Leather & Agiel – Chapter 4
Miles left to gather mushrooms after the rain had ceased. He advised her to stay put, in case Zedd woke up. Kahlan had yet to fully inform Miles on whom Zedd really was. She recognized that Miles had been through some trying experiences with the Grand Directorate, but she was unsure how he'd feel about having the First Wizard in his home, even if, as a D'Haran, Miles did not accredit the Wizard Orders of the Midlands with authority over him and other such gifted. However, from the sounds of it, Kahlan believed Miles didn't appreciate any authority of all. Still, he had treated her with nothing but kindness and compassion.
Tending Zedd, Kahlan thought about the implications of all that she had learned in such a short time. She was growing more certain with the idea that Richard had been taken by a group of Mord'Sith. It was the only thing that fit with what she knew.
When Miles returned, he had a basket full of mushrooms and blackberries. He offered some to her, which she gladly accepted with a small smile of thanks. Nibbling on the plump berries, Kahlan pondered the entire situation.
It was nothing new to her.
In the past, before she had taken up the quest to find the Seeker and protect him, Kahlan had done little more than travel around the Midlands with a senior confessor—and wizard protector—to dispense the justice of the Midlands Alliance Council. Her life had never been about adventure. She'd done her duty, sought out the truth and confessed those who stood in the way, but only if absolutely required. Kahlan hated using her confessor powers, yet it had been necessary many times… more than she'd like.
Back then, her life was predictable, secure, and safe. Now, however, her life was the complete opposite, yet it seemed fuller, with richer depth and experience. She'd done things which she had never imagined doing, such as tracking and hunting, sleeping under the stars, fighting, flirting, teasing, falling in love… making love… all were experiences she had learned to accept never having, yet here she was, having them.
And she had Richard to thank for almost all that, but especially the falling in love part. Richard was unlike any man she had ever encountered. He dared to love a confessor, a feat no man in the Midlands would even consider attempting. A confessor was to be feared, not loved. Yet Richard dared to believe the impossible and had made it possible… in a manner of speaking. Kahlan still feared losing control in the heat of the moment and accidently confessing him, even if he believed otherwise.
"All I need is Clara!" Zedd shouted, bolting upright without warning, startling Kahlan from her ruminations. His hazel eyes darted around, fraught and panicky, bewildered by the sights.
"Shh, Zedd, it's okay… it's okay," Kahlan soothed, gently pushing the wizard back down to the bed, all the while keeping her own frantic thoughts submerged until her confessor's will.
He complied, after a brief hesitation, his wide eyes blinking rapidly. "Kahlan, my dear, is that you?" he asked, his voice hoarse, strained from non-use.
"Yes," she inclined her head, turning to Miles to ask for a glass of water.
The old hermit quickly grabbed a goblet and poured some water from a pitcher. He handed it to her, and Kahlan eased her hand under Zedd's head to help him lean forward to sip the refreshing liquid. He sighed and laid back into the pillow. Kahlan put the goblet on the nightstand and glanced back at him.
"Zedd?" she paused, smirking slightly. "Who is Clara?"
"Oh," he blinked several times before a fond smile formed on his face. "My chicken. She's a very loyal chicken."
"And… what did you need her for, exactly?"
Zedd frowned. "Never mind you… wizard's business."
Kahlan looked down at him with a skeptical expression, yet she did not question him further, deciding some things were better left unsaid. From her recollection, upon her first meeting with the aged wizard, she did recall some poor unfortunate chicken that thankfully covered his 'wizard's business' from her view.
Shaking his head, Zedd requested another sip of water. She handed him the goblet and watched him gulp it down, smacking his lips with relish. "Thanks, dear one," he returned the empty goblet. Screwing up his face, Zedd looked around the small interior of the cabin. "Where are we?"
"We're in the mountains near Hebber," Kahlan replied. "This is the home of Miles." She indicated the elderly hermit standing beside her. "He found you out in the rain, unconscious and babbling."
Zedd licked his lips and swallowed. "Is that so?"
Miles nodded. "With what little skill I have, I managed to stop the bleeding from your forehead wound."
Zedd cautiously raised a hand to touch the swollen gash on his brow. He grimaced and pulled his hand away. He glanced over at Miles. "My thanks," he bobbed his head. "It is nice to see that you can still rely on some kindness from strangers in these troubled times."
"If only we weren't in troubled times, my friend," Miles replied, leaning over to pat Zedd on the shoulder. "I think I have some stew left over."
"Stew!" Zedd perked up and Kahlan tried to suppress a smirk. The wizard did love his food.
Miles chuckled and shuffled off to find a clean bowl. Kahlan turned back to Zedd, and reached out to smooth his unkempt hair. It was more tangled and stringy than it normally was. Sighing, she bit her lower lip and tried not to let the worry bubble up from inside. But it wouldn't stay down. Despite all the suppressing techniques she was employing, the anxiety over their situation wouldn't stay calm.
The worry must have leaked out onto her face, because Zedd was suddenly reaching out to squeeze her arm. "What is it, Kahlan?"
"Richard… he's missing," she said, nearly choking on her words.
Zedd knitted his eyebrows together, his eyes glazing over as he concentrated. "I remember," he murmured, barely a whisper. "We were on the road to Beaumont, when we were suddenly set upon by a band of Mord'Sith. Richard…," he frowned. "I can't recall what exactly happened, it's hazy, but I do know he was taken. The Mord'Sith were fierce and very determined." He swallowed heavily. "I remember a searing pain behind my eyes as one of them struck me with an agiel, and then I must have passed out, because the next thing I can recall is waking up just now."
Kahlan stared at Zedd, unable to fathom what it must have been like to be set upon like they had. Their small party had been attacked by Mord'Sith before, but from the way he was talking, it sounded like it was a large group, much larger than a D'Haran quad.
"It's the Mord'Sith temple," Miles interjected, stepping over with a warm bowl of stew.
"The reason their for there numbers," he explained, handing the bowl to a grateful Zedd.
The wizard stirred the contents of the stew with his spoon for a moment, deep in thought. "The leader had raven black hair, and emerald eyes," he spoke out loud. Shaking his head, as if to ward off the horrifying memories of his ordeal, Zedd dipped his spoon into the stew and raised it to his mouth, tasting. He hummed in approval, and then swallowed a mouthful.
"That would be Maven," Miles supplied, giving Kahlan an uneasy look. "She's as fierce and cruel as they come."
Zedd grunted. "Aren't they all?"
"True enough," Miles agreed. "But Maven… she's one nasty lass, with a mean temper to boot." He pulled a chair over and joined Kahlan by Zedd's side. "Word has it she was passed over for Head Mistress."
Zedd's bushy eyebrows shot up. "Dear Spirits… she's a dangerous one then."
"And she has Richard now," Kahlan interrupted, unable to keep the fright from her voice. She lowered her head, wringing her hands in her lap. "Last time Richard was able to fight Denna, but can he do so with Maven?"
Zedd furrowed his brow. "Denna was one of Rahl's favorites, yes, but she's proved to be a disappointment to him. And this Maven sounds like harder stuff…" his trailed off, leaving the rest unsaid.
Kahlan squeezed her eyes shut, holding her tears at bay. She took slow and even breaths, utilizing her training to keep her emotions in check. "Richard is strong," she asserted, surprised at how firm her voice was. "He will resist."
She flicked her gaze up to lock eyes with Zedd. Whatever control she thought she'd had over her emotions must not have been working, because Zedd was suddenly pulling her into a gentle hug, mindful of his own injuries. Kahlan heaved in a deep breath; taking what comfort she could from her friend. His hands rubbed her back reassuringly, before he eased away, brushing his hand through her long hair and wiping at some tray tears on her cheek.
"It is alright to be afraid, dear one," Zedd said. "To deny it would be dishonest."
Kahlan chewed on her lower lip and blinked away the tears, nodding her head, but not entirely convinced. "I… I just I had something of his," she said. "Then maybe I wouldn't feel so lost."
Beside her, Miles cleared his throat. Turning her head, Kahlan brought a hand up to rub away some of the remaining tears as she watched the old man reach inside his robes, producing a tooth pendant necklace from his inside pockets. "Does this belong to Richard?" he inquired, holding the pendant up. "I found it lying near Zedd."
Kahlan let out a soft cry as she bobbed her head, holding out her hands as Miles placed the tooth pendant in her palms. The leather string was broken, leading her to infer it had snapped from around his neck during a fierce struggle. She pursed her lips, trying to still their quivering. Her eyes watered, blurring her visions. Wrapping her fingers around the pendant, Kahlan jumped up from her chair and bolted out of the cabin, ignoring the worried calls of the two elderly men.
She stumbled down the slope, tripping slightly on the knotted roots of a tree. Tears streamed down her face as she dashed away, seeking solitude for her grief in the mist cover forest. This was the proof of his abduction. Kahlan remembered the one time when Richard had lost the pendant, and how distraught he'd been over its disappearance. It had been a gift from George Cypher, his father, and was something he treasured.
Clutching it to her heart, Kahlan sagged against the lichen-covered bark of a large tree. She slid down to the mossy forest floor, sobbing silently as she wallowed in terrible despair and anguish. Her heart felt like it was being torn apart as thoughts of all the horrors her beloved would be facing at the hands of the relenting Mord'Sith filtered through her mind.
"Oh, Richard," she whimpered, ducking her head down so her long hair shielded her face from the outside world.
They were secretly husband and wife, and Kahlan couldn't bear to be parted from him. She had no idea when the ambush had occurred, or how long Richard had been in the clutches of Mistress Maven. All she knew was that he was not with her, where he belonged. She wished they had never came to the Hebber Dale. Sure, they had a quest, and the dale had promised to be a source of ample recruitment for the resistance. But those rumors had proven false. Though loyal to the Midlands, Hebber had offered no help, the townsfolk too fearful of D'Haran retribution.
Kahlan closed her eyes, letting the tears leak out of the cracks and trail down her face. She didn't care anymore. The Seeker was captured, and she was alone. Yes, Zedd was with her, but he was injured and bedridden for the foreseeable future. She needed help now, not later. Richard was strong, yes, but even he could only survive so long at the diabolical hands of the Mord'Sith. Eventually, even the Seeker would break.
Heaving in a shaky breath, Kahlan worked at pulling herself together. She was in pieces, torn asunder when parted from her beloved, but she was still strong… still powerful. She was a confessor. No. Not just a confessor. She was the Mother Confessor.
Holding out her hand, Kahlan unclenched her fingers, and stared at the tooth pendant in her palm. She sniffled as her tears dried. She was better than this, crying alone in the woods, afraid and small. Richard had taught her to believe, and Kahlan was going to do that. She was going to let herself have faith in hope that all was not lost, that there was a solution to the problem.
Think of the solution, not the problem.
Wiping at her eyes, she furrowed her brow in thought, her eyes never leaving the pendant in her hands. She had to do something. She couldn't just sit there and allow Richard to be subjected to Spirits' knows what kind of torture. At this moment, she couldn't think of him as her lover or husband, but as the Seeker of Truth. He had a destiny to fulfill and she had to ensure he was alive to do so.
Slowly curling her fingers around the necklace, Kahlan pursed her lips and set her brow in a determined expression. She knew exactly what she had to do. It would be difficult and very risky, but it had to be done. No one was more worth her life than Richard. He was everything, and without him hope would be lost. Clenching her jaw, Kahlan stood up, one hand resting against the tree trunk for support. She looked up at the greying sky, sensing another wave of rain on the way.
She'd need to wait until the morning. Then, with a little help from her friends back in the cabin, she'd be able to set her plan into motion.
Kahlan was going to rescue Richard.