Soren spun his head around when he heard the footsteps. He wasn’t expecting trouble, but he let his hand drop down to the hilt of his sword anyway. The sword was unnessecary – Soren was magically adept, although he liked to pretend not to be. His father had used magic for most things, and Soren had been told to view it with a lot of suspicion.
Rosina crunched out of the woods and stopped in front of him. She propped a hand on her hip and raised her eyebrows. “Seahawk, what are you doing out here?”
“Come sit,” Soren invited her. He shifted over and patted the grass beside him.
Rosina sank down gracefully, folding her legs under her. She pushed the hood back off her face and turned to look at Soren. “Everyone’s gone crazy,” she announced. “They think you’re off to destroy the world.”
“So you’ve come to fulfil your destiny and stop me?” he joked.
She nodded. “Something like that. My parents will be mad. They told me to leave you alone.”
“How’s my mother?” Soren checked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her in a while. She’s probably proud of you, though, for destroying the world.”
“Probably,” Soren agreed seriously, but then he couldn’t hold back a laugh. “It’s just these stupid dreams, Rosi. I was hoping I could find someone to help me with them.”
“They have been bothering you,” she agreed. “Not the usual nightmares, though?”
“No.” Soren shook his head. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have nightmares about his past, and Rosina knew that. They’d been close since they were small. After Soren was returned to his mother, he’d been sent to stay with Rosina’s aunt Dennee for a few months. He’d already been part of the family when Rosina’s mother convinced everyone to bring Soren with them. Soren’s mother had never been the mothering type, but he didn’t hold that against her. He’d gone to Kahlan for the emotional side of mothering, and Cara for the intellectual. It worked.
“You’re going to find your father, then?” Rosina checked.
“Yes,” Soren agreed.
She leaned forward and blew out a breath, propping her elbows on her knees and staring at the fire. “No wonder they think you’re going to destroy the world.”
“Rosi!” Soren protested. “It’s not like that.”
Rosina bumped her shoulder against his. “If you’re sure,” she said. “They’ll all be coming after us by now.”
“Coming after you, you mean,” he corrected. “I’m an adult. They know I can take care of myself.”
“You’ve always been able to take care of yourself,” she snapped, “and so have I.”
“That’s certainly not true,” Soren grinned. “Remember when you got locked in the cellar?”
She pushed away from him and opened her eyes wide. “Soren Rahl, you locked me in that cellar yourself!”
“Maybe I did,” he agreed.
Their parents had been furious, Soren reflected. Everyone had been certain that it was the evidence of his true evil nature emerging. That at ten years old, he was finally too far gone to be saved. Cara had taken him by the arm and offered, quite casually, to kill him. Kahlan had stood behind with her hands clasped in front of her and her Confessor’s face on. Soren had had no idea what she’d been thinking.
Ironically, it was Richard who’d saved him that time. Up until then, Soren had been very uncertain about Richard. His uncle, in the loosest sense of the word, and the one who had saved the world from Darken Rahl. Saved Cara. Done everything right.
He’d crouched down and said, “Soren, why did you lock Rosina in the cellar?”
“She was annoying me,” Soren had said, quite reasonably, he thought. He pulled his arm out of Cara’s grip and said, “You wouldn’t really kill me.”
“Of course I would,” she snapped.
“You’re lying, aren’t you?”
“Do I look like it?”
No, she didn’t. “How would you kill me?”
“It depends how much you did to deserve it.”
“She kept pulling at me,” Soren had finally explained, frowning. He was angry now, with Rosina and with himself. “She kept trying to pull my trousers down, and following me everywhere, and I just really wanted her to stop, so when she went down into the cellar I – I locked the door.”
“I can take him outside and do it, if you like,” Cara said to Richard.
Richard rolled his eyes. “Cara, you won’t kill him.” He’d opened the cellar door and Rosina had come out, wailing, and flung herself at her mother. Richard bent down. “Rosina, were you annoying Soren?”
“Nooo-oooo,” she’d sobbed. “He shut me down there.”
Richard fixed Soren with a look. A very specific look. Soren sighed, and went down on his knees so that he and the girl were the same height. “Rosina, I’m sorry for shutting you down in the cellar. Do you forgive me?”
“Nooo-ooo,” she moaned again, and then spun around, still holding onto Kahlan’s skirts, and said, “I hate you and I’m going to confess you.”
“Rosina!” Kahlan had exclaimed, shocked.
“Well I want to! Then Soren will have to love me forever.”
Soren sighed again. “I love you already, Rosi,” he said. He held out his arms. “Kiss?”
She smiled then, just a little bit, and went into his arms willingly. “Yes,” she agreed, and held up her cheek for him to kiss it. “Do you love me forever?”
“Of course I do,” he said, rolling his eyes over her head. He didn’t stop hugging her, though.
“All right, Seahawk,” she said, and giggled. The nickname had been new to her, then. “I forgive you. But I still think Cara should take an agiel to your backside.” That made her giggle more – she’d only recently learned the threat.
Kahlan had said, “I told you not to tell her about that, Cara.”
“I didn’t know she’d be so enthusiastic,” Cara protested. “She was supposed to be scared.”
Soren stood up and turned around to his mother. “Cara, are you still going to kill me?”
She put one finger to her lips, thinking, and then said, “I suppose not.”
Everyone waited, but neither mother nor son said any more. Richard finally exploded, “Is that it? Is that all you two say to each other?”
Soren glanced up into Cara’s eyes – green, like his – and she looked back with a very familiar expression. Soren held back his laughter. “Yes,” he said to Richard. “What do you expect us to say?”
Richard threw up his hands in disgust. “You’re impossible. You’re both equally impossible and exactly alike.”
“Seahawk,” Rosi said, nudging him again, “you are going to let me come to find your father, aren’t you?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Soren told her, quite truthfully. “I haven’t decided.”
“You should. It’s only fair, after all. I’m supposed to be the one to keep you in check.”
“Richard and Kahlan decided that before you were even born,” Soren pointed out. “How do you know that their child who’s supposed to stop me isn’t Madde? Or Kira?”
“No!” Rosina exclaimed. “Absolutely not. They’re too young and fussy, and it has nothing to do with them. You’re my responsibility.” She was almost pouting now. “I’m the only one who can stop you destroying the world, Soren. Say it’s true.”
“Yes! Say it. Say that you’d destroy the world in a heartbeat if only Madde or Kira tried to stop you.”
Soren laughed. “Okay.”
“Good,” Rosi said, leaning into him again. She waited a moment, and then added, “But you wouldn’t destroy my baby sisters, would you, Seahawk?”
“Of course not,” he said, like he was supposed to. “Stop being stupid and let’s just go to sleep. I have a long walk tomorrow – so do you, if you’re determined to come with me.”
Rosina flashed him a quick, sharp-toothed smile. “Of course,” she nodded.
“So sleep, then.”
Soren remembered all three of them being born – Rosina, Madelia, Kiralee. He’d been five, nine, and eleven, respectively.
Cara had been the one to take him to see baby Rosina. They’d still been uncertain around each other then. Soren had known Cara for only a few months, and she dressed in red like the Mord’Sith who had raised him, but her hair was short and her mouth twitched sometimes, like there was a smile hiding there.
“She’s named after me, you know,” Cara told Soren when they stopped outside the bedroom door.
“Her name is Cara?”
“No, it’s Rosina, but her second name is Cara.”
“Why does she have a second name?”
“In case people confuse her for some other Rosina Amnell, I suppose.”
“There aren’t any others. She doesn’t need a second name.”
Cara folded her arms, appraising the small boy. “I would agree, but her second name is after me, so I think it’s a good idea.”
“Why is it after you?”
“Probably because I’ve saved Kahlan and Richard both so many times they’ve lost count.”
“Have you lost count?”
Cara frowned. “No, of course not. I never lose count of how many times I save people’s lives.”
A little nervously, then, Soren had asked, “How many times have you saved mine?”
“Twice,” Cara said immediately.
“I thought it was only once, when you took me from the Sisters.” Soren folded his arms, just like Cara. “When was the second time?”
“When I gave you life,” she’d answered, and they’d both stood silently for a moment until the bedroom door swung open and Richard emerged.
“Come and see her,” he’d whispered.
Rosi had been unimpressed with Madelia. “She doesn’t talk,” she had complained, touching her sister’s hands. “I love her, Mama, but she doesn’t talk.”
“Not yet,” Kahlan soothed, “but she will.”
Soren stood a little way back, not wanting to intrude. They still weren’t sure if he was evil – he still wasn’t sure, either. He didn’t want to scare Kahlan.
She noticed, of course, because she always did. “Come here, little Seahawk.”
“Yeah,” Rosi chimed in, running to grab Soren’s hands and pull him to the bed. “Come meet my sister.”
Soren stood stiffly by the side of the bed, and Kahlan smiled at him. She reached up a hand to stroke the side of his face, pulled him down to sit beside her and said, “Do you want to hold her?”
“Can I?” Soren asked, astonished.
“Here,” Kahlan said. She leaned over and suddenly she was putting Madde into his arms. “Don’t let her fall.”
“I won’t,” Soren promised. He bent over the baby, his breath stirring the tiny dark hairs on her head, and watched her open her eyes. They were very dark, not like Rosi’s or Soren’s eyes. He worried about that for a moment, before he looked and saw Kahlan and Cara watching. They both had light eyes, and Soren thought that it didn’t have to be a gift from his father.
He almost wished he could have dark eyes like Richard, though.
Soren woke first, and was sitting up and reaching to put out the fire when Rosi stirred beside him.
“You’d better not be sneaking off,” she said sleepily, propping herself up on one elbow to watch him.
“I’m not,” he said. “I wouldn’t even try it, Rosi. I know you’ve got your eyes on me.”
“That’s right,” she agreed, lying back down and watching him through half-closed eyes. “The sun isn’t even up yet. Why do we have to leave so early?”
“They’ll be on our tail. Cara especially.”
“I don’t know,” Rosina muttered, “I would think Cara had enough sense by now to know that you do whatever you set your mind to. You’re very alike.”
Soren laughed. “What, and you’re not stubborn, is that it?”
“I’m not stubborn. I’m determined.” She rolled over onto her front and stretched her arms over her head, then sat up and pushed her hair from her face. “I wish I’d let Aunt Cari teach me how to braid.”
She was seventeen, and should be able to braid her own hair, but Soren crouched behind her anyway. “Let me,” he said. Rosina’s hair was very dark, wavy and long. She’d never once had it cut, and neither had her sisters. Soren, who had spent his early years in a temple full of Mord’Sith, knew something about long hair. He worked his fingers through it, separated it into three parts and started weaving them together. “Did you bring your weapons?”
“Of course. You’ve got your sword, too, I see.” Rosi paused, put a hand back to feel the braid forming and then dropped it into her lap. “Neither of us really need them.”
“I don’t like using magic,” Soren said. “It doesn’t come easy to me, besides.”
“I don’t mind confessing,” Rosi said, thoughtfully, “but I like knives more.”
“You’re supposed to be the good-hearted one.” He finished the braid and set it over her shoulder.
Rosina tipped her head back and laughed at him, her smile bright and wide. “I know! Ironic, isn’t it? You’re far more measured than me, I think, Soren.”
He stood up and kicked dirt over the fire, then crossed to his bedroll and started packing. Rosi did the same, and they finished at about the same time, rising to their feet and standing there together.
“Ready?” Soren said after a time.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Seahawk.”
“Come on, then.”
They both shouldered their packs higher and left the clearing.
Walking with Rosi was easy, and Soren quickly fell into a companionable silence. He had been travelling with her since they were both small, and she was as good in the woods as her father. Still, Soren got into the habit of holding branches back out of her way. He liked seeing the secret smile she gave him, lips pressed together, like she was hiding some sort of a joke that only the two of them could share.
“You don’t really think I’ll destroy the world, do you?” he asked her eventually.
“I think you have enough power to do anything, truthfully.”
“Yes, but I don’t want to destroy the world. Why would I?”
“Maybe your father’s blood is catching up to you.” She lifted her eyebrows at him.
“That’s crazy!” Soren protested. “That’s like saying you’re suddenly going to turn into – into –”
“Into what?” Rosina asked him with sparkling eyes. “A good person?”
“My parents saved the world several times, you know.”
“In fact I’m sure everyone strives to be more like them.”
Rosi was giggling – Soren could hear it in her voice. He flicked the next branch back into her face, and heard a startled gasp, followed by more laughter. Honestly, that was the part of Rosi that most countered Soren. She was always happy. She never got trapped in the dark thoughts the way Soren did. He let himself get caught up in her laughter, smiled, and kept walking.
“What are you planning to do, when you find your father?” Rosina asked.
“I’m not sure, yet. I’ll ask him about the dreams.”
“If he sent the dreams, then it could be a trap.”
“Not if he doesn’t know I’m his son,” Soren suggested. “I could pretend to be someone else, for a little while.”
“You’ll need a haircut, then,” Rosi said solemnly.
Self-consciously, Soren lifted his arm up to finger at the ends of his hair, tossing around his shoulders. “Why?”
“You look like both of them when it’s cut like that. Cara and your father.”
“Yes, so you look like Cara. You remember how she used to look with short hair. And Darken Rahl always kept his hair long besides. Better start being careful how you cut it.” Rosi paused, then offered, “I could cut it off for you, if you like.”
“Only if you cut your hair so that you look less like your mother,” he retorted.
“People aren’t scared of my mother.”
“Of course they are! And you, too. At least you didn’t bring some sort of ridiculous Confessor’s dress on this journey.”
“I could still confess you,” Rosina pointed out.
“Don’t you think I love you enough already?” Soren joked, but there was a tension underlying his words that he hadn’t meant to be there.
Rosina laughed, but it died off quickly. “No,” she said, softly. “I’ve told you before, Seahawk, I won’t risk you like that. You can’t know if it’s enough.”
“I think I love you more than breathing.”
She smacked the back of his shoulder. “You’re an idiot, and you’re lying.”
“How do you know I’m lying?”
Rosi sighed, with a fond exasperation. “Idiot,” she repeated. “It isn’t worth it for a quick lay, Soren. Find another girl. If you’re desperate, we can stop at a town.”
One of his mother’s lessons rang through Soren’s mind; never look further than the nearest brothel, and he said, “No,” very quickly.
The next time they spoke, it was dark. Soren found thoughts of home creeping into his head unbidden. “Do you miss your parents?” he asked.
“Yes, a little,” Rosina admitted, “but they’re busy, I hope, and not missing me too much. They’ll have official duties, and my sisters to take care of.”
“Did you tell Madde and Kiralee that you were going?”
Rosi grinned. “I told Kira. Madde can’t keep a secret, and she’s nosy, besides.”
Soren said, “You think Kira can keep a secret? She’s eleven, Rosi.”
“She’s smart for eleven. Anyway, you can’t expect me to believe that you didn’t tell Edrand.”
Rosina narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re not lying?”
“No, honestly. I’d take an agiel to the eye, Rosi,” Soren said, and grinned at the old family expression. “I did tell Renn, though.”
“Ha! I knew it. You always tell someone your plans. I’m just annoyed it wasn’t me this time.”
He shrugged. “I knew I wouldn’t have to tell you. You always come with me.”
Rosi sidled up next to Soren and slipped her hand into his. “You’re right. I do.”