The Square Confessor (Part 1)
Summary: It's been a number of years since the events of 'Bet You Awry.' Maybe it is finally time to right past wrongs.
A/N: Reply to ivanolix's kiss fic-a-thon prompt on LOTS femlash LJ in two stories, the 'Over Again' series. The first one is 'Bet You Awry.' This is the follow up, six years later. You probably don't need to read 'Bet You Awry' to get this one, but it might help.
"Help us, mama!"
Kahlan can hear the squeals of laughter coming from her children. She feels something shift inside her, the ghost of a hand squeezing from inside. These days, that kind of joy coming from her daughters, can only mean one thing.
"Cara wants to eat Doly and Sonja!"
Her eldest, Kyla, the one that looks the most like Richard, comes tumbling into the room, face red with laughter and exertion, hazel eyes alight with merriment. Behind her comes Cara, dressed in her dark red leathers, her blonde hair longer than usual, some strands tied loosely at the back of her head to keep the longish hair out of her face.
It is braided in very much the same style she was wearing the first time Kahlan really ever saw Cara, when she had been beaten within an inch of her life and left to die by her sisters. That day, Kahlan had been set on confessing her; no questions asked. It is not a memory that makes her proud. She was harsh and quick to judge: in the wrong.
She'd rather not think about what could have been lost if Richard had not stopped her. How different the world may have turned out to be.
Particularly, her world.
Cara's cheeks are red, eyes bright from the wind and the sun of the road, but also, perhaps, from the joy of being here.
The expression on her face is that mix of amusement, fierceness and studied indifference that is purely Cara.
Kahlan can feel her heart picking up speed at the sight of the other woman. She is stunning, like always. Jagged. Strong. Alive in that unique Cara way that is so very alluring. In many ways, the Mord'Sith is like the wind of the deserts they travelled together all those years ago: cutting, bright, harsh.
Kahlan feels a shiver go up her spine when they make eye contact. Lately, a new, exciting mix of feelings takes over her body whenever they meet. Although, when she is truthful to herself, she knows it is not new; it is that same dormant, secret affection that has always been there, hibernating, and that is now irrepressibly bubbling to the surface, splitting the seams of her tightly controlled life.
Perhaps, it is simply that she has lost the will to continue ignoring it.
Cara is holding Kahlan's twin daughters under her arms, carrying them like two small sacks of potatoes. The four-year old girls are trashing weakly against her, too overcome with laughter to cause Cara any real concern of dropping them.
"She is going to eat them, mama!" Kyla shouts again, tugging on her mother's white robes.
"I have travelled a long distance today and I am very hungry," Cara says, her voice low and rough, threatening. She nods at Kahlan, giving her that slow, appraising, once-over look that only Cara can get away with, before turning to the oldest girl.
"You know that piglet with roasted potatoes is my favourite, Kyla," Cara adds conversationally.
"We are not piglets!"
"They are not piglets!"
The three children shout at once, amidst much giggling and laughter.
Kahlan can only smile. She loves seeing how the girls are with Cara.
How Cara is with the girls.
Cara fakes a look of deep confusion and looks at Kahlan as she drawls, "are they not?"
She moves her face closer to Doly, pretending to be smelling her for a moment, then, turns to do the same with Sonja. Almost immediately, she straightens up and shakes the girls in her arms slightly, making them bounce around and cry out in joy again. She talks to Kahlan over the shouts of the girls. "They certainly sound and smell like piglets to me, Mother Confessor."
The children only squeal in laughter even louder, proving Cara's point that they do sound like little piglets.
Cara only raises her eyebrows at Kahlan, still holding the girls.
Kahlan is smiling so wide that her cheeks hurt.
Cara gives them another gentle shake and then, she sets the girls down on the floor, careful to keep them away from her agiels. Doly immediately latches on to her right leg, wrapping herself around it, whilst Sonja runs to her mother's arms, eyes bright and struggling to catch her breath after having laughed so hard.
Kahlan can only smile at the girls and shake her head at Cara for making them so excited before bed. Also, for calling her Mother Confessor. She hates to hear the title coming from Cara.
"Kyla, give Cara a kiss and take the girls to your rooms. It is time for your bath." She smiles at her daughters as they start to protest and moan, but mostly, at the constipated look that takes over Cara's face as she bends down slightly to accept the sticky kisses from the three girls.
Serves her well for calling me Mother Confessor, Kahlan thinks looking away for a moment, trying to hide a smile. They normally see Cara in the flesh two, maybe three times a year. More often in wizard's fires of course, but it is indeed a rare treat to see her so soon after her last visit, just over a moon ago, so Kahlan can fully understand her children's excitement at seeing the blonde, and their frustration at having to leave so soon. Before the situation can turn disorderly though, Kahlan uses her Mother Confessor's voice. The one the children know to abide by.
"No complaints, young ladies. Get going. If you wash up and get into bed quickly, Cara and myself will go to your rooms in a little bit to say goodnight." It is all she has to say to convince the girls to get moving. Kyla holds Doly's hand and Doly grabs onto Sonja, and the three of them make their way out of their mother's room, followed closely by Kahlan, who makes sure their babysitter, Martha, is waiting on the other side to take care of them.
When the girls are gone and the door that connects their rooms is closed, Kahlan finally turns to Cara.
This is Cara's favourite moment whenever she comes back to Aydindril.
The few seconds when she does not know what Kahlan will do.
Sometimes, Kahlan only smiles and asks about her travels. Most often, however, and particularly recently, she comes to Cara and touches her in some way, perhaps a hand on her arm, a kiss on the cheek or a half-embrace. Even more rarely, Kahlan gives her a full hug.
It must be Cara's lucky day, because Kahlan charges her with a determined look and gives her a crushing embrace that lasts for a long time. So much so, that Cara actually returns it somewhat, moving one of her arms around Kahlan and patting her on the back in that slightly awkward way she has developed to touch-but-not-really the other woman. She even closes her eyes for a moment, breathing in and allowing herself to feel all the places where their bodies are pressing against each other.
Then, when Kahlan pulls away, she also gets a kiss, and because Cara is who she is, she moves her head slightly at the last possible second, so that Kahlan kisses her on the corner of the mouth, catching more lip than cheek.
"Cara." It may have been intended as a warning, but it comes out as a breathy whisper. It makes Kahlan blush as she disentangles herself slowly, taking a small step back as she smiles at the Mord'Sith.
It has been years since Cara let the façade fall where the confessor is concerned.
It would be useless anyway.
It had begun all those years ago. At an inn in Kelton, when she was too stunned and torn by her loyalty to Richard to do anything more than just stand there after Kahlan had kissed her. The other shoe had dropped a few years later, before the twins were born. Kyla was kidnapped by emissaries from a rebellious tribe from the North. It had been a time of uncertainty and power struggles all over the Midlands and D'Hara. Cara had crushed the rebellion and returned the girl unscathed in just a few days.
But there had been consequences.
Kahlan had entered the Con Dar when she found out about Kyla's kidnapping and, in her fury, she had confessed a room full of advisors and palace helpers. Kahlan had told them all, later, to forget everything, to go on with their lives as if nothing had happened: a lie, of course, for nothing can be left to return to after confession.
Cara had been there too; the only one with a will remaining after it was all said and done.
It had shaken Cara: to remain herself.
It had shaken both of them, confirming something they have never wanted to know. They have never spoken of it, either. Not amongst them; not to others. A truth never acknowledged, but there just the same. Yet another thing, really, to bound them together and, at the same time, keep them apart.
It weighted on Cara then, to be so exposed. But somehow, it also freed her. If she had to live with such a weakness, she might as well do it with a certain dignity. She will not be pitied. She will not pine for Kahlan like a lovesick village woman.
Perhaps, however, she has tried to rationalize things over the years. Maybe she has told herself that it is just because she has eyes that she finds Kahlan attractive.
That is something she can manage. Something smaller. Something that fits inside her chest.
And thus, she has given it that name, so that she may call upon it and bend it to her will, and not the other way around.
It was around the time of Kyla's kidnapping that she embarked in her little game, convinced as she is that she is not risking anyone's heart. Hers, because that is the one muscle in her whole body she feels no interest in. Kahlan's, because she is in love with Richard. So there is nothing to regret or feel foolish about if she keeps throwing appraising glances Kahlan's way. If she steals a kiss. It is how she copes: how she bends the other thing in her chest, until it looks only like desire.
Plus, pain is something that Cara enjoys almost as much as pleasure. Just now, the long hug and near kiss has her throbbing with pleasure but also, with pain. Both extremes are equally easy to dismiss from her mind.
It is her training, after all: her very core.
Kahlan takes another small step away, putting a bit more distance between them, but without pulling away completely. She grabs one of Cara's gloved hands, caressing the back of her hand through the leather. For a moment, Cara thinks Kahlan is going to tug off the glove and reach for her naked palm. She is not particularly fond of holding hands with anyone, but this is Kahlan. She can touch her anywhere, anyway she wants. It could never be unwelcome.
"When did you get here?" Kahlan asks in a strange tone of voice. Almost intimate.
Cara raises an eyebrow at that, looking pointedly at their joined fingers for a second. Kahlan is being overly affectionate. That only breeds misery as far as Cara's experience goes. A question is on the tip of her tongue before she shrugs slightly and dismisses whatever she was going to say. It is how things have always been between them, she supposes: Kahlan sets the pace, and she falls in line.
"I got in just now. I was leaving the horse at the stables when Doly found me." Cara answers.
Kahlan only nods. There is something between her youngest girl and the Mord'Sidth. Doly is a bit smaller than Sonja: she was born second, and has always been a quiet, observant child. She dominates over her sisters without the other two even noticing. They do whatever she says, play whatever game she chooses. And because Doly adores Cara, the other two do the same without question. Not that Cara would fail to claim the hearts of her daughters regardless, but Doly's devotion marks the way.
"I was not expecting you back this soon," Kahlan smiles as she speaks, she is delighted to see Cara and does not want the Mord'Sith to feel unwelcome. She clarifies, just in case. "Nevertheless, I am glad to see you," she squeezes Cara's fingers as she finally takes in the other woman from head to toe. Cara looks dishevelled for her standards. Her hair slightly wild, her body thinner than she can ever recall, her leathers dusty from the road.
Life is hard outside the walls of her palace. Kahlan knows this, but somehow, looking at Cara, she feels like she has forgotten exactly how much.
"I was on my way to the border with Westland when we received word from Richard," Cara reaches inside her leathers and pulls out a piece of parchment, handing it to Kahlan.
"We?," Kahlan asks absently as she reads, blushing again. The note is warm from Cara's body and for a crazy moment, she is tempted to bring it closer to her face to try and catch Cara's scent. It is written in Richard's hand, but it only says to meet him at Aydindril's palace as soon as she can travel back to the city.
"There has been some recent reports of unrest west of Kelton, close to the border with Westland. I was scouting the area with a small group of soldiers," Cara explains.
"Oh." Kahlan did not know of this. "Where have they gone? Your soldiers, I mean. Are they with you? They can stay at the Palace, too." Kahlan looks up as she asks, her eyes cutting towards the balcony and the court underneath.
"They are not here. Ivan continued onwards to Westland, and Dahlia waits for me, in Kelton. I will join her as soon as I am done here, and we will follow the others," she explains.
If Cara sees the frown that takes over Kahlan's face at the mention of Dahlia, she chooses not to notice. For some reason that she has never understood, Kahlan took a dislike to Dahlia as soon as they met seasons ago. But Cara does not need her captains -or her past lovers- to be approved by anyone, much less, the Mother Confessor. So she forges on, before Kahlan can say anything.
"Do you know what this is about?" Cara asks, pointing at the parchment. She was concerned on her travel north from Kelton, but after arriving at Aydindril, she has relaxed significantly. Whatever problems may lay in their near future, they do not reside here now.
Kahlan just shakes her head. "No. Richard is not even here. He left for the People's Palace almost a moon ago, around the time you last visited. He said he would be away until spring." If Richard wants all three of them here for some reason, it is the first she hears. Things have been difficult with Richard recently, but that is not something she needs to discuss with Cara right now. She hands back the paper reluctantly and watches with avid eyes as Cara sticks it back inside her leathers.
"Well, I came back as fast as I could, very nearly killed my horse," Cara's eyes narrow in mild annoyance. It is what horses are for, but hers is a good mount. In fact, she thinks she likes her horse better than the vast majority of people she knows.
She shrugs as she looks towards the balcony for a moment and nods. "He is on his way, I guess he must be delayed, saving kittens or orphans somewhere nearby," she mumbles. Then, she looks down at herself and smiles ruefully, rolling her eyes slightly, "and speaking of travelling, I think it is not just the girls that are in need of a bath."
Kahlan catches herself before she can give her opinion.
Cara smells wonderful to her.
She just nods. "Join me for dinner later?"
Cara has rooms in the palace, just across from hers. Kahlan makes sure that they are always ready for her.
She would like for the blonde woman to stay longer, to come by more often, but she understands that there are matters of state that need to be taken care of. That someone needs to travel the lands, to be visible to the common folk, to keep an eye out for unrest, for possible bouts of rebellion. Kahlan knows that in a world ruled by uncertain magic, there can never be peace. Not completely. She just wishes Cara chose Aydindril as the base for her travels, instead of the People's Palace.
Richard has been staying at D'Hara increasingly longer in the last few years, travelling back and forth between the two palaces, just as Cara does. It pains Kahlan that he can stay away for so long, when their daughters are here. That he never asks to take them with him.
To take her with him.
But she knows he does it for her: Kahlan would hate to be away from the girls. Also, because it is his duty. He has to rule over D'Hara. And Kahlan knows of duty, of what it does to a person. And so, she understands. Although maybe not all the time. Not on nights when she feels so alone in the big palace that her longing for the companionship she enjoyed on their quest to find the Stone of Tears becomes a physical pain.
She knows it is ridiculous and childish, but she has always felt jealous of Cara's time with Richard, and vice versa. These days, it is only Richard that she envies. It is his time with Cara that she covets.
There can be no comparisons across times, of course, because nothing could make her give up her daughters, but if she could separate that part of herself, the part that is a mother to three wonderful girls, Kahlan fears there would not much of her left.
And there used to be so much.
When she dares to think about it, she concludes that is part of the increasingly complicated reasons why she misses Cara so much when the Mord'Sith is away, and why it is a feeling that seems to be growing sharper, instead of going away, softened by time. Cara holds some of that old Kahlan. She carries it with her somehow, in how she treats her, in how she speaks to Kahlan. How she looks at her. And whenever Cara comes back, it is like she brings that part of Kahlan back with her.
Later that day, they have dinner with Zedd. He arrived just a candle mark after Cara, apparently also summoned by Richard, who is yet to make an appearance. It is very unusual for them all to be together, unless it is for some grand state affair that requires it, so it is with joy that they sit to dinner.
Cara has not seen him in nearly two winters and she realizes that she might have missed him somewhat. Not that she would tell him that, of course. She only shakes his arm when they meet, the wizard reaching to pat her arm a few times, pleased to see her.
Zedd looks older and more tired than Cara remembers. His appetite is as healthy as it has always been, though. She just barely avoids rolling her eyes and making a snide comment when he asks for seconds, thirds and even fourth helpings. He is still oddly funny and upbeat, annoying in that way only very powerful wizards can afford to be around someone like Cara.
He explains over dinner that he has been travelling the lands too, stopping infrequently at both Aydindril and the People's Palace. He complains about the food and the meagre rations he gets on his travels. Between dishes and around much food, he talks of his journeys with the sisters of the light. They have been searching for gifted young men and boys that may be trained to become wizards. For some reason that he cannot fathom and that worries him, in these last two, three winters, no powerfully magical children have been born, and what is even rarer, a number of pristinely ungifted children have.
Cara is mostly silent while Kahlan keeps the conversation going. If powerful magic has forsaken these lands, they may have to go into the Old World to seek it. It is not a pleasant idea.
When that conversation runs its course, Zedd tries to lighten the mood. He asks about the girls. He has not been able to meet them before dinner. Kahlan talks animatedly for a long while after that, regaling them with a number of funny tales about her family. It makes her feel somewhat guilty, because Richard features very little in them. He is not here, and she knows that she does not miss him as much as she should, but having Zedd, Cara and the girls in the Palace, close at hand, is somehow enough.
They are enjoying a sweet wine that Zedd has brought from his travels south when something changes in the air around them. Kahlan notices Cara frowning slightly, her gloved hand twitching minutely on top of the table, where it is resting.
"Richard is here," Cara says when she notices Kahlan's keen eyes are on her. She turns to look at the door.
Almost immediately, the door to the dining room opens and Richard walks in. He is wearing his red robes; the ones that mark him as ruler of D'Hara, the Lord Rahl. A few years ago, it would have been strange to see him in such clothing, but now, it is his usual wardrobe. He is flanked by a Mord'Sith and a Dragon Corp guard, but after Richard turns to say something to the Mord'Sith, they stop at the door, leaving Richard to walk alone into the room.
He smiles brightly at its occupants, almost bouncing into the room, reminding Cara of his daughters earlier that day.
"Richard!" Zedd is the first one to react, almost jumping up from the table. "It is good to see you, my boy."
The men hug for a moment, then, Richard turns to Kahlan and kisses her on the cheek, his arm touching her back in a slightly awkward way. Finally, he turns to Cara. They nod at each other. Richard knows better than to try and either kiss or hug the Mord'Sith. After they finish their greetings, they move back to the table, cleaning it, so they can study some documents that Richard has brought with him. They are old texts from the library at the People's Palace. They contain an old record, of a time when Rahl's magic was weakened to great peril of all living in D'Hara.
Richard tells them of his fear that what happened then may be happening again now.
"How can that be?" Cara asks. Rahl magic has been strong in D'Hara for centuries now. Her agiels are as powerful as ever. She reaches to touch one of them for a moment, feeling the reassuring, sharp pain that travels up her arm.
"It is an old historical account, difficult to understand. It uses words long forgotten. It speaks of the weakness in the twin house of Rahl, in the squared base that supports it," he pauses to look at Zedd, who just shakes his head in confusion, "Mirlan, the librarian, thinks that it refers to the fact that for as long as history has been recorded, except at that point in time, there has always been at least two living males of the house of Rahl," his eyes stay away from Kahlan as he explains.
"After he discovered that record, Mirlan found other older texts that also referred to the twin house of Rahl. They all seem to suggest great peril would befall D'Hara if there are not enough living males of Rahl blood," Richard explains.
A silence falls over them after that.
Even if Darken Rahl is still alive somewhere, that would mean there are only two Rahls alive right now, one if Darken is dead. The girls have Rahl blood, of course, but they are female.
They all understand what this means. If there is indeed need for more male Rahls, to hold the magic, they cannot be Kahlan's sons.
A boy confessor with Rahl blood is simply unthinkable. It is a future that already existed and can never be repeated.
Zedd is the first one to break the silence. He takes hold of the parchments to look them over, but he can read very little of what is written. He rubs his chin for a moment before speaking. "We must consult with Shota. Perhaps also travel to the Palace of the Prophets, to understand these texts better."
They all nod, but only Cara looks at Kahlan. The men keep their eyes averted. Kahlan is not looking at any of them. She is staring at the flames on the large fireplace, expressionless.
After some discussion, it is decided; Richard and Zedd will travel to the Old World to consult with the sisters of the light. They will travel to the People's Palace first, to get Mirlan, so that he can travel with them too. Meanwhile, Kahlan will travel to Agaden Reach, to see Shota. They do not trust her completely, so it is decided that Cara will accompany Kahlan. They will travel south from Aydindril, all the way to Kelton, where Dahlia and some of Cara's most trusted soldiers await. Then, they will cross the Rang'Shada mountains, towards the Reach, and hopefully, to Shota and some answers.
They will all meet back in Aydindril, in a moon's time.
After it is decided, there is not much left to do but rest and prepare for the journey ahead. Cara sends word to her people at Kelton with the change in plans that very same night, so that they know to await for her and the Mother Confessor. Then, she walks Kahlan to her rooms after they say their good nights. The men stay back, planning. They will depart immediately. Cara and Kahlan will travel in a few days, when Kahlan arranges for Dennee and the Council to rule in her absence. She will not leave Aydindril until Dennee is here, so her sister can stay with the young confessors.
It is late and the Palace is dark as they walk through the narrow corridors. They stop at the door to Kahlan's rooms.
There are too many things to say. So many, that there is actually nothing to say.
"Rest now. I will see you tomorrow," Cara says as she turns to go.
Kahlan grabs on to her arm, stopping the Mord'Sith before she can move away. Cara allows the touch. She always does these days.
"How did you know Richard was at the Palace," Kahlan knows the answer, but she wants to hear it anyway.
Cara takes a step away, dislodging her arm from Kahlan's grip.
She turns around as she answers, before continuing down the shadowy corridor.
"He is using the bond."