Richard walked Kahlan as far as the path leading up to the Keep. She was going there to help with the last of the girls' studies for the day and then she would walk them home. Though they knew they were safe within the city walls, she enjoyed that time together and they were always so eager to discuss what their grand-father had taught them. Richard wanted to check back with Cara and see if there was any word yet from the men.
Kahlan slowly trailed to a halt as they reached the fork, giving him a coy smile. "I must admit, Lord Rahl, I do believe I'm feeling better. You've taken the edge off." She rested her fingers on his shoulders, not quite ready to part from him.
He smiled, pulling her in, "Anything to help the Mother Confessor…" They shared a brief kiss before going their separate ways.
Richard returned to his study to find Cara pacing impatiently outside the door. She made her way toward him the moment she saw him coming down the hall, holding up the journey book in her hand, "Lord Rahl!"
Her grim look made Richard almost afraid to ask, "What is it?"
She handed the open book to him, letting him read for himself. He read over it twice before looking back up to her. "Everyone but Reiland is dead?" It was a rhetorical question, one asked in pure disbelief. Reiland was one of the lower ranking men in the battalion he'd sent in search of the portal. He'd written nearly with his last breath of the horrific deaths of his comrades… 'The sky was filled with fetid beasts, as countless as blades of grass in a verdant field.' Richard pressed two fingers to his brow, trying to stem the sudden pounding in his head. It was clear to him that the one bonded to the Keeper had opened the portal. Shota's prophecy was coming true. Richard shook with the chill of fear, afraid his little Taralynn was about to be plunged into a horrific nightmare.
Cara eyed him intently, twisting her Agiel and looking eager for blood. "Send the Mord-Sith, Lord Rahl. We'll eliminate these beasts."
What he wouldn't give for it to be that simple. Richard touched a hand to hers, forcing her to lower her weapon. "No, Cara" he said softly. Too many people had died already. "These are no ordinary beasts…they're creatures of the Underworld."
She squared her shoulders, "I'm not afraid." Richard smiled. Of that he had no doubt.
He lowered his gaze to the book in his hands: "'like blades of grass in a verdant field.' You and your sisters wouldn't be able to capture the vile magic from all of them. Not in time anyway. There's just too many." He looked back up into her eyes, "Besides, you're too important to me, Cara. I wouldn't risk you like that."
Cara felt privileged to have Lord Rahl feel she was important enough not to want to endanger her life. Darken Rahl had never cared who was at risk – as long as it wasn't his own hide. Still, his words left her feeling uncomfortable. She didn't believe she was worthy of his concern. She tried to make light of the moment, "You're just afraid no one else would tolerate those children of yours." As much as Cara complained when he had her guard his daughters he knew she considered it an honor.
Mention of his daughters brought the grim determination back to his face and as he started down the hall, Cara hurried after him.
Taralynn sat with Mia in the outer room of their parent's chambers listening to the muffled conversation of their mother, father and great-grandfather on the other side of the door. She could tell they were upset – not arguing, but distressed about something. Mistress Cara, standing guard near the door to the hall with her eyes fixed on her charges, didn't realize that, as Taralynn and Mia sat quietly on the settee, they were positioned just enough closer to the inner room door to make out some of the words coming from the other side…
Zedd read the line from the book again: 'the power of love is your only protection.' The last time Richard had heard anything like that, he'd been reading the Book of Counted Shadows, realizing he had to be Confessed to temper the power of Orden. He couldn't imagine how it applied here. "Is that saying a Confessor must seal the portal?"
Kahlan was up and walking toward the wizard in a heartbeat. She wanted to know what needed to be done. Richard reached out and snatched her arm in an instant, pulling her to a halt. He had kept his eyes fixed on Zedd, but Kahlan could see the storm inside him about to erupt.
Kahlan knew that Shota's vision, though vague, left no question as to the outcome for the one who closed the gateway: Death was a certainty. If the choice was between her or her daughter – it was going to be her. Richard would do no less himself. Kahlan started to protest, "Richard if – "
He held up a finger to silence her, unable speak past the pain within him. He knew his wife all too well and he would have none of it. Since the day he'd met her she had always put his life before his, risking herself before letting harm come to him. Now she was doing it with their daughter. He struggled to keep his tone in check, "We'll find another way Kahlan."
Taralynn had sensed her parent's tension and though her Mother's face held the blank expression of a Confessor, it was easy to see her father's anguish. He had tried to hide it but he didn't have a lifetime of training like her mother. "Sleep well" he said as he laid a strong hand to her head and kissed her good-night. She noticed her mother's grip on his arm tighten as if she needed support just to stand. Her father responded, taking her hand in his as they quietly left the room.
Kahlan's knees gave out the moment they closed the door behind them. Richard's iron grasp around her waist kept her on her feet as she buried her face in his chest. "Richard, what are we going to do?"
He tightened his hold, pressing lips to brow, "It'll be alright, Kahlan" he whispered. He wasn't yet sure how, but he knew he had to find a way.
She nodded against him in agreement, fighting the tears, finding strength in his embrace. "It has to be."
Fitful and unable to sleep, Taralynn slipped quietly from her bed. She knew she was at the center of all this turmoil…she didn't know how or understand why.
But she knew who did.
If she was going to do something, now was the time. It was late – her parents would be asleep, even Mistress Cara would have gone to bed by this late hour, leaving only the night guards in the hall.
The young confessor bit her lip, wondering if she was making a mistake but then quickly reached for her dress, pulling it over her head in place of her nightgown.
She teetered on a small wooden chair she'd moved to the window, peeking out into the darkness. It was up high, but not so high she wouldn't risk it. She climbed through and sat on the ledge for just a moment. There would be no going back. She eyed a nearby tree and with all of her effort, leapt to its branches.