Title: A Light That Never Went Out
Fandom: Legend of the Seeker
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Summary: After defeating the Keeper our band of heroes heads back to D'Hara, and on the way Cara meets a familiar face.
Word of the Seekers approach had reached the village of Ragora a day before his arrival and the townspeople had been busy making preparations. When Kahlan, Richard, Zedd and Cara entered the gates of the city, Richard, Kahlan and Zedd immediately found themselves surrounded by smiling townsfolk holding out garlands for them. Cara stood to the side of the other three, and intimidated by her red leather, the villagers left her alone as they draped flowered necklaces around her companions and heartily shook their hands.
Cara watched the proceeding with little interest. The behaviour of the villagers was nothing new to the group. Before the defeat of the Keeper, the Seeker, Mother Confessor and Wizard had often been greeted warmly in the villages they passed through, and after their victory at the Pillars of Creation, they had not passed through a town that did not celebrate their arrival. Flowers, gemstones, and carved figures had been presented to them as villagers kneeled at their feet. Feasts had been thrown in their honour followed by village wide dances that lasted into the early hours of the morning. They had not paid for food, room, clothes, weapons, or anything else since they left the Pillars victorious. And over all of those miles and through all of those villages, people had given Cara a wide berth. The hostility that she had often been greeted with before the defeat of the Keeper was no longer present, but people were still weary of her and the agiels she wore at her sides. When hugs and handshakes were being offered, no arms were ever extended in her direction and this suited Cara just fine.
It was therefore somewhat of a shock to Cara, when a lone figure separated herself from the smiling crowd around Kahlan, Richard and Zedd to tentatively make her way towards her.
The woman was young and pretty. Others might have characterized her as beautiful, but Cara did not use such words. Her hair, which was of a rich chestnut colour, hung long and loose around her shoulders, but it was not her looks that attracted Cara's attention so much as the fact that she boldly held Cara's eyes as she approached, studying Cara as much as Cara studied her. It was rare for a villager to so openly regard her, and even stranger for a woman to do so. Men sometimes allowed their greater size and muscle to delude themselves into thinking they were her equal, but her demeanour and her leather had always caused women outside of brothels to lower their eyes and defer to her without question.
This woman however was clearly not a whore yet she did not seem afraid, and as she neared Cara, the Mord'Sith found her lips curving up into an amused smirk.
Kahlan was the first of Cara's three companions to notice the woman approaching Cara, and with a smile she nudged Richard and tilted her head in the woman's direction. Richard followed her gaze and soon saw what had caught Kahlan's attention, and after looking at the garland in the woman's hand, he turned back to Kahlan and smiled.
Cara noticed the Mother Confessor and Seeker's exchange, but decided that it was best to ignore them and their teasing expressions and was about to turn away from them entirely when she caught Zedd's expression. The wizard was watching the woman's approach as well, but unlike Richard and Kahlan he did not seem amused. His expression was one of surprise and slight alarm, and Cara found that it irritated her. It often amused her to intimidate villagers, but she had long since stopped actually hurting them so there was no cause for the wizard to look worried. However, before she could work herself up into a full snit over Zedd's expression, the woman came to a stop in front of her.
"I have no need of flowers," Cara stated before the villager could say a word.
"No one needs flowers," the woman responded holding her ground and Cara's eyes. "They're a token of gratitude."
"I have no need of gratitude," Cara replied without missing a beat.
The woman was silent for a moment in the face of Cara's response, a thoughtful expression coming to her face before she said, "Very well," and tossed the garland to the ground, her eyes never leaving Cara's the entire time.
Cara's eyes tracked down to look at the garland where it lay in the dirt, and when she looked back over at the woman she regarded her with a look of genuine amusement. There was a defiant streak in this woman that she respected.
"Is there something else you wanted?" Cara asked when the woman continued to look at her as the wind rustled the petals of the garland where it lay at their feet.
The woman nodded but did not elaborate and after a moment of waiting Cara lifted a pale eyebrow and waved a gloved hand in front of her trying to get the woman to get on with it.
"I have need of ale, not awkward conversation. If you have something to say, say it or be gone."
"The travelers that have passed through here said that the Seeker traveled with a Mord'Sith named Cara. Are you Cara?" the woman asked, still studying Cara's face intently.
"There's the Seeker, I'm the only Mord'Sith around, so I must be Cara," Cara responded, a touch of the exasperation she was feeling showing in her voice.
"Cara Mason?" The woman asked ignoring Cara's less than pleased tone.
Cara's eyes narrowed at the use of her last name. She had not heard it spoken since she was a child and it surprised her. She looked at the woman before her with renewed interest, studying her eyes, her nose, her mouth, her bearing, and she thought that there was something familiar about her.
"Who are you?" Cara demanded, straightening her back as she lifted her right hand to rest on the hilt of the agiel she had strapped there.
The woman's eyes dropped down to her hand, observing the red leather on the red hilt of the agiel for a moment before she lifted her eyes to meet Cara's once more.
"Dahlia Lawson," she breathed out.
Cara drew her head back slightly and tightened her grip on her agiel as the woman's name fell upon her ears. Though the sun had gone down nearly a candle mark before, Cara suddenly felt as if light was shining down on her, warming her skin as memories of running laughing through golden fields side by side with another girl filled her mind.
Her eyes scanned the woman before her again, and with the image of that young girl still in her mind, Cara could see the familiarity between the girl from her memories and the woman before her. The full lips, the bright, curious, brown eyes, the strong, straight nose, the features were the same; they had simply strengthened with age.
She remembered lying under sheets in her childhood bedroom, staring at that face for minutes upon minutes before one of them finally laughed and they fell into each other, clinging to each other as their laughter filled the silent of the room. She remembered seeing that face floating in the darkness of the damp cell Mistress Nathair had locked her in after the Mord'Sith had taken her, and the misery she had felt when she reached out to touch Dahlia's face, longing for the comfort of her touch, only to find that it had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.
"Da," Cara exhaled before she could think better of it, the old nickname falling easily from her lips.
"Ca," Dahlia returned, the curious, hesitant expression on her face transforming into a wide smile upon getting confirmation of Cara's identity.
The sudden expression of happiness being directed at her threw Cara momentarily, and before she could pull herself together, she found herself under attack as Dahlia closed the small distance between them and threw her arms around Cara's neck, hugging her with a strength that would have impressed Cara if she hadn't been stunned into immobility. Kahlan's physical assaults on her had conditioned Cara to respond to such embraces, and automatically she lifted her hands until they were pressed lightly against Dahlia's back. The response seemed to encourage Dahlia and the woman tightened her hold on Cara as Cara looked beyond her to Kahlan with wide, panicked eyes.
Kahlan's lips twitched as she met Cara's eyes, but she fought down the urge to smile. She had no idea what possessed the village woman to embrace a Mord'Sith, but Cara had shown a remarkable amount of control by not immediately shoving the woman away and agieling her, and Kahlan knew that she had better intervene before Cara's momentary benevolence left her.
"Cara," Kahlan said gently, approaching the women from the side.
"Kahlan," Cara said gratefully, using the Mother Confessor's arrival as an excuse to begin to pull away from the embrace she had been pulled into.
Dahlia was reluctant to let Cara go, but the Mother Confessor's presence brought some awareness of her surrounding back to her and a quick glance around confirmed that her actions had drawn the attention of more than just the Mother Confessor. So, it was with a self-conscious lowering of her head that she stepped back from Cara and turned to face Kahlan, respectfully murmuring, "Mother Confessor," as she gazed at Kahlan's feet.
With a gentle smile, Kahlan took Dahlia's hand into her own and squeezed it before cutting her eyes questioningly at Cara, who stiffly said, "Dahlia," in response to Kahlan's silent question.
Cara's posture was rigid and her speech more clipped than usual, but as she said Dahlia's name Cara's eyes turned to fall upon her, and the look in them was one of trepidation instead of exasperation or irritation, which was what Kahlan had expected to see. Cara's behaviour towards this Dahlia intrigued her, but Kahlan knew it was not the time or place for inquiries and pushed down her curiosity.
"Pleased to meet you, Dahlia," Kahlan said in a friendly tone, squeezing the woman's hand one last time before releasing it.
"The honour is mine," Dahlia returned.
"Oh, I don't know about that," Kahlan said smiling. "You've managed something tonight that few have even dreamed of accomplishing. You've startled a Mord'Sith into silence," Kahlan continued angling her head to the side so that she could see Cara.
Cara's back straightened even more at the sound of Kahlan's words and when her face transformed into a mask of indifference a smile touched Kahlan's lips. Dahlia looked uncertain about the Mother Confessor's teasing, but as her gaze followed Kahlan's to Cara and she took in the blonde's pose and expression she could not stop a fond smile from touching her lips as well. The red leather and stunning beauty were new, but Cara had often worn a similar affected expression when they were children and a strong swell of affection for Cara arose in Dahlia's heart.
"She looks like she has something to say now," Dahlia observed, keeping her eyes trained on Cara, her lips curving up the slightest bit more as Cara's expression became increasingly indignant with every word she spoke.
Kahlan's eyebrows lifted with surprise and admiration. There were not many people who would risk joking with a Mord'Sith and again she wondered what strange connection there was between the two women that Cara tolerated Dahlia's forwardness.
"Whatever it is, it's likely to be riddled with profanity," Kahlan murmured shaking her head mournfully as looked at Cara.
Cara glared at the two of them, steadily riling herself up, but before she unleashed the string of profanity Kahlan had predicted in their direction, Zedd's staring registered with her again and her ire became refocused.
Cara's head whipped around in the wizard's direction and she pinned him in place with her eyes.
"Why don't you carve a statue Wizard!" she hurdled at him angrily. "It'll last longer."
Zedd's bushy white eyebrows rose up in surprise, but before he could respond Kahlan began to giggle and Cara turned to face the Mother Confessor once more. Cara turned to look at Kahlan and took a measured step towards the confessor before leaning in to whisper to her.
"I will not tolerate this," Cara stated holding Kahlan's eyes.
Cara's posture was rigid and her eyes deadly serious. Kahlan dipped her chin acknowledging Cara's statement and then took a deep breath in and out in attempt to regain her composure. She knew that it was one thing to tease Cara in private, but another thing entirely to do so in a town square filled with people. Around the campfire, Cara had learned to take her teasing with something that approximated grace, but in this setting the Mord'Sith would feel the need to assert her authority if Kahlan continued, and that was the last thing Kahlan wanted.
"I apologize Cara. That was very undignified of me," Kahlan offered, relaxing a little bit when Cara looked to be adequately mollified by her apology. "If your friend would be so kind as to show us to local tavern I'll buy you a drink."
Cara's eyes shot towards Dahlia when Kahlan said the word 'friend' and her lips parted as if to utter protest, but she looked away from the woman again a moment later without disputing Kahlan's choice of words.
"You'll buy nothing. They'll give us the damn ale," Cara muttered glaring into the crowd that surrounded them. "Or I'll take it," she continued allowing a menacing smile to touch her lips as her hand strayed towards her agiel again.
Some of the people standing around the three of them shared uneasy looks with each other, and a tension entered the square that had not been present a few minutes before. Dahlia realized that her fellow villagers thought that Cara might have been serious about forcibly taking what they would willingly offer. Logically she knew that she was the strange one for not being uncomfortable at the prospect of an unhappy Mord'Sith terrorizing the town, but she knew that Cara was joking. The way she was standing, the tone of her voice, it was the same as when they were younger. It reminded her of the time Cara had pushed an older boy named Jarek down because he had been bothering her. Jarek had gotten up slowly, staring at Cara with anger, but as he towered over them threateningly, Cara had met his eyes and said, "Go ahead then if you want. But I you should know that unlike the boys, I'll aim for your junk." If Jarek had taken so much as a step towards them, Cara would have grabbed her hand and they would have run shrieking through the main street to attract the attention of as many grown-ups as possible, but Jarek didn't know that and based on Cara's bravado alone he had angrily stomped off home after muttering a few warning words at them.
The Creator knew that now as a Mord'Sith there was nothing that Cara would run away from, but as Dahlia observed the unperturbed looks on the faces of the Mother Confessor, the Seeker and the wizard, she was certain that she was right about Cara not actually being a threat. It was bravado again. It was a way to show the people around them that Cara was someone to be feared despite the Mother Confessor's playful attitude.
"The celebration is in your honour," Dahlia said breaking the uncomfortable silence that fell after Cara had spoken. "All of your honours," she continued, looking at Kahlan, Richard and Zedd in turn. "We would gladly pour you all the ale in the village," she finished looking at Cara once again. "Your agiel," Dahlia continued, glancing down at the weapon Cara still had her hand on the hilt of, "your swords, your daggers and wizards fire have all worked to protect us. Please, now allow us to work for your care and comfort."
Cara met Dahlia's gaze and felt her ire deserting her despite herself. Dahlia's tone was respectful and diffident, but her eyes were warm and playful. It reminded Cara of how Kahlan sometimes looked at her and she realized that Dahlia was placating her. She was putting on a show for the other villagers, but she herself was not scared, just as Kahlan was never truly intimidated by her moods anymore. She thought that Dahlia's presumptuousness should have angered her, but Dahlia's eyes were the same as they had been when they were children, and when Cara looked at her she remembered the way she had felt as she ran and played and snuggled with Dahlia as a child. Despite herself, she remembered her girlhood affection for Dahlia and what little that was left inside of her of the girl Cara had been before the Mord'Sith made it difficult for Cara to truly be upset with her.
"You will pour mine personally," Cara declared.
Dahlia lips twitched in response to her words but the woman did not actually smile. Dahlia had understood that she was teasing and Cara felt her stomach tinge with some more or less pleasant emotion in response.
"I'm not a barmaid," Dahlia responded, meeting Cara's eyes through the screen of her eyelashes, her posture demure though her gaze and words were bold.
"You are tonight," Cara replied.
"You're very bossy," Dahlia returned with affection despite the words she had spoken.
Cara was silent for a moment, and then she arched a golden eyebrow and rudely inquired, "Why are you still talking when you should be pouring me ale?"
"Impatient too, I see. Bossy and impatient … you have not changed," Dahlia decided, a hint of a smile playing across her lips.
Cara had always liked to have her way when they were small too.
"I'm considerably taller now," Cara responded smugly.
"She's taller still," Dahlia said nodding her head in Kahlan's direction.
Cara frowned at that and Kahlan had to bite her lip to stop from smiling. It galled Cara – and therefore amused her – to no end that she was the shortest.
"An inch or two is meaningless in combat. Besides, I'm as strong as her and have more endurance," Cara stated her voice defensive and then prideful as she met Kahlan's eyes challengingly before straightening her back and turning her gaze back to Dahlia. "I also drink ale now. Or I would if you'd fetch it," she continued staring at Dahlia pointedly. "Fetch it," she added flicking her hand towards the part of town where buildings clustered together.
"You're also ruder now, but despite that I'll still pour your ale," Dahlia responded. "You'll have to walk to the tavern yourself, though. We don't have a tavern wagon in this town. Drunks and aspiring drunks must provide their own transportation," she declared with a sweet smile. "Heroes follow me," she continued a second later, turning to look at Kahlan, Richard and Zedd. "Cara you can come too," she added smirking before she turned and began to walk towards the nearest building.
Cara was still for a moment after Dahlia turned and began to walk away, but after watching the woman thoughtfully for a few seconds Cara's lips curved up in a smile and she started after Dahlia's retreating form.
Once Cara started moving Kahlan fell in step behind her, followed by Richard, Zedd and a crowd of confused, but relieved, villagers.
"That was strange, right?" Richard whispered as they trailed behind Cara and Dahlia. "She talked to Cara like …" Richard struggled to find the right way to phrase his thoughts.
"A person," Kahlan offered.
"Yes! Like a person," Richard agreed. "Like a regular person. That's strange, isn't? Most people treat Cara like …"
"A Mord'Sith," Kahlan finished for him.
"Like a Mord'Sith," Richard repeated, "Exactly. But that woman didn't seem the least bit scared of her. Do you think it might be magic?" Richard asked, only half joking as he turned to look at Zedd.
"Magic doesn't work on Mord'Sith," Zedd responded, looking ahead at the backs of the two women in front of them. "Perhaps young Dahlia is simply able to see beyond Cara's Mord'Sith leather to the woman beneath," Zedd offered thoughtfully. "You know as well as I do that Cara is 'a person'. She's an irascible, cranky, aggressive, belittling, smug, wizard-kicking person, but a person nonetheless. It is not so impossible I think, for someone else to see this as well."
He had not been as asleep as Cara and Dahlia had thought that night by the camp fire before the spell of undoing had been cast, and he had observed some of the women's interactions before they moved into the trees for their intimacies, which he had not be privy too.
Cara had been softer and gentler than he had ever seen her when she was alone with Dahlia. The layer of emotional armour that she wore, even with Kahlan, had been stripped from her and she had spoken to Dahlia with such care and vulnerability that Zedd had almost not recognized her.
That night, in the dying light of the campfire, there could be no doubt that Cara was very much a person, despite how hard the Mord'Sith had tried to strip her of her humanity.
At the time he had thought the change he observed in Cara was as a result of being with a fellow Sister of the Agiel. He found it hard to believe that all Mord'Sith were so open with each other, but it was the best theory he had been able to come up with at the time. However, knowing what he now did about them growing up together, he thought it was more likely that it was the emotions and experiences of their childhood that had bonded them together so tightly. No doubt, in the timeline before the spell of undoing, surviving Mord'Sith training together and somewhere along the line become lovers had strengthened their bond, but it seemed that the root of their connection lay in childhood. The dynamics of their relationship had been forged during a time untouched by the spell of undoing and thus, it seemed, it had been able to survive across universes.
Undoing Dahlia had been the only way to right things enough to get them to the Pillars of Creation in time to defeat the Keeper, but Zedd had felt badly that it had been necessary to undo the one loving adult relationship in Cara's life in order to save the world. However, as he watched the two of them walking – Dahlia obviously looking over to study Cara while Cara occasionally stole a surreptitious look at Dahlia – Zedd thought that he might not have stolen the chance for love from them, but simply delayed it.
"Yes, but …" Richard began, not quite able to accept what Zedd was saying without knowledge of the world that had been before the spell of undoing.
"All things in time, my boy, all things in time," Zedd said, cutting Richard off as he clasped his hand on Richard's shoulder.
He took a moment to squeeze Richard's shoulder affectionately, and then with a respectful nod in Kahlan's direction he used his long legs to stride ahead of the Seeker and Mother Confessor. The story of Cara and Dahlia was not his to tell, but if Richard and Kahlan had continued to pester him he may not have been able to control himself. Kahlan had once called him a 'gossip', and it was true. He was a Gossip of the First Class, but despite the brabbles he got into with Cara he liked and respected the Mord'Sith and would try allow her to reveal what she chose to, when she chose to.
Richard turned to Kahlan once Zedd was past them and out of earshot. His lips parted to speak, but before he could say a word, Kahlan spoke.
"That was strange too," Kahlan confirmed knowing what Richard was going to ask.
"Really strange," Richard murmured looking over at her.
"Super strange," Kahlan said smiling playfully.
"Super duper strange," Richard replied smiling back at her.
"Fantastically wonderfully sensationally strange," Kahlan said smiling more widely as Richard wrapped his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her closer.
Richard laughed as Kahlan finished her description and then leaned in to kiss Kahlan's temple, allowing her to burrow her face into his neck as she too began to giggle.
To be continued…