Chapter Four: Fight Like Kilkenny Cats
"With your trigger itch and my feminine intuition
We should make quite a team."
The transition from deputized citizen to outlaw is as simple as a knock on a door.
For all the climatic moments of an evening such as this, Kahlan discovers that breaking a feared and hated outlaw from the Armadillo town jail involves only smiling tearfully at the Marshall, and slamming the butt of a Colt Revolver directly into his scalp the moment he trustingly turns away to allow her into the room.
Kahlan watches the man slump to the ground. She ignores the way Cara Mason scrambles to her feet inside her cell, nearly tripping on her own boots as she does so.
These are Kahlan's actions. She has no remorse. Or so she tells herself, as she bottles down her emotions and wraps her hands around the heavy shoulders of the kind Marshall to shove him over onto his back. Particles of dust fly up from the floor in the disturbance, and they clog into her nostrils, daring her to sneeze.
She tamps down the instinct, instead pressing her ear against the burly chest to assure herself that he still breathes. His beating heartbeat is sturdy and strong, and Kahlan allows only a simple sigh of relief before she fishes into his pockets and pulls out the large clatter of keys he keeps on his person. It's almost too easy to focus on their dull shimmer.
The feeling of her fingers closing around the metal, the sound of them as they clank against each other in her hands is what grounds her, forces her to push to her feet and come to stand only a few feet away from Cara Mason.
She now has Cara's freedom, quite literally, in the palm of her hands.
The moment screams for a wise crack. A smirk. Cara Mason has only existed in Kahlan's world mere hours and Kahlan can't help but expect some sort of cracker response, because in the short time she has spent with the woman, that is who she has chosen to be: slicing at her with words, used as sharply as knives.
But Cara says nothing, and Kahlan wonders briefly if it's only because Cara can't quite believe this is happening either.
"I want your word," she says finally, breaking into the dense, thick blanket of silence that rests between them. "That if I do this, if I open this door, you will take me to Richard. I need you to promise me," Kahlan adds and it sounds almost pathetic, the lilt in her tone, the way her voice dips to plead.
But she has no choice. Her life will be thrown away, sacrificed for Richard and her only assurance in this gamble is a phantom memory of a world that does not exist and the woman behind these bars who can and will assure her that it is not only insanity and over-protective loyalty that drives her.
But Cara Mason does not indulge her. Instead, the stare in those glimmering eyes moves from her closed fist to the lump of the Marshall on the floor, to Kahlan herself.
"What good is a promise of a Mord'Sith outlaw?" she asks finally.
Though the other woman is cynical and full of distrust, Kahlan answers as honestly as she can. "In a minute, I'm going to open this door and take you away from this town – and then I will be viewed as no better than you. Perhaps far worse – because I will be a traitor to a town that has been my home, just as the Mord'Sith have betrayed you." A bittersweet smile flashes on her face, but it fades quickly. "Give me your word," she says quietly, "And I will take it."
A delicate throat shudders with a sudden deep breath. Cara's voice is oddly thick as she answers suddenly, "You have no reason to doubt me. I owe the Mord'Sith nothing more than pain."
Kahlan shakes her head almost furiously. "I need more than your thirst for vengeance, Cara." Cara Mason's eyes widen almost comically at the familiar use of her name, but Kahlan does not care. She is seconds away from putting a bounty on her own head for releasing a killer into the wild – they are far past familiar terms now.
"That thirst in me is stronger than any bond you hope to glean from me, Confessor," Cara says, a chuckle sounding off her broken lip that twists a painful knot in Kahlan's stomach. "But," she continues, chin lifting and eyes boring deep into hers. "If that is what you require, then you have my word. I will not run – I will lead you to Richard, and I will help you save him."
Instinct and trust is what propels to move forward, sliding the key into the lock and twisting with her wrist.
The lock snaps, and the iron bars creak open. Kahlan steps back, taking the door with her, watching quietly as Cara Mason steps into the Marshall's office.
There is nothing between them but an invisible thread of trust that seems as shaky and sturdy as the web of a spider.
And still, when Kahlan presses a Colt into those calloused, small hands and tells the woman to follow her into the darkness, away from Armadillo, Cara Mason tips that bowler hat over her scowling brow and does.
The sun begins to peek over the horizon, delicately and quietly illuminating the patchy desert and rolling hills of Rio Bravo. At another time, Kahlan would think this a beautiful tapestry, a reminder that in this wilderness there is such a thing as effortless beauty. This morning, however, she cannot bring herself to enjoy the landscape.
Every clomp of her mare's hooves leads her further and further away from the life she knew, the one she struggled to cobble together, and closer to the promise of salvation for Richard. It leaves her with her heart in an odd place, as if it's itching to both burst from her chest and dig itself in deeper.
The trio rides in silence, broken only by the occasional curse from Zedd as his ornery mare does something he doesn't quite agree with and the distant wail of the coyote that run rampant in the wild. They do not stop and with good reason: by this time the Marshall has surely been found, and Kahlan remembers the angry posse quite vividly.
Should they decide to give chase, it will not just be Cara's body swinging by a rope at the Hanging Rock. Though Kahlan's light skin and ties with such good people as Richard and the Marshall have protected her from most of the hostile racism that has affected, she understands that angry mobs needs little in terms of reason to hang a traitorous woman raised by Indians.
It's best to move forward, closer to Mexico, to the border and to uncertain freedom and the certain hell that comes with it.
The horse upon which Cara Mason rides skids over a particularly dense patch of earth, letting out a surprised whinny as it struggles to right itself that breaks the quiet. The outlaw herself shifts her balance on her saddle and tosses a hooded glance back towards Kahlan.
Sunlight and it's presence also brings with it the opportunity to study the Mordsith in a way that was just not possible in the dim light of the jail cell. Kahlan cannot resist the urge to stare. It's foolish to bank on the idea that perhaps the reason she could not read the woman before was due to a lack of brightness, but it's disconcerting that she can't, and Kahlan is nothing without actual hope.
The shadows fade around them, but still Cara Mason's face remains that enigmatic picture of carefully schooled indifference. And though the welts on Cara's face have not faded, Kahlan's only discovery is that her estimation of the beauty of the Mord'Sith was severely lacking.
In her element, atop that majestic steed and with that bowler hat fitted on her head, and dressed in tight fitting men's clothes, Cara Mason is quite possibly the most beautiful wild devil she's ever laid eyes upon.
It's absolutely the worst thought she could have at this moment, because suddenly she again is flooded by that very vivid memory, the one that makes her suddenly flush and her heartbeat to quicken, only made worse by a haunted feel of a phantom brush of those lips against hers, pressed so intently upon her.
It's terrifying and she does not understand it. Kahlan's breath goes uneven with her own frustration. Fingers tighten around the reigns of her own mount as Kahlan leans forward in her saddle and digs her thighs in to keep up, sharking the thought off like she would a sudden chill.
Cara suddenly pulls up short, causing the mare she rides to snort her exasperation. "What is it?" she asks, voice raspy with irritation. This stranger regards her with eyes that shouldn't feel so familiar and yet so foreign. They should not fill her with such dread and need.
This is a woman, and Kahlan has never known her desires to be unnatural, and yet this feels so natural it leaves her suddenly at a loss.
A great deal of this world makes little to no sense to Kahlan. The capacity for cruelty in the humans and the environment around her constantly astonishes her and yet doesn't surprise her at all.
The old mother taught her to believe in fate, but Kahlan cannot trust in this dark hour that coming upon this phantom from another life is anything but coincidence.
And even yet…
"Do you believe in reincarnation, Cara?"
There's a small sense of validation inside of her, because whatever Cara expected to hear, it was more than likely not that. "We're nearly a day's ride away from the border," she begins, a nasty sneer on her split lip, "and edging towards Fort Mercer with less than ten weapons between the three of us and an old man who keeps complaining about the sore in his ass, and this is the moment you choose to begin a philosophical conversation, Confessor?"
"Call me Kahlan," she says, and it comes off like an order. "That is my name." Kahlan notices with some satisfaction that Cara does not contest it. "Darken Rahl believes in the concept of reincarnation with such fervent enthusiasm he's taken Richard. Is there any reason why I shouldn't wonder if you believe in it as well?"
Green eyes float to hers, hold steady. "Because I'm a Mord'Sith, I'm bound to the same silly fables and farfetched notions as Darken Rahl?"
Oddly enough, Cara's flippant answer feels like a sucker punch. Kahlan expels air and then inhales it again, and can only laugh ruefully at herself for even attempting such a discussion with this stranger. "Call them what you will. The Old Mother believed the idea to be a blueprint for our lives – a road map of our history, the choices we have – the mistakes we've made."
"And if we ignore such drivel?"
The answer is devastatingly simple. "Then we are doomed to repeat those mistakes." Through the corner of her eye, she thinks she sees the Mord'Sith's chest heave, an odd reaction that pricks Kahlan's curiosity. "Cara-"
"We need to veer off the main road. Soon."
The attempt at deflection is so obvious Kahlan finds herself irritated at it. She redirects her horse closer to the other woman, ready to press further, when the scoff of Zedd behind her interrupts her. "And run into thickets and wolves? Possibly pitch forward into some unmarked ditch and break our bones in a ravine? If you want to kill us then just do it and be done with it."
He speaks with disdain and barely disguised rage, and though Kahlan decides she can understand it, she finds herself pressing her lips together in exasperation.
Cara only scoffs. She does not hesitate to turn and glare directly at the grouchy man. "I would tread lightly, Wizard. My oath remains only to the Confessor and by extension to the man she so foolishly hopes to rescue, not to a practically crippled old goat who can barely mount a mare as old as he is." With that she smiles, teeth glinting in such a way it reminds Kahlan of a wolf baring its teeth.
It's as serious a threat as Kahlan has heard, and yet, for some odd reason, the startled and affronted expression on Zedd's face seems to cheer Cara up, to the point where she actually explains, "We're getting closer to Fort Mercer. And chances are, someone's found the good Marshall by now. I realize the two of you of you are new at being anything but law abiding goody-goodies but perhaps erring on the side of caution may be prudent?"
Cara does have a point. Kahlan may have spent most of her life being the unwanted minority, but that has never entailed such a flagrant disregard for the majority. She turns back to Zedd. "Even if they haven't caught up by now, if they used the telegraph-"
Zedd waves her off with a leathery, tan hand. "Don't tell me about the telegraph," he grumbles, gathering the reigns of his horse in his hand and easing her off the path. "I damn near invented it."
Zedd has made such grand statements before, but never with such certainty. "Did you?" She can't help but ask.
The old man begins to nod fervently, until he sees the disbelief swirling in her eyes. He deflates and then straightens his shoulders. "I would have," he admits defiantly, looking like a blustering school boy. "The version I created is infinitely better. It runs on steam, not electricity. And had I kept working on it, I could have even transmitted the sound of an actual voice-"
"Fascinating," Cara drones, cutting him off as she leads her steed off the trail into the bush, skirting on ahead of him. "Get a wiggle on, Old Man."
"So now it's Old Man," he grumbles, as Cara picks her way into the brush. "It appears I've lost clout."
A small smile stretches across Kahlan's features, as she leans across her saddle to press into his forearm affectionately. "You'll always be a Wizard to me." The affectionate grin fades immediately as Zedd swivels toward her, storminess in her eyes that cause her to go breathless.
"I may be an old man, Kahlan, but I'm no fool."
She blinks, suddenly uneasy. "Zedd-"
"Listen to me, Kahlan. You've experienced too much heartbreak and loss in your young life to ever be naïve. That I understand." His worn, leathery hands rub over each other, white and dusty with dryness. "But you always seem determined to see the good in people, even when it doesn't exist. This whore may owe you her life, but Mord'Sith have never been known for any reputation but their own loyalty to their man and each other."
He speaks with a frankness that should not surprise her, and yet it does. Kahlan finds herself almost wounded by it. "Zedd-"
"How many times do you think that woman has risked her life for one of her own?" he pressed. "Think and look upon every scar that's on that body, and with it you'll see the story of the Mord'Sith. Such a tapestry of history that makes this experience you share simply one of many." Kahlan's eyes flitter away, until she focuses on the figure of Cara Mason, trotting further and further away from them. "You'll get it in the neck with that one. Don't you forget it."
The cold feeling that settles over her is hard to shake. She feels like a fool, and yet Kahlan's shoulders square and her chin rises. "Perhaps I will, Zedd. But I meant what I said – by hook or by crook, I will find Richard and save him. I'm using that Mord'Sith just as she's using me, and if that is the extent of our relationship, then so be it. If you have any lingering doubts, turn that mare around and head back to where you came from. I have made my choice. So either fall in line or head back to Armadillo."
She claps on the reigns and pushes the horse into a trot, leaving Zedd to follow her, or not.
It's his choice. She has made her own.
By midmorning, the shine on her mare's coat and the open pants she takes in gives Kahlan no choice but to lead the trio down deep into the ravine, until she sees the glistening of a river that seems deceptively calm for it's notorious reputation. Though it cuts into a canyon now, the Rio Bravo grows deeper and wider with every kilometer it ventures south. Kahlan knows that should she follow it, she would find herself on the banks of American territory, looking across the water into the violence ridden Mexico, in the midst of a revolution and suspicious of any igringo/i that crosses it's borders.
But here, the water is cool and calm. The horses drink and Kahlan, no longer used to the physical exertion that riding all hours will take on a body, allows herself to stretch the cramped muscles in her thighs.
"You don't strike me as a woman who thinks with a Bleeding Heart."
Kahlan pauses mid-stretch. Cara Mason is on her haunches, twisting a weed between her thumb and forefinger, chewing the end of it. Her crystal eyes are on her in such a way that Kahlan feels suddenly like a frightened rabbit caught in the devastating gaze of a crouching wolf. "I wasn't always a city dweller," she confesses frankly, and turns back to the riverbank, regaining her sense of calm. "You mistake empathy for weakness."
"Then why is the festering old coot still trailing behind us?" Cara asks. She is, of course, referring to Zedd, who sits beside his horse as the mare drinks, striking a piece of rock against another, making pleased huffs as it sparks.
"Zedd has promised me he will only accompany us to the border," Kahlan answers carefully. Cara smirks in obvious disbelief.
"And what's to stop him from following us into the Mexico?" Cara's head tilts, the straw in her mouth lifting and lowering as she chews. "Maybe we should ground him, break his leg and put a bullet into his head like a maimed horse before he gets us both killed."
It's a devastatingly brutal image, and nearly puts a shiver up Kahlan's spine. "That isn't funny," Kahlan snaps.
Cara spits the straw out of her mouth and rises to her feet. "II wasn't trying to be funny," she says, droll and unconcerned.
She rises, sweeping around Kahlan and grabbing hold of the reigns of her horse, pulling the huffing mare away from the river's edge, scattering drops of water across the bank and onto Kahlan's knee.
Kahlan lingers. She hears the splash of a beaver; the chitter chatter of some tiny mammal scurrying in the bushes beside the bank. Above her, an eagle soars, scouring the water's edge for any hint of prey.
This is life as she knows it: wild and untamed, entirely unforgiving. For a moment, with no badge on her chest and the heavy weight of a gun on her hip, she feels a vibrant part of it.
It's a feeling she hasn't had since she settled into Armadillo – the ghost of herself.
So she lingers, wasting just a precious moment to slide her fingers through the icy water, remember herself, before she too rises off her haunches and heads toward her wandering mare. She wraps fingers around the leather and begins to tighten the saddle, pushing the animal towards Cara.
If Cara notices the other woman edging near, she makes no mention of it.
"Zedd may surprise you," Kahlan begins carefully. "He is wise, and what he lacks in youth he makes up for in wisdom and experience. He is an actual genius."
Cara's mouth turns down in a smirk that is both mockingly condescending and slightly infuriating. "I've met more men than I can stomach who consider themselves geniuses, Confessor. If it's one thing that gender does not lack, it's ego."
Kahlan finds herself unable to argue. With a sigh and a push, she's back in her saddle, calling out to Zedd to join them as Cara does the same, nearing them toward the path that led them to the water's edge. She's content to ride in silence as they move through the ravine, but as they reach the opening of the canyon and Cara takes a right, Kahlan finds herself suddenly pulling back on her reigns.
"This isn't the way to the Border."
With a glance back at her shoulders, Cara only shrugs. "You're right," she responds, her Western drawl prominent in her laziness. "It's not."
"Then where are we going?" Again, no answer. Kahlan resist the urge to glance at Zedd, and instead digs in her spurs, trotting the horse forward until she can lean across the saddle and grab hold of the other woman's bicep. "Cara."
Her fingers tighten, and Cara stops. Green eyes flicker from her face to the fingers that are warm against her. The gaze is hooded, as if Cara is not expecting such familiarity. Truthfully, Kahlan is surprised herself, and though her cheeks flush, she does not let go. "Plainview," Cara says after a moment.
Plainview… The old mining camp that's become a rickety, wild settlement that can barely be called a town. Kahlan's fingers loosen, but her brow furrows.
"Richard isn't in Plainview," she states, and then feels stupid, because that much is obvious.
"No," Cara sighs, and it's clear she has very much the same opinion of Kahlan. "And neither is Darken Rahl, but we're going just the same." With that, she digs in her heels, and the horse starts forward.
"Cara, there isn't time to waste-"
"Believe me, Confessor, the sooner my debt to you is paid, the sooner I regain my own freedom," Cara snarls, biting into her own argument. "I have no wish to drag this adventure any further. Or do you still not trust me, Confessor?"
It's then that she sees it – the wild animal that exists instead of Cara. The old mother had told her once of the spirit animals that live within them, and here is Cara's so wide open and on display – a caged cougar that can neither be tamed nor beaten.
She's nursing her wounds now, hidden deep within her, beyond those blue-cat eyes, and that fading split lip.
Kahlan cannot help but be spellbound at the tragic beauty of it. It strikes a familiar chord, and it makes her wonder suddenly, what type of woman Cara would have been had she not been thrust so forcefully into the life of a Mord'Sith whore.
"Cara, I trust you," she finds herself saying. She can feel the stare of Zedd burning into her back, but she will not look at him. Her intensity is reserved for this woman. "I put my life in your hands the same way you have put your life in mine. Though our journey is just beginning, please know that I wouldn't have let you out of that cell if I hadn't given you my trust and faith. We're in this together, Cara." Cara's jaw tightens. Her eyes flicker away. "But if that's how we do things then you need to spare me some patience and help me understand. Why Plainview?" A coyote howls in the distance. The horse shuffles her weight, and Cara resettles herself. The answer comes to Kahlan so suddenly if it's as Cara's spoken it herself. "You don't know where Darken Rahl is, do you?"
"Had I known exactly where he is, Richard would have found a body on the road instead of a half dead Mord'Sith," Cara huffs suddenly, but the bite in her tone is gone. When she looks at Kahlan, that animal spirit inside of her seems to have retracted her claws, because her answer is frank and careful. "But in Plainview, there is someone who may."
This time, when Cara takes the lead, Kahlan does not argue.
Just as with any town, Kahlan smells Plainview before she actually sees it. The tiny settlement of rickety wooden buildings and tents smells of coal and refuse. The stench of people, human waste and rotting food.
A shot bangs out from somewhere in the town's vicinity as they near it, then another, and as Zedd's horse whinny's in protest, Kahlan stops short, casting their Mord'Sith guide a dubious frown. Cara's brow raises in return, but there's a slight smile on her face as she shakes her head and keeps riding forward.
With a resigned bite of her lower lip, Kahlan follows her lead.
Months ago, she heard rumors of the Railroad coming to Plainview, but from the looks of it, it seems a long time coming. Kahlan knows that as soon as the iron rods are locks in place, this place will lose some of it's wild nature. Preachers and Christians have been aching to reach Plainview – it's lawless reputation has reached many ears. But she can tell as soon as they enter the settlement, that Plainview takes pride in it's wildness. There is no civilization here. There are only tattered, covered wagons, barking wild dogs and bearded, dirty miners who stare unabashedly at the two women and the old man as they canter down the dirt muddy street that makes their main road.
"Lookit here!" a red-headed man whistles. "Denna's got herself some new recruits!"
Kahlan tightens one hand on her reigns, places the other on the hilt of her Colt. Cara pays them no attention at all. One of the men even is so bold as to come forward, until he sees the colored leather of Cara's Mord'Sith chaps. It's almost amusing, the way his face drains color, and he stumbles on his own feet, slipping back into a dirty water trough.
"This isn't a town for a respectable woman," Zedd mutters behind them, and the comment makes Cara smile.
"It's a good thing the women who live here then aren't what you deem respectable, isn't it?" she calls out, and turns off towards the Main Saloon. "Come on. The woman we're looking for is inside." A blustering drunken man is shoved suddenly out of it's doors, topping down the wooden stairs and rolling like a dusty weed. Cara's horse daintily steps over him and heads to the hitching post.
"A whorehouse," Zedd sighs as he sidles up beside Kahlan, observing the ramshackle building, by far the largest on the street. "The Mord'Sith has brought us to a whorehouse."
Kahlan sighs. She watches as Cara dismounts, and then waits impatiently for them to follow. "What kind of company did you honestly expect Cara to keep, Zedd?" she finds herself asking. "The town preacher?" She kicks and leads the horse forward.
"I don't believe this town has a preacher," he mumbles behind her, but obediently rides forward.