The bed chamber was cold, or maybe it was just her nerves.
Kahlan glanced once more at the massive oak doors, waiting for them to open and admit him. Her nerves were on edge and goose bumps on her arms, the pace of her heart quickening as she reached up to touch the cold but beautiful band around her throat. It was as much of a prison as the walls that surrounded her, as the deed that she had committed just now in marriage to the most powerful, evil man in the Midlands. She was a Queen now, against her will, for the good of the people. Rahl had agreed to all her terms: the presence of Healers, the release of the people, ceasing their abuse and manipulation and slaughter. All she wanted had been given to her, except her freedom -- except for the return of Richard, and the loss of her soul.
It was her job to take souls, to remove man's will and force them into Confession. Once she looked into their eyes, they became her slaves… but not Rahl. He had taken the potion and was immune to her commanding presence, immune even to the bloodlust that on occasion surged through her veins. Kahlan wondered if he had desired her before that, or if it was the terrible things she had done under the influence of the Con Dar that intrigued him. Rahl was known for his barbaric nature, for brutally killing those who opposed him, for twisting necks and thrusting swords into even his most faithful servants if they displeased him. He wanted her for many reasons, not merely out of lust or even a great desire for a child, for a Confessor he could manipulate and abuse into following his will and enslaving the masses. He had smiled as he had shown them the potions that might have made Richard immune to her influence.
Thinking about it made her mouth dry. Richard. She could not even think his name without grief.
Again, she glanced at the door, wondering where Rahl was, and when he would come. He had sent her out of the banquet hall to wait for him, knowing she would become more ill at ease the longer he took to appear. No doubt he was laughing with his men about the Confessor being forced to act as his wife. It would please him to watch her submit, to know she would never abandon her promise, that she would give him an heir of extraordinary influence and abilities. Waiting for his arrival was painful. Kahlan wished he would come to her so she would not have to dread it anymore, but if he did, her nightmare would begin.
No, she corrected herself -- it had already begun. It had begun the instant Richard had vanished and Rahl had appeared out of the gloom, unfurling from the form of a night hawk, his robes swirling around him as his evil minions, the leather-garbed Mort-Sith, surrounded him. The Seeker was dead, or so he told her. So was the wizard. Only the Confessor remained; the last Confessor; his Confessor. She had not let him see her weep, but she had wept -- not merely for her beloved, for Richard, but for Zedd as well, and yes, even for herself.
She heard footsteps in the corridor. Kahlan's muscles tightened and her hands gripped the coverlet beneath her wedding garments, growing pale as he approached and paused outside the door. This was it. What she had vowed she would not withhold from him, even though it would cost her everything. It was for the Midlands, for D'Hara, for Richard. Squeezing her eyes shut, she opened them again as the door creaked. There he was, standing on the threshold, his eerie eyes focused on her with an expressionless intensity. Most of his "friends" had gotten drunk in the banquet hall, but not Rahl. Not tonight. He had no intention of his senses being dulled. He saw the tightness in her hands and smiled. So the Confessor was afraid of something after all.
If I merely took what I wanted, you would be in my bedchamber.
His words that first day returned to her and caused her to shudder inwardly, but she managed to remain composed as he crossed the room and leaned toward her, placing either hand on opposite sides of her slender form, where it rested against the bed. His closeness forced her to look up into his face, manipulatively handsome even though she knew he was older than he seemed. Magic kept his youthful appearance, an illusion to give the impression that his life was eternal. "A Mother Confessor," he said. "What did they teach you apart from the art of controlling men?"
"Never to trust them, unless they are the Seeker." Kahlan was glad her voice did not tremble. Now that he was there, she felt more secure in her position, confident that she could control the situation, and deny him the one thing he wanted more than her body -- her love. Rahl's reaction when she had taunted him about it before lingered in her mind. He was a cruel man, raised by other cruel men, merciless men, and had never known a gentle touch, a true lover's touch. He would never have it from her either, even if in some demented corner of his mind he believed he could win her over, that submission would eventually become something more. But she could pretend, and hurt him through it, because he would know she was dishonest, that she was patronizing him, hating him every second of the night.
One of his dark brows lifted but he did not respond, for her hands were at his waist, unhooking the front of his ornamental robes. Rahl straightened as she slipped her hands beneath the garment, pressing them against his chest as she removed it from his shoulders. The anger in her eyes was unmistakable, resentment in her veins, a hatred that was intoxicating. He had known such hatred before, had experienced it in his bed, and had been overwhelmed by it. Kahlan was not the Mord-Sith but a Confessor, far more powerful and even in some respects, more dangerous in spite of being immune to her influences. He was not immune to her torment, to her hatred, to knowing she would always despise him. He did not mind that so much. As long as she hated him, he had power over her.
His hand caught her throat and he looked at her for a moment, narrowing his gaze and meeting the burning indignation in hers. "But the Seeker is not here," he said.
"No, only my husband," she answered resentfully.
Rahl smiled. His fingers trailed downward from her throat and she cringed. Only Richard had ever touched her in such an intimate manner, and even then it hadn't been Richard but the spirit of another Seeker in his body. Kahlan remembered more about the incident than she had admitted to Zedd. Richard remembered some of it as well, though he had not been in control of his body. The taste of his lips and warmth of his hands had lingered for days, weeks, only emboldening her yearning and her knowledge that they could never have one another, not in the way her heart desired most. She would have to think of Richard, to remember his sweetness, the beauty of his eyes, the sound of his voice, if she was to endure this.
The sweetness of her hair cascaded against the satin pillows as Rahl shoved her onto the bed. He had heard about Confessors and what it was like in their arms. Of course, men could not be truthful when their souls had been taken from them, leaving nothing behind but brainless fools so heartsick with love that they could never think of their mistresses as anything but perfect. But there was something different about her than other women. Even though the collar repressed her magic and it would not have harmed him anyway it still responded to his magical abilities. The intensity between them set her apart from his other women. He had wanted her from the moment he had seen her, and it was about more than an heir. He had obtained the one thing his greatest enemy desired most. Richard, the Seeker, was dead -- and his beloved Confessor was now Rahl's property, his Queen.
Kahlan dug her fingers into the coverlet and thought of Richard. If she could have a child, if the child could live long enough to help Richard… all of this would be worth it, would even be undone. It would never have happened. That alone allowed her to endure it, to ignore the caress of his mouth on her throat, and the heaviness of his body against hers. Through the pain that enveloped her, she thought of her daughter and wondered if she would have her mother's smile. She wondered if her daughter would have light hair instead of dark, like her sister's. She would tell her all about Richard, and teach her what she would need to know to help him in the future -- if Darken Rahl allowed her to live. Once he had a child to bend to his will, he would have no need for her, unless he continued to lust for her.
Drawing in her breath, Kahlan closed her eyes to escape him and forced her mind elsewhere. Some of the servants seemed empathetic toward her plight. Perhaps one of them would help her. She would demand to speak to them in the morning, to search until she found someone of a kind spirit who could be trusted. Rahl would not suspect her true motivations. He knew she would not try and escape, to run away, or to free his other prisoners. He also knew she was not present with him, that her thoughts were distant. It did not matter. She was thinking about their child, about what to name her. But it would not be a she. Rahl had no desire to have another female Confessor. He had his wife for that purpose. No, he wanted the most dangerous Confessor possible -- a son. It was all but impossible but his sorcerers had assured him the appropriate dark magic would be worked. The baby would be a boy, the first in many generations -- and the first to be allowed to live.
Moonlight slid across the wall above them and shimmered in the depths of Kahlan's hair as Rahl finished, forcing her to look up at him as he studied the unique color of her eyes. Most of the time they were blue but now had darkened with her resentment. He did not immediately move and when he did roll into the pillows at her side, it was with a smirk of triumph. Kahlan did not speak to him, only turned her face away along with the rest of her body as she pushed her skirt into place. She did not let him see the single tear that ran down her face and sank into the lace of her sleeve.
Life married to Lord Rahl was difficult. There were so many times she had to pretend not to notice his cruelty, his infamous means of torture, and frequent visits to the dungeons. She put up with his frequent visits to her bedchamber, his attentions to the Mord-Sith who were so loyal to him, and the occasions when he did nothing more than stare at her, attempting to penetrate the silence of her thoughts. At least she had improved the lives of their subjects. But she could see it in their faces, any time she went among them -- sadness, disapproval, even disappointment. She was the last Confessor, the final authority in the Midlands, and she too was now a servant of Darken Rahl. She endured him, careful not to engage his rage but never treat him with anything but indifference. And it seemed at times that he was even fond of her, for he did not mistreat her. But never so much as the day she announced she was with child. The satisfaction in his gaze made her blood run cold and her palms sweat.
He went at once to his sorcerers. Yes, it was a boy, they informed him. His smile widened. For the next nine months this smile was present whenever he looked at her, to such an extent that it made her uncomfortable. He often came to sit with her when there was nothing else to occupy him and when the baby started kicking was insistent on placing his hand over the spot and feeling the force of his son. That annoyed her most of all, that he was suddenly so interested, so invested, so determined to be a good father -- only because he knew it was a Confessor. How many bastards had he fathered and then left without a backward glance? How many of his women had not wanted him, much less to give him a child? In spite of her hatred of him, Kahlan could not deny the protectiveness and love she felt toward her child. She often hummed to it late at night when she was alone, placed her hands over the bulge of her protruding form, and told it of Richard.
When the pains began, physicians and wizards were sent for but could do little to ease her anguish in the twelve hours of labor that followed. Rahl paced in his throne room and hoped the child would live, caring little for its mother except that if she too died, she could not provide him with another heir. "Save them both, if you must, but at all costs preserve my son," he told his sorcerer. The man bowed and hurried away to keep watch over the Queen. The hours slipped past and Rahl was on his throne, head in his hands, when footsteps brought one of the servants into his presence. "The child is born, my lord," the boy said, and hastened out of his path as Rahl swept past. Throwing open the door to the queen's chamber, he paused on the threshold and then approached the physician who had just finished cleaning his son. Kahlan was half-conscious, drained of her energy and all but spent, and still managed to prop up on the pillows and ask in a tired voice to see her daughter.
Instead of the girl she anticipated, it was a boy, and what color remained in her face drained out of it. Male Confessors were lethal, merciless, and cruel. Rahl knew this. And she knew it had been arranged. Her sister had borne a male Confessor and there could not be two in a generation, certainly not in the same family. Rahl stood near the bed holding the child and she stared at him with rising anger. Nine months for a son that would not be allowed to live, that she could not allow to live… it had all been for nothing. "You have done this," she whispered as the others slipped from the room. "You have done this through some terrible dark magic!"
He merely smiled at her, neither confirming nor denying, but there was no need. She pleaded with him to let her drown the child, to perform the ritual. She would give him another child, a daughter for him to lavish all his attention on. But his answer was no. He had his son.
And when she held the screaming child in her arms, she could not bear to drown him either. It made her so angry, she wept. "You fool, you absolute, miserable, contemptible half-wit," she screamed at Rahl when the child was taken away to be nursed by a milkmaid. "He will kill you! He will kill both of us!"
"I am sure his mother can convince him otherwise… you underestimate your influence, Mother Confessor."
Rahl sat down beside her and she frantically grasped his hand, pleading, "Please, allow me to perform the ritual. I will give you a daughter, a Confessor, dozens of them if you wish it, but he must not live. You will not be able to control him!" She had heard horror stories about Male Confessors and the awful things they did. Barbaric, brutal, terrible things – actions even her merciless, depraved husband would not contemplate. This one would be especially bad. How could he not be with Darken Rahl for a father and her for a mother? She who had the bloodlust? This child was a perverse hybrid between two unique evils and she could not begin to fathom the depths of his impending depravity.
But Rahl would not listen to her. He doted on his son and refused to lay with her, his interest in having her as more than a queen vanquished. He could not risk another child, another heir, a girl to threaten the safety of his son. If she could have had a daughter, if she could have persuaded him to resume his lust for her, then Kahlan might have had a chance of success, of sabotage, but she could not control him. Their son was taught by the finest wizards and scholars from a young age. He was a kind boy, compassionate to the milkmaid's son, eager to share his toys, adoring of his parents. Rahl seemed unsurprised but Kahlan did not believe it. She waited and watched, fearing the worst.
Years passed. Nothing seemed abnormal. Kahlan was almost convinced now that Nicholas was all right, that somehow her constant vigilance and studious watch over his every action had produced an extraordinary child. She meant to tell him about his duties, about Richard, before he was taken away from her, but then the milkmaid's son brought him a finger, brutally severed and wrapped in a linen napkin, bloody and still warm. Kahlan felt the color drain from her face as she stared at it in horror. Her angelic, blonde son was becoming a monster. Everything she had taught him about kindness and responsibility had faded into nothingness. His brutal nature was coming out. It was time to kill him. Rahl was sending him away the following afternoon, to a school where he would be trained to be even more merciless, where the wizards would transform him into something horrendous. So many times he had run to her for hugs and kisses, had sat with his father and seemed innocent, had smiled at her from across a room or blown her a kiss.
Now, he merely dismissed the boy who had cut off his finger in accordance to his command, remarked that it was punishment for the child not having wanted to play his games, and resumed his studies without a shred of remorse. Kahlan was horrified, sickened. She made her way into her room and held one hand over her stomach, wondering if she would lose what remained of the wonderful luncheon the cook had prepared for them. Movement in the room behind her alerted her to her husband's presence and she turned as Rahl emerged from beneath the far drapery that concealed a narrow passage between their rooms. "You were told that our son leaves tomorrow," he asked, and she nodded, forcing her features to reveal none of her inner conflict.
"Must he go?" she asked, approaching to place her hands against her husband's broad chest. She knew Rahl was fond of her, in his own way, that he liked her better than most of his mistresses, for she was more beautiful than any of them, her magical abilities reflected in the depth of her gaze and the magnificence of her upswept curls. He touched the side of her chin with one finger and traced her bottom lip, tempted enough to lean toward her. His mouth hovered over hers as they searched one another's eyes. Remembering then that he could not risk further children, he moved away from her and she turned after him.
Going to the window and staring out into the gardens where Nicholas ran ahead of his lagging companion with his bandaged hand, Rahl said, "You will miss him, I know, but he must be instructed on how best to properly rule a kingdom."
"You mean to enslave one." Kahlan could not contain the bitterness in her voice, and this caused him to look at her. There had been so little resistance in her since their marriage that he had almost forgotten how much she despised him. He resumed his attention on his son and noticed the bandage. "What happened to the boy?"
Turning her face away so he would not see her tears, Kahlan struggled to contain her tone. "An accident in the kitchen," she said, knowing the truth would reveal to him what she intended to do. Rahl was not concerned, merely dismissive and uncaring as he came up behind her. Kahlan could not prevent one tear from rolling down her cheek but he took it as evidence of her sadness at Nicholas' departure, not her realization of what must be done. "You will say farewell to him in the morning, and I will take him as far as the border," he said. "My wizards will conduct him from there."
He waited for her to respond and she nodded. Rahl looked as if he intended to say more but then went on his way, leaving her to send for her maidservant, Alice. It had taken months to find the right woman to entrust with the information that was most precious to her, and now Alice would have to flee, to survive in order for her to one day tell Richard the truth of how he might turn back time and undo all that had gone wrong. The girl was frightened but agreed to run and Kahlan was cautious to allow no one to suspect her true motivations. She was amusing at dinner and pleasant to her husband, but her hand shook as she caressed Nicholas' blonde locks as they sat around the fire afterward and read together out of a book. She almost cringed when he kissed her goodnight and went to bed without his customary complaints. Rahl narrowed his eyes at her across the room and said, "You are very quiet this evening."
"There is nothing for me to say, for your mind is made up." Kahlan rose to her feet in a rustle of expensive fabric and shimmering rubies. He liked her to dress in red and black, his colors, yet another subtle reminder that she was no longer the Confessor, but his wife. He would kill her when he discovered the body of their son. He would kill her slowly and painfully, with his own two hands. Or maybe he wouldn't. She was still young and might have another child. He would make certain it was again a son. Kahlan knew she would have to prevent it, that she would have to end her life before he forced on her a fate worse than death. She would leap off the main tower and let the rocks do the rest.
When she passed his chair, Rahl reached out and caught her hand, forcing her to pause. His fingers stroked the underside of her palm and edged up into her sleeve. "With our son gone, it will be just the two of us again. I hope you will not be too sullen. I don't like it."
"As your majesty commands," she responded, and removing her hand, went into the shadows.
Standing in the darkness over his bed, staring down at his peaceful face and holding aloft a dagger, Kahlan could not do it. This was the son who had brought her so much happiness as a baby, had tested her patience as a toddler, and shown such promise in his studies, had brought her flowers from the garden and even once a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. She suddenly wondered if it really had fallen or if he had viciously knocked it out of the nest. His greatest crime had been once to pull a dog's tail, until that afternoon when he had Confessed an innocent boy and asked him to cut off his own finger. It was there, in his bedside table. She sensed its morbid presence as much as saw a corner of the bloodstained handkerchief wrapped around it, caught in the catch of the drawer.
Give me strength, she prayed, and lifted the dagger, but she had hesitated too long and something stirred from the shadows. The milkmaid's son flew at her, screaming at the top of his lungs and beating her with his bloodied fist. The Queen was trying to murder the Prince! The ruckus he caused brought her husband's soldiers and awakened her son, who looked at her with such terrible comprehension that it turned her blood cold. The soldiers dragged her to the throne room and her husband was roused from his bed. When he was told of her intended actions, he walked across the room toward her and slapped her so hard she crumpled to the floor. There was an eerie lack of emotion in him as he stared at her, as if his soul no longer survived. Kahlan wondered if he was so immune to her after all, or if their son was slowly draining him of life. Alice, the girl she trusted, the one she hoped would carry her message one day to Richard, was dragged in badly beaten, having attempted to escape and been caught by the guards.
"She doesn't know anything," the Queen told them. "I told her nothing!"
"Then why did she run away?" Rahl stared at her and she could feel her son's eyes burning into the back of her head, from where he stood near the throne. Her husband turned so swiftly she could not cry out a warning, the dagger he kept in his sleeve sliding out into his hand and neatly arcing through the girl's throat. Astonishment filled her eyes, blood spurting around her fingers as she dropped to the floor. Kahlan screamed. Her son looked on with the same hardened indifference as his father. But Rahl had endured years of cruelty and abuse, inflicted multiple murders and other atrocities, and Nicholas was eight and innocent of all but the evil in his soul.
Emotion had come to her husband at last; there was moisture in his eyes as he looked at her, and she sensed then that he truly did care for her in some corner of his twisted heart. He hated her for having forced this upon him, for having attempted to murder their son, but he did not hate her enough to allow her to live. He would give her a merciful death, one she did not deserve, on the block. One blow and it would be over, her torment ended. He would not torture and break her. He could not bear the thought of it, of slicing into her lily white skin, of listening to her screams. Kahlan had anticipated her death many times over the years, but never been forced to face it. Knowing that no one would control Nicholas, that her legacy would be to leave behind the most barbaric monster the world had ever seen, she could not fathom her death. They needed her, for she was the only one Nicholas could not control.
For one precious second, she believed Nicholas might save her, for her son said quite clearly, "No."
She turned to look at him, Rahl as stunned as she was that he would voice an objection.
Perhaps there was some hope after all! Maybe a shimmer of humanity lingered in her child, a fondness for his mother that would allow her to save them all. Kahlan dared not hope but could not relinquish this feeble offering, until his words sunk into her with horror.
"Let me do it."
Rahl blinked. Kahlan could not breathe. Nicholas looked at her with such hatred that her heart went cold.
"Get out, all of you," her husband said, faintly.
Resentment radiated from the boy but he dared not disobey his father. His small footsteps echoed on the stone floor as he went out, the door swinging shut behind him.
"You see?" she whispered. "You see what he has become?"
"I see nothing more than a desire for revenge. It is no different than the tasks of the Mord-Sith."
They were his female warriors, his merciless army, and his mistresses. Their first task was to endure torture, to face unending torment until their spirits were as broken as their bodies. Then they were forced to watch as their mothers were tortured to death, and finally asked to slowly kill their fathers. Nicholas' behavior was not unusual to him. He saw it every day, sometimes in the mirror.
Kahlan did not move from the floor, maintaining her position of submission as he paced in front of her. As much as he approved of his son, this sudden barbarity did unnerve him. Kahlan … he had grown fond of her, in a way that no other woman had ever entered his heart. He would miss her.
"If he has turned on me, how long will it take him to turn on you?"
"I have not tried to murder him while he slept. I will protect him!"
"He does not need your protection. He is a Confessor!"
"He does need me. He no longer needs you. I am sorry you chose this way, Kahlan. It gives me no pleasure to order your death." Dragging her to her feet, Rahl pulled her across the room, opened the door, and threw her at the nearest guard. "Escort the queen to her room and make certain she stays there," he ordered.
In her chambers, Kahlan cried into the pillow. She had failed. It had all been for nothing: her years of intolerable marriage to the very man she had sought to destroy, her child, and her many sacrifices. Richard could not defeat them now. He could not use her child to turn back time and amend the past. It would end in ashes and flames, their legacy forever tarnished, the people having lost their hero and believing the Confessor had given into utter darkness.
Suddenly, a feeling of unease came over her and she stiffened, catching sight of something out of the corner of her eye and turning to find her son standing in the moonlight behind her. Moving from her chair, she said, "Nicholas how did you…?"
The door was open behind him, a narrow ribbon of light trailing across the floor. The guard did not move, continuing his watch. Nicholas advanced on her. "I am disappointed in you, Mother," he said, echoing her occasional words of disapproval. Cold melted through her and she bumped into the wall. He seemed to be holding something behind his back.
Kahlan fled, but she did not get far. The guard outside the door grabbed her by the back of the neck and slammed her into the nearest wall before roughly forcing her to her knees. "Hold her," Nicholas commanded.
Strong hands forced her to remain still, her breath quickening as he advanced.
"You should not have done that, Mother. Now your death will not be so pleasant."
He brought forth the dagger from behind his back and she recognized it as her own. Slender hands lifted it for her appraisal and then it came at her so swiftly she could not defend herself. Kahlan felt violent pain and then nothingness, her lifeless body slumping to the floor. Nicholas stared at her emotionlessly, then touched his fingertips to the blood pooling beneath her.
"Now Father will have ink for his journey book," he said.
The underworld was a dismal place but full of people from the past -- her mother, her fellow Confessors, even Zedd. "I have failed," she told the wizard, and he looked at her with compassion. He was still tall, even in death.
"Richard is strong and wise, he will find a way," he assured her. Kahlan put her head against his shoulder and allowed him to comfort her with his words. She hoped he was right, that Richard would somehow find a way back without the assistance of a Confessor.
Rahl arrived quite suddenly mere hours after her own death. To mortals, spirits seemed no more than wisps of light or darkness depending on the spirit's intent, but to those trapped in the underworld appeared as they had in life. "I warned you," she told him, and never spoke to him again. Rahl was as furious as she was, angry that his son had turned against him. He had confessed one of the guards and had him stab his father in the back and through the heart as they had stood over the beautiful marble tomb of the queen. His blood had mixed with the whiteness of the lilies and his last thought in life had been one of astonished rage.
Time seemed to pass without merit in that place; centuries in the underworld might have been years in the Midlands or mere seconds, but Kahlan could not be content. She waited and watched for some indication that Richard had succeeded and hoped the length of her sojourn in death was not a woeful fate that would never be altered. And then suddenly, she was being pulled to the surface, torn away from the other astonished spirits, her memories fading until with a violent flash of light her soul was back in her body and her hand was closed around Richard's throat. His eyes and hers were locked, power radiating between them in a circle of light. Movement somewhere to the left failed to cause her to turn her head, but she sensed an evil presence even before Rahl took up the sword of truth Richard had left laying on the ground and stabbed it into the Box.
The violence of the explosion threw them all to the ground. Screaming pervaded the air as Rahl was lifted into the air, magical fire consuming him until he dropped to the ground, no more than a burned corpse. Still smarting from the agony of the Mord-Sith's Agiel, Kahlan did not move as the others retreated, staring at Rahl's smoldering body. She could not understand why, but she felt something unusual toward him. It was not hatred, or even pity, but something she could not describe.
Richard helped her to her feet. "Are you all right?" he asked.
She looked at him as if she had not seen him in months. It was stupid. They had traveled together for nearly a year. Not for more than a few days had they been parted.
How her heart leapt.
How she loved him.
How he loved her.
They could see it in one another's eyes.
Zedd was on his feet in the background, pretending not to notice them.
Kahlan dismissed her strange feelings as he kissed her. She knew nothing about what had happened, the stories he had been told about her sad life, and her son. All she knew was that she felt safe in his arms.