RATING: PG, pre-slash - but lots of it. Approximately 12,600 words.
SUMMARY: Happy Endings - Some work out, some don't. Kahlan/Cara, talk of Richard/Kahlan. Immediately Post-Tears.
DISCLAIMER: As always, everything here belongs to other (much more wealthy) people. I'm just having fun.
A/N: I employ some time jumps in the narrative - some small and some large. I also try and make some sense of the muddled show!canon here. If I've made it even worse, please forgive. I also use an image of Cara in the last scene that I first read in someone else's fic - but I can't remember whose! Sorry I can't properly credit, but thanks for that idea that never left me!
“What’s wrong?” Kahlan asked.
Cara’s frown only deepened as she watched the villagers cavorting around the massive bonfire. The flames were huge - as boisterous as the people around it - and threatened to blacken the tops of the Pillars of Creation itself. It was creating long, jerky and distorted shadows over the ruins around them.
“Nothing,” was the Mord Sith’s even reply.
Kahlan mirrored her frown and sighed. Cara had been too quiet since they’d laid the Stone and stopped the Keeper. Afterwards, Cara had stiffly accepted her thanks for taking away the agonizing burden of having killed Richard. Then Cara had skirted to the edges of the group, skittish and scowling.
Kahlan was grateful she didn’t remember much of what she’d done while in the ConDar, but she worried that even that single mercy was hiding some offense she’d committed against Zedd and Cara.
After what she’d done to Richard, she could only imagine how she’d acted towards them.
Kahlan lightly touched Cara’s arm and felt the blonde stiffen before pulling her hand back again. “You’re allowed to celebrate, too, you know,” the Confessor coaxed.
“Someone has to stay sober and ensure the Seeker’s safety.” Cara said this with a small smirk that didn’t seem quite genuine. Kahlan glanced at Richard, who was being handed yet another tankard of homemade ale by yet another rowdy peasant, who was pounding his back so hard it almost made Richard’s beaming smile falter.
Cara shook her head. “Where did they all come from?” she said, clearly annoyed.
“They couldn’t help but see all the activity above the Pillars. And after the rifts began to seal again…They must have realized the Keeper had been defeated here. Word obviously traveled.”
Cara grunted. “Obviously.”
Kahlan shrugged. “They’ve been living in fear for months, Cara. They deserve this. We all do.”
Cara just continued to glare at the hundreds of noisy people milling around, with more still streaming in from the clearings around them. It looked like a small village had cropped up among the ruins within just the past few hours. A village in the midst of a particularly frenzied harvest festival. Kahlan was certain her inability to secure the area was driving the Mord Sith mad.
Kahlan nudged Cara with her shoulder. “I’m sure your Lord Rahl wouldn’t mind if you joined in, just this once,” she said, teasing.
Cara didn’t answer, and from the light of the fire, Kahlan saw the shadow of her jaw working. “Are you alright?” She asked, just loud enough to be heard over the din.
“Of course,” she answered immediately, firmly.
Kahlan’s lips thinned. “I don’t believe you.”
Cara finally peered directly at Kahlan. “Because I’m always the first to join in with drunken dancing and off key singing in large crowds of simple villagers, and this is so unlike me?”
A bright smile broke across Kahlan’s face and Cara stared at her mouth with a thoughtful expression before returning a neutral gaze back at the crowd.
“If you wish to debauch, however, you should get back to it.” Cara said mildly. “There will be fewer opportunities once you return to Aydindril.” Kahlan chuckled. “…And become Lady Rahl,” Cara added.
Kahlan’s smile slowly faded, and she ducked her head. “I’m…I don’t…Cara, Richard hasn’t asked me to…”
“Yet.” Cara said, crossing her arms, with a bland look on her face. When Kahlan remained silent, she turned to her again. “You doubt it?”
Kahlan chewed her bottom lip. “No.” Their roles reversed, Kahlan was aware of Cara watching her as she stared straight ahead at the large fire.
“This can’t be the evening you were expecting to have,” Cara prodded, after a moment.
Kahlan gave another shrug, noncommittal. “The Seeker belongs to everyone,” she said faintly, watching him happily move among the throngs of admirers.
“And the Seeker also gets all the credit,” Cara muttered.
Kahlan’s eyes widened in surprise. “Is that what’s bothering you?”
Cara rolled her eyes and actually laughed. It was a short bark, really, but it was some small crack in the wall that Cara had up and Kahlan laughed too, in relief. Then she impulsively hugged Cara with one arm, pulling her close. The Mord Sith’s arms remained crossed in front of her, and Kahlan heard a low, indignant huff. But Cara unexpectedly endured the embrace for nearly a quarter of an hour, as they watched the celebration in silence.
Cara’s glares kept the festive villagers a tolerable distance away.
Kahlan soon noticed a new quirk of Cara’s.
The Mord Sith had gotten into the habit of rubbing her gloved hand over bare skin just below her neck. It was an absent, soothing motion, that Kahlan was sure she wasn’t even aware of doing. She thought it was another contemplative gesture, like playing with the ends of her hair, but Cara’s expression was usually pained, uncomfortable.
Kahlan finally asked about it. But Cara quickly blamed Zedd’s cooking that morning, saying his “special” spices didn’t agree with her. Kahlan nodded sympathetically, all the while thinking of the times she’d seen Cara making that same gesture when Zedd hadn’t prepared the food for them for days.
She’d also seen Cara give Zedd occasional dark warning looks that made Kahlan wonder if Zedd would be asking to sleep with one of her daggers again.
But Zedd only silently answered the Mord Sith with soft, sympathetic smiles. Which made Cara’s jaw pop in frustration. It was a circular scene, repeated endlessly as the days passed on their way to Aydindril.
Richard only talked of plans for their future and seemed to notice none of this.
The sharp spasms in Cara’s chest were an oddly familiar sensation.
Like an agiel was being dragged across her breast bone, just inches from finding the sweet spot that would end her.
But it never did. Not completely.
Cara was aware that it was happening more often. And never more so than when she watched the Seeker and Confessor embracing, happy in the prospect of their shared life together.
The two of them making an embarrassing spectacle of themselves was nothing new, however, so it puzzled Cara.
She thought maybe it was those foolish tales the Wizard had told them, that had changed things. Stories about another life that could have been. Cara widowed with small children. Cara soft and helpless and wearing pink. But a version of herself who had found two different people wanting to share a life with her.
Such a thing was an impossibility in this reality. She knew that, and had always accepted it, without much thought or any regret. People either feared or desired Mord Sith, sometimes both. But they would never want…love from her.
She wondered if maybe she was just being competitive. Wanting something simply because someone else had it. It had never had any appeal before. The whole idea was absurd, really.
Still, Cara sometimes found herself trying to imagine someone like Kahlan looking at her as she looked at Richard. And she never could.
That thought always created the greatest ache.
Since being forced from the Temple and serving Richard, Cara had often felt niggling, strange discomforts from emotions and thoughts that didn’t fit, didn’t belong, that appalled her or embarrassed her. But it was just an annoyance, like insects buzzing around her head. They passed or she ignored them and she was still able to do her duty. But this. This was a fresh, puzzling, ever aching emptiness, making her feel exiled again without even leaving.
This - in addition to those doubts she now had about her ability to do her duty for her Lord Rahl, after her inability to stop Kahlan as she should have - made her feel more unsure of herself than she could ever remember being.
She tried to keep busy.
She was the first to offer to set up or break camp, cook, or hunt. Whatever duties or chores would distract her from her discomfort. Something to do other than squirm in her own skin.
Sometimes she would leave and go just far enough out of earshot, and claw at her agiels, desperately gripping them until her teeth ground and clammy sweat popped out all over her. Sometimes, even that wasn’t enough to quiet this foreign thrum of change and she would take off her protective gloves and squeeze her agiels with her bare hands, smelling her flesh simmer and scorch, focused only on the scream of her nerves until the confusion was burnt away for awhile.
No one said anything to her when her flights from camp became more frequent. She had overheard Zedd advising the others not to be surprised if she acted “more Mord Sith than usual for awhile”, and to leave her be. It would “work itself out”. They must’ve taken the Wizard’s advice, because other than Kahlan watching her more carefully, no one commented. Cara was torn between being grateful or annoyed with Zedd for saying anything at all.
Nothing was said outright, either, that Richard had gallantly put off bedding the Confessor until they could marry in Aydindril. When he would also symbolically marry D’Hara and the Midlands, together, in lasting peace. Waiting to start their life fresh. Waiting until Kahlan was home and reunited with her sister. Her real family.
Cara thought it was all sentimental nonsense. To defer pleasure and satisfaction now, after waiting this long already.
No, they wouldn’t act, but Spirits, they would talk of this postponed future. Continuously. Through-out the day as they traveled and well into each night. With Zedd beaming upon his grandson as he spoke, as if the Wizard had conjured their happiness into being himself, single handedly.
When Cara was trapped around the campfire, all distractions exhausted, she would tightly clench her fist, until the heat of the raw skin beneath her gloves was sparked, until it was her turn to take watch.
Sometimes as she got up to leave, she imagined Kahlan’s answering smile towards Richard was a little flat. Sometimes she thought she saw a small line threading between her brows, at odds with her laugh. But she knew it was only a distortion of the heat coming off the fire.
“I don’t believe him,” Kahlan choked out. The world shrank to just herself and Richard, and while she knew that Cara and Zedd were nearby, she could only register Richard’s face clouding over with confusion and concern.
He reached out to grip her arm, as if to steady her. “You don’t believe what, Kahlan?”
“I don’t think Zedd’s right about…us.” Kahlan’s eyes pleaded with him, full of grief and guilt. But Richard relaxed, a small smile ghosting his lips.
“Kahlan. You’re nervous, I understand that,” he said earnestly. “You’ve worried about your powers all your life, about harming people you care about, you can’t be expected to…”
Kahlan pulled her head back. “Richard. No one is naturally immune to confession. It’s impossible.”
Richard’s smile widened. “We proved that wrong, didn’t we?” he asked gently.
“No.” Kahlan said forlornly, “I don’t think we did.”
Richard flinched, and looked at her warily. “Why would you say that?”
Kahlan took in a deep, shaky breath. “Nothing about that was normal, Richard. I was confessed by my own powers. I’m not even supposed to be able to be confessed. They killed Nicci and yet I remained confessed to her…Nicci had stolen some of my Han, and I had been in the Con Dar for hours…” Kahlan swallowed. “…Apparantly confessing many people during that time. I don’t know what kind of drain that would have caused on my abilities, since it had been weakened by Nicci’s theft. Nothing was happening the way it normally would. It can’t be a true test of what would happen if I were…with you.”
Richard shook his head, reaching for Kahlan, cradling her face. “I’ve told you before,” he whispered intently, “I’ve felt we were somehow different, I’ve felt that, Kahlan, haven’t you?”
Kahlan’s mouth trembled and she lowered her head. “I’ve wanted to, Richard. I’ve wanted to believe like you have and I’ve allowed your belief to make me forget what I am. You’ve always had such faith that we’d find a way, and it was such a…relief to think that way, too, but now that I’m almost home, the reality of it is-“
“What about Darken Rahl?” Richard cut in, dropping his hands. Kahlan looked at him blankly and shook her head. “He’s immune to confession, isn’t he? How can you say it’s not possible?”
“He used dark magic, Richard. He actively pursued it, torturing confessors to get that ability. It didn’t just happen.”
“So, darkness and hate can conquer confession?” Richard pressed, “But not light and love?”
“A Confessor’s power is a profound magic, Richard. It’s not enough to just believe-“
“Kahlan,” he said through a strangled laugh, “You made a another Stone of Tears for me!”
Kahlan blanched. “We’re not Gods, Richard. The Creator’s hand was surely involved in that. She’d made a prophecy and used me to make sure it would come true. As much as I love you, “ she reached out to touch Richard’s cheek. “I’m not capable of doing something only the Creator herself has ever done. Not even for you.”
Richard blinked, stung, a look of fear finally bleeding into his eyes. “I understand your having doubts. But belief and faith in each other got us this far, Kahlan,” Richard pleaded. “You just have to take another chance, one last chance with me, just-“
“It’s too big a chance. It’s too much to risk the Seeker on a… selfish wish of my own.” Kahlan had started out shakily, but each word became more and more steeled with conviction. Until she drew herself up like her Confessor’s hood was shrouding her head. “I can’t do that, Richard.” She declared. “I can’t risk the Seeker like that. I won’t.”
Kahlan’s entire face was shiny, her freckles even more noticeable on her even paler skin, her eyes swollen and red rimmed. But the crying was over. She just had a look of deadened resignation now.
Cara shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Leaning on her left, she could imagine herself retreating safely back to camp. Leaning on her right, she felt an urgent pull to draw nearer to Kahlan, and save her from something she couldn’t fight and didn’t understand. She wasn’t sure herself which pull was stronger until she felt her leg hit the large log the Confessor was sitting on.
“I’m sure that in all of Aydindril,” Cara began with deliberate casualness, “There must be at least one Rada’Han to be had.”
Kahlan blinked and twisted her head to stare at Cara, who raised her brows. “In the royal treasury, perhaps?” she continued. “Squirreled away by some impertinent Wizard? Or by some past Confessor with a taste for unconfessed stable boys?”
Kahlan let out a breath and her mouth quirked just a little, before shaking her head sadly. “Richard and I can’t use a Rada’Han, Cara.”
Cara hesitated again, then slowly walked around the log and dropped heavily next to Kahlan, crossing her arms. “I don’t think Richard’s…noble ideas of not compromising “who you are” should prevent you from using it on occasion to-“
“No. That’s not it.” Kahlan toed the fallen pine needles at her feet. “A child conceived while wearing a Rada’Han would have no powers.”
Cara lifted her chin. “Would a…common child be so bad?”
“She wouldn’t be a common child. She would be a Confessor child stripped of her powers. Robbed of them. She would always have this incredible emptiness that would burden her all her life. It’s considered the depths of cruelty to do such a thing to a child. And to deliberately have a child without powers now, when our line is so threatened…” Kahlan trailed off, gazing so intently in front of her, that Cara wondered if she’d forgotten she’d been talking.
Cara sighed. She looked back to the path that led to where Zedd and Richard were waiting. She didn’t understand why they insisted she talk to Kahlan They would be far more competent at this. Cara didn’t like to attempt things she wasn’t good at. But a glance back at Kahlan’s stricken expression made Cara settle and shift her weight on the uncomfortable bark.
“If the Wizard is wrong,” Cara carefully drawled, “I could…fix things. After.” She clenched her jaw, finding herself unable to explain further, just staring hard at the side of Kahlan’s head, willing her to understand.
Kahlan straightened her back and looked directly at Cara, her eyes softening. “How could I ask that of you, Cara?” Her voice was impossibly gentle, as if Cara was the one needing comfort. “To force you to kill one of us, to correct our mistake?” Kahlan shook her head again and Cara swallowed, unable to hold her gaze.
Cara wondered if she would have to agiel the Wizard, after all. Or had she finally lost so much of her Mord Sith self that the Confessor could finally read her, read her truths on her face like parchment, like all other weak mortals? Her legs involuntarily jerked with the urge to flee.
“Besides,” Kahlan continued, “It doesn’t just affect us. If I died, everyone I’ve ever confessed would be released and loosened on the world again. And if Richard died, and since Darken doesn’t have the Rahl blood in his veins anymore, there’s no guarantee that the powers you get from the Lord Rahl would be there to bring him back.”
Cara slowly angled her head. “But it did work. Before. I was able to bring Richard back. Again.”
“Yes. But can you explain how?”
Cara had briefly thought about that, afterwards. She had been content to think it luck, that maybe her powers hadn’t faded yet, that there had been some lag between a Lord Rahl’s death and their retreat. But she was never sure. It was over with, and she had simply been grateful. She pursed her lips. “No.”
Kahlan gave a defeated jerk of her head, as if she still hoped she’d missed something. “I’ve given this a lot of thought, Cara.” Kahlan clumsily tucked strands of her hair away from her face. “I’ve thought of little else.”
They remained silent for awhile, both staring at the damp forest floor. Until Kahlan finally glanced guiltily at Cara. “I don’t know who’s more upset with me, Richard or Zedd,” she declared ruefully.
Cara snorted softly. “I’m sure the Wizard will recover, eventually.” She added firmly, “Zedd’s disappointment is his own. You’re not responsible for it.”
Kahlan nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “Richard thinks I’ve just given up on us,” she suddenly blurted, her tears reemerging.
“Richard is…a romantic.” Cara said this with a bemused grimace.
“Yes.” Kahlan agreed through a fond, watery smile.
“And he hasn’t lived with magic long. He sometimes minimizes its power.”
This time Kahlan hesitated. “Yes,” she finally said, begrudgingly, then whispered, “But because of that, he was the first person who wasn’t afraid to touch me.”
Cara’s breathing was inexplicably shallow and tense. All she knew is that she needed to rid Kahlan of the lost expression on her face. “Then…you just return as you were. You seemed content with that.” She offered quietly. “Nothing has to change.”
Kahlan only seemed to deflate further. “I’m returning to Aydindril. My sister and I are the only Confessors left. But Dennee is not in her own body.” Kahlan didn’t seem to notice Cara twitch. “She’s shown a Confessor’s powers, but it’s unclear if she can have children born as true Confessors. And I don’t know if she could even bring herself to try again. It’s up to me...”
Cara nodded impatiently, finishing Kahlan’s thoughts. “…You would have to take confessed mates to continue the line.” Cara waited, but the Confessor said nothing else. “So?”
“Richard could never…handle that.”
Cara squinted. “It’s just sex. And it’s your duty. It has nothing to do with your…” The Mord Sith motioned vaguely in front of her, “…feelings for Richard.”
Kahlan canted her head, regarding Cara as if she was surprised or was reminded of something forgotten. “He’s not that pragmatic. Richard would try. He would, for me. But it would make him miserable. I would make him miserable.”
Cara found herself out of arguments. “You’ve given this a lot of thought,” Cara echoed dully. She exhaled loudly, suddenly bone-tired. “Are you really prepared to…let Richard go?”
Kahlan took a deep breath and carefully placed her hands on her knees. “When Dennee and I left to find the one true Seeker, the first in generations, we were both prepared to give our lives. To make sure the people had the champion they desperately needed.” She licked her lips. “I’m still prepared to give my life for the Seeker. But now I’m giving the life I would have had with Richard. To protect the Seeker in him.”
Cara stared at the woman next to her. “I told…someone, not long after we’d met, that you were a woman of honor. Someone deserving respect.” Kahlan’s brows knitted in confusion and curiosity. “I underestimated you,” Cara said softly, simply.
The Confessor’s white face flushed with a little more color for just a moment, shining with gratitude and what Cara thought was some affection, before sorrow overtook it again.
Kahlan took to sidling up beside Cara as they walked, when Richard’s wounded looks or Zedd’s reproachful ones would become too much, and grip Cara’s wrist, hard, until the Mord Sith felt a thrill of pain shoot through her entire arm.
Kahlan would never say anything, and usually not even look at her. They would keep pace as if nothing else was going on.
And several times during the night, while Cara took first watch, Kahlan would wake with a gasping start and look over the campfire flames at Richard’s restless sleeping form on the other side, and her face would break into itself, bereft. Cara would silently kneel in front of her and cock her head in question.
Kahlan would just wordlessly reach out and cover her hand over Cara’s and hold tight for long moments. They would not break their gaze the entire time. It was almost a contest to see who would look away first. It reminded Cara of when she had once closed Kahlan’s leg wound with her agiel.
Then Kahlan would take a deep breath and fall back into an exhausted heap on her bedroll until morning.
Cara recognized this for what it was. Kahlan had the same clench of the jaw as Cara did when she squeezed her agiels. She was serving the same purpose for her. Grounding her, clearing her mind.
The curious thing to Cara was how that need had lessened in herself of late.
“Little sister?” Kahlan stopped in her tracks and looked in wonder at the tall, blonde woman in front of her. Then she lunged forward and threw herself into Dennee’s arms.
Dennee’s face was still buried into Kahlan’s dark hair when she replied through a smile. “The Wizards here were able to restore my own appearance to me. It became too difficult looking at someone else’s face in the mirror.”
Kahlan laughed in delight, then stiffened in surprise and stepped back, laying her hand over her sister’s slightly rounded belly. “You’re with child,” Kahlan whispered, astounded.
Dennee nodded, her eyes flooding. “It was time. I was ready.”
Cara watched this reunion near the back of the Palace room. And felt something she thought could only be a kind of panic.
It had been easier to avoid thoughts about what she had done to Kahlan’s sister when Dennee had looked so different after her return to the living. But now the room was swirling with visions of a storm tossed Valeria. And Dennee’s hands holding a child’s head under water mere paces away from Cara, the Confessor’s eyes burning with hate and defiance, her wet, blonde hair whipping her face.
Cara tried to fade further into the darkened doorway. Dennee was greeting Richard and Zedd warmly, and Cara’s heart was thumping loud in her ears, muffling the exchange, until she realized they had grown quiet and were now all looking at her.
“…You said she was useful to the Seeker, “ Dennee was saying, measured and controlled. “That his quest was too vital to lose any advantage. And I understood that. But she’s not useful here. Or welcome.” Dennee unconsciously palmed her stomach as she spoke. But the months of acting as the sitting Confessor of all the Midlands made stilling her features seem effortless.
Cara watched Kahlan as Dennee spoke. She appeared stricken, her blue eyes large and unsure. Richard gingerly stepped closer to the two Confessors. “No one means any disrespect, Dennee. And we don’t want to make you uncomfortable. It’s just…Cara has risked herself as much as any one of us and her help was-”
“I know she can be a useful weapon.” Dennee ground the words out, disgust lacing her tight words.
Richard exchanged looks with a stunned Kahlan, before venturing further. “…But Cara travels with us. She’s our friend.”
“Friend?” Dennee tried the word on her tongue as if she had never heard it before. And swept her head back around to look at Kahlan, her eyes begging her to deny it.
Kahlan finally reached out and squeezed Dennee’s arm. “Little sister. I’ll explain everything. I promise. But let’s not sour finally seeing each other again. I don’t want to argue with you. Not now.” She gently shook her arm. “I’m just happy to see you. I’m happy to be home.”
Dennee’s hard expression gave a little and she laid her hand over Kahlan’s. She looked at the floor as she spoke again. “The Mord Sith can stay quartered in the north tower. And she will be escorted by several guards wherever she goes.” She lifted her eyes and looked right through Cara. “And she’ll stay out of my sight.” Then she looked pointedly again at Kahlan. “Those are the only conditions where I can accept this. Even temporarily.”
Kahlan turned towards Cara, with a pleading, apologetic look. Cara gave a short, curt nod in reply.
Kahlan’s jaw clenched as she acknowledged the two large, imposing guards stationed outside the doors of the room where Cara had been placed. It was not lost on her that Dennee had chosen the coldest rooms in the Palace during the remaining weeks of a bitterly cold northern winter.
As the heavy doors were briskly swept opened for her, Kahlan knew the lack of a hearth fire inside was also a deliberate comment from her sister. She quickly took in the small, dark room and felt her stomach bottoming out when she didn’t spy Cara anywhere in it.
Then she saw another reason the room felt so chilled. The double doors leading to the small balcony were wide open.
She eased into the room until she could see Cara standing nearest the edge of the balcony, leaning her thighs against the waist high marble balustrade. She was gazing at the grey sky and the white tipped mountains that could be seen just beyond Aydindril’s limits, and Kahlan suddenly realized Cara’s gaze wasn’t with any longing, it was with a knowing. Cara knew what it was like to lift her wings and soar free above the world. She looked like she was considering trying again now, with or without the necessary magic.
Her head didn’t turn as Kahlan neared. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“I’ll get you better quarters, Cara. I promise. I need to speak privately to Dennee first.”
Cara’s lips twisted, amused. “You know I’m not complaining about the accommodations.”
“It was foolish to think she would approve of my presence here. It’s understandable that she doesn’t. Any Mord Sith in the Palace of the Confessors would be bad enough…” Cara finally turned towards Kahlan, a steady challenge in her eyes. “She’s your sister. She comes first. My being here doesn’t serve Richard or you. She’s right. I don’t belong here.”
Kahlan’s answering look didn’t waver. “You’re welcome anywhere I am. And I want you here. You’ve earned your place here.” Cara’s jaw twitched stubbornly. Sighing, Kahlan reached out for Cara’s gloved hand, not gripping hard this time, but gently sliding her palm against hers “It’s true, I didn’t think this through very well.” Her eyebrows lifted wryly. “I’ve been a little…distracted. And I see you so differently now, I forget that others might not.”
Cara didn’t pull away, but she didn’t speak, either. Instead, she looked back at the mountain range as if it were utterly fascinating. “And I’m sorry, too,” Kahlan quickly added, “that I wasn’t more forceful in my defense of you, but Dennee would have only…”
“…felt more betrayed,” Cara finished for her.
“Yes,” Kahlan admitted. “It wasn’t the time to question her fears. She wouldn’t have heard me. But I will make her understand.“
Cara’s head craned back towards her, as if she had sprouted Gars’ wings. “How?”
Kahlan squeezed Cara’s hand, still lying loosely in hers. “Dennee and I ….We only had each other to rely on for most of our lives. She was all I had…for so long. She knows I would never risk her. If I can convince her of what I believe, she will trust it.”
Kahlan watched Cara pause, swallow and narrow her eyes. “And what do you believe?”
“I know that while those agiels are the same as Dennee remembers, the hands holding them aren’t. I know that you’d rather die yourself than ever harm her again, or her daughter. I know all that as surely and as strongly as any Truth I could ever see as Mother Confessor.”
Kahlan noticed that Cara held her breath until she was done speaking. Then she shifted and gave a slight shrug, and a halting, unnecessary nod of agreement while averting her eyes.
“Still.” The word came out too roughly, and Cara cleared her throat before trying again. “Still. I’ve taken her from you once. If my presence takes her from you again, in any way, then-“
“I love you both. I will not choose between you. And I won’t lose either of you.” Kahlan thought it sounded like a vow, a pledge, even to her own ears.
Cara just examined the Confessor’s face in astonishment, mouth slightly open, green eyes blinking.
Kahlan allowed herself to sink further into the plush, velvet covered couch. She let her head drop on Dennee’s shoulder, one hand wrapped around her arm and the other resting on her sister’s stomach. She let her thumb rub a small circle as she smiled at her niece-to-be.
Dennee watched, amused. “You’re already doting,” she said over Kahlan’s chuckle. “You’re going to be a horrible spoiler of children, aren’t you?”
Kahlan’s smile broadened against Dennee’s arm. “Every chance I get.”
Dennee hummed contentedly and burrowed into the couch as well, covering Kahlan’s hand on her belly. They listened to the crackling of the wood fire in Dennee’s room for a bit, before Kahlan chewed her lip and lifted her head just far enough to watch her sister’s expression. “I wasn’t sure if you would want to have another child.”
Dennee’s face remained soft and relaxed. “You know it’s necessary, Kahlan,” she answered lazily.
Kahlan’s forehead wrinkled “But, it’s not just duty. Is it? You want to have this child, right?”
Dennee grinned and nudged her. “Do I look unhappy?”
Kahlan looked fondly over the familiar plains of her face. The face she thought she’d never see again. “No. You look as happy as I can ever remember.”
She watched Dennee’s mind turn over just how little cause for happiness they’d had in their lives. It wasn’t a difficult standard to beat. “It’s much easier to be secure in my decision since the Wizards confirmed that it will be a Confessor child…And a girl.” There was a short, tense pause, before Dennee sighed. “Well, then…No need to worry about me…” Dennee said. She leaned her weight a little against Kahlan. “Are you going to tell me what is going on with you? And you and Richard?”
Kahlan ducked her head. “Yes. Of course,” She said, playing with loose threads on the blonde’s white gown. “But just not right now. Please?”
Dennee kissed her sister’s bent head. “You’ve always agonized more about your duty than I, Kahlan. Always too aware of what it doesn’t allow you. I’ve chosen to find the pleasures within its confines.” Dennee’s smile grew mockingly suggestive until Kahlan realized what she meant and she felt her face immediately start to flush. Kahlan’s reaction only encouraged her. As it always had.
“Choosing a mate was definitely one of those times,” she continued, overly earnest, “In fact, the competition was rather stiff…”
Kahlan’s jaw dropped and she just managed to choke out “Dennee,” even as she started laughing through the hand clamped over her own mouth. They crumpled against each other and giggled stupidly and uncontrollably, one’s reaction spurring more from the other, until their eyes were wet, and they were clutching each other for support.
Dennee’s comment wasn’t even particularly funny, but they both embraced the chance to leach off some of the tension still lingering, unsaid, between them. It was nervous laughter, really. With the fear of not being able to fit back together again, two halves of the same whole, as they’d always been before.
“Dennee… I have to… I want…” Kahlan grunted and she gripped the seat under her, hard, in frustration.
“You can talk about your Mord Sith now... It’s the only subject you hesitate to bring up with me, “ she added at Kahlan’s stare. “Though you can probably spare your voice too many songs of praise. Richard has already cornered me and told me all about her.” Dennee’s voice was light and teasing, only the nervous tap of her left hand on the arm of the couch revealed any strain. “Very impressive stories, too. I think my favorite was how she single-handedly saved the Night Wisps from extinction.”
Kahlan shifted to sit upright again, and waited until her sister looked at her. “They’re not just stories,” she offered carefully. “It’s all true, Dennee.”
Dennee shook her head, in short, jerky bursts. “That’s not the woman I know, Kahlan.”
“But it’s who she is. Now.”
Dennee’s tone became even more stiffly conversational. “I understand you moved her to other quarters. You knew I would be told about that.”
“Of course. I’m not trying to deceive you. And it wasn’t my intention to overrule you. I’d hoped to talk to you first. But our duties kept preventing that. And I couldn’t just leave her there.”
Kahlan finally saw the pain she knew was there, flit across her sister’s composed features. “Is her comfort really more important than my feelings?”
“Dennee. Dennee,” Kahlan clasped both of her hands in hers. “You know I care about anything that concerns you. You’re precious to me, little sister. And I understand exactly how you feel, because I felt that way too, when I first found out what happened to you.”
Her composure eroded a bit more, her eyes filling. “Then what changed?”
Kahlan took her sister’s cheeks in her hands and starting sweeping her thumbs over them, catching any tears before they even fell. Seeing Dennee upset never failed to remind Kahlan of the small, vulnerable girl she once was – inconsolable, terrified and often without hope. And it was always Kahlan’s responsibility to shield her, protect her from the realities of their life. Or try.
Kahlan made a final, affectionate stroke of her face and began to speak softly. “What we were taught…that Mord Sith are soul-less monsters, that it’s a mercy to kill what’s left of them, before the poison of them spreads to other girls…It’s not that simple. Traveling these pasts few years, I’ve learned that nothing, really, is that simple.” Kahlan took a bracing breath. Dennee was wrong. Cara wasn’t the only subject she avoided with her. “You know what we were forced to do as children...” Kahlan began, carefully. “…Are we still to answer for that?”
Dennee’s jaw clenched. “That Mord Sith was not a child on Valeria-” she began hotly. Kahlan held up her palms and made quieting sounds that made Dennee quickly swallow the rest of her words.
“I know, I know,” Kahlan said soothingly. “But Cara was taken just a little older than we were, when Father made us confess others…for profit or revenge. What if we hadn’t been rescued from that, Dennee? What monsters would we have become? With just our father’s example to follow?” Kahlan hesitated, trying to gauge her sister, but she wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Cara was never rescued as a child. She had to rescue herself, when Richard gave her the opportunity. She had to decide, as an adult, to reject much of what she’d known and been taught and done, and choose to be different, to be better. Should we condemn that effort? Condemn her?”
Dennee’s eyes returned to Kahlan’s, her jaw painfully clenched. “I don’t dispute that she’s done many worthwhile things. But she follows Richard because he’s a Rahl. She’s only doing those things to please Richard, because that’s all they know. Blindly following their Lord. She’s doing good now, because Richard is good. She’s just content to still be allowed to torment and kill people. She doesn’t care why she’s doing it or who she’s helping.”
Kahlan felt her own blood start to burn in her veins, and she paused, staring at the grey, stone floor until she was sure she could keep her voice even. “Cara helped Richard before she even knew he was a Rahl, before Richard knew, himself. The only thing being a Rahl has ever done, was give Cara an excuse to help him that satisfied her pride as a Mord Sith.” Kahlan reached out again for Dennee’s hand, but she quickly withdrew it, and hugged her arms tight around herself. “I saw her after she saved those Night Wisps,” Kahlan continued. “How moved she was. That had nothing to do with any Lord Rahl, being Mord Sith, or being anybody’s weapon. It was because of who she’s become.”
Dennee blinked rapidly, as if desperate to shake a image loose from her brain. “You don’t understand. Or don’t care to…It will always be her eyes I see, when I think of his death. Those eyes looking at me, when I felt his heart stop against the palm of my hand…” Dennee’s voice failed her, a sob jumping from her throat, which she determinedly pushed back down. When she spoke again, she was measured, low, giving a warning, a promise. “Kahlan. I may not fear it happening again, but I will never be comfortable in her company.”
“I understand. I do,” Kahlan stressed at Dennee’s doubtful, bruised look. “I know I’m asking so much of you. And I don’t ever expect you to become her friend. But Richard has no plans to leave anytime soon. And where he is, Cara will be. I just hope you don’t expect me to treat her like a stranger. Because I just can’t do that.” Kahlan sighed, knowing she couldn’t avoid speaking the plain truth. “I am her friend, sister. And she’s mine. I hate that that hurts you. But I can’t pretend otherwise.”
Dennee’s head dipped and she watched her own hands sweep over her belly, again and again, as if smoothing a wrinkle on her unborn child’s brow. “You have to do what you feel you must. You’re Mother Confessor now, and your word is law.”
Kahlan’s chest clenched.
Sometimes, Cara got distracted by the beauty of it.
The twirls and dips and the gliding, graceful deadliness of it. Rarely any hard jabs, and crude slashing. Was that part of the strategy? To dazzle the eye, so you forgot to defend yourself? Or found yourself wanting to sacrifice yourself to its beauty?
Cara sneered at having such pointless musings during battle, and rather than just continuing to deflect the series of blows pummeling her, she suddenly reversed the momentum and turned the tide of violence away from her.
She swiped her agiels again and again, strong arcs in the air in front of her; hearing the crackle of the magic, the thump of her leather covered agiels striking the metal of the daggers. She just kept moving. And she didn’t let up until Kahlan finally ducked under the assault and came up a few paces to her left, a wide, happy grin on her face.
Cara‘s answering laugh was wild and she dove forward not letting either of them catch their breath.
The Spring thaw had brought rain and lots of mud. The sticky ground in the yard was only another interesting element to negotiate. It had also already sullied Kahlan’s pure white dress into a drab, caked mess.
It turned out that Cara’s leathers hid mud as well as it did blood.
Kahlan started alternating a thrust of metal with each deflection and Cara echoed her, blocking with one agiel and making her own offensive jab with the other. This went on for awhile, becoming more and more furious until Cara’s eyes really couldn’t follow the motions anymore. She let her instincts take over, anticipating where the next move would appear, reading Kahlan before she even registered that she had.
Then she was startled to feel her agiel contact something softer than steel, and realized a second later that one of her thrusts had actually branded Kahlan’s wrist for a moment. The Confessor swallowed a cry and jerked her hand away.
Cara ignored the half dozen ogling soldiers around them at the edge of the yard, at the edge of her vision, all stepping forward in clear warning. Instead, she swallowed gulps of damp air and made a tentative, worried step of her own towards the Confessor, who was gritting her teeth and holding the hand against her stomach.
Without a word, the Confessor suddenly whirled away from her, but continued the circular motion, bringing both hands around to fling against Cara’s head. She had reversed her grip and the handles of her dagger hit Cara’s jaw, flinging her entire body paces away. She rolled and bounced to her knees, lifting her agiels at the same time, but a hand was already on her throat and Cara froze, allowing herself to be planted firmly back against the ground.
Kahlan’s eyes grew wide, but no darker, and Cara wasn’t surprised to feel her hand so slack against her neck. It was a check only, keeping score of her defeat.
“You cheated.” They were so close that Cara’s hot, ragged breath tossed what dark hair wasn’t matted to Kahlan’s head.
“Don’t Mord Sith make use of any advantage they can?” Kahlan mock-pouted.
Cara’s eyes narrowed. “We never feign weakness.”
Kahlan’s laugh shook her whole body, as she let go of Cara to swipe at the sweat trailing off her forehead. “Maybe you should learn.”
The Confessor lifted herself up, straight backed and regal, even with a silly smile on her face and undignified splotches of mud on her cheeks. She had both her daggers in her left hand and stuck out the other towards Cara.
Cara experimentally flexed her jaw, noting that it must have been more Kahlan’s hands than the daggers that had made contact, or she would have been out cold, possibly with a broken jaw. Cara tried to look stern and perhaps a little petulant, but Kahlan’s delighted grin only grew and Cara slapped her palm against the offered forearm, wrapping her fingers around it. Kahlan gripped, too and pulled until they were both standing only a hairsbreath away from each other.
Cara saw a challenge still in her eyes, but she didn’t know why. She glanced behind her and saw the nervous young men milling around, some with their hands on their sword hilts. It would’ve been bad for them, if they had let any harm come to the Mother Confessor right in front of them.
Some small motion above her made her lift her eyes, and Cara saw Dennee and Richard on the balcony above them. Richard’s hand was on her elbow and the blonde’s legs were pressed hard against the wooden posts in front of her. Cara wondered if she had surged forward with concern over Kahlan or in anticipation that her sister would finally confess and kill her.
Cara’s eyes darted back to Kahlan, who was still watching her with a smile.
“I know,” she said quietly, and rolling her shoulders and stretching her neck, parted and took a defensive stance a little ways from her. “Ready for another round?” She twirled her daggers.
Cara let a smirk surface in reply.
In the corner of her eye, she saw a column of white fabric back away out of sight.