan through the bars like he’s the Confessor. It certainly isn’t Kahlan, for whom life has lost all meaning.

It’s Shota, Kahlan realizes. She can’t see the witchwoman because their cells are adjacent. But she can hear that laugh, and she hopes it strikes chills down Darken Rahl’s spine.

“Something amuses you?” Rahl asks. His unreadable eyes have left Kahlan’s, and he stares into the next cell over. The Mord’Sith who was at his right shoulder shifts her position so that she’s between him and the bars. Cold brown eyes slide over Kahlan like she’s nothing.

“The great and terrible Darken Rahl,” says Shota, “begging at the Mother Confessor’s feet.”

The one thing Darken Rahl will never do is beg at my feet, thinks Kahlan. She thinks it so loud that it feels like she has said it, but Rahl does not look back.

“Terrible?” he says. Now there is a laugh in his voice, but it’s bitter, almost worse than the desperate greed when he speaks to Kahlan. “When everything I’ve done has been because of you?”

Shota gasps. Kahlan imagines her recoiling, and pity stirs in her deadened heart.

“You sealed my fate the day you told Carracticus Zorander that prophecy named me a monster,” Rahl snarls. “He tortured a baby to death, because of you. And ever after, your prophecy haunted my childhood. It was with me when I took my first steps, when I visited my mother’s tomb, when I broke Demmin’s arm because he’d pushed me off the balcony.”

He stops, panting.

Almost everyone learns to walk and has a mother, Kahlan thinks with lightheaded levity, but he didn’t mean to say that last. He’s slipping.

Rahl steps closer to the bars in front of Shota’s cell. Kahlan catches a glimpse of copper red hair; Shota must be right at the edge too. The remaining Mord’Sith sways in her high heels as if not sure which way to jump.

“But I have defeated the prophecy,” Rahl asserts, “and you.”

A jolt of pure rage races through Kahlan’s veins. If she were thinking rationally, she would be shocked to hear Shota’s affirmation of the prophecy when all depends upon Rahl’s disbelief in it for the foreseeable future. But as it is, she cheers behind tight lips when Shota says,

“You have defeated nothing. You are a fool, Darken Rahl. You think you’ve won, but you blame me for your victory. Can’t you stomach it? It was not I who murdered the firstborn sons of Brennidon, oh helpless pawn of prophecy.”

Kahlan half-expects the derision in the witchwoman’s voice to drive Darken Rahl into a murderous rage. But instead he seems to shrink, like a hawk folding down its wings. The hard lines of his profile soften.

“If it hadn’t been for you, it would not have been I who gave that order either,” he says to the witchwoman.

Kahlan fights to contain her snort of disbelief, and loses. The Mord’Sith who is still left whirls, hand going to her agiel.

Rahl steps close to Kahlan’s bars again. If she could read his face, she would say it held self-mockery.

“Send for me,” he says, and she knows he means, Send for me if you change your mind. Kahlan has no choice in that. A Confessor knows her duty.

Nonetheless, something makes her ask him, as he turns away: “And if I do, will you beg at my feet?”

Rahl looks back at her. His voice is husky with carnal promise when he replies.

“I will—worship—you from head to toe, my dear,” Darken Rahl half-assures, half-threatens.

He leaves with a sweep and swirl of robe-vest-skirt, his Mord’Sith guard at his heels like a well-trained dog.

And it is his voice Kahlan hears when she goes to offer him her terms. “Ever after,” Darken Rahl said. His life was changed ever after.

Kahlan’s ever after will be shorter than that. One day it will disappear.

If you could change the past…wouldn’t you?