Author's Note: I decided to insert roughly a day between the Mord-Sith sentencing and their execution. The first three scenes take place during this time. The final scene takes place after the episode ends.

"Will the Mother Confessor abide by the wishes of our elders?"

Kahlan was now put to the test. Throughout the trial, she'd struggled with her emotions. There was her duty as Mother Confessor to implement the will of the people. There was also her duty to the Seeker as his Confessor. Richard's accusations of the town wanting to punish Cara for simply being a Mord-Sith began to ring true. Her conflicting duties were at war within her, hampered by the nagging self doubt Richard instilled that any decision regarding Cara's fate was tarnished by her desire for vengeance.

"Yes," she finally replied, fully anticipating Richard's reaction. Unfortunately, the second Mord-Sith eliminated any other option. She couldn't separate the fate of one from the other. The second was clearly guilty of her crimes and Cara indeed showed no remorse for killing her father.

"Tell everyone the Mother Confessor has agreed to carry out request... The executions will take place tomorrow at mid-morning."

Although she should have been prepared for it, Richard pierced her heart when he turned his back on her to take one last long look at Cara before storming out. Several in attendance focused on his reaction to the sentence before hushed whispers followed. She didn't have to hear them to assume they couldn't believe the True Seeker would ever stand in support of a Mord-Sith.

Kahlan struggled with that very thought herself.

She felt the heat rise in her neck when the massive doors slammed shut after his exit. She then turned toward Cara to find only a stony glare. Beginning to wilt under that glare, she suddenly felt the need to exit quickly and follow Richard... She needed to understand how much of rift today's events had opened between them.

As well as how much effort it would take for her to heal those wounds.

Once leaving the meeting room, she stepped up her pursuit, having no idea how Richard might react in the heat of the moment. She needed to make certain he didn't act rashly and do something he'd regret later. Upon arriving at the Chief Councilor's home, who provided a small room for them to stay while she performed her duty, she breathed a sigh of relief after hearing Richard. Both the Councilor and his wife remained behind, so the noise must be him. However, she hesitated approaching any further once reaching the doorway to find him packing his things.

He confirmed her fears when he slung the pack over his should and stepped toward the door.

"Richard?" she asked but knew full well his intention.

"I won't stay in this... town... another night," he spat with disgust. "I'll be waiting in the stand of Whispering Elms we passed on our way here," he added, crossing through the doorway so close to her but avoiding all contact.

She swallowed hard, yet longed for his touch... He had always used it to comfort her. His effort to avoid all contact when he passed spoke volumes about how he felt at that moment.

Richard was half way through the main room before she regained her focus and stopped him. When she saw the bitterness in his eyes, she would preferred he hadn't turned and confirmed her suspicion. "I promised the Councilor we'd join him for supper... He said it would be great honor to spend time with the Seeker and Mother Confessor."

"I doubt he still feels the same way, after today," he replied bitterly before turning.

"Wait Richard," she pleaded and took a few steps toward him. "How will I find you? You know I can't track you," she said with a blush. She blinked a couple times to clear her watery eyes.

He softened a little and she let him be for a few moments. "There's a large, recently fallen tree, nearly two feet wide along the northeast part of the grove... I'll be waiting there."

She looked down to clear her eyes for only a moment, but that was long enough for Richard to make his escape. The door had nearly closed shut by the time she'd lifted her head. When it closed, Kahlan's strength failed her and she slumped to the couch.

After some uncounted number of minutes, she had to be free of her white prison and returned to the room she no longer shared with Richard. She shed the robes in an instant, not bothering to pause even long enough to close the door. Moments later she gazed at herself in the mirror after pulling her hair back. The woman looking back at her, the Seeker's Confessor, felt more sure of herself than the Mother Confessor of just a short while ago.

Kahlan decided to take the chance and just wander this city... She'd never been here before and possibly being among the good people of this town could remind her again of her role.

However, she found herself unable, or unwilling, to enter the various shops in the market area and was instead drawn toward the town center for some unknown reason. Work was already progressing on what she'd assumed to be the execution platform used tomorrow.

"Mother Confessor," a man called respectfully. She turned to see a man with a bowed head before her. She believed he was the head jailor from earlier that morning.

"Yes," she replied and he lifted his head.

"The Mord-Sith," she caught the disgust in his voice, "has a request to make of the Mother Confessor."

Before Kahlan had a chance to respond, "tell the Mord-Sith she can rot until handed to the Keeper."

She turned her head to see the Chief Councilor approach. Although she wasn't comfortable with this duty, her years of training still caused her to bristle at another making a decision assigned only to Confessors.

Apparently he recognized his presumption when she glared at him and he bowed his head before her.

"I will grant her audience," she answered the jailor. Although her first instinct was identical to the Councilor's, her curiosity got the best of her and she wanted to learn why Cara wanted to speak to her.

Upon arriving at the tiny cell block holding the two doomed Mord-Sith, she took a deep breath, then turned to the guards. "Leave us," she commanded.

"Yes, Mother Confessor," they said in unison, bowed and left the three alone.

"What do you want, Cara?"

Kahlan found only Cara's glare. "I didn't ask for you," she snarled.

She frowned then turned to the other, who stood at the cell bars. "I wish an audience with Lord Rahl before you send me to the Keeper."

Tamping down her anger at the, most likely intentional, reference to Richard as Lord Rahl, she considered the request for only a moment. "For what reason?"

"I wish a private audience," she added with emphasis.

This was not a request she could disregard lightly. The laws of Midlands gave the condemned the right to such a request of the Mother Confessor and have it treated fairly, even if made by a Mord-Sith responsible for the taking of twelve innocent girls. She folded her hands behind her back and turned to consider the request. She struggled to find a reason to reject the request, but failed to find a reasonable one.

Obviously she didn't wish to grant the request. She tried to find a way to spare Richard this woman's wickedness.

"I told you it was a waste of time," Cara hissed.

Kahlan turned to face Cara's returned glare. However this time Cara broke the gaze to face her... teacher.

"She has such control over Lord Rahl," Cara made it clear the use of that title was intended to sting her, "that he rejected both the throne and the.. service... of our Sisters." The seductive look on Cara's face when she emphasized service reinforced her intent of all services provided by the Mord-Sith.

Kahlan tried to disguise the shudder that went down her spine at the thought. Even if she weren't successful hiding this reaction, no one would know after tomorrow.

"The rumors were true!?!" the second Mord-Sith gasped then Kahlan caught the look of surprise on her face. "She's confessed him," the woman accused, backing away from the bars before falling to the filthy pile of straw in her cell.

"No she hasn't," Cara spat before turning her back on Kahlan. "At least not yet," she added, attempting to twist the knife with her words.

Kahlan had enough of these two. Together they'd overcome any reluctance on her part to send them to the Keeper... She'd reach through the bars to do it now, if she could. But the town wanted a full, public execution and she would grant them that.

"I'll consider the request," she said flatly before leaving them.

Richard finished stirring the small pot of stew and inhaled a deep breath of the intoxicating smells. It brought back warm memories of times spent alone in the woods of Hartland what seemed like a lifetime ago.

He frowned a bit once admitting he didn't want to be completely alone.

After a making a silent request of the Creator, he decided they spent far too much time in towns and villages lately and now they'd spend more time deep in the wood on their way to Pamora. Not because they needed to cloak their trail, but because he wanted to. He wanted no more involvement in the meting out of vengeance resulting from Darkan Rahl's death.

Just as he decided it was time to begin his meal, the Creator granted his wish and he heard footsteps approach. He knew instinctively they belonged to Kahlan. When she finally reached his field of vision, she was smiling sweetly at him. It took nearly all his will not to return that smile. He wanted to hold on to his anger as long as possible for what she'd agreed to do.

Ultimately it was a futile battle that he was certain to lose, but he wanted to fight as long as possible. He ignored the remainder of her approach by feigning to focus on preparing his meal.

"I thought you said you'd be by the fallen elm," she chided him playfully.

"I said that's where I'd be tomorrow," he said fighting to contain his mirth. "The ground's too low to spend the night." It was looking like the battle would be over soon after being joined.

The defenses maintaining his anger nearly failed when she wielded that wonderful smile before closing her eyes and inhaling the aroma of his stew. The best he could muster was resist reaching out to touch her hand... or stroke her hair. It was a small, but difficult victory.

Although he felt silly, he was glad she'd changed out of her white robe. That made it easier to forget what happened today.

Kahlan dropped her pack next to him, pretending she hadn't caught him staring. She bent over to search through it before pulling out some bread and a few ripe cherry tomatoes. His traitorous anger had completely failed him when she presented her offering with a warm smile.

"I thought you were eating with the Chief Councilor," he said attempting to sound angry, but only sounding petty.

She just shrugged in response before looking into the pot. "I felt like having venison stew instead... It looks like you made enough for both of us."

Richard gave up any pretense and returned her pleasing smile. "The rest was for breakfast," he lied.

"Uhn, huh," she just grinned.

The baby onions he'd earlier taken from her pack gave him away. Both knew he didn't like them, yet a handful simmered in the pot alongside the carrots and sweet potatoes with chunks of venison.

He noticed a flush rise up her neck and she glanced away from him. "Richard... about today," she whispered.

He couldn't talk about today with her. It was clear they each held wildly different views of Cara and he just couldn't muster the strength to fight with her at the moment. He reached over to take her right hand in his and turned her face to his. "I don't want to talk about it any more," he said swallowing hard.

He averted her gaze before continuing. "After tomorrow it will be over and we can each remember her how we please," he said bitterly, knowing that Kahlan would never see Cara for what she could have been... only what she was made to be.

Richard fell back on his heels and moved his focus to the stew pot, hoping she would honor his request. Apparently she would since she pushed away the pack separating them and moved closer. He gathered his wits just in time to avert a minor disaster and grasped her left wrist to prevent further movement.

"Richard!" she complained and he realized he'd mistakenly used too much pressure to achieve his purpose.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, "I didn't mean to be rough... I didn't want you..."

"Cara's Agiel," she exclaimed and recoiled away from him.

His heart sank at her look of disgust directed toward him. He slumped and looked only at the fire. "I was half a league away before I realized I hadn't put it back with the rest of her things." He stood up and briefly turned to her. The horror and disgust had barely softened and he felt his knees weaken, but they held and did not fail him.

"I'll put it away, so you don't have to look at it."

Although fully knowing what to expect, the massive jolt of pain when Richard took hold of the weapon still caused him to gasp. He closed his eyes as he heard the Agiel sing before the pain coursing up his arm settled to the point where it was tolerable. Some unknown force pressed him to grip the weapon tighter, causing the pain to intensify. This would be how he'd remember Cara for the rest of his days. The woman who helped him return to Kahlan. He would never be given the chance to repay her for that act.

While he used the Agiel to burn Cara into his memory, Kahlan startled him. "Richard stop!" she pleaded. "Use the handle!"

Opening his eyes, he loosened his grip and the pain subsided. All he could do was look on with confusion at her astonishment. She'd come closer, but focused on the Agiel as if somehow it would jump toward her for an assault.

He decided to get this away from her as soon as possible and moved quickly to tuck it under his pack. The pain resided, then disappeared all together.

For a brief moment, he felt empty. That realization forced him to consider the polar opposites in his life. Touching Kahlan's right hand always caused his hand and forearm to tingle with excitement. The tingling caused by her left was far weaker, but just as real. Once learning about her power, he'd assumed it was the Confessor's power of love at work trying to break free, constantly being held in check only by her control.

On the other hand, he'd remember Cara in the way she lived... with pain of the Agiel.

When he returned closer to Kahlan, he noticed the look of sadness on her face. "What's wrong?" he asked, kneeling down beside her.

"There was no reason to do that. It's not your fault," she caught his gaze. Her disapproval was evident. "You could have used the handle like you did today and not hurt yourself."

At first her statement made absolutely no sense. Within a few moments, it dawned on him that Denna taught him this lesson... It was not something from Zedd or Kahlan. They'd both taught him so much, he forgot they didn't know everything about D'Hara. The realization of what Denna had taught him caught him off guard and he dropped to the ground with a thud.

"The Agiel always causes pain... to both its owner and victim," he said softly, blinking his eyes rapidly.

She just gasped. "You mean today?"

He nodded... "That's why I never let go... There is the sudden, intense jolt of pain, but after a while it fades to a dull ache." He couldn't fight back a shudder and shook his head quickly recalling the pain when he touched Cara's brother-in-law. "Except when I briefly used it... That really hurt," he said forcing a pathetically sick smile that quickly faded with her reaction.

"I didn't know," she replied softly. Her face slowly changed and he suspected she came to the realization a Mord-Sith spent a good deal of their life experiencing only pain.

Both of them sat quietly for a few moments, not looking at each other. If they continued down this path, they would most likely head toward topics he still couldn't discuss. Not even with Kahlan. "Come on, let's eat," he grabbed her attention with a smile.

She returned her own weak smile before moving toward the fire. "Could you slice the bread? I'll take care of the stew."

Richard cut off two slices of bread before she handed him a bowl. They shared a knowing smile when he found it contained no onions. Just to emphasize her point, her first spoon consisted of a gravy covered baby onion. The ate in silence, close together, but not fully touching.

The next morning, Richard allowed Kahlan to sleep while he caught something for breakfast. He wasn't sure how much energy she'd need to confess two Mord-Sith and the only time he'd seen her confess more than one person was during the Con Dar. Although he trusted she knew her abilities when she agreed to carry out the sentences, he suspected she'd need something substantial to eat.

He'd felt particularly proud at being able to catch and nearly gut the rabbit before she rose. Although focused on his efforts, he could almost feel her warmth behind him when he started wrapping it around the spit. He chuckled to himself upon finding he'd been so focused on his work, she'd begun a fire without him realizing it.

When he turned around to start roasting their breakfast, he caught her smiling at him.

"Richard, there's just the two of us... You didn't have to go to the trouble."

This morning it was his turn to shrug. "I'd planned on having stew for breakfast... You prevented that," he said and they shared a knowing smile.

He stood up then moved so he could lean against a fallen log. Breakfast wouldn't be ready for some time. Until then, he was content to sit quietly and let the early morning sun wash over him.

His mood increased considerably when Kahlan sat down next to him. Their bodies touched but even without skin to skin contact, her presence was more than welcome.

"Richard," Kahlan whispered, breaking the silence. "I know you said you'd meet me after... later today."

He turned to her to understand the reason for her hesitation. They turned together then she took his right hand in hers and he experienced that magical touch.

"Cara naming you the 'True Lord Rahl' without any meaningful objection and your rushing out yesterday... raised questions."

Richard gritted his teeth as she looked right at him.

"Some may even doubt you're the Seeker, if you aren't there today."

For some reason she couldn't hold his gaze any longer and dropped her head to look at their entwined hands.

"The Seeker always travels with his Confessor," she continued, "even if she is the Mother Confessor attending to her duties... Unless there is great need for them to be apart."

He wasn't certain he could go through with it. But when she brought her head back up to find his answer, it was obvious he must go. She was right... His responsibility as the Seeker meant he had to attend, no matter how difficult it might be. Although he nodded in agreement, he couldn't say the words.

She released his hand and leaned back. He did the same. They again sat in silence and he assumed she must have recognized how difficult it was for him to agree to attend the executions later that morning.

The rabbit continued to roast as they sat in silence. The crackling of the fire and the fat as it dripped down were the only noises preventing him from listening to every breath she took.

After poking their meal in a few places with a fork, Richard was fairly certain it was almost ready. He sliced off a little piece of meat, then leaned into Kahlan. He held it out close to her mouth. "What do you think?"

"Let's eat," she said after chewing and swallowing the morsel.

Once he'd lifted the spit away from the fire and let the meat rest a bit, he cut away both hind quarters then handed the plate to Kahlan.

She pushed the plate back at him then said, "you have one... I don't need both."

He persisted and push it back at her. "I'll take the rest," he insisted, slicing away the loin meat and a front leg for himself.

Apparently her protest was only half hearted because she'd nearly finished half of one thigh before he had a chance to sit back down beside her. He felt that same sense of pride whenever he had a chance to get rabbit for them. Kahlan's favorite food was the roasted hind quarters of a rabbit. Even Zedd recognized this and he'd pick other parts to eat so she had a chance at two whenever the mood suit her.

Unfortunately catching two rabbit was a challenge, so Richard was rarely able to provide rabbit for more than a couple meals a week.

Before he wanted, they were forced to pack up and return to the town. Along the way, he noticed Kahlan was very quiet and focused mostly on her own footsteps. They moved more quickly than he would have preferred and were at the town gates well before mid-morning.

Cara's Agiel was tucked safely in his pack. He didn't want to upset Kahlan by carrying it along his right thigh. He'd been thoughtless last night and he knew it bothered her greatly. He suspected it would have brought pause to the townspeople too, but honestly he cared little for their reaction at the moment.

As they approached the gates, she stopped, causing him to face her.

"Richard... the Mord-Sith asked to speak with you... privately," she asked, not facing him.

"Cara. Her name is Cara." He controlled his annoyance as much as possible. He couldn't believe she could be so petty as to not even use her name.

Surprisingly, she shook her head. "Not Cara... The other one."

"What she'd want?"

"She wouldn't say."

This time it was his turn to focus on his feet. For the life of him he couldn't understand why she'd want to talk to him. He wasn't even certain he could. All he could think to do was turn and pass through the gate. In moments, Kahlan caught up with him.

"Will you?" she asked once they were in town.

He had a feeling she didn't want him to. Truthfully, he wasn't sure he wanted to either.

"I don't know."

Richard spent a good deal of time in a fog as people introduced themselves and said what an honor it was to meet the Seeker and his Confessor. It didn't take a Confessor to know many of those were nothing more than insincere formalities. They were intent on ridding themselves of two Mord-Sith and attempted to dismiss with the preliminaries as quickly as possible.

Eventually Kahlan pulled him off to the side and away from the various people he'd just been introduced to, but couldn't remember any of their names. He'd never return to this forsaken place, so he saw no need to remember them. "I need to prepare myself," she said and he detected a bit of reticence in her voice. She took a deep breath, then faced him with a steely look. "We'll leave as soon as it's done... I'll tell them I have urgent business."

He nodded. He'd traveled long enough with her to know the townspeople wouldn't object. Actually he believed the vast majority of Midlanders wanted a Confessor to arrive, dispense with her judgements and leave soon after. Most were afraid of Confessors, but were bound by their laws to respect her.

Not knowing what to do with himself, he decided to satisfy his curiosity then speak with Cara one last time.

Richard came face to face with the woman who'd turned Cara into a Mord-Sith. She didn't even seem in the least threatening, let alone possess their fearsome reputation.

She bowed her head in respect. Cara must have convinced her he was the True Lord Rahl because no Mord-Sith would honor the Seeker. "Thank you for granting my request, My Lord," she soon confirmed his suspicion.

"The Mother Confessor said you asked for me," he said with an easy coldness.

"Please forgive me, Master, I tried my best to save Cara."

He tilted his head and considered her words. She had none of the arrogance or contempt he'd come to expect from the Mord-Sith. "Cara's fate was most likely sealed before we even arrived," he reminded her.

"Cara is the best of us... I take great pride that I was able to train the one you selected over the obvious objection of the Mother Confessor... Thank you for that honor."

Richard shuffled back on his heels, having no idea how to respond. He quickly turned to face Cara before swallowing hard a couple times. By the end of the day, he'd be on the way to Pamora without her. She said nothing, but he could not end in silence. "I will always remember you, Cara... I could never have returned to Kahlan without you."

Cara stood and approached. Soon only the bars separated them. "Do you still have my Agiel?"

He nodded. "No one else will come near it now," he said with a grin.

"If you wield it... My remaining Sisters will serve you well, My Lord." His brow furrowed at the thought of commanding what was left of the Mord-Sith. The very idea went against everything he'd been taught by Zedd and Kahlan.

"Assuming your Confessor permits it," she added, her turn to flash a brief grin.

It was nice to briefly share her sly wit another time before she was gone forever. There was just one more thing left to say. "I doubt either of you would be granted a funeral pyre... I know the town wouldn't even agree if I asked and they probably wouldn't believe me if I told them why."

Cara nodded in understanding.

"Hopefully they'll listen to Kahlan," he added moving away from the bars, taking a deep breath and standing at full height.

"I serve the Seeker and not the Keeper," she proclaimed with the strength she'd shown the entire time he'd known her.

Cara would not accept the Keeper's offer. Richard was certain of that.

Kahlan sat staring at the fire, basking in both its warmth and the smell of Thelusian Pine where they'd made camp. She had too much to absorb from the past couple of days.

Most of all was the overwhelming recognition at just how much Richard had changed in the months... months, not even two full years... she'd known him. It was almost unfathomable that foolish woodsman who put himself between her and four D'Haran soldiers armed only with a wood axe was the same man who'd saved her life this morning with the assistance of a Mord-Sith.

She shuddered to think of how many times he'd saved her life.

A flush rose up her neck at the memory of coming so close to reminding him he was the Seeker and, even if he were Richard Rahl, the Mord-Sith were not his personal bodyguards. She'd almost given into that temptation this morning before leaving him to begin her preparations. In a bitter twist of fate, she reversed course and insisted Cara serve as exactly that if she were to fall. If she were fortunate, Cara would not reveal Kahlan's request to Richard.

She took a deep breath, then poked at the fire a few more times simply to have something to do.

"What's on your mind, Kahlan?" Zedd asked gently.

She suddenly looked up and found the light had nearly faded away. She had no idea how long she spent staring at the fire. Looking around, she discovered she and Zedd were alone.

"Where are the others?"

"Richard headed off to scout a trail," he answered, "although I think he's searching for a way to take us even deeper into this cursed pine forrest."

She felt a smile rise and noticed Zedd responded similarly. "Honestly, there's a perfectly good road, even now, not more than three leagues away. Why he refuses to use it is beyond me... Flynn and Cara went off some time ago."


"I don't know," he replied shaking his head. "I doubt she'll let him out of her sight... I assume as long as I don't hear screaming, we have nothing to worry about," he added with a chuckle.

Being just the two of them, she felt safe enough to talk. "I don't know, Zedd," she said shaking her head while continuing to stare at the fire. "I thought I knew Richard... but he's still able to surprise me." Kahlan looked up to see Zedd nodding his head in pride. Clearly he had no idea what concerned her. She berated herself for checking once again they were alone, as if somehow either Flynn or Cara could appear without her knowledge. Neither possessed any skill at passing unheeded through the wood.

"Richard is able to wield an Agiel." She shook her head. "He held one yesterday during Cara's trial, but I thought it was only because he used the handle."

Zedd's face revealed a disbelief probably as intense as hers the prior evening.

"But last night," she choked up and had to pause before continuing. "I saw him holding hers on the opposite end."

"That's not possible, child," Zedd claimed.

"I know, Zedd," she replied shaking her head. "I couldn't believe it either... Not after what he went through." She fought the sudden pointless urge to kick at the fire. That wouldn't accomplish anything other than possibly setting her robes on fire.

"You misunderstand," Zedd got out before she cut him off.

She stood up with a frustrated nervousness. "Did you know it causes pain to the Mord-Sith when they use it?"

"That's not possible," he insisted shaking his head.

"Richard told me, Zedd!"

Zedd stood up and approached her. "No, that's not what I meant," he said breathlessly. "He can't wield an Agiel... When the Mord-Sith were formed and given their magic, the Agiels were specially protected to prevent males from holding them. It was how the Mord-Sith were to be saved from becoming dominated by men."

"I saw it for myself!" she insisted. "He held Cara's Agiel for most of her trial... He even used it once."

Zedd gasped.

Kahlan felt her legs unsteady beneath her and returned to sit by the fire. Zedd followed and sat less than a yard away.

"We ate together outside town last night and I nearly touched it by accident... Zedd, he actually kept it on his knife sheath. Before hiding it away, he intentionally used it to cause himself pain." She still found that memory deeply disturbing. "He gripped it tighter and it's awful scream only increased."

"How can this be? No man should be able to handle an Agiel." Zedd was hunched over and Kahlan assumed he was speaking more to himself than her, so she didn't bother answering.

Moments later Zedd breathed another idea. "This must have something to do with Richard using the power of Orden against the Mord-Sith... It's magic must somehow linger within him."

Kahlan knew his speculation was incorrect. He'd struck her well before Richard ever put the boxes together. "No, that's not it," she insisted shaking her head.

"Why not?" he asked incredulously.

She paused for a moment to summon the strength to tell him. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough... She couldn't bear to repeat how she knew. "I know," she said, looking full on at Zedd. She would reveal nothing more.

Zedd's brow furrowed in response and it sounded like he growled in the back of his throat.

"Maybe Cara knows?" She asked him. "She didn't seem surprised by it during the trial."

"This is an interesting change of events," Zedd said, again probably to himself, then moved away grumbling and humming in thought. 'Interesting change of events' were not the words Kahlan would use to describe this.

Shortly Kahlan heard her stomach grumble and realized she'd been so shaken by today's events, she couldn't remember eating since this morning's rabbit. She smiled at the memory he'd given her both hindquarters, prepared exactly to her delight. As good as it tasted, that was not enough to sustain her throughout the day. Fortunately she had a little bread and some cheese left over from what the Chief Councilor gave her the day before.

She'd just finished it when she heard Flynn complaining as he and Cara returned to camp.

"I told you I had to make certain you didn't run away," Cara said menacingly, completing some earlier conversation.

Kahlan couldn't help but grin at Flynn's response when he cowered away then moved to put her between himself and Cara.

"Cara," Zedd caught her attention then she approached him opposite the fire from Kahlan. "Kahlan tells me Richard was able to hold your Agiel yesterday," he said, briefly looking at Kahlan and not Cara. "He even used it once... How is such a thing possible?"

Their training meant Kahlan always had a difficult time with Mord-Sith, but Cara's reaction was as if Zedd had asked her why the sky is blue.

"Agiels were created to be used only by the Mord-Sith," he pointed out. She wasn't exactly certain why he said that. Cara obviously must have already known that.

"Lord Rahl is able to wield any Agiel." The look on Cara's face baffled Kahlan. If anything, Cara appeared not to understand why her answer wasn't completely obvious to everyone in camp.

After a few awkward moments, Kahlan felt the need to stand up and turn away from the others. She took a few steps into the woods, then cursed Richard's ability to pass through the forrest virtually untraceable at night. She had no hope of finding him.

Still, her nerves were too raw for her to remain while Cara and Zedd discussed Richard's newly discovered ability.

She decided she'd walk off in a direction and let Richard come to her. Probably no more than a half a league away, she decided to just stop and sit. Although she couldn't see much of the sky, the waxing moon generated enough light she could at least retrace her own footsteps if he did not.

Sometime later she smelled Richard's approach before any other indication. Although she felt no breeze, she must have been downwind of him. She turned to face him when he was close enough for her to hear his footsteps approach. He was carrying some container she'd never seen before.

"Here," he handed it to her before he sat down next to her.

"What is it?"

"Something Zedd whipped up... It's supposed to keep things at the right temperature," he replied upon lifting the lid.

She gasped in surprise when the lid vanished.

He appeared greatly amused at her reaction. "That's what you get for telling Zedd... He peppered me with questions when I got back... Fortunately all I could find were pheasant," he said with barely discernible grin. "He'd been unbearable if I returned with a pig."

"At least until it was ready," he added and they both laughed.

Fortunately the failing light hid her blush. "What'd you tell him?"

"Same thing I said yesterday... Of course both of them insisted I was wrong."

Kahlan clearly heard the frustration in his voice and decided to drop the matter.

"Here," Richard said before handing over a plate without looking at her while he searched through the container. "There it is," he added a few fleeting moments later.

Kahlan pressed her lips together to contain a smile in response to him setting the pheasant heart on her plate. If she hadn't been so distracted with the information Zedd and Cara shared, she should have predicted his offering. She turned to face his questioning eyes before letting her smile grow.

"Of course," she said softly, then cut the heart in half before holding the plate so he could pick up his half. The rising warmth in her breast was far more a result of Richard's response than any caused by the tiny morsel.

She couldn't resist blushing as another smile formed when she recalled the first time Richard made this offering. He'd startled her one evening after some petty argument that got out of hand by placing a pheasant heart on her plate. Apparently recognizing her astonishment, he explained that, in Hartland, an offering of a pheasant heart to another was meant as a sort of peace offering. If the other agreed, that person was to cut the heart in half then the two were to eat their halves at the same time. It was a way for both to agree they would not let whatever disagreement came between them linger and it would be dropped.

Of course, Kahlan would never share with Richard that, according to Midland tradition, he'd now requested her daughter's hand in marriage four times, assuming she hadn't lost count. Regardless, she far preferred the Hartland tradition, and not just because she had no daughter.

Richard shook her out of her musings by gently taking the plate away from her.

"What's in there?" she asked, moving close and trying to peer into the container without bumping heads.

"There's another leg for you... a couple carrots." Richard said, lifting leg onto her plate. Before adding the carrots, he moved his fingers through the dish. "I thought sure I put some sliced apples in here too... Ahhh there they are."

The food was very good, although Kahlan consumed the pheasant leg more quickly than proper. Fortunately it was just the two of them.

"Want me to build a fire? Give us a little light?"

"I'm fine," she added. Actually she was more than fine sitting quietly next to Richard in the moonlit stand of wonderful smelling pine.

The End