Back at camp, Richard and Kahlan tried to busy themselves to keep their minds off what lay ahead. Kahlan was making a root stew for their supper. Richard was splitting more logs for the fire. His anger had been slowly seeping back into him. He liked using the axe…each swing brought some bit of release of that anger. He wouldn't take back a single second of what they'd shared, but now that they had, how would he ever let her go? He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and brought the axe down again. As he worked, he recalled every exquisite detail of that moment with her; the smooth feel of her form, the scent of her skin, the taste of her lips. The warmth of her body against his. She had asked him to be her first. He had wanted to give her that. He also wanted to be her last. Her only. He reached for another log.
Zedd arrived back at camp with Tyra in tow. "Richard, Kahlan! Thank the spirits you're here." The old man was out of breath, leaning on his knees trying to breathe air into his lungs.
They gathered around him, seeing he had important news to share. Richard put a hand to Zedd's shoulder, "Are you alright? Sit down here." They all took seats around the fire.
He looked to the two of them, his eyes going from one to the other. "How are things here? Are the two of you alright?"
Richard could see his grandfather's distress. "We're fine Zedd" he reassured him. "What's the matter?"
Zedd looked to Kahlan. His tone frigid, "You're a very dangerous woman right now, Mother Confessor".
Her back stiffened. Richard stood to move behind where she sat, resting a hand on her shoulder. He looked to Zedd "What are you talking about Zedd?"
He gestured to the collar around her neck. "That's not a Rada' Han she wears."
Kahlan's eyes narrowed. "I don't understand".
Zedd told them Tyra's story, what she had done and why. Tyra sheepishly confirmed the truth of it.
Richard's grasp on Kahlan's shoulder tightened as Zedd had told the story, as the reality of what he was saying hit him.
"Zedd", Kahlan said, "it must be a lie. That can't possibly be true". But Richard knew it was true. He knew the moment Zedd had said it. He had felt Kahlan's power. She had released her power and he was left unharmed.
Richard knelt down in front of her, taking her hands in his. He looked up into her eyes. In a low voice that only she could hear he said, "Kahlan, don't you see? I told you I felt your power."
Her bewildered reply came just as quietly, "But…that's impossible. How could…we were…" Richard leaned closer, "Let me talk to him?" He wanted to spare her any uneasiness of talking with Zedd about what happened between them. She nodded to him. His gaze went past Tyra as he looked to Zedd. "Zedd, would you join me please? We need to talk". Zedd rose and followed him out of the camp.
Within sight of their camp, but tucked in the privacy of a stand of pine trees, Richard held Kahlan in a loving embrace. She was still amazed at what Richard had told her. "I can't believe Zedd knew all this time there was a way for us to be together". She laid her head on his shoulder squeezing him tighter. Richard explained again, almost as much to himself as to her, "He couldn't tell us or it wouldn't have worked. He knew I had to love you completely, more than life itself, without any reservation, for your power not to destroy me. If I had known before hand, that would have left room for doubt if I actually loved you enough, enough for your power to have no effect on me. I had to realize it on my own that I'd rather be under your power than live life without you. Only in that way was I protected".
She looked up at him, happiness shining in her eyes. "So we can really be together, I'll not have to stay here and choose a mate?" Richard clutched her face in his hands, tilting her head to look squarely at him. His eyes were firm, as was his voice, "You'll have no mate besides me." She leaned in to kiss him again. She didn't want to ever stop kissing him. The urgency of his kiss grew as his mouth moved down her neck. He let out a small sound of frustration when his lips encountered the collar.
Kahlan pulled back, gently pushing him with her hands. "Wait, I want to show you something."
He pulled her tighter, "Really?" he asked with an impish smile, recalling the last time she had said that.
She gave him a crooked smile as she broke free of his embrace. "Wait here." She half ran the short way to camp and grabbed her pack. She brought it back to where Richard waited. She searched inside and pulled out a thin chain, handing it to him. He held up the chain and saw the small key hanging from it. He'd seen a key like this before. It looked like the same type of key used for King Gregor's Rada' Han. His eyes shot to hers.
Sitting near the campfire, Zedd and Tyra were eating the stew Kahlan had made. "So, what made you decide to suddenly tell me the truth? That the collar Kahlan wore was not a true Rada' Han?"
"Well, we had been searching a very long time…and we were back at Grantham's apothecary shop, I saw all of those drawers you needed to search through again and…well…I was hungry. I wanted to go and get something to eat."
Zedd laughed out loud, a big smile on his face. "Seems there's hope for you yet child."
Richard stood smiling, staring at her in disbelief. "You had the key? All this time?"
With a sheepish grin, Kahlan nodded her head. "I was able to get it away from Tyra without her knowing. But Grantham had chained my wrists before I'd had a chance to use it."
Still smiling, he said more as a statement than a question, "And you didn't see any reason to tell me you could free yourself from the magic of a Rada' Han." Kahlan now wore the impish grin as she shook her head no.
Richard unlocked the collar and tossed it aside. Rada' Han or not, he was glad to see it off her neck at last. His hands gripped her waist as his mouth went to wear the collar had been, kissing where his lips had not yet touched, as if making up for lost time.
Kahlan gently brought his face to hers, their lips melting in a tender, passionate kiss. A kiss not bound by fear of her power, nor encumbered by a collar. She was a woman, just like any other woman. Kissing the man she loved. Free to love the man she chose.
Richard took her hand, and began pulling her along with him, heading back toward the lake. A big smile came across his face. "Come with me. I have something I want to show you." Kahlan, her hand in his, eagerly followed along.
This is story 1 in a 4-part series. Hope you'll watch for story 2 "The Awakening". Thanks for reading!