Darken peered down into the crib that held his baby sister. Frowning, he poked a finger against the small bundle and watched her flail her tiny fists.
“Darken,” their mother chided. “Let her sleep. She has a lot of growing to do.”
Darken watched for a moment longer. “Can I hold her?”
“When she wakes up,” his mother said tiredly, her eyes already closing.
“You’re mine, Jennsen,” Darken murmured softly to the infant. “You’re mine. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
“Look mama!” Darken shouted to his mother. “She’s walking!” He gently held Jennsen’s small hands in his own as his sister took hesitant steps across the courtyard. Her face was screwed up in concentration as she carefully and deliberately put one foot in front of the other. On his left, Demmin watched them with something like amusement.
“She is,” Darken’s mother smiled. Something about the way his mother’s skin was nearly translucent worried Darken but he relaxed in the glow of her smile.
“Ellie! What did I tell you about letting the boy near the baby!” Lord Rahl shouted down from a window, his voice echoing and booming off the walls.
The loud noise made Jennsen screw up her face and start bawling as one of the Queen’s attendants plucked the toddler from Darken’s grasp. The nursemaid swiftly removed the child as the Queen had another coughing fit and Darken glared up at the window.
Darken was on the opposite side of the funeral party from where his two year old sister sat as they watched their mother’s pyre. Still, the two of them kept looking at each other and more than once the nursemaid grabbed Jennsen as she tried to run to Darken. Through it all, Lord Rahl did not deign to notice.
The funeral feast went in much the same way. Darken gestured for Jennsen to stay put and she pouted but obeyed. He didn’t miss the way their father glowered for a beat before returning to the task of presiding over the feast and he found he couldn’t eat another bite. Darken wasn’t at all surprised when Jennsen was sent to bed minutes later. He braced himself as she shrieked and kicked, demanding to be allowed to stay with everyone.
It was no surprise when later, Lord Rahl removed Darken. The surprise was when Lord Rahl pulled Darken into his study. “You’re leaving. Tomorrow at dawn you are taking your things and leaving.” Lord Rahl pulled out a piece of parchment and an inkpot. “It’s time you learned about duty and stopped playing nursemaid.”
“No! You are leaving. No discussion.” Lord Rahl fumed. “Now get out and get packed. You will be on your way tomorrow morning if I have to order Demmin to tie you to your saddle.”
Darken snapped his jaw shut and stormed out the door with his head held high. He looked neither right nor left as he stomped his way to the nursery.
“I just got her to sleep-” the nursemaid began but Darken simply glared and walked into Jennsen’s alcove. With great gentleness, Darken touched his sister’s arm until she stirred. When she opened her blue eyes and recognized Darken she threw her arms around him and began crying.
“Jenn, Father is making me go. I’ll be back for you. I promise,” he said softly to her hair.
“No!” Jennsen said and clung tighter. “I go with you!”
“Father wouldn’t like it,” Darken said quietly, hugging her back fiercely.
“I could hide in your bag. I can fit!” Jennsen said. “I’d be real good.”
“You need to stay here. I’ll find you.” Darken kissed the top of her head and pulled away. His back was just as straight as when he left his father’s study as Jennsen wailed behind him.
Darken still held the knife in his hand though he had cleaned it before leaving the room with his father’s corpse. He still remembered the way to the nursery and found himself looking at the door. His hands were beginning to shake as he wound down from the bloody deeds of the day and a tiredness was settling into his limbs. Demmin, as usual, was at his back. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped into the nursery.
The toys piled around the room had some new additions but were much the same. The nursemaid was a little greyer but otherwise much the same too. She held her hands in front of her with the expression Darken had learned many people wore when they believed death was imminent and felt helpless to prevent it.
“Where is the Princess?” Darken asked in a voice he had become used to using to project calm anger.
“I won’t let you hurt her, milord,” the woman said, voice cracking. “I’ll die first.”
“I have heard that request many times today and am not at present in the mood to grant it to you. I-” Darken stopped when he saw movement behind one of the red and black curtains. “Jenn?”
Jennsen popped out and streaked for Darken as her nursemaid squawked and tried to stop her. She wrapped her arms around Darken’s waist and buried her face against him. “You promised you’d come back.”
“And I did, Jenn-love,” Darken said, keeping a wary eye on the woman. He stroked his sister’s hair gently as he finally felt at home.
“Which one is mine?” Jennsen called out, dancing down the aisle between the two rows of stalls.
“Whichever one you pick,” Darken called back, feeding a carrot to a particularly demanding black pony. “Whichever two. One for riding and one for parades.”
He was surprised she picked a rather snappish bay mare for parades but he could see how the pony’s gleam might appeal to a little girl. For riding she chose a sorrel mare with white socks with guidance from the stable master. The man assured Darken that most ponies were more ornery than most courtiers but the little sorrel was as sweet tempered as they came.
The joy that lit Jennsen’s face as she rode the sorrel, now named Betty, was exactly what Darken had hoped to see. The fall that broke her arm was not.
“I thought you said the mare was a good match,” Darken accused the stable master, fingering his knife.
“No horse is good enough to keep a new rider from falling. Only practice helps.” The man’s adam’s apple bobbed nervously.
“You can’t protect children from themselves,” the nursemaid commented to the air when Darken went to visit Jennsen. Grudgingly, Darken thought Jennsen would miss the old woman if she were killed. He stayed by his sister’s bedside all night.
“General,” Jennsen called, dancing down the stone corridor on her toes. “Is my brother available to dance?”
“He’s in conference with Lord Winterhaven,” Egremont said regretfully.
“Then will you dance with me? My teacher’s been making me practice the gavotte.” Jennsen held up her arms and demonstrated a few steps.
“Very good, my lady.” Egremont said. “But you don’t want to dance with me. I’m a clumsy old man.”
“You can’t be worse than Edwin. He stepped on my toes five times.” Jennsen held up five fingers with a grin.
Egremont looked up the hall and down before dancing a round with Jennsen. She hummed the tune for the beat and made a “ta-da” sound at the end. In spite of himself, Egremont was smiling when he told her to run along to her mathematics tutor.
“I was taking to Esme, Lord Eastman’s eldest, she said you ordered babies killed. Is it true?” Jennsen asked, spearing a bit of meat with her fork.
“On the morning Father sent me away, he told me something.” Darken set his utensils down and surreptitiously cast a small spell on the room’s air currents. They were in Lord Eastman’s summer castle being served by Lord Eastman’s servants because it was cheaper than pacifying the Lord through brute strength. “He had discovered a prophecy which said I was going to be defeated by his second son but with the usual flourishes prophets add. He said he was going to make sure he had a son to deal with my evil. That sending me around to teach me to be a more responsible Lord Rahl was a cover to make sure I couldn’t continue to poison his court.”
“You believed him?” Jennsen asked, calmly continuing with her lunch.
“When Mother was carrying you, Father was utterly convinced you would be a boy. I don’t think he ever forgave Mother that you weren’t.” Darken smiled at her. “I’m glad you weren’t.”
“You believe our younger brother was among those babies?” Jennsen asked coolly.
“I located a prophet and she told me the next Seeker, the one to destroy me, would be at Brennidon and a baby. She never said a word about us being related.” Darken answered, ignoring her tone. “It was him or us. I chose us.”
“Us?” Jennsen asked, her posture relaxing.
“Do you believe a ‘true’ son of Panis Rahl would value your life, sister?”
“Have you given any thought to marriage, sister?” Darken asked nonchalantly as they sat down to lunch for the first time in months. Being pristinely ungifted, it was impossible for him to take Jennsen with him on his journeys but he always came back. Now that she was eighteen, he was torn between wanting to keep her close and not being able to afford to set aside the kind of tool that offering his sister’s hand in marriage could be.
“Have you, brother dear?” Jennsen asked, rolling her eyes as she spread a picnic cloth under the shade of a tree.
“I can’t afford to,” Darken said candidly. “If I marry it must be for a treaty to end the war. So far no one with the power to enforce such a treaty is making me an offer.” He sat on the edge of the cloth and tented his fingers. “But if you want a husband, I’m sure I could find one for you. A rich one, a handsome one?”
Jennsen smirked and looked sidelong at the Mord’Sith standing guard. “How could a husband compare with all this?”
“I’m sure we could find you a husband who’d be willing to,” Darken made a vague hand motion, “make allowances.”
“Thank you.” Jennsen leaned over and kissed Darken’s cheek. “I think I might be able to find better ways to serve D’Hara.”
“Oh?” Darken asked encouragingly.
“I am your only citizen who is completely immune to magic of all kinds. Surely one of your sorcerers can find some way to use that to help with researching.” Jennsen said.
“I’m not going to hand my sister over to being some sort of test subject,” Darken said firmly.
“Not a test subject. An assistant. Someone who won’t be blinded by illusions and won’t be affected if a deadly spell gets loose.” Jennsen looked at Darken over the rim of her wine glass. “I could also keep an eye on your sorcerers.”
“This is what you want?” Darken asked.
“Then I grant it.” Darken smiled.
“Darken!” Jennsen called and threw herself into an undignified hug. “It’s been too long.”
The only man Jennsen had seen in over a year who was not wearing D’Haran colors stood at her brother’s left while Demmin stood at his right. She gave Demmin a slightly less enthusiastic hug and waited to be introduced to the stranger.
“This is Giller, Wizard previously of Aydindril,” Darken said grandly as Giller bowed to Jennsen in Aydindril fashion. “He has agreed to help us.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Jennsen said, inclining her head.
“So this is your sister,” Giller looked Jennsen up and down in a way that reminded Jennsen he was used to dealing with women who could enslave him with a touch. He clearly found little awe inspiring about the princess of D’Hara. “Some people say you keep her locked in a tower to keep her pure.” Giller said to Darken. “That you don’t allow her a husband out of perverted jealousy.”
“I assume you mean Mother Confessor Serena,” Jennsen said, jerking the wizard’s attention back to herself. “I am here by my own choice doing what I choose to do.” She held her head high.
“The Princess has been an invaluable help to the sorcerers,” Demmin said quietly.
Giller followed patiently and quietly as Jennsen took them on a tour of the tower. The exuberant young woman who had greeted them was replaced by a serious, professional woman who knew the correct names for numerous apparatus and what they were used for. “We haven’t made much progress deciphering the Red Moon Prophecy but we think we’ve eliminated the idea that it’s already happened.” she finished.
“Impressive,” Giller said grudgingly. “These facilities are much better than I feared.”
Jennsen directed an inquiring look at Darken.
“I promised him a freer hand than the Mother Confessor allowed,” Darken said. “And I brought a new round of recruits to rotate through the guard here. There’s one in particular I think you’ll enjoy meeting. Denna! Step forward.”
Jennsen’s eyes widened noticeably as a slim young blonde in Mord’Sith leathers stepped away from her peers. “Oh. Thank you for pointing her out.” She saw that Darken was watching Giller’s reaction like a hawk and curtsied deeply to her brother and Lord.
“Not so pure then,” Giller muttered then said more loudly, “I’d like a closer look at that Arc’gilat I saw.”
“We can discuss your duties later,” Jennsen murmured in Denna’s ear, feeling sorry for the way Darken had put the other woman on the spot.
“Yes, highness,” Denna said with a sparkle in her eyes.
Jennsen threw open the doors to her brother’s suite of rooms and stormed in. “Brother! We need to talk.”
“Yes, sister,” the man sitting in the window stood hurriedly, brushing imaginary dirt off his robes.
“You’re reassigning Denna to the border. I want to go too.” Jennsen demanded.
“Well, you see-”
“You’re not Darken,” Jennsen’s eyes narrowed. “Egremont! There’s an impostor in my brother’s rooms.”
“Malray!” the man bleated in a voice that was the complete opposite of Darken’s.
Egremont and a soldier Jennsen had never met before appeared in the doorway. Egremont harrumphed. “So you’re not up to fooling the princess yet.” Egremont turned an avuncular smile on Jennsen. “Good to see you, highness.”
“Ah, milady. If we had been warned of your visit-” the soldier started.
“The exercise would have been pointless,” Egremont cut in.
The soldier gave another try at an ingratiating smile as the princess glowered disapprovingly. “Please don’t have Walter flogged, highness.” He ignored the other man’s squawk of fear. “He’s been working very hard on his Lord Rahl impersonation. On orders.”
“I want to see my brother,” Jennsen gritted out.
“He’s reveling, highness,” the soldier interjected.
“Out,” Egremont ordered the soldier and the double. “I apologize, milady,” he said after they left. “Malray discovered that one and convinced Lord Rahl a double would be useful in case of assassins. He’s been overestimating his own importance ever since.”
Jennsen took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Lord Rahl has assigned Denna to the border. I want to go with her.”
“Lord Rahl won’t like that.” Egremont said slowly.
“Giller has the tower well in hand. I can be an ambassador. I’m ready to see more of the world.” Jennsen said, the arguments she’d spent hours of travel time preparing sliding out of her mouth in a rush.
“Why not request Denna stay with you?” Egremont asked.
Jennsen paused. “I couldn’t ask that of her. She has ambitions being in the tower won’t satisfy. She’s so smart and driven, it’d be a shame to keep her hidden out there.”
Egremont looked into Jennsen’s eyes for a long moment and Jennsen remembered being small. She remembered falling asleep next to Egremont, waiting for her brother to finish some business of state. She felt as safe with him as with Darken. Safer sometimes when Darken was in a snit. He grunted. “I think I can tell Lord Rahl so that he’ll understand.” He kissed Jennsen’s forehead. “In some ways you’re more grown up than he is.”
Three days later Jennsen was riding to join Denna in the Midlands ostensibly to begin a diplomatic tour.
“The Seeker lives.”
Jennsen sat bolt upright out of a deep sleep. “What?” she asked muzzily.
“I felt his Naming. He lives and he’s coming for us,” Darken said urgently.
“Leave us.” Jennsen apologetically flapped a hand at Denna. “The Seeker of Truth. Maybe he isn’t coming for us. What happened to Gener- you killed him. Of course.” Jennsen swiped at her eyes.
“He was in Westland. My men were chasing a pair of Confessors and one of them made it through the Boundary. We have the other one.” Darken paced as Jennsen snugged a dressing gown over her nightie. “She’s pregnant.”
“So we wait until he gets closer and we talk to him.” Jennsen said firmly, thinking about the distance from Brennidon to Westland.
“The Seeker almost got one of the Boxes of Orden.” Darken announced as he appeared on the transfer symbol.
Jennsen looked up from her ledger. “Was he after the Box?”
“Not really. He was trying prevent Demmin from taking it.” Darken admitted.
“Let me talk to him.” Jennsen said. “It was the Kelabra one, yes? That’s not too far away.”
“What would you say to him?” Darken asked, looking more surprised than angry.
“The truth.” Jennsen shrugged.
“Denna will be with you for protection?” Darken asked.
“We’ll take him to the temple between Kelabra and Tamarang. If he’s going for the Boxes he’ll need to pass through there.” Jennsen said. “We get him alone and have a frank discussion about history.”
“”I have Giller working on an alternate plan.” Darken warned.
Jennsen kissed Darken’s cheek. “I won’t fail.”
Richard opened his eyes. The last thing he remembered was Zedd disappearing in a fight and a woman in red leather turning the magic of his sword against him. The woman in red stood next to a thick wooden door that was built to be padlocked from the outside. The speaker was a redhead in black and red silks. “Who are you?” he asked, rubbing his hands together as they tingled from the memory of burning.
“I’m Princess Jennsen of D’Hara and I want to talk.” Jennsen said.
“This isn’t talking, this is imprisonment.” Richard said angrily.
“A precaution. Mistress Denna thought you might attack first or turn down our offer to talk. And I thought the Wizard and Confessor might have… objections to you hearing what I have to say.” Jennsen nervously tugged on her skirt.
“Because you’ll lie?” Richard asked, levering himself off the cold stone floor as pins and needles coursed over his right leg.
“You are the Seeker of Truth. Everyone has secrets. They’re afraid you’ll discover theirs.” Jennsen said. “Such as: the woman who gave birth to you is alive.”
Richard felt like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. George’s and Mary’s faces flickered across his mind’s eye. He told himself it wasn’t a betrayal of them to want to meet this woman, to find out about where he’d come from. “She what?”
“My brother knew she was the Seeker’s mother, so he made sure he knew where she was in case you came looking for her. She’s quite safe.” Jennsen’s blue eyes were suddenly penetrating. “Only you haven’t gone looking for her.”
“Zedd said she was dead,” Richard breathed out. “How do I know you’re not the one who is lying?”
“You are the Seeker of Truth,” Jennsen repeated. “Do you think the truth is what he said?”
Richard tried to focus but felt his own wants coming between him and the magic of the sword. “Why would he lie?”
“I don’t know. It seems rather silly to lie to a Seeker he Named himself, doesn’t it?” Jennsen said mildly. “Maybe he thought you’d go looking for her instead of focusing on the quest he told you about. Maybe he didn’t want to explain about abandoning her.”
Richard looked warily at the two women. “He needed to save me.” He thought of the women of Brennidon, willing to face death to protect him.
“By leaving his daughter behind for D’Haran troops?” Jennsen asked. “Oh, he didn’t tell you about that either.”
“He’s my grandfather? That’s ridiculous.” Richard tried to stand up straighter but now his instincts were telling him Zedd had been hiding something. He had glossed over how he’d known Richard would be the Seeker rather quickly. “What about my father?”
“Darken killed him,” Jennsen said simply. “Because he threatened Darken with conceiving you so you would defeat Darken. Or destroy. The prophecy isn’t nearly as clear as people make it out to be.”
“I don’t believe in prophecy,” Richard said curtly. He stiffened at Jennsen’s laughter.
“My brother tried to kill you when you were a baby and you lived. Your grandfather hid you away in Westland and you made it through the barrier twice. If I need proof of prophecy, I don’t need to go beyond that.”
“Why would you tell me Darken killed my father?” Richard demanded.
“Because it’s true. I see no point in hiding that from the Seeker of Truth. You see, he was our father too.” she tilted her head. “I don’t see why you’re so upset. He abandoned your mother too, little brother.”
“Don’t call me that,” Richard shook his head.
“Why not? It’s true.” Jennsen said, frowning.
“Your brother is a monster!”
“You are my brother too. We are the children of Panis Rahl. We’re family.”
That word hit things inside Richard. Michael believing he’d killed their father. Mark betraying him to protect Brigid. He wasn’t sure he wanted another brother. “I’m not sure what that means anymore.”
Jennsen nodded. “All I want from you is to use your influence as the Seeker of Truth to arrange a meeting to discuss a treaty between D’Hara and the Midlands Council.”
“Why? So you can betray and kill them?”
“We can’t sustain this war indefinitely. I believe in the prophecy. I believe you are the Seeker. My brother tried averting the prophecy already and here you are.” Jennsen pursed her lips and looked sidelong at Denna for a moment. “You are also a son of Panis Rahl. You could depose Darken and sit on the throne yourself.”
Richard ground his teeth, offended that she would think he could be so easily bought off. “And what do you expect in return?”
“I want my brother to live.”
“He’s a monster.”
“He’s my big brother.”
Richard tried to draw on the anger, grief, and outrage that had propelled him so far. He remembered Fane killing his father and taking Laura hostage. He remembered the bravery of the mothers of Brennidon. Somehow what he saw when he looked at Jennsen was Lilly betraying him to save her brother’s life.
“I know what he’s done. I know it’s selfish. But he’s my big brother and I don’t want to see him dead.” Jennsen paused but Richard couldn’t think of anything to say. “If you make me choose between D’Hara’s future and my brother’s, I’ll choose D’Hara. If you reach the treaty meeting and call for his head, I’ll support you. So long as at the end there is someone in charge of the House of Rahl. We could put one of my brother’s bastards on the throne and you could choose a regent if you don’t want the work of ruling yourself. But if you kill my brother and no one replaces him, D’Hara will fall into chaos and thousands more will die from that. All I ask is that you don’t let the Confessors take him.”
That broke Richard into motion. “Why not? He’s been hunting them down and they’re the force of order and justice in the Midlands.”
“Is that what she told you?” Jennsen showed the first signs of anger. “Confessors would wipe his mind and force him to give them children.”
“Why would they want that?” Richard was half angry on Kahlan’s behalf that anyone would say that sort of thing about her and half disgusted by the ploy.
“That’s what Confessors do. They take men they’ve Confessed and have children with them.” Jennsen said as if it were obvious.
“Why don’t they choose…” Richard trailed off as he remembered Kahlan telling him they couldn’t be together after they’d shared such a powerful kiss.
“Confessors can’t control their powers in moments of passion. They only subject men they despise to that.”
“It’s not true. It can’t be.”
“Don’t let them do that to my brother,” Jennsen pleaded. “We have your Confessor’s sister. I’ll arrange for her to be released to you if you promise not to let that happen to my brother.”
“It can’t be true.”
“You are the Seeker of Truth. Hear my words. Ask your wizard and Confessor about them. You call my brother a monster for Brennidon. The Confessors have been around for thousands of years. There is one boy per generation. They kill the boys in infancy. How many dead children is that?”
“He’s in love with her,” Denna said, speaking up for the first time.
“You-” Jennsen shuddered. “Fine. But ask her. Ask her if she’s telling you no because if she told you yes, she’d wipe your mind. And then if you had a son, she’d order you to kill that child and you would do it happily because she told you to.”
“And what are you hiding from me?” Richard demanded.
“These are Mord’Sith. They are our most effective fighting force. They’re masters at finding the truth. They’re abducted as little girls and tormented mentally and physically.” Jennsen tilted her head at him again. “Yes, I thought that might get a reaction.”
“They don’t think so.”
“We don’t,” Denna said. “We are proud to serve.” She smiled lasciviously at Jennsen.
“A meeting is all I ask.” Jennsen spread her hands, palms up. “The choice is in your hands. Seeker.”