A/N: I wrote this fic for the Rahlmas celebration at peoplespalace/livejournal.
This is an AU set after the first season episode "Fever" and before any events we see in "Reckoning".
I want to thank my awesome Beta: hrhrionastar - She was amazing to help me out with this during her exam week. My heartfelt thanks for everything, but especially for helping me ponder those pesky plot-holes and for helping me get all of my Egremonts straight. Thanks also to hrhrionastar for allowing me to use her original idea of Creatormas for my story.
Disclaimer: I own nothing connected with Legend of the Seeker TV series or the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I receive no profit.
I own nothing connected to "A Christmas Carol" written by Charles Dickens.
Children - This is a tale told to me by my father, a tale which was told to him by his own father and before that, passed down from generation to generation going back through the centuries to that fabled time when the last Seeker of Truth walked the earth.
This is a tale of how the once fearsome tyrant, Darken Rahl, learned to keep the true spirit of Rahlmas and Creatormas - past, present and future - in his heart, and of the reluctant guide who showed him the way.
This is a tale of remorse, redemption and forgiveness.
This is a reminder to all of you that miracles are always possible.
The Tyrant and the Messenger
The Palace of the Prophets was aglow with the joyous anticipation of Creatormas Eve, an occasion marked yearly by the Sisters of the Light inside their cloistered domain..
As her sisters bustled to and fro, hanging up holly and ivy, decorating the Creatormas tree, laughing quietly together, and being even more cheerful than usual, Sister Verna Sauventreen knelt at the foot of one of the Walls of Prophecy, trying to catch a few minutes of quiet meditation amidst the bustle around her. Even though she had already done more than her share of decorating, had finished baking her famous pastries, had prepared gifts for each of her sisters and had made her own Vows of Rededication, Verna had been increasingly troubled over the past few hours by the nagging sense of something still left undone.
For the life of her, Verna couldn't imagine what more could be required of her, but past experience and her devotion to the Creator had taught Verna that in moments such as this, it was necessary to remove herself from outer distractions and center her mind on that inner voice.
Perhaps on the eve of this holy day, Sister Verna might even be honored by a message from the Creator Herself.
True, the Creator had never revealed Herself to Verna directly, nor to any Sister of the Light in memory. Only a few women over the millennia could claim that hallowed distinction. Yet Verna had already done so much for the community of sisters, and was a natural leader. Many thought she would one day be named as Prelate.
Quelling the pride in her own accomplishments that rose in her breast, Verna bowed her head, silenced her thoughts, and listened.
It was a woman's voice, softer than a whisper, yet so powerful Verna marveled that the walls didn't shake.
I have a task for you.
Verna began to tremble, her heart pounded against her ribs. The Creator carved Her prophecies into the walls of the palace, but maybe tonight She had chosen a mortal woman to receive the next great prophecy and to reveal it to the world?
But the Creator had said a task, not a revelation.
Verna's heart sank. She was honored to be singled out, but didn't know if she could face another arduous mission. She had only just returned to the Palace of the Prophets within the past year after years of fruitlessly searching for the next War Wizard, and after barely escaping with her life from a D'Hara quad, Verna didn't want to leave this peaceful sanctuary again. Couldn't another of her sisters find the prophesied wizard who would save humankind from the monster of D'Hara – Darken Rahl?
Hadn't Verna already done more than enough?
She deserved a rest.
Do you doubt my wisdom in choosing you, Sister Verna?
The Creator's tone was firm, but with an underlying current of humor.
You always were stubborn, Verna. It is one of the many qualities that endear you to me.
Verna felt the heat rise in her face, feeling both ashamed and proud at the words, then she sternly reminded herself that pride was an affront to the Creator.
Do not worry, Sister. The task I send you on will be for this night only, and your body will never leave this palace, only your spirit. You will be home in body and spirit to celebrate with your sisters on the morrow.
That didn't sound too bad. A spiritual visitation, leaving one's body to deliver a message to a far- flung recipient, was not unheard of, although it had never been asked of Verna before. This undertaking must indeed be of the greatest importance.
I'm sending you to D'Hara. There is one there who is in utmost need of my guidance.
D'Hara! Why there? Verna had lost too many of her sisters to the D'Harans, had seen too many good and noble men and women perish at the hands of those Creator-forsaken men, all of them following the orders of the most monstrous evil of all – that demon in human form - Darken Rahl.
Verna's breath caught in her throat before she reminded herself that her body would remain quite safe. Perhaps the foretold War Wizard had been captured and imprisoned by the D'Harans, and Verna was being sent to offer him solace and advice.
If there were any unfortunate soul suffering under Rahl's infernal tyranny who needed Verna's – and the Creator's – help, then she would, with as much good grace as possible, comply with whatever was required of her.
You will need to put your complete trust in me, Sister Verna. You do not yet know to whom I'm sending you.
Again, the Creator's voice carried a hint of rueful humor.
Verna's stomach knotted. If the Creator wanted her to be a messenger to one of Lord Rahl's minions, she didn't know if she had the strength or the stomach for it.
She was beginning to regret leaving the merry gaggle of her sisters still chattering around the Creatormas tree.
Sometimes it didn't pay to be too devout.
The man I am sendng you to is Darken Rahl.
"What!" Verna hissed in stunned disbelief, her hands which had been open in receptive devotion clenching into fists. She sprang to her feet, terrified that she had been conversing with a fiend in the guise of the Creator. Fortunately, Verna's sisters were still gathered around the tree at the far end of the great hall, well out of earshot.
Nevertheless, Verna hastened into the nearest meditation cell. There were some things that must be spoken aloud, even if no mortal being heard her words.
"How can you even think of sending me to the creature responsible for the death of tens of thousands of innocents, the man who is the misery of D'Hara and the Midlands, who fouls the world with his very existence? What about the prophecy? Isn't anything sacred anymore?" Verna was irate, almost in tears. "How do I even know you are the Creator? I can't believe the Great Mother would ask such a thing of me."
The air grew heavy around her and a fragrance of spring rain filled the small room. A great silence filled the chamber. Shamefaced, Verna lowered her head at the gentle but firm rebuke.
I knew you would argue with me, Verna. This has not been an easy decision, and I understand your reluctance. But you are the best person, the only person, I would entrust with this task. You are strong-willed, determined, and compassionate. You will be under my protection. Darken Rahl, cannot harm you. Despite his magic, which is far less potent than generally believed, he is a fearful , desperate man. He is set on the path to his own destruction, but his death could have consequences beyond imagining.
Verna shrugged. She didn't care about Rahl's troubles and, as far as she was concerned, his death couldn't come soon enough. "His innumerable crimes are unforgivable," she declared stoutly, squaring her shoulders. "The massacre of Brennidon alone condemns him to the Keeper's fires for eternity. The Seeker of Truth barely escaped with his life."
I have not forgotten the children slain at Brennidon, nor any of Darken Rahl's transgressions. I forget nothing.The soft voice seemed to boom into the cell. But It is not for you, Sister Verna, or any other mortal to decide who is beyond forgiveness
"But the prophecy foretold Rahl's tyranny, and the second prophecy proclaims that the Seeker will destroy Darken Rahl. Are we just to ignore all prophecy?" Verna implored, still unwilling to give up the debate.
There have been countless prophecies throughout history, Verna. Whether they ever come to pass is often a matter of one's point of view, and usually recorded in hindsight. Those that never materialize are soon forgotten, even those engraved upon these walls.
"Then why am I even here, Mother, in a palace devoted to you, and to prophecy?" Verna was pacing the room, trying to stem the tears of anger, confusion that threatened to spill down her cheeks. She felt betrayed by the One she had always revered.
Verna still didn't want to believe it.
Wouldn't believe it.
You are here because this is where you are needed, Verna. We could argue about this all night, but that would defeat the whole purpose of my visit. Darken Rahl needs to hear from my emissary tonight.
However - I can't force you to do this, Verna, and would not even if I could.
I can only ask.
Are you ready to hear what needs to be done?
It might have been her imagination, but Verna thought she felt the soft pressure of a reassuring hand squeezing her shoulder.
"Yes, Mother," Verna muttered, her voice full of doubt, yet the Creator seemed to take no notice.
Then this is what I want you to do…
It was Rahlmas Eve and Lord Darken Rahl, ruler of D'Hara, self-proclaimed ruler of the Midlands and would-be ruler of all three territories, stalked the corridors of the People's Palace like a crimson panther, his robes trailing regally behind him, along with the typical array of Mord'Sith, guards and various hangers-on.
Darken's everyday robes were troublesome enough, always swirling up dust whenever he turned around too quickly and constantly snagging on his throne, but the special garments that tradition required him to wear during the week preceding and up through Rahlmas Day were particularly irksome. Darken could swear that the palace seamstresses held a competition every year to see who could make the longest royal train for the occasion. Only today, three soldiers, five maids and one Mord'Sith had fallen victim to the treacherous coils.
The Mord'Sith, Mistress Riona, upon recovering from her undignified trip, sprawl and slide across the marble floor, had snarled at the unseen foe who had accosted her, springing up with agiel at the ready, until her eyes fell on the person, and clothing, responsible. Then, face flushed with humiliation, she had dropped to her knees before Darken, almost slipping again, as it was impossible to avoid the thirty-foot long swath of red velvet that surrounded him.
The incident would have been almost amusing if Darken wasn't so weighed down by the clothing himself, and by the burden of this holiday which he so detested.
Rahlmas had been instigated by an ancestor Darken had mentally consigned to perdition. It had been his family's way of congratulating themselves for being, well, Rahls. Which might have been all fine and good in the distant past, but what was the point of setting aside a day to reward yourself with all the material riches you already owned?
In Darken's opinion, Rahlmas was the worst day of the year. The one day when he was forced to acknowledge that his subjects did not love him; that their smiles were always forced, their eyes always averted, their gifts either coerced or given in hope of reward, and their praise always uttered through gritted teeth or in stammering fear.
Darken Rahl had forever been a man alone, but he was never more alone than on Rahlmas day.
And he hated it.
To add insult to injury, it had long since come to Darken's attention that while his subjects did not truly love or celebrate him on this holiday, they adored Rahlmas Day. Somehow, as the decades had passed, the day meant to celebrate Darken and his ancestors had also become an excuse for families to gather together in their homes and, once the Rahl devotional had been muttered, to devour copious amounts of food, play games, exchange presents, and engage in disgusting displays of affection towards one another.
Darken had had enough of the travesty.
Rahlmas was nothing but a day of empty misery for him, and if he couldn't enjoy the occasion, Darken saw no reason for anyone else to take pleasure in it.
Tomorrow afternoon, during his ceremonial speech to the masses, Darken would proclaim to all D'Hara that, after more than three thousand years, this Rahlmas would be the last.
Darken had spent most of the afternoon and early evening mulling over the momentous announcement to come while pretending not to notice the barely suppressed impatience of his men, who, he presumed, were looking forward to a night of convivial drunkenness with their comrades before spending the next day with their families.
As the hours of Rahlmas Eve wore on, even Darken's faithful Mord'Sith didn't seem immune to the desire to be out of Darken's company. Out of the corner of his eye, he had noticed Mistress Riona stifle an ostentatious yawn followed by a barely perceptible answering nod from Mistress Lisa.
He felt a sudden pang of longing for First Mistress Cara. The Seeker and his retinue were stronger than ever before, and Darken had sent his most trusted Mord'Sith to subdue his recalcitrant subjects, and to snare Richard Cypher, the Confessor and the wizard, Zeddicus, hopefully before the Seeker decided to use the Boxes of Orden which Darken's younger sister had so deviously snatched from under his nose.
Darken pondered if, wherever she was this night, Cara missed him.
He wondered if she missed her sisters even more.
Did his Mord'Sith gather together in his absence to celebrate this blasted holiday? Did they long to be away from him so that they could eat, drink and laugh together? If so, it only proved that this ridiculous business had to be put to an end.
Briefly Darken considered ordering Mistress Riona to attend him through the night as a punishment for preferring other company to his. But truth to tell, he didn't have the energy. Gesturing with curt authority, Darken dismissed the two women from his presence as well as the rest of his men. They dashed down the hall with unseemly enthusiasm, although Lisa and Riona brought up the rear with at least a modicum of dignity.
Let all of them have their final night and day of celebration. Following Darken's pronouncement on the morrow, Rahlmas would be consigned to the past.
Believing himself alone, Darken let his shoulders slump under the weight of his velvet and brocade trappings as he turned and began the long trek toward his bedchamber.
"Sir" The gruff familiar voice stopped Darken in his tracks. He should have realized that there would always be one man who didn't flee his presence at the first opportunity.
"Yes, Egremont. What is it?" Darken faced his most trusted general and advisor, who looked unusually red-faced and bleary-eyed. As Egremont approached, Darken caught the unmistakable whiff of alcohol. He had never known the man to drink on duty, but wine had been flowing freely, if discreetly, all evening, and even Darken's stalwart general must have given in to the temptation of Rahlmas eve.
Darken bit back the reprimand that sprung to his lips. Egremont was the only person Darken completely trusted, the only one who had known the ruler since Darken was a child. The general had earned a little leeway.
The abominable holiday was making everybody sloppy and inefficient.
"Lord Rahl," Egremont said carefully, inclining his head in deference. "Two days hence, Ben, my sister's youngest grandson, is being sent to fight against the latest uprising in the Midlands. I was wondering if….perhaps…" his voice trailed off uncertainly.
"What, Egremont? Out with it. I don't have all night," Darken barked with impatience. Everybody's sons and grandsons were fighting in the Midlands these days.
His cursed brother was wreaking havoc everywhere.
"Well, my Lord, I was wondering if you would grant me two days leave. It would mean so much to my wife and to my family, so that we can all be together this Rahlmas." Egremont spoke slowly and deliberately, weaving ever-so-slightly on his feet. He had never before made such a request.
Darken felt the disappointed rage burn through his veins. Even Egremont had fallen prey to the infection of Rahlmas. His staunchest companion would rather be elsewhere than at his master's side.
"No, Egremont. I can't spare you. My best wishes go with your great-nephew, but I need you with me." For some unfathomable reason Darken found it hard to meet the older mans' eyes. "You will have tomorrow to spend with your family," he relented, thinking himself very generous. "Then I expect you back at Court at the next break of dawn."
Egremont just stared at Darken for a moment, as if trying to take in what he had heard, and then seemed to remember his duty. "Yes, my Lord", he acknowledged, with a husky edge to his voice that Darken had never heard before. "Do I have your permission to leave now?"
"Yes, yes." Darken waved the general away, hating the way Egremont was making him doubt himself. "Enjoy your day off."
Giving another obsequious tilt of the head, the general turned away and tottered unsteadily down the hall. Darken watched him with an uncomfortable knot in his throat.
If only Egremont hadn't mentioned his family.
He, of all people, should have known better.
By the time he reached the royal bedchamber, Darken was so burdened with velvet, brocade, tension and irritation that he knew there would be no sleep for him this night. Throwing off the stifling robes with a groan of relief, he sat down at his writing desk with the intent of writing his proclamation for the following day.
But before he had managed to jot down more than few words Darken was overcome with a weariness that seemed to bleach into his bones, his heart and his soul. He needed to rest, if only for a few moments.
Walking over to his empty bed with leaden feet, Darken lay down without even bothering to pull a pillow under his head. Sleep claimed him as soon as he closed his eyes. Sweet, deep dreamless sleep such as Darken had not known since earliest childhood.
He was oblivious to the world until an icy blast of winter air jolted him awake.
The shutters, which Darken always kept firmly closed, had blown open, and the fire that had been roaring in the hearth when he had taken to his bed was now barely flickering.
"I thought you'd never wake up, Rahl. You sleep like the dead." A woman's voice spoke in the dark, but his fogged brain couldn't make out its source.
"Cara?" Darken asked hopefully. Maybe she had returned to him in triumph. His Cara never feared to disturb him, especially if she brought good news. "When did you get back?"
The air blew colder against Darken's skin as a slender figure clothed in red moved into his line of vision, her face cast in sharp relief by the fire, which had roared into life again at a wave of her hand.
"I hope you don't mind, but it's cold outside, and I've traveled a long distance," the crimson woman declared as, with another gesture, the shutters slammed shut.
With reflexes honed by years of training and suspicion, Darken sprang from the bed and slashed the woman's throat.
Or thought he had.
But instead of muscle and bone, his blade sliced through an apparition that not only shed no blood, but had the audacity to laugh at him. He could see her, could hear her, but she wasn't – there.
"Who are you? What are you?" Darken demanded, backing away slowly, calling to mind every incantation he could think of to ward off malignant spirits. He might not be able to kill this creature in the flesh, but he could still destroy her with magic.
She held out her hand, forestalling him before the first syllable left his lips. "Your spells are a waste of your breath and my time, Darken Rahl. Your magic has no power against me, even within the walls of your impregnable palace."
Darken found that he had completely forgotten the words to every spell he had ever learned. Yet now that his eyes and senses were adjusting, he sensed no threat from the woman. On closer inspection, she really looked quite ordinary – middling in stature and age, long dark brown hair, with three distinctive marks on her forehead.
"You're a Sister of the Light." Darken announced with something like wonder, uneasy at the thought that a member of a Sisterhood so opposed to his rule could penetrate his barriers and deflect his magic with so little effort, appearing to him, speaking to him, apparently without even leaving the comfort of her own sanctuary.
It was a skill Darken would give his soul to gain, if only he had not already bargained it away.
He craved the secret to this powerful sorcery.
"You're my sworn enemy, Sister, an advocate of every prophecy made against me, and, since you've successfully deprived me of my magic, it would seem you have me at your mercy. Why don't you just kill me?" Darken's practiced smile belied the reckless words. This woman, for whatever reason, presented no immediate danger. He approached her again, unarmed now, and bared his throat to her, as if daring her to strike him down.
For the first time his visitor seemed to lose a bit of her self-assurance. Gazing at him with a look of bewildered fury, she exclaimed, "That's an excellent question? I should kill you. You deserve death. But She has not given me the power to harm you, and I don't understand why. I've had to come all this way but can't put an end to you. It would save so many lives if I could." The woman sounded almost petulant, and very human.
Darken was intrigued - A powerful sorceress who wanted him dead, yet who was powerless to complete the act. He needed to glean as much information from her as possible. "What are you called?" Darken asked, easing himself down by the fire, gesturing for her to join him, not at all discomfited by giving her the advantage of height when she ignored his invitation. "I'd offer you wine, if only you could drink." Gaining confidence, he flashed another smile at her.
The impotent rage in her eyes was rather appealing. Darken didn't mind if his enemies hated him, although he preferred it if they feared him, too.
The Sister of the Light glared down at him, and Darken fought a momentary urge to duck. He wondered if a kick from a spirit would leave bruises.
"I knew I should never have agreed to this," she muttered through clenched teeth." I was the wrong person to send. She should have known that."
Who was this 'She' the woman kept nattering on about?
"I asked for your name. Surely a small thing to ask – under the circumstances." Darken's voice was soft, deliberately seductive, knowing he was only goading her further. This past week had been such an ordeal , he deserved some entertainment.
Her lips started to curl back in a snarl, but then her features relaxed. The creature seemed to be concentrating on something that had nothing to do with Darken, to be listening to a voice he couldn't hear. He found it extremely irritating. Darken always expected to be the center of attention, particularly in his own bedchamber.
"Verna," the woman finally whispered, the anger now gone from her voice. "My name is Sister Verna, and I have no desire to remain in this tainted place any longer than necessary." She gazed down at Darken once again, this time with resignation. "But here I am, and here you are, so we might as well get on with it so that I can return to my home, and you to – whatever it is that you do."
"Get on with what?" Sensing that his brief control over their encounter was faltering, Darken rose to his feet. He wasn't about to cede Sister Verna one inch of advantage now – this intruder who could enter his palace at will.
"My task," Verna replied with a grimace of distaste, reaching out to take his hand before he had time to react. "Regrettably it requires a certain amount of physical contact."
Darken jerked away from the surprising warmth of her flesh. This Verna was indeed formidable, able to manifest in either corporeal form or apparition as she chose. But he was not about to let her lay a finger on him. The sister had already proven her ability to negate his magic, who knew what spell she could cast on him despite her protestations that she could do him no harm.
The witch's touch might twist his will to do her bidding. Darken was immune to confession, but this was something else entirely.
"You still haven't told me who sent you," he snapped, hoping that his patented Rahl stare was able to disguise his growing alarm.
Verna rolled her eyes, sighing in exasperation. "I've come here only at the bequest of the Creator. Only She could convince me to endure your presence, and it wasn't easy – even for Her." Verna heaved another great sigh, shrugging her shoulders. "I am sworn to do Her will, no matter how revolting the task might be. She must have her reasons, as incomprehensible as they may seem."
Once more Verna reached for Darken's hand, but he recoiled from her touch. At the mention of the Creator's name, terror had replaced apprehension in his heart. He had nothing to do with the Creator, nor She with him.
He had renounced the Creator years ago.
Darken was for the Keeper.
"Rahl, I'm beginning to think I gave you too much credit. You're not a cunning, manipulative tyrant after all, but an arrogant, short-sighted fool. Give me your hand. " Verna repeated in a harsh tone as she tapped the toe of her boot impatiently against the floor. "I want to get this over with as much as you do."
"Why? I see no benefit to myself, and you have yet to give me a good reason why I should trust you." Darken was trying to maintain the illusion of calm, but was forced to admit that he had lost control over this situation as soon as this infernal woman had entered his room. "This Creator may claim you mean me no harm, but injury can take many forms."
Verna threw up her hands in disgust. "Very well! I can't force you to accept the Creator's help if you are determined to reject it. She has given Her word that you will be safe. I was instructed to make the offer. I have done so. If you refuse, so be it. I'm more than ready to leave." Verna turned from the warmth of the fire and crossed the distance to the window, raising her palm to open the shutters.
"Wait! Don't go – not yet." Darken almost shouted, astonished at himself. It suddenly seemed of paramount importance that she stay with him.
If she left, he would be left alone – as always.
Sister Verna carried with her some vital knowledge that he both dreaded, and for which he yearned.
"Well – make up your mind. I don't have all night." Verna said, a little less harshly than before. "It's Creatormas Eve, and I wish to celebrate the Mother's blessed day with my sisters.
Darken stared at her a moment and gave a strangled laugh. "It's Rahlmas Eve here in D'Hara, Sister Verna. I'm shocked you wouldn't prefer to spend the happy day with us."
One of his distant ancestors must have deliberately chosen the Creator's ancient day of worship in order to celebrate the mighty name of Rahl. While it made a certain degree of strategic sense it did seem a little petty of them. He wondered how many of his subjects still covertly blessed the Creator during Rahlmas. Yet Darken had heard that time passed more slowly in the Palace of the Prophets. Perhaps it was only coincidence that the events coincided this year.
When Verna refused to rise to the bait, Darken waved her back over to join him before the fire. "Very well, Verna, Sister of the Light, messenger from the Creator, what does the Blessed One demand of me?"
If Verna was insulted at the casual use of the Mother's name she gave no sign. "Only that you take my hand and accompany me on a journey." This time Darken did not pull away when she reached over and caught his fingers in her own firm grip.
"Where are we going?" he asked, despising the plaintive note in his voice, feeling almost like a child.
"Nowhere. Everywhere. Even I don't know where the Creator will guide us, Darken Rahl, or what we will see when we arrive." For the first time that night a glint of humor sparkled in Verna's eyes.
Before he could form an appropriately sardonic retort, the walls of the chamber dissolved around them.