Title: Vested interest, part 2 of 2
Characters/Pairing: Richard/Kahlan, Darken/Kahlan, Dennee, Denna, Cara, Rachel, Nicholas Rahl, Jennsen
Rating: R - for violence
Warnings: character death, infanticide, dub-con, Orden
Spoilers: particularly for Puppeteer, Sacrifice, and Home
Summary: Written for a peoplespalace discussion: What if Darken killed Zedd at the end of Puppeteer? Richard and Kahlan are on their own, but it's not over yet. Or is it?
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
“That was…” Darken broke the silence.
With difficulty, he looked away from the Confessor—Kahlan. She was magnificent.
He felt as though she’d been in his head, and would have been horrified if he didn’t still feel Orden, warmly pulsing through his veins.
He knew he wasn’t Confessed. And yet…his fascination with Kahlan seemed stronger than he would have believed possible.
He had always intended to make her his Queen—a Confessor child would be a fitting heir for his Empire—but he had expected to be able to command her love and loyalty with Orden.
Now what he’d glimpsed of both her magic and her mind made him want her more than ever—but it wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d anticipated.
Kahlan took a deep breath, and then she gasped. “Richard!” She rushed to the Seeker’s side—
Of course; Darken remembered nearly killing him, eons, or more accurately, moments, ago.
Kahlan was cradling Richard’s head against her breast, weeping.
Darken’s eyes narrowed.
“I can save him,” he announced, certain of it now. Orden was like a promise, singing softly to him underneath every thought.
And it was only right that Richard live. Live, and serve Darken, as had always been his true destiny.
Kahlan looked up, tears still streaming down her cheeks. Her face was terrible with hope.
“Marry me,” Darken demanded. It wasn’t a question, but she could have refused—Orden wouldn’t compel her, not after…whatever it was that had happened between them.
Kahlan swallowed, and nodded.
“You will renounce the Resistance. You will not undermine my authority as Master of Orden.”
She nodded again.
“I want your word,” Darken said quietly, not sure why he was being so insistent. But the brief blending of their magic remained with him—he knew he wasn’t pushing her too far, not yet.
“You have it,” Kahlan promised. “Now please—“
Darken stood over his nemesis, the bane of his childhood…the son his father had always loved far more than his first-born. “Live,” he ordered.
Just like that, Richard’s wound closed. He sat up in Kahlan’s arms, blinking.
Darken was pleased to find that in this, at least, Orden was working precisely as he had thought it would.
Kahlan could not believe what had just happened. But the thing that troubled her the most was how long it had taken her, after the combined magic of Orden and Confession had ebbed to a faint humming in her skin, to remember Richard.
She was certainly past caring about the state of her Confessor gown—torn and covered in grass stains—or about the hovering audience of Mord’Sith and D’Haran soldiers.
She suspected Darken Rahl didn’t even see them.
Richard was dying. That was the only thing that mattered, she told herself. Not Rahl, not Orden, not the future enslavement of the Midlands. She’d lost her chance to do anything about that, surely.
But then Rahl was there, and he said he could save Richard.
Kahlan didn’t hesitate. The man she loved was dying. She would have agreed to anything.
And then, miraculously, Richard sat up, completely healed. Kahlan could have wept for joy, and was faintly surprised to realize she had been crying already when Richard brushed a tear from her cheek.
For a moment, she pretended all was as it had been. Before Rahl found them, before the Boxes of Orden…before they lost Zedd.
Then Rahl said, almost affectionately, “Rise, brother,” and Richard stood with alacrity.
Brother? Kahlan stared up at Rahl, surprised. Zedd had never mentioned such a connection. Richard was a Rahl—how could they not have known such a thing?
Kahlan scrambled to her feet too, and it was as though she could see Orden taking over Richard’s mind. His worshipful gaze reminded her of the Confessed, and she shivered.
What have I done? Is it really better for Richard to live, if he’s enslaved to Darken Rahl?
Kahlan couldn’t decide if she’d saved Richard or damned him, but she was glad he was alive.
The wedding was about a month later. Lord Rahl used Orden surprisingly sparingly, Cara thought, but nonetheless it was well attended. Now that the Seeker spent his spare time composing admiring speeches in support of Lord Rahl, Orden was almost superfluous, as far as getting rid of the Resistance went.
Cara reserved judgment on the bride. Kahlan Amnell was tall, dark, and beautiful, with a certain unassailable dignity. Her pallor suited her, as did her shimmering gown. Even her Rada’Han matched. She was also an excellent fighter, Cara remembered from the night that had changed everything.
But still, there was a tiny part of Cara that resented the fact that Lord Rahl was marrying a Confessor, an enemy—instead of the woman who’d loved him since they met, near the culmination of her training; served him better than anyone else, especially Denna; and born him a son she hadn’t seen since his birth.
What was so special about Kahlan Amnell, anyway?
At last, Kahlan was in Darken’s arms. She melted against him, her skin warm and bare against his, and her tongue dueling with his in what amounted to pure bliss—
She was the perfect woman.
Except for the part where she was an enemy and probably plotting against him.
But, in his current mood, Darken found that oddly comforting. Anyone else he could have quelled with one Orden-enhanced look, but Kahlan demanded more of his attention than that.
And he gave his wife all his attention.
The kiss was broken, Kahlan’s eyes shut as Darken brushed her neck with his lips…”Richard,” she moaned, and he sat up abruptly.
Under the thrall of Orden, Richard was Darken’s loving and loyal brother, and already proving a good advisor and advocate.
But it still hurt to hear his rival’s name on his wife’s lips.
Darken left her without a word, vowing that he would make her forget all about Richard. Starting tomorrow night.
Kahlan regretted it the moment she said Richard’s name, but it was too late to call it back.
And yet didn't Rahl—Darken—what was she supposed to call him, anyway?—remember that only the fact that he held Richard’s life hostage commanded her allegiance? Surely he couldn’t expect her to be fawning over him the way everyone else was.
It disgusted Kahlan to hear his victims going on about how they had been so wrong to ever doubt that Lord Rahl had their best interests at heart, and so on. Richard’s panegyrics particularly hurt her, but she couldn’t forget that without R—Darken—Richard would be dead.
Worse, she suspected Richard’s wound would return if Darken lost Orden, which meant she couldn’t very well scheme to get it away from him, even had she possessed any allies in the Palace.
She bit her lip, wrapping herself in the red bedspread, and wished she knew for sure. Zedd would have known.
Kahlan couldn’t even explain to herself what had happened the night Rahl—Darken—her husband had activated Orden just as she Confessed him.
Maybe it would all look better in the morning.
She sighed. I doubt it.
When Richard mentioned Dennee Amnell in passing, the idea came to Darken immediately. If anything would put a chink in Kahlan’s armor, it was her sister returned to her.
Her pregnancy made her subject to swift mood swings, usually from dignified and angry to dignified and furious, but Dennee’s arrival made her smile for the first time in what felt like weeks.
“Dennee, thank the Creator! How did you get here, are you all right?” Kahlan asked in one breath.
“Lord Rahl rescued me from that awful prison,” Dennee replied. “He’s such a brave man, and a wonderful leader! He—“
“Yes, I know,” Kahlan said, impatiently brushing aside Dennee’s Orden-induced raptures.
Darken took it as progress that she didn’t bother quarreling with Dennee about it; he knew how much the effects of Orden irritated her.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Kahlan said simply, holding her sister’s hands in hers.
Darken was surprised at the warm glow of satisfaction he felt. But for the first time, he was enjoying having a sibling himself.
Nicholas was a beautiful baby. He had Kahlan’s own eyes. And he was so calm, content to bask in the warm glow of his parents’ affection.
Kahlan left Darken singing their son to sleep in the nursery, surprised by how comforting she’d found the domestic scene. She knew—none better—that male Confessors were evil. (She had not known Darken could sing, but that, she told herself, was hardly relevant.)
Kahlan wandered the halls, drifting, as she often did, to the guarded room where the Boxes of Orden were kept. Spells as well as soldiers guarded them; she would need a good deal of assistance if she were ever to succeed in taking them apart.
At length, she found herself in the garden. As always, her spirits were lifted slightly by the sweet scent of roses and the simple joy of such living beauty.
It was dusk, and the fading sunlight tinged the sky with pinks and oranges to match the garden.
“Kahlan?” It was Richard.
Kahlan turned, the sight of him tugging at her heartstrings as always. She no longer knew what she felt toward Darken Rahl: abstract appreciation for the efficient way he kept her from scheming to release everyone from his control by taking apart the Boxes of Orden and thus possibly killing Richard; hatred, for all the cruel things he’d done to her and to her people, and to Richard most of all; confusion, because then there were the things he did that she couldn’t help but admire—the way he was with Nicholas, the immeasurable gift of her sister by her side…
But Kahlan did know she still loved Richard. She always would.
“What were you doing?” he asked companionably.
“Just thinking,” she sighed. She wasn’t about to confide her conflicted feelings for her husband—Richard’s brother! It made a certain sense—there were times that Kahlan saw the resemblance between them. Darken was cynical where Richard was naïve, but both were brave and passionate and good with children—and impossibly handsome, of course.
Her son was never far from Kahlan’s thoughts, and she said slowly, “I can’t believe I let Darken talk me into raising a male Confessor. After what my sister suffered…if he is evil, I’ll never forgive myself for letting him live.”
“Kahlan,” Richard said, sitting down beside her on the bench. “Nicholas is not evil. He’s just a baby. And you know Darken is always right. He’d never let Nicholas harm anyone, even if his powers did overwhelm him a little.”
Kahlan nodded, although she doubted Darken would use Orden against his own son. He didn’t use it as much as she would have expected, though it always remained a possible reserve. But more importantly, Darken wouldn’t do that to Nicholas—and Kahlan was glad.
“But,” she said, trying to put her feelings into words, “if you and Darken are right and Nicholas isn’t evil at all…then I’ll never forgive myself for what happened to my nephew.”
Richard frowned at her. “Kahlan, maybe you should try and be a little less hard on yourself.”
That was easy for Richard to say—Orden protected him from the pain of making any real decisions. Kahlan was in more desperate straits.
“Darken, you have to come—it’s Nicholas!” Kahlan exclaimed, bursting into Darken’s study.
He’d been going over grain shipments to the capitol with Richard, on what had been an ordinary afternoon, but at Kahlan’s explosive entrance, both men leapt to their feet.
Darken’s heart was in his throat, but he tried not to let his apprehension show. “What is it? Is he—“ Darken didn’t know how he was going to finish the sentence.
If something had happened to Nicholas—
“Fever,” Kahlan explained. “He’s burning up! You have to save him!”
Darken grabbed Kahlan’s arm between trembling fingers and swept out with her, taking the stairs to the nursery two or three at a time, Richard on their heels.
Dennee was hovering over her nephew’s crib, along with his nurse, Kahlan’s maid, and one of the lower level Healers. They all looked very grave.
Nicholas was awake, protesting feebly; “no” and “hurts,” two words from his still small vocabulary, were vaguely discernible through his general distress. His skin was alarmingly suffused with red.
Darken pushed through the crowd, Kahlan somehow still at his side (it took a moment for him to realize he had yet to let go of her), and reached out with his own magic, somewhat shaky because he was out of practice—ordinary problems were easily solved with Orden.
Leaving only extraordinary ones…
Darken knew already, from previous research, that children of the Master of Orden born after the assumption of the power were immune to its effects. He couldn’t simply order Nicholas to be well, even had he wished to subject his son the unrelenting compulsion of Orden.
Darken could sense the illness that had Nicholas in its grip, could even see how to send healing energy that would burn it away far more quickly and thoroughly than Nicholas’s dangerously high fever, but he didn’t have enough power of his own to perform the spell.
He opened his eyes, and said, “Giller,” as if the mere utterance of his loyal Wizard’s name could summon the man to his presence.
But Giller wasn’t in the Palace; he claimed the hustle and bustle, not to mention the domesticity, interfered with his concentration. His laboratory was leagues away.
But it was easily accessible by pentagram—Darken was just turning to dash impetuously out of the nursery to fetch Giller when Richard asked sympathetically, “What do you need?”
Darken studied his brother in sudden surmise. Instinct, honed by panic, led him to focus his second sight. Han pulsed brightly from Richard’s chest.
Darken didn’t pause to wonder how he’d never noticed that before. It was a simple enough matter to obtain a little of that awesome power, already far more than he needed for the healing spell.
Darken didn’t breathe again until Nicholas did.
The child’s skin cooled to a normal temperature, his cheeks no longer so flushed. In moments, he fell into an easy sleep.
Darken could scarcely believe the force of his relief. Nicholas was going to be fine.
Kahlan had never felt so helpless in her life. And that included the moment she’d seen Richard dying and Darken putting together the Boxes of Orden.
She couldn’t seem to stand still.
Rather than pace holes in the nursery carpet, she exchanged a look with Dennee that conveyed everything—her sister nodded acknowledgement; Kahlan knew Dennee would find her at once if Nicholas seemed to be having a relapse.
Then she tugged on Darken’s arm, and this time, she led him down several corridors to the door of her own private chambers. (He had told her, after she knew she carried Nicholas, that he wouldn’t come to her bed again “until you invite me.” Most days, she was thankful for the privacy of her own space. She told herself his words didn’t haunt her.)
Kahlan fought to keep her voice level. Meeting Darken’s eyes, she demanded, “Take it off!”
He looked blank.
She tugged on the Rada’Han. It had never felt so constricting. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes.
Kahlan hurried into further speech, before he could object. “You know perfectly well I can’t Confess anyone anyway, I mean I could but Orden trumps Confession—“ which they knew because Darken had actually reclaimed Finn, Dennee’s mate, and sent him back to the D’Haran army (not that they did much these days except stand around looking decorative)—“and I can’t do anything about that, either—“ Orden bothered Kahlan. The fact that Darken had it bothered her more. But Richard’s life hung in the balance.
And, she remembered suddenly, she had given Darken her word.
She felt herself on the edge of hysteria. She stared helplessly at Darken, willing him to understand.
Wordlessly, he pulled out a tiny key. Kahlan turned, pulling the artistically arranged curls of her coiffure off her neck. There was a click, and her power came rushing back, filling her whole body.
Kahlan felt electrified.
She turned around, and Darken was so close she was almost in his arms, and then they were kissing with all the passion of averted disaster.
And Kahlan couldn’t pretend this was about Richard anymore.
Babysitting. It was a word that conjured horrific images of fluffy toys and sappy bedtime stories, and, for those of the Mord’Sith who had been assigned the task before, the even more specific picture of a hyperactive and fatally friendly three-year-old.
And yet, Cara thought as Nicholas zoomed around her pretending to save her from the Snow Monster of Gnoth, his current favorite monster, there was a certain…charm about the child.
Garen still shuddered every time it was her turn, but of course what Lord Rahl wanted, Lord Rahl got.
And, now that the talks with the Southern delegates had progressed to some sort of delicate point, he wanted Nicholas guarded by his Mord’Sith when neither he, the Queen, nor Lord Richard could be in the nursery.
Of course, the probability that the Southerners would willingly offend the Master of Orden was vanishingly small, in Cara’s opinion at least, but that didn’t rule out some more subtle form of attack.
And for some reason, Lord Rahl didn’t want to simply use the power he’d won.
Cara wondered idly, as she obligingly pretended to be the Snow Monster of Gnoth, gnashing her teeth and curving her fingers into claws, how long the reach of Orden was. If it wore off with distance, the Southerners might regain their senses just in time to launch an army against the D’Haran Empire.
She tickled Nicholas unmercifully, until the quality of his laughter reached such a pitch that she knew he needed to calm down and do something less active for awhile.
She left him to find a book to read, but Nicholas followed her, tugging on her leathers.
“Cara,” he said insistently. “Up.”
His yawn settled the matter.
“Naptime,” Cara announced.
If her Sisters ever found out how much she enjoyed—tolerated, not enjoyed—this duty, they would never grant her any respect again.
After what had happened between her and Darken after he and Richard cured Nicholas, Kahlan had almost expected to be pregnant again.
She wasn’t. It was…disappointing.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” she complained to Dennee one afternoon. They were sitting in the garden, watching Nicholas march pinecones toward a fallen branch, which he was pretending was the Great Dragon’s animate skeleton, the creature that had replaced the Giant Snow Monster of Gnoth as the star of his imaginative play.
He was so creative.
“I used to know what I wanted. Not that Richard and I could ever have—I wouldn’t do that to him,” Kahlan went on, choosing to ignore that Orden was eerily similar to Confession and that Richard was a lot happier now than he ever had been on the quest.
“I know,” Dennee murmured sympathetically. “But Kahlan, you have no idea how fortunate you are.”
“Because my husband is the bravest, kindest, strongest, smartest man in the world, yes, I know,” Kahlan said, rolling her eyes. She should have known better than to bring this up with Dennee, whose loyalty Darken commanded with Orden. Everyone so controlled had a similar rhapsodic speech they would repeat at the slightest provocation.
“No,” Dennee said. “Well, yes, but Kahlan, you are fortunate because you have a husband who loves you. And you can’t Confess him.”
Not more than she had already, at any rate, Kahlan thought, blushing.
“You have a brave, healthy, and intelligent son,” Dennee went on.
As always when they discussed Nicholas, Kahlan felt guilty, reminded of her nephew. Yet how could she and Dennee have known that Darken would be such a caring father to a Confessor child?
Dennee hadn’t even mentioned the Ritual of the Waters when Nicholas was born. Darken’s views on the matter were so well known, after all.
“You are the Queen of a land at peace at last, after half a century,” Dennee pointed out. “What more do you want?”
Darken was finishing some parchmentwork in his study one evening—Orden might have given him ultimate power, but the parchmentwork went on—when Kahlan appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were wide and dark, her hair half taken down out of her coiffure.
“I want another child,” she said quietly, and Darken forgot all about the dispute over water rights in Deerfork.
“I was reading the story of Cawfry the Hero of the Southern Isles with Nicholas today,” Kahlan said one evening. She was brushing her hair, wrapped in a red dressing gown and perched on the edge of an armchair in Darken’s bedchamber.
He was lying on the bed, propped up on one elbow. “Mmm?” he murmured encouragingly.
She was stunning, even more so dressed casually. As always, she carried herself with the dignity of a Queen. Darken was not sorry he’d taken off her Rada’Han—so far, she had made no move to betray him, and the fragile trust that had grown between them more than made up for the added risk.
Particularly since he had gotten Richard to help him enhance the magical wards around the Boxes of Orden—they were nearly deadly to anyone without Rahl blood, and still dangerous if one didn’t know the proper spells.
“He’s doing well, but he does still tend to guess all long words are ‘monster’ or ‘heroism,’” Kahlan went on. “But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. My maid can’t read at all, and I think she’s not the only one—you and I were lucky enough to be taught these things in the cradle, but so many people never had that chance.”
“Peasants,” Darken said dismissively.
Kahlan glared. “I want you to set up a school system for the children of the Resistance,” she said. “Now that we’re not at war, there’s no reason not to. Besides, it’s the least you owe them.”
Darken raised his eyebrows. “Only the children of the Resistance? We’re trying to be all one people now, Kahlan,” he reminded her.
Kahlan didn’t answer.
Darken brought it up with Richard the very next day.
“What a great idea!” he enthused. “You know, Darken, I was thinking, we should have proper hospitals, not just itinerant Healers. Every village needs a good school and a good hospital.”
Darken smiled. “Excellent,” he said, clapping Richard on the back. “I leave it all in your capable hands.”
It was pure chance that Kahlan was passing the room where the Boxes of Orden were kept that day. She was on her way to the nursery, where Dennee and Mistress Cara of the Mord’Sith would be getting Nicholas ready for the picnic they had planned for the afternoon.
Dennee insisted that Mistress Cara was wonderful with Nicholas, and that Kahlan would really like her. Most of the time, Kahlan ignored the Mord’Sith and they returned the favor, but ever since she’d killed Denna her hatred for them had ebbed somewhat. Besides, Richard had told her Denna had hated Cara, and this Kahlan found promising.
The redheaded girl was dressed as a servant, but she was slinking along the hallway with an almost comical attempt at stealth. The guards normally posted at the door were nowhere in sight, and the girl slipped through the door without pause, even though it looked indistinguishable from the wall to anyone who didn’t know it was there.
Kahlan frowned, and followed.
The glitter of the protective enchantments around the Boxes of Orden looked as it always did, but Kahlan saw the girl’s fingers dip through the spells as though they weren’t there.
Kahlan moved quickly, instinctively—in seconds, her fingers closed like iron bands around the girl’s thin wrists.
She and the girl were leaning over the Boxes of Orden on either side of the pedestal, and Kahlan wished she could pull her skirt back from accidental contact with the protective spells. They were dangerous, and Darken was certainly too careful to allow her access to the Boxes of Orden.
There was a faint hum of magic caused by her proximity, and the air around the Boxes of Orden began to glitter green and orange in addition to gold.
I hope this isn’t bad for the baby, Kahlan thought worriedly—although it might be that the Rahl blood of the unborn child she carried was protecting her somewhat from the spells.
She wasn’t very far along yet, but the swift strides she’d taken in seconds to capture the girl had made her dizzy. Still, on closer scrutiny, Kahlan thought she would be a match for the unknown thief, even though she was out of practice.
She was loath to Confess the poor thing—somehow the thief didn’t strike Kahlan as the criminal type, despite their current position. She might not even want the Boxes for herself, if she were sufficiently committed to some ideal. The way Kahlan once had been.
The girl was younger than Kahlan, though not by that much. She was small and slight, with large blue eyes that struck Kahlan as faintly familiar, and an expression caught somewhere between fear and confusion.
“Who are you?” Kahlan and the girl asked together.
“I am Kahlan Am—Rahl,” Kahlan said coolly. “I’m the Queen. What are you doing?”
She didn’t know why she was bothering to ask that. Obviously, the girl was here to take apart the Boxes of Orden and end Darken’s reign of terror—except that the whole point of Orden was that there wasn’t any terror involved.
A better question would be, “How did you get past all the magical barriers?” Accordingly, Kahlan asked it.
“I don’t know,” the girl shrugged. Her fingers pulled free of the protective spells with the movement, although Kahlan didn’t let go of her wrists. “Shota told me I’m Pristinely UnGifted. If you’re Kahlan Amnell, you have to help me. She said you’d sold out, but I know you used to be the Seeker’s Confessor. Darken Rahl must be stopped.”
“Shota,” Kahlan said thoughtfully. “She’s still free and in her own mind? I’m surprised Darken didn’t—“ But these reflections were hardly helpful.
“I’m Jennsen,” said the girl. “Now that we’re all introduced, do you think you could let go of me? The guards could come back at any moment.”
Kahlan frowned. “I can’t let you take apart the Boxes of Orden. It wouldn’t help anything.”
“What do you mean?” Jennsen protested. “Darken Rahl is a tyrant. He killed the First Wizard, along with lots of other people. And Shota says he’s controlling the Seeker, and—“
“Yes,” Kahlan admitted, “but—“ But what? Jennsen was right. Kahlan couldn’t forget Darken’s crimes, just because it was easier that way. But…”He’s changed,” Kahlan asserted. “You would just be restarting a war we’re all still recovering from. People I love would die.”
Jennsen tilted her head to one side, clearly puzzled. “Do you really believe that? That Darken Rahl having the Boxes of Orden is a good thing?”
Kahlan thought about it. She had her own people in the capitol now; she and Dennee had set up a system of loyal informers and allies. (As long as there was no plan detrimental to Darken’s interests, Orden was surprisingly easy to work around.) So Kahlan knew there was peace—of course, courtesy of Orden—but further, the economy was growing, the school system would be organized in just a few more years of effort (a vast improvement over the little village schoolhouses), the people were busy and happy.
As for Darken himself—he was still the same man whom Kahlan would have given everything to defeat, of course. And yet…he had reunited her with Dennee, he treated Richard as a valued advisor and friend, he was a better father to Nicholas than she could have imagined, he respected her opinions, and all the tiny kindnesses of their lives together added up to something far more confusing than the simplicity of her hatred had been.
With an effort, Kahlan recalled Jennsen’s question. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I do.”
Jennsen looked worried. She twisted a little, trying to get out of Kahlan’s grip. “Are you...I mean, you’re probably all Ordenified, right? I should just…”
“Go,” Kahlan suggested. “You should go home and have a normal life and forget what Shota told you.”
Kahlan’s world was too complicated for this girl, that was obvious. But she didn't give Kahlan the impression that she had lost someone to Darken’s ambition herself.
“I can’t just go,” Jennsen protested, looking tempted.
“Do you have a family?” Kahlan asked.
Kahlan took a breath. “Then you should go home to them and stay away from the Palace, because if you come back I’ll do whatever I have to in order to protect my family.”
Jennsen stared. Very slowly, Kahlan let go of her wrists.
The two women stood completely still for another several seconds. Then Jennsen fled.
Kahlan let out her breath and stepped back from the Boxes of Orden, putting one hand to her head. A jeweled comb was digging into her scalp, and her feet were killing her.
“I think you should post more guards around the Boxes of Orden. Maybe the Mord’Sith,” Kahlan suggested, climbing into bed beside Darken.
Cara had told him Garen and some of the younger Mord’Sith were complaining of being bored, but…”Why?” Darken asked. He stroked a lock of Kahlan’s hair that escaped her braid back from her brow.
Kahlan, telling him to guard the Boxes of Orden—something was going on.
She sighed, and shifted so her head was resting on his shoulder. “No reason.”
Kahlan sat in the window, looking out at the courtyard, their infant daughter in her arms.
Darken stood in the doorway for a moment, just watching her. She had an air of peace that he hadn’t known he was missing until that moment when she Confessed him as he put together the Boxes of Orden.
He was indebted to Orden for his friendship with Richard, for the peace that held throughout the D’Haran Empire…The power had settled to a warm hum in the back of his mind, whispering to him in weak moments that he could do more—he had conquered the Midlands, he could conquer Westland behind its Boundary, the Southlands beyond the Strait of Sorrows…he could find and control every person in his world, if he chose—except her.
Darken stepped forward, and Kahlan turned, smiling a welcome.
“Good morning,” she said. “What are your plans for the day? It’s so lovely outside.”
The baby, nursing at Kahlan’s breast, pulled her mouth away for a moment to say something which, while not words in the conventional sense, Darken had no trouble interpreting as a bid to be included in the conversation.
He smiled, and stroked the few dark hairs on his daughter’s head with one gentle finger.
“There are no looming crises this week, so I’m taking Nicholas out riding,” Darken answered.
Kahlan looked alarmed. “He’s too young for that,” she protested. “Promise you’ll be careful!”
“He loves horses,” Darken pointed out, refraining from laughing at her fears. “He’s a natural already.”
Kahlan was having none of it. “Promise,” she insisted.
“I promise,” Darken smiled.
“Have fun,” Kahlan ordered.
Her autocratic tone was adorable in this context, and Darken impulsively bent down and brushed her lips, just lightly, with his.
He was pulling away to go when she wrapped her free arm around his neck and tugged him back down to her, the baby still cradled against her breast.
This time it was a real kiss, passionate and sweet all at once. Darken found himself on his knees, fingers buried in Kahlan’s hair, and with an effort he let her go.
“I should…” he pointed out, and took a breath. “I’m going to go get Nicholas.”
Kahlan nodded regally, and Darken was at the door before he turned back for one last amazed look.
He was going to see her tonight, but Kahlan’s magnificence never ceased to thrill him. Everything he’d achieved with Orden had been with Orden, but this—his marriage to Kahlan, their two wonderful children—this was his real victory.
“Love you,” he called casually. He didn’t wait for her answer—if she ever said it back, he wanted it to be because she chose to.
Someday, she would.
It took awhile for Kahlan’s heart rate to slow, after that kiss, and Darken’s parting words.
“Well, Rachel,” she said, with an effort at lightness, “it seems your father and I aren’t doing so terribly at having a real family after all.”
Rachel looked up at her mother with those same serious blue eyes, a match for Nicholas’s.
“But I knew that,” Kahlan added gently, “because we have you and your brother, don’t we, darling? You know, your namesake was another very bright little girl just like you, and she once told me the most important lesson I ever learned: in life, you go on. You just go on.”
Rachel blinked, which Kahlan took as agreement.