I awoke roughly an hour later to discover that I was lying on the floor of the tower. I opened my eyes slowly to confirm my location.
Yep…it's the tower.
As the rest of my senses gradually kicked in, I came to realize that I was still wrapped securely in Darken Rahl's arms, and that he was lying alongside me; my head was resting on his chest, as was one of my hands. As I felt him begin to softly stroke my hair, my eyes snapped shut.
No…he can't know I'm awake; he might stop. I don't want this to end just yet.
"Ember," he whispered, "stop the charade. I know you're awake."
Smirking, I muttered, "How did you know?"
"It suddenly became very quiet," he replied, tucking a strand of long burgundy hair behind my ear.
I winced slightly; Zedd had told me before, on several different occasions, that I talk in my sleep. That must have been what Darken meant. And I had been dreaming about him.
Oh, great. What did I say?
"Go back to sleep, my dear," he coaxed, shifting his body slightly in order to get comfortable. "The night may still be young, but we both need our rest."
I nodded, readjusting the position of my head on his chest.
"Goodnight, Ember," he said quietly, still stroking my hair.
"Goodnight, Darken," I breathed, contently closing my eyes.
I love you.
The following night, I couldn't sleep to save my soul. I hadn't the faintest idea why. I had tried everything I could think of: clearing my mind, counting sheep, even a few of my mother's old potion sleep-aids.
Groaning, I wrapped my hooded, crimson velvet cloak around me and walked to the entrance of the cave. The night air was still and cool, making me feel rather isolated. The moonlight was dim that night, barely illuminating anything. I gazed blankly at the foreboding shadow of the People's Palace, my eyes scanning it aimlessly.
They came to rest on a window to a fire-lit room. I watched the reflections of the flames dance on the walls for quite a long time, until a figure traversed the room.
It was the unmistakable silhouette of Darken Rahl.
I studied him closely for a while, watching him pace back and forth from the window to the fireplace. This struck me as being rather odd; he didn't pace that often.
He must not be able to sleep, either.
Not exactly sure of what I was about to do, I exited the cave.
I knocked on the door to his bedchamber hesitantly, my heart pounding in my ears.
Why the hell am I doing this?
"Who's there?" Darken Rahl's voice inquired, sounding less than interested.
Feeling a nervous lump rise in my throat, I swallowed hard.
"It's Ember," I called quietly, unable to say anything more.
Sounding slightly more cordial, he replied, "Ah, Ember; come in, my dear."
Exhaling slowly to calm my nerves, I pushed the door open and entered the room.
"I apologize for intruding at this hour, Lord Rahl," I managed, drawing my cloak tighter around me. "It's just…I couldn't sleep…and I saw you pacing, and…oh, I don't know. I guess I just needed to talk to another human being."
Darken Rahl sat on the edge of his bed, in only his robe-bottoms, the firelight casting a dull glow upon his bare torso. He toyed idly with the curved blade of his knife, his gaze transfixed on it. His facial expression was one of deep contemplation.
I've seen that look before…something's on his mind.
The only problem was that I couldn't be sure exactly what that something was. Darken is rather complex, even for me; one never can tell for certain what he's thinking. In fact, part of me feared that his dagger would soon be through my heart. The man's unpredictable as hell; I wouldn't put it past him.
He turned his head to face me, his dazzling eyes meeting mine.
"Something's on your mind, Ember."
I gave a slight smile. "Funny…I was about to say the same thing to you."
He smirked and gestured toward the edge of the bed. "Have a seat."
I did so with mild reluctance, sitting as close to the foot of the bed as possible.
After a few moments of silence, he commanded, "You first."
I scoffed quietly. "No; it's stupid."
"I highly doubt that."
"You'd be surprised, with all due respect."
He rolled his eyes. "Just tell me, Ember."
I huffed, pushing the hood of my cloak off of my head. "Fine, but I warned you."
I inhaled deeply.
"I've been wanting to ask you something."
He arched an eyebrow aristocratically. "Go on."
I played with part of the fabric on my cloak anxiously.
No turning back now.
"A few days ago, I overheard a couple soldiers chatting outside my cave…about me…and about you."
Darken tilted his head quizzically.
I continued, "Well, Lord Rahl, your…um…sexual appetite is rather well-known by those who serve you."
He furrowed his brow. "Yes…and?"
"I heard one of them say that, since not too long after I arrived, less and less women have gone to your bedchamber…he even claimed that they've stopped coming entirely." I gulped, then met his stare once more.
"Is it true?" I inquired, trying desperately to not sound hopeful.
"Yes," he whispered, after roughly a minute of tense silence.
I cocked my head. "Why? I'm only here to aid you in your efforts against the Seeker."
The expression in his eyes serious, he explained, "Because, though you may find this difficult to believe: after I started having those dreams, after I spoke with you that night, after the incident in the tower, I realized that you're the only one I want."
I blinked, unable to believe my ears.
Incredulously, I forced, "Who are you and what have you done with Darken Rahl?"
He chuckled. "I warned you, Ember. This actually ties in with what is on my mind."
I turned my body to face him, my cloak still drawn tight. "Alright; shoot."
He mirrored my position. After a moment, he said, "Love is a weakness."
Oh, hell no!
I scoffed obnoxiously. "I beg to differ!"
Much to my relief, he cast his knife aside. As it clattered to the floor, he countered, "Oh, you do? How so?"
"Love is a strength," I stated matter-of-factly. "My parents loved me enough to selflessly keep me away from D'Hara, in order to prevent me from falling in with the wrong side of good and killing their asses. And Zedd loved me enough to teach me the things my parents didn't, thereby allowing his knowledge to be carried on."
He said nothing for a while. We both directed our gazes toward the hearth, mesmerized by the bright orange flames.
Suddenly, Darken touched my hand, sending a tremor through my entire body.
"In that case," he said in a low voice, "I still only want you."
Before I could stop myself, I replied, "It won't be much longer, Darken."
He inhaled slowly. "As promising as that sounds…you're drunk."
I gawked at him. "I am not!" I protested. "I only had two goblets of wine at dinner."
He chortled. "And while we played chess…?"
I slumped my shoulders in defeat. "Three. But I hold my alcohol pretty well, don't you think?"
He smiled deviously. "Yes, but I know of one wine—the perfect wine—that even you couldn't beat."
He rose, stood before me, took hold of my hands, and stood me up.
"Go back to bed, my dear," he coaxed, directing me toward the door. "It would be far better for both of us that way."
"I suppose you're right," I conceded as he opened the door. "Goodnight, Lord Rahl."
He leered at me jokingly.
I tried not to giggle. "Darken."
That'll take some getting used to.
Grasping my shoulders gently, he lightly kissed my cheek.
After Ember had left his bedchamber, Darken Rahl strode over to his bed and sat back down, disgusted with himself.
Good Creator, what is wrong with me?
Love? The very notion repulsed him. Caring for someone unconditionally for the rest of their life? Who could honestly do that? However, he would eventually need an heir…and it would only be right to be in love with the woman who would bear his heir.
And if he were to ever fall in love, it would probably be with Ember.
He exhaled loudly, bending down to retrieve his knife from the floor. He began to run his finger along its twisted blade thoughtfully. Sighing again, he set it on a nearby table, rose, and approached the fireplace. Staring at the flames, he sank into thought once more.
Ember was an admirable woman. Her magical abilities went far beyond those of your everyday sorceress—for example, who other than a wizard possesses Wizard's Fire? She knew quite a great deal about potions, which she learned from her equally admirable mother. Above all, not only was she mentored by none other than Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander, but she also was the daughter of two of the most powerful people he had ever known.
Furthermore, Ember was absolutely beautiful…inside and out. She had a winning personality: light-hearted, witty, caring, introspective, understanding, sweet, friendly, resourceful, intelligent, determined…all with a mildly evil undertone. Her flowing burgundy hair reminded him of rubies in the firelight, while her light brown-and-green hazel eyes reminded him of the sunlight filtering through the topmost branches of the trees. Her skin was of the purest ivory, smooth and soft. Her smile was like a work of art, and her laughter was like a song.
He rested his chin on his fist, the corner of his mouth twitching faintly.
I think I'm falling in love.