Note: This story was first posted to LiveJournal on September 22nd, 2012 under the same username (Greatshow), and I've continued it today (September 29, 2014). The world has never been too condemning of lesbianism, but I don't think it would be considered normal for a woman to be exclusively sexually attracted to women in the Anglo-Saxon era, which is the era Switched In Love takes place. I've mixed the Legend of the Seeker world into that, which is why there exists elaborate castles and palaces in my story...despite the fact that Anglo-Saxons did not have such elaborate castles and palaces.

Summary: The Lord: Lady Cara Mason would have never predicted that her hot-headed twin brother would be so selfish as to put her in this position — to where she must not only assume his identity but his marriage as well — but, alas, here she is. Looking every bit the part and awaiting his bride. All of this while he attends to "urgent matters." All of this to save their lands. Cara only hopes that it's worth it. She hasn't had much "experience" with women, though she has "dabbled," and is quite sure that she would have been better off had a certain male appendage been appointed her life-mate than the woman she will soon meet.

The Lady: If there's one thing Lady Kahlan Amnell knows, it's that she's not attracted to men. Not sexually. Not generally. So it is not in any way forgivable that her father, Wyborn, King of the Midlands, guilt-trips her into marrying none other than the enemy, Cal, Earl of D'Hara, to unite their feuding kingdoms and to hopefully defeat the invading Normans. But as Kahlan makes an attempt to find some common ground with "Cal," it may be commonalities with Cara she finds instead.

Chapter One

The sun begins to set on the Mason palace, pouring an orange tint through the massive windows, the sky encompassing an otherwise blend of pink and blue hues contrasting its neighboring clouds. It's enough to make one appreciative of life. Appreciative of any and everything taken for granted.

But to 22-year-old Cara Mason, it is an irritant. It couldn't be any more annoying as she stands frowning in a palace room, being fitted into clothing she has no business wearing. Her brother's best friend, Lord Richard Cypher, leans against a table a few feet away with noted humor. But every once in awhile, his eyes betray him and it is clear that he, too, is worried.

They both know what is going on outside that room: In the wide hall, servants wave gigantic feather-like fans to cool the wedding guests who eagerly await the expensive and elaborate meal ordered by Lord Cal Mason for the nuptial celebration. Cloth symbols signifying the nobles adorn some of the walls. Four long tables harbor strewn vines and roses on their sides, large bowls of fruit topping off their centers.

The floor is sprinkled with tiny white flower petals.

Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander, a tall man nearing his 70s, has served the Masons for as long as he can remember. Not one particular job, but a variety of them, he has always considered his services as integral to the Mason name. Many have called him "the one with the magical hands." He is capable of making almost anything happen with enough effort. And, as he wraps Cara's breasts from chest to back with flexible, cohesive bandage material, he feels such effort is possible now.

"We have to hide my breasts too?" Cara scowls.

"You think you can pass for a man even with your bosom protruding near your neckline?" Zedd drags a hand through his long white hair before returning to his task.

"It's ridiculous either way!" Cara yells. "Why don't you just wait until Cal gets back and then go on with the wedding?"

"Because," Richard says, standing to his full height, "your brother will be out on urgent business for at least three months, and this wedding must take place now if it is to help create an alliance between the Midlanders and D'Harans. We've been over this."

"But why does it have to be me?"

"Is there anyone else who can pass for Lord Cal Mason?" Richard arches an eyebrow, tucking a finger into his belt.

"Lord Cal," Cara reminds him. "He prefers to be called Lord Cal."

"You're identical twins, Cara. Or semi-identical. Or something of the sort. That's my point. Stop being silly."

Cara sends him a death glare, pushing Zedd off to pull on her black trousers. He'd finished bogging down her breasts a minute ago. "I can dress myself," she says, sneering.

"There's a reason your brother is called 'the prettiest man in all the land'," Richard continues, rubbing his beard. "And you need to get this through your thick head: Other than height and a difference in anatomy, you two are indistinguishable." He looks Cara over. "He's taller, but the boots, which add two-to-three inches of height, should take care of that."

"It also helps that your bride and her father have never seen Cal in person," Zedd chimes in, raising a finger. "And that King Salice will not be attending."

"But I am Lady Cara!" She yanks on her white tunic.

Richard smirks. "Face it, Lady Cara. You were the best option. It's also why I never bedded you. Couldn't risk 'seeing' Cal while having you under me."

"You..." Cara violently straightens the sleeves of her tunic "...never bedded me because I am not some whore keen on her sibling's allies."

"I must have been mistaken." Richard's smirk deepens. "That must have been some other twin I saw with the stable boy the other night." He bows elegantly.

"Must have been." Cara shrugs.

Zedd exchanges a humorous look with Richard.

"And besides," Cara nods, "I'm Cal now and I say Cal doesn't befriend stable boys."

Richard and Zedd burst into laughter.

Cara continues to make herself presentable, frowning the whole time. Sure, she's not some virginal princess, but do they always have to make fun of her for it? Her brother, as well as other men, get to bed as many women as they want, and no one ever thinks twice about it. But let a woman do the same with men? And she's a whore. A slut. A cunt. Reputation ruined.

Luckily, Zedd and other trusted individuals would always cover her tracks. The night Richard had caught her, she was being careless. Cal had put a ready stop to that, scolding her about shaming the family name.

Cal had inherited the title of Earl upon their father's death. Having been well-respected and loved, as well as more popular than most rulers, King Salice had decided if anyone should betroth his enemy's daughter, it should be Alan Mason, his appointed earl of D'Hara. As father to Cal and Cara, Alan had been loving and patient. And when he governed territories, he hadn't been much different, holding himself together even upon the death of his wife. Perhaps that is what won him the respect of the people. Either way, Salice saw this as a strength. Their country had long been comprised of several kingdoms; and of those kingdoms, only two have consistently been at war...but with each other — the Midlands and D'Hara. The latter of the two harbor people who choose to call themselves "Mord-Sith," especially if they are warriors who serve the king, while others in the community identify simply as Anglo-Saxon or otherwise; and this, too, has caused problems due to infighting.

Salice had declared something needed to be done, or else they'd be their own country's downfall. Adamant, he'd contacted Wyborn Amnell, King of the Midlands, in the hopes of achieving some semblance of peace. Both men had suggested marriage. And seeing as the women of their land were never forced into such, it had been entirely left up to Amnell's daughter whether or not to pursue the undertaking. When she'd said yes, and considering that Salice himself was already married, he'd entrusted Lord Alan with the 'task' even over his eldest son. When Lord Alan succumbed to lung sickness three years ago, that responsibility had fallen to Cal. He'd inherited not only his father's title, but his father's bride as well, Salice having been quite content with keeping this arrangement. Especially now with the Normans steadily conquering their territories.

No doubt this "urgent business" Cal is now involved in has to do with the Normans. It was a point he'd brought up to Cara the night he'd learned of her indiscretion with the stable boy. "The Normans might be slaughtering our men as we speak, and this is how you represent the family legacy?" he'd said.

In all honesty, even if a woman were seen talking alone with a man at certain times of night, she was rumored to be his lover. And with the way Cara had been kissing the stable hand when Richard happened upon them, it was safe to say that had it been anyone other than a trusted ally bearing witness, the kingdom would have had a scandal with which to indulge for some time. Cal had told her, "You'd be better off bedding women instead. At least then, if seen socializing with someone at suspicious times of the night, no one would be the wiser."

Little had Cal known, Cara had considered just that, long before any prompting. But even she, with her knowledge and skill at achieving certain 'bodily responses,' had never gotten very far with women. A little kissing here and there, touching of the bosom and backside, but nothing she'd ever term "lovemaking." Every time she'd had the chance, she'd held back. Not because she wanted to, but because pleasuring men is what she thoroughly knows. What she's used to. What she's been taught is the 'right way.' And Cara figures if she's going to uphold the Mason name, it might as well be with some respect, if only a little. Odd, however, that she and Cal have different perspectives on what bedding women would impart to the family name.

"You're both forgetting something... My voice," Cara says, coming back to the moment to pull on her boots. "Cal doesn't exactly sound like an innocent school girl."

"Neither do you." Richard smiles. "But Zedd has something for that."

"There's this potion," the old man says, moving toward Cara, pulling an object out of his formal attire. "And there's this." He holds up a small metal collar. "Either will allow your voice to deepen enough so that you sound male, and will also add a bit of muscle tone to your build."

"But how is that possible?" Cara stands to her full height, which, with the assistance of the boots, is a considerable improvement. "And why couldn't you have drudged up some potion to make me a few feet taller?" she questions as an afterthought, taking the bottle into her hands and examining it.

"Never the matter about how it's possible." Zedd rubs a hand across the embroidery at the top of Cara's tunic as though dusting the fabric off, and she scowls.

"Never the matter" is always Zedd's way of saying "You wouldn't understand." And maybe he's right, Cara wouldn't understand how the old fart was able to conjure up odd remedies, inventions and the like, but that doesn't mean he can't at least try to explain. Others already consider him a witch of some sort, though they dare not voice such suspicions for fear of his death; witchcraft is not exactly an accepted practice around these parts.

"And seeing as the boots increase your height just fine," Zedd continues, "and Cal isn't even a few feet taller, but merely a few inches taller, why waste resources? It's not as though you'll be parting from the boots in public, will you?" He pulls out a comb, parting the woman's shoulder-length blond hair. "Unless you plan to bed your bride?"

"Of course not! " Cara snatches the comb from his hands and backs away. "And she's not my bride. It's Cal's name that will be on that certificate, not mine, and I highly doubt that he'd take kindly to me ravishing his wife."

"Yes, well, you had better come up with a good excuse for why you won't be bedding her," Richard chimes in.

Cara bitterly takes a sip of the potion.

"Ah-ah, only a little." Zedd waves his hands about. "It only takes a smidge every three to four hours."

Cara tops the potion back up and gives it to Zedd, snatching the collar from his other hand and tossing it across the room to a chair.

"That collar," Zedd adds, "is a more permanent fix, lasting until you take it off. But I can see how it would attract unnecessary attention."

"Attention is the least of my concern," Cara replies dryly. "I don't want to feel like a damn dog."

Zedd and Richard stir in alarm at the instant masculinization of her voice and build.

"Zedd, you work miracles," Richard states, staring at his female friend in awe as he circles her. She truly is the spitting image of Lord Mason.

"Hair band," Cara says, gesturing to behind Richard and briefly looking to the inches upon inches of her hair that Zedd hacked off moments ago, now scattered on the floor. Richard quickly acts, scurrying to grasp the object and hand it to her. Cal is nothing without his hair band, at least to Cal.

Tying her hair securely in a ponytail, Cara narrows her eyes at Richard. "How many know of this?"

"Only us," he assures her. "While we have trusted servants, ones who have kept secret your dalliances, the less people that know -"

" - the better," Zedd finishes, nodding.

"You should be able to fool even those familiar with Cal," Richard says, giving her the once-over. "You've watched him in action enough times, have had combat training like his in the past."

Zedd moves toward the door to look out into the hall.

"Just one thing," Cara notes, moving to glare Richard in the face. "If I'm Cal, then who's me? How will my disappearance be explained?"

"We'll... Instead of Cal being gone for three months, we'll just tell everyone that Lady Cara has departed for three months...to attend to personal matters of a sort."

"Clever," Cara remarks sarcastically. "And just what 'personal matters' could take Lady Cara from her homeland for such a long period of time? We don't have any close relatives to speak of."

"Distant relatives, perhaps?" Richard shrugs with a grin.

Cara angrily bites on her bottom lip.

"Don't be like that. I told you all this before."

"No, you didn't," she fumes... But it is something I should have asked...maybe... "And where's Zedd?" She looks around, seeing Richard glance toward the wide, open door first.

In the hall, Zedd watches maidservants scurry about from the kitchen corridor and back, others waiting to serve food. He gestures for a few of them to make sure everything is well-prepared, and looks back to the room harboring Lady Cara and Lord Richard. He has no doubt in their ability to pull off this ruse, but he does wonder just where is Cal's soon-to-be bride. She should have been here by now.

Cara moves to the door to view Zedd peering at them. "Let's get on with it," she says, taking a step outside.

"I think you're forgetting something," Richard states, holding up a soft phallus-looking object, straps extending from either side. "Cal, as a known rogue, has never had a woman shy away from groping his rumored endowments."

Cara looks appalled, mouth hanging agape.

"Hey, it's not my fault your brother's a scoundrel." Richard chuckles, shamelessly twirling the item around. "And if you want to be convincing, you must embrace all that comes along with his...'charming'...identity."

Rolling her eyes, Cara moves back into the room, and closes the door behind her. Cal will pay for this, she'll make sure of that.

IIII

20-year-old Lady Kahlan Amnell, hair as dark as night and eyes as blue as the brightest sapphire, sits on the elaborate carriage beside her middle-aged father, Wyborn, King of the Midlands, as he drives the horses ahead. They are daringly flanked by only six soldiers on horseback, Wyborn having stated that he wants to inspire trust — that they trust Lord Cal Mason's people not to put his future bride in any danger. But Kahlan believes that her father has neglected that they have other enemies to worry about just as well, such as the invading Normans they are so eager to defeat with this alliance. As such, she considers their current lack of protection foolish to say the least. She'd freshened up in a relatively cheery nearby village only an hour ago, and felt unsafe even then.

Pulling her cloak tighter around her as she looks at the shrubbery they pass by along the road, she sighs heavily. She can hardly believe that she has agreed to this marriage, but Wyborn had stressed that it is the people they must take into consideration and not themselves. Kahlan has never been a selfish person, and there isn't a day when she does not think of her people, but a part of her cannot help believing that this is one freedom she would not have given up if not for her father's insistence.

Ever since she was a child, Kahlan has never been too fond of males, a feeling which intensified over the years as she witnessed men ogling girls young enough to be their daughters and some treating women as though they are second-class citizens — beings to be dominated and controlled. And she's never found one male even remotely sexually attractive, no matter how hard she has tried. So the thought of being married to one, sharing a bed with one, repulses her to no end in sight. Often, Wyborn has stated that she must have some sort of disease to think of boys and men in such a poor light. Even more so, when she revealed that she feels for women what she "should" feel for men — sexual desire, romantic desire — and that she is not eager to have children. But Kahlan has contended that she is perfectly normal and has told him so countless times. Lucky enough for her, she doesn't have a father who would declare her insane to all the world for such confessions.

But I do miss Mother, she thinks to herself.

"Maybe there was another way," she says, continuing a conversation with her father from earlier, eyes still focused on their green surroundings.

"You know that there wasn't," Wyborn replies, his jet black hair blowing in the wind just as fiercely as his daughter's. "I am more than aware that this marriage displeases you, but it must be done." He briefly looks to her before refocusing on the road. "And I didn't force your hand, Kahlan. You agreed."

"I know...," she sighs. "And even with my doubt, I know that I would have agreed to it even if it hadn't been pressed as urgent. I simply can't help thinking..."

"Then don't think," Wyborn advises. "Not in this marriage. Make sure that you don't reveal your odd afflictions to your husband either. At least," he whispers, moving close to her, "the ones about your unnatural physical desires." He sits back up, eyes refocusing on the road. "Every man wants an enthusiastic woman in the bedchamber, my dear, despite beliefs to the contrary. You would do well to make sure you give him just that. Make sure that you do...if you want this alliance to be successful."

Kahlan stares at her father for a moment, almost as though studying him, before looking back to the road.

"Now we must hurry," Wyborn says. "The trouble we endured earlier with our transport has delayed us long enough."

IIII

"Welcome, everyone," Cara says standing in the wide hall, ever looking the part and addressing her wedding guests. Dusk has arrived, and all the guests are seated at their respective tables of lavish meals. Most look up at her, rapt with attention; others whisper among themselves, specifically about what could be keeping the bride. Some of the men, however, cannot hide their eagerness to feast, openly appraising the bowls of fruit adorning the tables while simultaneously downing glasses of wine. "We will dine in a moment," Cara continues. "As soon as the Amnells -"

" - Now is that how Cal would approach this situation?" Richard whispers in Cara's ear. "Think like Cal," he says, just as the priest approaches.

"Will I be giving my blessing now?" the priest, Father Marcus, asks.

Richard is right. Cal wouldn't wait for a bride who has shown such disrespect as to be late for her own wedding ceremony. How is Cara to know that the woman is even dressed and that they won't have to wait longer once she finally does arrive? "Yes, you may give your blessing, Father Marcus," Cara relents.

Because, in actuality, Cal is already married — mostly, if not completely — Cara remembers. In their kingdom, and others such as the Amnell land, all it takes is the consent of the father, the consent of the woman, and the consent of the would-be groom, and the woman has become a wife after papers pertaining to the matter are drawn up and signed. It may not be viewed as official until the priest gives his word, but Kahlan Amnell, whether a priest is present or not, is already as good as Cal's property. The wedding is simply a public confirmation more than anything else.

"Your bride?" Father Marcus raises his eyebrows.

"Does not have to be here," Cara says firmly. "This," she waves her hands around, "is simply a celebration of a union already promised to me, is it not? All you need to do is officiate."

"But to have the bride present, at least for the sake of appearances, would be - "

" - Your blessing," Cara reiterates, eyes hard.

"Yes, of course," Father Marcus bows his head and turns toward the guests. Zedd waves everyone's attention to the front, and then Father Marcus finally blesses the union and food. Afterward, he is directed to his seat at the largest table — the table in the center — obviously meant for Cal, his wife and the most noble of guests.

"Richard?" Cara nods for him to take a seat at her side.

Before taking a seat at the table as well, Zedd smirks, as it doesn't go unnoticed that Richard's newly-assigned spot is the seat the woman of the evening would have graced.

Some servants make their way back to the kitchen to the boiling pots, while others hurry to bring out the first course of the prepared meals. And still, some stand a distance away at each table fanning the guests with large feathers.

As the first course is quickly served, Cara, hands clasped under her chin, breathes a sigh of relief as the head of the table. It seems that she will get away with this ruse after all. Missing bride or not.

Richard gives Cara a "follow my lead" glance, as he delivers his next comment: "Perhaps there is a good reason the guests of honor are not here, Lord Cal."

Cara, quickly picking up on Richard's intention, knows what she must say next. There is only one way Cal would act among such influential guests. "They could have sent word," she says sternly. "But they have instead disgraced this supper."

Richard prepares to continue playing the voice of reason. This was often their routine — Cal being the unreasonable Mord-Sith and Richard being the understanding gentleman. "If I were you, I would also be upset, Cal. But maybe they could not send word. Maybe it is best that we pray that their journey here has been a safe one."

"You can pray for them all you want," Cara snatches up a drumstick from the large tray that his been set before them. "But I will make sure that my bride never forgets this day." She bites deeply into the morsel. "You may all eat. What are you waiting for?" she waves the drumstick around, mouth wide open as she munches on the food.

Even with Father Marcus's blessing, the entire hall had apparently been waiting for Cal's go-ahead. And now, with that reassurance, they dig in, with immediate chatter and laughter.

A smile threatens to spread across Richard's face. Cara is more of a man right now than half of the men he has known in his lifetime, and she certainly has Cal's personality mastered.

Zedd casts knowing eyes, doing his best not to slurp down his stew while also interchangeably stuffing his mouth with biscuits.

"It seems Wyborn Amnell can promise his daughter to me, but cannot promise that she has manners. Not with the way he has apparently raised her," Cara sputters, taking a sip of wine.

"Just be thankful that he promised his daughter to you at all," Richard opines with a nod.

"He only did so because he is just as eager to end this war." Cara takes another bite out of the drumstick, spotting some noblewoman with lips as full as her own and eyes far more dazzling staring at her from across the table. In the next instant, Cara ignores her. "We all know that offering up his own flesh and blood was more of a sacrifice than a blessing."

"You had other options. Any one of the daughters from the alliances forged by the Amnells might have been just as good. Why choose the Amnells directly?"

"Listen to yourself, Richard. I did not choose; it was up to King Salice," Cara replies. "And the choice of selecting the daughter of the King of the Midlands to marry the King of D'Hara's trusted earl all in an effort to stop the war between the Midlanders and D'Harans is an intelligent choice, is it not? A smarter choice would have been for King Salice to marry the Amnell daughter himself, but who can begrudge the man for respecting the marriage he already has? Furthermore, 'might' is a big word. Why choose 'might' when you can go for the direct hit? Has war taught you nothing?" She wipes her hands and face on a piece of cloth. "Besides...I heard that this wench is especially ugly. This means that I can focus on business and business alone. No love. No devotion. No bedding the beast."

Richard and Zedd exchange looks. So it seems Cara has come up with a way to avoid intimacy with the woman after all. And to announce it to the public is nothing short of genius. But to equally speak of and reveal to everyone that the marriage is nothing more than a sham? Richard and Zedd suppose that it is quite obvious either way, and at least they are among trusted guests.

"Well, we shall see what Benicio LorMane has to say about all of this," Richard says.

Two guards suddenly enter the wide hall. Zedd immediately notices and excuses himself from the table, quickly walking toward them. Richard and Cara simply watch. Cara doesn't know why, but Zedd has always taken it upon himself to see to any suspicious matters that may concern Cal. And two guards interrupting a noble supper is certainly a suspicious matter.

Zedd soon hurries back to the table, and Cara thinks he isn't as out of shape as she previously thought. "It would appear, my boy..." Cara arches an eyebrow and Zedd clears his throat, "My lord," he corrects himself, knowing how important it is to respect Cal's title in public. "Your bride and her father are here."

Richard and Cara exchange calculated glances, Cara knowing that she must keep up appearances. "Some of the hired help can see to them," she replies.

A good number of the female guests gasp, only be to scolded by their lovers or husbands.

Zedd feels Cara may be taking this act a little too seriously. He's not so naive to think that Cal would be accommodating or gracious at a moment like this, but maybe it is best to show some respect for Cal's wife under these circumstances. "Would it not be best that you greet them yourself, my lord? Make sure that they had a safe journey?"

"They're here already, aren't they?" Cara folds her arms across her chest. "The journey couldn't have been too threatening." She then crosses her legs, uncrossing them just as quickly when she remembers that this isn't a trait Cal ever exhibits. "If they want to enter the main hall, then let them. But I will not greet such disrespectful people."

"You may wish to push aside your stubbornness long enough to know why they are late," Richard chimes in, smirking only briefly as he rubs his beard.

"No, I do not."

"But it is likely not a disrespect at all."

"It is to me." Cara bites on her bottom lip.

Zedd sighs and moves back out of the hall, thinking it probably would have been better to "work his magic" and have Cara greet the woman she will be married to for the next three months.

IIII

Wyborn Amnell stands in the greeting area by the front doors, looking as appalled as any man could. Kahlan stands behind him, while their men wait outside. "He refuses to welcome us?" he asks. "After our travel for four days?"

"That is correct, my lord," Zedd replies. "But Lord Cal is a reasonable man, I'll have you know. He has felt disrespected by your tardiness, is all. "

"Our tardiness is only due to the fact that we had prepared gifts for this day," a feminine voice challenges. "Gifts that I insisted on having prepared. And because I insisted, we were later than expected. You see, my dear man, before finding out that two of the requests had not made it to the castle, my subjects spent a substantial amount of time attempting to locate them."

Zedd looks past Wyborn, trying to find the location of the voice.

"Quiet now," Wyborn attempts to silence her as though a child.

"I only speak the truth, father," Kahlan says, moving from behind him and stepping to his side.

Zedd stares in awe at the dark-haired beauty before him. She is covered in a dark cloak that contrasts her face in the most profound of ways; although the hood covers her head, the strands of hair that Zedd sees extending from it are lovely all on their own. He does his best not to ogle. "If you like, I can escort you both to your bedchambers," he offers. "I will make sure that you are served excellent meals and -," he stops when he notices the way that Kahlan is glaring at him.

Kahlan looks from Zedd to the double doors of the wide hall, smelling the various assortments of foods, hearing the jolly commotion. "They appear to be enjoying themselves," she states.

"Indeed, my lady," Zedd agrees, becoming nervous at the direction of Kahlan's gaze.

"We should not enter uninvited," Wyborn states, seemingly echoing Zedd's thoughts.

"We were invited. It's my wedding ceremony," Kahlan replies very matter of factly. "Are they not awaiting my wedding vows?"

"You have already been married," Zedd informs her. "The papers were already signed, and our priest, Father Marcus, gave his blessing."

"For a wedding ceremony and celebration to take place without its bride?" Kahlan asks. "It seems that I have been married off to the most considerate and logical of men," the mockery drips from her voice.

Zedd looks to her as though she is a foreign object; never before has he seen a woman speak her mind so freely in public, other than Cara of course, and certainly not with regard to her husband.

Kahlan calls toward one of her guards who have been waiting outside the palace; with the approval of the palace's stand-by soldiers, he enters to move right before her. "Make sure that the horses are tended to, and that you and the men find decent meals in the kitchen before being shown to your quarters," she commands.

"Yes, my lady," the guard says with his fist beating once against his chest before he exits the palace.

Kahlan turns back to Zedd. "Show me in?" she asks innocently enough, extending an arm. "Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander...but 'Zedd' for short, you said your name is?"

Zedd wants to run, for Lord Cal is quite mismatched in having been given this woman as a mate. She's not the quiet, docile type that he has bedded and/or courted, and he reckons that this will be a hostile marriage indeed — two fierce personalities clashing day in and day out. Luckily, it is Cara that she will be meeting instead. Lucky...if Cara doesn't put on too strong of an act as Cal when meeting his bride.

Even knowing that it appears that Lady Amnell needs no such approval, Zedd glances to Lord Wyborn for just that.

"Pardon my daughter," Wyborn offers as an apology. "She has always been headstrong."

And it is with those words that Zedd straightens his apparel and interlocks an arm with Kahlan's. "This way, my lady."

IIII

Kahlan observes her surroundings; the hall reminds her of her own, except for her hall being wider and lacking the elaborate decorations. Cal's hall is warm and welcoming, and the smells of food stir up her appetite. She sees immaculately-dressed nobles at long tables, eating to their hearts' content.

And then she sees a blond man sitting in the center of the most prominent table. She is certain that he is what most people would describe as beautiful. In fact, there appears to be a softness to his features that Kahlan can't quite discern, and he is more beautiful than most women she has laid eyes upon. So she knows that this man is without a doubt Lord Cal Mason. His eyes are already on her, cold and somehow distant. Observing. He obviously knows that she is his wife; and yet, he still makes no attempt to welcome her.

Kahlan nearly bursts a vein, she is so irritated. How much of a bastard can one man be? Sure, she's met a number of bastards in her life, but Lord Cal Mason is a nobleman, her husband. He is supposed to display a higher degree of manners. And as a noblewoman, and as his wife no less, she refuses to be treated in such a disrespectful way.

She looks to her side to find that Zedd has disappeared somewhere, and that her father is also nowhere in sight. And so she returns her gaze to Cal, who quite clearly has yet to take his eyes off of her. He's not too muscular, which Kahlan finds appealing. It's a nice build. And unlike most other noblemen, he wears no jewelry to bring extra attention to that build or to flaunt his wealth. The way he wears his hair is also unconventional — long and kept tied in a band. And this, too, Kahlan finds appealing. And with the sudden increased intensity of his stare — green, intimidating eyes that are all-consuming — Kahlan ponders if maybe she should have taken Zedd up on his offer that she instead dine in her bedchambers. She quickly shakes that thought from her mind, however, resolving that she will not let this man intimidate her.

She walks farther into the hall, slowly moving toward the table in the center. The brown-haired nobleman beside Cal, sitting in what she is certain was the seat meant for her, nods welcomingly toward her. The other guests quiet down, watching her with rapt attention. A plump nobleman stuffing his mouth full of chicken is the only person who doesn't pay Kahlan any mind.

Cara continues to stare at her, but still fails to offer any greeting.

Kahlan stares at her husband, realizing that his subjects and peers may see her showing up here in the hall against his wishes as a great disrespect. It occurs to her then that this may be the reason that her father did not enter the area; he was perhaps attempting to lessen the blow of two disrespectful gestures.

When Kahlan arrives at the table Cal is seated at, opting to stand at the front instead of the side, her eyes lower shyly. "I mean no disrespect, Lord Cal," she says softly. "When you did not greet me and my father, I did not know what to think. Even more so when I learned that we were married without my presence. I felt that it wise that I speak with you immediately."

It is only then that Cara rises, pinning Kahlan with a dark stare.

Kahlan stares at the way her husband's tunic fits snugly at the belt of his waist. She stares at the strong thighs, the length of the legs, surprising herself when she wishes that he were wearing leggings or hose like most of the other men in the hall so that she can better assess their sculpture. She stares at his hands, how oddly slender and delicate they appear, imagining that they must be gentle to the touch.

"Tardiness is not becoming. And could you not have sent word?" Cara says, scowling. "I had to decide to let my guests starve and lull in boredom, waiting for a bride who may never show, or dine and enjoy themselves. You cannot begrudge me for choosing the latter."

"We were preparing gifts, my lord, and this preparation resulted in the tardiness you speak of," Kahlan says. "While we were initially on time to make our way to your kingdom, two of the gifts that were requested from a nearby land never made it. We did not know this until it was too late and we subsequently spent valuable time looking for the items." She looks up at her husband to allow him to see the sincerity in her eyes. She wants him to know that he has acted unjustly toward her and her father, for they had only been attempting to be courteous. As his scowl becomes deeper, mouth attempting but failing to form a response, Kahlan concludes that she has been awarded a small triumph. "You couldn't have known this, of course," she says innocently enough. "Although you could have sent word to see to it we were safe, we could have sent word just the same. There is, however, the small fact that we were too occupied to send word and doing so when we finally were not would have resulted in the messenger making it here at the same time as us."

Cara does not reply. And her expression remains the same...except for the sneer forming across her full lips before she once again resigns to her seat.

Kahlan does not know how her husband can be so cold even now. She can imagine how unhappy some of his subjects must be if he cannot even show the slightest margin of empathy in this particular matter. "I should have had the gifts assessed much earlier than I did," she offers, deciding not to express what she truly thinks of this man at this time. "Shall I take my seat at your side?" she queries.

"Yes, you may take my seat, which was obviously yours," Richard states. "Is yours." He stands, pulling out the chair for Kahlan. "People usually call me Lord Richard Cypher, or Lord Cypher, or Lord Richard, but you may simply refer to me as Richard." He smiles, a smile so blinding that Kahlan is surprised that teeth can be as white as his.

"Thank you, Lord Cypher," she says, making her way to the seat. "Richard," she corrects herself. She takes off her cloak, and immediately notices all eyes appraising her gown. It's a lovely piece of fabric, white with leaf-like embroidery lining the neckline and sleeves, and complementary to her bosom and hips with its form-fitting design. The attire, set off by her dark hair — wavy and extending halfway down her back — catches even the eye of the nobleman who had been steadily devouring chicken. Father Marcus also offers a lascivious gaze or two.

Kahlan pretends that she has not noticed the stares, and occupies her seat. Discussion in the hall suddenly continues, albeit much quieter than before.

Cara nearly groans. By the looks and hushed discussions she witnesses from her peripheral vision, it is clear that everyone believes that she will be eating her words about not bedding her bride, for the woman's beauty is quite remarkable.

"I take it your travel here was safe?" Richard asks, taking a seat in one of the two vacant chairs of the main table; he sits on Kahlan's left.

"Yes, and I quite enjoyed the scenery," Kahlan says briefly turning to him. "Our lands are extremely beautiful."

The noblewoman who had caught Cara's attention earlier is now staring in her direction again, but it is Kahlan who notices this time; with the way that the woman is gazing — provocative eyes which stare suggestively over a golden cup — Kahlan deduces that she and Cal must be bed partners.

When Kahlan turns to her husband, however, she sees that he is focused on her and not the other woman; his gaze lingers on her neck, as well as her bosom. "And I imagine I'd be quite correct in presuming you enjoy the scenery as well," she states to him, letting her facial expression exude the double meaning.

A sneer forms across Cara's face before she looks away and focuses her attention on a nearby wall decoration.

Richard, having noticed the interaction, grins. "And your father?" he asks Kahlan.

"Is most apologetic for my late appearance," a deep voice booms through the air.

All eyes in the room immediately focus on Lord Wyborn Amnell, who stands before their table; Kahlan sees that he has changed out of the previous attire he had on and is now wearing a more fashionable and therefore expensive tunic, along with equally expensive leggings and boots.

Kahlan is surprised when she sees her husband instantly rise to greet him. He'll greet her father, but not her? She surmises that it must be because her father is a man. That's what it always comes down to in this world — a person's sex. "Lord Amnell," she hears him say. "What a pleasure it is to meet you." She watches as he emphasizes the second line with a handshake and briefly looks to her with an expression that seems to say "You aren't worth my time, but your father certainly is."

"A pleasure to meet you as well," she hears her father respond. "I had wanted to look more presentable, so I withdrew from accompanying my daughter when she entered the hall."

Frustratedly taking a bite out of a piece of cheese and sipping a cup of wine, Kahlan has decided that she's seen enough for the night. And certainly enough of her husband. She rises, eyes firmly on him. "I shall retire for the evening." She spots Zedd standing at the hall's entrance, and waves him over. "Escort me to my bedchamber?" she asks him.

"Of course, my lady," Zedd replies, interlocking an arm with hers. "But do keep in mind that I am not a typical servant."

Kahlan smiles. She hears the calls of her father and Richard insisting that she stay — the former demanding it; the latter asking it — but she continues ahead without another word. She lets Zedd lead her out into a corresponding hall, up a winding staircase and into another corridor. While Lord Cal Mason may have been successful in driving her away, something he quite clearly wanted, she takes comfort in the fact that she has been successful in showing that she is not a woman to be easily intimated, and certainly not one to be dominated, by the needs or whims of man.

IIII

When Cara sits down with Wyborn Amnell at the main table of the wide hall, she cannot help but briefly look over her shoulder in the direction that her wife...Cal's wife's...departed in. She's never known a noblewoman to leave without the permission of her husband, another man, or without bidding everyone a good night. No one except herself.

"I understand that my daughter is far too headstrong for her own good," Wyborn states. "But it is also what has contributed to her being one of the strongest women that I know, and one of the few people with natural leadership talent; she has often aided me in decisions regarding the fate of my kingdom, including marrying you." He nods, lifting his cup of wine to take a sip. "I know that some men cannot think of themselves as equals to their women, that they must rule over them even when ruling beside them. But perhaps you are not like such men. Perhaps you can be with Kahlan like I was with my wife in that regard." He eyes Cara with a calculating stare.

Despite having told Kahlan not to think in this marriage, Wyborn knows that such a request or demand is quite unrealistic; it's not who she is or could ever be. But he had prepared her for the way that the world works — that despite married women generally being expected to assist their husbands in business and some carrying on business unrelated to their husbands, there are still those men who would rather the woman stay out of such matters. So when there is a chance that the world can work at all favorably for his daughter, Wyborn is willing to seek it out. Except, of course, for giving his blessing that she seek a woman as her mate.

He stares at this man — Lord Cal Mason — waiting for an answer.

Cara looks back at Wyborn, briefly exchanging a glance with Richard before considering her reply. Ruling equally? She certainly wouldn't put it past Wyborn's daughter to do so, and the image that forms in her head on the matter somehow seems appealing. But what would Cal say?

Deciding to ignore the topic altogether, she nods to the food before her. "Enjoy yourself," she tells Wyborn. And he assuredly wastes no time digging into the abundance of food and tasting the variety of wines.

"And your sister?" Wyborn asks. "I've heard that you're identical twins, but I have not yet seen this mirror image."

Richard clears his throat while spotting Zedd making his way back to a seat at the table.

"My sister has departed, will not be with us for three months, to attend to personal matters of a sort," Cara says, letting the last word roll on her tongue as she retells the story Richard gave her. "But she sends her well wishes."

The hall has quieted down significantly, Cara notices, and she figures that it's the food and wine that has gotten to the people. She looks to Richard and Zedd to gauge if they are thinking what she is thinking — that it is best that she retire for the evening now. "Well, if you can forgive me, I believe that I have had enough to eat and drink for the night," she stands. "I assume you can make it back to your bedchamber without any trouble, or will have one of the servants escort you there?"

"Yes, my Lord," Wyborn replies, taking another sip of wine. "I do understand that it is your wedding night and all."

Cara at first thinks she hears a hint of bitterness in Wyborn's voice, but she decides to ignore it. After all, it can't be easy for any father to think of their daughter sharing a man's bed. Without further word, she thanks the guests and heads for the corridor behind her.

Richard, issuing his apologies for an early absence, follows suit.

Once they are in the corridor, Richard cannot help but fight the grin spreading across his face as they stop to lean against a wall. "You put on a convincing ruse."

"I suppose," Cara says, biting on her bottom lip.

Richard sees the worry on her face, that concerned expression he's become so accustomed to over the years. "What bothers you?" his tone becomes serious as he leans off the wall.

"She unnerves me," Cara answers.

"How so?"

"She... Well, she... "

Cara runs her hands along her hair, back toward her ponytail, before sighing deeply and pushing off the wall. "Can you imagine if Cal had been here? He wouldn't have liked her, Richard. Not one bit." She meets his gaze. "A woman who speaks her mind as freely as she does? Who would wish to rule equally?"

"Yes, and you played the part of Cal perfectly. Barely showed any interest at all," Richard says, still quite confused as to what the problem could be.

"She's trouble." Cara shrugs, folding her arms across her chest. "And I'm not fond of the way she seems to act as though she has bested me."

"It's Cal she thinks she has bested, and I like her," Richard says with a smile. "Good to be in the presence of such a unique woman."

"You're taken with her?" Cara takes a step back, assessing Richard with careful eyes. "You do know that's my brother's wife you're drooling over?"

Richard blushes. "What part of my previous statement leads you to believe that I'm taken with her?"

Cara looks him over, but doesn't say a word.

"She is attractive," Richard states. "I'll give you that."

Cara looks to the ground, pondering. She ponders Kahlan's hair...eyes...lips...skin... "Curves," she says out loud without thinking.

"Excuse me?" Richard questions.

"I...," Cara stutters. "It's not like you have to say it," she utters. "We all have eyes."

Richard arches a brow. "Hmm. Could it be that Lady Cara is jealous? Or smitten herself, perhaps?"

Cara's eyes lock onto his swiftly. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Hmm," Richard repeats, still looking her over.

"Instead of standing there examining me, why don't you go back into the wide hall and see to it that the guests are taken care of? Or at least have someone capable see to it?" She moves past him, heading farther down the corridor. "Which room is it that Lady Kahlan occupies?" she calls over her shoulder.

"Right wing. One on the far end," Richard replies. "It was her request prior to coming here that she have her own bedchamber. That she not be regulated to sharing one with her husband."

"Remarkable," Cara utters.

"And, Cara?" Richard watches her continue on ahead. "What is it that you're planning to do by visiting her this late?"

Cara stops and turns to him. "Have to keep up appearances, you've emphasized. Will my bride not grow suspicious if we do not meet in a bedchamber on our wedding night?"

"Cal's wife," Richard reminds her.

"Stay calm, Lord Cypher." Cara smirks. "It is not as though I am going to ravage the woman. But something must be done to keep any suspicion from arising."

"Not too long ago, you were insisting that intimacy was out of the question. And now look at you."

"Go back to the celebration, Richard." Cara turns her back on him, continuing on her way. "Or what's left of it; I shall be careful, I promise."

Cara doesn't have a plan in the least. All she knows is that Lady Kahlan Amnell irks her. That she doesn't quite believe the story about the tardiness. And that the woman seems to challenge everything about her, or rather everything about Cal. And since Cal is who Cara must be for the next three months, part of that means never letting a woman get the better of her. Never letting a woman think that she is Cal's equal.

No, Lady Kahlan Amnell must be shown just how little she affects anything in this kingdom.