Summary: Prophecy AU; Kahlan enters Hartland but doesn't find what she's looking for.
Contains major character death.
The D'Harans had her surrounded. One raised a bow. He fired and Kahlan waited until the last second before she leaned out of the arrow's path. The missile sailed close to her, the wind from its flight brushing her cheek, but went safely over the cliff.
Then the soldiers attacked, the first one stepping forward with a leer on his face. Kahlan grabbed his throat, Confessed him, turned him against his comrades. She fell to the floor, dazed from the effort of using her powers after her desperate race to the Boundary.
The Confessed man took out two of the soldiers before his superior, Fane, killed him with a single sword thrust. Fane strode over, his shadow falling across Kahlan's face. He hefted his sword and, somehow, Kahlan's hand found her dagger in her boot and mustered up enough strength to plunge it into Fane's foot.
Fane screamed in pain as the dagger went straight through leather, and deep into the flesh beneath. Kahlan rolled herself at him, sending him off balance, and he tumbled over. Now he was between her and the cliff edge. His eyes widened in terror as he realised his predicament and Kahlan seized his moment of hesitation to kick out with both feet.
Fane was sent hurtling backwards over the cliff. He didn't even cry out. Kahlan let her head drop onto the dirt, eyes staring unseeing at the sky, and her whole body shaking.
She lay there for a long moment, catching her breath. She felt no guilt, only relief.
She crept forwards to peer over the edge, but Fane was gone. Kahlan got to her feet and smoothed down her hair out of habit, gathering her thoughts.
She was so close to finding the Seeker. That was all that mattered. She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out the container – thankfully unbroken – that held the nightwisp. She cooed softly to Shar, listened to her response, and then headed off to find the wizard.
If it weren't for Shar, Kahlan might not have known this eccentric man was a wizard at all.
"Sorry, I'm as deaf as a peach and as naked as a baby bird," he responded, turning to face her. "What did you say?"
"I asked the great wizard, Zeddicus Z'ul Zorander, for his assistance."
He shook his head and protested that she had him confused with someone else, but Kahlan wasn't giving up so easily and lifted Shar, who glowed and chattered merrily.
"What did I tell you, Clara?" Zedd said, addressing the chicken. He clambered down off the rock and placed Clara gently onto the dirt. He gathered up his robe and slipped it on. Kahlan waited for him to dress – Creator knew it was a chilly evening – but her impatience was growing.
"You've come a long way for nothing I'm afraid," Zedd said. "I can offer you a warm meal, but no more."
Kahlan frowned. "What do you mean?"
Zedd flicked his long white hair over the collar of his robe and turned to face her. He wasn't a young man, and Kahlan knew from the stories the Mother Confessor had told her that he had to be seventy, at least. But he'd seemingly aged another five years since she'd greeted him.
"I am so sorry, Confessor," he said softly.
He nodded. "Kahlan. My child…I don't know how to tell you this."
"Simply," she said, feeling anger blooming in her breast. She had to clamp down on her rage lest she try to loose her power. Confessing a wizard of the First Order would be unforgivable. Yet after everything she'd been through, with Dennee dead, with Darken Rahl a hairsbreadth away from winning the Midlands, it was all she could do to stay calm while the wizard dissembled.
The wizard frowned briefly and pursed his lips.
"Speak plainly if you have something to say," she told him through clenched teeth. Was he going to refuse to help her? All these years spent hiding in this backwater like a coward had turned him soft, was that it?
Not hiding, she tried to tell herself. He was protecting and training the Seeker. It was vital work.
Zedd sighed. "Come with me."
He set off down the path away from his cottage and Kahlan followed him. She bit her lip to forestall further questions since she knew something about wizards – Zedd would tell her nothing further until they'd reached their destination.
Through the trees, across a field, down another path. Finally they came in sight of a village and Zedd turned, walked unerringly to a large tree.
"You have come to find the Seeker?"
"Yes." Why else would she be here?
He pointed to the ground. "Here."
Kahlan lifted Shar to add to the moonlight, desperate to see what Zedd found so important.
Two graves sat beneath the tree, marked by stone cairns.
"The Seeker is dead."
Kahlan felt his words hit her like a physical blow. The world spun around her. "What? No. It can't be."
The Seeker had to save them. It was in the prophecy. It was his destiny to kill Darken Rahl. He couldn't be dead. It was impossible.
"Richard Cypher died several years ago." Zedd's eyes were misty as he spoke. Kahlan felt her lower lip tremble.
"You should have saved him," she managed to choke out.
Zedd nodded. He knelt down by one of the graves, long fingers caressing one of the stones. "I would have, had I been given the chance. But he was dead by the time I got to him."
"How?" He was supposed to have been the Seeker. What tragedy could have befallen him?
Zedd's eyes were unfocussed, seeing the past unfold. "There was a late summer storm," he said. "The river burst its banks. It was chaos. People were trying to get to higher ground, to save their possessions, to rescue their animals. A young child got caught in the flood and Richard jumped in to rescue her. He was a strong swimmer, and he saved the girl, passed her to her father. But he wasn't quite strong enough and the current caught him and dragged him under. We found his body the next day, washed up about three miles from here. There was nothing I could do."
A sad smile graced Zedd's lips. "Richard always prized the safety of others over his own. He died a hero."
What use was that heroism now? One child had been saved but now many others, children and adults alike, would die without the Seeker to fight for them, to lead the people, to fulfil his destiny and to destroy the tyrant who kept them all in thrall and fear.
"You're certain he was the Seeker?" Kahlan asked, clinging to one last, faint, hope. That hope too was soon dashed.
Zedd nodded. "I'm certain. He was my grandson," he said softly. "I never had chance to tell him that. I wanted him to grow up without the burden of prophecy on his shoulders, and that included the true story of his birth and his bloodline."
Kahlan fell to her knees alongside Zedd. She hadn't even grieved for Dennee yet, but now she found herself sobbing over the grave of a man she'd never met.
Zedd put one hand on her shoulder but there was nothing that could comfort her now. It was all over. The war was lost before it had ever got started.
Darken Rahl had won without lifting a finger