Dahlia ran the rest of the way, praying to the Creator, the Spirits, anyone, that the stories were wrong. When she got there, she saw they were true. Nathair, the teacher Cara had unmasked as a Mord'Sith, was dying in agony.
Dahlia was fighting her way through the crowd, but she stopped when Nathair spoke of Cara's father, and how a little girl had been deceived. She couldn't bear to face Cara. Then Kahlan put her hand on Cara's throat.
"Wait!" Dahlia screamed, loud enough to take even the Seeker aback. Kahlan took her hand back from Cara, leaving it hanging between them like an arrow in flight. She watched intently as Dahlia approached her. "Mother Confessor, if you please… I'd like to speak on Cara's behalf."
"Get out of here, Dahlia," Cara hissed at her. She looked… broken.
Nantook, one of the elder, spoke. "Dahlia, the trial has been decided, Cara is receiving her just rewards."
Dahlia shook her head. "No. She isn't. You don't know her well enough to judge her, none of you do!"
"And how well do you know her?" Kahlan asked. There wasn't the authority in her voice that Dahlia would expect of a Confessor. In fact, she sounded even more shaken than Cara.
Cara was looking at Dahlia, shaking her head, trying not to drag Dahlia down with her.
Dahlia faced her as she spoke. "I love her."
Dahlia felt more than heard the crowd murmur, like her neighbors had taken a collective step back from her. She was tainted now. Damaged goods. Like Cara.
Dahlia forged on. "We played together as children, but were separated by the Mord'Sith. As a grown woman, Cara came to my inn by accident. But she returned to me again and again."
Kahlan whipped to Cara. "Is this true?" As a Confessor, she needn't ask, she just wanted to hear it in Cara's words.
Cara spoke in shattered sentences. "Among the Mord'Sith… everything is strength… power… it was pleasing to have someone… who wasn't a threat."
"She talked to me about how she regretted some of the things she'd done… how to follow Darken Rahl's orders while doing the least harm." Dahlia couldn't take the tears in Cara's eyes anymore. She went to her, taking her hand. It seemed to help. Cara wasn't wearing gloves.
"It's you," Cara said, and her voice was like nothing Dahlia had heard from her before. No strength and no weakness either. "You make me weak. You make me think of things long dead. Why are you always here? If you're not with me, you're in my head… I can't be rid of you." She went silent.
Dahlia let Cara keep her hand as she turned to Kahlan. "She was kind when she could show kindness and merciful when she could show mercy. Maybe that isn't enough for you, but it is for me." She looked back at Cara, wishing she could say these things without tangling them in Cara's pride, her vulnerability. But they had to be said regardless. "I'm sorry," Dahlia said helplessly.
"Don't apologize." Cara laughed like a sob. "Haven't I taught you anything?"
Dahlia hugged her, sobbing with both worry and the simple happiness of being with her. Over Cara's shoulder, she eyed Kahlan. "Please, Mother Confessor, please… don't take her away. I just got her back."
"Kahlan, by the Spirits…" Richard said, stepping forward.
Kahlan raised her hand, freezing him in his steps. Even the Seeker did not defy the Mother Confessor. "It is my finding that Cara was under the control of evil men and women when she committed her crimes, but acted innocently when she was not. Therefore, it would be no more just to execute Cara then it would be to hold a man to a deal he made with a dagger to his throat. By the accord of Aydindril, I am overruling the council's decision and making Cara a free woman. Whatever choices she makes from this moment on will be hers."
Dahlia kissed Cara, naturally. How wrong she'd been to dread that moment, because Cara didn't kiss like a Mord'Sith, with teeth and blood. She kissed like a little girl all grown up, like Dahlia had the first time she'd liked a boy, exploring his mouth and her own in equal measure.
Then all hell broke loose. Dahlia didn't see much of it through the fingers covering her eyes (her own), but she knew some of the townspeople charged the execution podium, intent on vigilante justice. Richard barely had time to free Cara before they were in combat.
The fray didn't take long. Volunteer swordsmen and grieving fathers couldn't hold out long against the Seeker's fighting force. Cara didn't kill anyone. Even the people who'd thrown rocks at her.
Afterward, Cara clammed up. It was like her emotions were muscles, ones she hadn't used in years. The day had exercised them, but overexerted, they'd given out on her. Dahlia didn't press. It was enough to have Cara's eye as she was reunited with her sister.
Then Dahlia went to pack. As unlikely as violence from her friends and neighbors seemed, she knew how frustrated they were with Cara's release. She didn't want to wait around while that anger simmered.
"Need a hand? Cara says I'm best at heavy lifting."
Dahlia turned to see Richard, his eyebrows piqued. She dropped what she was holding to curtsy, and the next thing she saw was Richard in front of her, stooping to pick up what had fallen.
"My lord, I couldn't possibly—"
"Sure you can. It'll give us something to do while we talk." Richard set her things down in a box, which he hoisted onto his shoulder. "Where are we taking these?"
"My cart in back." The box wasn't full. Dahlia asked that he hold it while she packed, but the business of choosing what to take and what to leave eluded her. She said "Talk about what?"
Richard's eyes drifted momentarily to the side, giving him the look of a man convincing himself once more that he was making the right choice. "Do you know how Darken Rahl died?"
Dahlia put her mother's salt shakers in the box. "Cara killed him."
"Did she tell you why?"
"No." Dahlia felt a brief need to explain that Cara barely told her anything, but that sounded worse.
There were some possessions that Dahlia couldn't bear to part with, especially if it meant they'd be vandalized by an angry mob. She went through her home collecting them as Richard told her about the Boxes of Orden and his time with Cara in the dark future ruled by the Master. "She captured me and forced me to accompany her… well, here. We found the place burnt to the ground, your bones scattered across the floor." Realizing how it sounded, Richard tried to smile reassuringly. "I believe that's what made her decide to turn against Darken Rahl."
"You must be mistaken. Cara wouldn't… she couldn't. Not for me. I'm no one."
"Cara also told me that if she didn't make it back, I was to deliver a message to you. I won't tell you what it is, since Cara would probably kill me for that. But think. There's one person Cara couldn't leave without letting her know how she felt. That's you."
"Why are you telling me this?" Dahlia asked. She'd unthinkingly picked up a doll Grace had given her after Cara was taken. Cara's doll.
Richard pressed his lips together, a man trying to explain what Cara meant to him. Dahlia recognized the expression from mirrors. "Cara thinks she's perfect. Kahlan thinks she's doomed. I think… Cara isn't all she could be. She wants to get back what was taken from her, but she thinks it'll make her weak. And you're worth being weak for."
"What can I do?"
"Be there for her. I'm not asking you to do anything you don't want to do, but if you love her, wait for her. Even if you can't be together right now, it helps to know there's someone who loves you no matter what. Trust me. And tell her how you feel, because she won't know otherwise."
When they went outside, Cara was waiting. She'd bridled the horses. Richard put Dahlia's things in the cart and gave Cara a respectful nod as he moved off. Dahlia sat in the cart beside Cara, who had stripped her leathers of some ornamental weight. She looked better without every inch of her buckled and strapped into place.
"I'm going with them," Cara said. "Kahlan asked."
"Do you have to go?" Dahlia surprised herself by saying it.
"Have you seen them? If it weren't for me, they'd be interrogating random skeletons for the Keeper's plans."
"Alright," Dahlia said, nodding. "Go. But that's not what you want to tell me."
"No, it isn't." It was there, in the corner of her gleaming eye, in the smiling teeth under her pinched lips. "I don't know what to say," Cara admitted, and that confession, that weakness, spoke volumes. "But I want to say it to you."
"I'll listen," Dahlia said. "I'll listen as long as it takes."
Cara turned away. "I'll be gone a long time. I may not return. It'd make more sense for you to find someone else who makes you feel like I do."
"There is no one else who makes me feel what you do." Dahlia reached out to take Cara's gloved hand. She ran her fingers over the eyelets, the wire attaching it to Cara's leather sleeve. She memorized all the things she'd have to do to take it off, when Cara got back. "You found me once. Do it again."
"I will," Cara promised.
She hopped down from the cart and Dahlia clung to her outstretched hand as long as she could. Then she pulled Cara back to her.
"Can I say it?" she begged. "Can I kiss you?"
Dahlia kissed her lips. "I'll miss you." Her cheeks. "I love you." She lost herself in Cara's hair as the Mord'Sith kissed her pulse, like she could take its taste with her on the road.
"I'll be back," Cara said, gently pushing Dahlia back into her seat. She took a step back, and another, and another, until she turned with one last look at Dahlia and went to join the four waiting silhouettes on the hill, ready to embark on their journey.
Dahlia steered the horses in the other direction. It hurt like it had when Cara was first taken from her, but if Cara could bear all that pain, so could she.