Write a review @ Amanda
Title: Kings and Queens (19?)
Author: Amanda (aka seven_3_oh)
Fandom: legend of the seeker
Word Count: 8,571
Disclaimer: "Legend of the Seeker", its characters, and the situations depicted on the show are the property of ABC Studios, Disney, et all, as well as Terry Goodkind. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
Disclaimer #2: ALL original characters, as well as the mythology, kingdom, and ideology of Strel’na and the strele, are copyrighted to this author, and cannot be used, reused, or altered for publication in any written medium without the written consent of the author. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
Summary: set a decade after the end of Season Two. Where in a WHOLE lotta change has befallen our merry band of heros.
A/N: My humble apologies for the longer than expected delay. Also? LOTS of INFO in this post.
A/N#2: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to fosforito4. She is not only the most patient beta reader (who had to read this posting three times before it felt right) she is also the one who waves the ‘you can do it’ banner the highest and with the most candor when I am in that last mile of the marathon, urging me on, she is the one who reminds me that just because it’s in my head doesn’t mean I put it on paper yet, and she is without a doubt the one who knows me better than I know myself, and knows when to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. It’s because of her and pure hearted people like her that stories get written. there are not enough words, honey... never enough words...
And a big thank you to those special few of you; you know who you are, who have sent me messages, and nudges, and have been checking in. I do so appreciate your kindness, and your compassion. The crazy writer is crazy, and sometimes RL makes the going slow, but you’ll know if something evil befalls me. I promise.
She could feel Cara bristling beside her, and the Agiels still sang through the night, echoing the sentiments Kahlan knew that she and Cara were both feeling. Kahlan looked hard at these three men. “Should I be concerned for the condition of my personal guards?"
"They’ll be covered with a half foot of snow by morning.” The larger man said.
"What Conor means to say," Viceroy Haareld began, "Is that they are unconscious, but beyond that unharmed. Resting comfortably."
"Not the best trained guards, if you expected them to protect you." Conor grunted.
"I'd disagree." Cara stated. "They are fierce and well trained. Their only fault is being mere men. Personally I did not sense you at all. Which leads me to believe that the three of you are not... as you appear to be?"
The King's lips pulled to a short smile beneath his beard. "That would be astute of you, Mistress Cara."
“You do know my name then?” Cara snapped.
“Of course I do. I know far more about you than you would probably like.” He said offering a very hard smile. “It was Viceroy Haareld who was to have met with you previously.”
“I was inadvertently detained by some rather large men in red.” The Viceroy offered.
Kahlan looked to Cara, as this was the first she was hearing of such a meeting. Cara’s eyes seemed to burn for an instant when their gaze met. Moonlight highlighting the words that passed unspoken between them, that Cara would have told her if anything had come of it, and that in her own stoic way Cara had been trying to protect her. To Kahlan it was as though she had heard Cara’s voice speaking, the depth of emotions radiating from her eyes. The muscles in her jaws trembled once more with displeasure at being interrupted.
“D’Harans?” Cara asked.
“So they claimed at first.” Viceroy Haareld shrugged. “I was not in the mood to press them for accurate responses. They had after all ruined a perfectly good coat.”
“So you took care of it?” Kahlan asked.
A smile tugged at the corners of his dark red beard and his eyes twinkled, “I did, Mother Confessor.”
“Cara.” Kahlan said, motioning for her to put her weapons away.
“More spies.” Cara said slamming her Agiels back into their holsters.
“It is a given. This kingdom holds more spies than lambs on the field. Oh if your little rods bring you comfort, then by all means, continue to hold them.” The massive Conor said with a snide glare.
“Would you like to feel my little rods?”
“Cara.” Kahlan warned, but inside felt the swell of pride. Cara seemed to know and winked at her for a moment before looking back at the three men. She took a step closer to the Mord-Sith.
“You received my summons I take it?” Viceroy Haareld asked Cara, breaking the tension.
“I did.” Cara replied, and Kahlan felt her brow rise. “This time I brought you.” Cara said apologetically.
"It is good that you did. It has been decided. I will meet with you, Kahlan, now. You and the Kings of the other lands." King Alderamin said casually.
"They are not kings." Kahlan corrected, but felt foolish doing so.
"Richard and Darken Rahl. Brothers, who each rule on either side of your own kingdom, Kahlan, vying for control, and power. Call them by whatever name you wish, they are kings, and you are not in a very ideal situation."
Kahlan crossed her arms, "Luckily I am not a queen."
"So you say." King Alderamin offered, again with a smile that seemed genuine and lit from the inside by deception. Gently, as if the action itself was a comment, the King blinked. As he did Viceroy Haareld stepped forward, and with his arms threw back this long and wealthy looking wool cloak over his shoulders, exposing the intricate coat of black and silver and white embroidery. He was as Kahlan remembered; dressed strangely but with great wealth, projecting his perceived position. Stepping closer he lowered himself to one knee, his head dropping slightly. It did not pass Kahlan’s keen notice that his knee did not quite touch the snowy earth, or that Cara's body was now almost humming with the power of her restraint.
"Mother Confessor, it is an honor to see you again."
"Hmm." Her eyes looked to King Alderamin, whose expression was set, before looking at the massive man beside him, Conor, whose eyes seemed to burn with an odd sort of intensity. His body was standing at a faux ease. He was just as Cara, ready to strike. Kahlan took note of the contrast between the two men, and the Viceroy. Where the former was immaculate, to the extent that even the silver buttons on his coat shown with polish, and the unique sword she had noticed upon their first meeting was displayed with obvious pride, the other two men wore these cloaks of rough wool and matted animal fur, the King’s short reddish beard growing out and matching the travel grime on his cheeks. His clothes were hidden beneath the shadow of his cloak, but Kahlan assumed they would be as simple and unadorned. He looked one day away from starvation, and the mud and the dust on his clothes and skin was evidence of spending most if not all of his time outdoors. The hands that hung at his side displayed dirt beneath too long of nails and healing scratches long knuckles. The man next to him was as rough and dirty, though his cheeks and skull were freshly shaven. Her eyes rolled back to the Viceroy, and his bright eyes sparkled against his smooth skin, his red beard expertly trimmed, and he pulled at black linen cuffs at his wrists with pristinely clean hands. "Viceroy Haareld." she greeted. "It has been some time since we last met, and while you were expected this evening," She looked to the king, "You Sir, were not." King Alderamin nodded slightly to her. "In fact, Viceroy Haareld, you had told me that it would be unprecedented for the King of Strel'na to set foot on Midland soil."
"That was the truth."
"And yet here he stands." She clarified, looking at the King, waiting to see if he spoke. Standing silently made her wonder if he was truly their King. Slightly he shifted, as if the weight of her stare was felt.
"What was told to you was the truth, Kahlan." The King offered. "Yet sometimes one must do the unprecedented."
“It seems that time is no longer a luxury for any of us.” From the faint accent that colored his words to the sly grins, and the stark truth that he was something that Kahlan did not understand all lined up her opinion of him. This was simply that she did not know enough of him to trust him, and there was something unnervingly familiar about him. She wished he would step a little closer so she would see his eyes more vividly. Kahlan wanted to know if she could read the Strele, to know if they were speaking the truth.
The pressure of Cara’s shoulder was felt against her own, and Kahlan chanced a glance to her, to see her cheeks were still flushed and her eyes still dark green. There was a slight spark that moved beneath her skin when those eyes settled on hers, a feeling of excitement and rightness. Even being interrupted there seemed to have been a perfection in the hasty moments just before. When Kahlan had let go of her past fears and fell into the safety of the truth she had too long denied. That Cara loved her and Kahlan felt and returned that love with a fervor the likes of which she had never felt before. This man and his demands would not take that from either of them.
"We will... issue a request to the both of them, tomorrow." Kahlan began, and was about to continue with a barrage of questions she had bubbling beneath the surface.
"No need. Consider it done." He motioned to Conor, who offered a curt nod before he vanished. Literally vanished, and Kahlan blinked, while the snow where he had stood swirled for a moment, and Cara clenched beside her. "Conor will arrive at each palace, and issue the order. The Brothers Rahl will arrive more slowly, at a location nearby. Where we will be waiting for them.”
"He could never reach Aydindril so swiftly." Kahlan began.
"There is much you will learn, of Strele, Kahlan Amnell. Firstly?” King Alderamin began, “We can travel over great distances, leagues slip away in moments. We move as swift as the light."
"Magic." Cara snorted.
"Perhaps." Was his reply, before he looked up at the sky for a moment, and then pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders.
Kahlan had felt it as well, it was as though the sky above sighed and the temperature changed. Heavier snow would soon begin to fall.
"Ladies, shall we walk and discuss such matters?” Viceroy Haareld asked with his tone too sweetened for Kahlan’s liking. “Is it a safe assumption that your current condition is not one known by the Brothers Rahl?” Kahlan did not bother to reply. “Well then, there are aspects which you need to know.”
“You don’t say.” Cara said before turning to Kahlan. “I don’t like this.”
Kahlan said, “You knew he was meeting us here.”
“I knew someone was meeting us. I did not know it would be him.” Her eyes flicked to the King. “Nor did I know that he would be so…so… cold.” Cara’s eyes narrowed.
“Cara.” Kahlan said her name gently as she smiled. Unspoken were worries and concerns. Kahlan felt them as well. The blonde nodded with her own sigh, tension seeming to be released from her shoulders.
"We have been observing you all for quite some time.” Viceroy Haareld said as he seemed to relax, if only slightly.
“Why?” Kahlan asked.
It was King Alderamin who answered, “To defeat your enemy you must know them better than you know yourself. It is simple. You know this. And thus. We know you. We know who you were.”
"Who I am." Kahlan argued, not liking the finality in his tone.
"You are a Confessor. While I do not think that you personally are my enemy, the same cannot be said for those among you. There are Midlanders, D'Harans, those from Westland and even some from the Old World, and it is they and those like them who are not loyal to Strel'na, that are my enemy. And will be. While treaties, envoys, audiences mean little to me."
“So if you consider us your enemy, why even announce yourself to us? Your kingdom has been a myth for generations.” Cara said evenly. "None here would even consider attacking you or your mythical kingdom.”
"Ah. You see, this is where the Mother Confessor and I are very similar; there are things that mean a great deal to me. Such as protecting our way of life, and that of all those who look to me as their King. Your small piece of existence, with your infighting and your mundane existence for centuries has meant little to us. You are an idea. Nothing more. But soon, too soon for my liking, that will change.” King Alderamin’s voice drifted, and as they walked across the wide open field, her eyes looked to the side, to see his expression. His light blue eyes became distant. As if he had been captured by unvoiced thoughts.
Viceroy Haareld took up the King’s words and with a smile, and a calm voice spoke as a seasoned politician would. “Within King Alderamin’s realm we are experiencing resurgence. Waves of upheaval if you will. Land disputes and nobility’s infighting is common enough in any kingdom, as you are well aware, Mother Confessor. Yet what seems to make this season all the more glaring, and what has in affect forced the hand of our dear King, is that the demands of his enemies are ones that will affect both Strel’na and the New World. It has been our King’s hope to warn you Mother Confessor of the threat that we are facing, as it too will affect all who live and look to you for protection.”
“It was my hope to thwart that from ever even becoming a possibility. Yet... it seems the irony of fate, kept the glaciers thick, the way impassable." King Alderamin added, and then paused for a moment, his bright blue eyes searching Kahlan’s own, as his face took on a more somber expression, and as he spoke there was only truth that she could see. Using her training as a Confessor, and years of experience she could see the weighted shadows below his eyes, the heaviness at the corner of his lips as he talked, and the way his bright blue eyes conveyed to her nothing but the truth. Though Kahlan was also aware that truth was not simple. "Things would have been different, if I could have come to you, and told you of the dangers. It was never my intention for you to be ambushed as you were, for your hand to be forced. It should have been a more comforting process for you. The decision easier."
Kahlan bristled, "I do not think I ever would have chosen this sort of … existence."
"You would have. I was once like you, Kahlan. Young. A child of time and circumstance, standing in the throne room watching our great King guiding people with laws and suggestion. I believed that life was sacred. And I still do. I denounced the mere idea of taking the vows, of participating in the ritual. I did not want to live without end."
"But?" She questioned.
King Alderamin’s eyes closed for a moment. "My mind was changed.” With an almost sadness weighting them his eyes opened. “When seeing what could be, and what could not. I looked at the world as a whole and saw that becoming Strele was the choice that would best serve the cause."
"To serve and protect the innocent and freedom of others. We are not so different, you and I." King Alderamin said directly to Kahlan. He seemed for a moment to gather his thoughts, before his chin rising proudly he began. "There are at least two sides to every story. Sometimes more. In this you will only hear my side, and if what I know of the Mother Confessor, all Confessors really, is the truth, then I will not expect you to take my words as the only side."
Kahlan nodded slowly.
"If this were a perfect situation, then it would be found in a story book for children, or on the stage performed by minstrels. It is not. All I can offer you is my version of events, and it will be up to you to decide."
Cara grumbled, "That seems far less truthful than the statement that she is going to die."
"Kahlan's impending death is not on my hands, and it is not my doing."
Cara narrowed her angry eyes on him. “You just told her that this would have been her fate. To me it does not matter if it was your doing or another’s. I hold all of you and your kind responsible.” Cara growled, and Kahlan’s hand instinctively moved over her strong forearm, trying to sooth the frustration she knew the Mord-Sith was battling.
“Be that as it may, Mistress Cara.” Viceroy Haareld purred as he took one step to put himself slightly closer to them both. "Strel'na is a vast kingdom, and it is much like the Midlands, where there are smaller fiefdoms, with their ruling class, and land owners. They all uphold the law of the kingdom and swear fealty to the King. That does not mean there is not conflict and sometimes even all out war between them. Such as with the current situation. The actions of others cannot be used to judge King Alderamin. Just as the actions of those here, cannot be used to judge the Mother Confessor."
"I understand.” Kahlan said evenly. “How many fiefdoms?"
"Once there were many, now there are four."
"Yes." King Alderamin said with a tone that was thick with dissatisfaction. “There has been… unrest for the past two hundred years. Some fiefdoms unifying, others being absorbed by those that are stronger. There are four remaining, and of those… well let us say that the war has two clear sides.”
“That is the way of man. And of Kings and Queens, your Majesty.” Kahlan said softly, understanding all too well how the lines drawn once on maps could easily be manipulated and changed a moment later.
He nodded, and almost smiled. “It would mean very little to you,”
“More accurately, it means nothing.” Cara said softly, though the King did not hesitate.
“What happens in our kingdom, because for thousands of years Strel’na and the Midlands have been divided. Your kingdom has been sheltered. Two fold really. By the deadly glaciers that sit atop the mountain range, and by a thick magical barrier. A boundary. Every hundred years the glaciers melt enough to allow for passage over the mountains and our scouts verify that the boundary is still there. Months ago they discovered that the boundary that had stood for thousands of years was no longer."
“A true boundary?" Kahlan asked confused.
Viceroy Haareld was the one who began speaking again, "Yes a true and magical boundary. Centuries ago when the Wizards and Sorceress of this land came together, to divide the Old World from the New they also put up a boundary between Strel'na and the New World. The wizards and leaders wanted to contain and control the magic and those living in their realm. We were not part of their plan.”
“Plan? I doubt there was a plan.”
“Everything those Wizards did was part of a plan, Kahlan. They created boundaries between kingdoms through which nothing living could pass. They created weapons from living creatures.” His eyes seemed to burn for a moment before they narrowed under his heavy brows. “They created Confessors, Mord-Sith. They made man into monsters to use as weapons against one another. And they sought the ultimate prize. Control of the people.”
“But why divide our kingdoms?” Kahlan began to ask.
“Who held more power in the New World than Wizards? The Sisters of the Light, who worship the Creator, and the dark Wizards who were supplicants of the Keeper. Through the implementation of beliefs; the establishing of temples to worship a Creator and a Keeper, those in power had the foundation needed to yoke the common man, and guide them as they deemed appropriate. You know that to be true. We do not believe in such… frivolous absolution.” His arms crossed under his thick cloak. “Those Wizards and Sorceress, they established the boundary between our realms, without warning or even consideration. They merely did it, cutting the kingdom of Strel’na off from others of our kind. The differences in worship and belief seemed to make those Wizards of Aydindril believe they were justified. There is no logical way those Wizards could dispute our lineage. Strele’s existence is the clear sign that the Creator and the Keeper are not the only deities, and yet they are the only ones you worship. It is those who were left here in what became the Midlands who spread the folklore of our kind, who whispered the world Strele, and looked to the stars for answers and comfort.”
“That sounds like the beliefs of the Jara people.”
Slowly the king smiled. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“Jara is a vibrant and wealthy kingdom, and its belief in the power of the stars has always set it apart from all others here.” Kahlan paused for a moment. “There has been tension, always, between those of Jara and the rest of the Midlands. King Dunahl Bashkar is young, yet seems to be a more level headed king than his predecessors. Have you courted his favor?” Kahlan asked.
“Why would we need bother? Jara is a part of the Midlands. And the Midlands are ruled by you.” Viceroy Haareld rebuttled.
“Hardly.” She scoffed.
“Feign insignificance all you wish, Kahlan. You rule here. Or you did.” His arms crossed. “Those of Jaraian blood and bond now? Are far distant relations only. The few Strele who were living in their mountains and fields have long since perished. Before the boundary fell, there was not one Strele who walked on your soil.”
Kahlan paused for a moment, wondering how it could have been possible that she had been kept unawares for so many years not only of this kingdom to the north, but of another boundary that had been in place for generations, only to fall a mere decade before. So much could have transpired in that time, without her even knowing of it. Dangers unimaginable could have rushed down those treacherous mountains much like an avalanche. Her eyes looked between the two men, as she asked, “Now that the boundary is no more?”
“I wouldn’t even venture to guess how many individual Strele may be here. But I can assure you, that the glaciers are still thick, and making the journey difficult as well as dangerous.”
“And yet you, their King took upon yourself such a journey.” Cara pointed out.
“When I heard what had happened…”
“No. Tell the truth.” Kahlan corrected. “The night I was ambushed and this change came over me? Your Viceroy was there. He was the one who found me. That was not some coincidence.”
“I assure you Mother Confessor I did not plan.”
“Just the truth.” Kahlan demanded.
“He was sent to meet with you. He did not know that someone else was doing the same.” The King said simply.
"Your words mean very little. You are not saying anything, King Alderamin Aulavik of Strel’na. If the Midlands are so insignificant, if we mean nothing, why did your Viceroy come if he was not part of the plot to force this … this… curse upon me?” Kahlan clenched her fists as well as her jaws, to keep herself from pacing as her voice’s volume rose in frustrated anger. “To ambush me in the mountains and make me half a monster? To make me crave blood and fill me with the desire to kill, yet now I am told that this hunger is what is in fact killing me? Forgive me if my patience is worn thin, but you are not telling me why!"
The Viceroy winced. But stood silent.
"If not for you then this would not have been done to me."
"That is a guilty burden I will bear.” The King said through his clenched white teeth. Kahlan could feel the change in him, the bubbling of anger. Cara seemed to as well for she moved to stand more defensively to Kahlan’s left. “There are others, you see, who view the Midlands, all of your kingdoms really, as cattle, your land as nothing more than a feeding ground. People to consume and corrupt. I mean literally and figuratively. They see your resources and would like them for themselves. To gain prestige and wealth. Within Strel'na we had our times of peace, and now? Now we have war. Change versus tradition. Strele versus those who are not.”
“And why did you, Viceroy Haareld not tell me this when you knew what I had become?” Kahlan asked, her eyes narrowing in on the handsome man in question. His mustache twitched ever so slightly.
“If I may, Mother Confessor, at the time I could not, and would not be alone with you. I did not think that speaking of such private and delicate matters, before men and women I did not know would be advisable. For you or for the King.” He offered.
Kahlan recalled those hazy memories, of waking in the village, of the taste of blood, of Berdine being a wrathful guardian always at her side.
“So many secrets.” Kahlan sighed. “You perhaps did not think to provide me with something? Anything? A book, a letter. You could have managed to slip something into our libraries. If you move so very fast, unseen.”
“With time comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes painful decisions to be made. There are some things that every day citizens are not equipped to accept or understand. It is better that ignorance shelters them, than allow them to be bashed about in the center of the storm that is knowledge.” The King said coldly.
“Rather pious of you.” Cara snapped.
“Of course. As is the duty of a ruler. She knows this. If such a letter or book would fall into the hands of another? No. Knowledge such as this is meant to be given in person.” King Alderamin replied back, and his lips were pulled to say more, but in an instant his jaws snapped closed, and his eyes seemed to darken.
Kahlan felt the danger suddenly and her hands reached for Cara, pulling her down roughly into a crouch, as she heard the whisper of arrows flying just over their heads. It all happened in an instant, strangely. Her eyes shifted to the King and Viceroy. The King was kneeling, his eyes hard, looking into the forest shadows from where the arrows had come, his lips pulled into a sneer. He possessed the familiar look of rage. His jaws were set, and he radiated danger. He reminded her of Cara. The Viceroy, who was still standing, looked to his shoulder, where a long arrow was lodged.
"We have company." Cara said, her Agiels pulled again, as she sprinted away from Kahlan’s grasp. There seemed no time to even call out to the Mord-Sith, before the second volley of arrows filled the air above them. They thudded to the ground between Kahlan and the King, and as she rose to standing, pulling her daggers free from their sheathes, he was beside her, a long sword drawn.
"Not friends of yours I take it." She asked.
"Hardly. Perhaps yours?"
"No." She shook her head.
"Wait here. I will go." He commanded.
"You will not." But he was suddenly gone, and the night air filled with a scream. A man's scream.
Kahlan’s eyes looked to the ground, five arrows. At least five archers. Cara could single handedly dispatch five. If they were on the ground and not in the trees.
Another man's scream, this one more in terror than pain. She took the first step towards the forest, before the Viceroy said as he walked causally in front of her, "Let the King have his fun." He smiled. “He can move faster than you, than even your Mord-Sith."
"Doesn't that hurt?" She asked of the arrow in his shoulder.
"Of course it does." He said with a calm expression.
"Then you know I won't stand here and wait to see if they manage to get another in someone I actually care about." She snapped, and ran into the woods.
Five arrows. Cara’s cloak billowed out behind her as she passed from the open field into the thick wall of oak and fir trees, knowing exactly from where they had come. The first archer who felt the blinding pain of her Agiel was still kneeling, his bow in hand. He was falling back into a heap as she kicked out with her right boot, her heel connecting with the shattering jaw of the second. The rough bark of the fir tree beside her neck exploded as an arrow slammed into it, coming from the deeper woods, and dropping to one knee Cara pressed the screaming Agiel over the heart of the man who was wearing worn red leather armor over rusting black chainmail. His scream was lovely before it became a gurgle of death. Another arrow slammed into his now still shoulder from the same direction as before, two hands width from her, and her teeth gnashed as she growled, moving to sprint low. A yell of terror filled the woods, followed by what she thought was the cracking sound of bones.
Her legs took her around an ancient oak tree trunk, and what appeared to be a man, his hand twitched around the hilt of his sword, the shielded head laying a few steps away, blood pooling in the snow around him. Her run slowed as she stepped over another archer, this one without an arm, and much of his throat missing. Another three steps and she moved around another two trees to see a body in the snow. This body was missing the side of its throat as well.
"There is darkness in you." The King said ominously as he appeared beside her.
"You don't say." Cara rolled her eyes, as she turned to look at him, the leather of her gloves whimpering with the pressure of her clutch on the handles of her Agiels. "And if I find out this was just a ruse to gain her trust?” Her eyes, she hoped, bore holes into his own. She did not know what exactly this man was capable of, but she was more than willing to find out, if he dare harm Kahlan in any way. Her voice dipped lower. “You will discover just how dark, your Majesty." The glimmer in his eyes told Cara that her point had been made, though her eyes grew harder, as they noticed the King’s beard. Cara gestured to her lips. "You have something there."
With a wise smile the King brushed the back of his hand over his lips and short beard, removing the traces of blood.
"So it seems you lied." Cara said slipping her Agiels back into their places. Her ears picked up the familiar steps of Kahlan. She was not too far off now. The hairs on the back of Cara’s neck rose and her skin tingled. The threat had subsided just enough for her emotions to roll through her at Kahlan’s approach. It felt like less than a heart beat had passed since Kahlan had voiced those three words, since Cara felt alive and whole for the first time, knowing the truth and hearing it at the same time. Her skin was merely one part of her that was annoyed that what should have been a private and very long night, had turned our much differently. Her eyes narrowed as she turned in a slow circle to view the once again silent forest. She had only herself to blame; what was she thinking, being so very intimate in this very open place.
"Not at all."
"You said she cannot drink blood." Cara's arms crossed. "Or is it merely my blood which she cannot drink."
"Oh she can drink yours. Mine. Anyone’s. Once the ritual is complete." He said and had the audacity to lift his eyebrows and smile. And even more annoying was the way he seemed to mean the smile. As if the only answer was this ritual that was mentioned again and again. Cara had needed to find answers to undo what was done, not some ritual to make it permanent.
They both turned as Kahlan and the Viceroy, who still had the arrow protruding from his shoulder, moved between the trees towards them. Kahlan’s eyes were frantic until they saw Cara, and then they relaxed, and a low sneer appeared on Kahlan’s lips. Now that they knew one another was fine, they could resume with the task at hand. The beauty that was Kahlan’s tenacity fueled by frustrated anger was something Cara appreciated, and in fact loved the sight of. When those fiery blue eyes settled on someone, when her lips pulled thin and paled, and the scar seemed to come alive anew, Cara at times felt weakened in the knees. Kahlan Amnell, as the Mother Confessor, in command of a situation was an intoxicant to Cara, and while she was fairly certain how she felt was no secret, she did so hope these men would continue to exasperate Kahlan a little more.
“As I told you, Mother Confessor, there was no cause for alarm.” The Viceroy said. “Feel better?” he directly asked the King. Who merely shrugged in reply. “Well, the arrow" he grimaced behind his auburn beard as he pulled it from his shoulder, and inspected the red feather. "Appears to be D’Haran."
“It wasn’t.” Cara stated. “Five dead here.” Cara reached for the arrow, but Kahlan beat her to it.
"This is D’Haran. But. It is reclaimed. Look. A line of blood, here." Kahlan pointed to the faint discoloration. Before sniffing it. "Human." She confirmed.
Cara held her expression.
"That is just disgusting." The Viceroy crossed is arms. “Reusing arrows.” He huffed.
"There are two more to the north. So seven in all.” The King rubbed his chin. “Your kind works in quads.” He said to Cara, and she nodded. “So it is someone who merely wanted us to blame D’Hara, but does not themselves understand them." The King clarified.
"Agreed. Darken Rahl would have sent a quad of elite archers, or better? A quad of Mord-Sith. These men were average shots, and basically stupid."
“Could they have been sent by her?” The Viceroy asked softly.
Cara’s brow lifted with interest.
"No. These are all Dark Ones." The King mumbled.
"Dark?" Kahlan asked.
The Viceroy cleared his throat, “We refer to those of you, those born and bred here in the south, as Dark Ones.”
“What ever for?” Cara asked.
“Because you have no Strele blood you are lacking the light.” The Viceroy offered simply.
Cara felt her eyes roll. “Why am I suddenly being overcome with memories of fanatical people who idolize the Creator, and talked on and on about light?”
A warm laugh filled the cold night around them, and she openly glared at the King as he did so.
While rolling his shoulder the Viceroy spoke plainly, “We do not bother with your Creator. Or even your Keeper. We have our own beliefs. Rooted deep within is the truth of what Strele are. We are the light. We are made from the only thing that lasts as long as time.”
“Why the stars of course.” He said while motioning to the twinkling lights above them.
Cara felt her expression slacken with disbelief. Kahlan dropped the used arrow to the ground before she came to stand beside Cara, her arms as crossed as her expression.
“This conversation is spinning in circles.” Cara muttered.
“Agreed.” Kahlan whispered back as she moved behind her, and slightly her hand caressed the rise of Cara’s backside. A touch that was slightly more than a reassurance. It made Cara raise her chin slightly with deep pride. That touch seemed to say what Kahlan’s words had said before. And Cara’s heart felt warmed for a moment.
“Perhaps it seems silly to you, but this is our truth. Our belief.” The Viceroy said, his voice for perhaps the first time turning acidic. The exterior of a flamboyant politician was slipping.
Cara felt the sting in Kahlan’s tone as she spoke. “Believe what you will. I do not care. Just stop telling me half truths and clouded needs. If you have nothing crisp and clear and honest to say, then just go.”
“Mother Confessor I promise you that what we are offering you is.”
“Don’t offer Viceroy. Tell me what you are! Tell me what I am to become! Tell me why someone tried to kill you!”
“She has a point.” Cara added, her fingertips tapping on the handle of her Agiel.
“What caused us to be what we are, what happened to you? None of that will change the fact that you will perform the ritual!”
“You cannot come here and”- Kahlan took a threatening step closer to the Viceroy. She stopped when the King spoke.
“Strele means stars, in our ancient tongue.” The King, setting his hands on his hips as he looked up through the thin lines of clouds in the night sky began speaking. This time his voice held a certain tone of irreverence, as if what he was saying meant much to him. “The legend, I admit as a child even I doubted that it could be true. But well, stranger things have been made possible in the centuries we have been waiting and watching.” He looked back to Cara and Kahlan. “Such as Wizards using magic to create a race of women powerful enough to control others merely by touch.”
Cara’s jaw clenched, as it always did when the uneasiness of someone mentioning Kahlan’s power rose inside. She knew many men who hungered to possess someone with such a power, if they could not have it themselves.
“It is time you to explain, King Alderamin.” Kahlan said with authority.
Cara watched as he nodded.
“Come. Though, Viceroy Haareld is a much better story teller than I.” The King offered as he began walking away. Kahlan and Cara shared a quick glance, before Cara blinked. Slowly they began to follow through the dark trees, making their way to the West, if Cara’s sense of direction was correct. As they walked, Kahlan took her hand and squeezed, as the King’s voice moved around them.
“In the time before remembering, BevrakaStra, who is the arbiter of time itself, walked the world. He walked, and he watched. He was before man, before those of power that you worship. BevrakaStra, who in your common language would be called the Warden; he walked between the dome of the sky and the depths of the Underworld. He watched darkness and watched sun. He watched the doomed love affair between life and death and was a quiet witness to it all. For he was and is always there. Always moving forward, always constant. The Warden is the manifestation of time itself. The Warden watched eons pass. As the Creator and the Keeper in their love and image made man? The Warden warned them, but they did not listen, and so he watched man’s rise and evolution as well. He had seen it before with animals, and even with deities who lived and became extinct before the Keeper and the Creator. He watched the jealousy, and he watched as man was punished with death. All living things learned that they were no longer infinite. And in that the Warden noticed a change in man. He saw something new. He saw emotion. He saw love. He saw companionship. And the Warden realized he did not know of such things. That intrigued him. Beyond his conversations with the moon and the stars, the Warden had no one to hold in confidence, no one to speak to. He could speak to the heavens, but they were never able to reply back to him. That was when, in his infinite wisdom, he made the decision. The Warden walked to the tallest mountain in the furthest North, a mountain that brushed the edges of a particular star during certain times of the cycle of the sun. And he waited. And on the day that the star came close? He reached for it. He grasped the edge of the star and pulled it down from the blackness of the sky. It burned so brightly and seemed to tremble and become liquid in his hands. And he held it longer, and the sky above seemed to shudder and quake in warning. It was then that a man approached, having seen the star’s light go out. The Warden had expected the curious man, and into his chest BevrakaStra, the Warden, pressed the liquid light of that stolen star. Its liquid became needle thin and punctured the man’s heart, pushing out all the blood from him, so it stained his lips and beard, and in its place, pure liquid light pulsed. The man fell to his knees and was still, until his eyes seemed to come alive from the light within. That man was the first Strele. And he lived, and walked, and was the companion of the Warden for almost a thousand years.”
“Almost?” Kahlan asked.
“It was said that in his nine hundredth year he could walk no more. He … he asked the Warden to release him.” The King offered, and then clenched his jaws tightly closed.
“I do not understand.” Kahlan said, her hand in Cara’s twitching with agitation.
“This man? His blood was replaced by the essence of the star.” Viceroy Haareld said calmly, slowly. “The light and the eternal power of that star. But a human body? It needs blood to nourish and feed muscle, bone. Organs. Living blood.”
“You have no blood?” Cara asked.
Kahlan’s fingers tightened desperately around Cara’s, and she could feel her obvious worry.
“The body; flesh and bone, muscles and skin, it all needs more. Strele drink the blood of the living to survive. Human is better, animal is sufficient. So long as it is alive. Drinking the thick blood which is strengthened by the life of another into ourselves give these bodies nourishment. Completely taking a life is more permanent, and more... sustaining, but there is also the consequence of taking a life.”
“The guilt.” Kahlan said softly.
“Yes. And that is why, our First Father? Asked the Warden to release him. Because after taking the lives of man for a thousand years the guilt was driving him mad.” King Alderamin said softly.
“Well, that is an interesting story to tell your children at night, but I do not believe there is some deity who walks the earth, who pulled a star from the sky and.” Cara’s voice stopped as she watched the King take his sword and drag it over the palm of his hand. He turned it towards her, and she saw blood. In the faint moonlight the blood looked to her as if it held the faintest gloss to it. But that was all.
Viceroy Haareld cleared his throat. “Ah, your Majesty? I believe you have just fed?”
Blinking the King looked at his hand and the blood and then his shoulders drooped and he mumbled, “Well that takes the dramatic impact away from the entire story.”
“I’m sorry?” Kahlan asked confused.
“When did you last?” The King asked the Viceroy.
“This early evening.”
“You’re bleeding. And there were dead dark ones back there.” Conor barked as he seemed to appear beside the King, walking with a false casualness. The light from the moon seemed to reflect off of a sheen of sweat on his bald head.
Cara shuddered, feeling his presence where he had not been before. It was not magic she felt, merely her body’s instinctual warning that someone was standing where a moment before there had been no one. Her fingers twitched as did Kahlan’s as they both seemed to hold themselves firm at the massive guards sudden reappearance.
“I was merely attempting to! Ah! You always seem to appear when you are most needed, Conor.” The King said slipping his sword away.
“Imagine that.” Conor grumbled.
“When did you last, take nourishment?” The King asked, almost hesitant to just say ‚’fed’
“Four cycles of the moon. We agreed that I would fast, in case we needed.”
“Yes yes.” The King waved his hand. “Show them.”
“His Majesty has just told of our origins. Of the Warden and our First Father.”
“Ah. Show them.” Conor nodded, and then with a flick of his wrist, a small blade appeared from a hidden sheath under his sleeve and he nicked the side of his wrist. The light that burst out from the wound made Kahlan step back, her hand tighten about Cara’s and her eyes grimace closed.
“Oh.” Kahlan whispered.
Cara in a similar move merely snapped loudly, “Some warning next time! It’s the middle of the night you fool! Now we’ll be seeing flashing stars in our eyes for at least a half candle mark.”
“Stars. Precisely. You see? Inside of these human shells? Pulses the purity and the power, the light and the iridescence of the star from which we were first created.” The Viceroy said calmly.
“What does she mean? Candle mark?” Conor asked, as he lifted his wrist to his lips. The blinding light extinguished as his mouth set over the small cut.
“They have an antiquated system of measuring time here. By notches in a candle.” The Viceroy offered.
In a barked laugh, Conor replied. “That is ridiculous.” Cara grimaced as she watched Conor release his wrist from his mouth to speak. The light was less blinding but was still glowing from the small cut in his flesh. It was almost as if he was holding a torch. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him pull a small strip of cloth from the back of his ragged tunic, and tie it quickly and tightly around his wrist. Darkness settled around them all once more, and as Cara blinked her eyes did trick her with flashes of light behind closed lids.
“Agreed.” Viceroy Haareld said under his breath.
“We drink the blood of the living. And we are part of the light. The first light.” King Alderamin offered. “We can walk under the brilliance of the sun, but it weakens us. Because much like a few of the stars above, we are visible in the daylight sky, but are faint. It is in the darkness that we thrive. That you too will thrive, Kahlan.”
“And… this is how you can move.”
“As fast as light can travel, yes. The longer we walk with the Warden, the stronger we become, the faster. Until we die. Until we, just as the stars do, burn out and turn to shadows and ash.”
As her eyes slowly began to readjust her mind in turn spiraled in a direction that left her feeling unfamiliar sensations. Confusion pared with doubt. Cara was Mord-Sith, it was not her place to understand how magic worked, but to control it. This was something altogether unique. And because this affected Kahlan, Cara could not blindly ignore the how any longer.
Slowly Kahlan’s hand slipped from her own, and her voice softly wondered. “That is what will become of me?”
“You will shine like a star, Kahlan Amnell… or burn out. Yes.” The King offered.
“I see.” Kahlan turned, her eyes searching Cara’s face. But whatever she may be searching for Cara was unconvinced that she would hold the answers, and so she did not speak. She merely looked back at Kahlan as honestly as she knew how. That it would not matter to her what Kahlan became. She would always be to her, Kahlan.
The faint smile pulled at Kahlan’s lips, an almost shy, and private smile, only for Cara.
Her dark hair flowed as she nodded, and turned back to the three men. “I would like to see my men, before we continue on.”
Kahlan kneeled beside the toe headed guard, who was moaning as consciousness was beginning to seep back into his eyes.
Alderamin clasped his hands behind his back, watching closely, as this man blinked and then jerked away from her, his hand reaching for the handle of his sheathed sword.
“Mother Confessor!” he exclaimed.
Her hand went to his shoulder, and his eyes flinched. “It is alright Devon. I am alright. These men are not our enemy.”
“So they say.” Mistress Cara said as she walked between Alderamin and Kahlan.
“They appeared from the shadows. I do not know what happened.”
“They merely got the best of you, soldier.” Cara offered, as her boot nudged another sleeping guard. “Wake up.”
“I need you to return to Aydindril.” Kahlan said firmly.
Devon shook his head in dispute. “Mistress I cannot.”
“Well…” Kahlan said, standing. “Two of you need to return to Aydindril. I need the Council to be brought to order.” She turned, and her haunted eyes latched onto Alderamin’s. “Would you say by dawn we will return?”
“I think that would be unwise, but… I also believe it will be.” He answered evenly. Discussions here would take most of the night, and he had hoped that Kahlan would see reason and stay the night with him, with all of them to protect her. But she was a stubborn one, just as he had been told, and now he had seen with his own eyes.
“The Council needs to be called to order.” Kahlan confirmed.
“Then Marcus and Reginald will ride and see it is done, Mother Confessor. I and Viktus will stay at your side.” The guard replied.
Cara rolled her eyes, and Alderamin smiled. There was a purity to the Mord-Sith’s candor that appealed to him.
“Alright.” Kahlan agreed.
“I don’t.” The Mord-Sith began but merely shook her head and was silent. Perhaps there was no need for words between the two of them. They seemed to have been communicated quite well with glances and faint touches.
“Kahlan there is no need to call your Council. What I have to say, and to propose to you as well as the Brothers Rahl can be decided on this night.” Alderamin pressed once more.
“No. It cannot. If you have studied the Midlands and the Mother Confessor so diligently then you know I must call the Council to order to hear your petition. For I believe now that is what it shall be.”
“We do not petition.” Conor complained.
“We look to forge an alliance, to help you to protect yourselves against…” Harreld looked up his eyes flashing with anger and worry. It made Alderamin bristle. This woman was far more brilliant than any of the gossips had given her credit for. Clearly even Haareld was becoming frustrated by the wall of questioning Kahlan Amnell had built around herself.
"I see. You want to help protect me, while this... so far unnamed enemy of yours took it upon themselves to make me a Strele, to what… destroy me?" Kahlan asked, and Haareld winced slightly.
He treid to calm his voice as he spoke, but his red eyebrows seemed to twitch in annoyance. Alderamin knew he needed to get his Viceroy to calm down. "To gain your favor. To have you join them."
"Well they went about it the wrong way." The Mord-Sith quipped.
"Did they?" Kahlan asked, and turned to the Viceroy. "Or did you arrive and halt them, ensuring the ritual was not complete?"
"I assure you Mother Confessor that is not."
"We believe those that did it to you did not ... have trusted minions." Alderamin added.
"And if they had... those trusted, or those who knew what they were doing you would not be standing before me. You would not be attempting to get me to see your side."
"If I ask to speak with these others? Before I decide?"
"There is not enough time," The Viceroy began.
"Well... then I suppose there is not enough time. You can make your case to the Central Council, King Alderamin. But do not think I will merely take your word."
Slowly he nodded, and as he spoke, he looked beyond Kahlan Amnell, to the Viceroy, a glare of warning in his eyes. "I never thought that you would."
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