Truth for Truth

They never left Cara alone with him. Darken Rahl, her once-lord and once-lover, the Master over whom she chose Richard.

Did they think Rahl could make her change her mind? (She hated thinking of him by his surname, as though Richard didn't share it, as though it was not an honor to serve the House of Rahl.)

At first, it hurt Cara the way all three of them hovered over her, waiting for her to break her word—but that was unjust. Richard trusted her, had always trusted her. She never doubted that he was worthy of her service, because, no matter how long it took them to find the Stone of Tears, no matter how foolishly he behaved, he was a good man. He had honor.

Richard walked with Rahl, visibly trying to be friends. Zedd seemed to be trying to keep out of the way. Kahlan had pulled Cara's arm through hers, in a way that said, quite clearly, that she wasn't letting go. (But was Kahlan trying to protect Cara from once more falling into Rahl's evil clutches, or was she using Cara as a shield for herself?)

And finally, the world was saved. Cara didn't know what Rahl hoped to accomplish by helping them, since she, for one, had found the Creator unimpressive, and the Keeper surprisingly dull, but she told herself she didn't care.

The only thing to focus on was protecting Richard, who was unlikely to relinquish the latest addition to his eclectic family. Did Rahl mean Richard harm? Cara almost hoped he did, because then at least her duty would be clear.

They never left Cara alone with him—until the morning after the Pillars of Creation, when Zedd went to get water and Richard and Kahlan disappeared for a 'walk.' Cara rolled her eyes, not knowing why they thought they were fooling anyone.

The moment they were alone, Cara standing idly beside a tree and telling herself she should be hunting, or fussing over the fire, or cleaning her leathers (anything to give herself occupation), and D—Rahl, sitting with his back to another tree across the clearing, still in that ridiculous peasant outfit—

It was as though the words had been trying to make it out past his sneering lips for months—he abandoned self-restraint, and asked, "Why did you betray me?"

"What," Cara replied, her voice hard and as even as she could make it, "did you do with my son?"

(She'd been feeling uneasy over his fate ever since she sent out scouts to find him, but then Triana disgraced her and cut off her braid and left her for Richard to adopt, as he would a stray kitten—every anxious villager, worried over the fate of his or her loved ones, had been a vicious reminder, but her duty came first. What would be the point of leaving Richard to fend for himself while she searched for her son, only to find Richard dead and the whole world doomed?)

Rahl held her eyes, and she remembered fighting by his side, remembered swearing oaths to him—they'd both taken them for granted—remembered his touch, and felt strangely disloyal to Richard and Kahlan…remembered all the things she'd tried so hard to forget.

"Do you remember Trelhinn?" he asked, his voice surprisingly gentle.

Cara's heart almost stopped, because she did remember Trelhinn. "No…" she whispered, even as she knew it to be true. She sunk to her knees, not even aware of the dirt and grass she ripped from the ground and let fall from her gloved fingers.

And then he was there, holding her in those strong arms, saying nothing. She didn't cry.

After a time, she made herself speak—she owed him grief for grief, at least. The truth. "There was another future," she said. "You married Kahlan. The prince was a Confessor. He destroyed everything. Our son was nowhere. I saved Richard."

She didn't look to see what his reaction to this account would be. It hardly mattered—whether he guessed at her anger, whether he still wanted Kahlan, whether his grief matched hers…it was too late. Already, when she and Richard were thrown into the future, her son had been dead.

"Get away from her!" It was Richard.

Cara scrambled to her feet, made unsure again. Darken rose more slowly, a sardonic gleam in his eyes. "My dear brother," he drawled, "do you imagine I could lay a hand on any Mord'Sith if she didn't wish me to?"

"You see," Kahlan said triumphantly. Her cheeks were flushed, her hair a mess—but Cara's instinct told her it was more the heat of battle than of passion. But Richard and Kahlan hardly ever fought. "He was hurting Cara—and now that we've defeated the Keeper, we don't need him anymore. He deserves to be executed for his crimes against the Midlands."

"What, again?" Darken said bitterly.

"Kahlan, he's my brother—" Richard protested.

"He wasn't hurting me," Cara said firmly, stepping between Kahlan and Darken. "You would just love an excuse to kill him, wouldn't you?"

She didn't look behind her; she could tell Darken would be looking a mix of surprised and pleased, because she could see Richard's expression almost mirroring his.

"I don't need an excuse!" Kahlan snapped. "I think a lot of dead people actually constitutes a reason! And Richard agrees!"

Richard opened his mouth, ready to object, and Darken said sardonically, "So, Richard, after discovering your love was pure and fated and wouldn't destroy your soul, you spent some time alone with your beautiful Confessor and…discussed me? Do we need to talk about the facts of life?"

Richard flushed, but Cara wasn't paying attention to him; her whole being was so saturated with fury she thought she must shake apart. But she wouldn't draw her agiels—she would die before she hurt Kahlan.

"That's not what you said when you put me on trial." She spoke softly, but she saw Kahlan flinch.

"That was Richard," Kahlan said. "I would have—" She stopped, clapping a hand over her mouth.

Cara ignored Kahlan's horror, aware already that the Confessor had only spared her life because of Richard. But why couldn't she see this was the same? If Kahlan really trusted her—

"I know you would have," Cara said, turning away. She stomped to the burning embers of their fire from last night, kicking dirt over it in preparation for going on. They'd already eaten breakfast—Zedd would back soon, and then they could move. Cara felt stifled here—she wanted the reassurance of at least the illusion of progress.

"Where shall we go, Lord Rahl?" she asked gruffly, not sure herself whether she was speaking to Richard or Darken.

She owed both of them her loyalty.

Richard was frowning. "Is there no one else?" he asked plaintively. "I don't know how to rule D'Hara."

"I do," Darken said readily.

Kahlan frowned at him. "Even if you deserve a second chance," she said grudgingly, "after all the trouble we went to, in order to depose you—"

"I suppose you'd like to see D'Hara an extended province of the Midlands, under your own rule, Mother Confessor?" Darken murmured mockingly.

"There is no one else. There is no heir. My son is dead."

Until Richard and Kahlan's shocked and horrified eyes met hers, Cara didn't realize she'd spoken aloud.

"Your son—?" they asked together.

"He was to be trained for the Dragon Corps," Darken said levelly. "On the day he was born, I sent him to Trelhinn. The Resistance destroyed it with Dragon's Breath, not long before you killed me, Richard. There were no survivors."

"And you knew nothing of this beforehand?" Kahlan asked, her eyes narrowed. Cara guessed she had heard the same guilt in Darken's voice that Cara had, but hated her accusing tone.

"You have no idea of my grief," Darken replied, stepping closer to Kahlan threateningly.

Richard held up helpless hands between them, looking miserable. Cara guessed he felt sorry for her, and almost preferred Kahlan's hostility to Richard's pity.

She hated the way Richard could make her feel weak.

"Cara," Kahlan said desperately, as though finding Darken not guilty of every crime possible would cause her physical pain, "you don't believe him—"

"I nearly always told the truth when I was evil," Cara said, with an attempt at lightness that failed miserably. She crossed her arms, watching Kahlan and Darken, and Richard caught in the middle, and quoted impassively, "'Everything will be all right.' 'Your parents will never let anything hurt you.' 'The banelings won't come to your village.' And 'there's no monster under the bed.' Yours are the lies."

There was a small silence, during which Cara could almost hear Richard and Kahlan thinking of what they told the people who begged for their help, thinking of what happened after they left—wondering how many of those people stayed rescued.

She met Darken's eyes, and read a question in them. She didn't know the answer.

The four of them were locked in some eerie tableau, and Cara pictured Zedd walking in on this and thinking they had all been turned to statues—

If I fall, will I break into a million pieces?

"'You can choose your own destiny,'" Richard quoted drily. His eyes were grave, but Cara read acceptance in them. Of course—Richard trusted her. Richard loved her. Richard loved everyone.

She didn't smile, but she felt less alone.

"'Of course your father loves you,'" Darken quoted. There was a trace of self-loathing in his voice. As always when Darken talked about, or rather didn't talk about, Panis Rahl, Cara felt her heart go out to him.

She had to believe he felt the loss of their son as keenly as she did.

With a sigh, Kahlan sank down on a tree stump, her skirts billowing gracefully around her. "'Just Confess this one more, baby,'" she quoted, "'and I swear, I'll never ask again.'"

Richard, looking relieved, went to Kahlan and hugged her, her face pressed against his chest, her eyes tightly shut. They looked…tired.

Cara swayed on her feet, feeling faint—Darken was by her side in an instant, one hand hooked through her arm in much the same way Kahlan liked to do. All at once, Cara knew she wanted to just go back to the way things were—life was so much simpler before she met Richard and Kahlan. Darken was the center of her world.

She still felt that pull, but it was different now—it was their son's life, a tenuous, ghostly bond that could never break. It was all the things he understood that Richard and Kahlan didn't—Cara wasn't even sure she wanted them to. It was a shared past, it was security that she craved, even as she rejected trying to fit once more into her old role—she was more than Mord'Sith now.

She put one hand to her head, pushing aside the short wisps of her hair, unable to tear her mind from the past.

Darken's fingers traced her lips, and her eyes snapped open—the gesture was so heartbreakingly familiar. But the ghosts in his cool blue eyes were new.

"Shall we—" Zedd broke off, no doubt surprised by the grief emanating from his companions. "Richard?" he asked, as they all turned toward him. Darken didn't loose his grip on Cara's arm. "We saved the world," he said jovially. "Now what?"

"Now," Richard said, tugging Kahlan to her feet. He was looking unusually grim. "We go to D'Hara and make the world really safe, for our children to grow up in."

"But Kahlan's duties in Aydindril—" Zedd protested.

"It's all right," Kahlan shrugged. "Dennee is there. And just think how long D'Hara has been without Confessors. My duty is to all people, Zedd—not just the ones wearing my colors."

That seemed to settle that. Uncharacteristically, Darken made no comment. Cara caught him gazing speculatively at Kahlan—was he thinking of what had happened when D'Hara had finally gotten Confessors?

This time, Richard and Kahlan walked together, talking quietly. And no one protested when Cara and Darken strode into the lead. The sun beat down on them, heating Cara's leathers. She welcomed the sensation, glad to be feeling anything at all.

She didn't know what was going to happen next—but her son would be proud of her. She prayed he basked in the Creator's Light.

(And vowed to find his murderers and make them wish for an easy death.)

"Thank you," she said at length.

Darken looked surprised. "For what?" he asked, sounding honestly confused.

"For telling me the truth."

It was the least they owed one another.

It was a beginning.