Title: "Foul Deed"
Spoilers: Through 2.12, "Hunger"
Disclaimer: Not mine.
"Hunger" annoyed me. Cara never struck me as the self-deluding type, and she'd have to be very much so to imagine she could hide what she became for very long. So perhaps Cara told the truth from the beginning.
The memory of dying is a hard knot in Cara's stomach when she comes out of the woods into clear sunlight. They are unhurt, Richard and Kahlan and Zedd - she scarcely cares to look at the village woman and the mercenary standing with the focused devotion of the confessed at Kahlan's shoulder - and all she can think of is the trickle of time running out, like sands in a jar. A day - less now - and without killing, she'll be in Darken Rahl's hands in the underworld.
Mord'Sith are trained to pain, but the prospect of an eternity of it is enough to etch the back of her teeth with sour bile.
And to leave Richard without her protection would be a breach of duty too grave to contemplate. He is Lord Rahl, even if he is too soft-hearted to claim his title. The last living Rahl. That and his quest as the Seeker is, should be, worth the death of a thousand innocents, but she has no hope he will see it that way.
So, then. A day. Maybe several, if she is fortunate, but not very much longer. She knows better than to delude herself with illusions: Richard will kill her himself if he finds her murdering innocents. He would regret the act - he is not hard enough yet to kill without compunction - but he will do it.
You are Mord'Sith, she tells herself to ward away the shudder. You were going to end up there anyway. Now you just know how soon.
"Cara!" It has taken Richard minutes to notice her arrival: if she were an archer, she could have dropped him where he stood before he realised the threat. This is why he needs her protection.
"I found where they're taking the villagers," she says, and tells him.
He looks at her strangely when she finishes. "Cara, are you all right?"
She touches it with gloved fingers. They come away wet. Blood. Hers. "It's -" Fine, she starts to say. The driver's blood. I had to kill him. The words are on her tongue. Almost, she hears herself saying them.
But he's watching her with those warm brown eyes. Eyes that see her not as Mord'Sith, not as a tool, or a bodyguard, or a servant, but almost, as a friend.
He trusts you, Cara. A mocking voice, inside her head. It sounds like Rahl. Like Darken Rahl, whom she had never served by choice. And she owes Richard Rahl better service than a convenient lie.
"It's mine." She exhales, meets his glance with a challenge and a brittle, twisted grin. "I took the Keeper's bargain, Richard. I'm a baneling."
What to do with her will wait until after the villagers are freed. Not even Zedd voices misgivings, and she is absurdly, bitterly, proud of their trust.
It took her long enough to win it, after all.
They walk. Despite the urgency, there's no point in arriving at their destination too weary to fight, and with Richard breaking trail ahead and Zedd reassuring the village woman behind, Cara finds herself with Kahlan at her flank, the Mother Confessor's gaze prickling the hairs at the nape of her neck. The slow burn in the pit of her belly is unaccustomed shame. "I had to do it," she says, abruptly, savage, and twists to meet Kahlan's hard blue glance. "I had to tell you where the kidnappers had taken their captives. And Richard - I will protect him, Kahlan. I gave my word."
"Cara -" There is gentleness in Kahlan. Cara would have seen it as weakness, once. She wishes matters were still so clear. The Mother Confessor reaches a hand, draws back from touching her shoulder at the last moment. "I don't doubt your loyalties, Cara," she says, softly, and there is something like grief in her voice. "But..."
But. Cara feels the hourglass turning in her head. "I know," she says. "I know."
It tastes bitter.
The mercenaries are holding their prisoners in a shabby farmhouse on the edges of cultivated land. The fight is brief and vicious, and when it is over, Richard and Zedd shepherd the freed captives out into the light.
Cara remains behind on the dusty boards, breathing hard. The agony of her Agiels is a distant throb. Only banelings had fallen to them. Only banelings.
"Cara." Kahlan's voice, tight. She kneeling beside a fallen mercenary, her hand on the dagger stuck through his throat. She stands without pulling it free, and her next words have all the impassive calm of a Confessor passing judgement. "He's not dead yet."
"You must think me a monster," Cara says, when she hands Kahlan back her dagger in the sunlight outside the farmhouse door. She cannot smile, quite. A Mord'Sith is a monster, by a Confessor's measure, but they both know that isn't what she means.
Thank you would be too close to admitting the debt.
Kahlan's fingers close, convulsive, around the weapon's wire-wrapped hilt. Her blue glance is unreadable. "He would have died anyway," is all she says, quiet.
There is a cure.
It is obscene to hope. Unrealistic. Cara knows it will only hurt all the worse when her hopes come to nothing, and it's bad enough to feel the cold rot of the Keeper's touch along her bones without torturing herself with the thought she might avoid her fate.
She is a fool. She hopes anyway.
There is a price.
It is not hers to pay.
Thaddicus pays it for her.
Beyond all expectation, she lives.
This isn't how it's supposed to work, she wants to tell Richard. I'm supposed to protect you, you fool. You're not supposed to risk everything for me.
Kahlan should have told him that. And didn't.
"I'm grateful," she says, instead, in the warm wash of sunlight outside the village.
It doesn't feel like gratitude.
It feels like love.