The howling wind rattled windows as rain beat down in sheets against them. It was late and as black a night as anyone had ever seen. Darkness clung to everything, creating such a void it seemed nothing could possibly exist beyond the stone walls of the room, gripping the inhabitants in tense anxiety. Richard paced the floor, head down, hands knotted tight behind his back, his constant footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting. Zedd, sitting near the roaring fire, watched him, trying his best to look confident though he was anything but.
Another agonizing cry came from behind the closed door, halting Richard's steps. Each time Kahlan cried out he would stop. Wait. Listen. Not until he heard the reassuring voice of Rose, the midwife, encouraging Kahlan to push would he resume his pacing. It was proving to be a difficult birth, leaving everyone uneasy and on edge. He desperately wanted to be in there with her but Rose had found Lord Rahl's presence too much of a distraction.
When Kahlan's labor had begun early the day before, Richard became a fixture at her side and had remained so until somewhere around sunset this evening, when his tone and manner proved too much of a strain for the midwife. He knew she was doing her best – in fact she was the best – having helped many a Confessor through childbirth, though never did they have a fretful husband at their side. Having an overwrought Lord Rahl in the room was too much for Rose's nerves. Richard only knew that Kahlan's pain was agony for his heart and he wanted it to stop. Rose had repeatedly suggested that perhaps he would be more comfortable in the sitting room with his grandfather. Only when Kahlan squeezed Richard's hand and told him it was alright did he at last relent. He could see he was upsetting her too. He squeezed back tightly, and, with his free hand, pulled sweaty tendrils from her face. "I'm right here" he whispered, "just on the other side of this door." He had kissed her brow before finally joining Zedd in the sitting room.
Now, eyes locked on that closed door, he once again heard Rose's comforting words telling Kahlan to keep pushing. He resumed his pacing.
Over the crackle and spit of the fire he could hear his wife's arduous breaths, her cries; her pain. Richard ground his teeth; he could stand it no more. As he headed for their inner room he was stopped in his tracks by the sudden sweet sound of a baby's cry.
Zedd jumped up from his chair, awash with relief that it was finally over. The actual birth was something only a midwife could assist with, but now that it was over, Zedd could use his magic to take away the pain Kahlan was surely suffering. The sense of foreboding that had blanketed the room slowly began to lift. He knew Richard had been terribly concerned and now…now he was a beaming father. They shared a firm hug and Zedd clapped his grandson on the back, "Congratulations, my boy!"
As they stood with their arms wrapped tight around one another, a shriek of agony they both knew to be Kahlan's threatened to take Richard to his knees. All of the joy he was feeling rushed out of him with such sudden force it took his breath. Only his grandfather's tight hold kept him on his feet. Richard pushed at the wizard's boney shoulders to free himself. Zedd held firm, instinctively wanting to shield his grandson from whatever pain lay in the other room, but it was no use – Richard instantly overpowered him, breaking away and rushing for the door.
Richard's heart pounded in his ears as he burst into the inner room. For all the commotion that had just taken place it was quietly surreal; dark but for a bit of firelight. Rain and wind driven branches scrapped against the windows, pressing in with haunting sounds. Their room never felt so small. Richard's eyes went to Kahlan. She had her head turned away from him, arms over her face in spent agony. A heaviness hung in the air keeping him rooted. Gripping tight to the door handle for support, he was too afraid to breathe, let alone speak. Try as he might, he couldn't make his feet go.
Allison, the midwife's apprentice, was the only movement in the room, silently tending to Kahlan, taking away bloodied linens. Rose stood just off to the side, at the foot of the bed, holding a small bundle in her arms, a look of sheer terror on her face.
Richard could only stare at the woman holding his child. He wished she would speak and end his agony. She looked stricken, too terrified for words. Wide-eyed, she pulled deep within herself gathering courage, finally managing a whisper, barely loud enough to hear, "It's a boy."
Kahlan cried out again at hearing Rose's words to Richard. It was a desolate, mournful cry, one that conveyed the heartache she felt for her husband.
Richard blinked, tamping down the terror that threatened to take hold. A slight tremor rolled through him as he fought to control his wits. He stared at Rose for the longest time, the storm raging outside as well as within. Trying to center himself, he concentrated on the low hiss of the fire, the pouring rain, Kahlan's soft mewling. Finally, a smile came to his face and he held out his arms.
Rose avoided his eyes as she placed the baby in his arms. "Come, Allison," she commanded quietly and they quickly took their leave, closing the door behind them.
Richard looked into the eyes of his son, his own filling with tears. He looked so innocent. A burning, powerful need to protect him rose up in Richard. He knew others would be terrified by his birth. His young life was already in danger.
Richard swallowed through tears and made his way to the side of the bed, sitting down next to Kahlan. She still had yet to look at him, staring off in anguish as tears streamed down her face. Richard leaned in, still with the baby in his arms and put his head close to hers. His voice was low; firm, but gentle, as he commanded her, "Look at our son, Kahlan. Isn't he beautiful?" Even through her pain she could hear the pride in his voice. She turned her tear streaked face to look at him, saw him gazing lovingly into the eyes of their child. The crushing pain in her chest lifted just a little. Their heads huddled close she looked down to the baby's face, tears still coming faster than she could wipe them away.
"Yes," she answered, her voice thin and raspy through her crying. "Yes, he is beautiful." Richard looked up and they shared a tearful smile. They were a family already, husband and wife, adoring their newborn son.
Richard placed the child in her arms, keeping a tender hand on him, unable to let go. "He needs a name."
Kahlan trembled with fear. Male confessors were never named. They didn't live long enough to have names. Richard was letting her know, this child would live. No Ritual of the Waters would be performed on their son. As frightened as Kahlan was, she knew it could be no other way. She would rather die than be forced to kill Richard's son. How could she even conceive of killing a part of him? A part of him she loved so dearly? And yet she knew the people would demand it. They wouldn't love this child like they did. They would show only fear and hatred toward their son. Terrified for what lay ahead, she felt a flood of relief as well. Richard would let no harm come to him. She knew without a doubt he would protect him with his life, as would she.
"I like the name Ethan" he said after a time. Kahlan nodded her approval with a smile, wiping again at her tears.
There was a soft knock as Zedd came into the room. By the way he stayed quietly near the door, Richard was certain the old man knew. Rose would have told him on her way out. Richard's free hand instinctively slipped to his sword, slowly letting his fingers curl around the hilt, pulling strength from its magic. He knew this was only the first of many encounters to come. It surprised him how easily he knew what he would do – even against his own grandfather should he try to harm his son. It all started – or ended – here. Now. Keeping his gaze on Kahlan and the baby, Richard spoke to his grandfather behind him, his offer laced with warning: "Come, Zedd. Meet our son." He felt the flicker of rage within as he turned then to look at the wizard, "Your great-grandson…Ethan." He spoke the boys name as a challenge.
Zedd understood. He didn't doubt Richard knew very well the name Ethan meant enduring and long-lived. He barely recognized the hard eyes cutting into him…waiting…watching, wondering, what his next move would be. He knew his life was at stake. It pained him to see the barely controlled wrath of the Seeker directed at him. Though he understood, it didn't lessen the hurt.
Not because of fear, but because he knew the man better than almost anyone, they need not worry. They should fear no judgment from him. If Richard protected the child with his life, so would he. The wizard took a hesitant step making his way closer, resting a hand on Richard's shoulder giving it a squeeze, conveying his love through his warm touch, "He's beautiful."
Only then did Richard relax the tight grip he held on his sword.