The setting sun wrapped the landscape into its warm colors, letting the grass seem greener on the plain ahead. The mountains along the horizon offered a proud impression in their majesty, white hoods covering their peaks; the roofs of the city at their feet beamed in an almost golden shimmer. And among them, the noble palace spread its walls like silver wings, seeming to protect both - city and people.
It was an amazing sight. Just a rare cloud shadowed the light around her as it sailed leisurely towards the horizon. The air had slightly chilled, a fresh breeze whispered through the leaves of the treetops behind her.
Her eyes took it all in, though her heart didn´t acknowledge it for its beauty. Her features were frozen expressionless as she stared at the shining walls of the palace, its white not yet touched by the red and purple flashes of the dying sun which would soon wrap their cloaks around it.
The Mord Sith was lost in her thoughts; she didn´t even blink as her gaze swept slowly up from the city´s roofs to the brilliant blue of the sky above. Her chin straightened as her eyes narrowed thoughtfully before she shut them close, taking a deep breath and held it for a long moment. Listening to the steady beat of her heart. Half expecting a sign.
She did not move, not until her horse fidgety stamped its foot.
"Hoh, boy, keep calm." She patted its neck absently, clenching her jaw, glaring a last time down to the shimmering walls of the palace, nodding slowly... As I will. I promise.
Slightly shifting her weight, leaning the rein to the side of its neck she allowed the black steed to turn around and to head back to their small camp, where her two companions awaited her, cautiously studying her face. Turning wordlessly as her cold gaze stared them down.
"They are here."
Richard stood by one of the large windows, that where so many along the side of the wide entrance hall that it almost seemed like a wall, made of shimmering silver glass, disturbed only by a few piles of polished stone. His gaze had focused on the sun flooded courtyard, watching how the Mord Sith were dismounting. His voice was low as he turned around to seek her gaze, his lips curled into a faint smile.
"She will be glad to see you."
The Mother Confessor frowned and shot him a brief glare from the corner of her eyes before she rose from her chair and turned to him. Her face was pale and showed hints of tiredness, a few freckles beaming in the light which shone through the windows. Only her eyes were shadowed by her white gown´s hood.
"There is no need for you, Richard, to tell gentle lies." Her voice was calm and even. "Have you sent Dennee to bring them up?"
He nodded with a sigh. A sad gaze wandered slowly over her figure. He felt his heart twisting with the thoughts of solicitousness that washed through his mind. With a few slow paces he approached her, looking seriously into her eyes until she dropped them down, avoiding his scrutiny. His hand reached out and settled on her forearm as a calming gesture, trying to force the bright blue of her stare back to his own. "Kahlan, we have discussed this. You should give her a warm welcome. So much has happened during the last two years, and ... so much has changed..." The earnest tones of his words didn´t hide the deep sorrow, flowing beneath their surface. "I will leave to D´Hara; and though Zedd will stay for now, he is much too busy in the Keep to care. You will need a friend when I´m gone. And she is a friend; you know she is! Forget the past, Kahlan, try to forgive. It was not all her fault. And you know that I will leave and she will stay."
She eyed him from under her lashes. With a deep breath she answered, sharply, her voice close to a hiss.
"And you KNOW that I don´t want her to be here!"
"Kahlan... I..." His eyes shifted, his cheeks blushed a little as he faced the three Mord Sith who had silently entered the room. To see their firmly set jaws told him clearly that they must have heard her last words. Seeing his reaction, Kahlan turned and straightened proudly, her features sliding easily into her Confessor´s face, as she´d been trained all of her life. Her hand reached towards the hood and drew it back to her shoulders in an unconscious motion. There was just a slight, almost invisible flutter of her nostrils that disturbed the calmness that had settled on her face while her chin had risen. The Mother Confessor, as she was known by her people. And feared by her opponents.
She didn´t blink when the Mord Sith bowed slightly, their voices sounding like one.
Their leader glanced at her for the briefest moment before she turned towards Richard as her companions already had. This time their bows were deeper and their voices were filled with the tone of deep respect that had only been adumbrated in their previous salute.
Richard´s face had brightened. His lips curled in a wide smile, his eyes were beaming. It was obvious that he struggled to suppress the need to jump on the red leathered women and embrace them heartily. It was so clearly written on his face that they stiffened automatically and synchronously took a step back.
Richard couldn´t help but grinned happily, his eyes searching Kahlan´s as if to reassure himself that everything was fine, now that the Mord Sith had finally arrived. But, seeing her, wearing her stoic Confessor mask, made him feel slightly uncomfortable.
He harrumphed, trying to override the brief moment of embarrassment.
"Cara! Raina! Berdine! We are so glad to see you! You´ve already been expected yesterday evening; we were informed that you had a camp just a league away? What has happened to restrain you from reaching Aydindril?"
While Cara dropped her eyes and studied the floor as if considering an answer it was the tall brunette who answered calmly.
"We decided that we should clean up after the journey before we reach the palace of the Mother Confessor. We didn´t want to give her... false impressions." The last words dripped pointedly from her lips like old honey. With a smirk she had turned to Kahlan, tilting her head and staring at her in blank curiosity.
Kahlan draw up her eyebrow ever so slightly. But in her voice lay no hint of anger at the provoking smirk of the Mord Sith.
"Though I appreciate to see you so considerate of my home, I may assure you it wasn´t necessary. No one would expect you after such a long journey to arrive without some dust on the famous shine of your leathers." She eyed the brunette from head to toe. "I welcome you and your companions to Aydindril! I hope you will enjoy your stay here, even if it won´t be for long." Her eyes swept over the three Mord Sith to make clear that her greeting was directed to all of them, avoiding settling on one of them specifically.
"So I assume you are Mistress Berdine! And as I recognize Mistress Cara" a short glance met the eyes of the meant blonde for just a blink "you must be Mistress Raina?" she nodded to the third. "Richard has told me that he chose you to accompany him to the Peoples Palace."
"Raina and Berdine will come with me, Kahlan." Richard dropped a calm reminder. "Cara is going to stay here at Aydindril to..."
"She will be your representation, Richard. That is what you´ve stated." For the first time she looked directly at the blonde Mord Sith, who hadn´t said a word yet but straightened now under the Mother Confessor´s scrutiny and Kahlan tried to keep her features calm and well-adjusted. "But have you ever asked her, whether she wants to stay? She might prefer to stay at your side and... protect you in D´Hara? What do you say... Mistress Cara?"
Cara´s eyes settled on the Confessor, glancing at her for a few heartbeats in a silent challenge.
"If my Lord orders me to stay, I´ll stay. After all, you should know that a Mord Sith has no such things like... preferences, Mother Confessor."
Kahlan stared back steadfastly, but felt her jaw clenching with the low, teasing voice, and she had to fight the sudden urge to close her eyes and listen to its echo in her mind. Instead she gave a wink to the massive door, where Dennee came out of the shadow and approached quickly, while Kahlan´s eyes kept staring with an expressionless blue at Cara for a few seconds longer before she broke the contact.
"I think you have already made the acquaintance of Dennee, my sister." Dennee had reached them and stood at Kahlan´s side, glaring at the Mord Sith with a distant expression, her chin raised and her shoulders squared. Her eyes settled on Cara for a long moment, before she allowed her lips to curl into a faint smile, acknowledging her with a short nod.
"She will see to guide you to your rooms. I´m sure, you will appreciate a few moments of rest after your journey. And, perhaps, your Lord Rahl will give you a tour through the main sites of the palace for your orientation?" Her eyes set on Richard, who beamed with joy as he nodded his agreement.
"I don´t think this is necessary, Mother Confessor" Cara dropped into Richards nod. Kahlan turned her head towards her with a raised brow, her eyes asking the question she didn´t voice. "You might remember, I´ve been to the palace before." She drawled lowly. Her gaze locked with Kahlan´s in an almost provoking way, causing the Confessor´s eyes narrowing slightly beneath her calmness. She nodded deliberately, not leaving the emerald pride that stared at her. A glare, that was bridging their distance strongly and firmly. A bridge, built of cold stone.
"You are right, Cara! But I can´t imagine that you´ve seen a lot of it, considering your... moonlight flit the day after your arrival." Sarcasm made her voice an almost biting winter breeze.
Cara´s nearly invisible flinch at these words wasn´t missed by both of the Mord Sith, who eyed each other briefly as they followed the short arguing. The petite auburn-haired was frowning, the light-brown one shot an icy glance at the Confessor. The tension increased very quickly, until Dennee stepped forward, nodding to the Mord Sith with a light "if you will follow me..." and heading to the door, resolved to save the situation by taking the Mord Sith out of Kahlan´s sight.
While the others turned, Cara stood rooted to the spot, her eyes still locked on Kahlan´s features, her body tense, her chin straightened. Emerald green stared against icy blue, none of them willing to give in. Just as Cara moved the slightest bit she felt Richard´s hand on her arm, pulling her into a turn and shoving her towards the door. He grinned widely as he patted her shoulder.
"Hey, you should definitely give your favorite Lord Rahl a chance to show you the palace... Did you know that they have a very nice drill ground here..."
Even after they had left, and Richards chatty voice went lost in the corridors, Kahlan stood stock-still, staring at the door that had closed behind them, the ice in her eyes melting slowly away, revealing a shadow of hurt. She finally turned and approached the window, letting her gaze travel over the city, breathing a deep sigh that almost sounded like a sob.
She didn´t even blink as her gaze swept slowly up from the city's roofs to the brilliant blue of the sky above. Her chin straightened as her eyes narrowed thoughtfully before she shut them close, taking a deep breath and held it for a long moment, listening to the steady beat of her heart. Half expecting a sign...
Cara hadn´t said a word since they had left the Mother Confessor. Richard had given them a tour through the palace, exhibiting some sort of pride as if it was his own. His guests had been hardly impressed, used to the giant architecture of their home in D´Hara. The Palace of the Mother Confessor was of a calm, awe-inspiring beauty, every detail of its architecture wisely set with purposes, bringing forth emotions of pride and honor, leaving the beholder to the humbly devotion that was appropriate, respectfully reminding of the very honorable majesty of the Mother Confessor. Not comparable with the massive, intimidating pomposity that the Peoples Palace in D´Hara stood for. For the Mord Sith, it was nothing more than an almost modest home for the Mother Confessor.
Hours seemed to have been rushed when they finally entered their quarters. Berdine and Raina shared a room that was large enough to be home for ten Mord Sith; It was richly furnished, a fire crackling contently in the fireplace and offering a warming comfort. But the most interesting to them was a large bed, standing by the opposite wall of the room. Berdine didn´t lose time and jumped onto it, proclaiming it hers with a smirk. Raina watched her with hungry eyes. She slowly approached her companion, hips swaying seductively, threatening her with her agiel in her hand. Her voice teased in a provoking way.
"Get out of my bed!"
"Who said it´s yours?"
"I say!" Raina threw herself on Berdine, trying to shove her out. Quickly they were rolling in a mock-fight, beating with fists and agiels until they found themselves in a tight embrace, moaning as their lips crushed together and tongues were moving in a raw, feverish dance.
Cara entered just in time to hear Berdine growl lowly "So who is in charge?" and Raina´s husky answer "You are, Mistress..."
Cara rolled her eyes annoyed at the sight and their low moans.
"You shouldn´t settle too snugly in here." She growled. In her voice lay anger that wasn´t due to neither Berdine nor Raina, but surged against them nonetheless. The tall brunette threw a glance over her shoulder, staring at Cara with a smirk.
"Looks like our Mistress is not amused, Raina!"
The petite peeped at Cara from under Berdine, studying her expression carefully. She nodded her agreement. "No, she definitely is not."
Cara´s eyes narrowed into a warning. But her sisters stayed completely unimpressed.
"Perhaps you should have taken the Mother Confessor´s offer and tell her that you´d prefer to return to the Peoples Palace with us? ... Though I dare doubt your mood would lighten then..."
Berdine had moved and now stood in front of Cara, her hands resting on her hips, staring at her with sparkling eyes.
"Seriously, Cara, you are hardly to put up with since Lord Rahl ordered us to come here. The idea that you have to stay here, alone between strangers, maybe even opponents, might be annoying for you. But I would have thought it far from causing you nightmares..."
Cara frowned and growled suspiciously at Berdine. "What makes you think about nightmares?"
It was Raina who answered before Berdine could get herself further into trouble. She spoke while moving to the dresser, heading to the basin, filled with water and clean clothes lying beside. She didn´t look at Cara.
"We are neither deaf nor blind, Cara! It started when Richard´s order appeared in the journey book. The unfortunate sister who had to tell you the news wasn´t the last one who suffered your mood then..."
"She had to learn her lesson!" Cara hissed angrily. "It wasn´t right to break into our meeting then, just to tell me that Richard wanted us to leave for Aydindril! She should have waited."
"Sure! And what IF she had done so?" Berdine scoffed, "Than that exactly would have been the reason you send her for days into the dungeons... Come on, Cara! Admit it! The whole journey has been a nightmare for you! The days brooding over your own thoughts, the nights flipping from one side to the other...Who do you think you can fool? Have a look into the mirror: you are a walking ghost! If I didn´t know you better, I would assume you feared the day you´d see her again!"
Cara was fast, stepping close and backhanding her forcefully, her eyes flashing with fury.
"Don´t you dare call me anxious! ´Cause I am not! And certainly not of her!" she snarled.
She stood frozen, her eyes staring daggers into the tall Mord Sith. She could hardly bear that hitting her hadn´t banished the smirk from Berdine´s face. And from Raina she heard a muttering that sounded suspiciously like "...kick a sleeping dog and it bites..."
Cara shot her a murderous glance, choking a sharp breath, apparently close to shout out. But then she huffed loudly, turned around and stormed out, the massive door thundering while clunking shut.
Raina sighed and thoughtfully watched Berdine coming closer to her, a sway on her hips and a promising leer on her lips.
"Has she ever told you what had happened? Why she left Aydindril then?"
Berdine shook her head no, but then claimed Raina´s mouth with her own before she could dwell on the subject...
A knock at the door brought her back from the past, where her mind had wandered around. The papers she had purported to prevent her from dinner at Richard´s side with their guests lay still on her desk, untouched, waiting for her attention. She didn´t care for now. Seated in her chair at the fireside with her eyes settled on the low crackling flames, she had forgotten the time as her thoughts had drifted far away, travelling through memories, painting living pictures into the flickering light. The resolute knock now called her back into her room and she sighed deeply before calling her visitor in.
Dennee entered and approached her chair cautiously.
"Kahlan? Are you alright? I´ve missed you during dinner; Richard said you´re still working..." Her eyes washed over the abandoned desk, and she frowned as she recognized, that none of the papers had been taken care of.
The sister´s gazes met. The blue of Kahlan´s coated with some tiredness that seemed not only due to the late hour. "I am fine, Dennee. I just... thought about..."
Dennee laid a diminutive hand on Kahlan´s shoulder and squeezed slightly.
"You should talk to him, Kahlan. I´m sure, Richard will stay if you just ask him. His place is here, in Aydindril, by your side. Everything could be as it used to be; as it should be! He needs only a sign... You should eventually get over your pride..."
"No. It is not that, Dennee." Kahlan looked up at her with a faint smile, leaning into her reassuring touch. "Richard and I... This is long over. Sometimes I wonder if it has even ever really been. But we both know that." Her smile widened. "No, I´m glad that he finally made his decision. These last years have weighed much too heavy on our shoulders. It is time to face the truth; to look ahead. He can still find someone to be happy with. He deserves it."
Her eyes sought the fire again. "We´ve already wasted too much time..."
Her sister moved to the second chair that stood close to Kahlan´s and took seat. Looking at the brunette she frowned.
"He has already found someone to be happy with...here! You are still caught in the past, Kahlan. I know that you look upon it as your fault. But it is not! That you´ve lost your child...it was the fault of this damned horse; it was an accident! And... that it was a boy... Kahlan, it wasn´t the curse of the sorceress; such fate happens by coincidence! – It would not be fair to blame Richard. He has suffered even more than you. He has not slept for weeks. He was close to crack up. You were down; You haven´t seen him in these days, but I have! It almost killed him." There was a fire in her eyes that told much of her compassion for him. And a hint of a silent accusation crackled lowly in her voice. "Being banished from your chambers...almost devastated the little strength he had saved." She leaned forward, her stare adjuring. Her hand moved to settle on Kahlan´s. "He loves you! He always did! And if you really want to see him happy, all it takes is to allow him to be your mate. You can still carry his children. And if you..."
Shaking her head, Kahlan interrupted her harshly. Her hand flinched from under Dennee´s.
"Dennee! Give it a rest! How often have we had this discussion? I´ve tried to tell you so many times! Why are you still pressing on that topic. Why is it that you always talk about him and his feelings? Why don´t you ever try to look at me? I was always expected to be his loving wife, the caring mother of his children, the strong Mother Confessor by his side... But see: I don´t love him, Dennee! And it might be a shock for you, but I don´t think that I ever really did! He´s been my friend, and he still is; perhaps the only true friend I ever had. And that I tried to see him as my mate was the biggest mistake of my life! I´ve hurt him, yes; but I wanted to do him good; and at least it hurt me even more! This pregnancy was far from being the glorious crown of our endless love like you still seem to believe; it is my duty to have a child, Dennee, those were your own words! Don´t you remember? We are Confessors, the last ones of a dying breed. And I rather wanted a trusted friend, someone wholeheartedly to be the father of my daughters than a stranger, raping me; I so feared the soulless copulation, lying with a living dead man. Just because he is confessed!" Her voice sounded hoarse and filled with bitterness. Reduced to a bare whisper when she continued. "And when I lost the child and had to face the truth of it being a boy... Even that hadn´t been right, Dennee; Sorrow was all what came out of the desire to accept his love.
I couldn´t bear it. I couldn´t bear Richard in my bed any longer! And I will never risk again having a male child..." Her eyes searched her sister´s and in her gaze lay all the pain that had been gathered for so long. All the suppressed emotions that she´d never allowed to surface. All the lost hope of a life she might have once dreamed of.
The delicate frame of her sister had straightened in the chair, her jaw firmly set and her posture speaking of a disagreement that Kahlan had already expected. The Mother Confessor sighed resigned, remembering all the conversations they had before. It was not the first time that she tried to explain these parts of her feelings to Dennee. Long evenings she had asked for her understanding; had tried to open her mind and her soul to her. But her sister had always been deaf and blind to it. It seemed to her, as if Dennee didn´t want to understand, as if she refused the compassion and the warmth that had always been part of their bond before. As if her sister was a stranger to her.
Sometimes Kahlan wondered, if the new body of her sister had been for the price of a new heart as well.
Dennee´s dress rustled brusquely while she stood. She stared at Kahlan angrily, her eyes narrowed, lips pressed into a thin line. When she spoke, her voice cut sharply into Kahlan´s mind like a cold blade, scratching her skin with disgust.
"You seem to forget, that you are not the only one who made sacrifices, sister. Don´t you think yourself a little selfish to force him to leave and allow him to bring this Mord Sith here instead, the one who murdered me? You ask me to see your feelings, Kahlan – but be honest: have you ever lost a thought about mine?"
And with that she stormed out, slamming the door with a shuttering noise that made Kahlan wince.
The Mother Confessor held her eyes shut, fighting back tears which she was too tired to shed. It always ended like this. Dennee storming away in outrage, leaving her with the nagging feeling of a guilt that she would probably never could pay enough for. Her mind recognized Dennee wronged her. But her heart ached with loneliness when her sister turned into the cold distance of her reproaches.
She dropped her head into her palms, covered her eyes and surrendered to the soft darkness. It didn´t take long before a face appeared in her mind and her heart twisted slightly. Richard would leave her a heavy burden. But she had sworn to allow him one of his own choices to stay at Aydindril.
Never had she thought it would be her.
"The one who murdered me..." Kahlan knew, her sister would never accept the Mord Sith living at the palace.
She didn´t even know, how she, herself could bear it, that the one who had hurt her deeper than anyone in all of her life would cross her ways every day from now on. She thought of the moment this morning, when Cara had stared at her, challenging, she remembered the emerald glance of her eyes, the cold pride that had pierced her and sighed.
Why her, Richard?
"Why me, Richard?" Her voice was angry as she stared at him with a frown. In a wild and frustrated gesture she pointed to her sisters. "Order Raina and Berdine to stay at Aydindril. They have become weak! They certainly would appreciate to live a lazy life in this palace..." The said Mord Sith stood at their horses, waiting for their departure. Raina chuckled at something Berdine had whispered into her ear.
Richard huffed annoyed. "It is enough now, Cara! I have asked you as a friend. But if this doesn´t work I will order you as your Lord Rahl! I need to know that you are here by her side. Because I trust you. More than I trust anyone else. And... You have sworn to protect her!"
She huffed annoyed, rolling her eyes in a helpless anger, muttering half to herself "But it´s ridiculous! I´m not welcome here!" Her eyes were beaming with disgust.
"You are! It just... needs some time. And I will not discuss this any longer." He winked loathly, dismissing her for the moment and turned to search Kahlan. Approaching her for their good-bye his heart skipped a beat. He felt nervous; He was going to leave. And this time, it was a final parting. More than that: it was surrender.
He had failed. His love had not been strong enough for the both of them. Though he had tried. So badly. But now all he could do to help her was leaving. Despite his aching heart, his sorrow. He had to give her the space she needed, before the resting piece of their friendship would fade away in the cold breeze of guilt.
Though he already feared, it would be swept away in a wave of fury as soon as she recognized how far he had really gone in his despair...