Kahlan stood tall at the edge of the square, determined to stay strong. Looking down to the streets below, she watched as he made his way closer. Above the din of the city, Richard's throaty laugh rose through the air to meet her ears, tugging at her heart. It seemed forever since she'd last seen him, and as he lifted his son up into his arms, she realized it had been. The boy was young, less than two, but it was already clear he adored his father. As Richard hugged him tight, Kahlan saw that adoration returned. At his side was Anna, a tiny newborn babe held close to her breast. Even from this distance Kahlan could see her shapely form, still full and curvaceous from recent motherhood, and looking simply radiant as Richard beamed at her with love.
They stopped at the bottom of the gleaming white steps leading up to the Confessor's Palace…up to Kahlan, allowing Richard to hand his son to a woman who had traveled with them. From her features Kahlan guessed her to be Anna's sister. With his arm now secure around his wife and a steady hand at her waist, they ascended the stairs.
Wearing the resolute mask of a Confessor, Kahlan fought to choke back the cry struggling to break free. She wanted nothing more than to flee to the safety of her room and wallow in her agony…to escape to the privacy of her chamber, where, like on so many countless nights before, her shattered heart could mourn in secret, her wracking sobs unheard.
Instead, when they at last reached the top and he stood before her, she smiled a small smile. Not the one she used to give him – the one she gave to none but him – that smile was gone forever. No, this was the dutiful smile she'd been trained to give, the one afforded to dignitaries and distant nobles. It felt so strange to use it now...with him. She knew, though that the other would have seemed more out of place than this. "Welcome" she greeted more coolly than intended. She checked herself, forcing a warmer tone, "It's good to see you." Her eyes did not match her words, holding a flatness that betrayed her emotions. Anna didn't seem to notice, though Richard showed a pang of regret. Kahlan wondered if he now wished he'd thought better of coming.
"Hello, Mother Confessor" he said respectfully. How strange to hear him call her that. Would he not even grant her the pleasure of once more hearing her name on his lips? Kahlan supposed it was for the best. Even after all this time her grief was still raw and any hint of an affinity between them would rip the tender wounds afresh.
Richard turned toward his wife, gesturing to the child in her arms, his glow returned. "This is our daughter, Taralynn; two months old, tomorrow." The light in Richard's eyes shone brighter than she ever remembered seeing. Fatherhood agreed with him. Kahlan's heart ached at seeing the familiarity of his touch as he put a reassuring hand to Anna's back…how smoothly it glided up her spine, disappearing beneath a mass of thick, brown ringlets.
Anna dipped her knee in greeting, "It's a pleasure, Mother Confessor."
Richard smiled his approval before turning to the woman just off to their side, the one he'd tasked with holding the boy. "This is Sarah, Anna's cousin; and our son, Michael Cypher."
She had already known it to be true, but hearing the words made Kahlan feel as if she'd been thrust off a cliff. Plummeting endlessly, she longed to hit bottom for the sweet release of death. She struggled to breathe; to keep from showing her pain. No matter what their feelings had once been for one another, no matter if Richard ever had found a way around her magic – that was the one thing she could never, ever, give him.
She tried to speak but it wouldn't come. Calling on every ounce of duty and decorum she'd ever known she tried again, swallowing through the anguish. "I'm…so…happy for you" she managed at last. It wasn't a total lie. Some small part of her was happy…happy that Richard had found the joy she had always wanted him to have. The joy she wished with all her heart she could have given him.
They had tried some years back – after he'd sealed the Veil and they'd returned to Aydindril. Richard had quickly denied the title of Lord Rahl, wanting only to live a 'normal life' in peace. He'd never found a way around Kahlan's Confessor magic, and, as the months ticked by, her need to take a mate and continue the line became increasingly clear. It was in the heart of a bitter winter that Richard had eventually decided to go back to Westland and forge a new life, perhaps picking up the pieces of the old. Though it hadn't been his intention, Kahlan knew it was possible that Anna would once more grace his life. That was nearly four years ago. Richard had soon written to her of his rekindled love and again when they were married and his children were born. His letters had gone unanswered, save for the cordial gifts she'd sent following the births.
Standing before each other now, in all the majesty and splendor of Aydindril, an awkward quiet fell among them. Richard finally looked to the man standing just behind Kahlan. Clearly an afterthought, Kahlan gestured to him, "This is William: My mate." Dark hair and beard, he was brawny and tall with the hardened look of a warrior: A wise choice for a Confessor. Richard greeted him, though it was obvious by the adoration in the man's eyes that it made no difference to him who was there, save for his Mistress. Kahlan's hands went to the small swell of her belly, "Aliyah will be here by Autumn." She felt guilty for the sadness that haunted her at speaking that fact aloud. She loved her daughters; they were the only light in her now barren life. Still…had they been Richard's daughters…
"Her sisters are napping now. Perhaps you'll meet them later."
"I'd like that very much" Anna said and Kahlan could see she was sincere.
"We'll be staying on for a few days" Richard added. "Anna's never seen a big city like Aydindril. I'd like to show her around some before we continue on." Richard had written that he and his family were traveling to see Zedd, who had yet to meet his great-grandchildren. After the Keeper had been defeated, the old wizard had taken up residence with his brother, Thaddicus, hoping to restore the fragile bond between them.
Kahlan remembered the loneliness she'd felt that dreadful winter. Cara had left along with Zedd, saying she would return to the People's Palace. Her plan was to protect the throne until Richard came to his senses and rightfully claimed it. They had all been like family to her but when Richard had left soon after, her heart – her life – her world, had gone too. Never had she felt such devastation and despair.
In the past, no matter where their travels had taken them, no matter how dangerous or horrifying things seemed to be, she always felt a certain peace as long as Richard was by her side. Wherever they were, as long as he was with her, she always felt she was home. Now, even in Aydindril she felt like a stranger, isolated and alone.
She'd lost count of the number of times she'd silently thanked her mother for teaching her to uphold the weight of duty. The pain of losing Richard was more than she could bear and the torment of knowing he'd found love with another ripped her soul into a million little pieces. Without her mother's training she would never have survived.
Kahlan had always believed that one day Richard would find a way for them to be together. He never had. Even so, before he'd gone, she'd always thought they would at least be together in the Underworld. How often she had looked forward to death… Now she didn't even have that.
Kahlan had cursed the good spirits so many nights, but, today…seeing him before her, here with his family…it seemed perhaps the fates had aligned after all, giving him what he truly deserved: A wife. A Family. A son. Kahlan felt the lump rising in her throat and choked it back down. "Please, you're welcome to stay in the palace. I've had a suite of rooms arranged for you."
"Thank you, Mother Confessor, we'd like that." Richard glanced toward the towering Keep, silent and foreboding on the hillside. "I'd like to go in if you don't mind. Is it still there?"
Kahlan knew the 'it' he was referring to was the Sword of Truth. Richard had not only rejected the throne of D'Hara, he'd relinquished his sword and the title of Seeker. The weapon remained in the Keep until a Wizard of the First Order named the next Seeker, if one was ever even needed again.
Kahlan nodded. "It's still there. And yes, you're free to go wherever you wish. You know the Keep well enough to avoid its dangers. Anywhere you'd like to go is open to you." With that, Kahlan had a trusted aide show them to their rooms. Anna was grateful, noting that the children were in need of their naps and perhaps they could all use some rest from the journey.
Kahlan squared her shoulders, standing erect as she watched them disappear down the hall, Richard's arm lovingly wrapped around his wife's waist.
Kahlan's pillow did little to muffle her wretched sobs. When Richard had left Aydindril she'd thought she'd cried every drop she could ever shed. Her bitter tears rained every night for what seemed an eternity and when they finally ceased to come she mourned him without them. She hadn't even wept when Dennee had passed more than two years after he'd gone. She just didn't have it in her.
William came and knelt beside the bed, asking if she was alright. He was grieved at seeing his mistress so distressed. "Yes, William. It pleases me to cry this way. Go back to your bed now and stay quiet." Her mate had his own bed in the outer room of her chambers, his close presence kept for protection of her and her daughters.
Kahlan didn't go to dinner that night in the palace dining room, knowing Richard and his family would be there, instead sending Agatha to offer her apologies, saying her condition had her feeling under the weather. It had long been dark and still she sobbed, praying for the relief of sleep.
The next morning brought the freshness of spring helping to lift Kahlan's spirits. She knew each passing day meant she was one day closer to Richard leaving. She didn't know if that made her happy or sad.
Unable to put it off any longer, she gathered her girls to take them to breakfast. Kahlan heard Richard's hearty laugh before she even entered the room and despite the sinking feeling in her heart, she smiled as she stepped through the door.
"Well who do we have here?" Anna grinned, getting up from the table.
The thought of introductions left Kahlan feeling more and more anxious…she'd never expected Richard to actually ever meet her daughters. For a moment Kahlan wished she could run but reason told her it was best to do it quick and be done with it.
"May I?" Anna asked, extending her arms to the youngest one in Kahlan's arms. Kahlan willingly handed her over.
"This is Rachel." She twisted her fingers together, trying to think of a way out. "She's thirteen months" she added, trying to stall. Dread roiled her insides.
Richard went to Agatha who'd come carrying the other young Confessor, Kahlan's firstborn. "And who's this?" he said, taking her from the woman's arms with a comfort and ease that surprised her.
There was no avoiding it. Kahlan looked at him a moment, the wisp of a forlorn smile on her lips. "That's Taralynn. She's almost three."
Richard looked at her with questioning surprise. "You named her after my mother?"
Kahlan felt the tears prick at her eyes, but thankfully got them under control. "Zedd was like family to me." She knew that wasn't really the reason, but, at the moment, it was all she could offer.
He seemed to accept her explanation and carried the girl over to his own daughter. "You two can be like sisters…Two sister's named Taralynn…forever linked." He smiled a boyish grin up at Kahlan and she lost all resolve. Turning on her heels she fled from the room, her choking sobs echoing down the hall.
How could he be so blind? Did she mean so little to him that he'd forgotten all they'd been through? Richard seemed to carry on with life as if she'd hardly ever existed. Kahlan cursed her powers. If not for her magic he'd never have gone back to Westland – to Anna. It wasn't fair that she alone had to continue the Confessor line. Kahlan spent the day in abject misery, alone in her gardens, pleading with the Creator to take away her pain. Soon he would be leaving, taking his stupid smile with him. She pictured it in her mind, knowing it would be lost to her forever. How could she survive without him? She couldn't bear the thought of never seeing him again, yet it tortured her to be in his presence. Anguish crushed her heart. "Dear spirits," she sobbed, "why must you torment me so?"
At long last Kahlan regained some of her wits, her tears subsiding. When she finally looked up and wiped her eyes, twilight was setting in.
Making her way through the gardens to go back to her room, Kahlan heard muffled voices and laughter. Pushing aside the branch of a blossoming cherry, she saw Richard and Anna lying beneath a row of flowering dogwoods. Anna was giggling at something he'd said, oblivious to her as they enjoyed a quiet moment alone. Kahlan couldn't bear to watch them together like this but she couldn't make her eyes look away. Anna had her head against Richard's shoulder as they lay in the grass, and she leaned in close to whisper something in his ear. Kahlan couldn't hear what she'd said, but Richard rewarded her with a positively fiery kiss. Seeing his ardent response surpassed the pain of anything she'd previously felt, tearing at her soul like never before. Kahlan's eyes flooded with tears but still her feet wouldn't move. When Richard's hands began to roam his wife's body, Kahlan at long last broke free and fled.
Back in the safety of her room, William tried to console her. "Please mistress, how can I help you? Tell me what to do to ease your pain."
His presence only disgusted her more. She was bearing the children of a man she neither loved nor desired. They shared no quiet whispers, no walks among the trees or stolen moments of love. She shared nothing with him. How many countless times had she laid under him as he sweated above her, all so she could 'continue the line'?
Jealousy reared its ugly head, roaring with a vengeance. Kahlan wailed at the images in her mind – visions of Anna having Richard above her…at times, even under her. Anna wasn't forced to lay with some automaton brute…Richard was a passionate, loving man, filled with fire and intensity. Kahlan remembered the times he'd kissed her, how he'd held back, knowing they couldn't go too far. She had always longed to know his passion at its fullest. Visions of Richard sharing that passion with Anna threatened to crush her, strangling the very breath from her being.
William's anguished voice broke through her agony as he kneeled beside her, desperate to stop her tears, "Please Mistress, what do I do? Tell me how I can take this pain away from you!"
Only Richard could take away her pain – but Richard would never be hers. With sudden realization, Kahlan knew there was only one way to banish the agony she felt. She jerked around on the bed, sitting up to face her nightmare…her misery: her mate. She never felt anything but repulsed when she lay with him, but even that was better than what she was feeling now. Tonight she would use that to her advantage. Tonight he would be her savior. Her eyes flicked over his hulking form. "Yes, William, I will tell you, for only you can help me."
His face lit up delighted she had need of him and eager to do her bidding. "How may I serve you?"
Kahlan fixed him with a hard stare: "Make love to me."
William rushed to comply, fearful of displeasing his Mistress. He bumbled in close, awkwardly reaching for the laces of her dress. "Wait!" Kahlan quickly stopped him with a firm hand to his wrist. "Not like before…when you're afraid of me….But like never before." She roughly gripped at his beard pulling his mouth close to hers, her glare conveying the importance of her demand. "Make love to me with passion: Fierce, uncontrolled passion. I promise, I won't break."
Kahlan wept with pleasure. Or was it pain? She wasn't sure. William had been as ardent and fierce as she'd asked and all the while she had imagined Richard. William's lips had been like fire against her skin, kissing her with such hunger and desire it pulled her in deep, letting her get lost in the ecstasy. It was the first time she'd ever felt desire in being with him. Somewhere in the middle of it all she had rolled him under her, moving over him like she imagined Anna did with Richard. And when Kahlan closed her eyes she envisioned it was Richard who was beneath her. She did things she'd never done before. Arching her back, she'd let her hair fall down upon his thighs, relishing his hands on her as showed him just how much she loved him. She had lost herself so completely in the moment that she'd cried out Richard's name. For one brief moment it was she who was with Richard. Not Anna. It was she who was making love to him. It was she he was buried deep inside.
And it was she he loved more than life.
The pain rose up inside her again.
Zedd and Cara watched from the distant plain. "What's happening?" Cara could just make out Richard's form, hunched over Kahlan lying limp in his arms, far off in the Valley of Perdition.
"Her worst nightmare" the wizard replied.
"What do you mean?" Cara twisted her Agiel in her hands hungering for a physical threat she could point it at. She didn't know how to attack a vision.
Zedd had tried to stop Kahlan from entering the Valley, but she had seen Richard and rushed headlong into the desert, knowing full well it could cost her life. He knew it was her love for the Seeker that pushed her beyond reason.
The power of Perdition had taken her, sinking its vile claws into her mind just as Richard was emerging from his nightmare. His love for his Confessor had saved him and he was determined it would do the same for her. No sooner had he stepped free of the sands had he turned right back around to go after her.
His friends stood watch from the edge of the Valley as Richard pleaded for Kahlan to come back to him, covering her face with his kiss.
Kahlan pushed at the pain trying to take hold…the pain of knowing it had been William and not her Richard. Wanting only to prolong her make believe bliss, she held close to his arms, tight around her. She imagined it was Richard's mouth against her skin, kissing along her shoulders, neck, and face. She could feel the warmth of his lips and experienced a euphoria like she'd never known. She truly sensed she was in her Seeker's arms and she never wanted to leave. She felt the heat of desperate tears sting her cheek. "I love you, Richard" she whispered.
Richard's tender voice came back to her, "I love you, too, Kahlan. More than life, I love you."
Agony at hearing Richard's voice threatened to crush her. If only he were real. Kahlan clung to his words like they were a beacon in a dense fog. He spoke to her again, urging her to come to him…come home to him. With desperation she waded through the murky grayness, following his voice. Her insides felt like they were being ripped apart, still she struggled to reach him. "Please come back to me, Kahlan. I can't live without you."
Slowly she opened her eyes squinting against the light. It hurt to open them it was so bright. "What are you doing here?" she asked, confused. She wasn't quite sure where she was and she couldn't understand why Richard was here with her and not with Anna.
"Where else would I be but with you?" He could see she was disoriented and he continued to hold her as he wept, still gripped with the terror that he had lost her to the magic of the Valley.
Kahlan touched a hand to his face, her fingers tracing the path of his tears. He was the one who was crying. It was his tears she'd felt upon her cheek. "Where am I?"
Richard thought to tell her she was home – that anywhere they were together they were home, for that's how he truly felt. He swallowed through the thickness in his throat, relieved to have her back with him. "You're where you belong: Safe with me."
Kahlan's head was still a muddled mess. She knew magic had taken hold of her thoughts but she couldn't yet tell what had been real and what had been just a nightmare. "But…where's Anna?" she asked, desperate to make sense of it all.
Richard knew then that Kahlan's Perdition had been much like his own…her worst fears so very similar to his. Seeing the one you love give their heart to another was a pain beyond imagining. It grieved him that she'd had to endure it, but somehow he felt a fleeting tug of relief, knowing he meant as much to her as she did to him.
"There's only you, Kahlan" he whispered softly, stroking the length of her hair. "From the first moment I saw you, there's never been another. And there never will."
Her tears came then, tears of relief and joy at knowing it had all been the terrible magic that played tricks on her. "You're not married? You don't have children? A…son?" Kahlan felt a twist of pain at saying the last. Even without the torment of Perdition, a son was something she knew she could never give him.
Richard shook his head, gently taking her chin in his fingers and looked deep into her eyes. How easily he could get lost in them. He contemplated the pain it caused her to think she could never give him a boy. "The only thing that matters to me is that you are by my side, Kahlan. Nothing else." He leaned in closer, keeping his tone tender but firm, wanting to make sure she understood: "Nothing. Else." Her fingers curled into his hair when he touched his nose to hers, telling her in his softest whisper, "I can't survive without you. Not a single day."
Kahlan felt his warm lips on hers and she looked up at him through a watery blur. "But I'll never be able to give you a son, Richard…even if you do find a way for us to be together…" Richard's gentle fingers against her lips silenced any further notion.
He gave her that boyish grin she adored so much as he looked into her eyes. "I will find a way around your powers…and when I do, there's nothing I want more than a houseful of daughters."
Kahlan nearly cried out with happiness at realizing just how deeply he meant all that he said. The joy she had thought would never be hers filled her. He would find a way, she was sure of it. And when he did, she would give him all the daughters he could stand. She smiled then, the smile she thought had gone forever. The one she gave to none but him.