A/N: Short fic about the realities one must face in the midst of war. I know I've been avoiding my other story, retribution...I will get to it, I swear! :)
He stood panting amongst the bodies that surrounded him. The hard stench of blood filled his nostrils, assaulting his very senses. The mist of the morning still overlapped the valley to the point where he could barely see past ten feet. The sinking feeling of victory crept in at finally hearing the silence echo throughout the land that was moments before filled with the looming cries of men bent on destroying every last one of their enemies. The cool air brushed past him, making the fine hairs on his arms stand on end. His steel sword dripped with wet blood, violently red from the last man who had encountered it.
Richard felt his knees buckle as he turned his head toward the horizon. There had to have been thousands of men that had died this day…all at his word. In the distance, he could scarcely hear the victory cries of the men in his party. Richard didn't feel like celebrating. He looked down at the man he had just killed seconds ago. The boy didn't look older than twenty. His red curls only added to the red oozing from his cracked skull. His bright blue eyes stared lifeless up into Richard, forcing him to face the realities of his life now. Richard looked away, not being able to bare the scrutiny of the dead eyes looking at him. Though they could not judge, Richard could judge himself. With all the death around him, he was beginning to question whether or not he was really the hero – or was he turning into the tyrant his brother once was.
He briefly heard the footsteps of someone walking up behind him, but ignored them as his thoughts were elsewhere. He wiped his sword on his pant leg, staining it red with the blood of many before placing it back in his scabbard. The clothes he wore were already so dirty it made no difference. It only added to the blood already there. His blood-soaked fingers ran through his brown tussled hair. He wanted to get out of here. Wanted to take a bath and wash the guilt away…as if he could. Water alone could never purify his mind. He would forever be tortured, forever be plagued by the memories of his tyranny.
"Richard," a voice said from behind him, the voice filled with concern. He lifted a hand up to silence the woman who stood behind him, not wanting to hear words of encouragement or words of comfort. He deserved neither. The woman shut her mouth in acquiescence, not wanting to probe any further. His muscled form carefully stepped over the mounds of bodies that lay around him. He had killed nearly 200 men today alone. He allowed his eyes to wander over the faces of the lives he had taken, so he would never forget the reality of who he was. Youthful eyes stared back at him, seemingly from everywhere. Men, no, boys stared up at him. These men probably never had a chance at life, probably had never even felt the caress of a woman yet. His brown eyes filled with the tears that these men so deserved. He could feel his whole body shaking as he bent to shut the eyes of a nearby young soldier. He leaned down and with trembling hands shut his once vibrant eyes.
He could hear more men coming up behind him and could hear her talking to them, asking them to leave him be for the time and to go set up camp. They obeyed her command and left reluctantly. He briefly thanked the spirits for her and that she was alive at least. If nothing else, he had her. But how could she love him?
The onslaught of pain erupted within him again and he stood to his full form. He didn't dare turn to look into her beautiful blue eyes to face the loved one he didn't deserve. All he had ever done was destroy things, destroy people. How could anyone love such a person? She was allowing him his time and he loved her all the more for it. He shook his head and pushed the thoughts aside. He didn't deserve any form of love right now. Right now, he needed to dwell in what he had done. It was necessary to maintain the balance of good and evil. He needed to allow his conscience to feel the pain.
He felt a hot tear trail down his face as he again bent down to shut the eyes of another young boy which whom he had slit his throat. His brown eyes stared into the face, burning the image into his memory so as he would never forget the suffering he had caused.
Sighing, he stood up once more and gripped the hilt of his sword in his left hand sitting at his hip. His eyes were hard as he turned to face Kahlan who stood silently watching him, concern etched across her soft features. "Have the men dig graves. These men fought hard and deserve the respect," she was about to protest when he spoke over her, his voice threatening, "do it, now."
Kahlan bit her bottom lip and nodded at his order. She looked down at her own blood-soaked clothes and headed towards the men's direction, leaving Richard with his thoughts. Such horror. Such destruction. All because of him. He couldn't take it any longer. In silence, he fell on his knees in the mud soaked earth. His hands gripped the shirt of a soldier who lay in front of him as he quietly cried.
He stood by idly watching as his men picked up the strewn bodies and carefully lugged them toward the graves they had just dug. It was well into the night and he was getting tired of hearing the groans and complaints of some of the younger men. The older men, though disagreeing with Richard, understood his reasoning and went about the task with respect. The valley was nearly cleared now and all that remained were the streaks of red that covered the earth, soon to be washed away by the fall rain. His hands lay limp at his sides like dead weight as he continued watching the last of the bodies be placed into the graves. His heart felt empty. He'd helped the most of the day in carefully placing the bodies respectfully in the earth below. He'd snapped at a few of the younger men who seemingly cared little for the lives they had so carelessly taken. He was in a foul mood and had no patience in dealing with the insolence of youth.
He didn't know how long he had stood there watching as they finished, but he realized it must have been pretty late. There were only a few men left as the rest had gone off to their beds to rest before the journey tomorrow. He couldn't sleep. Not after today. He shut his eyes again, the images flooding to his mind like a burst dam. He swallowed hard against the tightness of his chest and allowed the cool air around him to inundate him, reminding him of how alive he was, and how dead they were.
He was startled when he felt the soft touch of her skin against his bare arm. Her cool fingers rested there, reassuring him of her presence. He opened his eyes and looked toward the illuminating moon above, lighting the encampment, not daring to look at the gentle eyes that were beseeching him. Her fingers wound around his arm and squeezed slightly in quiet understanding. He found it difficult to speak so he didn't. His right side began to warm with her full form now leaning into him, comforting him just by touch alone. They stood there together, eyes gazing out at the men as they continued on their task.
As they finished, Kahlan nodded to them, allowing them to finally go to their own camps to rest up and celebrate their victory. Alone at last, she slowly stepped in front of him, forcing him to face what he didn't want to face all day.
"Richard," she started, her right hand reaching out to gently caress his tanned cheek. He swallowed hard again, not looking at her, but looking over her head at the valley beyond, remembering the day's events. Too many people had died…
"Richard, look at me," she said again, this time a little less gently. His sharp brown eyes alas found hers. With her thumb, she traced the lines of dried blood that still spattered his face as he had yet to wash up. His once soft lips were cracked and dry due to the lack of hydration as he had not eaten or drank anything all day and with the weather as cool as it was, it didn't help matters much. She searched his brown eyes, searched for the Richard she knew and loved. His heart was turning into stone – she could see it throughout the day. Every time she looked at him, he was hardening up, pushing her away, and closing everyone off from him. She couldn't allow him to do this to himself. What was done was necessary, couldn't he see that?
She let her hand drop to the side at seeing his lack of emotion in his face and eyes. Her blue eyes were moist as she grabbed his hand and gently tugged on it. He held back at first, but when she gave him a look of such resolve that proved she would not give up, he gave in.
She led him to the darkness of the forest, away from the camp, away from the graves. She pushed the branches and leaves away from her face with her left hand as she held Richard's with her right. She had to be careful not to trip on any of the tree limbs that stuck out from the ground below and was silently thanking the moon for being so bright this evening.
She led him to a clearing they had passed earlier where there rested a natural spring of water. The water was a hot spring and the steam radiating off of it from the night air gave it an eerie glow. Despite the lack of light, it was beautiful.
Kahlan stopped in the clearing and held her left arm out, showing him the splendor of the earth, the lush green of life, the brush and the clarity of the water "Richard this is what we fight for. For the beauty of life," she whispered to him. Bending down she plucked a wild flower growing near the warmth of the spring and held it to him, "for others to feel the freedom this flower has to live." She gently placed it in his hand when he didn't take it from her. The vibrant pink colour shone brightly against the light of the moon and reflected the sheer beauty of the world and what it could be. Kahlan pushed him further along and stopped briefly when something caught her eye. She pointed with her left hand and waited until he looked before she continued. In the brush not far away stood a mother deer and her baby, protecting her kin from the dangers that lurked in the night, "so that others may be lucky enough to build a family, to celebrate in their love for each other, to live to their full potential," she stood in front of him once more, "Unfortunately this does come at the cost of other's lives, but it is so worth it in the long run…can't you see?" she questioned, her blue eyes squinting up at him to emphasize her point. Richard looked away from her, unable to force himself to look at her unnaturally blue eyes that seemed even bluer against the moonlight. She sighed when she could see that she wasn't getting through to him, "Blood must be shed for others to be free. It's the law of nature," she whispered, looking away from him. They stood in silence once more, unmoving until Kahlan finally grabbed hold of his hands once more and brought him to the water's edge. Without asking or questioning, she began unbuttoning his shirt, shedding the layers of emotions along with clothing as she pushed the sleeves off his shoulders and allowed the fabric to fall to the dirt floor beneath. He barely even acknowledged her as she carefully unlaced her dress and also dropped it to the ground. With quiet resolve, she tugged at her own undergarments and allowed them to fall to the ground. Standing there, completely naked in front of him, she grabbed hold of his hand and placed it over his heart, "this, Richard," she held his big hand there, "this is what we fight for…what we kill for," his brown eyes looked down at her, at his hand on her heart. Beneath her silken skin he could feel the gentle thump of her heart underneath his palm, her life line. His dead eyes bore into hers as she dropped his hand and went to remove his pants. He could briefly make out the soft hue of a blush spreading across her cheeks, but he ignored it. His thoughts were still preoccupied with hatred for himself he didn't have the care to acknowledge it. Kahlan held her head tall as she grabbed his hand once more and headed into the water.
The warmth of it covered his cool skin and in all honesty, it did feel good for him to see the redness of blood dissipate from his hands in the water. Kahlan turned to face him when they were neck deep in the springs and shared a look of sorrow with him. She took her hands up and cupped them to the clear liquid and slowly brought it towards Richard's face. Gently she poured it over, rinsing away the blood and dirt that told the story of the day's battle. Her soft fingers gently scrubbed away at the blood, making his face once again recognizable. Repeating the same step, she poured the water this time over his head, rinsing the blood and sweat from his brown hair. She had to scrub at times to get it out as it had hardened, leaving clumps in his once soft locks.
His gaze never left hers as she worked, but his mind was still elsewhere. Though he appreciated what she was trying to do, nothing would work to make his mind escape the torturous events of the day…or the past few years for that matter. Ever since he had met her. He could see the sorrow in her eyes and he knew she felt terrible. He knew that she knew that it was because of her that all of this had happened. He hated the fact that she was blaming herself, but could do nothing to console her. At this moment, he could barely keep from breaking down himself.
When Kahlan was completely satisfied that the blood was at last out of his hair, she cupped a hand to the side of his face and gave him a small smile. "Richard," she whispered, inches away from him, "think of all the lives you have saved by doing what was done today. With you taking the throne in D'Hara, you'll be able to protect your people, keep them safe from any tyrant that lurks in the shadows," she leaned closer, "because of you, thousands will live in happiness… thousands will be able to be free, live happily…fall in love," the gaze they shared intensified as she spoke. With gentle arms, she pulled him to her, wrapping them around his neck. He shut his eyes against the pain as his emotions began to get the better of him. She could feel him tremble slightly in her arms and was relieved to know his emotions were still in tact. Richard had to bite his lip to keep from crying, but a few tears did slip. She pulled away from him and rested her forehead against his, wiping his tears away with her thumbs.
He looked away again, staring off into the distance, angry at allowing himself to show such emotions, hating the fact that he had now put Kahlan under pressure because of his own needs. He wiped a hand across his face and faced the opposite direction of her. He could see the hurt in her eyes as he turned from her and hated that it was because of him…he couldn't do anything right,
"Kahlan…" he turned to face her again, but still avoided her eyes. How was she so strong? How was she not affected by killing so many people? Even his men seemed so non-chalant about the whole thing. Was he the only one who this was affecting? He felt foolish and somehow discouraged. "How do you…?" he wanted to ask her how she did it…how she didn't let it affect her, but feared she may take it the wrong way. She answered his question anyway.
"I grew up with this, Richard. Battle and killing people is part of who I am," she looked away, up to the stars as she spoke, "it's not like it doesn't affect me…I suppose I've just become desensitized to it," she played with a strand of her wet hair in the water as she whispered the last part, "the youngest boy I ever confessed was twelve years old."
Richard's eyes went wide as he gaped at her. Twelve years old…how could she…when…why….he didn't know what to ask first or whether or not he should ask it. Kahlan sighed and let the strand of hair she was playing with loose again. She bit her bottom lip and allowed her eyes to linger over the water, not wanting to meet his gaze.
"He was charged with murdering the Princess of Galyng. The Queen was going to kill him, but I stepped in. Unfortunately at the time I wasn't the Mother Confessor and was ordered by the Mother Confessor at the time that the boy needed to be confessed to find out the truth. I pleaded with her to send someone else or to not do it, but you never question the Mother Confessor," she looked to him finally finding the courage, "so you see, if you're a tyrant, I must be the more evil than the Keeper himself," she stated. Richard shook his head, not agreeing.
"You were forced," he whispered, "I do this freely."
Kahlan sighed and glanced away from his eyes briefly, "I wasn't forced. I could have run. I could have hid. I could have simply denied her…she didn't physically force me. I still made the choice to do it."
Richard didn't look convinced as he took her in with his gaze, "was he guilty?" he questioned, not entirely sure if he wanted to know.
Kahlan's eyes watered slightly as she looked out into the brush, her mind wandering elsewhere. Her answer came awhile later as she tried regaining her composure, a little fire in her voice, "no." Richard watched her facial expressions, not saying anything, waiting for her to once again look at him. When she didn't, he was about to say something when she spoke up again. "He'd be eighteen by now," she whispered. At last her moist blue eyes came to his, "I destroyed a child, Richard. An innocent twelve year old boy who had done no wrong – he was just in the wrong area at the wrong time." She looked up at him, pain evident on her face, "if you hate yourself for what you did to those men," she looked down, "than you must despise me. He was the youngest one I've ever confessed, but I've confessed quite a few not much older…" His face dropped slightly, not intentionally wanting Kahlan to feel this way, but he could see her point. The wind blew slightly, causing Kahlan to shiver as it touched her bare skin. She automatically lowered herself further into the water, trying to keep herself somewhat warm.
Richard looked down at his own hands in the water before speaking, "No, Kahlan. I don't despise you for what you've done. I don't think I'll ever fully understand it…but I don't despise you for it." He ran a wet hand through his hair, "I could never despise you."
Kahlan glanced up at him, her blue eyes searching his. He knew what she was doing. She was reading him, trying to see if he was lying. He purposely held her gaze so she'd know it to be true. She at last spoke when she was satisfied that he wasn't lying.
"Though I regret what I've done, I understand the necessity of my kind…of what we do," she ran her delicate hands over the surface of the water as she spoke, "We're leaders, Richard," her blue eyes intensified with a certain bit of malice, "we have to do things normal people would never have to do. We have to fight battles, get our hands a little dirty for the betterment of the people," he was about to interrupt her telling her he knew, but she silenced him with her hand as she stood up, facing him head on. "No, Richard. You can be upset about it, yes. You can feel guilty about it, sure. You can respect those you've fought against and mourn their deaths. But the one thing you cannot do as a leader is deny your own men their victory," his eyes flared in anger as she spoke on, "As a leader you take responsibility, but you cannot let it destroy you," with a thrust of her arm, she pointed towards the camp, "those men nearly died for you today. Fighting for a cause that is the betterment of all. They willingly put their lives on the line because they realize the fruits of their labour. And then when they succeed, you punish them with your resolve, your guilt, your lack of gratitude!" she dropped her arm to her side and clenched her fist as she spoke. At last the heat left her face and she looked away from him once more, "Save your hurt and anger for when you are alone. As a leader, you must be able to mask it. These men have suffered enough. They deserve the respect you once gave them. They deserve to be rewarded," Kahlan started walking toward the shoreline. She turned slightly to him as she spoke again, "when you are done pitying yourself, come back to camp and celebrate with your men. You've given enough respect to the men we've killed today. Its now time you show respect to the men that lived." She stood tall, water sluicing from her perfect form. Leaning down, she picked up her garments of clothing and stormed off, her wet hair clinging to her back as she did.
Richard wanted to yell at her, wanted to scream at her for forcing this on him as she stalked away; but he couldn't. He knew she was right. He had been pitying himself to the point where he had neglected his own men; the same men that fought just as hard as he. He couldn't believe he had allowed himself to get this bad. He felt guilty, not only for the lives he had taken, but for the men he so selfishly ignored. He could feel the torment gnaw at him as he started walking towards the shoreline. Kahlan was right…she was always right.
Some of the tents were aglow with the soft warming hue of a fire as he walked back; the hum of men's laughter filled the silence of the night air with life. He boldly walked over to the young men, wanting to talk with them – make his peace. He could see Kahlan in the midst of the crowd of men, laughing and chatting with them. When her eyes caught his, they were questioning. She didn't know if she had truly gotten through to him. He looked away from her eyes and searched for an opening. The place fell silent as he came up and all eyes were on him. Richard gripped his sword which lay at his hip as he hopped up on a nearby log, hoping to stand tall for all to see him and hear him.
"Gentlemen," he called out to them. More men in the back quieted their voices and put their ales down as they saw him, awaiting for him to begin, "Today I fear I've failed you," his eyes looked to Kahlan's once more, curiosity blaring. "I've not allowed you to feel the victory you deserve this night," men looked to each other, agreeing with him but not wanting to say anything against the Lord Rahl. Richard spoke once more, "You fought hard. You killed many. All for the betterment of our people…your wives, your children…your families," his eyes scanned the expectant faces around him as he spoke, "I must apologize for my behaviour earlier. I fear my own resolve is not as strong as that of the Mother Confessors, for it took her to convince me of how selfish I was being" he looked to Kahlan, a small smile appearing on her beautiful face. The men around all chuckled in understanding, knowing just how strong Kahlan truly was, "You deserve your victory tonight. You have served me well. I thank you for that. Please, enjoy your evening – you deserve it," he reached down and grabbed a pint that sat on the table in front of him. He held it in the air and spoke in a powerful voice, "to victory!" he proclaimed. The men around him erupted with cheers, throwing their mugs in the air as well before chugging down their ale.
Richard stepped off the log and handed the man closest to him the pint before turning for Kahlan's direction. She stood smiling at him as he made his way through the mass of a crowd towards her. "Well said," she stated as he neared her, their faces inches apart. His eyes softened as he took her in, her beauty captivating him just with one smile.
"Seems all I needed was someone to put me in my place," he smiled at her, his left hand reaching around her waist, pulling her to him. Kahlan smiled wider as he inched his face closer to hers.
"I've had to do that a lot lately," she grinned, "I think what Cara always says is true. Women are stronger than men," she stated, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He gave her a look of admittance, "it appears so," he at last met her lips with his own, his right hand running it's fingers through her still wet locks of silk hair. Her small hands held his head to her as they embraced. Men around them cheered some more and made some ogling noises as they parted. Kahlan blushed slightly and tried burying her face into Richard's shoulder. He smiled at her innocence and joked with the men some more before turning to her, grabbing her hand and pulling her from the party. He pulled her around the encampment in the darkness, through the brushes, to his tent. He pulled the tent flap open and allowed her to step in first. She gave him a questioning look as she had her own tent, next to his.
Once in the room, he pulled her to him again and with one hand, brushed her hair off of her shoulders. She giggled and hunched her neck against his face as he started layering her soft neck with suckling kisses, following her collarbone. She ran her fingers into his now clean hair as he kissed down her chest to the lining of her corset. His fingers ran dangerously close to her breasts as he trailed them up and down her sides, feeling her soft curves. Kahlan moaned as he again came up to her neck and nibbled on her earlobe. He gently pushed her over to his make shift desk and with two hands on her hips, lifted her to sit in the bench in front of him. Her heart was pounding at what he was doing as she felt his warm hand gently grasp hold of her ankle. Deliberately slow, he teasingly ran his hand up her perfectly toned leg, still kissing her neck in the process. Instinctively, Kahlan wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him to her hard as his hand continued travelling upwards, bringing her skirt along with it. She felt her face flushing as his warm fingers made their way up to her silken thigh, touching places no man had ever touched before, let alone Richard. She gasped at how good it felt and started to have the urge that she wanted him to do more. She moaned again at all of these foreign feelings and nearly gasped as his hands glided dangerously close to her womanhood. Instead of heading there, he allowed his hand to simply feel the contours of her inner thigh, rubbing, caressing. Kahlan was finding it difficult to catch her breath as his skilled hands worked her legs and his mouth worked her neck. The pleasure she was feeling was almost too much to bear.
"Richard," she whispered his name, needing to say something to take her mind slightly off of the sheer pleasure. He grunted in response, seemingly too busy to state anything else. She had never seen this side of him before…of any man before. It was all so completely foreign, but deliciously wonderful. He was a totally different man, consumed by love and now desire. She could feel him becoming more and more aroused and found herself wanting to touch him, wanted to feel him as well. Her skin was hot under his touch which drove him onward.
He finally brought his mouth up to hers, both of his hands escaping her thighs and resting on the side of her face as he held her, kissing her. Another moan slipped through as she kissed him back, wanting to taste him with as much ferocity as he. He pulled away to catch his breath and stood back slightly, looking at her. Kahlan looked confused as he pulled from her, already missing the feel of his hands on her.
"Richard? What's wrong?" She questioned, suddenly becoming very self-conscious of her bare legs, she pushed her skirt down again, not knowing if she had done something to make him change his mind. He ran a hand through his hair as he took her in, smiling a small smile.
"Nothing's wrong," he stated, bringing a hand out to cup her blushing cheek. He smiled at how beautiful the colour of red looked on her angelic face. "I just…I don't know if I want our first time to be here…like this," he looked around them at the skimpy tent; his bed was nothing but a blanket and make-shift pillow. Kahlan bit her bottom lip and nodded in understanding. He backed away a little more, running a hand over his face to banish the lust. Kahlan hopped off of his desk and suddenly felt very uncomfortable, not knowing what to do with herself. She hated that feeling.
"I understand," she stated, not knowing if she felt disappointed or understanding. Maybe it was a little bit of both. She looked down at her hands, not wanting to meet his gaze. "Well, good night then," she stated, reaching up to give him a kiss on the cheek. He grasped her wrist as she walked off, pulling her to a stop.
"Kahlan," he looked to her, his brown eyes wide with desperation, "stay with me…just to be with me...nothing more," the look he gave her melted her heart. The events of the day still plagued his mind and he really didn't want the sinking feeling of loneliness to overwhelm him in the night. She smiled at him, not wanting to leave him, either. Her fingers curled around his as her other hand reached up to touch his rough cheek.