Their wedding day dawned warm and gentle, sunlight shimmering across the sand. Kahlan wore a green dress because, when she'd asked Richard once, he said he favored the color. It reminded him of trees. She'd asked the women of Isham only for some spare dress to wear, a green one if possible. But in the three days she'd given them, they'd wrought something entirely new and wondrous. It was the exact shame shade as newborn leaves unfurling, the bodice adorned with tiny silver beads in a pattern of vines and flowers. The gown fell over her body in gentle, cascading folds, and when laced into all the flowing fabric, she didn't feel quite so gaunt as she had before.
The women came and pinned her hair up, rolling strands together into twists and curls until it looked like something that belonged on the head of a queen. They slid silver slippers onto her feet and pushed jeweled pins into her coiled hair. The women pronounced her beautiful, and then she was on her way, riding out to the oasis of green in the middle of a desert. They set out early in the morning, when the eastern sky still held an echo of the dawn, so that she would not have to ride in the heat of midday and end up exhausted at her own wedding.
Her little party consisted only of Zedd, Nox and Cara, with Amara riding in her lap. The wizard had insisted Richard ride ahead of them, claiming that it was bad luck for him to see her in her gown before the wedding. She thought the idea of bad luck was foolish after all they'd been through, but Richard seemed delighted by the idea, and so she let it be. He had set out even before she awoke, and her breath caught when she thought of how she'd not seen him since the night before.
Whey they at last reached the little island of green, the sunlight was filtering softly through the trees, painting dappled patterns all along the ground. She caught sight of Richard a ways off, just standing there staring up at the wide spreading leaves.
"Look, love. There's your father," she said to Amara, pointing a finger in his direction. Amara understood at once and gave a delighted cry, followed by a string of babbled sounds. Kahlan smiled, feeling a bittersweet tug on her heart. She could not remember ever loving her own father as Amara already loved Richard.
He turned at her little voice, looking as if he'd been shaken from his thoughts, and came striding through the trees, smiling broadly. He wore the black breeches and boots Nox had given him, but instead of the red tunic of Lord Rahl, he wore a plain-woven white shirt. She understood why he had chosen it. He would come to her not as Master of D'Hara, but only as Richard, the man who loved her.
"Kahlan," he said when he reached her, staring at her as if all else had disappeared. "You look beautiful."
She could only smile at him as her heart beat faster. Smile and do nothing else. She was about to wed this man.
He took the weight of their daughter, holding her little body easily in one arm. With his other, he reached for her hand, and led her through the trees to a place where two ancient trunks rose side by side, their old, gnarled boughs meeting high overhead to form an arch. The ground was a bed of moss and wildflowers, spotted here and there with red mushrooms like scattered rubies. Through the trees, she could just make out the clearing where their new home sat. Even the white walls of Aydindril were not as beautiful as this. "It's magical," she breathed, looking up at Richard. He hadn't shown her this place when he'd brought her here before.
Richard smiled shy as a child at her. "I hoped you'd like it."
She nodded, feeling a blush spread across her cheeks. "I do."
The others stopped in a ring around them, and she glanced their way. Zedd stood nearest, his weathered hands clasped together, and a wide smile deepening his wrinkles. He'd saved her life and her daughter's, and was as much a grandfather to her as to Richard now. Nox waited beside him, looking out of place in the gentle forest with his hulking form and his ever wild, matted hair. But she'd come to learn that the man had a quick mind and a ready laugh, and his hands had helped to build the house that lay beyond. She knew he'd become like a brother to Richard in the months they'd spent at Isham. And then there was Cara. Her sister's murderer at her wedding.
She would give most anything to have Dennee standing there beneath the green of the trees, and yet she found that she didn't wish Cara gone. Somehow her heart had done the impossible and stretched far enough to forgive her. Cara had become their friend and protector, and when she'd tried to stay behind that morning, Kahlan had been the one to insist she come with. And now she didn't fail to notice the arm Nox draped around her shoulders, or the way Cara rolled her eyes at him, but then smirked and eased a little closer like he was a skin she was well used to wearing. The Mord-Sith had changed in so many ways. She was even the one to hold Amara when Richard handed her over.
Their daughter beamed, and smushed her sticky face against Cara's leather. She had a special fondness for Cara, the tiny Confessor taking to the Mord-Sith in a way that seemed to defy all the rules of the world. But all the rules had been undone because Kahlan turned back to Richard, and took the hands of a man she had not made her mate. His hands were warm.
There was little to the ceremony. No speeches or songs. Only green leaves overhead, and ancient words spoken together in new voices. The words echoed over and over, burning on her tongue and right through her soul.
Where you walk, I will walk.
And where you dwell, I will dwell.
Your people will be my people,
And your life will be my life.
Zedd wove a current of magic like a bow round their joined hands, pulled from the Creator down, and when she looked up, it was into the eyes of her husband staring back.
By mid afternoon, the others had left for the ride back to Isham, and she sat alone in the grass with her husband and child. Richard wove a handful of wildflowers into a circlet and placed it on Amara's head. She wore it a happy moment before pulling it off and trying to taste the petals.
Richard laughed and took it from her, settling it on Kahlan's head instead. She turned to him with her crown of flowers, and he kissed her there in the middle of the clearing, the sky as blue as a jewel overhead, and her mouth was a smile against his lips. The afternoon lingered long, and she rested in his arms, eating the food they'd brought with, and watching their daughter explore handful after handful of the sweet smelling grass. The old exhaustion still came to drag her down, but Richard eased her head into his lap, his fingers winding their way around her coiled hair.
She looked up into his dark eyes, her voice quiet, "Do you think it will always be like this?"
She meant the poison, and she knew he understood. Though she'd felt far stronger the last few days than she had in months, she was still a long way from the warrior she'd once been. "Maybe," he said. "Maybe. But I don't think so. You've come so far already, even though Zedd has no understanding of the magic at work."
"He thought I should be dead, and I'm not."
Richard smiled sadly. "We all thought that. We thought we could never be together. We thought many things and were wrong, Kahlan." He took a deep breath, and his words tumbled from his lips heavy and earnest, as if he was emptying out his own heart for her to inspect. "Maybe we're wrong again. Maybe there's some cure that we'll find, or maybe it's a slower battle. One we take a little at a time, until suddenly, one day, there is nothing left to conquer." He wove his fingers through with hers. "Will you hate it if you can't…"
His words trailed off, but she knew where they went. Would she hate it if things never got any better than this. She reached up to touch his face. "No," she murmured. "That would be like, like hating Amara for how she was made. When I first heard the prophecy, I thought either you or I would end up dead. We're both still here. I'm tired, but…that's nothing. I can't hate what we saved because of the cost of saving it." She shifted in his lap, staring up at the bright blue sky. The world still thrived and spread before them, good and beautiful. Her weakness was a small price, all things considered. Far, far better than dying along with her daughter at Richard's hand.
"I was bitter before," she admitted, her voice soft. "But I can't be anymore." The poison had stolen her joy, and that had been worst of all. Somehow, in marrying Richard, she'd wrested it back. She beamed up at him from the warmth of his lap. "I'm too happy."
He smiled at her and bent down, pressing a kiss to her brow. "Me too," he said. "Now sleep awhile. Just sleep." His voice closed her eyes as gently as a lullaby, and she did.
She was less weary when she woke again to lengthening shadows and the scent of evening. He took her hand when the sun disappeared beyond the trees in an orange blaze, and together they went into the house to light the candles. The night was warm enough that there was no need for a fire, and so they used the candles only, setting them on the windowsill and the plain oak table that graced the front room of their home. Kahlan trailed her hands over the wood Richard had worked himself, and thought if she could live here in this place her whole life, she would be perfectly content.
Amara was already asleep in her father's arms, and he carried her to the little alcove he'd built between the two rooms of their house. Kahlan's dress rustled as she followed after them, and she watched her husband lay their daughter down in the cradle he had carved for her himself. She had never guessed his hands held such beauty waiting hidden in them. The sides of the cradle were carved with flowers and little forest creatures, wise-eyed birds nestled among the wooden leaves to watch over Amara.
Kahlan leaned against Richard and just stared at their child, taking in her softness and the little bow of her lips. She was so, so beautiful, and there were moments when she seemed too great a gift. It had been over a year since Kahlan had felt her first quickening in her belly, and she would bear the pain of that year over and over again with joy to gain their daughter. Now the pain seemed to all be falling away like dead skin, leaving a new world beneath that they had helped shape, one that was bright with beauty and heavy with hope.
She turned to Richard in the dark, and together they walked into the room beyond, where a single bed lay wreathed in candlelight and promise. She felt her heart beat faster, and she couldn't speak.
He stopped when she stopped, and looked at her long in the darkened room, his face half golden with light. "You know," he began, his voice low and sweet. "I'm happy just to be near you." She knew what he was saying. They could use that wide bed with the white sheets and that quilt like a rainbow laid over it for no more than sleeping in, and he wouldn't begrudge her.
But she managed a single, whispered "no" and reached for the pins in her hair, pulling it all down, down, down. They had been scared too long. He was her husband now, and they could have this. The vows they'd said would be bound by more than echoed voices, but in their sweat and their bodies, and more daughters to follow Amara. She didn't have the words to tell him this, but she turned around and gave him the laces that ran long down her back.
She felt the warmth of him drawing nearer, and she shivered when he brushed her hair to the side, like a flock of birds taking flight in her belly. His fingers plucked at the laces, tugging gently a moment, and then they were all coming undone. His fingers traced the bare skin that appeared, and then his lips did the same. When she at last turned round again, her dress fell down, and that was another dead skin shed. Less than a week ago she had felt ugly before him like this, but his gaze danced all over her body, and she knew her own beauty in the glimmer of his eyes. She was the bride he desired, the wife he loved.
She stripped him of his shirt, her fingers trailing slow along the scar on his belly. And when he lifted her in his arms, he brought her to the bed where he laid her down. Her fingers found the laces on his breeches, and she tugged them free. His boots thudded loud on the floor. And then they were both bare, his body and hers, and she was not afraid.
"You're beautiful," he murmured, his mouth against hers. His hands hefted her breasts, a hair roughened leg lay warm against her thighs, and she was about to come apart in sighs. But he was gentle and hesitant, and a moment later he spoke, his lips soft on her shoulder. "I don't want to hurt you."
"I've birthed a child. You won't hurt me." It was the first thing that came to mind, but he chuckled and then she laughed. For a moment there was only his hand curled in her hair and the sound laughter made dancing along bare skin.
But then he pulled away, the candlelight so bright in his dark eyes. "Kahlan…" That was not what he'd meant, and the Seeker would always have an honest answer.
She pressed a finger to his lips. "We've said those words before. They are too many for right now." She wove her hands through with his. "I'm not afraid."
He did not stop her again, and when she climbed atop of him, he did not push her off and pin her down. Instead, his hands followed hers. They spent a long time seeking out the shape of each other in the dark, before she felt bold enough to lift her hips and let him help her slide down to take him in. But when she did, she was a sweaty, gasping thing, her insides keening and full of an endless wanting for this man. Oh, this man of hers.
She gasped and moved against him, feeling a fullness between her legs that did not shred her heart. The world whittled down to Richard and their bed, and the knowledge that their daughter slept a doorway away all through the soft night. She rose above him, his hands on her hips, and his eyes gazing up as if he stood in awe of her. And there was love in his look and the way his fingers traced her; she knew the answer, but she had to say the words. Had to ask before she let herself be pulled under and consumed by the fire she could already feel burning inside her.
And so she paused then, her fingers knotted in his hair, their bodies pressed into one flesh. She let the question tumble from her lips with a gasp and a whimper. "Richard, what are you thinking about?"
His words put her back again whole. "My wife."
I just want to say thank you so much to all of you who've taken the time to read this story. It's been such a journey to write, and it feels a bit strange now that it's all done. I've had a great time though, and it was twice as fun to work on knowing you guys have been reading along. And an extra thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment. It kept me working on this thing, and always made my day.