Author's Note: This short story takes place shortly after the end of Torn. It's the first evening they make camp after riding away from Aydindril at the end of the epsidoe.
Kahlan awoke a bit grumpy when Cara rose her voice too loud. After blinking her eyes several times to clear away the sleep, she saw Richard's bedroll empty, then assumed he and Cara were having a heated discussion.
"Still you shouldn't have let him run off like that," Zedd hissed and dispelled her assumption. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach at the words 'let him run off'.
"Stop being so dramatic," Cara said in a normal voice, likely oblivious to the fact Kahlan had been sleeping. "He's only down by the lake... We're this close to Aydindril."
Kahlan felt herself relax after learning Richard was no less than a couple hundred yards away.
She heard Zedd move around and grumble a bit. She also heard what sounded like him sitting down. Something clearly bothered Zedd, so she decided to maintain the ruse she was sleeping.
"What's going on?" Zedd asked shortly later in a voice that clearly betrayed concern to Kahlan.
"I don't know what..." Cara replied a bit softer than earlier before he interrupted her.
"I'm no fool Cara... Something's going on with Richard."
Kahlan saw her vision blur as her eyes teared up. Apparently she hadn't been the only one to notice the change in Richard since leaving Aydindril. After... whatever happened... she'd only seen him briefly smile twice. When she looked into his eyes it was clear he hadn't told her everything and tried to hide something painful. She hadn't pressed him because she wasn't sure she wanted to know what he'd hide from her after listening to the things the Mother Confessor had done.
For nearly all of their brief trip away from Aydindril, Richard kept his horse out front, away from her. The couple times she'd been able to push her horse to match his, he'd then drop back to ride alongside Zedd and leave her out front, alone.
"You're just mad because he didn't hunt down a fat, suckling pig for our meal and left Kahlan to cook the mutton we brought with us," she said acerbically. After tamping down Cara's insult to her cooking skills, Cara's most likely actual intent dawned on Kahlan. Richard loved to hunt and the fact he wouldn't even try the first chance after they reunited said volumes about his mood. He also barely ate anything for supper and it wasn't because she couldn't cook. Sure, she wasn't as good a woodsman cook as Richard, but he'd never had any problems eating her cooking before.
All three sat silently for many minutes. Since the other two still had their memory of what transpired, she assumed they were considering what might have happened to upset Richard. Kahlan knew he was hiding something from her but couldn't even speculate after hearing what the Mother Confessor did.
"It's about the Mother Confessor taking a mate so quickly, isn't it?" Zedd whispered as if he suspected she might be awake.
Kahlan swallowed hard at the words 'so quickly'. She wasn't certain she wanted to know what that meant.
Cara didn't respond immediately but eventually added, "she looked right at Richard when she said she'd been with Fyren many times... He must have figured it out."
"Of course," Zedd whispered with a sigh. She could also imagine Zedd nodding, "that's when I became certain something was wrong... She'd taken a mate within two days of arriving without even a hint of remorse over how Richard might react."
Kahlan felt a painful knot form in her stomach and she almost let out a gasp when hearing this. It had to be what Richard hid from her and she felt a tear drop from her cheek. Her chest constricted in pain at realizing someone other than Richard out there who knew what it felt like to be with her. She was disgusted at the behavior and felt ashamed that some part of her could do that to Richard.
For some time she'd heard Zedd pacing and grumbling but no movement from Cara.
"It's too bad the Mother Confessor gave up so easily... I wanted to inflict more pain on her," Cara said quietly but with an easily recognized bitterness. "I'd had enough of the two of them... The other one accused me trying to take Richard away from her as if what he's already sacrificed isn't good enough for her," Cara hissed. "The Mother Confessor hopped into bed with the first man who came her way," she spat with obvious disgust.
Before Kahlan could digest those words, Zedd responded. "There'll be no more of that... It's not Kahlan's fault."
She felt herself blush in shame. While this wasn't nearly as humiliating as the time she abandoned Richard to Denna, who nearly ruined him, it was nearly as bad for the simple fact their bond... their love... was deeper now. Or at least she thought.
"And Richard?" Cara asked the obvious question.
Zedd just sighed and Kahlan believed he sat down again. Kahlan didn't bother to listen for his response. She turned so her face pointed closer to the ground to hide her tears. She whispered a quick devotion to the Creator for not forcing her to remember the terrible things she'd done.
Richard looked out across the lake. The past few days had been a challenge. He didn't really want to be around anyone else right now so he told Cara to stay at camp and watch over Kahlan and Zedd. Although they were less than four leagues away from Aydindril, and most likely safe, Richard wasn't certain how Fyren's men would respond now that he was no longer confessed.
As if completely out of his control, his mind focused on two thoughts he wished to banish.
First he'd been cheated. He'd never been with a woman before and vowed that if his first time could not be with Kahlan, it would never be. He'd given himself to someone who looked like Kahlan... someone he thought was Kahlan... but proved to be someone else entirely. His vow had been for naught, there could ever be another first time.
Second the Mother Confessor took a mate in no more than a couple days after arriving in Aydindril. Although the pain was tempered by his knowledge it wasn't really Kahlan... and he had no right to prevent her from attempting to give birth to another Confessor... He still wished feelings for him would have at least given her some pause. Instead, not only hadn't she shown the slightest hint she cared for him, she then confessed her opposite in an attempt to kill him. Even after taunting him, he couldn't believe the Mother Confessor would attempt to reason with him to save her own life. She must have been desperate.
Still he probably shouldn't have found it amusing when Cara told him she wished the Mother Confessor was a bit tougher and put up more of a resistance so Cara could have made subduing her a lot more painful. Hopefully Kahlan heard neither Cara's comment nor his own chuckle that slipped out before he could control himself.
Richard relaxed there trying to focus on the beauty of the starlight reflecting off the lake instead of feeling foolish when he heard footsteps. He rose up with a scowl, assuming Cara had ignored him and took the chance of needlessly feeding Kahlan's misplaced jealousy, but was startled to find Kahlan drawing near instead.
He watched her approach until she got close enough he could focus only on her smiling face. It wasn't possible for him to think about anything but how her face glowed even in the faint light reflecting off the water.
Kahlan said nothing more than a brief, "couldn't sleep," when she sat down next to him and leaned against the log.
After some time just sitting there enjoying the closeness and serenity, Kahlan interrupted with a statement that caught him completely by surprise. "I won't take a mate unless I have no choice."
Richard turned to her with a confused look, but recognized she was completely serious. He was a bit annoyed at the obvious conclusion either Cara or Zedd told her something better left in the past. "But you must," he stated the obvious even though it pained him deeply.
She just shook her head and he returned another confused look. "Dennee is back."
He rolled his eyes. "It's not fair to put that all on her." She'd been forced to kill her own son... He couldn't imagine how hard it would be if she bore another. After learning of Kahlan's son from Shota, he'd grudgingly come to the conclusion the Confessors' fear of sons wasn't unfounded and their choice to kill them at birth probably was the last cruel.
"Richard," she started, then looked out toward the lake. "Until I found out I was the only one left, I never intended to take a mate."
"But Kahlan," he said cutting her off. "You must have grown up thinking about it... Having children? Raising a daughter to continue your line?"
"Never... I," she got out before he cut her off again. He couldn't believe she'd decided years and years ago never to even attempt bearing children. "No, I never considered it," she insisted.
He gave her an incredulous look and didn't believe her although he could tell from her face, she was earnest in her claim.
"I've known I've been destined to be the Seeker's Confessor when he... you... arose since shortly after the Sisters took me in."
"How? Zedd never told me anything about being a Seeker... How could you have known over a decade earlier?" Again he had a difficult time believing her claim.
"Prophecy," she said then paused, apparently waiting for him to interrupt, but he did not. "The Sisters told me during the second waxing moon to pass through the Twins after the Seeker's birth, a Confessor would then be born... It would be her destiny to guide and protect the Seeker once he took up the Sword."
"You?" he asked, even though the answer was obvious.
She just nodded in response. "I've known over half my life that I would be the Seeker's Confessor... My role... my purpose... my responsibility would be different than all other Confessors around me," she said and even in just starlight, he could see her eyes water up. "My life would be for the Seeker and I would never take a mate as long as I remained true."
Richard just slumped. He wondered what it was like to know your purpose all your life. He had no idea what his destiny was until that one fateful night after encountering the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen in his life. He'd fallen in love the moment he stared into those bright, blue eyes.
"I still can't believe you never thought about children growing up."
Again she just shook her head. "I studied history... I was instructed by Wizards from my earliest childhood. No Seeker's Confessor has ever taken a mate unless she succumb to temptation and confessed the Seeker. I was determined I would never fail... I would remain true until final victory."
Richard understood what she meant. Except for those few stories ending with the Seeker and Confessor giving into their passions and failing, the Seeker and his Confessor were mortally wounded in their final, but victorious, battle against evil. "But Kieran?" he said almost to himself without realizing.
"I never knew the stories might not be true... I believed the Wizards who said the histories were accurate... Even knowing Amfortas' deception, I still expected we'd fall after defeating Darken Rahl."
He took a deep breath and thought about what she'd just said. He shifted closer into a lying position as he consider his own thoughts on the matter. His expectation after defeating Darken Rahl was probably more hope than anything else. Richard had expected to fall with Kahlan in battle as they defeated Rahl, although his reasons were probably more selfish than based on historical precedent. In the Underworld nothing could come between them and he'd be able to see his father and mother again.
Kahlan surprised him by shifting to press herself against him then rested her cheek on his shoulder. Her soft hair fell on his neck when she wrapped her arms around his left. He swallowed hard when she maneuvered until his left hand brushed against her soft skin before being engulfed in warmth. Even fully clothed, she took quite a risk pressing his hand into both her thighs like that.
It made his stomach churn, but in a good way.
He tilted his head to catch her eyes and judge her intent, but she simply looked away from him. Given no direction, and knowing how precarious his hand's location, he remained still and chose to let Kahlan decide the next move.
Before he had a chance to let his memory drift to just days before, she interrupted his thoughts. She'd moved her head until he could just feel the warmth of her breath on his earlobe. "I wish I could promise," she started with a voice barely above a whisper, "after you find the Stone of Tears and close the rift, we'll move back to Heartland... Zedd could talk to his chickens again," she added a brief chuckle, "and together we'd fill our home with pristinely ungifted daughters who'll dote on their father and never have to worry about magic again."
Kahlan paused briefly and he assumed it was to give him a chance to let that image sink in. He smiled at the mental picture of several young girls running around a home that looked just like the one in which he grew up. He noticed her description did not include any sons but just assumed that was the prejudice of a Confessor showing through.
He took a deep breath then moved his arm without thinking. He was certain his face turned bright red after hearing Kahlan's gasp then realizing he'd unthinkingly moved his hand along her thighs.
Moments later she shifted so that she no longer pressed her font against his side but was again on her back, staring out as the stars reflected off the shimmering surface of lake. She took a deep breath and released it slowly. "But that future's not for us."
He could hear the sadness in her voice. They both felt it.
"The best I can promise is what I said before... If you decide to accept the title Lord Rahl, I'll support you... I'll remain by your side... Although I can never accept the title, Queen of D'Hara."
Richard took her hand in his and intertwined their fingers together. That was fine with him... He still held out this fantasy that he as Lord Rahl, and she as Mother Confessor, would somehow bring peace between D'Hara and the Midlands. Of course he wouldn't share that wish, even with Kahlan, for the time being. Too many things had to happen before he could hope to pursue that dream.
After a good deal of time just laying there holding hands, Richard felt the inevitable pull toward sleep. They needed to return back to camp. "I'm tired," he said just before helping Kahlan to her feet.
When she'd fully risen, he looked deeply into her eyes and smiled. "I'd like to go hunting tomorrow."
"I'd like that too," she replied, picking up on his unstated question. "Elk?" she added with a smile.
He just shook his head. Although he enjoyed hunting elk almost more than anything, he preferred to hunt deer with her since it was safer. Deer meat also tasted better. "It'd be nice to have deer again."
She nodded in agreement before they headed back to camp.