Darken sat in his favorite window seat, idly watching servants scurry about below in the grey light of false dawn.
It was his birthday. There was to be a grand celebration, as there was every year for the Lord that united the land, that brought peace.
It gave him no joy.
With a sigh, Darken reclined on the pillows in the window seat, putting his booted feet up on the cushions.
He had hoped with peace, with the end of war in the Midlands, would also come happiness. And yet, he was empty.
His marriage was a farce, the picture presented of Lord Rahl and his devoted queen nothing more than a wish, an illusion spun for the populace. They were a stained glass window, beautiful when the sun hit them, but ultimately brittle, as all glass.
Darken started, for once unaware of Kahlan's approach. Almost guiltily he removed his boots from the window seat, indicating she should take the seat across from him.
She stayed standing.
"I have told you, Kahlan, that you may call me by my given name."
She didn't answer, but clasped her hands before her, her knuckles turning white as she fought her natural inclination to twist them in worry. Darken recognized the pose – she had something of import to tell him, and was unsure of his reaction.
He paid more attention to his wife than she realized.
Stubbornly, Darken waited, refusing to draw whatever it was she had to say out of her.
"I have a birthday present for you," she finally said, a little catch in her voice that Darken had never heard before.
His brows shot into his hairline as he studied her, lips not quite twitching into a bitter smile, "You need not pretend now, Kahlan. No one is watching us. Why not give it to me at the ceremony later, so that the people may see how devoted we are to one another?"
He could not keep the sneer from his voice, and he wondered at himself.
Flustered, a red flush to her skin, Kahlan looked away, finally joining him at the window to observe the courtyard. She swallowed, "It's not for them. It's… private. I have something else to give you at the ceremony."
Shocked, a strange twisting in his gut that could be hope or despair, Darken reached across the space between them, gently turning Kahlan's chin with two fingers, forcing her to look at him, "Kahlan?"
She pulled a small velvet pouch from her sleeve, pressing it into his free hand. Darken took it, letting Kahlan go to tip the pouch into his hands.
It was his signet ring, the one he had had since his birth. Each Rahl was given a blank band, with runes and symbols added throughout their lives to celebrate their accomplishments. He had not known his was missing, having stopped wearing it long ago.
"I had our wizards update it," Kahlan said quietly, in an almost whisper.
Running his thumb over the band, Darken examined his ring. His successful military campaigns, his defeat of the Seeker, all were there.
But two things had been added.
The first was his marriage to Kahlan, an acknowledgment that he had never thought to receive from her. Catching her eye, he pressed the pad of his finger to the metal, to reinforce that it was real, that perhaps his wife was prepared to be his wife in more than name.
The next addition took his breath away, an unexpected turn of events. He should not be surprised, should not be so filled with wonder and… happiness?
And yet he was.
Engraved there, below the rune for marriage, was a simple, beautiful symbol.
It meant Father.
"Kahlan?" he choked, meeting her eyes.
"Happy Birthday, my lo – Darken."