Kahlan twisted her wrists trying to break their bonds. The leather thongs only pulled tighter, cutting deeper into her skin. They'd tied her hands behind her and left her in a cell until sunrise when they'd be back to hang her before the entire town.
She wondered how it all became such a jumbled mess. Just last month she was the future wife of the respected Greer Williams. Now, she was mourning the loss of Lord Rahl, her sworn enemy. She knew he had perished in the fire. He would have come for her if he was able. If all she could have now in the world was to tell him how she felt and hear he loved her in return, she could die in peace. But she would never see him again. She couldn't stop the tears. They were shed were not for herself but for the loss of her love. She heard the hinges on the door creak open. The time had arrived.
Two men entered the prison room, the one holding the keys unlocked her cell. They each grabbed an arm to lead her out. Kahlan tried to pull free of their grasp but her bindings hindered her. The man on her left elbowed her hard in the middle, "Maybe that will keep you still!"
Kahlan doubled over in pain, trying to catch her breath.
As they neared the door a third man entered. "Going somewhere?"
Lord Rahl stood before them, his raptor gaze set on the men who held her. Kahlan saw a fury in his eyes like none she had ever seen.
In that instant, before the men could react, Richard slit the throat of the one nearest him. Kahlan wrenched free of the other, ramming her shoulder into his gut and smashing him back against the bars of the cell. He kicked her hard sending her to the dirt floor but Richard was there in a flash. He grabbed the man's head at the temple and jaw and with a sharp twist, broke his neck. He crumpled to the ground in a heap when Richard released his hold.
Quickly he turned to Kahlan who was struggling to get to her feet. He knelt beside her and cut through her leather bindings. Without hesitating he grabbed her by the hand and pulled, "Come on, we have to go. Others will be coming."
Relief filled her at knowing he was alive. When he started to run, she didn't move, her fixed arm yanking him back. His face looked at hers with urgency; he didn't understand why she was just standing there. Suddenly she threw both arms around his neck hugging him tight. "I thought you were dead." Richard smiled though she couldn't see it. It felt wonderful to have her arms around him. He allowed them the briefest moment as he hugged her back.
"We might be dead yet if we don't hurry." He kissed her quick on lips before pulling her to follow.
Zedd and Cara had arrived just in time to help fight off the mob of towns people that had gathered for Kahlan's execution. "I know what to do Zedd!" Richard called to him. "I have to get to the fire. Hold them off!" As most of them were crowded around the gallows, a simple wizard's web held them all in place, allowing Richard and Kahlan enough time to escape. Cara easily rounded up the stray few who had escaped his magic.
Still holding hands, Richard and Kahlan finally slowed their running. Panting heavily from making their escape, they walked the rest of the way to the fire. As they approached, Kahlan looked upon the flames in astonishment. "What is this?"
They went near to its edge and stopped. Richard took up her other hand so he now held them both. "This is the magic of the Underworld. It has…altered…things it shouldn't have. I need to stop the magic to put things right again."
His serious manner frightened her. She knew something vital was about to happen.
He released her hands and lifted the Pendant of Life from around his neck. He turned toward the fire, dangling the pendant from his fingers.
"Richard, wait!" She pulled his arm back. "What are you doing?" She knew the importance of the pendant. She knew that without it, the mark of the Keeper would once again bleed the life from him.
"You're under a spell, Kahlan. One that hides who you truly are, one that makes you believe things that aren't true. I'm sorry I can't tell you more. This is the only way to release you."
She felt panic rising up in her. She loved him fiercely and if what he was about to do changed that, she didn't want any part of it. She grabbed onto his shoulders, tears pooling in her eyes, realizing everything was about to change. "But, I don't want to be released." She gripped tighter to his arms, twisting his shirt in her fingers. Despite her anguish a smile broke through, "Richard, I love you. I thought you cared for me too?"
He felt the sting of tears in his eyes. "I do, Kahlan. That's exactly why I'm doing this."
He held her gaze but didn't answer. What could he say? It was a price he was willing to pay. If they found the Stone and sealed the rift he would be free of the Keeper's mark. They were getting closer to finding it he was sure. If they didn't find it, he would at least spend the last of his days with the woman he loved, the Midlands would have their Mother Confessor back and the people of Glenmore would be released from the magical hold over them.
His voice was soft, "It'll be alright, Kahlan. Don't be afraid."
She could see he'd made up his mind. Her heart was breaking. "Please, Richard, do one thing for me first?"
"I'd do anything for you." And he meant it. He would give his very life for her.
"Kiss me. Tell me you love me."
With the pendant still dangling in his grip, he took her face in his hands. He smoothed his fingers over her soft skin and nestled them into her hair. "I love you Kahlan, more than you could ever know." Their lips met in quiet desperation, Kahlan kissing him with every ounce of longing she'd ever felt for him, Richard kissing her with all the love for her he held inside.
His lips never leaving hers, Richard extended his arm out over the rift. He released his hold, letting the pendant fall into the green abyss. It was done. Only now could Kahlan truly be free. He held tight to her once more, fully immersed in the sweet softness of her kiss.
A low rumble sounded around them and the ground started to quake. The pyre beside them bellowed and hissed. Richard and Kahlan fell to their knees holding close to one another, dropping back from the flames. A green hue seemed to envelope everything around them. Richard pulled her low to the ground as the flames crackled and spat. The Rada' Han around Kahlan's neck spewed forth the same green light of the flames. The ground rocked uncontrollably. Richard wasn't sure if it was safer to run or to stay put. Before he had a chance to decide, a loud crack of thunder split the air. The collar fell from Kahlan's neck. Suddenly, all was quiet and still. They looked about. The rift where he'd dropped the pendant was sealed. Richard could see fissures in the distance, but the one he'd dropped the pendant into, the one feeding the flames was gone, and so was the fire.
Kahlan gasped for breath. "What was all that?" She knew she had been under a powerful spell…the lingering feeling of magic still clung to her. It was like waking from a dream. Her mind reeled, trying to process all that had happened.
"That was the magic that took you away from me. I ended it." He smiled a crooked smile at her and squeezed her hand, "It tried to anyway. You loved me still, even when you thought I was your enemy."
Kahlan returned his smile remembering the words she'd said to him the day she left Aydindril, "Magic can't separate us Richard: 'We are one. Our hearts, our souls… always.'" She leaned in to give a soft kiss to his lips and he pulled her to him. She didn't know if it was his kiss or the effects of the magic but her head felt light, fuzzy. Abruptly she pulled back and looked into his eyes, "The pendant! You gave up the pendant."
"I wasn't about to give up you, Kahlan."
"But, what do we do now?" She reached her hand to touch the mark on his chest. All she could think was that it was already stealing life away from him.
"We find the Stone. Zedd says once the rift is sealed and the Keeper is contained, the mark will disappear."
"So we just pick up the search, go on as before, as if nothing's changed?"
"There is one thing I want to do differently now."
Still on the ground, Richard got to his knees, sitting back on his heels. He was close, his legs pressing up against hers. He held her hands in his. Kahlan looked to the ground, unable to meet his gaze. She felt responsible for him giving up the pendant. He'd done it for her. He bent his head trying to see into her eyes and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "No more tears, Kahlan. I love you. Forever. Weather I have 40 years or a day I need you by my side." He lifted her chin with a finger, his brown eyes looking intently into hers. "I want you to be my wife, Kahlan."
Her breath caught in her lungs. Though he'd told her no more tears, they flowed freely now. She could find no words to express the joy she felt in her heart. "I want that too, Richard."
She threw her arms around him, kissing him like never before.
Richard dropped from his knees to the ground beside her, losing himself in her kiss.
Finally, Kahlan pulled herself free from his lips. They sat facing one another, her hip pressed against his, Richard's arm stretched across her lap. Her voice was soft, "I remember being under the magic, Richard. I'm sorry I hurt you – thinking I was betrothed to Greer."
As painful as that had been, the joy of having her fall in love with him again was almost worth it. Almost. "I'm sure it was no worse than it was for you when I was confessed to Annabelle" he said quietly. He just wanted to hold her forever and put the pain behind them.
"Are we going back to Aydindril?"
Richard checked the compass as it hung from his belt. "It's pointing in the opposite direction. Why, is that where you'd like to go?"
She had been wondering if they'd be in her big bed again anytime soon. It didn't look like they would.
Richard seemed to know what she was thinking. "Do you remember what you asked me last night?"
She turned over the memories in her mind, smiling mischievously when she realized the one he meant.
She leaned into him seductively, her lips brushing against his, softly she whispered, "You mean when I asked you to make love to me?" She smoothed his cheek with hers, her warm breath caressing his skin.
Richard's heart instantly set to hammering in his chest. If she had desired to completely bewitch him with her kiss she had succeeded. He breathed softly into her ear, "I'd like to take you up on that."
They lay down in the soft grass: lips trailing skin, bodies caressing, breaths soft and warm.
Kahlan managed a whisper through her sultry kiss, "What about Zedd and Cara?"
Richard was caught up in the feel of her. His breath heavy and warm, his lips trailing along her shoulders, he murmured against her skin, "They're waiting for us in town. We have the entire forest to ourselves." Nothing would keep him from her this time.
Kahlan slipped her fingers into his hair, tightly twisting as he tasted her. "Well, if you insist."
Richard stopped kissing her to take her face in his hands, his eyes fixed intensely on hers, "Oh, I do. I do insist" he said, before pulling her into a fiery kiss.