Title: Blood in the Bones
Authors: Karolyn Gray
Synopsis: The magic is in the blood. The blood is in the bones.
Rating: PG-13/T+ (for violence and disturbing imagery. (Just to be safe.))
Season: post-S2 Alternate Universe
Word Count: 65,000+
Author's Notes: Thanks to my beta readers: pkdefender, Nat, Scar, Abell, and Gore for their efforts in wading through this story. Any errors that may remains are my fault alone.
"The nightmare came to me again last night. It is pre-dawn and I can feel the anticipation from the men. Even Cara is on edge more than usual. I think she feels that today is important. Important in that way no one ever speaks of until after the event has occurred. Though my mind should be focused on what I must do today, I cannot feel my thoughts drift to them, to her most of all. Their absence weights heavily on me especially with what I have done, and what I will do here today at Tamarang.
May the spirits forgive me."
- Final entry, Richard Rahl's Campaign Journal.
She tread silently over the earth churned by the passage of many men and beasts easily winding her way through debris, discarded weapons, crates, and men rushing about their duties. The surprisingly chill mid-summer air thumped with the mangonel's release and the accompanying rumble as their projectiles struck their foe, with the occasional almost haunting whispers of arrows released from the archers, the cries of men in battle, and the constant murmur of the wizards casting their magic. The light breeze brought the smells of battle: blood, smoke, burnt flesh, and more, along with the cloying hint of pine from the mountains, sweet summer grass from the distant surrounding fields, and loamy earthiness of the nearby forests.
Her skin tight leather clung to her skin, supple enough to let her move unhindered and without sound. The gentle tattoo of her long braid along her back timed to her stride was comforting, bringing confidence, and as a mark of her position, her status. And, for her, at least, it was a reminder of her life's purpose. Her leather's red color quickly provided her an opening through the massed men in her path, each quick to move with a nod of acknowledgement, respect, and fear. As she approached her goal Cara slowed slightly taking in the sight before her, quickly nodding in satisfaction at the army's arrangement before focusing on her primary concern.
A perimeter of twelve Mord-Sith stood twenty paces away and encircling the Lord Rahl, who had just dismissed a D'Haran captain. He turned to watch her approach as if sensing her arrival. She would not have been surprised if he had. Like his brother, he seemed to have an uncanny ability to sense trouble. Also like his brother he seemed to have a preternatural sense of all that was around him, seen and unseen, that he readily made use of. As she closed the distance between them Cara allowed herself a moment to peruse Richard Rahl's dress noting the differences between himself and his predecessor.
He wore not the traditional robes of the Lord Rahl but instead a soft leather armor of deep maroon over a dark tunic. He went without the mail and plate his troops wearing similar armor favored claiming he preferred mobility. Her experience fighting at his side confirmed this fact. The tougher leather shoulder guards bore the symbol of the House of Rahl. The leather was also tooled with symbols of magic and other arcane emblems he claimed to merely find pleasing and without significance. Underneath this he wore a simple maroon dyed linen shirt more akin to a woods guide or commoner, long sleeves rolled up to his elbows so that the old, well worn and well oiled leather arm braces snugly wrapped his forearms. His leather pants, not too dissimilar in cut to those he'd warn since the day she met him, were of matching deep maroon leather, tucked into heavy black boots. A thin light knife was sheathed into his right boot.
For those unfamiliar with him, he would seem to be nothing more than an officer in the D'Haran Army, not the Lord Rahl. She knew he had the traditional gold trimmed, red robe associated with the Lord Rahl available for inclement weather or occasions when he needed to appear more formal, but in the field with the army he preferred this simple leather armor.
As she came to a halt beside him, she noted the engraved tooth hanging from a leather thong had slipped out from between the unbuttoned collar of his shirt and now hung just above the leather armor encasing his chest. Around his waist was a well crafted and ornately tooled belt with a few pouches of varying sizes and colors and his sword's scabbard gleaming brightly in the summer sun. As she nodded her greeting she noted his hand gripped the hilt of the Sword of Truth tightly enough that the whites of his knuckles showed as he turned to observe the conflict before them.
"I've just received word by journey book that Kurr has rejoined the Minders at the People's Palace," Cara informed him noting his eyes watching the battle before them intently.
She knew he would say no more on the matter. He was already well aware of her opinion about sending some of his personal guard away even knowing that circumstances required it in this instance.
The Minders had first joined Richard shortly after his departure from Aydindril and his first victory over his rivals to the throne of D'Hara. Their sudden appearance had been surprising as had been their claim that they had unanimously felt drawn to Richard, still drawn by his anger and the escalating war despite being bereft of his sword. The following weeks as followers flocked to Richard's banner he and Cara had taken the time to train the Minders into a force that all but the Mord-Sith feared. The bond to Richard and their fearlessness in battle quickly made them near legendary guards of the Lord Rahl. Just as the Minders fed off his rage and skill in battle, over the campaign to become Master of D'Hara he had discovered they fueled his own ferocity. In this battle today, though, Cara well aware the Minders presence would have distracted him from what he needed to do here.
A quick wave of his fingers from his free hand was followed by a bright flash and sharp clap of thunder as a barrage from the enemy trebuchet was incinerated before it could strike into the heart of the D'Haran forces before them. It was an impressive sight to behold considering her knowledge of Richard's magical ability. An ability repeatedly shown to be absent when tested by D'Hara's most knowledgeable masters yet clearly evident at times like this. She was well aware he found his ability worrisome as had the wizards under his command.
A wizard at the nearest mangonel jerked and glared towards them as Richard twitched his fingers again causing the projectile the device had just launched to burn intensely with Wizard's Fire. The wizard's expression earned him a cool rebuke from Cara in return.
"Must Lord Rahl do all the work, wizard Hennik? Perhaps your lazy bones would feel more urgency in your work were you leading the charge?" she asked calmly, in an almost pleasant voice.
One of her fellow sisters of the Agiel broke from their defensive cordon around Lord Rahl and said something to Hennik that made his face blanch. Cara smiled slightly as the wizard quickly turned and redoubled his efforts in casting his protective webs while the Mord-Sith returned to her position. Cara returned her own eyes to the battle noting the hint of a smile from Richard even as the knuckles on his hand gripping the sword whitened further with his increased tension.
For several long minutes they watched the battle rage, the D'Haran archers launching wave after wave of arrows into the massed forces arrayed before them that moved inexorably forward even as seemingly hundreds fell. Quads would rush out to crush enemy elements that managed to survive the deadly field of Dragon's Breath mines before they came too close to the line of pike men, swordsmen, and cavalry awaiting their orders to charge into the enemy lines before withdrawing back to the D'Haran lines. Even the spelled mangonel projectiles and Wizard's Fire tearing gaping wholes into the enemy formation seemed to have little effect. In return, the enemy's attacks were surprisingly easily blocked by the arrayed wizards, sorcerers, sorceresses, and lone witch Lord Rahl had gathered on the behalf of D'Hara.
A loud sigh brought Cara out of her observations with surprise as she turned her attention to Richard. He was no longer watching the battle but looking over the valley and the mountains above Tamarang with an oddly wistful expression on his face.
"Is something wrong?" She asked quietly enough so that not even the nearby guards and Mord-Sith could hear.
He turned his dark eyes to her with an indecipherable expression on his face. "I thought the weather would be foul the day I died."
Cara's eyebrows went up at his words. Speechless she watched as he again perused the surrounding countryside as if searching for something. After a moment she chuckled, certain he was trying to bring levity to the situation at hand. Making a show of it she looked to the clear sky and waved her hand exaggeratedly.
"Well, my Lord, it seems today is a fine day that is anything but foul. I dare say it's the clearest day we've had in years," she replied with a teasing tone.
"So it would seem," he replied chillingly.
Cara leaned closer when she saw not a trace of humor in his demeanor and became concerned over the magic he intended to release on their enemies. A magic Richard had admitted in confidence terrified him with its power. "Is there something wrong with the magic?"
"No, it's fine. Not time yet, but soon," he assured, gesturing to a pouch on his belt.
A slight breeze ruffled his hair as he seemed to contemplate the sky once more. "I saw a vision of my death."
"When was this?" Cara was curious at this information knowing Richard usually dismissed visions and prophecies. Since leaving Aydindril she had become Richard's confidant in all things, his most trusted guard, advisor, and strangely, close friend. She knew well many of his attitudes even when she greatly disagreed with them.
"At the People's Palace the night after I became Lord Rahl," he replied quietly. "I had it again the day I found the device and every night since I decided to end this war by using it."
"Perhaps you should speak with the wizards about this," Cara ventured.
"No, they already oppose this action but to do otherwise I fear would be far worse for our people and the people of the Midlands," Richard disagreed.
"Then tell me about this dream," she asked not really expecting him to do so.
"It's not clear, really," Richard started hesitantly. "Mostly images, words I don't understand, flashes of moments, perhaps memories of what will be. But I remember some if it. The clouds are dark, foreboding, with thunder and lightning. There are strange beasts that tear people asunder. Wolves, yet not wolves. They are monsters that I think even the Keeper would fear to gaze upon."
"Well obviously no such beasts are here. And the weather is fair," Cara noted earning a nod of acknowledgement of her point.
"Zedd was there. And Kah…." He stopped suddenly stiffening as his face went impassive at the pain Cara knew slice through him whenever he mentioned the pair. After a deep breath he shook his head. "First Wizard Zorander and the Mother Confessor were there. And you, of course. But I was in agony between the world of the living and the world of the dead. I'm certain of it."
"Well there you go then. They aren't here and appear not be coming. I am here. I see no tears in the veil. The weather is fine," she replied waving her hand dismissively. "The only ones who should fear dying are those fools who dare stand against the Lord Rahl on this battlefield today."
She leaned in with a fierce expression pointing her Agiel at his chest. The mock poking gesture merely earned an amused look much to her consternation and annoyance. Even after years of service she was not quite sure of how to deal with her new found inability to instill in him any fear of her as a Mord-Sith. She supposed friendship had a way of dulling such terror.
She waved her hand vaguely to the battle as she continued. "Once you've finished with this minor inconvenience you and I shall have a long talk about such visions and anything else you've kept from me."
"Of course, Mistress Cara," Richard readily agreed but concern marred his expression, drawing his brows down in a deep frown. "But you feel it don't you? That feeling that something important is going to happen. That what I do today may cause my vision to come to pass."
"Richard, I've felt your importance everyday since the day I met you. For me, today feels no different than yesterday or the day before that and beyond even that," Cara stated matter-of-factly.
Richard nodded, his expression suddenly taking on a faraway look, a strange glinting light entering his dark eyes that she recognized as the magic flaring within him. She felt a strange frenetic energy seem to enliven the air around him. A tremor of fear traitorously made its way down her spine before she crushed it under her will and training, knowing Richard would never harm her and that Lord Rahl would persevere to protect all of D'Hara.
"It's time. Signal General Bain." His raspy voice seemed to add urgency to her actions even as she complied.