Chapter Five: A Hog-killin' Time

"I just know that there are two theories when arguing with women.

And neither one works. "

Kahlan isn't a hypocrite. She knows full well that the Armadillo Saloon is not a beacon of respectability. Just like Plainview's establishment, it has its share of prostitutes and gamblers. And unlike much of her fellow townsfolk, Kahlan harbors no ill will towards the den of iniquity. Every soul has its own version of sin. It's part of being human.

But Plainview is a different animal. There is an extreme type of lawlessness here, and it sets Kahlan on edge as she climbs the stairs of a building that is by far the most impressive on the street. It's solid and sturdy, a full two stories, and the music and voices that float out of it are loud and chaotic. There is no rhyme or rhythm here and Kahlan feels suddenly like a little girl playing dress up in a crowd of mercenaries.

With her adopted tribe, Kahlan was raised to be confident and secure in her own femininity, but the American West has no such respect for her gender. And although Armadillo has its share of bigots and misogynists, at the very least Kahlan held the Marshall's respect, and the fear that came with her notoriety as the 'Mother Confessor' kept many men from taking liberties.

In Plainview, not even Zedd has the power to give her much more than a fortifying smile. So she focuses instead on the straight, confident posture of the woman who leads her, following Cara through the swinging, creaking wooden door and into the establishment.

At first she can only notice the smell. It's foul. The stink of alcohol and body odor settles over the room like a fog, and the smoke of cigars and pipes stings her eyes and clogs her nostrils. She hears Zedd cough behind her, grumble furiously about his health.

The look on Cara's face as she looks back at her is amused. It's eerily reminiscent of a housecat toying with a mouse. The Mord'Sith is in her element here, a whore in a whorehouse. This is Cara's world, and now that they are inside of it, it's suddenly quite clear how much trust and faith Kahlan has given to her.

A rush of anxiety overwhelms her, as she remembers Zedd's warnings.

"Are you alright?" she hears. Cara is now standing close enough to have her palm pressed against Kahlan's forearm, touching gently. It's odd and disconcerting that Kahlan only presses in closer, just enough to recognize the scent of the other woman and allow it to steady her; a desperate attempt to clear her head.

"I'm fine," she manages. Crystal eyes lock with hers, testing her strength, and that smirk fades, along with Cara's touch.

"Stay close, Kahlan." Cara's words miss her now familiar sarcastic bite. "In here you are no Confessor."

She understands. Of course she understands. Now she becomes aware of the stares, the suspicious glances that could be quite easily mistaken for murderous. She is nothing but a stranger here, a woman and with no man to speak for her but an old coot who is sniveling and hacking up a lung.

In Plainview there is no Marshall with a gun and a cell and no badge to give her any sort of authority. In this room full of strangers she and Zedd have no friend but Cara.

It's terrifying that somehow she thinks that's enough.

"Cara Mason." It's a foreign voice that intrudes. Cara steps away from her to reveal a beautiful harlot coming towards them, a look of recognition on her face as she eyeballs the Mord'Sith. The woman is older, but not by much more than a few years. There are lines on her face that tell of a hard life, but it is the only give away. She wears her blonde hair in golden ringlets that fall tantalizingly over her bare shoulders, and her dress is a fashionable one, with an expensive bustle and tiny bits of fabric that speak to its expense. "What a pleasant surprise."

She walks with her head held high and a smirk on her face. It's eerily reminiscent of Cara's own smile – one that does not match her eyes and offers menacing suspicion rather than friendly comfort.

"Sister Denna," Cara says, tone calm but solid, carrying easily over the piano player's jaunty tunes and the patronage around them, clinking drinks, gambling, and bartering for whores. "Life has been treating you well."

Denna shakes her head and tuts at her, eyes lowering demurely. "Not sure that's entirely appropriate now, Cara," she responds, enunciating her name sharply. "After all, you may still be in Mord'Sith leather, but it's been quite clear for some time now that Darken Rahl is nothing more to me but another paying customer." She speaks with a lilt, as if this is part of an amusing dance, and Cara is her willing partner. "Though with the company you keep, people may talk about you," she continues as her focus shifts past Cara herself, to Kahlan and Zedd. "I see no sisters with you, Cara."

This Denna is shrewd, and though Cara made no mention of it, it's perfectly clear that this stranger is a former Mord'Sith herself. A sudden horror grips Kahlan as she locks eyes with the woman and realizes that, just as with Cara, there is no ability to read her.

She feels naked and vulnerable, and perhaps it shows on her face, because the smile that widens on Denna's face brings Cara that much closer to her, until she's nearly pressed against her, a solid wall of support in form of a shorter woman.

"Then you have eyes," Cara drawls with an acidic snap. "We need to talk, Denna."

Kahlan waits and watches as the silent conversation takes place with tense glances that pass between both women.

"Fine," Denna says after a moment, louder than before. Her head tilts back. "I have a room upstairs. Not HIM," she continues, barking back as Zedd makes a move to come up behind them. "No men upstairs unless they have paid for it."

"I'm a respectable man!" growls Zedd, offended. It's disconcerting – how immediately two burly men with side arms come forward to lay rough hands on Zedd's shoulders, keeping him in place. "Kahlan!" he yelps.

"Zedd!" she snaps, but Cara who holds her back with a strong grip on her elbow and a warning glare.

"Enough with the theatrics, Denna," she spits. "He's an old man and harmless."

"And there are rules that must be respected," Denna replies, just as coldly. "Just because you coddle old men doesn't mean I have any such inclination. If he's truly a friend then he can sit at the bar and enjoy a drink, courtesy of the house, of course."

"Fine," Cara answers. Kahlan's mouth opens, ready to protest. "I'm telling him to wait and have a drink and maybe a whore," Cara snits at her, a furious whisper that's not exactly quiet. "It's hardly torture."

"I won't leave Kahlan!" he shouts stubbornly.

Cara's glare pins him with intense dislike. "Kahlan will be fine. She will be with me."

"That's small comfort," he retorts.

Perhaps Cara in her frustration of Zedd doesn't notice the way Denna's mouth quirks, her careful observation of the group and the dynamics, but Kahlan does.

It's the literal equivalent of a gambler showing his hand, and will help no one.

"Zedd, that's comfort enough for me," she states, loud and clear, with as much authority as she can muster.

As useless as her talents as a 'Confessor' seem to be against Cara and her kind, they seem to work perfectly on Zedd. The old man swallows, but understands.

With a reassuring smile, she steps away from the Zedd, and closer to Cara. "I'll be back."

He has no choice but to stand still. In this saloon, being a man has no bearing when the patron is the madame and a former Mord'Sith. "I'll be here," he mumbles, and eyes the bar. "Getting drunk."

As Kahlan follows Cara and Denna closely up the creaking stairs, past women dressed in fancy dresses and others in hardly anything at all, she discovers that she envies him.


Denna's 'room' is an extravagant thing, filled with linens and expensive imported furniture. She obviously takes pride in it, watching with a proud smirk as she and Cara take in the state of it – the luxurious bed and the wooden vanity.

It reminds Kahlan of a room that would be seen in a gentrified town like Blackwater, not in the wild backpost that is Plainview. Clearly the work of a madame suits her.

"A drink?" Denna asks, and doesn't wait for an answer. She begins pouring amber liquid into glasses that sit on top of a nearby desk.

"We have no time for that, Denna," Cara snaps, and Denna falters in her actions, smirk fading at Cara's shortness.

"There's no need to be rude, Cara. I'm merely trying to be social to you and your new friend." Once again, Denna's eyes look her over. She's being studied, in such a way that Kahlan feels almost naked.

Maybe Cara senses it. Once again, she moves in front of her, blocking her from Denna's curious eyes.

"You and I have never been social."

"I beg to differ," Denna purrs back. She comes forward, creaking steps on the wood, forgetting Kahlan completely as she presses the drink into Cara's hand and deliberately does not move back. "I remember a time when you and I were … quite close."

The room remains silent, but Kahlan is no fool. She feels a flush overtake her at the insinuation, in how Denna's fingers trace against Cara's over the glass. They speak of possession and sensual intent. An attempt to stake a claim that should repulse her and it does, but not in the way she wants it to.

Her sudden intense dislike of Denna has nothing to do with the American morality thrust upon her and everything to do with the images that now assault her imagination.

"I think it's quite obvious that you and Cara haven't been close for a very long time," she finds herself snapping. Both women turn to pin her in their dark stares, and yet she does not retract. "Perhaps instead of trying to relive ancient events you listen to what Cara has to say."

For a moment, neither woman speaks. Kahlan's hands head to her hips. Her chin juts up challengingly.

"Your kitten has claws, Cara," Denna says, with a sudden chuckle, like Kahlan is a furry animal she has decided she would like to pet instead of kick. "Quite impressive to win the Mother Confessor over so quickly."

She betrays her shock with an inward gasp and immediately regrets doing so. Kahlan shouldn't be surprised. Cara knew who she was, and she told her explicitly that the Mord'Sith had made it a point to know of her existence.

Still, the knowing smirk on Denna's face, the familiar way she smiles at her, is chilling.

Cara's eyes meet her own. She regards her intensely, but instead of responding, she moves away from Kahlan, towards the bar itself. Without preamble, she pours another glass of whiskey. As she turns, she brings her own drink to her lips and takes a hard swallow, grimacing at the taste. She holds the glass she just poured out to Denna.

"You and I both know this isn't a social call, Denna," she states, voice rough from the burning alcohol. "I came to you for information."

Denna eyes her old friend, and there is a breathless moment, before Denna glances quickly at Kahlan and turns away from her, dismissing her in favor of Cara and her offered drink. "And what makes you think I'm willing to give it to you so easily?" she asks, enjoying this shift of balance far too much. "I'm no longer Mord'Sith, Cara. I harbor no loyalty to you or your leathers."

"Funny thing," Cara responds dryly. "Neither do I."

Denna absorbs that. "Since when?"

"Since I was betrayed, beaten, left for dead and nearly lynched."

The shock on Denna's face is almost refreshing to see, but she recovers quickly, with a sip of her whiskey and a low, sadistic chuckle. "My," she muses after a moment. "You have been busy." She eyes the whiskey. "I was wondering about the bruises. I won't lie and say I don't find a bit of poetic justice in it. You know, Kahlan, when I left the Mord'Sith, Cara told me I was a fool for turning my back on him."

Cara doesn't look at Kahlan, but Kahlan discovers that it's not hard to believe. The Cara Mason she met in the cell was a cold, calculating woman.

Why is it that it suddenly seems so long ago?

"Would you like an education on what Cara did to me exactly when I left Darken Rahl, Confessor?"

The glass in Cara's hand slams down on the dark desk, sloshing over liquid and putting an end to further conversation from Denna. "What's done is done. And don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing."

"And clearly someone did," Denna remarks, nodding to the bruises that mar Cara's tan cheek.

"I'm grateful," Cara says after a moment, tongue darting out to brush against the scab on her lower lip. "I'm done with taking orders. Darken Rahl is the fool for letting me live. He should have killed me." Denna's mouth quirks, but the smile falters quickly when Cara continues. "I know what you pay him in exchange for your freedom. You may not wear the chaps but you are as indebted to him as you ever were."

Denna takes a moment to take another drink, crossing her legs and eyeing the other woman with mistrust. "And you'll save me from my servitude?" she asks, voice dripping the now familiar sarcasm. "How noble and chivalrous." Her eyes once again meet Kahlan's. "She's charming when she's like this. Don't you agree?"

"I'm offering to rid you of an inconvenience." The harsh tone in Cara's voice indicates she's losing her patience. "But to do that I need to find him."

"You'd betray your Darken Rahl?" Denna asks. Her expression smacks of disbelief and sadistic amusement.

"He betrayed me first."

Denna plays with her drink, before lifting hooded, calculating eyes. "And what does Dahlia think of all this?"

The emphasis she places on the name is significant. It's meant to mean something to Kahlan, and smacks of yet another reminder that she knows next to nothing of Cara Mason.

The woman, the stranger who still seems so familiar, stiffens her shoulders and does not look at her. "Dahlia's thoughts and actions are no longer my concern."

"Yes, I've noticed you've recently enjoyed a change of scenery." Denna means of course, Kahlan. The way she observes Kahlan now reminds her of the way she's seen prospectors view a potential horse. "A brunette. Your taste has changed, Cara."

She speaks to Cara with hidden innuendos and thinly veiled secrets, as if this is a game and Cara and Kahlan are both play things. It arouses the same anger as before, protective and fierce. "Perhaps you don't know Cara as well as you thought you did."

Denna tosses a smirk Kahlan's way. "Then isn't she lucky she's run into someone who knows her so well?"

"Denna, enough." Cara it appears has lost her patience as well. "We don't have time for this."

"You're wrong, Cara." The smile fades from Denna's face, and her expression is now serious as she regards her former Mord'Sith sister. "I have all the time in the world."

"Tell me where he is."

"Tell me why you're after him," Denna replies flatly. "And do not say revenge. That isn't good enough. Not for us."

"It's no secret that Rahl has been teetering on the edge of madness for quite some time."

Denna considers that. She swallows the last of her drink, and studies the rim. "And if he's tipped, what do I care?"

"You know as well as I do that Rahl trusted no one like he did me." That information is new to Kahlan. She watches Cara intensely, but again, she is ignored. There is a connection here, a past and a sisterhood of which she has no part. "If he turned on me he can turn on you, Denna."

"If Rahl truly has turned his back on you then by helping you I would have sign my own death sentence."

"Not if I can get to him first."

Denna laughs – too loud and boisterous to be anything but mocking. "With what? An old man and a half breed witch?"

"That's not your concern," Cara says, as close to shouting as Kahlan has seen. It's an odd reaction, nearly visceral and emotional, and it shouldn't be coming from Cara. Denna has struck a nerve.

Denna sees it too. "It should be," she snaps, but her demeanor calms. "But I'm not unreasonable. If you need information, I'm sure we can come to an arrangement." Denna's words are drawn out, soft and silken like a deadly serpent's hiss.

The meaning hands in the air, as the world around her comes to life. Kahlan hears the grunts of a man in the room next door, the over-exuberant cries of pleasure from the whore that services him.

She sees the bed, with the rumpled sheets, and the look in Denna's eyes as she lets them linger over Cara's body, from the dark boots to the breasts that press against her buttoned vest. Kahlan recognizes it as lust.

It's startling, to see it so shamelessly displayed on the face of a woman, but the intention is clear.

They are bargaining for a devil's deal and Cara's services.

"Cara," Kahlan begins, suddenly horrified.

"Kahlan," Cara responds quietly. "Go check on the old man. Knowing the swill Denna serves, he may be passed out in a gutter by now."

Denna's smile widens. "Yes, Kahlan," she says melodiously, tipping her finger to the door. "Run along and let the adults talk."

The distaste for the other woman tastes like bile on her tongue. "Cara," she pleads. "I won't let you sell yourself like a -"

"Like what, darling?" Denna interrupts sweetly. "A whore?" Kahlan snaps her mouth shut, eyes glaring murderously at the woman. "That's what she is. That's what we all are," Denna adds. "And there are worse things to be."

Kahlan turns, but it's Cara who stops any movement toward the other woman. She grips her with a solid, firm hold, fingers wrapped around her wrist, keeping her attention focused on her. "You said you trusted me."

"Cara."

"Trust me now. Richard is the one who needs saving. Not me."

The tears that threaten to spill over sting with the reminder, and yet Kahlan will not give Denna the satisfaction. She turns away from Cara, because this feels like a betrayal and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

What exists in her mind is not their reality, and Kahlan is never more aware of it as when she heads for the door and steps through into the hallway, and closes the door behind her.


Outside of the door, the world continues to move on in Plainview. Kahlan rests on the banner, unwilling to move away just yet. Her fingers grip the wooden support, and for a moment she is overwhelmed.

Cara has invaded her. She has breathed her in and it has intoxicated her.

The old mother spoke once of people with spirits so strong their energy could become blinding, rising above the physical to infect the mind. These are the people that others die for. These are the people whose faces start wars. Who can convince a man to kill.

These are the people who are loved more than they can love.

She warned of such people, told Kahlan that more often than not they were wild spirits, destined to roam and to never be tamed.

To win the loyalty of such a person is considered a feat to be admired.

To be loyal to such a person is shameful and stupid.

And yet it has been only but a day, and Kahlan feels her heart pound and her chest tremble, because she has been infected with dreams and visions that skew her vision of the woman that she needs.

She needs Cara in order to save Richard.

There is no other reason. Cara Mason is a whore. She is a killer. And the reason she protects Kahlan is because she is repaying a debt. Nothing more.

For all of Kahlan's visions, for every phantom memory that festers in Kahlan's brain of this woman's lips on her body, branding her with overwhelming emotional and physical need, the reality is that those memories are a dangerous falsehood.

She thinks on Richard. She tries to picture his smile. The way his eyes shine with his goodness. How every emotion flows through him. She can read him perfectly. He is not a complicated man and he has no wish to be. Kahlan knows that the kindness in him flows out of him until it inspires those around him.

His destiny is to become a leader.

It is not to die at the hands of a mad man.

It is for him that she is doing this, and it is for that reason that Cara's deal with the devil named Denna should be honored. Denna has information and Cara will acquire it.

Kahlan exhales. She discovers her knuckles are white. Carefully, she loosens her grip, and looks over the gambling floor below her. She takes notice of the men that crowd around the gambling takes, the stink of piss and whiskey that floats up from the floor, and the jaunty tune of the piano player, who seems lost in his own world. Flitting about between them are Denna's woman, who laugh too loud and slap playfully, who lift their skirts and display their sensually with such ease that for a moment Kahlan feels almost envious.

Western civilization does not agree with Kahlan to the extent it does Zedd and Richard. Growing up with the Old Mother, Kahlan was taught to never be ashamed, but modern propriety seems filled with that emotion.

It doesn't take long to find Zedd.

Kahlan makes her way down the stairs. She ignores the men who whistle at her and when one reaches for her, she quickly takes hold of his thumb and twists it, leaving him howling and the men who are with him hooting in appreciation.

Kahlan is in no mood. She settles herself next to Zedd, and when he looks at her, takes his drink and tilts the liquid into her throat.

The look of surprise and relief that floats over his face is instantaneous, but it fades completely when he realizes that she is alone.

"And where's the Mord'Sith? She told me she wouldn't leave you."

She grimaces; shoots him a look. "Her name is Cara, Zedd. She's getting the information that we need," she tells him tersely. She's used to the noise now… she's getting used to the smell. Kahlan's eyes float back up the room with the closed door.

Maybe she's still not used to anything.

"Good," Zedd grumbles. "The sooner we leave this place the better."

Already irritated, Kahlan finds her annoyance growing. "It's a whorehouse, Zedd," she snaps. "Nothing more, nothing less. There is no shame in what these woman do."

It's harder, meaner than Kahlan's usual character, and Zedd is confused. He stares at her. "Kahlan, I simply meant that it means we can get to the border and closer to saving Richard. I know very well what a whorehouse is." He sighs. "I'm ashamed to say that in my earlier days I knew them quite well."

It's not a surprise. Kahlan's heard rumors before of Zedd's bachelor life. A saint he was not. "Tell me, Zedd. When you saw those women, laid with them-"

"Kahlan," he sputters, clearly shocked by her course language.

"Did you ever consider them as women? Or were they simply whores?"

Zedd frowns. "Where is this coming from, Kahlan?"

Kahlan considers the woman in this place, considers Denna. "You don't know the circumstances behind any woman in this room. The choices that were made or the choices that they didn't have. Who is to say that had you or Richard not taken me in, I wouldn't have ended up in the exact same position?"

The idea seems to absolutely horrify Zedd. "Kahlan, that would have never been an option for you. And when we get Richard back, you can be married and- "

The anger is nearly blinding. Kahlan's hand slams down on the bar, making the old man jump with the force of it. "I don't care to marry Richard, Zedd!" she spits out, pulse pounding with her absolute annoyance. "There is no part of me that wishes to makes him my Lord or master."

In the wake of her outburst, she seems to have stolen the very breath out of Zedd. He stares at her as if he sees a stranger, and Kahlan finds her emotion bleeding out of her.

She sighs heavily, rubbing her palm against her neck and closing her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she hears in a hurt, spiteful tone. "If that's what you think marriage is, then you are truly mistaken."

"And you are mistaken if you believe that my love of Richard comes from any desire to be his woman. I am his friend and his equal and as his equal I will die for his sake, as he would for mine. But not because he is a man and not because I am a woman. It is because Richard is my family. I'd like to think that if I the positions were reversed, Richard would think the very same of me."

Zedd has nothing to say to that.

The man behind the bar spots the empty glass and pours it full again.

They sit together, the old man and the Confessor, and share another drink.


It's begins with a murmur. A whisper of a conversation that at first blends in with the noise around them. Kahlan pays no attention to it at first. Zedd is mumbling in her ear about the obvious cheating of the man at the poker table, preferring to change the subject in the wake of Kahlan's rant than continue to discuss the awkward topic. The crusty man behind them with the dirty beard could be talking about anything, until she hears that fateful word 'Mord'Sith'.

"It's just one Mord'Sith whore!" she hears, and her hand goes immediately to Zedd, shutting him up with a press against his forearm.

"You know as well as I do that if there's one of them whore there's ten right behind 'em. It's suicide."

"T'ain't what I heard. Cowboy that rode up from Fort Mercer says there's a bounty on that whore. A big one."

"You're shitting me."

"Shit you not, boy. I say we posse up and deliver that whore back up to that Armadillah sheriff."

Kahlan's chest constricts. She sucks in a harsh breath, feels the press of her gun against her ribs as she shares a wild look with Zedd.

"Bounty or not, if we touch a woman in Denna's place she'll have our heads."

"So we get her when she leaves. That whore ain't staying. You know Denna. She don't like competition." Kahlan swallows hard, feels the bob of emotion in her throat that is almost painful. "Get the boys together and snag her horse-"

She has heard enough. "Damn that girl for being stupid enough to wear those leathers in here," Zedd mumbles, and leans forward, voice quiet and urgent, whispering into her ear. "You need to warn Cara and warn her now."

"What will you do?" she asks, urgent and anxious as Zedd frowns, thoughts flying across his pupils as quick as lightning.

"The pepper bombs," he breathes. "It'll be enough to distract them. Go."

The men behind them start to move, and suddenly there is no more time. Kahlan launches out of her seat, leaving Zedd to swivel off the stool in the other direction.

This time she pushes, both whores and men, out of her way, making her way up the stairs and toward that damn closed door.

No one stops her. Kahlan briefly wonders if perhaps it's because no one would dare enter Denna's room without knocking.

She does not wonder at the consequences. She shoves hard against the door, pushing her weight against it to launch it open.

She does not make any conclusions as to what has taken place. She sees that Cara's vest is unbuttoned. She sees the familiar way Denna splays across her bed, the strap of her dress falling off of one shoulder, leaving nearly nothing to the imagination. But Cara is rising out of the chair across the room, a scotch in her hand, and the look on both women is surprise at the intrusion.

There is no expectation. There is no time for disappointment or jealous bitterness.

Denna pushes off the bed. There is a scowl on her face. "What gave you the nerve-"

Kahlan pays her no mind. "Cara, a group of men downstairs noticed your chaps. They heard about the reward the Marshal put on your head. They're forming a posse and they're planning to ambush us once we're outside."

Cara whirls, all her fevered attention suddenly on Denna, but the other woman just shakes her head in annoyed discontent. "They should know better than to plot against me in my own establishment." She straightens, as Cara moves toward Kahlan, reaching for her forearm to pull her further into the room, shutting the door behind her.

Already, she is pulling the Colt weapon out of her holster, checking the chamber for the bullets. "Where is the Wizard?"

"He plans to distract them with pepper bombs." Both women give her blank looks. Kahlan shakes her head in impatience. "You yourself call him the Wizard. What do you imagine he's done to earn such a name?"

"Do you have horses?" Cara asks, and surprisingly, Denna nods.

"Come with me," she says, pausing only to lift her skirts and produce a tiny gun that's pinned against her garter. "They're outside."

Kahlan puts her hand on Cara's waist, keeping her from following. "I told you they were possying up outside!"

"What kind of fool do you take me for?" Denna spits. "You can take the whore out of the Mord'Sith, but a Mord'Sith she'll forever remain. The front door isn't the only exit in this place."

She jerks her head toward her door.

Kahlan knows her eyes look anxious, but as she looks toward Cara, the other woman does not mirror her sentiment. Instead, a smirk curls on the full lips, enough to cause Kahlan to pause, unsure of the look.

"What is it?" she breathes.

Cara's brow arches. "Yet again, you've taken it upon yourself to save me from certain death. I'm not a cat, Kahlan. I have only one life to live and only so many debts I can repay."

In the face of this threat, Cara's response is … almost playful. Kahlan discovers that it throws her, knocks away the anxious fear that grips her heart and tugs a smile on her face that feels foreign and familiar all at once.

Trust this stranger to decide to be charming at a time such as this.

"Then I trust I'll never be rid of you," she finds herself tossing back, and does not wait for Cara's response. She finds Denna pushing into another room, and is abruptly startled by the grunting man who jerks off the squealing women as they pass.

"Time's up. Get out," Denna snaps and the man begins to sputter.

"What the hell do yo-"

He shuts up quite quickly when Cara steps forward and grabs hold of his collar, jerking him up with a burst of strength and speed that's almost astonishing. The pants that are currently around his ankle trip him off, and the result is him staggering, struggling against Cara's grip like a gutted fish.

The whore beneath him scrambles up immediately and flees without a backward glance.

"Unless you'd like me to stick the muzzle of this gun into a hole that usually secretes, I would listen to Miss Denna."

It's only then that Kahlan realizes that the Colt Cara holds is positioned in a rather … unfortunate way against the man's testicles.

There's a distinctive click, and the miner hollers as Cara lets go, stumbling to his feet and then crawling madly to the door.

Denna has no reaction at all. Her focus instead is on pushing aside a piece of carpet that hands on the wall, and reveals behind it a door.

"A secret passage?" Kahlan breathes. "I've only read of such things in Zedd's books."

The look Denna gives her reeks of disdain. "Well then isn't this exciting for you?" she sneers, and opens the door, revealing a rickety stair case. "Come on."

"Wait-" Kahlan breathes, suddenly struck by a horrifying thought. "What about Zedd?"

Cara stills. She glances toward the door that leads to the saloon and says just as quickly, "We said we would leave him at the border. We have no choice but to leave him now instead."

It's unthinkable. "We can't!"

"He was meant to be a distraction, then let him distract," Cara snaps, and suddenly she is being pulled, down the stairs and into an old cellar. Denna is already there, moving around bags of grain and kegs of liquor, toward the stairs that obviously lead to an exit.

"Through here," Denna snaps, and pushes at the doors. The sunlight bursts through, nearly blinding Kahlan with the brightness. "The horses are tied in the stable next door. You need to hurry."

But Kahlan doesn't move. "Why are you willing to help us now?"

"It's not YOU, I'm helping, Confessor," Denna sneers. "And Cara cannot deliver what she's promised if she's dead, can she?"

"Kahlan, let's GO!"

But she can't. She jerks her head back towards the Saloon, back to the man who would regard her as a daughter. "Cara, I won't leave him."

Cara whirls. Her colored eyes give no room for sympathy. "If you want to save Richard, then you have no choice."

Her words are final. Too final. Kahlan understands that they cannot waste time, and yet once again she remains caught, forced to choose between a friend and the woman in the Mord'Sith leather, who stares are her defiantly and juts out her palm, willing her to take it.

Before her lies Cara and the promise to save Richard.

Behind her is Zedd, his promised distraction.

"Denna will explain to him," Cara snaps, and Denna blinks in surprise.

"Will I?"

"Denna, not NOW. Kahlan," Cara says, and this time it sounds like a plea.

Instinct is what propels her, as Kahlan takes a step forward and looks into Cara's eyes, hears her worried breath.

The world sways, tips… and falls back into place.

It's then, and only then, she notes that she's placed her fingers into Cara's, entwined them.

Fingers clasp tightly around her own, and Kahlan is pulled away from Zedd and into the sunlight.

END CHAPTER