Chapter 25, Finding Home

"Glad you made it out alive, wizard." Though said in her customary acerbic tongue, Zedd knew Cara was sincere.

He also knew he was lucky to be alive, having survived the attack and ensuing flood only by chance. He'd taken the wounded into the mines where he could heal them and keep them safely hidden should the Matu return. Had Richard not come when he did….he shuddered to think about it. He turned toward her in his saddle, giving her a grandfatherly smile, "It was good to see you as well."

Nicci and Sarah shared a horse further back, all of them making their way to Aydindril, leading the D'Haran troops in tight formation with the Lord Rahl and Mother Confessor at its center.

Not willing to be more than an arm's reach of her, Richard rode with Kahlan in a wagon he'd commandeered from the village. He saw to it that she was comfortable, eager to have her home within the protection of the palace walls.

Before leaving Clover Hill, Kahlan had told him of her promise to Drogo, that she would see to it he was returned to the Bakai lands, and Richard made sure her promise was kept. He sent a fist of men to the desert lands with the chieftain's body and a message for Nateri how he had died.

The motion of the wagon jostled them back and forth as they made their way over the land but Kahlan hardly noticed, just happy to have Richard by her side. The slate gray sky dulled the sun, adding to the early winter chill and he pulled the blanket covering her up closer to her neck, tucking it snug around her. "You alright?" he asked with concern.

She looked into his soft, brown eyes, making a mental note to thank Sarah for reminding her what she had forgotten….that Richard would always come for her. She smiled at his attentiveness. "I'm fine Richard." She reached out from under the blanket to put her hand to his face. "I'm so glad you're safe." She couldn't imagine a world without him.

He turned his lips to kiss her fingers and slipped under the blanket beside her, anxious to have her home.

xxx

Richard stood alone on the terrace, looking up at a starless sky, trying to stem the dark thoughts that haunted him. It was their first night back in Aydindril; they were home; yet he trembled with the memories of the war – the viciousness of the fighting. The brutality was unlike any he had ever seen. It shook him to his core to know that Kahlan had been caught up in it.

He glanced back over his shoulder to where his wife slept, thanking the Spirits for finding her safe. He could see her through the great wall of windows that separated him from their room, the faint flicker of flames coming from the hearth casting a warm glow. He was glad to have her under his watchful eye. She had looked so worn and weary when he'd found her, it made him feel good to know she was finally getting some much needed rest.

Now that they had returned – the Matu and Bakai defeated – he hoped they could get back to normal. They'd only been married a short time before all this began and they hadn't really had a chance to start their life together, to 'find their home' within these palace walls.

He raised the collar of his cloak. Rubbing his hands together for warmth, the chill night air clouded around him with every breath. Winter was coming; and very soon, so was his daughter. He was brimming with anticipation for her birth and longed to put everything else behind them. First light tomorrow he would go in search of the finest elm and start on a proper crib. The palace had several of course, all more fitting of a Confessor, large and ornate with gilded embellishments and precious stones; but he wanted his daughter to sleep in one that had been shaped by his own hand. Kahlan wanted that too and she'd already been after him to get started. His smile at that thought vanished as quickly as it had come. It frightened him to know how easily she could have been killed, leaving him alone in this world, without her…without her love.

The awful images of women heavy with child having had that precious life ripped from their womb filled his mind. The Bakai had wanted to tear out his heart in much the same manner. He remembered Kahlan's desperate pleas when they'd held him chained, how she'd cried that she couldn't bear to live in a world without him, that she would do anything to keep him safe.

He understood that now more than ever. He'd done a lot of thinking while he was off fighting to the south and he'd come to realize that what had been done to her was no less brutal than had she been taken by force. That she had born the mark of the Khal was meaningless. She had done what she needed in order to endure it. And she'd done it for one reason only: To save him. Eventually, his stubborn pride understood this. Still, he struggled with his thoughts. There was something that gnawed at him more than he cared to admit…snaking its way into his dreams every time he rested his head. He gave himself a mental shake, trying to put it from his mind. She loved him with her whole being, and he her…soon they would have a daughter. That was all that mattered now… not petty jealousies.

The cold, wet touch of snow upon his face pulled him from his nagging thoughts. He looked out among the pines, already holding a thin veil of white. The corner of his mouth raised in half a smile. He no longer had to fear what it meant and welcomed winter's peaceful arrival, gently quieting the night and his burdens.

xxx

Snuggled beneath the warmth of the covers, Kahlan watched Richard through the wall of windows, out on their terrace, pondering thoughts. She wondered what he was thinking, afraid she knew all too well what was on his mind. She silently pleaded with the Good Spirits that they could put this behind them. Not since their journey to the desert had they been together as husband and wife and she missed him terribly.

She noticed a light snow had begun to fall, dusting Richard's shoulders and she couldn't help but think what would have happened had Drogo lived. 'When the snow flies.' Just the thought of it made her shiver.

xxx

Stepping onto the terrace, Kahlan felt the instant sting of cold through the thin fabric of her nightshirt, her feet quickly numbed by the snow covered stone beneath her. It was a beautifully serene night, hushed with snow and the kind of solace one can only find among the stillness. She cautiously made her way over to Richard, gently smoothing a hand over his back before tangling her fingers into his hair.

He turned toward her touch. "You shouldn't be out here, it's freezing."

"Well then I guess you'd better keep me warm" she replied, snuggling close to him. Richard wrapped her into his cloak with him, bending to kiss her. Kahlan responded with a pleasing rumble in her throat, "See? Warm as toast."

Richard smiled down at her, the snow already gathering on her lashes, thinking she looked more beautiful than he could ever remember. "Come on," he said, leading her back toward the door, "I won't have you getting sick."

Back in their room, Kahlan gladly slipped under the warmth of the covers, feeling the tingle in her toes as they thawed. Richard shed his things, eyeing her womanly figure, full with child. He remembered how perfectly his hands fit in her curves; the taste of her skin a distant memory on his tongue. He felt his blood rush within. He didn't want to rely on memories anymore – he wanted to know. He wanted to feel.

Sliding in next to her, the plush bedding drew them into its cushy center, making the space around them all the more tranquil and snug. He reached out to lovingly caress her shape, slowly leaning in to kiss the lips he had so missed, delighting in the sweetness of her tongue. He kissed her a long while, enjoying the simple, intimate pleasure of his wife…feeling her breath upon his face, the beat of her heart against his own. He held the fullness of her breast in his hand as he brushed gentle lips along her neck, whispering her name, wanting her more than he could ever remember.

Kahlan melted at the longing in his voice and the ease of his fingers on her skin. As long as she lived she would never forget this moment, so loving and tender. She arched back, offering whatever he wished to take, soft murmurs falling from her lips.

Hearing her pleasure sent uninvited jealousies intruding into Richard's thoughts once more. He struggled to crush them, losing himself in the curve of her neck and the scent of her skin... He buried his face in her thick mane of hair trying to hold them at bay. When they wouldn't cease, he finally put voice to his pain. "I hate the thought of him kissing you," he whispered. His revelation came without malice, soft against her flesh, as he kept right on kissing her, trying to drown his torment. The idea of Drogo having his mouth on her body, of tasting her in such a familiar way was an unrelenting vexation that haunted him still.

Kahlan froze as Richard's kiss moved along her neck. Her breath trapped tight in her chest, realizing this was the point of fact that had tortured him more than any other - terrified her world was about to come crashing down. Richard's mouth trailed seductively across her shoulder as he battled his demons.

To feel him like this again was so achingly wonderful. Tears filled Kahlan's eyes knowing that to speak of it might drive him away. But she had to tell him. He needed to know the truth. She took hold of his face with delicate care, gently forcing him to stop and look up at her. A single tear slipped down her cheek, her gaze penetrating deep into his. "It wasn't like that Richard," she said quietly. Her heart beseeched him to understand. "It wasn't like this. I love you Richard, only you." Slowly, she shook her head. "His lips never touched me. Not once. Your kiss is the only one I know. The only one I'll ever know."

Richard looked at her a long moment, unable to take his eyes off her…studying every delicate line of her face, the soft curve of her nose; the striking blueness of her eyes. Something deep inside him rejoiced as the stinging pain of jealousy lifted from his heart.

That was the last they thought of Khal Drogo.

Richard's kiss on her lips was passionate; deep with hunger. He worked lower, taking an intense pleasure in covering every inch of her body with his mouth, reclaiming all that was his. He got lost in kissing her, exploring her anew.

The strength of his touch set fire to Kahlan's skin, all the way down to her toes. When he at last was inside her, he was quiet and gentle, making love to her in a way that made her weep with emotion.

Richard kissed away her tears, hushing her with soft whispers. He loved the feel of her pressed beneath him, savoring the firm roundness of her belly as he moved. His entire world lay in his arms and he ached to be closer. Richard gathered her in, holding tight, knowing he would love her all the days of his life.

Epilogue

Kahlan walked the sun dappled paths of the Confessor Gardens, taking in the heady scents of spring in full bloom. She was teaching Mia about the plants and trees unaware that Richard watched from a distance. He was proud of her already showing Mia the things of the outdoors. Just over a year, and barely able to walk on her own, Kahlan carried Mia, her chubby thighs wedged perfectly over the swell of her mother's growing belly.

Kahlan turned her daughter toward one of the flowering shrubs. "This here is rhododendron…see how shiny its leaves are?" She walked further up the path, "And these are Birch trees." Mia stuck a pudgy hand out, pulling at the paper thin bark peeling from its trunk. She walked a bit further to another stand of trees. "And this over here is…" Kahlan hesitated, pulling her lip through her teeth as she thought. "Well, we'll have to ask your Daddy about that one."

"Hickory," Richard said from behind.

Kahlan turned to give him a welcoming smile before touching her nose to Mia's. "See, I knew your daddy would know." By the time she looked up again Richard was there beside them, a lopsided smile on his face, his eyes alight with joy.

He'd never been happier in his entire life. They were a family and more in love with each other everyday. That love had seen them through the darkest of days, delivering them to the light. Together they would raise their daughters, living life side by side… There was nothing he wanted more in all the world.

They had found home and he couldn't be more overjoyed.

"What are you all smiles about?" she asked unable to resist a smile of her own.

Richard wrapped Kahlan and Mia into his arms, his grin growing wider with the feel of his wife's growing belly against him. Come summer, Mia would have a little sister. He gave a kiss to her brow before gazing into her beautiful blue eyes. "I'm just so happy to be alive."

The End

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