TITLE: Solstice Miracle
AUTHOR: Lord of Kavaka
TIMELINE: 16 years after "TEARS"
STORY TYPE: Family/Humor
SPOILERS: Anything from Season 1 & 2.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own them, and I make no profit.
SUMMARY: Set after THE DAY FOR FATHERS; The Cypher-Amnells celebrate the Winter Solstice. Plus plan a surprise for Cara.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my Seeker friends, this is for you.
"Come on, Daddy! Hurry up! We're cold!"
Richard looked over at the twins, in the past year they had grown a little taller, both at the same increments—so they still looked exactly the same. He wondered if they would always look so much a like. Not for the first time, he pondered how he could even tell Hailey and Jane apart.
"YEAH DADDY! HURRY UP!"
The two twin terrors giggled as little Simone shouted, mimicking her big sisters. Richard shot the twins a look, and then turned back to the tree. He hefted the axe up and swung again, causing snow the filter down around them. The girls laughed and squealed as they danced around. Simone waddled around after Hailey and Jane, letting out a high pitch shrill of joy. Richard pulled the axe back and swung again, sending more snow bouncing down from the branches of the fur tree.
Kahlan had sent him out with Hailey, Jane, and Simone to pick out a tree to put up in the family room. Meanwhile, his beloved wife, along with Karen and little Cara, were busy setting up the garlands and wreaths around their private chambers in the Confessor's Palace. The staff had already gone about donning the grand hall and most of the palace in festive cheer. All that remained was a tree for their private family room.
Richard had always enjoyed the celebration of the winter solstice, even as a child. But his enjoyment of the season had only increased ten-fold once he, himself, had children of his own. He loved watching the look of wonder spread across their innocent faces as they gazed up at all the decorations and bright colors. And he delighted in watching his little girls play in the snow. It reminded him of happier times with the Cyphers, his adoptive parents.
"Alright, girls, stand back," Richard instructed. "Jane, hold Simone's hand."
"Yes, Daddy," Jane said, turning to Simone and grabbing her small hand and holding her back.
Richard took a quick succession of breaths and then swung hard, taking the last whack at the tree. With a crack and groan, the tree shuddered and then tilted, falling to the left. It crashed in a rustle of leaves, sending particles of snow dancing up into the air, much to the delight of Simone, who squealed loudly in approval.
Stepping back, Richard wiped the sweat from his brow and let out a long hot breath, watching it fog before him.
"Yay! Good work, Daddy!" Hailey and Jane chirped at once, as they often did. He could swear that those two hardly spoke out of unison.
Richard shifted his weight and turned back to look at his girls. He gave them a lazy smile. Jane let go of Simone's hand and the four-year old girl dashed through the snow and collided with him, sending him falling backwards.
"Daddy did a good job!" Simone laughed and hugged him.
Chuckling, Richard hugged his daughter back, making sure to keep the sharp point of the axe away from her precious little body. "Well, you did a good job of picking out the tree, Simone," Richard said, patting her on the back.
"YES! I did!" Simone enthusiastically agreed, bobbing her little head.
Hailey and Jane stood where they were, clutching hands, and remaining quiet. Richard looked over at them, weary of their sudden silence. They weren't called the twin terrors for nothing. Just as he turned his attention back to Simone, standing back up on his feet, Richard was hit by two frosty snowballs, followed by the loud shrill laughter of the twins (which they did in unison, of course). He shivered as the snow trickled down the back of his shirt.
Simone giggled and leaned down to grab some snow. She really wasn't able to pack up a small ball, but she got enough in her small little hand to fling some snow at her older sisters. Soon, the girls were squealing and running around, throwing snow at each other. Richard stood back and watched, smiling softly to himself, remembering his own childhood and how Michael and him would team up with the other boys in Hartland to have huge snowball fights.
Richard turned towards Bella and Ilia—the two Mord'Sith guards, who had been watching it all with bemused smiles. They stood out starkly in their crimson red leather with all the white snow surrounding them. "Care to help me with the tree, ladies?" he asked with a smirk.
"Ladies?" Ilia echoed, raising an eyebrow. "Since when are we considered as refined as the Mother Confessor and Lady Karen?"
Bella rolled her eyes. "We're no more ladies than Mistress Cara," she said. "But… since you asked nicely, I guess we'll help you with the tree."
With the two Mord'Sith's assistance, Richard hauled the large fur tree back to the Confessor's Palace. Kahlan was in the grand hall, supervising some last minute garland placements, when they arrived. Her smile was radiant and made his heart swell with love. She looked just as beautiful as the day they met.
"Oh… what a lovely tree!" Kahlan exclaimed, stepping away from the tentatively relieved looking chamberlain—who was no doubt pleased that the Lord Rahl was back, meaning that the Mother Confessor's attention would no longer be on him. Richard noticed the man quickly scurry away before Kahlan could notice.
Kahlan glided up to him, always graceful and beautiful, the one-year-old Arilynn in her arms. The little one was looking around the room with big blue eyes. When she reached him, Kahlan gave him a soft kiss on the lips, which earned an "Eww!" from the twins. Richard chuckled softly as Kahlan leaned back, her lips also turning up in amusement at the twins' reaction. Simone just stared up wide-eyed at them.
Richard turned to a staff member, who relieved him of the axe and his cloak. Then he reached over and plucked Arilynn out of Kahlan's arms. The little girl smiled up at him and grabbed at his tooth pendant, playing with it in her small chubby hands.
"How's my little girl doing today?"
"Oh, very good," Kahlan informed him, her fingers running through Arilynn's mass of dark hair. Her brilliant blue eyes flicked back up to him and she smiled softly. Richard returned it, and he leaned over to kiss his wife again.
"Gross!" the twins groused. "You know… we're right here, don't you?"
Richard and Kahlan chuckled and shook their heads. "Yes, we know," Kahlan said with a nod.
"Well, it's gross… okay?" Hailey said, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Yeah!" concurred Jane, bobbing her head aggressively. "Gross!"
"Uh… a little help here?"
Richard turned and raised his eyebrows, suddenly remembering the tree and how he had let go once Kahlan had come over. Mistresses Bella and Ilia were struggling to keep it up. Immediately several staffers rushed in to help. Kahlan instructed them to take the tree to the family room. The Mord'Sith relinquished the tree with a sigh of relief.
"Yes, Hailey?" Kahlan asked. Richard was always amazed at how she could so effortlessly tell the difference between the twins, especially when they dress similarly.
"Where's Grampy?" Hailey questioned, frowning as she looked around the grand hall.
"Yeah, where is Zedd?" Richard questioned. "I thought he was going to come out with us to chop down the tree… or at least watch as I did all the work."
Kahlan smiled and shook her head. "He's in the kitchens, pestering the cooks."
Both Hailey and Jane seemed to perk up… a lot. Richard became nervous. Whenever those two looked that pleased, something was up.
"We… ah… we'll see you later!" Hailey said, then looked to her twin and gave a crisp nod.
"Yeah! Later!" Jane shouted.
And then the two darted off in the direction of the kitchens and their beloved great-grandfather. Richard arched his neck over his shoulder and stared after them.
"We… uh… we better go after them," Mistress Bella said, bowing her head.
Richard nodded. The two Mord'Sith gave him and Kahlan a nod and then walked off at a quick pace to catch up with the twin terrors. Meanwhile the staffers were hoisting the tree up the grand staircase, preparing to take it to the west wing of the Confessor's Palace.
"Did they behave?" Kahlan asked, smirking as she brushed some snow from his shoulders.
"Mostly," Richard chuckled, shaking his head as he watched Kahlan step over to little Simone. His wife hefted the growing Simone up into her arms. The little girl giggled with delight and wrapped her little arms around Kahlan's neck and hugged on tight. "Simone picked out the tree." At his words, his daughter nodded her head.
"Isn't it a beautiful tree, Mommy?" she asked, all wide-eyed and innocent.
"Yes, precious one, it is," Kahlan smiled, and then leaned down to kiss her daughter's head. Simone beamed with joy.
Richard looked around, taking notice of the two missing members of their family. "Where are Karen and Cara?"
"Karen's off doing some reading," Kahlan said with a knowing smile.
He frowned. "You mean off ogling some young soldier."
"Richard," Kahlan chided with a shake of her head. "She is fourteen."
"But still… she's my little girl," he protested feebly.
Kahlan chuckled and her eyes sparkled. Karen was their firstborn, and Richard was trying to prepare himself for the inevitability of her growing up, but it was hard. She'd always be his little girl. Kahlan inched closer, rubbing Simone's back, as the girl looked around at all the festive decorations.
"You know, Karen asked me about kissing and whether or not it was safe," Kahlan informed him.
Richard blanched. His little girl asking about kissing… boys? He shook his head. He did not want to imagine that. Kahlan had started having "the talk" with Karen, and Richard could only hope that his girls would be fortunate to have a chance to find a love like he and his beloved wife shared. He hated the idea of his little girls having to take mates and not marry for love. Though, he still hoped that was a long ways off. After all, Kahlan had just given birth to their seventh child last month. He was still too young to be a grandfather.
Kahlan laughed softly, probably guessing what he was thinking about. She adjusted Simone in her arms and patted his cheek. "Don't worry, Richard," she assured him. "Karen's just interested. I don't think she has a particular boy in mind."
"Um… good," he nodded after swallowing.
"Oh, and don't say anything," Kahlan said, giving him a little glare that told him she meant business. "Karen confided that to me in confidence. It was a talk between mother and daughter. She'd be mortified if her father knew she'd been asking about kissing."
"Don't worry, I don't even want to think about it," Richard assured her with a half-hearted grin, again picturing his little princess growing up.
Kahlan kissed the side of his mouth and rubbed his arm. "I'm going to take Simone out to the gardens, where Cara and our Cara are."
"Oh!" his eyebrows rose. "Is the plan still a go?"
Kahlan nodded and inclined her head over to a D'Haran general sitting patiently off to the side on a bench, his back stiff and straight. "He's been waiting for you for almost an hour."
"Okay, I'll take care of this side of things, you three just keep Cara distracted," he said.
"Don't worry, we will," Kahlan smirked with mischief and Richard let out a groan of want. If they did not have Simone and Arilynn, respectively, in their arms and care, he'd have taken Kahlan back to their bedchambers and made love to her. She noticed the darkening in his eyes and laughed lightly. She leaned over and kissed him sweetly before turning and strolling out of the room, bouncing Simone in her arms.
Richard let out a long breath and looked down at Arilynn, who was looking up at him with big blue eyes. "What?" he asked with a smirk. "You know, if you're mother and me didn't have some alone time, you wouldn't have so many sisters."
Arilynn just looked at him, and then turned her attention back to his tooth pendant. He smiled and kissed her soft fuzz of dark hair and then walked over to the D'Haran general.
The man snapped to attention at his approach. "Lord Rahl," he said with a salute and nod.
"General Haas," Richard smiled. "Happy Solstice."
"And too you, Lord Rahl," Haas returned his smile.
"Alvin… may I call you Alvin?" Richard questioned.
"Of course, Lord Rahl," Haas bowed his head.
Richard smiled. "Well, Alvin, I know something," he continued. "Something that was hard to find out, but I found it out."
Haas adjusted his weight on his feet and looked anxious. "Sir?"
"She remembers you… and if I'm right, still cares," Richard asserted.
Haas's eyebrows rose and his brow furrowed. He looked puzzled and his green eyes searched around the grand hall. "Uh… Lord Rahl?"
"Mistress Cara," Richard said, understanding dawning on the man's features.
"It… it has been a while, Lord Rahl," he spoke in a hushed voice. "I'm sure she doesn't even remember me… or feels the same as she did back then."
Richard smirked, remembering his conversation with his favorite Mord'Sith not too long ago. Cara did remember Alvin Haas, and she had expressed regret in simply ending things once the war with Darken Rahl had ended during their battle to unify D'Hara and the Midlands under one rule, with the seat of power here in Aydindril.
Adjusting Arilynn in his arms, he reached out and put one hand on Haas's shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. "She does," he said, yet still not entirely betraying his friend's confidence.
Haas looked up, his eyes showing the first signs of hope. It was at that point that Richard knew that the little plan that had been set in motion by his girls was going to work… and that it was right. Richard smiled warmly and patted the man's shoulder.
"Look, I need to put this one to bed, why don't you go to the kitchens and visit with Zedd? I'm sure he'd love to see you again," Richard said.
The man smirked, his eyes dancing. Yep, Richard nodded, he knows Zedd. "It has been a long time since I've seen the old conjurer," Haas said. "Perhaps I should pop in and see him."
Richard inclined his head, bidding the man farewell as he turned to take Arilynn to the nursery. "Oh," he said, spinning back around, remembering something. "I better warn you, the twins are probably with Zedd, too… so, it might be kind of crazy."
Haas bowed his head. "Thanks for the heads up, Lord Rahl," he said.
"Anytime," Richard replied with a smile.
Cautiously opening the door, Richard padded into the quiet room lit dimly by the low flickering light coming from candles ensconced in wall niches for safety. Looking around, he saw Mistress Relinda napping in one of the rocking chairs he had constructed. For a moment, he stood there and reflected on the fact that he had intrusted his children to the care of the Mord'Sith. Once, long ago, more than 15 years, really, he had despised the Mord'Sith, not just for what one of their number—Denna—had done to him, but for the brutal way in which they had tortured and abused the people under their charge.
But then he had met Cara. And he discovered that there was more to the Mord'Sith than what met the eye. They were human, women who had been enslaved by the powerful grip of fear and torture. It was all they knew, the only thing that had been taught to them. So he strived to bring out the human in them, and he had succeeded. Now, the Mord'Sith were amongst those he trusted most.
Smiling softly at the sleeping Mord'Sith, Richard stepped over and adjusted the blanket over her lap, covering her more. Mistress Relinda shifted slightly, but did not wake.
Turning back away, he walked over to the crib and gently laid a now sleepy Arilynn into the cushions. Arilynn blinked several times, and then yawned wide, until she finally succumbed to sleep's pull. Richard smiled and bent over the edge of the crib to kiss her head.
Backing away, Richard crept over to the bassinet sitting besides Relinda. Inside it laid the newest member of the Cypher-Amnell clan. Lorena was the image of her father, right down to his brown eyes and mass of brown hair. She even had his chin and nose. Kahlan adored her, and called her "my special little one".
Kneeling down besides the bassinet, Richard softly stroked his fingers through Lorena's mass of brown curls. His heart warmed when the babe leaned into his touch and smiled in her sleep. She was his seventh child. Seven… Spirits, he was amazed that Kahlan had endured pregnancy six times. She'd given birth seven times, since the twins came together, just not at once. Hailey was first, followed shortly by Jane. Richard wondered if that was the reason Hailey seemed to be the one to take charge.
Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to Lorena. She was so beautiful; he could never stop staring at her. He'd felt the same way about all his children. They were all special to him. Though, to be honest, little Cara would probably always have the warmest spot in his heart, considering the circumstances of her premature birth. He still shuddered with the memory of being told that Kahlan had gone into labor while in route to Kern.
Thankfully, Cara had been there to assist Kahlan through it. Little Cara had arrived by the time Richard made it to the inn, where Kahlan introduced him to his daughter, telling him that she'd be named for the woman who had helped to bring her into the world safe and sound. The elder Cara had an affinity with her goddaughter, and the feeling was mutual. Little Cara adored her "Auntie Cara" and would go out of her way to spend time with her.
Returning from his reverie, Richard bent over the side of the bassinet and kissed the sleeping Lorena. She cooed softly in her sleep, seemingly pleased with her father's kiss and caress.
"I love you," he murmured, and then turned towards the other crib. "Both of you… all of you."
Finding them in the gardens out back playing in the snow, Richard quickly hid behind a tree. He smiled mischievously as he watched his wife… oh, she was so gorgeous—dressed in her white gown, pure and white like the snow around her! Crouching, Richard scooped up some of the soft white powder and began to roll it into a nice sized ball. Then, slinking around the tree, using the skills he picked up a lifetime ago, he snuck closer.
Simone caught sight of him and squealed loudly. Kahlan straightened and turned around. Before she could see him, Richard dodged behind a bush, lying close to the ground.
"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Simone kept squealing.
Richard narrowed his eyes and listened. He heard the sounds of footsteps crunching in the snow, coming close. Biting the inside of his cheek, he held firm, not yet ready to give away his position.
"Daddy!" Simone squealed again.
He heard Kahlan let out a sigh, and then the footsteps retreated. "Daddy will be along shortly, Simone," Kahlan said in a soft voice. "He's just putting Arilynn to bed."
"Baby needs to sleep?" Simone inquired.
"Yes, precious one," Kahlan's voice was warm, filled with love for her child.
Richard arched his neck over the bush and caught sight of Kahlan kneeling on the ground, showing Simone how to roll the powder into a ball. It looked like they were building snowmen. The two Caras were off to the right, already halfway completed with theirs. And the twins only had the base, and seemed to have stalled. They appeared to be arguing about how to proceed.
They must have grown tired of Zedd, Richard thought. That alone, was a surprise, since the twins loved spending time with Zedd. Perhaps they grew bored with his grandfather's obsessive fascination with food. Honestly, how was that man so skinny?
Darting his eyes about, he found Karen sitting with her back against a tree, her nose buried in a large tome. Karen looked up from her book and despite being the farthest from him she seemed to have spotted him. At first, a playful grin tugged at her lips, but then she quickly frowned. Karen always tried to be serious, though Richard knew she had a playful streak in her that matched that of her mother. Spirits help the man that she married.
However, though she had caught him, Karen did not give him away. Rolling her eyes, she gave him a nod, letting him have her approval, however tentative it was.
Richard smirked and gave his eldest a wink, which only got her to roll her eyes again. Stepping out from behind the bush, he snuck up behind Kahlan. Taking aim, he tossed the ball of snow at her back.
"Oof!" Kahlan exclaimed. "Alright… who through that? Hailey? Jane?" She glanced at the twins, who shook their heads innocently. Arching her neck, Kahlan looked over her shoulder and spotted him. "Richard! Ugh, what's the matter with you? Now I'm wet… not to mention cold."
Richard quickly wrapped his arms around her as she gave him a fierce scowl. He smiled down at her, loving her annoyed expression. Before she could object or make any more statements of irritation, he kissed her hard on the mouth, earning a soft moan from her throat.
"Spirits! We're right here!" Hailey huffed.
"Yeah… gross!" concurred Jane.
"Quiet you two," Cara said. "Let them enjoy the moment."
"Uh-huh," nodded little Cara. "What Auntie Cara said!"
Letting out a chuckle as they backed away to breathe, Kahlan gave him a bemused smile. "You're sneaky, you know that, Richard Cypher?"
"Me? Sneaky?" he gave her a feigned frown. Turning, he looked down at little Simone. "Simone, is Daddy sneaky?"
Simone looked between him and her mother, confused as to what was going on. Richard laughed and backed away from Kahlan to swoop Simone up into his arms. She giggled and squirmed, but did not try to get away as he spun around, holding her tight. Dropping a kiss on the top of her head, he released her and watched as she darted over to the twins, plowing right into the base of their snowman.
"HEY!" Jane hooted, sounding like Zedd.
"Oh Bags!" groaned Hailey.
Richard and Kahlan exchanged a look. "Yep, they are definitely spending too much time with great-grandfather Zedd."
Karen was closing her book and standing up. She brushed the snow from her long skirt and stepped over to them. Richard was struck with how tall and graceful she was. Karen was the embodiment of a younger Kahlan. If she had had blue eyes, instead of hazel, Karen would have been her mother's doppelgänger. Richard still found it hard to believe that he had helped to create such perfection.
"So, Karen… what are you reading?" he asked, arching his neck to peer at the cover of the book.
His eldest shifted it in her arms, hiding the cover. A blush touched her cheeks and she avoided his eyes. "Nothing."
Richard chuckled and glanced over at his wife for confirmation. Kahlan grinned coyly and nodded. Turning back to Karen, Richard reached up to brush some of her dark hair from her face… she looked so much like her mother, it was breathtaking. "Are you reading love stories again?"
"Mom?" Karen pleaded for assistance.
Kahlan raised her hands up and shook her head. "You're on your own this time, Karen."
His daughter slumped her shoulders in defeat and brought the book up to show her father. She looked at him with concerned eyes as he took it from her delicate hands and examined the cover and the title page.
"Northern Lights of Obertan," Richard read the title page, "by Hesperia." He gave a nod, closing it. "Yep… love stories."
"I prefer to call them romance novels," Karen said, snatching the book back and giving him a defiant look. "You should probably give them a read. You could learn a thing or two."
"Yeah," Karen nodded, very sure of herself. "Romance is important, Dad. Women want to be romanced."
"Oh," he lowered his head for a moment, before grinning widely at her. "How'd you think you came to be?"
"Spirits, I do not want to hear this," Karen blushed brightly and looked very uncomfortable with the new direction of this conversation.
"Why? It's a natural process," Richard said, his smiling widening. "And besides, I thought you and your mother had started having 'the talk'."
"Um… yes," Karen nodded her head in confirmation, glancing over at her mother. "But… I… I don't want to talk to you about that stuff, Dad. It… it's awkward with you."
"Why?" he frowned.
"Why?" Karen repeated, paling a bit. "Um… er… because you're a… a…"
"A guy?" Richard supplied.
Flustered, Karen nodded, unable to speak. Letting out a laugh, Richard decided to end his daughter's torment. He patted her shoulder reassuringly.
"Alright, I'll shut up then, and leave it to your mother," he said.
Karen looked grateful and relieved. She gave a nod, and then hugged him awkwardly, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "I still love you, though," she said, and then darted off, clutching her book to her chest.
Richard watched her go with a smile. "She's growing up so fast, Kahlan, it seems like only yesterday I was holding her for the first time in my arms," he admitted to his wife.
"I know what you mean," Kahlan nodded, sighing as she stepped closer to him.
She slipped her hand down and intertwined their fingers together. He smiled and squeezed her hand. She squeezed back. They stared into each other's eyes, simply gazing into the soul of the one they loved.
"You two done having eye sex?"
Startled, they turned to see that it had not been the elder Cara who had spoken, but the younger one. The Mord'Sith was just as stunned as they were. Little Cara looked up at them with nothing but child-like innocence. Richard and Kahlan exchanged a look, both wondering where she'd heard that phrase. From the way the elder Cara was shaking her head, they had a feeling they already knew.
"Is everything ready?" Cara asked, frowning for a moment to tug at the ribbons in her hair.
"Stop fiddling," Richard chided his daughter.
"I like the red," she said, looking up at him with her blue eyes. "Mommy did my hair. What do you think?" Cara did a little pirouette to show him.
Richard smiled. "She did a marvelous job. You look beautiful, Cara."
"The ribbons are tight though, they hurt," Cara protested, reaching up to tug at them again.
He raised an eyebrow and looked over at her. "They hurt?"
"Yeah," Cara affirmed. "Lots."
Richard looked baffled for a moment, before shrugging and turning back to Simone, helping her with her little dress. Cara came up behind him and looked over at Simone.
"So," she drawled out, mimicking the way the senior Cara spoke. "Is everything ready?"
"For what?" he asked, teasing her with feigning ignorance.
Cara huffed and rolled her eyes, again mirroring her namesake. "You know very well what, Daddy," she scoffed. "Stop playing dumb. Because, I think we both know that you are far from that."
Since when did she develop so much lip, Richard wondered. He looked at her with some concern, a little wary of her teenage years, which were fast approaching. Turning back to Simone, he finished tying the green ribbon around her waist.
"Yes… it's all planned out and ready," he finally relented. "And, I'm proud of you, Cara. Very proud."
Cara's mouth dropped. "Proud? What for?"
"Because you're thinking of someone else, of wanting them to have happiness," he explained.
"Oh," Cara said. "Well, it just seemed like the right thing to do. After all, isn't thinking of others what you and mommy keep telling us to do?"
"Yes, yes it is," Richard said, leaning over to rub her arm. "And that's why I'm proud of you." He pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. She giggled softly. "Now, go find your Auntie Cara and I'll see to the good general."
"Okay!" Cara grinned and then bounced off, heading out in search of her namesake.
Richard turned his focus back to Simone. He leaned back and judged his work. Nodding in approval, he pushed up off the ground and stood up, simultaneously picking Simone up at the same time.
"We go and find the general now?" she asked.
"Yes," Richard nodded.
Their plan was set to occur in the family room, after the solstice celebration in the grand hall. Kahlan and the children, mainly Karen and Cara, had decorated the tree the night before. The twins had helped a little, but they were easily distracted, especially when Zedd inquired upon them if they wanted to see some colored lights. Richard had been tempted to go with them, but he had both Arilynn and Lorena asleep in his arms. But he didn't regret staying. He had enjoyed watching Kahlan and his two eldest daughters decorate the tree.
Karen was very pleased with their work, and declared it better than last years tree. Cara looked like she wanted to disagree, but had kept silent. Kahlan agreed with Karen, saying that the tree was very beautiful and reminded her of previous solstice festivals spent in her youth when her mother was still alive.
Happy memories, Richard knew. He could see it radiating from her smile. He hoped that she always remembered the good from her childhood, despite the darkness that had existed there when her mother had died and her father had used and abused both her and Dennee to promote his own desires and wants, ignoring the fact that Kahlan and Dennee were his daughters.
"Pretty lights!" Simone's happy squeal pulled him back from his brooding thoughts. He smiled down at her and kissed her head, agreeing that the shining lights from the multitude of candles did, in fact, look very pretty.
Richard carried Simone down the grand staircase, the banisters draped with garland that was decorated with gold and red ribbons. Everything was up and ready for the solstice celebration. Dignitaries were already lining up and coming through the door, being greeted by the Mother Confessor. Karen was standing next to her mother, dressed in a black confessor's dress and holding Arilynn in her arms.
Set off to the side of the grand hall, a small group of musicians were playing soft music. The palace staff was all out, and a buffet table had been set up. Richard spotted Zedd, dressed in his wizarding best, with the twins, wearing matching green outfits with red ribbons in their dark curls, standing by the food tables. He smiled to himself, watching as his grandfather spoke animatedly with the twins.
Zedd glanced over and spotted him. He waved his hand, and beckoned him over. Richard looked around, trying to see if the general was among those already past the reception line and mingling in the open area provided for the guests. Adjusting Simone in his arms, Richard made his way across the hall towards his grandfather and the twins.
"Looking sharp, my boy," Zedd smiled broadly, and then stepped back and opened his arms, showing off his own fancy outfit.
"So do you, Zedd," Richard laughed. "And you two, as well."
"Thanks, Daddy!" chirped Hailey and Jane in unison, doing a little curtsy.
"So… when are we going to surprise that Mord'Sith, huh?" Zedd inquired, wiggling his bushy eyebrows.
Richard smirked. "After the party," he said, sighing and letting Simone down. The little girl walked up to her big sisters and showed off her dress and pretty little bow. Richard stepped closer to Zedd and lowered his voice. "Have you seen General Haas?"
Zedd narrowed his eyes, conspiratorially. "He's over there by the punch bowl, chatting with some junior lieutenants hoping to garner higher positions in the newly formed D'Haran army."
He nodded. It had taken a long time, but Richard and Kahlan had finally decided to merge the armies of the Midlands and D'Hara into one force. General Haas, as the supreme commander of the D'Haran army, was to be one of the co-commanders of the new army, along with a general from Kelton.
"I can't wait for later, then," Zedd admitted, grinning widely. "I only wish there was a way we could capture the look on Cara's face when she gets pushed under the mistletoe and finds herself face to face with her former lover."
"So do I, Zedd," Richard concurred. "It will certainly be memorable."
Extricating himself from Zedd, leaving his three girls in his grandfather's capable care, Richard mingled his way through the crush of partygoers until he came upon the general. The young lieutenants speaking with the general all became speechless with the presence of the Lord Rahl. Richard quickly pulled Haas aside and fulfilled his one of his jobs in the plan.
Finished, having invited the general to the family room for a private celebration of the winter solstice, Richard hunted down his wife. She had finished receiving guests, so all he had to do was look for Karen and Arilynn. Making his way around the revelers, he found them with both Caras. Little Cara was animatedly telling her namesake about all the decorations in the family room, and how the tree was so very beautiful.
Richard slipped his arm around Kahlan's waist, catching her smiling as he did so. He noticed Lorena in her arms, still sleeping. Karen was bouncing Arilynn as the little girl giggled lightly, her big eyes looking around at all the sights and sounds and new people.
Leaning closer, Richard pressed his lips against Kahlan's delicate sweet skin, causing his wife to shiver. "You look beautiful, Kahlan," he whispered into her ear.
"And you look very handsome, my husband," Kahlan smiled. "Now, you could make yourself useful, since both Karen and I have our hands full, and get us some food… please?"
"Of course," Richard said, and she smiled in gratitude and turned her head towards him, allowing him to kiss her on the lips. "Cara, you wanna help Daddy get some food for your mother and Karen?" He looked down at his daughter, extending a hand.
"Sure!" Cara beamed and accepted his offered hand.
She skipped alongside him as they walked through the crowd, heading back to the buffet. Zedd was still there, his plate loaded with treats. Hailey, Jane, and Simone were all sharing their own plate, and Richard was a little nervous to see so many sweets on their tray. He didn't want them to get all sugar happy during the later part of the evening.
"Here, let me help," Zedd offered, grabbing another plate and beginning to overload it with food.
Little Cara picked up another plate and held it for Richard to stock it with some fruits and meats, as the plate Zedd was building for them looked to have too many treats on it for Kahlan's liking. As they were taking the plates back over, Cara looked up at him expectantly.
"Did you invite the general?" she asked, softly.
"Yes," he nodded. "He'll be there. Now all you need to do is distract your Auntie Cara as I put the mistletoe up."
"That I can do," little Cara assured him with a vigorous nod.
Smiling with pride at his daughter, they rejoined the others. The Mord'Sith looked at him, her eyes suspicious, but she held her tongue. He knew that she suspected something was going on, yet had not discovered what it was. Kahlan thanked him for the food, and he took great joy in picking up the small bits and feeding them to her. Kahlan noticed his joy and gave him a sultry wink that promised things for when they were alone and the girls were finally to bed.
The entire family, including Zedd and Cara, joined them in the family room for a private celebration of this festive season. Richard stood by the door watching as the children ripped through the wrappings of their presents. Kahlan and him had exchanged their gifts last night, in the privacy of their room. It was not just their intense and passionate lovemaking that was given and received. Richard had given Kahlan a matching pendant, which she wore with pride throughout the party and, even now, she still wore it, smiling softly as she reached up with a hand to fiddle with it. Kahlan had given him a key. He didn't know where the key led too, but he was eager to find out.
But the secret behind that silver key would have to wait. Tonight was about Cara. They all wanted her to be happy. And Richard had overheard the Mord'Sith admitting, quite often, her desire to start a family of her own. He knew she had regrets about the abrupt ending of her relationship with General Haas. And it was his hope that tonight would be a positive change for Cara.
Though the Mord'Sith never admitted it, he knew that she was lonely. Despite the fact Cara was never really alone, when she went to sleep, it was to an empty bed. Richard knew it was more than just that which was needed for the Mord'Sith's happiness. And he felt sure that the general would be the right fit for Cara.
The door opened and Richard startled back to the present. He smiled and greeted General Haas, inviting him in. The room became silent, and everyone glanced over. Both Zedd and Kahlan exchanged knowing smiles. Cara, however, looked both startled and a little angry. She cast a glare over at Richard, as if blaming him, but was then soon distracted by little Cara.
Richard took the opportunity to direct the general to the desired spot, and then quickly pulled a chair over and jumped up on it. He reached inside his dress coat and pulled out the twig of mistletoe he'd found for this very purpose. With an ease and deftness, which was more from practice than skill, Richard hung the plant on the rafter above General Haas's head. The general looked up, his brow furrowed in confusion. He was not in on the plan.
Stepping back down from the chair, Richard moved it back, and then took two long strides away from the general and leaned back against the wall, trying to act nonchalant. Just as he got into place, little Cara, with the aid of Kahlan, pushed Cara forward. The Mord'Sith let out a small shout, and then silenced as she bumped into the general.
"Alvin!" she let out a surprised gasp, her cheeks betraying her as she blushed.
"Cara… it… it's good to see you again," Haas said. "It has been far too long."
Cara let out a shaky breath, and Richard knew that his friend was having trouble battling her rampaging emotions. He wondered which ones were fighting for supremacy. Little Cara tugged on Cara's hand and pointed up. The Mord'Sith took a hesitant glance up and scowled.
"Alright," Cara snapped, looking around. "Whose idea was this?" Her angry eyes spotted him. "Richard?"
He shook his head. "No, not me."
"Then who?" she was stunned; obviously assuming it had been her Lord Rahl that had arranged all of this. "Kahlan?"
Kahlan shook her head and gestured with her eyes. Cara turned and looked down, seeing her goddaughter beaming with pride. Richard pushed off the wall and went over to stand with his family. Everyone was riveted, wanting to see what the Mord'Sith was going to do.
"Oh, stop stalling already," Zedd suddenly hooted. "Kiss him already!"
"Yeah!" little Cara added with a smirk that matched any that was in the Mord'Sith's arsenal. "You know you want to."
Cara's mouth dropped and she stared at all of them with open surprise. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes, bringing back her control. Glancing over at Haas, the man smiled softly and tentatively reached up a hand to brush some of the blonde hair that had tumbled down in front of the Mord'Sith's eyes.
"I know, Cara, it's silly," he spoke softly, "but… it's tradition."
A small smile tugged at Cara's lips and Richard knew that they had been right. Slipping an arm around Kahlan's waist, he leaned close and brushed his lips along her ear. "I think we're about to see a solstice miracle," he whispered.
Everyone watched with rapt attention as the handsome general stepped closer to the Mord'Sith, his hands wrapped around her waist as Cara eased up. And then, ever so slowly, their lips touched, and Richard felt his eyes tearing up. He'd never seen Cara look so happy with something as simple as a kiss. And then the kissed continued… and began to grow deeper, Cara leaning further into the general.
"Oh Spirits!" Hailey huffed. "Now we'll have to watch out for these two necking off in the corner."
Jane nodded. "Next it'll probably be Karen and that young soldier she's been spying on."
Richard's head snapped to the right and he looked down at his twins and then up at a blushing Karen. What did they just say?