Salindra dashed tears from her eyes, angry enough to spit. In all her years as a working girl, she'd never let herself get attached to any of her benefactors. It was folly. It was asking to be broken, in heart and spirit. She knew who she was. She knew what she wanted.
But Kahlan had made her forget.
Maybe it was that they had been equals once. Maybe that was what made it different. Why she'd let her guard down. Told herself they were friends. More than that, even.
But no more. Salindra wouldn't be made a fool of twice.
She was so intent on her thoughts that she almost ran into Mistress Cara.
"Lady Salindra," the blonde braided Mord'Sith drawled, making Salindra's belly do flops.
She could never decide if it was desire or terror that prompted the reaction.
"Mistress Cara," Salindra smiled, tossing her head to make her golden curls bounce prettily. Cara liked to be flirted with, and Salindra liked staying on her good side.
It was the practical thing to do.
"I would speak to you of your mistress, the queen." Cara shifted her weight from one leg to the other, slowly cocking one hip.
Salindra's smile froze on her face. "Why talk about her when you have me right in front of you?" Lightly, she trailed one finger down Cara's leather clad arm.
Cara narrowed her eyes, her hand shooting out like a striking snake to grab Salindra's wrist. "No games. Come."
She started walking, leaving Salindra with two choices: follow, or be dragged by the vice-like grip on her arm.
Salindra followed, taking a few quick steps to walk at Cara's side, so that it appeared as if they strolled together. She knew better than to ask where they were going. Cara would tell her or not, as she pleased.
Finally they rounded a corner, ducking into the passageway that led to the palace's temple of the Mord'Sith. Cara was taking Salindra to her private quarters, then.
Salindra clenched her teeth to hold back a scream.
Once they were within Cara's chambers, the Mord'Sith flung Salindra onto the massive four poster bed that dominated the room, glaring at her.
Salindra stared back.
"Well?" Cara finally said, her patience at an end.
"What has your little whore friend done to Lord Rahl? She's bespelled him. I'm sure of it now."
Salindra gaped, then laughed. "Really? You think Kahlan is a witch?"
Cara drew her Agiel, advancing on the bed. Salindra scrambled backwards, her hands held up in a gesture of surrender. "If I knew, I would tell you! Believe me!"
Bitterness twisted her lips. Just a day ago, she would have at least tried to stay loyal to Kahlan. But that was yesterday.
Today she knew that she could only rely on herself.
"I saw them together," Cara murmured, standing over the bed, her braid swinging over her shoulder, her Agiel held mere inches from Salindra's flesh. "I couldn't see what she did, but I sensed a rush of magic. Then he professed his love to her."
And emptied his seed into her belly as he has not done to me since he took her to wife, Cara finished the thought, her ambition of raising a king making her green eyes glint.
"I don't know anything," Salindra protested, edging away from the Agiel as much as she could. "Torture me all you want, that won't change."
Cara paused, considering the woman that laid before her.
"Why question me?" Salindra asked shrewdly when it became apparent Cara wasn't going to torture her – for the moment. "Why not just attack her?"
Cara snorted. "I am loyal to the true Lord Rahl, not suicidal. I must be sure before I strike."
"I'll tell you anything you want to know. I'll report anything I see. Just let me go," Salindra pleaded, unsure even as she bargained whether she meant what she said.
Cara smiled and bent, giving her a sensuous kiss. Then she sheathed her Agiel and twitched two fingers toward the door.
Salindra did not breathe again until she collapsed back in her rooms, sliding down the closed door to sit on the floor.
Sometimes, she missed the brothel.
A searing circle of flames in his mind, Darken sat bolt upright in bed, a crack of lightning blinding his eyes. He thrashed in the sheets, his heart hammering, icy shards of terror in his veins.
"Darken, what is it?" Kahlan asked, voice thick with sleep, her hair mussed and matted from their lovemaking.
Darken pulled her into his arms, wanting to feel that she was really there, warm and safe. "The Seeker," he whispered into that long dark hair, inhaling the scent of her skin. "The Seeker has been Named."
Kahlan should have rejoiced at the news.
But she felt only dread, and she did not know why.
"What have you done to me?" she muttered, voice cracking.
"I love you," Darken Rahl replied.
"A woman to see you, my lady. She claims she is your sister."
Kahlan looked up from her work to see Salindra standing there, smiling in all her finery as if nothing was wrong between them. "Dennee? Dennee is here?"
She was relieved and horrified all at once, for surely Dennee had come because of Nicholas. Kahlan had finally sent a message to Aydindril, telling the Sisterhood of her predicament. She couldn't immediately kill the boy without giving herself away. His death had to be carefully executed to look accidental, or implicate another, so that she could try again, to save them all.
That was why he still lived, months after his birth. That was why she hadn't killed him yet.
That was what Kahlan told herself.
Dennee must have been sent to help her.
"Send her in," she requested, mouth dry. Then, impulsively, "Salindra – "
The blonde turned, "Yes, my lady?"
"I want – you – I… Never mind."
Dennee came in a few moments later, dusty from travel, but a welcome sight despite what her visit meant was coming. Kahlan rose from her seat, going to embrace her little sister, all the tears and loneliness she had shown to no one else pouring out of her in a torrent.
Dennee wept with her, holding her as they both sobbed – mourning for their children, their lives, their Sisterhood.
It was as if they were those two lost little girls whose father bound their hands again, clinging to each other to survive.
At last, Dennee stepped back, wiping at Kahlan's cheeks. "Look at you. Jewels and red silk. You're a queen."
Kahlan shook her head, smoothing her hands over Dennee's cheeks, running her fingers through that blonde hair, a shade lighter than Salindra's. "I'm a pretender. I know why now it was written that no Confessor should be a monarch, save for in Aydindril. It's too easy to become the evil we fight."
"Kahlan, you are nothing but good!" Dennee declared, taking her older sister's hands.
"Am I? If I am so good, why does my son still live?" Kahlan blurted, a silence falling after her outcry.
"The Mother Confessor went to the Boundary, to try to reach the Seeker. She doesn't know yet," Dennee said after some time. "I delayed telling her, but the news must reach her soon."
"The Seeker has been Named," Kahlan swallowed hard. "Darken had a vision."
The Mother Confessor went for the Seeker. She didn't trust Kahlan to complete her mission.
Kahlan found she could not blame her.
"You came because of Nicholas," Kahlan said to Dennee.
"I came because of Nicholas," Dennee confirmed, meeting her eyes. "But not for the reason you think. Sister, I let Mother Confessor Serena take my son away from me. I cannot tell you the regret, the heartbreak, the self-loathing I have felt ever since. I came here to stand by you, to beg you not to do to yourself what was done to me."
Dennee's lips quivered, more tears running down her cheeks. "It has never happened twice in a generation. Surely that means something?"
Her heart already swayed, Kahlan weakly protested, "But the bloodlust. The evil inherent in all male Confessors."
Dennee clasped Kahlan's hands to her chest, her blue eyes wide, "I will be his nanny. He cannot confess me, if the legends turn out to be true. We will keep him safe. And you can have more children, Rahl girls to rule D'Hara justly. Girls who can stop their brother, if what is feared comes to pass. But for now he is only a baby. A baby with no more evil in his heart than my son's, when the Mother Confessor took him from me and drowned him. Pleasesister. I couldn't save my son, but together we can save yours!"
Hearing Dennee say the words that had whispered through her ever since the day she allowed her baby to nurse at her breast, Kahlan could do nothing but embrace her sister and vow to keep Nicholas alive.
Zedd walked with Richard at his side, blazing a path through the Midlands for D'Hara's capital, and the destiny that awaited them beyond.
"What?" Zedd started, taking his eyes from the path ahead of them, where Serena walked.
Richard smiled. "Why don't you just tell her how you feel?"
Zedd raised his brow. "What ever do you mean?"
"Oh come on, Zedd," Richard skirted a large tree root snaking across the path. "I see how you look at Serena. It's as plain as the nose on your face that you love her."
Zedd sighed, shaking his head. "It can never be, boy. Not with her."
"But Zedd – "
Zedd was saved from having to answer by Serena calling for them, her voice urgent. Richard drew the Sword of Truth and sprinted ahead, Zedd following behind, Wizard's Fire sizzling at his fingertips.
It was not an attack, but a proclamation nailed to a tree that had made Serena scream.
In bold black letters, it announced the birth of Nicholas Rahl, first born son and heir born to Darken Rahl, and Kahlan, his queen.
"How could she?" Serena frothed, old nightmares resurfacing to haunt her.
"I don't understand. I thought you said the queen is on our side. That she'd help us get to Rahl once we got to the palace. What's wrong?"
Richard was still confused about why they even needed him. If the problem was killing Rahl, and the queen was on their side, he didn't see why she couldn't do it. But every time he brought it up, Zedd started in about prophecies and how anyone could kill Rahl, but only the Seeker could truly defeathim and they went in circles until Richard's head hurt.
"Kahlan is a Confessor, like Serena," Zedd said softly. "Any child she has will be a Confessor as well. We had hoped she'd have a daughter before we reached the People's Palace, so that the next Rahl could be raised to be a good and just ruler."
"But?" Richard prompted.
"But she has had a son, and male Confessors are inherently evil. They are supposed to be killed at birth. And yet, Kahlan has let her son live."
"I shouldn't have sent her alone," Serena burst, ripping the proclamation from the tree.
"If Kahlan has decided to flout the old commandments of the Sisterhood of Confessors, then she may no longer be on our side. If she wants to protect her son – "
"I'm not doing anything to hurt a baby, and neither are you!" Richard exclaimed, the Sword of Truth glowing orange when he put his hand on the hilt.
"Richard, you don't understand," Zedd tried to reason with him.
"No, I don'tunderstand!" Richard whirled to face Zedd, his back to Serena. "You've been telling me that Darken Rahl is evil, a tyrant, and that it's my destiny to defeat him and free the people. You've been telling me that we're supposed to be heroes. Heroes don't kill children. I won't let you do something so horrible!"
"Horror? What do you know of horror, boy? What horrors have you seen?" Serena spat. She grasped Richard's throat from behind, tendons standing out in her hand. He tried to turn to face her, but before he could shake her off, his eyes flooded an inky black.
Later, Zedd would remember it as if it happened in slow motion - strange little details that he wasn't aware of at the time. The way the light shone through the trees, glinting on Serena's hair. The way the forest smelled of soil and greenery, and dark earthy things.
The sensation of falling as the world dropped out from under him.
"Richard! No!" Zedd thundered, his voice echoing with all the power of a Wizard of the First Order.
"Command me, Confessor," Richard fell to his knees.
"I'm sorry it had to come to this, Zeddicus," Serena's voice was hard. "I know you were fond of the boy."
Zedd spared one moment to feel his heart break, and then shot a blast of Wizard's Fire from his fingertips, willing to kill the woman he loved to save Richard from confession.
It was not the Seeker he tried to save, but his grandson.
There was a blinding flash, and then his Wizard's Fire was deflected back at him by the Sword of Truth, as Richard rose in defense of his mistress.
The battle was quick, and could have only one end. When Mother Confessor Serena started back on the path to the People's Palace, the Seeker and First Wizard followed her.
Both of them confessed.
The People's Palace looked beautiful in the moonlight. Torches winked from the battlements, looking like fireflies at a distance as the soldiers who held them went about their patrols.
"How will we get in, mistress?" Richard asked. He stood to Serena's left, on alert for anything that might threaten her, or the mission.
She had told him, both him and Zedd over and over that as much as they loved her, the mission was more important, and if they had to choose, they were to put it before her. Richard hoped he wouldn't have to choose.
"I'm not sure yet, Richard," Serena answered. "Zeddicus, what do your listening spells tell you?"
"The walls are heavily guarded. Mord'Sith protect the royal wing. There are secret passages, but we would never be able to navigate them without a guide."
Serena pursed her lips, thinking as Zeddicus came over to place his hand on her shoulder. She put hers over his, giving it a squeeze.
She had taken him as her mate days after confessing him. Her child bearing years were gone and done, but she saw no reason not to take comfort in Zeddicus' embrace. With danger and destruction at every turn, sometimes the only happiness to be found was that you made for yourself.
"There is more," Zedd continued. "Kahlan's sister Dennee is at the castle. She is the prince's nursemaid."
"Dennee," Serena repeated, closing her eyes to absorb this latest betrayal. Of course Dennee would help Kahlan protect the evil child she'd borne. Why couldn't they see?
Serena had thought Kahlan would be Mother Confessor, once. She saw so much of herself in the young woman.
Kahlan's actions now made them more, not less, alike.
"I have an idea," Richard said, interrupting Serena's thoughts. "Zedd, how are you at disguise spells?
Cara was standing in the temple proper, preparing to go on duty in the royal wing when an older Mord'Sith she didn't recognize swaggered through the doors, a sword over her shoulder and leading two men by chains.
One man was tall with long grey hair, his face haggard with age. He wore robes of some kind – those usually favored by scholars and monks. The other man was shorter, younger, his broad shoulders and well-muscled form filling out his hunter's garb nicely. He would make a fine pet, Cara thought, if the other mistress didn't mind sharing.
The brunette Mord'Sith stopped, saluting Cara with the fist that held the men's chains. "I have captured the Seeker and the First Wizard. I have orders to bring them to Lord Rahl at once."
"I know of no such orders," Cara arched her brow, hand going to the Agiel strapped to her hip.
"Then perhaps you are not highly ranked enough to know of them," the older Mord'Sith spat, jerking the two men – the wizard and the Seeker – forward by their chains.
Cara backhanded the other woman, only to have the two men attack her, shouting about her hurting their mistress. She subdued the wizard easily enough since he could not use his magic against her, sweeping his legs and pressing her Agiel to his temple until he passed out, his face a blotchy red purple.
The Seeker was more of a challenge. He wrapped his arms around her, pinning hers to her sides while she was dealing with the wizard. Leaning back, he pulled her feet off the ground, swinging her towards the other woman who was clearly not a true Mord'Sith.
The brunette reached for Cara, her hand in that pose that instantly set off alarm bells in any Mord'Sith worth her Agiel. Confessor.
Confessors were deadly to Mord'Sith, able to kill them with a touch. Cara had no plans on dying.
Cara pulled her legs up to her chest, then kicked out with both feet, her boots crashing into the Confessor. The woman flew back, and the Seeker overbalanced and fell, knocked over by the momentum of Cara's kick. Wasting no time, Cara dug her elbow into his gut, knocking the wind out of him, then rolled to her feet, Agiel at the ready.
The Confessor stood in a battle stance, a dagger in each hand. The wizard lay on the floor, still unconscious. And the Seeker gasped for air, his face white as he scrambled to his feet.
Cara held up her hands in a gesture of peace, and backed away.
Once she felt the wall behind her, she slid along it until she found the archway leading to the hall beyond, never taking her eyes off the Confessor. Then she was through the archway, turning to make her way to one of the secret passages that led to the royal wing.
She would not sound the alarm. She would stop them before they got to Lord Rahl… but the queen and the prince they could have.
Serena passed the Sword of Truth to Richard, then went to tend to Zeddicus, hoping he wasn't dead.
"Why did she do that?" Richard wondered aloud, looking in the direction the Mord'Sith had gone.
"It doesn't matter," Serena snapped at him, pulling her red leather gloves off to smooth Zedd's hair away from his face. "You shouldn't have attacked her. Have you forgotten everything I've told you about the importance of our mission?"
Richard frowned, unhappiness radiating from him. "Forgive me, mistress."
"You're forgiven," Serena said hurriedly, before he got too upset. "Help me wake Zeddicus. We have to get to the royal wing before that Mord'Sith raises the alarm, if she hasn't already."
Salindra padded out of her room in soft slippers, on her way to Darken Rahl's bedchamber. She wore nothing but a deep blue dressing gown trimmed in gauzy lace that brought out the color of her eyes. Though Kahlan had never seemed to mind her husband's wanderings, Salindra had never bedded him out of loyalty to the woman.
No more. It was plain now that Salindra couldn't count on Kahlan to provide for her future. She had to secure one for herself.
Starting with a place in the king's bed, and perhaps a Rahl babe in her belly. She was sure she could get Darken to forget his promise to Kahlan to never fill another woman with his seed.
She didn't acknowledge the part of herself that wanted revenge.
She had her hand on the door when she saw unfamiliar shadows in the hall. Filled with foreboding, she ducked into Lord Rahl's chambers and woke him as the strangers started speaking to the guards at the end of the hall in soft voices.
"Kahlan," he bolted out of bed, going to the door that connected his chambers to the queen's.
Serena made short work of confessing the guards at the end of the hall leading to the royal wing. Being Mord'Sith, they died quickly, the magic that made them what they were incompatible with confession. Serena swayed slightly from the strain of confessing two people so quickly, leaning back against Zeddicus for support.
"Now we part ways. Richard, you go to kill Darken Rahl. Leave Kahlan unharmed if you can, but fight her if you must. Zeddicus, you come with me to the nursery, to perform the Ritual of the Waters."
Sword of Truth in hand, Richard stalked down the hall.
Serena and Zedd went the other way, to where Nicholas Rahl slumbered.
Salindra stood with Kahlan, behind Lord Rahl, the both of them in their dressing gowns. Lord Rahl wore only a robe of red velvet tied at the waist, and a loincloth beneath, a naked sword in his hand.
"We have to get to Nicholas," Kahlan protested, her heart in her throat.
"I won't leave you, Kahlan," Darken returned, his eyes trained on the door.
She was opening her mouth to order him to go when the door swung open, the Seeker silhouetted there. "Darken Rahl," he said, the Sword of Truth casting an orange glow on his face. "My mistress wants me to kill you."
Then he lunged.
Sparks flew as Darken parried, his red velvet robe flowing around him. Kahlan watched as they danced across the room, her teeth grit in frustration at not having her daggers to hand.
Salindra screamed, then ran for the open doorway once the men were clear of it, deciding that she had had quite enough of the People's Palace and everyone in it. She would stop only long enough to pack her dresses and steal Kahlan's jewels, and then she would leave this place forever.
"It is done," Serena said, expecting to feel relieved as she placed Nicholas Rahl's lifeless body back in his crib.
But she felt only heartache.
Her eyes burned, but she could not cry. She could have ordered Zeddicus to do it. But she didn't. That would have been too easy. Would have allowed her to ignore the darkness of the deed she did for the greater good.
He looked like he was sleeping.
"What have you done?" cried a voice filled with all the anguish Serena could not show.
"What had to be done, Dennee," Serena turned, looking at the young woman.
Zeddicus raised his hands, prepared to use his magic, but Serena stopped him. "No, Zeddicus."
Dennee spun towards Serena, rage making her strong. Serena sidestepped out of the way of the blows, turning her daggers so that she would strike Dennee with the hilts rather than the blades. She was loathe to kill another Confessor when it wasn't necessary, as few of them as there were left.
She had weapons, and Dennee did not. But she had been traveling, fighting, worn down on the road that led them to this point. She was old, and she was tired.
She was unsurprised when Dennee wrested one of her daggers away from her, plunging it into her chest. She let out a grunt, falling to her knees, blood blossoming around the dagger's hilt. It spilled down her chest, the same color as the Mord'Sith leathers she wore, spreading in a pool on the floor.
Dennee covered her mouth with her hands, backing away as Zedd rushed forward to kneel by his mistress, gathering her in his arms. Her blood stained his robes. Closing his eyes, he held his long fingered hands over her wound, his lips moving silently as he tried to heal her. White light glowed around the protruding dagger's hilt, but still Serena bled.
"Mistress, forgive me," he stroked her face, his voice choked with tears.
"Shh," Serena shushed him, feeling strangely calm.
She hadn't expected to live through this war. Now, in her final minutes, she could admit that she had stopped wanting to.
"Forgive me," she coughed, blood bubbling past her lips. She didn't know if she was speaking to Zeddicus or the Creator.
Then she knew no more.
Richard pushed Darken Rahl back, bringing all the power of the Sword of Truth to bear. Darken barely held him at bay, bracing to hold his sword two handed, his robe long since torn, his body covered in flesh wounds, as if the Seeker meant to kill him by inches. Kahlan hovered on the edge, frozen by indecision, unsure who to aid.
Then Richard lowered his blade to Darken's neck, and Darken smirked, vanishing before their eyes. But the Seeker anticipated the trick, already turning to thrust his sword into the space behind him where Darken would appear.
The Sword of Truth parted flesh.
Kahlan gaped, falling back against Darken, skewered on the blade.
"Kahlan, no!" Darken whimpered, forgetting his danger as his mistress died before him. Tears clouded his vision, his entire world collapsing.
Richard staggered back as Darken Rahl wept over Kahlan, pressing kisses to her face.
The burning love, the compulsion to please Mother Confessor Serena, the obsessive drive to do everything she asked of him was gone.
He was no longer confessed.
He thought he might be sick.
Watching Darken Rahl fawn over the Confessor dying in his arms, Richard's sword through her gut, Richard leaned over and heaved.
"Why did you do that? Take the sword meant for me?" Darken murmured, voice scratchy, rocking Kahlan, his hands on her cheeks.
"You're confessed," she croaked out, trying to reach for him. Her hand fell back. "Don't – " she began, in a sentence that would stay unfinished.
Her power over Darken broke.
"I'm free," he whispered, letting her body roll from his lap.
He looked up to see the Seeker watching him with wary eyes.
"We're both free now," the man Darken knew was his brother answered.
"Are you going to kill me?"
Thinking of all the terrible things the people who wanted Darken Rahl dead had done to him and others, Richard answered, "Not tonight."
Together, they pulled the Sword of Truth from Kahlan's corpse.
Though all we knew depart
The old commandments stand:
In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.