Characters: (in order of appearance) Kahlan, Mother Confessor Serena, Darken, Cara, Denna, Jennsen, Shota, Richard, Zedd
Pairings: Cara/Kahlan, Darken/Kahlan (implied Darken/Denna, Darken/Cara and Richard/Kahlan, in a way)
Warnings: torture, character death, dub con (and cruelty to an innocent river ;D)
Summary: In an AU inspired by this amazing vid (/watch?v=oRbWKQrZeAM) only child!Kahlan is tired of waiting for the Seeker to rescue the Midlands. But when Darken Rahl takes her prisoner, she must decide whether he and his people are really as evil as she's always believed. Cara has never had cause to question her loyalty to the House of Rahl - until she meets the Confessor Kahlan Amnell. And Darken, victorious, has nothing to fear but the Seeker, and everyone knows he's dead.
Why Make It Easier On Me
Thirst, aching muscles, arms almost pulled from their sockets, toes that couldn't reach the floor…
Kahlan. Kahlan's smile. Kahlan's lips…
"You are a fool, Cara. Do you think you can escape the pain?" Denna asked, her eyes hard. She stood before Cara, below where she hung in her chains…taking a brief rest to admire the cuts and bruises she'd inflicted.
Professional detachment was the first thing to go at a time like this, but nonetheless, Cara could admire her Sister's technique. Denna had always been an expert at breaking people.
But she couldn't reach Cara. Not anymore.
Cara had never before considered herself a fool for love, but Kahlan swept her off her feet without, as far as Cara could tell, even trying.
"Kahlan Amnell will never care for you," Denna said harshly, apparently following Cara's thoughts.
In spite of herself, Cara felt a sliver of doubt. It was certainly true that Kahlan was an enemy—by rights, friendship between her and Cara was impossible, let alone more.
And Cara knew that Kahlan was trying so hard to survive, it would be a miracle if she had the strength left to care for anyone besides herself. She knew what that was like.
The easiest thing for Cara to do would be to give in…it would take time to work her way back up the hierarchy after this (and her shorn hair would not help), but it wouldn't be impossible—and there was no reason to let Denna have it all her own way with Lord Rahl.
Denna stalked forward again, tracing a line of fire with her agiel from Cara's neck to her stomach…yet the touch was almost gentle. And then Denna looked up, a question in her cold eyes.
It went against everything she'd ever believed, everything she'd ever been taught…but Cara could not bring herself to admit that loving Kahlan was wrong.
She set her jaw defiantly.
Denna's smirk twisted, as though she were sucking on a lemon. "Fine," she said. "Have it your way."
Cara closed her eyes, as Denna struck her hard enough to make her swing in her chains.
"Where's Cara?" Kahlan asked.
"Mmm?" Rahl wasn't even listening to her.
Kahlan's teeth clenched, even as she recognized that she might not have had the courage to ask so forthrightly after Cara if he had been attending.
Jerkily, she continued skinning the peach with the table-knife; the utensil was actually made of gold, which Kahlan considered a shocking extravagance.
Cara was not here, and as much as Kahlan was aware that Cara, as a Mord'Sith, undoubtedly had legitimate duties that might take her from the Palace, the vague ideas of what those duties might be currently plaguing her were not the sort to reconcile her to Cara's absence.
She could not have explained why it mattered so much, except that Cara was the only person in D'Hara—and possibly the only person ever—who had looked at Kahlan and seen the woman, not the Confessor. To her people she was an awe-inspiring figure, commanding respect and fear, a symbol of justice; to Rahl, she was a prize, a symbol of victory.
Kahlan was starting to get tired of being a symbol.
She did not dare suggest her planned reforms in the legal system to Rahl at present; it was a mark of how reconciled she was becoming to this life that was no longer her own that she felt some apprehension about the Seeker herself. On the one hand, she could hardly wish for him to fail; on the other, she was afraid for Cara, who might have to fight him, and there was even some fear for Rahl in her heart.
She hated him—but he was such a presence in her life now that it was hard to imagine him out of it
If only she knew where Cara was…
"Oh!" Kahlan had not been paying sufficient attention to the task at hand; the knife had slipped, cutting deeply into her thumb.
Her cry had been soft, but this Rahl heard.
He looked up from his coffee and the open journeybook in front of him, and frowned.
"Don't get all excited," Kahlan said crossly. "I'm fine."
Rahl raised his eyebrows.
Kahlan's thumb bled over her peach.
Rahl reached into a pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, monogrammed with his initials and the Rahl crest; he leaned forward across the table and wrapped her thumb in the white cloth.
Instantly, her blood soaked in, turning the handkerchief as red as everything else in D'Hara…as red as Cara's leathers.
She looked up at Rahl, wondering if this sign of solicitude were enough to trust him with her fears…wondering if now were the moment to tell him she carried his child.
Their wedding was two weeks away, always assuming the Seeker didn't make an unscheduled appearance.
But Kahlan felt herself waiting for some more settled time—and knew she would not feel safe until she saw Cara again.
But surely that was ridiculous—she could never be safe in D'Hara, unwilling Queen or not.
Dahlia had found and killed the last of the remaining Confessors—apparently they'd taken refuge on the island of Valeria. Also, Darken had found one of the fabled Boxes of Orden in the Palace's over-crowded attics, and had at least some idea where to find a second. So at least some of the news was good.
Darken had people looking for the Seeker, a bounty placed on his head…he couldn't help wishing he hadn't been so quick to send Denna and Cara away—they were surely the most accomplished of his Mord'Sith.
But he was forgetting—Cara had betrayed him.
His lips tightened, and then Kahlan gasped; he looked up and saw she'd managed to cut herself with the table-knife. At any other time, he would have paid more attention to this, since Kahlan was a Confessor and therefore must be used to handling much sharper blades than this one—how could she be so careless?
In fact, it might be a good idea to keep all such weapons out of her hands, at least until the threat of the Seeker had been dealt with.
He captured her thumb with his handkerchief, applying pressure to the wound, and waited. It was only a small injury, really; when Kahlan's thumb stopped bleeding, Darken removed the handkerchief, crumpled it into a ball and stuffed it into his pocket, and rose.
He couldn't face breakfast with Kahlan at the moment; someday he would turn her frowns to smiles, but he didn't have time for her now.
Besides, there was always the chance that she would try to help the Seeker.
"Are you finished?" he asked abruptly.
Kahlan, still looking pale, nodded.
Darken pulled her easily to her feet; she was docile in his grasp.
He swept her upstairs to her rooms, collecting her guards on the way, and paused at the door.
"I'm afraid I can no longer allow you the freedom of my Palace," Darken said, with an attempt at his usual politeness. "I must request that you remain in your rooms, where you'll be safe."
Kahlan raised her eyebrows. "Safe? I'm flattered by your concern," she said drily.
Darken smiled, in brief appreciation of her wit. She was certainly an enchanting distraction. "Anything for you, my Queen," he said, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.
Kahlan gave him an unreadable look, before disappearing into her rooms. Darken gave her guards their orders, and returned reluctantly to his most pressing task—finding the Seeker and averting the prophecy.
Jennsen was starting to regret telling Richard of the tragic fate of Kahlan Amnell. The subject so obsessed his mind that he was now the driving force behind their progress through the Midlands.
Jennsen, Zedd and Richard had made their way back through the invisible (to Jennsen) Boundary, with the help of Adie the Bone Lady, and now all they had to do was find Rahl.
Jennsen was fairly sure Kahlan Amnell would be at the People's Palace in the capitol of D'Hara, but there was no guarantee that was where Rahl would be—his movements through his empire were largely secret, and almost impossible to trace.
Richard cared nothing for this.
"We have to rescue Kahlan," was his constant refrain; and only Zedd could distract him from his new obsession, and only to practice with the Sword of Truth.
Jennsen was no warrior, but she could tell he was getting very good; certainly they had escaped capture at the hands of the D'Haran soldiers many times already.
The Resistance had been badly damaged by Kahlan Amnell's unsuccessful campaign, but there were still those who would aid the Seeker, thank the Creator.
The three of them were smuggled into the capitol in a cart full of cabbages. Jennsen made fast friends with their host, a member of the local Resistance who'd been lying low for the past several weeks, since the Battle of the Whispering Ford.
"Can you get us into the Palace?" Richard wanted to know.
"Impossible," their host said regretfully. "It's protected by fearsome magic; and the D'Harans check everyone to make sure they have legitimate business before they let them into the Palace grounds."
But at the mention of fearsome magic, Zedd gave Jennsen a significant look; she knew he'd been quite impressed with her ability to get through the Boundary without apparent effort, although she had explained to him that to her it was no more than a blank expanse of ground, woods gradually fading to sand.
She sighed. It looked like she'd have to sneak into the People's Palace, disable the magic somehow, and get Richard and Zedd in…unless they could pretend to have some sort of legitimate business? She doubted 'to assassinate Darken Rahl' would find favor with the D'Haran soldiers.
There were a thousand ways it could not have happened. Darken could have summoned Dahlia or Triana to his side, instead of going directly to his study for a bit of peace and quiet; his guards could have been actually competent; the Seeker could have taken more than a record ten days to traverse the distance from Westland to the capitol of D'Hara (a feat which should have been impossible)…
But no. Darken opened the door and the Seeker was waiting for him.
Reflexes honed by twenty years of navigating D'Haran politics came to his aid, and he drew his sword.
"Monster!" the Seeker cried, wasting his breath; Darken cared nothing for his opinion.
The Seeker made up with sheer power and passion what he lacked in finesse; chairs and a priceless Eldorian screen went flying as they fought.
Darken didn't waste time wondering how the Seeker had gotten into the Palace; he was a Rahl, and the wards were not equipped to keep out one of the family, no matter how much Darken wished blood magic had not been quite so popular with his ancestors.
It was too soon, Keeper curse the Seeker, the Wizard, and the Resistance; if only Darken had more time, he could get the other two Boxes of Orden and there would be no need for him to fight the Seeker at all.
It was a tiny mistake that tripped Darken up; something so small it seemed impossible it could matter. The fading sunlight slanted in through the stained glass window and blinded him momentarily.
The next instant, the Seeker had wrenched the sword from Darken's grasp, sending it clattering to the floor, and the Sword of Truth was at his throat.
Darken looked into those dark eyes and thought he saw every hurt, every adolescent pang, every resentment—
Couldn't the boy at least have given Darken a chance to prove he only wanted peace?
"Killing an unarmed man?" Darken asked bitterly. "You are just like our father."
The Seeker looked bewildered, but it was obvious that he'd never formed the habit of rapid rational thought; he pulled the Sword back and struck, and Darken was left to ponder the inevitability of prophecy as he lay bleeding on the floor.
He was prey to bitter fury and unsettling fear, and an irrational irritation that the Seeker had not stayed to watch him die.
Darken's last thought was of Kahlan.
Richard had come prepared to rescue a princess in a tower; and he meant to do so, even if, as Jennsen repeatedly told him, Kahlan Amnell was not precisely a princess.
His ambition was further checked by the discovery that she was not residing in any tower; the People's Palace might be liberally provided with them, but most were falling to ruin and therefore unusable, and in any case, the greatest concentration of guards were in quite an ordinary upper corridor.
Richard scarcely paid any heed to them, fighting when he had to—he'd found several keys on Darken Rahl's person, and one at least must open Kahlan's door. The guards were nothing, after he had slain their master.
Nor did Richard have any idea where Zedd and Jennsen were—he supposed them to be letting in the Resistance, unwillingly gathered outside the gates.
His every thought was concentrated on Kahlan Amnell. Richard could not let himself leave her in terrible suspense for longer than absolutely necessary.
In the event, he didn't bother unlocking the door. A sufficiently hard tap with the hilt of the Sword of Truth rendered the lock utterly useless, but this, Richard felt, was surely an advantage. No one could want to be trapped here for long.
"I'm here to rescue you!" he said, while still on the threshold. "Don't worry—I'm Richard Cypher, I'm the Seeker."
The woman who looked up from her embroidery at his entrance was even more beautiful than Richard could have imagined. Her dark hair fell in waves down her back, her chest rose in a quick breath and strained her bodice laces, her eyes were cool blue, her face more perfect than ancient drawings of the Creator.
She rose, her skirts falling in elegant waves around her ankles, and held out one shapely hand. "I am the Confessor Kahlan Amnell," she said calmly. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance."
The Seeker was so young—a mere boy! It seemed incredible that he should have been successful.
And yet here he was, babbling on excitedly, "I've killed that horrible tyrant—you'll never be in his power again!"
He paused here, as if expecting congratulations; Kahlan raised her eyebrows. "Unless you aspire to take his place, I must request you give me that key," she said, pointing to the one that obviously corresponded to her Rada'Han.
The Seeker, who begged her to call him Richard, looked blank for a moment, but then handed it over.
Kahlan couldn't reach, and he was obliged to help her; she swept her hair over one shoulder and bent her head, trying to be patient.
Her own feelings were as yet far too turbulent to permit her peace of mind, and the most overpowering emotion she felt was surprise. She had never expected Rahl to be defeated, prophecy or no prophecy, much less so soon; and she reflected wryly that Rahl had doubtless shared her stupefaction.
"So now that I've rescued you, you can come back to Westland with me and Zedd and Jennsen," the Seeker prattled on. "You'll be safe there, away from this awful place—"
At last, the Rada'Han clicked open, and fell to the floor. The relief was so great that for a moment it was all Kahlan could do not to let loose with her power; she stood swaying, eyes tightly shut, determined not to repay the Seeker's kindness by Confessing him.
And yet his naïve conviction that all it would take for her to fall into his arms and weep in relief on his shoulder was for him to save her from, as he was now so passionately phrasing it, 'a fate worse than death,' could not help irritating her.
She turned toward him, saying merely, "You didn't save me. She did."
Cara—how could she not have thought of her first? Kahlan bent distractedly to pick up the Rada'Han, but the Seeker was before her—
"I'll have this melted down," he said passionately. "No one should be imprisoned that way."
Kahlan stared at him for a moment, but she wasn't really seeing him…she felt twice as lost as she had when Rahl had taken her prisoner, because then she had been powerless. The return of her choices meant the return of her responsibilities, and while she could hardly wish it otherwise, she was in no mood for the Seeker at present.
"Wait—who's 'she'?" he was asking.
Kahlan left the room as regally as the Queen she would never be, now that Darken Rahl was dead.
Cara's entire body felt as though she'd been beaten—which she had. Her head ached, a dozen cuts stung and bruises throbbed all over her, her tongue felt thick and dry, and her toes were cold.
So she was alive.
She opened her eyes. She was lying on the floor of the training room, and she was alone.
In a heap on the floor were her leathers, her agiels crossed like tiny twin swords on top of the pile. On her other side were the chains, left unlocked.
The choice was plain, and typically Mord'Sith; either she accepted Denna's dominance, got dressed, and returned to her duties, or she must hang herself back in the chains and continue to receive her punishment.
Cara rolled her eyes, and with difficulty got to her feet.
Something in the air was different…she was conscious of it immediately, and searched through every sense for the cause. Yet there was nothing to see, hear, or smell that could account for her feeling of being so utterly off-balance.
Without thinking, she pulled her leathers on, shoving her feet into her boots and picking up her agiels. Their humming was subtly altered, and she suspected sabotage before her wits caught up with her.
It was the Bond. Something had happened to Lord Rahl.
"Thank you, Seeker! You don't know what this means to us!" People were congratulating the Seeker everywhere; he and his companions were the center of an admiring crowd.
Kahlan circulated among the Resistance, finding and greeting those members of her army who had elected to aid the Seeker.
But her heart wasn't in it.
Across the moat, they were burning the Palace; Kahlan had no doubt it had been the Seeker's idea. She was contemptuous—the Palace was made mostly of stone, and thus would hardly burn well.
Although there were one or two rather pretty wooden rooms she would be sorry to see destroyed—but such sentiment was ludicrous. How could she mourn her prison?
She sighed, one hand going absently to her still flat stomach, thinking of the life that grew there…what sort of world would her daughter be born into?
"You seem troubled, Confessor." It was the First Wizard, withdrawing from the crowd to stand beside her.
Kahlan shook her head. "I am a fool," she whispered, thinking of Cara. Those had been almost the Mord'Sith's first words to her. And now she had no idea where Cara was.
Impossible, that she could care so much for someone who she had been raised to believe an enemy…and yet Kahlan was a good judge of people. It would have been easy enough to succumb to Rahl's half-truths and offer of a life of Palace intrigue, that false affection and overpowering magnetism, every day a pitched battle for her principles, if not her life…but Cara had shown Kahlan what she could have—real affection, and more, mutual trust. It might be based merely on intuition and the glow of sexual attraction, but it was real, and Cara had a good heart. That much Kahlan was sure of.
When she had told the Seeker Cara was the one who had saved her, she had spoken no less than the truth.
"Someone back home?" the Wizard asked wisely. "Or out there?"
"Out there," Kahlan replied. "I think…I hope."
That night, Kahlan curled in the bedroll Richard obtained for her, staring at the stars, and wondering whether Cara were looking at them, too.
"So have you thought about what you're going to do now?" the Seeker asked diffidently, intruding upon Kahlan's abstraction. "You could come with me—with us. You'd be welcome."
Kahlan glared at him. "If you wanted a more tangible demonstration of my gratitude, I wonder you removed my Rada'Han at all," she said waspishly, and was instantly sorry.
The Seeker resembled nothing so much as a kicked puppy, and he seemed quite at a loss to understand Kahlan's meaning.
Obviously, she had been in the People's Palace too long.
Kahlan relented. "I'm going home."
There was nothing else to be done. She had no idea where Cara was, and no idea whether Cara would care about Kahlan Amnell, pregnant Confessor, no matter how interested she'd been in Kahlan Amnell, future Queen of D'Hara.
Kahlan left the next morning, despite all Richard could do to dissuade her. He really believed it to be dangerous for her to travel alone, since Rahl must have supporters unhappy about his death (Kahlan had actually brightened at this, although Richard couldn't imagine why), and there were always bandits, or simply people who didn't like Confessors.
Richard was still not precisely sure he understood what a Confessor was, but it was obvious that the members of the Resistance held her in both awe and fear.
He was just going to suggest to Zedd that they accompany Kahlan back to Aydindril, just to be sure, when an entire battalion of D'Harans rode up to the Resistance camp.
Grimly, Richard put a hand to his Sword hilt; he was sure this could betoken nothing good.
He'd already been forced to kill most of the guards remaining in the Palace, and he could only hope all the members of the Resistance had gotten out before they started the fire. Furthermore, Rahl's body had apparently disappeared—but Richard didn't set much store by this. Probably someone had dropped him in the moat or something, during all the confusion.
The D'Harans were kneeling, not drawing their weapons. Richard stared.
"Master Rahl guide us," they began, with one voice. "Master Rahl teach us. Master Rahl protect us. In your light we thrive. In your mercy we are sheltered. In your wisdom we are humbled. We live only to serve. Our lives are yours."
Richard stared in total bewilderment.
The leader of the D'Harans rose, his fist still over his heart. "Lord Rahl," he said. "We are yours to command."
At last, Richard found his voice. "What?"
"Cara," Denna said smoothly, her voice like liquid butter. "I am delighted you've recovered your senses."
"That I have," Cara agreed cordially, and without warning she struck.
Denna was unprepared for the attack, and Cara pressed her advantage, tripping Denna and yanking her back by her braid to press her agiel against her Sister's heart.
It was a useless gesture to kill Denna, since they were in Jandrilyn, a temple full of Mord'Sith, but it relieved Cara's feelings a little.
She tossed her shorn hair back and stood.
Her every thought, since she had registered the slight shift in the Bond, had been of Kahlan's probable predicament.
Of course, it might indeed be Cara's duty to either help Lord Rahl, or avenge him if he were beyond help, but she cared little for that. She had served him faithfully for years, and he still believed her capable of betraying him.
She couldn't deny that she'd fallen in love with his betrothed, but she defied anyone to have failed to do so, in her place. And she couldn't see how that constituted a betrayal, anyway.
What she did now was perilously close to treason, however.
Cara escaped the temple easily, leaving her Sisters to revive Denna, or not, as they chose. Denna was of sufficiently high rank that they probably wouldn't dare leave her for dead, which was a pity.
Then she ran.
Kahlan would still be at or near the Palace, depending on what had happened; she must be rescued from whatever had harmed Lord Rahl.
And if Lord Rahl were still the only threat to Kahlan's safety…but Cara refused to think of the bewildering shift in her loyalties.
She ran until she was out of breath, then dropped into a reluctant walk, ignoring her protesting muscles. It wasn't the first time Cara had received 'retraining' at the hands of her Sisters, though it had never been as serious or as lengthy as this.
It wasn't until Cara reached the top of a small hill, glanced down and saw Kahlan climbing up the slope, that she remembered what she had thought back in the temple…she had fallen in love with Lord Rahl's betrothed. With Kahlan.
Without her conscious volition, her lips curved into a smile, and she held out a hand to help Kahlan onto the path.
It seemed impossible that Cara should have found Kahlan so quickly, and if it hadn't been for the obvious pleasure the other woman felt in the reunion, she would have been able to muster up the proper shame for her feelings—Mord'Sith did not love anyone but Lord Rahl.
As it was, however, Cara could only be glad Kahlan was safe. It would have to be enough.
Kahlan looked up, and into Cara's bright green eyes, and then Cara was smiling, and it was all Kahlan could do to scramble up onto the path without stumbling in her relief.
"I was afraid I'd never see you again," she said, when they stood facing one another. She had yet to let go of Cara's hand.
Cara looked injured, and Kahlan reached out, tracing a nasty cut on Cara's cheek…
"What happened? Where's Lord Rahl? How did you get here? Are you all right?" Cara asked quickly, but Kahlan didn't answer.
She dug her fingers into Cara's newly short hair and pulled her into a passionate kiss, trying to convey what she felt without words.
There would be time enough to explain later. To tell Cara everything, from Darken Rahl's death to the Seeker's importunities to Kahlan's pregnancy….the chaos into which the Midlands, recently conquered and now at least nominally freed, would be plunged, Kahlan's duty to guide her people…
And the impossible fact that Cara was here, with Kahlan, and they were both free at last.
"All my life, I've been alone," Kahlan said, pulling away just far enough to stare into Cara's eyes. "Then I found you."
Cara laughed shakily, and Kahlan brushed a tear from her cheek, raising her finger to her lips and tasting it. On the whole, she preferred Cara's smiles—but her tears were beautiful too.
Cara ran hesitant hands through Kahlan's hair, gazing at her as if she were something precious. "Likewise," she whispered.