Nine months later, Nicholas is born.

Kahlan resists as long as she can, but she is a mother first, and she cradles him against her breast, and tells herself the rules don't apply, not in her case.

The first few months are a whirlwind of caring for Nicholas, of course—no matter how many nurses and tutors and servants Darken chooses to employ for the little prince, Kahlan is never truly easy when her son is out of her sight.

She's not sure whether to be more afraid for him, her child, her hope for the future—or everyone else, the innocents he will no doubt hurt, as is his nature, as a male Confessor.

She tries to tell herself the D'Harans aren't innocent, but she was trained to judge people, and she admits to a grudging admiration for that ceaseless courage and respect—her husband's soldiers were once (and are still, she tells her treacherous heart) her worst enemies, yet they afford her all the marks of her new authority, as their Queen.

It's…unsettling, particularly since she knows perfectly well she has no power. She despises herself for thinking this is better than languishing in a dungeon, even if she still sleeps alone…

(Not that she misses those nights with Darken, desperately trying to get pregnant so that Richard can return—)

And then one day, when Nicholas is taking his afternoon nap and peacefulness seems to have descended on the entire Palace, Kahlan paces up and down her rooms restlessly, willing herself not to dwell on memories that can only confuse her and divert her from her purpose.

I know what I need, she realizes with a sudden jolt, a really good sparring session! It's been so long since she fought for her life (physically, anyway) and Kahlan hates the thought that she's losing her edge—she won't turn into the perfectly coiffed and perfectly useless lady it would be so easy to become, now that she wears slippers instead of boots.

She hasn't seen her daggers since the night Richard disappeared, of course, but it isn't as though, short of locking her in her rooms, Darken could ever keep weapons wholly out of her grasp, uneasy peace or not. The People's Palace was once a fortress, and Kahlan still gets chills sometimes, studying tapestries and picturing wars even more terrible than any she's lived through.

She wanders the corridors, thinking about finding Darken—but that's just going to end one way; I can't kill him, that would ruin everything—not that he'd give me the chance—and in the heat of the moment, I might—

Kahlan squeezes her eyes shut and makes herself picture Richard—she isn't getting his smile exactly right, and she struggles with it for what seems like forever—

"Oh!" Kahlan's eyes fly open as she turns a corner and bumps into someone—smooth leather against her velvet gown (too bad the material is so thick…)—"Dahlia!"

"My Lady," Dahlia acknowledges, stepping back respectfully. If she weren't a Mord'Sith, Kahlan surmises she might even apologize, although the collision was all Kahlan's fault.

Kahlan looks Dahlia up and down, unconsciously relaxing—knots of tension she didn't know she had disappear, and she tosses her elaborately curled hair over her shoulder and smiles, because things are finally going her way.

"Dahlia," she says warmly, "Would you help me with something?"

At first, Dahlia worries Lady Rahl wants her to babysit little Lord Nicholas. Not that she isn't thrilled Lord Rahl has his heir (even if there's a part of her that still feels Cara deserved the honor—her son could have been—if it hadn't been for—but that is in the past), but she isn't much for children.

Besides, the boy has a good dozen nurses and other miscellaneous minions hanging on his every gurgle and wail, just as though they were already Confessed. (When do Confessors get their powers? She must remember to watch for that.)

"My Lady?" she asks, letting none of these thoughts show on her face.

But when she hears Lady Rahl's request, Dahlia permits herself to raise her eyebrows. "You want me to…train you?" she asks doubtfully. Not without Lord Rahl's permission—although the prospect does have a certain appeal…I know I can make her scream.

"No, I want you to practice with me," Lady Rahl smiles, her lack of anger at Dahlia's suggestion surreal. She links her arm with Dahlia's and pulls her along the corridors. "Where can we go?"

Dahlia's first thought is that her Sisters can't find out about this—unless she can turn being at the beck and call of Lord Rahl's Confessor bride into an advantage, somehow—so they can't go down to the Mord'Sith Headquarters. "The northern courtyard will be deserted," she says, "but you can't be serious—you're a Lady."

If Dahlia harms one hair on Lady Rahl's head—Lord Rahl was very specific.

But Lady Rahl once fought daily for her life, and life in the Palace, periodic assassins or not, can't compare to the adrenaline rush, knowing it's just you against the world—if you like that sort of thing.

Lady Rahl is out of practice, but it's really something to see, watching her fight in her heavy, billowing skirts, swift and graceful as she shouldn't be able to be. They don't use weapons at first, simple hand-to-hand—

Following the forms she knows backwards and forwards, Dahlia meets Lady Rahl's every move. Dahlia's style is defensive, a technique she perfected sparring with Cara and her other Sisters, none of whom will ever give an inch.

In contrast, Lady Rahl is definitely offensive, pressing every advantage—in the sheer joy of the struggle, her eyes light with a warm fire, and Dahlia responds instinctively, drawing her agiels and grinning.

Something changes in their fight—where before they were each careful not to so much as bruise, more dancing than sparring, now Lady Rahl becomes a whirlwind, her hair slipping out of its coiffure in dark wisps, her trained strength returning to her—Dahlia lets her agiels find Lady Rahl's skin, burning through her ridiculous velvet gown—

Lady Rahl is a Confessor, and Dahlia is a Mord'Sith. No matter how politely this was begun, there is only one way it can end.

What could be seconds or hours later, they both stop, standing absolutely still, their breath rasping—Lady Rahl's hand is around Dahlia's throat, nails digging into the soft skin above her neckguard, and Dahlia's agiel hovers inches from Lady Rahl's chest.

Their eyes meet, and Dahlia forces hers to be as opaque as a mirror, giving nothing away. Lady Rahl can't Confess her—she still wears the Rada'Han. But if she starts squeezing Dahlia's throat—

It would be so easy, to close the distance, press her agiel against her Lady's heart—but it's not as though Lord Rahl would let her death be quick, after that. (Why does Lady Rahl mean so much to him? Dahlia thinks she knows.)

She moves first, sheathing her agiel and standing passive in Lady Rahl's grasp.

Lady Rahl's eyes are very blue—like pieces of the sky. Dahlia watches, and waits.

Impossibly, Lady Rahl seems to move closer, swaying toward Dahlia, lips parting—Dahlia feels her own blood heating with something sweeter than the joy of battle, although similar—if Lady Rahl is thinking what Dahlia is, she's not so far from a Mord'Sith as she would have the people believe.

But then her expression closes, and she steps back, releasing Dahlia—she picks up her skirts and runs from the courtyard, as though she believes she's pursued by all the armies of the Keeper.

Dahlia watches thoughtfully, until Lady Rahl disappears.

Darken sits in his study, going over reports from his soldiers and his Mord'Sith…there is nothing urgent, no special crisis crying out for his attention. The peace, cemented with his and Kahlan's marriage, is real.

If only life inside his Palace were as calm as outside it…or perhaps not. Darken doesn't want calm, but he does want something, and just because he's let Kahlan withdraw somewhat, their conversations almost always about Nicholas—she spends her days in the nursery, and her nights alone in her rooms—doesn't mean he's given up on convincing her to be his Queen in every way.

He doesn't know whom she thinks she's kidding, never giving orders to his servants. She's the Mother Confessor—she can't fool him into thinking she's some peasant girl, lost in his Palace.

It is…irritating, how much she fills his thoughts. But she is his Queen, the mother of his son…it cannot be otherwise.

The door opens; Darken's hand goes immediately to the spare dagger always on his person, because peace or not, there's no need to take chances, but it's only Dahlia.

She waits respectfully in the doorway, fist over her heart, until he waves her inside, with one languid hand.

"Well?" he asks.

Once, Dahlia told him of Cara's secret fears, protecting her Mistress the best way she could. Now, she has fallen into the same role in relation to Kahlan—certainly better suited to it than Kahlan's maid, a pathetic young woman whom Darken would find irritating if he bothered to notice her.

But when he made Kahlan his Queen, it wasn't just a courtesy title; she is surely free to choose her own servants.

Dahlia scowls, before her expression melts back into the perfectly guarded blankness of the Mord'Sith. "I think," she says, clearly torn between admiration and annoyance, "that she wants to be friends."

Darken blinks; friends are not a concept a man raised as he has been readily understands. Allies, lovers, servants, soldiers…but friends?

Given Kahlan's need for touch, for understanding, perhaps it makes sense; nonetheless, Darken is jealous that she doesn't come to him for her 'friendship.' Or are these things better left between women? He never let knowledge of Cara's friendship with Dahlia bother him—the situation is almost eerily similar.

"I trust," he says mildly, "that you obliged her."

"Of course," Dahlia replies, opening her eyes very wide. "As my Lord commands."

There's a smirk lurking at the corners of her utterly impassive red bow of a mouth, and Darken growls, rising from his chair and neglecting his paperwork, slipping an arm around Dahlia's waist and drawing one of her agiels…

Its power hums through him, and she drops into a fighting crouch, her smirk daring to become visible now…

Peace may be breaking out all over the land, but they both need a little violence, now and again.

Dahlia may not question Darken the way Cara did (and why can't he stop comparing them?) but she knows him perhaps even better—her silences are deceptive. But her loyalty is absolute—Kahlan couldn't be in better hands.

Maybe, with Dahlia's help, Darken can be patient.

He has his family at last—he has Nicholas, a gift he can never deserve.

(Not after what happened to Cara's son…)

But with the Seeker's death (the Sword of Truth hanging like a trophy on Darken's stone wall), perhaps his luck has finally changed.

He lets himself forget it all, lost in the moment—he and Dahlia wear matching, sharp-edged smiles.