“Spirits,” Kahlan said softly, flinching as another flash of lightning split the night’s sky, followed quickly by an ear-splitting boom of thunder. “It’s as if the Creator herself seeks vengeance.
“Kahlan,” Cara mumbled groggily, tightening the arm wrapped loosely around Kahlan’s shoulder. “Sleep.”
Cara relaxed as she felt Kahlan softly inhale, some of the tightness in Kahlan’s muscles relaxing. Then, the woman in her arms stiffened ever so slightly, Cara feeling the jaw resting against her shoulder clenching as another flash of lightning streaked across the sky, and Cara knew sleep would not come easily for her tonight.
“You’re not afraid?” Kahlan asked after several moments of quiet.
Cara cracked open an eye. In the dying light of the fire, she could see Kahlan gazing down at her, an expectant and worried expression on her face. “Why would I be afraid? It’s only a little lightning and thunder. But,” Cara narrowed her eyes, lips pursing as she searched her lover’s face. “It’s not fear you feel.”
“I thought I was the one gifted with seeing the truth,” Kahlan joked weakly. Eyes lowering, flush blossoming her cheeks at having been read so easily, at the feel of Cara’s body, naked and warm, against her own. Fear she felt, but not just fear. “I broke my vows,” she whispered, voice aching.
“I broke my vows as well.” Gently, Cara brushed the hair from Kahlan’s forehead, tucking it behind an ear. “And I would break them a thousand times over for this.” She lifted her head, bringing her lips to the corner of Kahlan’s mouth. “For you.”
Another kiss and Kahlan sighed at the touch, desperately wanting to give in. “Aren’t you afraid of the consequences?”
“No one said love was easy.”
With both hands, Cara clasped Kahlan’s face by the jaw, their faces a hair’s breath apart. “Kahlan,” Cara whispered. “I will take any slings and arrows, any sword or Agiel, I will take a thousand tortures in a thousand pits if it means this, you by my side, in my arms, in my bed. Everything I ever was, everything I ever will be, all that I am, my heart, my soul, it is yours.”
“Cara..” Kahlan breathed before crashing their lips together. All her fears, doubts and guilt gone, replaced with a growing desire, a passion for nothing and no one but the woman in her arms.
She groaned into the kiss as Cara rolled her onto her back, as expert fingers slipped between them. She cried out as Cara’s fingers plunged into her sex, her voice drowning out the rain and the thunder.
“I love you, Kahlan Amnell,” Cara murmured into her neck, as Kahlan’s nails dug into her back, thigh lifting to meet the wet heat between Cara’s legs.
It lasted forever, it ended too quickly, Cara taking Kahlan upwards, higher and higher, before she fell over the precipice and plummeted into the abyss, Cara right behind her.
Spent, as they always were after such passionate lovemaking, they collapsed into each other’s arms and, finally, slept.
It would be the last time either felt the other’s embrace.
Kahlan awoke slowly, groggily, as she always did. She let her senses tell her what her refusing to open eyes would not. She heard the muffled echo of the wind rustling gently through the trees let her know she was indoors. The feel of soft and warm fur enveloping her tell her she was reclined somewhere soft, a bed of hay, judging by the scratching, scrunching noise as she shifted. A barn, no, a stable and Kahlan smiled at the familiar sensation of a horse’s snout gently nibbling at her ear. Definitely a stable.
“Good evening, Argo.” She scratched the horse gently on the nose. It chuffed before nudging Kahlan a little more forcefully, more interested in the tasty bit of hay she was sleeping on.
Kahlan rolled to her feet, stretching languidly as she gained her bearings. The stable was small, rarely used, with its two stalls. The light softly illuminating the room came from a lantern hanging on a nail. Beneath it, Kahlan could see a small table had been set up outside the stalls, a flagon of wine, cheese, a few biscuits wrapped in cloth and still steaming. But, it wasn’t the food that made Kahlan’s lips curl into a smile.
It was the dress.
Dropping the blanket she’d wrapped herself in, Kahlan held it to her body, admiring the cut. Well crafted, it probably took months to assemble, and probably cost a small fortune. A dress unlike anything Kahlan had ever worn before, low in the front, beneath a modestly embroidered corset, with a matching half-coat. The front was cut low but nothing compared to the two cuts that stretched from the bottom of the dress and ending mid-thigh.
“No wonder this caught your eye,” Kahlan chuckled aloud. Once she figured out how all the laces and belts and buckles went together, Kahlan dressed in no time. She reached for the matching boots, the snap of a twig catching her ear, her entire body freezing.
“THIEF!” a voice yelled from outside the stable.
The door burst open as a young man charged into the stable, sword drawn over his head.
Kahlan grabbed her daggers. Still crouched low, she spun and as the man charged towards her, she elbowed him straight in the face. His head snapped back, eyes already glazed over before his back hit the ground and his hands lost the hold on his sword, the blade skittering across the floor.
Kahlan pounced. Placing a knee to his chest, she pressed down hard, squeezing the air from his lungs as she brought the edge of her dagger to his throat.
“What did you call me?” Kahlan hissed, knife pressing deeper against his skin, threatening to cut.
“I called you a thief,” he swallowed nervously, brown eyes wide with fear. “These are not your things!”
“Who are you,” Kahlan growled between clenched teeth, “to say what is and isn’t mine? These things certainly aren’t *yours*!”
“And how did you get in here, anyway?” He glanced about, the danger of his predicament quickly forgotten. “I’ve been circling around this stable all evening, looking out for that damn wolf..”
“Wolf!?!” In a flash, Kahlan was on her feet, rushing towards the opened doors of the stable. “I swear, if you harmed a hair, I will have your hide!”
“My hide?” He rose to his feet, brushing the hay and dirt off his sleeves. “If that wolf gets in here, it’ll be more than my hide in danger. You should see..”
Eyes widening, his voice trailed off.
Kahlan had knelt down to her knees. Beyond her, in the inky blackness that lead to the woods beyond, a flash of white grew brighter and closer. It was, in the young man’s life, the biggest wolf he’d ever seen. It’s color, not black or brown, but white, the outer coat tinged to a darker blonde.
“My lady!” he forcibly whispered. “You don’t want to do that.”
Eyes, green like gemstones, focused on the young man. The wolf lifted its snout, sniffing the air before lowering its head and trotting towards Kahlan.
“My lady! You..” his voice trailed.
The wolf trotted right up to Kahlan and promptly licked her face. Kahlan wrapped an arm around it’s neck, nuzzling her face into the fur. “I’m glad to see you, too.”
The man stood completely dumbfounded at the display. The wolf lifted its head, gazing green eyes directly at him, then walked slowly, cautiously towards him.
Kahlan rose to her feet. “I wouldn’t move if I were you.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he swallowed hard.
The wolf stepped closer, raising its head, snuffling deep through its nose. It sniffed the hand hanging loose at the man’s side then, as if it had become bored, turned and walked back towards Kahlan, sitting on its haunches at Kahlan’s feet.
“She..” astounded, Kahlan stammered, looking down at the wolf then back towards the man. “Likes you.”
“Is that good?” he asked.
“Seeing as how she doesn’t have your neck between her teeth, I’d say yes,” Kahlan chuckled. “What’s your name?”
“Richard.” He looked down at the hand sniffed by a wolf, at the tiny wet spot from its nose, then looked back up at Kahlan, shaking his head as if to regain his senses. “Richard Cypher of Hartland.”
“So, tell me, Richard, Richard Cypher of Hartland..” Kahlan walked back towards the small table, sitting down as she picked up the flagon of wine. “What were you doing guarding things that are not yours?”
“I was guarding it for my Mistress, a knight actually.” He stepped towards Kahlan, intending to join her, only to find himself stopped short by the wolf as it rose onto all fours, placing itself between him and Kahlan, flashing several very long canines for good measure.
“Be nice,” Kahlan said to the wolf. The wolf twitched its ears then, and Richard would swear to his grave it was true, harrumphed before sitting back down again. “Tell me,” she said, hand on the wolf’s head, scratching behind its ears. “About your Mistress. What‘s her name?”
“Cara,” Richard answered, fingers to his nose, checking one last time to make sure it wasn’t broken. “Admittedly, I don’t know her last name.”
“And why would this Cara have anything to do with you? A farm boy from Hartland?” She placed the cap back onto the flagon, reaching for the cheese and slicing a piece with her dagger.
“She saved my life from the Dragon’s Corp and I intend to repay my debt. A Cypher always pays his debts,” he said then immediately noticed the suspicious rise of Kahlan’s eyebrow. He puffed up his chest. “I’ll have you know, I’m famous.. No! *Infamous*! I did escape from the dungeons of the People’s Palace..”
“No one has ever escaped from.. Wait..” Her head snapped towards him. “Where are we?”
“In a stable?” he answered then shifted nervously at Kahlan’s harsh glare. “Just north of the Kern river.. In D’Hara.”
“D’Hara?” Kahlan repeated before turning her head away. She inhaled deeply, shoulders slumping as she reached out for the wolf once more. “Oh Cara,” she whispered gently under her breath. “What are you up to?”
The air went quiet, tense. Richard shifted again, still eyeing the wolf warily. “What’s your name?”
Kahlan stiffened, as if realizing she wasn’t alone. She picked up the cloth wrapping the biscuits, taking one before tossing the other to Richard. “Tell me everything about this Cara of yours,” she smiled. “And I’ll tell you my name.”
Cara awoke as she always did - alone in the woods, miles from where she’d laid her head down to rest, and naked. Always naked. Her skin felt wet, tacky, the metallic smell strong and pungent, along with the taste in her mouth. Immediately, as she always did, Cara ran her hands along her body, checking for injuries and, like always, she found none. Like always, the blood wasn’t hers.
The source of the blood lay only a few feet away. A deer carcass. Cara sighed in relief.
A screech pierced the air. Cara turned her eyes towards the sound, a silhouette against the morning sun and leaves circling above her head high in the trees. Cara rolled onto her knees then stood to her full height, stretching languidly, groaning at the pops and cracks of her bones.
The hawk swooped down, landing on a branch close to Cara‘s head. It squawked loudly, flapping its wings as it did.
“Good morning to you too,” Cara smirked before bowing, outstretching an arm. “Please, lead the way.”
The hawk lifted, taking flight, forcing Cara to jog to keep up. If a bird could have a mood, this was definitely one. It took less than an hour to reach their destination. Cara saw the familiar landmarks leading towards the small stable she’d used for shelter. She slowed her steps, head canting slightly, ears pricking at the sound of wood splitting. Cresting a small hill, Cara looked down and froze in her tracks.
The farm boy named Richard was cutting wood. He was cutting wood..
With Cara’s sword.
Low growl rumbling up her throat, hands balling into fists, Cara stomped quickly down the hill.
Oblivious, Richard continued cutting wood for the morning fire. Both hands grasping the hilt, he lifted his arms ready to split another log when he felt a strong hand wrap tightly around his wrist. Eyes widening, he jerked away.. And almost screamed in fright.
“This!” Cara grit through clenched teeth. “Has never known defeat! Until today!”
Richard merely blinked at the dirty and disheveled woman, the dirty, disheveled, and *naked* woman. That she was covered in blood didn’t seem to register in Richard’s brain. Because his eyes refused to stare into Cara’s, gazing at parts a little more south.
Cara leaned menacingly. “Do you know how long this sword has been in my family? We do not use it to cut wood!” she said before turning on her heel and marching away.
Richard blinked. Suddenly remembering the rules about chivalry and being a gentleman, he lowered his eyes away from Cara’s retreating backside before snapping his head upwards. “Is that blood?”
“Don’t worry,” Cara called back to him. “It’s not mine.”
“I met a woman last night,” Richard said.
A half hour after their incident in the woods, they were back on the road. Cara on her horse, Richard walking. They’d been walking for hours, Richard talking, of course, a stick in his hand which he casually swung at the bushes.
Cara hadn’t said a word. There was the occasional grunt or murmur but, for the most part, she’d been unresponsive towards his attempts at conversation.. Until now.
“How very.. fortunate for you,” Cara smirked.
“I think she liked me,” Richard beamed, oblivious to the slight. “You should have seen her. She was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Hair black as midnight, skin pale like the moon, and her eyes,” Richard paused, practically swooning. “They were like pieces of the clearest, bluest sky turned to stone and set in her eyes.”
Cara tilted her head upwards, glancing at the sky. It’d been a long time since she’d seen eyes so blue. “So tell me, does the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen, the one who liked you, give you a name?”
Richard’s mouth opened as his steps slowed to a complete stop. “I.. She didn’t tell me,” he blushed before moving into a trot to catch up with Cara. “She asked about you.”
The hands holding the reins tightened ever so slightly, leather creaking. Had Richard been looking, he would have seen the slightest smile creep onto Cara’s lips. “Did she?”
“Yes.” He whacked at another branch with his stick. “Kept asking all kinds of questions about you.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“Not much. It’s not like you’re very talkative.” His shoulders even to Cara’s knee, Richard looked up at her. “Do you know her?”
“I’ve known many women in my life. Some of them quite beautiful. But beauty is you described is very rare. When you have it, you treasure it, with everything you have,” she paused, kicking her horse to move ahead of Richard. “Whatever the cost.”
General Egremont marched purposely down the halls of the People’s Palace, helmet tucked under one arm, flanked by his officers, their boot heels clacking loudly on the high polished floors.
He reached the doors leading to the baths, mouth forming a grim line as he noted they were unguarded. As he reached for the handles, he stepped back swiftly as the doors, seemingly of their own volition, opened.
Steam billowed off the water in the bath, twenty feet long and half as wide. The General stepped to the edge, ignoring the women who stood statue still around the bath in their red dresses and matching veils covering their faces.
The shadow beneath the waters stirred, rising to break the surface. Darken Rahl, self-proclaimed Grand Wizard of the First Order, though there were no more wizards, and Regent of the realm, he rose slowly. He slicked his hair back across his scalp with his hands as he stood, the water stopping at the bottom of his stomach.
“General Egremont,” he smiled politely. “Is the boy dead?”
The General swallowed almost nervously. “I’m afraid he still lives,” he paused at the sharp rise of Rahl’s eyebrow. “He has an ally. Captain.. The former Captain of the Mord’Sith, Cara Mason, has returned to D’Hara.”
The air in the room changed, like the air before a lightning strike, thick and charged. Even the women clad in red stirred at the sudden change.
Rahl placed his hands on the surface of the water, watching the ripples stretch outwards from his fingertips. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, the air in the room calming as he did. “Does she have a bird with her, a hawk?”
The General’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “Yes, My Lord.”
“Gather your men,” Rahl said, opening his eyes. “As many as you need. The bird. I want it. Alive and unharmed.”
“And Mason, sir?”
Rahl’s lips curled into the slightest of smiles. “Cara Mason is an enemy of the state, and should be treated as such. Do not return until her heart meets the end of your sword.”
The General clicked his heels, chest puffing as he brought himself to attention before turning the way he’d entered. Unassisted, the doors closed behind him. Rahl waited a few more seconds before turning his head towards one of the women standing by the pool’s edge. “Sister Nicci?”
She moved forward briskly, stopping at the edge of the bath and bowing her head. “Yes, Lord Rahl?”
“Contact your Sisters. My plans are too close to fruition to allow such.. distractions. And remind them, I want that bird alive.”
“Yes, Lord Rahl,” she said, body already in motion, heading towards the door.
“Oh, and Sister Nicci,” he didn’t wait for her reply. “Find me the best trappers in the realm and then..” he smiled, lowering himself in the water until nothing but his face remained above the surface. “Bring me the witch.”
Kahlan sat at her desk as she did every evening, writing a letter to his sister. It’d been years since she’d been to Aydindril or the Midlands, and with every word, she ached for home. Her sister was her greatest confidant but there was only so much Kahlan knew she could, or would, say in her letters. While she had no proof, she was certain her letters were read before delivery, by one man in particular.
‘There are so many things I want to tell you, sister. Though my letters may sound of melancholy I assure you there is also great joy, of which my heart has never known. I have so few friends, so few ears to bear my burdens but there is one. Without you here, I have confided to the Wizard Zedd..”
She paused, lower lip surreptitiously pulled between her teeth, wondering if there was a danger in admitting she had a confidant within the People’s Palace. While she considered Zedd her friend, drink had a tendency to make his lips loosen. And he was a Wizard of the First Order. While she hadn’t mentioned it to him, she had to wonder if even Zedd was so blind as to not notice Darken Rahl’s less than platonic interest in her, or the Sisters of the Light that were always at Kahlan’s side wherever she went. Even now, Kahlan knew two of them stood outside her door. They had been in the weeks since Darken Rahl gave word Kahlan wasn’t to leave the People’s Palace.. For her protection, of course.
Decision made, Kahlan crumpled the letter into a ball, reaching for a clean paper to begin her letter anew. There would be a time to tell her sister everything but this was not it. She picked up her quill but it never met the page. Kahlan’s hand still as she felt a presence in the room, a shift in the air.
Before she could turn, a hand clamped over her mouth, an arm around her shoulder. Kahlan swallowed her scream, body stiffening in preparation for a fight.
“Shhh,” a familiar voice whispered, the hand over Kahlan’s mouth loosening as she was turned around.
Green eyes twinkled devilishly as familiar lips curled into a smile.
Kahlan froze again, not out of fear but surprise. She couldn’t remember ever seeing Cara out of her Mord’Sith uniform. And here Cara stood, in a sleeveless red doublet over a simple white shirt, brown leather breeches and black boots. Cara stepped backwards, pointing with her head as she extended her arm to Kahlan. Kahlan rose, taking Cara’s hand as she followed the point of her head, seeing the secret door behind the bookshelf.
Neither spoke a word as Cara led them through the secret tunnels of the People’s Palace. When they finally saw daylight, Kahlan was amazed that Cara had not only lead her out of the People’s Palace but beyond the walls of the city.
“Cara,” Kahlan smiled playfully, scratching Argo’s nose as the horse eagerly approached. “What are you up to?”
Cara quickly mounted Argo, extending her hand once more. “I thought you could use some fresh air.”
Not that she would ever disagree, Kahlan narrowed her eyes suspiciously but still kept her hand clasped tightly to Cara‘s. After mounting the horse behind Cara, she sighed, breathing in the fresh air as her hands wrapped around Cara’s waist and she rested the side of her face on the back of Cara’s shoulder.
They rode in silence, Kahlan content to watch the setting sun paint the sky, listen to the sounds of the world outside the walls of the People‘s Palace. A sound denied to her for so long. Sights, sounds and sensations made all the more sweeter because Kahlan experienced them with Cara in her arms. And there was a moment, with Cara in her arms, the sights and sounds, the sheer bliss of freedom, where Kahlan wished they could ride forever.
Eventually, the ride did end. Cara stopped at the top of a hill overlooking a small village lit by hundreds of lanterns and covered in decorations. A wedding celebration. Kahlan could see people milling in and out of a large barn, where music floated all the way up to the hill.
Kahlan smiled, moving in the direction of the village, stopped by the hand softly gripping her by the crook of her elbow.
“We’re not going?” she asked.
“People would notice a Confessor in their midst, especially one as beautiful as you,” Cara grinned, sliding her hand from Kahlan‘s elbow down to clasp around Kahlan‘s hand as she stepped backwards, gently pulling Kahlan with her. “And I think the bride might get a little jealous at no longer being the center of attention.”
“Then, what are we doing here?”
Cara released her hold on Kahlan’s hand. Taking another step back, placing one hand to her stomach and extending the other outwards, she bowed deeply before rising. An invitation, and the smile that stretched Kahlan’s lips was so wide she thought her face would break.
“Is..” Kahlan beamed, stretching her arm to place her hand atop Cara’s, letting the music guide her feet. “My Cara asking me to dance?”
“For you..” Cara moved until her shoulders were aligned with Kahlan’s, their combined hands loose between them. “Your Cara would do anything.”
“Even dance?” Kahlan took the first step.
Cara stepped, perfectly in time with the music. “Even dance.”
Cara, as she always was, was true to her word. She danced. As the music played, she let Kahlan choose the dances, and with Kahlan’s every step, Cara kept up with her. Some of the dances were simple, some even a little silly, but Cara knew them all. More than impressed, Kahlan was flattered, at the lengths her strong, taciturn warrior would go to make her happy.
The music changed, going from fast, upbeat to slow and melancholy, a song for the bride and groom. Cara pulled Kahlan close, like this was the moment she’d been waiting for, the reason she’d spent all those hours learning dozens of steps, just for the moment she could hold Kahlan close.
Kahlan melted into the moment, pressing her head to Cara’s shoulder, the world around them drifting away into nothing, to where nothing existed but the two of them, and the music. The steps slowed down to nothing more than simple swaying, and even then, Kahlan couldn’t help notice how smoothly, how intuitively they moved together.
Kahlan lifted her head. Illuminated by the lights below, the moon above, she gazed into green eyes before darting towards full, perfect lips. She’d lifted her head, intending to verbalize all the things Cara made her feel, all the things Kahlan never knew she *could* feel. She’d meant to say all those things but there was the feel of Cara’s arms around her, her body pressed flush against her own. And words failed her.
So, Kahlan kissed Cara. Something meant to be chaste and sweet was hungry, urgent. Hands clasped to Cara’s cheeks, Kahlan pulled Cara into her. Tongue swiping over full lips, Kahlan groaned as Cara acquiesced, opening her mouth. They’d kissed in such ways before, but never before had Kahlan been filled with such an urgent.. need.
In that moment, the realization hit Kahlan like a blow. How much she didn’t just want the woman, Kahlan needed Cara. As if everything within her, skin, muscle, bone, her very soul, it didn’t ache for Cara, it screamed. Now that she had Cara in her arms again, after the time apart, Kahlan locked away in her ivory tower, Kahlan couldn’t bear the thought of being without her again.
“Cara..” Kahlan panted as their lips parted.
“Yes, my love,” Cara purred, nose nuzzling against the side of Kahlan’s.
“I swear,” Kahlan breathed, almost whimpered, “if you don’t make love to me right..”
Cara cut her off with a kiss, hard, almost brutal, explosive in nature. Kahlan’s yelp of surprise cut off by Cara’s insistent tongue. And Cara pushed and pulled until Kahlan was backed against a tree, the two kissing hungrily, groping urgently. Any other time or place, with any other person, Kahlan would have found it distastefully wanton, the way Cara’s hand wormed between them, pulling up Kahlan’s dress, how Kahlan lifted her leg and draped her thigh over Cara’s hip. Here, she found it nothing less than extraordinary.
Teeth digging into the leather at Cara’s shoulder, Kahlan wailed with every thrust of Cara’s fingers, every hard jut of her own hips. And hard as she fought, as much as she wanted this moment to last forever, she felt the magic within her building, combining with the tension coiling ever tighter around her insides. When Cara added a third finger, curled them all just so, Kahlan felt a crushing weight before her bones dissolved and she was nothing but trembling muscles and keening wail.
She awoke from oblivion to feel lips on her cheeks, kissing away the wetness, her own tears.
“Kahlan,” Cara spoke softly, one arm around Kahlan‘s waist, taking her weight, the other clasped against her cheek. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
“No,” Kahlan gasped, shaking her head insistently like the very idea was the most ludicrous thing in the world. “I just.. You are..” Kahlan swallowed, still trying to find the words and, once again, found herself coming up short. “If this is a spell, I don’t ever want it to be broken.”
“If there is a sorceress between us, it is you,” Cara chuckled, kissing the corner of Kahlan’s lips. “Because I have been enchanted since the first moment I laid eyes on you.”
Kahlan brought their lips together once more. The kiss more leisurely, loving, the kind of kiss Kahlan once thought a Mord’Sith incapable of and now she could only dream of drowning in. Passion growing, Kahlan’s hands wandered, wanting to feel Cara’s skin beneath her fingertips, only to be surprised when Cara pulled away.
“As much,” Cara panted heavily, “as I would love to spend the rest of my days kissing you, it’s getting late. We should return to the castle.”
Kahlan stiffened. “No!”
“Please, don’t make me go back there,” Kahlan whispered, panic wavering her voice.
Their bodies still close, Cara tensed, brows furrowing as her lips formed a grim line. “It’s Darken Rahl, isn’t it?”
Kahlan nodded. “It’s a fine line between fascination and obsession, I fear Lord Rahl quickly goes from one to the other.”
Cara‘s entire body went tense, eyes narrowing as her jaw clenched. “Has he..”
“Spirits, no! But I fear..” her voice trailed, unwilling to verbalize the dark thoughts. “You once said you’d do anything for me..”
“And I meant it.”
“He tried to separate us once.” She lifted her hand, cupping Cara’s cheek, thumb grazing over her lips. “And I‘d rather die than be without you again. Take me away, Cara. Please, take me away from that awful castle. Take me with you. Will you?”
In the blink of an eye, Cara was mounting her horse. She turned the steed, facing Kahlan. “Stay here,” she said, the conviction of a Mord’Sith in her voice. “I’ll be back before dawn. I swear, you will not spend another night under the shadow of Darken Rahl.”
The day was dark and dreary. The fog of the morning had yet to lift, diffusing the colors of the forest into drab shades of brown and green, chilling the air. Richard followed behind Cara on her horse, the hawk sitting on her shoulder. With his sword, Richard’s sword being a stick, he beat back pretend attackers, darting and weaving his way on the path.
When it became evident Cara would not comment either on his skills with a sword, or at all, Richard stilled his movements, jogging ahead to catch up to Cara. “When are going to teach me to use a sword?”
“What,” Cara chuckled. “In the Creator’s name makes you think I’m going to teach you to use a sword?”
“Well, I *am* your apprentice.” He stopped suddenly, quickly moving again to catch up with Cara. “Aren’t I?”
“Did your mystery woman give you that idea?”
“No,” Richard mumbled. “But she thinks it’s a good one.”
“Does she now,” Cara smiled softly. And Richard noted, for the first time, how Cara only smiled when they talked about her, Richard‘s mystery woman. “Then maybe she should teach you. I’m fairly certain she’s familiar with weapons. Certainly better than you.”
“If I’m not here to learn how to fight, then why am I here?”
Irritated, Cara inhaled deeply. “You’re only traveling with me because I need your help getting into the People’s Palace.”
“The reason is none of your concern.”
“None of my concern?” Richard huffed. “It took me a lot of time and effort getting out of that place, and I’m not particularly interested in going back for something that ‘isn’t my concern’. I mean..”
He didn’t notice when the hawk on Cara’s shoulder suddenly took flight, or the way Cara straightened in her saddle, left hand slowly going for the crossbow hanging behind her hip. It was only when she stopped, her right hand going up in a halt motion that Richard’s words trailed, and the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand on edge.
An arrow shot through the air, piercing Cara’s saddle just above her knee. In a flash, Cara drew her crossbow, fired into the fog. A cry filled the air, a thump as a body hit the ground.
They came from seemingly nowhere, figures clad in red and silver armor on horses, their swords drawn and charging out of the fog like ghosts. Richard’s eyes went wide as dread churned his gut. Dragon Corps. Six of them by his count.
Drawing her sword, Cara charged right into the fray. The clang of swords, another slash and the first soldier to attack Cara was dead before he hit the ground.
Fighting his natural inclination to run in the opposite direction of sharp, pointy things and the men trained to use them, Richard went to Cara’s aid. Not that she really needed it, but, he always believed, better to die a hero than a coward.
As he ran up the path, a soldier’s horse lurched across it, cutting Richard off. Sword swinging, Richard ducked, the blade so close, he felt the ends of his hair sliced off. The soldier brought his sword up again, readying for a downward strike. Before either could react, the hawk swooped down, talons first, connecting with the soldier’s face. The soldier screamed, reflexively yanking back on his reins and his horse reared up onto two legs, tossing him to the ground.
The hawk hopped off the now ruined face, glancing up at Richard.
“I, little bird, owe you a mouse,” Richard said, and the bird squawked angrily. “Okay, fine, a rabbit.”
The hawk took flight again. Richard grabbed the still screaming soldier’s sword and ran towards the melee ahead of him. There were three soldiers left, all off their horses, including Cara. She’d removed her cloak, with nothing but her leathers, she looked more dangerous than the trained soldiers surrounding her.
Sword held above his head with both hands, Richard charged, screaming. A soldier turned towards him, parrying Richard’s strike as Richard brought his sword down then punching Richard square in the face. Richard went backwards, landing hard on his back like a sack of potatoes.
“Richard!” Cara grit through her teeth, slashing her sword, giving up her advantage to step between the soldiers and Richard. “Get out of here! I can handle..”
A stab of metal and Richard’s eyes widened as he saw the blade pierce Cara in the shoulder. Cara cried out, jerking backwards to remove the blade as she dropped her sword. Immediately, the hawk was there, scratching and clawing at the soldier’s face.
Sensing an opportunity, another soldier moved in. He never saw Cara reach for the leather rod hanging from her hip by a gold chain. Blocking his blow with her wounded arm, Cara brought the tip hard into his sternum. He screamed, body jerking in pain. Cara released the rod long enough to backhand him across the face.
“Where’d he go?” Cara hissed, eyes wide with the heat of battle. “Richard! Where did he go?”
Richard couldn’t talk, couldn’t move. His eyes were glued to the rod in Cara’s hand, at the strange whispers coming from it. When Cara had thrust it into the man’s stomach, Richard swore he heard the weapon scream.
They both heard it - the slicing whoosh of air, of an arrow being released. Cara’s head whipped towards the last soldier, who’d retreated to his horse. Her eyes followed the trajectory of his pointed crossbow, the weapon not aimed level but into the air.
All eyes followed the arrow, heard the piercing shriek as it struck the hawk circling above. Wounded, the hawk drifted downwards, slamming into the ground. Cara screamed, a sound that would haunt Richard’s nightmares for the rest of his life. She reached down, withdrew a dagger from her boot and launched it at the last soldier. It struck home, right into his heart, killing him instantly.
The last soldier dead, Cara turned her attentions to the wounded hawk.
“No,” she whimpered, like something within her had broken, falling to her knees and cautiously approaching. “Shhh, it’s okay,” she whispered. “Everything’s going to be okay. Richard!” She snapped her head towards him. “Get me a cloth from my saddlebag.”
Richard did as instructed, moving quickly towards Cara’s horse and pulling out a cloth before running back and handing it to Cara. Cautiously, Cara wrapped the cloth around the bird. “I.. I need a healer.” She darted her eyes back and forth, as if trying to peer through the forest. “But it’s been so long since I’ve been in these lands.”
“My Grandfather’s a healer,” Richard said.
Instantly, Cara’s eyes were on him as she quickly rose to her feet. “Take her,” she said, arms holding out the hawk.
“What?” Richard balked, already stepping backwards. “The poor thing’s done for..”
“DON’T YOU SAY THAT!” Cara growled, grabbing a fistful of Richard’s shirt, pushing and pulling. “Don’t ever say that! You’re all I have. You’re all *she* has! You know a healer, take her to a healer!”
“Mistress, I don’t think you understand.. my Grandfather..”
“Get on my horse!”
“What?” Richard’s eyes went even wider, bordering on panic. “You’re the only one who can ride him!”
“You’ll do as I say. Get on my horse. NOW!”
A fool’s errand, one that would probably get him killed but Richard saw the look in Cara’s eyes, one bordering on murderous. So Richard got on the horse, equally surprised at its docile acquiescence to someone other than Cara sliding onto the saddle.
Once in the saddle, Cara handed him the bird. “Careful,” she whispered with a gentleness Richard didn’t think she was capable of. Then, with hard eyes, she turned her gaze towards him. “And know this, if you fail, I will follow you until the length of my days.. and I will find you!” She inhaled, shoulders slumping slightly, the last of her bravado gone. Stepping aside, she slapped her horse on the hindquarters. “Now go!”
“Follow this road,” Richard called back to her. “There’s a ruined castle atop a hill. You can’t miss it. That’s where my Grandfather lives.”
It was close to sunset by the time Richard made it to the old ruins. The castle had certainly seen better days since he’d last visited. Actually, it looked worse. Where battle failed to scar and wound, time had accomplished. The castle looked more than on the verge of ruin, it was ruined.
“Hello!” Richard called out at the top of his voice. “Hello! For pity’s sake, GRANDFATHER!”
“Hello! Hello!” a very slurred voice called back. A shriek of white hair appeared above a railing, peering down. “Richard? Is that you? My boy, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve brought you this bird. It’s been wounded.”
“Ah! Very good, my boy. Bring it in. We’ll dine together!”
“We can’t eat this bird!” Richard blanched at the thought. His face went even whiter at the thought of what Cara would do to him if he actually ate the bird. “This is no ordinary hawk, Grandfather. It belongs to a knight, a Mord-Sith named Mason.”
High above, the drunken old man’s eyes cleared then widened with recognition. “Mason? By the Creator..” Furiously, he waved his hand, already moving towards the gates. “Bring her in! Bring her in!”
Richard had been told that his grandfather, Zeddicus Zul’Zorander, had once been a great man. He didn’t believe it then, he didn’t believe it now. Unable to wrap his mind around the concept of the strange old man who talks to chickens being capable of greatness. But, in his time of need, it was Zedd that Richard went to.
Zedd lead him deep into the castle, over a path where he was warned to stay on the left side. The room was warm, and smelled of bread, hay and ale, lots and lots of ale. Close to the fire sat a makeshift bed beneath piles of fur.
“There,” Zedd pointed. “Set her there.”
Gently, Richard placed the bird down on the furs before rising onto his feet, his grandfather already at his side and staring down at the bird.
“Can I help?” Richard asked.
“No!” Zedd growled, hands on Richard’s shoulders, turning him and shoving him towards the door. “GO!”
Patiently, he was always very patience, Richard hid just outside the door, never moving, barely breathing. Eventually, his waiting paid off. Long after the sun had set, Zedd finally exited the room. He dottered away, muttering something about herbs and needing time. Cautiously, Richard moved from his hiding hole, quietly opened the door, slipped inside..
And froze in his tracks.
Instead of a bird, a woman lay on the pile of furs, a blanket draped over her nude body. He recognized her immediately. But, despite the million questions rattling in his head, Richard considered himself a gentleman, and knew she needed privacy. Quickly, he turned, reaching for the door.
“Cara..” she lifted her head, calling to him. “Is she..”
“She’s fine,” Richard spoke, eyes turned downwards as he turned his head back towards her. “She‘s just fine, my Lady,” Richard paused, curiosity fueling his courage as he turned back towards her, gingerly stepping deeper into the room. “There was a terrible battle. Cara fought.. well, she fought like I’ve never seen. The hawk..” he took another step closer, noting the arrow sticking out of her chest, just above her breast. “The hawk was struck. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she said, hand covering her wound as she laid her head back down.
The room was warm but Richard shivered from the chill running down his spine. He’d stumbled upon something, good or evil, he did not know. That scared him more than anything. “Are you flesh, or are you spirit?”
She sighed solemnly before turning her eyes towards him. “I am sorrow.”
“You’re old,” Kahlan said weakly as Zedd sat down on the edge of the bed.
“I suppose I am,” he chuckled, sticking two fingers into a bowl and scooping out the poltice. Carefully, he smeared it around the wound where the arrow pierced the flesh.
Kahlan hissed through her clenched teeth. When the pain subsided, she opened her eyes. “I should kill you for what you did.”
“Yes,” was all Zedd could say, placing a hand to her shoulder as the other gripped the shaft of the arrow. “You should.”
With a swift and hard motion, Zedd yanked the arrow from Kahlan’s chest.
As Kahlan’s scream echoed throughout the halls of the ruined castle.
Hours later, Zedd stood at a railing, staring out into the inky blackness beyond the castle. Richard approached, two mugs in his hand, one of which he handed to Zedd. The old man took the cup with shaking hands, eagerly drinking the mug’s contents. Richard refilled the empty mug.
“I figured it out, you know. The woman in there, she’s the hawk,” he paused as a sorrowful howl echoed across the valley below. “And Cara’s the wolf.” He pursed his lips, brows crinkling. “The horse is just a horse, right?”
Zedd managed a laugh, turning towards the open fire-pit in the place that used to be a courtyard. “Yes, Richard. The horse is just a horse.”
“But how can this be? It‘s impossible.. Right?”
“Come, my boy, let me tell you about things that are impossible.” He sat down on the steps close to the fire. Gone was the visage of the drunken and slightly crazy old man Richard was used to, replaced with something a bit more serious, regal even. “Her name is Kahlan Amnell, daughter of Frederick, a General of the Dragon Corps, and Sonja, a Confessor..”
“A Confessor,” Richard’s eyes widened. “But, I thought..”
“Yes, they are,” his eyes darkened even under the light. “And she is. When her mother died, Kahlan was sent to live with her father. But the King, being the King and in love with starting another ridiculous war, Frederick was called to arms, and Kahlan was sent to D’Hara. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her, it was like looking at..”
“The face of love,” Richard finished for him.
Zedd smiled softly, meeting his grandson’s eyes. “Ah, you too. Well, I suppose we were all in love with Kahlan in our own way. Even the King’s right hand man, Lord Rahl, could think of nothing else.”
Richard found himself swallowing nervously at the mention of Darken Rahl‘s name. He‘d only met him once, when Rahl ordered Richard thrown into the dungeons of the People‘s Palace. He had no interest in meeting the man again. “Lord Rahl loved her?”
“As near as that evil man could come to it,” Zedd sneered, tossing another log onto the fire. “His passion was a sort of madness. He was a man possessed. And Kahlan sensed his wickedness, and she shrank from him. Her heart was already lost, you see..” Another howl pierced the night. Zedd turned his gaze towards the echo, lips barely curling into a smile before he returned his eyes to the fire. “The Captain of the Mord’Sith. Lord Rahl knew nothing of their love but every day saw it grow stronger, and deeper, and richer. Until..” Zedd’s voice trailed, his eyes softening as the color seemed to drain from his face. He pulled his mug to his lips, taking another long drink.
Richard rose from his seat, moving closer to his grandfather. “Until what?”
“They were betrayed,” Zedd answered, back of his hand wiping lips twisted distastefully. “They shared the same confidant. A weak, and foolish wizard. And one day, in a drunken confession to his superior, he committed a mortal sin. He revealed the lover’s secret vows to Lord Rahl. The old fool didn’t realize what he’d done at first. Nor the terrible revenge Lord Rahl would take. Rahl seemed to go mad. He swore that if he could not have Kahlan, no one would. He called upon the powers of darkness. In his fury and frustration, he struck a dreadful bargain.. with the Keeper of the Underworld. The dark powers of the Underworld spat up a terrible curse, and you have seen it working. By day, Kahlan is the beautiful bird you brought to me. And by night, as you have already guessed, the voice of the wolf we hear is the cry of one Cara Mason. Never touching in the flesh, only the anguish of a split second at sunrise and sunset where they can almost touch but not..”
“Always together, eternally apart,” Richard finished, heart sinking deep within his chest at the sound of his own words. A more heartbreaking story he had never heard. To know it was all real..
“As long as the sun rises and sets, as long as there is day and night, and for as long as they both shall live,” Zedd paused at the sound of the wolf, of Cara, howling into the night. “You have stumbled onto a tragic story, my boy. And now, whether you like it or not, you are lost in it.. with the rest of us.”
“Would you quit squirming?” Kahlan sighed in exasperation. With one hand, she cupped Cara’s chin. With the other, she attempted to dab at the split in Cara’s lip, only to have the woman duck and dodge from Kahlan’s touch.
“I am Mord’Sith,” Cara replied dryly. “I do not squirm.”
“I..” Kahlan lowered her voice, a slight blush creeping onto her cheeks. “Can think of one circumstance in which you do.”
The blush deepened as green eyes flashed towards her, narrowing seductively as the corner of her lips curled slightly upwards. Kahlan took the opportunity of Cara’s sudden stillness, dabbing her cloth against the Mord’Sith’s lip, only to have the woman flinch at her touch.
“You’re not squirming,” Kahlan’s eyes brightened. “You’re pouting.”
Cara jerked her head from Kahlan’s touch. “I do not.. pout, either.”
Kahlan chuckled. Knowing Cara would rather die than let Kahlan tend to her wound, more wounded pride than anything, Kahlan took a step back, crossing her arms over her chest. “You weren’t expecting that, were you? And that’s why you’re pouting?” she said, tilting her head up proudly.
“Of course, I was expecting it,” Cara quickly fired back. “This is not my first split lip, nor will it be my last. I just miscalculated the strength of your blow.”
“Did you now?” Kahlan stepped closer again, fingertips pressed gently beneath Cara’s chin. Cara rolled her eyes like a petulant child, but remained still to Kahlan’s touch. And Kahlan felt a tiny shudder tremble within her, at the power of that touch. A mighty Mord’Sith at her beck and call, literally at her fingertips. “If you want..” Kahlan whispered, leaning a little closer. “I can kiss it and make it all better.”
“I knew you had the power of Confession,” Cara purred. “I didn’t realize your touch also healed.”
“I’ve been told,” Kahlan leaned in even closer. “My touch is akin to a miracle.”
Teasing, Cara ducked from Kahlan‘s approaching lips, then grinned as she leaned back in. “And what fool told you that?”
“An incredibly stubborn one, in dire need of a stern hand.”
“And I suppose, your hands do more than heal?”
“I have been told,” Kahlan licked her lips, drew her hand from Cara’s chin to the back of her head and watched Cara’s eyes as they dilated then went hooded. “I have many skills.”
They would have kissed. Would have. And they would have been caught. It was Cara who reacted first, practically leaping backwards from Kahlan, clasping her hands behind her back, body rigid straight as she took an attentive stance.
Kahlan blinked, stunned at Cara’s sudden withdrawal. Then she heard it, the approaching footsteps, face paling at the figure entering the room.
“Lord Rahl,” Kahlan swallowed, then quickly composed herself, straightening her back and clasping her hands before her.
“Kahlan,” Darken Rahl nodded, not stopping until he stood feet from the two women. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Captain Mason,” he waited long enough for Cara to bow her head in deference. “I could have sworn I ordered you to return to the Temple..”
“It’s my fault, Lord Rahl,” Kahlan said immediately, stepping towards Rahl, shielding Cara from his gaze. “I asked Captain Mason to stay. She is a formidable fighter, I thought she could show me some of her skills.”
“Do you not feel safe here in the People’s Palace?”
“It’s not that,” Kahlan swallowed because that’s exactly what it was. “As a Confessor, I’m trained in many skills, including the fighting arts. As comforting as your hospitalities have been, I’d be remiss to allow myself to become lax in such studies.”
“If it is a tutor you need, I will provide one for you,” he smiled, and Kahlan stifled the shiver that ran down her back at the oiliness of it. “Captain Mason has her own duties that she would be remiss if she were to allow herself to become lax, isn’t that right, Captain?”
Cara bowed her head. “Yes, Lord Rahl.”
“Now,” Rahl stepped ever so slightly, enough to focus his gaze on Cara. “If you’ll excuse us, I need to speak to Kahlan alone for a moment.”
Bowing once more, Cara walked towards the door. Her hands curled into fists, willing herself not to look back at Kahlan and the man who served as Regent in place of their King.
“Come,” Rahl’s smile widened. He extended his arm, pointing his elbow at Kahlan in invitation. An invitation Kahlan knew she couldn’t refuse. “Let us take a walk.”
They walked in silence. Rahl lead Kahlan to the hall overlooking the courtyard. “I’ve been corresponding with the Mother Confessor. She wrote, in an offhand manner, about the Confessor’s line, and how your numbers are dwindling.”
“I..” Kahlan shifted on her feet. Conversations with Lord Rahl were like navigating a river without an oar, always uncertain where the currents would drift. “As I’m sure you’re aware, conception for a Confessor is always difficult.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t aware the situation had become so dire. Less than twenty new Confessors within a generation? Anyway, the Mother Confessor‘s comment piqued my interest in regards to whether or not you‘ve chosen a mate.”
Curbing her tongue, it took everything within Kahlan not to scream ‘yes’. “Lord Rahl?”
“You do wish to have children.”
“And it stands to reason that, when choosing a mate, your decision is based upon a myriad of factors - power, intelligence..”
“Honor, loyalty, character,” Kahlan forced a polite smile on her face.
“Of course,” Rahl bowed his head slightly, returning her faux smile. “I merely mention these things because, when it comes to a perfect candidate, perhaps you shouldn’t need to look so far. Perhaps you only need a little imagination.” He stopped walking, forcing Kahlan to stop along with him. Turning to her, he raised his hand and, with fingers splayed open, let his hand hover over Kahlan’s stomach. “Can you imagine, Kahlan, the child of a Confessor and a Wizard of the First Order?”
“I struggle to imagine you would risk Confession to create such a child,” she paused, feeling the blade of the knife’s edge she danced along. “A powerful man such as yourself is better served working for the King and the people of D’Hara than for a Confessor.”
“True,” Rahl withdrew his hand, raising it to brush a lock of hair from Kahlan’s shoulder, letting his fingertips hover by her neck. “But, there are ways around Confession. One which would allow you to lie with a mate without the consequences.”
Kahlan blanched, bile choking the back of her throat at the thought. This time, she did step out of Rahl’s touch. “A Rada’Han? Surely..”
“It is merely a suggestion, Kahlan. A possibility.” He smiled, stepping backwards. Clasping his hands behind his back, Rahl turned, making his way towards the door. “You have the imagination. The will to see your line survive. I hate to think what could happen if you wait too long to choose.”
Deep within the bowels of the People’s Palace, away from prying eyes and gossiping ears, a cart had been wheeled into a darkened corridor. A cart filled with nothing but the pelts of skinned wolves.
Darken Rahl stood before cart, examining its contents with a sword. Pushing the pelts back and forth, making sure to see all of them, he sneered, stepping back from the cart in disgust.
“Useless,” he spat. “All of them.”
The trapper, renowned just as much for his skills as a trapper as he was for his lack of morals, bowed as Darken Rahl walked past. “Traps are full. Can’t kill every wolf that lives. Since the plague, there are more wolves than men.”
“There is a woman,” Rahl spoke, as if he hadn’t even heard the man talking to him.
“A beautiful woman, with alabaster skin, eyes as blue as the sky.” Rahl closed his eyes, smiling as he remembered. “She travels by night, only by night, her sun is the moon. And her name is..” he paused, turning his head towards the trapper. “Kahlan. Find her and you find the wolf. The wolf I want. A white wolf. The white wolf who..” he sneered, face twisting with hate. “Loves her.”
Darken Rahl returned to his chambers to discover the outer room wasn’t empty. Six Sisters of the Dark stood flanking a woman. The woman looked exactly as he remembered her, at the time he’d had her imprisoned. She still wore the same clothes, a bit more tattered, a little more dirtier, along with the Rada’Han he’d personally clasped around her neck before throwing her into the dungeons.
“Leave us!” he commanded, the Sisters all bowing their heads before exiting the room. Darken Rahl smiled, clasping his hands behind his back. “Shota, such a pleasure to see you.”
“Your definition of pleasure has always been a bit.. twisted in comparison to others,” Shota sneered back. “Why am I here? Or do you just need another reason to gloat?”
“My dear Shota,” he tutted. “Can’t we get beyond these petty squabbles?” He walked casually towards the cabinet by his desk, pulling out a chalice and filling a cup. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s a part of me that screams to kill you, finish what I started..”
“But?” Shota narrowed her eyes, skin crawling with suspicion.
He took a drink from his glass, let the liquor linger on his tongue before swallowing. “I have learned many things, including not to look before I leap. You are still.. necessary.”
“What on earth could you possibly need me for?” Shota felt her tension drain as realization dawned upon her. Hands bound and clasped before her, she stepped closer towards Darken Rahl. “Prophecy. Having a little trouble with the Sisters of the Dark?”
“The future has been.. unclear. Let’s just say, I’d like a second opinion.” He walked towards his desk, pulling a cloth off a stone tablet, the inscription written in an ancient language. Fingers tracing over the words, he read them allowed. “From the joining of an unlikely union, the joining of what was once lost, peace shall come to the realm.”
Shota laughed, laughed so hard tears began to well in her eyes. “You feel it, don’t you?” she snickered, wiping away a tear. “You can feel the sun setting on your reign. The prophecies aren’t always clear but Fate comes for us all. Even you, Darken Rahl,” she paused just long enough to watch him seethe. “I warned you that the curse you put upon the Confessor and the Mord’Sith would be your undoing. And here you stand, thinking that prophecy is about you!”
Blood boiling with rage, Rahl screamed, tossing his glass at the wall. “No more riddles! Explain!”
“That’s the problem with sycophants. Always telling you what you want, never what you need. All this time, all these *years*, you thought that prophecy was about you, about the joining of a perverted Wizard and the innocent Confessor who would never love him. I assure you, that prophecy isn’t about what is to occur, but what has already started. That joining has nothing to do with Wizard’s, or Confessors, or even Mord’Sith, but of a King and a simple farm girl. The child that union produced.”
Rahl swallowed hard, the blood draining from his face. “The King has an heir? But.. that’s impossible!”
“You poison the King’s mind, his body, until he‘s nothing more than your puppet. You disband and banish the King’s Mord’Sith, murder your fellow Wizards and if the people knew that it was you that lead to the slaughter of the Confessor’s. I assure you, all of it was for naught, because that union took place long before you stuck your greedy little claws into the King. Before you placed a curse on a Confessor and a Mord’Sith. And now the heir comes to claim his kingdom, he comes for you, Darken Rahl. And..” She stepped forward, daring to invade Rahl’s personal space. “He’s not alone, because *he* joins what was once lost.”
Richard couldn’t remember the last time he’d sat so still for so long, at least, not voluntarily. But he had remained still. He remained still so he could watch the woman named Kahlan sleep. The woman who loved Cara, he’d learned. The woman that Cara loved. So Richard sat and watched over Kahlan. Out of curiosity, fear, but mostly out of a sense of duty. He’d been given the task of protecting Cara’s bird. The bird may no longer have been a bird, at the moment, but a woman, and Richard would protect her.
Kahlan stirred, opening her eyes groggily. Richard was up and moving, reaching for her, only to pull back his hand at the last second.
“Don’t,” he said softly. “Or you might start bleeding again.”
Kahlan set her head back down, smiling softly at the familiar face at her bedside. “You travel with her, don’t you?”
“Yes,” was all Richard could manage to say.
Her smile faded, replaced by a sadness that squeezed Richard’s heart, to see the hope fading from her eyes. Then, she turned her head away. And Richard could only imagine the number of nights Kahlan sat with that sad expression on her face.
He didn‘t know what his role was in this plot he‘d found himself in the middle of. If he could give Kahlan hope, take some of her sadness away, he would do that. “’You must save this hawk’, she said, ‘For she is my life,” Richard said, watching Kahlan stir at his words. “My last and best reason for living.’ And then she said, ‘One day, we will know such happiness, as two people dream of but never do’.”
Slowly, Kahlan turned her head towards him. “She said that?”
Richard smiled, nodded. “I swear it on my life.”
Kahlan returned his smile, but the warmth never made it to her eyes. She closed them, turning her head away once more. “When this.. when it all first started, we would write letters to each other. Even I, someone in love with a Mord’Sith, could never imagine she could be capable of such tenderness.”
“Do you.. still write to each other?”
“No.” She inhaled deeply, bringing a hand to the wound on her chest and touching it gingerly. “You have to understand, I love her and I will follow her anywhere but, after awhile, our letters, instead of being a bridge meant to bring us closer together, became a chasm, exposing our distance. The more we wrote, the further apart we felt. Until we stopped corresponding altogether.”
“How..” Richard paused, licking his in lips in fear of the answer. “How long have you been like this?”
“After the thousandth night, I stopped counting. There’ve been so many nights,” Kahlan sighed solemnly, draping her good arm over her eyes. “What I wouldn’t give to see the sun. To see Cara..”
“Please, Kahlan, you can’t give up hope. If you don’t believe me, believe my grandfather..”
Kahlan jerked the arm off her face. “You expect me to believe him? Tell me, Richard, why should I believe anything the man who betrayed me says?”
As Kahlan slept, Richard slipped quietly from the room, his head a jumble of thoughts, his heart filled with conflict. He’d known these people, Cara and Kahlan, for only a couple of days. He’d known his grandfather his entire life. That the man he thought nothing more than an eccentric old man who talked to chickens was actually a Wizard of the First Order.
Richard wasn’t sure what he felt, because it was all so conflicting. He felt the anger and betrayal, the sorrow for his new friends. He felt the love and loyalty for his grandfather. He wanted nothing more than to leave, run away from this terrible plot he’d found himself in. He wanted to stay with his grandfather, learn everything the man had kept close to his chest all these years. He wanted to stay at the side of his friends, because he knew they needed him most.
Zedd sat before the dying fire, elbows on his knees, threaded fingers holding up his chin. Richard sat across from him, on the other side of the fire, like he needed a little distance from it all.
“Is it true?” Richard asked. “You’re the Wizard who betrayed them?”
“Mmmm,” was all Zedd said with a quick nod of his head, eyebrows furrowing like fuzzy white caterpillars wiggling above his eyes.
Zedd lifted his chin enough to raise his fingers, unthreading them folding them once more, resting his chin on the knuckles. “There was a time when magic was as a part of this land as the green in the grass, the blue in the sky. Before your time, of course, Before.. Him. Why?” Zedd lifted his eyes. “I was a Wizard of the First Order. We were kings in our own ways. Drunk on our own power. Arrogant enough to believe we were above reproach, or capable of being flawed. I will always regret my actions. But mostly,” he sneered distastefully. “I regret at how cheaply I was bought for them.”
“If you’re a wizard, can’t you do something?”
“What do you think I’ve been doing for the last twenty years?” Zedd snapped, his voice booming. The embers of the dying fire intensified, flickering and crackling, the flames rising then dying just as quickly.
Richard shrank within himself, away from his grandfather‘s anger. He felt small, insignificant. He felt like the farm boy he’d been raised as amongst Wizards, Confessors, and Mord’Sith. The hairs on his arms stood on edge as the air around him thickened. Something about his grandfather had changed, right before his eyes. Now, Richard was starting to believe. “Twenty years,” he exhaled, shoulders slumping. “How could they.. for twenty years?”
“A love like theirs,” Zedd merely smiled. “The rest of us can only dream of such a thing.”
“Twenty years,” Richard could only repeat under his breath. The weight of the curse hit him; how long Kahlan had never seen the day, how long Cara had never seen the night, how long neither had never seen the other. For twenty years, though they were apart, neither had left the other’s side, neither had given up hope. “Have you..” Richard lifted his eyes to look at his grandfather. “Have you found a way to lift the curse?”
The smile on Zedd’s face broadened. “Yes, my boy, I believe I have.”
Richard jerked up to his feet. “You have to tell them! You have to tell..”
Instantly, the hairs on the back of Richard’s neck stood on end. Something within him screamed MOVE! He flinched, ducking his head and felt the blade slice the air above him. His eyes followed the blade as it thumped loudly, slicing deeply into the stone wall behind him. Pure silver, one of its three blades embedded into the wall.
“RICHARD!!” Zedd shouted, already up and on his feet, his movements belying his age. “RUN BOY!!”
Richard turned his head. That’s when he saw them. Women, a dozen of them, all dressed in red dresses, red veils over their faces, three-edged blades in their hands. Another blade whipped towards Richard, he moved just enough to save his skin, but not his shirt, a slash the size of his hand opening across his stomach.
Zedd stepped in front of Richard. He raised his hand, fingers splayed open as a ball of fire seemingly exploded from his fingertips. Red turned to orange and yellow as three of the women caught fire instantly.
“You really are a wizard!” Richard gaped.
“Didn’t I tell you to run?” the old man growled. “Go! Help Kahlan!”
It was that word, her name, that compelled Richard’s feet to move. He ran like the wind, like his life depended on it. He ran because the only thing he feared more than the strange women with even stranger blades was what Cara would do to him should he not help Kahlan.
“Kahlan!” he shouted, bursting through the door, practically taking it off its hinges.
Kahlan was already up and on her feet. “Richard, what is it?”
He reached for her hand, her good one, already pulling her towards the back door. “Women!” he panted. “Women in red, with knives.”
“Sisters of the Dark? Are here?”
He didn’t have to answer her. A Dacra sailed through the air, punching into the door they headed towards.
They ran through the castle, ducking and weaving through corridors. Richard had spent his summers in the old ruins, knew the castle like the back of his hand. But every way that lead out, lead to danger, a woman in red blocking their exit, leaving the two with no other option than up.
“GO!” Richard pushed Kahlan ahead of him, towards the circular stairs leading to the tower. A Sister of the Dark entered the doorway, and he saw stars as her fist connected with his jaw, and he slumped to the floor.
“Leave the boy alone!” Kahlan shouted. “It’s me you want!”
“Yes,” the woman said, fingers tensing around the blade in her hands as she stepped over Richard‘s body. “I do. My Lord has waited a long time for you.”
“He should get used to disappointment,” Kahlan snarled back. “Because, I assure you, it’s going to be a long wait.”
The Sister lunged towards Kahlan. As she did, Richard reached up, grabbing her ankle and yanking her back. She tumbled onto the stairs. Kahlan swung her foot, kicking her hard against the head, knocking the woman out. As her unconscious body slumped down to the last step, the door filled with more of her Sisters.
“Come on!” she yelled to Richard, turning on her heel and heading up the stairs.
Richard leapt to his feet, on Kahlan’s heels as they ran up the stairs.
The stairwell led upwards towards a sentry post, and nothing but a sentry post. The tallest point in the castle, with one way in, and one way out.
“What now?” she shouted, aghast as she realized where Richard had taken her.
“I don’t know!” Richard shrieked, slamming down the hatch to the tower. The hatch whipped back, a Sister of the Dark rising through the opening. Richard kicked out with his leg, pushing the woman back down, Kahlan already at the hatch slamming it back closed again.
Richard pounced on the door, spotting the reinforcements just as it slammed closed. He pressed all of his weight down, body jerking as the shoulders beneath him pushed upwards.
“The latch, Richard,” Kahlan pointed towards the lock.
His hands, slick with nervous sweat, moved valiantly but kept slipping as he yanked and pulled on the lock. The Sisters of the Dark below pushed and shoved at the door beneath him. Then, one of them slipped their blade through the slats of the hatch. Richard yelped, jumping backwards, backwards into Kahlan who slammed into the broken wall held together with nothing but bits of rope.
“Kahlan!” Richard screamed in horror as he watched Kahlan tumble over. He scurried towards the edge, Kahlan screaming back at him as she held on for dear life to the loose scaffolding around the tower. Richard grabbed her arm at the wrists. He could feel the wood beneath him giving, and he let go of one hand to grab a hold of the tower. Kahlan screamed again as gravity took her, as the only thing keeping her from certain death was her wounded arm, and Richard’s grip.
“Richard!” she pleaded. “I’m slipping!”
He held on with everything he had, and still he could feel Kahlan slipping from his grasp. To where a wrist became the flesh of her palm, until his grip held nothing but fingers and then..
“Nooo!” Richard yelled. He could only watch, feeling completely helpless, as Kahlan sailed downwards, her scream echoing through the valley, a look of pure terror on her face.
Two things happened at once, Richard so concerned with one, he never noticed the other. As Kahlan slipped from his grasp, falling towards the earth below, the sun rose above the horizon. Somewhere in between the two met, and the terrified screams of a woman falling to her death turned into the piercing cry of a hawk as it took flight.
Richard exhaled, never so relieved to see the dawning sun.
The lock finally gave, the hatch bursting open. Sisters of the Dark stormed onto the surface of the tower, only to find it empty. One strode towards the edge, peering over.
Where Richard sat on the stone drainpipe.
“Where is she?” a woman shouted down at him, Dacra raised and ready to throw. “Where’s the woman?”
“She flew away! By the Creator, I swear she flew away!”
The woman hissed, rearing her arm. “Where is..”
Her body jerked as an arrow appeared through the center of her chest. Then another and Richard watched as she tumbled over the edge, crashing on the rocks down below. There were more shouts, screams, and more of the strange women in red tumbling over the edge, falling past him like red rain.
Then, there was nothing but silence.
Richard strained his ears, hearing nothing but the shuffling of boots above. “Hello?” he dared.
Familiar blonde hair and green eyes peered down at him from above. “I thought I told you to stay out of trouble?”
“I’ve been told,” Richard smiled sheepishly, “I have a knack for finding myself in it.”
Cara harrumphed before her face disappeared again.
“Hey!” Richard called out to her. “Aren’t you going to help me up?”
“You got yourself down there,” she called back to him. “You can get yourself back up!”
When Richard found Cara again, she was outside the castle walls sitting atop her horse, the hawk on her arm. Zedd sat on a pile of rocks, looking like the old man Richard remembered him as instead of the Wizard of the First Order he’d been mere hours before.
“You have no idea how much restraint it’s taking me not to slit your throat, old man. But,” Cara paused, lifting her arm to gaze at the hawk resting on it. “You saved her life, and for that, I am grateful. Just know..” she turned her gaze back towards him, her eyes hard and cold. “Should our paths cross again..”
“Cara!” Richard shouted angrily, stomping towards her. “He saved Kahlan’s life! He knows how to lift the curse!”
“It’s true,” Zedd rose from his seat, hobbling down the stone steps like an old man. “All these years, all these regrets, I’ve spent them searching for the chance to redeem myself, to save you and Kahlan. Because the Creator has shown me how the curse can be broken.”
Cara’s eyes narrowed, body tensing. “You have betrayed us once. I warn you..”
“In three days time,” Zedd continued, ignoring Cara’s threat, “Lord Rahl will lay claim to the King’s throne. All you have to do is confront him, the both of you as flesh, and the curse will be broken. And the both of you will be free!”
“Impossible,” Cara scoffed.
“As long as there is night and day, no, but in three days hence, there will be a day without a night, and a night without a day.”
Jaw clenching, Cara examined him hard with her eyes. Whether it was true or not, Zedd truly believed. “Go back inside, old man. Go back to your drink.”
“You think I’m drunk?” Zedd growled, stomping towards Cara, not stopping until he was inches from her horse. “I swear to you! The Creator has shown me. She has *forgiven* me!”
“Maybe she has..” Cara leaned down, leather creaking ominously as she brought her face closer to Zedd’s, the anger and hatred returning to her eyes. “But I haven’t. I never will.” With that, Cara leaned up in her seat, clicking her heels and turning her horse away.
Richard bounded down the steps after her, only to be jerked back by Zedd, his arm grasping Richard tightly at the elbow.
“You can’t go!” Zedd pleaded. “There are still things I have to tell you. Things you have to learn!”
“Let go of me! Why should I trust anything you say? After what you‘ve done!” Richard jerked his arm out of his grandfather’s grasp. Regretting his words, seeing the hurt on Zedd’s face, Richard softened. “I have to, grandfather. They’re.. they’re my friends.”
Zedd inhaled deeply, head bowing. Richard gone before he could reopen his eyes.
“Mistress!” Richard called out, running after Cara. “Mistress!”
Cara slowed her horse, the slightest of smiles creeping onto her lips.
“How’s your shoulder?” Richard asked.
The smile faded, Cara swallowing, the taste burning her throat feeling a lot like pride. “I’m in your debt.”
“Me?” Richard grinning, his smile filled with false modesty. “No, Mistress. She wanted me to deliver a message,” Richard paused, watching and waiting as Cara’s expression changed as it always did whenever he talked of Kahlan. “To say she still has hope, faith in you.”
Bowing her head slightly, curtain of blonde hair obscuring her features, the smile returned to Cara‘s lips, as did a slight flush to her cheeks. Lips pursing, she inhaled deeply. “You’re free to go.”
“I know,” Richard nodded, running his hand over the back of his head. He pointed with a finger. “Then you and Ladyhawke will be going on to the People’s Palace?”
“Ladyhawke?” Cara repeated, eyes turning towards the hawk on her arm before remembering she’d been asked a question. “Yes.”
“Well,” Richard beamed. “It just so happens, I’m heading in that general direction myself.”
“Really? Then you better grab your things. I’m leaving now.”
Shivering, Kahlan stirred awake, to find her body draped in animal furs, her clothes removed. It all came back to her, the attack on the caravan by robbers. The chase through the woods, her carriage careening over a canyon wall into a river.
Cara screaming her name..
Her eyes snapped open, body jerking upwards into a sitting position. She glanced about quickly, gaining her bearings. She was in a cave, a makeshift bed of furs next to a fire, her wet clothes placed against a rock to dry, red leathers lying next to them. Beyond the fire, in the entrance to the cave, a figure stood, silhouetted by the sheets of rain beyond. The figure barely moved, a twist of the head turned towards a shoulder.
“I thought I told you to rest,” Cara said, and Kahlan thought her heart would explode at just the mere sound of Cara’s voice.
“Where are we?”
Cara turned around, casually walking deeper into the cave. “Safe.”
Kahlan swallowed hard as Cara strode towards her. She‘d never seen Cara outside her Mord‘Sith leathers. She‘d never seen Cara.. naked. Her blonde hair, no longer in its typical ponytail, cascaded down her shoulders in soft waves, her golden skin seemed to glow under the firelight. And Kahlan found her eyes trailing downwards, over perfect breasts, smooth and muscular stomach, the patch of golden hair at the apex of her thighs. “And the others?” Kahlan found the strength to ask, to distract herself from the sight before her.
“Most likely heading towards the People’s Palace for reinforcements.”
The People’s Palace.
Kahlan felt herself deflate at the mention of it, pulling the furs tighter around her as she felt a shiver reverberate through her entire body. “Why didn’t you go with them?” she finally asked. “Your Sisters?”
Cara squatted down, extending one bare hand over the fire to warm her fingers. “My duty is to you.”
“And when we reach the People’s Palace, what of your duties then?” Kahlan said, anger creeping into her voice.
“Kahlan,” Cara sighed. “We have both sworn vows. Duties that we hold sacred above all others..”
Kahlan flopped backwards, petulantly rolling over until her back faced Cara. The air grew quiet, still, no noise between them but the crackling of the fire. Kahlan drew her finger under the bottom of her nose to stifle her sniffle, then wiped at the tears she could feel trailing her cheeks.
“You said you loved me,” she whispered, the words like a thousand lashes against her soul.
Cara quickly rose, stepping around the fire and sitting down next to Kahlan. She placed a hand to Kahlan’s shoulder, pulling until Kahlan turned to face her. “I am Mord’Sith, and we never say anything we don’t mean.” She placed her hand to Kahlan’s cheek, drew her thumb over Kahlan’s lips. “I would rather face the pain of a thousand Agiel’s than part with you. But,” she closed her eyes, head bowing. “It’s what I must do. What we both must do.”
“Cara..” Kahlan sighed, leaning into Cara’s touch.
“We will part,” she brought her lips over Kahlan’s. “And I will become..” she painted Kahlan’s lips with her own at each word. “Death, pain, torment..”
Between the kisses that had grown urgent with passion, Kahlan felt the fur shift, felt the warmth of Cara’s body against her own. Kahlan’s heart thudded heavily at the realization of what Cara wanted, what she was about to do. But the ache Kahlan felt inside, her *need* for Cara, to be touched and loved, even if it was just once, overpowered her reason. Because, there were the lips at her neck, a hand on her breast, a thigh between her legs, pressing at the growing heat between them.
“My beautiful pearl,” Cara murmured into Kahlan’s neck, as her hand slipped between them.
Kahlan whimpered at the first hand that was not her own between her legs, as it stroked her clit. Fingers threading into Cara’s hair, Kahlan tightened her grip, pulling Cara in for another kiss. And everywhere Cara touched, with her lips, tongue, teeth, her fingers, Kahlan felt as if her very nerve endings were on fire, the way that touch sent ripples of pleasure between her legs.
Cara growled as she trailed downwards, leaving a slick trail down the valley of Kahlan’s breasts. She clasped her lips around a stiff nipple, pulling it between her teeth. Kahlan whimpered, writhing bonelessly beneath Cara, one hand flailing at the fur blanket beneath her as the other tangled in Cara’s hair.
Then, Cara moved lower, taking little nips out of Kahlan’s stomach. And Kahlan, uncertain as to what exactly Cara was doing, lifted her head, brows slightly crinkled in confusion. Cara peered up at her, green eyes twinkling playfully as she nuzzled against the mound of soft hair at the apex of Kahlan’s legs.
“Relax, my love,” Cara purred, hands sliding beneath Kahlan’s thighs and pulling them wider. “This won’t hurt. I promise.”
Uncertain, Kahlan eased her head back down. Then a hard gasp exploded from her lips, back curling like a bow suddenly pulled taut, as Cara’s tongue made a long, flat swipe against her sex, then another, and another.
Insides clenching from the growing tension, the hand tangled in Cara’s hair tightened. Kahlan saw stars as she squeezed her eyes shut. She saw stars, she felt her magic growing within her, curling around the swirling cauldron of pleasure growing within the pit of her stomach. And Kahlan fought it, fought it with everything she had, this merging of passion and magic. Because she never wanted this moment to end. Because she knew what would happen should Cara continue.
“Cara..” she panted. Nails scraping against Cara’s scalp, Kahlan pulled, until Cara released her clit with a wet pop. “You.. We have to stop..”
Cara clambered over her, until they were face to face and she crashed their lips together once more, tongue jutting into Kahlan’s mouth, and Kahlan whimpered at the heady taste of her own sex on Cara’s tongue. Cara straddled her leg, her sex slick, wet and warm against the skin of Kahlan’s thigh. Then pushed her hand between Kahlan’s legs.
“Cara!” Kahlan pleaded.
“I would rather die from one moment with you, than die slowly without you,” she whispered into Kahlan’s mouth. “Let me love you, Kahlan. The only way I know how.”
In the back of her mind, she always knew it would come to this, this one moment. They were always fated to part. This way, it was on their terms. Kahlan choked back the sob seizing her throat, crashing their lips together.
Instantly, they found their rhythm, Cara rolling her hips onto Kahlan’s thigh, hand stroking Kahlan’s sex. A hand gripping Cara’s back, nails digging into the flesh to pull her closer, Kahlan keened, louder and louder, with each thrust of Cara’s fingers. She shivered at Cara’s every whimpering pant into her neck.
The tension building, Cara rose, holding herself up with a hand, to gaze down at her lover, to sear the vision into her memory, to take it with her to the Underworld. All her life she’d been a Mord’Sith, even in the years before her training. But nothing prepared her for this - love. Pure. Simple. Untainted. How a simple glance from this woman tore through the walls she’d built around her heart, and then completely stole it. The idea that they would have to part forever had blackened her spirits on the journey to the People’s Palace. There would be no more after this. And Cara would rather die in Kahlan’s arms, in this moment, than face a lifetime without her.
“Kahlan,” Cara whispered softly. “Open your eyes.”
Kahlan shook her head jerkily back and forth, squeezing her eyes tighter, a tear trailing down her cheek. She was fighting it, fighting everything.
“It’s okay, my love. It‘s okay,” Cara whispered, leaning down to press her lips to Kahlan’s. “Open your eyes.”
With the last of her dying strength, Kahlan opened her eyes. Cara didn’t understand why people feared Confession. In that moment, with Kahlan’s blackened eyes staring heatedly, fearfully, up at her, it was the most beautiful thing Cara had ever seen.
Then, Kahlan exploded. Her body tense, back bowing as a primal scream erupted from her throat, as the magic burst from her in a concussive wave that rattled the walls of the cave, sent embers of fire skittering across the rocky and dusty floor.
Eyes rolling into the back of her head, Cara bucked and spasmed, body jerking as if struck by lightning. It was nothing she’d ever experienced before, nothing no one could have trained her for. It wasn’t just magic that rippled though her, set fire to her insides, melted her bones. And as the blackness took over, as a contented and sated smile spread across her face, all Cara could think was -
This is love.
Kahlan fought the sensation of awaking, because she could only find her heart filling with dread as conscious returned, knowing the world around her would be a little emptier. A world with one less person in it, the one that mattered the most. That she would be alone. She pressed a hand over her closed eyes as the first choking sobs bubbled up her throat.
“Kahlan!” a voice called to her. “You have to get dressed!”
“Cara!” Kahlan yanked the hand off her face, eyes wide with shock. Cara stood by her, Kahlan’s dress held in her hand. Kahlan leapt to her feet, completely oblivious to her nakedness as she threw her arms around Cara’s neck, raining kisses onto her cheeks. “Oh Cara,” her tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy, and then the shock returned. She pulled back just enough, both hands holding a death grip to Cara‘s cheeks. “Are you flesh or are you spirit?”
Lips curled into a half-smile. “I assure you, I am definitely flesh.”
“But.. But how? Are you confessed?”
“I.. I don’t know,” she paused, lips pursing, brows crinkling. “Command me.”
Kahlan tightened her lips, thinking of the worst thing she could ask Cara to do. “Call the Mord’Sith cowards.”
Cara stiffened, head tilting as her eyes widened in exasperation. “Really, Kahlan?”
Kahlan laughed, both giddy and terrified. “I don’t understand,” she shook her head. “How?”
Cara softened, her face reflecting Kahlan’s confusion. She placed her gloved hands at the swell of Kahlan’s hips. “If my understanding of your powers is correct, and believe me, the Mord’Sith spend years studying the Confessors,” she paused, swallowing hard. “How can you Confess someone who already loves you with everything they are?”
“Are you sure you’re not even a little Confessed?” Kahlan tilted her head coyly.
“You could always command me again.”
“Then,” she smiled broadly. “I command you to make love to me.”
With eyes immediately gone hooded, Cara sucked a hard breath between her teeth. “Believe me, there’s nothing more that I want in this world than to have your taste on my tongue, but,” she lifted her hand, bringing it and the dress she was holding between them. “The search party will be here soon. And I’d rather they not find us in a compromising position.”
Kahlan dressed quickly while Cara broke their tiny camp. They both moved in silence, and Kahlan felt the subtle shift in the air between them. Uncertainty. Kahlan stilled her movements, head bowing slightly as she clasped her hands together, falling back on what she knew, what was comfortable, safe. Her life as a Confessor.
“What does this mean?” she asked aloud.
Still breaking camp, Cara kicked some dirt over the dying fire. “I don’t know.”
Kahlan nodded, knowing before she asked the question that Cara wouldn’t have the answer but needing to voice it anyway. So much had changed, in her, in Cara, something so big that attempting to voice it gave rise to a myriad of fears. Kahlan inhaled deeply, needing to ask one more question.
“What do we do now?”
Turning, Cara approached Kahlan. An uncertain smile on her face, she reached out, placing her hand on Kahlan’s forearm and squeezing. “I don’t know.”
Richard paced, agitated, outside the stable on the outskirts of the tiny village. His vest over his head to shield him from the rain pounding the landscape. He paced, not because doubt filled him but because of the uncertainty. He couldn’t seem to wrap his head around this plot he’d found himself in. A plot involving people who seemed more powerful than him - Confessors, Mord’Sith, Wizards, Darken Rahl. Though he had his ambitions, he’d never felt more like a farm boy from a lowly village than when compared to those around him. He’d already spent some time in the dungeons of the People’s Palace, and Richard knew, the longer he stayed with these people, the dangers he faced were becoming even more deadly.
Stepping forward, Richard pulled the vest off his head, rain pelting him as he turned his face skyward. “I know I haven’t been a model citizen in your eyes, but a little sign wouldn’t hurt. What do you expect me to do? Honestly, a night with no day, a day with no night. What does *that* mean?”
He jumped, stepping back under the tiny overhang of the stable as a loud boom of thunder rattled the sky. “Okay, okay,” he held up his hands defensively. “I was just asking!”
“Richard!” Kahlan called to him from inside the stable. “You can come in now.”
Richard looked up at the sky, relieved at no longer having to stand in the rain. “Thank you.”
He entered cautiously, not completely certain Kahlan was fully dressed. He stepped slowly past the stalls, towards the light in the back of the stable from the lone lantern hanging from a post.
Kahlan stepped out from the corner of the last stable. And Richard felt his lungs freeze, gasp choking his throat.
She wore a white dress. And though Richard had never seen one before, he knew this was her Confessor’s dress. The sight of which stole his breath away.
“It’s been years since I’ve worn this,” Kahlan smiled softly, smoothing out the lines with her hands. “How do I look?”
Richard swallowed hard. “Stunning.”
She chuckled before the smile faded, replaced by the solemn expression she always wore. “How is she?”
“She’s alive, like you. And full of hope, like you.” Richard stepped closer. “She left you in my charge. She said, ‘Tell her, we two speak as one, and she will follow your instructions as if they are my own’.”
“Really?” She raised her hand before Richard could say the words. “No, don’t swear.” She moved towards the rear stall, placing her hand to the horse’s nose and petting gently. “I heard bell’s earlier.”
“It’s the King,” Richard replied, shifting nervously on the balls of his feet as he lowered his head slightly. “He’s dead.”
Kahlan groaned, placing a hand to her forehead. “She’s taking us back to the People’s Palace, isn’t she?” She moved her hand to the horse’s neck, pressing her forehead to its cheek. “Always the Mord‘Sith, aren‘t you, Cara?”
“Kahlan?” Richard asked, uncertain as to whether Kahlan was still talking to him.
“As far apart as we are,” she sighed, almost under her breath. “She’s all I have left. Everyone else is.. gone.”
He’d asked for a sign, here it was. Richard placed his hand on Kahlan’s shoulder, waiting until she lifted her eyes to him before giving her a soft smile. “You still have me.”
It was like watching a world crumble. Kahlan’s face fell as she turned into him, wrapping her arms around his waist as she pressed her face to his shoulders. Richard returned her embrace, feeling the sobs wrack her body. He never knew if he’d be blessed to feel such love as Cara and Kahlan, but he silently prayed he’d never feel such sorrow.
When the tears and the sobs finally subsided, Richard gently nudged her. “Hey,” he spoke quietly. “There’s an inn just up the road. How about some food? Maybe a nice cup of sweet wine?”
“That,” Kahlan sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of a hand. “That would be lovely.”
“Good,” he beamed, smile lighting up his entire face as he released Kahlan and stepped backwards. “I’ll race you!”
“Richard!” Kahlan laughed, running behind him.
Richard burst through the stable doors, Kahlan close on his heels. The night was still black, made blacker by the sheets of rain still pouring down. Richard didn’t see the cart until he’d already run into it.
A cart filled with the pelts of dead wolves.
“Oh no!” he muttered, spinning on his heel, already too late as Kahlan skidded to a halt..
“Kahlan!” Richard shouted, pulling her into his arms, trying desperately to turn her away from the carnage before them. “Kahlan!”
Richard turned his head towards the voice saying her name, shuddered at how *wrong* it sounded coming from his lips.
“Kahlan,” the trapper repeated, lips pulling into a wicked smile, revealing blackened teeth. He yanked on the reins of his horse, pulling it away from his own cart as he galloped off into the night.
“Get out of here!” Richard yelled, half-heartedly chasing after the man. He stopped, catching his breath, stepping aside just in time as Kahlan, atop Argo, thundered after the trapper. A slash of white on black quickly swallowed by the night.
“Kahlan!” Richard screamed after her. He ran back into the stable. Cara’s sword lay hidden beneath a blanket, Richard grabbed it, running out into the night.
Kahlan rode hard and fast, blindly, guided only by the intermittent streaks of lightning lighting the sky. She slowed at the sound of a wolf’s howl echoing through the night, Argo rearing up onto his hind legs as another bolt of lightning flashed, followed quickly by the booming thunder.
Just ahead, Kahlan could see the trapper’s horse. The trapper no where in sight. She dismounted, leaning down to pull the dagger from her boot. Darting from tree to tree, she searched blindly, frantically. Her heart pounded heavily, threatening to burst from her chest. There’d been trappers before, there were always trappers, but there was something different about this one, something she felt deep in her bones. And she knew, the man was after Cara.
She could hear Richard in the distance, shouting after her. Then, she heard a hard snap, the clanging of metal against metal. Again, and again. The last punctuated by the unmistakable and piercing yelp of a wolf.
Kahlan ran towards the sound. Her shoulders slumped at the sight. It wasn’t her wolf, her Cara, but her heart ached for the animal. Dead the moment the steel trap clamped around its neck.
As she stepped closer, a hand whipped out, grabbing her by the back of the head and yanking her backwards.
“He offers lots of coin for your wolf,” he sneered. “How many coins do you think he would give me for you?”
It’d been years since Confessor’s served these lands. The knowledge of their powers having faded from memory, turned to myths and legends. Her back to him, he never saw her eyes mist into black, or the anger that twisted her features.
Kahlan elbowed him hard, swiftly in the gut. Grunting in pain, he released his hold on her hair, and she whipped around, hand curled like a claw, she grabbed him by the throat.
“Kahlan!” Richard skidded to a halt as he cleared the tree line. His jaw dropped at the sight before him, the trapper on his knees, Kahlan standing before him, her hand wrapped around his throat.
“Command me, Mistress,” the man said reverently.
Her hand still connected to his throat, Kahlan hissed, “Darken Rahl, what did he tell you?”
“He said, ‘There is a woman. A beautiful woman, with alabaster skin, eyes as blue as the sky. She travels by night, only by night. Find her and you find the wolf. The wolf I want. A white wolf. The white wolf who loves her’.”
He was already Confessed but Kahlan still found the need to grip his throat. Her fingers tightened. “How many wolves have you killed in your hunt for just one?”
“Dozens, upon dozens.”
“And me? What does Darken Rahl want with me?”
He blinked, gazing up at her lovingly, wanting nothing more than to please his mistress. “To make you his wife, my Lady. So you will bear his child.”
Richard watched as Kahlan leaned closer to the man, whispering into his ear. Then, she released the hold on his neck, body swooning as if taken over by some great force before she slumped to the ground. Richard rushed to her side, pulling her up by the shoulders.
Then, he watched as the trapper, as if enchanted, casually walked away from Kahlan and Richard, dropped to his knees..
And placed his head in his own trap.
Stomach grumbling at the smell of food wafting into his nose, Richard awoke to find himself on a bed of soft leaves and branches, lying next to warm fire with two very large fishes on spits above it.
“Good morning,” Richard grumbled, wincing at the sound of his own bones cracking as he stretched.
“I got you something to eat,” Cara said, walking towards her horse. “You looked a little pale.”
“Ugh, what a night.”
“Oh, nothing I couldn’t handle, Mistress.” More bones creaking, Richard clumsily rose from his makeshift bed, extending and stretching his arms.
A hawk’s cry pierced the air. Cara, smiling, turned her face towards the bird, outstretched her arm as it swooped towards her. Then stared, stunned, as the bird flew right past her and onto Richard’s arm.
Richard’s eyes widened in surprise at the hawk on his arm, then swallowed nervously at the hardened glare fired his way by Cara.
“Nice little bird,” he grinned sheepishly, shaking his arm. “Go to your mistress. Go on, Ladyhawke.”
With narrowing eyes, Cara tilted her head slightly. “Last night. Tell me about it.”
“What’s to tell?” he said, still shaking his arm to make the hawk fly away. “Go now, fly, go! We ran into a bit of trouble on our way to an inn..”
Hands balling into fists, Cara took a step forward. “You took Kahlan to an inn?”
“Actually,” Richard shooed at the bird on his arm. “We never made it to the inn after we’d left the stable.”
“What’d you do in a stable?”
“We changed clothes,” Richard’s eyes widened at the sound of his own words, knowing how easily they could be misconstrued. “Not together, of course!”
“You left her alone!”
“So you did change clothes!”
Exasperated, Richard pushed his arm towards Cara. “Here! Take her!”
The bird chirped animatedly as Cara lifted her forearm to Richard’s and the bird stepped onto it. The simple act seeming to calm both bird and woman. Immediately, Richard retreated from the both of them.
“She’s the most wonderful woman that ever lived. And I can’t say I haven’t had my fantasies,” Richard sighed, knowing such an admission would probably get him flogged. “But, the truth is, all she did was talk about you.”
Cara did the one thing Richard didn‘t expect. She smiled. She smiled for Richard. “Every moment you spend with her, I.. envy you.” She turned, setting the bird down on a branch. Then, she moved towards Richard, that smile still on her face as she set both her hands atop his shoulders. “You can tell me.. Tell me everything she said. And I warn you,” she chuckled softly. “I will know if the words aren’t hers.”
Richard stepped back, pulling away from Cara’s touch. Even with her hands from his shoulders gone, he felt an incredible weight still there. A responsibility he hadn’t realized was his and his alone.
“She was sad, at first. She talked about the day you first met. And she cursed it,” he paused, watching as Cara’s face fell. “But then, I saw her remember how happy you were together. Before the Lord Rahl’s curse,” Richard remembered as well, head shaking in almost disbelief. “And her eyes glowed. No, she glowed. She loves you more than life, Mistress. She’s had to.”
Glancing at the hawk sailing overhead, the flush on Cara‘s cheeks darkened. “Did you know that hawks and wolves mate for life?” she said, her smile fading as she turned back towards her horse. “Darken Rahl didn‘t even notice.”
“Zedd!” Richard practically shrieked. He’d seen the cart as it ambled its way over the hill before realizing the passenger was his grandfather. “What are you doing here?”
“Do you know how hard it is to track that which does not want to be found? Particularly a Mord’Sith?” Zedd ignored his grandson, pulling on the reins so the donkey pulling his cart would slow to a stop. “Where is she?”
“I’m here, old man,” Cara said atop her horse, a hand casually resting on the hilt of her Agiel. “And I thought I warned you..”
Zedd slid out of the seat of his cart, ignoring Cara‘s not so veiled threat to approach her. “On your way to kill Darken Rahl. Why won’t you listen to me? In two days time, you can face Rahl in the cathedral with Kahlan by your side and break the curse.”
She shifted on her horse, eyes already focused on the path before her. “I will be in the People’s Palace tomorrow. And, one way or another, there will finally be an end to this.”
“One day,” Richard interjected, holding Cara’s canteen as he moved to attach it to her saddle. “More or less, what could it matter?”
“You too?” Cara said. “I warned you.. Stay here with the old man.”
“No, I’m going with you.” Richard shook his head. “How will you get inside the People’s Palace without me?”
“I will get in. With or without your help.” Cara set her horse to a trot, riding away.
Zedd stepped towards Richard, placing a hand onto his shoulder. “Thank you for trying, Richard. And for standing up for the truth.”
“I should have known better. Every happy moment in my life,” Richard sighed solemnly, pulling from his grandfather’s touch. “Has come from lying.”
Draped in Cara’s cloak, Kahlan poked at the small fire with a stick. At the sound of a twig snapping, she tensed, hand going for the dagger in her boot. The tension drained from her, the approaching steps familiar, friendly.
“There you are,” she smiled as Richard rounded a tree. “Winter already comes early. Any idea why Cara felt the need to bring us through the mountains?”
Pursing his lips, Richard squared his shoulders, steeling himself for what he had to say. “Kahlan, this may be our last evening together.”
Kahlan stilled, pale skin brightened by the fire as she turned her head towards him. “Why?”
“I didn’t want to tell you until I believed, *really* believed.”
“Really believed what, Richard?” Kahlan rolled her eyes, exasperated at the mountain of tasks before her, the time spent wasted on a silly folly.
“I think we can break the curse,” Richard swallowed. Hand against a tree, he leaned forward, imploring her with his sincerity. “We have a plan.”
Kahlan rose to her full height, the tiniest glimmers of hope flicking across her face. “You and Cara?”
“No,” Richard shook his head. Zedd placed his hand gently on Richard’s shoulder before stepping out of the shadows.
Kahlan tightened her grip around her dagger. “You?”
“Kahlan,” Richard begged. “Listen to him.”
Kahlan gaped. “What if he’s wrong?”
“Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. What’s the harm in listening to what he has to say? What’s the harm in trying?”
“Do you dream, Cara?” Kahlan asked then sighed contentedly.
It was their third week in Aydindril, and Kahlan had never been happier. Kahlan had been inconsolable those first few days after her father had left to serve the King. It was Cara who suggested Kahlan return to Aydindril. Kahlan had balked at the idea at first, for no other reason than because Cara had suggested it. But then they arrived, and for Kahlan to be surrounded by her Sisters, the Mother Confessor, in the place that always felt like home, it eased the ache in her heart. And when she was around Cara, Kahlan felt it soar.
She’d been nervous the first time she suggested it, taking Cara to her favorite spot, the top of a hill with a spectacular view of the city. Cara had merely shrugged, muttering something about her ‘duties’. As they dismounted, Kahlan asked if Cara found the sight beautiful. Only to have the Mord’Sith return her question with the answer of ‘not as beautiful as you’.
There was kissing, of course. There was always kissing whenever the two were alone. But Kahlan thought it more magical when they were here, near her true home, her friends and family. But Kahlan always took pleasure in the after. When they parted before their passion became too enflamed. When Cara sat on the ground, her back to a tree, and Kahlan rested between her legs.
Every time, Kahlan would take Cara’s hand, pull off the glove and explore Cara’s fingers. Trace the tiny whorls and curls with her fingertips, her lips, rub them against her cheeks, marveling at the softness of Cara’s skin. More than anything, merely astounded that Cara let her.
“Do you, Cara?” she repeated softly, pressing her lips to the center of Cara’s palm. “Dream?”
“A fruitless folly,” Cara scoffed. “I was always meant to be a Mord’Sith. Why would I wish to be something else?”
“That’s not what I mean?” Kahlan chuckled.
“Isn’t it? Isn’t that what dreaming is about, wishing for the things you can not have?”
“I just meant..” Kahlan sighed, not really sure what she meant. She turned her head, the leather beneath her creaking. “Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like had you not become a Mord’Sith?”
“No,” Cara answered flatly. Then, she brought her freehand to Kahlan’s cheeks, brushing against it with the backs of her knuckles. “Do you wonder what your life would have been like were you not born a Confessor?”
Kahlan closed her eyes as she nodded, shame coloring her cheeks with the admission. To be a Confessor was considered the greatest honor, and here she was, wishing for her life as something else. But Kahlan knew the truth, to be a Confessor was a life of isolation, loneliness. If she were to be damned for occasionally wishing for another life, then she would be damned.
“We have a cottage,” Cara whispered so softly it took Kahlan a moment to realize she was speaking. “It sits on a hill such as this. You work as a schoolteacher, always coming home with a basket filled with apples, showing how much your students love you. I work as a blacksmith, building the finest weapons in all of D’Hara,” she paused, Kahlan giggling at the boastful pride in her voice. “We have four children..”
“Children?” Kahlan interjected.
Cara lowered her head, bringing her lips to the shell of Kahlan’s ear. “I thought the point of dreaming is that it can be unconditional. I won’t dream for myself, but I’ll dream for you, for us. Now,” she lifted her head. “We have four children, four girls - Sonja, named after your mother, Isabeau, and the twins, Rachel and Grace. They are.. our greatest creations.”
Kahlan closed her eyes once more, sighing sweetly. “That is lovely.”
“And what is it you dream of, Kahlan Amnell?”
“I don’t mind being a Confessor, I just wish..” she paused, opening her eyes once more. She brought Cara‘s bare hand to her cheek, brushing her fingertips down the soft skin. “I want to be touched, truly touched, as lovers do.”
Cara brought her lips to Kahlan’s ear once more, purring lowly. “All you have to do is ask.”
“Cara..” Kahlan shuddered at the thought, knowing such a touch would destroy Cara. “That‘s impossible.”
“One day, I will fulfill your wish. I will show you a touch like no other. You ask me to dream, so why not dream for the impossible?”
Richard grimaced as he sunk Cara’s sword into the hard and frozen earth. Despite temperatures below the freezing mark, sweat poured off his body, steam wafting from his clothes. They’d been at it for hours, he and Zedd, digging a hole in the ground, one meant to capture the wolf. It’d taken some convincing, with no little help on Richard’s part, but eventually, Kahlan agreed. They were to capture the wolf, Cara, sneak Cara and Kahlan into the People’s Palace, where they would wait for their moment. The moment when Cara and Kahlan, as flesh, would confront Darken Rahl.
Now, as his muscles screamed and his sweat-soaked clothes began to freeze in the most uncomfortable of places, Richard was beginning to regret his part in all this.
“Can’t you..” he breathed heavily, jamming the sword into the ground and pulling, clumps of earth falling to his feet. “Do a spell or something?”
“I’m a Wizard,” Zedd harrumphed. “Not a miracle maker. Nor I did learn magic to dig holes.”
“Fat good that does us now!”
“Quiet, you two!” Kahlan snapped at the both of them as a howl echoed through the snow covered valley. Kneeling, eyes scanning the landscape as the two men dug, Kahlan slowly rose to her feet. “She’s coming!”
The moon low and full, it cast a dull glow over the snow dusted landscape. Kahlan turned her eyes towards a sound, movement high on the hill above them. With pale fur, the wolf moved almost unseen over the snow. Opposite from where it last released its howl, it lumbered casually towards Kahlan.
Hands raised soothingly, Kahlan almost sighed in relief as the wolf began to move towards her in a slow trot. As it moved across the flat stretch of snow between them, an awful crack filled the air, then another. And the ice beneath the wolf split, giving way, the wolf plunging into the icy waters. It yelped and howled, flailing at the crumbling edge just out of its reach.
Kahlan rushed towards it, only to feel the ice crack beneath her own feet. Quickly, she lowered, placing her body flat to the ice and crawling forward. “Richard! Help me!”
He was already up and on his feet, grabbing Cara’s sword, hastily attaching a rope to it as he ran. The ice was soft beneath his own feet, and he too was on his stomach crawling towards the drowning wolf. Stabbing the sword into the ice, he grabbed the rope, pulling it with him.
Kahlan couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so terrified. With heart in throat, she pushed herself forward, willed the thin ice beneath her to not break. As if sensing rescue, the wolf flailed towards her. She grabbed its paw, the ledge of ice between them breaking. With outstretched arms, she wrapped them around the wolf’s neck. In her heart of hearts, she knew the wolf was Cara. But in these times, like this, the animal ruled the woman. The wolf struggled, flailed, fought for survival, even with Kahlan’s arms wrapped around it.
“She’s heavy!” she cried out as Richard reached her side.
Richard reached for the wolf, grabbing a handful of its pelt, only to feel himself pulled as the animal struggled. As the ice beneath him gave way. He choked and gasped as the freezing water filled his mouth and throat, never letting go of his hold on the wolf. He wrapped an arm around the wolf, pushing his body beneath it. The wolf flailed even harder, growling, snapping at Richard, its nails scraping Richard‘s flesh as it struggled.
“Cara, NO!” Kahlan screamed, pleading as man and wolf both went under the water’s surface. They both popped back up a second later, still flailing, almost fighting each other. However slight it was, Richard gained the advantage, pushing himself under the struggling wolf once more. Kahlan grabbed it by the back of its neck. It’s growls turning to fading whimpers as she pulled, its strength quickly fading.
Kahlan pulled with everything she had, scurrying backwards for leverage. Both its front legs came up onto solid ice, then its torso and, finally its back legs. With both arms, exhaling a sigh of relief, Kahlan wrapped them around the wolf, the animal finally calming at her touch.
Richard, still in the water, pushed at the wolf’s rear end. Then, he grabbed at the flimsy rope. Hands already numb, he gripped the rope weakly, his grandfather pulling with everything he was worth.
“Hold on, boy!” Zedd shouted at him, pulling Richard, dragging himself further out onto the ice.
The ice beneath him solid, Richard flopped down, completely exhausted.
Kahlan closed her eyes, one hand gripping the wolf by the neck, like she never wanted to let go. With her other, she rested it gently on Richard’s head. Never before had she come so close to losing everything.
“We must live, Zedd. As human beings,” she sighed wearily, body giving in to the exhaustion. “Our lives are in your hands now.”
Richard knew he shouldn’t be here. That this was something he shouldn’t see, something he couldn’t name compelling his feet forward.
Kahlan lay in the pit they’d dug to trap the wolf. At her side lay the wolf, Cara, blanket draped over its body to warm it from the cold. Calmly, unconsciously, Kahlan still half asleep, she reached for the wolf, running her fingers through the pale fur of its coat. Richard still couldn’t reconcile that the beast he saw and the woman he knew as Cara were one, he could only marvel at how easily, how calmly the animal acquiesced to Kahlan’s touch.
Rolling onto her side, Kahlan’s eyes opened fully as she watched her fingers thread through the thick mane, at the first rays of sunlight dancing across the knuckles of her fingers. She raised her hand to the light, dread and hope mixing into one. It was as if the sun was more than just lighting her skin, it was like it entered her, made her glow.
Then, the morning rays hit the sleeping beast and it too began to glow. Fur transformed into glowing skin, golden hair, head raising, wolf shaped eyes turned human. Instinctively, she turned her head towards the warmth next to her, lips curving into a smile meant for only one.
Cara lifted her hand, reaching for the glowing fingers moving towards her with a singular purpose, to touch. A singular moment in time, when they were both human, their flesh just a hair’s breath apart. And then..
It was gone.
Still reaching, Cara could only watch in horror as flesh transformed into animal, as the woman became the hawk. And Kahlan..
Cara jerked her body upwards, still aching for that touch, only to find it out of her reach. As her hope faded, destroyed under the rising sun, Cara pounded the snow beneath her hands, releasing a howl so primal in its intensity, if heartache had a sound, this was it. Cara buried her face in the snow, with each pound of her fist, she screamed again, and again, and again.
“Where’s my sword?” Fully dressed, Cara stalked towards the fire Richard and Zedd sat before.
“It’s gone,” Richard grumbled, pulling the blanket around his shoulders tighter. “It fell through the ice last night while we were crossing a river.”
“Damn you! That sword was the last bit of honor I possessed.”
“There is no mission of honor, not anymore,” Richard spat back. “That sword has become nothing but a symbol of your meaningless death. But there is a chance for life now. A new life with her.”
“I needed that sword to kill Darken Rahl!” she growled, charging towards Richard, as Richard leapt to his feet, quickly walking backwards.
Zedd jumped to his feet. “Cara, listen to him!”
Her grip was tight as she grabbed him by the front of his shirt, her arms deceptively strong. It was the thing Richard feared the most, to have Cara’s anger and rage directed towards him. But Cara wasn’t the only one filled with anger and rage.
“Go ahead! Kill yourself!” he shouted back. “Kill her! You never cared for her as much as yourself, anyway!”
There wasn’t time to realize what he’d said, or try and take it back. There was just his scream, as Cara jammed her Agiel hard and deep into his stomach, pulling it back enough to backhand him hard across the jaw.
Richard saw stars as he fell backwards, wincing as he hit the ground, a hard breath sucked through his teeth.
Cara marched towards him, murder in her eyes. Only to stop at the sight of the deep scratches down the front of Richard’s chest. The anger eased, just a little, just enough for Cara to lift her eyes towards Zedd, the man’s hand raised to fire magic at her to defend his grandson, knowing it would be useless against her.
“What is that?” she pointed at the fresh scars marring Richard‘s flesh.
“That..” Zedd cautiously lowered his hand. “Happened last night. When he saved your life.”
The taste bitterly sliding back down her throat tasted a lot like pride. The anger in her dissipating completely, replaced with embarrassment. Shame. She considered herself a woman of honor, and here she was attacking a friend. Kahlan‘s friend. The first one either had in years. “Forgive me,” she said humbly, extending her hand to Richard.
Still lying on the ground, Richard hesitated, body still tingling from the effects of Cara’s Agiel, jaw still stinging from her wicked punch. Richard knew he would never fully understand the strange woman named Cara Mason. But he did know one thing about her. The one thing he knew, with absolutely certainty, whatever Cara did, as ill-advised as her actions might sometimes be, she did it for love.
He extended his hand, found himself quickly pulled to his feet. Even more unexpected, he found himself pulled into Cara’s arms. Richard returned the embrace, like a brother to a sister, smiling as he did.
Cara clasped her hand to the back of his neck, brought their foreheads together as she returned his smile. “I’ll show you idiots how to cage a wolf.”
Darken Rahl stood in the center of the King’s personal chambers, soon to be his personal chambers, staring at his reflection in the full length mirror. Surrounded by a small army of tailors, they flitted about, adjusting, measuring, making the last remaining touches on his robe. His coronation robe. A robe fit for a king.
Another face joined his in the mirror, her features obscured by her red veil.
“Sister Nicci,” Rahl smiled. “I send you on another mission and, here I am, still not in possession of that which I covet. I’m beginning to think you and your Sisters enjoy failure.”
She bristled at the comment. “We met with an unexpected complication. One Mord‘Sith we can handle. But she has aligned with an unforeseen ally. A Wizard,” she paused just enough to watch his eyes lift to meet hers in the mirror, the tiniest flicker of shock. “One named Zeddicus Zul’Zorander. Mason is joined with a Wizard and a boy. The one who escaped from the dungeons. And, we believe, he is also the Wizard’s grandson.”
Rahl raised a hand, making a flitting motion. Immediately, the tailors surrounding him made a quick beeline towards the door. Rahl turned, an arm across his middle, fingers stroking the underside his chin. “Where are they now?”
“On their way here. To kill you,” she paused, half-smile hidden by the veil obscuring her face. “I presume.”
“The joining of what was once lost,” Rahl whispered under his breath. “Damn you, Zeddicus.”
His eyes snapped up, like he‘d forgotten he was completely alone within the room. “Get the General. Tell him I want every member of his Dragon Corps outside the gates. I want them dead. Dead! Twenty years it’s taken me, nothing’s going to stop me now! This fate is mine and mine alone.”
“And the hawk?”
“The hawk lives. By this afternoon, D’Hara will have a new King.” He spun back towards the mirror, hands adjusting the material of his cuffs. “And when the sun sets, this King will finally take a wife.”
Cara marched purposely down the corridors of the castle, marched like she always did whenever she was forced to search for Kahlan. It wasn’t the largest of castles but the Confessor had proven herself very resourceful when it came to not being found.
An hour later, Cara found her. Kahlan sat on a bench in a small garden just outside the castle walls. Jaw clenching, hand squeezing tightly around the hilt of her Agiel to focus her, Cara stomped towards the woman.
“I’ve been looking for you for hours,” she growled, feet quickly pulling her to a full stop, head tilting as her brows creased in annoyance. “Are you.. crying?”
Kahlan sniffled, wiping her eyes with the palm of her hand. “The King goes to war.”
Cara shrugged. “And?”
“And..” Her fingers tightened around the letter in her hand. “He calls my father to arms.”
Hips shifting into a tilt, Cara pursed her lips. “So these are tears of joy?”
Aghast, Kahlan snapped her head towards the woman. “No!”
“To be called to the King’s side, for war, it’s a great honor..”
Like a bow shot from an arrow, Kahlan was on her feet. “Then he should have called for you!!”
“Believe me,” Cara crossed her arms over her chest. “No one wishes more that he had. Instead of here, watching over a woman who cries like a coddled child over spilled milk.”
“A child!?!” Eyes narrowing, Kahlan stomped towards Cara, pointed finger jabbing at her chest. “I am a Confessor, and you have done everything but treat me with the respect I deserve!”
“Deserve?” Cara scoffed. “Respect is earned, and I have seen nothing of you to warrant that respect!”
“That’s rich coming from you!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, I have never seen a more mule-headed, arrogant, pompous, entitled..”
Hand moving like a whip, Cara snaked it around Kahlan’s waist, head tilting every so slightly as she yanked the woman towards her, then crashed their lips together.
With eyes wide with shock, Kahlan squeaked at the sudden and completely unexpected move. Even more shocking, how quickly and easily Kahlan melted. She found her eyes closing, as her muscles turned to liquid. The way her heart hammered hard and deep within her chest. The way her head span because she’d forgotten to breathe. It was everything Kahlan had ever wanted in a kiss, and more. That it came from Cara was the most shocking part of all. Kahlan marveled at how soft Cara’s lips were. How, beneath the hardness of the collar, the corset, the never ending skin of leather that covered her body, Cara was warm and soft against her.
Then, the warmth of Cara’s lips was gone. Dazed, Kahlan opened her eyes, sucked in a hard breath as she remembered to breathe.
“I..” Kahlan stammered, licking her lips. “I could have you whipped for such brazenness.”
“Whipped?” Cara purred, eyes narrowing seductively as she leaned back in. “Then I’d better make sure the crime fits the punishment.”
If such a thing were possible, Kahlan quickly realized, the second kiss was better than the first. Cara brought her free hand up, clasping Kahlan by the jaw to hold her still. The kiss was softer, and Kahlan found her knees going weak at the gentleness of it. Except this time, Cara kept tilting and shifting her head as she explored Kahlan’s lips with her own, refusing to keep still, to allow Kahlan to ground herself as the sensations overtook her. And when Kahlan’s lips parted ever so slightly, Kahlan felt the silky texture of Cara’s tongue slithering against the opening, and Kahlan heard herself groan, sighing as she acquiesced to this strange invitation.
“Spirits,” Kahlan panted as they parted.
Cara smiled, a smile Kahlan, no less than five minutes ago found irritatingly smug, now found strangely adorable. “You act as if you’ve never been kissed before.” When Kahlan didn’t respond, and Cara noted the flush on her cheeks darkening, the way her eyes darted away from Cara’s, Cara could only gape in disbelief. “By the Creator! Is there something in the water that renders your people completely stupid? Or are they all merely cowards to have allowed such a travesty to continue?”
“Cara..” Kahlan managed before Cara’s lips were pressing against her own once more. The kiss even gentler, if such a thing were possible. Cara stilled herself, allowed Kahlan to take the lead. She repeated what she’d quickly learned, exploring Cara’s lips with her own. She discovered how Cara purred when she suckled lightly on Cara’s lower lip. How that purr turned into a moan when Kahlan swiped her tongue across Cara’s lips.
As first kisses went, it was magical. Kahlan didn’t want it to end. Even after it did, Kahlan found herself leaning towards Cara’s lips, only to have Cara duck her mouth away.
“Feel better?” Cara grinned in that self-satisfied and arrogant way of hers, and Kahlan remembered she was supposed to be angry at the woman.
“Was this..” she paused, noticing how Cara’s arm was still wrapped around her waist, her body still pulled close. “Was this nothing but a ploy to get me to stop crying?”
“No,” Cara said with absolute honesty. Though Kahlan would never be able to tell if she were lying. “But now that I have, and with a kiss no less,” the smile returned, Cara leaning in once more. “You’d be surprised at the depths I would go for more.”
“Stop!” After hours of silence, there really wasn’t much more to say after the plan had been explained to her, still, Kahlan broke her silence. “Zedd! Stop the cart!”
Pulling on the reins, his fuzzy white eyebrows creased with puzzlement, Zedd rolled the cart to a halt.
“What’s going on?” Richard whispered harshly from his hiding place beneath the cart.
“Quiet, boy!” Zedd barked at him.
Immediately, Kahlan slid out of her seat, pulling Cara’s cloak tightly around her as a slight chill went down her spine. The kingdom of D’Hara, the People’s Palace, rose like a leviathan from the hill beneath it. Even at night, it glowed from the thousands of lanterns within.
“The last time I saw this place..” she gave in to the chill, letting the shiver work its way through her body. “I can’t believe it’s been twenty years.”
“Despite the evil that’s lived there for way too long,” Zedd said, draping a comforting arm over her shoulder. “It is quite beautiful. Come,” he gave her shoulder a soft pat. “We must hurry.”
As they reached the gates, Zedd pulled on the reins, slowing the cart so they could take their place in the long line forming before the gates, the people arriving from all over the lands to attend the King‘s funeral.
“Now, Richard!” Zedd leaned sideways, whispering forcefully. “Go!”
Richard took the opportunity to slide out from his hiding spot, careful to stay within the shadows.
“Remember,” Zedd whispered forcefully. “The cul-de-sac is by the great north wall.”
“Cul-de-sac by the great north wall,” Richard repeated. “Good luck.”
In the shadows, Richard approached the stone bridge over the moat. He stepped quickly down the steep embankment, pausing only after the water hit his chest. “We have come full circle, Creator,” he spoke aloud, eyes pointed towards the night sky. “I would like to think there is some higher meaning in all this. It certainly would reflect well on you,” he finished before inhaling a deep breath and submerging himself in the black waters of the moat.
“What do we have here, old man?” a soldier said as they made their way through the gate.
“A surprise present for our Lord Rahl, from the people of my village.”
The soldier pulled back the blanket covering the cart. Instantly, the wolf inside growled, forcing its head between the space of the bars, bearing its teeth.
“A fine pelt for his wall,” Zedd added, hoping that would be enough to appease the soldier’s curiosity.
The soldier circled around to the front of the cart, towards Kahlan‘s side. He lifted his head, eyes gazing hard as he tried to peer beneath the hood obscuring Kahlan‘s face. Quickly, he snaked his hand outwards, grabbing Kahlan’s cloak and pulling until the hood fell off her head. “And what do we have here?”
The wolf launched forward, not caring about the barrier, snarling, scratching at the cage with its paws. The soldier stepped back, surprised at the wolf’s venom. His hand went to the hilt of his sword, unsheathing it. “I’ve never had the pleasure of killing a wolf before.”
Kahlan’s hand went to the dagger in her boot. Zedd’s hand clasped hard around her arm, stilling her.
“How strange,” Zedd called to the soldier. “That’s exactly what Lord Rahl said. I’m sure he’ll understand you depriving him of that pleasure, he’s a very forgiving man.”
The soldier seemed to pale at Zedd’s words. He lowered his sword, sheathing it before waving them through. “Very well. Go on.”
“Is it true?” Kahlan growled angrily. She’d searched all over the castle for Cara. She found her, in all places, the kitchen. She marched right up to the Mord’Sith, grabbing the woman by the shoulder and jerking her around. “Did you do it?”
Cara merely smiled in that way of hers, both arrogant and seductive all rolled into one. A small pastry between her gloved fingers, she slid it into her mouth, pulling her fingers out slowly. “I have done many things,” she purred, her eyes glued to Kahlan’s as she licked the pad of her forefinger before picking up another pastry. “Maybe you could narrow it down a bit.”
Kahlan huffed, folding her arms over her chest. “Did you assault Lord Robert? He says you threatened to stick your Agiel..” she blushed, unable to repeat the exact words Lord Robert had said. “Well, did you?”
“Yes.” Cara placed the pastry into her mouth.
“Why?” Kahlan gasped. While Cara may have been a Mord’Sith, a member of the King’s personal guard, even she wasn’t above being punished for attacking a member of the Royal Court.
“Why?” Cara clenched her jaw, turning her eyes away as she felt the anger building within her. “He bragged too loudly about his plans to take your virtue. Spoke as if you were nothing more than another conquest.”
“So?” Kahlan shook her head in disbelief. She had long grown accustomed to being courted, in various ways both polite and distasteful. While she found Lord Robert a bit too two-faced, always polite when her father was around, leering at Kahlan lasciviously when he wasn’t, this was nothing Kahlan couldn’t handle herself. Her father had no intention of letting the man use his political clout to gain Kahlan’s hand in marriage. “It’s just boisterous talk.”
“Boisterous?” Cara turned her eyes towards Kahlan, narrowing them. “He also talked about the manner in which he would take your virtue. That he was in the process of procuring a Rada’Han for the occasion. For Lord Robert has no interest in either your hand in marriage, or being Confessed. He wants you as nothing more than a prized notch on his bedpost.”
Suddenly sick, Kahlan placed a hand to her stomach, face paling at Cara’s words. Kahlan had never liked Lord Robert. But to learn his words were more than just the talk of a man who thought himself bigger than he actually was, but words he intended to put into action, it twisted Kahlan’s stomach.
“So, yes, I assaulted him,” Cara continued. “And believe me, he got off lightly. I..” Cara paused, swallowing hard as her eyes found something of interest on the counter. “I sent word to my Sisters. Orders, actually. They are to find the last of these decorated yokes.. and destroy them. Of all things, a woman’s virtue is something that should be given and not taken. And..” She lifted her head, forcing herself to look Kahlan in the eye. “I will die before I let someone take what you do not freely give.”
Kahlan blinked, withdrawing her gaze, as she was unsure what to say. She’d barely known this woman a month, and all Cara did was reaffirm Kahlan’s belief regarding the Mord’Sith. That they were hard, cold, heartless. Yet, every now and then, when Kahlan least expected it, Cara would show little glimmers of something hidden deep within, little glimpses of tenderness that always took Kahlan aback, practically knocking her off her feet. She wanted to know why Cara would do this, something far beyond and above the call of duty. Instead, she found herself speechless, as she always was when Cara exposed her tender side.
Cara stood to her full height, clasping her hands behind her back before she turned away from Kahlan and headed towards the back hall.
“Captain Mason?” Kahlan called out to her. Cara stopped in the doorway, her entire body draped in shadow, a silhouette against the light reflecting off the far wall. “Thank you.”
Cara turned her head back towards Kahlan ever so slightly, nodding. She took a step then stopped, her hand going to the Agiel at her hip, gripping the hilt tightly. “You can call me Cara,” she said so softly Kahlan almost didn’t realize she’d spoken. “If you like.”
With her eyes closed, head tilted upwards, faced warmed by the morning sun behind the thin blanket of clouds, Cara felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time, a sense of calm. The hawk on her arm cheeped, as if sensing the change. Cara brought the bird closer, gently grazing her lips over its head.
“Soon, my love,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “Very soon.”
Dressed in her full Mord’Sith uniform, Cara hadn’t worn the collar or corset in almost a decade, Cara walked towards the cart to check her things.
Zedd turned a corner, smile on his face as warm and bright as the sun as he walked towards Cara. “It should be soon now. Once the clouds break.”
“It’s day, old man. Like it was yesterday. Like it will be tomorrow.” The bells of the cathedral rang, as if accenting Cara‘s point. She paused, turning her head in the direction of the cathedral. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, solemnly. She inhaled again, shoulders lifting, resolve setting. She gripped the hilt of her Agiel, let the pain wash over her before she set it into its holster. “There’s no time,” she said, turning towards Zedd. “The ceremony will be over. I can not wait for you now. If Richard has done his job, I can kill Lord Rahl, now or never.”
The old man‘s face turned to an expression of pure horror. “No, Cara! This chance will never come again!”
“You’re right. If the service ends peacefully, the cathedral bells will toll, then..” she darted her eyes, glancing at the bird on her arm. “You will know I have failed.”
Zedd lowered his eyes to the bird on Cara‘s arm. “But Kahlan..”
“I..” If there was a man Cara hated almost as much as Darken Rahl, it was Zeddicus Zul’Zorander. But, he’d been a friend once, to Cara, to Kahlan. The man she saw before her reminded her of that friend from long ago. Cara had so few friends left. So few people she trusted. “I beg you, take her life. Quick and painless.”
“I can’t,” he spoke the words as if his very heart were breaking, as if the hope he’d clung to for years was drifting away like smoke on a breeze.
“Yes, you can. I beg you.” Cara pushed, stepping towards the man. “The cruelty will be to damn her to a half life and that’s not what she wants.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“Have you ever considered..” She reached forward, placing a hand on Zedd’s shoulder. “That this is what the Creator intended all along?”
The streets teemed people, the city filled as if all of D’Hara were within its walls. They lined the streets, ten deep in some places.
Darken Rahl walked at the front of the procession, flanked by the Sisters of the Dark, followed by various members of the court. His court. The ones he’d placed in their various positions of power, for a variety of reasons but one main motive, to serve him. Despite the solemn occasion, the burying of the King, he couldn’t help the smile on his face. This was his day. Everything he’d done meant for this, the day Darken Rahl would become King.
And nothing, and no one, would stop him.
Gasping, Richard broke through the surface of the water. He’d forgotten how endless the tunnels beneath the city were. It had taken all night to traverse them, to end here. He pulled the dagger from his boot, placed it between his clenched teeth, as he began to climb the slippery and rusted rungs that lead upwards into the cathedral.
Fingers slipping through the thick metal, he pushed open the grate, only to quickly pull it back down and almost falling in the process. He was late, the procession already arriving, the cathedral had already begun to fill with people. Richard waited, patiently, teeth clenching nervously on the dagger. He could hear the cathedral doors opening, light filling the space. The shadows above moved forward, and Richard took his chance, opening the grate and lifting himself above. He darted and skirted behind the crowd, hiding behind a pillar. There he found a cloak hanging off a hook. Quickly draping himself, he wove his way towards the front of the cathedral. Watched as the soldiers slid the wooden slat barring the doors closed into place.
Alone now, the procession, Sisters of the Dark, peeling away and taking their places, Darken Rahl approached the dais at the back of the cathedral. His eyes took a glance towards a pillar, where Shota stood flanked by two Sisters of the Dark.
“Glad you could make it,” he smiled.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Shota smiled back.
Rahl stopped, practically spinning on his feet as he turned towards her. He approached slowly, confidently, approaching like a King. “Just so you know,” he leaned, lips close to her ear. “They’re all dead. The Wizard, his grandson, the Mord’Sith. And the hawk? Well..” he leaned back for no other reason than to watch the shock color her face. “Today, I will be crowned King. And tonight? Through the joining of an unlikely union, peace shall come to the realm. Nothing shall stand between me and my destiny.”
Argo tensed as Cara mounted, animatedly shifting from foot to foot, feeling the tension from its master and preparing for battle.
“Easy boy.” Cara pulled on the reins with one hand, gently pressed the other to the horse’s neck, feeling it relax under her touch. She’d had many horses in her extended life and if she were the type to pick favorites Argo was the one.
Riding at a slow trot, Cara stood tall within the saddle. Proud. It’d been years since she’d been within the walls of the People’s Palace. She always considered the Temple where she’d been trained as her true home and while the People’s Palace held bad memories, without them, Cara never would have felt the good. She was glad to be home. Glad to rid the people of the man that plagued them. Even if it meant her death.
She rounded a turn, found herself face to face with fifty members of the Dragon Corps, fifty hands held tightly around the hilts of fifty swords, ready for battle. Darken Rahl had prepared for her arrival. Cara slowed her horse to a halt.
Atop his own horse, General Egremont strode towards Cara, stopping so they were face to face. Quickly, he drew his sword. “I have my orders..”
Swiftly, Cara backhanded him across the face. Then pulled her Agiel, the rod whispering quiet screams as she held it just under his chin. Egremont swallowed hard, eyes going wide.
“If you know what this is, then you know who I am,” Cara growled menacingly. “As servant of the King, I order you to let me pass.”
“The King is dead!” he dared to speak.
“If the King is dead..”
Both Cara and the Lieutenant turned their eyes to the voice calling from behind Cara.
Mord’Sith, twelve of them in full battle regalia, sat atop their horses. And even Cara had to gasp at the sight of them, it’d been so long since she’s seen her Sisters.
One of them moved forward, bringing her horse to a halt next to Cara’s. Dark blonde hair in a tight braid that cascaded down her back, she nodded her head to Cara before turning her eyes to the Lieutenant.
“If the King is dead?” she said, pulling her own Agiel. “Then why do our Agiel’s still sing?”
Cara withdrew her Agiel from the Egremont’s neck, staring at it in puzzlement. All this time, the thought had never occurred to her. That, if the King were truly dead and the last of his line, she should have lost her powers, her Agiel should no longer sing. With widened eyes, she turned them to the woman next to her. “The King lives?”
“The King is dead,” she answered flatly, “his son is not.”
“The King has an heir?” General Egremont gasped.
“Yes,” she flashed her eyes angrily towards him. “And he’s here, to reclaim his throne. I assure you, if you think you can stop us from helping him claim his rightful place, there are a hundred more of us outside these castle walls. And we..” she tightened the grip of her Agiel, leather creaking, “have never known defeat.”
Cara shifted in her seat. Things had suddenly become complicated. “My business is with Darken Rahl. I have no interest in this heir..”
“I don’t understand,” the woman said, “when we heard you ride with him..”
“Richard?” Cara barked incredulously, stifling her laugh. If she’d ever felt the Creator’s hand, Cara felt it now. Fate and Destiny colliding with her sense of duty, conflicting with her heart. “What is your name, Sister?”
“Berdine.” She rose taller in her seat. “Lieutenant Berdine.”
“And how is it that you and your Sisters have remained hidden for so long?”
“When the King gave his order for us to disband, one of our Sisters sensed Darken Rahl’s hand. It was she who went to the Northern Temple, continued recruiting, training. Because she knew this day would come, when the heir to the throne would need his Mord’Sith. She told me, if you and I should ever cross paths, I was to give you this.” She reached for her saddle, pulling out another Agiel and handing it to Cara. “She said you would understand.”
“Dahlia,” Cara whispered gently, feeling something more than pain as she wrapped her fingers around the hilt of Dahlia’s Agiel. Inhaling deeply, jaw clenching as she set her resolve, Cara lifted her head. “Richard is in the cathedral. Protect him with your life,” she commanded, voice booming. “With everything you are or will be. But understand this,” she paused, eyes turning to ice, “Darken Rahl. Is mine.”
“By the Creator,” Richard whispered under his breath. “Does he ever shut up?”
For as long as he lived, Richard never wanted to hear another speech. Lord Rahl continued rambling, seemingly for hours. Richard could only roll his eyes as he quietly and slowly worked his way towards the doors.
Time had become tangible, a wiggling, slippery thing that Richard couldn’t keep within his grasp. He felt as if there were a million eyes on him, particular those of the women dressed in red. They were everywhere within the cathedral.
Richard held his breath, finally making his way towards the locked doors of the cathedral. He pulled the tiny dagger hidden in his belt, jamming it into the lock.
“C’mon, open dammit!” he breathed under his breath. He dared to turn his eyes away from the door. Beneath the veil, he could feel a Sister of the Dark’s eyes as she turned her head towards him, as she began walking his way. Richard turned back to the door, urgency turning to a dead panic. He could feel the distant thunder of hooves, the rumbling growing louder as the horses drew near.
Richard pounded the hilt of his dagger, jamming it deep into the lock. The latch gave. Quickly, Richard pushed at the last barrier holding the door closed, twisting his body away at the last moment, just in time before the doors burst open.
Cara reared back her horse, Argo using his front hooves to kick open the doors. Already, the Sisters of the Dark were in motion, Dacras sailing through the air towards Cara. They expected one Mord’Sith, but even they were taken aback by the sea of red leather clad women that poured into the cathedral behind Cara.
The crowd with the cathedral screamed, as if one. Their exits blocked, the bystanders rushed towards the sides of the cathedral, desperate to get out of the crossfire.
Cara quickly dismounted. Bow in hand, the arrow hit a Sister of the Dark dead center in the chest. She dropped the bow immediately, then raised her hand, the fingers splayed open, the Dacra sailing towards her stopping mid-flight. With a push of her arm, Cara sent it sailing back towards its owner. Then, she set her sights on Darken Rahl.
Rahl continued standing at the dais, bemused expression on his face at the battle before him.
“RAHL!” she roared, hands tightening around the Agiel’s she held in both hands. She marched forward, a woman possessed, two decades of worth pent up rage turning to sheer bloodlust. One by one, the remaining Sisters of the Dark rushed towards Cara, defending their Master. One by one, Cara felled them all. A Dacra sailed towards her, she deflected it almost casually, the knife sailing across the cathedral, crashing into the large decorated window above the cathedral doors. It shattered on impact, noon sun spilling into the cavernous hall.
The air whooshed from Cara’s lungs, a Sister of the Dark tackling her. The two tumbled to the floor. Cara struck with her Agiel, once, twice. Until the Sister’s screams echoed the leather clad rod in Cara’s hand. She slumped off Cara, dead. And Cara felt the warmth on her face, made a glancing pass at the sun shining through the broken cathedral window. And saw..
The moon passing before the sun.
Something shattered within her, a sudden stark realization. “A night without a day,” she whispered. “A day without a night.”
She turned her head towards Darken Rahl, saw his eyes also focused on the sun and the moon. All her rage, all her anger dissipated as, suddenly, Cara found herself believing in the impossible.
“Zedd!” she screamed, leaping to her feet and running towards the open doors. “WAIT!”
Without aid, the cathedral doors slammed shut. The iron wedge slammed into place, the lock quickly following.
Cara spun on her feet, whirling back around, glaring at the man behind her.
Arm outstretched, Darken Rahl clenched his fist before casually pulling his hands behind his back. His Sisters of the Dark defeated, he still smiled like a man on the cusp of victory. “Cara,” he tutted, oily smile on his face. “Did you really think you could defeat me?”
“Do you really think..” she tightened her grip around her Agiel’s, leather creaking, “I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t?”
“As you wish.” His eyes turned darker as the smile on his face broadened. He pulled his hands from behind his back, palms turned upwards, magic crackling between his fingers. “Let’s play.”
He thrust his hand forward. A ball of lightning shot towards Cara. She held up both her hands, crossing them at the wrists. Like a cannon hitting a thick wall, Cara felt the concussion but did not break. Rahl threw another, and another, stepping forward with each strike of magic.
Cara repelled each blow, but she strained, weakened. As a Mord’Sith, she was trained to withstand, to repel magic, but even a Mord’Sith could only withstand so much, especially against a Wizard of the First Order. Her muscles screamed, sweat dripped from her brow. Because, she too stepped closer to her prey.
They were feet apart now. So close they could touch. Cara reared her arm back, intending to strike. Rahl pushed his hand forward released a gale of wind, shaped like a fist as big as a horse. It struck Cara hard and fast. She sailed backwards, air rushing from her lungs as her back hit the stone floor.
“CARA!” Richard cried out, rushing towards her. He felt a hand on his shoulder, hard and strong, pulling him back. He turned his head, Berdine at his shoulder shaking her head no.
“This is her fight,” she said sternly. “Do not interfere.”
“He’ll kill her!” Richard pleaded, finding himself trapped, surrounded by even more Mord’Sith. Able to do nothing as Darken Rahl stalked towards Cara.
Rolling onto her stomach, Cara coughed and sputtered, finding enough strength to rise onto her hands and knees. From the corner of her eye, she saw movement above, a Sister of the Dark in the rafters, Dacra in hand, ready to defend her master. Cara pulled a dagger from her boot, tossed it lightning quick. The woman screamed as the dagger hit home. Staggering forward, she lost her balance. Flailing, she reached for the ropes, tugging on them just enough..
Just enough to ring the bells of the cathedral. The signal Cara gave Zedd to know she’d failed. The sign for him to end Kahlan’s life.
Cara stood on her knees. She craned her head back and screamed at the sky, screamed to anyone up there who might be listening. Scream dying in the back of her throat, her shoulders slumped as the last of her hope exhaled through her lips.
“Zedd,” she whimpered quietly. “Be quick.”
“CARA!” Richard screamed again.
She didn’t have to look to know Rahl was behind her. As Cara turned towards him, Rahl kicked out, striking her hard against the ribs with his boot. Cara flopped to the ground, only to be struck, kicked again and again and again. With all his anger and fury, all his hatred. As he reared back to kick her again, Cara rolled towards him. With both Agiel’s she pressed them against his thighs. Rahl howled in pain. Cara rushed to her feet, knocking Rahl back with an uppercut. She spun, both Agiel’s cracking against his jaw. He stumbled backwards, surprised and dazed, almost offended that someone would dare strike him.
But, it was nothing more than a ruse. As Cara stepped towards him, Rahl raised his hand, pressed his fingers to Cara’s chest.
And Cara howled. Her body jolted, spasmed as lightning released through Rahl’s fingers, right into her chest. Her muscles lost all coordination. The Agiel’s fell from useless fingers, her knees thumped to the ground as her legs gave way.
“Did you really think..” he leaned forward, the two of them inches, intimately apart, menace and madness written all over his face. “You, and you alone, could defeat me? And know this, Captain Cara Mason..” he moved closer, lips against the shell of Cara’s ear. “After I end you, your beloved will spend the rest of her days as my wife, and the mother of my children.”
The simplest, softest sound, barely heard but unmistakable. The sound of a latch, a lock clicking into place.
Rahl’s eyes went wide as, suddenly, like a rush of water crashing against a dam, his magic stopped. The connection broken, Cara dropped to the ground as Rahl’s eyes went wider still as he realized..
The simple click was the sound of a Rada’Han that had been placed around his neck.
He jerked to his feet, fingers clawing at the metal band around his neck, quickly spinning around.
Shota smiled triumphantly, practically laughing in his face.
“You!” Rahl gasped.
“I warned you, Rahl. I warned you and I have waited for this day..” She lifted her hand, pulling her fingers open and exposing the small key in the center of her palm. “To play my role in the joining of that which was once lost. To see *that* look in your eyes.”
Rahl staggered backwards, away from the witch, eyes darting about the cathedral. There were no more Sisters of the Dark to come to his rescue, no more allies, just a cathedral filled with the backs he’d stepped on, the King’s heir come to take his rightful place, the Mord’Sith he’d banished, and..
The Mord’Sith he’d betrayed.
Darken Rahl felt something he hadn’t felt in a very *long* time..
He swallowed hard, clawing at the Rada’Han around his neck in blind panic as Cara reached for her Agiel’s and rose to her feet.
Cara stepped forward, Agiel’s whispering their screams as she tightened her grip. Rahl took another step back.
“Kill me,” Rahl said, the wheels spinning in his mind, searching for that one last shred of hope. “And the curse will go on forever. We must think of Kahlan.”
Cara slowed to a halt. Even Kahlan’s name said on such an evil man’s lips was enough to give Cara pause. To give her one last glimmer of light before everything went to dark. “Kahlan,” Cara paused, stumbling on her clenching throat, “is dead.”
Rahl paled. For he knew Death had truly come for him.
“Damn you. Damn you to Hell.” Her entire body tensing, coiling for the kill, Cara rushed forward, raising her Agiel’s..
Everything within Cara - muscle, bone, blood - stopped, froze her in place.
It’d been twenty years since Cara had heard that voice speak her name. A voice burned into her memory, her blood, her bones, her soul. She turned, chest squeezing like she’d been holding her breath all those years, afraid to close her eyes in case this was all some strange dream.
Kahlan. Her Kahlan, she stood in the center of the cathedral, looking exactly like the image Cara had burned into her mind’s eye. But, it wasn’t a dream. The impossible had become possible. The evil that had plagued the both of them had finally and truly been broken.
Cara growled, spinning once more towards Darken Rahl. He recoiled, throwing his forearms over his face so he didn’t have to see his own failure. Grabbing him by the back of the neck, Cara forced Rahl to his knees.
“Look at her!” Cara roared, shaking Rahl by the collar. “Look at her!”
By some force of will, whether his own or the hand of the Creator, Rahl lowered his hands, daring to look at the woman he’d loved, betrayed, and cursed with his own lips.
A heartbeat later, Cara moved again, twisting around until she faced Darken Rahl. She placed the tip of her Agiel inches from his heart. “Now, look at me!” she commanded. His eyes moved towards hers, the two locking gazes. “Now..” She’d made it her life’s mission to kill him, and it took everything within her not to do just that. To release her hold on his clothes. Rising to her full height, she slowly stepped backwards. “Look at us both! LOOK AT US!”
Darken Rahl’s eyes flicked back and forth, going from Cara to Kahlan and back again. Shoulders slumping, his head bowed forward in defeat. Cara sneered triumphantly, sliding both her Agiel’s back into the holder.
A pin could have dropped within the cathedral as the echo of Cara’s voice died down, as all inside bore witness. Not even Richard could find it in him to move. Still, he jumped just a little as he felt a hand on his shoulder, turning his head to see his grandfather at his side.
“It’s over,” Zedd whispered gently, broad smile on his face. “The curse is broken.”
Slowly, Cara and Kahlan walked towards each other. And Cara couldn’t find it within herself to move anymore, dropping to her knees.
“Cara..” Kahlan whimpered, reaching out with her hand as she’d done so many times before, so many sunrises, so many sunsets, always reaching. Cara closed the always present distance between them, reaching for Kahlan’s hand, the two exhaling as their fingers touched, clasping and grasping for each other. Cara clutched at Kahlan’s closed hand, bringing it to her lips, kissing the knuckles.
Then, Kahlan’s eyes went dark, cold, as she raised them towards the man still kneeling on the dais. Darken Rahl flinched as Kahlan set her gaze upon him. As the Mother Confessor, the last of her kind due to him, she walked towards him. She lifted her closed hand before his face, forcing him to watch her open her palm, to see the leash and hood, the chains he’d bound her in for twenty years. With a turn of her wrist, Kahlan dropped those chains to the ground. Her message clear - I am free. And Darken Rahl could do more than lower his head. Kahlan and Cara were free and, now, he was the one in chains.
He could only watch, as Kahlan turned away from him, turned from him and moved back towards Cara, the hatred and rage his only and constant companions building within him once more. Rahl no longer had his magic. It did not mean he no longer had weapons. He reached into his boot for the dagger hidden there, rising to his feet.
“If I can’t have you,” he hissed venomously, “then no one shall!”
“KAHLAN!” Cara screamed.
Kahlan whirled around. Rahl lurching towards her, knife hand raised. Kahlan caught his hand, and with her other, she brought hers to his neck. His eyes went wide with fear as he watched Kahlan’s mist into black, as he felt her power surging upwards, going out of her and into him. All those years, the magic he stole, the dark magic he’d built within him, it was all no match for the power of a Confessor, or the Rada’Han that contained his own magic within him.
Rahl screamed, his eyes turning black, body jerking and twitching violently as magic, Kahlan and his own, churned and boiled within him, a fire gone wild, with nowhere to go, no fuel to burn but Rahl’s own soul. Until it burned the very life within him. One final exhale, eyes rolling into the back of his head, Darken Rahl flopped backwards.
Kahlan swooned, knees buckling as the last of her magic ebbed from her like a quickly receding tide. And there were Cara’s arms, strong and firm, just like Kahlan remembered, holding her up, pulling her away from the man who‘d tormented them for so long even if he was dead.
“I’m okay,” Kahlan whispered, blinking lazily. And it was like waking from a dream. No, it was like waking from a nightmare into a dream, a dream where she gazed into a sparkling green eyes and smiling full lips. “Cara,” she breathed.
“Kahlan,” Cara smiled back, eyes filling with tears.
“You..” she stammered, fingers grazing the ends of Cara’s hair. “You cut your hair.”
Cara laughed then did what she dreamed for two decades, brought their lips together. “I love you,” she murmured. “My love. My Kahlan.”
Kahlan. As much as she’d hoped, wished, dreamed, Kahlan could never imagine this moment with such wonderment, the sound of her name on Cara’s lips. And Kahlan felt that last bit within her, the part of her that still believed she’d never hear Cara say her name again, obliterate into a dust. “Say it again,” she said under the rain of Cara’s kisses. “Say my name again.”
Hands clasped to Kahlan’s face like she’d never let go, Cara pulled their lips apart. “Kahlan,” she smiled, planting another kiss. “Kahlan, Kahlan, Kahlan..” Cara spun the two of them around, craning her head back. “Kahlan!” she roared.
The two laughed, embracing once more, kissing again. Until they felt the crowd around them, the smallest sense of propriety coming over them. As they parted, Kahlan’s eyes searched the crowd, finding Richard and Zedd.
“You two,” Kahlan called out to them. “Come here.”
It was Cara who moved first, turning away from Kahlan enough so that she could kneel. As if they were one, the rest of the Mord’Sith followed Cara‘s lead, bending down to one knee.
“Zedd?” Richard looked about, Kahlan’s expression matching his own puzzled look. “What’s going on?”
“Cara?” Kahlan softly tightened the hand on Cara’s shoulder.
“A Mord’Sith,” Cara paused, head canting as if she were willing herself to say the words. “Always kneels before her King.”
“King?” Richard’s eyes went wide as his mouth dropped open.
Zedd laughed, clapping his hand on Richard’s shoulder. “Come, my boy. It seems I have one more story to tell you,” he said, leading Richard towards the back of the cathedral. “And then, you have a lot of work to do.”
“But,” Richard looked over his shoulder towards Cara and Kahlan. “What about them?”
“In time, my boy. Besides, where they are going,” Zedd winked. “I doubt they wish for an audience.”
“Cara,” Kahlan giggled. “Be.. Still.”
“Spirits, woman,” Cara grunted her frustration. “But you do ask the impossible.”
Cara’s Sisters had been understanding (not that they‘d been given much choice), allowing Cara to find solitude with Kahlan while the Mord’Sith guarded Richard, and Zedd told the young man of his fate.
Quickly and quietly, they returned to the castle both had once sworn never to set foot in again. They returned to Kahlan’s room, stunned to see it just as they’d left it. For twenty years, the room had been kept spotless. Rahl had anticipated Kahlan’s return, just not the circumstances, including his own death, that precipitated it.
Now, in Kahlan’s room, Cara found herself back flat on Kahlan’s bed, Kahlan straddling her hips, a stern hand to Cara’s chest. “Cara,” she teasingly commanded. “Be still.”
Content Cara would no longer move, Kahlan reached for one of Cara’s hands. She pulled off the glove, eyes marveling at the flesh revealed as if seeing Cara’s hand for the first time. Then, she pressed Cara’s hand to her face, eyes closing at the warm palm against her cheek, turning her head to kiss the heel. Softly, delicately, almost reverently, she kissed the tips of each finger.
“I think,” Kahlan breathed gently, opening her eyes. “I missed your hands the most.”
“Just my hands.” Cara arched an eyebrow.
Kahlan returned Cara’s arched eyebrow with one of her own. Then, her eyes went hooded and smoky, as she guided Cara’s index finger between her lips.
Cara grunted, hard shudder sucker punching deep in her gut. She would do anything for this woman, *had* done anything and everything for this woman. But being still for Kahlan, at this moment, with that look in Kahlan’s eyes, was the hardest thing Cara had ever done. Because, now, remaining still for Kahlan was beginning to feel a lot like torture.
Withdrawing Cara’s finger from her mouth, Kahlan continued with her exploration of Cara’s hand, the same movements, slow and deliberate, all over again.
“Your gloves were always warm,” Kahlan said, Cara’s brows crinkling in confusion. “After I’d.. change. Your gloves were always the first things I sought. They were always warm.” She swallowed, blinking away a tear as she pressed Cara’s palm to her cheek. “I could always believe your hands were in them.”
Cara raised her eyebrows in understanding. She rose, sitting up. With her free hand, she dared to move, fingers curling around a lock of Kahlan‘s hair. “Your hood.” Cara brought the lock to her nose, inhaling deeply. “It always smelled of your hair.”
Kahlan choked back a sob, bringing their lips together. When they parted, Kahlan drew her arms around Cara’s shoulders, burying her face in Cara’s neck, as the tears she’d been holding for so long finally burst free. Cara pulled her arms around Kahlan’s waist, pulling her tight to her.
“Shh, my love,” Cara whispered softly, caressing Kahlan’s back. “We’re together, now. Forever.”
“I love you,” Kahlan murmured into her ear.
“I love you.” Cara pulled back until they were face to face. Palm cupping Kahlan’s cheek, thumb grazing over the lips she’d dreamed of. Her eyes twitched as she examined Kahlan’s face, gazing with wonderment, wondering what she’d done to deserve this woman in her life. “With everything I am.”
An exhale, an inhale, and their lips crashed together once more. Crashed together like that first time, like this was their first time. Passion and desire exploding from within, crashing against each other. Cara drug her tongue over Kahlan’s lips, shuddered as she always did at Kahlan’s little whimper-moan right before she opened her mouth and allowed Cara access. Tongue against lips, teeth, flicking against the roof of Kahlan’s mouth before they were dueling, dancing. Hand against the back of Kahlan’s head, Cara thread her fingers into Kahlan’s hair. She purred at the softness of it, the silky strands gliding across the skin of her fingers.
Then, Cara withdrew her mouth, hand fisting Kahlan’s hair, she tugged Kahlan’s head back, assaulting that glorious neck with her lips. Kahlan cried out, body shivering like release, at the way just lips and teeth could send her heart racing, turn her blood to a boil, sear her skin.
She withdrew her hands from Cara’s shoulders, reaching down for the hem of her dress. Cara’s eyes went hooded with understanding, the two grappling with the dress, yanking it up, quickly forgotten as it was tossed.
Hands under Kahlan’s ass, Cara lifted. And Kahlan’s breasts were right where Cara wanted them. Kahlan cried out again as Cara assaulted her breasts, licked and suckled and nibbled.
“Car..” She never had a chance to finish, as she found herself suddenly rolled, flipped onto her back. Kahlan could only flail at the sheets as Cara pounced on her, making that moaning-growling sound that never failed to make Kahlan shudder.
Cara would never be called a patient person. But, for twenty years, she’d waited for this - the feel of Kahlan’s hair through her fingers, the taste of her skin on her tongue, the smell of her sex deep in her nose. Hurriedly, Cara muscled her way down between Kahlan’s legs, Kahlan already spreading herself open for Cara, arching her hips, bowing her back. Nose buried in the soft curls, Cara nuzzled and inhaled, breathing Kahlan’s musky scent deep within her, a scent never forgotten just dearly missed.
Cara’s eyes practically rolled into the back of her head with that first swipe of her tongue. Kahlan always got so damn wet, time had not changed this. Cara wasn’t delicate, soft or slow. She feasted, eagerly, hungrily. She had twenty years to make up for. And she planned to drink long past her fill, planned to drink Kahlan dry.
Kahlan couldn’t help the tears that fell freely as she thrashed her head back and forth, body writhing, slithering bonelessly on the bed. She never thought she’d feel this way again, so complete, so.. loved. Then, she felt the warmth of Cara’s body, pressed flush against her own. Kahlan felt Cara’s lips, tracing the tears with her lips.
“I’m sorry, my love,” Cara nuzzled her face against Kahlan’s cheek. “Did I hurt you?”
“No..” Kahlan shook her head. “Never. I just..” she smiled, unable to stop another tear from falling. “I’d forgotten how good this felt.”
“I’m very happy to help you remember,” Cara purred before kissing the corner of Kahlan’s lips.
“But, I admit..” Kahlan traced a finger along the line of Cara’s collar. “It would be much easier to remember without this.”
“Are you asking me to remove my leathers?”
“Asking?” Kahlan grinned, arching an eyebrow. “Ordering.”
“Mmm,” Cara purred, already lifting, retreating off the bed. “I love it when you get bossy.”
“Not as much as I love watching you disrobe.”
As much as she wanted to tease, Cara pulled off her leathers in record time. She crawled back onto the bed, crawling seductively over Kahlan before she pushed down again, pressing their bodies together. Kahlan grunted at the feel of Cara’s thigh between her legs, arching her hips and raising her own thigh, foot anchoring into the mattress. Because, already, Cara was rolling her hips, grinding for the both of them.
“Kahlan,” she groaned at that first deep swivel of her hips.
And Kahlan knew. Knew Cara could be sweet, tender even. But that’s not what Cara wanted in this instance, it wasn’t what Kahlan needed. One hand grasped around the back of Cara’s neck, Kahlan slid the other down the line of Cara’s spine, to the small of her back, then dug her nails in.
Instantly, Cara’s eyes went hooded with understanding. She increased the pace, rolling, grinding, thrusting her hips, thigh mashing against Kahlan’s sex. Lips a hair’s width apart, they exchanged breaths as they panted and moaned, as the bed rocked. Then Cara reached down, grabbing the leg draped over her hip, lifting and pushing as she angled her own hips. Kahlan whimper-moaned at the feel of Cara’s sex, warm and wet and slippery, against her own. Her eyes misted to black at the tightening, coiling sensation deep within the pit of her stomach.
“Cara,” she groaned, hand grasping at Cara’s shoulder pulling her tighter, digging her nails harder. “Don’t stop.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Cara growled, increasing the pace, if such a thing were possible. She was hard and fast, relentless, chiseling away at twenty years worth of separation.
“Kahlan..” Cara hissed through gritted teeth, trying desperately to hold out for just a little longer. Kahlan had other plans. She dug her nails as hard as she could into Cara’s back, breaking the skin, drawing blood. That one last little push that sent Cara sailing over the edge. Cara howled as the orgasm ripped through her. Ripped through Cara and right into Kahlan, as they both tumbled over the abyss into oblivion.
TWO MONTHS LATER
Second only to Kahlan, of course, it was the most beautiful sight Cara had ever seen - the Training Grounds of the People’s Palace filled with Mord’Sith. As the oldest living Mord’Sith, the right hand of the new King, her Sisters had asked Cara to lead them. A request Cara was more than proud to accept. Having retrieved them from the Temple, Cara had spent an entire week reading the diaries of the twelve Sisters who defied their banishment. There was a reason the Northern Temple, high within the D’Haran mountains, had been abandoned decades before the King’s order. Cara read about the hardships those Sisters faced - starvation, constant cold, disease. Not all of those Sisters were given the honor of dying in battle. After five years of harsh winters and too short summers, only five Sisters remained when they began taking in recruits. Cara made it her life’s mission to make sure those Sisters would be honored properly. They may not have died in battle but their sacrifices were just as great. For, without them, the Mord’Sith would not have survived.
She stood on the edge of the grounds, hands clasped behind her back, shoulders high, head held up and proud like a mother bear overlooking its cubs. She barked orders when necessary, pointed out flaws and weaknesses, but mostly, Cara stood watching silently.
Cara still didn’t wear the corset or collar as her Sisters, continued to keep her hair short. Also different from her Sisters, who wore leathers in brown or red, Cara’s leathers were pure white, down to the Agiel’s hanging from either side of her hips. The uniform of a Mord’Sith who’d chosen a mate.
She hid her smile as she turned towards the new King, Richard Cypher, as he made his way towards her. In the past couple months, seemingly right before Cara’s eyes, Richard had matured, the boy finally turned to man. There was still innocence to be lost within him, and part of Cara mourned this loss. She had so many duties to fulfill, protecting Richard, in more ways than one, was one of them.
He strode quickly towards her, boyish grin spreading across his face. Gone were the simple farmer’s breeches and peasant’s shirt, replaced with the sleeveless red tunic and black leather pants of a King.
“King Richard.” Cara bowed her head.
“Would you stop that!”
“Stop what?” Head still bowed, Cara showed the tiniest glimmer of a smirk. “Calling you King, or bowing?”
“Both!” He ran an agitated hand through his hair. Then, his smile faded, a bit more of the man he’d grown into showing through. “You, of all people, don’t need to bow before me.”
“As you wish.” Cara bowed her head once more. This time, allowing her smile to show. “My King.”
He groaned, rolling his eyes. “There’s something I want to ask you..” he paused, pursing his lips as he shifted nervously on the balls of his feet. “Well, two things actually. First off,” he hooked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing towards the two Mord’Sith standing behind him. “Could you ask them to stop following me? Every time I turn around, they‘re there. It‘s kinda scary.”
“It’s supposed to be scary. That‘s why I ordered them to be at your side. At all times.” Cara flicked her gaze towards the two Mord’Sith, Sister Berdine and the one named Denna, nodding her approval.
Convincing the people of D’Hara that Richard was the true heir to the throne had been mostly easy. But, it wasn’t just Darken Rahl who’d set his sights on the throne, even before the King’s death. And Richard was still too young, still so damn naïve, ignorant in the ways of the Court and politics, vulnerable. One day, Richard would have to show his strength without the aegis the Mord’Sith provided. Until that day, Cara would make sure he was always protected.
There were the dangers within D’Hara, and there were the dangers outside D’Hara’s borders. The King, driven to madness by Rahl, had waged wars with every kingdom that touched borders with D’Hara. Some had quite easily accepted Richard’s offers for peace. Some not so easily. Then, there were those who saw the new King as an opportunity, a sign of weakness, of D’Hara’s new King and within D’Hara itself. With them, peace would only come with more war.
“It is a Mord’Sith’s duty to protect her King,” Cara explained further at Richard’s reluctance.
“Yeah, but do they have to do their duties so close. Besides..” He leaned forward, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I think *that* one likes me.”
Cara glanced away again, focusing her eyes on Denna who, like Berdine, continued scanning her eyes about, searching for any sign of danger. She, too, had noticed Denna’s interest in Richard, and her lips pulled into a smile as she returned her gaze towards him. “Richard,” she drawled, eyes narrowing playfully. “You do know the Mord’Sith are trained to fulfill their King’s every request. His, if you will, every desire.”
“The only desire I have is.. What? I..” he stammered, eyes widening as he made the connection. Quickly, he darted his eyes over his shoulders towards the blonde standing at a comfortable distance, cheeks burning red as he turned back to Cara. “I.. I couldn’t.”
“As you wish, my King,” Cara teased.
Richard chuckled, bowing his head at his own embarrassment. He clasped his hands behind his back, chest puffing as he inhaled deeply, looking more and more like a King. “There’s something else I want to ask you.”
“My Sisters may be willing to fulfill your every desire,” she said, eyes scanning over the training grounds. “I, on the other hand, will not.”
“No! Never!” Richard gasped. Pretty certain he’d never survive sharing a bed with Cara, doubly certain he’d never get the chance because Kahlan would kill him if he’d ever dared to ask. “Cara,” he swallowed hard, uncertain as to whether or not Cara was still teasing him. “I want to promote you to General.”
“What?” She snapped her head towards him.
“I..” He ran a nervous hand through his hair. “I can’t do this, Cara!” he practically shrieked. “You and Kahlan know way more about all of this than I do! Heck, between the two of you, you two are ruling D’Hara anyway. If you were my General. I..” his voice trailed, shoulders slumping as if giving way from all the weight placed on them. “I’m no King, Cara.”
“Richard,” she spoke his name softly, gently, placing a hand on his shoulder as she turned towards him. “You are the most compassionate, honorable, and loyal man I’ve ever known. The truest friend a person could have. If those aren’t the qualities of a King, I don’t know what is.”
He smiled his boyish half-grin, lifting his eyes to her.
“But..” she inhaled deeply, watching his smile fade. “I must refuse your offer. My place is at Kahlan‘s side. Always has been.” She pulled her hand off his shoulder. “Always will be.”
“Don’t you dare listen to her, Richard!”
They both turned their heads towards the sound of Kahlan’s voice. She stood at the end of the corridor, Confessor whites gleaming, with her hands clasped before her, a radiant smile on her face. She approached, stopping at Cara’s side, sliding her hand down Cara’s forearm to thread their fingers together.
“Cara accepts your offer.” She turned, pressing her lips to Cara’s temple. “Don’t you, my love?”
“Yes,” Cara muttered beneath her breath. Kahlan Amnell was Cara’s greatest strength. She was also Cara’s greatest weakness, for Cara could never refuse a word Kahlan said. “I accept.”
“Good.” Kahlan smiled, squeezing Cara’s hand as she turned her eyes to Richard. “The delegation for the Midlands will be here tomorrow..”
“So soon?” Richard groaned. “I thought they wouldn’t be here for another week!”
With the Mord’Sith at his side, it’d been easy to convince the people of D’Hara that Richard was the true heir to the throne. When word spread in the Midlands of Richard’s part in saving the last Confessor, and that the new King wanted peace, the people of the Midlands gladly accepted the offer.
Now, and just a day later, Richard’s first true test as a King would be at hand, negotiating a treaty with the Midlands.
Richard looked like he wanted to throw up.
“Richard,” Kahlan spoke gently. “You’ll do fine.”
“You..?” His eyes flicked back and forth between both of them. “You’ll both help me, right?”
“Yes, Richard.” Cara rolled her eyes. “We’ll help you.”
“There will come a time when you’ll have to stand alone, but..” Kahlan paused, squeezing the hand clasped in her own. “For now, I, and your new General, will stand by your side.”
It seemed a contradiction of terms, a farewell celebration. And Kahlan wasn’t in a celebratory mood. She watched from the shadows as the party continued around her.
“Kahlan..” A hand on her shoulder, Kahlan turned her face to see her father smiling at her. “It’s a party. You’re supposed to be having fun.”
“How can I have fun?” She tried to return his smile, failing miserably. “When you leave tomorrow?”
“So much like your mother,” Frederick chuckled. He leaned, pressing his lips to his daughter’s forehead. “Do me a favor then? If you can’t have fun for yourself, do it for me. Before I return, I’d like for my last memory of this place to be of your happiness instead of sorrow.”
“Father,” Kahlan sighed. She hugged him tightly, feeling too much like a child seeking the safety of her father’s arms during a storm.
“General!” A voice called out and Frederick ended their embrace, turning towards the tall man walking towards them.
“Zeddicus,” he smiled before the two hugged like old friends, slapping each other’s backs. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“What? And miss this fine celebration?” He held up the tankard, one as large as his head, before taking a long drink.
“Zedd,” Frederick pulled his arm around Kahlan’s shoulder, beaming as he spoke. “This is my youngest, Kahlan. Kahlan, this is Zeddicus Zul’Zorander, Wizard of the First Order.”
“Kahlan Amnell.” Zedd lowered his mug, eyes widening in astonishment. He took Kahlan’s extended hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing gently. “When I was told of your beauty, I thought they were exaggerations. I can say, with full honesty, words do not do you justice.”
“Thanks. I think.” Kahlan withdrew her hand, wiping the stain of ale off with her thumb.
Zedd laughed, full and throaty. “Don’t worry, young lady. I’m an old man with neither the time nor the energy to court pretty young things with the fullness of spring in their step. But,” he paused, reaching into one of the pockets of his wizards robe. “I do come with gifts. This..” He held a small velvet satchel in his hand. “Comes from Lord Rahl. A token of his appreciation, he says.”
“Lord Rahl,” Kahlan couldn’t hide her groan. She held the pouch over her open palm, an ornate necklace falling into Kahlan’s palm as she poured out the contents. “Another bauble,” she muttered distastefully.
This time, it was Frederick who laughed. “Forgive my daughter, Zedd. If you think she’s this finicky when it comes to suitors, you should see her when she’s trying to eat vegetables.”
“Father!” She could feel the heat of embarrassment coloring her cheeks.
“Don’t worry, my little one,” he continued chuckling, kissing Kahlan’s temple. “If there is no man good enough for my little girl, I’m perfectly happy to agree.”
“I.. I never said that!”
Something caught Zedd’s eye, a tavern maid with a full platter of mugs filled with ale. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said politely before disappearing into the crowd.
“Father!” Kahlan nudged him playfully in the ribs. “That was rude!”
“Rude is turning away Lord Rahl’s very generous gifts. There are worse men to consider as a potential suitor.”
“But.. I don’t love him. I barely feel anything at all for him, other than contempt.”
“Mmm,” was all he said, grabbing at an hor’dourve as it passed on a tray, stuffing it into his mouth and mumbling his approval.
Kahlan thread her hand through his elbow, pulling him away from the crowd and the noise.
She bowed her head, curling the corner of her lower lip between her teeth. “When did you know?” she asked. “That you loved mother?”
His eyebrows rose in understanding, his smile turning melancholy. “It’s not the same for everyone. With some, it happens quickly, with others, it can take years. Me?” he chuckled. “I knew the first moment I saw her.”
She’d heard the story a million different times, the lone soldier traveling his way back home, coming to the rescue of a woman being attacked by bandits. The rest, as they say, was history. “But still,” Kahlan continued. “Once you knew.. what she was, you continued to pursue her? Risked..”
Kahlan couldn’t say the word. As much as being a Confessor filled her with pride, she always felt the burden weighing down on her. The fear that her touch would destroy the one’s she loved.
Kahlan had seen it herself, personally, the bitterness a mate held towards his mistress, their children, after a Confessor died. She expected to see that change in her father when her mother died, instead, Frederick seemed to love the family he had left even more. Her father never feared her touch, never had, never would. He patted the hand holding his elbow. “I was a love struck fool the first moment I saw her. I didn’t think Confession could make me love her any more than I already did, so I was willing to risk it. And I was right.” He slowed his steps, turning towards her as he placed his hand to her cheek. “I can only hope both my daughters can find a man who loves them that much.”
“But, what if it’s not..” she trailed, her eyes darting away as her cheeks burned bright, not quite ready to confess that particular desire to her father. She shook her head. “I hope you‘re right.”
“I’m your father,” he beamed. “Of course, I’m right.”
He led her to a small bench, away from the crowd and the party. The two of them sat down, Kahlan’s hand still clutching his elbow. Kahlan leaned her head against his shoulder, content to do nothing more than to sit with her father for the rest of the night if he’d let her. Though a woman, she still often felt like a child, a child of a Confessor and one of the greatest Generals of D’Hara, felt the weight of the many expectations she was to live up to.
She inhaled deeply, scanning the crowd, when her eyes stopped suddenly on someone in particular.
“Father,” she said, lifting her head from his shoulder. “Who’s that? The woman in red by the door.”
“Ah,” Frederick followed his daughter’s eyes with his own. “Captain Cara Mason. A Mord’Sith.”
“A Mord’Sith?” Kahlan straightened. While the blood feud between Confessors and Mord’Sith had ended long before Kahlan had been born, she’d been taught to be wary of them and their powers. “Here?”
“Don’t worry,” he patted her hand. “She was sent by the King. For our protection.”
Kahlan shot up to her feet. “We do not need protection, especially from.. that!”
“Kahlan!” Frederick called after her.
But Kahlan was already up and off. She wove her way through the crowd, stopping occasionally for conversation because politeness dictated. But, always, with one eye on the Mord’Sith her in home.
Finally, she made her way through the crowd, hands clasped in front of her as she moved up the steps towards the double doors of the hall.
Now standing next to the woman, Kahlan didn’t know what to say. Up close, the Mord’Sith was, well, kind of intimidating. Captain Cara Mason stood, hands clasped behind her back, her long braid pulled over her shoulder and trailing down her chest, eyes hard and intent as she scanned the crowd.
“You do know..” After several long minutes, Cara finally spoke, her eyes still focused on the crowd, “it’s considered rude to stare.”
“I..” Kahlan stammered, finding something of interest on the tips of her fingers as her cheeks flushed a light pink. “I wasn’t staring.”
“Then what would you call that thing with your eyes you’ve been doing for the past thirty minutes?”
Comfortable enough to feel offended, Kahlan lifted her eyes, finding enough anger to also lift her chin defiantly. “We don’t need your protection.”
“I would agree.” Cara shifted on her feet ever so slightly, leather creaking as she moved. “The King has different ideas. Unless you’re planning to defy him, it appears, we are stuck with each other.”
Kahlan had no retort for that. A child of two worlds, the Midlands and D’Hara, the King was her king and not. She would gladly defy him if it meant removing this woman from her home. But, she also knew it was her father who would suffer the consequences of such insolence instead of Kahlan. So, Kahlan continued standing, not so intimidated that she stopped staring at Cara, more examining. Her eyes roamed curiously over Cara’s leather, the deepness of the red, like drying blood, the laces that ran up the seams, the ornate buckle by the side of her hip..
The leather rod that hung from her belt.
“You’re still staring,” Cara said, jarring Kahlan from her thoughts.
Still curious, Kahlan almost moved, almost meaning to reach out and touch it. Then she heard its quiet whispers, the sounds like screams, and remembered the often told tales she’d heard about the weapon and thought better of it.
“Does it hurt?” Kahlan pointed with her head. “Your.. Agiel?”
Cara exhaled an irritated sound, jaw clenching. Pulling a hand from behind her and wrapping it around the hilt, Cara let the pain center her. She was told this assignment was a great honor, to protect the General’s family. At the moment, it felt a lot like a punishment. “Yes,” she answered flatly. “All the time.”
“How do you stand it?”
“Pain is like water. A great force of nature. But even water can be controlled. It is the same with pain. The key is..” she loosened her fingers, rewrapping them around the hilt. “To let the pain in, instead of trying to fight it.”
A young man no older than Kahlan, quickly walked towards the stairs, emboldened smile on his face. Whatever it was he intended stopped the moment Cara fired a hardened glare at him, the man seemingly shrinking within himself before quickly scurrying away.
Kahlan laughed. “He just wanted a dance.”
“It’s a good thing I stopped him,” Cara scoffed.
“What? Do the Mord’Sith not dance?”
At that, Cara turned her head towards Kahlan. Her gaze different from the one she fired at the young suitor. A challenging look, with the raised eyebrow and narrowed eyes. But there was something seductive about Cara’s gaze. And Kahlan found herself paling from the heat of it, at the sudden warming sensation deep within the pit of her stomach.
“I do dance,” Cara drawled. “How I dance involves less clothing, more skin. Much more screaming.”
The flush on Kahlan’s cheeks deepened, so much she could feel her ears burning. Kahlan blinked, darting her eyes away. She heard Cara chuckle, and the flush on Kahlan’s cheeks quickly turned from embarrassment to anger at being so easily teased. Kahlan felt herself rising to the challenge, her shoulders lifting as she turned to face Cara.
“You don’t know how to dance, do you?” Kahlan smirked.
“I told you..”
Kahlan stepped towards Cara, something else besides challenge in her eyes. “Then dance with me?”
The first crack in Cara’s façade appeared, Cara’s face going slack as her eyes widened. “What?” she balked.
“My father says your orders are to do whatever we want. If I ask, you are to give it to me. I want you to dance.”
“My orders are to protect your family. Anything besides that is a gross exaggeration.”
“Are you refusing? Or are you just afraid?”
“I fear nothing.”
“Except dancing, apparently.”
It suddenly occurred to Cara that not only had the tables turned, but Kahlan now had the upper hand. And it was Cara who’s cheeks began to burn.
“And,” Kahlan continued, her smile spreading wider, “Following the King’s orders. That’s okay. We have time. And one day, you will do everything I ask of you. One day, you will dance for me.”
“I..” Cara grit through clenched teeth. “Highly doubt that.”
“We’ll see, Captain Mason,” Kahlan laughed before darting down the stairs, merging with the crowd. “We’ll see.”
Kahlan sighed contentedly. It felt good to be home. Finally, and forever. It’d been five years since she and Cara had broken the curse, since Richard had become King of D’Hara and the two of them remained at his side as he undid the years worth of damage caused by Darken Rahl. It hadn’t been easy, with losses both great and small, but peace had finally come to all the lands that surrounded D’Hara, including the Midlands.
And Kahlan could finally come home.
She and Cara sat atop Kahlan’s favorite hill, the one with the magnificent view of Aydindril. Cara with her back to a tree, Kahlan between her legs, leaning against Cara’s chest. Kahlan content to do nothing more than to play her fingers across the skin of Cara’s hand, tracing lazy patterns over the palm in between kissing the fingers.
“I don’t think,” Kahlan spoke, breaking the silence, “I’ve ever seen Richard look so happy.”
“He should be,” Cara snorted. “Denna’s a good woman.”
“She’s a Mord’Sith. Of course you’d say that.”
“I don’t say it because she’s a Mord’Sith,” Cara looked down, watching her fingertips as they grazed across Kahlan’s brow. “He loves her. She loves him. It’s as simple as that. Something that’s all around us shouldn’t be so rare. But it is, and should be treasured when it’s found.”
Kahlan tilted her head upwards, gazing at Cara’s face. “When did you get so sentimental?”
“I think,” she leaned down, pressing her lips to Kahlan’s forehead. “You might have had something to do with that.”
“I guess I did.”
With her freehand, Cara brought it to Kahlan’s cheek, grazing with the backs of her knuckles. “You’re beautiful, you know that. You get more beautiful with every day. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were glowing.”
“Maybe I am,” Kahlan exhaled, eyes fluttering closed at Cara’s touch. She brought the hand still clasped within her own up to her lips, kissing gently.
Cara shifted as Kahlan went still, feeling the tiniest bit of tension building within her. “Kahlan,” Cara whispered, lips to the shell of Kahlan’s ear. “What is it?”
“Do you still dream, Cara?” Kahlan asked, her eyes still closed.
“All I’ve ever dreamed is right here in my arms. I have no desire for anything else.”
“Then,” Kahlan opened her eyes, tilting her head upwards. “Do you still dream for the both of us?”
Cara smiled softly, remembering the conversation from what seemed a lifetime ago as she brought her lips to Kahlan’s forehead. “All you have to do is ask..”
“Soon, I will no longer be the last of my kind.” Kahlan turned, rolling over and standing on her knees between Cara’s legs. Then, Kahlan took Cara’s hand, placing it to her belly, holding the hand there with both of her own. Her eyes searched Cara’s face, fear and hope tangling and twisting together. “I don’t think we have to dream anymore.”
Cara crinkled her brows, lips pulling tight, eyes narrowing as she stared at the hand held to Kahlan’s stomach. She snapped her head up, eyes wide as her face went slack. “Kahlan!” she gasped.
“It’s yours,” Kahlan said quickly. Cara had accepted this part of their life together. That Kahlan would one day have a child, and the role someone else would have to play. “I swear, I have been with no other but you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Cara snapped. “Of course it’s mine. But..” She rose to her knees, joining her other hand on Kahlan’s stomach. “But how?”
“I spoke to Shota,” Kahlan choked, the tears already falling. “Apparently there is one more thing we have made possible. I guess when you said all I have to do is ask and you would give it to me,” she chuckled, thumb brushing over Cara’s lips. “You really meant it.”
“Of course I meant it,” Cara laughed, hands wrapping around Kahlan’s waist, crashing their lips together. “Always,” she said between the kisses she rained all over Kahlan’s face. “Forever.”
Seven months later, Kahlan gave birth to twins, Sonja and Isabel. In the years that followed, the proud parents would have three more children, all girls. They were happy, as two parents, as a family could be. There were sad and solemn moments as well, because no life would be complete without them, to make the good moments all the more sweeter, treasured. Cara and Kahlan were never far from the other’s side. On occasion, they talked about the curse that had been placed upon them, the one meant to tear them apart but, instead, brought them closer together. As much as they’d dreamed and hoped during that dark time, they never imagined the life awaiting them when they were finally reunited. They never dreamed that the impossible they made possible was a life lived..
Happily ever after.