Summary: Richard finds himself confronted by his siblings, each of whom have issues of contention with him
Richard crept across the snowy ground towards the trees and bushes of the forest. The moon was high above him, near full. Something in the undergrowth moved again and he drew the Sword of Truth.
"Who's there?" he demanded. "Show yourself." Maybe it was just a rabbit or a fox.
It was a man who stepped forward however, and Richard's eyes went wide in shock.
"Michael. That's—it can't - you're dead." Richard didn't step back but he gripped the sword hilt tighter at this apparition. It looked like his Michael, exactly as Richard had last seen him —and there was even blood on Michael's shirt, clear evidence of the fatal wound.
"Which is your fault." Michael moved past Richard and seated himself at the campfire. Richard didn't remember seeing a campfire before, let alone the three sturdy logs arranged around it as suitable seating. He had more pressing concerns though.
"I don't understand," Richard said.
"That's never prevented you from interfering though, has it?"
Richard turned to see Jennsen behind him, red hair loose about her shoulders, her delicate hands on her hips.
"Jennsen. What are you doing here?"
She pushed past him and took a seat on another of the logs. "Why shouldn't I be? You said you'd come back for me," she said. "My whole life changed one day; I lost a mother and gained a brother and grandfather, and you just sent me away."
"So you'd be safe," Richard said.
Michael snorted at that. "Like Hartland was safe without you?"
Ignoring his adopted brother, Richard spoke to Jennsen once again. "You were the only one who could keep the Boxes of Orden away from Rahl."
"Didn't turn out so well, did it?" Jennsen sniffed. She touched her face, and Richard remembered the beating she'd received from Rahl's men. Guilt shot through him.
"Jennsen, I'm sorry for what Rahl and his men did to you—"
"Rahl," said a voice. "You speak it with such venom and yet that is your name too. Brother."
And now Darken Rahl moved through the trees and took the third log, opposite Jennsen. "Michael. Jennsen. At least he didn't kill you two," he observed.
"You tried to separate the boxes," Richard said. "That's how you died. I had no part in that."
"Yet you take the glory for killing me," Darken said. "How noble."
"He promised to fetch me," Jennsen said. "Once it was safe, he said. But first it was the boxes and then it was the rift; there was always something dangerous. He keeps Kahlan close, and Zedd, and Cara, but not me. The only time he ever kept his promise it was under the power of Orden and that world was soon lost."
"That world was an abomination," Darken snapped.
"You two remember it? Only Zedd knows what happened in it before he used the spell of undoing." Richard was now certain this was either a dream or some powerful magic, but he was intrigued by what his companions knew of the world in which he had been, temporarily, victorious.
"Of course we remember it," Darken said. He gestured to Jennsen. "You, sister, looked lovely at that otherwise ridiculous wedding."
"Thank you, brother," Jennsen said.
"Don't listen to him," Richard said. "He's a liar."
"And you break promises," Jennsen returned.
"He was my parents' favourite," Michael put in. "I was their first child, their son, and he was some stray they adopted and yet they fawned over him as if he were the child of the Creator herself."
"He was my father's favourite too," Darken said, refusing to be outdone. "It was prophesied that his second son would kill me, so of course my father couldn't wait to knock up some peasant!"
"That peasant was my mother," Jennsen said, her tone dangerous. Richard had never seen her look so Rahl-like; a predatory glint in her eyes, the firmness of her jaw marking her a threat not to be disregarded.
Darken nodded in a conciliatory gesture. "Yet what did Panis Rahl ever do for you, also his child? Nothing!"
"Look, we all of us have our problems," Richard said, his role as peacekeeper coming to the fore. "You think any of this has been easy for me? One day my life changed too; I lost my father and my own brother accused me of his murder. That day I gained a destiny, but I found that my whole life had been a lie. I have just as much to be unhappy about as you all do."
"You left the boundary open and let us get invaded by D'Harans, sparing no thought for our fate," Michael said. "I died trying to undo your mistakes."
"You swore to kill me, though I had done you yourself no wrong," Darken said. "You had a good upbringing, raised by those who loved you, while I spent my youth in fear of the future and of you."
"You said you wanted to keep me safe, but you gave me the boxes, knowing that possessing them would put me in danger," Jennsen said. "You know, I think that was just an excuse to keep me out of the way."
"What do you want from me?" Richard demanded.
Darken pulled a knife from the folds of his cloak. "Vengeance," he said as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. Jennsen and Michael nodded and somehow they too were armed. As one, they stood and advanced on Richard.
He swung the sword threateningly. "Stay back! Stay back!" But they kept coming—
"Ow!" He rubbed his cheek, which was stinging. He blinked hard and saw Kahlan leaning over him, one hand raised as if to slap him. Slap him again, he realised.
"Sorry, but Zedd said that would bring you out of the trance," Kahlan said, sitting back on her heels.
"What happened?" Richard glanced around. He was lying on the grass in a forest clearing. There was no sign of their campsite. Zedd was hovering anxiously nearby while Cara had her arms folded with a expression that bordered on contempt.
Richard sat up, trying to remember how he'd got here. Last he remembered the sun was still setting but now it was early evening and chilly. His clothes were covered in bits of leaves and bark. That terrible experience must have been a dream.
"You stumbled into a Family Tree," Zedd said. Cara rolled her eyes.
"A what?" Richard asked.
"The first one was spelled by some idiotic second level wizard who wanted to talk to his ancestors so they could help him write his autobiography, but it went terribly wrong. Now these trees grab any unsuspecting people who pass too close to their dangling branches, and entrance them. The victims are forced to confront their worst fears and memories regarding their families."
"We had to cut off four branches to drag you out of there," Cara said. "And then you wouldn't wake up. I wanted to agiel you but Kahlan wouldn't let me."
"Are you all right?" Kahlan asked, worried.
"Fine." Richard glared at the tree in question. He was, he supposed, just lucky he didn't have any other brothers or sisters, adopted, fully related, half-, step- or otherwise.
Three disgruntled siblings were more than enough.