A/N: This little story was inspired by "Something Blue" - one of my favorite episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Also in writing this I drew on many discussions we've had at Peoplespalace, as well as gaining inspiration from "Truth for Truth" by hrhrionastar and "Discord" by meridian_rose.
Going in Circles
"Wizard, we have crossed this same stream five times in the last two weeks . Everything's the same – the rocks, the trees, the trail," Cara huffed with impatience. "We are walking in circles."
"I know it looks that way, dear one. But we'll be fine as long as we keep following the map." Zedd's placid smile was maddening, as was the endearment. When had he started calling her that, anyway?
It set her teeth on edge.
Everything was setting her teeth on edge recently. Cara didn't know what was wrong, but she was feeling distinctly out of sorts.
Not herself at all.
"Let's move on, then," she ordered. "Maybe today I'll finally get us out of this cursed place."
Richard glanced over at her, brow furrowed with concern. "I wouldn't call this place cursed, Cara. It's quite lovely. Are you feeling all right? You seem a little – edgy."
That was an understatement.
The Seeker of Truth had once been an accomplished woods guide. He should have been as worried as she was about their lack of progress over the past fourteen days, yet instead appeared cheerfully oblivious to the fact that they were lost.
Fuming inwardly at the nonchalance of her companions, Cara reached for the smooth stone she had pocketed on their first day in the valley. The jewel had been lying in the riverbed, half-buried in the muck, when its gleam had caught her attention as she was kneeling to drink. Curious, and strangely drawn to the object, the Mord'Sith had pried it loose, noting the tiny symbols engraved into its surface. The object must have been worn once as an ornament, but the chain being rusty and broken, she tossed it aside.
Thinking that she would have Zedd examine it later, Cara had slipped the relic into the pocket of her leathers, and there it had remained. Every day she intended to bring the jewel to the wizard's attention, and every day she forgot. The more frequently she touched it, fondled it, the more reluctant she was to show it to any of the others.
She had found something that was completely hers, and for once, Cara didn't want to share.
As the day wore on, Cara kept recognizing landmarks they had passed days earlier and bringing them to Richard's attentions, fuming inwardly at his continued unconcern.
They wouldn't be in this predicament if Zedd hadn't been so taken in by that worthless map.
After the Keeper had been defeated, the wizard had obtained what his brother Thaddicus had assured him was a magical map, concocted for Zedd by his brother's underhanded cohort, Sebastion. Both men had promised that the scroll would guide them along the shortest route to their next destination. "It's a secret path – hidden by magic - through the Valley of Whedon," Zedd had crowed, so proud of his coup. "We'll have to keep our wits about us, but following it will save us days of travel."
Cara marveled at the Wizard's naïve trust in two men who had deceived him before, but arguing had proved to be a wasted effort.
Their company had descended into the blasted Valley of Whedon fourteen days past, and had been wandering aimlessly ever since. Each day after making camp, Zedd would study the map and declare that he knew where they had lost the way, promising that the morrow's trek would take them in the right direction. Richard and Kahlan would nod their heads in earnest agreement, Darken would sneer and Cara would roll her eyes. The next day, history would always repeat itself.
From this point on, Cara had decided, she would follow her instincts and ignore the damn map. The entire journey had been a mistake from the very beginning, but her warnings had gone unheeded by all but Darken, and , as it was known that he must have his own nefarious agenda, his opinions were generally disregarded as a matter of course.
After defeating the Keeper at the Pillars of Creation they had all been giddy with relief and triumph. In those first heady days of victory Cara had urged Richard to assert his leadership over D'Hara at the earliest opportunity. To her dismay, he refused to accept the title of Lord Rahl, insisting instead that they journey to Aydindril in order for Kahlan to assume her duties as the Mother Confessor. Zedd hadn't put up much of an argument, saying that it would be nice to visit the Wizard's Keep again.
So the Merry Band had set out for the Confessor's Palace, leaving D'Hara to fend for itself, but not daring to leave its previous ruler and resurrected servant of the Keeper behind to stir up trouble. After everything they had accomplished, admittedly with his assistance, it would have been folly to leave Darken Rahl in a position to attempt to use his meager remnant of loyal Mord'Sith to regain the throne.
Both Kahlan and Zedd had argued that Darken should be put to death, not only for his past crimes, but for the possible threat he could pose in the future, but Richard had been adamant. "He did help us, he fought beside us and he is my brother," the Seeker argued. "Darken might have acted out of selfish motives, but his actions still worked toward the greater good."
Nobody had asked Cara's opinion about the matter, and she wasn't entirely sure of how she would have responded. Loyalty and affection bound her to Richard and she accepted his decision, but was afraid Darken would be nothing but trouble. She thought it unwise to expect a man who had once wielded absolute power to be content to bend his knee to the Seeker – the younger brother who had been dogging his life for years.
Cara wished she could just hate Darken and be done with it. Instead, her feelings remained tangled and confused. She had once served him as loyally as she now served Richard. During those years the line between compulsion and attraction, pain and desire, had become hopelessly blurred. She had risen to pre-eminence among the Sisters of the Agiel under Darken's tutelage, had gained his confidence and trust, and borne him a son, a secret she still dared not share with her friends, and one she dreaded he would spill at the worst possible moment.
Ever since he had first joined them, in the devastated forest of the nightwisps, Darken had helped with the daily chores with a minimum of grumbling, had proved to be ferocious fighter, and, unfortunately, a constant thorn in everybody's side, fanning the flames of any disagreement, continually tossing around observations or tidbits of information in blatant attempts to set the friends at odds with each other. His riskiest jibes were always directed toward the Mother Confessor. Verbal fireworks and threats of bodily harm would inevitably ensue, with Cara acting as mediator, a position Kahlan abdicated where Darken was concerned. The Confessor freely admitted that her undying hatred for the man rendered her unable to be impartial.
Richard, Kahlan, and, to some extent, Zedd, seemed unable to follow Cara's advice when it came to Darken. When would they ever learn to ignore him rather than rising to the bait?
Advice that was easier for the Mord'Sith to provide than to follow.
At first she had wondered if Darken incessantly prodded his companions out of some devious scheme to regain power, then finally decided that he acted out of boredom and frustration. A man humiliated and defeated, Darken was so alone amidst their camaraderie that Cara occasionally felt a reluctant kinship with him. She, like the former Lord Rahl, would always be, at least to some extent, an outsider. Richard and Kahlan had each other, while Zedd looked on the couple as his surrogate children, reinforced by the fact that Richard was, in fact, his grandson.
While he enjoyed provoking Cara as much as he did the others, Darken would sometimes try to find common ground with her. Those were the moments she tried to avoid. The moments when Richard would be waxing eloquent about the injustice in the world and Darken would manage to catch Cara's eye with a wry smile. The moments when his lips would curve in a knowing smirk when Richard and Kahlan disappeared into the forest "to gather firewood" only to return later flushed, disheveled and empty handed.
Worst of all were the moments when Cara felt his burning stare scorching the back of her neck, when she could almost hear the silent question hanging in the air between them.
Why, after so many years of devotion, had she betrayed and destroyed him?
There were other times when, standing watch as the others slept, sensing Darken's gaze on her, Cara longed to ask her own questions.
What happened to my son – our son? Did he survive the war? Where is he? Will I ever see him? Did you ever tell him about me?
But the question she most wanted to ask was the one Darken would never be able to answer. The question that had haunted her since the day she and Richard had witnessed the future devastation wreaked by Darken and Kahlan's Confessor son.
Why did you choose her son over mine?
The duty of keeping Darken on a short leash had fallen to Cara out of an unspoken assumption that she was the best person for the task. Nobody had inquired if the task would be painful for her, and she would have denied it if they had.
But still – someone should have asked.
Every day wasted roaming through the Valley of Whedon, rudderless and without direction, she brooded on her grievances.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to contain her resentment at having her opinions about subjects not involving hunting, tracking or fighting routinely discounted. They all took her for granted. She was just Cara – fearless, reliable and ruthless, always ready to sacrifice her own life so that everybody else could be safe, fed and happy.
Every night the Mord'Sith stood guard over the wizard's sleep while Richard and Kahlan wandered off to consummate their epic love, forced to listen to their cries of passion while enduring the mocking presence of the man who had once desired her.
Cara tried to regain perspective. Richard, Kahlan and Zedd had given her so much, but over the past few days of trudging without direction, their growing childishness had begun to grate on her last nerve. They were always pulling at her, dragging on her, needing her – but they never listened to her about anything that mattered.
Would that ever change? And what was to be her new role once they arrived at Aydindril? Was she destined to always be an onlooker at the lives of others?
Absently she reached into her pocket and curled her fingers around the amulet. She liked the way it fit into the palm of her hand, as if it belonged there.
Preoccupied with the thanklessness of her companions, Cara plowed ahead through the forest, unmindful that she was leaving the others far behind.
"Cara – slow down. We can't keep up. Zedd needs to rest and eat." It was Richard, his voiced muffled by the heavy foliage.
Of course, when did the Wizard not have to stuff his face?
Ashamed of herself, Cara slowed her pace. She had to stop this pointless fretting.
Self-pity was contemptible.
This valley was affecting them all in some strange way, making her jumpy and irritable, while lulling her companions into a state of dreamy contentment. All except Darken, who had been quiet and morose over the past few days.
"Cara, wait up for us. " Richard's tone held a plaintive note as he struggled toward her through the underbrush with Kahlan and Zedd in tow. "Why were you walking so fast?"
Darken had already reached Cara's side, remaining uncharacteristically silent as the rest of their band straggled into the clearing. She couldn't help but notice the grim set of his jaw. Something was gnawing at him, too, but she was in no mood to listen to his complaints.
"We make camp here tonight," she said without preamble, throwing her pack to the ground. "Doesn't the glade look familiar? It should. We've spent the night here at least twice during the past week." She gestured over at the grey ashes left from a previous fire. Darken quirked an eyebrow in bemusement, but still said nothing. The rest of the group acted as if they hadn't heard.
"Zedd, do you think it's really urgent that we get to Aydindril? This valley is so beautiful. I don't see anything wrong with taking our time." Kahlan's voice was languid with promise as she gazed at Richard, who beamed back at her like a moon-struck calf. "The Confessor's Palace has stood for thousands of years, it will still be there no matter when we arrive."
"Kahlan's right," Richard chimed in, plopping down on the grass. "We deserve a little rest and relaxation. Cara is being such a slave driver." He reached up and plucked a ripe peach from an overhanging bough and bit into it, the juice running down his chin. "I don't care if we are walking in circles. This valley is a paradise - plenty of fresh water, trees practically dripping with fruit and forests teeming with game." He closed his eyes, his lips curving in a blissful smile. "Kahlan, wouldn't this be a wonderful place to raise a family? Why don't we just forget about Aydindril and build us a little cottage right here?"
"Oh, Richard," Kahlan chided with a soft laugh, surveying the clearing with a wistful expression, "you know we can't linger here forever. It is so lovely, though." She sank down next to him with a grateful sigh. "It would be nice to have a little time to ourselves."
Zedd had settled himself under a tree on the far side of the clearing, his hands already stained dark from the blackberries he was popping into his mouth. "That's a tempting idea, my boy. I haven't felt this spry in years. I'm sure I would have regained my youth by now If Mistress Cara didn't drive us on so relentlessly." His eyes glinted with wry humor as he looked over at the Mord'Sith.
"Zedd, help me convince Kahlan that we should stay here." Richard urged his grandfather. "We've saved the world. Isn't that enough? It's only fair that others take up the burden now. We've done our part."
Cara had heard enough. "You've already forsaken D'Hara, Lord Rahl." She noticed Darken's scowl at the use of his old title. "Do you plan on abandoning Aydindril and the Midlands, too?"
"That's not fair, Cara." Kahlan rushed to her lover's defense. "Dennee has been acting in my stead at the Confessor's Palace, and I'm certain that she would prefer that I not interfere. The more I consider it, the more I think my sister is better suited for the position than I am." Kahlan curled up against Richard's side, her head tucked beneath his chin, unmindful of the sticky peach juice matting her dark tresses.
Cara glared at the three of them, furious at how casually they shed their responsibilities. "Doesn't it seem strange to any of you we haven't seen any sign of human habitation since we entered this valley? The only ashes we find are our own from our previous camps. There are no worn paths, no broken arrow shafts, no cracked pottery – nothing. It's as if we are the first people to journey here."
Three pairs of eyes stared back at her in bewilderment.
"Why is that a problem? No soldiers, no needy people always begging for our help – it's perfect. I would think that even a Mord'Sith would be grateful to have an occasional break from slaughter." Richard's kind smile couldn't take the sting out of the words.
She tried not to bridle at the insult. Surely he hadn't meant to sound so condescending. "Just because there's no war or bloodshed here doesn't mean that the rest of the land is at peace. We don't know what's going on beyond the borders of this valley." Cara struggled to express her unease. "It's as if someone, or something, wants us to stay here and be cut off from the rest of the world."
"Now you're imagining things, Cara." There was no mistaking the condescension in Kahlan's voice. "We've defeated the Keeper. Our worries are over, most of them, anyway." The Confessor added, eyeing Darken with antipathy before relaxing back into Richard's embrace.
For just a second tension crackled through the clearing, then evaporated.
Cara found their behavior incomprehensible. Was she the only one who still understood the stakes involved, who realized that the battle would never be over.
Her fingers tightened around the amulet. It felt warm under her fingers, comforting..
Cara looked over to Darken, hoping for some support. "Why don't you help me for once? You know that we have to find a way out of here – and soon."
The former tyrant had been watching the conversation with a detachment bordering on disinterest, but now his eyes turned cold. "Why in the Creator's name would I do that?" he gave a harsh laugh. "I'm in no hurry to reach Aydindril. Why should I be?" Darken leveled a piercing stare at Kahlan. "I see a trial in my future once we arrive at the Confessor's Palace. Isn't that what you have planned for me, Mother Confessor?"
The peaceful lethargy that had enveloped the clearing vanished as Darken once again forced a confrontation, perhaps this time with legitimate cause. The air was again charged with tension and barely suppressed violence. Cara thought she heard the faint echo of laughter from the depths of the forest, but maybe it had only been inside her head.
"That can't be true! Richard wouldn't allow it," she blurted out. There had been no talk of bringing Darken to trial. Swept by a feeling of betrayal, Cara looked over at the woman she had believed to be her friend, but Kahlan's attention was focused on her enemy.
"My brother is not the final authority in the Midlands," Darken drawled. "But it wouldn't matter if he were. The Mother Confessor only has to promise him a taste of what she has between her legs, and he'll do anything she asks."
Richard sprang up, the Sword of Truth already drawn, glowing with the Seeker's rage. "Shut your filthy mouth!" his lips were curled back from his teeth. "If you lay one hand on her, I'll kill you! " Cara tried to block the attack, but Kahlan moved swiftly to shove the Mord'Sith out of the way. "Why are you protecting that monster?" she snapped at Cara. "Didn't you hear what he just said?"
"Don't let that demon goad you into doing anything rash, my boy." It was Zedd, calling from his comfortable perch under the branches. He sounded unconcerned that the fragile truce between their little band was quickly unraveling.
The tip of Richard's blade pricked Darken's neck, drawing a thin line of blood. "I'm more concerned about what the Mother Confessor will do once she gets her hands on me, brother," he snarled. "I don't want your precious Kahlan. You're welcome to her. But I did believe that you and I had an agreement to let bygones be bygones."
Darken's voice dripped with bitterness as he regarded his brother. "Tell me, have the two of you been plotting my death during your little trysts in the forest? As I recall, you bonded so romantically when you destroyed me in West Granthia."
"Bygones!" Kahlan hissed, stalking over to her arch-nemesis. "You are guilty of slaughtering thousands of innocents. You almost destroyed the line of Confessors. You sent your minions to kill my sister!" Her voice broke and she struggled to regain her composure, not noticing how white and still Cara had gone. "You are a cold-blooded mass murderer, and I will see youtried for your crimes." Hatred overcame grief as she brought her face to within inches of his.
"I will see you burn."
"Kahlan, why didn't you tell me about this?" Richard voice was beginning to waver with uncertainty as he lowered his sword. Darken remained very still, his eyes fixed on the Mother Confessor's. "We always said we would never keep secrets from each other."
"You're too soft-hearted," Kahlan's voice was brisk with certainty. "Always too eager to believe the best of people. You have to trust me, Richard. There are some people who can't be saved, and shouldn't be spared. It's weakness to think otherwise." She stood straight and tall, the very epitome of stern justice, as her voice rang out in the clearing.
"And you would know all about the best and the worst in people, wouldn't you, Kahlan?" Darken taunted. "How many lives have you destroyed? You are such a hypocrite."
With a low cry, Kahlan pulled her daggers and lunged as Cara threw herself between them, grabbing Darken from behind and taking him to the ground. Shielding him with her body, the Mord'Sith reached for her agiels as she turned to face the Confessor.
"Cara – stop! What are you doing?" It was Zedd, finally disturbed enough by the commotion to amble over to appraise the situation, his mouth full of persimmon.
"What am I doing?" Cara jumped to her feet, outraged at the injustice. "I'm trying to stop us from killing each other."
How dare the Wizard blame her! He always assumed she was at fault – or Darken.
She turned on him. "If you're not going to help, Zedd, just keep stuffing your belly full of food until you explode?"
Zedd blinked in surprise and started to speak, but then seemed to reconsider. "Now that you mention it, I'm famished." Without another word, he turned and walked away. Cara bit back a wave of hurt. If he wasn't going to intervene, then it was up to her to stop this debacle
"Rahl is not one of us," Kahlan shouted at her. "He's never been one of us, he never will be. Whose side are you on, Cara, his or ours?
"Kahlan, maybe you should just calm down and we can– " Richard tried to interject, but was cut off by the Confessor's accusations.
"You're finally showing your true loyalties, aren't you, Mistress Cara? How typical for a Mord'Sith! I warned Richard from the very beginning that bringing you along was a mistake. I should never have trusted you."
Kahlan's words struck Cara like a blow.
One of us has to stay in control, she thought, struggling for calm. "Darken fought with us at the Pillars of Creation, Kahlan. He risked his life even knowing what it would mean if he were sent back to the Keeper." She kept her voice level, as if soothing a wild creature.
While the two women confronted each other, Darken had scrambled back to his feet, waving away Richard's proffered hand, the same hand that had held a blade to his brother's throat only moments before.
"Rahl was the Keeper's most devoted servant until he realized he was only a glorified slave. He never cared about saving the world, only about saving his own skin." Kahlan's eyes glittered with disgust as her gaze returned to the true object of her rage.
"You gave me a second chance, even after you knew about the things I had done." Cara tried to reason with her friend. "Richard's willing to give Darken a second chance, why can't you?"
"That was different," Kahlan was in no mood to listen. "You didn't have any choice about being his puppet." Her expression hardened.
"I was not a puppet." Cara's throat tightened with anger. Kahlan would never understand what it meant to be Mord'Sith . Her palm tingled as she gripped the amulet. Instinctively, her fingers began tracing the runes etched into its surface, the sensation shooting up her arm and into her chest, like the burning magic of the agiel, but more powerful, more intoxicating.
The Mother Confessor's glare was once again focused on Darken. Striding over to where he stood by his brother, she challenged Richard, dropping any pretense of the soft, pliant lover. "You can't have both of us in your life, Richard. You and I belong together – we've known it from the beginning. Don't let Rahl ruin it for us. As long as he lives we can never be free of the past. He must pay for what he's done."
"Kahlan, I love you more than anything in life, but this just doesn't seem - right." Richard's countenance was clouded by doubt. "And we were all so happy just a few minutes ago," he added in a wistful voice.
Darken snorted in derision at his brother's weakness. "So much for your vaunted integrity, Seeker," he scoffed. "Maybe I should have tried to take back my throne instead of trusting you."
The Confessor rounded on him, daggers still drawn. "You beast," she hissed. "I'm not going to wait until we get to Aydindril. We're going to finish this right now."
Darken's breath quickened, eyes glinting with anticipation as she advanced. "You might not find me so easy to defeat, Kahlan, even without my magic – or my dagger, but I wouldn't dream of turning down a chance to roll around in the grass with you."
"Don't you even think about touching her," Richard yelled, his mood swinging back against his brother once again.
Cara looked on, frozen to the spot, as the anger pulsed through her body.
This was going to end now.
She was sick of their never-ending war.
Look at the two of them!
Darken and Kahlan claimed to hate each other, but whenever they came together it was if everybody else in the world ceased to exist, each striking sparks off the other.
It infuriated her.
It hurt in ways Cara couldn't begin to explain.
They belong together! A malicious voice chuckled into her ear.
Why don't you remind them of what they once meant to each other?
"How could you want to murder your own husband, Kahlan?
It was a nasty blow, unworthy of her. Cara knew it and didn't care. She had no idea of what Darken and Kahlan's wedded life had been like in that time that never was, only that their union had spawned a Confessor child who had destroyed everything in his path.
"Cara, No!" Kahlan's eyes filled with horror, her hunger for vengeance forgotten in the face of the Mord'Sith's quiet threat. "Please don't. It didn't really happen. It wasn't real."
"You were married to Darken Rahl – for years." Cara was inexorable. She was tired of Kahlan's self-righteousness. "Richard and I told you all about it. I think you remember more than you let on. For all I know the two of you were very happy together. Maybe that's why you still can't stay away from him" She was gripping the amulet so tightly her hand had gone numb, she could feel a tickling under her skin, through her veins.
"They weren't happy together. How could you even think that?" Richard couldn't keep silent at such blasphemy. "She was miserable. Weren't you, Kahlan?" He crossed the clearing and pulled the Confessor into a tight embrace.
"Yes, I was miserable!" Kahlan said, her voice muffled against the Seeker's stalwart shoulder. "I mean, I don't remember, but I'm sure it was a nightmare."
"We all know how brave Kahlan was during that - incident – and we agreed that it would never, ever, be brought up again." Richard shot a warning look at the Mord'Sith.
"Please, Cara. You promised that nobody would ever know." Kahlan wailed. Her daggers lay forgotten at her feet. "I'm sorry I said all those terrible things about you – I didn't mean them." Cara's only response was to retrieve the Confessor's weapons while she had the chance, slipping them under her belt. She wished she could confiscate the Sword of Truth, but could only hope that Richard would show a little common sense.
"Am I supposed to know what all of you are talking about, or is this a game?" Darken asked, studying each of them in turn, suspicious and confused. Finally, his gaze settled on Kahlan. "The Mother Confessor and I were never married. I would have to be a fool to wed my greatest enemy."
Even now, he can't tear his eyes away from her.
You're the one who is trying to help him, and he doesn't even look at you. It was that voice again, mocking, laughing.
Cara's throat tightened with anger. "You are fools –both of you," she growled. "So fixated on each other that you might as well be married even now. Maybe if you were, the rest of us could get some peace."
Without another word, the Mord'Sith turned on her heel and marched away, leaving them to sort things out on their own. If they didn't want her help, so be it.