"Richard!" Kahlan called again, trying in vain to lift him in her arms.
Stunned by the blow, Richard quickly regained his senses, pushing himself off of her, feeling the stabbing pain in his back. He didn't have to see him to know who was responsible for his pain. Still on his knees, Richard twisted around to shield Kahlan from Gabriel striding toward them down the massive hall.
Richard got to his feet drawing his sword from its scabbard and sending the ring of steel echoing off the walls. Ignoring the pain of the Dacra, he squarely faced the wizard, fire in his eyes, his chest heaving with every breath. He would die a thousand deaths before he let one hair on Kahlan's head be touched by this man.
Gabriel stopped short of him, well out of reach of the sword. "Did I ever tell you Seeker of my training before coming to Aydindril?" Richard didn't answer, keeping his raptor gaze fixed on his enemy. "I'm sure I haven't. Perhaps I mentioned my mentor, the old wizard, but Sister Angela, no. That would have been quite foolish of me." The way he ran his fingers over his lips reminded Richard of Darken Rahl. "She was a Sister of the Dark and taught me many things. One of which was how to use the Dacra. I know its secrets. How to release its magic…steal your Han…leaving you dead in the process."
"No!" Kahlan cried out. She held tight to the arm of the chair, her knuckles white with her fierce grip, the rest of her coiled tight on the cushion. She was in obvious pain but her cry was for Richard. The thought of him dying was unimaginable.
Richard didn't dare take his eyes off Gabriel, but he sensed her agony…could hear it in her voice. He wished desperately to go to her but the threat before them wouldn't allow it.
Gabriel smiled as he looked at Kahlan, hearing her fear, seeing her pain. "I thought you might feel that way." He pulled the Rada' Han from beneath his robe. "You only need put this on."
"She will not" Richard growled back.
Kahlan muffled a cry, gasping and panting with her rising pain. "Richard, he'll kill you otherwise" she managed, breathlessly.
"He'll kill me anyway!" his tone unchecked at hearing her pain.
Unable to fight it in any longer, Kahlan cried out in agony, twisting about in the chair, unsure if it was better to stand or sit as wracking pain ripped through her body. Richard felt a vice like grip tighten around his heart and stepped backwards, moving closer to her. He had to get her out of here. She was in labor, he knew, and there was no stopping it. His mind raced for an idea of what to do.
Richard tried pleading, "Please, she's in labor. She needs to lie down. Let her go to her room."
Gabriel held up the collar, "Do we have a deal?"
Richard stood unmoving, gritting his teeth, his nostrils flaring in anger as rage stormed through him on some desperate, violent path. He thought to thrust his sword, letting it sail through the air to strike Gabriel down; as he had once done when Kahlan's life was threatened at Tothraine. But he knew a simple wizard's web would easily thwart such an attempt.
Kahlan panted heavily behind Richard, struggling to stand. She didn't trust Gabriel, but she didn't see what choice they had. Richard would certainly die if she did not wear the collar…with it, there was a chance he would live. She clung to that hope. She had to, it was all they had. Maybe it would at least buy them some time until Richard could think of a way out of this. She held her breath to stem the pain, using the last of her strength she answered him, "Yes, I will wear it."
Richard's entire world came to a crashing halt. Everything ceased to matter but what he knew needed to be done. He turned then to look at her, his anger subsiding as a gentleness came to his eyes. He could see the resolute determination on her face as she stood before him, gripping the arm of the chair, the only thing keeping her upright. He knew what she was doing but he wouldn't allow it.
He reached her in two steps. Smiling softly, he touched tender fingers to her cheek, his voice loving, yet firm, "No Kahlan." He was not about to let her wear the collar. If it killed him he would not. In the brief moment he knew they had he studied her face, wanting to memorize it for all eternity: the creamy smoothness of her skin, the deep blue of her eyes; the tiny scar above her lip. He thought of her smile, the one she gave to none but him. He would hold her image forever in the underworld, waiting for the day she would join him. He wondered if he would live long enough to see their daughter. She should not be born here, he thought, on the cold, hard stone of the hallway. Kahlan should be in their big, soft bed, where their daughter was conceived, beside a small fire to keep her warm, and Rose to help her along.
If he killed Gabriel quick enough, she might still have a chance at those things. Richard was so sad he would not be there to share in it with her; he knew that would break her heart. Determination set Richard's jaw as he turned back toward the wizard. Once Gabriel released the deadly magic through the Dacra, he didn't know how long it would take to kill him. He might at least see his daughter's face; hear her newborn cry, before the end.
Without another thought, Richard stormed at the young wizard releasing a ferocious cry from deep within. Gabriel was taken aback at first, but raised his hands, casting a web to stop Richard in his tracks. Instinctively, Richard yanked his blade before him, deflecting the web like he'd done against wizard's fire in the past. He kept a fierce grip on his sword, holding the spell at bay as he continued to close in on him. As he neared, Richard felt the unmistakable heat of magic, the burning pain of it in his back as the Dacra carried its lethal dose. Still, he kept moving, his legs heavy with the effort like slogging through mud. With a sudden thrust of his sword he cast off the spell of the web and in one fluid motion, buried the Sword of Truth deep into Gabriel's chest, running him through like the animal he was. Richard grabbed him by the collar, shaking in rage as he twisted the steel, making sure he was finished.
Blood spilled forth from the wizard's mouth and down the front of his robes as he sank to his knees. The Seeker panted over him in fury, struggling to stay on his feet as he watched Gabriel's eyes go vacant. Only then did Richard release his hold, just before he, too, collapsed to the ground.
Two weeks later
Richard strode down the hall toward his chambers. After an early morning meeting with General Meiffert he wanted to check on Kahlan and see about getting her some breakfast.
He stepped into their main sitting room, greeting Agatha as he made his way for the inner room – their bedroom. "Good morning Agatha. Is she awake?"
"Good morning sir; I dare say, yes. She's been up since just after you left."
He pushed open the door to their inner refuge, stopped in his tracks at the site of her. Kahlan sat in a large upholstered chair, the one by the windows that overlooked their terrace and the private gardens of the Mother Confessor below, her gaze set loving on the tiny babe nestled against her breast. Richard stood transfixed as she nursed their daughter, awed by her beauty and the intrinsic bond between mother and child.
Just two weeks' earlier he had thought all was lost. After he'd killed Gabriel and collapsed in a heap to the ground, Kahlan had crawled her way into Nicci's room, waking the sorceress from a deep sleep, seeking her help. "Please Nicci, Richard is dying" Kahlan sobbed. Though traumatized and weak from her ordeal, Nicci still had her wits about her and immediately saw to his need, removing the Dacra and healing him from the deadly poison.
Cara had returned not only with Rose and her apprentice, but with General Meiffert as well. Benjamin and Cara helped Richard get Kahlan back to their room and into their big, soft bed. She had given birth to their daughter as she should, in the comfort of their room beside a crackling fire, with the skillful hand of Rose, and with, most importantly to her, Richard kneeling just beside her.
Richard returned from his thoughts as Kahlan cooed softly, dipping her head closer to the babe. She hadn't heard him come in. Richard's joy was so abundant he felt an actual twist of pain within him. He had never imagined happiness such as this. He walked quietly across the thick carpets and knelt down beside her, watching his little Taralyn suckle.
Kahlan smiled at seeing him and caressed his hair, leaning her lips to his for a tender kiss. "You left so early. Is everything alright?"
He nudged at the baby with his first finger, urging her to grasp a hold of it, smiling when she did. "Everything's fine," he said, eyes fixed on his daughter. "I wanted to see the General off. He and his men just left."
Richard had sent the General and his most trusted men back to D'Hara to the People's Palace. He needed someone there he could rely on, now that Nicci was in Aydindril. He was glad to have her here too. Not only had she saved his and Kahlan's life and the life of their child, she had, over the course of the past two weeks, visited Zedd regularly. With each visit she would take a small amount of his illness into her, allowing herself time to recover in between. Zedd's mistake had been in trying to heal Victor all at once, taking too much of the disease for his old body to handle. He was his self again in no time and thrilled to learn he had a great-granddaughter.
"What about Cara?" Kahlan asked him.
"She wasn't happy about it, but she went too. She informed the General that someone needed to be in charge and that it would have to be either her or me." He smiled up at her, still on one knee. "Seeing as I'm a new father, she decided it should be her." Cara would return in a few months time but Richard thought it important for her to go to D'Hara for now.
Kahlan laughed. "General Meiffert is a pretty tough man. I can't imagine him turning over command of his men to a Mord-Sith, even Cara."
Taralyn fussed, having had her fill and shook her little fists in the air. Richard carefully lifted her from Kahlan's breast and stood, holding her to his shoulder as he gently rubbed her back, his fingers smoothing the already thick, dark hair on her tiny head.
"He didn't. He told her in no uncertain terms who was in charge of his men." Richard saw Kahlan's look of disbelief as she laced up the front of her dress. He laughed quietly, "She took it better than I expected, really. She even seemed a bit intrigued by his firmness. I think in the end, she decided he could be in charge of his men, just so long as she was in charge of him." Richard kissed his daughters head. "I figure, whichever one comes back alive is the one in charge."
Kahlan swatted at his shoulder. "You do not."
He laughed and bent to lay Taralyn in her bassinette, tucking a soft pale blanket snug around her. Having had her breakfast, she was nearly asleep already.
Kahlan's arm slipped around his waist as they together watched their daughter drift off to sleep. "I've never been happier in all my life."
Everything they had dreamed of was finally being realized. Richard knew they had their whole lives ahead of them to just be together; filling the years with walks through the woods, watching the moon rise in the sky and quiet nights lazing before a fire.
"It all seems so perfect," Kahlan said. "What could we possibly want for now?"
He pulled her to him wrapping her in his warm embrace, "more daughters" he whispered, leaning in to softly kiss her.
Thank you all for reading! I appreciate you following along and loved reading your comments. As always, working on another one. :)