She stared down over the fields. Her eyes were fixed on the home of the Mother Confessor. As were her thoughts. Fixed on the place, where she should meet her again.
The setting sun wrapped the landscape into its warm colors, letting the grass seem greener on the plain ahead. The mountains along the horizon offered a proud impression in their majesty, white hoods covering their peaks; the roofs of the city at their feet beamed in an almost golden shimmer. And among them, the noble palace spread its walls like silver wings, seeming to protect both - city and people.
It was an amazing sight. Just a rare cloud shadowed the light around her as it sailed leisurely towards the horizon. The air had slightly chilled, a fresh breeze whispered through the leaves of the treetops behind her.
Her eyes took it all in, though her heart didn´t acknowledge it for its beauty. Her features were frozen expressionless as she stared at the shining walls of the palace, its white not yet touched by the red and purple flashes of the dying sun which would soon wrap their cloaks around it.
The Mord Sith was lost in her thoughts; she didn´t even blink as her gaze swept slowly up from the city´s roofs to the brilliant blue of the sky above. Her chin straightened as her eyes narrowed thoughtfully before she shut them close, taking a deep breath and held it for a long moment. Listening to the steady beat of her heart. Half expecting a sign.
She did not move, not until her horse fidgety stamped its foot.
"Hoh, boy, keep calm." She patted its neck absently, clenching her jaw, glaring a last time down to the shimmering walls of the palace, nodding slowly... As I will. I promise.
Slightly shifting her weight, leaning the rein to the side of its neck she allowed the black steed to turn around and to head back to their small camp, where her two companions awaited her, cautiously studying her face. Turning wordlessly as her cold gaze stared them down.
"They are here."
Richard stood by one of the large windows, that where so many along the side of the wide entrance hall that it almost seemed like a wall, made of shimmering silver glass, disturbed only by a few piles of polished stone. His gaze had focused on the sun flooded courtyard, watching how the Mord Sith were dismounting. His voice was low as he turned around to seek her gaze, his lips curled into a faint smile.
"She will be glad to see you."
The Mother Confessor frowned and shot him a brief glare from the corner of her eyes before she rose from her chair and turned to him. Her face was pale and showed hints of tiredness, a few freckles beaming in the light which shone through the windows. Only her eyes were shadowed by her white gown´s hood.
"There is no need for you, Richard, to tell gentle lies." Her voice was calm and even. "Have you sent Dennee to bring them up?"
He nodded with a sigh. A sad gaze wandered slowly over her figure. He felt his heart twisting with the thoughts of solicitousness that washed through his mind. With a few slow paces he approached her, looking seriously into her eyes until she dropped them down, avoiding his scrutiny. His hand reached out and settled on her forearm as a calming gesture, trying to force the bright blue of her stare back to his own. "Kahlan, we have discussed this. You should give her a warm welcome. So much has happened during the last two years, and ... so much has changed..." The earnest tones of his words didn´t hide the deep sorrow, flowing beneath their surface. "I will leave to D´Hara; and though Zedd will stay for now, he is much too busy in the Keep to care. You will need a friend when I´m gone. And she is a friend; you know she is! Forget the past, Kahlan, try to forgive. It was not all herfault. And you know that I will leave and she will stay."
She eyed him from under her lashes. With a deep breath she answered, sharply, her voice close to a hiss.
"And you KNOW that I don´t want her to be here!"
"Kahlan... I..." His eyes shifted, his cheeks blushed a little as he faced the three Mord Sith who had silently entered the room. To see their firmly set jaws told him clearly that they must have heard her last words. Seeing his reaction, Kahlan turned and straightened proudly, her features sliding easily into her Confessor´s face, as she´d been trained all of her life. Her hand reached towards the hood and drew it back to her shoulders in an unconscious motion. There was just a slight, almost invisible flutter of her nostrils that disturbed the calmness that had settled on her face while her chin had risen. The Mother Confessor, as she was known by her people. And feared by her opponents.
She didn´t blink when the Mord Sith bowed slightly, their voices sounding like one.
Their leader glanced at her for the briefest moment before she turned towards Richard as her companions already had. This time their bows were deeper and their voices were filled with the tone of deep respect that had only been adumbrated in their previous salute.
Richard´s face had brightened. His lips curled in a wide smile, his eyes were beaming. It was obvious that he struggled to suppress the need to jump on the red leathered women and embrace them heartily. It was so clearly written on his face that they stiffened automatically and synchronously took a step back.
Richard couldn´t help but grinned happily, his eyes searching Kahlan´s as if to reassure himself that everything was fine, now that the Mord Sith had finally arrived. But, seeing her, wearing her stoic Confessor mask, made him feel slightly uncomfortable.
He harrumphed, trying to override the brief moment of embarrassment.
"Cara! Raina! Berdine! We are so glad to see you! You´ve already been expected yesterday evening; we were informed that you had a camp just a league away? What has happened to restrain you from reaching Aydindril?"
While Cara dropped her eyes and studied the floor as if considering an answer it was the tall brunette who answered calmly.
"We decided that we should clean up after the journey before we reach the palace of the Mother Confessor. We didn´t want to give her... false impressions." The last words dripped pointedly from her lips like old honey. With a smirk she had turned to Kahlan, tilting her head and staring at her in blank curiosity.
Kahlan draw up her eyebrow ever so slightly. But in her voice lay no hint of anger at the provoking smirk of the Mord Sith.
"Though I appreciate to see you so considerate of my home, I may assure you it wasn´t necessary. No one would expect you after such a long journey to arrive without some dust on the famous shine of your leathers." She eyed the brunette from head to toe. "I welcome you and your companions to Aydindril! I hope you will enjoy your stay here, even if it won´t be for long." Her eyes swept over the three Mord Sith to make clear that her greeting was directed to all of them, avoiding settling on one of them specifically.
"So I assume you are Mistress Berdine! And as I recognize Mistress Cara" a short glance met the eyes of the meant blonde for just a blink "you must be Mistress Raina?" she nodded to the third. "Richard has told me that he chose you to accompany him to the Peoples Palace."
"Raina and Berdine will come with me, Kahlan." Richard dropped a calm reminder. "Cara is going to stay here at Aydindril to..."
"She will be your representation, Richard. That is what you´ve stated." For the first time she looked directly at the blonde Mord Sith, who hadn´t said a word yet but straightened now under the Mother Confessor´s scrutiny and Kahlan tried to keep her features calm and well-adjusted. "But have you ever asked her, whether she wants to stay? She might prefer to stay at your side and... protect you in D´Hara? What do you say... Mistress Cara?"
Cara´s eyes settled on the Confessor, glancing at her for a few heartbeats in a silent challenge.
"If my Lord orders me to stay, I´ll stay. After all, you should know that a Mord Sith has no such things like... preferences, Mother Confessor."
Kahlan stared back steadfastly, but felt her jaw clenching with the low, teasing voice, and she had to fight the sudden urge to close her eyes and listen to its echo in her mind. Instead she gave a wink to the massive door, where Dennee came out of the shadow and approached quickly, while Kahlan´s eyes kept staring with an expressionless blue at Cara for a few seconds longer before she broke the contact.
"I think you have already made the acquaintance of Dennee, my sister." Dennee had reached them and stood at Kahlan´s side, glaring at the Mord Sith with a distant expression, her chin raised and her shoulders squared. Her eyes settled on Cara for a long moment, before she allowed her lips to curl into a faint smile, acknowledging her with a short nod.
"She will see to guide you to your rooms. I´m sure, you will appreciate a few moments of rest after your journey. And, perhaps, your Lord Rahl will give you a tour through the main sites of the palace for your orientation?" Her eyes set on Richard, who beamed with joy as he nodded his agreement.
"I don´t think this is necessary, Mother Confessor" Cara dropped into Richards nod. Kahlan turned her head towards her with a raised brow, her eyes asking the question she didn´t voice. "You might remember, I´ve been to the palace before." She drawled lowly. Her gaze locked with Kahlan´s in an almost provoking way, causing the Confessor´s eyes narrowing slightly beneath her calmness. She nodded deliberately, not leaving the emerald pride that stared at her. A glare, that was bridging their distance strongly and firmly. A bridge, built of cold stone.
"You are right, Cara! But I can´t imagine that you´ve seen a lot of it, considering your... moonlight flit the day after your arrival." Sarcasm made her voice an almost biting winter breeze.
Cara´s nearly invisible flinch at these words wasn´t missed by both of the Mord Sith, who eyed each other briefly as they followed the short arguing. The petite auburn-haired was frowning, the light-brown one shot an icy glance at the Confessor. The tension increased very quickly, until Dennee stepped forward, nodding to the Mord Sith with a light "if you will follow me..." and heading to the door, resolved to save the situation by taking the Mord Sith out of Kahlan´s sight.
While the others turned, Cara stood rooted to the spot, her eyes still locked on Kahlan´s features, her body tense, her chin straightened. Emerald green stared against icy blue, none of them willing to give in. Just as Cara moved the slightest bit she felt Richard´s hand on her arm, pulling her into a turn and shoving her towards the door. He grinned widely as he patted her shoulder.
"Hey, you should definitely give your favorite Lord Rahl a chance to show you the palace... Did you know that they have a very nice drill ground here..."
Even after they had left, and Richards chatty voice went lost in the corridors, Kahlan stood stock-still, staring at the door that had closed behind them, the ice in her eyes melting slowly away, revealing a shadow of hurt. She finally turned and approached the window, letting her gaze travel over the city, breathing a deep sigh that almost sounded like a sob.
She didn´t even blink as her gaze swept slowly up from the city's roofs to the brilliant blue of the sky above. Her chin straightened as her eyes narrowed thoughtfully before she shut them close, taking a deep breath and held it for a long moment, listening to the steady beat of her heart. Half expecting a sign...
Cara hadn´t said a word since they had left the Mother Confessor. Richard had given them a tour through the palace, exhibiting some sort of pride as if it was his own. His guests had been hardly impressed, used to the giant architecture of their home in D´Hara. The Palace of the Mother Confessor was of a calm, awe-inspiring beauty, every detail of its architecture wisely set with purposes, bringing forth emotions of pride and honor, leaving the beholder to the humbly devotion that was appropriate, respectfully reminding of the very honorable majesty of the Mother Confessor. Not comparable with the massive, intimidating pomposity that the Peoples Palace in D´Hara stood for. For the Mord Sith, it was nothing more than an almost modest home for the Mother Confessor.
Hours seemed to have been rushed when they finally entered their quarters. Berdine and Raina shared a room that was large enough to be home for ten Mord Sith; It was richly furnished, a fire crackling contently in the fireplace and offering a warming comfort. But the most interesting to them was a large bed, standing by the opposite wall of the room. Berdine didn´t lose time and jumped onto it, proclaiming it hers with a smirk. Raina watched her with hungry eyes. She slowly approached her companion, hips swaying seductively, threatening her with her agiel in her hand. Her voice teased in a provoking way.
"Get out of my bed!"
"Who said it´s yours?"
"I say!" Raina threw herself on Berdine, trying to shove her out. Quickly they were rolling in a mock-fight, beating with fists and agiels until they found themselves in a tight embrace, moaning as their lips crushed together and tongues were moving in a raw, feverish dance.
Cara entered just in time to hear Berdine growl lowly "So who is in charge?" and Raina´s husky answer "You are, Mistress..."
Cara rolled her eyes annoyed at the sight and their low moans.
"You shouldn´t settle too snugly in here." She growled. In her voice lay anger that wasn´t due to neither Berdine nor Raina, but surged against them nonetheless. The tall brunette threw a glance over her shoulder, staring at Cara with a smirk.
"Looks like our Mistress is not amused, Raina!"
The petite peeped at Cara from under Berdine, studying her expression carefully. She nodded her agreement. "No, she definitely is not."
Cara´s eyes narrowed into a warning. But her sisters stayed completely unimpressed.
"Perhaps you should have taken the Mother Confessor´s offer and tell her that you´d prefer to return to the Peoples Palace with us? ... Though I dare doubt your mood would lighten then..."
Berdine had moved and now stood in front of Cara, her hands resting on her hips, staring at her with sparkling eyes.
"Seriously, Cara, you are hardly to put up with since Lord Rahl ordered us to come here. The idea that you have to stay here, alone between strangers, maybe even opponents, might be annoying for you. But I would have thought it far from causing you nightmares..."
Cara frowned and growled suspiciously at Berdine. "What makes you think about nightmares?"
It was Raina who answered before Berdine could get herself further into trouble. She spoke while moving to the dresser, heading to the basin, filled with water and clean clothes lying beside. She didn´t look at Cara.
"We are neither deaf nor blind, Cara! It started when Richard´s order appeared in the journey book. The unfortunate sister who had to tell you the news wasn´t the last one who suffered your mood then..."
"She had to learn her lesson!" Cara hissed angrily. "It wasn´t right to break into our meeting then, just to tell me that Richard wanted us to leave for Aydindril! She should have waited."
"Sure! And what IF she had done so?" Berdine scoffed, "Than that exactly would have been the reason you send her for days into the dungeons... Come on, Cara! Admit it! The whole journey has been a nightmare for you! The days brooding over your own thoughts, the nights flipping from one side to the other...Who do you think you can fool? Have a look into the mirror: you are a walking ghost! If I didn´t know you better, I would assume you feared the day you´d see her again!"
Cara was fast, stepping close and backhanding her forcefully, her eyes flashing with fury.
"Don´t you dare call me anxious! ´Cause I am not! And certainly not of her!" she snarled.
She stood frozen, her eyes staring daggers into the tall Mord Sith. She could hardly bear that hitting her hadn´t banished the smirk from Berdine´s face. And from Raina she heard a muttering that sounded suspiciously like "...kick a sleeping dog and it bites..."
Cara shot her a murderous glance, choking a sharp breath, apparently close to shout out. But then she huffed loudly, turned around and stormed out, the massive door thundering while clunking shut.
Raina sighed and thoughtfully watched Berdine coming closer to her, a sway on her hips and a promising leer on her lips.
"Has she ever told you what had happened? Why she left Aydindril then?"
Berdine shook her head no, but then claimed Raina´s mouth with her own before she could dwell on the subject...
A knock at the door brought her back from the past, where her mind had wandered around. The papers she had purported to prevent her from dinner at Richard´s side with their guests lay still on her desk, untouched, waiting for her attention. She didn´t care for now. Seated in her chair at the fireside with her eyes settled on the low crackling flames, she had forgotten the time as her thoughts had drifted far away, travelling through memories, painting living pictures into the flickering light. The resolute knock now called her back into her room and she sighed deeply before calling her visitor in.
Dennee entered and approached her chair cautiously.
"Kahlan? Are you alright? I´ve missed you during dinner; Richard said you´re still working..." Her eyes washed over the abandoned desk, and she frowned as she recognized, that none of the papers had been taken care of.
The sister´s gazes met. The blue of Kahlan´s coated with some tiredness that seemed not only due to the late hour. "I am fine, Dennee. I just... thought about..."
Dennee laid a diminutive hand on Kahlan´s shoulder and squeezed slightly.
"You should talk to him, Kahlan. I´m sure, Richard will stay if you just ask him. His place is here, in Aydindril, by your side. Everything could be as it used to be; as it should be! He needs only a sign... You should eventually get over your pride..."
"No. It is not that, Dennee." Kahlan looked up at her with a faint smile, leaning into her reassuring touch. "Richard and I... This is long over. Sometimes I wonder if it has even ever really been. But we both know that." Her smile widened. "No, I´m glad that he finally made his decision. These last years have weighed much too heavy on our shoulders. It is time to face the truth; to look ahead. He can still find someone to be happy with. He deserves it."
Her eyes sought the fire again. "We´ve already wasted too much time..."
Her sister moved to the second chair that stood close to Kahlan´s and took seat. Looking at the brunette she frowned.
"He has already found someone to be happy with...here! You are still caught in the past, Kahlan. I know that you look upon it as your fault. But it is not! That you´ve lost your child...it was the fault of this damned horse; it was an accident! And... that it was a boy... Kahlan, it wasn´t the curse of the sorceress; such fate happens by coincidence! – It would not be fair to blame Richard. He has suffered even more than you. He has not slept for weeks. He was close to crack up. You were down; You haven´t seen him in these days, but I have! It almost killed him." There was a fire in her eyes that told much of her compassion for him. And a hint of a silent accusation crackled lowly in her voice. "Being banished from your chambers...almost devastated the little strength he had saved." She leaned forward, her stare adjuring. Her hand moved to settle on Kahlan´s. "He loves you! He always did! And if you really want to see him happy, all it takes is to allow him to be your mate. You can still carry his children. And if you..."
Shaking her head, Kahlan interrupted her harshly. Her hand flinched from under Dennee´s.
"Dennee! Give it a rest! How often have we had this discussion? I´ve tried to tell you so many times! Why are you still pressing on that topic. Why is it that you always talk about him and his feelings? Why don´t you ever try to look at me? I was always expected to be his loving wife, the caring mother of his children, the strong Mother Confessor by his side... But see: I don´t love him, Dennee! And it might be a shock for you, but I don´t think that I ever really did! He´s been my friend, and he still is; perhaps the only true friend I ever had. And that I tried to see him as my mate was the biggest mistake of my life! I´ve hurt him, yes; but I wanted to do him good; and at least it hurt me even more! This pregnancy was far from being the glorious crown of our endless love like you still seem to believe; it is my duty to have a child, Dennee, those were your own words! Don´t you remember? We are Confessors, the last ones of a dying breed. And I rather wanted a trusted friend, someone wholeheartedly to be the father of my daughters than a stranger, raping me; I so feared the soulless copulation, lying with a living dead man. Just because he is confessed!" Her voice sounded hoarse and filled with bitterness. Reduced to a bare whisper when she continued. "And when I lost the child and had to face the truth of it being a boy... Even that hadn´t been right, Dennee; Sorrow was all what came out of the desire to accept his love.
I couldn´t bear it. I couldn´t bear Richard in my bed any longer! And I will never risk again having a male child..." Her eyes searched her sister´s and in her gaze lay all the pain that had been gathered for so long. All the suppressed emotions that she´d never allowed to surface. All the lost hope of a life she might have once dreamed of.
The delicate frame of her sister had straightened in the chair, her jaw firmly set and her posture speaking of a disagreement that Kahlan had already expected. The Mother Confessor sighed resigned, remembering all the conversations they had before. It was not the first time that she tried to explain these parts of her feelings to Dennee. Long evenings she had asked for her understanding; had tried to open her mind and her soul to her. But her sister had always been deaf and blind to it. It seemed to her, as if Dennee didn´t want to understand, as if she refused the compassion and the warmth that had always been part of their bond before. As if her sister was a stranger to her.
Sometimes Kahlan wondered, if the new body of her sister had been for the price of a new heart as well.
Dennee´s dress rustled brusquely while she stood. She stared at Kahlan angrily, her eyes narrowed, lips pressed into a thin line. When she spoke, her voice cut sharply into Kahlan´s mind like a cold blade, scratching her skin with disgust.
"You seem to forget, that you are not the only one who made sacrifices, sister. Don´t you think yourself a little selfish to forcehim to leave and allow him to bring this Mord Sith here instead, the one who murdered me? You ask me to see your feelings, Kahlan – but be honest: have you ever lost a thought about mine?"
And with that she stormed out, slamming the door with a shuttering noise that made Kahlan wince.
The Mother Confessor held her eyes shut, fighting back tears which she was too tired to shed. It always ended like this. Dennee storming away in outrage, leaving her with the nagging feeling of a guilt that she would probably never could pay enough for. Her mind recognized Dennee wronged her. But her heart ached with loneliness when her sister turned into the cold distance of her reproaches.
She dropped her head into her palms, covered her eyes and surrendered to the soft darkness. It didn´t take long before a face appeared in her mind and her heart twisted slightly. Richard would leave her a heavy burden. But she had sworn to allow him one of his own choices to stay at Aydindril.
Never had she thought it would be her.
"The one who murdered me..." Kahlan knew, her sister would never accept the Mord Sith living at the palace.
She didn´t even know, how she, herself could bear it, that the one who had hurt her deeper than anyone in all of her life would cross her ways every day from now on. She thought of the moment this morning, when Cara had stared at her, challenging, she remembered the emerald glance of her eyes, the cold pride that had pierced her and sighed.
Why her, Richard?
"Why me, Richard?" Her voice was angry as she stared at him with a frown. In a wild and frustrated gesture she pointed to her sisters. "Order Raina and Berdine to stay at Aydindril. They have become weak! They certainly would appreciate to live a lazy life in this palace..." The said Mord Sith stood at their horses, waiting for their departure. Raina chuckled at something Berdine had whispered into her ear.
Richard huffed annoyed. "It is enough now, Cara! I have asked you as a friend. But if this doesn´t work I will order you as your Lord Rahl! I need to know that you are here by her side. Because I trust you. More than I trust anyone else. And... You havesworn to protect her!"
She huffed annoyed, rolling her eyes in a helpless anger, muttering half to herself "But it´s ridiculous! I´m not welcome here!" Her eyes were beaming with disgust.
"You are! It just... needs some time. And I will not discuss this any longer." He winked loathly, dismissing her for the moment and turned to search Kahlan. Approaching her for their good-bye his heart skipped a beat. He felt nervous; He was going to leave. And this time, it was a final parting. More than that: it was surrender.
He had failed. His love had not been strong enough for the both of them. Though he had tried. So badly. But now all he could do to help her was leaving. Despite his aching heart, his sorrow. He had to give her the space she needed, before the resting piece of their friendship would fade away in the cold breeze of guilt.
Though he already feared, it would be swept away in a wave of fury as soon as she recognized how far he had really gone in his despair...
Cara sat in the darkest corner of the tavern; her hand held a cup of wine in a tight grip and a plate of fresh stew was steaming in front of her, waiting for her attention. The blonde did not care. She was busy shooting disgusting glares to the crowd that filled the room with constant noises of murmurs and roaring laughter. Her features were painted with an impatient anger; ready to stab the first with an agiel right into his chest who would dare talk to her .
These people were annoying. They were loud; they were plump; and they were much too trusting for her liking. She really missed the hidden glances she was used to, the hints of fear and the barely visible shivers that ran down the spines of strangers when they got aware of her leather. That tiny little instant, when their widening eyes betrayed the moment of recognition of who she was. And the feeling that always joined that little instant, shooting hot sparks of pride through her veins: the feeling of strength and power. The knowledge, that she had caught the better part of life: Upright. Fearless. And proud; while these poor creatures squirmed through the ground to her feet, scared from the mere reality of their own senseless fates…
Since her arrival in Aydindril these little instants had become a rare pleasure. The people knew she was a friend of the Seeker and a guest of the Mother Confessor.
Sure, she was treated with respect, if often in a mistrusting way; and still people peeped at her; but their eyes didn´t hold the right amount of fright that she would have appreciated; Instead they stared at her with a mixture of obsessive curiosity and allured horror; so openly sometimes, that Cara felt the burning need to punch into these silly faces to be soothed by fresh blood running from a gash.
She always won the inner battle to resist this urge. But there were times when she wondered annoyed how long she could go on like this.
The Mord Sith was bored to the bones.
Richard had said it would need some time. He had not said how long this time would be exactly. And now three weeks had already passed since her arrival to Aydindril, to stay as Richards's personal representative by the side of the Mother Confessor. She had sworn him to protect her, though Richard had never told her why Kahlan would actually need her protection. He only had ordered her to be near her. And to be cautious.
Cara gave a frustrated snort.
And how should I do so, Richard? She would not let me be near her; I follow her from the distance when she rushes through the Palace; but as soon as I try to approach she would turn away. Spirits, what exactly do you expect me to do?
The blonde pursed her lips and took a hearty draught of her wine, then spooning some stew into her mouth without even noticing it.
She would not even let me be in the same room with her…She hates me… The Mord Sith growled loudly.
Her thoughts wandered to the day when Richard had left Aydindril. His good-bye had been… weirdly short. And distant somehow. She remembered Kahlan, standing straight and with a shadow of sorrow spread over her features. The Confessor had embraced the Seeker tightly, a lonely tear rolling down her cheek. And when his little troop had left the Palace her glossy blue eyes had followed his trail for an eternity.
And she remembered how her own jaw had ached from clenching…
She had waited until Kahlan had turned, heading for her chambers before she had approached her, feeling a small lump growing in her throat, but the familiar teasing tone in her voice had covered her uncertainness.
"Now it is just the two of us, Mother Confessor. Time to tell me what myposition will be in your Palace."
Kahlan´s forehead had furrowed, her still watery eyes staring at her, slightly narrowed, thoughtfully and distant.
"I´m sorry, Cara? I don´t understand your question."
She had frowned; she didn´t like the rejection in the Confessor´s voice and her own tone was filled with certain sharpness when she spoke again.
"Richard ordered me to stay in Aydindril. By your side. And now that he´s gone, it is up to you to tell me what you expect me to do, or to be here. What my role will be."
Kahlan had eyed her with piercing deep blue brilliance and had smiled faintly, a smile that didn´t reach her eyes; answering in a calm, controlled voice:
"I don´t expect... anythingof you, Cara. Whatever the reason was why Richard has ordered you to stay; it has not been for a job waiting here for you. You are a guest of the Midlands and as such you may feel free to do as you like." And after giving it a quick thought:"as long as you would not harm anyone!" And with a short nod she was gone.
It had felt like a hard slap into Cara´s face, unexpected and raw.
The Mord Sith gritted her teeth and stared into her half empty cup of wine. By the Creator´s light! What did this woman think who she was? A Mord Sith could not "feel free to do as she liked"! She needed an order, a reason to walk among these people…
Besides - it was offending. She felt this sharp jolt rushing through her veins whenever the Mother Confessor met her with such... cold distance.
She had tried a few times more to get a talk to her. But Kahlan would not give her an audience. Whenever they met in the Palace - and Cara took care that they met often, if only fleetingly - Kahlan would stall her steps, briefly locking with the Mord Sith´s glare as if considering talking to her; but then she always turned around and rushed away. The closest Cara had come had been a few five minute meetings with Dennee. All of them had achieved the same result. And had left her chest filled with a murderous pressure of anger and frustration.
"…You can´t just walk in to talk to the Mother Confessor! It is not that easy to meet with her. You should know that Kahlan is a very busy woman, Mistress Cara. And the rare time she has is meant to give her the chance to recover from her many commitments. So..., if it is a question of a pressing petition, you may sign for the public audience after tomorrow…"
Never had Cara met cold arrogance as keen as it lay in those spoken words. Not even her former Lord Rahl had held such a tone in his voice. Cara had a clue that it was the desperate hate for her murderer that let Dennee handle her voice like a weapon.
Cara´s eyes had narrowed dangerously, not even trying to hide the anger in her growl. "You know that I am not a common bidder at the door of the palace! Tell her that I have to speak to her. Privately."
Dennee stared with a biting cold shimmer; an ice-covered surface of a lake in stormy winter nights.
"Who. Do you think. You are... to give meany orders? And why would she talk to you? You do not belong to here, Mistress Cara! Richard decided this against our will. And though I don´t know the exact reason why you left then, it must have been a serious one. But anyway; I can tell that you still are not welcome. Neither my sister nor I need you in this Palace. You would be well advised to stay away from her if you don´t want to wake her annoyance."
Cara snorted enraged into her wine and slammed the cup back on the table with a clanging reverberation, almost shattering it into pieces. The angry glare she caught from the innkeeper, who already wasn´t her best friend, she met with a dangerously challenging stare of her own, making him duck slightly while he turned swiftly to his guests with an annoyed growl.
The Mord Sith´s hackles still raised thinking of the insults. She remembered times, when Dennee would have regretted her words immediately. A Mord Sith would not allow a Confessor to treat her like any random wench. Cara´s first instinct had let her wrap her hands tightly around her agiels, her lips a thin line of rage. But she had been controlled enough to keep them sheathed and Dennee had dismissed her with a nod before she went her way, leaving a tense Mord Sith who gritted her teeth, cursing the day when her Lord Rahl had sent a message in his journey book...
The only thing that had held her at bay was the vow she had given to Richard.
And something else, whipping sharply through her chest that she couldn´t name. And didn´t even want to know what it was. But somewhere, deep inside her, she could feel it.
It was there.
Drawing her inexorably near to the woman in white; the one who hated her.
On this day Cara had decided to make this Palace her own. And since then she had not reclined before she had drawn an inner map, marking every detail of the Palace. ..
Now she grinned contently to herself and gulped the rest of her wine. She knew she was able to follow the most hidden paths with closed eyes, step through every secret door and, unexpectedly, even spy unobserved on every room she wanted to.
Cara would not fail. She would be near the Mother Confessor; whenever and wherever she felt necessary to be near her. She would protect her. And Kahlan wouldn´t even notice...
"My Lady, the time has come. The presence of the Mother Confessor is urgently needed. I am sent to gain your affirmation on that matter."
The Confessor looked at him with narrowed eyes. She took a few moments to consider her answer, pacing fore and back. She had known this time to come, had expected it since weeks. She took a deep breath and turned to the envoy, which stood straight, waiting patiently for her words. Finally she sighed resigned and nodded.
"You may go and tell him, I will see for her departure as soon as possible. She will be there in time."
He turned immediately and rushed out. Dennee´s eyes followed him thoughtfully, small muscles in her cheeks slightly working.
"What did he mean, her presence is urgently needed?" Cara´s cold voice snarled from behind directly into the Confessor´s ear, who whipped around, startled by her unexpected appearance from nowhere. She would have sworn that no one had been around when she greeted her visitor. A spark of anger flashed at the blonde Mord Sith, before Dennee schooled her face into her trained Confessor mask.
"Oh, what a nice surprise! Our Mord Sith is weaseling through the Palace... Stalking the Mother Confessor again, Mistress Cara?" Cara ignored her words. She knew she had scared her, standing suddenly behind her, and smirked contently.
"It is nothing of your concern, Mistress Cara. Confessor´s duties... One of a Confessor´s duty is judgment. And it looks like Kahlan has to take care of a serious case in one of the kingdoms." She eyed Cara with an arrogant raised brow and turned to leave. But then she paused and looked briefly over her shoulder.
"Seems like you will lose sight of your prey for some time!" and chuckling she was gone. She missed Cara´s burning glare of distrust that bored into her shoulder blades.
Zedd sat at the large table near the fireside , as always magically drawn from the scents of fresh roasted meat and boiling legumes. His eyes followed the moves of all the serviceable girls and boys who rushed through the kitchen, while pleasurably chewing on a crispy piece of roasted duck.
The corner of his eyes twinkled with amusement as he watched the scraggy figure of Mistress Sanderholt who whirled through the room, surveying mercilessly her troop of aiders, being behind the cooks when they didn´t expect her and barking orders to the opposite of the stoves. He couldn´t stop watching. This thin and weak looking woman was a miracle to him. He had always expected the chief of a kitchen of this dimension to be a fat and jovial ordinary man or woman. But the chief of the Palace´s kitchen was of a completely different appearance. Mistress Sanderholt was a tall, fragile woman, her grey hair tightly drawn back, her features resolved and self-confident, and her voice clear and decided. She emanated a natural authority; but in her eyes laid warmth that could melt ice in a winter storm if she only wanted to.
She was equally feared and respected; but bottom lines, everyone loved her.
And her stews were the best Zedd had ever had the pleasure of tasting.
The bony wizard fished for another crispy piece of duck when the door slammed open and a red leathered woman stormed inside. Cara´s eyes promised trouble when she caught the frightened glare of one of the girls who had almost slipped a plate of legumes, startled by her sudden appearance.
"What?" she snapped ominously, tilting her head and staring her down. But before she could scare the girl even more Mistress Sanderholt shove the maid aside and build up in front of the blonde, hands on her hips, rebuking her with a stern stare.
"Where are your manners, Mistress Cara? I told you often enough you should not dare frighten them!" She waved her hand to the wizard. "Go, have a seat with Zedd and take some duck." And muttering in a softened tone, unimpressed of the murderous expression in the green eyes piercing her: "you should really eat more regularly! Thin as a dragon fly! I suggest you taste the stew, I´ve made for the Mother Confessor..."
Cara frowned deeply but turned without a word and took seat beside Zedd. The old wizard sat with round eyes and an open mouth, agape, as always, not believing how easily that woman had a go at the Mord Sith. It was not the first time he witnessed how she reprimanded the blonde, who always stormed into the room in a heat of anger and frustration, apparently looking for an object to vent her spleen at.
And he was even more stunned to see Cara immediately calming down, being scolded like this. There had been times when much less would have led to an agonized Mistress Sanderholt at the screaming end of an agiel...
Once, after Cara had left, he had asked the head cook what her secret was. How it was that she was not afraid of the blonde Mord Sith. And how she was able tame her so easily. The slender woman had smiled impishly.
"There are two magic words, Zedd. The only ones that reach her mind..." she grinned widely:"MOTHER. CONFESSOR. "And chuckling at his expression she nodded amused. "This girl will always calm down if she sees only a chance to get news from Kahlan!"
The more often he watched her dealing with the Mord Sith, the more he tended to believe in her words.
Cara felt his stare and shifted her head to look at him, contorting her face at the sight.
"This. Is nasty, Wizard! Close your mouth and swallow it down." she snapped. And then growled peevishly, pointing annoyed to Mistress Sanderholt. "She seems to know nothing about Mord Sith. Should I kill her just because she is naïve?"
Zedd started chewing again, shaking his head slightly with a wide smile on his face;
"I´m sorry, Cara. I was just... surprised." He giggled lowly. "But I am very grateful that you don´t intend to kill the most adorable cook I have ever made the acquaintance of." His eyes smiled mischievously, their corners crinkling in amusement.
"What for? It would be more fun to torture a certain starving wizard in a certain keep..." she gave a grumpy answer, but he could see the hint of a grin in the corner of her lips.
"And what is it that leads you into these holy halls, Cara? I assume you stormed in with a purpose, didn´t you?"
Cara chewed on her bottom lip when she faced him. She thought a moment about how starting.
"I... was looking for you. And I thought you might probably be found here." She shrugged. "I didn´t know who else I could speak to..." Her voice sounded annoyed and Zedd raised an expecting eyebrow, waiting for her to continue her speech.
"Is it right that Richard left you a journey book? And do you have any news from him?"
Zedd nodded staidly. "He has started to reorganize the People´s Palace. There are a few things that he could not accept. And a few people who would not accept him. But he is confident..." He watched her carefully. "Cara..., am I wrong if I assume that this is not what you are asking for?" When she remained silent, chewing on the inner side of her cheek while her eyes trailed patterns on the table, he sighed.
"C´mon, my dear. What are we really talking about?"
He felt it tugging on a few heartstrings when he noticed the forlorn expression that washed swiftly over her face. She took a deep breath before she blurted out.
"Why am I here, Wizard? What has Richard intended, leaving me in Aydindril?"
He tilted his head, sorrow sweeping briefly over his face. He knew that Cara was more than frustrated; she was almost desperate. The last month she had done anything to achieve her goal and get closer to Kahlan. But the Confessor would not tolerate the blonde hovering over her.
The old wizard sighed, thinking of times where the two of them had been friends; when Kahlan had gotten closer to her former enemy than he or Richard would have ever dared to expect to; especially considering that Cara was the murderer of the Confessor´s sister.
He remembered how the brilliant blue of Kahlan´s eyes used to beam with affection when they sat at the fireside of their small camp and another piece of Cara´s stubbornness would crack Kahlan up. How Cara used to cock her hips, provoking the Confessor until she would blush without fail, while a mischievous smirk lay in the corner of the blonde´s lips. There had been ease and levity in the air when they squabbled, despite the world around them doomed to fail...
Zedd frowned, wondering where those times had gone. . .while Cara´s angry voice called him slowly back from his mind-travels.
"...as if she can´t trust me. I mean it is the same like it was in the beginning; remember? When everything she wanted was to kill me?" She huffed annoyed. "I would not even be surprised if she slept again with her daggers under her pillows." Her hand slammed on the table. She looked at him with hurt in the jade of her glare, clearly at a loss.
Zedd shrugged weakly. "As far as I know, she always does."
The Mord Sith stared at him in disbelieve, her brows deeply furrowed.
"This is ridiculous, Wizard! Why would she do that? She is at home here. This is HER Palace; these are HER people; her sister is always by her side. And her beloved Richard only waits for her to call him back. All she ever wanted. She is supposed to be happy! Her heart should fly!"
Zedd watched her breakout contemplatively. He gave her a sad glance, shaking his head when he answered with a low voice:
"Heavy things don´t fly, Cara."
She frowned even more as their eyes locked.
"Kahlan is a very mighty woman. And a very lonesome mighty woman. Enviousness and malevolence are lurking at her every turn. The last years have taken great toll of her. I don´t know what you´ve heard, but believe me, Cara. Her heart has no reason to fly..."
An emerald fire burnt in Cara´s eyes under her knitted brows, sparkling with questions and concern. "You are speaking in riddles, Wizard." She leaned in, bringing her face close to his and slowly shook her head, her gaze literally pierced Zedd while she snarled: "I am done with everyone talking without saying a word! I need answers! Now! Tell me, Zedd, what happened to her? Why is it that Richard left Aydindril and why did he leave ME by her side, apparently against her will?"
The old wizard dropped his eyes and sighed resigned, knowing that this time he was trapped. He felt unsure of how much he should tell her and what Kahlan would expect him to conceal; he did not want to betray the Confessor´s trust. But at least, he was convinced that Cara deserved to learn about the events while she had been in D`Hara. When his gaze shifted to watch the blonde´s expression thoughtfully he noticed Mistress Sanderholt, staying silently behind the Mord Sith, nodding approvingly with a faint smile. And so he took a deep breath and started to tell what he knew about it.
"Do you remember when we travelled to Aydindril? The Keeper had lost, the rift had been sealed. And we had discovered that Kahlan and Richard... they could be together! Richard loved her more than his own life; she had tried to confess him but failed! He was immune to her power..." He smiled with the memory. "Ahh. This had been such a blissful moment." He glared at Cara. "I know you didn´t show it; but you felt their euphoria, didn´t you? Everything seemed to come to a happy ending...
But on our way to Aydindril during the following weeks something changed. I am still not able to name it, but the closer we came to Aydindril, the more Kahlan became strangely quiet; you must have noticed it too, Cara. Though I first thought it to be her concern for what would await her here, I soon recognized that there must have been other things that weighed her down. Perhaps you remember how she became suddenly serious every time Richard appeared by her side. Her moods changed almost in a breath. In one moment she laughed with you light-heartedly and with the next heartbeat she looked at Richard like a wounded deer and retreated into her shell. Something strange had caught her mind. Whatever it was, it slowly changed her every behavior. And the nearer we got to Aydindril, the heavier it weighted on her.
Even my grandson, your Lord Rahl, the Seeker of Truth, noticed her strange mood after a while. He told me later, that he tried to put the blame on her nervousness. He thought she felt simply unsure and inexperienced and that would have led to some kind of shyness.
Well, he was wrong.
After you left the Palace..." Zedd paused and eyed Cara curiously, tilting his head. " - Cara, will you tell me one day why you have gone then? I have never understood what made you leave...-" her eyes narrowed on him impatiently and he hurried to continue. "well, after our arrival things got even worth. Kahlan burrowed completely into work, avoided everyone and especially Richard; she was rarely seen at dinner or breakfast, always pretending she had no time. She didn´t sleep enough and it happened that I saw the traces of tears she shed when she was alone in her rooms. We could literally watch her getting sick. Richard tried everything to get over the walls she had built around herself. But Dennee was the only one who she allowed by her side. Oh yes, the little sister was overjoyed to assist her in resuming the first chair." Cara frowned slightly at the tiny spark of sarcasm in the wizard´s voice.
"To be honest: looking back it seems to me like it has been her merit that Kahlan finally turned toward Richard again. Dennee adored him and she seemed very eager to see them married. She did her best to convince her sister of Richard´s true and deep love, and she pressed her that he was the one... And Richard? He conveyed his love in every way he could think of. He was always around and tried to ease her the best he could. He was appreciative and patient. He anticipated her every wish, even when she had none; decorated her chambers with flowers, which she never seemed to notice; organized candle light dinners, which she never attended. He tried to assist her in her commitments and one day he even insisted to take over a few of them.
It was enough to make her livid. She yelled at him in a sheer fury! Dennee could barely calm her down. She said things like that it all was Kahlan´s fault, Richard only wanted to help and that she was an ingrate; however, on this evening Dennee had a private meeting with her sister and apparently she talked some reason into Kahlan. Things changed, slowly."
Cara had followed his speech with narrowed eyes; her features were stony, except for the twitching of the thin line of her lips that had almost lost its color from being pressed firmly together.
Zedd took a deep breath, his eyes focused briefly on the empty plate on the table. When his gaze shifted hopefully to Mistress Sanderholt it was the dark sea-green glow of Cara´s merciless glare that brought him back to his speech in an instant. Sighing he continued.
"After that evening Kahlan became a little moderated; she allowed Richard to care. And finally they became close enough that she allowed him to accompany her into her chambers...I hoped then it was coming to a happy ending, finally. Kahlan seemed to be... as... content as she could be." He sighed deeply. "And Richard? He was aglow with happiness! He was a big grinning sunshiny boy. Well, it didn´t take long and Kahlan became pregnant. Finally she was honestly rejoiced. But it was obvious, that her pregnancy wasn´t easy, and Richard was expelled from her chambers, "cause she needed some rest badly"." The wizard shook his head sadly. "If you ask me today, I would say she was more than grateful to have an excuse to banish him from her bed. Poor Richard; He could barely accept it. But at least he tried to make himself believe that it was because of the baby, that maybe her hormones were to blame, and that it would all get better as soon as the baby was there.
Dennee was always by her side. She was mother and sister and nurse to her; took care of her wellbeing, held her commitments at bay and arranged that Richard could spend most of the time close to them. She managed somehow that Kahlan seemed to thrive in their care, but she still held up parts of her somewhat solitary live.
On one day, it was in the end of her fifth month, she decided to go for a ride alone." The pale blue of Zedd´s eyes became watery with the memory. He briefly looked up to meet Cara´s intense stare, shrugging slightly in a sort of apologize. "You know her. She can be very decidedly. She didn´t allow Richard to accompany her. And after some arguing which ended in an angry hassle he let her go." The wizard paused. A lonely tear made its way down the bumpy skin of his cheek.
"Her horse came back, galloping straight into the stables; covered with sweat and blood. And horrified." He closed his eyes, his voice a scratchy melody of pain. "She was found two leagues away. Unconscious. She had an arm and a few ribs broken... and she was bleeding." He shook his head, seeing the hurting images vividly in his mind. "She had lost so much blood... It was a miracle that she hadn´t died... I did what I could. But I could not do enough... the following day... she lost the child." His face was contorted, emotions drawing deep furrows on his forehead. His next words barely a whisper.
"It was a boy."
The air around them tightened into an audible silence. Cara sat frozen, staring into nothing, a distraught expression on her face. Her surrounding had faded; the clanging of dishes sounded as if far away, muffled behind an invisible wall of batting. A thin streak of wetness glistened on her cheek as she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Her hands moved to her sides, searching for the familiar pain of her agiels, trying to soothe the burning agony in her belly. She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat, taking a few moments to regain control over her features. Only slowly she got her focus back on Zedd´s voice, who continued to narrate.
"Something inside Kahlan has broken then, she is not much more than a puppet on a string, dedicated to her duties. Her body recovered over the weeks, but her soul never stopped bleeding. On the surface she never betrayed her feelings, she simply refused talking about it. She never told anyone what had happened. She worked hard to regain her force and went back to her duties. That was the time when she sent Richard to D´Hara, wishing him to distract him from his grieving. He was the one who broke down, his mourning flowed thickly through the Palace and Kahlan had neither the strength nor the willpower to solace him." A sudden wave of anger swept briefly over his face."For sure, Dennee was there, trying to comfort him, but he rebuffed her very decidedly. As you know he travelled to the People´s Palace for almost six months. When he came back he tried to regain Kahlan´s heart, but all he got was some distant friendship. Whatever had been between them during all that times of fight against Darken Rahl and the Keeper, it had been gone, had not been enough to let them live a life together. Richard had a hard time to admit it to himself. For some months he tended to visit the taverns of Aydindril to drown his sorrows. Kahlan tried many times to talk some reason into him, their quarrels were audible all over the palace, until even their friendship was on the edge of shattering. So, eventually he decided to leave." Zedd looked at Cara with a resigned sigh. "And that is when he decided to bring you here. He is desperate. He still loves her with every fiber of his being. But after all he has recognized that he means no good to her. For you he knows and expects you to be loyal and trusted. For his own sake, he needs to know that a true friend is by her side if she needs one. And more than this." His tired eyes locked with hers, piercing her with his intense glare.
"At last, Cara, there have been times when we all considered you to be her friend. Maybe we see you as her last chance; that youmight be able to call her back to life; "
Cara glowered at him without seeing him. Zedd could literally watch the muddle of emotions whirl behind her forehead. Every muscle in her body seemed to be tensed. After what felt like a small eternity filled with heavy silence, she slowly stood, clenching her jaw and turned around without a word, pacing out of the kitchen. Only when the door clung shut behind her she quickened her pace, until she reached the palace entrance and started to run.
The constant murmurs finally dimmed, the line of the petitioners was slowly getting smaller. Like on all these days, when the public was allowed to bring their petitions up to the first chair of Aydindril, people had besieged the palace since early morning hours to be heard by the Confessors. The day seemed to stretch endlessly; time had passed as viciously as resin bled from tapped wood. Some had stood in groups while waiting, heatedly debating their cases, others had sit silently, brooding, and some had waited nervously, permanently fidgeting with their packs, completely intimidated by the unfamiliar and impressive atmosphere inside these halls of the palace. Simple peasants were waiting beside noblemen, men beside women, servants beside soldiers. To the first chair it did not count who they were and were they came from. They had all the same right to speak to the Mother Confessor in these public audiences. A few of them had even brought their own food, jealously watching that no one came too near to steal it. It was not necessary, though, because the palace´s servants saw for all of them, providing them with food and water while they awaited their turn. Mistress Sanderholt, who was all around, watched over all, surveying a fair dispersal and offering calming words every now and then or a warm hug if she felt it needed,.
While the setting sun already started to wrap the palace into a beaming orange light Kahlan felt exhaustion nagging at her mind. Finally she found the last ones standing in front of her; a family, coming from a small village near Aydindril, who had arrived on late afternoon; an almost palpable aura of despair wavering around them. Despite their late arrival they had been allowed to line up with the others. All of them had the same right to receive her imparted attention, her compassion and her patience. Kahlan would never complain. But after more than 12 hours and uncounted cases to judge she got tired, her focus became a little blurred and she sent a silent plea to the spirits to let this day come to an end. Her head wanted to burst with all the worries that had rained down on her constantly during the day, and the image, that flickered up whenever her thoughts lost a bit of their focus, hadn´t make her duty easier.
- It had been on her way to the council hall this morning. All at once she had felt her; sensed her before her eyes had seen her. A tickling on her neck had made her gaze search for her. The blonde had stood silently between the pillars, barely visible; her face shadowed with an unfamiliar expression of sorrow as she stared at her querying as if staring right into her soul. The same moment she realized Kahlan´s scrutiny, she had turned and melted back into the shadows like a ghost, and the brunette had shortly wondered if she had not been. Since then she felt unable to ban that look from her mind. To ban the question of what that look might have tried to tell her…
An ungentle nudge from her sister, sitting to her left, almost startled her now. Dennee had spent her day with her own hardly smaller line of people, listening to petitioners who sought for her judgment in easier cases, like some kind of neighborhoods rows... Now she joined the last two hours of Kahlan´s audience. She awaited the end of the hearing impatiently and the distractions that draw her sister´s mind away again and again made her nervous. She shot her a rebuking glare, barely restraining from tapping her fingers on the arm rest and sighed relieved when Kahlan´s gaze eventually focused again and caught the tears that streamed from the eyes of the peasant´s wife. An instant pang of guilt shot through the Mother Confessor´s chest.
The family standing in front of her had appeared with two of their children, a blonde girl of maybe four years snuggled into her mother´s arms, peeping shyly to the highest authority of the Midlands while chewing on its thumb, a gangling boy in his fourteens or fifteens, standing slouchy beside his father, traces of dried tears drawing thin lines into the dust that covered his cheeks. They had come to ask for her help because her second daughter was missing.
"When did it happen?" Kahlan asked carefully. The father tried to keep his voice steady. "It happened today in the early morning. Tom..." he pointed to his son, who´s eyes already brimmed with tears again, "Tom had left her on a small clearing beside the river. She had found a blessed bird and wanted to take care of it and he told her to wait for him while he wanted to check his springs. He says he was gone for only 10 minutes!" The boy nodded wildly while new streaks of tears wet his cheeks, "but when he came back she wasn´t there. He searched himself for a long time. He came home when he could not find her and then we went all to search for her." The tall and beefy man now sobbed uncontrolled like a child. "We could not find her either! We are afraid that she fell into the water and the river has taken her..." His teary eyes locked firmly with the deep blue compassion of Kahlan´s gaze. "Please, Mother Confessor, we need your help! She is just a little girl" his voice cracked and his deep bow threatened to turn into a break down to her feet. "What is her name?" Kahlan asked softly.
"Her name is Carolyn, Mother Confessor" he was barely audible while his wife sobbed desperately and clung to the perturbed looking little one in her arms.
The Mother Confessor stood slowly and approached them. But she stopped when sudden fear appeared briefly in the mother´s eyes, reminding her bitterly that wrapping her arms around the woman and solacing her would probably force only more despair because their horror of her magic. She suppressed a frustrated sigh and made do with a gentle, reassuring look into the teary brown eyes while she called for her guard.
A soldier hasted immediately to stand straight in front of her, waiting for her orders.
"See to it, that thirty of our men will accompany this family and help them search their daughter Carolyn. She is a blonde girl of nine years. I expect them to check every stone in the area and down the riverside for at least five leagues. The neighbors have to be asked if they have seen her or if they have noticed something. Anything! And they will see that messengers leave to the near villages to inform everyone about Carolyn´s missing. They will report directly to me."
The peasant broke into tears of relieve, a hint of hope shimmering through the wet veil and he fell to his knees, trying to get a grip of the hem of her dress and press his lips to it. "Thank you, Mother Confessor. With so many men we will find her. Thank you so much for your help!"
Kahlan gestured him to stand and looked at his wife, sorrow for her loss tugging painfully at her heart and her eyes narrowed in honest compassion.
"I wish I could do more, my child. May the Spirits be with you." She stood still in her calm Confessor´s posture of strength until they had left through the wide wooden door. Only then she allowed her shoulders to sack and her face contorted in sorrow. When she turned to Dennee her gaze told a lot about her fears.
"Dear Creator, I hope they will find her. That this little girl is alive..."
Her sister slowly rose and sighed. "It is a tragic...But, don´t you think it´s weird? It almost resembles the case in this other village on the far side of Aydindril, ten days ago. Do you remember? It was after that bad weather was moving over the region. Two girls are missing since then; they were seen last time beside the stream as well."
"Their names are Miriam and Naddy. I have not given up on them yet. I still hope that they will be found and safe..." she gave her sister a sad look, "...as Carolyn should be."
"She surely is, Kahlan. By now the river is untroubled." Dennee looked thoughtfully and murmured: "Though maybe it´s not just a weird coincidence... I mean, little girls have never vanished before a Mord Sith settled in here..."
Kahlan whipped around and stared at her, anger sparkling in her eyes instantly. "Dennee! I will not allow you to create such silly rumors!"
"You will not allow me..." Dennee mocked her lowly, quirking a brow, but then shrugged insouciantly. "I´m just saying... Ah, forget it. You know how little girls are; maybe she followed a gaudy butterfly and has just lost her way. Her father is right. With the assistance of so many men they will find her soon."
Dennee´s black dress rustled lowly as she walked by, linking arms with her sister. "Now let´s go for dinner, Kahlan. Mistress Sanderholt has prepared some meal for us and already awaits us in her realm since hours. It has been a long day." Kahlan nodded acquiescently, still holding a slight frown on her face. Though there was nothing less important than dinner now. She felt no hunger; but she appreciated the idea to sit at the large table in the kitchen instead of her empty chambers, and listen to Mistress Sanderholt, who had always some news to tell to soothe her mind; some gossip from the town, or little rumors she had heard from the soldiers… Or talks she had had with the wizard; ...and the Mord Sith...
While walking through the palace, Dennee told her more details about the messenger she had met the day before.
"They are in a massive inner crisis. King Sadom has not much more time to live. And as he has no heir the sons of his brother are combating for the throne. The King tried his best to solve the problem on his own. But as the envoy reported, it has already created too much a stir. The two of them are instigating peasants against merchants, noblemen against soldiers. They corrupt the people in many ways to gain more power. Our help is needed." She shot a glance to her sister from the corner of her eyes. An almost adulating smile played around her lips.
"I think it is time, Kahlan, for the Mother Confessor to return to the tradition of traveling for judgment. Comorra needs your help. Their case does not concern the welfare of the Midlands. Therefore we can´t order them to ask the council. But if you, as our highest authority, will judge it, you have a good chance to avoid a civil war inside their frontiers. Which would probably lead to much more riot in their neighbor realms.
And at last, I am convinced it would be a good break for you, Kahlan. You need some time away from the palace, where everything must remind you of…the past."
Kahlan sighed and shot her a huffish glance, annoyed by her always slightly monishing tone; decorating some kind of a sneer. "Can it be that you are trying to cajole me into leaving?" Seeing Dennee´s eyes struck and hurt, she swiftly put her hand on her arm to calm her and smoothed her voice. "I will consider it, okay? Let me talk to Zedd. I think we can arrange a little journey. Comorra is just an eight days ride away. Zedd and I would be back in less than three weeks... The next council meeting is called for the end of the month. Do you think you can take my place for the time?"
The black robe swung in a whirl as Dennee whipped around with proudly beaming eyes, swiftly bowing before her, a satisfied smile brightening her features. "Of course I can, Mother Confessor!"
Standing at the edge of the trees her eyes traveled dreamily over the silhouettes of hills and mountains. Kahlan loved this place. Since her childhood it had always been her personal refuge. In this spot live seemed to ease for a while and her heart could settle for a rest...So she hoped it would do today, before her soon departure for Comorra.
It was one of the rare grateful moments when she allowed herself the luxury of reveling in the beauty that were the midlands in this late springtime; let the jaunty sounds of chirping birds gently caress her ears; the light breeze that whispered through the leaves tenderly kiss her tired soul. She shut her eyes closed and raised her face into the warm sunlight; every inch of her skin seemed to tingle with appreciation. With a deep breath she inhaled the fragrances around her, the scent of wild flowers that flattered her senses, the earthy flavor that still remained from the early morning´s dew. Something close to a long forgotten happiness flickered through her veins. An overwhelming feeling of lightness danced briefly through her mind. She had taken off her boots; the childish need to feel the strength of young grass under her bare feet had become too urgent, and now she hummed lowly at the soft tickling at her soles.
Only slowly she realized that it was not the grass that tickled at her feet. She could not help but chuckle, gazing at the soft nose that snuffled on her bare skin.
"Hey, Shadow, have I missed something? When has meat become your new favorite?" Kahlan turned slowly to pat the horse's neck beneath the dark waves of his mane. His head rose, soft dark brown eyes watching her cautiously, while he chewed devoutly on a mouthful of lush, green blades. His ears perked up briefly, quickly relaxing again. He jostled his head playfully against her chest, making her stumble back a little. While a small puff of air escaped her chest a wide smile spread over her face. Her eyes beamed with affection when she approached the huge animal again.
"You too enjoy it, don´t you?" With a tender smile she reached out to gently scratch the spot between his ears where she knew he liked it the most. "It´s much too rare that we can steal us away, I know. I should give you more opportunities to stretch your legs, to just run and leave the stables behind. I´ll try to do better, I promise. At least, we will be on a long ride soon..." She stroke softly over his back. The fur, of a light grey, shimmering with a warm shade in the color of nutmegs, felt still slightly dump from the long gallop that had brought them here. With a patient smile she allowed him to rub his forehead heavily against her arm before his head ducked down again, plucking more grass and herbs and chewing noisily.
"Do you know what the secret of such moments is? Why I love it to be here? No?" She turned back to the sight, leaning against the horse´s side, staring up to the clear shapes of the mountains.
"It´s the peace you find here... peace of soleness. Simple living. There is only you and me and the sky above. There is no one who observes you. No one who´s reminding you to your duty. No decisions... No commitments..." her voice drifted away until it was nothing more than a murmur. A sigh stole its way from her lips. Her gaze became thoughtfully.
"No chains..." Her eyes narrowed slightly. She pushed off the soft wall of Shadow´s side and strode the few steps to the log where she had left the saddle and her boots, settling on the wood and leaning back to the trunk behind her. Her eyes returned to their little travels along the horizon. Shadow followed her leisurely and started grazing by her side.
Chains and ropes... Kahlan took a deep breath. Had not that been the recurrent theme in her life?
Looking back she felt like she had always been wrapped and tied, like her entire life had been that of a prisoner. Like she couldn´t remember a single day where she had been granted the chance to be only herself.
Kahlan Amnell. No more, no less.
Almost forgotten the lucky carefree days when she was a little girl. The bright love she had felt in the warmth of her mother´s embrace. Her childish happy freedom had abruptly ended the day her mother had died; the gentle reins of loving education suddenly substituted by hurting iron chains with which the world had bound her...
Chains of pain and guilt; put around her wrists by her father, roughly binding her to his will.
Chains of heavy weighing duty; put around her mind by the Sisters of the Light, perpetually softly monishing her that her lifewasn´t hers.
Chains of strong concern and purpose; put around her heart by Richard; tightly wrapping her into his all consuming love – until she could not breathe anymore.
Kahlan squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her jaw; her features contorted with painful emotions; shaking her head slightly...
Be honest, Kahlan. This is not the whole truth. There have been days when you have been just yourself. The Confessor felt tears welling up in the corner of her closed eyes. She tried to swallow them down but failed. A few drops slipped from under her lashes and left a glossy trail on her cheeks.
There had been one who had never tried to bind her.
No ropes... No chains... Just truth and being.
Time had been too short...
The only one, who had never bound her, had abandoned her; had left her with the hollow echo of a never ending emptiness.
Her voice almost cracked when her teary gaze settled on her four-legged companion.
"She´s back, Shadow!" she told the horse. "Cara is back! And... Everything else has returned with her." Kahlan sighed deeply, stroking his soft lips. "I don´t know what to do." Her eyes shifted to the big brown one that watched her cautiously. "I really tried to sustain it. I thought I was done with these senseless feelings. I tried my best to be strong; avoided her as well as I could. But…" she buried her face in his mane and whispered:
"... I see her face... her eyes... and I can´t help but see her as I did before... "
Beady-eyed the Mord Sith followed her every motion from beneath the trees. Watching over the Mother Confessor secretly, Cara had come close to feel the moments when Kahlan was going to flee; to sense when she decided to steal away from the palace and rushed to the stables. It happened rarely, but she would be on her heels. Always. She knew the Mother Confessor would not allow her to follow, but she felt compelled to do so. She kept on telling herself it was because Richard had let her vow to be near her and see that she was safe. And how else should she have been able to be prepared incase that anything – or any one – would try to harm the Confessor, if she would let her strive alone through the woods.
But somewhere deep inside her mind she had long recognized that the vow to Richard had been of no need. It was not for him that she was here;
The Mord Sith gritted her teeth and cursed inwardly; realizing that these two years in which she had done everything to find back to her true essence, to being a Mord Sith, no more, no less; that it had all been in vain.
All the times she had spent in the dungeons, forcing Berdine to train her; her hanging in chains; her bleeding under the screaming touches of an agiel; her longing and her efforts for regaining her former condition as a true Mord Sith; all her newly settled power and control… everything had swept away in a single heartbeat on her arrival in Aydindril; when her eyes had locked with these blue diamond's as they had seared straightly through her walls and burnt all her defenses into ashes.
Defeated before the battle even had begun.
She hardly suppressed a growl, gripping her agiels; hating this helpless feeling of her own weakness; but she had no choice. After all she was still Mord Sith. All she could do was keeping focus on her duty.
Cara huffed annoyed, thinking of Zedd, who hoped that she of all people could help Kahlan. This crazy big old fool...
The Confessor shot a last glance to the mountains, steeling her mind for her return to the Palace and stood decidedly. It was time to head back. With some effort she shoved her melancholic mood aside and hauled the heavy saddle on Shadow´s back as gently as possible, starting to arrange the cinches to fix it. The horse stood patiently, waiting for her to mount, appreciating the soft tone of her voice.
"Maybe the time has come to come to an arrangement. At last," she shrugged faintly, "it does not seem as if she will simply disappear again..." her eyes swept slowly over the near logs, searching for her boots. Shadow received an absent pat on his back, while she huffed: "I can´t help, you know. Sometimes I could swear she is near. Watching me... She seems to be always around. Even if I can´t see her, I can feel her every presence..."
Shadow´s neck muscles tensed slightly as if on a cue, his ears swiveling back. Kahlan watched him attentively as he lifted his head a little, his ears now focusing on the tree line behind them. She huffed with a faint smile. "Do you understand now what I mean?" she whispered, and then inhaled fatalistically, biting her lower lip. Well, she already knew she would soon have to face her. So why not now? She straightened before her voice echoed through the air. She didn´t turn around, knowing her words would be heard anyway.
So be it...
"I know you are there, Cara! You can get out of the trees. You are unmasked."
She had to wait a few heartbeats until she finally heard her approaching. Slowly she turned to see the Mord Sith coming out of the shadows. Kahlan clenched her jaw as she was not prepared for her blood speeding up in its flow, not for the slight brushes like of feather light wings tickling the walls inside her belly as she watched her sauntering near; the familiar trademark sway in her hips caught her breath for a moment. Her hands held the reins of a tall black horse that followed her steps, head held high in pride, as if mirroring Cara´s own posture.
The blonde stopped an arm length away, tilting her head and eying the Confessor with a provoking smirk.
"I´m sorry, Mother Confessor. I had not intended to frighten you."
Kahlan´s lips smiled resigned. "No need to worry. You did not frighten me, Cara! You are following me since weeks. Am I finally allowed to learn about your reasons though?"
The blonde cocked a hip, her eyes washed over the grey horse which had turned and now faced her, watching her intensely, the muscles of its neck still tensed, its ears perked up warily. The sea-green gaze shifted to Kahlan´s bare feet, lingering there for a few moments while she arched her brows and then looked up into her eyes, her voice somewhere between mocking and perplexity.
"I thought it necessary that someone should be near you, in case someone would try to barge into your...privacy. Or you were looking for some... audience." Her lips started to curl into a grin.
Kahlan had blushed fiercely when she got aware of the childish sight she must offer with her bare feet, her boots still lying somewhere between the logs, but her eyebrow rose resolutely. "I hate to disappoint you, Cara, but no, thank you! This is my last opportunity to come here for a while and I feel absolutely comfortable spending some time of my own here. I don´t need any...audience!"
Forehead furrowed, the Mord Sith slowly cocked her head." Are you sure? I mean... I watched you: You are talking! ...To a horse!"
Kahlan couldn´t help but smile at the wobbliness that swept over the blonde´s features, her eyes narrowed on the horse, her hand gesturing almost reproachful to the beast that held its head just a few inches above Kahlan´s shoulder. A swift glance to the brown eye that stared suspiciously at the Mord Sith, told Kahlan clearly that neither horse nor Mord Sith trusted each other. If a horse could frown, Shadow would do. She stepped aside, out of the way between them and then gestured emphatically seriously from horse to Mord Sith and vice versa.
"Shadow, this is Cara, the Mord Sith! ...Cara, this is Shadow!" Now she smiled openly, affectionately beaming at the grey horse.
"And he is not just a horse… He is my friend!"
Cara´s brows climbed up, still eying him with a distrusting glare. "Your friend." Her entire posture was made of disbelieve when she gave a small snort of disgust and shifted her bemused eyes to Kahlan. "Strange friends you have made. What has happened to your tradition to engage in some ordinary people? Are they not enough friends to have a talk to?"
Kahlan looked at her briefly, slightly stiffening while her brows furrowed. When she answered, a distant wave of bitterness washed faintly through her words: "People... come and go, Cara... It happens that they just decamp." She shook her head. "They are not trustable."
Cara set her jaw and stared fixedly on her own boots, literally feeling Kahlan´s voice drop heavily on her shoulders. Why did it feel like she had just received a slap? Frowning she heard the Confessor move and looked up to see her walking to the log, fishing for her boots while she kept speaking.
"Shadow is different. He will not shy away! He trusts me. As I trust him."
Cara looked bewildered. She tilted her head thoughtfully and blurted out: "But, was not this the horse that caused..." she pointed to the huge beast, not finishing her question.
Kahlan whipped around, anger flashing from narrowed eyes under deeply knitted brows.
"Who told you?" She almost hissed, but when no answer came, her features slid easily into her Confessor´s mask, controlling any signs of emotions; only her voice holding a clear warning.
"Whatever you heard, you may consider half of it as random palace-gossip. And for the rest?" Her chin rose while her brows furrowed. "I am alive! And I am fine. And as I do not blame him for losing my child, no one else has the right to do so. He saved me! In many ways. There is nothing more to say." She held one of her boots and settled on the log to put it on, small muscles in her cheeks working, hardly visible. It was the only sign of some inner turmoil.
Cara´s gaze lingered thoughtfully on her for a few heartbeats, lips pursed, eyes slightly narrowed and a faint crease crinkling her forehead. Finally she turned and put the reins over her horse´s neck, mounting in an easy, swinging motion. Sitting straight and silent she waited for the Mother Confessor to set the bit of Shadows bridle, before she mounted too and headed towards Aydindril without a word, forcing her horse into a slow trot.
They rode in silence, with stiffened shoulders and stony faces. But side by side.
Only their horses showed their stressed mood, threatening each other with flattened ears every now and then, evidently bothered by their unfamiliar closeness…
Cara took the horses to the stables and then stood in the opening of the box. The tall grey horse still eyed her wearily with half-flattened ears and a tense neck. Apparently Shadow was unsure of what he had to expect of her. The Mord Sith leaned against the wooden frame and looked him over. At last the horse decided that this human was momentarily of no danger and his ears peeked up in curiosity, though his neck kept tense.
"Her friend, hm?... Saved her, hm?" Cara pursed her lips and shook her head. With a challenging glare she moved her hand slowly, what made the horse lift its head and lay its ears close to its neck. The blonde grinned.
"You better arrange with me, friend! Cause I am her friend too, though she doesn´t want to see it. And if you really saved her" her hand dropped the apple she had held, "I very appreciate that." Still grinning she turned and left.
Shadow waited until she had vanished, before he ducked his nose and searched for the apple...
Stepping out of the stables she had to blink against the sun, not sure if she really saw Kahlan standing there on the first step of the wide staircase that led to the palaces entrance, waiting for her with impatient eyes, tilting her head as the blonde stopped astonished.
"Are you coming eventually?" The question sounded peevish and Cara considered briefly an icy retort, but then headed wordlessly towards the steps. The brunette did not wait until she reached her but turned around and while heading to the entrance she stated over her shoulder: "I think it is time that we talk about your... position in this palace."
Cara fixed her gaze on the white marble stone she set her feet on and followed in silence, her lips twitching into a smug grin. This was definitely going to be the best day she had ever since she came to Aydindril.
They made their way through the palace in silence. Cara followed the Mother Confessor just two steps behind, carefully observing their surroundings. Most of the guards on duty acknowledged the Mord Sith by the Mother Confessor´s side with stealthy glances, some even allowed a frown when they passed, but Cara simply stared them down, shooting dangerous flashes to every guard who narrowed his eyes on her being so close to the Mother Confessor. None of them dared to show their distrust openly, but it was clear that the entire palace would know about the news in the shortest of time. They reached the entrance to Kahlan´s working chambers without any interruption, though. But then, in front of the wooden doors, the Confessor stopped, wordlessly giving Cara a hesitating side-glance, a small doubt washing briefly over her features. Yet, while the blonde already started frowning, wondering if she would retract at last, the Confessor took a deep breath and pushed the door open, beckoning Cara to follow her.
It was not the first time that Cara entered the working chambers of the Midlands highest authority. But it was definitely the first time that she entered them unhidden. She couldn´t deny herself a smirk when she stepped inside, head held high and shoulders straightened proudly. Though at the sight of Dennee, who sat at the far side of the wide, comfortably furnished room at Kahlan´s desk and now shifted her gaze expectantly, her brow twitched disturbed. The fragile Confessor raised immediately, her eyes darkening at her sight under deeply furrowed brows. Beside the desk Cara noticed Zedd, who just stopped pacing nervously at their entrance, raising a brow at her with no less surprise than Dennee.
Four pairs of eyes switched bemused from one to another, Dennee´s swiftly narrowing angrily at the unexpected sight of the blonde, who withstood her stare with a demonstrative nonchalance, still wearing a barely hidden smirk on her lips.
Kahlan stopped in front of the desk, her gaze sweeping briefly over her sister with a questioning smile and finally settling on Zedd.
"Dennee; Zedd? What are you doing here?" Even her soft voice was filled with a smile. It was far too rare these days that she met her old friend and she was happy to see him, though slight concern wanted to crawl under her skin when she met his nervous eyes.
"What is SHE doing here?" came Dennee´s gruff retort. A hostile finger pointed at the Mord Sith, who stood just a step behind Kahlan.
The brunette followed the direction and her eyes briefly met Cara´s stoic gaze. "We have some matters to talk over" she answered with a short shrug, as if it was the most casual thing ever, clearly not intending to explain things further to her sister. Dennee´s face contorted with disgust as she eyed the Mord Sith angrily. Yet, she had caught Kahlan´s tone; she would not answer her question of what such matters might be. So she shot one crabby glare to the blonde before passably smoothing her voice to declare:
"Zedd has found strange news from Richard in the journey book. It seems to be important and I think we should talk about thisfirst!" She waved her hand arrogantly towards Cara, addressing her in a dismissive gesture. "You... may ask later for a meeting!"
A frown settled instantly on her sister's face. Kahlan rebuked her with narrowed eyes and a calm but monishing voice.
"Cara will stay. You know she is Richard´s deputy while he´s absent and it is surely meant for her ears as well if he sends important news!"
All the three of them noticed the short flash of rage in Dennee´s eyes before she was able to school her features and dropped her gaze wordlessly. Kahlan turned and leaned on the desk top, her back straight; her curious eyes met Zedd´s with an affectionate smile, waiting for him to speak.
Cara had followed the short arguing without any visible signs of her thoughts. But now she felt a sudden twitch in her stomach as her gaze settled briefly on the beautiful frame of the Mother Confessor, a swift and confusing wave of warmth passing through her chest. She resisted the attempt to curl her lips and instead bit her cheek and frowned to focus on the words she heard.
"I found this in the journey book this morning." Zedd handed the Mother Confessor the opened book. The heavy leather of its cover felt warm and slightly vivid in her hands. A faint, mixed scent of dark forests and stretching grass plains, like a slight breeze of upcoming rain swept through her mind, like it always did when she came to hold a journey book. Kahlan had never been sure if it was the book´s magic, telling her of the many places it had seen, or if her mind was cullying her.
Running now over the page she recognized Richards hand in a jiffy. Her features slowly changed from curiosity into worry while reading, before she eventually lifted her gaze to Zedd´s pale eyes with apprehension.
"What does this mean?" Without looking at the blonde she passed the book to Cara, sensing her by her side. The Mord Sith swiftly read it over, slightly furrowing when she finished.
Zedd, I need your assistance here. It is indispensable that you travel immediately to the People´s Palace. I expect your arrival as soon as possible.
Send Dennee my kind regards, I hope she is fine – and give Kahlan a hug, tell her I think of her, and give Cara… a smile. (... she wouldn´t appreciate your hug...)
A slight snort was heard of the blonde. The Mord Sith did not even want to think about being pulled into a hug, especially not if coming from a certain bony old wizard.
Zedd cleared his throat, before he looked sternly into the brunette´s eyes. "This means that I have to go, Kahlan. I have no idea why he´s calling me. But you know him; there must be some serious reasons for him if he sounds so urgently. Richard seems to be in some kind of trouble, or he sees things approaching."
"But why does he not tell us his reasons? Why does he hide them?" Kahlan shook her head, a deep line knitting her forehead. "This is not like Richard, Zedd. He would not order you without any further explanation. He knows that he perturbs us..."
A huff came from her sister. "I really can´t see why this should perturb us, Kahlan. Maybe he was just in a hurry and didn´t have time to declare what it´s about?" Dennee shrugged weakly. "If he thought we´d have reason to worry he surely would have given us a hint."
"Or... he did not want everyone to know about it!" Cara drawled lowly. Kahlan turned towards her, staring interrogatively with furrowed brows. "You say he does not trust us?"
Cara merely shrugged. "He had time enough to greet all of us; which would be certainly an unforgivable lavishness if he was in a hurry. So why not tell us what´s the matter?"
Dennee snorted noisily. "Like if you would know him. You are talking about things you have no clue of! Richard knows we are his friends. And of course he trusts us. All of us." And as if giving it a second thought, she eyed Cara slowly and meaningfully from head to toe: "Although…"
Kahlan ignored their little hassle and addressed herself to Zedd. "As far as I know he has not written for longer time now. Or was there something else? Something particular? Perhaps in his last notes? Anything?"
The wizard stared at the book and frowned thoughtfully, shaking his head. The slight sway of is thin white hair made him suddenly look old and almost weak. It could have been just the way he dropped his head with slacked shoulders, but Kahlan noticed it anyway. If they weren´t in a serious meeting, she would have run to him and hugged him, just to show him how much she cared. Instead she gave him a glance of scrutiny, waiting for him to continue. "No, I have considered it already... Just yesterday he sent a short note that he was happy that Verna has arrived and sent her regards to everyone. But no concern in his words. It was nothing but a short hello. I twisted it into every meaning I could think of. But I´m sorry, I can find no deeper message lying in it.
And that is the other reason why I feel disturbed. Bags, ladies, this is slap-bang! Something must have happened there. Something he cannot – or does not want to speak about with any of us through the journal book. But whatever it is, if you agree, and I very appreciated if you would, I will leave tomorrow. I can reach the People´s Palace in less than ten days and see what´s going on..."
Dennee had moved and approached while he spoke; now she grabbed his arm hard, turning him to face her. Her face held the features of a Confessor on duty, authority and determination hung in the air around her. "I already told you Zedd, you cannot leave now for D´Hara! Everything is prepared for your journey to Comorra. They need our intervention; better today than tomorrow! And you will go there tomorrow. You know how tense the situation in Comorra is actually. They can´t wait any longer for our help. We can´t let them down now! You would not want to be responsible for a civil war there, would you?" She straightened in resolve and folded her arms under her chest, untouched by the swift angry glance he shot her from under his bushy brows, frowning deeply at her presumptuousness. "Richard will need to be patient until your return." She looked fiercely into his eyes, her gaze almost conjuring.
Kahlan still leaned on the desk plate, her eyes travelling in thoughtful zigzags over the carpet, reflecting on what she had heard. Now she looked up at Zedd and nodded slowly. A faint, reassuring smile flowed along with her calm voice.
"Do not be worried if you have to leave, Zedd. I acknowledge the concern in your eyes. And I agree with you. I can´t imagine Richard merely playing with our concerns. If he says it is indispensible I believe him. But you should not go unguarded. We can give you a few men to accompany you. "
Dennee had whipped around while she spoke, her eyes had widened in surprise, mixed with a rush of quickly heated anger on her features. Never had she expected Kahlan to overturn her conviction. Her stare was a flash of fury that burned on Kahlan´s skin; though the brunette pretended not to notice, her eyes still resting on Zedd with a supporting smile.
The old wizard broke into a smile and sighed relieved. "Thank you, dear one. I hoped you would agree with me. And for the men – there is no need. I know my grandson; he will send a quad or two to guard me. I´m probably supposed to meet them right after reaching the frontier to D´Hara. And until I´ll meet them I can well look out for myself. You know, I am yet not as weak as people may think, I still have some ideas if I get into trouble..." he wiggled his white brows and grinned whimsically.
Dennee stared at her in disbelieve. "Kahlan! You cannot allow him to go to D´Hara. What about Comorra? Do you really want to leave them stranded? You disappoint every hope they might have rested. If you do not go there, you practically sentence Comorra to war!" Her hands gestured fiercely, her voice was on the edge to screech. "You will betray everything you are taught! It is.. your duty!.. as the Mother Confessor..." finally it seemed to leave her speechless.
The Mother Confessor stood and circled her desk, taking seat in her chair. She leaned back, pursing her lips, crossing her legs and looked up. She faintly noticed how the Mord Sith retreated almost automatically a few paces to stand now a step behind her. Taking a deep breath she shook her head slowly, obviously pondering the alternatives.
"I do not intend to abandon them." She said firmly. "I will travel to Comorra. And I will leave tomorrow, as it has been decided. But I will go there without Zedd."
For a moment her sister looked at her with widening eyes, just as though she had declared she considered to walk the whole way to Comorra nakedly. In the next heartbeat she had pulled herself together, though her sneering voice still sounded a little strident.
"And how exactly do you propose to go there? Kahlan! There is a reason why Confessors always traveled with their wizard by their side. You cannot go there alone! There might be a troop of 50 men accompanying you, but they have to stay outside of the King´s Palace. You will be unguarded while stirring up a hornet´s nest!" she shook her head peremptorily. "Even considering such a risk is irrational, sister!"
Kahlan sat upright, her brilliant blue gaze had settled sternly on her sister. For an instant she felt tempted to laugh bitterly. Dennee had really become an enigma to her. Had not she been the one who declared their journey to Comorra the only way to avoid a civil war? And now, instead of searching a solution for their new problem, she only insisted on Zedd´s company?
Resting her elbows on the arm rests of her chair she folded her hands in her lap and raised her chin. Looking steadfastly into her sister's wrought-up gaze she cocked her head, knowing that her next words were going to agitate her completely. Firmly holding Dennee´s dark grey gaze, she said calmly:
"Don´t worry, Dennee. I will not be unguarded." Kahlan set her jaw decidedly and inhaled deeply. "Cara will go with me." She almost smiled at the sound of a sudden small gasp from behind and briefly imagined the look on the blondes face. But she did not turn to face her. Instead she watched Dennee´s features slipping in disbelieve, her expression swiftly changing from surprise into fury. She tried to keep her voice calm and smiling while she continued. Though her words were resolved; she did not intend to discuss her decision.
"As a Mord Sith she has the capability to guard the Mother Confessor. And I can tell she´s a fierce warrior. Besides she will be allowed to stay by my side in the palace of King Sadom. I am sure she will be a worthy substitute for a wizard. You should not worry about that. We will leave tomorrow as it was planned; together with Zedd. First we will accompany him to the frontiers. From there we will go on to Comorra. That means just a loss of two days until we´ll reach King Sadom´s palace. And all the same we make sure that Zedd´s journey is safe, just in case that trouble lies on his way. I don´t want him to travel alone if Richard thinks of...whatever a problem it might be." She waved her hand impatiently to interrupt Dennee´s weak attempt to drop in.
"In the meanwhile the troop can go ahead to prepare our arrival in Comorra. I want you to inform them of their new orders. See for it that they understand that I don´t want them to interfere in any situation they´ll find there before our arrival! But they should make clear, that the Mother Confessor expects the people of Comorra to respect law and tradition of the Midlands. And if anyone dares to ignore that, they will not like the consequences. They will make camp a league away of their palace and await us there. Before I will meet with his nephews I want to speak to King Sadom alone. Please, prepare a message for him about that."
Her sister was still staring at her, her lips pressed into a thin line, barely controlling her emotions. Now Kahlan nodded slowly. "I think that is all for the moment." She briefly dropped her eyes to the desk, before finally turning to face the blonde Mord Sith, who stood motionless a step behind her chair. She tilted her head and asked, faintly teasing:
"Now, does this kind of a position meet your approval, Mistress Cara?"
The blonde Mord Sith wore a stern look on her face as she shortly bowed her head in respect. "Your wish is my order, Mother Confessor." Kahlan saw the corners of her lips twitch ever so slightly. "Well, so be it." The brunette stood and gave a tired smile. "I am sure you want to speak to me privately, Dennee.
Zedd; Cara; we will leave tomorrow after sunrise."
The wizard bowed with a warm smile on his face, blinking reassuringly at her and left, but not without shooting a brief glance to the Mord Sith. Cara hesitated for a second, but when the Mother Confessor tilted her head at her and waited, she finally turned and left too, though frowning disapprovingly.
Kahlan waited until the door had closed, before she sighed and turned to face her sister. Dennee had moved and now stood beside the fireside, staring into the low sizzling flames. Kahlan could not see her face; she had dropped her head, hiding behind her long curls. The brunette regarded thoughtfully for her a long moment, before she finally approached her.
"Dennee?" It shortly struck her when she saw the hurt in her sister´s eyes, entangled with silent reproach as she turned and looked at her. The grey blue of her gaze veiled with a watery shimmer, her face even paler than usual; underlined by her long loose curls in the color of mahogany. Her frame looked slim and fragile and flexed somehow, as if under a heavy weight. But yet, while the familiar feeling of guilt welled up in her chest, Kahlan had the distinct impression of looking into the eyes of a stranger, meeting her with upbraiding and disappointment. She sighed deeply.
"No, please, don´t look at me like I sentenced someone to death, Dennee. I don´t know what the problem is: you wanted me to go to Comorra? I will go there! You wanted me to go there protected? I will do so! So what is it that stirs you so much?" She shrugged uncomprehendingly.
The younger Confessor gave her an exasperated look. "I can´t believe you decided this without talking to me! You just ignored my every opinion, Kahlan! In front of her! As if I was no more than one of your underlings. I don´t get you anymore!
After all, sister, what am I for you? I am good enough to assist in the matters of duty! I was good enough to prop you up when you arrived here, seeming more dead than alive! I was good enough to take care of the Midlands AND of Richard while you let yourself go for weeks, grieving over the death of your child. I have always supported you; even when you selfishly decided to not have another child with Richard. I have done everything for you, Kahlan. And that´s what you give in return? The minute this red leathered monster steps into the room I am written off? Am I not worthy to discuss your decisions before you are running into action? I... I am deeply disappointed, Kahlan. I thought I meant more to you by now... And" Dennee shook her head as words seemed to leave her, and finally huffed "I don´t trust her!" and stared at her, her cheeks now flushed in a deep purple, her anger raining down on Kahlan like liquid sparks of embers. Kahlan frowned, tilting her head towards her sister, surprised by the burning heat that swept from her words, and hurt by their sharp edges. Closing her eyes she inhaled deeply, wondering briefly why it was, that Dennee always brought her close to tears. She dimmed her voice into a calm and reassuring tone.
"You know you are wrong, Dennee! You are my sister. I love you, more than you will ever acknowledge; and I so very appreciate you by my side. I always did. But...fact is that I am the Mother Confessor. I am the one responsible for all of the Midlands and yes, I make decisions! And if you don´t like them, I am sorry for that. Since I came back to Aydndril I have always involved you into my business. I know I did. I have taken everything you have offered so eagerly. And maybe I have taken too much from you. I am very grateful for all your love and your help. But see, you can´t take the duty away from me and carry it on your own shoulders." Her gaze softened, seeing how the younger´s temper calmed down, until only frustration was left on her features, her cheeks losing slowly their dark shades and her eyes shifting down in slight embarrassment.
"And as for Cara... Dennee, I am certainly not looking forward to travel with her. But it is not a question of personal liking. It is just reasonable. She is a warrior and it is like you said, I can´t go there alone. Hey," she offered a faint smile, her hand reaching out to lift her sister´s chin gently, searching her eyes. "at least you will be freed of her sight for a few weeks. That isn´t too bad, don´t you think so?" Kahlan wrapped her arms around her to pull her sister into a light hug. "Everything will be okay, Dennee." She softly stroke her hair like she had done so many times to solace her little sister through scaring nights. A part of her ached, feeling the still strange slender form tense in her arms and heard her muffled voice of frowardness.
"I do not want to imagine how that monster will scoff at me now, after I have told her she should stay away from you just a few days ago..."
Kahlan pulled back so she could look into her sister's eyes, lifting a surprised brow. "You have talked to her?"
"She went by and demanded once again to see you. I got rid of her..."
"Again? Does that mean she asked before to speak to me? Why... You never told me?"
Dennee shrugged casually. "There was no reason to bother you. She just gave herself airs..."
The Mother Confessor frowned absently. Thinking of the many chance encounters with the blonde, when she had wondered why Cara not tried once to speak to her. And the light stitches of disappointment she had tried to suppress.
Had she wronged the Mord Sith?
She took a deep breath but decided to put the question off. Thinking about the journey, Cara by her side, stirred up enough in her already...
She still remembered the flutter in her stomach she had felt watching the blonde sauntering near on the clearing before.
Kahlan sighed heavily. Fearing the days she was condemned to spend alone with her on their journey...
The three men stood straight as she entered the room. She had ordered them to the meeting after her talk with Kahlan this afternoon. The troop was prepared for the journey since days and eagerly waited to leave. She knew they would accept her new orders without hesitation. But all in all it meant to define some parts of their quest anew.
Dennee draw her hood down and let her gaze sweep over them in a scrutiny. She obviously liked what she saw, given to the tight-lipped smile she offered.
"Confessor" they greeted her with an addicted bow.
Her hand waved a short impatient interruption. "I bring new orders for you. The plans have changed. The Mother Confessor will guide the wizard to the frontiers of D´Hara before she heads to Comorra."
They watched her attentively, none of them asking for the reasons, waiting for her to continue.
"As for you and the troop that means that you will head to Comorra and will prepare her arrival there. Our account executive will await you. Give him the message" she handed a sealed roll to the mountain of a man who was the one in charge, apparently in the rang of a captain. "I have explained the details therein. You will support him in every matter.
Once the Mother Confessor arrives I expect you to do everything that is needed to guarantee the success of your quest. Is this understood?" The three of them bowing as one.
"Confessor, if she is not traveling with us, is it allowed for us to ask who will guard her on her journey?"
Dennee´s eyes narrowed. "She will be with the Mord Sith at her side. She will be the one to guard her. No one else." She tilted her head with a cold glance. "And that leads me to the next..."
Nearly half a candle mark later she left the room, a satisfied glow in her gaze as she headed to her chambers. Things were set properly. If everything went right, Comorra would be fruitful.
While she rushed to change before meeting her sister and the wizard for dinner a part of the walls behind her moved quietly, uncovering a hidden door to one of the many small corridors that led through the palace, original meant as short cuts for the servants on their daily ways of duty; but most of the long forgotten.
The Mord Sith stepped cautiously out into the hall. A thoughtful frown lay on her face as she cocked her hip, hand resting firmly on her agiel, her emerald gaze burning into the back of the vanishing figure in the black robe...
Zedd sat at his desk in the Keep, a plate with fruits beside the journey book, and thought about what might expect him in D´Hara. Richards's message troubled him more than he had admitted before, he had no clue what could be behind all this. But he knew, the boy would not carelessly demand him to travel the whole way out of missing his old grandfather.
But what a pity that it had to be right now! The fact that he should fail to serve Kahlan as a wizard should, as it had been their duty all over the centuries, caused a little lump in his stomach. He had the feeling to abandon her, and he very much disliked how Dennee had reacted. Something about her made him...uneasy. She had always been a little hyped up. She had forced herself on Kahlan ever since her return to Aydindril. He had a weirdly sinking feeling about her. And it seemed as if it had become even worse since Cara had arrived.
The wizard furrowed his bushy brows; he hoped, that Kahlan would come back to her normal strength soon; the more so as Cara had told him of rumors she´d heard in town... rumors of a repining council...Kahlan was the Mother Confessor and the Midlands needed her. Her sister was nothing but a weak alternate. SHE was born to the task, she had power and might to keep the midlands safe and peaceful, though she seemingly had forgotten a good portion of all that; in fact, today had been the first time he had heard her voice rising to override her sister´s word...
He had spent most of the past months in the Keep, had brought himself up to date, had buried into reports about everything that had happened in the Midlands since he had left a quarter century ago. Two apprentices had arrived from the old world, sent by Verna and her sisters. He had his hands full; the timing for a longer journey, either of himself or of Kahlan, couldn´t be worse. He was worried about leaving Aydindril abandoned, the council listening to Dennee and vice versa.
It felt a little like leaving a roasted pig at the feet of starving wolves, ordering them to watch over it...
But he would go all the same. Only the Spirits knew why Richard had sent for him. All in all, it was obvious, that it was exigent...
And beside his concern... well, he was just a curious old wizard. It had been a while since he had seen something else then the Keep and the Confessor´s Palace. And he looked forward to meet his grandson. And Verna.
Zedd sighed and opened the journey book. He felt a breeze like of an upcoming storm, the faint scent of sweat and dust emanating from its pages.
"I am leaving tomorrow. Kahlan and Cara accompany me to the border. They will head on to Comorra. I´ll meet your quad at Woodside...
I hope you have good reasons for forcing an old man out of his comfortable chair, my boy...
Kahlan rode in surprisingly comforting silence with the Mord Sith. Zedd sat on a ponderous brown gelding, which shuffled unhurriedly far behind them, trotting a few steps every now and then, before losing contact, but then slowing down again, and whenever she turned to look out for him he grinned and seemed to be content with it.
So it was the Mother Confessor and the Mord Sith who leaded their small troop. Cara was mostly a few steps ahead, surveying their surroundings suspiciously, but Kahlan could feel how her attention turned towards her secretly whenever she made a sound. She smiled amused, comparing the blondes stiffening shoulders with the swiveling ears of her horse, which reacted all the same. It was bonny, how she held the tension for a few heartbeats before she allowed her muscles to relax again. Kahlan´s eyes were confined to the sight, the playful change of pliant moves in harmony with the horse's rhythm and the sudden tightening of muscles and straightening shoulders when her attention went behind. She found herself provoking their attention by small noises, a sudden gasp for air now or harrumphing then, just to watch the blonde straightening and listening behind with slightly tilted head. Kahlan felt weirdly content to see that she still had some kind of power to evoke some reactions of the blonde. Occasionally she pressed her teeth into her lower lip to suppress a chuckle.
She knew it was a sappy joy, but it was a joy anyway.
It did not take long until Cara huffed lowly, finally realizing the Confessor played a game, and reined her horse to wait for her to catch up. She did not turn to face her, but her pursed lips had an annoyed shape when Kahlan came alongside. The brunette shifted her eyes, barely suppressing a shy smile. But then she lifted an eyebrow, pointing to the horses.
"Seems they get used to each other…" Their first words spoken in hours had the blonde look slightly confused; but indeed, the shining black neck of Cara´s horse kept relaxed as Shadow swiftly rubbed his cheek against his new companion as a welcome. Cara frowned halfheartedly, murmured a low "traitor!" but she let the reins hang lose, allowing the black beauty to answer with a playful jostle. She considered a moment to feel a sting of envy at how easy it was for the beasts to arrange with the new situation. As for her, she was far from feeling comfortable.
Four days had already passed since their departure from Aydindril. On the first day they had quickly found a reasonable order to ride: Kahlan took the lead, for she knew best the road to D´Hara, Zedd kept in the middle, and Cara rode behind, content to have both of them in sight and making sure to be able to react to any threat from wherever it should appear. The Mord Sith had felt relieved, for she was not forced to the side of the Mother Confessor, not knowing how she would deal with such closeness. Though she so longed for, but feared the holes it would slowly cause in her meticulously build defenses, like steady water eroded its coastline. ..
Leaving Aydindril she had been the first who mounted. Zedd had given Dennee a short and strangely tense hug, taking her best wishes for his journey before mounting his horse. Cara had covertly grinned contently at the strong impression, that even she was treated with much more heart by the old wizard then Dennee. Not that it was of any importance, but a soupcon of gratification had crossed her face anyway.
Kahlan had embraced her sister heartily. The Mord Sith had not heard the words been spoken between them, but she had caught the short glance Kahlan shot secretly towards her before she gave Dennee a reassuring smile and a peck on her cheek, turning finally around and mounting elegantly.
Cara and Dennee had changed a long, disgusting glare while the others were already heading out of the palace. A glare that warned of vicious consequences should the other get in her way.
They had started in a distant and tense mood; their first stop was spent in strained silence. Only Zedd had tried to do some conversation but had given up his attempt when none of his companions answered his babbling. With nightfall Cara had left their camp for hunting; and when she came back, she found the Mother Confessor asleep. She had taken watch from Zedd. But when her time was up she did not wake Kahlan. Instead she spent the whole night sitting on a log, content with watching her sleeping in pondering silence.
The moment, when the brunette´s eyes finally snapped open, just a candle mark before sunrise, had caught her smiling with warmth that had no trouble to outplay the resting glow of the small fire. There had been a sudden wave of heat rising briefly in Kahlan´s chest, pink spreading over her cheeks, but before she managed to smile back, Cara had swiftly changed her features into her Mord Sith mask and stood. A hoarse "Watch is yours!" was all the blonde let out before lying down on the other side of the camp fire and pretending to fall asleep in an instant.
Though she didn´t. The pounding beat of her heart in her ears detained her. That, and the burning anger, being caught in such silly embarrassment...
The next morning had been only a little easier; Zedd was back to communication and this time he found Kahlan gave in, answering at least a few of his silly questions, even taking his offered jests as an opportunity to grace the world with the bright beauty of her smile; Cara noticed. And she noticed the brunette glared at her from the corner of her eyes, shyly, though her gaze didn´t linger. She bit her cheek every time she felt her eyes on her, fighting back the need to answer her glare, fearing to lose herself in the abyss of their blue.
The familiar routine of their journey had slowly leaded to a faint ease between them, though. The evening of the second day found Zedd sitting at the fire, smiling a happy smile as he watched the two of them talking; well, at least as much as a Mord Sith talked, a few short sentences here and there. He did not listen, but he felt the calm that ever so slowly started to supersede the strain. They were well on their way; there was no need to be worried about their journey after he would leave them...
But Cara was worried. She had spent good parts of the days pondering on what she had snapped up while eavesdropping on Dennee´s meeting. She felt peculiar angry with herself, being unable to name what had lain beneath the words she had heard. Something bothered her, but it kept out of her reach. The whole situation had been weird.
Cara knew how a soldiers´ brain worked. They were used to receive their orders and do what had to be done. They weren't supposed to ask questions. The three Dennee had met were all the same.
But, beyond being loyal and accepting their task, there had lain something alien in their reaction. And Cara twisted her brain to get what it was. The men had not simply assumed their orders, they had ... inhaled them, burning to take them, eagerly waiting for getting started; they had been dogs, scratching at the door to finally get out. She had not seen their faces, only Dennee´s, as she had peeked on them, but their stiffened postures and their hoarse voices had told her enough.
And what on earth meant Dennee´s strict instructions relating to Cara?
While hearing Dennee mentioning her, the Mord Sith had half expected that the Confessor would commission the men to attack her, to put her away secretly while Kahlan would be distracted in Comorra. She had assumed that Kahlan´s sister would offer some false pretenses to allow the men to assassinate her while she slept... Anything!
But instead she was surprised to hear Dennee´s explicit instruction that she, the Mord Sith, had to be taken care of! By all means! However their quest in Comorra would develop, they would stand with their lives that Cara would return to Aydindril.
The words rolled zigzag through her mind, but as hard as she tried to figure it out, it did not make any sense. Dennee might be all sorts of things, but she was certainly not her friend! The tiny hairs on her neck rose, sensing the threat that lay in front of her. Cara smelled a rat when there was one.
There was something damned fishy about it.
When the first shadows of the upcoming night flooded their little camp on their fourth evening, they had settled into an almost familiar association, Zedd prepared their dinner and Cara and Kahlan went together to pick some more firewood. The wizard´s eyes followed them until they vanished between the tree lines. He sighed contently. At least, Richard´s decision to bring Cara to Aydindril had been right. Since Kahlan tolerated her near presence the emotional crusts that wrapped the Mother Confessor so tightly slowly started to soften; her features had already brightened a few times, when her smiles had reached her eyes; a beautiful sight, which Zedd had already feared he would never enjoy again. And Cara´s blossoming sarcasm showed him, that she became more and more self- reliant around the Confessor. Her presence was as refreshing as he ever remembered. Perhaps there was hope. There was a good chance, Kahlan would return from her quest in Comorra with much more energy, much more power then she had owned in the past years.
Zedd grinned mischievously. Dennee would not be pleased. A stronger Kahlan surely meant much less influence for her little sister. Less power over her. Maybe, Kahlan would finally free herself from the viper´s voice, who always attempted to poison the Mother Confessor´s mind, to hold her down.
The wizard blew a chirpy whistle while rummaging through his pack.
The two women walked quietly between the trees, Cara held a few large wooden pieces in her arms, when Kahlan suddenly stopped her, a hand gripping her elbow, a finger crossing her lips to demand silence, tugging Cara to hunker down. The blonde was much too surprised by the unexpected touch, her eyes pinned to the hand on her arm, to question the Confessor.
When Kahlan realized her stiffened, almost fending motion, she turned, glancing at her with beaming eyes, filled with pure joy, and pointed ahead.
There, between the bushes, Cara saw a romp of a big flurry ball, rolling through the dust as if moved by ghost hands. There was a low hissing and a sudden squeak. The spitting ball divided and separated into two chubby cubs of some kind of a very huge cat. Their thick fur was an almost yellow brown, speckled in black and dark-brown, looking incredibly fluffy and cuddly. A mask, bounteously drawn around their eyes, as well as their clumsy little paws dipped into a shimmering black. They tussled, competing passionately; one mewed and tried a roar while scratching at the others neck, then caught its brother´s ear and chewed on it with oblivious dedication. Its little prey hissed and scratched, before a loud and angry meow was heard as it suddenly rocketed high in attempt to dodge a tiny paw. It bared its tiny little teeth in an attempt to look intimidating; but in the next heartbeat it watched passionately the twitching tail of the other, stalking it and finally jumped on it with all four legs...
Their play was droll, their lumbering banter a living picture of cuteness. Like all cubs, all over the world, they were lost to the world while playing. They were just captivating...
...Kahlan was captivating!
Cara found herself staring mesmerized at the brunette, who chuckled voiceless, her brilliant blue gaze fixed on the cubs, pure bliss shining on her face. Her lips had slightly parted, curled into a permanent wide smile, her teeth shimmering as she pressed them slightly on her lower lip; tiny wrinkles in the corner of her eyes twitched with her silent chuckles. Her hand, that had moved to tug some hair behind her ear had stopped, her fingers absently caressing her own earlobe.
The Mord Sith felt hypnotized. A heated wave started to whirl in her chest. The little hairs on her arms rose in a chill. There was no way to avert her gaze from the sight. And when Kahlan´s eyes widened suddenly and she tightened the grip of her hand on Cara´s arm in excitement, Cara barely noticed the giant elegant cat that appeared out of the bushes, purring loudly, greeting her cubs with a few soft licks. Then it stood motionless, a savage diva, while the cubs jostled hastily under her belly to feed on her teats. A low snarl came from their mother as she proved the air, trying to get the winds that flew along. Finally listening suspiciously to the flowing breeze in the air the cat meowed loudly and left unhurriedly in natural, majestic grace. Hastily followed by two vividly bouncing furry balls.
Kahlan waited until they were far out of sight and then stood slowly, her happy chuckle grew loud and she leaned against a tree, gasping for air. Her entire features glowed with exaltation as she tugged Cara to her feet. The blonde had let lose her grip on the gathered wood and it thudded to the ground. For a moment she just stood, her eyes round and glowing a dark green, her gaze still pinned to the clear blue pools in that beautiful face.
All in a sudden Kahlan felt her heart pounding heavily somewhere in her throat as these incredible green eyes pierced her, mesmerized her. She felt as though her gaze was trapped in their depths; as though air went thick, too thick to breathe. She didn´t realize her move, but the next she felt were Cara´s lips on her own, hard, burning with an aggressive hunger; mixed with an almost possessive anger. A sudden untamed instinct welled up in her and answered fiercely without fail, pressing against these full lips; a wild and savage reaction. Her mouth shot open, letting a throaty growl escape her when a hot tongue entered eagerly, sweeping over the edge of her teeth, claiming her mouth imperiously. Kahlan´s entire body felt as if set aflame.
It held only a second.
Then, closing her eyes, a sudden flash of panic shot through her veins, swept along with the hurt of long denied emotions; the gash in her soul, which had never really healed, dehisced and instantly started bleeding painfully.
Gasping for air she freed herself from Cara´s grip and pushed her roughly back, reaching out and setting a swift, biting slap in the blonde´s face. Staring breathless and wide-eyed, feeling tears welling up and drudgingly fighting them back. Stunned by how naughty Cara was. Stunned by how fraudulent her own body reacted, flouting the knowledge that lay buried inside. The knowledge, that agonizing sorrow and hurt and – in the end - deadly hollow emptiness came from allowing her heart that kind of fever.
Her face had gotten pale; cheeks had lost the faintest hint of color; her eyes were narrowed under deeply knitted brows. All she heard was her own blood, roaring in her ears like muffled war drums.
Cara stood frozen, her features set into a stony mask; only the emerald green that burned from her narrowed eyes betrayed her own shock. She had not planned to kiss the Mother Confessor. It... had happened; her attack had been far beyond her control. And seeing Kahlan, seeing how her look changed from sheer horror into a biting ice cold blue that seared into her own eyes, she realized that she had made an unforgivable mistake; out of the weakness of an uncontrolled moment. She almost winced when Kahlan stepped closer and leaned in until Cara could feel her breath tingle over her skin in a hot wave. The Confessor´s barely audible voice scratched painfully along her cheek, crawling into her ear like acid.
"NEVER. DARE. TOUCH ME. AGAIN! YOU!" Cara felt wetness sweeping over her skin when Kahlan shook her head ever so slightly. "you have no right!"
Closing her eyes, the Mord Sith bit her cheek until the bitter metallic flavor of her own blood graced her tongue, grounding on the smallest pain she could get. Only a moment later she more sensed than heard the Confessor turns and flees.
Cara stood statuesque, her eyes closed, her chest barely heaving with the effort to control her breath, small muscles in her cheeks working hectically. A few heartbeats later her legs started to run.
Zedd sat alone on a log beside the fire, staring into the flames with his sad pale eyes. He seemed to be taken aback when he saw her returning to their fire place, trembling and troubled as she was; first he wanted to speak to her, but noticing her wrecked mood and following the harsh gesture of her hands to stop his speech he quickly gave up his attempts. Instead his shoulders sacked and his concern gave way to sorrow as he respectfully gave her the space she obviously needed.
She took her bedroll and arranged it with shaky hands in a distance. Her barely controlled features distorted as soon as she lay down. She bit her lip, trying to center herself. Kahlan stared into the darkness for a small eternity, her breath was heavy, her eyes settled on the flickering shadows that danced their taunting dance over the forests edge; but her look went inside her mind, searching for something to hold on; anything at all.
It was a futile attempt.
There was nothing but dark vacuity awaiting her. After a while she shut her eyes and decidedly began struggling for sleep. All she wanted was to escape her troubled thoughts; the heavy chain that tightened her chest. But hard as she tried, pressing her lids close, searching calmness in the darkness behind them, she found herself unable to stop trembling; Peace lay far out of her reach. Green eyes were haunting her; lips, violently pressed on her own, were drawing constant pain through her veins. Burning like fire in her guts; leaving a small trace of ashes on her soul. And a small trace of tears on her cheeks.
Some candle marks must have passed, before she finally heard Zedd settling for sleep. She knew that meant he had given watch to the Mord Sith.
Cara was back!
The thought alone was enough to flood her eyes. To let tears quill from under her lashes, hidden sobs break her breath. She felt her entire body quivering and was sheer unable to stop it.
For weeks now Kahlan had put much effort into keeping her countenance. Had restrained her emotions and focused on politeness and manners.
But today... Cara´s touch...
The aggression she had put into something that could have been meant as a kiss...
It had been too much. Her walls had tumbled down. And there was no strength left to rebuild them.
Kahlan became bitterly aware that she would never find any peace if she would not finally ask the question that had been torturing her during the last years. She just had. to know...
She rose slowly, wiping her cheeks dry, swallowed a last sob and searched through the night for the blonde, finding her cowering on a log on the far side of their small camp, barely visible if not for the shimmering moonlight on her silky blond mane.
The Mord Sith sat quietly, her tense back to the fire, and stared into the near treetops. Mad thoughts whispered through her mind, feelings of shame and fury raging equally inside her. All she could think of was the expression on Kahlan's face; an expression that could only be named as blank horror. Horror she had caused. Because she had lost control; had gone too far...
Cara slowly lifted her hand to palm her cheek, frowning; gritting her teeth; still feeling the trenchant echo of Kahlan´s impetuous stroke.
The Mother Confessor hated her. So much was clear.
Never before, not even in their first days, when she had wrapped her hand around her throat in that cave, promising to kill her if she would trick her, never had her voice sounded as cold and hollow as it had sounded today.
"Never. Dare. Touch me. Again!..."
Cara´s eyes burnt dryly. Her lungs had barely enough space to breathe.
She had run. Just run; trying to get her mind clear; resolved to leave Kahlan behind...
It had not worked.
It never worked.
Finally she had returned, once again surrendering to the familiar pain inside her belly. A pain that had never left her since the day she had been sent away on that morning two years ago...
The moment she heard a twig breaking somewhere to her left, her eyes flickered instinctively over the tempting darkness to her right, as if searching for an escape. She did not feel prepared for talking... It would make no sense anyway. Her hands reached for her agiels, appreciating the stinging pain that shot up her arms immediately, clinging to its force.
Deep lines started to crinkle her forehead.
She would not apologize!
It had always been Kahlan who had expected her to be honest. To embrace her emotions, instead of denying them. It was not her fault that she... felt... something. And it was not her fault that this... something... was strong enough to break straight through her walls into her petrified Mord Sith heart.
It had been her perdition two years ago.
And probably it would be her perdition now.
The Mord Sith expelled a small puff of air and dropped her head. Kahlan would send her away. Like she had done before. She would be denied to be near her, to protect her. Again...
Cara bit her cheek and shut her eyes for a heartbeat, steeling herself for what she knew was about to come; and waited.
Time passed by, minutes stretched agonizingly, but nothing happened. Finally the blonde huffed and turned her head. Her gaze travelled slowly from the ground to her feet to the figure that stood there, leaning, no, pressing close against a tree as if her slender form tried to conflate with the dark, rough bark. Her face looked paler then the moon itself, framed by a halo of gloriously tousled hair, marked by traces of tears which had left her eyes shadowed with faint scarlet.
Cara clenched her jaw and put all her anger and defiance into her glare as their eyes locked. Still the brunette did not move nor say anything; just stared at her like a hurt deer, beforehand blaming the predator for its near death.
Her lips almost not stirred, her voice coming in a husky whisper when she finally spoke, but it reached the blonde´s ear like if she had yelled at her. "Why, Cara?"
She watched how Cara tilted her head, frowning deeply. Her irate, sea green gaze telling that the blonde did not understand her question. Kahlan bit her lip and swallowed, then tried again.
"Why? Why did you abandon me? Why had you to hurt me the way you did, Cara? …What happened?
If getting Richard was all you wanted, you should have found other ways. It was not necessary to break my heart to gain his.
I trusted you, Cara! Despite everything I was taught in my life. Despite everything I believed in. I was ready to give it all up... for you. Can you imagine what that meant for me?" Her voice cracked. The Confessor huffed desperately.
"But you decided to use me for your own goals. I think I at least deserve an answer, Cara. Tell me. Why?..." Kahlan´s cheeks were glistening; her eyes nothing but a dark blue plea.
Cara´s entire posture mirrored her lack of understanding. She shook her head, stunned by the words and already furious for the reproaches swaying with them. Her words came as a suspicious snarl over her lips.
"What are you speaking about, Confessor? I have never used you. No," she growled, "I was foolish enough to think of you as a...friend." She almost spit the word.
"So did I. And so much more, Cara!" Kahlan´s words dripped with bitterness. Her eyes never left the confused features of the Mord Sith. She stared at her a few heartbeats long, trying to restrain her voice before she blurted "But it was you who left me. Who broke my heart when you rode out of Aydindril without so much as a last glance…"
The blonde eyed her intensely, forehead still wrinkled distrustfully, her lips pressed into a thin line; fighting for words that didn´t come to her. Finally she dropped her gaze, blonde strands covering her face as her crumbly voice stumbled over her lips.
"I... couldn´t. If I would have looked back... I would have lost the strength to obey you."
"To obey me?" Kahlan almost screamed, staring at her in disbelieve.
"You had sent me away, Confessor. You had ordered me to leave; You had made your decision, and I was in your way. Your way to be with Richard. Like you had always desired.
You were just a spoiled brat, tossing its toy away…"
Her voice went lost as she turned and looked at the Confessor with narrowed eyes, hurt and bitterness shimmering faintly in her gaze.
"Spirits, what...? I don´t understand." Kahlan had puffed off the tree and looked down on her, searching in her eyes for the meaning of her words, frowning deeply; the blonde stood and straightened to meet her gaze at eyelevel, lifting a defiant brow.
"You accuse me that I have simply abandoned you, Confessor? You should know it better! I never would! At last it was you who banished me from your life!"
The Confessor knew she was unable to read a Mord Sith against her will. But this one time she would have given half the world to see through the Mord Sith´s walls, to tell if she was playing a cruel game again…
They stood for what felt like an eternity, both their bodies tensed, assessing each other warily; like fighters, waiting for an opening to attack.
Each of them thinking of scars that had been left; of bleeding wounds;
Touches, used to burn with passion.
Whispered confessions in dark blue nights... Long proved to be lies.
At last Kahlan shook her head and huffed to break the silence that had quickly built up into a tremendous wall. She turned away and stared into the night's darkness, folding her arms, trying to hide her pain behind her Confessor mask. Her voice had taken a controlled, chilled tone.
"Stop playing games, Cara. I remember too well our arrival to Aydindril. I was going to speak with Richard. To tell him, that I could not take him as my mate. That my heart - and my life - was yours. I was prepared for his anger and his fury, the thought of it had caused nightmares, you knew that; it had pressed me more and more during our journey to Aydindril... I only felt strong enough because I knew you by my side. And then, before I could do so, he told me that you were going to leave...
I was stunned, Cara. I did not want to believe it. But when I came down to the courtyard, you already mounted your horse and galloped away. You did not even say good bye!...
I was not even worth to get a last glance back…"
Her voice sounded as hollow as the inanition in her chest felt.
While following her words with a dark frown on her face, ever so slowly the blonde´s expression changed from defiance to anger and finally into confusion; her eyes became glowing with upwelling heat; a spark of comprehension tiptoed into her mind. She focused on the near shadow of a black tree when she asked hoarsely.
"What did he tell you?"
Kahlan shot her a side-glance, quickly turning away again when she felt Cara going to turn towards her, trying to meet her gaze.
"The whole and nasty truth. Which you obviously, had not the guts to tell me yourself. He told me that you always wanted him. He told me of the times you had tried to seduce him during our journey ever since you were gone with him to the future. And failed. That you had already told him about us. And that you had only been playing games." The words dropped from her lips as a spat. "To show him that I was easily willing to betray him, that I was not good for him." She gave a short, bitter laugh. "You were right there at least. I was not good for him..." She dropped her eyes to the ground. "And when you had to realize that he would not follow you, that you had lost your own game, you´ve run away... Probably without wasting a single thought to what you had done to me." She gritted her teeth, fighting back a sob that threatened to break the silence that followed her words. A lonely tear marked her pale skin but Kahlan did not move to wipe it away, did not want to show how much it hurt. She heard the blonde inhaling deeply a few times and finally turned to face her.
Cara stood with closed eyes, her entire body tight; the familiar small muscles in her cheeks tensing in a frenzy rhythm. When she opened her eyes, her gaze was hard, as were her words when she lowly stated: "And you believed him."
Kahlan stared at her, frowning, "What else could have made you leave without a word, if not such a madness..." she snapped.
Cara turned to look at her. Her eyes softened a little, something approaching to regret swept along with her gaze, travelling slowly, almost tenderly, over her face, following the small trail the tear had drawn, focusing finally on her eyes and sinking deep into the clouded blue she found there. For a moment she chewed on her words. Finally whispering, almost reluctantly:
Kahlan froze. Her eyes pierced the blonde with icy brilliance. She felt her thoughts slowing down to an almost immeasurable viscous flow. It took an eternity for the meaning of the words to settle in her mind. And all she could offer was a whispered "you are insane!"
Cara only eyed her. A gaze of grudging certitude that scratched at her long kempt bitterness, trying to tear the bricks out of her walls, slowly causing first small gaps. Kahlan gasped slightly. Denying the port where her thoughts wanted to anchor. She straightened defiantly, growling a disgusting answer.
"I am a Confessor. He could not lie to me..."
Cara´s shoulders had sacked, but her face was a stony mask.
"I don´t know how, but he tricked you." She locked with Kahlan´s eyes as she added "as he tricked me."
The piercing blue of the brunettes gaze pinned her to the spot, the beautiful frame a tight statue, waiting, almost frightened, for her next words. Cara bit her lip, then turned and addressed the nearest tree with her words.
"He came to me shortly after our arrival. He was... compassionate. Regretful. He wanted to talk to me. He said, you had told him about us. He said, you had confessed him that you wanted to know how it feels with a woman. And that you were sorry for that. That it did not mean anything to you. That your heart belonged to him; And that your love for him had never faltered. He said you had asked him to send me away. Because you were ashamed and would not be able to bear it if you had to tell me yourself.
He had a message prepared for the People´s Palace, declaring me to be his deputy and had my horse waiting for me, already packed with supplies for the way. He said if I would feel anything for you, if only the smallest kind of respect, I should go immediately...And that he felt so sorry! But that he had to order me to leave... For you...
He was almost eager to get rid of me..." Her voice was expressionless, her jaw set. It was not up to her to judge her Lord Rahl.
Kahlan had followed her words motionless. She had forgotten how to breathe and only noticed it when her lungs eventually protested burningly. Now she gasped for air, a sudden nausea threatened to smash her down and she backed off to a tree, leaning heavily against it. Memories rotated in opposite directions, her world faded away, and slowly she sank down to the ground, crouching there, staring at the ground while trying to catch her thoughts. Her brain refused the comprehension. She shook her head, whispering "this can´t be true..."
Cara did not stir. She watched how Kahlan swallowed and finally shifted her eyes to meet her gaze, rising to her feet. And she impulsively gave what no one else would ever receive: she opened her mind widely and allowed the Confessor to look inside, to look into her deepest hiding places, let her see behind her walls and find the truth there.
The brunette´s glare went lost in her own eyes for a few, endless heartbeats, a frown build up on her face and deepened, her long hair shimmered as if catching the moon light as it swayed slightly in the nights breeze as she eventually shook her head. Then she suddenly snapped for air and the creepy sound of an endless stretched painful moan filled the air. Her wide eyes stared in a dark midnight blue at Cara for one more heartbeat and then suddenly she turned around, storming back to the fireside, dropping beside a blissfully snoring Zedd to galvanize him fiercely.
"Zedd! ... Wake up! ... Zedd!" The wizard snorted disturbed, slowly coming around. Opening his eyes he found himself grabbed by two strong hands and faced by burning blue diamonds, piercing his own eyes furiously. He needed a moment to realize it was Kahlan who shook him mightily.
"Did you know it, Wizard?" She almost yelled at him, agitating him again violently. "Did you know it?" When the answer was nothing but a confused frown, he heard her screaming as her hand shot from his clothes straight to his throat.
"Answer me!" She shouted enraged, her eyes growing dark, her hand wrapping firmly around his puckered neck.
For a moment he was stunned at her aggression, could not find the strength to move. A flash of trepidation claimed his mind.
"Kahlan!" Cara´s voice cut the air, her fist wiped the threat off Zedd´s throat, catching the Confessor´s hand in a firm grip. She held her tight against her fierce resistance, did not let her go, forced her to stand and tugged her away from the wizard. Her strong gaze stood Kahlan´s wrath until she sensed her calming down. Only then she loosened her grip, let the Confessor rip her hand free with an angry rough yank, huffing loudly, while the blonde turned and eyed Zedd briefly. He sat upright, agape, his eyes wide in shock.
"You okay, wizard?"
He nodded slowly, croaking: "Thank you, Cara! That was a close thing..."
His gaze searched for Kahlan, who had sacked at the still slightly smoldering fire, her eyes shut, a mixture of fury and despair painting her features. He saw how she clenched her hands into fists, saw her knuckles shining white, and he looked bemused up to Cara.
"Spirits, what have you done to her? And what did she mean, did I know it? Did I know what?"
Cara never took her eyes off Kahlan, watching her warily. Her hands were wrapped firmly around her agiels.
"Get up, wizard. Night is over. I bet she has a lot of questions..."
Silence covered the small clearance like a heavy, raspy blank; even the first shy songs of early birds seemed reduced to shriek little protests against the cruelty of life…
Zedd sat at the fire, a long forgotten piece of bread in his lap, his fingers crumbling it absently into tiny nuggets. His features were those of an old, weak man. His shoulders were sacked, his wrinkled face as pale as ashes; aged by years. His eyes were boring senseless holes into the air. He did not move; heavy thoughts an almost palpable cloud around him.
He had listened, but for long he had not understood the meaning of what he heard.
Kahlan had been on the edge of leaving Richard?
Richard ... a selfish bastard, a dastard traitor?
The happy-smiling son of his daughter... a reckless louse?
These had been the words that an exasperated Kahlan had yelled. Her franticness had seared him. She had spat the words as if she accused himself of manipulation, of treachery. And he still was not sure she did not. A storm of hurt and fury had raged on her features, had contorted her face into a foreign mask as he had never seen one before.
Cara had leaned quietly and tensely against a tree nearby ever since they had settled around the fire, her narrowed gaze never leaving Kahlan. Nothing on her features betrayed her thoughts; but the Mord Sith noticed every blink, every breath Kahlan took, knowing that just a thin cover of a fragile control held the Confessor´s wrath at bay. She had a feeling as though it could break down in an instant and let her fury sweep along everything in her wake...
The Mord Sith and the wrath were old friends. It felt familiar; but she had long taught it submission. And now she didn´t allow it to prey on her mind. The shock that had lain in the truth, that Richard had tricked them, that he had ruthlessly sacrificed both their hearts and their lives for his selfish visions of his own happiness; it had briefly cut her to the quick, before she had buried it under her walls.
Sure, if it had been anyone else, she would go and make him suffer, would tantalize him with all her might for the rest of his miserable life. But then...
It was Richard.
And it was an undeniable fact that she had betrayed him, that she had allowed her foolish heart basking in feelings for his bride. She knew she deserved all the hurt and the pain that came from deceiving the Lord Rahl. Endless years of repeated training had anchored this knowledge in her mind. It held her upright now, despite her burning insides and despite the knot in her stomach, which grew constantly while watching Kahlan going through the tremendous muddle of hurt and fury, hearing her yelling and her being on the edge to lose control eventually.
It felt surprisingly right and comfortable to fall back into her natural role of a silent watcher and protector, standing beside, almost pretending to be uninvolved.
- At last Kahlan had broken down, grief turning her features into pale stone. She had asked him with a broken voice, tears swaying in her words, how it had been possible; how Richard had been able to lie deliberately to her face. Zedd had closed his eyes sadly; he did not need his wizard's power to see the truth.
"Wizard´s first rule…" he now whispered. Both women looked at him, frowning. Waiting for an explanation.
"Wizard's First Rule: people are stupid." He briefly startled from Cara, who almost jumped on him in an irate rush before he even had the time to inhale deeply, her eyes flashing with anger; but Kahlan furrowed her brows at her and shook her head once, stalling her steps with just this small gesture.
"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it is true, or because they are afraid it might be true. " (Wizard´s first rule by Terry Goodkind)
Cara´s dangerous growl was coming from deep inside her throat.
"You are speaking to the Mother Confessor, Wizard! You will not dare to call her an imbecile!" The blonde heard a snort beside her, puffed out from Kahlan, who burrowed her face into her palms, exhausted, giving a short, mirthless laugh. "But he is right, Cara!" slowly her figure slacked, every last hint of strength eventually blown away.
The Mord Sith watched her cautiously with narrowed eyes, her hands clinging to her agiels, firm enough to make her knuckles go bloodless. For a second she wished fiercely, Richard would appear from under the trees. She would eagerly throw the bond overboard and bash him. Badly...
It was not right!
Even after these years had passed, the truth about Richard was hurting Kahlan too much. It seemed to burn a hole into her walls, searing deeper with every moment that passed, stirring through vicious emotions it found buried inside, boiling them up and letting them spill like a flow of lava, welling slowly over its barriers, covering the surfa