Zedd sat in his cell, drawing runes in the dirt on the floor. He was perfecting a new spell of his own making. Something to please Mistress Denna, when next she visited. Zedd knew she would be visiting soon, because he'd been given water to wash in and a fresh robe. His face and hands were still slightly pink, from the hard scrubbing he'd given himself. His hair hung damp and limp by his face, wet, but a bright snowy white.
He'd even polished his Rada Han.
Hearing footsteps in the hall, Zedd rushed to the window in his cell door, hoping for a glimpse of Denna.
She was there, but there was someone else with her.
The door to Zedd's cell was opened, and Zedd stepped back, kneeling when he recognized Richard. He was Prince of D'Hara now. Zedd had to show proper respect.
"Zedd?" the boy looked between Zedd and Denna.
Zedd looked up.
"I have questions," Richard said.
"I have answers," Zedd replied, just as he and Mistress Denna had practiced.
"But I have to try to reason with him. I can't just attack my brother. Not again. Especially since now I know that it was the Confessors who were behind the slaughter at Brennidon. And I can't just break D'Hara's laws."
Richard sat cross legged on the floor across from Zedd. He wanted to pull his hair out, he was so frustrated. Zedd was just as infuriating as he had always been.
"Listen here, boy." Zedd reached out one of his long, spindly fingers, flicking his fingernail against the hilt of the Sword of Truth, eliciting a ringing sound. "There is no law except this sword. It was forged by the Creator, in the pit of fire at the Keeper's heart. No brand burns brighter, no blade strikes more true. You were chosen to wield it. You must trust that what you do is right. The sword will guide you to your destiny."
Richard grumbled, scrubbing a hand over his face. He hated it when Zedd got prophetic over the sword. He hated the feeling of being made to choose, while simultaneously having no choice.
"I won't let him use Orden," Richard said at last, resting his hand on his sword hilt.
It thrummed with power.
Cara pulled back on her reins, stopping her horse where the road crested a hill. Before her, outlined in the distance, she could see the People's Palace.
Smirking, Cara patted the black silk bag she wore slung across her chest. Inside was the third Box of Orden.
Lord Rahl would be pleased, when Cara presented him with it. So very pleased, she doubted whether he'd allow her to leave his bedroom for at least three nights.
Clucking her tongue, Cara urged her horse forward.
"It's too late for more talk, Richard!" Denna paced like a caged bear. "We must act. Cara has been sighted outside the palace walls. She'll be here soon, and with her the third Box of Orden."
"I can reason with him!" Richard protested.
They stood in his rooms in the royal wing, Richard sitting at the chess table and Denna using all her willpower to keep herself from shaking him until his teeth rattled.
He was so brave and strong, and most of all so good. Denna loved him. She loved him more than she could say, more than she had thought herself capable of, but she feared that the very goodness that made him Richard would lead to their downfall.
But that was why the Creator had seen fit to bring them together. Richard was a reaching hand, opened in friendship.
Denna was his fist of war.
"I'll go to him now," Richard stood, grasping her shoulders and looking down into her face. He had such expressive eyes. "I'll talk to him. Everything is going to be fine. He'll understand. You'll see," Richard promised so solemnly that Denna wondered whether he was trying to convince her or himself.
"I'm sure he will," Denna agreed, to placate her lover.
Richard nodded, started to say something else, then nodded again. He headed for the door.
"I'll be right behind you," Denna promised.
And she would be.
Richard would go do what he felt he must. And while he was throwing himself against the unyielding blade that was Darken Rahl, Denna would do what needed to be done.
She went to fetch her bow.
Darken had just received word that scouts had spotted Cara outside the palace gate, when Richard charged into the council chamber like a rampaging shadrin. His face was red, and his breathing labored, his ashy brown hair flopping over his forehead.
"Richard?" Darken raised a brow.
"I wanted more time. I wanted to figure out the best way to approach you, but I just heard Cara is back, and I know what she has with her."
Darken's heart started to pound. "What are you talking about, little brother?" He kept his voice even. His face calm. Only the thrumming of his pulse revealed his tension.
"Don't do that, Darken," Richard told him, his face made ugly with a frown. "You know. You know!" Richard shouted.
Darken had been waiting for this. Had expected it. Had thought he would be more comfortable with Richard, if his little brother would act just like any Rahl.
But now that Richard screamed and postured, foamy spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth, Darken found he didn't like it. It wasn't the Richard he knew.
It wasn't the Richard he wanted.
"You know about Orden?" Darken began gingerly, edging his way subtly closer to the wall where a sword wielded by a past Rahl was displayed. He doubted Richard would notice. He was like Panis when he was angry. Blind to everything else.
"I know about Orden," Richard confirmed. "And brother, I can't let you. I can't."
"Think of what we could do with such power, Richard," Darken said soothingly, taking another few steps toward the sword on the wall. "We could end the war. We could end all fighting. Do you really want to save people from that? Do you want to save them from peace everlasting?"
A few more steps, and he's be able to reach the blade.
"It's not about saving the people!" Richard burst, halting Darken in his tracks. He finished in a softer voice, "It's about saving you. I can't let you, Darken. You'd be just like them."
Darken didn't have to ask who Richard meant.
He opened his mouth, not sure what he was going to say, whether he was going to lie or speak the truth, argue or yield…
And he would never know, for at that moment a sea hawk careened through the open balcony doors, an arrow stuck through one of its wings.
The bird crashed in a great plume of black vapor, a dark miasma that heralded a shapechange. When the smoke cleared, a Mord'Sith laid face down on the floor, her blond hair shorn, and an arrow in her shoulder.
Her braid had been cut off.
His gut twisting in knots, Darken went to the woman, rolling her over with the toe of one boot.
It was Cara.
"Denna," she wheezed, a strange whistling sound accompanying every breath she took. "Denna took it."
Darken went cold.
He looked up to give Richard an order, only to see the council chamber door slam in his face, and hear the lock turn.
"Egremont, where's Denna?" Richard demanded, his chest heaving as he caught his breath.
Egremont blinked owlishly, his brow lined with concern. "My lord?"
Richard looked back over his shoulder, to the door of the room he'd locked Darken and Cara in. That wouldn't hold them for long. When they got out, they'd come for Denna.
It took all of his willpower to keep himself from shaking Egremont until his teeth rattled in his head. "Mistress Denna. Where is she? I need to know!"
Egremont put his hand on his sword. "Mistress Denna went to take the third Box of Orden to the pedestal chamber in the west wing. She said that you and Lord Rahl would be following shortly."
"Thank you, Egremont!" Richard clapped the old man on the shoulder, taking off down the hall.
He stopped before he turned the corner to shout back, "Keep my brother locked in the council chamber. He's in danger."
Without stopping to see if Egremont believed him, Richard ran on, sliding across marble floors and taking stairs three steps at a time.
Richard reached the west wing, and knew Denna wasn't far ahead of him by the trail of bodies in uniform.
She had done this. His love. His Denna. She'd cut these men apart with their own swords, and left them broken and bleeding, their faces frozen in pain.
The blood, so much blood, between Kahlan's teeth. Swirling black eyes, a hand that reached. Always the blood, so much blood, and a baby was crying, Richard cut his brother to ribbons, and then Serena was dying.
Richard squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to keep going. Denna was doing this because she thought she had to. Because she loved him, and wanted to save him.
He would never lose his faith in her.
At last he reached the last guard, lying on his side just in front of the chamber where Egremont had said Darken was keeping the Boxes of Orden. Richard could see Denna through the open door. She stood bathed in a pool of light, a beacon of sun shining through the stained glass skylight above her.
He stepped over the dead guard.
"Richard! Richard, help!" someone gasped.
Richard turned to see Salindra curled into a corner of the room not visible from the doorway, an ugly bruise swelling around her eye. She cowered and shook, looking as if she would gladly disappear into the wall, given the chance.
"You took Salindra hostage?" Richard kept his eyes on his brother's princess, unwilling to look at Denna. Unwilling to see her face.
"I had to keep the guards from shooting me at a distance. Some carry crossbows," Denna said nonchalantly, as if this was one of Richard's lessons in strategy.
Richard looked at her. She was wearing white leathers. Richard didn't understand why. Blood stained her boots and her gloves, and there was a splash across her torso that told a story he didn't want to know.
Two of the Boxes of Orden sat on their pedestal. Denna held the third in her hands, preparing to put them together.
Richard drew his sword. It glowed red-orange in his hand.
"Denna, please. Don't do this. I can't let you, the same way I couldn't let Darken."
Denna met Richard's eyes. "Are you going to kill me, Richard? Run me through with the Sword of Truth?"
"I love you," he replied.
He tossed the sword to the floor with a clang.
Time stood still, the clanging banging of the Sword of Truth striking stone echoing over and over in the small chamber. They stood frozen on a precipice, a crossroad of fate.
Denna raised the third Box of Orden high.
"Don't," Richard begged, raising one hand.
"Don't," Kahlan said to Darken Rahl as she lay dying.
Please, they thought as one, though in different times and places, don't be a monster.
"Denna, don't," Richard said, reaching for her, willing her to drop the box, to come to him. They could leave together. Tonight. Or he'd find a way to make things right with his brother. Everything would be fine, if she would just drop the box and come to him. "You're better than this."
Denna blinked and swallowed hard, her eyes overly bright. Her red lips turned down at the corners, her whole face a mask of tragedy. In despair she said, "I'm not."
She lowered the box to the pedestal to join it with the other two. "Don't worry, Richard. You'll still love me, and I'll love you and be as kind to you as you've always been to me."
The skylight above Denna shattered. Darken Rahl surged into the room in an ominous black cloud, swooping down from above. Glass rained down on them. Richard ducked, covering his head, a line of pain drawn down one of his arms. He bled.
Salindra screamed. Someone told her to be silent.
Richard brushed crushed glass from his face, blinking rapidly to clear his vision. There was the sound of more glass crunching beneath heavy boots. He opened his eyes just in time to see Darken throw his dagger, the blade spinning end over end straight for Denna's heart.
"No!" Richard dove at her, pushing her out of the way with two hands to her hip.
Darken turned a fierce glare on him as Richard ran to meet his brother, gripping the older man's biceps. "Just wait!" Richard shouted. Maybe if he shouted, Darken would listen. "Let me explain!"
"I always knew you would betray me," Darken roared, his words ripping a hole in Richard's spirit.
He caught Richard with a brutal uppercut punch, forcing his face up and to the side and making him bite his tongue. Richard didn't fight back. Couldn't bring himself to fight back, as Darken swept his feet out from under him and kicked him in the ribs.
Richard fell to his side, the glass on the floor tearing at his skin.
"Lord Rahl!" Denna called, drawing Darken's attention.
She was back at the pedestal, the third box in her hands.
"No!" Darken hissed, the sound somehow loud to Richard's ears, a word whispered by a hundred thousand serpents.
As Richard watched, Denna put the third box in place. A haze of golden light enveloped her, white beams of power shooting from her mouth and her eyes. It was beautiful, and horrific, and strange.
Then Darken Rahl scooped up the Sword of Truth, still lying where Richard had dropped it. In two bounds, the dark king stood before Denna, the tip of the sword poised over the fused Boxes of Orden.
Richard couldn't move. Couldn't think. He was seized by fate, touched by destiny.
By the law that was the sword.
Darken Rahl drove the Sword of Truth down, separating the Boxes of Orden.
And the world blew apart.
Green fire flung Darken and Denna back into opposite walls, burning their clothes, consuming their flesh. Richard was blinded by the blaze. His ears rang.
He could smell only fire, feel only heat. He called Denna's name, and felt his lips crack.
Then his vision returned, and he cursed the Creator, wishing it hadn't.
Denna was dead before her body hit the floor, little more than a broken black husk. As Richard watched, her face crumpled into dust.
He wept. And screamed.
He had a new nightmare.
Darken lingered, badly burned, but still breathing. His lightning blue eyes stood out bright in his face, his eyelids eaten away. His vest was melted to his skin. The stink of singed hair and roasting flesh clogged Richard's nostrils.
"Lie," Darken croaked once, even his teeth black. Then again. "Lie."
Richard didn't understand.
But Salindra did, it seemed. She crawled over to the fallen king, startling Richard. In the shock of the blast, he'd forgotten she was in the room. He'd forgotten all but the fire, and the look in Denna's eyes.
Salindra's hands looked like mincemeat, shards of glass sticking out from the flesh of her palms. Below her black eye, she had a fresh cut that was sure to scar her lovely face.
"I love you," she told Darken Rahl, leaning over him so that he could see her. She pulled his head into her lap.
Darken's hair came away in her hands. She looked sick, but persevered. "Richard loves you. Our child loves you, and will grow strong, knowing their father was the greatest king to ever rule D'Hara."
Then, softly, and slightly out of tune, she started to sing a lullaby.
White grows the lily,
Red grows the rose,
Here lies my laddy…
She stopped, her voice breaking. She coughed.
A rattle of death, a last lingering breath.
Darken Rahl died.
Quietly, like a candle in the wind, his light went out.
There was a rush in Richard's blood as he joined Salindra in laying his brother down. His heart gave a heavy thump, the hairs on the back of his neck rising in response to some strange sensation, a sort of sixth sense. It was the only thing he felt. The only thing he could feel. Maybe the only thing he would ever feel again.
"Lord Rahl," Salindra said, looking at him.
"Queen Salindra," he replied, answering the question she hadn't asked. He laid his hand across her stomach.
Then Richard bent and picked up the Sword of Truth, that blade destined for Darken Rahl's demise.
And sheathed it.
Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:
No law except the sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled.