Characters/Pairing: Kahlan and Dennee, references to Kahlan/Richard
Disclaimer: Legend of the Seeker (TV) belongs to ABC Studios/Disney. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fanfiction, written solely for love of the show.
Author's Notes: Written for Legendland's alt big bang for the prompt 'summer' and the theme of 'longing'.
Thanks go to Aithine for the beta.
High Summer, in the brightly blooming days of Kahlan's youth in Thandor, meant five whole, heady days away from the Sisters. It meant release from the schoolhouse and hour upon hour spent roaming the length of the Valley, sometimes with but more often than not apart from the other children in the Sisters' care. It meant chasing butterflies and paddling in the brook, mud squelching between her toes as the sun baked her nut-brown. It meant holding Dennee's hand and running so fast through the fields that she thought they'd catch up with the sun, maybe even overtake it as it sank beneath the horizon. It was thinking that if they caught up, perhaps the days would last forever.
High Summer meant lying flat on her back in the meadow, so low that the long grass bent in the breeze and tickled her nose, and staring up at the sky until even closing her eyes couldn't shut out the sun and the vista inside her head burnt as brightly as the summer sky. It meant cloud watching, feeling Dennee's small, grubby fingers tighten around hers as she pointed out shapes and spun tales of wonder that made Dennee gasp and giggle with glee. This cloud was a sheep, lost from its flock and wandering the sky until it found them again. That one was a dragon, rearing up on its legs to defend its nest with fire and fury, crouched over dead men's gold. And this other one, moving closer towards them on hot summer winds, was a gar, on the hunt for young Confessors who strayed from their lessons.
It was only when she was older, old enough to join the Confessors at Aydindril and be trained to her duty, that Kahlan learnt what High Summer actually meant to the Midlands. It was a time for pause and reflection, a time when the sun baked the earth and the people into immobility, when tempers rose with the temperature and heated winds brought heated words with them, blowing through town and village alike with the swift, fierce fury of a summer storm.
High Summer meant long sessions in the Great Hall of Aydindril, watching the Mother Confessor temper the howling winds of lingering, festering grudges, dampening down the fires that flared up when the first harvest was in and the earth was dried out and brittle.
Five days of carefree play became five days of solemn duty and even the child Kahlan had been then knew it for a fair trade for peace. But, oh, how she had envied Dennee then, two years younger and two years away from the stifling heat of indoors, made worse by the warmth that rose from bodies pressed tightly together in a sea of supplicants, waiting for justice and mercy from the only ones who could deliver it.
She envied Dennee now as she mediated another dispute, this one over aquifer rights. The heat pulsed around her, sapping her strength as she listened as intently as she was able to the tales she was told. There were no dragons in these stories, or gars to terrorise small children; these were stories of wilting crops and drooping cattle, but the fear that underpinned them didn't change.
Dennee never had and never would shirk her duty, any more than Kahlan would herself, and she stood close by, listening even more intently than Kahlan. It was just as well; Kahlan's mind kept drifting away from her role as Mother Confessor, too caught up in the other role of mother that awaited her.
The babe she carried shifted beneath her ribs, as cranky in this heat as any petitioner, and she winced, hiding it quickly as she pressed one hand against her side, pushing back gently until her daughter shifted again, pulling her feet back in and giving Kahlan's ribs some respite from her constant kicking. If Richard were here, he'd put his broad hand on her belly next to hers, just to feel the baby shift. His eyes would be wide and awed, full of love for the pair of them, and he'd shift his fingers until his smallest could lie over Kahlan's, a simple touch that simply told her he was there and that he loved her beyond measure.
But Richard wasn't here. She had her duty, here in Aydindril, and he had his; neither of them would shirk it any more than Dennee would. She'd have to trust to Cara to take care of him, protect him as fiercely as she had always done as he quelled yet another would be warlord, winding D'Hara back in, inch by inch, until the country no longer threatened to tear itself apart, breaking into a thousand bickering strongholds.
The baby shifted again and this time Dennee caught her wince before she could hide it, giving her a long, steady, measured look before stepping into the breach that Kahlan's distracted silence had left. She moved swiftly and decisively, smoothing over ruffled tempers until the temperature in the room seemed to ease down a notch, even as the sweat dripped down Kahlan's back and dampened the cloth below her tender, swollen breasts.
For the life of her, Kahlan couldn't recall the judgement she had passed, or even if Dennee had passed it for her. But while neither man looked happy, neither looked unhappier than his neighbour. She would take that as a victory.
"The Mother Confessor has seen all petitioners for today." Dennee's voice rang out, strong and true, as Kahlan opened her mouth to summon the next case. "Come back tomorrow."
There was little grumbling as the crowd slowly filed out of the hall, even from those who had waited all day. Instead, as Kahlan pushed herself to her feet, many of them watched her even as they stumbled after their neighbours and kinfolk, their eyes seeming to settle on the soft swell of her belly almost hungrily. It was a strange kind of greed that - for all the deference - left Kahlan feeling uneasy. She was used to attention - to that mixture of fear and respect that went hand in hand with being a Confessor - but this was new. There was awe in the faces that turned towards her, awe and relief that the line of Confessors would not die with her and her sister and leave the Midlands bereft, but there was also a kind of possessiveness in their looks that made her fidget. There was none of Richard's warmth or Richard's love mixed in with it.
She knew her duty, but it was not duty that had conceived this child. She carried her babe for the love of her husband and the child itself that grew within her, stronger every day, not for the Midlands' sake. Dennee had already died, and her child with her, for the Midlands. That was enough.
"Are you all right?" Dennee's voice was shaded with love and concern, her presence a warmth at Kahlan's side. It was strange how, even after all this time, she expected to see Dennee's face when she turned, the face she'd grown up with, golden and pale, not this dark loveliness that had been Lucinda's first. The fingers that caught hold of her elbow as she made her way down the steps, steadying her against the shift in her centre of gravity, which moved on a daily basis now, were narrower than Dennee's had been originally, bone-thin but no less strong. "Do you need to rest?"
"I'm fine." Kahlan's hand settled on her belly, her daughter once again shifting position under her touch. "She's just restless. I think she misses her father as much as I do."
Dennee smiled; the look in her eyes was familiar at least, even if the shade of those eyes was not. This time the brief pang of regret that Kahlan felt was not for a sister lost twice before found again in another's body, but because the light in Dennee's eyes was puzzled, for all that her sister tried to hide it.
Dennee's child had been conceived through duty, not love, for all that Dennee - and Kahlan, too - had loved him. But Dennee would never know what it was like to feel her children kick under her ribs and wonder if they would have their father's eyes, his gentle nature and his fierce determination.
"I'm sure that Richard will be back as soon as he can," Dennee said, as though Kahlan was a child in need of soothing. She bit back on the instinctive and irritable protest that she already knew that; it was not just the people of Aydindril whose tempers were affected by the heat, and she had no desire to fight with her beloved sister, not about this. Not even when Dennee added, too studiously calm for it to be anything but deliberate, "And when he does, I think it will be time for me to venture back out into the Midlands." Kahlan had to bite back on the instinctive protest that rose at that, too. "There are those for whom Aydindril is too far to travel, and it's not right that they should go for so long without a Confessor."
Dennee was right, of course, but even though her sister was as much of a Confessor as Kahlan herself - as driven by duty and the sense of what was just and right - Kahlan knew that it wasn't the only reason.
"Will you not stay long enough to see my child born?" she asked softly, stopping short of begging. She was not cruel enough for that, not if it really pained Dennee that much to stay.
Dennee's smile was soft, but her eyes - those eyes that were still not quite her sister's - stayed remote, the light in them dimmed.
"I will be back soon enough," she said. "And Richard will be there. More than likely, he will be more use than I would be. Yours wouldn't be the first child he's helped deliver." The smile that crossed Dennee's face was small but it was familiar and the twist low in Kahlan's belly this time had nothing to do with the child she carried.
"And if he's not?" Her voice came out small and now she did sound like a child in need of soothing. "If he doesn't make it back in time?"
"He will." Dennee's voice was soft but certain, and the cadences in it still sounded strange to Kahlan's ear. "We both know that he will move heaven and earth to make sure he's here for the birth of his child." There was a laugh now buried beneath Dennee's words, struggling towards the surface, but there was something else in there, too. Something that sounded almost like the awe that Kahlan still felt sometimes in the face of the love Richard felt for her, and she for him. "And if anyone could actually do that - move the heavens and move the earth - it would be the Seeker."
An answering smile rose to Kahlan's face, but it was a beat too slow, dragged down by the heat and the weight of her child, both of which left her wrung out and exhausted. Dennee's expression had settled into something still, pained lines forming at the corners of her mouth. "And he will not be the only one who comes."
Kahlan was helpless in the face of Dennee's pain. There were no words that she could ever find to ease it away the way that her nonsensical stories had eased Dennee's nightmares when they were both children.
"I think about him, too," she said quietly, a moment of grief offered up for her sister's sake. Dennee looked at her blankly for a moment before her expression relaxed. The look in her eyes now was sad but not bereft.
"I am not the only mother who has lost a child to Darken Rahl," she said, and her tone was quiet but resolute. "Or a child who has lost his mother." She smiled then, slow and sweet, obviously thinking of Lucinda's Edmund, and her hand came to rest gently on Kahlan's belly, where it curved out from under her bodice.
"No," said Kahlan, resting her fingers on top of her sister's for a moment, squeezing them just as gently. That Cara, too, had lost a son to Darken Rahl's cruelty was not her secret to share, not even with her sister, but perhaps someday Dennee would discover that it was something else she and Cara had in common. Something beyond just a shared love for Kahlan, and the love and loyalty they felt for the Seeker, which bound them together.
Perhaps when her next child was born, she would have both of her sisters by her side.
Kahlan could only hope, but hope had carried her through so much already. She'd trust in it, and in the people she loved. "Will you take Edmund with you?" she asked instead, loosening her grip and feeling Dennee's fingers slip out from underneath hers.
"Yes." Dennee sounded as though the alternative was simply unthinkable, and so she had simply not thought otherwise. "He's old enough now to travel with me and there is little point in leaving him behind with his aunt now that she is no longer quick enough on her feet to keep up with him."
The teasing was familiar and Kahlan laughed, which only set her daughter to kicking again. She hissed, rubbing at the place where her daughter's feet - or elbows - were poking her. "And I have no doubt that his cousin will be able to match his pace once she's given enough time to grow."
Dennee reached up to touch her cheek, love shining in her unfamiliar eyes. "With parents like hers, I have no doubt she'll best him, too." She stroked her fingers over Kahlan's skin and then let her hand drop to her side. "And we will be back in time for that, I promise."
"I know. And we will be waiting. Will you at least consider taking Raina and Berdine with you?"
Dennee raised an eyebrow, meeting her gaze steadily. "You expect me to travel with Mord-Sith?" Kahlan didn't point out that neither Raina nor Berdine had been on Valeria - she would not insult her sister like that, nor wound her with the memories either. But she was not surprised when Dennee shook her head.
"The roads are not that unsafe, not for a Confessor these days. Not with the Lord Rahl on the warpath," Dennee continued. Somehow Kahlan found a smile for that, even as her heart ached. She didn't miss the newfound wariness in Dennee's eyes. "And you have already provided me with protection, Kahlan." Dennee hesitated for a moment, before continuing, a little hesitantly, "I was considering taking him for a mate as he is already confessed, although to you." Kahlan kept her silence, watching as Dennee's expression barely flickered, all of that pain - all of that grief - buried beneath layer upon layer of duty. "I love my son, or at least I love the son of this body as much as I ever loved my own, but he is not a Confessor and it should not all fall to you to ensure that the Midlands are not left without Confessors to watch over them. And he is strong and intelligent. He would make an adequate father." She hesitated again and then added, so quietly that Kahlan had to strain to hear her, "Even if he is not Finn."
Perhaps Kahlan had done her sister a disservice, thinking that Dennee did not understand love. Perhaps she had done Finn a disservice as well. Confessed or not, she could still picture his fierce, defiant expression as he cradled his son tenderly in his arms, his blade running red with the Mother Confessor's blood, shed in defence of his child. Perhaps she should not judge all men by her father's actions, or expect them to measure up against Richard's.
"I would like my daughter to have more than one cousin," she said, breaking the silence before it had a chance to stretch out between them. "And you know you are my family, you and Richard and Zedd." She was not cruel enough to mention Cara's name but from the way that Dennee's mouth crooked up she knew that her sister heard it anyway.
"Come home soon?" Now she begged, and if she sounded like a child, so be it. Pride would not keep her from letting her sister know that her absence from Kahlan's life would hurt.
"I will," Dennee promised, catching Kahlan's hand in hers and pressing their fingers together briefly, an oath and a blessing, both at once. "I'll be back by Winter's Solstice, I swear. Spirits be with you, Kahlan."
"And with you, little sister."
Her sister slipped away silently, fading into the darkness of the hall in the corner by the door, where the light from the windows didn't quite reach. She left Kahlan standing in the sunlight, sweat still sliding down her spine and dampening her dress, her baby still kicking in her belly.
High Summer in Aydindril was duty, being locked away from the scent of summer breezes and the feel of cool water on bare feet, her sister's hand in hers as they ran with the wind. But perhaps it would be the winter's icy depths that finally brought the thaw.
Her baby kicked again, and Kahlan soothed her with a touch, humming as her hand cupped her belly. She'd pray to the Spirits for what she longed for most - her family, standing all together against every summer's storm.