Diclaimer: Not mine.
Wonderful beta by Gosia from gosiamahoney . tumblr . com. Pięknie dziękuję! :)
They separated when they heard voices coming towards them. They found Richard's belongings in an adjacent chamber. Richard dressed quickly and they set to leave. On their way out they encountered only a few guards who were not hard to fight off. Soon, Richard and Kahlan ran into the woods.
Kahlan led the way towards the villagers. Richard managed to keep up, but Kahlan noticed him tripping a few times. He managed not to fall, desperate to get out, silent and determined.
They heard some voices up ahead. Richard gripped the hilt of his sword, clenched his teeth and kept running, with Kahlan at his side, her dagger at the ready.
"Kahlan!", a very familiar voice called. She was more noticeable through the woods because of her white dress.
"Zedd!", Richard shouted, sheathed his sword and basically ran into the old wizard's arms. Zedd embraced him.
"I'm so glad you escaped," Zedd whispered into the younger man's ear. „I'm sorry I left you there."
"She told me why," Richard replied, catching his breath. „Denna. She explained. It's okay. You were able to warn Kahlan, get help." He hugged his friend, realizing he was free, they all were.
"The Seeker? You are hurt. Please, come to the village, get some rest," Raph suggested, coming up to them, watching them in awe.
"We need to get moving," Richard protested, finally released from Zedd's embrace.
"No, he's right. You need to rest before you fall over," Zedd replied, still keeping his hand on Richard's back.
Richard had no strength left to protest further.
They walked slowly towards the village, careful of any guards that might have followed them. Kahlan saw Richard slowly weakening, staggering on his feet, but Zedd seemed to notice it, too. He also found a weirdly moving rib under his hand on Richard's back and started to murmur softly. Soon he was actively supporting Richard, who was focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other, not even noticing that he could breathe more easily now, his broken rib suddenly and magically healed.
When they entered the hut, Richard didn't react when Zedd took his sword from his side. He just stood by the cot, completely passive.
"How are you even still standing?", Zedd asked. Richard looked at him, his eyes clouded with exhaustion.
"I'm not," he replied, sitting down heavily. He was losing his strength with every passing second. He knew he would be unconscious very soon.
Kahlan sat beside him and put a bottle of water to his lips. He sipped weakly, spilling some of it.
"Lay down, get some sleep. We'll keep watch," she promised.
He nodded. Zedd gently helped him lay down on the cot and put his legs up. He took a bowl of water and a clean rag and started cleaning Richard's bloody face. Richard was barely able to keep his eyes open. He sighed, content.
"Sleep, Richard. We'll take care of you," Zedd promised.
Richard closed his eyes. Soon he was breathing deeply, peacefully, finally asleep.
"She almost won," Kahlan whispered, watching him. "She almost broke him. I felt that pain. I felt only a small part of what he had gone through at her hands and I'm terrified when I think about it."
"But he resisted, in the end?", Zedd guessed, finishing cleaning Richard's face with surprisingly delicate fingers.
"She wanted him to kill me. He was standing in front of me with a dagger pointed at my chest. He dropped it. In the end, he killed Denna with his sword," she said, resisting the urge to run her fingers through Richard's unruly hair. He looked much younger than he was, although his eyes were now old, aged with experience.
"He's far stronger than any of us would have thought," Zedd admitted. "And he loves you too much to hurt you, no matter what happens to him."
"I had broken his heart before leaving and he wanted me to confess him," she added, almost sobbing. She remembered how he'd begged her, the desperation in his eyes, the pain, fading hope. She remembered what he had looked like the first time she had seen him in Denna's hands; the hunched, bruised, handcuffed figure, not daring to look anyone in the eyes. She later realized it had been an act, as it were.
"He trusts you with his life," Zedd stressed, putting his hands on her shoulders. "He's won, he's free. He'll rest and will move on."
She nodded, finally giving in and putting her hand on Richard's forehead, careful of the bruises and cuts. He murmured something and curled up on his side, shivering slightly. Kahlan reached for a blanket and gently covered him with it.
"How is the Seeker?", Raph asked quietly, standing by the door, watching the man from the legends being cared for like a child.
"He'll be sore for a few days," Zedd replied. "I forgot to thank you for your willingness to fight for him, even after Lara's spell broke."
"You mean, after she died," Raph added. "I am glad it didn't come to a fight. But I had loved Lara long before she confessed us. She – and I – believed it was for the best. I'd do what she asked me to even without the confession."
"She still abused her power," Kahlan whispered.
"It doesn't matter anymore," Zedd interrupted, looking at her harshly. He turned back to Raph and added, much softer: "We will leave by sundown."
"Take as much time as you need. Ask me if you need anything. I hope the Seeker will feel better soon."
"Thank you," Zedd replied, watching the young man leave.
"When you first told me he was the Seeker," Kahlan started, running her fingers through Richard's hair, practically petting him. He didn't stir. "I protested not because he wasn't good enough. He was too good. He was the boy who threw himself between me and four heavily armed D'Harans, trying to protect me. When he helped me up after the fight, I put a dagger to his throat and still he was afraid he had done something wrong. I openly threatened him and he didn't hate me. We both know the Seeker's destiny is to kill Darken Rahl and I didn't want that destiny for someone so kind."
"This quest is partly for him to learn," Zedd replied softly. "I'm worried for him every time he gets into trouble because of other people, but it also brings me joy, because I'm assured once again I chose a proper family to raise him. He's a good man and the people he is doing this for can see it. If he simply killed Rahl, he would be just another tyrant, gaining power through violence."
"Every time something bad happens to him, I see some of that wide-eyed innocence slip away," Kahlan added, still playing with Richard's hair. She had never had a chance to do this before, and was surprised how soft it felt in her hands. He had this boyish look, easy to fall for, with open, handsome face, unruly, dark, weirdly cut hair and almost black, warm eyes. She loved him with her whole heart, not because of his looks, but mostly because of his soul, which was as beautiful as his face, if not more, filled with noble strength.
"He's hardly innocent by now," Zedd protested. "He has seen too much, gone through too much and killed too many people, no matter the cause. Surely, this is the worst he's been through during our quest, but we don't know what lies ahead."
He looked at his grandson, safe, asleep with a relaxed face. It will take a few days for the cuts and bruises to heal. Zedd knew, despite of what he had said, that deep in his heart Richard remained the naive, kind and brave son of a woodcutter from Hartland. There would be nightmares and bad memories, but despite everything, he would not be changed much.
"I'll go look for ingredients for a pain relief potion," Zedd announced, standing up. "I think he will barely be able to move when he wakes up, considering what his wrists and shoulders look like. He was probably hung from the ceiling for hours."
"He said Denna had taught him to withstand pain. That's how he managed to kill her with a red hot sword," Kahlan whispered on the verge of tears. It was all her fault.
"It doesn't mean he won't feel any pain. We can try and spare him more of it for the next few days."
Kahlan nodded, looking up at Zedd gratefully.
When Richard woke, it was already dark outside. He quickly remembered where he was and tried to sit up, almost groaning, feeling the stiffness of his muscles. "We will leave soon," he heard Zedd's familiar voice. The old wizard was sitting nearby with a mug in his hands. "But take your time to eat. And drink this."
Richard looked at the mug suspiciously. He slowly managed to sit up on the cot.
"What is it?", he asked.
"Something for the pain."
"I'm fine," he declared.
"No, you're not. Drink."
"Last time you gave me 'something for the pain', it was the vilest thing I'd ever had," Richard said, scrunching his nose in disgust at the memory.
"That was different. You were a fifteen-year-old insufferable little prick who thought he knew best about everything."
"You could have stopped at 'you were a fifteen-year-old', that explains everything," Richard interrupted with a soft smile, returned by Zedd.
"Thank the Spirits you have become a little more humble since then," the wizard admitted warmly, "but I see the good doesn't last forever, as you're pretending everything is fine after being viciously tortured for hours," he added impatiently, pushing the mug into Richard's hands. The younger man took it and sniffed, then took a tentative sip. The beverage was surprisingly pleasant in taste, sweet but not too much so.
"Are you coddling me?", Richard asked, drinking more of the potion.
"Just this once. Enjoy it while it lasts."
Richard smiled and finished the drink, returning the mug to the wizard's hands.
"Thank you," he replied, sincerely. Then he glanced at the wizard suspiciously. "Are you telling me that the potion you gave me then, was so bitter on purpose?"
"Not entirely," Zedd admitted with a sly smile. "But we all know the bitter the medicine, the stronger the cure. You almost lost an arm that day. This time we just need to take the edge off, I'm sure."
"Yeah, what I feel now is nothing compared to that one," Richard agreed with a mental shudder. He did not want to think how the pain of the Agiel had surpassed it multiple times. "It certainly taught me a lesson."
"To wear you forearm guards while working," Zedd patted the leather that circled Richard's right forearm. "Now to see you without them is a rarity."
"The most memorable lessons come with lots of pain," Richard said without thinking, realizing the meaning after he spoke the words. He let his head fall forward, suppressing a sob.
"Ah, Richard," Zedd sighed and embraced his grandson again. "How I wish it hadn't happened."
Richard let his head fall onto Zedd's shoulder, knowing the wizard was talking about the most recent events, not his old act of almost deadly stupidity.
"Yeah, me too. And it's scary. I'm almost sad Denna died," Richard admitted.
"This kind of conditioning is hard to break," Zedd explained. "But I'm sure you'll be back to your old self in no time."
Richard nodded, straighting up.
"How's Kahlan?", he asked.
"She's fine," Zedd replied, surprised.
"Why didn't you explain why we weren't supposed to be together, exactly?"
Zedd sighed. The whole conflict between the three of them started with this one, painful secret.
"This is something you really should talk through with her," he said. "I understand that the Mord'Sith told you about the Confessor's power."
"Well, it's high time you knew," Zedd added. "I'll tell her to talk to you about it. No reason to delay it further."
"And it doesn't change what I feel for her," Richard admitted, looking down. "I just... I don't need the false hope."
"Talk to her," Zedd stressed. He squeezed Richard's shoulder and stood, going to the door. "On the table there's something for you to eat before we go. When you're finished, come outside. The moon is bright tonight."
Richard nodded and reached for a bowl of hot stew on the table. He started to eat, not really thinking about the activity, but about what he had gone through, what he had learned and that the pain was already subsiding. Suddenly he felt that he could not stand to be inside for a second longer. He took his sword and the bowl with him, stepped outside and finished his food sitting on the porch, ignoring the people and breathing in the air smelling of a forest. When he finished, one of the villagers approached him and reached for the bowl. Richard gave it to him with a thank you and a smile. The man nodded shyly and took the bowl inside.
Richard stood and went towards a clearing, where he could see the indeed bright moon. He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes, remembering how in Denna's tower he'd been afraid he would not see the open sky again, not as a free person. It would be a murder to his soul – he grew up spending most of his time in the woods and being denied that would be as painful as the Agiel to his gut.
He was still tired, but at least the potion did its job. He hoped Zedd had more of it, he'd be needing it. He felt old and stiff, and silently angry at Kahlan for lying to him and leaving. He knew he would not be angry for long, she had come and risked her life for him after all, but all in all, the last few days were a nightmare and he hoped they would pass soon.
He felt Kahlan's presence behind him before he heard her approaching. He opened his eyes and glanced at her. He waited for her to start.
The conversation with Kahlan wasn't entirely satisfying, Richard thought on the way out of the village. She admitted she shared his feelings, but was determined not to act on them. He said he'd be suffering in silence, but deep down he knew that for the first time in his life, he wouldn't keep his promise.
They walked through the woods, Richard at the front, Zedd and Kahlan two steps behind him and the rest of the villagers in the back. To his friends he seemed lost in thought, but he was conscious of what was happening around him. He did not trip or step off the path, but he was silent. He noticed his pack was lighter and their pace slower than usual, but Richard decided he would let his friends indulge him for a while. He still needed it. He was not in pain, but he felt like taking it easy for a day or two.
When Raph caught up with him at the crossroads, Richard gave him a warm smile.
"Here we go our separate ways," the villager started. "It was an honour to meet you, Seeker."
"Thank you for your help and hospitality," Richard replied gratefully, shaking Raph's hand. "Take care."
Raph nodded to Zedd and Kahlan and led the villagers away. Richard watched them go for a while, then he fixed the strap of his pack on his shoulder and winced – the joint was definitely strained. He could still move his arm, so it was not dislocated, but it was uncomfortable.
Zedd noticed the wince.
"You know I can heal it," he offered.
Richard shook his head.
"No, thank you. Maybe tomorrow."
Richard looked at him with sadness in his eyes.
"I don't feel like having any more magic performed on me, but thanks for that rib earlier," he replied with a smile that did not reach his eyes. "And right now it reminds me I'm alive," he added and moved down the path, not looking at his surprised friends.
They walked for a few hours, deciding to rest near dawn. They stopped by a stream. Kahlan started to take her spare clothes out of her pack to wash them, Richard did the same, taking off the shirt he wore, too. She held her hand out to him, he gave her his clothes without a word. It was usual that only one person did the washing, while the others set up camp or went looking for food. This time they did not have to hunt – they were given some food supplies by Raph.
After washing himself in a stream, Richard still didn't speak, focused on the dried meat he was slowly chewing on. He noticed the worried looks Kahlan and Zedd were giving each other. He knew he was unusually silent – typically he commented on what he saw on their path or planned their next moves. He was quiet only when he had to be. Conversation with his friends was one of the very few ways of entertainment on the road.
"I'm sorry," he said, finally. "I just need to...", he started and stopped, not really knowing what to say. He shrugged and lowered his head, not looking at his friends.
"It's to be expected," Zedd admitted. "We will stay here for a few hours, if you want to sleep, you have time."
"Yeah, I probably will," Richard agreed, looked at the meat in his hand and decided he didn't feel like finishing it right now. He put it back in his pack and laid down on the mat he was sitting on. He turned on his side, facing away from his friends, and sighed.
Shortly after he heard the rustling of fabric moving towards him, and recognized Kahlan's soft steps. She delicately put her hand on his free shoulder and pushed it forward, gently making Richard lay on his stomach.
"I don't have a healing touch, but it's the least I can do," she whispered and started kneading the balls of her hands on his stiff shoulders. Richard groaned and melted into the mat, surrendering himself to her divine touch. He heard Zedd's chuckle and soft huff of air from Kahlan, but didn't react.
She was massaging him for a long while. He closed his eyes and focused on her touch. She was careful not to aggravate his damaged ribs or bruises, but under her hands, his shoulders, neck and back finally started to relax.
He did not know how long it lasted, but when she stopped, he was almost asleep.
"Are you alright?", she asked softly.
"Mhm. Thank you," he replied, not opening his eyes. She ruffled his hair playfully, then he heard her stand up. Soon he felt the soft covering of a blanket.
"Sleep, Richard. We will wake you up when the clothes are dry."
"Mhm," he confirmed and allowed himself to fall asleep.
"I doubt he'll need the potion or my healing when he wakes up," Richard heard Zedd say and then his world turned black again.
When he woke up, it was early afternoon. The day was warm and sunny, so their clothes had dried quickly. Kahlan, dressed in her corset and underskirts, crouched over him with his shirt in her hand. Richard turned to face her and he noticed he did not feel any pain in his muscles anymore. He knew Zedd would respect his wish, so it was all Kahlan's work.
"You do have a healing touch, I feel much better," he said with a warm smile.
"I'm glad," she replied, returning his smile.
Richard put on his shirt and glanced around – Zedd was nowhere to be seen. He probably went looking for food.
"Kahlan," he started just as she was rising. She looked down at him. He stood up and faced her. "I know I promised to suffer in silence," Richard said, taking her hand. She didn't resist. "But I can't. I," he rushed as she opened her mouth to protest. "I love you and nothing will change it. I can't pretend I don't. I won't force anything from you," he promised. "But what I feel for you, it saved my life in that tower. I looked into your eyes, barely remembering who I was, and I knew I loved you and would do anything to protect you."
"Richard, but you know..."
"Yes, I do. As I said, I'm not going to force you. I respect you and your wish. Just don't expect me to treat you only as a travelling companion. Can you do that?"
"I guess I have to," she replied quietly, looking down.
He took her face into his hands and made her look into his eyes.
"One day we will find a way to be together," he promised. "I'm going to fight for it, for us. Your eyes were like a light of day for me in Denna's tower. Rahl made this world turn dark. This light is what will beat the darkness. I can't defeat Rahl only because of the prophecy. I need that light, and I need you with me. I need that hope."
A tear escaped one of Kahlan's eyes. She embraced him. She felt his strong hands on her back, in her hair. She breathed in his scent, reminding her of a forest.
"I'm sorry I lied to you," she whispered.
"You tried to break my heart, but that's okay," he replied with a smile.
She turned her head and kissed his cheek, he only embraced her stronger.
"Ready to go on?", they heard Zedd returning to the camp.
"Yes, I feel fine now," Richard admitted, letting go of Kahlan.
"Good. No more coddling."
"Oh, yes," Richard agreed with a smile and with one last look at Kahlan he started to pack.
Soon they were on the road again, talking, smiling, joking, tracking, covering as much ground as usual, with Richard's pack normally heavy. His eyes remained old, but his smile was as bright as it used to be.