Leather & Agiel – Chapter 3

It was Zedd. Of that there was no doubt. She'd recognize that weathered visage any day, no matter how many bruises marred his features. Kahlan leaned forward, squinting her eyes, concern creasing her brow.

"Dear spirits," she mumbled under her breath, surveying the damage on the old wizard's face. Turning, she spotted a wet washcloth hanging on the edge of the nightstand. Kahlan took the washcloth, and gently padded it against the more angry looking bruises, grimacing slightly as Zedd made a hissing noise in his unconscious state. Arching her neck, she looked over her shoulder at Miles. "What happened to him?"

"I don't know, Confessor," replied the old hermit. "I found him lying in a ditch… as he is."

"Where was this?"

"Not far from here," Miles said, approaching her, and handing over a clean washcloth and a bowl filled with boiled water.

Kahlan sighed, and ran her fingers through her long hair before accepting the clean cloth with a small grateful smile. "Thank you for taking care of him," she said, turning to place the newly damp washcloth along Zedd's forehead.

"You know him?" Miles inquired, shuffling back to the hearth to dish out a bowl of vegetable stew for her.

She gave a hesitant nod of her head. "Yes, he is one of my traveling companions." Even though the old man had been kind so far, and his distaste for the barbarity of Darken Rahl seemed sincere, he was still D'Haran. So, Kahlan was still cautious in dealing with Miles. She knew it was prejudice to judge him solely on the fact that he was D'Haran, but it was hard to unlearn some of the biases she'd been ingrained with as a child.

The mattress moved, and Zedd groaned softly, pulling her attention back to him. His eyes fluttered open, but closed soon after. His brow furrowed and his bushy eyebrows knitted together as he struggled to regain consciousness. Kahlan gently stroked the side of his face, trying to coax him to alertness. She needed him awake. She'd felt all alone without her companions, but especially without Richard, her secret husband.

And Zedd was family too, as much as Richard.

Kahlan had learned the truth early in their quest. One of the wizard's old flames had shown up proclaiming her son was his. Zedd had vehemently denied it, and had had to impart the secret of Richard's lineage to prove himself to the confessor. He'd then sworn her to secrecy. However, recently, events had forced the old wizard to reveal the truth to Richard.

Though Zedd knew nothing of their secret marriage, Kahlan had still come to see the old wizard as a grandfather as well. He was part of her family, even if she hadn't married Richard in a clandestine wedding two months ago when they had been in the Angrass valley.

"Zedd?" she called out, ignoring Miles as he distributed the stew behind her. "Can you hear me? It's Kahlan."

"Kahlan?" croaked the old wizard, blinking his eyes and squinting up at her.

"Yes," she bobbed her head, holding back tears of joy to see his hazel eyes looking up at her. "It's me."

"Ah, dear one, why are you crying?" he asked, struggling to raise his hand and caress her cheek, wiping a stray tear that had managed to escape.

Kahlan let out a breath and clutched his hand to her chest. "You've been injured Zedd," she said. "And Richard… he's gone."

"Richard…," his voice trailed off as he closed his eyes, his lips parting as he inhaled slowly. His face scrunched up in thought. "I remember… we… we were ambushed by women in red."

"What?" Kahlan leaned forward, bringing a hand up to hold the side of Zedd's face, attempting to keep him alert enough to fill her in on what he was working at telling her. "What happened?"

His eyes grew wide. "Mord'Sith!" he shouted, nearly bolting up, one hand jerking up as if in a protective stance. Kahlan clamped down on her rising anxiety to focus on calming Zedd. Putting her arms across him, she gently eased him back down to a lying position on the mattress.

"You're safe now, Zedd," she said. "There are no Mord'Sith here."

"Are you sure?" the old wizard's eyes darted around franticly, uncertainty and fear etched onto his features. "Oh spirits… Kahlan… they… they've taken Richard!" He blinked, gasping in pants for air. "I… I haven't seen him in days."

Kahlan's face paled. Dear spirits, NO! Her heart hammered in her chest at the thought of Richard once again in the clutches of the Mord'Sith. He'd barely survived his captivity under Denna. She'd never asked him, but she suspected that the Mord'Sith mistress had nearly broke him.

It had become something he rarely talked about. Though once, not too long ago, as they rested under the gently swaying branches of a tree, savoring the sweet post-coital bliss of their mutual love, Richard had confessed that his love for her had saved him from becoming completely destroyed by the torture. He held her tight, running his fingers along her bare arm as he turned onto his side and stared into her eyes, telling her how he'd built a place in his mind where it was just him and her, alone, and that that fantasy had allowed him to retain his sanity.

Now, if Zedd's ramblings were to be believed, her beloved Richard was once again in the hands of the Mord'Sith.

"Zedd," she grabbed at him, forcibly. "Where did they take him!? Where?"

He groaned, and coughed, turning his head into the pillow as he mumbled incoherently. His eyes fluttered closed and he lapsed into unconsciousness, leaving Kahlan without an answer. She grounded her teeth, and nearly growled in frustration. Sitting up, Kahlan ran her fingers through her hair, and closed her eyes as she inhaled a deep breath of air.

"Confessor?" Miles's voice startled her out of her daze.

Blinking, Kahlan looked up at the man. He was standing near the hearth, holding up a bowl of vegetable. She took a long slow breath, letting the rich enticing aroma lull her frustrations away. Opening her eyes, she turned back to Zedd, checking on him one last time before standing up and joining Miles at the small table.

He smiled and placed the bowl down on the wooden surface, taking a seat himself and diving into the hearty stew. Kahlan sighed, and rubbed her forehead. She really needed to let go of all this tension that was building up in her shoulders. Zedd's ramblings were just that, ramblings. She would not know for sure what was real until he was conscious and coherent.

Flicking her eyes across to Miles, she studied him, cataloguing all his mannerisms as he ate his stew. With her mind focused on another task other than on what could potentially be happening to her beloved, Kahlan lifted a spoon and dipped it into the bowl, stirring the contents for a moment, before raising a spoonful to her mouth and tasting it. She smiled. It was good, as good as the aroma had advertised.

"This is good," she offered Miles with a small smile.

"Thank you, Confessor," he inclined his head in appreciation. "It's nothing fancy, not like the grand meals you are probably used to."

Kahlan regarded him with a scrutinizing stare before turning her attention back to the vegetable stew, scooping up a chopped carrot and chewing on it as she thought. She was still uneasy about letting her guard down around the man. It wasn't just the fact that he was a D'Haran. There was something else about Miles that caught her attention. There was a way with which he moved that was both familiar and foreign. His grey eyes had a spark to them that was more telling than anything he had willingly told her.

Taking a moment to savor the rich blend of flavors in the vegetable stew, Kahlan steeled herself for asking some rather blunt questions. She swallowed slowly, placing her spoon down and folding her hands together in front of her on the table in a non-threatening fashion. Kahlan was not afraid. Anxious maybe, but not afraid. She knew that she was not defenseless—far from it, and should Miles prove to be an enemy, she could easily confess him in a matter of seconds.

Miles narrowed his eyes, seeming to sense the change in mood.

"Are you a wizard?" Kahlan blurted out, her voice firm and strong, as befitting a confessor.

Miles coughed, his eyes going wide. Bringing his hand up to shield his mouth, he took a moment to regain control of himself before running a shaky hand through his long grey hair.

"What makes you ask that?" he questioned, the slight hitch in his voice already giving him away.

Kahlan leaned back, observing. "There is a glint in your eyes that I recognized," she explained. "If you've spent as much time around the gifted as I have, you learn to notice such things. So… are you a wizard?"

Miles shoulders slumped and he hung his head. "Yes… and no."

She furrowed her brow. "Explain?"

Looking up, the old man sighed, rubbing his forehead in exasperation. "It is difficult to understand for those not initiated."

"I've lived with wizards my whole life," Kahlan asserted. "Try me."

"Very well," Miles relented with a shrug. "Long ago, when I was still young, I was apprenticed to a wizard. He had seen the spark of the gift in me long before I manifested any signs. He took me in, and trained me… well, tried to train me. You see... he was not really a very good wizard himself. And being in D'Hara was never really a good place for wizards of a certain constitution. He abhorred the iron-fitted rule of those of the Rahl bloodline, a mindset he managed to pass on to me.

"Anyways, I had just started learning how to control some minor spells, when the D'Haran Inquisition began."

"Excuse me?" Kahlan interrupted, her brow furrowing, confused. She'd studied history, quite extensively, while being tutored in the Wizard's Keep. Never had she heard of the D'Haran Inquisition.

"Oh, yes, you are from the Midlands, so you would not have heard of this part of our dark history," Miles said, shifting in his seat. He leaned over and picked up a glass bottle. He pulled the stopper out and poured himself a glass of wine. He held the bottle up, "Would you like some? It's a very good vintage."

"No, I'm fine with just water," Kahlan replied. "Please, continue… what was this D'Haran Inquisition?"

Pausing to take a sip of his wine, Miles leaned back into his chair, his eyes far away, lost in memory. "It was a dark time for the gifted. Balric Rahl was gravely ill, on his deathbed. His son, Panis Rahl, had already begun the preparations for assuming the role of Lord Rahl. But Balric was still the Lord Rahl. And he was fearful of wizards. He didn't trust them.

"What you need to understand is that back then D'Hara had been a more… free society than it is now. Ideas and knowledge was shared openly, and people were happy and good to one another. But Balric grew bitter and angry in his old age, and as his illness ravaged his body, he sought to destroy anyone else's happiness."

"Ah," Kahlan said, understanding the mentality behind such a despot. If I can't be happy, then no one else can. It was a sad way of viewing the world, but not all that surprising coming from a tyrannical ruler.

"Certain ideas, or views that were considered counter to the beliefs of the Lord Rahl and his ruling council meant that you were a traitor," Miles continued. "My master, Vimner Holmar was arrested and brought before the Inquisition. In D'Hara, the wizards aren't ruled by the Wizard's Conclave, like the Midlands. They don't answer to the First Wizard, and don't recognize the authority of the Orders.

"Instead, D'Haran gifted are supervised by the Grand Directorate. And at the time of Balric Rahl's rule the Directorate was under the control of Kor Karakalla, a vile and dark wizard. He also happened to be a staunch supporter of all of Lord Balric's new policies regarding the espousing of opinions that differed for those of the Lord Rahl.

"As a result, my master, the man who trained me, was executed for his beliefs in peace and freedom. Vimner Holmar was against war and aggression, and the use of magic to inflict harm on others, beliefs he instilled in me. When the proclamations came out of the People's Palace, listing all the new laws and edicts, none of us had anything to do other than comply or risk death.

"Be it fortune, luck, disinterest, or just plain incompetence, the Directorate was unaware that Vimner Holmar had taken me on as his apprentice. Hence why my answer to your original question of whether or not I am a wizard was as it was. Yes, I have the gifts and have been trained, but 'no' because my training was left incomplete. I know but a few spells and incantations. But not enough to be a threat to anyone."

Kahlan pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, using her ingrained powers of detecting deceit. She sensed no such thing from Miles. He was telling the truth. "I believe you," she said.

"I knew you would," he said with a rueful smile. "I may not never completed my training, but I am well-read and know some of confessors, even if I have not met many first hand. In fact, you are the first confessor whom I've had as long a conversation with as we are currently having."

Kahlan gave him a small smile. "And you are the first D'Haran with whom I've ever had such an agreeable and amicable conversation."

Miles laughed, shaking his head. "That cannot be true, surely you have met other D'Harans such as me, who are not so blinded by Darken Rahl's propaganda."

"I'm afraid not," Kahlan said. "Though to be fair, I've never really been to D'Hara. The only D'Harans I have ever met have been soldiers or servants of Darken Rahl."

"Then I am truly sorry," Miles inclined his head. "Please, do not judge all D'Haran by such few."

"I shall try to keep an open mind on the subject," Kahlan replied with a grin, finding Miles to be pleasant company. "But first… I must know more about what has happened to Zedd. He mentioned Mord'Sith… are there any Mord'Sith around here?"

Miles looked uneasy, shifting in his chair. He picked up his goblet and took a long draft of wine. Gulping it down, he placed the goblet back on the table and looked back up at her.

"There is a Mord'Sith temple some leagues to the north," he said. "I had not thought to mention it as the Sisters of the Agiel who dwell there rarely venture this far south."

"There is a war going on, Miles," Kahlan reminded him with a look. "What was once rare may no longer be so."

Miles gave a reluctant nod of agreement. "True."

Kahlan sighed and rubbed the back of her neck, stretching. Her muscles let go of some the tension that she'd been holding. Now that she was less concern about Miles being a threat, her mind went back to Richard and the ramblings Zedd had muttered. She narrowed her eyes and glanced down at the hearth, staring into the flickering flames.

If Richard had truly been captured by the Mord'Sith, then she was going to need help to save him.