Kahlan walked through the forest. Her boots pressed softly into pine needles and loam with each step. Inhaling deeply, she allowed the aroma of the woods to envelop her.
Though they walked everyday, this time alone was a welcome interruption. It allowed her a measure of peace that did not come so easily in the company of the others, especially now.
As they had begun to make camp, even though it was still early in the day, each fell into their usual rhythms.
The swing of an axe chopping wood for the fire.
The turn of a ladle as it stirred in the pot.
The stroke of a brush over horse’s hair.
Yet, Kahlan felt restless, unable to find repose in her companions and their comfort with each other.
Gathering the canteens, she stood looking for a reason to separate herself. Richard rose, asking if he could join her. A tired smile wrinkled the corners of his mouth and eyes. She smiled in response, though hers was wearier and tighter than his. When she told him she wanted to be alone, he nodded and settled easily back into what he had been doing.
Across the camp, Cara moved a step closer, looking at Kahlan with an ambiguous expression. It seemed that she was waiting to see whether or not the Confessor would ask her along.
It was something that had been happening more and more often as of late. But her restlessness could not be resolved unless she was alone.
So with a sidelong glance, she communicated what she needed to, and turned into the woods. Without looking back, she could tell that Cara would not settle as easily as Richard.
Now alone, she wandered, listening for the rushing of water fast enough to fill their jugs.
The sun was bright in the sky, saturating the forest with light, and reminding her how close they were to the summer solstice.
Yet, the Stone of Tears was not forefront in her mind.
Closing her eyes, Kahlan focused on the beating of her heart, the inflation of her lungs, the ever-present thrum of her powers waiting to be released. She knew the cadences of her body. She felt them steady and calm when she was with Richard, liven and alert when she moved gracefully in battle, and burn and rush with the unease of knowing and not knowing when she thought of Cara.
These feelings both grounded her and put her off kilter. In one moment, she was secure with Richard beside her, only to be off balance in the next when she felt Cara’s eyes upon them. At other times, she felt a flood of amazement at the rare but increasing instances in which Cara confided in her. Something as small as a word sincerely spoken to an unguarded expression pushed her heart into her throat, but just as quickly it would sink to her stomach as she remembered Richard nearby.
So unfathomable were these things that Kahlan kept their meaning shrouded, never allowing herself to think of them for too long.
But she was becoming more restless as the days passed.
Her ears perked as she heard the sound of babbling water close by. Following the noise, she found a small gurgling stream. She knelt before it to fill the canteens. When they were full, she dipped her hand into it and noticed that the water was clear enough that she could see to its bottom.
She thought of Richard.
Richard, the clear stream, the rushing flow of fresh cool water. He forged his own path, ever eager, throwing himself headfirst into what lay before him. His current was strong, moving to a tempo all its own. Yet, when he encountered rocks or logs or patches of reedy growth, he slowed to pay them mind. It was enough to alter the course of the stream, if only slightly.
Kahlan had drank from his waters and found them life giving. Before him, she had been closed off to the possibility of love. She had feared it. Feared to drink and sate her thirst.
But his water was transparent. She had seen all of him. He had made no effort to obscure himself or the heart nestled in the sandy river bed. So she had drank, and her own heart, almost dried to dust, was rejuvenated.
And when she touched him, walked with him, she knew what it meant. She could trust her place in his life and his water that flowed around her.
She had thought her thirst was quenched.
Kahlan took her hand from out of the stream, examining her reflection. The sun shimmered on its surface making her image shine. Combing a knot from her hair, she stood and walked alongside the small brook.
As they moved through the forest together, she noticed the ways that the stream turned and twisted around tree roots. She saw how in places it pooled and housed small schools of minnows, and in other places trickled over pieces of jagged rock protruding from the earth.
So focused on the stream she did not notice, at least not immediately, the changes in the woods around her. The trees began to thin out, and clumps of green poked through grey pine needles.
But soon, the sun overhead shone more brightly upon her for lack of shade.
Kahlan found herself at the edge of a meadow. Tall dark grasses burst forth from the soil, and bright white flowers were scattered throughout. Fallen trees and chunks of limestone framed its boundaries and encased a lake in the meadow’s center.
The lake was dark and placid, and as the rushing waters of the stream stretched out and collided with it, they were drawn below its calm surface.
Yet, the place where their waters met suggested that the lake had powerful currents of its own, submerging that which disrupted its stillness.
Staying with the brook, Kahlan moved more fully into the sunlight.
The closer she got to the lake, the muddier the ground became. It forced her to move slowly and with care, lest her boots sink into the marshy earth.
But each step brought her nearer to it.
Standing on a pebbly shore Kahlan looked into the dark water, which was made no lighter by the shining sun.
She thought of Cara.
Cara who was so different from Richard.
A murky lake to his clear stream. Her depth, teasing but imperceptible. Where Kahlan, with a glance could see Richard’s truth, Cara’s was not so clear. The surface of her waters were unperturbed and betrayed nothing, and below was too turbid to know anything with certainty.
Cara made few allowances for those around her. She was settled in her place with an easy confidence. Her tidewaters, deliberate, obscuring fierce torrents raging beneath the surface.
Yet, it was clear that they were there.
Boulders and rotted tree trunks sunk in and submitted to her. Undertows, both threatening and dangerous, granted the lake its sovereignty.
Not even the strong flow of a clear stream could give or take that which she had already made her own.
Kahlan wondered how deep those rushing waters went. What might she find below them? What might be there if she looked, abandoning all pretense of doing otherwise?
She wondered if somewhere hidden in the black water and buried under mud and silt was a heart that would shine if brought to the surface.
Kahlan felt like she had been getting her feet wet, drinking water that was safe and straightforward.
And though the allure of the lake was increasingly unmistakable, she did not know if she could weather the plunge.
Suddenly overwhelmed, she shook her head, trying to rid herself of these thoughts. When they did not go, she bent over, feeling the coarse stones of the shore with the tips of her fingers.
Picking up a pebble, she turned it over in her hands looking at its rough edges. Her eyes flicked to the lake before her, body tensed to throw stones and watch the water ripple.
“I would have thought that you were out here doing something more worthwhile than skipping pebbles.”
Stopping mid-motion, Kahlan turned and saw Cara at the edge of the meadow. The Mord’Sith was coming closer and Kahlan noticed that even she needed to step carefully over the boggy ground.
“I would have thought that my desire to be alone had been made clear.”
Cara rolled her eyes before leveling them back at the woman before her.
“Richard was worried.”
She said it as though it explained everything.
Frustrated, Kahlan gripped the stone in her hand firmly, letting its sharp corners dig painfully into her palm.
Her gaze went back to the lake.
“Richard was worried so you came to look for me?”
A breeze blew through the meadow. Small waves cropped up at the edges of the dark water.
“Would you like me to go back and get him?”
Cara tilted her head, amused.
Kahlan, however, was not satisfied with her answer, nor was she in the mood to let the other woman continue teasing her.
“Why are you here?”
They were standing a few strides apart, though Cara held back, slowly sinking into the damp earth.
Their eyes did not waver from each other while the low sounds of the meadow made their own silence more noticeable.
To the Confessor’s surprise, Cara was the one to break their contact. She turned slightly, evidently making to leave.
“I’ll let Richard know you’re alright.”
Kahlan nodded, angling herself back towards the lake, but somehow it was different. For a moment, the Confessor could not place what had changed. Then for only a moment, a glimmer of light passed across the lake’s dark surface.
Suddenly, Kahlan felt the urge to speak, to say anything at all.
The Mord’Sith turned. A glimmer of light passed across her green eyes.
Then, Kahlan reached towards her pulling the blonde onto the stony beach.
Surprised by how suddenly the Confessor had moved, for the briefest of seconds, Cara was put off balance. Her momentary falter was enough for Kahlan to pull her even closer and join their mouths together. Pressing her body into Cara’s she silently implored the other woman to give into what was happening, to keep her afloat in these unfamiliar waters.
The Mord’Sith tensed and stiffened, and Kahlan pushed them closer together, afraid she would sink if Cara stayed cold and rigid. But then she relaxed, and Kahlan drank her in, lips soft and pliant. Realizing that the pebble she had picked up earlier was still in her hand, she loosened her grip and let it fall from her fingers.
As she heard it bounce and settle among the other stones at her feet, the Mord’Sith’s tongue traced along her lower lip. Then their kisses ran together like water, flowing, life giving. Not sure if she should laugh, or cry, or shout and fill the meadow with noise, Kahlan held to Cara all the tighter. But her grip was broken as the blonde pulled away panting and out of breath.
Kahlan felt alive, born again.
Yet, the Mord’Sith was unreadable. The light in her eyes had dimmed, and the rise and fall of her chest seemed more anxious than excited. Without a word, Cara turned and walked back into the woods, stumbling and staggering carelessly through the marshy grass.
Kahlan felt as though the world around her would flood and wash away. But as she tried to ready herself to abandon the moment, to forget it and return to camp unaffected, she heard a quiet lapping noise.
Turning, she saw the edges of the lake swell outwards to touch the rocky ground below her. She saw waves come alive to splash against her boots.
She saw the water grow and reach out to her.
She saw it just as surely as she had seen the light glimmer across it.
Kahlan had been drinking, wading, worried she would drown if she hoped for anything more. But now she saw that what she needed was to dive in and be immersed.