The Mother Confessor was hailed across the Midlands for her compassion, kindness, and vast reserve of gentle strength.
When they travelled through villages, murmurs would ripple through the crowds. People would whisper and stand in awe of her long hair, recognizing it for the symbol of authority it was, even when Kahlan did not wear her white dress.
It irritated Cara.
They treated Kahlan as though she were a goddess descended from above to walk among them. It was one thing to regard her with the reverential respect demanded by her station but even she, a Mord’Sith trained from childhood to be a loyal subject to the House of Rahl, had not stumbled and fawned before the power that commanded her. Not with Darken and certainly not with Richard.
On some level she acknowledged that the role Kahlan fulfilled for the people of the Midlands was far different from the bond between Rahl and D’Hara. Yet, like D’Harans and Darken Rahl, the people of the Midlands had a deeply held yet subdued fear of Kahlan’s abilities. Cara would watch as they fell over themselves trying to please her and attend to her, handling her with open devotion. However, not one dared close enough to touch her.
Cara saw how Kahlan seemed to have a bubble around her, preventing anyone from outside their party from drawing too near. When one did, unintentional contact was answered with flinching, flickers of terror, and repulsion. Kahlan acted as though she was unaware of it, flashing kind eyes and soft smiles to those around her, subtly reaffirming her position and demanding silent respect.
Even so, Cara recognized that Kahlan was not so foolish to not see, and not so naive as to misunderstand their reactions.
On the other hand, Richard seemed oblivious to these things. Of course, he was boyish. Cara knew that he often saw only what he wanted to, and having been raised beyond the politics and power struggles of both the Midlands and D’Hara he was rarely able to see Kahlan as more than the woman he loved. He did not seem to fully grasp the authority she possessed nor her responsibilities to the lands she ruled over. Easily swept away by any minor struggle that arose, Cara should not have been surprised that he was equally distracted by all enthusiasms, even those that kept a part of Kahlan isolated from him.
This further irritated Cara, especially when after a time, she realized that she was noticing things about Kahlan that apparently eluded Richard.
After months of traveling together and passing through an innumerable number of small hamlets and towns it should not have been only Cara to see the clear differences between the Mother Confessor and the woman.
In camp, even when they were on guard for banelings or worse, discussing the fate of humanity and their plan to save the world, Kahlan took liberties with speech and touch she did not allow herself among her subjects. She would freely smile or grimace, or offer her hand to one of her companions knowing that they all, yes even Cara, trusted her control.
It added a liveliness to her, a lightness, a mirth that was not there when she lifted her chin and donned the comportment of her position. Despite the gravity of their quest, this Kahlan reveled in her ability to set aside, albeit temporarily, her white dress.
However, this part of her was also quickly concealed when she needed to act as the Mother Confessor. Her shoulders would stiffen, back straight, and while Richard and Zedd enjoyed the comforts and relaxation afforded to them in settlements, Kahlan became weary and ill rested. Her smiles tense and forced. Her eyes stern and muted in color.
In seeing this, Cara began to feel as though the kindness and compassion that the Mother Confessor was renowned for was merely the shinning life of Kahlan Amnell burning through. Certainly, Kahlan was all the things people said she was. She embodied the characteristics attributed her, loved her people, and committed fully to her duties, but it appeared to Cara that the weight of her role and the perception of her powers kept a part of the Mother Confessor separate from her people, just as it kept a part of Kahlan separate from Richard.
Cara spent more time than she would ever admit considering how these parts of Kahlan could be reconciled. She, more than anyone gave her credit for, understood politics. Living in the People’s Palace as a personal guard to Darken Rahl had allowed her to develop a keen mind and an extensive knowledge about the roles and responsibilities of a ruler.
While she had great respect and even admiration for the way the Mother Confessor controlled the Midlands and balanced her positions, Cara could not deny that she also was beginning to feel a fondness for Kahlan the woman. In some ways, it could even be said that she preferred when Kahlan was freer and more lively. When she was truer to herself.
More and more, Cara saw the strain Kahlan felt in shifting between roles, and found herself responding with equal tension. When Richard would run off to aid some hapless villager, Cara stayed mindfully beside Kahlan trying to ease her burdens as Mother Confessor and reassure her that all parts of her had a place.
It was not a capacity she had ever filled before, nor was she sure that it was suitable for her. In many ways Cara identified more with the discipline, stoicism, and duty that was more typical of Kahlan when she was acting as the Mother Confessor. Yet, when her gruff jokes, acerbic wit and awkward comforts made Kahlan smile more freely or relax her shoulders, Cara felt a pride surge through her approaching a power beyond anything she had experienced.
There were times when she would consciously flaunt her leathers and agiels, reminding the villagers of the Midlands that if they were to fear one among them it should be her. At the same time, she would try to stay nearer to Kahlan than she would have in camp. She hoped her nearness, however inept it was, would prove to Kahlan that anyone who knew her would not treat her with thinly veiled duplicity. Even a Mord’Sith who had more to fear from her than most.
All her actions came from a place of high esteem and respect. Cara struggled often with what she sometimes believed was a loyalty beyond what she felt for Lord Rahl. These thoughts only ever frustrated her and she had to remind herself of the many times that Richard had ordered her to protect Kahlan, to aid Kahlan, to be loyal to Kahlan as if she were him. This felt wrongheaded to Cara, but it was satisfactory enough for her to move past her confusion and refocus on more pressing matters.
For a time, she felt sure that she and Kahlan had silently accepted that this was just another role Cara played. Another way in which she could contribute to their quest. Cara wasn't even entirely sure that Kahlan fully acknowledged her behavior, but in all honesty that was unimportant. As long as Kahlan benefitted from Cara's actions there was no need to speak of them.
Of course, Cara should have known that of the four of them only she could be fully contented by these unspoken dealings.
One night after a particularly pointless stay in a nearby village, in which Richard wanted to help some townsfolk construct a barricade subsequently leading to a property dispute they had asked the Mother Confessor to preside over, Kahlan offered to take the first watch.
"Cara you should get some rest. You always take first watch, let me tonight."
Cara eyed Kahlan, the dark circles under her eyes and her tired but ever kind smile.
"Mord'Sith don't need much sleep. I'll be fine. Besides," She tilted her head making no effort to disguise her open appraisal of Kahlan's exhaustion. "isn't it you who should be getting some rest?"
Kahlan's brow furrowed and she stared briefly but intently at Cara before standing up.
"If you want to be stubborn, fine. I'm going to take a walk."
Richard quickly stood, an eager look on his face.
"I'll go with you."
She looked back at him, and Cara noticed she did not turn all the way.
"I think I'd just like to go by myself. You should sleep, don't wait up for me."
He sunk back down. Though he had offered no argument the look on his face, which Kahlan had not turned to see, wondered at her.
Not long after she had left, both Richard and Zedd drifted off, lost to the rest of the world in deep slumber.
Cara rolled her eyes. This was why she took first watch.
Assured that the fire would burn for awhile longer, she stood and sauntered around the campsite keeping an eye just past the reach of the firelight, hoping Kahlan would return soon.
When both Richard and Zedd had fallen asleep she'd started feeling increasingly anxious at the absence of the other woman. It was not a feeling she wanted to become familiar with. Antsy and on edge she was concerned that perhaps she had gravely offended Kahlan when she'd rejected her offer to take first watch, and prompted her to leave camp on her own.
She was not worried that Kahlan could not handle herself should a situation arise, but rather Cara felt a pang of unease when she considered being too far away to guard Kahlan's flank or repel an unseen and unexpected magic attack.
She forced herself to sit back down, trying not to get caught up in hypotheticals. She trusted herself to sense danger, even at a distance. Besides it was unlikely that Kahlan had gone too far.
Suddenly Cara stood back up, eyes fixed on the camp's perimeter.
She remained standing, waiting until Kahlan was fully within her view. When she was, Cara sat and was pleasantly startled when Kahlan moved to sit beside her.
“I’m sorry if I upset you earlier.”
Kahlan’s voice seemed to echo in the silence. Cara imperceptibly bristled not only at the noise but also at what had been said. Could it be that the Mother Confessor had learned some way to read Mord’Sith?
“I didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t handle it. I was trying to give you an out. We’ve all started to assume that you want first watch without really asking, and you’ve been so…”
Her voice broke off. It was clear, even to Cara, that Kahlan had put a lot of thought into what she was saying. She angled herself more fully towards the other woman, not wanting to miss whatever it was she was going to say.
“Well, you’ve been…”
Again Kahlan paused, head down brows knitting together in an effort to find the right words. Cara watched as she thought, not entirely sure she would like what Kahlan said but wanting to hear regardless.
A moment went by and Kahlan looked up to meet Cara’s questioning gaze.
“It hasn’t been easy for me to adjust to traveling with you. You’re a Mord’Sith and Dennee..”
Cara inwardly cringed.
“but that’s not all there is to you.”
Kahlan’s voice was softer now, like she’d been reminded about what she was trying to get at. Her eyes drifted towards the fire, while Cara’s stayed locked on her.
“You’ve done things for Richard, for this quest, for me…that a Mord’Sith wouldn’t do.”
Cara was tempted to take offense, but Kahlan looked at her again and she decided instead to sit quietly and listen.
“I think,” the corner of her mouth quirked up, teasing at a smile “sometimes I get glimpses of Cara Mason the woman, not just the Mord’Sith.”
Leaning in, Cara silently encouraged Kahlan to continue.
“It’s a good thing. It reminds me that you’re a whole person.” She chuckled nervously averting her eyes “That doesn’t really make sense does it?”
Her words surprised them both, as Kahlan turned to fully face her. This time is was Cara who adjusted her sightline into the fire.
“It does.” Kahlan repeated nodding slowly as corners of her mouth lifted and fully broke into a soft and understanding smile.
Cara watched her carefully, unwilling to let their eyes meet, lest her sudden and needless vulnerability become too exposed.
“It’s late. You should sleep now. Richard will be worried if he wakes for his watch and you’re still up.”
She could feel Kahlan’s eyes on her, but she stubbornly refused to look.
“If you’re worried you’ll have nightmares about deeds and property liens after that cursed trial I’m sure Lord Rahl would be happy to get up and comfort you since it is his fault you were roped into it.”
It had been intended to come out much more harshly than it had, to be a step away from the distance they seemed to be closing tonight. Instead it sounded almost playful and Kahlan laughed. The tension between them breaking as it did.
Cara looked at her then, annoyed puzzlement on her face.
The look did not vanish as Kahlan, still humming with laughter, leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Cara’s cheek.
“That’s exactly what I mean Cara.”
She stood then and walked over to her bedroll, a smile still on her face. As she tucked herself against Richard’s back she turned her head to once more regard Cara.
Cara merely nodded in response, the annoyance on her face slipping away to reveal a look of puzzled wonderment as Kahlan lay down facing away from her.
She watched for awhile, until the confessor’s breathing was steady, indicating sleep.
Then - for only the briefest of moments - Cara allowed a feeling she was no longer sure she could safely call pride surge through her.