Disclaimer: Legend of the Seeker is not mine and Sword of Truth is not mine. Anything that can't be found in one of those is the product of my imagination. If you wish to use anything I came up with please let me know. I'd be curious to see what's done with them.
Note: Updates are going to be few and far between because most of my energy is needed for real life at the moment.
Warnings: Nothing worse than the books.
Winter came unusually hard that year. Snow piled every vertical surface in deep, damp drifts. Icicles decorated eaves with glassy, dripping spikes. Another gust of harsh wind rattled the roof of the inn. The blood lay on the snow in cooling puddles and splatters.
"What happened here?" The D'Haran ambassador asked through bloodless lips. She knelt next to the body of a Mord-Sith, trying not to lose her breakfast. Jennsen could feel the warm, comforting presence of Chase Brandstone at her back. It was all that kept her from running as she looked up at the gathering of angry villagers.
"They attacked us." One of the remaining Mord-Sith said harshly, holding her Agiel at the ready.
"We don't want them here!" Mark shouted. The crowd roared in agreement.
Jennsen forced herself to look at the bodies. She tried to think of them like the chickens back on her mother's farm but all she could see was her mother's corpse in Denna's arms. Still, she counted two dead Mord-Sith and nine dead villagers. "Go," she croaked. "Lord Rahl has commanded you to stop training girls."
"We didn't come to train anyone." A Mord-Sith Jennsen assumed was the leader said unblinkingly.
"Then why are you here?" Chase asked calmly. When Jennsen turned around to look at him his expression gave nothing away. His heavy winter cloak was pushed back so his throwing knife was in easy reach.
"We needed shelter. Another blizzard is on its way." The woman said in that same quiet, steely voice all Mord-Sith used. "These people attacked us. We defended ourselves."
Mark didn't look at Jennsen or Chase. "Don't go where you aren't wanted."
Jennsen saw Brigid pushing through the crowd to reach Mark. She wet her chapped lips. "This is rather far from the People's Palace."
The lead Mord-Sith stalked forward to contemptuously eye Jennsen's black and red dress. "So are you, little mouse."
"This is Jennsen Rahl, the Ambassador sent by Lord Rahl to Brennidon." Chase said without as much as a twitch.
Squaring her shoulders as best she could, Jennsen held the Mord-Sith's gaze. She couldn't go crawling back to Richard after so eagerly taking Alana's place. "I'll see what I can do about getting one of the farmers to let you stay in a barn until the storm passes."
"Mord-Sith do not stay in barns." The woman said, tightening her grip on her Agiel.
"That won't work on me." Jennsen said in a burst of nearly unintelligible words. She blushed bright red and grabbed the Agiel with a black gloved hand. Her breath stopped at the glare the Mord-Sith gave her.
"But you can't extend that protection to everyone in this village." She noted.
Releasing the Agiel, Jennsen swallowed hard. "And you can't kill everyone in this village."
"Can't we?" The Mord-Sith smiled cruelly.
"This is where Lord Rahl was born." Jennsen forced past the dryness of her tongue. "People who knew our mother still live here."
The blast of cold air that cut to Jennsen's bones didn't appear to affect the Mord-Sith at all. "And you're confident he'll take their side, little mouse?"
"Yes," Jennsen's teeth chattered loudly under the angry gaze of the mob. "He threw the D'Haran soldiers out before. He feels that as long as they cooperate while he dismantles the D'Haran Empire the least they deserve is protection for all the sons they lost when he was born." She pulled out a handkerchief to wipe her nose.
The lead Mord-Sith eyed Jennsen for a long moment before nodding decisively. "Sleeping in a barn when in accordance with Lord and Lady Rahl's wishes is no dishonor." She spoke loudly to the remaining Mord-Sith who eased their positions. "If the villagers will let us leave."
Chase cleared his throat and slowly the crowd parted. "You. You have a barn outside town?" Chase asked the nearest farmer in town for supplies. He nodded and grumbled under his breath.
Jennsen let out a breath as the crowd dispersed under Chase's glare and the indifference of the Mord-Sith. "Thank you," she murmured to Chase.
"You're learning." Chase said encouragingly.
Cara crossed her arms and glared at the former Lord Rahl. "You wanted to see me." She fingered her Agiel's holster, eyes burning into Darken's face.
"Yes. I have a report to make but if I send it in under my name the Seeker won't read it." Darken still spoke Richard's title with a sneer. "I was hoping you might provide me with a name to put on it."
"You are asking a Mord-Sith to lie to the Lord Rahl." Cara said coldly.
"No. I'm asking you to protect him." Darken said in an undertone of anger. The lamplight glinted off the Rada'Han around his throat. "See if you can keep up. Several of my generals are loyal because I have personally insured their loyalty. No one wants to field troops in winter. Winter is ending, the ground is thawing. Some men with many troops and resources of their own are going to stop being loyal to the Lord Rahl. I have an idea about which ones. The Lord Rahl isn't going to listen to me. You can help him know who his enemies are." He wrapped his robe around himself more tightly.
"You could be lying." Cara noted, sitting on the writing desk.
"I could be." Darken acknowledged. "Do you think I am?"
"I think there's a reason you're talking to me about it instead of the Mother Confessor." Cara drew her Agiel. "Or Triana."
Darken's pupils dilated. "Triana would waste time trying to determine which name would give her the best advantage. It's a skill that served me well as Lord Rahl and I pitted temple against temple but when what I want is to pass information to the Lord Rahl, you're the more... reliable option."
"You think I'm more likely to do what you say." She touched him on the thigh with her Agiel.
"I think you're more likely to give me what I need." Darken gasped and shuddered. He automatically leaned forward to kiss Cara but she pulled away.
She placed two leather-covered fingers under his chin and forced his gaze to meet hers. "Why should I?"
Frustration was the first emotion to cross his face followed closely by something that almost looked like regret. "I may not be Lord Rahl anymore. The Mother Confessor may treat me like a boy who disobeys his tutor. That doesn't mean I have nothing to add."
"Why don't you just tell the Mother Confessor whatever's in that report and let her sort out how much of it is true?" Cara asked, moving the Agiel higher. "Why involve me?"
"After Denna you were my favorite." Darken's fingers twitched. Cara kept her response to herself. Mord-Sith couldn't break Darken because he'd enjoy it too much. Triana had said as much to Richard. The Seeker had turned a most interesting shade of purple. The Mother Confessor had simply agreed with Triana's assessment. "Maybe I want to see more of you."
Cara allowed herself an amused smile. The kind she would have given to an amusing but misbehaving puppy. "But why should the reverse be true?"
"The Seeker doesn't know what you're worth. He wants to stop the training of Mord-Sith. He wants you and your sisters to die out." Darken's voice was dark and seductive. "When have I ever failed to appreciate your Sisterhood? I strengthened you, helped you expand your horizons."
"Is that what you call it?" Cara's sneer broke from her control.
"What do you call it?" Darken challenged, experimentally turning his head. His whole body still showed the tension that came with her use of the Agiel.
Gently, Cara moved the rod away from Darken's lap. She watched as his face showed nothing but his shoulders slumped in a combination of relief and disappointment. "You use us. Used us."
Darken drew a deep breath. "I use a sword too. And you must admit, your Sisterhood has used me too."
Cara paused at the mental image of herself as a sword, polished and sharpened, as any good swordsman would keep it. The idea caused a tightening sensation at her diaphragm. To cover she stroked the side of his face with her Agiel. The contact was brief but she saw that he was sufficiently distracted. "You don't tell me what I must do..."
"I misspoke." Darken said in the same, slightly amused tone he would have used no matter what she did. "Do you think that I'd still be alive if your Sisterhood thought I was useless? Mistress Cara."
"You might have a point." Cara said, amused in spite of herself. She released Darken after another love tap from the Agiel.
"I might." Darken smiled.
"The passes are opening, mistress." Egremont told Kahlan fawningly. He didn't wear a D'Haran uniform anymore. The soldiers had nearly rioted the first time they had seen Egremont in uniform and hanging on the Mother Confessor's every word. Now he wore the plain, undyed garments of a palace servant. Not that he cared. All that mattered to him were the moments when Kahlan smiled at him and told him what a good job he was doing.
Kahlan's expression remained neutral while inside a world of conflicting emotions rose in her chest. "I know, Egremont. What do you recommend we do about it?" Her mind tumbled over the many tasks that needed to be accomplished. They would have to divide the Boxes of Orden and hide them before some general or ruler managed to steal them. Each general would need to be treated with and even then would have to prove trustworthy. Kahlan lifted her glass of watered wine and drank while she closed her eyes and listened to Egremont's answer.
"General Grix should be eliminated, mistress. Alive he would only create dissidents." Egremont said. "General Grix was only held in check because he knew that with the previous Lord Rahl he would have to fight every other general in order to take over. He'll test Lord Rahl now and unless the Seeker is willing to scare the other generals into line more will follow in Grix's footsteps, mistress."
"I'm going to give them a fair chance to come to my side and if they don't then I'll deal with that when it happens." Richard said from the doorway. His sword belt was buckled around his waist just as it had been from the moment he'd entered the People's Palace. He might not wear it in the bath but the servants whispered he kept it close at hand even then. His clothing was black and gold but cut close to the manner of a D'Haran soldier. He had accepted the stylized skull of the House of Rahl but claimed that the red velvet robes were too likely to trip him. "It'd be easier to order them all to come here and then execute them."
"And then their lieutenants would either mutiny or fight each other for command," Kahlan reminded him, looking down to play with the fabric of her beige dress. "And they wouldn't come back if you summoned them." She smiled grimly. "While you could kill all of them too, in the meantime, more bystanders would be killed in the fighting."
Richard rubbed the pommel of his sword and frowned. "It seems like there should be an easier way to do it."
"Richard," Kahlan said seriously. "If one of those generals was overthrown instead of replaced the people would celebrate. The D'Harans would get angry and strike back. Both sides would retaliate against retaliations until one side wiped the other out completely. In the heat of the fighting, they would kill their neighbors simply for being on the other side. Normal people, not soldiers, would loot the homes of other civilians no matter which side they were on."
"Just because some criminals would take advantage of the situation doesn't mean we shouldn't do the right thing." Richard scowled at Kahlan, the room, Egremont and probably the world.
"Would you still be saying that if your family was one of the ones that might get caught in the fighting?" Kahlan asked, her voice cracking with an emotion that was completely unrelated to grief or sadness.
"My brother died fighting the D'Harans!" Whenever Richard said 'my brother', it still always meant Michael. "They killed my father! They killed my mother!"
"I know that, Richard." Kahlan said, her voice back to a calm, even tone. "But if you had another brother who lived in Winterhaven for example, would you still say that executing Lord Winterhaven was worth it?"
"He taxes his people until they have practically nothing left." Richard began pacing.
"And for that he deserves to have his power over other people taken away and to be judged in front of the world." Kahlan took a deep breath. "Does he deserve that at the cost of the lives of his people? Do they deserve to die because they had the misfortune to be born under a bad leader?"
"They could have left." Richard said shortly.
"You said it yourself; he taxes them down to the bone." Kahlan pressed her lips together briefly. "If we could simply remove the generals I would be all for executing them. Instead, we can convince him to lower his taxes. As new Lord Rahl you can demand a limit on troops." Over the winter, they had recruited auditors and assessors loyal to Richard. Most of them were lured by the promise of getting to hit the D'Harans where it really hurt. Kahlan doubted it would be easier than if they picked up weapons and attacked the D'Haran garrisons but it might have a better effect. She hoped. She'd done her best to make sure they were honest men but she knew that she'd be lucky if only one or two took bribes. That was why they'd be sent to a different place every year.
With more accurate information, they could make better plans. Darken's ledgers were a mess that Kahlan wouldn't trust to be worth their weight as tinder. Even with more oversight, people were still going to lie, cheat, and steal. That was why Confessors were needed after all. Confessors were spread far too thinly these days. She was trying to figure out a way to set up a system of magistrates so that disputes would go through them instead of the generals.
"It isn't right. They keep doing evil and we just sit here." Richard frowned even harder. "It's giving me a headache."
Kahlan toyed with the idea of going to visit her cell.
The snap of the man's neck as the rope pulled tight had become a familiar noise to Alana. The roar of the cheering crowd brought a smile of satisfaction to her face. She was back on the right side of the D'Haran border and it felt good to be home. Her dark Confessor's dress and hood hid her face from the crowd. It wouldn't do for them to see her smiling. This was about justice, not vengeance. These deserters were unlucky enough to be caught, they weren't the real scum.
A Mord-Sith was dragged up onto the gallows wearing only a shift. The only thing that told Alana the woman was a Mord-Sith was the void where her heart should have been when their eyes met.
Alana did her part. She Confessed the other woman and listened to her litany of crimes beginning with betraying the Lord Rahl and working backward. There was no joy or triumph on Alana's face. Only cool, detached serenity.
Even when the Mord-Sith had to stop talking in order to moan in agony.