Sequel to Master of D'Hara. Richard and Kahlan's dreams are finally being realized but is the young wizard Gabriel their friend or foe?
His tone was jovial, "Six days and counting?"
"Seven" she replied matter-of-factly.
He knew she was marking the days until the Seeker returned, confident he would keep to his word and be back by the next full moon. Side by side, Kahlan and Gabriel made the chilly walk up the long, lonely road toward the Keep.
He gave her a friendly scolding, "Well I wasn't counting today…it's half over you know."
Kahlan's lilting laughter brought a smile to his lips. She had a way about her that could lift anyone's spirits. Not that his needed lifting – it was just an observation. One he'd noticed the moment he laid eyes on her just a few weeks ago…
Reading quietly in one of the big overstuffed chairs of the Keep, Kahlan had been startled at hearing someone moving about within its halls. Having gone there one night in search of a book, she was taken aback when Gabriel entered in. At first on her guard, Kahlan immediately rose to question him. No one but wizard's and Confessors…and now, Richard, ever dared to set foot inside, alone and uninvited.
Tall and thin with blond hair that brushed at the nape of his neck, he had a handsome face and welcoming eyes. Gabriel explained that he in fact was a wizard, though admittedly, not a very good one. He'd told her truthfully, though rather sheepishly, that he'd come to the Keep in search of knowledge; perhaps even a magical amulet, anything that would help him with his gift. Back home in the Old World where he was from, they were in great need of wizards for healing. Men of magic were rare, most having been taken away to the Palace of the Prophets. He assumed he was too inconsequential for the sister's notice.
He shared with her his frustration at his limited powers…how he could heal headaches and cuts, scrapes or other minor ailments, but that the people needed so much more. It pained him to see those he cared for dying off.
Kahlan found him to be an affable man and easy to talk to. In some ways, he reminded her of a young version of Zedd.
Over a pot of tea, he shared with Kahlan how his own dear mother had succumbed to a high fever, brought on when she'd accidentally sliced off the tip of her finger preparing her evening meal. He had been away at the time and there was no one there to attend to the initial injury. By the time he returned from his travels, infection was deeply rooted. He was powerless to save her. He blamed himself for not being there, when it first happened, wondering if she would still be alive had he seen to her before it festered.
He turned unabashedly red when Kahlan rested a sympathetic hand on his arm. Her grace and beauty made him as uncomfortable as a schoolboy with a crush. She told him she too knew the agony of watching helpless while those around you suffered. "You'll be happy to know that a Wizard of the First Order is on his way here. When he arrives, I'm sure he can be of help. Until then, feel free to use the library – it is for wizards after all." She stood and collected several of the books she had scattered about. "I suggest you confine yourself to this room though, at least until Zedd returns. There are powerful spells throughout the tower, you could find yourself, at the very least in a lot of danger, if not dead." Gabriel's pale blue eyes went wide with fright. "Don't worry" she reassured him, sticking one of the books back on the shelf. "Just keep to the library and you'll be fine." Her smile was pleasing but had done little to ease his concern.
He'd seen her everyday since then, listening intently to Kahlan's tales of wizards' past. He had little knowledge of the history of the Midlands or the New World for that matter. He found her intellect and wit fascinating. Though he saw she had an easy way about her, he'd seen her once in conversation with a high ranking official of the council. She was none too happy with his conduct and made her concerns perfectly clear. Gabriel tried not to listen but heard what she'd said from his place across the hall. He remembered thinking the Mother Confessor's arguments made perfect sense and wondered how the man could be so blind. It hadn't taken her long to shed new light on the Ambassador's way of thinking and he quickly took his leave.
When she rejoined Gabriel he had an odd smile on his face. "You're quite the leader Mother Confessor."
She refrained from smiling at his compliment, "That's why I'm the Mother Confessor."
"Witty too" he chuckled, offering his arm as they walked the long hall.
Kahlan laughed, finally giving him a smile, but she ignored his offer.
Richard and Benjamin road well ahead of the men, the General orienting his new Lord Rahl on recent troop deployments and pointing out the areas of conventional field camps. Cara, on her mount, was just a few paces behind. As the new leader of D'Hara, Richard hoped evil was at last vanquished but wouldn't leave it to chance. He knew Aydindril's defenses were limited, with more palace guards than seasoned battle soldiers, and thought it wise to fortify their numbers. He'd decided to bring a contingent of men with him from D'Hara to add to their defenses.
"Those heavy rains of late have saturated the countryside." The General's voice was solemn, "we lost 50 men in a recent slide just over that ridge," he said, pointing to a cliff just to the east. Richard remembered those rains well. He and Cara had been heading for the People's Palace at the onset of the storms. He'd been captured and nearly killed in one of those downpours.
Cara piped up from behind, "Fitting don't you think, considering they served the wrong Lord Rahl."
"Cara." Richard shot her a warning glare. The men had served through fear, as they had been taught their whole lives. He didn't see they had any real choice in the matter…Darken Rahl would have skinned them alive for disobeying. They served him now, though he hoped they would come to do so out of pride and a desire for something better, not out of fear. He wouldn't hold that against them.
General Meiffert gave her an equally hard look and pulled his horse to a stop. His eyes bored into hers as she drew along side. "They served their Lord Rahl with duty and honor. Much the same way you did, I expect." Cara tried to think of a retort, one with a similar biting edge, but she had none. She herself had one time tried to kill Richard. She stared back at him, unable to shake his reprimand. After a long moment, the General looked away, urging his horse forward.
Richard let the air settle a bit before trying to ease the tension, "What do you say we do a little hunting? The men will be stopping soon to set camp. I'm sure Zedd is already wondering what will fill his belly this evening."
General Meiffert brightened at the idea. "I know spot nearby where we'll find plentiful game."
Even Cara's spirits revived at the idea of a hunt.
Richard held up a hand, stilling Benjamin's advance as he listened intently. He cocked an ear toward the summit listening intently at a small rustling growing louder. At first Richard thought it was the stumble of a bear but he knew now, this was no animal. Just as he realized what it was, Benjamin turned and shouted, confirming the danger, "Slide!" All at once he was running and diving from his thicket to topple Richard, knocking him to the ground, violently propelling them both under a jut of rocks.
The depth of the cutout and the steepness of the precipice sent the sludge rushing right over them; mud, boulders, rocks and trees roared past, crashing loudly to the valley below. It was all over in a matter of moments, Richard already clawing his way out in search of Cara.
He and Benjamin called her name, spreading out and making their way to where they'd last seen her.
"Cara!" Richard scanned the mountainside, frantically searching for signs of her red leather, taking heart when he didn't see her in the rubble below. "Cara!" he called again, climbing higher.
"Here!" Benjamin called. "She's here!"
Cara was mired in mud, unable to move. Her face and one arm the only parts of her even visible. A large tree as big around as three men lay across the morass that covered her. Benjamin leapt over it and wiped the thick clods of mud from her eyes and nose, reaching his fingers into her mouth, clearing the muck. He frantically shoved a shoulder to the massive tree, trying to move it enough to free her.
Richard rushed to her side, landing beside her on his knees. He took hold of her face, "Cara!" He quickly joined Benjamin, throwing his weight into the tree, the two men pushing with all their might to move it. It wouldn't budge. They tried again and again, pausing for breath when they had none. Cara's lips were turning blue. Fear clawed its way through Richard's chest suddenly panicked he might actually lose her. "Hold on Cara." They tried again to move the tree. It was no use. It simply would not budge. Richard knew the other men were too far back, she needed air now. Benjamin tried digging underneath the tree to make enough room for her to breathe, to alleviate the pressure of its weight. Tears stung at Richard's eyes. They dug at the rubble holding her captive, but it was no use. As they cleared away the ground, the tree sunk deeper, holding her pinned, cutting off her air. Their efforts were useless but they kept digging. Cara was going to die.
Richard remembered the scolding look he'd given her earlier. Every moment he'd ever shared with her came flooding back. How she had been willing to trust him, follow him. She was just beginning to open up, to shed some of her Mord-Sith persona. He remembered her sincere hug when he'd learned Kahlan was with child. She wasn't simply Mord-Sith…she was so much more than that. She was…Cara. She was family. Richard grew angry that her life would be cut so short…Just when she was beginning to feel, to care. He was furious her life would end in such a useless manner. He again wedged himself against the tree as he tried in vain to move it. His wrath made his blood run cold. He pressed all of his weight against the trunk, rage storming within. Then, without thought or understanding, the tree exploded in a sudden flash, as if lightening had struck where it lay, tossing Richard on his backside, bits of wood and pulp flying through the air, raining down on them.
Briefly winded, Richard lay on his back, blinking, not knowing what had just happened. He looked up in disbelief before moving to Cara's side. Benjamin was already there, his cheek pressed to her mouth, feeling for breath. Her eyes slowly opened. "If you're thinking to kiss me, General, you had better ask my permission first." Benjamin quickly pushed away.
Richard smiled. She sounded like her old self. He touched a hand to her face. "Are you alright? Can you move?" They dug out the rest of the mud around her, slowly easing her free.
She was still in a daze, "What happened?" She looked at the shattered tree, then to Richard, "What did you do?"
Richard helped her stand, looking nearly just as dazed. "I don't know. I was so angry thinking you were going to die. All I know is that I wanted that tree gone, more than anything and…suddenly…it was."
Benjamin looked at the exploded bits, none bigger than a pine cone. He looked at Cara, then at Richard, brow drawn together he whispered, "Magic."
Kahlan grew anxious for Richard's return. She had waited for him on their terrace the night before until the early morning hours, her nerves on edge with anticipation. But the full moon had come and gone without a word. It would shine for two more nights before starting to wane. She pushed needling fears aside and touched a hand to her belly. Only Zedd knew that she carried the Seeker's child. She'd made no mention of it to the city officials, or even Dennee when she'd sent her a recent message. She wondered once if Gabriel knew, being that he was a wizard, but with his limited powers she doubted it. He never said a word of it if he did. Aside from those closest to them, only Councilor Brant knew of her and Richard's secret wedding nearly three months earlier. She longed for the public ceremony so they could share the happy news with everyone. She knew that with herself and Dennee as the last living Confessors, the child would be much lauded and anticipated. She knew too that it had been more than 100 years since a presiding Mother Confessor had been with child, her own mother having been appointed to the position just after Dennee's birth.
Kahlan pulled a brush through her long, silky hair and looked through the windows to the outside. Night was coming soon. She prayed Richard would too.