What does it mean to change fate? To defy prophecy? Is it possible, or are some things set in stone? Is one death the same as another? In this latest installment in the series that began with For All That We Have and Are and The Old Commandments Stand, everyone just wants to go back to the beginning, but find they can only move forward. To the end. Darken/Kahlan; Darken/Richard (if you squint); Darken/Denna; Darken/Cara; Darken/Salindra; Richard/Denna; Richard/Salindra; Zedd/Denna.
As always, thanks to madmguillotine for influencing my characterization of Salindra. Also thanks to evilgmbethy for influencing this particular incarnation of Richard, as well as the way I think of confession and Confessors. Thanks to brontefanatic for keeping me from giving up on this fic when I wanted to take it out back and shoot it. And thanks to angstbunny, since her comments on The Old Commandments Stand pretty much directly spawned this sequel.
No Law Except the Sword
Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:
No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled,
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.
-For All That We Have and Are, Rudyard Kipling
Zedd woke to a burning ache in his arms.
They were shackled above his head, a chain suspending him from the ceiling.
He was a prisoner of the Mord'Sith.
"Hello, wizard," a sultry voice came from the darkness surrounding him.
The woman stepped into the light of the torches. Zedd tried to focus on her, and found he had trouble seeing out of his left eye. He turned his head, and felt a ring of metal rub against the raw flesh of his throat.
A Rada Han.
The Mord'Sith's boots echoed against the stone as she came closer. She stroked Zedd's cheek with a gentle hand.
Zedd tensed, waiting for the blow that would inevitably follow.
"Do you remember me?" the woman asked. She was possessed of a cold beauty – chiseled features and ice blond hair that was swept back in the customary braid. Her eyes made Zedd think of snakes.
"I am Mistress Cara."
Zedd did recognize her. She was the Mord'Sith that had attacked his Mistr- Serena.
Zedd let out a sound halfway between a groan and a sob.
"Don't weep yet," Cara purred to him. And now the slap came, as he had expected, so hard that he saw spots. "You will have much more cause to weep before you leave here, and then you will kneel before Lord Rahl and pledge yourself and your power, and you will weep for joy."
When the door closed behind Mistress Cara, her braid following her like the tail of a scorpion, Zedd stopped trying to hold back his tears.
He thought of Serena, and Richard. He wondered after Dennee. He feared the wrath of Darken Rahl. He regretted things done, and undone.
He fought to hold onto hope.
What would become of them now?
What would become of all of them now?
"My lord," Cara said, announcing her presence.
Darken Rahl was standing at the windows of his bedchamber, deep in thought. The cool light filtering through the glass played over his bare arms, making his tan skin seem pale and throwing the wounds inflicted by the Sword of Truth into sharp relief.
It took a moment for him to register Cara's voice.
He gestured for her to come closer.
"The wizard and the Confessor are chained in the tower, as you commanded. Mistress Dahlia guards them now. I will break them within the month, this I promise you," Cara reported.
"And the Seeker?" Darken asked, stroking his lips with one finger.
"He has been made comfortable in your old rooms, as my lord wished."
Cara watched Darken, her intense green eyes unblinking. No doubt she was trying to read his mind. At times, he thought she could. She knew him so well. Every twitch of his lips, every fidget of his hands, told her things he would never say aloud.
She was the only one who had noticed something amiss with him.
Darken pulled Cara into his arms, pressing a kiss to her throat.
"You will not be training the Confessor or the wizard," he said between kisses, his hands on the complicated straps and buckles that held Cara's leather armor in place. "I have sent for Denna."
Cara dared to push him away, her brows drawing down as she frowned. "I am just as capable – "
"You know very well that Denna is more skilled in this task than you are. You are a warrior. She is a torturer."
Darken stroked Cara's cheek, extending the motion to play with her braid. He loved slowly uncoiling it, letting her hair slide over his fingers. He pulled at the golden strands, arranging them parallel to one of the many still healing cuts on his forearm.
He had many more scars since the death of Queen Kahlan. Both inside and out.
"Don't pout, Cara," Darken scolded her, winding her hair around his arm until she was forced to step closer to him. "It doesn't suit you. And besides that, I have a task for you as well. One that requires your own special skills."
That cheered her. She smirked, running the edge of her teeth along Darken's jaw, biting his neck just over his pulse point in the way that made him groan, his eyes rolling back in his head.
"What task is this?" she whispered in his ear, the feeling of her breath on his skin sending a shiver through him.
"The queen's lady in waiting. She seems to have absconded with the royal jewels." Darken ended the sentence with a gasp as Cara slid her hand through the gap in his robes, deftly handling another Rahl treasure. "You know what she looks like," Darken wet his lips, his breath quickening. "Find her, and bring her back. Alive."
Cara smiled, her face transformed by lust and predatory glee. "As my lord wishes."
She slid to her knees.
Richard paced back and forth across the rich red carpet before his fireplace, filled with energy, but not sure what to do with himself.
He'd been given rooms in the People's Palace, rooms that were larger than his whole house in Hartland. Everything was all red and gold and dark wood, and very, very grand. He was served meals on gold plates, maids took care of his every whim, and his rough traveling clothes had been taken from him, replaced with soft doeskin breeches and a tunic of blue brocade, embroidered along the edges with silver thread in the pattern of stars.
And every time he tried to leave, he was firmly told to go back by the guards at his door.
Frustrated, he kicked at one of the chairs, then grunted when the heavy wooden seat didn't move. All he accomplished was hurting his toe.
He swore under his breath.
"I didn't know the Seeker was allowed to know those kinds of words," a gruff voice sounded from the entryway.
Richard spun on the spot, his hand going to the hilt of the Sword of Truth.
It was an old man in the uniform of the Dragon Corp. He gave the impression of having once been a mountain of a soldier, broad and strong, but now had gone a bit soft in the belly. His shoulders sagged under the weight of his cloak. He had grey hair, and a mustache to match. Eyes like glass watched Richard from beneath scruffy brows.
Richard tightened his grip on his sword.
The old soldier raised his hands in a gesture of peace. "No need for that, my lord. I came to talk, nothing more."
Richard straightened, but remained on his guard. "Who are you?"
The man saluted. "General Egremont, Lord Rahl's advisor in military matters." Egremont hesitated, and then added, "And I am the man who first taught Lord Rahl to hold a sword. I have cared for him since he was small enough to ride on my shoulders. He's the closest thing to a son I've ever known."
Here the man struggled, taking a deep breath and clearing his throat before finishing, "Thank you. Thank youfor sparing his life, when it rested in your hands."
Richard sat down.
"I never thought… It never occurred to me that Darken Rahl…."
"Everyone has a father, my lord," Egremont said quietly. "And a mother, too. Even kings."
Richard looked up. "Are you his…?"
Egremont shook his head. "No. Like a father, I like to think, but I am not of the House of Rahl, my lord."
"I'm not a lord," Richard said dully, fidgeting to be addressed so. It occurred to him that Egremont was still standing just inside the door. "Do you want to sit down?"
It was very odd, to worry about his manners in this place. To act as if he were a host.
Not a prisoner.
"Lord Rahl has declared that so long as you are his guest, you are a lord. And so a lord you are." Egremont took a chair across from Richard's, in front of the fireplace.
There was pride in Egremont's voice, when he spoke of his master. Pride, and fierce loyalty.
"Are all guests in the People's Palace confined to their rooms?" Richard asked off handedly, staring into the fire.
"It is a precaution, my lord. A wise one, until we are sure of you. I think you will agree, if you give the matter some thought."
Richard sighed. "I understand. It makes sense. But understanding doesn't mean I like it. And what's become of Zedd?"
He didn't ask about Mother Confessor Serena.
He didn't need to.
"The wizard has been imprisoned in the tower of the Mord'Sith. Like you, he was confessed. But unlike you, he is a confirmed rebel and traitor. You don't know the extent of his crimes."
Richard blinked, his brows climbing into his hair line as his lips parted in shock.
He felt like someone had just dumped cold water over his head.
"Extent of his crimes?"
Just how far astray had Richard allowed himself to be led?
"That's for Lord Rahl to tell you, my lord, if he chooses."
"Please. Just Richard. I'm no one's lord," Richard mumbled, lost in his thoughts.
"Very well, Richard," Egremont smiled at him.
Egremont was admitted to Lord Rahl's bedchamber to find his young master standing before the window, his dressing gown tied loosely around him. Mistress Cara lounged on the bed, barely concealed beneath a sheet, her unbound hair strewn across the pillows. Her armor was neatly placed in a pile by the bed, so that it would not be damaged.
"Were you successful?" Lord Rahl asked, turning to pin Egremont with those familiar blue eyes.
"I believe so, my lord," Egremont answered, cutting his gaze to Cara.
Lord Rahl caught the expression.
"You may speak freely in front of Mistress Cara, Egremont. She has more than proven her loyalty."
Egremont nodded, and then reported his conversation with the Seeker. When he had finished, he saluted and turned to go.
"One last thing, Egremont," Lord Rahl stopped him.
"Yes, my lord?"
Lord Rahl crossed the room slowly, giving Egremont the same considering look Egremont had seen turned upon dozens of others just before Lord Rahl's dagger flashed through the air.
"Mistress Cara noticed my odd behavior, and began to suspect I had been bewitched. She took steps to work towards my freedom. And yet you, the only person in this palace to know me better than she, did nothing. Why is that?"
The question hung in the air, a cloud of tension so thick that it almost seemed visible.
Egremont took a deep breath.
"Because, my lord, I thought you were in love, and happy. I was glad." He looked down at his boots, his heart dropping like a stone, to smash against the floor. "I was glad."
Lord Rahl said nothing.
Eventually, Egremont looked up. There was a distant look on Lord Rahl's face. His gaze was turned within.
Bowing, Egremont took his leave.
Darken strolled leisurely down the hall of the royal wing, giving himself time to collect his thoughts before he came face to face with the Seeker once more.
Cara had left on her mission that morning. Denna had been summoned and would begin making her way to the palace after she had ridden to Calabra, to meet Demmin Nass.
Kahlan and Nicholas had been entombed.
All that was left to be done to move Darken's plans forward was for him to speak with the Seeker.
He paused outside the door to his old rooms, and then entered.
Richard was in the sitting room, examining Darken's old chess set, sitting sprawled sideways in his chair.
"Do you play?" Darken heard himself ask.
The Seeker started, leaping to his feet, his hand going halfway to his sword before he stopped. That interested Darken. The boy was no longer so naïve as to trust that Darken wasn't truly an enemy, but neither was he rash enough to attack outright.
He was learning.
"No. I don't know how," Richard answered after a long moment of silence. "There's a set that belongs to one of the councilman in Hartland, but it's made of wood and some of the pieces are missing."
Prepared to react at the slightest sign of aggression, Darken seated himself across from Richard. Looking down at the chess board, he picked up the white queen, caressing the marble chess piece with the edge of his thumb.
The White Queen.
"Lord Rahl? Are you alright?"
Darken jerked. "Apologies. I have found myself drifting ever since… Ever since."
Richard nodded, and extraordinarily, reached across the table to clasp Darken's forearm.
Their eyes met.
"I understand," the Seeker said, and indeed his face was dark with it, a bloody shadow.
He didunderstand, Darken realized. He was the only one who truly could.
Darken closed his eyes, giving himself a mental shake.
"I hope the rooms and clothes are to your liking. They were mine, when I was still a prince." He surprised himself by adding, "I could teach you to play."
He wasn't sure if he was speaking of the chess board.
"Why are you keeping me here?!" The Seeker exploded, ignoring Darken's offer, his face reddening. He jumped to his feet. "Why give me these clothes, let me keep my sword, feed me like a king? Why aren't I in prison, like Zedd?"
Darken tilted his head, his dark hair lying against his cheek. When Richard yelled, Darken could see something of their father, Panis Rahl, in him. It was the mouth.
"Like a prince," he said calmly. "I've been feeding you like a prince." He put the white queen down and picked up a pawn. "There are things you don't know."
"Then tell me! Enough games!" the Seeker demanded. Orange light flared around the mouth of his scabbard as the Sword of Truth glowed.
"Does it always do that?" Darken asked archly, one brow raised.
Richard had the self-possession to look contrite. "It does when I'm angry."
Darken was startled into a laugh. The sound of it surprised him, though it seemed to surprise the Seeker more.
"If you will sit, I will tell you what you want to know," Darken said once he could speak again.
Darken studied him for a long moment, idly stroking his lips with two fingers as he considered the best way to proceed. Finally, he began.
"No doubt the wizard and the Mother Confessor told you of the prophecy surrounding us, and their version of what happened at Brennidon. They will have said that I heard you were to be born there, and I sent my soldiers to kill all the children, but that the wizard saved you, and hid you in Hartland. Am I right?"
Richard nodded, crossing his arms, a frown etching deep lines around his mouth. Perhaps it was his imagination, but Darken thought Richard looked like him when he did that. Darken, too, had once been a sullen young man.
"That," Darken pronounced with conviction, "is not true."
"Then what –"
"Patience, Richard." Darken paused, closing his eyes as if he needed to gather himself for what he said next.
Perhaps he did. It seemed at times that so much of his life was woven with lies that he no longer knew where they began and ended.
"Did you know that Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander was once the First Wizard of D'Hara, my father's trusted friend and advisor? In fact, Zeddicus was to be my tutor in the magical arts."
"He never mentioned it." Richard looked troubled.
"No, he wouldn't." Darken wet his lips, rolling the chess piece – the pawn – he held in his left hand between his fingers. "You see, the story is not at all what my enemies have spread. The truth is, Zeddicus turned traitor. He had his own daughter disguise herself and seduce my father, Panis Rahl. With a Rahl child they could raise to be their puppet, the Confessors would be able to destroy D'Hara from within. We would be D'Hara no longer, but a province of Aydindril, where the Mother Confessor rules all."
Richard went white, an uncomprehending look on his face. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
"You are that child, Richard," Darken sat forward, staring into his brother's face. In that moment, he believed every word he was speaking.
He had to.
"When I heard that a brother of mine was in the hands of the Confessors, I sent the Dragon Corp to Brennidon to reclaim him. To bring him to me, so that he could be raised as my blood. My brother. A prince of D'Hara! But Zeddicus," Darken spat the name, twisting his face and filling his voice with disgust, "wouldn't have it. He called upon the Confessors. One by one, they confessed my soldiers, and told them to kill the children. And Zeddicus took you and hid you away from me, across the Boundary. To await the day when the Mother Confessor would come for you, and you could be poisoned against me. Just as the people of Brennidon have been poisoned against me. Just as they have been tricked into thinking I am their enemy, when it was the Confessors who slew their sons. When it was the Confessors who slew myson."
Darken broke off, panting.
"How do I know what you say is true?" Richard asked hollowly. His skin was ashen, his eyes bright with tears.
Darken took a deep breath and let his own tears flow, a stream of warm salt rolling down his cheek. "You don't. But consider what you know. What has been done to you. What was done to me, when the first Rahl boy the Confessors tried to corrupt was thought to be out of reach. I was seduced, just as Panis Rahl was seduced, and more. So much more…"
Darken placed the pawn back on the chess board, and then he rose, circling the table to lay his hands on Richard's shoulders. Low and urgent, he said, "It isn't your fault, little brother. None of it is. You are innocent, just as my son was, when he was murdered in his cradle." Darken shuddered, a muffled whimper passing his lips.
For a long time, it seemed as if his performance was to come to naught. Richard didn't move. He was like a statue, his face as pale and flat as the floor in Darken's throne room.
But then Richard stood, placing his hands on Darken's shoulders in turn. Hesitantly, tentatively, he pulled Darken into a brotherly embrace.